Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Grumps

Do you ever get the grumps for no reason?

I do. Only in all likelihood, there's always a reason. Sometimes I know what it is, other times it takes me a while to figure it out.

I'm grumpy today. A big fat ol' whiny grump.

1) I'm carless. The van is in the fix-it shop and has a zillion things wrong with it, so it's going to cost big bucks. We're getting close to the point where we need to decide if it's worth it to keep feeding cash into this thing, or replace it. Only replacing it will cost even more moola than the repairs currently are.

2) I'm catless. O.K., semi-catless. Scilla is at the vet, and we're all waiting for her to pee so that we can maybe begin to figure out why she's peeing on things at home that aren't her litter box. And again, it's already costing us big bucks in terms of buying a carpet shampooer and all the shampoos that go with it, visiting a different vet, buying another litter box, etc. And now I'm sure we will have more bills as we attempt to figure the cat out.

3) I'm chocolateless. And grumpy. And probably going through some serious chocolate/caffeine withdrawal if my headache is any indication. In fact, if I had chocolate, #1 and #2 might not bother me so much. O.K., they would - but at least I'd have chocolate. Why doesn't anyone deliver chocolate?

Those are the big three. Plus my son came home with a fever today, and I'm feeling unappreciated for all I do by those closest to me (which is likely the biggest thing, but the one about which I feel like writing the least). All of that equals One Grumpy Anne.

And finally, I'm not writing. Not books, anyway. I feel guilty. I feel anxious. I feel like I should be typing out that next novel - and I should. But I also know realistically I have a lot of research to do. However, maybe I should just type away and put [INSERT INFO HERE] brackets into the manuscript or something. I don't know. I just know I have that restless feeling I felt last fall, before I buckled down and finished my draft of "A Man of Character". Which I need to edit.

O.K., so that's a whole bunch of stuff. Some big. Some little.

And to counteract it, I need to promote a little gratitude. So here it goes:

1) Even though the van and the cat are going to cost a lot of money, we will be able to pay for it. That is such a blessing and a luxury, and I know it. We can afford it.

2) I will have chocolate again.

3) My son will get better again. It may take a few days, but he will.

4) I will write again, and will figure out how to edit. Rome wasn't built in a day, and Tacitus' history of Rome wasn't written in a day. At least I think it wasn't.

5) I will feel appreciated again. Either we'll talk it out, or time will soothe the wound. But this feeling will pass.

In the meantime, I still love Grumpy Cat. I wonder if it pees on the carpet?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Stealing Food

I walked out from my bedroom at the back of the house and strolled into the kitchen, where my son was standing. He gave me an odd look, suddenly blurted "I need to use the restroom!", and practically ran out of the room. As he did so, however, I noticed he seemed to be shielding his right arm from me. As he approached the hallway, I could see he had something clenched in his hand.

"What's in your right hand?" I called out after him.
"Wh...whut?" he answered.
"Your right hand. You have something in it. What is it?"

Chagrined, he opened both hands to reveal two cookies.

"I just thought I'd have some cookies with lunch," he said defensively.

Inwardly I felt my heart break a little. I get the wanting cookies. Hell, I want cookies all the time. But to see, clearly, that he was not only sneaking food but was also lying about it made me want to cry. Because it reminds me so much of me.

"You were sneaking!" I exclaimed, to let him know I wasn't an idiot. "You were sneaking food, and now you tried to lie about it!"

He just stared at me.

"Bring them back to the kitchen!"

So he did, stomping the whole way. He threw the cookies back in their container and trounced down to his room.

And I was left standing there, stunned and not knowing what to do.

Maybe to other parents this would be a clear-cut situation: the kid took something they weren't supposed to, and then tried to cover it up by lying about it, so obviously there needs to be a consequence.

But for someone like me, a food addict who stole food as a kid and still sneaks it today, it feels really, really difficult to know what the correct response should be.

Then, of course, I wondered WHY he's sneaking food. For how long has he been doing it? Is he starting down the path to compulsive eating like his mom? Can I fix it? HOW can I fix it, when I haven't even been able to fix it in myself?

We have become more restrictive about how many sweets the kids can have, for pure health's sake but also, I know, because my husband and I want the kids to avoid the physical and emotional struggles of being overweight. They are big kids. They like to eat. They crave sweets. Not surprising, given a) their mother and b) the prominence and hyping of food in our culture. So they're not the little twig kids other parents complain won't eat. We've never had that problem. Ever.

