My Convertible Life

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Save Project Enlightenment

One of the greatest resources available to moms (and dads and teachers) in Wake County is Project Enlightenment. This best-kept-secret offers early childhood education and intervention services to parents and teachers of children from birth to kindergarten -- and they've been doing it well since 1969 for little or no cost to parents. From parent workshops about how to understand those crazy toddlers to counseling services for parents concerned about a child's behavior to a TALKline for overwhelmed parents, Project Enlightenment is dedicated to helping children be successful when they start school. They also offer a pre-K demonstration class and free development screening.

Sounds great, right? Makes you want to call and set up an appointment to talk about why your child screams and cries every time you drop him off at preschool even though his teachers tell you he has a great time every day? Feeling the urge to sign up for a class about understanding and supporting your "spirited child" (which, in Pippi's case, is the nice way of saying she's crazy stubborn and a pain in the butt)? Just want some advice on potty training from someone besides your child's grandparents?

Well, you better call fast -- because Project Enlightenment might not be around much longer.

Like school districts across the country, Wake County faces a significant budget shortfall for the coming school year. But this time, it appears that Project Enlightenment might not survive the cuts. It hasn't made the headlines because of all the other school board craziness, but word on the street is that deep budget cuts to this essential program are on the table for Tuesday's board meeting.

Cutting or eliminating the services provided by Project Enlightenment would be beyond short-sighted. Significant research has shown that early intervention is the key to making children successful in school -- and it saves millions of tax dollars over time because those same children are much less likely to require special education services once they enter elementary school. And the program's reach extends far beyond the building's walls, as preschool teachers across the county (including the ones at my children's preschool) receive excellent professional development through Project Enlightenment.

If you live in Wake County, please take a moment to email the school board members and let them know about your support for Project Enlightenment. There's also a Facebook group called "Save Project Enlightenment!" that you can join to show your support. Please don't let this program fade away without a fight.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Spring, I Say

I don't care what the newspaper says -- last week, we turned the corner.

No, not with the school board and their power-crazy shenanigans (although at least they're taking a breath before trying to fire the superintendent for saying the things we all knew already). I'm talking about the weather.

Spring. It's coming. And regardless of the cold, cold rain falling right now, I'm convinced this is winter's last gasp. We've already turned the corner into springtime.

I first noticed it last Monday. Birds chirping when I went out to get the paper at 7 a.m. A lighter scent to the breeze. A different shade of light in the late afternoon. Bluer skies at mid-day. Then the glorious sunny 60-degree weekend.

It's about damn time. I mean, the snow was pretty and all, but I don't live in North Carolina to have a long cold winter.

All week long, I found myself humming "Winter's On the Wing" from The Secret Garden (don't tell me you're surprised that I like musicals). In case you don't know the tune, here are my favorite lines:

The sun it spells the doom
Of the winter's reign,
Ice and chill must retire
Comes the May say I,
And you'll be here to see it. 
Stand and breathe it all the day.
Stoop, and feel it. Stop and hear it.
Spring, I say.

Read the lyrics and watch the video here:

(It's not the greatest quality, but at least it's not in a high school gym.)

Monday, February 22, 2010

And Baby Turns Two

WARNING: The following post contains sappy, sentimental mom musings from a woman who remembers holding her only baby girl for the first time two years ago today.

First there was just this 45 pounds (ugh) of belly...

Then suddenly, there was this beautiful baby girl...

And she cried until she got to the "salon"...

Then she rested with the present we got for her brother...

And now she is two. Just like that. 

She can run, jump, sing, give the stink eye, laugh, make us laugh, talk, get sent to time out, color, smile, hit her brother, pee on the potty (sometimes), feed herself (mostly), hide, seek, dance, undress herself, hug, whine, kiss, complain, slide by herself, say please and thank you. She is fiercely independent, regularly shouting, "Do it I-self" when we try to help out. Sometimes she is just plain fierce, demanding her way at any cost.

But she is also blindingly sweet, offering unconditional love through the twinkle in her eyes. And sometimes she still needs me... to kiss her boo-boos, push her on the swings, read to her at night.

She is wild and crazy. She's my big girl, but always my baby. And I love her. "Happy to you, Pippi!"

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Birthday Preview

You'll have to forgive my amateurish photography, but seriously -- how cute is this shirt?!

My awesome neighbor made it, of course, just like last year. The difference this year was that I took her the shirt and fabric back in December given that her newborn son was due to arrive in January. Because that's the kind of thoughtful, caring neighbor that I am -- I didn't want her to have to make it in February with a 3-week-old (and her own 2-year-old) in the way.

