A Tale of Two Mommies

…because more seems excessive…

Tag Archives: work

Disappointments

The semester is over for me, but the writing class in the prison isn’t. Since I’m already there with more material left in my curriculum, I want to continue through the holidays. This time of year can be a challenge for prison populations, so if I can offer a measly distraction, I’m happy to do so.

The sitter canceled at about six-thirty in the morning. Her kid was sick with something that sounds lovely and includes vomit. It would be a dick move to be angry about a mom taking care of her kid. And, I’d be ridiculous for wanting someone entering my house coming from that situation. But, I was disappointed. It was so last minute that no childcare replacement could be made. My husband had a meeting with his supervisor, so he couldn’t stay home. I called-off the class. I deeply love the man who had regret all over his face seeing the brief moment of defeated shoulders I didn’t realize occurred. He knows this class is the highlight of my week, and a good one lifts me for days after. But, nothing could be done, and it isn’t like this was a catastrophic thing. The college group is finished, so I’m back as a volunteer. All things considered this wasn’t that disruptive of a situation.

In the novelty her toddler bed, the two-and-a-half-year-old Warrior Queen was up too early. I probably woke her when I started exercising. When I have class, I set my alarm to start my day strong and energized with ample time to get my blood running, read my smut…and check the conclusion of the previous night’s Twitter arguments. But, a too early rise for Warrior Queen means I’m limited in where to spontaneously take the kids. With no more crib in the equation, I can’t have my fierce sprite falling asleep in the car too close to “quiet time.” Perhaps some parents appreciate the exertion of perpetual ushering into a bedroom, but I am not such a parent.

For a good chunk of my morning I had to repeat to myself that the unexpected nature of the day was not the end of the world. It wasn’t, but I was still disappointed. Something I’m trying to do, and mostly failing at, is accepting what I feel without judgment. I decided the day needed to be special…because there was no where interesting to go, and I was sulking about my class.

And, the entire foundation to the day was rough. The four-and-a-half-year-old Little Man was thrown by the sitter thing, and started to tear-up when I told him I would remain home. For some reason he conflated my missed class with his consequence for stealing. He took a nothing wood thing from his classroom that he considered a treasure. But, it doesn’t matter what it is. Stealing is not acceptable behavior, and he needs to return it. The object, however, is now lost somewhere in our house. Little Man has until his next school day to find it, or he will lose one of his own toys of my choosing as a symbolic gesture that his teacher is forever missing one of hers. He’s anxious about this, but has put in zero effort finding the object he stole. Either way, come next week I’ll stand with him as he explains what happened to his teacher and apologizes. We’ve spent DAYS talking about this situation. In his mind that morning he thought he was losing a toy sooner or something, and I think generally confused with a suddenly disrupted routine. But, we talked it out; and he proceeded to sit on the sofa, rhythmically throwing his back against the cushions like he’s been doing since he was old enough to sit on it without keeling over.

Grocery shopping was the plan, courtesy of my husband who reminded me we didn’t have dinner for the night. The prospect of bringing both kids to the store alone gives him fits, but it isn’t that bad during off hours. The kids are usually chatty about silly, adorable things; and my son is always super polite. It feels good when he delights random strangers. It’s a vanity thing that I’ll take…plenty of other moments when I want to crawl into a hole with regards to my public parenting.

I’ve learned when things make me anxious…like an unplanned day with almost no warning or flexibility, or I’m just feeling lousy for whatever reason, “special” does the trick. Special can have all kinds of meanings. For me it’s mostly a food thing, and I can’t forget my iced tea purchases that are obtained so often I don’t know if they count as special anymore. But, I certainly enjoy them, and they are a high point of enjoyment for me no matter how many days I have them. I buy cookies at a local bakery regularly as well, but the morning’s disappointment demanded chocolate chip even if the event itself is not so unique to my existence. But, cookies will always be inherently special, and make everything better.

