Snow Days

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I always thought I had the best of both worlds being a teacher.  I was a working mom for 9 months of the year and a stay-at-home mom during the summer.  And isn’t summer the best time to be with the kids?  I also got some nice blocks of time off for Christmas and spring break.  And I even had snow days.  Those beautiful bonus days where nothing was planned, it was too cold to go anywhere, and I could spend the day playing with my kids and catching up on laundry.  Oh, nothing is sweeter than a snow day.

Today school was canceled for a snow day, although I think it was really more for the below zero temperatures than the snow.  Since no one goes to school at my house, it didn’t really affect us other than Big Sis asking me every 10 minutes to go outside and freeze her tuckus off (she used the words “play in the snow”).  Yes, I spent my day playing with my kids and catching up on laundry…but I do that every day.  I’m ready to go outside!  Okay, we did go outside….and promptly went inside when I couldn’t feel my toes anymore.

I never thought I was missing much by not being a stay-at-home mom in the winter.  Turns, out I was right. 🙂  February has been my least favorite month to be at home.  Because I actually have to be AT HOME.  Sure we go to indoor playplaces and things like that.  However, I think screaming and running kids are really best in their natural habitat of wide grassy plains, not caged into an inflatable padded room.

I like the snow.  I just don’t like the cold.  I don’t like gray, cold, winter days.  At least today was sunny.  We sat on the living room floor in the sunshine and had a picnic and I pretended it was spring.  I’m really ready for spring.

5 Tips for Stay-at-home Sanity

I’ve been at this stay-at-home game for a little more than a half a year.  So I’m no expert.  But I’ve been on the brink of insanity and learned a thing or two in the past few months.  Some tips from the trenches…

1.  Get dressed.  This seems obvious, but do you know how good it feels to stay in your pajamas all morning?!  Unfortunately, I don’t feel like doing anything in my pajamas.  Well, that false.  I feel like sleeping.  Clean up breakfast dishes?  I can’t do that.  I’m still in my pj’s!!  So first things first- get dressed.

2.  Put on shoes.  We usually have a “no shoe” policy in our house.  However, I’ve found if I wear shoes around the house it makes me want to accomplish things.  Shoes=success.  I mean, I never went to work without my shoes on.  Okay, okay….I might have taken them off once or twice under my desk.  And if you are worried about tracking dirt around the house, buy new shoes and only wear them inside.

3.  Have a game plan.  Each night after the girls go to bed, I come up with some kind of plan for the next day.  It can be as simple as “We’ll go to the zoo tomorrow.”  Even knowing that much, I can make a quick breakfast, pack a lunch, and hopefully get to the zoo when it opens.  If I wake up with nothing planned I usually do just that…nothing.  That never feels good.  You can go all crazy and write up a full 20 item to do list each night.  I’d start with a quick list (just 3 things) you want to do each day.  One work thing around the house, one fun thing with the kids, one thing for you.  Anything else is bonus!

4.  Be flexible.  The best thing about being a stay-at-home mom is you don’t have to stick to the plan.  If you planned to go to the zoo, but the kids just won’t get ready to leave the house….then stay home!  If the kids can’t do the craft you had planned, then color instead.  If you don’t everything done on your to do list, then just do it tomorrow.  No worries.  Plans are good.  Being flexible with plans is even better.

5.  Find your go/stay rhythm.  Just because you are a stay-at-home mom doesn’t mean you want to spend all your time at home.  You also don’t want to spend all your time driving from park to playdate to pizzeria (it seemed like I needed another ‘p’ word there).  It’s nice to have some days to relax.  I like to have two days of running around doing errands/shopping/fun activities and then one day at home catching up on housework.  After two days at home I get a little stir-crazy.  Maybe two-day weekends are permanently ingrained in my psyche?

The Princess Problem

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As the mom to a four-year-old girl and two-year-old, my house is usually littered with dress up clothes.  I find tutus in the bathroom and crowns in the kitchen.  Sometimes they go through about five outfits (a piece!) in a day.  Then there are fits and tears when I tell them to put on real clothes to go to the grocery store.  Dress up is kinda getting on my nerves.

