Month: August 2010

Two Kids, Two Schools

Gleek and I climbed into the car and I backed out of the driveway. We were our way to meet her new Fourth Grade teacher and to take a quick reading test. Gleek sat quietly in her seat. Subdued. Not a typical emotional state for her.

“Are you worried about school starting?” I asked her.

“Yeah.” she said quietly.

“Last year was pretty hard.” I said, hoping to give words to her feelings.

Gleek nodded and blinked several times in a way which is common when she is trying not to cry. She was so small in her seat, even though she has grown this summer. Usually she fills more space by sheer force of personality.

“This year will not be that hard.” I tried to reassure her. “I won’t let it be. We’ll do whatever we have to do.” I didn’t say that my determination extends to switching her to a charter school or pulling her out of public school completely. Home school is not something I want to do, but I will if she needs it. Gleek and I both need to give her current school, with its current administration, a solid chance to be better. I need to know that we did everything we could before leaving. So I didn’t tell her about the escape routes I have already begun to map. She would want to run down them now.

We get to the school and meet the young, soft-spoken teacher. I study her as she interacts with Gleek. Will this teacher be able to handle my child? I could not tell. Gleek was tense in the classroom. She got angry over her handwriting and spelling on a quick survey. I saw Gleek ready to burst with anger, and I looked at the mild-seeming teacher. I worried. Then came Gleek’s turn to read, and Teacher spent quite a bit of time talking with Gleek about books. Teacher listened respectfully and made a solid suggestion about how Gleek can find books in the school library. I sat silent, hoping things will be well.

We left the classroom and Gleek began to chatter. She noted that one of the trio of boys who were troublesome last year is in her class.
“But he’s kind of okay. As long as B isn’t in my class. B is like Captain Hammer for Dr. Horrible. A nim … ner…”

“Nemesis?” I supply the word.

“Yeah. B is my nimisis.”

I nod and continue to listen as she relives some of the altercations she had with B last year. Most of them I’d already heard, a few I hadn’t. I will check the class listing for B. I suspect that the trio of boys has been deliberately split into different classes and that Gleek will not be trapped in a room with her nemesis. The answer will add another tick into either the worry column or the hopeful one.

We returned home and the day moved onward. In the afternoon it was Link I loaded into the car for a trip to a school. He also was quiet in the car, but this is normal for him. When we walked into the Junior High Building, I watched his stride. He walks on his toes when he is nervous. He clomped along slouchedly. He has adapted to the idea of Junior High and is looking forward with more anticipation than apprehension.

“How long will this take?” Link asked

“I don’t know. We have to fill out some forms, pay school fees, and pick up your schedule.” I pointed out the multiple lines we would need to stand in before we were done.

Link scowled. He’s become quite good at scowling this summer. Most of the time it is a humor-filled scowl, not an angry one. It matches his leaner face and his greater height. He’ll be taller than I am soon. We stood in lines, mostly silent, except when my worries spill into words.

“So you know how A days and B days work, right?”

“Yes mom.” Link rolled his eyes.

“You go to four classes on A days and four different classes on B days.” I continued, compelled to state the information just in case he doesn’t know what he thinks he knows. I’m constantly startled by astonishing gaps in my children’s knowledge, this leads me to repeating important information until the kids roll their eyes at me.

“I know mom.” Link said, then he turned to wave to some kids that he knew.

We collected his schedule and discovered that the Co-taught English class, which will help Link with is writing, is taught by the same teacher that Kiki loved in 7th grade. We also discovered that Link has been scheduled for German rather than the writing review class I discussed with his counselor last spring. Link was pleased. He wanted German, not more writing practice.

We tromped through the hall so Link could find his locker and open it. I made him do it twice, not because he needed to, but because I wanted to quiet the voice in my brain that worries for him. Junior high can be tough. He’s going to have a lot thrown at him in the next few weeks. So I make him practice his locker combo. One less thing to be new next week.

Papers in hand, we headed home. Next Tuesday he’ll climb on the bus and navigate those hallways solo. I wonder if he’ll be worried about it between now and then or if today’s calm will hold.

