Month: August 2013

The Things that Keep Me Busy

The past few days have felt tumultuous, but they weren’t. This disparity between external and internal experience of events is not my favorite. It means something in my brain is out of alignment. What I finally saw in the past few days is that this is the result of all my jobs expanding just a little bit, so that it is just barely not possible for me to do them all. Truthfully I haven’t been able to do any of them well in a long time, at least not up to my standards for “doing them well.” I admit those standards are high. I expect a lot of me. I’m far more forgiving with everyone else. But in the past few days it finally clicked that the reason I’m failing at all my things is because there are simply too many things.

“I wish we could hire _______.” Howard has said it more than once after coming home from GenCon where we have an amazing crew. This was the first year where he and I looked at each other and thought maybe we could. Business expansion is scary. I’m going to have to do a bunch of research and crunch some numbers to make sure we do not over extend ourselves. (I’ll add those things to the ever revolving list of too many things to do.) But there was a moment when I pictured handing off some of my jobs and I felt such relief at the thought. I might have time to pull the waist high weeds in the front garden, or to reshelve that pile of books, or to vacuum once in a while. I might be able to think ahead enough to plan meals.

Granted, some of those things will come back when convention season is over. Except I’ve seen the release schedule we’ve got planned for next year. Things are closer together. I’m not sure the old patterns will hold.

It was setting up the point of sale system which tipped me over. It was the critically important thing that I’ve been meaning to do since February. It sat on my task list. I looked at it every day for six months and there was always something else more urgent. At the last minute, in a tearing panic, I pulled it together. Then I had to scramble to fix it because in my panic I’d set it up wrong. Nothing like having my system in Texas while I’m in Utah and relaying critical troubleshooting information via text message to people who have never worked with the system before and neither have I. We’re learning how it works while we use it, and I’ll be writing a post talking about the system we’re using, because it really is a good system and the customer support has been stellar. The way this fell out is a far cry from the careful research and testing I’d planned to do.

In the meantime, Link is learning how to tackle high school level homework and teacher communication. Gleek’s choir class has her singing again and sitting down at the piano to pick out tunes. Patch hops into my car cheerfully after school and chatters to me about his day. Kiki has landed her first paying illustration job (probably, contract pending), has made friends, and discovered that the high quality of her high school art classes have prepared her well for college. In light of these things the weeds and vacuuming are less important. Yet I only see this perspective in glimpses right now. Mostly my eyes are on the task list. So many things to do before Salt Lake City Comic Con next week.

I assembled a hand truck today. It was one of the many things to do for SLCC. I thought I’d ordered a nice mid-sized hand truck that converted to a cart. It is rather bigger and more sturdy than that. Good thing I can store it in the storage units with our inventory. When I was most of the way done, Link said wistfully “next time can I help? I like putting things together. At which I immediately handed over the wrenches, because I didn’t like assembling this thing at all. Fortunately I’ll never have to do it again. I meant to stack all the boxes of things for SLCC, but the assembly took longer than anticipated, so that rolls over onto Monday.

Like last year, I’m not sad to be missing Worldcon. There are people I’d love to see, but the timing is just wrong. I need to be here. However I’m hoping to attend ConFusion in January and if I have to miss that, I will be very sad. It has been a long time since I’ve gone to a convention to be among my writer friends.

And now it is late. I should sleep.

Conventions and Preparations

On the drive to take Howard to the airport I feel relief, not because Howard is leaving, that part isn’t my favorite, but because all the convention preparations are complete. Driving to the airport means that all the things are done, or they are forever not done, either way I don’t have to think about them. Over the next few days I’m in a business pause, the space between convention preparation and convention clean up. I like those pauses. They give me time to catch my breath and reorganize all the pockets of chaos that end up all over our house because I shove things out of the way to get work done.

This morning Howard left for the airport, but this week is not a pause for me. I’ll be spending this week preparing for Salt Lake City Comic Con. The first setup day begins on the day after Howard returns from WorldCon. My job is to be on top of things because Howard needs to crash for two days before he has to be focused for SLCC. I miss my pause.


