“She Makes It Look So Easy…”

Happy Wednesday!

Being a parent is hard work, y’all. Hard work. I can’t think of one thing – other than the actual loving them part – that is effortless and easy. My husband and I have been doing this parenting thing now for over 12 years, and we still don’t have a clue what we are doing half the time (and by half, I obviously mean 99.9% of the time…I do bad math).

That’s why it’s funny to me when people ask me how we do it. How do I always look put together? How is our house always clean? How are the kids so well-behaved? How come we make it look so easy? How do we find time for one another?

We aren’t trying to make anything look easy. Some things are easy. Doing my hair and makeup and putting together an outfit that makes me feel pretty and confident is easy. Finding time for a date night is easy. Keeping the house clean is easy.

Lying awake in bed at night wondering if all the good memories are enough to make the kids forget that I yelled at them? That’s not easy. Fearing something terrible has happened every single time they’re at school or with their grandparents and the person caring for them calls? That’s not easy. Wondering if they really do know just how much I love them or if they just think I say that 100 times a day out of habit? That’s not easy. Wondering if we are giving them too much or teaching them enough or instilling a love of learning and knowledge and kindness with just enough sarcasm and wit to make them funny and relatable? That’s not easy.

So much of being a parent is not easy; most of it, honestly. We don’t know if we are doing it right. In fact, we question ourselves regularly, but we feel pretty confident (most days) that we are all right. A short story before I get to the point of today’s post: We took the kids out of virtual school and enrolled them in brick and mortar last week. Not just back to their old school, either. We enrolled them in a brand-new school. They’re the new kids a month into the school year; that’s not easy. For us or for them.

your greatest contribution to the universe may not be something you do, but someone you raise

someone wise

Fortunately, Carter and Charlotte are in the same class, and Charlotte’s best friend is in their class because her mom works for the school, as does another close friend of ours, and Carter’s little bestie is also in their class and was able to start school the same day. Ava’s best friend started as the new girl there on the first day of school, and they are also in the same class. So, there are some things about their new kid situation that are easy – and no, the good fortune we have to say those things is not lost on me.

We made it through four weeks of virtual school. I say that very, very loosely. We struggled. I cried more than once every single day of virtual school. I’m not a teacher; I can’t teach my kids. I don’t know how to help them learn and retain information and make things fun. I also don’t have the kind of time it requires of us to spend sitting down with them throughout the day to learn these things. I just don’t.

I went to bed at night sad and frustrated and in tears because I spent all day snapping at the kids. I had my own deadlines, and then hours of work with them, and my husband couldn’t help much during the day. He has hours. He’s home with me working, but he has to actually sit down for specific hours throughout the day and work. I don’t. I can make my own hours.

He wanted to help, but that means from 5 pm on. That means we aren’t cooking dinner together. It means everyone takes late baths and goes to bed late, and it’s not quality time. No family walks or ice cream dates or impromptu basketball games or cards or Yahtzee games. It was all work, work, work. He begged me to help, but I didn’t want to. I’d rather suffer personally and make myself insane all day long so that he when is done with work for the day, we can have some quality time as a family.

We are so busy, and that’s something that I know my kids will remember. You know what I remember? I remember how much my dad worked when I was growing up. I remember we barely had any time with him. I remember wishing he could come to more of my games or be home to play games or spend time with us on movie night, or anything. Craig? His dad didn’t even live in the same state (or country for a time) when he was growing up. His dad worked and lived in California, North Carolina, Saudi Arabia…and his mom lived with him at their Florida home so that he could go to the same school and have the same friends and play sports and all those things instead of moving around all his life.

You know what he remembers? He remembers wishing his dad was home to go to his games and to be with them, to go to dinner with them or to hang out with him and his friends and play ball with them. Neither one of us wants to miss out on the quality time that we are so fortunate to have.

So, I’d lay down at night and feel guilty because I want help, but I can’t accept help because my family’s quality time is more important than my own sanity. Such a mom thing to say, right? I don’t know if I’m explaining myself well, but I know that it wasn’t what we wanted. To get to the point – when I emailed the kids’ virtual teachers to tell them that we were taking them back to school, the twins’ teacher was so gracious (so was Ava’s, of course). She said, “This entire time I thought you were just breezing right through this with no issues, and I had no idea. You made it look so effortless and easy,” and that stuck with me.

live so that when your children think of love, truth, and integrity, they think of you

someone wise

I didn’t ask for help. I will never ask for help. Their work was all turned in on time. Their work was thoughtful and done well and correctly, and everything was done on time, turned in, and I didn’t email her with excuses or with questions or with problems. Here she was thinking it was easy breezy when, in fact, I cried every single night and often throughout the day for weeks.

