Reasonably Confident Parenting

Take me to the zombies No matter how old they get, they still want Mum when they get sick. Today the Princess is laid low by an extremely vicious cold. She insisted on going to school yesterday, but this morning I overrode her objections and put her back in bed. Today I will be playing Flo Nightingale, fetching ice water and Benadryl, making easy-to-digest snackies, and just generally doing all those things mums (hopefully) do.

She’s eighteen this year. My God. I would say I feel old, but I actually just feel…grateful. She is an amazing human being, almost fully an adult, and if something happened to me tomorrow she’d make it in the world. She has the tools and the drive. (Not that I’m planning on exiting, I still have deadlines. Har har.) Which is really comforting, but the most comforting thing of all is that I did not do what I feared most–I seem to have avoided messing her–or her brother–up irreparably.

I had to build my parenting philosophy from the ground up, since I knew I didn’t want to do what had been done to me. It was hard. When you are working against the things acid-etched into you since childhood, it can seem insurmountable. I was forced to think very deeply about unspoken assumptions about parenting, about what exactly my responsibilities to tiny squalling bundles I’d calved were, and what rights I did and did not have to or over them. I did not like being beaten, threatened, emotionally abused, or terrified during my own childhood, I should not ever inflict that on anyone else. That’s pretty straightforward, but when you’re near a psychotic break from lack of sleep, suddenly responsible for a small thing that can’t feed, clothe, or wipe itself, and essentially abandoned in favor of drugs by the guy you married because everyone said you should–being knocked up and all–well, things get a little muddled.

I am extremely thankful they did not get muddled enough that I did what my childhood “caregivers” did. Instead, the first (and only) time I was tempted to commit a physical act of frustrated cruelty, I had one of the few incidents in my life I would outright call “religious”, where a voice I’d heard only twice before–both times warning and protecting me–spoke up in no uncertain terms, telling me to just walk away, shut the bedroom door, and let the baby cry for a few moments while I got a goddamn hold on myself. Whether it was simply my own conscience forced to radical neurological measures or a guardian spirit is academic, because the end effect was the same and I don’t give a damn anyway.

After that particular incident, I never again felt an overwhelming temptation to be an asshole to my kids. Sure, there were smaller moments of frustration, but those were normal and somewhat easily clamped down upon. I admitted to myself that I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, but as long as I remembered this tiny squalling bundle was a person, things would more than likely work out in the end.

They seem to have.

I hear a lot of bad shit about teenagers and parenting them. I hear it’s supposed to be a conflict-laden time, what with hormones and negotiating the passage into adulthood. Certainly my own teen years were a life-or-death struggle on my part, trying to preserve some psychic integrity and emotional wholeness in the face of overwhelming odds. I sometimes ask my kids, “So…are we supposed to fight, with you being a teenager and all?”

The Prince just widens his eyes and says “Let’s not, okay?” The Princess normally gives me a baffled look and says, “What on earth is there to fight about?” Or they come home after school and say some version of, “X was talking about their parents today, and oh my God I am so glad you’re my mother.”

Of course there have been times when they’ve thought I was crooooool and unjust. (Especially during their toddler years.) There have been periodic cases of them needing to bump their noses against a boundary or two just to make sure the safety net is still there and though things may be changing rapidly in their lives and bodies, Mum is still on watch and ready. There have been Consequences For Your Damn Actions, usually arrived at with input from the consequence-sufferer. (They often suggest much harsher punishments than I end up giving. But not always.)

In a way, I’m glad my own childhood forced me to consciously think about and decide what kind of parent I wanted to be. Not much of a silver lining, but there it is. The whole point of parenting is to get one’s offspring to reasonably ethical and compassionate adulthood, to a stage where they can take care of themselves and won’t be dickwads. I think a lot of people get so used to being The Authority in their children’s early years, they forget that the endpoint is a rational, independent adult. Consequently, when Being The Authority starts to take a backseat, they do what other challenged dictators do–tighten the iron fist.

And that rarely ends well.

So. I am reasonably confident that should Miss B succeed in putting me in my grave during a morning run, or if an airplane part falls out of the sky onto my head, both my spawn have a better-than-fighting chance of surviving in the harsh world. (Yes, my will is up-to-date. Just because I have no intention of shuffling off the mortal coil yet doesn’t mean I’m stupid or unaware.) I am also reasonably confident that when my children reach my age, I will not be such a toxic influence they have to cut off contact with me just to survive emotionally.

