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Some of my short fiction can be found on Anthologybuilder.com

The Eve of a New Year

Tonight is New Year’s Eve. Tomorrow morning will be the first day of 2015. Contemplating the new year, it feels bright, sharp, and cold. Possibly I’m just being influenced by my first bleary-eyed look outside my windows this morning. All over social media I see people moving to embrace the new year. Some of them are excited for things to come. Some are just anxious to shake off the dust of 2014 and do something else, because 2014 was miserable for them. I’ll be honest, though 2014 had some really good months for me, the last few were not my favorite. Yet I don’t feel any impulse to rush forward because I know that I’ve got more hard stuff between me and any pleasant months. Just like I’ve got several months of cold before the outdoors becomes hospitable again. Right now I want to hunker down where it is warm, not face the cold.

I don’t get to. I’m going to be dragged into this new year minute by minute. As I reach the appointed time to pick up my regular responsibilities, I’ll settle them onto my shoulders again. Usually I feel excited about that after having a holiday rest. Today, not so much. So I keep thinking about the Winston Churchill quote: “When you’re going through hell, keep going.” I can do that. I can keep putting one foot in front of the other. I can keep doing the tasks as they come to me. Then at some point I’ll be able to look up from my feet and realize that all my walking has carried me into different terrain. It isn’t exactly hope, but perhaps it counts as faith. I believe that if I keep going, eventually I’ll end up somewhere else.

I won’t be making resolutions this year. The last thing I need is a new load of expectations for myself. Instead of new goals, I’m going to focus on acceptance. I need to see things as they are and let go of what I think they ought to be. Written out like that, it looks an awful lot like a resolution, so I guess I have one after all. But only one. And I’m allowed to ignore it without guilt if that is what I need to do.

Troubleshooting Sibling Disharmony: the Acquiescer and the Demander

The Problem:
Gleek is a full-steam-ahead person. She always has been. When she has an exciting thought, she wants to tell everyone about it. The only way to get her to stop is to confront her and say “Not right now.” Even then, she often feels hurt that we don’t want to hear all about the story she is writing instead of working on homework (or making dinner, or watching a movie, or whatever other activity her burst of needing-to-share has interrupted.) In contrast, Patch is a natural peacemaker. In order to not cause problems for others, he will give up things he wants. Sometimes he’ll do it without actually making a conscious choice to sacrifice. It is only later, when the game is done or the treat is eaten, that he realizes what he wanted. Then he is sad and frustrated because the chance is gone.

These two are good friends. They play together all the time. Yet we are beginning to see an accumulation of frustration in Patch. Because when they have an argument, it isn’t just today’s incident of Gleek not listening to Patch that is the problem. Patch will declare “You never listen to me!” and he’s got a lot of supporting evidence. Gleek is honestly shocked at how quickly Patch gets upset over such a small incident. She doesn’t see what went wrong and she is hurt that he got hugely upset over a small thing. They both feel like the other one ruined the game.

Evaluation:
It took me quite a while to see the dynamic that was causing the trouble. Patch is eleven and Gleek is thirteen, this has been part of how they interacted since they were tiny. I guess it became more apparent because puberty has begun to turn up the volume on Patch’s emotions. Right now he is less able to just shrug things off and let them go. Or maybe the pool of accumulated frustration finally got big enough to send out geysers that we could see.

I mediated a conversation between Patch and Gleek where I outlined what I was seeing. Sometimes clearly defining a problem is half way to solving it. Unfortunately in this case, it is going to take many conversations that take place over time. I know this because at a moment when Patch was feeling sore and un-listened-to, Gleek entered ready to tell Patch all about the story characters she was creating. She was angry when he turned away and asked “Why don’t you want to hear about my characters?”
I pointed out that Patch was full of emotions and needed to feel like she cared about him. I mentioned that a better conversation opener would be “Are you okay?” followed by a lot of listening.
Gleek looked at me confused. “But I did ask him what’s wrong.”
“No you didn’t, you wanted (demanded) to know why he didn’t want to listen to you. That is very different from ‘are you okay?’”
At that point Gleek got a bit defensive and angry, so we let the subject drop for a while. Gleek’s full-speed-ahead approach to life means that she gets corrected and criticized a lot. That hurts her. A single correction is one thing, a barrage is another. It accumulates in her in the same way that Patch’s frustrations accumulate in him.

