Kiki called home yesterday. Apparently she saw that I’d said we assumed all was well with her since we figured she’d call if something was wrong. So she called just to chat. Mostly she told me about her classes and the fun things going on. I watched her talk and realized, again, that I miss her. I don’t miss her the way that some of my friends miss their recently-moved-out adult children. It isn’t like part of my heart is somewhere else, or that we have a hole here at home. I miss her because she is fun to be around and she makes me laugh. It is going to be fun to have her home for Thanksgiving next week. As I was listening to her, I got a strong sense that she is in the stage of life where all things are possible. She could choose so many different things and is just beginning to see what they all are. This is different than my stage where I’ve got 20 years invested in my current paths. I could choose something very different, but there is lots I’d have to give up. Kiki’s stage is wonderful and I’m so glad she gets to have it.
Patch helped me with the postcards again this year. It has become an annual tradition. He and I sit together putting stamps and labels onto the postcards that thank all the people who have ordered things from our store this year. He talks to me about things as we work. Often they are comments on the places where the postcards are going, or thoughts from school, or from the games he’s been playing lately. Patch is pretty good company and the cards are all ready to go out tomorrow.
Howard had a depressive episode earlier this week. He tweeted about it quite a bit as it was ongoing. Being open about the depression is therapeutic for him, it is also a small part of what we can do to de-stigmatize mental health issues so that more people seek help when they need it. I was thinking about it and realized that I should probably write up a post about the other half of the equation. Howard can talk about depression. I can write about what it is like to be married to a depressed person and the things loved ones can do both to help and to keep themselves healthy. It gets difficult.
This week I was worn down by the never ending tide of small tasks which I do for other people. I have a record keeping job for our scout troop. I’ve had it for awhile and my whole mode of operation has been to just quietly keep the records, because me doing this job allows the part of scouting which I think is actually valuable: which is that boys get to have growth experiences. We just had significant leadership turn over in our scout troop and suddenly I’m the one who knows how everything works. Instead of being invisible, I’m now the expert in a system that is confusing and labrynthine. On top of that was Link’s ever revolving list of homework. I’m helping him track it and get it done. For each assignment I’m torn. Do I help here so that he can focus his learning energy there. Or do I stand back and let him struggle with all aspects of the assignments. Am I helping too much? It just hardly seems fair that he spends so much of his school hours being variously confused because he missed hearing or tracking some small piece of information. Except it is even harder for me to track the info since I’m not in the classes and have to go off of things Link tells me and occasional emails from teachers. I’m probably helping too much.
The shipment of calendars arrived today. This means I need to shift into shipping preparations. I’m going to have to unpack that part of my brain and figure out what the steps need to be. Tomorrow.
The Kickstarter is slowly progressing. I’m grateful for each person who finds their way to it and decides to pledge. I need to make slow but steady efforts for the next 10 days and then a big push for the last day. 67% funded right now.
We had adventures in healthcare coverage this week when one of Gleek’s prescriptions was ten times more expensive than usual. Our fear was that the new healthcare legislation had changed our coverage and the medicine was no longer covered. The good news is that our plan is grandfathered. It can’t be changed by new laws. The price change was simply because Gleek maxed out her prescription plan for this year and we’ll have to pay full price instead of just a copay until January. It is also possible that our plan being grandfathered is a bad thing because it means our plan still doesn’t cover any sort of mental healthcare. We’ve spent quite a lot on mental health this past year and it has all been out of pocket. I don’t see that number going down next year either. So now I have a homework assignment to try to figure out if it is to our advantage to stick with the current coverage or to change to something new.
I used to be a person who started thinking about Christmas right around Halloween and who had most of it purchased before Thanksgiving. Now I’m a person who deliberately avoids thinking about Christmas until after Thanksgiving. Too many other things in my head.
Thanksgiving, now that I am looking forward to. The internet always goes to sleep during that weekend, which means that work won’t accumulate. Instead I’ll get to spend time with my extended family. Kiki will be in town. And my sister and her family will be arriving from Germany to spend a few months in the US. Also, there will be pie.
