Archive for the ‘Family stories’ Category

Being a parent is tough. The other day, we introduced my delightful three-year-old granddaughter to my friend’s granddaughter, Miss two. It was a wonderful day. The girls dashed about from one activity to another like fleas in a fit. At one point we were watching the kids leap on the trampoline in the backyard. I asked Miss Two’s father, “How are you finding parenthood so far?” He got a far-gone look in his eye and said one word, “Relentless.”
You can tell he’s a poet. That one word. So pithy. Perfect.

It was Oprah who famously said there is no harder job on the planet than parenting. Such sayings stick because they are the truth. My eldest son has had his first child, the aforementioned three-year-old, and recently, I asked him if he had ever thought of having more children. He said, “Hell, no! One’s enough!” The early years of your child’s life are brutal.
Just as you surface from the flat-out breakneck marathon of raising kids from 0-to 10 you hit the teenage years. Their earnest, transparent personalities disappear. They suddenly take on exaggerated swagger and posture. There is a new language delivering words you’ve never heard before. A wrinkly brain is smart. A smooth brain is dumb. If something is “pog” it’s cool. Pog champ is really cool. And, of course, Good RNG means good luck. Everybody knows that.

They sing. That surprised me. I thought the singing would be dropped out of shyness or being self-conscious. But no, the youngest son still sings all day long. He and his friends make random sound effects here, there, and everywhere, apparently sampled from favourite songs and clips on tik tok. Life revolves around phones, social media, and online games.
I miss the early years. The simple years. Suddenly, the enormous capacity of children to focus on playing games and having fun switches on a dime to focusing on their friends. The youngest son told me that his large circle of mates are the most important people in his life, after we, his immediate family, of course. Thanks, son. Lucky save.

Teens at the moment are navigating the minefield of the pandemic on top of the usual rush of hormone-driven behaviours. My boys have friends who get sick and vanish from social life for a while, then they recover, and another wave goes down. The constant communication via devices continues uninterrupted, but the occasional parties and get-togethers to cruise the mall or hang out at one another’s houses have to be temporarily shelved. This translates to teens who are grumpy. Cue the big sigh.
Being a parent means getting to bear witness to these kids growing up. A bittersweet process. Now, my boys tease me ruthlessly about “shrinking” (with old age) as they turn into human giraffes.

The youngest is a lot more emotionally needy as a teen. He requires more listening from me and wants me to explain everything at length in five different ways. He speaks so fast that the words run together in mini avalanches. My grandmother always used to say as long as your kids are talking to you, things are okay. I keep that in mind. Although at the teenage stage, sometimes he talks too much. Everything is exaggerated, and sometimes I get overly anxious. I do my best not to panic about all the potential pitfalls out in the world. At this age as with those that came before, kids want clear boundaries. With the rules in place and by setting a good example, I can be a solid foundation in his life. At the end of the day, that’s all you can do, as well as love them.
Love them relentlessly.
Have you survived raising teenagers? Please send notes!

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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90% of parenting is just thinking about when you can lie down again. ~ Phyllis Diller

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2022 has been a fascinating rollercoaster ride so far. Three weeks ago, the middle son – Samuel – who is nineteen and has a dual diagnosis, Down syndrome, and Autism, began to exhibit certain worrying behaviours: not sleeping, not eating, talking incessantly, flicking light switches on and off, and so on. I existed on little to no sleep. The stress levels were through the roof. I sought professional help, and we ended up seeing a behavioural specialist.
We managed to link Samuel’s behaviour issues to the many changes going on in his life and a simple error on our part of not fully explaining things to him as we went along. Because Sam is non-verbal, we can sometimes forget to include him in the conversations about what is happening in our family. It is easy to overlook that he is affected by every decision we make and therefore needs things explained to him every step of the way.

Frankly, a lot of things have altered lately. Sam’s father decided he would sell his house, intending to move to the countryside. He started renovating the house, and his flatmates moved out. Sam’s younger brother (and best mate) stayed at dad’s house for three weeks, helping him to paint the exterior. All these major events were going on around Sam without his understanding. No wonder he started acting out.

We sat down, and I talked to him about the entire situation, moving house, the renovating, and so on.
The behavioural specialist said until the living setup and routine fully settle down, Sam may continue to exhibit erratic behaviours. “But you understand it now. It’s his way of controlling an uncontrollable situation. Let him do his little things and know that it will eventually pass.”

