• Selfless self-care

    One of the things I’m loving about teaching is that it takes every fiber of your being to do it well. It takes your creativity, your intellect, and your physical input. There’s no way to half-ass it and have any worthwhile outcome. One of the things I love about the place where I teach came as a bit of a surprise to me. During our orientation, the different presenters emphasized the importance of self-care for teachers and caregivers at our school.

    All of the students at our residential come to us because of an emotional disturbance due to some sort of complex trauma.. Being affective with the students means being present, and, often, it means hearing stories that, when you get home, bring you to tears. it means having kids yell at you as they vent their frustrations with life and remembering not to take it personally. It means thinking about the people who have done these kids harm and trying not to become hard because becoming hard means you can’t be there for those kids.

    I haven’t gone to an hour of the school organized group self-care sessions, but, about a month ago, not knowing why exactly except to save money on health insurance, I decided to start going to a gym. I hit the big 5O back in April and knew that keeping bone density up means doing some resistance training, but the desire to work out was something else. It wasn’t until this weekend that I realized what it was.

    I’d behave myself all week, hitting the gym for each of my routines every single day before going home. Sometimes that means getting home a bit late, especially on the days when we have professional development after classes. It also means feeling a little guilty that, in focusing on self care each day, I’m not doing right by one of the two kids who is the most important in my life. I get home feeling more relaxed, but I’m spending less time with him to do so.

    This weekend my husband, Thing2 and I have been stacking wood. we have a pretty good system of me carrying logs from the wood pile to a wheelbarrow where Thing2 hands them off to the Big Guy for stacking the way he likes. Ferrying logs, two and four at a time, is it pretty good workout. normally I’d be pretty tired and ready to quit after 15 or 20 minutes. Yesterday and today, however, I was able to keep it going until the boys are ready to quit, and I was happy not just for being able to keep up but because it was another hour each day that the three of us had to talk and joke and sing along to the Beatles albums that were playing as we stacked.

    When we finished up for the day a little while ago, we looked at the work we’ve done and then at each other and said to each other, “We done good.“

    and I realized that self-care isn’t just about being able to help the kids at school every day, it’s about making sure that when I’m home with my kid, I am really present.

  • Full Circles

    I’m taking a step back from oil painting in October to participate in Inktober. It’s a good time to do some drawing, and, anyway, my studio is about to be torn apart as I claim a larger space.

    Today’s prompt is “ring.”

    I’m sitting in one part of a ring — on the couch with the Big Guy as I draw. I’m trying to get Thing2 to do Inktober with me, but he’s over at the piano teaching himself the Beatles song book and making our eyes sweat.

    It’s almost Thing2’s 13th birthday, and I’ve been thinking about the first few minutes after his birth. I’ve been remembering that perfect round baby head and those early days when nothing seems as pure as the love that we felt for them.

    Now all these years later, we know his triumphs and follies, and the love is anything but pure. It’s stronger and better because we know that each day will reveal some facet that makes it stronger still.

    We are shy one kid. He’s away at college, and it’s been an adjustment. As broken bars of “Imagine” drift over from the piano, however, I keep thinking about how full our little family circle, with its faultlines and reinforcements, still is.

    I sat with a student today who is trying to navigate from adolescence to adulthood with only support from the state. She has little help from the adults who brought her into the world, but her courage and determination to help people she still loves is nothing short of heroic. I know she should have enjoyed — that they all should enjoy — that same kind of parental love we take for granted, and I know the only thing I can do is support her and show her that I expect great things from her during our last few months together.

    But, now, sitting on the couch as the first bars of “Let It Be” begin to echo, I think about the other things I can do, and I make a point to never take our small circle for granted.

  • The Living is Living

    Thing 1
    Thing1 Keeping his Eyes on the Future

    Summer camp hasn’t started yet, so the boys are enjoying the fully unscheduled portion of summer. They go to bed, mostly, when they want. They get up when they’re done sleeping, lately, only time to binge watch Avengers movies together until friends call or dinner time.

    This morning Thing2 was finishing up the umpteenth viewing of Spiderman – Yet Another Spider-Man Origins Movie and getting ready to move onto The Unknown Hero – A Filler Episode About A Guy we just made up but that You Need Your Parents to Buy If You Want to Understand All The Sequels when I realized I hadn’t heard the gentle sounds of found two boys not arguing all morning. I checked the clock and realize it was lunchtime.

    Thing1 is normally very good about getting himself out of bed early enough in the morning to make sure he gets enough food to get his medication. At ten I had texted him it was time to get up. I saw the text was delivered, but by noon, it still hadn’t been read, and I knew today he needed a push.

    I called up the stairs to his bedroom but got no answer and climbed up as quietly as possible. When I got to the top, he was curled up on his side, and, knowing he usually favors sleeping on his back, I got nervous. I called him again and still got no answer. Resisting the urge to channel my inner all Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment, slapping my kid awake to be sure he hadn’t croaked in the 4 hours since I’d first called to him, I went over and gave him a gentle nudge on the shoulder. He didn’t answer, and I called again.

    I knew he wasn’t dead. Very few people die from his disease. I did know his medications have been as reliable as my first Pinto, and if his flare up was turning into a scorcher, we might need to take a drive down to the ER to treat the acute symptoms until the pharmaceuticals and cannabis oil could regroup in his intestines.

    Six months into his flare up, and Thing1 has learned that he’ll never not notice it. What’s changed over the last six months,though, is how quickly we let it derail a day or a life. Without being sanguine about the need to address and treat symptoms and stay in touch with doctors, we’ve also learned when to race to the ER and when it’s okay to wait for a call from the doctor. We’ve learned to distinguish the signs of a little more inflammation merely exhausting him into extra naps for the days and when the disease is firebombing his insides until he’s on the road to anemia again.

