Month: January 2013

An Evening of Discussing Blogging at the Orem Library

Funny how I can attend a great event where people had good questions, where my co-panelist was excellent, where I sometimes had exactly the right words to say, and yet on the drive home the critic crawls out of the back of my brain to attempt to convince me that I did a horrible job and everyone else at the event was just humoring me. It is fortunate that I recognize this for a pattern and I am self aware enough to be able to combat it with specific instances that demonstrate at least rudimentary competence. What really makes the voice shut up is coming home. The kitchen was a mess of cold pizza and various other snacks mixed in with school papers, notebooks, writing implements, and toys. Gleek had a pile of new stuff to show me, because while I was off at the library talking about blogging, she went to the New Beginnings program which tells all the teenage girls what sort of fun things will be coming in the next year. Gleek is very excited that she will now be part of the youth program instead of the kids’ program. Patch wanted to show me the new game he found on the internet, something to do with plumbers. Link was happy to see me home and Kiki needed to bend my ear to tell me all about how Gleek interacted with the other teenage girls. Howard texted me to see how the event had gone. I called and we chatted for a few minutes before he went back to work. Even the cat had things to say to me. It all washed over me like a warm tide and that critical voice faded to a whisper.

I come away from the event impressed with the Orem Library and their staff. They put together excellent free events all the time and I was happy to get to participate in this one. The library has a brand new blog which keeps people informed of happenings at the library and its collections.

The difficulty in talking about blogging is that there are so many different ways to go about it and people have so many different goals that they hope to achieve from it. From the questions I could tell that we had people just aching for a way to tell their stories, others who wanted to approach blogging as a business, some whose first interest was in how to attract readers en masse, others who wanted technical guidance, and those who wanted to learn how to pour their hearts into words. We would answer questions and I could tell that the answer which was perfect for one person was not for another one. More than being “not useful” I know that at least some of the things I said were exactly opposite what some of those audience members need to do to achieve their goals. I tried to express that during the discussion. I hope it came across, because there is no wrong way to approach blogging so long as your means are suited to your goals.

C. Jane Kendrick was a wonderful co-panelist. She spoke from her experiences as a professional blogger with a readership far larger than mine. The thing that impressed me most about her is the way that she listens. She goes quiet in her whole body, completely attentive to the person before her. She listens, she thinks, then she changes. I counted three people in the audience I knew were there for me. The rest came for C. Jane, but like her, they were gracious and smart. They asked interesting questions. One of the things I love about giving presentations is that I learn things. I learn from my co-panelists and sometimes I learn from my own answers.

I wish I could give a coherent point-by-point summary of all that we discussed, but the question and answer format bounced the topic around so much that I can’t use flow to help me remember it.

The time went by quickly. We could have continued talking for another hour I think. In fact many of us did linger and talk for a while afterward. That is one of my favorite parts, when I get to talk one on one with a person who has a question. I can listen to them and see if I have something useful to say in return. Often it is the listening which matters more than anything I say. Most people have the answers they need already if they are free to talk until the answer tumbles out and surprises them. I love being present for that moment.

The library was closing as the last few of us wandered out to our cars. We picked our way carefully through the clumps of slush and snow. It made me even more grateful to those in the audience who’d traveled far distances to join in the discussion. Then came the voice of self doubt, then the tide of reassurance at home, and now my thoughts unspool through my fingers and into my blog as I unpack and store this experience. This is one of the purposes that blogging serves for me. Through the words I write, I sort my life experiences and try to make sense out of them. Sometimes I succeed, others not so much, but the practice makes my life better.

Gleek and the Science Fair

During my freshman year of college I took a class called Human Development. I’m pretty sure I picked it to fill a general education requirement, but I think things I learned there have been pretty pervasive in how I developed as a parent. One of the things which I remember clearly was a lesson on how emotional needs drive child behavior. The classic example is the child who misbehaves because he wants attention. Punishment does not resolve the behavior because it is rewarding the behavior with attention. To extinguish the bad behavior it needs to be ignored while some desirable behavior gets the attention reward. The example is used because it is simple and clear. In practice the manifestations are much more complex.

Gleek has a science fair project and she has been stressed about it from the moment it was assigned. This puzzled me because Gleek likes science. Many times we have experiments in progress residing on windowsills or in corners. She likes to take notes and she watches science documentaries for fun. It seemed to me that a science fair project would just provide an excuse for a more elaborate than normal experiment. Instead she was stomping around the house declaring hatred for science and stating that she would just get a zero. I helped her look up options and pick a project. We set it up and the actual process seemed to soothe her. Measuring into jars and taking notes was happy. I thought we were past the stressful part.

