Back to School… And Back to Work

Today I signed an official employment offer letter. Not only am I going back into the workplace after over a year as a stay-at-home mom, but I’m making a career change. Instead of working with young children as a preschool teacher, I will be working with my state’s youthful offenders. Teens. Pre-teens.

I’m feeling so many different emotions after making this decision:
-Excitement at starting a new career.
-Optimistic about rehabilitating youth in trouble.
-Anxious to learn and train for my new position.
-Sad to see my long days and evenings end with my boys and husband.
-Worrisome about my toddler starting preschool for the first time.
-Happy for my oldest son beginning a new school year in first grade.
-Grateful for the opportunity to help others.
-Ambitious to become a provider for our family again.

My current life goal: to enjoy the remaining days of summer with my family.

My current blogging goal: to expand my topics to include posts about balancing work and family.

I hope you will continue to follow me along this exciting new path.

**Check out my blogging friend, Nate, who is bravely returning to work again after 17 years at home. You can find her story at insanityofmotherhood.com

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Five Reasons Why You Should Play Minecraft with Your Child

I know. Your eyes are rolling to the back of your head and you’re thinking, “I’m so sick of my child talking about Minecraft!” That’s all my six-year-old has talked about for the past several months too. On the iPad, he plays Minecraft: Pocket Edition. He watches YouTube videos from a lady called Cupquake. He bought the Xbox360 version with his own cash. He wakes up in the middle of the night, sleep-walking into our bedroom like a Zombie and crying, “But I really like that MOD!” I thought his interest in Minecraft would come and go, just as it had with Angry Birds and Skylanders. But his obsession seems to be coursing steadily through his veins. Having no quick antidote to cure him, I did a parental unthinkable: I took a swig of the poison. I immersed myself into his pixelated world of mining and mobs. And if your child is Minecraft-crazed, you should play with him too.

Here’s why I’m glad I did:

  • I had no idea what my son was talking about 75% of the time: diamond swords, iron ingots, exploding Creepers. All day long, he would tell me about these strange things, and the only contribution I had to those conversations were alternating responses of, “Wow… Sounds neat… Huh?” Who sounds like the zombie now?
Photo Credit: www.minecraftwiki.net

Photo Credit: www.minecraftwiki.net

  • After the first few minutes of playing with my son, I started to get it. I didn’t see validity for the obsession yet, but as he gave me the initial tour of Minecraft I finally began to understand the game. Suddenly, those bewildered half-conversations I’d been having with my child had a new perspective. The pixelated images made me feel a little nostalgic, and the different biomes of the Minecraft worlds are actually somewhat… pretty.
  • The way I pictured Minecraft in my head–based on phrases commonly uttered from my son like, “Whoa! I just blew up that dude with TNT!” or “Oh shoot, there’s a spider comin’ at me! I’m gonna die!”–was so much worse than the game’s actual images. The zombies in my head belonged in Night of the Living Dead. Instead, I found the kinda-cute Minecraft Zombie pictured above. When someone dies the screen gets reddish, but there are no gory death scenes to the extent I had envisioned.
  • It’s an opportunity–albeit a virtual one–to promote teamwork. When my son and I play together, he naturally takes on the hunter/gatherer role and I become the homemaker. Even though it’s not gory I’m still not fond of killing things. I build our shelter, and he gathers our supplies and hunts for food.
  • Most importantly is knowing that my son still wants me involved in his interests. He is my oldest child, and I know that a time will soon come when he won’t really care whether or not I like what he likes. Someday, he may be content to shut the door to his bedroom as he runs amuck in a virtual world. Or to run out the door into the real world with his friends. But for today, his face beams with pride as he escorts me around the Minecraft worlds that he so genuinely enjoys sharing with me.

Are you familiar with Minecraft? Have any tips to share? My son is still better than I am at the game, so I need all the help I can get.


Coming Out of Vacation Mode…

We have been back from our AWESOME trip to Tampa, FL for an entire week now, and yet I still feel like I’m in vacation mode. It’s hard adjusting back to life of chores, bills, and daily life when you’ve been floating around in vacation mode. It’s even more difficult to come back to reality since we’ve made a 2-year plan to officially move there… More on that decision to come in a later post.

It’s a dreary, cloudy, cold day in the Midwest today, and I’m missing the Florida sunshine and salty air coming off of the Gulf of Mexico. Visit our family vacation one more time with me through some photos we took along the way… And maybe next week I will be back to posting normal stuff. 😉

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Feel Good Friday: Cherishing The Last of My Twenties.

