School Daze: Easy Lunch Ideas & Shopping List (Kid-approved Vegan Food)

School lunches. There are four ways parents generally approach the irksome task: 1) prepare carefully sliced and arranged food figurines into pristine Bento boxes, 2) toss a Lunchable at the kid on his way out the door, 3) opt for cafeteria fare, 4) stick to the same worn-out lunch options out of ease and self-preservation. None are wrong, right, better, or worse. All get the kid fed.

My approach lies somewhere in the middle. I aim for easy-to-make, relatively healthy, filling, fast-to-eat, and kid-approved.

As noted School Daze: Morning Prep post, I pack the week’s lunches on Sunday. I have more delicate lunches lined up to go first with sturdier fare waiting in the back for Thursday and Friday packing. I don’t like to invest a lot of time into the prepping, so I opt for quick to make dishes that use ingredients I already have on hand.

This is an example of a week’s worth of pre-packed vegan school lunches my first grader polishes off.

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LUNCH #1; “Just Ranch” Salad with Pita Add handful of chopped salad greens, 1/3 of the cucumber (chopped), 1/3 of the carrot (chopped), 1/3 of the bell pepper (diced), a sprinkle of Follow Your Heart Shredded Cheese Alternative, and 2 mini pita pockets to a lunch container. Poor 2 Tbl of Just Ranch into a small container for dressing.

LUNCH #2: “Just Caesar” Salad with Pita Add 2 handfuls of salad greens, 2 mini pita pockets, and a liberal sprinkle of Follow Your Heart Shredded Cheese Alternative to a lunch container. Pour 2 Tbl of Just Caesar into a small container for dressing.

LUNCH #3: Veggies & Pita with Hummus Add 1/3 of the bell pepper (sliced), 1/3 of the cucumber (sliced into sticks or discs, whichever is preferred), 1/3 of the carrot (cut into sticks), and 2 mini pitas to a lunch container. Scoop a few Tbl of hummus into a small container for dipping.

LUNCH #4: Hummus Pasta Salad Add a cup of cooked pasta to a lunch container. Add 1/3 of the cucumber  (diced), 1/3 of the bell pepper (diced), and 1/3 of the carrot (diced), then stir in a couple scoops of hummus.

LUNCH #5: Lentil Marinara Pasta Add 1/4 cup of prepared lentils and 1 cup of prepared pasta to a lunch container. Stir in the desired amount of spaghetti sauce. Optional: top with Follow Your Heart Shredded Cheese Alternative.


SHOPPING LIST:

1 package of salad greens (or 1 head of lettuce)

1 large carrot

1 English cucumber

1 large bell pepper (whichever color is preferred)

1 package of mini whole grain pitas (you’ll need 6 mini pitas)

1 container of hummus (or homemade; you’ll need just a few tablespoons)

1 package of dried pasta (I used Banza for extra protein)

1 jar of spaghetti sauce (you’ll need just a serving’s worth)

1 bag of lentils (or prepared lentils if preferred, you’ll need just 1/4 cup)

1 container of Follow Your Heart Shredded Cheese Alternative

1 container of Just Ranch (you’ll need roughly 2 Tbl)

1 container of Just Caesar (you’ll need roughly 2 Tbl)


Comment here or tag me on Instagram (@thedairydiaries) if you make any of these lunches. I’d love to see your creations and variations.

Happy packing!

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School Daze: Dinner’s Done (Meal Planning)

Back-to-school can mean even nuttier evenings than usual with homework and extracurriculars, worn-out kids and snack demands. So how do I minimize the chaos? Meal planning.IMG_20170819_181942_053

I used to wait until lunchtime to figure out dinner. Not only did that add to my stress level, stacking another task on my harried afternoon, but it often left me racing to the store for last-minute ingredients — which amped up the grocery bill — or I simply wound up making the same tired three or four meals on rotation, since we generally had the necessary ingredients in the house. Then I began meal planning.

Not only did my stress level diminish because there was no rush to figure out meals, but our grocery bill declined too. And, guess What? We ate better!

How do I meal plan? I go pretty low-tech compared to some, but this is my process.

