6 Lessons from Being a Field Trip Chaperone

chaperoneI joined an exclusive club this week. A very special club.

The “I-am-a-Field-Trip-Chaperone” club!

Jealous? Maybe a little bit jealous?

The story is this: last year, my then-kindergarten son had a Field Trip to a local children’s science museum. His teacher asked for parent chaperones, and by the time I volunteered, all of the spots were taken. I was disappointed. My son, however, who didn’t even know it would have been an option for me to join his class, never mentioned missing me.

Jump ahead to this year. My daughter is now a kindergartener, and when her teacher (the same one my son had last year) asked for volunteers to accompany the class to the museum, I emailed back my “me, me, me!” response immediately. And, I was in.

This week, the Field Trip arrived. It turned out to be a rough workweek to be out for a Field Trip. I felt torn about not being in the office, worrying I was dropping the ball on work commitments—the quintessential working parent guilt setting in. Additionally, my daughter didn’t even seem excited about the Field Trip; why was I going? I wasn’t so sure, and approached the trip with a bit of why-am-I-doing-this? My husband, ensconced at his office, reminded me that actions like this—the being present in different aspects of our kids’ lives—make a difference. Our daughter would remember it, he said, even if only subconsciously. Buoyed by his pep talk, I smiled widely and embraced my role.

My daughter’s class was split into small groups, with children assigned to a parent chaperone, teacher, or aide. I had three girls to look after during the trip: my daughter and two of her classmates. They behaved beautifully; I was impressed, in fact, by how well all of the kids behaved. They followed directions, sticking together in the museum. My girls explored the space with great energy, looking out for one another, always conscious of where I was.

Much to my surprise, it wasn’t just the kids who did some learning on the trip. I gathered a few lessons along the way, including:

  1. If you chaperone, bring Advil. OK, this is a little bit of a joke. (Well, actually, not really.) Kids are loud. Many kids together in one place are really loud, so bring something to address the headache you’re bound to get.
  1. Be ready for anything. Those kids are fast, jumping around from exhibit to exhibit, from one spot to another. They run and they dash about. So, wear comfy shoes and bring a water bottle. You need to keep up with your group! Make sure you have a fully charged phone, too. After all, you never know when you’ll need to call for back-up or make a break for it.
  1. Little kids can get nervous in new places, so they may want to hold your hand. A lot. They need the reassurance that someone is looking out for them and that they are safe. Bring hand sanitizer. And throw some tissues or wet wipes in your purse; kids are sticky.
  1. Remember the parents who can’t be there. While chaperoning isn’t for everyone, it is an activity many parents would like to do but work or other commitments prevent them from doing so. I sent photos of my daughter’s friends to their parents who would have wanted to participate; they appreciated seeing the good times their kids were having. (Note: This might not be kosher with every school or teacher, so check first for permission.)
  1. Don’t sit backwards on the school bus. (Just don’t. Trust me on this.)
  1. Have fun. My kids aren’t big on sharing their days (“How was school?” I ask every day. “Good,” they answer, adding, “What’s for dinner?”), so the perk of being on the Field Trip was the chance to see my daughter interact with her friends and witness her enthusiasm for new adventures and learning.

Despite my uncertainty that my presence made an impact, my daughter was happy I came along on the Field Trip. The day after, as we walked to school, she slipped her rainbow-stripped mitten into my hand, saying, “Mama, I’m so glad you came on my trip.” She looked up at me, smiling, with her face lit up. I smiled back, pleased with my decision to be there. And, it got me thinking that perhaps I should volunteer for the next Field Trip… maybe…

Ease on Down the Road with The Wiz

Yesterday, my son, R, and I attended the Fiddlehead Theatre Company’s production of “The Wiz.” We were guests of the company, the resident theatre group of Dorchester’s historic Strand Theatre, and it was such a pleasure to introduce R to Dorothy, Toto, the Scarecrow, and the other residents of Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

(L to R) Damien Norfleet as “Lion,” Quiana Holmes as “Dorothy”, Carl-Michael Ogle as “Scarecrow” and Justin Raymond Reeves as “Tin Man” | Courtesy of Fiddlehead Theatre Company/©mattmckeephoto.com

(L to R) Damien Norfleet as “Lion,” Quiana Holmes as “Dorothy”, Carl-Michael Ogle as “Scarecrow” and Justin Raymond Reeves as “Tin Man” | Courtesy of Fiddlehead Theatre Company/©mattmckeephoto.com

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Saturday Reading Roundup

I’m curled up on my couch, a little more than 24 hours after arriving home from vacation. My family is asleep, and I am relishing the quiet. In the time we have been home, I have washed all of our laundry, cleaning ocean water and sand out of bathing suits and putting away shorts and t-shirts to await the day when all of the snow outside my window melts.

