A Tale of Two Mommies

…because more seems excessive…

Tag Archives: volunteering

Life as Pictures: lessons in saving myself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Forms of Love

I feel like this will be a rushed post…partly because I’m overdue. I’d been hoping for ten day increments, but it seems like two weeks is more realistic these days, and even that’s a stretch sometimes. I’ve had to scale back the effort with my posts or else I’d never publish anything. I’d always focused on my content as a priority, and the pictures and hyperlinks were more a gold standard of excessive effort I’ve chased. It seems I’m mostly returning to strictly content, which makes me a bit sad…maybe a bit like I’m failing in some respect. But, that’s my shtick. I’m sure I’m overreacting as a singular force to create weakness where they don’t exist. At least I’m funny…to myself. BUT, I can say after three years of at least a minimum low grade struggle that things are looking up in important ways, like there is some movement out of a rutted cycle. I’m afraid to think it, but can’t stop myself from a deep core hope.

Warrior Queen is two now, and Mr. Man is four. Little Man’s development isn’t quite so awe inducing these days. He’s a gregarious soul, and these days he “feeds me” rain clouds, sunshine, and tornadoes. It all originated from a nothing mall outing…just like so many of the others. A vacant rectangular folding table draped in black cloth and a single chair, my son and I pretending that he is a vendor while Warrior Queen gallops around as she does best. My huge, shoddy pantomimes with strangers eyeing me strangely…unless they have small children of their own. In the latter case, they laugh. Mr. Man sells me televisions and cookies and chocolate…enormous televisions that I almost break a hip pretending to carry. My son is delighted; my daughter spinning around only pausing briefly to smile at me with her open mouth, full teeth baring lips. I’m not sure how it transformed, but suddenly there was a joke about weather. The next moment I’m swallowing storms with thunder rumbling in my belly that he pretended to hear, and lightening out of my mouth in excitable sparks. The sunshine dries it up, so that I don’t burst from all the rain consuming my insides. The tornado manifested so that I could sweep him up into my arms, squeezing him tightly and spinning him around. As of this morning the rain was no longer appealing. He wanted endless funneled winds of me hoisting him from the back of the sofa, and Warrior Queen stopped her dancing to ask for tornadoes of her own.

The past year has been shifting collections of savoring what I can, and imposed self-care at every opportunity. Some of it leaving a combined bitter taste and elation. Through all of this there have been “the grandpas.” Another mall memory. It’s a collection of elderly veterans who mall walk at approximately the same time every morning. They are quite passionate about my children, and one gentleman is quite passionate about my rack. He’s polite enough, but I assume holds a strong preference for well endowed women…which I am. He rarely misses an opportunity to hover his eyes on my chest. The leader of the group prompts me to warm smiles. I doubt he’s ever heard anything any of us has said, but I remember a cool morning sometime after the presidential election and subsequent inauguration aftermath. Since that time, it’s been uncomfortable. MPOTUS is a horrible, hateful man; and he holds the nation’s highest office. As a minority, albeit hidden beneath a White surface, I worry…always. I haven’t had to worry like this since I was a youth. It’s reasonable to say I didn’t miss this feeling. It’s an oppressive weight that I’m not really safe; that it’s obvious I don’t belong. It was a harsh reminder of where I grew up and never returned. Perhaps not as terrible as the reality of so many others, but it was terrible for me. But, one morning I hear this man yelling to his friends in heated discussion I only half caught, “I DON’T CARE; YOU DON’T VOTE FOR A WHITE NATIONALIST!” His voice boomed in the mostly empty food court. Since that day I’ve sought to visit him and his friends…a silent appreciation for his existence. He’ll probably never know the impact of his words; I doubt he remembers. To him it was a nothing conversation with his friends, unremarkable in the course of outings with peers. But, I remember, and I likely always will. And, now Little Man specifically requests to see “the grandpas.”

