Month: June 2013

My Phone at Church

I had good reasons to be texting and checking twitter during church. Howard was out of town and somewhat stressed. I missed him and wanted to be in touch. On that day, it felt like a reasonable compromise to be in church, but reaching out to my husband. The next week I did not have that excuse, yet my phone was in my hand nearly as often. I thought about it and I thought about church as a place of worship. There are many social and habitual aspects to my church attendance, but I felt that my spiritual connection was sometimes neglected. The hours of meetings taught me, triggered new thoughts, fed my inspiration, and provided space to organize my brain. I responded to these as I usually do, by pulling out my phone and putting things on my task list. But the the phone was open, twitter and email were right there. I decided to spend a week phoneless, to try to focus my thoughts not just on seeking inspiration for my daily existence, but to reach for a sense of connection with the Divine. I wanted to spend time with my Father in Heaven without having an agenda of things to discuss.

I did bring my phone with me, but I left it in my purse. If I thought about an item for my to do list, I wrote it in my notebook. I could put it on my calendar after church. It was interesting to see which items ended up in my notebook compared to the ones on my electronic list. I was free to choose priorities for this week without reference to the priorities of weeks past. It let me realize that each week is a thing unto itself and some tasks don’t need to roll over onto the next week. They can be delayed or let go.

Without my phone I was far more aware of how crowded the meetings are and the heat of the room. I am an introvert, some of those phone checks were a way for me to gain a tiny mental break from the stress of being in a room full of people. I can check out and come back. Some weeks having my phone in hand is a means for me to stay in the meeting rather than fleeing from it. That is useful because there are inspirations which come as a direct result of the lessons and which I would miss if I spent the hour out in the hall where there were fewer people. I spent much time in the halls last summer. It fed me peace and solitude, but not learning.

Did I feel more connected to my Father in Heaven? Yes. It is clear that I should continue to make an effort to leave the phone off unless it is necessary. When I asked today what I should be doing for my family this summer, the answer was to rest. Our family has been granted this period of peace, a time for everything to be calm and normal before Kiki heads off to college. So this will not be an ambitious summer for family things. I have many business things to do, but those should not disrupt the general ease for our family. I also departed church with the sense that I’d had a nice visit with my Father in Heaven and that he hopes I’ll come visit again next week and leave my schedule at home.

Kids Staying Home Solo

I pinned the list of meals to our bulletin board. The matching ingredients were stocked in the fridge and the freezer. The list did not matter so much, because I knew that my two oldest children would likely ignore it once I was gone from the house, but requiring them to help me make the list accomplished two things. It forced them to think through the process of feeding themselves for four days while mom was not around to make food appear and it calmed that portion of my brain that worried about leaving them. They were old enough. Kiki was recently turned eighteen and thus a legal adult able to move out on her own. Link was fifteen, plenty capable to take care of himself under the supervision of his adult sister. The younger two children would be elsewhere, under the care of adults who were accustomed to managing kids. So I pinned the list and let go, wondering what my two oldest would discover about themselves and adulthood in my absence.

Kiki wrote me nightly emails with titles like “day one of solitary” in which she reported on how they were managing. By day three their sleep schedules had done the expected shift toward staying up very late and sleeping late. They also spent their time absorbed in separate electronic worlds, playing games and interacting very little. On the third day Kiki called me. “This is hard.” She said. I listened to the ways in which it was hard, none of which were actually dangerous or life threatening. I knew that all of my children were safe, but they were having age appropriate experiences with being away from parents. I found myself doing the opposite of the cliché and urging my kids to invite friends over while I was gone. Because I know my kids and I know their friends. There was greater risk in them feeling isolated and depressed than there was in teenage boys coming over to play video games for half a day. So Link’s friends came over and just having people and noise in the house was comforting to them both.

I returned home on Saturday evening. Both Gleek and Patch had returned home before me, so the house was re-populated even before I arrived. They were playing video games and my arrival was met with them glancing up and saying “Oh, hi Mom” then returning to the games. Kiki did put hers down long enough to give me a hug. I stood in the kitchen surveying the backs of their heads, feeling both glad that my absence had not been traumatic and a little under appreciated. It meant I’d done my job well. They were far more ready for their separate adventures than they’d anticipated.

