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[cancer|child] Academic parenting in the time of chemotherapy

Yesterday evening, Mother of the Child and I attended the first class meeting at [info]the_child‘s high school. She’s a freshman, just begun, in the same Waldorf environment she’s been in since pre-K. It was a good meeting, we spent some time with one of her teachers and got to speak to both old friends and new acquaintances among the class parent body.

[info]the_child is severely dyslexic. She was formally assessed about fourteen months ago, but that was mostly a confirmation of what we’d suspected for a while. She is very intelligent and very determined, but the dyslexia can make even routine academic tasks into real challenges.

I’ve generally been the primary resource for homework help these past few years. And with her text processing issues, she has needed that help, and continues to. At the same time, this is high school, and the beginning of the slow transition to higher education and adult independence. As [info]the_child herself says to me, “I have to do this myself. It’s not like you’re going off to college with me.” So for developmental reasons, I have to let go.

However, I am starting chemotherapy tomorrow. I won’t finish this treatment course until sometime next April, and won’t be feeling like myself mentally or physically until sometime next summer at the earliest. In other words, I am checking out for the entire school year.

This means I have to let go of my role as homework helper right now. Abruptly. And it’s killing me. [info]tillyjane (a/k/a my mom) is stepping into the role in a big way. The school is very interested in helping her, providing [info]the_child with the needed dyslexia accommodations in keeping with Oregon law and Federal law. But she struggles with accepting the help, due to not wanting to be different, and feeling like she is somehow achieving an unfair advantage over her classmates.

The cancer is taking me out of the homework equation. Which is, in the end, probably a good thing. [info]the_child is absolutely right about her need for independence in this. But it’s very painful to face in the now. I have to let go of so much as this disease continues to rob me of both my present and the future. Letting go of my ability to guide and mentor my daughter is just one more bitter loss.

[child] Wit and wisdom of the Child


Me: “You can entertain all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t entertain all of the people all of the time.”
[info]the_child: “Unless you give them ice cream. Free ice cream.”

[info]the_child: “You don’t want my DNA in here? You don’t want to make a tiny me out of cookie dough?”

Photo © 2012, Joseph E. Lake, Jr.

Creative Commons License

This work by Joseph E. Lake, Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

[science|child] We went to Mars for a little while

Last night after our return from the coast, [info]the_child and I scooted over to the OMSI for their Mars landing viewing party. This was held in the planetarium there, with NASA’s JPL feed projected on the dome, and a second projection of a very sophisticated Mars lander simulator.

We’d planned on meeting [info]davidlevine and [info]kateyule there, and had even saved them seats in the planetarium, but by the time they arrived the ushers were directing people to overflow seating in the theater. @rick_lovett did find us there. He was on assignment for National Geographic (I think) covering public reactions to the landing. [info]the_child wound up talking to him for a while.

The planetarium was packed. As David said to me in a text, science is popular in Portland. There was a big turnout of uniformed Civil Air Patrol cadets, and a ton of regular people. Interestingly, it was a cross-section of folks. Not just obvious geeks is what I mean. They had a few speakers and presentations, but mostly focused on the NASA feed. Plus there was a giant, inflatable Curiosity in the lobby.

[info]the_child very much got into the spirit of things. Especially the nerve-wracking period of time once the lander was committed to de-orbiting. The room reflected the tension of the JPL team. She asked a lot of questions, some of them quite insightful and some of them inane. Those latter were her bleeding off her own nervousness.

Interestingly to me, she was able to articulate the basic issues of lightspeed lag and simultaneity simply from paying attention to the NASA feed. We wound up having a long talk about that in the car on the way home, and also about conservation of momentum. Newton’s first law isn’t intuitive to her. She’s still trying to wrap her head around that one. I love the way her brain works.

As we all know by now, Curiosity touched down successfully. [info]the_child and I went home and crashed out. (Or at least I did.)

Of course we could have watched this in my living room on our laptops. It’s not like we were at JPL, let alone on Mars ourselves. But the shared experience of watching with a group of interested, fascinated fellow citizens was worth the trouble. The group energy of science isn’t something one gets to be a part of very often in everyday American life. The wild applause and the beaming pride at the successful landing was very uplifting indeed.

And, hey, Curiosity is on Mars, and my kid got to think some big thoughts.

As I said to Rick at the event, history begins here.

[child] Privacy and parenting

Yesterday I was speaking on the telephone with a friend in Seattle who had spent some time with [info]the_child on her recent visit there. The friend mentioned in passing having had some serious conversations with my daughter about things which were said in confidence. I assured them that I was fine with this.

