Monday, December 30, 2019


What happened? Where did the time go? Should I even be asking these questions, which are basically pointless?

I've had a lot of days in a row in which I woke up, started doing things, and didn't stop doing things until I laid down to go to sleep. Sometimes it's been hard to shut my brain off, and I just accept that and do a little reading or whatever might help me slide from doing doing doing doing into relaxing and letting go. At times ten minutes of reading will do the trick, but then there are nights that it takes an hour or more. In those instances I feel that I just need to finish thinking the thoughts that got interrupted during the day, and I let it happen.

I went through a small crisis of - well, I'm not really sure - at the beginning of December. It just felt like my optimism had bottomed out. I could see clearly that some things in my life were improving and moving forward, but there was a weight that had settled on me that felt like there was too much which remained unresolved. For the end of the year that I had pegged optimism as one of my guide words, this was a sorry state of affairs. I feared I would end the year in pessimism instead. And then I felt a gentle nudge, a small reminder that perhaps I had felt this feeling before? And that it did not mean certain doom? The realization was slow to come, but I got there somehow. This is the feeling of waiting, of expectation, of - dare I say it? - hope. Not a shallow hope that sings sweetly, but a deep knowing that there is something else afoot, and that my work is not to sink into this feeling but to wait through it.

After all this time, I am still not very good at waiting. I've had lots of practice. I've seen patience pay off. Yet it remains a challenge for me. I want to move steadily forward, with some degree of predictability involved. But it is not so most of the time. I know what I am meant to do in the now. I know the small ways I am to do the work of waiting. So as this year comes to a close and the next makes its way around the corner, I find I am prepared for what is ahead, though I don't know exactly what that might be or how long it will take to get there.

I wasn't sure if I would choose words again this year, but it turns out that some have emerged which will be useful to me. Once again, permanence is at the top of the list. There are things we need to do to secure things for our children's future, so that the choices we wish to be available for them will be theirs. Second on the list is perseverance. None of these things we want are going to come in an instant, or at least I don't think they will. I will need to continue to focus my efforts and see things through, to take the long view when short term gain seems more appealing. And for both of these other tasks I need patience. So now I have a third word. Yes, that's right, the woman who once scorned the "word of the year" thing now has three. I know. Oh well.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Nearing the End, But Not at the End (Slow Down!)

I keep seeing posts saying that it's the last month of the decade, and today I finally squinted at one with dismay and said, "It's still November." Are these numbskulls trying to rob me of my favorite month of the year? Or are they just in a hurry, as many of us seem to be? I am trying to be less in a hurry, thank you very much, so pipe down about the last month of the year and related nonsense until it's actually the last month of the year. And you can skip it then, too, actually. But if you must, please be correct, is what I'm saying.

I've been doing a lot of DIY and seem to have had a burst of culinary creativity. Right now I've got two slow cookers going, some cabbage (hopefully) turning into sauerkraut under a tea towel, some fig jam cooling in jars on the countertop, and injera batter bubbbling gently as the yeast multiplies. This burst began Wednesday, when I woke up to finish organizing the books on the living room shelves. I spent a week and a half taking out the carpet and painting the floorboards white in there, shifting furniture gradually as I went, and the result now that it's done has been a certain gladdening of heart and increase in motivation to do other things. I don't know why.

Well, I do. It's the same reason that my new (to me) shirt makes me feel good. Our surroundings matter. I sometimes wish this weren't true, but then think of all we would miss out on that is good in the world if our surroundings were neglected. Most creative things, I think. I struggle with the balance between creating a space around myself that is peaceful and beautiful, and making sure that I do not do it at the expense of other things (and people) which are more important. (Or maybe as important, but in a different way.) Should I be spending £30 on a can of floorboard paint when there are more and more homeless people out in the cold? What about that same amount on new-to-me clothes? These are things that I think about.

But that's not the point of this post, or it wasn't when I sat down to type it out. I have been thinking a lot about the close of the calendar year and what I hoped would happen during 2019. The theme of the year was permanence, with optimism tagging along. I'm not sure if I've gotten better at optimism. I think maybe what I've gotten better at is acceptance and having a sense of humor when it matters. Permanence, though, we seem to be making some progress on as a family.

In the summer, J received settlement status (also called indefinite leave to remain), and we signed a three year lease on our current house. Three years is a good long time to plan to be somewhere, and makes it worth it to change some things that are bothering me - thus the DIY. J receiving settled status means that the other three of us may now apply, and I will take what a friend calls "the stupid test" - aka the Life in the UK test - on Thursday. Will we have the applications in before 2020 comes calling? I hope so. It will be nice to have that settled (pun intended).

While I can't say they come under the banner of permanence, there are also some other questions which were settled and some responsibilities that I let go of this year. It feels like I am moving forward with a better sense of what works for me. Maybe I am moving into a more permanent life balance? It would be optimistic to think so, but as that was my other word for 2019, I'm just going to go with it, and now dash off for a little more DIY (new curtains!) before dinner.

Monday, November 4, 2019

That Monday Feeling

This is how it goes. I wake up in the morning and stumble downstairs. Make coffee, give treats laced with herbal drops to the cats, return to drink the coffee in bed. This is a luxury, and I know it. My children launch themselves onto the bed. What's for breakfast? Why that again? Ugh. I remind my youngest that this is not a restaurant. My oldest wants to recount her dream to me, loudly. There are arms and legs everywhere, including in my face. Two nights ago I got kicked in the head, hard, as one child launched herself off the other child's bed, just after I'd asked her to please lie down quietly if she wanted me to stay in the room until she fell asleep. My hand instinctively smacked the foot away from my head, and the owner of the offending foot felt I did not apologize enough, or as sincerely as she would have hoped. Good parents don't smack their children. Yes, but it wasn't that kind of smack - I was attempting to protect my head. She told me to go away, then later to come back. That night, I went to bed with a headache.

But this is today. Monday. Neither of my children wants to listen to the school readings. Neither wants to make an effort at math. I fantasize about sending them off to school every day, and I try in vain to impress upon them how very easy they have it, studying with me for a few hours instead of spending the entire day doing what someone else has decided they should do. I tell them I am not going to send them to school if they don't wish to go, but I also tell them that if they don't learn these very basic things, they will end up adults with 800 roommates and no good food in the house. Forget about complaining that the pastry I bought is not something you find to be delicious at this moment in time; you might just have one moldy orange. Maybe a brown banana. You'll have to come to my house and admit that you were wrong when your were seven and twelve years old, and you should've studied when I asked you to, and now you are broke and hungry, and you would like to eat dinner at my house, and I will say yes because I am the nicest mother in the universe.

Later, my oldest complains because I will not tell her what to write down for the assignment she is meant to do for a teacher who is not me. I tell her that I cannot do her work for her. Well, I could, but I don't really have time for it, and that would defeat the purpose of getting her to the class every Thursday; she's meant to learn something by attending. I don't have much patience, time, or energy to wait for her to stop complaining and give me something to help her with. Because I've just done an unplanned dead mouse excavation in the fridge area and I've got to have dinner made by five because it is ballet night, and if we don't eat at five, we won't eat until eight-thirty, and that is not going to make anyone happy. Aren't we already grumpy enough?

I feel like I've gotten nothing tangible done, so I decide to make half the meal out of leftovers, giving myself ten minutes to reorganize a cupboard. I need to see some sort of results from my efforts. The dead mouse in the outside rubbish bin doesn't count. Both my children make noises of disappointment about various things, but I push the noise into the background and finish my task. I make a cup of tea and walk upstairs. I've got thirty minutes until I need to cook the chicken that will make a meal out of the random leftovers, so I type this out, quickly. I need to do a couple of strength training exercises. I need to get dressed. I've got to go. See you next time.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

A Change is Not as Good as a Rest

It's been eighteen days since we returned from our holiday in France, and every single day we've had something to do. This is why we needed a holiday. As much as we have tried to slow our life down, it just hasn't been working out. So we have to take time that is not meant for anything other than relaxing and resting. It's necessary for a healthy life. Nothing else will do.

