Month: September 2014

Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry is rough. It is tough on the kids who love each other, but who are struggling to differentiate themselves from another person whose life context and skills are roughly equivalent. Or whose skills are wildly different, but whose interest areas are very similar. None of them has yet acquired the life experience necessary to recognize that two people who are engaging in the same activity are not necessarily in competition with each other. Nor have they really internalized their own strengths. So Gleek cries when Patch bests her at a video game which she’s been playing for hours and he only picks up in five minutes. Patch watches Gleek excel at drawing and feels inadequate. Or he watches her excel at any number of things which come easily to Gleek. When they ache inside, they aren’t nice to each other. Then I ache inside because I have to watch them be mean to each other. Thus only increasing the amount of hurting going around.

The best I can do is to separate them and then listen. I don’t argue when they say things that would be hurtful if heard by the other. In a private space they can feel what they feel. After I’ve been listening long enough there comes a moment where I have the chance to place an idea or a morsel of compassion. I don’t get to lecture. I don’t get to fix it and make everyone feel better. I just get one moment to say “have you considered…” or “Did you know…” Usually I end with expressing that life is not fair. Because it isn’t. What comes easily to one person comes hard to another. In the end the one who puts in the practice is the one who will shine in the years to come. But that is hard to believe when you’re eleven and thirteen. It is also hard to believe that one person’s shining achievement does not reduce nor demean any achievements made by another person. I know adults who struggle with that. I still struggle with it some days.

The good news is that they love each other and they laugh together far more often than they argue.

Grape Arbor Update

Last May I built an arbor for my grape vines. It was a project I’d intended to do for a long time. You can see what the space looked like before I put up the arbor:
Before arbor

And how the arbor looked when finished:
After Arbor

Here is what the arbor looks like this morning:
Arbor in fall

Vines have covered it completely and trail off of it in all directions. You can see that the vines are funneling all their energy into making grapes and preparing for winter. The leaves have lost their new-leaf sheen. In only a few weeks the leaves will turn yellow and fall away. One of my tasks for this week is to collect grapes:

There are lots of them hiding in and among the vines. I’ve also got pears and walnuts that are ready to harvest. I guess I’m like the vines, storing up food for the months to come. But for a moment I can stand back and admire the arbor, which is finally what I pictured when I first planted vines seven years ago. Growing things takes patience. I need to remember that when I’m frustrated by parenting or writing.

Writing Retreat at Home

Two years ago this week I left my house and went to a writer’s retreat at Woodthrush Woods. That trip was both hard and wonderful as is chronicled by the blog posts I made during that week. I visited Woodthrush Woods again the following summer during the first Writing Excuses retreat. That time the trip was more wonderful than difficult, the hardest part being that my trip was more abbreviated than I would have liked.

I’m thinking about these retreat experiences because today is the beginning of the second Writing Excuses retreat at Woodthrush Woods. I will not be in attendance at all for an assortment of good reasons, none of which have anything to do with fear. Yet I find that a piece of my brain has traveled to Chattanooga with Howard. I’m thinking about the forest there. I’m finding that the feeling of being at a retreat is surrounding me even though I’m still at home. I’m going to roll with that feeling. This coming week looks to be a much calmer week than those which have come before. I’m going to take that calm and make a stay-at-home retreat out of it. I’ll do things that evoke memories of my retreat experiences. I’ll go for walks, light candles, cook food for fun, and take some pictures. Mostly I’ll put writing into the middle of each day rather than focusing on all of the other things first.

I don’t know how successful I’m going to be at this. It is hard to shift patterns and thoughts when I’m surrounded by all the trappings of normal life. Yet I’m helped by the photos and tweets I see from people I know who are there at Woodthrush. Those words and images evoke the retreats for me. I just need to capture that feeling and nurture it, even when my morning is spent prodding groggy kids out of bed and sending them off to school.

In the spirit of a writing retreat, I just went walking in my back garden. I took my camera and paid attention to the beautiful things that I saw. The space is much smaller than the woods around Woodthrush, but my garden does not lack for small beautiful things, or at least small interesting things.

Here is the sun rising over the mountains as viewed through the branches of trees in my back garden.


While walking the woods I took many pictures of the trunks of trees, often with vines or moss. I’ve watched the threes in my garden grow from saplings to adult. It is fascinating to me the way that the skin of a young tree starts to break up and become tree bark.
Tree bark

And then there is the long time resident of our garden, Winston.
Seeing him makes me happy, though of late I’ve looked past him more than I’ve looked at him.

