A Tale of Two Mommies

…because more seems excessive…

Monthly Archives: December 2017

Where Traditions Collide with Life

Hanukkah rolled around again. It’s a children’s holiday…or became one because it’s around Christmas, and God forbid American Jewish families not take part in our capitalist society.

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(Sing it with me, ParentMap, “Falalalala…La La La La…)

I’m not religious, nor is my husband; but we both very much identify culturally as Jews. For other faiths it’s an odd concept. How can two people consider themselves faithfully within a religion without the belief in a higher power or practice the barest of minimum of the religious traditions…if any at all?

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(No worries, BetaNews, my kids ignore me pointing at them too.)

I can’t really answer that question articulately, but we are not all that unique. Judaism is more than just the religion piece tied into other Moses descending faiths. But, I can’t explain why or how such a thing came to pass. It’s why I provided links to pieces that explain the phenomenon better than I ever could.

I grew up in a conservative small town far away from where I am now. I learned from the onset people worldwide don’t really care too much for Jews. Maybe that’s the motivating factor for this piece of my identity; I was an outsider.

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(Not cool to poke fun at my short stature, Sanity Check!)

I went to Sunday school…and Hebrew school during the designated timeframe. I struggled through the process of my readings, but I had my Bat-Mitzvah. I made solid attempts to go beyond to be confirmed. I didn’t make it.

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(Real question, did Universal Life Church Monastery pay these kids to enjoy their version of Sunday school?)

Shortly after choosing to continue on with my Jewish studies, the groups of other Jewish children I’d been thrown with since childhood became oppressive. I learned from the onset that religion among peers is not necessarily a galvanizing force for friendships…or even tolerance.

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(NextShark agrees that concerning G-d or otherwise, sometimes it’s time to peace out, bitches!)

My family was never religious, and as I inched toward high school graduation, my family practiced increasingly less. For a time I took on more of the traditions of Judaism, but that completely fizzled within a couple years into my marriage…my husband has never really embraced the religious traditions either as he meandered into adulthood. As a married couple the only holidays we celebrated were the ones we couldn’t avoid.

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(Dining on Chinese food; the finest of all of our religious traditions!)

But, now I have children, and I want them to see themselves a Jews…however that might play out in their unfolding lives.

Like many parenting mysteries I’ve reflected on over the scant past few years, the notions of how I instill desired values on my children blazes its awareness on the regular. It’s actually a more challenging pursuit climbing past the ideological phase, and the logistical pieces are the most important. Part of this situation is identifying my own belief system, and to what extent my exact view needs to be replicated…religious affiliation or otherwise. But, even within the general context of this kind of thing, there are so many ways my kids could adapt the framework as their own.

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(To each their own, TotallyTheBomb.com. I still can’t keep Little Man from dropping complete trough after he THINKS something…like two drops of water…landed on his shirt.)

There is this kind of parenting theory…or philosophy…or whatever that I’ve noticed on various parenting sites I don’t read, but the short of it is that parents want their children to just develop beliefs and such as free spirited entities. I might be oversimplifying, and if it works for a family system, who am I to judge?

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(I’ve got my own problems, uTube. I just left the kids alone for two minuets!)

For me, personally, I find leaving the entirety of my children’s beliefs and values to chance a parenting cop-out. I sound judgy about other people, but I’m not really. This isn’t my personal parenting approach, so I don’t really have an explicit notion of what such a style entails. For me, however, I believe in a more heavy hand in influencing how my children will see the world. As they grow and encounter their own experiences, their perceptions will color what I’ve taught them, and be part of how they navigate the world. I have certain beliefs and values about what constitutes a good, kind, and productive person. I try to teach, but more importantly model what is right in the context of my life’s navigations…and, frankly, encountering a lot of assholes in my travels. I’m fully aware that they may take or leave my lessons as they see fit once they begin adulting. That is their prerogative.

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(What could go wrong, Giphy?)

Religion is a teeny-tiny piece of my bigger parenting picture, but my husband and I take much pride to be Jews. I very much want my children to feel the same strength in this identity. In today’s world, especially as Jews, easier said than done, particularly since I know so very little about Judaism as a religion, and I find such practices of it mostly in the realm of tedious. Intellectually, I find certain aspects within the Reform sect to have value; but I have a strong dislike for attending synagogue or prayer in general.

