A Tale of Two Mommies

…because more seems excessive…

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.

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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.

Currents and Tides

This is a painful post to write. I’d been holding off and hoping that the context of the terrible would be cloaked in good news…but it will never be good news. This will not be a footnote for things turning to something I desperately wish; such is life.

Important details I’m leaving out, but I can speak of sufficient pieces for this to hold some weight for others. I blather on abstractly about the challenge of things, especially in the last year. Some I’ve disclosed, other things I don’t. They are important for me and my life, but I’ve found that this blog is a practice in narrow compartmentalization. This just one more compartment that will sting for…maybe forever…maybe it will pass. I’m too weary to think beyond this moment until the next moment arrives. Eventually the day ends and I pass into a new series of moments and things happening around me that I try to appreciate. I’m intermittently successful, even if the high is short-lived.

It’s funny; I had been so ambivalent about having children, and now from my very core I curse my cowardice. If I’d been more purposed with starting the childbearing process, I’d be able to have a third. I regret that most during most of the passing moments. I try to remind myself that an earlier start would be a different Little Man and Warrior Queen…or maybe neither at all, but it’s not much consolation. I hope some day it is.

But, it’s more cruel feeling than that. We weren’t supposed to expand the family beyond what we have, at least that’s been the official stance. I just lost another pregnancy…another pregnancy I was never supposed to have, and there is some inkling that there were several more before that. I’d kept it hidden, and mostly suppressed it for the duration for various reasons. It’s been a horrible six months of uncertainty; plagued with timelines before heavy bleeding begins…again. The slow emergence of devastation as the quantity increases. I’m middle-aged. It’s to be expected. If we were trying for another, then it would be a brief grief. I’m well practiced at such things…I lost four babies before my pregnancy with Warrior Queen. The hurt of the loss significantly lessened with the baby as it should be growing and on the way.

That won’t be the case this time. I’m certain of it, and I’m left feeling this emptiness and gnawing incomplete thoughts of my family. I hope some day it leaves, but it isn’t so simple. Some women never shake it; or if they do, it’s decades later. It’s hard to explain the phenomenon. It isn’t that I’m unhappy about what I have; something just feels missing.

Walking Little Man to class, and subsequently retrieving him at the end of his school day has been mostly heartbreaking for me…SO many pregnant women…SO many babies…SO many families of three. It’s something I won’t have, but I’m not allowed to ignore it until the information resides in the back of my mind collecting cobwebs and dust. Even the ultrasound tech was in the sunset of her pregnancy. I couldn’t stop staring at her belly as she tried to comfort me sobbing from information I already knew. At another time it would have been amusing, her thick Russian accent and facial expressions hinted at a kind of conversation foreign to her. But, she did a good job; I’m appreciative of her…the doctor didn’t bother to meet with me. I’m bitter about it for no reason because I’m simply bitter.

Right now the pain is oppressive if I think about it…I can’t stop thinking about it. At the moment my time with my kids has a lingering loss of the addition I hoped would work…this time.

The finality has been unfolding this week, but I’ve been consumed for months, five or six maybe? I’ve lost track…maybe more? I’ve become increasingly weary from this process. I’m sleeping, but I wake-up tired…from this, and everything else going on that I’m not mentioning. I’ve been stumbling over and having trouble retrieving words, and doing more than the bare necessities the past few weeks as I’ve pushed myself to take life action.

I’d been realizing what a lousy friend I’ve been the last year. I was confronted with it again yesterday. A friend just had a baby…I didn’t know she was pregnant. I had been so good at keeping up with my various connections over the years, but I’ve let so many lapse in the last one. I’m barely seeing or talking to people; keeping my world small.

The past month my calls to Congress and various other entities have lapsed significantly. I manage once a week maybe? So many important things I need to be present for, but I can’t bring myself to because getting through at this moment requires so much.

My main coping skill, exercise, has dropped significantly too. Happily not entirely, but my legs are heavy and I’m tired…so I rest instead. When I don’t have the motivation, I’ve learned to take the signal seriously.

Last week was the final class at the prison. It was a good class, tough group to reach. Midway through I learned this was a group of men who mostly struggle to complete programs. My attendance was phenomenal; perfect or one absence for the duration. There are no longer as many people in my life who get that bit of data, so it’s that much more sadness. But, it’s old sadness; I’m used to its weight so that I hardly notice anymore. I started a new group this week; it’s a good group. The first class had been dodgy for me with my other runs, but this time I think I got it right…If they show next week, I’ll know for sure. I mention this because I left feeling a high I needed, and the float persisted on the ride home. No real thoughts flooding my mind; I simply felt good. For once in my life I didn’t overthink it. It faded when I entered my house; a slow seep before I’m back to that nagging sadness. But, it can’t be so bad because I’m writing even if the content isn’t so cheery. Once again I didn’t make my calls, but maybe I’ll get something else done.

