School Days – A Mother’s Soliloquy

IMG_0508I’m sending seven children to school this year – from high school senior on down through pre-kindergartener.   And that doesn’t include my two off-to-college boys and one living-across-the-ocean missionary.

Shouldn’t I be in the Guinness Book of World Records or something?  After all, managing students is a feat worth recording.  That is, if I survive.  Let me replay how our school preparation has gone.

“Everyone wash out your lunchboxes,” I call during one of our final summer afternoons.  Soon, a display of boxes and bags are lined up on the counter, rinsed and still dripping a bit.  It’s exhausting just to consider the food prep each school morning will require, even though many of my little pupils pack their own meal.

“School clothes day,” I call on a different morning.  Then, one by one, I go through each child’s drawer with him or her.  “School shirt, play shirt, dirty shirt that it’s time to dispose of, shirt you don’t wear so we’re donating to charity, shirt that doesn’t fit you any more (put it in your brother’s drawer)…”  The school clothes project takes ALL DAY.

Our next effort is school supplies.  With seven children at home now (and six lists) we head to the store.  “I’ll go get my pencils!” calls one, and a few wander down one aisle while I stay with the rest to find notebooks, Kleenex, hand sanitizer, folders, lined paper, pencil sharpeners and oh, yes, 50 glue sticks! (I should just buy stock in Mr. Elmer’s company.)

Next we shop for school shoes.  Luckily, our two favorite footwear stores are just across from each other in the mall.  I take one group of children (the “wear-out-your-tennis-shoes-in-one-month” boys) into one store to invest in high-quality sneakers, while the dainty girls go across to the other store to find some cute (and not as durable) sandals.  Luckily coupons and memberships give us a pretty good discount on the 12 pairs of shoes we buy (although purchasing company stock could still be a viable option.)

Shirts, pants, shorts–and of course lots of socks and underwear–and we are finally finished with our school prep.  Now comes the waiting.

“I think the teacher lists are posted!” my 5th grade daughter comes running breathlessly into the house one morning.  The news spreads through the neighborhood like wildfire, and soon our elementary students are on their bikes, racing to the nearby school to check the library windows.  Yep, teacher lists are posted, and they return home eager to broadcast their findings.  “My best friend isn’t in my class!”  “I don’t know if I can spell my teacher’s name!”

My junior high and high school students are calm but anxious as they retrieve their class schedules online and then call their friends to compare notes.  “We have Calculus together,” reports my senior after chatting with his best friend.

Then, the week before school, we head out on one more lovely lazy camping trip. I want to savor every moment: the beautiful blue water, the nights under the stars, the milkshakes on the lawn, the hot dogs over the fire, the late-night movie. I don’t like giving up freedom for the rigors of education. But my children are more than excited to start the school year adventure.IMG_4856.jpg

IMG_4857.jpgA few more days and it is the “start-of-school eve.”  Before I go to bed I check my sleeping students:  little “clothes people” are laid out on all of the bedroom floors – new shirts, pants, socks, shoes and hair bows are prepped for the next morning.  Yes, even my senior laid out her clothes, and I snapped a picture while I wiped away tears. Backpacks are hanging expectantly in the laundry room, lunch bags are propped on the kitchen counter, sharp pencils and colored markers fill the school boxes.

I look out the window at the soccer nets, and the pool, and the meadow that will now be deserted and sigh at what will be lost.  No more sleeping in, or marshmallows on the campfire, or lazy bike rides past bedtime.  No more afternoon movies, or all-day read-a-thons, or swimsuit lounging.  They (whoever they are) never asked this mom about starting school in August.  I’m sure I would NOT have given my permission.

“The summer night is like a perfection of thought,” wrote Wallace Stevens.  Yet the sun is already setting earlier, and the summer frogs are slowly disappearing.  I suppose school starting is inevitable.

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And so it comes the next morning:  SEVEN excited students, SIX different grades, FIVE lunches to pack (two students eat school lunch), FOUR different schools (not counting the university), THREE different departure times, TWO boys off to college, and ONE sad mama in a quiet house.  I hug them in their crisp outfits and they walk out the door – lunch boxes swinging, new shoes skipping, waving to friends.

IMG_0523The bus pulls up, the bikes round the corner, and then our street is silent.  School has started again.

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Fair Fun – The perfect end to summer

Hey! The end of summer is just around the corner, and what better way to celebrate than with the County Fair?

Think, what have your kids made? At Scout camp? Art class? On long lazy afternoons with Legos? I’m positive you have some treasures tucked into corners of your house.

