A Year in Photos, Or What I’m Doing Instead of Writing

 

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I have not been writing, friends, and while I am not so self-centered as to believe that you’ve missed me, still I apologize.

You see, I’ve gotten sidetracked. Just before my third daughter’s birth I purchased a Nikon DSLR camera. After playing with it for the first eight months of Alex’s life, I made a decision with implications I did not quite understand at the time. A friend of mine was engaged in what is called a 365 Project, an intentional practice of taking, editing, and posting one photo a day. I can do that, I thought. And so I began.

 

In my head, the project would go something like this: As often as possible, I would take my Nikon with me where I went. It would come to the playground, the beach, the skating rink, the grocery store, school drop-off and pick-up, on family walks, even into the bathroom for tub time. It has, in fact, been in all of those places, plus more. Wherever life brought me, my camera would come too. In this way, I would document each day of 2016.

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I did not, however, consider the following things when making this plan:

  • The strange looks from passer-by
  • The dangers of sand, water, and dirt-smeared children to my camera
  • An extra three pounds to carry
  • “I don’t WANT you to take my picture!”
  • My less than basic knowledge of photo editing software
  • My less than basic knowledge of a camera’s manual settings
  • The amount of time it takes to satisfactorily edit a photo, upload it to Google Drive on my computer, download it from Google Drive on my phone, caption, hashtag, and post it to Instagram

My whole family, myself included, is ready for this project to end. As of today, we’re looking at 66 days until I call it quits and find another hobby to consume my days and evenings. But for so many reasons, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. For 300 days I have managed to capture moments that will be precious to my family forever. Not just birthdays and holidays, but all the little details that make up our daily lives, and I have been able to coax out the beauty in each of these. I’m proud of myself for sticking with it, and I’ve become a better photographer in the process.

Will I return to words? I hope so. But as I recently told an editor, I’ve been going where the creative winds blow. After a trip around the sun, I hope they bring me right back home.

 

Kindergarten Starts in Five Days- Here is How I’m Doing

The summer has been difficult.

My husband leaves for work and I stare at the clock as if it will somehow solve for me the problem of filling up the day. I have all three kids at home: I am their source of entertainment, their provider of every need. I try to set up playdates but our friends have scattered to beaches and family reunions. Or they work, like I used to. Like I fantasize about on days so hot that the driveway burns our feet and forces us to retreat into our air-conditioned home, where all the blinds are shut. Where the contents of our playroom are slowly dragged from room to room, until I feel like I am living in a murky hell of board game pieces and Barbie clothes.

Needless to say, I’ve been ready for school to start for some time now.

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My summer. Except ALL OVER MY HOUSE.

Still, my immense relief at reducing my daily load from three children to one- especially while grocery shopping- has not eclipsed the monumental fact that my oldest is starting kindergarten. Kindergarten! Like most milestones in my children’s lives, this newest transition is causing some majorly mixed emotions in this mama. Allow me to outline them for you:

Anxiety. I worry about the little things. My oldest is not a morning person. I am also not a morning person. Currently, our process of getting ready in the morning sounds like this:

Me: It’s time to get dressed now.

Me (five minutes later): It’s time to get dressed now. Didn’t you hear me tell you five minutes ago that it’s time to get dressed now?

Me (another five minutes later): Are you seriously still not dressed? 

Then I have to grab the keys and the other children and feign like I’m going to leave her sitting there in only her undies, because girls who would rather do a “Where’s Waldo?” puzzle for the 188th time instead of obeying their mothers deserve to be left home alone in an act of gross neglect. There are tantrums; there are tears. Mornings in our house are not the best. God only knows what next Tuesday morning will bring, but it is very possible that my child will be the only kid tardy on the first day of school.

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Wasn’t this, like, yesterday? Are we really about to do kindergarten?

Anxiety. We’ve checked with all of her preschool friends, and none of them are in the same kindergarten class as my child. Now, I’m one of those moms who doesn’t read too deeply into my child’s psychological state. Despite the fact that she’s disappointed not to be with her friends, the kid will get over it. She’ll be just fine. Even so, I know that I’ll think of her that first day and wonder if she’s feeling lonely or left out, and I’ll feel a little squeeze of motherly anguish.

Anxiety. This is my first experience as a public school parent. I know so many people who appear to be experts at navigating drop-off and pick-up, school lunches, PTA, homework, and all the other stuff I don’t even know about yet. Someday I will be one of those people, but right now I feel like somebody walking into their first Zumba class: stupid and lost.

Anxiety. Please let her not be “that kid”. Please let her keep her fingers out of her nose, and use her manners, and stop talking when the teacher says to hush. Please, between the hours of 7:30 and 2:30, let her not use the words “vagina” or “nipples”, which just happen to be two of her favorite terms.  Please let her go out into the world and show everyone what an amazing parent I am.

