Rabbit Holes

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The things you find when going down rabbit holes researching a new novel. Novelists are always joking that we hope the FBI doesn’t investigate our browser search history, because we look up some seriously twisted things.

But not entirely twisted. I recently found out there’s an area 13,000 square miles in West Virgina, Virginia and a sliver of Maryland where you can’t use cell phones, because there’s no signal. On purpose. Because there’s a big honking radio telescope there. You’re not supposed to use a microwave oven, either, because it screws up the readings. Is that, or is that not, the Coolest Thing Ever?

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Image via jamiev_03, via Flickr

That led me, eventually, via six or seven major detours, to this:

http://darksitefinder.com/maps/world.html

Zoom in and find where you live. See how much light pollution there is. I thought it got pretty dark if you got away from the two highways that meet in my home town. I was wrong. I also thought where I grew up in the country was pretty darned dark. I zoomed all the way in until I could see the actual road where our farm is, and the creek crossing where we used to walk through the culvert. And it was still in the orange section of the map. This makes me really, really want to get someplace good and dark. I think I have to add that to the bucket list: camp in a Dark Skies location.

(Come to think of it, I’ll bet they don’t have cell service there, either.)

Time is flying—and crawling. I’m very disoriented. We just finished picking strawberries, didn’t we? How can the peaches be in season? Wait—are those the locusts singing outside?

Which reminds me…are they locusts, or are they cicadas, like a friend told me? Let me go look that up. I keep forgetting, because I first ran across it while I was at the public library, and I certainly couldn’t play a dozen recordings while I was there….

Ah…here it is…my own personal song of summer is the Scissor-grinder Cicada.

Incidentally, all but one of the cicada songs on that page are part of my daily summer chorus, here in central Missouri…but this one? This one I did not grow up with on the farm, but moving 30 miles south put me into its zone.

But what was I saying? I fell down another rabbit hole, didn’t I? Oh yes, time is playing tricks on me. How is that I’m still feeling like it’s barely spring, and yet we’ve just stayed up late two nights in a row for fireworks? I keep waiting for it to get dark, and it won’t get dark. Oh yes, it’s summer. But aren’t we still several weeks away from the REALLY long days?

I’ll blame it on the Christmas bulletins. Yes, that’s the problem. I just turned in a set of Christmas bulletin inserts to my editor four days ago. No wonder I’m in a seasonal muddle.

On the other hand, I swear Nicholas grew four inches between the time he got on the bus for the last day of summer school and me picking him up seven hours later. I can’t blame THAT on the Christmas bulletins. (Or can I?)

But what other fun things have I unearthed in my research for this next novel, which is a road trip story? Well, there’s the UFO viewing platform in Colorado.

Incidentally, that web site is a huge rabbit hole. But a fabulous one. I mean, seriously. A corn palace? That’s almost worth a dedicated drive to South Dakota right there.

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Yes. It is decorated with corn. Real corn. Image by Maggie T, via Flickr.

Add that to the bucket list, too: road trip across America, courtesy of Roadside America.

And here’s one: sound effects you can purchase and download, presumably for making videos. I was trying to come up with a visceral image for grief, and so I looked up “mournful sound animal.”

Oh dear. I set out to write a quick blog post in the midst of straightening the kitchen because now I have OT students coming to interview me about what exactly I’m not sure, at eight a.m. tomorrow, and look at the clock. It’s half an hour past my bedtime.

I think I fell down another rabbit hole…

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Image by Miguel Tejada-Flores, via Flickr

 

Stained Glass, A Strong-Willed Breakthrough, and Learning to ride a bike in a week (theoretically)

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It’s been a pretty intense week, with Julianna in iCanBike camp in a nearby town. I’ve had to pull her and Nicholas from school early every day so we could make the half-hour drive to the camp. They begin with this gizmo, which is sort of barrel-shaped, so it’s narrower and less stable than training wheels, but follows the same principle.Arm and Bike 010

Bike Gizmo

As you can see, she does fine with this–her side walker doesn’t even have to hold the pole. But she’s slow. Very, very slow. She’s spent most of the week on this bike.