Submitting items for the fair is a SIMPLE way to finish off summer and…kids LOVE it!

Home Organization – with Rachel!

I have ten children and I CANNOT function without cleanliness and order! 🙂

My friend, Rachel, is a professional home organizer. She has wonderful tips to maintaining a household that is beautiful, functional, and brings us peace.

Today Rachel and I specifically discuss ideas for kitchen and pantry organization:

  1. Take Everything OUT
  2. PUT like things together
  3. ORGANIZE into bins, drawers, and shelves (She has great tips for where to find good containers!)
  4. MAINTAIN

I especially love Rachel’s power phrase: HONOR YOUR SPACE. Caring for our homes brings us peace and joy. I hope you enjoy this ten-minute tip to make your motherhood BRIGHTER and SMOOTHER! Thanks, Rachel. 🙂

 

Pioneer Night

Pioneer

Tomorrow is Pioneer Day–a Utah state holiday commemorating the Mormon Pioneers who entered the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. When we lived in Las Vegas, Nevada we celebrated with “Pioneer Night,” an evening of fun, since July 24th was not a holiday in Nevada.

My two oldest boys were young then! That was a long time ago. Now those boys are both grown and gone! However, we still celebrate the pioneers as a family.

I wrote about our Pioneer Night experiences for the Friend magazine, and the article was published in 2017. I hope you enjoy this fun story and get a few ideas of your own for Pioneer Day–or Night!

Read the story here: Pioneer Night


“Mom, what are we doing for family night?” Benjamin asked as he and his younger brother, Sammy, walked into the kitchen for a drink.

“Do you mean Pioneer Night?” Mom said with a smile.

“What?” Benjamin asked. “I thought today was Monday. You know, family night.”

Mom nodded. “It’s Monday all right. But tonight we’re having a special Pioneer Night.”

Benjamin frowned a little. He liked family night. He wasn’t sure he wanted to do anything different.

“What’s Pioneer Night?” Sammy asked.

“Well,” Mom said, pulling out a kitchen chair and sitting down at the table with them, “one hundred and seventy years ago, Mormon pioneers crossed the plains in wagons and handcarts to get to Utah. On July 24, 1847, the first pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley.”

“Wait. Isn’t today July 24th?” Benjamin asked.

“Exactly! It’s Pioneer Day. In Utah it’s even a state holiday,” Mom said. “There are parades and fireworks to honor the pioneers.”

“But we don’t live in Utah,” said Benjamin.

“Well, that just means we have to think of creative ways to celebrate,” said Mom. “So we’re having Pioneer Night. Will you help me get ready?”

Benjamin and Sammy nodded. As they helped Mom, Benjamin felt more and more excited. Soon Dad got home from work.

“What’s this?” he said when he saw the kitchen table set with checkered napkins, glass jars, and pie tins.

“It’s Pioneer Night!” Benjamin said, handing Dad a red bandana to tie around his neck. He and Sammy were both wearing cowboy hats from their costume box.

“This looks fun!” said Dad. Then he sniffed the air. “And something smells really good.” Mom was stirring a pot of stew at the stove.

“Before we eat, we have to make butter for the cornbread,” said Sammy.

Mom poured cream into a jar and screwed the lid on tight. After shaking for a few minutes, she handed the jar to Sammy. They all took turns shaking until there was a lump of butter inside!

After dinner they had a special family night. Dad showed them a black-and-white picture.

“This is Joseph Francis, your great-great-great grandpa,” Dad said. “He came to the United States with his family when he was 13 years old.”

Dad talked about how Joseph sailed from England and then worked in a factory to earn money to cross the plains. Benjamin couldn’t believe a boy who was just older than he was had done so many hard things.

Then Mom shared a story from her family history. “My mother, your grandma Hunsaker, met the missionaries when she was 13 years old. When she prayed to know if their message was true, she felt the Holy Ghost tell her to be baptized. Because of her decision, I grew up knowing about the gospel. My mother is a pioneer because she set a righteous example for others to follow.”

Benjamin liked that. Maybe there were ways he could be a pioneer! He was still thinking about it when Dad said it was time for the closing song and prayer.

“Now we can have the treat!” Sammy said. Mom handed everyone a cookie, some candies, and a few other yummy things. She showed them how to make wagons with marshmallows like white canvases on top.

“These wagons sure taste good,” Sammy said as he took a big bite. “I’m glad the pioneers went to Utah.”

“And I’m glad we don’t always have to make our own butter!” Benjamin said with a laugh. His life was different from the early pioneers, but he knew they all had one thing in common: they all believed in the gospel of Jesus Christ!