And that’s what makes me feel compelled to write this post. I don’t care how I – or we – make it look. It’s not easy. Being a parent is hard, but I’ve learned a few things over the years about being one, and sometimes it helps to remember.

Kids Don’t Need Much

time is non-refundable, use it with intention

unknown

Trust me. We’ve spent eleventy billion dollars on elaborate vacations and trips and beautiful toys and games and theme park tickets and meals and everything in between. You know what our kids love the most about life? When we get in the pool with them. Yeah, that’s right. When we get into the pool with our kids, that is their favorite thing in the world. They really don’t need much. They just need us.

There’s A Simple Way to Know if You’re Showing Enough Love

let motherhood be more about what you do with your children instead of what you do for them

mamie l. pack

It never occurred to me until someone recently mentioned how darling they think it is that the kids are so freely open and able to say, “Mommy, daddy, I love you,” without any thought or without being prompted or without it being a goodbye, see you later kind of thing. I never noticed it. But, they do. Our son is especially sweet about it. He will randomly just come up to us and tell us he loves us. Saturday, in fact, he was playing outside with daddy when he ran into the house and yelled over his shoulder, “I’ll be right back, daddy! I just want to tell mommy I love her so much!” as he popped his head in the door, yelled to me he loves me, and ran back out. I think that’s a great way of knowing if you’re showing them enough love and affection.

They Don’t Miss You…(they do miss you)

the greatest legacy we can leave our children is happy memories

someone wise

When we travel without our kids, they don’t miss us…except they do miss us. They are just so excited to have some time with their grandparents that they don’t really miss us that much. They love that time spent with their loved ones, and they are so excited about it. They don’t cry when we leave. They don’t cry when we talk to them. They miss us, but they’re so confident in our love for them and the love their grandparents have for them that they really don’t miss us.

Their Confidence is Inspiring

happiness is not a goal. it’s a by-product of a life well lived

eleanor roosevelt

When I grow up, I want to be my own kids. I want to be a part of each one of them.

I want to be as wise and independent as Ava. She is quiet. She observes. She listens. She is wise beyond her years, and I aspire to be as wise as she is at the tender age of 9. She needs no one, but she chooses to be with them.

I long to be as curious as Carter. He asks a million questions a day (ask anyone who knows him and they’ll tell you I’m not exaggerating). He wants to know every single thing there is to know, and there is no limit to his desire to learn.

I want to be as kind and graceful as Addison. She has more class at 12 than anyone else I know in the world save for my own grandmother. Lovely. The word I’d use to describe her is simply lovely. She’s always kind, she always helps, she always has a soft heart, and she’s always so gracious.

I would love to be as confident as Charlotte. She might only be 6, but she never worries that things will not go exactly her way. She walks into a classroom as the new student on the first day of school and automatically assumes that everyone will end the day as her new friend. She doesn’t lack confidence in anything. She naturally assumes everyone loves her, that she looks like a superstar, that she has the best personality, and that she is overall amazing. It has never occurred her to otherwise. I love that, and I hope that never changes.

What does this all mean?

embrace uncertainty. some of the most beautiful chapters in our lives won’t have a title until much later

someone wise

To me, this means that we must be doing something right. Nothing in life worth having is easy, but that doesn’t mean we are messing it up as much as we like to torture ourselves imagining. Can we really be failing that much at being parents if our kids are confident and happy and filled with grace and curiosity and independence and intelligence? No.

So, while we all have our strengths and our weaknesses, and while some things might appear easier than others, we are all just hanging out in life wondering if we are fucking our kids up or if we suck at something or if we are really shitty parents at times. You’re not alone. We are not alone. If ever I’m making something look so easy that it’s bringing you anything other than joy or laughter, let me know. I’ll happily share some behind-the-scenes realities for you that will have you feeling like writing your parent of the year acceptance speech right away, or else I’ll share something I’ve learned along the way that might just make something easier for you.

I want to see everyone win. I like winning.

It’s Okay to Make Mistakes

Happy Wednesday!

We all make mistakes, and it’s okay to make the wrong decision.

We all do it. We make mistakes, we do the wrong thing, we wish we could change our minds. The great news, thankfully, is that most situations allow us to do just that; change our minds. We did it, and we will do it over and over again for the rest of our lives. We made a wrong decision, but we are not beating ourselves up about it. Not to say I didn’t have a small moment of definitely feeling like I failed, but my husband quickly reminded me that I did no such thing.

I did what I thought was right in the moment, and it just didn’t work out.

