Dropping one of my volunteering jobs

Time.

It is the one thing I always wish I had more of. There never seems to be enough time to get everything – writing, work, volunteering, parenting, housekeeping – done. So, I finally decided to give up one of my volunteer jobs – Activities Committee Chair for our neighborhood.

I am not sure how much time this will free up, and honestly, I am not dropping it because I don’t have time. I am dropping it as my children are getting older and I am tired of not having help with our 3 activities we do each year.

I joined the Activities committee back in 2007 – I think. I am not totally sure how long I have been a member. I do know that I was on the newsletter committee from 2005 to 2015. That is probably how I joined the Activities committee. At the time, I was just one of the members. But as those other members’ children grew older, those members moved on to other things and I took over.

I never really minded. As I always say with groups like this or the PTA, if you have good people there to support you, running these things is no problem. And for many years, I had that group, and the work isn’t hard.

Our most popular pool party game – kids must find the gummy worm hidden in the pile of whip cream with only their mouths.

We currently have just three activities each year – 2 pool parties and a Fall Festival. The pool parties are easy since we use the same formula. We serve popcorn and ice cream sundaes. Sometimes we add in dinner of pizza or hot dogs or even chili dogs. We play at least one game – usually the same one each time. Sometimes we add another game but usually enjoying the pool is enough. And then we give away prizes to the kids – pool/summer toys in June and school related items in August.

 

Then there is the biggest event (in cost, volunteers, and time) – our Fall Festival. I held my last one yesterday.

Fall Festival 2013

For this event we have 8 games, face painting, prizes, candy, food and for a number of years even balloon animals. We have served dinner (pizza or chili dogs). We have done cotton candy, and yesterday we did snow cones in addition to popcorn. (Popcorn is at all our events as our neighborhood association has a popcorn popper machine.)

While the pool parties are super simple and I could do them probably by myself, the Fall Festival is more work. There are more prizes to buy, cleaning up the games from last year, organizing the door prize drawing, figuring out food, and securing volunteers. That last one is a big one. Volunteers are my biggest problem whether it is for the neighborhood or the PTA. People want events but they don’t want to do the work behind them.

In this case, I am usually looking for teens who need service hours to volunteer. And it is always a scramble to get people to sign up and then actually show up. Every year, I worry about having enough help. Some how it comes together but I sure won’t miss the stress of finding volunteers.

But now that my kids are older (11 and 14), I know it is time to turn over the reins to another mom with kids the age that these events are geared toward. And while I don’t know how much time this will free up, I am definitely looking forward to not being stressed about the Fall Festival next October.

Letting the kids pick their own Halloween Costumes

When the kids were babies and toddlers, we picked out their Halloween costumes for them. Of course, they couldn’t decide or even understand why they were dressing up. So parents get the opportunity to decide what cute or interesting costume they will dress their little one up in. But once kids reach about 3 years old, they start having their own ideas. And this was the time that we let them take the lead in deciding what they wanted to be (within reason, of course).

Now I know that some parents like controlling their kids Halloween costume. Maybe it is to get them out of being the popular character of that year or maybe it is because they want to create costumes that fit a family theme. I’ve known parents in both these categories. Sometimes their kids are all for these choices, but I know mine – at least now at the ages for 11 and 14 – would not want me to pick their costumes. Heck, I think I might have been able to do it until about 5 but that would have been the final age.

So, starting at the age of 3, we let the kids pick their own costumes. The first year, Jase picked out a pirate costume. The next year, he didn’t want a new costume. He wanted to be a pirate and wore the same costume from the previous year. The following year he outgrew it and went as a handyman. But as soon as he found the cartoon Star Wars Clone Wars (and later the Star Wars movies) most of his costumes have been Star Wars related with the exception of 3 DC characters (Deadshot, Batman and Nightwing).

Lexie has been more varied in her choices. She has been Batgirl (in pink), Wonder Woman, Cinderella, Elsa, the pink Power Ranger, Pikachu and a dragon hunter.

Sometimes – especially in the beginning – we simply bought the kids costumes online or from the store. Of the pictures displayed on this page, this would be all of costumes except the fighter pilot (orange costume) which my husband made. Actually, for the past four years, all of Jase’s costumes have been custom jobs. Lexie’s dragon hunter was also a custom one.