In Paris, we visited friends, and that part was delightful, but the rest wasn't my favorite. I know many people who adore Paris, but I found it to be too much like the bits of London that I needed a break from - big, busy, and with a language barrier to boot. I can speak enough French to order food and find the public toilets, but that's about it. I felt overwhelmed and lost in Paris. Having been busy until the very last moment before we left (I even did a cat care job the morning of our departure), I had no time to make touristy types of plans, and upon arrival, I didn't have energy to figure things out. So we went a couple of places, and it was ok, but I did not fall in love with the city.

Nice, on the other hand, feels like home. London is our day to day home, and Nice is where we get away to a different kind of familiar. We slept in a lot. We stayed in a lot. We went to the beach and we ate food I didn't have to cook and we got ice cream every single night, like always. It was just what I needed. Before we went away, I was hitting an afternoon energy slump around 2 or 3pm every day, and I thought it was because I was eating poorly or maybe because I needed more or a different kind of exercise, but in reality, I was just plain tired. When we came home, I didn't get that energy slump every day. Because I was rested.

Now I find myself slipping back into the same habits that put me onto the treadmill of exhaustion, and I am trying to step back off. The past couple of days I've had that afternoon slump, and I now know that it is possible to live life without it, so I'm just not willing to put up with it. I've noticed my kids getting stressed again as well, so I am intent on figuring out a way forward that won't leave us all exhausted and in need of a holiday before we can get one.

As always, the biggest shift is in my own thought processes. What needs to be done? Who can I say no to? Just how clean does the house need to be if we invite people over? (Answers: less than I initially think, lots of people, not very clean at all.) I also have found that breaking up big tasks into much smaller pieces is helpful for me. While I prefer to do things all at once, sometimes it's just not possible. So I put a couple of things away when I go into the kitchen to make a cup of tea instead of putting away every small thing that is out of place on the counters. I rearrange and sort through a few books at a time instead of doing all the shelves in the room.

And I am relaxing about my children's education. Again. As always. It's a constant battle to do what I set out to do as opposed to what I feel pressured to do by the prying questions of others. Sometimes a question will lead me to finding a better way of teaching or providing resources, but mostly these just serve to make me anxiously question if I'm good enough. I'm not opposed to doing a little questioning and evaluating - it is my children's future that I'm attending to, after all - but to be doing this somewhat constantly serves no good purpose. In fact, it's counterproductive.

So here I am again, slowing it down. For my kids and for myself, and I suppose in some ways that may extend to J as well. Slow and steady is better than burnout. Doing what works for us is better than never being questioned. These are the things I will keep in mind.

(PS - Isn't that cat in the photo cute? Z and I met him at the Musee des Beaux-Arts in Nice. His name is Texto.)

Saturday, September 21, 2019


We are now entering the pre-vacation period, during which I will be attempting to force my children to eat the random bits of food which might go bad while we are away. I will also be refusing to purchase food they actually want to eat. As you might imagine, this is all very pleasant for everyone, and there is absolutely no complaining.

We began packing yesterday. Now freed of all responsibility for cats which do not belong to us, my mind is clear, and I can think about things like dishwasher tablets. You might not think that one needs to pack dishwasher tablets for a holiday on the French Riviera, but some of us do. The flat rental company gives us two dishwasher tablets, and we are staying for ten days. The minimum amount of dishwasher tablets available for purchase in a single packet at the local Monoprix is eighteen, and they are not cheap. So I am packing dishwasher tablets. E thinks this is weird, but E also doesn't want to do all the dishes herself in the sink, so she has nodded and wandered off to do something that makes more sense.

I am very much looking forward to this holiday. As always, we are going to Nice, but this time we get to spend a few days with friends in Paris, too. I'm not one to want to go a lot of new places and do a lot of exploring on holiday; I used to be, but that was when I wasn't responsible for two minors who don't find getting lost in a new city to be an enriching experience. There's a pressure that comes with traveling with kids, and one thing I have quite enough of in my day to day life is pressure. On holiday, I want to mostly relax. So three days in Paris is good, but it's enough.

In Nice, we'll do the same things we usually do and even staying in the same flat we've been staying in for the past two years. We'll go to the beach, we will eat ice cream every night, we'll wander around Old Town. We may try to have a few new, simple adventures, but nothing stressful. If things go awry, we can come back to the familiar. And we will rest, and that will be oh so nice.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Now With More Cats Than Ever Before!

I am spent. I mean, whoa. We had our first day of structured homeschool work today and started up extracurriculars as well, but that's not it. I had twenty-three days in a row of cat work (I said twenty-two in the last post, but I'd miscounted), but that's not it either.

It was the three extra cats in the garden that did me in.

Normally I love all cats, as many cats as possible. Professional cat lady-ing remains an excellent fit for me, and having six different cats that I looked after during this long run of work was fabulous. I also adore kittens. KITTENS FOREVERRRRRR, am I right? But it turns out that having the responsibility of feeding a stray who is nursing kittens, figuring out where the kittens might be, then socialising the kittens and finding homes for all three once all were in our garden is, how shall I put this? A bit much. At least, it is while I am working most mornings and every evening and trying to get some other time sensitive tasks done.

I am not sorry we did it (and are still doing it, in some ways, more on that in a sec). I wouldn't have left the mama to keep stealing food from the neighbours' kitchens. She is such a sweet, personable cat, and it is a treat to have her sweet face show up at the back door every day (multiple times a day). And I wouldn't have left the two kittens to become feral in the garden either. I wanted them to have a good, permanent, indoor home before autumn arrived, and with hard work (crawling slowly across the garden, food in outstretched hands), we made that happen. They went to their new family on Saturday, and I felt happy and sad all at once.

Regardless of the hard work, kittens are cute and fun and impossible to avoid falling in love with. If you've ever had an animal that is terrified of you, the giant human, learn to trust you enough to lick the last of their dinner off your fingers, you know what I mean. Loving those little furballs is simply unavoidable. So we loved them, and now we've let them go. They are settling in beautifully at their new home, and I honestly could not be more pleased with how it all turned out for them. All that hard work? So worth it for our roly poly little loves.

As for the mama, she is due to be spayed on Wednesday, recuperate at our house before a further vet check, then go to her new home on Sunday. She will live with good friends of ours, and we will get to see her often. I have become incredibly fond of her, and I don't think I could've let her go to just anyone. This is all getting wrapped up so nicely, we may as well put an imaginary bow on it.

And I won't lie that I will be glad to have the responsibility fully off my shoulders next Sunday. As much as I adore all three of these cats, I felt like we went beyond peak cat and straight to what have we done? I am ready to get back to normal life, or at least as close to normal as we ever get.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Working and Working Ahead

This is where I've been. And everywhere else. Palaces, smaller cities, the seaside, lots of places we can get by train. But sometimes just stuck under a kid or a cat or both. Managing some needs, trying not to get kicked in the face when the snuggles turn to acrobatics. Being accused of being really mean when I am not up for cleaning up everyone else's stuff. Standard mom stuff, really. We go through these days sometimes, when we're all checking to see what's ok with everyone else.

Today I begin a twenty-two day stretch of cat jobs. I've never done such a long stretch before, but I think it will be ok. I'm keeping my eye on the prize, and the prize is paying for all my kids' classes and my husband's new iPhone. Also we've got a holiday in France coming up at the end of September, and it would be nice to have some extra in the family coffers for that. We've always done budget holidays before, looking after every penny spent. People say that it's not money that matters, and while I'll agree with that overall, it's also true that being on a strict budget is stressful. I don't want to be stressed out on holiday; I'd rather get that stress out of the way ahead of time. By snuggling cats.