I chose virtual learning for our three youngest kids. Our oldest daughter decided she wanted to go back to school. She’s in seventh grade this year, and we agreed that going back was something she should do if she wanted it. We also agreed we didn’t want to deal with the hassle of going back to brick and mortar with the little three.

We had valid reasons when we made this decision.

  1. We wanted some control over our schedule.
  2. We did not want to deal with the potential disruption.
  3. We didn’t to send our kids to a place they’d end up resenting because of all the restrictions.
  4. We simply didn’t have enough information to make a different decision at the time.

We are now four weeks into our fourth grader and our two first grader’s virtual learning platform. Our district followed suit with the state virtual program to create a district virtual program, and it’s just too much.

There, I said it.

It’s too much.

It’s too much, and our kids have two amazing teachers. They’ve made it easy on us and our kids to understand what’s expected, what is due, how things work, and they are having fun in their virtual classes. It’s not because their teachers are anything short of stellar; it’s that the curriculum they are being forced to use is just too much.

My husband and I are not educators. We are not teachers. We don’t work for a school. We don’t know what goes into this and how this works, but we know that our kids are getting nothing from the two of us, and we are the ones who are sitting down with them outside of their daily zoom meetings helping them understand what they learned and how it works, and they are getting nothing. We are not educators. We don’t know how to teach them things.

Additionally, we’re spending hours every single day working on their work with them. Hours. We don’t have that kind of time. We didn’t realize this would be such an invasive learning situation for us – and we work. Sure, we both work from home (and always have, this is not pandemic related) and we are here. But I have deadlines each day that I need to meet. Yes, I work for myself. No, I can’t just forgo my work and my deadlines to teach the kids. My husband is an engineer. He has office hours to keep. We can’t sit down with the kids for 3, 4, 5, 6 hours a day and help them with their work.

We love being involved in their education. We throw out sight card flashcards with the twins at night. We help them read books at night. We read to them, with them, and help them read to us. We travel and we learn and we let them ask questions and we do our best to give them the correct answers. But, this program is not for people who have jobs or other kids or anything else going on.

For example, we have 6-year-old twins. Charlotte reads very well. Carter doesn’t sit still long enough to focus on a book or words or reading – he has ninja skills to practice, a yard to explore, and he’s obsessed with the weather. He might not be the best reader, but ask this kid how a tornado is formed or to tell you how hurricanes gain their power or what the pressure means or how many MPH each category storm needs to be classified that category. He can tell you in a second flat. But, he cannot read the assignments or the test questions himself. And, it takes Charlotte a looooong time to read many of the test questions, stories, and assignments.

This means I spend hours every day doing it for them and asking them to listen. Then I have to read the choices for their answers – and what’s even more fun is that when their assignments are being done, they are not the same! That’s right, they have different questions and different answer choices on their quizzes and tests, and I literally cannot sit down with them together and kill two birds with one stone. It’s 5-6 hours per day of work with them. It’s not feasible.

Add fourth grade virtual work to the mix. It’s too much for us. The kids like their teachers. The work isn’t hard – but it’s exceptionally time-consuming. It’s not meant for small kids, and that’s what we have.

They also cry almost every day. They want to go back to school. They want normal.

I’ve never felt like as much of a failure in my life as I have the past few weeks trying to work with them and realizing that they’re going to end up so far behind their peers if they don’t get back to a classroom – and that will be my fault. My fault because I don’t know how to teach them. My fault because I thought this was the best decision. For some, this is the best decision. For us, it’s not.

Honestly, we really thought that school would be cancelled or that they’d be sent home every week or two for two weeks of quarantine. We didn’t want to deal with the constant disruption of their schedules – or ours – because they are so little and schedules are so important. It’s hard. Managing these schedules for these kids along with their extracurricular activities, our travels, our own schedules, clients, and our work…it’s too much for us. Craig and I cannot do this. We cannot be virtual school parents to small kids who need so much help. It’s a disservice to them to learn so little because we simply cannot teach them.

I spent some time last week feeling like a failure because of this. I threw myself a pity party. I cried. A lot. But, at the end of the day, my husband did what he does best. He put his arms around me, reminded me this was a joint decision and that neither of us have failed our kids. We used what little information we had and made the decision that worked best at the time – and it didn’t work. He reminded me that I’m an amazing mom, and we have four amazing kids, and that they’re smart and resilient and fun and creative, and they will be just fine.

We filed paperwork last week to put them back in school. They are starting a brand-new school where they will make brand-new friends and have brand-new teachers, and they have never been more excited in their lives about anything. New backpacks and lunchboxes were ordered. Ava has a matching lanyard to clip her mask to so she doesn’t lose it when she’s not wearing it during the day (thanks, Lilly Pulitzer for making back to school bags and accessories so much fun) and the twins are just happy they don’t have to wear masks at all.

