It Is What It Is

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Photo by Sam UL, via Flickr

When I was a kid, I thought it would be great to be a grownup, because grownups got to do whatever they wanted to do, whenever they wanted to do it. Now don’t laugh, I know you all thought it too.

We all know better now. As adults, we get to direct the big picture more than we did as kids. Sometimes we even get to direct the little things. But I don’t think there’s a single part of life that you get to spend doing just what you’d like. There are always limitations and obstacles, and that’s more true in adulthood because there are so many more responsibilities. You do what you can, when you can, and you either make peace with it or you become, as my kids have taken to saying with great giggles, “Mr. Grumpy Pants.”

These days I find myself constantly having to regroup, redirect and re-organize my plans and expectations. I tell myself again and again, “It is what it is.” This summer, I took a hiatus from writing magazine features. Last summer I had myself tied in knots, trying to juggle four kids at home with the work, and I didn’t want to repeat that experience. Besides, I figured without the deadlines, I could finish my novel.

As you might imagine, it didn’t work out that way. As day after day passed, it became a mantra: It is what it is. I ratcheted my expectations downward, and didn’t meet them. Ratcheted them down again, and missed them again. We had no access to respite, and every time I had a sitter there were errands that had to be done. Kids bickered. Kids whined. I abandoned my work time again and again to break up their routine, trying to break the cycle of fighting and bad attitudes, and the attitudes retrenched. It is what it is. Face it and go on.

Someone–I don’t remember who, but it stuck with me–recently expressed how much they hate that phrase. I puzzled over this for a while, and I think perhaps the reason is the human need for control. This phrase, with its overtones of resignation, is an acknowledgment and acceptance of our lack of control. None of us like to be reminded that we don’t have a choice most of the time.

Actually, that’s not true. We do have a choice. The choice is to gnash our teeth and fight the inevitable, or to accept with some semblance of grace what cannot be changed, and look for an alternate solution.

To me, that’s what this mantra encapsulates. There’s an awful lot about my life that I can’t change. I can’t make Nicholas have a better attitude. I can’t stop Michael from wailing every time he doesn’t get his way (which is all the time, because he inevitably wants what someone else already has.) I can’t change the brutal school dropoff/pickup schedule on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I can’t change the fact that Julianna needs hands-on help with all her homework.

The choices we’ve made were made for good reasons. If they come with side effects, well, I have to deal with it. Raging at the inevitable is just a recipe for misery. Multiple mother-writers have confirmed recently that this is absolutely, 100%, the hardest stage for juggling child-work responsibilities. It is what it is, and I will just keep doing the best I can with the time I have.

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In Which I Am Having A Serious Case of Adolescent Identity Crisis

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This week in novel writing I have been tackling the dreaded Query and Short Pitch. For those who are not initiated into this most stress-inducing of rites, let me enlighten you. Or not. Everyone has a different idea of what works, and it is the ultimate game of “read the teacher’s mind,” trying to figure out whose solution will actually work. I have lost all confidence in my ability to write. I am convinced that I will never, ever, ever get my novel published, and in fact the only reason I get any freelance writing gigs is because I got lucky and now about three editors know I can hit a deadline.

In other words, I’m having a Don Music moment.

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Drama

Drama (Photo credit: sniggie)

This is ridiculous, of course, but recognizing excess drama for what it is doesn’t banish it, because the central problem remains: I can’t figure out how to distill my story into something that sets it apart from the slush pile. Despite the drama, I do believe in both the story and the writing…but how do I find the words that will get somebody to look at it? I am in desperate need of inSpiration. Please pray for me.

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You know how bad I’ve got the pubescent self-loathing bug? Right now I don’t even believe I have anything to say on my blog that anybody would want to read.

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So I think I’ll blog at least once, and maybe twice a week, on Down syndrome topics during the month of October, which is DS awareness month.

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Probably what I need is a few days’ distance from the book. And the timing on that is good, because I have quite a few nonfiction deadlines looming. But the way I’m feeling right now I’m more likely to turn a couple days’ space into a giant mental block. I am in serious danger of writing paralysis.

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my FLUTE

my FLUTE (Photo credit: ken2754@Yokohama)

Okay, way too much navel gazing. Practice update: In the month of September I have practiced 16 days out of 26, for a total of 6 1/2 hours. I still shake my head when I think of spending three hours a day in a practice room, but I suppose that’s not bad, and I definitely feel my chops returning. The music is coming along nicely, too, and aside from the endurance question I’m relatively confident that I’ll be ready come spring. Now if only I could find an accompanist.

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Panera Bread

To end on a positive note, I’ve been under 130 pounds ever since my horrible virus two weeks ago. And that’s a darned good thing, because Panera has pumpkin bagels and cherry vanilla bagels right now, and my world is a richer place for it…both in the experience and the calories.

