A Tale of Two Mommies

…because more seems excessive…

Tag Archives: identity

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.

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Quenching a Dynamic Burn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Having it All, When You Don’t Have it All

I never wanted to get married. According to my philosophy college major self, the institution is outdated and a mere social construct. Marriage is oppressive, and I wanted to be free. I loved dating, and meeting new and like minded pretentious people. Then I graduated and suddenly found myself thrust into the adult social pool. I hated dating with such a vehement passion, having scores of stories to show for it. Only now are they funny. I suppose for some the institution is nothing more than the very outdated social construct I presumed all those years ago, but I met my perfect partner in crime. Our shared life is filled with humor above all things, and it carries us through our dichotomous trying times.

Our relationship spans just shy of fifteen years. We found each other when I was lost, struggling through things common for those floundering through their twenties, as well as encountering challenges mostly whispered by friends of friends. While I don’t believe another person can save me, my husband is my trite but true boulder. When we joined paths, I stabilized and dared to become a person.

Over the years I found my ambition, our union giving me the strength to take risks I never imagined awaited me. I’m proud of my professional accomplishments, but the decision to have children was always something so far away…until it wasn’t.

I was unexpectedly out of work just before becoming pregnant with Little Man. The plan was to work part-time, but plans are designed to be unfulfilled. My current path unfathomably different.

I read other mommy blogs and assorted online published pieces. Sometimes the thread of having it all described; its impossibility mostly. Two years and four months after my son joined our outside world and the addition of a rapidly growing sprite; I can finally say that I managed the SAHM purple unicorn.

Pre Little Man I craved the ambition of power and authority as a symbol of my success. My ambition changed raising my children, but surprisingly the same desire continues to burn indigo within me, maybe even stronger and more focused. However, to have my all I’ve had to consider what it entails beyond the superficial employment ranking. I have sponges absorbing their ocean now. I have precious little time for myself, squirreling my opportunity nuts when I have a thirty minute feast. Some days I rely on my surprising efficiency to accomplish some small task in an impossibly scant amount of uninterrupted free time.

Staying at home I see the world through separate eyes, and while I don’t want my identity to be solely with regard to others, I can’t escape their impact on they way I envision my unique identity. My all is about nurturing my ambition. Rank doesn’t hold the same promise of importance anymore. I concern myself with impact over position. After seemingly endless false starts, I found the avenues for the good work and impact I need to feel fulfilled. I can leave my small mark on humanity with the little time I have for myself. The best piece of having this all is that I see endless possibility with the opportunities I managed to discover, and maybe for the first time excited about the journey over the destination.

 

Legacy

Watching my morning news program with the presentation of the Forbes Magazine listings of the most influential and wealthy women in the country.  My initial feelings of a hunter green envy merging into awe of having my tangential membership to such an elite group.  I wonder their secrets of having such significance among the anonymous billions.

I think to my legacy.  I have a little boy who will look to me as the platform of what he can expect of my gender…not nearly as intimidating as raising a little girl.  My son will form his impressions independently of my purposeful representations of what I want him to see.  He will absorb the moments I forget someone is watching.  He will remember the kindness I bestow on others and my gracious acknowledgements of the idiot on the road in front of me who feels that a straight path merits ten miles under the speed limit.  My son will learn honesty from my correction of the cashier who gave me too much change, not from telling my mother I don’t like her shoes.

But, beyond the happenstance of events I want my life to reach beyond my family.  Right now I live in the moment, and I am lucky to plan my dinner for the next evening, but soon my label as a new parent will tarnish.  Time will hold a different meaning, so how will I fill it, and what will my son internalize from my choices?

I want to have the realized ambitions of those remarkable women of whom I only learned a tease of their experiences.  Maybe I won’t benefit the same throngs, and that is fine, but I want to influence the greater world in my small way.  I am not so morbid as to anticipate my obituary, but I want my son to remember me while I am very much alive as a force affecting my part in brightening the world for others even when no one is looking.

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