Apples and Oranges

You can’t directly compare conditions a hundred or two hundred years ago to today.  At first glance, this seems obvious, and yet I consistently see people doing this.  The comparisons are made when we talk about vaccination, obesity, infant mortality, childbirth methods, autism, child labor, and probably half a dozen other topics that I can’t grasp at the moment.  The argument usually goes like this:  “A hundred years ago, before we had x, bad outcome y happened.  Today, if we didn’t have x, bad outcome y would happen all over again.”

Sorry, it doesn’t work that way.

First off, when you talk about anything involving health, you have to consider the whole picture of health, not just a piece of it.  Absolutely anything and everything that makes us sick today is more survivable than it was a hundred years ago because of a broad spectrum of basic health care improvements, including antibiotics, good nutrition, basic sanitation, and an understanding of germ theory.  These four things alone probably account for 90% of the increase in longevity and the decrease in mortality across all age groups. Whatever happens to you, you are less likely to die of it now than at any point in history, period.

This means you can’t take some one advance and say that removing or changing it will suddenly throw us back into the dark ages of health care.  If women go back to planning to have all their babies out of the hospital, neonatal and maternal mortality will not climb back to 1900 levels.  If we stop vaccinating altogether as a society, children will not die of the measles and polio at 1900 levels.

Socially, culturally, we are not the same society that we were a hundred years ago.  We’re not even the same culture as we were in the 1970’s when I was born.  The level of acceptance for “others” in our society today is so high it would have been absolutely unbelievable back then.  Information is readily available to anybody in search of it, one way or another, faster, cheaper, more accurately, and more efficiently than ever before.  Low birth and death rates have led us to cherish every life more dearly, to care more about every individual.

You can’t say that if laws against child labor were repealed we would suddenly have children working and dying in coal mines again.  You can’t say that if hate crime laws were repealed we would have a spate of lynchings.  Society doesn’t function the same way now as it did back then.  Trying to make these arguments is no more intellectually honest than a conservative saying that if gays are allowed to marry that suddenly nobody will live in nuclear families anymore and Christians will be forced to live in polygamous marriages with dolphins (or whatever the last crazy argument on that one was).

We live in a chaotic world, a world full of thousands, millions, even billions of factors, all interacting in billions of different ways.  There are eddies and currents, whirlpools and waterfalls, as information, disease, human interaction, and evolution mingle.  One person can make a difference in the lives of millions of people, and yet sometimes millions of people believing a thing can’t seem to make a difference for anybody outside their direct sphere of influence.  Ripples expand, waves reinforce each other and cancel each other out.  The beauty in this chaos is that so many different things can happen, so many different ideas can be tried out, forces tested, evolutionary paths explored in nature and in society.

But in a chaotic world, the same conditions never exist twice, and the same action almost never produces an identical reaction.

What’s It Like?

Another post today about living with disabilities reminded me of a question somebody asked me last night:  What’s it like to live with a blind husband and all these blind children?

First off, the connection with the article:  We see a lot of this attitude around our family’s blindness. People think blindness has to be all-or-nothing, not realizing that “high partials” like my husband and children are still disabled, still can’t drive or perform many jobs, still have to use a cane to get around safely, still have to use adaptations of all sorts in order to function.  I’ve said before that sometimes it seems like it is simpler to deal with being totally blind, because there are fewer choices and decisions to make.  (This is not saying it’s easier to be totally blind than partial, just that it’s easier to select the appropriate accommodations.)  You need a cane that you’ll be tapping, you qualify for a guide dog, you read braille and use audio.  For partials, there are so many shades of gray and so many decisions to make.  Can he read print? Does he need braille as well?  How about a CCTV for reading regular print?  Does he qualify for a guide dog (i.e., is he blind enough)? Does he need a cane to walk normally?  What cane technique, tapping or constant contact, cross body or swinging?  Which school materials should be made large print, which should be brailled, which can be used in audio format, considering that braille and print text are processed differently by the brain than audio?  Can he see colors? Can some functional improvement be achieved through exercises?

All of that is just not on people’s radar.  You’re either blind or you’re not.  So I can tell my son’s cheer coach that he’s legally blind, and yet because he looks and acts like a normal kid she puts him on the back row where he can’t see what the assistant coaches are doing in the front. We get harassed for using the handicapped parking even though my family might not be able to make it safely from the store to the car if we were farther out.

But really, that’s neither here nor there.  What’s it like living with blind people?  I don’t know.  What’s it like not living with blind people?  I don’t have much for comparison.  I’ve been with Brian since I was 15 years old.  It’s like asking Brian if he sees things blurry.  He’ll say no, of course not, my vision is perfectly clear and always has been.  He has no point of reference for “blurry” because his eyes have never worked the way yours and mine do.  I can guess by taking my incredibly strong glasses off, but it’s not the same.  You could come over here and try to do my job for a while, but you know you’ll get to go home soon.  It’s not the same.