    Most mornings, my main concern is that he gets good about getting himself out of bed before he moves out in the fall. We’re still making plans for fall, not always sure if we’re being determined or a little foolhardy. The reality, however, is that anything could happen between now and September, even things that have nothing to do with a chronic illness. Those things could help him on his way or completely derail him, but until those possibilities become realities, we keep plotting the points on his journey through the summer and into his future.

  • A Secretly Real Identity

    The paunchy gal here is a figurine brought to me years ago from Mexico by a friend. He must have seen a resemblance, but in all fairness, she’s actually a little less paunchy than I am. She’s taken up residence on our new deck. Before the deck, our weedy patio hid her exposed body, but I like that she’s now shamelessly sunning herself, embracing life and the world, not hiding in fear among the weeds, and definitely not worrying if society will disapprove of her brazenness.

    Anyone who’s read this blog for more than a few months at a time, knows I have a penchant for redecorating. I change banners and colors. Sometimes it focuses more on painting and then on cartoons and back again to writing with pictures. So, you won’t be too surprised to read that I’m thinking about a new banner.

    What may be surprising is that, unlike previous PickingMyBattles banners, this one may include my brazen friend and also may not have more than a tiny a tip of the hat to the bad parenting and even worse housekeeping that have driven so many posts over the years.

    Thing1 was still nursing when he started toddling. He went through the crawling stage and the pulling-himself-up stages. Then he’d reach out for our hands and walks with us for guidance.

    And then he didn’t reach out. He figured it out, and our help was no longer needed.

    For that.

    And then he didn’t need to nurse, and he took another step away.

    And now he’s getting ready to take a giant step away. Thing2 is taking some of the same steps as he starts middle school and finds his own identity.

    And I’m questioning mine.

    ‘Mom’ was, for a long time, the primary (and sometime only) way I identified myself, and I was happy about it. I didn’t like myself before Thing1 was born. Being his mom, meeting his needs changed my perceptions about boys, about the world and about myself.

    But there was a person there before he was born. That person evolved, but she’s still there.

    She’s still bi-polar as hell, still eating too much and the owner of a bleeding heart. She’s no longer afraid of hard work or committing to others. She’s a techie, an artist and a writer. And she’s demanding to be as much a part of my identity as the person my kids know just as ‘Mom’.

    There is no such thing as ‘just a mom.’ That phrase strips motherhood of the depth of its responsibility and meaning as thoroughly as it reduces women to one of the other popular one-dimensional labels of angels or whores. I’m a bit of all of them and more.

    There are still battles to be fought on behalf of Thing1 and Thing2. Thing1’s hair trigger colon still threatens his independence while Thing2’s creativity combined with his pack-rat sensibility could give new meaning to Vermont’s image as ‘the Green Mountain state’ with more of a green glow. I’m grateful to be the one fighting along side them. They’ve helped me see how much stories about family do matter as much as – maybe even more than – the stories about politicians and generals. I will always write those because they are the stories about people coming together, they are ultimately stories about hope.

    But there are otherbattles, my battles, to fight as well – battles for creativity and a life of contribution and meaning beyond the laundry pile. They are just as important, and all of those battles can only be won by embracing every aspect of my identity – the loving mom, the bleeding-heart angel and even what the world may see as the bi-polar whore.

    They are what combine to make what any seasoned veteran truly is — a fighter.

  • How to Raise a Parent


    Thing2 is sitting across the couch from me right now tapping on an old laptop my parents bequeathed him when they upgraded theirs. He’s working on a project, talking through the lines as he taps and proving I know nothing about parenting.

    I’ve worked in some sort of IT for the better part of the last 25 years. I’m the last person to tell a kid they shouldn’t play on a computer, but Thing1 got sucked into Minecraft in middle school, torpedoing his grades for over a year. It’s safe to say, the Big Guy and I are wary of Thing2 acquiring a tech addition.

    Thing2 missed a fair amount of school this winter due to severe pain from inflamed lymph nodes. The pain intensified with each bout of flu or strep he contracted in the petrie dish of elementary school, and we were worried he would fall behind.

    Most sick days he rested on the couch with an iPad or Harry Potter book while I worked on support tickets. I’d check during the day to make sure his latest YouTube obsession was PG-11, but for most of the day I let him take responsibility for his own amusement. They weren’t my finest parenting hours.

    Thing1 got into video games about the same time, solely on the strength of his test scores, that he also got into a middle school accelerated program. He’d coasted through elementary school math, aptitude compensating for apathy. Except for mathy-science stuff, he needed serious prodding to stay on track.

    When he started the more challenging program, I asked the program head how I could help him stay more organized. Her answer surprised me.

    “I don’t want you to help him. He’ll learn to rise to expectations.”

    So we took the hands-off approach. Bad report cards led to loss of privileges, but when he failed, he failed. When he did well, the success was his. That experience guided him like a river winnows out earth and rock to find the best route. It’s helped him learn to stand on his own two feet and, even if he stumbles, to keep trying.

    I know telling the world that I let my kid spend two months playing on the iPad is inviting slings and arrows from parenting experts. Left to his own devices, however, Thing2 scurries from couch to boy-cave, moving laundry hampers and draping sheets over his top bunk to create a movie set between naps. The iPad was soon burgeoning with special effects app and ‘screen tests’. By the time he got back to school full time, he had written a script for a Star Wars fan video, complete with a mental cast list consisting of his classmates.

    It’s almost Thing2’s turn to apply to that program, and, watching him create and rise to his own expectations, I’m pretty sure we’ll use the same approach. We’ll call it good parenting even though he’ll be doing most of the heavy lifting.

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