Month: December 2012

Not Coincidence

I finally dragged myself out to the gym today after two weeks of anxiety and four days of low grade depression. (The kind where I get things done, but every time I stop moving I feel like I want to cry a little. Then getting moving is even harder because I have a hard time believing my efforts make things better. I kind of earned this depression with all the non-stop to-doing, but it still doesn’t feel fun. Catching up on sleep was not making it go away. Hence: gym.) I went to the gym around noon. I took a nap. I dragged myself through making dinner. Then I sat down and wrote 2500 words. In the middle of that I folded some laundry and put kids to bed. The sadness had ebbed and the world feels good again.

This is not a coincidence and I need to point it out so that I will stop forgetting. Exercise and writing = well being and happiness.

A Mixture of December Thoughts

My December wasn’t busy when I viewed it from the safety of Thanksgiving weekend. I could look at the calendar–mostly empty–and hope that in between the holiday shipping there would be time for some peace. If I look back at the calendar days I’ve just been through, they still look pretty empty, but I know that they were not. December is always like this, or at least it has been for the last several years. It is the unrelenting list of things to do, each one small but important. It is getting the kids up for school and instead of focusing on homework support and house management, running downstairs to process the stack of orders that needs to go out with the mail. Then it is managing the small homework crises which would not have been crises at all had I been following my usual patterns. It is the accumulation of clutter and laundry because I use my spare minutes to plan gifts, manage customer support, or process orders. Then there are the out of ordinary things that rearrange my days. Kiki needing urgent medical attention for what turned out to be an acute abdominal strain. Link having frequent heartburn pain which increased to the point that he was awake in tears at night. So now we’re in the process of diagnosis to figure out why–lab results testing for an ulcer should come in on Friday. Each unexpected thing makes all the other things have to shuffle around.

And then there was the mummified chicken. It was a school project. The kids have been working on it for weeks, but Gleek really owned the whole process. I was fine with that, except one day Gleek called because she’d volunteered a to bring a sarcophagus and she had left it at home. I delivered it. The next day Gleek called because the kid who was supposed to bring the cotton wrapping had not done so. That time Howard delivered the rescue. This afternoon Gleek arrived at the car with the sarcophagus in hand. Someone had to take the mummy home and bury it until spring, rather like an odd version of taking home the class pet for the weekend. So, I have a mummified chicken in my garage waiting for Gleek to dig a hole in some corner of my yard. This definitely falls into the category of Things I Did Not Expect When I Decided to Become a Parent.

I was supposed to take Gleek and Patch to go see the Christmas lights on Temple Square today. It is a trip we all want to take, except when we walked into the house this afternoon, not one of us wanted to leave. I don’t want to leave my house very much lately. I know I should. It is good for me when I do. Yet entire weeks go by when I only leave to carpool kids or to fetch food from the grocery store. And visit the post office. I’ve made many trips to the post office this past week when I could not leave packages by the curb because of the water falling from the sky. This is why it was so good of Howard to send me to see The Hobbit last Friday. This Friday I have a social event with friends. I’m looking forward to it, and simultaneously I do not want to leave my house. I don’t like the word homebody. It has negative connotations for me, but increasingly I think the word applies to me. I’m trying to decide how I feel about that and if it is a problem to be remedied.

Last year I wrote a lovely blog entry about approaching Christmas This year is different than last. I find myself in a strange place where Christmas is only days away and our tree is still mostly bare of gifts. The strangest part is that none of the kids have come to me upset by the lack of presents, though a couple of them have expressed concern about what they should give and how to fund it. I have a stash of things I’ve accumulated, but I get the feeling that none of my kids will be shopping in the mommy store. They are going to go shopping, seeking out what they want to give rather than taking the easy path of giving something I’ve already acquired. I’ll be assisting with this more challenging path, turning over to them this part of creating the holiday. Thus we build new holiday patterns because we outgrew the old ones. More important, I am loosening my hands on the reins, realizing that Christmas is a group project and I have to let everyone else participate instead of just being passengers on my ride. Even if it means that three days from now there is a present buying panic.

All of which makes for a blog entry as mixed together and haphazard as most of my days have been lately.

