One

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Hoo boy, you know it’s Interesting Times when you don’t know what to write. Where to start? Where in the mid-cyclone wreckage of March 2020 to even begin?

On the one hand: COVID-19. Jesus. You don’t want to hear any more about that. I sure as hell don’t.

On the other hand: #theKindnessPandemic. #teddybearhunt. Adopt A Healthcare Worker. Brilliant stuff, all of it. Genuinely giving of hope that there may be a chance humanity isn’t as fucked as I tend to think it is. Look at us, reaching out. Look at us, giving. Helping. Jacinda freaking-god-love-her Ardern. It’s out there, people. It’s our job to breathe life into it, and people are stepping up.

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On the one hand: staying at home. This one actually doesn’t suck, for a bona-fide, card-carrying introvert. Except…

On the one hand: being quarantined with 2e kids, one of whom thinks this is the perfect opportunity to prove he can live on Minecraft alone, while the other one is extremely extroverted and rocking a serious nosophobia.

On the other hand: Operation Ouch, Horrible Histories, Steve Backshall, Mark Rober. Look how the latter have stepped up, bless them. Darlings. Our viewing cup runneth over. Online libraries, concerts, audiobooks being made available for free. Extra plugs for Hardball and Mustangs F.C. You know your kids’ viewing is brilliant when the household adults are keen to watch, too. Thank all the stars above for the ABC. Science and the arts – the finest endeavours humanity has ever produced – are keeping everyone alive and afloat, right now. Pray they all recognise and remember that. No, stuff prayer. REMIND THEM.

Hardball. Image Source

On the one hand: trying to care for 84yo deaf, demented mum, who still lives alone, whilst maintaining social distancing. She can’t hear if you’re a llama away, no matter how you bellow. Bellowing is no way to communicate, anyway. And she needs hugs, dammit.

On the other hand: my wonderful sister, connecting Mum to the internet, lending her an iPad, showing her FaceTime with the grandkids. My kids putting chooks on their heads for her amusement. (The chooks, tolerating this and not pooping in the house!)

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On the one hand: the ramifications of the global economic recession that surely will follow. This one… god. This one is going to be hard.

On the other hand: the forced slowdown, the unprecedented technological connections (see above), the immediate evidence of environmental improvement, the slow seeping public awareness that we can be – no, we must be – a society, rather than an economy. Citizens rather than consumers. The chance, as a society, to rethink our entire value system. To recognise this for the test-run that it is. To cast aside any leadership that sees us solely in terms of our economics in favour of one that sees us first and foremost as humans. To remember what it is we actually, truly, need, and be content.

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I’m not as angry, right now, as I was at the start of the year. (Although, bloody hell, if you talk to me about how our government is handling this…!) I’m still scared; only a heartless fool isn’t. Every afternoon, about 4pm, I’m flooded by a horrid visceral dread and the need to go lie down, hide, cry.

But this is not more than it was before, it’s just more acute. More obtrusive, more in-your-face, more, RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW, but – and this is really fucking important – it is no different to where we were before. We’re in dress rehearsal for the real shit that’s coming and so far, we’re doing okay. You’re doing okay. Go. Use your strength, your intelligence and your creativity, and practice kindness like your life depends on it.

One love, one blood

One life, you got to do what you should

One life, with each other

Sisters, Brothers

One life but we’re not the same.

We get to carry each other, carry each other

– U2, One

Sanctuary

One of the great joys in my life, is our homeschool group. The women who started and run it are, without a doubt, among the most amazing people I have ever met. Having been through stuff that would make your toes curl, the lessons they took away have made them consistently empathetic, tolerant, compassionate, and kind.

Also, they’re quirky as all get out and so are all our kids, so there’s bucketloads of that particular, tar-black sense of humour.

We all bask in finding this concentration of other mothers who Get It; even if the particular diagnosis doesn’t apply in your house, you’ve had the experience of trying to raise a child who doesn’t follow any of the developmental rules and therefore having to overhaul every last one of your expectations. And then keep overhauling. When someone arrives with teeth gritted, everyone else has a pretty good idea of what they’ve likely been through that morning. Both parents and kids are treated with an extra dose of kindness, and everyone feels, you know – understood.

I know these exceptional mums love what they’ve created, and I also know that this doesn’t stop it being physically, mentally, emotionally and sensorily demanding, very hard work, the sort that would drive most school-teachers to despair or cruelty or quitting. But instead they have created that very rare, very special thing, a place where extraordinarily challenging kids – the ones who are always butting so painfully against the world – feel completely accepted and valued.

