A Tale of Two Mommies

…because more seems excessive…

Tag Archives: worthy pursuits

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.

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Life as Pictures…more miscellaneous and good tidings

Life is good…it’s been a long time since I could say that without pause. It feels carefree almost…well, as carefree as herding preschooler and toddler cats anyway. Per my usual state, things are BUSY…good busy.

What began as a general email of interest to a director I recently helped, turned into something unexpected. Assuming he achieves the last minute required enrollment, I’ll be paid to teach my writing class for the spring semester. I finished my first ever college syllabus a week ago; I pray I didn’t embarrass myself with it. Much of the class will be the same incarcerated clientele I taught over the summer in our maximum, but I’ll also have a few college “teaching assistants” along for the ride. It’s a new experience for me…like so many other new experiences I’ve had over the past couple years. My general policy these days is to open myself up to whatever floats my way because I can’t know where things will lead. When I originally emailed this director, I assumed I wouldn’t hear back until long after I forgot I sent the message…one never knows.

From a personal fulfillment perspective the class was gravy. I’d already committed to writing a couple more programs on behalf of the Department of Corrections. I’d completed my sizable piece of the reentry program that will be implemented system wide…pretty jazzed about that. The new programs will be interesting as well, each in a unique way. Like everything else, I’ve listened for possibilities, and take the plunge even if I’m uncomfortable. It’s all been a pretty groovy result for the most part…more than I would have expected. It’s an odd balance though. I’ll be paid to teach, but the rest I commit to as a volunteer. Without a check my time is squirreled within minute spasms throughout my day. But, all my seemingly infinitesimal exertions yield a good amount of task completions. It usually takes my forming of periodic accomplishment lists to realize the magnitude of the mountains I’ve moved in relatively short amounts of time.

And, of course there are my full-time responsibilities hefted upon countless overtime. But, these days the kids are funny. All sorts of things that are hilarious to me and possibly people who know them. Likely a snore to strangers, but I’ll give it a whirl. Little Man is all about his nether regions and various excrement or fluids these days. We’ve been talking about how urine and poop come to be…the process of energy for the body. My son likes to remind me at random times, “Pee pee comes from my peanuts. There’s a hole.” The other day he told a friend of mine, “Stinkers come from a tushie. You tell her Mommy,” as he sweeps his hand in a gesture for me to carry on the conversation.

Little Man finds new and innovative ways to assert himself almost daily. My husband telling him to hang-up the phone, “I can’t. I have to make a call.” All kinds of funny things.

Warrior Queen is her enduring feisty self. I took the kids to a cafe within one of our grocery stores. It’s a brand spankin’ new building. We hadn’t been yet, and I was delighted at the care that came to the eating space. Not only were there toys, but good ones to boot! The area was clean, and the sustenance surprisingly tasty as well, even if it isn’t quite worth the cost. My fierce girl enjoyed her cookie, roaming around to stand and stare at other patrons. She wouldn’t smile or say anything, just look at random fellow diners for an uncomfortable amount of time. She’s cute and small, so all of them smiled at her as she continued to unblinkingly perpetuate her stare-down. Periodically, she would determine someone was worth a wave of greeting.

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I feel like this is the modern day Sisyphus…my futile attempt to maintain a consistent store of bananas. I’ll buy a mass of them, and within a day they are gone. I don’t even know how something like that happens, and part of me wonders if this is part of the inspiration for the republic thrown around these days. One would think the running state of my household is supporting the big pharma of laxatives, but that is SO not the case. If my kids can claim no other skill in this life, they can take pride in their prolific propensity for pooping. Eventually I’ll rue the day that I didn’t act on some kind of partnership with a local farm.

