Diverse Families

“Do you live in the black part of town or the white part of town?” the young man asked me.

“What does that even mean?” I said.

He wasn’t from this small town. He wasn’t here by choice. He was a youthful offender, committed to the local facility for a crime which I can’t disclose. That’s his story to tell.

He persisted, “Do you live on the black side of the railroad tracks or the white side?”

“I live in what some of the locals would call the ‘bad part of town,’ but that’s such a joke to me. I grew up near St. Louis, one of the most dangerous cities in the US. Compared to that, there is no ‘bad part’ of this small town. Just because a handful of black people live near us doesn’t make it bad,” I said.

“So you do like black people,” he said. He seemed content.

These teens that I work with have come from such diverse backgrounds. Some have families that come to visit regularly. Some have families that would like to visit but can’t afford the gas to get here. Some of their parents are on drugs or in prison, while others are trying hard to keep themselves off of drugs and out of prison. Many of these boys come from the kind of background that small town locals and suburban-raised folks can’t even relate to. They are confined within a gated facility where every door is locked. Even the bathrooms.

And yet every day, these testosterone-driven young men from such diverse backgrounds–who have been seen as a threat to their communities in various ways–demonstrate that they can get along (whether they like each other or not), express their feelings and thoughts to their group members and staff, show ambition for their future, and seem genuinely determined to make a productive, drug-free, crime-free life for themselves once they are granted what they all miss more than anything else: freedom.

It’s a whole different kind of family.


Back to School… And Back to Work

Today I signed an official employment offer letter. Not only am I going back into the workplace after over a year as a stay-at-home mom, but I’m making a career change. Instead of working with young children as a preschool teacher, I will be working with my state’s youthful offenders. Teens. Pre-teens.

I’m feeling so many different emotions after making this decision:
-Excitement at starting a new career.
-Optimistic about rehabilitating youth in trouble.
-Anxious to learn and train for my new position.
-Sad to see my long days and evenings end with my boys and husband.
-Worrisome about my toddler starting preschool for the first time.
-Happy for my oldest son beginning a new school year in first grade.
-Grateful for the opportunity to help others.
-Ambitious to become a provider for our family again.

My current life goal: to enjoy the remaining days of summer with my family.

My current blogging goal: to expand my topics to include posts about balancing work and family.

I hope you will continue to follow me along this exciting new path.

**Check out my blogging friend, Nate, who is bravely returning to work again after 17 years at home. You can find her story at insanityofmotherhood.com


Five Reasons Why You Should Play Minecraft with Your Child

I know. Your eyes are rolling to the back of your head and you’re thinking, “I’m so sick of my child talking about Minecraft!” That’s all my six-year-old has talked about for the past several months too. On the iPad, he plays Minecraft: Pocket Edition. He watches YouTube videos from a lady called Cupquake. He bought the Xbox360 version with his own cash. He wakes up in the middle of the night, sleep-walking into our bedroom like a Zombie and crying, “But I really like that MOD!” I thought his interest in Minecraft would come and go, just as it had with Angry Birds and Skylanders. But his obsession seems to be coursing steadily through his veins. Having no quick antidote to cure him, I did a parental unthinkable: I took a swig of the poison. I immersed myself into his pixelated world of mining and mobs. And if your child is Minecraft-crazed, you should play with him too.

Here’s why I’m glad I did:

  • I had no idea what my son was talking about 75% of the time: diamond swords, iron ingots, exploding Creepers. All day long, he would tell me about these strange things, and the only contribution I had to those conversations were alternating responses of, “Wow… Sounds neat… Huh?” Who sounds like the zombie now?
Photo Credit: www.minecraftwiki.net

