Month: February 2010

The Road from Traditional to Modern

For much of our marriage Howard and I split the family work load along very traditional lines. Howard worked at a corporate job, I tended house and children. I sometimes felt self-conscious about this. I knew our decisions were right for our family, but a part of me felt bad that I had been given so many opportunities by the generations of women before me who struggled for equality, and I was using my freedom to choose changing diapers. I felt a subtle need to justify my choices, to explain. There was also a large part of me that didn’t like following the beaten path, and staying home with the kids is a wide and well-traveled path for women. There are good reasons for this. Those good reasons are exactly why I chose it for so long. But it isn’t surprising that I eventually found myself wandering around in the brush off to the side of the well traveled road.

When Howard and I first began to have conversations which included building a family together, neither of us expected to take on traditional roles. Howard wanted to be a musician. He intended to work from home. We pictured me having a job out of the house. But then he landed a job doing tech support and it paid a princely sum to our college student eyes. It made no sense for me struggle doing both school and a part time job. So I quit. Letting go of the meager additional income was no struggle, but I felt the loss of independence. I felt the same loss when we merged our bank accounts. I had just begun to discover who I was as an adult, when my focus shifted to discovering who I was as part of this new married entity that Howard and I were creating together. The creation was lovely and filled with potential. Melding our independence was a necessary step. Each step was necessary, each decision carefully considered. And we ended up in a very traditional place without exactly intending to go there.

I find it very interesting to listen to myself when I talk about these traditional years. I sometimes say that I lost my self in motherhood, that I forgot who I was and had to spend effort to find myself again. Other times I say that it was a wonderful time and I was completely fulfilled and happy while staying at home with the kids. These two versions of my life contradict each other, and yet they are both true. I was both lost and found during those years. I sometimes hope that I can help friends, who have the young family years ahead of them, to find the fulfillment while skipping the loss of self. Except I wonder if the loss of self is part of the fulfillment, if one is necessary to the other. Regardless of whether it is avoidable, I do not regret any of it. It was right at the time, just as my current choices are right for now.

I can’t point at the place when our roles stopped following the traditional pattern. It was not when Howard quit his corporate job to take on full-time cartooning. He still scrambled to bring in money. I still scrambled to manage home and family on next to nothing. But somehow, as we figured out how to make the cartooning business pay the bills, more of the business tasks ended up in my pile and more of the household tasks ended up in Howard’s. There was no fanfare, not even much discussion. We had never divided the work according to gender, just according to personality and logical time-management. There was no ego to overcome in rearranging the tasks. Piece by piece we went from a stay-at-home mother with a working husband to a pair of work-from-home business partners.

Our current lifestyle is far more modern than traditional. This appeases that part of my self which used to explain my choices. But appearances aside, Howard and I have not really changed the way we assign chores. We still consider all of the tasks to belong to both of us. The dishes are ours even if I am the one washing them today. The fact that some chores consistently are assigned to one person is an indicator of skill. Howard is better at cleaning kitchen. I am better at laundry. Also hidden from outside perception are the invisible ways that I have earned far more confidence and independence than that which I relinquished as a newlywed. It has been a long and winding path, but the journey continues to be a good one. I wonder what unexpected place we will travel to next.

Recovery Day

My facebook status this morning declared my intention to practice a lack of ambition and to sleep. So far so good. Aside from communicating with some people via the internet, I have done nothing today which resembles work. On a normal day this would be worrisome, but I can’t even muster the energy for a good worry. I used up all my social and emotional energy for three days at LTUE and then hosting a farewell party on the day following. I loved all of it. I love talking to adults who listen to what I say and carry their part of fascinating conversations. I love inviting people into my home and providing food. I love watching group social interactions and making sure that everyone has someone to talk to. I love getting to talk, and listen, and participate.

So it was all wonderful, but now I am tired. Coherent thoughts have been sparse. Mostly I’ve spent the day staring at nothing in particular while thoughts and memories dance around in my brain. Sometimes the thoughts and memories form themselves into sentences or into proto blog entries. Then I move my heavy arms long enough to scribble notes in the book I have laying conveniently nearby. It is amazing how physically exhausting socializing can be. Notes written, I go back to watching the show in my brain.

