Homestead: 1.) A house, especially a farmhouse, with adjoining buildings and land. 2.) The home and adjoining land occupied by a family. 3.) an ancestral home 4.) Where you lay your heart. Thanks for stopping by the homestead!

Insurance or PreSchool

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Man I have tried to write this piece about our preschool quest a number of times and a few different ways. I thought I was being witty by coming up with a Preschool or Bust blog title. Then I googled it and of course there have already been like a thousandumpteenmillion other mahm blaghers out there who have written about this most harrowing of modern parenting subjects…. The Hunt and Capture of the Elusive Perfect Preschool.

I’ve had good friends from all over the country contact me to add their voices to this piece because of their own trials and tribulations. We are all around the same age-ish: mid to late 30’s. Mostly artists and teachers and working middle class. I did have a couple of fancy friends with high-profile/high paying jobs who lent their unique perspective beyond just a “why can’t you just pay for it?” attitude. We are all different races and ethnicities living in mostly urban & suburban neighborhoods. Some of us stay home to raise our young littles, men and women. Some of us are a full two working parent household. All of us hold at least bachelor degrees (hi fives to all of us for going into debt together!) and a few have Master’s and PHDs. (See, I told you I knew some fancy people). We all have different upbringings, though 98% of us come from either lower middle class or just what used to be a solid middle class background. I personally grew up pretty poor and have worked hard my whole life for everything, but that’s a different story and is something I am proud of at this age.

What I’m getting at here; is that my life and choices have thankfully given me good exposure and experience with people from all over the world and through every walk of life. My social media upkeep has kept me in touch and at least semi-present with a lot of these people. Those of us who either by choice or chance became parents, are faced with what feels like many more nonsensical and nuanced barriers when it comes to just providing the basics for our children- than our previous generations or parents had. So when I take to my social media platform and present the question “What, how, who, why, where do you find a preschool?” I am greeted with wonderful retorts, great suggestions, thoughtful articles to read, private messages to ponder, and a feeling of solidarity.

This helps. This feeling of solidarity from others helps me. It helps me continue to be a great parent to my daughter and makes me feel less alone in this ocean of parenting pitfalls. So to my fellow parentals out there doing the good hard work of raising good hard-working little people: I see you. I stand with you. I support you. I got you. Also; how did you choose a preschool, health plan, neighborhood school, college, dietary restrictions, technology or not, unschool or not, vaccinations, cosleeping, breastfeeding till college or not, stay at home or work full-time, trying to conceive another or not etc…… Okay, that last little italicized bit there is my wink and nod to the myriad of parenting points in most online conversations on any given day that always seem to bring out the worst in people. It’s so ridiculous, I don’t even understand how anyone with small children has any time or brain space left to give a shit what some other parent is choosing to do for their family….

My Parenting Motto is and always will be: Love Them and Keep Them Alive.

Just so we’re all on the same page here (my blog Hellos from the Homestead-ja ja) I’m not here to tell anyone else how to parent their child. I am here to share my unique experience and voice through what is an interesting ride on this latest round of the parenting carousel. I respect that we all have our most unique perspectives, experiences, lifestyles, and choices which obviously guides our parenting narrative.

For the purpose of this specific piece I feel it worthy to note a few things lest I be judged as someone or something I am not:

1.) I’m the product of two young dummies having sex on prom night for their first time back in 1976, and thinking they couldn’t get pregnant. High fives to sex ed for those guys! My parents didn’t make it long as a couple (surprise) and divorced by the time I was 3.5. My mother was a beautiful woman, like stunning, so I grew up in So California while she pursued her acting and modeling dreams. I was not close to my father growing up, but I was very close with his family (nanny, aunts uncles etc). When I was 10 my mother’s mental illness  began its ugly assault on our lives (she would later be diagnosed Paranoid Schizophrenic). I only stayed with her till I was 16, when I then moved in with my father and stepmother so that I could actually live and not die.
2.) I left my father’s house just a month after turning 19. It’s a beautiful heart breaking story for another time about my dear theater friends and some people I didn’t know coming to “rescue me” in the middle of the night with all of my belongings. That was in Feb of 1996. I have never had contact with my father and stepmother again. I have “been on my own” really since I was 10- it feels like but for serious since I was 19. I am now 38. College educated. I’ve held a number of crap jobs, jobs I loved, high-profile jobs, high paying jobs, volunteer work, and activist work. I’m also a mother to a beautiful little sprite of a child we call Scuttlebutt.
3.) In summer of 2012, when my daughter was just 8/9 months old, I made the very hard decision to leave my most perfect job with my most perfect boss and what I thought was the most perfect workplace. Hardest. Choice. Of my. Life. As it turned out it was the Best. Choice. Of my. Life. Not because I freaking just luuuuuvvvveee being a stay-at-home-mom (though props to all you SAH parents cause this shit is hard). It turned out it was the best choice ever because just a few months after leaving my most beloved job we found out our daughter had been lead poisoned from our home. Which leads me to….
4.) We have been homeless as a family. We traveled to stay in healthy homes to get our daughter healthy. We left other jobs and lost all societal constructed ideas of security and safety in order to keep our daughter/our family healthy and safe. We lost some close friendships during this time. We almost lost each other as a family dynamic because of the stress and strain that this kind of situation can place on a human being. We found a healthy home after a year of wanderlust back in our old trusty city Chicago. It was not easy and I’ve written about our progress and process through Lead Poisoning here on this blog. We did not have any more children…yet. I have not returned to any work full time…yet. But our daughter is healthy, happy, thriving, living, growing, and we are all learning and loving our way through this life together.