If you made it through this self indulgent drama fest, congratulations. You win a prize, or something. Or not. :/

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes about parenting fails, Evernote socks, and fruitcake (again)

Fiction: Peaches and Bread

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“What d’you wanna be when you grow up?” asked Steve.

“What kinda question is that?” responded Malachi. “I’m gonna be a machinist like my dad. Just like you. Right?”

Steve didn’t answer. He lay on the soft grass in the shade of a peach tree, his hands behind his head, and stared up at the sky. It was a perfect day: cool, with little whorls of warmth twisting up from the earth and down from the late fruit, as if summer and fall were flirting with each other. All the windows along Sycamore Street were open, and beside Sam’s house, the mouth-watering smell of baking bread made the boys’ stomachs rumble.

“Why, what you wanna do?” Malachi said.

Before Sam could answer, his little brother’s head emerged from the anthill he’d been examining. “The ants are looking for big bugs to fight the grasshoppers,” Benji said.

They ignored him. Everybody ignored Benji, because he never shut up. “I want to fly planes. Maybe the space shuttle,” Sam said.

“Whaaa? There’s no more space shuttles, genius. They’s all in museums now.”

“Well, whatever comes next, then.”

“Is blue a color?”

Sam sighed. “Yes, Benji.”

“Is orange a color?”

“You know what your problem is?” Malachi grabbed another peach from the pile beside him. “You gotta learn to be satisfied with what you got. Look at this. Nice shady spot to sit, all the peaches we can eat, and all in your back yard.” He tossed a peach.

Sam bit into the soft flesh. The juice ran down his fingers, sticking them together. He and Malachi had been friends since they were knee high to a chihuaua, but on the cusp of high school, there was no denying they just weren’t headed the same direction anymore. “So that’s enough for you? You don’t want something more?”

“Like what?” Malachi tossed the pit and wiped his fingers on the grass, then sniffed the air. “Matter of fact, I do. I’m thinkin’ a piece of that bread sounds like just the thing.”

Benji pounded on Malachi’s arm. “Can I tell you a joke?”

“Sure, Benji.”

“What if a person went down the drain?”

Sam rolled his eyes. “I’m just saying,” he said, “there’s gotta be more to life than doing exactly what our dads did. Haven’t you ever wondered what’s out there?”

“Benji bow-wow!”

Malachi laughed and knuckled Benji’s head. Benji giggled and ran off singing his ABCs “rock star style,” which meant lots of air guitar and no pitch at all.

“Hey!”

The boys scrambled up as Mr. Olivet, with his shock of wild hair that always seemed to be running away from his craggy features, stalked across the lawn toward them. “Yeah, you, ya little punks. Who told you you could sit under my tree and eat my peaches? Get outta here! You’re lucky I don’t call the cops!”

Sam grabbed Benji and dragged him toward home, away from the heady smell of late-season peaches and fresh bread and back to the house that smelled of stale smoke and leftover Chinese takeout.

Back. But not for good.

Write at the Merge Week 29

A Fry Pan Can Be A Holy Thing

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Over the weekend we had a memorial service for my grandmother. When it was all over, the family went to her apartment and looked through her things. Each of us was able to go home with items that belonged once to her. And I’m reminded of the wisdom of a faith that manifests the spiritual, the metaphysical, through the physical.

Because the gloves she wore to church remain unstained, covering hands that, like hers, have seen their fair share of filth in the name of love.

Grandma's things 002

Because the love she baked into white bread (key ingredient: bacon grease) and zucchini bread lingers in these battered, beaten aluminum pans that will now feed another rambunctious family of six.

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Because the collection of exquisitely sculpted blessed palms, which beautified her bedroom shrine, now beautifies our kitchen.

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Because a canister of sugar will be used or shuffled daily in the preparation of the family’s favorite foods.

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Because when I spend a car trip praying on the rosary she prayed before Mass every Sunday (well, one of the rosaries), I will remember the countless prayers she sent up on behalf of her crazy granddaughter who tries to do too much. (The rosary from Lourdes, given to me by my other grandmother, resides in the van for the same purpose.)

Grandma's rosary

And because even a cast iron skillet becomes a reminder of holiness when it is used by a person who, over the course of a life lasting nearly a century, no doubt spent as many moments praying God grand me patience! while using it as I do.Grandma's things 007

The things themselves aren’t holy, but they are a tangible reminder of a woman who was. And by having them and using them, she remains with me, in some ways even more closely than in life. Every time I see or touch or use these objects, it is a reminder of a truth greater than food or car trips or fashion. This is why we reverence objects that belonged to or touched a saint, why we keep them in places of honor and pray in front of them. Not out of some creepy or unholy idolatry, but because we experience God through our bodies, and even to look on a relic is a way to connect with someone who achieved what we aspire to. A way to make it more real and thus, more attainable. Which is the whole point of the spiritual journey.