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(Not embarrassing during a service at all, right Bored Panda?)

But, now I have children, and I want them to see themselves a Jews…however that might play out in their unfolding lives.

Ultimately, my enjoyment of specific activities is irrelevant provided I don’t have a specific opposition to the beliefs behind them. Little Man is three-and-a-half-years-old now, so my philosophical notions are abruptly hovering over the pot, and I no longer am able to just whimsically stand there and daydream about some day…at some point.

So, Hanukkah rolled around again. We’ve more or less been celebrating Rosh Hashanah for years now…the first night meal anyway. I doubt my son really gets what it’s all about other than it’s kinda a big deal. He’s three-and-a-half, so it’s probably not that important quite yet. At this point he might get a loose association that it has to do with a big meal and family.

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(Different holiday, but in the biblical world, Little Man would be known as The Great Butterfingers of the Jewish people…and he’d also manage to keep everyone lost in the desert forty-years, only he’d keep his peers entertained with random commentary about water pipes and narrations of the obvious…But, there would be chocolate for all!)

When my son was born we didn’t really celebrate Hanukkah. It’s mostly a nothing holiday, and Little Man had been too young to really get it. I believe he received a gift or two that first year…we recorded the obligatory baby muddling through wrapping paper. I’m not even sure we even went through that effort for Warrior Queen…sigh…second child. Although, she definitely received the same number of gifts as her big brother, which means she made out like a bandit…something Mr. Man did not at the same age. Ah, what a couple of years of consciousness yields…

This year the holiday snuck up on me. My husband and I don’t like showering our kids in endless toys. I’m sure comparatively our family playroom is sparse, but they certainly aren’t hurting for stuff. Consequently, I don’t think we’ve actually bought a toy for either child yet; the family is consistently generous on that front. This year was no exception.

I have a general idea of what this holiday’s traditions will be, even if my execution left much to be desired this time around. The grandparents weren’t around this year, so I didn’t bother with the brisket…It’s heavy, and my husband strictly monitors his cholesterol. I can’t help but feel a bit sad about it though, I do so love red meat; and I make a pretty mean brisket if I do say so myself. The holiday this year was quite haphazard, but with it spanning eight days, the routine gained a bit more flow as time progressed. Generally, kids are supposed to get some kind of gift or trinket every night. My kids have enough shit, so we spaced out the gifts. A bit beyond the midway point they’d received most of them.

Thanks to my husband and his knowledge of the candle blessings, this piece was probably the loveliest, most memorable part of our celebration. I’ll remember my son’s ownership over the menorah candle lighting; and his insistence on retrieving his and my husband’s kippah, placing one of the mirror images of whatever free kippahs we snagged from some holiday or another on his own head. Equally delighted when my daughter would take her turn after the prayers were uttered. She beamed through each rendition of removing and replacing this beanie-like hat. After the third time the smiles turned to giggles and she danced around. Each evening this routine replicated itself, and it makes me sad that next year such a thing will likely not occur. I soothe myself with the thought that there will be some other melting ritual that will emerge before falling to a similar history.

I can’t speak for either of the children, but my favorite part of the eight days was going into my son’s room toward the end of his nap; the explicit purpose to wake him. Historically, waking Little Man from his nap, regardless of how long he’s been asleep is unsuccessful. What can I say? The kid loves his sleep…I completely relate to such a sentiment. But, for two nights in a row, I stood at the doorway to his closet where he sleeps instead of his lovely bed frame. I quietly announce that it’s time to light the Hanukkah candles, and he immediately jumped from his bed announcing it was time to light the menorah, and that we can’t be late.

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(Leadchanges, we can’t be late for our arbitrarily timed candle lighting ceremony!)

Oil takes a primary focus celebrating this holiday…I know that through the PJ Library books I’ve been reading to my children since babyhood. The mention of all the dietary traditions of Hanukkah leaves me with indigestion just thinking about it.

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(Askideas.com was considering the preparation of the oil laden Hanukkah treats too.)

But, the holiday really isn’t complete without latkes. I found a healthier baked version. This is my second year making them from the same recipe, and I have to say I’ve impressed myself. Traditions are all the better when guilt doesn’t accompany, and I can simply enjoy myself.

