Wednesday, September 9, 2015

School: An Update

In order to protect my nerves and sanity I hadn’t let myself imagine it too much. My preconceived notions of what the girls’ first days of public school might include were largely shaped by my own experiences some 25 years ago plus a few good and bad stories I’d heard from experienced teacher friends. I acknowledge that this apprehension about something so daily for millions of children is ridiculous, akin to a mid-westerners avoidance of the ocean for fear of a shark attack. So on that first day of school I dove in and nearly forgot to watch for looming fins or ominous music, and no sharks have bitten as of yet.

My socialite, Carolyn, came home with a catalog of friends and very little recollection of any learning taking place. A big fan of the hot lunches, as well as the accompanying lunch room drama, she is LOVING school. Despite being stung by a wasp on recess, rehearsing the intruder drill (this terrifies me), and having to make friends with a sea of new faces she remains unruffled. To her, the biggest challenge thus far is in solving why one of the boys in her class doesn’t seem to enjoy her company. Day-after-day she makes a point to compliment his outfit or ask how he is enjoying his lunch and she seems to be met with eye-rolls and short responses. This will not do and thus she is on a personal mission to get to the bottom of his contempt; and I’m fairly certain she will (it might hurt a little). She has a fantastic teacher who appreciates her outgoing nature and free-spirit, not to mention having a host of fun activities planned for the year that kind of make me want to go back to fifth grade myself.

My introverted-academic, Julia, has struggled just a bit. She is not a fan (at all) of recess. By the fourth day of school she was a puddle of tears at the thought of braving the asphalt for twenty long minutes of friendship attempts. Her teacher and librarian worked together to find a solution in which she volunteers in the library during recess and she couldn’t be more pleased. By the ninth day she was doubled-over in tummy aches with anxiety yet again. This took a bit more digging, but with the help of wise family members and her fantastic teacher, we discovered that her perfectionism does not like the long wait between taking a test and seeing the results. This unknown waiting, coupled with the fact that her math assessment test was computerized and became harder the better she did, she had contrived a story in her sweet, anxious mind that she had failed her very difficult math assessment horribly thus the tummy aches and tears. Once we were able to talk through her results with her teacher her shoulders relaxed and her smile returned. Now we know: it’s hard to wait for test results when you’re a perfectionist!

Thus far I’ve observed several things:

1. School is really very different from when I was in 3rd and 5th grade. Obviously Oregon Trail has come a long way, but seriously the integration of technology is super exciting to me. Gamification for learning spelling words, exploring far-away places on Google Earth, even the adaptive testing all engage their learning so much more deeply than I remember. What’s more, the classroom is much more autonomous, with options to explore multiple avenues of learning and interests rather than being glued to your seat for the duration of the day. (I feel like my elementary education was a bit dull with the exception of Exchange City and that time our teacher read us the Orphan Train Quartet by kerosene lamp which I thought was all things that school should be and more, please also note that I fully acknowledge my memory could be extremely jaded and amiss).

2. I am not as worried about their grades as I thought I would be. This is probably one of the many blessings that homeschooling bestowed, because there were no grade cards I just enjoyed watching them grow as learners and seeing their enthusiasm for certain (but admittedly not all) subjects. Carolyn was riveted by Greek Mythology and World History, she begged to do science experiments even when it wasn’t school time. Julia flew through her math and loved to master the next problem or skill, she could write a poem or story that made her proud and want to share it over dinner or display it on the fridge. Brandon did grade tests regularly, but without a permanent record in some dusty school file it didn’t define them and only reflected progress rather than merit or worth. For me, a recovering perfectionist myself, grades are still important especially as they progress to higher levels, but I am not going to freak out about B’s (maybe even C’s) like I thought I would. In fact, my brother once told me that he would hate to be my kid because he was sure I’d be a tyrant about grades, and I agreed with him. I'm a growing learner too it seems.

3. It is exhausting. While homeschooling is a whole lot of work, Brandon bore the brunt of it and everything was generally wrapped up and put away before I ever got home each night. The flexible schedule allowed for piano and skating lessons to take place during the day as well, so our evenings were free. Lunch was at noon at home, no pre-packing or planning required on my part. Matching outfits were not necessary, nor shoes. There were also no backpacks filled with forms to fill out or homework to review and sign on a nightly basis. While Brandon was planning and executing the hard work of daily lessons I was blissfully unaware of the ins-and-outs of daily education and now I see that It.Is.Exhausting. To all of the teachers, homeschooling parents, and single mamas out there – kudos and a deep bow. I am impressed and in awe and exhausted just thinking about it.