My doctor went over the various tests; everything is normal and nothing is wrong. At the end she paused; in kindness said she’s concerned. I don’t look good. I know what she means. I don’t know that I’ve seen friends for a while, especially in the last few weeks when things have been so horrible.

This doesn’t need a label, nor will this feeling be forever. I’ve encountered my fair share of bad things, some surpassing this batch of terrible. At some point things will be better…eventually. But, right now it’s not.

Life as Pictures: a day or two…or three in an ordinary life

Has it really been so long since I’ve managed this form of post? I like to mix it up, but here I was thinking it’s been endless publications of this same format…Oh, how I’ve been mistaken!

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Remarkable the way times change… When Little Man was born, I’d religiously experience a Saturday lonesome outing. It was miraculous! These days such frequency ebbs and flows…mostly ebbs at the moment. My go-to had always been to attend my Weight Watchers meeting before jetting off to the expansive mall down the street…sometimes some errands that would be easier to accomplish sans cherubs. I never used to be a mallrat, but sometimes it’s pleasant to be around a crowd of people. Staying home can be lonely and isolating, and while not perfect, sometimes it is a comfort to just meander with other meandering people. I’ve also turned into a weird kind of chatterbox. I have no qualms with talking to random people. Interestingly, no one places me as some crazy person intruding on their solitude. It’s a rare thing to be unable to bring forth a chuckle from a stranger that happens to be loitering within close proximity to me. Lately, however, I discovered an exceptionally pleasant diversion. I go to a frequent weekly meal haunt, but without my children. It’s rather luxurious. I eat lunch on my terms…without heartburn. I had been buying a three pack of the above cookies, but I must lament that they are no longer as tasty as they used to be. That discovery was a bit traumatic for me. But, I’ll sit down…read a book that’s been in progress for years. I read quite a bit during the week, but my diversions are among the collection residing in my tablet. I actually like this book a great deal, but it’s usually a disaster to pull it out in the house. So, it remains a sporadic treat for the time being.

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I’ve mentioned my fiberware. This is no longer the current progress update of my second ever afghan composed of the yarn stash I couldn’t bear to toss. I crochet about a row or so daily. I’m about three or four colors further as I post this.

The newly minted two-year-old Warrior Queen has tantrums about getting dressed most of the time. I’ve found a loophole that works about eighty percent of the time; imperfect, but I’ll take it. Getting a sharp kick to the throat on a regular basis is tiresome even under the best of circumstances. It’s a simple intervention, really. I allow her to choose her ensemble. I appreciate the way she throws items together, as I am one for clashing patterns and askew color combinations in my wardrobe…aside from my penchant for unnecessarily endless varieties of black dresses… My fierce girl loves pink, as well as cars and trucks, so stereotypes be damned! She also adores hats, and has excellent taste. It’s a challenging time of year. Her current clothing is too small for the most part, particularly the shirts that are currently reminiscent of 1980s belly shirts. The weather hasn’t been consistently nice enough to transition to the appropriate garb, but at least she’s little, so no one thinks twice that she looks ridiculous. Besides, with outfit pairings such as this, she would naturally be forgiven for an ill fitting wardrobe. My girl can rock the penguins combined with pants I affectionately term “Bubbe’s sofa.”

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I’ve mentioned my resistance to going outside. On a pleasant day I’m usually fine once I’m in the throws of the outdoors, but I consistently find excuses to remain inside…It’s probably why I need to consume almost the maximum dosage of vitamin D in supplement form. Warrior Queen and I had just dropped off Mr. Man for his morning at preschool. I’d committed to taking her immediately to a park or outside on our front lawn. It was supposed to be a beautiful sunny day, and I’m trying to commit to spending more time with the kids outdoors (spoiler alert: I still suck at it pretty profoundly). Warrior Queen decided that she didn’t want to make an appearance at one of our local playgrounds. Rather, she preferred to run with reckless abandon on the preschool’s property. I followed her as she climbed the various stairs, subsequently running down the ramps. I even chased her, soaking in her delightful giggles.

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The rare moment Warrior Queen sat. It was a fleeting instant. I think she just wanted to try it out to see if it was for her…It wasn’t.

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Fantastic hat, right?