P.S. Go to “Family Night Fun” to see how to make your own wagons!

Mama Money: The Very Best Part of Summer!

It’s summertime! Lazy days, warm afternoons, swimming, and sun!

Summer is also the season when kids are home and can help around the house a little bit more. I generally don’t pay my kids for household chores, but during the summer we change things up and add some fun with MAMA MONEY!

Mama Money is earned through a variety of jobs and activities, and can be saved up for fun shopping sprees throughout the summer.

Watch here to learn more…

End of Year SCHOOL STUFF

The school year is over…and kids have PILES OF PAPERS they LOVE!

Here’s how our family declutters and organizes our favorite mementos from school.

(Hint: Part One of School Stuff was published last fall. This is the second half of what to do with all those papers! Check out my first video in the comments.)

Three reasons our family will Still be Scouting in 2020

IMG_3630.JPGLast year The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced it would discontinue its relationship with the Boy Scouts of America and introduce a worldwide youth program in 2020. While our family fully plans to embrace the new Church Child and Youth Development Initiative, we also intend to continue our participation in Scouting. Here’s why:

P22-4c67f.jpgReason #1: Structure. The Boy Scouts of America has been around for over a century, and the BSA has proven its worth as a structured program. This structure is a remarkable support to both Scouting leaders and Scouting families. Regular quality activities, handbooks full of information, and leader specific trainings all provide a tried and true ladder guiding youth to leadership, character, citizenship and fitness.

IMG_4231.JPGBSA programs—Cub Scouting thru Venturing—are based and built on age-appropriate activities, like stepping stones. My Cub Scout learns to handle a pocket knife, my Boy Scout earns the Woodcarving Merit Badge. My younger son takes a mile hike with his den, my older son hikes for 30 miles with his troop. You get the picture. My children are benefitting from a program shaped and tested for decades, with applicable achievements for each group, and all under an umbrella of specially trained leaders. Scouting is a safe place to learn and grow.

IMG_3573.JPGAdditionally, I love that Scouting youth have requirements—steps that must be followed—and hard tasks to complete. As humans, we rarely choose to over-extend ourselves, but the organization of Scouting gently and consistently compels youth to climb higher, be better, and accomplish hard things. In a world becoming increasingly wishy-washy and self-centered, I find the structure of Scouting remarkable and helpful to my parenting efforts.IMG_4234.JPGReason #2: Skills. Scouting is all about skills—building fires, camping, backpacking, tying knots, pitching tents, cooking, swimming, lifesaving, first aid. The list of Scouting skills is endless! Take a glance at the 137 merit badges offered to understand the full gamut of opportunities available to Scouts. Where pushing buttons with thumbs has become an all-to-common society staple for youth, I am grateful for skills taught through the BSA programs.

IMG_3641.JPG“Outing” is a key component of Scouting. Leave the lethargy and apathy at the door and step into adventure: rock-climbing, rappelling, canoeing, biking, rafting… the list goes on and on.img_4054.jpgAnd the fun isn’t just for the older youth. Last week our Cub Scouts learned and played the iconic game of marbles. Imagine seven 9-year-olds, squealing, laughing and cheering as their marbles rolled across the dirt. And in the preceding weeks our Cub Scouts hiked, whittled with pocket knives, cooked over a fire, constructed with carpentry tools, pitched tents, conducted science experiments, practiced safety, and built contraptions with simple machines. Scouting is all about skills.

IMG_3069 (1).JPGThe skills lead me to Reason #3: Substance. Scouting is chock-full of substance. Let’s face it; there are a million and one extra-curricular options for kids today. But I can’t think of another activity, club, pastime, team or sport based on Duty to God, Country, and Family. Each week I watch Cub Scouts raise their arms in the Scout Sign and recite the century-old Oath and Law—promising to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind…the iconic list goes on.

IMG_2341.JPGWhen any youth commits to Scouting values, we’ve won a battle for our future. Like I’ve said before, our time as a family is precious, yet the substance—the values and character-building opportunities—offered through BSA programs put Scouting at the top of our extra-curricular list.

P4-a1fd9.jpgAnd my fourth point—if I may have one—is Patriotism. No one does patriotism like the Boy Scouts of America. Two weeks ago I stood with over 100 other observers at a campfire. The sky was crystal clear. The stars shone brightly. The full moon came up over the ridge. The fire glowed orange and red. It couldn’t have been a more picturesque evening. Around the campfire stood eight solemn Boy Scouts. With all the respect they could muster, they displayed a flag, tattered and torn. Then, while the audience watched, they shared history in broken and emotional tones, before respectfully retiring the flag in the flames.

