It was a highly productive day at my house, which was a surprise since I had insomnia last night and only got 2 hours of sleep. But then I got Gleek off to girl’s camp. I answered a pile of customer support email. I liked today’s pile of customer support better than yesterday’s. Clear lesson: People are irritable when they are confused and faced with unexpected decisions. But people are kind and agreeable when you apologize for confusing them and clear up the confusion. I wrote contracts for the artists we hope to work with for the Planet Mercenary book. I got a quote from our book printer. And I pulled together a sample deck of cards for some play testing. Side note: creating cards is surprisingly complicated and nit-picky. We have a lot of work to do before these are ready for prime time.
Howard had a fairly productive day as well, though his would have been better if I hadn’t had some last-minute card design requests. Patch had an exceedingly productive day. He spent all day creating an amazing castle in Minecraft. That might sound like wasted time, but he was using a digital tool to make something he imagined. I’ll take that over endless hours of watching YouTube. To balance out the productivity, Kiki and Link took the day easy.
Now we’re all tired and ready for bed. Hopefully this time my brain will do a better job of letting me sleep.
“Oh! I hope I see this one!” Gleek’s finger pointed to the blue and black glossy picture. She flipped a few pages over and saw my handwritten note “You’ve seen this?” she gasped. I watched my daughter flip through my field identification guide for western birds, and she squeed over pictures with as much enthusiasm as she sometimes spends on anime stories and characters.
I fell in love with bird watching when I took a field biology class in high school. It was a hobby that often lay idle, but never completely forgotten. I’ve attempted to share it several times with my kids, but either they were too young, or they didn’t have the passion for it that I did. Also the best bird watching occurs long before they wanted to be out of bed.
This evening Gleek was packing for her five day trip to Girl’s Camp. The packing list said “journal” and Gleek remembered that she had a nature journal which teaches about observation and note taking in the natural world. The nature journal had a list of things to pack for an observation trip, one of the items was a field guide. So I raided my shelf. I handed over a book about Utah butterflies and another about Utah flowers. Then I loaned her my second best bird book. I couldn’t quite bring myself to let her take the one with all my notes in it. That one is a record of the birds I’ve seen and when. It has my bird count.
Maybe she’ll get to camp and find a hundred things to do which are not using field guides to identify the nature around her. Or maybe she’ll discover, as I did, that the world only feels more magical when you know the names for what you are seeing. Either way, I’ll get to hear her stories when she returns. And maybe in months to come I might have a bird watching buddy for a few early morning trips.
It is almost ten o’clock and outside my open window I can still hear the rain falling. It began hours ago with a few drips while we were at a dinner picnic in the park. Soon the children were running, laughing, spinning in the rain. I watched Kiki whirl around with her younger cousins. Kiki’s long braided hair whipping around like a rope attached to her head. Patch chased after her for a bit and they both laughed. The spinning and running was Link’s idea. “You should make yourselves dizzy and play tag.” So they did, and he stood and watched, protected from the rain by his hat. Gleek found an open section of lawn and sat. She was still while the rain landed on her, communing with the sky. I watched all this from the pavilion where most of the grown ups and half of the kids had retreated when the rain began to fall. Howard stepped out into the rain to flip the last of the burgers.
Rain didn’t ruin the picnic. It just added a new layer. Though the temperature dropping probably did send people home sooner than they otherwise would have gone.
I like listening to the rain. I like that we got to be outdoors in it for a time.
We are two days into the school-free summer schedule and I’m still trying to figure out how it goes. I’m certain that this summer has more scheduled things for the kids than I’m accustomed to and I’m trying to figure out how that fits with all the hours where I need to be able to ignore the kids and get work done. So I dove into my blog archive to see how I managed other Junes. Turns out it has been five years since June wasn’t impacted by a major shipping event. It has been three years since June didn’t have a big trip in it. My archive trawl showed me that the only pattern I have for June is to intend to do lots of good parenting things and then to let them slide because I have to balance against the work I need to get done. Thus the kids play far more video games than I should probably allow.
For the first time in years I have June as a month to establish summer patterns. I’m not going to make ambitious plans. I’m just going to try to help us all to settle in. We need routine and relaxation. We need work and rest in appropriate proportions. We need to set up Link’s summer independent study program. We need to establish therapeutic cello practice for Patch. We need to visit the barn where Gleek rides horses and plays with kittens. I have to remember that I’m only two days into the summer. It is okay that we don’t have established patterns yet. It is okay to feel our way through this first week and figure out how things need to go. June has 30 days and I don’t have to get all of them perfectly right.