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Warrior Queen also loves bows…all of them. I strategically place the remaining three on the other side of her head, and by “strategically” I mean I land them wherever they will stick on a moving target that squeals a somewhat garbled, “More bows!” It likely doesn’t help that I’m usually laughing as I lumber over whatever death and destruction my kids plot from their toy carnage haphazardly strewn everywhere we told them not to. And, for whatever reason all I can think from my fierce girl’s request for hair adornment is, “More cowbell!”

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We went to some kind of local festival with a llama theme; I assume in memory of Anna Dewdney. It was exceptionally well organized affair and a beautiful day. This particular game was pin the tail on the llama…I think. Mr. Man didn’t really move past the desire to wear the mask. The game efforts themselves were unremarkable, but at one point he pulled the mask up briefly to give me an air kiss before returning the mask to the above rightful place.

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After spending an exorbitant amount of time trying to convince Little Man to visit the alpacas, this was pretty much the only view to behold…

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This is mid tantrum…I opened the door. It’s sad I don’t have a video of one of her exhibitions, as they are impressive with their gusto. They have an incredible fortitude and limber quality to them. Certainly she’s loud and has a proclivity for ample tears on demand, but the flailing is a sight to behold. She literally pounds the ground with her fists and kicks her feet as one would expect any trite child caricature. Additionally, she kind of rocks her body in a spastic back and forth motion; occasionally looking up at me to ensure she has my attention. Inevitably she notices that I’m essentially laughing at her or I casually ask her if she’s done. That usually doesn’t go well, so she perseveres. Her tantrums amuse me because they just keep going…until they don’t. Often I won’t give into her demand, so she changes her demand mid stream…only she’s too upset to really communicate it…Consequently she’ll keep crying and screaming. At some point I figure it out from what I can only assume is divine intervention. It’s usually something reasonable and fine. I fulfill her request, and then it’s over like the episode never happened. She does her awesome toddler prance-trot off to play or whatever all smiles and sweetness, wiping the hair from her face…sometimes asking for a tissue. More times than not these days the act of asking for and receiving said tissue is enough to end the tantrum.

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This kind of dress is not my bag, but I saw it for cheap, and simply knew my feisty girl would love it. She watched me as I removed the tags and pushed it into the hamper for a first washing. Warrior Queen rooted it out, and demanded she wear it that very moment. How could I deny her such a request?

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Watermelon might be my girl’s favorite food among a long list of other favorites. Perhaps this one is more reliably eaten than others? This was day #2 of the pale pink ballerina dress. She woke-up requesting it. The dress was fairly soiled from a mere several hours of play the day before, but there was absolutely no amount of convincing that could be managed. I suppose the look on her face wearing it for the second day in a row is enough to assuage the dreaded Mom Guilt. Not than anyone could tell from her wardrobe selection for the day, but it’s eighty degrees outside. For the life of me I couldn’t even convince her to shrug off her sweater. I purchased it because it was three dollars, and I needed a bigger sweater for her just in case. I had no notion she would become so passionate about it. Maybe because it’s colorful and subtly shimmers? The pants sparkle too…and her shoes are multicolored hearts…The girl likes to make a statement!

The memories feel like they fly by, and I don’t have enough documentation of their every wonder. The knowledge of forgotten morsels break my heart; I want to remember all of those perfect times. More-seasoned-than-I parents offer an almost universal nugget of unsolicited advice, that I should enjoy every moment. I think that’s complete bullshit. Every moment is not worth enjoying…but so many are. I deeply wish to forget some of my parenting encounters, but others I want to stretch so I can savor them for an eternity. And, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Forms of Love

I feel like this will be a rushed post…partly because I’m overdue. I’d been hoping for ten day increments, but it seems like two weeks is more realistic these days, and even that’s a stretch sometimes. I’ve had to scale back the effort with my posts or else I’d never publish anything. I’d always focused on my content as a priority, and the pictures and hyperlinks were more a gold standard of excessive effort I’ve chased. It seems I’m mostly returning to strictly content, which makes me a bit sad…maybe a bit like I’m failing in some respect. But, that’s my shtick. I’m sure I’m overreacting as a singular force to create weakness where they don’t exist. At least I’m funny…to myself. BUT, I can say after three years of at least a minimum low grade struggle that things are looking up in important ways, like there is some movement out of a rutted cycle. I’m afraid to think it, but can’t stop myself from a deep core hope.

