Home business, home education and health challenges: what makes us tic?

A question for the collective wisdom of anyone who happens to read this:

We’re involved in some home school groups which subscribe to a much more traditional approach to schooling than we prefer. It’s their choice, obviously. Red Riding Hood also prefers more structure, and measurable outcomes – that sort of thing. (Sorry – tangent.)

So, at a group activity a few weeks ago, two of the moms were overseeing a craft activity. (I didn’t know about it or I’d have been there too.) One of them needed an eraser and asked my daughter to get it. But the way she asked was, “You get it!”, with a ‘playful smack’ on the thigh.

Did I mention my aspie daughter is tactile defensive AND averse to loud noises?

When she told me about it later, she broke down crying.

I don’t know that mom beyond the most basic acquaintance, and I didn’t see her until ten days later – at an outing, surrounded by kids and chaos. I didn’t have an opportunity to bring it up. She’s one of those “can do” people who believes kids should be toughened up, and frankly I have no idea how to address it with her. I doubt she’ll even remember, and I suspect that if I mentioned it, she’d be inclined to repeat similar acts – behind my back – since my child “obviously needs toughening up” and isn’t getting it at home.

Perhaps I’m projecting here.

This is the kind of thing that made me take the kids out of school in the first place. I am highly confrontation-averse, but I just want to punch this woman in the face!

Sorry this is so long, but I’d be very grateful for some insight.

All over my desk are words of encouragement. Post-its blare at me:

“Stop Stalling!”

“Do it! Do it NOW!”

“Are you being realistic?”
“It’s okay to say NO. In fact, it’s RIGHT to say no if you’re TOO BUSY!”

“No one will make you but YOU!”

This month (and the two before it) have been dedicated to getting awesome at delivering on my word.

So the first thing I had to do was to honestly assess what I could reasonably commit to. What CAN my word be?

That involved assessing what I CAN do in a day, week, month and year; analysing what I NEED to do in those same periods to break even, and also to thrive; and being utterly optimistic about what I’d LIKE to be able to deliver.

The next step was to create systems:

I needed to build capacity to manage my ideal scenario deadlines. That meant either hiring someone or taking on freelancers. The problem with hiring a person (or a few people) is one I’ve encountered before: salaries and obligations. Yes, they can help you achieve your targets. But on the low salary I can (theoretically) afford, there’s no buy-in, and in the end they take more time than they free up, needing training and management all the time. Also, in the lean months, when there’s no money to pay salaries, that can be quite a problem. As we’ve seen.

So the second option is freelancers. Here the problems are even more complex. First of all, a freelancer is already self-employed. This means that they are already set up to steal your clients, if they so desire. Or the clients can just go straight to them after the first iteration. Obviously there are wise ways to work around this, but a lot of these require more admin and effort than just doing the job yourself, and sacrificing a few hours’ sleep. The second issue is that freelancers earn more than employees, because they share the risk. No work = no pay. No payment from the client = no pay. So that means that you earn less for each job. It also means that if you can’t pay for a particular job, depending on the arrangement you have with you friendly freelancer, that could be manageable.

In the end, a friend needed freelance work and I had tons, so I outsourced to her. Because she is a really good friend, I trust her. And frankly, I think we’re on the same page and could build a pretty amazing business together as things pick up. All in all, so far, this is working out well.

Another aspect of systems, and this is key, is to document how we work. This applies to the very literal, day-to-day stuff, like get a lead – file it here – call back there – pipeline it like this, etc. But it also refers to the far more essential (and, until now, utterly untouched) aspect of our terms and conditions.

You see, until now, I’ve pretty much always worked on trust. I do whatever the client asks me – often without an up-front quote – and then we’re both surprised at the end when the bill is due. Them, by the cost. Me, by their refusal to pay. And that way I stay broke and everyone is frustrated.

What I’m realising (at long bloody last) is that people just want to know where they stand with you. Excellent delivery doesn’t necessarily mean faster OR cheaper. It simply means more honest, transparent and reliable.

So now I explain the terms and conditions up front. We don’t start work until a deposit has been paid. We don’t deliver a finished product until the balance has been paid. We don’t include weekends in our time budgets, and I no longer feel guilty when I need to be out of the office. It’s all been explained clearly and concisely, and managed appropriately every step of the way.