I’ve reached the part of parenting where my job is not to hold tight and keep safe, but to slowly release. We still have at least eight years before they’re all launched, but the process has begun. And they are ready for it, because I can step out of their lives for a few days and they manage just fine.

Summer Heats Up and Slows Down

I can tell that we’ve settled into summer because the kids have begun squabbling. Those first few weeks of June we were all so relieved to be done with the school year that the kids dove into Minecraft and I let them. I was still in full-bore shipping mode on the challenge coins. Then I was arranging everything so that the kids would be safe during my trip to a retreat. Then we were clearing up odds and ends, putting the house back into order. Yet now I can tell that the video games are not quite so compelling. The kids spend more time pinging around and deliberately annoying each other. We need a new focus, which is not something I really want to have to create on a Friday afternoon when the outdoor temperatures are a hundred and four degrees.

I am restless too. I have lots of work to do, but focus is being difficult to find. This is not helped by my desktop computer displaying multicolored digital confetti and then defaulting to a blue screen. So instead of working on the Jay Wake book, I unplugged it and took it back to the company that fixed it only six weeks ago. I mused on the trip home how strange it is to not be panicked over the computer failure. This sort of thing used to speak doom to me, but today I was only annoyed. I wandered instead, looking at house chores to be done, doing some reading, and hoping that my listless day would be followed by one where I was focused and productive. I much prefer the days where I do all the things.

For the kids, July is empty. They have nothing scheduled and thus will be hoping for trips to swimming pools and Trafalga. Howard and I have full schedules. We need to work like the wind. Some of the imbalance is addressed by me requiring more chores of the children, but I do feel guilty for not providing something else, new experiences, things that become memories. I ought to be making them read, practice math facts, learn programming, complete that Eagle scout project, etc. This is one of the reasons I do not home school. I get worn out from the daily effort of figuring out what to make for dinner. There have been times when I was quite efficient and organized about it, but then I fail to update the meal plan and it all falls apart. I can’t imagine that home schooling would run very different. It sounds exhausting. Because for all that I’m an organized person and I do all the things, eventually I run out of willpower and end up mired in a day like today where I do almost none of the things.

By August the summer will be winding down and the school anxieties will begin. I’ll have one starting college, one starting high school, and one starting junior high. I expect heavy parenting there. But for the length of July I can not think about all of that. We can just feel the heat of the days, try to get the work done, and try to find moments to remember.

Gaining Ground

The pavement was warm beneath my bare feet. Eighty seven degrees makes for nice pavement. Weather reports told of coming hundred degree days when the walks and street would be too hot. Then I would either have to wear shoes or jump my way over to the soft grass. I walked my garden, the space for vegetables, the lawns, the weedy flowerbeds. I’d not had much time to look around and plants were thriving, mostly the grassy ones, but in between I could see the things I wanted. I leaned over and pulled one clump of grass and then another, until I’d spent an hour on my knees and one small bed was cleared. If I could only spend one hour each day, my gardens would be lovely. I can’t be certain I’ll have that hour, or that during that hour I’ll have the energy, but the one cleared bed represents progress, a step in the right direction.

My to do list shows similar progress. I’ve crossed off two dozen things today and added twenty. This means that my list is a tiny increment smaller than it was before. I’m beginning to complete things. That feels very good.

Full of Things

My mailbox is full of email to answer.
My task list is full of things I did not do yesterday or the day before.
My house is full of people.
My desk is covered in papers.
My laundry baskets are full of clean clothes to put away.
My garden is full of weeds.
My calendar is full of appointments.
My kitchen counters are spotlessly clean because of all the things I have to do, dishes is the one that my brain seized upon to do very thoroughly. I’ve also sorted the pencil drawer, and sorted the mess of random things at the end of the kitchen counter. I wish my neurotic attempts to assert control over all the things would manifest in a way that actually removes tasks from my list and emails from my box. Instead I just have to give up for the evening and try to reboot my brain with sleep. Hopefully it will function more effectively tomorrow.

I need to figure this out, because part of what is manifesting is my regular summer reaction to the lack of solitude. It hasn’t been as bad this year because the kids have leveled up in entertaining themselves quietly and in foraging. Yet I still need to figure out how to induce one of those days where I do all the things and create spaces. It would be lovely if tomorrow were that day.

Of New Cars and Liquid Nitrogen

Today began with me getting liquid nitrogen sprayed in my face and ended with me owning a new car. The actual details are much more mundane than the story that sentence promises. Surely such a sentence demands details involving villains, sharks with lasers, escapes from certain death, and probably an explosion.

