November 10, 2014


School for the boys---just when I think I have it all figured out, my perspective is turned upside down and I have no idea what I'm doing.

We were plodding along, happy enough in the tiny parochial school, making peace with the fact that Henry isn't having the best year but Liam is thriving. There's only one teacher per grade in their K-8 school, so you always know who you are going to get.  Next year it will be Henry's turn to get the fabulous teacher.  We are not members of the parish, so there are a few awkward but minor issues during the school year.  The very best things the school provides are an awesome kindergarten experience and a small setting where within two weeks every one of the students and faculty know everyone else's name and face.  It sounds cliche, but it really does operate like a family.

What's not to love?  Well for starters, the ancient building, the lack of technology, in fact, the lack of STEM period.  To be fair, the new administration has worked very hard to update the school but these improvements are mostly behind the scenes.  There are few enrichment or extracurriculars.  They just don't have the student numbers, funds or the specialized faculty.  Like everything else in life, it's a trade-off.  What the school lacks in shiny, new, fast and sparkly it makes up for in personal attention and safety.  Of course, there's the added intangible of strong value-based lessons.  Okay, so they are not exactly our values but they're close enough*

So why am I conflicted?  Because this weekend we happened to visit a shiny, new, fast (technology-wise) sparkly school.  I was early to pick up Henry from his Saturday science class.  The non-profit had leased classroom space in a public middle school and I toured the space as I waited.  The first thing I noticed were the band/orchestra/piano schedules.  Then I saw the display case with student products from all 14 of the afterschool clubs.  I noticed the fifth grade wing where teachers had written positive notes and attached his/her comments to each student's locker.  I saw the gorgeous, giant flat screen computers in the media center--the media center with huge skylights, an indoor garden, thousands of books, plush armchairs and sofas.  Then Liam and I got lost but found the gym and (separate!) lunchroom.

It was everything a school should be.  In my mind, I saw older versions of my sons walking down the hall.  They were thriving.  And to think, this school charges no tuition, has no entrance requirements.  You just bring your mortgage papers and your child can take a seat in one of the ergonomically designed desks.

But not so fast.  I couldn't show my mortgage papers.  I'd have to sell my house and move twenty miles.  Homes in that school district cost close to twice as much as what my tiny bungalow would sell for.  I'd have to pull my children out of  the school where they feel safe and secure, the very uprooting I swore I'd never do.

By 5th grade, Henry will have spent five years with the same 22 kids.  Even now, they know each other as well as siblings.  Can I take him away from that?  Do I remember what changing schools felt like?  Why yes, yes I do.  It was horrible.  And if we move, Liam will have to change twice--once in 3rd grade and then again when middle school starts.  Didn't his teacher just tell me about the benefits to social/emotional growth when going to school with the same group of children for nine years?

But what about STEM?  What about getting into a competitive high school?  What about diversity and broadening our social horizons?  What about photography club, SmartBoards and fifth grade piano recitals?

I just don't know.  I just. don't. know.

*I've always been particularly fond of  Mark 9: 38-40

November 3, 2014

Jumping Right In...

Sometimes my blog too closely resembles a digital scrapbook.  There's nothing wrong with that but I really admire the way other SMCs blog about their lives in a way that isn't just captioning photos.  Here's my attempt to write a post that's a bit more than cute fall photos.  (I have plenty of those on my hard drive--so stay tuned.)

I didn't have grand plans for this weekend, at least nothing I was looking forward to.  The weather was not pleasant enough to be outside for long.  Still, I managed to accomplish a few things that I didn't even know I wanted needed to when the workweek ended on Friday.

On Saturday I drove my boys the forty-five miles to see their grandmother for her belated birthday celebration.  They had fun choosing a cake in the bakery section of our local store.  We listened to Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing in the car on the way into the City.  We are definitely on a Judy Blume kick, much to my relief since H was bringing home the non-age-appropriate Wimpy Kid novels.

I feel it's important for my sons to spend time with their grandmother but it is not a simple undertaking.  This weekend, in the throes of her mania, I finally admitted that I am powerless in the face of my mother's illness.  There's nothing I can do to change the situation.  There never was.  It's too bad it took me four decades to realize that a) it really is an illness and b) growing up, most likely I was more worthy than either of us gave me credit for.  

Upon returning home, I felt less drained than usual.  I was surprised by how much extra energy I had that evening.  Not enough to fold the five loads of laundry sitting in baskets in the bedroom, but enough to tidy up the kitchen and not fall directly into bed after the boys.  My lack of exhaustion continued into the next day, even though I hadn't eaten anything different and there were plenty of chores to keep me occupied.  Could it be that this acceptance of being completely powerless the day before had lifted some sort of weight from my psyche?  Anything is possible.  Meanwhile, I tackled those five laundry baskets.

In other positive news, my spirits were lifted, well, spiritually on Sunday.  As a former Catholic who attends a bright, happy Protestant church on Sunday but sends her children to a parish school five days a week, my family's religious status is a bit complicated.  Now that H is in second grade, his classmates are preparing for their First Communion.  Since his Protestant baptism is not recognized by the Church, not only won't he participate in the first sacrament this spring, but he won't be allowed to take communion during the weekly mass for students.  Ever.   This bothers me more than (it seems to) bother him.  He enjoys his school, including the religion lessons and mass.  He has a keen understanding of God's laws and has taught me a thing or two.  Still, I want him to understand my adopted faith, including especially the welcoming grace of our church.