And, you know how I know? Because this morning, this happened:

My daughter and some of the other kids have been reading a book by a local author, who also happens to be friends with the group’s founder. She’s been invited to come chat to the kids, later this week, so when I ‘bumped into’ her online, I said, we have friends in common; I’m looking forward to meeting you this week! She replied, oh, are you with the school? Yes, I said, but you’ll be better prepared if you think of it as a circus. (Having no better description of what it’s like, being in a roomful of 2e kids, especially one where they feel fully accepted for who they are.)

At this point, CraftyFish came in, so I related the tale to her, knowing she’s excited to meet the author, and that she’d get a kick out of the circus comment.

I didn’t get that far, though. As soon as I mentioned the word ‘school’, she puffed up like a society matron smelling a fart. “Do NOT call our group a SCHOOL,” she exclaims, outraged. “It is NOT a SCHOOL. It’s a SANCTUARY.”

Can I invite you to sit with that, for a moment? Because there is a lot packed into that one word: The sense that school (even the wonderful school we went to) asks us to be something else, something other than who we are, to meet other people’s expectations, often regardless of your own. The converse sense of safety and recognition that our group provides. The sense of ownership, of belonging. The sense that this is, in fact, a place safe enough for her to do things that have so far been challenging, such as … reading a novel. The drama of the delivery, sure, because as long as you’re not hurting someone else or being disrespectful, that’s okay.

It made my heart melt, it did. It is all I would wish for anyone, but perhaps most for our quirky kids: that they find a sanctuary.

New Year’s Revolution

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Resolutions, shmesolutions. Yeah, that didn’t really work, did it? Sorry. It’s day 5 of the New Year and I feel like I’ve just been spit out of a tumble dryer. I’m over-socialised, I’m knackered, my house is a mess, I’ve already lost my new diary. I woke up late and feel like I had no chance to get my bearings before I dashed out of the house for weekly mandated blogging time. Inside my head is a rumbling cavern, echoing with phrases as my poor cerebrum tries to process everything that was packed into it over the past ten days, along with whatever was already in there.

Oh, wait.

That’s what it’s like in there ALL THE FRELLING TIME.

So that’s why I don’t do resolutions. That’s just setting myself up to fail and honey, I do not need any more of that.

I’m also kinda crap at the “Word of the Year” thing I see bandied around the nicer corners of the internet. They’re always so genuinely mindful, and my surly inner 17-year-old cannot resist bait like that. She nominates phrases like “Gin” or “Fuck this shit”, which in some moments, I think, kinda defeats the purpose.

However.

This year is not those moments.

This year, the world is burning. Literally. Here in Australia, 5.8 million hectares are currently alight or have been burnt in the past six months. The fire front is 11,000km long – from here to Pakistan – and it’s burning so fiercely, it is now creating its own weather. Our smoke is polluting New Zealand, 1900kms away across the Tasman Sea; the fires alone have generated half our country’s annual carbon emissions in the past six months. Human lives have been lost; thousands of homes incinerated; tens of thousands have fled; countless millions of animals have died.

It’s still going.

And so are we. Carrying on our daily lives, most of us, as we always have.

In these circumstances, I think, actually, that my inner self has the right idea. Fuck this shit. Appeasing her, I’m wearing a t-shirt that says “Smash the Patriarchy” – because fundamentally, that’s what it’s going to take – and I’m seriously contemplating dying my hair fuschia as a warrior flag. (My eldest says he loathes that idea “with a passion that burns as bright as the colour [I’m] considering”. Heh.) My inner self has huge kicking boots on and she’s ready to charge the barricades.

But, that raging heart is fortunately trapped inside the body of a 50yo. A widely-read 50yo who loves people. I mean, really loves people, in all their wonky, confused, faltering glory. A 50yo who has incredible, beautiful young children to protect and who loves their incredible, beautiful friends. A 50yo who feels like she’s maybe just starting to grow into her strengths, and those strengths are empathy, respect, and compassion. Kindness. And words. Always, the words.

So I participate in the #iamhere movement; I engage in public online battles I could never previously bring myself to fight, because I have the skills and now there is so much at stake, I find I finally have the courage. This year, if anything, I plan to step that up: I want to see proper campaigning, I want to see big changes – huge fucking changes – I want to see us building lives that can withstand the fire. I am full of rage and love.

It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be terrifying. It’s going to be exhausting.

And right now, at least, I am so there for it.

2020: bring on the revolution.

The writing post

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When I was in Senior, Bruce Dawe visited my school, to talk about being a poet. It was the first time I’d ever met an actual author and I was nearly sick with the thrill of it. (Got a lot of funny looks from my classmates, whose excitement, such as it was, stemmed mainly from the fact that they were sort of getting out of double English.) I couldn’t speak; I wanted to be a writer so badly, I didn’t even know where to start, so although I was exploding with questions, not a single one of them came out. Afterwards, Mum dragged us off to a shopping centre where I followed her around crying my eyes out, I was so disappointed in myself for having missed such an opportunity. (Funny looks from my siblings, then.) An opportunity for what, exactly, I didn’t know, only that I felt I’d missed something crucial.