The Strength of Wild Horses Kickstarter is 62% funded. That’s a good place to be with two weeks to go. Please pass the word around if you have the chance. One of the reasons I chose Kickstarter to fund this book was because I saw it as the best opportunity to spread the word about these books to families who might need them.
I’ve been out and about the internet working on spreading the word. The lovely Mary Robinette Kowal gave me a chance to tell her blog readers about My Favorite Bit of Strength of Wild Horses. I had to do quite a bit of thinking to narrow it down to my favorite-most part, which I discovered is a moment of transformation.
Then Lou Anders of Pyr Books and the Thrones and Bones series asked me why picture books matter. We both were certain that they do, but he wanted my take on why. I loved digging into my thoughts to find the answer to that question. The result can be read over on Lou’s blog. Why Picture Books Matter.
Doing interviews and writing guest posts has been one of the most enjoyable parts of this Kickstarter process. I’m stretching my thoughts in new directions and it is fun.
Today I had the chance to sit down with my 16 year old son, Link, and talk about how conversations work. For a long time he’s felt like talking to people is something he is not good at, but he’s feeling an increased desire to connect with others through talking. This came to a crisis this week and resulted in us sitting down today to discuss how conversations work. Being good at talking to people is a set of skills that anyone can learn. We broke out some discrete skills that can be practiced, because practice in small chunks is the best way to learn skills. As a potentially useful reminder to Link and I, also because someone else may find this useful, I’m going to list the skills here. We have no intention of Link learning all of these things at once. Instead he’ll pick one and work on it for awhile before working on a different one.
Learn Names: When you know someone’s name, it indicates to them that you think they are important enough to remember. It is a small kindness you can offer to everyone from classmates to the grocery store clerk. You don’t have to remember names forever, but retaining it for an evening is doable. Link has a particular challenge here because he’s surrounded by classmates that he’s known for years, but whose names he’s never learned. I recommended that he ask someone else “hey, what’s that guy’s name?” This gives him a question to ask someone and it helps him start learning the names of people he’s going to see over and over again.
Ask Questions: Questions are the secret weapon of conversations. If you ask about someone else, you have to talk less. Also people like to hang around with people who are willing to listen to them and who are interested in what they have to say.
Your next question is hidden in their answer: When people answer your question, they usually provide you information that you can use for a follow up question. If they answer the question “How are you today?” with “Really stressed I’m going to fail my math test” you could ask: why does math stress you? How soon is the test? Do you need help studying? Which math teacher do you have? When is your test? Etc. Questions about unusual items of clothing are also good, because these items often have stories attached. You can also find questions in your shared context. A school friend can always be asked questions about classes, teachers, or homework.
Give compliments: It doesn’t take much to say “I like your shoes.” It doesn’t necessarily give you a long conversation, but it is a brief positive interaction you can have with another person. Also it is a kind gift to give other people.
Look people in the face and smile: You don’t have to look them in the face during the whole conversation. That gets uncomfortable. It is common for people to look away while they’re talking and then look directly at someone while they’re listening. But looking at someone’s face indicates interest in what they have to say. Smiling makes everyone feel happier.
When you’re invited to join a group at lunch or for group work, start by saying yes instead of looking for excuses to say no. The fact that they tendered the invitation means that you are welcome. Once you’re in the group, it is fine to only speak occasionally as you participate in the work. You’re still part of the group.
The more people there are in a group, the less you should talk. It is perfectly acceptable to be part of a group conversation by actively listening and only speaking very occasionally with a question or observation.
Some people dominate group conversations. This can be wonderful if the dominating person is entertaining and gracious. It can be seriously annoying if the dominating person is not attentive to the other people. If you’re in a big group and talking more than anyone else, particularly if you’re talking about yourself, try to turn the conversation over to someone else for awhile. Ask questions and then listen.(This is not going to be Link’s challenge, but it is good to know anyway.)
Group conversations tend to fracture and drift, this is normal and expected. Let them do it, even if you are sad that the conversation abandons a topic that interests you. If you try to control the conversation, you’ll likely end up with a dead conversation. Often group conversations will turn into three or four smaller conversations and back again. This is also normal. Let that happen.
