Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Waiting for the third day of school

I love back to school time. Always have. I'm a total nerd that way. When I was a kid I would spend an hour in the school supply aisle searching for the perfect black pen. I grew up in a generation before a 75 bullet list dictated whether we put college or wide ruled paper in our Trapper Keeper. And it wouldn't have mattered if I had a list or not, because even at age seven I knew better than to write with a blue pen.

So while some people have chosen to complain endlessly or skip social media altogether rather than be bombarded with first day of school pictures this week, my inner nerd is rejoicing.

This is the one time of year that everyone not only talks about school, but is excited about it.  For one glorious day, people unite in their genuine and visible support of education.

My Facebook feed lit up with adorable pictures of kids holding creative signs written on chalkboards with their grade-level and teacher's names.  High school seniors posed holding their first day of kindergarten picture. Teens posed in front of the same tree where they had stood each year to show their growth.  The creativity was endless!

Being in public relations, you would think my creativity extends to these types of situations. It absolutely does not. My kids' back to school pictures are taken holding a piece of white copy paper I grabbed from the printer and drew on with a Sharpie.  I did draw a somewhat decorative border, so I should probably get bonus points for that.  Also, I put them in front of a tree every year.  Unfortunately, since it is a crepe myrtle tree, it gets cut down every year, making it completely useless for tracking growth.

With pictures complete, I, like so many other parents, drove the kids to school and walked them to their classes. And at the end of the day we sat down and debriefed about every detail of their day.  After a home cooked dinner, and a mountain of district and campus paperwork, I bragged about their amazing day on Facebook, we said our prayers, and prepared to do it all again.

I went to bed Monday night with the hopes that this year would be amazing. The Facebook pictures and back to school pep talks and parody songs had once again filled me with the optimism that only a new school year provide.  I was prepared to be a better mom this year. To limit screen time to an hour a day.  To volunteer more.  To make a healthy breakfast every morning.  To complete homework before it was due.  To make healthy lunches in the shape of cartoon characters.

And I was on track too. Until yesterday morning, which, if you are keeping track, was exactly the second day of school.  The kids had been awake for about 90 seconds and I was just heating up breakfast when I heard our daughter yell, "Mommy, the toilet is overflowing!"

I'm sure there have been times when we could have had a conversation with our children about how many times to attempt to flush a clogged toilet, and the best times to have that conversation would have been anytime except at 6:37 a.m. on the second day of school.  The very day when I woke up confident that Tuesday would be as smooth as Monday had been, kids smiling and laughing as we all sat down and ate a healthy and balanced breakfast. Based on the amount of water on the bathroom floor, we have never had this conversation and I am guessing our daughter flushed the toilet at least six times, leaving us standing in two inches of toilet water.

Richie plunged, and we sucked up water as the kids ate their somewhat less healthy pancakes on a stick and I tried to calmly explain why you need to call mommy or daddy after one flush, before the water goes everywhere.

As calm as I tried to be, the flooded bathroom set the tone for the rest of the morning, from battles over the new toothbrush that spins and how long you actually have to brush your teeth and if you have to use toothpaste (a conversation I would have preferred any other time than while mopping the newly dried flooded bathroom floor) to the last minute lunch that didn't get packed thanks to the flooded bathroom, as I literally pushed the children out the door, my heart sank.  One day.  We made it one day before it all fell apart.  It wasn't going to be our super year after all.  It was just going to be another year of mid-night trips to Walgreens to buy poster board for a project we just found out was due in 8 hours, peanut butter and jelly for dinner, and me mumbling in frustration under my breath because the kids can't find their shoes and we are running 15 minutes late.

But then something happened.  My kids came home at 3 o'clock and told me about their day, and as they did, their eyes lit up with that back to school glow that I had just a day before.  As I listened to my daughter tell me about the science experiment her class was doing tomorrow, and my son tell me about his new kindergarten buddy, the disappointment of the morning started to fade and I realized I had the power to help keep this momentum going or to stop it dead in its tracks.

I had the power.

And so do you.

Believe me, I get it.  The third day of school is not as exciting as the first day, and the 30th is not as exciting as the third.  It's tough. Managing work and a family and a marriage is draining, and single parents, I don't even know how you are still standing at the end of the day with all that you are juggling! And the farther we get into the school year, the more difficult it becomes. Homework gets harder, extracurricular activities require more time, there are tests to take, bullies and boyfriends to contend with and it feels like Thanksgiving break is never going to get here. That new school year feeling fades and you are left to navigate all these realities, and sometimes that means standing in two inches of toilet water.

So take this momentum that you have right now, today, and let's push forward together.  Let's keep posting pictures of our kids doing great things at their schools, be it public schools, private schools, or home schools.  Let's encourage our kids and encourage each other.  Let's give teachers and administrators our undying support and gratitude, not just on the first day and the last day, but every single day in between. Let's get involved and stay involved in our kids' education, by volunteering in our schools and by working with our kids at home.

This week, right here, right now, this is as good as the feeling gets for education.  Let's keep it going, no matter how deep the water gets.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The motherhood dizzy spin

I've been thinking for a while about how to best describe motherhood. Here's what I've come up with.

My analogy of motherhood is that game you play between innings at minor league baseball games which I have learned is called Dizzy Bat. Essentially two people put their heads on a bat,spin around ten times and then try to run to first base as fast as they can; you are totally disoriented, you look like a drunken monkey, who is also uncoordinated and unable to perform even the simplest tasks, and there is a 90% or better chance you will fall flat on your face.

