Recognizing My Gift is Joy

Recognizing My Gift is Joy

Today I started the day out in a rush. I hit my snooze button for an extra 30 minutes. I took a little longer to put makeup on, brush my teeth and walk out the door. Little did I know a handful of colored circles with wobbly lines would change my day.

Needing to Slow Down

Once I arrived at school it seemed as if I had left my checklist completely unattended the day before and there were already six new items to check off before the warning bell rang. To start the day, there was a tech issue in the Spanish classroom and I explained in my best Spanish, “Yo estoy rapido en la mañana!” All the students looked at me with a look of confusion. The actual Spanish teacher explained, “I was in a hurry this morning.”

My day started out in a rush and feeling behind. I kept reminding myself I needed that extra sleep and time this morning just to prepare myself for the day. I kept focusing on the big picture of the day. I wanted to control what needed to be checked off on my list and became very frustrated when I remembered things to keep adding to this list. At one point in the morning, my daughter kindly asked, “Mom, do you need me to help you today? You seem so rushed.”

It’s the Little Things that Matter

And before I knew it, I was abruptly reminded at about 8:30, 9:15, 10:20 and then again at 11:10, that the little things are what bring us joy. Two text messages, a reminder that a “to do” list is overrated, a “this is so cool” comment from a seventh-grader, and the excited “oohs” from kindergarteners.

Yes, four times I was reminded to look at the simple, little things. I don’t think I was intentionally ignoring the small moments of joy, I just think I wasn’t “seeing” those moments. The fourth reminder came from my little kindergartener friends. They showed me joy is right in front of me, they showed me simplicity brings joy. In my small time frame with kindergarteners today, I brought joy to them by showing them how to color little circles with wobbly lines using technology. Yet, they reminded me of my life word — joy.

“Your Gift is Joy”

Later on in the day, I was teaching my Intro to Business students a lesson on leadership and a quote from my mom popped up on one of the slides, which I had forgotten I had typed. My mom told me prior to her passing away, “Shelly your gift is joy, share it daily with your students.” It took me everything to hold back tears.

My day needed to start out in a hurry, because I needed to be reminded of the joy the simple/little things bring us in life. Some days I get caught up looking at the big picture, looking at the big goal, I forget it is about the small things that we do that allow us to have the greatest impact on those around us. I am thankful for those wobbly colored circles as they reminded me that my greatest gift is the joy I share with others.

Shelly Mowinkel

Shelly Mowinkel

K-12 & Teens

My husband and I have three kids. Our oldest is a freshman in high school, and our youngest is in second grade. Most days, I feel like we are a “tag-team chauffeuring” service, yet I wouldn’t have our life any other way. Not only I am a business/technology teacher at Milford, I am also the district technology integration specialist. I love teaching because I get the opportunity to make those around me better. My hope is that, through my blogging, I am able to inspire, encourage, and share with you my adventures of being a wife, mother, and professional.

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Creating a Morning Routine

Creating a Morning Routine

I’m a huge fan of routine, and so are my kids. I’m not the most organized of moms, and I’m certainly not a very organized housewife. However, I do believe that my kids need routine, and so do I. Their routine is good for me. During the summer, our routine went out the window. So now that school is upon us, it’s a great time to start getting back into our groove. I’m sharing my routine in hopes of helping other working moms get the most out of their routine on school days.

If you’re a working mom, your morning routine can either help you start off your day on the right foot, or it can be an obstacle that you must overcome. It can be a struggle each and every day. My tips and tricks will hopefully help you create a smoother morning routine. And the school year is the perfect time to get a fresh start in how you schedule your day and manage your time.

How to Get Started

Remember how last year you said you’d start adjusting bedtimes before the night before school started? Well, during the summer months, we decided to keep the kid’s bedtime routine the same. They rarely stayed up late, and they continued to get up at the same time. This made for an easier adjustment for heading back to school. Small adjustments are what I can handle with everything I have going on.

During the school year, I have to get us ready and out of the house by 8 a.m. for drop off at school. Without a routine, getting two young kids – ages 10 and 7, my hubby and the dog out of the house feels like I’m herding cats. Can you relate, mamas?

Granted, the first few weeks of school this year, I’m still working from home, so I’ll share how that makes things a bit different. For starters, I’m not an early bird. I’ll sleep in as late as I possibly can while still being on time. However, many moms I know wake up early. That way, they get in a power hour before anyone else is up. It makes a huge difference in how productive they are, and it allows them to be available later in the day to help with school work. Since I’m not an early riser, one of the things that helps in our house is to use the night before. We do as much the night before so that the morning is simply smoother.

