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


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.

Organizing Your Child’s School Work

Ever since school started in August, my son has been bringing home a small collection each week of the school work that he is accomplishing. This may be letting the inner-geek in me show a bit, but I love paperwork! I still remember how fun it was to do various worksheets at school, to get a sticker or a star or a stamp of approval from my teacher, and then tote it home to mom and dad to show off what I’d done. It was fun to me! (And yes, I was definitely a “teacher’s pet” in school and proud of it!) 🙂 Although my son doesn’t seem to be quite as excited about doing that sort of work at school (It’s more like “Here, Mom,” as he tosses over a stack of papers and runs away in search of his football), he does well in the work that he brings home, and I am proud of it. I’m proud of his accomplishments, big or small. And with this being his first year of school, it’s hard for me not to hold onto every piece of paper that he brings home.

So I began putting them in a neat little pile on our dining room table. And the pile grew. And grew. And grew. It’s amazing how big that stack grew in just one month! And it wasn’t just his stack of school papers that began accumulating. I started adding other piles to the table for insurance paperwork and paperwork from doctor’s visits. Small toys somehow started ending up on the dining table as well. A camera. Playing cards. Batteries. A broken X-Box system. It seems to be a scientific fact that if you add even the smallest amount of clutter to a space, the clutter will just keep multiplying. Our dining table quickly became a dumping ground, and my son’s schoolwork simply got lost in the clutter. I was devaluing something that I truly valued and wanted to preserve.

So this week, I’ve saved my dining table and my son’s  school work at the same time. I purchased an inexpensive expandable folder, and I started going through the pile, choosing my favorite pieces to keep and tossing the rest in the trash. As much as I love all of his little worksheets and art projects, it’s simply not practical to keep all of it. Having a set amount of space to organize his school work is important, because it keeps my paperwork hoarding tendencies at bay.

After I narrowed the paperwork down to the pieces I thought were the most meaningful, I wrote little descriptions and dates on them. Years from now, my son and I may not remember the significance of the pieces or what made us so inclined to keep them, so adding this step will help jog the memory.

I then labeled the expanding folder tabs with Preschool-5th grade.


And put my son’s school work in the Kindergarten slot.

Since we are only a month into the school year, and there is not an enormous amount of space in the expanding folder, I may need to look through the selection from time to time and pull out more pieces that may not be as significant to keep. Holding on to it for a while first allows me to gain some distance from each piece. For instance, when he brings a cute little cut-and-paste worksheet, it seems like something I have to keep. But as the school year goes on, and we have ten similar worksheets, I will be able to narrow it down to only a couple of worksheets within the same category. By the end of the school year, we will have a nicely organized collection of all of his accomplishments for his first year of school, and my dining table can stay clutter-free!

Do you have a place that has become a “dumping ground” in your home? How do you preserve and organize your child’s school work?

Small Child, Big Heart

If I gave you a mirror, a pencil, some crayons, and a piece of white paper along with the instructions to draw a picture of yourself, what would you draw? If it were me, I would start with the basic shapes. I would trace the oval outline of my head, then my neck, and then my square, broad shoulders. I’d outline my eyes, making them large, round, and brown. I’d add a nose, slightly long and wide and a bit pointy at the end. I’d add small, thin lips with just a touch of pink, along with thick, reddish-brown eyebrows, and brown freckles dotting my peach-colored face all over. I’d add ears, but then cover them with reddish-brown hair, flowing downward in wavy strands and coming to rest just past the tops my shoulders. If I were to add the rest of my body to the paper, it would be somewhat short, with a boxy, athletic (although not very toned) shape. And finally, I would add a black “Rise Against” T-shirt and a pair of grey gym shorts (ready for a workout after I blog).

Would your process be similar to mine? Some might add a background. Their home? Their family? Their job? Their pets? Maybe some would draw their favorite hobbies such as a book in hand, or sitting at a computer, or going for a hike in the woods.

How do you picture yourself?

My son was faced with this assignment during his first art class in his first week of school. Here is what he came up with:

He got all of the essentials in there (except, where did his ears go?). His blonde hair was spiked up with gel that day, and he captured his big blue eyes and adorable smile. He put five fingers on each hand and five toes on each foot. As his background, he surrounded himself in a place of happiness: his own backyard with his dog (our dog is three-legged), his cat, trees, grass, a blue sky, and the sun shining down on him as he plays. But if you look at his torso, he added something that never would have occurred to me to put into my own self-portrait: his heart. When he pulled his self-portrait out of his backpack to show me, the heart was one of the first things I noticed, and I was taken aback by its presence.

I pointed to the heart, and I asked him, “Can you tell me about this?”

“It’s my heart,” he said. Plain and simple.

“Could you see your heart in the mirror?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “But I just wanted to draw it.”

There are other things in his portrait that he couldn’t see in the mirror, but those things I didn’t question. The things he put in his background didn’t make my heart swell or the gears in my brain start turning. I probably would have surrounded my self-portrait with things that I enjoy as well. But I never would have included my heart.

Would you have thought to put your heart in your self-portrait?

As a parent, I have found that my son often teaches me much more than I can teach him. Sure, I may have more knowledge, but give him enough time, and he will accumulate the same knowledge and then some. The day he brought home his self-image on paper, with his heart so bold and evident, he made me wonder: what happened to my own heart? Why would I leave out something so vital to my life and my well-being? To him, it wasn’t something profound or deeply thought about. It was just there. It was his heart. It was a part of him. It needed to be expressed just as much as his eyes or nose or mouth. And yet, to me, his simple art project has shaken me to a thought: I give love to those around me, but am I keeping enough for myself?

