Solo Mama: Thought for the Day

“Don’t say anything while we are in the store. Otherwise I will explode into flames with frustration.”

This was directed to me from the back seat as we pulled into Walmart by you know who (the fiesty child). She muttered in all the way into the store while holding my hand, like a horror movie demon. That and the matted hair made it even a bit more frightening. Of course I talked most of the time we were in the store. She’s still the most gorgeous little girl I’ve ever seen.

Solo Mama: (Not) Surviving Work at Home with Kids

Hey Mamas! Are you at your wit’s end? Read on.

There are several reasons why I’ve dropped blogging for months, but I’m not ready to share those stories. What I am ready to do is try to make light of my current situation because honestly, I’m not really surviving work at home with kids. We just finished the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the first time and I don’t quite relate with the tenacity, willpower and courage of Frodo, hence making me Gollum. I’m raggedy, unpredictable, and even worse, I host more than two separate voices battling for power in my head. I’m tussling with Frodo on the precipice at the end of the movie, just before being knocked into the fiery pit below with the ring, which represents the last grains of my sanity…

What would I say to you, mama, also trying to survive? Let me tell you. At the start of this “Safer At Home, Stay At Home, Now Come Out but You are Still Safer at Home,” I kind of liked it. Maybe I’ve held out longer than others…but I’m feeling myself start to crack. Here are 3 of my go-tos to try and stay grounded:

  1. Avoid social media as much as possible. Surprise! Everyone is still posting their highlight reels! Our lives are falling apart to some extent but nevermind! I lost 20 pounds, my son was just accepted into Harvard at 10 years old and we are moving to LA because my daughter was discovered by a Hollywood agent who just happened to be buying cereal at Walmart while in town filming Back to the Future 4 when she lurked past him wearing a mask and matted hair that she had not combed out for 3 weeks.
  2. Create an “approximate” schedule. (That you will revise every day, but at least you have the satisfaction of telling everyone that your kids are on a schedule of learning AND fun!) Here is our schedule if you need some ideas. It is not copyrighted, so feel free to steal it and paste it up on the fridge:
    • Wake up and do chores that mama creates on the spot just because she thinks you should build character and not just sloth around the house all day like the teenagers you have not yet become.
    • Complete one homework assignment
    • Complete one language lesson on Duolingo so mama can post on Facebook that you are developing fluency in Navajo
    • Find new ways to pick on each other and make each other cry with intermittent spells of good fun
    • Go outside and ride around in the vacant lot across the street while mama accompanies you during her 20th Zoom meeting that day
    • Eat lunch (a cookie)
    • Get on your devices (here is where we take a wrong turn every day…)
  3. And finally, drink water! (Just kidding. That’s a tip in about every list of tips you can find online).
  4. Really, just try your best not to lose your shit and if you do sometimes, don’t feel bad. I would say that I’ve tried baths, meditation, learning languages, reading devotionals, long drives to nowhere, exercising, therapy, regularly taking my meds, and it is just plain hard out there right now.

Until next time, I’m thinking of all of you who can relate, and trying to push good vibes out into the universe…

Solo Mama: Parenting Your (x) Grader

This past week I picked up a couple of parenting books at church. Specifically, Parenting Your Second Grader and Parenting Your Fourth Grader. I figure I need all the help I can get. As I checked out with the cashier, she smiled and said, “Let us know what you think. We are really interested in feedback about these books.”

(Sure. I will get you some feedback if I survive the journey. As I write this, my second grader is choreographing a dance to Dance Monkey next to me at the table. Obviously I haven’t gotten around to reading about how to parent her.)

As soon as we got into the car, my fourth grader commandeered the fourth grader book and asked if he could read it. He hates to read so I was pleasantly surprised. I figured “Why not?” He might as well get a heads-up on all the voodoo I’m about to be work on him.

The first thing that happened was that he got a huge smile on his face and said, “Momma, look what’s on page 80!!” His sister demanded to know too. I knew too well from already having skimmed the book. “Yeah but look what’s on page 86!” I replied.