Tips for Your Morning Routine

Lay out clothes night before. Each night both of our kids lay out what they’ll wear the next day, and I can provide input if necessary (e.g., look nicer for picture day or if it’s going to be 100 degrees, no long sleeve shirts, etc.) If I have morning meetings or a presentation, I also choose what I’ll wear the night before for the next day. I want to avoid this stress in the morning.

Put stuff out and together. For example, the lunch boxes go on the counter with containers ready. That way, if you need extra help from your significant other if something comes up, you don’t have to explain where things are or what to use. Some moms I know prep sandwiches, although I don’t do that. I don’t generally cut up fruit until the morning because it can get mushy, but even washing and drying fruit the night before will shave off time in the morning.

Put items that need to go with you by the door or always in the same place. This goes for water bottles, backpacks, folders, car keys, masks, etc. Have a consistent home for these items so you’re not looking for them in the morning and wasting precious time. Who has an extra 10 minutes to look for car keys or kids’ shoes? This goes for your stuff, that of your significant other and your kids.

Have breakfast options in mind. We try hard to not have breakfast be the same all the time, and yet, this can be one of the hardest meals of the day creatively speaking. We generally give the kids some options when they wake up so that we can get breakfast going. Have breakfast-on-the-go options. Let’s face it—you’ll have days, especially in the first few weeks of school, when you’re running late. Whatever the reason, I recognize that sometimes our kids will be eating breakfast in the car. Sometimes we’ll have bagels that are easily mobile.

Be Flexible & Relax

See how you’re feeling and make any adjustments to set yourself up for success for the day. For example, if you’re tired, give yourself more time and be gentle with yourself. If you’re stressed, it might be time for some deep breaths. It takes only a few moments of your day and makes a big impact. I do this before I even get out of bed as I’m turning off my alarm.

If you’re feeling stressed or want to feel more grounded, consider meditating. I’m talking minutes here, not hours. Or you can extend it for however long you like. Make sure you don’t throw off your schedule, though. If you have the time, get in that workout. I usually get in some exercise a few times a week. In the warmer months, I work out early since I usually head outside for my exercise.

Decide what you want from your morning routine. Consider what you want your morning routine to include and generally look like. If you do better when you have a few minutes alone, plan your wake-up time with this in mind. Want a moment of yoga or meditation? Perhaps you want a few minutes to enjoy your coffee before you get everything going. Only you know what you need.

Hopefully, these tips will help decrease stress and start the day off with more smiles for all! Now the afternoon routine is a completely different battle especially with all the after-school activities the kids are involved in. That takes a daily calendar on the fridge, a hope and prayer to get us to our bedtime routine on time.

Mallory Connelly

Mallory Connelly

Babies & Toddlers

In addition to the time I devote to being a mom, I also work full-time outside the home, which means my day is hardly ever as simple as nine to five. With an all-too-established schedule, as soon as I walk through the door, my day doesn’t end, but rather just begins. It’s a balancing act, especially with two children, but being a mom is one full-time job that I never want to quit!

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Sending Our Daughter Off to College

Sending Our Daughter Off to College

“Good parents give their children roots and wings. Roots to know where home is, wings to fly away and exercise what’s been taught to them.” – Jonas Salk

As we walk the path of parenting, I’m sure you’ve read or heard this quote many times. Lately, a version of this quote has been on my heart. My husband and I are preparing to send our oldest daughter back to college. Not only is she going back to college, but she’s also moving into an apartment and we fully recognize she won’t be moving back home next year.

Preparing for the Change

Is my 40-something heart ready for this? I’m not sure. I know, though, that this is the circle of life, and we prepare our children and ourselves for this time. I remember whispering to our three-month old daughter that I would teach her the tools to keep her grounded but when the time came, I would give her the wings of independence.

For nearly 20 years, what we’ve taught her has been deeply rooted in faith, hard work, joy and wanderlust. And now, I must hold up the other end of the deal and let her fly. She’s more than ready, but my heart is still heavy and full of joy.

The Transition at Home

Then I look at our other two children and how much they’ve loved having their sister home this summer. They’ll also have an adjustment period. Our sophomore daughter will no longer have those extra clothes and shoes around the house. She’ll be upgraded to oldest sibling status and her responsibilities will change. She’ll get the opportunity to be the chauffeur for her brother—just like her older sister did for her.

Our junior high son will tell you he’s taking over his sister’s room immediately, but deep down he feels as if his best friend is moving out again. He’s going to miss his older sister taking him places and paying for him. Yet, he’s excited to have more hot water in our home.

Just like one of my best friends, my husband just keeps encouraging me. This is the way it should be. We just have to trust. Our oldest’s wings are ready to fly. Yet, we know she has her roots and will find home for supper, her siblings’ events or a weekend.

