We survived the blizzard of 2012! Still trying to dig out from the mess, and our trees took a heavy toll! Enjoy the pictures! Merry Christmas!
Nowhere in all of the reading I did while pregnant about the duties of a mother did it mention “bathroom referee.” Never is this more true than during a wave of illness, which we experienced this week. The urgency of my job as bathroom referee seems to have become my central daily duty.
As I sit here, my son is in the shower, using up every bit of steaming hot water in the hot water heater. This is a daily occurence. No sooner did I sit down to write than Lulu Grace decided that it was time for her to take a bath. I know that when Bass is out of the shower in 10 minutes, she will be ready to jump into the bathtub, only to learn that she has to wait another 30 minutes for any hot water. (Hmmmm, there goes her little voice now. “Mom, can I take a bath yet?” I’m going to attempt to put her off by telling her that I need to finish writing. If I tell her that Bass is using up all the hot water, WWIII will ensue!)
I love this old farmhouse. We have more rooms than I can count. It’s got lots of little nooks and crannies. We live on a beautiful piece of property with an awesome view of the lake. But somewhere in the grand scheme, whoever did the renovating, updating, and adding on forgot about the importance of the bathroom. The bathroom is the size of a small closet, and did I mention, there is only ONE!
Adding to the daily needs of the bathroom, our family seems to find their inspiration there as well. My best thinking is done in a bathtub full of bubbles. The bathroom is also where Lulu Grace writes her songs and sings them at full volume for long periods of time. The shower is Queenie’s stage. I truly believe as she sings in the shower that she sees a full orchestra in the bathroom with her. Bass does his reading here, for long periods of time. While I appreciate everyone’s need for this creativity, does it all really have to happen in the bathroom?
It is inevitable that just as I sink into my steamy bath, there is a knock on the door. I can announce for an hour beforehand that anyone who needs to use the bathroom should get it done. Doesn’t matter. If there is someone in the bathroom, someone else is sure to need it. Lulu Grace has also discovered the ultimate way to irritate everyone in the house. If someone announces that they are headed to the bathroom, she runs in and shuts the door behind her. She may not even need to use it, but the fear of not being able to use it sends her into a frenzy.
Christmas is 23 days away. Everyone’s lists have been written. This year Lulu Grace wishes for 2 front teeth. Bass is hoping for a PS3. Queenie wants a laptop. Jon is getting his trophy 10 point buck mounted. But I am putting everyone on notice right now! I will be watching for the smallest infractions to get them all added to the naughty list. There won’t be coal in the stocking either. They will instead be getting an outhouse and a steel tub. Then I will get my Christmas wish – a bathroom to myself and the title of bathroom referee removed from my job description.
1. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
2. The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton
3. Carry Me Home by Sandra Kring
3 people who support me as a writer:
2. My Kids
3. My Parents
3 pieces I’m glad I wrote:
1. Life is what you make it – Essay for A Room of Her Own Grant (can be found on this blog)
2. Pieces – A poem I wrote for April about finding the pieces of herself in our family and her adoptive family
3. The Sister Dinners – not complete yet, but very glad I am doing it
3 places or things that support you as a writer
1. My bathtub! It’s where I do my best thinking.
2. My front porch at sunrise.
3. A hot cup of…coffee, tea, doesn’t matter.
3 qualities you love about yourself as a writer
1. My ability to create the scene so that you can put yourself in that moment.
2. My punctuation, grammar, and spelling – makes writing so much easier when I don’t have to think about those things.
3. My willingness to put my thoughts out there for others to read.
So, there’s my writer’s list of gratitude! Duplicate one for yourself. I’d love to read it. Thanks much to Diane on her blog Live to Write – Write to Live for this cool idea!