Heartened, I told various family members and my closest friends about what we had gone through around here for the last three weeks. The general reaction was shock. My sister said, “Tell me while it’s going on, next time. Why don’t you let me support you?” And my friends told me off similarly. One of my oldest buddies said to me today, “You know, it helps to talk about difficult things. That’s what friends are for.”
I hear what they are saying, and I get it. What they don’t understand is this is the way introverts deal with the big stuff. We live through it, figure out the answers (often with the help of professionals), contemplate the circumstances and what we have learned. When we have the issues resolved, we share the carefully considered results.
It doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate the offers of help. We do. We do things a little differently from the majority.

According to the site Introvert, Dear, an award-winning community hub:

We introverts make up 30 -50% of the population, and most of us share these characteristics:
We’d rather stay home most nights than go out to one social event after another.
We enjoy quiet, solitary activities like reading, writing, gaming, gardening, or drawing.
We’ll usually choose the company of a few close friends over a wild party.
We do our best work alone.
Many of us will avoid small talk or other unnecessary social interactions.
We usually do our best work alone.

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And, from my personal experience, when the major events take place in our lives, we wish to sort out our business by ourselves first, before we include loved ones.
Apart from irritating my family and friends with this introverted trait, I am happy to report that the worst of the crisis is over. Samuel is sleeping and eating again. So am I. Huzzah! His father and I have made a point of talking with Sam about each new thing. There are fewer erratic behaviours and more of the son we know and love.

Currently, I’m floating in a state of utter relief and bliss. My patience has returned. I can feel my face again. Now, I want to spend time with those around me and talk.

Family and friends of introverts know this. Talking to you after rather than during a crisis does not mean we don’t need you or love you. We need to process our experiences in a private way before we share. Is that okay?
To my fellow introverts, I say: It is essential to honour your real self and what you need for bliss. The world needs more contemplative, calm people. It is fine to be an introvert and do things your way.
Let us celebrate our differences.

How do you process the big stuff? By talking it through with folks (extrovert) or talking about it after the fact (introvert)?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.” ~ Albert Einstein

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The other day, upon entering our garage, a bee zoomed towards me. It circled, flying towards me again and again. I thought, what odd behaviour. Two days later, we caught three bees inside the house. Odd. Then, I was weeding when I heard buzzing and looked up. There were hundreds of bees flying in and out of our chimney!
It turns out, I learned later, that the first oddly-acting bee was the “scout,” sent to find a new location for the swarm.
The bees’ new home was in our chimney stack.

Cue the frantic Google search. The first beekeeper I spoke to expressed dismay. “Chimneys are particularly difficult,” she said. “We may not be able to remove the bees from there. You may have to call the exterminator.” I said, “I don’t want to harm the bees.” She asked, in all seriousness, “Could you live with them?” I didn’t have to think about it. I quickly replied, “NO.”
I love bees. But if there is such a thing as too many, then this was that situation.
The beekeeper recommended The Bee Club. I contacted their website. The next day, a nice older gentleman arrived. It was like seeing the cavalry coming in. I was so pleased to see him, let’s call him Don.

Don walked in armed with a bee suit, handheld smoker, a ladder, and believe it or not, a vacuum cleaner which he had attached to a clear plastic box.
I told him about the lady asking if we could live with the swarm. Don said, “That’s not a good idea. The honey and the wax attract vermin. The hive will grow until it’s too big for the chimney. After the swarm departs the hive will die, attracting more vermin. And once you’ve had wax in your chimney, it attracts more scouts because the bees smell the wax.”
Happy days. Not.
Don took one look up and said, “I don’t know if I can do it. That’s a tall chimney, and I have to be able to see down into it.”
Oh boy! I was “thinking the right thoughts” over that one.

Don looked up again. He said if I had a ladder, he could climb onto the roof then put his ladder against the upper stack. I brought ours out of the garage. Gamely, he went up to our rickety old ladder. From the roof, Don set up his collapsible one against the stack and was able to get high enough to look inside. Lifting the metal plate that sealed the stack, he peeked underneath. “Okay, this might be possible.”
Thank you!
We handed him all his equipment under strict instructions to only hold the smoker by the bellows as it is hot. Then we stood back to watch the show.
First, Don used his smoker, burning a mixture of humus material and pine needles. He puffed under the lid and around the chimney top. He lifted the lid slowly. “This hasn’t been here long. Maybe two days at most. They haven’t made any wax.”
Whew. What a relief.