Shelly Mowinkel

Shelly Mowinkel

K-12 & Teens

My husband and I have three kids. Our oldest is a freshman in high school, and our youngest is in second grade. Most days, I feel like we are a “tag-team chauffeuring” service, yet I wouldn’t have our life any other way. Not only I am a business/technology teacher at Milford, I am also the district technology integration specialist. I love teaching because I get the opportunity to make those around me better. My hope is that, through my blogging, I am able to inspire, encourage, and share with you my adventures of being a wife, mother, and professional.

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Masks at School

Masks at School

I can’t believe it’s less than one month until kids are back in school. Summer break seems to fly by every year. On local parent forums, parents are excited about the planned return to full-time, face-to-face classes next month. Parents are engaging in the normal back-to-school chatter about teacher assignments, band camps, school supplies and one out-of-the-ordinary topic—whether or not to mask their unvaccinated child.

With school quickly approaching, I recently read the Lincoln Public Schools (LPS) official back-to-school plan outlining COVID-19 prevention protocols. Last year, I was very impressed with how the schools handled the pandemic, but this year, the kids and I are ready for some normalcy. But how normal?

Changes at Lunch & Recess

I know there are a couple of changes the kids are hoping return to normal like no more “zones” at recess. That was one of the “pandemic rules” my kids hated and that I heard the most about daily. My kids want to play with other kids in their grade and play where they want to play. Kids shouldn’t be restricted to where and who they can play with at recess. Recess is their fun time.

Another change they’re hoping to see is removing the plexiglass from the cafeteria tables. This was a big one for my son. Again, my son wants to sit with his friends and enjoy having a conversation at lunch. Last year, the plexiglass made it difficult to hear each other. Many conversations were had under the table. And I know both of these things were put in for safety reasons, but my kids are ready for food, friends and fun at lunch and recess!

As moms, we always worry about germs—and even more now. My kids don’t wash their hands as much as they should, but I applaud LPS for the amount of time that the teachers and staff allowed kids to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer. I felt comfortable sending my kids to school because of the amount of cleaning that was taken place in the building. Even my daughter was excited to pick out the sparkly hand sanitizer and the “squishy” carrier it fit in that attached to her backpack. Hand sanitizer is now a part of the supplies needed for back to school.

Wondering if Masks Will Be Required

Among the protocols LPS is suggesting for the return to school this year is that masks will be strongly recommended for unvaccinated students and required for unvaccinated staff. But masks are not mandatory—at least not yet. My children are still in elementary school, so they’re not vaccinated. Ever since the mask mandate was lifted, my kids no longer wear masks in public. Wearing masks has never been a problem for my kids. They never complained, they followed the rules, and they liked to pick out the masks they wore—unicorns for my daughter and a Denver Broncos mask for my son. Currently, my son wears a mask at his summer camp that he attends every day, which is a requirement. My daughter goes to an in-home daycare and does not wear a mask.

Last year, they were required to wear masks every day, all day! I appreciated the protocols. They never tested positive for COVID-19, and they were not sick once—not even a cold. So having them wear masks this school year would be beneficial. Also, COVID-19 is not going away, and since my children are not vaccinated, I’ll ask my kids to wear them, but my worry is that not all kids will be wearing masks.

If it’s not mandatory and my kids have an option, what will they choose? My son told me that he plans to wear his mask. “No big deal mom, I’m used to it,” he says. However, if my daughter’s friends aren’t wearing one, she probably won’t either. I’m still undecided if they’ll actually wear the masks this upcoming school year. But all of this could change if the COVID-19 numbers continue to rise. It wouldn’t surprise me if LPS makes masks mandatory for elementary kids.

Are other parents worried their kids won’t wear their masks if it’s not required? What are other parents planning to do? Let me know!

Mallory Connelly

Mallory Connelly

Babies & Toddlers

In addition to the time I devote to being a mom, I also work full-time outside the home, which means my day is hardly ever as simple as nine to five. With an all-too-established schedule, as soon as I walk through the door, my day doesn’t end, but rather just begins. It’s a balancing act, especially with two children, but being a mom is one full-time job that I never want to quit!

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Falling Behind in School

Falling Behind in School

Here we are at the end of another school. Cohen finished 4th grade and Collyns completed 1st grade. Cohen excelled this year and continues to work very hard. Collyns however, struggled, but is it because of Covid-19 and remote learning last year?

Everyone is worried about how the Coronavirus pandemic is affecting children. And it IS affecting them. Instead of feeling anxiety about the ongoing pandemic, as parents, we’re told to agonize over failing test scores and academic regression.