The deadline loomed. Gleek had to take her happily-collected data and turn it into a display and a short presentation. The stress, stomping, and emotional declarations returned full-force. Gleek turned into a little ball of stress at bedtime one night. It was a night when I was already worn out, because that is always when kids schedule their massive emotional melt-downs. Gleek resisted all my attempts at reassurance or problem solving. She kept declaring a desire to just fail, which is pretty much to polar opposite of her usual desire to excel. After forty minutes of unpleasantness, during which I did not always wear my best mom hat, Gleek finally said something which made sense to me.

“I don’t want to be judged!”

It was not the science or the complexity of the display board. It was not fear of presenting in front of people. It was the fact that the science fair is a competition, and those always push Gleek’s anxiety buttons. She is the kid who deliberately makes mistakes so that she does not have to be in the spelling or geography bee. The only way she could see to escape the competition was to fail the project, but she was caught because, unlike the spelling bee, the project was also part of her classroom grade. In this new light all of her stress and stomping made sense. But until those words came out of her mouth neither of us knew where all the stress was coming from.

The emotion ebbed and we found a few ways to separate the competition portions of the project from the school work portions. Because Gleek is right. Competition is not the point of science fairs. The projects should be their own reward. I just wish we’d figured out where all the stress was coming from a month ago when the project was first assigned. We could have saved a lot of stomping.

The project is due on Friday. The display board is sitting partially assembled on my front room floor. Gleek came home sick from school today. I don’t know if the sickness is related to the stress or if she has caught one of the many varieties of flu which are making the rounds this winter. We’ve found the emotion which was driving the behavior, and that has defused it, but not completely. There are more threads and emotions involved here. I just hope we can muddle through and get the project pounded into something that will be satisfactory. The part that was not covered in my Human Development class was how the parent’s emotions play into these troubles as well. As I try to navigate us through this stress, I have to ponder if I’m really willing to let her fail or if I’ll provide assistance to get the project done. I have to decide how much help I’ll provide. Most of all, I have to look at my choices and evaluate whether I’m making them based on some need of mine instead of on what is best for Gleek. It is possible the best experience she could have would be to fail this project, experience that failure fully, and pick up to do something else. If that is what is best for her, I should let her do it. Even if it makes me look like a bad or uncaring parent.

Right now she’s not aimed at failure. Shes inching her way toward a completed project, which makes me glad. Later this evening I’ll help her tape things to her display board. Hopefully all will be well.

The Schedule of Upcoming Events

This is a week full of events and appointments that disrupt my schedule. They are good things, but I’m having to pay attention to the time rather than relying on my habits. This means the hour before I have to be somewhere often ends up as wasted time. I don’t want to start into anything new because if I get deep into a project I’ll lose track and miss the appointment. I should probably spend that hour on simple tasks, like laundry, but somehow that doesn’t feel exciting. All the appointments are also chewing into my compositional brain space, which is where writing percolates.
Today Howard and I had a podcast interview which will air sometime in February.
Tomorrow is the Orem Writes event where I’ll be talking about blogging with C. Jane Kendrick. (7 pm, Orem Public Library.)
Friday I have a concert in the evening.
Saturday family comes to town.

Next week has a similar array of appointments including parent teacher conferences and an orthodontic consultation.

The week after that is Life The Universe and Everything symposium. If you’re a writer or reader of Science Fiction or Fantasy, then LTUE is worth your time. It is packed full of panel discussions about writing and about books, shows, and art in the genre. There is even an educator’s conference on Saturday with panels to help teachers use genre fiction in their classrooms. This year it is taking place at the Provo Marriott hotel. I’ve seen a preliminary schedule. I have three panels and Howard has many panels. You could spend all three days listening to Taylers if you wish. However I recommend you listen to lots of the other amazing authors and artists they have lined up to teach.

After that my calendar is much more empty. The emptiness is probably a mirage, but I’ll believe in it for now.

A Letter is a Gift

I was twelve years old when part of my family moved away. Deidre and Alan weren’t blood related. They had different parents and lived in the house right across the street from ours, but I couldn’t remember them not being there. Deidre was a year older than me, Alan a year younger. Our games rambled from house to house on a daily basis. But then their dad got a job in Missouri, far away from California. I didn’t even get to give them a grand goodbye because their departure coincided with our family vacation. I just returned home to someone else living in that house.

We wrote letters of course. I kept mine in tied in a bundle the way I’d seen in historical movies. At first I heard of their cross country trip, then their new house, then… the letters slowed down. I wrote two letters, then three. I wanted to get letters back. It was fun to have mail. It wasn’t fair that I sent letters and got silence in return. So I decided to be clever. I wrote a letter and tore it in half. At the bottom I wrote a note stating that I’d send them the other half when I got a letter in return. I walked that half a letter to the local mailbox and sent it on its way.