I strongly suspect that on Gleek’s end we just have to wait for some additional brain development to provide additional comprehension. Gleek is in the middle of the early teen stage where significant brain remodeling takes place in the frontal lobe. Most teens become socially clumsy and tactless between twelve and fifteen. In Patch’s case this tactless phase will work to our advantage. He’s going to have less ability to squelch his own wants. This means more conflict in his life, which he won’t like, but will force him to see that wanting things is not inherently bad. Neither is conflict.

Applied changes:

1. I will continue to speak out loud about the dynamic I’m seeing between the two of them. I will continue to state that Patch needs to speak up about the things he wants and Gleek needs to practice stopping and listening to the game suggestions of others, even when they feel like an interruption of what she has planned. Perhaps my verbal repetition of the dynamic will help them learn to see it.
2. When I mediate a conflict between them, I may have to separate them and listen individually. Even when I’m trying to enforce “Now it is your turn to talk” Gleek still manages to do 70% or more of the talking.
3. It might be good to have Gleek learn some active listening techniques and get her to practice them. When she sees the emotions of others she is naturally empathetic and a champion of the downtrodden. She just can’t always see where she is treading and who might be under there. I don’t know that I have the emotional resources to tackle this right now. Too many other things are going on. But it is good to note it as a possible course of action for the future.
4. I will encourage the pair of them to pray for each other. Prayer gets inside where I can’t go. It creates compassion and understanding in ways that I have no power to do.

Coming Home from Church

I came home from church early with Patch because he was having a rough day. This has been the story of all my Sundays for the last two months. Someone in my house is having a rough time. Someone leaves early. Someone cries because life feels like too much. Often the someone has been me. I guess attending church pries us open and lays the emotions bare. I hope that we will make our way back to a place where church is for peace and comfort instead of raw emotions.

I broke down and bought pill boxes last week. They line up, four in a row, each with a week’s worth of pills sorted into their compartments. When I see those pill boxes, I have to face the fact that five out of six of us are on daily medication or vitamin supplements. There are nine prescriptions which I have to track and refill when they begin to run out. In theory I could get them all onto the same schedule and make one massive medication run to the pharmacy once per month. It never works out that way. I see the pharmacists 2-4 times per month. The pill boxes are an acknowledgement that I can’t track it daily the way I’ve been doing. The effort of remembering who has taken meds and who hasn’t becomes too much. Howard manages his own. I manage the rest and, in the dark of early morning, I must be able to run on automatic. Now I think through the medicines once per week instead of every day. It is a tiny simplification, a small thing that reduces the daily burden. Yet I didn’t quite realize what a burden it was, until I had all the pill boxes lined up like that.

The other thing I must face when looking at those pill boxes is the fact that I’ve become the mother who medicates her children. I was more comfortable with that when I had fewer children on medicine. I could use the non-medicated children as evidence that I was responding to need rather than jumping to pills as the solution to life’s troubles. This self-reassurance is less available now. All I have left is to cling to the knowledge that mental health is a process. I’ve not put my kids on meds and called it good. We have doctors and therapists involved. It is a constant process of evaluation and re-evaluation. Is this working? What does this child need now? How does that compare to what was needed three months ago? Six months ago? Last year? That too is exhausting. There are so many decisions to make. Which really is just a description of parenting whether or not medicine is involved.

It snowed Christmas Eve. I went to bed when things were wet, brown, bleak. We woke to the world coated in white. All the edges were softened and made beautiful. I’d heard this might happen, and the moment I did, I prayed that it would be so. I wanted Christmas to be different. I wanted to get to that day and set down the emotional load I’ve been toting around. I wanted Christmas to be a respite. At least for one day. Then the snow came, and our celebrations were everything they needed to be, and at the end of the day I was at peace instead of weary.

Of course the next day the snow was less lovely as it turned to slush and then ice. There is always a day after. This can be either discouraging or hopeful depending on what sort of a day it was. For me, I can feel the holiday continuing to work in me. I feel like I’m convalescing during this holiday space where the kids are out of school and the work burdens are lighter. I haven’t much time left to rest. Life will resume its regular pace next week and I have to hope that I’m up to speed.