Blogging, privacy issues, and a Mommy Blogger

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Photo by ItzaFineDay, via Flickr

The great thing about the online community is the way you can draw on the experiences of a much wider variety of people than ordinary life allows. You can have a conversation with a number of people at the same time, and everyone’s experiences and perspectives (via comment box) enrich each other.

Yet sooner or later, I would imagine every “mommy” blogger has to confront the possibility that her kids are reaching the age where it’s no longer acceptable to parade their every word, antic, and struggle in front of the world.

I’m really starting to wrestle with this now with Alex. Up to now, he’s always been very excited about being featured on Mommy’s blog. But a few months ago, he surprised me by saying, “Don’t put that on the blog!” It was the first hint that it’s time to start thinking more carefully about what I share of his life. His peers don’t read my blog, but some of their parents might, and not everything is meant for the world to know.

I try to be pretty careful about what I reveal about the lives of others. But I’m really struggling with the line in my own household. What you guys like to read is my reflections on children and family and parenting, and it’s hard to do that without sharing the stories that prompt those recollections. Plus, my blog has replaced the journals I have kept from 6th grade on. I sometimes miss that format–the format where I could use as many exclamation points and tell as many secrets as I wanted, be as blunt and frank as I needed to be. There was something very therapeutic in that process, and that’s something I can’t do in a public forum. But typing is so very much faster than longhand, and it feels like I’m hitting two targets by using the blog format.

You see, I began blogging because every author is supposed to have a “platform.” But I soon realized that nobody wants to know my ruminations on writing. And frankly, most of the time I’m not all that interested in writing about writing. What I learned I was good at was taking the moments of daily life and putting them into words that make them at least somewhat universal.  Which brings me back to my opening: the thing I love about the online world is the way it’s possible to glean deep insights from people I’ve never met, and the possibility of offering insights to others who might never meet me. We can learn from each other. Help each other through the struggles we all face. I think that’s really profound.

In order to accomplish this, however, we have to be willing to share–not to set up “privacy” as an idol. There are many times in the human experience when we iolate ourselves from the very people who can help us, simply because we’re afraid of being vulnerable, of being judged. That vulnerability is what frees us.

But where is the line? There’s little, if anything, about my life that only involves me. Any time I have an experience to relate and insights to share as a result, it’s because I interacted with someone else. I can strip identifying details, but are those people not still going to recognize the encounters and feel exploited? I wrote a post last week that never went public for that very reason: it felt exploitive, even though it was something that profoundly affected me for several days.

Most important of all is that line between too much and not enough where my family is concerned. It’s not my place to parade details of an adolescent’s struggles. And yet my own journey as a woman, a mother, and a child of God is deeply impacted by those details. How do I share my story without betraying the trust of those most important to me?

I’d love to hear thoughts from those who have wrestled with this already.

7 Quick Takes

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Smoke detector

Smoke detector (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s just nothing quite like being awakened at 3a.m. by every smoke detector in the house going off. EEE–EEE—EEEEEEEEEEEE. EEE–EEE—EEEEEEEEEEE…every one of them is high-pitched, but about a quarter tone off the others. Just imagine. They’re all linked, so no matter where you are in the house you’ll wake up. That’s good, except that they go off on average once a year, and it’s always because one of them has a low battery or the detector itself has gone bad. And what’s up with it ALWAYS HAPPENING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT? Don’t smoke detectors ever go bad in daylight?????

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Some days, I can see the light at the end of the small childhood tunnel. Last night was one of those nights. I gave the kids jobs…and they did them! Even Julianna, who pulled all the chairs out of the kitchen in preparation for mopping without having to be re-prompted a single time. (Cue angelic chorus.)

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Of course, there are hazards to so much unaccustomed productivity. Michael came out of the bathtub and followed me downstairs, right onto the floor Alex had just finished mopping. He immediately and spectacularly wiped out, twenty-six pounds of naked toddler splayed across the Pergo. And he didn’t learn his lesson, either. We counted three full-body slides before Christian and Julianna left for adaptive swim…and two more afterward. I took Alex out onto the deck to cut his hair. Michael, who no longer trusted the surface of the earth to support him, stood (naked) at the edge of the carpeting and watched me the whole time, wailing.

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Photo by Kugel, via Flickr

Last week, Margaret at Felice mi fa talked about saving her voice. It was like a billboard: KATE! PAY ATTENTION! I too depend on my voice for some part of my livelihood, and I have felt well below my prime for quite a while. Some of it is seasonal but I can’t blame everything on the weather. I have to use my voice so darned much. I’m trying to manage a household with four kids. I have to tell each child each task at least three, and often five times. You do the math. I am issuing instructions twenty times over the course of getting kids into bed, for instance.