Vacation is a funny beast, isn’t it? Often, it requires a great deal of preparation and planning, and it is fueled by anticipation. It feels like forever until the vacation starts and then—bam!—it’s over. We get to relive the time away in the telling of stories to friends and family and in the sharing of photos (more than 625 from our trip this week!). But, still, it ends all too soon.

The other part about vacation re-entry is the catch-up: the pile of mail, the email, and, in this 21st century online world, the blog posts and Internet must-reads. I’ve been enjoying that last one, finding some good pieces to share with you in today’s roundup.

1 || “Compassion is not always easy and not always without pain. It is work that requires patience and there is no guaranteed reward.” via Up Popped a Fox

2 || “You’re always pretty,” my daughter replied, thoughtfully, as I’d taught her, “we’re always pretty.” via A Half Baked Life

3 || “I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written.” via Oliver Sacks

#thewiz #roundup

Photo courtesy of The Strand Theatre

4 || “And there it is. Possibility and the promise of more still hiding in the shadows.” via This-Here-Now

5 || “I didn’t know myself but I knew the palette from which I was painted, pliable mounds of acrylic in varying shades of sunshine. As a mother I want to be the color rainbow, yes it’s one color, just ask my 6 year old.” via It’s me, Kelli

6 || “I still cry over the ending. But … I would do it again. I loved him so much, and he loved me, too. And so, I was lucky in so many ways.” – NPR

7 || “Being a mom is hard…and sometimes beyond terrifying.” via Next Life No Kids

8 || “The winter, especially a winter like this one, takes its toll on everyone in different ways and to different degrees. You may not see the impact on family caregivers, but it’s real.” – Hello Ladies

9 || “Why it is so difficult to dispel rumors and debunk myths?” – Harvard Business Review

10 || And, for some “pretty” reading: the best cannoli cake (yum!), DIY art (wanna give it a try?), and the cute puppy in this picture! His name is Dusty, and he plays Toto in the Fiddlehead Theatre’s production of “The Wiz” at the Strand Theatre in Boston. I’m taking my son (it’s a surprise!) to the show tomorrow and to meet Dusty afterward. Keep your fingers crossed for us that we don’t get any more snow here in Boston, so we can make the show!

Happy Weekend!

100 Days of School

#100daysofschool #100days #school100 days.

Somewhere, in the midst of all these snow days, we passed the 100th day of school (how come it’s felt much longer than that?). I had no idea that when you reached 100 days of school, it was a holiday and you had a party. What you learn in elementary school!

This year, I’m a room parent for the each of my children’s classes (not my wisest decision–thank goodness I have co-room parents who are great). Thanks to these roles, I now understand that the 100th day of school is serious business. For my son’s first grade class, I signed up in September (around day 10) to plan a 100 days event, which is now (or sometime around now). Due to all of the snow we’ve been having in the Northeast, our 100 days party is being combined with a Valentine’s Day party (of course, this begs the really important question: why are there so many parties in first grade?).

To get ready for 100 days, I made, as you do in 2015 when you know a thing or two about a social media, a Pinterest board. Putting together this board made me realize (a) I could never be an elementary school teacher (I am not creative enough), and (b) Pinterest is a time suck (but a very fun time suck).

If you’re planning a 100 day party for your child’s class, check out these ideas below. (These ideas also come in handy if you’re fearing another snow day and are looking for something to keep the kids occupied.)

What can I do in 100 seconds?

100 Cup Challenge

100th Day Glasses

Color by Code Counting Exercise

100 Penny Letter

100 Day Activity Roundups:
From pinwheels and paper chains to gumballs and crowns

I wish the ideas I found were more about service: have everyone bring in 100 pennies and buy an animal for a family in need through Heifer International, or spend 100 minutes doing a service project for the school community. Something where our kids learn that the time that is being spent on art projects that they likely won’t remember in a few months can also be spent in service to others–a lesson that can last much longer than 100 days or minutes.

If you have 100 day of school activities–service, art, fun, or whatever–that you love (or maybe just like), let me know in the comments. We parents have to stick together.

