Adulting Is Kicking My Butt

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Normally, I’d say I do pretty well at “adulting.” Let’s be honest, I was probably more adult at twelve than some people are at twenty.

But adulting is really kicking my butt right now. Last week, midweek, I had a really black moment. My oldest was mad at me–mad in a way every parent is conditioned to expect in adolescence, but which I’d never experienced. I wasn’t sleeping for profound anxiety, some of it connected with said teen. I’m crazy worried about my kids’ mental health, and my own ability to be the rock.

The trouble with adulting is that you have be the adult when it makes you the Bad Guy. And in the coronavirus era, parents have a lot of bad guy rules to enforce.

In my house, there’s been a lot of “guys! We are stuck with each other for AT LEAST a month. This is our opportunity to learn to love each other better.”

(Reality check: so far that message doesn’t seem to be sinking in.)

Then there was one particular email. I won’t go into except to say that it hit on my most tender spot–my relationship with my children–and I discovered the bottom of my well.

The kids were downstairs screaming at each other about Xbox time, but I was up in my bedroom, crisscross applesauce, bent over my legs and thinking simultaneously: “I’m going to get this cry out of the way” and “I didn’t know my body still bent like this.”

But I only got about three tears out of my eyes.

When Kate Basi can’t cry, it’s got to be bad.

I felt absolutely…AWFUL. I don’t remember EVER feeling that hopeless.

I said a whole lot of prayers that consisted of nothing but “Holy Spirit… please… please… please…”

I think I dozed off, staring at this raw, empty hopelessness that seems to have no expiration date. And when the next diatribe from downstairs roused me, I thought, “I need to go down and be with them. O God, I can’t do it. I don’t have it in me. I’m going to make everything worse.”

And the response came back clear and impassive:

FOLD LAUNDRY.

I looked at the mountain of laundry piled in front of my bed. It had been put off four days already; it definitely needed to be done. Even so, I said, “You’re kidding, right? Do you hear those kids? I need to be downstairs being a mom.”

NO. FOLD LAUNDRY.

Now, I’ve made it my goal in life to pay attention when the Spirit speaks, and this was the clearest directive I’ve gotten in a long time.

So I sighed and threw up my hands and said, “Okay, your funeral.” And I turned on “In Want of a Wife,” a podcast on Pride & Prejudice, and folded laundry for forty minutes.

And then I went downstairs and out the door, because the Xbox wars had burned themselves out (you like my coronavirus reference? Yeah, me either) and the sun was out and it was warm outside. And there I dug up grass from around the willow tree, which needs more mulch and less grass, and transplanted plugs to other places in the yard that had no grass at all, only chickweed and henbit and crabgrass seeds salivating over the open space to wreak havoc.

And then I came in and made dinner, and I felt… better.

So what did I learn? Well, here’s what I did NOT learn. I did NOT learn how to make it less painful (on me!) to be the Bad Guy. I did NOT learn the magic words to make the child who resents the bleepety-bleep out of this whole situation to feel better and revert to his less-surly self. I did NOT learn how not to feel overwhelmed when contemplating the lack of expiration date for what we’re facing.

What I DID learn was that doing is next to godliness. And now that I know that, DOING is the focus of my next four weeks.

(Also: hiking. Whenever possible.)hike 1_opt

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Random Observations of a Writer On the Reality of Living Through the Coronavirus Shutdown

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It’s been a week since the kids came home from school for the foreseeable future, and today is day 2 of an official “stay at home order” where I live–though we can still go hiking (and we intend to continue doing so as long as we’re permitted, weather permitting—which it hasn’t done much of lately).

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Mental health is my primary concern—both for me (anxiety came home to roost again in the past week) and for my kids. It’s spring break right now, but the first three days of our Coronavirus Break were school days and I doubt it’s a coincidence that the anxiety hit at the same time. I am staring down the barrel of at least a month of trying to educate my developmentally disabled daughter on my own—a child who needs adult help for a significant part of her school day. And in the midst of all this, I am drafting a new novel. I’d *like* to be writing music, too, but I haven’t figured that one out yet.

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I thought I’d use my blog to share a few things about this historic (blech, spare me from ever experiencing history again!) time, as they strike me. So here are some thoughts, in no particular order:

1. I’m struggling to keep coronavirus from entering the book I’m drafting. The characters keep wanting to touch each other—touch elbows, give hugs, you know, normal human contact things. And every time they do I feel like I’m committing a sin.

