Day: February 1, 2013

Providing Support and Working Together

On one of the writer’s forums where I participate there is a discussion about relationships between writers and their spouses or significant others. People have been sharing stories of support, or commiserating about lack of support. A few even shared how conflicts over writing time have contributed to the demise of a relationship. Reading that thread makes me very grateful for what I have with Howard. I can’t imagine us deliberately failing to support each other in something that we wanted. Sure there are times where we accidentally cause each other grief, but when Howard began a record production business I learned accounting to help out. When I decided to make a picture book, Howard used his photoshop skills to clean up the images for print. When Howard wanted to cartoon, we gave him a box on the counter, then a drawing table in the front room, then a bigger drawing table in the office. There are times when I sacrifice for Howard and times when he sacrifices for me. Sometimes we make these small sacrifices even when we’re not immediately thrilled by the project the other one wants to do.

As an example, I love the show Dancing with the Stars. I watch it whenever it airs. It makes me happy, but Howard has no interest in it at all. In fact there have been times when he has begrudged, just a little bit, the time I spent watching episodes of the show. Though we soon figured out that the begrudgement was indicative of something else, not really the show. Yet he also recognizes that watching the show gives me a small measure of happiness. This evening I’ll be going to a live performance of some of the dancers from the show. This means I’ll be out of the house for hours and we paid for the tickets. If it was going to cause huge stress for our family, I would not go. But instead Howard helps me create space in our lives for this small happy thing. In return I don’t demand that he come with me or try to make him enjoy the show as much as I do. It is okay for us to enjoy different things.

We do similar adjustments and planning for the more important creative projects in our lives. It is not always easy. There are times when I’ve really struggled to stand up and say that a project matters to me and I need support with it. There are times where I’ve looked at my own thoughts and realized that I need to adjust to be a better support to Howard. There are times when the best form of support is to get out of the way and let the other person struggle with it.

My heart really goes out to those who have heads brimming with creative projects but whose spouses are jealous of those projects, or of the time those projects take. That is a hard place to be. I am greatly encouraged by the fact that several people in the forum have been inspired to go and speak with their loved ones, airing out the dreams and associated difficulties. Some of those people have come back and reported that talking it through brought to light the true source of the conflict and it was not about writing at all. Instead it was about allocation of time and resources when those things are in short supply. If this is the case, then adjustments elsewhere make space for writing or creativity. Or it was about how the difficulty of writing and publishing affected the emotional well being of the writer. Watching a loved one pursue something painful can be very difficult. Finding solutions and having discussions can be hard because it requires both people to be self aware enough to identify the sources of their emotions and to carefully take steps to change their actions. Yet I have hope that my friends who are struggling will be able to find ways to become a team instead combatants. The answers are not easy, but they can be found.

The Politics of Birthday Parties

Gleek turned twelve this week. So did one of her classmates. The classmate is throwing a massive party and inviting the entire class. This sort of large scale party is common at Gleek’s current school. It is in an affluent neighborhood where people have houses large enough that they can invite thirty (or fifty) kids for an evening and just let the kids go play downstairs in the basement basketball court/play room. I don’t live in that neighborhood. We drive from across town and our house sometimes feels crowded with just our four children. I’m glad that these families open their homes and provide opportunities for the kids. It is kind of them. Or at least I choose to interpret it as kindness instead of as displays of conspicuous consumption, but we can not reciprocate. I can’t afford to host a party for thirty kids. I wouldn’t even want to. Crowd control on an event like that is not my idea of a fun afternoon.

The trouble comes because birthday parties are one of the only forms of social capital available to elementary school kids. The kid with the amazing party is perceived as cool. My kids are coming up on the second year in a row where I’ve declined to provide that sort of coolness for them. Two years ago all my kids had parties. It exhausted me and burned me out. Last year I declared no friend parties. I loved that year. It let us focus on private family celebrations rather than adding more events to our already packed family schedule. I want to do the same this year, but I remember how Gleek spoke wistfully of a birthday party all last year. She kept doing it even when I told her point blank that an expensive birthday party was not going to happen. So I have to decide whether I want to let her have a party even though we’ve already had a special birthday outing. However opening the door to one party hands a lever to my other three kids who, in my judgement, don’t have the same emotional need for one, but who will fly the flag of fairness. Not only that, but I will then face the dilemma of how many guests. We can’t do a thirty kid party, which means Gleek can’t simply invite everyone she knows. We have to winnow down the guest list. This requires Gleek to prioritize her friendships, and is where all the social capital around parties comes from. After listening to a child agonize about who to invite and who has to be left out, I understand why some parents host a party for the whole class, it eliminates the need to select.

Perhaps instead of a single birthday party, I will encourage Gleek to invite smaller groups of friends over for movie night parties. By removing “birthday” it becomes a less significant event. Not being invited becomes less of a snub, particularly if the “snubbed” person is invited over for a similar event a different week. Of course this has me hosting multiple evenings with pre-teen girls taking over my family room. I think I still prefer that to the pressure and complications of a birthday party. Gleek really does need to be connecting with friends outside of school and we’ve had trouble making it happen lately. Smaller parties have another benefit: my kids get stressed by large parties. They don’t realize they are. They say that they want them, but more often than not the guest of honor ends up hiding in a quiet place away from the noise, or melting down because something did not go right. Smaller parties make sense, but they just don’t hold the same social cachet for kids as a massive spectacle.

Sigh. In some ways all of this gets easier when the kids are teenagers and begin arranging their own social calendars. For now, I just need to put the giant class party on the schedule and make sure that Gleek does not miss it.