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On Reading Articles About Parenting

I read a lot of articles about parenting. This is a hazard of regular visits to Facebook and Twitter where the links abound. I’ve been reading articles about parenting for longer than I’ve been on social media. Way back before access to the internet was something most people had, I subscribed to some parenting magazines. At this point Ihave a long enough baseline that I can read an article and think “Ah yes the parenting trend has swung back to touting the need for discipline.” I’ve come to realized that there is one thing wrong with every parenting advice article I’ve ever read. It is the same thing that is wrong with advice in general. It is the assumption that one approach is correct for all circumstances. The truth is that parents are coming from wildly different backgrounds and cultural contexts. People have different inherent strengths and weaknesses. One parent needs to learn how to enjoy spontaneity, another would benefit from learning how to keep a schedule. This is why we get the wildly divergent parenting advice. All of it is potentially valuable, all of it is potentially damaging. It is up to individual parents to figure out what to apply in their own lives.

The trick of course is that parents are often insecure and defensive about their choices. I know I am and have been. When I read an article that tells me the critical importance of regular home cooked meals served with the family gathered together at the table, that pokes me in a guilty spot. Then I have to choose how to react. I could write an angry rebuttal so that other parents out there who are like me will know that their dinner style does not doom their children to disaster. I could humble myself and rearrange my life to make sure I’m doing the family dinner thing. I could deflect and say “That’s nice, but I do things differently.” Each of these responses may be correct. Which is why this parenting gig is so difficult. It’s all wibbly wobbly without clear guidelines.

A few weeks back there was a post that went viral. It was from the mother whose first baby was two weeks old. She said that she didn’t see why everyone claimed that parenting was so hard. She was handling it fine, still exercising, eating healthy, and keeping a clean house. Oh and her baby was simply a delight. Naturally there were floods of responses that ranged from angry to supportive to “Oh honey, just wait and see if you still say that later.” To me this young mother seems very naive. She assumes that all the weeks that follow will be the same as the two weeks she has been through. She also assumes that everyone else has the same situation as she does. Were that true, perhaps she would be right to tell others to stop complaining. In this case it is fairly clear to anyone who has been parenting for longer than two weeks (and many who’ve been parenting for less) that this young mother doesn’t know what she’s talking about. The thing is that I feel the same way about many parenting advice articles. They have the same naive assumption that all things are equal and the same process will work for all parents.

Of late many of the parenting articles I read are focused on special needs kids. I’ve dipped my toes into the deep waters of online autism communities and for parents of children with mental health issues. These special needs articles are still full of advice, but they seem to understand the ala carte principle. They are clear that parents should do what is best for their family and skip what isn’t. Still these articles make me sad, because I read about the benefits of particular therapies early in child development and those windows are closed to me. I have kids diagnosed in their teens and it pokes in a hurty place when I see things that would have been helpful if we’d had access to them earlier. Fewer and further between are articles that address the spaces we are in.

So why do I keep reading these articles if they are all naive or painful? Sometimes it is because I’m easily distracted and my brain is trying to avoid the pertinent work of the day. Yet I am drawn to parenting articles over a myriad of other things I could be doing. I read them because when they give advice that doesn’t fit my family, it makes me think through what does work for us and why it works. Articles introduce new ideas. Sometimes masked in the noise I find one thing that rings true to me. Then I collect that thing and it makes our lives easier, or the path ahead more clear, or it simply gives me strength to keep going through the hard stuff. Even when I feel that everything in an article is blatantly wrong or misguided, I can see past the advice to see the writer as another parent who is struggling to make sense of this parenting gig. I read because that is how I learn and get better at what I’m doing. There is not instruction manual for parenting except what we assemble for ourselves. It usually ends up being a hodge podge collection of things we’ve cut and pasted from our own lives and the experiences of others. We’re all making this up as we go, even those who want to label themselves as experts and dispense wisdom to everyone else.

Administrative Things

Administrivia took over this week. My time was eaten by unexpected small tasks relating to the following.