What’s Happening At School

Collyns is falling behind, they say.

Hurry up. Get going. She’s behind! She has to catch up to where she would be if there hadn’t been a global pandemic! Hurry up! Schools have this timetable and she’s falling behind! SHE’S FALLING BEHIND!

That’s what we’ve been hearing all year. She has had extra help in reading and we continue to work with her at home. But now that summer is upon us what do we do. She will be starting second grade. We believe she will catch up and we shouldn’t be worried. But over the summer so many kids regress and she could fall even further behind come fall.

Should Learning Continue in the Summer?

So, I stressed over it and listened and made the decision to put her in summer school. Starting in June she will attend summer school five days a week for half the day. That way she will get the extra help she needs. But she may hate it! Let’s get something straight. I know there is no ultimate timetable for learning. But the idea that my child is not intellectually where she SHOULD be and if we don’t do something about it now she may be at risk of falling further behind has me concerned. And, I wonder should I be doing everything the school is offering to better her situation in the fall?

Mitch, my husband, and I are not on the same page. He thinks she’s too young and she will learn when she is ready to learn. And if our child isn’t ready today, that doesn’t mean she’ll never be ready. He reassured me that it doesn’t mean one child is smarter than another. It just means their brains develop at different rates. And it’s perfectly normal. I know this and agreed with him. I keep thinking, summer school can only help her. But, what if she’s miserable and that makes home life worse?

Figuring Out What’s Best

Mitch and I agreed to give it a try. If she absolutely hates going then we won’t make her continue. She will just go to her daycare and we will make a better effort at home to help her catch up. The key is to provide her with the opportunities and the circumstances that maximize the likelihood of learning. Not pedantically checking off skills and benchmarks. We want her to enjoy her summer break and continue to learn. We just hope that this summer school will make learning fun. Fingers crossed that to her this is a summer camp, not school.

Yes, their educations have been disrupted by the virus. But a global pandemic will do that. You want to fix the problem, nothing short of ending the crisis ultimately will work. Kids are just that – kids. My children aren’t falling behind. They’re surviving a pandemic. Keep trying to fix the problem and they’ll be fine.

Mallory Connelly

Mallory Connelly

Babies & Toddlers

In addition to the time I devote to being a mom, I also work full-time outside the home, which means my day is hardly ever as simple as nine to five. With an all-too-established schedule, as soon as I walk through the door, my day doesn’t end, but rather just begins. It’s a balancing act, especially with two children, but being a mom is one full-time job that I never want to quit!

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Learning the Importance of Teamwork

Learning the Importance of Teamwork

Few of us ever work alone in our lives. We brainstorm and discuss new ideas, we collaborate, and in some instances, we ask for help. For many of us, we welcome working with others; yet there are also times where we would rather scream, “just let me do it alone.”

Trust me, I know the importance of teamwork and being able to collaborate with my peers. I know the importance of being able to formally collaborate and communicate in the virtual world. Yet, I also know the importance of an individual’s high expectations.

Working on Group Projects

All three of our children are at three different ages of school—college, high school and elementary—and they usually start out excited about group projects, but before long, they’re wishing they would have completed the assignment individually.

In most instances, I can’t blame them. It’s those dreaded thoughts of, “I’m going to end up doing all the work” or “this is going to be a disaster” or “I don’t want to fail this project because my partner didn’t contribute.”

For instance, our college age daughter was assigned a lab group for the entire semester, but one week into college one group member dropped the class. Halfway through the semester, another member rarely showed up to class. She often found herself collaborating on the reports with one other member while hoping the third member would somehow complete the portion he was assigned before the due date. Our daughter eventually felt it was necessary to email the professor to communicate the group dynamics and responsibilities.

Tips for Group Work

The maturity level of our college student is vastly different from our other two. Therefore, I must encourage the younger two to work through the challenges of group work and create a positive experience. Here are a few tips that I shared with my children:

  1. What is your expectation?
  2. Ask the group member(s) their expectation.
  3. Define the roles in the group.
  4. Create a timeline or follow the given timeline.
  5. Determine how your group will communicate information.

Group dynamics are always a challenge as are the expectations. Some members may strive for an “A,” while others just want to complete the assignment. However, having a discussion with the above simple tips allows our children to work through group projects and find the positives, while also encouraging them to not lower their expectations.

With each group project, our children develop a little more confidence in relinquishing responsibilities and trusting the other group members. And even though most times we may want to work alone, working with others is imperative as very few of us actually work alone in our daily lives.