1) Look to the calendar. Every week I sit down and plan out the meals according to our calendar. If I have a mom date one night, The Hubs is in charge of dinner so I don’t bother planning a meal for that day. If it’s supposed to be beautiful one day and The Hubs isn’t slotted to be busy with work, I’ll be sure to plan a grillable meal. If I know we have a packed afternoon one day, I plan an easy meal.

2) Special requests, anyone? Before finalizing the meal plan, I ask the kids and The Hubs if they have any meal requests for the following week. Then I try to incorporate those menu items.

3) Write it down. Simply using the Memo app on my phone, I type out my week’s meal plan.

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4) List it out. After creating the menu, I go to my preferred grocery store’s app and create my grocery list. Before adding the frequently purchased items, I make sure the ingredients for each menu item are on my list. Then, I add the usual staple products.

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Grocery list on the store app

5)  Abide by the list. The biggest part of meal planning isn’t devising a menu or creating a comprehensive grocery list, it’s sticking to the plan. At first, it can be tempting to wing it and go back to old habits of take-out or frozen meals. Forcing yourself to stick to meal planning is the key to its success. After a few weeks, it simply becomes habit.


Looking to shave even more money off of your grocery bill? Here are some easy ways to go about it.

1) Circulars and coupons. Check out local stores’ circulars and coupons then design your menu around deals.

2) In-season shopping. Buying produce that’s in-season is a major money saver. Apples and butternut squash in fall, zucchini and tomatoes in summer. Let the season’s produce inspire your menu.

3) Fresh over premade. The fewer processed items you buy, the cheaper and healthier your meals will be. Instead of buying a box of seasoned rice, stir your own pantry herbs into plain homemade rice. Instead of opting for a tub of guacamole, mash up your own. Not an inventive cook? There are tons of recipes online. Google is your friend.

4) Go meat-free (or low-meat). Since dropping meat, our grocery bill has been $50-$100 less every week compared to when we ate meat daily. The less meat you buy, the less you pay at the register. Beans, lentils, and other plant-based (unprocessed) protein sources are widely cheaper and healthier than animal protein. Compare the cost and nutritionals of a can of beans or a bag of lentils to a platter of chicken breasts or a pouch of ground beef, and you may be a plant-eater more often.

5) Buy in bulk. If space and finances allow, buy staple items in bulk. Just be careful not to purchase products simply because they’re available in bulk or on sale. This would not be the time to make impulse or experimental buys. Stick to tried-and-trues. If you won’t use it, don’t buy it.


Now that you have the know-how, get planning! Make your afternoons a bit less stressful and your evenings a bit smoother with a little extra planning. You deserve it!

 

School Daze: Morning Prep

School mornings… as pleasant as a hemorrhoid, no? Early start, grumpy kids (and parents), little time, lots to do, start times, and tantrums (from kids and parents.) Fun!

Though our mornings aren’t scenes of fairytale bliss, and far from serene, they are streamlined. They are organized. How? One word: preparation.

I wake up ahead of everyone to heat breakfasts, pop lunches into backpacks, and begin my day so that by the time my crew shuffles downstairs, the rhythm is already in motion. My first-thing-in-the-morning task load isn’t too great though because I prepare everything I can ahead of time.

Lunches and snacks? Made at the beginning of the week. I simply grab a container stack, the water bottle, and place it in the lunchbox.

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Outfits? Laid out for the school week on Sunday evening based on the weather forecast and week’s schedule. The day’s outfit hung in the bathroom, so there are no clothing battles in the too-early morning.

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Each outfit bundle contains a top, bottom, socks, and underwear

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A week of outfits

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The next day’s outfits

Breakfasts? Prepared and plated the night before. I just heat and place them on the table while my caffeine brews.

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Mama’s caffeine? Set up the night before and ready to brew.

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Mama’s tea

Basically, when I wake up in the morning, it’s a matter of hitting “play” as opposed to scrambling to piece it all together while attempting to ready myself and my minions for the day. (That’s a feat in and of itself.)

We all could use a leg up in the morning. Why not give yourself one with a little prepping?

