Month: September 2010

Wildlife at the park

We expected to find ducks at the park. I’d brought a spare loaf of bread for the purpose of feeding them. We did not expect the full fleet of ducks who converged upon the kids the moment bread was in evidence. Apparently this pond is a favored pit-stop for migratory ducks. The bread disappeared quickly and the children were lured to the table by pizza. However the realization was quickly made that pizza crusts are made of bread and so the children flocked back to the pond for another round of duck feeding.

The adults all sat at the table watching the children and the ducks. We also observed several large dragon flies dive-bombing clouds of midges. The aerial acrobatics were fairly impressive. All wildlife was forgotten for a time when the marshmallow blow guns and stomp rockets were brought out. There was a battle royale, although many of the smaller combatants were observed eating their ammunition.

The evening waned and the sun was retiring when the mice made their presence known. One scurried across the concrete pad and disappeared into a crack far too small to admit a living creature. We set out a small piece of pizza crust near the crack to see if he would emerge again. He did and we were all quite entertained to watch the tiny mouse pull the crust through a too-small hole. The rocks surrounding the duck pond proved to be alive with mice, and so some of the kids went hunting. Many mice were sighted but none were captured.

The mosquitoes made their appearance and that was the cue for the humans to leave. As we loaded the cars, pairs of ducks winged over head toward the sunset. They were headed for the lake to sleep. They’ll be back at the pond in the morning. We won’t be back tomorrow, but we’ll come again sometime soon. The evening was lovely and we need more lovely evenings.

Seeing Gleek clearly for the first time in weeks

Gleek entered the kitchen with a purposeful stalk. I worried that somehow the play with friends had gone wrong and she was angry.
“You okay?”

She looked at me, and her face transformed into calm interest. “Just thirsty.” She answered.

I watched her grab her cup and fill it with water. Her hair was windblown, but not rat’s nest tangled. Her clothes marked with the evidence of today’s play and stains from games past. Her calm and confident manner of drinking struck me.

In that moment it was as if a film was stripped from my eyes. My brain was stripped bare of all the speculations of how today’s behaviors will impact her future. All the parental responsibility and worry peeled off. With a sudden and clear sharpness, I suddenly saw Gleek not as a child who needs to be nurtured into an adult, but as a person with a whole personality and existence right now. I really saw her with her oval face and bright eyes startlingly dark compared to her light hair.

She finished her drink and turned to leave.

“Hey.” I said putting my hand out to forestall her departure.

She turned back. And I explained “I think I need a hug.” Gleek tipped her head to the side and then jumped into my arms to give me a Monkey hug with both arms and legs. I held her tight and breathed the scent of her. Then she jumped down and dashed back outside to her friends.

I trailed after and watched for a moment out the window. I tried to find words to encapsulate the wordless gestalt I had in that moment of clarity. My child’s worth is not measured by her future. She is priceless now. Had someone told me this, I would have nodded and said “of course.” It was quite different to have the wordless knowledge resonate through me. To know that I must fully love this person for who she is, despite my ongoing responsibility to help her grow. It is a hard thing. Because in the moment I love a child fully as they are, I am always struck by the knowledge that this person I love will be gone in a year. The nine year old Gleek will be replaced by a 10 year old who will be much the same, but also different. In my heart I hold a small measure of grief for the toddler Gleek who is forever gone.

And so I need to repeat and elaborate upon the statement I made before.

My child’s worth is not measured by her future or her past. It is separate from my hopes and fears. She is priceless just as she is.

I want to sear the words into my brain so that I will not forget. And I need to apply the same statement not only to all of my children, but to all people. My love should not be contingent or come with expectations attached. It is a frightening and beautiful thought. I shall endeavor to try.

Link’s Clothes

On Sunday morning Link’s pants did not fit. They were tight the week before, but this Sunday Link could not make them button. Not even remotely. A flurry of clothes testing determined that he’d outgrown all of his jeans as well. We didn’t notice because he wore shorts all week. This kind of growth is not unexpected in a 13 year old boy, but it presented something of a problem only 20 minutes before church. In the end wore a pair of Howard’s pants and a belt to cinch in the bagginess.

