A Tale of Two Mommies

…because more seems excessive…

Routine

I’ve always been a creature of habit…always. I need my routines or I will not be in a good place. Sometimes I try to convince myself otherwise, but it will be a bad day and I will be grumpy.

I’m home from the hospital, and was immediately out of sorts with the new pandemic normal. The kids out of school…me out of the prison and at a reduced physical and mental capacity. I worried most about what to do with the kids. My parents are here to help, but that isn’t an easy answer.

I have grace with this process. Warrior Queen is not quite four and Little Man is not quite six. Sure, there are throngs of parents that have kids that will feel the lack of schooling; ramifications persistent long after we are out of the woods, but I am not burdened with such a situation. And, while I worry for those kids, in the grand scheme of my mind’s heaviness, I only have so much felt worry. Another grace is that I’m in a suburb with the space to take distanced walks.

My first night I was overwhelmed with this current life. I continued to feel overwhelmed the next day, even as I let go of what I couldn’t manage. But, routine floats to the surface with me. It’s my persistent friend. No matter how far I travel or how lost I am, we join together somehow.

I don’t have a schedule. Things don’t happen at set times. I have my list…of course, I have my lists…with all things. Some things I’ve found necessary to be time sensitive. My first walk of the day insists on first thing. I’ve always had my first exercise session first thing. I never really wake or feel grounded unless it happens. Curious I thought it would be different now that I’m out of the hospital. Maybe because I haven’t thought of it as exercise. I’m just managing a normal pace for fifteen minutes. My heart feels it; not desperately, but it feels it. After having a couple days over the weekend feeling anxious all day without reprieve, I naturally gravitated to my other old friend, morning exercise routine. It’s transformed my day with this simple return to normalcy that isn’t so normal. If my kids join me, then it’s an extra bonus of accomplishment.

But, even if they don’t partake…the distance a bit too far for them to be comfortable, there are other routines that have settled. I more or less get the cats herded with a change of clothing and brushed teeth…though the latter doesn’t always happen as we all meander our way well into the afternoon. At one point it occurs to me that I’ve forgotten and am haunted for hours at my slip in memory. I never used to be that way so consistently.

I usually need to sit with my feet up after my walk. The kids gravitate to me with books. Warrior Queen has her pile…Little Man has the chapter book series second he’d been requesting for months. I’d ordered it before my lungs had their thing…and the pandemic had its thing. I don’t know how long it lasts, but we read. Another list item checked.

My son likes the Mo Willems sessions…that’s maybe an hour of activity between time occupation book ends. My discombobulated Autistic son has thrived with these morning rituals. He watches the show for about twenty to thirty minutes and completes the art project. Yet, another check. He is peaceful, and I sort of rest, but not really.

Eventually my parents take the kids for a little while. We’ve made a social distancing calculation. None of us are going anywhere except the once a week trip to the store. We are relatively low risk, and I can’t manage child care all day while my husband is working, even though he’s at home. We are getting to a stretch, though, where my parents are struggling with the child care. Next week I’ll be taking the kids for a longer span, which I hope will be fine…It’ll be fine.

If it’s reasonably decent weather…cool or not, we go outside, check. We watch a FB zoo clip, check. The television watching hasn’t been as prominent as I feared, but it’s definitely happening more than pre-pandemic life.

For my part, I write a paragraph or two of fiction almost daily, check…important check, even if I’m not well enough to proof read. I have to read through a little of my last session. It’s coherent, which is all I ask at this moment. I sit to write a post for this site periodically…not quite a check. For some reason it isn’t really on my list formally. I don’t know if I need to change that or let things ride. I read a little…not much, but a little, check.

I had a goal this week to start working on another solitary confinement program that is geared around book discussions. I’m not sure the exact format of this thing, but I started to read the first of my three books I had delivered pre-pandemic…pre-lungs. Beyond my expectations I’ve been able to take notes about questions to ask my future students in the event this is approved…tearful check. I’ve been able to expand the packets for the creative writing solitary confinement program that is approved, but not implemented yet. My hope is that it will be this month…hard to say who is an essential employee in the prison. I will manage this remotely once it’s set-up, but for all I can predict this could be next month or the month after. I want to have a year of programming prepared. That’s twelve packets. I have seven-and-a-half complete now. They will need to be proofed, but the basics of the content is complete, ongoing gradual check.

From soup to nuts this is maybe twenty or twenty-five minutes of mental exertion each day. I’m trying to push for thirty minutes. The easier reading I do is another thirty or so. I don’t have much cognitive tenacity with these things, but I’m better than I was, and for that I’m grateful.

Little Man’s counselor manged to figure a Skype download. We coordinated a test run, and set an appointment. I haven’t told my son about this, but I know he will be thrilled. I hope it helps him. Even though he had a video chat with his school friend yesterday that seemed to diffuse some of his struggle, this is hard for him. I’m grateful to have his counselor to add to our routine; little by little we muddle through.

When What If Doesn't Happen

For the rest of my life Friday the 13th will be a lucky day for me. It’s a day that a collision of chance allowed me to survive. The day of my missed class there were emails of all kinds of things ending and shutting down due to the pandemic. Little by little travel was restricted or outright banned. Word on the prisons canceling volunteer programming was among the first of this flow into a new normal. At the last minute my husband’s business trip was canceled. Had he traveled, he would have walked into the house at nine at night barring no flight shenanigans that seem more consistent than not.

I’d been sick for the better part of six weeks; the inability to breathe well a hallmark. But, I was getting better…then I started getting worse. By Wednesday or Thursday things were getting concerning for me. I internally started to consider next steps, but I couldn’t decide to what degree this would be considered an “emergency.” Do I visit an ER…make a primary care appointment? I was struggling to decide, but not saying too much to my husband either, other than a vague “breathing is worse” thing. I had a vague cough, no sore throat…no fever. I was pretty tired, but I also wasn’t sleeping well. For a few days I didn’t want to be “that person.” That person who overreacts to nothing and jams people up with foolishness. I was stubborn with this mind’s narrative.

My husband walked in from the office about five in the evening/afternoon. I head upstairs to take out my contacts, noting that the struggle to breath having a disturbing narrow threshold for exertion, but I was fine. The stairs usually a challenge, but I was fine. I’m always fine.

I head into the laundry room from my stair climb, and a wave hit me where I almost lose consciousness. My lungs dramatically constrict and I can’t speak. I can’t breathe. I’m hot and another wave threatening consciousness occurs. I manage to have a rag to cool my neck; I’m just so warm. I perch on the toilet to catch my breath. It gets better, but I’m not recovering like I always do.

I’m not able to call for him, but a part of me knew he’d be upstairs soon to change. I can’t say there was immediacy. I was fine. I just needed my breath to return to normal. It wasn’t. My husband suggests I lie down. I almost lose consciousness again, and my breath is through one of those coffee stir straws. When I manage, I tell my husband to call an ambulance. He’s in a bit of disbelief about what is happening. I’m always fine. He says he’ll take me to the hospital. I tell him I’ll need oxygen, and he calls.

Then I wait. The paramedics arrive. I hope I’m not being silly about this. My heart is doing concerning things, but it isn’t registering. They lift me down the stairs mentioning that I’m light. I make a joke…because that’s what I do. I comment that I’m not, but I appreciate them saying so. My husband wants to come with me; bring the kids. That’s bananas. There is a pandemic around…there’s an early spring flu, and what the hell is he going to do with an almost four- and six-year-olds in an ER waiting room?

It was maybe about six-thirty in the evening. The moment the doors of the ambulance close and I have oxygen coming in through my nose, tears leak down my face. I’m washed with relief; someone is caring for me and a decision was made.

It’s a time warp from there. I had been fine…or better when I entered the hospital, but was gradually feeling more uncomfortable. The oxygen was no longer helping as it had. I was feeling nauseated and uneasy in a nondescript way. Medical people with their galoshes of protection until they enter my room without them. A CT scan revealed I had A LOT of blood clots throughout my lungs…large and small. The clots prompted the right side of my heart to go into failure. The hospital where I was not a good place to treat me, so I was to be taken by helicopter to the hospital where I delivered Little Man. I wasn’t supposed to get the clot busting medication at the original hospital, but someone made a decision at the last minute. That decision saved my life.