And, there is something cool about our car rides, shorter distances anyway. For the longest time the music had been kid stuff. I’m not sure how or when the shift happened, but now the kids request songs from one of my favorite groups. Little Man almost has I Hope You’re Happy memorized.

Warrior Queen is most passionate about the following song on the disc, which is a more hard core sounding tune with an embarrassing amount of profanity to it. It isn’t at the level of “bitch digs my stick,” but it isn’t something winning me any parenting awards either. That said, it isn’t like the song deviates from my own regularly used colorful declarations. So far it doesn’t seem like either kid has noticed; maybe because it’s hard to follow the lyrics? Both kids usually have some kind of clue what the song should be called based on the words they hear. Warrior Queen calls the song she adores “Chomp.” I don’t know what the song is actually called, but it isn’t that. I give her credit though, “Chomp” actually fits with the general feel of it.

Otherwise, most of the car rides go between I Hope You’re Happy and Your Love is Like a Car Crash…the kids just call it “Car Crash.”

I’m thankful I don’t have to try and guess what they want as they stare out the windows. Both kids assert their needs quite clearly as long as communication isn’t occurring mid tantrum. Even the arguments between the two of them make sense, and I’m kinda delighted that they work out their song disagreements without my involvement or with one of them habitually caving. All things considered, they are pretty balanced about the car music selection. Little Man regularly forfeits his song turn to please his sister; I love that about him. Like my daughter, my son loves music, and will be excited to hear his “Happy” song, sigh with a “Fine, we’ll listen to Chomp again,” rocking his head against his car seat patiently until it’s finished. Then it is his turn, and I will hear him singing to himself what he knows to Happy, and my heart melts. And, there are other times when Warrior Queen changes her mind, even mid song, to please her brother. I’d been mostly sick of the same discs I’ve been listening to since Little Man started toddling, so I will not complain about the development of their new musical interests.

The car itself has become a sort of event for me in and of itself. I try to enjoy every precious morsel of it, so often find myself in a scramble once reaching destinations I haven’t put much consideration into. As we meandered through the store in our partially catawampus way, on a whim when thinking about lunch, I bought the ingredients for calzones, which are not nearly as tasty as ones purchased at a restaurant, but figured my kids would appreciate it. They did. Little Man was talking about it for the hours leading up to the meal. The grocery mostly uneventful. Warrior Queen didn’t attempt to flee the cart basket, and managed her “gentle hands” lowering items behind her. Little Man didn’t wander off and boisterously greeted people we passed…the occasional properly placed, “Excuse me.”

The bakery not so uneventful. Mr. Man toying with the small Christmas tree in the corner before I had a chance to say something, knocked an ornament to the floor. To his fright it shattered to a substantial number of dazzling pieces. Thus commenced the tired lecture since these festive trees have made their presence…everywhere. His earnest and unprompted apology to one of the bakers concluded; we purchased very fancy winter cookies, and hustled in an excitable blur out the door. Well, the kids had fancy winter cookies. I stuck with my tried and true chocolate chip.

Kids tethered to their carseats with surprisingly little controversy, I texted my mom to see if they were available in the next thirty minutes to Skype. Eventually she replied, which allowed me to feel better that I hadn’t attempted such a thing as often as my parents would like since their return south earlier in the month. Kids distracted. I cooked. We ate. Forty-five minutes of book reading with Warrior Queen sprawled on her back over my reclined body and Little Man nestled into my side, and it wasn’t a horrible day.

Later in the evening I received preliminary confirmation that I will teach two sections of my class in the spring. I have yet to teach an afternoon in the prison. Different gangs involved with different prison functioning issues, so that should be interesting. I’ll have a significant increase in college students in each class, which will be a nifty thing as well. I have to say that I’ve quite enjoyed the college students. I didn’t expect to as much as I do. My primary motivation for reaching out to this university originally was to afford me the opportunity to teach in a prison without relying on my parents remaining in the area for childcare. It’s marvelous to find that I enjoy the college contingency as much as I do. It isn’t so much that I thought I wouldn’t, rather the perception from this piece of the experience not occurring to me.