Happy 100 days!

Snow Days are Hard for Parents

“Mama, will you zip me up?”

My daughter stood in front of me, clad in pink snow pants, a darker pink winter coat, pink and black snow boots, and her white ski helmet. She was dressing to go play in the snow and to sled down the hill in our backyard.

Home together on a snow day, I was on a conference call with my boss, so I did what any trying-to-hold-it-together working parent would do: I shushed her and tried to zip up her coat with one hand.

As you probably guessed, it didn’t work. After a minute or two of trying—during which my daughter kept talking about sledding, my boss kept talking about work, and I tried to listen to both of them while also getting that zipper to go up—I gave up any illusion that I had this under control.

“May I put you on hold for a moment?” I asked my boss. I put the phone down, zipped up the coat, fixed my daughter’s mittens, and sent her outside. I got back on the phone, returning to work. My boss understood, but I was a little mortified. No matter how much I talk about my kids (which is probably too much), I want to seen as a professional. Having a kid interrupt a work call destroys that perception I’ve tried very hard to cultivate.

That problem is why snow days are hard for working parents. They are probably hard for stay-at-home parents, too; after all, they, too, have things to get done. Yet for working parents, that call from the school department saying everything is closed tomorrow, be warm, and have fun (yes, the robocall I received last night about today’s school cancellation actually ended with “have fun”) immediately kicks into place a difficult juggling act.

Part flying by the seat of your pants, part “go outside and play,” part chaos, and part frustration, snow days are a mix of responsibility and extreme multitasking. They are not fun. Maybe they are for kids; then it is all about sledding, hot chocolate, and playing in the snow with friends.

#snowday #snowOkay, I’ll admit it’s not 100% awful for parents: it’s a good feeling to hang out in yoga pants, a hot cup of tea in hand, watching the snow fall in the backyard. So peaceful. However, that peace lasts for about 15 minutes. Which is how long the kids can go without poking each other and spilling milk all over the kitchen floor.

Then I have to get on a conference call. And meet a deadline for work. And get a snack for my children who have forgotten where the snacks are kept. And clean up that spilled milk.

Since I am now on our fifth snow day in the past three weeks, I have been thinking about what causes me the most stress on these days. It isn’t the fact my kids will be in school until nearly the end of June (it will save me money in camp fees!). It isn’t the fact that there is SO MUCH snow (my husband loves to use the snow blower). No, the real challenge for me has been the conflicting responsibilities of work and family during snow days. It’s hard to be a work-from-home parent.

Snow days, for me, have become a conflict of mom versus working professional. I always want to do both well, and inevitably, on snow days, I’m not sure what I do well. Saying no to my kids (“No, I can’t play library right now, honey. I have to work.”), I’m good at that. Destroying any illusion that I’m a competent professional (by, for example, being on a call with a colleague while my daughter cries in the background and follows me around the house), I have that one covered.

My coping mechanism is to try really hard not to yell after being interrupted a ridiculous number of times by my children who seem to forget how to play kindly with another or who only want to talk with me when I am on the phone. And to accept, despite my best efforts, that I am going to be working after the kids go to bed. It’s also to remember that I am fortunate to work at a place that values my safety, offering the opportunity to work from home during the recent snowstorms instead of having to travel on uncertain roads and via an undependable transit system to get to the office.

So, as frustrating as another snow day is, my family is warm and safe, and we have enough milk, bread, peanut butter, and eggs (snow day staples). My husband is home today with me, so we’ll tag team the kids. We’ve coordinated our schedules to identify competing conference calls at 10 AM, so the kids will watch cartoons then, the only guarantee we have not to be interrupted by zippers, sibling rivalry, or requests for snacks.

Looking for ideas to survive yet another snow day? Check out my 8 Tips to Get Through Another Snow Day.

Thinking about locking yourself in your bedroom during today’s snow day? Listen to how one working mom did just that and other working parent snow day stories here

Photo credit: Gramercy Park, New York City via photopin (license)

Get Ready for Valentine’s Day!

Oh Valentine’s Day! You sneak up on my every year, you and your let’s-flood-the-world-with-red-pink-and-hearts.

Now that both of my kids are in elementary school, Valentine’s Day is a we-must-celebrate event. The kids have parties in their classrooms, and there are valentines to distribute to classmates and teachers. They are excited about February 14, so I am, too. Hope these Valentine’s Day suggestions help you get ready for Cupid – only 9 days to go!

valentines_day_red_shutters1 | We always have crackers for Christmas, and I love this idea for Valentine’s Day crackers.

