Category Archives: School Days

When Is a Mess Not a Mess?

Trio block constructionSunday evening, one week into my 19-unit semester. Four months of classes and assignments, abstracts and annotations, essays and reflections loomed ahead. I wanted to get in bed on time … so I wanted the kids to get in bed on time. I approached the boys’ room to pray with them for the night.

I stopped in the doorway, temporarily blinded by the state of their room.

Books, papers, and writing instruments covered the desk. Trio block creations scattered the floor and Lego creations stood on top of the dresser and every other horizontal surface. During the weeks leading up to the kids’ school and my classes starting again, I had spent more than a couple of hours organizing, cleaning up, and cleaning out that room with the boys … then telling them in no uncertain terms that their room needed to stay clean because the weeks ahead would be too busy to spend much time deep cleaning.

“Boys, this room is a mess,” I stated. They looked at me as though I was speaking another language. “How much time did we spend cleaning this room?” They were silent. “You’re not watching any videos until the room is clean.”

As I tried to go to sleep that night, I thought back on my motherly feathers being so ruffled by the state of their room. And I thought about that. The Trio buildings. The art work and projects. The Lego towers. I realized it was all creative play. Building. Drawing. Even reading. All good things. Creative expressions.

No wonder I felt like I was speaking a different language. In a way, that’s just what I was doing. I said “mess” because I saw a mess. They drew blanks because they saw their creations and ongoing projects. We looked at the same room and came up with very different conclusions because of our very different perspectives.

And then I thought about later. Five years from now. Or ten. I thought about their room, and how I might wish to see my kids’ latest drawing or project or poem or construction. But my kids will no longer be kids. They will have moved on to bigger and grander things.

Their room might be clean then. But the loss would be mine.

How many times do I, as a parent, look in from the outside, or from above, and fail to see the world from my children’s perspective? Through their eyes? Whether it be their room or their homework, an argument between siblings, or an emotional situation they’ re going through.

The next morning, before I even got up, the boys had cleaned their room. (And I thought my words had gone selectively unheard.) I missed the chance to get on their level and ask them what they were working on. Or join them in their creative play. Again, the loss was mine, even though the room was tidy.

No, it’s not my job to clean up after my children. And yes, they do need to develop a sense of responsibility. But perspective makes such a difference. Perspective on messes. On time. On teaching and learning.  As a parent, I am slowly coming to learn that I have more to learn than I ever did. And even that is a matter of perspective. Seeing the learning as a joy, as something to be gained from every person and every situation.

Even from a “messy” room.

Lego creation & stack of books


Bye for the Day, Mom

If you had driven

Down Shields Avenue

Past a school at roughly

9:37 am

You might have seen a brown-haired boy

With glasses, and a button-blue shirt tucked in

Standing against the black steel fence


A score of other children swung and hula-hooped and dribbled balls and played tag

Forgive the boy waving

As if at the cars driving by

Or those waiting at the bus stand just past the parking lot

Or at nothing at all

He was waving to his mother

He was waving to me

The Best A Parent Can Do (School Begins)

school year beginsSchool begins in less than a week for my children. For many school districts, it is already in full swing, having begun on the 17th, or even the 10th, of August.

Many parents, mothers especially, are thrilled about school starting up again. I have seen numerous posts with humorous photos and quotes about the fact that kids will be heading back to school. They will be looked after for the greater part of the weekdays. They will be educated. They won’t be around to say, “I’m bored.”

But I have mixed feelings about the start of the 2015-2016 school year. Last school year was a challenge for each of my children. As I mentioned in an article for the CAA Newsletter earlier this summer, my two older children brought schoolwork home nearly every afternoon. And they didn’t always finish it.

It was my youngest son’s first year at school, which held its own set of challenges. I spent a few hours at their school on most days, so my son began to expect having me around. When I had to leave each day to attend my own classes, he grew very emotional. A couple of times, he had emotional meltdowns. Once he ran out into the parking lot to say goodbye, when I was still inside the school and had no idea he had gone outside.