Image result for hatsune mikuThis year, Lexie will be Hatsune Miku. I always just say it is an Anime character though really it is a the characterization of a singing software creation. Yeah, like that helps anyone. Needless to say, we bought her costume off e-bay this year include the aqua wig.

Jase is going to be a fleet trooper – yep, you guessed it. That is from Star Wars. This one was a custom design on the gun, vest, and helmet. I bought the pants, shirt and boots at Wal-mart. Once we get the kids costumes finishing touches done, I’ll post pictures.

Image result for fleet troopers

All I can say about this year is that you can definitely tell that I let the kids pick their own costumes.

 

Dealing with a complainer

There is always at least one person you know that you might dread talking or dealing with. You know the one. Every time you see Jim, he complains about work (or politics, or the economy, or sports) non-stop. Or perhaps it is Sue who talks endlessly about how awesome her kids are. Then there is Mary who does nothing but yammer on about any topic.

You know how these people are and honestly sometimes you just aren’t in the mood to deal with them. You find yourself mentally (or actually) sighing or rolling your eyes at their approach. You don’t fully listen to them as it is the same old thing, each and every time. Ok, there are slight variations to their stories but really, it is the same situation.

Now while I don’t know too many people that fall into this category that I want to avoid them; I am finding that it is happening with my own child.

Image result for kid peeking around doorEvery evening, I can expect Lexie to come into our room at least half a dozen times when she should be asleep. I know she has trouble turning off her mind and falling asleep, but EVERY night it feels like the same thing. She comes in to complain about some random pain or ailment. Her legs hurt.  Her stomach hurts. There is a bump on her leg, or this area of her skin feels different.

Of course, my husband and I assume these are merely stalling techniques, just like her coming in to tell us about a video she remembers watching earlier in the day or how when she was 3 she once saw a man drop his hat into a wishing well. Ok, I made that last one up, but she does come in to tell us some random stuff. The point is because we know it is an every-night occurrence, we sigh whenever she comes in. We sometimes don’t wait for her to speak and merely say go back to bed.

But sometimes I worry that there could be something important mixed in with these late-night stalls. Sometimes I know Jase waits until right before bed to divulge something that has been bugging him. So in our frustration with Lexie are we missing some bit of information that could be important? Or are we right to keep sending her back to bed for the umpteenth time?

Image result for complainer childIt isn’t just her late-night antics that drive me crazy. She also complains daily about her brother. He talks too much. He is too loud. He keeps telling her what to do. He is rude. He yelled at her. He pushed her out of his bedroom. He said something mean. Ugh. It is always something.

And because it is always “something” we have a tendency not to fully listen to her complaint or to brush it off. Some of it seems petty or unimportant. But of course, they are important to her just as her trying to share videos, jokes or stories she hears on the internet or at school.

But again, I worry that she our response as that we don’t care about her or what she is interested in. And will she at some point stop coming to us with her concern all together? I try to remember that while her complaints, comments or stories are not urgent or important to me that they might be to her.

I know that I need to change my reaction to her instead of expecting her to change. I am forever telling the kids that you can’t change other people only the way their own reactions. And just as I am writing this, I remember in one of her counseling sessions, Lexie admit to interrupting us (typically while we are trying to watch a movie or TV show) because she wants attention. She wants to feel important and who doesn’t want that. Maybe by giving her a set amount of time to complain or have our undivided attention will help curb some of this. And of course, reminding myself that she is only 11 and doesn’t have the many years of experience of dealing with these thoughts, pains/ailments or concerns might help too. All I can say is I have to do something, because I can’t avoid her. She lives a room away from mine.

Harvesting olives at my kids’ school

History Hill

This past Saturday, the kids and I went olive picking at my kids’ school. Yep, you read that correctly. There is an olive orchard at their middle school. It has been there since the early 2000s when the school decided to enhance their outdoor learning area known as History Hill.

They decided to add an olive grove to provide a history lesson for students. In ancient Greece, olive oil was the basis for trade and used in religious ceremonies. Its value is comparative to modern day petroleum trade. What better way to liven up a boring History lecture than to have the student traipse out to History Hill and see the olive grove and harvest them for sale.

What started out as a 20-tree donation has grown to over 90 olive trees. And every fall, students, parents and teachers all help collect the purple, black and green olives.

Lexie (in the pink) collecting olives.

