A Tale of Two Mommies

…because more seems excessive…

Category Archives: parenting reflections

Life Lessons

I’m trying to consider where my head is these days…other than a mess, which is a hyperbole. I have a lot of things swimming around, but mess probably isn’t a great description. I’m struggling with somethings…I feel like I can log that tid-bit under the: “What Else is New” file. Besides, once middle-age is reached, isn’t there always shit going on?

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I purchased another much-too-easy puzzle for Little Man. He enjoys them as a soothing exercise, appearing to almost impact him the way my fiber crafts do me. This is a good thing since he’s increasingly having trouble managing the intensity of the emotions he feels. This latest puzzle is a pretty cool image. I enjoy looking at it. I enjoy sitting on a cushion by the coffee table with Warrior Queen on my lap as Little Man and I piece it together. I do not, however, enjoy that these puzzles always seem to have one piece that walked away. This had me thinking. No matter how well my shit could be together or how spectacular the product, there is always a piece missing that I wouldn’t otherwise notice other than the context of everything else is relatively put together.

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Another story of my life…sometimes the crusts are SO terrible that only a nibble from each sandwich piece is manageable. I periodically have too many crusts in my life, and although such things are temporary, I will squander whatever I can to avoid having to deal with them. And, at the end of the day when I managed to choke them down, the crusts were tolerable. I will never rejoice in them, but sometimes the avoidance of them becomes sillier than just scarfing it down and moving on.

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Life as Pictures…and needs for life

It’s winter. Climate change dictates that we consistently have these random warmer days into January. Certainly it wasn’t super warm,  but not the frigidity one might expect this time of year. This never lasts, only about a day or two before the erratic plunge back into expectation.

I wasn’t thinking of sitting outside; I will use just about any excuse to get out of it, even if I seldom regret the decision to confront the sun. My husband suggested it. Little Man was vacillating between outside on our driveway and going somewhere we weren’t going to go regardless. The driveway won out, though not taking a walk as my husband urged. We hustled outside in a dervish wind. I snagged our vaguely uncomfortable, but better than standing or sitting on wet pavement, chairs. And, my husband and I simply sat in the warmish sun while our kids entertained themselves and made us laugh. Thus prompted a theme I identified for the last year, and what I hope to nurture in the next.

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These are ridiculous cars, yet everyone seems to have one. Little Man wasn’t interested in it until he became much too big for it. When he was younger, he loved sitting in them provided I was pushing him around. I’m a solid pusher…running around with jerky turns and sudden stops. My endurance for the exertion is pretty good too. I’m usually surprised how long I can prolong the effort without feeling as though I want to pass out. But, in the pushing days he loved it; Warrior Queen loves it now. I love that they love it, but my zest for their enjoyment pales with their desire for me to run around the area pushing around this ridiculous car.

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It was a joint pretend play…Little Man filling the gas tank that turned into Warrior Queen’s expectation at a later point. One of my favorite things is to eavesdrop on their pretend play. They both create these stories I don’t understand, but they are always completely engrossed in whatever is happening in their minds. That’s a trait…or habit I’ve always possessed, which makes a part of me nervous that they inherited my brain. But, as they grow into more distinctive people, I’m learning that it is less about genetic matter traveling as following modeled behavior…at least to some extent. I spend a good deal of time considering nature and nurture, and I find myself landing in interesting places on the matter.

I’m never comfortable. Mostly it’s my mental health that dictates my homeostasis. Best likened to chronic pain, my threshold to just be is different allowing me to function. But, I’m not ever comfortable. My life is in a constant state of pushing my limits or I’d be paralyzed in a small windowless room unable to escape. I suppose that’s the reason why there are some things I simply won’t do because it’s exhausting to exist and do something interesting with my life outside my head.

Spending the time outdoors would have been one of those decisions, but I followed my family’s flow. My husband usually the one nudging us outside. It occurred to me suddenly that I inadvertently surround myself with people who know what is best for me with the minuscule, nothing events in life; and push me into decisions I wouldn’t make on my own. Big decisions are all me, but the small enjoyments outside of chocolate and cookies that disappear into my memory are almost exclusively other people…like my husband. I enjoyed watching my kids while sitting in the sun because he knew experiencing this brief warm day in winter was a worthwhile effort. I need that in my existence, and I don’t know if I formally understood that until this particular moment sitting in my vaguely uncomfortable chair.

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A brief walk down the street to the festival of the fire cisterns that have captivated Little Man from toddlerhood.

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Paw Patrol has nothing on rocks.