A little later in the evening I received an email from the graduate student enrolled in my class. The last syllabus assignment is an optional request for course feedback. It was a truly lovely and unexpected message…humbling. And, while it was still a disappointing day, I can’t deny its outcome.

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Milestones

My children will have their first sitter this week…twice actually. My parents have watched them without either me or my husband present, but never a stranger. It isn’t about some kind of grand plan or trust concerns. I’ve simply never gathered my shit to have people available for things like a rogue date night or something. I’ve felt the constraint from time to time. My husband and I agreed that I wouldn’t pay childcare to volunteer. It would be one thing if I needed the break for self-preservation, but I’ve largely been fine. It simply didn’t make sense to pay money so I could work for free…It’s irrationally and depressingly expensive.

Since a bit before my pregnancy began with Little Man four years and some change ago, I haven’t received many paychecks. It doesn’t bother me as much now as it used to, but I remember the first consulting-like contract I achieved…a few months of a check, and it felt indescribably good. It was meager, but adequately supported my tea and chocolate habit…the unnecessary cheap sweater.

I couldn’t admit it for years, but the reality is that the entirety of any income I’d earn would be consumed by childcare costs…if I’m lucky. My earnings would likely not be sufficient even if I managed a leadership position. The only exception is if I squared a first level manager job in a state agency, but that’s the equivalent of happening upon a baby purple unicorn shitting cookies in my family room while discovering that no version of Law & Order is running on any television channel. I’m lucky my life is comfortable. My husband makes a good living, even if the situation isn’t perfect. We are smart with our expenses, always planning for this, that, or the other thing. But, I can’t deny my socioeconomic privilege.

I worried for at least a couple of years about resume gaps and what my future held for me as a person. My employment passion is a tricky beast, and I met with endless dead ends as I explored ways to be engaged in any kind of worky-like thing. It was heartbreaking for a long time knowing that I couldn’t attend meetings or venture to whatever location to volunteer. Most events are not on weekends or evenings.

Warrior Queen is just about two, and Little Man is just about four; I’m on the cusp of earning my second paycheck since a bit before my pregnancy with Little Man. It isn’t much, but just enough to cover the four or five hours of childcare I’ll require weekly. It’s an unexpected thing that is the product of me sending out nets of interest as I make contacts…keeping my ears open for information.

The past three years I’ve gradually found my way back to corrections in a context I didn’t know to envision. I live in a big government state, so there seems to be endless programs with the support of countless nonprofit and university work. I’d known this, but I didn’t know it. There’s been so much to learn, and so much to do. Up until now all of my efforts have been voluntary, but it’s been cool to see what I’ve managed…a lowly stay-at-home mom with a couple of young kids…the successes and inroads I’ve attained from behind a computer screen and the scattered phone calls.

Last summer I finally mustered my shit and returned to teaching a class; I’d missed teaching…missed doing a lot of things, really. I’m not unhappy, but so much of my life is resigning myself to change that I might not necessarily want. It isn’t a complaint, but it’s a challenge to love who I used to be, and have to let go of that identity completely without knowing if anything comparable will take its place. I’ve learned to trust the process more these days. I’m genuinely a better person than the one I released to my history. But, I couldn’t have known that at the time.

It began as a lucky stumble to a local nonprofit providing rehabilitative programming for some of our correctional facilities. When I joined, so did new agency leadership. I appreciate uncountable things about this director, but mostly I value feeling important. My work with this agency ebbs and flows as there is purpose for me, but periodically I’m asked for an opinion about various odds-and-ends. That holds meaning. It isn’t often I’m asked about anything outside of parenting anymore. It’s a small thing, but I’ll buzz for a few days after.