When you reach a high level of conversational skill it is possible to lead and steer group conversations, but while learning these skills it is best to observe and learn how conversations go.
If there is a particular person you want to get to know better, try having many small conversations at different times rather than attempting to learn everything in one sitting. This is more pleasant for everyone.
Answering someone’s statement with “I know” is a conversation ender. If someone tells you a thing and you answer “I know,” there really isn’t anything else for them to say. Instead you need to indicate your prior knowledge while giving the conversation a path to continue “I’d heard that, but did you know…” or “I know, however…”
Ending a conversation is as important as beginning it. It is okay to keep conversations short, because they can be exhausting while you’re learning the skills. The key is to depart the conversation in a way that lets the other person know that you’d like to talk again sometime. The format is usually an excuse for ending the conversation followed by an indication that conversation was fun or that you’d like to talk again. “I’ve got to go study for my math quiz now, it was nice talking to you.” or “I’ve got to go now, see you tomorrow?”
Prayer can help you find the words. It never hurts to send a two second prayer heavenward that you’ll be able to find the words to mean what you want to say. We are promised in scripture that God can give us the exact right words in the moment that we need them.
I can testify to the truth of that last one, because my entire conversation with Link was full of moments where I had exactly the right words. It was wonderful to see my son listening and absorbing these concepts about conversation. I hope that this next week will be better for him than the last months have been. I think it will, because he has some clear small steps to take instead of feeling like all conversation is this huge, complex, insoluble problem.
For today I put away my list. I did not try to keep myself on track. At bedtime I decided on one thing I would do first and then I would just do whatever followed naturally afterward. I’ve discovered that it is important to give my task managing brain a rest in this way. It spends so much time in overdrive. So my day began with dropping Link off for his Pokemon League meeting. Then, since it was nearby, I picked up a prescription. I was in the car anyway, so I decided to head over to the storage units and bag up the garbage there. All the plastic pallet wrapping and paper filled two 55 gallon garbage bags. I shoved the eight wooden pallets into one unit and canceled the other. Job half done. Of course then my car was full of garbage. I drove over to the warehouse to pick up the pile of garbage from there, and then took all of it to the dump. All of these were things on my list. They were things that have been making me feel stressed because I didn’t know when I would have time to get them done. I still have to figure out how and where to haul eight pallets, but I definitely feel better.
When I returned home, I continued my meander by spending time in my former shipping room. I sorted and stacked the last of the business things which need to go to the warehouse. I dismantled two more shelf units which also need to go. By next week that room needs to be ready so I can set it up as a place for Kiki to come stay during the Holidays.
The point of this is not the things I did, but the fact that allowing myself to ignore the list gave me permission to sort my day according to what most wanted and needed to do rather than by what logic dictated. If my brain had decided to spend the whole day curled up watching television, that would have been okay too. Right now it is afternoon and I feel more relaxed than I have all week. In a little while I’ll need to look at my lists again, because there may be things on those lists that will turn into catastrophes between now and Monday if I ignore them completely.
“Mom, you’re not helping.” he cried out in sadness.
One of the hardest parts of parenting is listening to a child cry and knowing that the very best thing I can do is to let that child fully experience and work through the emotions without intervention. My instinct is to soothe, to make it better. Sometimes that is exactly what is needed. Other times it is exactly what is not. I wish the different times came clearly labeled so that I could choose my actions with confidence. Instead it is all stumbling around in the dark and hoping that this space in the underbrush is actually a trail that goes somewhere less dark.
Tis the season when I could use an auxiliary brain or two in order to keep track of all my things. This season is always heralded by the opening of calendar pre-orders which usher in the holiday shipping season in our store. I’ve got as stack of 300 invoice sitting on my desk waiting for calendars to arrive so that I can ship them. I’ve got twenty more orders which can be shipped now, the top task for tomorrow morning.
