Month: April 2010

Penguicon arrival day

It turns out that last night’s chipper mood was not caffeine induced, because it continued into today. When Howard commented on it, I replied that I was just floating from the removal of crushing responsibility. That’s what vacations are for, right? The fact that this vacation is going to be exhausting does not change the fact that it still represents a large sideways step from my regular life.

It was blowing snow at the Salt Lake Airport. This delayed our flight by 45 minutes. We sat next to a guy who was headed to Detroit to be part of a film crew. He’d come from LA and was very nervous about taking off in the snow. Howard and I had a great conversation with him for about half the trip. I love it when we meet cool people by chance. He and Howard got to talk audio engineering. We all got to talk movies. It made the flight much more enjoyable.

So now I’m here at Penguicon. The convention does not open until tomorrow, but the first guests are here along with much of the convention staff. The first official event was a dinner. Howard and I deliberately sat at different tables. This was in part as an effort for the pair of us to visit with more people. It also forced me to speak up and make my own connections. And it was fun.

One of the things I like most about conventions is that I can sit beside someone for an hour and then suddenly it clicks and I realize exactly who they are. Cherie Priest of Boneshaker sat next to me at dinner, telling funny stories on an ex-boyfriend. Patrick Rothfuss sat across from me and told stories about funny interactions on the internet. The table was rounded out by Yanni Kuznia (head of the literary track), Aaron Thul (registration), Dave Kletcha (writer and fellow codexian) and me.

It is easy to feel insecure at conventions. I sat at the table listening to story after story, and I realized that I’d not said a word in at least thirty minutes. This is fairly normal for me. I’m a conversational lurker, but silence doesn’t help me build connections. New friends are one of the joys of conventions. Fortunately the conversations drifted into topics where I had some stories to tell, so I was able to contribute to the amusement of all.

I’m afraid my posts are going to be a little fragmented over the next few days. That happens with conventions.

Road Trip Day

The last two Augusts I have gone with Howard to Worldcon, leaving the kids with relatives. Both times I felt very conflicted and stressed about leaving them. This internal turmoil found physical expression in a small pile of packages that I gave to them. They were to open the packages whenever they felt sad or lonely. The packages had dollar store items. What really happened was that the kids opened all the packages on the first day and then managed their emotions just fine on all the other days. They’re not much for delayed gratification. The truth was that the packages were as much for me as for them. I was harboring lots of guilt about the amount of emotional energy that I was spending on things other than them.

I just got back from dropping the kids off with relatives. This trip has been remarkably angst free. I did give them each one package to open. They each got a new book, but mostly because I think having a new book when mom and dad do conventions is a nice tradition. This time I’m not vainly attempting to compensate for anything because I’ve been giving lots of energy to the kids these past 8 months.

I left the kids in a house full of cousins. As a bonus, they managed to supply a litter of six week old kittens. The kittens are a little wild and so my kids will get to participate in gentling them. When I left Kiki had made a sort of a cave with her long sweater. All five kittens were curled up inside and peeking out at the other kids. They only gave me the most cursory of hugs. I only felt a vague awareness that I am going to miss them.

I love that I have relatives where I can just hand the kids over with no special instructions other than “Oh this one currently has pink-eye, here’s the bottle of eye drops.” My sister-in-law did not bat an eye. She just answered that one of hers had pink-eye too, so remembering the drops would be easy. I really wanted to stay and visit. It has been far too long, but I had a three hour drive ahead of me. I did not dare linger too long.

I was worried about driving three hours solo. But it turns out that caffeine perks me right up. Really up. Singing at the top of my voice kind of up. Of course I’ve been home for over an hour and I think the up may just barely be wearing off enough that I can sleep. This is good, because tomorrow I get on a plane to Penguicon where I’ll get to visit with old friends, meet online friends, and meet new people who will become friends. It will be good.

Convention week

My day contained tulips, suitcases, new books, a house filled with small friends, and snuggles.

Tomorrow will have school, packing, and hours of driving.

Thursday I will spend on a plane.

I’ve been looking forward to this week and now I need to slow down and absorb it.