Page 80 started a chapter on sex, and page 86 was the beginning of the chapter on technology. My daughter immediately demanded to see the second grader book to see if sex was covered in her book. It was. Both of the kids were now super excited that these parenting books were finally going to force me into conversations about sex. Since last weekend, I’ve been asking friends with older children how they broached the subject with their kids early on. I always thought I’d be the cool parent and be able to talk about all this easily. Not the case. I just don’t think I should be telling an 8- and 9-year old about sex? The books don’t actually tell me to say, they just offer “stems” like, “I’m so glad you asked about that” or “Can we talk about this at another time?” (I will be using that one a lot), or “What kinds of things have you heard about sex?” (Do I need to cite the source for these questions? Are they trademarked due to the fact that they are in these books?).

I was especially interested in any guidance about technology. A suggestion for my fourth grader on this topic was sitting down with him while he played games or watched YouTube videos on the iPad. Last night, I cozied up next to him and the iPad on the couch and he freaked out. “Momma! What are you doing????”

By now, I’ve read both books cover to cover. My son has also read the fourth grader book cover to cover. At the very least, the books will make me think about my parenting. They also offer sections for reflection. Like “What do you hope to be true for your child in 468 weeks regarding (x)?” (The amount of time until my son turns 18). The most helpful part is that they offer phrases and sentiments that your child needs to hear at their respective age based on their social and emotional development.

If anyone reading this knows of any accessible (I am able to read them while stuck in traffic) and fabulous parenting books, please reply or shoot me a message. I’m not sure how much I will be able to digest along with my “on the job” parenting training, but these books have peaked my interest. Now, back to Dance Monkey.

 

Solo Mama: Never Do This

If you’ve read any of my posts over the past couple of years, you have probably read some of my daughter’s “Never Do This” statements. At times, she gets on a roll and will bother me every few minutes while watching a video, playing with her toys, listening to music, or just riding along in the car.

Below is a collection of a few of my favorites. Just for a laugh. It is important to note that due to the tedium of reading my job “title” over and over, I omitted the “Momma” from the start of each warning. Make no mistake, each warning is prefaced by at least one “Momma.”

Health and Safety (General Well-Being) Warnings:

“Never open your mouth while you are in the water. You might swallow a crab.”

“Never look up when someones says ‘there’s an airplane.’ They might rob you.”

“Never hide in a fireplace.”

“If you are suspicious, just walk away!”

“Never let anyone look in your purse unless it is a trusted person.”

“Never hold out a shiny coin. It will attract stuff that will eat you.”

Warnings Related to Bunnies:

“Don’t ever build your tent by a pile of rocks because a bunny could throw rocks on your tent.”

“Don’t ever put a string on a tree and hang from it because a bunny could come and cut the string and you will fall down.”

General Advice:

“Never get embarassed when you are on a stage.”

“Never put a heavy pumpkin on a boat.”

Momma’s Warnings That Are Often Overlooked by Children:

“Never show your momma videos from the backseat of the car while she is driving 75 miles per hour on the highway.”

“Never point your arrow or your airsoft gun at your sister.”

“Never spell out profanity on your trash can or refrigerator with magnet letters. Especially before family visits.”

“Never give up the possibility that you can aim straight into the toilet bowl when you pee.”

 

Solo Mama: Single Parent Overload

Whhhoooooaaaaa!

I hit Monday night, at the end of a long weekend (Dr. King, I celebrate you AND I also celebrate sanity AND there are too many Monday holidays over the next few months), and I realized I was on the verge of losing my mind. I was anxious, irritated, and had a very short fuse. Does this sound familiar to any parents with an extra day tagged onto the weekend? I’m blocking any Facebook parents who post cute, smiley, huggy-family pics from their long holiday weekend snowmobiling, ice fishing, taking a cooking class, posing with Mickey at Disney World, adopting a cat, getting matching tattoos, attending a major sporting event, soaking in hot springs or skiing at ??? (I don’t even know where it’s cool to ski anymore). Insert LOL emoji here. Especially this past weekend.

I’m an introvert, and every introvert knows that you need time alone to recharge. Time alone over the past 10 years=non-existent. In addition to being an introvert, I hold myself to standards that are simply not achievable. Our little family was non-stop from Friday night until Monday night with activities, friends, family, typical weekend chores – groceries, laundry, house cleaning – and by the time I realized I was tapped out on the final evening of the long weekend, it was too late.

