Family

In Which the Answer to a Prayer Involves Food

“I’m really more of a family therapist. Have you considered family therapy?” The therapist asked. I was once again at the clinic of a local university seeking individual therapy for my fourteen year old. Except they’d assigned me a family therapist instead of what I had asked for. The very question spiked my anxiety, poked all the guilty places in my brain. I know that there are patterns in my family which aren’t ideal. We all spend too much time on screens. We don’t go outdoors enough or get enough exercise. We eat too much frozen food. And yet, some of these patterns we’ve fallen into were extremely adaptive and necessary survival tactics faced with the quantity of mental health issues and the pay-the-bills business tasks that we had. Were I a being of infinite energy we would have handled it all and still had regular meals together, gone on picnics, and played board games regularly. I feel terribly guilty for not having that infinite energy, even though I know that every day I made the best choices I could with the limited resources available. But when family therapy was suggested it unleashed the howling voices of self doubt which gleefully shrieked that I had made all the wrong choices. Obviously.

It was an agonizing few minutes trying to answer this question from the earnest young man who was very perceptive and thus recognized that his question had opened a huge well of emotion. He was poised to dig and help me sort all of those emotions, as surely was his job. Only it wasn’t his job. I was asking him to help my son. I’d deliberately tried to set boundaries for the therapy. I’d done so in advance, being very specific about what I was seeking. Then when I was in a room alone with him, the therapist questioned why I had the boundary in place. The howling self-doubt, the confusion about being questioned on the topic, and my own natural tendency to empathize with my conversational partner all combined to make answers difficult to articulate. He tried to be a good therapist and say accepting things, but it was obvious to me that he believed family therapy to be the one true way to solve issues, including my son’s depression, loneliness, and inability to make friends at school.

Outside that room, in the car on the way home, all the emotional noise subsided. My son and I talked. Both of us felt clearly and calmly that family therapy was not what we need at this time. For all that we have some isolationist habits and some individual family members with communication issues, those issues would be simply resolved simply by spending more time focused on talking to each other. We don’t need a mediator to help us be find hidden resentments. We already know how to discuss such things the minute it becomes obvious that they exist. I can’t count the number of difficult conversations my kids have been through with me, with each other, with Howard. We know how to talk about the hard things without letting anger or frustration make us mean. Yet I don’t think I could have convinced the therapist of any of that. Until he saw it for himself, all my statements of “I don’t think we need your help” sound like I’m scared or anxious trying to desperately prevent change and growth in family patterns. I did not have the patience to disrupt my entire family for weeks of sessions just to demonstrate that while we’re not perfect, mostly what we need is more time together not a mediator. Besides, some of the things we do have more to do with being a family of introverts than with being broken in some way.

My son and I decided that this therapist would not work for him. Which was sad, because the therapist had good rapport and my son instantly liked him. I can add one more failed therapy relationship to the list. There was one thing the therapist said which rang true to me. Patterns in the home are translated out into the wider world. Requiring my son to practice more social skills at home will help him use those skills at school. This left the problem of how to draw a family of introverts from their isolated comfort zones and into more shared activities. I’ve discovered more than once that when I want to change a family pattern, the wrong solution is exhausting and falls apart, while the right solution clicks into place and makes everything easier. I began mulling over what we should do. Part of my mulling involved prayer. The answer I got wasn’t what I expected, which is true of many of my answers to prayers.

Netflix has a show called the Great British Baking Show. I’ve never been interested in cooking shows, let alone competition cooking shows. Yet several online friends expressed what a delight this one was, in part because everyone is kind and helpful to each other rather than cut-throat competitive. So I began watching and I liked it. Up there in paragraph one there is a little sentence “we eat too much frozen food.” It has been more than a year since I cooked regularly. For a long time it has felt like I’d completely forgotten how to cook. Even on days where I had time and energy, I would stare at a cupboard full of ingredients and have no idea what to make from them. I’d come to the conclusion that I just wasn’t a cooking person now that the kids were old enough to get their own food. Then I started watching the cooking show. Part way into season two, I found myself wanting to make a trifle. Not just eat one, but also make it. Within a two days of wanting to make trifle, I got a clear answer to my prayers about bringing my family together. The answer was “cook more.”

