Toxic Workplace

The long conference table was full of drinks, notebooks, buzzing cell phones, tubes of chap stick and napkins with cookie crumbs. A different woman sat in front of each microworld of her own creation.  Some had a place at the table for years, others only months. There was no cohesion between the co-workers, they were better termed as workers in the same agency rather than teammates or colleagues.

Another client had just been reviewed. Opinions about how to move clients forward or out of the program were tossed about as carelessly as the meeting had been planned and executed. The tension kept everyone on edge, outbursts and barely veiled insults took the place of constructive feedback or actual planning. This was all normal for a Wednesday.

One woman, a graduate-of-the-program-turned-employee-human-behavior-expert, ran her long black nails through her jet-black bangs, over and over. Someone had just suggested the use of empathy and another chance in making a major life change.  

Staring up towards the ceiling as though summoning strength from her higher power, she declared, “Y’all don’t know sh*t about sh*t.”  

And since that time, I have surrendered to this new understanding. I don’t know anything about anything. Everything is new and amazing with this perspective, especially all the potential job listings, as I also reached the realization that this unique environment is not the place for me.

Small Wonders

Inside of the car are two little boys, one of whom is refusing to wear his seatbelt or sit in his car seat. He has settled into the nook between his brothers’ feet on the far side of the car, beyond the reach of my arms. This is after multiple escapes from his seat and my best efforts to strap him into it.

We are both winded from the ongoing wrestling match but neither one of us is willing to concede.

Of course, we are late. We are always late. It has become our standard mode of operation after the last four years of having to run back to grab a forgotten sippy cup or change a last-minute diaper or getting everyone in the car only to discover that no one is wearing shoes.

And of course, the brothers think the entire situation is hilarious. Baby Brother giggles and Little Legs proceeds to hide him under a blanket.

In contrast, I am not laughing. I am about to scream like a teakettle reaching the boiling point.

I will not engage in the tried-and-true techniques of “behavior correction” from my childhood.

Instead, I close the car door. I take a deep breath and notice the cool air as it enters my nostrils and fills my chest. I blow out the warm air through my mouth.

I do this again and again until I have enough space to see myself standing outside of a vehicle with the two most precious people in my life trying to play and get my attention.

When I reopen the door, Baby Brother is in his seat like a perfect angel, smiling the toothy grin of a naughty two-year-old. Little Legs has already taken his shoes back off, but they are nearby on the floor, and we are only a few minutes late.    

It’s another day filled with a million small wonders.    

Junk Pile

Shattered glass glitters from the rocks. I spot the danger just as Baby Brother begins to climb towards its shining surface. His fleshy palms and fingers grabbing for the next hold. His billygoat-like brother is next to him, faster and nimbler, aided by his longer legs and stronger hands.   

“Get back from there,” I yell to the boys.

They laugh and run away, chasing each other around the house. 

Although they are naughty, they have only just entered the crime scene. They have an air-tight alibi, they were both napping inside after lunch, so I rule them out as suspects.

Daddy Longlegs is inside, working in his office, so although he is also naughty, he is ruled out as a suspect to the mess.

Suddenly, the culprit is in front of me.

She is big, hairy, farts in her sleep and is carrying a rusty, metal light fixture in her mouth.

“Coco, don’t chew on that,” I say.

She throws it up in the air and goes after it with a woof, not listening to me at all, much like her human brothers. She has been raiding the pile of old tin cans, liquor bottles, unmarked plastic containers and scrap metal from discarded farm equipment that is in the woods behind our house.

These are the last vestiges of the original landowners.  

From the junk pile, I have learned that Old Pappy was a drinker and Mammy liked condiments and perfume. They were not concerned with how plastic becomes brittle and breaks down into smaller pieces and eventually into microscopic particles that end up in our water, soil and air. Or that the small mountain of glass bottles would be carried by a brainless dog and dropped onto rocks to splinter into a thousand shards close to where little boys like to walk barefoot.   

I would venture that Old Pappy and Mammy were less concerned with caring for their environment and more focused on staying out of the way of rattlesnakes, finding ways to put food on the table and keeping the pigs and chickens in the yard.    

Although dealing with the junk pile makes me irritated and angry, especially when the dog brings hazardous materials to the boys to play with or litters the ground with rusty metal and glass, I cannot fault Old Pappy and Mammy for surviving in the best way they knew.

