A Tale of Two Mommies

…because more seems excessive…

Pillow Talk and Other Conclusions

Little by little my pressure release valve turns. Much of my acutely bad days are very specific, last a day or two, and then life moves on…until the next cycle where I repeat the process.

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(Shutterstock knows how it is…)

Yesterday I learned my pap smear is fine…exhale. I’m good about doctor visits, which includes whatever annual check-up. I am especially diligent about appointments having to do with my lady parts. I have a history of cervical cancer that led to two cone procedures ten years apart. I don’t remember when the last one was, certainly at least a few years before my pregnancy with Little Man. I could have sworn I had the exam last year, but there is no record in the computer system. So, either something else was bungled when the hospital that includes my physician’s office switched to a dramatically new computerized system, or I forgot. I’ve never forgotten to have the appointment, but my memory isn’t great with a lot of things.

I had my primary care doctor do the exam, which I was fairly uncomfortable about. I never realized how little I liked having men rooting around in my nether region for an examination until I had a woman do it. I always thought it was just an unpleasant procedure that made me anxious. I have a trauma history, so it isn’t a mystery as to why such an exam would bother me. But, now that I know the difference, it’s more glaring a decision to make. At the moment, however, it’s too much to sit in the waiting room of a large practice that is perpetually spilling with pregnant women. My primary care doctor has always been pretty fantastic, unlike most of the other doctors I’ve encountered though my health travels. I decided to pull up the big girl pants, and just do it.

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(Live at Everett couldn’t fit in “Neener neener…”)

I was nervous going in for many reasons, but mostly worried that having lapsed a year something was wrong. I don’t want to be overly dramatic about this. The cervical cancer I get moves at a glacial pace and easy to treat, but I still worried things weren’t okay. In reality it was more about the addition of another thing to think about, but I’d still been holding my breath about it. I abstractly knew this, but sometimes it’s hard to understand weight until it’s gone. This exam has been plaguing me for months. But, I’m okay…exhale…and another item from my list of thoughts removed.

I’d like to say I’m a spectacular parent. I suppose I’m a good one, but with so many things bombarding my mind, it’s hard to feel my best. It’s hard to stay in the moment and just appreciate. I can in finite spurts, but there always seems to be consuming competition.

My parents were up for Thanksgiving. I’ve mentioned a few times of how my son struggles with the excitement. I’m more in tune to this mechanism than I’m describing, but it seems each visit my son struggles a bit more…sooner and more intensely. This was about a three week visit with an unusually jammed schedule. The week of Thanksgiving my son had no school…changes in routine consistently hard for him. The saving grace for vacations or lack of structure is that I’m around and shepherding him through his days. If I’m present doing the lackluster mundane life stuff, he’s usually fine and quite chill…both kids are. The past few weeks, though, were meetings and appointments and simply a cacophony of stuff that required Mr. Man to spend some hours or much of a day under my parents’ exclusive care. He loves Nana and Papa, but not as much as he loves a normal day with me. He will simultaneously be exuberantly excited for the time with my parents, and seething at me for reasons he is a little young yet to explain.

But, for three weeks he’d been aggressive toward me. Little Man isn’t really an aggressive kind of kid. Certainly tired or hungry, but it’s isolated. I often get the brunt of it, but probably more do to proximity than anything else. The past few weeks, however, was intense, frequent, and mostly directed at me. Sometimes he’d stand inches in front of my legs and give this Damien glare that is creepy at a level I can’t describe.

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(Having the occasion to reminisce about my horror movie loving days I realize Little Man completely blows this kid out of the water…no contest.)

Other occasions he’ll begin hitting me without obvious antecedent, and sometimes quite hard. And, while I intellectually get where a four-and-a-half-year-old is emotionally, and I know he still loves me; this kind of thing very much hurts my feelings. I’ve been vulnerable anyway, and just don’t need my little man to be focusing his ire at me, especially in such a hostile manner.

The other night I was tucking him in. We have this routine called “dinosaur jokes,” and while it’s kinda a dinosaur thing, it isn’t remotely a joke thing. Its genesis was jokey related…more like word play I can’t quite remember the specifics of. It was an impromptu spin from a book my son never wants read, but somehow has memorized. I couldn’t get him to change his diaper or something, and he was getting mad. I began this word play thing and it became something he started requesting almost every quiet moment of the day for weeks. But, now it is exclusively a night time bed routine, and it’s somehow morphed into something else entirely.

My son makes a comment, and I as the dinosaur (indicated by me saying, “Roar,” before my statements) respond with some kind of sequence or cause/effect remark.

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(Tenor must be listening in on our dinosaur joke extravaganza each night to create an equally believable dinosaur characterization.)

The last few weeks it’s been about the dinosaur eating his fruits, vegetables, and bacon. We have ten rounds that I count down, and invariably he speaks about sharing whatever food items with friends and family. Even when it isn’t about food, he will rope in friends and family.

Occasionally, however, this exercise becomes a way for him to express what’s bothering him. The last time was a conflict with a peer that he needed to work through at the beginning of the school year. But, the other evening he was talking about the dinosaur missing people. The phrasing, however, didn’t make a lot of sense. The only thing clear was that the dinosaur missed people he loved. My parents were leaving in the next couple of days. I assumed his focus was on that, but I know better than to run with such assumptions, as I’m often wrong…or not exactly right when I apply my logic to his thinking. Little Man regularly perseverates on things that aren’t immediately obvious. So, I asked an open ended question at the conclusion of the “jokes”…certainly I can’t interrupt the ten exchanges. That would be madness!

I don’t remember my exact wording, something along the lines of: Are you missing someone? Do you want to talk about it? He did, in fact, want to talk about it. His face close to mine facing me on his pillow, and quietly tells me he doesn’t like it when I go away. While he noted the days of appointments, he was mostly referring to when I teach one morning a week. Interestingly, he hasn’t had a problem when there are hired sitters watching him, unless my absence is two days in a row with no time in between that he can spend with me. We had a conversation about how I need to have things for myself to be a happy mommy, which I don’t think he could accept in that moment. He repeated that he has been missing me and mad. We talked some more, and I haven’t mentioned it to him yet, but this weekend I’m going to try to take him out for a day with just the two of us…that hasn’t happened for a while, and he’s been asking to visit one of our local mall haunts.

After my quiet conversation with Little Man, I returned to my bedroom telling my husband what had happened. I relayed that I don’t understand why he misses me because I’m around all the time. That isn’t delusion. Even with my appointments and such, I’m rarely away from my kids…that’s what it is to stay home. Sure, my son has school three mornings a week, but that was completely absent from his lips moments prior. My husband looks up from whatever he was watching and says, “You’re his person,” and returns to his program. It might have been hormones or fatigue from the second cold in a month, but my eyes became watery. Sometimes I don’t feel like a particularly good parent that’s present and joyful. I don’t think I’m necessarily terrible, but some days it’s hard to engage. But, with all of the distracting colliding thoughts in my mind that make me feel irritable and wanting to escape from myself, I don’t know that my son knows the difference.

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Trying…

It’s Thanksgiving again…

I’m thankful there are so many establishments around me that make unbelievable chocolate chip cookies. I’m sure they have other confectionery marvels, but I guess I’m a traditionalist…not that I would decline any kind of cookie, but I have my preferences. Along that same line I’m grateful to have a friend that periodically bakes me chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. They always turn out perfectly soft, and the oatmeal makes me feel like I’m doing something positive for my body. On impulse I tried making cookies from scratch a few weeks ago. The baking soda was a relic from quite easily a decade ago…the cookies were flat, but I still managed to eat most of the batch in one day. They didn’t come close to my friend’s cookies, but morally I will not leave any cookies feeling unwanted or unloved…I’m generous in spirit that way.

I’m thankful almost all of my pregnancy losses the past couple of years have been so early that holding weight is the only real bodily disturbance. I’m thankful that my weight gain allows me to look like a drawn 1950s pinup. While I would prefer to fit into things more easily and buy a bra that fits, there are worse outcomes in life.