I am, finally, pretty sure that both of them know I love them more than anything else in my life or on earth, and that no matter how old they get, they can still count on me to bring ice water and Benadryl and smooth their foreheads and say, “it’s all right, baby bear. Mum is here.”

Even if I’ve accomplished nothing else, I can be proud when Ma’at weighs my heart at the end.

Over and out.

Mountain, Fork

twain3-00 Ever have one of those days where the sheer amount of things needing to be done in the upcoming weeks produces vapor-lock, and you are paralyzed by overwhelming anxiety?

Yeah. That was (sort of) yesterday, and is shaping up to be today. The only cure is putting my head down and performing small manageable chunks of larger tasks, but even then it feels like moving a mountain with a fork. Self-care becomes of primary importance in situations like this–because without it, the anxiety can eat you alive.

It has, after all, happened before.

I don’t talk a great deal about my anxiety disorder. (Or the goddamn depression.) One reason is that other people speak about it far more eloquently than I can. Another is the stigma of “mental illness”–though one way to break the stigma is to speak openly, sometimes I don’t have the fucking spoons. Then there’s the inevitable response that I need to “grow a thicker skin” or “get over it”. If I could “get over it” with sheer willpower, I would have done so. Lack of willpower is never something I’ve suffered. (I am, after all, still in publishing after a decade, not to mention still alive.) I tried the willpower route for years, and even when I was seeing Calm Therapist I resisted any suggestion that perhaps I might need a little more help. I’ve tried going off the meds, with Frau Doktor’s careful help, but the side effects of that have been…well, let’s just say there’s a reason I’m still on them and never miss a dose, though I loathe the very thought of taking pills for various reasons.

I am familiar with people who go off their meds regularly and use the occasion to spiral into an orgy of emotional (and physical) destruction of everyone around them–then go back on and blame the pills for the whole thing to escape responsibility for their actions. This is, in part, why I resisted taking pills at all; I do not ever want to even get close to being That Person. I am terrified of missing a dose; this makes me, I am told, one of the patients Frau Doktor worries about the least. (Which is nice.)

I still struggle with the feeling of being “weak” or “lesser” because the pharmaceutical help is necessary if I want not to wear my body out with its wonky over-response to stress. Life involves discomfort (thank you, Gautama Buddha) but, as Frau Doktor points out often, there’s regular discomfort and then there’s your body trying to hurt itself because of genetics and upbringing, and it only makes sense to treat the latter.

Even if you don’t have brain chemistry that actively tries to do you in, self-care is important. Yes, that voice in your head will always say “people are depending on me, I have to, I have to!” That’s all well and good, but one must care for oneself so one has the resources to care for everyone else.

So I’m off for a run, despite the anxiety screaming at me that I shouldn’t waste time on that when there’s so much work to be done. And I continue, day after day, holding my nose and taking the pills I don’t want to, because doing what’s necessary even when distasteful is what a responsible adult does. There is no room for the comforts of martyrdom when one has kids and dogs to feed, not to mention a house to keep from sliding into chaos.

Anyway, that’s the state of Chez Saintcrow today. (This is also the last day of the current coupon code at Payhip, if one is so inclined.) A morning run, using a fork to move a mountain, and remembering to eat.

When I put it that way, it sounds almost doable.

Rejection Game

what i do The smartmouth genie story (with extra added Ontario Cowboy Stripper) proceeds apace. Cormorant Run is due to start stacking up a body count today, or I’m going to get cross with it. Not that this particular story cares, I suppose. That’s part of its charm. What dubious charm this story possesses. It’s eating my head and it has to get out, but I’m not sure I particularly like anyone in it.

It’s a bright morning; before I run today, though, I have coffee to finish and administrivia to wade through. That will put me in a mood to swear and sweat, I suspect. The huge glaring yellow thing in the sky is out to get me; I am a creature of cloud cover and most productive when it rains.

Rattlesnake Wind got a rejection yesterday. An editor loved it but couldn’t interest a committee in it, which is very usual for my books. (I never do well in committee.) It has a teenage protagonist, so of course people want to pigeonhole it in YA. The trouble is, it’s also brutally honest and more than a little sad, so YA publishers don’t see it as a “safe bet.” I am of two minds about this. On one hand, my agent tells me I have good prospects and a dedicated fanbase in YA; on the other, dealing with the pushback from publishers on anything they think an Easily Offended Bible Belt Housewife might possibly take an exception to is tiring. I almost want to tell my agent to submit it to litfic imprints, but since my name is openly female and I’m a genre author, I don’t think there will be much interest.

