A New Chapter

I’ve been quiet on the blog recently, which is not so unusual since I’m basically the worst blogger, but this time there was a good reason. For the last few months I’ve been looking ahead to the next year or two (or three or four), and assessing what I want to be doing, where I want to be spending my days, and what sacrifices are worth making to earn more money. After a lot of inner debate and talks with Matt, I have decided to resign from my job as an English teacher.

Because I’ve been on maternity leave since October 2014, it doesn’t feel as life-changing as it should. My plan was to return to work in September and when it came to childcare, we’d figure it out. Daycare or a nanny for Will, before care, kindergarten, and after care for Nolan, and lots and lots of money out the door. I heard repeatedly, “You’ll make it work! Everybody does it. It’s temporary.” And I told myself those things too, because they’re true! I know that if we went that route, everyone would be fine. Nolan would not be irreparably damaged from 10 hours out of the house, and Will wouldn’t forget who I am because he saw a nanny more than he saw me. But the idea of us as harried parents rushing out the door at 6:45, kids’ tantrums in the car, my guilt over missing everything at school, resentment about who does more around the house…I didn’t want to do it.

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I love teaching and I love my coworkers. Part of me is REALLY sad to not be returning to my department in September. Obviously having friends outside of work is important, but there is something special about having coworkers, built-in friends who you see every day, people you can laugh with and commiserate with over those daily shared experiences. When you don’t head to a  job every day, it’s easy to feel isolated and lonely, or to only surround yourself with one type of person (in my case, other moms of young kids).

So the decision has been made, the bosses have been notified, and the resignation letters have been mailed. Now onto the good things!

As much as I’d like to sit on the couch eating Trader Joe’s snacks and watching Gilmore Girls and Odd Mom Out, I obviously need to earn money. Oh, and take care of my kids. In these past 20 months that I’ve been home, I inadvertently got myself involved in a bunch of little projects and organizations. People who grew up with me or went to college with me know that I like to plan and organize, and I like to be in the know. So I Leslie Knoped all around town and worked with AMAZING people in my community to get full-day kindergarten in our district, and I started helping with the Greenlawn Civic Association. Do you know what both of those projects have in common? They are rewarding and wonderful, and they don’t pay me any money.

 

 

In my desire for a flexible schedule, I am incredibly lucky to have Beautycounter. I joined Beautycounter back in January of 2015 (I blogged about it here). In a nutshell, I teach people about the importance of safer beauty and personal care products and share Beautycounter’s mission and products.  Most of my work is done from home and even when it’s not, it’s sitting and talking with people over coffee, or presenting in someone’s home to a small group. It’s rewarding and fun and definitely does not feel like work. Health and wellness is something I’m passionate about and getting a paycheck for something so fun is pretty amazing.

The other opportunity that recently opened up to me is being a consultant with the Hance Family Foundation. Back in 2009, a terrible accident on the Taconic Parkway killed eight people including Emma, Alyson, and Katie Hance. Their parents started the foundation to “honor the lives of three beautiful sisters by ensuring healthy, happy, and safe children through innovative self-esteem educational programming and the support of children in need.” As a consultant I implement the Beautiful Me program, a series of workshops for girls, which focuses on self-esteem, body image, conflict resolution, etc. The program is adaptable for girls of all ages, so if you have daughters or you work in a school district and want this program, please let me know! It’s free for schools and paid for by grants, fundraising, and private sponsorship.

Without the uncertainty about the fall hanging over my head, I hope to be more focused on my family, writing, cooking, and community. I’m excited and scared and grateful you read all this.

Non-Plastic Toys Kids Actually Like

I’ve read enough granola-mom blogs and books to know how much hip parents love “handcrafted” wooden toys that are “simple” and “curated.” And listen, I am all for eliminating as much plastic from my house as possible. The more I read about plastic, the more I cringe. But finding non-plastic toys my kids actually like playing with is harder than it sounds.

When Nolan was 8 months old and we celebrated his first Christmas, I bought these adorable plain wooden teething toys on Etsy. They were not cheap. He did not play with them once, but my dog enjoyed chewing them, thereby creating dangerous splintered wooden weapons which had to be tossed.