Generally I am really impressed and grateful at the start the girls have had this year. They are excited, they have fantastic teachers, and there have been very few tears. The children in their school are all very kind, no bullies, no shark attacks. And they are growing as learners and friends. To everyone who has texted, called, and prayed – thank you. I am amazed by the friends and family who care so deeply for my girls and for their worried mama!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

An Awfully Big Adventure

My definition of “adventure” is broadening. 

As a young mom, and even still admittedly, I longed to give my children ADVENTURE. I wanted (er, still want) to show them ancient ruins and yummy foods and fine art. I envision a scrapbook full of ticket stubs and photographs that they can tote off to college and adulthood full of memories. I want their heads to be chocked-full of knowledge of a great big world and their hearts to be full of compassion for all of its inhabitants. But, alas, I also want to save for their college and pay for their braces and keep the darn lights on. So, adventure to faraway places is not as easy as Pinterest makes it appear.

Yet still, I am realizing, adventure is not so far away. Even in my own memories I had some of my greatest childhood adventures taking walks with best friends, swimming with cousins in imaginary underwater worlds, and eventually falling madly in love with my future husband. Certainly vacations, honeymoons and epic road trips have made their marks, but I don’t want to short-change the everyday adventures that happen while we are longing for the next big thing.

This broadened idea of adventure is indeed how I have viewed the decision to have another baby, and another. Where my first two babies were tasks to accomplish and life-altering daily challenges (I’m being brutally honest here), I have embraced Gwyneth differently. With the benefit of experience and invaluable therapy (more honesty) I welcome the daily needs of my baby girl as a delight, mini-adventures in wonder at her growth, curiosity at her crying, joy that she even IS; and to get to do it all again with a baby boy this December, what an amazing ADVENTURE.

So too, I am convincing myself, must be my view of the adventure that starts tomorrow as the girls attend their first ever day of public school. Our journey with homeschooling has been rich and rewarding, affording the girls the opportunity to travel on work trips to Baltimore and New Orleans and Augusta. They will always treasure the fact that their dad taught them to read, to multiply and divide, to make a hypothesis. They discussed Marie Antoinette and Martin Luther King Jr., geography and geology, and countless other important facts that have made them strong learners. But now they embark on a new adventure as they take their seats in third and fifth grade to encounter more of the world, new viewpoints from classmates and teachers, new facts, new experiences. Their bags are packed and they are very excited to embark first thing tomorrow morning.

For a whole slew of reasons, some rational and some not, I am more nervous about this than most anything they have done so far. “They will be fine” echoes off of every kind-hearted, knowledgeable friend. I am sure they will be, but I hope for more than “fine” in this next big adventure in their education. Just as with any great place they may go - I want their heads to be chocked-full of knowledge of a great big world and their hearts to be full of compassion for all of its inhabitants. I hope and pray that tomorrow begins just such a journey for them, I trust it will.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The House in the Orchard