I know kids should be kids.  They are only young once and all that.  Dress up is great fun and educational, too.  Pretending you are someone else and acting out that role is wonderful for developing creativity and social skills.  So why don’t I want to take a princess to Target?  Well…

The most practical reason is it’s cold outside.  And everyone knows princesses NEVER wear coats!  At least that’s what I hear in my house.  Since no one wants to cover their dress up outfit, let’s just take it off and wear something, you know….with sleeves.  Yeah, I am the meanest mom ever.

And then there is the “pretty” reason (pause to step up on my feminist soapbox).  Girls get a lot of attention for wearing a fancy dress in public.  I don’t think my daughters have ever left the house in a dress or skirt and didn’t hear “Oh, you are so pretty!” or “What a beautiful little princess!”  Do people say that to a girl dressed in jeans?  Not so much.  My girls now think to be pretty you have to wear a dress.  I know there will be many years of clothing-related self-esteem issues in their future….I just don’t want to start that at age two.

And probably the biggest reason I don’t like dress up….I hate princesses.  There.  I said it.  Are princesses really the ideal that we want our daughters to emulate?  My oldest daughter asked me what makes a girl a princess, and I had to explain about family lineage and the ruling class.  Well, not exactly in those words. 🙂  But you know what I mean…why are we glorifying princesses?  Why not celebrate women who actually do something?  Why not try to take the emphasis off of looks and focus on their contribution?  It makes me think of the 10 Real World Princesses drawings.

Sigh.  Stepping down.  Pretend play is important and there is nothing wrong with dressing-up in a fancy skirt every now and then.  I’m not going to ban all Disney princess paraphernalia from my house.  And I didn’t say anything when my youngest daughter wanted to a be, of course, a princess for Halloween.  Although, I was secretly happy that she didn’t know Cinderella’s name and just called her “the blue princess.”  I feel like I’m doing something right. 🙂

Stay-at-home Life: My View at 6 Months

I realized I haven’t given an update on my stay-at-home mom life.  It’s been almost 6 months of not working, which is longer than either of my maternity leaves.  So it is officially the longest time I’ve ever had not working.  And it feels….like a vacation from life.

When I was a teacher I was constantly looking at the clock.  Did I have enough time to fit in one more book before lunch?  How many more minutes did we have at recess?  Even being a minute late to pick my kids up from PE was holding up the next PE class that was waiting in the hall.  I felt like I racing the clock every morning to get the kids ready and out the door by 7:15.  And most nights I was also trying to see how many activities I could fit into a few hours before bedtime.  We could stop at the park on the way home…but only for 45 minutes.  What dinner could be fixed in less than 20 minutes?  Each week seemed to go by in a blur because there was never enough time to do all the school stuff, housework, and fun stuff that I wanted to do.

But now I don’t even wear a watch.  The girls get up around 7:00 because they hear Dad leave for work.  They come in and cuddle in bed with me until we get hungry for breakfast.  Before, we only got to have leisurely mornings on the weekends…and now it is Every. Day.  It still blows my mind.  We can go to the park and spend the whole morning.  We can spend forever just watching turtles in the pond because we have no where else to be.  We spend the whole weekend having fun and come back late on Sunday because they don’t have anywhere to be on Monday morning.  It is a completely different life.

There are no “have-to-do’s” in this life.  I look for activities for us to do and I fill our calendar with library story times, puppet shows, trips to the zoo, play dates, and other outings.  But they are all “want-to-do.”  If someone is cranky or it is cold and rainy and we’d rather stay home, we don’t have to go to library story time.  I never had that option with my old job!

One time when my husband was out of town, my youngest got sick and started throwing up about every 20 minutes…from 2:00-4:00am.  So there I was trying to calm her, clean up the mess(es), and also type up sub plans for the next day.  Every time the kids got sick, it was an ordeal trying to figure out who could take off of work.  Now?  Who cares!  I could stay up all night and just watch movies and nap with the girls the next day.  But of course now that they are no longer in daycare, no one gets sick!