My world is beautiful. I must walk in it more often.

Things My Son’s Eagle Project is Teaching Me

I’m a bit project obsessive. This is a huge asset to me when I am fully in charge of a project. It means that I keep coming back to projects as soon as I am rested enough to think about them again. When I’m only sort-of in charge of a project, either I’m driven crazy by the schedules of others, or they’re driven crazy because I keep coming at them and saying “What about this? Do you think this would work? I’ve thought of a solution for that, let’s go take care of it now.”

Learning experiences work best when there is no deadline, unless one of the things-to-learn is how to work to a deadline. In that case, the deadline is best if it applies only to the learner and not to the helper/teacher. Or else the helper/teacher tends to over-help in order to make sure the deadline is met.

Eagle projects always have external deadlines because it has to be in service of some other organization. That organization can’t wait around forever while the scout figures things out slowly. As a parent, I feel that obligation and it weighs on me.

Eagle projects take longer than you think they will take, because an inexperienced person is supposed to be in charge. I have to let it take however long it takes, no matter how frustrated I am at having the project continue to reside in my brain. Stress is created because of the gap between the speed the scout figures things out and the deadline hopes of the other organization.

I am good at figuring out where a project will have a problem far before that problem becomes apparent to others and before it impacts the project. I am not good at waiting for others to discover and solve the problem. Instead my brain rushes ahead and figures out solutions. Once I have figured out a solution to a problem, I am not good at keeping my mouth shut so that others can find their own solutions. Instead I end up pointing out problems and sharing my solutions one right after the other. Then I remember we’re supposed to be having a learning experience and I realize that I’ve over-helped and I feel bad about it. Repeat many times. If I’m fully not-in-charge then I can go into a minion mode where this does not happen and I can just wait for instructions.

When rain starts to fall and it becomes obvious that we need to call off work for the day, I will be the last one to admit that it is time to quit. I’d rather work in cold, miserable, wet than have to arrange for tools and people to arrive again on another day. This is particularly true when some of the tools are rented. Even more particularly when those rentals were donated by the rental place and we’ll have to go to them again to ask for a second donation of tool time. This is when my son stands up to me and re-iterates that conditions are miserable and unsafe. No we can’t just keep working until the walls are vertical, we must throw tarps over everything and call it quits for the day. I did not give in gracefully.

It is important to admit to my child that he was right and I was wrong when that is the case. I did so as soon as I was calm enough to be able to see it.

Dry clothes, food, and a nap are helpful to restore perspective. Of course my brain spent some of my half-awake time picturing how the walls of the shed go together and picturing how we need to measure the top boards and make marks for the rafters. We really should do that before we make the walls vertical so that we don’t have to stand on ladders while measuring. We really do need a working nail gun. The one we had today was being problematic, which was probably because I was distracted and never checked the pressure setting on that air compressor. I was aware that they were trying to troubleshoot it, but was distracted by other work and now I don’t have sufficient information to try to solve the problem, but my brain keeps chewing on it anyway because we have to have a nail gun. …and my brain runs onward from there, which points up what I said up there in the first paragraph about being project obsessive.

I do better at letting other people encounter project problems and learn from them when I clearly define the limits of my role. For example: I will remind once and no more. If I don’t have a clearly defined limit, I will accidentally take over and my take over can last quite a while before I remember I’m only supposed to be helping.

I have a hard time staying within my self-defined limits. This is one of the reasons that my kids always make leaps forward in self-reliance and adult behavior when I go away on a trip. I’ve removed myself so that they really have to learn things and I won’t fall in to my plethora of management habits which incidentally make their lives easier and remove responsibility from their shoulders.

These tendencies of mine which have manifested in this project also show up in every day. I over manage school work, house work, etc. Seeing that makes me feel like a failure. Can being too competent and prepared be a failing? It sure feels like one sometimes. Particularly when I’m bothering others with reminders they’d rather not have. Even more so when I spend piles of energy preparing for an eventuality that never arrives. Definitely when my project brain pops me awake at 2am and I spend an hour pacing with anxiety that the project will not come together. Then I’m unable to sleep again until I’ve made lists and plans. Then the lists and plans are done and my son does not get to learn from thinking things through and making them. My anxiety drove me there first. It definitely feels like a failing during those moments when my son says “Mom, I’m supposed to be in charge.” and I know that he is right. So I apologize for taking over. Again.

