Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Wednesday Morning Meltdown

Natalie threw it down today at gymnastics.

It was big, ugly and embarrassing.

And of course it all happened on the day her beloved Nonna came with camera in hand to watch Natalie do gymnastics.

And it was an epic, epic, EPIC fail.

Tears upon entering, then a refusal to do any sort of warm-up which led to me having to go into the gym area and sit against the wall so she would do the activity.  I wasn't pleased with her non-compliance and with having to be THAT mom sitting in the gym, but at least she wasn't crying anymore.

But then it came to the end of class.  Ugh.

She followed another little girl out of the gym for whatever reason and came to sit with me.  Shortly after sitting in my lap the class began gathering together for their end-of-class game which is always finished with a stamp on the hand for each gymnast.

Of course, she wanted to go back in to play the I let her.

But then she came right back out.

And then wanted to go back in.

Oh no.  I was having NONE of that so I looked her square in the eye and told her to make a choice - either go into the gym and play the game or put her shoes on to go home.  She ran excitedly back into the gym....and then promptly laid down on a mat with tears in her eyes.

Done.  I was done.

I marched in there, picked her up off the mat and informed her it was time to go home and that there would be NO stopping at Chick Fil-A today.  And if that didn't upset her enough, as I was putting on her shoes, she saw all the kids lining up to get their stamps.  Not upsetting in and of itself obviously, but she was absolutely pushed over the edge when I told her that she was not getting a stamp today.

Wherever you are right now as you read this...I'm sure you could hear her wails.  I was the WORST.  MOMMY.  EVER.  because I didn't let her get the stamp.  Was that a little harsh for a two-year-old?  Perhaps some people might say so, but in my world-view...if you don't do the work, then you don't get to reap the rewards.  Parenting for the next eighteen years compared to the next five minutes.  Sounds good on paper but sometimes the most difficult thing to enforce.

But it was so hard.  Because she was so outrageously angry.  And my mother was there to see the whole thing go down.  Natalie screamed on the way home - "Nastics!  Stamp!"  She was begging for a re-do - an opportunity to go back and do what she knows she is supposed to do.

The fit carried the entire way back home, into the house and didn't stop until Craig came home from running errands.  He was able to get her calmed down, allowed me time to eat dinner in relative solitude and then took her upstairs for a much needed nap.  By the time she finished her lunch and was heading to night-night there were lots of hugs, kisses and "I'm sorry, Momma" given out - obviously she was ready to move on from the morning's meltdown.  Me on the other hand?  I'm still shaking.  My jaw aches from being clenched and my legs feel like I just ran 10 miles because I was tensed up for the entire saga.

I felt (feel?!) like an utter failure as a parent.  And yes, I know that the other parents there have all been through similar tantrums like Natalie's,'s just different when it's YOUR child that's being carried out of the building screaming like a banshee and flailing like a fish washed up on shore.

One of the biggest things I have always struggled with in my life is my pursuit of perfection.  I expect it of myself, of others and now, apparently from Natalie.  Well, it's not that I expect HER to be perfect, but I expect her to behave appropriately because I'M "perfect" and instilling the right values and expectations in her.  So by that measure, I failed today because I didn't set her up for success or respond appropriately to her emotions in a way that would encourage her to finish the class.

I know, I know, I KNOW.  She's a toddler.  They do things like this.  It's just a phase.  We can't always control everything they do and we can only control our reactions to them.

I understand all that - heck, I even BLOGGED about that last sentence awhile back when I talked about technology.  But understanding it from an outsider's point of view and being right there in the thick of it are two entirely different things.

Of course after Craig got her down for a nap, he came downstairs to talk and I immediately swore off ever taking her to another gymnastics class FOREVER AND EVER, AMEN.  Because THAT'S how angry, frustrated and embarrassed I was at her behavior.

But in reality, I'm terrified.  I'm scared at how much I wanted for her to behave and be GOOD at gymnastics.  I'm completely aware of how neurotic I'm being about a two-year-old's extracurricular activity.  I get that I'm just a teensy bit insane for worrying this much about something that in the grand scheme of things will be terribly inconsequential.  But I'm afraid of how much worse it's going to get as I watch her grow up, try out for sports teams, get cut out from a group of friends, struggle with schoolwork...  It's not that I want to protect her from everything that is bad, but I want her to be the kind of kid that just naturally excels at stuff because I was that kind of person.  School, sports and friends came pretty easily to me.  Of course, there were bumps along the road but for the most part, I didn't struggle learning concepts, getting playing time or maintaining friendships.  I want that for her because from experience, it's a pretty sweet life to live.


I should probably relax and have a cocktail to take the edge off.

So in closing...she will be going to gymnastics next week.  It will be my 30th birthday so I might just let Craig take her while I go get my nails done.

But more than that, I think days like today are ultimately for the best.  It causes me to reexamine my own parenting decisions as well as the motivation from those decisions.  I'm forced to explore the reason WHY this incident bothered me so much - was it strictly from frustration, why did I feel embarrassed, what do I really expect from a toddler?  It's these questions that are going to help propel me to parent Natalie more thoughtfully and with a broader view of the type of woman I want to raise.  Of course I want her to be a remarkable young lady but I also know that if I put too much pressure on her that I will crush her spirit and cause such deep resentment from her to me.  As much as it is against my nature, I must step back and allow her the freedom and luxury of making a mistake and then learning from it in order to become a better person.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Age Is Just A Number

One week from tomorrow I will turn 30.  

