Suburban Mom Meets Urban School

A chorus of sing-songy voices greets me the moment I open the door, “Mrs. Williams, Mrs. Williams! You came back!” It is 1:30 on Thursday afternoon and Ms. Matteson’s second grade class at IPS School 54 is in the middle of their Writing and Math block. Math is the undisputed favorite subject of Ms. Matteson’s class and Thursday afternoons are quickly becoming my favorite time of the week.

The kids are always excited to see a visitor and their teacher gives them a few minutes to pepper me with questions.

“Did you go to work today? What do you do at your work?”

“Did you have ice cream last night?”

“Does your son play football?”

“Can I be your son?”

“Are you going to come every week?”

Consistency is rare indeed, both at school and at home. So they are mostly amazed and delighted that I keep showing up week after week.

This week there are 16 kids, last week the count was only 11, and the week before 13. None of these numbers represent the full class roster. In the ever changing landscape of an urban school a teacher can hardly predict what their classroom will look like week to week. An entire class has been known to turnover from one semester to the next. The makeup of a school like 54 shifts so much that teachers are often shuffled between grades in the same school year.

But none of this matters to Ms. Matteson. She runs a tight ship for whoever shows up. Uniform shirts tucked in at all times, feet on the floor, no talking out of turn, paper and pencil at the ready, and if she catches you not paying attention to the lesson you’re going to clip down for sure.

It is clear she strives to know these children well and she is doing everything in her power to see them succeed, but she can’t do it alone. I visit Brookside Elementary once a week as part of Northview Church’s partnership with IPS School 54.

Tutoring opportunities vary. Some tutors see 2-3 kids a week for 20 minutes at a time in the school library. Other tutors pull kids in the hallway to work on math or reading skills. I’m one of the lucky volunteers that gets to be in the classroom the entire time. I’ve attempted to help the kids learn how to do internet research on some very old and slow computers, spent some time learning a bit of new fangled math and most my time making new friends.

This isn’t my first stint at school volunteering. I have three kids at three different schools within Hamilton Southeastern School district. I love my school system and my kids have amazing teachers and administrators. It’s important to me to be involved in my child’s education, but being a room mom in the suburbs is sometimes more about the mom than the kids.

I have to be placed in a lottery, and chosen out of a hat for the privilege of chaperoning a 3rd grade field trip. I have to sign up for a one hour time slot a month to come in and make copies for my son’s 6th grade home room teacher. And I’ve seen Mom’s go to great lengths (not to mention spend hundreds of dollars on Oriental Trading Company) to “out-Pinterest” one another for classroom parties and Staff Appreciation Week.

In contrast, Northview’s volunteering hours at School 54 are about making a measurable difference. Inner-city schools have heard big plans from church and community groups before. Mostly empty promises, the majority of those volunteers stop showing up after a few months and the organization’s support trickles and dries up.

With this in mind, Northview placed a very small but mighty group of committed volunteers during the 2012-2013 school year. This commitment helped propel Brookside from an F school to a B school. That is a three letter grade performance improvement in just one year! This jump means more children passing standardized testing, mastering math skills and reading at grade level. Most importantly it represents over 600 kids on the embattled near Eastside of Indianapolis receiving an educational legup.

It’s almost time for me to leave the kids for another week. The boys give me high fives and the girls give me hugs. Suddenly the door slams and a defiant little boy slinks in. He is only 8, but he has been in detention. His hair is an unruly disheveled mess on top of his head and he carries an elaborate paper airplane.

Not only has he spent his time making airplanes instead of doing his work, he can’t even find the papers he was sent to detention with. He will surely come to school without them tomorrow and face further consequences. He comes to school sporadically and never on time. One can assume from his appearance that he is responsible for getting himself up and out the door in the morning for the walk to school. His mom is here now to pick him up early for the day but has never actually stepped foot in the front door of the school or returned any of the teacher’s calls or emails.

Ms. Matteson sighs as he shuffles out, pausing to stoop low, a hand on his shoulder and remind him that she looks forward to seeing him tomorrow and asking him to bring a better attitude. As he leaves she looks over to me with eyes that say, “What can I do?”

