where wildly different is perfectly normal
At night when the gremlins come out to play
At night when the gremlins come out to play

At night when the gremlins come out to play

The house is quiet, dark but for the backyard motion sensor light. It flashes on as it is jostled by the wind, casting vague shadows on the curtains. The boys sleep, finally silenced by the exhaustion they always refuse to acknowledge. The dog clickety-clacks through the darkened rooms, looking for a soft place to land. And the husband breathes deeply beside me, well into the dreams he began down on the couch earlier in the evening. I lie there, half-asleep.

This is when the gremlins come out to play.

They whisper to me, getting louder and more insistent the more I try to ignore them and try to sleep.

The homeschooling won’t work, you know. You’re just in the easy honeymoon stage. Once more structured curriculum is introduced, you’ll be back to the battles, but they’ll be all day. And you won’t be allowed to complain, because this was your idea. The best part? There.Is.No.Plan.B.

You do realize that you’re just not going to make any friends here, right? It’s been six months and you can count on one hand the number of times you’ve gone out. You’re never going to have the kind of tight-knit community you had back in Colorado. The sooner you accept that, the better.

The minutes tick by. I toss and turn; blankets on, blankets off.

Your book is going to suck. Doesn’t matter what you do or how hard you work, it’s going to be a miserable piece of shit. No one wants to read about raising a twice-exceptional kid. No one believes these kids exist. And you have a hard enough time finding the funny on a daily basis; getting that onto the page? Right. Good luck with that. 

The economy is not going to improve. You’re never going to find a part-time job to help stabilize the family budget. Regardless of how desperately you all need a vacation, it isn’t going to happen. Home improvements? And the massive remodeling project you want to undertake? Will.Never.Happen. You built your dream home in Colorado and left it there. Better just accept that. It’s easier that way. Just keep praying your rapidly aging van keeps trucking on. Peace of mind? No.

Music on, music off. The husband rolls over and begins to snore.

J is getting lost in all this. He’s such a quiet and loving kid, and he’s going to grow up resenting you because his squeaky wheel sibling needed so much. And A has never handled change well. You’ve thrown more change at that kid in the last few years than he could reasonably handle and you wonder why he lashes out? Way to go, mom. There’s an award for you around here somewhere.

You’ve wasted your 38 years on this planet, Jen. What have you done with your life? You were given every opportunity: a loving family, a great education, citizenship in a country that rewards hard work. You have little to show for your time here. The people you grew up with have careers and recognition that match their similar upbringing; you see them in print and on the news. You’ve done nothing.

A trip to the bathroom, a drink of water. Surely sleep must come soon. But no. The gremlins have saved their best for last.

The best part, Jen, is that none of it matters. Someday you’re going to be cold and dead in the ground, and none of what you do or work for or care about will matter. 

Blessed, dreamless sleep.

The day breaks with the sun glinting off the snow from the previous day’s storm. The gremlins are banished for another day, their whispers gone from my ears. Life is good.

Until the bed is warm and the house is dark and the gremlins again come out to play.


  1. “You have little to show for your time here.”

    I’ve had this gremlin visit time and time (and time) again. He is one nasty little shit bent on making me lose sight of all the people whose lives I’ve touched for the better. On ignoring my gifts for just a little while longer cause it’s not like they matter or even that I still have time to develop those gifts.

    I think you and I should gang up on him and hug him till his shell of fear and unworthiness cracks and, like the Grinch, his heart grows three sizes (at least).

    Standing here in the shadows of your battles and sending you love and strength.

    1. Jen

      I fight the gremlins when I remind myself that I am so grateful (there’s my word again!) for what I have. But at night, when I am so tired and sleeps eludes me, I struggle. Badly. I’m heading to bed shortly and I’m not looking forward to it. Insomnia sucks.

  2. Did you know that late January, early February is well all home schoolers more or less feel like packing it in and quitting. It’s the halfway mark if starting in September. And that feeling can cross over to the rest of the life. Power through and banish the gremlins. Lock em up in a box and don’t let them come out to play. I usually use this time to write a story in my head, play out different scenes until falling asleep dreaming of my characters.

    1. Jen

      Oh, I don’t doubt it. But we just started three weeks ago! LOL! I’m still in the OMG DID WE DO THE RIGHT THING? stage. But I love the idea of writing a story in my head. I’ll have to try that tonight. Might as well put the insomnia to good use!

  3. cocobean

    Every year since my now 13yo daughter was, um, 3 maybe 4 – I have revisited the school at home gremlins every late winter/early spring. It got so predictable, that I started warning my friends “hey – I’m about to freak out about every single parenting and schooling choice I’ve made in my entire life – just ignore me for a while” – and every year, after spending countless hours reviewing what our alternatives are and what my child wants out of her schooling – and where the compromise is between the two – I come to the conclusion that I made the right choice for us when she was 2 (yes – it’s the choice I made before any of these freak outs ever happened – before I even really knew all the options, I just knew this was the right thing).

    The rest of the year, the gremlins are many the same as yours – how much I “wasted potential” in my life. How much more I could contribute to the household if I brought in an income again. How I am ruining my child every day and with every word that slips out of my mouth…

    Your experience and your lessons are valuable to others. You are not alone in what you’ve been through – and writing your book will give support to countless others who just need to know they aren’t alone.

    Just spending time worrying that you are ruining your kids is probably a sign that you are doing okay 🙂

    1. Jen

      But after three weeks? Interesting though. Talking to A tonight confirmed homeschooling is the best place for him. He’s so much happier, SO much more relaxed.

      And this gremlin visiting me is nothing compared to the 24/7 gremlin who takes up residence for the entire month of February. That one is a real SOB.

