Tuesday, December 13, 2011

School dilemma

Just when we thought we had all of our ducks in a row as far as the kids' schooling goes...ahh...another humbling experience lies ahead.

I am thrilled that Bobby is enrolled in a Catholic school. It's been my hope to be able to provide my kids the opportunity to be educated in an environment that welcomes God and encourages prayer. That is something I was not privy to growing up (through no fault of my parents; I'm one of four and the resources were just not there). Rob, however, did attend a Catholic school and I believe it played a key role in shaping him into the faith-filled husband and father that he is today. I desire the same for our boys...

The school that Bobby attends is staffed with wonderful, loving, caring teachers and an excellent principal (the best I've seen in my years as both a student and teacher). The curriculum is interesting and challenging for the students and it is not uncommon for students to be able to read before entering kindergarten. The problem: it's 30 minutes away. The commute isn't so bad since Bobby is our only child enrolled at this point but what about when David starts? What about when Bobby is full-time and David is part-time? That would mean driving back and forth six times in one day...THREE HOURS of driving every day just to get the kids to and from school. What does that mean for any other children we may have at that time? Is it fair or healthy for a baby to spend that much time in the car? That is precious time I could be working with him/her on important developmental skills. It just seems unnecessary to me. But this reason alone may not be enough to sway me...

The other issue at Bobby's school is the disturbing and worrisome smell. The building is old and the ceiling is constantly leaking. The lower level of the school has a musty, mildew-like odor and I'm willing to bet there is mold in the walls and/or ceiling. I'm no expert on mold but I do know that black mold can create lifelong health risks for people and even result in death. Is that something we really want to play around with? The school does not have a lot of money and to my knowledge, there are no plans in the works to repair any damages the building has sustained over the years.

So where does that leave us? There is one other Catholic school and it's an hour away. Not feasible. I'm not a fan of public schools, namely because prayer is banned and students are exposed to a variety of topics entirely too early, in my opinion. That leaves us with private school or homeschooling. Homeschooling had been of interest to me a few years ago but I have since changed my mind. I believe there is something to be said for my children learning to obey other adults and being exposed to methods of teaching different from mine. I think it is healthy for my children to have a piece of their day that doesn't include me and I've enjoyed watching and hearing about Bobby flourish in settings outside the home. It makes me feel like I'm doing a decent job of raising him to be independent while still treasuring family and time at home. The bottom line is that if my heart is not 100% in homeschooling, I would be doing my children a huge, almost irreparable, disservice. They deserve better than that.

There is a private school with a Baptist affiliation in town that I've recently discovered. I don't know anything about it so I would need to make an appointment for a tour, probably after the holidays. The state of Kentucky has mandatory full-day kindergarten which I am opposed to, simply because I do not believe 5-year-olds are developmentally ready for such lengthy academic demands. I understand that parents have to work but for those of us who do not, why can't we be given the option of full or half day? As it turns out, private schools do not fall under the same legal umbrella and this particular school has half-day kindergarten, from 8 AM until noon. Perfect. Rob is a little worried about what the tuition might be and I am concerned about the religious teachings not being completely in sync with our beliefs. But when push comes to shove, would a Baptist school teach our children anything harmful? Of course not. There may be distinct differences between Baptists and Catholics but God, love, stewardship, community, and reverence are at the center of both.

So...lots to think about. And even more to pray about.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

No Longer The Only Conservative In The Room

I'm pretty conservative. To those who really know me, that statement is not all that surprising. Not only am I politically conservative, but this trait has leaked into other facets of my life. For example, I don't believe people should wear jeans to church. If we have a girl, she will not sport a bikini at 6 years old (or 8, 10, 12...) Whenever Rob and I go to casinos in Atlantic City, we never bring more than $50. I tend to shy away from risky or dangerous situations and I don't indulge or splurge very often. My mom claims I have been this way since I was a toddler. Funny how the more things (or people) change, the more they stay the same.

As a public school teacher in New Jersey, I frequently found myself in the minority when it came to beliefs and viewpoints, namely those political in nature. When asked, I would not lie, but I would also never voluntarily bring up my thoughts on controversial issues. I was not tenured and didn't want to rock the boat. Looking back, I probably should have spoken up more. Although I felt completely alone in my thinking, I could not have been the only conservative teacher at my school. Perhaps the others were also intimidated or afraid to stir the pot...but we could've leaned on each other for support and maybe our collective voice would've been better received. Oh well, live and learn.

Fast forward to the present day and here I am living in Kentucky. On the political scale, New Jersey and Kentucky are at opposite ends and I have witnessed these differences numerous times since moving here over the summer. On Friday, I spent a few hours with a new friend who admitted that she's never met a person who's gay. Never. I was shocked...never at school, work, among family or friends, on the street...NEVER??!! Wow. I guess people were more comfortable coming out of the closet in New Jersey? Whatever the case, I had always just assumed that everybody knew someone who was gay.

The truth is, I don't really have an "anything goes" attitude about life. I don't do something simply because it "feels right." I'm sure this has confused and even pissed off some people along the way but like it or not, this is Chanel down to the core. When it comes to education, there are a few topics that don't sit well with me. Exposing my kids to books that undermine the sanctity of marriage doesn't float my boat. What is so wrong with teaching kids that marriage is sacred and should not be taken lightly? I feel like books with strong husband and wife roles are few and far between anymore. Yes, I realize the divorce rate is high and that the media is chalk-full of couples who marry on a whim and split days later. Does that mean we just throw in the towel and stop teaching our children about the value of marriage? No!

What about sex education in elementary school? I've been involved in a variety of discussions on this topic and the opposing viewpoint is usually something like, "Well, it's good to arm them with knowledge because they're going to do it anyway and might as well know how to protect themselves." Why must we assume that every kid is "going to do it anyway"? I know plenty who did not and have not. What about them? I believe we rob children of their childhood and overall innocence when we fill their heads with information about condoms, pills, pregnancy tests, sexually transmitted diseases, and free clinics who don't require parental permission. It is my sincere hope that when my kids are eight years old, their worries will consist of who they'll sit next to on the bus, what dessert they'll choose after dinner, and which friends they'll play kickball with after school. There is plenty of time to worry about the other stuff but you only experience childhood once.

I understand that the world has changed and we are no longer raising children in the 1940's but does that mean I have to stand by and watch my childrens' blankets of innocence be ripped out from underneath them? Why must they be forced to grow up so quickly?

The good news is that I look around at my new surroundings, I realize I am among people of a similar mindset when it comes to education, politics, child-rearing, and host of other subjects. In fact, I probably come across as somewhat liberal because of my background and experiences in the Northeast. It feels freeing, in a sense to be understood and have my opinions not only tolerated but accepted. Will I refuse to be in the company of someone who does not share my viewpoints? Absolutely not. That has neven been, nor will ever be, the case. After all, how could anyone grow if never exposed to differences or change? He couldn't. She couldn't.

I have to wonder, though, how long it will take for me to process the fact that, for the first time, I am not the only Conservative in the room.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Kids Grow (They Sure Do)

It's interesting to see dynamics in a household change and, of course, I cannot simply sit back and enjoy it (but really, I do). No, I need to delve into it with excess scrutiny...maybe.

In the past few weeks, our younger has learned to walk. He started slowly, but quickly found his legs and now rarely ever crawls. It feels like it happened overnight to Chanel and I. The trouble is, he didn't stop at walking and right away started trying to run. Running is a needed skill if he wants to keep up with his older brother. Needless to say, he's been bumped, bruised, even cut with one of his falls. The best thing, though, is seeing him get back up each time he stumbles, determined to go the distance he intended...unless Mom gets to him first.

At the same time, I've seen a change in behavior of our older boy. He strikes me as being less whiny, less needy, over all more mature. Maybe it's his attending pre-school twice a week that's bringing on the growth. Maybe it's all the playgroups and activities Chanel takes them to during the week and meeting and playing with a variety of people. Maybe it's just that he's reached the "age" that ends one phase of life and begins another (it is nice to think the terrible 2's/tortuous 3's might be over). I like to think that he and his little brother are learning from each other, though.

There are direct lessons (as those typically learned by the younger from the older) and there are indirect lessons (often the reverse). Those indirect life lessons are important; even at this early stage, 3 year-olds are already learning the golden rules of society without even being told them explicitly.