Photo Credit: www.minecraftwiki.net

  • After the first few minutes of playing with my son, I started to get it. I didn’t see validity for the obsession yet, but as he gave me the initial tour of Minecraft I finally began to understand the game. Suddenly, those bewildered half-conversations I’d been having with my child had a new perspective. The pixelated images made me feel a little nostalgic, and the different biomes of the Minecraft worlds are actually somewhat… pretty.
  • The way I pictured Minecraft in my head–based on phrases commonly uttered from my son like, “Whoa! I just blew up that dude with TNT!” or “Oh shoot, there’s a spider comin’ at me! I’m gonna die!”–was so much worse than the game’s actual images. The zombies in my head belonged in Night of the Living Dead. Instead, I found the kinda-cute Minecraft Zombie pictured above. When someone dies the screen gets reddish, but there are no gory death scenes to the extent I had envisioned.
  • It’s an opportunity–albeit a virtual one–to promote teamwork. When my son and I play together, he naturally takes on the hunter/gatherer role and I become the homemaker. Even though it’s not gory I’m still not fond of killing things. I build our shelter, and he gathers our supplies and hunts for food.
  • Most importantly is knowing that my son still wants me involved in his interests. He is my oldest child, and I know that a time will soon come when he won’t really care whether or not I like what he likes. Someday, he may be content to shut the door to his bedroom as he runs amuck in a virtual world. Or to run out the door into the real world with his friends. But for today, his face beams with pride as he escorts me around the Minecraft worlds that he so genuinely enjoys sharing with me.

Are you familiar with Minecraft? Have any tips to share? My son is still better than I am at the game, so I need all the help I can get.


31dbbb Day 1–The Elevator Pitch: It’s What Close Families Is REALLY About

I’ve never attended a cocktail party; I have an anxiety for that kind of setting. But here is my longer version of an elevator pitch, should the occasion ever arise:

As the only female in our home, I’m a mom on a mission: to slip a little more veggies onto the dinner plates, to shoo everyone off the couch a little more often, and to create new ways for our family to make lasting, emotional connections. Surprisingly, they (usually) go along with it, and it’s (mostly) working. They’re teaching me a lot about myself too, and I’m not so proud that I won’t share those insights with you.

I still like my shorter tag-line: “Closing the gaps between us and building a strong family unit” because it’s short and exact… Or maybe it’s because my six-year-old is begging me to play Minecraft with him and I’ve already revised the longer pitch 35 36 times.

Editors, bloggers, and typically-silent passersby… I’m certainly open to any advice on making an outstanding elevator pitch. And if you’re asking yourself, “What the heck is an elevator pitch?” then you should click the badge below and find out! Just be sure to come back and give me some suggestions. ;)


Giving It All without Ending Up with Nothing

When I couldn’t lift the toothbrush high enough to touch my teeth, I knew I had damaged my shoulder. The cause of the injury was the usual suspect: doing too much, too fast. My newest love in the fitness world, Crossfit, made me feel like I was suffering from a bad relationship: it hurt, but I loved it too much to let go.

With me, exercise is all or nothing. I’m either sweating and pounding my body into exhaustion or I’m laying on the couch with a carton of ice cream resting conveniently on my chest. I’m either letting my BMI creep up to an unhealthy level or I’m giving it everything I have to bring it back down. So when I was introduced to Crossfit workouts through CaliFit Mamas, my first thought was, “There’s no way in heck I could do that.” (Obviously, that was the ice cream talking.) My next thought was, “I’m going to do that.”

Crossfit is intense. Each morning, I’ll read the workout of the day (WOD), and I’ll think, “5 rounds for time of 20 push-ups, 20 sit-ups, 20 deadlifts, 20 burpees, and 20 knees to elbows? Sounds easy enough.” And fourteen minutes later, I’m bent over, trying not to pass out as sweat drips from my face to my shoes like a leaky faucet. Whether it was during a billion reps of burpees or power snatches, somehow I damaged my shoulder last week. Sure, my whole body is sore and achy, but it all hurts so good–except for this wonky shoulder. Between my husband begging me, “Do NOT workout today,” and not being able to lift my arm high enough to apply deodorant, I decided to skip last Thursday’s WOD.

My all-or-nothing mentality was ready to abandon Crossfit. “It just isn’t for me,” I thought. “I’m not tough enough.” But I was so in love with the high that those intense workouts gave me, that I decided to do something rather unheard of for me: I went to the doctor. I felt pretty embarrassed to be there for “exercising too hard.” Surely they had people with real health problems to attend to. However, the doctor reassured me that it was smart to get it checked, and she gave me the simple advice that I needed to hear: keep doing it, just don’t overdo it.

