Friday, July 27, 2012


As the beginning of the school year creeps closer and the stores are filling up with pencils and pens and notebooks and binders, I start to miss teaching just a little bit.  Before I became a mom, the time of year right before school started was very exciting for me.  I'd scour the ads and stock up on staples for my classroom.  My mind would be filling with ideas to make the year in my science classroom the best yet,  and I can honestly say that each year of teaching for me was just that- even more fun and productive and even slightly less exhausting than the last.  I would spend hours setting my classroom up, running copies to beat the teacher work day rush, and of course, planning all of my outfits for the first two months of school so that there would be no repeats.  On a calendar.  'Cuz I'm cool like that.

As the school year began, I would hand out the list of supplies to my kids and throughout the first week of classes, I would walk around the classroom with my clipboard during the bellwork activities getting to know the kids and checking off their school supplies on my clipboard-
binder, calculator, paper, book cover, pencil, textbook- check.
It was really important to me to make sure each student was equipped properly for the semester ahead and for each day of my class, so I was always, always checking their supplies.  I am sure it drove them crazy, but with the students I taught this kind of structure was essential.  If they know you are going to hold them accountable, they will perform.  My students worked in cooperative groups of 4, and as I went around each table that first week of class there was always some awkwardness among the kids, sitting and staring at people they had never met before in a class they weren't sure about.  Most of the students in my class didn't know each other and I always saw it as my job to build a community in that room in the short time of our semester together.  If I could get the kids to care for each other and look out for each other it could be the best feeling ever.  Fortunately for me, some of the kids managed to take care of that themselves.

One early morning in Block 4 Integrated Chemistry-Physics, I was clicking around the room in my high heels checking off supplies.  I got to the last table, the one that sits right in front of my overhead projector and start chatting with the kids.  As I did, I noticed the desk of one boy, a junior named Matt, was decidedly empty.  Matt was small and wiry and had an appearance that was already a little weathered beyond his 16 or 17 years- that general look of a kid who does most of his looking out for himself.  I could tell from his T-shirt that he liked the Grateful Dead and from the way he spoke that he was smart, but I could also tell by his behavior that his grades might never show that.  From my first impression, I liked him right away and I knew he might challenge other people's authority but that we would get along just fine.  I could see him shuffle and squirm in his chair as I got to his desk, which is a look I had seen often before so I smiled and gave him the ol' one-raised-eyebrow and asked if he had a chance to get his supplies yet.  He looked down and his desk and then back up at me and said, "Well, Mrs. Zink, my mom doesn't get paid this week so I don't get any supplies just yet."  He could have been lying or he could have been telling the truth, but either way it was brave of him to say that in front of a table of kids he didn't know who could surely overhear.  I had heard that story many times before and had a special stash of supplies in my room just for money situations, so I told him not to worry and we would work something out after class.  I gave him a binder and a few things to use, and when I did he said, "I'll just borrow these and get my own supplies soon."  I told him there was really no need and didn't think another thing about it.

Fast forward a few days, when another boy, Cory, from my 4th block class comes to me before school.  He seemed to be a newer student, and I could tell that he didn't know anyone else in our class by the way he looked around and mostly kept to himself.  He was shy, and very sweet, with a baby face and reddish hair and that sort of awkward hunching over teenage boys have when grow really tall, but they feel too tall too fast and try to overcompensate.  He walked up to my desk, handed me a plastic bag and said, "Mrs. Zink, could you please give these to Matt?"  It was a Target bag and inside I found binders, pens, pencils, papers, a reusable lunch bag and anything else Matt would need to succeed in school.  I gave Cory and awestruck sort of look and he started to explain.  "Well, Mrs. Zink,  I saw him in the lunchroom after class the other day and he had this wrinkled up old paper bag for his lunch with hardly any food in it.  I just felt so bad.  I asked my mom to take me to get him a real lunch bag and some supplies and she said we could, but I just don't want him to know they were from me."
Uh, wow.
And who says teenagers are self centered?
My eyes started to fill with tears.  I was pretty sure that Cory and his mom didn't have a lot of extra money for things like that, but the fact that the compassion for another person was so deep inside him that he couldn't help but act completely humbled me.

I gave the bag to Matt's guidance counselor, and she called him down to the office to get it.  I am sure he stammered some sort of response before he shuffled back to his locker with his goodies from some mysterious benefactor.  I wish I could have been there as he went through the bag.  I don't think anything feels quite as good as the kindness of a stranger, and it sure makes you feel special and even more accountable when that kindness comes anonymously with no strings attached.  The next day, when I made the rounds for supply check block 4, Matt's desk was full up.  I enjoyed acting pleased and surprised.  I could tell there was a little bit more awe in his eyes and more softness in his spirit after that.  And I smiled to myself as I saw Cory sneak a look over to his tablemate's desk, see his anonymous gift, and hold his shoulders just a little bit higher.  That beautiful act of kindness among two teenage boys will live in my heart forever.  Cory's giving when he had little himself, with no recognition or hope for return, is the kind of generosity we'd all like to have.  So, if you ever lose hope in teenage boys, there's some for you!!  Thank you, Cory and Matt!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Potty Training. . .