I’ve read the entire Little House on the Prairie series to my girls twice. The first time they were four and two and I would lie in bed with them each night reading a chapter or two before they drifted off to sleep. I was drawn in, night-after-night, to the struggles and triumphs of the Ingalls family with their tiny daughters and big dreams. As Laura grew and fell in love I joyfully read of her courtship with Almanzo and the beautiful life that lay before them. And then I continued, unknowingly, into the final book of the series, The First Four Years. I only later found out that this book was never intended to be a part of the series, its content too painful and sad for many young readers. However, since I was not aware of this fact, I began merrily on my way one evening into the first four years of Laura and Almanzo’s marriage, I read it straight through, aloud, sobbing the whole way. With all of the anticipation and excitement that came with their new life together, there came much tragedy. [Spoiler Alert] Almanzo becomes sick with an illness that leaves his strong body debilitated. Their baby boy dies. And the beautiful home Almanzo has built for Laura in an orchard he has planted burns to the ground. We end with Laura sitting in the grass, cradling her daughter, watching her house and all of the hopes for her future burning. Truly depressing.
The problem with The First Four Years is entirely the problem of real life. One needs only scroll through their Facebook feed for a few minutes to read of the heartbreaks of everyday living; infertility, illness, accidents, not to mention jobs that don’t satisfy, spouses who leave, parents who become ill, and loved ones who die. It’s nothing anyone should be reading to their children at bedtime… aloud… sobbing.
Of course before the age of social media we all could come up with our own host of stories to tell of the proverbial burning houses amidst a hopeful orchard; My grandmother’s father was killed in a car accident when my mother was just a toddler, my brother suffered with a bone tumor before he had even started school, a coworker lost his son to an accident, another lost his wife to an aneurism, my brother-in-law was sent to Iraq, and all of our grandparents could tell of living through a World War and the terrors that brought even in the middle of the United States far from the front lines.
I think it was summarized most poignantly at my five year class reunion when I stood awkwardly beside a fellow classmate who just said, “Damn, this whole life thing is a lot harder than I thought it would be.” Indeed.
Here’s the thing I want to do about it: wrap the entire world in a protective bubble wrap ala Danny Tanner when DJ learned to walk, according to his own account. Or, another option I’ve considered, preferred by engineers and the generally analytic: bury my head deep in the sand, far from Facebook, friends, news and any pain I may myself be feeling. Of course I could always cover my eyes with other distractions besides sand, such as wealth-chasing, game-playing, or child-raising (which, if you know me you know is my current favored option).
Until recently I was satisfied with my daily distractions from life’s deep struggles. I have been on a good run of health, paying off debt, birthing more children… praise be to God. I discontinued my listening to BBC World News and its brutal stories of struggles around the globe, and I’ve become so entrenched in my work life that I’ve let friendships dry up to the point of simple pleasantries but not too much difficult sharing.
And then my friend got sick, terribly sick, and his wife listened calmly as she heard news that will change her life. And his children played sweetly waiting for daddy to get home. And the First Four (err nine or so) Years of a life together are beginning to look like a burning house in the middle of a once-pleasant orchard. And I hear my classmates words “this whole life thing is a lot harder than I thought it would be.” And I want to sob, but I’ve become quite out of touch with my feelings since feelings are painful, and this is especially so.
I’ve sat in this spot for ten days, wondering how to respond both to the immediate needs and to the larger looming reality that life is difficult and sad and can surely overwhelm if not careful. I continue to wait on a divine revelation that makes everything clear and gives me answers to each pain and struggle and hurt. And truly I tell you the answer only comes in echoes bouncing off of simple, everyday things like a caring smile, a baby’s belly laugh, a hug, a prayer, a text asking “have you heard anything new today?”, and post after post uniting a body of believers in a single task of crying out to God on behalf of a friend. I’m beginning to understand that connections to one another, hearing each other’s stories, bring tremendous pain but even more profound joy. That it is worth wading into the struggle because the load is lightened for us all when we share the journey. This is why Jesus found a group of twelve, and commissioned a church, because we need one another – it is part of the redemption plan.
Life is much harder than Laura or I ever expected. We live in a broken world full of sin and illness. But we are Easter people. Our hearts ache for a world that is made new because it is so very near, until that time we must lend a smile and a prayer and hold a baby now and again for one another.

“The real things haven’t changed.
It is still best to be honest and truthful;
to make the most of what we have;
to be happy with simple pleasures;
and have courage when things go wrong.”
~Laura Ingalls Wilder

Monday, March 9, 2015

#SchultzHouseHunt has Begun


I stopped at Lowe's on Saturday for some odds-and-ends. I let the girls stop at the paint chip kiosk to consider bedroom colors for their new room. It may be putting the cart before the horse a bit, since we have not even made an offer. But alas, the #SchultzHouseHunt has officially begun.

I've been dreading this, to be perfectly honest.

We owned a home once before, it was the first order of business when I got my first job. It was a beautiful little townhome in Lawrence with a sweet enclosed patio and warm kitchen. We brought Carolyn home from the hospital to that little house. She learned to walk there and posed for her first and second Christmas card photos in the make-shift photo studio Brandon had created in the kitchen. She ran naked from the bath to her beautiful nursery with wide blue stripes and white furniture. She bounced in her Johnny Jump Up in the living room. I loved that house.