Thoughts on being older and managing my own thoughts

On Sunday I attended a social event with a group of people whom I enjoy. There were a couple dozen of us there and I had a great time. It was only after the fact that I realized that I was the oldest person at the event. (Howard stayed home with sick Patch.) All of these people are peers for me, many of them are approximately my age, only younger by a year or two. But all of them have families who are younger than mine. They are still firmly in the world of Elementary school and pre-school, while I have two teenagers. The same is true Howard’s siblings, with whom we gathered for a reunion yesterday. Their oldest kids are matched to my younger ones. We’re in different life stages and I have to shift gears in my brain to remember being where they are. Then I feel strange and old because their present is my past. Then I get over it an just enjoy visiting with all these people whom I like.

I begin to understand why people pay attention to forty as a birthday. It isn’t about being physically old. It is about seeing age coming and about seeing the choices you didn’t make. It is about having adult life stages behind me. I’m still a couple of years away from forty and I’ve already got these thoughts in my head. I have never wanted to be a person who complained about getting old. I have always wanted to be happy in myself no matter what. This is the reason that I pay attention to these thoughts. I drag them out in the open and look them in the eye. Then I decide what to do about it.

Of late I have had strong thought elements revolving around being boring, unattractive, and old. These are familiar thoughts. They arrive when I am strained and empty, when I have not had enough time alone to sort my thoughts. I just have to retain enough self awareness so that I can see them for the indicators that they are instead of swimming in them. Right now they flood me because school is incoming and I am uncertain what normal will look like next month. One of the things I have to fit into the new normal is time for me to rest and recharge.

Social events help when I haven’t used all my social energy on business tasks. So I visit with my friends and talk with them about life stages that I’ve already been through. Or I visit with my other friends and talk with them about life stages I’ve yet to experience. These second types of conversations are incredibly helpful to me in managing where I am and where I’ll be heading next. And when I realize that, I’m glad that I get to have the first kind of conversation as well. They help me view my life again so that I can find patterns I did not see before. Then I realize it really is not about who is older or younger, who has more or less experience. They joy is in sharing our experiences so that we all have a broader view of things as they are and as they could be.

The Addams Family

This afternoon Howard discovered that Kiki had never seen The Addams Family. The oversight has now been rectified. Gleek and Patch watched it also.

I have to say that the movie still disturbs me on various levels. I laugh and I am disturbed. This is why my kids had not yet seen the film. It also means that the filmmakers did a brilliant job of hitting their intended mark. Patch and I have already had a discussion about how things in the movie are funny because they are exactly the opposite of what they should be.

I suspect we’ll be showing Addams Family Values later this week. Howard loves both films without reservations. I love them with reservations. And I think on the whole I’m glad to be disturbed by the wrongness.

A Trio of Thoughts on a Sunday Afternoon

I have succeeded in rummaging through everyone’s drawers and assembling a set of clothes that will look coordinated for a family photo tomorrow morning. The intelligent thing to do would have been to do the rummaging yesterday so that I could go shopping if necessary. But I was not ready to think about it yesterday. Instead we are loaning shirts to some family members and hoping that they will not retain the unpleasantness of loaned-shirt as the primary memory attached to the photo.

Patch woke up with a fever this morning. I discovered it after I was already dressed for church. So I sent everyone off without me, sent Patch back to bed, and sat down to have church at home. Mostly this involved reading scriptures, singing a hymn, and studying the lesson I would have heard if I had gone. The largest part of the time I spent writing a journal entry in my hand-written journal. That is the place I spill my rambling thoughts without editing. In my blog entries I try to retain some semblance of focus. In the paper journal I just spill my thoughts onto the page. Often I am surprise to see what lands on the page. Today the page was much covered with specific concerns for each child as they begin school. I also spent time contemplating my stalled writing projects. I reached no startling new conclusions. I just need to keep on going and hope that the path lays somewhat closer to my hopes than to my fears.

I have three social events this week and I actually have time and emotional energy to look forward to them. This is very nice.

Getting Moving Again When I have Stopped

This afternoon I found myself in The Waiting Place straight out of Dr. Seuss’ book Oh The Places You’ll Go! GenCon is finished and school has not yet begun. The space in between is long enough for me to get bored, but too short for me to begin new projects because I need to keep my brain clear for what is coming next. So I drifted around the house a bit aimlessly for a couple of hours. Then I realized I was not truly in The Waiting Place. I was in The Avoidance Place. I’m not sure how I fooled myself into thinking I haven’t got anything to do. So I kicked myself back into gear and began writing emails to straighten out details for Howard’s trip to Australia. I’ve only got two weeks to assemble a support crew for him. Fortunately there are a half dozen Australian Schlockers who are excited to help. Now I just need to figure out job assignments.