IMG_3619.JPGThe audience was completely silent, engulfed in the emotion of the moment. My 12-year-old son was one of the boys by the fire. Four of his younger siblings watched him participate in that sacred event. It was worth gold to me to know that he had set a standard of respect for our family as he handled the American flag that evening. Yes, no one does patriotism like the Boy Scouts of America.

P14-36c94.jpgWill the partnership between the Church and the BSA end in December? Yes. But for our family Scouting will go on. The structure, skills, substance and patriotism offered by the BSA are—in my mind—indispensable. It is my belief that Scouting will compliment—not compete with—any other extra-curricular activity, including the forthcoming Church initiative.

P19-b63a8.jpgOur family looks forward to another century of citizenship, fitness, leadership, and character through the Boy scouts of America. In 2020 we will Still be Scouting.

 

“Just a Mom” – The First Falsehood of Motherhood

IMG_4227.jpgI wasn’t even a mom when I first used this phrase. Well, I wasn’t quite a mom.

It was the day of my college graduation ceremony. There I was—dressed in a black gown, thrilled to be receiving my bachelor’s degree—when I spoke the false words.

“What are you doing after graduation?” a caring friend asked.

Glancing at my large belly with a smile I said simply, “I’ll be just a mom.”

I wasn’t disappointed, just truthful. With a new baby arriving in a few weeks, I wouldn’t have time to pursue a job and career. I’d already made my choice: motherhood.

Still, my answer didn’t seem quite as adventurous as my colleagues who were going on for higher degrees or enviable jobs.