Early Morning Adventures

My day began with ringing my neighbor’s doorbell at 6 am to see if they could identify the owner of the silver car which was parked across my driveway. I figured that if they did, then being awoken was a reasonable consequence. Sadly, they did not. So two households were inconvenienced by one silver car and I think I owe my neighbors apology cookies. Or maybe “thank you for being good neighbors” cookies because they offered to let me take one of their cars to drive Kiki to school, or at least to stand around and play guide while I backed my van across my lawn to make sure that I didn’t hit any of the rocks and trees. We were just beginning the process of backing my van, which I gave even odds of getting my van stuck in the snowy grass, when a different van pulled in to the cul de sac and two teenage girls hopped out. One ran into the neighbor’s house on the other side of me. The other came running to the silver car, spilling apologies.

“Oh, I’ve blocked you! I’m so sorry. I just parked here so we could carpool together in one car. We went to the temple this morning.” The apologies kept coming as she tried to unlock and unstick her frozen car door.

“It was so dark when I arrived I couldn’t even see that this was a driveway!”

I looked up at the dark sky with no hint of sunlight. I looked at the streetlamp which shines on our entire cul de sac. I looked at the tree in the corner of my yard which is completely lit with Christmas lights and illuminates my entire yard. I looked at the snowy lawn and the wet-but-clear sidewalks and driveway. I looked at the seven feet of curb in front of my house where she could have parked without blocking my driveway. All of these things were clearly visible, as was the entirely empty driveway of the house containing her friend, which easily could host three cars.

By this time she was inside her car and scrambling to drive away from her embarrassment. My neighbor turned to go back into his house, walking gingerly because he’d come outdoors in bare feet. I called to him “Thank you John, sorry I woke you up!” I pitched my voice so that the girl would hear. Embarrassment is the only consequence she is getting, I wanted to make sure that she got the full load–not out of vindictiveness (well maybe a little,) but mostly because paying attention to where you park is an important safety lesson. The girl is obviously a nice one, just young and inexperienced. I’m just glad that I did not have to leave any earlier. We got Kiki to class only a couple of minutes late and I get to proceed with my morning.

Playing with Dry Ice

Kiki was sick the day they did the dry ice lab in her physics class. Dry ice allows the students to simulate a frictionless environment. In order to help Kiki make up her assignment we declared playing with dry ice to be our Monday night family activity. For safety, I made them all put on gloves. The squabbling began about two seconds after I got the ice out of the bag. They all had very clear ideas about what we should do with the ice, but none of them were very good at pausing to listen to each other. Even with the squabbles, much fun was had as we slid the block across our kitchen counter helping Kiki with her experiments.

Then we explored the joy of plunking the remaining ice into a pot of water. The bubbles of fog were truly impressive. Photographing them was tricky. Two kids had to blow the fog away while I aimed the camera.

Naturally we spent some time letting the fog flow over the sides of the pot and across the counter.

Even this part of the experiment was not argument free. Gleek wanted to catch and swirl the fog with her hands. Kiki wanted to watch the patterns it made when undisturbed. Except when they swapped roles wanting the opposite things. Add in two more kids with desires to stir, pull the ice back out and slide it some more, and a host of other creative ideas… Let’s just say the playing with dry ice is not a conflict free experience with a family of four.

Yet it was completely worthwhile and quite a lot of fun. Sometimes we get to do something really cool. Literally. The dry ice formed condensation and ice crystals wherever it went.

Telling Kids About Bad Things

Howard and I spent most of the weekend avoiding the news. We checked in for updates, but only read them in text. We watched no video and tried to keep to bare facts as much as possible. We certainly did not turn on broadcast news in our family room and let our kids watch with us. For them, the school shooting barely existed all weekend long. Howard and I had several conversations during which we sorted our thoughts and feelings, but we were careful to have those where the kids were not listening.

This morning at breakfast Gleek asked a question which showed that the school shooting was on her mind. This is logical since she would be headed off to school soon. I sat down and reviewed some facts with them. We talked about order of events, details we may never know, and how rare this sort of event was. I kept my demeanor factual and calm while watching to see what they were feeling. Children will adopt the emotional states of their parents and I did not want to send them off to school upset. I also did not want to send them off to school uninformed, because kids talk at school. Some of their friends did spend all weekend watching news and listening to their parents cry. I fully expect my kids to come home more upset and with more questions than they had this morning. This is hard.

