Mature Student

I was inspired to write this post for the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month’s topic is The More Things Change … and it really resonated with me. Big things are ahead for me, but you’ll have to read on to find out what!

university school teacher student crafting my life

In late November I did something that I haven’t done in approximately 14 years – I registered for university classes. It was surprisingly easy. As a past student I was able to fill out a one-page form and re-activate my admission. When I attended the first time around I had to wake up at 5:00am to register by telephone, but this time around I registered at 2:30pm over the web. Even parking is easier. In the 90s there was a highly-competitive parking lottery, and people went years without securing a spot. That has all changed, and now I just have to show up at the office and pay.

In spite of the relative ease, I am still struggling. This is a big step for me, and it represents a new direction in my life. It’s yet another change of course, and I’m filled with trepidation about what it holds.

When I first attended university I chose engineering school because it felt solid and practical and potentially lucrative. I was good at math and science, and I felt I should capitalize on that. The truth is that while there were many things I enjoyed about engineering, and a whole lot of fantastic people I met along the way, it was never something that fed my soul in a meaningful way. I worked with people who were so energized by solving complex technical problems. Over lunch, they would debate the best way to build a dog trailer for a bicycle, or whether or not a Star Trek-style teleporter was scientifically possible. They loved it. I liked it well enough.

If you’ve been following my blog this isn’t news to you. You’ll know that I finished engineering school and worked as a programmer for 10 years. You’ll also know that during my second maternity leave my position was downsized, and I seized the opportunity to create a different sort of life for myself. This time around, I decided, I would be a writer.

As a writer I held a few freelance jobs, and enjoyed myself. I worked on this blog, attended conferences, and became active on social media. It’s work that has energized me in ways that engineering didn’t. Eventually I became the editor at VancouverMom.ca, an online magazine for moms. I’ve learned a lot, interviewed amazing and inspiring people, discovered my love for podcasting, visited places I never would have seen otherwise, and connected with my community in new ways. When I was talking to my husband this summer about what I wanted to do next, I told him that I was really loving where I was right now. It was true. I was pretty freaking happy.

Two things happened this fall that shifted my perspective. The first thing is that my son Jacob started full-day kindergarten. While this didn’t really net me oceans of free time, it did change my outlook. I am no longer the parent of preschool-aged children. My kids are moving out into the world on their own, and the reality is making me re-examine where I am in my life, and where I want to go next.

The second thing that happened seems much more innocuous at first blush: I was invited to an open house put on by a group that encourages young girls to explore math and science. They wrote about the importance of exposing our daughters to STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, math), and I agreed. While a career in engineering wasn’t right for me, ultimately, the truth is that I don’t regret pursuing it for a minute. It opened a lot of doors for me, taught me a lot, and provided me with skills and ideas that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I started considering how I could share my love for math and science with my own kids, and with other kids. As I did, a long-buried dream surfaced from the depths of my psyche.

I could teach math and science. I could be a teacher.

I did some reading online, and one day in late October I headed up to the university campus for an information session at the Faculty of Education. Being on campus felt familiar in many ways. After all, I did spend six years of my life there. When I graduated, originally, I was happy to be done, and had no urge to return. That day, however, I felt energized to be sitting in a classroom. I left the information session with a better picture of what I would have to do if I pursued this route, and a determination to take the next steps.

Before I actually go any further, I need to take some more classes. I don’t have all of the necessary prerequisites to pursue my teaching degree, so I’m taking three classes in January, and continuing my other work. I want to take my time with this, and make sure this is actually what I want to do.

I don’t know what it will be like to balance school and parenting. I don’t know if I would actually be a good teaching candidate. I don’t know how long this will take, or what it will feel like to sit in class beside people half my age. All I know right now is that my first career dream as a child was teaching. I also know that I have volunteered with kids, even before I had kids of my own, because I love hanging out with them. Right now, I want to follow through on it, and see where it takes me.

Going back to school feels like a big change in direction, but it also feels like coming home. I guess that the more things change, the more they really do stay the same.