2 | Want to make an extra special Valentine’s Day card for your honey? Here’s a step-by-step how-to to make your own mini zine.

3 | Making your own cards not your thing (I hear you!)? Check out this listing of cards available on Etsy or download these printables.

4 | I spent the other morning addressing Valentine’s Day cards with my 5-year-old, deciding that we weren’t going to make our own this year. But if you’re the crafty type, here’s how you can make your own cute (not scary) monster cards.

5 | Don’t like monsters? Try this guide to make a superhero valentine.

6 | Lollipop, lollipop… oh lolly, lolly. Lollipop!

7 | Facing another snow day? Make these Kiss Me cookies.

8 | My husband and I don’t give each other Valentine’s Day gifts; we exchange cards and go out to dinner instead. But, if we did, I might send him this gift guide.

9 | Got a date for Valentine’s Day, but not sure what to do? Here are some ideas.

10 | Looking for Valentine’s Day crafts for you and your kids? Try these or these.

All you need is love.
But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.
-Charles M. Schulz

Happy Valentine’s Day!


8 Tips to Get Through Another Snow Day

#snowday #snowMy kids (5 and 7 years old) have their third snow day in a week today. They started telling me corny jokes and jockeying for cartoons at 7:15 AM, so I knew I needed to up my game to make it until bedtime. Oh, and I have to work from home today, too, so entertaining them isn’t an option. So, for my sanity (and yours), here are 8 tips to get parents through yet another snow day…

  1. Let them stay in PJs. This is the best part about snow days! I thought about doing it myself, but decided to dress a bit more professionally (AKA yoga pants) since I have a conference call later this afternoon. My theory here is that PJs make kids happy, and happy kids = happy parents.
  1. Make a to do list. Now before you think I’m being a little too Type A, I have to tell you that I had my kids make to do lists on our first snow day last week, and it was incredibly helpful for managing boredom. “Not sure what to do? Kid, go look at your list and find something!” My son’s #1 to do item was “eat bacon,” which, I am sure he would be proud to tell you, he did first thing. My “you must put this on your to do list” request of practicing piano was met with blank stares, however.
  1. Send them outside. After all, we have a snow day because there’s so much…snow. So put on the boots, snow pants, and mittens, and run around in the white, fluffy stuff. Sled, build a snow person, and jump in the big piles left by the snowplows. Shovel off the deck or front porch. Most of all, burn off some energy.
  1. Call friends. Entice the kids to stay outside even longer by calling friends to meet-up in your backyard. Or send your kids to a neighbor’s for a few hours in the morning (alone time!), and host all of the kids back at your house in the afternoon. Playdates = kids who don’t need to ask their parents questions every five minutes.
  1. Impose quiet time. We’re big readers in our house, so I will be sure to put aside time for my kids to be in their rooms—if previous snow days are any indicators, they will need a break from one another—to look at books, read, or color. This “charge your battery” time will give them space to do their own thing, and we’ll all be better for it.
  1. Watch a movie. This, along with wearing PJs all day, is what my kids are looking forward to doing today. I’ll select something rated G and be very thankful for On Demand television. (My kids’ choice for today is The Nut Job. The Incredibles, Mary Poppins, and Planes: Fire & Rescue have graced our screen on other snow days.)
  1. Make something. Muffins. Crafts. Legos. Anything. Having them do something with their hands and brains will keep them occupied and make them feel accomplished. Plus, the cookies can go into their lunch boxes tomorrow (and, oh yes, these kids are going back to school tomorrow!).
  1. Dance Party. Mid-afternoon will find me stepping away from the computer, putting on the kitchen timer (so I remember to get back to work), and turning up the tunes. The kids and I will dance around our living room; my son will show us his breakdancing moves, my daughter will hip hop her away from side of the room to the other. We will all laugh. And they will remember snow days—and their mom—can be fun.

If you live somewhere (Florida? Arizona?) where snow days don’t exist, well, as much as I’m a little bit jealous of all that sunshine, right now, I wouldn’t trade blizzards and below zero temperatures for your tropical locales….though I might rethink that on our next snow day…

What snow day survival tips would you add to this list? Share your ideas in the comments!

Goals for 2015: The Family Edition

As we near the end of January (How did THAT happen?), New Year’s resolutions, for many, have already gone by the wayside (What was that about a gym membership?). But at my house, where we set goals instead of resolutions, I am still going strong on my year of all things “better.”

