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New Plan: Be Content With Simple Things

Survival & SimplicityThere is value to simple fun; fun that costs nothing other than free time and a place to play.

When I was a kid in the 1970s and 80s, I didn’t play soccer, take ballet, or do art classes. I went to school, came home, played in my yard, and planned various ways to spy on my teenage sisters. 

I was frequently bored, and had to find creative ways to fill my time, like pretending the rock garden in our back yard was actually a kitchen; or finding a packet of morning glory seeds in my mom’s junk drawer and planting them next to the pillars on our side porch. My mom stared at them in disbelief when they began to work their vines up the pillars, wondering how they could have possibly grown on their own.

We had three very old out buildings behind our midwestern farm house, and I would endlessly examine their floors and corners, looking for treasures from the families who came before mine, but usually just found disturbing spiders.

I have always had an active imagination, and I think most of that is because I had to entertain myself as a kid. I had to create my own simple fun. This was common amongst children when I was growing up.

Kids of today have different childhoods. “Fun” is often organized, planned for, and often paid for. Trampoline arenas, climbing gyms, pottery painting, Chuck E. Cheese…As my friend Delissa once said, it’s a “Pay to Play” era. Somehow having my kids at home, all of the time, has made me realize how much I seek entertainment from the outside world, and I have conditioned them to do the same.

I am also becoming more and more aware of a monologue in my brain that is a bit neurotic. It’s a compulsion to do something; to fix things; to remove boredom; to invest in my kids’ education; to give them another experience. It goes something like this:

“Have my kids done their homework? Have they answered emails from their teachers? Did I buy the snacks I promised for the kindergarten classroom?” Oh wait, there is no school.

“My kids haven’t moved enough today. We need to enroll them in something, anything. Rock climbing? Tae Kwon Do? How much would that cost every month?” That’s right, there are no classes right now.

“He’s interested in coding. I wonder if there are any coding camps he could do this summer?” Oh…yes, most camps are cancelled.

“He’s been on his screen too much today. This isn’t good!” Oh, but that’s the only way he can do his school.

“Has he seen his friends lately? We should plan a playdate. What about socialization?” Oh, that’s right, we aren’t allowed to see anybody!

So often, my answer to each perceived problem is an action; it’s DOING something. But in an era when we literally can’t DO anything with our kids outside of our home, this dialog is completely useless.

So I’m having to resort to new thought processes. I have to be OK with many things being broken; or different; or just kind of existing as is. Here’s what I’m noticing:

Our lives are far less chaotic. We are lingering at the dinner table instead of racing through to get to an activity.

It’s a nice break from the outside world of teenage pressures. I feel like my teenagers can be themselves in a way that isn’t possible when they are out on the town, perpetually embarrassed by their parents and little brother.

We are all getting a little crazy, and the craziness looks different on each of us. If you are  trapped in a house with your kids and your spouse, you know exactly what I mean…if not, I’ll leave it up to your imagination.

My kids are remembering old interests, and are spending time doing hobbies that had been set aside because of the busyness of school. They have been reading books for fun again.

In many ways, this time is reminiscent of when we homeschooled. On the days when I work from home, we eat all three meals together; we share stories; we talk about old memories from when they were little…

And it’s kind of like a family vacation because we are all together on this adventure, with little interaction with the outside world.

But there is also an overwhelming sense of unrest. As much as I love having my children at home, and all of the family time we’ve had, things aren’t as they should be. Teenagers love to be with friends. My kindergartener misses going to the park. My parents have been in isolation for months now, with no reprieve in sight. Things aren’t right.

A difficult season calls for a different plan. So I’m working hard to adopt a new approach to life, and to school, during COVID-19. Here’s my new plan for the remainder of this season. It’s based on embracing simple things, and easy expectations. Maybe it will resonate with you:

Activity #1: Survive as well as we can. Let’s face it, shopping with gloves and a mask is no fun, especially when grocery stores are depleted. Contracting COVID-19 is even more scary. I’m here to say SURVIVAL IS ENOUGH. But just surviving can get boring and repetitive, which leads to the rest of my list…

Activity #2: Bake cookies and try some new recipes. When my dad had a heart attack at 43, I remember my older sister telling me to stop crying, and then pulling out the ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies with me. Doing something ordinary like baking distracted me, easing my spirit, and made the time pass more quickly. It is the same today.

Activity #3: Do the little things that give us joy. Like baking. Or watching the baby bunny in the backyard. Or looking at old family photos.

Activity #4: Do the school work that must get done, but realize that the majority of the “work” in this season is character development. We are all learning about endurance, patience and being content in any circumstance. I, for one, like seasons like this to pass quickly (which illustrates why I apparently need more practice learning those character traits).

Activity $5: Exercise and breathe fresh air. Exercise is my Prozac. If I don’t move, everyone suffers.

Activity #6: Focus on our blessings more than our hardships during this season. This is a lesson I’ve had a lot of practice in since the closure of our small business three years ago. It has taught me that gratitude is a choice, and it is something that has to be practiced. When I practice being thankful, I realize that, though there are a lot of hard and unsolvable things in life right now, I am also surrounded by blessings. It’s a constant, repeated choice to choose gratitude over grumbling, and the more you do it, the easier it gets.

