Everything I Know About Parenting I Learned While Being a Teacher

Nothing can prepare you for parenthood…except teaching. Teaching totally prepares you for having children. I babysat through my teen years, worked at a daycare in college, taught elementary school and taught movement/gymnastics/dance/yoga to babies and preschoolers. I loved those jobs and always felt I was learning a lot, but holy cow, I did not realize just how much they taught me until having Luna.

Here’s my Top Ten Ways Being a Teacher Prepared Me for Parenthood.

  1. I have absolutely no problem looking a fool in public. I cannot tell you how many times I left work (school) wearing stickers on my shirt, pipe cleaner jewelry, flowers in my hair, paint on my face, a costume, random stains, name tags and tacky holiday accessories. There were many times when I wondered why the store clerk or Starbuck’s barista was starting oddly at me, only to look in the mirror in find I was still wearing a Dr. Seuss hat or necklace made of yarn and candy wrappers. Clearly, a little spit-up or mashed carrots on my shirt now is nothing. dry eraser
  2. I am not afraid of germs or getting a little (or a lot) dirty. Throughout my teaching career I had to deal with blood, vomit, urine and one kid even pooped under his desk. Kids let entire bottles of glue leak in their desk, dumped glitter containers out, rubbed entire tubes of chapstick all over their face and somehow always managed to have sticky hands. I cannot tell you how many kids I watch pick and eat their boogers and I know 90% of them didn’t wash their hands, like ever. They also wanted to hold my hands, hug me and share food with me constantly. I tried to be as sanitary as possible, but we all know teachers are just one big walking germ. Luna is just one child and she’s my child, so her germs are the least of my worries.
  3. I am an awesome multi-tasker. In my classroom I lead a reading group, corrected a math paper, kept on eye on the trouble maker near my computer and the other eye on the little girl about to give herself a haircut. At any given moment every single teacher is doing 15 things at once, and we all have eyes in the back of our heads. This comes in handy with a baby. classmate
  4. I’m crafty. I can create 20 center activities with $10 and a trip to the Dollar Store. I can make play costumes for an entire class in a matter of hours. I know how to put together a safe, easy and affordable science project that will not only be educational but memorable and I can turn one children’s book into a weeklong reading/social studies/math/writing lesson. I can entertain Luna with a spoon for hours.steal
  5. I can function really well on virtually no sleep (and a whole lot of coffee). Coffee is some sort of magical bean that makes us super human, am I right? One student called me Super Woman once, but it was really just me plus 8 cups of coffee.
  6. I can tune out just about anything. One time, Husband came to visit me at work (probably dropping off something I forgot). He stayed and visited for a minute and walked with us to recess. When I got home he said “How do you stand it?”  Stand What? “I was only there 15 minutes and I must have heard kids say your name at least 400 times! Everywhere we went someone was yelling for you, needing you or saying hi to you. It would drive me crazy.” Oh…guess I didn’t notice. At some point all teachers and Mothers develop selective hearing. This can be both good and bad when Luna is crying.
  7. If need be, I can get ready in the blink of an eye. Typically, I like to take my time doing my hair and putting my face on for work, but when you teach you cannot be late. There’s not such thing as showing up a few minutes late and working later to make up for your missed time. You have got to make it to your classroom before the 24 seven-year olds do. On more than a few occasions I have jumped out of bed after realizing I overslept by an hour, threw on a non-wrinkle cotton dress, some slip-on flats, grabbed a handful of jewelry and applied mascara and lip-gloss in the car.
  8. I can hold my pee for basically ever, which has already come in handy multiple times since having Luna.
  9. I am a wealth of knowledge when it comes to children’s books and songs. Seriously, I have a song and a book for everything from compound words to patriotism. Luna has inherited my classroom library and, unfortunate for her, my endless singing about everything we do.clap
  10. I am oh-so patient with little ones. Not in traffic, not in the grocery store, not with Comcast, not with the pets, not even with the slow barista at Starbucks, but with children I’ve got all the patience in the world. I love watching their little wheels turn as they try so hard to solve a problem or understand what they’re reading. Watching that little light turn on when they discover something new is my most favorite thing.MIB

What prepared you for becoming a parent?

