Monday, October 29, 2012

This is not my street

We are safe and sound and have baked whole wheat bread and a raspberry custard tart. This picture is from a friend several miles south of us. I know that elsewhere in the country "several miles" seems like nothing, but here the whole island is only 12 miles long.

This is not where we live, either:
Source: NBC New York
But we do have some friends who live across the street from the beach there, who chose not to evacuate. 

I did not get a picture of the big flashes of colored light across the river. They would flare for a minute and then go dark. We finally figured out that they were the transformers blowing on some of the big apartment buildings. It was impressive. They lit up the whole sky a mile away.

We are on high rocky ground. We still have power, but the lights flicker occasionally. The wind is whistling, though not nearly as loudly as usual, because the storm is coming from the east tonight instead of the west.

Time for bed.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

15 things I know about parenting a difficult child

  1. You can't always make it better, but you can always make it worse.
  2. Progress is measured relative to where you were, not relative to where others are.
  3. What people think only matters if it helps you become a better parent.
  4. Reinforcing the positive works way better than punishing the negative.
  5. When you're overwhelmed, clean the bathroom. 
  6. Beating yourself up over your failures is the same as letting someone else beat you up. 
  7. When your child pushes your buttons, you need to take a good look at your buttons.
  8. A daily snuggle helps, if you keep your mouth shut.
  9. Consistently working on one behavior is better than trying to make progress on several fronts at once.  
  10. Despair over what might happen in the future detracts from the need to parent in the present.
  11. Yes, you are working harder than other mothers.
  12. It's okay to say that awful thought, but not where your child will hear it.
  13. You must, must, must put on your own oxygen mask first.
  14. It's worse to be the disliked, flawed, not-understood, yelled-at child than to be the frustrated adult.
  15. We are stronger than we think.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Speaking of...

My dear friend Kate is in town this weekend, and we met up yesterday to have lunch and go to a museum. We never got to the museum. I mean, we only had four hours, and by the time we were done talking and walking there was no time for art.

You would like Kate. One of my fantasies in life is to have a monthly salon in which I invite three or four women I like (but who don't know each other) to dinner.  I'm blessed to know a lot of interesting women, people with disparate backgrounds and ideas, and I think it would be extremely wonderful to bring them together.

*        *         *         *

Speaking of interesting women, I went to a PTA fundraising committee meeting at Snuggler's school on Wednesday. I really, really like meeting people from completely different backgrounds who think in ways I haven't thought of and who have a bedrock assumption that we're all working together.

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Speaking of Snuggler's school, thanks to my daughter's longstanding interest in providing clean water for kids in Africa, a woman from WaterAid Uganda is coming to talk to the 6th grade classes next week. WaterAid has some good, free educational materials you can use with your kids, and they also have a way to set up a personal fundraising page. Snuggler set up a page in first grade and raised over $1500 to build wells.

*        *         *         *

Speaking of water, my kids have been on a milk-drinking spree, making milkshakes and smoothies and Ovaltine. Usually we limit milk to a glass or two a day, and the rest of the time we drink waster. Tap water. It's free, you know. When you're going through a gallon or more of milk a day, you quickly notice that milk is not free.

Part of the milk thing is my fault, because I obsess over protein. Snuggler takes medicine that makes food distasteful to her, which means she generally doesn't eat between 7:30 am (when she takes the meds) and 4pm (when she walks in the door). This creates a food challenge, since low blood sugar = banshee, and she can't think clearly enough to know she is hungry. So I cram in the protein at breakfast and hand her something with protein (usually a smoothie or something sweet with extra protein added) as soon as she walks in the door from school.

It's occurred to me that people who live through famines must be really, really cranky with each other a lot of the time.

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Speaking of milk, the other reason to limit milk intake for the kids is so that when I get up there is still some milk for my coffee.


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Speaking of things to keep you awake and happy, Snuggler and Little Guy open in Stuart Little tonight. Snuggler is Snowbell the cat. Little Guy is the snotty rich kid at the sailboat pond.