Home refinancing: The details of why this had to be done right now are personal and financial. Also with rates due to go up, sooner is better than later. Yet I’ve been providing paperwork, fielding phone calls to answer questions, and doing some household repairs so that the place shows well for an appraisal. I also had to call the county registrar because somehow they had our property address listed on the wrong street. The fix was simple, but it took me thirty minutes of time.

Shifting Link’s educational path
: Because we were changing the plan, I had to communicate with the WIA Youth program and put the new plan down on paper. We also had to change the schedule for his tutoring appointments. There is still a website we need to go register on and some practice tests for him to take. None of it is difficult. All of it takes time.

Communicating with Patch’s teachers: We seem to have full-on panic attacks under control, but Patch is still frequently shutting down and not communicating well with his teachers. This means I have to communicate with them more. We have to make plans for how to handle his behavior and how to make sure that avoidance doesn’t get him out of doing work. He needs both sympathy and expectation. Because the teachers and classes are different, I have to communicate with every teacher who is having troubles. I also have to spend a lot of time talking with Patch. He has to be part of the process. He also needs to know what the concrete goals are for each classroom. I also talked with him about the efforts he needs to put out to make friends instead of passively waiting for friendships to find him.

Health insurance snafu: The good news here is that we’re covered, we’ve always been covered. The bad news is that over the past week two doctors appointments and five prescriptions were bounced because the system said we weren’t covered. I spent time on the phone talking to the insurance company and they are fully aware that this is an error. Unfortunately the fix will take a few days. Then I’ll have to call all the places again and have them re-run the insurance. Further details of this snafu may become a cautionary post later, but I want the story to be complete before I write it. The truly frustrating part is that nothing I did caused this problem. it was caused by other people and it has cost me at least three hours of time and associated stress.

Project Management: The acquisition of an outside editor has shifted my role in Planet Mercenary a bit. Right now my primary job seems to be making sure that everyone has work they can be doing. Ideally none of the creatives are sitting around and waiting for a piece so that they can be working on it. This means I have to track where everyone is and make sure they have work queued up. This includes me since some of my tasks on the project are also creative. And Planet Mercenary is not the only project I’ve got to manage. There is also a new site design for the Schlock page, the next Schlock book, the 70 maxims book, convention preparation for LTUE, and other things that I can’t think of off the top of my head, but inevitably pop up at inconvenient moments.

Email: There is no end to email. Ever. At least much of it has been nice email, but the quantity still nibbles at my brain.

I do not like administrative minutia, but if I don’t do it everything falls apart. Hopefully I’ll be able to have solid blocks of creative time next week before LTUE.

Things I Wish I’d Done Differently Yesterday

I wish that I’d had a better answer when the heavily accented voice on the phone told me that he was from the IRS and was calling because there was an arrest warrant out on my social security number. His statement was patently ridiculous to me because I know that the IRS communicates via first class mail, not call center phone calls. Also notifications of arrest warrants arrive with uniformed officers at the door, not phone calls. And arrest warrants are issued against names not social security numbers. There was so much wrong with his statement that I listened in silence to find out what strange thing he would say next. But he hung up, I guess he assumed that my silence meant I’d already hung up.
Thing I wish I’d said:
“I’m sorry all my arrest warrants have to go through my lawyer. Would you like his number?”
“From now on all my communications from you must go through my lawyer. I’ll have her call you. May I have your contact information?”
It still would have ended with him hanging up, but I would have felt more clever having traded one fiction for another.

I wish I’d looked down at the icy steps before attempting to walk on them. The result was bruises on various sides of me because I twisted on the way down in a vain attempt to not go down. Nothing broken. I just have a new disbelief for all the action heroes who fall out of vehicles, jump out of buildings, take punches, and then are able to move enough to repeat all of it the next day. I don’t think that human bodies or post adrenaline works that way.