And this does not cause me any concern.

My twenties have been absolutely amazing but I also know that life doesn't stop being amazing just because of a number change.

In the past ten years, I have...

Dated many of the wrong men in a quest to find the right man, but in the process I kept my friends highly entertained with my dating adventures.

Traveled to Europe three times - once with my parents, another with a high school girlfriend and the final time with my husband.

Gained a certain understanding of the many facets of L-O-V-E.

Lived on my own for two and a half glorious years of freedom, independence and lots and lots of partying.

Continued nurturing old friendships and created new ones that will last the upcoming years.

Adopted two dogs who desperately needed homes and have become such an integral and comforting part of my life.

Met, dated and married my best friend who keeps me giggling most days and safe all the time.

Coached and mentored countless number of girls through seven volleyball season.

Delighted in raising a daughter and discovering the different aspects of her sweet spirit everyday.

Been to the brink of self-destruction but determinedly fought my way back.

A few years ago I went to the 30th birthday of a friend of mine and everyone asked her the inevitable question - was she sad about turning thirty and leaving her twenties behind...

Her thoughtful answer has always stuck with me.

She talked about the turbulence of her twenties, the transition from college student, to teacher to wife and then to mother.  There was so much change and so many "who am I" questions to answer.  But about her thirties, she expressed that she knows who she is - she is a wife, she is a mother and she is a follower of Christ.  Her core being is stable and secure.


This is where I'm at.

I started my twenties as a frivolous college student, searching for the next hot guy and the next greatest party.  I struggled with the transition to the working world as a teacher - desperately trying to keep my weekend persona separate from my weekday responsibilities.  I met my husband, got tired of the bar scene and spent my weekends just hanging out and falling in love.  We bought a house, got married, had a daughter and weathered the storm of PPD.  

And I am.

On the doorstep to my thirties and I'm excited.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Let It Be

When it comes to that proverbial fork in the road, I have no problem choosing a path and then staying the course.  I will not look back nor will I second guess.  I trust my gut and stubbornly see it through even if the path I chose is riddled with snakes, shadows and stickers.  It might not be the path everyone else would have chosen and rarely is it the easiest path...but it's MY path and I'm always bound and determined to prove to people that there is a light at the end of any tunnel.

My life has always had a plan and a path to follow.  From going to college to getting a job and then settling down to get married and have a child.  I've checked off all the MAJOR life decisions that must be what comes next?

I feel like we are sitting in purgatory.  No path to follow and no course to take.  We're just sitting here stagnant and for the longest time, this is what I thought I wanted.  Well, I DO want my little family of Craig, Natalie and the pups but I'm not completely sold on the fact that the busy suburbs are where we are supposed to be.

And then you add in the weird place that Craig is in right now.  He is a wonderfully talented and incredibly intelligent basketball coach - he has the perfect mixture of a deep understanding of the more technical aspects of basketball and the ability to nurture, inspire and lead his girls to become not just strong basketball players, but good all-around athletes.  I love watching him coach because by knowing him so well, I can almost see the wheels turning as he paces the side line with his hands behind his back and his eyebrows furrowed.  But I'm not sure if he's completely satisfied with the career he has carved out for himself at this point in time.

This is what frustrates me.  I can't solve this problem for him.  I can't tell him what to do, how to do it or when he needs to do it.  

I hate feeling helpless.  I hate not having a plan.

Friday night as I was driving home from his basketball tournament, I turned on the Pandora on my iPhone and just prayed that God would put the perfect song in rotation - one that whose message would soothe my anxious soul and help me calm my frizzy brain.

This is what came blaring through the speakers.

I might have teared up a bit as "when you find yourself in times of trouble..." floated throughout my car.

Okay.  There were lots of tears.

So that is the message God wanted me to hear.  To LET.  IT.  BE.  To give Craig the time and space to figure out his own life while I just serve as his faithful and supportive wife.  

My heart calmed a bit.

And then a second thought occurred to me.  What a selfish and ungrateful person I am.  Here I am, about to embark on the dream job I had my sights set on when I graduated from college eight years ago. This math job is the result of thousands of prayers and mindful faithfulness over the past few years and I'm practically ready to throw it away with both hands because I want something different.

In that moment, I sat completely humbled in my car and remembered my place in this universe.  My job is not to make demands but instead to be grateful for the unbelievable gifts God has bestowed upon me. So I am shutting my mouth, opening my heart and waiting for God to unveil the next step in my family's His perfect time and with His unwavering grace. 

Back to School!

Apparently I've been posting about the new school year entirely too much on Facebook because I was called out by my fellow teachers to basically...shut the hell up about "back to school."  But what can I say?  I'm totally, genuinely, 100% excited about my new adventures in the classroom.  Of course I'm anticipating those moments when I'm sitting at my desk with my head in my hands and tears in my eyes, desperately wishing for the simpler days when all I worried about was a practice plan for volleyball.  I'm not under any illusions that this adventure I'm about to embark upon is going to be easy, carefree or devoid of any bumps in the road.

But for the past seven years I have started the year with a certain sense of dread - dreading the fact that I will, for the next two months, be required to arrive at school at 7:15 and on game nights I will not be leaving until 9:00 or so.  I'm just excited about having the CHOICE to leave at 4:15 if it's been a long day and I'm just ready to get the hell out of dodge and go see my family.