So when I write about having a unique perspective here, I am not throwing around a bunch of bullshit. I am thankful for every day that all three of us wake up with terrible morning breath and cranky faces. I’m thankful my toddler is picky with her food because “No I only want that toast with the orange jelly and butter but I can’t see you put the butter on there otherwise I won’t eat it!” I’m thankful for our quiet healthy home on a busy Chicago street in a truly awesomely diverse neighborhood. I’m thankful I got to help plan my best friend’s engagement party and had enough energy and time to ship her off to Paris to start her new life and family with her husband. I’m thankful I’m not an asshole who doesn’t understand the world around her or what the word community means. I’m thankful I’m not some rich prick who lives over in Gold Coast/Lincoln Park/Wrigleyville  and can just write a check so my child can __________(no offense but those neighborhoods suck). Call me a hater if you must, but I’ve been and have loved Chicago long enough to know that the wealthiest neighborhoods do NOT a Chicago make. I’m thankful for all the relationships and friendships that have helped shape the person I am today and the mother I will continue to be tomorrow. I’m thankful I know that life is too short and precious to waste even a single moment worrying about people-places-things-scenarios-situations you have no control over right now. So stop. Lastly, I’m thankful for ME and my growth through motherhood. It continues to challenge, astound, confuse, and fill me every day with hope for our future on this planet.

Okay. Now that we got all that touchy, feely, nice-to-meet-you stuff out-of-the-way. Let’s move on to the crux of my post:

Insurance or Preschool

Today is Wednesday, Feb 25 2015.
Just yesterday; after a full year of multiple appointments, 50 office hours, so much paperwork, blood-sweat-tears, 20 hours on multiple phone calls, and usually with my trusty sidekick Scuttlebutt by my side…our family was finally ruled against receiving state assisted health insurance. Not for me, I’m covered under Medicaid because of the ACA and because my partner and I are not married. *note* I am neither ashamed nor embarrassed to be currently on Medicaid. I have been working and paying into the Illinois tax system since I was 16 and started working at Portillo’s in the suburbs. I find it reprehensible that the “only plan” I could receive from my partner’s work would cost our family $475/m. In what world does that make any sense for a very healthy and active 38-year-old woman? America, that’s where.

Due to our unique experience with the lead poisoning of our child, litigation with our previous landlords, homelessness etc. We have been eligible to receive benefits under the supposed “insurance for all children in Illinois” called All Kids. We were looking into the Premium Paid Program because after all we are a family of three living on one decent income, but not an income that could afford the $350/m cost for adding our THREE YEAR OLD to my partner’s insurance plan. Again, I ask you in what world does it make any sense that a very healthy three-year old child should cost $350/m for insurance? And before anyone asks, the whole previous two years of her life we were paying out-of-pocket for all wellness visits, shots, blood tests because of lead poisoning, ER visits, medications and so on. So this cost of $350 is not based on some preexisting issue kind of bs- which was supposed to be made illegal by the ACA anyway. No this cost is just what is deemed acceptable by an insurance company to charge a family for an additional family member to a plan. Disgusting.

You can see why I have worked so hard, because it’s been my full-time job to work on this while also taking some freelancing work-nanny work- acclimation back to Chicago-breaking my ankle-then birthdays and holidays. And that’s fine. I am NOT complaining about doing what is necessary to take care of my child/my family. I will walk through all the hot Legos in the world if it means protecting and properly caring for my family. But at a certain point it’s kind of like- come on already here, please give my family a little break…..

The reality is…for most if not all truly Middle Class Working Families in America….There. Are. No. Breaks. To. Be. Given. You’re told you’re either “not poor enough” or “you should have another child, that will help your case” or “well go back to work if it’s so hard to live on one income” or “stop being such a terrible parent then, go get a job” or “well in my day we had to _________.” I have a word document with all the things I’ve been told over the past couple of years from random people, government workers, family members, ex-friends, online assholes; and it’s not pretty. If I were a weaker person, it could lead me down a dark dark road of feeling: less than, not worthy, inhuman, waste-of-skinworried that I’m just like my mom, like a failure, or any number of things that your darkest self tells yourself when you are feeling shitty.

Thankfully, a lifetime of struggle and working hard for everything I have and have achieved along with great support from family and friends gives me the confidence and strength to KNOW ABSOLUTELY 1000% that I am not any of those things my darkest self wants me to believe. We are our own worst critics, especially when it comes to anything Parenting related. If I would’ve gotten paid for all the volunteer online support I gave to other new mothers…It actually would’ve paid me better than my DREAM JOB did and it would’ve come with full benefits.

Which brings me again back to this whole insurance mess and what this has to do with Preschool. 

Simply put: We cannot afford both insurance and paid Preschool for our child while residing within the city of Chicago. I’m not going to be embarrassed by this fact. We are not terrible parents nor are we terrible people because we have to set a budget for our family. If money were not in this equation at all, I would have my daughter in the finest Montessori French Immersion Spanish Chinese Waldorf school in all the land. But, We. Are. Middle class. So we budget. And we sacrifice. And we scrimp and save and thank goodness we are resourceful smart people who can DIY the shit out of anything. So we will not be embarrassed by our “current economic status.” Mostly because my grandfather’s generation was able to build a decent life and have at least 3 children on less than what our little family is trying to scrape by with every month. What does that tell you? That we are broken as a family and that there is something wrong with us? Or that there is something broken with the system?

I think we all know the answer. And I have to tell you that if your answer is: Stop complaining and go get a job you pinko commie socialist. Then stop reading this blog post and please go see a therapist because you have some serious mental issues and need help finding your compassion for other human beings.