On Saturday, I’d say there were over 130 students and parents on hand to help. Even though the forecast had threatened rain, it turned out to be a nice morning with some cloud cover keeping the Texas heat away in the morning.

This was the first year the kids and I went to olive pick even though it is Jase’s third year at the school. A majority of the students helping are in the Young Historian’s club, but they usually get help from other groups such as Student Council, PALS, and National Junior Honor Society (NJHS) as well as parents and other students including some who attended the school in the past and are now in high school.

Jase is in NJHS and could use the service hours, and Lexie’s social studies teacher promised extra credit so I got both kids up early (they grumbled about rising before 7:30 on the weekend). Of course once there and picking olives, they had a great time with their friends.

Jase dropping off the olives he picked.

Once all the olives are picked, they are sold to an olive press in a neighboring town which sells the oil and gives a potion of the sales to the school. The money goes back into maintain the grove and provides funding for the school’s annual History Faire and Cultural Fest, which is meant to bring history to life for the students. It features hands-on activities as well as historical re-enactors, music, dancing, a medieval tournament and even military demonstrations – all on History Hill.

The school makes anywhere from $400 to $1200 each year depending on that year’s crop. Last year was a good year but this one was a little less productive due to a dry summer. But as the school will tell you, it isn’t about the money. The olive grove provides educational and social experiences that the students would not get by merely being in the classroom.

Allowing my kids to walk to school despite “Stranger Danger”

A black Toyota pickup truck slowly pulls up next to the middle schooler walking to school. The man slowly rolls down the window and offers the boy a ride. The boy shook his head and continues to school. Later that evening he mentions it to his parents who alert the school and city police departments.

This incident is what sparked a letter from the principal of my kids’ school. It was then posted on NextDoor, a social networking platform designed to connect local communities and neighborhoods. And then the story was picked up by the local news stations.

No new information has been released about the incident, but two other incidents have been reported in our area. In one, a child ran up to a neighbor when he felt scared about a van following him. The other one involved a driver of a blue truck asking a student where he was going.

In none of these incidents did anyone try to grab the student. Yes, they are suspicious and perhaps alarming to some. And I certainly agree we need to talk to our children how to handle these situations, but as with many other events, neighbors have blown this out of proportion. They are calling for parents to stop letting their kids walk to school – even shaming those who let their kids do so.

When my kids were in elementary school, I walked with them to and from school. Sometimes the two of them walked home together when done with after-school activities. On a rare occasion, one of them would walk home alone. Jase was in the third grade when I started letting him do a few times.  It was funny though because I would get texts from neighbors letting me know he had just passed their house. It was reassuring to know that others were watching out for him even though he didn’t know about it.

Ever since Jase started middle school, he has walked to and from school. He carries his backpack or zippered binder as well as a lunch box and his violin. Yes, he is loaded down, but it is a short walk to the school. But parents online are shocked that some of us parents are making our students walk loaded down when we could be driving them to the school.

Now, I could drive my kids. I don’t have a job that would prevent me from dropping them off or picking them up. But I see no problem with them walking. I am not paranoid that they will be abducted on that walk. Most of their walk is on a busy street where no cars would stop. Plus there is a police officer on duty. He can see them on most of their walk. After they leave the busy street, it is only 2 houses down our street to our house.

Nope, not worried at all. But to read the messages online, you would think kids in our area are being snatched all the time. Ok – Texas is a “hot” zone for human trafficking according the local news, and I will admit that there are other areas of the city that I would be more concerned about my kids walking to and from school but not here. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, less than 1% of abductions are by non-family members. That means the chances of a stranger snatching your child from the street is extremely low.

Yes, it has happened but most likely won’t. Some of those parents just don’t want to take that chance. I understand and respect that decision. But it doesn’t mean they should tell me that my children, ages 11 and 14, shouldn’t be able to walk or be outside alone. I think they should be able to walk to school or even a friend’s house. On the way to school, they are walking in a group. I know their route. They know not to get in stranger’s cars – even Lexie who I always said would go with anyone who had a puppy. They have their cell phone on them – ready to call me or snap a picture of anything suspicious. I’ve talked to them about the situations, letting them know to be vigilant, to stick together and report anything that concerns them. They are fine with that and so am I. So for now, I will ignore those comments on social media and let my kids keep walking to school.