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This image represents the most twitchingly horrific part of shopping, and I betcha anyone reading this who is a parent will immediately understand why before they lapse into a fit worthy among some of the more damaging epileptic seizures. It’s on purpose, and I will forever hold a grudge for this industry. Maybe the jerky gets the preschooler or toddler side-eye, but mark my words they are well versed in whatever garbage toy or latest brand of candy housed within easy reach. And, the lighter’s a nice touch…one of these days my son will burn this shit to the ground while I’m trying to locate my wallet within the black hole that is my purse containing a smaller version of a Walmart.

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I took this picture a day or two after we confirmed the suspicion that bats set-up residence in our attic…along with a family of mice and flying squirrel as it turns out. I remember happening upon this display and wondering what were the odds of us housing this specific brand of winged critter.

 

So, as I write these absurd odds-and-ends with no real sequence or purpose, it occurs to me that a post such as this captures the essence of my life more than any other: randomly without purpose most of the time, yet I find myself laughing throughout.

 

Loss

This is an odd post…a situation I’d had a low lingering inkling that I didn’t want to accept. I have…had a close friend. He was an amazing and very tortured soul; most of his life. Out of respect for his privacy, I’ll leave the details for the winds to whisper as part of his memory. But, he touched so many lives…people forgotten…left behind. His strength and power always inspired me to be my best self. He embraced his frailties; I’d always admired that about him. Tragically, however, he spent most of his life lonely. I’m not sure how he passed; I’ll never know, but I have notions within the realm of possibility, and it breaks my heart.

I’ve lost like this before; someone terribly close. I was an adolescent at the time, and my greatest regret was never expressing my love for him, and the depth to which his friendship shaped me. As much as a piece of me had been expecting to find my friend’s obituary online after two weeks of a quiet phone, I worry his last days were spent feeling unloved. I’d been especially neglectful for a couple of weeks, not checking-in as regularly as I’d practiced over the last several years because of his circumstances. Whatever happened I couldn’t have prevented it, but I hope from the center of my existence he knew on some level what he meant to me. I doubt he ever accepted his value, but in pleading ardent hope I pray I communicated it nonetheless. I think I did. I can’t bear to think I didn’t.

He will forever live on in my thoughts, and inspire my actions…to selflessly embrace the big, seemingly unsolvable problems…because that was his life. Furthermore, I’ll try to laugh more, worry less because barriers are never as insurmountable as they seem. That was his life as well.

I hope my children live a life knowing how to laugh with their whole beings…to seek humor in the most unlikely places. It’s one of the things I remember most about my friend; his endless humor at the most random, odd things. I hope to be as steady a presence during the most terrifying of moments. I hope to level opposition with a pointed, intimidating stare. I hope to have the flair for colorful language that kept us rapt and peculiarly joyful during meetings. I hope I’m brave enough to feel life as he did…to experience humanity in all of its remarkable and horrifying facets, and seek to make it better.

But, most of all I hope he finally has peace.

Divides

As an educator and social worker focusing on at-risk and incarcerated populations, I catch a glimpse of society others don’t. I see the random and capricious nature of our social policy and some of the direct effects of disenfranchisement. Criminal justice disparities are easily documented, yet seldom discussed in a real, fact-based way.

Racial tension has risen to the surface within our media…sometimes accurately…often not. Following our election I’ve become more involved in politics, mainly on social media, which is where, for better or worse, much of the fight occurs. Some of the race discussion alienates me. I am a White woman, so anything I attempt is inherently wrong. I need to be an ally, but I simultaneously can’t be. It’s all fairly frustrating, even as I remain a silent reader within comment sections. I get the person/woman of color narrative, but often the messaging prompts me to remain stuck in the status quo. But, then I read Jodi Picoult’s commentary, and it makes sense in a meaningful way. I see my life’s independent evolution, and don’t feel quite as terrible…not quite as stuck or disheartened. I have some notion of what my process should be in this new age…as we move forward as a society.