The ER at the new hospital thought I would need something invasive for treatment, but thirty minutes after I arrived my blood pressure returned to normal. It had been at exceptionally scary levels. In general I think the entire medical team(s) who had been involved at the new hospital were stunned by my recovery. They never really said, but I think miraculous was probably touching peoples’ lips. I don’t know that it’s even just the survival part, but I’m moving around pretty well. I think doctors were expecting me to require much more time in both the ICU and inhabiting a lower level floor.

I don’t necessarily want to go into the details of the hospital experience. I received mostly good care…I was also ignored a little as I was no longer considered in need of care (leaving the ICU and on the cusp of discharge). I spent most of the time in the hospital tearing or flatly crying feeling lucky to be alive.

My ICU room had a window, and out that window a sunrise. This wasn’t the first sunrise I saw out that window, but the second. The picture misses the color of the display, but it’s still a sunrise.

Coming home was a blur as well. I was told to walk, so I am…twice a day. But, my abilities are dramatically reduced. This isn’t a complaint. I overwhelmingly feel lucky to be alive, but I’m in a constant state of noting my impairments. I was disabled going into things, so in addition to my physical limitations, my cognitive capacity was at maybe fifty percent once I was home. In the hospital is a deprivation of movement and stimuli. I didn’t really feel the loss of things until I was home.

My first walk after the ordeal a little past my driveway. I was slow. It was cool and raw, but I’m alive. And, every cool, almost bitter spring rawness prickling my skin with relief that I was there to feel it.

It hasn’t been the easiest transition, admittedly. Incidents that are more for private consumption, but a couple of weeks out have brought about dramatic strength, even if my cumulative level is not particularly impressive. I walked for fifteen minutes twice today. My pace more reasonable, even if my heart is clearly working. I still can’t really read, but I’m getting there. I had a goal this week to write a couple of fiction paragraphs from a nothing prompt piece I started recently. I can’t quite do that either, but maybe next week.

But, I could fold and put away my clean clothing this week. A massive Everest pile accumulating from over a month of illness. It took me all day, but I did it. I made dinner a couple of times too. Residual exertion, I slept for almost ten hours that night.

I’m vaguely anxious like everyone. It comes on in weird ways, but I guess we all just manage…it’s all there is to do. I’m here now. Little by little things move along. My kids are snuggly. Little Man has stopped strangling his stuffed animals claiming their lungs don’t work…a product of him understanding medically what was happening. It’s truly stunning what he understands. I tried calling his counselor from the late fall, but I assume she’s sequestered like the rest of us. Nothing to do except the best we can. My son wasn’t up for talking about it despite my most ardent efforts. I’m not sure if anything made a direct difference for him. I’m here. He sees that. My husband sees it. My daughter mostly unaware. Being here is plenty, I guess. For everyone.

Life as Pictures…another day…another week…another month

Editing this post I’d been tinkering with for a week or so stills me. At some point it will be clear why, but I’m not in a place to share. Soon, but not yet. There is a lot to navigate at the moment, and this blog isn’t quite the priority in this span of time, but in an odd way it will probably become more of one than it had been. In many ways this post is from another era…a matter of days transforming my life in overwhelming ways that I’m not close to piecing. But, I’m here. I don’t know if I’m good, but I’m here, and THAT is a very important thing. This post probably ends too abruptly, but I don’t think I can add the extra on point paragraphs it needs, so I won’t. I’ll leave this as my final relic to another time. And, soon a new segment begins where life evolves into something unexpected, but the blessing is the potential to evolve.

It’s funny the way things change. The month-shy-of-six-year-old Little Man has crazy spacial ability stuff going on…such a fantastic Autistic brain. Mere months ago he was needing help to construct all of his Lego things; not the case anymore.

Looking at a hard to decipher diagram, my son constructed this crazy plane thing. And, a little over a week out from when this photo was taken and longish after he dismantled his work, he reconstructed this plane with all kinds of extra doodads that make this plane an unbelievably cool thing…even cooler that the picture above. Little Man’s development can almost be measured in puzzles and Lego structures.

February was bananas for me. I knew going it it would be bananas, and at the onset I was overwhelmed. Here I am on the other side, however, and all the things I’d scheduled and hoped for were worth every fitful sleep I had over their anticipation. Nursing various illnesses will not be what I want to remember, but it’s part of what February was for me. I don’t necessarily want to hash out the details of what I’d planned for the month; not everything I wanted came to fruition on the timeline I’d hoped. Maybe most noteworthy is that I started teaching at our women’s prison, and that’s going well.

My second week for this new program at a new facility with a new population I couldn’t help but feel nervous. I usually sweat my attendance anyway, but I wasn’t sure what to expect. Hot dog socks totally make those worries fade to oblivion like some kind of miraculous China-made immaturity.

But, in terms of long-term goals achieved was my visit to the State House. I’m a distance away, and it’s quite the schlep these days, but it’s fantastic each time I’ve gone…all two times now. In my social work graduate program we were tasked to go to the State House for a lobbying day of our choosing. I chose an organization that works with homelessness issues more out of expediency at the time than commitment to the cause. I was disgruntled about this assignment because it’s a good couple hours or so of trains and automobiles to get there.

I remember my first steps under the stain-glassed dome and my haunting footsteps within a marble encasement. The event was exceptionally well organized, and I left vowing to return at some point…maybe some day bringing future children that weren’t quite materialized in a meaningful way. That moment was years ago; time passing as it does, but I continued to want to return. For whatever reason this was the year. Maybe it’s because I’ve lost more over recent memory. Maybe I’m counting time differently. Maybe there never really is a good time to do anything. I booked my slot and waited months for the day to arrive.

And, seriously, how cool is this building? I didn’t take too many photos; just enough to mark that this happened. I was recovering from a cold that included a hit to my respiratory system. Walking the mild graded hill to the State House had me almost wheezing for breath. At the last minute I left my umbrella in the car before stepping onto the train. I tried to hurry indoors from the station, which isn’t that much of a walk. But, I found myself gasping to breathe, choosing to stop outside the steps to the exterior for my intake to normalize. Cold rain pouring on me, and I barely noticed it. Fortunately, I wasn’t so drenched to be uncomfortable, but walking was a task that day. I woke up feeling disappointed that I wasn’t as recovered as I’d like. The breathing thing took a long time to return to normal. It’s over two weeks later and the coughing hasn’t released it’s hold. I’ve been a mess.

I mention all of this because stepping into the State House was still such an amazing day. I’ve been so active with things that it didn’t hit me the same way as before, but it certainly was fun. I listened to some remarkable presentations. This organization continues to have their shit together to remarkable proportions, setting up the meetings with my congressional critters and providing comprehensive packets. I spent the entire day geeking out on this stuff…texting various friends who probably rolled their eyes with each picture and democratic swoon I experienced.

I call my various state and federal congressional people weekly for the most part. I hadn’t been doing that prior to my first experience with this. So, it was just a very cool thing to place faces to names. At my Senator’s office I had someone connect me to the voice on the phone. I’d just finished my spew to the Chief of Staff when one of the staffers identified me saying how much she loves my calls. And, she’s the staffer that tried to help me find funding for my prison work. While she wasn’t successful in the end, it’s a pretty remarkable thing to have that kind of support. These people are my voice for the way things should be, and that a pretty nifty thing.

With all the highlights of the month it’s still funny to me that mall visits are still among my best experiences. I sort of have time to myself to read or knit or something while the kids play for hours at this great (and free) play area. Recently I started making my own iced tea at home instead of the exorbitant cost of the purchased ones I love so much. When the price increased again and I was charged an additional amount of change for having them use my own container, I took it as a sign that I needed to reconsider my habits. While the instant stuff is definitely substandard to the brew, by the time I add my sweetner and lemon juice, it’s perfectly tasty…and cheap. And, apparently it also cuts down on my stress because I’m not trying to navigate drive-through stops or how the various places fit into my schedule. I hadn’t realized what a headache that piece was until it was absent. I rarely feel like I win things that outright!

