Monday, August 26, 2013

New Life, take 3 (or 4, or 7)

By the time you're reading this, I'll be on my way to my first day of the 2013-2014 school year.  I haven't been in a classroom since January, and I haven't been starting the year un-pregnant since 2010.  Back then, I worried about my outfits, my case or work load, and how often Ben and I would get to have dinner together.  I was usually agonizing about whether or not to take a class for fun at the community college (how to sew or cooking 101) and putting off grad classes for my degree.  I can honestly say I worked myself up to feel every bit as busy as I do now, which makes me question my ability to define "busy."

Things aren't hugely different.  My sisters helped me pick out a week's worth of outfits last night, and I've been pouring over my class list.  I'm meal planning for the first week of school and saving the good ones for nights that Ben is home.  I'm registered for my fall classes and I feel all bustly and busy.  I just have the addition of two small fries who need to have their shit organized, too.  I've bought and delivered daycare supplies, typed out the van schedules for Milo's transportation to and from his speech groups, and had a power meeting about our new daycare-included budget with Ben while we fed ourselves and two sticky, yelling children breakfast.  It should have been really overwhelming, but I felt kind of awesome that we were making a plan and laying it out for the family to hear.  I'm better at this than I was without kids; this post that I wrote for a good college friend (Patrick's Quarterlife Crisis Series is definitely worth checking out) was my first realization that motherhood improves me.

This isn't easy for us, but we can't ignore our help.  We've gotten financial, emotional, and physical babysitting support from our "village" of parents, sisters and brothers, best friends, and bosses.  Ben was able to shift his schedule so I could go to my classes.  I was able to attend meetings for school and even date my husband because generous people took turns babysitting.  When it seemed like there wasn't another penny to stretch, many more pennies turned up. It's not unique to have a small family with two working parents, but it's still foreign ground to us. I can't let the help we've had go unmentioned.    Beyond lucky, beyond blessed.

I'm always giddy at the beginning of the school year, and this time, even more so.  Every new year over the past 3 or 4 has brought completely new challenges, and I love the fresh start to do with as I please.  Working mama of two, wife, sister, daughter, teacher, gym-goer, book-reader, fledgling cook, social media junkie, storyteller, family historian, writer.  Here we go!

Here are my thoughts on the eve of a new school year last year.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Homeschool Summer Activities Round Up

After the first three super productive weeks of Homeschool Summer, things started unraveling a little.  There was a mini heat wave, there were pool invitations.  I started having the occasional meeting for work.  We were all a little tired.  The week's themes started to spread out, and by the end, they had dropped off completely.  Still, I managed an activity here and there that I want to jot down for memory's sake.  

We instituted a post-nap book hangout on Mama and Daddy's bed.  This was great for days when I felt like we had spent the entire time running around and I wanted something intellectual to happen.  Then I'd pop on a movie.  These are some of our favorites mid-summer.

Early this summer, we ditched our normal coffee table and plopped down a big play table I found at a yard sale.  The table top is two removable panels- one side depicts a landscape with trees and a lake, and the other was plain white, until I hit it with a few coats of chalkboard spray paint.  It's really fun to draw roads, words, or designs.  It's also provided valuable lessons about what we do and don't put chalk on.

During food and cooking week, I had Milo help me make pancakes (yum), banana bread, (YUM!), and chocolate avocado popsicles (ugh).  He loved dumping ingredients in, mixing, mashing bananas, etc.  I would also put a small amount of plain flour on the table and let him have a sensory jamboree by sending it flying everywhere. 

We used play food and a tea set to practice setting the table.  Many times I would demonstrate putting the food on the plate or pouring an imaginary drink into a cup, always saying "please" and "thank you" way too cheerfully.  At first he looked at me like I was a lunatic, but by the end of the summer, he is pouring little cups of fake cider from a tiny gallon jug and offering them to everyone politely.  It blows my mind to think of concrete things he had no grasp on that he gets now.

This trunk picnic was a necessity when we needed lunch on a road trip this summer, but I would definitely repeat it, maybe somewhere super fun.  This would be a good end cap to a trip to a different park or after a family hike.  We put down the back seat and laid out a blanket, then ate the most boring food ever, but it was special because we were in a gas station parking lot and there were guys unloading a Dunks truck while we lunched.

