Thursday, October 24, 2013

A bargain of a photo shoot

 If a picture is worth a thousand words

and I only paid/bribed 40 cents for these

I'd say I got quite the bargain!

These matching-but-not-twin brothers had "Superhero Day" at school today.  When they came downstairs in their matching costumes, I swooned.  (Thanks, Uncle Dan and Aunt Diana).  I mean, seriously, how cute are they?  So, I said "Boys, I know you wouldn't want to leave for school without letting me take pictures of your awesome capes, right? And good news, we'll have just enough time".  Shockingly, this idea was met with much groaning.  And then, in a lightbulb moment from Cbug, "Mom, I really like treats."  Sure, bud, I can play that game.  "I won't give you a treat, but I will give you each a penny."  They must be growing up because they laughed at my offer and raised it to a dime.  You got it!  Then it was cold outside so they each got twenty cents.  Riches, I tell ya.  I love these two!

And my superheros would like to remind you that the 5th annual Teen Lifeline 5K is only a couple of days a way.  Please consider supporting our team this weekend as we work together to make a difference.  Any amount truly does help- who knows, maybe together we'll be real life crime fighters!  


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Why I Should Never be a First Grade Teacher...

I volunteered today in KJ's first grade classroom.  I was there for several hours- mostly wrapped up in cutting and gluing.  Which meant I had plenty of time to watch my adorable first grader and action.  And plenty of time to contemplate this deep topic.

The reasons I shouldn’t be a First Grade teacher, but love volunteering…

I have no poker face.
As a volunteer, I loved sitting at the back table CRACKING UP at some of the things that first graders say. It was just about as close as one could get to really being a fly on the wall. 
"Well, I don't have an answer to that question, but I do have an answer to the one you asked earlier"  

Teacher : "What country was the Puerto Rican Baseball player, Roberto Clemente, from?"  Class "TEXAS!"

Teacher: "Who is someone you admire?" Student: "I admire myself because my parents really love me"

And that was just in a 5 minute story time.
I mean, seriously- how can the teacher just look straight at them, not crack a grin and just go on like what just came out of their mouths is perfectly normal.  Seriously.  I was DYING.

The sum of all of my patience would fit into a First Grade Teacher’s pinky finger.
Seriously.  The room was in constant motion.  Wiggle.Squirm.Cough.Sneeze.Giggle.Fidget.Whisper.
Sharpen a pencil.Go to the restroom.Move to another task.Answer a question.
White boards.Workbooks.Computer.Ipad.Book.
  Most of this motion happened completely seamlessly without her ever uttering a word.  Occasionally she would do this cool clapping rhythm, the class would repeat and everyone would snap back to sitting still and quiet.  Rarely was there a moment when everyone didn’t seem engaged.  Seriously- the control of a First Grade teacher’s patience it is a sight to behold.  And as a volunteered I loved getting to watch this miracle in motion.

I break into a sweat at the thought of anything crafty.

When I met up with KJ’s teacher this morning, she started explaining what she needed help with.  “We (meaning me) are going to create a poster for our class to enter in the Red Ribbon Week contest.”  To which I tried
not to cough.sputter.spew. my coffee.  My mind raced a million miles a minute as to how I was going to politely excuse myself from this task.  “Um- I’m so sorry.  You must have the wrong mom.  You meant Jane’s mom, the artist, right? Apparently you forgot you were getting stuck with KJ’s mom the accountant.  Creative= I’m OUT.”  But while my mind was racing she pulled up a picture on her phone and specific instructions about the poster she wanted.  I took a look and did some quick self-talk.  Before long I had myself talked down from the sweaty ledge and into a peaceful state of “Oh, you said create a poster, but what you meant was ‘Please set up and strategize a trace, cut, glue assembly process”.  Got it.  I’m back.  Totally got this.  Give me five minutes to think and I’ll have it figured out- and you can bet it will be efficient and effective to the max.  My happy place.

I didn't actually put this poster together.  I just traced and cut out every.single.stinkin.piece.  Pretty amazing, huh?  I LOVED being a volunteer.  And can't wait to go back again!


The paws on the poster were written on by each student in the class and have positive ideas for things they could do.  Like "read" or "play soccer" or "play outside".  They are learning early that they have a choice.  They don't just have to say "no to drugs".  Instead, they are learning that there are choices they can make to LIVE LIFE BETTER.  Sound familiar?  Kinda like that mantra for a certain non-profit organization I love.  Teen Lifeline's goal is to continue to speak power into students to make positive choices.  To give them tools to handle life's stresses in a way that they live life better.  I hope you will still consider joining us as we run this weekend to raise money to support these efforts.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that truly, any amount helps.  I'd especially love for some of you "secret" readers of this little piece of the web to come clean by joining me in making a difference. Thanks so much!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Ode to the Tension

Several of you astutely identified the underlying issue with my need for "Free Dress Friday". Some of you even commented "at least they are matching" or "they actually don't look too bad" in their ALL RED, or ALL PINK or ALL BLUE. And I'll admit- most of their outfits really aren't the end of the world. They just happen to be a far cry the shirts with collars or plaid shorts or you know, spreading out the red a little- that I usually choose for them. 

