How we’re getting ready for kindergarten

28 July 2021

The Instagram story I posted asking for kindergarten prep ideas may have gotten the most responses of any story I’ve ever posted… ever. Y’all wrote in with lots of good ideas, yes (see many of them below!), but way more of you simply wanted me to share the responses I received.

I was so tickled by this kindergarten cohort! And I get it! Heading back to school, whether for the first time or the twelfth, is a big transition. As mamas, we want to prepare our families well for it, emotionally and practically, and to celebrate well, too. The start of a school year gives us so many opportunities to do this, including renewing, refreshing, or beginning family traditions – because for all the time kids spend in school, I firmly believe that the foundation we lay at home matters even more.

Today, I thought I’d share some of the ways we’re preparing for our first kindergartener, as well as back-to-school suggestions from many of you! Some items are particularly unique to our family, but hopefully even those might spark an idea for yours.

Things we’re doing to prepare for kindergarten:

Transition June’s clothes upstairs and begin picking out clothes the night before. As many of you may remember, June’s and Shep’s clothing has been stored in our bedroom. With Annie’s arrival, we moved June’s clothing up to her room and began the practice of laying out her outfits the night before. She thinks this is super grown-up :)
Buy an adult bike. We live in the walk zone for our elementary school, and plan to bike to school most days for pick-up and drop-off. John’s road bike has clip-less pedals and is not ideal for short, casual rides, so we bought him a Priority bike for the days he accompanies her. (June has a Priority bike, too – more on hers here!)
Pull backpack options and order backpack and lunch box. To facilitate choosing a backpack option we both will love for several years, I narrowed down options from State, Pottery Barn, and L.L. Bean. We scrolled through the screenshots together and she chose this one! I gave her free rein over the lunchbox choice and this is the one she chose :)
Buy matching bracelets. As a special back-to-school gift, I ordered a mini monogram bracelet for June and a stack of bracelets representing each family member for me from Pearls & Prosecco. I think they will be a reassuring physical connection on those first few days! It would also be fun to make your own beaded bracelets. (Not just for girls: a mama I know makes friendship bracelets with her boys the night before the first day every year!).
Go on school supplies shopping date. I’m planning to print out the school supplies list from school so June can follow along and plan an afternoon browsing the aisles at Target with my girl. We may also hit up Parker Paper Company for a few fun extras. Our church is collecting supplies for a partner school, so we’ll plan to buy two of everything.
Fill out and return health forms. Simple enough, but still something I need to set aside time to complete!
Play at the school playground. Our school playground is open during the summer, so we’re planning to head over and visit sometime in August. Since our chances to explore inside the school have been limited with COVID, I think this will be a fun way to gain some familiarity!
Choose a scripture theme for the school year. As they head off to school, our desire is for our kids to be grounded in the Gospel. Choosing a short scripture we can all memorize and refer back to throughout the year is a simple way to do this! John and I will choose it together and we’ll debut it at our back-to-school dinner.
Plan back-to-school dinner menu and decorations. Considering the success of our Octonauts premier party, June and I will work on this together. The dinner itself will be held the night before the first day of school! I plan to write about ours after it happens, but if you’re looking for inspiration now, Stephanie and Merrick have made me look forward to these dinners for years!
Choose a first read-aloud book. June and I are just getting into read-aloud books, and I’d like to choose one for first-day-of-school bedtime reading.
Bring lunch to preschool teachers. June’s preschool career will end a week before kindergarten begins. Even though her graduation is not the end of our relationship with their preschool (Shep still attends, and Annie will eventually, hooray!), we wanted to do something to thank them for how absolutely wonderful they have been to her for the last three years. She and I will take the teachers’ orders and deliver lunch one day that week, which I think she will think is the most fun.
Get clear on morning and afternoon transportation plan. We’ll be easing into drop-offs and pick-ups, as I’ll still be on maternity leave and Annie won’t yet be in school, but John and I need to sit down with our schedules and the time boundaries in front of us and make a plan for each day of the week.
Make a rough plan for my schedule. This will shift when I go back to work, but I’d love to wrap my brain around what my days will look like in September and how to make the most of our time together outside of school!
Do a dry run on bikes to school. This will help everyone feel comfortable on the big day, and will help us know how much time we need to budget for little legs to get to school and back.
Choose a first day of school outfit. Very important :)
Mock up the letter board for first-day-of-school photos. We’ll put our scripture theme for the year on the board after the photos are done!
Prep snack tray favorites for first-day-of-school after-school snack. Snack trays have taken a hiatus with pregnancy and summer, but I’m excited to bring them back this fall.
Begin to think about how we might organize school supplies and papers. Not going to make any purchases or decisions until school actually begins, but it’s on my mind!

