Category Archives: nothing crafty here

A Foot in Two Worlds

G first day of school

This child was very excited on her first day of kindergarten.

In the Venn Diagram of schooling options, the overlap between school and homeschool is probably the most difficult spot to be in. I’m technically part of both groups but not really fully part of either. I am a homeschooling mom, and I also have two kids in school. This is a difficult situation, to have a foot in both worlds. Some of the best benefits of homeschooling—freedom from the school calendar and daily routine—don’t apply here. We can’t take vacations whenever we want; we have to keep the school calendar in mind. We can’t sleep until our bodies say; I need to get all three kids in the car to drive two of them to school, and then N and I get back in the car in the afternoon to pick them up. The school decided everybody would get “depot” stops this year, so I’m either driving them to a bus stop because it’s too far to walk, or driving all the way to school. For now, I’m choosing to forego the new busing, which seems inefficient, with stops in unsafe areas as well.

I’ve seen two homeschool classes that N might enjoy and that would get him some time with other homeschoolers, but both run from 1 to 4 in the afternoon, over the state line in CT, and I can’t have him there and also get my other kids home from school. I’d thought, when our 5yo wanted to try kindergarten, that at least with her seventh-grade brother on the bus, if they beat us home by a few minutes, he was capable of escorting her off the bus and into the house, getting her snack and so on. But now I need to be there to pick them up or meet the bus with the car, so those homeschooling classes are beyond our reach.

Then, there’s school. My heart is in homeschooling. Much about school in general pains me. Yet I need to honor my children’s wishes to go, and so I do my best to provide what I feel school does not. I think they both have good teachers this year, and that helps. But there’s no hiding that I feel out of place at school. I never know how to respond when parents comment that they can’t wait for summer to be over, or what on earth will they do with their kids over school vacation week. I can’t wait for summer, to have all my kids together, to be free of adhering to an external schedule, for them to have the time to pursue interests not handed down by a teacher. I often feel like I don’t speak the right language when I’m at school. Over the years I’ve learned mostly to keep to myself, because I feel I’m always in danger of saying the exact wrong thing. And I obviously don’t think the school is wonderful for everybody, or we wouldn’t have withdrawn our middle child. I think the school is okay for many kids, and really good for some, and really bad for some, too. Writing that, I realize it describes a bell curve, which is probably about right for any school.

It’s hard to be very involved at school, too, because I homeschool. I’ve never regularly volunteered in classrooms. (Even when both boys were in school, I had a baby at home.) I try to attend at least one field trip, which involves my husband taking the day off to hang out with our homeschooled kid. Early on I did try to be more involved, but let’s say that decreased as my middle child’s difficulties there increased, and finally I mostly gave up.

It’s unproductive—but sometimes tempting—to think about what it would be like, all one way or the other. There’s no point in wishing it were different; this is the reality I have, trying to honor each individual child’s wants and needs. I’d probably identify myself as a homeschooling parent first, and I wonder if that’s even legitimate, given two of three children are in school this year. But it’s where my heart is, even as I go through the daily routine of packing school lunches, sitting in the pick-up line, checking folders for notes and following up on homework. It chafes, a constant friction between what feels most right to me versus what I’m actually doing. I know I’m not the only parent negotiating both homeschooling and school, but I don’t see it talked about much. And so I write about it, to perhaps begin a conversation.

Summering

We got back to the beach last week.

At the salt pond behind the barrier beach.

At the salt pond behind the barrier beach.

Last summer I didn’t take my kids to the beach at all. If you know me you know how strange this is; I was working on some other things last summer, mainly, getting myself back on track from PTSD. (This post has more information if you’re new here and curious.) It’s now been about 13 months since I began a low daily dose of Zoloft and, to be succinct, I am grateful a medicine choice exists that I can take and that works for me without side-effects. Zoloft doesn’t change who I am; it allows me to be who I am. Part of that is the mom who packs up the kids and a lunch and towels and sunscreen and toys and books and heads to the beach for six hours. Last summer, even though I knew I’d done that for years, I couldn’t quite fathom how. It all sounded exhausting and too much, just too much.

It’s nice to be back.

Spider crab

Spider crab

The pond was full of spider crabs last week. We never know what we might see there, but it’s always interesting. The pond is shallow (no more than about 4.5 feet throughout) and calm and warmer than the ocean, especially at this time of year. The kids can paddle, and we can get close up with the critters that live there. It’s a different experience from the beach-beach, and we like to mix it up and do some of both each summer.

Last weekend we headed to Beavertail State Park for some tidepooling.