Over the next week I considered my answer. Then one day I stuck in a frozen pizza, planning to watch more of my show while I ate it. No sooner had the pizza emerged when three family members had come into the kitchen to cook food. My quiet space was gone. The smell of food had summoned them from their corners. I shut my iPad and watched them move through the space. They smiled and interacted more, even when they were dodging each other and some of the kids were still trying to watch a video while preparing food. I began to see that if I were making more food to share, instead of food for one, that togetherness would flow naturally from the process. If I called people in to help me with the food preparation, they would be pulled away from their screens and into an activity which simultaneously engages multiple senses and encourages being social.

Of course there are potential problems with building social habits around food, particularly if the food is heavy on dessert offerings. Yet if I am conscious from the beginning to focus on healthy foods, we might all experience health benefits as well as social ones. I’m not going to perform a massive overhaul of our family eating habits. That way lies exhaustion and discouragement. I’m starting simple and small. I’m going to cook more often than I was. I’m going to keep watching cooking shows that spark food ideas. I’m going to encourage social time in the kitchen. I’m going to be patient and see what these small changes shift before attempting any more. Oh, and I’m going to cancel any further appointments with that therapist, he’s not what we need right now.

A Twelve Day Update

The short version of the past twelve days goes like this: Convention, convention, convention, visit with friend and drive her to airport, head cold with shipping, head cold with editing, head cold with editing, head cold with an array of neglected household and parent stuff, feeling a bit better with editing, mostly better with shipping, editing, and taking a child to buy her first snake pet, today.

The slightly more expanded version:

LTUE is our home convention. It is the one that feels like a family reunion because it is full of people that I like and I only get to see once per year. On top of that, I get to sit down with smart people and have discussions of interesting topics. These discussions happen both as part of public panels, but also in more casual groups. Writer people are my people.

Kiki didn’t come up this year. She needed a calm semester where she didn’t have to scramble to prepare for a convention where she needed to present herself professionally. I used her absence as an opportunity to do an art yard sale of her old work. (With her permission of course.) She had art left over from high school and early college which was no longer representative of her best work. Rather than let it continue to take up space in her life, we sold it at a big discount to turn art into grocery money. Almost everything we offered sold.

Usually Kiki is the one who helps me run the table, this year two women from my neighborhood volunteered to help. It was really fun. They were good company. They got free badges to attend and the three of us traded off who would be at the table and who would go to classes or events. I loved knowing that everybody got things they wanted out of the deal. Win win is the best kind of deal.

Usually the Sunday after LTUE is a collapse and relax day. It sort of was this year. Only I did my collapsing and relaxing with a couple of friends who had also been at the show and were also collapse relaxing.

Monday I began to be sick. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were all something of a fog. Mostly I camped on the couch looking pitiful and trying to get editing work done. The plan for the week had been to split my days between editing and shipping. I wasn’t well enough to be on my feet for shipping. Editing took longer than I wanted it to, but at least I could do it laying down. I couldn’t take days off because Planet Mercenary is on a crazy tight schedule. We need to go to print by April 1st. There has to be a month of time for indexing before going to print. And there is still layout to do. In an ideal world, all the writing would be complete before editing began. Then all the editing would be done before layout began. Then all the layout would be done before indexing began. Instead different sections of the book are in different parts of the process.

The good news is that I’ve finally finished the portions of the book which have lots of mechanics and numbers. The numbers are set. I only have a little bit of formatting to do before sending all of that to layout. The remainder of the book is all fun world building stuff. I won’t have to meticulously cross check everything to make sure it is good. I also won’t have to spend time worrying that I’ve accidentally created an item that is far more expensive (or cheap) than it should be for the benefit it provides. Approximating a functional economy is hard.

Once I was feeling enough better to be ambulatory, it was time to get back on track with shipping out Defaced Seventy Maxims books. I’d wanted all of them out the door by the end of February. Instead it is more likely to be by March 6 or 7. A week later than I want. Because I’ve been jumping between editing and shipping and planning new merchandise, I simply haven’t had the time or emotional energy to put together a big shipping event. Shipping is me grabbing 2-3 of my teenagers and spending 2-3 hours sending out 150-200 packages. I’ve got about 500 more US packages and about 200 international ones left. International takes longer to process and pack because of the necessary customs forms.

During LTUE I tweeted about my 16 year old who texted me to ask what chores she could do. She has been putting in 1-2 hours of work per day for the last month because she wanted to earn enough money to buy a snake and all the supplies to take care of it. The original plan had her and her brother cooperating to buy a snake. In the end only my daughter put in the hours and earned the money. She hit the money goal after helping me with shipping on Saturday. So we went to our local pet store (the small one, not the giant chain one) and came home with a little snowy corn snake. Now that the snake actually exists in the house, my son is far more motivated to earn money to buy his own snake. So we’re likely to end up with two of them. Which is fine. The snake is name Cecil and he’s adorable.