One thing a lot of my girlfriends ask me for advice about is potty training.  Let me give a little disclaimer.  One one hand, I love when people ask me for advice!  It makes me feel awesome and super helpful!  But on the other hand, it is a huge responsibility that seems a bit terrifying.  Older moms are lucky enough to be able to brush off the questions, like, "Oh, I don't remember, it was so LONG ago. . ." but I know noone is going to fall for that line if I try it.  The Thomas the Tank Engine underpants in my laundry and the gunky pee on my toilet lid TOTALLY give me away.    I am definitely no parenting expert, so any time someone asks me for advice, I figure they are really just asking me if they are OK.  Like, is what they are feeling normal?  Is their kid going to turn out OK?  Will they all survive?  I know that, because I feel that, too.  And I think the best gift we can give each other as humans is to let each other know that, "Hey, you're going to be just fine!"  Because you know what?  We're all fine.  If you love your child and your child knows you love them, you have done your job.  They will grow up with the ability to love others, because you loved them.  Success.  All the other stuff. . .solid foods, potty training, vegetable variety, sleeping through the night, thumbs, pacifiers. . .those are all secondary to the main goal of parenting, which is love.   It has taken me a few years to figure that out, and sometimes I am still learning.  So, I say if you love your child enough to read up about potty training so that you can give them the pride of being independent and caring for themselves, you are an AOK parent, whatever method you choose to use to get there.

Now that we have that out of the way, here's my two cents on potty training.  I have potty trained 2 of my 3 boys so far, and because each child is so different in their own God-given ways, each experience was different even with the same me using the same techniques.  My potty training method is what I like to call the "Elmo and Mister Rogers 3 Day Potty Training Method".  Patent pending.  Not really, because I just mish-mashed a bunch of stuff together, but here it goes!

1. Go get yourself a potty seat.  Or two.  Or three.  Get some used ones if you don't want to spend a fortune, because since every kid is different, you never know what they will be into! We have 2 Baby Bjorn potty seats- one that sits on the floor and one that goes on the toilet seat.  However, both of my kids just preferred to stand and pee like their daddy.  Whatevs. 

2.  Go check out the Elmo's Potty Time DVD from your local library.  I signed up on the waiting list and I was like #93, so, you know, plan ahead.  When you get it, you can hypnotize your child with not-so-subtle potty messages and ridiculously catchy songs.  The one that Elmo's dad sings him is priceless, and involves lines like, "It's potty time, gotta get down low, it's potty time, just let it gooooooooo".  For your own entertainment alone, get this video.  Also, there is a nifty part where they show you how toilet paper is made!!

3. Now, it's time to do some "reading".  Basically, in my mind anything that Fred Rogers said or did is pretty much solid gold.  So, you start here.

And you read what Mister Rogers said.  And you take a deep breath because he always makes people feel better about things.  And you watch the cute little video.  And you buy your kids a bucked at the dollar bin at Target and let them drop pennies in, and sing "You Can Never Go Down the Drain" and get the Mister Rogers First Experiences book about Going to the Potty  even though the kids have bowl cuts and rainbow overalls, your kids won't know the difference.  They will love it because there are real pictures of real kids doing something that is fascinating and foreign to them and the words will sink in to their noggins and they will be getting ready for the big day.

4. Once you've primed the pump you need to think about when you are ready. When is a GOOD time to potty train?  It just depends on your child and on you.  There are all kinds of signs of potty training readiness, but I think once you detect some of those the most important thing is to pick a time when they are not experiencing a bunch of other transitions and YOU are not experiencing unusual stress.  I feel like being in a big kid bed is an important transition to make before potty training if you want them to be truly independent, which I didn't realize until I tried to potty train a kid who was still in a crib!   Lesson learned. Also, it helps to be clear of any other strife, like getting teeth, and safely past dramatic life events like moving and new siblings.  Now, if you have a resilient child, they could probably handle potty training and some of those other things at the same time.  I'm a pretty sensitive person and I like to project that sensitivity on my kids (often to the annoyance of my husband), so playing it safe and steering clear of major events works best for me.  You also need to pick a time when you can be TOTALLY devoted to your child, which whether you have 1 child or 5 is equally hard to do.  I had no idea how hard it was to actually pay attention to my kid all day until I did the "Three Day Potty Training".  Let me tell you, I felt like a pretty bad parent when I realized how stressed out it was making me just to give my undivided attention to one child. So, if you are confused and unnerved by the amount of time you are staring at your child while potty training, I am thinking that is pretty normal!!   Oh, and once you have decided, it's a good excuse to run to Target, pick up some fantastically cute undies and some stickers and lollipops and juice and whatever else you have planned for their potty training experience, and maybe a frozen pizza or two since there is no way you are going to feel like cooking after a day of potty training!  Plus, you can't take your eyes off of them to whip up anything fancier.  I learned that the hard way!