It’s a strange trip for me to think of and plan for these things, especially when I have no real memory of my own childhood celebrations. But, now I have children, and I want them to see themselves a Jews…however that might play out in their unfolding lives. The only thing I’m certain of is that there is little to no chance that my children will internalize a Jewish identity if it is absent from their upbringing. So, at some point soon they will go to Sunday school, hopefully understanding more of the religion through that process than I did. Eventually, they will attend Hebrew school as well. But, between now and then lies a whole lot of consideration…and learning. I’m prepared to not agree with everything my kids will be taught about Judaism. I’m fully aware that they may take or leave my lessons as they see fit once they begin adulting. That is their prerogative.

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Life as Pictures: holiday weekend edition

I went into Thanksgiving this year knowing it would be harder than most years, but I don’t want to immortalize what will inevitably be an undercurrent for a long time still. Leading up to the holiday I toyed more seriously with the idea of walking our town’s charity 5K with the kids. This is a tradition I hope to start in the coming years; each year I inch closer to taking the plunge. I don’t get my hold-up; I can walk a 5K easily, and the kids would be fine. I suppose it was a bit helter skelter this year; too much going on. I emailed the group organizing the race a couple days prior with some key questions…some more of a barrier than others. Although it seems I can just show up with my motley crew, there was a brief note of the course description that had me wonder if I could maneuver a stroller. It’s a turkey trot, so I probably could; but I read into the lack of response as a sign that this year would not be the year. And, really, I was already feeling overwhelmed as the weeks blurred by. Generally, when I feel stuck in angsty ruts, I create a new task for myself that allows me lift others in some way. This approach definitely improves my sprits to varying degrees, but at some point adding more tasks to manage is exclusively madness destined to be withheld until a better time. I experienced an irrational amount of guilt declining; life is short and unpredictable, and a bunch of what ifs flood in…What if I never have the opportunity again…madness.

Self-preservation aside, there is a simple fact heading into any day with no outing; Little Man NEEDS to exit our home in some fashion sometime during the morning, or anyone in a vague radius will want to rip their face off experiencing his destructive enthusiasm. I needed some fresh air too before cooking, so as a lowly duo, we set out for a walk around the neighborhood; and it was perfect.

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It’s a fairly large neighborhood for the area…many families in various stages of children. As a child nowhere remotely close to this area, I remember kids outside all the time; but maybe not. I often expect more bustle for some inexplicable reason. It was a quiet morning on the early side before a food-for-all; I’m not sure why I expected more kids around. Maybe because it’s one of the last remaining tolerably warmer days a few wisps above freezing. November is my favorite month; this year that sentiment virtually escaped me even as I tried to remind myself of that paltry fact. But, starting down our street a ways with some of the color still contrasting with a clear sky, I took a deep breath, filling my chest with a month’s worth of brisk fresh air at a glorious time of year.

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This is supposed to be a drainage ditch, but over the years the surrounding woods began reclaiming it…probably not a good thing in terms of flooding. I don’t have a single iota of how these structures function, but I’m fairly certain it’s not for little men to find fantastic sticks purposed for whacking dried plant debris.

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Eventually Mr. Man returned to me…jarring me out of my thoughts that were separate from his hushed leaf crunching and imaginative chattering. I couldn’t see him, but his sounds were reminiscent of fantasy stories depicting the whispers of small, winged pixies out to do mischief on those who trespass. When he emerged from the woods, he was so proud of his stick that stretched beyond his height. It was, in fact, a very good stick that merited Mr. Man’s chosen adjective for the day. From his first waking hours, dazzling things were “delightful” to him.

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The end of the stick. We were barely acquainted, yet it felt like family…entertaining my son for a whole ten minutes. It didn’t even have the opportunity to destroy something or injure someone before I would snatch it mid power struggle. Be well and at peace, dear stick.

 

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What is it about children who are perpetual furnaces? Little Man kept his hat on for twenty minutes before asking me to hold it for him. He refused it until I explained that his ears were bright red. He allowed me to jam it back on, which prompted periodic commentary about red ears and the need for hats.

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My husband is usually the one to take Little Man outside. I’m not sure what they do; usually I’m told in some form, but I often don’t pay attention. My son had a great time; end of story for me.