When I first encountered this post-event lassitude, it concerned me greatly. Now I know it is simply the price which must be paid and I plan time in the schedule for it. In some ways the recovery day is nice. I spend so much of my life running, striving, reaching. I like having the experience of just drifting. Besides, by tomorrow I’ll be less tired. Then I’ll get bored and I will be off and running again.

Promise to Patch

Patch woke up sad this morning. He came to breakfast fairly willingly, but ran back to bed right afterward. I found him there, curled into a little ball under his covers.

“What’s the matter kiddo?” I asked. He looked at me with his big blue eyes, but did not answer. I climbed into bed with him and reached my arm around him. I remembered his words of the day before, wishing that I did not have to go away to the symposium.

“I’ll tell you what, I promise that I won’t go anywhere today unless I take you with me.”

Patch’s shoulders unhunched and his eyes met mine. “Really? You’ll stay home?”

“Really.” I answered. “I’m not planning to go anywhere today, except church and I promise to take you with me. In fact, tomorrow is a holiday. I promise to stay home tomorrow too.”

Patch grinned and hugged me. “Okay.” Then he climbed out of bed to get dressed.

The promise to stay home is a familiar one. I think I made exactly the same promise to my kids last year. Local shows are hard on them because the world is a topsy-turvey mix of familiar things out of place. It is unsettling, particularly for the younger ones. Promising to stay home provides a way to reassert to the kids that they have a primary importance in my life.

I used to agonize over these times when I have to step out of my mother role. I worried that taking off my mother hat for two or three days in a row would cause long term harm. I don’t worry so much anymore because they stabilize quickly afterward. A three day break in good patterns is not a cause for concern. Vacations cause the same amount of readjustment afterward. So I no longer agonize, or worry endlessly. Instead I have a quiet guilty voice that whispers and I make promises to my kids. Then I keep the promises. Tomorrow will be a day with no agenda. I’ll get stuff done, but the rhythm of the day will be dictated by the mommy stuff rather than the business stuff.

LTUE a success, but now I am tired

Conventions are wonderful and exhausting. I always come home thrumming with thoughts to process. So much is packed into such a short span of time that it is a bit overwhelming. To give you an idea, I present this incomplete description pulled from the experiences of the last two days.

Attending a convention is:

Carting piles of stuff into the building and setting up a table and trying to arrange merchandise attractively.

Greeting friends I haven’t seen in months (or years) and being greeted in return with hugs.

Explaining the process of printing things in China and handing out contact information for our printer.

Sitting on a panel and feeling unqualified, but talking anyway because I’m already in front of people with a microphone in my hand.

Sitting behind a table while no one comes by or stops to talk.

Scrambling to cashier for a line of people who all want to come to our table to buy our books or Brandon Sanderson’s books, or Dan Wells’ books.

Making conversation with people who stop by the table. Talking with friends who sit down to keep us company.

Looking out over the audience as I speak and realizing that I have exactly the right words to say, words which are important and may make a difference for others.

Shuffling merchandise on the table so that Howard has room to draw.

Shuffling things back so that I have room to cashier.

Pulling books from boxes under the table to restock the arrangements on the table.

Eating dinner with friends and laughing until I nearly fall out of my chair.

Fielding phone calls from kids during dinner and trying to talk them into going to bed nicely.

Being glad when Howard volunteers to be at home so I can stay out a little later.

Driving home very carefully because I am aware how tired I am.

Finding my six year old still awake when I come home and listening to him as he tells all about his valentine’s party.

Hugging my little boy tight when he says he wishes I did not have to be gone the next day too.

Laying awake in bed unable to fall asleep because my brain will not stop thinking loudly.

Getting up in the morning and really wanting to just stay home while also wanting to go back to the event.

Having my two youngest kids wish that everyone could just stay home. Especially me. They want me at home.

Hugging them tight and sending them off to have fun at the neighbor’s house while I’m gone.

Knowing that they did have fun and that three days of mixed up schedule will not hurt them, but still feeling a bit guilty about leaving.

Walking into the dealer room to discover that Howard bought me a flower and put it on our table.

Howard coming in after his panel is over and asking me “So do I win at husband?” Yes he does.

Stumbling over my own words in front of an audience because my brain is so tired I can hardly put sentences together.

Having people come up to me and thank me for things I said on panels, I’m glad I said good things. I’m too tired to remember what they were anymore.

Introducing my oldest daughter to many of my friends because she came along for Saturday.

Having hundreds of brief conversations, being introduced to dozens of people, trying to remember names, being grateful for name badges.

