Thank you, JK Rowling

“Watch,” she said, smiling. “He has to touch everything along the way.” And so he did. I could see how, in his mind, a straight walk from one point to another was the most horrifying option available. He HAD to make it more interesting. So, he cartwheeled over the frame of the climbing net, and stopped for water at the fountain, and spun along the wall of the utility shed and then finally, skipped to the monkey bars, turning a 40 foot walk into an all-terrain adventure. He was poetry in motion and as I watched, I finally got the message. My kid needs bigger worlds and wilder adventures and I have been missing it the whole time.

Coincidentally, about two months ago, we changed the bedtime routine to include reading Harry Potter, which I love. At first, Little Dude couldn’t sit still for it. We expected that. He’s capable of reading the books on his own, but he can’t sit five minutes without fidgeting. So, when after the first chapter, he began to ask questions we knew he was paying attention and enjoying it. Every night, he remembered where we’d left off the previous night.

Finally, after a few weeks of chipping away at it, we finished reading the book and he was allowed to watch the movie. He covered his eyes with his blanket at the parts he thought might be scary. He’s certainly old enough to discern the fantasy of it, but was still engrossed in cinema’s remarkable capacity to scare the bejeezus out of us. When it was over, he had fifty questions, and I was delighted.

The next morning, he was walking around the house quoting in his best English accent, “Gryffindor!” and “Harry Potter!” My husband and I chuckled every time we’d hear it echo through the halls. Sometime in the late afternoon, he walked into the family room and said enthusiastically, “Mom, I want to watch it again!”

He was gravely disappointed when I told him that the rental period had expired.

“Okay,” he said, lowering his head, “then can we watch the second movie?”

Again, I had to disappoint him. “Not until you read the book. You know the rule.” He knew that this rule was hard and fast.

“Okay, then, can we start it tonight?”

“Absolutely!” I almost squealed with delight. I couldn’t download it fast enough. Within ten minutes, we were into Chapter 2 and I was having a blast hacking up the accents.

“Mom, what are you doing?”

“I’m acting out the dialogue,” I said, proudly.

“Can you please not do that?”

“What? You’re not enjoying it? It’s not making it more fun?”

He considered it for a moment, and perhaps perceiving my excitement, he resigned to letting me entertain him with it. We got through another six pages before it was time for him to go to bed.

The next morning, he asked again if he could watch the movie, and when I explained again that the rental had expired, he understood and was less disappointed. Secretly, I was plotting to buy it on the way home. Other than that, it was a relatively normal morning until we were nearly at school.

“Mom, I want to be a wizard.”

“You do? Well, then we’ll have to get you a wand!” (Also now secretly plotting to take him to Universal Studios as soon as possible.)

“A wand?”

“Yes, you need one to be a wizard.”

As I recounted this story to his teacher, while we watched his imaginary adventure, she said, “He can bring the book in for silent reading time if he wants.”

Yay! I thought. This could be the incentive he needs to get through his work.

I had come to bring him lunch, so I sat down with him while he ate. “Hey! Your teacher says you can bring Harry Potter for silent reading. Do you want to do that?”

His eyes widened and he grinned so wide, I could see all of his teeth. “Yes!” He squealed. I nearly cried.

See, Ms. Rowling, in creating Harry Potter and his magical world, you have given my child a place where there is no limit for his imagination. The wheels turning in his head now are absolutely fascinating to watch. He wants to know more about Harry and Hogwarts and he’s willing to sit still and read it. It is a magical transformation. Perhaps it’s just maturity and I happened to discern that it was the right time to bring Harry into my son’s life. But whatever the reason, my creative, imaginative little boy has a new excitement for reading more than a couple of pages at a time. I am trying everything I can to help learn to manage the free spirit that he is, so he can function in a world that sees ADD as a disability. I don’t want to change my child. I want to give my little round peg the tools to help him succeed in a world that is designed with straight edges and 90 degree angles.

