Month: December 2017

Bidding the Year Farewell

Each year I take the blog posts from that year and turn them into a paper book that I can sit on my shelf. I like doing it, and it helps me to have physical evidence of the fact that I do write a lot of words in a given year. Except, I hadn’t made one since 2014. Nor had I created the annual family photo books. I’ve been so far under water, nearly drowning, that I couldn’t face going through the words and pictures from those years. I did not want to live them again. Until, suddenly, this past week I did. Somehow as I neared the end of 2017, I wanted to clear all of that away, put it to rest for good. So in less than 7 days I put together books for 2015, 2016, & 2017. Going through quickly gave me the benefit of some additional perspective. I have a lot more compassion for past me than I did before. I’ve spent weeks feeling like I failed at parenting in dozens of critical ways. After three years in review, yes I failed at some things, but not the biggest ones, and I never let failure stop me from trying to do better. Which is the true measure of success: don’t let failure be the last thing you do.

This past year has been one of finishing up. We finished up Kiki’s college education. We’ve finished up Link’s residence here in our house, launching him into his next life stage. We (finally) finished up the Planet Mercenary project and the seventy maxims project, which represents massive effort and success on my part. I rescued both of those from failure, and was rescued from my project failures by amazing collaborators. The biggest thing I want to finish up before the end of 2017: I would like to cap off and close the five-year-long chapter of my life where my daily existence was dictated by mental health crises. I want next year to be different. Finishing off the books felt like a step toward that.

While I was making the books, I also made a list summarizing my parenting experiences in the past five years. (For the entirety of which, with only brief respites, I always had 2-4 children in crisis.)
2013 Transitions and meltdowns
2014 Melting down and getting smaller
2015 Pit of despair and shrinking
2016 Stabilizing and grieving
2017 The intensity knob went up to 11 and I got transitions, meltdowns, despair, grieving, and (miraculously) enough growing to counter balance most of the rest.

This was a year defined by anxiety and fear. I want something else now. But I wouldn’t give up the growth that happened this year, and the growth was a direct result of everything that came for all the years before. So thank you 2017 for existing. I now release you, and turn to move forward.


My son didn’t want the suitcase I put out for him. I thought it would be convenient, put out a suitcase and just drop in things as we found what needed to go to his dorm room. He had different ideas, and he didn’t want that ratty old suitcase. It will go to the dump. And I need to back off. He sorted his bedroom things when I wasn’t looking, putting away his treasures into the new under-bed storage bin that we purchased. I’d pictured going through them together, me helping him figure out what to keep and what to let go. But this is better. He is owning his life in a way that matters. He’s leaving two shelves of things in the closet. He’s also leaving things in the dresser. For both locations I have instructions to leave them alone. And I will. He may discover he wants some of them later. Or maybe he won’t. I left things with my parents when I went off to school. So did his older sister.

He did let me fish out half a dozen pairs of worn out or discarded shoes from the back of his closet. He took a picture before I put them into a box to be donated/discarded. I stood there, box in hand and watched him for a moment. The weight of leaving his old life behind rounded his shoulders a bit. I could see it in his face as well, but for once I did not dig or try to get him to tell me about it. His internal world needs to stop being my job. It is me he needs to get away from, because the patterns of childhood are too strong for both of us. I’ve spent so long being his helper, translator, guide that I don’t know how to stop. And he can’t become the adult he needs to be unless I stop. Which is why he needs to move out.

I’ve sent a child off to school before, you’d think the practice would make this easier. I should know how to step off the stage of my child’s life and lurk in the wings. I don’t get to be a player any more, except for emergency need. Why didn’t I recognize that this was the transition ahead of us? Surely I should have recognized the push-pull of the past few weeks and been less thrown by it. Now I suspect that each launching will be its own kind of difficult. Each child struggling and growing in their own way, and me thrown off balance in unique ways for each one. This shouldn’t surprise me since they’ve been different from each other since day one. We’re right on the brink, ready to launch, only two more days at home, then we drop him off.

Christmas is Magic

I don’t know how it works, and it isn’t guaranteed to always work, but somehow Christmas is beautiful and peaceful even when the run of days up to it are an emotional roller coaster. When I view the day through the lens of my religious beliefs, the day is blessed. It is specifically granted an extra measure of peace, particularly when I’ve been praying for exactly that. From a more earthly viewpoint, Christmas is a collaborative creation of all the participants. We create it for each other, and in a house where people have been thinking and planning carefully for weeks, the creation is beautiful.

Christmas comes as a candle flame in dark midwinter. It brings light and warmth. And it never hurts to have a cat to oversee the unwrapping.

