High Note

We’ve almost made it through another year, and everyone is resetting. Everyone is looking at the new year as a new hope, and they’re trying to be positive. This is why I love the new year. I love it more than Christmas, more than any other holiday. Because at the end of the day, people are looking forward to something, whatever that might be for them.

Yes, bad things happened this year. A lot to celebrities that I respected died. Musicians like Leonard Cohen, Prince, and David Bowie. Advocates like Carrie Fischer. And honestly, celebrities I just felt attached too, like Alan Rickman and Gene Wilder. We live in a world where everyone is so visible to us. I am glad that I will have albums to listen to with Leonard’s rich, velvety voice when I feel sad. I am glad that I have Young Frankenstein and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I’m glad that I have Star Wars on Blu-ray. They are permanent reminders.

The new year is a time to take stock, to see where we are as we begin a new year. It feels like so little has gone right this year. However, when I looked back on it, I realized there are things to be proud of or happy for.

  • I graduated from college with my AA degree, after making straight A’s for the school year
  • I am staying on my path and headed for a Bachelor’s degree next
  • My relationship with Toby has improved
  • My husband’s construction company is growing
  • I wrote a book this year! It’s the next installment of The Gray Hat series and I’m excited to see it moving to the editing stage.
  • I had a wonderful talk with my editor regarding my next steps for my career

I’m sure there are more positive things, but it’s more usual to get lost in the day-to-day of managing life; appointments, maintenance, responsibilities. Not everything stands out but I know I’ve had more than a few good days this year.

Which is why it’s good to take a moment and look back and appreciate the good.

Recovery

After the stumbling block that was 11/8, I spent a lot of time thinking. The future was shaping up a bit differently than I’d first imagined it, and it took a while to figure out how to proceed. What made things more difficult is that I’m at the crux of graduating with my Associates and moving up to University for my Bachelors.

I had to ask myself, do I still want to go for the English degree? Do I still want to go to school? Would it be better to take my Associates and run with it?

It’s good to examine your goals and make sure they are still what you want, but having to think that the kind of degree you’ll get might not matter, that was hard going. I had to have serious conversations with myself, determining what course of action would be best not just for me, but for my family.

At the end of the day I’m going to have a four-year degree, and that’s going to help me get a better job. The kind of degree I’m going to get, however, is how I’m chasing my dream. I want my son to see that going after your dream is not always easy going, but that you can’t give up.

“You can’t give up” is such an important message right now. There is a lot of negativity, and a lot of hate crimes occurring. People following the President-Elect who believe they’ve been given permission to instigate these crimes, and are taking full advantage of the situation. Being silent feeds their drive. Acquiescing to their actions gives them permission to take it another step further, and another. Giving up is high on many people’s minds, but giving up is the worst thing to do.

Despite wanting to give up, despite thinking that it would make things easier, I encourage everyone to reach into themselves and not give up. There are people who will, and they may rejoin the fight later, but we need everyone right now to keep fighting. It sounds small, but even making it out of bed in the morning is a victory. Not everyone can do that right now, so if you’re vertical with coffee in hand, you’re 100% more successful than some. If you’re out making connections and building community, you’re aces. These are small things, like hanging out at a coffee shop and saying hi, but these are the things that matter, maybe not in the moment but later.

I know it’s a small thing to decide to stay in school, to get an English degree. At the end of the day I’m just one person. I know it’s a small thing to show my son what it’s like to chase a dream. My son, and his classmates and friends, are the future. They’re part of a much bigger future which they are unaware of yet. They need to know what it’s like to dream. It’s a small lesson, but it’s the biggest lesson I can think of.

New Education

I went on a field trip today with my class.

The class is Natural Disasters. We have been dealing with different topics – this week’s is flooding. An appropriate topic for the Pacific Northwest and one that can be easily explored, unlike earthquakes or volcanoes.