Seeing the interactions between all of these beings generated another idea. When things are hard, I lean into something that allows me to step away from myself. I also look for ways to consume my kids in some kind of activity, preferably for free. Sometime this month my kids and I will be volunteering at an assisted living. Mr. Man likes to talk to anyone anytime about anything. I’m not sure what Warrior Queen will do…probably stare down everyone around her from her small state and say, “thank you,” although she’s been more chatty to strangers as of late. Originally I just planned to bring the kids to visit seniors, but I think it’s morphed into me reading something from our collection of books each week. That’s an added bonus. I love reading children’s books to an audience. It never occurred to me that it would be an elderly population. I had resigned myself to the thought that I would wait to volunteer as a reader in a school classroom when the kids were older. I enjoy when hopes materialize before I planned.

I’m stunned by the passage of time as a whole. I wouldn’t say things have passed in a blink, rather in such a short span the kids can do so much, particularly Warrior Queen. A few months ago she snuggled me in certain way before bedtime. For a bit she no longer wanted snuggles, opting to spin herself dizzy and fall to the ground. Her language continues to develop. She returned to her nightly snuggle with me in a rocking chair, but now she wants me to cradle her so she can look me in the eye. She’s always appreciated my singing more or less…it comes in waves. These days she requests songs that she can sing along to…sort of. She’s on key, but doesn’t really know the words. The words she knows often mispronounced. But, that smile of hers, and the look of adoration on her face. I hope I always remember it.

The routine before nap time is a bit different. Little Man insists on singing his sister two lullabies that inevitably turn to three or four. On cue he walks himself back to his own room, waiting relatively patiently for his own tuck-in. Warrior Queen turns in my lap quietly so that her cheek will press directly to the skin on my chest. She stretches her arms around my shoulders, clutching whatever shirt I’m wearing while we rock. Eventually she’ll utter, “I sleepy,” and it’s in the crib she goes. Oddly it often coincides with when I begin to hear Little Man shouts, “Mommy, tuck me in!” He’s half asleep when I reach his closet door, the small inner room that houses his mattress. He enjoyed his toddler bed for a week, and since that brief excitement over the transformation of his crib, has opted for his very own man cave. He always asks for an extra, “hug, kiss, snuggle, squeeze, and smooch.” I almost always acquiesce. He knows it’s my downfall.

Warrior Queen knows my passion for snuggles as well. These days if I’m still, she insists on laying with me or sitting on me. Often resting her head somewhere on my person…cheek to cheek…my thigh. Sometimes she sits on me as I’m laying on the sofa, otherwise ignoring me entirely. Periodically she’ll look back to me saying, “snuggle,” which I oblige. Her snuggle routine is for hugs and tickling kisses on her cheek and neck. She has a delightful laugh, and the only consistent way I bring it forth is from the speckling of light kisses to her sensitive skin.

Both of my children are older. I hope they will always be this loving. I hope the elderly we visit will feel their warmth as I do. The world has a shortness of uninhibited love sometimes, and I wonder why. It’s the first profound thing I noticed about my children…love. As humans we seem to be distinctly born with the intense capacity for it, yet it fades. So strange that something that saturates babies washes away in seemingly easy fragility. Maybe because it hurts so intensely even when it’s good. I think the pinnacle of my hope for my children and their lives is that I raise them to persevere through the hurt because nothing else feels quite like home.

All’s Well that Ends Well…

I’m beginning this post with the end result because it is exciting for me and I fully haven’t exhausted innocent bystanders yet…You’re welcome…

My Department of Corrections literacy class application proposal approval has been up in the air since the summer.  For a long stretch the outcome was promising, then it wasn’t until this week when I learned that only a few administrative details needed adjusting before I would receive my final coveted signature.  In the meantime, I’ve been sitting in limbo soup that was left in the back of the fridge.  The same soup experience when after several moments of contemplation, the contents of the container are remembered.  The limbo was in part this class I desperately want to teach, but the other part is my role coordinating a tutoring preparatory program for a new and different high school equivalency exam.  Without the approval for the class I designed, I would funnel into coordinating and participating in this specific tutoring opportunity.  But, in true bureaucratic system fashion with new endeavors, the tutoring program generated by the DOC has been vague for months, leaving me to speculate on every aspect of the program and implementation.  Granted I was likely accurate with my ponderings, but no confirmation either way.