At least that has been my experience.

So why do it? Well, also similar to Dizzy Bat, we are hopeful that if we win the race, there will be a prize waiting for us at the finish line. Only in the game of motherhood, instead of a Bob's Chicken Shaker t-shirt, we are hoping to win a productive citizen who at adulthood calls, texts, or holograms us at least once a week (by the time our kids are grown, Richie is sure the Star Wars technology will be available), gives us a grandchild or two, and picks out a nice home for us when the time comes.

The problem is, that between the time you put your head down on the bat and start spinning (which I guess in this analogy would be conception), and the time you get to first base (which ironically has nothing to do with conception in this particular analogy), no one is handing out report cards on how well you are completing the motherhood task.

Well, except for everyone.

Similar to the screaming fans in a baseball stadium, as soon as you announce you are having a baby, everyone you know, and a surprising amount of people you have never met, begin chiming in on exactly how you should raise said baby.  We got advice on everything from breastfeeding to discipline strategies, feeding and sleeping schedules, when babies should wear hats (all the time, even in August in Texas -- this advice came from Richie's grandmother and was followed exactly due to my deep desire to stay on her good side, because there are some people whose good side you should always stay on).  As our daughter got older, we got advice on if and when we should have another baby, which when you think about it is both odd and kind of awesome in a creepy way, since essentially what this boils down to is people telling you to have unprotected sex, which is exactly the opposite of what everyone in your life has been telling you right up to the point where you start talking about having babies.

Like every new parent, we were overwhelmed, exhausted, and terrified that would make a mistake that would irrevocably scar our baby for life, like painting the nursery the wrong color or listen to AC/DC instead of Baby Einstein. So when people gave us advice, we listened. We read books. We scoured the Internet. We subscribed to magazines. We took classes.

Here's the problem with the onslaught of advice. For every expert that told us to let the baby cry it out there was another one that told us to rock the baby until she was 3.  For every person that told us to introduce carrots first, another person told us our baby would never eat carrots if we didn't introduce pears first. Use a pacifier. The pacifier is Satan's tool of death. Do not use under any circumstance. Public school's are the only way to go. The only thing worse than pacifiers are public schools.

As if being sleep and shower deprived while living on a steady diet of cold chicken nuggets and Baby Einstein for six month isn't enough to make a person crazy.

You would think it would get easier as our kids got older but my kids are 10 and six now and the advice hasn't slowed down, it has just changed topics.  Now people tell us which middle school our daughter should attend and more importantly which she should by all means not attend and how much Minecraft is appropriate in one day. Could our daughter be lactose intolerant? Should we do the HPV vaccine? How many kids do you invite to a kindergarten birthday party? What do you do when someone is bullying your kid? Really, more Minecraft?

Spin, spin, spin.

The thing about being a mom is just when you get one stage figured out, it's over. I got really good at mothering a six month old just in time for my daughter to be a year old.  Right when I mastered parenting toddlers, I didn't have one any more.  And on and on it goes.  And no way God would send me two children that had anything in common except their eye color and last name.  If I had sat down and programmed the DNA for my children they could not have looked more alike and been more different, meaning none of the mad parenting skills we mastered on that race we've started with our daughter are the least bit useful on the second go around with our son. That would make me look less drunken monkey and more like I have some clue what's going on. What's the fun in that?

But the real problem with all the advice we got is this, even though there are a million experts out there, none of them are experts in raising our child.  

Once we figured that out, it gave us the freedom to take the advice that worked for our children, pass on the advice that didn't, and raise our kids the best way that we knew how.  Don't get me wrong, I don't do it perfectly.  This system requires a lot of trial and error and I still second guess my parenting choices more often than not (read: Every. Single. Time.). But understanding that my children are a unique blend of my husband and I and a dash of something that is completely their own, and that God has called Richie and I to be their parents for a reason has given us the freedom to listen politely whenever people give us advice, and then to walk away, discuss it together, and decide what works best for our children without guilt, (except for the hats on newborns. This is a non-negotiable).

So to all of you moms who are scurrying to first base, in a blur of gold fish, crayons, diapers, and that two day old sippy cup you are praying doesn't have milk in it, swirling by you in a dizzy spin, hear me when I say, you are doing an awesome job.  That child in there, you know the one -- looks just a little bit like you when she wrinkles her nose or when he raises his eyebrow -- that child is going to be just fine.  This stage he is going through right now, not sleeping, not eating, not talking, talking all the time, hitting, biting, being bullied, not reading yet, hates school, hates his sister, hates daycare, loves daycare which breaks your heart because you just went back to work, you are going to figure it out and no sooner will you master it than it will be over.  You are the very best person for this job, no matter what any book, blog post, other mom, your mom,  well meaning friend, or expert says, because you are the expert on your child.

Trust me when I tell you this, because I may not be an "expert", but I have spun right next to you
Me and my beauties!
and will likely trip over my own feet and fall spectacularly ungracefully into you sometime along this journey, so I know what I'm talking about here.  More importantly, trust yourself, because you have taken a spin around the bat and are running this crazy race in a world full of spectators. And mommy, if they are sitting in the seats yelling at you, they ain't got the courage, the strength, and the all out awesomeness to be out there doing the Dizzy Bat race with your baby. 

Because the thing about motherhood is, even though you may have a face full of dirt when you get there, there will be a pretty beautiful prize waiting for you at the finish line.