I don’t know what it’s like to only have one child, either.  I went straight from zero to three, with all the difficulty that comes of having three babies at once.  It’s not like running a daycare, because they don’t go away at night.  It’s not like having twins, because you don’t have enough arms, enough boobs, enough parents to go around.  It’s not like having children close together, because they’re all teething at the same time, weaning together, learning to walk together, learning to climb out of bed in the middle of the night together, there’s a huge difference between 30 seconds apart and 9-10 months apart.  Part of the reason we had more kids was because I wanted that experience of having a baby, except I still didn’t get it.  I got to have a baby while having more kids who were older and still needed attention.

What’s it like around here?  I’m the only driver for eight people, including the other adult who works and supports our family financially.  I’m the only one who goes to all the doctor’s appointments, the one who is responsible for taking notes and remembering all the things doctors A and B said so I can tell them to doctor C and therapists D and E, because I can’t get ABCDE to sit down at a table together, ever.  I’m the one learning braille and cane technique in more detail than I ever needed as a mere wife, so that I can be the one responsible for making sure all my kids grow up to be productive, independent adults.  Nobody else is going to do that for me.  I can’t trust the government to do it for me.  I’m the only adult who can see all the dust bunnies in the corners and the flies flying around that keep returning and the mold in the shower stall and on the windows and how warped the boards in our porch are getting and all the weeds in the yard.  What people don’t see or notice, they don’t tend to care about.

It’s fucking hard, that’s what it’s like.  But you know what? I’d probably be bored anywhere else.  I’d hate working in an office, working a high-paying job just because of the prestige or money.  I’d hate hanging out with the frat people I drive around in my car on the weekends.  They’re not my people.  My people are right here around me, disabled, magickal, hippie, alternative, everything not mainstream, not normal.  That’s what my life is.  My life is not normal.  Sure, it could be easier, and I’m always looking for ways to improve.  But I like my life this way.

Transformation and Perspective

One day last week, while hiding in the coat closet, Kender discovered our old vacuum cleaner.  It’s been hiding there for many years, gathering coats instead of dust.  He decided this was going to be his new toy, and he pulled it out, hauled it to the hallway, and plugged it in.  Our first response was to take it away and try to hide it in the basement.  That did no good.  Every day, Kender goes down and finds wherever we’ve hidden the vacuum, pulls it out, and tries to haul it up the stairs, spilling the cord behind him.  Step by step, he heaves and tugs and eventually lugs the hefty machine to the top of the stairs.

Usually somebody stops him somewhere in this process, tells him no, and returns the vacuum cleaner to hiding.  Today, though, he made it all the way to the living room and found an outlet to plug it in.  I came out of the shower to find him happily sitting on the exercise bike, turning the vacuum on and off.

So I let him have it.  A couple of times today I went over and tried to show him how to vacuum properly, putting the beater bar against the floor and moving it back and forth, picking up extension cords and large pieces of trash that might be in its way.  Who knows? I thought, we could end up with a cleaner house.  He went along for a little bit, but always went back to just holding the handle sideways, finger on the trigger.

Did I mention that it is an incredibly LOUD vacuum?  This did nothing for the terrible headache that left me whimpering for a chunk of today, in pain the whole day.  I didn’t want to do anything today, nothing at all.  But I would settle for knitting in front of the TV.  So I turned that into an opportunity, challenged the kids to finish morning chores, and rented a documentary for us to watch.  Obstacle successfully converted!

Watching TV did require getting Kender away from the vacuum.  This meant our movie was continually punctuated by alternating screeching and very quiet and polite request to vacuum more.  We got a brief respite from that when Kender found the blueberries in the fridge.  As soon as the movie was over, Kender was back at the vacuum, happily making lots of non-screaming noise.

While dinner was cooking, we tried to pry Kender away from the vacuum again.  I got out a loop loom that came with our last Oak Meadow shipment and never got used, wondering if I could interest Kender in stretching the loops across the frame.  I netted a Jarod instead, while Kender huddled in a chair and fussed.  Once Jarod was off and running with the loom, I made Kender a deal: First we would read a book, then he could vacuum.  He screamed about that a few times, but then he did go get a book to read.  He screamed when I sat down to read it, but then he listened to the rest of the story.

And then he got to go vacuum.  He didn’t even want to come back into the dining room for dinner, and once we did get him to sit down, he had to take a couple of vacuuming breaks during the meal.  He’d get up and run into the living room, we’d hear the vacuum turn on for a few seconds, then he’d be back at the table, saying, “Thank you, Dad, this is a good dinner.”