2. Also, I just wrote the line, “December passed into January; school restarted, and with it the normal routine…” Which opened up a big, queasy pit in my gut, because it reminded me how NOT normal the routine is now. The best times of my life right now are the ones when I forget this is all happening. But when it comes back to mind, it’s almost worse than never having forgotten at all.

3. Everyone says STAY AT HOME, and those who are shouting loudest never acknowledge that such admonitions don’t leave room for the “get outside, the park trails are open even if the playgrounds are not” (in many places, at least). So when I back my van out at 4:00 on a Tuesday afternoon to take the kids to the Bear Creek Trail for a walk around the wetlands to hear the peep frogs and throw rocks in the creek, my scrupulous self cringes.

4. Facebook is a welcome venue for ordinary human interactions—except no one is talking about anything except shutdowns and the virus. That’s not a criticism; it’s what’s on our minds. But it does mean if you need a break for human interaction, you likely aren’t going to get what you went looking for. The place you go for relief becomes a further source of anxiety. It’s a conundrum.

5. I resisted the idea of structure, because a) the earlier the kids get up, the more hours of the day I have to figure out how to keep them from killing each other, and b) structure is only structure if you follow it, and when the weather is crap 90% of the time, you have to throw the structure out and go outside whenever the weather decides to let you go outside.

6. I intended to spend the next weeks rehabbing my back yard: tearing up weed patches and sowing grass seed. But now it’s the only outdoor space my kids have for most of the time. I’m trying to find a solution, but I’m afraid there isn’t one. I may have to accept that the best laid plans for reclaiming the lawn from the weeds are just toast.

7. One good thing, I’m almost embarrassed to admit. I’ve said for years that things like toilet training are less about kids’ readiness than about “when the parents are ready to put in the effort.” I’m kind of an artsy, spacey person who remembers her own habits of cleanliness but have not necessarily been great about policing those of my kids. Thanks to coronavirus, our kids are currently learning all the habits of handwashing that I never remembered to enforce before. Surely this will be good in the long run.

8. On the other hand, the reason I’m so great at policing is because I feel constantly dirty these days. Constantly creepy-crawly, afraid to touch anything. For now, it’s not a bad paranoia to have, but the trouble is that such paranoias don’t follow logic. Once this is all over, I foresee a really big mental/emotional struggle to reclaim my independence from anxiety. Imagine how bad this time must be for people who *actually* struggle with OCD.

Enough for today.

Disability and Friendship

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So here’s a thing you might not consider about having a kid with a disability:

It is REALLY HARD to make friends.

Think about it. How do little kids make friends?

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STEP ONE: They find kids at school with like interests and personalities. They come home and tell you about it.

STEP TWO:
A) If you’re at Catholic school, you probably have a family directory and you can go look them up and reach out to the parents, and voila! Playdates can happen.

B) If you’re in a public school without a directory (I’m told it would have to be the PTAs that undertook that task, because no one on staff has time), your kid writes your phone number on a piece of paper that his or her friend takes home to his mom. The kids pester their parents until the parents make contact. Voila! Playdates can happen.

Now imagine your kid doesn’t do “conceptual.” She’s got a heck of a gift for empathy and emotional intelligence, but she’s missing the neural connections that make some of the most obvious social norms, well, obvious. In other words, it doesn’t occur to her to give her phone number to a friend, nor to ask for that friend’s number.

Also, for seven years she’s told you pretty much nothing about school besides “we had a fire drill,” even when they didn’t, and “we’re having a fire drill,” when they aren’t. You don’t actually know the names of her classmates, because along about second grade she stopped getting birthday invitations, and you don’t know the parents because you’re spread too thin with four kids in three schools and you really don’t know very many people at any of the schools.

Now imagine that your daughter, who is turning thirteen in ten days, has achieved her “adaptive skills” goals already and the IEP team calls you in to set some new ones. Yay!

“Oh, by the way,” they say, three quarters of an hour into the meeting, “you should know she’s inviting everyone in the school to her birthday party.”

This is the point at which you and your husband look at each other and say, “Uh…”

Because she hasn’t said anything to you about a party. And she sure hasn’t told you the name of a single person she wants to invite—aside from the trio of girls with Down syndrome that you managed, by the grace of God and a dash of sheer dumb luck, to cross paths with over the years.

This is the moment where two things happen simultaneously: a great, glorious, internal fist pump that all the battles you’ve undertaken on behalf of inclusion have paid off, and she has friends at school.

And, in equal measure, a gut-hollowing doubt that those friends actually consider her their friend. Because if they really did, why haven’t there been any overtures from them?