Tidepooling

Tidepooling

We mostly saw very tiny invasive crabs–Asian Shore Crabs–and periwinkles. Beavertail is a beautiful place, with lots of rocks for scampering over.

Beavertail State Park, Jamestown, RI.

Beavertail State Park, Jamestown, RI.

Being near and in salt water is a very happy thing for me. Spending much of last summer sitting on my deck with a book while my kids happily played in the yard (they didn’t have a bad summer, trust me) was the right thing to do. But I’m glad we’re back to spending more time in the sea and sun.

On Turning Forty

Setting a firm intention with the horses earlier this month in Montana.

This is a more personal (and longer) bit of writing than I usually post here, but I decided to share for two reasons. Firstly, as a reminder that we never know what other people are dealing with, and secondly, to do my small part in chipping away at the stigma of mental illness. If you know someone who you think would feel better for reading this, I hope you share it.

When I turned 39 a year ago, I thought it would be interesting to document my fortieth year in some way. It didn’t have to be public, and I didn’t want it to be so challenging as to be stressful (so, no posting a photo a day, in other words). I settled on simply writing a sentence or two each day in a notebook, in a documenting type of way. It’s been a long while since I journaled, and this wasn’t that. It was just a record of my days, 365 of them, the days of my fortieth year on this earth.

For a long while, if I mentioned this to anyone, I added that I picked a really miserable year to document, full of sadness and heartache. But, now that I’m at the end of it, having turned 40 one week ago today, I no longer think this is true. After all, this is the year I opened an Etsy shop, arranged to teach classes, and launched an e-zine; all of these support my goals of working on my own creative pursuits but also sharing my passion with others, to inspire and create confidence. This is the year I went away by myself twice, once to Florida and again to Montana. This is the year I began running again and entered two 5Ks (one was the day after my birthday, but we’ll count it anyway). These are things to celebrate, even more so because I worked on all this while so much else was going sideways in my life.

Because this is also the year that began with a sadness so substantial I could feel it on me like a heavy cloak, always. In late winter I lost my appetite and, ultimately, 13 pounds, dropping me back into underweight status (I’d finally reached a healthy weight after being diagnosed with celiac and cutting out gluten). I lost the ability to sleep; I simply forgot the trick of it. I started to feel like my mind was a moth trapped in a jar, banging against the sides, never finding a good solution on how to escape itself. After several months of this, I finally got myself to a competent therapist (after first seeing a really flaky unhelpful one). During a very thorough intake, which made me begin to trust her abilities fairly quickly, she identified symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in my past. At our next appointment I asked her to discuss that more thoroughly with me.

Turns out I’ve had flashes of PTSD for thirty years, but this winter/spring it was severe and prolonged. It’s related to childhood trauma and was triggered by a confluence of present-day events; because both of those stories overlap with other people’s stories, I won’t share details. PTSD is like a constant fight-or-flight response. From what I understand, it’s not going to get cured or go away, but I can learn to manage it. My brain can learn that it doesn’t have to fight or escape triggering situations, because I’m no longer a trapped and powerless child. However, at the worst of it, I absolutely felt trapped and powerless. It’s hard to explain my mind’s chaos from this vantage point, and if you saw me in daily life you probably wouldn’t have guessed how I was struggling. You might have wondered if something was up—I looked so thin, and tired, always—but my kids were getting to their activities, my homeschooled kids were getting schooled, my schooled kid was always on time, with a healthy packed lunch, and I showed up when and where I was supposed to. I taught my co-op classes; I continued working towards my own personal goals, albeit in very, very small increments. In short, I earned my superhero cape every single day. My kids, especially the two at home, knew I was sad. They saw me cry. I wasn’t very present much of the time—I kind of detached and disassociated, but I still cooked the meals (even if I wasn’t eating them), did the laundry, and kept everything running, while my husband was away on business trip after trip after trip. I did all this, and I often did it alone, and underneath, that moth just kept banging against smooth glass walls, finding no purchase at all.

I have a complicated relationship to medicines—I think most people do—and I resisted any talk of antidepressants. However, when the best plan my brain could come up with was to head off into the woods with no ID or cell phone (I didn’t do that, I just thought about it), a couple of friends convinced me that meds were a good idea. I agreed to a low dose of Zoloft at the beginning of June, and I’ve never upped it; the low dose has been enough. On the third day, my appetite began to come back.

