Saturday, August 28, 2010

Spotlight on Michael (uhh...what's new?)

I'm in love with this photo of Michael and have to get a nice print for our living room.  Some things we've noticed about our rough & tumble toddler lately (you know, the details that really no one cares about except a mother):
  • Adores music--begs for songs such as Grease, Key Largo, Reflections, Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport, Hot Potatoe, Stayin' Alive, pretty much anything by "Jackson Michael" or the Jackson 5, Santa Baby, "Jesus Sunbeam," and Beethoven's 5th.  He's got the words and music almost completely down for them all....and for a good 50 or so other songs.  His repertoire is decidedly eclectic, a definite reflection of the night-and-day musical tastes that he's exposed to between me, Serg, and his grandparents around the corner.  However, this kid seriously has an amazing ear for lyrics...he's really lingusitically inclined and I can't wait to get him into a Spanish language immersion program.
  • Loves trucks and cars--shouts in delight any time he sees a truck, van, car, bike, airplane, or train.  His exclamation is usually accompanied by the color of the vehicle.  He LOVES to ride in Grandpa's red truck and still talks about his red truck birthday cake
  • He refuses to eat any vegetables or anything that remotely looks like one.  Anything that resembles cake or chips is in his mouth without the need for much convincing.  I don't completely get this one--there are all sorts of fruits and veggies he used to eat, but now refuses to.  I'm hoping this stage doesn't last too long.
  • If Michael could eat what he wanted at every meal, it would be pizza, chicken nuggets, cake, ice cream, and milk.
  • Michael recognizes about half of the alphabet letters correctly.  The rest are a bit more hit and miss.
  • He can count to 10 perfectly, to 20 almost perfectly, and has great one-to-one correspondence (though he sometimes counts some items several times--but one by one).  He can also count to 10 in Spanish, but (embarrassingly) although his first words were in Spanish, he now laughs at the sound of Spanish.  Again, dual language preschool will begin at age 3!
  • He's starting to request that I write the letter M...starting to see it as "his" letter
  • Loves coloring (anywhere and everywhere--lots of floor and wall cleanups lately) and playdough (moved quickly passed the feed it to the dog and eat it myself stages, thank goodness;  he's now in the sneak pieces into the living room and stomp them into the carpet stage....grrr!)
  • He's talking in long phrases and sometimes compete sentences.  Some of his favorite "sentence stems:"   "I want ______"  "I like _____"  "I love _____"  "Michael's (gerund)"  "Mommy's/Daddy's/etc (gerund)" "I see _____"
  • He loves to get on the phone with Daddy, Grandma, or Grandad
  • Michael loves to wrestle and play fight with Daddy and Uncle Jason.  He absolutely LOVES to visit their school and play with their training equipment
  • Loves to "jump like a kangaroo"
  • Still talks about his trip in an airplane
  • Thinks anything with a machine-like "whirring" sound is a vacuum--an item with which he has a love-hate relationship
  • Has an adorable cow-lick that I don't believe will ever be tamed beyond an hour or so
  • Loves to "clean" with paper towels and a spray bottle of water
  • Sits in time-out for a minute, waits for the timer to go off, and even occasionally puts himself far it's worked really well and he emerges ready to give me a hug and kiss and try again with a smile.  To be totally honest, it's not even a form of discipline I was using until he put himself in time out (He said, much to my surprise, "sit in time out?" and plopped himself down on a patch of carpet in the living room that's been his self-designated spot ever since.  Kinda easy, I know.  We'll see how long it lasts!)
  • His favorite book right now is Mama Do You Love Me? He's got most of the key words memorized.  While being asked to read the same book 5 times in a row during a 30 min period can be a little monotonous, how can I say no to that book?  It's a cute one.
  • He's finally interacting in our super brief FHE lessons and remembering what we're teaching.
  • Afternoon church on Sundays is a fun one.  Church meetings are exactly in the middle of his normal naptime, so Michael's a bit of a mess and either Serg or I spend pretty much all of sacrament meeting out in the hall.  I really don't mind off-duty (enjoying the talks in the chapel without a two-year old throwing projectiles at the heads of people in front of us) nor on-duty (hang out in the foyer and socialize with other moms of equally active two-year-old boys).
  • Loves belts and buckles, clips, and ties.  He loves putting pieces together and pulling them apart.
  • He can down 3 slices of pizza in one sitting
  • He very literally aims at lamps while throwing small toy balls in the house...not strong enough to really knock something yet, but it's just a matter of time...
  • Loves to climb, especially on a chair to stand next to me while I'm cooking or washing something.  I love it.
  • He loves apples and peanut butter (but hates apple peel), cheesesticks ("white cheese"), tortillas ("tortitas"), yogurt, bread, fruit snacks
  • He memorizes names really quickly.
  • He loves Sesame Street Fiesta and any episode of Elmo's World.
  • He loves to pull Prince's tail and make him yelp
  • Michael covers his ears and closes his eyes when in trouble.  I can't see you, you can't see me.
  • He loves being outside and playing in water.  Bathtime is a favorite (and sometimes a bribe) as is running in the sprinklers, playing in his tiny pool, going to the water play area at the park, etc.  I've got to make sure he starts swimming lessons next summer!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Mr. Michael Turns 2