Also on the list of things to do: house organization, laundry folding, gardening, adjusting the kids’ sleep schedules, and business maintenance tasks. Oh, and there might be some school prep shopping to do. I should inventory the kids’ clothes. The happy news is that I can proceed at a nice medium pace instead of a dead run. I just need to keep track of my motivational energy. It keeps going awol.

Dinner, Driving, and the Impending School Year

I made dinner from raw ingredients and the kids did not like it. This is completely normal, except for the part where I made dinner from raw ingredients. Today provided enough space in my brain for me to notice the half dozen apples which had gone soft, but not yet rotten. I not only noticed the apples, but was able to formulate a plan for turning them into Sour Cream Apple Chicken over rice. I enjoyed it quite a lot once it was done. Getting started was hard though. My reserves of creative energy are still running low.

Kiki kept me company while I chopped chicken, apples, and onions. In front of her was the Utah Driver Handbook. She is currently studying to take the written test to obtain her driver’s permit. I have many feelings about the idea of her driving, but I’ve squelched them for today. She paused frequently in her slog through the text to ask me questions and to snitch bites of apples or chicken. We discussed right-of-way and where-not-to-park while rice boiled and chopped bits simmered.

“This is all common sense. I already know everything in this book.” Kiki complained, angling to get out of studying.

“Yes, you probably do and that makes me glad. However I’m not going to spend $70 on a test until you have at least read through the book.”

Kiki said nothing, but looked at me with a level gaze, as if not quite convinced that I was really going to require her to read the boring book.

“Also.” I added “I really don’t want to stand in line twice.”

“There will be a line?” Kiki asked.

“Honey, the DMV is made of line. I’m figuring the excursion to get your permit will take at least 3 hours. The smallest piece of that will be the test. Hopefully we’ll get to stand in more than one line because that will mean you’re getting your picture taken for your permit. I really don’t want to go through it twice, so we won’t go until I know you’ve studied.”

This convinced Kiki. Her complaints dried up and we worked through a couple of chapters. The reward for studying real driving was some pretend driving via MarioKart Wii. I can hear them downstairs right now, cackling with glee while the food sits uneaten on the stove.

I’m not really minding the uneaten food today. I already knew they were not fond of this recipe. Making it was a symbolic gesture, a stake in the ground to re-establish normal. We have just under two weeks until school starts. In that time I need to bring all the chaos back into balance. We need to find our center because last year school hit us like a wave and threatened to swamp us all.

This year has the potential to be just as hard. Kiki is starting high school with a full load of homework-heavy classes. (This is also the reason for the hurry on the driver’s permit. We want it out of the way before she has school work too.) Link is starting junior high and will need to figure out how to manage 8 different classes per semester. Gleek is headed into fourth grade, which is typically a difficult grade. And so I view the onset of school, not as an escape, but as a shift in my work load. I will have space in the day where I can work in solitude, but the rest of the time I have to pay attention to the kids. Not so I can carry their loads or do the work that they should do, but I need to stand ready to teach them how to manage. Then I have to hope that they learn quickly because it hurts when I know how to fix it but I can’t without stealing the lessons they need.

I am afraid of what this school year will bring, so I’m trying not to think of it except in scheduling terms. I need to know what to watch for and deal with what is in front of me, not fret about how it might go wrong. So I made dinner. And they didn’t eat it. And that is okay. Because today they live in a world where Mom made dinner for them and expected them to go to bed on time. There is security for them in that. I can see them unwind when the day has meals as signposts to mark the progress of hours. They are happier and less stressed. Two weeks just might be enough to give us a good start on school.


My front room has suitcases, some of which are newly emptied, some of which are half emptied, and some of which are filled with things belonging to my parents. My desk is covered with receipts, invoices, shipping labels, and post-it notes. Large mounds of color-sorted laundry block the walkway into the family room, waiting for their turn through the washing machine. Mail sits on my kitchen counter to tell me the details of my kids’ school schedules. Then there are the children themselves, who need attention, reassurance, and settling back into a regular routine.

All of that and I am so tired I can hardly see straight. My energy ebbs far more often than it flows today. This is to be expected after the travel and work of last week. But I am working my way through. All of the tasks are closer to complete than they were this morning. This is good because I long for peace and order. I think I will find it soon.