So in my excitement, I've been hitting up Pinterest to see what kinds of cool ideas I can start implementing in my own classroom this year.

Remind 101: An easy way to send out a mass text from an anonymous phone number to all my students and teachers about upcoming assignments, important dates or tests.

THINK: A great message for kids about their digital citizenship.

Teacher's Assistant Pro: An easy way to keep track of attendance, tardies and general behavior in my class.  Great for parent-teacher emails, phone calls and conferences - much easier than writing it all down!

Modpodge Printables: While coaching, I was the queen of clever sayings that made it easy for my girls to remember exactly what I expected from them.  This would be a great way to continue those sayings and bring them into the classroom.

Scrap Fabric Curtains: Oh yes...these are definitely going up in my room.  I am terrible at sewing so I think this will be MUCH easier for me to complete in order to add some pizazz to my classroom!

T-shirt Canvases: Tossing out my team t-shirts is going to be the HARDEST thing for me to do because with every t-shirt comes along memories of that year's team and games.  So instead of throwing them all out when they get worn, how cool would it be to display them around my room?

Albert Einstein Quote: This is one of my favorite quotes because I think it really emulates the direction modern education is going.  I HAVE to realize that every child is coming to us with such different abilities and it is my responsibility to make sure they are learning in a manner that helps them understand. 

Fair is NOT Equal: Again, another quote...but this one is super important for kids to learn.

Printable Binder Covers: I've got three fabulous girls heading up Student Council this year and I want to set the tone for how the year is going to go.  I'm putting together exec binders for the girls that will be kept in the StuCo room and since I've got those three girls - why not go super cute and girly with the covers?

I promise not everything I've got planned for the year involves cute decor and sayings - that's just all the fun stuff about being a teacher!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Online Shopping

I'm not that big of a clothes shopper to begin with, honestly.  I'm a shop-by-necessity kind of girl which is pretty much in line with my personality.  I like to see things in person and know that if I'm going to spend money on something that it's going to be a good, solid buy.  Since I've got a kind of unique body with such my long torso, small bust and athletic hips & thighs, I'm really hesitant to buy clothing items online that might not fit real great in person.  

In order for my to purchase an item of clothing, it has to be the right fit, the right price AND be totally versatile in my wardrobe.  By that standard, I don't have a TON of clothes in my closet but what I do have easily transitions from dress to casual wear and can be worn with a variety of layerable clothes and jewelry.  

But at the prodding of many of my friends AND the lure of great deals on fabulous products, I downloaded both Groupon and Zulily apps to my phone and began shopping.  At first I just perused the offers without ever really purchasing anything - it was more or less the excitement of window shopping without having to leave my house.  

But today I took a leap of faith and made not one, but THREE online purchases!

I'm still super leery of buying clothes for me through Zulily just because they don't have a return policy and I'm so particular about the fit of clothes on my long torso but you can't really go wrong with shoes...especially when they're only $15 each!  I'm going to need some basic and comfortable shoes for teaching that will go with a multitude of outfits from fall to winter and all the way into spring.
Tan flats go with everything and I really like the gold detail on the toe.

At first glance just another pair of plain silver flats, but I really like the spikes on the end that will add some umph when they stick out from under my dress pants.

The only thing that bugs me a little bit about Zulily is that they place their arrival time of products at around two weeks.  I know, I know...first world problems, right?

One of the perks about being a teacher and having the summers off is that I get to take advantage of weekday prices AND smaller crowds when going to do fun things with Natalie.  A few days ago I received an email from a friend inviting a large group of ladies and their littles to a variety of fun stuff she is doing with her sweet nieces.  Some of the stuff was a bit too "old" for Natalie (pedicures, Jonas Brothers concert) but a big room full of trampolines?!  Absolutely perfect for an active little gymnast like Natalie.  A mass email was sent out about a Groupon for 50% admission for two hours of jumping at Urban Air in Southlake and I figured this was the best time for me to bite the bullet and make a purchase through the app that I scan through every day.

It took me a little long to get things situated with purchasing the tickets and then making sure we were signed up through the Urban Air website for the correct time and date with our friends.  Trampolines is definitely Natalie's favorite time during gymnastics class so I know that she will be totally excited to have a room full of trampolines and tons of new friends to play with.

But I'll admit, I'm almost a little afraid of how much I'm going to enjoy these Zulily shoes because it will only empower me to do MORE online shopping!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Adventures in Toddlerhood

Parenting an almost two and a half year old is sometimes like living in a perpetual hurricane.  There's always the calm that comes along with the eye of the storm, but it's an uneasy things are going TOO well and that in just a few short moments, the roof is about to be blown off your house and the entire Pacific Ocean will come crashing through the windows.

Craig and I have weathered the toddler storm fairly well so far, but with Natalie quickly gaining vocabulary and A MIND OF HER OWN (how dare she!), the storms we are experiencing have recently taken on a bit more...hilarity.


The other day I was craving not a glass of wine or a cold beer, but a cocktail.  Vodka and Sprite to be exact.  I also had to run to the grocery store and Natalie was tagging along so at the ripe old age of two and a half...she made her first trip to the liquor store.  Upon entering the store she saw all the rows of wine bottles and exclaimed, "Momma buy wine?"  Sheesh.

