I’ve got Massively Parallel to complete by Monday so that I can upload files to the printer. This must happen so we can have books before Christmas.
I’ve also got a new slipcase to design. This involves nudging things around on my computer, then printing it out on multiple sheets so I can tape it together into a sort-of box shape to see if it works. Then I’m back to the computer to nudge again. This also has to be done by Monday.
I’ve got Salt Lake Comic Con next week, for which I am a panelist. Also we’re running a booth there. And I’ve not even begun all the packing up of merchandise and gear that is necessary.
I’ve got kids with homework who are still in the process of adapting to the demands of school. Also I have to plan ahead so that they have food to eat while I’m away at the convention. And one of them has a birthday that is directly impacted by the convention. We got it wrong last year, so doing better this year is very important.
I’ve put some final touches on the CC PDF. Now I need to find time to put it in front of Howard so that he can put pictures in it.
I’ve got a kid at college, who kept watching for me on Skype so she could talk to me about her first week of school. But I have Skype on my laptop and all my hours have been spent on my desktop design machine. We caught up this evening and she told me all the things, which were lovely to hear about. Only it was already late so the conversation was short.
All of these things fill up my brain. Hopefully there will be more writing in the wake of the convention.
So, no secret that 2013 was a rough year for me and the hard lasted until March 2014. Most of it had to do with mental health and physical health issues. (depression, anxiety, panic attacks, C Diff infection, whooping cough, with accompanying doctors, psychiatrists, and therapy) Things have been better since March. Worlds better. Let the heavens rejoice, better. Yet I’ve discovered that all the challenging things set up some emotional landmines for later. Now that school has started, I keep stepping on them.
It goes like this:
Child has a fight with a friend which reaches the physical altercation stage. I know it is driven by stress and anxiety in both kids. They fight because they both have similar issues and neither one wants to back down. I come away from the discussion/apology very afraid that the stresses which drove this confrontation will then poison the entire school year and we’ll be back to panic attacks at school again.
Child calls home because he’s not feeling well. I am suddenly angry and ready to cry. It is only the second week of school and we’ve barely had time to catch our stride yet we’re already going to have to play catch up.
The reality is that the child did the homework after only a little grousing, the arguement was resolved and then forgotten, and a single day of missed classes is fairly easy to catch up.
In each case my emotional reaction to the event is far out of proportion to the event itself. There are a dozen more examples that have happened in the last week. It feels like I’m jumping to duck and cover at any noise. I’m twitchy and it is annoying. Yet I can feel that a few months of stability will even it out. I really want those months of stability and I don’t know if I get them. The mix we’ve got of mental health issues, business stresses, and school, may just mean a bumpy ride for quite a while to come. Until then, I try to flinch less often and recover quickly when I do.
“So is Patch your youngest?” his new teacher asked. She’d pulled me aside at back to school night for a moment of quiet conversation.
I have to stop apologizing for my children. Their existence needs no apology, even if they create troubles for others. I also have to stop trying to reassure the school staff that Patch is not Gleek. The comparison only reminds everyone about the difficulty and it is unfair to Patch. That difficult year is done and I am the only one who has brought it up. I have to let it go. This is Patch’s year. I need to let it be as easy or as difficult as it is without comparison to anything else. It looms so large in my mind that I am still reacting to it and I need to stop.
I began to feel it on the first day of school, but it wasn’t complete and so I was unsettled all week. Saturday, late, after I dropped Kiki at college, after I came home, after I spent several hours working on the nearly complete Massively Parallel, after everyone went to bed and I stood in the kitchen alone, that was when it all clicked and settled. Life mode shift is complete. We’re back to school mornings, three kids at home, one who communicates by computer, and working while the kids are out of the house.
This summer felt like a gift. Kiki came home and made family life and work life easier in a dozen ways. We had three adults in the house and that simplified many things. The kids were happy to relax and take things easy for the summer. More than once I found all four kids playing a game or watching a show together. It made me glad. I stored up that gladness, because in the next year life will change again. I suspect many of the changes will be good ones, but they may take Kiki elsewhere next summer. Or perhaps she’ll come live with us again. We might have another summer that feels like a gift. But it will be a different gift than the one we just completed.
Our cat brought a live mouse into the house Friday night. We were sitting and visiting with a friend in our front room when we heard a noise at the door. I opened it and the cat darted in before my brain had the chance to process that she had something in her mouth. She took it under Kiki’s chair and let it go. We all jumped up. There was chaos because the room was full of Kiki’s stuff, all packed to go to college the next day. The mouse ran under the piano and escaped. Our cat has brought us live gifts on three or four occasions. The most memorable of those occasions was the day that Kiki left for college last year. She brought Kiki a mouse as we were packing the car. I’m not sure what it is about packing up Kiki’s stuff that makes the cat think gifts are in order. I expect that in the weeks to come the cat will follow me around more. She misses Kiki when Kiki is away.
On Saturday afternoon I trailed through the grocery store after Kiki and two of her roommates. Having a full kitchen is new and Kiki is excited to be cooking for herself. My head was full of advice: buy this, that’s a waste, stock up on this. I bit my tongue and said very little of it. Kiki has a lot to learn about shopping and cooking, but she’ll learn it best if I get out of her way. What she needed was to go through the store with her roommates and have conversations with them about food. They’re all learning together. I watched Kiki with her friends both at the store and then back at her apartment. I realized that I was superfluous. Last year I helped her unpack her room, we went together on half a dozen errands, and then I finally departed. This year I could have dropped her on the curb, but having my car to transport groceries was appreciated.
I sat by myself in the women’s meeting at church. All summer Kiki has occupied the chair next to me, and today it was empty. I felt that emptiness and I hoped that she was having a pleasant time with her new ward full of college students. I remember that when Kiki first graduated and joined me in the adult meeting it felt a little bit like an intrusion. I was glad to have her there, but I also felt one of my children impinging on time that was usually child-free. When she came home for the summer I didn’t feel that at all. I was just glad to sit with her, another grown-up who I like joining me in a grown up space. She’ll sit with me again when she comes home for the holidays. I look forward to that.
I am profoundly grateful for the feeling that all is as it should be. Last year when I dropped off Kiki I had nearly a week of high anxiety while my brain recalibrated to her being gone. The three younger kids all went through grief at her absence in various ways. This year we miss her, but we are not grieving and that is much nicer.
It is the dark side of 4am and I’m awake. I used to be asleep, but around 2am something woke me. I should have been able to roll over and go back to sleep, but instead my task brain woke up and tried to sort out all the things I have to do. The list is long and so anxiety started to kick in because I knew that every minute I spent awake without getting things done meant that I would be even more sleep deprived and my list would not get any shorter. So I got up and began clearing things out of my email boxes. I can’t do all of the email related tasks, because some of them require printing or rummaging in the file cabinet, both of which are activities which might wake Kiki. But the clutter is cleared up and I feel like I have a better grasp on what is actually urgent.
On Saturday I drive Kiki to college, which is an all-day project. I’ve been looking forward to it, but it means that Saturday is unavailable as a catch up day. Or a catch-my-breath day. I feel like I’ve been running flat out since school started on Tuesday morning. Every hour had some urgent task, school supplies to acquire, gym clothes needed, disclosure documents, friend conflict to negotiate. And then there are the urgent post-convention tasks. And the urgent pre-convention tasks (SLCC is only two weeks away.) And the urgent tasks related to finishing Massively Parallel and sending it off to print. I had to bow out of writer’s group on Wednesday because I had nothing left to give. All of that, and I’ve forgotten how to make sure that dinner gets made on school nights. My kids have been fixing for themselves, which is great, but their options become increasingly limited when I haven’t had time to go grocery shop.
So far so good on the school front. Kids are coming home happy. They’re either doing their homework without argument or gleefully reporting that they have none. I’m quelling the part of my brain that wants to double check all of this to make sure their portrayals of homework are accurate. Homework is their job, not mine. I need to let them run the show until mid September (When my task crunch should be over. I hope.) Then I can check in and make sure we’re on track. Though part of my brain really wants to contact teachers and make sure that the understanding my child has of what is expected of him matches the teacher’s actual expectations. I don’t have time for half a dozen teacher meetings this week. I just don’t. So I’m rummaging in my head to find enough trust that it will all be fine.
I really need to complete some tasks and projects so that I can clearly see the ones I have left.
The kids are ready I think. Last night Gleek was trying on clothes and checking in the full length mirror for effect. Patch went to his school open house, where he discovered that he’s grown quite a bit more than most of his friends. I think he’s going to be one of the taller kids in the class, which is a strange thing for a Tayler kid. Taylers run short. While at Patch’s open house, I also got to confer with the two other mothers in the elementary carpool. It’ll be nice to have a carpool again. Last year Patch was the only kid from our neighborhood at that school. I did enjoy the solo time with him in the car, but it is going to be nice to have fewer trips to take per week.
I’m also quite pleased that the school principal greeted Patch by name. He was greeting many of the students, so it is possible that the principal knows most of the students. It is also possible that Patch is remembered because we had a meeting about him last spring. Patch gets anxious about things and this is the school that vividly remembers Gleek’s in-school panic attacks. So we had a meeting aimed at helping Patch to learn the necessary coping skills for his anxieties. Also, I like a principal who is out and among his students instead of shut in his office.
We had ice cream for snack last night. It seemed like a fitting end to summer. Then the kids put themselves to bed while I went to get Howard from the airport. That, too, makes life feel routine.
There is a difference between the quiet house of no one home and the quiet house of people doing quiet things. I can feel the difference and I’m glad for the space of no one home. I love my kids. I love being around them, but all my hours and thoughts are divided when they’re home all day. With them at school, I can put away the Mom hat and focus on other things until the afternoon. I’d forgotten how nice that feels.
Howard unpacked his suitcase and his brain last night. We sorted through the GenCon thoughts and made notes for next year. This was a really good year for us. I will use some of the quiet to do the accounting. I will also use some of it to write.
Yesterday I experienced some cognitive dissonance. I was going through my August 2013 blog posts to put them into my One Cobble at a Time book. I hit a set of posts which could easily have been written this week. They were all about GenCon and the impending beginning of school. Only I’d forgotten exactly how much more stressful all of it was last year, because GenCon was followed by WorldCon which was followed by Salt Lake Comic Con, all pretty much without a break. Also we took Kiki to college for the first time and all my kids were switching schools, I was carrying a giant load of unprocessed emotional baggage related to parenting and mental illness. And then there was the point of sale system, which I pulled together at the very last minute, not in time for GenCon, but in time to send that completely untested system off to WorldCon where I then had to perform long-distance tech support.
If I’d had any time to think about it, I would have hated last August.
This year I packed up that same point of sale system and sent it to GenCon. It has been tested across multiple conventions since. It is stream-lined and functional. It gives us lots more flexibility and reports. This year the system is reducing stress rather than adding to it.
I feel like I’m playing year to year comparison a lot in the last few months, and an extra lot this week. It reveals so much to me about myself. It makes me realize that I was not over-reacting or parenting badly, I was really carrying quite a lot. The thing is, I couldn’t tell. It felt normal to me, which is the sneaky-awful thing about stress. Unless it hits with a clear cause and onset, it starts to feel normal.
Today I went out and finished out the last bits of school shopping. I’ve never been one to completely re-outfit my kids if they have good clothes, but when I paused to consider the contents of my kids’ drawers, I began to see things. Like the fact that Patch doesn’t own any socks without holes in them. Or that Gleek has changed shape and thus needed new underclothes. Additionally, both my teenagers need a new shirt or two so that they can face the new year with confidence. Clothes help teens define themselves and both Gleek and Link are slightly different than they were eight months ago.
Last year the majority of my back-to-school shopping dollars went into college supplies for Kiki. Not surprising I guess. I’m not the first mother to splurge spend on towels for the college kid because I was afraid that I hadn’t adequately prepared her so at least I could make sure she had linens. I thought about that as I walked through the store today and saw all the displays aimed at parents and new college students. They had little effect on me this year. I wonder how susceptible I’ll be when the other kids leave, but that is a question for years from now. Thankfully.