After the rapids, the calmness is surprising. It is the same water that was tumultuous only minutes ago, but it spreads out wide and calm, barely a ripple. I liked this Monday morning far better than I liked most of the weekend. I’m still behind on lots of work. Disorganization is evident in corners all over my house. But we are beginning to see how things need to go. I cleaned off my shipping desk, really sorted it instead of shoving things out of the way so I could package quickly. I opened up and completed the post GenCon accounting. I helped Link navigate some communication issues with his teachers and classes, because most of the challenge for him will be figuring out how to track the assignments. I went to the gym. But these are just things I did. More important, things felt possible today, like I was not doomed to fail at everything I tried. I like not feeling doomed.

Musing Upon How I am Doing

“How’s your day going?” The question seems so simple and it ought to merit a simple answer. The same is true of “How are you?” Which calls for a simple “fine” or “awful.” These questions are hard for me because whatever I am in the middle of, I have to pause and figure out which piece of emotion is relevant to my current context and to the person who asked. With friends at church I talk about the start of school and Kiki going to college. Writer friends want to hear about how my writing life is going. Howard wants either a quick business meeting or to make sure that his wife is doing okay. My kids are using the question as a precursor to a request and probably don’t really want an answer at all. Summarizing is difficult, just ask any writer who has had to create a synopsis for a novel. There is so much going on, so much nuance, and somehow all that has to be shed to catch only the core of the story.

Today’s story could be about setting up a Point of Sale system and the consequences of avoidance. It could be about adapting to being a three kid household, but I’m still in process on that one and the thoughts will be more coherent a little further down the road. I could tell about anxiety and the way that it lies, makes me avoid things that are not complicated, and then screams that something is a disaster when it is not. I could tell how I feel both triumphant and strong, but also like a complete failure. I could talk about my to do list or my awareness that the kids got very little attention from me today. So when the guy who brought by Howard’s tuxedo for a fitting asked how my day was going I laughed a little before attempting to answer.

How am I doing? I really don’t know. Kiki went to college and I miss her. Sometimes I miss her in the way that most people think of missing another person in that I think about her or something I’d like to say to her or a hug I’d like to give her. That sort of missing is experienced as a sadness, but it is only periodic and fairly comprehensible. Harder to quantify is the part of my brain that tells me I haven’t seen her for awhile and I should go upstairs to check to see if she’s where I expect and that she is okay. It is this ingrained mommy radar which constantly tracks my children at a subliminal level. When they were little it paid attention to noises and silences to prevent damage and danger. When they were little I immediately checked when they fell off the radar. Now I argue, they’re fine. Of course they’re fine. I need to not hover. I need to give them space. Yet there are times where I have to see that they are okay or I get anxious. That part of my brain is really struggling with being told we can’t really check on Kiki anymore. Texts and tweets help, but I know how easy it is to put on a brave face for two sentences of text. Is she okay, really? I can’t tell and that has been ratcheting up the ambient anxiety. This will pass. I’m sure it will, because I learned not to be anxious when they went to friends’ houses solo and when she started driving off in my car. So anxiety and missing Kiki are wafting through my head and combining in not so fun ways. But I don’t feel like a piece of my heart is walking around outside me. That feeling came and went on the first night. It may visit again, but thank heaven I don’t have to live with that constantly.

I had a moment of raw grief on the night I came home after leaving Kiki at college. It hit the way grief does when I was doing something unrelated, scooping food for the cat. I was struck with the fact that I would never again be in charge of all four of my kids. It is possible that Kiki will come home to live at some point in the future, but she will be an adult come to stay not a child in my house. That part is done. For two minutes sadness rolled over me because that part was really good the last few years. Once the first pressing weight abated, I realized that the balancing joy is contained in the exact same fact. I will never again be responsible for four children. The weight of that responsibility is forever lighter. Kiki’s life is her own, I don’t have to carry it anymore. There are other joys which lay beyond this transition. I’m seeing the beginning of them already. Kiki, Howard, and I are beginning to develop our methods for keeping in touch. The kids at home are going to shift patterns. We’ve barely started, we’re only on the third full day here.