But the hilarity doesn't end there.  Oh no.  This was a VERY entertaining trip to the liquor store.

While I was perusing the vodka bottles she began to touch some of the merchandise and I admonished her, "no touching - we don't touch!"  She complied but shortly thereafter I picked up a bottle from the shelf and she was quick to remind me, "no touching Momma!"  Of course this was said with a hand on her hip and in her perfect Momma/teacher voice.  I looked at her skeptically, one eye raised and let her know that "I'm an adult so I can touch whatever I want."  Obviously unimpressed, she hiked up her skirt to show off her delicate Ariel panties and declared, "I an 'dult.  I a big girl!"



Bedtime with Natalie is probably my LEAST favorite part of the day.  She fights the good fight almost every single night and although I easily resist her pleas of "Momma lay down?" Craig is a big old softie and can't help but snuggle and cuddle and rock and pat Natalie whenever she wants and for however long it takes to get her to sleep.

But that's another topic of discussion entirely.

Tonight was no different with her wails of "no night-night" beginning as soon as Craig placed her into bed at 8:30 after having rocked and read two books.  Eventually the cries quieted down and we figured she had finally drifted off to sleep and we were free to pursue our late night adventures in reality television and selling baseball cards online.

Oh no.

At 9:30 we hear a little voice piping up from the room at the end of the hall.  "Daddy?  DADDY?!"

Sweet mother of pearl.  You have GOT to be kidding me.  What is she doing awake!?

Come to find out...she has been sitting in her rocking chair, reading books to herself by the light of her nightlight on her alarm clock.  For an hour.

So I coach Craig on what television's Super Nanny taught me to do.  Go into her room, leave the lights out and don't say a word while putting her gently back into bed with a loving pat.  Exit quickly and repeat if necessary.

Obviously she gets up and cracks open the door to her bedroom enough for her beady little eyes to see what's going on down the hall.  I turn the corner to face her door while simultaneously putting on my "Momma's not happy face."  She slams the door shut and all I hear are the rapid pattering of feet racing back to bed followed by the twang of the mattress coils as she leaps under the covers.

This happens twice.

Sneaky is not a word I would use to describe my two-year-old.


Dinner has lately become a case of Whack-a-Mole where Craig and I spend a large amount of time convincing Natalie to stay in her seat and eat her meal.  Perhaps it's a case of extraneous energy but she wants to be dancing, rolling and hopping while ingesting her carrots, strawberries and green beans.

Tonight was no different and after her second escape from and reluctant return to the table, I looked her in the eyes and told her that if she got up ONE.  MORE.  TIME.  that she would be done eating for the night.  Sure enough within minutes she was off and cavorting around the house so I pushed her plate to the sink as a sign that she was D-O-N-E with dinner and that Momma meant business.

As I was cleaning up the dishes I heard her patter of feet behind me and when I glanced back, a peculiar sight caught my eye.  Natalie standing in the corner of the dining room with her head down and her hands up under her chin.

Suspicious behavior, to say the least.

I went over and checked on her but even though her answers were mumbled...they were dripping with guilt and remorse.  But more importantly than that, she smelled delicious.  Far better than ANY two-year-old should smell at the end of a hot summer day.  And familiar.  Her scent triggered a memory so I searched the floors, looking for a strewn bottle of my lotion that she might have snatched from my purse.  

Nothing was amiss so I returned to the culprit for a deeper interrogation.  It didn't take much prodding until the truth escaped her lips, "soap - bathroom - sorry Momma."  

A-ha.  Sure enough, her hands were coated in whatever flavor of Bath and Body Works soap I have sitting on the counter in the downstairs 1/2 bath.  Since she had already punished herself by shoving her face into the corner, I just said, "whenever you think you're done with time-out, you may come and talk to me about this."

Bless her sweet heart.


But for all of her hijinks, her tantrums and her stubbornness...I adore her.  Every single inch of her - from the top of her curly, summer sun highlighted hair down past her belly which is a delightful mixture of lean, little girl and round little baby, through her brown and perpetually bruised legs and all the way to her little toddler toes.

I just love her.  Everything that she is and even the things that she is not.

Watching Kate and William display their precious bundle of joy to the world today stirred up fond and emotional memories in me.  Sure, it was only a few years ago, but I know the mixture of emotions that goes along with holding the most innocent of gifts in your arms, terrified of screwing it all up but simultaneously excited for the journey you are about to take.

This season that we are in right now...this is the season I imagined when I was pregnant.  The times when Craig and I would be able to giggle and glance at each other with that look that only two people can share about their child.  No one can love her like we do.  No one will know her like we do.

When we look at this little girl we see ourselves, the generations that came before and the future stretched out in front of us.

I see my grandmother's gray-blue eyes paired with my wide, genuine grin.

From her head sprout Craig's curly blond locks that hang over her olive brown skin that's so obviously inherited from the Italian side of my family.

There's her long and lean body and I am no longer ashamed of being tall and athletic - I am proud.  I created her.  I created the body with which she runs, jumps, gallops and rolls.

And then there are the pieces of her that are unique and devoid of any family relation.  The moments that are purely NATALIE...those are the ones that I delight in the most because it allows me to see the independent individual Craig and I created.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Princess Complex

As Natalie quickly sheds all signs of babyhood and sprints towards her preschool years, Craig and I are finding ourselves swimming through uncharted waters as we begin to dip into the Disney princess pond.