I’d meant to teach this morning, but there was a prison snafu that has us starting the following week. I’m not sure where the breakdown was, but it wasn’t on my end. While it’s frustrating, it isn’t a worthwhile pursuit to be mad at the Department of Corrections for things like this. It’s more or less baked into the cake. I wouldn’t mind so much if this particular class wasn’t connected to my college one. In the end it should be fine, but I want to start already. To add to the inauspicious morning was that my sitter was a no-show. Fortunately, my husband was able to stay home, which is not always the case. All in all I don’t want to hyperbolize the situation because it wasn’t catastrophic, but it was still aggravating. I was home so early that my husband went off to work, and my twosome of children were whisked to the mall for an unexpected jaunt. Interestingly, our arrival was more or less when we typically get there.

But, my kids are funny beings. I was maybe gone an hour or so in the morning, but Warrior Queen had trouble leaving my lap at the play area. Sitting on these tall colorful metal chairs, my feisty thing of a girl climbed my legs to snuggle into me. Her arms and legs wrapped around me octopus style. We laughed and hugged. I offered endless smooches on her perfect cheeks. She giggled the way she does best. Eventually, she slid down my legs to find some friends.

After some time…and some lunch with a return to the play area, Little Man began to hover around me. He had an incident in school that basically amounted to a misunderstanding with a friend. It involved hitting in probably the most nerd-like way ever. I’ve heard of this little boy from my son. He’s one of these misunderstood kids who is always doing the wrong thing. They bonded over an iPad game, and one recess proceeded to act out this game in life. I guess the robot punches or something, so Little Man hit his friend in the back. His friend has some impulse control issues, and punched my son in return. It was hard to get the information of what happened from Mr. Man. What he told me was not what his teacher reported. Little Man was talking about doing battle with someone who annoys people…or something like that. It was hard to develop the right kind of consequence before I had the information. I landed on my son writing a letter of apology to the kid I didn’t realize was a friend. The next morning I spoke to him about how some kids have a hard time making friends when they want them. And, if he gave this boy a chance, he might actually like him. Little Man was still in bed and pretended to fall back asleep. But, really I think his feelings were hurt and he felt embarrassed. My son has a hard time talking about this kind of stuff. It wasn’t until two days later at this mall play area that he talked with me about it. I don’t know that I was helpful, but I *think* he might have made his peace with the incident.

When he had his fill of my ramblings, Little Man beckoned me to play hide-and-seek from where I was sitting. It was such a silly thing. He’d crawl around and did these weird prances and lunges and such into whatever hiding place. I wasn’t really looking for him, but he’d be gone, but his head would surface from random places. I could see him giggling from across the room when I’d dramatically indicate that I found him. Eventually he wanted me to stand and travel to his hiding places. I love his giggles…his real ones, not the forced high pitched cackling that pains my ears.

There is a Lego store that is part of our mall routine. They have this extensive bin situation with Lego people parts that has always struck me as creepy. Seriously, it’s a bin of random body parts and accessories. But, it’s hard to deny how completely awesome Lego people game is. I did not construct these people, but some pretty fantastic individuals did…and I was that odd parent totally absorbed in taking a gaggle of random Lego people pictures while ignoring my kids. They are usually so well behaved in public that I don’t have to hawk them. They did their play thing in the store, and cleaned their mess. Lego is usually our last stop before heading home.

Warrior Queen and I continue to have time to ourselves. I didn’t know what the full day of Kindergarten would yield for things. I was uneasy that I didn’t appreciate my time with Little Man before he was away to school for the day. Even with such an awareness, I internalize pangs of guilt that I’m not fully enjoying the minutiae of Warrior Queen alone time. I have my cherished moments usually each day, but it isn’t every moment, and a piece of me feels that is the way it must be. But, I simultaneously can’t make myself focus each minute on her.

Sometimes after I get her from her four hours of school two mornings a week, we take lunch at an establishment serving my favorite sandwich. They have tchotchkes in front of their windows, which were always the bane of my small child parenting experience. They’ve whittled the trinkets over the years, but there are two steadfast for Warrior Queen in particular. She usually bats at the stars while I order food and pushes against this kinetic art thing.

Then the time comes for me to bring her the nourishment she requested, and the smile that’s surrounded by the cheeks I love so much. She periodically stops her task, and attempts to make acquaintance of whatever bystander attempting to mind their own business. But, she manages to delight most people by her raw diligence and persistence. Inevitably she will at least gain a smile and some kind of polite greeting that she returns…especially if it’s a guy.

Life as Pictures: Process

Sometimes I figure shit out and get it together…like having my kids wear boots to the bus (or school) when it rains. I think Warrior Queen’s favorite part of the day is meeting her bother at the bus stop in the afternoon. We don’t really play much outside because it’s often cold or hard core raining. But, sometimes it isn’t, so my frilly dress loving girl can stomp around in her prized Spiderman boots that flicker red. In the fall I scoured stores for cheap footwear. And, as much as I knew the lights in these shoes would be something for her, he just generally loves these things, so it’s funny to see the unicorn pink sparked attire with her boots adorned.

We had one of these weird days a week or so ago. No class for me to teach quite yet, so we were meeting a friend of mine for breakfast…that turned into a virtually lunch by the time she met us. The problem was we were already in the car and on our way when I learned that it would be a least an hour before she’d arrive. Warrior Queen was hungry and on the verge of the hangry realm. I was getting there as well.

I’ve mentioned often that libraries are marvels of humanity. I’ll repeat, libraries are a marvel of humanity. We stopped at a bakery I love for some cookies…because I’m obviously winning parenting awards, and we mosied our way to the library a couple buildings down from the restaurant. I never go to it, and generally have no idea of their programming, but they have toys and various attractions in their kids’ section. It was rainy and raw, so not a terrible option to spend some time, even if I didn’t bring something to entertain myself.

It turned out that they had some kind of pre-school read and song thing, which is typical of most of the area libraries. This library visit was just a way to buy some time and prevent my kid from melting down, but we stumbled into this program anyway. Warrior Queen bundled into me like she does. The people running this were not the typical facilitators, so it was definitely an odd situation, but I wasn’t mad about the cuddles I was receiving. And, eventually it was time to meet my friend and partake of the best grits I’ve had in a long time. I make them, and they turn out well, but they don’t taste like these. This establishment also has the best vegetable omelets I’ve ever had…loaded with fresh vegetables. I added a side of bacon, and weeks later, I’m still remembering the meal.

I gave myself January to not postcard, choosing to rest at home for my two mornings I have to myself. January off turned into February as well, which I should have been able to predict. This month has yielded a slew of new things starting, and a general chaos. And, now as the month is winding down with a spectacularly busy schedule for the final week, I’ve decided that I’ll choose a couple of down ballot candidates to phonebank for, making three candidates total. I try to make one-hundred calls a week. If I have the same ambition for the others, then I might be freezing my postcarding for a while more as I gain my feet and see what my general time needs are.

I also suppose I’m coming to a different consideration for things these days. There are only so many hours. I prioritize living as an active citizen. For the longest time there was an obligation to what that should entail, but simultaneously something has to give. I have very little time of quiet to myself. It’s actually pretty stunning when I realized this in a very full way. Part of this realization is that I don’t do well when every moment is a bustle to the next thing. I very much adore the postcarding, but it eats my time, and other things won’t get done. So if I ultimately want to be as active with my citizenship as possible, then I need to consider what would yield the best, most productive outcome. I don’t have a clear answer yet, and I don’t think I’m totally done with the postcarding, at least I hope not. But, I need to be more flexible. I need to listen to myself more before I get into these overtired ruts where nothing is ever good enough.

