Back from Vacation

Well, I’d update y’all on our vacation down to San Antonio and the Gulf Coast and the truly wonderful Mission Trail and the inspiring churches that we visited, but my husband accidentally left my camera’s memory card plugged into his laptop, so it’s at work with him. So I don’t have any cool nifty photos of the blustery beach (where it poured rain, despite being August in Texas) or of the gorgeous interiors of the 300 year old chapels.

Once I have my photos back, naturally, I’ll compose a nice long blog post to fill everyone in. It was a pretty rough trip– Miss Autism was a handful, and the Tank had a total meltdown when he was away from home– but the places were iconic and we actually managed to have some fun when we weren’t fighting like cats and dogs.

And, hey, bonus!!! Miss Autism woke us up every morning at 7am by chanting “Get Up. Get Up. Get Up.” in a droning monotone until we all finally clambered out of bed in a daze of exhaustion. And now my night-owl ways have been mended. Because you can’t wake up at 7am for a week straight and still have the energy to stay awake until 2am. Not without drugs, anyway, and I’m stone cold sober. (Not that I didn’t long for some stimulants every day around noon. Coca Cola only gets you so far when you’re walking several miles in sandals.)

So, vacation was accomplished, the bank account was depleted, and the older kids are back in public school. The little kids and I are taking the week off because we need it. We’ll do the homeschool gig starting next week. Even so, they’re playing with Duplo blocks and spent a while painting watercolors today, so it’s not all video games and YouTube videos. I was starting to think that I’d have nightmares about Stampycat and The Diamond Minecart if they listened to them any more.

Oooh, and I have the new Robin Hobb book in hand. Life is good.

Struggling

It’s the last week of band camp and the Adorable Baby is, for once, healthy. So of course I’ve picked up a nasty stomach bug somewhere and I’ve spent the past 36 hours miserably sick.

But, hey, I did catch up on some reading.

Some of it, I had to do simply to keep me from losing my mind. Miss Autism decided to spend part of the afternoon destroying the walls again, so her dad was pretty upset when he got home and found his hard work wrecked. So I had to ground her to her bedroom at bedtime. All of her sleep medicine was to no avail, so I had to park the chaise in front of her little hallway that leads from her bedroom to her bathroom and refuse to let her come out into the main part of the house.

She was pissed, to say the least. She spent at least an hour obsessing over a wall socket that she wanted to take off. I eventually let her, simply because I was sick of hearing her say “socket” over and over again. So I ended up spending 3 1/2 hours sitting in front of her hall, telling her repeatedly that she couldn’t come break any more lightbulbs (her new fun activity) on the floor or shred the covers off my books (another new hobby. One I loathe.) Or tear the corners out of the drywall, which is making our house look like something from Fallujah.

Speaking of destroyed Iraqi cities, I did spend the time in reading Dexter Filkins’ book about that conflict, “The Forever War.” I found it pretty depressing, although interesting. There’s only so much inhumanity that you can read about before you start wondering if we’re just too bad to be saved. While I must believe that we are (it’s kind of the point of Christianity), it’s a hard thing at times when you’re reading about insurgents using drills and knives and whatever-else they could get their hands on to torture people who disagreed with them. Still it’s a valuable piece of reporting, just to keep that horrible mess in mind (and the price we’ve paid in blood to try to solve it.)

I also finally forced myself to go back and read through “The House of Mirth” from the beginning. While I admire Edith Wharton’s writing ability, the characters just were never freed to actually be “real” (inasmuch as fictitious characters ever can be, of course.) I didn’t particularly enjoy “The Age of Innocence“, either, though– once again, she had a very dismal sort of sense of what was possible between two people who were separated by social strictures.

One wonders if Mrs. Wharton actually liked men much at all– her male characters all seem to either be grasping fat greedy middleaged wrecks or ball-less young men who think they’re intellectual but lack all courage of their convictions. This is, I admit, on the basis of only two books, but I am somewhat discouraged by this trend. It makes me hesitant to pick up another of her novels– life’s plenty depressing in reality (hello, Fallujah) without adding to my misery with another unsuccessful love affair doomed because the main characters are too weak to “go for it” against the mores of their social group.

But, then, I never was one to give the very least damn what people thought. Maybe other people worry about it a lot more than I do. There’s a price, either way.

Anyway, busy as can be lately. Got the older kids registered for school yesterday, shuttled them around to work and band camp, and spent a lot of time trying not to throw up. Hoping that today is better. Tired of someone being sick every single day!