Having kids, in a way, could serve as a refresher course for the parents.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Beating Homesickness

I've come to think of relocation like this: you spend the first three months trying to unpack, settle in, familiarize yourself with the new town, meet people, and adjust to your surroundings. Then, around the 3 and 1/2 month mark, it starts to sink in that, wow, this really is your new home. You are not going back. For better or worse.

For me, this crazy realization hit somewhere around the beginning of October. We'd been here several months and we getting into the swing of things. We had a very manageable routine and we were starting to be invited to different outings by our new friends. I remember joking to Rob about the fact that I could no longer slum it to Walmart (you know, unshowered, pj pants, greasy hair, no makeup) anymore because I was bound to run into someone I knew! We were feeling on top of our game and very confident that we'd made the right decision to move.

I'm not exactly sure what triggered my feelings of homesickness earlier this month. It could have been the fact that the holidays were approaching and we knew we would not be spending time with family. It could have been the fact that David started walking and we had to post a video online (rather than show him off in person) so that our friends and family back home could share in our joy. Or it could have been a simple question posed by a friend: Chanel, what do you miss most about New Jersey?

It really got me thinking. I'd spent months listing all of the reasons why I was thrilled to be far away from that crowed, congested, and polluted state. In fact, the only aspect of the move that saddened me was that my family was now 1,000 miles away...right? Could there really be more that I miss about New Jersey???

Someone once told me that the best way to conquer my fear (or any other emotion, really), was to face it head-on. This tactic had worked well in the past so I had no reason to doubt its effectiveness in my current situation. Sure enough, once I had written out all of the tidbits of New Jersey that I was missing, I began to feel better. I came to terms with the fact that those things would still be available to me, just not as often. They would truly become luxuries whenever I visited New Jersey. And, as I was discovering more and more, Kentucky has its own pearls and gems that I never experienced in New Jersey. Some are better, some are worse, and some are just...different. Comparing the two states and what they have to offer helped me to realize that my exposure to both is what will make me a more well-rounded person able to better relate to a wider variety of people. Not so bad, right? :)

So here is my list:

What I Miss About New Jersey...

-The mall! Call me crazy, but when you're used to a mall 20 minutes in any direction, being without one feels, well, pretty damn strange.

-The zoo! My kids LOVED the zoo. The closest one is 2 hours away, and I've heard it's not even that good. The next closest one is nearly 4 hours away. Now we're talking a weekend trip. Just for the zoo...

-Diners! Oh, a true Jersey classic! Where can I go to eat at 2 AM that's not Taco Bell or Wendy's? Here? Nowhere. I miss diners, especially the jukeboxes and bar stools that come with them.

-Smoke-free establishments! The smell of cigarettes lingers in my hair all day long. Ugh! Here the hosts ask you, "Smoking or non-smoking?" when you walk through the door. Everybody knows that the smoke doesn't stay in the smoking section. It inevitably floats over to your table and into your food. Worse yet, into your baby's mouth. Yuck. I never appreciated smoke-free dining until now!

-More than one Catholic church in a county! We lucked out, because we absolutely love our parish, but what if we did not? Where would we go? There are 100 Baptist churches in town but only one Catholic church. I am not used to being outnumbered like this.

-Access to public transportation! We used to think nothing of hopping on NJ Transit and arriving in NYC 45 minutes later. Here, if you don't own a car (or realistically, a pickup truck), you aren't going anywhere. At least not anytime soon.

-The desire for higher education! Not that people here do not go to college; it's just that fewer do than in New Jersey. College isn't the end-all-be-all, but it certainly helps to get your foot in the door most of the time. And truthfully, college was one of the best times of my life. :)

-An abundance of colleges/universities! Nothing like having options, especially since I'd like to work in a college setting once I'm done raising my family. Hmmm...we live near one university but the next closest one is, well, pretty far. Hope this one will be hiring when the time comes!

-The club scene! Okay, Rob and I were never "clubbers", but we enjoyed a night out dancing every once in a while. And we liked that it wasn't far away! We could hop from one to the next all night long if we so desired. We've already figured out that there are no clubs here and the closest thing to a club ( s-t-r-e-t-c-h....) is an hour away. And from what we've been told, you really have to go to St. Louis to get the decent ones. Whew. Can't do that in one night.

-Not having to pump my own gas! Yes, call me crazy, but I don't mind letting someone else do it. When it's hot, cold, or when you'd just rather not get out of the car, it's great to hand it over to the attendant, who does a wonderful job. I'm managing, but not enjoying it at all.

-The mountains! Apparently there are mountains here, about 7 or so hours away. My parents live in the mountains and boy do I miss the scenery, especially this time of year. The only place you can get better foliage is in New England. And of course I miss my parents. But that goes without saying.

-Atlantic City! What a thrill AC was. We never did that well, but we certainly enjoyed our time getting sucked into the abyss. Nothing compares to Atlantic City when it comes to gambling. Ok, Vegas. Anyone want to fund my trip there so I can do a proper comparison???

So has facing my homesickness head-on worked? Well, it's certainly helped. I will keep this list around to review periodically whenever the need arises. More importantly, I will continue to add to my "Perks of Southern Living" list. There is, after all, much appeal in this area. :)

Peace out, y'all.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Brilliant Video

Once in a while a twist on an old argument is made so skillfully, you have to sit back and be impressed by it. The fact that Chanel and I both agree on this subject very strongly makes it almost essential that we post it up here (even though as of this writing she hasn't sat down to watch it).

The only potential counterpoint I see that some people could raise against this video is to make a claim that it's only interested in a shock value with the comparisons it makes. Maybe so, but an open mind can realize that sometimes a shocking statement isn't just shocking; sometimes it's also true.

I'll tell you up front (ok, this isn't exactly "above the fold" down here), if you're not interested in history, the first 13 minutes might be tough to get through but at least it'll be educational. I encourage you, still, to watch through to the end if for no other reason but to share with me your opinions about the realism of people changing their minds.

Interestingly, I saw what direction this documentary was going to go partly because I made a similar comparison between the subject matter and slavery while talking among engineering students waiting for a classroom to be opened up. Come to think of it, at least one said he'd get back to me with his response...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Education System Seen Through the Prism of a Web-Comic

A picture has been going around Facebook the recently that attempts to capture the cultural shift that has taken place in the last 40 years when it comes to education. Being married to a teacher, I get what the message for this graphic is: that parent's do not take responsibility for their children's performance in school the way they used to. At the same time, I feel pictures like this do a disservice to the discussion of how to improve the situation.

Like playing one of those kid's games where you're supposed to point out the differences, I found myself studying this graphic for all the differences and abnormalities.

  • The obvious one, of course, is the attitude of the parents and who they hold responsible for the grades. 
  • Then there's the kid's attitude, which is naturally changed with not being the object of any scrutiny. 
  • The teacher's expression in each panel is similarly changed now that parents in modern times focus their energies on the teacher. 
  • Call me chauvinistic, but after those primary differences, I ask myself about the teacher's dress. A skin covering dress to blue jeans and a low-cut cleavage-showing shirt? 

To those who would prefer to see all parents behave as in the 1969 panel, you cannot force every set of parents (if they are still a set, these days) to "care enough" about their kids to take an interest in their education. They will either play a significant role or they will remain passive--and their decision is likely to be less a function of how much they care about their kids as it is time and energy available left at the end of the day of work, getting dinner together, and every other chore in the house completed--and that's if they aren't working evening jobs, are actually home for dinner, and the kids aren't raising themselves for the most part. If there's nothing left, homework doesn't get checked.

At the same time, parents who are able to take an active role see one of two outcomes: their child does well in school because lessons are reinforced and reviewed at home or their child does poorly in school because the parents are doing too much of the assignment with the short-term goal of excellence outweighing the long-term goal of learning, only to have the child stumble in the classroom assignments when they cannot be coached by their parents. Teachers aren't likely to hear from the parents of the first case, while the parents of the second case end up in places like the second panel of this comic.

When such parents do meet with the teacher about poor grades, they commonly meet a young, female teacher, within years of having graduated college (because so many older ones are already burned out), possibly not even tenured, and dressed more casually then they dress for their own "professional" positions. Given their experiences and observations, can you really fault the parents for jumping to false conclusions?

Why did the teachers change? Educational theory has changed plenty in 40 years, but did that really change the dress code? You might scoff at worrying about how teachers dress, but the fact is that the way you dress acts as a catalyst for the relationship between how you feel and how others perceive you. Dress like a slob, others will treat you as a slob, and you will become a slob. Dress to impress, you will, and your confidence is enhanced. Figuring out which came first: lax teachers or overbearing parents will have to be determined by someone with greater credentials than I in historical sociology.