Like I said, y’all had lots of good ideas about how to start the school year in a sweet way. If nothing we’re planning strikes your fancy, here are a few other ideas!

Fun back-to-school traditions:

— From Jessie: “We always have a ‘kids choose day’ before school starts – usually the park and pizza and ice cream.”

— From Shannon: “We did ice cream before the first day of school always! Even when I started grad school, we got ice cream the night before, ha!” (Others suggested ice cream as a first day after-school treat!)

— From Rachel: “We do a mom or dad and kid date night, a shopping trip for new school clothes, going to the library to pick up some new books, and for my daughter, a trip to get our nails done the weekend before school starts! We also cook their favorite meal the night before. Finally, we tried to find other families who had rising kindergarteners [Em says: try your neighborhood Facebook group] and invited them over for playdates.”

— From Lauren: “The day before school started, the kindergartener and mom would do a ‘practice morning’ that would end with just the two of us getting donuts.”

— From Brittany: “We did a one-on-one overnight trip to a fun place [could just be a local hotel!] with each kid before beginning kindergarten!”

— From Laura: “We prepped his school supplies together! I bought name stickers on Etsy and then spent the evening labeling everything together and talking about the fun things he’d do using the supplies.”

— From Erika: “My husband does a video interview the evening of the first day and asks who his teacher is, whether he has a friend in his class, and something fun he did that day. He’s going into third grade and it’s been fun to go back and watch them together!”

— From K: “We have two traditions: my husband gets our daughters flowers on the first day of school, and we have cider donuts and apple cider for our after school snack.”

— From Kerstin: “We do the German tradition of making a ‘Schultüte’ – a cone made out of construction paper which is decorated and filled with treats and school supplies.”

— From Courtney: “We made a paper chain so our daughter could count down the days to kindergarten! She loved it.”

— From Robyn: “After experiencing some emotions that popped up a few weeks into school (later than I expected!) when our daughter started kindergarten, I’m planning ahead for regular, intentional one-on-one time in the first month or two to support my son as he starts. I’m also preparing myself mentally for behavior shifts that might be coming and reminding myself it’s a temporary adjustment period!”

I hope this post was helpful, friends! Sending hugs to all my fellow mamas sending littles to school soon, whether for the first time or the last :)

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The meaning of Susanna’s name

19 July 2021

I’m sure there’s someone out there who thinks the attention we give to choosing our children’s names is a little over the top. And they may be right :) But for me, someone who believes so strongly in the power of the stories we tell ourselves about our lives, a name is more than just an identifier: it is the first lines in a story. And as parents, we get the honor and privilege of writing them. John and I can’t determine the ending of any of our children’s stories, but we can set them in a direction and give them supplies for the road – roots and wings, as I’ve said before. With that, here’s a little more about the name we chose for our daughter…

First, Annie. After we bestowed the name June, which had been my number one since high school, I kept a loose collection of other favorite names in a note on my phone, should we have another daughter. As I added and subtracted options over the years, one sifted to the top: the sweet but not saccharine, feminine but feisty, friendly and optimistic Annie.

True to form for my favorites, it would be at home on any of our grandmas (it was a top 20 name from the 1880s to 1910). It is simple to spell and pronounce, and is familiar but not too common.

Annie Banks-MacKenzie is a central figure in two of my all-time favorite movies, the ones that helped to set my expectations for a loving family and set me on a course toward my future career.

Annie originates from the English Isle and has a definite Scottish feel to it, which is appropriate given my ancestry.

And most serendipitously, Annie Jane is the name of John’s grandmother, which I didn’t learn until years after I fell in love with her name. I never got to meet Annie Jane, but love that we’re able to honor her through our daughter!

So, Annie. But the most common formal name for the nickname Annie – Anne – was just a name for me, without any further meaning or significance (and you know we couldn’t have that, ha!). I puzzled over this for years, until I finally realized that another name on my short list – Susanna – was emblematic of my maternal grandmother’s name (Susanne). Even if our Annie may not use it too often, I was thrilled for another family connection.