33 years later, the one thing I really remember Dawe saying, was in response to a question from one of the teachers. He didn’t have an office, he said. He wrote at the kitchen table, with the kids and the wife busy, chatting, working around him and the dog at his feet. And, he thought that made him a better writer. Closer, more in touch, with the things he was trying to grasp.

That really struck me. Until then, I’d nurtured lonely-writer-in-a-freezing-garrett type images of my future. One of my uncles, dead before I came along, had written a few books, and I’d fallen deeply in love with his little writing cubby, an open shack no more than three square metres, on the bank of a rushing stream, down the hill from the family home in the Blue Mountains.

That was what I always wanted. (There were six humans and a dog in my childhood family and I’m an introvert; I wanted it hard.) Dawe showed me that things could be different, that what you could still write beautifully in the midst of chaos.

And it’s just as well I learned that, because if I couldn’t write in chaos, these days, I would simply never write, and writing is as essential to me as breathing. Don’t get me wrong, I would dearly love a less chaotic space to work in. It’s just that writing is more important. Choosing writing over housework takes no thought; I would and often do choose writing over nearly every other aspect of self-care, because it is so good for me. Writing takes me somewhere else. It simplifies, gives me a tiny space where I am, actually, in control. Above all it relieves the pressure of the words swirling incessantly in my head, and believe me when I say there’s a fucking lot of them. A week in a spa – a month of meditating – a year of yoga, couldn’t do as much for me as a day spent writing.

So if that table – swamped as it is by craft mess that the kids and I create, pencil shavings and fabric scraps underfoot, the piano at my back, Mr Pixel placing blocks or whatever it is he does to my right, a view of the empty supply cupboard and the garden ahead – if that’s the only space to write in, well, then, by god that’s where I’m gonna write.

The lovely thing I’ve learned, is that even with all that, with the TV and the cat, the chooks and the kids (one of whom chatters constantly, sometimes to the chooks, while watching TV), is that if I allow myself to cock my ear, to take a breath, exhale, and listen, the stories are always right there. All I have to do is tune in.

So, this year I finally finished the novel I started when I was pregnant with Mr Pixel. Yeah. 13 years. And although sleep deprivation took me on a very long detour via Utter Rubbish and the bog of Badly Written, I think it ended up somewhere a bit better, after all. I sent it off to a competition, anyway, a thing that crossed my feed about one day after I joined a romance writers’ group. I doubt anything will come of it, but you know. The point is that I did something with my writing, for the first time.

And then, amazingly, I started the next one, because I’ve been carrying these characters in my head for so long, too, that as soon as I was ready, out they popped, doing what they need to do. I easily caught two chapters on the laptop in the picture and even now, today – in a different writing space, writing something else altogether, I can dimly hear the sentences unfurling, as though the characters were just in the next room.

It’ll be Christmas in a couple days. I’ve still got shopping and wrapping and cooking to do and yes, cleaning, too. I’ll work in the garden and help CraftyFish with the impossible puzzle she’s doing, and spend time with Mum. The Skeptic and I have some urgent budgeting to do, and the garage needs to be cleaned out. But in between all that, in hours and half hours, here and there, I’ll keep writing. It’s who I am.

The heavy post

Mt Coot-tha in the haze © careerusinterruptus

November and, so far, December, have not been kind to us. CraftyFish has spent most of her time flat on the sofa, miserable AF – and for a kid who is normally swinging from the chandeliers, that’s distressing as hell. Especially to mommas who bear the brunt of the misery, and the responsibility for fixing it. I eventually got her blood-tested – which sounds so easy to say, but is so taxing, when your kid is super anxious, super vocal, and has never had blood tests before – and we discovered that her iron was on the floor. Not, technically, anaemic, but in the bottom 6% of the normal range. Which is bloody marvellous – relieved a lot of anxiety, let me tell you, and eminently fixable, even if it will take a long time.

At the same time, I asked the doctor to test me, too, because my brain fog was back. Last time, I didn’t notice until a doctor told me – that is, I knew I wasn’t right, but I didn’t know how not-right I was, until he told me – but this time, thank fuck, I noticed. In one week I lost my keys and took three visits to remember to tell the doctor everything and then there was the morning I caught myself wandering around the kitchen trying to remember how to make toast – with the bread in my hand the whole time. This time I knew, hey, I wasn’t like that six months ago, so off I trotted. Turns out, my iron is only marginally better than CraftyFish’s. So we’re trying to iron out our iron and be kind to ourselves: trying to remember, as we achieve so very little, that we’re not useless, we’ve just been temporarily hamstrung by biology.

