And The Pollen Sucks Too.

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Oh huzzah, it’s the season where I remember exactly how much I hate gardening! It is simultaneously the season where I see everyone else growing beautiful plants and get jealous! And it is also the season where, like a cat*, I can’t decide if I want to be outdoors or indoors  and so I alternate between them all day long!

Sunscreen. Must add more sunscreen to every bit of exposed flesh.

I have reached the age where a Tilly Hat no longer seems ridiculous and is now on my ‘please buy me this’ list.

Fucking plants, growing constantly and wildly.  And a “native plants” garden where every single thing growing looks exactly like a weed. Because it is.  I have a map + photos and I still don’t know what the hell to leave, pull, or suspiciously endure.

I forgot to save up cardboard to put underneath the mulch on the gardens where I am trying to kill off weeds.

My method of gardening involves me going outside, staring at the garden, feeling completely overwhelmed, then heading back inside.  Once I’m inside again, I do something else for about 10 minutes, go back outside, yank a weed or two out, get overwhelmed, and go back inside. Repeat, repeat, repeat.  I can’t see any progress. I think the weeds are growing faster than I can pull them.

And I’m pretty sure I’m going to end up getting attacked by a chipmunk at some point this summer because that little creature is highly displeased with me being in the yard.

Nature, man. Nature.

* Keep your cats indoors, friends. 

Independence.

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When I was 17, I headed off to Toronto to live away from my parents, at university. A few months later, my mother died, my father retreated into his own grief to some extent, I was kicked out of school, and I was left to figure out how to live my life as an adult.

I made mistakes. I made plenty of them – some that haunted me for years after.  I knew that moving home to my Dad was always an option, were I willing to give up on the life I had begun to create, but I wasn’t ready to return to living in the middle of nowhere with no job or car and no friends nearby. Visiting home on weekends meant being sucked into my Dad’s grief and simultaneously filling in for my mother (grocery shopping, cooking meals, cleaning the house, doing laundry..)  Instead, I muddled along and made mistakes and solved them on my own or with the help of my friends.  I didn’t want anyone to tell me how to live my life.

I am always somewhat grateful for the hardships I went through earlier in life – at times I have a tendency to romanticize it all. Being independent has its benefits. I made my choices, no one told me I couldn’t do whatever I wanted to do, and in the end, well, here I am. That’s the simple story. I’m a self-made woman, right?

But I also remember that being independent was really hard work – and scary as hell at times. I didn’t want to admit the things that I had fucked up so, yeah, I continued to struggle through it. My mental health was incredibly precarious at times – depression, in particular – and I didn’t have the slightest clue what to do about it.  Looking at myself now, there are parts that are very withdrawn from the potential support of other people because, eesh, the idea makes me uncomfortable.

And so I am sitting with a problem.

The oldest kid still living at home is 18 and, legally and in his own head, he’s an adult. He is determined to be independent, to not rely on his parents, and he is muddling along. Part of me is very proud of him for this – for his determination to take control of his life, figure out what matters to him, and to live based on his own priorities. He is doing well at some parts of life and I am proud of him for many things he has overcome.

But, at the same time, things are not going well on some fronts. There are some concerns about him, about his mental health and general well-being. The school is worried.  There are issues with work and with friends. There are issues within his biological family. All of which is adding up to a not-great picture.

I have always wanted my kids to be well-equipped for the world – to be independent. I have also wanted them to have a solid start to their adulthood – to be prepared for the (many, and unexpected) things that pop up in life. To know how to solve problems, yes, but also to know how to find and ask for help. To be reasonably good at self-care in the sense of getting good sleep at night, eating well, balancing life/school/work, handling stress.

I have wanted to spare them some of the struggles I went through while also letting them handle their own problems as much as I can. It’s a delicate balance. There are normal growing pains associated with become an adult and there’s no way to spare anyone from experiencing them – but there are some pains that can be avoided, I think, if you know to keep your eyes open for them.

I’ll be honest and say that I don’t know what I’m doing here. He won’t ask for help, and is ducking the offers, but I can see things slipping for him. He isn’t capable of full independence but he’s essentially insisting on attempting it as much as possible.

I don’t know how much of this is normal because I have no frame of reference – my own early adult years were independent mostly out of necessity and not choice. I have to work hard, now, to ask for help from anyone other than those closest to me and I have a tendency to believe that I need to solve all of life’s problems on my own.  In other words, I understand some of his perspective – but I don’t quite know how to proceed in the face of his outward unhappiness.