Warrior Queen is two now, and Mr. Man is four. Little Man’s development isn’t quite so awe inducing these days. He’s a gregarious soul, and these days he “feeds me” rain clouds, sunshine, and tornadoes. It all originated from a nothing mall outing…just like so many of the others. A vacant rectangular folding table draped in black cloth and a single chair, my son and I pretending that he is a vendor while Warrior Queen gallops around as she does best. My huge, shoddy pantomimes with strangers eyeing me strangely…unless they have small children of their own. In the latter case, they laugh. Mr. Man sells me televisions and cookies and chocolate…enormous televisions that I almost break a hip pretending to carry. My son is delighted; my daughter spinning around only pausing briefly to smile at me with her open mouth, full teeth baring lips. I’m not sure how it transformed, but suddenly there was a joke about weather. The next moment I’m swallowing storms with thunder rumbling in my belly that he pretended to hear, and lightening out of my mouth in excitable sparks. The sunshine dries it up, so that I don’t burst from all the rain consuming my insides. The tornado manifested so that I could sweep him up into my arms, squeezing him tightly and spinning him around. As of this morning the rain was no longer appealing. He wanted endless funneled winds of me hoisting him from the back of the sofa, and Warrior Queen stopped her dancing to ask for tornadoes of her own.

The past year has been shifting collections of savoring what I can, and imposed self-care at every opportunity. Some of it leaving a combined bitter taste and elation. Through all of this there have been “the grandpas.” Another mall memory. It’s a collection of elderly veterans who mall walk at approximately the same time every morning. They are quite passionate about my children, and one gentleman is quite passionate about my rack. He’s polite enough, but I assume holds a strong preference for well endowed women…which I am. He rarely misses an opportunity to hover his eyes on my chest. The leader of the group prompts me to warm smiles. I doubt he’s ever heard anything any of us has said, but I remember a cool morning sometime after the presidential election and subsequent inauguration aftermath. Since that time, it’s been uncomfortable. MPOTUS is a horrible, hateful man; and he holds the nation’s highest office. As a minority, albeit hidden beneath a White surface, I worry…always. I haven’t had to worry like this since I was a youth. It’s reasonable to say I didn’t miss this feeling. It’s an oppressive weight that I’m not really safe; that it’s obvious I don’t belong. It was a harsh reminder of where I grew up and never returned. Perhaps not as terrible as the reality of so many others, but it was terrible for me. But, one morning I hear this man yelling to his friends in heated discussion I only half caught, “I DON’T CARE; YOU DON’T VOTE FOR A WHITE NATIONALIST!” His voice boomed in the mostly empty food court. Since that day I’ve sought to visit him and his friends…a silent appreciation for his existence. He’ll probably never know the impact of his words; I doubt he remembers. To him it was a nothing conversation with his friends, unremarkable in the course of outings with peers. But, I remember, and I likely always will. And, now Little Man specifically requests to see “the grandpas.”

Seeing the interactions between all of these beings generated another idea. When things are hard, I lean into something that allows me to step away from myself. I also look for ways to consume my kids in some kind of activity, preferably for free. Sometime this month my kids and I will be volunteering at an assisted living. Mr. Man likes to talk to anyone anytime about anything. I’m not sure what Warrior Queen will do…probably stare down everyone around her from her small state and say, “thank you,” although she’s been more chatty to strangers as of late. Originally I just planned to bring the kids to visit seniors, but I think it’s morphed into me reading something from our collection of books each week. That’s an added bonus. I love reading children’s books to an audience. It never occurred to me that it would be an elderly population. I had resigned myself to the thought that I would wait to volunteer as a reader in a school classroom when the kids were older. I enjoy when hopes materialize before I planned.

I’m stunned by the passage of time as a whole. I wouldn’t say things have passed in a blink, rather in such a short span the kids can do so much, particularly Warrior Queen. A few months ago she snuggled me in certain way before bedtime. For a bit she no longer wanted snuggles, opting to spin herself dizzy and fall to the ground. Her language continues to develop. She returned to her nightly snuggle with me in a rocking chair, but now she wants me to cradle her so she can look me in the eye. She’s always appreciated my singing more or less…it comes in waves. These days she requests songs that she can sing along to…sort of. She’s on key, but doesn’t really know the words. The words she knows often mispronounced. But, that smile of hers, and the look of adoration on her face. I hope I always remember it.

The routine before nap time is a bit different. Little Man insists on singing his sister two lullabies that inevitably turn to three or four. On cue he walks himself back to his own room, waiting relatively patiently for his own tuck-in. Warrior Queen turns in my lap quietly so that her cheek will press directly to the skin on my chest. She stretches her arms around my shoulders, clutching whatever shirt I’m wearing while we rock. Eventually she’ll utter, “I sleepy,” and it’s in the crib she goes. Oddly it often coincides with when I begin to hear Little Man shouts, “Mommy, tuck me in!” He’s half asleep when I reach his closet door, the small inner room that houses his mattress. He enjoyed his toddler bed for a week, and since that brief excitement over the transformation of his crib, has opted for his very own man cave. He always asks for an extra, “hug, kiss, snuggle, squeeze, and smooch.” I almost always acquiesce. He knows it’s my downfall.