The adjustment to meds, however, wasn’t easy and lasted 5-6 challenging weeks. A few weeks after I began Zoloft, I began running, and I believe it’s been just as important to me in feeling better. When I run, I feel strong, powerful, and in control. I can track measurable progress, as my ability to run both farther and faster improves. For a while, running was the only part of my life where I felt in charge. When I ran, I was reminded of my strength. I love running, and I’m so thankful for how it’s helped me. As an added bonus, it definitely helped increase my appetite, too.

Six months before my fortieth birthday, before the therapist, before the meds, before reaching any personal goals, I swore that one way or another, things would be different by the time I turned 40, and they are. So the story of my fortieth year is also one of getting myself out of the depths. I reached out and found a core group of women, many online, who checked in on me, shared their experiences, and cared for me. This is enormous. Saying I’m grateful doesn’t begin to cover it. I reached out for help locally, too, thankful for the friend who watched all three of my kids so I could get to therapy while my husband was away, who listened to what I was going through without judgment, without the need to “fix” me—just with patient, attentive ears. What a gift. My therapist (who, sadly, retired in August) had such helpful insights regarding that childhood trauma. I began to see the ways in which I’d allowed the members of my family of origin to define me, and how I could take charge of my own narrative. (It was about this time that I came across the description of the Haven Writing Retreat and felt so strongly that I needed to get far away so I could get in touch with the truth of my story.) This is the year I’ve worked on letting go—of the need to control, the need to know what’s next, the need for certainty. My childhood left me hesitant to trust, scared of separation and abandonment. Paradoxically, the way through that is to let go, open up, and chance.

So how do I feel about turning 40?

Strong in body and mind. Confident, once again. Beautiful. Grateful. And I feel like I can breathe again, most of the time, anyway.

So that is a peek behind the curtain of my life. More has been going on, all along, than I could possibly let on in this space. I would assume that is true of everyone we know online or in our day-to-day life. More is always going on, and we go on, too.

***

It took about three months from the time I requested mental health referrals to my first appointment with someone competent and helpful. I somehow found the ability to be tenacious and continue trying, but this is very hard to do while struggling. Presently, we’re appealing with our insurance company, who has taken brand-name liquid Zoloft (the only version of this drug that doesn’t contain gluten and thus is safe for me, a diagnosed celiac) completely out of their formulary, refusing to cover any of the cost. The mental health care system in this country is even more broken than the regular health care system. Those of us who need care need to overcome stigma (and thus our own shame) to first reach out, and while that’s hurdle enough, it’s usually just the beginning of a long, difficult road towards getting the correct help. Stigma needs to be replaced with compassion, scorn with support, and the insurance companies’ focus on the bottom line with common sense.

I found this pamphlet by NAMI helpful in beginning to understand PTSD, especially as it includes PTSD beyond the military instances with which most people associate it.

On Process and Goals

Now that the Art Together e-zine is a Real Thing, out in the world, I want to share a bit about how it came to be. (The giveaway is still open, by the way.) Mainly I want to share because I see so many creative people doing really amazing things, and I see probably an equal number of creative people wondering how. Pretty much everybody has these awesome ideas and creative energy, and honestly, I want to see what everyone comes up with. I want everybody’s passion and unique take out in the world, because the more I see of it, the more awed I am. There is all sorts of amazing-ness going on.

So, getting to Monday was a loooong process. I think I first had the idea of publishing “some sort of e-book” while I was taking Stephanie Levy’s Creative Courage class back in January 2012. I’d signed up for the class with the goal of figuring out where I wanted to take my creativity; I ended up diagnosed with Lyme Disease the month before the class began, and my energy was incredibly low. Some of the assignments were hard for me. Take, for instance, the “wish jar.”

Wish jar, early 2012.

I’m not really a “put it out into the universe” type of person. I’m more of a “let’s make a list and a plan” person. But I tried to come up with some things to put on my wish tokens, which, at least, were awfully cute. Before writing this post, I dug them up and took a photo of them.

Wish cards from early 2012.

I cheated a little bit–when I wrote these, I’d already registered for Squam and I’d signed up for a screen printing class. That class was cancelled, so I still don’t know how to screen print, and I haven’t managed the one in the center bottom row, either (“Begin an organization to provide handmade to kids in shelters”), yet, anyway. But all the rest of these…I’ve been working on. But notice, I first thought of something like an e-book over a year and a half ago.

In early 2012, I shot the idea down. I figured I didn’t have enough reach to sell any copies, I was getting frustrated trying to blog about process-oriented art when crafts-for-kids seemed to be what was really wanted, and Lyme and its treatment were sapping all my energy anyway. I had the idea, and I put it away. But it didn’t go away. I started 2013 with a three-part series on why process-oriented art is so important. This was so easy to write; it’s something I’m so passionate about. I still wanted to inspire and encourage open-ended art experiences for kids.