We weren’t just casual observers on this trip. This trip required active participation, which I’ve heard is standard for field trips, but I had never seen it. In my mind, field trips are where the boys and girls would split up into mean-spirited little groups and make snide commentary until the trip was over.

It is possible that this happened, but if it did, I didn’t see it. The age group is older, although the vast majority of my classmates are sitting between eighteen and twenty. What I saw were students paying attention to their teacher and trying to fulfil the requirement of the class.

We went to Whatcom Falls Park. The river is swelled right now due to a lot of rain coming in over the past week. Fortunately for us there was a rain break.  We stood on bridges and tried to measure the river’s speed, depth and width with a string, a rock and some leaves.

I felt like I was on The Amazing Race. We struck out to the first bridge, away from the teacher. I got distracted by a leaf that was suspended by some errant cobweb, and took a picture of it while the other team sailed past us. We caught up to them, but I felt like we were behind on the challenge. The other team would get their clue before us!

Our team worked together well. I found a rock to tie to the string to plumb the depth of the river. My other two teammates got leaves and a stopwatch and started doing time tests. The other team seemed to be struggling, although I wasn’t paying enough attention to know why. They didn’t ask for our help, and soon enough we had our data and were ready to go.

The leaf was still hanging by the same thread when we came back through.

This isn’t the first instance where I’ve been surprised by the quality of group work in my class. In my Communications class, we had to each look at a picture. Then using only words to describe the picture, line up in the order the pictures went in. My heart went to my throat thinking about talking to twenty some kids that I barely knew. I appeared to be the only one with this concern. The kids in the class wandered around like this was an everyday occurrence, with self-confidence and determination to get the job done. To my surprise we did it, too.

Education would come a long way since I’ve been in school the first time, but experiencing those changes first hand leaves me feeling a bit out of place. My ingrained habits are outdated. I’m no longer a bullied girl playing defense just to get through class, which is wonderful, but a little disorienting. It’s taking time to develop these new skills. In the long run though, developing these new skills underscore how much this new education is worth.

Gotta Catch ’em All

Summer has gotten out of hand. Trying to balance all the things that need to be done with all of Toby’s summer school responsibilities and my school work has made everything into a short, sharp series of vignettes. It’s time to do this now, okay after that it’s time to do this!

The one thing that has made everything more bearable is PokemonGo. My son loves Pokemon, we’ve been catching them all on Netflix for at least the last two years if not longer. Ash Ketchum, the protagonist, is 10 years old, a perfect role model for Toby. Honestly, the kid is a great role model. He is kind to animals (Pokemon but you get it), he has a never give up attitude, he always shows good sportsmanship whether he wins or loses, and he always gives other kids a chance to be friends.

Toby loves video games, and sometimes getting him interested in leaving the house is a challenge. PokemonGo has been a great way to entice him out to take walks. I let him use my phone, and that of course means I play overwatch, making sure that he doesn’t head out into the street or in front of other people on the trails or wherever we end up going.

What’s even more fun is my husband is also playing along. If Toby was hard to get out of the house, Luke was impossible, so this game has managed to get everyone out and about. We’ve talked to more people in the last week than we have ever, random strangers also looking at their phones and talking about Wheedles and Pidgeys.

In the past week I’ve spent more time with my friend Allie than I have in months. I’ve played a game with Toby, teaching him to pass turns and such. I’ve learned more about Pokemon than I think was possible. I’ve also walked miles of my city’s prettiest parks.

What gets me is how this game has brought my family together. Nights in the past were spent on individual devices, with the TV on in the background as we all zoned out and ignored it. I hated what was happening but I could not find a way to engage my husband and son. I appreciate that video games are their thing and not mine, but it was getting silly. Now we’re talking about Pokemon nights and making plans to go out to the parks two or three times a week.

This by itself has made my summer much better.