Not that today or yesterday were wrong, they just weren’t routine. Yet. Because nothing can be a routine when you’ve only done it once. We need some more summer Mondays and Tuesdays before I can know if they’re working. Only then can I see what needs to be tweaked. For now I can hear my kids laughing out loud because they’re playing a game together. The fan is in the window drawing cool evening air into the house. And I’m sorting my thoughts into words. These are all good things.
There are boxes in my office waiting for me to sort them. The presence of boxes awaiting my attention is not that unusual. Things stack up when I get busy, but the contents of these boxes make them unusual. They are things that were dragged out of the back recesses of a storage closet that had to be emptied so that my sons could have it as a closet for their new room. This process of moving them has unearthed many an object which we’d forgotten existed. I’ve found partially finished projects and things I acquired because of something I intended to make. We found toys that had been long outgrown. Load after load has been hauled off to be given to a thrift store. The same fate awaits much of what is in the boxes waiting for me.
I used to sew. I made costumes for kids, Sunday dresses, and other pretty things. I enjoyed sewing and I acquired many fabrics because of their potential. Some of those fabrics became beautiful things. Others sat in boxes waiting. I am not sewing very much right now. When I pulled out those boxes of fabric, I remembered the things I intended to make. It was quite nostalgic, but none of those projects interest me anymore. If I were to make time in my life for sewing, I would pick different projects. So I gave away most of my fabric. I retained the tools and books, but the projects in potentia are all gone. This means that my sewing supplies fit into two boxes. I have more space for the things than interest me right now. At some point in the future I may sew again. If I do, then the sewing supplies will expand. In the meantime, I have more space and that is good.
The sewing things are only one example. This process of clearing out keeps bringing me in contact with who I used to be. I find remnants of old dreams and I remember them being important. Part of me wants to hold on for memory’s sake. Yet if I want to fully become who I am now, I have to let go of who I used to be. This is the process of life at all stages. We don’t stop growing and changing just because we hit adulthood. Realizing this is one of the reasons that I cut eight inches off my hair. For ten years I was a person who truly enjoyed having long hair. I liked the interesting things I could do with it. Lately all that hair started to feel more like a burden than anything else. So I let it go. Now I can discover who I am with shorter hair.
I sorted my closet and got rid of used-to-be-favorite clothes. I culled the bookshelves of books that no one in our family loves. I dug into the electronics bin and got rid of things which have no real purpose for us anymore. We packed beloved family toys for young children into boxes and put them into storage to await grandchildren. I am making space in my house. It is time to clear all of this away because I want space to grow. I want space for my children to discover who they are as teenagers and fledgling adults. I want our surroundings to reflect who we are now. Reminders of who we used to be are fine and good. We keep the the things we still love, but we don’t want to be burdened with caring for and storing the past.
It feels like a good process.
Just a few days ago I had a day where I didn’t feel like I was failing. Today that feelings of failure returned, so I took the opportunity to consider the differences in the two days to try to figure out where this sense of failure is coming from. The answer is: Dozens of tiny places. It is in the phone calls I have to make to schools or church youth group leaders to explain why my kid won’t be meeting their minimal expectations. Again. It is in the household tasks that I see still aren’t done though I intended to do them weeks ago. It is in my to do list which has spent two days growing in size instead of shrinking or at least staying steady. It is also in the fact that the things I’ve been succeeding at are big and nebulous where as the failures are small and concrete.
Also, the successes are often attached to some large emotional thing which I really wish wasn’t a thing in our lives at all. It is a huge success to spend four hours talking to my son, assisting him in managing an unstable emotional state. It was absolutely the right use for those hours. Yet at the end of them I have no way to know if anything I said will stick in his brain and make a long term difference. I don’t know if we made progress or if it was just a holding action. I do know exactly what things I would have accomplished in those four hours if I hadn’t spent them with my son. I can measure the failures. The successes are intangible.
The good news is that the ending of the school year gives me a clean slate from a pile of failures. We get two and a half months to re-set, stabilize, grow strong. My son needs that as much as I do. He needs to be out from under the many small-but-measurable failures of the past few months.
Usually the last week of school is a playground with all the stresses lifted. That has not been the case these past two days. Tomorrow and Friday look to be better. Then we are free to make of our days what we choose. One of the things I hope to do is take away the pencil from that one piece of my brain that wants to make tally marks on a parenting scorecard. Keeping score of failures and successes doesn’t help.