I’m thankful that I was so close to someone that even a year after he shuffled off this mortal coil I can still envision perfectly how he would respond to my various antics. I often craft texts and emails to him in my mind; before long there is a vivid exchange. I don’t believe in an afterlife. He’s lost to me forever, but I like to think that his memory isn’t. I had another successful class at the prison; perfect attendance once again despite some really screwy lock-ins lately that yielded one random student arriving. I can practically hear his responses to my stories…his laughter. I’m indescribably grateful for that, but I miss him. It isn’t much of a substitute, but I didn’t have these kinds of things when I lost my best friend at sixteen. I wasn’t able to stomach those thoughts, so I pushed everything down trying to escape the effects of losing someone so vital to my existence and happiness. I didn’t though…not really.

I’m thankful my husband is so funny. I’m not very good at communicating things. He sometimes reads this blog, but doesn’t tell me when or comment about the content. He knows I’m having a hard time, but probably not the details. I’m better at sharing things these days, but I never reveal the complete picture to anyone. But, my husband has always loved me for my faults, and no one makes me laugh as he does. I’m grateful that he provides me one of my life’s greatest pleasures: laughter.

I’m thankful for middle-age…really. I love the feeling of what this point in my life quest reveals. I now suddenly have this impenetrable armor I had spent my youth unsuccessfully trying to mold. For so long there were all of these notions I internalized as weakness, but as a middle-aged woman these vulnerabilities and my humanity are what make me strong…less fearful…more joyful. There is no better shield from a foe.

I’m thankful my kids are so snugly. I’m grateful for their chatter and smiles. I’m thankful that they have the capacity to remind me of the best parts of myself. I’m thankful that they will eat my cookies happily even though they are nothing more than a smear on the baking sheet. I’m thankful that while they will eat them, they won’t eat too many.

Oddly, I’m thankful to feel loss in it’s lonely grasping pain. I’m finally ready to attempt justice for the memory of such remarkable people. In my middle-age I’m secure enough to preserve the most hallowed parts of who they were, and continue the legacies I’m sure they never considered. I’m thankful I can give them such honors, and hope it offers me peace at some point.

All the Love…All the Feels…

Sometimes I love my kids so much I can hardly stand to exist in my skin. I’ve had a minor cold since last weekend. It’s nothing; a cough thing with laryngitis. I don’t lose my voice all that often, but I’m well aware of the havoc such a deficit inflicts.

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(Famille-epanouie.fr totally caught the throbbing vein about to erupt in my forehead. Though, truth be told, I’m usually yelling about the same things, so I’m not really sure why words are necessary anymore.)

Mostly the four-and-a-half-year-old Little Man and two-and-a-half-year-old Warrior Queen will be bummed I can’t read them stories, and by “bummed” I mean ridiculous tantrums that won’t abate.

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(I have two children, so one of the only certainties in life is that the second kid will meltdown immediately after the other mysteriously manages to get it together, but the reasons for both tantrums will be equally absurd.)

That isn’t the kind of thing that makes my heart ooze and explode with glow.

Earlier in the week I was fairly miserable. I’ve been anxious about the election…waiting to vote…all kinds of things. And, then there is just the run of the mill other things on my mind that have been a consistent companion when I wake to use the facilities at three in the morning.

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(Am I a terrible person that I get so annoyed in my inability to go back to sleep that I try to wake my husband just so he will be miserable too?)

I was up early. Little Man up earlier than usual, but nothing at the level of disturbing ides for the day. Little Man quietly pads to my side asking for Mommy-son storytime and snuggles. My throat was killing me, but how can I refuse something like that? I grab my tea, and my son began giving me pointers for taking care of myself. I had to be sure to drink slowly, so I don’t spill and burn myself…cute things like that. He skids his feet across the carpet to the books, and begins pulling a hefty pile of some of our simplest stash. While he doesn’t usually gravitate to that part of our collection, it also isn’t unheard of.

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(HME Photography knew that my throat was weeping upon the first glance of Little Man’s selections.)

Mr. Man arranges his leaning pile on the sofa, and crawls in under the blanket next to me sitting up. He opens the first book on his lap and begins to read it to me…then the next…and then another. Little Man can’t actually read; these books are uttered from memory down to the exact page. He didn’t look at me, but continued down the pile until his sister woke.

Warrior Queen is snuggly as well…that isn’t particularly new, but I like to think of the way she sits on my lap facing me asking for one more minute…for the following fifteen. She looks at me and says something silly, laughing to herself; then she will collapse her head onto my chest. Sometimes she will stretch her arms to grab my shirt or something. Sometimes she tucks them under herself while I fold her into my embrace. Often while laying on my chest she will look up to me with her bright brown eyes and smile…stating some cute observation before falling quiet. I wonder if she likes to listen to my heartbeat.

These moments don’t last long enough. Within heartbreaking minutes I’m back to yelling my disdain for something I’ve mentioned countless times prior. But, fortunately, there are at least equal numbers of moments when time stops, and I can use all of my senses to preserve my children at these loving stages; hoping they will never outgrow them in their independence altogether.

Life as Pictures: lessons in saving myself

Where has the time gone? I had been allowing myself rare copious praise for everything I’ve accomplished in the past few months…and then I noticed the last time I posted something. Ugh. Life just escapes…

But, I will detail my excuses because I’m quite proud…for the most part. I always find something that isn’t good enough, which is a torment as much as a driving force. I managed to finish a FORTH program a couple of months ago. It was a request from a director at our maximum security prison. I didn’t think I’d manage it quite so soon since I’d just finished three others at a gruelingly slow pace. But, it’s done. I’m pleased with the content. If the powers that be like it, then I’ll finish the application, and, tah-dah, the DOC will have a social skills program designed for younger gang involved men that I structured around respect. This population is steadfast in the issue, but their notions of respect are not always compatible with societal expectations. This, of course, does not intervene with the allure or complexity of gang affiliation, rather expands their communication skills beyond those directly connected to their culture. When choosing the content and general approach, I hailed back to my time working with gang involved adolescents in a clinical capacity…the conversations on this topic that seemed to have the greatest impact. Though I can’t speak to long-term success of my interventions, at least they didn’t scoff at what I said in the moment…that’s usually the way it goes. I developed a curriculum that standardized my approach; maybe it will do some good.

My education seminar is progressing up the DOC approval chain. I look forward to its blessing. For the most part things are more rubber-stamped the higher up the signature tree. I think it’s in the final stages now. I don’t really work with female populations…there are many more men in prison systems, so it’s easier to get administration in male facilities to respond to my inquiries simply because there are more of them. I have my programming dreams for incarcerated women that focus on children and pregnancy, so it will be good to have an in. When people have a face to requests, it’s easier to make progress. I don’t usually have such a luxury, but this one is particularly important to me on several levels. The seminar I created has value in and of itself. I can’t remember if I described it on an earlier occasion, but I will be providing information about special education, interventions, and policy as it pertains to the education of struggling children. Over the years I’ve run into consistent issues that are challenging to navigate for even the most high functioning family system and professionals. So, I’ll be outlining those various issues for the women incarcerated in our only state facility. Things like transportation, homelessness, truancy, general resources out there and process…a slew of issues that are more common than people like to admit, consequently ignored by larger educational systems. I’m pleased that I can provide some expertise to caregivers who usually don’t have access to it.

My college/prison class hybrid is going well. Two sessions in the prison have been solid. I have an entire group of writers, which has never happened. I almost laughed during my intro the first day. In the overview packet I include a nothing piece I wrote. I mentioned it, and every hand began to vigorously flip through in search of the sample. I don’t know if any of them ended up returning to the piece back in their cells, but it’s new to have men take interest in reading my work. Having such a large collection of writers for the first time; the discussion has a very different feel. Cool is probably a lackluster term, but it is.

