And Then... The End

Ready for Field Day!

The further into May we've gotten, the more "lasts" I've experienced at DCE. It is bittersweet. This school is the only place I've ever taught, my home away from home, my family. I'm swiftly realizing that every school is different, and so this may be the last time I ever experience these things again. Our last DCE field day, the last DCE fifth grade walk, the last day of kindergarten for my baby. And as pumped as I was to get my first graders out the door and onto summer, I tried to remember that this moment will never come again.

Ah, Field Day. I have a love/hate relationship with field day. Love - the awesome music blaring across the field, watching my kiddos tackle each station, cracking up at their lack of coordination, getting to take a break from the rigor and just enjoy watching kids being kids. This year had a Star Wars theme, so some of the stations were a lightsaber battle (using pool noodle lightsabers) and a Storm Trooper relay (the kids wore these GIANT boots to race back and forth - hilarious). Hate - the heat, the sun, the fact that it takes forever (and the whining starts creeping in around hour two), the way the classroom smells when we return. But this field day was extra special because I got to sneak away from my class for a few minutes and visit Violet.

Lunch Date! (I regularly dress like a ladybug... it impresses the kids.)
I also got a chance to sneak away and have lunch with Violet. I told Matt if he ever wanted to eat lunch at school with V, the next-to-last day of school was pretty much his last opportunity. So he showed up, we ate in the courtyard, and then these two rascals hatched a plot to skip out the rest of the day and hike to the top of Sawnee Mountain.

Mountain mastered! When I asked what was at the top, Violet said "a really big view".

Our last DCE Wild Animal Dance Party

First grade also celebrated our end of the year party. We wrap up our curriculum with our animal unit, so recently we've been banding together for a grade level Wild Animal Dance Party in the gym where all the kids (and teachers) dress like their favorite animal and we "dance" for half and hour before splitting up back to our rooms for food and the end of the year slideshow. This year's dancing was more like loud milling about the room and the world's longest conga line snaking around (I'm sure the parents were like... "we took off work for this?") Then of course I teared up during the slideshow when I told parents how special this class has been to me. Truly, despite the craziness, these kids have been the most loving and generous kids I have ever taught. I've learned so much watching them and sharing the room with my awesome special ed co-teachers. It's been a long, hard, hilarious, blessed year.

For my support teachers... we're all going somewhere new next year, but we will "be truly glad, there is wonderful joy ahead". I'm claiming that promise for next year!

Last Day of K!
Then suddenly it was the last day of school! Just look how much my baby has grown! I still remember the first day, forcing her to walk down the hallway to her classroom, watching her struggle to hold it together. Now she's out of my room before I can give her a hug, nary a backwards glance. Sigh. They grow so fast (said every mother ever).

So sad to leave the incomparable Ms. Howington.
And then I put the kids of the bus for the last time and it was over! I mean, I still have two more days of post-planning, and entire classroom's worth of boxes to move into my new school, and plenty more teacher goodbye's to say, but it's pretty much over. I came home Friday feeling so light... I didn't realize (okay, I did realize) how much weight I've been carrying this entire month. May is the worst. Every day there were 47 things to remember (specials cancelled, new lunch time, bring gifts, bring cooler, field day clothes, grades due, report cards due, pack this, don't pack that yet) that it was a relief to come home and not have anything left to remember. The to-do list was done. So Matt made me a Moscow Mule in my new cups to celebrate. And then, you guys, I passed out in my bed. Peace out, May, you have been conquered. Bring on summer.

Hello Summer


The End is Nigh

Fun at the Art Show! 

You guys. We are so close. So close I can taste it. Ten more teaching days, then another first grade year is in the books. It is so crazy to believe we're once again here at the end. But before I start counting my chickens, here's a little bit of fun we've been up to as we count it down.

My best Mona.

I volunteer to help work the Art Show every year at school. It is so fun to see the kids come in, dragging their parents to show off their artwork, all fancied up in a real frame. Since the day I worked at the first one, six long years ago, I have been looking forward to the moment my own child has their artwork up there. And so of course I had to buy it (school fundraiser, it's all good) and bring it home.

Violet with her very best friends on their spring field trip to the farm.

It is starting to hit me, hard, that these are my last few memory-making days at DCES. It's the only school I've every taught in. It's all I know. And soon the door will close on my time in these hallowed halls. Violet has made so many good friends this year and it makes me sad that she'll be starting over again. I'm keeping her in the Girl Scout troop, though, so she will still get to see some of them twice a month.