Convention wrap up

The convention is over. The boxes are packed and hauled away for shipping and storage. Nothing went wrong. There were no disasters. I can feel myself unwinding, relaxing. This whole event has been a very stressful one for me. It was filled with things I knew I could do, but had never actually done. Most of them were small things, like calling for a cab. But small things add up and filled the weekend with variables rather than certainties. I spent most of the event riding an emotional sine wave with oscillations between overwhelmed and okay. I tried to keep all of it suppressed so that my oscillations did not affect those around me, but they’re smart people and they could tell I was stressed.

More than anything else this event taught me that large events require a crew. We had an amazing booth crew. Problems were solved without me even knowing that they existed. They had things so well in hand that I was able to be away from the booth more than I was present at it. That capability was critical because I had to shepherd Kiki and Link through the show, keep track of them, and make sure that they were safe. This was made easier by the third cell phone we acquired several weeks ago. Kiki and Link are fairly self sufficient and were very good about following instructions. Even so, there were several times when I felt like I’d lost track of them or was not doing as much as I could to maximize their convention experiences. This was where my second crew came in, the one I hadn’t even considered as a crew, but who turned out to be invaluable in reducing my stress and helping me make sure the parenting portion of this event was a success.

Friends drove down from Michigan specifically to visit Howard and I. They hauled me out to lunch and listened to me ramble about my stresses. I mentioned how I wanted Link to have a chance to explore some games that were not electronic. They then introduced me to one of their friends who is here demoing board games. Together we collected Link and hauled him, despite his protests, to a board game room where he proceeded to have fun for hours. The whole process was one of those moments where I am filled with gratitude at not being alone in the tasks that are in front of me.

These same friends then continued to hang with Howard and I through dinner and late into the evening. It was so good to have familiar people near me. We wandered the convention looking at the spectacle and talking. We wandered by the place where giant structures were created out of cards then knocked down by a siege of small change. Then the change was collected to donate to charity. It is only one example of the activities at the convention. Everywhere we looked adults were expending energy and creativity on play activities. I love this about science fiction/fantasy/gaming conventions. Grown ups get to play. I’m very glad my kids got to witness it. At the end of an evening wandering with good friends I was calm and happy for the first time in the entire convention. I was sad to say goodbye, but they had to go home.

Going to church this morning completely changed my emotional landscape in regard to the convention. The kids and I walked into the church building and it was like we had taken a single step that transported us home. The feel of the place and the format of the meeting was completely familiar. My brain was too full for me to pay focused attention to the speakers, it was the place I needed. I finally had sufficient clarity of thought to see a disconnect in my own thinking which has been creating emotional dissonance.

When deciding what events and challenges fit into our lives, I evaluate them for business usefulness and family strain. These are important measures in decision making. I have been neglecting a critical third evaluation measure. After I do all my logical, logistical, and emotional evaluation, I need to step back from all that I’ve previously considered. I need to pray and try to feel whether the thing I am considering is right or wrong for our business and family. I did this today. I sat in church and prayed about our attendance at GenCon both this year and next. Both feel right. Having that confirmation separate from business considerations was amazing. All my conflicted feelings about the amount of effort and expense vanished. With them went my worries about the strains on our family and about working on Sunday. I felt peace and was thus able to be happy about the convention as a whole. After church I returned to the booth and it was fun. Having the quiet confirmation gives me a big stick with which I can beat back the voices of doubt. Because doubt always sneaks in the back door and tries to make me second-guess my stressful decisions.

This convention has been full of amazing things about which I’ll be telling stories for years to come. The stressful aspects will fade away. Next year will be easier because fewer things will be new. We won’t have as many set up costs. I can truly and honestly say that this has been a good show and I finish it feeling both happy and grateful to have been here.

A day at the GenCon Booth

I stood in the booth for most of the 8 hours that the booth was open. This means I was saying the same things over and over again as I was pitching products to people who stopped to look. At first I stumbled over making the pitches, but it quickly developed into a patter that I could run through almost without thinking. This is good because as the fatigue grows, my higher brain functions begin to shut down.

Sometimes as I told people about the things we are selling, they would laugh and engage in conversation. They fed energy back to me and I would close the conversation feeling better than when I began it. Sometimes this sort of conversation resulted in a sale and that is good, but even when it did not, I felt great about the whole exchange. Other times my pitch would get almost no reaction at all. Then the energy I expend into a pitch is just gone. I am left tireder than I began and wondering if maybe I gave the pitch wrong. I didn’t. It is impossible for our books to appeal to everyone.