Next summer, when I'm planning "Homeschool Summer" or "Stay-At-Home Day Camp," I'll approach it differently.  Less themes with more time devoted to them.  I'll also try to work sensory play, cooking, and art in weekly, as opposed to a week just for those fun things.  I like the idea of still field tripping on Fridays, but maybe something special every two weeks.  I noticed this summer that some of my plans couldn't happen because I underestimated what I would be able to do with both boys- really letting Milo experience a museum or zoo without an extra pair of hands was not in the cards.

We also didn't get outside enough.  I know it's because I'm not an outside girl and I don't really want to pass that on to my babies.  It's just such an ORDEAL to cart Elliott out, find a shady, blanketed area that he can be mildly entertained, get Milo's shoes on, get everyone sunscreened, and be outside for 20 minutes before Milo is bored and we cart everything back in.  Next summer, when everyone is walking, it will either be easier or harder.

All in all, I think Homeschool Summer was a success.  Especially at the beginning, when I was following through, I loved coming up with activities, sourcing books at the library, and finding time everyday to practice language more deliberately.  Milo is talking and communicating much more than at the beginning of the summer, but I honestly think it's due mainly to him growing and the 3x a week speech therapy that he's getting.  Still, we're reading, and talking, and playing together, and that's helping, too.

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Monday, August 12, 2013

First Annual Farewell Summer Picnic at Stage Fort Park

Yesterday my family said goodbye to the summer.  A picnic, some time on the beach, and ice cream from a cash only stand- that pretty much sums up everything summer should be.  We lived it large and then put it away until next year.

Ben grew up spending time at Stage Fort Park in Gloucester, and he's been dying to take the boys there all summer long.  We got organized and ended up spending a day with his parents and his brother and brother's girlfriend, who also happen to be Elliott's godparents.  We all brought something for a picnic lunch in the shady playground area, then headed down this ramp to Half Moon Beach.

This beach was out of control.  My family always went to Lake Champlain, and the rocky cliffs instantly reminded me of being little on vacation.  Milo and I made a dash for the water and spent most of the rest of the day playing, first in the tide where the waves hit the shore, then a little deeper, then working up the courage to climb around on the rocks and explore.  It was hard to slow Milo down, he kept scrambling further and further on the cliffs, calling out "CAROCKROCKROCK!" and grinning.  Ben and Milo's Grampy kept wading out to meet us and splash around.  The water was cold and the sand burnt bare feet.  It was summer.

We agreed, almost as soon as we all got there, that this would be a family tradition: a farewell summer picnic at the end of August.  We took our picture in front of the park sign and made plans to do it all again next year.  There is a thrill in driving home from the beach, kids sleeping in the back, looking at pictures from the day and snacking on leftover chips and grapes.  I kept imaging a seven- and eight-year old pair of boys scrambling over rocks in pictures on my phone.  Maybe a little girl in a sunhat looking at seashells while her big brothers bury her feet (or throw sand down her bathing suit, probably more likely).  I'm so excited to carve out some new traditions for my little family.

Already today, real life is baring down hard.  There are PILES of paperwork (speech therapy group entrance forms, return to daycare update on routines and schedules for two boys, graduate courses to register for, hearing evaluation case history, ack) and the house really shows the results of a few weeks of hard play and day trips.  I feel the promise of a return to routine balanced precisely against the pressure of a full-to-bursting schedule.  But yesterday was all about leaving my flip flops wherever I kicked them off and letting my son climb a little bit higher than I thought was safest.  Yesterday was the first annual Farewell Summer Picnic at Stagefort Park.

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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Wardrobe for a Working Mama


I know fall is almost here because a) Target is selling school supplies, b) it's weirdly cool in the mornings, and c) Pinterest is blowing up with back-to-school crafts. I've spent a few days prepping my classroom and I'm feeling mentally ready to head back to work.  Physically, however, I'm in a bit of a pickle.

