The Working Mom by Kay Luna

The End

October 23rd, 2012 2:58 pm

This is the end of my story.

At least, here, in this place.

A chapter of my life is ending this week. After working 15 years as a professional journalist, and 13 of those years at the Quad-City Times, I am leaving the newspaper for a new opportunity as a corporate writer for a company outside of media.

My last day is Friday.

And, yes, before you ask, I’m also ending my weekly appearances on the morning radio show at Mix 96. My last day on the air is this Friday, too.

So, yeah. Big changes are happening over here, my friends. I’m excited, of course, because I’m stepping into a new and wonderful opportunity for my career. It’s very exciting!

It’s also very sad to say goodbye … to all my job has taught me, and all the people I’ve got to know and all the stories I’m leaving untold.

And it’s hard to say goodbye to my blog, and all of you.

You know, this blog was one of the very first ones the Times ever started. I was a suckerpioneer (Ha!), writing my first post five years ago, when Miss Babycakes was only three months old.

I didn’t know who would bother to read it. I worried that I might bore people with my stories about getting used to work again after maternity leave, and all the stages of my baby’s life.

But I was wrong.

You did read it.

You read what essentially became my daughter’s baby book of memories, and you shared in my joy and laughed along at my silliness. And the even more beautiful thing is you shared your stories, too. We learned from each other. We cheered for each other. We held each other up.

And you surprised me when I realized it wasn’t just moms reading my blog. Dads were reading it and commenting, too. And uncles. And aunts. And grandparents. And people who didn’t have any kids at all.

The Iowa Newspaper Association even gave me a first-place award one year for writing the best newspaper-based blog in our category in the state. I’m still proud of that. I’m proud of all of us, for the little neighborhood we created in this space.

Thanks to you, I was able to share snapshots (mostly in words) of my sweet Miss Babycakes, my very last little baby, growing up from infancy to the big-girl kindergartner she has become. Wasn’t it fun???!!!

For a long time, my little daughter was too young to understand she was kind of a local celebrity because of the blog.

So, she was pretty freaked out one day as we walked into a Kohl’s department store in the Q-C when someone we didn’t know approached us.

“You’re Kay Luna, right?” the man said. “And this must be Babycakes.”

She looked at me like the man was off his rocker. As soon as he was gone, she asked me why in the world someone would call her “Babycakes.” LOL!

I’m getting teary-eyed now, so let me just say, THANK YOU. Thank you for helping me transition into the delicate balance of work and parenting the second time around, for understanding my stories and commiserating with me.

Thank you for your friendship.

And please follow me on Twitter @KayLuna to see what I end up doing next.

Until we meet again …

Parents `vote with their feet’

August 30th, 2012 10:33 am

You might have heard recently parents’ back-to-school shopping often includes buying a new house. Why is that?

A new study by an organization that analyzes real estate trends, Trulia.com, shows parents “vote with their feet” by picking up stakes and moving into school districts with better Great School ratings.

The study compared the ratio of 5- to 9-year-olds to the number of preschool kids to come up with its numbers to see whether parents deliberately moved into higher-ranked school districts when their kids became school-aged. 

According to chief economist Jed Kolko, they did, even when the move meant a longer work commute for parents.

Wonder if that’s true in the Quad-City area? The study includes a full national database ranked by parents moving in and out. You can link to it from here: http://trends.truliablog.com/2012/08/school-districts-people-flock-to-and-flee-from/

I checked out the Iowa list, which includes 364 school districts. Of those, the highest ranking one in our area was the Louisa-Muscatine School District at #19.

The district in Preston, Iowa, ranked #22. Central Lee Community School District in Andrew, Iowa, ranked #23. Delwood Community School in Clinton County ranked #30.

Pleasant Valley Community School District is listed at #36, followed by Bettendorf schools at #45, Camanche district at #78 and North Scott at #84.

For a bigger picture look, the Wall Street Journal wrote a national story about it: http://blogs.wsj.com/developments/2012/08/28/biggest-back-to-school-purchase-a-new-home/

An education reporter posted on a national listserv another point: The federal No Child Left Behind mandates and how schools rank under that law’s “annual yearly progress” rules also influences parents’ choices of schools for their kids.

