10:15 on a Monday Night

Day 5,468,901 of the pandemic…my kids are in bed early (10:10 pm – I know the doctor has repeatedly told me that a 9- and 10-year old need more sleep) and I am sitting here wondering if I should a) do early Christmas shopping (is the end of November early? My definition of “early” is pretty loose re: kids’ bedtime), b) continue watching “Away,” my current Netflix favorite about a mission to Mars starring Hilary Swank or c) keep reading a mystery series I’ve been into lately, where most of the scenes are set in a cozy house in a Quebecois village and always involve warm croissants, homemade jam and a Scotch. Decadent. I’m reading mystery novels for the food and drink escape. Or I could just keep sitting here listening to my kids through the wall talk about how they would spend Robux if they had it – this is a currency in their favorite video game. My son has fallen asleep mid-sentence and my daughter continues to talk…they remind me of an old married couple. My daughter sings random songs from TikTok while my son sleeps. There is no such thing as going to bed early for my daughter.

How are we holding up after the first week of remote learning? Not sure. I’ve never spent so much time at home in my life and I’m one of those people who gets out quite a bit still. Now the kids are locked at home with me and each day is a blur – I’m typically tied up with work all day long and they are back and forth grabbing really crappy snacks that I leave in a basket on the stove (fire hazard). I really feel for everyone out there these days. I probably have it pretty decent given the circumstances, and every day it can be challenging to keep my head straight and remain optimistic. I’m determined not to have the shittiest holiday season ever – I don’t like this time of year and each day I wake up, I start with my pro-holiday mantra of “this is going to be the best holiday season ever!” and “at the end of this week, it will be one down, one to go.” Yay!

If you are reading this, I hope you are hanging in there too. I am available to listen, change your flat tire, bake you some cookies, or buy you a coffee. Just reach out. 🙂

Quarantine is a Great Time to Start Budgeting

I can’t find a lot to laugh about when it comes to personal finances, so you may find this post lacking a little in humor. I am very thankful to be working and I realize not everyone can say that. I will say that budgeting has been at the forefront of my mind now more than ever.

With nowhere to go and nothing to do, I have found some extra cash in the following areas these days: gas expenses, car maintenance, eating out, fancy coffees, clothing, personal care, and childcare. The only category I’ve seen skyrocket is my grocery expenses, but if I factor in all the eating out and fancy coffees and just shift this over to grocery expenses, it evens out. Here are a few things I’ve done to manage money over the last few months:

  1. Use a budgeting app. I actually started this last fall and it has literally become one of the most important things I do every week. I enter all my expenses for the week into my budgeting app (I was doing it more often when life was normal and I was shopping more) and keep track of what I have left to spend for the month. I also listen regularly to personal finance podcasts.
  2. Pay minimum payments. My job isn’t at risk at the moment but anything seems possible these days. Therefore, I am saving whatever I can (not much), and just paying mimimum payments on debt I have.
  3. Indulge once in awhile, because what else will help me keep my peace? My indulgences over the past few weeks have included good shampoo, a Netflix subscription, gas for long drives, tequila, and coconut protein powder. That last one is weird, I know.

I’ve never been a huge debt person. The first time I experienced really bad debt was when my dog died a few years ago. Her kidneys were failing and I didn’t realize that I couldn’t save her. I visited the vet at $3,000 per visit to help ease her pain and to prolong the inevitable failure of her kidneys. I was ready to spend anything to save her and kept throwing these visits on my credit card because I didn’t have $9,000 in savings. Looking back, I will never regret trying to help her, but being almost $10,000 in credit card debt was pretty devastating to come back from with all my other expenses.

It took me a LONG time before I realized that sticking to a budget was going to be the only thing that would help me improve my financial future. Having a budget has been less restrictive than I thought, and I can’t believe it took me 48 years to follow one…

Zoom, Google Meet and WebEx – How Do We Survive Online Meetings for 8 Hours Straight?