This feels like vacation to me, but I’m not exactly lying on a beach soaking up the sun.  I mean, I’m still taking care of two kids ages 2 and 4.  There is screaming, tears, and cleaning up of bodily functions (I am so ready for potty training to be over!)  I lose my patience and get annoyed.  But overall?  Much easier than my former life.  Then I was dealing with 20 kids…plus the 2 at home! Two is always easier than twenty-two, right?  I was trying to be an awesome teacher AND spend enough time with my kids AND somehow keep up with the dishes and laundry.  Take out the job, and it seems very manageable.  I’m no longer tackling 7 loads of laundry on a Saturday because I could never get to it during the week. I’m actually learning to cook because I finally have time to make something.  And I have time to read now!  Before I only read when I was on vacation. 🙂

I don’t mean to diminish stay-at-home moms and say they have it easy.  In fact, when I stayed home with my first daughter on maternity leave, I was more stressed and exhausted than I have ever been in my life.  I was very ready to go back to work.  At that time I considered teaching 20 kids much easier than dealing with the 1 infant at home!  I think it depends on the number of kids you have, their ages and temperaments, your job, plus all the other emotional factors involved in the stay-at-home/working mom decision.  Everyone feels differently.  And even the same person (me) feels differently about it over time.  While I felt it was easier for me to be a working mom a few years ago, I now feel a lot less stressed being a stay-at-home mom.

I’m sure I will go back to teaching in a few years once both girls are in school.  I know I will miss it.  My first year of teaching, I was so happy.  I couldn’t believe my good fortune to have such an amazing job.  I loved my students, my co-workers, and my principal.  I couldn’t believe they were PAYING me to teach kids and play at recess, when I would do that for FREE!  Now that’s how I feel about staying at home with my own kids…because I am doing it for free. 🙂

This One Goes Out to All the New Mothers Out There

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was watching moms push strollers with their cute little babies and I would think “someday.”  Now with a four-year-old and two-year-old my stroller days are almost behind me.  But I still remember what is was like to be a new mother.  Well, to be honest, I don’t remember that much.  As with any catastrophic event, your brain doesn’t let you remember all the gory details.

Legend has it that sometime after giving birth to my first little miracle I called a fellow mother friend and shouted, “You didn’t tell me it was going to be like this!” as soon as she picked up the phone.  I say it is a legend because as I mentioned before…I have no memory of this but it has been told to me.   That statement pretty much sums up what I felt about the first few months of motherhood.  Yeah, I knew what moms do- feeding, changing diapers, and cuddling.  But I didn’t know that feeding really meant latching issues, sore breasts, and lots of crying in frustration (from both of us).   Changing diapers meant poop blow ups that soaked through the onesie, your clothes, and maybe the couch.  My daughter probably went through five outfits a day.  And there was lots of cuddling because she decided the next best thing to being inside her mama was being on top of her mama ALL DAY AND NIGHT.  I learned to sleep, cook, eat, and yes, even shower with a newborn in my arms.  All of this is to say:  those first few months were not the blissful maternity leave I was expecting.   Nobody told me what it was really going to be like.

My daughter nursed 12 times a day…and that was when she was over two months old.  When she wasn’t nursing or being held by me she was crying.  I slept in 2-3 hour increments at the most.  My brain felt like those “this is your brain on drugs” commercials with the fried egg.  Remember those?  I had fights with my husband because he just couldn’t understand how nothing got done during the day.  I began to doubt if things would ever get better.  Would there be a time in the future when she slept through the night?  Could we ever eat in a restaurant again?  Will she ever stop CRYING?!  It didn’t seem very likely.

After a particularly difficult night, I took my crying daughter to her well-check at the pediatrician.  With dark circles under my eyes, I watched another mother play with her older baby while she giggled and cooed.  She must have seen my desperation because she said, “It will get better.”  And she told me how the first 3 months are the worst, then it starts to get better.  Then at 6 months it gets easier again, then at 9, then by one year you will hardly believe it is the same baby.  It gave me hope.  Although when you are in the thick of it, a month seems like an eternity.  Even a day seems unbearable.

Am I overplaying this?  Okay.  I don’t want to scare anyone into not having children.  I like to think that I’m doing a public service and telling other women what it is like to be in the motherhood trenches.  I would have liked someone to tell me (although of course I could have never believed such horrors).  Isn’t it better to be fully prepared with the worst case scenario?