Warrior Queen knows my passion for snuggles as well. These days if I’m still, she insists on laying with me or sitting on me. Often resting her head somewhere on my person…cheek to cheek…my thigh. Sometimes she sits on me as I’m laying on the sofa, otherwise ignoring me entirely. Periodically she’ll look back to me saying, “snuggle,” which I oblige. Her snuggle routine is for hugs and tickling kisses on her cheek and neck. She has a delightful laugh, and the only consistent way I bring it forth is from the speckling of light kisses to her sensitive skin.

Both of my children are older. I hope they will always be this loving. I hope the elderly we visit will feel their warmth as I do. The world has a shortness of uninhibited love sometimes, and I wonder why. It’s the first profound thing I noticed about my children…love. As humans we seem to be distinctly born with the intense capacity for it, yet it fades. So strange that something that saturates babies washes away in seemingly easy fragility. Maybe because it hurts so intensely even when it’s good. I think the pinnacle of my hope for my children and their lives is that I raise them to persevere through the hurt because nothing else feels quite like home.

Milestones

My children will have their first sitter this week…twice actually. My parents have watched them without either me or my husband present, but never a stranger. It isn’t about some kind of grand plan or trust concerns. I’ve simply never gathered my shit to have people available for things like a rogue date night or something. I’ve felt the constraint from time to time. My husband and I agreed that I wouldn’t pay childcare to volunteer. It would be one thing if I needed the break for self-preservation, but I’ve largely been fine. It simply didn’t make sense to pay money so I could work for free…It’s irrationally and depressingly expensive.

Since a bit before my pregnancy began with Little Man four years and some change ago, I haven’t received many paychecks. It doesn’t bother me as much now as it used to, but I remember the first consulting-like contract I achieved…a few months of a check, and it felt indescribably good. It was meager, but adequately supported my tea and chocolate habit…the unnecessary cheap sweater.

I couldn’t admit it for years, but the reality is that the entirety of any income I’d earn would be consumed by childcare costs…if I’m lucky. My earnings would likely not be sufficient even if I managed a leadership position. The only exception is if I squared a first level manager job in a state agency, but that’s the equivalent of happening upon a baby purple unicorn shitting cookies in my family room while discovering that no version of Law & Order is running on any television channel. I’m lucky my life is comfortable. My husband makes a good living, even if the situation isn’t perfect. We are smart with our expenses, always planning for this, that, or the other thing. But, I can’t deny my socioeconomic privilege.

I worried for at least a couple of years about resume gaps and what my future held for me as a person. My employment passion is a tricky beast, and I met with endless dead ends as I explored ways to be engaged in any kind of worky-like thing. It was heartbreaking for a long time knowing that I couldn’t attend meetings or venture to whatever location to volunteer. Most events are not on weekends or evenings.

Warrior Queen is just about two, and Little Man is just about four; I’m on the cusp of earning my second paycheck since a bit before my pregnancy with Little Man. It isn’t much, but just enough to cover the four or five hours of childcare I’ll require weekly. It’s an unexpected thing that is the product of me sending out nets of interest as I make contacts…keeping my ears open for information.

The past three years I’ve gradually found my way back to corrections in a context I didn’t know to envision. I live in a big government state, so there seems to be endless programs with the support of countless nonprofit and university work. I’d known this, but I didn’t know it. There’s been so much to learn, and so much to do. Up until now all of my efforts have been voluntary, but it’s been cool to see what I’ve managed…a lowly stay-at-home mom with a couple of young kids…the successes and inroads I’ve attained from behind a computer screen and the scattered phone calls.

Last summer I finally mustered my shit and returned to teaching a class; I’d missed teaching…missed doing a lot of things, really. I’m not unhappy, but so much of my life is resigning myself to change that I might not necessarily want. It isn’t a complaint, but it’s a challenge to love who I used to be, and have to let go of that identity completely without knowing if anything comparable will take its place. I’ve learned to trust the process more these days. I’m genuinely a better person than the one I released to my history. But, I couldn’t have known that at the time.

It began as a lucky stumble to a local nonprofit providing rehabilitative programming for some of our correctional facilities. When I joined, so did new agency leadership. I appreciate uncountable things about this director, but mostly I value feeling important. My work with this agency ebbs and flows as there is purpose for me, but periodically I’m asked for an opinion about various odds-and-ends. That holds meaning. It isn’t often I’m asked about anything outside of parenting anymore. It’s a small thing, but I’ll buzz for a few days after.