Pants shopping was imperative. Link had been wanting new clothes anyway. He has decided that the most appropriated attire for junior high school is a red shirt and blue jeans. He declared that I should get him ten pairs of jean shorts, ten pairs of jeans, and ten red shirts. As it was he was wearing the same red shirt and jean shorts a bit too often. I declined to promise clothes in that quantity, but planned a shopping trip.

Most of my kids clothing growing up has been hand-me-down or purchased by me when they were not present. I just don’t like taking kids into stores when I need to browse and ponder. It gives them too much time to want things that I don’t want to pay for. Link’s new-found interest in what he wears meant that it was time to begin involving him in the purchase decisions about his clothing. In the process of walking him through the aisles to select clothes, I realized how overdue his education in clothes shopping has become. He was fascinated and a little confused to realize that I expected him to try on the clothes before we bought anything. After the first set of ill-fitting clothes he could see the importance.

We emerged triumphant. Two pair of jeans, 1 jean short, 2 church pants, and 3 red shirts. It is a far cry from his original plan, but has a chance of actually fitting into his drawers. I love that he is growing up and developing an understanding of the social nuances of clothing and personal hygiene. And we bought the pants a touch long, because then next thing he’ll do is grow two inches when my back is turned.

Scheduling next year

About two weeks ago Howard and I took a good look at all the events scheduled for the next 18 months and realized that 2011 is full. When I say “full” I do not mean that we have things scheduled for every week or every month. Some months are entirely empty. However the empty months are either preceded or followed by a decidedly not-empty month. For the sake of our sanity we declared that no big events, such as conventions) could be added.

Our resolve is already being challenged. New opportunities have begun to pop up and we are sorely tempted to add them to the schedule. So I stare at the calendar again to see if the new thing can fit. Next year’s calendar has fixed points like conventions we have already committed to, or the family vacation which has a definite date. The calendar also has probable fixed points, which are events we want to do, but have not actually committed to yet. What is not on the calendar are book releases. I know that next year will contain two within the first 6 months, but I do not know exactly where they will fall. This is another reason to keep those empty spaces.

So I stand in front of the calendar and I discuss with Howard. I list the concerns. Howard lists the advantages. We talk about how the new event will affect all the currently scheduled events. We discuss similar events in the past and what would be required to do this one the same or better. It is our little prognostication ritual by which we attempt to peer into the future and decide what is best for us, for the business, for our family. The decisions are not easy.

Finding what I look for

Sometime last week I read a news article which talked about how Justin Bieber had started a fashion trend of bangs swept to the side. I read the article with amusement because I had never seen this particular hairstyle anywhere else. In the week since reading the article, I’m seeing that haircut on heads all over town. I’m pretty sure that the incidence of Justin Bieber haircuts has not increased dramatically since last week. What changed is that I started paying attention and knew enough to recognize what I was seeing. This phenomenon is common and happens to me all the time. I study literature and the world is more filled with literary references. I start researching a certain type of car, or phone, or bicycle, and it seems that everyone else already has one exactly like it.

I’m pondering this today as I consider all the focused attention I’ve been giving to parenting. I’ve been looking for areas that need work, and, not suprisingly, I’ve found them. The truth is that no matter how much I plan, schedule, and work there will always be things I could do better. The more I focus on those things which are slightly askew, the more of them I see. It spirals in closer and closer until the problems obscure the joyful things about my children.

I need to figure out ways to take a step back and get some perspective. I need to back off and see if the problems really are as big and omnipresent as they have been feeling lately. I suspect they aren’t. I suspect I am seeing mountains when what is actually present are foothills.

I’ll find what I am looking for. I need to make sure that some of what I am looking for are reasons to feel joyful in the amazing children I have.

The child who is fine 90% of the time

I like reading articulate and thoughtful blogs from mothers whose kids are going through challenges similar to mine. I like knowing that Howard and I are not the only ones who struggle. Today over at Mir said this:

Both Otto and I explained the constant heartbreak involved in keeping him [her son with Aspergers] okay. The judgment from others, because 90% of the time he looks like every other kid, and when the 10% of situations where he simply cannot keep himself together hit, it’s obvious that onlookers wonder what egregious failure of parenting has resulted in such unacceptable behavior. It’s better, I assured them, than when he struggled more often. Of course it is. But the less he struggles, the harder the remaining struggles are, simply because others believe he “should” be able to handle it. After all, he’s fine most of the time, right?

