Tossing Pennies into the Toll Booth

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Toll Booth
source: Marjorie Lipan via Flickr

When I was in high school, I had to drive each day – once I was old enough to drive – through a toll booth. Back then, it was a straight-up 50 cents. (Our recent trip to Richmond revealed that it is now 70 cents – plus it didn’t take one of my first quarters, so we ended up tossing nearly a dollar at the thing. A travesty! Almost as bad as Ukrop’s being gone.)

Usually my co-pilot and I were armed with quarters or tokens, ready to throw the coins and get through quickly. But one day, I was alone for some reason. Maybe I wasn’t even going to school that day. I found myself approaching the toll booth and realized I had nothing but some loose changing floating around in the console of my Eagle Vision.

Quickly I gathered up as much as I could. And I remember vividly watching the numbers slide above the toll basket, praying that I could find enough to change to equal those 50 cents. I was tossing pennies by the fistful. And finally, breath escaped, I saw it click down to zero and the bar raise.

I don’t even know what happens if you don’t have those 50 cents. I bet it happens a lot more now than it did in 1998, although maybe EZ Pass-type things help.

I’ve felt a little bit of that same panic in these last weeks of summer.

School supplies were purchased, I’ve been stocking my freezer with items for school lunches, and Nana bought Libbie a new backpack. We’ve registered and before that vacationed and traveled and visited and swam and played to our hearts’ content.

And yet the day before Libbie started back to school, I still felt panicky. Unprepared. With first grade there wasn’t the same sense of preparation there was for kindergarten. There are no more phase-in days, no staying with her on the first day, nothing but a messy and loud thirty minutes of handing in paperback and handing over school supplies to her teacher.

Did I forget something important? She’s armed with summer projects, a reading log, a poster timeline of her short life. It’s all there. We have the first-day picture with her printed-that-morning-off-the-Internet sign. David’s registered and ready for his preschool class.

  

Perhaps it’s that the whole summer I have felt confused. Apparently having three kids at home full time will do that to you. I just always felt like I had more to remember than I could keep in my brain. I forgot deadlines, to mail things, to call back. Embarrassing and a little wretched. 

When I was pregnant with Libbie, one of my coworkers told me that after he and his wife had their first child, they just wanted to get back to normal. Then when they had their second, they wanted to get back to normal – the one-child normal they’d found. But with kids, normal is an ever-fluctuating concept. 

Right now, I am looking forward to returning to normal, knowing that it will likely be a different normal than last school year. Even though the kids are at their same schools on the same schedules, they are a year older. Joshua is a maniacal two-year-old instead of a toddling, babbling guy. Things will be different.

But I’m hoping soon I will feel like I have two quarters instead of a handful of pennies.
 

The Wonder of Time

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Tree Grows in Brooklyn quote

I just got a giant box of back issues of ParentLife in the mail. Something had been messed up with their contributor copy system, so it’d be more than a year since I got any physical copies. I flipped through each issue, glancing at my own articles, remembering how and when I wrote them.

The first time I was published in ParentLife it was almost a scandal. I still worked at LifeWay, although I was on the brink of leaving. My friend Jodi asked me if I would write something for them – I think it was about being a working mom. And I wrote it. And then my manager came in and told me they wouldn’t allow internal freelancing. He made me feel like I was about 5 years old. This was my dream, period. It was finally coming to fruition. And I felt it go splat on the carpet. I’m pretty sure I cried heaving sobs once he left.

After he found out that I’d actually already written the article, before he even knew or spoke to me, he let them publish it. I would have done it without the payment, though. For me, it was all about the byline. The actual being-in-print. Seeing my words sitting there in a magazine and knowing people might actually read them.

When I first started working from home and freelancing for the magazines, I scanned each article that I wrote, so I would be sure to have a digital copy in case I lost the magazine. For my “portfolio.” I laugh a little bit now at this 2009 Jessie.

I’ll admit that now I glance at the articles. I make sure they haven’t edited me so much that I no longer sound like myself. (This has never happened, but you never know.) I am glad for the paychecks but it’s longer glamorous to have my name in type. It just is. I love to write, and I am so thankful that someone pays me to do so. But it’s not the same level of excitement it once was.

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Parenting feels the same way, for me. When we had just one child, everything was a big stinking deal. Decorating. Doing the right thing when she was sick or eating or sleeping. Every moment was new, and it was exciting. I remember asking my mom, when Libbie started grasping at toys, if it was as fun when your subsequent children did the same thing. Would I still be enthralled? She looked doubtful.

In some ways, I am. I am still tipsy with love when each child learns to totter around, talk, give kisses. It’s not less special just because I have experienced it three times. But in some ways, it is less of a high. Those long days they talk about can turn everything into monotony. Yes, Joshua narrated everything I brought home from the grocery store. David did a 48-piece puzzle … again. Libbie read me a chapter book. Can I go to bed now?