I did get a letter in return, a letter filled with fury. Later Deidre’s mom told me that it was a second draft, kinder than the first, for which I was grateful considering what the letter contained. Deidre was not amused by my trick. She regaled me with the fact that the moment they arrived in Missouri, their father had abandoned them, that they didn’t know where he was or if he would ever come back. Their life was uncertain and she was generally angry with the whole world about it. There I was in my secure house with my intact family, demanding a return when they really had nothing left to give and didn’t know how to tell what had happened. I will never forget the sinking feeling I had in my stomach on reading her letter. Guilt filled my heart.

Ever since that day I have treated every letter I write as a gift. I send it off with no strings attached, no expectation or requirement of a letter in return. I give the gift because I want to and if the other person decides to gift me with a letter in return, that is cause for happiness. Deidre forgave me, and in later years apologized, because it wasn’t really me that she was so angry with. We continued to write letters for years afterward with me sending about four letters for each one I received.

Through the years I’ve written lots of letters to people I care about who are not letter writers. They mention that they enjoy the letters when I next see them, so I know that my gifts are well received. I find my happiness in the act of writing, in thinking about the person to whom I’m addressing the letter, in the short trip to the mailbox. And on the days when my mailbox has a letter for me, I rejoice for the gift I’ve been given of another person’s time and attention.

*Names have been changed

Low Energy Day

If given the choice I would have liked today to be full of cheerful energy, the kind of day when long term plans feel possible and I’m excited to reach for them. Instead I had a day which was pretty much opposite to that. It was a chop wood, carry water day, when I focus only on the small task in front of me. I only consider what comes next when each task is completed. This is kind of sad, because some of the tasks were things which would make me happy on an ordinary day. On a day like this it is important to note the small beautiful things. The clear view all the way across the valley to the western mountains, a huge improvement over the inversion smog. Bright blue sky. A lit candle dripping wax in interesting ways.

Tomorrow will be a different day. Hopefully it will be a day closer to what I would have liked for today.

Reaching Forty

I am now forty. It is a nice round number and I must say that it is nice to no longer be 39. With my age at 39 there are people who suspect I’m actually older and fudging my age. Now I can say forty and they won’t doubt me. Other than being able to declare forty, not much feels different. Today was pretty normal because we put all the celebratory events on different days. I’m not done with fun events yet. I’ve got a couple more things next week, which is possibly why I’m content to let this day mostly be just a day.

It does introduce difficulty when the birthday phone calls come and I have little to report. The things which make me happy this week are not things that can be wrapped. They are quiet things and to explain why they are enough would take a long and heartfelt conversation, not exactly the fare for a birthday chat. So I pull little details like going out to Bombay House for dinner, or my trip to Antelope Island yesterday, or the Dancing with the Stars concert performance I’ll be attending this coming Friday. These things all make me happy, but most of my happiness comes from elsewhere. I did not enter this birthday season feeling a strong need for affirmation and recognition. I arrived here filled up instead of drained, and so I don’t need much. There are years where I need a lot.

It is fortunate that this was a low-need year, because today featured science fair project stress, growing-up angst, the question of what to do with freezer-burned salmon which is no longer suitable for sashimi, quarrels over magnet toys, a bloody nose, and rampant moodiness from several family members. It also included a salmon dinner which tasted marvelous, a fantastic lesson from our home teacher, children being enthralled with science documentaries, and me outlining a detailed plan for all the many appointments and events coming this week. (A plan is a happy thing. I like having plans.) I have many things I am anticipating in the next three weeks, which is a lovely ward against the unending cold, gray, snow.

I am forty and the day I arrived at forty was full of the normal sorts of happiness and frustration that I find in most of my days. I’m okay with that.

Antelope Island Again

A week ago today I ran away to Antelope Island. When I got home I Gleek was very sad that I went without her. We talked it over and decided to have a special outing today. Unfortunately for us, the fog rolled in last night and it lingered this morning.

This was the view for much of our trip.

We thought that the day was going to be a disappointment, but the fog lifted in patches and we ventured out to walk in the snow. Every step crunched through a thin layer of ice and into the fluffy snow beneath. If we were walking down a slope then fragments of ice tobogganed down the surface with a skittering noise. It was a day for melancholy photography, but we felt happy.

We even manged to spot a herd of buffalo.

We stopped by Fielding Garr Ranch to say hello to the owls. I wanted to take a hike to go see the place where bald eagles congregate for the winter, but Gleek was feeling tired and wearing overlarge borrowed boots. A long hike would not have made her happy and this was her outing. Also there was the question of whether we’d even be able to see the eagles at the end or if they would be hidden in fog.

