Tag Archives: Personal History

Shifting Sands

The title is an apt one this year for me:  In February, we went from having no kids to having a love-starved, distrustful PTSD teenager with defence mechanisms and trauma-induced autism, who, in the first few weeks of her being here, barely spoke intelligible sentences (communication with the outer world is a challenge for her, whether in her mother tongue or not).  She’ll be with us until late-January 2017 as an exchange student, but she’ll be in our lives for years to come, because we’ve become the parents she never had.  When she returns home, we will have to release her back into the abusive situation which caused many of the problems in the first place.  The country she comes from in Asia seems to be stuck in the past by several centuries, especially when it comes to things like psychology; diagnosis and treatment are nearly impossible, simply because they see such things as a weakness that would cause the family to lose face, and in this particular case the fear is that the father would put her on the streets if he found out.  Because of that fact, we’ve not been able to draw on the help of the student organisation’s volunteer psychologist (they would need to inform the father), so we’ve basically been on our own in this complex process; even the diagnosis is my own, having had to apply my research skills into an unknown field and narrow down the symptoms and manifestations, and figure out what we were all dealing with (it’s since been confirmed by friends who work with autistic children). shifting-sands-2 I have a profound respect for parents who raise autistic children on any spectrum of the condition; I know that our situation is simply not comparable – in a few weeks she will be leaving us; at the same time, we had no preparation for going from zero to a hundred overnight.  We thought we’d be getting the average exchange student; God had other plans both for her and for us – plans that go far beyond a year, touching eternity.

What that’s translated into for me this year is an abrupt shift in long-term goals and the shifting sands of daily priorities getting turned on their heads at a moment’s notice.  If you’re like me as a writer or creative person, an inner irritability arises when I can’t write – not as in “writer’s block”, but as in “as soon as I sit down I’m going to be interrupted, so I can’t even begin”.  Two weeks of this month were school holidays, which meant she was here 24/7 except when she was out with friends (which was unpredictable, and not very often as she enjoys being “home”); one week of that time it was just the two of us as my husband was away.  By 24/7, I mean it – any time night or day, when I was trying to focus, she’d show up in the doorway, whether noon or 3 a.m; parents understand!  We watched films, talked, painted, and did our own things.  By the time she went back to school on Monday, I was ready to have my time for focusing again – I’m sure every mother on the planet can empathise!  She gravitates to me, soaking in my presence; that’s lovely – it means she trusts me, wants to be with me, and gets the attention she craves (and should have been getting throughout her life).  I like spending time with her; but it also means that my priorities – writing, editing, graphics, blurbs, and all of the thousand other steps toward publishing my fifth novel – have taken a back burner; the goal of getting this book out by Christmas had shifted away with the dunes of life by May.  It also means that I can’t really relax – I never know when, after finally sitting down for a moment, I open one eye to find myself being watched.  Literally.  Or I just sit down and hear, “Mom!” from a distance corner of the flat.  Sometimes it feels like every move I make draws some kind of commentary – it’s her way of trying to connect, and I understand that with my heart, but sometimes my mind wishes I could just flip a switch and turn it off for a while.  Again, I know that every mother can relate to those feelings; just keep in mind that I’m not actually the mother, in the sense that I haven’t had years to get used to these things!  She has a great father-daughter relationship with my husband, too – pillow fights, lots of fun and talks at the dinner table, and the occasional ice hockey date are icing on the cake.

maidWe’ve had to raise a teenager that had basically raised herself the past (very formative) five years (her father bought her a flat in another city, and just paid for a maid).  I am not a maid (this image is a magnet hanging on our guest room door frame).  Everything that parents teach their children along the way over the years, we’ve had to try to teach her within a few months, as far as what it means to live in a family, communicate with each other, and basic principles such as clean up after yourself, turn off lights behind you, shut the refrigerator door, fold and put away clothes neatly, respect others’ property, and the list goes on and on and on. family-rule-signThis family rule sign, which hangs outside our front door, is what we’re trying to teach as a foreign concept in more ways than one… oh, and her mouth would have driven sailors from bars the first fortnight she was here; we started charging 1 Franc for every curse word, and encouraged her to get creative with such things; now she says “Fluff-butt” and “sweet cheese and crackers” instead!  Needless to say, it’s been a huge learning curve for us all.

Sands have shifted; priorities, for this year, have been relentlessly shifted; but more importantly, we’ve seen the shifting sands in one life transform into a foundation planted on solid rock.  We’ve seen her open her heart to be loved, to begin to recognize the issues in her own life that will need professional help once she’s old enough to seek it without repercussions, and also begin to have an understanding and patience for and with herself.  We’ve played a part in rescuing someone from the verge of suicide to a place of eternal perspective, future hope, and present happiness, and we are humbly grateful for the opportunity entrusted to us.  Writing priorities be hanged… there are more important things in this life sometimes.  There is a time for every purpose under heaven.

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Odd Jobs #12: Rodeo Clowns to Soil Conservationists

Hi everyone!  I’m back with this week’s lineup of weird and wonderful jobs.  While each of these jobs is here for its own reasons, seamstress may seem like the least odd job – at least it’s one that we all know (if we are in the habit of wearing clothes) must exist out there in the world somewhere.  The last job on this list, soil conservationist, is actually quite important here in Switzerland; there are many villages in the Alps that owe their continued existence to being able to use the steep alpine pastures wisely.  Planting trees is integral to avoiding soil erosion, which helps prevent landslides, mudslides, and avalanches; another key component is placing barriers such as snow guards to help keep the soil, snow and debris where it should be.

Once again, I have personal experience with one of the jobs:  Silk tree designer.  If I had to find another job, that would be one I’d love to do again.  Enjoy perusing the list!

odd-job-silk-tree-designer

  • Rodeo Clown
  • Rubbish Detective
  • Safe Cracker: When combinations are lost or forgotten, safe crackers use their ears and fingers to open the safe.
  • Seamstress
  • Sewer Inspector
  • Silk Tree Designer: This is one I can give you the low-down on personally:  I was a tree designer back in the 80’s, making everything from bonsai trees for private homes to 30-foot trees for shopping malls.  Our storage warehouse had a few permanent silk trees, as birds had built nests in them, coming and going as if they owned the place… they’d found a sweet gig, with a weather-proof forest.  Tools of my trade were drill guns, glue guns, moss, paint, unformed branches of plastic-coated wire and silk leaves (which I had to shape into realistic branches), and the base:  A thick branch of a tree which had been treated and planted into a plaster-filled base pot.  I found out the hard way that Manzanita leaves can give off a narcotic-like aroma when heated, as with the friction caused by stripping off the leaves from a branch:  I was straddled atop a ladder working on stripping the leaves from a tall branch-base, when I got so dizzy that I had to grab hold of the ceiling’s piping and call for help.  My mother looked it up in her medical journals, and the result was that the leaves were in future removed by the plastering department.  It was one of my all-time favourite creative jobs, next to being a Pizza Hut lab assistant.
  • Snake Milkers: Extract venom from some of the world’s most dangerous snakes, like rattlesnakes and cobras. The extracted venom is often used to create anti-venom for hospital or laboratory use, and can be sold for up to $1,000 per gram.
  • Snowmaker
  • Snowmobile Guide
  • Soil Conservationist: Their main job is to come up with plans to prevent erosion and develop practices for sustainable land use, mostly by performing land-use surveys.

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