“Mom, I don’t want to do this.” Patch said the words into my shoulder. We were sitting on the floor in the school hallway side by side, his head snuggled up to my shoulder. The snuggling took some creative hunching on his part since he’s taller than me these days. I looked down at his combed hair, his white shirt, and cool bow tie. (Bow ties are cool.) He was dressed to take part in his 6th grade graduation ceremony and that was exactly what he didn’t want to do.
I thought about Kiki and Link sitting in the audience, waiting to see their brother’s ceremony. I thought about Patch’s teacher who has loved him through his recent difficulties with anxiety and panic attacks. She certainly hoped that he would at least be able to walk with his classmates. I thought of the reasons that humans arrange for ceremonies, their emotional purposes. Then I kissed the top of my boy’s head and thought about how much of his anxiety stems from the fact that he’s an instinctive people pleaser. He never wants to disappoint anyone. Ever. And if he thinks he has, his stress levels rise tremendously. My boy knew that deciding not to walk could make other people sad, yet he found the courage to say “I don’t want to do this.” It is huge progress for him to be able to be aware that his desires conflict with what is expected, to be able to speak those desires in a calm way instead of being caught between what he wants and what he feels he ought to do until he curls into a panicked ball.
While I was thinking these thoughts, I heard the principal begin to welcome everyone to the ceremony. I had a choice. I could probably coax my son into a partial participation. I could try to help him match what was expected by the structure of the event. Or I could listen to him and back him up in his desire to opt out. Ideally we would have made this choice in time to have explanatory conversations with school staff. It was too late for that. Patch’s teacher was on the stage in front of everyone. No way to consult her. I pictured them calling his name on the list and being confused when he was not in his place in line. I’ll never know how they handled that moment.
“Of course we can go.” I said. Then I waded past the crowds of other parents and grandparents. I gestured to Kiki and Link to gather their things and mine. I saw the confusion in their faces, but they came. And once in the hallway with Patch, they completely and happily accepted his decision. Maybe Patch’s teacher saw us leave. I left a note on her desk to explain. I checked Patch out through the office, so that school personnel would know where he had gone and with whom. Then the four of us went out for lunch. Patch lost the hunched-shoulder sad-faced look he’d been carrying. Instead he laughed with siblings and ate chocolate cake. In the end he will be more glad of that lunch than with sitting through speeches and walking in a line to shake hands.
Patch has growing and healing to do in the next months. He’ll be better able to do that if his family listens to him when he says what he feels. Even if doing so creates awkwardness for us.
I’ve reached the end of the day and I don’t feel like I failed at anything. This is a new and unusual experience, since I’ve spent most of the last few months with this constant looming sense of failure. Today has been lovely. I got some things done. I procrastinated others. I took a nap. I look at my To Do list for tomorrow and it feels like I can do that too. Hopefully this will continue, but for now I’m just going to sit here and enjoy the cool evening breeze. It is nice to feel content.
Memorial day is almost, but not quite, summer. Some years I attempt to practice my intended schedule for the summer months. Other years we just play and stay up late. Then with a mental screech, we remember that we have to do four more days of school schedule.
Only it isn’t really a school schedule. The high school kids have finals, and given that Link is only attending a few classes, he’s pretty much done with school by 10am tomorrow morning. He’ll wander back to retrieve his yearbook on Thursday, but that’s it for him. Gleek has locker clean out, turning in text books, getting her yearbook, and general housekeeping that culminate in a very short day on Friday. Patch has a smorgasboard of events. Graduation/BBQ, Dance Festival, Field day, and the final day on Friday. It is to Patch’s events that I’ll be making daily trips out of the house. By Friday I can close the door on this school year. I don’t have to interface with teachers or school systems again until August. I can close off a host of worries and not think about them until then. This thought makes me very happy.
The summer ahead is far from empty. Cello and horseback riding lessons continue. Link has some classes that he is taking as part of the WIA youth program. Link will also continue to work on his independent study courses. Both Link and Patch have therapy appointments weekly. All of us need to be walking more in preparation for our coming pioneer trek. Yet even with all of these things, my days will open up tremendously. I felt that this morning when I was able to let the kids sleep late and putter around doing things of their choice. I got to focus on my priorities. It was lovely. Business tasks that have been lingering for far too long, got completed. I was able to give them morning brain instead of the brain I have left after making a dozen judgement calls about kids and school.
All of this bodes well for the coming summer.
SPOILER ALERT: The following blog post will contain spoilers of major plot points for the movie Tomorrowland. In order to say what I want to say, I have to discuss these plot points. If you don’t want the movie spoiled for you, go see it before reading this blog post.