Which is a funny feeling, in its way, but also very true.

Mother of the Child and I have always tried to respect [info]the_child‘s privacy, even from very early on. In age appropriate ways, of course. Children, especially young ones, have so little control over their world. Allowing her space and time of her own has always been a method of empowering her.

This plays in multiple directions. She has, for example, come to me in the past and said, “I want to talk to you about something that happened at school, but you have to promise me you won’t tell anyone.”

To which my response has always been, “I’ll try, but I cannot promise that. If the health or safety of another child is involved, I can’t not tell their parents. How do you think I would feel if someone else knew you were in trouble, and didn’t tell me?”

So far in this situations, she has accepted this, and has shared her confidences with me.

Now, closing in on her fifteenth birthday, [info]the_child is developing independent friendships with some of the adults in her life. I honor this, I love this. Especially when she builds trust and social connection with women who are self-actualized and empowered.

I don’t think she can have too many role models, and the more varied they are, the better. Her mother and I do the best we can, but we suffer from the fatal deficiency of being her actual parents, and thus our advice and experience is deeply suspect to her teen aged mind.

All of which is to say, I continue to respect her privacy. Which at this age feels risky. I mean, she could be drinking, or acting out sexually, or, or, or, or… But I remember what it feels like to be fourteen-going-on-fifteen. I remember what it feels like to be a teen, seeking my independence and trying to set my own boundaries and resenting the way I still needed my parents for what felt like almost everything. And this is a child who has proven herself trustworthy and sensible over and over and over.

Her privacy is a critical part of her growing maturity. Letting go of my parental control of her life is a critical part of my growing maturity. So when my friend mentioned there had been confidences, all I could do was smile and be happy.

Our life is a river, and the current is starting to carry [info]the_child away from me. Which is right and proper and as it should be, and I celebrate her maturation process.

But still, letting go is hard to do.

[child] She comes home tomorrow, musings on parenting and mortality

[info]the_child comes home tomorrow on the evening train from Seattle. [info]lillypond, a/k/a my sister, is picking her up at the train station at the same time I’m picking [info]seanan_mcguire up at the airport, then we’re all meeting for dinner, along with [info]mlerules, Team E— and [info]kenscholes (assuming he’s over his case of the screaming crud by then). Which will be an apropos welcome home for her, as the last time I saw my kid was when I took her to the George R.R. Martin party in Seattle two weeks ago.

This summer she has flown to California by herself. She is training back from Seattle tomorrow by herself. She has spent time with her grandmother learning to use the Portland area bus and light rail system, and is now allowed to make trips around town by herself. She is also seriously talking about what kind of job she wants next summer, when she’s fifteen and a half. One of the current favorites of hers is working in the office of our family attorneys (with whom she is friends) because, “Lawyers know how to get people to tell them things, and I’d like to learn that.”

I think my little kid is growing up.

Every step closer to adulthood, to maturity, is one less brick on my chest over the cancer. Perhaps my greatest fear is dying while she’s still in childhood. It is a terrible thing to lose a parent at any age, but that is the way of the world. (Consider the alternative, that the parent loses their child.) Losing a parent before you’ve really gotten a solid start on finding yourself is much, much harder.

As it happens, there has been a recent cancer death in Mother of the Child’s extended family, which has me pondering once again parenthood and illness. And of course, the leading echoes of what is to come for me on these next tests, as always. To see [info]the_child being a little more mature, increasingly self-reliant, and better directed… those are a comfort and a blessing. They are to every parent, I know, but it all has a special meaning to me.

Love that kid.

[child] She is coming home tonight

[info]the_child has been in California for a week, visiting her best friend who moved away. She’s coming home tonight. Yay!!!

Even though it’s been nice to have a break, Mother of the Child and I have missed her dreadfully. It will be very good to have her back.

[photos|child] Going to eight grade graduation

Yesterday was [info]the_child‘s eighth grade graduation. (They called it a “promotion”, I think.) The event was held in a church a bit north of the school, and was absolutely lovely. My whole extended family attended, and Donnie Reynolds shot some more footage. [info]the_child spoke (twice) and was part of several musical and spoken word group performances. They are all so young and beautiful and capable.

Where did these kids come from?

I didn’t take a camera into the graduation, but I did take some photos of [info]the_child and Mother of the Child before we left Nuevo Rancho Lake.