I feel more confident in my customer interactions. It;s easier to quote, and MUCH easier to estimate timelines and delivery. My clients are happier, as they know where they stand and what to expect. My freelancers are happier, as they have very clear briefs, with ETAs and time budgets, and a reasonable expectation of getting paid at the end of it all. Win-win-win.

The next step is to document this more tidily, then add the relevant bits to the appropriate websites. That way, no matter what else happens, they can never claim they didn’t know what to expect. And I have a THING I can refer to – kinda like a crutch or presentation aid – that makes my T’s and C’s look all professional and official and reasonable. And stuff.

With this all in place, stalling is becoming much less of a thing. I typically have enough information to get started (which has been a hindrance in the past: not asking enough questions was a chronic problem); and because I have a reasonable expectation of being paid, that whole sense of impending futility and dread at the start of each new project is starting to dissipate. With that out of the way, doing my work has become a lot easier – and a whole lot more fun!

Here’s to happier times ahead!

broken piecesWhat if he does it again?

That’s what I always think.

When one of my friends tells me she’s taking back he abusive lover, those are always my first thoughts – and words too, sometimes.

Oh no – he won’t.

She’s always so sure.

I think perhaps that’s the part that surprises me most. Her belief is rock solid.

Is it just that she’s trying to convince me? Or maybe it’s she who needs convincing.

Usually she does such a good job, they’re back together in a week. Sometimes two. No matter who they are. No matter what happened before. No matter what.

I mostly don’t say what I’m thinking anymore. I keep it in. I’m kind and supportive. If pressed, I’ll speak in broad terms about stats and success rates and probability factors. And I’ll always be there. And I’ll never, ever judge.

Because who knows what crazy things “love” will make you do. And who knows how hard it can be to be nursing your baby, in the middle of the night, alone – again – and hearing a noise outside the window. Or down the street. And you’re down to the last two nappies and Monday, with it’s packed lunches and petrol-guzzling school runs and early no-matter-the-night-you-had-before mornings, is still two days away and it’s a two man job (at least!) and there’s just one of you (and you’re a girl!) and you really can’t imagine how you’ll get there sane. Nope. That can’t be easy.

So perhaps it does make sense, after all.

But I still don’t get it.

If you’ve had a fight, and he’s stormed off in an irrational huff – maybe taking the car and leaving you stranded – and you can’t find him for days … if, then, you DO find him, and he’s been stoned and pissed for those two days, utterly wrecked because you couldn’t agree on a basic standard of work/life balance … do you really, truly, deep down inside, BELIEVE that he won’t react in the same way, to the same provocation, again?

“No really. He’s changed. He knows he was wrong. It won’t happen again. We’re going to be together, and there’ll be no more of this. You’ll see. He knows what he did.”

Really? Does he?

How??

All your taking him back has done is teach him that he can get his way by behaving like that. It’s two-for-one: feel better now with mind-altering substances, and get what I want tomorrow simply by promising not to do it again.

What I wonder is, why wouldn’t he do it again?

Bear in mind, we’re not actually talking about a rational adult here. He may well have persuaded you he was such with his charming and convincing “real person” routine when you met. But no, a person who reacts that way to stress is not a rational adult. He’s a child.

I’m not saying he’s not deserving of love and compassion – and help. What I AM saying – asking, really – is: should that be from you? With your kids and your life and your future? Should that be spent on Mr All-Promises and his dysfunction?

Because that dysfunction really, truly works for him.

So why wouldn’t he keep doing it again?

If anything, how can he possibly stop? it’s all he knows, apparently.

And one day, when things are all patched up and you’re living together in whatever arrangement suits you both, and you disagree over the default position of the loo seat, or where to squeeze the toothpaste tube, what if he does it again? What if he belittles and berates you? Or beats you? Or goes on a bender and who-knows-what-nexts you? And what if your kids are there? And they see? Or worse?

What if that happens? Will that be the point at which enough is enough? Will that be the point at which you decide, actually, he’s NOT going to get better. He’s not going to stop this broken behaviour. And it is going to damage us.?

I can tell you, because I know: that will be too late.