When it comes down to it, though, the disparity and overall low quality in the education system is not because people in one town are rich and can pay their teachers more while the tax base in another isn't as strong with more people living in poverty. The disparity is because people everywhere, rich and poor (though disproportionately poor to middle class) have more dual income earner households with each earner having multiple jobs to afford a meager living space and food on the table, all while having less time to dedicate to reinforcing their children's educations. It's economics, in more ways than the obvious. If we continue to misdiagnose the problem and have each side blame the other, there will be no improvement and the only ones to suffer will be the children.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Water a Tree Instead

Our kids love building with blocks. The younger can best handle the oversized Mega Bloks, but does well with the smaller Duplo sized as well. Our older is in the recommended age range for the Duplo sized, but would prefer to play with regular Lego. The only reason we had to take my old Lego blocks away is that the younger would have access to them and some Lego blocks are so small, they really are a choking hazard. 

When we go to parks with playgrounds, we often find recommended ages for the equipment. The tallest areas are usually marked about 5-12 years, mid-sized ones around 3-5 years, and the smallest, most boring ones are labelled 2-3 years. Guess which ones our at-the-time 2 year old wanted to play on? Not only that, but which ones the same child did well with in the presence of older kids and excelled on when the place was empty? 

At about 4 months, I started our oldest on alphabet flash cards. Chanel thought I was nuts, but it wasn't long before he was sitting there, looking at the cards through the entire alphabet (sometime twice through), and able to pick out the correct letter when shown three and asked for one. I introduced numbers eventually and he was able to count to 100 before we even started looking at pre-schools. Now Chanel works with him out of 1st grade workbooks.

I recount these observations and activities not to be prideful of the accomplishments of our kids, but to question the appropriateness of the guidelines we've received every step of the way. Block manufacturer's lawyers and business managers have advised their employers at what age children should be able to play with different brands of their toys, not child development specialists. People in the same positions in companies that design playgrounds have determined when children should be allowed to play on different pieces of equipment. If the parent allows their child to play with a more advanced toy, others (sometimes parents, sometimes not) express concern over the child's readiness and perhaps risks being seen as not setting boundaries for their children and labelled a "bad parent."

I cannot explain why flashcard manufacturers would put inflated ages on their products, other than perhaps to avoid having to provide the customer service to explain that a child will not learn the alphabet overnight, or even in a week at 4 months old. I worked with him on it for months before he was able to identify letters, but I remain convinced that it was starting him early that allowed him to know it as early as he did. 

Taking it all in, I can only conclude that we water down our kids' lives. We assign such significance to the calendar year that we don't notice the developmental years passing in between that are wasted away. What it comes down to is a cost/benefit comparison. To let the kids play with things outside the recommended age range, you as a parent need to be there to supervise; to expose the kids to something with a structure they cannot comprehend at the start (like the alphabet or the decimal system), you as a parent need to instruct. Sadly, I know of no day care, preschool, or baby-sitter that has as much an interest in the success of your children as you do. 

Are the potential benefits worth the costs that we've incurred? Having Chanel stay home with the kids, moving out of state to better afford the lifestyle we wanted to give the kids, and everything else we've done, in our opinion, will be worth it. The value you place on it all is up to you.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Tale of Two Songs

Could they be the best of songs? Perhaps the worst of songs? Music has a powerful way of affecting the way people see the world, especially young minds, and it's always important to be mindful of what you're feeding your intellect. When Love the Way You Lie (and, no, I don't include the video as a cheap excuse to show Megan Fox on our blog) hit the airwaves, I was disgusted on a variety of levels--not the least significant reason was that Rihanna contributed to a song like this such a short time after the domestic violence encounter with Chris Brown. Another major contributing factor to my dislike of the song was the explicit nature Eminem's character in the song (yes, I give him the benefit of the doubt that he would not actually consider burning the woman he "loved" to death) talked about harming the female character.

Of course, they came out later and said the song was supposed to increase awareness of the problem of domestic abuse, which, to me, is little more than a "get out of jail free" pass to be able to push the envelope of what qualifies as "entertainment." The critics loved it, the people ate it up, and the artists increased their awareness of their full bank accounts.

Fast forward a few months, the controversy surrounding the song dies down, and we move to Kentucky where you can go half-way 'round the radio dial before finding a station that doesn't follow the country format. I had known about Martina McBride's Independence Day for a long time, but primarily from knowing it as the bumper music to Sean Hannity's radio show. Imagine for a moment my surprise when I finally got to hear the complete lyrics of the song and learn that it's not about the liberties that my least favorite conservative talk show host claims to espouse, but rather about another example of domestic abuse.

In a way, this song bothered me even more than Eminem's because the justification of murdering your abusive spouse/lover is couched in a tune with a catchy refrain (although I'm sure some thought Rihanna's singing about loving the way someone lies was catchy) and an attempt at legal justification: "I don't know if it's right or it's wrong, but maybe it's the only way."

I guess a song about someone getting beaten, going to the cops, and progressing through the legal system won't sell albums anywhere, city or country. However, I challenge the artists out there to make a hit song out of the theme of domestic violence where the abusee walks out on the abuser, taking any kids with him/her, and having all the legalities arranged ahead of time. Demonstrate and glamorize strength of character in your song, not strength of will. You'll simultaneously increase awareness of the problem and provide a practicable solution to those who suffer.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Paternal and Maternal Love: Necessities

Back on Labor Day weekend, we and Chanel's sisters had a wonderful time visiting her father in Cincinnati. It's always a blast when we all get together and occasionally, as with this trip, there's a little gem that comes out of it.

Chanel and I have always handled the kids a little differently. She'd often find my eyes rolling from how she responds to the kids' falling down, getting bumped and bruised, etc. Conversely, with the exception of one time where I successfully used her strategies, I'd often get evil eyes shot at me from her when I'm more cold after one of the kids has something not go his way. I always struggled with justification against her adamant stance of redirection for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that I saw it as largely ineffective in some circumstances.

Redirection is basically this: kid has something happen to him that he didn't expect and starts crying about it, you encourage behavior that is good. When his tower falls over, you get excited about a different toy to entice him over to play with it. When he's crying hysterically about...well...anything, you ask him questions or make a joke.

The gem from this family gathering is not that the two points of view we work from are competitive--at least not directly. We don't need to get into arguments--ahem, I mean, discussions over which way is better or which is a waste of time because each has a proper role in child rearing.

I've heard of plenty of studies done about the differences between boys and girls in school: they differ in the way they learn, play, socialize, pretty much everything. You still hear, too, differences between men and women. The Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus books changed society in ways only historians will be able to discuss with any level of seriousness. What is rare to hear is the differences between mothers and fathers, and therein was the gem: the difference between maternal and paternal love. Finally, words to overlay the ideas I had but was unable to express!

Essentially, as it was explained (and further researched with this article), maternal love is unconditional with images of a nurturing, caring warmth. Little Timmy doesn't make the sports team and his mom tells him, "It's ok. You did your best and I love you. You can try again next year...or not. Maybe you'll want to try something else. We'll see. You want to go for some ice cream?" He then goes to his dad and hears, "Too bad, son. Let's work on some of your skills for next season/year. We can practice together on the weekends. We'll get your [insert skill here] to where they'd be fools to not put you on the team." You could look at fathering as being cold, but more accurately it is just a different kind of caring; it's as different from mothering as boys from girls and men from women.

Is it a perfect system? Probably not. Neither of us uses our tactics exclusively, either, somewhat complicating the comparison. For the most part, though, Chanel follows the roll of the unconditionally-loving, redirecting mother and I toe the results-seeking, problem-solving father line. Having both, the kids will know that there are limits to acceptable behavior, rewards for hard work, and that we love them more than they'll know...until we have grandkids.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Never Fear, Grammy's Here!

Children tucked in bed, dishes put away, laundry folded, counters wiped down, cats fed, litter scooped, floors swept, toys put away, curtains drawn, plants watered, carpets vacuumed, jackets hung, pantry restocked, and lunches packed. Peace and calmness fill the air.

Ahhhh.....all is right in the world when Grammy visits. :)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

In Conclusion...?

I heard this song on the radio coming home from work recently. I am so glad I didn't have to hear it during my own job search.