Fast forward a few years and I’ve rounded up some of my kids’ favorite non-obnoxious toys. No plastic, no batteries, no earplugs required.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Stacking Blocks – I love that these nest and don’t take up a lot of space when they’re all together. They aren’t made of the thickest cardboard in the world, so if your kid steps on them they could bend, but we gave them to Will for Christmas and he still absolutely loves them.

Melissa and Doug Geometric Stacker –  Nolan received this as a gift when he was a toddler and now Will loves them too. I find it therapeutic to put them together!

Plan Toys Shape and Sort It Out – this is good for the 1-2 year range. Again, I like that everything can be kept in the box and Will likes that the pieces are very loud when hurled across the room.

Hape Alphabet Abacus – the description on this toy says it’s for 3-5 year olds, but I found it was popular from about 8-14 months and then again at age 2 or 3 when Nolan started recognizing letters and sounds.

Hape Fix It Toolbox – I’m cheating a little here because I think the little screws are plastic. Huge hit with Nolan when he turned 3 and he still plays with it today.  Now Will plays with it sometimes too (read: throws the screws under the couch).

What are your kids favorite toys? Share them below!

A Year with Will

It all started when I thought I peed my pants. It turned out to be my water breaking and a few hours later, Will was here. I’ve written about his birth story and Design Mom was kind enough to share it on her site. Now, we’ve had a full year with him and it has been nothing short of joyful.

IMG_3906This kid. What can I say? He loves EVERYTHING. If I had to make a list of his favorite things (aside from his family members), I would probably narrow it down to:

  1. closing doors
  2. touching the toilet
  3. putting things in the garbage
  4. eating leaves
  5. playing with (tormenting) Baxter

IMG_3930After a cranky first month or two, he has been a total dream. I’ve done things I said I’d never do like co-sleep, take selfies with him, and neglect to document any of his milestones (#secondchildproblems), but all in all, it has been a great year.

IMG_3898 One of his most remarkable qualities is how well he entertains himself. This time around we invested in a baby jail. It is multi-colored plastic and pretty much takes over our entire living room, but it’s worth it. There are times he plays by himself for over an hour in there.

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Even though the month leading up to his birth was marked by moving, unpacking, finishing renovations, and starting Nolan in a new school, his birth and my time in the hospital was actually really peaceful.
IMG_4256It was totally wild weather with torrential, hurricane-like rain as we drove to the hospital, and then unseasonably freezing temperatures during my stay and release. It was in the 20s when we headed home!

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I was lucky that I didn’t share a room for most of my time in the hospital. I have vivid memories of being alone with Will in the early morning, looking out the window at the beautiful treetops of Huntington Bay.  I can’t say enough how lovely everyone at Huntington Hospital was.
IMG_4471The hospital food? Not lovely.  Matt kindly brought me lots of my local favorites and now every time I eat those foods, I fondly think of Will’s birth. Not to make my son’s birthday sound like a Yelp review, but get yourself a Sausalito sandwich from Sapsuckers, a cappuccino from Southdown Coffee, and a chocolate croissant from Fiorello Dolce. You won’t regret it. IMG_4518

So back to Will. Smiley doesn’t begin to describe how joyful he is. Snuggly, affectionate, giggly, and so loving. Everything Nolan does makes him laugh. If he’s cranky or crying, Nolan can make a silly face and all is forgotten. If that fails, we bring him over to Baxter and Will happily “pets” him while Baxter looks at me pleadingly. IMG_4594

Seriously, couldn’t you just cuddle that all day?? I know I could! Because I have! IMG_4608

So cheers to our little one. And to another year ahead filled with his laughs and smiles. Cue the onslaught of happy baby pictures (and one crying picture)!
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The “Logic” of Baby Sleep

Unless you’re one of the lucky elite whose children started sleeping for twelve uninterrupted hours practically at birth, you have probably felt the maniacal desperation of wanting your kids to please. just. sleep. (If you are one of those lucky elite, you should probably maintain your distance from me, for your own safety.)