Shelly Mowinkel

Shelly Mowinkel

K-12 & Teens

My husband and I have three kids. Our oldest is a freshman in high school, and our youngest is in second grade. Most days, I feel like we are a “tag-team chauffeuring” service, yet I wouldn’t have our life any other way. Not only I am a business/technology teacher at Milford, I am also the district technology integration specialist. I love teaching because I get the opportunity to make those around me better. My hope is that, through my blogging, I am able to inspire, encourage, and share with you my adventures of being a wife, mother, and professional.

You may also like

Tackling School Drop-Off

Tackling School Drop-Off

Patience. As parents, we need A LOT of it. I blog a lot about household stuff—laundry, chores, how I try to be a good mom—but today this one is about school drop-off.

Since the weather outside is cold, more and more parents are taking their children to school—me included. At the beginning of the school year, the school sent out the best practices for dropping off and picking up children from school. These etiquette measures are simply lost when the snowy weather hits!

Staying Positive During Hectic Mornings

Mornings with my kids can be hectic. I try to preplan the night before but sometimes locating backpacks and library books, making lunches and figuring out what to have for breakfast happens in the mornings. Plus, if you have school-aged kids, this all needs to be done under a timeline AND the kids need to be somewhat presentable, wearing clean clothes and ready for the day. At my house, we have it easy because my kids could walk to school. But with the temperatures and the time crunch, I take them the two blocks to their respective doors. Yes, I said doors—more on that in a second.

If the school parking lot is one of your ‘necessary evils’ each day, the worst thing you can do is add a bad attitude on top of it. You’ll be unhappy and that will translate to your kids—setting the tone for their day. Do what you need to do to keep a clear head and a positive outlook, then try and practice it each day. You have plenty of chances!

Lately, the drop-off line extends to my driveway. Luckily, someone is usually nice enough to let us out so we too can take part in the long line of cars. Then we wait and hope things go smoothly from there. From the start of my morning, I get to show my kids how patience is a virtue. I have to bite my tongue numerous times in the car and show kindness by smiling and waving at other merging cars.

Tackling School Drop-Off

Now onto the different doors. Each grade has different doors to enter through in the morning. Cohen’s door is pretty easy to get to; however, the car line for his drop-off is lengthy. Not to mention, I still have to get Collyns to her door by the time the bell rings. For Cohen, his door is close to a crosswalk. I hope and pray that there are kids that have to cross the street when I am close to his drop-off location. When he hears me unlock the car, he tucks and rolls! It happens so fast I barely get an “I love you” out of my mouth.

Now it’s onto Collyns’ door. Her drop-off location is trickier because it’s the main entrance to the school. Usually there are two lanes for cars. One for parking and the other for passing but due to the ridiculously large amount of snow, there is only one lane. Now, this may be a little harsh but moms, dads and grandparents, your child has been going to school for over five months now, and I promise they know the path from the car to the door of the school. Heck, it’s only a few feet and you can still SEE them. It’s time to let them walk to the door alone. You don’t need to park and get out of the car. Remember, please apply the tuck-and-roll method. There are other cars waiting behind you and people who want to get on with their lives.

I hope this tidbit of information is helpful to you in your future drop-off adventures. And remember to show patience because your kids are watching you. Let’s all unite and make this world a better place one school day at a time!

Mallory Connelly

Mallory Connelly

Babies & Toddlers

In addition to the time I devote to being a mom, I also work full-time outside the home, which means my day is hardly ever as simple as nine to five. With an all-too-established schedule, as soon as I walk through the door, my day doesn’t end, but rather just begins. It’s a balancing act, especially with two children, but being a mom is one full-time job that I never want to quit!

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Rewarding Your Child

Rewarding Your Child

Getting a 100% on a test.

Unloading the dishwasher.

Playing your hardest in a game.

These are all reasons why a parent could reward their child. But is the reward necessary and does it help? Or are the above reasons what is expected of them?

When I was growing up, I never received an allowance for doing chores or was given money for getting good grades. But recently, my children told me about their friends getting rewarded for doing well on a report card. Silly me, I thought that was a kid’s “job” to do well in school. But that got me thinking, “How do you motivate kids?”

Motivating Your Kids

It may be one of the biggest struggles parents and teachers experience. As parents, we remind them to clean their rooms or do their schoolwork. They reply that it’s too hard or boring. We plead with them to do their chores and they whine, procrastinate and even ignore us. So how do we motivate them?

I’ve tried punishment with a timeout or withdrawal of privileges. However, rewards do seem much sweeter than punishments.

When I offer bribes (or threats), this usually leads to the desired behavior I am seeking. For example: as a parent, I want to encourage my kids to clean their rooms, but if I measure room cleaning behavior over a two-week period, I’ll discover that room cleaning is at zero, even with nagging. It just doesn’t happen. But when I implement a reward system to motivate better behavior, I find that room cleaning has increased enormously. It MUST be working!