This weekend I made a point to bring H to the morning service.  (Many Sundays, he stays home with grandpa while I attend alone.)  It seems more important this year than ever, to have him experience a counterbalance to his weekly school mass.  You see, everyone can take communion at our church.  Everyone.  When I attended membership classes years ago, it was explained this way:  It is God's table, he made the guest list, we just provide the napkins.*    I want Henry to understand that he is always welcome and accepted in God's house.  There are no conditions, restrictions or reservations.  That's a lot to put on a little boy's plate but I can give him a glimpse of the feast every now and again.  He paid attention during the service, enjoyed the children's portion and quietly participated in communion.  I can't say I have tons of parenting successes, but I count this clear, crisp Sunday morning in the win column.

This particular weekend wasn't all delightful excursions and nonstop entertainment. It was filled with more important things.  Things that, hopefully, make a family stronger.  In my book, that's time well spent.

*Okay, so I added the part about the napkins.  But it's funny, right?  I figured if you read this far, you deserved a laugh.

October 26, 2014

This weekend we were gifted with an unseasonably warm and sunny Saturday so we headed straight outdoors for the largest nature preserve we could find. (Originally, Saturday was to be a stay-at-home-day after our busy, stressful and sleep-deprived week but how can you pass up 70 sunny degrees in late October?)

What's so special about this trail sign? Amid complaining that his feet hurt and he was too tired to keep going uphill, Liam stopped and looked at this sign.  I was about ten feet away but I could hear him, very seriously saying ", bahhgg, bahg!"

"Mom, the bog is this way.  What's a bog?"

I was so EXCITED!  Liam sounded out a word all by himself for no reason other than he wanted to know what it said.  This is reading.  Not phonics homework, not a school readiness inventory, not a sight word reader that counts toward a free pizza coupon.  Reading.  For the sake of knowledge.  So EXCITING.  (If I do say so myself!)

We kept walking and saw many creatures but not the red-tailed hawk we were looking for.  Nor did we have a bald eagle sighting.  Most of the fauna were crawling, hopping and slithering at our feet.  We had to be careful where we stepped.  In fact, we were still in the parking lot when we came across three caterpillars and a tiny snake.

                                          Woolly Bear caterpillar  (Pyrrharctia isabella, in case you're wondering)

baby snake in the parking lot
There was so much to see I could have stayed for hours, but the wind picked up and the boys were beginning to tire.  We finished our outing with a story and puzzle inside the large nature center.   I bet you can guess which Dr. Seuss book they have on their shelves!

Henry and I enjoyed the huge observation deck.  As for Liam, aside from the bathrooms, he was attracted to a large screen on the wall.  "What channels do they have, Mom?"  He was clearly disappointed when I said that it only showed a loop of still photographs taken at the preserve.  You can take the child out of the suburbs, but you can't take the suburbs out of the child. 

We returned home exhausted but also in a much better mood than we had been in all week.  Despite Liam's longing for cable tv, there's nothing like a day spent together under a big blue sky.

October 16, 2014

More Ups and Downs than a Hayride in October

It's still the busy, stressful season at work.  I've always said that once I get through Thanksgiving the rest of the school year is a breeze.  These first fifteen weeks are brutal so I try to make the most of our weekends.  That means spending as much time as possible outdoors.  I find myself craving nature--even on the chilliest fall day, I want to be outside in open spaces, preferable with a view.  It's the fastest way I've found to disconnect from Monday-Friday stress.

I'm not sure how much outdoor activity there will be this weekend though.  We are all battling colds and Liam has an earache.  The poor guy has been enduring fevers for days and hasn't been eating.  We just got back from the pediatrician who diagnosed a raging ear infection.  Hopefully, the antibiotic prescription will mean we can both return to school tomorrow.  I know I have 3 days of work piled on my desk as well as 160 students and their parents worried about end-of-quarter grades.  Okay, not 160.  There are a handful of kids who don't really care what they get in seventh grade Geography.  (Good thing too, because I am no where near ready to upload grades.)

I'm glad I was able to be home with Liam while he was ill.  Glad to share some quality time and try my best to comfort him.  Yet, there's always that nagging worry though about my dwindling sick days.  I mean, it's only October and I've got two children in school--exposed on a daily basis to heaven-knows-what.  Some of my colleagues have 50 or even 100 accrued sick days at their disposal but my balance is in the single digits.  The difference?  Traditional family structure.  There I said it.  Two sets of grandparents, often ready and willing to watch a sick child while mom and dad go to work make a big difference when it comes to holding on to your paid time off.

Well there's nothing to be done for it.  I just keep keeping on, never taking a full day when a half day will suffice.  Almost never taking any pto for myself.  Last year, I went eight miserable weeks before seeing my doctor with what she called "the worst sinus infection I've seen in this practice".  (I filled the prescription and was behind my desk in time for the lunch bell.)

I seem to have gotten off topic.  Here are a few more October activities.  After Henry fed this docile cow, we changed our lunch plans.  Culver's was literally off the table that day.

anyone home?

preparing to make caramel apples

Henry has lost three teeth since starting second grade.  His beloved rhino shirt is getting too small (don't tell him that!) and he's doing math at the fifth grade level so I just love the way this last photo captures his little boy-ness.  I am not in a hurry for this guy to grow up.

Last but not least, I came across this great article with much advice that rings true.  I'm not exactly "new" at this since my oldest is seven, but sometimes I do feel a bit lost on a path everyone else traveled ages ago.  Posts like this help me feel less alone.  I thought I'd share 9-tips-on-how-to-prepare-for-new-older-motherhood

Speaking of older mothers....I think I'll go back outside and spend some quality time with one.