I’m not calling Congress as much, which is disappointing to me, though my political bitching has thrived on social media. I’ve met a collection of interesting people very unlike myself and my experiences. I’m trying to surround myself with as many marginalized people as I can, and I can say that’s it’s nurtured compassion and a more appropriate view of the world…I also get better access to what’s happening in the country and world. Most interestingly is that I’ve found peers on social media who are like me. I cried the first time someone sharing my diagnosis found me. I can’t say I’ve met someone else with my mental health issues, and access to disability Twitter allowed me to feel pride in my own learning shtick. So, it’s been good. I’m certainly dancing with the ugly side of social media, but can appreciate what these forums add for those marginalized without a voice beyond screen perimeters. I’m grateful to sample their voices…that these individuals take the time to share their worlds not always well received.

Another new experience, I’ll be working in my town’s polling station for this election. I also signed on to work a morning shift for early voting. That’s exciting to me.

Our volunteering at the assisted living is also going well now that we join a woman who works at the facility. I don’t know what I’m doing, so now most days we just show up and sit there. Last week, though, was the first time I saw the power of having my kids do this. Little Man was playing some kind of weird catch with a gentleman who adores both of my kids, and the feeling is mutual. A man I hadn’t seen before was next to their activity kind of scowling blankly. I was starting to feel bad that maybe my son was bothering him. But, then I saw the corner of his mouth begin to quirk. The small squishy ball rolled to him. He gingerly retrieved it from his wheelchair, half toss, half rolled it back to my son who jumped on it as he tends to do. Little Man isn’t much of a catcher, but he makes up for whatever clumsiness with enthusiasm. When we left the man was smiling. It was subdued, but there and because of Mr. Man.

It continues to be a hard time I can’t quite shake, but at least it’s easier than it was. The first anniversary of a very good friend’s death rolled through the calendar recently. I have yet to hear news of another who was seriously injured over a year ago. Other than no obituary online, I don’t know how he is. I send a brief text update about every ten days or so. I don’t know if he reads them…or can read them. I don’t know if I’ll hear from him again. That’s hard, and I’m not sure if I should hope, so I just kind of numb it out like I’m practiced at doing. But, each time I sent my words there are these moments of holding my breath for a response I know won’t come. And, there are some other losses too that I don’t want to get into. Mostly it’s too painful at the moment to put it to explanation. But, I’m trying to be as positive as I can…more pragmatically than anything else. I have a Warrior Queen and a Little Man to tend to. I can’t afford to live in my funk any more than I already am. I’m good at numb…a lifetime of necessity nurtured my ability to push away inconvenience of emotion for the most part. But, it helps that I have healthy outlets these days. It helps that I’m more connected to others than I’ve ever been.

The deeds that I mentioned above are a double-edged sword of an outlet. Corrections stuff, which are more of an ambition or professional passion for me than anything else, are compartmentalized in a different space in my mind than the other occupations. The more random tasks I volunteer for drift into penance too often. I regularly grapple with unhelpful feelings of what I deserve and personal worth. Too much of me holds that if I give enough of myself, maybe I’ll stop losing friends…or babies. It’s the toll of a lifetime of loss and other kinds of trauma. Intellectually I get that the universe doesn’t work that way, but it’s a compulsion. I think it’s always been there in some form. But, I’m a middle-aged woman now, so I have more options of what to do. I’m letting myself feel bad these days, which is long overdue and good, so I channel those feelings into something else to scrub whatever internal stink I might possess. I genuinely enjoy the charitable work, but I’m well aware of the other role it plays. It’s effective in giving me a needed lift, but my worth does not rise with it. Not so much a self-esteem thing, but it comes from another place, guilt maybe? I have many blessings in my life. On some level I’m trying to deserve the good things, and make the painful ones stop…at least for a little while so I can regroup. This is a textbook trauma response. I get that, but it’s unhelpful nonetheless.

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My newest afghan is enormous, and a lesson in baby steps getting a job done. I might get a row in, but often less…ten minutes to work on it. But, little by little it grows, and another color wraps…then another. I look forward to the day that it warms my legs as I work the stitching. That’s still some time away, but with diligence that time will arrive before I know it. I’ve also found that something this massive and colorful is an exceptional conversation starter. I was raised in an area where people talk to anyone and everyone, even if we don’t really like them. There are many reasons why it’s hard for me to get my conversation act together sometimes, so it’s helpful to have a prop that makes me significantly less awkward. I’m a bit too blunt at times. I’m not necessarily mean, but I don’t have much of a filter; and years of working in a field consisting of events off the beaten social path at every turn, I’m extraordinarily desensitized about pretty much everything. I lost my North Star of propriety a long time ago. Now that I’m middle-aged I mostly just embrace it. I look forward to the adolescent years of humiliating my kids by simply existing.

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Little Man’s preschool is housed on the property of a newly renovated church. After drop-off, Warrior Queen darts over to the stairs beckoning me to follow her. I love her thrill at my chasing her down that very ramp. She giggles as I look like a lunatic to the teachers and children who can watch me running with waving arms outside their window. Eventually I’m able to shepherd her into the car with the promise that after school she can plan in the leaves. The people who tend to the exterior rake them in piles around the tree, and the kids wade in almost waist deep every afternoon. Fall is often wet in my area, but there have been several perfect autumn days. My son in his 90th percentile stature and expansive arms collects a mass of leaves to throw on a friend who is unhappy that his collection is so paltry. Those two have had some discord. My son is not quite a rough and tumble, though he can certainly give back. At the end of the day, though, he’s more silly than aggressive, often confused when peers become mad at him. He much prefers a little girl in his class, and both have asked for a playdate. I like her mom too, so that’s definitely a win. While Little Man doesn’t seem to have the same issues in school as last year, I’m seeing more defined spectrum characteristics. In a couple of months he will be evaluated. It will be good to have more tools added to my belt.

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There is the pretty fantastic exploration pace for kids near us. We were gifted a membership, so I took Warrior Queen while her brother was at school. This picture taken just after her visit to the water area, which nurtured some of my fierce girl’s hair spirals coming to life. My sprite is about two-and-a-half now, so I can no longer just head home and do nothing every day with a baby doing her baby thing around the house. While I don’t make spectacular plans for her, I like to think she enjoys herself and has the opportunity to socialize with other kids until her school program begins in January. She looks rapt at this magnet thing, but Warrior Queen kept returning to the area with the large bin of sand and construction trucks to push granular loads…little girl here loves her trucks, and had a fit when it was time to leave the building to collect her brother.

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Warrior Queen and I worked on an art project…really. It was the two of us, and my role was to ensure the glue didn’t end up sculpting her eyebrows or hair. She chose all of the various adornments. Stickers are her favorite, so I watched her study the pile of them as she delicately pealed them from their backings. She would look up at me and name the sticker picture or ask me for details. Generally my daughter is a chatty one, but at the moment I studied her face in concentration. After about fifteen minutes she suddenly slides off her stool, headed to the next diversion without any thought to our masterpiece. Sniff…I was forced to leave the project, unhappy that it would not find its home in our trash bin…like all of Mr. Man’s artwork that consists of two scribbles on paper and a line of tape stuck to it.

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The same establishment has a diner area. Warrior Queen fed me…this…and coffee…lots and lots of coffee. Then she remembered I don’t drink coffee, and offered me tea. This place has all of these delightful details…like the spices. The shakers are sealed from opening, but the kids can smell their contents. I love to cook, and started this activity with both Little Man and Warrior Queen. We rummage through my collection, open, and smell the various spices. Mr. Man asks what each one is and what it’s for. He will sometimes offer a story about the spice that he pulls from somewhere in his creative mind. Little Man is a marvel with his stories. Much of the time I can’t really follow his train, but I could stare at the twinkle in his eye and listen to his giggles as he makes himself laugh uncontrollably all day. After a final sniff, he holds the container down to his little sister requesting that she smell it as well. As she tries to inhale, but doesn’t quite get the task; my son tells her what she is smelling, and she looks at him adoringly. These moments are almost worth Warrior Queen going into our pantry at random points, snatching whatever spice (usually paprika), and dumping it on the floor. Naturally, these events occur when I’m in the middle of something that can catch fire.