In preparation for these twenty-two work days - and the fact that our term time activities start up the day after I'm done - I've tried to do as many things in advance as possible. I don't want anything lingering on my to do list that might be difficult to manage when my brain is a bit foggy from early mornings and more to juggle in the evenings. I wrote our annual home education reports for the local authority to peruse, I've prepared everything I need for some meetings that will occur, I've started my Christmas shopping.


What did I just say?

Ah, yes. I said I've started my Christmas shopping. That's true. Obviously I don't need to have that done within the next three weeks, but I figured why not? I've never liked leaving it to the last minute, and I've got a good idea of what everyone on my list wants. My usual goal is to be done by my birthday at the end of November, but this year I'm hoping to have the bulk of it done before we go on holiday at the end of September. I understand this might sound a little bit silly, but I know how quickly the autumn goes by, and this year we've added some activities to our schedule, which will make it go lickety split. For me, having those gifts bought and stowed away before we go on holiday will be an early Christmas gift to myself. So I'm going to make it happen.

But right now? I'm off to cat job number one. I'm ready. Let the (snuggly) work begin.

Monday, August 5, 2019

A Break and Some Work

We are halfway through Z's stay at camp. This is the last year that Z will go and E will stay home, so I am trying to make the most of these days that we can do all the things that E likes and Z only barely tolerates. Thus we went to a trampoline park last week. I am like Z in that I find the trampoline park to be unbearable, but sometimes we do unreasonable things for those we love.

On Friday we took the high speed train to the coast for a beach day. This was not unreasonable, nor was it something that Z particularly hates, but it's something that is very much E's thing. She is happiest in the water, preferable with an inflatable contraption of some sort and a variety of sand toys. So J took a day off work, and we went, and it was good. Exhausting also, in the way that hauling all the beach stuff there and back and spending the day in the sun in exhausting. I was glad to go, but also glad to come home.

Last night found us hosting children's vespers, which is what I consider the last of the summer obligations before getting a proper summer break. And by proper summer break I really just mean not having to keep up wtih schoolwork or housework in any meaningful way, and not having anything of note on our agenda. The rest of the month of August stretches out before us, mostly empty. I think we need this badly, for a mental break as much as anything. J will go to work, and I will run my cat care business, but that's about it. It feels good to look ahead and see very little on our immediate horizons.

But of course I am mindful of what goes on the rest of the world. It continues to feel strange to have so much going well for me/us personally while there are so many truly awful things happening. I'm not typing this up while blissfully ignoring the fact that there were two mass shootings in the USA within 24 hours over the weekend, and that both of them were committed by white men, while the President of the United States continues to villify people who are not white. Meanwhile here in the UK, someone who makes racist jokes and statements on the regular is now Prime Minister.

Is racism alive and well, and growing within a new generation of young adults? Yes. If you look at the age of those who have committed acts of white supremacist terrorism, they are mostly young adults. I'll admit I feel powerless to stop it sometimes, but as someone who benefits from white supremacist power structures, I consider it my duty to dismantle those structures. It shouldn't be down to the victims to fight the oppressors. It should be down to those of us whose lives are not on the line, who have more time, more energy, more unearned privilege. I also recognize the great privilege of having been able to move my children away from the particular intersection of racism and gun violence that exists in the USA. My worries are not overwhelming in this regard, and it does give me more mental space to figure out what to do next, how to help best.

I think some of it comes in the form of conversations with those who are open to dialogue and changing their minds. Those who want to defend their choice to vote for Trump are not on my list; that's pearls before swine territory. If you come in only wanting me to understand why you voted for him, and for me to agree that it was fine for you (or your friend, cousin, parent, etc.) to vote for him, well, it's not going to happen. I do understand why some people who are otherwise kind people voted for him*; it doesn't mean I will agree that it was ok to do that. But some people are beginning to realize the great evil of voting in a man who encourages violence against those who are not white, and I think that we could figure out a way forward together.

*Full disclosure: I think lots of people were deceived. As someone who is often deceived myself, I am not judging or saying you are a bad person. But I am saying you must recognize the great harm this has caused and do your best to clean up the mess that you helped make.

Monday, July 29, 2019

No and No and No and I Cannot

I didn't mean to go a full month without typing anything into this little box on the internet. I have written a lot of things in my mind, but the month got away from me in a flurry of houseguests (seven at once!), group travel arrangements, homeschool group facilitation, hosting our landlord and his partner for dinner, and all sorts of other little things that got done only because I made a lot of lists. I am quite certain that I forgot to do a few things which may or may not be important. I suppose I'll find out what those are when someone lets me know. But for now, I think things are quieting down a little. I sent Z off to camp yesterday, and that marked the end of some big tasks I've been working on. Now I am going to direct my efforts toward a new endeavor.

In short, I am working on being better at saying no.  Also at saying I quit, but in a kinder way than that. These years with my children are fleeting, and now more than ever I see the value in reserving the best of myself and my efforts for the benefit of my little family. I don't want to come to them exhausted and out of sorts; I don't want them to remember me primarily as a frustrated person who was always too busy to enjoy them and to nurture them. Of course I sometimes need to be busy, and sometimes there will be people who need me more than they do. But overall, these are the years that are meant to belong to nurturing their hearts and spirits, and helping them grow into adults who are at peace with themselves and ready to make their own way in the world. If that is my focus, then I need to jettison some things which are preventing me from doing this job well.

I envy people who say no with ease. They opt out of things which I feel obligated to do, moving on with their lives as if the world will still spin and things will still get done if they do not do them. When I say no, I feel I must explain why and apologize a lot, then possibly offer to do an alternate task to make up for it. I think this is due in part to knowing how hard it is to find people who are willing to help out with tedious tasks, and also due to a misguided sense of what it means to serve. It occurred to me lately that sometimes I am serving those who really don't need my service. They want it, sure, but the question of need is a firm nope.

I do want to serve those who are in need of what I have to offer. As it is unhealthy for me to spend too much of myself on those outside my family who are vying for my attention, so it would also be unhealthy for my children to think they are the only people who matter. So now I ask myself a few questions. First, is this something that is necessary, or is it just for the fun and convenience of those who have plenty of fun and convenience as it is? If it is necessary, am I the best person for the job? If I do not do it, and no one else steps forward, will that leave a gap which will cause harm or distress? If the task is unnecessary, or if there is someone else better suited to do it, then I can say no with confidence. I can quit doing things which really do not require my efforts. And I'm in the process of doing that with a number of tasks. It is uncomfortable for me. I don't like having to do it. But on the other side, I see an opportunity to serve better. I can't give more in ways that matter if I don't give less in ways that don't.

There are things I know I will continue to do, to say a confident yes to. That's part of this process as well, recognizing those things which are working really well for me, for my family, and for others. I will continue to facilitate the homeschool group and be the parish council secretary. I arranged the group travel for the camp Z is attending, and I'll likely do that again if the people in charge of such things were happy with my work this year. I am 100% on board to continue my cat job. But beyond that, well, I make no guarantees.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

This Here, This Now

I'm sitting here in my quiet house, on the last Saturday I know I'll be alone here for the summer. I hurried through my morning errands partly because it is going to be hot today, and I wanted to be done before the heat really set it, but mostly because these hours are part of what helps me restore my equilibrium when life gets hectic.

Which is not to say that restoring my equilibrium is the be all end all. It's not. I know that. There are so many serious things going on in the world, so many people only wanting their basic needs to be met, for their humanity to be recognized and respected. So I am doing what I can for them, but I know it's not a lot. It's not enough. Some coins in cups, a meal from Tesco, a chat on the weekend, an online donation to bail someone out. We all need to work together for it to be enough, pressure those in power to do better. I think it's important, too, to recognize our own privileges and work to extend those privileges to others. Maybe we can sacrifice a bit of our own comfort for others; I know I could do this. I think about it a lot.