It triggered me, a bit, the brain fog. I lost years to it, last time, years of barely keeping my head above water and anger and exhaustion and not being able to start, let alone finish, anything. I do not want to go back there.

The world continues to burn and the news is horrific: our government continues its march towards authoritarianism, denying – in the face of all the evidence – that there’s anything unusual happening as the biggest, hottest fires ever recorded sweep vast areas of land, killing record numbers of animals, driving thousands of people from their homes. They rejected calls for more funding for the exhausted firefighters, saying that as volunteers they “want” to be there, forcing the firies to crowd-fund for lunches and equipment; they’ve brought in a bill to allow people to discriminate on religious grounds – to fire you for being gay, or to deny you contraception; they folded the Arts, Environment and Education portfolios in with Transport, Agriculture and Employment respectively, even though those would seem to be at cross purposes; and rumour has it that they’re planning to cut the pension for both the aged and job-seekers. This week Australia was downgraded from being an open to a narrow democracy and ranked bottom of 57 countries for its climate policies.

Then there’s Brexit.

More drought.

America.

Refugees.

I can’t look away from this stuff. Can’t focus on the small picture, making sure my kitchen is tidy and my Christmas shopping is done and prettily wrapped. I find it utterly impossible to give a flying fuck about this stuff, to be honest, to pretend it’s business as normal, when it is so abundantly clear that painful, violent times are coming, fast. (The sky, normally so clear and blue has been relentlessly low and beige, and the temperatures over 30C every day this week, which makes it really hard to ignore.)

And then. Mum had a minor stroke and, when she was released 24 hours later, another slightly more serious one. She’s okay, she’s at home now, regarded as fit and safe, although one side of her mouth still droops. It was a lot of hospital time, though, much of it with tired and emotional kids, and I’m the sort of wimp who has to look the other way when there’s a canula in the room, let alone sticking out of my poor Mum’s thin, tissue-skinned arm. She doesn’t really understand why we made her go to hospital; can’t remember that she didn’t used to slur her speech and have trouble lifting her arm, because of the dementia. And she doesn’t remember the explanation so we tell her, over and over again, and she is struggling to process. My sister has done most of the work and I feel bad about that, too.

It has been hard.

A friend tried to remind me that I don’t have to always hold it all together, but I haven’t been able to cry. I don’t know whether that’s exhaustion, distraction (thoughts in my head like flies), good old-fashioned repression, or the profound conviction that worse is to come, but it’s just not there.

I write this out as a marker, so that it’s there, the background against which I think about my kids, make decisions for them and for myself. So that if I seem distracted, or pessimistic, or that I’m spending too much time watching Guardians of the Galaxy and reading romance novels, I remember it’s because I’m carrying all this, all the time, and try as I might, I cannot put it down.

The oh yeah, that’s right post

Bondi Rescue lifesaver Harrison, rendered in gingerbread ©careerusinterruptus

Sometimes I wonder if my kids really are gifted. (Hello, imposter syndrome!)

Sure, they read early and zipped through their first couple of years of math, but then ill health, anxiety, a bad school fit, and a dash of bullying brought a screaming halt to their academic advancement. Since then, their disinterest in book learning is a source of perpetual bemusement to their dad and me – neither of them, really, has an academic bone in their body. So when I read about kids doing calculus at 5, or teaching themselves multiple languages, I do sometimes wonder whether I’m in the right parenting group.

And then we’ll have a 24-hour period in which one kid (it doesn’t matter which one, they’re both over age 10 and both more than capable of all of this):

a) soliloquises extensively about how desperate they are to learn everything, and “know the answers to all the questions in the world”;

b) throws a screaming fit over wrapping a Christmas present – they cut too much paper, you see, and had to trim in both dimensions, which “ruined everything” and then they didn’t know how to do corners so the whole idea was stupid and just FORGET IT, JUST CANCEL CHRISTMAS NOW;

c) carries on the screaming fit with floods of tears, on the floor, because they wish they were learning, but they can’t because they are sick, and they can’t find their math book, and couldn’t do any even if they could find it because their entire body hurts, but they need to do it before school starts in 8 weeks’ time or they will grow up stupid and end up living in some guy’s basement playing video games for their entire life;

d) insists they would rather flush their head down the toilet than watch any educational YouTube content, even though they are sick and need to lie down watching TV, and they’re bored silly with cartoons, and to thwart me, they turn on the TV themselves, flipping through the channels until they get to … the ABC’s educational programming;

e) and finally, after more tears because it’s the 2nd and we’re not doing anything Christmassy, settles on decorating gingerbread men and spend the best part of three hours contentedly creating artworks like the portrait above. And below:

Gingerbread cookies in the CI house
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Hilarious, aren’t they? Take a close look at the designs on those Christmas jumpers. Some of those sprinkles were placed using tweezers, for the love of God, and that one down the bottom was decapitated deliberately. The Santa hat one is decorated the same front and back because that’s how hats work. And when a cookie’s leg broke off during the transfer from worktop to baking tray, they made a gingerbread wheelchair to put it in, with a lecture to me on the importance of representing all kinds of people, not just people with legs. There was a drag queen cookie, too, and both a topless sunbather and the creep who took photos of her (a storyline lifted from Bondi Rescue. You may notice a theme, here.)

