Sunday, August 20, 2017

Bethany's 22 Birthday Challenge

So fun fact...

I'm twenty years older than my blog. At the end of June, we celebrate my blog's birthday. It turned two this year! And two months later, at the end of August, we celebrate my birthday...twenty-two this year.

I don't have half the elaborate plans that I usually do. Last year, I turned 21 and I had practically a week of dinner parties, birthday cake, and piano bar celebrations. To celebrate on the blog, we started a month in advance, took reader's questions, and attempted to answer 21 of them in a 2 minute and 10 second vlog. It took a lot of time and a lot of effort...both of which I don't really have only two weeks into my first year teaching kindergarten.

But this week, I'm really feeling getting pasta at my favorite restaurant, lounging in sweatpants, and having a movie night with Dylan. So this year, instead of my readers challenging me with a birthday challenge, I have decided to challenge you.

Don't close the browser yet... It's nothing that requires you a lot of time or effort either. It's something I am challenging myself to this year, and something I think would likely benefit all of you if you tried it with me.

This year's birthday challenge is the Self Care Commitment, where I am challenging you (and myself!) to find 22 ways to practice self care on a regular basis. I'm including my 22 below (written as measurable objectives, for all my teacher friends out there). You are more than welcome to use the same ones, swap out a few, or create your own list entirely. There are only 2 rules...

1) I'm 22, so there have to be 22 ways.
2) You actually have to make an effort to do them.

22 Ways Bethany Will Practice Self Care While She Is 22

1) Limit and plan your overtime, only to what is necessary. 
Working overtime as a first year kindergarten teacher is inevitable. And I'm not naive to think this is the only profession where overtime is non-negotiable. However, if your job does require overtime, make sure you're doing what needs to be done for the next day, and then giving ample time to yourself. You can find me staying a few hours late every afternoon; some later than others, but that only happens Monday through Thursday. Friday afternoon I'm out of there as soon as all the kiddos are gone, and I enjoy my weekend until I go in to work on Monday morning.

2) Crank up the music to and from work. 
Music has always helped me change my mood and mindset. I play acoustic, encouraging music on the way to work to keep me focused and relaxed as I begin my day. I play upbeat, sing-along songs on the way home to free my headspace and get me ready to spend my time on alternate things.

3) Drive with the windows down when you need a lil' TLC. 
It's almost the end of August, which means the autumn nights with a light breeze and beautiful sunsets are near in our future. Take a drive for yourself or pick up a friend. This was one of my absolute favorite things to do with my girlfriends in college.

4) Allow 30 minutes of down time when you get home to switch gears in your brain. 
I find myself needing to sit when I get home. I've run around all day like a chicken with my head cut I find it difficult to immediately settle in with Netflix or a book. I always take 30 minutes of time to decompress when I get home to shift my brain from school to home. The time I spend at school is dedicated to my kinders, but the time I spend at home is for my friends, my boyfriend, and myself.

5) Live in low lighting and calming atmospheres. 
I know, it's weird. But I rarely have my overhead lights on...ever. I use natural lighting from windows, and lamps for any additional lighting. I do this in my classroom also. It keeps my kinders less wild, and it keeps me more focused and relaxed during the day. Likewise, when I get home, neon colors, fluorescents, and overhead lighting makes me anxious. Low lighting keeps me calm, and my bedroom is decorated in cool colors to keep me relaxed before heading to bed.

6) Get enough sleep. 
(I'm aiming for 7 hours every night...still not the recommended amount, but far better than what I used to get!)
I'm awful at this myself. There's so many things to do! Why on Earth would you go to sleep? Who even has the time?! Well, I've actually come to find that no one has the time, but the ones who make time are the ones who always seem to be happier and healthier.

7) When you can't sleep, tire yourself out. 
Breakfast at midnight always works like a charm. You spend the night baking, you have a lot to clean up, and then you fill your tummy with super good comfort food.

8) Keep your body active regularly. 
The last thing I want to do after work is go to the gym. I just want to sit down and rest my feet for the rest of the night! But I love nothing more than dancing, and nothing feels better than getting those endorphins going. Actually... Nothing feels better than when the workout is done, and the endorphins are still at a high.

9) Find one daily activity that is devoted solely to you. 
Some people run. No thanks, not for me. I take showers. Long ones. Hot ones. I take them the moment my to-do list for the night is done. No more sweating. No more stressing. It's time to be clean, cool, and relaxed for the rest of the evening, and showers help me get into that headspace. Plus, they always seem to be the perfect place to ponder all of life's questions and they make you sound like a professional singer.