I’m 29 today. Every year since I can remember, I look forward to Christmas in December, and after it’s over, I have my birthday to look forward to. The New Year just slips on by, because the start of my “new year” begins just a few days later. As for celebrating my birthday, I keep it casual with a favorite meal for supper and dessert and maybe a movie or a good book and a glass of wine. I keep it simple, because I’ve learned that those are the moments when I am happiest. That being said, I do still get excited, a bit giddy even, over my birthday. It’s turning the page to the next chapter of my life, and that’s something worth celebrating, no matter how old I get. Each year is to be cherished, and while I fail at cherishing every single moment, I cherish the ones that matter most. When I look back at my 28th year of life, my first year of blogging, I notice how my stats dipped when I needed to pull out of the blogging world and spend more time cherishing those very moments.

They dipped back in April, when I developed gestational diabetes. I spent the extra time nourishing my body, taking care to track what I ate and when and how much and to check my blood sugar afterwards. Our after-supper walks as a family were some of my favorite moments that month, because my husband and son knew it was what I needed to stay healthy, and they willingly jumped on board.

My stats stayed low for the following month of May, when my sweet baby boy was born. By far, this was the biggest blessing of my year. He came unexpectedly, just as I had hoped for (I did not want to be induced, like I was with my first pregnancy!), and he was a beautiful, perfect little boy. He looked just like his older brother. He snuggled and nursed and bonded with me immediately. He made us parents all over again, and he made our oldest son a brother.

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All of the images above were taken by the lovely Heather Hoch!

There was a final dip in August, when I cherished the last few days of my son’s summer at home with me before he started Kindergarten. He is so smart and talented in so many ways.

With the exception of those months, my blogging stats have been on a steady upward trend. My blog is growing and changing with every post I write, and although I started Close Families with a general idea of what I wanted it to be, it was the readers, the followers, the comments, the feedback… all of that has helped to shape Close Families (and the writer inside of me) into what it is today, almost a year later. I want to thank you all for your kindness, your support, your friendship. It means so much to share the bits and pieces of our separate lives that are joined by one common thread: family. And not just any family, but a family that wants to be close and connected. To have a lasting, enduring bond that is strong enough to face the harsh realities of the world. I’m still learning what that means and how to achieve it, and I hope you will continue to follow our journey.

One last thing: when I started this blog and gave it a name, I was a little over halfway through my pregnancy with our baby boy. Five months away from him being diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. It wasn’t until months after that diagnosis that I made the ironic connection: Close Families… CF… Cystic Fibrosis… CF. Strange, huh? It’s a weird coincidence… or possibly a whisper of a bigger picture at hand.

Cheers to all of you for giving me a wonderful first year of blogging. I couldn’t be more excited about what my 29th year of life has in store.

Thank you, friends!


A Merry Christmas to You!

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas (or happy belated Chanukah!) from our family to yours. May your days this week be full of good news and joy.

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I Shouldn’t

I got out of bed at 6:30 this morning. I went to the kitchen for a cup of coffee, only realizing in the absence of the familiar smell of Folger’s that I hadn’t set the coffee maker the night before. Drat. I poured a glass of Cherry Pepsi instead and sat at the dining room table for my daily Bible reading. When I finished reading, I ended my morning quiet time with a prayer, asking God to wrap his protective arms around the schools throughout the country today.

I made a couple of frozen whole-grain waffles and a glass of orange juice for my six-year-old son. I took it into the bedroom and gently woke him up.

“Hey, Mister Sleepyhead, it’s time to get up. I made some syrupy-sweet waffles for my sweet big boy,” I said. I stroked his soft, blonde hair and kissed his cheek.

He opened his eyes and asked excitedly, “Waffles?”

“Yep, get up and out of bed so you can eat them!”

He jumped out of bed and sat on the floor with his waffles. I left him and went back to the kitchen to put his lunch together.  A Lunchable and a Fruit Roll-Up, two of his favorite treats. I set his lunch bag next to his backpack and went to check on him. His eyes were glued to the TV with an empty plate at his feet.

“Wow, that was fast!” I said. “Okay, get yourself dressed now, please. I’m going to go get your brother.”

As I headed out of the room, our dog started jumping and dancing at the front door. “Okay, okay,” I said. I opened the door, and she bolted past me. The click-clack of her toenails on our hardwood floors woke up the baby boy, and he started to fuss but ended it with an abrupt smile when he saw my face. “Good morning, baby boy,” I said as I picked him up and snuggled him close. “Let’s go see Bubby.”

I carried him back into the room where my oldest son should have been getting dressed, only to find him snuggled under the covers again and watching cartoons. “Son, please get dressed,” I said.

He stared at me. I stared back at him. No one moved. “Let’s go! You need to get dressed for school!” I said.

“Okay! I am!” he said, making his way slowly down to the edge of his bed where his empty clothes rested in a heap.

I left the baby boy to play on the floor and went to get myself dressed. I threw on a sweatshirt and a pair of flats, brushed my hair and teeth, and went back to check on my son’s progress.