This day was like a masterclass in teh gifted, banging through all the boxes: Intelligence and a thirst for knowledge, tick. Rampaging need for autonomy, tick. A tsunami of emotion, tick. A stonking sense of humour, tick. Anxiety (not necessarily a gifted thing, but often comorbid), tick. Social justice campaigning, tick. Intense and asynchronous up the wazoo.

I know, I go on about it. Partly, dude, I just need to vent. I mean, you try living with this. Partly I do it for that other mum who may be out there, wondering what the hell is going on in her house. And partly, I need to remind myself: yes, actually, I am dealing with somewhat … unusual kids, and if we all struggle sometimes, well, that’s understandable. And finally, partly, it’s to remind myself that yes, I am in the right parenting group, even without the calculus, because this is what gifted looks like.

The asynchronous development is a PITA post

Nostalgic picture of a well-loved, 50-year-old childhood toy
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The thing about asynchronous development is, I can’t fairly write about how it looks in our house. All the stuff that would scythe right through popular one-dimensional notions of giftedness is too freaking embarrassing to my kids, and I respect them far too much to put it online.

Because the whole point of asynchronous development is that, whilst some of the stuff gifted kids do makes them look absolutely amazing, quite a lot of other stuff they do – or can’t do, or won’t do, depending on the issue – looks pretty bloody babyish. It is babyish. And my kids aren’t stupid; they know perfectly well they “should” have outgrown it like their age-peers have, but they haven’t, yet. That’s not down to my coddling or their manipulation or kids these days being soft/spoiled/getting away with murder, it’s just wiring.

It’s integral to the full picture of what we’re wrangling here, though, because the one thing us parents of gifties want you to know is that honey, we ain’t bragging. We cling to these words along with our gin bottles, because often, the “asynchronous development” part of the gifted diagnosis is the only thing that makes our kids make any degree of sense.

So instead, I’m going to share a moment from my childhood, when the asynchronicity – the all-over-the-shop development that makes gifted kids appear several ages at once – really twinkled, now that I look back through the lens of Much Reading.

On one hand, my parents bought me a subscription to Readers’ Digest for my sixth birthday, because I was desperate for reading material and they were desperate for me to stop asking questions – and they knew I’d love it. And, oh my god, I did love it. I devoured it, cover-to-cover, every month until we moved to Australia when I was 14 and the subscription lapsed. I can still tell you a whole stack of things I learned from Readers’ Digest. So on this hand, the expected precocious little smart-arse, right?

On the other hand, when my younger sisters ganged up to shame me out of thumb-sucking and sleeping with my Humpty, age 9 (first clue!), I epically lost my shit and bashed them over the head with a broom (second clue!). This hand – whoa. This hand was Daffy Duck, except actually dangerous. (Having been on the receiving end myself, I must say the tantrums of a three-year-old are a picnic compared to the same fury and lack of control whomping out of someone six years bigger and stronger.)

Now I know how today’s parenting forums would pile on. The “I would not stand for thats”, the “completely unacceptables”, the “9yo is definitely old enough to control their tempers”. It was completely unacceptable, obviously, but the point is – controlling your temper isn’t about age. It’s a learned skill. At 9, I had the self-control of your average three-year old, because I had never lost my temper before. Until that point, my parents would reasonably explain their position in any conflict and I would reasonably accept it. I’d never hit anyone; I’d never even thrown a tantrum. So my fit that night was a double-whammy: not only had I walloped my sisters, the fact that I could wallop my sisters came as a giant shock to all of us. It terrified the crap out of me, and I burst into tears every bit as loud as theirs. I was A MONSTER!

That’s asynchronous development. That’s the reason parents of gifted kids clutch their gin: at any moment, your hitherto rational, advanced, and well-adjusted child may suddenly be taken over by a foaming poltergeist of their much-younger selves – or, as in my case, a developmental stage they’d seemingly skipped altogether. (Tip: they never skip stages. If you think your kid has skipped a stage, by all means, read ahead and meet them wherever they are, but mark the place in your book. You will be revisiting it, sooner or later. Sometimes much later.)