In our family life, we have been quite fortunate. None of us have stories that are without pain, but right now we all seem to have reached a place of contentment. I know this comes and goes, but honestly, this is the best it's ever been. It feels easy in a way it hasn't before. I see my kids growing, learning, making their peace with things on their own terms. They are so good to and for each other - they fight, and they'll tell you that themselves, but overall they support and care for one another in a way that I have hoped that they would. They are both growing into such wonderful people, and I am so proud of who they are.

And in other ways, too, life is easy. Nearly everything that we want materially, we have. Oh, sure, we need to wait to buy some bigger ticket items. We still need to stick to our budget, and I still shop the sales. But we get the groceries we want and have extra leftover for treats. If there's something we need to replace, it's no big deal to just do it. We have a holiday booked for the autumn, paid for in full, without a lot of stress. It's not always been that way, and I am not taking this for granted. If anything, there is an undercurrent of wondering if it's all too good to be true. This life, this family, this home in this city. Every night I think of all the things I am grateful for, and I say thanks. There are a lot of things to be grateful for; I fall asleep before I am done.

So now the question is, what do I do when I wake in the morning, having fallen asleep knowing I have been blessed beyond what I deserve? Honestly, sometimes I wake up and I do all the things I know are right and good, and some days I do not. But the work ahead of me is to tip the scales always toward using what I have - not just materially, but my own sense of peace and comfort - to make things better for others. I don't know what that will look like beyond what I already do. But I know that there is a purpose to having all this goodness in my life, and the purpose is not to hoard it. I am lucky, maybe I can make others luckier still.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Reframe as a Means of Stress Relief

I worked eleven days straight doing cat jobs, finished on Saturday, then had a full Sunday. We've had slow mornings the four days since, and I am grateful for this. Our afternoons speed things up, and I feel like getting dinner on the table is at somewhat of an internal fever pitch for me. I'm trying to reframe things so I don't feel so much stress about it - I mean, no one in the family seems to care how quickly I get dinner on the table but me, so it's not anyone else's issue.

As my business grows, I am trying to figure out many small sources of stress that I can eliminate or at least reframe, in order to keep most of my energy free for my paying job and my parenting job. And let's face it - when one is a parent, a lot of sources of stress just need to be reframed. For instance, I am not going to reject all invitations to outdoor parties because they're too stressful for me. We'd be declining a lot of invitations to parties if we did so, because it seems that I am one of the few people who is not keen on a party in the park.

But seriously: I am not keen on parties in the park. Is that weird? I don't know. I think it's either weird of me, or other people are lying about how much they like these types of parties. I do like the part where E runs wild with a bunch of other kids, because it makes her extremely happy and also helps her fall asleep quickly that night. I like the part where our friends are happy we've come to celebrate with them. But other than that? Meh. No thanks. If I attend a party, what I really want is a comfortable seat, a plate of food, possibly a beverage, and not to have to awkwardly hover nearby and decide whether or not to introduce myself to someone who is also awkwardly hovering. In parks, there is a lot more space to awkwardly hover. It pains me.

But I've got a plan for reframing this and for making it more comfortable for myself in the future. First of all, I need to plan ahead. I ended up taking E to a party in a park on Sunday, and it was all very last minute. I had originally left the decision up to J, who is not as much of a planner as I am, and he was being his usual laid back self and hadn't let me know he'd decided when suddenly, friends were offering to take E with them in their car, and they needed to leave ASAP. Because J was sorting the bookstall after liturgy, I was the one who ended up in the room where it happened, and I ended up making the final decision without a lot of time to think it over or discuss with J. Thus felt that I should be the one to commit to go to the party with E, since J didn't end up having the final say.

At that point, any or all of us could've shown up later, but J and Z decided not to go. On the way home (home! my favorite!) they also stopped at Starbucks (alas, for a peppermint mocha to ease my party struggles!), and it felt like a giant insult. I'm not keen on feeling resentment toward my husband or kid(s), so I know that in the future, I can't leave things to the last minute.

Second, I am adjusting my view to embracing these types of activities as taking one for the team. Or for multiple teams. Family team, friend team, kid team. I do not need to like everything I do, and sometimes it is really nice to do something for someone else. I have had lovely conversations with others at outdoor parties, and sometimes the food has been amazing. Also, there is the aforementioned joy and delight experienced by my youngest child in particular. So it is certainly not all bad, and again, I can take one for the team(s).

Third, I am planning ahead for my comfort. On Sunday, I had absolutely nothing with me. No food, no coffee, no picnic blanket, nothing. I had at least dressed comfortably, knowing that it was a possibility I'd end up at the party. But in the future, I need to put my own snacks in my bag and maybe a bottle of iced coffee. Even if I don't know for sure if we are going, I can put these things in my bag as insurance.

I realize this may seem strange to a lot of you. But I am guessing that a lot of you are also nodding along. (High fives to my fellow planners!) It's ok to be someone who does not go with the flow very easily, and it's also ok to be someone who doesn't like something that a lot of people are really into, like parties in parks. We can learn and grow and adjust. And sometimes? We can just stay home and let others have their fun.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Cats! Cats! Cats!

I am in the middle of day three of eleven of cat work. Or, as I like to call it, professional cat lady-ing. The jobs seem to come in spurts, and this suits me. For this run I've got three different clients, and there is a bit of overlap, but nothing unmanageable. Tomorrow will be the busiest, with two clients both morning and evening. And then it tapers off for a few days, picks up for a few days, and then I'll be done. For morning jobs, I've got to get the work done before Jarod needs to leave for work, and as a non-morning person, this is a challenge. However, I am a professional cat lady, so I do what I have to do.

I have been surprised at the amount of business I have been getting - I am one of the higher priced cat sitters in my area, so I assumed I'd get a couple of people who were really into their cats and wanted a proper cat lady to come look after their cats, but mostly people would choose someone more affordable. Well! I am happy to find that I was wrong. In fact, if business continues to pick up, I'll start having to make actual business decisions, like about how many days I am willing to work in a row, and then how much of a break I want in between. As it stands now, I will likely need to file taxes next year, which I honestly did not think would happen. It's good to be surprised! And I do like that people trust me with their cats and in their homes, and choose me above a bargain.

This work is a gift to me, and I won't pretend that it's not. It's been a gift to our family as a whole, really, because it allows us a little more financial breathing room, and we have been able to purchase some things that we've wanted and/or needed but have not been able to afford. That said, it's still just a side hustle. My main occupation remains home education and facilitating various things that allow us to have a good family life and for the kids to develop the skills they need to flourish as adults. This work will always take a backseat to that, and this is what I am keeping in mind as I make my professional cat lady business decisions for the future.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

In Pursuit of a Little More Quiet

We've just returned from the annual church conference. It's basically a bunch of people from our Orthodox Christian Deanery that get together at a conference center outside the city and listen to talks and have discussions based on a theme. There is a children's program, which I now help plan and carry out, somewhat under duress (kidding but not kidding, if you know what I mean), but this year I made the time to listen to a couple of the talks and to attend the icon workshop. Being raised Protestant, my knowledge of and appreciation for icons was nonexistent before I became Orthodox myself, and even after ten years I still have a lot to learn. What I do know is that I love icons, and that I want to learn more about them, so signing up for this workshop was the thing to do. Above is my practice drawing the lines of icons. The goal with the hands is that they wouldn't look like a bunch of bananas. I think I was somewhat successful, but I need more practice, and I must make time for that practice.

I am trying gradually to make more space in my life for a variety of things which are enriching to me both emotionally and spiritually. The challenging part of this is that, having proved myself reliable and capable, I get asked to do a lot of things, and while I have gotten good at saying no, I am not good at ending things which are not a good fit. I've gotten myself into a bit of a pickle because, in the past, I accepted some jobs which are leading to burnout, and for which I now know I am not well suited. So there are some opportunities ahead to grow as a person, to learn to gently but firmly assert what I can and cannot do.