I am also writing my stories and books. I am working on publishing a short story through our press, Barely Salvageable. We have Hot Mess Volume 2 in the works. I’m also writing a story to try to get published through another publisher, but that’s more of a ‘let’s cross our fingers and hope’ situation. I haven’t forgotten about my novel, by the way. It’s just moving at a slower pace because I’m learning more about my writing process and that’s taking time.

I wish summer was more of a, ‘sit down and write’ time for me, but being a mother and a student and a wife, summer is more like the crazy-go-round that you can’t step off. It’s like the holidays, except that it’s three months long. So it just becomes a matter of dive in and swim, because there’s nothing else you can do.

Cruel Summer

Now that I’m back from vacation, summer has truly set in. Toby is in summer school, so we still have a modicum of schedule to keep the house in order, but it only takes us so far. We’re left with swaths of afternoon without structure.

There’s a challenge being a parent of an only child, and that is your child looks to you not only as a parent, but as a playmate. I would like to say that Toby has plenty of friends, but they are all friends during the school year. The one friend we had outside of school had to move to Seattle, which has been difficult to cope with. I’ve had to step it up.

Today I wound up in Target for a few essentials, and as I walked through I found a couple of squirt guns. I’ve never been a fan of them, but at this point my boy needs something fun in his life. I brought them home and set them somewhere I knew he’d find them. He homed in on them like a missile. “What are these, Mom?”

I spent the afternoon getting splashed, and listening to my son laugh delightedly as we played chase and doused each other. I didn’t mind the spray. It takes some effort to get back into the kid mentality, to run like mad but not so fast you outdistance your kid. I’d prefer he had friends to play with, but that is a challenge that we didn’t expect. He has lots of little friends, but making friends with the parents has been challenging.

We are going to the Boys and Girls club on Friday, to try a new venue. Hopefully we can make a connection with some families and develop some lasting friendships. I know that I had few friends until I was older, but Toby is so much more outgoing than I ever was as a child. He makes friends; I just have to figure out how to make friends with the parents, at least to some degree.

This blog post was intended to talk about how wonky my schedule has been lately, but apparently that’s not what is highest on my mind. Toby’s lack of summer friendships has overtaken every other concern for the moment. When we get past this, we’ll be able to relax and enjoy our summer.

Walkabout

Recently I flew to Wyoming with my husband and my son to visit my parents. It was an interesting trip, full of local color and events that only happen in the area. We saw bear cubs and mammoth bones and Mt. Rushmore. We drove through canyons and blasted out tunnels in mountainsides.

I love visiting Wyoming because of the local color.

One of the fun things about the trip home was getting to see my Aunt Theresa. She is a lovely person who started caring for the elderly in her 50’s and only recently retired. Now, at 70, she works one day a week at a hotel. One would think she’d retire completely but she is so strong and vital you’d quail at attempting to suggest anything to her. She is strong willed and goes where she pleases, and I admire that quality in her. She’s a lot healthier than many who live in the 70-year-old range. My mother is similar to her in nature and I hope I’m as strong willed and long lived as they are.

It was a tough trip in some ways. When we flew into Gillette, we flew into three storms that had converged into one. The turbulence we caught threw our tiny plane around like a toy, and I honestly fought to make peace with my maker. We flew off into Casper to refuel and let the storms pass. I’m haunted by the feel of the storm’s edge making us dance to its tune.

The trip was lovely. Even when we weren’t traipsing up and down mountains, Gillette has one of the nicest Rec Centers I have ever seen, with a gigantic pool constructed with a current. Dad told me it’s called a “lazy river,” but there’s nothing lazy about it. The current tugs at you constantly, so you either swim or get pulled around the track. There are water obstacles, some falling like rain and others pouring like a fountain. Toby loved the water cannons and played with other little kids, shooting at them with glee as they fired back. I enjoyed our trips there, they were fun and relaxing at the same time.

Of course, the vacation was over before we knew it. Dad loaded up a flash drive full of photos from the trip. Mom showed me the insidious world of Pinterest. Toby didn’t want to leave. He enjoyed chasing cottontails out at Mom and Dad’s property, and playing outside in the rocks Mom has collected in the last several years.