I’m part of activism groups, and I’ve found that I collect similar nudging people. Little by little I find myself taking on something I never thought I would do…tiptoeing into things that make me nervous, and suddenly my tolerance for scary things shifts.

I will start postcarding when Warrior Queen begins school. I don’t know my exact schedule, likely not weekly. But, I plan to regularly attend groups that do this sort of activism. I don’t really understand how it works, but for a couple of years now I’ve seen marvelous posts of this effort…my longing to participate, but I froze not knowing how to start…what to do. The women I’ve met in my political network groups give me access…nurturing sentiments…and an abrupt push to start something new. I don’t understand how it happens, but I end up committed to something that I never regret…even if the venture doesn’t flourish into my hopes. These women have the connections, so I just dive in! I’m terrified, but I know I’ll be okay.

I’ve made my peace with the anxiety of postcarding…the nerves numbed, and now I’m so excited I practically vibrate. I feel as though these mornings to myself have been too far away to consider in any meaningful capacity, yet I’m now at the edge of somewhat wide open time…to waste…to be productive…I hope to actualize it all!

The plan for postcarding mostly set, my newest focus at the moment is text-banking. I’ve been circling the perimeter of such an effort for a while. To be fair, the candidate text-banking for the 2019 elections doesn’t seem to be in full swing quite yet, which reinforces my anxiety induced procrastination. Candidate text-banking that is a back and forth type of deal might be too much of an effort for my first crack at this kind of thing. But, as I responded to a post about my pride for the past year and my hopes for the next, I lamented my concerns to the fairly massive group of mostly women. I’ve decided to table the candidate work for the moment and start with some environmental issue texting that is more about guilting people to the polls than a specific issue or person. This effort provides polling information, which isn’t such a huge deal in my state, but in areas with voter suppression knowing where to vote, what is needed, and other logistics is crucial. This environmental group will be good training wheels for me. There isn’t an expectation of reciprocity for this first venture. That’s good. I can meander in my haphazard, catawampus way through how these things work; it’s all so foreign to me at the moment, and too many new things at the same time makes my ability to process strategy impossible. At some point I hope to become more involved with the group I initially contacted…when some of the aspects of text-banking are no longer new, and my learning curve will almost exclusively focus on the issues and candidates I’ll be supporting.

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I’ve heard it before…that you fall more in love with your partner watching them with your kids. I wholeheartedly agree, but the notion is beyond something I could’ve ever possibly fathomed. We’ve always had a strong relationship, but the level to which our connection has transformed defies anything I could coherently communicate. Not only can I watch the kids for endless hours, but time stops when my husband is interacting with our children. I might meet very specific and important needs for our little ones, but certain things Mommy can’t do. Those Daddy activities and interactions enrich their lives in ways that deepen my love for him, and the more mundane the instance, the more I melt seeing it. And, then there is the way my husband’s face lights when our little people enter a room or greet him in ways unique to him. I often wonder if he’s aware of how his stature and presence transforms looking at Little Man and Warrior Queen. It doesn’t matter that an entire day could be spent yelling at our precious cherubs, I’ve never seen my husband quite so light and enamored.

I’m a little nervous about the spring semester as well. I will teach two sections of my college class provided there is enrollment for both, a likely scenario. I will be entering the prison in the morning as well as the afternoon for the first time, and have a significant increase in college students as well, not that it’s all that many in totality.

The two sections I’m teaching are old hat, though the afternoon is a different group of men…different gangs with different prison functioning. I’m not sure what to expect, but probably much of the same. Having a sitter for my kids all day is a transition I’m feeling better about, but still uncomfortable for completely irrational reasons.

I offered to donate my time to the university with another program I was planning to run anyway, should it be approved, also a likely scenario, but one never knows until the process is complete. I’ll be running my Education Seminar one evening a month at our women’s maximum facility. I offered to bring some college kids in to observe if it’s permitted. The seminar, however, is a bigger process than it might seem. I’m still attempting to learn of its approval, which I believe is more of a rubber stamp than anything else at this juncture, but since I’m not employed in the Department of Corrections, I can’t know these things for sure. This program was at the request of the prison director I’ll be working with, so I expect everything is fine. But, I always feel uneasy until something is on the books and I’ve started. An additional nagging thought in the back of my mind is worry that the administration turns before this program is established. While this effort wouldn’t necessarily be squashed, a significant delay in an already long process is highly likely…unless I’m already in with a session or two under my belt. Having a relationship with people, and a face for a name is a pretty huge deal with these kinds of things, and I have other ambitions for the programming at this particular prison. I very much want to get started there.