Our small group is doing a study called "Address the Mess" and I think this counts as my "hot mess!"

Last Daisy troop meeting of the year!

And then she turned 15 years old.

And now I just have to get through these next two weeks. Seriously, if you have any love in your heart at all for your child's teacher, bring her a coffee sometime this week. Because she's done. And the kids are done. And there are still ten more days. Field Day to survive, end of the year parties to plan and execute, volunteer thank you gifts to make, teacher gifts to buy, assessments to give and grade, report cards to enter, chaos to control. And there are some days when specials are cancelled and we have to eat in our classrooms and that means I'm with these kids for literally seven and a half hours without a break. No planning period. No chance to swing by the office to pick up notes. Not even a pee break.

And just remember, in two weeks, your children will be home with you. All summer. And they will be bored and hungry about 10.6 minutes after summer officially starts. So while you still can, go appreciate an exhausted, over-extended teacher.

A wise teacher/friend once made the remark that she always tries very intentionally to enjoy her students the last weeks of school. It's easy to get caught up in the countdown (see above two paragraphs) and forget that these are our last few days with the children we have taught and nurtured for the past ten months. They are ours for a short year, never to be our again. They will leave out the door that last day and that will be it. So I've planned a very exciting final week of school that I hope will be an amazing memory for my little guys as we close out first grade together. And I will be trying hard to smile and laugh and enjoy how far they've come.


Mother's Day

Ah, Mother's Day. A day just for moms, just to let them know how much we appreciate them. As if that were actually an attainable feat, as if there were enough words to adequately describe what our mothers have done for us.

My children woke me up before six this morning. I went upstairs and climbed into bed with them the moment I heard them on the monitor, hoping to coax them back to sleep until at least the sun came up. No dice. But because it was Mother's Day, I spared their lives and did an hour of yoga instead.

It's amazing what being alone for an hour can do for the soul. The cup of coffee graciously provided by my husband also helped.

Tonight at dinner I asked Annie to tell me all about, well, me and here's what I got:

Mommy's favorite color: green
Mommy's age: 59 (she's fired)
Mommy's favorite thing to eat: rice and "pomatoes"
Mommy's job: "busy" (yep, that pretty much sums it up)
Annie's favorite thing about Mommy: "I love you"

Man, the little one knows how to earn her keep around here. She helped me make dinner tonight and the whole time she was like, "Mommy, I cooking with you!" and "Mommy, we cooking together! This be fun!" I've decided that people have second babies just so there will still be someone to love them by the time the first-born has developed opinions and turned snarky.

I was reflecting on motherhood today. By that, I mean I was reading the various posts everyone has been throwing up on facebook, things like "12 Things Every Mother Really Wants" (on the list: silence, to be left alone, a vacation that doesn't involve babysitting, silence, peeing alone, silence...)

It seems like motherhood falls into two general camps.

There are the moms who are all in. They nurture. They make homemade babyfood and crafts and stimulating conversation and snacks in the shape of animals. They want the best for their children and aren't about to apologize for it. Motherhood is a joy and fulfillment and what they were made to do and do well. They care and care hard. And truth be told, they can be a little judgey about it (admit it, you are...)

Then there are the moms who just can't. They're fine with the "world's okayest mom" label and almost seem to go out of their way to prove their in-the-trenches survival-mode mentality. They're not treasuring every moment, they're actually bemoaning every moment. We get it, motherhood is hard. The days are loooong. It's cool not to like your kids because, well, kids are annoying little terrorists and gosh darn it you are not about to negotiate with terrorists. And truth be told, they can get just as judgey about those earnest, Pinteresting mamas (you know you do it...)

And I'm wondering, what happened to the mamas who are just trying their best? We don't have it all together, but if we're honest with ourselves, we're not half bad. We juggle work and mommying the best we can. Our house might not be Martha Stewart's, but it's not a pig sty either. Our kids aren't eating McDonald's every night (just on Sunday afternoons before the grocery store run). Everyone gets one extracurricular activity, we brush our teeth most nights, there is some sort of vegetable on the dinner plate five out of seven times (even if it means we count fries as legitimate vegetable products). We're not ashamed to say we love our kids and our jobs as mothers, but we're equally okay admitting it's wine-o-clock somewhere. We're not enjoying every minute, but we're seizing the moments that are and etching them on our hearts.

