Month: August 2010

Writing and cleaning

Tomorrow I need to unpack my writer brain and work on an essay revision. Part of me longs to return to focused writing. Another part dreads the return of ambitious thoughts. I’m still soul-tired from the schedule this past summer. I’m still not feeling balanced in the school schedule or the finances. There are still emotional and actual bills to be paid. I would love to let all of that settle out. Then I would get bored. And then I would be excited to take on a new project, which could be writing.

I cleaned my front room yesterday. I think this is the first time it has been orderly since school let out. It was so nice that I cleaned up the kitchen as well. Both still need detail work, but the central spaces are open, ready for whatever comes next. I want that in the rest of the house. I want that in my mind and heart. Both are full of things not put away, things broken, things new, things old, things which are no longer useful, things for which I must make places. I want time to sort through the mess, not quickly but thoroughly. I want to organize closets. I want to haul out bags of garbage. And suddenly I realize that I am ready for a project. Cleaning is my project. But I am not going to attack it with energy, just do a little each day until I meander my way to a good place.

I still have to revise tomorrow. There is a deadline. Pulling out the writing thoughts will change my internal emotional landscape. But I think it is a necessary part of the clean up. I was going to have to organize that closet anyway.

Pattern Emergence

It is just possible that I’ve found some normality. The kids all got to school on time. I got my work done. I had a good conversation with a far away friend during my afternoon down time. Then the kids came home and we assessed homework without anyone melting into a puddle of woe. The patterns of the days are beginning to emerge. This is very good because once I can see the patterns I can begin shifting them so that we find a rhythm that works for everyone.

Just now we are having a quiet afternoon space. Gleek has gone to a new friend’s house and for the very first time I sent the Kidphone with her. She’s having a great time calling me to give me updates. “Just letting you know that I’m still playing with A and everything is great!” There is an hour of homework time where I will be on call, but other than that we’ll have quiet afternoon followed by me making dinner and running a family activity in the evening.

I need more days like today. No crises. No urgent tasks. Just things to get done.

School Day Three and the weekend

It feels like a week has passed since 6:30 am when my alarm went off. Monday feels like several weeks ago. I’ve washed up on the shore of the weekend. But the skies are clearing and hopefully I’ll be able to set sail again on Monday with calmer waters and a good wind.

I’ve been listened to respectfully by school personnel. I’ve been able to express my concerns. The team building has begun and I think I’ll have good teams. Now I just need to put kids to bed and sleep for many hours. Then I have to get up in the morning, wash Howard’s clothes, pack Howard’s clothes, arrange for a church activity, and take him to the airport. Kiki has homework which I need to monitor and I have to track Gleek’s food.

Sunday will be a respite. Monday I will help finalize Kiki’s class change, do my regular business things, and then I need to find my Writer hat. It is buried around here somewhere and I’m going to need it in order to make good use of the editorial notes I have for an essay that will be published next year.

But first, sleep.

School day two

Day two of school and advocacy is required on behalf of children. The first is a (hopefully) minor schedule change for Kiki and should be completed quickly. However Kiki is a bit overwhelmed by high school and will likely need extra support for at least a month.

The second case for advocacy is going to be much longer and more complicated. For the first time I have identified an administrator who is an obstacle to my children having a good school experience. I believe he means well, but this does not change the fact that I am having to do significant emotional clean-up work with my kids. The good news is that the teachers are great. It is possible that strong alliances with the teachers will nullify any problems with the larger school administration. But that is not the way it should be. For now I am watching closely and keeping records.

ETA: This was a tired day. That colors my impressions, which is why all actions are waiting on further evidence.

School begins

The first day of a new schedule is always exhausting. This week I get to have three of them.
Today Link and Kiki both went to school for orientation days.
Tomorrow Kiki, Gleek, and Patch will attend their first day of school, but Link will not because he attended orientation all day today.
Thursday is the day that I will finally get to run through a complete day of what will be my new schedule.
I’m going to be tired this week.

The Next Sugar Experiment

Once Gleek and I concluded our brief experiment with using an alternative method for balancing her body for sugars, we talked over what worked and what didn’t. It was obvious that Gleek is sensitive to sugars, this is not news. I figured that out around the time she used her first words to beg for candy. So we made a plan for our next experiment. I suggested that we log the food that Gleek eats and how she behaves. Gleek added that she thought we should do a one-day-on-one-day-off sugar plan. This sounded like a reasonable idea to me, but we made clear that “off sugar” mostly meant treat food made with refined sugars. She can still eat fruits even though they are high glucose foods. We also clarified that “on sugar” meant one glass of chocolate milk or a reasonable amount of other treats. She does not get to eat nothing but sugary foods all day.