I am not expecting other people to pay for my life. We are not on welfare, although technically I could be because I’m not married to my daughter’s dad and am currently not working. But, I won’t do that. Why? Because it’s not necessary for me to pull from a system that needs to help out those who truly need it. I technically could get SNAP benefits in order to continue to provide the best food for my family to keep us healthy and out of the doctor’s office; but I don’t because….well, actually why don’t I do that again? The taxes are so incredibly high in Chicago and the environment is so incredibly taxing to live here, why shouldn’t we all get some sort of support to make the best food choices for ALL OUR FAMILIES? There I go again with my pinko commie ways…

What are our choices though? My choices as a college educated, well read, self motivating, creative, compassionate, thoughtful, hard working, dedicated, woman is to either make things work with what we have. Or just suck it up and go find a FT job with benefits that (we all know) will only just barely take care of preschool/daycare for my child here in Chicago. Seriously, this IS the reality for most middle-class families I know. And before anyone says, “Well, we didn’t force you to have a family, why should we be responsible to help you raise them?” Oh I don’t know, because ALL CHILDREN ARE THE FUCKING FUTURE and we should all be invested in the advance of everyone, not just the wealthy.

I didn’t ask for my child to be lead poisoned. I didn’t ask to have a mother with severe mental illness and a selfish prick for a father. I didn’t ask to be abandoned and abused for a good portion of my childhood. I didn’t ask to be sexually assaulted by a therapist when I was 14. I didn’t ask for any of the bullshit I had to work through in my life. And guess what? I’m not an asshole because of all the things I went through in my life. No, instead it made me want to help others. It made me become an activist at 18. It made me leave the security and comfort in a terribly unhealthy home when I was 19. It made me put myself through college even though I knew I would probably never be able to fully pay back my student loans. It made me break off an engagement even though that seemed like the scariest thing for my heart. And it made me become the AMAZING mother I am today. It’s also why I’m wasting precious time I could be playing outdoors in the freshly fallen midwest snow with my wee lady so that I can write this.

I feel its important for all of us to share our stories. Again, not because I am looking for pity or sympathy. I’m looking for some solidarity here. For a high-five or an “I got you,” or a “You’re not alone,” or maybe even a “Good Job.” Mostly I’m looking to share because we are the stories we tell and we are all important. Because maybe there is someone else out there on a similar road who feels alone- you’re not. Because I have the privilege to be able to sit on this computer and type these words out when I know there are others who can’t even do this. I’ve been seeing most of them a lot this past year in the DHS offices and wandering my streets. I’ve tried to help where and when I can, because that’s what you should do for your fellow humans, but I also have to focus on my family.

I honestly don’t know what the answer is for our society. I know that right now we have to sit down and come up with a game plan to give the best to our child within our capabilities. I know we have to decide between paying a pricey insurance premium for our healthy three-year old (OR) invest in her educational and social future by putting her in this Co-Op Preschool that even at a sliding scale is still financially challenging for our family. I know that if neither of those things “work” right now, I will either find or make 3rd and 4th options (like Park District classes), because I will not give up on providing the best for my child.  And that, THAT is what makes me a GOOD mother.

Thanks for reading, if you actually took the time to read all this. I know it’s a lot to ingest. I had to get all this out because an entire year of my life has been consumed with trying to work within the constructed systems set up in Chicago. Turns out, they don’t really work, but at least I tried. I tried. I fought. I petitioned. I argued, albeit gracefully.  I spent hours on the phone. I spent days in offices. I explored every option till everyone involved was exhausted. And now I guess it’s time maybe to just go enjoy some life with my beautiful, healthy, happy, energetic, funny, witty, mischievous, spunky, hilarious little three-year old. Maybe we will go out in that fresh Midwestern snow and build our first snowman of the season….

Hellos from the Homestead,

jess

To the Gaggle of “Professional” Women Judging Us When They Should’ve Just Stayed Focused on Their Lunch….

In the snarky-passive aggressive-sometimes thought provoking-hey we’re all human- spirit of the “To the ______” open letters, I’d like to throw my own at the large table of women who were lunching near my dear friend and I with our two toddler girls and quiet newborn the other day…..

I see you.
With your attempt at wearing nice clothes for work, way too strong of perfume, and cheap jewelry.
I used to be you.
Only way better dressed, because I’m resourceful and have a keen eye for fashion. My perfume never assaulted anyone. And jewelry – well I’m very thankful for all my artist friends supplying me with either pieces themselves or good ideas.

I saw your eye rolls as our two girls were laughing and playing around our table.
I heard your quips about my “terrible mom hair.”
I heard one of you say “See now THAT is why I don’t ever want to be a mom. Gross”
I saw you watch me as I corralled two (for the most part) well behaved little girls.
I saw one of you drop a huge glop of SC on your shirt and not even notice. Gross.
I watched each and every one of you look at us, come up with some conclusion as to who we are, then snear-laugh-chortle-cackle…whatever it is that you hens do.

And you know what?
F*%K. You.
You don’t know us nor our “situation.”
But I know yours.
I can smell it in the way your cheap perfume mixes with the 3rd margarita you had.

If you’d taken a moment to even ask me about my “terrible mom hair.” You would’ve found out that my father-in-law had a stroke. Therefore my partner had to be gone and take our only car to manage everything out in the suburbs, on top of going to the hospital to just be with his father. You’d find out I hadn’t slept well in days, that I’ve been on FT childcare without any break at all for over a week, and that my partner and I need a vacation. If you’d taken a moment to roll those over painted eyes to a place of humanity; you would’ve found out that my little family has had a pretty rough couple of weeks with the death of a grandparent, unexpected last minute cross country traveling, sickness, being apart for the family holiday, and now this stroke. If you would’ve put down that taquito you really don’t need to eat and offered a helping hand -instead of a judgmental eye- you could’ve learned that my dear friend braved the cold with her new infant and toddler, drove a half hour to pick us up, then ran us around to do important errands, and treated us to lunch.

But you’re not going to do that are you?
No, you’re going to sit high upon whatever horse can hold your massive weight of ignorance and just judgey, judge, judge, judge, judge, judge.