Checking for Breathing

I used to check on my babies when they were sleeping, when things had been quiet for a while, before I could sleep. I would step quietly up to the crib and stand there until I could see the rise and fall of their breathing. Sometimes I would reach out and touch, just to be sure. Carefully, of course, because I didn’t want to wake the baby and trigger another round of tending-to-infant-needs. Their sleep was a blessed respite for me, but I still had to check and make sure they were okay.

That impulse has never fully left. I still listen for the sounds of my children. A part of my brain tracks their locations and their safety. Occasionally, I still peek in on them when they are sleeping. Partly I’m checking to make sure the sixteen year old isn’t pulling another all-night you-tube fest on a school night. No lights from screens are in her room, so I step in and let my eyes adjust to the dark until I see her breathe. She is safe. All is well.

Happiness is simple for an infant. If a parent can accomplish breathing and not-crying then what is left is interest and joy. The older the children get, the more complex their internal worlds become. And the less I am able to make sure they’re okay. Checking on the kids requires talking and listening. I have to listen to what they say and infer what they don’t say. Sometimes I know that they are hurting and often there is nothing I can do to heal it. Sometimes what I have to do is not interfere because making them safe prevents them from learning or growing. But it means that there are days I stand outside a teenager’s closed door and wish I could “check for breathing” in a way that quickly ascertains the total well being of the person who shut me out.

Life Unexpected

We don’t always know that we have expectations about things until they unfold differently than expected. I never once sat down to picture my daughter’s last days of college. I certainly would not have pictured me spending two nights camping on her apartment floor so that I can assist with final clean up and, more importantly, function as an emotional support for a young woman with a raging head cold who has to face the final exam for a class that has thrice given her massive, can’t-breathe, panic attacks. My daughter has become so thoroughly adult in the way she faces her troubles, that I have to tell her it is okay to get some hand-holding right at the last exhausting bit.

The walls of the apartment bedroom are bare now. We took down the posters and the forest of stick-on wall hooks that used to host hats, calendars, whiteboards, and other life paraphernalia. What remains are white walls and a pile of boxes in the corner, each labeled with where they will go to be unpacked once we’re at home. My house is “home” now when she speaks. For a long time “home” was her college existence, but now it is my house again. I’ll be glad to fold her back into the patterns of our family.

For two weeks I’ll have all four, then we’ll launch our son who is desperate to find a home that isn’t my house. My house isn’t home to him, he tells me. I nod and understand that emotionally and developmentally this statement is exactly as it should be. I save my crying for when he is not around to see it. I’ve spent the vast majority of my adult life sacrificing to create a safe and nurturing home for my children to grow inside. I know that pushing off and pushing away is necessary. I still stagger a bit from the force of it.

I didn’t picture sleeping on an apartment floor. And I didn’t picture being told “this isn’t my home.” I didn’t picture a teenager with scratched up arms. I didn’t picture home schooling.

I also didn’t picture a teenage daughter who squees out loud with delight over her pet snake and little growing plants. I didn’t picture the way that my oldest tousles the hair of my youngest, or the way he puts up with this irritation because his sister can get away with it. I didn’t picture the comfort of warm hugs from sons who are half again larger than I am. I didn’t picture the hundred daily ways that Howard and I look out for each other and support each other.

I wonder what I did expect since the vast majority of my life seems like a surprise to me.

Tomorrow by 1pm all the boxes will be in the car and the three hour drive will begin. It will be the last fetching-home-from-college for this daughter. We’ll all come back for the graduation ceremony in spring, but that will be a vacation trip, not a life-altering transition. We’ll disperse her belongings and mingle them with our household. She’ll have a safe haven while she builds toward her next launch. But first she gets to rest. We have a holiday to navigate, and some shared family experiences to create. Two weeks of welcome home and farewell mixed in holiday colors.

Once I’m home, I’m back in the middle of it, so there is a part of me that is grateful for the space and distance created by waiting in my daughter’s apartment while she completes finals. I made plans for how to use the space. I may still do so, but the largest part of today went to sleeping. I can only partly blame the too-thin foam mat which disrupted my sleep last night. I arrived tired. It is not a waste to use time for sleeping. I have to remind myself of that.

I will be glad to go home. I will settle back in to my regular round of comforts and obligations. I will sit on my couch and stare at the bare studs of an incomplete construction project. I will make plans for getting that project complete, or for earning the money to pay for the project to be completed. I will plan for Christmas and for taking my son shopping to outfit his dorm room. I will plan for home schooling next year. I will plan for cleaning and cooking in advance of the holiday.