Instead I went to the doctor’s office because there was a spot on my face that probably wasn’t anything, but sometimes I worried that it could be something, so I made the appointment. The doctor agreed that it was likely nothing cancerous or dangerous, but recommended we freeze it so that it would go away and stop bothering me. So we did. It stung quite a bit, but the doctor was very careful not to get any in my eyes.

The new car was completely unrelated to the liquid nitrogen. It was the right time and so Howard and I spent several hours debating options and then waiting for paperwork, after which I drove home a white Mazda 5. I need to name it something interesting before it acquires a boring label instead. The car loan gods smiled on us and we ended up with 0% financing. So that was a nice part of the day.

The first thing I did in my shiny new car was buy groceries. Life is so much boringer than stories. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that sharks with lasers are much more enjoyable when watching them than actually experiencing them. I’m sufficiently tired after my ordinary type of day.

Making the Leap to Creative Work Without Damaging a Marriage

During one of the classes at the Writing Excuses Retreat, Howard and I told the story of when he quit his managerial job at Novell so that he could become a cartoonist. This represented a significant financial shift for our family and resulted in lots of frugal living for several years. After the class was over, one of the attendees came up to us and asked how we’d approached that shift in a way that did not destroy our marriage. We answered her, but since then I’ve thought of additional factors which contributed. So here are the reasons that our marriage survived a major lifestyle shift. They are in no particular order.

*It was our decision and a mutual dream. I was not just the spouse along for the ride, I was always a partner and facilitator. If I had not been, the experiment would have failed and Howard would have returned to a corporate job. In fact, I was the one who first said “I think it is time for you to quit.” This did not prevent it from being scary later, but I knew I’d signed up for it, not been dragged along.

*Our marriage was in good shape before we made the leap. By that time we’d been together for ten years. We’d built solid communication and learned how to work together. There wasn’t any underlying tension to be increased by stress.

*Howard always made clear that our marriage and supporting our family came first. He did not just pay lip service to this idea, by the time he quit Novell I’d seen him make sacrifices for me and the kids. To emphasize the importance of paying for our family, we picked a failure point after which we would give up on cartooning and Howard would seek another corporate job. Then we worked as hard as we could to never reach that failure point. It was close more than once.

*The leap to cartooning was not a surprise. It was always our shared dream that Howard be able to make a living at a creative career. I knew this from very early in our dating. All of our financial decisions were based on the hope that someday we would make the leap the creative work.

*We are both believers in prayer and divine inspiration. Both of us felt strongly that this was the path God was asking us to take. We proceeded with much faith and a measure of fear.

*We don’t fight mean. We are able to be angry with a situation or even with our spouse, and still approach the discussion of that anger without name calling or other destructive coping mechanisms. We walk away, cool down, and then return to discuss.

There are other factors I’m sure. Making the switch definitely added strain to our lives. Yet we stood together and our marriage has grown stronger through it.

Thinking About Vehicles

I took a deep breath before exiting my car, preparing myself to enter enemy territory. Not that anyone was going to overtly attack me at a car dealership, but I could not be certain which sort of salesman would appear to show me cars. I was fortunate. The man was quite nice and not particularly pushy. We had pleasant conversations as I test drove three types of vehicles. In the end I found myself leaning toward the smallest option, the Mazda 5, which felt like driving a car rather than piloting a tank. It is short on cargo space when full of people, but my need for people hauling space is going to be reduced in the coming years. Compactness and good mileage appeal to me. Howard drove one for a week while we were in Chattanooga and was very impressed.

As I was taking a last look before departing, the sales manager arrived and I realized that I might have been subjected to good cop, bad cop. He was in full hustle mode, trying to convince me that I want to sell my old car to him, or through him to the people who want to buy it. It would save me money, he said, while not costing them an extra penny. It sounded like an extra hassle to me, because I already have a probable buyer for my old car. They are nice people and I see no need to inflict Mr. Hustle on them. If I end up buying a car through that dealership, I hope to work with the first guy and not Mr. Hustle.