When we announced bedtime, Kender went with a minimum of fussing, only asking me to please put the vacuum away for him.

I got to the end of the day feeling a little useless because of the headache and accompanying listlessness, but what did I really accomplish today? I took a shower and got dressed, I got everybody to watch some educational TV that actually sparked some good discussions, I used one of Kender’s obsessions to get some reading into him, I got Jarod started on a new craft, I got new tires for the van, and I saw Brenden’s last wrestling match of the season.  Not bad, really.

Driving from the Back Seat

A recurring theme from last night’s dreams really stuck with me after I woke this morning, all day long in fact.  It’s the image of driving a vehicle from the back seat.  Driving by itself is a pretty common theme in my dreams, taking long trips down quiet back roads, driving across the open plains, driving through a neighborhood at night, all kinds of driving.  But this was new: I kept having trouble getting the car to do what I wanted, only to realize that I was trying to drive it from the wrong seat.

It sounds ridiculous.  Can you imagine trying to drive a truck from the passenger seat?  How about a car from the back seat, literally from behind the driver’s seat?  I’m not talking about what we usually call “back-seat driving”, where a passenger is a bit too liberal with their advice to the real driver.  I’m talking about trying to reach around the seat to operate the wheel and the pedals.  Not only was I trying to drive from that insane position, but I had passengers in the car, and they were all expecting me to get to our destination.  Sometimes they were expecting me to get them out of trouble.

This stuck out to me because I do tend to give up control of my life to outside forces.  I don’t want to make decisions, especially little decisions or lots of them.  Anything from choosing a restaurant (or what to order when I get there) to deciding which of seventeen different urgent chores I’m going to work on, to picking which child I’m going to spend some one-on-one time with, all of it has, at one point or another, been left to the whims of outside forces.  Whether using dice to choose an item from a list or using somebody else’s household chore list, I’m not really shaping my life for myself when I do that.

Of course, in the dreams I never consciously chose to drive from the back seat.  How ridiculous!  Something must have forced me there, just like in real life I often feel like I am being forced out of control.  Want a child? Have triplets!  Feeling great? Have a stomach bug! Got an important therapy appointment? Here’s a retinal emergency with a child!  Want to spend time with a friend? Here’s my kids, her kids, another medical emergency, embarrassment and shame, or any of a dozen other things to neatly cut me off.

Still, I get the feeling that I’m being drug along by life, rather than leaning forward and choosing my path.  I spend my whole day reacting, getting from one requirement or responsibility to the next, thinking the whole time about how much I just want to check out, sit and knit, go on a road trip, play a game, go sing karaoke.  If I were to use a running analogy, I’m leaning backward and running on my heels instead of leaning forward and running on the balls of my feet.  If you do that while running, you end up tired, exhausted, slow, with injuries and pain.

Kind of like I tend to feel most of the time.

Maybe it’s time I started living more intentionally.  Stop reacting to everything and start causing things myself.

All those responsibilities, though.  The classes I promised to teach. The obligations I have to my own teachers that I never feel like I’ve fulfilled properly.  The family members who all just want something real quick (or maybe not so quick), nobody realizing that one request an hour multiplied by seven take up every spare scrap of attention I have.  I need to clean up the house, I have to help my children learn and grow, I need to make sure Kender is developing faster, I have to help bring more money in so the kids can spend it, I need to make more lists, I need to find another checklist…

No.  Wait.  Breathe deep.

It’s so easy to give in to that chaos, to let it all come inside until I’m drowning and just trying to keep my head above water.

But if I sink down into the water and look beneath the waves, I can see what’s ahead.  Everything becomes quiet, and I can move wherever I need to go.

Like being in the driver’s seat again.

If Today Was Your Last Day

If I only had one day left to live, I would spend it relaxing with my family.  I would spend some of my savings to buy a maid service to come in and clean my house so I would have a clean, dust- and mold-free place to spend my last day.  I would do something special with each of my kids, sing songs together with Tamara, play a Magic game with Brenden, work on some knitting with Caitlin, play a strategy game with Liam, cuddle with Kender.  I’d even venture out to Chuck E. Cheese for dinner with Jarod if he wanted.  I’d watch a movie or listen to a book with Brian, cuddling with him on the couch.  I’d spend this time with them, but I might also be consumed with the desire to see how much I could make in my last hours, how many things made by my hands I could leave behind.