I think Mir’s son’s issues are more severe than Gleek’s but that is exactly how it feels. Everyone in our family has learned how to adjust and manage. Her teacher and I communicate regularly. Most of the time it all works. Except when it doesn’t. Out of all of us, I think Gleek works the hardest. I want to cry on the days when I know exactly how impossible it is for her to keep it together, but I still have to apply consequences. Skipping the consequences does no one any good. She needs to know where the limits are. She needs to know that nothing she does will move those limits. Firm limits are reassuring and make the next incident less likely to happen. Knowing these things does not make the hard day any easier.

Today has not been a hard day. So far it has been a good one. Over the last weekend we’ve been going through a book about ADHD together. The resulting conversations have been very illuminating for both of us. It is just that this post from Mir made me look and see how much effort has become invisible through long habit. Parenting Gleek is a frequently exhausting task, but not nearly so exhausting as being Gleek. She constantly amazes me with her strength and endurance.

Edited to add: After writing this post I did some reading of blogs written by mothers with autistic and disabled children. Now I feel compelled to note that on the grand scale of things I have nothing to complain about. My fatigue is nothing compared to theirs.

Getting the hang of Saturdays

Nearly the first thing I did yesterday morning was to jot down some notes for a blog entry about how I’m having trouble getting the hang of Saturdays. But the day proceeded and I never had time to write it out. In fact I got all my stuff done in time for Howard and I to escape the house and have dinner with some other local writers. It was a wonderful event full of laughter and good conversation. As a result I wrote nothing at all and left a semi-discouraged note up for a whole extra day even though the day itself turned out quite well. Oops.

Since the analysis contained in my notes about getting the hang of Saturdays is still valid and interesting to me, I am going to do a write up from the notes anyway.

The first problem with Saturday morning is that I want to sleep late. I actually need the extra sleep since I tend to run on a sleep deficit during the rest of the week. My desires to sleep hit the first snag when the iPod alarms go off with their wake-up play lists. The one in our room is not much of a problem because we have a remote. However I’ve also set one on the iPod in the kitchen. On school days the play list helps the kids time their mornings so that they’re on schedule. In theory we can turn these off, but I always forget to. I think part of my brain is afraid that if I turn them off on Saturday, I’ll forget to reset them for Monday.

The morning music is the least of the troubles. I want to sleep in, but I want the kids to wake up on their regular schedule. If the younger two sleep late, it is harder to get them to go to bed that night. I’ve worked really hard to get their bio rhythms adjusted and I don’t want to send it askew. So in theory I should just get up at the same time as I do all week so that our schedule remains intact. But I love the sleep in. In the end the kids usually wake up about an hour later than normal and then they go play video games while I sleep longer.

This pattern does not generally include breakfast except what the kids decide to feed to themselves. Usually they do a pretty good job, no one goes hungry, but without an official breakfast no one has a marker for the beginning of the day. The kids don’t have a set point for when they should do their chores. When I groggily wander down stairs half the morning is gone and the kids are all fully engaged in activities where they will object to being interrupted. Chores are easier to swallow if you don’t have to stop doing something fun in order to do them. At this point I usually decide not to interrupt happily playing children to fight over chores. Instead I wander into my office to do a “little bit of work.”

Then suddenly it is noon, I’m still in my pajamas, and kids’ friends are knocking on the door to ask if my kids can play. (Their parents got them up, fed them breakfast, and focused their mornings so their chores are all done.) I look at the kid on my front step and I have a bare moment to decide whether to just let my kids go or to enforce chores first. The easy path is so easy. It really is. But I feel a vague guilt as I look at my not-so-clean house and worry that I’m not teaching them the housekeeping habits they will need.