Chanel has been writing about our new life out here in Kentucky and it truly has taken the form of a renewal. Dare I say, we've walked through that valley of our life and emerged on the other side intact. It has been quite the learning experience.

Living here, away from what most of our friends accept as "civilization," has given us a chance to reflect on our previous life and see the northeast through a strange prism that must be hovering over the Appalachians somewhere. What were people saying about moving away? It all seems so trivial at this point.

"What's there to *do* there? I mean, besides cow tipping" All sorts of community activities, fairs, parks, playgrounds for the kids, bars and restaurants for the adults. Bingo is no more or less exciting to my mind than sitting at a slot machine or roulette wheel for hours, but if you'd prefer such entertainment, Metropolis has casinos about an hour away. Need a beach? Head to the lakes. Want to hike? Go to the land between them.

"You don't make the same amount of money when you live outside the urban areas." Right. Personally, I make more. The operators I work with make more than operators I've worked with in the past. People who don't work at my company typically have a house, a boat, and seemingly want for little. I look around and I see people living, as opposed to being trapped with a mortgage too large and a paycheck too small like back east.

It just seems to me that there are a lot of people hurting in this country and it seems like everyone is expecting a job to come back locally. It may not be the case, and if it does, being in a populated area means plenty of competition. As we put this chapter of our life behind us and start the next one, I look back on this blog and the posts over the last several months and hope that we have been helpful to other people in making for their family a similar decision with which they may have been pressed.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Unraveling The Plan

Today marks 2 months that we have been in Kentucky. In addition to being two of the hottest months of my entire life, they have also been two of the most productive. Moving with two small children in the middle of a very hot and humid summer might be enough to cause some parents to lock themselves indoors and wait it out until fall. While that thought DID cross my mind, oh, a few thousand times, I was determined to get out, meet people, and make the best of our new life here. People back home keep asking how long it'll be until we move back to NJ. Want the honest answer? I have no idea. And it's because of that that I need to work my hardest to acclimate myself and the kids to our new house in our new town. If this were a temporary move in our minds, how much effort would we really put into trying to find our way around? We'd simply be counting down the days until we return to NJ. I refuse to live like that. So it is what it is, whatever that is.

We've managed to accomplish a few things in the 2 months we've been here. Bobby is becoming more and more comfortable at preschool as the weeks go by. He's going twice a week for 3.5 hours and it seems to the perfect fit for him. He's taken a "matter-of-fact" attitude with the whole process, which suits his nature. In his mind, he's 3-years-old and that means it's time to go to school! No questions, no objections...the transition has been so much smoother than I ever imagined and for that, I'm truly grateful.

Rob and I have become involved in our new parish, St. Leo. He is a 2nd degree Knight, hoping to go all the way to 4th degree in the near future. He helps out at the Knights' sponsored Bingo tournament every Tuesday as well as odd projects that come up here or there. I have to say, Rob seems much more social at this church than he did at our old church in NJ. :) I have signed up to become a lector and I'm also taking part in a bible study on Sunday afternoons. We are starting to become recognizable to other parishioners and it's so sweet when they make a point to stop us after mass just to chat.

We've signed up at the local gym and enrolled Bobby in an hour-long tumbling class on Thursdays. If we swing it right, one of us can stay with David (while watching Bobby in class) while the other can work out for 30 minutes on the machines. Then we switch. With our membership comes aerobic classes (Zumba for me!), tanning (like we'd ever need that with such intense heat here), and a large room full of inflatibles called The Fun Factory. We're thinking of having Bobby's next birthday there and the kids can run, jump, climb, play, and laugh themselves silly. This gym really has it all.

Rob is feeling so much more satisfied and appreciated at this new job than at any previously held job in NJ. He wakes up in the morning without 30 slams to the alarm clock (which is a huge improvement). He comes home with enough energy left to toss the kids up in the air before dinner. His entire demeanor has changed. I adore my husband and seeing him this happy is contagious.

I've been meeting other moms at various parks, pools, and indoor play areas and I've exchanged numbers with a few. I've said it in previous entries but I'm simply flabbergasted at how friendly everyone is here. I'm amazed that they take the time to sit down and have a lengthy conversation with me. They pay attention and actually listen. What a breath of fresh air when compared the hustle and bustle, high-speed, blood pressure-through-the-roof, text-me-'cause-I-can't-talk-now lifestyle of the East Coast. The fact that they take the time to get to know me and want to help me learn the area makes me feel like I'm a person worthy of others' time, energy, and respect. Can't say I've felt that a whole lot in my lifetime.

So all in all, I can only conclude this: just when we felt like we'd hit rock bottom in NJ, this seemingly perfect job appeared for Rob in Kentucky. We weren't sure how it was going to work, but we took a leap of faith and uprooted our family to Murray, 16.5 hours from everybody we loved. We end up finding an incredible church community, a wonderful preschool for Bobby, people willing to help us get to know the area, volunteer projects to help those in need, and meaningful and worthwhile employment for Rob. With no major snags (knock on wood)...could this be a sign that moving here, although uncertain and a little scary in the beginning, was really the right thing to do?? I think it's safe to assume it was. :)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"Mama, was I adopted?"

I swear one day my youngest will ask if he was adopted. And you know what? He'll have good reason for asking! My oldest has the same medium brown hair and hazel eyes as my husband and I and similar personality characteristics to us as well. My youngest...not so much. In the past whenever people told me their kids were like night and day, I used to chuckle but it never really meant anything until I had my two boys. Night and day....such an understatement!!!! I honestly think the only commonality between my sons is their Y chromosome.

Let's see....


-dark hair, dark eyes -blonde hair, blue eyes
-creamy olive complexion -extremely fair complexion
-slow to warm up -jumps excitedly into situations
-cautious and careful -no fear
-serious demeanor -always smiling
-hugs but then enough is enough -can't get enough snuggling
-sleeps well -requires very little sleep
-eats well but has his preferences -will eat anything
-doesn't mind playing alone at times -always looking for company
-thrives on routine -doesn't seem to mind change
-is embarrassed by too much attention -completely hams it up

They are still very young but I've heard over and over that the personality you are born with sticks with you into adulthood. I'm sure my kids will find this blog entry someday and have a good laugh but for now, only time will tell. :)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Time To Fly Away, Helicopter Mom...

I am sitting here eating leftover birthday cake out of the pan. And I can't stop! There is laundry to fold, dishes to clean, floors to vacuum, phone calls to return, and a hundred other chores on my never-ending To Do list. But I am useless as far as any of that goes.

My baby is going off to preschool tomorrow.

This is the boy who has never left my side except for a brief stint while I was in the hospital giving birth to his brother. He's never been in day care. He's never spent the weekend at Grammy's house alone. Hell, he's never spent the night anywhere without us, forget an entire weekend. He'll be somewhere new and different without his favorite blankets, comforting stuffed animals, or Mom. His book bag is all packed and ready to go by the front door. His folder full of signed papers is sitting next to it. We've done the "meet and greet" with his teacher. I've attended orientation. So why in the world am I such a basket case??? Somehow I have a feeling that 7:30-11:00 tomorrow morning will be the most never-wracking three and a half hours of my life.

The butterflies thrashing around in my stomach are worse right now than during any job interview I've ever had. Worse than leaving to study abroad for four months. Worse than walking into the room to take my Comps for graduate school. Worse than the night before my wedding. Worse than the hours leading up to having a baby. Worse than packing up my life and moving to another state. Worse than boarding a plane with two small children and two loud cats. Worse than anything I can remember. Utter craziness.

It has to be because I know the ball is no longer my my court. I have done all I can do to prepare my little boy to go out and experience something apart from me. He's excited, anxious, and intrigued all at once. I am doing my best to put on a brave face for him. I will make sure not to completely lose it until I get back in the car.

I just hope they don't call me back for something...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The 4 Stages of Marriage

Our church bulletin this past week was promoting a retro-vie (au francais, retrouvaille) weekend to enrich the marriages of the parish. According to the little blurb on the event, the four stages of marriage are

1) Romance
2) Disillusionment
3) Misery
4) Awakening

Now there's a sacrament I want to be a part of.

At any rate, the theory is that most marriages run into trouble and never get to the 4th stage to thrive. Before you give up, so they say, you should come to retro-vie.

On the one hand, I don't mean to knock the program, as I'm sure there have been hundreds, maybe thousands of marriages saved through the communication retraining they provide.