With this in mind, my friends at Stonyfield invited me to expand upon my earlier annual planning by involving my family in setting goals for 2015. This was a great motivation to get my kids—my seven-year-old son, R, and my five-year-old daughter, G—to think about what they’d like to accomplish this year. However, despite my enthusiasm for the idea, getting R and G to focus on goals was a challenge (G, after all, is at an age where what her Hello Kitty will wear to stuffed animal day at kindergarten is the.most.important.thing.ever.) but it was definitely worth exploring. (It’s not too early to get them to think about goal setting, right?) So my husband and I sat down with the kids last week to discuss their hopes and plans for the year. Our conversation went a little like this…

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Peep and the Big Wide World

The “Peep and the Big Wide World” temporary tattoos go up my daughter’s right arm. They are faded now, after a week of gracing her arm. She put them on herself as soon as I opened the package sent to us by WGBH, proving to me that, at five years old, she is more capable than I think. My “baby,” no longer.


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3 Things I Learned from Having the Flu

(An alternative title for this post could be “the week the germs came to stay.”)

Last week, I had the flu. Or a virus. The doctor—who was unfortunately named Kevorkian—was vague. “Could be the flu. It could be a virus,” he said, shrugging. I was too late for Tamiflu, he explained, so he wrote me prescriptions for cough medicine and a decongestant, and recommended I take it easy for the next 10 days, the amount of time I would likely need to start feeling like myself. “No stress,” he said as a parting gift. Right….

By the time I stumbled into the walk-in clinic to see him, I had been sick for three days, having turned coughing into an Olympic sport. My voice was gone, I had a fever, and I alternated between shivering and freezing. I was tired, and generally unhappy by the state of my health. Being sick is no fun.

In my I-feel-awful condition, I was reminded of a commercial I had seen on television. In it, a woman opens a door, and sticks her head through the doorway to speak with someone. She’s sick, with red-rimmed eyes and a runny nose. “Amanda?” she says. “I’m going to have to take tomorrow off.” The camera pulls back to show you Amanda; she’s a toddler playing in her bedroom, not a boss from work behind a big desk, as you had thought. The commercial goes on to promote a cold medicine, something to help busy parents who cannot get sick get better fast. The next shot is of the mom and Amanda, skipping down the stairs together, all smiles and giggles.

I wanted one of those miracle medical solutions last week, but Dr. Kevorkian didn’t have a prescription for that. His advice was to take it easy, drink fluids, get lots of sleep, and let my body heal. No bounding down the stairs, like Amanda’s mom; the flu kept me out of the office for most of the week.


The train to good health… A get well soon picture my son made for me

My husband—who definitely won the #1 parenting award last week—took care of the kids and me, replenishing my tea, buying more juice, making dinner and school lunches, and keeping the kids away from me (though, to be fair, it was daughter who brought these germs into our house, so I should have been staying away from her a lot sooner). He, truly, was my equivalent to Amanda’s mom’s magic medicine.

In between my coughing and shivering, I did manage to learn three new things, or, at least, three observations became clear:

1. It’s okay to do nothing. The hardest part about having the flu, for me, was being unproductive. Lying on the couch, sleeping, barely watching television (those “Real Housewives” shows are awful!), or perhaps reading a book was all I could rally to do. The go-go-get-‘em part of me, the part that manages my to do list, was conflicted. I have so much to accomplish! It seemed wrong to not try to cross one or two (or three) things off the list. Only focus on getting better? It seemed… not enough. My body thought otherwise, and I realized it’s—sometimes—okay to do nothing, to put aside to do lists, to spend time not focusing on accomplishments but on yourself.

2. Being healthy truly is most important. I knew this one before the flu; being sick reinforced it. Being sick is no fun; it really gets in the way of living.

3. Don’t make sick days fun. I learned this one when the virus/flu (in a much milder form) reached my son. Since I still wasn’t feeling 100%, I let him stay in his pajamas all day and watch a movie of his choice (no negotiating with his sister). The next day, he protested his return to school, calling for more On Demand television and pajamas. I had made his sick day enjoyable, and he wanted another. Next time: no television and I’ll make him clean the bathroom.

And because the flu doesn’t like to be alone, the rest of my family, in one way or another, also spent last week sick. (And, we all got flu shots!) We’re ground zero for coughing and sniffling. At least, we’re in this together.