So yes, perhaps I am a little anxious- not that I would ever convey that to my five-year-old, who certainly has her own anxieties. For her sake, I will hold myself together long enough to send her off into her new classroom with a reassuring hug and a wave. Then I’ll sob a little in the car. Then I’ll drop my middle girl off at preschool and head to the grocery store with the baby, thinking about how lucky I am to have 180 days of this before next summer.

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Don’t let them fool you. They are completely unhelpful.

 

What Teachers Really Want at the End of the Year

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This would be nice.

One would think that the end of the school year would be a teacher’s favorite time of year. Because, you know, school is ending, and we all know that teachers have only chosen a woefully low-paying and difficult profession for the perk of having summers “off”. (See this post for more about my take on the teaching profession.)

This is not, in fact, the case. When I was in the classroom, the end of the school year was filled with stress and anxiety. There were angry parents to deal with. (Well, Johnny’s mom, I understand that you are upset that your son might fail social studies, but remember the 800 emails I sent you about how Johnny was drawing tiny stick-figure Hitlers instead of taking notes?) There were awards ceremonies and field days to plan, locker clean-out to supervise. There were days, far too many days after the state tests were over, to fill with activities that would keep spring-feverish adolescents happy and occupied. The hallways were filled with an air of crazed giddiness that simmered and threatened to explode.

It was all a bit much, really, but it felt manageable (well, manageable-ish) because it was also the time of year when I felt most appreciated. There were years when I received a lot of end-of-the-year gifts. There were years when I received fewer. But it was always special to watch a quiet kid come forward with his or her offering and wait while I opened it. It made me feel good to know that there were students and parents out there who felt I was deserving of a small token of gratitude.

If you are a parent who purchases end-of-the-year teacher gifts, read on. If you are a parent who gives your child’s teacher nothing at the end of the year, please stop reading now and go immediately to church. There is nothing you can do now but pray that God will forgive you and spare you the agony of hellfire.

Let’s be clear here: teachers are thrilled to receive any gift at all. We aren’t picky. You could give us an imprint of a raccoon’s foot in a piece of concrete (an actual gift given to a teacher friend of mine) and we’d be like, “Wow, that kid is telling me that I made an imprint on his soul. That is SO nice!”

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A 7th grader gave this to me and my heart melted.

Now that I’m no longer a teacher, I feel I can put it out there: All teacher gifts are not made equal. So pay attention, because these are the end-of-the-year gifts that teachers really want:

1. Alcohol. Sometimes your children drive us to drink. As this is, however, unacceptable in most cases, let’s move on.

2. Gift Cards. Give a teacher a little plastic rectangle loaded with money and they will spend it. Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts are always, always a sure thing, but feel free to get creative. One of my favorites was when a student gave me a gift card to the movie theater. I almost never go to the movies, but it gave me an excuse to get out for a date night, which is a precious gift in itself. A bookstore, a restaurant, Target… honestly, it doesn’t matter. Teachers heart practicality. And did I mention that they don’t get paid enough?

3. Baked Goods (to Share). When I taught the children of a local restauranteur, he and his wife used to send in a cheesecake for the teachers to eat at lunchtime one day toward the end of the year. This was amazing because it was cheesecake, obviously, but also because unlike when I was given a personal bucket full of cookies just for me, I couldn’t stash it in my desk drawer and binge on it for a week straight.

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I’ve been known to bake banana bread for my children’s preschool teachers. If it’s terrible, they haven’t told me.

4. Something They Can Actually Use: You can always tailor it to the teacher and what you know about him or her. Is he a coffee-drinker? Is she always searching through her bag for a tube of Burts Bees? One of the cutest gifts I ever received from a student was nail polish. It was clear that she had picked out each color specifically for a certain teacher, like she was trying to match the teacher’s personality. Doesn’t work for most male teachers, but you can give them, I don’t know, a beard trimmer or something. Other gifts in this category: throw blankets, nice hand soap (teaching is a germy profession), a mug or tumbler, a beach towel, stationery.

5. Good Old Appreciation: If you want to give your child’s teacher a gift, then by all means, do it. They will be grateful. They will not turn it away. If nothing else, give them an old-fashioned thank you, in whatever form you wish that to take. Give them a drawing that your child made just for her teacher. Send her to school on the last day with strict instructions to verbally express to her teacher just how much she learned this year. Maybe even throw in a hug, if everyone involved is cool with that.

I received a lot of gifts when I was in the classroom, but a hand-written note from a student or parent expressing sincere thanks for the impact I made on their child and the work I did in order to teach them? I mean, that would be worth at least three cheesecakes. Maybe four. And I would binge on those words all. summer. long.

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Seriously, even if this is all your kid can write. The teachers will EAT IT UP.