One of the key components of stemming the rising tide of hopelessness we’re seeing every night on the news and every morning in our newspapers is education. Is it fair that 20 minutes away from School 54 my children receive a public education that puts them on the fast track to college and future career success? These kids and their teachers deserve a fighting chance. And we can give it to them.

Once leery of our involvement, School 54 has now given us full access to the school and asked that we provide an army of 50 tutors for next year. We would like to get these tutors started before the end of the school year in June so they can hit the ground running next fall. Will you step up and give these kids a chance?

To volunteer or find out more about Northview’s programs at IPS School 54 including Box Tops for Education, Backpack Drive and School 54 Field Day please contact:


The day I wore Spanx sledding


Or alternatively titled, “Who shrank my snowpants?”

Let’s be clear from the beginning. This Spanx constrained sledding was necessity not vanity. I’m not a Kardashian. It was by no means comfortable. I could barely move and the zipper still didn’t stay closed. But I had made a promise to my kids and something as little (or as BIG) as a butt that wouldn’t fit into my snow pants wasn’t going to stop me!

This is how it went down. On day #4 of Indiana Snowpocalypse 2014, I promised my munchkins that I would take my lunch break to sled with them. The appointed hour of sledding came and my 3 kiddos excitedly scampered into their still wet snow clothes like they’d done 4-5 times a day since the big blizzard. I shooed them out the door with the promise that I would join them soon.

With dread I headed to the hall closet. Is it possible to will yourself smaller by the power of your mind? I peaked inside. Perhaps the fat fairy had snuck a pair of XL snow pants in the closet for Christmas to help me out? No such luck. The boys snow bibs I had worn skiing just last year laughed in my face. Not a chance. The Women’s size Mediums eyed me more kindly. Maybe I could still squeeze into them I thought…

When I couldn’t even pull them up all the way I had a choice to make. Skip the promised hour of sledding fun or find a way. That’s when I remembered my full body Spanx! They had worked wonders under dresses for weddings and pants during a big job interview, surely they wouldn’t fail me now. True to it’s word the magic that is industrial strength spandex slimmed me just enough to get the pants on and zipped. Walking just a little funny, I headed out to join the kids.

There is an odd thing that happens when you fall over that tipping point from pretending you’ve just put on a few pounds, into seriously admitting you’ve gained weight. All of a sudden you’re free to discuss it openly. I think I actually like this stage better. This stage is where the honesty starts.

Carefully constructed photos on Facebook aside, anyone who sees me in real life can already tell I’ve gained weight. So why am I  intent on hiding it? No one ever accomplished anything great by shaming themselves into submission.

So here I stand, publicly admitting that I have gained 2 pants sizes in one year. Ouch! And you know what? It’s ok. I’ve come to realize this is just a stage in my life. I’ve made a lot of good life changes in the past year and one of the casualties has been my waist line. So be it. Because I’m still me. And with a little hard work, this too shall pass.

I had so much fun that afternoon with the kids we went sledding again when nightfall came. We even hiked to the park to rocket down the slides in our snow pants and pretend the playground was our personal ice castle like Elsa in Frozen. We had a blast. And this time, I wore my husband’s snow pants.

Choose Joy

I was so upset I was literally shaking. My heart was racing, my stomach hurt and I was starting to sweat. My first instinct was to grab my phone and text my husband. I’m afraid what I texted wasn’t very nice. The catalyst for this extreme reaction? My in-laws had just called to say they would be a few hours early to our planned Christmas celebration. Crazy, huh?

No, not crazy that they would dare arrive so early (well maybe a little…), my reaction was crazy. I mean really out there. What was the worst thing that was going to happen? The table wouldn’t be perfectly set? The food not ready? My hair not done? Who cares? The problem is I care. In the quest to have a Pinterest worthy holidays and look good doing it, many of us have put pressure on ourselves and our loved ones that no one can hold up under.

As my irrational burst of anger subsided I weighed my options. Unfortunately the not so nice text had already been sent (Sorry honey, thanks for the grace!). I could continue to let my ugly nature get the best of me or I could step outside my selfishness and consider the big picture. I asked myself, “what really matters today?” Today wasn’t about centerpieces. Today was about gathering with family to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Today was a day for joy.