We kept walking. I used to distance run before injuries became more of a rule than they should otherwise be. I knew the terrain; Mr. Man eventually did not. We were embarking in an area where roosters can be heard from the road…because people in my town love their fresh eggs…or whatever. Why does any suburbanite willfully choose to house chickens? But, chickens are a top fav of Mr. Man, and the journey did not disappoint.

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A boy and his puddle, although this sucker should really be called a lake. Eventually I managed to move Little Man along, priding myself that he refrained from stomping through it like I asked.

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He didn’t romp through this one either, maybe because the surface ice was more distracting than the liquid underneath. I’ve leaned with Mr. Man that things are a progression. Rocks broke through the solid surface of this particular puddle. Copious questions about the physics of ice…and frozen pipes in the event that water remains in them through the winter…because my son is curious about pretty much everything. Smaller, more shallow future puddles tested his body weight before we continued on our journey. As we walked he continued to prattle on about pipes…water heaters…steam pistons…all things I have no clue about, but apparently he does.

Eventually the lure of puddle storming became too much for my three-and-a-half-year-old. For the last bit of our walk he was soaked, but to his credit he did not complain. That said, things were no longer “delightful.” Our traipsing was an hour-and-a-half, and, wet socks and shoes aside with a smattering of annoyed reprimands on my part, was still absolutely perfect. The memory didn’t even diminish when I realized on our driveway that I dropped his hat somewhere along the way. Well, immediately the memory was diminished, but looking through the pictures after my shower, I returned to the realm of “absolutely perfect.”

The Thanksgiving meal ran uneventfully; I figured it would. By the evening I was formulating the game plan for the following day. We live in close proximity to various farms and wildlife preserves. I saw news of a festival of sorts at one farm that we’ve attended on the rare occasion. It’s pricey by itself, and claiming the drastically reduced tickets housed at our local library is a pain. But, the “Black Friday” deal for the morning had me sold predicting a nice day to be outdoors.

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What nightmares are made of. How can ANYONE in their right mind gaze upon these animals who are clearly plotting human demise and think, “Now, that’s a fantastic pet!”?
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I don’t care how clever his proposed names are, it’s all fun and games until one of those little bastards pecks at his finger.

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I should probably be embarrassed by this, but I always assumed cows were a certain size. This bad boy…girl(?) was enormous, and I simply was not expecting it. It wasn’t just the height that had me, everything about this animal was massive. I never pictured cows on the scale of a schnauzer or anything, but I figured I could at least look one in the eye. As is, I was tushie level, so you know where I made a point to stand…I need no help in the poop exposure department, and my kids could easily give this heifer a run for her money.

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Warrior Queen was in a constant state of “go” throughout this entire journey…not unusual during outings, but she was particularly exuberant on this beautiful fall day among the animals and open landscape.

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It’s funny, Warrior Queen is like her brother on this front; she’s usually pretty indifferent to animals. I’m starting to figure that I have something to do with it. Try not to judge me.

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My parents were delighted that the eighteen-month-old Warrior Queen was saying, “Moo,” while visiting the cows…until literally EVERY animal was saying, “Moo.”

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The remaining pieces of the weekend were an unremarkable fizzle, but even unremarkable states of parenthood are a blur. It’s comforting for me knowing that as I trod through the frenzied days leading to and stretching through this particular weekend, I will have the imperfect kindness of my memory’s reflections…and a few scampering cherub photos buried with my olfactory recollection of these specific late autumn days…complimented by truly horrifying chickens.

What To Do with a Day?

Little Man’s behavior…around me, at least…has become phenomenally better over the past several weeks. He’s three-and-a-half now. Maybe that can account for it? I can’t say for sure, but it’s lovely…at least until Daddy arrives. At that point, he’s excited and all bets are off. Some Wednesdays ago I wasn’t able to think of a decent activity plan. I was simply drained. I decided we would stay home for the day, which I never do. I went into it thinking it would be such madness because my son is so much more difficult to manage when I keep him in. I fought through copious guilt, and determined Mr. Man would be vegging out in front of the television all day, so I could be left alone…to grieve…exercise…for some quiet…whatever.

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(Obviously, Interesly also enjoys vegging out in front of a television all day.)

Eighteen-month-old Warrior Queen still takes two substantially long naps, so my planning consisted of calculating my time to be left alone.

I’d prepared in the most absurd way. I asked several friends for permission to even consider this agenda.