Not being able to talk to all of the people I want to have time to talk to, not being able to attend all the events I wished to attend.

Packing up the table and hauling everything out to the car while Howard is busy podcasting.

Having people volunteer to help with the packing and the hauling.

Fielding phone calls from my six year old during dinner wherein he tells me small things about his day just because he wants to hear the reassurance of my voice and because he wants to know when I will be home.

Listening during dinner because I am too tired to actively participate.

Being one of the first to leave because I am tired and my kids at home need me.

Driving home carefully while trying to mentally sort all the conversations which need follow-up email or phone calls.

Pulling off my high-heeled boots and feeling my feet creak as my heels sink into the softness of the carpet. Shedding the nice clothes for shapeless comfortable pajamas.

Blogging because so much happened and I don’t want to lose any of it. Knowing that I already have forgotten things because my brain was too tired to retain them all.

Leaving LTUE for the day

It was time for me to go home, but I did not want to leave. The day’s symposium schedule was only half complete. I had half a dozen conversations begun and interrupted. I wanted to stay. I wanted to visit with my friends and meet new people. But the school day was ending and I needed to be there to pick up my kids and take them home. Then I needed to remain home to provide normality. The kids can handle a couple of days with the schedule skewed around business, but four days running was a bit much. So I opted to miss Thursday afternoon rather than Friday or Saturday. These are the compromises I must make between my mother role and just about every other role in my life.

I was just beginning to pack away things and arrange for our table full of books to be watched by a friend, when Brandon Sanderson walked into the room trailing a dozen people. Apparently Brandon had ended his last panel by announcing that he would be hanging out next to our table for an hour and people could come chat. This is something that Brandon and Howard frequently do. We enjoy having our table be a gathering place and we try to plan so that we have enough space to share. I quickly scooted our merchandise over to make room for stacks of Brandon’s books. Then I spent a few minutes cashiering for Brandon and his assistant Peter.

Brandon sat on a chair and the fans sat on the floor around him. The question and answer session became something of an impromptu panel as Dan Wells, Bob Defendi, Jessica Douglas, and I all chimed in with thoughts on the topic of the moment. Mostly we all listened to Brandon, because he was the one people were there to hear and because he knows a lot about how to help writers who are just getting started. Gradually the room filled up. I kept watching the clock, calculating the very last minute I could spend before I had to leave. The minutes fled far too quickly.

I maneuvered my way from behind the table, past Brandon, and through the crowd which now extended all the way to the door. I bid farewell to a couple of friends in the hall and began the trek to the parking lot. The chilly walk and 20 minute drive were just about long enough for me to fold away my writer thoughts, convention thoughts, and business thoughts, while also unfolding all the mother thoughts. Tomorrow morning I will reverse the process as I drop the kids at school and drive to the symposium again.

The packing and unpacking of thoughts is necessary because I can not best fulfill a role if I am distracted by thoughts that belong to a different role. This is often hard. The writer in me grieves when I walk away from an event to go be a mother instead. I grieve when I must leave conversations so that I can go be alone with my kids. But the mother and introvert in me rejoice to be home where I am needed and where there is quiet. Practice makes all things easier. This has become easier, but it is still hard.

I look forward to tomorrow.

Creature of habit

Two weeks ago the sign on the front of our local Albertson’s store was removed and Ridley’s Family Market was hung in its place. I stopped going to the store. This was not because I’d heard anything bad about Ridleys, or because I felt an obligation to the vanished Albertsons. It wasn’t even that I expected everything to be different when I walked in the door. It was the simple fact that something familiar had been changed and now I had to think about it instead of being able to ignore the store name while I got on with my shopping.

I experience a similar feeling when a product that I use changes the packaging. I have to look twice to make sure that I am actually getting the thing I want because now it looks different. Sometimes I can’t even tell exactly what changed. I just know that it didn’t look like this before. Companies do this on purpose. They want to catch the eye of new customers while retaining their old ones. But as a consumer I’m taken aback when something that was so familiar I could ignore it, becomes something I must focus on.

I don’t have enough time to pay attention to every thing around me. If I pay attention to every package in the store, shopping would take forever. Instead I pay attention to a type of product once, after that I just buy the same thing again unless there is a compelling reason to change. This habitual behavior saves space in my brain for thinking about more important things like what I’m going to make out of this stuff that I am buying. I need my habits and routines. They keep me from going bug-eyed nuts.