The first thing I did was call my sister. She listened to me pour out all my irrational emotions like only a sister can, and then spoke God’s truth into my heart. She reminded me that I didn’t need to lose it just because my carefully constructed plan went askew. She also pointed me to a book she had just ordered, “Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions” by Lisa TerKeurst, and suggested I stop that second and order a copy too!

I also remembered the words of a dear friend on Facebook the other day when she was hosting a truck load of relatives. Her post simply read, “More Mary, less Martha, more Mary, less Martha.”

I swallowed my pride and called my sister-in-law back to apologize for being so short with her on the phone. I was honest and I let them know that they had caught me off guard; the table wasn’t set, the food wasn’t ready, and I wasn’t showered, but my house was always open. And I texted my husband a quick apology.

During this season of chaos, it is easy to get caught up in all the little details that are so very temporary. Let’s focus instead on the things that last. Let us focus on joy. Joy is finding a way to be happy, even when things don’t go your way.

The next time you feel your focus slipping away, choose joy. Push the laundry off the couch and welcome your family and friends into your home with open arms. Take that call (maybe from a sister!) that interrupts your schedule and speak words of comfort and peace. Post some encouragement on Twitter or Facebook. Get alone and open your Bible. Put on some worship music, extra points if you dance, and choose JOY!


Day 10 – Two out of Three Ain’t Bad

Day 10 – What habits did you start this year that you want to continue?

It’s really more like two out of five ain’t bad, but given the chance to quote classic Meatloaf lyrics, I’m going to take it every time.


So yeah, I’ve missed a few days recently. Blogging was the BIG habit I’ve been wanting to start not just this year, but for many years now. And even though we are in the final days of 2013, I am glad I didn’t put it off any longer. So many times that happens with healthy habits. We have good intentions, maybe even a plan, but we wait around for the perfect time to get started. Always making excuses along the way.

The opposite is true with bad habits. We fall right back into their trap with no thought at all. Then we often have to fight to dig ourselves back out again.

If you believe in the old myth that it takes just 21 days to form a habit (which is officially debunked here), then by the end of this 31-day writing challenge, I should be able to count daily blogging among my 2014 habits.

Probably not realistic. But I do plan to write something, somewhere, every day next year. Even if it’s just in my journal or a bathroom stall (just kidding Mom, I promise to never deface public property!) I have found over the years that writing focuses me, centers me, and helps me work through my thoughts.

So thank you Think Kit for helping me to start a habit this year that I want to continue. It’s a lot healthier than falling asleep at 1am in front of the tv.

Day 8 – Pinterest is Trying to Kill Me

Day 8 – What did you make this year? Whether something personal, like a song or some art, or a work project, share your process and the end result of your creation.

I really, really wish I had a baby in 2013, because then I could totally kill this post.

I made a baby. For the win.

In fact, whenever I was pregnant, announcing what I had “made” that day was my favorite come back to anyone who happened to complain in my presence. God forbid my poor husband come home complaining about a long day, or make the mother of all mistakes and ask me, “What did you you today honey?” I would immediately launch into a tirade that sounded something like this, “Oh, you’re tired are you? You want to know what I accomplished today? I created a central nervous system, shut up.” And we have 3 kids. He’s a saint.

But other than creating life, I pretty much suck at creating things. There was that one year I made everyone wreaths for Christmas. And I’ve got mad hot glue gun skills.

jessieProof of my hot glue gun powers.

But whenever I utter the words, re-finish or re-cover, my husband just laughs. That’s because most of my creative projects end up looking a little less like that adorable Jessie costume, and a little more like this:

iupumpkinNailed it.

That brings me to my hatred of Pinterest. Don’t try to convince me how great Pinterest is. I get it. I really do. I’ve pinterested before. (It’s a verb now for crying out loud!) Seriously folks. Do we need this kind of pressure? I have friends who are really, really great at crafting, or decorating or throwing the perfect party. But now thanks to Pinterest we’re ALL supposed to be good at ALL the things. So let’s just call Pinterest what it really is, a giant time-wasting, guilt-inducing outlet for us to pin hundreds of projects we will never have time for leading to feelings of failure and inadequacy. Maybe that’s just me. If you have the skills and desire to shape your kid’s lunch into a zoo habitat, more power to you. Just remember, most of it’s still going to be thrown in the trash in the elementary school cafegymatorium.