We started back up at the assisted living, but a different one than we’d been volunteering at for well over a year. We followed a manager I like to work with. I’m never sure what we will be tasked with, but for our maiden volunteering voyage at this place, my kids were doing some kind of craft and roaming to one of the lounge rooms for snacks. An assortment of needles, hooks, and yarn were on the table in front of me. I don’t remember the last time I knit anything. Certainly I’ve been needle crafting, choosing to crochet full-size afghans. I’ve only been crocheting since Little Man’s pregnancy. I learned to knit as a kid…not that I’d been knitting since that time. I picked it up again about fifteen years ago…a little less.

I don’t knit for several reasons these days, my kids ripping out my needles one reason, and just small-ish kids and pointing things laying around is probably not a great parenting decision. I like my double-pointed and cable needles with relatively complicated stitch-work. This scarf that I started at the assisted living is not such a project. I don’t know what got into me. The needles were just there, abandoned. I cast-on, which I couldn’t believe I still remembered to do. I’m pretty sure I didn’t have it completely correct, but it got the job done, and I was pretty fast about it. I don’t remember working quite so fast.

This piece, in fact, is a pretty basic stitching situation. I started out with stockinette, assuming I’d relinquish this project to the woman I’ve been working with. She insisted I take the project home and keep at it, so I did. While I’ve learned to enjoy the act of working these things in and of themselves, a straight stockinette would likely be tedious for me, so I added my favorite stitch to the mix; moss. I didn’t realize I missed knitting, but I suppose I did…rather desperately, actually. And, even though I’ve been strictly crocheting for several years now, it seems that it’s impacted my speed and dexterity with my knitting. I can’t see a visual difference, but my hands work much more smoothly.

My final note about this project that’s maybe just a general comment on my parenting process. Before having kids it was always a rush to a destination or outcome. I couldn’t do that once I started staying home. By necessity the process of things became the priority or I’d be in a constant state of unhappiness. I certainly have my ambitions, but what that specific path looks like is very unclear. The constant is that I look for opportunities for whatever I can, and take-on whatever comes along because opportunities are a fickle bitch. And, here I am, a smattering of years later unable to recognize myself or my career-like things from where I started.

I used to not tolerate these boring kinds of projects, and this is a pretty boring project. But, these days I’ve found value in the process…the doing…the experience for what it is, even if it isn’t the fancy stuff that I actually love and prefer. Parenting my kids has taught me that, especially staying home. I don’t know that I would be in this place if I ended up working as I’d planned. But, damn is it hard…and not any kind of idyllic lifestyle.

I tried a new cheese assortment recipe for my scalloped potatoes. They were amazing. I just need to gloat about that. It’s like the awe-inducing pinnacle of effort and stress eating when the angels sing and I become less homicidal in my mind.

I’ll end this post with another library boost. Approximately every other week the library we attend the most has these clever, funky art projects my kids love. This one has rice innards, which is totally the demon spawn of the Devil within the homestead. But, for a brief photographable moment they were perfect.

Growing

My kids are cute…getting big, big personalities both of them. I’ve never really been around kids this age and I’m not a baby person, but it’s just been cool to see them emerge. They have this way of engaging and speaking, and it’s just funny so much of the time. Walking the soon-to-be-six-year-old Little Man to the bus. He asked me my age, which is safely in middle territory. His response, “Whoa, you’re close to dying.”

Mr. Man is still all about the puzzles, but he’s recently found a passion for Lego. They are EVERYWHERE, and they hurt. It’s actually near impossible to not step on something. We pick-up relatively often, but it doesn’t matter. It’s like the carpet is destined to be a treacherous and painful apparatus, and I’m a little bitter about it. I was hauling to answer the phone for one of the few non spam calls. My arch collides with something plastic, and my whole body practically radiates with breathtaking pain. I catch my voice and scream in a very cool mannered parenting intervention, “Pick-up your shit!” Little Man calmly says, “What shit,” which would be funny if my foot nerve endings weren’t on fire. To their credit, both kids didn’t argue. They earnestly and efficiently tackled the floor spread…not that it remained that way the next day.

Warrior Queen has always been a force. Even in my womb she seemed like one, and it’s just (mostly) a cool thing to see her increasingly tune those finer points…her personality characteristics more defined. Her language some of the best expressions of her feistiness. Walking back from the bus, I reach to touch the little girl who is the best parts of me…a person even at just-shy-of-four knows her voice…something I’ve always struggled to have. She steps away glaring at me, “You’re annoying me.” My fierce girl is also big with her, “I’m not enjoying that,” assertions. Granted much of the time she’s grumpy about the consequence to her own annoying behavior toward other people, but I love that she is such a presence.

What encapsulates my kids is their kindness. They just have this awareness and empathy for others. Little Man has always been good about asking about how I am…or how anyone is, but Warrior Queen has also started doing the same. If she isn’t grumpy coming downstairs in the morning, one of her first sentences uttered is, “How are you feeling?” I’m told she behaves in a similar manner in school, and I just love that in a very hard to define way.

Last night Warrior Queen was overtired and upset before bed. I wasn’t having much of an impact, even as she’s requesting my presence. It was during that phase of her unhappiness when she isn’t really able to assert what she needs. All she knows is that she’s unhappy. But, her big brother wanted her to feel better, “Here’s your blankie,” “Do you want your bird?” He tried to read her a story that she likes…so many sweet, lovely things.

And, when I’m not at my best, my daughter often scratches my back briefly because she likes a good back scratch. My son continues to read me stories when I don’t feel up to doing much of anything. I don’t know if these things are typical of kids at this age, but it’s good to know that with all of the jerkiness that’s part of raising humans, some of these gestures of theirs consistently shine through.

There are so many word things and snuggle things I want to remember, like the way Warrior Queen requests food at “Old McDonald’s,” or the way both kids refer to an “ambleeance.” At some point they will get it right, but I’m not looking forward to it.

I told myself that I wouldn’t do school visits once my kids started in the public system. I’m well aware that I’m intimidating, and I’m not good at hiding disdain, and I worried I’d be unhappy with what I saw. It was an inauspicious beginning, and I just…worried. Little Man came home one day and offered a rare discussion of school. Usually he’s telling me about an iPad game he’s obsessed with. He doesn’t play any kind of electronic games or use my tablet or phone for this kind of thing, so school is an overstimulated novelty. He burrowed into me and began telling me of a Mommy that came in for a little while. I asked if he was just telling me to tell me, or if he was passive aggressively hinting at something. “I’m telling you because I want you to do it.” I can’t argue with that.

I’ve now visited his class twice, and there are really no words for me to describe what the experience is. I’m only there for about an hour. I think it’s supposed to only be a thirty minute visit. I don’t want to make a nuisance out of myself, but I also don’t want to disrupt the routine by leaving mid thing…so it ends up as a clean hour with the timing.

My son is mostly a snuggler, even as an almost-six-year-old. It isn’t all the time, and often enough he just want to lay on my expanse without me touching him, but he’s never been unhappy with the contact. He welcomes the smooches and hugs greedily most of the time. But, it’s very different when I’m in his class. He’s in a constant state of touching me in some way. It isn’t the lap sitting of home or the other flops and sprawls I’m accustomed to. It’s me sitting on the floor next to him with his shoulder pressing against mine and his fingers resting lightly on me knee. Then he’ll turn to me and place his finger tips on my shoulder, continuously mouthing he loves me. My son often says he loves me. There is something very different about his expressions when I’ve been in his class, and it almost steals my words and pulls me in. This marvelous strong boy who throws caution to the wind with regards to the world in so many ways…indifferent to the pressures I was tormented with, even in Kindergarten. I don’t have a good sense of time or memories, but some of the few of that young child space was feeling left out and friendless. Little Man does not have huge collections of friends. He does have an assortment, but not really anyone in his class. It doesn’t seem like anyone is mean to him, but he doesn’t feel connected, and he is totally okay with that.