I don’t know what it is about our modern world, or Chicago, or winter time, or America, or modern parenting; but a significant amount of people are assholes. Like for real. Like most of the time. Like it’s their fucking job. I seriously do not understand how anyone has the mental capacity or time to even come up with judgements against others. Especially about things so nuanced as a lunch interaction at a Mexican restaurant in a family centric part of the city. It was 1pm on a cold snowy Thursday at Garcias, not an 8pm reservation at Next or Alinea…get real girls.

So again, To the Gaggle of “Professional” Women Judging Us When They Should’ve Just Focused on Their Lunch:

I see you.
With my terrible mom hair, and same clothes I’ve been in for four days, and tired eyes, and nervous hungry belly, and active happy kiddo, and uncertainty about the next few days-weeks-months, and my own anxieties about being a working class parent in a big city that doesn’t help it’s people, and my own judgements about myself as a human-woman-mother.
I see you.
And I’m better than you.
Because while I may have been able to easily spot your crappy clothes, cheap perfume, and tacky jewelry…I don’t know your story and so therefor I’m not going to judge you. I don’t have time for that. And quite honestly, neither should you….

Entering year THREE now as an awesome, dedicated, hip, fun, real mom living here in Chicago, I’m always so perplexed by these destructive and kinda hateful interactions with other women. What happened to the sisterhood? Where did all my sisters go? Where’s our village? Did it really burn down as others have alluded?

Look, I get it. Interacting with children in public can be challenging, especially if you’re not a parent or have never been around a human child like ever. But it’s how we all got here. You wouldn’t be a professional judgey adult, if you hadn’t been some kind of child first (or still kinda like a child in my opinion).

As the parent of a really well behaved three year old who says “Yes Please, No Thank You, It’s Nice To Meet You” while simultaneously being a hose beast and screaming for her iPad games….I am acutely aware of our public presence. I don’t cow tow to others nor shame my child into behaving. I also don’t let her get away with thinking the whole public world is her oyster to throw around and let people slip on. I’m teaching her that our public life is a give-and-take and our interactions with others can have consequences or bring about great joy and entertainment. It is not merely about her being “seen and not heard,” cause get real people that is NOT TRUE LIFE. It also isn’t about her running willy nilly and not acknowledging others. It’s about ALL OF US BEING IN THIS TOGETHER. Maybe my No Cal internal hippie ways aren’t good enough for this Windy City On The Move of Broad Shouldered carb loving people, but I’m trying as best I can to raise a good human being here.

Trust me when I say that I am having great success in this area of parenting. Our daughter is not only way way way empathetic to others, she listens and responds, and even comes up with great problem solving suggestions I can’t see myself. So if on a Thursday afternoon at 1pm at a big loud Mexican restaurant in Lincoln Square, my daughter wants to laugh and play…fucken go for it kid. It has been a rough couple weeks and a particularly trying few days for our family. So please my little human: refuse that cold food-play with your friend-laugh-have fun. I will handle the adults, because that’s my job not yours.

Some have suggested to me that maybe it’s time for me to get back to doing a “real job” again because it seems like I’m just another bored SAHM….. They’ve said that my basic mom blog here is evidence of this. While I agree there are times I do wish to be back in the adult workplace, mostly just for money so that I can afford insurance or school for my child. I very much honor and appreciate the hard-hard-hard very REAL work of full time parenting. Not everyone can do this. Not the way I am. Not the way our family is right now. I know this and I take pride in taking “time off” to raise a good and decent human being.

We all make our choices and our sacrifices to get the most out of this one life we live. As someone said to me, ” No one gets out of this alive.” Which is true. Which is why when I have a lame interaction, like the one the other day, it only makes me more tenacious in my parenting of my young child. I do not want to raise a daughter who will grow up to sit in weird, pseudo, under-the-breath, side eye judgement of others. Instead she will offering a helping hand if she sees a need or just focus on her own plate…which will be full and overflowing.

Hellos from a Very Cold Chicago Homestead,
Jess

365 Days of Gratitude, A Personal Photo Journey

Maybe it’s because 2014 was filled with so much loss and grief for my heart, that I’m still working through every day. Maybe it’s because 2015 is quickly becoming the Year of the Baby for close friends, family members, and a lot of my mid-late 30’s peers….FINALLY! Maybe it’s because I’m tired of comparing myself to other moms, other bloggers, other families who appear to be so happy and successful through social media. Maybe it’s because my daughter is absolutely stunning and has a smile brighter than a thousand suns. Maybe it’s because we know how to have fun and I’m a really great got damn mom.

Maybe it’s because I used to “do” photography many many moons ago and miss having a set project. Maybe it’s because I need to set a limit for myself on how much I post on my private Instagram account. Maybe it’s because I’m making awesome books through ChatBooks so that we can have some tangible- non digital- proof that we exist in this world and that some people love us.
Maybe it’s becoming increasingly obvious to me that I’m not really going to have the time I so desperately crave and desire to write. It’s just not going to happen right now with the way my partner’s intense work schedule is- no matter how much I will it to. I’m accepting that now. I’m not giving up, I’m just accepting that we don’t have the kind of familial structure, nor continuous support, nor monetary availability that will allow me time away to work on my writing. I think that’s painfully obvious seeing as I haven’t even kept up with this blog (that I pay to keep up) since early September. And the world keeps spinning doesn’t it? Nothing has come to a halt because I haven’t lugged out my (no lie) 1970’s Samsonite suitcase with journal upon journal upon paper upon notebooks of writing work I wish to complete someday. Everyone keeps on keeping on…and so do I ;-)

Which is why, when it maybe kinda sorta feels like I am bored, tired, stressed, frustrated, and dragged down in our day-to-days….I seek and search for something that I need to do for me. Imagine that, doing something for myself…..