On the other hand, discovering this statistic sparked an interesting conversation between Chanel and myself because neither of us agreed with these four stages. That's not to say our relationship is perfect or that we haven't had struggles (read other entries of this blog for evidence of them), nor do I desire to hold us up as some sort of paragon of married life. We just don't see our relationship developing as they say marriages do.

It's not even that it feels as if we haven't gotten past stage 1 and, "ahh, we just love each other to bits and bits in a mushy gushy kind of way *squee*." Rather, we each have the impression that we've arrived at stage 4 by means of some undisclosed shortcut. We see each other's faults and we have accepted them and continue loving the other fully and without reservation. Did I, for even an instant, ever regret our union? If I have, it was for such short a moment as to have not existed at all. Is that stages 2 and 3 right there? Maybe.

Could it be possible that we reached stage 4 prior to getting married in the first place? We knew each other as friends for ... well, a long time--years, really, before we started dating, and we dated for only...um, a little while--a few months, maybe, before getting engaged. Certainly, we could not have recovered from disillusionment and misery in such a short amount of time.

Which means we were, if ever at all, disillusioned and miserable with each other as friends. Hm. Glad we got it out of the way early, I guess.

Oh, and happy 9 year anniversary of our first date. :-)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Monkey Bars, Meetings, and Finding Nemo

A recent article in the New York Times reminded me of something I haven't seen in years and the disappearance of which had gone unnoticed: real, honest-to-goodness monkey bars.

Sure, there were things for our kids to climb on when we took them to playgrounds in New Jersey, as there are when we take them to the ones here in Kentucky, but they are not the good, old fashioned monkey bars that took a good amount of strength, courage, and determination to reach the top. Perhaps the kids can climb on one thing or another, but they are never very high and there's usually a more easily accessible path to the top than making the ascent directly.

The other day, at a meeting with the other engineers on staff, the point was made (reiterated, really) that safety comes paramount to everything. The statement was then clarified that doing so should not prevent us from taking risks in improving the operations of the plant. Hearing and understanding the content of this meeting requires us, the engineers, to have developed a healthy sense of risk and risk management and an ability to weigh costs versus benefits, both real and intangible. If one of us has a malformed perception of risk, however, disaster could ensue. Lives are potentially on the line.

The juxtaposition of these two life moments, the meeting and the reading of the article, may truly be coincidental. Yet, we should ask, "what if..."

  • What if by lowering the highest point to which a child can climb is essentially lowering the bar of playground performance compresses the statistical distribution of how high they climb and preventing many--if not most--from learning to stretch their abilities?
  • What if by having the highest points on a playground be the ornamental roofs above platforms we encourage children who refuse to have their developing skills limited by safe design to stretch their abilities only by risking climbing surfaces that were not meant to be climbed?
  • What if, as far fetched as it seems, our safe culture (of which only a small part is safe playground culture) is skewing our children's ability to identify risk and that they are being raised to feel safe and free to do anything permitted because someone said they could?

I ask myself these questions:

  • Were people in general better or worse equipped to identify the risks associated with their money through the last 10 years?
  • Are incidences of poor judgement becoming standard news items with stories of teachers' improprieties, neglectful and/or abusive parents, and disastrous corporate decisions made at the top?
  • Are we too trusting, as a society, of the people we have placed in charge?

I, for one, enjoy seeing my children take risks. On playgrounds, our 3-year old is running through contraptions that claim to be designed for 5-year olds (which may just be an indication of age inflation for safety reasons). He's hesitant at first, usually, but overcomes his fears with a little encouragement. Our now-1-year old (Happy Birthday!), is learning to walk, which is perhaps the most dangerous act functional bipeds can attempt to master. To witness his wobbly form start to pull up and cruise on furniture is one thing, but to see the pride in his eyes when he does so successfully is quite another and absolutely priceless.

One of my favorite movies is Finding Nemo. I was not a father when I first watched it and admit to it having greater meaning when I watch it now as a parent. It went from being a nice story about an adventure a fish went through to rescue his only son, to a story of how a father overcomes the emotional baggage of having all but one of his offspring and his wife attacked and killed. The over-protective father has the line "You think you can do these things, but you just can't, Nemo!" He learns a lesson from Crush, the sea-turtle, talking about kids growing up: "Well, you never really know, but when they know, you know, y'know?"

Will they fall, be scraped and bruised, perhaps even broken in parts? Yes, probably. Will my wife survive? Stay tuned.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dear David

Dear David,

I apologize for the somewhat somber mood I am in as I type this letter to you. Your first birthday is in two days and although I am ecstatic to celebrate such a momentous milestone with you, my heart is heavy due to the culmination of recent events. It seems the past few months have been wrought with sadness for many of my friends. Death, sickness, deployment....the list goes on and on. Some of my most faith-filled confidants have cried through the phone, "I feel like God has abandoned me!" How am I supposed to answer? I have never walked in their shoes and have never had to grieve something so heart-wrenching so as to feel abandoned by my savior. But like everyone else, my time will surely come. And when it does, I will then understand the magnitude of hurt, betrayal, disappointment, and emptiness that pours out of their hearts and mouths right now. I just wish there was something I could do to bring comfort and peace. And so I pray.

David, I have to admit that I am quite envious of your position in the world right now. You are picked up, carried around, tickled, massaged, smothered with hugs and kisses, comforted at the breast, and rocked to sleep every night. You are learning to walk and sure, you fall down and scrape your knee...but that is the only pain you know. What I would give to keep every ounce of hurt, pain, and agony in this world away from you forever! I'm sure that is every mother's wish for her child.

When you were born, everyone reassured me that I would have enough love for both you and your brother. How silly of me to think I might not love you as much as him. The love a parent has for a child is indescribable and seems to multiply with each child born. Before I was a mother, this concept was impossible for me to grasp because the math didn't seem to work out. But now I wholeheartedly accept that love cannot be predicted, measured, or ever fully comprehended. It just is what it is.

For your birthday, I plan on baking you a sunshine cake. In one short year, you have managed to make every single person with whom you come in contact smile. I'm not exaggerating. You are, hands down, the happiest baby I have ever met. You smile because you are thrilled to be alive. What a different world we would live in if everyone had that mindset! You have touched the hearts and souls of so many people, David. The most incredible aspect of it all is that you have no idea the positive impact you've made. You've visited the sick and dying and you've brought joy. You've been to funerals and you've helped people smile through their tears. You've given prize-winning hugs to family and friends and the end of a long, tiring day. People want to be around you because you radiate positive energy and it's very contagious. And you're only a year old! You are truly my sunshine.

God has great plans for you, my dear.

What an honor it is to be your mother and observe the lively, charming, free-spirited way in which you take on the world. Don't ever lose your curiosity. Don't ever allow the fear of failure or defeat to stomp on your dreams. And most importantly, don't ever stop smiling. You will be the light in the darkness for many.

Happy birthday, sunshine. I love you with all of my heart.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Lessons Learned in Murray, KY

Renting a house isn't so bad. Sure, you can't do everything you'd like to it, but you can still make it a home. :)

My family isn't hooked on TV. It took a week for the cable guys to come and we were just fine.

Check the weather before deciding to put makeup on. If it's over 90 degrees (which it is every day during the summer), your mascara, foundation, powder, lipstick, and anything else you use will literally melt off your face on your walk from the house to the car.

There aren't a lot of huge chain stores such as Target, Kohl's, Old Navy, etc but the small, "mom and pop" type stores will win your heart immediately.

In the beginning, moving is harder on the ones being left behind than it is on the ones moving away.

It IS possible to unpack an entire house in a week with two small children getting into everything.

The Chamber of Commerce in a new city has all the answers.

I had never experienced a real thunderstorm until last week. Holy $&%^#!!!!!

I am losing weight because I have been on the It's-Too-Damn-Hot-To-Eat diet. But I can't get enough liquid.

Roman Catholics are in the minority here but it sure made choosing a church easy (one RC church in the entire county).

It takes children a while to adjust their sleeping patterns when you change time zones, even if only one time zone over.

People on the East Coast really are rude and unfriendly when compared to the South and Midwest.

"Four", "Ten", and "Well" have two syllables. "Ha, higher ya'll?" translates into "Hi, how are you?" The word "Ryan" has one syllable.

Get up and out early to beat the heat, the bugs, and the rain. But there's never any traffic so no worries there.