When Howard goes to conventions there is a portion of me that goes into a holding pattern. I continue doing the necessary tasks and getting things done, but somehow I’m far more likely to engage in time killing activities. I’m passing the time until he comes back. I can feel that same waiting tendency wanting to kick in now, waiting for Kiki to come home. I think it is a function of the mommy radar, that I can tell it don’t worry about this one until…fill in the blank. I wonder how long it will be before that goes away. I suspect a couple of weeks.

And sometimes everything is just fine. No anxiety, no grief, no feeling of waiting, just me and my day. Tomorrow is church. I’m going to be asked the how are you question a lot, because my friends there know that Kiki left and that we have big conventions. They want to check on me and know if I’m okay in much the same way that my mommy radar wants me to check on Kiki. Because if I’m not okay, they want to be ready to help. My life is full of people who would be happy to help and make things easier. I just first have to figure out what help I might need, which means I have to figure out how I am doing. All of which is why if the “how are you doing” question were part of setting up Facebook, I would check the box next to “It’s complicated.”

Settling In and Defining the Shape of What is Next

It is amazing how quickly things begin to feel normal.Yesterday was our third day of school schedule and our first full day with Kiki at college. Mostly it felt normal. Okay, I was very tired because I had an anxiety attack at 11:30 pm the night before. I was also paying extra attention to both Link and our cat since they appeared to be the most unsettled by Kiki’s absence. But I just followed my list of things and by bedtime I was having a pretty good feel for how things are currently going.

Howard: on track to have his work lined up the way he needs so that he can disengage the work brain and switch over to convention brain.

Kiki: Had a long-ish text conversation with her yesterday morning. She was a bit lonely and at loose ends. Things got better for her later in the day when there were scheduled events and she met a potential new friend. She is still very much in transition and I’m remaining ready to help and support through the start of classes next week, because we don’t know yet how it is all going to settle out.

Link: Is going to have a rough start. He misses Kiki. High school is big, different, loud, and chaotic. The homework load is heavier than he is used to and the teachers expect more. I’m going to have to hover and be pretty hands-on for the first while. This was about how Kiki reacted to high school, but I didn’t see it until she was completely overwhelmed. I’m hoping to do better for Link. We’re meeting with a couple of teachers today. The good news is that once Link knows what to expect and what is expected of him, he is the kind of person who just settles in and does the work.

Gleek: Thinks junior high is the best thing ever. She has locker decoration plans, book reading plans, and has begun singing snatches of choir songs at home. If we’re going to have stress and trouble, it isn’t likely to set in for another month or two. It’ll be triggered either by homework or by social things.

Patch: Also has settled in well. He’s at the same school and doing work that he watched Gleek do two years ago. The one bane of his existence is the teacher’s insistence on cursive writing. It is going to be another month or two before stress starts to show for him too. He seems to have the roughest times in January/February, so I’ll keep an extra eye out for him there.

Me: Still scrambling to make sure all the pre-convention tasks are complete. They mostly are. I’ve also been quite busy doing all of the assessing listed above. I did not volunteer for a singly thing at any of the schools. Maybe I’ll be able to later when things have actually settled instead of just begun to settle. I also didn’t buy the big bag of tulip bulbs that tempted me at Sam’s club because I’m not certain when I’ll find gardening time. I spent one day weeding about a month ago and haven’t had time since.

All in all, I think it is going to be the end of September before we really find our stride for this school year.

Dealing with the Grief of a Family Member Gone to College

I was more prepared to drive away and leave Kiki at college than I expected. My brain just pulled out the coping skills that I have used each time I leave my kids for a convention. I focused on the road, the drivers, and road trip math. (How many miles to home? How many hours to home? How many minutes to home? Repeat.) If my brain wandered toward thoughts which would lead to tears, I redirected it, because I had a job to do and that was to get home safely. I focused on doing that job.