At Fault

Sometimes things go wrong even when I’ve done everything right. There are days I follow the usual morning routine with cheerfulness, but am rewarded with grouchiness and squabbling. Or perhaps I stay home from an event that I’d like to attend because I feel it is best for the kids, but this does not prevent them from being whiny and volatile the next day. The meal is a favorite and I fixed it on schedule, but they all decide they don’t like it today. I’ve long believed that if I want life to improve, the person I need to change is me. But sometimes I am not the problem, and I have to accept that. Sometimes there will be conflict despite my best efforts. Then I find myself washed up in my room, feeling shipwrecked, and trying to figure out how to make it go differently next time. It probably should not be such a revelation to me that not everything in our family is my fault to fix, and yet I keep being surprised by the idea.

There are days when I am not at fault in a hard day, but I can see how I could improve our lives by doing things differently. Usually these are small, concrete things which would only take a little of my time. I could make the kids lay out their clothes at bedtime, so the mornings would be less hurried. If I just instituted a 10 minute pick up time every evening, the whole house would be neater. Link would benefit from me making him read aloud. I could make all the kid check the clocks in the morning to track their own progress toward school preparedness. These are all good ideas. Unfortunately they enter my brain and are tossed into my huge pile of good ideas. I would need 37 hour days to be able to implement every good idea that occurs to me. Many of my good ideas must lay idle. In my shipwrecked hours, I feel guilty about that. I feel guilty about the fact that I did not make Link read aloud every day in first grade. I knew it was a good idea. I knew it would help him, but it never got done. My unimplemented good ideas nag at me.

The days I like least are the ones where things go wrong because I am the one handling the situation poorly. I am human. I have cranky days and tired days. Sometimes my focus is not in the place it should be and I sacrifice the emotional needs of the kids for something which feels urgent, but really isn’t. I make mistakes. Then I have to give myself a time out, pull myself together, apologize, and try to make the rest of the day different. Oddly, I am more willing to forgive myself for having a cranky afternoon, than I am to accept that I can’t follow through on all my good ideas. Cranky days happen and I feel bad, but then they’re gone. The unrealized good ideas haunt me.

In one month school will be out. I will no longer have the school schedule as a prop to support my effort to structure our days. My unrealized ideas become particularly pesky at this time of year. Surely with the kids home all day every day I can find time to implement some of these things. I can make Link read aloud, practice typing, write stories, and mow the lawn. I can tutor Gleek in beginning piano, knitting, writing stories, dance, and gardening. Patch can read aloud, learn to ride a bike, practice writing, learn to organize his toys, and learn to fold laundry. I can teach Kiki to cook and assist her in furthering her art studies. All of that. Every day. While simultaneously writing a book, launching a book, preparing for several large conventions, sending kids to 3 different week long camps, maintaining a house, tending a garden, keeping in touch with communities of friends, and having a family vacation.

Obviously I need to be scaling back rather than adding things. It is a good idea. I’ll throw it right here in this pile.

My saving grace, and the reason I am not incapacitated by guilt, is that I have an instinct for which good ideas are really critical and which are optional. The critical ones don’t go into the pile. They get shoehorned into our days and made to work. I can also beat back the guilt by looking at what I did instead. It is hard to feel bad about idle good ideas when I can see that the day was filled with critical things.

But the most important realization which frees me from omnipresent guilt, is linked to what I said in the first paragraph. No matter how good I am, my children will still have off days. The opposite is also true. Even if I fail to implement a good idea, my children can choose it if they wish. Just because I fail does not mean that they will. My children are separate from me. In the end what they choose will have a far greater effect on their lives than anything that I do or fail to do. This is another idea which I constantly rediscover with surprise, but the older my children get, the more true it becomes.

My best is all I have to give. The rest is up to them.

Link’s Adventures in Creative Cooking

Today Link learned that adding chocolate chips to oriental flavored ramen does not result in chocolate ramen. He further learned that adding crackers, sugar, and garlic will not remedy the situation. He did figure out that eating a handful of sugar does wonders to remove bad tastes from his mouth.

Parenting in Public

Ever have that weird situation where to an uninformed observer you appear to be doing something completely unreasonable or even cruel, but you’re actually doing the good and right thing?

-Facebook status for a father of many children, some of whom have special issues

My answer is yes. Particularly today my answer is yes, because I have a fresh-in-my-memory example. Gleek melted down at the end of church today in very visible location. So I stood in the hallway, watching my child exhibit behaviors which are more typical of toddlers than third graders. I could see how her behavior (and my minimal reaction to it) look like poor parenting. In fact I’ve had people say “Well, I wouldn’t put up with that.” As if I had a choice. As if a stern scolding and time in a chair would teach her not to make a public scene.