 

School Daze: Out-the-Door Organization

As requested, I am starting a little series about my school year organization and preparation tips. Let me begin with the most exhausting portion of the school day: getting out the door.

Now, let me preface this by clarifying that I am not a professional organizer or even a neat freak. I have three young close-in-age kids and a clutter-prone husband who often works from home. I aim for livable neatness (as in, “heathens live here but someone among us is trying to be neat.”)

Sure, I have donation boxes waiting for months to be offloaded. I have paper piles and a cluttered basement. BUT I know how to organize to get multiple mini-humans (and myself) out the door early every day. So, here are my tips on organizing to get out that door in the AM.

If you’re like us, you exit via your garage door as opposed to your front door. This makes the mudroom the primary portal. Getting everyone in their shoes with their backpacks out one door can seem akin to wrangling cats into a rabbit hole.

We have a primary shoe basket in the kitchen just beyond the mudroom where we keep daily use shoes. I used to keep school shoes in there too, but that lead to “I can’t find my shoes!” And “Why can’t I wear my pool sandals on the pumpkin patch field trip?” drama. So that habit needed adjusting.

Solution: backpack and school shoe central:

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Out-the-door Organization

Using damage-free Command hooks, I hung the kids’ backpacks and shoes (soles out) on the coat closet door. I added a cheap folding step stool to aid my shrimpy first grader in reaching her top-tier items. Then, I adhered her teacher’s reminders just beside the door.

And there we go. No hunting for shoes. No missing backpacks. No school debris strewn across our kitchen.

Easy peasy!

Next up: morning prep.

Day in the Life of a SAHM

We’re just three weeks into the school year and I’m doggie-paddling. Anyone else feel like they’re this close to drowning? Anyone?

It may not sound like much but managing a half-day preschool calendar and a full-day kindergarten calendar along with a 1-year-old’s routine, household duties, and a breast pumping schedule for milk donation has me harried. I am still new to this regiment and — full disclosure — it’s tearing me limb from limb. And we don’t even have homework or extracurricular activities yet, people!

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This is a glimpse at my average weekday schedule:

5:00/5:30am: 1-year-old wakes to nurse.

5:45am: Put 1-year-old back to bed or bring him downstairs with me (depending on how early he feels like waking.)

6:00am: Eat an apple and drink green tea while I pump. Catch up on news, check social media, and edit the blog while I moo.

6:40am: Done pumping. Clean pump parts, put lunchboxes I filled yesterday into backpacks, set out shoes (and jackets, if needed), and put out breakfasts I made the day before. Pour myself a second cup of tea and head upstairs to get ready. Husband (aka: The Hubs) lumbers downstairs around now, unless the 1-year-old awoke him a bit earlier, and brews coffee while starting his work-from-home workday.

6:55am: 1-year-old is in the tub beside my vanity playing while I get ready. I switch between doing my hair and make-up and ensuring he doesn’t try to eat the bathtub drain.

7:15am: 1-year-old is done with the tub. Time to get him dried and dressed.

7:20am: Wake up kindergartener. Race back to my bathroom to finish up the last bits of my morning routine before she calls me to do her hair.

7:25am: Kindergartener is dressed. I play hairstylist.

7:27am: 1-year-old is causing mayhem so I ask The Hubs to fetch him.

7:30am: Kindergartener heads downstairs to eat breakfast. Preschooler is awake and headbutting his bedroom door.

7:35: Preschooler is pottied, dressed, brushed, and coifed. He heads downstairs for breakfast.

7:40am: I go downstairs dragging a hamper of dirty laundry.

7:43am: Start the laundry. Start to tidy the kitchen. Someone needs help with something (baby gate, breakfast, wardrobe malfunction.) Take my vitamins. Blend my smoothie that was prepped the day before and transfer it into my straw cup. Breastfeed 1-year-old while giving the kindergartener a 2-minute warning before it’s time to leave. The Hubs goes upstairs to get dressed.

7:45am: The Hubs is dressed. Kisses, love, wishes for a good day, and reminders to be a friendly friend. The Hubs and kindergartener leave for morning drop-off.