One factoid about COVID-19 and the workplace that stuns me: apparently, when you HAVE to work at home, scheduled meetings increase by 150% (neck and neck with the increase in alcohol sales). My first two weeks at home, I had consistent meetings, often scheduled with no time in between, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. I had to start scheduling “I’m making my kids lunch” for 15 minutes on top of existing meetings. Thankfully I’ve seen a slight slowdown with meeting scheduling, probably due to the fact that the government realized that the state was still running even while non-essential employees worked at home and ensuring that our days were full with meetings was a bit overkill. Just my conspiracy theory thinking…

THE single most challenging aspect of working at home with tons of meetings is having young children. Half the time I’m on mute, but with video, and I’m sure my co-workers and client sites are wondering “who the hell is she yelling at and what is going on?” There are occasional meeting bombings that occur. Our house is small. Why do my kids insist on standing right next to me and watching my online meetings like they are an exciting YouTube video? Everyone on my calls thinks it’s cute when some random child pops out of the floor into the camera’s view, but I’m on the verge of losing my shit. Some meeting participants flash their cameras over to where their cute cat or dog is lounging on a chair or a couch. When I flash my camera over to my couch, what you will see is a man-child in flood-ready pajama pants (he gets a new pair every 2 years), chewing on his fingers while he screams things like “Noob” and “son of a b*&%$#” and “I have a backpack with a fish in it so MAN UP!” while staring at a device.

Along with children at home, I am really struggling with the technology. We’ve recently moved over to Google everything. No more Microsoft Office. I thought I’d retire before I saw Word disappear from my life. Moving to the Google Suite is an event that has never made me feel older. Sagging body parts, creaky joints, and sketchy memory have got NOTHING on Google Suite. Learning this platform has aged me about 15 years. Luckily, when I’m facilitating meetings or trainings online, I’m usually paired up with someone at least 3 years younger than me, which is like dog years where the technology learning curve is concerned.

Oops! You will have to excuse me – it’s almost 8 p.m. and I have some work to do that didn’t fit between meetings today…

 

 

 

 

 

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 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?”

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.

Solo Mama: When You Are Not Trying Hard Enough

I’m just curious. Has anyone out there been involved with some type of “system” in life – justice, education, employment assistance, public assistance, mental health , child welfare, religious, medical (health) care – and are told by someone “inside” the “system” that you are just not trying hard enough? You are not trying hard enough to be a whole, healthy, ideal, productive citizen of this community.

For the first time in my life where I feel like a lot hangs in the balance, I was told by someone “inside” the “system” as a beneficiary, recipient, consumer, user of services, whatever, that I’m not trying hard enough.

Let’s count up the hours in the week that I have dedicated to trying hard enough on this particular issue: 8 hours of group or individual time and at least 5-7 hours of personal time to study each week plus numerous hours of launching coping skills which fail half the time. That’s on top of soccer, swimming, dance, school, work, dog sitting, budgeting so I can pay a shit ton of money to “un-crazy” myself, consulting and caring for two young children who need to be bathed, fed, helped with homework, LOVED, etc.

I’m just not trying hard enough. Really?

If you work in any kind of “system,” please choose your words carefully when meeting with your students, consumers, clients, patients, offenders, residents, whatever you may call them in your line of work.

Are there some cognitive distortions going on in this post? Rationalizing? Justifications? Maybe! But I need my moment. Go screw yourself, system! End of rant! ðŸĪŠðŸ˜‚

Solo Mama: Eccentric Coping

Jumping ahead in my story (without even starting from the beginning), part of my summer included learning numerous coping strategies for dealing with several mental health diagnoses. Probably the hardest hitting issue has been anxiety. Every time I go in to see my prescribing nurse, I ask her if we can’t just medicate me out of anxiety attacks. She smiles kindly at me across her desk and reminds me that changing 40 some years of behavior overnight or through the use of medication alone is not realistic. Every time I’m disappointed to hear this. Total bummer. I actually have to use “coping skills.”

Having been in the criminal justice field for nearly 30 years and encountering mental illness more often than not, I’m very familiar with coping skills. I’ve even incorporated them into workshops, teaching and coaching I’ve done with clients. I can talk about them all day long and how great they are in staving off anxiety attacks, distracting, self care, managing emotion and anger, bla bla bla, but use them? Laugh out loud! Coping skills are kind of like exotic paper weights for me. They look nice but they are rarely used to hold paper in place, right?

I’ve spent hundreds of hours this year learning coping skills. Even with all these new skills, it takes effort to use them, and the sooner you use them, the better they work. This means I’ve also had to get better at understanding triggers and what can turn into a major anxiety episode for me. I’m not always good at figuring this out until I’m feeling full-on crazy and engaging in destructive behaviors. Sadly, when you are acting all crazy, your social opportunities and circles really shrink. This has mostly been self-imposed, but I’m sure there are a few people that I’ve scared the hell out of.