Apparently, there are people out there that have a lot to say about a little girl's obsession with princesses and everything pink or sparkly.  It's damaging to their self-esteem, one says.  Another bemoans the fact that girls are being set up for unrealistic relationship expectations.  And then there is the camp that believes it shortchanges the capabilities of young women.

And I think to myself...they're just movies.  Cartoon characters on a screen, acting out a pretty predictable story.

I had no idea the beloved movies of my youth were so controversial in today's parenting expert and feminist circles.  But then again, that was the 80s and I do believe that the movie and character marketing scheme was not quite the economical juggernaut back then that it is today.

Sure, I had an Ariel nightgown and played mermaids in the pool with my best-friend Kate....but that's kind of where our obsession stopped.  We understood that the movie we loved to watch was just that - pure entertainment.  It was something fun to watch and use to play imaginatively, but certainly not a lifestyle to which we aspired to live.  Today there are aisles of toy stores devoted to everything pink, sparkly and princessy.  But just because there are those toys available, it doesn't mean that I have to purchase them for my daughter.

I guess my issue with the backlash against Disney princesses is this - why are these critics so quick to underestimate and devalue the importance of the parents in the molding of a young girls self-esteem, values and strength of character?

My views of marriage as a partnership between two people with a deep love and profound trust for each other did not evolve out of memorizing the lines to every song in The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast.  No.  I watched my parents interact every single day in my home.  I saw my father joke playfully with my mother in the kitchen and followed every gentle tease with a sweet kiss on her cheek.  I smelled my mother's Chanel No. 5 perfume as she put on the finishing touches of her outfit for a special night out with my father.  I witnessed years of love, devotion and compromise despite sick children, aging parents and personality differences.

In short, I didn't believe in the fictional "happily ever after" because I was living the real life fairy-tale ending by being a product of my parents love for each other.

When children are so small and impressionable, parents should still be in control of the household.  I set the tone for when we watch movies and the take-away message that Natalie receives.  I can either choose to teach her that women are weak and must have a man to rescue them or I can show her that women are completely capable beings that (if they want) can happily accept a man's company in her life.  I can allow her to be fixated on the prettiness of a princess, or the obvious luxury she enjoys...or I can reinforce the fact that movies are works of fiction and that a life filled with love, respect and joy is worth far more than any beautiful dress or fancy home.  I refuse to give up the power of influence over my daughter to any cartoon character or marketing scheme in the aisles of Target.

So for the time being we are keeping the occasional Disney princess flick as part of our movie library.  A little bit of fantasy combined with catchy tunes and an irresistible love story can be good for a girl and her momma.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Back to school...

I know.  It's July.  And not even the end of July.  But regardless, the "Back to School" section is set up in Target and the clothing commercials are starting to infiltrate my nightly television shows we go.  This fall will be the start of my ninth year in the classroom and I feel like I've gained some sort of wisdom throughout my career.  My personal philosophy towards teaching and educating kids can come down to a few things - hold them to high expectations and teach them how to climb, while still treating them with kindness, dignity and above all, providing ample amounts of grace.  Children are in school for a reason - they are in the process of learning everything they need to know in order to become a fully functioning adult.  Part of these lessons include academics, homework and testing while a whole host of important stuff is intangible - how to treat others, setting personal goals, time-management and overcoming obstacles.  My job is to teach all of this, some through planned lessons and others through how I live my life.  Here are just a few insights into the world of education and children that I think can be helpful or useful to parents.

1. It's all about the JOURNEY and not the destination.

Education in the United States is changing.  Gone are the days when students are simply asked to read, memorize and regurgitate information because we do not need a nation of citizens that can JUST quote the Preamble to the Constitution.  No, instead we need citizens who can break down the words and phrases used, understand their context in history and then apply that meaning to the current state of our nation.  This is where education is moving because our students have access to a limitless amount of information at the click of a mouse or the tap of an app.  So instead of teaching them facts and figures we must teach them to interpret those facts and figures in a way that can benefit humanity in the future.

So how is this going to affect your student?  First of all, assignments and grading are going to change.  Your child's teacher is not going to just be assessing their knowledge, but how they came to gain that knowledge and how they plan on applying it.  We must teach our children how to be faced with a problem or dilemma and then provide them with tools and a path to solve it.  And more than that, students (and their parents!) must understand that learning is a process and just like riding a bike there will be times when a child falls down.  THIS IS OKAY.  The more important thing than just learning how to balance and pedal is having the fortitude to get back on the bike, fix any mistakes and figure out how to get going in the right direction.  A failed assignment or constructive criticism from a teacher is not the end of the world, but instead an opportunity to build determination and endurability by getting back on the proverbial bike.