Anywho, the Pipster will be proudly sporting this adorable shirt and announcing "Happy to you!" as we celebrate her birthday on Sunday. And Monday. And maybe Wednesday, too. You're only two once -- you might as well get the most out of it!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday's Five: The Best Big Brother

My baby girl is about to turn two (yikes!), but before she was born I worried (like many other moms) about what her arrival would do to my first-born. How would I be able to love and care for both of them? Would Junius resent having to share me and his dad with a new baby? What if he didn't love her because she knocked him loose from his position as sole center of the universe?

At the time, I turned to the world's greatest resource -- mom friends with more than one child -- and this is what they told me: "Just as beautiful as loving your own child is watching your children love each other. Oh, and sometimes they will fight and hate each other, too." The truth is that somehow we, as parents, stretch and grow to do everything (including love) with two -- and our children do, too. And for every minute of one-on-one parent time that Junius got, Pippi gets the bonus of one-on-one time with an awesome brother.

For my many friends having second babies, here are some things to look forward to... My list of five things I love about Junius as a big brother:
  1. When Pippi was a newborn, Junius loved to bring his toys over to her so she could "play" with him. This basically meant he piled his cars and trucks on top of her while she sat there (see photo). Although she couldn't really participate, I loved that a) he wanted to engage with her in such a sweet way and b) it kept them both entertained for a few minutes.
  2. More recently, we've been teaching Pip to use the potty. When she goes, her favorite part is calling for Juni so she can show him what's in the potty (as she says, looking awestruck, "biiiiiig poop") and watching him clap and cheer for her. It's become a full-family event.
  3. They love hiding together -- in the play tent, under the kitchen table, even tucked behind the corner. Junius usually starts it by inviting her in, then she happily ducks into his hiding space where they proceed to giggle until someone "finds" them.
  4. Because they've been at the same preschool for the past two years, they get to see each other occasionally on the playground. Pippi's class plays in the fenced-in baby areas, so Junius makes a point of coming over to visit -- makes her feel very important.
  5. The big win-win-win of the big brother is the early mornings. If Junius wakes up early, followed closely by the Pip, sometimes he'll go into her room and chat with her or pretend to read books to her. He likes having an audience, she likes being entertained, and Mommy and Daddy like getting an extra 10 minutes before facing the day.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Comments to the Wake County Board of Education

Today, I finally stopped standing on my soapbox and stepped up to the podium. Instead of lecturing my husband and rambling on to my friends, I actually spoke at the Wake County Board of Education meeting. The whole thing was rather anti-climactic -- the board members don't respond to any of the public comments, so it's hard to know if they're even listening. But I'm glad I did it -- plus it got me a pre-written blog post. Here's what I said, after introducing myself to the board:

I have a son who will enter kindergarten later this year and a daughter who will start school in 2013. I'm here today to express concerns about recent efforts to dramatically alter the Wake County Public School System.

As a former English teacher, I love language. And through my current work in writing and public relations, I also know the power of language. I believe that some of the tension in recent debates about student assignment policies lies in the language used to define these issues and the rush to make significant policy changes without appropriate study.

You talk about “mandatory” year-round, when in fact ALL school assignments are mandatory. Students are expected to attend their base school – whether year-round, magnet or traditional – unless they apply to and are accepted by another school. Assignments to year-round schools are no more mandatory than to any other public school across the district.

You talk about “neighborhood schools,” but how do we define a neighborhood? Is it the closest school? There are four elementary schools within a mile and a half from my house – certainly within the range to qualify as close to home, but only one of those schools actually sits within the boundaries of my neighborhood. Or is it the school that most of our neighbors attend? Considering that we have students who live within blocks of our house attending magnets, charters, year-round, private and parochial schools, the vision that every neighbor will attend the same school is an illusion.

You talk about increasing “parental choice,” yet recent proposals for community zones discussed by members of this board would actually decrease the numbers of schools available to each family. You say you're responding to concerns from parents, yet your own survey demonstrated that the majority of families are happy at the schools their children attend.

I am not afraid of change – and I believe there are many areas of improvement within the Wake County Public School System that must be addressed. But I am strongly opposed to reckless decision-making in order to fulfill campaign promises that resonated with less than 4 percent of the voting population in this county. I am opposed to reckless decision-making that ignores potential financial costs for taxpayers in the name of “taking action.” And I am opposed to reckless decision-making that will decrease learning opportunities for our students and lead to the creation of high-poverty schools.

