Preschool party presents

paperIn the past few years we’ve had many parties to attend and gifts to buy. I’m not complaining because they have all been happy occasions for people we love: engagement parties, weddings, baby showers, milestone birthdays and other fun celebrations. The wedding-related parties have slowed down a bit, as have the baby showers, but one party segment has grown this year: kids’ birthday parties.

As a kid I remember the rule that you had to bring Valentine’s cards for everyone in your class, so no one would feel left out. That rule has been extended, and kids are now expected to invite everyone in their class to his or her birthday party. I have mixed feelings about this, but I won’t get into that. What it comes down to is with 24 kids in class, your kid is going to be invited to a lot of birthday parties. Since no one can (or wants to) fit that many kids in their house, parents host parties at fun places like gymnastics gyms and Pump It Up, so your kid will want to go to each and every one. I knew the parties were happening too often when I got a text from another mom who just had a new baby, asking if there was party that weekend that she was forgetting about.

For kids I know well (my friends’ kids, my nieces, Clay’s close school friends), it’s easy to buy something I know they will like and I’m happy to do it. It gets a little more complicated when buying gifts for school friends. Not knowing them or their parents, I agonize over what to buy, and the money spent and time shopping add up quickly. I have a new strategy though: buy in bulk!

First, presents. Most little boys like cars, superheroes and sports, while the girls like princesses and Barbies. I’ve noticed a lot of toys and books on clearance after Christmas and I’ve decided to buy three girl gifts and three boy gifts at a time. That should cover us for the next few school birthdays and Clay can still pick which one he wants to give to which kid. I buy physically smaller items, so they can all fit in one box in my garage. I can’t stand clutter, so it wouldn’t make sense to save time and money by buying in bulk, while making myself crazy looking at a pile of toys every day.

Second, gift wrap. To be prepared for kid parties, I buy a roll of boy wrapping paper and a roll of girl wrapping paper. I usually get it at Hallmark, as their quality is the best and they often have it on sale. Good quality makes my terrible wrapping look somewhat less embarrassing. I also buy a stack of generic birthday cards from Hallmark’s 99 cent collection.

When the next invite appears in Clay’s cubby, I won’t be running to Target the morning of the party or paying extra for Amazon’s Saturday delivery. All I have to do is stroll out to the garage, let Clay pick a toy before I wrap it, and we’re ready for the party! Now the only question left is who will take him – Chase or me?

Dad saves the day

Pajama day at preschool

Pajama day at preschool

Like everyone else, this time of year is crazy for our family. We had plans every night this week, so that left us packing lunches late at night and doing homework early in the morning. Everyone has crazy weeks and we’re making it work. When I say “we,” I mean “we.”

On Wednesdays, I take the kids to school and we strolled up in Clay’s normal winter ensemble of a long sleeve sports-themed t-shirt and jeans. I wondered why kids were wearing their pajamas, then had a flashback to something Clay mentioned the night before: “Mommy, tomorrow is pajama day.” I told him he must be confused because I hadn’t received an email about it, but that I would write his teacher and ask. I should have emailed from the parking lot, rather than thinking I would do it when I got home. Somehow it slipped my mind while I did five loads of laundry, wrote Christmas cards and made dinner.

The elementary school where Clay attends preschool sends out a lot of email. I only skim over most of them, but I do read the ones I get each Friday discussing the upcoming week. Nowhere in Friday’s email was information about “pajama day,” which, as it turns out, was yesterday. Even his teacher was dressed in her pajamas (i.e. a Juicy sweat suit). I felt terrible. We are four months into preschool and because of the weekly emails, I’ve remembered inside out day, favorite college day and sports day. There Clay was with no jammies and a sad face. I thought about running home, but getting Avery in and out of the car three more times would have made me late. I apologized before leaving and Clay smiled, because that’s the kind of kid he is.

I told Chase about my “mommy fail” when I got to work and fortunately he had a meeting near our house. He ran home before his meeting and got Clay’s pajamas and took them to him at school. Clay lit up when he saw Chase and they went to the bathroom to get changed. He had the same pj’s as a friend at school (thanks to Costco), which they both thought was pretty cool.

It was the first time we missed something at school, but with two busy parents, it won’t be the last. This time, Chase saved the day! Next time it might be me.

Pumpkin patch field trip

Clay is on his first field trip today, and I’m sitting at my desk. I’m picturing the smile on his face while getting on the school bus (he was most excited about that!) and his apprehension about the hayride (“does it go fast?”).

He told me about the pumpkin he would choose. Of course, that sweet boy planned to “find a small one so it would be easy for Avery to decorate.” I told him that was very sweet of him, but he could pick one for himself and we would all go together soon and help Avery pick one for herself.