Today is Sunday wherein I theoretically rest. Tomorrow work begins anew.

The Importance of Geek T Shirts

My son has been drowning in the social swamp of junior high. Today he was finally able to put words to the fact that he doesn’t feel like anyone at the school is like him, that he has nothing in common with any of them. I know for a fact this is not true. That school is full of geeky boys who love video games and would be happy to be friends with my son. The trouble is that my son can’t pick them out of the overwhelming crowd. Even when he does admit that there is this one kid in his History class who he likes being around, my son’s anxiety stops him from asking “Do you like to play video games?” My son is terrified the other boy will say no. He’d rather not know that risk asking.

I sat there with my son in silence, finally recognizing the scope of the problem my son has with making friends. His anxiety makes him incapable of reaching out, asking the simple social questions that foster connections. Instead he has to wait until he’s around someone enough that they become familiar to him. Then he has to wait until there is a conversation he feels comfortable joining. Even then he often shuts down, retreats inward, is unable to speak. He needs potential friends to come to him, repeatedly, even if he retreats from them. Only they have to approach him without alarming him. All of which is really hard to expect in the social milieu of a junior high.

So I shrunk the problem smaller. What thing could we do to help my son have a conversation about video games with the one kid who might become a friend? I realized my son needs props. He needs simple conversation starters. He needs signifiers of what his interests are so that people who are also interested in those things will approach him. My son needed geeky t shirts.

I’d never before recognized the real social value of geeky clothes. They are the tool by which introverted people signal their tribe. The Zelda Triforce symbol says worlds to another Zelda fan, but probably goes unnoticed by those who don’t love Zelda. And if two folks wearing Zelda shirts meet, they already have a topic of conversation to start on. They can discuss the various Zelda games, characters in those games, which ones they like best, and on and on. From there it is easy to compare thoughts on other games, and then maybe agree to get together and play games sometime.

My son has had a smattering of geeky clothes over the years, but he’s grown a lot in the last eight months. He’s grown out of them, worn them out, or they represent things he used to love and doesn’t love as much now. He needed up-to-date clothes that represent who he is right now. He needs shirts that will make other geeks laugh. So I dropped a pile of money on t shirts today. They’re important.

Working in the Warehouse

The shipment is expected the first week of January. Two pallets, one thousand pounds. It is a small shipment by our usual standards, but the warehouse space wasn’t organized to receive it. I still had four pallets of Force Multiplication sitting in the middle of the floor. They needed to be combined into two pallets against a wall. Then there were the slipcases, four pallets across, three pallets high. All of those slipcases needed to be relocated into the upstairs section of the warehouse. They’re the only thing we have which is light enough to go up there. Even with light boxes, the work piles up when there are 400 boxes and a set of stairs involved.

I drafted my children. These days they are all adult sized. I’ve arrived at a point where I house my own work crew. I could have just said “this business pays our bills, you will help.” But I sweetened the deal by offering to pay them all by the hour. Saturday around noon, we piled into the car and set to work.

The first twenty minutes are always full of squabbling. They don’t squabble with quite the vigor that they used to, but in the opening minutes of a job like this, no one quite knows their job. People get into each others way and they grouch a bit. During those twenty minutes, I sometimes wonder if I would have been better to get outside help. Then they found their rhythm. They began to daisy chain boxes to the bottom of the stairs. Then daisy chain again to get them up and stashed. They learned how to toss boxes and catch them. They challenged each other, trying to work faster than a sibling could keep up. They laughed. When physical limitations made the work end before all the boxes were moved, all the kids said they wanted to come back and finish the job.

We went again today. Again it took twenty minutes to find our rhythm. And for the warehouse to warm up enough that they stopped complaining about the cold. Kiki had showered right before, so we had to take an old Schlock shirt and tie it onto her head as a makeshift hat to keep her head from freezing. Gleek decided that merely stacking boxes wasn’t quite good enough. So I now have a lovely box fort upstairs. Patch even made a cannon from an old piece of metal duct that was laying around.

At the end of the work, we could all see how much space we’d made. I’ll have plenty of room to receive my pallets of books, and the second (much larger) shipment that is due in February. The next big task is to get rid of thirty wooden pallets that we have stacked on the floor. That’s a job for a truck or a trailer.