Michael has been looking forward to his birthday all week, talking about cake and asking me to sing him the "Happy Birthday To You song" probably close to a zillion times.  Last night we had a family party for him and I reveled in the fact that I had time to put a few special things together for him (compared to last year's party planned and executed entirely by Serg, assisted by Priscilla, Jason's girlfriend (now wife!).  I simply zoomed over from my frantic beginning of the year preparations at school and joined the party, feeling like a bit of a lousy mom).  Birthdays, even the ones where we just celebrated with the family, were always pretty special when I was a kid.  Mom's food & cake prep was always at the bidding of the birthday boy or girl and she really put a lot of love into the little things for our birthdays.  It was so fun to be able to do a little bit of the same for Michael this year!

A tiny bit of party decorating.

Michael is obsessed with trucks (particularly Grandpa's red truck), so the cake choice was an easy one.  The choice, that is.  The cake itself was quite an undertaking, but really fun to create!

Michael excitedly waits for everyone to arrive.  I'm grateful everyone's a little late so my face can cool down about 5 shades of red after a ridiculously long wait at the Little Caesar's drive through (yeah, I know, I know...I went hardcore on the cake and easy on the main dish--he did request pizza, so that's the way it goes)  ...a wait that ended in about 5 minutes of heater on full-blast to keep my car from overheating.  Yeah, fun stuff with a two-year old screaming "I want cake birthday!" from the backseat.

Michael tries a little driving to keep his mind off the fact that there's pizza and cake sitting in the kitchen that he's not allowed to touch till the family arrives.

Mom, c'mon.  Just a quick finger in the frosting?  Pretty please?

And the crowds begin to arrive!  Michael runs around the house in sheer joy (and, I'm sure, relief that the pizza and "cake birthday" will soon be his to eat).

After dinner....presents!

Finally, candles and cake!

This was preceded by a very demanding, "Mommy take a picture!"


"Change is the essence of life.  Be willing to surrender who you are for what you could become." ~Anonyomous

So I finally have some time to sit down and blog about the changes I've been making over the past month or so...

Making some sort of change to my career--primarily to find a position where I'm not working 70-80 hour work weeks--has been on my mind on and off for several months now, so I can't say that my decisions during the past several weeks were TOTALLY and completely out of the blue. However, by this past April I was excitedly looking forward to at least one more year with IDEA--as a campus we were heading into our third year of operation and building strong program momentum. When an email blast from TFA in May advertised an open Managing Director of ELA position I decided to go ahead and apply for it, considering it a bit of a long shot and also unsure of whether or not I would accept it if offered.