Then Brandon got a job in Lee's Summit and I was commuting to Lenexa everyday so we decided we needed to move. When the full-priced offer on our beloved house included a very quick moving date we were left in a bit of a lurch, but conveniently my grandparents had a duplex coming available that we could move into while we figured out a housing solution.

I had just found out I was pregnant and I remember the time being a bit hurried and stressful. The morning we were moving into the duplex the current renters were moving out. We would come in the front door as they were going out the garage. The poor woman who was leaving was very pregnant and had not been able to give the kitchen and bathrooms a good scrub, so we unpacked boxes and scrubbed simultaneously. My Grandma was down on the kitchen floor with me, prepping for our family's transition to Kansas City, making us feel comfortable and welcome in this new place.

For many months we considered the duplex a temporary solution. Then we brought baby Julia home to the duplex and we celebrated a Christmas, and then another. I quit my first job, stayed home for a while, then started at Black & Veatch. The memories began to pile up.

And then in November of 2008 on an ordinairy Thursday night, my phone rang. I stood in the kitchen staring at the cluttered refrigerator door... the memory is still very clear... and my mom told me that they thought my Grandma had had a stroke. I tried staying calm, Brandon was somewhere not at home, I called him and asked him to come home quickly so I could go be with my Grandma. Then another call, I was on the couch, it was not a stroke, it was much worse, I should hurry. My in-laws came right over, I sobbed the whole way to the hospital. Brandon drove. In three short days my Grandma was gone.

For a while I marked time with that Thursday. "She was still alive last week right now" I would think to myself, then "last month right now", then "last year right now." My sister gave us all a beautifully framed photo of my grandparents on their front porch and I hung it in one of the most traveled spots in our home, in her home technically. At the urging of my Grandpa I took her clothes, I hung them in our spare closet. In the meantime I subconsciously hunkered down emotionally and financially to stay put in the duplex, right where she left me, as completely odd as that might sound seven years later.

I did not connect all of these pieces at the time, of course. It took a move to Baltimore and many hours with an exceptional therapist to truly appreciate the important roll my Grandma had played in my life and why her sudden death was still having ripple effects years later. When I confessed to the therapist, in a moment of complete emotional honesty, that I could never leave the duplex because my Grandma "couldn't find me if I did" I realized that I had emotional work to do. Healing.

So, I have, I think. I have thought often about Grandma and what she had hoped for me, for Brandon, for our girls... even the little one she never met. I have cleaned out the closet in the spare room. I have parted with toys she gave the girls that they had long-since outgrown. I have saved money, rather than spend at-will, in order to be ready to make the monumental move. And, nine years after moving into this "temporary" duplex, I think we are ready to start another chapter of home ownership.

In April it will have been nine years since we moved into the duplex. This is the longest I have ever lived in one place at any time in my life. We brought two babies home to this house, started a business in this house, played countless games of Catan in this house and the girls went from Kindergarten through Fourth Grade in this house. It will be hard to leave our cozy little duplex, I'll probably cry a little, but it's time. Let the #SchultzHouseHunt begin!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Best of Baby Gear (lately)

When my first two girls were born (in 2004 and 2006) I found the selection of baby gear to be overwhelming... but when I re-entered the world of babies in 2014 it was clear a number of designers have been expanding the world of baby gadgets and gizmos to all new proportions.

Here are five items that have come along since my older girls were born that have made the first month so much easier...

1. green sprouts Burp Pads - while burp clothes are nothing new, these "burp pads" are new and improved. The size is perfect, larger than the traditional cloths I used with the first two, able to catch any unexpected eruption. The kidney bean shape means it drapes over your shoulder brilliantly. And the organic muslin fabric means these pads are super soft and gentle on baby as she rests on my shoulder.

2. Aden + Anais Muslin Swaddle Blanket - it seems muslin fabric is the new "thing" in baby products, but there is a reason... it is light and gentle but has enough give that is can wrap a baby up snug as a bug in a rug. When she was brand new these blankets were perfect for a tight swaddle and now that she's growing the large size of the swaddle make it perfect for a cover for breastfeeding and a light blanket for napping.