There was a moment during this morning’s discussion where I watched my kids realize how terrible this is. When I said that the victims were first graders, a flicker passed across both Gleek’s face and Patch’s. They are older. The first graders are the little kids. So we talked about that for a bit. We talked about how teachers died trying to protect the kids and that their teachers would do the same for them. Then we talked about free agency, which God grants to all of his children, even though he knows that some people will make choices to hurt others.

When the conversation wound down to a pause, I deliberately changed the subject. We moved onward into homework and getting ready for school. Hard things happen. We have feelings about them. We help where we can. We take reasonable steps to increase safety. Then we move onward.

A Resting Place

This week was a push week. I pushed to get the last calendar pre-orders out. I pushed to do the regular shipping. I pushed to organize all the scout things. I pushed to help Patch with his big assignment. I pushed to help Kiki with her massive, must-not-fail, picture book project. All of that on top of pushing for things all the week before. I was not sleeping enough. And anxiety re-emerged to make many tasks less easily accomplished.

I could tell I was fatigued because of the little things like the increase of typos in my text messages, emails, and blog entries. The available cooking ingredients in our house dwindled to canned goods because I kept failing to go to the store despite my intentions to do so. I was late picking up kids. It took me four days to get a plane flight booked because I kept forgetting to sit down and do it. Email stacked up so that my inbox overflowed and I kept discovering that I’d composed email answers in my head, but not actually sent them. My brain was trying to track too many things and lost track of some of them.

In years past I got very stressed about this creeping unreliability. I’ve come to accept it as part of the holiday shipping season. Not only do I accept it, but I let people around me know to expect it. I get flaky between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I don’t want to be, but I’ve had to learn that I am. There is just too much going on. I push too hard on too many things. I short myself on sleep trying to get them done. Even attempting to normalize my sleep becomes another thing to manage. So I just muddle through, prioritizing each day to make sure that none of the critical things get dropped.

Until I hit a day like today. All the big things for the week are finished. I pushed hard. I didn’t miss the important things. I am tired, but there is no time for me to drift and recover. I’ve already got ten more things lined up waiting for me to push and accomplish them. I want to drift and there is no time for it. Time available or not, I’ve done a fair amount of drifting today. I ran out of push.

Happy Fiction

A day like yesterday teaches me the importance of fluffy fiction. Sometimes the world is hard, dark, unfair, and full of grief. This is when people need to have a break and go somewhere else. I saw The Hobbit yesterday. I snuggled my kids and watched the Wizard of Oz. They’d never seen it before and were surprised that they knew most of the songs and stories without ever having seen the film. In the evening Howard and I watched Men in Black III. Good guys win. Bad guys lose. Small and ordinary things are able to keep great evil at bay. Gandalf gives a speech about it. For the space of the film the world is how we all would like it to be instead of being massively unfair. Escape is temporary, yet the reprieve is valuable. It gives me space to believe and hope again. I am so grateful to the creators of happy fiction.

In the Aftermath

Some days I read the news and I have to put my heart into a box for a while.

26 people dead. Shot at an Elementary school in Connecticut. 20 of them children. It is the second worst school shooting in US history. The deadliest ever at an elementary school. Children killed in the place where they should be safe.

I have to walk away from the news. Watching video, perusing pictures, reading first hand accounts all traumatize me. They add to the level of trauma in the world without providing any benefit. It is a form of rubbernecking: looking at the wreckage of an accident, trying to figure out how it happened, why it happened, how I can make sure it never happens to the one I love. But then I have to face my darkest fear.

I can not keep my children safe. I can’t stop people from hurting them. No law or rule or boundary is so infallible that human ingenuity can’t overcome it. Laws and regulations provide safety from accident and stupidity, they do nothing to prevent malice.

We can’t guarantee safety and an event like this reminds me of that.

So I check in on the news story every once in a while. If I see a logical adjustment to increase safety I’ll take it. If I see a way to help, I’ll take that too. Otherwise I’ll be away from the news, trying to add to the count of good things in the world. I’ll watch for the people around me who are alone, who are desperate, I’ll reach out to help where I can. I’ll advocate to make mental health care more accessible and to remove the stigmas around mental health issues so that people are less afraid to admit they need help. These are the actions I can take in the next weeks and months.

For today, I put my heart into a box. I lock it tight and proceed.

