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Late Night Thoughts on Parenting

It is late and instead of being asleep I am noodling around on the internet. I’m looking at articles talking about how helicopter parents need to back off, and lists of ways in which incoming freshman are not ready for college because their parents hovered too much. Then I think about parents who get prosecuted for letting their kids walk to the park, and about how my kid’s schools contact me every time one of my kids has an F. Or if my kids are marked absent for any of their classes. Or if my kid misses a flex session where they are supposed to make up work. The messages urge me to talk to my child about their choices. The unspoken message is clear: It is the parent’s job to make sure that their kids succeed. So parents get caught in this system that pushes them to hover, and then complains later because they hovered.

I’m thinking about all of this because, with one of my kids, we’re out in the weeds. There may be a path here, but it is hard to see and maybe it will only exist after we’ve trampled our way through to create it. I’m doing my best to step back, let him struggle, let him fail, let him learn. On the other hand I’m also doing what I can to make sure the path isn’t impossible, to help him keep moving, to make sure that the obstacles are surmountable with his current allotment of resources. At times it feels like the worst of both worlds. I have to explain to others why I’m letting him take a potentially failure laden path, and I’m having to explain why I step in and intervene in ways that look like I’m the one keeping him mired in childish dependence. I’m wending the best parenting path I can figure out, and I’m usually convinced that I’m getting it all wrong.

That “convinced I’m getting it all wrong” is a normal parenting experience. This is one of the reasons that society gets so focused on touchstones and check points. Semester grade reports and end-of-year testing are used as a way to know if the kid’s education is on track. High School graduation is a huge measure of success. Other touchstones are getting a job, getting a driver’s license, earning an award, college admission, picking a major, getting married, getting a job. Any success that the child has can qualify. When kids hit the checkpoints it is a small reassurance that maybe the parents aren’t completely failing. I read this behind many facebook statuses “Johnny won the spelling bee! (maybe I’m not completely failing at this parenting gig.)” Parents aren’t the only ones watching, grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends, neighbors, they all take note and help to celebrate. Milestones let everyone relax because the kid appears to be on track.

“Appears,” note that word carefully, because sometimes the internal experience of the child does not match the external success. Sometimes a checkpoint reached is more a measure of parental management than child growth. This is why helicopter parenting is scolded, because child growth should be the goal, not the checkpoints. Eventually the missing growth is exposed when the child is not prepared. Conversely, sometimes a checkpoint missed can also indicate growth rather than failure. Sometimes the strongest thing an almost-adult can do is to head out into the weeds because the standard path isn’t working. But a missed checkpoint looks like a failure. It makes everyone anxious and uncomfortable, because there is no reassurance that all will be well. then there is enormous pressure to get the kid “back on track.” People like the comfortable answers, the solid and stable answers. They like to know which college and what major. They want the major to be one that they can picture leading to steady employment. They try to steer artists away from art majors. They try to push college as the sure path.

There is no sure path. All of the paths are made of struggle, failure, getting up again, and moving on. Parents may manage their kids into college, but then the new adults have to do the growing they missed out on before. Sometimes people are exactly on track for a very long time, until life takes an unexpected left turn. Then they have to figure out how to find a new path for themselves. All of us will, eventually, have to venture out when the way ahead is not clear.

So perhaps I should use this as reassurance, that in “allowing” my kid’s education to veer away from standard, I’m letting him grow in a way that most people don’t until much later, even while he is not growing in some of the ways that his peers are growing right now. Maybe I’m succeeding and failing all at once. And maybe that is just fine.

Doing Things on a Saturday

I’ve spent all day making my spaces be different. Now, at 10:30 I can say that they’re more organized, but for most of the day it was moving things around into different piles. Howard came into my office at one point and I asked if he could tell I’d been working on it. He said that yes he could tell that the piles were far more organized than they had been before. The goal in my office is to remove clutter, hang art on the walls, and remove the ugly utility shelving. That last will be the hardest part because I’ll have to find new homes for everything that is currently being stored on the there.