If I only had one month left to live, I would find a way to die in Texas, warm and dry and surrounded by the desert hill country.  I’d start out by having a big yard sale, snowcover be damned, hauling out every item in my house that I wasn’t going to need anymore.  I’d take every dime I could raise by selling off my things and head out on one last road trip with my family.  We’d wander along the road at our own pace, stopping to see whatever catches our eye.  I’d teach Brenden and Tamara to drive along the way, so they could get the family back home without me.  We’d stop each night as the sun went down in the nearest comfortable hotel, and we’d go swimming together and watch movies until we fell asleep, sleeping in until everybody woke up the next morning to hit the road again.  We’d see the drive-through zoo, eat at Lambert’s and Chuy’s, go for a hike in the Ozarks, visit the church we got married in, take pictures in Texarkana, visit Inner Space caverns, and have a picnic on Lake Georgetown.  If I could truly have my wish, I’d hike up Enchanted Rock with the last of my strength and see that vista spread out before me one last time.  Maybe instead I can be around a big campfire next to a lake or a river there in the hills, listening to the crickets and smelling the cedar and mesquite around me.

If I only had one year left to live, I would be able to see that my kids were taken care of before I left.  I would see Tamara and Brenden through driver’s ed legally, and make sure the girls found apprenticeships.  I would get Liam and Jarod enrolled in Oak Meadow online so they could continue that with my life insurance money and stay out of the schools.  I would finish training my friend Ann to handle A’Kos and ask her to help take care of Kender, so he too could continue to grow at his own pace.  Our last family road trip, still funded by a  fantastic home purge, would hopefully be a little bit longer, heading out toward California to see my family there one more time, yes even my dad along the way.  We could spend a couple of months over the summer in our travels.  When next winter comes, I would bake cookies for Christmas and share my recipe with all my friends.  I would take the kids sledding after the first big snowfall and make snow angels myself, treasuring every moment even in the cold and muck.

If I only had ten years left to live, what could I accomplish?  I could dedicate myself formally to Loki and Hecate, find a way to learn every scrap I could and pass it on to others before I die, to my children, in books and workshops.  I could complete all my clergy studies and set up a church that might survive and be there for my children and grandchildren someday.  I could see all of my children grown or nearly grown, watch them begin to pursue their interests in the world.  I could teach Kender to read and write, to build and make his own things and create his own contribution to the world.  I could pay off our debts and buy a piece of land with enough room to have our own bonfire, our own outdoor space.  I could take so many more trips with my family, visiting so many places all over the Americas, and I wouldn’t even need to drive for all of them.  I would get to see Brian open his brewery, maybe even get to move back to Texas and live there a while before the end.  I would be able to learn many languages so that I could go and visit those places and understand what I see and hear; I could finally become the polylinguist I wanted to be as a child.

If I only have another forty years left to live…what will I do with them?

An Abundance of Love

My facebook feed has been full of posts about Leelah Alcorn, a teenage transgirl who committed suicide by stepping out in front of a semi on the highway.  I have a friend with a trans child who felt this story hit her like a physical blow in the chest.  It shows that the alternative of a dead child is a very real possibility when parents do not support their LGBTQ children.  For me, it reminds me of Guy Sterling, a friend in high school.  He committed suicide, too, after being thoroughly rejected by his family and peers for the crime of being gay in small-town Texas.

When I think of stories like Leelah’s and Guy’s, I can’t help but think about what the parents are probably feeling. They’re terrified by the Protestant vision of neverending hellfire and damnation, terrified that their only child will be lost to them forever, convinced that they can save their child if they only try hard enough. They believe that if they “give in” and accept their LGBTQ child, they’re condemning their child to that eternity of suffering. It’s not a lack of love. It’s an abundance of love combined with what their religion is teaching them. We can’t fight that by just saying they don’t love their child. They do. They love their child so much they will do anything for their salvation.

Sometimes what parents do to try and “save” their children ends up looking to the child like persecution, control, and rejection.  This isn’t limited to LGBTQ children.  It doesn’t always end in suicide, thankfully.  It still can leave horrible scars to the mind and soul, scars that are very difficult to heal.

I was raised Protestant.  I was baptized twice, first as a Baptist, then again as a Presbyterian.  I went to church with friends, sung and even toured in youth choirs, dated the occasional evangelical.  When I discovered Wicca and witchcraft at age 15, the country was in the grip of what would later be known as the Satanic Panic.  My mother was terrified for me, I think.  She doesn’t like to talk about it now, but I know she had books in her room with titles that ran along the lines of “Satanism and Your Teenager.”  When I brought Buckland’s blue book home, so engrossed in my discovery that I couldn’t put it down, she insisted that I never bring that book in her house again, that evil book with the giant pentagram covering the back cover.  When I told other family friends that I was a witch now, and they came to her terrified that I had sold my soul to Satan, she begged me not to say things like that.  When I moved in with Brian before we got married, all the books on Wicca that I had left behind in my room mysteriously vanished.