I mistakenly thought I had spoken the truth. I would be “just a mom.” But I had no idea how false my words were.

~~~~~ 22 years later~~~~~~

At 5:30am the alarm rings. I roll over to turn it off and remember that my husband is out of town…again. I’m a single mom for a few more days this week.

My exhausted body tells me I CANNOT get out of bed, so instead I lay there for a minute and think through the day: the meals, the carpools, the homework, the piano lessons, the preschool. There is so much to be done! Who is going where? When must they arrive? What has to be done before they leave? And the never-ending question, “What’s for dinner?”

My mind cannot possibly solve all of the puzzle pieces or unknowns, and so I finally crawl out of bed. It’s time to make breakfast.

Lunches.jpgI open the cupboard and see the oatmeal. Again. I have made at least a million gallons of oatmeal in my life. And a million peanut butter sandwiches. And sliced a million oranges for lunch. And wrapped a million carrots. And buttered a million pieces of toast. And don’t even get me started on how many morning ponytails I’ve brushed or diapers I’ve changed.

Mothers totally comprehend eternity and infinity.

In fact, I’ve lived a million days like this one: waking children, cooking for children, helping children, dressing children, feeding children, cleaning up after children, signing homework for children, sending them out the door, folding laundry, sweeping floors, washing dishes. Sometimes I even envy Cinderella.

With the tasks of the day looming over me I cannot possibly get my slippers to move. So instead I sit down on the couch and shut my eyes… just for a few more minutes. But, no matter how well I did it yesterday, I must do it again.

The clock is ticking, so I finally stand up to wake the first batch of children.

On mornings like this one the falsehood from my graduation day comes back to me, and I hear discouraging voices.

You are just a mother. You are just a mom. You are just one more robe-clad bleary-eyed Mama calling up the stairs to wake sleeping kiddles. Your daily routine is empty.

But the beauty of this moment is that my minuscule perceptions are completely and totally false. Despite the exhaustion and mundaneness, these feelings are not real.

They are actually a farce and a dream.

IMG_4226.JPGFirst, the voices are wrong because I do go on. I do get up each morning. I do wake up children. I do make the breakfast. I do brush the hair and kiss the cheeks and hug them goodbye. Yes, like every morning, and every other mom around the globe, this Mama goes on. And on and on and on… Like the Little Engine that Could, or the Titantic, or the Energizer Bunny.

We don’t stop because we can’t. And that’s the paradoxical beauty of our situation.

We can’t.

Motherhood is forever. Once the decision is made, there is no turning back. In fact, even on those mornings when we do stay in bed, or do skip fixing dinner, or do forget the homework, we are still mothers—indispensable, never forgotten.

IMG_1242 2The world would stop turning without us. Literally. And the sooner we come to realize this amazing fact, the more empowered we are to go on.

Second, the discouraging voices are false because we will never be “just”. We will never be disposable or invisible or even secondary, no matter how the legislators and the regulators vote. We are the world.

But with all respect, these truths are hard to remember at 6:00am.

I call the children down to family prayer. I cook the oatmeal. I kiss high-schoolers goodbye. I pack lunches. I find lost library books. I comb tousled hair. I listen to piano practice. I sweep up crumbs. I find matching socks. I zip up the backpacks and the coats.

And the world turns.

I somehow survive this morning like I have survived a million mornings in the past. And as I work, the glorious truth unfolds.

By the time the kids have eaten breakfast, their happy chatter and eager smiles have miraculously lifted my spirits. Their sticky hugs, their shared concerns, their innocent conversation carries me up and over the mountain of motherhood.

Somehow the very souls that increased my burden have actually resolved it.

IMG_4111In fact, by the time they walk back through the door that afternoon after school, they are literal saviors. Their happy chatter heals me. Their souls are my souls. Their accomplishments of the day are my victories. Their friendships and kindnesses have filled my bucket. This reality is surprising, and our shared existence is exhilarating.

We eat dinner. We do homework. We feed chickens. We fold laundry. We brush teeth. We resolve calculus. We read stories. We say prayers… And over and over again these small efforts become big. My minuscule motherhood moments have become monumental.

As I crawl into bed that night I count my victories, and comprehend who I really am—the Mama beyond the “just.”

IMG_3136I am the scientist (my son) launching satellites around the globe.

I am the missionary in Sweden (my son) changing the world one door at a time.

I am the student secretary at the university (my daughter) managing service events.

IMG_4191I am the DECA president, (my daughter) traveling across the nation to compete in marketing.

I am the first chair flute (my daughter) performing at the state band festival.

I am the Scout patrol leader (my son) teaching First Aid skills to his peers.

I am the student leader (my daughter) sharing hope with others.

I am the Science Olympiad contestant (my son) practicing with his teammates.

I am the bubbly first grader (my daughter) reaching out to the injured classmate.

I am the adorable preschooler (my son) carefully writing his name and sharing smiles with all around him.

Temporal accomplishments are certainly not the goal, but influence is the natural offspring of effort, and my children make me shine.

I have never been to Sweden, or the moon, or the Science Olympiad—yet I have miraculously impacted those corners of the world.

Who knew that one oatmeal-making, hair-brushing, story-reading mama could affect life with this scope and magnitude?

IMG_4128 2I know nothing about satellites. I cannot speak a word of Swedish. I can’t play the flute, or recite the Scout Outdoor Code—but I am all of these things because of my children. It’s a humbling and exhilarating realization!

And this motherhood success is irrelevant to numbers. One child or twenty, the hand that rocks the cradle literally rules the world. Children make us more than we are. They make us who we are!

IMG_3144In fact, Mother by definition, is everything. The world. The future. The universe.

The very opposition that entices us to be “just a mom” is evidence enough of our eternal and influential nature. Our daily struggle provides ample proof that our role matters.

The mornings of exhaustion. The mounds of oatmeal. The million pony tails. The pages of homework. The hours of piano practice. These are our stepping stones to exaltation.

In the end, the truth will set us free. We are not and will never be “just” mothers.

We are MOM. We are MAMA. We are MOTHER.

Take notice. We are the world.

Top Ten Books For Summertime Reading

Summertime is all about READING! Stacks of books, hours of free-time, long hot days with nothing to do…except read!

Join me today in our family SCHOOLROOM (my favorite place…) for the TOP TEN BOOKS on our reading list this summer.

During the school year my kids read whatever their teachers recommend, or whatever they find at the library. But in the summertime I give them a list from our family bookshelf. These are tried and true old-fashioned books I read as a child. I don’t want my kids to miss out on these stories, even if they are from a different era. Most of our copies are from the second hand store, and I love the dog-eared pages and stamps from school libraries of long ago.

This summer, to add to the fun, we’re having a family BOOK BATTLE! My kids love doing book battles with their school librarian. This year we’ve made our own family list of books to read…and we’ll battle it out in August.

P.S. Stay tuned at the end for 3 bonus books…

Three Tips To Becoming a FRESH AIR FAMILY

Last year I took a class on “Becoming a FRESH AIR FAMILY.” I was intrigued, mostly because I worry about the amount of digital screens in the lives of our children today.

The class gave three simple tips to getting kids – and families – outdoors on a regular basis. These are simple, fun, and easy to remember.

Thanks to my sister, Mamie, for joining me on this week’s episode of Nettie’s Notes.

And enjoy these beautiful views of the Land of Enchantment!