He will always behave badly. He will behave worse each time than the time before. And it will damage your kids in ways you cannot begin to comprehend. And by the time you decide that it is no longer safe and it won’t get better, the damage will have been done.

Little tiny fractures will make their imperceptible eggshell lines across the souls of your precious charges, and many decades later, every part of their lives will still be touched by the brokenness.

If you’re telling yourself it’ll never happen again, it’s probably already too late – whether it happens again, or not.

“Well then you’d better go and play on your computer.”
Those are words any twelve-turning-thirteen-year-old would love to hear. Right?

Goldilocks is the epitome of an empath. She could feel the anger and sarcasm hiding behind the words she’d been hoping to hear. She dutifully went – and played – but her eyes betrayed her pain.

The thing is – I wasn’t even angry with her. It’s true that I don’t often ask for help with meal prep. And I certainly don’t think there’s anything wrong with a twelve-almost-thirteen-year-old knowing the basics of how to prepare meals. But I also know how sensitive her sense of smell is, and I admire the strength of character with which she can say, “No, I don’t prefer to do that.”

And the way I’d asked certainly wasn’t an instruction. “How do you feel about trying your hand at chopping some onions?” Yep. Definitely a lot of wiggle room there.

I was just frustrated by the day I was having. And I used – no, abused – my power over my innocent, sensitive, precious girl to unload some of that frustration.

I had two choices. I could act as if nothing had happened. Or I could apologise.

“I’m sorry.”

With two small words, I could fix two big things. I could acknowledge what I’d done, admit that it was wrong, and ask for forgiveness. And I could also validate her emotions. With that “sorry”, I could say, “You didn’t imagine it. What you sensed was real, even though what I said was what you wanted to hear. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t kind. It wasn’t right. And your empathy is spot on.”

That little apology – and the big hug that went with it – set everything right.

And to think: my pride could so easily have cost me that magic window into Goldilocks’ soul.

Comfort Dysfunction

“So … do I just lie here and try to sleep?”
“Yes, my darling. I’ll stay with you until you fall asleep.”
How does she not know what it means to be comforted by her Mama. In a decade, have I never done this with her?
“I love you, Mama. Thanks for staying with me.”
“I love you too, my Baby.”

It’s late. So late that the girls have flipped over into the twilight zone of sleep-deprivation-induced dysfunction. Nothing in their worlds makes sense. They’re angry and afraid and oh-so-exhausted.

And so am I.

This is their first late night this week, but it’s the earliest I’ve seen a pillow in ten days – and it’s 11:45PM.

I hold my little girl’s hand, and gently stroke her back. Soon the room is filled with rhythmic angel breathing, and I feel myself dropping off as well.

My days are so filled with focus on work and Goldilocks’ neuroses that Red Riding Hood gets left to fend for herself, it seems. We had that, growing up. It’s why I only had two kids: I didn’t want to do this to anyone else. And yet here I am: doing it.

No wonder she is so angry so much of the time. No wonder she resists physical touch: she hasn’t experienced enough of it.

Poor baby.

I hug her tighter than I ever could when she’s awake, and I kiss her a hundred – a thousand – times on her beautiful forehead. She smiles in her sleep and flings her tiny little arms around my neck. “Thank you, Mama” she breathes in sleep angel music into my ear.

I love you, Baby Girl.

An empathy epiphany

Today I had an epiphany.

When we see ourselves as not being worth anything, not having value or effect, we utterly fail to see how we affect others. As a result, we withdraw from their lives, and give no thought to the devastation we may leave behind. We think, at best, that we’re doing them a favour. At worst, we imagine they won’t even notice our absence.

The truth may be vastly different.

The truth is that we may do enormous damage simply be pulling away. But we don’t realise it. So we don’t operate with compassion. We don’t soften the blow – because we don’t know there’s a blow to soften. We don’t believe we matter enough to have had an effect.

be kindAnd when we’re wrong about this, the damage can be significant.

The truth is: we all matter. We all have impact. We all need compassion.

Be kind. Because you matter.

tests teach us we're wrong and badHere’s the thing: what does a TEST actually measure? You see, when I was at school, I aced tests. I really, totally, was awesome at passing them, as evidenced by the 90% average I maintained for pretty much all of school. Academics came easily to me.