Whatever my deep dark or just silly light hearted reasons may be, I’ve decided to embark on a 365 Days of Gratitude photo journey and post the results (only taken with my iPhone 5s) on my Instagram account: Scoutsmama. I know I’m not creating world peace, ending global warming, stopping police brutality, ending violence against women, helping our fractured health care system, or solving our country’s hunger crisis by doing this. But I am a human being who needs to connect with others and reconnect with my creative self after a really fucking difficult year.

It’s funny to look at where we were last year at this time; having just moved into our new place and still reeling and dealing with all the after effects of lead poisoning and becoming Lead Conscious through our vagabond traveling lifestyle? If someone would’ve told me how things would’ve gone down in the coming year (as in 2014), I might of er-uh-em packed my bags and headed back for the beautiful hills in North Carolina!! But probably not really, because I’m all into that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, every moment is a gift, remain present, blah blah blah stuff.” I’m no dummy. I know how all this life stuff works, or at least my experience through it. You have the good and he bad, the ups and the downs, the years of crazy homlessness and lead poisoning teamed with new babies and friendships and jobs and awesomeness. I’m gonna be 38 soon, so trust me when I say “I get it.”

Which is why, when I found myself beaten down by the holidays again, because the holidays are a very hard time for me no matter how much I mask myself with my daughter’s excitement for the stupid season. When I found myself feeling ALL THE LOSSES of the previous couple years (actual physical deaths and lost friendships), wishing for some freaking understanding when it comes to my “father” and his lack of anything, and becoming increasingly angry with my partner’s family….

I decided “Fuck it. I’m going to spend this coming year letting go of all that nonsense and I’m going to dedicate this year to taking at least one moment of every day to be grateful!” I’m going to breathe in and out with purpose and teach my child to do the same. I’m going to smile more and cry less (I’m a crier with stress, I am). I’m going to stop wishing and do. I have absolutely no control over how others behave, react, treat me and/or my child. I can only do my best now, in the moment, and create my own happiness.

My steps to creating my own happiness include this photo challenge. I don’t have a fancy DSLR camera. Im only moderately photoshop savvy. I’m not even moderately middle class to travel and take amazing photos of luscious scenaries from around the world. I’m not a famous blogger. I’m not even working a “real job” right now. Im not seeking to “go viral” with anything, which seems to be the world we all kinda live in now. And because that sounds like a mess I don’t want to clean up later. I am seeking out genuine experiences with genuine people to help me further along on my life’s quest of creating happiness. I’m a creative mom, artist, organizer, party planning, activist, designer, teacher-friend-lady-human being- on a mission.

Won’t you come join me?

Cheers to all for a healthy, happy, and prosperous Twenty Fifteen!!!

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Don’t Wait Till Tomorrow

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Someone else probably wrote a more eloquent and smarter version of what I’m going to write here. They probably used those lovely long “look how intelligent I am!” vocab words and made profound connections to life, love, the universe, and our human form. That’s okay because that’s for them and this is for me. And for you if you read this:

Do not wait till tomorrow to tell someone you love, that you love them.
Don’t wait to make that phone call to an old friend to “make plans for later.” Make them now.
Don’t not do that thing because you’re scared, do it because it’s scary and will make you grow.
Don’t waste time in relationships or jobs or relationships that feel like jobs because “you’re supposed to be doing those things at that age and this is what you should do.”
Don’t wait to move to Paris and fall in love, or vice versa.
Don’t not eat that really terrible food for you, if that’s what you want. Fucken eat that got damn double bacon cheeseburger with the fries and that shake…and then go do yoga if you want. Or don’t.
Don’t wait to start your own business, go online-go to the library-go talk to people and start your business today.
Don’t wait to adopt that dog, or cat, or iguana. Go get them today, they need you and they need a hug…and so do you.
Don’t wait to learn to ride a horse, or build a bike, or start a garden.
Don’t wait to be a good person, be one today. Help others, lend a hand, give a hug. This life can be way too short to not do good for others and yourself.
Don’t wait to have a family, make one now- whatever that looks like to you.
Don’t wait till tomorrow to go to that park, or read that book, or meet that new friend. Do it now.
Don’t wait to move to that one place in that one city over there. Pack it up and hit the road today.
Don’t wait to take that pottery class, or learn to cook French cuisine or finish that project or snuggle under blankets in the rain- just cause.
Don’t wait to go out to a fancy restaurant.
Don’t wait to get on the floor and play that one game that you hate playing with your child, but they absolutely LOVE IT AND HAVE TO PLAY IT ALL THE TIME!! Go play it with them…now!
Don’t wait to eat a bowl of buttered popcorn while watching that one movie with your sweetheart, or maybe future sweetheart.
Don’t wait to eat bacon, it’s really good.
Don’t wait to try a negroni slushie, it’s a taste sensation.
Don’t wait to get up for someone on the bus, get up now…right now!
Don’t not marry that person because _________. Take them in your arms and run off into the sunset (Plus sunset silhouettes look really pretty).
Don’t wait to donate that stuff you haven’t touched in your 15 years moving around the same city. Give it away to a needy family, today.
Don’t wait to show your children the world, even if you can’t physically travel.
Don’t wait to use your imagination.
Don’t wait to reach out to someone who is hurting and needs you but is too scared to ask. Go over, help them. They will be thankful, I promise.

Don’t wait till tomorrow to be the best version of YOU you can be.
Don’t wait till tomorrow to climb that mountain, they’re all mountains.
Don’t wait till tomorrow to live and love. Do it now.

Right now.
Tell someone, call someone, bicycle to someone, take a boat, fly an airplane, yell through tin cans connected by all the strings of your years… Tell them you love them.
Don’t wait till tomorrow.

