A Tale of Two Mommies

…because more seems excessive…

Category Archives: parenting reflections

Loss

This is an odd post…a situation I’d had a low lingering inkling that I didn’t want to accept. I have…had a close friend. He was an amazing and very tortured soul; most of his life. Out of respect for his privacy, I’ll leave the details for the winds to whisper as part of his memory. But, he touched so many lives…people forgotten…left behind. His strength and power always inspired me to be my best self. He embraced his frailties; I’d always admired that about him. Tragically, however, he spent most of his life lonely. I’m not sure how he passed; I’ll never know, but I have notions within the realm of possibility, and it breaks my heart.

I’ve lost like this before; someone terribly close. I was an adolescent at the time, and my greatest regret was never expressing my love for him, and the depth to which his friendship shaped me. As much as a piece of me had been expecting to find my friend’s obituary online after two weeks of a quiet phone, I worry his last days were spent feeling unloved. I’d been especially neglectful for a couple of weeks, not checking-in as regularly as I’d practiced over the last several years because of his circumstances. Whatever happened I couldn’t have prevented it, but I hope from the center of my existence he knew on some level what he meant to me. I doubt he ever accepted his value, but in pleading ardent hope I pray I communicated it nonetheless. I think I did. I can’t bear to think I didn’t.

He will forever live on in my thoughts, and inspire my actions…to selflessly embrace the big, seemingly unsolvable problems…because that was his life. Furthermore, I’ll try to laugh more, worry less because barriers are never as insurmountable as they seem. That was his life as well.

I hope my children live a life knowing how to laugh with their whole beings…to seek humor in the most unlikely places. It’s one of the things I remember most about my friend; his endless humor at the most random, odd things. I hope to be as steady a presence during the most terrifying of moments. I hope to level opposition with a pointed, intimidating stare. I hope to have the flair for colorful language that kept us rapt and peculiarly joyful during meetings. I hope I’m brave enough to feel life as he did…to experience humanity in all of its remarkable and horrifying facets, and seek to make it better.

But, most of all I hope he finally has peace.

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Quenching a Dynamic Burn

This is an older post put–off for more pleasant topics. Consequently, the tenses and timing are off, and perhaps a disjointed read in parts; but the message is important:

In social work there is specific discussion of work exhaustion. It’s essentially occupation burn-out, and rampant in human service fields like education. It’s different from simply having too many things to do for too long. In social work it is the extra emotional burden of heaviness…carrying another’s struggles on or as your own struggles. I’ve never been interested in clinical work, my work tangent to the field is more macro and policy oriented. Generally, I tend to shut-down the emotional toil reciprocity. I’m not quite sure how I do it, but it’s a specific advantage, especially in the professional area I gravitate toward.

I didn’t read the story, but recently there was some article in one of my social media feeds that mentioned parenting burn-out. Maybe it was specific to mothers…or stay-at-home mothers like me. I can’t really remember, but I recall accepting the plausibility. At the time I felt fortunate not really experiencing such a thing in my own parenting ramblings.

Periodically I feel overwhelmed, but usually it’s something separate from the continuous act of parenting itself. Recently, however, I felt the exhaustion that leaves a distinct impression beyond a tiring day. There has been so much on my mind for the last month, really. Several things not appropriate for mass consumption of this blog…it’s why I have friends. I weathered my mind’s chaos of that time, but this was different. I wasn’t inclined to create a post, but I wonder if having such sentiments public when the details are within the realm of my public persona comfort level is helpful…to someone.

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(Saatchi Art understands how to find the beauty amidst unforgiving turmoil.)

Perhaps surprising because of the nature of blogging, but I’m quite private with many aspects of my life. I’m selective with what I share and to whom. But, there are elements of unnecessary taboo within every stage of parenting…or trying to become a parent. It’s a shame because so much is so common, but often undiscussed unless a brave soul breaches the needless silence. I came to such a realization when I was told during my first Ob-Gyn appointment with Little Man that I would certainly lose his pregnancy. It’s impossible to effectively communicate the pain such news inflicts. I’ve felt it with every loss I’ve succumbed, regardless of how early in the pregnancy. Allowing the stories to breathe was the only way I managed. All of it…pregnancy…parenting…It isn’t a shame, and that’s the point. I’m still learning. I’m still private. Stigma is very real. Maybe one day I’ll be braver than I am, but for now my hope is someone reads these words and feels home within themselves. Even if I never know for sure, the possibility is worth the risk of possible backlash.

The past month there is an element of vacillating between stuck and drowning in endless stuff. I don’t like Little Man watching television, but he has been all summer…for various reasons. Two hours in the evening; one evening I’m listening to him giggling and talking to a hideously stupid cartoon that makes my skin crawl with its banality and sheer idiocy. It’s the price of accessing my outlets that hold their feeble wall against barreled waves colliding into me for months now. When one tidal recedes, something new and different hits, and I’m in the process or ruminations once again trying to understand events and process…things.

Some I won’t discuss in this forum, but the general struggle is ongoing. I’ve become better at managing specific predictable, consistent issues. This round I’ve been more proactive with what I can anticipate, and in many ways I’ve been successful alleviating emotional burden. There are many good things I do outside of childcare, but it’s almost always squirreled in stolen minutes. This summer I committed to a weekly activity away from home that I knew would breathe life into me in ways I forgot I missed. In many respects I’ve had to forget my pre-children identity as a coping mechanism to manage the unavoidable grief of how I’ve always understood myself to be.