Don lifted the lid, and hanging beneath it was a cluster of bees, somehow hanging together. I imagine they were surrounding the queen, keeping her safe. We onlookers gasped. By holding the plate above his plastic box, Don gave it a sudden bang on the side of the box, and all the bees fell in as one. He put the lid over the top, and he had bagged the queen and most of the workers. It was amazing.
Then Don switched on his magic vacuum and started vacuuming bees out of our chimney to join the others in the plastic box. After five or so minutes, he said, “I could keep on vacuuming two hundred more bees, but if I do, the ones in the box will asphyxiate.” So he sprayed fly spray inside to kill the bees remaining and laid a concrete block over the hole.

Don had rescued most of the swarm, even the queen. He had rid our chimney of bees. Thank goodness. And all of this is voluntary work for a man in his golden years. Wow.
What was he going to do with our bees? Don told me he was taking them to a new beekeeper who lived nearby.
I got an email from him yesterday, and he said our bee swarm is settling in nicely to their warm hive. We should expect a jar of honey in our mailbox soon. Happy days.
When I put this story on Facebook, I got quite a few responses from friends who had had similar dramas happen with bees and wasps on their properties. Have you ever had trouble with beehives or wasp nests? What did you do?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. ~ Aesop


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When traumatic events happen, you deal with them as best you can. Times goes on. You assume the event is safely in the past. Then, you enter a situation that is similar to the traumatic event and have a panic attack. This is what happened to me this week, and it took me by surprise.
In some cases, life-changing experiences can cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD is a mental illness triggered by peak levels of distress. It can be treated and brought under control with help from a doctor, therapy, and professional guidance. A good friend lived through the big earthquake that rocked Christchurch in 2011. Diagnosed with PTSD, she suffers recurrent nightmares and over-reacts when she hears loud noises.

In my case, what I went through this week was not PTSD but a flashback. A flashback is when you feel drawn back into the traumatic experience as if it is happening all over again.
This week, the youngest son was scheduled for an adenectomy and to have grommets inserted. Surgery is a last resort in my book. But in my son’s case, the specialist believed that his oversized adenoids were causing the loss of hearing in his left ear and inability to breathe through his nose. So it had to be done.
We sat in the hospital waiting room and worked on our crossword, chatting and laughing.
A nurse said, “We’re ready for you now. Follow me.” We followed her along the winding corridors through a pair of heavy blue doors. As the nurse and my son stepped aside, I got my first sight of the room. I took in the surgeons, the anesthetists, the nurses, all in masks and gowns, the skinny operating table, the machines, and the lights. My stomach immediately dropped sickeningly. My skin prickled with goosebumps, and my heart was pounding. I was freaking out. But I couldn’t show it. My son needed me, and I had to be strong for him.

It was scarily like that other time, in August 2010, when he was five years old, and we followed a nurse into a stark white operating theatre. I was straight back there. No time had elapsed in between. In 2010, I looked at my little boy, and I looked at that operating table and felt as if I would throw up with fear, knowing my baby was about to undergo a heart bypass and open-heart surgery.

However, as a parent, you are the captain of the ship. Captains don’t get to freak out. Your job is to stay at the helm until the bitter end.

I had to be calm that day in 2010 and smile for my son. I murmured, “You’re okay, mama loves you,” when he fought the gas mask, and the doctors made me lie on him until the anesthetic took effect and he went limp beneath me.

On Tuesday morning this week, I walked into that operating room, took one glimpse, and stepped back ten years to the scariest time of my life. On Tuesday, my son was only undergoing a minor medical procedure. Yet, I was staring into the white light and hearing angels as if his life was on the line.

As a mature adult today, I have lots of tools to help me weather the storms of life. Whenever something stressful happens, I calm down with meditation, affirmations, yoga, and breathing techniques. But for the private panic attack, I suffered in that hospital room this week, none of my tools helped. I was physically reliving the helpless terror I felt in that other theatre room. According to Rothschild, ‘A flashback can mimic the real thing because it provokes a similar level of stress in the body. The same hormones course through your veins as did at the time of the actual trauma, setting your heart pounding and preparing your muscles and other body systems to react as they did at the time.’

That describes my panic attack perfectly. I stayed with my son until he had fallen unconscious. In the waiting room, I did the only thing I could do. I rang my family and talked to people who cared, and it helped so much.