Sure, there’s a sting in being told “not good enough”, but it’s a familiar one, and caused me only about a half-hour of irritation. I did have a moment of thinking “well, let’s put a male pseudonym on this and see if it sells, JUST AS AN EXPERIMENT,” but I don’t have the time or energy to deal with the various ramifications of that strategy.

There are still other publishers to approach, but most of them are YA, so I don’t know. The chances aren’t good, and I’m not sure my heart could take self-pubbing this particular book. It was painful to write, like lancing a very deep boil. There was a certain relief to it, but I wouldn’t willingly revisit the place where it came from now that I’ve said goodbye.

This is part of the publishing business: dealing with the rejections and understanding that even things you pour your heart into aren’t necessarily going to interest the bean-counters or the marketing committees. It’s okay to finish a book and know it won’t find a home easily or at all. At least it wasn’t on spec, it was something I had to write for my own sanity. So it’s not like I was cheated out of that (unpaid) working time. It can safely go in a drawer for a while.

After 50ish books dragged through the publication process, rejection is still the name of the game. (And people wonder why authors stereotypically drink.) And while self-publishing is more available than it’s ever been, there are still instances where and reasons why it’s not the best fit for a particular book. The people who urge it as a panacea are not, I suspect, being quite honest in such urging, but that’s (say it with me) another blog post.

Miss B has found out that a little bit of my ankle is bare because of the gap between my exercise gear and my socks, and she is nosing that one part hopefully. It’s time to get out the door.

Over and out.

Still Here

spring

A ramble in the park woods with B is pretty much always a good idea, no matter the season. It’s February, and yet spring has already blown in, somewhat lionlike. I keep telling the crocuses and hyacinths and cherry trees to be careful, but they know better than me, it appears.

They almost always do.

The rains are a little bit warmer now, and the earth is no longer resting. It’s teeming, and that subtle scent of small things waking up is everywhere outside. Sweet daphne and some heather are blooming, too early, and the few cherry trees putting out flowers are humming happily. I hope the mason bees wait for the apple trees at least, or the favas.

I was not quite surprised to see these vine-bushes leafing out already–they’re generally the first to test the wind, so to speak. They told me nothing can be put back in the bottle, that spring has arrived whether I want it to be cautious or not, and that they appreciate my concern but they’d be just fine.

Mouthy little things. They get a little sullen in high summer, but other than that, they’re more than happy to give advice. The firs and cedars are grumbling in their sleep, rising toward wakefulness–they generally wait until the deciduous ones have made a showing before they start rolling over and peering at the alarm clock, so to speak.

It’s here. It’s begun. Another rainy spring, and I am surprised to find myself still here. These fellows, though, don’t seem surprised at all. They greet me like an old friend, and there’s few things as comforting.

Scar, Strong

109ram_icons004 Running, this morning. A poem hits right between the eyes, and as I sweat I put the lines together, shake them, see the edges. Look at how they fit.

Think about the absences. People I couldn’t save, who didn’t want to be saved. The times I had to walk away, the times I’ve shouted down a dark well hoping to help, pouring love and energy into black holes.

Run harder. The poem comes back on little cat feet.

Turn it over, shake it again. The edges come together, seamless.

Memories. Mistakes. Nothing to be done about it now, did the best I could then, made amends where I could. If it could have been fixed it would have been. All the things your friends tell you when you begin to let them in again after curling around your hurt. Their patience, repeating it until sometimes you hear it in your head because it’s sunk in, finally.

Run harder. Yes, the poem’s there. It shimmers. Not perfect, an irregular pearl, but still all mine. Grit and nacre.

It takes so much for me to give up on someone, and even when I do, I still hope. I can’t break myself of the habit. You can’t man the perimeter against the little chink in your own heart, the space where you just want people you care–or cared–for to be happy.

Glance down at B. She’s enjoying the pace, but she’s not the young dog she once was. She’ll run until her heart gives out for me, but I never ask it. For her, I slow, even though I want to run until I drop, until I pass out, until the world turns over.