Life as Pictures…always transitioning…

Season transitions are strange…school begins, but it’s technically still summer. But, really my days are mostly one blur to the next with vague awareness of a change in seasonal guard. Basically I’m forced to face it when my activity line-up shifts. This isn’t a complaint, but my life is home with the kids, so a weekend isn’t really an event…just another day, except my husband is around. As much as I love spending time with him and the entirety of my family, it’s disorienting. There is another adult I need to navigate when planning things, and my husband and I have different notions of what accounts for festive entertainment with kids.

Little Man began a new school year. He’ll attend three mornings in a row per week, compared to the spaced two of last year. So far the previous year’s behaviors haven’t reared. I can’t say I’m surprised by that, but we’ll see if such a trend continues. I learned from a friend that his last class had a significant number of high need kids. I have a slightly better idea than vague as to what that means, but I’d mentioned at the mid-year conference that I suspected my son was getting lost in the crowd. I was mostly ignored, so it’s validating that I wasn’t wrong.

But, in any case there are things to remember as I wade through the next bit of life…one with more time with a soul Warrior Queen. She’s old enough to need some kind of planned activities. I feel like the school year crept upon me this year, and I’m not prepared. That isn’t a complaint either, but it feels weird to have this kind of openness to…things.

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I can’t remember what prompted this walk in our neighborhood. The temperature must have been below Hades, which were relatively few and far between this summer. I can’t say there was much memorable with this walk…nothing particularly cute or funny to tell, but I remember enjoying it…enjoying watching my kids just do their small child frolicey thing. Warrior Queen kinda nailed the stroller push benchmark. It’s hard to say. While it was certainly veering into the grass more times than not, it’s a pretty shitty stroller. That kind of thing happens to me as well. Whenever I try to deal with it I’m left wondering if there is such a think as perceived Stroller Under the Influence or something.

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Totally Lady of the Flies, right? I for one am absolutely TERRIFIED!

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They were playing a secret game that only siblings understand. While Warrior Queen’s language is quite good, much of the time I have no idea what she uttered. Like her brother, she asserts something and dissolves into hearty chuckles asking me if I “get it.” I don’t, but he seems to. Most of the time my son’s role is sister translator. I don’t know if that’s a common sibling thing, but I soak in each and every moment of it.

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Another relatively tolerable summer temperature day. I don’t remember much other than the under boob sweat could have been significantly worse. We visited a favorite splash pad I’m sure I mentioned. Excellent facilities…outstanding playground. And, while my kids didn’t seem to want to be wet, I appreciated sitting in the shade and watching them play from a distance. I look for these moments when I can stand back and simply savor them as a unit.

Then there are other transitions, probably things that are only noteworthy to me. Important transitions on my end pertain to accomplishing something…usually mundane.

With my prison work I was genuinely delighted to finish writing three programs over the expanse of the summer. They took me entirely too long to complete for reasons I completely understand. Heading into the summer I feared they would remain as a loose end, but they are completed and submitted to their various parties. One is a second writing program I hope to teach in the spring. This program is the most uncertain, as writing programs from outside entities are a challenge to get into the system. I hope, though; I’m quite excited about it. Right now it is hovering at the most challenging level to get through at this particular facility. The administrator had a question, which I answered well; but I don’t know where she is with my response. Apparently she is on vacation at the moment. This official and I appreciate each other, so I hope that’s enough to quell any concerns.

The other is a program I designed as a monthly education seminar I hope to begin facilitating in our women’s prison at some point in the fall. Incarcerated women tend to be primary caregivers, as opposed to incarcerated men who are not. My seminar will be providing information about special education and various other education impacting situations like discipline, literacy, homelessness…things like that. Essentially, giving these women a rundown of the issues I bumped into the most.

The third program was helping a friend adjust an established reentry program to fit individuals serving a life sentence.

As it turns out I had the wherewithal to begin a fourth program that I never envisioned attempting at this point. It is a request from the DOC…a type of social skills group. Many of my projects directly from the Department of Corrections are not from created scratch…at least not on my end. I’m asked to contribute to or develop something specific, so they are more of a shared experience. This one will be created with no other direction than something pertaining to social skills for a facility with a mostly young, gang involved population. I am framing it around respect after exploring if something I had in mind already existed. Like the other three it’s slow moving, but I’m well into it. In many ways it’s easier to create than I thought it would be…I enjoy pleasant surprises.

But, in many ways equally exciting is the change in a hobby project that I’d easily spent a year inching on.

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I finished my second full afghan made from my yarn stash a couple weeks ago. The first one will be gifted to my daughter when she moves out of her crib and into a bed. The second I’d hoped would go to a third child; the back up plan to my son. He would have eventually received one, but I’d hoped it would be the following project. But, alas… In any case, there is not enough yarn stash anymore to support much of anything, so I was afforded the opportunity to raid the bargain skeins at a local store. This is all very exciting!

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This is the beginning of my newest crochet afghan project. It’s fun to decide on the colors and stitch work I will be consumed with for quite some time. I’m never sure of things until about five colors in, certainly this time was no exception. But, I think it will be quite nice when all is said and done. In my dream world this blanket will belong to a final child, but…sigh. I tell myself it will be mine, but I suspect its destiny will belong to another. I have this weird fantasy. After the third or forth loss, I started envisioning what I would do with the last blanket. I had to finish it, but would it be too painful to keep around? It turns out that I’m neutral about it in that respect…Mr. Man will adore it once he realizes it’s for him. But, I had these visions of donating it to a teen mom in foster care…that’s actually a thing. There are teen mothers who need foster parents to help them navigate pregnancy and eventually parenthood…assuming she is choosing to keep her baby. I’m not sure what happens with the foster arrangement if the baby is given up for adoption. At some point I’d like to make one of these blankets and anonymously donate it to a young woman like that. I would have these thoughts as I toiled with the last afghan; that it should be the holder of memories involving a baby growing through its stages. I don’t know if this one will be such a gift, but at some point I’d like to see that ambition come to fruition. Children of all sorts seem to gravitate to my stash projects. This one isn’t quite stash in the same sense, but it’s bright and colorful. As I schlep it with me to outings bearing scores of random kids, I expect the same result as with the other two.

But, then there are the daily random things having nothing to do with anything. They have phases too, which is perhaps why I include them in my transition basket of memories.

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My son builds things. He goes through phases…materials…structures. At this juncture it was cohesive towers that he craved to dance around. Warrior Queen would carefully add her touches of random bricks that fit nowhere else. Mostly she’d have to stretch in her effort, her bother watching her from a distance quietly. In those moments seeming to hold his breath in anticipation. He often seemed as proud as her once the task concluded. Sudden swinging crashes as they gleefully destroyed their work to begin a new.

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There is no real significance with these figures, though I find it interesting that Lego has a plethora of variously colored mullets in their serial killer collection bin of fragmented body parts. Does something like that really need to be memorialized?

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Warrior Queen doesn’t care much for dresses or dolls,  preferring trucks and other vehicles…maybe the occasional toy pony. BUT, she certainly loves sparkle and pink. These delights are a bit too large for her, but her eyes light up when she wears them. Beaming eyes while she utters a vaguely garbled, “sparkly.” These days I’d do just about anything to watch her dance around. It used to be focused, jerky hip movements; but now she throws her arms King Kong style. If there is the promise of her dances, then I’m prepared to offer her all the sparkles she could ever hope to desire.

The Lessons History Tells…and how to ensure it ceases

I have this random worry…part of the worry is that it shouldn’t be that random. I worry about my children’s education in a very big picture sense. We live in a relatively affluent area. I hear rave reviews of teachers from the parents of other, older children. My concern isn’t about access or resources. We mostly fulfill the appropriate bullet points of what should be considered quality education.

But, I’m an educator. More specifically my world consists of the children or adults who didn’t fall through the cracks. People…policy makers…professionals created cracks and pushed them through. With such a reference in mind I worry about my children’s notions of the world once public education begins. I worry about the forces that perpetuate the narrative of oppression, eventually yielding the status quo that those receiving its advantage are unwilling or unable to see.

