Month: September 2010

Bits and Pieces

I did not think I had racked up quite so large a physiological deficit, but the four hour long nap I took from 9am to 1pm tells me differently. Some of that was lack of sleep, but I believe the larger part was the various emotional tolls of the week. This was an emotionally costly week.

The last hour or so I’ve spent carefully watching the tribe of animal warrior children who have created a fort in the corner of my yard. Gleek has somehow become the tribal leader despite the fact that many of the children are several years her senior. Thus she has discovered the joys of trying to negotiate a dozen people into agreeing on a course of action. Mostly I have been watching with joy as time and again Gleek manages her frustration and talks with the various factions instead of screaming, hitting, or storming into the house. It is a situation rife with possibility to be really hard on her. Unfortunately a different child ended up with hurt feelings instead, but I hope that talking has resolved that. So I’m keeping an eye on things and bringing out food to try to mellow the tensions. Mostly everyone is having fun, particularly after a break to let frustrations cool a bit.

I was looking at my archives today and realized exactly how often I’ve missed posting lately. This is not a problem, my blog is to add to my life not to create stress. But the fact that I was not aware of how many days I’ve missed is an indicator of the fullness of my brain. In some ways I still feel like I’m trying to catch up and establish a normal routine. Every time I get close something breaks loose or arrives and I have to spend focused attention to adapt. It means that the back of my brain is occupied with schedule stuff instead of having time to gather pieces for cohesive blog entries. This is the right thing to be doing with my time and energy, but I miss the joy of finding the right words to wrap around my thoughts.

Bit by bit my house is getting cleaner and more organized. Ditto with the daily schedule. I’m starting to build patterns of order. Little things make a real difference. Things like spending five minutes to clean up breakfast thoroughly instead of haphazardly. I have those five minutes now because there are times when the kids are getting ready for school, but I must not let myself be distracted by work or internet. So I spend a few minutes here and there on house tasks, and it all adds up. I also gave my junior high student and my high school student a clearly defined place to store their school stuff. This really helps because they know where they should put it and I know where to shove it if they leave it laying around. It is just storage cubes in the front room, one for A days and another for B days.

Perspectives on the storm

The difference between 15 and 37 is that when rock-bottom emotional meltdown is achieved the 37 year old knows it is temporary and survivable. At 37 I often hear myself say “I can’t do this.” but some part of me knows that it is a lie. I can deal with it. I will deal with it. Because I am stronger than whatever life can throw at me. But that strength and knowledge came to me as a result of actually surviving through some nasty stuff. A fifteen year old can’t say to herself “I’ve survived worse” because she hasn’t yet. She does not know on a visceral level that she has the power to make her misery finite. This is the true danger of the teen years, when people who have near adult comprehension of challenges, and who must ride the tumultuous waves of hormonal shifts, and who are still trying to figure out who they are, do not yet have the perspective to know that pain is survivable. This is when 37 must stare into the eyes of 15 and promise her that it will get better. And then 37 feels enormous relief when the teenager nods and believes for just a moment even though she can not see it herself.

So yesterday was a hard day. And today will be better. And if today is not better, we will pummel something until it is. Because the key to surviving is to take charge and make plans rather than cower while the storm rages. And the plans need to include building a better shelter to weather the next storm so that next time we won’t end up all wet.

Pondering my duties as a drill sergeant

Before today I never thought to wonder what goes through the mind of a drill sergeant as he shouts for recruits to stop being babies and keep going. The drill sergeant is never the protagonist in films or books. Sometimes he is the villain, but most of the time he is like a force of nature that the protagonist has to survive. But now I think that in the real world there are drill sergeants who have a deep sympathy for the pain of the recruits. The drill sergeants shout anyway because they know that being tough is the only way to prepare recruits for what they must become. The drill sergeant must drive recruits beyond their limits so that their capabilities are greatly expanded.

I though of all this today as I steeled my soul and told Kiki harshly that she has plenty of time to get her work done, but not if she spends any of it sitting on the floor crying. She glared at me, but it was the angry glare of knowing that I am right. She got back to work and is now nearly done with the art piece that has bedeviled her for nearly a week. After she stopped being quite so mad, she and I talked about the point of boot camp and how it forces people to grow or to break.