Instead I let her get a trinket from the visitor center gift shop and we stopped by the northern point of the island to bid it farewell before heading home. We have plans to come back in the spring when the island will be green again.

Foggy Night

The fog was thick enough that billboards seemed to appear out of it as brightly lit screens only to evaporate again after we’d moved onward through the whiteness. Kiki and I kept exclaiming at the visual effects of the fog, much to Howard’s annoyance because he was driving and for a split second those exclamations seemed to be cries of alarm. “Stop doing that.” he told us firmly. So I bit my tongue and watched the world turned strange and magical by the miracle of water vapor in the air.

Fog is not a common occurrence in Utah, but then neither is the freezing rain we had yesterday morning that coated every surface with ice so that college students were skating their way to class and the emergency rooms were full of accident victims. “Please just stay home. The ER is full.” tweeted a nurse. The police department made a similar plea asking people to please, please slow down. All that icy rain landed on top of a thick layer of snow which has lingered for weeks with no chance to melt. Then today the world thawed. Snow turned to slush. Ice turned to water. But the ground was too frozen to absorb it and all of the drainage routes were blocked by slush. The water pooled and evaporated filling the air with moisture. With nightfall it became fog.

I grew up in the California Bay Area. We got fog so thick you couldn’t see across the street. Fog always makes me think of San Francisco and the Altamont Pass with all of it’s windmills turned ghostly by fog. I remember sitting in the back seat while my dad tried to navigate home through a fog which only revealed a few feet in front of our van. All of us kids watched the road as hard as Dad did, as if the extra eyes could make more things clear. I stretched high in my seat to see, at the very limit of my seatbelt. searching as hard as I could to keep track of those white dotted lines which indicated that we were still on the road. Signs ghosted by us and we read those too, watching for our exit. It was a long time in coming, that exit.

Sometimes in my life I can see far ahead and I trundle along happily confident in my trip. Other times life is foggy. Lately some things are foggy while others are clear. It is a sort of swirling mist which obscures and clears at random. When things are clear I pick a path, when they are not, I keep going on that path until I find enough clarity to pick again. I wish life fog felt as mysterious and beautiful as weather fog.

We arrived home safely and retreated indoors, only occasionally peering out at the fog from behind glass. The air dropped below freezing, we’ll have frost sculptures for trees in the morning. I’ll have to remember to take my camera out and capture them. Soon the fog will be gone.

The Developmental Stages of Teens

On my One Cobble communities on Facebook and Google+ I’ve begun running a weekly feature where I post a Re-Cobble. It is a link to one of my earlier blog entries with commentary. As I was noodling around looking for what to post, I came across this entry called Future Parenting it is from 2004 when my kids ranged in age from one to nine years old. At the time I was contemplating the teenage years and spinning my theories about how that would go for my family. I can tell you now that I was right to not be afraid. I’ve loved Kiki and Link as teenagers. Yes there have been some struggles, but understanding those struggles has meant that Howard and I can sometimes be allies to our kids as they face those struggles instead of always being the enemy. (There is no avoiding being the bad guy sometimes. It’s inherent to good parenting.) What I did not have back in 2004 was a list of what the developmental changes are and how they play out for kids. So here is my list, based on a sample size of two, so your mileage may vary.

Age 11-12: kids tend to get a bit existential and sometimes fear the future. They can see bigger responsibilities and privileges coming, sometimes they want to run toward them, other times they want to flee back into childhood. This is also when kids start to push away from parents, seeking more space for individuality. If a parent is not expecting this shift it can cause the parent to hover and cling, which means the child has to push harder. My solution was to let them try more independence and they came running back to me when that got scary. However I was ready for a hard redirect if their independence looked like it was heading them onto dangerous ground.

Age 12-13: This is heavy-growth-spurt territory. Kiki hit this age and spent a month sleeping for fourteen hours per day. Link and all his same-age friends began to sound like adults and they clomped everywhere they went. During this developmental span some of the higher brain functions and social functions shut down while the brain is renovated into a more adult landscape. Both of my kids regressed in responsibility and emotional management techniques. I particularly noticed the social things with the boys. Link and his friends said the most appalling things to each other and had no clue that they had been hurtful. I had to start supervising Kiki’s homework much more closely because she had a tendency to try to ignore it out of existence.

