Friday, November 21, 2008

You Don't Say...


I have one of the strangest children on the planet. No, really.

Most of the time she acts like a normal kid - hating socks, fighting with her sister, wanting to watch TV and play board games all the time. She loves ice cream and breakfast pastries, and hates sleeping. All fairly standard stuff. But sometimes she catches me off guard.

Like the morning she was snuggling in bed with Bubba and me, trying to wake us up and get us out of bed. Wiggling down in between us, she buried her face in the pillow and came up again just as quickly, yelping, "Ick! It smells like felt in here."

Felt? Who knows what felt smells like? And, even if they did - who could imagine that it smelled foul?

Or, take the other day when she was just starting to come down with the stomach flu. She had yet to spike a fever, but was really dragging her tail behind her and she was incredibly grumpy. As we piled into the car with the school bags and lunch boxes and I asked the girls to buckle their seat belts, she turned to her big sister and said, "Grab a paint brush and dip it in me. I feel like a big blob of paint. Green paint."

Little did I know that three hours later she would be spiking a fever and doubled over with stomach pain. Green, indeed.

You know the saying "butterflies in my stomach?" Last week, she was so excited she told us she had "cute, furry animals in her pants."

Yup, never a dull moment around here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Strength, Weakness, It's All in Your Perspective


There is at least one thing in my life I've never aspired to be good at. One thing that, consistently, I've had absolutely no interest in learning about or getting more accomplished at and that is money-management. While math was (and continues to be) a favorite subject of mine, those numbers exist merely as playthings for my mind. Money is as abstract and unreal to me as most of the creatures from Star Trek.

As a child, my allowance always burned a hole in my pocket. I never had anything saved for a rainy day and while there were times when I wished I could be more like my big brother and manage to save a big chunk of it for something truly special, it was never more than a passing desire.

As I got older, that particular issue began to plague me. Living on my own in the dorms as a freshman in college, I jumped at the chance to apply for one of the credit cards offered to new students in the commons. You know, the first month of school the credit card companies all had their tables set up offering water bottles and dinner vouchers and free sweatshirts if you just signed up for their card. You could convince yourself that you'd never have to even use the card after you got the free stuff, right? And the part where they explained the interest rates? I didn't bother with reading it - I had too much studying to do for my classes - who had time for that?

Turns out 21% is not actually a good rate. Turns out the line they fed me about making sure I established my own credit actually wasn't a good thing if I couldn't manage to make my payments on time because the credit I was establishing was not good credit.

When I moved into an apartment with a friend, I decided I needed a bed. The local furniture store was offering "24 MONTHS SAME AS CASH" and I figured that within two years I would be working full time and rolling in cash gifts from graduation so I could pay that bed off in no time. I didn't get the part where they wrote that the interest would be accruing the entire time and that by the time I started to pay the bed off I'd be so far in debt with my 21% interest Visa card that I would be paying for that bed far beyond its usable life.

I was a science geek. What did I know from accounting? Turns out, nothing. Luckily, I found Bubba. A business major. A guy whose parents had taught him about money and how to manage it so that you could help bail your fiancee out and marry her and manage your family finances forever so that you could actually live happily ever after.

Anyhoo, now we turn to the "strengths" part of the story. Bubba has done a stellar job of managing our money and keeping us safe. Indeed, he has managed to ensure that we have never overextended ourselves and that we have made good investments and are able to pay our bills and take care of our children. All throughout the 18 years we've been together, I have never once questioned his decisions for more than a moment or twelve and while I have learned a great deal about how money works and participate in every discussion we have with our financial planner, I still don't really care about money.

So long as we have enough to pay our bills and feed ourselves, I don't care. It's all Monopoly money to me. I realize that's immature and that I'd be nowhere without Bubba. I get that if something should ever happen to him and I had to take over the finances for me and the girls that it would be a difficult job. But it affords me some mental clarity right now.

Recent polls show that 80% of Americans list worries about the current economic climate as their number one stressor these days. Interviews of a cross-section of therapists in the US indicate that their clients are as likely to talk about financial woes as anything else right now. One psychologist noted that the only other time she has seen such cohesiveness in her clients' worries was right after 9/11. Wow!