Then there is the added college contingency. I would’t have offered such a thing if I thought it to be a long shot, and it isn’t as though there are committed promises. I merely suggested that I’d explore the possibility if this program is approved. My hope is that I can expand my usefulness with this university, and other opportunities might grow from it.

There are several additional moving parts with having college kids come with me into the prison. Certainly the logistics, which are not all that problematic because I understand the system expectations and am efficient. But, I’ve never run this kind of program before, and new things are always hard for me…probably for anyone. I have high expectations, and tend to fixate on failure that usually doesn’t materialize. Given the nature of this program, a complete crash and burn probably won’t be the case. My creation will be helpful for the incarcerated women; I’m just not sure what to expect from the program itself, and that’s swimming in my mind. It isn’t fear, more getting my head around planning, and just wanting to start already.

The university director I’m working with thinks this is a solid opportunity for his department. He’s planning for it as a noncredit option for the students. I assume credit can’t be awarded because it meets once a month as a single session entity, but I’m not certain if there is something additional I will need to create to make this a thing on his end. Some kind of assignment or written structure isn’t a problem, but a collision of other things I’m trying to organize in my mind with everything else. That isn’t a complaint. This kind of stuff is exciting for me.

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Little Man has always been about the mechanics, cherishing the non toys as toys…the sprinkler bric-a-brack no exception. My husband begged our son to keep the parts in the shed where they belonged, but Little Man simply cannot switch gears once an idea is in his head. My husband decided quite wisely it wasn’t worth the fit that would ensue for absolutely forbidding the activity.

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Watching Daddy do house work is also much more fun than any kind of toy he could be offered.

I relish having all of these pieces to consider with the flurry of other time occupations I’m pursuing, as I watch my children toil with various objects and each other on a warmish day in winter. I value my husband ushering the kids in a ridiculous toy car before he transitions to figuring if any of his various ladders will allow him to accomplish some kind of household task he keeps forgetting about. It was a hard couple of years, and my baseline is never particularly easy; but increasingly I’m convinced that I attract the people I need at various moments in my life. Too much of the time my closest relationships end, often jarringly so. It isn’t always a death or injury. Sometimes we naturally drift…sometimes I’m a shitty friend because I’ve struggled with intimacy my entire life. But, I suppose the nature of life is temporary, so in the next year I’ll take more time to bask in the people who force me to sit outside in a vaguely uncomfortable chair, or press me to do new things they don’t realize are terrifying. And, maybe if I plunge often enough into disquieting unknowns, the world can become a better place in some impossible to measure way, and I can make some new friends while honoring the people I’ve lost.

Trying…

It’s Thanksgiving again…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life as Pictures: lessons in saving myself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lessons History Tells…and how to ensure it ceases

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revelations and Taking Up Space

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

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

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

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.

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.

Where Traditions Collide with Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(What could go wrong, Giphy?)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Above All…another year of gratitude

It’s been a heavy…long time. I’ve started a bit of a tradition with this blog. Around this time I create a post of gratitude. I have to say I kinda enjoy it, and look forward to this post as it approaches. I’ve read stuff periodically about the benefits of having gratitude during the more grueling times in life. It’s a double-edged sword for me. On the one hand it can be helpful to focus on the very good things in my life. On the other I use it as a justification for why I shouldn’t or have no right to feel miserable at the time. But, now is not the moment to focus on one more part of my lengthy list of shtick.

I’m grateful to know love…to experience it in its many forms…the love of and for my friends…the love of and for my husband, but mostly the love surrounding my children. I don’t love easily. It’s something I’d never wanted to risk confronting, but I’ve had key people in my life, especially relatively recently, who have allowed me to slowly release the excruciatingly tight fist of this sentiment. And, then there are my children.

When Little Man was born I was struck fairly early on with the profound realization that he was nothing but a being of love. It was pretty much all he knew, and I’d never experienced anything like that…to have someone look at me the way he did. So many things are learned, but our capacity to love…for love…is innate. I’d lost that somewhere; who knows where. But, in those early, immediate moments I was determined to preserve this capacity in him as long as I could…Warrior Queen too, as the equivalent level of love stretched blatantly across her delicate features within a similar initial timeframe as her brother. Ultimately these types of things mean that I must model how I want my children to interact with and receive the world. It’s been a beautiful lesson.