So I avoided Ridley’s because going there would require me to think. I would have to process what was different about the store and what wasn’t. Instead I shopped at other familiar stores which had not changed their signs. This worked fine until it was time to renew prescriptions. We’ve always gotten our prescriptions filled at Albertson’s. They had our patient records. So I either had to go to Ridley’s, which would require me to think, or I had to go to a new pharmacy, which would require me to think.

I delayed for two days before finally trundling myself into Ridley’s. They used their computers to fill my prescriptions with no trouble, but they put the pills into a green bottle instead of an orange one. I’m certain that there is no innate superiority in orange bottles as compared to green, but my instant reaction was to dislike it because it wasn’t familiar. I’ll get over it. And I’ll probably shop at Ridley’s now that I’ve been inside, and done the thinking, and discovered that it really isn’t all that different than it was.

So that was today’s adventure in exiting my comfort zone. Tomorrow I shall take myself to a symposium where I will talk to many people that I have never spoken to before and I will love every minute of it because symposiums are supposed to be full of new things. I just like my grocery stores to be familiar.

The voices in my head discuss the possibility of cookies

I’m hungry. I want to eat cookies.

We don’t have any cookies.

You could make cookies.

There is no reason to make cookies. Besides they aren’t healthy.

Cookies don’t need a reason.

If I made cookies without reasons, we would all get fat.

You turned tax stuff over to the accountant today. That’s a good reason.

I don’t feel like making cookies.

Stores have cookies.

I feel even less like driving.

I’m hungry. Notice the hungry? You’re going to have to fix food anyway. It might as well be cookies.

Oh fine. See? I’m getting out the butter.


Rows of small things

First there was the making of breakfast (which included pancakes) and the bustle of getting kids off to school. This was followed by dishes and laundry because I’m currently in a “I must be better about keeping the house clean” cycle. Then I sat at my computer for hours to do accounting, tax preparation, shipping label printing, email, and journey round my usual internet pit stops. There was a break during which I left my desk to package orders and carry them to the mailbox. All that was followed by a business meeting with Howard during which I pondered the re-structuring of the schedule for the year yet again. At that point my business hours were over because it was time to retrieve kids.

Link arrived in the car spouting details about the class over night camp he gets to attend later this week. Gleek had discovered how to blow balls of paper through a rolled paper tube. Patch wanted to tell me about science. We all clattered home and waded through the various negotiations over video game turns, during which I trumped everyone and sent them outside to play in the sunshine. I kept Kiki company while she did her homework. Howard took Link to the gym. We had a family dinner and family home evening. Then there was bedtime.

This is my life in February. My days are filled up with endless rows of small things which need to be done. Mostly they are happy things or at least things that I do to support happy things. I think this current state of affairs is going to last until at least the end of February.

I remember as a child and teen feeling like my life had fallen into a rut, that I was doing the same sorts of things day after day. I never feel that way anymore. I’m far more likely to think longingly about achieving a quiet routine. I wonder if that is because of the life we have chosen, or if it is just a function of being the grown up in charge of the schedule.

Flowers in February

I think that this cold February day should have some flowers in it. There were many flowers blooming in California during my trip. I knew I would need them later, so I brought them home in my camera.

California Trip 050

Rearranging furniture

My primary mission for Friday was helping Link prepare and pack for his klondike campout. So naturally I ended up standing in the girl’s room pondering the mess. My brain does that. I tell it “we’re going to focus on this” and it jumps off to chase something shiny which is either tangential or perpendicular. The high-energy creative juices were flowing, so I alternated between klondike packing and re-arranging the furniture in the girl’s room. I shopped for organizational shelving when I was supposed to be shopping for wool socks and long underwear.

By 5 pm Link was off on his camping trip and the girl’s room was reorganized. And I was tired. Really, really tired. But despite my tiredness it was hard to stop going. There were internet things, and dish things, and kids to put to bed. It wasn’t until 10 pm when Kiki and I finally sat down to watch Fiddler on the Roof, which was a date we’d planned days ago. We did not get through all of it. It is a long movie and we stopped at the entre acte. We’ll finish it sometime today. I must say I’m really impressed at what a good film it is. Kiki and I got to talk religion, and tradition, and what makes a good marriage, and history, and culture.

I expect today to be slower. I need today to be slower.