Moving all the boxes inspired the kids. All four of them jumped on their computers to play a shared game of Minecraft. They’ve been at it for four hours now. I can hear them calling out to each other and laughing. Playing together comes easily and naturally for people who have worked together. I keep forgetting that. My kids are likely to be conscripted as work crew more often. I think they’ll be good with that.

Things I Learned While Cruising

Dolphins have a series of sounds that they always use when approaching another dolphin. Each dolphin has a unique set of sounds. This means that dolphins name themselves and routinely introduce themselves by name.

If you place two Tayler kids at adjoining tables, they will create little fortresses and villages out of sugar packets.
sugar-forts

Different ships have different social structures between staff and guests. This one felt more stratified than the last ship. I kept trying to put my waiter and my room attendant at ease and was never able to quite do it.

The world is full of amazingly kind people. Many of them were our attendees and teachers for this event.

Having a larger ship does not mean I’ll feel the ocean less. Because the ship was so tall and the underwater portion shallow in comparison, I felt the motion of the ship most of the time. I never felt sick with it except on the one night where I was in the highest lounge of the ship while the ship was skirting the edge of a storm.

I do not like it when they make the dining hall staff dance to music. I’d much rather be having conversations. They danced four times during the week. It was a lot.

Sometimes the light strikes the water in a way that makes crepuscular rays reflecting down into the water. This is hard to catch on film, but I tried.
reflection-crepuscular

There were lots of knowledge gaps in my children’s experiences of travel. Howard and I were frequently explaining things and demonstrating things. They had to be shown how to navigate an airport, how to order room service on a ship, how to share elevators with lots of other people, how to be polite in all the small ways that are necessary in crowds.

Bringing kids onto a crowded ship with fourteen decks, then making them stay for a week, is an effective way to exterminate elevator anxiety.

While some of my kids dove in, did their own research, and ran off to do things, I had to be cruise director for some of the other ones. I had to book tickets to shows then require them to actually attend those shows, which they then enjoyed.

Nassau has iguanas everywhere. This delighted all Taylers.

Dusk while pulling away from port is beautiful.
island-dusk-2

Standing on a balcony and watching water flow by is a huge destressor. Riding a smaller boat with wind in my face is also a destressor while simultaneously being invigorating.

Dan Wells will let his assistant paint his nails if the polish is glow in the dark with tiny bats.

If we leave the room set up and the mics hot, apparently attendees will host a spontaneous Writing Excuses episode with various people playing the part of the cast members.

Swimming with dolphins will make my daughter vibrate with joy.

Other people genuinely like my kids and find them charming. This is nice to know because I often worry that their various intensities will make them bothersome in public.

Old Heidelberg is a marvelous restaurant and I should eat all the potato pancakes.

When there is a fire at an airport, security will completely empty the terminal and we’ll get to stand in a long line waiting to get into the building. Once inside I could smell that it had been a bread fire, it smelled exactly like scorched toast. Then I thought about it and realized that the evacuation was not an over reaction. A small fire could be a staged distraction and they had to rule that out before allowing travelers back into the building.

If you let Gleek loose with a free afternoon and a pool area populated with little lizards, she will become so expert at catch and release that she can practically just walk up to them and pick them up. Also, she will manage to tame them so that they’ll just sit on her hands and shoulders.

Those photos with water and hair flips are a lot harder to pull off than you would think. Water up the nose is a serious issue. Also if you have long hair, it requires serious back muscles to move the weight of the hair and water.
splash

Given the opportunity, a conference of writers will claim space in a lounge and gradually all the other people will leave because we’re talking about weird stuff.

While on a cruise, strangers will use the elevator ride to divulge random details about their lives. Sometimes this is delightful, other times it’s just weird.

If you put siblings into tiny cabins for a week, all the latent rivalries and tensions will come to the surface.

Day three is when kids melt down and want to go home. Day five is when they really settle in to the rhythms of ship life.

An autistic adult who is removed from most of his familiar routines, will need someone to be with him pretty constantly so that he doesn’t retract inward into loneliness and sadness. Also the newness of things means he can’t fully enjoy them. They have to repeat and become familiar before he can evaluate if he actually likes them.

When we are willing to be vulnerable with each other, a powerful connection can be formed in a very short span of time. Also a single sentence can tell a powerful story. I witnessed nine people take painful personal stories and distill them into a single sentence as part of an exercise. It was amazing.