Otherwise the kids and I have been snuggling more, in general. My elliptical has been broken for two weeks with a few more days until it will be fixed, if things go according to plan. I’ve been reading more, which I will spare the details of, but suffice it to say I haven’t been voracious about the stuff I’ve been wanting to complete. The higher brow stuff I’m reading is good literature, and truly it pulls me in with such a unique force, but they are also heavier reads, and I’ve not been in the mind to concentrate. But, as I’m on the sofa under a down comforter I’ve had since early high school, little man burrows in next to or on top of me watching his media, enlightening me with comments I don’t understand. Warrior queen finds her place on me as well, and we become a type of pile of limbs and warmth; it’s probably one of the greatest things ever. When someone tells me to appreciate every moment of this time, I immediately call bullshit. There is no shortage of moments I’d rather forget. But, then there are others smattered throughout in no shortage. I could play them on a continuous loop for the rest of my life.

Life as Pictures: snow adventures

This is the first year I took the kids outside on a snow day. I’m not sure what was happening the other years to make this particular one not as much of a barrier. Maybe my Mom Guilt slacking has culminated into a resolve for this one to be different? Regardless, the snow day was more or less predictable. By the time the official call came through, I’d been preparing about what the next day would entail. Certainly there would be some outside snow action, but I also had to consider what else would keep me sane when I knew we would be remaining in the house. I chose to get us outside early to get it over with. I’d been anxious about the preparations because it’s a new process, and new processes make me anxious. I get I’ll be fine, but I’m not good with change, particularly to my routine. That said, my entire existence is one of discomfort. In some ways it’s an asset because if I’m almost never comfortable, additional elements of discomfort don’t present as the obstacle they might otherwise. Consequently, I decide what I want to do or what needs to be done, and I work toward that goal.

I don’t like taking pictures of EVERYTHING, but I try to remember to document firsts…try…I often fail at it. Mostly I focus on experiencing things, and have to remind myself when I need to have a collection of pictures…for timekeeping…for family…for whatever. This snow day was a first…a first for me to take them outside…the first year I adequately prepared for such an event…the first year I’ve had this focus on ensuring I’m not emotionally separating myself from life to manage through. It isn’t that I haven’t be present in my life. Generally, I’ve done okay considering, but this is the first span of time in quite a while that isn’t a constant bombardment of cycling grief.

The day began with a puzzle. Mr. Man is desperate for his sister to love them as he does, but I think she’s still to small. Little Man’s interest isn’t even a year old. But, he tries. He retrieves a puzzle from our collection of twenty-some piece ones that I forgot we had. In his efforts to demonstrate what is placed where, he’s compiled the entire thing in a minute. Warrior Queen is never interested, but also never seems to mind. She loves playing with her big bother, and I think looks at this puzzle as all the others that are more his speed. She sits close to him and they chat in incongruous conversations, but somehow they seem to get each other and enjoy the proximity.

This is minutes after I realized that I forgot to ask the kids to use the potty before getting them garbed in their winter attire. They are both potty trained; an accident here and there, but I suppose it’s overall safe to gift them the label. I don’t think either needs me to prompt them, but I equally don’t trust that they have the body awareness. So, sitting on the kitchen chair in the garage left me frazzled as they were playing. I kept asking. They kept refusing. No accidents, so I think I need to get a grip and trust them at this point.

The next part of the snow day was the hot chocolate Little Man sort of loves…or loves the routine anyway, and the mug Warrior Queen hounds me about, yet doesn’t drink.

I don’t usually do television during the day unless someone is sick, but turned it on for a little while. I took the opportunity to look through the materials for a textbanking group supporting all kinds of campaigns throughout the country. I’ve wanted to take part for a long time, but the structure was intimidating for my first textbanking go. I decided to table it until I had my sea legs, which I do at this point. I didn’t even need the television as a distraction. Because the kids had their hour outside and their promised hot chocolate, they left me alone to brief myself on this latest thing I want to commit to. It’s funny what experience will yield. This group, while very organized, was extraordinarily intimidating for me. Now it’s very much standard textbanking fair, and I’m ready to start when the campaign needs role in. I’m told it will be a couple days, so I’m looking forward to that.

Eventually, the television went on; Warrior Queen asked. I took that time to begin a Microsoft certification program I’m working with a couple of others to run at our women’s prison. If we manage, and the kinks are worked through, the plan is to implement it throughout the system. The cost will require different groups to work together, but it shouldn’t be too much of a barrier when push comes to shove. The snow day festivities provided a few moments to research things and establish the form in my computer files. As I write this post, the draft is complete. I need to update costs and a few of the administrative needs, but otherwise it’s finished. When I ventured out of the office, Little Man had gravitated from the television to his puzzle. Seeing me led to a beckoning of me joining him in his latest puzzle project. I sorted my snack, made some calls to Congress, and joined him as I promised. By then the television program concluded, Warrior Queen turned it off on her own and found my lap.

We’ve had a couple snow days since. I take the kids out each time, but the latest had them barely lasting twenty minutes. I suppose the novelty wore off. But, for all of my uncertainty and nervousness of what to expect that first snow day, the house was still standing, and I RULE at this parenting thing!

Life Goals…in a calendar year

I don’t really do resolutions per se, but I do like to reflect on the ending year and choose an initial course for the next. I feel like this year the benchmark snuck up on me, so I’m not quite prepared. But, no time like the present…

I look forward to beginning a second version of my creative writing program at two new facilities in February, a men’s minimum and our women’s facility. The former was not on my radar, the latter an explicit goal for a while now. I’d hoped to apply for some kind of grant to cover child care. It doesn’t look like it’s possible, so I need to be creative about both. I think I can swing the schedule without too much heartache or struggle. That’s a relief to me. I’d been hoping I’d get the federal prison gig, but the budget is late. So, the wait continues… I hope by the spring I’ll be teaching at four facilities, and by the summer adding a couple more. I’d add another round at the medium I intermittently commit to; the timing depends on my child care options. But, since things are mostly squared away on another front, in the spring the time might come for me to actively pursue teaching at a county facility I’d been eyeing for some time now. My hope is that when summer begins its swing, I’ll be well positioned to continue or start. From there? I suppose I’ll have to see what opportunities present themselves.

Now that 2020 is here, I *should* be hearing about a creative writing independent study I proposed for the men’s maximum. It’s a program that the administration is anxious to see materialize. I’m anxious too. It’s a little different; I hope it goes through. It would solve a few institutional issues if it is implemented as I proposed the program.

I look forward to resuming our trips to the assisted living. We needed to move to a different one. Little Man misses the venture especially, so I’m relieved our long break from such an effort will come to an end. The start is a little way off, but rapidly becoming a set day and time. And, now that Little Man attends school for the entire day, his counseling sessions stopped. He’s disappointed about that, but we might continue in the summer when he will likely need the support. With that schedule item ceasing, I plan to take the kids to our local food bank twice a month to stock shelves. I’ve been wanting to do this for so long I’ve lost track of the time. I feel a similar eagerness as I did for the Turkey Trot, though that torch burned longer.

I hope to continue my more regular publications on this site, but the format is mostly old hat for me at this point…though my posts probably used to be a little more interesting with the time and detail of the past…assuming they were interesting in the first place, I had to consider what was most important, and I decided the documentation. If I ever get back to some of the other bits of flair, super. But, I won’t torment myself if it never happens. This year I want to invest in writing more stories. I’ve lost my spark to publish, for the most part, but not to write. At some point on my road I decided the act of writing for no other eyes but mine is enough. Maybe some day more of my work will see light, and maybe not. It isn’t that I’m bad at writing stories, but I need to write more in order to improve. Given that I will be increasing my teaching of such content significantly, I can’t in good conscious ignore nurturing my own craft. So, writing more stories will be a focus in the coming year, while returning to the commitment I had on this blog in the initial years.

I look forward to starting a knit/crochet group with a friend. Something during the day that’s kid friendly. I don’t know that I have much more to say than that at the moment. I have a vision, but the reality will likely be much more chill and last minute. Thanks to my friend, the foundation is set. Now that the New Year has jumped both feet into my world, a new project will start.