Still wearing his PJs. Clothes still in a heap. The only change in the entire scene was bare feet instead of socked feet. I turned off the TV. “Let’s. Go. Get dressed. Now you need to hurry, or you’re going to be late for school.” I picked up the baby boy, stopped at the front door to call the dog back into the house, and got the baby boy dressed and his diaper changed. I hurried back to the room. No shirt. PJ pants. No socks.

“SON! Seriously, this is getting ridiculous! Why does it take you so long to get dressed in the mornings? I hate starting our day with me getting angry with you!” I said. Don’t do this. Don’t let this be the last conversation you have with him. I offered more gently, “Can you please just hurry and get dressed so that I can get you to school on time today?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Thank you.”

He finished getting dressed (somewhat) quickly, brushed his teeth in a reasonable amount of time, and then gave the dog food and water before we headed out the door.

“I love you,” I said on our way to his school.

“I love you too.”

We pulled up next to the sidewalk leading to the entrance to his school, and I asked him for a hug and kiss. I squeezed his little body tight and gave him a quick peck on the lips.

“Have a great day, buddy. I love you so much.”

“I will. Love you too.” He slammed the door shut, and I watched every one of his steps toward the school building. His gym teacher greeted him at the door, opened it for him, and when it closed, I lost sight of my son. Tears that I hadn’t known were forming started to flow down my cheeks in long, fast-moving streams. My heart ached. Even as I drove away, I wanted him in the car with me again. I hadn’t been sad the day I dropped him off in Kindergarten for the first time, but I was sad this morning. Sad for the world.

I shouldn’t need to pray for God to protect our children at school. I shouldn’t feel guilty about yelling at my son for taking an insane amount of time to get dressed in the morning, fearful that those might be the last words that I say to him. I shouldn’t feel terrified as I watch my son walk through the doors of his school. But I do. And if I do, I can not even imagine what a school morning feels like now to the families of Sandy Hook Elementary.


We Need a Vacation…

We need a vacation. However, it’s not the destination that I have in mind, it’s the traveling. It’s the conversations that take place when we’re confined as a family within the small space of a car, with nothing on the agenda for the day but to drive. A long, open road leads to long, open conversations.

Traveling conversations are different from everyday conversations. My husband and I talk every day. But ninety percent of our everyday conversations are about the things that happen on a daily basis. We talk about his job. We talk about the things I’ve done around the house and the things still to be done. We talk about our children and their behaviors, attitudes, well-being, and the funny things that they’ve done or said. We talk about the future by means of doctor’s appointments, events at school, or where we need to be on the weekends. Of course these kinds of conversations need to take place. If there is one thing that my husband and I have been working on in the past couple of years, it’s communication. This kind of daily communication is vital to our happy marriage and a well-functioning family.

When we travel, we leave our daily life at home, and the everyday conversation is no longer needed. The conversations become as long as the roads we travel and just as fresh as the new views from the car windows. While growing up, some of my favorite conversations with my family took place on a long trip to anywhere in the car. I heard stories of who my parents were before they were parents. I heard about my mom and her relationship with her parents and siblings–how she was a daddy’s girl, and she fought with her oldest sister who often acted like she was her mom. I heard how my grandma had the patience of a saint, and that my mom sees a lot of her personality in me. I asked many questions about my mom’s other sister who developed schizophrenia after she had three children and how it affected the rest of the family. I heard about my dad and how he was a mama’s boy and would cling to the doorframe when it was time to go to school. I found out that he played football in a small town high school and has always been a quiet guy. I learned that he met my mom on a double-date (where they were each on a date with someone else), but that they ended up together.

Before I was a mom, I lived these kinds of stories too. I want to have time to tell my husband and children all about them. That I loved a warm afternoon sitting beneath a tree with a good book. That my baby dolls and stuffed animals were some of my favorite friends and my first practice at being a mom. That my sister and I had a “secret recipe” that consisted of brown sugar, butter, and peanut butter rolled into a ball and eaten raw when our dad was a diabetic and much of our pantry was sugar-free. How my dad scared me once when he went into a low-blood sugar reaction and was talking nonsense. I want to tell them about the rush of adrenaline that kicked in when I waited with my feet in the blocks for the gun to go off at the start of a track meet, and how good it felt the few times that I was able to get my chest across the finish line first. That my husband and I spent seven years growing up just a few streets from each other, and yet we met for the first time when he walked into a bowling alley when we were twenty years old.

With the busyness of our everyday lives, there is very little time to tell them all of these stories about the girl I was before I became a mom and a wife. I want to hear my husband’s and children’s stories too. We need a vacation.

**If you liked this post, you should check out the other posts on the Yeah Write open grid this week and vote for the post you like best!**