So, thank you, Ms. Rowling, for creating a world for his imagination to flourish. I hope it is the first of many worlds that he’ll visit as a reader, but it is the best first I can imagine for him.

Needful Things

I did it again, and I loved it. I exposed myself. I don’t do it often enough, simply because time and circumstances get in the way.

It was just a quickie: a morning meeting that left me full of energy and hope. I felt the blood rush back into my muscles and the light flood into my chest.

Just one hour with a fellow creative mind made me feel the possibilities again. It’s an addiction which is far too infrequently satisfied. I NEED the exposure. In its absence, I wither. I need it more than I need food or water.

Must have exposure. Tear me open. Fill me up.

Rebooting…

During my years as an IT manager, I had one HARD AND FAST rule. Don’t pick up the phone to dial my number unless you have rebooted your computer. Why? Because simply rebooting solves 90% of computer problems. The reason it works is rather simple. RAM is the same as your brain’s short term memory. When it starts to get full, additional information ‘leaks’ out in fragments, making it harder and harder to process whole files. Rebooting the computer clears RAM. The human brain works the same way, with sleep as the ‘reboot’ mechanism.

It isn’t news that certain conditions fill the brain’s ‘RAM’ faster, making it harder to see impending failures. Lack of sleep causes a number of neurological dysfunctions, especially memory loss. It can also lead to depression, emotional instability and eventually a full decompensation. The irony is that emotional instability causes lack of sleep, initiating a truly vicious cycle. I have always found it amusing, albeit a little disturbing, that creativity is often associated with mental illness. Each time I consider that quandary, I can’t help visualizing a chicken, feathers half gone, standing next to a broken egg.

For various reasons, at different times in my life, I have been given personality tests. Each one produced the same result with no room for alternative interpretations. I have a dyed-in-the-wool, etched-in-stone creative personality.

Another laughable irony is that creative people need approval and acceptance of their work. It is the very nature of creativity to bring into existence that which WE find appealing. Why then would we need acceptance from anyone else? Validation? Most certainly. Confidence? Sure. A reason to create? Not even a little. Creativity is an internal engine made up of gears that NEVER stop turning. Let me repeat that. NEVER.STOP.TURNING. I’m sure everyone reading this has had a conversation with a creative person who said, “No, I don’t sleep well,” or “No, I didn’t hear what the teacher said,” and my personal favorite, “No, I didn’t see that pebble I just tripped over.” You may be looking at that iron work gate that stands in the path to your next destination, but we are looking at the same gate thinking of a ghost story in which that iron work gate plays a part. We’ll want to touch it, listen to the sounds it makes as it opens and closes, smell the air around it, and take a picture of it so that we can remember exactly what it looks like later when we describe it in our story. And it all happens in a fraction of a second, while you lock the gate behind you. You’ve walked through the gate on your way to your next destination, and you’re watching while your creative mate is fondling the gate. Frustrating, isn’t it?

Because we are compelled to create all the time, we go through periods where we look at our creative works and we compare it to others’ works. We listen to those we admire and we take every word to heart, and then we self-flagellate while we try to fix every detail we feel is lacking. We fall farther and farther into the rabbit hole, until we are buried in our fear of failure and inadequacy, all for something we LIVE to do. We get depressed. We feel like quitting. We walk away.

That’s what I’ve been doing for the last few weeks. It’s an interesting sensation. I’ve watched myself spiral into it and flail my emotional arms reaching for anything that would make me feel better. External stresses – work, illness, family – just made it worse. But this morning, I felt the reboot starting, my power returning, getting back to that place where I can once again see what I want for myself. I’m exercising my ‘I don’t care’ more and extracting myself from wanting to fix everything for everyone else. As I set down the balls I’ve been juggling, I get back the energy I was using to keep them aloft.

My reboot takes a bit more than added sleep, but it is MY reboot. Everyone has a different requirement. Sometimes, it’s hard to let go of things that fulfill a need to control something, anything. Some part of the creative mind longs for the kind of control that gives immediate gratification, but it is fleeting. The real sense of satisfaction comes from having created something new, something that gives us a sense of moving forward.