Gratitude is one of the best feelings we human beings can feel. When you are in a state of appreciation, you cannot at the same time be in a state of fear or lack. So focusing on gratitude can actually improve your day, your mood, and even your sleep. Studies have shown that making a gratitude list, even in your head, before sleep, gives people more and better sleep (this works for children, too.) For more fascinating information about the benefits of gratitude, read Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier, by Robert Emmons.
In honor of the Day of Gratitude, I thought I’d offer a little gratitude exercise, especially for writers. I recommend you either print this out and fill in the blanks, as quick as you can, or just jot the answers in your journal as you read through the exercise.
Writer’s List of…
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The following is an essay I wrote about six years ago when applying for an A Room Of Her Own grant. I came across it while looking for the first few chapters of a novel I had started. As I read through it tonight, I loved that my feelings on what my writing means to me and why I write have not changed. Just thought I would share…
I see a young woman who doesn’t believe in her artistic gifts, her view of life off balance because of her life experiences. I see a little girl, sparked by creative thoughts, lighting up as an idea comes to her mind. She runs to the computer to type it down before it gets away. I see a little boy, full of tall tales, his sense of humor getting the best of him as he laughs at his own story. I see a baby girl who stands on her tiptoes to reach the piano keys, full of wonder at the sound she is able to create, so full of joy at the sound of music that her own belly laugh catches her off guard.
These images hold within them the overflowing potential for life. They are at the core of what my writing means to me. My writing has enabled me to be an example to my children. It is important to me as a mother for these imaginative children to see firsthand that creative thinking is a blessing, a gift that allows you to see similarities and differences in the everyday people, places, and ideas in the world.
I did not raise my daughter, April. The stark differences in her outlook on life compared to the children who have grown up under my care reinforce my feelings about setting an example for my children. I have the privilege of observing my children absorb the written word, developing a love and appreciation for the words, stories, and treasures to be found in books. My 10 year-old daughter, Queenie, is my writer. She has countless journals filled and stacked precisely in her closet. She has completed four chapters in her own book. It is rewarding to be able to foster this in her. We encourage each other. We share our frustrations with each other. We love the competition of working towards our goals. My 8 year-old son, Bass, is my reader. He becomes so engrossed in the written word, that he cannot put books down. His books are carried with him everywhere. The standing joke in the house is the pile of books in the bathroom, all belonging to Bass. My 1 year-old, Lulu Grace, is already my little musician, loving the rhythm of music, the tone of the same note played over and over on the piano, turning her musical mobile on the minute she wakes up in her crib.
I watch these children and see myself. Since I was a young girl, I have been engrossed in language, words, spelling, the beauty of handwriting, the art of punctuation and proper grammar. I was always thought of as a bit weird. As an adult, my mind still works the same way. To be myself, I have to write. It’s who I am. My husband knows it. My children see it.
As a writer your mind is in constant motion, always on the lookout for the beautiful, the deceptive, the ugly, the touching, the devastating, the joyful, and the bitter. You see the highs and lows in life from a different perspective, one of appreciation and interest. You feel the resignation and weight of a baby as she surrenders to sleep, her eyelashes fluttering like the wings of a delicate butterfly. You are able to witness and hear the cruelty of survival as a hawk soars, circling and plucking a baby rabbit from the safety of the ground. You are taken by the humor of life’s oddities as you examine a seven-toed cat. You marvel at the intricate patterns of frost formed by nature’s hand on a drafty old window. You are stricken by the tragedy of dreams unfulfilled as you pay for gas and carefully watch the woman on the other side of the counter, hard, coarse, and broken.
This ability to visualize life in its most basic forms and to translate that for another to see through your eyes is a reward of the thoughts floating in your head. It has taken most of my adult life to realize these things for myself. It has taken time to harness the imaginings, phrases, and ideas and put them in order, to formulate plans and goals that now freely flow out of my head to the paper before me. It is a gratifying feeling to look at a blank piece of paper and suddenly have it fill with letters that form words, that form paragraphs, that form a story that will form into a vision in another’s mind’s eye. It brings immense satisfaction and delight to see a person or scene in my own thoughts and bring it to life and clarity on paper.