I informed my new manager that I'd applied for it, but assured her it didn't mean my resignation was imminent--just wanted to give her a heads up as several of my references had connections to a variety of people at IDEA and I didn't want her to be surprised if someone said something. Interestingly, every one of the people I'd contacted to be references then reached out to me with additional job opportunities.  I decided to interview for a couple of of them, just to see what doors might open (and because it turned out that the original position I'd applied and collected references for had been filled before I even submitted my application! Ironic, eh?)

So...a little more about the other avenues I explored:  One was more of an advocacy/development position, so while it seemed like an incredibly interesting position (and one I would have seriously considered had there been an offer), I wasn't at all surprised when, after several interviews, they called to tell me I didn't have the skill set this job needed.  There was also another principalship opportunity, but I new it would be just as demanding--if not more--as my current job, so it just didn't make sense to go that route, as much as I do love principalship.  I continue to believe in the power of a school leader to transform their school and definitively close the achievement gap for the students that attend it.   It's just not the right job for me right now... a mom with a young (and hopefully, soon, growing) family who doesn't want to miss this amazing (and fleeting!) season of life.

Then, just a day or two before we left for Australia, one of my former principals sent me a job description for an Instructional Leadership Coach position with a local district looking to expand their middle school and high school college readiness program across the district.  She and I spoke during my final week in Australia, and I became increasingly excited about the position and its potential--both professionally (total focus on areas I love most and am strongest in--coaching teachers, curriculum and instruction etc--working closely with teachers and administrators, new experiences with secondary teachers and admins, widen scope from school to district, work with a traditional public district that is focused on college readiness reform and values bilingualism, significant pay raise) as well as personally (more flexible, work less days a year (like 40 - 50 less!), daily/weekly work schedule more conducive to my current family goals, etc).   I interviewed soon after returning to the U.S. and am still waiting for a formal offer, though after speaking with the hiring manager last week, it looks promising.

I'm also in the middle of interviewing for another Teach For America national office position opening--Director of Design for Elementary Literacy.  It's a dream job for me (totally focused on elementary literacy, lots of digging into instruction, curriculum, problem-solving galore, work from home, periodic travel to regions across the country, etc), but it would mean a somewhat significant pay cut--not, however, something I don't think we could handle if we budgeted carefully as a family.  It is a job I know I'd love, so I'm in the third and final stage of the interview process there--final interview this Tuesday.  Crossing my fingers this leads to an offer.

So...why the sudden obsession with finding a job when, before, it was simply me exploring what's out there?  On my final Sunday in Australia I started having a really strong impression that I needed to make a change and now--first and foremost to definitively move toward a job that will allow me to spend more time with my family, and second, to allow my school to begin the new school year with a new principal and not have to make any changes once the school year had begun.  As I mentioned earlier, leaving my current position has crossed my mind at times before (and much more frequently what with the job opportunities presenting themselves during the weeks before we left for Australia) but no offers had been made, so without anything concrete to move on to I'd dismissed it.  When none of the interviews at the end of the recent school year ended up in offers, it seemed to be clear that I'd stay as principal for at least another year...and while nervous about another year of intense work hours, I was excited about the many innovations we'd be making in our third year (expanding dual language, launching our Teaching Fellows program, lots of new fantastic staff, etc).

However, this feeling on Sunday seemed to be more than just a mere thought--it really began to feel like a strong impression or prompting that I really needed to simply do it.   Serg and I had been praying for months that we'd be able to be less and less dependent on my job's income so that I would have the freedom to change jobs, cut my hours, work part time, or even eventually take some time off work altogether to spend more time with Michael, something I've wanted to do for some time.  It came in and out of my mind--and then during church at one of the wards in Sydney, a woman named Glenda Alekna (who actually happened to be in our ward years back in Melbourne--I think Mum visit taught with her or they were companions or something similar...) gave an amazing talk on faith that seemed to be everything I'd been concerned about.  Every scripture spoke to me, every story she told seemed to be selected just for me, and it become crystal clear what I needed and wanted to do.  If I really was serious about having more hours in the day/week/year to spend with my son, then I really needed to let go and pursue that goal head on.  It was time to find a different job.  I thought and prayed more throughout the afternoon and then talked to Serg about it (via Skype as he was already back in the States).  I was a little nervous about how he'd respond to such a sudden change, but he quietly listened to my retelling of what had happened, how I felt, and what I wanted to do, and he agreed to take a day to think and pray about the decision for himself.  He later emailed that if I felt that strongly that this was the best decision for our family then he'd support it 100%.  Within a couple of hours I had emailed my letter of resignation and promised a call to my supervisor during layovers on the trip back that next day.