Although the summer has been filled with my work-from-home editing projects, it has been wonderful to have the kids at home. Nearby. It’s been fun to read in the evenings (Lord of the Rings with my ten-year-old; the Little House series with my eight-year-old). We’ve enjoyed baking projects, party planning, and camping. We got a puppy and figured out how to house-train her. The summer has flown past.

On the same day my kids start school, I start classes as well. I’ve registered for 20 units, and will also be helping out at the kids’ school part-time, not counting my freelance editing work. Needless to say, our days will grow a lot more packed. Maybe that’s what contributes to my mixed feelings about the upcoming school year. Will I be able to juggle everything and still make time for those things every parent should be able to fit in? Like reading with the kids or taking day trips on the weekend? Will the days be consumed with homework … mine and theirs? Will I grow short-tempered and sharp because my mind is on a myriad of tasks?

Those are some of my concerns, but I know all parents have their unique set of concerns and questions. Kids starting new schools, or leaving home for the first time. Will they make friends? Will they do well in school? Will they have kind teachers?

In spite of the questions, the best we can do is pray. For this school year, yes. For their workload and friendships, for their education and growth.

And also for the future. That each thing they learn, each difficulty they confront, each challenge they face, will be part of what grows them into caring, loving, well-balanced adults. Those who, most of all, love God, love others. Those who know how much they are loved and cherished by us parents, who hardly know how to express it. And by God, who expressed it best in the love of His own Son.

Prayer of a Child at the Start of School

Prayer at the beginning of School

So Close, Yet So Far

the gift of childrenThe 2014-15 school year hasn’t been the easiest for my children, especially the older two. The number of afternoons they came home without homework was definitely in the minority. And the number of times they ended up with detention due to incomplete goals was higher than all their previous school years combined.

It probably didn’t help that my schedule was busier than usual this year, juggling a full class load, teaching part-time in two locations, and working from home as a freelance editor.

This is their last week of school. When I picked them up from school yesterday afternoon, all three of them had homework. On the way home, I tried to encourage them with, “It’s the last day you’ll be bringing homework home this school year! Tomorrow and the next day you’ll have tests, so you won’t have homework. Isn’t that exciting?”

They weren’t as jazzed as I was.

At 8:30, the older two were still slogging through their homework. I washed dishes as they sat at the dining room table.

“Mom,” my daughter said, “do you ever feel like you are so close to something and you still have so far to go? I mean, I know it’s my last math book, but it’s so hard and it’s taking me forever!”

Do I ever feel like that? Earlier this month I completed the fourth draft of my current work-in-progress, and I feel like I’m further than ever from finishing the book. A few weeks ago, I was enthusiastic and eager; this week I’ve been struggling to write a single paragraph.

“Yes, Jessica,” I answered. “I actually feel that way right now.”

“About what?” she asked.

“Dishes?” Allen added.

“About finishing my book.”

“Oh.” My daughter didn’t need to ask for more information. Nearly every night for months now, without my asking, she’s prayed for my writing, and for the people who read my book to like it.

I have to finish the book first. But I appreciate the prayers. I appreciate my daughter’s faith in me and in my ability to finish strong. I think she might have more faith in me than I have in myself as my mental self-gauge pendulum swings between incapable and clueless.

But then I thought, Maybe that’s what my kids need from me as well. Faith in them. In their ability to finish strong. Yesterday evening it was finishing their homework. Today and tomorrow, it’s finishing their tests, and their respective grades. In a few months, another school year will begin with more tests and assignments. Between now and then, life itself will be sure to serve up a random sampling of challenges.

Or maybe it’s not so random.

Maybe the challenges are chosen. The dates. The timings. The methods. Like a school with personalized lessons and grades and testing, administered by the Author of Life and all good things.

Maybe the difficulties and tests He allows to come our way are a sign of His love for us and His confidence in us. That we will look to Him and find strength and courage to keep at it another day. One day at a time.

So that we will finish strong.

What Kids Wish the Bible Would Say

kindergarten placement testingKindergarten placement testing. That moment of truth where you know whether your efforts in early learning, flash cards, and countless stories made a difference. Whether those moments counting everything in sight, sorting, categorizing, and teaching your toddler (then preschooler, then child) to follow directions were effective.