Sure, some gifties lose their temper regularly and still take forever to learn that control. For others, it’s different aspects of development that are out of whack: they can read but not write, or recite the periodic table but not toilet-train, or calculate orbital trajectories in their heads but still need to co-sleep. The point is the lows that come with the highs and the vertiginous zipping between the two. One minute your nine-year-old is waxing lyrical about David Hartman, the first blind person to graduate med school in the US; the next minute she’s lost all self-control, everyone’s screaming hysterically, and you’re checking the littlies for concussion.

As a parent, I have suffered this whiplash so many times, it’s a wonder my head is still attached. It’s the thing I most wish to convey when I talk about the gifted. Sure, there’s an intellectual component to the diagnosis that hogs the limelight, but as a parent, you don’t really care about that. No, what keeps you awake at night is the berserker lurking behind the vocabulary, ready to leap out and wallop everyone when least expected.

That’s the thing that drove me to the forums and eventually, to my tribe of other, similarly-traumatised parents, and it’s why I’m sharing this now. Because if you don’t get what asynchronous development is, you might not know that this is what gifted looks like.

The under-the-bed post

© careerusinterruptus

The delightful thing about living with intensity, is the intensity of the intensity. It’s absolutely relentless. If you do get a break, you’d better gulp air and fuckin’ brace, baby, because without a doubt, the next wave is coming. Welcome to inside my head.

I had planned, you see, a learning post. We learned how to sex mealworm pupae this week (yeah, I know, still no mealworm post, but I’ll get there); we identified the giant caterpillars devastating my patio pots as Eupanacra splendens, a type of hawk-moth larva native to just a few Pacific islands and Queensland; CraftyFish taught herself and me how to make macrame friendship bracelets; we learned about the ancient Irish origins of Halloween; we learned that it is possible for someone who has, theoretically at least, outgrown croup, to have it and asthma at the same time with the right virus; we learned how Huntsman spiders mate (so that’s what pedipalps are for!) and that they can move 50 body-lengths a second; one of us learned far more than she wanted to know about symptoms of menopause and found herself reading a very long article about corruption in Airb’n’b, a service we have never used and have no plans to ever use, because far out, interesting. All that goes into the ol’ cerebrum and swirls around all week, until thoroughly processed, which takes ages, because answers beget questions in an endless loop until you find yourself in the lougeroom with a torch trying to spot tiny specks of white on mealworm butts at 10pm.

Then life broad-sided us. CraftyFish picked up the aforementioned virus and spent the week on the sofa, milk-pale and miserable, and on Friday Mr Pixel went out to build a barrier to stop the chooks venturing onto the road and ended up losing a fight with a hardwood pallet. He’s in a backslab now, waiting for a referral to the fracture clinic at the Children’s Hospital. (NB: we also learned what an avulsion fracture is, and why a broken foot merits a knee-high plaster.)

These don’t sound like big deals. In the grand scheme of things, of course, they’re not – it’s just all the emotional and intellectual crap that goes with it. The two-hour flood of utterly heartbroken tears when CraftyFish realised she couldn’t go trick-or-treating because sick; the anxiety everyone felt around Mr Pixel’s evident pain and having to spend an afternoon at the hospital; my (quiet) shock at how brilliantly he managed himself and the staff at the hospital, even politely explaining to an admin about my hearing impairment; more floods when Mr Pixel – who in addition to the foot fiasco has now also contracted CraftyFish’s virus – finally snapped at his sister’s overwhelming, loving, fuss and in a moment of sarcasm, utterly broke her heart. Again. It’s exhausting, this. Not just the constant barrage of upset but the effort to not react, to model calm and to be supportive, when my wiring is just as fucking flash-firey as theirs and I hate hearing shouting, let alone having it directed at me.

All this against a background of whoops, Mummy has forgotten how to sleep again and is scraping five hours a night so that her head feels permanently like it’s being trampled by a herd of angry cows.

So we’ve been hiding on our screens a lot this week, and for me at least, that’s been disastrous. Because this week, out there has been a lot of bad shit. There was the old white man’s cartoon slamming mothers, the backlash, and his battening down the hatches with more misogyny.

Queensland not only handed over another 30,000 acres to fracking, it also gave its police extra powers to search peaceful protesters, while Victorian police went straight to brutalism (with overtones of white supremacy and – some other, just, repugnance) in a thoroughly shocking display of violence that their Premier thinks is great. We had a young friend there. Reading the post of a young man who was choked and beaten, I also come across devastating words by a sustainability professor that cut a swathe of horror and grief right through my guts – even though I already knew it, sort of, it’s a different thing altogether to hear it so bluntly stated by someone with the authority to do so.

Racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, anti-Semitism and just plain nastiness continue to abound.