10) Treat yourself every week. 
Might be a glass of wine, dinner at Chickfila, or that new top at New York & Company that you've been eyeing for quite some time. Either way, you've worked hard! And you deserve it.

11) Read at least once per week. 
For years, I waited until I had time to do this. You. Will. Never. Have. Time. To. Do. Anything. You must make time for what is important. And for me, that's reading!

12) Make one voluntary human connection each day. 
This is so, so important if you live alone. Your co-workers don't count. The Walmart cashier doesn't count. The barista that made your drink at Starbucks doesn't count. These are all people you needed to come in contact with to complete your day. Instead, call a friend to have dinner. FaceTime your parents. Have your boyfriend over to watch a movie. Even if it's only for a couple of hours, this voluntary connection refuels your batteries and reminds you that you aren't doing life alone.

13) Say no to tasks that will add stress. 
I am the world's worst at this. But I work full time, take grad school online, and am trying out this new self-care thing on a regular basis. If I can do something to help others out, wonderful. But if it causes more stress on me than it does ease to them, it isn't worth it. It is not selfish to take care of yourself. You cannot pour from an empty cup.

14) Save your compliments, and refer to them as needed. 
Dylan taught me to do this. Every time someone would send me a thoughtful text, or leave a complimentary note, or give me something equally as flattering, he would take a picture. Then, on my worst days, he would pull those photos back out to remind me how important I was, and how good I was doing even when I was blind-sighted by stressful moments.

15) Write down your successes, and add as needed. 
Same idea as #11... Keep a log of everything you've accomplished. When the mountain starts feeling too high, look back at all the ones you've already climbed.

16) Ask for help when you need it. 
I hate being a bother, a burden, or an inconvenience. I hate when people feel obligated to lighten my load. As a result, I rarely ask for help, and suffer through situations when people wouldn't have minded (and sometimes even preferred) to help me.

17) Write something every day. 
I've gotten terribly out of the habit of journaling, but I still write at least one thing every day. Sometimes it's a letter to a friend. Sometimes it's a blog post (like today). Sometimes it's nothing more than a note to myself on the bathroom mirror for when I wake up the next morning. But I always write something. It helps me get things off my chest I often didn't even know were there.

18) Pray.
(At least one "official" time per day, but man... I probably say a thousand spontaneous ones every hour.)
Sometimes I realize I can't do it on my own, and sometimes I just need to get something off my chest. I usually combine this with other things, too. Where do I usually pray? In the shower. Or in my car with the windows down.

19) Color when you feel anxious. 
I have one of those mandala coloring books and I am proud of it. If you struggle with anxiety and you don't have one, get one. Like...yesterday.

20) Try something new when life begins to feel routine. 
I usually find myself turning to cooking. The motto in my household growing up was that we'll try anything once, and if it doesn't go well, Sonic is just around the corner. Thankfully, there's a Sonic just up the road from my apartment in Nashville, so I don't even have to find a new backup.

21) Explore when feeling spontaneous. 
One of the best nights I've had since moving to Nashville was when Dylan called at 11pm over the summer and we went for a walk. We walked until we got lost, and then walked until we found our way back.

22) Reflect on your needs daily. 
Our life changes every day, so what helped you relieve stress a month ago might not work anymore. Make sure you are taking active measures to give yourself what you need, but make sure you always know what that even is.

Once you've made your 22 self care commitments, start doing and documenting! Tag us on instagram {@taxistotsandpolkadots} or on twitter {@ttandpd}, or post to our facebook page Taxis, Tots & Polka Dots to share your challenge with us. I want to see how you're completing your challenge!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

My Second First Day of Kindergarten

I still remember my first day of kindergarten. I was four years old; soon to be five, only a few days later, but still the youngest student in the class.

I remember being ushered into the room by my kindergarten teacher. I went straight to play with blocks while she dashed around madly organizing kleenex boxes and clorox wipes. I remember watching her console parents and kneel to redirect crying children. I remember noting how much patience that woman had.

I remember walking in to a room I'd never seen before, knowing no one in the school, having no prior knowledge to apply to my new situation, and not having a single clue what was going on. I was flying by the absolute seat of my pants, just waiting on the teacher to tell me what to do.

And somehow, sixteen years later, all my days of kindergarten, and elementary, and middle school, and high school, and college had brought me right back around full circle.

I was twenty-one years old; soon to be twenty-two, only a few days later, but still the youngest teacher in the building.