I couldn't pull a fast one on ya'll.... now you are driving me to the point of confession. Because it's true. What may seem easy, or even helpful for some- kids picking out their own clothes- is often difficult for me. In this post, I'll come clean about the real "problem". But  before I get to that, don't forget to stop by my recent post about how you can support the TL 5th annual 5K- helping real people and real problems. Problems just slightly more significant than whether my children's clothes match. Seriously. 

Ode to the tension

Welp. It's true. I have a problem folks.
Some serious tension.
On one hand- I'm an accountant.
On the other- I have four small children.

I like control, order, structure, routine, schedules and spreadsheets.
They prefer to trample all of those keys-to-great-life-success.

Craft Cabinet my way
Craft Cabinet their way
Around about kiddo number 3 I learned that I'd have to make a choice- perfection or parenting.  While I realize now that "perfection" was never really an option, I certainly did hold on to the notion for quite some time.  I honestly couldn't tell you when I became a bit more of the mom-of-four-small-children and a little less of the rule-following-perfectionist.  I know both are still there, both are an important part of who I am, but at some point I'd like to think I struck the balance.  A couple of weeks ago, I was at Leadership Training for work.  When the training facilitator found out that I work and have four children at home, she paid me the biggest compliment I could imagine- "Wow, you seem really laid back to have four children".  She didn't mean much by it, probably didn't even give it a second thought.  She only knew me for a couple of days and never saw me interact with my children.  But it still meant so much.  If she only knew all that I'd had to release over the years.  If she knew the prayers I'd prayed.  If she knew the struggles I still have to strike a balance.  Then she would have known how deeply I appreciated those words.

Because it's true-

I would prefer:
To never leave the house without everything in its place
To have all the books in the playroom sorted by genre, size and alphabetically by author's last name.
To have all four children not only dressed neatly, but preferably in coordinating outfits
And I'd love to have the house seasonally decorated by a professional around key holidays.

Don't miss the missile coming
at the pumpkin's head
Love this three eyed pumpkin face

But I have four small children.
And they ensure:
I am much more excited about leaving the house with them- even if we leave behind a disaster.
I want to read with them more than I care about where the books live
I (occasionally) let go of what they wear and enjoy their self-expressions when they dress themselves
And I'm perfectly thrilled the my fall decorations (pictured in this post)
= create-your-own pumpkins on the front porch AND the back door fall gallery.

At least when they stick stickers they do it in a pattern
whats better than a pic of you & your bro
taped onto the back door?
one folded into a paper airplane, of course.

As I think about the hours (and hours and hours and hours) that the kids, especially Lou, have put in to decorating that back door.
As I think about the deep breaths I took when she first started taping "art" up.
As I help clean up the mess that trails behind as they cut, glue, fold, tear, color and CREATE.
And as I have forever captured in my mind's eye the joy and excitement on their faces as someone new notices and compliments their work.
I realize.
Ya know what?
They bring out the best parts of me.
I'm so very thankful that this accountant
gets to be their mom.

Life would certainly be boring if I was just me, without them.
I'll take the tension any day.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Choosing the Battles- Clothing edition

This post is going to be SO MUCH FUN!  But before you read it, don't forget to take a minute to check out the previous post about helping teenagers in our community.  Please consider giving THIS WEEK to make a real difference!  Countdown=6 days to 5K!!

Now- on to the adorable blonds:

I mentioned that I was cutting down on a few battles at our house by beginning "Wrestling Privileges".  What a great day that was at our house!

But there's another "battle" looming.

Kids have opinions about what they wear.
I get that.
But, I have opinions, too.
I put time, effort, energy into purchasing, washing, folding, hanging, ironing (ok, only sometimes) their clothing.  Because its true, I care how they look.  It honestly isn't about brand names or expensive clothing.  I just feel like there is something about a person's self-confidence and the impressions that they leave with others when they are neat and tidy.  I want it to be a habit they begin early- not that I'm placing value in their appearance alone, but there is some value to be placed in the impression they make on other people.

That said-
the very last way I want to start the day is arguing with them about what they are wearing.