Eventually, however, my reward system fails because I am tired of rewarding my children for what I think is expected of them.

And when the reward system is taken away, suddenly school achievements drop off and the room cleaning behavior stops. Then the reward system starts again and results improve. It’s a vicious cycle.

Addressing Their Challenges

However, I realized that rewards and punishments ignore what’s going on for my kids struggling with motivation. Instead, I now ask them what their challenges are. Why are they lacking intrinsic motivation? Is the task really boring? Or is there something else going on? When I genuinely understand their challenge, I typically find that it’s not going to be fixed by a goody.

They say things like, “it’s boring”… and a reward isn’t going to remedy that. Rewards don’t make things interesting. They simply shift the focus from the task to the reward. I needed to focus less on behaviors and more on obstacles to desired behaviors. Are they tired? Lonely? Stressed? Is it too hard? Does it seem to lack meaning?

Addressing the obstacles requires me to consider how I might be contributing to the problem and work creatively with my child to find ways around the obstacles. Is the work I’m asking them to do meaningful to them?

I found that giving them a choice leads to an automatic increase in motivation. Or giving them a challenge like, “I bet you can clean up your room is less than 5 minutes” helps with motivation.

Changing the Reward

Finally, I recognized that when my child feels competent, they are going to be more motivated than when they feel incapable. As a parent, my job is to build their sense of mastery so they feel like the things I invite them to do are achievable.

If I MUST offer a reward, I make it unexpected. And assure my child that this isn’t going to be a regular thing.

But I also changed the reward system. A reward is now an investment in our time together, not money. It’s now a trip to the zoo, museum or the movie theater. To me, this is a much better idea than simply getting them the latest game or gadget. I make this a special one-on-one trip with my child and give them the benefit of my attention. Experiential trips make for great rewards and inevitably teach my children that money is not everything, but spending some mindful time together is.

Mallory Connelly

Mallory Connelly

Babies & Toddlers

In addition to the time I devote to being a mom, I also work full-time outside the home, which means my day is hardly ever as simple as nine to five. With an all-too-established schedule, as soon as I walk through the door, my day doesn’t end, but rather just begins. It’s a balancing act, especially with two children, but being a mom is one full-time job that I never want to quit!

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Let’s Play an Instrument

Let’s Play an Instrument

I played sports growing up. I never showed any interest in learning to play an instrument, maybe it’s because my brother “played” the saxophone for less than a year. So, I wasn’t sure what to say when my fourth grader said, “I want to play the violin.”

I forced a smile on my face. You know. You’re supposed to support your kids when they want to try something new. I’m trying my best. I was surprised he wanted to play. Cohen doesn’t like to do much but play soccer, watch videos and play video games. But he insisted he wanted to learn to play, and all the child experts say it’s a good idea for kids to learn how to play an instrument. So I agreed.

The Beginnings of Violin Lessons

Free strings lessons are offered at our elementary school, beginning in fourth grade. So, we leased his first violin—a half-sized violin made for smaller hands. He had class once a week during school and practiced every day.

I’ll warn you now, as soon as you make the first payment on your child’s instrument, you will become insufferable. You will turn into an overbearing ogre who harbors some vague notion of propelling your young prodigy onto the stage of Carnegie Hall. You will make this happen through sheer willpower (i.e., screaming and threats); you will convince yourself this motivational tactic is not crazy behavior.

Learning to Play Songs

Every beginner violin player starts out by learning “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” You will get tired of listening to “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” for 15 minutes every day.

You will say, “I bet this is how Lindsey Stirling started!” and “Good job! Your playing sounds a bit less like 30 cats in a fight today!”

“EEEEEEEEEE. EEEEE. EEEEE….RRRRRRR,” went his violin.

“Great job,” I said giving him a thumbs up.

So, even though he practiced at school, Cohen, being the video watcher that he is, of course YouTubed how to play the violin. So, instead of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” I heard “Hot Cross Buns” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

“EEEE. EEEEEEEE. RRRRRRR. EEEEE.”

“Great.” I put another smile on my face. I mean, he was learning. Down the line I imagine it’ll sound better.

Practice Makes Perfect

Cohen’s music teacher must be a saint. She gives kids a solid foundation. She works some crazy magic and makes 60 intermediate-beginner strings, woodwinds and brass musicians sound like the Boston Pops Orchestra….at least by the spring concert, I hope. You may need to strain your ears a bit to hear it during the early fall concert.