The ebbs with the agency made me anxious. My interests and their needs are not always compatible, but there is a consistent place for me at this point, which I appreciate. Over the past few years I’ve managed contacts of my own through the tasks I’ve taken with the agency. Now I’ll periodically help corrections administrators directly with their programming needs that would otherwise be pushed off indefinitely for lack of time and resources. When there is no explicit assignment in the works, I interface with enough people that my own projects make their way into the system. It’s hard to explain in such vague terms, especially for people unfamiliar with these systems; but all of this is quite a feat.

This semester I started teaching my first college level class. It’s mostly online, and certainly not a traditional class for this level and university prestige. I offered my availability so that I could teach in a prison beyond the summer. The parameters of this particular class is bringing some university students into the prison with me. The college kids (When did they become kids?) have been completing reading and writing assignments in the context of criminal justice issues while the incarcerated population will be experiencing the creative writing class I designed and taught last summer. The college group will be participating too, but their vantage point is to understand the humanity of incarcerated populations. The prison group will learn tools for self-expression.

This week we’ll finally manage the facility orientation, and my children’s first sitter. If all goes according to plan, the first creative writing class will begin at the end of the week. At some point I will receive a paycheck. All of this surreal. It’s a mix of fear and inadequacy…confidence it will work, and a vague question if I will have this opportunity again. I try not to think about it; to get ahead of myself. I suppose parenting has prepared me well for this venture.

Rules for a Happy Marriage

I usually don’t think to mention my husband much as part of this blog. I suppose the reasons are a bit sprawling. Part is that I don’t have permission to tell his story…or stories. This process is about me and my journey through parenthood and finding a balance. This is also a piece of why I provide my children some semblance of privacy…nothing identifying. I want to be authentic, but also preserve their future desires of what is shared publicly as best I can…while meeting my needs through this forum. Hopefully when they are older, I will learn that I was successful…that they aren’t horrified by this particular memory preservation.

I have various complexities to my existence, but probably nothing all that foreign to tremendous swaths of people. But, in the same vein I strive to protect information that might hurt people I love should they choose to read these posts. It’s part of why this blog wasn’t started until Little Man was almost a year old. I wondered how I could note my life while leaving expansive aspects out of my public identity. Interestingly it’s significantly easier than I thought.

I have a good, happy marriage; not a perfect one. That’s the point, and the inspiration for this post as I happened upon various how-tos of marriage in my social media feeds of late. It’s an interesting thing because all these unknowns are experts, yet there is no way they can really offer proof of their happy union…or that their mold would work for me…or anyone else for that matter. I don’t think that it’s only unhappily married people who yearn for advice; I suspect happy people do as well. I wonder if they find themselves questioning if their relationship is the correct kind of happy, but maybe I’m more neurotic in this arena than most. I also wonder what happy really is anyway. What are the expectations going in? How would one manage to operationalize, or define “happy” in a context that held meaning equally for every reader? Maybe I’m overthinking it. Maybe it’s all just fluff to distract individuals from the piles of laundry and littering of dirty dishes.

I think my imperfectly happy marriage has its fundamental base in our imperfections. I’d always known my husband loved me because of my quirks, not despite. And, that was a pretty important thing, as my quirks are complicated. I’m pretty lousy in relationships, at least historically. It’s been fairly recent that I realized to what exact extent. I married in my mid twenties, so it isn’t as though I was all that seasoned in relationships. But, as a middle-aged woman with ample time at reflection at this point, it’s rung true in my world, at least, that we accept relationships as we are willing and able.

I’ve always had this presentation to the world that my husband has never seen, and I don’t think understands. I get my appeal to men; I’ve always had a type. My husband is not that kind of man, and he’s never seen me for what everyone else has. He only knows me for my weaker points, accepts and loves me unconditionally for them; almost seeing them as my strengths. I could never imagine finding anyone else to share my life with. Even in my mid twenties when I didn’t really understand it, I must have known…and clawed myself on, desperate to keep him. I think all we really understood about each other at the time is that it was always so easy to just be together…doing nothing. There are times even now…almost fifteen years later when the television is simply off, and we chat about nothing important.

