Monday, August 26, 2013

Waiting for kindergarten

This morning I did what thousands of parents across the country did.  I dropped my baby off at kindergarten.  My baby.  The little boy that I am positive I brought home from the hospital only a moment ago and only minutes ago was rocking to sleep in his little footie pajamas. Today I packed him a lunch, watched as he hung his dinosaur backpack in his locker while I choked back a tear, (okay sobs) as I left him in the care of another woman.

This isn't the first time I've dropped one of my babies at kindergarten.  Our daughter started fourth-grade today, and to tell you the truth, seeing her with the kids she started school with five years ago, some of who are as tall as me, broke my heart almost as much.

But there is something about the day you take your last baby to kindergarten that is a unique kind of heartache.  

Because he is our youngest, sending Ryan to kindergarten feels like a chapter in our lives has ended. Like he needs me just a little bit less now.

Except that couldn't be less true.

Our kids' school is amazing. Their teachers are amazing.

But, their job is to teach my kids reading and math. Their job is to teach my kids English and science. Their teachers' job is to cultivate their love of learning by helping them explore art and music and technology and leading them as they run and jump in PE and check out books in the library.

Their teachers' job is not to be their parents.

That is still my job.

And yet, from 8 a.m.-3 p.m. from Monday - Friday, in addition to teaching reading, and history, and foreign languages, and band and choir, and art, and algebra, and biology, and government and special education, and economics, thousands of teachers across the country will teach students how to be kind and generous.  They will teach them how to work together. They will help teach them how to make good choices. How to listen. How to follow rules. They will help them understand the consequences of not following rules.

They will comfort them when they get hurt.  Or when someone hurts them. They will protect them.

I know there are people who may not believe this, but thousands of teachers have been praying for their students all summer and will continue to pray for them all year.

But as parents, we can't check out once school starts. We can't let teachers take the burden, not only of teaching our kids, but of raising them as well.  I am so thankful for dedicated educators who value character as much as knowledge. But that doesn't abate me of my responsibility.  With everything our kids have to navigate these days from extra-curricular activities, to bullying and social media, I can't imagine a time in history when it has ever been more important to be plugged to our kids' lives.

Understanding the heartache that comes with sending your baby to kindergarten, people begin asking you if you are okay about six months before the first day of school.  With that in mind, I've been collecting advice from moms and dads that I think are doing an outstanding job of raising great kids (including my parents, who I must say raised two pretty awesome kids).

Here is a collection of some of the best advice I've heard for staying involved in your kids' lives:
  • Talk about stuff. 
    • Ask open ended questions, especially with older kids. Don't give up if you get a one word answer. Start with kids' favorites like, "Who did you sit with at lunch?" or "What did you play at recess?" 
    • Talk about anything and everything when they are young.  Let them know that nothing is off the table. Talking about crushes on boys when they are 8 will make it more likely they won't keep things from you when they are 16.
    • Take any opportunity to use teachable moments. Watching a movie where the main character treats his best friend badly, use that moment to ask your kids how that made his friend feel or if there has ever been a time when someone in his class made him feel like that.  
  • Do homework with your kids. 
    • Even just a few minutes a day shows interest.
  • Volunteer! 
    • Check your campus/school district website for opportunities. If your kids are at an age where they are embarrassed of mom and dad find opportunities to volunteer in different areas of the school (making copies in the office, shelving books in the library).
  • Sit down and eat.
    • With busy after school schedules, try to make at least one night a week where sitting down to eat dinner isn't optional.  Even if you just order pizza, have everyone sit around the table and catch up. Having a "no technology at the table*" rule helps establish that this time is a priority for everyone.  *This rule goes for mom and dad too!
  • Know your kids' friends, both real and virtual.
    • With the constant onslaught of social media sites it is hard to keep up, but knowing which sites your kids are on, and who their friends are is key. A good rule of thumb is to make sure you are following your kids and your kids' friends. Check here for the Five Golden Rules of Keeping Kids Safe Online (it is from the UK, but still good information). 
  • Keep an open house. 
    • Invite your kids' friends over and make your house the kind of place kids (and teens) want to hang out.  Your house doesn't need to be fancy.  In fact, sometimes being kid-friendly means just the opposite. It means it's the kind of place where being loud and spilling on the carpet or breaking something isn't cause for alarm. 
What are your best tips for staying involved during the school year?  Whether you are starting school or have a few more years to snuggle in footie pajamas, I hope your year is blessed.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Toasting with Water - What really matters.