The other challenging part is retaining my sense of the importance of these self-enriching pursuits in my life. So much cries out for my attention, and the easiest things to sideline are the things which matter only to me. In some ways, this is as it should be, but in other ways, it is not to anyone's advantage when I neglect to take time to settle my own heart and mind. I am also mindful that after so many years of intensity in our family life, I am in need of a rest for my spirit as well as for my body if I hope to continue to parent my children well, and then when they no longer need me, to offer of myself to a new pursuit of caring. When I think  of what I would like to do once my own children do not need me as much anymore, I know that I want to continue to offer care directly in some way to others. That will not happen if I am completely burned out. I must take this time, when my children's needs are not so big as they once were, but are still big enough that their care and education is my main occupation, to recalibrate, to find balance and rest.

So I am going to make space for creative, spirit-nurturing pursuits, ten minutes a day at minimum, hopefully more. If I am successful, this will result in a little drawing practice, a little more writing about things that are in my heart and on my mind, a little more time that is spent in quiet. And eventually, it will result in me feeling ready for whatever comes next.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

This Latest Lesson

Hey! Here's another cat photo! You're welcome! (Seriously though, you're welcome. Look at that adorable snuggling! Teddy can't even breathe under there probably, but he is committed to the snuggle. Adorable.)

I've been meaning to write all week. I have so much to say. But it turns out that resting works, and so I keep resting instead of doing other things, including trying to string some words together at the end of the day.

I am finally well after many weeks of having a cold/flu/whatever. It was only rest that made a difference. I am learning a big life lesson about rest. I've already learned some big life lessons about food and exercise, and now rest is next.

It's actually just one life lesson, really. These things are all related. The lesson is this: I can trust my body. Yes, it's that simple. It turns out that my body will tell me what it needs and when it needs it. I don't need to follow a complicated system. It can actually be easy. Or simple, at least. It is never easy to quiet the voices I've heard all my life, that still try to clamor for my attention.

We are told in so many ways that we absolutely cannot trust our bodies. We are given the message that our bodies are something to conquer. Aging, weight gain, the potential for illness. We must be ever vigilant! But is this vigilance, this conquering, actually good? For me, no. I have fought against my body for far too long. I have chosen to nurture it instead. I have been given this one body, and it is a good body. It was made well, and I can trust what it is telling me.

I want to share more about what this has looked like for me, this shift from conquering to nurturing, and I will. It has taken a long time to come to this place. But I feel better than I have in years, especially mentally. My body is my friend, not my enemy. It is a gift.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Rest, Rest, and Rest Some More

Hi, hi, hello, hi. It appears that I will eventually recover from this cold/flu/possible allergy thing, though it's not quite done with me yet. (I know. It's endless.) As predicted (but initially resisted), the only thing that works to get rid of it is rest. There were some other things which helped ease my suffering from the symptoms, but rest is what does the healing job. There is absolutely no way around this.

I find this to be frustrating. I am an Enneagram 1, and my inner critic is not down with just doing nothing. My inner critic thinks I should recover faster. My inner critic does not think that taking a short nap after returning from an early morning cat care job is acceptable. My inner critic wonders if I have seen the state of the kitchen lately? Or my disaster of a desk? My inner critic asks if I've figured out the budget for the rest of 2019, and if I shouldn't just get up in the night to finish that?

My inner critic clearly needs to shut up.

Because overall, things are going well. I no longer feel like someone has filled my sinuses with concrete. My energy levels have come back up to a level which allows me to get most things done without feeling like I need to sit down every few minutes. I booked a holiday for late September/early November, and that gives us all something to look forward to. Pascha is coming up this weekend, and we've got a plan to keep it as low stress as possible. So my problems right now are small, it seems.

For example, I'm experiencing dinner-making burnout. I just don't feel like making dinner anymore. I love cooking, but suddenly it seems that I've made enough dinners. Why does my family still want to eat dinner? Haven't they done that enough? Apparently not.  But they do seem to have accepted mediocre dinners pretty readily. Mediocre is better than nothing, and they know it! And also I got a bunch of pizzas on clearance, so there's a backup option in the freezer if necessary. Let's just keep it real.

Also real? That I have other things to do besides complain about making dinner to my audience of 35 willing readers. Like grate cheese for tonight's mediocre dinner of quesadillas heated in the waffle iron. Off I go.

Monday, April 15, 2019

A Quick Note About Resting (and How I've Been Doing It Wrong)

Aaaaaaand...we're back to the cat photos. You're welcome. I took that photo while lying on my bed today, massaging my face with frankincense and lavender oils to try to get my sinuses to stop making my whole head hurt. It was nice, lying there with the cat nearby. I'd say it was nice to smell the oils, but I honestly couldn't smell a thing.

I'm spending three days trying to recover from the cold/flu/who-knows-what that I've had since early March. I thought it would be gone by now. I took little breaks! I did! But my problem has always been not being able to allow myself to take the kind of rest I really need. Sometimes I'll take as little as possible, and other times I will take not quite enough. Logically, I know that I need it. Practically, I see all the things that need to be done and figure that if I can drag myself out of my bed to do them, I probably should. This is a lie, but it's one that I apparently believe, as I keep doing things instead of resting.

Spoiler alert: that doesn't really work out. And yet, today I started on the project of swapping my winter wardrobe for my spring/summer wardrobe when I had vowed to rest. I meant to do it! But there I was, contemplating which things were truly for winter and which were more transitional between winter and spring.

I also did laundry.

And some dishes.

But then I laid down. Many times. In between the laundry and dishes. Because some things that can wait turn into absolute disasters if they are not attended to in a timely manner. I did what I had to do, in order to not suffer terribly later. I don't have a solution for this. All I can do is spend these three days lying down as much as possible and hope for the best.

For the long term, I am trying to build things into our lives that will mean that I get more rest overall. I took a free online course about increasing energy, and I'm going to incorporate some of the strategies I learned as well. (If any of them work, I'll let you know.) But none of that helps me now. What will help me now is lying down as much as possible. And that is hard for me, but I am going to do my very best.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

A New Day in Our Week

For most of the years we have been home educating, we have had a four day school week for book work, leaving one weekday for whatever else we wanted or needed to do. This worked out brilliantly - much of the time we would have an extra activity booked one day a week, but when we didn't, we'd take Friday to just relax a bit and get extra things done. This year I didn't build in that day, as we consistently have our Wednesday group that takes us away from book work fortnightly, and on alternating weeks we almost always have a day out planned. It became clear to me last week that we still really need it scheduled in, and that some weeks we need more than one book work free day.

It does seem a bit lax to only do book work three days per week some weeks, but in the end we always manage to get through more books than were on our curriculum plan, so this is not a real problem. It's a perception problem. Because most children attend school all five weekdays, it seems like doing less would make us slackers. But we don't actually do less. Absent the need for classroom management and answering the questions of thirty plus students, we can get a lot done in a short amount of time. So four days as standard is plenty, and three days can also be enough.

Therefore, recognizing that we needed a bit more time to develop some key skills, last week we added a new day to our homeschool week. It is Cleaning and Project Day. This will normally take place on Thursday, and the key skills that will be developed will include cleaning, not complaining because your mother doesn't want to be everyone's maid, and not begging for Minecraft instead of doing something else creative.

I do allow a small amount of Minecraft once the cleaning is done, but I'm not keen for this to be a day in which my kids rush through cleaning tasks and then glue their faces to screens. So they do a little Minecraft or other screen time if they want, and then they pick something else to do. Today, Z finished sewing a skirt that's been in process since January. E ate ice cream and got out her big doll stroller. I made orange syrup and some applesauce.

Honestly, the main point of this day is the cleaning. It is, in a way, selfish on my part, but I believe it will benefit the family as a whole. As I mentioned in my last post, feeling peace in my surroundings helps me be more patient, and of course it's a good thing for everyone when I feel peaceful instead of shout-y. But I also want it to be possible for everyone in our family to clean up easily and without a lot of stress. When things get too messy, it feels overwhelming to my kids to complete the task. By cleaning regularly, we avoid that trap.