Today I’m missing my old job, where I had lots of paid time off and could have been a chaperone on the field trip. The idea of 20 four-year-olds is a bit scary to me, but it would have been worth it to spend time with Clay. He better save me a seat on the bus for the next field trip!

Homework, already

I was shocked the second week of preschool when I learned that Clay would have homework. Our elementary school expects kids to read by kindergarten, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. The homework folder (complete with perfect teacher handwriting on the front) comes home with him every Friday and is due back the following Thursday. This week, for the first time, we did the homework on Monday, rather than the night before it was due. I rarely procrastinate now, but I did as a kid, and it appears that Clay has followed in my footsteps. Oh well, at least he likes doing it…

All finished before its due date…

Our future lawyer

Well, it’s official. Clay made it a month at preschool before we got the dreaded “talk” from the teacher. I took him today and she pulled me aside and started with “Clay is a very smart boy. Clay is a very sweet boy.” I held my breath for a moment, knowing what was coming next: “But he doesn’t always listen very well here at school.” Apparently he was arguing with a kid over a container of toys and didn’t listen when the teachers tried to resolve the four-year-olds’ power struggle. He ignored them and was then punished (I didn’t ask how, I assume time out?). I looked at Clay and reminded him that we always listen to adults, and let her know we’ve been working on this issue at home and she’ll hopefully see improvement soon.

Not listening makes me crazy. If a genie granted me one mommy wish, it would be for my kids to listen to us all the time. Avery is little, so she’s still a work in progress. Clay (like a lot of men!) has what they call “selective listening” – hearing what he wants to hear. Ask him to get his bathing suit on for the pool, it’s done. Ask him to pick up his toys or get dressed for church, he suddenly loses his hearing. In the past few weeks, he’s been put on iPad restriction and we’ve decided that he gets one chance to listen when we ask him to do something, then if he doesn’t do it, he goes straight to his room. He hates to be alone so we’re hopeful that works.

Clay’s other listening problem arises when he questions authority. He doesn’t do it to be a brat, but he’s a thinker. He wants to know reasoning behind everything. You tell him to finish his apples because they are good for him, and he says yes, fruit is healthy, but wants to know the specifics on what part of the apples makes them healthy. I don’t want to squash his desire to learn, but I also don’t want his questions to come off as talking back.

The final listening obstacle for Clay is the fact he never stops talking. It’s hard to use your ears when your mouth never stops moving. This is a problem I knew we’d encounter, as you can’t avoid genetics. Chase and I rarely stop talking, so neither do our kids.

When you ask Clay what he wants to be when he grows up, he says a doctor. In some ways I think it would be a great career for him because he loves to learn and wants to take care of people. Realistically I think following in the footsteps of his grandfather and great-grandfather would be more appropriate. He’d make a hell of a lawyer, as long as he can listen to his clients.

Anyone else have a future lawyer on their hands? Have good tips for developing listening skills? I’d really appreciate any advice!

Can I buy lunch?

Earlier this week Clay told me that some of his friends at preschool get to eat the “hot lunch,” and asked if he could buy it sometime. I said sure, then he asked “how about tomorrow?” This was at bedtime and I didn’t have time to check the menu for the following day, so I told him I’d have to look at it first. He’s a picky eater, so I could picture him starving because he won’t eat chicken, other than nuggets from Chick-Fil-A. I typically blame his picky eating habits on Chase (what grown man won’t eat cooked veggies?), but the chicken aversion may have come from me, since I couldn’t even look at it when I was pregnant.

After going to five stores to find a Cars 2 lunch bag (before buying it on Amazon.com) and packing food he likes, why the interest in buying cafeteria food? I equate it to my desire to eat out for Friday lunch, after a week of Smart Ones frozen meals, sandwiches and leftovers from home. They’re boring and you have to make them yourself. Something as simple as a deli sandwich tastes better when someone else makes it, even if you use the same ingredients.

I checked the menu and every Friday this month they are serving something he’ll willingly consume, so today he went to school with a check that will cover once-a-week lunches through the end of the year. Did I mention they put that into his “nutrition” account, and they access this money through a palm scanner? Hello, “1984.” I guess this technology is what our high taxes are paying for?

For now, I’m sticking to buying lunch once a week, for both Clay and myself (although I get free lunch at work on Fridays, so my day to go out is usually Thursday). In my case, I definitely save money and calories, and even time, if you count how long it takes to run out and pick up lunch.

For Clay though, I’m not so sure. It would certainly save me time not to pack a lunch, and I spend more than $2/day on food for him. The benefit is that I have control over what he eats, to a certain extent anyway, since he’s so picky. I will not be packing him chicken anytime soon, but he will eat a lot of veggies and nearly all fruits. At school, who will make sure he picks up something healthy from the salad bar? Hopefully the teacher, though that’s not really her job.

If he really likes the school lunch, should I just save myself the money and time and let him buy lunch every day? What do other moms do?