I had been both anticipating and dreading the moment. He is my youngest, and since our middle child began attending school in fall of 2011, it had been just the two of us during school hours.

But it was also a time of change for our family. I started school again, and began working from home as an editor and ghostwriter. Amidst all that, I knew I did not give him as much time and focus – scholastically speaking – as our first two children.

Hence the mingling of anticipation and trepidation. The defining moment arrived. Our van was in the shop so my dad dropped us off at the school he would be attending in the fall. I waited in the office while he took the test.

Finally, the door opened. The kindergarten teacher walked up the hallway, approaching us. My son followed her. She stopped by the principal’s office and he ran up to me. “Mommy, I did very, very, well.”

Well, that was a good sign, especially since he doesn’t normally use the words “very,” especially twice in a sentence. Maybe he heard it straight from his prospective teacher.

She called me into the office and showed me how he did. She turned the pages of the test, explaining briefly what he had been asked to do on each one. He aced following directions, did well in problem solving, and thinking skills (probably talked a blue streak while working out certain problems). He struggled with the page on phonics. Overall, besides the phonics page, the teacher said that he did “very, very well.”

I was happy. My teaching had been at least relatively successful. Even though I hadn’t given him all the attention and focus that I had wanted to, he was definitely ready for kindergarten. It was all good.

My son played outside while we waited for my dad to pick us up. After a few minutes, he came to sit beside me. “Mommy, I wish sometimes that the Bible would tell us that we don’t have to be nice to each other. I wish it would say that we can be selfish and think about ourselves.”

I blinked, taken aback at his statement, but thankful for his honesty. My other two kids had never said anything like that, especially not at five years old. I tried not to overreact. After all, he wasn’t angry. He was just expressing how he felt. About something rather important, in my point of view.

I said, “Well, let’s think about how life would be if the Bible told us that we could do whatever we wanted. What would the world look like if people did anything they wanted to?”

His eyes glazed over. It was clearly too nebulous of a question. I realized I’d have to bring it home a little closer.

“What if the farmers didn’t feel like doing their work and decided to do something else instead? Or the truck drivers who bring food from the farms chose to stop bringing things like milk, fruits, and vegetables to the stores? Then we wouldn’t have anything to buy. What if the people who keep the streets safe or keep the traffic lights working decided they didn’t want to help people and went home?”

He was quiet, but I could tell he was thinking about it.

“What if Mommy decided I didn’t want to take care of you for a little while? What if I felt like going to a trip to the mountains so I could read and write?”

He looked at me and laughed. It was a small laugh, as if he wasn’t sure whether I was joking or not.

“I would never do something like that, and I’m happy to take care of you because I love you.”

He seemed satisfied with my answer. Usually, if he didn’t agree with something, he would either continue the discussion or stalk off in a huff (and then I’d have to reason with him a little more).

So my youngest son entered kindergarten. I no longer have him with me for the majority of the day. Does that mean my job is ended? Not by a long shot. That single conversation showed me just how important and vital my role as a mother is. And I’m in it for the long haul.

Only God knows what kinds of questions he will come up with on his own, much less what kinds of attitudes and perspective he will face when he enters school. He will likely bring home or store up in his mind many new thoughts and questions, things he will need to weigh up against the foundations that my husband and I have taught him and are teaching him.

I am tempted to get overwhelmed by the responsibility, rearing a child – not scholastically, but spiritually and morally. Teaching Him about God and truth and love. What threatens to alarm me most is that I can give this little man all the information in the world, but only God can do the work in his heart.

But I can help. I can help by praying. By “raising him up in the way he should go,” by loving him and reasoning with him and keeping an open dialogue with him, and with his brother and sister, as they learn and grow. By giving them solid input and informing them of all sides of deep, foundational issues. By having the courage to let them come to their conclusions. Then I can pray some more, that the conclusions will be good one, and that they will grow into courageous and compassionate grownups.

At the end, that’s the very best I can hope and pray for … for any of the upcoming generation.