I decided to enroll in Diane‘s online class on e-book production. (It’s not currently offered, but she has an e-book–of course!–on the same subject.) I followed that up with her online class on online classes, and both of those helped me focus some of my ideas. Diane, by the way, is a great teacher, very hands-on and helpful, even once the class is over, and I feel very lucky that I had a chance to take these classes from her. Because of them, I realized I had to upgrade my website from free WordPress if I wanted to sell anything directly. The more I looked into doing anything, the longer the to-do list became.

To be honest, this was all scary. I’d always resisted paying for a blogging platform because I wasn’t making any money! And figuring out how to self-host? And exporting my old blog? It seemed like so much tech to figure out. I broke it all into baby steps (a la Lori Pickert) and tackled it bit by bit. I emailed Diane with questions, because she’d offered to help. I asked questions on Twitter, and people helped. Just asking for help was a huge thing for me, not something I’d historically done. I’d always hesitated to bother people, but you know what? Most people are happy to help. And if you ask someone who is passionate about their own work for some assistance, you’re doubly likely to get not only help but encouragement.

Before wrapping up–because I’m going on a bit–I’ll tell you that before I hit publish on the first {Art Together} post in February I had a staring match with my laptop. Who do you think you are? demanded the voice in my head. I mean really, did I have any authority whatsoever to suggest a certain approach to anything? Me, with my art minor (not a major) and my untidy house and my continued aspirations to be a patient, centered mama–continued, because I often fall short. Who did I think I was? Reader, I hit publish anyway (after a few deep breaths). I told myself, kind of apologetically: I’m really passionate about this. Sorry, I can’t help it. I have to let it out into the world.

There is more, of course. More asking for help, more divvying up tasks into the tiniest chunks possible, more figuring out tech, more asking for help…and along the way, I Got Things Done, sometimes incrementally, but still, forward progress was made. I talked back to the doubting internal voice. I learned a whole heck of a lot. I got so much better at asking for help! But the point is, it wasn’t a quick process, and the whole venture feels very out-on-a-limb still, but the passion for it carried me through. The researching and writing were fun, and I feel like it’s very unique to me, that is, that only I could have created this particular thing. And that’s how it is with most everything–we all have this unique stew of ideas and passions, skills and motivations, and what comes out, in whatever form, can’t be made by anybody else. Which is why, of course, you have to do it, even if it takes a really long time and you have to talk sternly to your inner voice and undoubtedly gain new forehead wrinkles while frowning at the tech to show it who’s boss.

So that’s my pep talk, of a sort. I’m not sure it’s all that peppy, seeing as how the take-home message is that it wasn’t easy but it was do-able. I think it’s important to give a glimpse of the machinery behind the curtain, though, to show that the folks who are putting something out there–knitting patterns, online classes, e-zines, whatever–don’t have some magical quality or scads of self-confidence (who do you think you are??) or anything anybody else doesn’t have, unless perhaps it’s pure stubbornness. I just think we’re all so capable of awesomeness. I love when people dust off their passion, shine it up, and share it with the world.

The 5K

If you follow me on Twitter you know that my kids complained so much about coming to watch me run this race that I told them all to stay home. You also know that I barely slept the night before and was emotionally and physically exhausted. I had about a minute and a half in the driveway where I thought about not going. I was sure I’d run horribly. I wasn’t sure of the point. Then I thought, The point is that I signed up to do it, and I’ll feel awful if I don’t even show up. So I did.

My kids decided at the last minute that actually they did want to go, so their dad brought them, and that’s why I have some pictures to share with you. First, I’ll tell you that as soon as we turned the corner out of the school lot onto the street, I felt slow. I kept getting passed, too. But at the first mile, someone was calling out times, and I realized I was running at the best pace I could. Still, I kept getting passed, and still, I tried to run my pace, pushing myself but not overreaching. Remember that last week I ran this course in 26:39, happy to have finished in under 27 minutes. I set a new quiet goal of maybe finishing in under 26 minutes, but I didn’t think, the way I felt this morning, that I would.

Here I am heading towards the finish, trying to have a bit of a sprint/kick to the end. It was hard. But then I saw the big clock at the end, as I got closer, and realized I was going to finish in under 26 minutes. Elation!