It isn’t always easy, but the us has been. When things became trying, as they periodically do, it’s been a conscious choice for me to grow towards him. Often I reflect that it feels easier sometimes to drift away…into my own mind…the busy day-to-day hustle…the endless demands of nothing cataclysmic or grand, just the infinite minutiae of decisions that comprise life. So, it’s been daily, ongoing, active choices to grow toward him. I reflect often my history of turning away, and I wonder what it is that had always struck me from the beginning that my relationship with my now husband would be so different. I can point to small known instances early on, but they seemed so random…not something to necessarily build a life on. But, I feel that he’s always simply understood me, and now with such a shared life we have, we’ve reached that delightful point in a union of telling a joke the other was thinking in that very instant. Those moments have to be my favorite times among a long list of other favorites.

Often what I read is the mandatory “date night” all couples with children should have. Little Man is about four now…It would be generous to claim my husband and I have managed five of those throughout the entire span of his existence. From time to time when we have familial visitors, we are on the receiving end of pressure to take such an outing. It’s a complicated reason as to why an evening out together hasn’t occurred. I generally don’t worry the lack until it’s brought to my attention, and then it’s simply awkward; probably because the complications of discussing why we can’t get our acts together to arrange it. We’ve always been a united front…mostly. We’ve never coordinated between the two of us what to say, yet there always seems to be a similar response between the two of us. Regardless I’m often surprised when the issue is strewn before me, though I shouldn’t be…It’s a pretty consistent issue broached. Usually I’m left questioning if we are as happily married as I’d always assumed…surely if we are not properly positioning a date night, then is there something defunct in my interpretation of my life…my husband…my marriage?

The answer is an easy one. No. There is nothing wrong with our us. I’ve come to understand that a date night is nothing more than finding time to remember that we are a pair in this meandering whirled life. My husband and I go almost an entire evening barely speaking from when he enters our homestead in the evening until the day resolves. But, simultaneously we have stolen minutes of connections…of laughter…always laughter even when things are hard, or we try to. It’s an interesting thing because when things are hardest, we become closer. Over time, especially in the last year or so, we linger at dinner a little longer. The kids are finished eating…scampering off to destroy something neither of us want to think about. Perhaps my almost two-year-old fierce girl arrives for moments, but mostly my husband and I just sit. Sometimes the conversation is serious, sometimes it’s silly, sometimes we are simply quiet before it’s time to usher to another phase in the evening.

We have other stolen moments as well. They are in the form of brief exchanges on the endless go. It’s the barely uttered joke or comment. It’s the acknowledgment of appreciation or tushie grab, or some random annoying prank we play that would make life lacking without. More times than not these days we have a brief time in the evenings together watching television in bed as the final event to our chaos. The kids go to sleep entirely too late regardless of what the day told; my husband and I unable to form any meaningful dialogue as we lie buried under the covers. But, before we finally are able to drift to sleep there is intense laughter. I find myself crying at times, subsequently finding it hard to settle no matter how sleepy I had been moments prior. My husband will be annoyed that I’m shaking the bed, but he really isn’t. Sometimes when things are most trying it’s helpful to know that his other half can experience joy, and he is the cause of it.

Life as Pictures: colorful heart in winter

Something about this time of year is inherently dreary. But, winter has a beauty in its perpetually damp and icy death. It’s been a blurred confusion for a bit; suddenly I’ve caught a partial breath, and we are at the doorstep of spring…or at least the end of the driveway. I find March the worst of the months, as it always feels like it should be progressing quicker than it ever does. It’s a weird chilled season this year; the past two or three winter drudges had us slammed with snow well into an established false sense of security approaching February. Even with the trilogy of storms the past couple of weeks, things melt quickly this time of year as the world presses on.

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I feel an initial obligation to remove the color from some of these scenes. Isn’t that a prerequisite for attempts to pass something off as artistic? But, it’s winter; this picture from the heart of February. It’s so easy to forget that the sun shines when the air crumbles around from the heaviness. I know this these images so well. We attend the same library music class, and this is the library’s very own enclosed sunken patio. In the spring it’s sprouting with a complex collection of life and hiding book character cut-outs. I’ve always been one for textures, so while my children do their thing I survey the debris and think about nothing worth remembering.

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The almost four-year-old Little Man is a sorter, committed to arranging things…anything. He will spend endless time organizing meticulously rambling about some kind of story that makes little sense to me. Periodically he’ll communicate whatever jargon he’s created, only requiring me to nod and smile. He has this verbal crutch that I hope never vanishes, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time. Unexpectedly within his conversational story chatter, he will flow into a deliberately pronounced and unaffectively uttered, “He he,” or similar notation of amusement before he flows into the remaining portions of his story.