But we're trying not to be food Nazis, either - so we have dessert 3 times a week, once on the weekend, on whichever day they want. We occasionally splurge on extras. We allow a small "bready" snack every day. After that, it's fruits and veggies between meals.

And my son lets me know what he thinks of that. "Fruits and veggies! Fruits and veggies! That's all we ever have, fruits and veggies!"

It isn't, of course.

I am nothing if not the biggest hypocrite, because I can talk out one cheek about balance and the need for healthy eating, while stuffing the other with Pop Tarts and Hershey bars.

That's why this issue resonates with me - because I don't want either of my kids to be at war with food and self the way I am, and I don't want my hubby and I accidentally drawing battle lines where there needn't be any.

Argh. So I still don't know what to do about the cookie-stealing incident.

I guess I'll think about it while I go find my chocolate stash.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Last week my husband and I went to Nuremberg, Germany. For six days. Without kids. Hubby was attending a conference and therefore had obligations, but I was truly footloose and fancy free.

Nuremberg was marvelous - much better than I had expected. For as much as I consider myself a lover of Germany (after all, German was my major in college), it was embarrassing to realize I didn't really know much about Nuremberg. I wasn't even exactly sure where it was in Germany - was it south? In the old eastern part? (I can't believe I'm even admitting my ignorance about that OUT LOUD. Or on screen. Whatever.) Wasn't it the city that had been basically obliterated by bombs in WWII? (When I mentioned that to the husband, he said, "Uh, Anne? Basically any city of any size in Germany was obliterated by bombs during WWII.") But I realized later I'd been thinking of Dresden.

A little research before we left helped me to know that Nuremberg was in Bavaria, that it had an Imperial Palace, and that it was the city in which Albrecht Dürer had lived and painted. (This time points went to me, because when I mentioned with excitement that Dürer had lived there, husband looked at me and said, "Who?") I was reminded of the war trials, and was to learn after we arrived that it also had former Nazi rallying grounds. We chose not to visit those - too intense, too sad.

And not old enough for my tastes - I love the medieval period. I should, considering in my previous life (i.e., before marriage and kids) I was a doctoral student in medieval history at UVa. I have my masters in medieval history and am even one of those ABD people - you know, the ones who do all the course work and everything they need to do for the PhD, except write the actual dissertation. All But Dissertation. I feel as if that should be an official educational designation.

But I digress. The good news is, Nuremberg is a wonderful place for history lovers to visit, especially those interested in the late medieval and early modern time periods. At least Nuremberg's Altstadt (Old City) is - I'll be honest and admit we didn't tour any other places. And that was fine with me, because with 4 days to blow, I still didn't see everything I wanted to see while in the Altstadt.

What I did do was walk. And walk. And walk. I got more exercise last week than I probably have in months. Oh, the freedom the feeling of a good walk brings. And the delight of walking in a new place, rich with architecture and history, cannot be underestimated. I walked until my feet were dead and my shins were sore and I was exhausted, and I kept walking. Because there was just so much to see, and I wanted to see it all.

I loved being with my husband. I loved being kid-free (even though of course I love and missed my kids). But what I loved MOST about my week in Nuremberg? The times I walked alone. And since husband was busy presenting a paper and listening to other speakers, I had two whole days where by and large I was on my own.

It. Was. Awesome.  I was beholden to no one. I could go where I wanted to go, see what I wanted to see. Dawdle or hurry, whichever I chose. I could take a zillion pictures or none at all. I could revel in the rich sights and sounds and scents of Germany.

It made me feel young again, taking me back to the times I'd lived in Germany before - for four months in Wülfrath when I was 17, and for four months in Hamburg when I was 27. My German wasn't nearly as good as it was back in 1999, but it was good enough to communicate decently, listen to tours auf Deutsch, and read signs and pamphlets. (Several Germans told me my German was excellent, which I found highly flattering, especially since *I* knew how rusty it was. I was never once mistaken for an American - and three times people asked me for directions -, which made me proud, as I still had the ability to blend in (as well as, apparently, a friendly and approachable face)).

I walked along the city walls. I took pictures of the towers. I visited churches, and marveled over the soaring columns and vaulted ceilings. I toured Albrecht Dürer's house and even enjoyed the corny English headphone tour. I shopped and drank hot chocolate and bought way too much Milka chocolate. I admired the houses and lifted my face to the air, enjoying the richness all around me.

When I came home, I confessed to my mom somewhat guiltily that my favorite times in Nuremberg were the times I was on my own. She nodded slightly in agreement, smiled at me, and said, "Yeah. It's fun to learn you're still in there, isn't it? You're still your own person. You still exist."