Step two is a special tandem bike:

Tandem

She’s a stinker. Forced to pedal faster, she mostly put her feet down on the ground, until her instructor finally realized you have to be very firm with her, lest she run right over you. I gave them twenty minutes the first day to try to learn this on their own, and then I intervened, because this is too intense a week for us to waste the time coddling her.

Step three is a real bike, with the pole on the back for support:

Full Deal

 

They had us buy a bike for her, which will be fitted out with one of these poles today. Many of the kids graduated yesterday to riding outside on the parking lot; these kids (and young adults, in some cases) will probably actually achieve the goal of bike independence in one week. Julianna? Not so much. But they don’t want us putting training wheels on her new bike; we are just going to have to run with her whenever she rides, until she either learns or another similar camp is offered. I know: as if we need any more to do…

Speaking of more to do… Nicholas and I butt heads every so often about the horrific state of his drawers and his closet. I lose my cool really quickly trying to teach him over and over again how to hang clothes on hangars and fold the ones that go in the drawers. I takes so darned long, I end up doing half of it myself because I can’t stand the waste of time. Last night, I had a breakthrough. I brought my flute upstairs and I practiced for over an hour while he rehung every piece of clothing in his closet, and dealt with this, the contents of his drawers:

Clothes

(not one of which came out of the drawer folded when he dumped them on the floor for sorting, I might add)

We got rid of about half of it. Fewer clothes= easier cleanup. And while he sorted and folded, I spent forty minutes getting comfortable with my newly-repadded flute while playing Moyse Daily Exercises…

Moyse

….and then some Piazzola Tango Etudes.

Piazzola

“Mom, why are you so loud when you warm up?” Nicholas asked.

“I’m loud when I go up high. That’s just the way it is,” I said, “and tonight, you’re going to have to put up with it.”

Over an hour, I practiced last night. And he did the entire job himself, because I had something to keep me busy in the room where I could supervise. And I didn’t come anywhere near losing my temper, because I had something useful to do with my time while he was learning this important lesson in self-care.

This is a huge breakthrough, people. I’m telling you, this is entering my permanent repertoire of parenting solutions.

Finally, a beautiful picture I took from my position as choir director at church on Wednesday night. I love these windows.

Stained Glass

Default: Happy

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Image by Moyan_Brenn, via Flickr

There are two basic states of being: default happy and default unhappy.

This is the insight that leaped out at me me almost as soon as I started reading Chade-Meng Tan last week. Some people are happy all the time, except when something bad happens to them. Other people are unhappy always, unless something good has just happened.

Christian and I have a running joke about “brooding artists.” I know a few of them, and sometimes I am one. It occurs to me that my whole life, I have been a “default-unhappy” person. Always a little melancholy, always searching for what went wrong, rather than what went right, when thinking back over a day or an event.

This is not who I want to be.

I realized most of the people in the world who drive me crazy do so because they’re never happy. That unhappiness may manifest in different ways–neediness and abrasiveness are the two that come to mind first—but at the heart, it’s basically default-unhappiness.

I don’t want to be that person.

I want to be a person who wakes up in the morning, walks through my days, and goes to bed more or less happy with my life and circumstances. Because that is what we were meant for. We weren’t made for regret and self-flagellation, for scowls and feeling like the victim at every moment. We weren’t meant to carry around a vague anxiety like a backpack we can’t take off (or, since we are a superhero family: like Doc Oc, fused forever to his metal arms).

So I’m embracing this concept of meditation, and finding that it is virtually identical to what I first learned when I was trying to deal with anxiety issues. Then, I called it “letting go.” Now, it is part of every morning I spend sitting in nature, attempting to quiet my mind and be still in the presence of God. It reminds me a lot of what Thomas Merton talked about in Seeds of Contemplation. The difference is that this is more practical in its instructions, and so I feel like I have some guidance, instead of stumbling around trying to find my way on my own.

It’s been a week, and although I’ve still gotten angry with my children, I feel like my anger has been well in my control, and possible for me to let go of quickly afterward, instead of ruling the next several hours. I am pausing frequently during my day to take stock, when I feel that default-unhappy trying to kick in, and release it. And Christian and I are recognizing that there is value in this for our increasingly bickering children, too. So as of last night, we’re making it a part of family bedtime prayer routine.