I wish I’d been either more or less assertive with the lady at the couch store. I stood around waiting for 20 minutes with no sales people in sight. When I expressed this frustration, she immediately reacted with defensive statements that implied that I was an irrational customer that she had to manage. I wish I’d either not been cranky with her at all, and thus had a pleasant interaction. Or I wish that I’d been firm and clear that, no, the fault was not mine. Yes I really did push the button which is supposed to summon help. Yes the red light was blinking, it is not blinking now because there must be some sort of auto shut off after ten or fifteen minutes. No I did not accidentally push the cancel button. I made it blink red and waited, and waited, and waited while growing increasingly cranky. Then I finally went searching for a salesperson and found one who was just coming back from break and was more interested in exculpating herself “we just don’t have much coverage on Mondays” than in being polite and helpful to a cranky customer. I bought the couch I wanted because I’m not going to let a store clerk divert me from my purpose, but I walked away from the encounter with a bad feeling floating around in my brain.

On the whole I think I’m glad that my regrets are passing ones. Things that will have become irrelevant and forgotten within a week or two. Those are much better than regrets with real weight and staying power.

Loose Thoughts Strung Together

My head is full of random thoughts this evening. Perhaps if I lay enough of them out in a row they can count as a real post. It works for beads and necklaces, right?

I’m not entirely certain where the second half of last week went. Though thinking back there was some birthday preparation, birthday celebration, sickness in the form of head colds, head colds that transformed themselves into chest colds, a sprinkling of appointments, and some work on Planet Mercenary. So if I wanted to go looking for where the week went, I know where to start my search.

We’re two weeks out from LTUE ( They’ve put up the finalized schedule and I’m excited for the things I’ll get to talk about.
Managing a Giant Project
Marketing on a Budget
Tragedy in Children’s Literature
Distributing Your Novel
Picture Books
And most particularly for the presentation I’ll get to give:
Putting Emotional Depth into Your Children’s Fiction

It will be a very fun event and if you’re at all interested in genre fiction, either creating or reading, or playing as a video game, or watching on a screen, then LTUE has something that may interest you.

I have many things to accomplish before arriving at LTUE. Fortunately one that I thought would be complicated turned out to be simple. The iPad we used for our cash register got dropped by someone who was trying to take moon pictures in the dark. The cracked screen is not great for customer confidence, so our business shelled out for a replacement. Happily our software works with an iPad mini, so now we have a better, newer, smaller, faster device and it is already running the software we need. It is amazing to me what modern electronics can pack into such a small and slim device. I’m buying a case for it just so it doesn’t feel so fragile. Also so that should it get dropped, it has more projection than the old iPad had. Also, the kids can’t use this one. Especially not for pictures of the moon at night.

This weekend I was reminded that teenage birthday parties are much easier for me to run than little kid parties. I never would have allowed one of my little kids to host a party with fifteen guests. The amount of crowd and behavior management would have made my inner introvert want to flee in terror. But a teen party is fine with that many guests. All I have to do is provide a location and food. In this case the location was an indoor trampoline park. Gleek and Patch can both barely move today after ninety minutes of trampoline tag yesterday. Fun was had by all. My spaces were not invaded, and the birthday went well.

We had a couch with a cracked frame. This was covered under warranty, but we had to haul the couch in question up to the store. My car is small-ish, the smallest it can be while still able to seat six people simultaneously. Yet with all of the rear seats folded down I still have six feet of cargo space. The couch was seven feet long. Some creative bungee cord placement and some slow driving got us from my house to the store. And none of the cushions went flying out, which I knew wasn’t likely, but my anxiety tried to convince me would happen. The store gave us credit which we’ll apply to a new couch of a different model. And we’ll hire their delivery team to bring it to us. (Hiring their delivery team to come pick up the broken one was not an option. I asked and they were confused, so I gave up.) Best of all, we won’t have to attempt to use a cardboard box to shore up the sagging middle as we’ve been doing for the past 3-4 months. Hint: cardboard boxes are insufficiently strong to hold up the middle of a couch with a broken frame.