Cheers!

An Oldie, But a Goodie

 

Alright, I have been out of commission the last two days thanks to a lovely little thing called mastitis. In case you don’t know the wonders of this super fun infection is basically the flu and one very very sore boob. Now, that my fever is gone and antibiotics are doing their thang, I’m kinda up to writing something. By “kinda” I mean I am going to post something I wrote 4 years ago.

Four years ago I moved to Albania to teach at an International school and started my first blog “Adventures of a Teacher.”  This is one of the first posts I wrote, it describes our arrival…enjoy.

First off, let me say that we did not receive the warmest of welcomes upon our arrival in Tirana. After 20 hours of traveling (NYC-Rome-Budapest-Tirana) we get to the airport and find NO ONE waiting to pick us up. Trying to stay positive, we wait around hoping they are just running late. After a few hours of sitting in a non-air conditioned airport, with creepy taxi drivers harassing us, and no sleep for 36 hours, we decide to get a non-creepy taxi to take us to try and find the school. (We later learned that this taxi driver ended up charging us A LOT more than he should have charged.)

The taxi driver speaks no english and drove us around the city for two hours trying to find the school. (We were apparently given the wrong address.) Finally, I said “forget it, and get me to a hotel, any hotel, that has internet access before I pass out.” We arrive at a tiny hotel in an alley way. Our room’s AC had been turned off, so we just laid there, in our separate tiny twin beds, until the room cooled off and we passed out…for many hours. (I emailed the school first, of course.)

The next morning (just about the time we were beginning to think this was all a hoax) the school contacted me and said they thought we were arriving the next day. (Interestingly, they never apologized for leaving us stranded in a foreign country.) They quickly came and picked us up from the hotel and brought us to our apartment. whew….

Our apartment is big, nice, completely furnished, and hilarious! You will have to look through the pics I will post to get the gist of it upon our arrival. We have moved a lot of the weird kitschy decor since we’ve moved in. Some of the “highlights” are a headless statue, a lava lamp, a kitty cat poster, chairs that look like they came from the Haunted Mansion, a VCR complete with Albanian VHS’s, cassette tapes, etc, etc. Also, when you get off the elevator at the bottom of our apartment there is a hair salon you basically walk through to get out. Besides all of these things that give our new home character, it is a very nice place. We have 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, kitchen, dining area, living room, large entry way, and a balcony.

living room lava lamp

We also went to the school today, got the grand tour, and learned the philosophy behind the school. I’ll have to write an entire separate blog about the school tomorrow. There is ALOT to type about.

This evening we went grocery shopping at a tiny market near our apartment. Two of the items we bought that we thought were milk turned out to taste like very rotten milk; the rest of the groceries are pretty basic. Our choice of dinner (first thing to eat in 48 hours – minus half a bag of wheat thins) was veggie pizza.

We have not got to explore much of the city, but what we’ve seen, we like. It’s big and very crowded. All the streets are lined with hundreds of little shops and thousands of cafes. What I like best is the fact that any time you walk outside the cute little tables outside of the cafes are full of people relaxing and having coffee. Everyone is so laid back and faithfully takes coffee breaks 3 times a day. My kind of town…. Where we live is surprisingly quiet and is the greenest part of the city, which is also very nice.

There is much, much more to learn and explore, and I cannot wait to write all about it! Wish me luck!

The end. And, we had no idea what that year had in store for us!

Cheers!

 

My Dilemma

Lately, I feel pulled in a few different directions and sometimes not pulled at all. I’ve made several big life changes over the last few years…moving to Albania, moving to Manhattan, getting married, moving to Tennessee, buying a house, quitting my teaching career and having a baby. All of these decisions have felt right, but one. One is still troubling me.

I am having a difficult time being a stay-at-home. I shouldn’t. I have wanted to have kids and stay home with them for as long as I can remember. I’ve always wanted to have a big family, cook healthy meals, make lots of crafts, be a soccer/head of the PTO/volunteering kind of Mom. I used to dream of the days I could volunteer making costumes for my kids’ school plays…yes, I’m serious. That’s just the kind of Mom I’ve always wanted to be. I’m fortunate that I even have the option to do these things. However, lately, I’m not sure what I want at all.