Hellos from a Heavy Hearted Homestead. Love and Light to all who are suffering.
Jess

All The Happiness

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To Infinity and Beyond!!
Is there anything better than the pure happiness, arms outstretched, head high to the sky, joy of your own child?

I’m sure plenty of non parentals can think of a shit ton of other things that make them happy and fulfilled in their lives, and that’s great for them. Hi fives! Fist bumps! That used to be me! I might be kinda jealous, but not really. Get er done! Enjoy! Live, laugh, love! Proud of you :) For mama me though, there is nothing that brings me greater joy than seeing my daughter “so happy mama!”

Like any good parent, I’m constantly questioning whether I’m doing a good job. Pictures like the one above are a good reminder to me that Yes, yes you are doing a good job just look at all the happiness in those outstretched arms and head high to the sky. Not a care in the world. As it should be for a 2.5 year old, living in a major US city, growing up in a working middle class home, in a relatively safe neighborhood, with two caring parents, good food choices, and the summer all around her.

I am abundantly aware of how fortunate we are to have what we have. Even though I would like so, so, very much more for my daughter and my family
(health insurance, regular dental visits, good schooling, family nearby, world travels, a sibling perhaps); I know in my heart that this little girl is having a good life experience thus far. Even through lead poisoning, homelessness, traveling, being apart from her dad, acclimating back to Chicago, loss of friendships, lack of extended family presence….this little girl has not skipped a beat nor wanted for anything more than love, some homemade playdoh or cars-trains-planes, and maybe her iPad. In that, I know we are lucky and I trust that we will do everything we can to provide everything we can for this beautiful child. The fact that I can take a moment to even reflect on this, is a luxury that a lot of mothers don’t have. I know this and I am thankful.

Great, so why the need to write an entire MLog post about it and share it on FB?

Because I need to put something good out there right now.
Because I’ve written four other blog posts since my last one and haven’t published any of them.
Because all of those blogs I wanted to publish revolve around: parenting, lead poisoning, defending my choices and my family, loss of friendships, disliking Chicago, traveling to Colorado, defending other people’s parenting choices that might not be the norm, ugh ‘Murica, missing my old work, missing storytelling, challenges of toddlerhood, other people’s kids, other kid’s parents, breastfeeding, missing friends, the depressing state of Chicago shootings, potty training, the health care industry, social media burnout, and doing more with less.
Because I’ve met a bunch of new people lately, who’s first question is always “What do you do?”
Because I do consider myself a writer, a chronicler, an archivist of sorts and it’s a good practice for me to keep up with this blog.
Because I’m human and my need to connect to others is strong.
Because I keep hoping that in time I will get back to using this blog for its original intent.
Because Gaza.
Because I’m helping plan my best friend’s engagement party.
Because I’m nannying 50hrs/week for my dear friends and I need a break, because make no mistake Nanny Work IS work.
Because I’m unapologetically ME and just because I’m not some uber famous mom blogger (bleh) doesn’t mean my voice doesn’t matter. It does. To my family. To my readers (yes I do have some and Thank You). And most importantly, to me.

Alas.
This post is not about me and my #MomLife.
It’s really for my beautiful girl with wings spread wide open, smiling bigger than the clouds, and shining brighter than a thousand suns. This girl. What a character. What an awesome little hooman she is turning into. Of course I have to say that because I’m her mom, but still aside from that I’m able to really see her and she everything she is going to be…..

Lately, I’ve been able to see her through our nanny work and the eyes of our 16 month old charge. Who just lights up as soon as we come over for the day- this make me feel good and accomplished and I am not ashamed of that. I am proud of this. It is no easy feat to be a full time caregiver and teacher to another’s child, so I take my work very seriously even if “it’s just childcare.” That is an actual quote from an actual person I know, who I assume was being funny and I hope didn’t realize how kinda rude they were sounding. I don’t tell other friends, “oh it’s just event planning,” or “oh it’s just teaching,” or “oh it’s just retail.” So have some ding dang respect for however someone chooses to work OR NOT- and keep your trap closed if all you can say is a stupid comment. Shit is seriously hard enough for- oh I don’t know, everyone I know- we don’t need to inject tiny judgements upon each other. It’s a #freakingwasteoftime. #hashtag

You know what’s not a waste of time?

Enjoying this time with my daughter, being proud of the work I’m doing, and always taking time to savor All The Happiness. Because as we know -all too well, just given our own experiences in the past few months and years- anything can happen at any moment. Anything has happened at any moment. Which is how this life thing goes, but I’m pretty sure the trick is to stop every now and then and enjoy it. Just enjoy it.

Enjoy the people who are in your life who care about you and your family- and you them in return. Let go of the ones who are confused as to how simple a task, such as to just love each other, really is. Expel your regrets and move on always, always move on. Strive to do more and be better for yourself and family; but know this: so long as there is love, support, and encouragement in the home- everything else is cake. You really do just need to Love them and Keep Them Alive. Struggle if you must, but teach yourself and your little human (who is looking to you for how to bein this world) how to work through struggles and be better than before. Don’t be a dick to people, period. Try not to yell, but know that if it happens ITS NOT THE END OF THE WORLD AND YOUR CHILD IS NOT SCARRED AND YOU ALL WILL BE OKAY BECAUSE SOMETIMES TODDLERS ARE JERKS AND YOU ARE TIRED AND YOU JUST NEED A BREAK MMM KAY….. Be kind to yourself. I’m gonna say this one again to any parent who may read this; whether you stay at home, work outside the home, work at home with the kids, or however you have to do what you do to get by: Be Kind To Yourself.

None of any of this is easy.
Even though all the lifestyle blogs, Pinterest boards, celebrity obsessed culture, and social media “likes” would have you thinking otherwise.
Nobody has it figured out.
They just figured out their trick and are running with it.