As it’s been explained to me, in Iowa, parents can request to open-enroll their kids in other school districts in the state, whether they live in those districts or not. But, in Illinois, per-pupil state education funding does not follow the students to school districts outside of their own, so transfers to neighboring schools — without the family moving into those districts — aren’t as common.

So, what about you? Have you ever moved, or considered moving, to a new home so your kids could attend a certain school?

Did that really happen? Yes, it did.

August 20th, 2012 4:19 pm

I’ve been soaking up as much time as possible with my soon-to-be kindergartener. Sob! Hold me …

Over the weekend, as a reward for her following through on putting her face in the water during her swimming lesson, I took Miss Babycakes to Niabi Zoo. We had a moment there that should get categorized under the “Oh-my-gawd-did-that-really-happen?” file.

How do I put this lightly? I’m not sure so I’ll just go.

We were in the Australian area where the kangaroo-type animals roam freely, near the bird-feeding area. Correct me if you know the name of these animals, because one of them plays a major role in my story.

We are walking along, the 5-year-old and I, when I notice one of these little darlings wrestling and wranging with what appeared to be a baby trying to jump out of her pouch.

“Oh, look, sweetie! This one has a baby,” I call out, drawing her over closer to look.

Another mom and her children follow, after hearing what I said. We all line up along the rope, gaping at this wonder of nature. The animal is just having the roughest time trying to keep that baby in the pouch, as it keeps pushing it down and back in place.

And then, it steps out of the shadow.

Oh, my heavens and Earth, people, but I gasp and fall silent as I realize this is NOT a mama. And that was NOT a baby.

Good gracious.

I blurt out, “Oh, my, that’s not a baby,” and then I laugh … for a long, long time. And loudly. I do that.

The other mother who followed me over smiled awkwardly, like she is embarrassed for me, pulling her kids away.

A dad nearby says, “It looks like it just woke up.”

I laugh even more.

Later, my brilliant daughter figures it all out, saying, “I think that was its front bottom.”

Yes, sweetheart, it was.

And that is how I know my kid is ready for kindergarten. LOL!!!!!!!

What have you been doing lately?

Summer fun

July 20th, 2012 6:02 am

Whenever someone asks me if I’m having a good summer, I immediately say yes — but it’s a tired yes. Ha!

We’re having a lot of fun, and it feels like we’re constantly on the go: Lots of swimming and playing outside, lots of gardening (you’ve got to keep up on it, or it’s overwhelming) and lots of special events.

First, I had to get ready for my 20th high school class reunion. That required a lot of psyching up and grooming. :) Days worth, even.

In the end, it was truly a BLAST. The years melted away, and we were in high school again, if only for one weekend. I got to reconnect with old friends and make some new ones. I’m so glad I went.

Meanwhile, Miss Babycakes has been working on a quilt (see previous blog entry) that she wanted to put on display at the county fair. That also has required a lot of supervision, as she sewed every last stitch herself. In the end, she got it done, and it’s really cute.

I was disappointed that her quilt didn’t win a ribbon.

But she was so good about it. I showed her the winning entry, and how that child’s stitches were fancier (better than I know how to do, actually), but that Mommy and Daddy were so very proud of her … and that there’s always next year to try again.

“I was hopeful, but it’s OK,” she said — yes, in those very words.

On a whim, when I entered her quilt, I also decided to enter four of my mom’s projects that she made for Babycakes: Three dresses and a knitted scarf.

When we walked into the building at the fair where those were on display, we gasped in delight! Every last one of Mom’s entries got ribbons, even one first-place blue ribbon!!! Yay, Mom!

The fair’s still going on in East Moline this week. You might want to check it out.

What’s new with you?

Health care and education

June 29th, 2012 9:31 am

Did you know health care and education are connected?

Just read a story in Education Week that says research shows health care improves students’ school outcomes, and this explains:

“The reasons students drop out of school are complex, and health can be integrally related to many of these reasons, including barriers to learning such as hunger and poor nutrition and even fear for safety at school,” wrote authors led by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researcher Diane Allensworth. “Health problems contribute to absenteeism and, in turn, absenteeism as well as unintended pregnancy and delinquency are associated with dropping out of school.”

That’s one angle I haven’t heard already, among all the reaction about the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on health care reform this week.

What do you think?

Embracing our inner country girl

June 13th, 2012 10:14 am

My husband gave me a wonderful gift for Mother’s Day, and it’s a gift that keeps giving.