      1. cocobean

        Hold on to the moments that show you homeschooling is RIGHT – and they help fight all gremlins. Seeing “that look” on his face when he makes a connection, seeing him learn when he’s not actually doing school (ahem, learning NOT at school? INSANITY!), you will get those moments. Savor them – and then the gremlins that come when there are more tears for the 10th day when you ask him to write a complete sentence, or take a spelling test, or point to Europe on a map… you’ll have something of a gremlin-proof coat to help shield you!

        And if it takes putting something on a post-it by your computer or a paper on the fridge – do it!

  4. Erica

    One thing that works for me with the really bad gremlins/insomnia (especially the ones that tell me that it is only a matter of time before hubbies cancer comes back) is to leave them in my bed and sleep on the couch. Logically, all the things that I am worrying about are in my head so should come with me, but for some reason they settle down and let me put them back into their box.

  5. Every single homeschooler I have spoken with has a rough time (re: gremlins) for the first few months of actually doing it. Doing it concurrently with the aforementioned winter angst season just proves that you are a maschochist. 😉

    As I’ve said before, I reliably read You, the Bloggess and Wil Wheaton. Shove THAT up your gremlin’s filthy little jumper!

    Also? Already have a mental list going of several people for whom I’m going to buy copies of your book. IT IS NEEDED.

  6. Sarah

    You know I NEED your book. And I know it will be awesome! (No pressure, really…)

    My gremlins like to visit at about 1 am, and they hang out until 4:30… insomnia makes them come out and wreak havoc in my head. Those insidious bastards sneak their way into so much…

  7. Benoit

    Yes, life is absurd ! That’s why we should focus on the essentials: feeding our primary needs and then…have pleasure !
    I’m sure that you’ll be soon famous and that you’ll soon be less stressed by your new life. Keep faith in you, Jen.

    One of your first future international reader (can I be your first ?) 😉

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  9. We need to meet up for a girl’s night out. Or maybe put your homeschooler in front of an educational DVD in my basement while you drink tea and hang out with me and my friends for an hour or so. I’d invite you over this weekend, but we’ve got a science olympiad marathon on Saturday and there are boxes everywhere as we finish our move-in. It’s dark and quiet and my gremlins are convincing my that I’ll never get, let alone be able to keep, our fab new place in shape.

  10. Elizabeth

    Jen, we all have these days. My, how alike we are. I have P, who is a lot like your A. I’ve actually described him as a sucking black-hole of attention seeking. D is a baby who, despite the fact he’s under 2, seems perfectly fine to play by himself while I struggle with schooling P. And I feel terribly guilty that I don’t spend the kind of time on D that I did on P, despite the fact that I was working whe P was a baby. That’s because if I was home I was 100% his.

    I’m sorry you haven’t found many friends since you moved, though I’m not sure *where* you are. If we were close, I’d want to hang with you. I’d probably adore your children. I’m in Southern California now, but originally came from Wyoming. Often people I meet here are a bit strange to me. Guess there’s more to where you’re from than just a place.

    Next time you’re strugging with gremlins, try to remember that life is not delivered with a map and mistakes are inevitable, but mistakes make us who we are, and often, we are far better for the experience. A doesn’t transition easily or deal with change well yet, but what he learns from your example is that Mommy keeps trying and doesn’t give up. Someday, that will enable him to turn his inflexibility into persistence.

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  13. Kimi Ymigues

    Laughing at Chaos has made a huge difference for me. Being the offbeat, oddball, mother-of-an-oddball can be a lonely existence.

    Here, I will always find humor, great links, and others who live with two or more standard deviations on either side of the norm.
    That solid center most people inhabit will always be shrouded in mystery for me. At least in the outer rings, I can communicate with others now.

    Thank you!!!

  14. Anna Rounseville

    Wow, your only a few weeks in. How’s this for desperate for curriculum choices. The first project my now middle-schooler and I did while he was home was I had him help me take apart an entire couch. It was falling apart, so I planned it and He had a good time, judjing from photos of myself that day, I’ve had better looking days/months/decades.
    I have Bipolar type 1, been dealing with Depression now solidly for like 3 years (I have an antidepressant for that), am Seriously 2-e (just started on Strattera a few months ago (helps focus my ADHD-inattentiveness into something useful) I take an antianxiety med as needed, and I have a Serious prescrition sleep aid that I don’t use too often cause it gives me a hangover. I have two boys in Public school (my 13 year old asked to go to public, the other is on the ASD scale with an SPD. so can’t do thatright now. My Eldest is a homeschooling Senior thank goodness so she will be done soon (with high school anyways).
    Anyways strong meds seem to help but don’t let the gremlins steal your joy, seems odd to have me write that. But you Are doing Important Work just being there. My mom was there but not there if you know what I mean. Showing them how to deal with being 2-e is Very Good. We know we’re different. at least now someone else knows and you’re on their side. (My dad thought I was “normal/no big deal-she hasn’t done anything yet” (yeah that) and my mom had me tested and the testing lady ran outta books (so I hit some ceiling the lady hadn’t planned on) so she was aware. (but they didn’t agree on anything…I could tell you such stories-but I won’t)
    The point is you believe the kids and see their potential, and your being a mom which is Hugely Underrated in our society to begin with and then adding Homeschooling-its kinda like being a pioneer. Great uninterupted views, but not a lot of company either. I get it. I hear you. Do you have some friends nearby who are homeschooling too? Its a wonderful thing just to have someone pour a cup of coffee and remind you that you can indeed hook up sentences together long enough to say what’s wieghing you down with a simple sigh. We get it, but its good to have someone with skin on nearby, or at least in the next town or something. If not there are Loads of really interesting well read ladies on this post and on Squidoo too. Be encouraged, Bon Courage!
    Sincerely, Anna Rounseville

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