When my son was first born it felt very much in a holding pattern. Professionally, even as a manager, I’d be lucky to break even with exceptionally awing childcare expenses…It’s fairly recently I’ve been able to accept that morsel. Perhaps because it seemed unsurmountable at the time that I wasn’t able to acknowledge the very real fact that me working doesn’t make sense at this parenting juncture. With such an issue are the challenges of resume gaps, personal stagnation, parenting penalties…It was an ongoing and reasonable fear of mine for a very long time. Strange to think at this point that I’ve mostly overcome the most glaring obstacles. I wish I were paid, but it’s a vanity. I am able to embrace more skills and fulfilling occupations than a token paycheck in itself would provide. It hasn’t escaped me that my personal success in self-preservation is in large part a benefit of privilege. Consequently, part of how I choose to spread my personal wings often focuses on combatting systemic barriers others face. Such things aren’t particularly new for me, but with such limited time I’ve become more focused in my efforts…weighing the things I believe have greater impact with the scant free moments I muster.

I have many personal/professional efforts occurring simultaneously aside from my writing pursuits. But, my actions are almost entirely keystrokes and electronic exchanges. Summers can be especially grueling for me, so at the beginning of bathing suit season I committed a specific prioritized effort to volunteer away from my computer. Summer is the rare consistent time I have a child care option because my parents visit for a good stretch. It isn’t a perfect situation. The setbacks become a struggle of adjusting and organizing additional routine involvements, as well as the effect such disruptions and perpetual excitement have on my children’s functioning. I’m oversimplifying the issue, but the specifics don’t really matter in the context of this blog. All of this isn’t a complaint, per se…although it sounds so. It’s a complication that is lunacy to ignore…I’ve tried, and the effect has a significantly more negative impact on all parties. In every arena I encountered, fairing better during challenging times has more to do with preparation and strategy than dismissal and denial. It’s funny how that works…

To circle back to this summer, among other things I’m skilled at writing curricula…developing programs. The programs I create or embellish for the Department of Corrections have earned me the seeds of a reputation that might help me further on if I nurture it. One such program is a creative writing workshop. It’s three units spanning nine sessions that primarily focus on literary devices as a tool for expanding personal expression for individuals, among other issues, lack background knowledge most society takes for granted, as well as a specific deficit of risk taking in a classroom setting. In order to have this program approved without a formal agency endorsement, I used my reputation as an in for a couple of administrators; one responded to my email in a timely manner…the one I expected, actually. I’ve been teaching my creative writing class at our maximum security prison since the onset of the summer. It’s a spectacular experience in a humbling way.

I have substantial experience working with at-risk and incarcerated adolescents, so I see the progression stepping into a virtually empty, sterile room with glass walls. There are dichotomies occurring in this experience; it’s overwhelming at times. I have no illusions as to what behaviors lead to my students’ incarcerations. I can see the intimidation etched in practiced perfection the first moment they sat before me. It’s a dazed glare, a drilled unreadable scowl; it’s truly terrifying. I’d forgotten that first moment from when I taught reading in one of our medium facilities almost ten years ago.

But, there is something truly remarkable witnessing the wave of interest in the class content shift. One by one surprising things poke, and hardened stares of aggression soften into a childlike vulnerability and innocence. It becomes the new landscape for the class, and I almost forget where I am…almost. Honestly, it’s tragic and I can’t help but consider all those missed opportunities because a maximum facility prison was not the first step, rather just another in a series of rocky freefalls where no one and everyone are to blame. I knew to expect this. I needed this experience, and I’m glad after many failures to reenter this path, I could feel the complexity of this…situation again.

As objectively successful this class has been, I feel insecure about my performance…always hoping to be better…It’s my shtick…or one of them. As much as vague displeasure or fault I find with this piece or another, taking up this teaching opportunity has grounded me in expected ways. I’m thankful for my one morning a week, and will miss this during my fall and winter hiatus.

That said, as much as I return to my children renewed in some ways, it’s challenging to return home. Little Man and Warrior Queen are mostly fine these days spending the time with Nana and Papa, but they aren’t particularly settled when I return. I frequently mention that I’m an exceptional disciplinarian…for better or worse; consequently, my children behave best when it’s only our roving threesome. There is a marked difference when I’m not around, so returning to the subtle…and sometimes not so subtle changes…is unpleasant for me to witness. Returning from the prison isn’t such an issue, as I’m not absent for too much of a span, but even with my brief space vacancy my children often cling to me as soon as I enter from the garage…requiring some part of their body to grab hold of me. Such things I find disturbing, and I wonder if I’ve done something wrong for my brief absence to have such an impact. Don’t get me wrong; I love a good, hard snugglefest as the next Mommy. Some day the experience will be a phantom in my life, and I will ache in profound ways. But, I perceive this behavior as a response to excessive displeasure that I’m away. That’s a challenge to endure, but not enough to miss my class…I recognize it’s not a novel challenge for parents, but novel to me.

I’m planning ahead. I require various classes for license renewal, and this summer was an opportune time to fulfill all of my social work continuing education for this cycle. It’s only three full days dispersed throughout the summer, but they’ve inexplicably been the most challenging for me, as so many routines are out of my hands. When I return home in time to prepare dinner, I step into the fall-out of askew naps and simply a different day for my children. There is nothing inherently horrible or wrong about such things. It’s good for my kids, but I feel endless guilt that my children are likely misbehaving under my parents’ care…as happens when routines and caregivers shift. Usually within a couple hours away from my typical childcare hustle and bustle, I feel my skin crawl and my mind begin to wander. Guilt begins its press, and I start planning my exit. It all has to be neurotic. I’m vaguely aware it’s typical speaking to my Mommy friends first returning to the work force.

Just as Little Man is sensitive to routine shifts, so am I. It took returning to a normal day to remember that I haven’t had “normal” for several weeks. Emotionally I’m not at my best at the moment. I’m in a constant state of worry overload; I should have stopped trying organize everyone else…appease everyone else with an agreeable schedule. I likely would have saved myself some of the grief in the past couple weeks and enjoyed some of my rare adult time if I prioritized the need to experience what has become a bland, yet fine tuned typical day for our threesome.

