Month: May 2017

Refocusing the Summer Schedule

School has only been out for a week and already my work schedule had been suffering. It isn’t that the kids cause any problems or distractions, at this point they’re self-sufficient. It is just that my brain knows I don’t actually have to get up when the alarm goes off. It knows that I can hit snooze multiple times without real consequences. So I do. And then it is 9am before I’m really moving on my day. Which means noon arrives before I’ve gotten much done. And then before I know it, I’m at 5pm. Focus is hard to maintain, the days have all gone ….mushy.

Howard is having the same problem. We have it every summer. I’m just getting a double dose because the urgent push to get a book off to print ended at about the same time that the kids got out of school. I’m cast adrift twice over, while simultaneously being very aware that if I don’t take care of non-urgent tasks during this space of time, they will become urgent right about the time when books and game screens arrive to subsume all my hours into shipping 3000 packages. I need focus. I need to make good use of my days so that I’m getting things done in advance of shipping.

So I’ve begun to schedule things on my calendar in new ways. During the school year the only things that go on my calendar are the fixed points: pick ups, drop offs, appointments, meetings. Then I let the other tasks flow around these fixed points. During the summer my calendar has almost no fixed points. So I have to take all those tasks which would usually flow and declare them to be appointments. Tomorrow at 8am I have an appointment with writing the bonus story. At 10am I have an appointment with the Planet Mercenary Game Chief secrets PDF. At noon there is an actual appointment with a child and an orthodontist. From 2-5pm I’m going to deep dive into improving our online store. By putting them on the calendar I’m trying to tell my brain what to focus on. Sometimes it works, other days I still get lost in the drift of the day.

The good news is that Howard and I had a conversation about all of this and we’re both going to be making a greater effort to help get each other up in the morning and to make sure that we have our morning business meeting where we talk about what we need to get done during the day. Hopefully that will help.

When Religion isn’t Shared

It is Sunday afternoon and in just over an hour five members of my family of six will be departing for church. The sixth stays home because he’s not sure he believes in God and he no longer wants to be at church. It took courage for him to state his lack of belief to his religious parents. It took much out of his parents to accept his statements and to allow him to stay home. I still have unprocessed emotions about this, some personal, some religious, some parental. I still have hours when my mind runs loose on all the ways I could have taught better, been better, chosen differently. The voices of self doubt tell me that his choices are my fault. Except, my religion teaches the importance of free agency. We all get to choose. Even my son. Even if he chooses to walk away from something that I hold dear.

This leaves me with a set of choices. I have to decide whether to make church attendance a battle ground. I have to decide whether my desire to have him at church supersedes his desire to not be there. I know there is a theory of belief which says I should make him come because if he comes the spirit has a chance to speak to him. I also know that an angry and resentful mind is not fertile ground for belief to sprout. Instead we have chosen to respect the choice that he has made about church attendance because belief can’t actually be forced. Outward compliance matters less than the inward experience of connection with (or disconnection from) God.

I’m now faced with the challenge of building family culture and connection that is not centered in a shared religion. It is possible that my son will find his way to belief. It is also possible that he won’t. Either way I want to have an ongoing relationship with him. I want him to be a connected part of our family. Connection is fostered by common values and interests. We still have many of those. It just requires us to stop assuming common ground based on a set of religious teachings and start having important conversations to find where it actually exists. Which, truth be told, is probably something we should be doing even if we all went to church together. It isn’t just my son I’m trying to discuss belief with. I’m talking with Howard, my other children, myself, God.

The discussions are ongoing and evolving. My son is in the middle of being a teenager and thus doing a lot of work to discover who he is, who he wants to be, and what he believes. I’m also doing a lot of work to build structures to help him face his choices instead of fleeing from them and to help him learn that sometimes the only way to get anywhere worth being is to do all the hard work. Naturally I hope that some of the hard work he will do will lead him to know God and get his own answers. But that is between him and God. Fortunately one of the things that God has been telling me lately is that He loves my son as much as I do and that I need to give them space to work things out. So I will. Even though it is hard.

Soon to be Summer

We’ve reached the point in the school year where it is essentially over. My two teenagers will still go to the school buildings for four more days, but those days will be filled with administrivia and a last minute test or two. They’ve managed to not fail classes, which wasn’t a certain thing a week ago. This not-failing is because of a last minute scramble to turn in work which somehow didn’t get done or turned in earlier in the term. Four days from now we embark on summer.

I know some families whose summers are filled with extra trips and outings. They strive to keep their kids busy and engaged. This summer is packed to the edges with work for Howard and me. We will sneak in family activities around the edges, but for the most part summer for our kids means lots of free time rather than lots of structured activity. July will have some school in it, because both of my teens are doing some independent study work. I’ll probably reinstate my rule from last year where I don’t police screen time as long as the kids spend a pre-agreed amount of time either learning or making before they screen. But that is the limit of structure that I believe I can sustain while also sustaining the quantity of business tasks I need to do.

The learning and making is important because it requires my teenagers to stretch themselves. They begin to explore who they might want to be as adults. They begin to define who they are right now. I might add an additional requirement about getting out and doing things with friends. Perhaps I’ll even require that some of that friend time take place at not-always-my-house. I love having my kids’ friends here, but my kids need to learn how to navigate being a visitor at someone else’s house. They don’t do that often enough.

The other half of my children are both adults. They will be working, one at a job (once he acquires one) and one at setting up a freelance career. All four kids will get pulled in to the shipping work that needs to be done this summer. I suspect we will all be tired of packages before it is done.

With all six of us home all day, we’ll all have to participate in more household clean up. There will be more negotiation over use of space. There will be more times where we’re getting in each other’s way. For now I’m fine with that. By the end of August I’ll be longing for the structure that a school schedule supplies, but for now I’m glad to let it go.