The House of the Skewampus Schedules

On Wednesday Kiki and I stayed up until midnight. She’d been working all day on a picture book project. I stayed up an hour longer to scan all the pictures before she gave away the book on Thursday. Kiki came home from school on Thursday and crashed into sleep. She slept until 10pm and then was more or less awake until time to get up on Friday morning. She is tired and likely to drag through school today. I took a nap mid day Thursday which restored me to being functional, but fatigue returned in force by evening. I should have gone to bed early, but what with one thing and another, I didn’t. I’m tired today and a nap may be called for. Howard got an invitation to a midnight showing of The Hobbit. He went. When I got up at 5:30 this morning, he was still fully dressed and in the kitchen making breakfast. “By the time I got home an blogged my review, I realized everyone would be getting up in forty minutes. It seemed easier to just stay awake.” He crashed into bed at about 7 am. Link is also tired today from various nights of staying up later than he ought. Gleek and Patch got to sleep in a bit this morning because I knew they’d done their homework the night before.

Not one person in this house has had a normal sleep schedule for the past 48 hours. And it was just Monday when I felt a new commitment to getting to bed on time so we could stabilize the family schedule…

Yesterday and Today in Scenes

In whatever order they fall out of my head.


It was eleven pm on Wednesday. I was sitting next to Kiki at the kitchen table helping her color in pictures for a school project. She had written, drawn, and lettered an entire picture book as a gift for a kindergartener. It was an assignment for her creative writing class, but also a Christmas service. Kiki had been working on the book for more than a week, ending in that last marathon day where every hour had been spent on the book. All that remained was to color in the line drawings with colored pencils. Earlier in the day Kiki had lamented the lack of a real life flood-fill. I became that tool for her. She would hand me a colored pencil and point me to a section of drawing, then I would color. Kiki would work on the opposite page, filling in the details. It was soothing, like being back in Kindergarten myself. Sliding the pencil across the pages I did not have to worry about all the dozens of to-do items from the day. They were mostly complete, this project was the last thing at the very end of the day. I could let them all go, which was good since my mind was too tired to retain much. So I colored, as instructed, until the book was done.


Mid-day on Wednesday I looked down at my nephew–a knee-high pre-verbal human being with big grey eyes. More than once during the day as he toddled around I would look at him and say “You need words little one.” Except he didn’t really. He was very fluent in point and grunt. We all became trained very quickly even with his mother not there to translate. He hung pretty close to me while his three siblings were downstairs watching a show. My own kids were off at school, except for Kiki who had stayed home sick. She was using her sick day to hammer through her picture book project. I’d been assured that this littlest visitor would nap while his mom was gone at her job interview. He had different ideas, most of which revolved around eating my crackers. The early stages of human development are fascinating, because their minds are so open to new stimuli without having any experience to teach wisdom. This little fellow was likely to fall off of chairs or pull things onto his head because he’d not yet learned caution or consequence. So I watched him closely, following him around my kitchen until he was so full of crackers that a nap was acceptable. Then I ran downstairs to work on shipping.


The phone rang again. I am the advancement coordinator for our local scout troop. It is not a job I particularly wanted, I do it as a service. When I accepted the job everyone who explained it to me was anxious to assure me that it was not too complicated and that I’d be able to handle it. I listened to all the information and did not understand why they were worried. It really did sound simple to me. And it is, because it is mostly data entry and data tracking. Except, on the night before a court of honor, I have three different scout masters calling me with last minute changes and “can we hurry and get this recorded so the scout can have a badge tonight?” Also I have to go down to the scout office to acquire all the badges and assemble them for the boys. This can take awhile when there are forty merit badges involved. All the paperwork, expense, and effort makes me think thoughts about cost benefit ratios. I understand that the point is to encourage/reward boys while getting them to learn through challenge and new experiences. I attend the court of honor. I watch my own son get his badges. I watch the faces of the scout leaders and the boys. That is when I know that for our troop, the program succeeds in getting adults to connect with boys. All the stress, paperwork, requirements, and strictures succeed in corralling adults into spending time with growing young men. That is where the success lies.