I went back to church after Patch had settled and all the talking was done. There were only ten minutes remaining, but I went anyway. I wanted to be in the building and to be comforted by being near the people there. I came in just in time for the teacher to close her lesson. I sang with the closing hymn and listened to the prayer. Then the meeting was done before I was ready. I could have used a longer time sitting and listening. Just sitting there gave me strength.

In the hallway after the meeting I was greeted by friends. Once again I remembered how complicated it can be to answer the question “How are you?” I want to be truthful. I want to bring my friends in, and include them in my life, but some conversations are much too complicated for the hallway of the church building. Also, I’m kind of tired of crying at church. So I say that I’m fine, because that is true. My life is good in so many ways. There are dozens of joyful stories about the holidays. Our house has been filled with laughter during the past few weeks. So I pull out those stories and tell them. Yet, in the telling, I have to talk around all the worries that continue to plant themselves front-and-center in my brain. It is like being short and sitting behind a tall person at the theatre. I can lean this way and that to see the bright and beautiful display, but the view is not clear and I kind of want to complain about what is blocking my view.

The ice crusted snow crunched under my feet as I walked to my car with Gleek. The other kids had made their own trips home from church already. Gleek made a joke about the cold and I smiled. We passed Howard walking on the drive home and he hopped into the car. The three of us entered the house to find Kiki playing a game with Patch and Link. They were laughing. I watched them for a minute and treasured the sound of the laughter. Next week we’ll go to church again. Perhaps some of us will come home early again, perhaps not. I’m not going to pray for a week when we all stay. I’m going to pray for us all to work our way through the challenges immediately in front of us. I trust that when we do, the other things—like peaceful church attendance—will take care of themselves.

Saving Christmas

There are a bajillion Christmas books and movies out there where fill-in-the-blank protagonist saves Christmas. Usually “save Christmas” means “enable Santa Claus to deliver presents on time.” I’ve seen some wonderful iterations of this story and some terrible ones. This afternoon I was faced with yet another version and I had a moment of clarity. I figured out why How the Grinch Stole Christmas is one of my very favorite Christmas stories. It is the only one I’ve ever seen that says Christmas is strong instead of weak. It says that Christmas can’t be destroyed, that it exists separate from presents and the trappings of traditional celebrations. In fact, Christmas saves the Grinch, not the other way around. That’s a message I can really believe. It is also a reminder that I need.

I often get tangled up in my own version of saving Christmas. There is this long list of things that I feel like I must do correctly or else the holiday will be ruined. I spend so much energy doing things that are the metaphorical equivalent of saving Santa. I need to remember that there are better Christmas stories to dwell inside. Give me a Herdman-style Christmas where somehow the chaos of everyone colliding with each other turns into something beautiful after all. Or the Christmas where everyone sings whether or not there are presents.

I guess this year I really need the stories where things turn out okay whether or not the protagonist makes all the right choices. Which, when I think about it, is right in tune with the first Christmas story. That’s the one where a baby is born and he becomes the means by which all of our mistakes can be redeemed. That’s the point, we don’t save Him. He saves us. I don’t have to make Christmas or save it. I need to open up so that it can take up residence inside me.

Wrapping Presents

I wrapped some presents this morning. It is the first Christmas focused thing I’ve done since we hauled the tree out of storage two weeks ago. I suppose I could also count some of the online shopping I’ve done as I acquired the things I knew we’d want as gifts. But ordering things off of the internet doesn’t feel Christmas-y. It just feels like life. I do it exactly the same all year long. Wrapping is different. It is outside the usual round of my tasks. It is an opportunity for me to focus on the particular gift and the particular person for the few minutes it takes to fold and tape paper around the package. I do not always accept the opportunity. Sometimes I approach wrapping with a “get it done” attitude. Yet even when I’m in a hurry, I still have to do one fold at a time, one present at a time. That fact annoys me when I’m rushed. The same fact is the source of enjoyment when I am not.

