A Tale of Two Mommies

…because more seems excessive…

Tag Archives: music

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.

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Rebel Yell

Many swimming things in my mind the past couple weeks…some with the potential to be incredible…some notsomuch, but all have delayed my writing. I ran through my comfortable reserve with no motivation to cobble together the post that has consumed real estate in my gray matter for a month. Finally, here I am, and I hope it is worth the exceedlying long wait.

I posted Warrior Queen’s love of my singing shortly after her birth, something quite shocking to me…my voice is terrible, and generally I’ve never particularly had much yearning to break into song.

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(Nope.)

But, music is good for kids, so I buried my dignity in the backyard and danced on a field in the mountains with the rest of the crazies who get this shit. So imbedded in my routine throughout the last two years that I incorporate music instinctually all the time. It’s actually quite ridiculous. I find myself singing to myself whenever the kids are around regardless if I believe they are listening…Aren’t they ALWAYS listening?

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(Friendship Circle understands the cloak and dagger innate in small children…especially when it’s most inconvenient.)

I make-up random songs for random reasons. Sometimes it’s to announce a transition of little importance. Sometimes to urge Little Man to progress anywhere faster than a glacial meander…or move at all. Shockingly it works a good chunk of the time, and I have absolutely no idea why. Sometimes I’m simply excited…like the arrival of nap time…three-years-old Mr. Man continues to nap two hours in the afternoon. At times my son will ask me to repeat one of my spontaneous little ditties, and I usually can’t remember the lyrics for the life of me. Some occasions my inability to recreate vocal magic prompts a tantrum, but they are typically reserved for when I have a headache or desperately need to use the facilities. All in all, I’m surprised that my singing skill has improved, which is helpful for our broken glass budget allotment.

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(Opera singers…and Pinterest…have nothin’ on me. We started using plastic dishware long ago.)

Warrior Queen benefitted from my singing practices while residing comfortably in my uterus for thirty-seven-and-a-half weeks. Often I would feel her flip or move a certain way while I sang…or read. She was quite active throughout the pregnancy, but there was something unique to her movement during Little Man singalongs or story time. She always knew, and I always loved it. It’s one of the few positive memories from her wretched pregnancy. Consequent to the frequent occurrences of my singing, she’s primed to enjoy my melodious song renditions now that she exists in the outside world…lucky girl.

Her first word in the ten-months neighborhood was, “MMM…Meh…Mmmm…Meh.” It’s her version of Mommy, and I’m not kidding when I say it counts as a word. Warrior Queen utilized this specific speech pattern whenever she needed me. Now that she is mobile, she wails it throughout a pained crawl just to ensure I understand the depth of her displeasure, willing me to prepare and act accordingly. At this early stage it’s about the association. If she said /b/ while pointing to her bottle, that would be another word.

A few weeks ago, however, I witnessed her first and only sign. Little Man had a speech delay, so I’ve never experienced this phase, and let me say, it’s lovely. Having birthed two children, it seems a child rearing standard in our household that all the monumentally wonderful things first happen on the changing table…intelligent design perhaps? Warrior Queen at eleven-months is generally opposed to diaper changes, and forcefully asserts the degree to which she would rather not experience the situation. She doesn’t quite respond to playing with toys during the process like her brother two years ago. But, one morning she was decidedly unhappy with my diaper change pursuit, complaining quite vocally and squirming to grab the plastic bag we use to collect non poop wiping articles. I often sing to my children on the changing table. But, for whatever reason when I began singing my somewhat unique version of “Wheels on the Bus,” Warrior Queen snapped her head to look me in the eyes, absolutely delighted. I ran through the first verse to which she enthusiastically signedmore.” She is little, so it looks more like applauding than anything else, but it is marvelous nonetheless.

Since that first instance, Warrior Queen continues to urge my continuation of music, but she’s discovered that she will be awarded other pleasant things at her request…like ice cream. My favorite moment of late was during my own relatively rare ice cream indulgence. My husband holding our fierce sprite of a girl, but she was facing me staring down my mug of ice cream with a slightly protruding tongue movement that is akin to slow motion lip smacking. I suppose it is never too early to salivate for something as grand as ice cream, and my daughter is certainly a budding foodie like her big brother…and mommy. After a few of my spoon to mouth taunts, Warrior Queen signed “more;” naturally I obliged.

An interesting result I wasn’t expecting as I dusted off my baby signing form of communication; Little Man began doing the same. It isn’t the complete breadth of vocabulary he used before the floodgate of chatter emerged a little under a year ago, but he periodically throws random correct context signs I haven’t introduced to his baby sister quite yet. At times it’s like he forgets he knows how to speak…or his hands move magically without his conscious thought. Sometimes his sparsely signed words are in response to conversation in the background while he sings something unrelated.

Little Man may very well have a gift for music…possibly perfect pitch. He certainly didn’t receive such a skill from me. Warrior Queen is beginning to communicate beyond her wails of displeasure and giddy chuckles. Even if the rest of the world doesn’t see it as such, I wonder what gifts she will bring.

Pity for a Fool?

My children and I participate in few paid activities.  They are expensive, and I want to avoid overscheduling him just because it’s harder for me to organize activities and keep him otherwise engaged and occupied.  One class, however, has become a mainstay for the most part.  This international music class for young ones varies in quality depending on the instructor, but I managed to find one with a man my son adores.  Little Man is more gregarious these days, but while I wasn’t thrilled with this man’s personality initially, he cracked my son’s quiet shell immediately.  I can’t argue with that.

We recently finished our third enrollment in this program, and toward the end of this go around, the instructor pulled me aside as we rushed out to meet my son’s speech therapist.  I remember the music teacher double taking something Mr. Man said, although I forgot immediately after what it was.  There was something else of note I noticed as well, also lost to memory.  I know nothing of music or other typical toddler benchmarks and capabilities, so generally think nothing of my first’s skill acquisitions.

It isn’t so much that I think negatively of his abilities or doubt his natural gifts; I choose not to think much of them either way.  My world view in this arena is that one can be simultaneously homeless or useless in society and brilliant or gifted.  I have no control over my children’s natural gifts, but I have some control in helping them learn to be productive and positive contributors in society regardless of their innate skills.  I don’t question my ability to set high expectations, but for me it is more about helping them make the most of their life.  For that I prefer to have a blank slate in my mind that forms an image of increasing detail as my children age.

When this skilled musician and teacher informed me of my son’s perfect pitch and possible gift in music, I immediately felt a wave of panic.  I still can’t conclusively say why fear washed over me at that moment.  Some time later I still ruminate over questions that spontaneously come to mind at random intervals.  What do I do with this information?  Obviously, all of it depends on my son’s interest in the area, but aside from that, what does a parent do with a possible exceptional skill, especially at such a young age?  It’s been weeks with no reveal, but like so much of my life in the last two years, I suppose at some point I’ll know what the next definitive step should be.

But, for now he sings songs I recognize immediately even without complete utterings of lyrics.  While I have no concept of what’s next, I’ve given myself permission to laugh with my whole body when he rounds a corner strumming his ukulele sized toy guitar in nothing but a diaper; draped in his nine dollar store multicolored Mardi Gras bead strands and kitten ID card carrying “necklace.”  For the moment he can’t play anything, but maybe some day he will.  Even if he decides music is not for him, I will forever cherish my husband walking into the room gazing at my son in his current preferred get-up asking, “Why does my son look like Mr. T?”

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(Hey, if Mr. T is telling me it will be A-Okay, I know everything will be alright.)

 

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