My gardening efforts were more immediately rewarding. Ninety minutes with clippers trimmed back the grape vines and re-shaped our bonsai-ish tree by our front window. Gleek helped me with the gardening work because she has a plan and needs funds to make it happen. The plan is a chicken plan, where she gets to have a little flock of chickens. Howard and I don’t really have an interest in tending chickens, but if Gleek is devoted enough to the idea to fund it herself, then we’ll gladly give over some yard space to a chicken coop. I suspect she’ll actually follow through with this plan, because any time she has a chance to play with neighbor’s chickens, she loves them. And they like her back. She is a chicken whisperer who manages to coax unruly chickens into sitting in her lap and letting her pet them. It is going to take Gleek a while to save up enough money, so no chickens this summer. Which is fine. I have many things to do that aren’t managing a flock of chickens.

I’m not certain why today turned into a day of doing all the things. Hopefully I can continue to re-arrange things over the next week. For today I’m tired and sore.

Ambient Anxiety

I have anxiety. It is something I have to adapt for on a daily basis. Sometimes my anxiety (sort of) makes sense. If my kids are melting down, it is reasonable that I feel stressed or anxious, even if the specific manifestations of that anxiety are ridiculous. (Hello brain, what is the point of fixating on laundry as evidence of my ultimate failure as a human being?) What I find fascinating and annoying are the manifestations of anxiety in my body. My heart will race. I’ll get heart palpitations, which feel a bit like my heart misjudged and missed the last step in its 1-2-3-4 beat. My dreams will be restless and filled with anxiety themes. Sometimes I’ll snap awake because I’ve just had a stomach-plunging surge of adrenaline that may or may not be related to the content of the dream. That stomach plunge happens pretty much any time I’m confronted with an anxiety trigger. Even if I walk away from the trigger, even if I’m not thinking about it, even if logically it has no bearing on my day, there is a part of my brain that is tracking that trigger as if it is a mountain lion about to pounce. My brain is convinced that danger is out there and I have to be ready for it. The alertness only disengages when there is a specific end to the trigger. IE, a financial trigger over a late payment can be defused when the payment arrives.

Of late many of my stresses have unraveled themselves. After several years where my kids were melting down or falling apart, we’ve reached a space where they are all doing well. We just sent the latest Schlock book off to print and the schedule says we’ll have printed books before GenCon. This relieves some significant financial worries. The Planet Mercenary project shows daily progress even though we’re in the muddle which always accompanies the middle of a book. My garden has lots of flowers growing and blooming. So in theory I should be feeling more relaxed and happy. Instead I’ve been snapping awake, working out knots in my back, and reminding myself to unclench my teeth. I have to look around and ask “where is this anxiety coming from?” The answer is a bit discouraging, because the answer is that every day I carry an ambient level of anxiety that I do not entirely control. Some of it is purely chemical. I will wake up anxious even though I went to bed relaxed and nothing has changed over night. Or vice versa (waking up relaxed after anxiety is much nicer, and fortunately more common.) Some of it is environmental, like witnessing or participating in an emotional conflict. The proximity of the conflict to people I care for has a direct correlation on how much my anxiety goes up. Unfortunately to be around people is to be around conflict. So figuring out my anxiety levels is much like dealing with the weather. I can dress for it, plan for it, manage it, but if I don’t like the current conditions, I just have to wait for them to change while still doing the things I need to get done.

I do not like that I find myself in what should be a peaceful window of quiet work, and instead I’m having to manage anxiety. I love my brain’s ability to task-track, I dislike that it also trigger-tracks no matter how much I tell it that not all internet conflict will result in my ultimate doom. And truthfully, not all conflict makes me anxious, just any conflict that my brain can imagine turning on me and dragging me into it. My anxiety is quite imaginative. Instead of relaxing into work, I’m at yellow alert. Constantly. Because my brain keeps rehearsing difficult conversations that I may have to have, where I might be accused of being a terrible person and I’ll have to provide evidence that I am not, and defend my position. Only maybe that other person is right, and I am a terrible person. Maybe I need to change and become better and this should all be a learning experience for me. I don’t even know who the other person in this conversation will be, just that it will be the worry topic du-jour that is likely about politics, diversity issues, religion, economic fairness, disability, or any number of other hot topics. I just know that my brain thinks I need to have high-stakes-debate level planning on tap at all times. For all possible topics.