My mother was trying to save me.  I was learning and embracing a new-to-me religion that called to my very soul, spoke to my connection with the world.

15 is also the age when I went to college.  After my two years with TAMS were up, I had made many friends among the regular college students, friends who would still be there at UNT after all my TAMS classmates left for farther horizons.  I wanted to stay at UNT, continue on as a regular college student and pursue a CompSci degree.  Several of my friends were moving into an apartment for the summer, and I wanted to join them.  It took a gentleman’s agreement between me and my roommates, since at 17 I could not sign the lease, but they let me in.  I got a job so I could pay my share of the rent.  I had a car.  I had a bank account, albeit one many miles away in Austin.  I was determined to live like any other college sophomore or junior in that town of music majors.

Granted, I was also an undiagnosed Aspie.  I had never worked out self-regulation skills to help me handle things like chores and cleaning.  My hygiene was probably questionable.  My possessions were a mess.  My job was, ironically, working in the daycare at a church, of all places.  I had a pet snake that I actually didn’t know how to care for.  My bank account got bollixed because I had to mail in deposits, and I mistimed writing checks on the deposits and had a series of bounce fees.  I spent an inordinate amount of time on the computer, either working on typing in my Book of Shadows or hanging out on IRC, in #wicca or #hottub.  I struggled with depression, knowing I was different but not yet understanding how and why.  I had a lot of life skills yet to learn, and I was going to have to learn them the hard way.

It’s a good thing I didn’t find out I was bisexual until several years later.  That could have been the fatal straw, added on to everything else at the time.

My parents wanted to save me from that.  They wanted to bring me home, take care of me, send me off to college again to be the successful <insert money/power career> they dreamed of.  They saw all the problems and wanted to fix them, wanted to fix me.  I saw them trying to control me, trying to cut off my choices, not listening to me.  It came to a pretty dramatic climax that summer.

Somehow, though, my mother was able to get around that.  I don’t know how, but she’s still my mother.  She calls me and listens to me, comes to visit for holidays, goes out to the movies or the casinos with me.  She came to my first wedding, made my wedding cake.  She came when I was pregnant, came when I was having babies, held all my babies.  She came to my second wedding, the one I held mostly to share with my father.

My father took it all as a personal affront.  He said my actions were the same as me saying I didn’t want to have anything to do with him anymore, despite my insistence to the contrary.  He has spent the last 22 years treating me mostly as an acquaintance rather than a daughter.  He doesn’t visit unless I’m on his way to someplace else, or unless somebody is dying.  He didn’t come to my weddings, although he goes to his girlfriend’s children’s weddings.  He did not hold my babies.  He has never visited for the holidays; he spends them with his girlfriend’s family.

Something in what my mother did holds the secret here.  Somehow, despite her belief that I was going down in flames and in need of rescue, she was eventually able to accept me as an independent human being capable of making my own decisions, choosing my own path, accepting my own consequences.  Somehow, she was able to continue being my mother even when she disapproved of my actions.  There’s more than love there.  There’s some kind of strength needed to love something so much you can let it go, so much you can continue to give love and support no matter what.

We can’t just tell Leelah’s parents they don’t love her, because they do.  We have to find a way to teach how to love somebody and let them go, no matter what.  I don’t know how to do that when Protestant Christianity or other restrictive, eternal-damnation religions are involved.  Do you?  Do you know how to tell somebody that their religion is wrong, or that they must ignore their sincere beliefs, ignore everything they hear from their Bible and their church and their community?

The Tangled Knot

I am strong and confident, swift and competent, leaving completed tasks in my dust as I dance through my day.  I face adversity with a smile, and I always see the humor in everything.

I am grateful for my family and my home, for A’Kos the Super Wonder Service Dog and all he does for Kender.  I am grateful for the therapy we will go to today, and all the progress they help him make and the ideas they give me to bring home and work on with him.  I am grateful for opportunities to use my knitting and crochet skills to make money, which really is like having a dream come true.  I am grateful that my children see me as their wonderful mother and love me even when I feel like I’m doing a terrible job of it.  I am grateful that my gods speak to me and that I am still learning to listen and understand when they do.

I feel like I am being asked to examine and trim down my life right now.  It’s obvious that there is too much for me to do.  I have worked for the past few years on remembering to say no, to not step up to every opportunity, to not promise to help in the future, to only do what I can in the minute.  Still, I have acquired duties and obligations, little promises that I make to myself but that seem to have just as great a hold on me for all that they are secret.  Sometimes I’ve made the promises to other people, as well, which makes them that much harder to break.