I came home and cleaned out my van. It is strange to picture myself driving a different vehicle. I’ve had this one for almost twelve years. It has been good, but it is aging and our needs are different than they used to be. I no longer need the built in child seat nor quite as much hauling capacity. Later in the afternoon the potential buyers came to look at the van. I detailed its flaws and the recent maintenance that we’ve done. Mostly though I stepped back and let them discover its features, watching them as they pictured their family inside it. This van I’ve been fond of may have a chance to be a vital part of a different family’s life. I think it is time to put it into new hands.

Early next week I need to speak with our accountant to figure out the best way to arrange the finances for the purchase of a different vehicle. There are dozens of options, just as there are dozens of car buying philosophies. This is a good thing because everyone has different financial situations and emotional needs when approaching a large purchase. Some people need to feel like they got the best bargain possible. Others just want a particular set of features no matter the price. Some people love to haggle, research, and ponder for a long time. Others decide very quickly. Some people like to buy from a dealership and get a warranty. Others prefer to buy used direct from owners. There is no choice that is right for everyone. Next week I get to do the math and pick what is right for us.

It Became Friday Evening When I Wasn’t Looking

Somehow I arrived at the evening of this day and I can not properly account for the hours. I must have done something, hopefully it was useful. Yet the only things I can really pinpoint as having completed are going to a dentist’s appointment, answering some email, and taking Gleek to get her hair sheared off into a pixie cut. Gleek loves the cut, says it is the first haircut she’s had that feels like her, and swears she’ll keep it that way forever. Kiki also loves it. Patch and Link are not so thrilled. I’m fascinated to watch the conversations about gender norms unfolding between my children. I’m also thinking about what it says about our culture that getting a haircut qualifies as a daring thing to do. This still does not answer the question of where did my day go. I’ve had a really focused and effective week. I suppose that had to fall apart sometime.

Yesterday the advance copies for The Body Politic showed up. Five shiny books which herald the coming of five thousand more in about four weeks. The arrival of advance copies means it is time for Howard and I to shift into book pre-order mode. Then there will be book release and shipping. It says something about how life has felt lately that contemplating a book shipping actually sounds relaxing and familiar.

For now I think I need to declare myself done attempting to work today and begin my weekend. Hopefully I can wake up feeling ready to do all the things.

Anxiety in Hiding

“I just thought you needed to know.” My friend and neighbor said before giving me a hug and returning home. Yes. I needed to hear about Gleek’s panic attack at camp and the two times she struck out at other girls. I needed detailed information on all of the stresses which might have triggered the panic. I needed to know how it unfolded and how Gleek found calmness again. Because I am gathering data about this lurking thing in our lives, we need to understand the shape of it in order to find solutions, but just as we gave it full attention, the anxiety went underground. It hid and all seemed well. My neighbors information lets me know that hidden is not the same as gone. It reminds me that the path ahead may be thorny even though we’re currently passing through a sunny meadow.

Just as I needed my neighbor to tell me about the hard parts of Girl’s camp, I’ve also needed Gleek’s smiling reports of all the joyful things. I only get dribbles of information, bits and pieces of songs and stories as they are jostled loose during daily life. Gleek loved camp. The fearful nights, and one extra panicky night, do not loom over her experience. I am glad, just as I am glad that things are generally good for her right now. I try not to spend much time fretting over thorns that have not yet arrived.

However I am spending time thinking ahead to ways to make the trek easier. I can’t remove all the thorns from all the paths in the whole world, but I can make sure she begins the trip with a pack full of supplies and maps to safe respites. I began by putting the junior high summer library hours as a fixed point in our schedule once per week. Every Tuesday Gleek and I will go. She thinks it is just to get books to read. I know that each trip makes her more familiar with the school. She begins to associate the media center as a safe haven full of good things. So when things get chaotic or scary after school starts, she can visit her haven. I’m also doing everything in my power to foster a friendship between Gleek and the school librarian. I think every child should have a loving librarian in their life. So we enter the library. We greet the librarian by name. Gleek runs over to the Warriors books and sorts them into correct order. I wait while Gleek makes herself comfortable and meanders through selecting three books. Repeat week after week until a good association is formed. Haven acquired.

Before the beginning of school I will also walk Gleek to go and meet her school counselor, who is an amazing woman and will be an important ally for Gleek. Here child, before I release you into the thorny woods of middle school, have a haven and an ally. Hopefully Gleek will acquire more of both, places and people of her own choosing. This is what we will do while the anxiety is hiding. And perhaps it will not be so bad as my worst fears.