Will it help the eleven- and seven- year olds get along better, and teach the four-year-old to find his inner empath? Only time will tell. But it seems like a better option than trying to discipline it into them.

Paper Rollercoasters, Bloodcurdling Screams, and Other Quick Takes

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Stair Crawler

Don’t you look innocent at me, boy. I’ve got your number.

You know that moment when you pull into the garage and turn off the van and open your door, and the first thing you hear is That Scream—the harbinger of attack by a mad dog, or being run over?

Wednesday night, following choir practice. Michael. Slammed his finger in the car door. Shredded skin. Black fingernail. All manner of drama that lasted until close to eleven p.m.

Thursday morning? “Nope, it doesn’t hurt anymore,” he said to our inquiries.

(Seriously, kid.)

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So Thursday, we come home from school and I tell him to take his various and sundry art projects inside while I go put the hose on a tree. This requires moving the hose from one side of the house to the other, and as I clear the house, I hear…That Scream.

I drop everything and run full-tilt up to the front of the house and find him standing unharmed beside the car with his arms full of paper projects. “What on earth is wrong?” I say.

“MY MAP!” he wails. “THE WIND BLEW MY MAP AWAY!”

I say again: seriously, kid.

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This is what Alex has been doing in summer school:

Paper Roller Coaster

Incidentally, Alex was giving me the standard tween dramatic sigh about going to EEE (gifted) summer school–especially because it is middle school now and not elementary. At the orientation night, though, they started listing what they were going to do: 1) STEAM bus, with programmable robots and virtual reality goggles; 2) contest to see who can build the best paper “temple” (ancient civilizations class); 3) build your own roller coaster; 4) make a book trailer for your favorite book…

Let’s just say he’s not complaining about having to catch the bus at 6:45 a.m.

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Speaking of summer school, let’s do a little “math”: 3 schools + 2 buses + 1 child’s school twenty minutes from home = Mommy Works At The Park All Morning And Doesn’t Go Home Until Lunchtime Every Day. As hot as it’s been here, though, it wasn’t too bad to sit outside. Shade makes a world of difference. And I revert to the body lessons I learned during the two summers I worked on the farm, when I wore jeans every single day, even when I was on an open tractor raking hay all day. You can get used to being outside in 90 degree heat. It’s really not the end of the world. And having no internet connection? That can be really good for productivity.

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blog wedding daddy danceOne of the things you’re supposed to worry about with kids with Down syndrome is weight. People with DS are susceptible to, well, plumpness. Julianna has never had this problem. Hugging her, you’ve always gotten the sense that if you squeezed too hard, her delicate bones might break. So we’ve always let her chow down on whatever she wanted.

Until now. She’s hardly overweight, but she’s bulked up in the last six months. She feels solid now, and heavy. So we are having to teach her lessons in moderation.

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blog NNicholas has been riding the bus to summer school with Julianna this summer, and reading Star Wars early reader books, and a smidge of C. S. Lewis. But mostly he’s been listening over and over to an audio book of the A to Z mysteries. He really, really likes audio books. The only thing that concerns me about this is whether he’s actually, yanno, reading enough. Like, getting enough practice at nuts and bolts of decoding words and translating them into meaningful thoughts.

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It did not rain here from Memorial Day until June 20th. Not a drop. Monday night we got two inches, and lost a third of the maple tree in front of the house. We doff our hats in mourning.

Wounded Tree

Hello to all the lovelies from Seven Quick Takes today!

Pirates!

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Coach Christian decided to go all-out and embrace the pirate theme for Alex’s baseball team this summer: to the tune of costumes and even a mascot.

Pirates

The eye roll makes the photo. 🙂

On the mound

It was a season complete with a joke-telling mascot who, as far as the parents were concerned, made the whole experience.

Mascot 2

What’s that you say? What kind of jokes?

Two Pieces of Candy

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Photo by Mr. Ducke, via Flickr

I must have been six or seven, not yet old enough to be fully aware of the vague sense of financial worry caused by growing up on a farm in the 1980s. But plenty old enough to know better.