I’m not bringing vague liberal ideology to this party. My notions have very real evidence. I worry our district uses McGraw-Hill or other similar publications for textbooks. Texas based companies produce most of our country’s learning material, and for quite some time on a concerted mission to “deliberalize” our history. As I write these simple notes, students throughout our nation regardless of origin or heritage receive an education that completely removes slavery as though it never existed. In its place is “triangular trade” or some random immigration label completely devoid of meaning or accuracy. For the moment our society embodies throngs of individuals in power who have a notion of this singular issue, but what happens when a generation passes? I don’t want my children to understand that reality. I don’t want my children to ever know the harm and hurt something like that will perpetuate on others who are already at a disadvantage regardless if such a belief is widely accepted. As is there are scant notes of notable White women in history, forget about the other remaining melanin or belief spectrum. And, even if White women are mentioned, the entirety of the legacy is suppressed.

I worry that my children will be witness to the false history that the North was good and the South was bad; it was all bad. Allowing any of us to be cushioned from possible guilt keeps us stuck in the same cycle of exploitation. I want my children to be taught and to understand the slavery in the North…the medical experimentation…dubious notions of consent. I want my children to hear and see the words of the Black suffragists whose role much mightier than their White counterparts if for no other reason than their steady endurance despite the hatred for existing as a perceived lesser. I worry that my children won’t learn the endless tales and strengths of those forgotten to our past saving a random Google search from something whispered from somewhere unknown.

I worry my children will endorse more wars overseas because our education system does not provide the most basic of narratives as to why others do not trust us. How much longer will we be in the Middle East? Forever. We have been there forever, and will likely always be…interfering as western powers do best. I don’t want my children to grow a dismissive hand that an entire swath of people are animals because our history bloats our exceptionalism and nurtures righteous indignation. I want my children to learn how Israel came to pass, and decide their own judgement of our Jewish state. Will it give them comfort or will it be a guilt-ridden burden that plants seeds of ill ease because of its possible illegitimacy and questionable governing? I want my children to understand the complexity of existence over time…that history in and of itself establishes reality, and we cannot move forward without understanding how we arrived to this point.

But, I know what our history books say. I know they talk of the West almost exclusively. I know that the Middle East fades away after a brief glimpse of a convoluted Ottoman Empire. I know there is little discussion of colonization boundaries and imperialism which haunt us every day in our military expansion and need for more protections.

I worry my children will grow to be voters without exposure to the truly exceptional Chinese Empire–one of the original and most tenacious superpowers. They pursue questionable tactics, but their culture and innovation dominated most of human history. It seems their momentary fall from grace will fuel their ascendance to dominance once again…with the help of our less than exceptional leadership at a pivotal time.

The ghast cruelty of this situation is that my own education reeked of such heinous misconceptions, and it unwittingly haunted me through much of my emerging adulthood. Perhaps my kids would be thoughtful enough to overcome such things as I commit to do in my own bumbling in life. Certainly how I raise Mr. Man and Warrior Queen has a profound impact on many fronts. But, I worry that I am up against a losing battle of written inaccuracy. I worry my kids will invest so much in their inherent advantages that they will be entrenched as another piece of a faceless mass joining social media completely deluded…convinced their privileged reality is the entire story, and they won’t be strong enough to consider the alternative.

Revelations and Taking Up Space

I feel strange for posting this, but I’ve spoken to enough women to know the internal rantings within silence. Mostly I’m tired of feeling bad, which means that I need to do more to alter how I see myself and pieces of my life. Recently I’ve returned to help on that front, which gives me reliable time to interface with a human and be self-serving. Things are about to return to a slog, even if not quite as bad…at least I hope it isn’t. Frankly the stress was becoming too much, so I began looking for more…different ways to take care of myself because my traditional strategies no longer cut it. But, it’s hard to divine ideas when my brain is consumed by when I can lay in bed…and not be able to sleep. It hasn’t been quite that bad for the past couple of months, but that time erratically comes and goes. I’m pleased…or proud of myself for not wasting moments of internal motivation. I worked hard to find other things…more of what will pull me up to living.

From time to time I post about physical appearance. It’s a complicated issue, as it isn’t just about what lives in my mind. Competing are the external forces dictating what should be attractive or merely acceptable. Part of the issue is that I’m no longer twenty, so while there is an entire world telling me how I should behave and look, I’ve surpassed the years when I’m really part of the discussion…It’s a weird state of being, both liberating and daunting.

So, I’m middle-aged now. I’ve birthed two babies. My body has changed. I’ve maintained a healthy lifestyle on many fronts, and even though things have been quite stressful for the last year, such healthful choices continued. That said, I’m middle-aged now, and I’ve birthed two babies. My body has changed. Parts of me are bigger, but I feel I look good. I feel I look strong and defined. I feel I look healthy and powerful. A year ago I lost my daughter’s baby weight, but since that time I’ve also lost several early pregnancies. I rapidly gained quite a bit, which has bothered me for several reasons least of which has to do with my actual physical appearance. I’ve tried to fully embrace the narrative of feeling that I look good. Feeling that I look strong and defined. Feeling that I look healthy and powerful. I’ve been a successful Weight Watcher for over a decade now, and I credit it for most of the ways in which I rejoice and value what my body can do. I’ve learned to treat myself with respect and balance with all things…much of the time anyway. But, the pregnancy losses and subsequent additional weight has done a number on my positive resolve…pregnancy hormones have their own pacing, even when it does not yield a baby…even if the pregnancy is a whisper. But, it seems that I have an option. If my doctor sees me as healthy at my current weight, then it’s okay to feel that I look good, to feel that I look strong and defined, and to feel that I look healthy and powerful. There is quite a bit I don’t know. I don’t know if I will ever have another child, probably not. I don’t know if I will ever be at the weight before I was middle-aged and birthed two babies. But, I do know that I have so many other things about me that far eclipse the tellings of a contraption at my feet. I know my body can perform miracles and help change the world for the better. My body can laugh and build connections to others. My body can love and be loved. So, I’ve decided to give myself permission to accept whatever extra weight my body has that may or may not continue to take up residence indefinitely. If this is your struggle, I give you permission to do the same.

Life as Pictures: when they are equally brave and annoying

Things are good. I was asked to teach for the same university for the fall semester. I’m pretty jazzed about that…a bit surprised too. I felt I did a good job, but this is a grant funded gig. I assumed when I wasn’t asked to return shortly after I finished, they moved onto other agendas. I don’t quite understand the mission of this department subset. Other cool things…did I mention I was nominated for a nonprofit Board? I’ve volunteered for them in various capacities for a few years, but I hadn’t considered and opportunity like this. It was flattering to be recommended by the Executive Director, Board Chair, and Vice Chair. It isn’t unusual for superiors and colleagues to sing my praises to some extent, but I’m always flattered and humbled by this kind of positive regard…and then I proceed to find ways to dismiss the accomplishment and undermine my positive mindset…I’m working on that…

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Mr. Man is an interesting character. Some things I can’t get him to do for the life of me, but going to the dentist and receiving shots is a total nonissue. Of course, if I had shades like that maybe I’d be down with it too… Actually, while I’m phobic of needles, the dentist never bothered me. As a middle-aged woman I continue to have excellent oral hygiene. The dentist and hygienist were shocked he had no issue throughout the appointment…totally chill. We spend quite a bit of time talking about bravery anticipating scary things. It’s worked surprisingly well. About a week before appointments we start having discussions about these things…doctor’s visits…dentist…whatever that might be considered unpleasant or scary. Sometimes Little Man will frantically wave his hands and tell us to stop talking. Literally. He interrupts us mid sentence saying, “Stop talking,” in a rushed breath. We do. But, we still manage a healthy dose of normalizing fear, discussing bravery and the process of confronting fear. These days my son will ask me what I’m afraid of and what I do about it…and I will confirm that I am afraid of an irrational shit-ton of things. I think, however, it’s helpful for him to hear of all the things the family members he admires fear. After all, everyone is scared of something.