I like this plan because it gives me structure to use when deciding whether to say Yes or No. Even better, Gleek knows the structure and agreed to it in advance. This did not stop her from flopping and moaning yesterday on the Off day. But more interesting to me was that when she was offered chocolate milk today, she decided against it because she wanted to save her one glass for later. This from the girl who has subsisted on chocolate milk for a significant portion of the summer. So far both days have been fairly good behavior days.

What Gleek does not know is that just by putting the experiment in motion, we have taken a huge step toward reducing her sugar intake. Even her On Sugar days will have less sugar in them than before. This is because the log is forcing me to pay attention to what she eats. It is forcing me to think before I agree to treat food. The fact that I am observing is changing my behavior. Not only that, but I knew that the only way to survive the barrage of treat requests was to have a plan in place for what we’ll eat that day. I need to be able to point to the schedule and say “We plan to have cookies for snack tomorrow and next Thursday, not today.” So I have made a month long meal plan which includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. This already represents a major change from the last-minute-scramble method which dominated the summer.

This plan will not solve Gleek’s challenges. She’s been doing much better over the summer anyway. But it will let me alleviate the influence of diet, and if there is a measurable reaction to any particular food I’ll see it. What else needs to be done depends upon how her new classroom situation affects her. It depends upon whether I can build a good working rapport with the teacher. It depends upon me building solid communication lines with the administration. And in fact this whole food plan depends upon me staying focused, which is not always easy when it comes to daily mundane tasks. I hope it all works.

Schedule as puzzle

The first step to assembling a jigsaw puzzle is to spread the pieces out on the table and turn them over so I can see the shapes and colors. At that point the table is covered and it looks like there is no way for all the pieces to be assembled into a coherent picture. This is exactly where I am in planning the family schedule for Fall. I have all of these things which need to fit in somewhere, but I can’t see how. It is a bit overwhelming. And so I apply the same method I use when faced with 1000 loose puzzle pieces. I find the edge pieces and build the frame. In our lives the frame is structured around getting kids to school, meals, and bedtime. The markers which delineate space for everything else. They dictate rising in the morning and sleeping at night. Next I find a cluster of pieces which obviously fit together. I figure them out and then take the larger piece and place it within the frame. This is like the grouping snack, reading, tooth brushing, prayers, and laying down all together as parts of “bedtime.” Last I look at the spaces left and try to fill in the remaining pieces. Sometimes where they go becomes obvious after the big shapes are in place.

This week will be a frame week with a little bit of clustering. Next week will probably be the same. By the third and fourth week of school I’ll know how to fit in all the loose bits. Or I’ll know which loose bits are simply not going to fit for awhile. That’s the hard part. Some of the pieces I would like to fit into our lives simply don’t belong right now. I wish I knew which ones so I could let them go.

Experimenting with sugar and alternative medicine

In Terry Pratchett’s books the witch Granny Weatherwax uses Headology to help people more than she uses magic. Headology uses both psychology and trickery to adjust people’s behaviors. In the case of a man with chest pains, Granny told him that he’d been bewitched by nymphs who lived in a waterfall. All he had to do was hike to that waterfall, bow three times, sing a song, and leave a small offering once per day and the nymphs would leave him alone. Or something like that. My memory of the scene in the book is a little fuzzy, and I could not find the specific reference. The point is that Granny knew that the only beneficial thing in her instructions was the hike. The man was too sedentary, so she told him a story that would make him be more active.

I took Gleek to a practitioner of alternative medicine. A friend, whom I respect, says that many of her son’s behavioral issues have been greatly alleviated by this practitioner. Since I plan to do some aggressive diagnostics and behavior modification for Gleek this Fall, I decided that alternative medicine would be a low impact and low cost place to start. We went. We followed the instructions for 24 hours until the instructions ran out. My after-the-fact conclusion is that bodies are complex and there are things I don’t understand. I am not ready to dismiss the idea that alternative phenomena can significantly alter someone’s well being. Mind/body connections are very powerful. However I’ve also come out of the experience feeling like I did a lot of dancing around and singing when the only thing that mattered was the walk.

The specific treatment applied was intended to reduce Gleek’s sensitivity to sugar.
In the category of dancing around:
Taping a small vial of sugar-infused water to Gleek’s arm for 24 hours, so that her body could balance to the sugars. I’m particularly skeptical since the vial was created by putting a blank vial into the same machine as another vial for a few seconds. Also when I accidentally dropped and broke the vial at the end, it was filled with something that smelled like rubbing alcohol.

In the category of hiking:
The strict list of things she was not to eat for 24 hours. She was totally off sugar during that time, which allowed me to observe the strength of her sugar cravings and to observe behavior changes. She got cranky, then tired, then sick. The sick shortly proved itself to be stomach flu that she caught from her brother. Having sickness strike mid-experiment mucks up the results quite a lot. However I have definitely proven to myself that more experimentation with her sugar intake is called for. She became jittery and wiggly within two minutes of eating sugary things again.