And behind all that, always, the climate. The questions and the fear and the bewilderment and the anger – the rage – that has to be constantly managed in the face of denial, false-information spreading, accusation, lies, confusion, inaction, and lately, aggression towards those of us who want change.

And against all that, the tiny details that never escape notice. The dead fledgling, the litter in the gutter, that child’s smile, the heat, the misuse of apostrophes, that woman’s tattoo, the moldy pumpkin smell, the bruised finger, the softness of the brownie and the sharp bitter curry, the sticky floor, the mountain of laundry, the dust, Soft Wookie/Warm Wookie/Great big ball of fur, Dr Barbie being the only (relatively) “fat” one, the tacit rise in doctor’s consultation fees, the dad on his phone while Mum rocked the sick baby in ER. All this. More. All the time. Going in. Sticking. Resurfacing. Raising questions but no answers.

As I wrote, today, a man helped himself to a chair and a place at my little cafe table, without so much as making eye contact, let alone the polite chitchat of checking whether that’s okay – and then when his coffee was delivered, got up and walked off, leaving his chair in the walkway. It is such a little, almost insignificant thing and yet, so telling.

I’m done, people. I’m going to hide under the bed.

Bang! There went the week.

©careerusinterruptus

Sigh. There’s the whiteboard. Last Sunday night I brought it down to the playroom, so that CraftyFish and I could put together a plan for what we needed and wanted to get through during the week.

We don’t do well with routine in my house. Everyone gets bored if we do the same thing twice in a row and we’re all constantly generating new ideas for cool stuff to do, then getting sucked into the internet when we look up how to do it and forgetting what we originally planned. I haven’t quite decided whether we have executive function issues, ADHD (inattentive) or if this constant mental hyperactivity is just what gifted looks like.

Then, too, life is constantly throwing new and unpredicted excitements our way that knock us so thoroughly for six, we may take days to find our feet.

My aim, therefore, is for something like a melody, rather than a schedule, a routine or a plan. There are needs I aim to meet, one way or another, during the course of a week: the need for exercise, for getting outside, for creativity, for social connection, for the house to be somewhat slightly cleaned, for the animals to be taken care of, for stretching our comfort zones, for spending time with family, and for learning.

CraftyFish has Guides on Monday and piano lessons on Friday. In between is a blank slate. There’s no order; I just aim to keep the mix right. This week we needed to look in on Mum three times; she lives on her own and although she’s quite happy and safe, she can forget lunch, and won’t get out or see anyone at all if we don’t help her. On Sunday, though, CraftyFish was so busy doing … something, that by bedtime all I had for a “plan” was a trip to the skate park the following day and this week, art and literacy classes on Thursday afternoon. They didn’t even get written on the board.

And then Sunday night was one of those no-sleep three-ring circuses (even the Skeptic was up, briefly), topped, first thing Monday morning, by Mr Pixel’s computer blowing up when he turned it on. I mean, what sort of chance did that give us?

Exactly.

It went downhill from there. Eventually, we got out to a skate park that CraftyFish wanted to visit, only for it to be so thoroughly overrun with wild schoolkids that she freaked (not about the kids, per se, but about the possibility of running them over, since they appeared to have no self-preservation instinct whatsoever) and demanded to leave.

So we went on to IKEA, where CraftyFish refused to eat IKEA food because “it’s expensive junk and I don’t want to make you broke and I want to be healthy” (plus, also, probably, because she was still disappointed about the skate park and mad that we were there to buy something for her brother). Then she fell over onto her wrist and it turned out I couldn’t move the item we’d come for anyway, so we left with a disappointed Mr Pixel, a frustrated Mum, and CraftyFish in floods.

Tuesday involved Mr Pixel visiting the dentist; CraftyFish unable to decide whether to spend the afternoon at school or with us and therefore, yep, more floods; and the week’s first visit to Mum – on the way to ER to get an X-ray for CraftyFish’s swollen wrist. (Just sprained, fortunately.)

And yet somehow, things came right after that. CraftyFish has done about 15 pages of math that she’s getting 95% right. We set up her email address and a shop – writing the ‘About’ blurb, coming up with a shop name, etc – on the online marketplace where she wants to start selling the scrunchies she taught herself to make. A friend has already bought three. We bought stickers for the printer and she figured out designing and printing labels for her shop. She’s made a lot of LEGO and learned how to make plaster molds of her baby-doll’s face. (Don’t ask.)

On Wednesday we took Mum to the library and borrowed a book on LEGO stop-motion animation, so on Friday CraftyFish made half-a-dozen tiny but quite hilarious films. She counted her money ($103.75) and made another baby doll mask.