The coping skills I’ve landed on are definitely surprising to me. I’ve become really regular at the gym. While still balancing 4 jobs technically, I’ve found 3 mornings a week where I can drop the kids at school and run to the gym. While I haven’t acquired a beach body, I definitely feel better and I’ve rebuilt some muscle.

When I’m really starting to lose it, I turn on podcasts of Dave Ramsey taking calls from across the country about money decisions. When I was less anxious and maybe more mentally stable, I doubt I would have paid much attention to him (no offense to mentally stable people who enjoy him) but now as soon as I start to feel anxious I scramble for my headphones and Spotify – save me from myself, Dave! Not only do I enjoy listening to him chew out people for doing stupid things with their money, I’ve gained a lot of budgeting advice that I’m starting to use – um, like having a budget. He probably has no idea that there is a goofball out there who calms herself by listening to the debt-free scream interview every week.

Another surprising coping skill: Christian music. Anything else depresses me or stresses me out. The songs are always uplifting and positive and I guess that’s where I need to focus these days, with a lot of effort.

So, there’s a bit of self disclosure. Maybe some humor? I had no idea one’s mind could get so out of control. One day you are a bit moody, and the next day you are legitimately doing everything possible not to self destruct. And maintaining responsibility for two small children while praying you aren’t setting them up for a lifetime of their own therapy needs.

 

Solo Mama: Reconstructing Reality

I am sitting in an all-day departmental workshop focused on problem solving. The facilitator has everyone stand up in a circle and give their name, division and project update. My morning was off to a bad start. I was triggered by a text and am doing my best to manage my emotions. They go straight to my body and I’m feeling sharp pains in my neck, back. I can’t stand still anymore and start stretching my neck, my limbs, my back. Looking back, my public behavior has probably always been strange. On one hand, I seem to have no filter on what is socially acceptable and what is not, and on the other hand, I am painfully aware of each thought and word and how it will impact every single person in my presence.

After the introductions, the facilitator and my supervisor come over and tell me that while I am wearing a really cute outfit, I look like I’m not well and in severe pain. My boss suggests that I take the day off and if I feel really compelled to work at some point, I can do it at home. I go to my office, pack up my stuff and head out. My head feels compressed. Foggy but dense. Like too much matter is shoved over to one side of my brain and it needs to disperse or shift so that I can think more clearly. I get in the car and start to head home, resting my elbow on my window sill. My arm is pulsing. It’s my heartbeat. I decide I’m going to head to the store before going home so I can get some ibuprofen for the pain.

Once I arrive at the store and park, I think as I walk towards the new bright green facade entrance of Walmart, I’m about to enter Disneyworld. I have the choice of a thousand different comfort items in this store (besides ibuprofen) that I can purchase and take home to get me through the day. My thoughts race through their normal checkpoints – how much do I have in my bank account? Nothing too high in calories, sugar or fat. What would really make me feel good because today will be a bad day?

I settle on an 8-pack of Diet Pepsi, a box of hot chocolate packets for the kids for later, a bottle of ibuprofen, dark chocolate chips, and some keurig cups which I will use with my pumpkin spice almond milk creamer later. The compression in my head continues and seems to have spread down to my chest, my stomach is queasy. I am in a fog; drifting away and then returning to the present moment. Then experiencing both at the same time. I screw up all the instructions on the self check-out, in a split moment of clarity, remember to withdraw an extra $20 for the kids’ school Lego club enrollment, then leave the bill hanging out of the cash slot and start to walk away before the cashier calls my attention to it.

As I walk out to the car, I realize that I’ve had so many misconceptions about things like anxiety, depression, suicide, personality disorders, PTSD, and it’s almost comical. My experiences dealing with people at the absolute brink as they enter the justice system had me believing that these were all really outwardly dramatic, loud, extravagant displays of behavior. Personal experience has taught me that they are not. Which tells me that something is really going on and it is frightening. It is frightening to realize that your mind, the thing that regulates your intake and processing of external information, controls your output to the world, your reactions, responses, words, decisions, actions, emotions, behaviors, is broken somehow. And all you want to do is fix it. Give me medicine, give me therapy, give me God, give me mindfulness, give me skills, give me groups, give me information, give me some understanding. And then go away because I’m embarrassed that this has happened. My mind is broken and I need to know how to fix it and I don’t have much time because what if it breaks more?