That's the mama I want to be. I want to be honest about the realities of this season of littles in my home, the good and the bad. The bad is funnier, and perhaps more relatable. But the good is just as important. Let's encourage one another, let's be real with each other, and for gosh sake let's share the whine wine with each other!

Here's to my mamas, the ones who have mothered me and the ones who are mothering next to me. I see you. You are awesome.


Ladybugs in the Garden

Violet's Daisy troop had a ladybug release! They used some of their cookie money to buy ladybugs to contribute to our elementary school's garden. Ladybugs are my classroom theme, so of course I had to get in on the action. We even got to take a few home that were too reluctant to initially leave the bag - hopefully they will make a happy home in my vegetable garden.


Be Overwhelmed

Usually being overwhelmed has a negative association. It is easy for me to feel overwhelmed this time of year. I'm overwhelmed by the mountain of tasks I have left to accomplish with my students, even as the calendar ticks steadily down through these last 20 school days. I'm overwhelmed by the end-of-year parties to plan, teacher gifts to buy, volunteer presents to make, boxes to pack. The garden needs maintaining, the pantry has still not started stocking itself. My children inexplicably continue to need snacks and baths and books at bedtime.

But overwhelmed can be flipped over, taken out of its defeatist connotation. It can also mean to affect strongly. And affect in a good way. You can be overwhelmed with love, overwhelmed with joy. Perhaps not when doing the snacks-bath-books dance for the 471st time, but it is possible. It requires a bit more intention. You have to pay attention, look down and really notice what is around you. Allow it to affect you instead of just brushing past it on your way through the to-do list.

At church we've been going through a series on joy.  We can find joy in adversity. We can find joy in knowing God is with us, taking care of us, shepherding us daily through the valley of the shadow. And we are also called to take joy in his creation. Psalm 148 says "Let every created thing give praise to the Lord." We can find His joy in everything: twinkling stars, wind and weather, scurrying animals, even children. The challenge is in creating the space to do so, making the time to look down and notice, look up and marvel. 

I've been doing my best to find at least one small moment every day that has allowed me to take a breath, look around and marvel, be still and know. It's ironic when your to-do list includes "be overwhelmed by God's glory" but sometimes I have to be that intentional about it. And you know, once I start looking for it, it's always there. Sometimes I see it in Violet's face - that unadulterated joy of peddling through a tunnel of green light. Other times I steal a moment to wander away while the children play within earshot and their happy giggles become a fitting soundtrack as I spot that first ripe strawberry.

The Bible says "let everything that has breath praise the Lord." And God, in His infinite wisdom, created our bodies to do just that. In Hebrew, God's name is Yahweh, but it is written without the vowels. And the consonants that are left are the sounds we make as we breathe in and breathe out. The very act of breathing is to say God's name. It is the first thing we do when we enter into life on this earth; it is the last thing we will ever do before we see God's glory in death. We speak God's name. Our bodies, our very beings, praise Him. And if that's not cause to be overwhelmed, I don't know what it.


Things Big and Small

Sorry about the crazy eyes, Tatum! Thanks for the party!

We recently had the joy of celebrating the marriage of some good friends at a rocking party. (All weddings should take place at distilleries... it makes for a rather good vibe.) And at this said wedding, I had the great pleasure of meeting a lovely new lady whom I hope will become a very good friend. I'm already intimidated charmed by her grace, resilience, thoughtfulness, humor...

Lukas and this lady (who shall remain nameless until given permission to publish.)
Tatum, the groom and my brother-from-another-mother, gifted us this book at the wedding as a thank you. Not only are the illustrations delightful, it is spot-on when it comes to explaining the nearly-religious experience of the Swedish coffee break known as fika. There are many things the Swedes get right - Ikea, paid family leave, candy... but fika might just top the list (although 18 months paid maternity leave is hard to beat!)

Drink up, people!
 Post-wedding, pre-back to real life in the 'burbs with our kids, we decided to brunch. After many recommendations, both from locals and the internets, we decided on the Silver Skillet based on its proximity to our hotel and (more importantly), the fact that it came highly regarded by Matt's food idol, Alton Brown. As we stand there in line, I kid you not, who gets in line behind us? Yep, Alton himself. Oh, we tried to play it cool. We totally did not get a third cup of coffee hoping to time our departure to his. We definitely did not linger in the parking lot hoping he would walk our way. But the stars in our eyes aligned when he did indeed come our way and I basically accosted him with a request for a quick picture. He was clearly in a rush but graciously obliged. Oh, and we totally brought home a whole lemon ice box pie. And then hid it from the kids so we didn't have to share.