I stole a couple pieces of candy from the open Brach’s bin at the IGA.

I knew what I was doing was wrong.

I also knew I wanted that candy, and that in my family, you didn’t ask for stuff like that. It wasn’t like there was a prohibition; I just always knew some things you didn’t ask for.

I don’t think most people understand this, so let me try to explain. Once, coming home from a trip, we were half an hour from home at suppertime. My parents had a long discussion about whether to go out to dinner or to go on home, pull a hunk of meat out of the deep freeze, thaw it out, and make something, even if it meant supper was an hour and a half late. I remember holding my breath, because we never, ever, ever went out to dinner.

Most people can’t comprehend the marvel, the excitement I felt when they decided to go out. But you see, we never went out to eat. We couldn’t afford it, so we didn’t do it. And by “never,” I don’t mean “once or twice a month.” I mean never. When we took twelve-hour road trips to see family, we packed breakfast and lunch and ate at rest stops. On a field trip in junior high, I got made fun of for ordering a happy meal–but I picked that because I knew what was in it, which wasn’t the case with anything else on the board. When I went to dinner with my boyfriend’s parents in college, I was so overwhelmed by the menu, I ended up picking the cheapest thing, even though I knew I didn’t like it, because I didn’t know how to process all those options, and I didn’t want to spend too much of someone else’s money. I just had no experience eating out.

Whether I was aware of it or not, all that background was exerting an influence on me the afternoon when I pocketed the candy from the bin on the end cap at IGA. I knew it was wrong, but I also knew how much I wanted it, and without being able to articulate it, I knew I wasn’t going to get it any other way.

Mom was still loading grocery bags into the trunk when my big sister found me out and told on me.

Mom marched me right back into the store and made me give the candy back to the cashier. I can’t remember if I had to apologize or not. I’m sure I did. And then she told me we’d wait until Daddy came home, and Daddy would decide on my punishment.

It was a horrible, horrible afternoon. I don’t think I left my room. There was fear of punishment, and there was the equal pain of my conscience. And when the big, dust-caked pickup rolled into the driveway, I remember the awful feeling in my stomach. I knew I was in for it. I mean, this was far and away the worst thing I’d ever done.

It seemed to take forever. No doubt they had a parental conference in the kitchen, while I tried to read, or write, or draw, there in my room at the northwest corner of the house.

And then came the heavy footsteps, creaking on hard wood floors. Dad came into the room and sat down on the bed next to me.

I don’t remember much about that conversation. There must have been some lesson about the Ten Commandments, but the only thing that’s clear in my memory is the moment where Dad paused and folded his arms and leaned back, and I thought, This is it. And then he said:

“Well, I think you’ve been punished enough, so we’re going to let this go now.”

I was stunned. In the moment, my relief was all about escaping punishment. But in retrospect, I realize that his choice to extend mercy was the single most effective discipline he could have imposed. Because I knew I deserved punishment, and escaping it made me so very aware of the need to be better. My dad’s mercy didn’t so much wake my conscience as set it on fire.

It’s never shut up since. It directs everything I do and say. (Well, almost everything. The occasional thoughtless comment gets out, and causes bounteous conscience exercise afterward.)

I don’t know how my dad knew I was already punishing myself. And I don’t know how to recognize it in my own children. In the moments when my kids tussle or act out, I often wrestle with discipline. They need to understand that what they’ve done is not acceptable. It’s our responsibility to form our children’s consciences, and you can’t do that without the concrete imposition of limits. But the point of discipline is to create discipleship—a desire to follow out of love, not out of fear of punishment.

And that gives me a question to ponder today, which I share also with you: In my parenting, am I looking for the moments when what is most needed is mercy rather than consequences?

Mercy Monday small

On Sneaking Candy, channeling the flash, and Sucker Punches: Michael Mayhem at Four

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Michael book guitar

He looks innocent when he’s “reading,” doesn’t he?

There comes an inevitable day in every parent’s life when you have to recognize that you can’t treat your baby like a baby anymore.

It’s an organic process as long as you keep having more kids, because real babyhood keeps presenting itself. But although I’ve been aware of, and even partially on top of, this transition with Michael, it’s just since school let out that I’ve realized how far past time it is.