This is an ongoing thing for me, but I need to keep working on my perceptions of myself and my work. I don’t think things I do are shoddy. I don’t feel bad about myself or my accomplishments. But, those moments I’m feeling good about something, a nagging voice sneaks into my mind. One that compares my glowing feelings with the presumed reality that others have something figured out that I don’t. I’ve always been terrible with self-promotion, and I need to work on that. I make a point to follow people on social media who engage in criminal justice work, and it always seems as though they have these massively profound impacts with important work that I can’t possibly fathom. Then the pride I feel for my own projects becomes diminished to that inflated comparison. I need to make a more purposeful effort to step back from that narrative. My old boss and friend used to say to me when I was stuck in these circles: If anyone had these social issues figured out, the problems wouldn’t exist. He was right. He’s been right about a lot. Corrections is a quagmire of stuff. I don’t know my impact specifically with regards to the big picture, but I do the work and I do it well. I concretely manage impressive results in the immediate. In this new year I hope to do more of the work. So in the grand scheme I need to reality test. Do all of these people have such an extraordinary impact, or are they better at self-promotion? I’m not sure I can really know, except certainty that they don’t have anything profound figured out that makes our corrections system no longer a thing in our society. I need to hold my own data in my mind with more fervor than I hold what I presume the data to be from others.

My writing program at the maximum is the most popular program they run. There are a little over one hundred men who want to take it. My attendance at two facilities is considered on the level of miraculous. In this next year I need to work toward establishing more data points, like creating an evaluation at the end of the course. I do an optional one for the college group. I’m not sure why I haven’t made it a priority for the prison students. There are probably several pragmatic reasons, but it’s also fear. I need to face that fear.

I suppose the moral of the story is that I need to focus on facing things that scare me, mostly issues connected to how I perceive my professional worth. Based on my known achievements in the system, I would probably be pleasantly surprised and humbled by the feedback. In my college course, I typically receive interesting suggestions that I incorporate in addition to lovely notes of praise and support. But, the fear isn’t really that I feel as though my work is terrible or pointless. I think the fear is accepting the impression that others have of me. It’s a trauma response. It’s physically uncomfortable for me to feel successful, so I don’t allow myself to think about it too deeply. I need to make my peace with that. I’m not afraid to fail. Failure has been a consistent theme in my life that I build from. So, maybe most of all in 2020 I want to finally accept what so many others see.

The Good Days

I spend too much time complaining on this site, or at least it feels that way. It isn’t that I have bad days most of the time, certainly there are pretty great moments almost every day. But, sometimes a day will just be good and fun. I have isolated and select moments often enough when I can attest to the sentiment, but sometimes the entire day is just a good day…a fun day. I might be feeling sad about something or stressed about something else, but I just feel good.

I haven’t been exercising much of the week. I’m feeling a little tired and drained. Some of this is a menstrual cycle thing, and some of it is that I think I’m fighting the cold Warrior Queen has…or has had for the better part of six weeks. I’ve learned to listen to my body. No motivation to exercise is almost never my issue, so when I’m not feeling it, I need to pay attention and not force myself. So, I’m not.

A few days before my cycle starts I will DRAG in a relentless fatigue. My limbs will be heavy and I can barely keep my head up and awake. It’s more or less predictable and maybe lasts a day or two. It’s not pleasant, but I manage. I plan my week over the weekend. I make a chart of what I want to do and when…make my various task lists. I have an exceptionally crowded and noisy brain, so whatever I can escape all of my internal stimuli, I do. I was struggling over the weekend, so I scaled my plans WAY back. I mention this because when the misery of the cycle stuff lifts almost miraculously, I physically feel it as something profound. I feel lighter…peppier, and just all around fantastic. At times there is some euphoria thrown in there, especially when I’m able to crank through things. That feeling started yesterday, and carried into today.

Little Man was ushered off to school without much controversy. It’s a warm mid-week, so the streets aren’t as icy as they had been…both kids wiping out for the days prior at fairly regular intervals during this simple one minute task down the street. This climate change thing is not good. I’ve been in this area for twenty years now. I can feel the shift in the months. In the last decade-ish December has become this weird collection of mildly cold skewing to downright warm days. By the end of the month things are still not as bitter as I recall from when I first moved here. On the other end, March is often pretty miserable, and many winters are slammed with hard core snow in February. January tends to just be cold.

But, my good day started with an easy-peasy bus marching child troop. Little Man off to school, and I had a solid thirty to spend with Warrior Queen before trekking to her preschool. I like the time. It simultaneously feels expansive and brief. Usually we read some stories and snuggle until I’m running late and remember that I need to actively wrangle the girls into a bra that doesn’t really fit, but is better than it was…at least I’m not in my late pregnancy maternity bras anymore. I could live without the ladies managing their own orbit, but hopefully in time I will look back to the planetary stature they share, and it will be more of a silly, absurd memory. Eventually we were out the door, and traffic wasn’t terrible. Warrior Queen settled in her play-based program, and I’m off for my own adventures.

A snow day last week had me missing something I’d been planning to do for months. I managed to at least participate the second day I’d planned. I’m not really into holiday fare, as it’s Christian, and it makes me uncomfortable…as well as entering churches. I feel tremendously uncomfortable entering churches for any reason. But, my agency has a robust affiliation with faith communities (read: a collection of churches containing a specific demographic of people), so I’ve found myself having to enter churches for meetings and such on a regular basis. It’s very uncomfortable. But, this is a popular program we run. It’s popular for the incarcerated men this program supports, as well as a tradition for various families and community members in the area. There is talk of expanding it, and I don’t feel as though I can make a sound decision or effort if I don’t take part in at least a segment of what this program involves. But, church aside, I’d very much been looking forward to this…I like community service…I like bustling about doing whatever task, especially if I’m a worker bee with no responsibility. With Warrior Queen having her cold thing, I was worried I would have to wait until next year. I’m glad I at least had the one day of participation. This is a neat thing we do, and I have a good grasp of what we need as an organization with regards to this specific venture, as well as possibly expanding it. On many levels this was a good, fun thing for me…stuff to think about, and the tasks themselves.

I even managed to get some soup I like in our town cafe. I had so much soup yesterday that my fingers turned to sausages. I couldn’t manage my wedding ring. I guess middle-age ushers salt bloat rather easily? So, there I was…having more soup. I’d say it was well worth it; sausage fingers be damned! Take-out order that I ate waiting for Little Man’s bus to arrive. I even accomplished the overwhelming thrill of paying his tuition invoice now that my son insisted that he loved school and proclaimed he wanted to remain for the entire day…sigh. I won’t complain though. More cost for things, but considering how much I worried about him starting in the public schools, this is a very good thing. I’m not thrilled with certain aspects of his education, but I guess it’s something I will have to be more focused on next year…like teachers teaching the bullshit Thanksgiving story. Not sure what I’ll do about that, but I have a little less than a year to figure it out. But, given how much Christmas stuff I’m seeing Little Man take home, I emailed his teacher to offer a Hanukkah lesson…or thing. It actually really bothers me that THIS is our holiday that gets the attention. The only reason it’s celebrated or given any attention at all is because of its proximity to Christmas.

The small pile of bills tended to, I was left with a few more minutes before Little Man’s bus. It’s a lifting thing to manage a collection of emails that aren’t a big deal to make happen, yet I always dawdle my way in writing them. Also lifting, I called a joint state house committee about a bill that is set for its first hearing. I’ve been calling about this issue to my state congressional critters for a while now. I like when things progress, especially when it’s legislation that will protect vulnerable people. I didn’t quite make it through the list of all of the Senators and Representatives on the committee, but I plowed through most. These kinds of calls are super quick, “Hi, I’m so-and-so. I’m a resident, but not a constituent. I’m calling in Senator/Representative X’s capacity on the Committee of whatever. I support (or don’t) such-and-such legislation.” And, that’s the call. If I have five minutes, I can usually check several names off the list.

And before I knew it, Little Man arrived home, and remembered to pick up his Lego off the floor. I hurt myself the previous night. He saw me hurt myself. It was just before bed, so he said he would pick them up in the morning…which he did for a little while before running out of time. Then he committed to finishing after school. It was the first thing he did without me prompting him. He knew I hurt myself, and he wanted to make things better for me, and I love him so much for that…not that keeping his Lego off the floor is generally a priority for him. Sigh…I take the wins where I can. Warrior Queen wasn’t due for her pick-up, so Mr. Man and I snuggled on the sofa, and I read to him. He periodically rested his head on my shoulder, and told me how much he loves me. They do this for the rest of their lives, right?