Secondly, when assessing students' knowledge, any teacher worth their salt understands the power of a varied curriculum.  In every school and in every classroom there are students that just want to do the review, take the test and then move on to the next subject.  And there is nothing wrong with that type of learner.  But then there are also those students who crave the ability to create, design and present.  Assessments must reach both types of learners and therefore, both tests and projects are integral in the modern-day classroom.  Teachers also understand the importance of providing students the opportunity to develop character traits such as determination, attention to detail, focus and conflict resolution.  Large scale projects first aim to demonstrate a students knowledge on a subject but the offshoot is that the student also gains important life skills by working through the process of creating the final product.  So please, please, please...let your students do they work they are assigned because if you do it for them you are robbing them of the opportunity to grow not just academically but emotionally and cognitively.  Some of the moments I love most in the classroom is when I hand back the grades from a large project and there are those students that are on pins and needles, hoping that all their hard work paid off....and when I give them back that A+ a grin spreads across their face, an enthusiastic "yes!" escapes their lips and sometimes there are even fist bumps and squeals.  In that moment I know that my student didn't just demonstrate their learning but they have achieved the purest form of self-esteem - pride and satisfaction with a job well done.  Allow your student to work through this new (and sometimes confusing) process of learning because no matter the size of the step, it is there for a reason - to hopefully develop your child into a critically-thinking lifelong learner who will go on to have a positive effect on the world.

2. Ask the right questions.

We all know the 'W' questions that come with every invitation - the who, the what, the when and the where.  These are simple, basic and easy to Google questions that will provide a baseline of knowledge for you child.  But in this new world of education, answering those questions is not enough anymore.  Getting back to the earlier example of the Preamble, a student must know WHO wrote it, WHAT does it say and WHEN and WHERE was it written before they can dig deeper and use this knowledge in a more meaningful way.

But what does "meaningful" even mean? To keep it short, it's the HOW and the WHY.  How do we know that this document is important and why do we need to understand what it says and the value of those words?  So when your student is coming home with homework, be prepared to help them understand the information by guiding them through it.  Guiding does not mean telling but instead it's providing the right materials while asking the right questions.

Of course you should also be prepared for questions to be thrown right back at you....and don't be afraid of saying very honestly, "I don't know."  I think it is important for kids to understand that adults don't know long as that "I don't know" is followed up with a "let's look it up" or a "let me think about it for a bit."  Don't just tell your child that education and learning are important, SHOW them that you value discovery, questioning and critical thinking.

3. Utilize your resources.

It's inevitable that at some point in the school year your child will come home with an assignment (most likely math) and you both will have absolutely no idea what to do.  First of all, don't blame your child for not paying attention and don't blame the teacher for not teaching.  In most middle and high schools, classes are only 45 minutes long and after checking homework and explaining a concept, there might not be too much time left over for questions and individual work time.  Also, your child is sitting through eight hours of instruction during the day - that's about eight different teachers setting expectations, assigning homework and covering different concepts.  For the average middle school student that is VERY difficult to keep track of and often what they understood during 3rd period leaves them in a complete state of confusion at 5:00 while sitting at the dinner table working on homework.

So what do you do?  In an effort to save everyone's sanity, try not to argue, accuse or get frustrated but instead use the tools you have...and these days there are far more resources to find answers than just the back of the textbook.  First stop for many middle and high schoolers should be to the Kahn Academy where you will find clear, concise videos explaining any number of topics ranging from the Boston Tea Party to the correct use of transitory verbs or how to simplify a fraction.  For the younger students sign up for a free account on BlogLovin and use the search engine to find grade or subject specific teacher blogs that might provide extra information or even links to solid educational websites.  Just be thorough in your investigation of internet resources - if your gut tells you it's not a legit site that's going to help your student learn, then find one that gives you the warm fuzzies.

Using resources like these doesn't mean that the teacher isn't instructing properly or that your student isn't paying just means that perhaps something is getting lost in translation and your child might need a different explanation than what he or she is getting in the classroom.  I teach math the way it makes sense to me and I encourage my students to try it my way first, but if they continue to struggle and the examples or explanations I am giving them aren't making sense, why should that student sit there and feel stupid?  The more important thing is that the understand the concept and it really doesn't matter where the instruction is coming from, whether it's the teacher, an older sibling or even a video on the internet.

4. Keep it all in perspective.

Children, especially teenagers, are very emotional creatures with an extremely limited view of the world.  They are inherently selfish and often struggle to see the big picture or put themselves in the shoes of others.  Bear this in mind when listening to the recaps of your child's day and remember that you are hearing things through the lens of a teenager without a fully developed brain.  This does not render their feelings unimportant but instead allows you to take a step back, gain focus and then get a fuller glimpse into their day.  Like my mother always said, there are three sides to a story - yours, theirs and the truth.  So when your child complains about that mean, nasty teacher that didn't let them turn in their homework, or that girl who was so rude to them at lunch for no apparent reason...try to ask questions that will give you a wider lens of what really happened.  "What were the teacher's expectations?  How did you fulfill them?  Is there any way you can resolve this issue?"  or  "Is this girl a friend of yours?  What was your previous interaction like?  How do you think you'll handle things from here?"  No accusations, no picking sides....and I've found that the more open-ended and casual questions you give to a teenager, the more information you will receive in return.  (And another hint - ask the hard hitting questions while driving in the car, washing the dishes or taking the dog for a walk because teens do better communicating the tough stuff when they aren't sitting face-to-face interrogation style.)  Then with a better picture of what is going on, decide whether or not this situation needs adult intervention from the teacher or an administrator.

Which leads me to this...