7:50am: Breastfeeding 1-year-old because he got distracted with big sister’s exit. Preschooler demands a snack though he’s holding his half-eaten breakfast while wearing a princess costume.

8:00am: Tidy kitchen. Clean smoothie mixing vessel. Rinse pump parts and clean up breakfast aftermath. Prepare prechooler’s snack after collecting his empty breakfast plate.

8:02am: 1-year-old wants a snack too. Prepare his snack.

8:05am: Now I’m peckish. I pour a small bowl of hippie cereal (seeds, buckwheat groats, dried berries, coconut flakes, and cashewmilk) and sit down with the mug of cold tea I forgot to bring upstairs with me.

8:10am: I’m sitting and eating cereal. Catching up on social media and/or local news. Playroom scuffle breaks out. Scoop the last bites of hippie cereal down my gullet on the way to referee the brawl.

8:15am: Playroom peace attained. I check the oven clock. How the HELL is it only 8:15?!? I check my phone. Yep… 8:15. Shit. I clean up my cereal and unload the dishwasher.

8:30am: In the playroom reading with the minions.

8:35am: Clean-up time (code for: tot coup d’etat)

8:39am: Playroom moderately tidied. 1-minute warning to departure for preschool drop-off. I head to the kitchen to fill my water bottle and notice my smoothie sweating on the counter. Oh right, I made a smoothie! (Like I do every. Single. Day.) I put the smoothie next to my water bottle and keys to bring with me. Then change 1-year-old’s diaper.

8:40am: Drama ensues because leaving the house must always involve chaos and yelling. Always.

8:43am: Boys are in the car, shoes on (so help me!), and buckled into their car seats. I flop into the driver’s seat trying to remember what it was like when all I had to do to leave the house was put on my shoes, grab my keys, and leave. The mental file is too outdated… file not found.

8:50am: We arrive at the school early because I’m a type-A pain-in-the-ass who fears arriving late. We wait for 3 minutes in the car before starting the unbuckling routine. Meanwhile, I drink my now-melted smoothie.

8:58am: Preschooler is kissed, wished a good day, and signed in. I chat with some familiar faces then head to the car, 1-year-old riding on my hip.

9:01am: Get in the car and head either to Target or the grocery store since no other fruitful destinations are open at this time. On storytime days, Target is our destination.

9:20am: Arrive at Target. Pop 1-year-old in the Ergo 360 and off we go.

9:25am: 1-year-old is peckish. He nurses in the Ergo while I grab paper goods and eye all the women’s fashion section from afar. Target is now my fashion magazine. Oh, wide-leg jeans are back in!

9:38am: Checked out, paid, buckled in, still parked, I grab my phone and add something to the grocery list that I just remembered we need. (Thank you, Wegmans app!)

9:55am: We arrive at storytime before the library even opens (see 8:50am time slot for reasoning.) 1-year-old is chilling in his car seat so I turn up the music and check email and Instagram while we sit. I remember I need to schedule a pediatrician well-check… mental reminder. Then I realize I should probably drink more water, so I chug.

10:05am: Heading into storytime, the cereal and smoothie and water have caught up to me. Pee break in a public restroom while holding my 1-year-old: amateur contortion.

10:10am: 1-year-old is enjoying free reign of the children’s section. He keeps a close eye on the doors to the storytime room.

10:30am: The doors open. 1-year-old charges in. Storytime!

11:05am: Heading home for lunch.

11:15am: Wash hands then microwave last night’s leftovers for lunch while the 1-year-old shrieks out of sheer starvation, unless The Hubs (who generally works from home) had a slower morning and was able to heat up lunch.

11:30am: Eat lunch and rehash the morning with The Hubs.

11:40am: Clean up lunch and set up tea kettle to brew.

11:45am: Head upstairs to change 1-year-old and nurse him for naptime.

12:05pm: If I’m lucky, the 1-year-old is finally asleep and I can head downstairs to pour a cup of tea and set up my breast pump. If he’s not asleep, I’m still in the glider being milked.

12:45pm: The Hubs kindly leaves to pick up the preschooler.

1:10pm: I’m cleaning pump parts and bagging milk when the preschooler arrives home. He potties, scrubs his hands, and goes down for a nap.