Somewhat miraculously, Snuggler's speech impediment has improved dramatically this year. After all the non-progress with speech therapy, the thing that seems to have worked is improving core body strength. Does that make sense? Yes, in a way I think it does. Because when her core body is strong and coordinated, the peripheral things (like keeping her jaw from sliding around when she speaks!) fall into place.

If you're around and want to see the show, their cast runs today at 7pm, next Saturday at 3pm, and Sunday the 28th at 4pm. Email me for details.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Problem solving (or not)

I was at the dental clinic last week, willing myself not to be aggravated by the long wait for the dentist (aggravation is a choice, though habit makes it feel it isn't), so I lay back on the examination chair and closed my eyes and listened to myself breathe. I've recently discovered that the best way to breathe for relaxation is to lie on my stomach on the floor, since it forces my body to use stomach breathing. But since I couldn't lie on the floor of the clinic without creating a non-restful scene, I did what I could. (I also find that when I'm trying to talk sense into myself it really helps to close my eyes. I hear my calm voice better that way. Just sayin'.)

I promptly fell asleep. Or I fell almost-asleep; it didn't really matter, because I'd slept only four hours the night before, and any rest was better than nothing. You know how it is: even when you're no longer a preschooler, life always looks better after a nap. I take'em when I can.

No sooner had I drifted off than the dentist arrived. He had what he thought was bad news, but since he'd told it to me the week before I did some more deep breathing, did some more waiting, and was eventually told to go for one of those panoramic x-rays, as prep for oral surgery. (The surgery, which was Monday, was successful but painful.)

While I was waiting for the x-ray I thought, You will always do something. This was comforting. You see, when I feel panicky or on the edge of despair the real issue often isn't whatever it is I'm worried about. The real issue is that my head is screaming I don't know what to do! It took me a number of years to figure out that what panics me is not knowing what to do. It makes me feel trapped, as if there's a cliff mere inches away and a tiger is approaching.

But not knowing what to do is usually not deadly. And most of the difficulties that come my way are not tigers. I do face difficult and unpleasant situations which involve major unknowns and logistical impossibilities; there is no certainty that things will work out; I have limited time and energy and money. And yet none of that means that if I tumble off what feels like a cliff, I will tumble into helpless oblivion. I am not helpless. And unpleasant change (or enduring unpleasant circumstances) does not equal oblivion... unless I let it.

The response to I don't know what to do! is to remind myself that no matter what happens, I will do something. Even if I don't currently know what that something is.

*        *        *         *

If I were to ask people to provide three words that describe me, I would guess (I could be wrong) that they would say I am resourceful and resilient and well-grounded. I am a practical person, a problem solver. I have taught myself to assume one can make progress on almost anything.

That attitude works well 99% of the time, maybe more. But once in a while I encounter a problem that doesn't have a solution. I try plan A, then B, then C, and then I head on to D-E-F and G-H-I and so on. I tend to be a little slow on the uptake when it comes to problems that can't be solved.

When I finally admit that I'm dealing with an unsolvable (or something for which progress is so glacial as to have the appearance of being unsolvable), I have one of two reactions. The first is to shrug and say, "Eh -- can't be solved! Oh well!" That's my go-to response when I'm dealing with logistics or planning.

My other response is an aghast, "But I can't live with that!" followed by several rounds of running in increasingly panicky mental circles. Eventually I realize I can't sustain that level of hysteria (what I really can't do is live in a state of persistent anxiety) and I correct my thoughts. This often requires an addendum to my recurrent But I can't live with that! thought: I can't live with that with my current mindset.

There are other options besides letting something make me crazy.

There are other ways to respond.

There are other possibilities for how to look at a situation.

to be continued....

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Hard times

There are people in my life who keep me sane. They are not the people you'd expect: the tiny Peruvian woman in her dark skirt and bowler hat, who appears briskly on recycling days and skims the trash for bottles; the ancient lady with her sheitel askew, who shuffles to the grocery store so bent over her walker that she can see only the sidewalk; the weary mom patiently taking her physically and mentally disabled adult son out for a walk.

I've never spoken to any of these people. I smile at them when our paths pass, nodding my appreciation of their existence, being neighborly without being intrusive.