 He spent most of the day in the yard, tilling the ground so I could plant our 2nd annual summer garden. And the first of our vegetables — a row of bright green lettuce — is just now ready to eat. 

Vegetables taste so much better when they’re grown in your yard. To be able to pluck off a lettuce leaf and pop it into my mouth, right in the garden, is so amazing to me.

Sometimes, I stare in wonder at the plants: Their little rows, their unique colors of green, the tiny yellow flowers starting to appear on the tomatoes. All of these grew out of tiny seeds?!

I say this to Miss Babycakes, our 5-year-old daughter, and she nods her head in agreement. I want her to see the miracle of this process … but so far, she seems lukewarm in her amazement. She’s patient with me, but isn’t quite as excited as I am.

“What kind of country girl are you?” I asked her jokingly the other morning, as we drove to preschool. “How can you not be excited about gardens?”

I reminded her of how much she likes to dig in dirt, rescue worms and hold friendly spiders and butterflies on her fingers.

“That’s true, I do like nature,” she said with a faraway look. “So, why do we put shiny things around the garden to keep away the birds? Why don’t they like shiny things?”

“I don’t know,” I answered. “They’re scared of them, but I don’t know why.”

“Well,” she answered triumphantly, “what kind of country girl are you?”

Busted.

But I won’t give up on encouraging her to embrace her rural roots, and to find wonder in every day life.

Case in point: I’m teaching Miss Babycakes to quilt, using my sewing machine. I started this process when she was 4, letting her help me with my projects, but now she has progressed to pursuing some projects of her own.

I took her to a sit-and-sew event with the quilt guild I belong to, which inspired these scrappy-looking quilt squares she made (with my help). She is leaning toward turning these into a pillow.

Another interest for Babycakes is supporting the Ronald McDonald House Charities, because she has heard stories about how they help sick children and their families. We’re saving pop tabs for that charity, upon her request.

Now, we’re working together on a baby quilt that includes patches from old McDonald’s shirts. Babycakes is doing all the sewing, but I’m doing the cutting and ironing (too dangerous for a 5-year-old to do on her own). We hope to get it finished in time for Babycakes to put it in the fair and maybe the local quilt show. She wants to donate it to Ronald McDonald House later this year.

Here’s a sneak peek:                                                                           

This project will be done entirely with scraps from my stash.

My grandma would have been so very proud.

What are you up to?

Famous dads, awkward pics and more

May 30th, 2012 2:16 pm

Reason #5,153 that my job is fun: I get to read at my desk.

OK, I do notice a few people raising their eyebrows at me when I’m reading a magazine, but honestly, I do it for YOU, my dear blog readers.

I’ve been skimming through Parenting magazine, and I had a very good reason to look inside the June issue: Mike Wolfe of LeClaire, Iowa, star of the History channel’s “American Pickers” show, was featured inside!

In honor of Father’s Day, the magazine includes Q&A with famous dads about what it means to be a father and their favorite family pastimes.

Wolfe is shown in a photo with his newborn daughter, Charlie, on page 75. Or follow the link above and read it online. It’s very cute.

While you’re at it, check out the magazine’s new slideshow of awkward pregnancy photos, too. Oh, my gosh, hilarious stuff!

Also, this story about a young boy who donated his Disney trip to a soldier’s family is amazing. How can I get a kid like that?

But enough about me. What’s been on your mind lately?

Washing machine video

May 25th, 2012 5:52 am

I can’t stand to watch the viral Internet video of someone putting a toddler into a washing machine. Shiver.

But I’ve read about the incident, and what a mess. At first, it was thought that the surveillance video that caught it happening showed the boy’s parents doing this at a laundromat. Now, the boy’s mother has come forward, saying he was in the “care” of a babysitter, and she had no idea this had happened until she saw the video on TV.

OMG.

Just saw she appeared on TV and said she plans to press charges.

Do you folks have any tips to share for parents, as far as what to watch for in good, quality childcare?

What every parent needs to know

May 21st, 2012 3:58 pm

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you know I just got back from the Education Writers Association national conference in Philadelphia.

And if I could share  just one thing I learned during that trip, I know exactly what I’d tell you, because it’s something any parent can use to gauge the quality of a child’s school.

