Sometimes we can still plan outings or activities that will lead to family time, either when solo parenting or, less commonly, together. But plans made in advance often have a way of going awry when Skylar decides that she would rather do her own thing. I'm sure that when we go to Disneyland next week -- the first family vacation that I will be joining her and her mother on in quite a while -- there will be plenty of family time that she eagerly enjoys. And I am also sure that our schedule will have to make room for the hours she will assuredly want to spend staring at her laptop with her headphones on.
Personally, although I can objectively anticipate our plans derailing, I continue to take it hard. I've never handled spontaneous changes well unless I have planned for spontaneity in advance. That sounds a little ridiculous, I realize, but it captures who I am about as well as any statement can. Truly, I'm the sort of person who can enjoy spontaneous sex only if it has occurred to me that it might occur and I have planned to suspend my normal defenses long enough to relax into enjoying it.
Historically, my go-to strategies for dealing with this aspect of my character have either to been to under-plan -- if I haven't decided I'm definitely going to be doing something, I won't be upset when it doesn't happen -- or find ways of avoiding interaction with other people long enough to pull off what I plan. That's why I have done my best writing over the years when I'm away at conferences and also why I kept going to conferences after their professional utility was no longer a given.
At any rate, , as I try to work on personality traits that have limited me or made me less than happy, I am making a concerted effort to find a "third way" besides under-planning and attempting to carve out alone time when I can exert total control over my schedule. I haven't made much progress so far professionally -- even minor impositions by others continue to be a major hindrance to my productivity -- but am, at least, making headway on the parenting front.
In the wake of all the emotional duress of the past six months -- with my father-in-law in and out of the hospital and rehab facilities, my mother-in-law acting out her anxieties in the worst manner possible, and my own parents becoming considerably less able to cope on their own -- I have made it a point to be alert for those moments when Skylar isn't feeling claustrophobic, parent-wise, when she is open to doing something together.
I'll give you an example from Friday night. That's the time, typically, when her mother is out and also the time, typically, when Skylar demands large blocks of solitude to compensate for the demands placed on her by school and home life earlier in the week. It's when I often find myself puttering in the garage or running errands to godforsaken places like the twenty-four-hour Wal-Mart because I have been told to leave for an hour or two.
Anyway, this past Friday, after picking up Skylar from her friend's house, I headed over to my parents' place doing my nightly caregiving shift, which went later than usual because my dad wanted to watch the end of a baseball playoff game that had gone extra innings. When I arrived back home, though, Skylar still wanted alone time. She was in a good mood, but amped on sugar from baking cookies with her friend and eager to bounce off more of her excess energy on her trampoline (an activity for which her mother and I are no longer allowed to be present).
Knowing that she would probably need some protein to offset the sugar and relatively certain that she would suspend her usual no-food-after-eight rule, I headed to the store to purchase the remaining ingredients I would need to make us hamburgers. I also needed cat litter, since the brand our felines prefer had been sold out when I'd looked on Wednesday. When I returned, however, Skylar still wasn't ready to have me puttering about in the kitchen.
I decided it would be a great time to clean the cat boxes and take care of some other front-yard chores I'd been neglecting since my father-in-law's condition worsened. Finally, after taking care of that task, I was able to come in the house and cook and, somewhat miraculously, get Skylar to eat the hamburger that I knew would help to level her wildly oscillating mood. She rarely eats them -- at this point, the grand total she has consumed in her lifetime is around a dozen -- but the red meat does wonders.
I can hear my vegetarian and vegan friends readying their objections, but long experience with my own low blood sugar and her mother's quest to stay grounded, as well as my observations of Skylar after she does eat a some beef -- which she otherwise only gets from bolognese sauce, in small doses -- makes me pretty certain that, while red meat may be a "short-cut" to temporary well-being and one which involves potential collateral damage down the road, serving it represents the most practical course of action at times like this.
Predictably, Skylar mellowed significantly after eating 2/3 of the large hamburger I had prepared her. And then, all of a sudden, she was in that space I've come to recognize, when she is not only willing to do something with her parents but actually wants to. So we drove to my favorite out-of-the-way spot, the one I've been riding my bike to for years, parked and walked the short distance up the hill to the place where we sometimes go to watch Fourth of July fireworks.
Although located amid various high-end subdivisions and gated communities, this location retains its rustic feel and has stellar views of Pusch Ridge and the rest of the Catalinas' western face, as well as the Tortolita and Tucson mountains. And after midnight, on one of the first days that actually felt like fall in Tucson, with no moon and clear skies, it felt spectacular, an enormous blessing in a metropolitan area with upwards of a million people.
Skylar and I looked at the stars for a while. Then she wanted to sing. The darkness and absence of human activity nearby -- most of Oro Valley goes to bed before 10pm, as befits a heavily Republican, senior citizen-dominated enclave -- dissolved the acute self-consciousness that often afflicts here. She lifted her voice and sang proudly. And then she asked me to join her, so the two of us made a duet of "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid. It was a special moment, full of love and joy. I was so glad that I had recognized the potential for it to materialize and had gotten her off the sofa and out of the house to make it possible.
Last night, more modestly, I sat with Skylar at her request to do some of the online quizzes that she and her friends endlessly take, the sort where you supposedly find out which Harry Potter character is most like you. The operations used to generate an answer are often lame beyond measure, when not actually random. But the process of considering the questions can lead to real insight. We were having fun. And then her mom returned from the movies and joined us, which made for even greater fun. Yes, Skylar probably should have been getting ready for bed. When these opportunities arise, though, it would be a shame to waste them.