I Know God Has a Plan for Me – A Child’s Essay

a girl in the sunshineBy Jessica, 10 years old


I know that God knows me because he says it in his Word. God knows that my name is Jessica and that I like to read. He knows it is important for me to have Godly character. It will help me obey him like King David did. He knows that I mostly have the character traits of faith, and gentleness. God even knows I would like to have the character trait of patience with others.

God helps me just like he helped David. When it comes to temptation just like David did, I can ask God to help me. God will always help me resist temptations. He helped me once when I was tempted because I saw two Hershey kisses on a shelf. I wanted to eat one, but instead I asked God to help me not to be tempted, and he did.

God had a plan for David, and he has a plan for me. God chose David to be king, because David did not think about riches. Instead he thought about God and how to please him. God also has a plan for my life. I think God’s plan for my life is for me to be a missionary, or to write children’s stories about his love.

The Joy of Creating

Eleven kids are on the sidewalk in front of our house. No, it’s not a party. It’s chalk. My sister gave our kids some chalk and within a few minutes, it looked like half the neighborhood had gathered. Children I have never seen are on their knees, engaged in creative activity.

I walk down the sidewalk and see a pink snake and a yellow elephant. I see a chalk boy and girl side by side. Hearts and stars and flowers – common sidewalk chalk staples – cover the pavement. I hear the children comparing artwork as they are fully focused on the joy of creating something that is all their own.

The pictures will fade, or get washed away when the sprinklers come on tonight. But right now they stand as colorful symbols of the enduring and unique expressions of art.

School has just started for my two older kids and their cousin. My sister and I are taking turns teaching the two youngest kids, Aiden and Keira, kindergarten. At this time of year, kids’ days are primarily filled with addition and subtraction, parts of speech and dates of history. Being a more studious type of person, I think my focus for the kids also tends to fall more along the lines of “finish your homework” than “let’s do something creative.”

But we were designed to be creative, and often a child’s mind is so much more tuned into that side of things than our “big-people minds,” which are often too stuffed with to-do’s and shopping lists and email replies and bills to pay.

Watching them now, fully occupied with something as simple as chalk, makes me want to spend more time with my kids on their level, creating works of art, stimulating the mind, inspiring the spirit … and just having fun – with crayons and chalk, with colors and words, with paints and poetry.

Please pass the chalk.

Like a Child Again

Short Story ElevenAs I wrote in my other blog, yesterday I started a new semester at college. One class I’m taking is “Introduction to Literature.” The professor spoke of the joy of writing and reading and connecting with people through literature — the study of stories.

Then she read a story to us. And nearly-31-year-old me sat in a little desk that looked like it was made for an eight-year-old child, and listened to the story.

This is the story she read, which is written from the point of view of a girl who’s turning eleven today. As the professor read, slowly, and with feeling, I felt like a kid again. I felt a knot in my stomach and my heart hurt for the girl-whose-birthday-it-was being treated with insensitivity and unkindness on her most special day.

It made me feel like a kid because I know those times when you try to explain yourself but only tears come instead, when worse than the treatment is just the being misunderstood. Read the story. Maybe it will make you feel like a child again. Maybe it will also make you feel like a parent, who wants to love your children so much that no matter what they might face — even if they have to deal with people like Mrs. Price or Phyllis Lopez or Sylvia Saldivar in the story — they will still know that they are special and cherished and treasured.

Maybe it will help you feel like a parent, who although you are 25 or 30 or 40, you realize that within you is also the 11 and 10 and nine and eight and all the rest of those years that maybe your children are now. You know how it is and how it was, and so you reach out to them with the part of you that is the same as them. And you tell them you know how they feel, that you understand, and that you love them.

And the love covers everything else. Not like a bulky red sweater … but like a soft cloud, a waterbed, a warm blanket, and a mother’s arms all at once. Cuz that’s what love is.

“Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros

What they don’t understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don’t.

You open your eyes and everything’s just like yesterday, only it’s today. And you don’t feel eleven at all. You feel like you’re still ten. And you are — underneath the year that makes you eleven. Like some days you might say something stupid, and that’s the part of you that’s still ten. Or maybe some days you might need to sit on your mama’s lap because you’re scared, and that’s the part of you that’s five.

