Caviar dreams on an iced tea budget

I love, love, loved seeing everyone’s Back-to-School posts on facebook today! As a parent, I get a kick out of seeing everyone else’s first day and their takes on what that looks like in their families. I’ve found that people basically fall into two groups: those with perfect first day of school pics– smiling, happy kids, professionally made “First day of ______ grade” signs, finely sculpted hair– and then there’s the rest of us.

The defense would like to offer Exhibit A to the court.

Ole' boy cannot fake a natural-looking smile to save his life. And I didn't think he needed a hair cut until I critiqued him here.

Ole’ boy cannot fake a natural-looking smile to save his life.

Aside from the goofy grin on that boy, I’m just proud that I got the thing taken. Working moms all over understand me when I say first days back are simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting. It’s an old-fashioned tug-of-war between parenting and bringing home the bacon. Well, I am a teacher after all. In my case, bringing home the spam. Or Vienna sausages.

Any questionable carnivorous fare would suffice for that metaphor.

Accepting my position as a working mom was more difficult than ever to swallow this year. My heart’s desire has always been to make my family my main ministry. Here’s the way I see it: I have to do right by my family no matter what. No matter where I’m teaching or where I’m working, my primary responsibility is to raise my children to know God and to spiritually, emotionally, and physically support my husband. If it were up to me, I would just make that my focus then. Because either way, it’s got to be done. But you know how it goes…

Caviar dreams on a beer budget.

But we don’t drink beer.

So an iced tea budget.

I have loved teaching for ten years and I have loved raising my family for more than six. And even though it seems like I’ve had all the time in the world to figure this thing out and find a nice, neat balance to work and family life, I’ll admit that it’s just now coming together for me.

And it all has to do with acceptance.

This year as the usual back-to-work panic sank in, I felt the Almighty speaking to my heart. “This is your story.” As much as I’ve wanted… and TRIED AND TRIED AND TRIED… to fight it, I’m learning that my story is a unique one that He wants to share. Why? I have no idea! I’ve said many times before I love my life, but it’s never smooth. I’m a textbook example of what NOT to do! I wish I was a SAHM instead of rushing the kids every morning because I chose to hit the snooze a second time and now I’m not fully dressed and mentally ready to go when I wake the Under 7 set, I wish I could spend more time with my kids outside of the transitions of going and coming during the week, I wish I didn’t sometimes forget to make sure my middle son has BOTH shoes on his bony little feet and underwear underneath those flappy shorts when we leave for Pre-K, I wish the laundry and dishes wouldn’t pile up faster than I can tear them down, I wish I had time to work out. Wait, I lie. To be honest, I’m kinda glad to excuse that one. I teach 8th graders; I chase my own three kids. I’m totally qualifying that as cardio.

The bottom line is this: I could wish all day until I’m blue in the face. But right now that’s not my calling. God has called me to be this story. A teacher. A mom. An occasional blogger, sharing my faith. A wife of a coach (It’s a lot like being married, just without the expectation of seeing your spouse before June. “Hi, I’m Martha. Have we met?”) That picture-perfect life I’ve imagined is someone else’s story, not mine. Maybe I’ll own it someday. But today, I’m learning to own this one. I have no idea what He has in store, but I am confident it’s more than I ever would have imagined for myself anyway.

God be glorified in my hot-mess of a busy, working life.

And if you run into me this week and catch my four-year-old sporting one tennis shoe and one sock, don’t feel sorry for me. I’m fulfilling my calling by living the story I was called to live.

Besides, the bigger issue at hand is whether or not he’s going commando.

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Elementary sho’ aint easy!

beer and school

I miss the good ole’ days.

Half-day kindergarten. “Pirate Special” served in the cafeteria on Fridays. (Ooh-wee the best part of that steak finger plate was the buttery roll!) The legendary book fair. The annual Halloween carnival. Your favorite teacher was all of your elementary teachers who hugged kids instead of standing in the hall with crossed arms and a scowl.