Or it would be the top task, but I’m still putting the finishing touches on the warehouse move. I’ve got to clear out those storage units and buy fire extinguishers so that we can pass the safety inspection for the business license in the new location.
Only I’ve also got three guest posts that I’m excited to write and I really want a few hours of head space in which I can get them done. The host blogs have set me some really cool topics and I want to turn notes into writing.
Of course there is still all the kid stuff. Homework does not stop. I don’t have to do it, I end up helping the kids remember to do it, and making extra trips to the store for ingredients. Or groceries. The kids want to eat every single day.
It all adds up. At least this year I have zero involvement with the church Christmas party, for which I am very grateful. December is just not a good time for me to have more things to do.
This morning was glorious. I was at the top of my game, knocking down To Do items one after the other. I did all the things. Around 2pm my day abruptly shifted into serious annoyance and grouchiness. It is entirely possible that this was related to the fact that my “doing all the things” somehow failed to include adequate nutrition. Howard fed me and things got a bit better. But I’m still here at the end of the day and despite being super-human this morning, I still have an oppresively long list of things for tomorrow.
I miss having spaces in my day. I know from experience that I’ll have some during Thanksgiving weekend. The internet kind of goes to sleep for those days and my work load lightens. Then things won’t be calm again until around December 23 when people stop ordering because the things won’t arrive in time for gift giving. Deep breath. I can do this.
Today has been a design day. I sent the calendars off to print and I’m putting together our annual Thank you postcard list. We send out these cards to anyone who has purchased things in our store during the year. It is a small thing that we can do for those who’ve supported us. I’m a little later than usual on the postcards this year, so I’ll need to hurry. However the calendar turned out prettier than ever. You can get your own copy in our store. In that store you can find my Cobble Stones books as well as Hold on to Your Horses. All of which make wonderful gifts. You can find all of Howard’s Schlock Mercenary stuff too. Every order will ship from our shiny new warehouse and will be accompanied by a Thank You postcard.
The Strength of Wild Horses Kickstarter is ongoing and doing very well. It is almost 50% funded, which means I still have work to do. Right now lots of that work is not publicly visible. I’m putting together samples of the canvas prints and making a mock up of the book so Angela can see the pictures and text together. I’m also reaching out to organize more interviews and guest posts. I owe a post to Nancy Fulda, but she didn’t wait on me. Instead she wrote a lovely post praising Hold on to Your Horses. You can see it by clicking the link.
I also did a podcast interview with Funding the Dream host Richard Bliss. He spent 20 minutes talking to me about Strength of Wild Horses and how to have two creative careers living under the same roof. I haven’t had time to listen to the whole thing yet, but it is out there and hopefully I say useful things and sound smart. While you’re there, you might want to listen to some of the other podcasts, particularly if you’re interested in running a Kickstarter of your own someday. Richard is where Howard and I learned most of our marketing skills.
I sat in the waiting room of the therapist’s office while she escorted Gleek back to get set up. For a moment it was just me, a pair of couches, and a television which was off. The emptiness of the space felt peaceful to me, but in a moment the therapist would be back to ask me how things are going. She likes to check in with me before spending the bulk of the hour with Gleek. I wasn’t sure what to tell her because my head felt like a storage unit packed full of furniture. I knew there were thoughts about Gleek in there somewhere, but I was going to have to pull some other stuff out before I could get at them.
I ended up speaking a lot more about Link than about Gleek, because thoughts of Link were in the front of my brain. He was the one who’d just finished a really rough week. I know it could have been much worse, but I still felt a little heartsick and helpless at times. That is part of the experience of parenting. There are times when I want to help, but I can’t or I shouldn’t. Sometimes it takes all my strength to not interfere. I met with a school administrator about Link last week. She asked how he’s doing academically. Glancing at his grades, he’s fine, better than he has been in years. Only, I’m having to work really hard at making sure that he’s tracking all his things and I feel like I’m always telling him to do things he’d rather ignore. This too is part of parenting.