Others were less prepared with a suite of coping strategies. I arrived home to discover that Link’s world was upside down. Everything he did in our house turned his thoughts back toward his grief that Kiki is gone away. He couldn’t picture anything ever being happy again. Howard and I sat with him and began the process of teaching him some strategies for handling grief. The first strategy is to know that grief is messy and takes it’s own time. We let Link know that it is okay to feel whatever he feels for however long he feels it. We listened to him as he tried to talk about what it was that he was feeling. Then when Link said that he wished he had a new game, one that wouldn’t always remind him of Kiki, because games are how he gets his mind off of things, Howard volunteered to take Link to the store. We can’t buy grief out of existence, but distraction and trying to continue on is part of dealing with grief. So we’ll aid this particular distraction which will help Link for a few days when the sadness is fresh. After awhile we’ll start to have a new normal and the sadness will be in pockets instead of pervasive. As we hit the pockets we will acknowledge them, feel them, and keep going.

According to online posts, Kiki is feeling some loneliness this evening. This is not surprising. We are all off balance this evening, not even sure what comes next for our family patterns. In the morning we’ll get up and there will be things to do, tasks to complete. Following those lists will help us put aside the uncertainty and just task our way to a new normal.

It helps me that I got to go help Kiki set up her room. She could have done it herself, she’s fully capable. I could have dumped her with her stuff on the curb and she would have been fine, but we both wanted me in the room. I helped her sort, turn chaos into a space that will house her next adventures. I have a place to picture her. I made sure to take pictures both of the space and of Kiki in it, because when the other kids miss her, I can show them the pictures and they can see she is well. Link saw the pictures today. He was still sad afterward, but the memory of those pictures will help to attenuate the sadness over time.

It has not really hit Gleek or Patch yet. It will. Because feeling sad you’re going to miss someone does not prevent actually missing them. We move onward because the only way to find new peace and happiness is to keep going.

The Night Before Kiki Leaves for College

I sat in the front room and surveyed the suitcase and boxes that will be loaded into my car tomorrow morning. Howard made a joke about “Good thing she’s packing light.” Except I think she is really. I don’t know the last time when all of my belongings would fit into the back of a van. Also I remember the pile of boxes that we moved from Howard’s final bachelor room into our first shared apartment. It was larger than Kiki’s pile. He had lots of music gear and far more books. Kiki will accumulate things at college, but what she’s got now is good.

The girl’s room is rearranged, ready for Gleek to spread her belongings out across most of it. Some corners will be reserved for Kiki, but there is no sense in leaving shelves empty when they could be used. Gleek is beginning to see the possibilities of the new space. Already I’ve had sadness from Patch because Gleek’s room is cooler than his now.

I’m really going to do this. Tomorrow I’m going to load my oldest child in the car, drive her hours away, and then come back without her.

There is a game kids sometimes play where one hook her fingers together and pulls as hard as she can for a minute or two. The reason for the effort is that when the fingers are straightened they seem to creak and be difficult to move. I think this final letting go is going to be like that. I’ve held on for so long, kept her safe, taught her things, I’m not sure if I remember how to open up and let her fly.

She’s ready, except where she’s not ready, but she is as ready as she can be right now. Part of my mind races with a million warnings: always lock your doors, keep track of your expenses, don’t walk alone at night, remember to write down the homework assignments…and dozens of others. Yet the thoughts attenuate and fade before I speak them. There is nothing in those thoughts that I haven’t said before. Repetition will gain nothing, it is just my anxiety echoing in my head. At this point what matters is Kiki taking the reins over her life, not me being reassured that I got a good grade at parenting.