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(Without a doubt Colourbox understands a day of television requires copious amounts of planning and color-coded, alphabetized spreadsheets…)

I begrudgedly accept that my son watches about two hours of brain rotting television nightly. It’s a compromise that I don’t want to get into, but it bothers me. It’s the only media he encounters. My phone is not for his use, nor is the computer. He doesn’t play games or tinker with fancy apps.

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(Are Big Bad Baseball and I the only ones worrying about the effects of too much Puppy Dog Pals, PJ Masks…or whatever other stupid ass shows that are peddled to my son when I’d rather watch the news?)

I’m extraordinarily cautious about media exposure. People come up with all sorts of rationalizations and excuses, but the fact of the matter is that technology and devices impact brain functioning at all ages, particularly in the arena of social skills and empathy. It’s strange because there isn’t a lot of direct acknowledgment of these two key social issues. Almost all of the documentation focuses on every other conceivable skill, yet ignores the way in which we exist as social creatures. At best there are rumblings about social media exposure and texting for adolescents, but so much of our learned behavior in the world begins at the sponge stage.

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(I guess Care.com also heard that referring to small children as sponges is associated to their perseveration on toilets.)

This is not to say that I am emphatically anti-technology. It’s a tool, and a marvelous one. But, it’s just that, a tool. It is not a replacement for engaging with others or forgoing the commitment of the often irritating and tiresome process of teaching offspring to be reasonable people in public. Admittedly, my kids are very young. Who’s to say? Maybe they will grow to be total twatwaddles under my parentage, but I can’t imagine cultivating my style exclusively around the functions and interventions of media will swoop in and save the day in the event my kids are a consistent embarrassment when they are definitely old enough to know better.

I probably think too much about this singular issue. It isn’t out of nowhere. I’ve spoken of my concern that my children will inherit my brain. Consequently, it is a concentrated focus of mine to ensure they have a background knowledge and general reserve of strategies for social navigation and situation comprehension. As is, if they have my brain both will be in an unavoidable quagmire of struggle. It’s gut wrenching to consider, so I try not to think of its impact. But, it’s important to me…as their primary caregiver…that I teach them whatever strategies I can to counteract as much as possible. I don’t believe in the fool’s errand of striving to ensure my children are happy. I have no control over such a thing, and part of life is about learning how to navigate the unhappy times; that also begins in early childhood. My role as parent isn’t the happy-maker; it’s teacher and home…and ass-wiping aficionado.

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(Sketch Club captured how ripped my arms have become wrestling Warrior Queen into the car seat she suddenly started abhorring a month ago.)

Circling back to planning for what should be a typical Wednesday…untypically at home. I managed to give myself the permission I needed as personal self-preservation…It’s been a colossally shitty six-months with devastatingly insignificant amount of time to myself. I was all prepared…talked myself through the day…what would happen and when. The three of us played together in the morning; the two surprisingly entertaining themselves to an unexpected degree. A smooth transition to Warrior Queen’s morning nap; Little Man was looking through some books, and continued without distraction when I returned downstairs. I decided to leave him undisturbed, and take care of some emails for my volunteering gig. I managed the entire list of correspondence; no concerning noises from the other room. Mr. Man was playing, not asking about the television. I carried on with my stuff, even managing to do a bit more exercise. I actually couldn’t believe he left me alone to do it. He usually insists on annoying me throughout my entire routine until I give-up and tend to whatever issue he forgets as soon as I’m available.

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(XDA Developers get that EVERYTHING is imperative to Little Man provided I’m busy doing something else.)

I kept waiting for Little Man to ask to watch the favorite boob tube, but he didn’t. He entertained himself all day, even when Warrior Queen rejoined the festivities. I couldn’t believe what an easy day it was…without cartoons or inquiry of any kind. As the day wrapped I was feeling pretty good as a parent. I’ve learned to take these wins as they come without questioning or second guessing.

A couple weeks later a similar predicament. I assumed I wouldn’t be as lucky, but figured I had television time bank. Warrior Queen went for her snooze, but my son didn’t immediately inquire about the television. He wanted stories, so I read to him snuggled on the sofa for about 45 minutes before I needed a break. He tinkered for a few then asked for cartoons. I don’t know if I fully thought out how much he would watch that day; I guess it was a play by ear kind of thing, even if I didn’t want to admit it. Such an approach wreaks havoc on my anxiety and general rigidity with routines, but I’ve simply been shit at organizing these kinds of things lately.

