Tuesday, August 26, 2008

School Daze

By Kelly

I know for many families in the United States, school is already underway.

Which leads me to ask, "Seriously? School on August 9? Who does that?"

Here in Minnesota, school doesn’t start until the day after Labor Day. (It’s the law.) And while I don’t want to sound all high and mighty, I’m pretty sure that’s the day God intended kids to go back to school. Memorial Day is the beginning of summer. Labor Day is the end. Those holidays are divinely appointed bookends to keep summer from being spirited away by miserly gremlins who worry more about "testing" and "brain drain" than giving our children a chance to actually relax and sit in the grass and watch the clouds dance across the sky.

(Sorry about the slobber. I’ll get off my soapbox now.)

I guess I'm also personally thankful to have some extra time to prepare. This will only be the second year I've been the parent of a school-aged child, and the whole school experience is a minefield for newbies to navigate.

Case in point:

Last year, my oldest child, Natalie, started first grade. The second week of school, Natalie brought home a list of 10 words and announced there would be spelling tests each Friday.

“Fabulous!” I smiled to myself. “My little girl is really growing up. We’re on Learning Lane now.”

I was a little concerned about the difficulty of the words, considering she was still struggling to grasp basic phonics. But I figured the teachers must know what they are doing. After all, they are the experts.

Imagine my shock when she came home that first Friday, carrying a test with a big +3 on the top in red ink. She, being blissfully na├»ve, was thrilled. “I only got seven wrong, Mom! That’s three right!”

I, however, was horrified. How did my daughter end up with such a low score?

I inquired of her teacher. She gently pointed out that it might help if Natalie studied her spelling words at home during the week.

Apparently, it’s called homework (insert air quotes here), and I, being a Mom, am now responsible for such matters.

Humbling? Yes. But it was a good lesson. I'm a rookie in the Big Leagues now. I should keep my eyes open and my mouth shut.

Through trial and error, I learned that I'm responsible for spelling words and the "suggested" reading that is sent home each week.

But overall, I'm still really green.

I don't know if it's OK to request the second-grade teacher I'd like Natalie to have. (Is that obnoxious? Or normal?) I don't know if I should continue to walk her to her classroom each morning. (Overbearing? Or caring?) I don't know how much I should help her when she's doing her homework, or how often I should remind her to clean out her folder, or if I should make excuses for the days she'll miss school for family trips.

It's just a whole lot of new -- for both of us.

Any suggestions from veteran Moms? I have six days until Labor Day.

Unless I can find a state that believes school shouldn't start until Columbus Day. Sounds educational to me.

Kelly also blogs at Love Well, although she's currently taking a short hiatus to enjoy the last full week of summer. She'll return after Labor Day. Of course.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Margin

By Kelly

Last night, as I waited for my brain to turn off and the drowsiness to descend, I read through my journal from last year.

I was sad and slightly startled to see how much depth my writing had 12 months ago. These days, my writing tends toward the surface and the amusing. Nothing wrong with that, inherently. It’s a large part of who I am. I’m always thrilled when good friends tell me my blog is exactly like the real-life me. That’s a compliment.

Yet, I’m not a shallow person. At least, I didn’t use to be.

“I’m forlorn,” I thought to myself as I snuggled under the comforter, drowsiness padding my brain. “Yes, that’s it exactly. I’m forlorn.”

Waking up this morning to sunshine and cereal with blueberries and “Diego’s Moonlight Rescue,” I didn’t feel quite so melancholy. (My sanguine personality wastes little time throwing pity parties. They aren’t fun.)

But the basic premise remains: This year, I’m living. But I’m not delighting. At least, not enough.

I know much of this can be chalked up to the changes of the last year. New house, new city, new baby, new school, new church, new friends, new schedule. New, new, new. Who has time to reflect and ponder and wonder when the dishwasher needs to be unloaded and the dinner needs to be made and the kids need lunch and the baby needs to be held? Oh, and did I mention my husband has been gone at least a week each month on business trips?

Thus, I have been consumed by the urgent, day-to-day details of life. It takes a lot of energy to keep this many plates spinning.

And while I truly love the adventure of the new and the delight of new discoveries – and yes, a part of me even delights in the challenge of keeping the plates spinning – I also miss the old me.

The old me was better at balancing the surface, urgent life with the deep, important life. I was better at playing with my children, instead of excusing myself under the guise of getting another task accomplished. I was better at noticing the simple gifts in my path each day, instead of rushing about, like a chicken desperate to get its fill of grain before the wind blows it away.

I had more margin in my soul. More space. More room to breathe.

How do I get it back?

Kelly also blogs at Love Well.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Hallway of Pew-Pew

By Kelly

Warning: This post is not for the weak of stomach or the faint of heart. Or for those eating breakfast. Especially if you're eating Cocoa Puffs.

Connor, my three-year-old, is currently potty-training. He's not all that thrilled about it, since he's just fine with diapers -- even if they are sagging to his knees. And it seems like whole lot of aggravation to him to stop playing just so he can go into the bathroom and do something he used to do while playing. But he's mildly excited about his new "big-boy" Diego underwear, and he likes putting yellow stars on his Potty Chart. And he's already met all the signs of potty training readiness. So -- onward and upward.