In the confused early moments of the morning, I find myself trying to assign logical reasons for why the baby didn’t sleep well that night. When I put my theories down on paper (computer screen?) ,I see that they sound like the musings of a lunatic, but that aptly describes most parents of young children; therefore, I present, Reasons My Kid Didn’t Sleep:

  1. The room was warm.
  2. The room was cold.
  3. He had socks on.
  4. He had no socks on.
  5. He had one sock on.
  6. I fed him a big dinner.
  7. He barely ate dinner.
  8. The white noise machine was a little loud.
  9. The white noise machine was too quiet.
  10. The nightlight was too bright.
  11. The room was too dark.
  12. He had only one pacifier in the crib.
  13. He had half a dozen pacifiers in the crib.
  14. He had a blanket on.
  15. He didn’t have a blanket on.
  16. I put him to bed.
  17. My husband put him to bed.
  18. A grandparent put him to bed.
  19. A babysitter he has never met put him to bed.
  20. A hobo off the street put him to bed.

The sad truth is I HAVE HAD ALL THESE THOUGHTS (okay, not #20). On the flip side, after a great night of sleep, I also search for a reason. Now I present, Reasons My Kid Slept Well:

  1. See above list

Tell me I’m not alone here, and that there are crazy reasons you make up??

 

 

The Bad Habit of Good Job

When I started teaching English ten years ago (how did that happen??), I noticed that kids seemed different than when I was in high school. Considering that I was 23 when I started teaching, I had only been out of high school for five years. I was perplexed, What do you mean you didn’t do your homework again? What did you think was going to happen when you cut class? If you came to extra help even once a week, your grades would improve – just show up! After a while I realized, yes, kids were maybe a little different, but really I was being exposed to a different type of student. From a young age, I loved school and learning; I took mostly AP and Honors classes in high school and that skewed my picture of the average teenager. Even though there were probably tons of kids cutting class, not doing homework, or totally flaking, I didn’t see them.

Fast forward through those ten years of teaching, and I started to notice two habits among all ranges of kids, from the ones struggling to pass, to the AP students. First, a constant need to check in and seek approval. I often give kids time to write in class and nearly every student would ask at least once during the period, “Can you read this and tell me if it’s ok?” On the one hand, it’s commendable that the kids want to do well. They want to know that they’re on the right track and accomplishing the task at hand. On the other hand, hearing, “Is this good?” twenty or thirty times over the course of a period is enough to make your head spin. The reality is maybe it’s not good, but you need to keep going anyway and if it stinks, you’ll have to spend time revising and improving.

The other habit is an inability to progress to the next step, or sometimes to even get started. Everyone encounters writer’s block sometimes, but what I’m referring to is more systemic. “Ok, I did what you said. Now what do I do?” Often the answer is on the board, in their notes, or on a worksheet.  When it’s not, it’s because I want them to figure it out. For a long time, I chalked this up to laziness. And I hear this sentiment all the time, “Kids today are lazy; they don’t want to work.” Are some kids lazy? Sure, but so are plenty of adults. It’s less about laziness and more about an inability to think for themselves. Or in some cases, maybe it’s an impatience. Raised in an era of instant everything, they don’t have the patience to think.

What do I think is the culprit behind all this? It’s Mommy and Me art.

Ok so it’s actually something I observed at Mommy and Me art. A few months ago I signed Nolan up for an art class (I use that term loosely) at a local kids’ art studio. Nolan LOVES sports and spends a ton of time being active, and I thought this would be a nice change of pace.  Each class starts with some time for the kids to play, then the teacher reads a story and demonstrates the project they will work on. Then the kids go to their easels and get cracking. The first project involved sticking colored strips of tape to their papers and then painting.

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If you were a fly on the wall, here is what you would have heard:

Good job!

Let’s fix this tape.

Good job!

Why don’t you put the tape here?

Good job! 

Beautiful!

Put some yellow at the top.

Good job!

Put the tape like this.