It was the movie that Howard and I picked for a date. We left the kids to put themselves to bed and ran out for a ten o’clock showing. There is something incredibly freeing in abandoning responsible weeknight behavior to just to see a film that intrigued me. I’m so very glad I did. I loved this movie. I don’t know if everyone will love it as much as I do. It might seem too simplistic to some, too optimistic to others. It is often silly and there is a climactic rant that really doesn’t work the way it needs to. Pulling all the dreamers, inventors, and creators from general society and putting them in a separate place is not likely to result in the futuristic world that is shown on the screen. There are large swathes of realism missing. It is fantasy. For most people I think it will just be a fun adventure movie. For me, it drilled into the very core of issues I have been struggling with. The movie becomes a metaphor for my struggles and left me feeling hope. Hope has been in short supply for me lately. I never expected a movie to gift it to me.
I will freely admit that lots of media things have been hitting me in oddly emotional ways lately. I’ll be listening to a song and suddenly find myself crying because the theme of the song opens up a pocket of emotion. The most memorable was in December when I found myself sobbing during the movie trailer for Annie, because in that moment I did not believe that the sun would come out tomorrow. I couldn’t see how anything would ever get better, yet I remembered when that song was uplifting and joyful. I cried because there were people in the world for which waiting a day would make things better. And I wasn’t one of them. All the tomorrows felt bleak.
Tomorrowland begins by showing a bright and beautiful future. The characters see it and are thrilled by it. I saw it and was filled with a sense of wonder. Then we are told that somehow modern life went awry. We are not aimed at a future with jetpacks, flying trains, and floating swimming pools. Instead the modern world is falling apart and aimed toward destruction. The big plot reveal is that the huge tower that was created to analyze and predict the future has instead been broadcasting a miasma of hopelessness. The tower has been self-fulfilling its own prophecy of destruction. This is only discovered because the protagonist, Casey, is determined and refuses to give up. She works with others to destroy the tower and the bright future becomes possible again. Not easy, but possible.
I envisioned a bright future. I think most parents do when they have young kids. It is hard to be on duty 24-7, cleaning up messes, teaching, and loving. You must to have hope to keep going. Those years when my kids were small I watched them become smarter and more capable. All my experience as a parent led me to expect that would continue. Yes there would be bumps and struggles, but they would grow and in the end my job would be to let go so they could fly on their own. That was the future I expected: watching my children fly and build lives based on their own dreams. My oldest did, but my second child has grown smaller, less able to manage, as he is buried under depression. My third is growing and strong, but she wasn’t two years ago, and I’m very afraid she will struggle again. My youngest is developing a panic disorder while I watch. I can’t see the bright future anymore. It feels as if we are doomed to struggle forever.
So when I see Casey touch a pin and her gray world vanishes, I want to take that trip with her. I would dearly love to find the hidden tower that is sending out the fog of depression and anxiety. Then I would blow that thing up into tiny, tiny pieces. The movie shows me that when all seems lost, determination and a moment of inspiration can transform loss into victory. I long to believe it is true. I’m willing to try because the movie had clever story elements. It delighted me and made me laugh, so when the hard parts came I was willing to mourn. The story and characters led me through despair and out to a place where people have power over their future. I was able to believe in it because the victory was not free. There was a cost, and for once Disney did not remove that cost once audience tears had been produced. This movie reached inside my heart with its story and unlocked a hidden reservoir of hope that I didn’t even know I had. Tears rolled down my face for half of the credits. They’re rolling now as I write.
This is the power the right story has in a life. Before the movie, I couldn’t see any bright future, after I could believe that one is out there, I just can’t see it from where I’m standing. I need to find the right tool to let me get glimpses of it while I navigate the real world around me. We’ll keep wending our way forward and trusting that the process will help.
It was after midnight when we walked out of the theater. The theater itself is new and full of the most advanced technology currently available. It was just shiny new enough to make me feel as if I were walking through a hallway of Tomorrowland. No one else was there, just Howard and I walking down the empty hall to the exit. I loved that moment too. At home, I got online and ordered a movie replica Tomorrowland pin. I felt a little silly doing so, but I really want to hold one. I want to have a talisman to remind me that bright futures are possible even when it seems that they are not. It is not rational to think a pin can make a difference in my life, but then the things I am struggling against are not rational. Depression and anxiety defy logic, so maybe I need some irrational tools to fend them off.
Tomorrowland is not a perfect movie, but it is exactly the movie I needed right now. It gave me back the belief in bright tomorrows. I will wear my pin and remember that on the days when things are hard.