Thursday, May 25, 2017

Critters

We've had a stretch of fun with creatures around the house lately. First is the spider in our kitchen window. For a few weeks, we've watched as a spider has spun her webs, caught bugs, then killed another spider. Shortly after it killed and wrapped up this spider,


it started making an egg sac. We've since learned that what probably happened was the spider mated, consumed its mate, then used the energy from that to make the egg sac. In the mean time, other spiders have taken up residence in the same space. When we wash dishes, sometimes we can see the spider that made the sac "chase" the other, smaller spiders out of her territory. While I won't say I look forward to washing dishes, I have enjoyed checking in with our kitchen spider, and I'm excited to see what happens when the eggs hatch.

Even more fun was the tree frog that took up residence on our back storm door for a day. Allison "discovered" it on the door handle one morning after watering the garden. She touched it before she saw it, and--while I wasn't there to confirm--said that she yelled loud enough to alert the neighbors. 

It stayed on the door handle for the better part of 12 hours. The kids got to see it when they got home (Lauren even unwittingly "discovered" it with her hands first, too). That night while Allison and I watched a little TV, the frog stared through the screen into the house.

We continue to collect and mount the cooler bugs we find around the house, like this one:
















We have great conversations about the animals in the neighborhood (deer, rabbits, vultures, hawks, snakes, raccoons, coyotes, foxes, etc.). I'm especially aware of how thankful I am for inquisitive kids. And I'm thankful we live in a place filled with readily recognizable birds and animals that allow us to share our wonder at the world.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Tobin is ELEVEN.


Big win for Tobin & team. Go Nats! #prouddad

Dear Tobin,

Today you turn eleven years old. Your hair is longer than last year. Your smile is broader. Your quips are quicker. You're taller. And we both get a kick out of how your shoe size is now big enough that I can slip my size-seven feet into your flip flops and rain boots.

Easter T. (Why does he look fourteen?!?)

You are growing up. It's true, you've been doing this all along, but this year, time has slipped by especially quickly and, with it, you have eased into yourself a little more. I notice this especially at school, when surrounded by friends, you are more comfortable with the attention you receive. While you don't seek out attention, like your little sister, you are a measure more comfortable with it. You seem to understand that you are liked and respected--something that has been true all your life, but somehow it seems to rest a bit easier on you.

Tobin & Margaret (not pictured) presented their Great Books project last night to all Tobin's classmates & their families.

You have an awesome teacher. This is your second year in his classroom, and I marvel at how a kid who had a lot going for him had the fortune of landing in this class--where expectations are high and you thrive under them. We are so grateful. Last year was great; this year has been transformative. Earlier this year, in a parent-teacher conference, your teacher shared his hope that you would demonstrate more leadership. I processed this with some protectiveness on your behalf, but I trusted your teacher and you to figure this out. You met the challenge. You're still you: understated and quiet. But people listen when you speak up. You help fourth graders with math. You took on the role of Lysander in your class's rendition of A Midsummer's Night Dream and are diligently preparing for your performance the last week of school.

Happy to be back in the Bull City. Finally. 🐂 #homesweethome

You've been a leader at home, too. This year has been one of transition with me returning to part-time work. Our family schedule has changed such that it's not always possible for me to pick you and your siblings up from school. So y'all have started riding the bus home a few days a week. And sometimes, you arrive home just a few minutes before me. You let yourselves in the house and call me from the home phone to let me know you're safely home. I hear the pride in your voice and the quiet confidence: "It's all good, Mom. We've got this."

Helping her design a bike. (Subtitle: she isn't *always* annoying him.) 😁😍

I am trying hard to be open to that message, especially from you, my oldest child. I still want to protect you and make life easy for you when I can, but I also am increasingly aware that you can do hard things. Most recently, at the ballpark, I've winced when you've struck out and found myself wishing, for you, that you could get into a more consistent hitting groove. But what I've also noticed is how after a strike-out, yours is often the first, loudest voice I hear from the dugout, cheering the next batter on. While I wish baseball could come as easily for you as many other things, I realize that you are learning something from not being the best at something you try. You understand the value of teamwork and that sometimes your role is to encourage, not be the star. You understand that other people can hit more consistently than you and can be okay with it--even happy for them. You are understanding that we each contribute in our own way; life is not a zero-sum game. And you've learned the value of showing up, each spring since you were four years old.

Our main reason for braving the fair: Tobin's art!

I'm thinking a lot about this as you head into your next transition: middle school next year. I have my own anxieties based on what I remember of middle school. This is the part of parenting that's hard: reminding myself that you are not extensions of your dad and me. You are you. You've already expressed some anticipatory sadness about leaving your elementary school and especially your current classroom community. I get it; it will be sad. But you've also talked about trying out for the middle school soccer team and choosing electives like Latin. I don't expect next year or the rest of middle school to be easy, but what I do hope is that you will learn something more about yourself and everybody else.

Oldest & youngest Smith cousins.

Heading into your twelfth year is no different from the day you were born. You are an amazing, precious person. And yet this year will also be totally different, because you will encounter new things that change you and teach you. You are growing up, but you are already you. And I'm more grateful than I can adequately express to be here for another one of your trips around the sun, loving you and appreciating you for who you already are.

Happy birthday, kiddo. May you feel the love--today and every day.

