Why I Heart Teachers — Every Single One of Them

I have such an admiration for teachers. Not just because I believed the words that Whitney Houston belted out two decades ago that our children are the future, but because I believe they are above us mere mortals.

I feel like they have super powers. Like the way they can make 27 six-year olds quiet down with a simple clap or get a rowdy group of 10th graders to pass a state assessment test. And do I even need to mention the ones that put their own lives at risk to protect students from violent perpetrators?

 

Photo from www.audio-luci-store.it

Photo from www.audio-luci-store.it

Yes, I know that you always hear about how teachers are overpaid and that they get summers off. Yes, I know some still have a union mentality more focused on tenure than performance/achievement. Yes, I know we are all jealous of how ‘easy’ their job is (I hope you can sense the sarcasm). And let’s not forget how awesome it must be to interact with parents day in and day out.

Now, I get it. There are teachers and then there are teachers. There are the educators that inspire and teach us ways to think and do that stick with us our entire lives (my high school AP English teacher) and there are those we would like to forget (my fifth grade teacher who told my mom I was too social and that was why my penmanship was bad.)

But the way I see it, teachers should get hazard pay, and not just because our schools are no longer the safe havens of yore; but because I am now a mom and know what they have to deal with on a daily basis.

So, because it is Teacher Appreciation Week, I thought I would share a few of the reasons why I heart teachers:

They deal with germs that make the movie Outbreak look like the common cold.  I seriously have no idea how teachers’ life expectancies aren’t the same as coal miners with the amount of ick they are exposed to on a daily basis. Lice, mono, strep throat, pink eye, scabies and every communicable disease known to man. And the vomit. Oh, the vomit. When my kids entered first grade I was so excited to volunteer in the lunch room. Well, that was before I saw two kids hurl and heard that a stomach virus outbreak was erupting throughout the school. Guess who gets to deal with that before we pick up our little cherubs? There is no summer vacation in the world that would make me deal with that.

+ They care, even when that’s not part of the job description. I will never forget the teacher who texted me pictures of my daughter at an event that I couldn’t make due to a trip I was on, or the teacher that called me at home because she was so excited about the jump in my daughter’s reading level. Their excitement was contagious, for me, my kids, and I believe, for them.

I am constantly amazed at what my friends that are teachers do for their students. Sometimes it is spending more money on their classrooms than what they make, or giving up their Friday night to spend it at a student’s ballet recital or soccer game. I have seen teachers sneak food to kids that are hungry or buy clothing to help a family in need. And in my heart, I don’t believe that these are a select few educators. I believe this is the norm.

Their interaction with our kids is like an after-school special. A friend of mine is a teacher at a large high school, and what she deals with on a regular basis is heart wrenching. Pregnancies, date rape, parental neglect, violence, bullying, eating disorders, mental illness and the list goes on and on. This is not an inner city high school either. This is a typical secondary institution in middle America. In addition to supporting the needs of these kids, she also gets to deal with their parents. The ones who stick their fingers in her face because they don’t like the grades their kids have earned, or the ones who leave messages — on her personal cell phone — asking to extend a deadline for a school project that was given five weeks earlier. Lucky her.

They are like the U.N. Have you ever seen a male first grade teacher work out the dynamics of three little girls who are going through friendship drama? Or a middle school gym teacher that has to deal with all the hormones raging in the locker room? At the end of the day, teachers are constantly solving crises. Maybe not ones linked to world peace, but for our kids, they are pretty major.

They see what I see, but 24x. My daughter had a dangling tooth that was so disgusting it at times made me gag. I could not imagine seeing that about every day for 180 days. The burping, tooting, and nose picking. The hair twirling, knuckle cracking and eye rolling. Teachers get to see this all the time from a wide variety of participants. How they stay sane I have no idea.

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They change lives. My daughter would not be where she is today if not for some amazing teachers (and therapists) at her schools. They, literally, have changed the trajectory of her life. And who hasn’t had “that” teacher that inspires us to be better, to think bigger and achieve more? The teacher that believed in us more than we believed in ourselves? The teacher that made something insanely boring seem suddenly ridiculously cool? I’ve had several, ranging from my sixth grade social studies teacher to my comparative politics professor at the University of Florida. They all changed me…for the better.

Teachers today are faced with insurmountable obstacles. Curriculums that are constantly changing; standardized tests that can be biased and unfair; parents that have unrealistic expectations; apathetic students that want good grades to be handed to them instead of earned; and a culture of disobedience that puts them in harm’s way, regardless of what grade they teach.

