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notes from the other side (of kindergarten)

We survived kindergarten.

And I’m here to tell you that you will too. I promise.

I’ve been reading lots of anxious-mama posts on Facebook lately about preschool graduations and kindergarten looming at the end of summer, and it’s inspired me to share a few thoughts from my experience during the last year. I was in your shoes not long ago, and I remember how it feels. In fact, I’m currently drowning in “my baby finished kindergarten and she’s so big and capable and she doesn’t need me any more” self-pity right now. Solidarity, folks.

Making lists is how I cope with emotion.

So here you have it. A few tips from me to you on how to rock kindergarten.

>> Say yes. Our kids’ social lives — at least while they’re this young — are in our hands. During the first few weeks of school, you’re likely to field invitations for play dates on early release days or get-to-know-your-classmate gatherings at the room mother’s house. I turned these down initially — graciously, of course — mostly because we had legit plans on those days. But also because of my intense fear of small talk with strangers. As the year progressed, though, I began to realize how important these little dates are to Lily’s social development, so I started saying yes. We’ve been on a few outings, and I happily made awkward small talk while watching my daughter flourish.

>> Get involved. One of my all-time favorite things to do is volunteer in Lily’s classroom. I’ve done everything from helping students with reading and math to drawing faces on construction paper turtles. It’s especially fun to be a fly on the wall in Lily’s classroom and get to see what it is she does every day. And, of course, I love the little sideways glances and secret smiles she throws my way. Even if you can only go an hour a month (like me), you’ll be happy you did. So will your kid.

>> Give what you can. Be prepared to be asked for money. Often. Our schools are hurting for funds, so we always try to give what we can. Even if that means tossing in an extra $5 for field trip registration to help another kid participate. Every little bit counts.

>> Go to as many events as possible. My favorites were the Mother’s Day Tea and the Positive Behavior Awards, at which kids are recognized for everything from friendship to creativity.

>> Read the daily folder. This is going to be your primary means of communication with the school, so empty it every day and take note of the important stuff. On any given day, it’ll have a newsletter, announcements, your kid’s projects, permission slips, book fair forms, and sometimes coupons for free fun stuff, like bowling or ice cream. I loved that folder because I’m a paper nerd. But you’ll need to make it your best friend, too.

>>Wear your pride: Marc and I bought school t-shirts at the spring carnival, and whenever I wear mine, Lily announces with a huge grin, “That’s my school!” Best $10 I ever spent.

>>Ask questions, even if you think they’re stupid. Don’t be afraid to email your kid’s teacher, call the school, talk to the principal, etc. I once wrote Lily’s teacher because I didn’t understand how to fill out the book fair form. She answered quickly, Lily got books. Boom.

>> Follow your school’s (or school system’s) social media feeds. They’re informative, current and, as is the case with the Wake County School System’s Twitter feed, can be highly entertaining.

>> Make friends with the school secretary. If you’re like our family and had sick children for 80 percent of the winter, you’ll see a lot of the school secretary. She’s the face of the place and she deals with everything … late kids, sick kids, head lice, you name it. Not to mention trying to work at her desk with a million little interruptions a day. Throw her a smile or thank her with a little treat every now and then. It will make a difference.

>> Thank your kids’ teachers. We can’t afford elaborate gifts, but I found creative ways throughout the year to say thank you, with homemade cookies, small gift cards and personal notes. They’re doing wonderful things for our kids for VERY LITTLE money. Reward them when you’re able.

>> And don’t forget everyone else who helps the school thrive. When Lily and I approached the crossing guard this morning, she started to put up her sign. Then she realized we were actually there to see her. Lily handed her a thank you note (with a small gift card tucked inside) and gave her a hug. The smile on Miss Lottie’s face could have lit the planet. We also delivered homemade gifts to the principal and front office staff, as well as the after-school care director. They’ve all made a difference in Lily’s life this year, in ways both big and small.

>> Most of all: SOAK IT IN. I can’t believe our first year of elementary school is over. I’m sad to “lose” Lily’s teachers, and in a weird way, I’m bummed that I won’t have an excuse to drive over to the school again until August. It’s been incredible to witness Lily’s growth this year — physical, emotional, intellectual, social — and hold in my arms a very confident, smart, happy little girl.

Kindergarten will do wonders for your babies. And at the end, I say you’re still allowed to call them that. Just be prepared for an eye-roll.

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guinea pigs

Ann Tyer Photography family session

When my good friend Ann asked us to be test clients for her new photography business, I didn’t hesitate to punch YES!!!! into my phone. I’m not going to say much about these photos except that they’re glorious and I’m considering papering my living room walls with every single shot.

These images speak for themselves. And for Ann’s immense talent.

How lucky we are to have the gift of these photos that capture our little family (and two little personalities in particular) so beautifully.

Happy guinea pigs, indeed.