Several things had seeped into my consciousness draining my reserves, but the confirmation of the foreboding I felt for weeks…that a good friend was significantly hurt should have pushed me to simplify…not expand…everything. Two brain bleeds hindering his ability to communicate, but I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I’ve certainly had vivid dreams of his condition…waking to a jaw clenched for the duration of the night. I wish he was my only friend fallen on a hard stretch; he’s just the latest one. I haven’t adjusted to the feel of his situation yet…found a groove to support him and care for myself simultaneously. And, just when I find my balance, something wonderful happens that this one friend would particularly delight hearing, but I can’t share the news; I grieve it in unreachable places. The success laced with a slight bitter edge making celebration a challenge to fully embrace.

I’d dreaded a day with no formal plans…loose ends…too many things requiring attention, even if I had help with some of it. Abruptly I was forced into a forgotten typical day, and even though I woke exhausted and uneasy, afternoon I blossomed into a surprisingly invigorated state…or as refreshed as possible with so much weight…so much to consider and to push through. But, it was a better day…my children felt it too.

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(Amy Whitehouse Paintings knows no calm is ever perfect.)

I don’t like droning about hardships; this was a difficult post to write. I questioned publishing it. But, the lesson I take from this challenging time that certainly won’t be the last: simplify. I get lost with pleasing others…worrying for and feeling helpless about others until it consumes me; that likely won’t stop. It’s who I am, and I’ve developed strategies. But, sometimes I forget key interventions like my time with my children in its most basic and lackluster form. I think I forget from fear. I’m bombarded with the peanut gallery celebrating having help for the summer that I internalize the importance of help. But, forced to return to my way I’m reminded of precisely how powerful I am when I remember the basic things I need to feel like myself.

I don’t know if or when my friend who was a key, like minded voice in my life will be able to really talk to me again. There is a whole bunch more I can’t predict or control. I don’t know if my prison class attendance will drop-off even more, and I’m forced to cancel the remaining scant classes, having to wait almost an entire year to experience this specific avenue of my work again…for another chance to improve. My children are surrounded by so much love that they don’t know what to do with it at times; obviously that’s a good thing…even when it isn’t a good thing. We all reset when I provide the opportunity to do so, and I need to remember that very thing when I’m spinning off my axis. Because at the tail end of a typical day, I wasn’t spinning. I ate a wonderful cookie following an actual lunch not scarfed in between obligations. I consumed the iced caffeine I love so much, but more than the wakeful perk I enjoyed the drink for itself…sipped and savored over the course of a couple of hours. And, the next wave will inevitably rush forward attempting to sweep me off my balance. I’m sure I will let it, but there are always solid fixtures to grab. I only need to remember to open my eyes.

A Forest…Some Trees, and the Peace with Possiblity

It was a challenging several weeks, but life is like that. The end result of the turmoil not what I hoped, but life is like that. So, I move on to better, or at least other things. Much to simmer excitement in my belly, even if a piece of me needs to heal on some level. And, with everything occupying the various spaces in my gray matter, it took excessively long to focus on my posts…stringing words taking increasing amounts of time. But, things should begin to lighten. Little by little I am able to remove pieces from my lengthening list of obligations. Perhaps in the nearing future I will create my post buffer that allows me to publish my work in a timely manner. Perhaps still I will return to my monthly goal for piece submissions to other sites. Maybe I will even receive financial reimbursement for a few as well. Ah, ’tis the life of finding…and sometimes failing…my balance. But, alas, it isn’t all bad. I am not globally unproductive. I like to think I have an impact in other realms of my life, so I try to make that enough given my forced elasticity of late.

The focus during the torrent inadvertently my children…because I have no choice. Though sometimes I crave time alone to process my experiences as a unique entity, I cannot perseverate too much…because I have no choice. I might become angry with this aspect of my existence, but I will almost never regret it. My children changed my very fabric, and I will forever be grateful for the bustling plaid of my current character. I had never realized my very dull shade of beige. I was delusional thinking my former personality had much color at all, not even a faint, hard to distinguish striping by comparison. I stay home with my toddler and infant children. I feared for so long the ramifications of such a thing…losing myself. I couldn’t imagine the feathers to emerge. I no longer recognize myself, and nothing is more pleasing…maybe thrilling and simultaneously a gruelingly challenge.

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(And, Pinterest hasn’t even seen me appropriately caffeinated!)

Raising my children as primary caregiver I was confronted with the parameters for the model in me they will see. I’ve had to evaluate my actions, and what communication of desired values resembles to my budding bystanders. My personal overhaul is far reaching, but not the focused effort it seems. Small changes and considerations over the past few years. Responding to my children in tiny, almost ignorable gestures. But, the blocks build on themselves, stacking unexpected and beautiful structures.

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(Even the Taj Mahal is a sculptured series of marble bricks.)

It isn’t so much that I was unkind before, but communicating kindness to my children with the hope they might possess such a trait as part of their disposition is an entirely different and unsettling beast.

Initially it was a purposeful pursuit, somewhat unnatural. Since Little Man was a little little wee man, I’ve sought ways to be kind to anyone and everyone…even if the anyone didn’t deserve it. If I had a kind thought of another, regardless of what it was, I shared it with the individual. I looked for reasons to be pleasant and engaging. As cold as my area can be, it’s been rare to find anyone unhappy to be part of funny or empathic dialogue. For three years now I practiced, and practiced some more…kind gestures regardless if I felt inspired to do so…regardless if my children were around…regardless if I felt a genuine gumption to care for anyone but myself.

When my son turned approximately eighteen-months, his awkward toddler bumbling prompted a significant increase to my haphazard engagement with others. With the increase I began noticing my actions were absorbed by all sorts of sponges littered in his direct radius. All the observing eyes had me convinced the smallest of gestures matter, and I have no way to fathom the yield.

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(They inspire action, don’t they?)

But, even with the eerie feeling existing in the throws of perpetual observation, perhaps these daily, small kindness gestures I’ve pursued are the answers to some of society’s most vexing issues.