Then comes the moment where the teachers realize you don’t even know she has friends at school, and the magnitude of the barrier becomes clear.

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Because privacy regulations are so tight in health and education that they can’t even tell you the first names of these friends she’s invited to her nonexistent birthday party. How can you facilitate a birthday party when you don’t even know who to invite?

Over a 4-day weekend, the team consults (because they’re awesome that way) and comes up with a list of the kids your kid has invited. They can’t give it to you, but they can tell you how many invitations to send to school, and they can hand them out. Then you just have to hope someone responds, thus proving that your kid actually is viewed, in that mysterious world known as middle school, as someone worth being friends with.

So there you have it: today’s lesson in “things you never thought about when considering disability.”

The Sheer Terror of the Blank Page

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It’s been a long time since I started a new novel.

Well, maybe not as long as it seems. I had an aborted attempt around a year ago. But I’m really zeroing in on novel writing now, and I’m discovering something I probably knew, on some level, but didn’t really, y’know… KNOW. Namely, that when life with a two teens, a tween, and an eight-year-old just entering serious activities smacks into writing, everything suffers.

(But writing suffers more than the kids. I’ll never apologize for putting them first.)

2019 has been an intense year–much of it the best possible tension–a cavalcade of good things raining down on me! And I am so very grateful for it.

But nonetheless… intense.

I’ve always been a burn-the-candle-at-both-ends person, but lately I’m really feeling how little is left at either end. I’m dropping balls all over the place. I forgot a piano lesson, people. And a doctor’s appointment that I scheduled on a day off school to make my life less complicated.

I’ve been struggling to get momentum going on a new novel. I’ve been working on that this week, as best I can, and I’m coming to some new insights. I’ve known for a long time that for me, starting a major fiction project is like getting a huge machine in motion. It’s agony at the start, and as I slowly grind into action, the motion itself clarifies things, which clarify more things, and so on, until I’m writing as fast as I can and making notes to myself for things that will happen a dozen scenes down the line.

But first, I have to invest the time to get that motion going. And it is an intense effort that really does require big blocks of uninterrupted time.

2019 has been a year of interruptions. Some were cause for celebration, others for tearing my hair out. There was a period of 3 weeks this fall, for instance, when 2/3 of the weekdays I had one half or the other of my kids home, because the public & parochial schools don’t overlap their teacher PD days. Ever. It’s like the school systems put their heads together and went out of their way to make PD days consecutive rather than concurrent.

I have been philosophical. Well aware that I only have 3 1/2 years left with my oldest, I am trying to be present in the moments of my life.

But that means ignoring not just writing, but also the Mount Everest of laundry in need of folding. Yes, yes, the kids should do it themselves, but they only get half of it and they mismatch and do it wrong and it’s harder to fix it than to do it myself in the first place!

Ahem. Back to the point at hand…

There’s a conventional wisdom among writers that you have to get the story down, no matter how bad it is–you have to turn off the internal editor and allow yourself to write a crap first draft. I’ve never bought into that. Crap drafts are harder to fix than good ones.

Unless, of course, you have no draft at all because you can’t get the momentum going. And then yes, maybe it’s time to exile the internal editor and get the story on the page.

I also realized that what makes a first draft is so terrifying to me is that literally everything is up for grabs. The major backstory event that kick starts my protagonist’s journey could be caused by something she did, or by something another character did. There are positives and negatives to both ideas, and which one I choose impacts how her present story unfolds. What time of year did event A happen? Because I have to count X number of months/years forward from that in order to figure out when Event B in the present will take place. What, precisely, did Character C do to cause my protagonist’s problem? I need to know, because her story is all about fixing it.

And every time I set out to answer one question, I discover a dozen more that need answering in order to settle the one I thought I was working on.

So for right now, my job is to decide on anything–this little thing, that little thing. Create some little anchors. Because the more anchors I put down, the more solid the framework becomes. And the more solid the framework, the clearer the picture. And the clearer the picture, the more possible it becomes to write.

(Who said there’s no world building in contemporary fiction?)

Enough

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My word for 2019 is “enough”: I am enough, I am doing enough, I am good enough, this moment is enough.

It’s a combination of learning to recognize the goodness in saying “no” and of living in the moment, being present in my own life instead of always feeling dissatisfied.

I’m working on it.
But I don’t often feel it. Which is why I want to mark this moment. I just finished revising a particularly difficult and climactic scene for my novel. It’s a scene that marks the culmination of a particularly sensitive plotline. It was good before, but it was a leee-ttle bit melodramatic. And now, after today’s work… it’s really good.