Daily life often gets in the way of writing. Doubts creep in. Bills have to be paid. Children have to be diapered or sent off to school. It is easier to tell myself that this dream just costs too much emotionally. The daily grind of working, being a mother and wife, running a household, seep in and steal away the desire to put the day’s thoughts down onto paper.
After a rough day, my husband sees the struggle within me, the need to just get it all out. After running a hot bath for me, he takes my hand, eases me into the steam and bubbles, and then leaves, gently closing the door behind him. The click of that door allows my mind to shift gears. He allows me space, time to relax, so that I am once again my own person – not a mom, not a co-worker, not a wife, not a daughter or sister – just myself. I sit in the tub, steam pouring over me, until I can begin to see clearly through the fog of my own thoughts.
It is a gift that after 20 years together, my husband is able to do this for me. It is his gift to be able to see and share my struggles and find ways to support and encourage my dreams. That may mean that he puts the kids to bed after his own exhausting day roofing a picky customer’s house. It may mean reinforcing the “quiet rules” of the house when Mom is writing. It may mean taking the kids away for the weekend on their own little getaway to give me time. It may mean encouraging me when the uncertainty of whether I even possess the talent to write overtakes me. It may mean sacrificing his time with me as I write until 2:00 a.m., but always being there ready to wrap his arms around me as I crawl into bed, eyes weary and fingers sore.
My husband’s support and encouragement drives me to be my best. His belief in my writing, his staunch support of my abilities, his love for my creative side, won’t allow me to give up. I feel the weight of this responsibility to him, to my children, but most importantly, to myself.
Life’s experiences have empowered my writing in ways I never would have anticipated. I could not have envisioned how placing our oldest daughter for adoption when I was 15 would lead to a reunion with her when I turned 29. I could not have foreseen the impact our reunion would have on all of the children, on my husband, our extended families, or on myself. I have experienced the highs and lows of giving birth to four children, and raising three.
I have looked on helplessly as mental illness ravaged the minds of those close to me, rendering them incapable of understanding the importance of their own lives. I observed how their own creativity drove them to dark places. I have stood by my father’s bedside, not recognizing him, his physical deformities so severe after a tragic car accident.
But I also watched as those people in my life have surmounted those incredible obstacles of mental illness, to begin to rebuild their lives. I was given the gift of being able to tell my father on his 60th birthday how his perseverance and determination throughout his lifetime, and especially following his accident, gives me hope every day. In these instances, I was spared the ultimate grief of losing these important influences in my life, but I lost little pieces of them and myself along the way.
I have experienced poverty at times in my life. I have experienced a privileged life at times. I know the depths of grief, where the pain was too intense for there to be tears to cry. I know the overflowing of true joy, where the tears come so easily. I know that these life experiences have provided me a depth of character and understanding of others, lending to my writing the same depth and feeling of authenticity.
I am able to pull from these experiences in my writing. It is has a cathartic effect, healing and liberating. It puts perspective on life. It allows me to reflect and appreciate even the worst of times, because there is always some part of my life during those moments of darkness and despair which has been worthy of my thankfulness.
I want to feel that the things I put onto paper will touch another person’s life, providing a release from the every day through reading, but also allowing them to grow and change by learning something about themselves in the process. I want to provide a sense of hope and direction, a starting point, for those trying to unravel the interwoven threads of their lives. It’s a long, arduous process to untangle those threads, to make sense of the unthinkable losses suffered in life. The journey itself is half of the reward, and that often goes unrecognized. The journey allows us to become the people we are meant to be. We are always waiting for that day when things get better, for dreams to be fulfilled. But if we don’t enjoy the journey of getting there, taking the good and the bad, we miss one of the biggest gifts of life.