Now that you have the peppy cheerleading of Elmo, the gentle wisdom of Fred Rogers, and the goodies from Target, you need a roadmap to get to Potty Town.  That's where Three Day Potty Training comes in. One of my friends told me about it and all about how it works.  Her friend told her, who heard from another friend.  It's kind of a big deal. ;)  I would highly encourage people to check it out, with a few caveats. There are some awesome ideas in this ebook.  The highlights for me are

1.  The cold turkey approach- going straight to undies
2.  Pumping fluids at the beginning to give lots of practice opportunities
3.  Undivided attention
4.  Never forcing the child to go potty or asking them if they need to go, just saying things like, "Let me know when you need to go potty!"

As a teacher, all of these things speak to me.  Lots of practice, reinforcement, and putting the responsibility on the child.  For those techniques alone, buy the book.   But here's the things you need to remember when you read a book like this.  The author of this book is not a medical professional or a scholar of child development and psychology.  She has that disclaimer on her website herself.  She is a mom with good ideas.  She has written a book to help others and to make money.  It is based on anecdotal evidence and experience more than scientific peer-reviewed research.  There is nothing wrong with any of those things, but you have to remember that when someone writes a book like that selling a method, they are really going to "sell" it.  Probably in a way that will make some sensitive people like me feel pretty junky if they are trying the "method" and it is not working, and the book says it SHOULD work and it's guaranteed to work and ohmygoodnesswhatamidoingwrongiamanepicfailureasaparent.  At times like this, my mom (who has a lot of the wisdom of Fred Rogers) likes to remind me that they are probably not going to be 20 and in diapers.  And if they are, then you have other problems that are way more important than potty training so count your blessings.

So, all that being said, how did potty training go for me?  Well, thanks to the methods in the 3 day potty training book and lots of hyping ahead of time with Elmo and Mister Rogers, both boys had the pee part down with less than 1 accident.  Of course, part of Daniel's strategy was just to not pee at all for 8 hours despite all of the fluids we had been pumping, but it all worked out!  And for some reason, they were both staying dry overnight within the first week.  I can't take any credit for that, they just went with it!  The poop part was harder.  They both had different reasons why they wouldn't poop on the potty, and we had to get to the bottom of those reasons.  However, washing poopy underpants every now and then was a way better deal to me than changing all those diapers, so we worked our way through it and everyone does their thing in the potty now.  I would be lying if I said I never lost my temper when someone pooped their pants for the bazillionth time, however, if I did lose my patience I would just hug my boy and tell them I was sorry that I lost it and I love them no matter what.  If our kids can see that we can admit when we are wrong and apologize for it, that's a good model for their own life.  At least that's what I like to tell myself when I am a less than perfect parent!!  

Good luck, potty trainers!!  Let me know how your adventures go!  I'll update this after I finally decide it's time to potty train boy #3- who knows what adventures we will have!  :)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Baby Keepsake Shadowboxes

One of my very first pins on Pinterest was this one. . .
from Midwest Family Life's photostream.  Thank you so much for the inspiration!  I needed to do something like this, and this was just the idea for it!

My amazing mother-in-law, Kitty, knits each of her grandbabies a hat.  All three of my boys have one that is as special and unique as they are.  After they outgrew the hats, they were simply sitting in a box in the nursery closet which seemed like such a shame.   I have been wanting to do something special, but I didn't know what!  After seeing this pin, I rushed out to Target and bought these shadowboxes for about 10 bucks a pop.  Sweet!  The scrapbook paper was also from Target, with the exception of the middle frame which has Becky Higgins scrapbook paper from her Project Life collection.

These sat on a shelf in my office/art room for a good 8 months until today, when I decided it was time to just dive in and do it!  The whole project took less than an hour. Maybe I shouldn't have procrastinated so long, huh?

I simply cut and attached the paper with double stick tape and affixed the hats with three thumbtacks each.  For the birth announcement portion, I searched for free label templates and found these adorable ones.
Thank you so much for offering these for free!  What a gift.

I opened the labels I wanted in Picasa and used the Picnik photo editor to add the text that I wanted for each.  I made the color and font, and even the style of the wording different on each one. . .each boy is unique, each hat is unique. . .so I wanted each frame to have some elements of consistency and some elements that would set them apart!  I printed the labels out on cardstock and used some little scrapbooking brads I picked up at Meijer to add some flair.  In order to get the brads in neatly and in just the right spot, I improvised and used the seam ripper from my sewing box to roughly measure and poke the hole.  Each label is held on with double stick tape.  I know it doesn't seem like the most secure thing, but once you put the frame on everything is pretty much "in there".  I am going to attach an envelope to the back of each frame and tuck in the cards their Grandma Kitty gave them when they were born.  I save everything, so I know I have them somewhere!

This was so easy!  The whole project cost less than $40. Now the hard part is going to be deciding where to hang them!  Thanks so much to Midwest Family Life for the inspiration, Haphazard Happenstances for the labels and Grandma Kitty for the treasured little hats.