What you want, what you need

In the late 1980’s, I was painfully, horribly, and terribly enamoured of a rock star. Okay, of several rock stars. My parents gave me a cassette tape player for my tenth birthday, which began my now 30+ year obsession with music and the lovely men that make it. (Women, I listen to with enjoyment but, face it, I am all about the dudes.) By 1987, when INXS really made it big with their album, Kick, I was totally hooked on their lead singer, Michael Hutchence.

What was not to like? Scruffy, magnetic, and seductive. Basically my thirteen-year-old’s heart’s desire . . . and knowing, now, the tragic ending that he would have, I can see that some of that brokenness in his lyrics was guaranteed to appeal to lonely teenaged girls. The Byronic air that he gave off was irresistible.

One of INXS’s previous hits was the song “What you Need.” It wasn’t my favorite song– in late 1987 and early ’88, my fav was definitely “Need You Tonight“– but it both definitely held a promise of things that, at 13, I hadn’t even seen secondhand: passion, romance, true love, desire, and really good hair.

And now I’m 41, four years older than poor Michael ever lived to be, and it’s not my turn anymore to be yearning after those things. I get to watch my children live through it now, and it’s even more painful to watch them longing and floundering through those first attempts at love than it ever was to be that awkward teen.

But what do *I* need now? I’m not dead yet, and I possibly have another couple decades of life ahead of me. What do I really want to do with those years? I’ve accomplished some of the things I always dreamed of– I’ve had the children I wanted (plus a couple extras), I’ve owned horses (bad ones), I’ve written a book or two (unpublished, sure, but written), I made it through college and got a nursing license, and I’ve burned through lots of money along the way, pursuing the various tangible rewards life offers.

But what next?

My family likes to ponder what I’d be doing if I hadn’t had the surprise (blessed and lucky beyond belief) of having the Adorable Baby last year. I know that my emotional life would be very different– the Adorable Baby has been, without reservation, the best thing that’s happened to me in the past five years. My physical life would be different, too– I was scheduled for a thyroidectomy the week after I found out I was pregnant. I cancelled that and, bad woman that I am, haven’t rescheduled it. My lumps are, apparently, not growing very quickly, so I’m not in a hurry to get my neck sliced open anytime soon.

I looked it up this week and airfare to Spain for the pilgrimage I want to make would cost $7000 roundtrip just for me, hubs, and the three smallest boys. Seven grand, sheesh.

Guess it’s time for me to get my career back on track so I can afford to do the things I really want to do with my life.

When geeks do home improvement

So, despite the Adorable Baby having yet another mysterious “rash with fever” this week (and being dubbed “The Measel” as a result), I have undertaken a bunch of home improvement projects. I confess, I read that Japanese decluttering book everyone’s been talking about and I finally decided to clean my act up and get rid of a bunch of crap.

I do hate throwing out furniture, though, which explains why we have a 30 year old wing chair in the game room, so tattered that the fabric is falling off of the arms. We bought new living room furniture when we first moved into this house in ’07, but we bought BIG furniture and it’s just not working out for our current style. And since I can’t stand to throw away a perfectly good set of furnishings, the pieces have been shoved in odd places and repurposed. The cabinets that enclosed the TV are now holding homeschooling supplies in the dining room, the bookshelf is being painted white and hauled upstairs to hold knick knacks, and the huge couch is currently the preferred place for the kids to zonk out while watching tv in the game room.

My newest and most fun idea, however, involves the coffee table. It’s got four drawers underneath it and it’s heavy wood, but the top was just laminate over chipcore and the kids have destroyed it. We’ve had a lot of fun gaming sessions on that table, though, which gave me the idea of making it a “gaming table” for the sheer geek chic of it.

The top is wrecked, so I can happily sand it off or just replace it with a thinner piece of wood. My plan is to strip off and sand down the wooden sides and paint the thing a nice color– maybe a sage green? That seems gamer-friendly. Then I want to put some nice trim framing the top, painted to match, and the piece de resistance . . . I want to put down Dungeons and Dragons tiles across the top to make a permanent playspace, sealing it in with a thick coat of polyurethane.

I’m probably going to choose an outdoor tileset, plenty of trees and dirt roads and whatnot. (And, shhh, I may use a Pathfinder set if they’re a better fit) . . . but I think it will be fun. The drawers underneath are perfect for storing books and minifigs and dice, and impromptu games won’t even need a battle map. Best of all, it will give the kids a play space for their other toys, too– you may not know it, but Playmobil figurines make excellent D&D characters, just on a slightly modified scale. You can arm them in so many ways and they have LOTS of dragons these days!