***

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • Mature StudentAmber Strocel is embarking on a new adventure in 2014, by returning to a space in her life she thought she’d left behind – that of being a university student.
  • And then there were four — Jillian at Mommyhood learned how quickly love can grow when welcoming a second child to the family.
  • Handling Change As A Mother (And Why That Takes Things To A Different Level) — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shares how she helps her young daughter navigate change and why it is so important, as a mother, to gauge her own reactions to change.
  • Without Dad-One Year Later — Erica at ChildOrganics shares how her life has changed one year after losing her husband suddenly.
  • Family Ties — Lori at TEACH through Love realized that her most significant, most painful wound paved the way for her to share her greatest gift.
  • Rootless — After Dionna @ Code Name: Mama‘s parents packed up their home and moved to Florida this fall, she is feeling rootless and restless.
  • A Letter to My Mama Self in the Swirl of Change — Sheila Pai of A Living Family shares a letter she wrote to herself to capture and remember the incredible changes from the year, and invites you to do the same and share!
  • Junctionssustainablemum explains how her family has dealt with a complete change of direction this year.
  • Planning, Parenting, and Perfection — Becca at The Earthling’s Handbook explains how most of the plans she made for her adult life have worked out differently than she planned, but she’s ended up getting a lot of what she really wanted.
  • Why First Grade Means Growing Up… for Both Me and My Daughter — Donna at Eco-Mothering discovers that her daughter’s transition into first grade is harder as a parent.
  • First Year of Mothering — Mercedes at Project Procrastinot reflects on the quiet change that took her by surprise this year.
  • Building the Community YOu Desire — A recent move has Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children working toward setting up a new support network.
  • Slowing down in 2013 — A car fire and a surprise diagnosis of Down syndrome made 2013 a very different year than the one Crunchy Con Mommy and family were expecting!
  • The Seven Year Cycle — After 7 intense years of baking, birthing and breastfeeding 6 kids, Zoie at TouchstoneZ wonders, “Will I be enough for what comes next?”
  • Rebirth — Kellie of Our Mindful Life has found that each of her births leaves her a different person.
  • When a Hobby Becomes a Business — This year, new doors opened for That Mama Gretchen‘s hobby of writing and blogging – it has turned into a side business. She’s sharing a bit about her journey and some helpful tips in case you’re interested in following the same path.
  • 5 Tips for Embracing a Big Change in Your Family — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells about a big change in her family and shares tips that have always helped her family embrace changes.
  • Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes — Ana at Panda & Ananaso ruminates on how having a child changed her priorities.
  • Homeostasis — Lauren at Hobo Mama is finding that even as elements shift in her life — in cosleeping, homeschooling, breastfeeding, & more — they mostly remain very familiar.
  • Sally go round the sun — A new baby brings joy and unexpected sadness for Douglas at Friendly Encounters, as she is diagnosed with a rare genetic condition.
  • Embrace it — Laura from Pug in the Kitchen muses about the changes in her family this year and how she can embrace them . . . as best she can anyway.
  • Big Change; Seamless but Big — Jorje of Momma Jorje shares how one of the biggest changes of her life was also a seamless transition.
  • Celebrating Change — Change feeds Jaye Anne at Wide Awake, Half Asleep‘s soul. And all the work that seemed like monotonous nothingness finally pays off in a clear way.

Field Trip Chaperone

One of the best parts about working from home, to me, is the flexibility. I can drop into my son’s kindergarten classroom for the daily reading time. It’s not the end of the world if one of my kids is sick, and I’m not left scrambling for childcare on a snow day. Plus, I can do things like volunteer to go on field trips.

My own mother was a stay-at-home-mom until I was in grade three. She walked me to the bus stop every morning, volunteered in my classroom, and would often be one of the parent drivers on my class field trips. I enjoyed that. By working from home, I get to share that with my own kids, only instead of walking them to the bus stop I’m walking them to school. I know that I’m very lucky, indeed, to be able to do this.

field trip school busLucky and wise aren’t always the same thing, however. In the past I’ve only gone on walking field trips. I accompanied my daughter’s class to sing at a local extended care home or walked them to a nearby high school to see a play. Yesterday, I stepped up my field trip game by volunteering as one of the parent supervisors for a trip three classes from my daughter’s school were taking to Science World in Vancouver. The kids travelled by bus, which excited my daughter immensely, as it was her first time on a school bus. I drove myself in my own car, which actually worked out because I’m sure my trip was far more peaceful than it would have been otherwise.