Joshua will be two in a little more than a month. (Let’s not talk about that, OK? It makes me cry.) For Libbie’s second birthday, we had a big old Dr. Seuss-themed party in our rental home’s backyard. For David’s second, we had some friends, mostly adults, come over and ate appetizers and failed to take a single picture. And for Joshua’s second birthday? Ummm … maybe some cake at home? He’s only going to be TWO, right? It’s not like he’ll remember!

Times change.

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I’d like to remember to get down and experience some of that wonder every day. This involves closing the laptop and ignoring the dishes. (Because I don’t totally ignore the dishes anyway …) It means I actually get down on a child’s level and listen to him or her talk. I wonder at the magnificence of their tiny voices, of David’s precise coloring skills, of Joshua’s curly blonde head, of Libbie’s sensitive heart as she talks about interactions with her classmates. I don’t try to multitask. I just am, there, with them.

“Look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.” – Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn 

More Lunches for Your Picky Eater

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I keep getting good feedback on my shares of Libbie’s picky-kid lunches on Facebook, so I hope these give you inspiration that your child doesn’t have to eat the same lunch every day!

These are PlanetBox Rover lunchboxes.

See other ideas in this post. (And people, I am keeping it real here. Sometimes I send processed foods. Sometimes I don’t. It’s life here.)

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Pancake sandwich with peanut butter and banana slices; pumpkin spice marshmallows; half a banana; mini cheddar pretzel crips; Chobani banana “gogurt”; a few mini M&Ms.

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Apple sandwich with PBJ and craisin/currant face stuck on with peanut butter; apple slices; cheese cubes; Polenta Blueberry Muffin; craisins, dried apricots, and white chocolate chips. (Both muffins and apple sandwich from Weelicious Lunches.)

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PBJ cut with a pumpkin cookie cutter and with candy eyes; red pear slices; cheddar cheese spelling “BOO”; pumpkin marshmallows; peanuts; fruit leather; and silly Halloween jokes (free printable).

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This was definitely an “I need to go to the store and am in a major hurry” lunch! Peanut butter on graham cracker; applesauce in the little dipper container; raisins; Peanut Noodles with Chicken; frozen blueberries.

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Grilled cheese rolls (Weelicious Lunches); shredded chicken; apple slices; trail mix of pretzels, yogurt-covered raisins, and chocolate-covered peanuts; yogurt.

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Tortilla chips with shredded cheese; trail mix of raisins, cashews, and white chocolate chips; banana; two slices ham. (I know it seems weird, but Libbie LOVES chips-and-cheese like this. Not melted or anything.)

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This was David’s lunch one day – he is my less-picky kid! PBJ cut with a star sandwich cutter; carrots two ways (coins and sticks); ranch dip; black grapes; frozen turkey.

Do you try to mix it up at lunchtime? What recipe is your favorite to send? I am always looking for some new ideas.

A Week of Lunches (for a Picky Eater)

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I’ve been sharing Libbie’s lunches this week on my Facebook page. I love getting inspiration for lunches, as I want my kids to enjoy a variety of foods. With Libbie being a fairly “selective” eater (ahem), it can be a little bit of a struggle. And it feels like most of the lunches I see on Facebook or Pinterest either involve lots of foods she wouldn’t eat or things that would take me two hours to assemble. Which is cool, if that’s your thing! But it’s not mine.

So in hope of giving you inspiration, here are Libbie’s lunches from this past week, with recipe links. For those of you who have also seen these on Facebook – would you rather see them in a weekly digest like this or with the daily pictures or both? I’ve enjoyed conversing this week on FB about lunch foods and freezing tips!

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Monday : Maple Roasted Turkey, cheese cubes, apple slices, half a banana, pretzels, no-food-dye candy pieces from EarthFare. I toss the apples in water with a little lemon juice so they don’t brown.

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Tuesday: Ham and cheese sandwich on homemade wheat bread, more Maple Turkey, tortilla strips, golden melon balls, grapes, and a few mini marshmallows.

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Wednesday: Cheese stick, whole wheat strawberry-cinnamon baked doughnut, raisins, apple slices, pepperoni muffins (my kids do not like this … now I know), and a slice of the turkey.

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Bonus: this was David’s lunch on Wednesday. He is my less-picky eater. He had a cheese stick, a sliced peach, and Banana Bread Pancakes. He does eat a snack before lunch at school, so he’s not as hungry at lunchtime.

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Thursday: Ham, cheese, and Italian bread “kebabs”; fruit and cereal bar; trail mix made from raisins, craisins, peanuts, and chocolate pieces; Spinach Cake Muffins; grapes.

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Friday: Homemade spaghetti-o-penne with cut-up hot dog, the same Spinach Cake Muffins she didn’t eat yesterday, banana, raisins. The spaghetti-o’s recipe I use is from the Once a Month meals Survive Before 5 e-book. It’s similar to this one, but different enough that I keep going back to the original in the e-book.

So are you a lunch-packer? Does your kid buy? Do you send the same thing every day or try to mix it up a bit?

Kindergarten: One Month In

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first day of kindergarten

Libbie’s first day of kindergarten was August 12th, and as of August 14 she was a full-time student. Wow, has it been so much more confusing and strange than I thought it would be, honestly. I was sure Libbie would love school, and it would be an easy transition. She does like school, but wow. My expectations were wildly out-of-whack.