I still have some wrapping to do. Our tree is uncharacteristically bare underneath. None of us have had much brain for thinking ahead to Christmas. We’ve all been mired in the day-to-day tasks of school, concerts, shipping, homework, doctor’s appointments, and other events. It doesn’t help when events keep getting cancelled, moved, or rescheduled. School will be out on Friday. That is when my kids will suddenly feel very urgent about Christmas shopping. I find it is best if I have mine managed before their urgency hits. I think I’m mostly prepared. I was relieved to discover this, since I haven’t had much focused attention available. It is nice to know that the fragments of attention I’ve been able to give have assembled themselves into a nearly complete preparation.

I hope that in the week that I have before the holiday I am able to spend more time focused on the moments I’ve been given and less time frantically arranging to make sure all the things get done.

Boundaries and Drowning

A thing happened to my son at school. It was a small thing, but my son’s emotional reaction to it was very large. When this sort of disproportional reaction happens, I know that it usually has very little to do with the thing itself and much to do with a dozen other things which are often invisible to everyone. Even the person having the big reaction does not know what it is about. They think it is about the thing. So it was with my son. He got quite angry with me when I did not respond as if the small thing was a dire and immediate emergency. I got angry with him because I was confused why he was suddenly so angry with me, and because some of his choices about how to handle his emotional reaction were not ideal.

Boundaries are a problem when a child struggles with a mental health issue. It is morally wrong to do nothing while someone drowns. It gets more complicated when someone is drowning in water that is only waist high. Particularly if that person won’t listen to shouts of “just stand up.” So I find myself soaking wet, not wearing my swim suit because I wasn’t planning on getting into the water today, helping my son to stand up. This has happened many times. Each time I wonder if maybe my rescues are part of the problem. Maybe I should just stand on the edge and let him flail until he figures out for himself that he can just put his feet down and stand. Except, people do drown in waist high water. People drown in bathtubs. Even adult people. It happens when something interferes with rational thought. A person who is drowning is not able to be completely rational. The drowning is real even if the water is not deep. I can’t let my child drown while I watch. Yet, a person who is always rescued learns to rely on rescue. That person can get very angry with people who try to get them to manage solo.

I don’t have any good answers. I just know that today I was dragged into the pool to perform a rescue that was not entirely of my choosing. I’m tired and wrung out. Again.

Cleaning House

I knew a freeze was coming, so I rescued some of the blooming flowers from my garden.
Bowl of flowers

They looked lovely there in the bowl, so I took a picture. Then I carefully pressed the flowers in the pages of a phone book so that I’ll have dried pressed flowers to play with in January. Phone books aren’t as easy to come by as they used to be. I’ll be hanging on to this one for a while.

This is the week for me to sort through stuff and clear out the accumulated mess that occurs because of book release and shipping. Kiki and I had the first of many warehouse clean up days. I got part way caught up on laundry. I had enough energy on Saturday to assign out house chores to the kids and to expect them to actually follow through. They did. Our house is cleaner.

My physical spaces are not the only things I’m attempting to tidy. Today I acquired the doctor’s letter which will allow me to do the final rearrangement of Link’s schedule at school. I’ve refilled all the prescriptions. I’ve paid the premium on our new healthcare plan which I hope will do a better job of helping us pay for all those prescriptions. There are a dozen other organizational tasks necessary to make the next month, and next year, run smoothly.

I also attended a therapy session. This one wasn’t for one of my kids (though I had one of those today as well) it was for me. Because, frankly, the inside of my head is as much a mess as my physical spaces were. I’ve got two years worth of insufficiently processed emotional baggage that needs sorting. Also, if I’m going to advocate therapy to my friends and loved ones, then I need to be willing to go myself. So I’m going. And I’m hoping that the shiny new healthcare plan will do a better job of helping to pay for that too. I researched and tried to make an informed decision, but I half expect to get some unpleasant surprises when I actually test the new system.

For this evening I’ll look at my bowl full of flowers photo and perhaps I’ll light a candle so that I can watch the wax melt. Small beautiful things are a good addition to any day.

December Flowers

In late October I hurried to plant some flowers before the cold weather hit. I expected them to winter over and then be lovely in the spring. Instead we had a brief period of cold and then we’ve had lovely mild weather. My pansies decided it was warm enough to bloom. So I have flowers blooming in my garden in December.
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I’m certain winter weather will come and bury these plants in snow, but for today I have flowers.