I attended a College and Career Readiness (CCR) meeting for my twelve year old. The primary purpose of the meeting is to turn in the piece of paper which lists preferred classes for next year so that the counselors can put together schedules. But human beings seem generally incapable of gathering people together without slapping additional ceremony or messages on the event. In this case, they spent multiple metaphors trying to convince show kids the dire dangers of not thinking ahead to college and career. I understand why they do it. It is their job to teach kids about their options and to teach about possible consequences. Yet I always spend these meetings turning to my child and whispering that they should not freak out. They have plenty of time and no one expects them to have their live planned out in seventh grade. I did the same for my son at this meeting. I also spent some time thinking about how the path they were pushing, toward college, loses sight of the fact that the goal is being able to build a life you want. It also didn’t explain the nuance that most people don’t pick one career and stick with it for forty years. People change, they learn new things, they switch jobs, go back to school, start fresh. So even if you choose wrong, all you lose is a little time. You can choose again later. We picked some classes and escaped.

I just finished Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson. I’ll end this conglomeration of thoughts with my favorite quote from the book.

Don’t make the same mistakes that everyone else makes. Make wonderful mistakes. Make the kind of mistakes that make people so shocked that they have no other choice but to be a little impressed.

Incoming Appointments

I should not have taunted the medical appointment spirits. Over night one of my kids spiked a fever, an OCD therapist got back to me which means I’ll soon be adding a weekly appointment to my schedule, and I’m now researching whether occupational therapy is covered by our insurance because that would be helpful for a different kid. Have I mentioned I get tired of appointments? Even when I know they’re important and helpful to my people.

Things Done and Things Frustrating

It feels like I spent half of today in fruitless phone calls to customer support. One was an hour long tech call with a trusted company who has unfortunately outsourced their customer support to a country where I have trouble understanding the accent. I gave the tech guy remote access and then got to sit there and watch while he did the same things over and over as if somehow things would magically go differently this time around. Then he found one little setting to change (which I hadn’t known existed) and did a new thing over and over until I got fed up and ended the call. Then in only a few minutes I found the link he kept clicking past so I never got time to see it. It was the “set up account” button. No wonder his attempts to sync things kept failing. I did not have an account in a place where I needed one.

The second customer support call, to find out warranty information on our couch that broke, was even more frustrating. I waded through a phone tree to be “placed on hold” except it was a dead silent limbo that made me think my call had been dropped into a pit somehow. A second wade through phone tree got me to an endlessly looping hold recording. I got to listen to the loop for 20 minutes before I decided to do something better with my day. At least with the tech call I was able to reach a resolution. For this I’m still going to have to wait on hold or drive myself 30 minutes to the store.

In good news, I figured out how to e-file some important tax forms. This was essential because Utah laws have changed and I’m no longer allowed to file them on paper. (Hence the tech phone call.) This means that my year end accounting is complete. Now all I have to do is gather up all the necessary tax documents so that our accountant can file taxes for 2015. That is when I’ll learn if the financial management I did in December was sufficient to reduce our taxes to a comfortable number.

Hopefully tomorrow I’ll be more able to dive into creative work. We’re finishing up the Planet Mercenary card deck. We’re also beginning to move fast on edits and re-writes for the rest of the book. I keep looking at my calendar to see the spaces that I have available. Most of my days are pretty free, where in 2015 they were constantly impacted by school things and diagnostic appointments for kids. For now it is time for bed so I can get up and do creative things tomorrow.

Quiet Saturday

I hear the sound of rain outside my window. It is a friendly sound, one that I like. Though it is strange to be hearing it while looking at pictures from friends who are buried in snow today. All of our snow has melted. It is possible we’ll get more, but right now we have rain.

It was a quiet Saturday. The kids occupied themselves. I did too, splitting my time between relaxing and working on Planet Mercenary. I never even got dressed, just changed from one set of uber comfortable pajamas into another set when I got out of the shower. A part of me thinks I should have spent my day differently. Mostly though, I’m fine with it.