Love,
Mom

Happy! Heels! 😍🏀🐑

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Community

Today on the way home, I had to run two quick errands. I was delayed a little, but for reasons that I realize I'm thankful for. At my first stop, the cashier behind the desk welcomed me with a friendly "Hey Mr. Smith!" I stopped for a second to hear about how community college was going for a former student. She asked about Allison's health, and I asked about her grandma. When I picked up an order, the brother of a former student of mine was working at that desk. He greeted me by name and asked how school was going. We chatted for a minute about his brother, who has had a rough few years.

At my next stop, another former student greeted me in the aisle in the grocery store. A student whom I recognized, but whose name I don't know, was my cashier. He mentioned having friends who knew me and had taken my classes at Riverside. Then, in the parking lot, I ran into two friends and their kids. I hadn't seen their children for over a year. We talked about elementary schools and the coming summer vacation. While we were talking in the parking lot, a former colleague, who transferred to teach at another high school, walked out. The six of us chatted for a few minutes until I got to head home.

In the late 1990s, the idea of "six degrees of separation" became really popular. Today was one of those days that reminded me how interconnected I am with Durham and the lives of thousands of people because of my work. Earlier this week, some friends and I were trying to figure out how many students we had taught over the course of our careers. If I've taught roughly 150 students a year (a low estimate, probably), I've had the opportunity to work with 2700 students in my classroom since starting my career. It has been good to remind myself that teaching is human work this week, because some of the ephemera of the job has been causing me stress. I'm thankful for community today, especially my classroom, my school, and my city.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Abundance

April/May commences an insanely busy period in our lives--every year. After spring break, we hit the ground running with baseball for all three kids. Matt is in his busy season, preparing for end of grade tests in his current classes while, as English department chair, trying to navigate last-minute staff changes and budget cuts while he plans next year's schedule.

I am sending out approximately one million emails a day, primarily in my parent volunteer roles at the kids' school, recruiting parent volunteers for end-of-year events and next year's leadership roles as well as coordinating Teacher Appreciation Week.

At some point, I need to think about the kids' birthdays, which start with Tobin's eleventh on May 18.

Life can feel overwhelming and abundant with good things. That's kind of what I'm feeling right now and what I remind myself of when I feel really stressed: life is very full of good things. I am thankful for life's abundance in this particular moment. (Also? Exhausted.)

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Laughing

Most things can be funny. I'm fortunate to have grown up in a house that laughed a lot, and I'm thankful to live in one that does, too. Laughter has been on my mind a lot the last few days. I'm teaching a class that has begun a humor and satire unit at school, and a friend and I have been trading emails about the brilliance of Calvin & Hobbes comics.

Our kids are funny (these are some of my all-time favorites).

tell 'em









I also appreciate that we laugh at silly things, like funny sounds or ridiculous movies, or laughing when we're scared or surprised. I don't feel like it's a stretch that we laugh in our house every day. I'm thankful to live and laugh with my family at this precious time.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Easter

Sending Easter love & light from the Smiths.

We were home for Easter this year. After spending spring break in Florida with my parents, we headed home for the weekend, since school resumed the Monday after. We also got back in time for the kids to each play a baseball game.

The holiday, a truly Holy Day, of course, has inherent significance--well beyond the traditions of our little family. That said, I've come to love how we celebrate it. What we've cultivated over the years is a day full of joy. This does include things like toys and candy, but it always includes time together. This year our time together was blueberry muffins for breakfast, church, an egg hunt in our front yard, and then an afternoon and evening spent relaxing and playing together.

I'm grateful for Easter, for our family traditions, and the memories we make. I'm also thankful that I have pictures of us each year. My heart aches and swells looking through these as they show the many and varied seasons of our family life.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Spring

Things are shifting. The air is warm and sticky, thick with pollen. Today, the sky was wild and the wind, fierce. We experienced a mostly mild winter--a spring preview of sorts--but now the warm weather is here to stay, even if it is a bit dramatic this week.

We watched our last college basketball game of the season on Monday night. Tobin's favorite team was playing for the title. Last year, we let him stay up when they played in the championship also. That game ended in heartbreak. This year ended in happiness. I know it's just sports, but it felt bigger than that. I spent most of the game worried about how he would handle another loss, fretting that I would have to explain to him again that some things don't go the way we want them to. But then the Tar Heels made just enough good plays to win the game, and we hugged and were grateful to share such a joyful (exhausting) moment together.

Our sports focus shifts outside, in the longer daylight hours, to baseball. All three kids are playing this season. They put on their gear, pack their bags, and pile in the van to go spend a couple hours at the ballpark. They're talking about hitting and catching, and can't wait to get their new uniforms. We will sit beside both familiar and new faces on the bleachers, cheering our kids on. There's a lot of promise as the season begins.

I'm emerging from my running slump, making efforts to stick to a more consistent routine. It's easier to do when the mornings are so pretty. In a couple months, I'll try to get up and out there before the sun is up, but right now I'm enjoying the combo of sunshine and still-cool morning temps. I often find myself in a familiar place each spring: frustrated with myself for slacking off on running in the winter but eventually encouraged as I build my stamina back up. I've been here before; I know I can do it.

Next up is a little break from school and work. We'll spend a week in Florida with my parents, playing and resting. We'll come home to backyard Wiffle ball, gardening, and weekly cookouts. I'm thankful for the change in season and how it feels both familiar and new.