Furthermore, as I’ve committed to my miniscule acts of kindness, I’ve found a very deep, profound, and unexpected satisfaction knowing I’ve contributed to improving someone’s day. I can’t speak with any authority of my effect on others, but I can attest to the impact of kindness bestowed to me. One instance climbs to the surface as I write this post. Some months ago when I was gaining my bearings shepherding two small children in public, I was at a local mall ordering food for my toted trilogy. As I attempted to pay, I found that I left my wallet in the car. I instantly knew what happened. I’d stopped for gas, visualizing the cup holder where my wallet resided. I recognized in the moment things could have been worse, but it was still a drag. I asserted to the cashier that I needed to return to my car…across a substantial building. Eh, shit happens. But, a random woman overheard my exchange with the cashier while she was spending time with a friend. Immediately after the event her face was forgotten in my mind. But, she paid for my order, telling me she’s been there, and subsequently returned to her conversation with no further commentary or engagement. Such a small, insignificant effort to her, but I will forever remember her generosity of spirit; and while returning to my car would not have been a day killer, this lone stranger paved the way for a solidly good day in a standard infrastructure of annoying ones at the time.

It’s moments like these I’m reminded that villages haven’t disappeared despite parenting blog commentary. It is in our overt and nonjudgmental kindness that our villages persist. And, I’m reminded of how connected we all can be every time my three-year-old looks sideways at an escalator before a stranger intervenes because I struggle to keep in pace with him from time to time.

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(Nope, LT Elevator, not daunting at all...)

Contributing my part to the village isn’t about receiving gratitude or acknowledgment of any kind, but when I have a grueling several weeks as I did such a short time ago, I’m reminded that we can rumble along in our own forest dismissing beautiful trees, even if they are sprouting all around.

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(World Wildlife Fund is just one devastatingly beautiful green and sturdy scape.)

The periodically tunneled view of dirt as we roam our lives isn’t a judgment. It’s impossible to be grateful at all times. I for one use gratitude as a weapon against personal feelings of misery, as though I have no right or justification for periodic unhappiness at any depth. It’s foolish, but I doubt uncommon. I see it throughout bitter and uncharitable comment sections.

I’ve found, however, prioritizing small, kind gestures to others allows me to remain present in my moments…sometimes step out of myself even if only for a diminutive instant. My day may very well be craptastic with a side order of overtired toddler and teething baby, but forcing an effort to be kind…to have some small notion of generosity or perhaps a friendly, empathic word with a stranger; for the briefest of moments I am lifted. And, if I think about the possibility of my deed or interaction providing a foundation to another having a better day than I, sometimes I find peace. Truly, my day continues to suck, but it feels more temporary…like maybe my son will sleep and my daughter will smile soon. And, a beautiful tree will shade me, and I can bask in the good once again.

Immortalized Nostalgia…and a couple of asshats

I began this blog when my son was almost a year old. As his first birthday approached I penned a post about my delivery. The entirety of my daughter’s existence is within the confines of this site, but there is one particular event I’ve decided to make a permanent fixture within my documented parenting history. It wasn’t hastening a departure from my mind regardless.

I’ve spent so much time working with destructive populations that I’m desensitized from horrific events and stories in profound ways. My threshold for the disturbing is quite high, yet I can no longer stomach the horror movies I used to love…go figure. I’m told this situation is horrible and terrifying. I don’t remember it as such, but I recall it as odd and stupid.

I had difficulty conceiving our second, but nothing major in the grand scheme of things. I’m geriatric by conception standards…my husband more so. Consequently, over the course of seven months I lost four pregnancies in a row very early on. It was gut wrenching at the time, but now having my little girl, the process lost its sting. From time to time I compare sibling age gaps in other families, but mostly the impulse flows over me with little consequence.

My husband and I attended our first session with a fertility doctor when I happened to just be pregnant with Warrior Queen. It was in the five week neighborhood, and I felt this time was different, but I was terribly afraid to embrace those thoughts. A couple days before the weekend my blood was drawn for a whole slew of genetic collections, as well as a pregnancy test. I can’t recall exactly how often I checked my online status, but I learned every result within twenty-four hours, except the pregnancy one…They forgot to submit it. Sunday rolled around, and the suspense was eating away at me. Some time during the solitude of a two hour return drive from a family event, I decided to buy a home pregnancy test.

It isn’t all that often I have time to myself. My husband is wonderful, so most weeks I’ll have part of a day to gallivant by my lonesome, but even including these hours, I am infrequently unencumbered by small children. I was anxious to purchase the pee stick, but not so anxious to rush the drive. Plus, I was thoroughly enjoying a Moth story on NPR. I can no longer remember anything specific about it, but I remember it as funny. It’s always when things are most enjoyable that traffic signals are green.

Exiting the highway I expected to stop. I remember feeling disappointed it was a delayed green left arrow. I followed the car in front of me barely needing to slow for the turn. A quarter of a mile down the road…through a rotary, I pull into a local drug store lot to purchase whatever store brand pregnancy test I could find. I listened to the remaining couple minutes of the story, and exited my car in my own focused world.

It was summer, still quite light outside even as the day was ending. I did not expect a mammoth black truck stopped right behind my car, blocking a possible escape. Two men sitting in said truck waiting for me to look up, windows down.

I can’t remember the exact dialogue, and, really, it was frustratingly circular, so the specifics aren’t important. I don’t know where they came from, but they were convinced the person in the car in front of me and I ran a red light. They chose to follow my car to reprimand me. What transpired I immediately recognized as intimidation, even if this type of interaction style wasn’t a formal plan by the two men. I note this because the efficacy of intimidation preys on emotional wherewithal on the recipient…or lack thereof. More specifically, identifying intimidation intellectually as it is occurring breaks the emotional power it holds, and allows one to think clearly, even if one is stuck in the situation. These interactions are quite scary the first few times one experiences them…they are meant to be, but situations of this nature are somewhat old hat for me working with a criminal or generally sketchy element of society. I can’t identify why exactly, but I did not perceive a threat beyond what was occurring. I did, however, recognize they were hoping for me to flood with guilt, start crying, and beg their forgiveness…an emotional, frazzled, and scared response. If I were a man, this event wouldn’t have happened, and that irked me even as I was experiencing the interaction.