1:15pm: I pour my second cup of tea and sit down with great aspirations of ass-sitting. Instead, I make the grocery list and meal plan, check my calendar, scout weekend activities, call the pediatrician to make the well-check, and check email.

1:30pm: One of the boys awakes. They’re not supposed to be up until 2pm but, gosh darn it, one or both of them nearly always awakes now. I remember the load of laundry in the washer as I go to collect the early riser. I transfer it to the dryer before I go upstairs.

2:00pm: Naptime is over. A part inside me cries… another potentially restful naptime lost. Back to snack-making and kid-wrangling.

2:15pm: Feed the boys a snack, figure out a car ride snack for the kindergartener and the neighbor girl we drive home, and tidy the inexplicably messy kitchen.

2:30pm: Start getting everyone ready for kindergarten pick-up. Drama — as always — upon our departure.

2:45pm: We pull into the school parking lot. (School doesn’t let out for another 30 minutes but, I think you know by now that this is how I roll.)

2:50pm: The boys play out front with other younger siblings while I simultaneously chat with fellow parents and fish acorns and rocks from my 1-year-old’s mouth.

3:15pm: The kindergartener and neighbor girl head our way.

3:30pm: Everyone is noshing on granola bars and rehashing the day’s events as we exit the school parking lot.

3:40pm: Home. Shoes off. Hands scrubbed. A small snack is served at the heathens’ demand while I clean out the lunchbox and review evening expectations: any papers, homework, items of note? The kindergartener regales us with details of her day. We listen.

4:00pm: Kindergartener heads to her room for quiet time. Preschooler tries to join her but must stay downstairs instead. You want to watch “The Little Memaid” for the 456734th time? Will it make it so you won’t try to sneak upstairs to make fart noises outside of your sister’s bedroom door? Fine. I start dinner, lunch, and breakfast prep. Kids pepper me with: “Can I have a snack?”, “Can we go outside now?”, “Is it dinnertime yet?” The answer is “no.”

5:00pm: Dinner. Everyone is excited and claims they will eat every morsel.

5:20pm: Everyone except for the preschooler has finished dinner. The dinner drama ensues during dinner clean-up and morning prep. Start the dishwasher.

5:45pm: If the preschooler hasn’t finished now, it’s too late. Playroom time to let dinner settle. I breastfeed the 1-year-old while checking social media, email, check in with friends about this life event or that, and check the next day’s calendar.

6:00pm: Wrangle all of the kids outside to play.

6:40pm: Everyone comes inside. I throw the dry laundry into a laundry basket and put it in the family room (where it will sit mocking me for at least 2 days… or until I run out of laundry baskets and am forced to fold it along with three other laundry heaps.)

6:45pm: Playroom clean-up (always a pleasant experience… like a root canal without painkillers.) The Hubs showers and, once I can see the playroom floor, the kids and I do storytime.

7:00pm: The Hubs supervises the kindergartener’s shower and the preschooler’s bath. I get the 1-year-old in pajamas and nurse him before bed. I peruse Pinterest and plan playdates or outings with friends while breastfeeding my sleepy 1-year-old.

7:40pm: 1-year-old is in bed. I shower.

7:50pm: On the sofa with my giant bottle of fizzy water, my breast pump, and The Hubs to watch one of our shows (presently, “Narcos”) then chat about the day before heading up to bed.

9:30pm: I set my alarm for way-too-damn’-early o’clock but know I won’t even need the alarm because of my 1-year-old.

And I do it all again tomorrow.

 

 

5 Dairy-free School Lunches

A new school year has begun. That means packing nutritious, filling, easy-to-eat lunches and snacks is back on the to-do list.

Here are 5 kid-approved, dairy-free school lunch and snack options that received the empty-lunchbox seal of approval from my kindergartener.