And then there’s the shouting. No one hears me unless I shout. They really don’t. In the past few years I’ve learned the art of the bellow–but there’s a price.

Sunday morning my voice was so stiff that I struggled to back up our lone soprano on her descants. I thought, Something has got to change. If my voice is behaving this way at thirty-nine, I won’t be singing at all at fifty-five.

So when we got home, I didn’t let anyone out of the van until they were all looking at me, and I said, “There will be no more shouting. If I have to shout to get you to respond, you will lose privileges. Do you understand?”

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So how’s that working out for me, you ask? Surprisingly well. As with most things, when Mom prioritizes it, more is possible than she thought. I’ve had to accept that things don’t happen as quickly. But I’ve learned that the temper and the bellow feed each other. In any case, I made it until Thursday night without a true shout. My voice still feels not great, but undoubtedly better than it would if I was abusing it.

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Can I get anyone to join me to start a campaign to do away with the words “friendly reminder”? I can’t tell you how many “friendly reminders” I’m getting via email blast and backpack notes lately, and they never…EVER…feel “friendly.” In fact, they feel quite the opposite. I move that we strike the phrase from the English language and replace it with the honest truth: “Listen up, you losers! If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times! (FILL IN THE BLANK!)”

Don’t you think people would be more likely to remember that way? 🙂

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We’ve been watching the developments in Colorado with pained fascination and sympathy, considering it’s all going down right where we spent one of the best weeks of our lives, only two months ago.

Fun City Exhibit A: The Slide

June 2013

There hasn’t been much talk about the long-term drought that has been troubling that area for the last several years. I keep praying that at least this weather event will fill the water tables and end the drought in one of the most beautiful areas on Earth. That the water doesn’t just run off. That at least that one good could come of it.

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes about personality theme songs, Fall, fruitcake, and cats in boxes

Cars and Vans And Things That Go

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Cover of "Cars and Trucks and Things That...

Cover via Amazon

When Alex was a baby, the time I felt most secure in my role as a mother (outside of nursing) was bath time. At bath time, I knew what I was supposed to do. There was a structure to it, and he loved it, so I felt confident that I was seeing to both his physical and his developmental needs.

The rest of the time I was a little nervous. What exactly does one do with a baby all day? What if I didn’t read enough, or play enough? Or read the wrong things or played the wrong things? What if I didn’t give him enough tummy time? At bath time, at least, I knew I was being a good mom.

For some reason I thought of this yesterday as I was chauffeuring. 8:15–preschool dropoff. 9–to Jazzercise. 10–back home for morning nap. 1–preschool pickup. 3:15–kids in the van in anticipation of Julianna’s arrival on the bus. 3:30–Julianna off the bus and into the van. 3:45–to the orthotist to pick up her repaired shoe inserts. 4–pick up Alex at after care. 4:15–piano lesson. 4:45–head home. 6:30–head out with Alex and Julianna to EEE open house. 7:20–head for adaptive swim. 7:40: take Alex home for bed, get the boys ready for bed. 8:15–pick up Julianna and finally head home for the night.

Yesterday was the worst day yet this year, but I’m sure there are many days like it to come. I spent the whole day with an undercurrent of anxiety bubbling in my chest, a sense of hurry hurry hurry. The only time it eased at all was when I was in the car. And although I wouldn’t say I had exactly the same sense of purpose that I used to have at bath time, I couldn’t help noting the parallel. Because when I was driving from point A to point B, I knew I was doing exactly what had to be done.

Taxi time is a necessary evil that everybody tolerates, but nobody really enjoys. With the exception of crossing through the construction zones. That makes every trip worthwhile, even for me. Luckily, our city is in the midst of a huge highway-intersection project, which we have to go through every day. (Ahem. Did I just say “luckily”?)

This is a sign of crossing into a new stage in our family. In the nursing era this sort of schedule would have been enough to cause a nervous breakdown; now that all the kids can walk themselves to the car and “snack” means graham cracker instead of latch time, one set of complications has been cleared away. And just in time, too.

I tend to compare everything about my life to the way it was when I was a child. Realistically this is a poor comparison, because the children in my family were more spread out in age and we all went to the same school, which offered bus service for the first few years. Nonetheless, I can’t help feeling that we spend a lot more time in the car than I did when I was a child. And it’s very tempting to pass judgment on myself for that. To feel like we’re overcommitted and that we’re not giving our family what it deserves.

But the more I think about it, the more I remember one parent or another heading off to MRL or Farm Bureau or road district or prayer group. And the more I think about it, I realize that my sisters and I had piano and gymnastics and cheerleading and basketball and music group at church. When you have four kids, you’re going to have a lot going on. When one of them has a disability that requires her to attend a different school, there’s going to be scheduling headaches. That’s the way it is, simply part of this season of life. No sense griping or feeling inadequate over it.