It’s taken me most of my life, a lot of loss&pain, and the birth of my daughter to realize that All the Happiness I seek is within me. Every day is an opportunity to really truly be happy. Now, whether or not that actually happens is a whole other blog post….or not. Who knows what the days have in store for us. I do know one thing for certain, my trick is to stop every now and then and savor these moments. Even the gross annoying ones. Because as cheesy as it sounds, they all go by very fast. Before you know it, it’s been a year since _________, and so-in-so is now doing such-in-such, and you find yourself already at the end of the summer with a little girl on the brink of turning 3.

Or maybe that’s just me.
I’m okay with that.
And I’m happy.

Hellos from the Homestead,
Jess

This One Is For Me.

I can’t sleep.
Partially because I had a cup of coffee for dinner, but mostly because I’m watching my daughter sleep. Not in a creepy mom can’t separate herself from her baby toddler like the I’ll Love You Forever book way, but because I’m scared…..and it’s completely irrational…and I know this….but….

What the fuck am I supposed to thinkfeeldo right now?!
Another person I had a friendship with has passed away and there is not a ding dang flim flam thing I can do about it. So. I’m gonna write. That’s one thing I can do. I can share his my story and then hopefully I will be able to sleep again. Truth be told, I haven’t slept well in 13 days -since another loved one’s passing- but that’s my thing… I think. That’s how I process the unprocessable. I stay up late or wake up early and I think, write, or draw and then I hopefully sleep and feel a little better.

Tonight though I don’t know how to feel better. I found old drawings my friend Jeremy and I used to send each other, because we used to do exquisite corpse through the mail. If you don’t know what I mean by through the mail then let me explain: In the Olden Days (10/15 years ago) before internets and smart phones, we used to do this thing called “write letters” or actually cut and paste pictures, drawings etc and send them to each other through, what is lovingly referred to as Snail Mail. We would have to wait days or weeks (especially if you live in Chicago’s post codes) for a response.

My friend Jeremy and I used to keep in touch via letters, pictures, presents, drawing collaborations and a few emails and phone calls from time to time. He did the most exquisite drawing of my ex fiancé and I when we got engaged like a million years ago (2007) and also sent me a healing potion when my ex and I broke up in 2010, cause he was awesome like that. He was also a dad, a scholar, a husband from what I hear, and from what I know- one of the kindest hearts out there. Of course he was, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about him, now would I?

He also had juvenile diabetes, which finally took his young life at 35 and left a little -now 12 year old- girl, fatherless. We used to make fun of his disease and say “Oh, how juvenile!” In much the same way that people say “Oh how pedestrian.” And really that’s all I can speak of his disease. Except that a lot of my good eating habits come from discussions he and I had about Heath, Wellness, the body, and the mind. And in case anyone is wondering, no he wasn’t some obese ‘Murican who slovenly ate his way to death, though if that had been his story I would NOT be any less hurt by his loss. He was in fact cut like a mutha and fit as _____. At least he was when we were young (er) and dumb and danced till the sun came upmost days, then went to work/school or sometimes both, then turned around and did it all over again. I don’t need to get into specifics, because if you were there you knew what was up. We had fun, we grew up, and we took care of each other….

Then Life Started Happening and some of us lost touch, broke up, fell out, or just moved on. But J and I kept in touch. Even when my then boyfriend became jealous of our correspondence and “forbade me” from communicating with J. Ugh, I’m so embarrassed to even write that, let alone admit that I listened to him and stopped communication with J for a while. Even during that stupid confusing time, we still kept in touch. Because he was family to me, not some secret snail mail- artist-Wiccan-side piece I had stashed away.

It’s hard though. You “get busy” and you lose touch.

Sadly, we did lose touch after 2010, because Life Happened and….well, it’s why I’m sitting here in Chicago writing about this instead of participating in a memorial for him in Vt. Just for the record no one is keeping, I’m none too fond of having to talk to parents who’ve just lost their children. Don’t get me wrong, I will do whatever I have to when the moment calls for it, but I think I’m okay now with having to make the phonecall no one wants to make. At least, maybe for this year mmm kay? And in regards to young people passing away, because 35 is still too young friends; I’m cool with not having any more young people leave here just yet. Its too young to die and too young to leave behind a child.

Which I guess brings me to the last part of this piece.

This is the part where I ask you to take a moment from your busy day and send some love to a girl who’s lost her dad. Send some love to his entire family. They need it right now….

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Yep, my daughter is still next to me and is still breathing.
And so am I.
Which means I can make a good choice to try and go to sleep so I can be a good mama tomorrow.
Praise be to my friend and parenting partner, who also is breathing next to me on my other side, for coming home quick today so that I could “take some time for myself.” He’s been (of course) great these last 13 days, hours, minutes and I’m thankful for that.
I’m also thankful for you if you’re reading this.
Maybe we can write letters to each other, or better yet -hang out soon.

Love and Light to all who are hurting tonight,
J

Sometimes Balloon Doggies Pop… (or turn into rocket ships and blast off into space)

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It’s been a heavy 6/7 days around our homestead and I keep trying to make sure at the very least, our two year old empathetic smarty pants doesn’t pick up on my great deep sadness. Which is why a few days ago, as soon as I started to feel it, I got us out of the house and directly to an awesome little corner in Chicago that houses Bang Bang Pies. I reached out to a friend (who happens to have a degree in counseling) to meet up with us so that we could distract me catch up.

It was the perfect distraction day date. My little bit got to run around in the garden out back and play with the customers and the shop dog, while we ate our breakfasts and drank coffees at the mini picnic tables. And I got to talk. Talk about how I was feeling. Talk about how I was doing with all these past few days. Talk about how absolutely, deeply, and profoundly sad I am for this loss and for my best friend’s family. Talk about what it was like seeing old friends again after year(s) of not talking. Talk, talk, talk. I got to talk without feeling guilty for putting any attention on myself, because after all this is NOT about me. This is about a family that I love dearly and have grown close with over these 10 years, and their greatest loss.