When those kids came pouring off the bus at Science World, the excitement was so thick that the air almost crackled with it. I rounded up my group of five kids, who I would be supervising. I marshalled the eight-year-olds over to the area where they dropped off their lunches and coats, and then tried to lead them upstairs away from the crowds. This is when I got my first taste of what the rest of my day would be like. They all agreed to follow me, but no more than 15 seconds later when I turned back only one child was still with me. The rest had all been distracted by one display or another, and had wandered a little bit off track.

science world field tripOther than the time spent watching the movie and attending the workshop, this was pretty much what my day was like.

Me: Hey, team! How about we go check out the nature exhibit?
Kids: Yeah!
Me: Great! This way!
Kids: Yeah!
Me: … one, two, three … I’m missing two kids. Which two am I missing? Sarah! There you are! Come back here! Now, has anyone seen Mitchell? Okay, you guys, stay right here. I’ll be right back.
Me: Mitchell! There you are. I know this place is exciting, but I need you to stay with the group. They’re right over there … well, two of them are. Who’s missing now?

And so on, and so on, and so on.

I’d say that it was like herding cats, only I suspect cats would be more cooperative. Plus, you can always put cats inside cat carriers and lock the door if you really need them to stay in one place. You cannot do this with children.

science world beavers rodents
It turns out ancient beavers were really big

In the end, only one kid on the field trip went missing long enough that the staff started looking for him, and he wasn’t in my group. We managed lunch and bathroom visits and exhibit exploration, and I managed not to raise my voice once. My head only hurt a little when it was over, although I was more tired than I’ve been in years. I think that counts as a fairly successful field trip, all told.

When I mentioned my post-grade-three-field-trip fatigue on Facebook, the fabulous Allison a.k.a. Bibliomama said, “I’ve done that. Twice. And then again in grade four. And then I started burning the permission slips.” She is a wise woman, Allison. Although, truthfully, I’d probably do it again. I didn’t volunteer in order to have a relaxing day, or for my health, or for a free trip to Science World. I volunteered for my daughter. Yesterday evening, when she gushed about how much fun she’d had and how glad she was I came along, I knew it had been worthwhile. Long after my fatigue has worn off, Hannah will remember that I went with her class to Science World. That’s the part that counts.

My Kindergartner

first day of kindergarten

Sitting on the carpet on the first day of kindergarten

At long last, kindergarten is well and truly underway for my son Jacob. Two days in, it seems to be going well. He’s been to the computer lab, found his cubby, enjoyed playtime, and waved at his sister outside on the playground. While there’s no denying that he’s one of the smallest students in the school, especially with a birthday late in the year, the whole thing is driving home to me just how very big he’s getting.

I can see how much Jacob has grown in just the past few months since school ended in June. He can keep up with his sister better than he could before summer vacation started. His balance is better and his legs are longer. He’s also getting better at explaining himself, and he’s started drawing. He’s even experimenting with printing, and while his sister started reading a little later, his early literacy skills are increasing with leaps and bounds. It’s as if, with the start of formal schooling, he’s decided to go and grow up right before my eyes.

Super Jacob kid art 5 year old

This says “Super Jacob”

You might think that with my baby starting school, I’m feeling wistful and a little sad. I was last week, but not so much now. There are some serious perks to having two kids in full-time public school. I’m not paying for daycare anymore, and I don’t have to juggle two drop-offs and pick-ups. My son’s increasing independence is also making my life easier. He chooses his own clothes and gets dressed by himself. He puts his lunch in his backpack, and then carries it all to school. There is parental freedom in having school-age children. I have more time to myself during the day, and while I’m still trying to catch up on the work backlog that developed over summer vacation, I can see that this will make my life easier in many ways.

It’s amazing, watching your children grow up and become their own people. It kind of sneaks up on you, so that you don’t notice it until one day, you look at your kid and see a totally different child. A child who can do more, say more and understand more. An awesome little person that you’re proud to know.