I look at my Saturdays and feel that I ought to plan something better, more structured. Then I turn it all upside down and look at it again. The weeks are made of structure. Every day (except Saturday) I know exactly when to get them up in the morning. I have songs to measure out when breakfast should be, when Kiki leaves, when Link leaves, when Gleek and Patch leave. Even while they’re gone I’ve planned my days and run them by task list. Then they come home at we all hit schedule marks for play, homework, dinner, and evening stuff. Saturdays are all squishy and free-form. And maybe we need that.

Most days can be improved with chocolate

Of late I’ve been writing lots of fragmentary blog posts, ones that contain many small moments or ideas rather than taking time to give the things full space. In this way the blog is an accurate representation of the state of my mind and my life. Each day is crammed full of things to do and problems to solve. I pack a month’s worth of events into each week. Inevitably I lose track of some things. Today I missed yet another visiting teaching appointment. Again it was simply because I was distracted and forgot. This visible organizational failure was the proverbial last straw and I cried a bit.

The thing is, I really am getting all the critical things done. The work I do for the business is on schedule, if not as fast as I would like. I’ve been keeping up with kids and supporting homework efforts. The average cleanliness of the house is higher than it has been in a long time. (Though today is not a particularly good example of this.) I’m handling so much and doing it well. On some level I know this. But the small failures knock me right off my feet and bring me to tears. I don’t cry for the tasks themselves, mostly they aren’t important. My tears are grief that I’m working so hard, staying so focused, and it still isn’t enough. Who is it not enough for? Me. Howard and the kids are not complaining. Friends and neighbors understand and sympathize. My harshest critic lives inside my own head and she has really high expectations.

Things are settling in. I can see it. I spent the two weeks prior to this one working heavily with Kiki, almost to the exclusion of the other kids. Kiki settled just as Gleek’s annual calm adjusting-to-school period ended. This week has been mostly about Gleek with a smattering of parent teacher conferences for Link. Sometimes when I tuck Patch into bed at night I listen to him chatter about his day. Or rather, I look attentive, but often my mind wanders to other places. Then I feel sad that he does not get nearly the focused attention that the other kids do. At least not from me. My guilt is somewhat appeased that Howard sometimes feels guilty because he spends more time with Patch than the others. Then I remind myself that the patterns were different before and they’ll shift again. Which makes me tired because I’m a touch exhausted from all the adjusting we’ve been doing in the last few weeks.

In the midst of today’s crying bout, Howard declared that I needed to get out of the house. So he bundled me into his car and off we went. Mostly what we did was grocery shop, but there was talking too. It was good. The best bit was the ending when Howard took me to a chocolate shop which caters to connoisseurs of the cacao bean. The differences in flavor were stunning, particularly so because the flavors are not additives, but a reflection of where the bean is grown. It was like I’ve always assumed wine tasting would be, only with chocolate. We did not bring home very much. We don’t need to be stuffing ourselves with chocolate. Also we can’t afford very much of this stuff. We’ll savor the little we have bit by bit over the next few weeks.

I returned home a calmer person. By some minor miracle, I was able to retain that calm through the chaos of children flocking into the house and back off to their events. Nothing required super-human effort from me, which is good since I had none to give. I am still very tired. I still have more things to do tomorrow than I can reasonably expect to be done in a single day. But I keep hoping that I’ll have one of those days where I breeze through a hundred tasks with time to spare. On my best days, I exceed my own expectations. Which is probably what tricks me into keeping the bar so high. On my best days, I know that I have to give myself breaks and take days off. I plan for that. Unfortunately on the days when I desperately need rest, a less charitable version of myself tends to be in charge. I could try to remind myself that I am allowed low energy days, but even that requires effort at a time when effort is at a premium. So mostly what I do is fall to pieces a little. Then I pick myself up and keep going. Or Howard picks up the pieces and puts them back. He’s gotten quite good at it.

My day contained all of these things

Building a chronology of my day from the following list is not recommended. I wrote in the order that things fell out of my brain.

Link sat up straight in his chair facing the teacher across the table. They were both smiling at the joke Link just made. It was the third teacher we’d spoken to in the chaos of junior high parent teacher conferences. I watched my son with his confident gaze and smirkish grin, startled to see him so obviously in his element. The time I spent worrying that he would be socially awkward felt wasted. We saw all of his teachers before we were done. This was at Link’s request. It was all good news. He’s getting good grades, he’s putting in the work. There are a couple of minor course corrections to make, but the shape of this year is perfect to allow him to grow in the ways that he needs most.


