It is always the little things that surprise me as my kids are growing up. Or maybe they are big things, but the key is the surprise. In stories these are the surprising yet inevitable plot moments where the audience first gasps and then says “of course, how could it be any other way?” This time it was an email.
“Link needs to register for selective services before his eighteenth birthday.”
I blinked at the email, in a sort of shocked pause. My boy is too young to have to register for the draft. Except he isn’t. Not anymore. It is only about two weeks until he is a legal adult and many of the rules change. One of them is filling out a form that registers him as a young male eligible for the draft should our country have a major military conflict and need more soldiers than it currently has enlisted.
No one has been conscripted or drafted into the United States Military since 1973, the year I was born. There hasn’t been a draft in my lifetime. The odds that my son will be called upon to fight my country’s battles are negligible. Our country has enough strong and good volunteers who fill those roles. But staring at that email, I had a moment of fear. For a moment war loomed and I felt connected to generations of mothers before me who sent off their sons, and to mothers now, who still do because their sons and daughters volunteer. My son is not a warrior. He doesn’t even like to play violent or bloody video games. And if he struggled and nearly broke when faced with the challenges of high school, I shudder to think what boot camp would do to him. I spent a long moment picturing what going to battle could do to him physically and mentally.
After a moment, the shadow of fear passed. I filled out the form to register him. This is one of the responsibilities of being a citizen, along with jury duty, and paying taxes. Yet when I hope and pray for peace in the world, there is just a slight bit more fervor in my prayers. I know that my family and I are very fortunate in the peaceful existence we’ve lived. It is good for me to face the fact that not everyone gets to choose a peaceful life.
It was the final day of the annual Perseid meteor shower. If I’d wanted the full display I should have gone out at 1am that morning. Instead I found myself laying on my back staring at the sky while the clock ticked over into the next day. Three of my kids and I were spending the night at a cabin in a state park. We were far away from city lights. The night was clear. All we needed was for the Perseids to cooperate and trail a few lingering meteors across the sky.
I lay there with my children, waiting. School would start for them in only a few days. I didn’t know how that would go. We were waiting for that too. Light streaked across the sky and I gasped, just a small, involuntary intake of breath at the sudden appearance and disappearance of light. It had been years since I’d seen a shooting star. I sent a quick prayer after it, almost like a wish.
Please let us grow this year instead of shrink. Please let us have happiness instead of hurt. Please, I don’t know what we need for this year, please help us figure it out.
More lights dashed across the sky. Some faint. Some bright. There weren’t many. Nothing like the display that people had described from the night before. I didn’t wish on them all, but each of them stole my breath for just a moment.
I wasn’t alone with the stars. My children lay with me, sometimes silent, sometimes cracking jokes with their cousins, always exclaiming out loud when lights streaked across the sky. I was glad to have them there with me, watching the lights and the darkness.
Shooting stars did not bring us any answers, just a beautiful moment to treasure.
I wandered through the house and it was strange and quiet. All four of my kids were off at their schools. Howard away at a convention. I paused to think when I last had the house to myself for five hours in a row. I don’t know when it was. Probably before Howard started working from home instead of trekking to Dragon’s Keep to do his drawing. That was eighteen months ago. Last December was when Link started being at home during school hours and my days were regularly interrupted by urgent meetings, surprise school pick ups, emotional crises, and home schooling. This morning they all left cheerfully. And they came home calmly. In between I had hours. I just wandered around in those hours rather than settling to a focused task. Come Monday I’ll try to build a work schedule around having those hours. It is time to proceed as if all will be well.
“How is it not having the afternoon pick up?”
Kiki’s questions were good ones, appropriate to our relationship and to her interest in family at home. Yet I struggled to answer them. I could easily tell her stories about events. I told her about her siblings coming home. I described things that happened. But these questions all asked for evaluation and I was coming up blank. It took me until this morning to figure out why. I’m semi-consciously trying to avoid assigning value to the beginning of school experiences we’re having. The fact that Link came home from his first day of school happy does not mean I should plan on that continuing. Gleek came home and was a little grouchy at my desire for interaction. After being social at school she only wanted to be left alone with her book. Patch was increasingly hard to wake up each morning. These things are mere data points. I don’t have enough information to see patterns yet. Also, I’m trying very hard not to tell myself stories about what the beginning of school events mean. I don’t want to spin small events into huge anxiety as I imagine catastrophic failure of all things education. Neither do I want to believe that all will be well only to be plunged into grief later when reality does not match expectation. Perhaps I’ll be able to evaluate next week, but even then the only point is to make daily adjustments in how things work, not make predictions for the future.