I'd also love to be able to have people over without having to do more than a quick tidy of the bathroom. Up to this point, I've felt that we have to plan at least a week in advance to have people over to our house. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but I have realized that it would be nice to just be able to ask people to come over and know there will be a place for them to sit, and they won't be tripping over things as they walk through the house.

So on Thursdays, we start by cleaning and tidying. It's nothing special - our house won't pass the white glove test when we are done. In fact, today we didn't even vacuum all the rooms, and you can tell if you look. But the bathrooms and kitchen got cleaned, and everything that we have out throughout the house got put away where it belongs. These are the things that must happen every week on this day. This is not my kids' favorite thing, but it doesn't have to be. Frankly, the cleaning part isn't my favorite thing either. But then we all get to do projects, and I think that might become one of my favorite things. I hope that my kids will come to love this, too.

I also hope that this gives us the extra space we need to feel less rushed. Both kids have complained of this feeling lately, and so my hope is that as we take this day away from book work each week, they will feel the freedom of getting a little work done and then having the rest of the day open up in front of them to do whatever their imaginations can conjure up. Whether we have four full days of book work or have had an special group or activity thrown in, this day will be there for us, just waiting. I'm excited for it. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Adjustments and Plans

I have been going to IKEA a lot lately. This is partly because there is one quite near to me now, but also because I've decided that organizing is what will make my life worth living. Well, okay, not worth living, but easier at least. And it brings me joy to look out into my laundry room and see everything in containers, with a clear path to the back door. I put down a rug out there. It is glorious.

And I mean that. Sometimes it really is the little things that make a big difference.

For the past month, I've had a cold, the kind that settles in the chest and makes it feel like I'll never take a full breath again, and I'll always be tired. I am very nearly over it, but now we've had the time change to British Summer Time, and so I'm contending with that lost hour of sleep. But at least I am not tired in the sense that I feel like I cannot do anything beyond the bare necessities, which was the reality of most of the last month. I realized as I was finally coming out of the fog last week that it is very hard to slow down my life when I need to, and that's when I made my plan to amass a large quantity of clear IKEA storage boxes, as well as a lidded basket to put our sofa blankets in.

I understand that the connection between needing to slow life down and amassing storage containers may not be obvious, but allow me to explain.

A lot of my life is spent getting things out and putting things away. I need to move around my house efficiently to get things done, and certain spaces need to be clear for me to complete tasks. It also falls to me to make sure that our house is ready if we have guests over, and while I can delegate some of the tasks, ultimately whether it works out or not is up to me. All of these things are easier if the house is organized, and I didn't realize until I was sick for a month that my organizing efforts thus far hadn't gotten me to a place of ease in tidying. I still endeavor to keep the house in a happy medium between hoarder and minimalist, slob and neat freak, but I was falling behind on basic tasks because it was just too hard to do my work without tripping over something or finding something in my way. When I was exhausted and not feeling well, it made me feel like just giving up and letting the place go to ruin.

So I took a look at what wasn't working, and I've been adjusting some things. My plans won't solve every issue, but even with a few small changes, it is easier to do what I need to do. I can get the vacuum out more easily now. I can walk through the laundry room without a rolled up piece of carpet tripping me. There aren't ziploc bags of carefully sorted old clothes of Z's falling off shelves. The sofa blankets aren't piled haphazardly on top of the back of the sofa. These things didn't seem like they'd matter much, but they do. Not only are things functioning better, but they look nicer, too. Now, the messes that exist (because there will always be messes in our space, most likely) don't look so messy. The house feels more peaceful. I feel more peaceful. This spills over into other areas of my life. Of course it does.

I wrestle a lot with feeling that some of my priorities, particularly when it comes to home improvement, are selfish. My husband and kids really don't care of the house is organized or neat. But I know that they do care if I am stressed out. My kids like me better when I have more patience. I wish I could just be serene in any circumstance, but I'm not that far advanced in my personal growth yet. So I will change what I need to change in my physical space order to be more of the person that I want to be in my heart. I'm not sure how many more trips to IKEA it will take, but I'm open to any number.

Monday, March 25, 2019

In Praise of Inconvenient Love

On Thursday, I bribed my children with extra screen time to visit our neighbor in the hospital. I'd never had to do that before, though sometimes I had to talk them into visiting her. I think that, if pressed, they would have said yes without the promise of screen time, but the sights, sounds, and smells of the hospital are hard to take even for me, so I thought I'd make it an easy yes for them. My hope was that it wouldn't be long until she was placed in a care home, where things would be a bit more stable, and she could be a bit more comfortable, with more of her own things around her. We would stick it out with the hospital visits until then. We always saw her on Mondays and Thursdays if we were around, and that was not going to change.

Except that it did change.

Five hours after our visit on Thursday, I received a message that she had passed away.

We are still in shock. We are terribly sad. We loved her a ridiculous amount, and we didn't even know how much until she was gone.

Loving a neighbor isn't always easy. There were things about our neighbor that were inconvenient, maybe a little challenging. But I am here to say that love that is inconvenient may be the very best kind of love. It will surprise you with how much it gives back to you when you invite it into your life. I wish we had more time for the inconvenience that came with loving this neighbor. I wish we had years more of arranging our schedule to include visits to her. I thought we would have at least one more. But we don't. And so instead we have our memories of her.

She laughed easily. She gave generously. She made us welcome in her home and in her life. She held the girls' dolls, told us she liked our clothes and shoes, insisted that we take home sweets and random things from her fridge. She let the kids take charge of the remote to her television and watched what they chose as if she liked it (I'm sure she didn't always like it). She had a big heart. We were well loved, and I'm sure it wasn't always convenient for her to love us. But she did, and we will remember this the most about her.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Things I Don't Regret

My E is growing tall, all arms and legs and sudden grace as she grows into them. I watch with wonder, remembering the past, remembering carrying her through an enormous airport in my arms, so light I never had to shift her position to be able to carry her more easily, though we walked and walked and walked. She is no longer small. She has grown, healed, made her way in this life in ways that have surprised everyone. She is a wonder, through and through.

As my own children grow, I find myself reminiscing about our first days as family to each of them, sometimes prompted by observing lives of others who are welcoming children into their families in the same way we welcomed our children into ours. Older toddlers will always remind me of my Z and the joy of getting to know her. Any child who joins a new family and ends up in a hospital fairly soon thereafter reminds me of E and all those hospital days.

I have been watching one such story unfold. I have debated about whether to speak up or not. I'm not interested in naming or shaming a family who may be doing the best they can. But this is also a high profile case, and I know that some people may feel inspired by this family to explore adoption as an option for adding to their family. I think that the impressions I get from watching this family (and not knowing everything) may be impressions that others are taking away as well, and I feel that in this light, it is important to speak up about best practice for newly adopted kids with complex medical needs.

I am not a perfect parent. I have made loads of mistakes and will likely make loads more. But there are some things that I do not regret. One of those things is always putting our most vulnerable family member first in line to get needs met. In E's case in particular, this meant having a parent available to stay with her when she was in the hospital, every time she was in the hospital, for as long as she needed to be there. We wanted to set the precedent that we would always be there for her, especially in her most challenging and painful moments. No matter what. We wanted to show Z that this is how we do things as a family - everyone's needs get met, and we all work together to meet the needs of our most vulnerable member. She experienced this in her own story; we made big adjustments due to her needs when she was in a vulnerable position.

And Z's needs did get met, too. Was her life different than normal while E was hospitalized? Of course it was. She knew it would be, and she accepted this with grace. She was a key part of our family team, and her presence at the hospital was a delight to E. She is still E's favorite person to hang out with, nearly seven years later. Z stayed with someone else during the weekdays (usually a family member), but she could come to the hospital anytime she wanted to see E and me. We all met up at the hospital for dinner each evening. Then J would stay with E while I went home with Z and put her to bed. I'd shower, return to the hospital, and J would go home to sleep and attend to any needs Z had in the night or in the morning before he left for work. On the weekends, we'd switch, and I'd be with Z all day.