“But mom,” she said with tears in her eyes. “How do I know I’m not broken? I feel broken.”

“I can tell you’re not broken because you’ve got that pen in your hand and you’re drawing.”

She seemed to find comfort in that. Or at least to accept it. Her schedule really is manageable this year. She will have time for fun things as well as work things. The thing she will not have is large swathes of time during which nothing is expected of her. She will need to adapt. I know she can. She has already begun.

I will have to adapt too. Sympathy comes more naturally to me than harsh demands, but right now what Kiki needs is for me to push her to get the work done until doing work is a habit. So I am in drill sergeant training. I am learning how to push and when to randomly provide a reprieve because I can tell that she really is on the edge of breaking. In the process we are both becoming stronger than we were.

Seeing Clearly

Most of the time I feel like I’m thrashing my way through the underbrush of life, just hacking away at whatever is in front of me, trying to clear a path. But every so often I crest the top of a hill and I get a larger view. These hills come at irregular intervals, and not always when I think that I need them most. But today I had a very clear and calm sense that our family is on the right path, that we are doing exactly what we should be doing. This sense incorporated everything from settling the kids in school, to my intention to pick up focused writing again, to Howard creating Schlock Mercenary. For today I can see clearly that these things are good, that they matter, that our efforts make the world a better place. The clarity of vision is nice. I’ll try to hold it tight in my memory because the next step is heading back into the underbrush.

Loose thoughts after the second week of school

The school year is barely a week and a half old, but it feels much longer than that. It is not that my days are crammed full, I’m quite enjoying the emerging spaces, but there has been so much emotional content in each day that my mind wants to push the first day of school further into the past to make space for it all.

Kiki melted down again. So far we’ve had two Thursdays and two meltdowns. She felt overwhelmed and under pressure. The good news is that despite the way she felt about all of it, she kept working and got 90% of it done. Friday was the aftermath, but fortunately she got to go to RPG night and came home happy again.

Today Kiki and I have spent time focused on her homework. We’re using this three day weekend to work ahead. Hopefully this will prevent next week’s meltdown. Even better, Kiki is able to see how today has been a cheerful mix of both work and things that she enjoys doing. Kiki can totally handle her schoolwork just as soon as she starts believing that she can.

The other kids also seem to be settling in fairly well. The schedule has settled and tasks have fallen into their proper nooks and crannies. The kitchen is cleaner more often because I have a small space in my day when doing kitchen work makes sense. Howard will be home soon and then we will have another period of adjustment while we try to fit Howard’s routine into the other routines. But first he has to recover from jet lag.

Loose thoughts from a trip to the library

It is heavenly to go to the library without kids in tow. It is also fun to take them and let them learn about books, but I feel so free when I can browse and wander without having to keep track of anyone else. Or make sure they are not jumping off of things. Or remind them that while sneaking through the stacks is fun, it is not actually unobtrusive. Also I came home with stacks of books for each of my four kids, tailored to their current reading needs. This was because I had time to quietly contemplate what their needs are while selecting books.

I overheard a librarian telling a patron “Her books only come out every four years, because she is such a good writer.” This statement fascinated me. I don’t that speed of writing is necessarily a solid measure for good writing. However what I think the librarian meant was that the author in question is so good that she does not mind waiting four years for the next book. That is a very encouraging attitude to hear from a reader. This same librarian also expressed hope that J.K. Rowling not be a one trick pony and offer opinions on the Hunger Games trilogy. Perhaps on another trip I’ll go make her acquaintance, (she seemed nice and was very good about guiding patrons to books that she thought they would enjoy), but for today eavesdropping was fun. It also underscored for me how much influence a librarian can have.

The task that drove me to the library today was picking up books for Kiki. She needs to read 500 pages which have to do with US History. Since Kiki’s reading tastes lean to the otherworldly and magical, this will be a departure for her. So now we have a stack of things she can choose from. I must confess the humanities major in me is eyeing those books. Part of my brain wants to launch into reading all of them and thinking new thoughts. Perhaps with the new schedule I’ll have some time for it. I did have time for a leisurely trek through the library today.