*According to the site, Trauma Recovery, here are some ideas for managing the situation if you get stuck in a flashback:
NAME the experience as a flashback (example- this is a memory, NOT a recurrence of the actual event)
Use LANGUAGE that categorizes the flashbacks as a “memory” (example- I was attacked, rather than I am being attacked)
Use the SENSES to GROUND self in your CURRENT environment:
Name what you see, feel, hear, smell, etc.
Rub hands together
Touch, feel the chair that is supporting you
Wiggle your toes
Favourite colour- find three things in the room that are “blue”
Name the date, month, year, season
Count backward from 100
Use an object as a grounding tool
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I’ve kept a note of these points in case any of my loved ones need escorting into theatre in the future.
Have you ever suffered a private panic attack or a flashback? What did you do?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating
Yvette Carol
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“I have laid my son on an OR table and kissed him as he fell asleep. I have handed him to a surgeon knowing they would stop his heart and prayed it would beat again. I am a Heart mum.” ~ Suzanne White

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Long before positive thinking or affirmations became a thing, my grandmother led by example. She had a way of framing things and people in the best light. I’ll never forget what Gran said one day after my eldest son was scolded by my father for doing something naughty. The family, exasperated with him, had decided my son had Attention Deficit Disorder. Gran said, “He’s not naughty. He doesn’t have ADD or anything like that. What he has is spirit. Mark my words, he will go far in life.” (Turned out she was right, but that’s another story). With those words, my beloved grandmother turned a bad situation around to good and changed my outlook for the better.
Gran called it ‘thinking the right thoughts.’

We love that phrase in our family. Whenever any of us had something important happening that we were hoping would go well, Gran would always say, “I’ll think the right thoughts.” Which meant she would only envisage and only speak about the best possible outcome. That was how she lived. She walked her talk. These days I use the technique constantly. In keeping with the theme of resilience in various posts lately, I thought it would be the ideal time to share some of my grandmother’s outlook on life.

You’re welcome.

Whenever Gran had an event or outing coming up, she would say, “I’m looking forward to it with a confident sense of anticipation.” It was so simple. She demonstrated positive thinking as a way of life. That little gem has become a family saying, a special something we say to one another on occasion with fond knowingness.
I used to visit my grandmother on Thursdays. She lived around the corner from our house. I’d walk into her neat, elegant little unit at the start of the day and leave again around five in the evening. Thursdays were our day to hang out together. We always started our soiree with morning tea, which Gran would have set out on a tray. There would be tea in fine china cups with saucers, served with an array of sweet treats. Gran was a legendary baker and baked every day. She’d serve a plate of fresh scones, or sponge cake, or muffins, whatever treats she had made that morning. After eating, we’d sit in the lazy-boy chairs in the living room and talk. Then I would help her put out and bring in the laundry. We sometimes looked at photos or her embroidery. Sometimes we baked together. Then Gran would serve a big lunch with meat, vegetables, and homemade dessert like her apple pie or blackberry crumble. We would talk until it was time to say goodbye.

Every time I reached her door to leave, Gran would give one parting shot to take with me. It was usually one or two favourite sayings, “Remember my dear,” she would say, “Set your sights upon a star, and you will go far,” or “Every cloud has a silver lining, if you look for the silver lining you will find it.
They were the same sayings, time and again, yet I would walk along the street thinking about what she had said and repeating it to myself.
My grandmother inspired me with her natural optimism and right thinking. It shaped how I look at everything. I am a big believer in daily affirmations, in speaking positively to myself and others. I have a whiteboard with life-affirming statements on it, which I read a few times a day.
If we want to keep our spirits up, we need to bear witness to the words coming out of our mouths. People these days tend to be one-track-minded and fatalistic. Conversations have never been more boring.

Chats with friends and neighbours can often be depressing, and I don’t think these people realize the effect they’re having on others. Why not converse with loved ones about the book you’re reading, the movie you’ve seen, or the creative project you’re working on. We don’t always have to talk about Covid, people!
I prefer following my grandmother’s example. The glass-half-full approach means looking at the things that are working in our lives. I use a daily gratitude journal to note what I’m grateful for and make it a practice to say thank you for all the blessings. If you ask how I’m doing, I’ll be thinking the right thoughts and looking forward to what the future brings with a confident sense of anticipation!

I hope you gained a gem or two from this post for yourself.
Do you have grandparents with their little sayings? Have you ever tried keeping a gratitude journal?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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“Emptiness is a symptom that you are not living creatively.” – Maxwell Maltz.

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Do you remember turning 16? I do. Like it was yesterday. It was the summer holidays. My friends and I were hitchhiking up north. We stopped at a cafe. There were four of us hunched around a Formica tabletop with sodas, and I remember saying I didn’t want to turn 16 (the next day). Why not? It was too close to 20! Who could imagine being “so ancient?”