Ann Tyer Photography family session

Ann Tyer Photography family session

Ann Tyer Photography family session

Ann Tyer Photography family session

Ann Tyer Photography family session

Ann Tyer Photography family session

Ann Tyer Photography family session

Ann Tyer Photography family session

Ann Tyer Photography family session

Ann Tyer Photography family session

>>> Ann Tyer Photography on Facebook <<<

little big girl gets her first haircut

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We walked into the kiddie salon and her eyes got wide.

Bright colors, loud music, toys everywhere.

I reached for her hand and led her over to the stylist, who hoisted her into the big blue chair, draped a smock over her shoulders and handed her a cup of animal crackers. They became fast friends after Sophie showed off her latest boo-boo.

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Just a few inches off, I said. Please keep it long enough for a ponytail. And I want that curl. (The extra-blonde one at the very bottom that I’ve run my fingers through a thousand times.)

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After being assured that the scissors wouldn’t “hurt her hairs,” Sophie settled in with the cookies and a cartoon. She’d peek at the mirror occasionally, fascinated by all the activity around her head.

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And I sat with an anxious grin, gripping my mom-camera and marveling over how quickly this baby is becoming a litle girl. Then I got a glimpse of her tiny sparkly shoes (her choice for this special outing) peeking out from under the smock, and the lump in my throat grew three sizes.

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Here you go, the stylist said. (Such a sweet woman. I wish I could remember her name.) I looked down at the tiny plastic bag she pressed into my palm. Little wisps of baby hair for me to keep.

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Oh, Soph. This growing up business is so wonderfully awesome and heart-wrenching at the exact same time. I hate to break it to you, little (big) girl, but you’ll always be my baby.

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un-busy

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“Mommy, will you play with me?”

I can’t tell you how many times in a single day at home with the girls I field that question. And, unfortunately, I also can’t say how many times the answer is, “In just a minute. Mama’s busy washing dishes/folding laundry/(insert chore here).”

It really does hurt my heart to think that one of the lasting memories my girls might have of their mother are the words, “I can’t play right now” or “I’ll be there as soon as I finish this.”

So I’m working really hard to change that.

Because I’ve discovered that the house will not fall apart if I stop what I’m doing to play a game of sight word bingo or take them outside to ride bikes. It might be messier, more cluttered, outright disgusting some days (I’m talking to you, kitchen), but it will remain standing. And everyone will be fine. More than fine, actually, because these two little girls have their mother’s undivided attention, even just for a few fleeting moments.

One evening after dinner last week, Sophie begged (and begged and begged) to go outside and blow bubbles. I glanced over at the dish mountain in the sink. Eyed the globs of food stuck to her booster seat, the table, the floor. Remembered the wet laundry languishing in the washing machine.

And I said, “Yes. Let’s go!”

And we blew bubbles and laughed and took silly pictures. And it was wonderful.

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THREE

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Likes to wear her shoes on the wrong feet.

Calls ants “little fellas.”

Hugs me and cheers after I successfully use the toilet.

Must do a few jumps and twirls after putting on a dress or skirt.

Wakes up in the morning shouting “MA MAAAAA! COME GET ME. I READY.”

Twirls her hair in her little fingers as she drifts off to sleep.

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Still has two tiny creases in her thighs … the last remnants of her baby rolls. Sigh.

Antagonizes her sister then cackles with glee when she gets a reaction.

Loves putting on her big-girl panties.

Poops in the potty. (Praise be.)

Sings the Frozen soundtrack to herself with her own special vocabulary.

Initiates “cheers” at the dinner table on a regular basis. Last night: “Cheers to everyone!”

Has two watering cans and a squirt bottle. Wants to water all the things all the time.

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Blows me kisses from the crib as I back out of her room at night.

Introduced herself to a new friend at a birthday party by saying, “Hi! I beautiful.”

Can’t get enough bubbles.

Reaches for my ears most every morning and says, “Mommy I love your rings.”

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Always wants her hair in a “Furpunzel” braid.

Is most ticklish under her chin.

Rides her tricycle super fast, squealing round and round the cul-de-sac like a little maniac.

Loves to do puzzles on my Kindle. Asks for the Kindle ALL. THE. TIME.

Puts on multiple layers of dress-up clothes (including “fancy shoes”) and parades around the house.

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Is pure sunshine.

Happy Birthday Number Three, sweet Soph.

You are my heart.

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>>first and last photos by the amazing Ann<<

my husband in his element

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Few things make Marc happier than fishing. When he first got his boat all those years ago, I couldn’t understand the allure. You have to wake up before dawn, you’re at the mercy of the tides and the weather and the fish. And all that waiting and trolling and more waiting? I just didn’t get it.

But then I went out with him a few times. And then a bunch of times more. And, although it’s definitely not my thing (plop me on a beach with a book please), I understand why it’s his favorite.

All that quiet. Being low-down in the reeds. Listening to the water lapping against the side of the boat.

Salt air, slimy bait, whizzing lines (if it’s a good day).

The company of good friends. A cold beer or two.

Wind in his hair, sun in his eyes.

A big catch.

Happy husband.

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