The ebbs with the agency made me anxious. My interests and their needs are not always compatible, but there is a consistent place for me at this point, which I appreciate. Over the past few years I’ve managed contacts of my own through the tasks I’ve taken with the agency. Now I’ll periodically help corrections administrators directly with their programming needs that would otherwise be pushed off indefinitely for lack of time and resources. When there is no explicit assignment in the works, I interface with enough people that my own projects make their way into the system. It’s hard to explain in such vague terms, especially for people unfamiliar with these systems; but all of this is quite a feat.

This semester I started teaching my first college level class. It’s mostly online, and certainly not a traditional class for this level and university prestige. I offered my availability so that I could teach in a prison beyond the summer. The parameters of this particular class is bringing some university students into the prison with me. The college kids (When did they become kids?) have been completing reading and writing assignments in the context of criminal justice issues while the incarcerated population will be experiencing the creative writing class I designed and taught last summer. The college group will be participating too, but their vantage point is to understand the humanity of incarcerated populations. The prison group will learn tools for self-expression.

This week we’ll finally manage the facility orientation, and my children’s first sitter. If all goes according to plan, the first creative writing class will begin at the end of the week. At some point I will receive a paycheck. All of this surreal. It’s a mix of fear and inadequacy…confidence it will work, and a vague question if I will have this opportunity again. I try not to think about it; to get ahead of myself. I suppose parenting has prepared me well for this venture.

Pursuing a Diverse Diet of Fruit

This was not going to be my next blog topic, but I find myself, once again, perseverating on what to do with myself that doesn’t involve an eighteen-month-old appendage.

A bit of history, I was unemployed when I was pregnant, and kept myself busy with volunteering opportunities that were not all that engaging, but they engulfed time, and I had the freedom to waste my time as I saw fit.  Pregnancy was a type of limbo holding tank; the consumption of parenting unknown in every possible respect, and I drove myself crazy.  I decided that I would pursue part-time employment because that is what every mother who has the option should choose, right?  Because I wasn’t already working somewhere I loved, considering full-time work carried my personal judgment that I would be a terrible person if I made such a choice; we don’t need what would amount to my paltry income when staying at home was the more appropriate, noble choice.  Mind you, I don’t have such a judgment of other women who choose full-time work for any reason; perhaps it was because I was so ambivalent about having my own children for so long that choosing a role as primary caregiver would convince others and myself that I was invested.  Regardless, the choice was made, and finding someone willing to hire a pregnant woman even part-time was elusive, so I remained unemployed and the interesting positions available ceased to appear.

Time trudged; my son was born, and the first year of Mommying was spent with moment to moment things.  The gods of good social fortune blessed me with valuable friendships through that time, something I was hard pressed to find in the fifteen years I’ve been living here.  I organized a new mom social group and waited; for what I still can’t say.

Staying at home has a strange internal clock.  I took up this blog at a transition toward normalcy that I only vaguely understood, but craved it nonetheless.  No longer could I say there was a blur of infant tasks to accomplish that absorbed every ounce of brain power I possessed.  My little man was growing, and I eventually exhibited coherent thought that couldn’t be denied by anyone…mostly…as well as the ability to actually plan a dinner.  Yes, the times were changing.  My friends and I stopped meeting quite so frequently as they experienced similar personal drives.

I’ve written about it, but not as often as I consider it, probably because I actually have readers, and no one wants to read pages upon pages of self-important whining even if my struggle is the same struggle of so many Mommies over.

The core question is, “Who am I?”  In some respects my future is a blank slate, which is horrifying or at least unsettling despite the envy of some for the liberating possibilities, even if they aren’t entirely limitless.  It occurred to me, last night actually, that my personal endeavors outside of raising my wonderful little boy are not as vacant as I’ve managed to convince myself all this time, and it has been, and will likely continue to evolve as all dynamic things do.