WTF, parenting. This was supposed to get easier, not harder, wasn’t it?

Like A Thousand Suns Burning.

Published / by violet / 2 Comments on Like A Thousand Suns Burning.

Recently I was interviewing someone for a position on my team. This is a hard thing for me because I don’t actually believe in interviews – I don’t think they’re a great way to figure out who will be good for a particular job (unless the job is being interviewed).

When you ask people questions, they answer them in the way that they think you want. This is not helpful.

I generally default to telling the person everything I think they need to know about the position (the good, the bad, the potential, etc.) and then I demand that they ask questions. The questions they ask, the things that concern (or excite) them, give me a lot more insight into their perspectives and their priorities.

During this interview, one of my coworkers asked the interviewee the question: How do you know when you’re burning out? How do you know when you need a break?

As the interviewee was answering, I was mentally checking things off on a list inside my head. Huh.

I do not think that I am burning out.

I do think that my job is pretty intense at the moment – chock full of controversy and angry people and death (in the literal sense) – and that I need to be careful about taking stock of my life in order to sustain a reasonable level of energy to put towards my job.

My job is really incredibly good for my brain – it hits all of the right buttons to keep me motivated and interested. Some days are super easy and other days are super hard. Some days I do things that scare me and most days I do things well-within my comfort zone. I meet a lot of people. I get to provide education about a big topic. I chat with the media. I get to write, to speak in public, to create empathy and understanding.

The people I manage are phenomenally self-motivated and focused on what they do –  so I get to pop in to help trouble shoot and do some admin and otherwise mostly get to enjoy the entire team.  All of my coworkers are, in various ways, committed and passionate and range from ‘really good’ to ‘fucking amazing’ at their jobs.

The thing is, I also work a lot. Many, many more hours than my contract (ha) and often my default when I have some downtime is to do more work. This is my own fault – there is no one standing over me insisting that I work all the hours, all the days.

Part of the problem is that my job is never-ending – there will never be a time when my work is finished. All of the projects that I work on are ongoing, with varying levels of attention needed on any given day/week/month. If I’m not working on Project A, there are 5 things I can do for Project B, etc.  My email inbox is never, ever empty for more than 5 minutes. There are presentations and workshops booked nearly every week and I can tweak them constantly. There are flyers to create, spreadsheets to update, reports to send to various places. There are meetings for many committees and groups – locally and provincially.

Literally, I could work 24/7 and still have stuff to do.

This means I prioritize urgent things, of course, but it also means that I have to work really hard to stop working.

The challenge I have right now is that my work is doing such a great job of hitting all my good buttons that I am struggling to do things that aren’t work-related. My brain gets a big flood of happy chemicals when I accomplish work things (some more than others, obv) that it’s hard to find the internal motivation to do things that don’t result in that same happy chemical dump.

And since the bulk of my day is being “on” in various ways, it’s hard to hit the switch. When I do manage to shut it down, my brain is just.. empty. I could sit and stare at a wall, in silence, for hours.  I feel myself creeping toward the ‘high’ of work stuff again out of boredom.

This is a weird place to find myself. I have always – ALWAYS – had a ridiculous number of varied hobbies. Some big, some small, some done well, and some done really (really) badly – but things that could occupy my mind and generate some contentedness.  I do not want to be bored with non-work time – that’s ridiculous.

Right now, for example, I know there are a bunch of emails in my work inbox – and I could, should?, flip over to that tab (it’s pretty much never closed) and reply to a few. By not doing it right now, I’m prolonging the inevitable and probably pissing off someone who was hoping for a quick response. One email will turn into 10. It’ll require me opening up my calendar and finding space for more work, inevitably.

But I’m working late tonight – until at least 9, if not a bit later – so true balance would mean that I’m not touching work things until around 1:00 at the earliest.  Instead, I’ve been trying to putter around the house and eat some breakfast and read some articles I’ve saved.

Sounds good, right?

But I googled a work-related thing early this morning.

Then I updated my work facebook page.

I wrote a thing on my own (personal) facebook wall about something work-related.

I checked my work email this morning and checked my phone for texts.

And now that I know some of what’s lingering out there, it’s hard to focus on anything else.