I promised to make an effort to do things one-on-one with everybody in my family, because I felt like I wasn’t paying enough attention to them, not seeing and interacting with them as other people instead of just housemates.  I promised to spend time every day working on the ancient art of nalbinding, as a way to connect with the practices of my ancestors.  I promised to spend time every day working on my studies as a priestess, because being a priestess and a full member of a church is something I have wanted my whole adult life.  I promised to work at my seminary studies, even though I got fussed at for signing up and told I was crazy for staying, because I wanted to be there with my friend, and then I found I liked it and didn’t want to leave.  I promised to spend time working on French, even though I hate it, because I can’t handle working on more than one language at a time and Brenden is taking French and I don’t want somebody in my house to be able to speak words I don’t understand, and being multi-lingual is another thing I have always wanted and have never achieved, something I keep starting and stopping, half-learning and then forgetting.  I promised to spend just a couple minutes with myself, several times a day, to tell myself that I am okay, that I do the best I can, that I am not a failure.  I promised to exercise at least three times a week, even though I can’t run anymore, just simple bodyweight exercises to increase my strength and keep my heart pumping. I promised to check on my kids’ chores every day, and to just do them myself instead of yelling and fussing at them about it, to quietly achieve what I want (a clean house) instead of trying to force others to do it for me.  I promised to study Japanese with Jarod, because I figured an Asian language isn’t going to interfere with a European language, and he wanted to learn it to understand anime, and I always kind of secretly wanted to learn Japanese anyway.  I promised to work on picking up the boys’ room myself every day, because they won’t do it and I still feel Kender needs the cleaner environment.  I promised to write in this blog every day, or as regularly as I could, to get the words out one way or another.  I promised to do work in my yard every day, to try to keep the house from looking like trash and keep the city from coming by and telling me what a bad job I’m doing and threatening me with fines. I promised to pray every day, to spend time in meditation and communing with my gods.

That’s already a crazy list, but it’s just the things that I suppose could be dropped, the things that aren’t necessary to living.  It’s not including the necessary things, like doing laundry four times a day, taking my medicine, giving Kender his medicine, baths and teeth brushing for the two of us, keeping A’Kos groomed and maintaining his training, shopping for groceries and working to buy on sale and as cheap as possible, taking Kender to his therapy sessions (currently three times a week), taking the trash and recycling out to the street, balancing the checkbook and paying bills, making sure the kids are learning things and staying on top of searching out curricula and opportunities, driving them to their classes, paying for their classes.

There are things that I want to do, that I’ve put on my “habits” list to remind me and to reward myself for doing them, but to not punish myself for not getting around to them.  I want to teach my kids music, piano and guitar and drums and singing, since that’s what we have around the house.  I want to get Kender out more, go to the children’s museum and take advantage of the membership they gave us, or go to the park or other play opportunities like the bounce house place; I want to do crafts with him and read with him and play games with him.  I want to sell things I make on Etsy.  I want to ride my bike, because I still want to be my Aunt Anne someday when I grow up.  I want to get all the extra paperwork around my desks scanned and purged, all the pictures scanned and saved, all the pictures I have sorted and labeled and on display.  I want to study more, learn more about volcanoes and biology and chemistry.  I want to practice my divination more, do more tarot and rune readings.  I want to polish up my Spanish and finally become fluent.  I want to cook meals for my family, bake bread and cook yummy and healthy dinners.