So if you are a new mom, hang in there.  Even if you have to dig out poop under your fingernails (I’ll plead the 5th), or walk around like the living dead with 2 hours of sleep, or (gasp) bottle feed because breastfeeding just isn’t working.  Motherhood might not be what you thought it would be, but it will get better and then it will get amazing.  Yes, you did give up your former care-free life to be a slave to an angry little person who can’t even say thank you.  But it is totally worth it.  You’ll see.  Just wait a few months.  And while you are waiting, call your mom and tell her thank you.

Deciding to be a Stay-at-home Mom

Quitting my teaching job was probably the most difficult decision I’ve ever made.  I know other women say it was the easiest decision they ever made.  You love your kids more anything, so it should be a no-brainer right?  Well, it didn’t seem that straightforward to me.  Maybe that’s because I’m horrible at making decisions and often second-guess my dinner choice at restaurants once I see other people’s food.  So I relied on the old pro-con list.  Or in this case the pro-pro list.  I’d recommend it for dinner menus as well. 🙂

Reasons to keep my job as a teacher

  • I love kids- it’s the reason anyone becomes a teacher.  They say funny things.   They give hugs.  Enough said.
  • Teaching new things is fun.  Maybe I like being a know-it-all?  I seem really smart compared to eight-year-olds.
  • I have something that is mine.  It’s my own little world away from the family.
  • I feel like I’m doing important work.  I’m contributing to society and making a difference.  It’s not curing cancer, but it’s something.
  • I got lucky with a great school community.  I loved my co-workers, principal, and parents.  I couldn’t ask for better support as a teacher.
  • I get paid.  Who doesn’t like that?

Reasons why I should stay home with my kids

  • I love MY kids.  My happiest moments in life are having fun with my two girls.
  • It is a calmer life.  I know being a stay-at-home mom can be hectic sometimes.  But, to me, it feels more laid back than being a working mom.  No morning hustle out to get everyone dressed, fed, and packed up.  No trying to start dinner the moment you walk through the door after a busy day.
  • More freedom.  It’s beautiful outside and I want to go to the zoo?  Done.  It’s cold outside and I want to snuggle up and watch a movie?  Done.
  • Daycare is expensive.  Yeah, I was still making money…but not that much.
  • They are only little once and then it’s over.

And that last reasons is the one that sold it to me.  How many years do I have left before both my kids are in school?  Three.  That’s not much.  Why not spend as much time as possible with my kids in those three years?  So here I am.  (Okay technically right now I am spending time with the computer because my kids are upstairs napping, but you knew what I meant, right?)

What Should a 4 Year Old Know?

With Back to School season upon us, I’ve been seeing “What Should a 4 Year Old Know?” posted a lot on Facebook.  The author states parents shouldn’t be so concerned about their preschooler doing a checklist of skills.  Instead, they need to let children be free to explore, make a mess, and have fun.  I agree.  Parents need to calm down, put away the flashcards, and go have fun with their kids.  After all, everyone learns in their own time.  They are only four-years-old once.  Worry less, and play more.

However, I also think most parents that ask “What should a 4 year old know?”  have their hearts in the right place.  They don’t want to get their kid on Leno for memorizing all the names of the presidents.  They just want their kid to feel smart when they start kindergarten.  They want the best for their kids.  Nobody wants their child to begin their school career feeling confused and left behind when everyone else knows how to count to ten. Those feelings stick with kids.

I think there is a middle ground between constant unstructured free time and constant drill and practice with flash cards.  I agree with the author that learning should be worked into life naturally.  How about spending time with your kids and finding some teachable moments in fun activities?  You can count how many cups you need while cooking or how many elephants you see at the zoo.  You can find letters in signs as you drive.  You can do a shape hunt at the playground or write letters in the sandbox.  They get the benefit of having fun with you AND they learn academic skills.

I have a 4 year old.  She is not going to preschool at all this year.  She will start kindergarten next fall.  My plan is to have fun and make some memories (probably mostly mine) of this last year before she starts school.  And the learning?  I think this will prepare her enough for kindergarten.