The other day I saw a report about a teacher who was freaking amazing. She had raised thousands of dollars for her low-income students to travel and learn about their curriculum in a real hands-on environment. She was taking her students to places they have never been, bending over backwards to help them comprehend every skill and was so loved by her students. It made my heart hurt a little. I don’t want to boast on myself, but I know that I am a good teacher. In fact, I often feel it’s what I was meant to do. I’ve always been the sort of teacher to literally do whatever it takes for the good of my students. So, is it wrong to quit doing something I do so well? Or, will I be using all of my teaching skills to be one badass Mom?

I wonder…just how important is a job? I believe that we should all be using our God-given talents to better the Earth, people around us or just humanity in general. It’s such a waste for anyone to squander away something they could be using to help others. For some, I think they do this through their job. I know many people who love their jobs and consider it part of their identity. However, I know others who are forced to work 9-5 boring jobs and spend their time off doing what they truly love. Then, I have friends who are stay-at-home parents like myself and are raising beautiful children, helping their friends and family who work and working for no pay all the time. All of these people are doing the right thing for them, but what’s right for me?

Lately, spending so much time on the computer has brought around a new round of guilt. If I stayed home to spend more time with my baby, why am I spending so much of the time staring at my laptop? I am trying to run two blogs and desperately trying to learn wordpress.org (BTW, if anyone has any advice for learning how to manage that PLEASE share!). I have been breastfeeding as I type and even setting Luna in her jumper just so I can finish an article. What’s the point of staying home if I’m still working?

Would it be a better use of my time if I volunteered more? Learned to garden? Spent more time remodeling the house? Should I be in a classroom? Is my time spent writing and sharing my own life lessons with the world wide web valid?

I don’t know.

Yesterday, my sister and I had a conversation about this very topic. She is a working Mom and has a lot of guilt about not getting enough time with her son. However, she feels comforted knowing that she’s doing what she loves, using her talents wisely and helping her family financially. I, of course, have the opposite guilt. Maybe it’s just normal for Moms, or all parents, to feel guilty no matter what we decide.

Unfortunately, I have no answers for you today. Honestly, I think I am meant to stay home, at least for a little while, but who knows what the future holds. I may be running a new website on wordpress.org, I could be in a classroom or maybe digging up a garden and learning to paint with Luna. At this point, I think anything is possible!

Cheers!

Finding the Time to Exercise

find time

Throughout my pregnancy I have preached and preached to you that it is SO important, for both you and the baby, to stay fit and healthy. I stand by this belief (I mean, it is backed up by TONS of research) BUT, I must admit that I have had an unfair advantage over most Moms/people out there.

Before getting pregnant, I was working full-time…more than full time most weeks and blogging. Before that I was working full-time and working 2 part-time jobs. Prior to that I worked full-time and went to school full-time…you get the picture. I was busy. I tried my best to stay active and fit during these years, and for the most part I was successful. I was in a good habit and really had only to take care of myself. Typically, I squeezed in at least 4 days of real workouts and then did my best to squeeze in mini-workouts when I could. I wasn’t always the healthiest eater (still not), but I do all right on that end of the spectrum too.

Once I became pregnant, my entire life took a huge shift. I moved, got a house and quit my job the same week I found out about the baby…not because of the baby, things just happened that way. Then, once life kind of settled, we decided that being a stay-at-home Mom was the best plan for us (we think) and that I will just work part-time until our baby girl comes.

I am working 3 part-time jobs (subbing, tutoring and blogging), but this is nothing compared to teaching full-time. Perhaps, I shouldn’t say “nothing”, but it’s much less stressful, gives me a lot more free time and my schedule is all of a sudden super flexible. Clearly, I have had more time to focus on my health, the baby, keeping fit and a myriad of other things that I once just had no time to enjoy. This probably has a lot to do with my lack of panic attacks as well.