And here I am afterwards, with the medal that every finisher received, and a cup of chocolate milk, which is my usual after. (A local dairy was there handing out chocolate and coffee milk to the runners.) My finishing time was 25:35, which is a pace of 8:15 per mile. That’s as quickly as I’ve run since I began running again this summer…so despite getting passed so much, I feel like I sorted out right where I belonged, and I’m really happy with how I finished. But if I do this again any time soon, I will try to get more sleep the night before.

And now I plan to get back to the art-and-creativity type posts!

A Bit on Running

I promise this isn’t going to turn into a running blog (I wouldn’t even know what that entails), but I do want to talk about running today. I ran competitively for only four years–junior high and the first two years of high school. I ran cross-country, so races of 2.5-3.5 miles on trails, and I began training in the summers. The season began when school began and ended by early November, because this is New England.

Freshman year of high school. Yeesh, could those glasses be any bigger??

I was pretty good at running those distances. My high school’s home course was at Bryant College (pfft, I know that link says Bryant University, but it was a college way back then), and that was also where the division meets were held, so I knew that course well. There was a big hill at one point, coming out of the woods, and how I loved to attack that hill and pass people on my way up. I had a decent kick at the end of races, too; I could usually manage to sprint by anyone who was nearby. I liked running. So why did I quit after sophomore year?

A combination of reasons. I wanted a job, but I probably could have worked one in around cross-country practices; the season, after all, wasn’t that long. My coach left and I didn’t know the new coach. It’s possible I would have continued running without that switch. The new coach came through my line in the grocery store–that was my job, cashiering–the summer before my junior year to try to convince me to come back, which felt kind of…icky. But I think the big reason I quit is because I was all-division my sophomore year and I started hearing things like, You should be all-state by senior year. I didn’t hear that as encouragement; I heard that as pressure. And while I’m very good at self-imposed goals, other people’s expectations feel like a failure possibility. And the surest way not to fail is to decline to compete.

(The best place I can send you for a deeper explanation of that phenomenon is Alfie Kohn. His books should be required reading.)

So I haven’t really run, except for one summer in college, for about 25 years. But all this time, I felt like a runner. At various times I’d consider it, but I was always tied to a nursling or something and it just felt like too many logistics to figure out. For most of this year I’ve struggled with insomnia, and at some point this spring I realized it was light out at 5:15 am, so why not get out of bed and go for a walk through the neighborhood? It was a chance to center my head before having to deal with everyone else’s needs and demands. By the end of June, I felt like I wasn’t moving fast enough to get out of my own head, and I began to run.

My 4yo stretching with me before a recent evening run.

When I was fourteen, my grandmother loudly declared at a family gathering that I had “a runner’s body–nothing extra.” And while I was mortified about the latter part, she’s right about the first part. I do have a runner’s body, and it quickly remembered what to do. I’ve gradually increased distance and decreased my time per mile. Somewhere along the way I signed up for a local 5K, which takes place in a week. My first goal was to run it without embarrassing myself. As my split times fell, I changed my goal to under 9 minutes per mile. I hit that and quietly decided I wanted to run the course in under 27 minutes. I’ve struggled to run 5K through my neighborhood in that time, but my neighborhood is full of hills. Yesterday I ran the comparatively flat 5K race course for practice and finished in 26:39. So I guess I need a new goal for that race.

As I said, I’m good with self-imposed goals. If I’m running, I’m running for myself, and I think that was my hang-up in high school. At a time when I wasn’t at all sure of my own expectations for myself, I simply knew I wasn’t comfortable serving as the instrument of other people’s expectations. The coach who came through my line wasn’t interested in how I felt about running; he knew I was pretty good and wanted me on the team so the team would be better. In the same way, my guidance counselor didn’t care where I wanted to go to college; he pulled me into his office freshman year to lay out a plan that would get me into Princeton, because nobody from my high school had gotten in there yet, and it would reflect well on the school. That was my high school: as a smart, moderately talented student, I was viewed not as an individual with individual wants and interests but as a means to an end that might glorify the school.

That last paragraph is why this post is also filed under “education.” If there’s one overarching goal I have for my kids’ educational experience, it’s that they’re not viewed as a tool for someone else to gain glory. The only goals I’m interested in are their own.

Back to running. I’m loving it. This morning I ran five miles, the longest distance I’ve run this summer. I feel good out there, even when I’m a little gaspy and my thighs feel like rubber. I can feel myself getting stronger, and I feel awesome at the end of every run. I’ll be forty years old next month and I’ve given birth three times and I ran five miles today! I’m so looking forward to next weekend’s 5K. And even though this isn’t going to be a running blog, I hope you don’t mind if I let you know how it goes.