Where do I know that guy from...?
We wrapped up our weekend by planted our garden, finally. The kids might be slightly obsessed with digging in the dirt now.

The garden is back!


Spring Break - Here, Fishy Fishy

Seahorse met some seahorse.

Spring break, day two. We woke up, got ready, and walked to breakfast on our way to the Tennessee Aquarium. Other than being rather chilly, there were no problems. I forgot how much I love this aquarium. I know the Georgia Aquarium, just down the road (literally next door to our new church building) is billed as being the world's hugest, most luxurious, most amazingest aquarium in the history of aquariums (oh sorry, that was Trump) but Tennessee's is nothing to sneeze at. I think it is actually more accessible and set up in a way that makes it easy to see everything without being overwhelmed.

We started with the river building, which features otters (they weren't doing anything) on the top floor before you wind your way down the dark ramps to see the various fish exhibits. Violet was once again in manic mode, wanted to race her way through everything on a quest to... get to the end? I really couldn't figure out why she was in such a hurry. 

There are alligators back there...

We made it through and switched to the ocean building, which brought you to the top floor into the "touch a sting ray" pool and the butterfly garden. Both girls got to hold a butterfly! This building also holds the penguins, which was really fun. First grade does a huge unit on penguins every year, so it was fun for me to see these guys up close. They really are amazing swimmers, and the exhibit was partly underwater, letting you watch them dive and leap.

Taller than a penguin... barely!

Finally, the live versions!

At lunch, we played pictionary. I drew this and told Violet to guess what it was. "It's a penguin!" she said. "Or... a volcano."

We had planned to go to the IMAX movie after lunch, but neither girl was really into it, and Annie was heading dangerously close to naptime meltdown. So we cut our loses, took another stroll over yesterday's bridge, then headed back to the hotel for some R&R. The nice thing about our aquarium passes - they let us in and out all day. So once everyone was rested up, we headed back and did the ocean exhibit all over again. A good thing too, since Violet rushed us through the first time. This round we arrived just in time for giant manta feeding. It was bizarre! Shrimp would come sailing down into the water and the mantas would shoot up the window and then sink back down, catching the shrimp against the glass and swallowing them. Talk about up close and personal! The sea turtle was feasting on an entire head of lettuce as we watched. Then we headed to our IMAX, which Annie and I ended up spending in the lobby (she's just not ready for 3D IMAX movies quite yet).

After the movie, we followed up on a recommendation made by some random dog walkers we passed at one point the previous day - dinner at Boathouse. It sits right on the river with great views of whatever happens to be sailing by. Alas, it was a rather stormy evening, so there wasn't much action on the water, but we enjoyed dinner and made it back to the hotel before the rain started, so... win!


A little sea salad for this big guy.

Last night in the hotel!
Our last day in Chattanooga, we packed up, checked out of the hotel, and headed to Ruby Falls. We figured this would be a good way to wrap up our trip and wear out the kids before we threw them back in the car for the ride home. Before we planned this trip, we were on the fence about Ruby Falls. It's dark. It's a lot of walking. Was it going to be too scary? But seeing Violet race through the dark caverns at Rock City convinced us she would handle it just fine, and she did. Annie, on the other hand, was in full clingy mode and insisted on being carried almost the entire way. By me. Try as he might, Matt could not convince her to take a turn in his arms. She lasted to the waterfall itself, then totally fell asleep on me during the return trip. Exhausting! I swear she's gotten heavier in the last few weeks. I was sweating by the time we made it back to the entrance!

The lights! The majestic music! Cheesy touristy goodness!
If you can get past the commercial touristy aspects, it's a pretty cool place. Some guy, drilling into the earth hoping to build an elevator down to some caverns, hits a hidden pocket of fresh air. He jumps down the shaft, crawls on hands and knees for hours in the dark through an 18-inch tall passageway, and discovers an underground waterfall! Had he started his elevator drilling just six feet over, he would have missed the pocket altogether and Ruby Falls would be unknown to this day. It's rather amazing to think about. Also, who has the guts to crawl through the dark for hours into the unknown? Not I, said the sensible school-teaching mother of two. No thank you. But it does make for a lovely end to our little spring break journey to Chattanooga.

View from the top.

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