Recently, I was feeling my usual feelings of guilt for not being too busy, stressed and tired, and considering if I should look into full-time work for next year. I thought about what my life would have been like this year if I had gotten a full-time teaching job and I quickly realized my pregnancy would probably have been a hell of a lot different.

I am 100% sure my anxiety would not be gone…it is always worse (like WAY worse) when teaching. I would not be exercising everyday. Ain’t no teacher got time for that…we bring home hours of work every night. And, I certainly would not be able to keep up eating as healthy as I am now.  My “teacher lunches” often consisted of frozen dinners or canned soup…or worse…Ramen.

I also realize that I am very fortunate to have the option to not work full-time. Not every Mom is able to (or wants to) do this, which is great really. We need working Moms being bad-ass examples for our daughters. However, I still want to encourage Moms of all types, working, non-working, healthy, non-active, trying-to-be-healthier Moms to be the best they can be and include a bit more physical activity into their life. It might seem impossible to squeeze in just one more thing to your busy schedule, but I know you can do these little things!

Here’s what I did to squeeze in extra cardio or resistance training whenever I felt I had no time. I still do many of these now too!

-take the stairs, no elevators!

-Park in the back at all stores.

-Do 10 squats every time you go the restroom.

-Do commercial workouts. I KNOW you are making time to watch your favorite shows! That’s fine, but when a commercial comes on do sit-ups, run in place, do jumping jacks or stretch.

-OR workout as your watch your fav show. Nothing like multi-tasking

-Walk during your lunch break. I used to walk around the playground while my students had recess…if I wasn’t grading a stack of papers.

-Get up 5 minutes early and use that time to do anything active, or even some morning yoga.

-Sit on a stability ball at work.

-Walk everywhere you can.

-Put on music while you clean and dance to it. Every little bit helps and this is a fun way to clean and get in some cardio. OR, better yet, make someone else clean, then you’ll have time to workout! (The dream, right?)

-Make family time an active time. It’s important to spend time with our loved ones, but instead of always watching a movie or going out to dinner, try something more physical. Go for a walk, a bike ride, a hike, a swim, play at the park, etc.

-Drink water ALL the time. I realize this isn’t an exercise, but I guarantee you will feel better.

-Do calf raises while you wash dishes.

-Do squats or plies as you brush your teeth.

See, it’s not SO hard to squeeze in some physical fitness time. I realize a lot of these are silly, but I swear you’ll feel better if you try them on your busy days. You’ll be proud that you got in some exercise. Not only will you feel better physically, but you’ll feel better emotionally too. Exercise has helped my anxiety so much over the years!

Best of luck to ya, you busy ladies…and gents!

Cheers!

They Say the Darndest Things

Alright, so I know I said I would not be one of those women who write only about their pregnancy (and I’d like to point out that I haven’t), but I am today. Honestly, it’s all I think about nowadays anyways. I spend a lot of time just staring at my stomach and watching and waiting for her to move…it’s simply amazing and a little pathetic how mesmerizing it is. I have been substitute teaching a lot lately and I’ve learned that I’m not the only one amazed with pregnancy. Little kids are in complete awe of giant baby bellies, and they say the gosh darn cutest things you ever did here.

Here’s a bit of what I have heard over the last couple of weeks:

In Kindergarten…

“Is there a baby in your belly?”

(After a hug) “Your belly feels big.”

(During a hug, and in a whisper) “Hi baby.”

“Why is your belly big?”

(Keep in mind my belly button is a complete outie now) “Oh my god! Your baby is poking out!”

In 1st grade…

Boy 1: “Are you having a baby?” Boy 2: “Jose! You cannot ask a woman that question!”

“Does that hurt?”

Girl: “When will your baby come out of your belly button?” Me:  “My belly button?” Girl: (Giving me a It’s cool. I KNOW. look) Yes, my Mom already told me where baby’s come from…your belly button.”

In preschool…

(After walking up to me and placing a hand on my belly) “Baby.”

(After staring out my belly and belly button for a long time) “I think your baby’s toe is coming out.”

“Is it real?”

Along with all of these adorable questions and conversations were lots of little hugs and belly pats throughout each day. They are just so sweet, loving and a little too curious. I have to say it makes me a little sad that I don’t have my own class this year to share this time with, but I’m glad I’m getting to spend so much time with so many new and different little ones.