For years, I cut down on that battle- in all humility I pretty much eliminated it- by a simple compromise.  Our compromise was this: I pick the clothes.  You pick the shoes.

Sometimes that meant rain boots with shorts

or dress clothes.

Sometimes that meant shoes that didn't match at all.

For most of the last year it meant the same multi-colored-polka-dot flats with EVERYTHING for Lou.

And then one day, that all changed.
Round about the first week of school this year, the big two boys (who I'm pretty sure conspire against me each night as they fall asleep together) declared, "WE WANT MORE! More choices, more opportunities for expression, more FREEEEEEEEDOMMMMMM!"
Well, really they just said "When are we going to get to pick out our own clothes for school".
Same thing.

So, in a brilliant parenting move that can only be described as "THANK YOU LORD!"
words came out of my mouth that simultaneously bought me a little longer of picking out their clothes and them the opportunity for self-expression.

Now, we all know- compromise always comes with a price.
Just like the missing tooth and black eye from "wrestling privileges", Free Dress Fridays have a downside, too.

Like this
"My col-uhs ah blush and bashful" -
Steel Magnolias, anyone?

OR This
where a little red is good, a lotta red is AWEOME
and why not tuck in?

And this
I match.  Thumbs up.

The deal is- They don't complain, not a word, about the clothes I lay out for them 5 days out of the week (sun-thurs) and Friday they get to wear absolutely whatever they want.  And I don't say a word.  Even when it was 123 degrees outside and KJ wanted to wear two shirts, I might have mentioned he'd get hot- but he glared the look that say "don't trample the rules of Free Dress Friday" and I let him go to school that way.
KJ's double shirt look and Lou's blue Cinderella socks.

I'll tell ya this- Fridays sure are simple.  I don't have to get anyone's clothes (except Tito's of course).  The others make their own choices pretty quickly (usually the night before).  KJ's choice  is simple.  Favorite.Red.Shirt.Always.  The other two are a toss up.  Lou usually wears a dress and Cbug wears whatever he touches in the closet first.  And I'm pretty sure there isn't a single doubt in any of their teachers' minds whether I dressed my children on Fridays.

So- here's to you and your battles on the home front.
Find a "free dress Friday" or maybe a "wrestling privilege" compromise and embrace it!
You can thank me later.
Unless its picture day!


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What's their story? - Advocating for the "trouble" kids

When we went to KJ's patriotic performance in the spring, we could not have been prouder of our adorable child.  Granted it was a mere 20 minutes of singing songs, saying the pledge, and each taking a turn at the mic to tell about all things "American".  Granted, for most of the performance, unless you strained your neck (and camera) just right (which I assure you we did), you couldn't even SEE our tiny guy.  But he is ours.  And we think he's tops.

Later that same month, he raked in the awards to prove it.  I'd like to call them "family awards" because we ALL put in some serious efforts to those after-school-reading and math programs just to earn points just to get a stinkin' trophy, thankyouverymuch.  In the ceremony every kid in every kindergarten class got to prance across the stage, have their name called, and swell with pride at their list of accomplishments- accomplishments of the kind only a kindergartner would consider success.  But they certainly do.  KJ did.  AND we did, too.

But shortly after KJ walked across the stage that day another little 5 or 6-year-old girl walked across the stage and had her "success" defined quite differently.  She simply got "Principals Club", the award every kid gets.  Not "cheetah math gold, silver or bronze".  No "Reading Olympics" medal.   No "mastery of study skills."  Not even "good conduct".  She kind of shuffled across the stage, hugged the teacher, and paused (like all the kids were supposed to) for her picture.  Only no one was there to take it.  And I lost it.

There was a kiddo or two like her in every class that day.  Ones who obviously weren't "dressed" for awards day, who didn't have a cluster of family members welcoming them afterward, who didn't struggle to juggle all of their prizes in their proud little hands.  And my heart broke.  Not because it should be fair.  Not because all kids should "get the same thing".  Not because I thought anyone should get an award they didn't earn.  Nope, I fought back tears because I wondered if anyone knew their story.  Did anyone ask, "why?"

I could relate.  I deeply love a little boy who had anything but "mastery conduct" during his first "big school" year last year.  A little boy who didn't have family members present at any of his special pre-k events at school.  A little boy who sometimes wears clothes that don't fit.  A little boy who sometimes gets labeled for his behavior before anyone takes time to know his story, a rough one.  And that day, I could so easily picture a sweet red-head shuffling across the stage.  I could hear the imaginary voices of other parents saying "That kid couldn't even get it together enough for a conduct certificate".  I could sense his disappointment when he paused for pictures and realized the faces he wanted to see most weren't there.  Again.  