Or maybe that is just today. I don’t think yesterday I was running quite this hot, which suggests that today is just a bad anxiety day and hopefully a good night’s sleep will help me reset. And that is another hard thing about anxiety, it affects my judgement. When I’m anxious, things that aren’t emergencies feel like they are. Things that are minor upsets feel like complete disasters and harbingers of doom. I use my logic as a lever to try to stabilize my decision making, but the emotions throw me all over the place and make me tired. Today I am anxious. Because everything else in the day is going well, I can sit here writing a post about anxiety, spectating the experience. Other anxious days are less kind and I just have to build a blanket fort and hide for awhile.

Flowers and Change

Tulip pink and yellow I’ve had tulips for as long as I’ve owned this house (18 years and counting). There was an abundance of them in the front flowerbed the first spring after I moved in. The thing with tulips is that most varieties of them will only come back for a few years before dying out. There are a few exceptions, mostly in bright yellow and solid red. Over the years I’ve dug up beds, redistributed tulip bulbs, bought new bulbs, and generally been a disturber of the earth. Some years I tend my flowers. Other years only the fittest will survive the incursion of weeds and neglect. Yet I’ve always had yellow tulips because they persistently grow and spread. One patch will die out, but another will thrive. In my backyard, yellow tulips are the only ones I have because I’ve not taken time to re-plant other colors. Except this spring I looked out my back window and saw a surprise. Pink tulips in my backyard flower beds. There are three of them in three different places and I don’t know how they got there. I’ve never seen pink in the back garden before. I know I didn’t do any planting last fall.

My mind spins on the puzzle as I stand at the window. I ruminate on spontaneous hybridization (happening identically in three locations) or an accidental scattering of seeds. I assume that tulips can grow from seeds though bulbs work much better. Then I stop myself. This is not a problem that needs a solution. I don’t need to know how they got there, I can just enjoy the fact that they are. tulip apricot and sky This is one of the things I love about seeing my garden year after year. It always changes. There is always some surprise or a new manifestation. This trio of apricot-colored tulips used to be giant and in classic tulip shape. Yet this year they are small and airy. It probably means that in another year or so they’ll vanish as tulip varieties so often do. Then I’ll plant some other tulip in that spot, or perhaps the lilies will take over. Each spring my flowerbeds change. They are different than the year before.

In fact the beds change not just year to year, but day to day. I’ve been noticing this as I spend five or ten minutes wandering outside with my camera in hand. I’m looking for things to photograph for my April photo a day that I’m posting on twitter. Some of the flowers I photographed only a week ago have lost their petals and are done for the year. Others have shown up where I didn’t expect a flower at all. And then there is the slow watching of plants and flowers developing. This peony won’t bloom until late May or June, but the buds are beginning to grow now. They’ve grow in just the past week.
Peony comparison 1 web

I’m always a little sad when I see the flowers begin to lose their petals. The tulips drop theirs fairly dramatically. One day flower, next day just a stem. For today the palm-sized petals are still lovely even on the ground. I know the tulips will be back again next year and they need to make way for the summer flowers which are just beginning to shoot up. Fallen petal 1 I wish that the serendipity of unexpected beauty were as easy to see as in my garden. I wish that emotional growth and development in my children were as simple to spot and photograph as the buds of my flowers. I wish that life made it easier to see that sad things sometimes have to happen because without them future happiness can’t be. I wish these things, but for now I’ll walk my flower beds and feel that the sorts of things I see there are happening in other parts of my life as well. Life is full of beautiful growth, but I won’t see it unless I stop and pay attention.