Yes. Yes, it is. Yes, I am. Yes, I do. My main hats I wear now are those of wife and mom. But underneath there is still Anne, the Anne that loves languages and history and books and architecture and castles and cobblestoned pathways and Streußelkuchen and the sheer joy of owning my own time again.

For a while, at least. We had to come home. And coming home was hard - not just the physical exhaustion of traveling, but the emotional adjustment of having to reassume the burdens of every day life. There are certainly pleasures in every day life as well, of course, but one feels the challenges more keenly when one has escaped them cleanly for a week.

But the good news is, I'm still in here. I still exist. And Germany is wunderbar.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

On Writing. Or on NOT Writing.

What is up with feeling so overwhelmed lately, especially in terms of writing? I have all these voices in my head again screaming "You'll never be able to do it, to get anything published."

Augh. Shut up! Shut up! It's about doing it for me, anyway.

I think part of it is that writing the first draft of my book was fun and relatively easy, but I really have no idea how to edit. By editing I mean editing for content and story flow, rather than just fixing punctuation and altering word choices. Is that it? Is that what has me freaked out? I don't want to go back and touch the first book because I like it, even though I KNOW from feedback it has room for improvement. I just feel paralyzed and I hate it.

So I should move on for a bit and start on the next book, let this one sit and let the writing group take a crack at it so I know where to start, but even THAT is feeling scary. I don't know why - maybe because the next book requires a lot of real research, being set in the Regency period in England, and because I threw so much of my real life into the first book that it felt easy to come up with characters, etc.

Or maybe it's just because I'm NOT doing anything that everything feels scary. The paralyzing effect of fear and the fear of paralysis, two parasites that feed off each other and off of me.

So, new goals for the week:

1. Write something every day. It's O.K. if it's blogging, or just a writing prompt, or sketching out story ideas. Just do it.
2. Find a book/website on editing and read it.
3. Jot down 3-5 ideas of ways I think I can strengthen the book. I don't have to DO them yet; just write them down. I submit the first chapter to my writing group in May, so it's O.K. to wait until then to attack it. I want to hear what others have to say.
4. Remind myself daily and hourly that I'm writing because I want to. Would it be nice to get something published? Sure. Would it be nice to contribute to the family income, like my husband fantasizes about? Sure. But for now, I need to practice, practice, practice. Write, write, write. And act as if it doesn't matter if anyone else ever reads or likes what I've written - because that's what fueled me to finish the first draft of the first book; I reminded myself over and over it didn't matter if no one else liked it and it never went anywhere - it only mattered that I did it.

And I need to be willing not only to learn how to edit, but to actually DO it. I read an article today entitled "The 7 Deadly Sins of Self-Editing," from WritersDigest.com. While I'm certainly guilty of envy and probably also of greed when it comes to writing, the sin I feel is most dogging me right now (in writing and in life, hee hee) is SLOTH:

"The lazy scribe is one who’s failed to develop and utilize all her natural talents. To draft a story—and then stop there—is to ignore the very nature of literature, which constructs meaning through the deft layering of craft elements. If you find yourself bucking that notion, you may be guilty of sloth.
Penance: Just like with physical exercise, whipping your talent into shape takes time and dedication. You don’t jog once a year and end up with a perfect body. So it goes with your manuscript. To build the endurance skills you’ll need for marathon writing and revision, you must continuously train: Do writing prompts. Do writing exercises. Keep your writing muscles toned through daily practice, and when you review your previous work, your mistakes and weak sections will become more apparent, you’ll be more capable of dealing with them, and you’ll be far less likely to walk away."
So just like I need to get better at exercising and eating well, so do I also need to get better at practicing the daily skills of the craft. 
Because I'm lazy. I'm lazy, peeps. 
Consistency is not my strong suit - I like to throw it all out there and be done, not have to go back and make revisions. It's how I write this blog most of the time. It's how I often approach life, I'm realizing. Which might explain a lot, actually. 
But to have natural talent (and I'm not trying to be arrogant, but I've been told by enough people for a long enough time that I am a good writer that I have come to accept I am, or can be) and be too lazy to hone it? Is that really me? 
Well, it has been for far too long. And it is. I guess this is one way of trying to learn life skills via a focused approach on something I really enjoy: writing. 
Consistency and willingness is what it will take. Consistency and willingness is what it will take. Oh, and actually DOING the work instead of just talking about it. 
At least I can check off #1 on that goals list today. This started out as a hastily written Facebook status and has ended up as a hastily written blog post (which, according to the same WritersDigest.com article referenced above, makes me guilty of greed: "But building a career requires that you lay a strong foundation of only your best work—and nobody’s first draft is the best it can be."). 
This blog post is not my best work. But it's more than I've written in at least two weeks. 
Unless I can count the captions on my Facebook pictures of our trip to Nuremberg. 
O.K., yeah, that was Sloth talking again. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013


There are some days in which I just feel terribly, terribly alone.