In the beginning, Cohen didn’t mind practicing. However, he would get tired of playing the same songs over and over, and I frankly got tired of listening. However, I paid for a violin, so he was going to play that violin. Even if he played while he was kicking and screaming!

Supporting Your Musician

Then one sunny day, without being asked Cohen picked up his violin and began playing on his own. Maybe it’s a sonata. Or maybe he’s noodling through a rough version of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” or the Sunday Night Football theme. I didn’t say a word. This is what I’ve been waiting for. I just kept doing the laundry and enjoyed the music.

Whether the lessons are initiated by me, his father, his music teacher or by Cohen himself, he is much more likely to be enthusiastic about them if those lessons are supported at home by my participation. I noticed that when music is a family value, kids learn to value it. Whether Cohen sits first chair in Carnegie Hall or he stops playing the violin after one year, music will stick with him throughout his life.

Mallory Connelly

Mallory Connelly

Babies & Toddlers

In addition to the time I devote to being a mom, I also work full-time outside the home, which means my day is hardly ever as simple as nine to five. With an all-too-established schedule, as soon as I walk through the door, my day doesn’t end, but rather just begins. It’s a balancing act, especially with two children, but being a mom is one full-time job that I never want to quit!

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My Child Has No Friends

My Child Has No Friends

We’d all like our kids to thrive in academics, the arts, sports and overall at being a good person. Here’s another item to add to our wish list for their success: friendship. I want to see my children happy, engaged and interacting with their peers.

Is My Child Missing Out?

Last year, my son had a best friend. However, he moved away this past summer. Even though Cohen is involved in sports, Boy Scouts and band, he still doesn’t seem to have friends. There are plenty of kids in the neighborhood, but when I ask him if he wants to play outside with them he says no. He never gets calls for play dates, and he attends only a few birthday parties a year.

So what’s a parent to do when they realize that their child, for whatever reason, is having a difficult time making friends? I feel that my child is missing out or being shunned for one reason or another. As his mother, iI find this very upsetting, to say the least. No parent wants to see their child hurt and left out of the fun. However, he doesn’t seem bothered by this at all.

Encouraging Your Child to Build Friendships

There are very few things more frustrating than watching your child struggle to make friends. We’ve tried following his interests and he is enjoying the activities he’s involved with, but doesn’t seem to have friends. I know it’s important to remember that it will take time for Cohen to develop good social skills.

I encourage Cohen to seek out the kids at school who are shy and tell him to ask them questions that can’t be answered with just a “yes” or “no”. I hope this helps him build relationships with others who might also be looking for a friend.

My husband, who is better at this than I am, taught Cohen about empathy. He told Cohen to focus on what others are saying and then discuss how that feels after the conversation is over, thus helping build relationships. I, myself, have a hard time showing empathy. But as a parent, I am very aware that my children learn from my behavior. I feel it’s important to be consciously aware of how I interact with others when my children are watching.

Realizing Everything Will Be Okay

Again, Cohen has not expressed that he has been bullied or that he has concerns about his friendships. I have reached out to his teachers, and they’ve shared that he gets along with mostly everyone in class and has a great group of friends that he plays with at recess.

Sometimes, I think what I perceive as no friendships or not enough friendships isn’t what Cohen is experiencing. I need to realize that I shouldn’t panic if things seem a little shaky. He has many opportunities to learn and gain new skills and friendships.

As long as I continue to pay attention and keep things in perspective, it will be okay. All I see, hear and experience as a parent in these early years is information I can act upon, but there is no need to panic and overreact!

Mallory Connelly

Mallory Connelly

Babies & Toddlers

In addition to the time I devote to being a mom, I also work full-time outside the home, which means my day is hardly ever as simple as nine to five. With an all-too-established schedule, as soon as I walk through the door, my day doesn’t end, but rather just begins. It’s a balancing act, especially with two children, but being a mom is one full-time job that I never want to quit!

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How the First Day of School Was Different this Year

How the First Day of School Was Different this Year

Anxious. Nervous. Not ready at all. Excited. Overwhelmed. Ready. My emotions and thoughts were all over the place as I prepared for the first day of school.

The planner in me was not prepared for any day beyond the first day. I was even more nervous knowing that the schedule for the first two days did not include seeing all students both days. The uncertainty of how school would “look” made me nervous. I worried about school being ordinary. I hated not knowing what to expect. The planner in me hated hearing “I don’t know” or “let me get back to you.”

A Different First Day of School

However, the first day started and it was exhilarating being back in the building. I worried about not seeing the smiles of students, but I definitely could see the smiles behind the masks. The students had more questions than I had answers; yet they extended grace and waited until I could find the answer.