And maybe one day when you’re all grown up maybe you will need to cry like if you’re three, and that’s okay. That’s what I tell Mama when she’s sad and needs to cry. Maybe she’s feeling three.

Because the way you grow old is kind of like an onion or like the rings inside a tree trunk or like my little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other, each year inside the next one. That’s how being eleven years old is.

You don’t feel eleven. Not right away. It takes a few days, weeks even, sometimes even months before you say Eleven when they ask you. And you don’t feel smart eleven, not until you’re almost twelve. That’s the way it is.

Only today I wish I didn’t have only eleven years rattling inside me like pennies in a tin Band-Aid box. Today I wish I was one hundred and two instead of eleven because if I was one hundred and two I’d have known what to say when Mrs. Price put the red sweater on my desk. I would’ve known how to tell her it wasn’t mine instead of just sitting there with that look on my face and nothing coming out of my mouth.

“Whose is this?” Mrs. Price says, and she holds the red sweater up in the air for all the class to see. “Whose? It’s been sitting in the coatroom for a month.”

“Not mine,” says everybody. “Not me.”

“It has to belong to somebody,” Mrs. Price keeps saying, but nobody can remember. It’s an ugly sweater with red plastic buttons and a collar and sleeves all stretched out like you could use it for a jump rope. It’s maybe a thousand years old and even if it belonged to me I wouldn’t say so.

Maybe because I’m skinny, maybe because she doesn’t’ like me, that stupid Sylvia Saldivar says, “I think it belongs to Rachel.” An ugly sweater like that, all raggedy and old, but Mrs. Price believes her. Mrs. Price takes the sweater and puts it right on my desk, but when I open my mouth nothing comes out.

“That’s not, I don’t, you’re not…Not mine,” I finally say in a little voice that was maybe me when I was four.

“Of course it’s yours,” Mrs. Price says. “I remember you wearing in once.” Because she’s older and the teacher, she’s right and I’m not.

Not mine, not mine, not mine, but Mrs. Price is already turning to page thirty-two, and math problem number four. I don’t know why but all of a sudden I’m feeling sick inside, like the part of me that’s three wants to come out of my eyes, only I squeeze them shut tight and bite down on my teeth real hard and try to remember today I am eleven, eleven. Mama is making a cake for me tonight, and when Papa comes home everybody will sing
Happy birthday, happy birthday to you.

But when the sick feeling goes away and I open my eyes, the red
sweater’s still sitting there like a big red mountain. I move the red sweater to the corner of my desk wit my ruler. I move my pencil and books and eraser as far from it as possible. I even move my chair a little to the right.

Not mine, not mine, not mine.

In my head I’m thinking how long till lunchtime, how long till I can take the red sweater and throw it over the school yard fence, or even leave it hanging on a parking meter, or bunch it up into a little ball and toss it in the alley. Except when math period ends Mrs. Price says loud and in front of everybody , “Now Rachel, that’s enough,” because she sees I’ve shoved the red sweater to the tippy-tip corner of my desk and it’s hanging all over the edge like a waterfall, but I don’t’ care.

“Rachel,” Mrs. Price says. She says it like she’s getting mad. “You put that sweater on right now and no more nonsense.”

“But it’s not–”

“Now!” Mrs. Price says. This is when I wish I wasn’t eleven, because all the years inside of me–ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two and one– are pushing at the back of my eyes when I put one arm through one sleeve of the sweater that smells like cottage cheese, and then the other arm through the other and stand there with my arms apart like if the sweater hurts me and it does, all itchy and full of germs that aren’t even mine.

That’s when everything I’ve been holding in since this morning, since when Mrs. Price put the sweater on my desk, finally lets go, and all of a sudden I’m crying in front of everybody. I wish I was invisible but I’m not. I’m eleven and it’s my birthday today and I’m crying like I’m three in front of everybody. I put my head down on the desk and bury my face in my stupid clown-sweater arms. My face all hot and spit coming out of my mouth because I can’t stop the little animal noises from coming out of me, until there aren’t any more tears left in my eyes, and it’s just my body shaking like when you have the hiccups, and my whole head hurts like when you drink milk too fast.