After the last picture on the last page was colored, I sent Kiki to bed. It was midnight. I took the book downstairs and stood at my computer to scan the pages. I pressed the book down hard on the sheet of glass to make sure that the image would have no extraneous gray. Page by page her work was preserved in digital form so that I could print out a copy for Kiki to keep. The original would be gifted to a little girl. My feet were warm as I stood, because my friend Mary had responded to a random tweet of mine by sending me the gift of a foot warming pad. I felt the warmth as I rested my head against the lid of the scanner while a bar of light passed across it. My eyes closed and I waited for the sound of the scanner bar returning to rest. Then I turned the page and scanned again.


I crawled into bed at 1 am on Thursday morning, carefully setting my alarm for 6:30. I forgot to turn it on. Yet my body snapped awake at 6:50 anyway, trained by months of rolling out of bed at that time. I am often tired in the mornings, but I knew I was facing the sort of day where I was only going to be able to retain a single thought at a time. So I made a list: These are things which matter today. At that early hour I knew anything which was not on the list would not happen that day. The list was my lifeline. Every time I was adrift in fatigue I would look at it and know what I was supposed to do. Help Patch with Homework. Kids off to school. Mail packages. I followed the tasks like a trail of breadcrumbs through the fog. Sleep was on the list. It was the task I was afraid to tackle because I knew that once begun it would want to consume at least three hours. The sleep was necessary but full of not-quite-remembered dreams about things to do.


I forgot to put “Pick up kids from school” on the list. I put “Kiki and Link to youth activity” on there. That occurred during the same time frame when I usually pick up kids. I was already twenty minutes late for the pick up when looking at a clock triggered me to remember that I was responsible for retrieving children. They were quite cheerful about it, busy playing a fun game. It is the sort of brain frazzled thing which I usually berate myself for, but berating myself is not on the list, so I can’t muster enough energy to do it.


On Wednesday my sister sent me a story. “Help. I need a quick critique.” It was on my list that Thursday morning, so I sat down in the quiet and read. I made notations as I read, thoughts and story structure flowing through my mind as I reacted to the words. I wished that I was not so tired, because while my critique had moments of acuteness, mostly it felt fuzzy. I love it when I can give a highly focused critique.


I try to do things by the rules. It saves a lot of trouble, particularly if someone checks up on something I’ve done and I’m able to spread out a paper trail of exactly how I’ve done everything correctly. However, having somebody run that check turns on the portion of my brain which obsesses about possible mistakes and then considers all possible ways to prevent those future possible mistakes. Then I have to figure out how to turn that portion of my brain off again.


The kitty curls up into a ball on the chair in my office. It is not the chair I use for work. She has her own chair at Kiki’s art desk. It used to be my chair. Now it is hers. Her habits change depending on the weather. In winter she sleeps indoors for much of the day and wants to pounce on things in the night time hours. I looked at her as I walked past. She was curled into a ball so tight that she resembled a tribble. I slid my hand over her fur. She made a little chirrup noise to acknowledge me, but did not open her eyes. Later she fished a six sided die out from under the edge of the couch and batted it around the room for her own amusement.


“My chest hurts. It’s been hurting all day.” Link said. It was not the first time I’d heard the complaint. I don’t like hearing such things because it puts me in the diagnosis zone where I have to decide what merits a trip to the doctor and what does not. Most things don’t. I fed Link some antacids and the problem went away. Time to put some antacids into Link’s backpack. Also, he might want to reconsider his diet which is made primarily of hot dogs and pizza.


Gleek needed a sarcophagus for the chicken that they are mummifying at school. Fortunately a plastic box was deemed acceptable. Patch needed to look up information and photographs about the Shoshone Indians. Howard found a stainless steel carabiner mug he knew would be perfect for merchandise and needed permission to spend money on new merch. The internet was aflurry with the controversies of the day, different tempests for different circles of acquaintances, each circle certain that their tempest is critically important. I read the tempests. I have opinions. I have friends on both sides of almost any issue I see. I talk about my thoughts with the people who are close to me, but hold my tongue on the internet. Someday there will be an issue where me taking a stand to declare my thoughts is more important than preventing hurt feelings. Today’s issues are not those. Also today I am too tired to explain and defend. Today I just want there to be less conflict.


I put the last of the calendars into a cardboard mailer. I was caught up on shipping for the first time since pre-orders opened in early November. I finally have time to consider the organization of Christmas.


It is late again and morning will come early.