Diagnostic Appointment Delayed

I made the appointment three months ago. I made it after a hard day where I realized that I needed guidance on how to help my teenage son shift into adulthood while managing his own particular mix of capabilities and disabilities. I needed a doctor to talk with him about the medicines he takes, so that my son is prepared to make rational decisions about those medicines rather than making reactionary decisions.

A month passed and things did not get easier. We ended up meeting with a general practitioner to adjust meds. I met with the school to adjust his schedule. I learned about programs that become available with a signed diagnosis letter. I was glad to be able to say “We already have an appointment scheduled.” We were struggling and muddling toward solutions, but I knew that an appointment was scheduled with a doctor I trust. I was willing to wait so I could see this particular doctor.

It was all lined up. The appointment was today. I could get the school form signed. I could get prescription refills. Howard went on the run to get the college kid from school. I arranged for my neighbor to pick up the elementary carpool. I’d cleared and defended the day. I didn’t know all the results that the appointment would bring. Maybe a new diagnosis. Maybe a process to switch medications. Maybe just affirmation that we were already doing all the things that were necessary. But at least I knew that I would no longer be waiting for an appointment. We would then be on the patient list rather than the New Patient list, which meant follow up phone calls and appointments would be handled far more expeditiously.

This morning I got a phone call. They had to reschedule. Next available appointment is January 5, twenty-five days from today. I get another month of muddling through and waiting for an appointment. I’m not mad at the doctor. He didn’t want to have stomach flu today. I’m certain he would much rather have spent his day meeting with me. Yet the cancellation of the appointment hit me hard. Today has been hard. Sometimes I don’t realize how much emotion I have riding on an event until the event is cancelled or changed.

I think this is one of the hardest aspects of mental illness. After making my way over the hurdle of admitting I needed professional help for my child, I had to wait. Then I had to talk about the appointment to school staff. Then I had to go explain to a general practitioner why I needed an interim prescription until I could see the psychiatrist. With the appointment moved, I had to have all of those conversations over again. I had to call the GP and say “Would you please write this letter that the school needs?” because my son can not afford to wait until January for the services. I had to ask the GP for a prescription extension so that we won’t run out before we have the chance to meet with the psychiatrist. Across the middle of this, our insurance will be switching over to a new plan on January 1st. This will probably be to our benefit, but it still requires me to adjust for the new company.

I have enough force of will and comprehension of what needs to be done that I can wade through all of that. I want to cry for the families who have no idea how to navigate to get mental health care and who don’t know what questions to ask at the schools to get help. It has been confusing and exhausting. Instead of exiting today with a new health partner and a new course, I am facing another month of stopgap measures. I don’t like stopgap measures.

So we do the only thing we can do, which is to keep facing each day and do the best we can. The good news is that something in the medicine switches, therapy, and schedule switches has been helping. Life is better for him now than it was two weeks ago. We’ll just keep on doing the things that seem to be working until we can have the diagnostic appointment that we need.

Post Shipping Clean Up

Let me show you my piles of boxes in the wake of the Massively Parallel shipping.
First the front office where we did the complicated shipping.
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You can see the pile where we tossed boxes because we didn’t have time to collapse them. There is also a pile of collapsed boxes as well.

Out in the warehouse we have two box piles. One between the pallets of books.
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Another where we’ve also stashed bags full of garbage. The garbage backs are mostly full of the plastic wrapping which came around all the pallets.
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We did collapse some of the boxes and made a stack. It helped that we immediately re-purposed many boxes and sent them out with the contents of large orders, like the eleven book sets.
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You can also see my stack of wooden pallets. There are at least a dozen of them.
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This is my shipping space in the front office. This is where I assembled complex orders. It looks relatively neat now. Earlier it had boxes full of sketched books sitting open all over the floor.
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Here is a before and after comparison of the stacks of slipcases. You can see that we’ve used up almost eight pallets worth of slipcases. You can also see that we have another row behind them.
Before & After

Some time next week Kiki and I will collapse all the boxes, donate the cardboard to worthy causes, haul off the garbage, figure out what to do with the pallets, and if we have any energy left, sweep.