Running the New Kickstarter

We launched a Kickstarter on Monday, and it has been highly distracting all week. Some of the distraction is just watching and wondering if it will fund, but much more of it is the massive influx of email. Each time we update, that creates another comment thread where people can post questions or thoughts to us. Several times I’ve read a question and had to take a minute to carefully figure out which Kickstarter they were asking questions about. This is particularly important because in the last forty-eight hours I’ve gotten questions about the Challenge Coin Kickstarter that we ran four years ago, The Planet Mercenary Kickstarter that we ran two years ago, and many questions about the Handbrain Screen Kickstarter that is currently running. It fractures my ability to concentrate to manage all of this.

On the happier side, Kickstarters also provide a lot of positive energy. People are excited and interested in the results. People express kind thoughts and confidence in our ability to deliver a quality product. All the well-wishes are heart warming.

We have two and a half more weeks doing everything we can to make this Kickstarter amazing. After that will be a wait of a couple of weeks before we have the screens in hand. Then comes the shipping. The shipping will be big and complicated because the screens and Planet Mercenary books will both be shipping close together, but once it is done I will have a huge weight lifted. I will have finally delivered to the backers who trusted us two years ago. I’m really looking forward to that.

Thinking in Lists

In the past six months my thoughts have turned into lists. They are endless lists of urgent tasks accompanied by a sense of impending failure. Yet lately the lists are shorter, and I begin to see the results of those lists in projects accomplished. The lists are going to last through July, but they now have some spaces between them. Those spaces are going to get larger. Occasionally when I am inside of one of those spaces I feel a little lost. I’ve forgotten what to do when my days are strictly constrained by urgent tasks. I know that I should begin picking up my own long-neglected projects, and I will, but not just yet. First I need to teach my brain that it is okay to not think in lists all the time.

Book Review of Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood

I read a lot of articles online, but when I read an excerpt from Lisa Damour’s Untangled, I knew I wanted to read the rest of the book. I approached it cautiously. I’ve picked up so many parenting / therapy / self-help books and been disappointed in them. Sometimes these books irritate me by assuming things about me or my child that do not apply. Other times they accurately describe my problem, but then try to prescribe fixes for me that simply would not work in my house. Most often they simply have little new information to offer. I end up skimming through pages and pages to find a single idea that I can apply in my life. So I checked Damour’s book out of the library expecting to skim and glean some useful information. By the end of chapter two, I’d ordered a copy for myself because I want to be able to re-read it and write notes in the margins.

Right in the introduction Damour stated that she did not seek to be prescriptive, she just wanted to describe the natural emotional / intellectual development of teenage girls and let readers come to their own conclusions or solutions. (The same development happens in boys, but it manifests a bit differently and Damour chose to focus on teen girls.) She does offer suggestions here and there, but they’re almost always a list of “some have found this works” or “you might want to try this.” I can tell you the exact paragraph where I fell in love with Damour as a writer / psychologist / mother. She was describing a study that has been done about the correlation between teens doing well socially and academically and them eating dinner with their parents more than three times per week. I already knew about that study. I’ve read it. I’ve felt guilty about it and resolved to do better at making family dinner happen. Then I’ve watched the efforts fade away so I felt guilty again. After describing the study, Damour says this in a parenthetical:

Here are some questions I’m hoping further research will address. Must the meal be hot? Must it last more than ten minutes to achieve its magical benefits? And how often can I freak out about table manners and still have a positive influence on my daughters? Obviously, important work waits to be done.

At that moment I knew that Damour gets it. She understands that every thing we do for our kids, for our work, for or ourselves comes at the expense of some other good thing we could be doing. Time, energy, and willpower are limited resources and we all have to make choices about how to spend them. After that parenthetical I was very willing to read more of what she had to say. She didn’t disappoint.

The other reason I was afraid to read the book was because of where I was emotionally. I was in the middle of a grief I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to get rid of. I was actively grieving the normal teenagerhoods that it seemed my kids would never be able to have because of their combinations of mental health and developmental issues. I was very afraid that this book would just make me cry because it would describe a teenage experience that was out of reach for my family. It did the opposite. This book shifted the way I think about my teens (the boys as well as the girl) and healed much of the grief I had been feeling.

Damour’s book describes specific developmental drives that happen in teenage brains. She talks about how those drives can manifest differently in different teens and different parent child relationships. Then at the end of each chapter she outlines some things to watch for which might indicate that your child has a problem which isn’t covered by “normal teenage development.” Reading Damour’s descriptions, I was finally able to see how much of my teen’s behaviors are actually normal rather than driven by their issues. It can be really hard to tell with teens because normal teenage behavior would be disordered behavior if done by an adult. Damour’s descriptions have finally provided me with the tool to sift through the things my teens do and say. Knowing which behaviors are normal means I am better able to sit back and let them learn through struggling instead of jumping to their rescue. I’m also able to look at which developmental drives are being interrupted or hampered by the mental health issues. I can see ways to help that I hadn’t seen before. All of this is subtle, but very significant.

I think Damour’s Untangled is going to be like Gift of Fear by Gavin DeBecker, a book that I recommend over and over again to people who are struggling. It certainly feels like a personal paradigm shift, like when I first read the article about The Power and Peril of Praising Your Kids. That article changed how I parented forever. I’m still absorbing information from Damour’s book and letting it settle into my brain. Yet, I’ve already been less stressed and anxious. I’ve changed small decisions every single day based on what I’ve learned. Instead of jumping in with concern (thus communicating that the experience is not normal and is an emergency) I’ve been able to stay back and express confidence that my kid can handle it. And they have. And everyone was happier and more confident for it.

So if you have a teenager, are going to have a teenager, or know teenagers you want to understand better, I recommend Lisa Damour’s Untangled.