Kiki sat on the front porch reading with a cat asleep in her lap. She’d spent the prior hour playing with the neighbor’s dogs. I did not interrupt her, but thought how different this contented person was from the overwhelmed, emotional girl she was two weeks ago. The changes we made are working and her life is good again.


The phone rang and it was my visiting teaching partner. I’d missed the appointment we made with the new woman in our ward. I apologized profusely and felt really bad because I’d been looking forward to the visit. I was just hyper-focused on work and forgot.


The orders from Australia were waiting in my mailbox first thing this morning. I had a busy hour sending invoices, answering questions, and giving shipment instructions. The money from these sales push the Australia trip into the profitable zone.


I once again emailed Gleek’s teacher. We’re communicating about twice per week right now. The teacher is fantastic. This is good. I need to use this school year wisely.


My cell phone rang and it was Patch. I’d just dropped him by the house so I could retrieve Kiki from school.
“Mom. I have a picture for you.”
“Okay. Just leave it on the counter. I’ll be home in a few minutes.”
“No. I’ll just wait and give it to you.”
And he did. It was a lovely water color picture of yesterday’s thunderstorm.


Gleek sat a the kitchen table, shrieking in fury. What she was furious about changed from minute to minute, but she refused to give in on any of the points we requested, like “please stop yelling.” In the end there was stomping, slamming, and enforced alone time. Sometimes when there is an argument I feel bad because I see what I could have done differently or better. This one came out of the blue and shocked us all, Gleek included.


Link declared that he wanted to go to bed early so that he will be more rested for school. He did, but only after taking a shower and putting his clothes into the laundry.


The sunshine was warm and the air was just a touch cool. I stood barefoot on the warm pavement and closed my eyes to savor for just a moment.


Gleek and I sat at the kitchen counter while I read to her from a book about ADHD. The book is aimed at girls approximately her age. We read the descriptions of girls with ADHD and talked about how she is similar and different. The book is a first step toward finding solutions for her and, more importantly, involving her in the process. I don’t want quick fixes. I want habits and patterns that she can use throughout her life so that she can achieve the things she wants to achieve.


Howard and I stood in the kitchen while I listened to him hammer out the plot to wrap up the current Schlock Mercenary book. Only six weeks left and there are at least three days in a row where the outline says simply “Mayhem.”


I napped.


I’m once again loving the layout process for Schlock Mercenary books. It is fun for me to see the old story lines as I place them on the page. So far I’ve clocked 3 1/2 hours and I’m about half done with the first pass. This will give us a page count and let Howard know how big the bonus story needs to be.


Link got out of bed because falling asleep early is not so simple as getting into bed early.


Gleek went to bed late because claimed that laying still was impossible. She had cookies for snack. I’m thinking that further adjustment needs to be made to our lower sugar regimen. Bed time snack needs to not be high sugar or chocolate.


I finished my re-read of Palace Beautiful and loved it again.


I don’t have much day left and sleep needs to come next.

A fragment of writing about last night and this morning

I stood in the kitchen at 11 pm with tasks churning through my head, each clamoring to sit in the front of my brain and be resolved. I leaned on the counter as though it would help me carry the weight of my thoughts. The day had made clear that we needed to restructure some things for Gleek. The plan floated in my brain waiting for implementation on the morrow. It swirled around with Kiki’s incomplete math assignment and Link’s despised history sentences. Then there was the unending stream of holed socks because Patch persists in going outdoors without shoes. Thoughts of clothes led to the need to go shopping for things outgrown. Which leads to thoughts of funding the shopping and the stack of library books to return. The day was not particularly difficult, it was a pounding of small things. My calmness and confidence fell to the siege. I needed to be in bed, but the morning would bring a new pounding and I did not feel I could weather it.

But I did sleep and the morning brought with it new reserves of energy. The impossibilities of the day before became the new day’s task list. The swirling mess of thoughts jotted down in a neat row ready to be checked off.