[child] Great moments in parenting

Yesterday evening, [info]the_child, Lisa Costello and I were in the Genre car coming back from dinner with Donnie Reynolds. We’d enjoyed some of the usually excellent fare at Eastburn and discussed at length the current not-so-Sekrit Projekt I’ve been working on with Donnie for months. (Which, incidentally, is also why I didn’t get any keyboard time on my writing yesterday.) Cats were herded, food was consumed, the evening air was enjoyed with the top down on the car.

We pulled into the garage at Nuevo Rancho Lake. [info]the_child looked up toward the ceiling. The following conversation ensued.

[info]the_child: “Dad, is that a whip?”
[info]jaylake: “What?”
[info]the_child: :: points ::
[info]jaylake: “No, that’s just some wires on the wall.”
[info]the_child: “Not those. That.” :: points again ::
[info]jaylake: “Uh…”
Lisa Costello: :: dies laughing ::
[info]the_child: “I don’t want to know, do I?”
[info]jaylake: “Actually, it’s your mother’s.”

[child] And away she goes; as do we all

This morning [info]the_child departs with the rest of her class for their eighth grade trip. They’re going to California for five days, to climb redwoods and ride horses and hike up mountains. She’ll be back in time for JayCon, but most of this week will be quieter than usual around Nuevo Rancho Lake.

This is a bigger deal than might seem obvious. She’s a Waldorf kid. In that system, the teacher stays with the class from first through eighth grade. So this is a good-bye trip for Mr. C— and the eighteen kids in his class. They’ve been like family to one another since 2004. More than half her life. Some of the kids she’s going with she started mixed age kindergarten with at age three and a half. Eleven years she’s been with them.

It’s all about transitions this month in the Lake household. Me, purging my basement. [info]the_child leaving behind her grade school. My birthday coming up, celebrated in health and happiness for the first time in four years.

So, yeah.

And my daughter grows up another step. Maybe, so do I.

[culture|child] Giraffe rules and shotgun rules

About four years ago here on the blog, I mentioned the concept of “giraffe rules” [ | LiveJournal ]. As I said at the time:

“Please don’t eat the giraffe” rules […] are the kinds of rules any society has which no one ever thinks to spell out in so many words, until someone comes along who tries to eat the giraffe. If you’re a parent, you’re pretty familiar with these rules, because kids are always finding some giraffe to eat. If you hang out with writers, many of whom are the beneficiaries of what at the kindest could be called quirky socialization, you run into some of these same rules. (And of course, there are places in the world where “Please don’t eat the giraffe” may well be a needed social rule.)

So a while ago, [info]the_child commented that she thought that Mother of the Child and I weren’t very good parents.

“Why?” I asked her, quite curious about this utterance.

“Because you don’t give me very many rules.”

“Well,” I pointed out, “You don’t need a lot rules. You pretty much behave yourself. Parents make rules when kids do things they shouldn’t.”

Such as trying to eat the giraffe.

There are so many unwritten rules in society. Not just unwritten, but even unconscious. A favorite example of mine is the priority of seating in an automobile. With the partial exception of a socially flat group of peers (such as high school kids of the same gender and clique in the same year-class), we almost always know who’s going to sit where in a car without having to ask. If you begin to pick at how that works, it’s a pretty complex hierarchy with a lot of exception management. Who owns the vehicle? Who has the keys? Who is dating or married to whom? Who’s infirm or elderly? Who’s exceptionally tall or short? What’s the gender mix? What’s the age mix? And even for peers, there’s a protocol. Calling “shotgun”, for example.

Yet no one ever sits down and explains this to people. We all just know, by some magic osmosis. We’ll call these shotgun rules.

So there are giraffe rules, which are so obvious they aren’t normally stated at all, then there are the shotgun rules which are the opposite of obvious, maybe even vanishingly subtle, but they aren’t normally stated either. And believe me, being a parent brings both sets of rules to consciousness, especially if you have a kid like mine, who spends a lot of time analyzing other people’s behavior. Or likewise if your kid’s on the autism spectrum, you spend a lot of time explaining these rules.

What are your favorite examples of giraffe rules? What are your favorite examples of shotgun rules?

[child] Art of the Child

Some pen and ink sketches from over the weekend, when she wanted to pass the time a while.

Self portrait


Also, she designed the backdrop for the set of the eighth grade play, a stage adaptation of Momo by Michael Ende [ Powells | BN ]. (She is playing the title role as well.) The high school is planning to repurpose the backdrop for their own play.

[info]the_child her own self on the set

Art © 2012 B. Lake, all rights reserved. Reproduced with permission.

Photo © 2012, Joseph E. Lake, Jr.

Creative Commons License

This work by Joseph E. Lake, Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.