5. Please...use honey and not vinegar.

Keep in mind when contacting your student's teacher whether by email or telephone that there is a real live person on the other end.  One that most likely works tirelessly to try and provide your student with the best education possible on a very menial budget and with few benefits.  If you have a question about your child's experience in the classroom or a grade that has been earned (because yes, they are earned and not given) please remember to use your honey voice and not vinegar.  Approach your email as a simple inquiry - you're just trying to get a full picture of what is going on, as opposed to a personal attack on the teacher's character and competency in the classroom.  It doesn't matter how long a teacher has been in the classroom, when an email from a parent pops up in the inbox, her stomach starts doing flip-flops...yikes, what have I done now?  Wearing your heart on your sleeve and infusing every ounce of your being into creating a safe and inspiring learning environment for children is at the core of every teacher.  We teach because we love learning and we love making an impact on children.  We care about our communities and the future of our world so much that we are training the next generation of people that will inherit it.  For the most part, the teacher is not the enemy - the teacher and parent share the same goal, which is for the child to be successful both in and out of the classroom.

And you know what's even better than you writing an email?  Empowering your child to approach the teacher.  Most teachers I know are available in their classrooms both before and after school and are more than happy to sit down with a child to discuss a project, test or daily grade.  For a lot of children the idea of approaching their teacher with a concern is absolutely terrifying but so is interviewing for a job or making a presentation to your superiors.  To be honest, there are still times I get nervous when I have to meet with my principal!  But the fact remains, children have the ability to surprise you with their maturity, strength and ingenuity when you give them the opportunity to stand on their own.  Give your children the tools to be successful and then allow them to branch out and speak up for themselves.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Beach Vacation!

We definitely hit the ground running during the month of June...the first two weeks of summer were filled with doctor's appointments, swim classes and even some professional development.  So my little family was definitely ready for some relaxation in the sun when we headed down to the beach the last week in June.  

As Craig and I were discussing potential vacation plans way back in January, I mentioned that my favorite family vacation growing up was actually the summers that we spent renting a cabin on the lake.  But since we don't have a boat (nor did we want to rent one) I suggested that perhaps a beach trip was in order.  Craig took the bull by the horns and immediately began investigating beach house rentals as well as what would be the best beach to visit in Texas.  We also decided to rent a house because Natalie requires three meals a day and that could get expensive rather quickly.  By having a house with a full kitchen I could pack stuff for breakfast, snack and all the in-betweens in an effort to save money.We wanted to stay away from the Galveston area but also didn't want to head down to South Padre because that's a LONG drive with a two-year-old.  So it was settled that we would be vacationing in Rockport, just a little northeast up the coast from Port Aransas and Corpus Christi.  If you have small children I definitely recommend it - a great beach with shallow, clean and clear water and a wonderfully quaint downtown area.

So without further ado....our vacation.

We left the house around 6:00 in the morning because when mapped out on my phone, the trip looked like it would take about six hours...without the necessary stops made to accommodate a two-year-old.  It was actually a beautiful drive - we got off the interstate in Waco and took a two lane highway the rest of the way down to the coast.  It gave us an opportunity to drive through some super cute small towns (some that I immediately Googled and Zillowed to look for job and house opportunities!) as well as take a little side trip where Craig indulged the history nerd in me...

The mission and presidio at Goliad where 300 men who had been captured during the Texas Revolution by Santa Anna's army were executed.  Seeing this historic site really put everything into perspective for me - I was able to see how close these buildings were to each other; how the presidio sits on a hill with an amazing view on the valley below; how the oh-so-important source of water runs right next to both the presidio and the mission.  

I am so thankful that my husband could hear the excitement in my voice as I realized that Goliad was ONLY a thirty minute departure from our route and HOW COOL it would be if I was able to visit this historic site.

Mission Espiritu Santo

The entrance to the presidio near Goliad, Texas.

The chapel at the presidio.

My loves in one of the towers that would hold on-duty soldiers protecting the presidio and mission.

The open yard where most of the 300 soldiers were executed.

Craig was in charge of searching for and narrowing down our choices for beach house and he did an absolutely WONDERFUL job.  The house was right on the water and had enough space so that four adults and one toddler could co-exist quite happily without feeling like we were all on top of each other.

The front of our house.

The view off the front porch down the canal.

My dad and Natalie - these two spent a whole lot of time sitting on that balcony talking about all the different boats and ships that passed by our house.

Those bright blue eyes have faded since her infancy and have settled into a quiet (and meaningful) shade of gray.

Happy to be relaxing on the balcony with my little girl.

There was a lot of THIS on our vacation.

The gorgeous and peaceful view off the back of the house.

Craig and Natalie heading off to the water!

My parents examining the beach.

We typically hit the beach each morning at 10:00 which was late enough to be warm......

but early enough for us to score some sweet shade.

I really think we hit the jackpot - this is one of the prettier beaches I've experienced on the Texas coast.

My whole family digging in the sand.

First time in the water!

The princess child sitting on her throne and chomping on some snack.  Swimming in the water and digging in sand is HARD WORK when you're two!

Since my parents have been so generous with their time and energy since Craig and I had Natalie, we decided to treat them to a delicious dinner at Seafood and Spaghetti Works in Port Aransas.  And of course we also had to do a little driving around and site seeing as well.

Natalie and her dolphins - she actually was able to spot a couple from the back of our beach house!

So happy to spend time with our daughter and my parents.

Granddaddy and Natalie checking out the boats.

Natalie and her Nonna.

Cool girls in our sweet shades taking fun pictures while waiting for our ferry to take us back to the mainland from Port Aransas.