People talk on their cell phones while driving. They don't wear seatbelts. Hell, they don't even sit in seats. It's commonplace to see a guy sitting in the back of a pickup truck, bumping along the road with his beer.

Card catalogs still exist in libraries...and typewriters too.

Life is too short for fancy shmancy. Kids are perfectly content with playgrounds and bowling allies. Who needs a huge house that doesn't feel "lived in"?? The people here would give you the shirt off their back if you needed it, no questions asked. It's simple, honest, good country livin'.

It's certainly God's country and everyone here knows it...and believes in Him. :)

All these lessons in just one week!!! Gotta love the exciting adventure...and it's only the beginning.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Who Suffers Most from Anthony Wiener's Indiscretion?

Surely, everyone knows by now what the indiscretion is. If you don't, yet you read this blog? We are honored.

Who has the congressman negatively affected the most? Do I smell a Top 10 list? Oh, yes I do. (Don't worry, in the end, this isn't a political post.)

10. The congressman himself. Let him suffer; he deserves it.

9. The ex-porn star who took it upon herself to make public statements with Gloria Allred nearby. She didn't welcome his messages and, woe is she, couldn't avoid them.

8. The Republicans who on Day 1 called for his resignation. Your shrillness was expected and unnecessary.

7. The Democrats who did not call for his resignation. Your silence endorses his behavior.

6. The American people who have to suffer through this circus and have their attention distracted from real issues. Together with Casey Anthony's trial, let's eat some cake, shall we?

5. Donors to Wiener's campaign spent their money as unwisely as Wiener's actions were.

4. Sheri Wiener, the unlucky candidate for Bellvue's Metro Council. Despite having no relation, the negative name recognition has resulted in her campaign signs being removed or damaged.

3. Anyone who has been subjected to other people using the ridiculous term "sext" and its various conjugations.

2. His wife who was travelling and attempting to do government business while overseas. "Surprise, honey, I'm adulterous in very disturbing ways."

1. There is one as yet unborn person set to grow up, attend school, and attempt to have a social life as a teen who will have a father who was busted for texting his genitalia to women other than his wife, his or her mother. Good luck, lil one. Stay sane.

See? Not a political post, but one that observes a real-life moral tale, that we as parents and someday-parents-to-be must view our contemplated actions through the prism of history and try to see how it will affect relationships far beyond our current situations and the people with whom we currently communicate on a regular basis. Especially when these actions occur online, a true permanent record can be created and filed away somewhere up in the cloud. In a way, it's ancient wisdom: what goes up, must come down. You put something questionable up in the cloud, beware of the rainstorm that will follow.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Toddlers, movie theatres, and the race to grow up

Cars 2 is coming out this month and even though my 3-year-old is obsessed with cars, trucks, buses, and anything with wheels (as well as the movie Cars), he will not be going to the movie theatre to see the sequel. I know, I know, that makes me a horrible mother, right? Here's the thing: movies come out on DVD before you can even blink an eye these days. Once I preview it, I am sure my son will be able to watch Lightning and Mater race through Japan just like all of the other kids his age. He has no idea the movie is coming out soon; all he knows is that there is a whole slew of new cars that Grammy will surely be spoiling him with over the next few months. And in his world, it doesn't get much better than that. :)

Movie theatres are loud, dark, and can be scary places for toddlers. The seats are funny in that they don't stay down unless enough weight is pressed on them. Kids are expected to sit quietly for two hours and watch as things zip from one side of the screen to the other at the speed of light. There is no chance for parents to explain what is happening to their children for fear of disrupting other viewers. Toddlers are, by nature, curious and ask questions. They are sponges soaking up the juices of life and it's a beautiful thing to watch. To make them sit down, shut up, and zone out to a screen for hours goes against all aspects of their being. Instead, they should be running through a park, playing in a sandbox, riding a tricycle, kicking a ball around, reading a book, or playing a board game. Yes, I know this makes me sound old-fashioned but what happened to good old childhood fun? Why are toddlers cooped in inside playing video games (intended for teenagers) and watching TV (intended for older children) all day long at 3 years old?? Where has childhood innocence gone???

"But he's going to be exposed to those video games and TV shows anyway. Why not be the one to introduce him?" - To that I respond that I am his mother. I am responsible for guiding him to become the best person he can be. Yes, he will find out about all of the inappropiate games, shows, etc out there but why does it have to be NOW?? He will find out that the world isn't always a safe place....should I just start beating up on him now? He will find out that people are cruel....should I just wreck his confidence now and get it over with? He will find out that the world isn't fair.....should I just take everything that's his and leave him empty now? In my opinion, there is a time to discover the injustice, the suffering, the pain, the brutality, and the "reality" of the world we live in. My son will find out soon enough. Too soon, in my opinion, but I can't shelter him forever. What I can do is provide a strong foundation for him so that when he is exposed to all of it, he doesn't crumble into pieces. And in the meantime, I can LET HIM BE A CHILD. There are so many things about this world that children do not need to know. Yet we rip their childhood right out from underneath them by forcing them to grow up long before they should. Certain shows are created for teenagers. Certain video games are created for teenagers. How does my 3-year-old have any business watching or playing them??? Let him have his Sesame Street and Candy Land. 90% of the shows geared for children are garbage anyway. They claim to be "educational" but what are they teaching him that I can't? Active learning surpasses passive learning anyday. He can learn more from a day at the playground counting rocks, sorting balls, clapping to the beat, and partaking in a game of tag than he could watching any show out there. It boils down to my wanting my child to be a regular kid doing regular kid activities. Save the movie theatre for when he's older and can appreciate and maybe even benefit from the experience. It will be a true treat, not something he's been doing since he learned to walk. For now, he's content to play in the sandbox out back with the new red, white, and green race car that Grammy bought him. I believe its name is Francesco.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Saying Goodbye

Growing up, leaving for summer camp was never an issue because I knew I'd be back in a week or two.

When I had the opportunity to study in Germany for a year, saying goodbye wasn't difficult for me because I knew I'd be back in a year.

This move isn't hitting me too hard because I know we'll be returning to visit periodically. Besides, my immediate family is coming with me.

Leaving for the next two weeks or so to start my job on my own until we can have the family moved out there is by far the most difficult departure I've ever faced. I am going to miss my two boys terribly. Never wish such a time apart from his kids on a father. I don't know how foreigners leave their families for months to work in the US and send money home. Fortunately, we'll have a happy Father's Day reunion.

Let the countdown begin.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Statistics vs Divine Message: Which Would You Choose?

There has been plenty of stress and trepidation surrounding our upcoming move to Kentucky. Even just yesterday I wrote about some of the concerns I have going forward. This morning, however, something either amazing or silly happened to soothe my nerves some.

Back in college, Chanel and I were involved in the Catholic organization on campus at Rowan University. Although I felt like I was always there, Chanel regularly surprises me with an event I have no memory of, thanks to the rigid schedule engineers were held to. If there were 6 courses in a semester, 5 had one session and the other had 2, at least one of which would occur during gathering times of the club, meaning I missed out on special events, free food, or both on a regular basis.

But there was always Mass on Sundays and it was at Mass that I started something that sounds silly to confess. If you're at all familiar with the Eucharist, you know that the priest breaks a larger piece of wafer during the ceremony and includes it with the smaller wafers that are handed out to the congregation. The pieces of the larger wafer always seemed to me more significant, more meaningful. Eventually I found myself assigning greater significance to the rather random chance of receiving one of them versus receiving the standard wafer.

It basically broke down that if I would ask for guidance one way or another, the form of the wafer I'd receive at communion would be God's way of speaking to me. Yes, I'm an engineer and have a scientific mind and I accept that this belief is ridiculous to similar minded people. However, I am also a person of faith and I believe there is more than is known about the layers of the universe.

Through the many years since graduating college, I hadn't thought much about this old superstition of mine. At Easter, at a time when there was no job offer, several job prospects, and nothing set in stone in the least, in a flash an idea came to me that if I'd receive a fragment we were bound for Kentucky. I laughed at myself at the time for even thinking it, but a few moments later, there it was.

Weeks have gone by and I've dismissed the Easter fragment as coincidence, as I did around the end of college when I stopped thinking them signs from God. As you've read, my mind is on concerns following the move and, once again in a flash at this morning's Mass, the idea came to me that a fragment would confirm that this move is right for us. Before the altar, I approached the Eucharistic Minister who proceeded to fish around, chasing a particular host despite many more easily retrievable round wafers right on top and gave me another fragment.

