Monday, September 24, 2012

Finally Fall

Okay, we made it through our final Back-to-School curriculum night last Thursday, registered the kids for their respective clubs, sports and band and even turned the heat on last week.

It's finally fall.

This is my favorite season. I love summer, it's a close second, but by the end of August I'm eager for some routine and the joy of wearing a sweatshirt and pair of jeans. Too bad fall doesn't last four months like summer does or, dare I say, the five months that winter hangs on. In Chicago, fall is fleeting, about two months of mild, crisp temperatures and colorful trees. So I always feel the urgency to get outside and enjoy it before it's gone.

Today I was able to take a long walk. I did it quickly so I could count it as exercise, though I must admit my plan of losing 30 pounds by walking once a week is inherently flawed. I pray while I walk and find I pray differently when surrounded by God's creation than I do when I'm alone in my living room. Not that He didn't create my living room in a sense, but the trees, ducks, lake and babies in strollers at the park are a little livlier. It was chilly when I left, but the sun (and my heartrate) soon eliminated the need for a jacket.

The sky seems bluer to me in the fall for some reason. Like God changes the backdrop so the canvas becomes part of the color palette.

This was the most relaxing weekend we've had in some time. The football team had an away game this Friday which I was grateful for since it meant Caitlin didn't have marching band and it rained most of the night. Saturday I was able to do some decent cleaning before heading up to a friend's house for a lovely no-occasion party. Sunday after church we got to watch the Bears win and play outside ourselves.

It's always a bonus when I start the week with a day off and the laundry is already done because we weren't running around non-stop all weekend. I had time to linger in God's Word this morning before sorting through the pile of paperwork and getting the grocery shopping in. I even had time to take the kids to the library tonight and sit on the couch and talk to my husband for an hour!

The calendar is quickly filling with plans for fall fun; the pumpkin patch (you're never too old), a drive up to Lake Geneva for Oktoberfest, a trip to Notre Dame to see the parade before the game and cheer on the Irish with Dan's cousins.

As Ferris Bueller says, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it."

And they're already putting up Christmas cards in Target.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Next Thing You Know

Not too long ago a very sweet girl down the block became the first and only non-family babysitter my children ever experienced. She wasn't often called upon what with both grandmas living less than ten minutes away, but it was so good to know she was there.

One of the first things that impressed me with the set up was that even though we knew each other her mother wanted to come in and sort of tour the house before she came on her own. That is exactly the kind of thing I would do for my daughter - a reconnaissance mission of love.

It's good to know the environment you ship your kids off to when they start working.

We didn't have a lot of money at the time so it should have been even harder to part with for something we normally got for free, but that was never the case. It wasn't easy to leave our kids for the first time with someone other than family, but then again, it wasn't that hard either.

Every once in awhile you come across a gem of God's kindness. Amanda was one of those rare people who cared for and nurtured the children as if they were family (without ever growing impatient with them as we do with family). It feels like only a handful of years ago that she was looking after my kids, but more than a decade has passed and now she's using her gifts to teach special needs students.

Her parents generously included the neighborhood kids she used to babysit in both the wedding and reception. My daughter Maggie posted a message on Instagram that night with a self-photo taken on the dance floor, "Cannot even explain how great this night has been."

Now it's my kids who are babysitting the younger boys across the street after school. It's just one more indication of how very quickly this time goes by and how much we have to be grateful for in getting this far.

Next thing you know I'll be dancing at their weddings.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Back to School

So obviously this title is beyond fashionably late, but if you're the parent of a middle or high school student, it takes awhile to fully adjust to back to school mode. These first few weeks are filled with curriculum nights, expectations for advanced math, open houses, band rehearsals, informational meetings for sports and clubs, etc., etc.

Raise your hand if you haven't had two consecutive weeknights to yourself since early August.

Tonight's obligation turned out to be a very pleasant and emotional surprise. It was the Academic Letter Awards Program to observe academic excellence achieved by students in the previous school year. Anyone with a 3.5 or better Grade Point Average (out of four) received the award. There were 350 students recognized! Our oldest daughter Caitlin was among them. Her GPA is 4.66. I know. I'm bragging. How do you get .66 higher than the highest average? Honors classes. Lots of them.

Conant High School is the only one in the district to recognize academic excellence in an awards ceremony. I am so grateful it does.

Dan and I arrived an uncharacteristic 25 minutes before the start of the ceremony, naively thinking we were early and proceeded to make our way to the last two seats in the middle of the last row in the theater to watch our sophmore cross the stage when her name was called.

The first thing we noticed was how underdressed she appeared next to 97% of the girls (and keep in mind, these are the honor roll girls) who wore a runway-worthy buffet of stylish - and mostly extremely short - dresses. Caitlin was one of five girls wearing pants, but she looked beautiful.