Lucky me. It's still all Monopoly money. Because I'm fairly indifferent to money, I'm really not stressed. I'm not checking the stock market or my 401K plan daily. I'm still grumbling about packing sack lunches and wiping the dog's muddy feet as he comes in from the backyard. I'm delighting in the sunny days we have had this week because, people, it's November in the Pacific Northwest! Sun. In November. I'm grumping about the stomach flu and ramping up my Christmas plans. But I'm not even really thinking about the economic crisis in the US.

I'm probably being naive. I'm definitely oblivious. I keep up with the news and know that banks are struggling and retail stores are projecting tough times.

I care about the people. I'm donating to the local food bank. I'm letting our family know that Christmas is more about being together than the bounty under the tree. I'm reaching out to those in our community who need our help and offering what I can. It's just that the money doesn't speak to me. Bubba's nervous - having just started his own company, he's waiting for the corporate belt-tightening to trickle down. Turns out that my complete ineptness with money affords us the luxury of at least one of us being able to sleep at night because I'm not stressed about the money. Maybe I should be. But the fact is, I'm not. My blood pressure's normal, for good or for bad. Thanks, Mom and Dad for not teaching me about money. It's proving to be a boon right now.

(For the record, my that humming noise you hear is my father spinning in his urn.)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Quiet Place You Might Want to Visit


I've just come from Gratefulness.org. It's a website dedicated to promoting consciousness of what we have and living in the moment. The first time I visited the site, I must say I wasn't grabbed by the layout or the graphics, but for some reason I stayed a moment. My favorite part of Gratefulness.org is the sidebar, actually. I've traveled the labyrinth and read a few selected writings, and while I don't hit the site daily or even weekly, seeing it on my "Favorites" list reminds me to think of how lucky I am more often than I would have without it.

Because my father was a veteran of the Vietnam war, I've been thinking about him a lot this week. Imagining the holidays without him is too hard at this point, so I've tried to focus my thoughts on letting him know what we're up to these days in our crazy lives. For some reason, I felt the need to go to the Gratefulness site tonight and light a candle for him. I have never accessed this feature before and I found it incredibly calming and empowering. If you're thinking of a loved one or longing for some way to connect spiritually with others, I would encourage you to check it out. Follow this link: http://www.gratefulness.org/candles/enter.cfm?l=eng

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

And It's Not Even a Full Moon


Only my family.

As much as Bubba has traveled in his lifetime, it turns out he's never had a hybrid rental car. Tonight when we called him for our daily check-in, he was on his way to a reception gathering.

"I'm driving this hybrid, but I really don't know how to turn it on."

Huh? Turns out the valet brought it to him already running and he took off for the reception not having had to start the car himself. Hope he doesn't have too many drinks at the gathering this evening or he's likely to have to call a cab to get back to the hotel.

My youngest had set up a fort for herself this afternoon, complete with books, a sleeping bag, her cushiest pillow, and a lamp. When it was time to get ready for bed I asked her to put everything back where it came from. Seconds later she was grabbing her chin and screaming bloody murder. Seems she had accidentally touched her chin to the light bulb as she plugged the lamp back in and burned the bejeesus out of it. After 20 minutes with ice on it, she's got blistering second degree burns. From a light bulb. On her chin. How are we gonna explain that one to her teachers tomorrow?

Before bed, I read the first chapter of my latest writing project (a children's book) to the girls for their feedback. I'm trying to get the voice of the main character - a six year old boy - just right. My oldest daughter raved about the story line and went to bed to write in her journal. Thirty minutes later she was crying and calling for me from her bed. Turns out her journal entry tonight was basically a plagiarism of my entire first chapter except that she changed the name of the main character and she was feeling incredibly guilty. So guilty that she couldn't go to bed without coming clean and apologizing.

Sheesh! Please tell me the dog and cat aren't planning anything out of the ordinary tonight. I'm ready for a glass of wine and some peace and quiet.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Writing in the Blood


It's official. I've spawned a little writer. My oldest daughter is undeniably in love with writing. I should have seen the signs, and now that I put them all together, it is akin to an air raid siren.

In first grade, when the kids were given penmanship books, she finished hers in the first two weeks of school. The teachers gave her a cursive book to work on. It was done by Christmas. In January, she started learning calligraphy. By the end of her first grade year she had completed all three of the penmanship books designed for a three-year curriculum in her multi-age classroom.

She steals pencils and pens. Every time we visit the dentist and they offer her a toy for being so good, she chooses a pencil. She begs her father for the logo-covered notebooks he brings home from conventions. The space under her bed is full of journals, some of which have her feelings and frustrations copied down in them and others are simply copies of letters and books she's read and doodles.