Back to the time alone piece. Every parent knows that once you have children, you are never alone. They follow you everywhere, like tiny little poltergeists, they appear from out of nowhere and they are usually bleating “Momma. Momma. Momma” and then they disappear as mysteriously as they appeared.  As they’ve gotten older, “Momma” is just the stem to a monologue about a random piece of trivia that they’ve encountered on YouTube. The other day, I opened up the browser on my phone, and the first page was titled “How do I be a girl in Roblox?” Really. Everything about them is shocking. And it never fails, the moment you’ve hit your word quota for the day, one of them launches into a speech about Tones and I and how they imagined she would look based on her voice in the song “Dance Monkey” or they ask you about sex.

It is also a one-way street with these people. The other day, my daughter and I were painting clay animal figurines, and I brought up what I thought was an important topic. I wanted to know how she felt about it. After she answered my first question, she said, “Momma, can we not talk anymore? I’m trying to concentrate.” I will need to remember that line the next time they want to discuss the body styling of Mustangs versus Camaros in the car or ask me what world events I might be hiding from them (my son accused me of purposely withholding current news from them about Iran last week).

I hit a wall Monday night. I need to notice the warning signs before everything caves in. I need to be better about going into my room, closing the bedroom door, and hanging up my “Keep out” sign and escaping even just for 30 minutes. It might just make us all appreciate each other more as well. For others who hit this wall on a regular basis, I see you.

 

Solo Mama and the Resolutions Carried Over From 2019

New Year’s resolutions seem to be a dying fad. This year so far, a few people have mentioned them, but mostly in the context of avid exercisers complaining about their gyms filling up for a couple of months. In place of resolutions, the thing I’ve heard most is “I’m so glad 2019 is over, 2020 has to be a better year.” This seems to be the up and coming outlook; I’m hearing it more and more over the past couple of years.

I always face each year with “meh” – last year wasn’t the worst, I can’t imagine this year will be better or worse. I don’t place any hope in a great new year, simply because as years go, they all have their really high and really low points and everything in between. Most of what I would call “resolutions,” I started resolving to do the last few months of 2019.

I started using my Bible app more – thank you to a network of app users who have each imparted some insight about how to use it. Clearly I’m not upping my technology game in the new year. I think the most useful part of the app is that it pushes out notifications when my friends on the app are doing something. My technology savvy did not allow me to figure out how to shut these down, or maybe God intervened because He wanted to talk to me. I’m about to take my second drink when “Samantha just started a new reading plan!” I’m ready to cuss someone out over text when “Keisha just created a verse image!” I’m drowning in self-pity about being solo mama and up pops “Fred completed his Bible Plan! Say Congrats!” Thanks, God. Yeah. I hear you.

I lost my 15 pounds well before the new year, and changed my eating habits to keep them off (5 months strong!). Over this next year, I’m hoping to introduce what the experts call “exercise” into this program. I learned late last year that we have free access to one of our division’s gyms and it’s pretty decent. All I need to do is drive 10 minutes west, change my clothes and hop on a machine. Those things are proving to be giant barriers for me. I’m not sure if it’s the drive or the effort it takes to change my clothes. Maybe I just can’t stand that it’s free and I’d rather pay $30/month for something I will never use.

I started doing more stuff with my kids intentionally over the past few months. Like, not just letting stuff happen around us (“Look how that iPad just jumped into your hands!”), but actually going out and trying new experiences. We tried cross country skiing a couple of weeks ago as part of a weekend getaway we took together. This weekend, I went to a range and shot arrows with my son and his friend. I’ve developed new friendships with my kids’ friends’ moms which has allowed me to spend time socializing with other adults. We have some things coming up over spring break which are sure to rock the kids’ worlds so we’ve been planning for that.

Finally, about a month ago, I began the never-ending, backbreaking task of starting to clean out my house. A little at a time. I constantly tell the kids that we need to downsize and move to a townhome so that I don’t have to kill myself every summer trying to keep up with the yard. They get sad and say they want a house with a yard. I ask them to help me, they don’t (my daughter will do it for money), and the vicious cycle starts all over. It is probably all just idle threats though unless I plan to move to Missouri, since I could never afford another home in Colorado. That said, I’ve really gotten into keeping track of money with a budgeting app. Thank God for apps. What did we do before we had apps?