I think it’s important to remember here that we don’t name our children after perfect people, but after imperfect people who are a reminder of the story from which they come – one that’s far from perfect, but filled with people who try, who have integrity, who are kind and smart and humble and face challenges and pick themselves back up again and again. As crystallized for me in this essay, I strongly believe (and research backs up!) that one of the best things we can do for our children is develop a strong family narrative. (I wrote more about this in Shep’s name post!)

I’ve written about my grandmother before – she was a deeply layered person, and not always easy to understand. But so many of the things that define me were passed down from her – my love of garden bouquets, boat rides, singing in church, and reading and writing; a belief in thank you notes, correspondence, and a beautifully-set table; and the importance of standing up for the flag at parades, giving back to organizations, and supporting your alma mater. I look forward to introducing Annie to her in the years to come :)

Finally, Liberty! Our other two kiddos’ middle names spoke to our love for America and our love for our faith, respectively, and this one actually combines both. For a Fourth-of-July-week baby, we love that Liberty speaks to the hope, possibility, freedom, and opportunity that’s found in our country more than anywhere else in the world. America is not perfect, but her ideals (including “life, liberty, and happiness”) are beautiful, and we feel lucky to have the privilege of living up to them – and to help our kids do the same.

The idea of liberty and freedom is woven throughout the Gospel, too. Jesus sets us free from death, but even more than that, He has set us free for freedom! When we live with Christ, we don’t have to be weighed down by the comparison, guilt, envy, anxiety, or fear that are so common in our world. We love that Annie’s middle name will remind her about the life that is truly life – a life of abundance, obedience, contentment, joy, and freedom.

So there you have it – much more than you ever wanted to know about our little lady’s name, ha! Thanks for listening, friends, as always.

Say hello to Susanna

13 July 2021

Friends, this is our sweet Susanna Liberty! She arrived on Thursday, July 8 at 2:26pm, weighing in at 7 pounds, 1 ounce with lots of dark hair. We will call her Annie :)

I am feeling so very grateful for a healthy baby and a safe delivery, for the precious family I already have, and for the true gift of getting to add one more to our crew. She is the absolute sweetest and we all love, love, love her so.

I will be back with more on her name soon! In the meantime, thank you for all the well wishes and prayers!!

2021 mid-year goals review

8 July 2021

From the beginning, this has seemed like an off year for goals: I had a hard time naming them in January after a strong 2020, and felt a bit hobbled in sharing plans and progress before y’all knew we were expecting our third child. (And having a baby in July certainly bisects the year in an interesting way!) While I haven’t made as much progress as I might have envisioned at the beginning of 2021, I’m grateful for the opportunity to reflect on what has been accomplished – all good things! Besides, I think I heard somewhere that little by little adds up, amiright? :) Let’s take a look!

Goal no. 1: Make room for God’s presence by reading the Bible. 
Progress I’ve made: This goal is simple: a commitment to “Word before words,” or habit stacking reading my Bible each night before I pick up my current fiction or non-fiction read. Simple, but effective! Whether I read a few verses or multiple chapters, I have read the Bible before anything else probably 95% of evenings this year. So far, I’ve completed Mark, Acts, James, and Luke. I also read Jen Wilkin’s Women of the Word!
What I hope to accomplish in the next six months: More of the same! I’d actually like to slow down and choose one shorter book (maybe James!) to read several times and apply some of Jen’s suggestions as a first go at her method.

Goal no. 2: Set joy before us. 
Progress I’ve made: There are so (SO) many things vying for our attention these days, and I named this goal to thoughtfully direct my eyes, heart, and effort to what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. It has! Though we have enjoyed new joyful things this year, this goal has also been a helpful encouragement to simply maintain some of our old standbys in the face of pregnancy tiredness and John’s injury. June and I have baked together most weeks, we traveled to Jekyll Island and Charlottesville, we celebrated Valentine’s Day with 14 days of mailbox fun, June and I had pedicures and afternoon tea, we’ve been strawberry picking and blueberry picking many times over, and I hosted a garden dinner party, among other things.
What I hope to accomplish in the next six months: I would love to host my ill-fated potluck party, canceled in 2020. We’re also looking forward to traveling to Florida with all of John’s family in September, attending the Nutcracker, making our favorite summer desserts, backyard camping, hiking once John’s back on his feet, and hosting our annual pumpkins and soup party.