It’s been very easy for me to say that I’ll just “flex my time” which is.. well, at this point it’s a bit hilarious. There are days when I am able to do that, but mostly I can’t – – because even when I say that I’ll “take Tuesday off” I’ll get an email telling me about a meeting that I need to attend… on Tuesday.

I’m not burning out in the sense that I’m losing compassion for our clients, or that I can’t find the motivation to go to work in the morning. But all of my mental energy is being used up at work and that seems like a problem.

Is there a solution?  I don’t know.

Another List.

Published / by violet / 3 Comments on Another List.

It is unpopular to openly daydream about what sort of life you’ll live when your children move out, but that doesn’t stop me from indulging from time to time. Here, then, are a selection of things I anticipate enjoying:

More room. There are two bedrooms being occupied by children in my home – both of which can, and will, be someday repurposed. Perhaps a true guest room (instead of the combination guest room, sewing room, cat-litter-box room we currently have). Perhaps a home office. My beloved husband daydreams of a home gym of sorts.

Storing things in logical places.  One of the children steals things from around the house, destroys those things (or simply takes them outside of the house, never to be seen again). He wipes snot on things. He rifles through things. Someday, however, I will be able to store things in the upstairs bathroom (where the shower is) instead of hauling them up from my bedroom. Someday I will be able to put pretty things on display without worrying they’ll be ruined. Someday I will not be (reasonably) paranoid about my important things disappearing.

Buying and using things that are not purely utilitarian. Someday my beloved husband and I will have conversations about purchasing nice things that don’t end in, “Well, the kids will just wreck [new items] anyway. Might as well wait before we replace [existing shoddy thing].” I mean, I’ll still have the same husband, so I can’t get too crazy here.. but things will have a better chance of survival even if they’re pretty.

Eating whatever, whenever.  When we had no children, we ate random things at random times. Then we had to make sure to make actual ‘balanced meals’ for the children and serve these meals at designated times. This has begun to ease, somewhat, now that one child is often working late hours or sleeping over at a friend’s home – but there is still a need to purchase specific foods and make sure other foods have been clearly identified as “for children to eat as snacks” and “for children to take to school for lunch” and whatnot.

Conversations that are not whispered or in code. Anyone with children will know what I mean by that and it won’t need any elaboration.

Fewer people to work around. Did you want to shower now? Too bad, there is a person in there. Did you want to make yourself breakfast? Too bad, someone is in the middle of unloading the dishwasher and taking up the entire counter. This will not end, completely, but instead of three people to schedule around, it will be just one. Neat.

Less laundry, less dishes. Totally self-explanatory.

Spur of the moment adventures. This, to some extent, depends on our pet situation – we currently have 900 pets – but we’ll be able to create our schedule fully based on ourselves and each other. No worries about which kid has an appointment, who’s going where, who’s home for the day, who’s working. And no guilty feelings if we go do something fun without the kids.

Gratuitous nudity. ‘Nuff said.

Many of my friends have young children (and a few have infants) and I am exhausted thinking about that. It is kind of amazing how much better life is, already, now that the kids are getting older – one is out of the house altogether, one is incredibly independent about pretty much everything, and one is inching closer with each passing day. We worked hard to teach our kids life skills pretty early – in part because I was so overwhelmed by becoming an ‘instant parent’ to THREE kids all at once and in part because that’s one of the things we consider(ed) important.

I am not wistful for those early hard days – I remain intrigued by what my kids will do. One has been out of contact for a few years, now, since he moved out and made his way back to his biological mother. Another is figuring out his life path – what he wants to do when school is over, how he wants to pay his bills, all that good stuff. The other is figuring out how high school works which, in and of itself, makes for an interesting year.

I do not miss afternoons spent watching endless children’s shows (or listening to someone beg me to watch endless children’s shows). Sticker charts. Fights that ended in someone being sent to their room while the other screamed. Figuring out how to navigate the elementary school system (much, much harder than high school). Dealing with the precarious nature of small children’s friendships.  Trying to figure out how to put together a ‘balanced meal’ when I was mostly just wanting to eat a chocolate bar, myself.

It is far, far more interesting to see these human beings becoming.. their own people. Their own lives, their own secrets, their own skills. The goal of parenting, for me, is to see them leave the nest – gracefully, ideally.

 

Sometimes.

Published / by violet / Leave a Comment

Sometimes – Sheenagh Pugh

Sometimes things don’t go, after all,
from bad to worse.  Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war;
elect an honest man, decide they care
enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss, sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen:  may it happen for you.