My son is in kindergarten, and he’s getting bigger every day. I’m so glad that I have a front row seat on his life. I’m looking forward to what this next chapter in my life as a parent holds.

The First Day of Two Kids in School

first day of school back to schoolToday was the first day of school. Sort of.

Because of some complicated rules that I don’t fully understand around class sizes, coupled with the fact that apparently a whole bunch of kids show up on the first day without having registered, the first day of school is basically just a chance to take attendance. My daughter Hannah returned to last year’s classroom, where the whole class found out which room they’ll be reporting to this week. While they work out the new class lists she’ll stay with her classmates from last year, doing a whole lot of what amounts to busy-work. On Monday (hopefully) she’ll get her class assignment, and school will actually start.

My son Jacob, who’s starting kindergarten, had to show up to get his name ticked off the list four hours after my daughter did. He will have a ‘welcoming conversation’ on Thursday with his teacher, and we’ll find out which class he’s in then. He’ll start going to school on Monday, and with gradual entry he’ll be up to full days by Wednesday. So, really, there’s more than a week left before I’ll actually enjoy the freedom of having two kids in school full-time.

All the same, this is the first day we had to wake up in the morning and make the trek up to the school. It’s the first time we saw the kids and parents we haven’t seen since June. It’s the day when everyone shows up in their new outfits, collects their school supplies, and talks about what happened over summer vacation. It’s the first time that our family’s schedule has been dictated by the school bell for over two months.

If you’d asked me yesterday, I would have said that I was totally fine. More than fine – I was actually looking forward to having both kids at school. My children are certainly enthusiastic. While Hannah grumbled a little bit about having to get up this morning, the truth is that summer vacation was starting to wear. This morning both kids were up early, dressed in their first day outfits, and raring to go. Fully 30 minutes before it was time to set out they were bouncing around our front hall, putting their shoes on and making excited sounds.

Jacob took the first day excitement to a whole other level. When we headed to the playground after signing him in and picking up his notices, he actually tried to break back into the school building, saying, “I want to go to kindergarten today!” As I called him back to me he answered, “I’m okay, I can go in without you to find my class!” He’s more than ready for this. That makes one of us.

While I didn’t cry today, my anxiety is showing. I woke up several times during the night last night, sweating and unable to remember what I was dreaming about. I had a hard time eating breakfast, and I snapped at my kids without good reason a few times today. I know my kids are ready to go back to school, and I’m looking forward to having more time to work, but I’m also feeling some angst associated with this life transition.

It is a transition, after all, to have both kids in school. My son is five years old – the baby phase is long past. However, today I’m really faced with acknowledging that I don’t have a baby anymore. I have school age children, who have lives and friends and interests that lie outside the four walls of our home. They’re heading into greater and greater independence all the time. It’s freeing as a parent, but it’s also kind of sad. Today, the sadness is poking through.

The road of motherhood is marked with milestones, big and small. As I stand in front of this one, I’m still not sure what to think of it. I’m too close to see the whole picture, too caught up in the conflicted emotions of yet another transition. Tomorrow, maybe, things will be different. But for today, I am giving myself the freedom to just feel, and not think too much, and drink a lot of tea. In the past eight-and-a-half years of parenting preschoolers, I’ve earned that much.

Podcast: In Search of a Greener, Groovier Lunchbox with Lori Alper

Strocel.com Podcast Better Back to School Brigade Lori Alper Non-Toxic LunchboxesDid you know that toxins may be lurking in your child’s school lunch? It’s true. While a litterless lunch is a greener way to go, not every water bottle, food container and lunchbox you buy is perfectly safe. For instance, do you remember the controversy around Sigg water bottles a number of years ago? When everyone started to become concerned about BPA in plastic water bottles, Sigg benefited big time. When it came out some time later that their water bottle linings contained BPA, many people felt betrayed. I myself owned one of the BPA-containing bottles, and I was pretty cheesed about it.