Goal no. 3: Do those things we’ve always wanted to do for our home. 
Progress I’ve made: Because we feel settled in this home for the next few years, I wanted to make a concerted effort to complete the upgrades and changes we’ve largely decided on, but haven’t pulled the trigger. Going room by room, we’ve made some progress: we’ve replaced the light fixture in our foyer, added more lighting to our family room, painted our master bedroom and switched out the curtains (and added a mirror!), and switched out the roman shade in the Magnolia Room.
What I hope to accomplish in the next six months: In this time frame, I imagine baby girl will have moved into the Magnolia Room, so I’d like to have that room complete: crib in place, artwork chosen and hung, dresser replaced. I’d also like to have completed my plan for the master bedroom, which at this point includes refreshing our decorative pillows, purchasing the bed frame we’ve chosen, hanging a grid of gold frames, and purchasing a new desk chair for John. I’d also like to paint June’s room. The two other larger projects that I’m not sure will be completed but am considering are having our kitchen cabinets painted (!) and replacing the stone surround of our fireplace. This all might be wildly ambitious – we shall see!

Goal no. 4: Refresh our home. 
Progress I’ve made: This goal goes hand in hand with the one above, but focuses more on small, boring projects to make our space sparkle like the day we bought it. It’s not the most exciting goal, but it has been satisfying! So far, we’ve reorganized our cleaning supplies and cleaned out under our sink, cleaned off the tops of our laundry machines (a perennial dumping ground), magic erasered all the things, cleaned out our master bathroom drawers, hired out carpet cleaning, and cleaned out our pantry and a few other closets.
What I hope to accomplish in the next six months: I have more cabinets and closets in my sights! Plus our main book shelf is overflowing – as is the top of our dresser – and our refrigerator could use a thorough cleaning out.

Goal no. 5: Build our family culture as we transition to an elementary-school family. 
Progress I’ve made: This is my catch-all goal to remind myself to focus on small ways to love my family well, intentionally nurture the character and family traits that are important to us, and make our home the most joyful, loving place to be. In the first half of the year, I’ve focused on prepping for kindergarten and for baby sister and we’ve watched June blossom into a full-fledged reader who has a soft spot for Jennie Allen’s series. We bought a new car with cash to accommodate our growing family and decided to take John’s six full consecutive weeks of parental leave. (We were debating splitting it up, but in the end, when considering what matters most to us, it was a simple decision – we will never get this time back!) We’ve also done many smaller, fun things, like post a summer calendar, take trips to the library, and grocery shop together.
What I hope to accomplish in the next six months: We’ll make the official transition into an elementary-school family! We’ll also be learning new rhythms as a family of five.

Goal no. 6: Prioritize memory keeping. 
Progress I’ve made: I set this goal to prioritize finishing last year’s Advent calendar, completing our second and third family albums, and keeping up the rhythms of things like yearly videos and photo organization. So far, I’ve culled and sorted our 2020 photos, laid out half of our 2010-2014 photo album, took maternity family photos with Ally, and filmed June in June Volume 6.
What I hope to accomplish in the next six months: Newborn photos with Graham are on the books, and Sheptember filming is slated for September. I am determined to finish the 2010-2014 album and am hoping little-by-little progress on the Advent calendar will be the perfect hands-on, pick-it-up-and-put-it-back-down activity for maternity leave! I would LOVE to have it finished by December.

Goal no. 7: Encourage each other to grow strong through cycling, strength workouts, and stretching. 
Progress I’ve made: What I didn’t say at the beginning of the year but can say now was that I knew this would be an unusual year for fitness, with a baby due right in the middle! Little did we know we’d have another wrench thrown into our plans with John’s injury. Progress has been inconsistent so far this year, but I’m looking forward to getting back up to speed together as I recover from birth and he from his surgery!
What I hope to accomplish in the next six months: In addition to getting back into stretching and strength training rhythms, I would love to beat at least one of my PRs on the Peloton.

Goal no. 8: Make a book of the first 10 years of EFM. 
Progress I’ve made: I have long thought of this place as a repository of stories, memories, and wisdom for my children, and I’d like to create a physical book for them of the best posts from the first ten years of my writing here. There has been absolutely zero progress on this goal so far, ha!
What I hope to accomplish in the next six months: I’d love to complete the book, but that may be a bit ambitious given a new baby and also trying to finish the Advent calendar and family photo album. If I’ve chosen a means of design and printing and got the project underway by the end of the year, I’d be happy to roll this goal into 2022.

Thanks for always cheering me on, friends! I’d love to hear how your progress on your 2021 goals has gone so far, if you’d like to share. Big or small, it’s worth celebrating!!