I will always write, because it allows me to discover more about myself and about my own hidden thoughts. I find myself answering my own questions about life through the story of someone else, suddenly realizing that the thoughts and phrases from my character’s minds are hidden in me. It is an incredible moment when a torrent of words appears on the page before me, and it is the message I have needed to hear in my own life.
There is one lesson I have learned from pursuing my dream to be a writer. It is what keeps me motivated when the dream seems too lofty. Life is what you make it. If you rise to the challenges put before you, whether you fail or succeed, life provides its rewards. Those rewards may not have been what you thought they were going to be. You may even have to look really hard to figure out what the reward is, but it’s there if you’re willing to read between the lines.
Living in a household affected by Asperger’s leaves us all dreading the holidays. It is easy to understand if you think about it. Asperger’s is a developmental disorder which affects how a person is able to interpret the world around him/her. In our every day lives, we make accomodations to help Bass and Lulu Grace find ways to absorb the many sensory experiences in their lives. We control a lot of their surroundings on a day to day basis. We plan way, way ahead. We talk, talk, talk about changes that are coming. We limit input from sources that are distressing. We are able to take a break when needed. We have time to prep for trouble spots. The holidays turn that whole system upside down.
On top of the unpredictability of holidays, we also add the stressors of people who don’t understand and may step in to discipline a child on the verge of a meltdown. We drag them from place to place, trying to squeeze in all of the family that expects to see us. We disrupt their daily routines. We create tremendous anxiety with the surprise gifts, leaving them wondering if they are really going to get what they wanted to so badly. We ‘lie’ to them with fairytales of Santa Clause (Bass was devastated when he found out that Santa wasn’t real – because we LIED to him). We expect them to dress up and look nice – which is hard to do when the only clothes they are comfortable in are jeans, sweats and t-shirts. We want them to be polite and friendly. None of these things are easy for these children on an average day.
By the time the holidays are over, Jon and I are left drained, exhausted, and feeling like terrible parents. We have learned over time that our desire to have a picture-perfect holiday is not ever going to happen. And we are okay with that. What we are not okay with is that the holidays also make Bass and Lulu Grace feeling disoriented, unhappy, cranky, and sad. So how do we change that?
Well, the past few years we have made some changes to what the holidays look like to us.
1. We try to limit outings to necessary visits. We do NOT make the kids go shopping with us to busy malls/stores. If they wish to do some shopping, we limit their trips to small, local shops during the daytime, weekday hours. Better yet, plan ahead a bit and make a special gift at home.
2. We do NOT make a big deal out of things. As a child the ceremony of decorating the tree was much anticipated. I have had to realize that decorating the tree can still be fun, just not with 5 people decorating at the same time. I separate the ornaments into piles for each child. Then they can each have one-on-one time with me decorating. This is a simple fix while still creating that special memory. We have had to create our own special things that are not the typical holiday experiences. And that’s okay!
3. While gifts are fun for many people, they create way too much anxiety, especially for Bass. When he was young, we went to great lengths to keep the holiday exciting, building the anticipation of that ‘big’ gift he wanted. What we ended up with were meltdowns! EVERY YEAR! Now we ask him what he wants. Last year we even gave it to him a few weeks early – tickets to a concert. Then on Christmas he got a lot of little things. We ask if he wants his gifts wrapped or not. Generally he doesn’t want them wrapped. The surprise of what’s inside is overwhelming to him. Lulu Grace also struggles with gifts, but with her being so young she also enjoys the unwrapping. If we know she is expecting something really special, we make sure it comes early on so that she isn’t stressing about it. This has helped to avoid the building anxiety.
4. While we have many food traditions for the holidays, I have found it is important to also keep the favorite every day foods on hand for Bass and Lulu Grace. Especially with Bass, all of the holiday foods are tough on his stomach. He also has a hard time setting his own limits with food, so we have learned to make sure that whatever goodies we stock up on are going to be gone within a day. This is especially true for candy from stockings. We have limited candy in the stockings, with more little presents instead.