Doctor appointment tomorrow!

Cheers!

What Money Can’t Buy You…

I have taught in very different types of places with very different types of families over the last six years, and have heard a similar question after each experience:

What are the parents like?

That’s actually a much kinder version of the various similar questions I was actually asked.

When I taught in a low-income, high-crime, gang-ridden, mostly minority town in Texas I was often asked, Are all the students raised by their grandparents? and Are any of the parents involved at all?

When I taught low-income, mostly white students in Tennessee I was usually asked, Do your students get any help/discipline/care at home?

When I taught oversees in Albania at an International school the questions became more positive, Are all the parents super involved and much more appreciative there? 

While teaching extremely wealthy over-privileged children in New York’s Upper East Side I usually heard, Are are all the students raised by nannies? Are they all spoiled brats?

It was in New York that I began reflecting on all of these questions. At first I was shocked and appalled that everyone assumes that families are less involved, less educated, less caring and worse parents in the U.S. Most people automatically assumed that parents are better at their job in Europe, why is that?

Then, I was angry that so many people concluded that low-income families and wealthy families are equally bad at raising their children.

Finally, I became disappointed in myself. I often vented to friends and family about the hardships I dealt with in the classroom and failed to acknowledge the wonderful experiences I had with many families.

Now, I want to set the record straight. No amount of money, lack of money or geographical location makes a good parent, or a bad parent.

In every single school I taught I had to handle difficult parents. I had meetings with chid-protective services, angry emails with misspelled words and cursing, parents doing lines of coke on the premises, parents who had no respect or faith in their own children, parents in jail, parents who should be in jail, racist parents, sexist parents, lying parents, uncaring parents, unhelpful parents, step-parents, grandparents, aunt and uncle parents, nanny parents, you name it I’ve dealt with it.

However, in every single school I had wonderful experiences with families. I had parents volunteer to read to my struggling students on their mornings off, parents come in after school to help me decorate for celebrations, parents who wrote me hand-written thank you letters, parents thanking me with tears in their eyes, parents who would drop anything, do anything, give anything if it meant helping their child, parents who do all that if it meant helping any child, parents who stayed home to spend quality time helping their kids become amazing people, parents who worked numerous jobs to give their kids experiences they never had and parents who were so freakin’ awesome I only hope I can live up to half of their standards.

It does not matter where you live or what your income is to kids. All children need is your love, support, respect, help, belief in them and discipline. It’s pretty simple. No amount of toys or lack of extra special expensive after school programs compares to those basic needs.

It’s time we stop judging families who are different from our own, and start supporting each other. Parenting is hard for everyone, so stop assuming that the single-mother who looks like a wreck every morning is unable to properly care for her children. Maybe she is exhausted from night-shifts  she works so she can be with her children before and after school. Don’t assume that Nanny is the only one caring for the kid in the stroller. Perhaps the parents both work in order to afford their life and health insurance while simultaneously paying off student loans. That Dad on his cell phone carrying the girl in mis-matched clothes with tomato sauce down the front might be on the phone with doctors trying to save his wife’s life. Maybe these parents need a helping hand. Maybe most parents are doing the best they can, and the few that aren’t need our help and some good examples.

I always say that you really get to know your students after meeting their parents. Often, I am guilty of judging a family before I even know them. It’s a constant battle to stop judging, but it’s one I am willing to always fight.

Whenever, Husband and I become parents I hope to respect, help and get to know the parents I meet along the way, and maybe get the same in response. It’s hard enough raising a dog and a Husband. So, on the morning I show up to drop-off  in my PJ’s, hugging my large coffee, with one eye lined and a crying child yelling that I burnt her breakfast again, I’ll prefer a helpful hand or knowing smile. Don’t judge.

Cheers!

Hate

With the upcoming elections, the recent riots in Egypt and Libya, and the season finale of Keeping Up With The Kardashians, I have seen more hate on the Internet then I can bear. Religion, Politics, and reality stars are all obviously sensitive subjects that people are very defensive and devoted towards, but do all the opinionated comments, tweets, and posts have to be so heavily tainted with hate?