We have a strange job

“I just need you to verify information on some people you made payments to.” The guy asking was from the Utah Department of Workforce Services. His job was to make sure that I was paying Utah unemployment taxes for any Utah residents who might be considered employees.
“Who is X, and what does she do for you?”
“Ah that’s one of our artists, we contract work from her. She lives in Canada.”
“Okay.” He checks her off the list. Not a Utah resident, not his concern. “Tell me about W.”
“He’s an editor we hired to help with a book. He lives in California.”
“What about G?”
“He helps us with website design and management. He lives in New Zealand.”
“Oh.” This time there is some surprise in the man’s tone. “And K?”
“Artist, lives in China.”
“Artist, lives in Brazil.”
The man paused. “Wow, you really work with people all over.” This surprise came from from a man who spends all of his work hours interviewing business owners about their employees and contractors.

I was standing in a copy shop waiting for color prints of the latest Schlock book when another woman came to stand in line next to me. The first pages were delivered and I began to turn them over and look for errors.
“That’s really cool looking.” The woman said “What is it?”
I’m always a little stumped to answer this question, because I don’t know where to start or how to summarize. I can talk for hours about what I do and what Howard does, but casual conversation isn’t supposed to turn into a lecture. Yet any answer I give that is short of a lecture tends to provoke more questions, not fewer.
“It is a comic that I edit and publish. My husband is the artist and author.”
“That’s really cool. He drew all these pictures?”
“But he must draw on a computer. people don’t draw on paper anymore, do they?”
At this point I recognized I was talking to a person for whom a creative career is so far outside her worldview that she literally did not have the necessary knowledge to comprehend the work we do. She asked three times, in three different ways, what our real jobs were, what did we do for money when we weren’t working on the comic. The idea that a comic book was our full time job simply did not compute.

I so often forget what a strange thing it is that Howard and I do. We live in this strange little niche that only exists because of the internet. Sometimes we’re not sure ourselves how all the things combine to bring enough income to pay all our bills. I try to forget about that, because when I contemplate it, anxiety rises up to remind me that it could all go away. I forget that most people don’t have plot conversations over breakfast, and copy-edits over lunch. For us it is routine to answer fan mail and to sign a contract to print 5000 books. It is routine to communicate with people on far flung portions of the planet about things that we are creating together. Then there are these moments where someone reacts to our job description and I remember. What we do is weird and we’re really lucky that we get to do it.

Lack of Focused Work this Week

This is not being a great week for focused attention. We can start with the fact that it is Spring Break, so Gleek and Patch are out of school. This means that the sound of games begin around 10am instead of around 3pm. The sound of games isn’t really a problem all by itself. The real trouble is that the kids come find me to ask questions or tell me things. often to answer I have to stop what I’m doing and go do something else for a bit. Then I have to try to remember what I was doing. About the time I’ve gotten rolling, another kid needs a thing.

On top of kids in the house, this week we’re finalizing the cover for Force Multiplication. We’ve gotten to the stage where I tweak something and send to Howard, then he tweaks and sends back to me. The turn around time is pretty fast. Yesterday I went through file versions A-G. Today I’m already on version C. When it is all done, I’ll probably put together a gif slideshow of all the cover tweaks. It is fascinating to see how the design morphs over time. But I can’t post it until we have a final version.

The Beginning of April

TulipIn April the fact of spring becomes obvious. This makes my heart happy. Yet I have a habit of being tangled up inside my own head and failing to notice the world around me. This is particularly true since I don’t have to leave my house to go to work. There was one year where I looked up at the beginning of May and realized that I had completely missed daffodil and tulip season. This year I plan to pay attention. The world is full of small beautiful things that exist whether or not I take time to see them, but my life is enriched when I take time to notice. And some of them do get more beautiful for my attention. The flowers in my gardens grow stronger, bigger, more beautiful when I take time to pull weeds and scatter fertilizer.

02 Forget-me-not
I took some time to do that yesterday. I also planted some summer bulbs that are a gift to myself in June when they bloom. I also uncovered small gifts that I planted for myself some months prior, like this little forget-me-not. I love forget-me-nots. They remind me of playing with a childhood friend. We weren’t allowed to touch his mother’s roses, but we could pick as many of the tiny blue flowers as we wanted. Each plant only lives for about two years. Once the plant expends all its energy into flowers, the plant itself dies, but from among the hundreds of seeds, new plants will sprout, spreading tiny blue loveliness for next year.