Then it was time for me to go. I had a three hour drive back home. We sat for a moment in silence, in the empty apartment, with Kiki’s things in piles before us. Last year I’d dropped her off into a crowd of familiar roommates. She’d been immediately swallowed up in continuing friendships and chatter. This time we both remembered a little too clearly the hard parts of the semester before. The emptiness of the apartment left space for those memories to bounce around and become worries.
In a small voice Kiki asked “Will you help me assemble my desk and chair?”
He came home carrying his hoodie, not wearing it. At some point he felt safe enough to take it off. I limited my after school questions to three. How was it? Good. Anything stressful or anxious? Not really. Anything exciting? His German teacher. The ease of his answers was as reassuring as the answers themselves. He met my eyes with his shoulders and arms relaxed. One day is not a useful measure to evaluate a school year, but it was a good start.
The kids were all out the door by 7:45 and the house was quiet. The quiet felt empty, substantially different than the quiet of people doing their own quiet things. “I miss summer. I don’t want to go to work today. I miss Kiki” Howard said, echoing my unspoken sentiments. Of course we will go to work anyway, because the work is important and we love the work enough to do it even on a day when we’d rather not expend effort.
The school year has begun. Thus far the only unpleasant things have been in my head. One day at a time we’ll proceed.
I don’t go to the waiting place on purpose. I never think “It is time for me to wait” and then take myself there. In fact I usually don’t even realize I am there until I’ve been sitting around for quite a while. Today for example. I have dozens of tasks on which I could spend my time, but I was struggling to get moving on any of them. It was six pm before I figured out why. School starts next week and I’m scared about it. I don’t know what emotional resources will be required of me in those first days of class. I don’t know what emotional meltdowns lay in wait for me as I take Kiki back to school, launch Patch into junior high, watch Gleek embark on more homework than she’s had in the past couple of years, and hope that three classes on campus do not prove too overwhelming for Link. Some part of my psyche evaluated all of that incoming emotional load and switched over into an emergency conservation mode. Without planning to do it, I entered the waiting place where my brain is mostly idling until the important events occur.
Getting out of the waiting place is as tricky as realizing I’m in it. It is possible for me to muscle through. I can just make myself get jobs done, but that is not the same as truly emotionally engaging with the work. When I’m focused, staying focused is easy. There is momentum and happiness in task completion. When I’m waiting, I wander off. I lose track of where I was. All the jobs are harder. It is harder to get started. It is harder to stay on task. It is harder to not get distracted. I wish I could tell myself “it will all be fine” and believe that. It might even be true. I might be conserving emotional energy for crises that never materialize. That has happened before. Not lately, but within memory. Sometimes muscling through will actually help me escape. Other times it just allows me to get things done until the thing I’m waiting for arrives. Still other times I just distract myself until the waiting is over.
Whether I manage to pull myself out or whether the waiting evaporates because of arrival, knowing that I’m in the waiting place is helpful to me. It lets me recalibrate my thought processes and recognize why my brain is reacting sluggishly to things.
The other day I wrote how I am taking the good days and good events and treating them like little capsules of treasure. Here are a few that I’ve collected lately.
I haven’t done much baking lately, so when I made brownies they tasted extra delicious. Enough that both Howard and I tweeted about it.
Sandra: I have eaten more brownies than is healthy. Since the healthy quantity for brownies is 0, I feel good about my life decisions today.
Howard: Came upstairs to find that there are just enough brownies left in this pan for me to have one brownie before eating half a pan of brownies.
Howard’s brother Randy responded to his tweet: if you don’t slice the half a pan, it’s just one big brownie.
Howard: “We’re gonna need a bigger spatula.” — me and @RandyTayler, reducing our brownie intake on a technicality.
The conversations about the brownies were as enjoyable as the brownies themselves.
Gleek: “Mom? I have a question.”
The bench at church was crowded because all six of us were sitting there together. I think it has been at least six months since that happened.