I was one of the lucky few.

But just because I passed tests didn’t mean I could do, or understand, the work. As it happens, I could and did, but that had no bearing on passing the test. Or at least, very little.

In practise, all tests did very well when I was taking them was stress me out – and, as I said, I was one of the lucky ones. Less academically-inclined students were reduced to near panic. In fact, when we were in matric, a student in a nearby school killed himself as he sat down to write his Maths paper, by jamming two pencils up his nose into his brain.

Seriously?! Can it POSSIBLY be that important?? Surely, if you can do the work, you can do the work, and there are more effective, and far less deleterious (because it’s a cool word) ways to measure that?

I’m no expert, so bear with me here. But what if, say, the teacher observed the kids, and saw who could do it and who couldn’t? And what if (and yes, I know it’s “out there”), the people who couldn’t do the work, instead of being ridiculed and penalised, were taught – gently – to actually be able to do the work? It’s just a thought.

Maybe if we had MUCH smaller classes, more teachers, and more focus on imparting valuable, useful lifeskills relevant to each specific, UNIQUE learner, they’d actually learn stuff?

And that, my friends, assumes we’re talkiong about schools AT ALL.

I mean, when last did you use long division, or trigonometry, or advanced calculus? I really do want to know. And yes, I’m even talking to you architects and engineers out there. Because even the ones I know personally don’t use the stuff. (No, Maths teachers. You don’t count in this particular poll. We all know you use Maths. You’re paid to.) Even my accountant uses a calculator – and he has a head for numbers!

So, let’s say you’re not great at spelling. Now, this is not even a thing I relate to because, like, spelling, dudes. It totes rocks! (See what I did there? That’s just how I roll ;)) Okay, I’m back. You’re not good at spelling. Or at least, you’re not good at spelling hard words. Like tourniquet, and epithet and halcyon. You know: every day words. And then you write a test to see whether yoou are good at spelling or not. (You already have an idea on the outcome, mind you.) You fail the test. Or even – you just don’t pass well. The message your brain gets is NOT: oh, wow. Thank heavens I have spell check and the inifinite wisdom of the web should I ever ACTUALLY need to write words like that when I compile those ambulance hand books and grammar usage guides I’ve been dreaming about. No. The message you get is a lot more succinct, insidious, short, and evil.

“You can’t spell.”

In preteen this is sometimes abbreviated to: “You suck.”

The result is NOT a sudden urge to study the dictionary (yes, it happens. no, it’s not a disease). The result is a fundamental alteration in how you see yourself, and what you believe you can achieve. Which is: nothing. Your brain gets the message “I’m an idiot and I’ll never be able to spell”. This cancer grows and destroys everything it touches. Soon, it becomes “I’ll never be able to write a book”. From there, it’s not a big jump to, “I’ll never be able to write a report”. Then, “I’ll never be able to write a letter … an email …”.

I know it sounds extreme. But I work as a writer and let me tell you: every day – every single day – people tell me they can’t write. They apologise for their grammar and spelling and vocabulary and phraseology BEFORE they even contact me at all. Just so that I don’t judge them or something. And because they are so sure they won’t do a good job, they also waste no effort trying to do a good job. They don’t look up spelling and grammar – they don’t even know where to start. Their communication is stunted and immature, and it doesn’t have to be. It’s all because they don’t believe in themselves. And why not? Because they’ve been measured and found wanting.

The truth is a different matter. We all have value to offer the world. Any of us could communicate it in writing and, with today’s amazing (MOSTLY FREE) tools, easily get the writing RIGHT. Or at least good enough. We all use Maths every single day. And we do it well: we buy groceries and balance budgets and plan petrol consumption all the time – and we’re all still here, doing it. We just don’t think we can.

Tests teach us we are wrong – and that that’s bad. But, folks, life is all aboout making mistakes: grand, glorious, bold, beautiful, colourful mistakes of enormous chaos and value. Mistakes teach us. Tests diminish us.

And that’s why I hate tests. Because they are artificial measurements of a reality that doesn’t exist, and the only thing they achieve is to diminish us to the point of being too afraid to share our glorious value with a needy world, simply because we’re so afraid we’ll do it wrong.

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