It seems like television has been overrun with reality TV.  Whether it is dropping people on a remote island, celebrity dancing competitions, toddlers acting like they rule the world or parents acting like toddlers, people can't seem to get enough of watching the glory and the misery of others.

But more often than not there seems to be a lack of reality in reality TV.

Take for instance those reality wedding shows.

You know, like when you see one wedding where and one thing after another goes wrong. For instance, The Singer shows up at the rehearsal and has learned the wrong song and The Maid of Honor and Best Man, who have had an on again off again relationship are currently off again and are barely speaking. And then the night before the wedding The Groom's fun-loving but slightly crazy Mexican Cousin shows up and takes Him and The Best Man out to some 75 Year Old Hippie's apartment where they drink rum and listen to old jazz LP's to 4 a.m.

On the wedding day the Sound Guy doesn't show up and all of the sound equipment is locked up and all of the wedding music is pre-recorded until he walks in dramatically two minutes before the wedding is supposed to start and The Minister, who is also The Father of the Bride, sends him running  to the balcony with the CD of Pachelbel's Canon while The Brother of the Bride, who is supposed to walk The Bride down the aisle, is tap dancing outside the bride's room in an effort to stop crying because The Photographer, who was also two hours late, is yelling at him because his eyes are completely bloodshot and ruining all of the photos.  During the ceremony, the unity candle refuses to light and takes nearly the entire song, which has now become a duet to hide the fact The Singer just learned it six hours ago. Somewhere in the back of the church The Bride's Uncle (hailing from West Monroe, LA before Duck Dynasty made it cool) is in his overalls on camera saying, "A Catholic boy is marrying a Pentecostal girl in a Baptist church.  There's gonna be a rumble."

Fast forward to the reception where The Band is over two hours late and has also locked up the sound system, thereby denying the use of any music or microphones and leaving the room in dead silence until a group takes to the dance floor with an acoustic version of the chicken dance. The champagne runs out long before The Couple's toast, so they opt to toast with punch.  No punch.  So they toast with water directly from the water fountain in the hotel hallwayThe Photographer has an emergency and has to leave to go pick up his son so the couple has to move up their first dance. Before The Band arrives.  Their Bridesmaid sings a stunningly beautiful rendition of From this Moment. Acapella. As she hits the last note, The Band walks in.  The Best Man, whose on again off again love affair with whiskey is currently on, is sufficiently drunk by the time of the toast and the words "The Groom's Mom grabbed my a**" somehow make it into the toast. The Father of the Bride dances his first dance. Ever.  In. His. Life. When the Father/Daughter dance comes on.  The Bride has chosen "My Girl."  They walk on the dance floor.  The Band instead plays the Longest Mexican Waltz known to man.  It lasts at least 27 minutes. At some point all of The Groom's Aunts begin stuffing dollars in the Father of the Groom's pants, who has taken a turn singing with The Band (one of whose leaders happens to be the aforementioned Fun-Loving but Slightly Crazy Mexican Cousin).

At some this particular wedding becomes so bizarre, so unrealistic, I turn to my husband and say, "Reality TV is so scripted,"  at which point he would normally look up from Twitter where he would be checking the Rangers score, agree with me and go back to Twitter.

However, since this is our wedding video, he looks up for a little longer. And smiles.

Fourteen years ago today, Richie and I experienced what I can only say was a complete and utter disaster of a wedding.  I hardly cannot think of one thing that didn't go wrong.

Well, I can think of one thing.

I married the right person. 

As I look back on the last fourteen years I can say our lives have been a lot like our wedding.  We have made a lot of plans and had a lot of grand ideas about what our lives, our jobs, our homes, and our kids were going to look like.  And like our wedding, very rarely have things turned out exactly like we have planned.  But like our wedding, most of the things that don't turn out like we plan don't really don't matter in the long run.

Some days we toast with champagne and some days we toast with water straight from the tap. In plastic cups. With a sick kid. Watching Nacho Libre. On our anniversary. 

But we are in it together.

And I can honestly say, I wouldn't change a thing.  About our wedding or our life.  Because when you choose the right person it doesn't matter what song you're dancing to, just as long as you keep dancing.