It worked. It was hard, but it worked. And I believe that it contributed in significant ways to E's healing, but also to her budding attachment to us. Even now, when she is feeling insecure, we can tell the story of her life, and how we did not leave her side when she needed us most. Hospitals are hard places to be. Imagine being a child, in a new country, in a new family, and having to contend with hospital life. It made sense to us to be there with her, for however long it took. We were lucky, because none of our hospital stays extended beyond four weeks. But if it had taken longer than that, we were committed for the long haul.

Would this have been nearly impossible if both J and I had needed to work away from home? Yes. Absolutely. I recognize that privilege. I recognize the work it took on the part of our extended family, who often flew in from thousands of miles away, and our friends, who were on call for us when we needed them. There were a lot of people in place in our lives that made this happen. We did not do it alone. I am not going to pretend that we did. But I am also not going to pretend that we didn't make sacrifices as a family to make this happen, or that we didn't prepare for and consider the practical implications of her level of medical need before we brought her home with us. That was an essential part of the process. We knew that because I was home with Z already, we were afforded flexibility that would make medical care easier to accommodate.

This is what I want people to be prepared for if they choose to adopt a child with complex medical needs. Your child will likely need to spend more time in a hospital than you ever dreamed they would. Please, please, please, for the sake of the child who may join your family, be honest with yourself about if it is possible for you to meet the child's needs with the resources you have available. Do not look at the selective things that people share on Instagram and think that is all that will be required of you. There will be more, so much more.

It will take a toll on you. It will take a toll on other members of your family. Can you handle that? Can your other children handle it? Be ridiculously practical about this, before you commit your heart. All these sacrifices will be worth it - we have no regrets about all that hospital time and what it took to be there - but it will be work. If you cannot do that work, that's ok. It is better to admit that it is not going to work well than to find yourself in a situation in which your most vulnerable family member cannot be cared for as they deserve to be cared for.

And an aside, for those who are of the Christian persuasion (as I am myself): you will hear a lot of people talk about the healing of a child as being glory to God and talk as if adopting a child is being part of their physical healing and even their salvation. I don't like this sort of talk at all; I think it leaves out a lot of the conversations we need to be having about adoption ethics and good practice in adoption and family preservation. I will tell you honestly that I believe that the help I received from God and the saints when I called out for it has helped both of my children immeasurably (as it has helped me as well). But God responding to my cries for help for my children does not absolve me of my own responsibility to them. I cannot say, "God's got this!" and then make choices that will leave my child in a vulnerable position.

Our kids are only kids for a short time. There will be other things which clamor for our attention during their childhoods, which may seem important, but please consider this. You cannot get those early days, weeks, months, and years of pursuing attachment  and trust back if they are used up on other things. There will always be other things, worthy things even, to demand your attention. But your child will only be a child for a little while. The window of opportunity for your influence in their life will narrow more quickly than you imagine. It will go by in a blink. If you are not prepared to use the time that you have to attend to their needs, if you feel that there is something else that you must do that will prevent you from being the best possible choice for their future, then don't move forward.

I know this may seem overly forthright. I do not mean to shame anyone, and I am not pronouncing judgment on the choices of the family I have recently observed. That is not the point of this post; the point is to protect and care for children by giving others the information they need to make an informed choice. I believe that there remains a big gap in education about adoption of children with complex medical needs, and that agencies are not doing their due diligence in many cases to ensure that families know best practice and can follow it. We cannot know everything by looking into the window that social media provides to a family's life. So do your own due diligence. Be informed. Make the choice that is best for the child.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Let Us Not Plant Sorrow

When I woke up this morning, I read of the terror attacks on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and I felt deeply grieved. We have many mosques in our community, and many Muslims are our friends and neighbors. I believe that I have not spoken out enough about respecting and protecting them. It should not take a tragedy of this magnitude for me to remedy this. But here I am.

I have come here today to address my fellow Christians in particular. Of course you are welcome to read along if you are not a Christian. But this is a message that I believe that Christians need to hear. Because we have been the ones who have helped to create this problem.

I grew up being taught that anyone who did not accept Jesus into their heart was destined for hell. Various religions were mentioned, and Islam sometimes singled out. I was told things that were incorrect about what Muslims believe. Seeds were planted that would lead me to think of others as lesser, as wrong in the worst way possible. Friends, it is not a long walk between telling people that God is sending others to hell and deciding it's okay to send them there yourself. If we believe otherwise, we are fooling ourselves and creating a world full of sorrow and pain. Small seeds can grow into giant plants.

The honest truth is that none of us know for sure what happens on the other side of death. This is why it is called faith. But the Bible is clear, has always been clear, that judgment is reserved for God alone, and we are not to engage in it ourselves. And so, fellow Christians, we need to stop doing this. We need to stop planting seeds of judgment in our hearts and the hearts of others. Look what these seeds have grown into! Oh, what sorrow have we wrought for others?

I believe that God weeps for these people who were killed today when they came to worship, to pray. The people who were slain this morning seek to worship the God of Abraham; we too seek to worship the God of Abraham*. Muslims are not the enemy; we have this common goal of worship. We have differences in beliefs, yes, significant ones. But the fact remains that not only are we instructed not to judge, but we are told to love our neighbors.

I Corinthians 13 has been the gold standard within Christianity to explain the importance of love. I think we would do well to read this and meditate upon what it means to truly love our neighbors. We can refer to the story of the Good Samaritan. Let us protect and care for our neighbors, whoever they are and whatever they believe. Let us rip out by the root these evil plants that we have unwittingly grown, and pray that God has mercy on us to help us never to plant them again in the future.

*J has pointed out to me that the official Orthodox Christian view of whether we and those who follow Islam worship the same God differs from mine. Referring to I Corinthians 13, we understand that we "know in part," so I will say that I absolutely do not know what is exactly correct. But we do know that we are to abstain from judgment and to love our neighbors, so I'm going to do that and encourage others to do that. If we err, let it be on the side of love.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

My Life is Not a Trampoline

Hello! As you can see, we are back to cat photos. But that's not my cat - that is my cuddliest client. I must say, if you have to work following a very stressful neighbor caring situation, while you are feeling under the weather, I highly recommend a situation in which someone warm and fluffy comes to sit on your lap and purr approvingly. This cat is so soft. He helped me feel better when I felt like absolute crap.

(In case you are concerned about me going to others' homes and leaving a dreadful virus behind, rest assured that the virus itself was along the lines of a common cold. A person who was not caring for an ailing neighbor with no resources may not even catch it at all, even sitting right next to me. I did wash my hands diligently and did not sneeze or cough directly on anyone's furnishings.)

It's been a week since I handed care of my neighbor back to the person it belongs to, and I am still trying to recover. I did not bounce back. This is partly due to the fact that I had seven days of cat care for two different clients lined up directly after the whole debacle, and one of those involved some early mornings, but mostly due to the fact that - news flash! - people are not naturally bouncy. No really. We can plyometric ourselves to death, but we still won't actually bounce.

It turns out I hate that term, bounce back. It makes it seem like it happens so easily and naturally, but in my experience as of late, there is nothing easy about it. It requires intention, planning, acceptance. It's that last bit I'm struggling with. One week out, and I am still tired all day, even with the help of my good friend coffee. There is no bounce. There is just steady, incredibly slow progress.

Before this happened, I was on a roll. I think this is why I am struggling so much with acceptance now - I had worked my way into a rhythm in which most things got done well in advance. For the homeschool meet up I facilitate, I was working a week in advance. We have that meet up again tomorrow, and I am not done with all the prep yet. And then there's my kitchen that I was keeping mostly clean - it is not, in fact, mostly clean. Or partly clean. It's "a tip," as they say here.