My point here is that it’s not always easy to tell what’s green, and what’s greenwashing. That’s why I’m re-sharing my interview with the fabulous Lori Popkewitz Alper of Groovy Green Livin with you again. I first met Lori in person at BlogHer 2011 in San Diego. In this photo I’m standing on the far left, and Lori is standing on the far right:

Strocel.com Podcast Lori Alper

Lori is a fellow green mom, and I have admired her for a long time. I particularly admire the work she’s done to highlight our exposure to toxins, and advocate for change. She’s started two petitions that have garnered widespread attention. The first is aimed at Proctor & Gamble, and it’s called Tide: Get Cancer-Causing Chemicals Out of Laundry Detergent. The second is aimed at Disney, and it’s called Disney: Get toxic chemicals out of Princess and Spiderman lunch boxes.

Strocel.com Podcast Lori Popkewitz AlperDuring our podcast, Lori and I discussed her own journey to greener living, and what motivates her. We discussed the petitions and why she started them, as well as the awareness that she’s raising. By pointing out the toxins our kids may be exposed to in the products they use every day, Lori is helping to ensure that people can make better decisions. When you don’t know what the dangers are, you can’t avoid them. When you know, you’re empowered, which is why I admire Lori so much. If you’d like some tips for making better choices of your own, Lori shares some of those during the podcast, as well.

Whether you’re a fellow green mom, you want to learn a little bit about how you can reduce the toxins your kids are exposed to in their school lunches, or you’d like to be inspired by someone who’s working hard to create change, you’ll want to listen to the podcast:

I’m working on some new podcasts that I’ll be recording in September. I’m really excited about some of these! Subscribe to my podcast in iTunes and you won’t miss a minute.

Shopping for School Clothes

better back-to-school brigade david suzuki's queen of greenWe’re in the last few weeks of summer vacation right now at my house. While I know some kids are back at school already, mine don’t head to class until the day after Labour Day. At the moment, I’m simultaneously trying to make the most out of what’s left of summer, and preparing for the return to school. This means – at least in part – doing some back-to-school shopping.

I’m lucky because I don’t have to buy school supplies for my kids, at least not directly. I pay for a box of supplies for each child, delivered directly to the school. I like this solution because it’s easy, but also because I’m convinced that it’s probably greener. When my child’s teacher says she needs seven duo tangs, she gets seven, instead of the twelve I have to buy because they only come in packs of six. Ditto for notebooks and pencils and so on and so forth. Plus, I’m not driving from store to store trying to track it all down.

Most of my shopping right now is for clothes and shoes. There are three things I’m doing to outfit my kids for back-to-school without breaking the bank.

back to school
Heading off for the first day of school last September

Greener Back-to-School Clothes

  • Buy Less Stuff – This is the biggest thing that I do to reduce the impact of my back-to-school shopping. There are a few items my kids really do need for back-to-school, like indoor shoes that fit. The rest of the stuff doesn’t actually need to be purchased now. By waiting until my kids actually need something before I buy it, I’m reducing my consumption and spreading the expense around.
  • Shop Used – You can find great used kids’ clothes, at least some of the time. By heading to my local thrift store first, I can reduce the environmental impact of my shopping and save money. I have more success with some items, like pants, sweaters and dresses, and less success with shoes and shirts. Still, even one or two items bought second-hand makes for a greener back-to-school.
  • Choose Quality – For the things that need to be bought new, I try to choose quality over quantity. I would like to say that I only buy organic cotton, locally-made, sweatshop-free clothes for my kids. That wouldn’t be true. But by buying better-quality pants and shoes I can make them last longer, reducing my consumption and saving money in the long run. For example, the high-quality backpack I bought my daughter seven years ago is going strong, while the cheaper ones we’ve been gifted with have all long since died.

Buying less and shopping second-hand isn’t exactly the most sexy way to be green, but it’s certainly the cheapest.

Now that my daughter is eight years old, I involve her in the back-to-school shopping as well. She has strong opinions about what she likes and what she doesn’t like. I want her to use the stuff I’m buying, and I want her to feel good in her clothes. If I pay for a pair of shoes she never wears that ends up being a waste of energy and money, so I make sure to get her input. As she hurtles headlong into her tween years, I anticipate that she will only become more involved in every shopping decision I make for her.