He’s not the sweet, faultless child in every altercation anymore. In fact, as Wednesday’s post should have made clear, he’s got a pretty strong deceptive/willful/selfish side going.

He’s incredibly smart, starting to write letters although we do no such work in our family on things like that, and connecting starting sounds with letters (“S begins with STOP!” is the usual formula). He wants to do homework and have his work hung on the hutch and the deck door with everyone else’s.

He wants to be grown up. He insists upon using the “big boy” silverware (i.e. dinner fork and soup spoon), even though all his older siblings want the small ones, and he’s constantly asking me, “When will I be big enough to sit without a booster seat/play an instrument/drive a car/ride a motorcycle?”

He’s constantly taking things apart, just because he can. The words “Leave it alone! Don’t mess with things just to mess with them!” don’t seem to have any meaning.

He’s throwing and catching balls and running better than any of his siblings did at his age, or two years older than his age, for that matter.

And speaking of running. Oh, the running! He’s really into the Flash right now, and he braces and then launches himself across whatever space he has. Which is not nearly enough, I might add; stopping is almost universally a problem. Let me put it this way. When it comes time to slide into home plate, he’ll have already had lots of practice. In the meantime, he’s mostly bouncing off the walls. Literally.

And oh, that child is causing trouble in sibling land. Other people must share with him, but “that toy is MINE! You can’t play with it!” Obviously, he ate Nicholas’ special candy. I tell him to put away a toy, and not to throw it on the floor, but actually put it on the shelf. Then I go downstairs to find it on the floor anyway. That kind of stuff.

Oh yes, I forgot. The Facebook world heard this gem, but the bloggers have not. And it’s a good one.

He’s been punching lately. It’s not malicious; he’s just playing superhero-bad guy, and the bigger kids, by and large, didn’t realize what kind of monster they were creating until it was too late. Well, Nicholas knew it. But Nicholas wasn’t encouraging him the way everyone else was, either.

Michael loves to get a laugh from people, and the punching thing makes big kids laugh. Until one night at a baseball game he was punching complete stranger kids, and they realized it hurt! I had to make him sit on my lap for the last twenty minutes of the game, because he wouldn’t stop, no matter what I or anyone else said. It was deeply unpleasant for both of us. He is a wiggly, wiggly kid.

But the kicker was last week at the grocery store, when Alex and I were perusing the yogurt options, and Michael caught him completely unawares with a Flash-run and a full-power sucker punch to the sternum. Alex went down in a heap on the floor, trying to control his poor tween hormones and pride while in deep pain. I could see him trying not to wail, scream, or retaliate.

It was hard to decide whether to laugh or be furious. Either way I couldn’t punish, because we were in public. Actually, that turned out to be a positive, because by the time we got to the car I’d had a burst of inSpiration. Michael had to do one of Alex’s weekly cleaning jobs as a consequence for punching his brother. Which, I have to admit, he did with very good grace.

It’s hard not to keep a tender spot for your youngest child, but he has the potential within him to be a holy terror if I don’t rein him in. And it just about has to be me, because he’s got the mama’s boy thing honed to an art form, much more so than the other two boys. Yesterday, he would not hold his daddy’s hand. “I want to hold mommy’s hand!” he said.

“Why not? Do you like me?” Christian asked, grinning at me.

“No!”

“Do you like Mommy?”

“Yeah!”

Four and a half. And still earning the nickname Mayhem.

Boys Have Drama, Too

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Taken a year ago

Taken a year ago

Let no one, me especially, claim that boys come without the drama attached to raising girls.

Every child loves his first grade teacher. It’s an unspoken rule, right? You must be hopelessly, gaga-eyed in love with your first grade teacher.

So when your first grade teacher gives you a bag full of gummy worms on the last day of school, labeled “book worms,” to keep you company while you read over the summer? The worth of such a gift cannot be quantified.

And when, after two late nights in a row (because you were “mascot-ing” for your big brother’s baseball game), you discover that your twerpy four-year-old brother ate them on the sly?

Oh, the drama.

Heartbroken sobs, carrying over the noise of the shower. Piercing the thin walls and sinking like your spirit down the stairs of your broken world, so that your parents are forced to share in your grief.