1) Turkey roll-up with fruit, veggies & flaxseed brownie, and a grape tomato snack

Turkey roll-up with fruit, veggies & flaxseed brownie

Turkey roll-up with fruit, veggies & flaxseed brownie, and grape tomato snack

Turkey roll-up: Dampen a paper towel. Wrap a flat, small corn tortilla in the dampened paper towel and microwave for 10 seconds to make the tortilla pliable. Remove the tortilla from the paper towel. Spread a thin layer of Tofutti Cream Cheese on the tortilla. Roll a single slice of deli turkey into a tube and place in a vertical line on the center of the tortilla. Wrap the tortilla around the turkey, then cut the roll-up in half.

Side produce: Add sliced nectarine and sliced rounds of cucumber to the lunch container.

Treat: Add a flaxseed brownie for a nutritious treat.

Snack: Place a handful of clean grape tomatoes into a container.

2) Bean dip dippers and fruit salad snack

Veggies and plantain chips with homemade bean dip

Bean dip dippers with fruit salad snack

Homemade bean dip: Drain and rinse 1 can of pinto beans, then pour into food processor. Drizzle in 2 Tbl of extra virgin olive oil. Squeeze in the juice of 1 lime. Sprinkle in salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder, and garlic powder to taste. Blend until smooth, occasionally stopping to scrape the sides of the food processor. Serve immediately or refrigerate for later use.

Dippable sides: Chop jicama into sticks, cucumber into round slices (or sticks, if preferred), and slice bell pepper into strips. Add grape tomatoes and a few plantain chips too.

Fruit salad: Place clean red grapes, sliced strawberries, and chopped honey dew melon in a container.

3) Hummus and veggie roll-up with fruit & carrot sticks, and a bell pepper & grape tomato snack

Hummus & veggie roll-up with fruit and carrot sticks, and pepper & grape tomato snack

Hummus & veggie roll-up with fruit and carrot sticks, and pepper & grape tomato snack

Hummus and veggie roll-up: Wrap one corn tortilla in a damp paper towel and microwave for 10 seconds to make it pliable. Lay the tortilla flat and spread a thin layer of hummus on the tortilla. In a vertical line in the center of the tortilla pile diced cucumber and diced tomato. Sprinkle the veggies with salt and pepper, then roll up the tortilla from left to right and cut in half.

Side dishes: Add honeydew melon chunks and clean purple grapes to one container and carrot sticks to another.

Snack: Add a handful of clean cherry tomatoes and sliced bell pepper to a container.

4) Sunbutter Dippers, and grape snack

Sunbutter dippers, and grape snack

Sunbutter dippers, and grape snack

Sunbutter dippers: Place apple, celery sticks, and dairy-free pretzels into a container. Add 2 tablespoons of Sunbutter to the container for dipping.

Grape snack: Place a handful of clean grapes in a separate container.

5) Coconut Yogurt Dippers with carrot snack

Coconut yogurt dippers with carrot snack

Coconut yogurt dippers with carrot snack

Coconut yogurt: Scoop 2-3 spoonfuls of SoDelicious yogurt (or your preferred dairy-free yogurt) into a container.

Dippers: Place half if a sliced apple in one container and a dairy-free granola bar (we like these) in another container. Add pumpkin seeds, dried berries, and coconut flakes to the granola compartment.

Snack: Pile carrot sticks into a small container.

“Last Year” Mom Guilt

Last night just as I drifted towards dreamland a realization startled me into teary wakefulness: this is my last year with a baby at home. Next year, all three children will be in school. I will not have a child constantly in tow. I am not ok with this. Let me repeat, I AM NOT OK WITH THIS.

Nope. Too fast. Too, too fast.

Cue the mom guilt. Guilt that I missed so much time with #1 and #2 because I was working part-time. Guilt that I don’t work part-time with #3 because that means my mom (my childcare provider) hasn’t gotten to bond with him as she did with #1 and #2, guilt that I get frustrated. Guilt that I don’t spend enough individual time with each child. Guilt that sometimes I need a break. Guilt that it all went by so quickly and I must be losing memory capacity because it went by too fast. Guilt that I didn’t babywear with #1 and #2 like I do with #3. Guilt that I have bad days. Guilt that I’m ok with being “mean mom” (because being a passive parent seems much sweeter). Guilt that sometimes I just want to zone out on social media instead of playing princess-rockstar-doctor with the kids. Guilt… so much guilt.