Likewise, we are surviving in the best way that we know how which involves taking care of our tiny plot of land and one another. We try to use fewer plastic products, create less waste and recycle what we can because trash does not disappear. It gets hidden under brush and bramble until February when everything on the land is laid bare.

And the ugly pile of trash is still there, not going anywhere until the dog moves it.      

The Resistance

The boys go to daycare twice a week. They get to socialize, pick up new germs, and begin to learn how to conform in a play society of pre-schoolers and toddlers which is ruled by 18 year-old girls/classroom teachers. Most, if not all, of my piddly paycheck goes to pay for this opportunity which also gives me a break, even if the break is spent working.  

I do not ask much out of the staff, aside from how was the boys’ day and do they need another set of play clothes or diapers/wipes? In return, the staff only shares the essentials, such as, “Yes they had a good day. They had a nap and a bowel movement.” Or “No, they did not have a good day. There was an incident and….” Fill in the blank with any number of ways that a toddler can fall off a table or collide with another child that results in blood shed and head injuries.

I did not complain when the front office staff changed over seven times in the past ten months, or when the teachers mysteriously disappeared to be replaced by the latest female crew from America’s Most Wanted. When the center shut down for two weeks due to Covid, and then for another two weeks, I patiently waited for things to return to normal. As the boys have been sick every other week from what I suspect is a lack of sanitizing, again, I expressed understanding for the Daycare Experience and let it go.

However, when I received a group email from the director that parents were spending too much time talking to staff, my head exploded in a puff of electric purple. Effective immediately, all concerns and communication needed to be routed through the front desk to be relayed to the classroom teachers to reduce the distractions for the teachers and the delay in drop off and pick-ups.

Regardless of my anger, I decided to respect their request and dropped the boys off without the usual few words to check-in about the weekend, changes in health or having the right weather-related clothes. Baby Brother was greeted by his usual sweet, smiling teacher who took him into the room in her arms. The problem was the fresh set of adult faces in Little Legs’ classroom who appeared already exhausted and overrun by the whirling dervishes.

One woman approached Little Legs and said, “What’s your name?”

Little Legs shook his head and backed up towards the door, refusing to give up his identity.

“Come on little boy, show me where your cubicle is,” she requested.

I popped back in and said, “This is Little Legs,” struggling to control the tight pulling of irritation in my face and chest.

From there I marched down the hall to the front desk where I would like to say I eloquently expressed my concerns and desire for change. Instead, it is no exaggeration to write that I lost my sh*t about the dangers in limiting communication between parents and classroom teachers in addition to constantly changing staff.

The director stepped out of her office and apologized for the misunderstanding and that the email was meant for the parents who were spending half an hour talking to the classroom teachers.   

“You can talk to them for 15 minutes if you want,” she said graciously.  

“Thanks, but no thanks, I just need a few minutes.”

I left feeling drained and surprised at the power of my own emotions. I am ready for the next daycare showdown. My voice is my weapon, even though my throat is starting to get suspiciously sore.

I am Mama, hear me roar. Sort of.

Savage Life

The boys are in the kitchen eating cereal and toast. Carbs with carbs, just the way I was raised. Baby Brother is standing on a two-tier stool to reach the counter and Little Legs is perched dangerously on a backless bar stool.

Usually, we eat at the table, but the Wildings surrounded me and demanded breakfast before I could think straight enough to get them to properly sit and patiently wait. The thought of the boys being proper and/or patient is a bit of a joke. I had to throw gummy fruit snacks down the hallway to distract them long enough to make a dash for the toaster.    

Little Legs hops down from his stool to retrieve a Matchbox car that is essential to his breakfast process. And during his brief absence, the dog takes the opportunity to grab the unguarded toast in her mouth and swallows it with one gulp.  

There is no hesitation, chewing or remorse involved. Carpe Diem, Seize the Toast.

Little Legs turns around as the slightly burned, mostly uneaten bread disappears whole, like a mouse down the throat of a snake. Little Legs throws his hands up in the air and screams the worst insult he can muster with the limited vocabulary of a three-year-old.

“You a toast eater! You a bad dog, you toast eater!”

It is a dog-eat-toast life here in Tennessee.

Savages, all around.

Old Shoes

Little Legs raced out into the snow, his shoes disappearing into white with each step. Baby Brother followed closely behind. Neither able to travel very quickly with the winter version of quicksand pulling at their feet.