Activity #8 Embrace the simple fun. Card games; binge watching a Netflix show; reading books; making the cats chase after the laser pen…my kids have the chance to live my childhood for awhile. I’d like to enjoy it with them. How about you?

Living With School, Mom Life

Truths About Schooling During COVID-19

Truths for Schooling During Covid-19First of all, let’s be clear: This is not homeschool.

We are six weeks into COVID-19 distance learning and I feel more overwhelmed with educating my kids than I ever did as a homeschool parent. The schools are calling, texting, and messaging repeatedly, with updates, reminders, and new ideas on how to educate our children at home. It’s helpful, and it’s necessary…but it’s also overwhelming.

I homeschooled my children for eight years. They’ve been in public school for the last three. With this kind of background, you would think I’d take this change in schooling in stride, but I am here to say: I’M HAVING A HARD TIME WRAPPING MY BRAIN AROUND COVID-19 SCHOOLING!

When I homeschooled, I spent hours researching curriculum and planned school for each of my children, modifying based in their needs as we went through our school year.

When I sent them to public school, I did my best to reign in my control-freak nature as they learned how to navigate teachers who were not me…the hard ones who challenged their skills; and the ones who assigned consistent busywork.

COVID-19 school is a weird hybrid of the two. Though my kids are enrolled in public school, they must do their school work at home. In our school system, the work is optional, and it’s not graded. We can log in to see the assignments…or not. Though this alleviates the pressure of worrying about their grades, it introduces an entirely different type of pressure.

My lazy parent (and child) voice says, “Do they actually need to do the assignments? Why make them, if they aren’t graded? None of their friends are doing them…”

The over achieving voice says, “Of course they need to do their assignments! If the teachers are still giving assignments, my students should be doing them! They are home all day anyway…what else do they have to do?”

The hard part is that, unlike when I homeschooled, I now have a full time job. My husband works full time from home. OUR work has continued, and is busier than ever…and now we need to add schooling into the mix. The opportunity for mom guilt is endless, and at times, it feels suffocating.

As I pondered the overwhelming emotions that have come with parenting during this season, I asked myself, “What is true?” And I began to make a list. And as I looked at the list, I thought other parents might find it to be helpful too. That’s why I’m sharing these truths about having children during the COVID-19 pandemic:

Truth #1: This is temporary. It will not last forever. School and normal life will someday resume to a (new) normal. Take heart.

Truth #2: Our kids are learning a lot while living through an historic event, and watching how we and the world around us respond. They notice EVERYTHING. Don’t freak out.

Truth #3: This virus has upended every area of the WORLD…So it makes sense that this aspect of our lives feels so unsettled. We aren’t alone.

Truth #4: My kids are learning, growing, and are spending more time together than they have since they started public school three years ago. They are closer, and our family is closer, than when the safer-at-home orders went into effect. This is a gift.

Truth #5: The schools truly have our best interests in mind, and I am so thankful that they are diligently trying to instill some normalcy into my children’s lives, when everything else is abnormal. This is grace.

Truth #6: IT’S NOT ABOUT ME, or my kids, or school! With COVID-19 risking so many lives, cancelling school and having to figure out how to do life in a new way is a necessary sacrifice. My kids being at home means life for someone else. This makes the discomfort and confusion worth enduring. This is necessary.

Truth #7: THIS IS NOT HOMESCHOOL…but it is a chance to approach “school” differently (which is my next post!). As I told my kindergartener this morning, learning doesn’t just happen at school. It happens everywhere. Sure, he has assignments from school, but he also has been building impressive Lego creations, playing ball with his brother and Daddy, and studying the bunnies who live in our backyard…and those are all fantastically worthwhile for a six-year-old to do!

Truth #8: Parents, we are doing something unique, and hard, and rather illusive: trying to come alongside our kids during a difficult time in the world. It’s going to look different in every family, because every family has different needs and demands. We need the peace of knowing that, with school, and with every aspect of our lives, all we can do, is all we can do. And truly, that must be enough.

Living With School, Mom Life

My Official Excuse For Walking Around In Yoga Pants

To the other moms in the school drop off line:

I know I look like I just rolled out of bed. Because I did.

Last night, I went to bed with my hair wet, which is why my pony tail has this interesting geometric pattern right above the rubber band. Make up? Not yet…it’s too early for my eyes to focus that closely on my eyes…I’m in my 40s now, you know…

And this ratty tshirt? I wore it to train for two half marathons, and it’s my psych-up gear to lose weight again, after baby #3…even though baby #3 is now almost four years old. Having a baby in your 40s is most assuredly NOT good for the waistline. But still…there is history in these old clothes…inspiration beneath the ugly perspiration stains that I forgot about when I put on my t-shirt this morning…stains are so unfortunately apparent in the daylight…

After I drop my kids off at school, I will sip from my giant travel cup of coffee, drive my Camry home, boot up my Jillian Michaels workout video, and actually move my body.