I did make sure to tell her that over the next months she will change and grow. New life possibilities will open, and I wanted her to know that she doesn’t need to be afraid of disappointing us if she veers from her current chosen path toward being a freelance artist. She must follow her own inspiration and direction, if she does that, then she’ll find a good place for her.

This time tomorrow we’ll have hugged goodbye, I’ll be on my drive home, and she’ll probably already have texted me with a question. It is good to remember that keeping in touch is far easier than it was when I was her age.

School Orientations and Packing (or Unpacking)

The three who will be living at home this year have all ventured forth to survey their classrooms. Link and Gleek each had a half day orientation day. They toured their new schools, opened their lockers, and figured out which friends are in which classes. Both are excited to go back tomorrow. Patch just had a quick open house, but really that was all he needed. He already knew exactly which teacher he would get and he knows at least half of his classmates already. He sat and talked with one of those friends for a bit, then we headed back home.

The one who will be living elsewhere spent a portion of her day packing up things in her room. I assisted as she formed piles of things to take to college, things to box up for storage, and things to get rid of. It was cheerful work mostly, though it did wear Kiki out after awhile. I think we’re about half done, which is good because we only have one day left.

Howard came home from the airport tired and full of thoughts. Those thoughts have been unpacking all day. I’ll sit near him, ready to take notes on tasks while we sort through the suitcase and see which thoughts spill out at the same time. The list is long because we have two more shows in quick succession.

And so we had our first day of school. Sort of. It was like a practice day. Tomorrow we do it again for real.

I am Glad for Hymns at Church Today

There was a musical number halfway through the church meeting. It was a cello, violin, and piano rendition of I Know That My Redeemer Lives. I sat in the congregation with my eyes closed, attempting to really focus on the beauty of the sound and to feel a devotional spirit from the meeting. The hymn is very familiar to me, so the lyrics floated through my mind along with the music. However I also mused upon the thought that if I really believe in Christ and the gospel, then that belief should inform every action I take. My beliefs should echo through my decisions and how I spend my time. I think I generally do well with that, but in specific details I could do better. It seemed a beautiful message to take to heart from a hymn, so I was content. But then the arrangement of music shifted and grew more complex, the instruments played separate parts instead of being harmonious, and the words for that portion of the song presented themselves in the front of my mind.

He lives to calm my troubled heart
He lives all blessings to impart.

By the time we reached heart, I was crying and trying not to do so obviously. Because my heart has been quite troubled for a long time. Not on the surface, not in daily life, but I was seriously shaken last spring. Several of my beloved people struggled mightily with mental health issues and my parental self-doubt was dredged up and spread in a layer over most of it. When the turmoil subsided, I was glad for the return of stability, but my deep heart was troubled. I let it rest because there were things to do and because I knew it was not time to heal.

This week I send Kiki to college. I send Link to high school. I send Gleek to junior high. The only one not making a schooling transition is Patch. All of us are going to have to adapt to not having Kiki in the house. Patch is having to adapt to the fact that Gleek is losing interest in the games they used to play together. Howard just attended a week long convention and is about to attend another which has historically been a difficult one. There is so much potential for things to be as emotionally chaotic as they were last spring. No amount of logic and calm observation has been able to quell that part of me that is troubled and waiting for the sky to fall again. Yet in church I was handed the answer to a question I didn’t even know I ought to ask.

The closing hymn was Oh May My Soul Commune With Thee, and in the final verse we sang:

Lord, grant me thy abiding love
and make my turmoil cease
Oh, may my soul commune with thee
and find in thee my peace.

Message received. My heart has been troubled for months. It is still troubled, but now I know where to start in finding peace to calm it. Because I can recite to myself the ways that my people are amazing, but He can tell me it will be okay in a way that I can maybe, hopefully believe. I have been afraid for six months and it would be nice to stop. Really stop. Empty out the scared place and fill it with some other emotion, because I’ve reached the point where all the waiting is done. The change is here and I don’t know how much sadness I’m going to feel this week.