I have always loved turning furniture into these sorts of things– the boys’ room has a dresser that hubs and I painted to resemble a jungle adventurers shipping crate, complete with decoupaged travel stickers from Timbuktu and Egypt and India and maps of exotic locales glued to the top and polyurethaned in place. The years have worn the poly thin in places and the maps are a bit battered, but that just adds authenticity, right? 😉

It’s a lot of work, but I think it will make an admirable table for just having fun and goofing around with the kids. I just have to make sure to make the polyurethane nice and thick– don’t want any moisture ruining the tiles! Who says your house has to look like Martha Stewart lives there, right? She doesn’t. I live here, and I game. 😉

The Reason

This morning, I went out early to water the garden, feed the chickens, and check to see if the laundry on the line was dry.

Morning glories just unfolding.

Morning glories just unfolding.

I took a few pictures, still trying to learn the ins and outs of my new camera. I have a lot to learn about photography, but that’s true of pretty much everything. I’m 41 but I still have so many things I need to practice and develop and study. Life’s way too short.

I read Barbara Pym’s very good novel “Excellent Women” last night– it’s been on my to-read shelf for years but I finally got in the right mood to read it. It’s a meditation on being single and growing older, really, and it’s all of a piece with Pym’s autobiographical book of letters and diary entries, “A Very Private Eye.” Pym’s lifelong question was how to make sense of a life that didn’t include marriage and children and all the accomplishments that society has always expected of women.

My life, of course, has been led in search of the answer to the opposite question– how does one make one’s life meaningful when all one has seemed to accomplish is to bear and raise children?

It’s not something that can easily be answered. My generation was really the first where we were expected to go and “make something of ourselves” beyond just being housewives.  It didn’t help that I was one of those precocious children that seems to hold such promise for the future yet still somehow underperforms. It burdens you with this lifelong sense that you’ve failed by not being as amazing as everyone thought you’d be when you were six.

You can’t blame your parents for having high hopes, of course. We’ve all held our secret little dreams that our children will succeed beyond any reasonable expectations. Some parents, in what I think is a misguided focus, spend all their time and money and energy trying to ensure that their children will be the very best possible version of themselves. It’s not a fun life for the children, and I think it puts too much focus on the results, as if our parenting is a contest and we’re only to be adjudged successful if our children are millionaire stockbrokers or Pulitzer prize-winning authors or lauded scientific minds.

I’ve always been definite that my success or failure is to be judged according to my own accomplishments (or lack thereof.) There have been complications in my life that have kept me from reaching my own goals. And there have been obstacles that I am only slowly starting to overcome. You’d be amazed how much a very basic and simple problem with “how one should eat” can cause tons of collateral damage in your life. But I am learning, daily, how to be a person. I am hoping that I will become, in time, a really good one.

I didn’t even know, as a child, that being a good person was really the important goal I needed to chase. Curing cancer, sure, but being able to tolerate other people’s faults without being irritable or rude or mean to them? It didn’t seem nearly as important. Of course, now as a 40-something person, I can see it’s infinitely harder to be truly kind and good than it is to ace a test or write an A-rated essay.

The reason, however, that I do all of this is for the love . . . the love of God, of my family, and even for the wretched human wrecks that populate the world. It’s the reason my daughter’s autism is such a struggle for me: she is still, no matter how disabled, that baby I carried for 42 weeks, the child I had such hopes and dreams for, the girl who I loved despite her oddities and problems. I love her. Sometimes I want to defenestrate her, sure, but what mother doesn’t occasionally want to throw her 20 year old daughter out a window, at least once or twice? The people you love can be maddening in their behaviors even among “normal” people.

Love is the reason. And love is part of the pain. It hurts to watch someone you love suffer, and no one can tell me that my daughter experiences her autism as a positive thing. She has too many actual physical scars from her obsessive skin-picking and her destructive habits. She’s lost too much.

My life’s accomplishments, such as they are, can only be measured by the impact I make on the lives of those around me. What use is it if my children are astrophysicists if they remember nothing but my stringent expectations and my tense insistence that they make it to practice on time and finish their physics homework? I’d rather they remember my love and the things we did together for fun.

I still have some time, I hope, for more accomplishments. I’d like to do a lot more things. Some of them aren’t big and fancy– I’d like to take a good family portrait of us, for one, and finish organizing the game room. Some of them are more ambitious (and prone to never getting done.) But the accomplishment I do have is that I’ve made it this far and learned enough to know that I still have far to go.