That’s not counting the long, long list of things that I want or need to get done.  I still haven’t sent out thank-you cards for our re-wedding in February. (Yes, I remember everything and everybody, and you’re all on my list.)  I want to write rituals for myself and my family and friends for the various holidays.  I want to make practical and clothing items for myself, sewing and knitting projects.  I never did send out flowers or cards to some families that suffered deaths this past year, or buy presents for some weddings that happened.  The van needs so much work, oil change and new wipers and new tires and alignment and the steering arms replaced.  I want to learn more from Chris, see if I can figure out how she was making money from her blog and advertising and see if I can copy it, for myself and for her mother.  I want to see if I can sell my spelt baked goods in local markets, since nobody else makes anything like them that I’ve found.  I’ve got a pile of printer cartridges in a couple of boxes in my living room that were given to us to recycle for donations, either for Kender if possible or for the church if not, and I need to take them in someplace.  I still haven’t gotten a kennel for A’Kos, or a proper collar for Dot.  I need to give all the animals their parasite medications and take them in for their shots.  I’d like to write apps, a shopping app that would do what I wanted, a dog training app that would help with maintaining A’Kos.  I want to get a conversion setup so the kids can again use the SodaStream they got for Christmas last year.  I want get my grandmother’s china cabinet fixed, repaired from all the damage Kender has done.  I want my kids to be able to do SpiralScouts, even though this is the one thing I have drawn a firm line on, that I know I absolutely cannot take on as a leader because I already tried and failed.  I want to get horse riding lessons for Kender for therapy, and for the girls so they can learn to work with the horses like they want. I want to help more with my church, help with advertising and fundraising, work on expanding into the Lansing area.  I need to do some more yard work, clean up around the meter where the electric company has fussed at me, repair the play set and add some more things that never got attached. I need to renew A’Kos dog license.  I want to do dissection experiments with Liam and Jarod, and get Liam signed up for good karate classes, and get him some economics lessons.  I want to get Kender’s donor list into a better electronic format, and get pictures made of Kender with A’Kos, and send out Christmas cards to everybody on the list.  I want to decorate my house and home for the seasons.  I need to return a book player and some book cartridges to the state library, and some braille books to the Jernigan library.  I need to get Liam back in to the opthalmologist for new glasses.  I want to get my Linux computer back up and running in the dining room so the kids will have another computer to use for learning.  I want to finish designing a loft bed with platform step-shelves so A’Kos can get into the bed.  I want to build five loft beds so my children will have space to call their own and places for dressers and desks.  I need to order new mobility canes for Caitlin and Brian.  I promised Caitlin to make an appointment for her to get her ears pierced.  I promised Tamara I would call the school about getting her into the choir program.  I want to make my own laundry detergent instead of buying it.  I want to upgrade my altar tools, get charcoal burners for incense and a wand and things.  I have a spell-form that I am working on, and I need to order some more parts for it.  I promised to send a box of clothes to a friend.  I need to call and reschedule an opthalmologist appointment for half the family.  I always need to go buy various articles of clothing for the kids.

Or the things others have asked me to do, and I’ve said yes to.  The socks, hats, mittens and scarves everybody wants, the dresses and swimsuits and pajamas and jackets and pants and ritual robes and even whole wardrobes I’ve been asked to make.

And around all this is the driving and attendance time.  I need to drive Brenden to wrestling competitions and drive his girlfriend home when she stays for dinner, drive Tamara and Caitlin to art class, drive Tamara and Jarod to cheer classes and competitions, drive Kender to therapy, sometimes drive Brian to work and to the store, drive the kids to see their friends, drive everybody to Foster classes and the park, and when I’m not driving people around, I can go out and drive people around for Uber and earn some money.

These are all of the things that keep spinning around in my head, all of the wants and needs and promises and obligations.  How to sort through all of it?  How to get it down to a manageable size?  How to say, ok, I’m not going to keep that promise?

Dear friend,

Chris KeithIt’s been a year since you were taken from us.  Such a long time, and such a short time.  Time enough to diminish somewhat the immediate soul-searching I did wondering if I could have helped you, if I could have saved you, if I should have done something different.  Not nearly enough time to touch the searing anger and hatred I feel toward the pathetic, cowardly excuse for a human being who took you and your son from us.  Not enough time to dim the horrific images that flash through my mind every time I pass your house, every time I see your surviving children, every time I see a reference to you.

543955_10152445652489745_238375657_nAlmost one year ago, my facebook feed slowly morphed into an indecipherable sea as all of our shared friends, so many of them, changed our profile pictures to the same picture memorializing you.  Don’t worry about it.  It means you were loved, loved so much and therefore missed so much.  Every so often it happens again: on holidays, on the day your ashes were finally laid to rest, on the Day of the Dead, on your birthday, on the anniversary of your murder.  As time goes by, the sea of images becomes a little easier to decipher, as some of us become a little more creative and find new images.  It’s not any easier to see, though.  Not yet.

I don’t remember the date of everybody’s death.  I don’t remember those dates for my grandparents, for my aunts and uncles.  They all died late in life, sometimes unexpectedly and sometimes after long illness but always after a long, full life, after seeing their children grown and their grandchildren born.  Their passing was just another natural step.  The circumstances of your death, dear friend, have seared the day I found out into my memory.  I wonder how many years will have to pass for that to begin to fade.

Our circle of friends is assuaging some of the guilt we all feel by trying to help others in your shoes.  We are gathering supplies and donations for a local shelter, aching to provide anything these women ask for as they save their own lives, just as we ached to provide everything you needed when you asked.  We remember the joy in you when you thought you had escaped, when you finally had control of the reins on your life.  We don’t want to see it snuffed out again in somebody else.

I remember you every day.  I do what I can to help your mother as she struggles to raise your children while shouldering her own burden of grief and loss.  I remember the lessons you taught, intentionally or not, the lessons of endurance, making do, perseverance, and finding laughter in spite of everything.  We ate the acorn bread made from the recipe you loved on your birthday.  When the anime convention comes back to town, I remember the night I took you out on the town and we watched all the cosplayers pass by the bar windows while we talked.  When I make queso, I remember sharing it with you at night when you needed a friend.  When it’s time to come up with new classes at Foster, I think of the classes you taught and the stunts you pulled, and I wonder how I can ever compete with your legacy.