When I finished, I said, “Now I’ve done enough today.” And I meant it.

Bigger Than Me

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Sometimes, I just need to get away.

Leaves

No matter how much work is hanging over my head, I know I need to make the time to hike, or bike, or kayak—and always, to find a quiet, beautiful spot to sit and be still. It’s necessary for my mental health. Sometimes I get a twinge of guilt, thinking of those I love who also need this time but don’t get it. But I realize that depriving myself of it won’t help them. If I’m grounded, my head is clearer, my stress is lower, and I’m better able to ease the stress of others.

Plus, in the silence—away from the dings and red “new” notifications on email—I can get a better perspective on situations that seem frightening or overwhelming. I can see myself more objectively—better recognize my faults, not just in the abstract, but in the specific situations I could or should have handled better.

Yesterday I sat beside the Missouri River at flood stage. It’s been flooded most of 2019, and the already-steep slope of the riverbank has been carved into a sheer drop. Shrubs whose branches used to bob under and resurface in the shallows have washed away. The river is running fast these days, a wide, noisy, roiling, swirling thing. Sometimes a whirlpool rushes by, sucking at something invisible, until suddenly a whole tree, stripped bare, surfaces for one gasp before submerging again.

River

A towboat pushing three big grain barges was roaring its way upriver when I first arrived. It was struggling make any headway—it took nearly forty minutes for the barges to pass by and disappear around the bend in the river, leaving silence. Meanwhile, a two-foot piece of driftwood shot past the other direction, headed for the Gulf of Mexico. I thought: even great big powerful things, things that make lots of noise and leave a wake that takes twenty minutes to settle, are small compared to the earth they inhabit.

It reminded me of Danny Glover, in the movie Grand Canyon, saying, “When you sit on the edge of that thing, you just realize what a joke we people are. What big heads we got thinking that what we do is gonna matter all that much. Thinking our time here means diddly to those rocks. It’s a split second we been here, the whole lot of us. And one of us? That’s a piece of time too small to give a name… Yeah, those rocks are laughing at me, I could tell. Me and my worries, it’s real humorous to that Grand Canyon.”

Poignant words. I’ve been wrestling anxiety again lately. I’m watching myself carefully, giving it a few days to see if some distance from the trigger will sort things out. (I think it will. It seems to be so far.) But if not, to be ready to reach out for help.

Sitting beside the river puts everything into perspective. There’s so much to be thankful for out there: the beauty of the light dappling the leaves; the clarity of the blue sky; the silence and solitude; the sparkles out on the water; the pattern of light and dark on the leaves; the 5-mile bike ride required to reach this spot I love; the gnarled beauty of the vines hanging into the water; the way the light plays with shadow and color on the leaves (are you sensing a pattern?).

Leaves sparkles

Being out here gives me that sense of distance, of perspective, of the relative importance of these things that so preoccupy my thoughts. It allows me to relax a bit, to remember, in the deepest part of my soul, that whatever comes next, everything will, in fact, be all right.

Bizarre Dreams

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woman underwater wearing black one piece swimsuit
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I had a bizarre series of dreams last night:

1: I couldn’t get apps to close on a smart device. (Anyone who knows me knows this is particularly bizarre because I don’t use a smart phone.)

2: I couldn’t find the right pair of contacts.

3: We drove up Scotts Bluff (one of the settings in my road trip novel), but the drive was so steep, I was certain we were actually inverted and I a) couldn’t believe we weren’t falling off and b) couldn’t understand how my risk-averse husband was so blase about it.

But the last dream was about a magical realm set in the world of one of my previous novels. When I woke up, I thought, “That would make a great back story for a new novel.” And I couldn’t get back to sleep for excitement thinking through the possibilities.

Since finishing my big novel revision and sending out a bunch more queries last week, I’ve been feeling a big void in desire and interest in novel writing. Partly because I’m still waiting for those great outdoor days off I promised myself. (Kayaking. Today. Even if it’s only in the 50s. Because hey. It’s not raining, and there are only a couple weeks of school left!)

But I haven’t been freaking out about my lack of desire. I figured it’d come in its good time. And now I believe it has. Because now I have two novels to develop and choose between…plus the one I tried to write last winter that I still think is a good concept, but needs more development.

Which makes this week a win, I think.

IEP Day

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IEP

This is what #IEP prep looks like: notes from parent advocate, part A and B. The first draft of the IEP, from which the comments came, split in two: the half we got through last week, and the part we have to do today—the goals, i.e the basic shape of her middle school experience. Finally, draft 2, which we will finish marking up today.