Neither man accepted that they were wrong with their assumption; that it was, in fact, a green light no matter how much I asserted the reality of the matter. I remember one aspect of the conversation that continues to strike me as amusing. The driver of the truck informed me that me arguing with them was telling. I can’t remember the word he used. I don’t know if I fully heard it at the time. As he became increasingly frustrated with me, his sentences became incomplete. The descriptor of me that he garbled was the first of his deteriorating dialogue, and I remember it took every ounce of willpower not to counter him with something to the effect of, “You followed a random person a quarter mile down the road because you thought you saw a traffic violation, and I’m the one traveling to crazy town?” Alas, I said nothing of the sort…but really wanted to. Seriously, these assholes were keeping me from buying my pregnancy test!

There were a couple more back and forths in this power struggle that would continue for much longer in the same vein as its own inertia. I was starting to lose my cool, so shut down the exchange, “I get that you get off intimidating women, but it was a green light.” It’s been my experience that those using intimidation without physical violence forethought often do so under a veil of self righteousness. Often framing the interaction as a negative against the individual forces their retreat…or sudden end to whatever interaction is transpiring. But, I say this as someone who works off of an experienced gut, and I wouldn’t hand off my approach as a recommendation for others. As soon as my comment left my lips, the driver yelled back through gritted teeth, “I don’t,” and sped off rambling that he hopes I get caught next time. I commented within the earshot of the couple staring at our exchange a couple cars away, “Sorry to disappoint, but they don’t offer commendations for obeying simple traffic laws.” I muttered some type of colorful adjectives as I walked into the store reeling.

I called my husband to tell him what happened, and I was cautious leaving the store. I didn’t think the men circled back, but one never knows.

Within the hour my pregnancy was confirmed.

Divides

As an educator and social worker focusing on at-risk and incarcerated populations, I catch a glimpse of society others don’t. I see the random and capricious nature of our social policy and some of the direct effects of disenfranchisement. Criminal justice disparities are easily documented, yet seldom discussed in a real, fact-based way.

Racial tension has risen to the surface within our media…sometimes accurately…often not. Following our election I’ve become more involved in politics, mainly on social media, which is where, for better or worse, much of the fight occurs. Some of the race discussion alienates me. I am a White woman, so anything I attempt is inherently wrong. I need to be an ally, but I simultaneously can’t be. It’s all fairly frustrating, even as I remain a silent reader within comment sections. I get the person/woman of color narrative, but often the messaging prompts me to remain stuck in the status quo. But, then I read Jodi Picoult’s commentary, and it makes sense in a meaningful way. I see my life’s independent evolution, and don’t feel quite as terrible…not quite as stuck or disheartened. I have some notion of what my process should be in this new age…as we move forward as a society.

But, with all of the open discussion thus far about race, I am disappointed and irked with the narrow nature of general discourse about prejudice as a whole. Embedded within honest dialogue about race is the overlying statement that race is our country’s only injustice…our only shame. To be clear I don’t want to dismiss or minimize the experiences for people of color, particularly Black/African Americans. Their struggles dragged to our surface are past due and fully deserved. Slavery is the foundation of the terrible that followed. The totality of our population is overdue for enlightenment.

That said, I don’t like the conversation beginning and ending with race. I don’t like the competition that Black/African American is the only group meriting a dialogue. I won’t presume to speak of other’s experiences…overcompensating White people greatly annoy me. I can, however, speak from the perspective of the only experiences I have right to testify, my own. I am a Jew to name one subgroup I embody. People don’t like Jews. Anti-Semitism is a very real and unpleasant issue to experience, even as I currently reside in a liberal area. My childhood and adolescence, however, was in a small conservative location, and I have stories. They are different than stories of ones pertaining to race, but it wasn’t easy. I don’t appreciate my life and situation delegitimized because of my skin color. I will not call it reverse racism, as that doesn’t exist. I call it insensitivity and narrow foresight. To be clear I don’t want this to be a competition among the groups who have it harder. I want this to be a conversation that prejudice is a bad thing, and we do our society a disservice limiting the discussion and dismissing the ways others are capable of genuinely understanding differences and intolerance.

Often within conversations about race, other groups are completely lost. Gender variant (Transgender) and orientation are newly receiving more recognition and support, but others aren’t. Individuals identifying with disability and mental health struggles confront stigma and discrimination openly, and are not even at the table of discussion or societal support despite supposed legal safe guards. Our irrational fear and hatred of Muslims and Muslim foreigners has percolated to a head with rapid, deafening force; but even as I write this small element there is hope at least on that front. Finally, let us not forget Sexism and rape culture are also real things and intertwined within every other hateful shame within our society.

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(Social Science Space explains our mark on each other best.)

So, why discuss all of this in a parenting blog…now? The start of the answer is simple: My son is growing older, absorbing his world  in ways baffling me as they occur. My daughter is not far behind. I owe them the serious consideration of how I explain their world. Do I wait for the inevitable awkward public questions or do I spend the time on my terms? I choose the latter.

How do I raise children to appreciate, love, and fight for their country and all of her inhabitants? I don’t have the answer, but my son…and even my daughter will absorb and actively seek their place in the greater world regardless of my timeline. I’m not sure what Little Man understands, but it’s always been more than I thought. In the last couple of weeks my husband and I have been dumbstruck by Little Man’s understanding of jokes we tell for our adult ears, yet my son laughs even with a dry delivery. At 2.9 years-old his language comprehension is awing. Each passing week I feel the pressure to explain…to discuss, but it’s a bit overwhelming deciding on the specifics. For now I initiate side comments as they occur to me. I regularly vent politics and social happenings within my children’s ear shot. My children’s day is without media exposure, but come the evening the news is on. Senator John Lewis appears on our television, and I explain who he is as simply as I can; he is a fighter for people with skin like him who aren’t always treated well. I respond to the questions and statements my son is beginning to express. Yes, our minority president is scary, but all of us make sure he does the right thing. We all fight him when he tries to hurt others. I’ve started pointing out differences in people on television when he is watching. I try to shape his idea of beauty in the world…expand it beyond what I’ve historically understood. The time will come when he independently notes the world’s diversity in rapid fire utterances; I commit that I won’t be embarrassed when those moments occur. I will form that dialogue and change the narrative of how he will see people unlike himself. I will continue to combat prejudicial commentary he hears whether it’s strangers or among those closest to him.