The dressed-to-the-nines army did not go unnoticed by the principal who is the proud father of three girls himself. His youngest is a senior in college. He opened the evening with a short personal story of their family tradition of taking a picture of the girls on their first day of school, because it was always about the back to school outfit. He was full of wit and charm while he remembered the scene occuring across so many of our homes from kindergarten to college of frantically looking for the camera, posing in front of trees outside, almost missing the bus in the process and capturing the outfit - and with it the moment - that began each school year.

This week he received a text and instagram from his youngest daughter about three weeks into her final year of college with a photo of her back to school outfit and a message, "Thought I forgot, didn't you?" He said he was happy that she remembered and sad that it was the last back-to-school outfit he would see. I nearly cried.

That was the second time this week it hit me how fast this is all going and how very little of these school days we have left. How many times did you hear growing up, "Blink and it's over?" I certainly heard it a lot, but it turns out time picks up speed with each passing year.

After the principal's moving introduction the favorite teacher of the year gave an even shorter speech about making and achieving goals that stretch you out of your comfort zone.

The third speaker had the dubious task of pronouning the names of the 350 students from all ethnic backgrounds and earned at least an A- for his efforts.

Start to finish this program ran 35 minutes.

I was stunned. They should train graduation program coordinators how to do this.

After the ceremony there was a reception (basically cookies in a tremendously overcrowed foyer outside the theater) which we passed on in favor of a strawberry-banana smoothie from the McDonald's drive-through.

Because the really smart kids get out of the parking lot first on a school night.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Holy Matrimony

Twenty two years ago I married a man I had known for seven years, dated for six and been engaged to for one. I knew very little about marriage at the time. But I knew the one who designed marriage and committed to put Jesus Christ at the center of mine. I don't think I knew what that meant either then, but grace is a beautiful thing and as the Bible says, love covers a multitude of sins.

Now two decades have passed, three children have come and grown into teenagers and I'm still in awe of this "one flesh" union.

Thankfully, it's not really the big moments when the decisions are most important (like choosing fabric bells to cascade down the side of your head on your wedding day) rather it's the million little day-to-day decisions you make to love, respect, repent, forgive, encourage and submit.

I think I'm starting to get the hang of it.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Post Labor Day

A bit of wordplay for you as this is a post and it is in fact Labor Day. But as the day comes to a close my thoughts are jumping ahead to the horizon of fall that is looming even if it did hit 90 degrees today and I have the sunburn to prove it.

This wasn't exactly the long Labor Day weekend I expected - it started slow with two sick kids home from school on Friday and a forced 48 hour recovery plan with no activity so they could recoup before the firmer plans made for Sunday and today. As much as I hate to see my kids suffer, I was grateful for the rest and for their excellent attitudes in the midst of congestion and uncontrollable coughing. It's like our house becomes a time machine whenever a couple of us are down for the count. Or at least we trade in a lot of the technology for a bunch of board games and books.

By God's grace they mended quickly and we were able to relax and spend some time with my husband's family on Sunday. Then today it was off to the annual Labor Day Parade at Schaumburg's Septemberfest.

I LOVE parades. Love them. Especially the ones that include veterans, boy & girl scout troops and special olympics participants. This is one of the better suburban parades and I was so glad to be there for it after missing the 4th of July parade this year when it was over 100 degrees and we had three separate places to go. Best bonus: my oldest daughter was in it.

Caitlin persevered with the Conant Marching Band through the 90 degree heat while keeping her line and time in the required wool uniform. Why we haven't come up with a material that breathes and performs while looking cool in a day and age that produces so many fashion reality shows is beyond me.

I was pleasantly surprised to run into several neighbors (we couldn't have planned it if we tried) and find some shade to hang out in while watching. My husband Dan, God bless him, volunteered to march alongside the band on hydration detail. I heard they ran out of water twice in the two not-so-short miles and were happy to accept garden hoses offered at parade route homes to refill their buckets!

After we dumped our loads of Smarties, Bulls-Eyes and Tootsie Rolls in the car, Maggie and Ryan toughed it out a bit longer to indulge me at the craft show. Though, I can honestly say it was more of a fly over, only stopping at the 3-4 booths I specifically thought would have the planned gifts I hoped to purchase. That was good because Maggie has an issue with heat exhaustion and was dangerously close to passing out as the magenta hues overtook her sweet face.

Now they are all getting ready for bed and MAP testing at school tomorrow while their father is drafting his Fantasy Football team. And so fall has arrived in our routine if not yet on the calendar.

Tomorrow I start a new schedule at work moving from 24-30 hours a week. I'm glad about it even while I'm wondering how the house and homework will be affected. I'm also thinking about what to wear and considering my white capris now that those fashion shows I mentioned tell us we can wear white after Labor Day.