I’ve heard the jokes so often, about how there should be an award for parents who have survived a son’s eagle project. I’ve also heard the jokes about how it is really the moms who earn the eagle award. I didn’t want to be that mom, the one who drives her son to the completion of an eagle project. Link could have begun his a year and half ago, but I waited until getting it was important to him. I certainly have no emotional need for him to earn this award. But earning this matters to Link. A lot. I see him persevering, stepping up, and trying to take ownership of this overwhelming endeavor. He’s doing so with only a minimal understanding of construction and an active fear of power tools. He’s organizing groups of people and trying to be in charge when he routinely avoids talking in front of groups in every other social situation in his life. Link wants this project enough that he’s stretching his own capabilities. I can’t help feeling that he would stretch even more if I could stop trying to push him into my schedules and my solutions. I wish he could learn more about other things and less about how to deal with Mom when she’s project stressed.

Link and I are both learning from this, but I really wanted today to be the point where we could be done organizing big groups of people and objects. Instead we’ll be building again on Wednesday. I don’t know that we’ll have time to finish with only a few hours to work. So there will probably be yet another day scheduled after that. Most people have told me that the paperwork on an eagle project is almost harder than doing the project. Right now, doing paperwork sounds heavenly in comparison. Especially since I don’t think it will trigger my project brain at all. Instead I’ll be able to step fully into a helper/teacher role and let Link do it all by himself. Which is how this whole thing should be.

Shed Building Day Part 1

This was the day when all of the planning, sawing, and everything was supposed to result in a shed and a completed eagle project. We got in about 3 hours of work before the rain came.
Rained out
Link, wisely, said we should call it and finish a different day. I had a hard time agreeing to that, because I really wanted the project to be done. Instead we’ll be having Shed Building Day part 2 on Wednesday.

For now, I’m going to curl up in my bed and try to warm up after being wet and cold.

Shed Rafters


Assembly began today. This is the first time that the shed project has resembled anything other than a binder full of lists and a pile of lumber taking up my garage. They went together fairly quickly, which is encouraging. Hopefully the rest of the shed will go together just as quickly. Tomorrow we haul things to the build site. Saturday it becomes a shed for real.

Longing for Calmness

In a few days Howard will depart for the Writing Excuses retreat in Chattanooga Tennessee. I am not going this year. This is a fact that I would have expected to make me feel sad, but right now I’m in the part of the school year where I want everything to hold still and fall into a recognizable pattern for two weeks in a row. We do have the school start and end times as a pattern, but so many other things are in flux. We had Salt Lake Comic Con. Then we had sickness, which led to school absences, which led to make up work. We had the elementary orchestra start up and first it was on Wednesday morning, but then it moved to Friday morning, and there was a mandatory meeting which was only attended by about one fourth of the parents with kids in orchestra. Then it was mid-terms with accompanying parent teacher conferences. And of course there is the eagle project which was mixed in with everything else. So right now I’m very glad that I will spend next week at home instead of adding further disruption.

My tune will likely change when I see tweets and pictures from the retreat. It is in a place I love with people I love to be around. I’ve been seriously short on socializing with friends and so I’ll be sad to miss that part. I know I will because of late I’ve felt quite covetous of social media posts depicting gatherings of writers. I’ll get another turn to go to this sort of event. In the meantime, I’ll hope that next week is unremarkable and calm.

Link, His Eagle Project, and Growing Up

You’d think that being self-aware about the teenage process of separation from parents would make the process easier. I guess it does in some ways. Link and I talk and laugh. We like each other. Ultimately we’re going through cycles. I get frustrated that he’s not manifesting the sorts of independence that I want to see. He gets mad at me and tries to make me back off so he can do things his own way and not mine. These are the same cycles that most parents of teens experience.

Today’s realization for me: When I know how to do a project and I’m confident that there is enough time to get it done, then I can allow a kid to muddle through and have a learning experience. If I am not confident, then my brain worries at the project, plans the project, makes lists about the project, and I end up accidentally doing more work than I ought to do because it is the only way to relieve my uncertainty and stress. This afternoon we finally hit the point where my brain backed off of the eagle project and let Link be more in charge.

Today’s realization for Link: He really does not like having to focus on more than one work thing in a single day. He wants to go full-bore on eagle project, but school stuff keeps getting in the way.