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(Sure, no probs…I can totally go with the flow…easy peasy lemon squeezy…)

Mr. Man ended up viewing an hour longer than I’d hoped. I’d watched the minutes tick away as I was discussing the creative writing program I designed with a colleague of sorts. It was an important conversation for me to have, and it wouldn’t have been possible that day without my son distracted. Fifteen or so minutes, sure. But, and hour-and-a-half conversation was an impossibility. As it went Warrior Queen was becoming challenging to manage for the last thirty minutes of the discussion.

For the longest time I spent my parenting time finding patterns and consistent interventions. Now that my daughter is more of a little person every day, consistent pattern pursuits is just one more fool’s errand to forgo. Some semblance of routines and procedures are definitely important, but at this point I have a whole range of interventions in my mind’s catalogue for just about every growing moment of my children’s lives. I can feel my brain’s plasticity as I do whatever works in any given moment before moving onto the next moment.

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(Pinterest concurs; I’m a BOSS!)

Part of what works in my life’s bigger picture is seizing moments that give me feelings of some kind of positive boost…usually unrelated to parenting. I consider it a momentum thing where the result encompasses everything else in my world, particularly how I interface with my children. That was this phone call.

I’ve come to understand that our Department of Corrections doesn’t value creative writing programs…not as a platform of self expression with no direct career implications anyway. There might be some literature attesting to the value of writing, but doubtful there is anything conclusively praising its prevention of recidivism. And, when resources are tight, results matter. I get it. I don’t like implementing squishy things, but anecdotally I know writing to be a tremendous benefit and outlet, even if I don’t have the concrete data of a study to support it. I was told that various individuals have been trying for twenty years to reinstate a creative writing program to no avail…until mine was approved…the one I ran at our maximum facility this summer. So, a local and prestigious university is running my program this term. I’m still not entirely clear how such a thing came to fruition, but it’s pretty groovy…humbling…unexpected. I’m a stay-at-home mom who toils in stolen minutes with things important to me. I rarely talk with peers, even more rarely do I meet with anyone pertaining to something within a professional realm. I have my passions, and I strive to make a difference; but in this field I’m often blind to my impact. I just do my thing, but surprisingly often over the past year I’m dumbstruck by feedback of some marvel of a task I accomplished.

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(Desktop Nexus Nature never envisioned its role in my time occupations when I’ve had a good day.)

The conversation I had this day was with the individual teaching my creative writing program through the university, updating me and strategizing…comparing notes from my class over the summer at the same facility. We are in the beginning stages of developing a systemic writing program that will eventually join with a larger national writing group with ambitions to extend their reach in our corrections system.

I’m grand at dismissing and minimizing my accomplishments. This program is no different. I always assume that anyone can do what I do…anyone can create what I can…anyone can achieve the results I do. Often I question the results themselves. It’s rare I get a clear window into the quality of my skill in any given capacity. Even these months later I’d been feeling insecure about how my class ran over the summer. I’ve received feedback that the class was a great success, but I’ve had a significant amount of difficulty believing…or accepting such notions. Intellectually I kinda get the way things went down; the issues out of my control and the barriers to teaching…intervening with incarcerated populations. But, I perpetually strive to do better. Unfortunately, my time is not my own so I likely will not have an opportunity to be better until the spring or summer of next year. It’s painfully long to try out the interventions I’m considering. But, this small moment that I needed in the midst of a horrible six-month period when my threenager watched too much television…my toddler toddled around while I mostly ignored her…I could tend to myself. I seized an opportunity to give myself a needed boost that I certainly deserve if for no other reason than I am a human in this world tramping along like anyone else.

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(Toddler was left to her own devices, but totally worth it, right Encounters with Cinema?)

I can’t say that things are consistently easier at the moment, but I have something important to smile about and focus on when another wave of sadness hits or I feel my control slipping. In the days following the phone call, I had a little more patience with my son…much of the time. I was little more interested in the snuggles Warrior Queen provides. I’m a believer in moderation in just about everything. I’m a believer in experiencing moments. I’m a believer in connecting to people in real time. I’m a believer in most of our learning is not through images on a screen. But, these days I’m focusing on the belief that at some point something has to give, and a rare day of wasted time can yield future moments that aren’t.

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