A Tale of Two Mommies

…because more seems excessive…

Category Archives: parenting reflections

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 giggle 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.

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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.

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.

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.

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