I’m almost 34, but just like you, I easily remember my first teachers. Ms. Shipp in kindergarten who wore a short, black bob; Mrs. Lawson in first grade, who still attends my parents’ church and still makes a point to speak to me when I visit, Mrs. Benton in second grade who gave me licks, which was apparently a first for both of us (another story for another day, albeit a funny one.)

Those days seemed easy and slow.

Nothing like the impression elementary school leaves me with now.

And I don’t like it.

I trudged to Open House with my second grader tonight. Thankfully the teachers seemed to have adopted the frozen smile by the time I finally got close enough to shake their hands because the block we walked to get to the school’s entrance in this Texas evening heat already had me dabbing my upper lip, the whole while I’m saying silent prayers that my mascara wouldn’t arrive before I did. And I won’t even go into detail about all the other places that were dripping by the time we walked the gauntlet called Everyone-in-the-entire-district-is-in-this-hallway-at-this-exact-moment. “Brennan?  … Brennan? … BRENNAN? Do I have mascara on my cheeks?”

“Scared? You’re scared?”

“No, ma.scar.a.”

“What’s your scara?”

“Oh. Nevermind then!”

Brennan proudly led the way into his “Homeroom” Teacher’s room. I’m air-quoting that phrase, Homeroom Teacher. More on that in a minute.

We exchanged the usual pleasantries; Brennan went through the usual routine of finding his desk, locker, etc. I signed the usual papers, accepted the usual parent letters that I promised I’d look over when we got home. No big deal.

Until I got home and looked over the parent letters.

Big deal.

Included was Brennan’s schedule. Sure, it was printed on colored paper with a big, fun looking font something akin to RAVIE. But I’ve taught both middle school and high school and my second grader’s paper was nothing shy of a child-friendly version of a Schedule, like the ones teenagers use.

His classes weren’t labeled as 1st period, 2nd period, and so forth. But every 42 minutes, his class is apparently going to rotate to a different teacher. In the course of a typical day (admittedly including PE), he will spend time in 7 different rooms. FAMILY, hear me on this. Ole’ boy will have SEVEN teachers in ONE day. Reading, Math, Science, Social Studies, Writing and Spelling, PE, and an elective (music, or art, or computer lab, or library day). If they’re trying to use the time-out method– one minute for every year– one teacher for every year– I think they missed the boat.

He just turned seven this week.

He’s only been tying his shoes one summer.

And to be honest, he still sucks at it.

Am I the only one who thinks this is a bit much?

Have you met my child?

Maybe he’s not really ADD; maybe he’s just having a harder time molding to seven different personalities in a day and trying to please all of them.

Which brings me back to the air-quoted Homeroom Teacher. Really, his HT is his first period Reading teacher. He spends no more time with her in his day than he does with any other teacher and he doesn’t even end his day in her room. Seems like that’s a loose-fitting crown to claim.

All summer long I’ve been praying for Brennan’s HT. I’ve pleaded for someone who will care about him first, understand him second, and be able to guide us as parents down this second grade path last. I’ve prayed that his teacher was enjoying her summer and refilling her love tank with her own family. As teachers began reporting back to campuses in the last few weeks, I’ve prayed that our teacher was growing excited about the kids coming into her room and that she was genuinely looking forward to teaching a roomful of new faces and that she was feeling more and more prepared to do so. I even prayed over her today, knowing these are the last few days teachers will cram to get everything perfect and ready to hit the ground running on Monday morning when school starts.

I had a slight moment of panic when I realized all this time I kind of was praying for the wrong thing. Essentially, I was praying for a Ms. Shipp or Mrs. Lawson or Mrs. Benton experience for my son. I so want him to bond with a teacher he loves.

Can he do that with 7 teachers?

I remember my second grade teacher. When he’s my age, will Brennan be able to remember his?

Baseball vs. God: When Worlds Collide

baseball

In theory, we have a rule in our household: church comes before anything extracurricular.

That’s in theory… it sure was easy to naively decide what the rules and values were going to be for our little family when we were early into parenting, before any of those rules were actually ever tested. How pompous we were as young parents! Or maybe we were just optimistic. Like everyone else, we wanted what was best for our children. We thought we had it so together.