Call me a conflicted individual, but while I am willing to dismiss plenty of things as coincidences when we cannot determine a cause or purpose, deep down I believe there are none and that everything happens for a reason. The philosophy that there is some, perhaps unknown, causality in all things is reflected in my approach to engineering and my management style in that I root around searching for the underlying causes of problems. Logically, I know that assigning significance to what kind of wafer I receive is foolishness, yet my faith allows me to believe that there is a greater power at work and it needs us in Kentucky for the foreseeable future. Certainly time will tell what that purpose is.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Crisis Averted? Concerns Abound

Even before I lost my job back in February, our family's finances were not in the best of shape. We had committed ourselves to being a single income family so Chanel could stay home with the kids and we had been doing everything to realize that reality. From incurring debt to try our hands at a vending business, to being caught buying a house at the peak of the housing bubble, my losing my job brought us to the point of starting to consider bankruptcy.

My early job search reached for higher paying positions, but I always ran into an issue with their wanting more experience. Then I lost my job and we decided to broaden our horizons and consider a potential move, and be relocated somewhere with a lower cost of living (which was pretty much anywhere outside of New Jersey).

When this offer came through for Kentucky, initially I was very excited (and truly, I still am) even though the salary was a little lower than we were asking. Kentucky, after all, is dirt cheap. We'll be short selling our house, eliminating a great amount of the debt we've taken on. Beyond that, the outdoor lifestyle enjoyed down there you could say is an answer to a yearning of my soul. Certainly, we no longer need to explore bankruptcy.

For the most part, I'm concerned with cash flow. With our housing costs being $1400 less per month, our healthcare $650 less, I still feel the need to be cautious. We're planning on setting aside $250 per month for flights back east to see family on a regular basis. There are always additional expenses immediately following any move, plus there's the temptation to take on other conveniences like movie services, ordering out, etc. Not to mention the cost of sending kids to preschool. The big mystery for me is the effect of losing the mortgage interest deduction on my tax withholdings. Even a small percentage swing can make the difference of living comfortably and continuing our spartan lifestyle.

Until we are reimbursed for a variety of expenses to move there, we remain on the brink. Maybe this stint of unemployment was something we needed to teach us how to be tight fisted with our money. It's going to be difficult these next few weeks, especially, working as a divided family so I can get an early start on getting paychecks. I still remain confident this is the best move we could have made for ourselves; I just hope we can reap the full benefit of making it.

Monday, May 23, 2011

First Impressions of Kentucky

We returned on Saturday from our week-long stay in western Kentucky. Everybody warned us that it'd be so slow-paced and "country" there but you know what? I felt very comfortable and thoroughly enjoyed my stay. Slowing down a little from the ridiculously fast-paced lifestyle of the East Coast can do a body good. :)

Our hotel was THE cutest place I've ever stayed. Go to the website and check out the lobby. :) http://www.countryinns.com/paducah-hotel-ky-42001/kypaduca It made me feel right at home upon walking in. Since we'd been on a plane for several hours as well as a two-hour drive from Nashville in a rental car, we decided to take it easy our first night there. In fact, I think Rob and I were in bed by 9 PM! We knew we needed to rest up for a busy week of house hunting. Our goal: find a house in a week or bust!

Because we are not familiar with western Kentucky, we decided our best option would be to rent. That way we could spend a year or so getting to know the area, assessing schools for our boys, and figuring out where we wanted to permanently settle down. I would hate to jump into a mortgage blind, you know? Renting is a safe bet. If we end up not loving the rented house/town, we're not stuck there forever.

The first house we went to look at was in the ghetto of Paducah. Wow. Rob looked at the dilapidated house and saw potential; I saw disaster. No way were we raising our kids in that section of town. End of discussion. The next place on our list was an apartment complex. We need a 3-bedroom and it just so happened that one was going to be available in the next few weeks. Perfect! The man took down our number and told us he'd call that afternoon to arrange a walk-through...and never called. When I called him, I got the answering machine. Several times. Oh well, moving on.

The next house on our list was beautiful! Pearly white interior, spacious rooms, and in a gorgeous section of town. Oh, did we mention it was out of our price range? Hmmm....yeah.

Driving around all morning was starting to wear on poor David so we headed back to the hotel for naptime. Rob and I scoured Craig's list and all of the local listing for houses and apartments. Why weren't there very many for rent??? We called a local real estate agent and gave him our information. He provided us with the addresses of two houses in a town called Murray. The houses were next to a college we'd never heard of called Murray State University. Ok...worth checking out, right?

Did you ever walk into a house and nearly pass out from the smell? Ugh...that was the first house. The odor was a combination of dog dander, cigarettes, and month-old garbage. I wanted to turn around and race out right then and there but we'd made an appointment and the least we could do was keep it. I dry-heaved several times but somehow made it through the showing. The kicker was the dog that almost bit my son. After smiling at the family and thanking them for their time, I made a beeline for the door. I couldn't believe that when back in the car, Rob actually had to ask what I thought of the place!

The second house was a 3 bedroom brick ranch with a garage and a good sized front and back yard. The back yard was enclosed with tall, beautiful bushes instead of a fence. I had never seen anything quite like that and was impressed. I've never been one for fences but I do like my privacy. Three college students had lived in the house for three years and while they did take care of it, it was obvious that they hadn't made any significant improvements. They didn't do much besides mow the lawn so several of the tree branches were overgrown and hanging over the house. There was plenty of room for a vegetable garden or flower bed both in front and in back and my mind started to race thinking of all of the ways we could improve the overall appearance of the house. It was a cute house but with a little TLC, it could definitely be transformed into something wonderful!

We walked through the house several times. Our son ran around the backyard while we hemmed and hawed over minute details. Yes, the appliances were old. Yes, the garage would have to be used for storage instead of for holding the car (no basement). Yes, the gutter would probably need to be replaced. Yes, our china cabinet might not fit in the dining room. At the same time, yes, being near a college has many benefits (including my taking night classes and possibly adjuncting a few courses). Yes, the neighborhood is safe and our kids will be able to play with the other kids. Yes, the rent is WAY cheaper than we'd ever pay in NJ so we'd be able to save money. Yes, the layout of the house is perfect. Yes, with our finishing touches, this house could scream "Rob and Chanel" and we could be very happy here.

After discussing the pros and cons with family and friends, we decided to listen to what our hearts were telling us and put in our application for the house. We await their decision, not knowing how many other applicants are in the running. If we don't get the house, it won't be the end of the world...but we would be terribly disappointed. We would also have to live in a hotel until we find something else, which would not be fun. The reason there are so few rentals in the area is because the recent floods have displaced so many people from their homes. They have taken 99% of the rental properties available, which leaves little to no choices left for people like us.

Here's hoping something comes through soon...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Ballad of a Job Search

(If you need the tune: http://youtu.be/BZuWdfMoVBA)

Come and listen to a story 'bout a man named Rob
Poor Jersey engineer put out of a job,
Then one day he was surfin' on the 'net,
And back through the wires come the best news yet.
(A Job that is, steady employ, paycheck)

Cost of livin' diff'rence lets'm live like millionaires,
Coworkers had said, "Jersey? Move away from there!"
Said Appalachia is the place you oughta be
So they loaded up the truck and they moved to Kentucky.
(Derby that is, distilleries, NASCAR)

Well now it's time to say goodbye to Rob and all his kin
They would like to invite you folks to kindly drop in,
You're all invited out to visit this locality
To have a heaping helping of their hospitality
(Western Kentucky, that's where they're livin' now, 
Paducah. Y'all come 'round now, ya hear?)

Friday, April 29, 2011

What To Say?

She was one of the first people I met my first year of college. She waited outside my dorm so we could walk to class together. We stayed up late talking on the phone even though we lived on the same campus. We attended church together every Sunday evening. She gave me advice and even though it wasn't always what I wanted to hear, it was what I needed to hear. She and I graduated the same year and got an off campus apartment together. Then we lived together several years later in a different apartment. She tolerated my mess even though I'm sure it drove her crazy. She was one of the first people I called after Rob proposed. She slept over at my house the night before my wedding. She made a beautiful bridesmaid. I was at the hospital the day she delivered her daughter. She is the Godmother of both my children. "Lifelong friend" is an understatement.

This morning my phone rang. The precious baby boy she delivered on Monday has gone to be with God in heaven. Four days old. I didn't get to meet him. She barely got to hold him. He was born prematurely and spent his days in the NICU fighting for his life.