I think part of the problem with how I’ve considered my pursuits are that I label them as needing to fulfill requirements I’ve made up, but have no real bearing on anything real.  For so much time I only considered my work legitimate if it adhered to a specific schedule outside the home and I was receiving monetary compensation for my toiling.  I guess if I decide to ever run for a political office, no one can say that I’m not an American…  But, if I stop minimizing my fairly recent accomplishments and look through a larger lens, I’ve managed to meet much of my need for independence while living an example that make me proud that I am a human with the capacity to help improve the world in my small way, as well as enjoy and challenge myself at the same time regardless of the lolls that inevitably transpire throughout this process.

As I said, things are ever evolving, but what I’m living is more than dreams; I’m managing to take risks and do things that are new and interesting, and I feel confident they will lead to somewhere unknown and unexpected down the road.  I’ve been talking around the particulars, but I think we are all friends or at least friendly acquaintances by now, so perhaps the specifics are prudent at this point.

Obviously I’m writing.  This blog has proved more popular than I ever envisioned it would be.  I always assumed this would be a document to aide my memory and perhaps help or entertain a person here and there, yet I have a small, steadily growing following despite my limited exposure and publicizing; a far cry from reaping financial benefit, but why not call this expenditure of time a success?  Even if my readership does not flourish from here, I’ve found a voice that I’ve never particularly had, and that has value…and witnesses…  Along a similar vein, a few months ago I started writing short stories and submitting them to contests.  I’ve had dreams of having something published since college, but I never had the determination nor courage to set finger to key.  And, true, my chances are probably slim in winning one of these literary magazine contests, but an editor sent me a very kind unsolicited rejection last night.  I did not make the finals, but she liked my story quite a bit.  Again, no financial gain, but, wow, I never envisioned something like that either, so maybe someday I will be in print after all…and a check wouldn’t be so bad either…

Then there are my longtime, consistent passions.  For a couple of years now I’ve been an educational consultant and adovate for disadvantaged families, and even though I’ve had several cases, I have difficulty claiming it as an occupation because I don’t accept payment.  Perhaps it is strange to dismiss my work because there is no financial gain, merely a human one…  I’ve had the privilege of helping struggling families form clarity and a plan that is in the best interest of their child.  It seems I have been successful, so when people ask what I do, why can’t I tell them that?  I don’t know.  I’ve enforced a narrow dogma to myself that because the opportunity that would lead to financial reimbursement has not been what I had hoped thus far, the rest of my work cannot be declared as legitimate.  I’m trying to convince myself such thoughts are foolishness as ardently as my conviction that success must be traditional…and paying…

Even more recently I’ve started volunteering through an agency that provides pschoeducational groups and educational classes/tutoring for the Department of Corrections.  This opportunity is developing at a vertigo inducing rate, and the most frustrating for me, probably because I want this so much that it resonates in my mouth every time I think about the possibilities.  My work with the agency started as one thing, and has rapidly changed course in a timeframe that could conceivably be calculated in days, albeit it would be a tad cumbersome.  At this juncture I’ve written a few different group and class curricula, one I want desperately to teach myself.  However, even if the process becomes too complicated to achieve fruition, I managed to impress people with my creations, which is satisfying…granted not as satisfying as formal program approval would be…  At the end of the day, the constant evolution I find myself in with this particular investment will likely have me tutoring small groups of inmates a couple of evenings a week in reading comprehension and expository writing remediation for the new HiSET exam, which is close in some respects to the whole class literacy program I hope to run someday before God retires.  Eventually part of the tutoring responsibility will include supporting other tutors, creating curricula, and likely some program development once this matures from a seed to a sapling.  Again, I won’t receive a paycheck for my work, but I will have the rare schedule outside my home and participate in one of my deepest passions in life.

All of this in maybe the last six months, so why do I torment myself with the fallacy of personal stagnation?  Admittedly, this isn’t ideal on every count, but my next pursuit is to give myself permission to enjoy the fruits of quite a bit of labor and the patience to know that nothing is an end unless I determine it is.

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