I know it will get better. I need a few days during which I have little of consequence to do, and that is coming this weekend.  For now though, just a few words in case you find yourself in this same situation. It's okay if you don't bounce back. It's okay if a hard thing, no matter how brief, makes things hard for a little while, or for a long while. You don't have to be a super hero. Rest. Let some things go. Pay attention to what your body wants. My body wanted a certain type of pastry, so I bought a package of them and hid them in my wardrobe so I would have to share. My body wanted to take the escalator, not the stairs. So that's what I did.

It's okay to do that, you know. In a culture that is obsessed with wellness and fitness, it's okay to  acknowledge that what will possibly make you most well is to listen to your own body. It's more than okay. (And I will certainly have more to say about that later.) It's good. Right now, my body is saying that it's still tired. It still needs more time, more rest, less stress. So I'm going to listen. And eventually, I will be back to my normal, no bouncing required.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

All is Well, Because It Ended Well

I've switched from cat photos to photos of things I'm chopping in my kitchen. I hope you are not disappointed. I took this photo with the intention of using it for a very different kind of post, but I never got time to write it. Sometimes life gets tricky.

On Thursday I stood in my kitchen chopping chocolate, enjoying the quiet joy of working in the kitchen alone, thinking about the weekend ahead and the work that needed to be done to make it go smoothly and peacefully. It was our turn to host children's vespers, and I had lists made so that each thing would get done in turn, with the effort spread out from Thursday to Saturday. I smiled to myself with satisfaction. The weekend was going to be easy, thanks to my careful planning and the work I'd done in advance.



Best-laid plans and whatnot.

Earlier in the week, our neighbour's son had asked us to let people in to care for his mother while he was away on a business trip. She has dementia and struggles to open the door to people, so I said sure, no problem. We'd be around, and we were also planning on visiting her every day to make sure she was okay and cheer her up a bit anyway. Her son lives with her, but he travels for work a lot, and as her dementia has gotten worse, it has gotten more distressing for her when he goes. It felt like no big deal to commit to seeing her more often and coordinating our daily visits with the professionals that came for her care.

On Friday, she seemed quite unwell, so I notified her son, and a nurse visited and agreed that further action needed to be taken. I was told the GP would be in touch with me to let him in to examine her that evening, and then he would decide what course of action to take next. It was an extra visit to her house, which meant I needed to juggle errands a bit, but still, no big deal. Until the GP didn't show up.

I alerted her son, who left a message for her case manager. There was no response. What followed was 36 hours of her condition steadily worsening, with me as the only person who was there to attempt to assist her, while I was also dashing back to my house to prepare for and host children's vespers. It was unclear whether she was unwell enough to necessitate dialing 999 and sending her to the hospital. I wasn't comfortable making a medical decision for her, especially as she was expressing quite strongly that she did not want to go anywhere but to her bed.

What I remember about children's vespers is that everyone loved the barbecued pork, and I was very happy about this, because I had made the barbecue sauce myself but couldn't taste it because the stress of neighbor's situation was making my chronic heartburn flare up. Saturday, the day which was supposed to go off without a hitch thanks to my lists and planning ahead, was the worst day I'd had so far in 2019. I was in charge of a woman who likely had an infection in addition to her usual dementia struggles, and I had no idea how to get her the help she needed. I tucked her in as well as I could that night, then came home to my own bed and mostly did not sleep.

I got up on Sunday angry - that my neighbor had been let down, and that no one seemed to think it was important enough to follow up and get her the care she clearly needed. I ceased to care about the line I'd drawn to keep from invading her privacy too much, and I walked into her house determined to read every piece of medical paperwork I could find until I located a phone number to call to get help. If no one could help, then that would be my confirmation that dialing 999 was the right choice.

Providentially, a relative of hers who had seen her on Friday and knew she was unwell showed up shortly after I did. She took charge of the practicalities of clothes and bedding changes, and I started rifling through paperwork and dialing numbers that I found. Eventually, I was given the social care emergency number. The person I spoke to took my details and said someone would be in touch. I waited. Someone else called and said they'd see what they could do. I waited some more. I was promised help from a nurse. I waited for the nurse. At no point in time was I given a number to call if someone did not show up. If anything went awry, I would have to call the social care emergency line again and start the process over. I was caught between being responsible for someone's health and safety and having no real power to do much of anything about it.

Finally, I received a call that a nurse had been assigned to help with food and bathing Sunday night and Monday morning. Her care team would be back in the office on Monday morning, and her son promised to be on the phone with them first thing. From there it was all a blur of letting various people in, trying to get my neighbor to eat or drink something with nutritional value, texting her son, doing laundry, taking calls from various professionals who were back in the office, and getting supplies that were needed. The GP made a house call and diagnosed an infection, after which I was put in charge of making sure she took antibiotics. When pressed, the care team agreed to send a nurse to administer the medication and possibly help with clothing and bedding changes, but the nurse wasn't told what she had to do before she showed up. I was, in effect, the nurse's supervisor. Monday night, I tucked my neighbor in for one last night on her own and prayed that she would be okay until morning. She was. The nurse came again, meds went down the hatch, I could see that she was improving.

By the time her son came home yesterday afternoon, my neighbor was feeling well enough to be stand on her own and attempt to get dressed. The dire situation of the weekend was starting to fade. My work was done. I went home, feeling sick. There's nothing like extra stress to make one more susceptible to a virus. I laid down on my bed, exhausted and with a headache that seemed to encompass my whole body.

Today I have spent the day in bed. I had a cat job this evening, so I did that. There were a few things at home that couldn't be left undone, so I did those things. I've started to feel better. Rest helps, and so does peace of mind. I know that my neighbor is back in the hands of the people who can get her what she needs now and for the long term. I was there when she needed me, but I don't need to do anything else. I can go back to being her friend who visits twice a week to chat with her.

In the middle of the weekend, I felt angry. I wanted to blame someone for what happened, and I was upset to be thrown in the middle of it with few resources to get anything done. But looking back on it now, I see that I had what was necessary to help my neighbor. It wasn't ideal, and mistakes were indeed made, but we did okay. We survived! On the other side of this awful weekend, there is a sense of urgency for her care that didn't exist before, and ultimately, that is a good thing. I love my neighbor, and I am happy that she will get what she needs. I am happy, too, that I was there to give her what she needed when no one else was. It could have ended badly. It didn't. All is well.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

If I Can Do It, Then...

Lately I've been managing to do a lot of things that have seemed impossible for quite some time, some of them for as long as I've been a parent. I think part of it is down to the lengthening days, and part of it is down to the lightening of some other loads, mental and otherwise. Many of them are basic home maintenance type of things, like washing the bed linen on a regular basis and wiping down the counters more frequently. These seem like small things, but they honestly were just too much for me some days. Which makes me think of this statement which I hear and read a lot. If I can do it, then anyone can do it.

Frankly, I don't know of any case in which that statement is true. Not one. There will always be someone for whom what you are doing is impossible or would take more effort than it is worth making.

When we make statements like that, we do not allow for others to have a different experience than we are having. It also sets us up to have expectations which others may or may not be able to meet. We make judgment calls about others which may or may not be correct. And often, those judgment calls are unkind.

So I will let you in on a little secret. Most people do not broadcast their troubles. A lot of the things which have taken my time, energy, and mental capacity during the past nine years in particular are not mine to share. I might allude to some things, but very few people outside our immediate family will know the extent of it. When it comes down to it, I would like to be given the benefit of the doubt. If I say I cannot do something - or if I simply don't do something which seems like it should be done - I would like people to assume that there is a good reason that I am not doing it. So I think a lot about giving others the benefit of the doubt as well. What I desire from others, I must be willing to give. I'm not immune to judging others. I do it. But I could do it less, and this is something I am working on.

Let's be gentle with each other. Let's let go of the idea that anything is easy for everybody. Let's approach each other with compassion and empathy. If we each take less time to judge and more time to be understanding, we will create a better life not just for the person we are not judging, but for ourselves as well. There is peace in allowing others to be human. I think we could all do with a little more peace.