Today, I’m standing up for the teachers. The ones that make sure my kid’s pants are always buttoned because she couldn’t do it herself. The ones that buy school supplies because they know their students can’t afford it. The ones who come in early and stay late just to help that one student who just doesn’t get it. The ones who know it’s not about them, and it’s always about somebody else. And even the ones who become apathetic after years of getting beaten down.

Today, I’m saying thank you . You are appreciated, and I hope you feel it!

Do you have a special teacher in your life? Tell me about it.

My Life with Irish Triplets…And Apparently It Sucks

As we entered an elevator this evening, I was asked a question I have heard a thousand times by a nice older gentleman: “Are they triplets?” he said squinting his eyes on my three girls.

“Irish triplets,” my youngest knowingly said, providing the answer we’ve given so often over the years.

“These two are twins, and she is sixteen months younger,” I said with my standard smile.

“Wow, you’ll have your hands full in a few years….I don’t envy you! Three teenage girls, three weddings, three college educations…all at the same time. Wow, I wouldn’t want to do that. Wow. Hope your husband is loaded,” he said.

Fortunately, we were only going to the fourth floor, so I did not have to hear all the ways having my kids close together sucked. Yes, I am terrified about the impending hormones that will hit our house with full force all at the same time. Yes, I have thought about the cost of three weddings and it already gives my husband heart palpitations. Yes, we are really hoping all the soccer training will pay off one day in scholarships since we will have three kids in college all at the same time for several years. But hey, dude, thanks for the reminder. I was enjoying myself and needed to get whipped back into reality.

Obviously this was not the first time I had heard this commentary. My husband and I hear it all the time from random people we don’t know, some speaking with adoration and some with pity. Sometimes I handle it with a smile and endless conversation, other times I have to take deep breaths not to throttle someone.

Any parent of multiples can tell you the whackadoodle things people have said to them.  It ranges from “Are they natural?” (no ma’am, they are genetically modified) to “Are they identical?” (here is your hint….if one kid has blond hair and blue eyes and the other has brown hair and brown eyes, then no, they are not identical.) This stuff is easy to laugh off and take with a grain of salt.

But then you get the people who say things like this: “Better you than me, I could NEVER handle twins!” (well, I thought about sending one back, but I lost my receipt.) Or “Three girls, you are so screwed!” (yeah, I talked to God about setting me up right with the two boys and a girl I asked for, but he must have been focused on something else that day.) These are the comments that often make me bite my tongue in two in order to preserve some sense of decorum.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I regret having my children in the order I did. I feel blessed to have any children, nonetheless three. In fact, after dealing with infertility for nearly three years, I would have been ecstatic if that sweet ultrasound tech told me I had a litter inside me nearly a decade ago.

But having twins is hard. Not doubly hard, but exponentially harder. Then there was getting pregnant with the third, just when I started looking like I wasn’t pregnant from the twins. I can honestly say that I cried almost every day when I found out I was having another baby so soon, including every single time someone told me a story about their cousin’s best friend’s sister who had fertility treatments and them BAM! They got pregnant right after. Because sharing that information with me subsequent to me getting pregnant really helped my mindset.

And when people say to me that my girls are like having triplets, I often respond with: “I would never insult a parent of triplets by saying I could understand what it’s like to have three babies at once.”

There is a lot online about dumb things people have said to parents of multiples. Some are hilarious, some are crass, and some are even defended by the notion that a stranger asking how you breastfed two at once is just polite conversation. As the receiver of these extremely personal questions, it’s hard to read things this way, but I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt.

These guys probably are identical. And creepy.

These guys probably are identical. And creepy.

I’ve also read a few articles from parents of multiples that have provided some suggested  “approved” commentary of what you should say to a parent of multiples, most of which I don’t get. This includes:

+ “The more the merrier!” Um, I don’t know about you, but this was not my thought at 2:30 a.m. when my 16 month old twins woke up as I was nursing a newborn. It’s hard enough when one kid wakes you up out of a dead sleep. Adding another one (or two) doesn’t normally help the sleep deprivation.

+ “You are SuperMom!” I know this is meant as a compliment, but I don’t want to be SuperMom. I just want to make it to bedtime with all the kids alive.

+ “God only picks special parents to be moms of multiples.” This is a nice, well-meaning sentiment, but I like to think God has bigger fish to fry than divvying out three kids to me in 16 months. Or he has a really twisted sense of humor.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you have one kid, three sets of twins or ten kids spread out over twenty years, it is all hard and we all just want to love our kids and see them happy.