Good job!

Paint the blue on the bottom.

Good job!

Fill in this spot here.

Amazing!

Aaaaaaaaand therein lies our problem. Fast forward ten years and put those kids in ninth grade and what do you get? Is this good? Can you check this? Now what do I do? What should I do next? I don’t know what to do.

I am confident that us moms were not trying to make museum-worthy masterpieces or get their kids into Parsons. Although I’m probably sounding ultra-judgmental at this point, I really don’t mean to be. I think as parents we sometimes can’t help ourselves. I don’t know if we’re bored, or uncomfortable with silence, or afraid our little ones are going to feel sad, but we can’t shut up. I catch myself doing it all the time and have to make a conscious effort to zip it sometimes.

There has been a lot of buzz in recent years over the “right” way to praise kids. Much of that buzz stems from Po Bronson’s 2007 New York Magazine article, “How Not to Talk to Your Kids.” A few years later, the essay became the first chapter of the book NurtureShock (which is a really interesting and fast read!). The school of thought behind most of the writing about this is that instead of empty praise (Good job! Great!) or praising the end result (I’m so proud you got an A!), it’s more effective to praise the process or actual task (I’m so proud of how hard you studied! You shared so nicely!).  While I agree with them 100%, I think for a lot of parents and caregivers, it’s not just the words they’re using, it’s the frequency. I’m not exaggerating when I say I must have heard “Good job” 40 times during that one-hour art class.

So how about we stop talking so much? I’m not saying withhold all praise, but is getting your cereal out of the cabinet really worthy of a compliment? A year after being potty-trained, is every pee deserving of celebratory clapping? I want my kids to follow instructions not because I’m always going to praise them for it, but because it feels good to do the right thing or accomplish a task.  And most importantly, let your kids paint their own pictures.

More Chats with a Four-Year-Old

A while back, I shared some of the darling nuggets Nolan has said recently. Well, the list continues…

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He doesn’t quite understand the concept of secrets just yet. (See also: he hides in plain sight during hide and go seek.)

Me: How was school today?

Nolan: Not good…

Me: Why? What happened??

Nolan: Well, I can’t tell you.

Me: What can’t you tell me?

Nolan: Well, I can’t tell you that I had to go sit at the table because I was playing too rough with Ethan.


Nolan: Guess where I’m going with Daddy?!?!

Me: I don’t know, where?

Nolan: I’ll give you a hint! (Now shout-whispering in my ear) THE HOCKEY RINK!!!


On this day, Nolan demonstrated why the money spent on a kids’ art class is money well-spent:

Me: What was your favorite part of art class today?

Nolan: When I ate my granola bar.


One day in art the kids used Q-tips to trace designs in their paintings.

Me: Tell Daddy about what you did today in art.

Nolan: I used ear wax to make designs!


While eating a burger, he shows that nutrition is of paramount importance to him:

Nolan: Well I’m not liking this part. (He points to the burger.) I’m just liking the ketchup, the cheese, and the bread.


Nolan: Miss Michelle doesn’t eat meat.

Me: Oh, is she a vegetarian?

Nolan: No! She’s a teacher!


Me (pointing to some guacamole): Do you want to try some of this?

Nolan: No thank you. I don’t eat broccamole.


Even at the ripe old age of four, he sometimes has trouble keeping different body parts straight.

Nolan: Why do I have this nipple on my leg?

Me: Um, excuse me?

Nolan: This nipple, here, on my leg.

Me: The word for that is freckle.

 

 

Will’s Birth Story

I’m so honored and excited that my birth story is featured on Gabrielle Blair’s blog Design Mom. Gabrielle is a rockstar in the blogging world and a mother of six (!!!!!!). She also recently published a lovely book called Design Mom: How to Live with Kids: A Room-by-Room Guide. It has tons of wonderful ideas and strategies for keeping a house kid-friendly while still being beautiful and functional.

Back in 2011, she published Nolan’s birth story, and last week, Will’s made its debut! Will’s birth took a completely different route than Nolan’s did, and you can read all about it here.

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