Tomorrow I’ll have to leave the house. We have church in the morning. In the evening I’ll go fetch Howard from the airport and I’ll get to hear stories from his convention trip this weekend. I’ve bee twitter lurking and he appears to have had a good time. Sometimes when Howard is at a convention, I’ll feel sad that I’m missing the fun. I do feel a bit sad when I see pictures of people I know who I would like to be with. But over all, I’m glad to be at home this weekend. Routine is very attractive to me just now. I would like a bunch of it all in a row so that I can catch up on all the projects that have fallen behind schedule.

Not Like Me

Any time I go outside my house there is a subconscious portion of my brain that is devoted to threat assessment. It keeps watch on everything, asking the question “Am I safe?” If the answer is not a clear yes, the process jumps into my conscious thoughts and I start paying attention to the thing which tugged at my subconscious. Usually the thing is another person. I then have to look and evaluate how that person makes me uncomfortable. Sometimes I don’t like the answers because they are based on racist or classist assumptions that Not Like Me = Dangerous.

I was pushing my cart toward the exit of the grocery store, past the floral display. A man was there, he was a bit scruffy with skin much darker than mine. His clothes might have indicated homelessness, or perhaps just a very low paying manual labor job. His hand was reached out to touch one of the plants. It was an almost reverent touch. He caught my eye because that subconscious assessment said “Not Like Me. Possible Risk” My more conscious assessment reminded me I was in a public place, surrounded by people. There was no actual risk here. So I did a thing which I have been working on doing more often. I smiled at him in greeting. Treating him with human respect rather than allowing the “Not Like Me” fear to make me look away and pretend he was not there.

His face lit up in an answering smile. “They’re so pretty.” He said in heavily accented English.

“Yes.” I agreed, slowing my cart down. I love flowers and plants. This man did too. It was a small point of connection.

“I’m from Guam. There are so many flowers there. Big. Everywhere. My wife, she would make a” His hands gestured making a crown shape on his head while he searched for the word
“Leiei. She plant so many flowers everywhere. All around the house.”

My cart was fully stopped now. “How wonderful.” I answered.

“Yes.” He sighed. “I miss the flowers. I come here to think of them.”

In that moment I had a sense of how very far away this man was from the home of his heart. It also seemed like he’d been away a long time. His clothes did not indicate someone who had the income necessary for international travel. I also know that international travel is much more complicated for people who will be scrutinized by customs officials. I wondered if his wife was still in Guam far away from him.

We shared one more smile and parted, me to my car, him to stand in the floral section missing his home. I don’t know any more of his story than that brief piece. I don’t know what brought him here, his immigration status, or his life goals. Yet for a moment “Not Like Me” vanished and I could see a homesick fellow human who likely gets ignored and cold shouldered every day.

It is a small thing to meet a person’s eyes and smile or nod, but the accumulation of small things matters. Giving someone a moment of being seen, instead of being invisible, is important. Particularly for those among us who become invisible because they make others uncomfortable for reasons that they can’t control, whether it be skin color, disability, communication issues, or not being able to afford clean clothes. I can’t smile and nod everywhere. Sadly the world is filled with situations where doing so actually would increase my risk of being harassed in some way. But the places where I can out number the places where I can’t. I’m trying to be better about doing it and about re-training the risk filter in my brain to recognize that just because a person makes me uncomfortable does not give me leave to treat them as if they are less than human.

Starfish Story

I’ve been thinking about starfish. The thoughts started when I read this article
about how to keep writing when no one cares
. Halfway through reading the article, after a litany of evidence that people don’t care (for which I had all too much sympathy), before she got to the part where she explains why she writes anyway, I began to think of that story about starfish.

You know the one. A quick google search brings up a hundred versions. The beach covered in starfish and a single person throwing them back into the ocean one by one. When someone asks why the person bothers, what difference does it make? The person throws one more starfish and says “I made a difference to that one.”