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The almost two-year-old Warrior Queen idolizes her brother in between the times when she dramatically attempts to get him into trouble. She’s a slick one. It’s hard to say what she’s envisioning during these kinds of above musings. Sometimes it’s an attempt to be an asshole by wrecking something her brother built and loves. Sometimes she wants to take part in something her brother created…adding her piece to be closer to him. In this case she’s moments from adding a stone of her own. It’s something of an interesting note about my son. For all of his care and deliberations to have things just so, he’s never particularly disturbed when something he’s spent a good deal of time on is altered or destroyed entirely. He’s not a particularly anxious kid. It’s almost as though the monument is not as important as the process. Sometimes he rebuilds, sometimes not. Sometimes he sits aside and watches the enjoyment on his little sister’s face as she stomps around in a chaotic blur of destruction. When her task is complete, he’ll rise and begin some other activity. At times it’s reading or “building pipes.” On other occasions it’s destroying our sofa by flinging pillows throughout the room despite my consistent ardent pleas for him to desist.

 

I suppose winter is one more span of time, but my life consists of minutia after minutia that I could easily forget before moving onto the next bit of nothing. Little Man notices everything; remembers everything. If I assert that an event will happen at a designated time and say nothing more, Mr. Man will note the task the very second it comes to pass. I suspect Warrior Queen is similar. She often stares, taking everything in. Her speech is developing as it should, unlike her brother’s at a similar age. Some day her thoughts will become clearer. But, until that day her brother will fill any silence with blustering cacophony of sound.

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My son loves color, I guess. We’ve been frequenting the same eating establishment of late because the cost of food in comparable to anywhere else I’d take them, and the eating area was designed to entertain children. I’ve even managed a solid five minutes of conversation with friends before someone darts off to look at cakes or something. Perhaps it lowers the credibility of my disposition, but looking at food is a bit like porn to me. And, don’t get me started on cakes! When my son was old enough and capable of stringing complex sentences together, he began to rattle off a favored statement of mine in grocery stores, “Let’s go visit the cakes!” Fortunately, my son likes studying all kinds of things, the above flowers have become a preoccupation for him. Every week, sometimes more, he has to stop and examine them, asking me for my favorite assortment. Sadly the last visit had some of the arrangements looking a bit sorry. But, it’s still the rare bright color in winter…even if somewhat artificial in its design.

 

I mentioned Little Man’s structures and garages. Warrior Queen enjoys the same towers. Sometimes I can tell she misses her brother when he is at school for those two mornings a week, as she will inquire for me to build similar structures that my son presses on infinite building loops. Otherwise her default is to stack balanced blocks, holding her breath with wide eyes and smiling open mouth as she places bricks almost beyond her reach. I hope to hold the delight stretched across her face when the tower doesn’t topple, to keep that memory during moments I’m trying to escape.

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Sometimes they work together. Mr. Man expands out while Warrior Queen builds up. Often they hand each other parts, and my fierce sprite of a girl is quick to utter a garbled, “Thank you,” even when she offered the gift.

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Aside from the portion housing books, my husband and I have virtually abandoned replacing toys on the shelves; opting for the stylish cardboard boxes we’ve managed to bring home from a grocery store. I suspect we are perpetuating this catastrophe because the kids can’t find anything, but by the end of the day I’m too tired to care. In the random box it goes! And, sure enough come morning, Little Man dumps out each and every box for no other purpose than for shits and giggles. Warrior Queen, however, enters the room on an explicit recovery mission for an envisioned car or truck originally gifted to her brother that he only cares about when he sees she wants it. My feisty girl has her process. She retrieves and jams on a blue fishing cap so that it obstructs most of her vision. Then she hunts for and drapes each and every haphazardly beaded necklace her brother made in school before he can notice the theft. Finally, she adorns her small, expressive hands with my bright, fuzzy socks. The remaining morning routine she spends clutching a chosen stuffed animal or car. I watch with great care so I can note her preferred toy for the day. It will be the best chance I have changing her diaper without a foot to my throat.

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Returning to a relatively warm winter day on a desolate, mostly colorless patio, Warrior Queen only has eyes for her brother…attempting to see the world how he sees it. Most of the time his goal is to preserve the world for her as he believes it should be.

Naturally Nurtured to…Greatness?

I often consider the pulls of nature and nurture…mostly because I receive a certain thrill from contrary responses to the most mundane of topics. It’s a funny thing because I loathe debating, but there exists an even more passionate dislike of arguing. The mere whisper of confrontation leaves the same sour taste as the residual vapors that refuse to depart hours after opening our diaper bin.

Stomperdad was kind enough to publish a piece of mine on his site. I hope you will visit him to read beyond the above tease. You can find it here.

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