My camera has settings that let me catch moon on water (If a bit dark and blurry). You can also see the constellation Orion if you look right of the moon.
moon-water

I need my trips to have spaces of unscheduled time so that I can process the experiences I’m having. I’m home now and life is moving onward. Some of those thoughts are going to be lost or buried unexamined.

I love writer people. (This isn’t a new thing I learned, but it is a thing I’ve been reminded of.)

Royal Caribbean has an entire Autism program. I knew that before embarking, but I thought it was kid focused so I didn’t tap into it on the ship. After disembarking I learned that they’re trained to help autistic adults as well. If I’d engaged with guest services we would have had a different week. But since every single hard thing opened up new knowledge and realizations for all of us, I’m not sure I’d trade away the week I had. If there is another time with my son along, I’ll have a conversation with guest services.

Sand and water are good for hours of entertainment, even when the kids are all grown up.
wave-and-sand

Sometimes when I make my kid go along on an excursion that he really doesn’t want to do, he will discover that he loves part of it. Same was true for dinners and shows. I need to make him do more things that make him uncomfortable so that his world can become larger.
snorkling

Sometimes it only takes small things to create happiness.

There are people who can understand what I’m dealing with and will give me hugs when stuff is hard.

The WXR staff is amazing. We watch out for each other and tell each other when to take time off or to nap. When an emergency comes up, everyone steps in and helps so that the conference proceeds smoothly while the emergency is managed. And happily the emergency was minor and resolved without any long term consequences.

Ships on the ocean leaves trails in the water, much like airplanes leave contrails in the sky.
water-trails

All of that, and I’ve only begun to mention the things I’ve learned in the last ten days. I wish I had the funds to travel more with my kids. I wish I had the time to travel more. I’m looking forward to next year’s WXR cruise in Europe.

I had a marvelous, wonderous, complicated, challenging, stressful, joyful, beautiful trip.

Home from WXR2016

sunset-reflection

I have spent the last ten days away from my house with all of my children. We traversed the country via shuttle and airplane. Then we got on a ship to sail for seven days. Today we returned home. I have so many thoughts about all of it.

The event was the Writing Excuses Workshop that for the past two years has taken place on a cruise ship. I wrote about it last year. This year was also magical, but also more exhausting because I was pulled in more directions. My children had never taken a trip like this one before and they needed help learning how to manage themselves and navigate the cruise experience. I did not have many down times where I got to emotionally process the experiences. I was often up until 2 or 3am, either because I was finally getting a chance to sit and have a lovely conversation or because one of my kids hit meltdown at midnight and it took that long to help them sort it.

The entire thing pinged between marvelous and exhausting. I had joyous moments with my family. I also had moments which made me cry because I don’t have fixes for hard things in their lives. Pretty much all the sibling conflicts busted open at one point or another. The kids finally said to each other some of the things that they’ve only been willing to say to me. Their world is a different place post-cruise. We’ll see what changes that makes in the patterns of our lives back at home. I would like for some things to be different.

There is real power in taking a family, pulling them all outside their comfort zone, and then trapping them there for a week because we simply can’t abort the experience until the ship gets back to port. I flat out couldn’t solve some of the problems, which meant the kids had to face the problems and deal with them. It was hard on them sometimes. Mostly it was hard on Link, who is a creature of patterns and habits. The family had to take turns helping him get through. Gleek loved the teen program and ran her own schedule. Kiki loved being staff for the conference. Patch had an abundance of time to read and enjoyed being at the adult tables for dinner. Link discovered he loves snorkeling.

And all of that doesn’t begin to touch the conference aspects of the cruise. I renewed friendship with people who have attended prior events. I made new friends. I got to meet in person some people that I’d only known online. It was very difficult to be pulled away from conference classes and conversations to check on kids, manage kids, require kids to try things they didn’t want to try (which they then loved). I wanted to spend all my time in classes, in conversations, in helping manage the event, in sitting down to get my own work done.

I got no work done other than staying on top of email. Work was one of the pieces that simply didn’t fit. I don’t know what that means for work this week. Howard had trouble clearing space to be working as well. If we had not had the kids, I think we would have gotten much more done.

I have many thoughts about cruises, about kids on cruises, about cruises and special needs people, about the social environments on the ship, about the shows on the cruise (which I would not have seen except that I needed to pull kids into activities,) about the size of the ship itself and whether it is wise to make a ship that large. Our ship was one of the largest in the world. I hadn’t really wrapped my head around that fact until I got off the ship at Nassau and saw this:
size-comparison

One guess which was our ship. Gleek got off the ship onto the pier and looked up to the top of the ship beside us. “They’re like mountains!” she said then she turned to look up at our ship “Whoa, ours is even bigger.” I’m glad to have sailed on a giant ship once, but I preferred the smaller ship last year.