So, keeping my expectations realistic, I’m expecting 2020 to be a decent year. On the path to continuous improvement as myself, mom, employee, friend, sibling and daughter. Happy decent new year to you!

Solo Mama Exhausted

It’s the holidays. And most people are stressed, on edge and exhausted. Church today was a good reminder of where to focus. Our pastor had just come back from a 6- month sabbatical with a simple message, which he delivered through tears: God loves you. God wants what’s best for you.

Wow, did this resonate with me. I’m exhausted. I’ve felt disconnected from God for over two years at least and possibly longer. I’ve done all the “right” things to try to get reconnected. Examples include attending church twice a week, listening to numerous different speakers on YouTube and podcasts. Downloading and attempting to use a Bible app which everyone in the world seems to be able to figure out except me.

But I’m exhausted and I still don’t feel connected. I’ve never had to search so hard. God had always been near and present. Through friends, family, my children, people I interacted with daily demonstrated God’s love in some form.

The dark side of this, the dark sad places though, are the haunting voices and feelings that have been tearing me apart from the inside. The fact that I’ve been tearing myself down as a parent. Never feeling like I’m doing it right or good enough. The fact that I’ve been trying to prove to someone that I’m worthy enough to love for the past two years and still not hitting the mark. The fact that even though I put my full self and efforts into my job, there will always be naysayers. I’m so tired. So tired about not making the mark in these major areas of life. I feel gut punched. I imagine most people do, they just don’t say it out loud.

What exhausts you? How do you recharge and remind yourself that you are worthy and good? Once you find this, how do you sustain it? And pithy sayings are never enough anymore to answer the question: “Where does God go when you desperately need Him?”

Watching Them Grow (and loving it)

A friend recently asked me what my favorite part of parenting is (don’t end a sentence in a preposition). I told her that it was watching the kids grow up into their own unique little personalities. When they were small, it felt like they were tiny extensions of me. Now they feel separate and different, with only hints of traits that have been passed down from my side of the family.

I am in a constant state between wanting to banish them to their rooms forever and laughing until I cry because of something they just said or did. Noah getting into my “Hot Guys and Baby Animals” book and reading it and summarizing it for me (“Momma, it’s basically about guys and their pets. But one guy was totally naked in a park. You couldn’t see his privates though.”). Neelah yelling at me at the park “Look momma, Noah can pole dance!” as my son jumps onto a pole and swings down it with his legs in the splits (I have watched the video of this several times and never stop laughing). Both of them binge watching My Little Pony and Beyblade together on Netflix. Volunteering with Noah’s improv class at school and watching these amazing little people catch on to clever comedy and perform some decent sketches. Neelah asking me last week what the word “sexy” means and I told her it meant “cute.” For the past week, she has been telling everyone they are sexy and describing other kids as such. I finally decided that I had to come clean. I told her that “sexy” means you want to have sex with someone. She still doesn’t know what that means but she has stopped calling me and other kids sexy. Whew.

All of it blows my mind. I am constantly in a state of “Wow! I can’t believe they are so cool and they live with me!” For the longest time I had them convinced that they had come out of my butt and we had always marveled about how people so wonderful could come out of my butt. Again, I had to come clean with that too.

It’s strange to sit and process where their personalities come from. Differing from most families, I have no idea what personality traits have been passed down to Noah from his father’s side and from Neelah’s side, my knowledge is limited. Noah has amazing patience and the ability to quickly and successfully regulate his emotions when he is upset or angry or sad. That didn’t come from me. Neelah has an amazing sense of style, sweats a lot, and is grumpy about 90% of the time and those traits did not come from me. I always wonder what it would have been like to know their fathers and be able to say “oh yeah, that’s from your side of the family” or “he/she is definitely your child.”