I’m glad that our library does not have a limit on the number of books I can bring home. 14 books for Patch, 8 books for Gleek, 6 books for Kiki, 3 books for Link, 2 books for me. It adds up. And yet it is entirely possible that we’ll go through all of those books in the next three weeks. I love that my kids like to read.

A phone call illustrates change

“Hi Mrs. Tayler, this is Gleek’s Teacher.”

My heart sank. “Hi. How can I help you.”

“Oh don’t worry this is a good call.”

I swallowed. “Really?”

“Yes. I just wanted to tell you that Gleek and I made an agreement that she would get some writing done by Thursday and she finished it today. I also wanted to let you know that she’s been doing great in class. We’ve had no real problems. Well, when I had to take something away from her she got mad, but she calmed herself down and we were fine.”

“Oh. Oh, that’s really good to hear.” My eyes watered. This teacher was not on the clean up crew after last year’s teacher confiscated a toy from Gleek, Gleek began screaming, and was sent to the LRR (time out room). I listen as this year’s teacher continues to talk and realize that she has never seen any of the behaviors that had me approaching this year like a person expecting to survive in the wilderness with only the resources she can carry. And yet Teacher called me just to tell me that things are going well because she knows I’m worried.

When Teacher was done singing Gleek’s praises, I hung up the phone. It could be Teacher, it could be the dietary changes, it could be a more relaxed social situation in class, it could be regular meals and bedtimes, it could be that Gleek just turned a developmental corner, whatever the reason, I need to keep doing all of my pieces of the above because I’m seeing the same calmer happier Gleek at home too.

I feel like dancing for joy.

Emotional Journey Triggered by Revision Notes

This week I had my first experience with editorial notes on a piece of my writing that will be published. I found fascinating the emotional processes I had to dispatch so that I could focus on the suggested changes and decide how to implement them. The emotional arcs are particularly fascinating to me as I’ve had turns being a critiquer and an editor. I’ve been the one to dish out editorial advice and I know how hard it can be to criticize constructively. I appear to be very fortunate in my editor in this regard.

The revision notes for my essay arrived in my mailbox during the middle of a week filled with child meltdowns. Remembering that a fellow writer’s group member always makes sure to thank us for complaining about his work, I fired off an immediate Thank You. Then I put the notes aside until I could make space for them. Well, almost. I glanced through first. And discovered that I am far from immune to criticism. I was afflicted by odd flashes of irritation. I was not able to identify why until I had space in my schedule and forced myself to give a more thorough reading to the notes.

I was irritated because I was tired and the notes pointed out very clearly places where I could work much harder to improve the writing. I was also momentarily irritated when the same issue was pointed out in multiple places. “I get it already!” the back of my brain insisted while the front of my brain knew that pointing out all the examples is part of an editor’s job. Also there is no way for an editor alone with a page of text to know which points will be rapidly clear to an author and which will need multi-iteration to sink in. That kind of rapport can be built over time, but this is the first set of notes. Harder to resolve emotionally for me were the few places where editorial suggestions ran counter to what I felt was right for the piece. This originally manifested as irritation, but once I saw the disconnect, I instantly shifted into problem solving.

The larger emotional curve I had to weather in relation to the editorial notes was not about the notes at all. The subject matter of this essay is very close to my heart. In order to properly revise, I have to dig out all that old emotion and pin it to the page again. I worried that the zeitgeist which led me to write the piece would be gone. I worried that I could not make it any better than I already had. I knew that the revision process would wear me out.

Once that whole mess of emotions was acknowledged, a last emotion emerged and filled me up. Gratitude. Multiple editors have looked at my essay. They know it is flawed and they want it anyway. They not only want my essay, but they are giving me the gift of their time and energy to tell me how I can make the essay even better. I can not express how honored I feel that they care for my words.

Once I cleared all of that out of my head. The actual revision went very well. I’m going to let it settle for a couple of days, look it over again, and then it will be back to the editor for publication or more notes. Even if there are more notes, I don’t think I’ll have to deal with the emotions again. Which is good.