That was the back story; I hope sufficiently brief.  No information for months prompted a shortish notice of an orientation for the DOC education and vocation programs…It was two hours beginning at 6.30 and ending at 8.30…in theory…  My assumptions were confirmed regarding the rationale behind the uncertain path, as well as what would be necessary to coordinate such an endeavor.  Gotta say, I’m PSYCHED!  The general outcome from the months of toil is that I am designing a pilot program and supporting tutors that, if successful, will likely be implemented throughout DOC institutions…pretty cool.  I love this kind of stuff…plus I get to teach my dream class.  If only I were paid, I could support my chocolate and tea habit, and this would be perfect…

But, that is not how my day began…

Little man woke up in a fabulous mood in the morning.  We were having oodles of fun, but then I noticed he was beginning to look ill an hour or two before his nap.  Of course, I was in denial because he’s been sick twice in the last six weeks.  I aggressively tried to convince myself he just needed to sleep…And, I oh so desperately wanted to believe it…

Fortune, however, urinated in my Cheerios because Little Man woke up after an hour into his nap exhausted and in a terrible mood, and it was only one ‘o’ clock.  I was so, so foolishly hopeful he would sleep the two-and-a-half to three hours he had been for the last week.  Major bummer doesn’t even come close to my devastation when I heard the tell tale yelps of a grumpy Little Man waking from the monitor knowing full well he wouldn’t sleep again the rest of the day.

Thinking I had longer, I didn’t eat much, so I’m already hungry, and we aren’t talking normal hungry.  This is pregnant hungry, which takes on a demonic life of its own.  Do you know why all zombie movies are so similar?  It’s because most people have met a hungry pregnant lady by the time they’ve reached adulthood…not even an exaggeration…

Suffice it to say, I’m in a bad mood and pouting as I trudge up the stairs that leave me winded at the top because I’m harboring a parasite.  Once I’m finished wheezing, I brace myself for the mucusy onslaught I was all too familiar with, and I was still woefully unprepared.

To say cranky and needy really doesn’t quite capture the expanse of the hours until my husband arrived home from work, and I’m not even describing myself.  The highlight of the afternoon was forty-five back aching minutes I sat in an unsupported pike position singing off-key repetitions of Mary had a Little Lamb, bouncing my son as he rested on the expanse of my legs, looking up at me, and insisting that I rest my hands on his chest.  He held them there just to make sure I didn’t try anything funny.  So cute, right?  Sure it is.  I absolutely love a good cuddle monster, but not when I’m hungry and forced to continue like I’m single-handedly rowing a Grecian war ship.

My son had oozing, shrieking fits when I wasn’t holding him.  Eating did nothing to abate the needy torture I found myself entrenched in for hours.  He ate half of my hallowed everything bagel slim with butter, keeping me from eating my half because Little Man was determined to have me hug him tightly as he ate…so not cool…Every part of me wanted to punt my son across the room and steal back his half of the bagel and devour mine.  The kid seriously kept me hostage with bawling that escaped a glossy wet face in contorted expressions necessary to completely capture comprehensive misery of both of us until my husband appeared like the apparition of a holy angel designed to relieve the suffering of the natural world.

At that point, however, I was already running late.  I still needed to eat some semblance of a dinner; fortunately I had the foresight to stay in jammies until just before…I learned that lesson the hard way…  Nevertheless, I needed to change, and I had maybe fifteen minutes to do everything.

To top off the events, I was brushing my teeth in the downstairs bathroom, and even though I know Little Man must cause mischief and mayhem every time I enter this small closet of a room, I didn’t close the door behind me.  With a foamy mouth I learned that my son not only lifts up the toilet lid, but now has the desire to dabble his fingers in the water…lovely…Now try to picture a mom foaming at the mouth from a baking soda toothpaste and the initiation of a full freak-out as my son is dancing his fingers in our toilet bowl water like a creek insect.  I call for my husband…maybe shriek is more apt.  He enters, and highlights his frustrated ambitions as a comedian, “Hey, people pay good money for toilet water.”  So. Not. Funny.  But,  it’s his problem now.  I rinse and wipe my mouth, and head out the door hoping I didn’t forget anything in my mad last minute scramble to collect the items I’ll need for the orientation.

I’d like to say it was an easy drive.  It would have been if every pokey idiot wasn’t leading the way the entire route, but I arrived at a reasonable time.  By the end of the evening the preceding event traumas evaporated, but I can feel confident that new ones are just around the corner to give me comfort in my times of need.

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