Meanwhile, Mr Pixel is thinking about how he’s going to build his computer himself and we are talking about options. While he ponders this he painted his Nerf armoury, did a LOT of LEGO, worked on a Nerf modification project, put the slats into his new double bed, played a lot of Minecraft, looked up videos to solve an algebra problem on his game, meticulously tended the mealworms – wait, have I mentioned the mealworm project yet? He helped me measure CraftyFish’s room so we can make sure the redecoration fits and has read all the library books – not a lot, granted, but he knows more about rockets than he did before. There have been some heavy discussions about Extinction Rebellion and quantum physics, which I’m reading but he wants to know about. Oh – and he went online and ordered the heavy IKEA item himself.

The Skeptic took them to classes on Thursday where Mr Pixel talked (and wrote) Dr Seuss and CraftyFish learned macrame, although she didn’t do much on account of the wrist. And they caught up with friends.

And on Friday, after piano, we went to Mum’s. Mr Pixel prepared the snacks and helped make her dinner and then we walked Mum down to the park where the kids went nuts on the exercise equipment.

It’s like this all the time. Sometimes I feel like I’m just hanging on to a pair of breakaway horses; all I aim for is to hit the big bollards on the way through. We got ’em all this week, I think, except Mr Pixel’s social life, which is on hold until we figure out the computer. And then we got some extra. Because in our house, this is what gifted looks like.

I was Dunning-Krugered and I don’t know what to do with that

We all have our bubbles. I know that. We choose friends who think like we do. And I know there are people out there who think differently. That’s okay. That’s great, in fact.

Because that’s what makes humans so freaking awesome, right? Our diversity. And because fundamentally I’m a curious bird, I have over the decades read a fair bit of the incomprehensible, because I need to know what makes people tick. What drives someone to – well. Anything, really. Anorexia, cutting, BDSM, polyamory, OCD, addiction, religion, math – all things I do not practice or want to practice – but by god I want to understand why someone else does it, and so I read and read and read.

It’s not just people, though: I also want to understand the world, and the things people have learned that I haven’t had time to study. In recent years this has led me to read everything I can get my hands on about quantum physics and cosmology, not because I have dreams of becoming a quantum physicist but because once you hear about quantum entanglement, how can you not want to wrap your head around that? (Have I mentioned, I have a bad case of intellectual over-excitability?)

I don’t, for a moment, think I fully grasp any of this. My understanding of self-harm, for instance, is based on words on a page and a reasonable degree of empathy, but I get that I don’t truly know what it feels like to sit there holding an emotional pain so big, so intense, that slicing into my skin with a scalpel comes as a relief. As for quantum: I love the idea, but I accept (grudgingly) that I will never understand the math that describes why or how physicists know that the photons are acting in unison.

In short, I know what I don’t know.

Most of the folks in my bubble are the same way. We’re all hyper-educated and well-traveled, and we know our limits. We all tend to slip towards thinking we know less than we do.

This week, though, I came up against the first person I’ve ever met who thinks she already knows enough. A person who has formed opinions based on “doing my own research” (ie, watching YouTube) and who has a whole constellation of “reasons” why she doesn’t have to accept any evidence that might require her to change her mind – including that she feels “attacked” when presented with some of that evidence.

I’m floored. I mean, how do you have a conversation with that? I don’t mean, “how can I change this person’s mind, in those circumstances” – well, obviously, I sort of do mean that, because I’m a recovering academic and you bet we are all about changing people’s minds, especially when they are so obviously, patently, bloody, WRONG.

But I mean, how can I wrap my head around it? How can we have communication? She’s not, I think, fundamentally a bad person, although – given her views on refugees, the Greens, governments, trans people and atheists – she is certainly a sheltered, frightened person. But she is also, like myself, a mother concerned for her child’s future, a home-schooler, and a voter. There has to be some connection, right? Not by avoiding the tough conversations but by being able to hear without springing to the defensive.

In the abstract I know that the key here is to take my ego completely out of it: to put myself wholly in a position of fascination, not frustration. Because only genuine wonder – asking from a truly curious, completely non-judgemental point of view – can get inside her head enough to understand why she’s so attached to her thoroughly misguided worldview.

As you can see, I’m failing.

I’m failing not just because frustration (how can anyone be so – so – so – AARGH!), but because I feel attacked, too. And I think I’m going to have to spend some time sitting with that, to unpack all the reasons why I feel attacked, so that I can let go of the dumbfounded and the angry, move forwards and learn to hear. To talk, sure, but mostly, to hear.

There’s a part of me that thinks, “oh fuck it, why should I bother, she’s an idiot, why waste the time?”

But a bigger part of me knows that every time someone thinks that – stays in their bubble – the walls between us grow a little bit higher. And that is a far greater threat to us all, than someone merely thinking differently.