But, as I've come to understand, potty training a child is also potty training a Mom. (Can I get an Amen?!?) It means Mom now has to stop what she's doing and attend to a child who's wearing Pull-Ups or (help us Lord) "big-boy" underwear even though he isn't tuned in to the siren call of the nether-regions.

Which brings us to the moment last week, when my husband and I were lounging at the table after dinner. (Lounging is not common in our house, so when the moment presents itself, we wallow in it.) The kids were busy in the bathroom -- Natalie was splashing in the tub, and Connor was playing with some bath toys in the sink.

After five minutes of blissful adult conversation, Connor peaked around a corner of our kitchen, and caught my eye. I smiled. He smiled back. And then -- OH MY WORD! The odor. The nose-scalding, fumigatious odor! I practically knocked the chair over in my haste to get up. "Connor's got a really stinky diaper," I said to my husband in my never-ending quest to state the obvious. "It's bad!"

Connor heard me utter the words "stinky diaper" -- which is code for "get the heck out of here" in the Official Toddler Handbook -- and took off running. I rounded the corner to chase him and stopped dead because I found -- to my horror -- that there were little dots of what Natalie delicately calls "pew-pew" every few inches stretching the 15 feet from the kitchen to the bathroom. Connor, still fleeing, was wearing a Pull-Up that was mostly Pulled-Down from the weight of the load he was carrying. Seems someone hadn't remembered soon enough that Pull-Ups don't hold the amount of bodily fluids that diapers do.

Thankfully, I'm good in a crisis. "STOP!" I screamed at Connor. "STAY!" (Did I mention we used to have two dogs?) I grabbed a beach towel, wrapped up the boy and disintegrating Pull-Up and hauled the whole thing to his bedroom for a change that involved two adults, 58 diaper wipes and about a dozen dry heaves from Mom thanks to the unholy smell.

And the carpet? Let's not talk about it.

I've learned my lesson: Pull-Ups and other such potty-training paraphernalia should only be used under adult supervision. And by adult, I mean someone who's actually paying attention.

If my pain can help someone else avoid this misery, it will have all been worth it.

This public service announcement was originally published on Kelly's blog, Love Well, in March 2007. Thankfully, Connor finished potty training just in time for his little sister to be born in January. Thus, Kelly continues to be up to her elbows in pew-pew daily.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Memories in a Flash

By Kelly

I finished Connor's baby book last month.

Don't be impressed.

He'll be five in October.

The books -- that's right, I'm confessing, he has baby books, plural, as in more than one -- are so mammoth, they really deserve their own birth announcement.

"Kelly @ Love Well is thrilled to introduce her newest addition, 'Connor: the First Year.' The books weigh approximately 20 pounds and stand 8 inches tall when stacked. 'Connor: The First Year' joins 'Natalie: The First Year' in the storage hutch, where they will hopefully be kept safe from the elements and all acid-tinged papers."

It's scrapbooking gone wild, people. It's INSANITY. And while I can certainly change my form of scrapbooking -- I'm currently switching to digital, and I love it -- I can't walk away from the idea of scrapbooking. Partly because my children are adorable, and partly because I want them to record my memories for them. But mostly because I have to do SOMETHING with the thousands upon thousands of pictures I take of them each year.

I wish that were an exaggeration. But it's not. And I bet you have a similar problem. In the olden days, when we had to buy film (remember that?) and then take our 36 snapshots and wait for the film to get developed (remember that?) before we got our prints back, we took considerably fewer photos. At least, I did. We didn't even own a camera (besides my pitiful 110, which hardly counts) the first five years of our marriage.

But now? My camera is digital. Pictures are free and immediate. Therefore, I have become the most annoying of paparazzi to my children. I take pictures all day, every day -- especially if we are doing something special like leaving the house or eating breakfast or playing at the park.

Don't believe me? I spent the weekend sorting through the pictures I took last week. I had to pick through almost 700.

(In my defense, we did all sorts of fun things last week, like visit the the county fair and celebrate Natalie's birthday and go to the beach. But still. It's the principle.)

I've been thinking about this digital photo addiction. Surely, some of it can be chalked up to the freedom granted by the digital era. We can see instantly if our shot was in focus or if someone blinked at the flash. We get instant gratification if our photos turn out well. (How many times have you told your husband to come look at the cute picture you just took -- even though he was standing next to you two seconds ago while you took the picture?) Plus, it's free. Why not take 150 pictures of kindergarten graduation? We don't have to print any of them if we don't want to.

But I wonder if something deeper is at play.

As a mom, I am increasingly aware of the passing of time. My children are growing up. My baby, whom I brought home from the hospital about a month ago, it seems, will be seven months old by the end of this week. My daughter just learned to ride her bike without training wheels. My son is playing with Legos -- the small ones, not the big ones -- and he doesn't need my help to get the pieces apart.

I can't stop time. Heck, I can't even slow it down.

But when I take a picture, ahhh. Then that moment is frozen. It's captured. It's mine. I can control time, even if the results are only in kilobytes.

It's a small way of keeping my children one or four or seven forever. Those chubby cheeks. That little hand. That quirky grin. In a picture, time stands still.

Which explains why I take a few pictures almost every day. I want to keep a few of those grains of sand that slip through my fingers.

Time marches on. But pictures are forever.

Kelly also blogs and shares her photos at Love Well.