Every decision made by this board – no matter how small it seems – can cause powerful ripple effects across our county. Rushing into decisions without research or regard for those changes is a dangerous game. As a parent, my primary job is to do what is best for my two children. But as a school board, your job is to do what is best for ALL children, not just the children of parents who voted for you, even if that makes you unpopular in certain situations.

Please take the time to study the research, to listen to students, parents, teachers and administrators, to ask for input from the two-thirds of our county who don't have children in school. Please know that not all parents are lobbying to convert year-round schools or to dismiss the diversity policy. And please – remember that you are responsible for the education of every single child in our community.

If you want some more soapboxing in print from me, check out my "Front Porch" piece from Jan. 27, 2010, in The Independent Weekly.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Growth Spurt, Round 48

Junius is having another growth spurt. How do I know? Three tell-tale signs...
  1. His wrists are starting to stick out from all his long-sleeved shirts and his legs seem really long (see photo -- and also notice he fell asleep in his chair reading because he told me he really, really didn't need a nap).
  2. He's eating everything he can get his hands on (notice I didn't say "eating everything I put in front of him" -- he's still not a fan of most vegetables).
  3. His stutter is back.
That last one might sound strange, but it's a good one to know about. We first noticed it after Junius turned two -- it wasn't so much of a st-st-st-st-stutter as it was getting hung up on the first word or two of each phrase. He'd start talking, but all he could say at first was "Mommy? Mmmmommmy? Mommy? Um, Mmmmmommy?" Then after several more skips and significant effort, eventually he'd say the rest of his sentence without trouble.

Thankfully, one of his preschool teachers that year assured us that this was normal, particularly among little boys. She'd seen the same thing with her own son. And as she predicted, the stutter would eventually work itself out, then return several months later with the next growth spurt. Our pediatrician confirmed the teacher's assessment -- this was a completely typical side effect in an a growing boy. Essentially, Junius's brain was growing along with his body, but his mouth couldn't always keep up with all the new words and ideas he wanted express.

I share this experience, not to diminish the appropriate use of speech therapy in children who need it, but to offer some reassurance for parents who are worried (as we were) about periodic stuttering. Believe me, I can get good and worked about every little thing -- but it's nice to have a few quirks that I can stop fretting about.

Now if I could just figure out how to get him to eat those vegetables...

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday's Five: Top Five

I'm not sure what's going on with me this week -- writer's block, blog fatigue, general stress? But every time I sit down to write a post, nothing happens -- then I end up wandering around Facebook. I think part of the problem is that I have these Great Big Soapbox Posts twisting around in my head, but just haven't had the energy to write a coherent piece.

So, in a very lame-o attempt to get back to blogging, today's favorites list is the top five Friday's Five posts (as measured by Feedburner reads) since I started the feature last April:
  1. Photo Projects for the Holidays: Nice ways to use all those digital photos
  2. Helen's Books: Great children's books written and/or illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
  3. Pippi's Reading List: Books that stay next to Pippi's rocking chair
  4. The Lloyd Dobler Effect: John Cusack movies you need to see
  5. That Lovin' Feelin': Sweet baby snuggles help me get through the crazy days
And in case you missed the year-end list of non-Friday's posts, you can check that out here. Hopefully, I'll be back with new posts next week.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Illusion of Safety

If you see my kids sledding next year, please don't laugh at them. It's not their fault they'll be wearing helmets -- and hopefully by then I will have convinced them that the head gear serves an aerodynamic purpose, so your laughter will only ruin their sense of speed.

The real reason they'll have helmets strapped onto their sweet little heads is that I called 911 for the first time last Sunday after our four-year-old friend sledded into a metal mailbox post. It was a total fluke -- nothing dangerous or risky, just good old-fashioned sledding on a Sunday morning. If the sled had dumped her a couple of inches to either side, she would have had a face full of snow and a reason to stay inside drinking hot chocolate for the rest of the day. Instead, she had a terrifying gash down the side of her forehead that ultimately required 10 x-rays, a CT scan and 20 stitches.

Thankfully, our friend is fine -- we knew she'd be okay when she started yelling at the paramedic because he suggested Mickey might be her favorite Disney character instead of one of the princesses. Her parents, however, still need some time to recover.

