Livin’ the dream & putting in the work

Life just keeps on going. It’s on my list to be better about updating this blog. My hope is once a week, but that’s a long term goal. Right now there are other priorities. I keep my Facebook and Instagram going.

My mom & me.

School started in the fall for all three schools at different schools – elementary, junior high and high school. Then I started school, too! It’s been a dream of mine to earn a master’s degree since I was a small child. I know that sounds silly. People look at me strangely when I say that. It’s true though. When I was a toddler my mom and I lived in a camper behind her friend’s house while she got her master’s degree. I really don’t remember it. My dad worked in oil and gas so he traveled a lot. When he had time, he’d visit us or stay with his in-laws. When my mom agreed to marry my dad it was on the condition that he not hamper her from getting her master’s degree. So he worked hard and made it possible for her to do that, even with a small child.

I always admired that story. I remember in kindergarten being asked what I wanted to do when I grew up. I replied that I wanted my master’s degree. That’s it. I don’t think I even knew what I wanted to do. I just knew I wanted that extra degree.

When I was in fifth grade, my dad got laid off from his job. After giving him about six weeks to contemplate his next step, my mom told him he had to figure out what he was going to do next. He replied that he never wanted a job where he was required to wear a hard hat or steel toed boots. So, he decided he needed some higher education. For two years he went to a community college that was a 2-hour drive from our home. He’d leave on Monday and return home on Thursday or Friday, depending on his schedule. For two years my mom provided for us. She’d tell me it was because she had that master’s degree. I know things were tight and my grandparents helped out from time to time with things like my braces. Still, to me, my mom was a super hero because of that master’s degree.

Visiting with Gov. Sarah Palin in the Alaska Governor’s House for a Christmas celebration.

When I graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in 2005, I was all set to go to graduate school. I had been accepted and was ready to go. Then, I got the job offer of a lifetime. Instead of staying in one place and going to graduate school, I packed up my car to the brim and headed north – to Alaska. I had the opportunity to run a community weekly paper that was disbursed to more than 20 small communities in Southeast Alaska. I lived in the capital city of Juneau for nearly three years. I grew up so much, and got to experience even more. I took a plane flying lesson, went down the longest continuous zip line in the world, went salmon fishing and even interviewed then Gov. Sarah Palin a few times before anyone in the Lower 48 had ever heard of her.

When I moved back to Texas, in the community where I had graduated from college, the thought of going to graduate school was always there. However, the cost did not match the benefits. It would be very costly and not impact my salary at all. So for a decade I just lived my life, as anyone would. I got married, had a child, changed jobs, lost my parents and adopted two more children.

Then I went back to full time work at the very university that I called my alma mater. With a master’s degree allowing me to be promoted at work and financial assistance for being an employee, I finally had my window to get that graduate degree.

Sydney working on a puzzle while I work on research papers.

So here I am, more than halfway through my first semester of graduate school in communication. It hasn’t been easy. That first week I was completely deflated. My kids had to sacrifice time and activities. I felt old and dumb. However, our family has found a new routine. The kids are so great at making sure I have the time I need to get my work done. They are my biggest cheerleaders, as is my husband, John. I’ve also realized I’m not too old or dumb at all. I find the rigorous work a challenge and a delight. Learning has been amazing, and opened up that part of me that was dormant for so long. My age and experience has been a blessing. Instead of going through graduate school because it was the next logical step, it really has more meaning. My research is in foster care, which I feel will help me be a better advocate. The long writing assignments don’t scare me because I’ve found my vast writing experience is very useful.

While it’s not without its challenges, I’m loving going to graduate school. I’ve found that I tend to downplay it or just complain. I had a brief but important talk with my dear friend yesterday before church. I realized I need to celebrate this time in my life. I need to tell people that while this isn’t easy, for me, it’s worth every step.

My students at the college I are inspiring, as well. They boost me up. They leave me sweet notes of encouragement. They make sure I know I am cared for as much as I care for each of them.

I don’t get to do all the things I want, and I’m even missing out on things I want to do with my kids. That stings the most. However, my kids are watching me live out my dream. They are proud of me. My husband is proud of me. I’m proud of me too!

So, if this site isn’t updated often, know it isn’t for a lack of caring. It’s so I can do the hard work to make it better. I’m out there learning the things I need to be a better advocate for foster care and adoptions.

They see you

I went to the elementary school one morning before work to finish the registration process for my youngest daughter, Sydney. She’ll be in third grade this year. That’s hard to imagine, but alas this is our fourth time to register at this school. I was just going to go alone and then to work. However, Sydney woke up and wanted to tag along to see if any of her friends were there. We did the usual – went through the line from one station to the next. In the gym near the stage was the same table as each year before it – PTA.

I don’t really have the time to be involved in PTA, but I do buy a membership each year. It’s a small way to contribute and our PTA does an excellent job at our school. I filled out the information and paid my $5.50 membership fee for the year before we moved on to another room for more paperwork to be checked. As we were in yet another line, Sydney asked me what the PTA was. I explained to her that it is an organization that supports the school through programs and events. They help buy school supplies for each class. They support teachers by providing breakfasts for birthdays and holidays. They use fundraisers to buy equipment for the school. They produce and sell the elementary school yearbooks. She looked at me with a smile and said “good job, Mom. I’m proud of you for paying to be part of that.”

It was a simple thing to do, but it struck me how Sydney viewed it. She didn’t see it as only 3 minutes of my time and paying a fee less than lunch would cost. She saw it as contributing to her school community.

This can be said of so many things we do. We seem to waste so much of our time worrying about what we get wrong with our kids. Did we say the hard things well? Did we raise our voices too much? Did we let too much slide? Did they have a good, fulfilling summer? Are they getting enough experiences? Will they be ready for life after high school or college?

I was talking to a longtime friend recently and she told me about an article that stated kids usually remember the smallest things and tend to look right past the ones we think are big. I think that’s so true. I remember my mom chasing me with the vacuum cleaner and making the chore a game. She’d chase us and tell us we better hop up on the couch, bed or table so the monster didn’t eat our toes. When she got past that spot, she’d tell us to hurry up and run to another spot. When the washer would get unbalanced and shake uncontrollably, my mom would hop up on the washing machine with me and say we were on a rocket ship. That maybe happened twice, but I remember it like it was a daily routine. Yes, there were big arguments and difficulties. I remember some of it, but not like I remember sitting on that washing machine with my mom. Yes, I remember small, fun things about my mom. I also remember her passion in standing up for people of varying education and abilities are strong. I remember her buying me extra school supplies and telling me to subtly share with those students who didn’t have any. I remember her telling me not to talk about or make fun of two kids in our class with lice. I remember her allowing my friends and me to each lunch in her classroom so we could relax for 25 minutes. I remember her cooking for countless friends. I remember her bringing my best friend with us on our vacations. I took notice of what she thought were simple things.

So what are your kids noticing? They are watching. They see you use a week’s worth of vacation to volunteer at their summer church camp. They see you getting to church early to help set up snacks or greet those entering church. They see you stop in the hallway and pick up a piece of trash that was left behind by someone else. They see you say hi to the older person in the grocery store who is probably going home to an empty house. They see you pay for the $1 drink of someone behind you in line. They see you make up a song about chores. They see you send $3 extra for a field trip so another child can also attend.

They might not tell you that they are proud of you, but they are. So hold up your head today. You are doing better than you think.