The thing is, the scene was caused by an application of discipline. I informed her that she had to carry her own coat home, as I’m tired of being a pack mule. I informed her of it prior to church when she could decide whether or not to bring the coat. She brought the coat and then was very angry with me that I would not carry it. I did not back down, despite the public scene. Had I backed down, I would have purchased peace for today, not by solving a problem, but by delaying it. The battle would have come again a different day, unless I resigned myself to schlepping home bags and coats for 3 people every Sunday. I won my point in today’s scene and I won’t have to fight this one again. Gleek will know that she has to carry her own things.

This has always been the way with Gleek. She pushes against boundaries by instinct. I have to stand firm and not give way. It sounds clear cut, except for the fact that her heart and soul are sensitive. She sees that she is in conflict far more often that people around her. She worries that this is because she is a bad person. It is hard for a person to grow and flourish in conflict, and so I not only have to stand up to her, I also have to give way. I have to help her find peaceful resolutions. She probably would be better behaved if I never let her bend the rules, but I think it would either kill her lively spirit that I love, or she would explode into major rebellion in her teen years. This is what I have to remember: sometimes it is important to lose a battle for the sake of the campaign. Other times a battle must be won even at costs that look out of proportion.

It all sounds very adversarial, but Gleek and I are not enemies. In fact she feels closest to the people who will stand up to her. She is most secure with people who take whatever she can dish out and still love her. And it is not always pushing on limits. More and more often, she is taking the reins of her own life and choosing the kind of person she wants to be. She is quelling feelings of loneliness by serving others. She is directing her energies into building games for younger kids. She is learning self respect through responsibility. But these things are quiet, while the battles are noisy. They feel particularly noisy in the hallway at church where I know people are politely not staring.

The good news is that I know the people at church. The majority of them were feeling sympathy, not passing judgment. It is the quiet sympathy of being glad that someone else’s child is the one with the issue today. I would run out of fingers before I stopped enumerating the number of loving adults who understand Gleek and who like her. My sister was told by a child psychologist that some people will assume bad parenting no matter how the situation is explained. I am glad that there are also people who will look on with sympathy because they have been there too.

Staying home from an event

Soft footsteps padded across my bedroom carpet. Then the bed bounced as a small body rebounded off the side and under the covers. Patch wriggled his way into his favorite snuggle spot and we all drifted back to sleep for awhile.

Howard’s morning playlist sounded off at the usual time, waking all of us. Usually we turn the alarm off on Saturdays, but Howard had to give a presentation at the LDS Storymakers Writing Conference. He would be gone all day and we planned for me to join him at the awards gala in the evening. I looked forward to it. I do not get many chances to dress formally and go out. Not to mention I love the people who are there. It was so much fun staying out late the night before to visit with them all. The kids had a movie fest in my absence and I put them to bed when I got home.

Patch and I snuggled under the covers while Howard got up to shower.

“Did you have fun last night?” I asked Patch.

He smiled “Yes. We watched three Scooby Doo shows.” He then proceeded to give me a detailed description of each plot. I did not interrupt his flow of chatter. Sometimes Patch just needs to talk until his head is empty. I know the feeling. I do the same thing. I did not really listen to the plots. I was too busy watching Patch. Next Wednesday we’ll be separating for four days. Howard and I have a convention and the kids are staying with relatives. They’ll have a good time and so will we, but being away is still hard on the youngest of my kids. Patch’s eyes were alive with excitement and the gap in his front teeth gave a slight lisp to his speech. He’s not the baby he once was.

The stories wound down and we snuggled under the covers in silence for a few minutes. The house is chilly since we’ve turned off the heat and opened windows for cool spring air.

“So next week you get to stay with your cousins.” I said.

Patch’s face lit up and then his forehead crinkled. “I’m going to miss you mom.”

“I know. That part is hard. But you’re going to have fun.”

He nods, but then wraps my arms around him and snuggles closer.

“Hey buddy. Dad and I were planning on me going with him to a dinner tonight. You would get to have another fun movie night. How would you feel about that?”

Patch was silent for a moment, then answered “I’d rather have you home mom.”

“You want your normal bedtime with me here?”