One small step at a time, but forward it is.

Raising Calvin: a lifetime of Daily Jakisms

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

Be careful what you ask for…

I begged for him. I spent 18 months begging for him. I subjected myself to 6 months of painful hormone shots to keep him. I got very sick bringing him into the world before he was done baking. He was tiny and came out screaming like a miniature pterodactyl. Wahhh wahhh wahhh. When they handed him to me, I was so sick that I couldn’t hold him or lift my head to kiss him. But then, after all the chaos settled and the oxytocin finally kicked in, to take him from me would have required prying him from my cold, dead fingers. No force in the universe is as powerful as the moment you fall in love with your child.

And nothing is more painful than realizing you’ve crippled him by giving him your DNA.

It is a big enough challenge that he is male. Boys have a much harder time keeping their butts from going everywhere at once. They need to run and wrestle, and build and destroy. They are magical little cape-wearing, sword-weilding creatures, saving imaginary princesses from hideous, fire-breathing dragons. I wanted a tiny knight for myself. The universe outdid itself when it answered my call.

Epic failure is neither instant, nor obvious.

“Mommy, my work plan is my nemesis.” Said the tiny voice in the back seat of my car, after removing his thumb from his mouth. I can thank Minecraft for that addition to his vocabulary.

“Yes, baby, it is.” I replied, smiling at the accuracy.

It is a daily struggle for him, as it was for me. He knows the work. He’s proud of himself when he finishes the work. It is not rebellion or disdain. It is battles with Creepers, and potions and elixirs, and portals to the nether. It is magic.

My child is struggling with one simple problem. He cannot focus on now. He is one of millions of children who struggle with now. It is not new or mysterious, but it is painful for me to watch.

It is painful because I have failed.

Long before I had him, when first my husband and I discussed having children, I said that my biggest fear – outside of safety – was that my child would struggle with learning the same way I did. It is for that reason I elected a Montessori school when it came time to choose. I couldn’t have been more right in doing so.

But inasmuch as I recognize what he needs from his education, I fail in my ability to give him as much of my now as he needs. I am him. Just as he struggles with his ability to get through a thirty minute work cycle, I fail to get through thirty minutes of listening to and engaging in his adventures. His overwhelming need to interact with me is my nemesis.

I go into his room every night, after he is showered and his teeth are brushed and his homework is done, and I sigh deeply as I look at his peaceful face. The day’s battles are won. His dragons are vanquished. The princesses are safe in their beds, and my little knight sucks his thumb and dreams of far away places.

Long ago, during one of my bed time visits, I realized that loving someone that much means that you can, with your bare hands, pull the beating heart from anyone that might try to hurt him. I could feel myself getting angry at this imaginary threat. But last night, just fifteen minutes prior, I was yelling at him because he hadn’t done what he was supposed to do for the hundredth time since he woke up. I was yelling at a boy who was off on an adventure in his head that was far more pressing, and much more exciting than brushing his teeth. When his big, brown eyes – mirrors of my own – filled with tears, I suppressed the tired, frustrated, fire-breathing dragon that I myself had become. It was time for something to change. I had to change.

There is nothing wrong with my child, just like there was nothing wrong with me at his age. In fact, he is a funny, loving, creative little soul whose many wild tangents include outbursts of “Mommy, I love you” and “Mommy, you’re the best mommy in the whole universe.” One of us knows that last bit is not true, but it can be.

Moving forward is a project.

The hardest thing for me now is that to do my job as his mother, I cannot be me when I’m with him. Not me, the personality, but me, the mechanics. I still struggle with all of the things that make learning a challenge. And while I am a good parent who gives him heathy food, a good education, and a safe and happy home life, I want to be a better parent to my child: my little unique, mushroom cloud of personality. I will help him visualize his dragons, and we will make swords and shields out of cardboard, and capes out of pillow cases. We will sail the fiery seas of carpet on ships made of couch cushions.

Together, he and I will learn what it means to defeat our nemeses.