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I can’t believe it, but I have potty training news! The peanut gallery can FINALLY get off my back…for now. My son isn’t quite there yet. Sometimes he will urinate in the toilet. Most of the time this month he decided to use the toilet to poop, which is quite a lovely thing. He’s pretty good at wiping himself as well. Given there are easily about three poops a day per child, I’m livin’ large. It isn’t perfect. Little Man isn’t ready to transition to full-time potty (probably because he doesn’t yet realize he will be left alone to eat a snack and read a book for a few minutes). We haven’t had accidents so much as expressions of his reliable need to control people and his environment. His refusals to poop in the toilet seem directly related to very specific events I don’t want to get into, but for the time being are unavoidable. And, the day after his first toilet dump, he didn’t scream and tantrum when I mentioned buying underwear. He chose the above selection. I can’t stand that show. Their notion of diversity are having both blond and brunette White boys…one of them is the leader, and totally obnoxious. The girl is not quite White, but simultaneously is. She has an exotic name, so that must count, right? (Oh, look, there are my tonsils!) I say this because the lack of diversity, lead girls, and general stereotyping in children’s programming GREATLY bothers me. But, I digress. Mr. Man seemed keen on his underwear, but Warrior Queen seemed significantly more so. My money is on her using the toilet shortly after her big brother stops needing diapers during the day. She’ll see him strutting around in his annoying Cat Boy underwear, and that will be the end of diapers for Warrior Queen!

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Mr. Man enjoys puzzles. I’d been giving him puzzles for a three-year-old, which are much too easy, but he enjoys repetitions like that. This one is the first four-year-old puzzle he’s tried. He could probably do it himself, but prefers it as an activity to do with an adult. For the first time in my life I enjoy puzzles…because I can manage one for a four-year-old. It took a bit for Little Man to sit for this one, but he enjoyed schlepping all the pieces around. This was the first time we managed to get through it without him building something random and incongruous with the project of piecing together the thing. I never did find that piece, and it’s unbelievably annoying.

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This is not an impressive game of the retro Pick-up Sticks. This is Warrior Queen battling me over an almost full box of pasta. It was already open and resting on the counter. She apparently can scale our island to grab anything and everything off the top by using the drawer handles as a ladder. I had my back to her for a second…of course, that’s a parenting motto: “It was just a second!” You’d think I wouldn’t be a total idiot about where I place things, yet… She wanted to carry it over to me, but I’m not THAT much of an imbecile. Her wanting to “carry” it over consists of shaking the box and dumping the contents everywhere. But, that’s not what happened in this instance. There was no shaking with a gradual overflow of objects out of a container. Warrior Queen cut right to the chase and immediately dumped everything, subsequently screaming as I tried to retrieve the completely empty box.

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Warrior Queen spent a good fifteen to twenty minutes refusing to eat anything but the broth of this soup, which is just wrong. Who doesn’t passionately love chicken noodle soup? I mean, I’ve had bad chicken noodle soup, but it’s practically an art to completely fuck it up. I remember looking down for a moment, and when I glanced back, this was the situation before me. I even checked the ground and her lap before marveling at her efficiency of sucking down the cup’s contents.

Life as Pictures: managing the outdoors…occasionally

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I’m sure I’ve mentioned too many times my dislike of the outdoors…what more fitting post than to give myself copious accolades for any minute effort of leaving the vault of my home? It’s been a type of commitment that I would take my kids outside more, which is an exceptionally low threshold as I almost never do. Generally I feel like I’m a good parent, but in this realm I hover squarely in Mom Guilt territory, especially since I reached the maximum supplement allotment for my Vitamin D deficiency. Sure, adults in my area can’t really escape it anyway, but I’ve excelled in my inability to maintain a normal quota for almost every other adult in my state. I don’t have hard data on that assertion, but I might as well assume it to be true. While my kids still don’t spend enough time outdoors, I have to give myself some credit. When it isn’t heinously hot out, I plan on a playground or something.

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We had some visitors in early spring, and when I say “visitors,” I mean in our house. If it isn’t obvious by this image, these are rather large winged carpenter ants. This nest is close to our homestead. I noticed one day when I was tooling around on my computer in our office that the silence was suddenly disturbed. I’d heard this vibrating buzz by our window, only to discover WAY too many of these bastards virtually pouring in through a previously unknown gap in our window. This picture looks like quite a few of these gents, but what is missing from the image was the literal swarming cloud of fellows as they go off in search to skeeze out anyone in the area. I discovered them chillin’ over their nest by chance. I happened to be pulling the kids in a plastic wagon through our neighborhood…because I’m an awesome parent who takes her kids outside. We return up the driveway, and I’m just zoning out…looking at my kids who are smiling and chattering. After unbuckling the kids (The don’t actually need to be buckled…because it’s a wagon and only someone as clumsy as me would manage to get hurt riding in one, but Little Man insists…which means Warrior Queen insists.), I look up when we reach the garage. It was then that my face was brushed by these little…critters, and the kids were about to run right into it…because apparently I raised them to be oblivious to their surroundings. It took a second…too long…to realize what was happening, but then I busted out moves I never knew existed…and probably should never showcase again. I pull it together, so that I sound less crazy notifying my husband that I found the nest of ants. But, by the time he took me seriously the trauma inducing insect swarm were greatly reduced. I don’t know how it happened, but the kids didn’t notice ANY part of what had transpired…because apparently I raised them to be oblivious to their surroundings.

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Mr. Man loves himself a hose and sprinkler…pretty much anything that will spray and soak anyone or anything I don’t want to get wet.

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Just look at the curiously industrious Little Man alone with his contraption explorations! I’m sure he’s developing something weird that I don’t really understand. Often he doesn’t really tell me about his creative pursuits; they just remain one more of the countless stories in his head. What isn’t obvious is that this was during a friend’s birthday party…like a legit friend of his…not someone I’m obligated to call his friend out of guilt for having no idea or interest in who the kid actually is and their role in my son’s life. It was a nifty party, but a closed room with many bustling bodies. Warrior Queen was in her party flurry element; Mr. Man asked to go outside quite soon after the room reached capacity. It was probably the noise…it usually is. He doesn’t sweat all noise; but when he does, it’s overwhelming for him. Generally it’s predictable what noise or situations will bother him. My husband and I were pretty much on a similar countdown as soon as we entered the room. That said, I mentioned they were serving cake soon, and he returned in haste…because cake surmounts all of life’s fears.

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People (read: family) keep buying Warrior Queen dolls. We have so many variations of them, and she ignores every possible iteration…except the ones she wants me to babysit. The usual exchange is that she hands me some random doll to take care of, and has a fit when I try to give it back. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve told people she loves cars and trucks. It actually makes me a bit sad because she will look so longingly at the vehicles gifted to my son that he couldn’t care less about. His only expressed interest in them is when his sister absconds with one. He doesn’t mind sharing, but it has to be on his terms.

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Another creative play notion for Mr. Man. I don’t know what he was doing, but it consumed about twenty-five minutes.

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As a kid I did this, and it’s something that stuck. I can’t explain why, but there is something about standing by the trunk of a tree and looking up that is indescribably cool.

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We don’t go to this playground all that much, and every time I leave it I wonder why. It’s a bit further than others, but it has to be the best of the lot. It’s quite a large area for one, and completely enclosed with no gaps in the barrier. There are toilet facilities…of the portable variety, but if in a jam, it’s comforting to know it’s there.  Much of the area is shaded…and shaded in good spots; I don’t know who plans a playground, but they almost never have sufficient shade. Certainly, I’m committing to more effort of basking in sunshine, but I’m also quite fair (read: pastey). If I’m out in the sun for too long, which honestly amounts to a ten minute straight clip, I break out in a heat rash. This playground is lovely as there are a wide variety of spots to sit and chill in a reasonably cool shade. Furthermore, the play structures are amazing, and the swings a good assortment and height. The slides are eclectic, everything from a slight gentle slope to tall and swoopy. Perfect for my brave, fierce girl. I’m not a fan of an imposed wildlife litter box, but I can’t deny my children love to play in the sand. There are all kinds of toy and object distractions and a wide, beautifully carpeted grassy area that Warrior Queen often explores. And, finally, no description would be complete without noting easy parking!