But, with all of the open discussion thus far about race, I am disappointed and irked with the narrow nature of general discourse about prejudice as a whole. Embedded within honest dialogue about race is the overlying statement that race is our country’s only injustice…our only shame. To be clear I don’t want to dismiss or minimize the experiences for people of color, particularly Black/African Americans. Their struggles dragged to our surface are past due and fully deserved. Slavery is the foundation of the terrible that followed. The totality of our population is overdue for enlightenment.

That said, I don’t like the conversation beginning and ending with race. I don’t like the competition that Black/African American is the only group meriting a dialogue. I won’t presume to speak of other’s experiences…overcompensating White people greatly annoy me. I can, however, speak from the perspective of the only experiences I have right to testify, my own. I am a Jew to name one subgroup I embody. People don’t like Jews. Anti-Semitism is a very real and unpleasant issue to experience, even as I currently reside in a liberal area. My childhood and adolescence, however, was in a small conservative location, and I have stories. They are different than stories of ones pertaining to race, but it wasn’t easy. I don’t appreciate my life and situation delegitimized because of my skin color. I will not call it reverse racism, as that doesn’t exist. I call it insensitivity and narrow foresight. To be clear I don’t want this to be a competition among the groups who have it harder. I want this to be a conversation that prejudice is a bad thing, and we do our society a disservice limiting the discussion and dismissing the ways others are capable of genuinely understanding differences and intolerance.

Often within conversations about race, other groups are completely lost. Gender variant (Transgender) and orientation are newly receiving more recognition and support, but others aren’t. Individuals identifying with disability and mental health struggles confront stigma and discrimination openly, and are not even at the table of discussion or societal support despite supposed legal safe guards. Our irrational fear and hatred of Muslims and Muslim foreigners has percolated to a head with rapid, deafening force; but even as I write this small element there is hope at least on that front. Finally, let us not forget Sexism and rape culture are also real things and intertwined within every other hateful shame within our society.

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(Social Science Space explains our mark on each other best.)

So, why discuss all of this in a parenting blog…now? The start of the answer is simple: My son is growing older, absorbing his world  in ways baffling me as they occur. My daughter is not far behind. I owe them the serious consideration of how I explain their world. Do I wait for the inevitable awkward public questions or do I spend the time on my terms? I choose the latter.

How do I raise children to appreciate, love, and fight for their country and all of her inhabitants? I don’t have the answer, but my son…and even my daughter will absorb and actively seek their place in the greater world regardless of my timeline. I’m not sure what Little Man understands, but it’s always been more than I thought. In the last couple of weeks my husband and I have been dumbstruck by Little Man’s understanding of jokes we tell for our adult ears, yet my son laughs even with a dry delivery. At 2.9 years-old his language comprehension is awing. Each passing week I feel the pressure to explain…to discuss, but it’s a bit overwhelming deciding on the specifics. For now I initiate side comments as they occur to me. I regularly vent politics and social happenings within my children’s ear shot. My children’s day is without media exposure, but come the evening the news is on. Senator John Lewis appears on our television, and I explain who he is as simply as I can; he is a fighter for people with skin like him who aren’t always treated well. I respond to the questions and statements my son is beginning to express. Yes, our minority president is scary, but all of us make sure he does the right thing. We all fight him when he tries to hurt others. I’ve started pointing out differences in people on television when he is watching. I try to shape his idea of beauty in the world…expand it beyond what I’ve historically understood. The time will come when he independently notes the world’s diversity in rapid fire utterances; I commit that I won’t be embarrassed when those moments occur. I will form that dialogue and change the narrative of how he will see people unlike himself. I will continue to combat prejudicial commentary he hears whether it’s strangers or among those closest to him.

We live in a White area, but I want my son to appreciate and see beauty in the uniqueness that currently divides us. I don’t want either children to be the farce of color blind, but I don’t want them to overcompensate either. I believe in giving back. I believe in authenticity. I believe in thoughtful leadership. I believe in their brilliant futures as they define it for themselves. I believe in my role to interpret the world as I understand it based on real data and facts. I want their world to be better, and it starts with me.

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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