Kelly Hunter of the Children’s Literacy Initiative said parents need to start asking their children’s teachers and school administrators these crucial questions:

1) How do you know where my child is academically? She said this shows how much the school differentiates instruction from one student to another, and how the teacher keeps track of your child’s current academic level at any given time.

2) How do you know when my child is advancing academically? When your child is ready to move ahead, or struggling in an area, does the teacher know about it and take action?

3) How does my child work independently? What tools are in place in the classroom to foster that? A trait of a good school is an environment that allows students to apply lessons they learn in the classroom on their own. When kids learn independent, critical thinking skills, that can benefit their personal and professional lives forever, she said.

4) What professional development do teachers get in your school? What kind of teacher collaboration and mentoring happens? When teachers are learning best practices in the classroom, and working together on goals for their students, they feel energized and passionate and excited about teaching — and that’s exactly the environment you want your child in every day at school, she said.

Hunter’s tips couldn’t have come at a better time for my family. Miss Babycakes will start kindergarten in the fall, and we want to make sure her school is the best fit for her.

For many parents, that’s tough to figure out. That’s true for me, too, even though I feel like I’ve got a leg up on some parents because of my job as a reporter covering schools for the newspaper. Visiting classrooms all over the Quad-Cities and learning about national issues and trends in education, I’m aware of some of the indicators to check and red flags to watch for in schools.

In fact, I joked with some other education reporters at the conference last week that this job has made me go overboard in analyzing schools for Babycakes. OVERBOARD, I say. I have lists. Many folders and lists …

But I feel more empowered after talking to Hunter, and witnessing with my own two eyes what her organization, CLI, is doing to propel reading and writing skills among kindergarten through third-grade children at inner-city Powel Elementary School in Philadelphia. Incredible stuff.

Research shows that when young kids get really good at reading comprehension and writing, the rest of their work in all other subjects gets better, too. So, when I heard these tiny little people — many from low-income families – reading big words ahead of their grade level, like “wondrous” and “devise” and “strategy,” I got really excited.

Hunter explained that her organization sends mentors into schools like Powel to help teachers learn how to teach these skills, and they emphasize the importance of stretching kids onto the next level like rubber bands (without pushing them so hard, they snap).

That’s what I want for Babycakes! I want to feel that kind of excitement in my daughter’s classroom in the fall. And I want her to know anything is possible for her, if she just pushes and stretches herself.

We have many excellent schools in our area. But we, as parents, need to gauge that for ourselves. And we should not settle. We cannot settle.

We can’t just blindly send our kids to school, trusting they are learning what they need to learn, without actively getting involved in the process. Our kids’ educations start with us.

So, guess what I’ll be doing this week? Asking Hunter’s suggested questions. I’ll let you know what I find out.

And speaking of education, I learned a few other things (much more light-hearted things, too, I might add) during my Philly trip:

* It’s awesome to run up the steps of the Philadelphia art museum and do the Rocky Balboa fist pump (pictured above with other reporter-friends from around the U.S., including our very own Des Moines bureau reporter Mike Wiser).

* Betsy Ross was called “Saucy Rossy” among the people of Philly during her time, because she married three times and bore seven children, according to our double-decker tour bus guide. Her house was so neat to see.

* The Liberty Bell is huge.

* The Philly Cheesesteak sandwich is … eh. I don’t know. It’s OK.

* I LOVE-LOVE-LOVE hanging out with all my reporter friends I’ve met through the Education Writers Association!!! I learn so much from them, and just truly enjoy their company.

That’s all for now. :)

How are you?

Q-C teacher set to appear on national TV

May 14th, 2012 10:02 am

Photo by Kevin Schmidt, Quad-City Times

Get ready to cheer for a Quad-City teacher, who is one of five national finalists in the “Top Teacher Search” contest on ABC’s “LIVE! with Kelly” morning talk show.

Wendy Martin, a teacher at Assumption High School in Davenport, is in New York City right now — and she will appear on the show at 9 a.m. this Tuesday, May 15.

If that’s not exciting enough, Assumption principal Chuck Elbert said a crew with “Live! With Kelly” will visit Assumption High School and do a live broadcast at 8 a.m. the following Tuesday, May 22, when the show announces the final winner.

Check out our story about Mrs. Martin to learn more about the contest, how she got nominated and how you could vote and help her win.