So, the next time you see someone with twins, triplets, quads or a litter, maybe you can just give them a little smile. But just in case you can’t hold your tongue, I made you a little cheat sheet in order to help the conversation:

+ If you hear someone is having multiples, try this: “Congratulations! Let me know how I can help!”

+ If you see a parent of multiples in the grocery store, try this: “They are beautiful! Do you need any help?”

+ If you see a set of kids that look exactly the same at the playground, even if you want to ask all about their genetic make up, breast-feeding history, and sleep patterns, try this: “You have some really cute kids!”

+ And if you see a woman with three beautiful little girls that look like triplets that are acting well-behaved in the elevator, try saying: “Girl, you’ve got this.” And maybe a high-five.

What crazy things have people said to you about your brood?

 

Passport to my Dreams

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In order to hone my craft, I am starting to participate in a writing challenge offered by Mama Kat, a blogger and social media expert with more followers and experience than I can fathom at this point. One of the writing prompts she offered this week is: what does the word passport mean to you?

Last year, as the Big 4-0 loomed closer, and the loss of a friend my age from cancer sunk in, it seemed time to start attacking my bucket list. Although I have travelled extensively throughout North America, I had never been abroad.

The timing just never seemed right. I had a new job. My dad was fighting lung cancer, and I didn’t want to leave the country. I was going through fertility treatments, and subsequently had three kids as a result.  Then, who could I leave three toddlers with for eight days?

But I finally felt like the time was right. Or as I looked at it, now or never.

As someone that lives for history, food and wine, Italy seemed like a natural choice for my first adventure overseas. After securing a doting grandmother to watch my children and enlisting an army of friends to taxi them to and fro various activities, it was time to make it happen.

I talked about my trip all the time and tried to garner as much information as possible from people that had travelled to Europe recently. While most people were extremely excited for me, interestingly enough, not everyone seemed as supportive of my trip.

“I could never be away from my kids for that long,” one mom told me. “I just wouldn’t enjoy myself.”

“Don’t you feel bad that you’re not taking your kids,” said another friend.

And my personal favorite: “What if something happens to you while you are over there? What will they tell your kids?”

While all these statements initially provoked some guilt and second guessing (and yes, also made me a little angry), it also helped me realize what type of parent I wanted to be — one that showed my kids that they should follow their dreams, be adventurous, find their passions and live life.

When I was over in Italy, I spoke with a beautiful woman who showed us around a winery. During our conversation, I mentioned that I felt badly because I was over in Italy and my kids were back home with their grandmother.

“When I was growing up, I spent entire summers with my grandparents and only talked with my parents a few times,” she told me. “I loved every second of it and wouldn’t trade it for the world. I bet your kids are loving it too!”

A view of the Chianti countryside.

A view of the Chianti countryside.

I thought about what she said later that day. As Americans, we do put enormous pressure on ourselves to constantly be there for everything when it comes to our kids. We feel guilt if we miss a new milestone or a soccer game, and because of this, we often miss out on doing the things that we love.

I think it is great that as parents we give all of ourselves to our kids, but sometimes I wonder about the cost. We forget about focusing on other things that matter, such as our spouses, health, interests or dreams until sometimes it’s too late. I believe it’s important to grow with your children, not sacrifice yourself because of them.

My new Italian friend was right. My children loved spending time with their grandmother and the extra attention they received from my friends. When we returned home, they were happy to see us, but no worse for the wear. And I found a new passion in traveling abroad that I can’t wait to share with them (after they get a little older!)

My passport helped me take the trip of a lifetime. The word passport, to me, means living life.

Mama’s Losin’ It

Four Awesome Things I Learned From My Kids

Like any parent, I think my kids are pretty awesome. But sometimes their awesomeness just blows my mind. And it’s even more awesome when they don’t realize that they are being awesome.

I like to think that I work really hard to be a good person, but I’m still a work in progress even at the tender age of 41 (did I just say that out loud?) I still judge when I shouldn’t, say things I wish I could take back, and let my fears stymie me from reaching my dreams.

That’s why I love being around children so much. I am constantly amazed at what we can learn from kids. Kids who are not yet jaded at the world; kids who see things so clearly; kids who have a pure heart.