Libbie has had epic meltdowns, the worst tantrums she’s ever had at almost 6 years old, and spends her time at home either loving David (3) to pieces or trying to rile him up in any way she can. This is not limited to hitting, kicking, outright lying, screaming, saying, “That didn’t hurt! Don’t tell Mommy!” and other methods of manipulation. The worst was the two weeks before she started and the first week or two of school, but it still surprises me what may bring out a temper tantrum. We are trying to stay calm … without letting her murder her brother.

She is INCREDIBLY tired by the end of the day. I figured she would be, and I imagine this also helps the tantrums and whining. Libbie still took a nap half the time until two or three months ago. We tried to break her of napping this summer, but it was hard. She was still used to having some afternoon quiet time, at least, to recoup. Even though I consider Libbie an extrovert, she recognizes that sometimes alone time helps her to center herself and release some of her strong emotions.

Unfortunately, given that her school is a lottery-type public school drawing from all over the county, it lets out later than normal elementary schools. We often don’t get home until after 4:30, and she goes to bed around 7:30. In that time, we have to address playtime, homework, dinner, bath, reading, and our nightly routine of family worship, brushing teeth, and tucking in. It’s a lot to cram in a few hours and really does not allow her downtime during the week when she’s not asleep. It makes me sad.

Smiling Libbie

Which bring me to, I definitely had the ARE WE DOING THE RIGHT THING crisis about 2 weeks in. I really hate that Lib is not home more. I hate that we have so little time with her during the week. We were absolutely convinced public school was the right choice for our family; as I have said many a time, I am pretty sure Libbie and I would kill each other if we homeschooled her. I love the structure of a local, Christian, small private school – but we live on a teacher’s salary and will have three children in elementary school. It is just not going to happen. I found myself chatting with JessieLeigh one night, unable to sleep with my stomach twisting and churning and my mind wondering what we could do.  (JL is extremely wise, has kids in public school, and her children are just a couple years older than mine.) She talked me off the cliff and helped me understand that there is no perfect choice, but you have to do what works for your family.

There is definitely an adjustment period with this schooling thing. I did expect that, but I keep forgetting it.

I feel totally lost. This isn’t preschool, where everything was laid out for me in a row, and I got a gold star for completing each task. (OK, not really. But you know what I mean.) In preschool, I walked Libbie in each morning and talked to her teacher directly if I had any issues. In kindergarten, I drop her in front of the school each morning and get her off the bus in the afternoons.

I have to do volunteer hours because it’s a lottery school, but I can’t figure out when or how to do them considering Joshua is with me all the time. I don’t know how to help Libbie do her “neighborhood” project when we live on a school campus. I don’t know when they are doing special things unless I have to pay for them!

It’s not preschool. It’s hard. I hate not feeling like I have all my ducks in a row.

So, that’s where we are, Lost Jessie the First-time Kindergarten Mom. Someone tell me it gets easier. Please?

The Kindergarten Tears

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Bus.
source: cinderellasg

So this is what it took to melt my frozen heart.

I still hadn’t boo-hooed about Libbie going to kindergarten as of yesterday morning. So far, so good. She loves being busy all day, although she is both exhausted and needs to run around like a crazy person when she gets home. Even in this exhaustion, she wasn’t falling asleep in the van on the way home.

I decided yesterday morning that I would let her ride the bus in the afternoons. For a variety of factors, this really works best for our family. Her school, although public, is a lottery/specialized type school, and it is a 20-minute drive in no traffic – and at that time of day, there is almost always traffic on the interstate I have to drive to get there. Joshua is often napping around the time we needed to leave. It seemed silly to drive all the way there (which some days was taking 45 minutes because of traffic), sit in the car ride line for another 20 minutes or more, and have to use the gas, wake up the baby from his nap, etc, just to avoid putting Libbie on a big scary school bus.

So yesterday morning I talked to her teacher and we worked it out. The bus was set to arrive at the stop at 4:45, according to the schedule.

All day I felt on the brink of tears as I thought about my baby girl getting on the bus. Why? Why is it such a big deal now? There were days when everyone rode the bus; and if they didn’t, they walked to school, probably sans parents. Mostly I felt torn at the decision: was I being selfish? Were my reasons valid?

So around 4:15 I got in my car, planning to go pick up a prescription before I headed to the bus stop. And at 4:20, before I even got off campus, her bus driver called me. They were there, he said. He couldn’t let a kindergartner off unless I was there. So where was I?

Um, the schedule said 4:45. But he said no one had shown up for the stop prior to Libbie’s, so they had come straight from the school. And I wasn’t there to get my baby on the first day she rode the bus.

Yep, that is when the bawling happened.

It feels like there are so many things I am supposed to know without being told. As a major firstborn rule-follower, this has been hard for me! Like my daughter, I want things outlined for me in pen, so I know exactly what I am supposed to be doing and can do it the right way. For both of us … this may not always happen. We both might feel a little bit lost for awhile.

I’m just hoping we can make it through the learning curve without some major meltdowns.