Age 13-14: Kids begin to need a focus, something around which they can form a teenage identity. This teenage identity will inform their eventual adult identity, but the adult identity will be different, so don’t worry if the teenage identity at 14 doesn’t seem like a good career path. It probably isn’t. Kiki spent her 13th summer drifting, bored. In the fall Art manifested as her focus. Link drifted for longer and is still working to form his identity. But this was the age when he began to feel the need for one. The hard part for parents is that you can’t give an identity to kids. They have to pick it and go for it. All I could do for Link was offer up options–programming, racketball, etc. In the end I had to trust in him and let him find his own way. Though I was ready to head both kids off if it looked like they were likely to pick a focus which would cause them long-term life problems.

Age 14-15: Halleluiah, some of that higher brain function comes back online. As it does, kids tend to re-examine their lives. They may have to re-frame or re-address any childhood dramas or traumas that they have experienced. Link had to learn abou–and come to terms with–his Central Auditory Processing Disorder and his ADHD. He wrestled with how to include them in his self image without feeling like he was doomed to fail. We’re still working on this. Kiki had an exceptionally difficult Sophomore year at 15. It was made of me helping her because life felt too overwhelming.

Age 16-17: I only have a sample size of one here, but this was when Kiki really started to come into her own. She learned to drive and she once again began handling all her own homework without much supervision. She started to feel grown up and thus started to act like she was. Most of the drama from this year was Kiki dealing with peer relationships.

Age:17-18: Again, only sample size of one. Kiki hit the summer before her senior year and everything just clicked. She started applying all the lessons we’ve been trying so hard to teach her for years. She started addressing her own moods and stresses in adult ways instead of childish ways. She is a joy and we’re going to miss her lots when she heads off to college in the fall.

These are only general observations. The specifics will be different for each child, particularly if there are neurological differences. Link hit a lot of the emotional milestones about six months to a year later than typical for boys.

Notably absent from this listing is the impact of teenage attraction and interest in forming romantic relationships with others. I didn’t include attraction milestones because I’m fairly certain that my kids are atypical in this regard. Kiki was un-self-awarely interested in boys starting at age 14. By 16 she was self-aware but scared by the whole idea, so she elected to avoid it. Link hasn’t talked to me much about girls except to state that he’s not interested in girls yet. He hits high school next fall, which was when the whole thing became real to Kiki. (Locally the kids don’t go to the high school until their sophomore year.) I’m curious to see how that will change things for Link.

This has been my experience so far. In another nine years I’ll have to re-visit this post to report whether Gleek and Patch followed the same patterns.

If you are a parent of teens, or have been a parent of teens, I encourage you to post your observations in the comments. Have your teens followed these patterns? Were they different? Do you have any advice for parents of young children so that they can position themselves well for the teenage years? I’d love to hear from you.

Insomnia and My Almost Teen

It was 11pm and Gleek was awake. I’d turned out her lights at 9, right on schedule. Then there was quiet, until she called me to ask a question. Thirty minutes after that there was a snack request. Then another question. Each time it was an alert that I was still on parenting duty. It aborted my relaxation in advance of my own bedtime. I couldn’t even rely on Howard’s help because he’d desperately needed to go to bed early. That was another source of tension, the need to not wake him up. All the other kids went to bed, even seventeen year old Kiki, who is six years older than Gleek. It was just Gleek and I awake. I turned out the lights and crawled into bed, hoping that this time there would be no call, that silence finally meant sleep.

In the dark of my room, I thought of the times when I have insomnia. I remembered how my brain would race and worry about the silliest things. Fear looms large in the darkness. The day had not been all I meant for it to be. Less of my attention landed on the kids than I’d intended. Bedtime is one of the best times to find out what is going on inside your kids’ brains. They’re willing to talk because that seems better than sleep, but all I’d done was march into Gleek’s room and vent a frustrated “Just go to sleep” as if sleep was hers to command, when I know that it is not.

I sighed and climbed out of my warm bed. Then I got Gleek–who was sitting up in hers, wide awake–and we went to sit on the front room couch. We talked of insomnia–its causes and treatments. Gleek demonstrated self awareness as she described how it feels when she is tipping over into insomnia instead of sleep. She spoke of her school science fair project. We elected to feed her a snack before tucking her back in bed, hoping that this would convince her body that the correct bedtime rituals were in place to induce sleep.

Gleek is small for her age, but my days of cuddling her in my lap are over. She sat by my side in the dark with her head leaned against me, my arm around her. Next week she’ll be twelve, which marks the switch from our church’s children’s program and into the youth program. In just a couple of months we’ll be selecting her classes for junior high school. Her world is going to shift, she is going to shift. I think it is better that she have a mom willing to talk it all through at midnight than one who shouts “Go to sleep!” from the doorway. I’m not always that better mom, but I managed to do it last night and this makes me glad.