The whole accident left me shaken, reminded of how delicate our lives are. Accidents are random -- that's what makes them accidents, and also what makes them so scary for us parents. I prefer to believe that if I do all the right things -- make my kids wear helmets, brush their teeth, buckle their seatbelts, look both ways -- that I can protect them. But any one of a million random moments takes everything out of my control.

So I do what moms have done for centuries: I make rules. No jumping on the bed, no running with scissors, no crossing the street without an adult, no talking to strangers, no swimming after you eat, no sledding without a helmet. The older they get, the scarier the world seems, the more rules I make.

At the end of the day, I know I can't bubble-wrap them into safety. Accidents happen, even when I'm right there watching them. But the rules help me survive, give me the illusion that I have some control. Otherwise, I'm this close to becoming That Mom -- the helicopter type who never lets her kids have fun -- and that's not a safe way for anyone to live.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

No, Really, It's Just "Paint"

Thanks to a very fun and well-timed tip from Abby, we entertained ourselves by "painting" snow with friends on Monday afternoon. It was a great activity that helped us survive a long day with no preschool. The snow is finally melting, but in case you decide to try this idea the next time around, I have a couple of suggestions:
  1. If you decide to use yellow food coloring, add a little red or pink to make it more orange. Yellow snow looks suspiciously like someone peed on it. And if you have a little boy, you know how much they love to pee outside.
  2. If you decide to use red food coloring, add a little blue to make it more purple. Red snow looks like your snowman had a different kind of accident. And after our friend's sledding accident on Sunday (thankfully, the feisty little girl is doing great!), I really can't handle even the suggestion of blood.
  3. If you let your kids paint directly on your snowman and not just in the snow, see if you can find a good wig to compliment the tie-dyed look. Somehow, the multi-colored snowman just doesn't look right with a traditional top hat and scarf.

As for that snow, here's hoping that Sir Walter Wally is right and spring is just around the corner!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Friday's Five: Lakemont Love

Yeah, I know it's not Friday, or even Saturday. But three snow days (with a fourth lined up for tomorrow) have completely thrown me off my game. I'd already started this post on Friday, so I'm just going to finish and post it anyway. So there.

You've heard me wax poetic about my neighborhood before, but this past week or two have been filled with new reminders of why I love living in Lakemont...
  1. A week ago Friday, our neighborhood poker group convened its monthly man meeting. I realize that this may not sound like a benefit to me, but it makes me happy that my husband gets out and spends some time with such a great group of guys. It's not something he does very often -- and don't get me wrong, I love that he loves to spend time with me and the kids. But I know how much I need girls night now and then -- and I believe it's just as important for him to have guys night.
  2. Then we spent that Saturday night celebrating the baptism of our friends' baby boy. Not only did we get to participate in the mass with friends, blocking both ends of the pew so that all of our kids (more or less) stayed out of trouble, we wrapped up the evening at their house with barbecue, beer and cake. That's Southern Catholicism at its best.
  3. Later that same night, I got the Big Important Call at 1:30 a.m. -- my neighbor was in labor and ready to go to the birthing center. So I rubbed my eyes, threw on a coat and tiptoed across the dark to spend the rest of the night at their house with their toddler (aka Bird). In the morning, he seemed surprised to see me, then asked, "Pippi house?" and all was well with the world. The new baby arrived healthy and on time, and I got to be the first neighbor to see him when the proud parents came over to get Bird later in the day.
  4. The next day I took both kids to the grocery store, managed to survive all their whining (okay, Pippi's whining -- she hates being strapped to the cart) and landed in line behind one of our neighbors who we love and almost never see. Turned out to be the best luck of the day -- when I opened my wallet to get ready to pay, all of my credit cards were gone. While I tried not to have a total break-down, my sweet neighbor paid for my groceries and helped us out of the store. Thankfully, the thief turned out to be Pippi, who had unloaded my wallet at home earlier in the day during an unsupervised moment (sneaky baby).
  5. And finally, this past weekend, our neighborhood even made the newspaper for its fabulous group sledding (see photo of Junius pulling his friend KT up the hill). Thanks to too many dads with crackberries and droids, they coordinated a meet-up on the very steep hill beside the neighborhood pool and sent kids of all ages slipping and sliding with glee. Until we started getting pelted with sleet, at which point we all went home for lunch and naps. There were also grown-up tales of night sledding with beverages and baby monitors in some parts of the hood, but we missed out on that.
More about the sledding in my next post, but for now... go ahead and call your realtor, you know you want to live here. We've done it twice now and recommend it very highly.