I have even more thoughts about the emotional experiences of this event. I need some quiet processing time before I can frame those thoughts. But I will say this, every time an emotional thing was hard, I was able to see exactly why it was an important experience to have. Not fun, but definitely important.

On the other hand, anytime things felt hard, I could step out onto my balcony and watch the water flow by. Within moments my spirit would quiet and calm would flow over me. I really need a door in my house which opens up to a balcony like that.

I’m exhausted both physically and mentally. I want to bounce right back into work, into helping the kids get their schoolwork made up, into being effective in regular life. But I have some sleeping and processing to do. Emotional processing is important work and it requires a free space of time for it to happen. Right now, bed.

wake

First Week of School in Review

So how did that first week of school go? Well…

Gleek spent most of the weekend asleep. I think she was short on sleep and needed to catch up. I also think that the brain work necessary to adapt to her new social environment was also exhausting. The week passed without incident, which lowers my level of alert.

We rearranged Patch’s schedule twice during that first week, but the current configuration looks to be a winner. It allows him some classes that I think he has a shot at really enjoying. It would be nice if he had something at school which he really wants to do.

Kiki likes her new roommates, has settled into her schedule, and gives me updates every so often. We have scheduled appointments for plot discussions about a story she is working on.

We hit the first argument with Link about drifting vs motivated progression. It was a lightweight argument, over quickly. Probably won’t be the last, but I can see him beginning to move forward a bit. His classes begin in October.

I spent most of my work time head down in the 70 Maxims book. Most of it has been handed off to the designer, though there are still some bits missing. My job during the first part of this week is to collect those missing bits. Then I need to dive into work on Planet Mercenary. That project needs to be rolling forward at a faster pace than we had in August.

After the first two days of school where I was astonished at the increase of quiet and order in my house, my brain has now decided that the long stream of early school mornings represents a slog. I’m working to convince my brain this is not true. I suspect that some of the dread is residual emotion left over from the fact that I’ve had four school years running when one or more of my children melted down in fairly spectacular fashion. I’ve forgotten that school year does not necessarily mean incoming emotional meltdown. Unfortunately I don’t think my brain will truly be able to let go of the emotions until we’ve passed through most (or all) of the anniversaries of meltdown.

Howard is scrambling to replenish the depleted buffer. This effort is not assisted by the fact that he’s currently in the climax of a story line, which means big fancy art with fighting elephants, armored polar bears, and many explosions. It also doesn’t help that I keep having to go to him and ask for bits of writing for Planet Mercenary or the 70 Maxims book. This has been such a long haul in getting these things done. I will be glad when I can have the 70 Maxims book off to print, bringing our ongoing book prep projects down to one. It won’t stay there long. I’ve got to start work on the next Schlock book. Also we need to come up with some new merchandise for the holiday shopping season.

On Saturday night at 9pm, Howard wandered into my office and discovered me working. His wander was just because he was taking a short break from his own work. “We really are always working.” he said. I had to agree. This is normal for us, working into the evening and on weekends. In theory we’ll be able to have more free time once Planet Mercenary is off to print. In reality, we’ll probably come up with another project, but I certainly won’t be ready to undertake something as massive as Planet Mercenary any time soon.

We’re poised to have a good school year, but what I really need to do is stop trying to consider the entire year ahead. I just need to do today. If I can make today a good place, and do the same thing for each today as it arrives, then the year will take care of itself.

Drop Off and First Day

Pulling out of the driveway didn’t feel like an event, not really, not even with my daughter Kiki’s life packed into the back of the car so she could re-establish herself in her college apartment. We’ve done this before, enough times that I have to pause and think to count them. There was a subtle difference this time, I can feel that we’re nearing the end. She only has 3 semesters left to finish her degree. We’re nearing the time when her life will shift into its next phase, but not quite yet. For now, she gets to have another year with roommates and college classes.

We went out to dinner the night before departure, Kiki, Patch, and I. Patch is firmly of the opinion that there should be a trip out for sushi anytime that Kiki is at home. I sat at the table with my oldest and my youngest (the other two are less fond of sushi and Howard was out of town.) Somehow the conversation turned to school things, and Kiki began telling tales of her junior high experiences. Kiki freely confessed some of the ways in which she made life more difficult for me and for her teachers during those years. I watched Patch as he listened and absorbed the information that this adult sister of his was not-too-long-ago much less adult. I could see him recognizing that if she could be that bad and end up where she’s at now, maybe he could have good paths ahead too. Patch shared some of his stories as well. Kiki listened and laughed along with the various predicaments and adventures. I was so glad we made time for the dinner. I think it gave Patch a chance to re-frame his experiences and contextualize him. It gave him a better shot at having a good year.

