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!

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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Waiting to Exhale….

No, this isn’t a nod to that Waiting to Exhale, though some times over the past 16 months I have felt a bit on the verge of a good Bernadine’s Rage coming on. What? I loves me some Angela Basset, especially when she’s ranting about a cheating husband and throwing expensive clothings out the house. Just to be clear- lest anyone think my partner suddenly became a philandering, rich, well attired scallywag- MY Bernadine’s Rage was more geared towards all this Lead Poisoning business and the seemingly unfair manner in which everything transpired last year. My Bernadine’s Rage was ignited every time another person told me (or I heard through the grapevine) that I was making a big deal out of this because “we all grew up with lead,” and “you’re still nursing your child? it’s not like she still has lead poisoning or is retarded,” and “when are you going to go back to work? you need to be a productive part of society again now that your daughter isn’t lead poisoned,” and “you can’t save the world, Jess,” and “F*&% You Enviro-Nazi!” and “Oh that’s just Jess being overly dramatic, you know how she can be. Her daughter is fine.”

The funny thing about rage is that it can be the perfect motivator for change, and change I sure have….for the better of course. I have no other choice but to be better; for myself, my family, and for this amazing little girl who teaches ME every day how to be a better person. Admittedly, most of the rage that fueled up inside me eventually lead to a deep depression and/or anxiety attacks for me. But through all of that, I stayed focused on what was important and worked very hard to get this stupid lead out of my daughter’s body. And guess what? It worked, because now we can sit here in our new lovely home and finally feel safe and secure that at least our home will not poison our child. Even with all the testing we did here before moving in, I still have been nervous that something wasn’t going to be okay. That lurking in some corner would be that one thing that would turn our lives upside down again. That because of all the unpacking and lead dust on all our things from storage, this would negatively impact my child. That no matter what we did, we would never be able to really get our daughter’s lead levels down because “we live in an old city afterall.” But…..

WE DID IT!!!!!!!

We got to that number that I’ve been wanting to see since Dec 3, 2012.
We are now at a 2 for our BLL.
Yes, it is not a 0 which is where any person would want to see their Blood Lead Level, let alone a parent like me who just wanted lead to not be a freaking issue anymore.
But considering where we started 16 months ago at a 15, and even just where we disappointingly (to me) were just four months ago with a 4 . Well, today I am damned proud that we were able to get down to a 2.

So what do all these numbers mean?

I get asked this all the time, and I think depending on who you talk to you will hear a different perspective. However, the CDC states: “Experts now use a reference level of 5 micrograms per deciliter to identify children with blood lead levels that are much higher than most children’s levels” and “Until recently, children were identified as having a blood lead “level of concern” if the test result is 10 or more micrograms per deciliter of lead in blood. CDC is no longer using the term “level of concern” and is instead using the reference value to identify children who have been exposed to lead and who require case management” and “In the past, blood lead level tests below 10 micrograms per deciliter of lead in blood may, or may not, have been reported to parents. The new lower value means that more children will likely be identified as having lead exposure allowing parents, doctors, public health officials, and communities to take action earlier to reduce the child’s future exposure to lead.”

Got all that?
Yeah, I didn’t think so either.
It can be confusing-ish, but here’s what you should know if you have children, are planning to have children, are pregnant, or planning to become pregnant- whether or not you live in an old home:

“In America today 1 in 3 children under the age of 18 has had a blood lead level of 2.5 or higher in their lifetime”
– from Lead Safe America

Just because lead was “outlawed” in 1978 does not mean that it was eradicated and has just gone away. In fact it’s quite the opposite. Old homes with old windows and old, old, old structures are deteriorating (duh because that what happens with time) and all those lovely old paints are chipping, peeling, and poisoning our children. It also is still being used in products from lipstick to dishware and in a LOT of children’s products- most of them “made in China.” You would assume that this couldn’t happen today because we know that lead in any content is not safe, but it is. So please everyone be aware, get educated, and make good choices for you, your family, and ALL of our futures. Also, check out and support good organizations doing the tough work of advocating for all of us with work like the film MisLEAD. Consider donating, time-money-resources to Tamara Rubin and her Lead Safe America Foundation.

In our case, our child was poisoned due to our “gut rehabbed” home not being so greatly gut rehabbed. The major culprit was the improper way that the building owners/property managers never updated duct work, porches, interior stains and ledges, and NEVER tested for lead -because they’re not required to by law. Our entire basement was still lead paint and we had GFA from the basement, therefore we had all been breathing in lead dust for years. Not only are we lucky and thankful that our daughter is as healthy as she is and that I had zero complications in pregnancy, but so far it appears as though her high lead levels have had minimal effects on her development.