Life is richer when you acknowledge that the world consists of more than your own difficulties. For me it's not a "there but for the grace of God go I" kind of thing. It's more like, "Here by the grace of God go I, and there by the grace of God go you, and yes -- there are hard things in life."

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Recently PBS ran a show based on the book Half the Sky. I didn't watch the show, because I don't have a television that gets reception, and because I'm not sure I really want to see the stories in the book. It's the kind of stuff that sticks with you viscerally: stories of women whose faces were burned with acid, of girls sold into prostitution by their families, of married women shunned and abandoned because they had fistulas.

It's terribly grim stuff, and yet it's a surprisingly heartening book. It's heartening because these women didn't give up -- they survived. And you've kinda gotta think Well if she could get through that, what am I complaining about!

*        *        *          *

Someone wrote to me recently and said, "It seems like something is going on in your life right now that you aren't writing about."

Well yes, there is. There is a big thing, a heavy burden which I've been carrying for a very long time that has never made it into these pages. I do not write about it because I wish to respect another person's privacy. I have a handful of friends who check in on me regularly to offer support. But I have been really struggling in recent months. I am worn out and tired and... it's hard.

For those of you who are praying people, I could use your prayers.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Minor losses

Kids lose things, y'know. And sometimes they don't find them for a while. But since I'm kind of new to this school thing, there are contingencies I didn't think of. And in case you didn't know, stores that carry lunchboxes in August don't sell them in October.

*         *          *          *

Little Guy and I are learning to solder. We have a kit with a small PC board, but so far we've just done practice work putting wires on and such.

We're also building a go-cart from the Dangerous Book for Boys. We spent half an afternoon getting the wheels and axles off of a collapsing granny cart, and Little Guy has successfully sawed up a hardwood bookshelf into pieces for seat, axle covers, etc. We'll probably put it together next week. Once we find the pieces of hardware that have disappeared while preparing the rest.

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Every time I see one of those news articles about how much it costs to raise a child I think they've got it all wrong. The issue isn't diapers and food (unless your boys are teens and then it's ALL food). The real cost is replacing all the stuff that gets mislaid or broken.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

King, the snake

About a decade ago we visited some homeschooling friends who were going to move cross-country, because they needed to divest themselves of some of their menagerie. I was thinking we'd adopt their frilled lizard. It seemed to be a cool kind of pet to have.

When we arrived, we had a change of plans. It turned out that our friends had mail-ordered 500 live crickets (food for the lizard), and the night before one of the boys had knocked the box over. My friend had vacuumed up hundreds, but the apartment still crawled... and hopped... and jumped.

And that is how we acquired a snake, Because although I have never liked snakes, at least they eat frozen mice. And if you knock over a box of frozen mice, they do not jump around the living room.

The snake's name is King, because he is a California king snake. He was officially Big Guy's pet, though I'm not sure Big Guy ever handled him. Once, about three years ago, I succeeded in persuading Big Guy to give King some water. But in his nervousness, Big Guy put the water bowl down on top of King. And snakes, believe it or not, do not like to have heavy water bowls placed on top of them. That was the one and only time King ever bit anyone.

In recent years I have fed King only minimally. He'd grown, you see. When we'd gotten him he was perhaps a foot long; today he's at least three feet. He would consume a rat a week if I supplied it, but that was expensive and only caused further growth. I looked up how long king snakes in the wild could live without food, and based my rat purchases on the minimum. (While I was looking that up I learned that the lifespan of a king snake in captivity can be over 20 years. Yikes!)

For eons I've wanted to hand King off to someone else. Two years ago I was sorely tempted to let King loose in the woods behind our house. I couldn't, of course, because he's never lived in the wild, and this isn't his native habitat, and it would just be wrong. Then this year a new science program opened up in our neighborhood. I spoke to the owner, and she agreed that her place could use a snake for kids to look at. Wahoo! Not only could I offload the snake, but I could feel virtuous about it.

Today some teenagers arrived to transport King to his new home. But before King left, Little Guy wanted to pet him. For the first (and probably last) time ever.

Goodbye, King. My tour of duty as chief snake-charmer here is done.