Funny how the vantage point of time changes things.

The youngest of my three sons had his sweet sixteenth birthday two weeks ago. He is more mature at this age than I have ever been. I guess for some people it just comes naturally. The other day, he said, “Do you know what I’m looking forward to the most about growing up?”

I said, “No” although I imagined he’d say beer, driving, or possibly not going to school.

He said, “I’m looking forward to having logical, rational conversations.”

Huh? Jaw drops to floor.

We’re definitely different, he and I. At 16 I fretted about getting old, while my youngest son pines for more adult conversation. How shallow was I? He’s already a better human being than I am. Huzzah!

What did the son want to do for the big milestone birthday? After offering him every adventure option or fun experience available, what he most wanted was ‘a cake and to hang out’ with his friends uninterrupted. Could they hang here? Sure, I said, smiling, although I secretly dreaded it. Idiot Trooper that I am, I let him invite all his mates over regardless.

My friends and I at 16 were rebels. No self-respecting adults wanted to be around us.

To my surprise, my son’s friends were delightful. They had the run of one part of the house the entire day, while I kept food and liquid coming. They played online games, outdoor games, jumped on the trampoline, took photos of themselves, played music, and sang in harmony together the entire day. In the afternoon they demolished an entire chocolate cake and then left en masse to buy supplies from the supermarket, returning an hour later to cook a feast. So lively, so fun, were they, I even missed them in their absence.

In the late afternoon, the girls drifted home. Finally, just “Da boys” remained, playing online games into the evening, still singing in beautiful harmony along with their favourite songs. By the time Da boys left, I felt tired but mostly buoyed by the experience.

They’re mature, considerate kids. Who knew?

That said, they’re still only 16. They still like to play games the same way they did when they were little, but with a lot of music, singing, slang and posturing thrown in. The energy levels when these teen buddies get together can ramp up suddenly, get inexplicably loud for a short period—almost explosive—then peter out again and dip so low the kids appear to retreat behind their phone screens for a while to reboot, becoming temporarily tomb-like and silent, before the shrieks and the laughter escalate and they flare into life, noise and energy all over again. To be around them even for a short period is akin to putting one’s finger into an electric socket, recharging every cell in the body and rendering one’s hair into an instant afro. It’s vitalizing and frenetic at the same time.  

The upshot overall was the day was easy, no drama. As their humble servant, I got to witness snippets of their group dynamic, the teen slang, the weird sounds they make when they’re together, which was fun.

I remember the heady freedom of being 16. You’re old enough to do things but young enough to be silly and not care who is watching.

There was one of son’s friends singing that very Michael Jackson, high-pitched, “Hee hee!” so frequently I nearly asked him to stop (although thankfully, I didn’t). One boy hugged his phone and speaker the entire day, constantly scrolling the music selection – he was clearly in charge of the music selection. There was the occasional daring use of a swear word, but not loud enough for me to discern. I turned a blind eye, regardless. As head provider of refreshments, I stayed in my quarters – the perfect excuse to get some writing done – and let the teens have the house for the day. Some freedom was all they wanted. They often burst outside to play Frisbee, badminton, shoot hoops and jump on the trampoline for hours in the afternoon, which rather impressed me.

I think your child’s friends say a lot about who they are and how they’re doing, and I liked the son’s friends a lot. That made me happy.

At sixteen, I was a fool. At the same age, my son is smarter, more mature, and more emotionally intelligent than I am. Maybe there’s hope for the future, yet.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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There’s nothing wrong with teenagers that reasoning with them won’t aggravate. ~ Anonymous

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*Tips for parents on Stanford Children’s Health, Understanding the Teen Brain

I wouldn’t go back to being a teenager for all the money in the world. What a roller coaster. My youngest son is at the tender age of fifteen, when his body’s morphing at a gallop and his view of himself and the world is in constant flux. He’s growing taller every week, he’s either a bundle of energy or catatonic on the couch, and he has to question everything. The emotions rocket from simmering to sky-high in an instant. As a parent, I’m used to ongoing frustration with both my younger boys, and feeling peeved when they haven’t done what I’ve asked, and so on. Now every time a flicker of annoyance crosses my brow, I’ve hurt my teenager’s feelings. We’ve been doing a lot of talking, in consequence.

It’s a minefield, I tell you.