I've been pregnant for the last two years.  When I went back to work after having Milo, I was only in the building for two months before becoming pregnant again.  This means that I never stopped wearing maternity clothes.  Since 2011.  I also haven't had a full year in the classroom since the 2010-2011 school year, when I taught kindergarten and had a completely different life.  I'm going to back to school +2 kids, up 50-60 pounds, with a budget that includes minivan payments and daycare for two.  I have literally not a scrap of professional clothing that fits me, and I have a stronger-than-usual desire to prove myself, coming back to the full-time game with a new administration and some new programs.  I want to dress for success.

I've been spending a lot of time browsing plus-sized clothes sites to gather up some well-fitting staples.  Pinterest didn't exist the last time I cared in any way about dressing myself, so that's been a resource I really love.  I've found a few real-life fashion blogs that have given me some outfit ideas (Hems for Her is my favorite, because I think we have similar body types) and some trendy brands are offering plus sizes.  With reviews, you can really get a feel for the fit and quality of almost anything you throw in your cart.  And a lot of places are offering free returns.  

I made this vision board using Polyvore, which is a cool site that lets you put together outfits from their database or using clothes you found on the web.  It's like an outfit Pinterest.  I'm definitely buying the denim skirt, black pants, and polka dot cardigan.  I know I want some bright tops and at least one feminine skirt.  I'm giving myself some rules that should have always been rules: zero absolutely zero flip flops, Friday jeans outfits need to have a sweater or cardigan to take it up a notch, and spend money on a few comfortable things you can wear to death.  I'm also planning to take stock of my necklace situation (they're beyond useless to accessorize with when you spend your days with infants and toddlers) and get my second holes pierced in my ears.  Painted nails and a haircut will take me the rest of way.

Any tips for dressing to work in an elementary school?  For feeling like yourself when your body has been a factory farm for children over the past few years?  I'm feeling excited to spend a little time and money making myself presentable. I'll take some pictures of my working mama style as the year progresses!

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Sunday, August 4, 2013

"Homeschool" Summer: Sensory Week

(Pool noodle bath to kick off a week of sensory experiences)

I'm really behind in reporting how our adventures with "homeschool" summer have been going.  We started off strong, with lots of activities and follow-through on the Friday Field Trips.  Different heat waves and family issues and the laziness of midsummer mean that we're waaaaay slowed down at this point, but let's go  back to happier times...

Sensory Week was definitely my favorite so far.  Basically we got to do something fun and messy every day, and Milo really loved the play time.  In looking ahead to next summer, I'm not sure that we'll do something quite so structured, but I'll definitely have some of these activities on repeat weekly.

Activities We Did:
Bug Fossils in Play dough:  I had some rubber bugs from the party section of Target and we smushed them into chunks of play dough.  It was awesome because they had the perfect amount of detail to look really cool when you peeled them away.  We used the words SQUISH and PRESS.

Ooblech Transfer: Our ooblech came out way too runny, and I would have liked to have different colors in different muffin tins, so I know what I want to try next time.  Still, Milo LOVED moving the ooblech from one tin to another, and rubbing it all over the table and himself to watch it dry.

Rice Bin Disaster: I took the rice bin back out a few times this week.  Here is the aftermath of leaving in unattended for only about 3 minutes.  Milo went insane when he could actually climb in the rice bin and play.  It was worth the mess, but it's been relegated to an outdoors toy.

Shaving Cream Exploration: This was really fun.  Even my first graders love to go crazy with shaving cream, so I knew Milo would like it, but my favorite part was using it like cement to make some awesome block towers.  Everything smelled like a barbershop but it kept Milo from thinking this was whipped cream and he didn't attempt any tastes. Next time I might add a drop of color or start the cream out inside a container and see how he spreads it out.  

Gross Motor Obstacle Course: I was so proud of myself, coming up with a cool obstacle course that got us outdoors and using the whole body.  It was toddler-simple: over the box (you get to jump on the box!), through the tunnel (you love this tunnel!), and throw the ball into the bucket a the end (you throw balls in the house all the time!).  I showed him twice, but Milo was not having it.  He wouldn't try it even once.  Don't let my genius go to waste- try it at your house today.