I wish I knew who first wrote that starfish story. I wonder if that writer was in a place of pain, trying to convince herself to keep going when the effort seemed futile. It seems likely to me that she was. Only a person who has struggled with futility could understand why helping even one matters. I’ve heard this story since I was very young. It has been around forever, attributed to everyone and no one. It is likely that the original writer is long gone. Did she have any idea how far her words would go, carried on the currents of an internet she probably never imagined? Perhaps this starfish story also seemed like a futile cry into the void.

That gives me hope. It is not only when I’m alive and chucking starfish that my actions or words can make a difference. The good things I put out into the world can spread out far beyond my reach. They can last longer than my life. They can change and transform so that no one will every be able to trace them back to me. I may never get full credit for them, but credit is not the point. It never was, even though our egos want it to be. We don’t expect the starfish to come back and say thank you. It is the throwing that matters, the attempt to use action to help another.

Time for me to get to work putting good things out into the world. That is how the world becomes better.

Report on Projects in Process

I have been very project focused in the past few days. At least I have been when I was able to focus. Unfortunately I spent some of this week dealing with brain zaps, which are a known side effect of discontinuing some SSRI medications. Some people never get them, others do even when they taper off the medicines slowly, as I did. This experience has me convinced I should never ever end one of these medicines abruptly. You’d think that having a new anti-depressant would reduce the effects of stopping the old one, but apparently not. Fortunately they seem to be subsiding, which is good because I have lots of work to do.

The Planet Mercenary project is the biggest thing on my desk. There is a massive amount of work that needs to be done to get it ready for print in March. On the other hand, some of the work is being really fun. Yesterday I was finishing up the latest iteration of the playing cards and they were making me snicker out loud. I love that they have little stories and that I can picture how they will work to make a game more enjoyable.

Force Multiplication is the next Schlock book, and it too needs to head off to print as fast as we can get it there. Fans have been waiting for it. Also I wrote the bonus story and I’m excited for it to see print.

I have the usual January accounting load. I’ve done most of it, but I still need to create 1099s for all of the contractors that we use through the year. This time the count has more than doubled because of all the art we’ve purchased for the Planet Mercenary book. There is quite a bit of set up work associated with this.

The 70 Maxims book also needs to go to print in March. This one will move more quickly than the Planet Mercenary book. It has a lot fewer words, no index, and very few images to manage.

I think the parenting project has (finally, after 3 years) hit a lull where I’m not having to do diagnosis or crisis management for any of my kids. I’m a little reluctant to say this because there is a superstitious piece of my brain that thinks saying it out loud will jinx it.

One of my current projects is teaching Link to be a good work assistant. We’ve put him on the corporate payroll and are paying him a bit over minimum wage for the hours he works. This means teaching him how to be willing to work on my schedule instead of his. He’ll also be learning about tax withholding and basic money management. I think he has the potential to be an excellent assistant. This will become critically important when we hit May, June, and July when we’ll be shipping out all the projects that we’ve been spending the last six months (and the next three months) creating. Fortunately Kiki will also be home to help, so I’ll have two trained assistants.

Organizing the house is a constant project. There is always something to sort or to clean.

As I’ve been feeling better, writing is coming back to me. The process is slow because so much of my available creative energy is being poured into Planet Mercenary. I’m actually doing a significant amount of writing for that project. I’ll be getting writer credit as well as editorial credit. I’ve been blogging more, which makes me happy. It is a measure of my escape from depression and anxiety. My novel in progress is still waiting in the wings for me to have time to open it up again. I know it is there, but haven’t yet decided to put my effort into it.

I’ve been reading more, which is another measure of the escape from depression. I pick reading over binge watching Netflix. Right now I’m trying to (finally) finish reading the last three books of The Wheel of Time series. Then I’ve got Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, Sister Mine, by Nalo Hopkinson, and half a dozen other books in my stack of things to read. I want to fill my head with stories and ideas.

I know I have other projects sitting around and waiting, but at this moment I can’t think of them. Which is fine, because I really need to do all of the above first.