We live in a White area, but I want my son to appreciate and see beauty in the uniqueness that currently divides us. I don’t want either children to be the farce of color blind, but I don’t want them to overcompensate either. I believe in giving back. I believe in authenticity. I believe in thoughtful leadership. I believe in their brilliant futures as they define it for themselves. I believe in my role to interpret the world as I understand it based on real data and facts. I want their world to be better, and it starts with me.

Four Score and Words Upon Words Ago

My productivity is shifting. But, my typical line on the matter is that I’m not, but it isn’t an accurate statement. Hashing my list of personal achievements impresses me, and I’m a stern employer slow to awe. I’ve been sick…again. I’ve suddenly become aware that I insist my cold is a minor one. It never is. This one lasted just shy of two weeks, and it was grueling. But, that aside, I manage to do stuff despite varying attentions.

There is my Correctional work which delights me with its challenging diversity, even as it frustrates. Endless potential on many levels, which feeds my ambition in ways I had no conceivable foresight scant years ago.

I’m trying to make a go of this writing thing, but I’m not entirely sure what that means. In addition to this blog that has suffered in frequency the past few months, I’m attempting to extend my reach. All of my consciousness dictations requires time I didn’t realize I had, yet things are finished and looking for a home. Still stunning to me that people enjoy my musings, and such a morsel of approval holds value. I never planned to become a writer; can I call myself that? I also never planned to stay home, even as the ambivalence of having children blurred. Life is unexpected.

The journey though this unfathomed existence forms awareness of issues no one discusses, yet it is so acute among peers in similar circumstances. It’s wonderful having this time with my children, but that seems to be the only acceptable commentary. However, with all the happiness and peace of experiencing this pivotal impact on my children equally is loneliness and isolation. Writing fills a large piece of that void.

I think all the time. All sorts of things. Rapid fire at times, racing from one area to the next; but no one to tell. By the time my husband arrives home, I’m tired. Nothing terrible, but my choice is to ease into the close of the day. Racing keeps me awake, and I cherish my sleep. So, what to do with all my thoughts prompted by my witness, my imagination? I write.

There is something gratifying about expressing myself in a monologue of sorts that people read. Maybe an autobiographical account, maybe fiction, maybe social commentary; each account fulfills a purpose…a reflection and response to my world. My work doesn’t prompt scores of comment pages, but I like to think I provide fodder to consider. That has purpose in the throws of loneliness and isolation; as though my voice isn’t swallowed. I have my small reserved space within the internet and my nonspecific audience. I like to think my transcribed thoughts make a difference in some small way to someone else, even if I can’t precisely identify my hopes in this arena.

I write to have a conversation to an invisible mass because my significantly smaller horde speaks in swoon worthy broken and misshapen utterances or vibrating squeals. I love it all in an unidentifiable place within me, but equally those delights leave something empty in the same inner place. I write, and I feel complete. My thoughts arrive at a destination, and perhaps hold some power.

It hasn’t yet been two years since I’ve committed to this process that weathers the ebbs and flows as I find my balance. But, unspeakable gratitude to have this voice and chronicle. I don’t know where this path will take me, but the thrill of the jaunt seems guaranteed.

Routines, Rituals, and Other Things that Go Bump…All Day

I don’t have a vast familiarity with toddlers. Experiencing my son I can’t specifically speak to what is considered average development and what isn’t…for better or worse. He is two years-eight-months-old, and mostly garden variety, but I fully understand the compulsion to assume his growth weighs heavily as strokes of brilliance. Little Man constantly floors me with his leaps in development, but I’ve learned that’s what these stages are. That said, the limited number of professionals who’ve interacted with my son confirmed the few areas I thought were advanced or, at least, more unique to him.

I’ve observed and been told that Little Man is quite skilled in taking turns and sharing…to the point that he doesn’t understand when another child walks up and steals an object out of his hand. He never seems particularly disturbed when it happens, but will stare off befuddled for a beat before walking away to find an alternate source of entertainment. My son tells jokes and is chatty…telling stories to me throughout the day, especially relaying moments he was in trouble. I find this development funny considering his speech delay. Little Man looks to engage others in conversation; professionals working with him say that is unusual for a child his age.

Most interesting, however, is my son’s fairly sophisticated emotional intelligence. Little Man, probably beginning in the nine-month-old realm, possessed an uncanny ability to read others, and significantly alter his behavior and personality to what he correctly perceives others expect from him. Much of the time this serves as a manipulation tactic, and boy is it effective. Other times it seems to meet no other purpose than an intellectual exercise I find disturbing.

Part of this innate ability makes him fairly rigid and sensitive to shifts in his routines. I don’t have an overly complicated routine to our days, but any shift in what Little Man can expect from people and events leaves him struggling if the deviation is more than a day, two if I’m lucky. Some of this, I suspect, is simply toddler. But, I’ve heard early childhood workers in various capacities refer to Little Man as an “observer” or an “organizer.” It isn’t so much I think this merits a diagnosis, rather a personality quirk that makes him who he is.

But, with his need for routines and rituals and his ability to size up his world comes the price of anxiety. I wouldn’t say it amounts to a diagnosis, but times like the recent holiday season I’m reminded of how sensitive Little Man is to changes in his world, even when the change is fantastic and exciting.