I set up my room and put tubs of blocks on each table. I dashed around madly organizing kleenex boxes and clorox wipes. I consoled parents and knelt to redirect crying children. And I noted how much patience I never knew I had until that moment. They always said that kindergarten teachers were gifted with a certain type of patience that no one else had. I get it now.

I walked in to a room I'd never seen before only a week prior. And once again, I knew no one in the school. I had no prior teaching experience to apply to my first year teaching. And I still didn't have a single clue what was going on. I was still flying by the absolute seat of my pants. Except now I was the teacher who was supposed to tell 20 four and five years olds what to do.

I didn't eat lunch my entire first week. I worked 14 hour days the week before school started, and 12 hours days the first week of school. My classroom is already a mess, like I promised myself it never would be. My desk is already piled high and disorganized, like I promised myself I'd never let it get. And I've never needed more sleep than I did this past weekend; not in all my years of band concerts and guard competitions and theatre productions. Five year olds take a special kind of energy.

But my heart is so full...and so is my wallet! That's right ya'll, pay day was on Friday, which is the best possible Friday you can have.

So thus far... Teaching is pretty much the weirdest thing I've ever done. I get to wake up every morning in a metropolitan area, and drive to work doing what I love most with the age group I love most, and then return home to have dinner and hang out with my love and best friend. And then, every two weeks, there's more money than I've ever seen collectively on one check being deposited into my bank account. I pay rent. I pay bills. I pay credit cards. And I get to pay for awesome stuff too, like clothes I like, and furniture I've wanted forever, and the best pasta at my favorite italian restaurant every once in awhile.

And it all occurred to me as I was driving home tonight, away from the skyline, getting ready to lay everything out for work tomorrow morning. I used to dread waking up to go to class. To go to rehearsal. To go to work. And somehow, I don't seem to mind to anymore. And I think that's the absolute best thing a girl could possibly ask for.

Will the year get harder? Absolutely, in some ways. The thing is: I don't know what I don't know. So I'm not sure how far behind I am, or what I'm forgetting, or what I should've done on the first day of school that I didn't do. But it'll also get easier in other ways. I'll get used to lesson planning quickly. I'll get used to stealing the copier at the busiest time of day. I'll get used to teaching and my kinders will get used to learning and in the end, we'll both have accomplished something amazing. We'll both have had our first year of school, together. And we couldn't have done it without each other.

There are times during the day I wish I was more experienced, and could make faster decisions, and could recycle some old lesson plans when I wanted to leave school early. But I also recognize that I will never get this experience again. The ability to figure life out with five year olds, who are also trying to figure their life out, is undoubtedly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And I plan to savor every second of it.

I love my job. I love my apartment. I love Nashville, and the people I've met here. I love my home. I love my life. And I've never been more thankful of anything.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Bethany's First Classroom Reveal!

T'was the night before kindergarten, when all the through the house, a teacher was stirring, and so were the mice in her house. (Check out I Don't Think I Was Meant To Grow Up for that lovely story...)

We're cutting it a little close here at Bellshire Elementary. Our school had some beautiful and much-needed renovations completed over the summer, but that left us teachers with only one week to prep in our rooms, and the custodians were left to work around us while waxing the floors.

I walked in to chaos.

It was the first time I'd ever seen my room, and random furniture was thrown into each of them. I had no guided reading tables, one teacher desk that was falling apart, two sets of classroom chairs (neither the correct size for kindergarteners) and about forty-five more tables than I needed. There was some second grade curriculum in there, too: globes, workbooks much too hard for my kinders, etc...

But the whole team pulled together. We swapped until we all ended up with the correct curriculum. We stole furniture from everyone else's surplus pile. Teachers would roam the hallways yelling, "File cabinet?!" until someone would poke their head out and say "Come on in! I have four!"

Until finally, somehow, we were ready. (Or as ready as we'll ever be.)

So without further adieu... Welcome to Harper Headquarters! This is where Nashville's kindergarten detectives will become confident, creative, and curious...ready to make observations, search for clues and strategies, and ultimately learn new things until their case is cracked...and they are ready for first grade!

Special thanks to my kinder team for guiding me and swapping materials / furniture with me when everything was randomly piled in our room! Thanks to the janitors who helped us with our setups prior to waxing our floors, thanks to the tech team for installing everything in a matter of three days, and thanks to everyone who sent graduation money or school supplies / classroom essentials directly. And huge thanks to Dylan Roth for coming up basically every day to move and assemble furniture, hang everything out of my reach (i.e. ... nearly half my classroom), and for keeping me mentally sane through this crazy week! 

The first day of school is tomorrow... Kinder teachers, it's time to get our cray on!