5. The kids schedules are non-existent during the holidays. They do not have the structure of school days. We try to stick tightly to their sleep routine, however. Nothing sets us up for a rough day faster than Bass or Lulu Grace being tired. Even though we operate with a different routine, we still work hard to prepare them for what will be happening from day to day. We talk about where we will be going, how long we will be there, and have a plan in place for them if things are getting overwhelming. This is especially true for Christmas Day. We open presents at home, then go to my parents (with about 30 people there), and then go to Jon’s parents. It is a day fraught with potential for disaster. One Christmas night as we were trying to all get in the car to go home, Bass had had ENOUGH! He climbed out of the car, laid down in a snow bank, and refused to move. That was our last Christmas of not having a carefully laid out plan. We refused to ever put him in that position again.
Now Christmas Day, although we keep the same schedule, is carefully discussed with the kids. We spend a few weeks talking about what will be happening, who will be there, and then have a plan to avoid the meltdown BEFORE it happens. Lulu Grace and Bass are old enough to understand when they are reaching overload. The rule is that if they are reaching their limit, they immediately find us. We will STOP whatever we are doing. We then go find a quiet place to just sit and unwind until they are ready to go back to the party. Lulu Grace may want to read books or just cuddle quietly. Bass may find a quiet place to listen to some music. After a bit, they are recharged, and we can all go back to having fun. And we keep our visits short and planned. We do NOT break from our schedule. If we tell the kids we will be leaving at 4:00, we begin saying our goodbyes and preparing to head out in enough time to be gone AT 4:00.
6. Relatives, as much as we wish, do NOT always understand. They think Jon and I coddle and lack parenting skills. We have, unfortunately, heard more than once, “If that were my child, I would… (fill in the blank).” They think that Lulu Grace is a brat. They think that Bass is spoiled. Rather than getting into an argument over something they will never comprehend, I have found it easier to be above it all. Jon and I are not bad parents. We are more involved in helping our children navigate a difficult world than many of them will ever be with their children. We have children with good hearts, who are compassionate, kind, gentle, and loyal. Bass and Lulu Grace both have a strong need to control their environments. From the outside, this can be difficult to understand. For those people who truly want to know or understand, the best explanation I can give them is that their world is like a merry-go-round, full of sights, sounds, smells, touches, going around and around. They need to be able to focus in on one thing at a time. That can be hard to do when there is too much going on around them. Is it any wonder that holidays can be like torture to them?
7. I LOVE going to church on Christmas Eve. Growing up, it was one of the things I looked forward to the most, the feeling of peace and joy, the music filling me, the candle-lighting, and Silent Night. I have tried, unsuccessfully, to keep this as part of our family tradition. The sanctuary is filled to overflowing, the music is loud, the room is stuffy and hot. Many years either Jon or I ended up leaving the service with Bass or Lulu Grace as a meltdown was building. The joy and reason for the season are still in our hearts, but we no longer feel the need to attend a service (with people who only go to this one service a year). I still try to sneak away with Queenie to attend a midnight mass if we can, just for my own well-being and to share that special feeling with her. But we instill God’s presence in our lives every day. The ceremony of celebrating Jesus’ birthday can happen in our home just as well as it can happen in a church.
These are just some of the most basic issues that we deal with during the holidays. I didn’t even get in to the social situations that the holidays put us all in. Throw in Thanksgiving, a school concert, St. Nick, New Year’s Eve, and getting the kids back into their normal routines, and it is easy to understand why I dread putting everyone through it all. The next few weeks, I will write about some of our experiences over the holidays, give you some of what we have found works and what didn’t. There are bound to be some funny stories in the making, and also some troubling ones. Maybe you have guessed from my post, but I’m trying to psyche myself up here, when all I really want is to ask is, “Can’t we just turn the calendar to January?”
My writing inspiration for today. Enjoy!