I think of the beautiful dress I planned to wear. I think of the friends with whom I could visit. I think of how over-tired the kids were last night and the likely crankiness that I’ll have to deal with today. The morning following had church. Kids up late for two nights in a row guarantees Sunday morning meltdowns. I look into my boy’s blue eyes and know that being home for him and his siblings is more important. I need to give them two days of uninterrupted mom-at-home time this weekend so that we’re all ready for next week.

“Okay, I’ll stay home.”

The further I got into the day, the more sure I was that the decision was right. Sometimes the business things need to bend to the family things.

Dumping the thoughts in my head

My head is buzzing full of things. They’re all zipping about so quickly that I’m having trouble forming them into a coherent story. So I’ll just dump them in here at random, which will hopefully clear my head enough to let me sleep.

Today I ran down to the LDS Storymaker’s Conference in Provo so that I could participate in the recording of a Writing Excuses podcast. The episode is called “Living with the Artist” and it is me, Dawn Wells (Dan Wells‘ wife), and Kenny Pike (Aprilynne Pike‘s husband) talking about what it is like to be the spouse of a full time creative person. I’d never participated in a podcast before, but I think the recording went pretty well. I’m sure that when I get to listen to it I’ll find something I wish I could fix, but that is always the case with a finished project.

Speaking of finished projects, the digital page proofs for Resident Mad Scientist arrived today and they are beautiful. Plotter’s proofs should arrive on Monday and then the project is ready to go. We should have advance copies in our hands the middle of May, at which point we’ll open pre-orders and my life will be crazy busy again.

Howard and I ended up staying for dinner at the conference. We hadn’t intended to do so, but we stopped by to say hello to a couple of people and they urged us to take the empty seats. I’m so glad that we did. I love how much laughing I do when I hang out with local writer friends.

The kids spent the evening watching netflix movies streamed through our Wii. That system gets two thumbs up.

And now to bed.

Peace and Sunshine

The stressy, angsty time of this-book-is-almost-done has given way to the happy period of peace which frequently comes afterward. Or at least I’m having peace. Howard is still scrambling to build the buffer back up before we head out to a convention next week. I sometimes feel guilty that I’m having cheerful peace while Howard is still living in stress land. Then I remember that for me “happy peace” still includes a day that is scheduled by the hour. I’m just scheduling house and family stuff more often than business stuff.

Today the family stuff manifested in the shape of shoes. Link has been wearing sneakers with gaping holes for almost a month. Patch and Gleek were down to one pair each. This meant considerable time spent each morning seeking for lost shoes. So I took Link shoe shopping. He is in that middle ground between child sizes and adult sizes where the pickings are pretty slim. It also gives me the opportunity to muse on the fact that men’s shoes cost twice as much as children’s shoes eve when the pairs in question are nearly identical. But Link was happy. He took great joy in throwing away his old shoes before we even left the store. He just put on the new ones as soon as I paid for them. We brought home shoes for Gleek and Patch as well. I’ve done my part to keep the economy healthy for this week.

The business stress will return. I see it off on the horizon in the shape of an XDM project deadline and pre-orders for Resident Mad Scientist. May will have crazy in it. But I’m not there yet. I’ll deal with it when I am. Also there will actually be fewer things to manage in May than there were last month. It is less crazy-inducing to manage two big things than 5 smaller things. For now I’m going to turn my back on the far off clouds and enjoy the sunshine.

Small happiness with footnotes

When Clark Kent ducks into a phone booth and changes clothes, he becomes someone else*. Today I put on my stylish jeans and a swishy new scarf**. Then I sashayed myself down to the kitchen for a slice of hot three-cheese semolina dipped in spaghetti sauce. I felt young, attractive, and interesting with the shabbiness of my mom clothes laying in a heap on my bedroom floor***. Even better, I had the house to myself, and so my snack was uninterrupted. Later on I danced in my kitchen just because I felt like it. These interludes in my day were short, surrounded on all sides by scrambling to get all of my work done. But like a sunbeam through a window brightens the whole room, my whole day was brighter.

*Where will Clark Kent change clothes now that cell phones have made pay phones scarce?
**Kohls is my new best friend. Janci, I should have listened to you a year ago.
***I’ll pick them up later. I swear.****
****Does Superman go back to the phone booth and retrieve his clothes after he’s done heroing? Or does he just leave poor Clark to constantly shop for suits?