Addison has been back in school for a few weeks now, and we are making the most of it. She’s not required to wear a mask in class, but she does have to wear one when she’s transitioning between classes. We are doing our best to keep her masks washed with a gentle cleanser after her wears so that she doesn’t end up with horrible skin due to all the filth and bacteria in them (because let’s all sit down for a moment and be honest – these everyday masks people are being forced to wear are doing so much more harm than good. These kids aren’t medical professionals who wear multiple new, clean masks throughout the day and are trained not to touch their masks or their faces throughout the day. These kids are taking one mask to school per day and touching it, probably throwing it inside their filthy bags, pockets, jackets, lunchboxes, putting them on their dirty desks – because they aren’t being cleaned between classes in under 5 minutes – and they are touching them with filthy hands and germs and they’re sneezing in them and sniffling in them, and they’re gross. They’re gross.). She wears a new one each day so we can clean the one from the day before, and we are just hopeful this won’t ruin her beautiful skin.

So, we made a mistake. Virtual school is not for us. Maybe it’s for you. But, it is absolutely not for this family. We tried it, we gave it the first four weeks of the new school year, and we couldn’t make it work. It would be so easy to blame it on the teachers or the district, but it’s us. We are the problem. We just cannot educate our kids by ourselves. We aren’t teachers. We are hindering their education, and that’s not all right with us.

I just want to shout out all the parents for making hard decisions. This year sucks. It’s not fun to know nothing about anything, to have normal taken away, to have to change our entire lives for something like this, and to lose the ability to control our own lives to an extent. We are all doing what we need to do for our kids right now, and we are all doing a great job. Whatever decision you made, mom and dad, you did awesome. Whether it’s working like a charm or you aren’t finding it to be the right choice, either, you are killing it, and you should be proud of yourself. Remember, at the end of the day, you are a mom/dad, and your kids love you no matter how many times you make a mistake.

We all make them. It’s owning up to them and being honest when you make one that sets us apart and teaches our kids the best lessons in life. Sometimes, we are wrong. Sometimes, we just have to make changes. But, our kids will always be better for it when we are honest with ourselves.

Keep up the heard work. You’re doing an amazing job. And, don’t feel bad if you don’t like being your own child’s teacher. Teachers are just special people.

Our Kids Aren’t Going Back to School: And We Couldn’t Be Happier

Happy Wednesday!

How is everyone on day 38 of the social distancing situation (in Florida, anyway)? Honestly speaking, I have to say I am impressed with my own handling of this situation. I thought for certain that by now I’d be a mess. I figured my patience would have exited the building weeks ago, I’d be overwhelmed and uptight, and my attitude would suck.

It doesn’t. I’m thriving. And, I think that it’s because our kids are thriving. All the things that I thought they’d miss aren’t having nearly the effect on them that I thought they’d have. We spend so much time running them from this activity to that activity to this practice from that practice to this and that and everything in between, and our kids haven’t asked once about their extracurricular activities or mentioned missing them; but, they have repeatedly said how much they love being home in the evenings and playing games, and having family dinners, and taking walks.

You know what else they comment about missing? Their friends. They miss their friends in class. They miss their teachers. They miss their grandparents. The twins miss giving their teacher a hug in the morning when they get to her class (she’s one of the loveliest people we’ve had the pleasure of meeting, so we get that). They all miss things like their art classes in school, and their media time, and their PE time. They miss connection. They don’t miss being busy. What a thing to process, right?

Governor DeSantis made the announcement Saturday afternoon that our schools would continue to remain closed the rest of the school year. What was initially a month-long closing turned into six weeks, and we were meant to go back at the beginning of May. Now we are out until August; and they will return to school going into seventh, fourth, and first grades. Some parents are really upset by this. I’ll be honest; there was a time when I would have been downright furious.

My husband and I both work from home – not because of COVID-19 but because I’ve worked for myself for 12 years and my husband has been working home for his company for almost four years now – and having the kids home on school breaks and summer is hard on our schedules. Mine a little less so since my schedule is my doing – not that I like it interrupted.

But, we’ve created a new schedule having them home, and we – sit down for this one – like it. The kids like it. We like it. We like having them home. They can be over-the-top and annoying at times – Monday was a rough day for us with the kids. But, I think they’ve been 95% pretty good about this (with the cute exception of the fact that Ava and Carter seem to butt heads more than ever right now). They’ve adapted well, and I’m glad they aren’t going back. Why? Well, for a few reasons.