I asked myself this question over and over all evening as I read numerous articles about the cause and effects of Libya’s riots. The best answer I came up with is that hate cannot be eradicated by hate.

Almost every time I face a difficult life question I attempt to solve it by deciding how I would respond to this question to a first grader. I am a big believer that we should all behave the way we expect our elementary students to behave.

So, if a first grade girl told me that a little boy was bullying her best friend on the playground, how would I respond? Should she hate all boys and assume that every boy is going to be mean and hit girls? Would I tell her to be violent and aggressive back towards the little boy?

No.

I would tell her to stand up to the little boy and explain to him that he is hurting her friend’s feelings (and of course to let a grown-up know). I would also explain to her that this little boy needs kids like her to teach him how to be kind, compassionate, and a good friend. I would then remind her that he likely came from a home where that type of behavior is used and he may not be very happy with himself. Being nasty back will just encourage his negative behavior, not stop it.

When I was teaching first grade in 2008 (The Obama/McCain election) I taught the basic facts about each candidate, presidency, and elections without any bias. Being an educator I wanted to give the facts and allow the students to come up with their own choice. However, every child is swayed by their environment, naturally.

After reading a children’s book about either Obama or McCain, one opinionated 6 year old jumped up and announced, “I’m voting for Obama!” Before I could respond with my monotone non-bias “Cool”, another brave 6 year old looked up at him and said “My Daddy says that if Obama is president all boys will have to kiss and marry boys!”

After all the “eeewwwss!” died down, a banter of Presidential candidate bashing ensued. Seriously, imagine 20 six and seven year olds shaking their fingers in each other’s faces while trying to mimic the words they’ve heard at home, from the TV, or even their other friends.

I knew several of their parents fairly well, and I KNOW most of them are awesome and loving parents who only teach their kids to be caring and understanding towards their friends, but six year olds are surprisingly devoted and protective when it comes to their family’s opinions. Towards the end of my little classroom riot I heard “I don’t want to play with you anymore!” and “I’m not your friend!”

So. Sad.

I quickly put on my Mary Poppins face and sweetly but sternly had them sit down, be quiet, and look at me. After a minute of silence I began explaining to them how important it is to get along with people who think differently from us. I did my very best to teach them that the world is a better place because we all have different ideas and opinions. I even informed them that one of my best friends does not vote for the same person I vote for, but I still love her, spend time with her, and even enjoy learning why she likes that particular candidate. We can all learn from each other and appreciate each other!

We talked about how strong words like “hate” and statements like “We aren’t friends anymore” only hurt people’s feelings, these words do not help or teach. “How would you feel if….” was used often during this conversation.

I explained this very important life lesson in the best simplest terms I could form at such short notice. (Who would have thought first graders would be so passionate about the election!?!) I believed I got the point across after one little girl raised her hand and said, “If my best friend doesn’t like jelly beans I shouldn’t stop being friends with her! We can both like different foods.”

Correct. (I just love their sweet genuine thoughts!)

*I should also mention that other times we had conversations about how you may not love everyone or be best friends with everyone, which is OKAY for sure, BUT you still have to treat those people with respect and decency too.

We may not have gotten around to our math groups that afternoon, but we still learned a big lesson. Impromptu lessons like this are the scariest and the most memorable in my teaching career. I never know what life lessons will transpire when working with children.

Don’t even get me started on the many times students asked me about religion. Teaching first grade involved so much more than Eric Carle books and addition problems. We kept it real in my classroom… Did I ever mention the moment during Red Ribbon Week (Drug Free Week) when one girl innocently asked, “What are drugs?” and another responded with “My Daddy was arrested last night for selling drugs!”

True story, but I’ll save that for another blog.

So the moral of this blog is please PLEASE pretty please take a moment to think about the language being used in opinionated posts, tweets, and comments. We can express our opinions and thoughts without being hateful and hurtful. I know this is possible.

AND, the next time you are questioning your actions ask yourself “What would my first grade teacher say?” I do all the time. WWMFGTS? Simple.

Love and Cheers!