It was a lovely trip, but the end is always heartbreaking. Everyone knows it will be at least a year before we see each other again. The memories are what get us through.

The Curve

I have written this post three times, trying to communicate what I want to say. I’ve rarely had such a challenge with a blog post. So, I’ll say it up front: This post is about the the good from the bad and bad from the good.

For example, over Memorial Day weekend my family needed to go to a funeral. My husband’s step-mom’s mom passed, and while it was sad, it wasn’t unexpected. The family took it well, and had a few weeks between event and memorial to manage their grief.

With that in mind, the weekend went splendidly. My son managed to stay still through a Catholic service, which earned him a medal of honor of a sort. We were proud of him for not melting down. If you’ve never sat through a Catholic service, you may not be aware of the long, strange rituals filled with archaic terms and repetitions. Catholicism takes its rituals very seriously, rarely updating their cannon to be accessible. I remember being a young girl sitting through a Catholic Mass with my grandmother. I got into trouble because I followed her up to take Communion. (I wanted the cracker.) I got into trouble because I didn’t understand what the cracker meant, and the symbolism behind it. To me it was just a cracker. To them, it’s the Body of Christ.

Ritual is soothing to many, and the Catholics faith is nothing if not stable. To a child, there are few things more exasperating than being forced to be quiet and listen to unfamiliar chants for an hour. Toby twisted and turned, flopped and flipped, but he was quiet, and he kept mostly to just his seat. When you’re a child with ADHD, that is a testament to self-control.

What’s more, Toby’s teacher has praised him the last two days because he’s been more focused on his work. When compared to the funeral, going to school just doesn’t seem that terrible anymore. This isn’t simple supposition. This is what my kid has told me when I asked him what caused him to behave better. Apparently the experience of the service showed him that were in fact worse things than school. I didn’t imagine something good coming out of sitting through a Catholic funeral. It seems as though allowing Toby to experience first hand this tough thing had the unexpected benefit of giving him something for comparison.

This is going to stay with me. I am a protective mother, I admit it. I often try to protect Toby from experiences I think he won’t like. I see now that what I’m doing is narrowing his field of experience, which isn’t teaching him anything. I’m not going to throw him out into the street and expect him to fend for himself, but it definitely is an argument for trying things for other reasons than just suiting my son’s tastes.

Not long after we got back, I got into an online conversation with a girlfriend of mine who is also attending school. She is beginning to see the downside of being as talented as she is. My girlfriend is marvelous, she’s got a good head on her shoulders and has a business sense that is getting her far with her teachers at her school. Quite recently she endured some thinly veiled teasing that made her feel awkward and uncomfortable. It made her quite upset.

I chimed in with solidarity in the online conversation, but mentally I turned this over in my mind. I realized why she was so upset. In part, it was because being the best in the class is supposed to be a good thing. There aren’t supposed to be any downsides to earning the highest place through hard work and talent. She had worked hard to get where she was, so why wasn’t she appreciated?

I never thought about it. People don’t warn you that being at the top has downsides. Everyone wants to get to the top so bad, I’m not sure anyone would listen if they did. When you make it to the top, however, those who want to be where you are have no incentive to treat you with respect. They will do everything in their power to shake you loose, and not lose a night of sleep doing it. It made me sad to realize this was something that would happen. After all, good things should be all good, right?

Everything in life is a little bit good and a little bit bad. Some things are very good, some things are very bad, but typically there isn’t much that you can’t find a little bit of the other. When it’s good, though, we expect it to be all good, all the time, with no interruptions. Why wouldn’t we?

Both of these lessons were worth learning, and have given me a lot to think about. I’m a fan of trying to make things as simple as possible to keep them efficient, but recently I’ve learned that efficiency may not be the most useful human trait. Sometimes we have to remember that it’s more complicated than we think it is.