I’m learning to find a balance between all and nothing. I’m backing off on the areas that need a little time to heal without neglecting the rest of my body. I might have to take a rest day, modify the exercise, or reduce the intensity, but I’m not breaking up with Crossfit. And the strength I’m gaining in the process is evident inside and out.

20130611-112439.jpgPictured: My two favorite workout buddies ;)


Garden 2013: (Finally) Getting In the Ground

I haven’t posted about our garden lately… mostly because it hadn’t changed since the last post. Despite my incredible soreness from the CaliFit Mamas workouts that I have been following PAINstakingly, I decided I needed to get something accomplished in the garden today. If we don’t get the rest of the seeds planted this month, we may not see much happen, and that would be such a shame (and another failure on my part, which my ego just can’t handle!). So today, I planted the tomatoes in the garden area. My husband borrowed a really nice gas-powered tiller from his co-worker, and all the rain we have had in the Midwest lately made it a pretty easy task. I was able to plant all the little seedlings in a half hour. Some of them are already in need of support, so we will get them tied up soon!

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Of course, it helps if you’re not worried about your one-year-old yanking the plants out of the ground as fast as you can get them in soil. So I went for an easy fifteen-minute run/walk before I started gardening, and he slept in the shade while I planted. Tomorrow I plan on doing the same routine so that I can get our peppers in the ground.

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After nearly three years of living in a home with many fruit trees, this is the first year that we were able to pick our cherries from the cherry tree before the birds devoured them. We learned (the hard way) that we have to pick them as soon as we see red. If we wait even a day longer for them to ripen more, the birds will have their fill of them and we’d be left cherry-less. Again. We picked about a pound of them last night, and they are delicious.

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There is nothing that says sustainable-living more than being able to pick fresh fruits and vegetables from your own backyard.

How is your garden growing this year? We are a little behind schedule, but it’s getting there!


Making Decisions: When Is It a Good Time to Become a Mom?

Growing up, being a mom was always a dream of mine. When people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, it was always “a mommy.” Maybe a marine biologist… and a mommy. Or maybe a teacher… and a mommy. But I hadn’t planned on having children as young as I did. I was still in my last year of college when I became pregnant with my first son. His dad (now my husband) and I were 21 and 22 years old, respectively (I’m the older woman!). At the time, having children didn’t mesh well with our carefree, late-night rendezvous in his parents’ basement. I had plans to finish my English degree and find a job as a writer or an editor. Then I would get married. Buy a house. Have a baby. Become a mom. Maybe when I was 30.

Life doesn’t always work as planned (especially when you don’t use birth control), but I’m so thankful that in this case, it didn’t. My son may not have been in my plans at the time, but being a mother always had been. And because of that–scared though we were–abortion wasn’t an option. Adoption wasn’t an option. Somehow, we would find a way to care for this unexpected baby boy.

Flash forward through a lot of hardships and struggles to getting married to my son’s father, picking out our first house as a family, and making plans for another child. But this time, it didn’t seem like having another child was going to happen as we had planned. It took nearly two years of on-purpose trying to get pregnant before my second son was finally a reality. And although this child was planned and desperately longed and prayed for, finding out that I was pregnant a second time gave me that same, scared feeling that I had the first time.

My story of becoming a mom, twice, leads me to believe that there is no “right time” when it comes to having children. While I do recommend using birth control until you’re “ready” to have children, I am also writing to say that whether it’s a part of your plans or not, becoming a mom is elating, terrifying, and rewarding in ways I could have never imagined. And in the 6 1/2 years of being a mother, I know that the only thing that you really need to make a decision to become a mom, whether the pregnancy was planned or unplanned, is the ability to love.

Although being a mom was always in my plans, I am blessed by both of my children beyond anything I could have ever dreamed. And I wouldn’t trade either of my unique and drastically different experiences of becoming a mom for any other dream I’ve had.

Happy Mother’s Day weekend to all my family, friends, and followers!Image


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