Today, I am grateful for the breath of life, and for all my friends who continue to breathe it with me.

I am grateful for my wonderful husband, who is always kind and loving and gentle.

I am grateful for all my little (and not so little) ones, and all the days I have to hold them close.

I am grateful for the inspiration to do more with less, to be more in the face of any trial.

I am grateful for your help in our fundraising efforts for A’Kos and Kender.

I am grateful for the mark you left on my life, dear friend.


No Good Time

There is no time when I can guarantee that nothing will keep me from making an appointed time.  I can never promise that Kender will not have a meltdown over putting on his coat and shoes.  I can’t promise that I can exercise complete control over the sleeping and waking habits of six or seven other people in addition to myself.  I can never promise that nobody will throw up as I am walking out the door, that somebody throwing or pounding or stomping something won’t cause shattered glass to flood my house right before everybody got their shoes on.  I can’t be sure that the shoes and socks and mittens I located the night before will still be in their appointed place the next day, unmolested by dogs and cats. I can’t ever be sure whether the sneezing, coughing, nose-blowing, and diarrhea I deal with every morning will last for 5 minutes or 2 hours, or maybe skip a day.  I can’t promise there won’t be an unpredicted ice storm causing my trip to double in time.  I don’t know whether I myself am going to have a break-down because I can’t access my schedule, because the bill-collector called again for the bill I’ve been making payments on since day one, because one more thing of mine has been broken by another person, because I can’t handle being so completely out of control.

There is no good time.  There is no better schedule.  There is never something I am not late for ever.

A Twisty Maze

“You are in a twisty maze of passages, all alike.”

There are so many different paths to follow, and they all get tangled up into a knot.  Some of them only call with whispers, while others yell and shout loudly to keep my attention.  No matter what path I head down, I always end up back in the same tangled knot.  There must be a way through, some secret combination of twists and turns that will lead through the maze to the endgoals without abandoning it entirely.

There is the path of children and family.  This one is very loud indeed, and it has many branches.  There is really only one goal, raising children capable of fending for themselves, thinking critically, and learning anything they need or want to know.  There are so many paths that can lead to the same goal, though, as well as many false paths.  How do you tell the difference when they all look the same?

There is the path of spirituality.  This one has called to me since I was young, and only recently has transformed from a serious of dead-ends to a wide path making steady progress.  The goal of this path is to move as far as I can in this life down the road of self-improvement, hopefully discovering and pursuing a life’s work along the way.

There is the path of music, another path I have been on most of my life.  So much music, so many ways to sing and play and dance.  It is a path followed for sheer enjoyment, much as it would be gratifying to make a name or even just some money for myself along the way.  Close to the path of music is the path of crafting, of making things with my hands.  Most I do things with fiber: knitting, crocheting, tatting, cross-stitch, nalbinding.  These paths are so easy to follow, with wide corridors and a gentle slope, I often gravitate to them when I am just too tired to go any further down any other path.

Speaking of money, there is a path for making money.  It calls to me every time I pay a bill or check our budget for the next month, with the goal being to not have to worry anymore, to have no debt and live in the location and house of our choosing.  Lately it has taken the form of Uber driving more than anything, but it still presents in different forms: teaching, knitting, software development, any skill that I have that others need.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether this path is actually moving forward or backward, with the cost and effort sometimes required to traverse it.

There is always, behind all of this, the work of maintaining life and shelter.  Cleaning house, making food, shopping for necessities, doctor’s visits, choosing and taking medicines, all of these are required duties.  They are like maintaining my equipment as I explore the passages, keeping up my strength, making sure I have enough rope and carabiners and rubber on my shoes.  If I don’t do a good enough job on these things, I can’t make any progress down any of the paths.  Not only do I need to maintain my own equipment, I need to maintain the equipment of seven other people.  Some of them are incapable of doing their own maintenance.  Others are becoming capable but are usually unwilling, and then I have to decide whether to continue doing it myself or to leave them behind, possibly failing to bring them down the “family” path to its goal.

Five different paths, plus the maintenance required to follow them.  Following one path can lead to moving backwards along another path.  Generally only one path can be followed at a time, so time spent on one is time not spent on the others.  Maintenance time is never travel time.  Somewhere in this maze of twisty passages is some secret code, a special combination of time spent along each path and time spent in maintenance that helps all paths move forward.  Maybe there is even a way to find a super-passage, to leave the maze and find the one tunnel that leads to all the goals at once.

It’s dark in here, though.