In any case, I am pretty sure that anyone with kids reading this knows to some extent what I’m talking about. If you haven’t thought about it, stop and do so. It really helps you appreciate them as a wonderful gift. I promise. 🙂

what a difference 18 months makes

My kids are so close in age I typically don’t see one as older than the other. My son has not really ever taken on the role of “big brother” and my daughter is already a boss, which transcends the age factor. In years past, snow days have really stressed me out because it meant hanging out with two uncivilized trolls who were in a constant state of war. Today though, I felt different. I’ve felt different for the past few months. I don’t know if I’m closer to a miracle concoction of psychotropic meds or maybe I’m mellowing out with age. Who knows. I was excited to pick those kiddos up directly from school and not from after school care. Literally, the conversation went like this:

Me: I’m so excited to spend the afternoon with you guys! I have one more report to review and then we can have some fun!

Son: Why did you pick us up so early? I was having fun at school.

Daughter: Oh Momma I’m so excited! I want to play in the snow! (To her brother) You can shovel like you always wanted to!

Son: I don’t want to go outside.

Me: Ok, yes, we can play in the snow. And then I was thinking maybe an indoor activity at home? A movie?

Son: I want to play on my ipad.

The conversation left me wondering when my son had turned 12 years old. Recalculating from his birth year, I realized he was still only 9. But with a pre-teen attitude. It has been a good year for him. He was assigned a mentor from church through a program called Fathers in the Field, which has been a fabulous opportunity and match for him. Sometimes I’m not a fully believing woman, but I’d say God sent this guy to our doorstep (literally because he can’t pass our doorstep, he has to stay outside – they have really strict boundaries and rules which I also appreciate). My son has also had a stellar soccer season with another great positive male role model – his coach. Between my family members, his coach and mentor father, my son is in a pretty solid place.

My daughter, on the other hand, her mentor is ta-da! Yours truly! She has asked me several times for her own mentor (or “womanter” as she calls it, believing that the “men” in mentor identifies the mentor to be male) and doesn’t seem too thrilled when I tell her it is me. Me, the one who had to ask her teacher how to show more empathy when my daughter comes home and talks about how this or that friend doesn’t want to be her friend anymore or said something mean about her or looked at her in a bad way. My question for this teacher: “Well, I mean, what do I say when she says this stuff is happening to her at school? I always tell her that it’s not about her, that those little girls may be suffering from some self esteem issues and are projecting onto her?” (Thumbs up, momma! Sure, this might make sense to a 40-year old). Fortunately, my daughter’s teacher has some (extensive) experience with second graders and was able to pass along some age appropriate questions and teaching moments when these things happen.

Most days, I’m just thrilled that I’ve managed to keep my kids alive, safe from devastation, and keep a roof over their heads. But I don’t want to jinx myself so I will just leave that there. These are giant wins though. I should be proud of myself. Parenting is brutal. If you are reading this and are also a parent, hats off to you. You have very little time to yourself, are continually exhausted, tossed about on waves of self-loathing and feelings of inadequacy, can barely spell your name (especially if you are over the age of 45 with young children), and are a freaking superstar.

 

Solo Mama: Pathways to Our Careers

Finding meaning in our work…a new series at church. I am fortunate to have always found my work to be profoundly meaningful. Again, mostly selfish reasons for the post, for the purpose of connection with others who may find the connectivity helpful or perhaps “normalize” (although we can never normalize injustice) difficult experiences along their own paths. There may be material within this post that some would find triggering or upsetting, so please be forewarned.

I first entered my career about a year after completing college studies in art and psychology. I landed a job in a diagnostic home for boys housed in a program run by the Catholic church just outside of Chicago. These boys were only meant to be housed in this particular part of the campus for about 90 days, but like all institutions, most stayed much longer. They were chronically abused, neglected, or were already wards of the state, permanently separated from their biological families, most often for good reasons. There were approximately 8-10 boys living in the home at any given time, ranging in age from 6 to 17.

I was a “family educator” and everything that happened in the home drove the delivery of positive or negative consequences based on a point system. It was a constant flow of observing behavior and experiencing interactions with the boys and reinforcing these behaviors and experiences with teaching and points. They carried cards around the home all day long to track points, except when they were at school at the alternative school program most of them attended nearby.

I was one of two females who worked in the home. They would only place up to two females in any boys’ home, and the management had decided I was too soft to work with females. The supervisor who worked in my home was a disheveled, thin, middle-aged man who likely spent his entire life in social services after I left. He came down hard on anyone who was late for their shift; I remember being scolded and threatened with a write-up when I was 3 minutes late for my shift one time, which started at 7 a.m.