Warrior Queen is amazing to retrieve from school. There are two doors to her classroom. I’m usually toward the end of the parent line, which gives me the opportunity to peek in the second window. Often my girl is sitting at the far table closest to me. When she sees me she lights up, and yells that she loves me. Then she will blow me kisses and smile this huge smile she has. She will always declare how much she loves me among her peers, right? When I trickle my way to the front of the line, Warrior Queen greets me with a “Hi Mommy! Are we getting cookies today?” No, little girl; no cookies. “Can we get them some day?” Yes, my girl. We will get cookies again some day.

Yucky day, so the kids didn’t want to play outside at Warrior Queen’s school. Entering the house, Mr. Man urges me to puzzle with him. I’m not good at puzzles. Some of the ones I select end up harder than I thought they’d be. Little Man is mostly working 500 piece puzzles or 300 piece ones. I chose this silly puzzle…because it’s silly, but almost didn’t because I didn’t find the picture aesthetically appealing…I’m weird like that. I don’t know that Little Man cares. I’m glad I chose this one because I can more or less do it. And, while I don’t like puzzling per se, I enjoy this time with my son. I enjoy how my daughter often sits on my lap as we are working and snuggles into me. It’s funny how one of my least favorite past-times is one of my favorites.

And, after some quality time with the kids, I make some calls on behalf of a presidential candidate, and tick away slightly at a new program I’m taking part in writing for the women’s prison. Eventually Warrior Queen enters the room with her dramatic flair, and it’s time to stop my brief stint of work…most of my work is in brief stints. My three-and-a-half-year-old daughter climbs onto my lap. She giggles, and we exchange in some kind of word game of yes/no. I say one; she says the other. Periodically I switch it on her and dip her way back so that her hair sweeps the floor. I don’t know that I pay much attention to the game itself, transfixed by her smile and giggles when I flutter kisses on her neck. That moment lasts until Mr. Man proclaims his entrance, insisting I do something similar. Ultimately, I give him the tightest squeezes I can manage and ending with the “Kissing Bandit.” I flood his cheeks and neck with imprecise kisses in rapid succession. The final tight squeeze until my arms fatigue, and the kids leave the room.

I follow, work on my new afghan project for some time. Little Man resumes his puzzle. Warrior Queen keeps him company at the kitchen table like she does so many times. We roll around until dinner, and the end of our day together. Bedtime is Warrior Queen’s rocking, but she’s tired without a nap during the day. The final stage are the dinosaur jokes with my son that are vaguely having to do with a dinosaur and aren’t really jokes. It’s a cause-effect game. He tells me to make the jokes silly. As I manage the ten that I count down, my five-and-a-half-year-old Little Man ends with a real giggle. Often he forces these ear piercing shrieks when he’s amused. It’s an artificial gesture of amusement, and hard to be in the same room with its pitch. But, in those final minutes of the day, he gives me his real laugh. The one I hope he will also have for the rest of his life.

Life as Pictures: a week and an ode to libraries

I wrote this piece in November…I wrote a bunch in November, and I had scheduled this one for the end of the month. That would mean, however, that my gratitude post would be quite far removed from the day I like to publish it. Consequently, the remaining November post is lagged into December, which probably wouldn’t be weird or need to be formally stated if it wasn’t a season transition time. And, if I’m honest, I’m not sure it matters to make a distinction. I’m known for my quirks, so perhaps I should just chalk this up to a delightful paragraph exhibiting my personality.

I have busy weeks. Some of them I should register as pretty great, but when I feel rut-like as I do at the moment, it’s hard to acknowledge. Pictures are a funny thing. Something about them is an absence of a lie. Sure, others might be deceived, but it’s unlikely we deceive ourselves. We know the before and after, as well as the motivation for our images. I don’t always visually record my mundane life events, but one week I did. Perhaps somewhere in the recesses of my fog I recognized that I wanted to remember.

I’ve mentioned the five-and-a-half-year-old Little Man’s marveling with puzzles. In the past couple of weeks he realized he could leave his work out and return to it. Consequently, he finished a 300 piece puzzle. We’d borrowed it from the assisted living, so many pieces were missing, but it was still a solidly marvelous time. I’m not very good at these things. When Little Man was working on his 200 piece ones I didn’t need to because he’d open the box, spend a couple of hours on the floor, and it would be done. He’d tried this puzzle before, but it seemed to be too much of a project until this point. For a week or so he was tinkering with this one in smallish bursts. Then one afternoon we were an unexpected threesome. I think my husband was tending to the last mow of the season and ushering the leaves in piles as part of the fall extravaganza.

I didn’t manage to find the connections for too many pieces, but my son did. I think we spent an hour on the remaining third of the puzzle. Warrior Queen was helping, but not actually helping. Mostly she was content to chatter and give me smooches. Periodically I’d change focus to snuggle her or something, so she just remained and watched us work. Little Man in his puzzle making element was showing us his best kindness and consideration…sharing as he does best. He was peaceful and calm. Puzzling has always been a kind of zen activity for him, and although I clearly drag the efficiency process down, the rest of us followed his suit.

I tend to take a meandering approach to potty training. I’m not in a hurry; the kids get there when they get there. But, Warrior Queen is getting there. In the beginning of the process she would do well in underpants for about six or seven hours, then she would pee all over herself to claim her done-ness with the prospect of undies for the day. It was just after the music program we attend. My feisty thing of a girl was insistent on wearing underwear out of the house for the first time even though she was quite consistent with the accidents. But, I’m not going to dissuade her. With sweaty palms and palpitating heart, I packed as much excessive clothing and undergarments as I could manage, and we went.

Some weeks prior I found an ugly dress on sale, but it had all the pieces of high fashion Warrior Queen demands…tulle…pink…sparkles…Minnie Mouse. She’s been wearing it constantly since. She was devastated when some kind of unidentifiable substance landed on it, making it an impossible choice for a girl who can’t handle a spot of water on her pants without changing becoming an IMMEDIATE preoccupation. Once she realized the bunny on the sweater was especially soft, and I reminded her she had on her purple unicorn pants; she manged to pull herself together and carry on.

On the way to snag an iced tea next to the library after the music class, Warrior Queen took full advantage of the small hill in between the two destinations…running up and down on a rather pleasant autumn morning. My growing girl did well with her first undies outing. I never managed to truly relax about it, and still can’t, but I was proud of her. She was proud of herself. Almost immediately after arriving home from our jaunt, she decided she was done, however. Fully saturated pant legs later, and it was back into the pull-up.

I do a good amount of political activism these days. It started out as calling Congress weekly…maybe more if there was something pressing. Sometime last year I began postcarding with a couple of groups. I alternate days most weeks. Lately it’s mostly postcards to voters, but often one group would be issue based to specific organizations or people, as well as my congressional critters. Sometimes things get harried and I have to pass, but I’m mostly a regular. I remember feeling so anxious about this stuff, and looking back it’s fascinating to me how much I’ve built up my tolerance for scary things in this arena.

Since my first days postcarding, I’ve added a couple types of textbanking, one with a campaign. I’m feeling more comfortable with this particular effort, so next month I will be diving into the textbanking group that had freaked me out months ago.

Something else new is phonebanking for a candidate, something that had always seemed like a no way thing to me. I don’t feel I’m particularly good at it, and hope I don’t contribute to tanking my candidate, but it’s funny what I’m willing to try these days. It wasn’t much of an arm twist either. An activist I like and respect needed the help, and I agreed. Admittedly, my personal failings aside, it’s a pretty cool thing. And, looking at a picture of the week’s effort to elect an imperfect red state Democrat, I’m reminded of how much I’ve changed, and the lines I thought I’d never cross.