The shoddy mom thoughts started. You know the ones. The nit-picky negative swell of self-defeating insults that sabotage any maternal confidence.

“Stop!” I told myself. This is pointless. I am a human parenting humans; things will not be perfect. I will falter, they will falter, life will move on. I just need to try to learn from mistakes, try to do better, offer love and support as best I can, teach my children to be decent humans, give myself breaks so I can offer the better parts of myself, and be there… just be there.

I took a deep breath and refocused. I allowed my mind to replay the slideshow of “last year before preschool” memories from #1 and #2’s baby years. Tears fell. My heart swelled. I drifted off to sleep.

This will be my last year with a baby at home. I will enjoy it.

Kindergarten: Why It’s a Big Deal

As I wiped away tears after watching my firstborn walk into her new school for her first day of kindergarten, I asked myself: why is kindergarten such a big deal? We’ve already experienced the “first day of school” three times before with preschool. What is so momentous about this year?

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It’s more than just starting school, I realized. It’s a departure from a safety net. It’s the beginning of a new chapter. A new way of life.

For many children — and their parents — kindergarten signals the start of a new routine. No more half-days of preschool. No more Memorial Day to Labor Day school calendar. No more post-naptime playdates or 2:00 swim class. Kindergarten runs on the same 7-hour timetable as grade school and high school. That means that this new regiment of early rising and afternoon pick-up will be in place until the child is at least 18-years old. That’s 13 years!

Homework, carpool, projects, standardized testing, PTO meetings, and back-to-school night… the makings of a school-centric, instead of home-centric, chapter. Packed lunches and permission slips, playground tumbles and social tussles, school nurse visits and principal’s office scoldings. It is a time of routine and hurdles. It’s a time of growth.

For stay-at-home parents, the transition is particularly poignant. Accustomed to initiating and witnessing most playdates and social activities themselves, stay-at-home parents will now only hear snippets of their children’s days. Piecing together the verbal puzzle to construct a vision of the child’s experience. No longer sharing in their child’s life first-hand. They are a distant bystander awaiting filtered highlights from a not-always-willing narrator.

Someone else will bandage the boo-boo and open the juice pouch. Someone else will offer solice when egos are bruised and knees are scraped. Someone else will teach and shepherd, protect and comfort our children. We are no longer THE caretaker.

The transition signals as much a change for parents as it does the children. It is a step towards independence. A step into the big world.

May all the fledgling kindergarteners find comfort, joy, and inspiration in their new school year. May all the parents feel secure in the care provided by the schools. May the year ahead be one of positive growth and development. May we all stand together to celebrate and comfort one another through this transition.

 

Kindergarten is Coming!

Summer is drawing to a close. Fall is creeping in. Kindergarten is coming!

#1 at her kindergarten playdate

#1 at her kindergarten playdate

 

“It’s time to go!” I called, baby on my hip, keys in my hand. My 5-year-old ran out of the door to the car, the fabric wings on her turquoise “My Little Pony” dress flapping behind her. Her light-up “Frozen” sneakers flashing with each joyful step. “Can I wear lip gloss?” She asked as I fastened her youngest brother into his car seat. “We’re headed to a Catholic school kindergarten playdate. Let’s stick to Chapstick.” I compromised.

When we arrived at the playground she could barely contain her enthusiasm. She clutched her sequined “Hello Kitty” purse, anxiously awaiting her minivan exit. “Perhaps we should leave the purse in the car,” I suggested, “We wouldn’t want it to get lost or broken on the playground.” She agreed.

She gripped my hand as we walk across the parking lot, craning her neck in search of other playmates. The event coordinator had just finished setting out jugs of water and disposable cups. A little girl with long blond waves approached the woman, the girl’s father just a few paces behind. “Are you here for the kindergarten playdate?” I ask the girl. She nods and flashes an excited grin. I introduce my daughter, saying, “She’s here for the playdate too.” And off the girls scampered.

Within moments of arriving, my daughter was spinning the merry-go-round. She was in her element. Happy. Independent. She didn’t look back except to smile.

That girl is going to rock kindergarten.