Day 5 – Talk to Someone (or 3 little someones)

Day 5 – Interview at least one other person about their favorite moments of the year. Share what you heard.

When I read this prompt I immediately wanted to interview my kids. Kids are some of my favorite people to have conversations with. They aren’t bound by any social niceties, they just say what they think. I love it. On top of that, kids are hilarious. My 3 are always saying things that make me stop and laugh out loud.

Side note: I’m constantly asking my non-parent friends what they do for entertainment, but they assure me they’re doing quite well amusing themselves without children.

Conveniently I interviewed my children while they were held captive in the car on the way home from a Christmas concert. It was late. They were tired. I was not above bribery.

Interview #1 – Ally (age 5)

Me: “What was your best memory from this year?”

Ally: “What’s a memory?”

Me: “A memory is something you remember, that you liked doing, that was special for you. What was your favorite thing you did ALL year?”

Ally: “Playing hide and seek and going to the Y pool with Katie. Yep, definitely Katie.”

Katie was our summer sitter. Ouch. I mean, awesome that she loved her so much but still. I took care of this kid 24/7 for the first 4 1/2 years of her life and her favorite moments of the whole year were with the sitter? No jealousy or mom guilt happening right now. None. At. All.


Interview #2 – Sammy (age 8)

Me: “What was your best moment or favorite thing about this whole year?”

Dead silence.

Me: “Honey are you sleeping?” I turn around and look. Scrunched down in her seat, eyes closed, little smirk on her face. “I know you’re not sleeping.”

Sammy: “I went to the bathroom.”

Me: “Come on Sam, if you answer me I’ll drive through Wendy’s.”

Sammy: “Um, what Ally said. Can I have chicken nuggets?”

Me: “Come on, give me something.”

Sammy: “Camp. Camp was great. Especially the zip line.”

Well good to hear that the super expensive week of camp paid off.

By the way, when did summer camp get so ridiculously expensive? I guess about the same time they started putting in zip lines…the insurance alone on those things has got to cost a pretty penny.

Interview #3 – Jack (age 11)

Me: “Ok Jack, your turn. What were the highlights of your year?”

Jack: “Thanksgiving.”

Me: “That was last week buddy, dig a little deeper. Think about all the cool fun things we did this year.”

Jack (whining): “M-o-m, a year is a LONG time to remember! (Getting excited now) Oh, oh, oh, I got it! Getting an interception during Border Wars!”

My son’s one true love is football and he finally made the All Star team in his last year of rec league. The Border Wars interception was a TOTAL FLUKE. He had no idea that ball was even coming. He turned around and the ball hit him square in the chest. The look on his face was priceless, he was completely shocked. It was totally awesome. He held onto it and even gained a few yards.


 Defensive Player of the Game (Jack is the one in the middle)

So there you have it folks, the best moments of the year from my three favorite little people. I hope it made you smile.

Day 4 – Decisions, Decisions

Day 4 – What was the wisest decision you made this year? Did it change your “everyday”, move something from Point A to Point B, or involve others?

I’ve thought on this post all day trying to decide what I wanted to say. I thought about using humor. My first thought is always to go funny. I thought about going with faith. I’ve been teaching my elementary Sunday school class about the character trait of wisdom the entire month of November, so I’ve been studying what the Bible has to say on the topic.

“How much better to get wisdom than gold,  to get insight rather than silver!” Proverbs 16:16

Pretty good advice no matter what you believe. If I can teach my children to strive for wisdom over money, then I will raise some great humans. That verse by the way was written by King Solomon, the wisest man that ever lived. He once ordered one of his guards to take a sword and cut a live baby boy in half to determine who the child’s true mother was! Hollywood’s got nothing on Sunday school lessons.

In the end, I chose to talk about my dad. He’s a pretty wise guy (pun intended).

Continue reading