It had been nearly 160 days since the last time students were in the building, so they all were glad to be back. The worry, anxiousness and uncertainty of the day started fading away as each student smiled and said, “Hi Mrs. Mo, it’s great to be back!”

For how much I longed for a normal ordinary school year after teaching remotely last spring, this year is hardly off to a normal start. There’s social distancing between desks, students wearing masks, lunch in three different areas of the school, and even cleaning classrooms between passing periods. Yet, I am already a better teacher as I adapt to this not normal year.

Learning and Sharing our Experiences

Learning can and will take place anywhere. However, building relationships is extremely hard via remote learning. When I look into my students’ eyes, there are some still filled with fear in the uncertain world, but they have so much to share. They all have a perspective on what is happening. They have found ways to learn, unlearn and relearn, they have found ways to be positive role models and most of them want to share.

And more for me, this is hard. I am a private person and most times, I do not like to share. After two days, my students have made me better, and they have showed me the importance of asking questions and letting them lead discussions.

I spent most of the summer wishing for a normal, ordinary year. And now I am thankful this is anything but normal right now. The bright spot in this unordinary year is that my students are making me a better person. It has taken only a few days for me to realize this. Hopefully by the end of the year, I will have made all of them better.

Shelly Mowinkel

Shelly Mowinkel

K-12 & Teens

My husband and I have three kids. Our oldest is a freshman in high school, and our youngest is in second grade. Most days, I feel like we are a “tag-team chauffeuring” service, yet I wouldn’t have our life any other way. Not only I am a business/technology teacher at Milford, I am also the district technology integration specialist. I love teaching because I get the opportunity to make those around me better. My hope is that, through my blogging, I am able to inspire, encourage, and share with you my adventures of being a wife, mother, and professional.

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Sending Our Daughter Off to College

Sending Our Daughter Off to College

I remember it quite vividly. It was the second Sunday in cold, cold January, and I was sitting on the couch sobbing uncontrollably on my mom’s shoulder. I didn’t want to go back to college. I had a rough first semester of college and was about to embark on a new adventure as I transferred to a different college. However, I. Did. Not. Want. To. Go.

Encouraging Words from Mom

I was scared. I was nervous. I was fearful. I was anxious. Yet, most importantly, I was loved. My mom let me sob for half an hour and then she said, “It’s time for you to go. I am more than confident you will find friends, and this new college will be for you. I have raised you well for this adventure.”

And with that, I was off in my car driving 35 minutes to my new college, with tears still in my eyes and what my mom said to me on my heart.

A New Stage of Parenting

Fast forward 22 years, and within the next three weeks we’ll be sending our daughter off to college. Many days I’m ready to send her off, and then there are those days when a memory pops up on Facebook or Instagram and I wish she was little again.

This parenting thing is hard. It was hard when they were babies. It was hard when they were toddlers, and don’t even get me started with those middle school years. Now, we’re embarking on a new stage of parenting—letting go and watching our oldest fly. Parenting is hard, but we have to trust we did our absolute best in each stage.

I think about the 18 years of parenting our oldest: how challenging she was as a baby, how I adored her rolls upon rolls, how she started potty training herself at 18 months, how she developed a passion for softball, how stubborn she is if she believes she’s right, how she developed an unmatched work ethic, how it took a village to help raise our daughter, and how she never forgets to tell us she loves us each night before bed.

Ready for the Next Chapter

Now it comes down to three weeks. Three weeks of her being in our home before her next chapter begins. I know I’m not ready for her to be gone physically from home, but my heart and mind are ready for her next stage. I know my husband and I have done everything possible to raise her into the young woman she is today and for this next chapter.

It will be the chapter where we get to see her fly. The chapter where we get to watch her and encourage her to make life decisions. The chapter where we get to see her create her own adventures. The chapter where we must trust and have the faith that we’ve done our absolute best in raising our daughter.

You see, my mom and dad pushed me out the door that cold, cold January day because it was time for me to leave home. They were ready to watch me fly. Now, life has come full circle. In three weeks, we will “push” our daughter out of the door. Our daughter is anxious. She is excited. She is hopeful. She is full of joy. She is ready. Most importantly, she is loved and we are ready to watch her fly.

Shelly Mowinkel

Shelly Mowinkel

K-12 & Teens

My husband and I have three kids. Our oldest is a freshman in high school, and our youngest is in second grade. Most days, I feel like we are a “tag-team chauffeuring” service, yet I wouldn’t have our life any other way. Not only I am a business/technology teacher at Milford, I am also the district technology integration specialist. I love teaching because I get the opportunity to make those around me better. My hope is that, through my blogging, I am able to inspire, encourage, and share with you my adventures of being a wife, mother, and professional.

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