I'm sure I'm not unique in this; most of us go through good and bad days, days where we feel more connected and understood, and days where we don't.

I'm also sure this feeling will pass. It always does. But it's good to remind myself that feelings are not facts, because right now I just want to burst into tears and rail at the universe.

There is a reason for the loneliness today; it's the loneliness of a parent who feels she is failing her son, that she is missing something that would be the magic key to help him, that she will forever be worrying and wondering what kind of life he will have, and is there a remote chance of him being happy and successful?

It doesn't feel like there's a chance right now. He's in his first year of middle school, and struggling. Struggling hard. Not socially, ironically, given his Aspie and TS diagnoses - he goes to a private school and has been in the same class with the same kids since kindergarten, and so while none of them have adopted my son as their "bestie", he's well-accepted and does not seem to suffer teasing from his peers. For this I am eternally grateful, and it is one of the many reasons we love the school where he is.

But he's struggling academically this year, really struggling in many of his subjects. Not math. We never help him with math and he's pulling an A just fine there. This is one example I hold on to of knowing my kid is smart. That, and his ability to intuitively get any video game and know how to play it much more quickly and thoroughly than I ever could. And the kid has mad Lego skillz and can build amazing things from scratch with no instructions.

So I don't think it's a matter of raw intelligence. What I don't know is how much of it is Aspie/TS related. And if we're missing a learning disability of some kind - which today, I fear, we must be missing. Because this kid cannot comprehend or retain what he reads very well. He gets the main ideas mixed up, states things that are not true that he thinks he gets from the material, can't retell or write about what he's just read. And I think that is what makes homework take FOREVER, and makes it excruciatingly frustrating for my husband and I as we try to help him. Things that seem like they should be relatively simple and straightforward are not. There doesn't seem to be anything "up there" in terms of recalling information. Several times my husband has griped we might as well be homeschooling, considering he doesn't seem to be learning anything at school and we're trying to do it all at home.

And sometimes it feels like that. We get a lot of resistance from our son. He hates homework. Sometimes he seems flat out lazy (not just in homework, but in other areas of life, too), so we need to take a hard look at that. But with school work, I don't think that's entirely it. Granted, I feel as if the curriculum at his school is quite challenging - too challenging, in fact, in several subjects. Although if my son is the only one failing tests and assignments, perhaps I'm wrong.

I don't know what to do. I don't know what the next step is. One minute I feel as if we're helping my son WAY too much, doing everything for him in a way that, of course, does not make him want to take up the reins and take responsibility himself - why should he, if mom and dad are doing it for him? The next I feel as if we're not doing enough - as if we're obviously missing something, not getting him services he needs, maybe, or just not understanding what the problem is.

I don't even know where to turn for help. I don't know the first step. And that is what makes me feel so, so alone. My husband and I are in this together, but we have different feelings and beliefs that come into conflict more and more regarding our son. That's uncomfortable and saddening. We love our kids' school, but know from its size and budget it doesn't have the ability to provide the aid and resources a public school would. And that's maddening. I don't want him in the public school because I know THAT would bring up a whole bunch of social issues that we just don't need to be dealing with right now.

Homeschooling does not seem like the solution, although I have to consider it. But considering we're at arms with each other just over homework, and that our son works harder to please outside adults, especially teachers, than he ever works for us (I know, we're his safe place), it just feels like that's not the right answer, either. I don't think God gave me the heart or patience for homeschooling. But I will consider it if it's the best solution.

And we need a solution, because the strain on our son and our family is too high this year. It's too high. Jeff is clearly angry and frustrated and self-critical and, apparently, lazy, in wanting to avoid it all for the sake of a screen.  Yes, I know some of this is probably pre-teen-itis. Yes, I know the strain has always been higher than for some other families because of the challenges of Tourette's and Asperger's. But the intensity is worse this year, and I'm exhausted. And alone. And sad. And scared.

O.K., I'm those things today. But those feelings will pass. They will.

Still, what to do? Where to turn? Who can help?

I don't know. I don't know.