So, here I am-- my transition out is over and the new principal (my Assistant Principal, which makes me incredibly happy and confident that the school is in great hands!) is fully transitioned in.  I'm still doing some curriculum work from home for IDEA through to the end of August and am applying and interviewing for new jobs.  It has been really hard to let go and leave my "baby" (starting a school and building it from the ground up gets you pretty connected to it and invested in its fate!) but I'm so truly happy to be spending time with my most important baby...though not so much of a baby anymore.  Michael turned two yesterday!  Leaving one job without another lined up has been a bit of a leap of faith, especially when we rely so heavily on my income, but we're trusting that God will provide...he always has.

Yesterday, Michael's birthday, had me reflecting on his birth and the events surrounding it, including the school's opening just days after he was born.  I'm still not sure how I opened that school on maternity leave...have to give all the credit to my amazing teachers and a wonderful colleague who stepped in to assist me while I was on leave.  However, Michael's entire childhood thus far has been spent primarily with day care caregivers and many evenings with grandparents (or sometimes even there with me at school in the evenings).  Not bad things, but not exactly what I want--I definitely wanted to spend significantly more time with my children, working or not.  Serg works until 8 or 9 PM most nights, I worked late several evenings a week and even when I was able to pick Michael up before his daycare closed at 6 PM, I usually had 4 or 5 hours of work on the computer ahead of me at home.  We both worked most Saturdays.  Some women are able to make it work--power to them!!  (well, I must admit that most of the women I know that have a demanding high-level job and make it work also have a nanny) but I've struggled to make it work well....maybe given a few more years I could have figured it out, but I don't want to lose any more time.  Given my DEEP passion for both my role as a mother and my role leading a new school with incredibly ambitious goals, I've sometimes felt very torn.  Sometimes I felt like I was doing my family a disservice by putting so much time and energy into my job and at other times I felt like I wasn't doing enough for my teachers, students, and their families when I prioritized my family.  I'm so grateful for an amazing husband who's supported whatever choices I've made--we've tag-teamed parenting pretty deftly during these past two years and he's cheered on my fast track to school leadership every step of the way.  On the other hand, he's fully supported this decision to leave that behind for a time and make a sudden career change.  A time or two these past few weeks he's reminded me that everything will work out just fine, I'll find a great job, we'll be OK financially, just grounding me and supporting my choices.

While I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss IDEA Mission and my position as principal, I do know I made the right choice.  I'm still doing some at-home curriculum work for IDEA and, of course, am interviewing for several positions, but overall I've been able to keep Michael home from daycare several days a week and pick him up early on the other days.  We've gone to the pool, the beach, running through the sprinklers, played basketball, visited playgrounds, gone on walks, played soccer, colored, painted, sang songs, and all sorts of other fun activities more during the past few weeks than probably ever before!  When I wonder if I've made the right choice, I spend some time with Michael and am quickly reminded that this is exactly what I want--so glad I made the very difficult choice to leave something behind to gain more time with him each day.  I definitely feel much more relaxed and truly happy, knowing that while some may consider it a stupid move it really is something I needed to do right now.

While I'd be flattering myself waaaaay too much to compare myself with the woman in this video, I did connect to her story about leaving behind something she loved for a time for something she loved even more.  I've found myself having some of the same thoughts and feelings she shares...

Friday, August 13, 2010


I was touched to the core by this video when I first watched it a few weeks back.  Totally inspired by this man's ability to let the  Savior's love and forgiveness move right through him.  I promise, promise, promise I'll catch up on the goings on of my life (recent career change included), but for now just enjoy this story of faith, healing, and total discipleship: