Month: February 2010

Howard’s Birthday

Howard’s birthday falls into the thin sliver of time between today and tomorrow. He was born on leap day. When he tells people this fact, they often nod and give out an enlightened “Oh” as if the quadri-annual nature of his birthday explains something about him that had puzzled them. It is as if the anomaly of his birthday somehow explains the anomaly that he is. But the coincidence of his birth explains nothing. If Howard is anomalous it is because of the hard work he has done to hone his skills in cartooning, writing, presenting, storytelling, and social interactions.

Since we can’t sufficiently celebrate Howard’s existence in the thin sliver of time allotted to us this year, our family usually turns over Feb 28th as Howard’s day. He is 42. In the geek circles where we tend to orbit, this will lead to cheerful jokes about Howard being the answer to life the universe and everything. I can’t vouch for Howard being The Answer, but I can attest that all of my answers are easier to find because he is in my life.

Happy birthday Howard!

Returning Home after a day away

“Mom, I missed you.” says a sleepy Patch as I hug him in his bed. I’ve been gone for most of the day, wearing nice clothes, having grown-up conversations, smiling at new people.
“I missed you too.” I murmur as I wrap my arms all the away around him. He is small enough that I can touch my arms on either side while holding him. Some inward part of me uncoils and relaxes.
“Will you snuggle with me in my bed?” he asks.
I tell him I will. So I go to my room and shed the nice clothes. I put on my fuzzy socks that make my feet look like muppets. I am dressed to unwind, to relax, to snuggle. And I grab my laptop, because that too is part of unwinding.

Today I attended the Association for Mormon Letters annual meeting. I was given an award for this blog “Best Online Writing.” It was very nervous to me to walk into a new community knowing that I was going to be singled out for an award. I did not know what kind of a reception I would receive there. Small communities are sometimes resistant to interlopers. This one was not. Everyone I spoke to was kind and welcoming. People treated me and my writing with respect. My friend Kathy even presented a paper which talked about the intersection between blogging and the personal essay in which she used this blog as an example. So I spent all day meeting intelligent people and having discussions which analyzed or explained. It was fascinating to listen and participate. The thought “oh, so is that what I’m doing? I never saw it that way before.” crossed my mind more than once.

The AML community is very focused on the production of good literature. But the creation of literature was never my stated goal here. I am just explaining me to myself out loud. I am catching the moments of my life so they will not escape me. I am trying to wrap words around my meanings. At the meeting I found my little word-wrapped meanings being held up, and examined, and found valuable. It was deeply moving and also a little unsettling. But there was an excitement to reading from my blog out loud to a crowd of attentive listeners. They reacted to my words in the moments that I spoke them. And I realized in a way I hadn’t before how my words can affect others.

All of this swims in my head. It is going to take a while to sort it all through. For now I am glad to be snuggled here with my son’s head resting on my chest as I type.
“Mom, I can hear your heartbeat.” he says and turns his face up to smile at me.
I smile back. He does not care if what I write is important or not. He does not care that I won an award or that I treasure the recognition. He just cares that I am here to snuggle him and listen when he tells me about his day.

It is good to get out and see my world in new ways. It is good to come home and remember why I do the things I do.

Finding and Fixing

Howard sat on the couch and I lounged in the comfy chair across from him. We were having a meeting to figure out the shape of today. The original plan for the day had to be altered because Howard’s drawing hand is hurting. It is hurting a lot and therefore needs to rest. This rules out drawing, painting, playing video games, using a mouse, and typing. It didn’t take long to decide that he needs to go see a movie and then write up a review for the blog. It resembles productivity at least.

As we were talking over the things which are not an option for today, my eyes began to well up with tears.
“You’re crying.” Howard said. “Why are you crying?”
“I don’t know.” I answered. I didn’t know. But I suspected that it was the same reason I was feeling sad yesterday and the day before. The same reason that I’ve been doing a lot of reading and video game playing this week. The same reason I’ve had trouble finding the desire to write. Three days is enough, so I sat for a moment, digging to see if I could find an answer which explained the sadness. The search didn’t take long.

I am sad this week because I can’t fix it. “It” has many definitions, but there has been a lot of powerlessness. I can’t make Howard’s hand stop hurting. I can’t make him have to draw less. I can’t force my kids to make good decisions. I can’t do their homework for them. I can’t do anything today which will make money arrive today. I want to be able to fix it. I want Howard to be less stressed. I want to be less stressed. An essential part of that is the influx of money from the next book release.

Howard interrupted my list. “You do understand that most of the money we have is because of you? I made a fun comic, but you’re the one who did all the work to make it support us.”
“Some days I know that. Today it is hard to see.” I answer.

This makes me ponder why today is different from last week when I was filled with optimism and energy. The list has not changed at all. There are always things that I have limited influence over. There are always things that I can’t change or that I can only change very slowly. So I dug into my brain again.

Today, and this week, is different because we have reached the end of February and the book is not done. I understand why. I helped make all the choices and schedule adjustments. It will be done soon and everything will be fine, but it isn’t done today. And the part of me, which in January looked forward to being done today, has to grieve a little bit. Emotional processes can not be trumped or eliminated by logical processes. Which stinks. But there it is. Also affecting me is the lack of sleep I’ve been having due to extra early days paired with up-too-late nights.

On top of all that, I’ve been playing several rounds of Bad News, Good News with our tax accountant. I think we’re going to end the game on Good News which makes everyone glad. It turns out that when you use income to buy inventory, that inventory still counts as business growth. If you then (thoughtlessly) record royalties as part of inventory cost, it looks like your inventory is twice as valuable as it really is. Which then makes you look like you made lots more money. Which leads to large tax bills. Also, when making boxed sets, it is important to deduct the books used for the sets from the inventory counts for the individual books. It is all sorted out now, but staring at a big bill instead of a small return made for a really unpleasant 24 hours. I figured it all out when I dragged myself out to the storage unit to physically count all the books and do some math.

So maybe I’m due some emotional aftermath. It still feels silly for me to be sitting inside my comfortable house, surrounded by amazing things, across from the wonderful man I married, and be feeling sad.

Howard moved over to where he could give me a hug. “This is a good place.”

Yes it is. Our home is a good place. My marriage is a good place. Our family is a good place. Our creative business is a good place. All of these things are good because of the work I’ve done to make them so. I’m not alone in this work by a long shot, but I am essential in all of it. Building these things has taken years of slow, often invisible, effort. And so my tears dry up because the things over which I have no power will be gone shortly. My power is in the long haul not the quick fix.

Purple for a gray day

Today contained:
A very stressed and tired Howard. He is pushing himself hard to get the bonus story done. I spent several hours being an assistant in his office. I must say that this bonus story is the best one Howard has ever done. But there is lots of work left to do.

Gleek and Patch management. They were both inclined to melt down today.

I had to explain to 3 different kids that words are a better way to communicate desires than grunting, whining, and gesturing.

Unpleasant news from the our tax accountant, with attendant chores for me which may or may not make a difference. Guilt because I did not foresee and prevent this bad news.

Snow and gray skies.

So. I needed flowers today. This is the second bunch I brought home in my camera.

California Trip 034

On the up side:
I got all the laundry done and the house is relatively clean. I got to spend time in the Schlockiverse doing book layout. I also spent time in Fereldan and Faravel. I love having a brain that can take me elsewhere even when my body has to stay put.

Some of the upset from Gleek was because she wanted to make Patch feel better and I needed her to not interfere with his consequences/emotional process. She really is a loving and sympathetic person.


I read several of my essays out loud to Howard. Each time he said “That’s a good one.” I know I was weighting things in my favor by picking out the best to read, but I could tell he meant it. That matters a lot. It made me realize how much I enjoy reading aloud my own work as well as the books of others. We may need to arrange readings for me at CONduit and Penguicon.

Pushing Limits and Plugging Leaks

Children go through regular developmental stages where they are pushing limits and challenging those around them. It is a natural response to brain development. The brain growth lets them view the world in new ways. The new perspectives lead them to ask knew questions and to wonder if that limit is really a limit, or if it can be bent. As with any living system there is variation, but these challenging periods are approximately 3-6 months out of every twelve. I try to keep this in mind when one child is driving me crazy while another is a delight. In a few months they’ll probably have swapped spots.

Last Fall I had three kids hit “challenging” all at once. It was something of a perfect storm and about all I could do was batten down the hatches and hope to navigate through. We all survived. Life has settled down quite a lot for both Kiki and Link. Gleek is still struggling. In fact the level of challenge seems to be increasing rather than tapering off. Which has me laying in bed at night and worrying that maybe the last four months have actually been the calm ones. I hope not. I really hope not. Because I don’t want to have to deal with harder. I don’t want Gleek to have to deal with harder, she already feels lost, caught, and lonely.

Two months ago I decided to have Gleek write in her journal before bed. The idea was to give her a tool to sort through her tangled emotions. It was a great idea and it worked for about 3 days. After that she started writing Mad Libs in her journal and then she lost interest completely. I shrugged and let it go. I knew we could always pick it up again if necessary. I think I’m standing in the middle of necessary. Gleek needs something. I know she needs something. But I also know that whatever it is that she needs, I can’t be the one to build it for her. She needs to find her own strength that she can carry with her rather than having to flee to me as her only support.

This independence from me is something that I am working on with all of my kids. My natural reaction to problems, particularly those of loved ones, is to stretch myself to fix it. This sometimes solves the problems, but it leaves me plugging the leak with with my finger. Eventually I run out of fingers and there are still leaks to be plugged. Since last fall I’ve been focusing on helping my kids build structures for their lives where I am a useful support, but where they do their own maintenance. I’m attempting to teach them how to man their own leaks. They don’t like it much. It was much more convenient to them for me to plug the leaks. But until they stand there themselves long enough to get thoroughly tired of plugging leaks, they don’t understand why everyone is much happier if leaks are prevented rather than plugged. Long term this is better, short term it is exhausting.

A Snowy Walk to Church

The snow was one of those ultra-fine powders that is a mere glitter in the air rather than proper snow flakes. Not much had accumulated. There was a bare fraction of an inch coating the ground as I left to walk to church. I was late, Howard and the kids had gone ahead of me. I could see the separate trails of footsteps leaving from our door and tracking off down the cul de sac. It was like one of those “guess what made these prints” books. I stepped lightly, making toe-heel impressions with my boots. Winter is not my favorite, but this was beautiful. Even this light coating of snow dampened the normal sounds of my suburban neighborhood. I looked up for a moment, letting snow sparkles fall onto my face. I listened to the hush. Then I followed the trails of footprints toward the church building.

I saw the scuffs and shuffles of my two youngest, their feet leaving evidence of snow joy. Howard’s long stride was all focused, except where a print turned to connect with the prints of a child. All the trails had started out separate, but the closer we got to the building, the more the footsteps overlapped. My family’s footprints were not the only ones anymore. They were mixed with dozens of other footprints, all heading the same direction. Those not headed to church at that early hour were keeping their footprints indoors.

I passed a bush with fingernail sized leaves. Each curled leaf had caught a little pile of snow. The bush looked like a child holding up a hundred handfuls of snow. See? Isn’t it pretty?
Yes. It is beautiful. I can see that it is beautiful. I can appreciate it, but I’m also very glad that poking through that fraction of an inch of snow are the first sprouts of Spring bulbs. March is almost here.

The glitters on my scarf turned into water droplets moments after I entered the warm church building. I hung up my coat to wait for the return trip. Then I went into the meeting to contemplate less visible, but no less wonderful, creations.

Association for Mormon Letters Annual Meeting

Next Saturday I’ll be attending the Association for Mormon Letters Annual Meeting at the Utah Valley University library. AML is an organization older than I am, but I only learned about it a few weeks ago when a friend asked my permission to use my blog as an example in a presentation she is doing for the meeting. Intrigued, I wandered over to the AML website and discovered a thriving community of people who are examining the intersection of art and LDS beliefs/culture. That intersection is fascinating to me since I live there.

I poked around for a bit and realized that it is going to take me a very long time to get through the website. This is not light reading, but already I have found several blog posts which have given me new thoughts to think. I love having new thoughts to think. One of the blog posts I read was James Goldbergs’ post where he talks about the annual meeting. I read that post and realized that I wanted to attend. I want to hear some of these conversations and maybe dip my toes the conversational pool.

I am particularly interested in the presentations about online writing, since that is most of the writing I do. Naturally I’m curious to hear what my friend has to say about my blog, One Cobble at a Time. First I have to decide whether my being there would be awkward for her or for me. So if you’re in the Provo/Orem area; and you’re interested in art created by, for, or about LDS culture and faith; you might want to make time in your schedule for the AML Annual Meeting next Saturday.

A net of hair

February 013

This is the net with which Gleek and I managed to catch a better day yesterday. I’m glad it worked the way we hoped.

As for everything else, today is Friday. I’ll think about it later.

The makings of a better day

Yesterday was a bad day for Gleek. It was an epically bad day. It was a day which resulted in a calm down time in the principal’s office, a visit to the time out room, a phone call home, and her teacher walking out to the car to speak with me for a few minutes when I came to pick Gleek up from school. She was not naughty, but she reacted to each small problem with an overflow of emotion that the staff at the school worked hard to help her manage. Since she has been generally doing well in school, we’re all pretty certain that yesterday was a random rogue wave in her sea of emotion, rather than the front edge of a hurricane. But we’ve got folks on the watch towers just in case.

One of the hardest parts about emotional break downs in public, is going back out into public where the people who witnessed your break down can see you again. Since hiding in our house forever is not a good option, I knew that Gleek needed to go back to school today. I also knew that I needed to do everything in my power to make today go well. The only thing harder than going back after a break down is going back after two break downs.

The first thing I did was to let Gleek sleep in late while I got the other kids off to school. Then it was Howard, Gleek, and I in a quiet house. There was space for me to focus just on her and for her to feel calm. I also cooked a breakfast that was heavy on complex carbs and proteins. Endurance food. I sat with her while she ate. In part this was to ensure that she did in fact eat, but it also provided us a chance to talk. I could listen to her random thoughts and use them to form a picture of how her life has been at school lately. The answer is “not easy.” She struggles with teasing, jealousy, and frustrations. There are also things that she enjoys. I carefully stored all the information so I can sort through it later when I am deciding what long term changes may need to be made.

It became apparent to me that Gleek needed to take something with her to school. She needed a symbol, a tactile reminder of how she plans to make today different than yesterday. It could not be a toy, since the presence of a toy was part of yesterday’s upsets. We decided to fix her hair into a style rather than her usual wild tangle. Gleek selected a style in which lots of little ponytails divide and rejoin to create and attractive net over the top of her head. It is an extremely controlled hair style. She too wants today to be in calm contrast to the usual wildness.

So I begin gathering hair and dividing it into little ponytails. Gleek sits quietly and makes plans for how she is going to handle the day. She rehearses how she is going to return a carrot shaped eraser to another child. It belongs to him, but she loved it so much that it came home with her. Now she will return it and apologize. I hear her plans and I worry that the other child will not be gracious about the return. She wants to make amends, but I don’t know if he does. So I focus on the net and hope we can catch enough calmness in it to help her today.

There is a story, I can’t remember now if I read it or invented it, about a Native American weaver who whispered stories into the threads of her blankets to guide the dreams of those who slept under them. I don’t exactly whisper to the strands of hair, but each band added carries the hope that today will contain confidence and calm. That Gleek’s teacher will see when she runs fast and wild, it is really herself she is trying to escape. That people will see when Gleek shows anger she is really feeling lost, alone, or hurt. That this beautiful, amazing, strong, little person can believe in her own strength and beauty.

I know this is a lot to ask of a hair style, but it is all I can give her today. She must brave school alone. She must face the peers who saw her out of control yesterday. I can not go with her. The success does not belong to her unless I am absent.

When all is ready, I drive her to school and walk her to class. She seems happy. She is happy much of the time, but this happy seems calm rather than urgent. I think the sleeping, talking, eating, and weaving worked the necessary magic to launch her into a much better day. I stand at the door of her classroom and watch for a moment as she drops the carrot eraser on to a boy’s desk and then goes to speak with her teacher. The teacher’s eyes meet mine for a moment and I give her a fraction of a nod. I can now climb off my watch tower and rest for awhile. Someone else is on duty until school is out.

I really hope Gleek has a better day.

Loose thoughts rattling around a tired brain

A duck sails smoothly across the pond, but under the water it is all a mad chaos of paddling. What we see does not always match the experience. Sometimes an aching arm indicates a larger posture problem rather than an arm problem. All of this is particularly true when dealing with psychology, particularly the psychology of children. Children are not very self-aware. The don’t spend time reasoning out their motivations. They think, they feel, they act. But a more accurate way to state it is: They think, they feel, they think, they feel, they feel, they think, and then they react upon the thoughts and emotions at the beginning of the chain. When asked why, a child can’t often tell you. They rarely know why.

Part of my job as a parent is to be a psychologist. I watch for the odd reactions and indications that the child is feeling stress. When I see the indicators, I then have to sleuth out the causes. Patch keeps getting out of bed and claiming he is hungry, but he had a good dinner. Is he worried about his make-up work? Does he need someone to listen while he talks? Is there an assignment at school he dreads? While I’m at it, I should also figure out why he’s been deliberately provoking Gleek. Is he jealous of her? Did she ignore his game suggestion? Is he mad at a friend and taking it out on his sister because he knows she’ll love him anyway?

Often the sleuthing is straightforward. Most of the time the answers do not matter all that much. But other times, it matters a lot. Children do not break down into major tantrums because they enjoy it. When a normally resilient and happy child has a major meltdown, something else is going on. The something else may be as simple as illness or hunger, but it needs attention.

It seems like the majority of this year has been about Kiki and Link with a side order of Gleek. This week Gleek and Patch have claimed center stage. I suspect the stress of having me busy with LTUE helped trigger the various meltdowns, but the causes were in place before that. I’m still sorting it out. I’m still sleuthing to find the motivations.

I am also still wearing my talent wrangler hat and as a result I’ve taken over some more business manager stuff.

Bottom line: Today was tiring. I’m hoping I’ve slogged through most of it so that tomorrow can be more restful.