At the ripe old age of nine-months, I noticed my son’s personality would change when we had extended visitors or his routine was off for too long. Some of it is age appropriate, but there were changes beyond the fussiness or lack of sleep that so many of my friends describe. Little Man’s temperament and general nature would shift in unexpected ways, but not globally. He would change his mode of interacting based on whoever was the primary personality in the room at any given moment, regardless if my husband or I were in his sights at the time. It’s difficult to describe this long out, and I would assume it was in my head if I hadn’t had practitioners working with toddlers relay what I suspected was a pretty interesting skill.

This brings me to the two week hell that was the holiday season. Family had been in the area, and my husband took the week off. It’s all so thrilling. But, each time Little Man encounters a wave of such excitement, it throws him. His behaviors more concerning as he’s grown older. Most glaring this time around was the aggression. Historically, he’s consistently demonstrated gentle hands with his sister outside the exceptionally occasional snafu easily explained by hunger or fatigue. There have always been independent bouts of jealousy, but Little Man usually has the ability to keep himself contained. And, really, once I read him a story or two on my lap, he’s good to go. Throughout the two week holiday span, however, I worried any time he was around his eight-month-old baby sister. Hardly an encounter occurred without my son pushing or hitting the Warrior Queen. I’m used to seeing an uptick of impulsive and rough behavior when my husband is around, but the incidents escalated dramatically in frequency and intensity.

Sure, during tantrums I might be slapped in the thigh, but twice my son slugged me in the eye without provocation. The biting was out of control as well. Usually such events are reserved for those moments when we pushed out bedtime too long. As the days wore on, it was rare to have his mouth remotely close to skin contact without a biting incident. The entirety of the situation left me flummoxed. My son is a sweet, kind soul who is patient and tolerant, all the more for a toddler.

Frustratingly, the peanut gallery dismissed this crop of behavior incidents as standard toddler practice. The entire span of time that Little Man continued to spiral I asserted he was struggling…all of the excitement and change was too much for him. I defended that these events were not how he navigates his world when the three of us are doing our thing. No one believed me. I began doubting myself…maybe he really is this aggressive. Maybe he is changing, and it is for me to adapt, levering my head from the sandy beach I’d grown to love.

Toward the end of the uproar, I had a couple moments when it was only our threesome…maybe just me and Little Man. They were brief and achingly far between, but I’d have glimpses of the existence I was beginning to lose to the recesses of my memory. I worried if we would return once the world settled, but they were a welcome reprieve even they amounted to be fleeting.

As I write this post we are almost a week out from the avalanche of activity. I’ve come to understand that just as easily as Little Man swings to the reckless, he soars back to the son I know. Within a day we returned to our life…flare ups of impulsivity when he’s hungry or tired…or Daddy is home. Once again I enjoyed our outings, watching my son explore his world in delight. All as though nothing had ever changed, nothing occurred.

I enjoy it when I’m right, but perhaps relief is more apt this time around.

Receptacle

This isn’t my first post about post pregnancy body image. I’m still proud of my body as a reproductive entitiy. Almost daily I look at my children, especially Warrior Queen, and try to comprehend that I grew these two beings from some cells. It’s remarkable.

Enduring Gestational Diabetes with my second, I haven’t had all that much baby weight to lose, but like the poundage loss process after my son’s pregnancy, the shed is glacial.

I’ve heard just about every cliché and wife dogma when I express my frustrations with the lingering weight that won’t budge despite a focused and previously effective attack plan. Those offering such tid-bits of support should feel fortunate my reciprocating response stops at an eye roll so hard it gives me a view of my tonsils. One of the more frustrating and obnoxious comments is that carrying extra weight is minor because I’ve birthed a healthy miracle.

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(No, I’m really grateful for your input. I was just checking that my hairline was where I left it.)

The thing is, wanting to look and feel my best is not a superficial musing. I’m not sure exactly how it came to pass that mothers are not permitted to embrace their own badass MILF selves. Possessing a strong desire to look attractive and enjoy what I see in the mirror is a pursuit I’m entitled to include within my growing list of priorities. Furthermore, it is important for my children to see me embrace myself as valuable, independent of them however I choose to define it.

Another introspection that boggles is when I consider the reality of my shape compared to motherhood body misconceptions I held for most of my life. Before my son’s pregnancy, like many women I feared the inevitable carnage having a child would have on my form. It isn’t that I expect perfection or that I was ever anything close before my axis tilted. But, I was terrifyingly certain I would never look good again, and I like to look good even if I am woefully below airbrushed excellence.

For the year it took for me to lose the almost entirety of my son’s pregnancy weight, I was surprised by the process, maybe even delighted by the complexity of the experience.

That said, it bothers me to work so hard, yet have my body shed excess fat with an excruciating meander. But, the experience’s totality isn’t so bad. Even though I gained a significant amount more after my son’s pregnancy, I was struck by the difference in my appearance when I compared myself to pictures of a similar weight gain not credited with growing a human. Hovering at the same forty-five pound increase on my small frame, post Little Man, I simply did not look as heavy as I was for most of my twenties. That was interesting.

Currently, I’m about a clothing size away from my pre- pre-pregnancy size, but my body is forever changed. I used to hip ride my pants, no more. I embrace my mom jeans. And, really, if they are good enough for a president, what am I complaining about?

Image result for obama mom jeans(My tushie can totally compete with his!)

Prior to brewing Warrior Queen, my hips were wider, so were my thighs. My belly, for the most part, regained its former shape. So, while my old cut of pants yielded an uncomfortable muffin top, I could still rock a two piece bathing suit…in the event that we ever go on a vacation again. My general figure was a bit curvier with a slightly smaller waist. When I lost my first round of baby weight, I had less cellulite than I had at any other point in my life. My body, while not svelte, had significantly more definition as well. Even with seven more pounds left to shirk, my physique is all the more defined. I didn’t think that was possible. A bit more baby weight or not I look good, even if my weight number isn’t quite my ideal.