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I’m probably gratuitous with my discussions of the library patio we frequent. Once again I feel obligated to note the shade factor. This small area continues to be a happy diversion while we wait the music program that Warrior Queen continues to relish. But, lately I feel like I’m more tickled by the diversion than my kids. I’ve tracked its progression throughout the fall and winter seasons…cataloging it’s deathly beauty. There are plants and flowers aplenty now, but something is particularly magical about the sunken nature of this area. I didn’t quite realize it when I was there, but gazing through photographic images I feel almost as though this place is other worldly. I won’t say it’s a bug’s view…because ick, but I think of stories and the fairy kingdoms stores are peddling. Sometimes I wonder if I would have appreciated something like this before having children, probably not. Having kids changed me in pretty profound ways, and for some things, like this patio, I can’t quite place why. Maybe I’m asked so many questions that I start anticipating where and when the next one might sprout. Maybe having small children ponder everything so simply transformed me to do the the same. Maybe there is so much crazy all the time that I seek those peaceful, privately noteworthy moments to remind me to slow myself even if it’s infinitesimal. Regardless, they are lovely images, and I can’t believe I managed both without my finger captured in the corner.

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It’s summer, and hot much of the time now…I can’t stand heat, which is a challenge to my “heading outdoors more” resolve. This fantastic splash pad and adjacent playground is pretty unbelievable. The two times we attended were too hot to appreciate all this area had to offer (An area that includes clean restrooms and easy parking!), but I witnessed enough to simply be dazzled by this park’s existence. Little Man celebrated with the water, and managed to be the only kid locating rocks to throw in a muddy puddle…to the dismay of the surrounding parents. To their credit no one said anything. Pushing mid 90s weather had me joining him under the various water sproutings as well, and as hot as it was I don’t think anyone thought twice about a crazy lady in a dress dancing under various water extravaganzas. Besides, it was the only way I could get Warrior Queen to get out of her wanderings in the sun to cool down, which was a pleasant side effect to my efforts of relieving my uncontrollable boob sweat. But, if I exited the splash pad, my fierce, brave two-year-old girl would once again immediately become absorbed by the massive tunnel slide that frightened children twice her size. Some day she will take over the world..whether it will be for good or evil has yet to be determined.

 

Judgments

The newly-ish minted four-year-old Mr. Man needs an evaluation…another one. This one, however, is more annoying. My son attended a private preschool two mornings a week this past year. It’s a play-based program, and truly good in terms of quality. I don’t want to rail on about the virtues of this school and the comparisons between private and public. But, fundamentally this school hires and keeps qualified teachers, which is fairly uncommon outside of the public sector. I don’t have hard data about that, but given my experience running private nonprofit special education programs (albeit a vastly different population), it’s probably a profoundly safe bet.

Little Man’s teacher team is good; generally I have no complaints. But, after his mid-year conference, I saw the play for the remaining part of the year. My husband and I assumed we would hear polite niceties about his stubborn, rigid nature. We walked out puzzled. My son has been very sweet and compliant. He’s chatty and funny, but seems to struggle with processing information. His teacher highlighted a few examples of his behavior…his confusion about where and how to get into line well after all of his peers complied…repeatedly asking questions that he seems to already know the answers to (like the name of a common fruit)…sitting with his back to the book during story time, and confused when an adult addresses it. For those familiar with Mr. Man’s story, these behaviors are…odd. My son doesn’t have a processing issue (though I get why his teachers think so). His memory is stunning, and he usually picks-up a routine within one or two renditions…provided he agrees with said routine. At the time I had to sit on this one for a few days because it simply didn’t make sense.

Little Man had a speech delay; not uttering words until two-and-a-half years…not that you’d know it because the kid won’t shut his hole for the life of him. The speech therapists called it “motor planning,” and it would be unclear if it completely resolves or if other traces present themselves. As of his end of year conference, I suspect other traces have become uncloaked, but it’s hard to know for sure. I’m not necessarily concerned; whatever is going on leaves him fairly high functioning. But, I’m left with the distinct taste that I will need to document things because my son does not have a processing thing. My concern is that he’s found behaviors meeting his attention seeking needs, and his education will become a process of him turning into a type of learner he isn’t.

Overwhelmingly my concern with this process and the selection of the right evaluator is that the final product accurately document his behaviors…their motivations and note appropriate interventions. While I don’t think his deal is processing, I can most certainly see features of autism. I don’t know if he ultimately meets the criteria for a type of spectrum diagnosis, but there are pretty obvious pieces to his quirks that are.

I’m not remotely a specialist with autism. The spectrum kids I enrolled came to my school because their behaviors were vastly more concerning than their autistic presentations. Regardless, I’ve done well with the kids I’ve met possessing such a profile. I’ve mentioned in other posts that I’m an exceptional disciplinarian. The core strength of my approach and personality is that I’m remarkably consistent in response to behavior and my personal affect. I’m also black and white with my interventions and communication. Kids generally know what to expect from me at all times, even if they don’t much care for me or my way of navigating their educational experience. While I’m quite rigid, direct…and frankly blunt pretty much all of the time, I provide a stabilizing force for kids who generally feel unsafe in life and internally chaotic.

Little Man is the recipient of my behavioral training and instincts…with a bit more yelling…okay, significantly more yelling. Actually, to me “yelling” is more losing control and reacting emotionally. In that context I seldom yell, but I’m certainly loud and tolerate very little. I’ve been on the receiving end of plenty of stink-eyes from other mothers, but I refuse to beg my kid to behave appropriately. This is not to say that I would judge others for a different parenting style, but for my family the expectation is that my kids won’t be dicks…I’m moderately successful on that front as I’m sloping into the tail end of a day with an unnapping Warrior Queen and a sickly Mr. Man.

But, all kidding aside, my son does quite well with my approach. When I’m with both kids alone, they consistently behave the best for me. Out in public or in school without my influence, my son is sweet and probably the most polite four-year-old you could possibly meet…I don’t even think I’m kidding about that as so many others have noticed and said something. Warrior Queen is too, but this post is about her dearest big brother. The problem with school…and probably my son is that one of the most effective interventions for him when he is doing his stubborn shtick thing is to be quite direct and set a limit. His school doesn’t really do that, especially issue time-outs. Here is another complicating issue, he doesn’t tantrum or overtly misbehave. He manipulates his environment and the people around him. My son learned very quickly in his school that there is no downside to refusing a routine if he pretends he simply doesn’t understand the expectations. I’ve seen it; it’s very convincing so I don’t fault his teachers for falling for it. That said, I sent them a lengthy email explaining his behavior profile after the first conference because I was concerned their chosen interventions would exasperate the problem. Sure enough my predictions came to complete fruition. As a parent I find this annoying. As an educator with a history as an effective boss of teachers, I get it; but it’s still annoying.

There are various other pieces of more heaps of annoying to this story, but that’s more of a vent for friends because ultimately it doesn’t matter. Mr. Man certainly has something going on from at least a couple of angles. While I’m not concerned about his future, it’s something that will require documentation because I know with certainty that no one in education will take my word for it. This school is a snapshot of what I know to be true…because I’ve seen it from the other side. It takes training to really work with a family system. I have a whole mess of educational certifications, but I’m also a licensed social worker trained to work with families because I interned and worked for an agency that pushes such things as its primary belief system. Often places…entities…bureaucracies…whatever make the family friendly claim. It’s been scant occasions I’ve seen it in practice, especially in the public sector. Perhaps it’s an anecdotal comment, but I sure know a whole mess of people who would agree from all spheres of the educational process. If a kid is typical, perhaps a parent wouldn’t notice. My son is delightfully odd in probably one of the most spectacular ways, but that means I need to be aware of how his oddities bump up against conformity. I will need to teach him when to go along, and when to stand out. I will also need to reinforce honesty because I can easily see how his manipulation can turn to a darker character as he grows.