Reading through last August’s posts was hard, not just because it caused me to relive some of the hardest bits. The thing is that I do have some of the same emotions that I had last year. I’m trying not to think about it too much, but a new school year means new stresses. I hope, hope, hope that three out of my four kids can simply have calm/good years where they learn things at a fairly even pace. Patch is destined for a rougher year, because of puberty, but I’m planning for that. Yet there is this little trickle of fear that lives in the back of my head, behind a door that I’ve tried to keep shut. Reading those posts cracked it open just a little. Because parenting can get really hard, so hard that my heart hurts every day and I can’t even tell that I’m exhausted because that feels normal. It feels like we won’t go there again. Logic says that most of the difficulty was because of a massive confluence of transitions and developmental stages. I’ll never have that again. But my imagination is very good, and I can picture new and exciting configurations of disaster. So I’ve been trying not to think too much about the coming school year and instead focus on the tasks each day brings.
There is one glaring exception: Link’s eagle scout project. I got very angry at Link about it a few days ago. It took a massive effort on my part not to just yell at him and require him to do it my way. I could have. He would have. What happened instead was that I acknowledged, out loud, how very difficult it is for me to not be in charge of this project. I left it in Link’s hands and I’ve done quite a bit of thinking since. I was pushing and trying to rush the project, because I’m afraid of the coming school year for Link. I keep saying that he’s lined up for a good year, but I’m afraid it will be more complicated and difficult than that. The last few months of last school year Link was really managing all his work. I want very much to trust that version of Link. I want that to be the school year we have. I’m afraid of how difficult it might be instead. So I pushed at the eagle project, trying to make it happen fast so that it would be out of the way before any of the school stresses hit. I don’t get to pick that. Instead I need to start doing what I’ll probably spend the entire school year doing: back off and let Link handle his own things even though the way he approaches tasks is so very different from my methods that it sometimes drives me crazy.
So, yeah, I’m scared about the coming school year. Even though I don’t want to be.
Spent the morning with the kids at the Museum of Natural Curiosity. The afternoon went to napping an a quick convention-related accounting session. (GenCon booth broke even today. Yay! Two more days of sales still incoming.)
This was my evening:
There is this list of things that I’m supposed to have done today. Instead I did things which were supposed to happen on other days, or things which were on no lists at all. Part of my fractured attention is because I’m on-call for the GenCon crew. Nothing has been an emergency, just little tweaks. Yet I’ve spent quite a bit of time using our Point of Sale software to check in and see how things are going in far-away Indianapolis. Things are going well. There really isn’t anything I can do to make them go any better, so logic says I should go do something else. Logic is only winning about two rounds out of three today.
It has been a good day here at home as well. Usually the final week before school starts is filled with squabbling, as if the kids can sense the change in the air and it puts them on edge. Today my kids put all of their squabbling energy into playing Super Smash Brothers Brawl. It was every bit as loud, probably louder, but it is building relationships rather than damaging them. So I let them all shout. Later tonight I’ll cook frozen pizza and all will be happy.
Tomorrow morning we’re all headed to a museum for a family outing. It’ll be good for all of us to get out of the house. Me included.
In January of 2013 three of my four children began their slide into massive emotional melt downs. In March of 2013 my husband began taking anti-depressants after a lifetime of cyclical depression. That March was also the month where I had one of my kids diagnosed with three different mental health disorders. I helped the others as they slowly grieved and processed the things going on in their lives. I was pretty stable myself during that time, which I regard as an amazing gift because I am often plagued with unreasonable quantities of anxiety. I was stable, but stretched beyond my limits over and over again. My heart hurt every day because people I loved were suffering.
It is sixteen months, seven doctors of various specializations, and six prescriptions later. My heart no longer hurts and my beloved people have taken strength from their experiences to grow in amazing new ways.
Know this. Cling to it in the worst of times: It can get better. Suffering, even with depression or anxiety does not have to be permanent.
Know this also: use the good times to build strong foundations so that when the bad times come again, they do not destroy you. No life is filled only with good things.
When a high-profile person commits suicide, the internet fills with reactions. I react rather like a mouse in the grass when the shadow of a hawk passes by. I freeze and check, are my loved ones safe? Because that thing has pounced on us in the past. And I am certain in my bones that we’ll have to deal with it again. I can’t control depression, but there are hundreds of things we can be doing every day to make sure that we will be prepared for any attack that comes. This mouse is building a castle with armaments and supplies enough to withstand a siege. In this way it is like any other health issue, preventative maintenance is how to thrive long term.