Seeing your twerpy little brother punished isn’t enough. You must vent your drama by shoving him to the floor, even if that means now you’re in trouble, too. So you go to bed wailing, heartbroken sobs.

I was having trouble sympathizing, but I decided not to push the issue of making him settle down. Let him air his drama. Maybe it’ll arouse some empathy in his younger roommate. Or at least, the annoyance of having to listen to it will be a punishment natural consequence of his actions.

Then, of course, there’s the girl drama.

Said child periodically (usually when overtired) goes to sleep crying over lost (girl) playmates who have moved away or been separated from him by other circumstances.

Let us back up an hour from the loss of gummy worms and drop in on the same child, playing at the kids’ area of the mall. Take note of the light blazing in his eyes when his bestest-estest-estest friend EVER unexpectedly appears beside him. (It’s a girl.) (She’s a year older than him.) Imagine the crushing two-way bear hug.

Drama, indeed. After a half hour’s wild abandon of playing, we finally take our leave. He says to me, “The moment I met her eyes, I just KNEW, because I LO—” A sharp cutoff and reconsideration. “I love my friend! I love her soooooooo much!”

He might not be too happy to know that he has something in common with his twerpy Gummy Worm Thief brother. When I picked up my youngest child from his summer enrichment preschool yesterday, his teacher greeted me with, “Your son, I’m sorry to tell you, has a girlfriend. And it’s very much mutual.” Today? A head shake. “I believe they were holding hands today.”

Ah, well. What would we do if life was drama free?

(Update: twenty minutes later, Michael is yelling at Nicholas to shut up. Natural consequences, indeed…)

Easy/Hard

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Image by ELTMAN, via Flickr

Why is it so easy to see or hear one detail and leap to the worst possible conclusion about a person’s motivations?

Why is it so easy to give our past hurts permission to control our present reactions, and block out reason when it urges moderation?

Why is it so easy to skip over grief for lives cut short and families in pain, and spend all our energy pointing fingers and hurling accusations?

Why is it so hard to listen to reason when it’s trying to keep us from demonizing others?

Why is it so hard to empathize with people who are different from us?

Why is it so easy to paint them as inherently evil in our minds and hearts?

Why is it so hard for people of faith to recognize when we are doing exactly what we accuse others of doing?

Yes, I am reacting to Orlando. And I’m sending out these questions in every direction—toward shooters and those who are arguing about gun control vs. gun rights and those who are anti-gay and those who are steadfastly, even stubbornly, refusing believe that a Texas politician’s tweet wasn’t a response to this tragedy at all, despite the fact that we’ve all experienced the agony of having said the wrong thing in the wrong moment and not even known it until it was way too late to take it back.

Which is not to say I support the man. I have a feeling he and I don’t see eye to eye on a whole bunch of issues. And I do think tweets like that are kind of self-righteous, and probably do more to drive people away from Christ than invite them in.

But I don’t believe he posted it as a “nanny nanny boo boo” in the face of the LGBTQ community, either. Speaking rationally, it doesn’t even make sense to read it that way. It’s saying you sow what you reap…so the only way it could be a jab at LGBTQ community is if he’s suggesting that the LGBTQ community has been going around shooting people. ???? I’m just not seeing the connection. Although as always, I’m open to being corrected.

All day yesterday, I watched Facebook explode with anger and bitterness and nastiness. It went every possible direction. Terrorists, Republicans, Democrats, Trump, Obama, liberals, conservatives, gun-control advocates, gun-rights advocates, gays…everybody got bashed. It made me want to cry. You have this calling to blog, and you know your reach is small, but you keep hitting the same message over and over: listen to reason, listen to each other, think about how you talk to and about people, think about human dignity…and a situation like this comes up, and emotions erupt, and you think, “Is there any point in me writing at all, if it’s going to make no difference at all when it’s really needed?”

Why is it so easy to think the worst of people who are different than us?

Why is it so hard to see them with the eyes of Christ, who loved and accepted and challenged all at once?

Why is it so easy to give ourselves permission to become a mirror image of what we most despise?

No Easy Answers