Dividing my time at Meet the Teacher night

Image result for meet the teacherThis past Tuesday was Meet the Teacher at my kids’ middle school. Now a middle school Meet the Teacher is quite different than at the elementary level.

At the elementary, you typically only have one teacher/classroom to visit, and there is no hurry. The teacher has plenty of time to tell you the ins and outs of her class and what she expects of your student.

But at middle school (and later at high school), you have eight teachers/classrooms to visit. In our case, we had to walk our child’s schedule, visiting the classes in order. For many, finding the classrooms alone was a problem though they did give you a map and had students posted throughout the school to direct you.

And since you don’t have unlimited time in each class (we had just 4 minutes per class with a five-minute “passing period”) you have less time to hear about the class. But it is still nice to put a face with the name.

Of course, my challenge when both kids go the same school is that I have to pick one teacher (or set of teachers) to see. In elementary, I tended to go to Jase’s Meet the Teacher as I would have already been to one for Lexie’s current grade when I had gone to see that grade for Jase. At the end of the evening, I would usually stop by to meet Lexie’s teacher who could tell me if there was anything major I missed.

When Lexie was still at the elementary and Jase already at the middle school, I didn’t have to split my time as the Meet the Teacher events were on different nights. But this year, both kids are at the middle school. With 8 classes to visit, I simply picked 4 for each kids. I did math and science for both as well as art for Lexie and orchestra for Jase. That left me with Reading class for Lexie and English for Jase. (That means I missed PE for both kids, English, social studies and study hall for Lexie, Reading, history and debate for Jase.)

Image result for silent auctionIn addition to last Tuesday being Meet the Teacher, it was also the first parent-teacher association meeting of the school year (and I am PTA president) and also the PTA’s Silent Auction. So, as you can imagine, it was a busy day for me.

It started with a District Council PTA meeting in the morning. After picking up one last auction item and lunch, I was up at the middle school setting up for the silent auction. This year, most of our items were available on an online auction but we still had the items on display. (Our auction turned out well with over $5400 raised.)

My biggest worry was actually the PTA meeting because I don’t like speaking in front of large groups and this by far will be the largest group I have to speak in front of with about 400 parents packed into the cafeteria.

But the meeting and auction went well as did the Meet the Teacher part. And next year, I won’t have to divide my time between their teachers as once again the kids will be at different schools. I’m looking forward to that. But since it will be my second year as PTA president, both the PTA meeting and Silent Auction will still be a part of my day. And I’d rather skip those events.

 

Family Night is a good thing

My husband has been working a great deal lately. This means he has been working weekends or evening. Sometimes his work takes him out of town. The kids have been missing him. So, this past weekend we decided we needed to do something as a family.

Now sometimes in the past, we have gone somewhere to play miniature golf or gone to a laser tag/video game place like Incredible Pizza, Main Event or Dave & Busters. But those outing do get expensive and depending on the activity we may not always spend tons of time together.

Lexie suggested we try game night. Back in July before our trip to Austin, I had bought two new games – Uno (Jurassic World edition) and 5 Second Rule. We had a great time playing them in the hotel room, and again took them on our trip to the beach in August.

So with a batch of brownies to snack on we pulled out those two games. Being a teenager, Jase only agreed to play for 30 minutes.

We started with 5 Second Rule. Here you ask one of the other players to name 3 things based whatever is on the card you draw. They have just 5 seconds to answer. If they can’t do it, then the next player tries but cannot mention anything the first player listed. It is a fun game though many of the questions are not ones my 11-year-old or 14-year-old can do such as name 3 SUVs, 3 Baseball players, or 3 character on Modern Family.

Jurassic World UNO is very much like the classic game where you try to get rid of all the cards in your hand (yelling “Uno” when you are down to one card), but it has dinosaurs on the cards and a few different Wild cards.

Lexie had so much fun she suggested we make this a regular scheduled event – maybe once a month. And it is a good idea. It isn’t the first time we have tried setting up a family night. In the past we tried Movie Night – either weekly or every other week (I can’t remember which.) We alternated who picked a movie to watch at home (usually while we ate pizza and popcorn). This family night lasted for about a year.

But it is nice to have an afternoon or evening where we turn off the TV and electronics and just have fun with each other. And while I think we may try and keep Game Night I think a few afternoons out and about in San Antonio as a family will also be something we should plan. Anything to keep the kids off electronics and strengthen our connections as a family is a good thing.