Having a vial taped to her arm was a very effective physical reminder to both Gleek and I that we were to be careful about what she ate.

In the category of Might be Dancing, Might be Hiking:
The diagnostic method of putting a vial into Gleek’s hand and then pressing down on her arm to see if she could hold strong. I’ve seen this effect many times before. I’ve had it done to me. But I don’t know that I buy the explanations about why it happens. I’m not sure why glass vials containing supposedly different liquids would cause the body to react differently. I’d think the body would react to the glass, if anything. But sometimes Gleek’s arm was strong and sometimes it was not. The practitioner identified her as sensitive to exactly the things which I would have expected. However I also know that magicians and con men can be very good about extracting information and telling people what they want to hear. It could have been a trick.

Making Gleek lay down every two hours so that I could apply a small massager to pressure points in her arms and feet. I don’t know whether the clockwise motion really did help balance her energies, or help her body accept the sugar. I am certain that laying down for a meditative few minutes every couple hours was a good thing for her. Also the vibrating massager was soothing on her skin. She liked that part.

The most important piece of the experiment is that by the end of it Gleek was bemoaning the fact that we had tried it. She was ready to blame her stomach flu on the experiment. I had to explain in detail why that was unlikely. She focused her frustration on the vial, and I would have to talk hard and fast to get her to agree to do it again. I don’t want to do that. Instead we’ll take the useful information and build new experiments to see if we can help her be a calmer, happier person. These new experiments will have less dancing around and more scientific method, because that is much more comfortable for us.

Howard’s trip to Australia

Howard’s trip to Australia has led me through exciting new lands of forms and paperwork as I figured out how to send books via a customs broker, buy an international plane ticket, make reservations at a hotel on another continent, file for a visa, find the tax forms to report earnings to both the Australian government and the US government, open a banking account in Melbourne, arrange for volunteers to help at the booth, and assorted other odds and ends. Truthfully, each thing has been fairly simple in itself. I’ve been helped by intelligent and competent people who know what they are doing and a pleasant about explaining the process to me. So I approach a task with trepidation and discover that it is nothing much to worry about. (Well, except for the worry that I’ve done something wrong which will lead to massive stress and failure mid-trip.) It is the aggregation of these tasks which makes me feel like I’ve been fighting my way through a maze of electronic forms and paperwork.

We’re close to done, which is good since Howard boards a plane one week from today. I’ll be happy if none of the pieces I put into place fails. We have confirmed arrival of the books in Australia, but they’ve yet to arrive at the booth and we don’t know how they weathered the shipping. We have confirmed reservations both airline and hotel, but Howard has not actually checked in yet. Many things could go wrong, but I know that they are unlikely to do so. So I just continue along, double checking, arranging, planning. Hopefully all will be well.

Kiki on the road

There are many times in a parent’s life when she wonders what on earth she was thinking when she agreed to a particular endeavor. I’ve felt that way about lessons, birthday parties, games, toys, and treats. Today’s revisitation of the feeling was the moment when I sat in my van with Kiki at the wheel. She rounded the corner with a little running dialog.
“and now I slow… and turn signal… all is clear… so gas.” Then her voice raised an octave “Not clear! Not clear!” I watched the car coming our direction far down the street as our van drifted diagonally across the road, blocking all lanes.

“Break Kiki!” I said loud and firm while my right foot reached for a break pedal which was not in front of me. She stopped the van, which really had been in no danger of hitting anything more dangerous than a curb. The other driver, a familiar neighbor, had stopped to allow Kiki to sort herself out.

“Okay, now back up, and pull over to the right this time.” I said.

Kiki laughed nervously. “That was scary.”

I suppressed a smile. “No giggling while you’re driving.”

Kiki sorted the car out so that our neighbor could pass. He pulled up beside us and rolled down his window. It took Kiki a moment to find the window controls on the driver’s side, particularly with the level of flustered she was currently sporting.

“No worries.” The man smiled. “I used to be a driving instructor.”

I smiled back knowing that his amusement also encompassed me, sitting in the passenger seat and wishing for a brake pedal. He has two licensed sons with three kids yet to go. His amusement and sympathy ran deep.

We stuck to quiet residential streets and practiced parking in an empty church parking lot. The parking needs quite a bit of work, but all the stopping, reversing, and putting the car into drive became increasingly smooth. Kiki is beginning to train her hands, brain, and feet into the instincts they will need to drive safely. Hopefully the “Brake When In Doubt” instinct will be an early acquisition. We’ll gradually step up to traffic lights and multi-lane roads. Eventually there will be freeways.

Thirty minutes was plenty of time on the road for both of us. She was tired from concentrating and so was I. Steering a car through voice activation of an inexperienced driver is kind of tiring.