But I’m still a human being.
And I have feelings.
And it’s hard to watch someone(s) you love be in such pain, because you just want to make it all go away for them. You want to have that special hug, that magic touch, those perfect words, that will ease their intense pain. But the truth is, there are no words, special hugs, nor magic touch that will make anyone come back.

I’m also deeply sad that this enigmatic creature has left our earth.
Did I spend every waking minute with him? No.
Did I grow up with him? Not really, although I first met him when he was just 17.
Did he call me all the time looking for advice from a big sister figure? No.
Was I there for holidays and birthdays and did we laugh together and have fun together and take stupid silly pictures? Yes.
Did he make the only thing my daughter would actually eat at thanksgiving last year -because, two year old- and was I looking forward to more holidays with him? Yes.
Did we band together to help move his sister with what ended up being an all night move, and make fun of her? You betcha.
Did I laugh a lot with him? Absolutely.
Did I listen to his sister talk about how worried she was about him at times? Yep.
Do I miss him now and this really sucks and I’m so sorry for this family I love and wish I could change this for them? Yes.

Does my two year old understand what’s going on right now?
Yes.
She does.
In her own way.
Because she’s two.
She knows that mom left at 5am a week ago and was gone for 18 hours. She knows that her “Auntie T and Auntie S and Gramma L” are incredibly sad. She knows that someone wasn’t there last Sunday at Gramma L’s house. She knows that mama has been crying and that mama has been sad and that it’s okay to cry because there are “smiley faces at the end of sadness.” (Her words friends. My two year old said that)

She knows that we went to a good breakfast and the park on Monday -after what was a confusing, kinda scary, but then okay because we were all together at the house weekend- and she got to run around and play with mom. She knows that her first real experience with sadness and being able to verbally express it happened 3 weeks prior, when an orange balloon doggie (made for her by the weirdo Lincoln Square bead shoppe guy) popped on our walk to the train.

She has been saying, “balloon doggie popped and it’s making me sad,” for the past three weeks. So of course on Monday we sure did go back into the bead shoppe and the old man sure did make her not one but TWO balloon doggies (1 orange, 1 white). We of course had to take her doggies to the park and of course they ended up popping… Kind of. They’re balloons, they pop. This time it was different, and not just because this is our second occurrence with balloon doggies popping.
***Sidenote/advice to all new and aspiring parents out there: one of you should learn how to make balloon animals, seriously it’s gonna come in handy. They don’t tell you this in any of those parenting books nor classes, so this is my friendly advice to you.***

Back to our balloon doggies though….

We took them to the park and were having a great time, when the white one popped and a big gust of wind blew it away. My little lady Lost. Her. Shit. And hey, I get it. It’s effing sad when your balloon doggie pops on grass that’s supposed to be as soft on the balloon as it is on your feet. Then, you discover hidden amongst all that soft grass lie these weirdo small prickly plants that *pop* *pop* crash your balloon animal party. I of course just held her and told her that everything was going to be okay. And then it happened. She looked up at me with all the waters of the Great Lakes and asked, “But what about auntie T and S and g-am Liz? Did their balloon doggy pop too?”

In that moment, I could see my sweet little old soul of a beautiful two year old trying to comprehend the concept of death. To me this is a beautiful, powerful, and profound thing. Not something to be scared of or try to shield her from. It’s an awful occurrence when a child leaves this earth before their parents. It’s not natural, it doesn’t make any sense, and it doesn’t seem right nor real. Why wouldn’t my two year old have some understanding of this?

Our special soul who transitioned from this earth, now just a week ago, is the brother of my BFF, but I saw him as my little brother too. Like I said above. We didn’t spend every waking moment together or even every few months together. But I had a lot of love for that guy, especially seeing him with my little girl. I’m an only child with one non-existent parent by choice, the other because of mental illness; so I kind of infuse myself into other families. My friends Are My Family, and this family is very very very special to me. We are all hurting with them.

This is no different for my little girl. She knew someone was missing on Sunday and she asked me about it at breakfast on Monday. We looked at some pictures from holidays past with him and she just kept saying, “so we will see him soon then, ok.” Oh my little sweet girl. How I wish that we’re true….

So as we were sitting on that lawn, the white balloon doggie popped and carried off by the wind, we sat and cried and held onto our orange balloon doggie. We started looking at more pictures of our “family” and I explained further that we would not be seeing brother A because he turned into a rocket ship and blasted off into space….and wouldn’t you freaking know it (and I am so not even close to lying at all) the orange balloon doggie unfolded under my weird tight mom grip and stretched out to look like… you guessed it….a Rocket Ship. Then… you guessed it…..that same wind blew up again and it blasted off (then popped somewhere not far from us but far enough from the two year old gaze). And we said goodbye to the Rocket Ship….

She’s still talking about the balloon doggies, but now she talks about the Rocket Ship and how it took off and how AWESOME that was, and how we shouldn’t be sad, and “don’t cry anymore mama.” And I could not have created a better way to explain the loss of someone so special to people who are so special to us. It’s almost as if he were here helping me come up with a way to explain this.

Who knows where we really go after our time here. I have no idea. I have concepts, thoughts, hopes, and dreams that we all see our loved ones again, but nobody really knows. So just in case we don’t see them again….let’s make our time here, now, on this earth, with these people…make it count. Make it important and loving and wonderful and painfully beautiful too. Make it count folks. Make it count.

Tell your people you love them
Tell them as often as you can
Scream it louder when they don’t want to hear it
And quietly whisper it to them when they’re not looking

Because sometimes balloon doggies pop, or turn into rocket ships and blast off into space. RIP sweet Abdu.

Love,
Us

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