Here’s a funny thought for, oh I don’t know- EVERYONE: How’s about some laws are put in place that if you purchase an old home/building you have to test for the presence of lead and are required to remediate it properly. How’s about we get some federal and state funding to help building and home owners do the right thing? How’s about we have something more in place than just some stupid photo copied pamphlet on the “dangers of lead poisoning” if you rent a home/apartment in Chicago? How’s about the Healthy Homes Initiative actually helps create ohIdon’tknow HEALTHY HOMES!! Grrrr

So here’s the part where I talk about Waiting to Exhale for the past 16 months…..

Just so you know, its difficult to really live when you’re constantly holding your breath and waiting for the other shoe to drop…. And I love shoes…and I have a LOT of shoes…..so there was a LOT of dropping…. Since we got that phone call on Dec 3rd, 2012 I have been holding my breath under a strong current of fear- for my child’s health and future, for my health and future. I’ve been too nervous to take deep breathes just in case all that lung power was needed to fight for my child- it was. I was too scared to celebrate and expel with full lung capacity all the small victories of the past year, just in case something else was lurking around the corner it was. TREPIDATION, THY NAME IS JAM. Mind you, I did not waste time in fretting or in unnecessary manifestation of false fears or circumstances. When you’re basically homeless with a toddler, you don’t have time for that nonsense. As my British Nanny would say, “Well you sure did get yourself into a dither now didn’t you?” Yes Nan I did, I sure did. And that’s okay, because that coping mechanism allowed me to keep on going, keep on fighting, keep on holding my breaths.

And now, now I can breathe again.
And it feels good.
And I feel full.
And healthy.
And safe.
Our lives can finally start again and get on with it already.
The only alarm I hear is that of my partner hitting snooze 20 times before finally dragging himself out of bed.
My glaciers of apprehension are melting, along with this stupid Midwest winter.
My unease with being back in this city is still there but isn’t the first thing on my mind.
I’ve gotten more deep healing sleep in the past two days than I have in 16 months.
I can start really planning instead of just reacting and surviving.
(For the record I have a love/hate with “survival mode” living. It is both necessary for the immediate and really just not a lot of fun for the long term)

Before I Get On With It Already, I would like to stop for just a bit and be proud of myself. Yep, just little ole me. I have been a brilliant motherfucking human being and mother through all of these past 16 months. I have always kept my priorities in line while trying to navigate some pretty rough waters by myself and with my partner and family. A day did not go by where I wasn’t “working for the greater good of my child.” There is still (and always) work ahead for us as parents, that is the nature of parenting, but maybe it won’t be so fucking god damned shit stormed scary-as-hell hard, ya know? I’m not saying that I’m some all encompassing, holier-than-thou, Mother Theresa, Mommy-Martyr; cause honestly everyone who is a GOOD PARENT can claim that title. But for what we have endured as a family; and what I’ve had to watch, witness, experience, process, and creatively filter for my child- I should get an award….or at least a big hug the next time you see me….or maybe a taco dinner and strong margarita….or a haircut….or a massage….or at least a high five ;-)

Yes, I have some pretty big decisions and possible big shake ups and changes ahead for me personally, but now I can do it without this constant fear that our home is going to harm our child. Until you’ve been in a situation like ours, where the one place that is supposed to keep you safe from all the bullshit out there in the big bad city world, fails miserably- you don’t know and you can’t judge. I don’t know if I’ve expressed it enough or if I can even eloquently write about yet, but what this situation like ours has changed in me is something profound. The past 16 months have simultaneously totally altered me as a human being, a woman, and a mother AND it also allowed me to really and truly get back to who I really am inside and be a kid again with my little girl. Through all the tears and pain I found laughter, love, and trust in myself that I AM ONE HECK OF A GREAT MOTHER and I love with everything I am. That’s actually how I’ve always been; but somewhere between horrible bike incidents, break ups, loss of jobs, changing friendship dynamics, becoming a mother, leaving a great job, and stupid lead poisoning- I started to feel some of that which makes me, me fade away.

But, I mom ramble.
Simply put, the past 16 months have been a cluster-butt-fuck and I am really truly finally looking forward to moving onward, upward, and forward. I deserve it. My daughter deserves it. Our family deserves it.

For today though, we enjoy our small victory over lead and go treat ourselves to a Hot Doug’s lunch and visit with a dear friend at his frame shoppe (and pick up our awesome framed goodies).

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Thanks for reading.
Thanks for your support, love, and encouragement all these many 16 months.
I look forward to having more fun here on my blog and in our lives!!

Hellos from our SAFE Chicago Homestead,
Jess


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