Here are some of the ridiculous promises I very overtly shared early on:

I once vowed my kids would NEVER watch more than half an hour of television in one day.

Ha!

Family movie night is an almost weekly ritual at our house now. And that’s just the planned part.

Oh, or what about the one where our children would NEVER under any circumstances EVER drink soda?

Pretty sure I barely even grimaced when my husband ordered root beer for both of the older boys at lunch after church the other day. I told myself, It’s not like we do it every day. Or every week even.

Oh, here’s a good one. I, being an educator myself and having suffered the burden of some well-meaning parents, promised myself I would never become a helicopter parent.

I made that covenant long before my first even started preschool. But then big bad kindergarten came. And I was forced to trust a total stranger who had never taught kindergarten before to act patient and caring toward my little tornado, yet still have the presence to challenge him academically. And as if kindergarten wasn’t tough enough, then came We-barely-survived-oh-my-gosh-we-have-to-do-this-at-leat-two-more-times-with-the-other-kids first grade. You think the adjustment to kindergarten will make you lose your mind? First grade is what I now consider the first “real” grade. The “I’m eating carpet every morning. Lord, take care of us today” phase. Ok, when I feel desperate, I become dramatic. But seriously big changes here– no more nap times, y’all! No, the teacher won’t help you tie your shoe. Figure it out or stuff those loose strings into your sock. No more adjustment period. Now you really do have to be silent and still in the hallways. And warning! You’ll be in the hallways a lot son, because now you have five teachers and will rotate classes every time you turn around.

I’ve made a conscious effort the last two years not to be the helicopter parent, but I cannot say with honesty that I succeeded at every turn. The world is scary. And now, more than ever, even school feels scary. My child is one of many in a classroom and I need to make sure what is in his best interests isn’t being neglected. And now I rarely apologize for the times I’m labeled as the helicopter parent (Though, speaking objectively, those times are few and far between. I really do value a trusting relationship with my kids’ teachers. I don’t need people coming into my classroom telling me how to run things. I certainly don’t want to turn and commit that sin in the boys’ classrooms.)

Another rule gone with the wind (and this is bad, y’all)  the “Church comes first” rule.

For as long as I’ve pictured myself with a family, I have envisioned myself as the parent who boldly and unwaveringly  takes  a stand against sports or other activities if they demand participation on Sunday or coincide with a church related event. In my mind, I’ve made a phone call to an imaginary head coach a dozen times, practicing a polite if smug apology– No, we’re sorry our son won’t make it to the game this evening, but we feel like going to church is more important. We’ll work with him at home over the weekend and be ready for practice first thing next week.

I’ve practiced that call in my mind more than once. Yet, the time came recently when we could have made that call to a real coach.

And we didn’t.

#1’s little t-ball team was in the playoffs to be city champs, and until that particular week, were undefeated. And that particular playoff game was scheduled for the exact same time as the big, culminating concert to end a very spirited week of VBS.

We couldn’t do both, no matter how we tried to work it. And believe me, I tried every possible angle. Then we did what I never thought I’d do; we chose baseball.

Much of the anguish I felt that day stemmed from the fact that I felt a little blind-sided. This is our eldest; we’re still very much learning as we go. And while most of our “rules” (more like flimsy expectations) have already been debunked, the “Church comes first” one is not one I ever imagined I would be facing so early. For some reason, I always pictured my athlete in middle school or high school when that phone call had to be made. T-ball family! My son plays T-BALL! I had no idea I’d be disappointing myself this early in his short life.

In the end, that’s what it all comes down to, I think. Our expectations. The vision of how we want life to be, sometimes how we want our children to be, versus what really is. My sister once quoted on her own blog (ucfpeggy.wordpress.com): ”What screws us up most in life is the picture in our head of how it is supposed to be.” How it is supposed to be. There’s a fine line between setting high expectations and unrealistic ones.

Oftentimes, in my blundering ways I can’t tell the difference.

I wonder: what rules or expectations did you set for your family early on only to find yourself later breaking?