3. Rock n Play Sleeper - seriously, seriously this is a must-have. The hammock shape of this (what I call) bassinet makes new babies feel snug and cozy. It is super light weight and portable so it can move from beside the bed at night to the school room during the day. Many other mamas have told me their little ones used this for naps well past the earliest (sleepless) days.

4. Wubbanub - This is one of those products that you look at and wonder "why is that necessary, is this just another infomercial gimmick?" I assure you it is not. The brilliance behind the Wubbanub is that it lays gently across baby's chest and even at 4 weeks our little one instinctively grabs on and gently cradles. Plus it is easier to keep track of and it's adorable.

5. Kiinde Breastfeeding System - Thankfully I have two more precious weeks before my maternity leave ends, but I have already found this system to be ingenious. The concept is basically that you pump into a twist-lock bag that is then transformed into the "bottle" through a nipple attachment, meaning no pouring between bottles and hardly any parts to wash.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Gwyneth's Birth

And so it happened that at my 39 week appointment my blood pressure was a little high. It was decided I should go to the hospital to be monitored and the doctor ultimately decided to keep me for induction the next morning. I had taken myself to the hospital, fully expecting to be sent home (this had happened with Carolyn 10 years ago), so when she told me I would be staying I got a bit weepy and texted Brandon that it was "go-time." There was much excitement (read: coordination of childcare and dog, grabbing of hospital bag, etc.) and the long afternoon / evening wait began.
The girls came to visit and were impressed with the IV, the contraction monitoring and all the rest. It was fun to have them see it all and be able to ask questions and get acclimated before the actual hard laboring started. It was not fun to be cut off from food for over 24 hours, but then the handsome photographer found the stash of popsicles and fetched them for me whenever I got hungry/ weepy/ stressed/ happy.
The evening meds had done their job and I was pretty uncomfortable as the sun was coming up and chasing away the heavy fog that had settled overnight. By mid-morning the incredible (and I mean incredible) anesthesiologist had administered the epidural, with Brandon by my side. I was comfortably ready for the girls to return for the rest of the labor party. Julia seemed especially nervous; when I asked her what she was worried about she said, "you."

My sister Emily, an ICU nurse and calm cucumber under pressure, came to be Brandon's back-up support should anything unexpected happen. Emily was there when Julia was born as well, and I am incredibly grateful. There is something reassuring about having your sister there when you give birth (especially a sister who knows about medical whatcha-ma-call-its).
The girls were very interested in the whole process, and our nurse (also very incredible, seriously the whole staff was a dream) answered all of their questions... no matter how obscure. Finally, at 3:10 the doctor came in, the audience went out (except Brandon and Emily) and at 3:19 Ms. Gwyneth Elizabeth Schultz entered the world fresh from Heaven. For the first few minutes she kept her eyes squeezed close tight, as though the new light of life was assaulting her eyes, which I guess it kind of was. Brandon was happy to have won the pool on her weight, Emily won the guess on the time she would be born, and I won because the baby was O-U-T!
As soon as the doctor gave the green light the girls were brought back for a quiet hour of family time... they were over the moon. Well, we all were.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Thousand Hills - Lake Weekend

It's become a great summer tradition - a weekend away at the lake. This year was monumental because the girls both learned to water ski. There was a bit of drama as Julia tried...and tried... and tried to get up to no avail. Carolyn, on the other hand, popped right up on her second try and left Julia steaming mad at her sister's skills. She was determined that we were not leaving the lake until she could count herself a waterskier. So Brandon spent Father's Day morning in a chilly lake under an overcast sky, helping his determined daughter fulfill her water skiing destiny. At last she did, and we left sunburnt and satisfied.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Drumroll please...

We had our sonogram, the long awaited moment when we finally got to see our wee one on the big screen (seriously they had a big screen at the doctor's office, things have sure improved since the girls were born!) Carolyn called out the sex before the sonogram technician even said it, clearly the iPad app is informative! We are over the moon to be welcoming our third princess to the Schultz castle. She is beautiful, though bashful, and only 20 weeks to go!

We had a few family members over for a balloon popping "gender" reveal in the driveway, it was just as the girls dreamed it would be - a big surprise and lots of hugs all around!