How do you green your own back-to-school shopping? And do you bring your kids with your, or leave them at home? I’d love to hear! Plus, bonus points, by leaving a comment you can be entered in a fabulous giveaway for some seriously sustainable swag:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Reflections on After-School Pick-Up

It’s rainy, because it’s January in Vancouver. I just thank my lucky stars it’s not snowing, because when it does the entire city loses its head, and I’m first in line. I’m wearing rain boots and my long winter coat, and carrying an umbrella. I remember buying this umbrella for my husband, some 14 years ago. Only he wasn’t my husband then. I don’t think we were even engaged yet. The umbrella hasn’t held up as well as our relationship, I’m afraid. It’s missing the little piece of plastic at its top, which has allowed water to seep into the metal frame, leaving telltale rust signs at the joints. Each time I use it I fear it may be the last – it’s harder and harder to force it all the way up until I hear the telltale click.

Luckily, today is not the umbrella’s last day. Today, it comes through for me. And so I am mostly dry, if a little chilly, as I make my way towards the school for afternoon pick-up. I hurry, having left the house just a little too late. Fortunately for me I don’t have my four-year-old with me today, so I’m making good time. I look around me at my rain-soaked neighbourhood. The trees on the mountain ahead are sort of pretty, shrouded in mist. Nearer to where I walk purposefully along, the houses and cars are the same as they always are, but their colours appear less vivid in the gloomy light. The bright, puffy holiday lawn ornaments that some of my neighbours have neglected to take down just seem sad, now. Like me, I imagine that they’d rather be someplace warm and dry.

after school pick upAs I think about the feelings of the giant inflatable polar bear, I am reminded of that old IKEA commercial about the lamp. Do you remember it? This lady puts her old lamp by the side of the road, where it sits sadly on a dark and rainy night while she sets up her new lamp inside her window. At the end a drenched man with a Swedish accent says, “Many of you feel bad for this lamp. That is because you’re crazy. It has no feelings, and the new one is much better.” (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you can watch it on YouTube.) I know the lawn ornaments don’t have feelings, either, but I still see them as sad and bedraggled, despite their permanently smiling features.

As I reach the intersection just down the hill from the school, I’m joined by a number of other people headed in the same direction. Sometimes, we smile and nod or chat. Today, we don’t seem to be up for much conversation, huddled under our umbrellas. We stand silently, until the light changes. At the other side, we join the line of parents, grandparents and caregivers trudging single-file up the hill. Some of our number are pushing strollers, while others are holding tightly to the hands of younger brothers or sisters. As we walk, it occurs to me that we’re like the most boring parade in the world, and the rain that’s falling relentlessly down on us only makes it worse. No one would set up their lawn chairs to watch our sombre figures marching along.

As we near the top of the hill, everyone peels off, heading to their own designated meeting spot. Mine is around the back of the school, and so I am one of the last to leave the line. Sometimes I think I should ask my daughter to meet me somewhere else, to shorten my walk at least a little. But somehow, I never seem to remember to bring it up when she’s actually with me, so it’s around the back I go.

after school pick upThe bell rings as I reach my destination, and things change suddenly. The back door of the school swings open, and children pour out. Unlike their parents, who favour dark colours in their outerwear, the children are dressed in a riot of hues. There are pinks, blues, yellows, oranges, greens – not just in their coats, but their rainboots, their clothes, and their backpacks. They stop under the covered area outside the door, scrunching up their noses, frowning when they realize it’s raining. They’ve been waiting for this, their moment of freedom, since lunchtime. The rain has interfered, but being children they just shrug and move on.

It feels like my daughter is always one of the last to leave, but soon enough I see her. She takes my hand, and makes her good-byes to everyone in eyesight that she has even a passing acquaintance with. Once she’s done, she turns her attention to me, as we walk more slowly towards home. She chats away, telling me about what happened at school, asking what she can have at home by way of a snack, discussing what TV show she’ll watch before we go pick up her brother. The quiet, sombre part of my day is over. The walk back home is a very different affair. It’s the reason for the parental parade, the outing in the rain, the cold fingers clutching my umbrella. This girl who won’t let go of my hand is one of the few things that can pull me out of my warm home on a rainy day. And as I look at her, I don’t even really mind the weather so much at all.

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