The other woman in the home left as quickly as she came (we were hired at the same time), because one of the boys in the home, who was about 11 at the time, threw a chair at her as she was walking away from him, and she landed in the hospital with a severe back injury. I accompanied this young man on a supervised home visit during the time I worked at the home, and discovered that there were probably many factors playing into his behavior based on what I experienced at his apartment.

I used to grocery shop. Lord did we shop. When the kids were at school, we would take the van to the grocery store and spend approximately $300-400 per trip. I also used to accompany the kids on field trips. I remember on one of the trips, an 8-year old boy, I will refer to him as Tyler, who had started following me closely around the home and had really warmed up to me during the first week or so he was at the home, jumped into my lap. He was very squirmy and shifted around a lot and it took me a minute to realize that he was purposely rubbing up against me as he sat on my lap. I felt awkward and weird and I removed him from my lap, sitting him next to me on the seat. When we arrived back at the home, I caught the home supervisor in passing and reported what had happened on the bus with Tyler. He stopped, shook his head and paused for a minute, looking a bit lost. Then he motioned me to come to his office. I remember sitting across from him at his desk and he pulled a file from his drawer and pushed it over to me. He mentioned that it was typically best that they didn’t share the kids’ stories with staff, but he wanted to me to see this file so I was “informed.” He also prepared me for graphic material.

I will never forget reading through that file on Tyler. There wasn’t a lot there, a brief narrative and some other demographic information. I skimmed the narrative and in summary, it described violent, sexual molestation repeatedly imposed on this 8-year old by his mother and her partner and methods by which they did this. I felt sick inside and handed the file back. I learned how to draw safe and appropriate boundaries with Tyler during his short stay in our home. Sadly, he was the second youngest child in the home who had experienced molestation by his mother, the other little boy was only 6. He had been placed in two different foster homes already, and both families had sent him back because of his uncontrollable need to steal things and act out sexually.

The oldest boy in the home was 17. He had been placed with, and abandoned by, at least five foster placements. The most recent one, he had gone to a restaurant with his foster family, and they had literally excused themselves to address something outside the restaurant, and left him there. This young man never said a word. He was tall, slim and quiet. He would appear and disappear in rooms without a sound but spent most of his time in his room. The best I could ever get out of him was a “yes” or “no” when I talked to him. I remember once when a slow, sad smile creeped across his face when I cracked a joke about laundry.

It was at that job that I first experienced being told I was going to die, by a young man who was mentally ill and not doing so well being compliant with his medications, just before he went on run, stole a car, crashed it, and ended up in detention. Minutes before he ran out, he came into the staff office (which was an automatic loss of privileges), looming over me and screaming into my face that he was going to kill me. Fortunately, he was distracted by another young man, who ran by the office and told him “let’s get going!” I had been alone in the home for only a few minutes while the male staff member working with me that night had run next door for something, and all hell broke loose.

I watched a lot of Lion King during that job. The younger kids watched it every afternoon after school. I had most of the lines memorized and all of the songs. After a few months at that job, I started struggling mentally and emotionally. I was young and hadn’t let learned how to compartmentalize my experiences and set good boundaries. One night, as I was driving home around 11:30 p.m., I was hit by an ambulance that was running lights and sirens to a local hospital. Luckily, it was just my car that was totalled, but I realized at that point that I wasn’t going to make it much longer in that job. I had been lost in my thoughts, tired, and distracted when the ambulance hit me.

I left, having worked there just shy of a year. It was a high turnover job, quite a few front-line staff members didn’t even make it as long as I did. I didn’t realize it at the time, because I went straight to corporate for a couple years to escape, but that experience would launch my career working in the justice system. I think the most profound observation about that year was that of the 8-10 boys who lived at that home during any given time, I only met 2 boys who were white. Dozens of boys and young men passed through that home that year, and almost all of them were kids of color. That fact alone hooked me and brought me to the justice system, where I have worked in or alongside in some capacity over the last three decades. While the setting has changed, the impact of our public systems on communities of color has not.