The morning of the departure, Link was sad. He would have liked to ride with Kiki and I to drop her off. Link likes long car rides. Unfortunately Kiki’s belongings fill the entire back of my car. In an effort to help him feel better, we went out to breakfast. I’m not sure it worked, but the food was good. Link will be home with us this year because there are ways in which he needs to grow and learn before taking on higher education.

The drive to college was filled with conversation. You’d think that after a summer of living in the same house, we’d have used up all the ready made topics. Somehow the act of packing up the car and driving opened up new sections of thoughts in our brains. We talked about things that we haven’t really paid attention to for most of the summer. Life feels like it has a forward momentum again now that we’ve moved out of the eddy of summer. I didn’t stay long at her apartment. Other years I’ve lingered for hours because we didn’t quite want to let go. Neither she nor I needed that this time. Some of it is influenced by the fact that we’ll see each other again in only three weeks when we’re taking a big family trip together. More of it is because she’s in a good place, ready to face forward and learn new things.

That drop off was two days ago. This morning I dropped Gleek at the high school and waved to Link as he left for his bus stop. The house is quiet. I’ve been awake since 6:30 and working since 8am. I love the structure that school schedule provides to our days. Over time it begins to wear on me, but for today it is a breath of relief. I have more space in my day to really focus on the work I have to do. I don’t know why it feels that way, since my kids are old enough that they don’t really interfere with work anymore. But somehow having them in the house puts part of my brain on parenting duty, and that part can rest when they’re at school. By afternoon I’ll be checking in on the school kids and evaluating what else needs to be done today. I’ll find out how the first days went and whether we have any issues to manage. I don’t really expect any. The hard stuff doesn’t pop up until later.

Walking Into High School

I just watched my 15 year old Gleek walk into the high school building for her orientation day. There was this moment when she walked past the pep squad sent to greet all the incoming sophomores, where the bottom dropped out of my stomach because I could see all the way my daughter was visibly different from what is standard dress and behavior in our community. We live in a place with a predominant religion. In our town 80% of the students she meets will be LDS (Mormon). Since we are too, this is a little bit comforting. We have at least a baseline expectation for what priorities and values the people around us hold, even though there is a lot of individual variation in how committed people are and how they interpret doctrine. My daughter is a walking, visual variation.

The norm in our community is short hair for boys, long hair for girls, conservative dress, natural hair colors. Even the teens who aren’t Mormon tend to follow this norm. Utah is very clean cut, Orem especially so. This morning my daughter walked into the school building with bright blue hair cut into an anime style pixie cut, short in the back, long near her face. She wore flowered cargo shorts and a black hat. Her arms were adorned with sharpie marker flowers and swirls reminiscent of tattoos. Her surface defies the norms of our community. Her heart embraces our religion. She loves church, and she consciously examines its doctrines. She studies scriptures on her own. She has developed her own relationship with God which is part of how she navigates her personal challenges.

Mostly she’s gotten positive reactions from people at church. I get lots of women telling me that they love her blue hair, that she’s adorable. Thus far I haven’t heard from people who think her blue hair is a sign that she is drifting, lost, or not committed. I assume those people are out there, and I’m grateful that thus far they are keeping their judgements to themselves. What I don’t know is how her surface appearance will affect her relations with peers at school. High school always sorts itself into groups. I worry that she’ll be pushed into groups where her appearance matches rather than being able to find places where her heart matches, no matter what she looks like. She enters the school with a group of established friends who have long accepted her for who she is. I hope that continues. I hope she finds people who celebrate both her internal strength and her enthusiastic creativity. I hope she finds friends who will be there and support her on the hard days, because high school always has hard days.

There are so many things I hope and fear. Mostly I try to not let those hopes and fears leak to where she can see them. My emotions are mine, she shouldn’t have to feel the weight of them. In a few hours I’ll go pick her up and I’ll get to hear how everything went. I would love for this year to be more aligned with hopes than with fears.