I have sentinels in front of that crack in my heart. Friends. It’s a good thing to have people who give a damn, it’s a good thing when caring isn’t a one-way street with all the giving at my end. Most days I am completely baffled by it, but on the good days I know I matter as a human being to a couple people. The good days are getting more frequent. Healing is difficult, but it can be done.

Workout over. Poem still in head, a reassuring glow. B glad to stop, though she’d run more if I asked. We walk, she basks as I tell her she’s a good girl. She noses a couple lamp-posts on the way home, reading the day’s news. Still an aching in my chest, but it’s just the scar tissue.

I can live with it.

Home. B on her bed in my office, Odd Trundles still napping on my bed–he woke briefly when we returned, greeting us before he went back to his ever-important late-morning nap. My hair is wet from the shower and I’m in the clothes I wore yesterday, the poem allowed to drift free into the world. Tea steeping, other words crowding my brain.

I feel around the scars, probing, taking stock.

They’re strong. Supple. They will hold for one more precious day.

So I write.

Empathy Drawback

psychoanalysed Rolled out of bed this morning feeling I could cheerfully hex the face off anyone I did not give birth to. The kids are now safely at school, and I (and my bad humor) are safely locked in the office, tapping at a keyboard. Of course, I have to go for a run later, but if I time it right (and since the clouds have returned) I may not have to interact with anyone. A mercy to all involved, I suspect.

It’s not that I don’t like people. It’s that I get so much overwhelming information from them, even strangers. Being hyperaware of tone, expression, body language, bracing myself against drowning in other people’s feelings or being constantly on guard in case they suddenly explode…it’s exhausting. Years of the habit of observation from being a writer have only sharpened childhood’s leftover vigilance, and a healthy dose (maybe an overdose) of empathy only adds to the problem. I spend a lot of energy in crowds or public places just keeping the wall between me and other people’s feelings strong enough to keep me from going under.

Sometimes I wish I could shut it off. The wish never lasts very long, because I’ve seen people devoid of empathy and I never want to risk that. I know there’s a middle way, but when I get tired, it’s hard to keep my balance. The anti-anxiety meds help, too.

Characters can be just as difficult, just as draining. I feel them just as strongly, even the villains. Getting so far inside their heads I understand each tic and tiny action takes a toll. I am not my characters, I just…feel them. Ache for them. Understand them, and try to translate that understanding.

The mornings when I wake up and feel like hexing, or clawing, or practicing my resting bitchface so strangers don’t try talking to me (it rarely works, they seem to find me irresistible, especially in grocery store queues) aren’t because I dislike people. They’re because I don’t have the time or energy to respond to an ambush of my empathy. The internet is a godsend, really, because I can limit interactions and hold the entire field at arm’s length. I don’t risk going under the waves of someone else’s feelings quite so much.

I should add that social media is only easier for me because of tools like the GGAutoblocker and a very tight curating of my FB friends. Muting, blocking, and being able to just not respond to certain things has managed to keep the regular harassment from being a Woman on the Internet (especially with Opinions) to a minimum, which is an outright boon for anyone with any sensitivity at all.

So I’m about to take myself and my face-hexing mood out for a run, and then settle into a long day of harnessing my weird brain chemistry to pull the writing plow. It makes me feel far less stabby and hex-y to realize this is probably the only job I’m fit for, and I’m definitely very lucky to be able to shut my office door and do it.

Over and out.

Odd and B, B and Odd

B and Odd

Ever since he was a frail, sickly puppy, there have been some days when Odd Trundles cannot settle or sleep unless he is as close to Miss B as he can possibly get. We often (half)joke that she reminds him to breathe. When faced with something unfamiliar, Odd’s default is to hide between my ankles, but if for some reason that shelter is unavailable, his first instinct is to glance at Miss B for guidance.

Miss B was used for breeding too early in her life, and still has medical problems resulting from that. Additionally, if she can’t herd something, she’ll attempt to mother it. Really, it was a stroke of luck we came across Odd, because from the instant he showed up, she’s been ready to unceasingly guide, correct, boss, and direct him about. Odd, bless him, needs such constant supervision, and B’s need to supervise is large enough to cause problems if not properly directed.

Really, they were made for each other. It hurts my heart to think of the inevitable, but I know that if Odd ends his sojourn on earth first he’ll wait for her spirit to tell him what to do, and if B goes first, Odd will have someone waiting for him when he goes.

Such is love.