In the last few months I’ve had many conversations with parents who have already been through launching kids into adulthood. Several have spoken of ongoing grief at losing the mother identity and struggling to find something else. One talked of having a permanent hole in her heart left by the departing child, which sounds depressing to me. I would like to make this transition gracefully and joyfully, because launching my kids into independent adults has always been the end goal. Yet I cried for two days when they went back to school a year ago, because I knew that it was the beginning of the end of the part of my life when all my kids were under my care and direction. A reasonable amount of grief is to be expected, but I hope this week brings joy too.

Perhaps that troubled place in my heart can instead be filled with anticipation for the many cool things that are yet to come. I’m excited to see how Link will step up to the challenge of being the oldest kid at home. I’m curious to see whether this will be the year when girls become interesting and he starts talking to them. I’m looking forward to Gleek having both choir and art in her schedule. I wonder how long it will be before she makes a dozen friends at school. I’m hoping to see the at-home kids learn to communicate with Kiki via email and skype. There is so much potential for good in this coming year and I’ve been avoiding thinking about it because it was mixed up with the emotional turmoil.

So, song as prayer: Calm my troubled heart. Make my turmoil cease.
These will be my theme songs for the week and at the end of it my world will be a different place. If I really believe all the things I claim to believe, then opening my troubled heart and allowing it to be filled with something else is one of the specific details I need to be better at. Strange how I hold tight to my fears and it is hard to let them go, but clearly this is what I’m being asked to do. I will try.

Spending My Saturday with the Kids

By packaging up some orders late Friday night, I cleared Saturday morning so that my kids and I could go to the water park. Conversations with Link, Patch, and Gleek made clear that going was one of the defining parts of summer and they would all be sad if it did not happen before school started. So we went. Kiki stayed home because she doesn’t much like water parks. At this point the four of us have some established patterns we follow at the park. Slides first before the lines get long. Then the wave pool. After that Link goes solo for more sliding while Gleek, Patch, and I bounce between various pools and the lazy river. We pack out by noon before the sun gets vicious and the crowds get thick. Three hours is plenty. We still came home looking sunned, but not badly burned.

I don’t take my phone inside the water park. The primary reason for this is because I try not to bring in anything that I’ll cry over if it gets lost, broken, or stolen. None of these things has happened to us, but since our belongings end up piled unguarded for much of the day, the policy is a good one. An important side benefit of the lack of phone is that I’m not tempted to split my attention from parenting. It is nice to have a clearly defined space where I’m not supposed to be working. Work and family get so mixed up together during the summer months. I struggle to create defined spaces and times, but I fail at that lots. One unexpected aid this summer was when I switched to my new phone. It allowed me to finally download a task management program. That program encouraged me to create separate lists for different kinds of tasks rather than trying to keep everything on the same list. It has been a boon, because with a flick of my finger I can look at only shipping tasks or only parenting tasks or only tasks that I have to complete today. I can focus my attention instead of trying to track everything at once. of course I’m now far more dependent on my phone than I was before, hence leaving it in the car while we went to the park.

The afternoon and evening of a water park day are always quiet and sometimes contain napping. Ours was made more interesting by a rumbling thunderstorm that blew through with wind and rain. By the time it was done we had plant debris pretty much everywhere in our yard, but no significant damage. I’ve heard reports of trees and fences knocked down. While the storm blew outside my window, Patch and I curled up to watch Pirates of the Caribbean 4. He hadn’t seen all those movies and liked the idea of curling up with me to watch, so we’ve been making our way through. As I watched I thought about character consistency and why Jack Sparrow was a delightful side character but is less effective as a protagonist. I also thought that the actors must have gotten really tired of being wet. Patch watched adventure and excitement. Perhaps we’ll tackle the Lord of the Rings movies next, because snuggly movie time is nice.

I thought about Howard at GenCon while I was having my day at home with the kids. I’m a bit sad not to be there. Howard tells me stories on the phone and I wish I could be part of them or have my own stories to tell. Yet I’m really glad I did not miss out on today. It was a good day.