If nothing else, the pressure and work of the eagle project are forcing Link and I to have a host of conversations about trust, responsibility, and impending adulthood. Half of them have been arguments, but even that is new. Link is standing his ground with words rather than fleeing or dodging. He is learning that sometimes I’m wrong. Hopefully he’ll spend some time during the next six months learning the many ways in which I’m right. Though six months is probably an optimistic hope. (It was only last week that Kiki, in her second year of college, emailed me to let me know I was right about something we fought over when she was Link’s age.) We’re learning how to navigate conflict through practice, which is not pleasant, but an invaluable skill for my son to have for the rest of his life. So the project is not all about sawing boards and assembling a shed. Though it kind of felt like the sawing would never end there for awhile. So many boards…

Tomorrow is a break day. Link is going to the temple with his youth group. I’ll be doing all the things which normally fill my week when I’m not spending most of it stacking lumber, making lumber shorter, or arguing with my son. Thursday we pre-assemble some pieces. Friday we haul everything to the build site. Saturday we build until it is a shed.

Eagle Project Week

I didn’t want to learn how to construct a garden shed. Yet that is the project for this week. It is Link’s eagle scout project. In the early stages I hoped that some construction-experienced scout leader would take him in tow and help him wrap his head around the project. Instead Link and I have had to feel our way through and figure it out step-by-step. We’ve now reached the stage where all the lumber is sitting in my garage. Tomorrow we’ll be sorting, measuring, and cutting. I expect to hit many snags and frustrations as we prep for the build day on Saturday. As we do, Link and I will figure them out. It is going to be a long week for both of us, but it will be a huge learning experience for Link and that is the point.

One thing I’ve observed is the value of the name recognition for BSA Eagle Project. Every time we had a question or request, those words elicited all sorts of friendly and willing help. This is true from people who happily donated funds to folks who stopped in the parking lot of Home Depot to help load up a pile of lumber and supplies. When we added the name Habitat for Humanity, then hardware stores gave all sorts of donations of materials and discounts. Everyone has been helpful. The project is still big, overwhelming, and expensive. Yet soon it will be done. Link and I are both looking forward to that. Then we can pick up and do all the things which have been put on hold because the project was fully occupying our brains and our hours.

Yet I watch Link as people tell him what a cool project he is doing. The approval makes him stand taller. Link doesn’t like talking to people in stores, but he does it for this project. I watch the respect and kindness that gets aimed his direction. Then I think I begin to understand why an eagle project is worth all the work and the paperwork. I’m not sure I got it before.

All the Things in My Head

My blogging thoughts have been tangled up this week. I’ve written 1500 words of an essay about Link, impending adulthood, and letting go. But the words aren’t right yet, and I’m not certain I can make the essay public until after Link has already achieved adulthood. It lays him a little bare, which I’m not certain is best for either of us while we’re still in the midst of things.

In theory letting go should be easier because I’ve already done it once. In practice, I’ve intervened and advocated for Link’s education far more than I ever did for Kiki. This means I have many more ingrained habits of thought to dismantle as Link takes charge of his life.

Also impacting this week were several low-level illnesses. Truth be told, they were nothing much, except I apparently have some residual emotion and fear related to the extensive illnesses and absences from last winter. I really wish my brain would stop storing this stuff so that I have to clear it out later.

We’re also approaching the final countdown to the big construction day for Link’s eagle scout project. Logistics for that are filling up my brain and tangling up with the knowledge that every thing I think through is something that Link does not have to think through. Yet not planning creates more anxiety, so I try to strike a balance by planning and then keeping my mouth shut while Link comes up with his own solutions. It is only sort of working, as evidenced by the fact that I snapped awake at 2am convinced that the project was impossible and doomed to utter failure. I couldn’t sleep again until I’d made lists, plans, and contingency plans.

As is usual, the first weeks of school unleash a barrage of requests for my volunteer time. I’m fairly good at dodging these sort of assignments. I’m less good at dodging the guilty feeling that I ought to accept some of them. This is particularly true in the case of my youngest, Patch, who’s in an opt-in gifted class. Somehow my brain says that since he’s getting extra benefits and since I chose to place him there, more is owed from me in return. However I do actively resent when the PTA newsletter uses words that imply “I have other priorities” and “I’m too busy” are inadequate excuses for not volunteering. I also think that weekly emails containing 800 words of specific instructions on how to make my son practice is a bit much for an extracurricular elementary school orchestra.

The good news is that this afternoon I sat down with Link and he wrapped his head around the eagle project task list. We’re in for a work-heavy week, but he’s on board to get it all done. Even better, we brought home the first load of building supplies, 34 wall studs are cut and ready to go. Funny how anxiety backs off when the work actually begins.