The therapist was kind and listened to all the things I had to say, which is her job. Some other trip I’ll have thoughts about Gleek to share. Right now we’re all still getting to know each other, the therapist and I. Perhaps listening to me talk about a different child is actually helpful for her to form a picture of how our family works. Even if it is not helpful to her, it was helpful to me. I could have rattled on for a lot longer. I didn’t though, because I felt wary of using up time that belonged to Gleek. These are her therapy sessions, not mine. Gleek likes this therapist. The office has a sand table and a room full of story props, so Gleek can tell stories. The therapist learns something from these stories, because after this session she sent Gleek home with some things to work on. Mostly being calmer and slower. Over time we’ll establish a familiarity with therapy and hopefully Gleek will gather tools she can use for the rest of her life.
The waiting room was empty while I waited for Gleek. No other clients came in while we were there, so I was spared from looking at some other child and pondering why this young one was so troubled as to need therapeutic intervention. There was no other parent there to look at my daughter and wonder the same thing. Years ago I wrote in a blog entry that I never wanted to be the reason that Gleek needed therapy. Now I drive her to her appointments. The fact that I’m not the right person to help her untangle some emotional things does not mean that I caused those things. It is not my fault even though Freud instilled the field of psychology with a strong impulse to look to the parents, particularly the mother, when a child is struggling. I tell myself these things, trying to make peace, trying to make all of this routine–just a thing we do. But the truth is that sometimes I blame me. Deep in my heart I count the things I could have done differently. I map the paths I maybe should have chosen. I know the things I feel I ought to have handled better. Taking my child to a therapist forces me to confront all of that and deal with it. Which is also a good thing. Good is not the same as easy.
Things are good right now, and they’re aimed at better.
The Problem: We have one computer that the kids share. Every time one kid is on the machine and another asks for a turn, there is an argument. Usually this requires parental intervention. All of them are nit-picking over a limited resource and none of them are extending each other the benefit of the doubt.
Previous solutions which have not worked: Mediating individual arguments. Scolding kids and telling them to be nicer. Threatening to not let anyone use the computer if there is an argument about it changing hands.
New Plan and reasoning behind it:
2. On Sunday afternoons every person in the house is required to play a game with someone else who lives in our house. It can all be one big game, it can be a video game. The point is that we often disappear into our various electronic worlds and we need more times when we have fun together.
3. When we have family prayer the person who is doing the praying should take time to pray for something specific for each individual in our family. This means we’ll each have a turn being conscious of what the other people in our family need and what they are struggling with.
The best part is that these are only minor shifts. Granted, they will require an exertion of will, primarily from me, but they are small exertions. Even better, the only part of this plan likely to meet with resistance is the computer turn limiting. That one is going to be hard. I’m not good at remembering. Hopefully I’ll find a good software solution.
The experiment begins.
My attention has been fractured all week, which is to be expected during the first week of running a Kickstarter. I’m happy to report that the Strength of Wild Horses project is now over 36% funded. This is a solid start, but I’m going to need to put in sustained effort for the next several weeks to make sure that the project funds. The most surprising discovery of the week is how helpful it has been that I’ve had other projects and concerns at the same time as this Kickstarter. If the funding drive was the only thing I had going on, I would be a lot more stressed. Instead I keep needing to step away and focus on other things, which reminds me just how much more important some of those other things are. Once the important things are managed, I am able to come back with a fresh mind. At least some of the “other things” let me come back refreshed, others not so much. Have I mentioned lately that parenting is sometimes hard?
The other things:
I shipped things from the warehouse. The system works and is ready to handle the coming holiday shipping load. There are still some paperwork things to manage, inspections and such, which are a necessary part of setting up in a commercial location. Also I still need to go pull the last garbage out of the storage units. Maybe tomorrow.
On the parenting front, I’m accumulating a list of resources available for special needs kids: high school edition. My junior high kid is mostly using resources outside the school system, and my elementary kid seems pretty well, but I need to check with his teacher. The college kid has been busy and not communicating very much, which I take to mean that life is generally going well. All of the kids are headed in good directions, but that doesn’t mean it is easy.
Despite all of the things, life feels like a good place right now. This is a nice change over February-September. I’ll take it.