Because here’s the truth:

Unlike fat, you can wash dirt and sweat away in the shower. So, I’ve purposely decided to stay dirty until after my workout each morning, because my shower is my reward…a reward for sweating, for making time to take care of me, for successfully launching my kids into another day at middle school…

But here’s another not-so-glamourous truth:

Sometimes, the workout doesn’t happen. Then the three year old keeps me busy, the big kids come home, and suddenly it’s 10PM at night, and as I put my pajamas on, I realize I FORGOT TO TAKE A SHOWER!!! I’m still in my yoga pants. (Which means I’ll have crazy geometric shaped hair again in the morning, because I’ll shower and go to bed with my hair wet, once again).

Which brings me to the overriding, universal truth that the other moms in yoga pants (or their pajamas) will agree with:

Motherhood is fantastically detrimental to personal hygiene. Some days, showering feels like a miracle, let alone putting on makeup or cute boots.

So, if you see me in the drop off line…or at the grocery store later today, and I’m STILL IN MY YOGA PANTS and funky t-shirt, please know that I KNOW I look a little crazy. And I realize that sometimes a temporary look becomes an unintentional fashion statement: The 2017 “Disheveled Mom” Look. It’s a look I rock far too often, but it’s one I’m willing to embrace because it’s a happenstance of the most wonderful job I’ve ever had: Being my kids’ mom.

(And at least the yoga pants look is better than the sweatsuits of the 1980s…don’t you agree?)

Living With School, Mom Life

Hail To the Crossing Guards

I just moved to a suburb south of Nashville, and I feel like I’ve found myself in a Richard Scarry “Busy Town” book. Traffic lights dangle from the power lines, bobbing in the wind; lawns are perfectly manicured; firetrucks are tucked neatly into garages every few miles apart; there is a big library, as well as bakeries and parks with playgrounds…it’s all so different from the small mountain town where I spent the last 20 years of my life. It’s all so…busy…so many things to do…so much traffic to take in…

That traffic is why they need the school crossing guards.

Every morning, truer than the clock, the guards take their positions in front of the elementary school we drive by, and then the middle school my kids attend. The guards stand boldly, smack dab in the middle of the intersection, systematically creating one traffic jam while relieving the others.

The first guard on our route is the thin black woman I’ve lovingly nicknamed Flo. She looks to be about 65, and has the look of a grandma you wouldn’t want to cross. This is the lady who blew her whistle with a severe look of disdain the first day I drove my kids to school…I didn’t realize the school zone started quite so soon. Being me, I gave her a big broad smile as she frantically waved at me…I thought she was saying hello…My, these Tennesseans are friendly!!!

Then I heard the whistle…and her face came into focus. My face dropped. Yes, Ma’am..I will slow down…way, way down, every single time I come up to your corner, from now on…they put Flo on the first corner for a reason. She means business, and isn’t afraid to make you know it. The sound of her whistle can overpower my crying toddler in the back…

Next is the older white man who is at least 65. I call him Ned. He has the easy corner, guarding an intersection into a neighboring subdivision. Flo already slowed down the traffic for him…all he needs to do is nod and wave, every once in awhile when a car or child decides to come out of the neighborhood. I like to wave to Ned because he often smiles and waves back at me…which is kind of confusing, because then I wonder if he’s actually signaling me to stop…or slow down…

I should probably stop waving at Ned…

Bravely standing watch over the next major intersection is Belle. Of course, I don’t really know her name, but she is a bigger black woman, a bit younger than the others, but certainly old enough to stop us. I study her black outfit every day as I wait for her to wave me on…marveling at her gloves. They are called “Glo Glovs“…all black, with orange caution triangles on the palms, and I think they come with superpowers. Unfortunately, Belle has the version with the triangles on her palms, not the stop signs. Her hand motion says stop, but her gloves say caution…and I think I look at her with a confused, knitted brow as I drive past her, every single morning.

After we get by Belle, it’s smooth sailing for a few miles until we come up to the middle school. There is only one crossing guard there, but she is the grand crescendo of the morning…I call her “Crazy Arm Lady.” Crazy Arm Lady is in her 30s, blond and thin with a very tidy, no nonsense appearance. She stands at the corner, rolling her arms in a spectacular fashion that make her look like she’s doing some kind of aerobic move…yet with such a serious face and deliberateness, that you KNOW she learned that move from some kind of traffic training program. Man, she is fun to watch, that Crazy Arm Lady…arm roll, arm roll, arm roll…stop!

Every morning, I think about how I’d like to buy each of them a cup of coffee. I want to say thank you for being out in the rain and braving the miles-long parade of minivans with children spilling out of it…but their hands are so busy, I’d have nowhere to put the cup. It would just result in an awkward dance of arm gesturing, and a sad Starbucks cup left on the cold sidewalk, waiting for the commute to be over. So I’ll just continue to drink my coffee from the confines of my Toyota. I will drive by quietly, heeding their passionate arm signals, and saying a prayer for their safety as they take on another early morning commute.

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