Some of my most wonderful…unexpected moments for me in this process of raising children are the unabashed snuggles I can give them. Part of my commitment to Little Man and Warrior Queen was to always demonstrate the depth of my love and appreciation for them. Something like that isn’t such a leap. I’ve lost important people in my life through some means or another. The first never knew how I felt about him, and it’s probably my life’s greatest regret. I can attempt to repair…or at least resolve a burned bridge. Death is finite, so I have to carry everything I’ve never said for the duration of my flitting over life’s terrain. My husband never escapes a day when I haven’t told him how much I love him…how much I appreciate who he is and his role in my life. These things have become a compulsion of sorts. I tell my kids I love them regularly, especially when there have been a plethora of redirections and yelling in a designated time span. But, mostly I opt for a constant stream of squeezes and smooches. I can’t hold them close enough…hug them long enough, and I’m so grateful for that feeling.

But, the other night while I cuddled with my son for the three minutes before tucking him in…hopefully…for the night; I lamented that I will miss the soon approaching days when he will no longer climb all over me with every effort to crawl back into my uterus. Both my children are so affectionate and snuggly almost every waking minute of their lives. They will play independently for a span, but then gravitate toward my person in some wonderful fashion, and I can only want each minute to extend for an eternity…even if I have to pee or my lunch is solidifying into a chilled mass on the counter. It’s all worth it because these days will soon fall from their grace. I’d never thought I’d be that person. Most of the time I don’t like people touching me…like to comedic proportions.

I’m grateful for so many things…or at least I try to be. I’m grateful for these simple black dresses I’ve found that allow me to feel as though there was some effort placed into my appearance. In that same vein, I’m thankful for hair pins because I can’t be bothered to figure out how to pull my hair into a ponytail that doesn’t look like a disaster. Maybe it’s because my hair is really too short…maybe I’m just a hot mess with this task to the point that experiencing a seizure in the process of hair fixing would help the situation. Hair pins are quite forgiving and give the illusion of a stylish updo, especially for a curly mop such as mine. I should add flannel shirts to this particular list. If I didn’t have those colors and patterns, then I’d look as though I was in a constant state of attending funerals.

Stupidly immature patterned socks are also a marvel of child sweat shops the world over. Hard to be in a bad mood when one’s feet are adorned with hotdogs or dinosaurs. I recently purchased socks with alternating chicks and fried eggs, which is actually pretty morbid; but part of me can’t wait until those make an appearance. I’ve decided to save those for a drastically shitty kind of day. I’m grateful that day has not dawned.

Tea and dark chocolate earn their permanent nod as up at the tippy top of any list consisting of wonders that make the universe right, but maybe cookies deserve the very same placement? It’s hard to say because I’ve never really met truly bad chocolate. Sure, some I like better than others, but I can’t say I’ve met a bar or truffle I’d kick out of bed. Cookies, however, are a different matter. Some of them taste like absolute garbage. Have I ever not finished a cookie? Of course not, I’m not an animal. But, lousy cookies leave an air of disappointment long after its remains shuffle off this mortal coil. I’m not grateful for that. Good cookies? I think we can all agree there is a special place in the heavens for their creators. I’m not a believer…but an exquisite cookie can almost make me trust in a higher power.

I’m grateful for the uptick in civil action…activism…investment in preserving the best in society…the best in us…community that exists even behind anonymous screens. So much of the time I’m alone during the day…maybe lonely in need of the bare minimum of human connection when the days and weeks blur together in a swirl of, “what just happened?”…staying home with wee ones can do that. Social media is a wonder of like-minded people who are also new to political involvement. I’m too old for the inspiration of far distant figures to motivate me in any particular way, but the flood of the everywoman is something so awesome in its magnitude. We aren’t happy with…things, so we strangers who will never meet band together to do our small things, and accomplish the impossible amidst a sturdy collection of naysayers. I’m grateful to feel so powerful even on those days when nothing else is done beyond a call to Congress or a typed notion of support to an unknown, discouraged peer. In those moments I matter outside myself, and I’m thankful to feel that…to force myself at all times to matter in the smallest of ways outside myself. I’m grateful for sprawling spaces in comment sections of like-minded people. I’m inspired by the number of ordinary women leading ordinary lives, and changing things in not so ordinary ways.

I’m grateful for so many of the opportunities I’m afforded…that I worked damn hard for, and finally materializing into fruition. I’m thankful for my voice; I’m thankful others find it valuable enough to dedicate sparse moments in a flustering life. I’m grateful for progress…always progress, but at its very core; love…in its many forms and expressions.

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