It took no fewer than twenty minutes and a near mental breakdown to assemble the coats and hats, socks and pants, sweats and sweatshirts, wrestle each boy down, and pull the layers onto their various appendages. At one point, Baby Brother pulled his socks and shoes back off, while I fasted the Velcro straps of Little Legs’ shoes.

I stood up and said, “Fine, I will leave without both of you.”

They knew I meant business as Little Legs hurried to pull on his coat and Baby Brother held his head against my legs and said, “Shoes?”

“This is your last chance to cooperate.”

“What is cooperate?” Little Legs asked.

“It means we work together.”

“Ok, we work together,” he said.

Suddenly, I realized we were not working together. I was just cramming their heads into hats and fingers into gloves. I was not giving them a chance to help. Going outside to play in the snow was on my agenda, not theirs. They would much rather prefer to stay in the warm house and race dinosaur cars. Me too, for that matter, but we needed fresh air, and I, as their fearless leader, would show them the way.  

“Let’s do this again, together.”

“Together,” Little Legs said with a hug around my shoulders. (Like seriously, how sweet?)

“Shoes,” Baby Brother said in agreement.

Mama Said

As soon as the boys woke up and peeked out the window, they wanted to go outside. Overnight, their Tennessee world of greens and browns transformed into a brilliant white that demanded exploration.  

“Wow,” the boys said in unison with their mouths and noses pressed against the glass.  

It was the exact thing that I said when I woke up, minus the drooling at the window. Clearly, the novelty of the first winter snow does not wear off, whether one has seen it three or thirty-five times.  

Little Legs raced around, gathering things to take outside.  

Within a few minutes, he was prepared. There were three Matchbox cars, all of which he was to later lose in the snow, two mismatched shoes and one bright-green fisherman’s hat.

He said, “Let’s go outside. Ready, set, go.”

As though turning a trip outside into a race has ever worked to speed up a slow-poke, I thought. Then I realized he used my let’s-turn-things-we-don’t-want-to-do-into-a-game technique against me. The boy-sponge was absorbing too much.

I stared at him for a minute trying to remember when he changed from a toddler into a boy, a real boy. Someone who likes to stand up when he pees and eats cereal out the box and hugs his brother when he cries.  

Meanwhile, Baby Brother plopped down in front of the door, requested a “baabaanan” (banana, obviously) and waited to be clothed for the outing.

“Wait just a minute, little boys. We need to eat breakfast,” I said.

It was 7:30am. I glanced at the outdoor thermometer and shivered, 32 degrees was cold, even for someone with Hoosier blood.

“After breakfast, we can bundle up and go outside.”

They accepted the plan, perhaps encouraged by the early morning rumblings of their tumblies. Baby Brother grabbed his toast, smashed it into a ball and returned to wait by the door. Little Legs chugged a glass of milk, took one bite of oatmeal and declared, “We ready.”

“It’s going to be cold. You both need to wear layers, coats and gloves,” I said.

“What’s layers?” Little Legs asked.

“Wait and see,” I said.

I pulled shirt over shirt onto both boys and zipped them up into sweatshirts and double sweatpants and socks. I separated out the coats, gloves and hats into big and little and the pirates decided that they had waited long enough. They mutinied.

“We want out. We want out,” the ambassador for all small boys in the house shouted.  

Baby Brother cried and pulled at his sweatshirt.  

“We don’t want gloves or coats, we want out,” Little Legs said.

They took to pounding on the door and screaming like they had lost their minds, one feeding off the other. I tried to grab Baby Brother to put a glove on his hand and he turned into a jellyfish in my arms and squirmed away. Little Legs kicked and twisted when I tried to work his arm into the sleeve of his coat.

“Fine, let’s try it your way and see what happens,” I said.  

They laughed in delight at their victory and ran outside and after the second armful scoop of snow started to melt in his hands, Baby Brother cried as it stung his skin.

“It is too cold for us. We want back in. We need coats and gloves.” Little Legs said.

“Interesting,” I said.


As I waited the standard two hours to be seen by the doctor for five minutes, I perused the office note from last year’s visit.

“Patient is well-appearing and nourished,” he wrote.

At first, my brain turned the words into vegetable soup and I thought he wrote that I appeared well-nourished as in too much flesh on my bones. Instantly, I felt offended. I keep my weight under a much tighter control than he maintains the wait in his office.