The youngest son is morphing in so many ways it’s hard for me to keep up. Not only is he evolving in ever-increasing height and girth, the tone of his voice and his new dialect of teenage slang keeps changing. He’s altered likewise in his preoccupations. Friends used to call him ‘the dancer’ because whenever he had to wait he would dance on the spot. At home he would break into dance between games. Then he turned fifteen… and stopped dancing.

He disappeared into his phone.

As a drummer, he used to tap a rhythm with his feet constantly. You knew where he was in the house by the sound of his drumming feet. It was like living with a tap dancer. He filled our days with the sound. When he turned fifteen, he stopped tapping.

He started playing more Xbox.

It’s official. The youngest son is going through the teenage ya-ya’s. As an adult, I process life using the pre-frontal cortex, the brain’s rational part, whereas at fifteen, he’s still processing stimuli using the amygdale, the emotional part. The connections between his amygdale and the rational part develop at different rates. He literally is feeling things more than he’s thinking about them.

The rational part of his brain won’t fully develop until after the age of 25, so I have to be patient and be the adult for both of us.

I set rules and limits, and we negotiate the parameters as an ongoing process. He’s expected to do chores and make some of his own meals. He’s on breakfast and lunch, I handle dinner. I feel sorry for the teen angst he’s going through. As a Gemini, when he was little, the boy could talk the hind legs off a donkey. These days he’s tongue-tied. He says he can’t make conversation, he doesn’t know the right thing to say and that he stuffs a conversation up.

He’s painfully self-conscious and self judgemental.

Two weeks ago, the youngest became nervous about going back to school, and the week before first term began, he fretted over distinct possibilities for disaster every night. He ‘wouldn’t know what to say,’ he’d be taller than his height-challenged friends again, (as happened last summer), or he’d have no friends in his classes, and the subjects he’d chosen would be the wrong choices.

Every night I was putting out fires.

Each day his anxieties rise and fall. Yet the glorious thing about kids is they’re indefatigable. Alongside the self doubt, there is an inextinguishable bravado. If I question whether the youngest should walk to school before daybreak, he tells me he’s ‘big and strong.’ If I query whether he should take on more at school, he tells me he’s so far ahead of the other kids in his class; he teaches them the subjects when they get confused, that he’s ‘got it sussed.’ If I worry about him getting home late from school, he rolls his eyes and tells me he knows what he’s doing. No matter what it is, he assures me he has it under control and I should stop worrying.

I’m your mother, dude, I never stop worrying.

I counsel myself that the only things I can do as the parent is:

*To check in with him when he talks, about whether he wants me to find solutions or just listen

*Make him aware of the consequences of his actions and help him link his thinking with the facts

*Remind him of the tough times he’s dreaded and gotten through in the past and that he is resilient enough to get through anything

*Pay attention to him and listen when he talks, even if it’s about the anime shows he’s watching or what happened the last time he played Minecraft or Rocket League.

I need to do all this, while still running the household and writing books. I’m just sayin’.

Have you survived raising teenagers? All tips welcome!

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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Insanity is hereditary; you get it from your children. ~ Sam Levinson

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*Tips for parents from Stanford Children’s Health, Understanding the Teen Brain

I’ve finished reading my second novel for 2021, The Hundred Secret Senses. I’m a fan of Amy Tan and have waxed lyrical about her books in the past. Being a daughter of a mother, I find her preoccupation with mother-daughter relationships endlessly fascinating. Amy Tan can write a fantastic story, her blend of East and West is interesting and her descriptions always evocative. I guess I’m trying to put my finger on why I didn’t enjoy The Hundred Secret Senses. It wasn’t the writing or the setting, yet this book left me cold. I actually started reading it last year, but I kept putting it down and leaving it for long periods.

The Hundred Secret Senses is the story of two sisters, born to the same father, one girl raised in China, the other raised in America. It follows their relationship as they struggle to overcome cultural differences from the time they come together as a child and a young woman through a thirty-year period of their lives.

The main narrator is Olivia Laguni. A half Chinese woman born and raised in America, Olivia is a photographer whose marriage is falling apart. She tells the story of her childhood through a series of flashbacks. Olivia’s life was changed forever at six upon the arrival of her adult half-sister, Kwan Li, who says she has “yin eyes” and can see ghosts. Olivia’s love-hate relationship with her sister defines the rest of the book. Kwan is the second narrator, a poor girl from the Changmian village in the Thistle mountains, China. She tells of a lifetime of hardship. She tells family stories of wealth, downfall and terror in Manchu China and she also tells ghost stories.