Ten days to Start of School

Before GenCon we’re in the midst of summer. After GenCon, everything is propelling us toward the onset of school. This is true most years, but feels particularly true this one. I’m still wading through GenCon laundry and accounting, yet my schedule begins to fill up with school things. I filled out school forms, paid school fees, and set up appointments to meet with school counselors. I know that last one isn’t on the list for most parents. There is a part of my brain that wonders if doing it makes me helicopter-y. Except the universal response from the counselors is “Oh yes. We definitely need to meet.” School counselors are very busy people who are not shy about dodging meetings if they think the meetings aren’t necessary.

Tomorrow is the meeting for Patch. We will examine every class to determine how the teachers will affect him. Last year he had one teacher in particular who loved him very much and wanted to help, but the ways that she approached trying to help made him more anxious and shut down. We went several rounds of trying to help her help him. Ultimately we just muddled through. Sometimes it happens that way. There is a limit to the amount of change I can ask of another person in order to accommodate my kid. I can absolutely say things like “write down his assignments for him.” I can’t really say “Make sure that you aren’t projecting anxious concern when you speak to him.” It is easy to define “don’t corner him” when you’re talking about physical space in a room. But unless someone has an instinctive understanding of his internal landscape, they can emotionally corner him without even being aware they have done so. The school year will be much easier if we start by placing him in classrooms where student/teacher affinity already exists, then we can use the affinity to help education flourish instead of spending all our energy trying to create affinity.

Gleek’s school counselor is going to be more difficult to track down, which is not surprising for high school. She’s answered my emails enthusiastically and would have been happy to meet with Gleek today, except that today began with getting Gleek’s wisdom teeth removed. She’s not coherent enough to be out in public quite yet. The teeth removal was a last minute, lets-get-this-done-before-school-starts effort which was triggered by her complaining that her jaw hurt. She’s a teeny person with big beautiful teeth, so I was pretty sure that the removal of the teeth was inevitably going to be necessary. The other school preparation which was important to Gleek was refreshing her blue hair dye. I’ve been assured by two different school personnel that blue hair will not cause her disciplinary problems on campus, but until she’s been on campus for a week without problems, a little worry will linger in my head. Fortunately we already know exactly what classes Gleek has and which teachers. We tuned it carefully, but the rubber meets the road when she actually attends class.

Next week will be Kiki’s packing week. She has to decide which of her things need to be transported to her college apartment and which things can continue to live here until she returns for Christmas. She and I are both getting weary of this nomadic two-location existence. She has 3 semesters of work left, so we probably only have four relocations left to do. I’m feeling how much I’m going to miss having her around. That feeling has varied from departure to departure. This time is a bit stronger than most. Tangled up in the packing week is some frantic scrambling to help her pound a story into shape before she goes. It is getting there, but unfortunately she ends up waiting on me for feedback. Often. Because my brain is full of all the things.

Link is not headed back to school this fall. We’re entering a gap year for him. None of us feel like spending the money or stress pushing him into a college education that he isn’t emotionally ready to handle. Asynchronous development is very common for people with autism. Link is more advanced than his peers in some ways and less advanced in others. He’ll be hanging with Howard and I at the house, taking an evening class, working for me, and pursuing some personal projects. We’ll also have him doing some of the family cooking, life skills for him, dinner for us.

I would like to be super optimistic about the coming school year. I remember that beginning-of-school rush when I looked forward to all the cool things my kids were going to get to do and learn. The past four years have leached all of that out of me. Yes there have been some wonderful teachers, some beautiful moments, but they feel like flickers of light. I’m entering this year with plans already in place for adjusting schedules, pulling back from stress, and partial home schooling as needed. I’ve laid groundwork with allies, and I know who I need to talk to in order to make adjustments happen. I’m braced for emotion. I don’t know what emotions I’ll have. I don’t know when they will hit me. I just know that I’m afraid that the coming months will reveal even more hard things. I refuse to stand helpless if the school system that is designed for typical children begins to wear away at my kids. They are not typical. This is both a wonderful and difficult thing. Of course I’m also afraid that I’ll be too quick to declare “this isn’t working.” So I’m sure I’ll spin in tight stress circles trying to decide what to do.

For today, I’m working to not borrow trouble. I’m consciously recognizing that Patch is going to get to have a couple of computer classes, which have the potential to be amazing for him. Gleek is getting to take a health sciences class which will let her explore possible careers in psychology, therapy, and other medical sciences. I don’t know if she’ll ultimately move that direction, but I think she’ll find the class interesting. There are going to be good things. I need to consciously remind myself of this instead of just stewing in all my fears.