Then I read it again and my blood pressure dropped a few points. The words rearranged themselves and I became thoughtful about what it means to be nourished beyond the dictionary limitation of food and other substances necessary for growth, health and good condition.

Eating the right foods and drinking the right liquids are just a part of being nourished. Too much red meat and my stomach seizes up, too much booze and I can’t sleep through the night, but in the right quantities, life is rich and satisfying.

Likewise, reading fills me up and writing empties me out, sometimes vice versa, However it works, maintaining balance is key to remaining mentally and emotionally healthy. Yet, even with the most careful rationing of my time and energy, I still find myself pulled into a book, right now it is Half of a Yellow Sun, or obsessed with writing a story and temporarily check out. Thank God for my husband who picks up my slack, among the many other things he does, like making a birthday cake for Little Legs complete with a tractor with chocolate mud tracks in a field of green grass.

Expressing gratitude, exercising, spending time in nature and of course, as any reader of this blog is aware, watching my boys grow fills my heart and nourishes my soul.

I guess the doctor’s assessment was right, I am well-nourished, in mind, body and soul and its by more than food or things. I have a great life with an amazing spouse and the best little boys. For 2022, I want to be present for all of it, to live and love more deeply, worry less and let go of old hang-ups.

Wishing everyone out there a happy and healthy New Year and encouraging your reflection on nourishment.

Nice to meet you, Neighbor.

Two blonde heads bobbed up and down in a cherry red, Power-Wheels Jeep. The driver was Little Legs and his passenger was Baby Brother, who appeared quite content at being driven through the yard, happily bouncing next to his best friend.

A black dog orbited around them, her range getting wider and wider with each pass, until she appeared next to the beehive. Her nose led her along the ground. She sniffed each side of the box and was in the process of sniffing the small opening when I waved my arms to get her attention and yelled.

“Get back, Coco!”  

The warning came a second too late. One of the guard bees found her and gave her warning sting on her rump. She raced off with the fur raised along her spine, she yipped and rolled in the leaves and yipped more.

Then she went straight for the road, temporarily insane from the sting and pulled forward as though by a powerful magnet.

“Stay here, boys. Do not come any closer.”

The jeep boys stood up to do their part.

In unison, they chanted, “Come back, Coco. Come back.”

She did not listen. Rather, she ran faster.

Meanwhile, a big, white truck barreled down the narrow, country road.

I screamed for Coco to stop and to come to sit and stay and every other command she might have picked up over the past year to no avail.

I clomped after her in a pair of slip-on clogs that were one size too big and threatened to roll with each little rock and twig.

Over the road and through the neighbor’s yard and back over the road she ran blindly.

A woman walking her two, well-behaved dogs pulled off to the side of the road to watch with anticipatory horror of what was about to happen.

When much to my surprise, the truck slowed to a crawl and pulled off the road. The door opened and a man in jeans and a ball cap that seemed like a halo stepped out.

He crouched down and the dog ran right into his outstretched arms.   

“Thank you,” I said closing in on the wild animal.

I gushed about the bee sting and the failure of the invisible fence and the boys in their jeep. He patted the dog on the head and shrugged his shoulders in a no-big-deal kind of way like he didn’t just save the day.

“No problem. Nice to meet you, Neighbor.”  

Intel on the Enemy

I have been studying up on the destroyers of all things green, deer.

They are hoofed pests capable of upsetting the balance of an environment by drastically depleting the diversity of the area. They are also able to upset and offset the balance of any amateur farmer, one day so proud of their baby greens and the next day, in mourning over their loss.

Baby greens that are gone today, but with hopes for new growth tomorrow.

Deer have a high nutritional requirement that grass is unable to satisfy, like with cows or sheep, so they munch on easily digestible shoots and young leaves, or everything in one’s tiny, raised garden.

They are described as neophobic or holding an extreme and irrational fear of the unknown. At the slightest noise, they spook; freezing or running and leaping into the tall weeds. Apparently, they know me well enough to lack any fear associated with devouring my garden.  

They rummage and munch and paw the ground before running away at an impossibly fast speed into forest that is shrinking at what seems to be an even more impossible speed because of the growth of new housing developments and stores and a hospital.

I suppose my small, raised garden is like a soup kitchen for these majestic animals who have been displaced and herded into a new territory without the resources to support so many creatures at once. I know I should have more compassion for these animals that live to eat and eat to live, but I am an animal, too.

And lately, it feels like a savage world.