The tale becomes one of two parts, as Olivia and Kwan take turns to narrate. Olivia struggles with the annoyingly wise unwanted sister and reflects on Kwan invading her life and space from the time she was young. Kwan openly shares her superstitions, her belief in the World of Yin, and tells amazing, horrifying stories of their family’s past. As Olivia’s marriage crumbles, Kwan pushes her buttons, never minding her own business. The book culminates with Olivia; her estranged husband and her sister Kwan taking a trip to China, which brings good things and bad things in equal measure, some scares and a final twist.

(Still from documentary feature Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir)

The story is told with a deft hand, Amy Tan knows how to pull the heartstrings and draw us in to her intoxicating world. I was sad I did not enjoy this book. There were a few niggles. For me, the different strands of the story took too long to mesh. As the reader, I questioned when it was going to make sense and that constant sense of waiting palled. But I most disliked the ghost stories. I remember years ago, award-winning author Kate De Goldi saying that when she sees red flags in the story, (foreshadowing the crises to come) it turns her off. We should do the foreshadowing in a way that the reader doesn’t notice. With this story, there were too many red flags. The hints continued, which diminished the ‘shock’ value of the twist. I didn’t like that. I’m not sure who it was but some famous author said, you need to respect your readers. Expect them to be intelligent enough to get what you’re saying without drumming them over the head with it.

That said, if I found myself marooned on a desert island with The Hundred Secret Senses, I would read it again. The overall core message of the story was transformative, being about the power of love, when our self-centred Olivia opens her heart and learns to love others. Amy Tan is a talented writer. I appreciate the glimpses she gives us through the keyhole into other cultures, other’s worlds. Readers don’t have to like everything by an author to still be a fan. No doubt I will buy the next book I see by Amy Tan and love it.

California born, Amy Tan is the daughter of Chinese immigrants. She received a Master’s degree in linguistics. Both her first novel, The Joy Luck Club and her second, The Kitchen God’s Wife were number one in the US. They adapted her first book into a successful film. Amy Tan is the literary editor for West Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine. She has written several other novels, including The Hundred Secret Senses, and two children’s books.

My rating: Three stars.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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“Too much happiness always overflows into tears of sorrow” ~ The Hundred Secret Senses

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Time seems to slow down over summer. It is good because summer helps anxious types like me to unwind. Last year I burnt myself out releasing three books at once, and I’ve been in recovery mode ever since. It was perfect timing to launch the books in spring, a season which matches the energy of new beginnings and planting seeds to grow in the future. I released The Chronicles of Aden Weaver in October and applied myself to the marketing. Then summer came along and I used that as my excuse to stop. Thank goodness summer triggers chillaxing. I needed it!

The marketing side of being an Indie author is a monster with a voracious appetite for your time and energy; you can never feed it enough. Through October and November, I had sat at my computer day after day, hour after hour, reading guidelines, scouring websites, scratching my head over what I needed to do to upload the books. The jobs seemed endless.

The sales, the marketing, the business side of being an author bore me witless. It’s not me. I’m one of those annoying sorts of people who is a dreamer. You want a million ideas a minute, no problem, but I don’t do as well with the practicalities. My son is a dreamer too, and that’s how I know it’s an irritating trait in a person. But as much as I strive to do better, I seem to still let some things slide and I struggle to follow through. In fact, it’s one of the biggest struggles in my life at present. I love the creative writing side of being a writer; it is deeply fulfilling whereas attending to marketing and distribution and sales is utterly stultifying.

Thank goodness for summer as I took a welcome break. I was beyond exhausted on every level. My father used to be the same. We’re the sort of people who prefer to be busy and spend our time productively, but sometimes that can lead to burnout. It means we let ourselves go too long without rest and end up wrecked, feeling unable to function.

December, I realized I was becoming like a deer in headlights, needing a retreat from everything book related. I closed up the laptop, walked away from being ‘Yvette Carol, author,’ and took a deep breath of the air outside. It’s been fantastic, weeding the garden, swimming regularly with my kids and family, going on picnics, taking scenic walks, attending lunches and parties. I’ve been reading, and I’ve watched movies and my favourite cooking shows on TV. Not being a writer for a while it has been heaven.

Last week, a good friend invited us to stay with her at her beach house. So my two youngest boys and I could travel out of town for a few days of sun, sea and surf. Beach walks, picnics, swimming twice a day, barbecue dinners, games in the evening, long conversations. It was as good as it sounds. It was just what the doctor ordered, and we returned to the city refreshed.