03 Apricot blossom
The arrival of April reminds me that I was supposed to prune trees and grape vines in early March. Hopefully I’ll get out there during this next week while my kids are on Spring Break. I may even declare a yard work day and get the kids to help me. The abundance of blossoms on my apricot tree are a testament to the value of pruning. Two years ago the tree was weak and straggly. It had over-produced fruit for two years in a row. I pruned it back vigorously last spring, cutting off all the branches which might have borne fruit. This forced the tree to focus on leaves, which feed the tree, rather than on fruit, which takes energy from the tree and gives it to the possibility of future trees rather than feeding the tree it came from. The tree grew strong again, and this spring it is covered in blossoms, which are beautiful to see. As soon as the blooms fade, I’ll trim the tree again. I’ll not trim off all the fruit, but I’ll thin it out so that the tree can supply some fruit, but still have energy for more leaves. There is probably a lesson for me in self management as I consider managing this tree.

This April, in an effort to nourish myself and to share beauty, I plan to be posting a photo a day over on my twitter feed. They may all be plants and flowers from my garden. Or they may be something else that catches my eye. The only rules I’m attempting to abide by, are post at least one per day, and only post pictures that bring me happiness. You’re welcome to follow along.

April Fools Day is not my Favorite

If seen some wonderful online pranks, things that made me happy at their existence. The annual roll-out of ridiculous merchandise on Think Geek is a good example. I go there to see and laugh, but I am not tricked. I have dear friends who love the online pranking. In general I don’t. It raises my ambient level of anxiety because every single thing I look at, I have to think “Is this real?” And then there are the pranks that punch me right in the anxiety triggers.

For example, this morning Gmail added a button called “mic drop” where if you sent an email using it, an animated gif was added to your message and all responses to that email chain would be automatically archived. The trouble is that the button was right next to the send button, and I could picture myself accidentally clicking it and losing track of important business communications. Other Gmail customers reacted as I did, and the button was deactivated shortly after I saw it.

I spent some time yesterday thinking about how some people don’t ride chemically induced waves of mood on a daily basis. At least I think they don’t. I’ve heard rumors. That is not my lived experience. My daily existence involves management of stresses, and close attention paid to when people are over stimulated. And then there are days like yesterday where everything is fine when I wake up, but things go emotionally sideways, not because of events, but because of weirdness inside my head. I wonder if I would enjoy April Fools Day more if I didn’t have to manage the psychology in my household quite so much.

For now, I’m just going to look at this photo of a flower I took this morning. I may do photo a day again this April. I enjoyed that last year.

Ordinary day

It always takes a few days for me to sort myself out post-convention. I would dearly love to just spring back to work, but energy and sleep debts must be paid. The good news is that as of today, I appear to be paid in full. I plowed through some work on Force Multiplication, bringing it closer to print ready. I wanted to work more on Planet Mercenary, perhaps I’ll find a spurt of energy later this evening.

…and apparently I did because it is now later in the evening and I got some more work done. We only have 14 more margin art spaces to fill in Force Multiplication. That and creating textures for the cover. Then we’ll be ready to test print. So close.

I had to take some time to play homework warden this afternoon. Gleek had an overdue essay to complete. Patch had to face the dire assignment of drawing a still life. This actually is pretty dire to him. It punches his anxiety buttons, because his brain screams at him that he’ll get it wrong and that will be his ultimate doom. But we can’t excuse him from all of life’s hard things on account of anxiety, so I’m giving him space to wrestle with this a bit. Hopefully he’ll be able to make himself get started tomorrow.

Some days are just ordinary. Perhaps I’ll have thoughtful things to post on a different day.

Watched Daredevil

A person as amazing and wonderful as Karen deserves to be someone’s first choice and first priority. I mean, sure go save the world and save lives, but she should come before the other stuff. Just saying.

Also, secrets and lies are never good for relationships.

Powerful show to evoke such strong reactions and discussion. Beautifully filmed. Far more blood and death than I was comfortable with, yet the show was all about the consequences of choices, what makes a hero, and where the line is between hero and villain.