But the worst part is right before the bell rings for lunch. That stupid Phyllis Lopez, who is even dumber than Sylvia Saldivar, says she remembers the red sweater is hers! I take it off right away and give it to her, only Mrs. Price pretends like everything’s okay.

Today I’m eleven. There’s cake Mama’s making for tonight, and when Papa comes home from work we’ll eat it. There’ll be candles and presents and everybody will sing Happy birthday, happy birthday to you, Rachel, only it’s too late.

I’m eleven today. I’m eleven, ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, and one, but I wish I was one hundred and two. I wish I was anything but eleven, because I want today to be far away already, far away like a runaway balloon, like a tiny “o” in the sky, so tiny-tiny you have to close your eyes to see it.

School Spirit Week

My Little PrincessToday is the last day of “spirit week” at my kids’ school. Each day they could dress up in a different theme.

Tuesday was Superhero or Disney.

Wednesday was Hillbilly

Thursday was Favorite Book Character

Friday, today, is Senior Citizen

We got the information slip last week and I took the kids shopping on Sunday afternoon. Why I even though that I would be able to find full, ready-made costumes nowhere near Halloween, I had no idea, but we were hopeful as we went from store to store. I found accessories – a hat, some hair ties – and a couple of backpacks on sale for their next school year, but no outfits.

“We’ll find something at home,” I assured them, promising myself that I would make it a priority and not wait until last-minute to help them find costumes.

Then there I was, Tuesday morning, tearing through the kids’ closet to find that last princessy dress that still fit my daughter. I mixed and matched a few ideas for Allen (he wanted to dress up as Wyatt from Super Why); he declined. “I’ll just go in my normal school uniform,” he told me.

I felt like a failure, especially when I saw the picture that the school principal posted of the kids, all in amazing costumes, and my son was absent from the photo.

He’s probably going to feel bad about it, I thought to myself. I better tell my husband to give him some extra attention this afternoon and evening. I was attending classes until after their bedtime. I only remember to ask how Allen was at about 11:30 that night.

“He seemed fine,” my husband said.

The next morning, we found some hillbilly outfits. Well, more like cowboy outfits. These had been the only costumes we had worked out from the previous week, and somehow this morning they weren’t good enough.

“My teacher said we’re supposed to wear things that are full of patches,” my daughter said.

“I’m sure she just was trying to give you ideas if you didn’t have anything to wear already,” I answered.

She pulled her face, that face that means she totally doesn’t agree and wants to make that fact very apparent without saying a word.

My husband walked into the kitchen. I fumed to him, “Suddenly everything everyone else says is the Gospel truth and anything I say has to pass some litmus test.”

He laughed. “I’ll help them get dressed.”

By the time I had finished making their lunches, they were in costume – the ones we had picked out last week – and they were both happy.

The next day, Jessica was Violet from the Boxcar series (how easy is that? Pull out everything violet that you own and wear it.) Allen decided to dress up as Christopher Robin, complete with the Winnie the Pooh stuffed bear that he had gotten from a friend last year.

This morning, I took a deep breath before going into the kids’ room to wake them up. I knew what I had in mind that they could wear, but I realized that didn’t mean they would want to wear it.

“I don’t want to dress up today,” Allen told me as soon as he rolled over and opened his eyes.

Oh no, I thought, someone teased him about his costume yesterday. I gently inquired why not. Everything seemed okay. He just didn’t want to dress up.

Jessica readily agreed with the outfit I suggested to her. It took a while to get her hair done up in bun complete with baby-powder grey, but it looked good. I was happy with myself, and with her. I was happy with Allen too, even if he didn’t want to dress up.

I said goodbye to an old woman and a little boy, on their way to school. So my son won’t be in the picture with the rest of his class in costume. That’s okay. Every kid is different; and every one of them is precious. I couldn’t imagine loving them more.

And I’m thankful Spirit Week only happens once a year. I think I just found a grey hair … and it’s not baby powder.