However, I still didn’t feel ready to start back at work. I looked at my computer and the stack of “to do” jobs and sighed. No. Not yet. I was not ready to don the author hat again. I hadn’t recovered enough or rested enough. There was still some tension left in the way my shoulders seemed to squeeze tight. No matter how often I reminded myself to relax them, I found my shoulders up around my ears. The drowsy contentment of summer is a necessary tonic for the system to reboot.

It’s vital not to fall out of love with being a writer. Therefore, I decided to continue to rest until the boys go back to school Feb 3rd. Then I can crank up the marketing machine, get more distribution channels sorted and attend to all that needs doing to release my stories, and perhaps even write again.

But in the meantime, there are twelve more days of summer fun ahead. Recently Alex J. Cavanaugh, IWSG Leader and Ninja, wrote, Remember that moment when writing was a joy and we were excited and ready to take on the world. That’s exactly what I want to do, to ‘remember that moment when writing was a joy,’ as I try to relocate my mojo.

What do you do when you finish an extensive project? Do you take time to reflect or immediately begin a new project? Or do you tackle several things at once? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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The cyclone derives its power from a calm center. So does a person. ~ Norman Vincent Peale

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No matter how bad the year has been, I always try to take time on December 31st to think about what I’ve achieved during the year and all the things I have to be grateful for. My dear grandmother used to say something wise at the end of every visit. As I would reach the door, having hugged and kissed and said our farewells, reminding her when I’d be back again–the following Thursday for our weekly lunch and afternoon together–Gran would say something wise, usually the same few old sayings over and over. I never tired of hearing her say them. I felt I needed to hear the words that often to get the message. And one of her favourites was to say, “Remember, my dear, to always look for the silver lining and you will find it.” I loved that saying then, and I love it now.

I remember, Gran, I hear you saying the words and it helps guide me in my life. You had certain wisdom you passed onto me that has become part of who I am and how I deal with things. In the most horrible of situations, I try to look for the good that can come out of it. My grandmother was a great believer in “the power of positivity” as she called it. Gran believed and often told us about the transformative power of having an optimistic attitude. She was an ardent admirer of the Methodist minister Norman Vincent Peale’s work, and The Power of Positive Thinking was her favourite book, one she often quoted from. She would grab her well-worn hardback copy, kept in a bookcase by the front door, and open the plain blue cover to thumb through and read aloud a much-loved quote. “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

I respected Gran’s enthusiasm for the topic and warmed to Peale’s ideas immediately. I have several Norman Vincent Peale’s inspirational books in my library and refer to his wisdom often. It helps to have tools such as these when looking back on 2020, as I was doing last night.

As I say, I take the time on New Year’s Eve to appreciate the twelve months gone before. When I looked back on the year we’ve had, it was hard at points to see the good in it. Man, it has been and continues to be a struggle. 2020 took a toll on me. The strain and anxiety around the whole Covid situation was intense, my concern being for my two younger boys. Both are at high risk. Nathaniel, the youngest, is asthmatic, and Samuel lives with a condition called “wet lungs,” caused by his aspirating food and fluids. Both boys were/are highly susceptible to infection, and Covid would be a death sentence. So we lived through months of tension and strife just going to the store.

At the same time as being confined to my home with two huge teenage boys and an adult nephew underfoot, I was editing The Last Tree and revising the first two books in my series, The Or’in of Tane and The Sasori Empire. I had a release date that kept getting pushed further and further back because it took so much longer than expected. Home, property, and kids went neglected as I slogged my way through editing day and night. It turned into six long months of stress and toil, PAINFUL in the extreme. I thought it would never be over, and I vowed I’d never release three books at once, ever again.

But I got there, releasing The Chronicles of Aden Weaver on October 10th. That was a big win for me in 2020. The book launch was the culmination of fifteen years writing this story and pursuing a dream, and I’m proud of myself. The trilogy sits on my bookshelf, the crowning achievement of 38 years writing for children. I’m glad I achieved that goal. Now I have these books and my children to leave as my legacy to the world which is a good feeling.

When I looked back, I saw other blessings too. I’ve made positive changes for my health and wellness. I doubled my meditation time, so now I start every day with twenty minutes of meditation, and I have more barefoot time in the garden, which helps me feel grounded. The boys are well and have done more reading. When schools reopened, we found a carer supporter, so Sam started Special Olympics basketball, and Nat made it into “A-team” in volleyball. All good things!

Gran you were right, I looked for the silver lining and it was there. What’s your silver lining?
Here’s to 2021. Happy New Year!

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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Change your thoughts and you change your world. ~ Norman Vincent Peale