Curling up on the couch and watching NCIS with Howard. Kids often join us as well. We talk about the stories after they are done. This is not a show that I fell in love with right away, but it has grown on me to the point where I love it and I love the characters. The other day we watched an episode that was so well written and so well acted that there was a scene where massive amounts of emotion and meaning were communicated with almost no dialogue at all. I think those are my favorite moments in a show.
I walked up to the front door of an unfamiliar house with a yellow folder of documents in my hands. One short conversation later, I walked away without the folder. Link’s Eagle Scout Application has been turned it.
Walking into Gleek’s room and seeing that every day she has added things to the walls and made the space her own. The purple wall is a good thing.
I went to the junior high school. For the first time in two years, one trip to a school took care of multiple children. All the paperwork was in order, so I picked up schedules for Gleek and Patch. They have a good set of classes. Though Gleek did need one switch. Fortunately her school counselor agreed that the change was beneficial and made the switch on the spot. I have one piece of pending paperwork for Link, but schedules are finalized, I’ve posted the school A/B schedule in its usual spot, first bell rings next Tuesday.
I need to pay attention to these small good things so that I don’t get swamped by worries about the impending school year.
It is a strange space when things are suddenly better after they’ve been very hard. The slide downward was so slow and inexorable. I turned myself inside out trying to figure out how to help my children. I configured and re-configured schedules. I lowered the bar trying to make things possible for my son who was struggling. Time and again he went under the just-lowered bar. Everything hurt for months. He hurt. I hurt. Howard hurt. After all of that, to have things suddenly better is disorienting. I don’t trust it. Surely the climb back out should take as long as the slide downward. Also, we’re on summer schedule where stresses are next to none. There is every possibility that the advent of school will mean a return of emotional pain. So I’d like to rejoice when my children easily manage something that was a source of conflict or meltdown. I’d like to be happy that the son who moves through my house now is the one that I remember from before things got hard. Instead I feel like I’m holding very still, as if a wrong move from me could scare away the current good state of things. I’m afraid, but I know that hold-still-forever is not a viable life strategy. So I try to take each day as it’s own capsule, like a glass ball with a scene in it. If today is a good place, I hold it in my mind like a small treasure. No matter what comes next it can’t change the good I had today.
Sound and people fill my house. We’ve had the loud shouts of a Smash Bros tournament between Kiki and her brothers. We’ve had the hollering as Howard and the boys shout back and forth while playing a co-op game on steam. We’ve had siblings kibitzing as Kiki plays through the story of Twilight Princess so that her visiting roommate can watch. We’ve had Gleek detailing the dream she had last night and the characters she’s creating that day. We’ve had the sound of NCIS playing while Howard draws comics. There has been the clatter of dishes and the beep of the microwave as people cook themselves food. It has been a joyous noise and influx of clutter. We are glad to all be together again after two and a half weeks of disrupted schedule and reduced household.
I keep looking at the calendar and measuring next week with my eyes. The week isn’t long enough. When it is done, Kiki will depart for school. The other kids will also leave the house each morning. Quiet hours will return. I do miss having quiet hours in my house where I’m not responsible for children. But I worry that the quiet hours will be accompanied by school stresses. Not an ideal trade for anyone. So I listen to all the joyful noise and I think gratefully about how I don’t have to move forward quite yet. I get a few more days where the kids can play all day.
Since the best record I have of my time at GenCon is what I tweeted while I was there, I’ve collated those tweets into a blog post. My apologies to those who already read all of this by following @sandratayler on twitter.
Sandra Tayler @SandraTayler Jul 29
Sandra Tayler retweeted
Sandra Tayler @SandraTayler Jul 31
Sandra Tayler @SandraTayler Aug 1
Sandra Tayler @SandraTayler Aug 1
Sandra Tayler @SandraTayler Aug 2
Sandra Tayler @SandraTayler Aug 2
Sandra Tayler retweeted
There are a few things I did not tweet, though I would have if I’d not been distracted.
This was a publicity shot that showed up on the GenCon site the next day. If you look closely at the escalator, you can see a small figure with arms outstretched. That’s Zub. The official GenCon photographer took this at almost the same moment that Zub’s photo was taken.
I had a really great time. I’m excited to go back again next year and I’ve placed it firmly on my schedule. I’ll wiggle all the other stuff around to make that possible. Next year we’ll have the Planet Mercenary book and I want to be there for that.