Three weeks ago she had a spectacular meltdown in the car. On I-5 between Salem, Oregon and Centralia, Washington (we're talking hours of driving) she picked a fight with her sister, screamed, threw things, sobbed, wailed, kicked her feet against the seat and the door, and generally had a tantrum. From experience, I know that there is nothing to do but keep the rest of us safe and allow this rage to spend itself. By the time we got home, she was spent and badly in need of some processing.

"While I make dinner, why don't you grab a journal and sit by the fireplace and just write?"

She didn't want to be alone, so she chose to sit in the family room near us and immerse herself in her writing. She hunched herself over a spiral notebook and scratched away for an hour.

After a hot shower and a backrub at bedtime, she fell into an exhausted sleep. As I settled into the couch with my evening cup of tea my eyes fell on the open notebook that lay on the couch next to me. I shouldn't. This is her private stuff. I should really just close it and put it in her bedroom.

Nope, not happening. I had to know what she was writing. How she managed to come down from her day of high emotions. As a fellow writer.

A
B
C
D
E
F
G
...

I saw the row of capital letters along the left margin. The title was "Bad Words I Know."

A ass
B
C
D dumb
E
F
G
H hate
I idiot
...

Well, that's one way to process a bad day.... I guess we all have our own method.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Oh, Man!


Wait a minute. I've just really come to terms with the fact that it is important for me to recognize my own lessons for what they are and work through them. And, by 'lessons' I mean those biggies in my life - learning over and over again to LET GO, stop taking responsibility for the feelings and reactions and disappointments of others, you know, that stuff.

Cue the crowd groaning noise. Yup, here it comes: now I'm finding out that I'm also in charge of helping my girls realize what their lessons are. That means not only seeing them for what they are, but accepting them and working through them. Yeah, you just try explaining the concept of "this is your challenge for right now" to a six-year old and an eight-year old. Uh huh. This, my friends, is work.

My girls, who have been described to me by strangers, their grandparents, and their teachers as "responsible, polite, respectful" and "hardworking" are having trouble. Big trouble. They are forced to be in contact with another child, significantly younger than them, for half an hour at a time, four days a week. She makes them nuts. She turns them into intolerant, ranting, screaming frustrated balls of volcanic heat. Never before have I seen either one of them scream at another child (besides each other) or accuse them of being "so annOYing." I am astonished at the passion ignited inside my two normally kind children.

To be fair, this little girl is three. A good deal of her speech is difficult to understand. She is constantly interrupting them to interject some fantastic story that we all know is not true. She confuses the girls and calls them by each other's names. She is three. She is never grumpy. She greets us each time with a smile and twinkling eyes, ready to go. She asks a million questions. She is wide-eyed and sees everything as a new wonder. When the girls yell at her she tilts her head to the side and looks at them inquisitively. She doesn't get it. She is being three. She is being who she is. When the girls fight with each other she asks, "Why is her yelling? Why is her so mad?" Beats me.

I have considered the option that my girls are jealous of the attention she commands. I have done my best to include them in everything we do, but honestly that makes things more volatile. My girls have lost privilege after privilege for treating her unkindly. They have endured evening lecture after evening lecture and family meetings where we discuss their behavior around her. They are so distraught that every morning I get the question, "Do we have to take ______________ today?"

I am not willing to terminate this arrangement simply to end the fights. I have decided that this is their lesson. They have to learn to tolerate people they can't stand. They need to find the good in her. They need to approach her differently. I don't know how it will work, but I do know that there is some message here about loving others whether or not they make you nuts. Simply because they are. She projects nothing but light and admiration on to them. Why is it reflected back as frustration and hatred? I don't know, but I'll be damned if I'm letting them get away without finding out.

Cross your fingers that this little girl doesn't get too traumatized in the process.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Whew!


I did it. I finished the first draft of the book.

I printed it out. It's heavy. All that pristine, white paper stacked up, edges aligned, borders straight and even, with my words on it. What an exciting thing to behold.

I don't have any illusions that I won't be revisiting this manuscript over and over again in the editing process, but after four years of interviews and transcripts and research and writing, it's done. Break out the champagne, baby!
Last night Bubba said, "Man, I'll bet it feels strange to think that you don't have to write for a while, huh?
"Um, noooo. Now I'll start on the second one."
Duh.
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