Had I drawn a picture of my children and husband or doodled their names onto paper, I probably would have surrounded them in cute little hearts. I show my love for them (although not always as much as I should), and that is important. But we need to keep a little bit of that love and continually pour it onto ourselves. I’m not talking about being selfish or self-centered, but to have self-love and confidence. We need to love ourselves so much, that you can see that love when we look at ourselves in the mirror. If we can do that, if we can keep our hearts showing through to the outside, then it’s almost impossible not to give love to the people around us. We need to find a way to preserve that childlike self-love, so that our children will never lose theirs.

<;3 Make your heart show today. <;3

How I Make the Most of My Day

When my big boy started Kindergarten last Tuesday, I suddenly had much more free time during the day. My little one is now three months old, and while he is becoming more awake, alert, and aware of his surroundings every day, he still spends several hours during the day resting his quickly growing body and brain. With my oldest son at home this summer, I spent much of those hours playing, eating, talking, and cuddling with him. Now that I have those hours to spend as I wish, I decided I needed a tool that would keep me on task.

For those of you with the super-organized, no-amount-of-time-is-wasted, Type A personalities, you are way ahead of me on this concept. Without the presence of a full-time job or a five-year-old to determine how I spend my time, it’s almost overwhelming for me to have such freedom. And also counter-productive. I have about a hundred different projects, chores, and ideas that I could begin on any given day, but without some sort of organizational tool, I can’t seem to focus on any one task in particular, and my day ends with laundry in the washer but never dried or put away, halfway washed dishes, and the bathroom torn apart, because I started reorganizing our toiletries, but never quite finished…

Hence, I went back to a concept that I learned years when I sold Mary Kay products for extra cash. As part of the training process, my leaders taught me to use a tool that Mary Kay herself used. It’s called “The Five Most Important Things.” Every day, Mary Kay used to make a list of the five things she knew she needed to get done that day. Whether is was chores around the house, things to do for her family, tasks to push her business forward, or for her own personal development, she wrote down the top five things that she needed to accomplish that day, and she made sure that she did those five things. Because that’s the kicker. You can make plans and utilize the best organizational, task management tools that are out there, but if you don’t actually see to it that those things are accomplished, then the time you spent thinking about, writing, typing, or organizing those tasks was wasted.

So last week, I found a spare spiral notebook, made my five most important things list, and I made sure that I got those things done before it was time to pick my son up from school. Not only did this help clear up my evening and weekends to spend more quality time with my big boy and husband, but the house has been cleaner, and I have a greater sense of accomplishment. I look at those five things crossed out at the end of the day and give myself a mental pat on the back. It takes away stress, and gives me more time to focus on things that are truly important to me: my family.

A quick way to get organized. No fancy print-out needed. 🙂

Here’s a little glimpse into my weekdays:

6:30am-Wake up time for myself and my big boy. Snuggle and watch cartoons.

7:00am-Breakfast, getting dressed, brushing teeth, combing hair.

7:30am-Leave for school.

7:40am-Drop of my big boy with a hug and a kiss.

8:00am-Mommy and Baby time. Nursing, intriguing conversations, peek-a-boo.

9:15am-Baby’s “poundings” (a treatment for his CF)

9:30am-Baby takes a nap. Mommy starts tackling that list!

11:00am-Baby wakes up! Mommy stops whatever task she is doing to nurse and play with baby.

1:00pm-Baby gets sleepy again. Mommy rocks him to sleep and gets back to her list.

3:00pm-Daddy comes home. Dog barks and wakes up baby. Mommy nurses him, and keeps him entertained while Daddy has some post-work destressing/showering time to himself.

3:35pm-Daddy is calm, cool, and collected. He takes Baby, and Mommy goes to picks up her big boy from school.

Let’s be realistic. My day doesn’t always go quite this smoothly. That two hour afternoon nap sometimes ends up only lasting thirty minutes. Sometimes I’m holding my little guy in my arms while I blog, because he’d rather sleep there than in his crib (or my bed, or the swing, or the vibrating bouncy seat.) Sometimes I play peek-a-boo with my little guy using our clean clothes as I fold them. Sometimes I may only get three or four of the things on my list done. Sometimes I get them all done by noon. It’s just as important for me to be flexible as it is for me to have a plan. Without a plan, I may start everything but finish nothing. With flexibility, any little setback can leave me frustrated or stressed. Like all things in our lives, a healthy balance is key.

Another thing that has a big impact on my day is television. I can be a TV junky at times, and having a decent amount of time to myself everyday, it is tempting to plop on the couch and start flipping channels. For that reason (and to keep my little guy exposed to the least amount of TV as possible) the TV mostly stays off during the day. I may watch The Price Is Right while sorting through worn or outgrown clothes to donate to charity, or I may watch a recorded episode of Project Runway while I eat lunch and blog, but 80% of my daytime hours are TV-free.

Last, but definitely not least, is that I make a little time for myself during the day. Things that will make me feel good about myself. Most days, this is time to read the Bible and pray or reflect during my son’s morning nap, and time to exercise in the afternoon (or vice-versa if I want to go for a run with the jogging stroller. It’s still too hot in the Midwest afternoons for me to run outdoors!) I think it’s important for our well-being and as models to our children to make time for ourselves every day. If we are constantly putting everything else in our lives first, that’s what we teach our kids to do. Our physical and mental health suffers when we don’t give them a high priority rating.

Obviously, I left out a detailed description of how I spend my time when my little one is awake. You can look forward to that later this week! We’ve been having a lot of fun. 🙂

How do you make the most of your time?