The Transition Period

The worst thing about a schedule change is the transition period. When school was first closed, it wasn’t so bad because we were only a week away from spring break, and we were traveling the weekend it was announced, so we came home tired and exhausted and we had three little ones with birthdays. We welcomed the extra week. Then, it was spring break. That worked out for us, too. But, the week after was the first week of distance learning, and that’s a transition week. We had two free weeks and then we had to find a new schedule doing something we’ve never done before, and we all had to adapt. That was a stressful week. But, the following week was better. The third week was even better. Week four, which we are in now, is a seamless and organized machine.

The transition of going back to school at the beginning of May for all of three weeks would have been a mess, in my opinion. Transitioning back to a school schedule that involves a 6 am wakeup for our oldest, transitioning back to the classroom after more than six weeks away; I could see the mess from a mile away. Everyone would be tired and cranky, they’d have to learn to readjust – this wasn’t a week off for spring break, after all. They’d have to learn to readjust to a school schedule, and they’d all be cranky and tired for the week. For what? For three weeks? Then, we’d have to readjust to a new summer schedule? It’s a lot of change and adjustment in the span of two months, and kids – especially the Raiford kids – thrive on routine and structure. It’s too much to ask them to make so many confusing changes.

The Fear

Right now, our kids aren’t worried about the virus. Why should they be? They are safe at home with their mom and dad having fun. They are swimming every weekend, they are busy having fun, they are loving family walks and tending to their new little garden Craig helped them plant. They are having more takeout than ever from their favorite restaurants, they are getting so much time outside to play, and the weather is gorgeous. They have unlimited access to Amazon to order new games and toys and crafts, and they’ve been taking full advantage of that. They’re loving this, and they feel safe at home. But, imagine the fear of going back to school right now when part of the world is still shut down, and so many people have so many different opinions. Their friends would have things to say, they would be fearful, and it wouldn’t help. I’m glad they don’t have to face that fear and that they get to stay home with us and feel safe and comfortable.

We’d Miss Them

Who are we?! In all seriousness, the person who will have the hardest time when they go back to school in August is myself. I like having them here. I like being able to leave my phone in the master bedroom and not look at it all day long if I don’t want to – I can’t do that when they’re at school because what if they call and something has happened? I like knowing that they are safe all day long and never worrying when I see the school’s name scroll across my screen. There are so many horrible things in the world that might happen, but our kids aren’t there, and I’m not worried anymore. I love having them home where I know they are safe. That’s everything to me. And, I can tell you that I’ll have anxiety and panic a bit when I no longer have them in my protective custody again.

We like distance learning. I’d even go out on a limb and tell you that homeschool wouldn’t be out of the question for us if the kids would be willing to do it. I think Ava would, and would excel at doing it. But, I know Addison, Charlotte, and Carter would never go for it being the social butterflies and school-lovers that they are. Ava, on the other hand, is me. She doesn’t care for people she doesn’t hand pick, and she only wants to socialize with those she loves and respects. She’d be a hermit if we let her – which is exactly how I am.

This Time is Really Nice

I know that this is not a nice time for so many people in the world right now, and my heart aches for those who aren’t able to work, who are ill, who have lost a loved one, who are struggling financially and who aren’t sure what tomorrow brings. My heart hurts. I don’t want to look past that or make it seem that I am ambivalent in any capacity. However, I am thoroughly enjoying this time. I love the slow days, the new schedule, the time that we are getting to spend with our kids. We are finally NOT busy, and we needed it. We needed more movie nights and more Friday night date nights in the to-go parking spots at our favorite restaurants versus Fridays spent packing to travel every single weekend for a month, stay home for a weekend, and repeat (But, OMG do I miss travel and the places and trips we are no longer taking because we just don’t know when we even can anymore). We needed more sleep until 8 am weekdays, more time to make creative pancakes, go for a run, and focus on school work for only a few hours versus all day. We needed less nights where we are out until 8 pm, tired, hungry, and cranky when we get home. We needed more time with people we love rather than people who drain us.

We needed more game nights. We needed more family dinners around the tables. One night a week wasn’t enough for that. We need to slow down, and we needed to continue this a little longer. The days are getting longer, the nights are still cool and beautiful, and we are finally living our best life free of all the things that stress us out and make us rigid and inflexible and tired. Our kids are doing so well, and so are we with having them home.

It’s simple. Simple, as it turns out, is quite nice. Don’t take that for granted. I hope you are all enjoying your time as much as we are. We’ve had five uninterrupted weeks with our kids, and we get another 16 weeks. That is, even if you’re struggling, a gift. Use it wisely.