What is a vacation without ice cream!?

Natalie and her daddy cuddling on the couch.

This is one of my absolute favorite pictures of them for a few reasons - first of all, notice her arms...always have to be just like Mommy and Daddy; and secondly...check out that look on her face!  Total love and devotion to her Daddy.

Family selfie!

By the third morning of our stay, we were all a little worn out from sitting in the sun so we headed thirty minutes down the coast and spent a few hours at the aquarium in Corpus Christi.  Of course Natalie loved looking at the fish, dolphins, turtles, alligators and otters.  And I think all four accompanying adults had just as good a time watching Natalie enjoy her animals.
Checking out the USS Lexington which sits in the water across from the aquarium.

Worn out from a morning at the aquarium.

The holy grail of BIG boats for Natalie - a double barge.

This vacation was exactly what Craig and I had been hoping and praying for since we booked it in January.  The perfect location, the perfect house and a wonderful time with my parents and Natalie.

I can't wait for next summer to do it all over again!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Day booking

It's been awhile since I've done one of these and I'm feeling quite introspective, so here we go. 

If you like what I've written and are inspired to create your own, go link up at 


Outside my's warm and dark.  The cicadas that are the background music to every Texas summer have gone to sleep. 

I am thinking...of all that I learned today at TEKS training through school. Implementing new standards while still preparing my students for the state test AND working in technology will be tough. And exhausting. And overwhelming. But I'm ready. I think. 

I am thankful...for my friend Kristin's safe delivery of her precious baby boy. She and I have been friends since 7th grade basketball and even though we hit a major speed bump in our relationship, things have come full circle and I'm so blessed to call her a dear friend once again. 

In the kitchen...I made something completely and terribly unhealthy, but wonderfully delicious. A combination of Oreos, cool whip, vanilla pudding, cream cheese, milk and powdered sugar. Yum. 

I am jammies, as Natalie calls them. 

I am creating...I haven't started decorating it yet, but Natalie has a "think it over" chair in the works that will hopefully provide her a safe spot to stew, cry and whine until she is ready to talk to Momma and Daddy like a big girl. 

I am the new Perot museum in Dallas tomorrow with a friend and her little girl. 

I am wondering...what the future holds for my family. Will we stay where we are at? Will Craig follow his high school coaching aspirations? I wish I had a crystal ball...

I am reading...finishing up my all-time favorite novel and movie....Gone With The Wind. I hate finishing it up because I always hope that Rhett won't leave Scarlett and they'll get their "happily ever after."

I am hoping...for Craig's safety as he travels in the next few weeks for basketball. 

I am looking forward 30th birthday party next month. Just a good dinner with lots of friends, wine and fun. Perfect. 

I am learning...about being a prayerful wife. My husband carries himself with an air of great confidence and security - like he knows exactly who he is and that he's got it all figured out. But in the past six months I've seen snippets here and there of a man who might question himself and his place in this world. I have really committed myself to praying for him more frequently because I can't physically fix the issues, but I can appeal to a higher power on his behalf. 

Around the house...not much is to be done. With both Craig and I being home full-time there are plenty of hands on deck to take care of Tracy collection, laundry, dishes and toy management. 

A favorite quote for today..."I love you Momma Nelson." That is a memory I will keep in my heart forever. 

One of my favorite things...hearing the pure glee in my mother's voice as she described all the fun she and my dad had with Natalie today.  

A peek into my day...
She built a barge...just like the ones we saw on our beach vacation. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Little Prayers

Over the past few days, due to Craig's basketball tournament schedule, Natalie and I have had quite a bit of Momma-daughter bonding time. 

And we sure did need it. 

I know that all kids go through phases of preferring one parent over the other. And I know that as her mother and the person who felt her (not so tiny) kicks from the inside, there is a bond between the two of us that runs so deep....almost as if our souls are forever linked. 

So during the past week when she would demand for Daddy to hold her and me to "go away" or when she would squeal in protest as I tried to get her dressed....I prayed. Prayers for forgiveness because in those dark and cloudy moments, I truly believed that I had caused the rift in our relationship. That because I wasn't present emotionally in her very first few months of life, that I had somehow damaged our relationship. I prayed for the patience to see this phase through with grace and kindness so that I could show her that a mothers love is unwavering and unbreakable. 

And quite frankly, I might have even prayed for a glass of wine. 

I worried and stressed about the upcoming tournaments when Craig will be out of the house more often than he is home. I prayed that this phase would wash through soon and I would be back in the good graces of our tiniest tyrant. 

Tonight those little prayers were answered. 

We took a bath and played with Ariel while practicing our swimming arms. Good lotion was applied to sweetly soft toddler skin followed by the brushing of delicate curls. We watched Monsters, Inc. while eating popcorn in the big bed. We snuggled under blankets and hugged stuffed animals, baby dolls and one very special plastic dolphin.  And then it was time for bed. 

Ugh. Bedtime. The bane of our existence as of late. Needless to say, I was dreading fighting the good fight all by myself. 

So I laid her in the tiny toddler bed, covered her with her blankness and all her favorite stuffed compadres (and that plastic dolphin) and I got down close to her face. 

"I love you Natalie Nelson."

Without missing a beat, she answered, "I love you Momma Nelson."

I melted and she giggled. 

Prayers have been answered and we are back on track.