That day, like so many others since then, I prayed that someone would take time to know his story.  I prayed that the little girl in KJ's class, the others like her that day, and the one I love so much, would all find an advocate in school.  A teacher who sees their hidden talents and skills, who knows their obstacles and sets them up to believe they can overcome them.  I prayed for other parents, too.  Ones who let their kids be friends with the less-than-perfect playmate, who speaks blessing into someone else's child right along side their own.  I prayed for advocates.  And I prayed for the strength to be one.  

I'm pretty sure I could get as many different political opinions as I have readers, if I tried.  But I'm fairly certain we will all agree on this:

Each of us is responsible.

Not just in our current political state, not just in our current economic state, not only if we have kids, not only if we work in a profession that provides opportunities-  We all can make a difference.  This isn't some over-idealistic-push toward changing the world.  I'm "just" talking about changing lives, just those lives we each come in contact with.  You can vote and write letters to your senator (maybe you should) and you can eloquently explain your political opinions until you are blue in the face (maybe you shouldn't).  But unless YOU (and I) are willing to actually do something I can guarantee that the kid next door won't ever have his story heard.  He's not waiting for his district's Senator to stop by.  He's waiting for you.

You probably already know who "he" is, don't you?
The kid who kinda smells bad so no one ever wants to sit next to him.
The kid who gets asked to leave youth group events because of the inappropriate things she says.
The kid who no teacher wants to have in class because teachers don't know how to "control him".
The kid who has spent more time at the alternative school than the regular classroom.  Since 6th grade.
The kid who bullies other kids on the internet.
The kid who is pregnant at 14.
The kid who drops out.
The kid who gave up.

Have you ever really asked "Why?"  Have you heard "his" story?  Did you notice that no one cheered for them in the program or took their picture on awards day?  I know I don't always notice.  Too often, I don't stop to actually ask.  

But here's the thing:
 I know about this incredible organization that makes knowing teenagers- really KNOWING them- their mission.  They are out to find "those" kids.  The ones at the alternative school.  The ones drowning in their bad choices.  The ones pregnant.  The ones labeled for their behaviors.  The ones who need to have their stories heard.  

Teen Lifeline KNOWS the power of listening to teenagers, of helping them listen to each other, of providing them a safe place to learn life skills.  The unique thing is, this organization doesn't run away from "troubled" kids, they run toward them.  They have this lofty notion that maybe if they can provide hope, if they can provide an opportunity to overcome obstacles, if they actually DO SOMETHING, they might just maybe make a real difference.  One life at a time.  
And you know what?  It works!

It is time for Teen Lifeline's annual 5K, one of their only huge fundraisers each year to support the work they do.  Its the 5th year for this fundraiser and I can honestly tell you I've never been more excited about the difference I truly believe the dollars collected this year will make.  

My very own, RRL, is the executive director of Teen Lifeline.  He knows about coming from a broken home, having to fight to overcome obstacles, and he certainly appreciates the advocates he had along the way who heard his story.   As a result he didn't become his obstacles, he overcame his obstacles.  He stood on top of his obstacles and took a flying leap forward.  Those advocates gave him a springboard to take his story and use it to open doors for others to be heard. 

RRL is teamed up with an incredible Program Director and a super supportive Board of Directors.  You won't find a group of people with bigger hearts or who are more inclined to work together to help teenagers.

But the reason I use this little blog each October to fund-raise is not because of how much I love the hearts of these people (even though I truly do).  It is because I know their mission can make a real difference.  Stories can be heard.  Lives can be changed.  Cycles can be broken.  And we can ALL help make that happen.

Would you please join us in making a difference?
You can:
1) PRAY.
Take time to get to know what Teen Lifeline is all about by reading the information on the website or visiting with someone who knows more about the organization.  Then, commit to be praying for the vision and future of Teen Lifeline, and for the lives of the teenagers impacted by the efforts.  There is even a place under the "giving" section of the website  to send an email to the prayer coordinator to get more details about how you can be specifically praying.

2) GIVE.
Here is a link to our families' 5K fundraising website (with a cute picture of our adorable blonds, of course!) >> 
Would you please consider making a donation?  Any amount truly does help!
For the next couple of weeks I'm going to ask over and over and over for you to give.  I'm willing to risk annoying you just to let you know how important this is :).  I only do it once a year and I appreciate your patience and participation.  Know that whether you live here or across the country, or around the world, you are making a difference.

Share this message and spread the word.  You can share the link to this blog or share the link to our fundraising page.  Help us spread the word about Teen Lifeline and give others the opportunity to partner with this organization.

Thank you for the amazing way so many of you already support teenagers in your own life, and for the way you support and love our family.  We are so grateful for you!