With everything going on I finally managed to get this evaluation process business underway. It won’t happen until early December, which is fine. Public schools don’t usually know what to do with spectrum profiles, so we are paying for an independent evaluation from a psychologist recommended by my son’s pediatrician. Fortunately, she will take our insurance though I’m still not sure what it will cost. Part of insurance is that there is a negotiated rate for such things, so whatever it is should be manageable…should as the operative term.

The psychologist asked for a background of Little Man, all through an email exchange which makes this entire thing significantly easier. But, upon receiving her request I was left wondering what information she wanted to know for this initial contact. I don’t know if I arrived at an answer. I just sort of wrote, and tried to be as brief as possible…which ended up not all that brief, yet I feel I left significant issues glaringly unmentioned. I suppose that’s what the first intake meeting is for.

I haven’t had occasion to speak much of evaluations through the totality of my children’s lives, but it seems that my last reflection on some kind of intervention process was one of my most well received posts. Below is the behavioral background email I sent to the psychologist who will be responsible for my son’s assessment (note I removed his name for privacy reasons)…my apologies for some of the repetition:

Thank you for getting back to me. Your timeline is fine. I’m not particularly concerned about Little Man to the point of immediacy. Next year he will be in his school program (pre-K) longer, so having some time for him to adjust works on our end. But, longer is three mornings a week (T, W, R). We are at this point because his school recommended he be evaluated. He definitely has his shtick, but I don’t agree with his school’s take on what’s happening. I’ll explain a bit more, but my read is that he is presenting with spectrum characteristics, and they think he has a processing issue. I don’t know that he would meet the criteria for a diagnosis, but certainly some of his behaviors are similar to what I’ve seen from spectrum kids. I should note, however, that my experience is with at-risk adolescents. The autistic kids I’ve worked with were referred to my school because that piece was secondary to their behavioral issues. I am by no means an expert in the realm, but there are commonalities I’ve seen. Regardless, my son is high functioning, so I want to make sure that whatever documentation we have regarding his profile is accurate. My concern with going through our town is that Mr. Man has some unique presentations, and my experience is that public schools are generally not as well versed in spectrum behaviors. 

I’m not sure what information you would like up front, and some of it is a bit involved to explain…especially for someone inherently long-winded like myself. But, I suppose the more important notes are from a couple of fronts. I’m not sure what is relevant where, which I suppose is part of the issue. On the one front my son didn’t speak until 2.5 years (with early intervention)…not that you would know that to speak to him. He’ll talk to you about whatever you never wanted to discuss until far beyond your eyes glazing over. He’s generally a curious kid. I don’t have much familiarity about four-year-olds, but he seems to be curious about things my friends’ kids don’t even consider. His latest obsession is the body. I’ve bought some of picture encyclopedias. Right now he is fixated on the skeletal system, particularly red blood cells and marrow. This fixation doesn’t seem quite as intense as “defibrillators” or “compost, recycling, trash,” but I’ve been fooled before. And, I can honestly say that I know extraordinarily little about bone marrow…I always assumed it produced white blood cells, but I digress. I can’t predict what he will decide to tell you about when you meet him, but it will likely be something quite entertaining…unless he’s continuing to ask you about it when you are using the restroom. I suspect that won’t be an issue for you. 🙂 In any case, this is part of the other front. He can’t really let things go…routine or otherwise, but he doesn’t tantrum or seem to get anxious about disruptions. He’s actually a pretty mellow, easy going kid. He will organize and sort all kinds of things and have trouble switching gears to something else until he’s finished, but if his sister wrecks his work before he finishes, he just moves on without issue. He usually doesn’t even react most of the time. That might not be terribly unusual, but I find it interesting. As rigid as he is, he’s not terribly anxious or nervous. Never had separation anxiety or anything.

His school reports that he still does parallel play instead of interacting with peers. He interacts with his sister (two years), and I’ve seen him play and interact with peers, but it’s always been with regard to more gross motor play (i.e., tag or chase) than with something involving objects. I’m not sure if this behavior would be linked to the same mechanism that prompted the delay or if it’s more of the spectrum commonalities. He’s definitely interested in peers, but he seems much more interested in independent creative play than interacting with peers…generally speaking. He becomes quite caught up in the stories in his head. Sometimes he’s vocalizes it, but often he is just playing. To this day he has yet to play with an object how it is designed. For example, he loves building things, but it’s usually with something other than blocks designed for such an activity. And, often he’s building mechanical things like an air conditioner or something having to do with pipes. Incidentally, the air conditioner he built from large Lego-like blocks did not remotely resemble one. 

My son is highly empathic…eerily so, and has been since at least 9 months. He has an extreme need to control people and his environment, and uses his ability to read people as a manipulation. In school it’s usually attention seeking in nature. I don’t think they realize it, and their assumption that he has a processing issue has fed into what I mentioned above. I warned them that the interventions they were proposing would likely exacerbate the behaviors they were concerned about. They decided to ignore me, so here we are… Little Man has an incredible memory, and usually picks-up new routines (that he agrees with) within a couple of renditions. So, for him to not understand where to stand in line or how to sit facing the teacher during story/circle time despite MANY one-on-one interventions is…odd. My husband and I will give Mr. Man multi-step instructions using big words, and he’s never had any trouble understanding what needs to be done. Personally, I think he’s getting lost in the group, and has found a way to get his needs met. That’s probably an issue in and of itself. I’m an excellent disciplinarian…for better or worse. I’m very consistent and black and white. My son responds quite well to that approach. His school doesn’t believe in things like time-out, and it seems like any kind of negative consequence is off the table. Those interventions are quite effective with him, and if he understands a caregiver won’t go with that approach, he’ll exploit that. It’s not even just a school issue. It’s happened in some of his other relationships with caregivers as well, but it presents differently. Those aren’t the only interventions I use (counting down before transitions or explaining expectations before an activity, for example, are also effective…among other things).

Finally (long-winded…), and this is something on his pediatrician’s radar, Mr. Man sleeps on a mattress on the floor of his walk in closet…like a Little Man cave of sorts. It doesn’t seem to be an anxiety thing, more of a control/fort-like thing. He still takes 2-3 hour naps daily. They are easily disrupted when life is exciting, but he might miss a nap every few months. Regardless if he misses the nap, we can’t get him to settle before 10 at night. When things are exciting in his life, it’s exceptionally hard to get him to settle…he’ll keep coming to our door. When times are more low-key, then he’ll bother us a bit, but mostly play in his room until he’s ready to go to sleep. Naps are no trouble at all. As of this week I can FINALLY get him to wear pull-ups. He has virtually no interest in toilet training. Once he started using the potty as school, he virtually stopped at home. I don’t know if this piece is linked to the speech delay. I wasn’t at the appointment, but his doctor brought up speaking to the psychologist for the above issues. In terms of waking in the morning, my son is up in the 6.30-7.30 realm…7.30 is unusual, but isn’t unheard of. 

In any case, that is a fairly extensive snapshot of the behaviors we are seeing and are reported to others…different parties have different concerns.

I probably wrote an overkill of information to the psychologist considering our first appointment will be for collecting background information, but for me it’s hard to know how to communicate or trust what I see at home. For the duration of Little Man’s life (more so than Warrior Queen), I’ve been on the receiving end of a healthy dose of nay-saying. I have almost always been correct in my observations and assessments…ultimately interventions, but find myself in a constant state of second guessing, especially when something about him is not up to developmental snuff. But, as I wrote this psychologist I felt a bit more confident…like maybe I’m not crazy. So, I provided my letter because I don’t know a single parent raising their kid(s) who can’t do the same. Maybe I can assign a fancy word or two, or structure things to have a more report feel to it; but mostly I simply know my kid. And, that’s the point…probably the only one.

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