This was the week we created sculptures out of recycled materials at a local library. Before kids I’d never considered what libraries offer, but they are a marvel. I internally rage when I periodically hear people dismiss them…their use…their offerings…their purpose. I mentioned this activity previously, but this was also the moment I realized that we transitioned to a different activity phase, and also the moment I realized that the more limited time I was spending with the kids is better than what preceded it. Also, an awareness of the strangeness of that realization, and I can’t say that I have the comfort level I should. I’ve never been good with transitions, this is no different, even if things are better.

A different local library…there are several libraries around; some we have yet to haunt due to our schedule and the activities provided. I’ve bookmarked some interesting ones recently, so maybe it’s time to branch out to another of these social system gems.

The week above, however, is a day that Warrior Queen found a friend. She’s a social kind of kid with a smattering other friends, but this other little girl six months younger seemed special. It was the playgroup my daughter loves so well, but without the man running it present this particular day. My girl, with all of her observations reminiscent of her brother, was disappointed…until she spotted her new friend, and they ran around the lower stretching stacks in the children’s section. The two squealing with delight as they rushed in loops I couldn’t see. Stopping and giggling with decibel levels that were entirely too loud for the setting, but I didn’t have the heart to stop them. It was a quiet, empty day at the library, and we were on the top floor dedicated to little ones at that hour. All things considered it probably wasn’t as irresponsible parenting as it otherwise could have been. I teach my children to be considerate of their surroundings, people an nature in particular. But, every once in a while I have to weigh that with the memory.

The moment above on the old rocking horse she adores was seconds before her friend came into view and joined her.

I’ve been in a rut for a little while now, which is a shame when November is my favorite month. October ended in an amazing way in its final throws. I’m a list person, so I created a new kind. I listed things to focus on for November…things that I’d been ignoring for too long (like my writing)…things that I don’t do enough of (like taking a few minutes to walk outside)…things I’ve been afraid of, but now is the time (various kinds of candidate focused volunteering and political activism). A couple weeks in, it seemed like it should be further in the month, but it wasn’t. I’ve been pleased with my November progress. I mostly set a low threshold for things. I wanted to be sure I was operating under successes to build from and exceeding my expectations much of the time.

I set a goal of walking outside once a week knowing it would be a five or ten minute deal. The purpose isn’t for exercise or anything; I wanted to ensure the month didn’t pass me by without enjoying some of the best aspects. It was a few minutes early before Little Man was due back from school, and a pleasant day. We get a good deal of rain in the fall, so pleasant weather needs to be relished when it’s around. I prefer the overcast days, which are also plentiful, but mostly I want to make sure I take in as much of the crisp cusp on winter as possible. Warrior Queen and I didn’t get very far. I think when all was said and done, the stroll was ten minutes. But, it definitely counted. Aside from a couple of pictures, I made sure to breathe deeply, and feel what there was to feel.

The next week on the way home from the morning bus pick-up of Little Man, I wanted to walk a little. Warrior Queen used to be so into these morning walks. She was on a particularly cold day with the morning presenting a rare occurrence of fog. Certainly it’s getting colder, but that morning wasn’t terrible. I’m a wimp with cold weather, so if I find the temperature tolerable, it’s probably downright balmy for everyone else. But, she wasn’t having it, and I won’t deny that I was disappointed. Landing midway on our driveway, Warrior Queen whined for a game of chase. I hadn’t refused; her default request voice is set to whine. We spent a good ten minutes running around on the lawn and driveway. Me pretending that my three-and-a-half-year-old wasn’t outrunning me. As much as Warrior Queen is in full whine mode most of the time, she has the best giggle I’ve ever heard, partnered with her mischievous smile and goading.

She stopped the activity abruptly complaining of cold hands or something. Walking in I was mulling if the chase game counted for my November list. I’d already met the week’s goal for a walk outside, but does something like that count? I can be concrete with things, but the purpose of my month list is to ensure that I’m filling the time with the memories I want to have. I want to ensure I’m not taking my days for granted. I decided that I was outside on a pretty fantastic morning. I made sure to stay present in my moment with Warrior Queen instead of pushing her into the house with as much immediacy as possible. So, all things considered, I might have met my walking quota early in the week, but the chase game was probably the best November outside memory to date.

Life as Pictures: Gratitude When Not Feeling Grateful

It isn’t that I’m not grateful for things. I try to feel grateful all the time. Lately I’ve had more spells of struggle…a kind of rut-like feeling even though it doesn’t make sense to feel that way. I don’t really have a handle of what’s causing it, though I can narrow it down to one of two things. Beyond that it probably doesn’t matter other than knowing it will pass at some point. But, I find myself pushing against a slog, and that’s tiring. I’ve been relying on my lists to get me through it, or through the fog the funk induces. Life continues even when I’m not feeling my groove; I want to make sure that my life…my time isn’t wasted if I can help it.

I supposed I’m grateful to notice the minutiae that I never noticed before. I’m not sure when that shift happened. I’m too tired at the moment to REALLY appreciate it, but knowing I have that capacity to notice the small things pleases me. Maybe because life is a bunch of small things.

I mentioned Little Man is all about puzzles. I don’t like them, but I like the moments when my kids and I are together toiling with one; an added bonus that my husband is around and partaking. Warrior Queen is too young, but she can’t help but be in the vicinity of her family. I like that too.

This is a 500 piece puzzle. Little Man is actually pretty good at this fairly challenging one. When he’s focused, he is much speedier than my husband and I are at finding the fits. He truly has an amazing brain. As much as I don’t really enjoy puzzles. As much as I’m not all that good at them. I find myself sharing in these peaceful moments that stretch for precious spans with Warrior Queen usually on my lap or nuzzled in, and Little Man recognizing the helter skelter of colors that stun me. I like that. I’ve made it a point to ensure I have a small selection of puzzles stored. They come in handy. Mr. Man will move with such excited glee when there is a new one. While the 500 pieces doesn’t consume him, he tinkers. I tinker. I like that. It’s a reliable thing, and I find it more peaceful than I would have expected…even though I’m not very good at it. Sometimes it simply feels good to sit and tune out the noise, and enjoy the company of my children when they aren’t ripping through the entire house with their indoor nonsense.

I’m grateful to have finally managed my town’s 5K this year. It was a little rainy and a little windy, but all things considered a beautiful November day…or beautiful in the way I consider it. I mostly didn’t talk to anyone, and I was moving at a faster clip than I will next year, but the walk probably changed the trajectory of the rest of the day. I usually exercise in the morning, but there was something about this long walk outside that promised the difference. I made sure to take deep breaths and look around. I made sure to be present. I’m thankful I was present, and not in the hurry, hurry as life can be. I’d been feeling intense stress for a couple of weeks. I hadn’t realize the impact of focusing on this singular event. I’d been tuning so much out looking forward to this specific experience. I’m happy when it arrived it didn’t pass me by.

I didn’t want to be one of those people with the phone during something like this, but…I was one of those people. Mostly my phone was away, but there were spots I wanted to remember. I looked behind me and stood off the road, so I like to think that’s more consideration than most people taking pictures all the time provide. But, whatever people thought during those moments, one day I will reread this post, and remember. I can feel the smile now.

I’ve had a December list ready for a while, which included the steps toward beginning a new afghan. I’m grateful I started it in November. There were moments in the month that were specifically challenging…like going to my Ob appointment and sitting in the waiting room with throngs of pregnant women. I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t expect to be crying throughout that experience. Sometimes crying is a welcome release, but not in this case. There are endless tears for the eleven pregnancies I lost over two years, and endless tears for the third child I will never have. I’m grateful this project is started. I’m grateful at the last minute I brought it with me to the appointment.

Eventually I was sitting in the exam room alone and away from everything. I lost track of how long I was waiting, but I was furiously working. By the time the doctor entered the room I had myself together. I tunnel visioned my way out of the office, cried one more time, and pressed forward. I hope one day this won’t hurt so much. I hope that one day I won’t be able to envision life another way. I hope one day I look at all of my extracurricular activities and think not having a third was for the best. I don’t know that will happen, but I hope.

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