God must really need him in heaven.

What can I say to my dear friend that will be of any help? I can't possibly understand what she is going through.

I spent this evening in silence on the couch, unable to do anything except ask, "Why, why, why? Why!" I will be with my friend in a few days and I pray that I will know what to do and what to say. Maybe all she needs is a good, long hug from an old friend. At this moment, I feel that is all I can offer.

Nothing in life prepares a mother for the death of her child.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Co-sleeping Advice Needed

Rob and I didn't know much about co-sleeping when we became parents but it seemed so natural in the beginning that we didn't hesitate to give it a shot. Our oldest was in the bed with us until he became too squirmy and we received too many kicks to the face. Then we moved him to the co-sleeper attached to the bed. At 6 months, we moved him to the crib. When he was almost 2, we moved him to a toddler bed. Now, at 3, he sleeps wonderfully in a regular twin bed. He gets 12 hours of sleep a night and still takes a 2 hour nap every single day. We are thrilled with how everything turned out! :)

Fast forward to our second son. He started out sleeping in our bed and stayed there much longer than our first. He slept well and so did we but then he got bigger and started sprawling out horizontally so that there was very little room left for us. We decided around 5 months to move him to a mattress at the foot of our bed and see how that worked out. He did pretty well on the mattress but around 6 months, we thought we'd move him to his crib. Why? Honestly, I think because we did that with our first and it was the "proper" thing to do. He was still getting up once or twice a night to nurse and I stupidly thought that moving him to his crib might help him sleep better. The transition was pretty smooth and we thought we were in the clear...

A few nights into it we realized that he was not going to sleep better. He would still wake to nurse AND he would wake simply because he was in a different, somewhat strange, location. No warm bodies next to him and no sounds of breathing to which he'd become accustomed...what's a baby to do?

Whenever we traveled, we'd stick him in our bed because it was easier than trying to get him to sleep in a playpen. It was no surprise that we all slept much better. The first night we returned home from a trip was always the worst because he'd gotten used to sleeping with us again and didn't want to be in his crib. A few times I put him in bed with me and Rob slept on the couch (because our bed was too crowded with 3). I'm embarrassed to admit it, but we all slept incredibly well. But Rob shouldn't have to sleep on the couch!!

So, our options are twofold: Rob continues to sleep on the couch while the baby and I are in the bed or we save up enough money to either buy a king sized bed or a queen mattress for the baby's room. If we bought a mattress for the floor of his room, I could sleep there when needed but I could also return to my bed. But then when he learns to walk, he'll be all over his room all night long. I am not comfortable with that idea.

Ultimately, I want him to develop healthy sleep habits. That is my #1 goal. I want him to sleep well like his brother. We are just going to have to go down a different path to get to that point. My fear is that he will become so comfortable in our bed that he will never transition to his own. We would like to have more children and we need him to be a good sleeper before the next baby is co-sleeping in our bed. To bed honest, I am not thrilled with the idea of a family bed. I don't want more than one child in with us at any given time.

Any advice you may have on co-sleeping and what worked for you would be greatly appreciated. We are incredibly sleep-deprived at the moment (last night was really rough) so we know this is the best option at this point. Just wondering how other parents fared. Thanks in advance! :)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Parenting the 1st baby vs. the 2nd baby

Situation: You're at a cookout with the baby and you don't know that many people. But you're hungry. Starving, in fact. It's killing you to watch person after person fill a plate and walk over to the picnic tables to happily consume delicious BBQ chicken and smoked ribs. Your mouth is watering.

With 1st baby: Holding the baby in one arm, you gingerly collect a few carrots, some celery, and a handful of chips. There is nowhere to put the baby to free up your other hand so you can dive into the "real"food. So you get what you can manage and join the crowd at the tables, still famished.

With 2nd baby: Approaching a complete stranger, "Wanna hold my baby so I can grab some food? Yeah? Thanks so much!" *scamper eagerly over to the grill to fill a plate*


Situation: You are nursing your 8-month-old baby on the couch at a friend's party. In between attempts to throw the blanket off her head and expose you to the whole room, the baby manages to eat her fill. Your 2nd cousin twice removed approaches you and asks how long you plan on nursing the baby. She is, after all, 8 months old. Shouldn't that have stopped long ago?

With 1st baby: "Well, there are a lot of benefits to nursing a baby until she's a year old. At that point I can put her on cow's milk and it'll be safe, but I might continue nursing just a little while beyond that. It's hard to wean overnight, you know. But the breast really is best. Babies have such a delicate system and breastmilk is designed perfectly to meet their needs...."

With 2nd baby: "I'd be happy to switch my precious baby over to formula if you'll agree to buy it for me every week for the next four months."


Situation: Your baby is a few months old and you've been getting up multiple times each night to feed and comfort her. It's beginning to wear on you and you're feeling more fatigued than you ever thought you could. In the middle of the deepest part of your sleep cycle, you hear crying through the monitor.

With 1st baby: Like a flash of lightning, you bolt out of bed and race to the baby's room. After all, she might be stuck in the crib railings. She might be suffocating underneath a blanket. She might have figured out how to stand up and climb out at 3 months old!

With 2nd baby: Your husband nudges you in bed, "Honey...honey...the baby's crying. What? Don't you hear her? Honey, I think she's been crying a while....you might want to go see if she's hungry...."


Situation: The AAP recommends that children under 2 years old watch no TV. That's right; none. No cartoons, no Disney Channel, no Baby Einstein DVDs...nothing.

With 1st baby: You buy flash cards, puzzles, and workbooks and engage your child in the practice of active learning. You visit the library weekly and your child checks out 10 books at a time. He develops a love of reading and after his 2nd birthday, you slowly but surely introduce TV so that he has an idea of what his playgroup friends are talking about. Only one 30 minute show per day though.

With 2nd baby: Your 6-month-old crawls over to the TV, presses the green ON button, climbs up on the couch and gets comfortable next to his brother. Elmo? Oh, my favorite!


Situation: Because peanut allergies have become very common in children, parents are advised to not introduce peanuts or peanut butter until age 3.

With 1st baby: Peanuts are forbidden in the house and an extremely small jar of peanut butter is hidden in the highest kitchen cabinet, only to be consumed after the child is in bed. Every playgroup attended is "peanut-free" and by the time the child is 3-years-old, he wants nothing to do with the stuff. The mere mention of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich sends him screaming into the other room.

With 2nd baby: Upon entering the kitchen, you spot your 7-month-old baby chowing down on the remains of a stale peanut butter sandwich that she confiscated from the garbage can. You do nothing.

Amazing how much more relaxed we parents become, isn't it? ;)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Teaching Your Child to Read

There is no more important skill for a child to learn than that of reading. Everything depends on it from history to science and even math. Failing to instill a love of reading in a child, in my opinion, is tantamount to child neglect. While there are products and services such as Hooked on Phonics and Click N Kids are available to provide a structured guidance for parents who would like some professional assistance in teaching their child how to read, I'd like to share some of the simple methods we've used that have resulted in our oldest craving the written word.

  1. Start early! I'll never forget the looks Chanel gave me when I started sitting down with our oldest with letter flashcards when he was about 6 months old. It's never too early to start, so long as they are willing participants. Their forming brains react to and grow from stimulation and even simple letter cards provide plenty. Mix up the interactions with the cards, too. For example, instead of showing the cards sequentially, lay out two or three in front of your child and ask where each letter is. You'll be able to monitor progression in the level of recognition this way.
  2. Add the alphabet to your routine at night. As our oldest started to move past recognition of the letters to being able to recite them, I started a short-term tradition of saying the alphabet in the bath. One of the bath toys was especially helpful: foam letters. They also came with numbers, but every one of them when wet would stick to the side of the tub. (On a side note, they also provided an indicator to when it was time to clean the tub as they tended not to stick so well after a while). Then, when we were putting the letters away, we'd try to take them out of the tub and put them on the shelf in order.
  3. Visit your local library early and often. After your child has moved past some of the fundamentals like the alphabet, it is imperative that they be surrounded with the written word to be comfortable with it. Participate in your library's activities for children whenever possible to build a positive association for the place. Familiarize yourself with the kids' section and checkout a variety of books to have them around the house. Since there are books on every topic, figure out what excites your tyke and get books on it. Cars? Plenty of books. Animals? Yours for the asking! The universe is at your fingertips...don't you want to pass it down to your kids?