Elliott got into the act this week, too.  We have a few cloth books with tons of sensory input on each page- cellophane sewn into pages, ribbon and silk pulls, mirrors, buttons, and squeekers.  You can buy these at Barnes and Noble or Amazon, and more talented mamas probably make custom ones that would blow your mind.  I also made him a "play tent" when I felt guilty for needing him to chill in his pack and play one morning.  A few different dangly toys for interest, and a large muslin blanket thrown over the bar to diffuse the light.  He kicked like crazy, which is his way of saying, "I love this, you're awesome, Mama."

For our field trip, we went to the Modern Edge Art Bar in Fitchburg.  Saturday mornings they have a toddler sensory art class, so some great friends watched Elliott while Milo and I checked it out.  It cost ten dollars and there were cool sensory tables set up for free play.  A lot we had seen this week already- shaving cream, a big rice bin (their rice was multicolored, which I liked), play dough...but they also had moon sand, which I had never seen or felt.  It was cornstarch and baby oil, which made the wood floor slippery (and fun!)  The walls also had big areas of chalkboard, magnetic boards with geometric magnetic shapes, and a felt board.  The biggest draw was that you didn't have to clean up the mess.  Milo had fun, chatted with a few different kids, and got SO DIRTY, which was endearing to me in an environment that I didn't have to mop.

We rocked it during sensory week.  

**I've been using these pinterest boards (homeschool summer and talk to me, baby) to help me come up with ideas.  You can also check out our plans for the rest of the summer here

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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Notes from the Green Mountain State

I'm blogging from a La Quinta in Vermont.  I had zero plans to take both boys 4 hours from home overnight, but after a phone call on Monday, here we are.  My papa isn't feeling well; he usually spends the whole summer in Vermont, but this year it was a challenge to even get up here, and he's leaving early.  Papa is headed back to Florida on Saturday, and I realized that I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see him while he was so close.  So we road tripped it!  We planned the driving for peak nap times and had a strange picnic in the trunk in a gas station parking lot.  We got some truly weird looks, but we were 40+ miles between rest stops, and there was no waiting.  It went more smoothly than I could have hoped.

Last night we went out to dinner at the Milton Diner, my absolute favorite nostalgic place.  Doug, the owner, is good friends with my papa and pointed out that over the past few years, no matter how short the trip to Milton, I always find a way to come to the diner.  Papa ordered two creamees for Milo and Elliott.  I tried to explain that E was too little, but he was making comments about how he used to take his baseball teams and children and grandchildren to the creamee stand and he all he really wanted was to see the boys eating ice cream, which is how I found myself offering soft serve to my six month old.  Papa is also staying with family friends who own an equipment rental and excavating business, so their entire gorgeous property is covered with trucks, tractors, and backhoes, along with huge rock and sand piles.  Milo's head basically exploded.

I've been an emotional wreck for a few days now, and this trip has made my lip quiver more than once.  Papa is not himself, and he has been sick and in pain for awhile.  He's mourning for my grandmother who died last September, and his sons, who are all buried nearby.  He's thinking about his past and the things that he regrets.  When we were visiting, the trucks and tractors smelled like engine grease and the oily smell + the dust reminded me of growing up on the tree farm.  Milo hopped in the bucket of a tractor and I remembered my dad driving us around in the tractor and I thought about the kind of grandfather my dad would have been.  I almost never let myself wonder about things like that.  I thought about Milo hypothetically wandering around London Grove Nursery, and showing him the things I did when I was little.  That will never happen now, because it's all sold and put away, and I cried for the first time about the house I grew up in and the farm life I always took for granted.  I told you, I'm an absolute mess.

But one thing is really, really clear to me after coming up here and expending SO much energy and stress to sit with Papa and eat diner food and ice cream cones and chat with my cousin and spend less than 24 hours in town: family is worth it.  The reason I'm trapped in a glass case of emotion is that my childhood memories and family bonds, complicated and messy and contentious as they can be, are the most sacred thing in my life, and we're growing up and people are dying and things are changing and it hurts because of how important is all is.  When Ben and I pick and choose the places we will go, and the stories we will tell; the traditions that will be a part of our family life, we're sending the message that FAMILY IS WORTH IT.  Worth the money, worth the stress, worth the travel, worth hearing the same story 700 times and the same jokes and eating the same food and letting these people you're related to drive you up a wall.  It's what you do for family, and the harder we work to make the family time happen, the more we'll get to reap the rewards.  Stories and creamees and things like that.

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