As part of the convention we signed up for a promotion through CheeseWeasel. They create quest cards which send players to various booths in the dealer’s room. We have a puncher with which we puncture their cards and they can continue on the way, but first they have to listen to a quick pitch. The additional traffic is good and we’ve made sales we would certainly not have made otherwise. However it also means we’re spending a lot of energy pitching products to some people who really only want a hole punch so they can be on their way. Over all it has been more good than tiring, so we’ll probably do it again next year.

Around mid-day the kids retreated to the hotel room. They’d spent several hours in the video game area and Kiki had become annoyed by a kid who did not play well with others. It seemed a shame to have them spend time away from the convention, but I think that they needed the down time. Tomorrow will be more filled with events in which they can participate. That will be good.

At one point I was walking through the dealers room, taking a break from the booth. The crowds in the aisles are thick and getting through requires a weaving path. Often I fall in behind people who are weaving the same direction I am going and follow them for a bit. After I’d been following a petite red haired woman for awhile she turned her head and I caught a glance at her profile. She was Felicia Day of Doctor Horrible and many other geekish shows. As soon as I realized who she was, my first thought was to notice how small she is, no taller than I am. I always expect everyone to be larger than me. I did not try to stop her or talk with her. I would love to have a conversation with her some time, but stopping her and saying “Wow, You’re Felicia Day!” did not feel like a good way to build a real conversation. So I went on my way and she never knew that I’d been pleased to see her in person.

One of the times I stepped out of the booth, I went browsing through the dealer’s room. It was the first time that I’d fully divested myself of convention responsibilities and wandered. I had no child to shepherd and no particular agenda. It was an application of retail therapy to help me unwind from stress earlier in the day. This booth has required new partnerships, a new payment system, new booth methodologies, and convention strategies which allow space for parenting as well. There has not been a single real problem, but several times I was afraid that there was one, and got wound-up over it. So I looked at things which interested me, admired beautiful dresses, pondered Christmas gifts, and witnessed artistry. The amount of creative energy on display at this show is truly wondrous. There are so many people here trying to make their dreams pay the bills. We fit right in.

The day wound up when some dear friends arrived to visit with us. They drove down from Michigan. We had a truly amazing dinner at a very nice restaurant. Each of us ordered something different and we passed the plates around so that everyone got to taste everything. Later in the evening we walked through the scenic downtown area with little shops and restaurants. It was a lovely warm evening and the company was excellent.

Taken as a whole it was a very good day.

Opening Day of GenCon

My job at this event is to be a facilitator. I run for packages, fetch food, shepherd kids, assure communication, and monitor the emotional states of those under my care. The kids weathered the first day really well. Link divided his time between the Lego giant inflatable pyramid and the electronic gaming room. Kiki was more eclectic and made friends with an artist who is exhibiting there. They each had a couple of tired spots, but for the most part they did not become over stimulated or stressed. I expect them to burn out some time before the convention is over. We’ll get through it.

Conventions always have lots of emotional highs and lows with accompanying anxieties. Yesterday I was worried that we had not brought enough merchandise. Tomorrow I expect to worry that I brought too much. Today featured many moments of tiredness where I could hardly find the energy to interact with people. But often a few minutes later I found myself on my feet cheerfully talking to strangers about our wares. Howard has similar highs and lows. We try to bolster each other through the lows and it seems to work mostly. It helps a lot that we now have enough experience to recognize that the lows are temporary and not an accurate assessment of how the convention is going.

The convention experience washes over me. There is so much to process that I can not possibly retain it all. But bits and pieces stick, sometimes without particular reason. Like the beautiful petite Asian woman I saw walking through the dealer’s room. She looked straight out of a fantasy painting with her beautiful features and long black hair. I also remember bits and pieces of the stories people tell me as we stand chatting at the booth. I realize once again that every life is full of stories to tell. Then I finally met in person the guy with whom I’ve corresponded multiple times because the postal service in his town seems nigh incapable of delivering a package without losing it.

By dinner we were all a bit frazzled and ready to collapse. Instead we found an odd little Italian place which made us wind our way through the kitchen and a maze of twisty white-tiled passages in order to get to the dining area. The restaurant had an earthy aesthetic about the black and white photographs adorning the walls. They were the visual equivalent of fart jokes. But the food was good, so we concentrated on that instead.

The kids and I are spending the evening in our room. It is nice and quiet here. Howard ventured out to find a game to play.