So, I thought I would share some life-lessons my kids have taught me the past few years. I would like to take credit for these, but let’s be honest, kids are just good….usually until we mess them up, so I’m pretty sure it’s just their innate awesomeness shining through:

They see people. Kids see people, and I’m not talking about the creepy way that Haley Joel Osment did in The Sixth Sense, but they just see people. My daughter’s teacher recently went out on an early maternity leave. When I asked her to tell me about her new teacher, she excitedly said: “I really like her! She is nice and smiles a lot. She has four kids and she used to teach them at home herself. And she’s pretty.” I couldn’t wait to meet her, so I was excited when her grade had an open house later that week. I was pleased to see that her teacher was all those things my daughter said, and very qualified, but I also was surprised when I learned my daughter’s teacher was African-American.

Now, her color doesn’t make a difference in the world to me, but I was thrilled to see that it didn’t cross my daughter’s mind to mention it, particularly because unfortunately I wouldn’t call her school diverse. I was ashamed to even think that she should have told me about her race in the first place. She sees people as nice or tall or pretty — who they are. And as she should.

One of my other daughters switched seats in her classroom awhile back. On the car ride home from school that day, she told me all about the new boy she sat next to in class. He was hilarious, loved Sponge Bob, wore glasses and played mine craft. A few weeks later she told me about a game she played with her friend and his Aide.  I didn’t want to make a big deal about the fact that her new friend had an Aide by asking questions, but that very day her teacher sent a note home telling me what a great job she was doing sitting next to this child who apparently had Autism. The mother of the boy had contacted the teacher about how her son actually was talking about school for the first time, and mainly about my daughter. She was wondering if my daughter could sit next to him for the remainder of the year, but she didn’t want to limit her socially or seem pushy.

My daughter in one swift move did what so many adults just can’t (or won’t) do. She RE-labeled a child. In her mind, it is her hilarious friend, not her Autistic friend. And yes, I said absolutely that she could continue to sit by this young boy, for what mom would want to separate their child from a friend.

No fear. For as long as I remember, I get embarrassed when I do something new. I hate looking stupid, and no matter how much I convince myself that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, I still let it get to me. And I know that I have missed opportunities because I felt like I didn’t know how to do something (and didn’t want to admit that I didn’t know.) That’s why when I recently signed my daughter up mid-season for a tumbling class, I tried to reassure her before she went. At eight, she still can’t do a cart-wheel, but so desperately wants to participate with her friends as they tumble across the playground. I tried to remind her that the other girls in her group had been taking tumbling since September so she wouldn’t feel bad that she was behind, but I’m not sure why I bothered saying a word.

“I just want to get my cart-wheel, Mom,” said the sage 8-year-old. And she went into the class where the other kids were flipping all around her and did just that. Well, she did just that after four classes and falling about 408 times. But she never once got embarrassed, and the whole class cheered when she finally did it right. She clearly did not get that from me.

Lesson learned: I really need to get a grip and let go of my inhibitions. I’ve made a resolution to try some new things this year, and I’m taking her along to make sure I see it through. And I will no longer try to save her from any embarrassment. She is completely comfortable with who she is, and I’m not going to try to protect her from learning anything new. That clearly is my issue, not hers.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Last year, for the first time, someone was picking on one of my children. A classmate gave my daughter an F minus in an indoor recess art competition, constantly bossed her around, and pointed out to the class when she did something wrong. I wouldn’t call it bullying per se, but she just wouldn’t leave her alone — so much so that the teacher recommended separating the girls into different classes the following year.

I for one was traumatized. How could someone be so mean to my baby?!? I wanted to call the other mom up and give her a piece of my mind (and I will not share the not-so-compassionate thoughts I had about the other child.) But when I talked to her teacher, she explained that my daughter was just avoiding her and seemed fine. And more importantly, when I talked to my little girl, she said: “Yeah, sometimes she’s mean to me, but sometimes I like her. I just play with her when she’s nice or I just ignore her.”

Huh. How about that. No drama, no crying to me about her being mean to her, just ignore her. Thankfully I didn’t let my rage get the best of me and make what was a small deal to my daughter an unnecessary big deal. And since that time, I have tried to heed my daughter’s advice. Someone not so nice at the PTA meeting, I don’t engage, I just ignore her. Someone posting negative comments on Facebook, I just hide them. But when they are nice to me, I return the niceness. Because I’m not going to let anyone mess with my Karma.

Every day is the “best day ever!” I love this about my kids. A trip to Costco where they get cheesecake samples can be the best day ever. Or, a random playdate with our neighbors can be.  Or a day at Disney World. Or a regular day when I make ice cream sundaes.