This is our 10th IEP meeting. Our first happened in preparation for her entry into ECSE (Early Childhood Special Ed) shortly before she turned 3. This is the first time we’ve hired a parent advocate, having realized over the past year that we have, in fact, been delusional the past 9 year in thinking we had a good enough handle on the process that we could do it on our own. And I have to say, I’m so much more relaxed this time than I have been in the past because there is an expert in the room who’s there just for us.

Even so, this is inherently a stressful process. What you can’t see from the picture is that each of those drafts is 20+ pages long. It’s a mind-boggling amount of information, written in lingo like this:

“Julianna will use clear speech (over-articulation) strategies at the sentence-level in 80% of opportunities. Baseline: 60% in structured speech activities at the word-level, with visual cue only (e.g., written minimal pairs).”

Did you all follow that?

My guess is that most people who have never been through an IEP were like me, completely unaware of the complexity of the process. Even now, I can sense eye rolls. Why the lingo? Why does it have to be so complicated?

Well, to effectively administer something like special ed, you have to have specific, measurable targets. And as targets zero in, you end up with specific language to make clear the distinctions. Ergo, lingo. Let’s face it. Who but a speech therapist would ever think of the fact that you can struggle to say “f” and “v” in three different places in a word–beginning, middle, end? Until it happens to you or your kid. (Oh, but that’s a different goal. I spared you that one!)

The process is what it has to be–but it is hard for parents. Hard to keep it all straight. Hard to understand. Hard to gauge the right level for pushing the envelope yet not overreaching.

What the IEP process doesn’t do, we realized, is create the specific shape of her days. Last spring, we spent 3 hours in an IEP meeting creating what we felt was a good plan, with 61% of her time spent in reg-ed. But in the fall, we found out those reg-ed minutes were so splintered, they were all but irrelevant. We had to have another hour and a half meeting to rearrange the schedule so that she could actually spend meaningful blocks of time with her peers.

It worked. She now has a group of typically-developing girls that she pals around with during the day. But the IEP didn’t guarantee that.

As always, posts like these run the risk of making special needs look like all stress and drudgery–and scaring off parents confronted with a diagnosis. But I really want the general population to get an idea of what supports are needed, because disability is kind off the radar for the vast majority of people, and even for those who do have it on their radar, it’s easy to underestimate the experience and think, “Why are you people making such a big deal of these public policy questions?”

We’re making a big deal of it because from inside the situation, the stakes are so high.

Cover Reveal and Award Nomination!

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It’s been a crazy few months for me, both in real life and in my writing life. I’ve been working on a major revision of my newest novel in response to agent feedback. This is the first time I’ve tried to do such a thing on a tight turnaround and now I understand the stress in other women’s voices when they have talked about that process! But I finished yesterday (more or less; waiting on a bit of feedback from an expert on one particular issue) and now I have time to share a couple pieces of news I haven’t had time to put out there!

Show us Your Face - cover smallFirst, my song, “Show Us Your Face,” published by WLP, is a finalist in the Association of Catholic Publishers’ “Excellence in Publishing” awards for 2019! This was the piece I brought to the Liturgical Composers Forum for review the first year I attended. You can hear an excerpt on the “listen” tab here.

Second, I have a book coming out with Our Sunday Visitor in July 2019. Aaaaand….cover reveal!

Cover Art T2348[2]

This is part of OSV’s “Companion in Faith” series. Here’s OSV’s back cover blurb:

Blessed are they …

The Beatitudes are the words of Christ that cut to the very core of the Christian life. But have they become so familiar that we breeze past them, without taking them to heart? The Beatitudes can — and will — transform our lives in a powerful way, if we take the time to connect with them in our daily lives.

In The Beatitudes, you will find guided meditations based on the Beatitudes found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. For each Beatitude you will:

  • Focus inward: What is Christ saying to you?
  • Focus outward: What is Christ saying about the world?
  • Pray, reflect, and act: What is God asking you to do?

The reflections in The Beatitudes are useful for examining your daily life, preparing for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and deepening your prayer life.

Stay tuned! I’ll share more as we get closer to launch date!

 

A New Project!

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Intentional Catholic circleThis Lent, I began a new project called Intentional Catholic, a website devoted to the living the faith at the messy intersection of faith and the real world. I’m exploring the writings of the Church that touch on a lot of these topics, and sharing quotes from them as well as some of my own reflections. So from here on out, I will no longer be sharing those kinds of posts here. If you’re interested, hop on over to Intentional Catholic and follow!