And, inevitably, my plans will not turn out as I expected. I will adapt and learn to be happy with things as they are even when they’re not how I thought they would be.

Once Again December Breaks My Brain

The first half of December breaks my brain. I know this. It happens every year. I blame it on the holiday shipping, and it is true that I ship out ten times more packages per day than at other times of the year. However it is also that I’m holding in my head all the holiday gift planning. I’m deciding whether or not to do Christmas cards or neighbor gifts. If I do them, I have to select recipients since I know and care about more people than I have the time or resources to give individual attention to.

This year I’m responding to some of the stress by doing a culling of belongings. Every thing I give away is a thing that I will never have to track, clean, or pay attention to again. And we really do need to pare back in advance of our hoped-for remodeling next year. (We desperately want to do the remodel, we don’t know if we’ll be able to fund it.) I’m working on carload #4 that is bound for thrift stores.

And then there is the emotional sorting. My oldest is moving home to stay. My second oldest is moving out and says he doesn’t think he’ll ever move back, which may be true. As part of his moving out, he’s doing some of the emotional push-pull on his parents that many kids do when they’re preparing to launch. It throws me off balance. And then off balance again when I realize that my third child is sinking into depression again, the kind that gently seeps the joy and interest out of everything. So she and I have to do something about that, but neither of us knows what yet. My youngest has one week to do enough work to prevent failing in one of his classes. His home school needs do not slack off even with holiday shipping. Though we’ve made a decision to take a break from all school things when on campus classes cease. We need a space free from tracking.

There are half a dozen blog entries I’ve partially written about the things summarized in that last paragraph. I can’t seem to clear enough head space to find the words. Instead I’m left with a day like today where I don’t want to waste the day, but I don’t have enough energy to dive into a project. I wish I did have that energy. There are so many projects that need done.

By the Numbers

Number of days ago that the assignment was due: 27
Number of times I sat down with my son to attempt to do the assignment: 4
Number of times son attempted to communicate with the teacher: 5
Number of answers we got from the teacher: 2
Number of times that the teacher’s answers provided the necessary clarification: 0
Number of frustrated conversations with my son where we try to figure out why his brain locks up and literally won’t allow him to write any words: 3
Number of words written as of this morning: 0
Reasons why I’m worn out: all of the above + 1 teen girl whose depression is intruding again + son who moves out in three weeks and is having emotions about it. Also see holiday preparations and financial stress.

Organizing My Plan to Organize

My day started out well, but around noon I started to feel muddled and unfocused. I had trouble concentrating and I couldn’t find my notebook. Several years back I adopted a one notebook approach to journaling. Any type of notes I need to write down all go into the same book. So scribbled notes about merchandise for Schlock mystery boxes sit right across from an extended journal entry where I’m sorting my brain. It is a system that has worked fairly well for me. Of course there is one significant drawback, as evidenced when I couldn’t find the book today. I’ve never truly lost one of my notebooks before. I might be uncertain where exactly I placed it, but I can usually lay my hands on it in five minutes or less. My brain knows the book is important and does a good job of indexing when and where I set it down. Today I couldn’t find it. I did my usual finding steps, and it didn’t turn up. I even drove over to the warehouse, but it wasn’t there either. I had a clear memory of using it on the day I took my daughter back to school, but not since then. I’d forgotten that I spent a portion of Tuesday sitting with Howard in his office and apparently left the notebook there.

Even with notebook in hand, I still felt a bit muddled so I went and took a shower. That was when I realized why. My head was full of a dozen sorting and organization projects. Trying to hold all of them and prioritize them and their steps was breaking my brain. So I flipped open my (thankfully located) notebook and began to write. Two pages of closely written notes later, I feel much more clear. The amount of organizing I’ve outlined is enough for several months. But now that it is all on the page, I can see which projects need to come before other projects. Hopefully that will be enough to let me get started. Unfortunately many of them are out in my unheated garage, and it is December. But I need to get at least some of them done because I need to re-locate the Christmas decoration storage to the garage instead of taking up space in my daughter’s closet.

It isn’t convenient that my brain picked now to mentally reorganize all of the things. We’ve just hit the big shipping season. As people are purchasing for the holidays I end up shipping out 10-20 packages per day. I’m grateful for every package I send out. They pay for January and February bills. Sending them takes time. I also have layout and design work for publishing projects. Those things have to come first, no matter how much my brain wants to just dive into organizing all the things. I may be able to sneak in both, but it means I need to be motivated and get moving first thing Monday morning. And I need to not allow home school to sap all of my project energy. While simultaneously not allowing home school to slump and not get done. It’s going to be a busy week.