Seeing the good in any day is something I have been really working on the past few years. Gratitude as an attitude is my philosophy, but it’s my kids that remind me to appreciate the little as well as the great things in our lives. And when you wake up in the morning with the thought that this could be the best day ever, well, that’s just pretty darn awesome.

What have you learned from your awesome kids?

Why Do We Make It Harder?

I think we all know by now that being a parent is hard. Really hard.

It doesn’t matter if you are a stay-at-home parent or full-time working mom — or somewhere in between like me — being fully responsible for another human being(s) is tough work. I always say that the demands of having little ones is physically exhausting, and as they get older, it transitions into mentally exhausting.

But as hard of a job as it is, we as parents always seem to make it harder. We set unrealistic expectations on ourselves — and our kids — that can take the joy out of being a Mom (or Dad.) We spend hours shopping for the perfect outfits for holiday cards; we will stay up all night to bake just the right cake for a birthday party; or we will spend an entire day going store to store just to get the right pieces for a Valentine’s Day Box (not that I have ever done any of these.) And we do them all in the name of our children.

I often know that I complain a lot that I never have enough time. There’s never enough time to clean, or play that extra game with my daughter, or finish reading that book, or make that phone call, and the list goes on and on. But then there will be that time that I take on something so ridiculous, and I make my family go on that ride with me.

For example, one time I said I would bring the “special” treat for my daughter’s soccer party. Although I love to cook, I’m not much of a baker; but I wanted to do something creative and I wanted to do it myself. Of course Pinterest had “easy-to-make” soccer sugar cookies, so I set out to do this. Yes, I wanted to do it because I thought the kids would like them, but let’s be honest, this was more for me.

Of course I had to go to three different stores to get what I needed for these cookies, and because I didn’t want to embarrass myself, I had to do a practice run before making them for a bunch of judgemental seven-year olds. The whole process end to end probably took a good six hours, and I felt pretty good about the results.

soccer cookies

 

I proudly handed them out post-game and the kids wolfed them down. I even received a few thumbs up from some parents. But my favorite part was when we came home and I let the girls eat the cookies that did not make the cut for distribution to those outside my family because they either were a little too brown on the bottom, or the decorations weren’t as good. It was then that one of my daughters exclaims: “I think these are even better than the ones we had at the game!”

The moral of this story is I don’t think my daughter cared so much about what the cookies looked like or that I had just put my blood, sweat and tears into them. She just wanted her cookie.

Now this does not mean our kids do not appreciate what we do for them and we shouldn’t try to make something special; but instead, we can’t always blame parenting for our own craziness. My daughter did not ask me to make those cookies from scratch and then go over the top with decorating them, and I’m pretty sure she would have been equally appreciative if I had swung by the grocery store on the way to the game and bought them. And if your kids are talking smack about the fact that you didn’t bake them home-made, well, that’s a whole different problem anyway.

I believe as parents our jobs are actually quite simple. We truly just have four things we have to do:

1. Unconditionally love our kids.

2. Provide them with the basic necessities (food, water, clothing, etc.)

3. Teach them self-care.

4. .Help them become productive members of society.

Anything else we do beyond this is parenting gravy. Of course, the gravy is always the best part, and things such as spending quality time with your child, getting involved in their education and/or extracurricular activities, and helping them navigate this thing called life is both the most joyous and heart-wrenching part of this parenting journey.

Last night, the beautiful Jared Leto won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. In his acceptance speech, he thanked his mom, who was a single parent to him and his brother. He gushed about how she taught him to work hard and encouraged him to get involved in the arts. My guess in that most amazing moment, he was not thinking of the events she might have missed, or even the extraordinary things she bought or made for him. It was the totality of her parenting and the support she gave while raising him. I can only hope my own children would feel the same about me.

It is easy to get caught up trying to keep up with the Joneses in the parenting game. Or, when we are natural over-achievers, it is hard to dial back and see what is truly important to our kids. And what is important, is the relationships we have with them, not what we do or buy for them.

So, when we complain about how hard it is to be a working mom, or how exhausting it is to stay at home caring for our kids — and it is — I believe we also have to look within ourselves. What role do we play in making it harder? And who are we really doing it for?

I think when we step back and look at life through the lens of what our kids think is important, we may change the things we choose to spend our time on just a bit. Or, if we must go over the top, perhaps we won’t blame the kids for being so exhausted. Well, at least not this time.

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