To look good has been an intense labor, but it’s one born of increasing love that was absent before experiencing the chemistry of motherhood. It feels strange to accept, or even admit that I, mostly, love my body in all of its quirky ways. It almost feels wrong to see my middle age baby body objectively surpassing the beauty of my gymnast teen years, even with spider veins aplenty. My children are at the age of expressing unconditional love as I never knew it to be, so why not bestow myself with the very regard I see on their beautiful faces when I enter a room? I’ve certainly earned it.

Doing Some-Things

I have oodles of political opinions; the election process and outcome hasn’t come close to escaping me…I’m in good company. One of the more irksome pieces is the messaging of its normalcy, hence, it’s all acceptable even if quirky. It isn’t. Not on any level. But, this isn’t a political piece per se.

I haven’t posted since Thanksgiving. I tend to deny or minimize stress even as it presses its heavy mass on my head, shrinking my already small stature. Furthermore, I berate myself for lacking gumption. I look at random indications that never truly reflect my actual accomplishments or productivity. I commit to a narrative of my inability to manage unreasonably high expectations, perpetually raising a bar to validate my personal failures. But, this isn’t a diatribe of my foibles either…per se.

I’m a SHAM for a toddler and infant. I work/volunteer part-time from home; I’m fortunate my privilege allows me to commit to a cause endlessly meaningful for me, and maybe I’ll make a difference. I’m busy. Who isn’t? I’m unhappy with what is unfolding nationally, spreading its toxin locally in retching ways. Who isn’t…certainly the majority of us who weren’t suppressed from expressing our disgust at the ballot box? But, life happens, and action seems an additional, overwhelming expectation.

However, as busy as I am. As crazed as it all always is; there are battles that my children need to witness…even if they are too small to remember. I hope to sow who they will remember me as, and form their expectations for the world around them. Like many I’m at a crossroads; to do some-things…or nothing, allowing apathy to take root until this farce of leadership becomes blasé. I choose to join the social media masses with my small efforts. Maybe my individuality won’t yield the mountain, but enough mole hills will. And, I swell with pride to own my piece of the Hill. Right now the darkness is palpable, but its depth won’t always be so cavernous. Certainly the opening act of our unfolding future is worrying, but there is power in our majority mass. So, as busy and crazy as the immediate is, I commit to my small efforts and engagement with the world.

 

It isn’t just about the mashed potatoes…and gravy…

Many heart wrenching, worrying things I share with the majority of Americans; but much tickles my heart and warms me despite future uncertainty. I’m thankful and privileged to see such strength, determination, and love following the loop hole allowing a disgusting individual and his counterparts to represent the best of us. Unending gratitude social media exists to make me laugh despite the serious nature of what will transpire.

I’m grateful for Rachel Maddow. I’m grateful for John Oliver and Impractical Jokers.

I’m thankful my gray hair that is prospering in droves doesn’t look horrible. Its proliferation is uncertain, but I’ve always found the salt and pepper look attractive…Here’s hoping the same will hold true for me…in six months at this rate.

Unending appreciation that the almost 102 fever I had on Thanksgiving was short lived, and was not fortified by a nose cold. My husband is fighting something. I hope that bit of lovely decides I’m not a hospitable homestead.

I’m thankful my father-in-law saw fit to buy me a bar of one of my favorite brands of chocolate. It’s the dark variety too, so I feel the depth of his love for me. He is now my favorite person in the world…until someone else buys me chocolate, creating a more contemporary warmth in my thoughts.

I’m blessed to have found a less tedious pumpkin pie-like recipe. It was mighty tasty…especially as my breakfast yesterday…and this morning. It’s about time for a second helping. I’m thankful it occurred to me to buy extra whipped topping. In that same vein, profuse gratitude to my friend who made a chocolate cream pie to add to the Thanksgiving meal festivities. Pudding or not, it was chocolate and phenomenal…and was a welcomed breakfast addition to the pumpkin pie I ate yesterday.

My toddler hasn’t napped in two days, consequently has been a disaster for the second half of the day, stretching into the evening. Having family staying with us and generally surrounding him has my son elated in a vibrating giggle beginning at six sharp in the morning. We hear Little Man emerge from his room with the tell tale jingle from his horrid stuffed dog. Within seconds the sound becomes a scurry into our room. An enthusiastic, “hi,” with other random commentary before turning on our bright overhead light. If I’m honest, it is quite possibly the cutest wake-up call ever…I’m thankful I haven’t killed him…yet.

Warrior Queen has made every effort to crawl back into my uterus. I don’t know what happened, but she decided that anyone other than me holding her will not be the game plan for the day. What gets me is that she will be fine until she catches my gaze. Then the slow abhorrence of her situation consumes her face. That said, I’m thankful I’m too tired to be much bothered as the shrill wailing commences…for a few minutes anyway. At some point dogs will start circling, so I have to give in. At seven-months she mostly is all smiles, and I cannot measure my gratitude to be the recipient of some so grand that her whole face is enveloped.

I’m thankful for leggings, which look surprisingly acceptable under dresses. I don’t have it in me to wrangle stockings or tights, and it’s getting cold. Additionally, I’m thankful for flannel shirts. They are an easy way to add color and pattern to my otherwise black wardrobe. I get that black is sexy and all, and it certainly looks good on me, but I don’t quite pull-off Morticia…with gray-ing hair.

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(I could fall asleep on that chair.)

That said, I pretty much nail the pasty look, and I don’t even need powder.

A final thanks to my husband who took our 2.7 year-old on an outing with his family, so I can rest. My fierce girl is sleeping in our office. I’m soaking in the brief quiet watching a knit/crochet program on television. The second pie helping was wonderful, as were the mashed potatoes and gravy. Sometimes I wish I could predict the future. I’ve never liked surprises, and these days I’d prefer to brace myself. But, while bad days loom, so do the good ones, and for that I am most thankful.

 

 

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