Making a difference in small ways

In life, just like in television, there seems to be themes that rise to the surface every now and again. Sometimes I don’t think I always sense or recognize what they may be, and other times it is like someone is hitting me over the head with them.

This past week or so has been a time where I have to keep rubbing that same spot because, man, is it ever clear what this “episode’s” theme would be: making a difference.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is the message floating around in my life right now, considering today would have been my dad’s 61st birthday. That guy was certainly one who knew how to make a difference. And nearly six years after his death, my family and I are still learning about the impact he made on people’s lives.

Me and my dad

Me and my dad


I give both my dad and mom most of the credit for my drive to do the same in my own life, to make a difference in my little corner of the world. Sometimes, though, I get so busy with the minutiae of life that I forget about that mission, or I tell myself that I’m just too busy to step outside of my own world to make an impact for others. I get this mindset that it’s only the grand gestures that really make a difference.

Part of that may be that when I had initially planned my life out, I didn’t picture myself with a husband, two kids and living in Evansville at 34. Right now, in that plan, I am living somewhere in Africa or Southeast Asia with my husband, whom I’d met during my travels post-Peace Corps, and we are talking about the possibility of kids (Stella and Oliver, we’d name them). We would of course raise them there. I work as an international correspondent covering social justice issues.

That’s a life full of grand gestures, one I was on track for — serving in Bangladesh as a Peace Corps volunteer at 23. But my “perfect plan,” like all plans really, didn’t go perfectly. I got very ill during my service and was medically evacuated home where eventually I was diagnosed with a heart condition that necessitated a pacemaker. Life took a different path — my post Peace Corps travels included the tropical and exotic destinations of Alabama and Louisiana rather than Bali and Nepal. While I didn’t get to stay in a tiki hut or do some peak climbing, I did meet my husband and realize that this path was the one I was intended for all along.

But in this current life I often feel it’s not possible to make much of a difference. Then, sometimes I have weeks like these last few, and I’m quickly reminded of the impact that each of us can have, even in the smallest of ways.

As a journalist, you don’t often hear from readers unless they are unhappy. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the day-to-day of doing our job — reporting and writing your stories — that we forget that you guys are reading them.

But every once in a while, we get one of those treasured things — a positive comment, a sign that someone was impacted in some way by something you wrote. I made them smile. I made them aware of an upcoming concert they are now attending. I alerted them to a program that will really benefit them. Way to go, me!

Sometimes those signs are even bigger. Last week a fifth-grade teacher reached out to me, saying she was touched by a story I wrote in August about an Evansville native, now living outside of St. Louis, trying to raise funds for a service dog to help with the PTSD he suffered after six military deployments in seven years.

Before that August story, the soldier had raised $400. Since the publication of the story, more than $10,000 has been raised toward his $15,000 goal. That story made a difference. It made people such as this Highland Elementary teacher and the dozens of others who donated aware of this soldier’s need.

The teacher, Barbara Lynn, shared the story with her students, who were moved to do something. They’ve started a coin drive — underway through Tuesday if you’d like to contribute — with a goal of pushing the soldier past his goal. It was so invigorating for me to talk to those students. I just got this note from Mrs. Lynn: “It feels to the students like they are changing the world — at least part of it. I am grateful beyond belief for the chance to work with you.”

Thanks for the reminder, life, about how I still can make a difference — how everyone can. And thanks, Dad, for instilling in me the desire to leave my corner of the world a better and happier place.

School meeting prompts self-evaluation

By Michael

At this writing, it’s the night before our first real parent-teacher conference, and I’m not kidding — I’m kind of freaking out a little bit.

For starters, it’s at our house. When I was a kid, these things were held at the school, during an open house, with all the other kids and their parents.

But there are no secrets at your house. I already feel like it’s Judgment Day.
I’ve met Miles’ teacher once, and she seemed like a perfectly nice and reasonable person, but still, you can’t help but feel like she’s going to discover every single flaw.

I haven’t been this nervous to have somebody over to my house since my first date with my future wife. But then, I didn’t have two kids, and the place was already relatively clean.
After a whirlwind housecleaning session, I’m still not satisfied. I keep finding all these little reminders of what imperfect parents we are.

Over here, a stray McDonald’s receipt on the table; better make sure to get that. We wouldn’t want Miles’ teacher to know we feed him McDonald’s on occasion. Do we eat McDonald’s too much?

Over there, in a corner, the crusty remnants of something that probably once qualified as food. It looks like chewed-up pasta, but it could be a dried-up piece of cheese, or maybe a desiccated chunk of pineapple. Why is this here? Don’t we have a dog to take care of this sort of thing?

There’s an epic layer of dust, dog hair and assorted kid-related sticky bits on the TV and the stand it sits on. This is not just a minor dusting session. It’s a good 10-minute job, in which I have the opportunity for further self-examination. Do they watch TV too much? Are we addling our kids’ brains with nonstop viewings of “Thomas the Tank Engine” and “The Wiggles”?

Another black mark.

Miles’ room, hah, let’s not even tackle that, we’ll just close the door. But wait. What if she wants to see his room to get a glimpse of his home life? Or worse yet, what if he asks her to come see it? That would not be good. I’ve been told there is a floor in there somewhere, but it hasn’t been beheld by human eyes in quite some time.

Best to just close off that entire section of the house altogether, I guess. If somebody needs to go to the bathroom, the Marathon station across the way isn’t too bad.
But the most concerning part is his behavior. We’ve gotten a couple hints lately that he “has trouble listening” which with Miles is code for “completely ignores you when you’re telling him to do anything he doesn’t want to do.”

We are doing our best to try to remedy this behavior that is definitely exhibited with us but we — up to this point — have consoled ourselves with the knowledge that he’s always been a model student at school. What do you do when that isn’t happening anymore? Should we be more strict? How do you do that and not stifle his individualism, crush his spirit?

This whole new-age parenting thing is really tough sometimes. Hopefully all this worrying is unwarranted, and we’ll find out that it’s really not that big a deal.
In the meantime, I’ve got a kitchen to scrub.


Germs seem to be winning the battle

By Michael Doyle

It’s 2 a.m., and I’m staring at the endless wall of cold medicines at the drugstore when I get a major sense of déjà vu.

Then I realize, it’s not déjà vu; I actually did do this before. It was probably about a month ago that I stood in this exact same spot in this exact same CVS, probably shuffling my feet while taking in the enormous variety of red, green, purple and blue syrupy, boozy bottles guaranteed both to taste terrible and knock you flat on your back for an evening of non-cough interrupted sleep.

I picked out a green one. The guy in the checkout line in front of me got red.

“You know they have the two-packs of this stuff,” the cashier quipped. “You want to go back? You look like you might need the two-pack.”

“Seemed like a jinx,” I told her. “I’m just gonna hope one is enough.”

At our house, cold season has been going on for a while now. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that young Miles started back to preschool in late August and the germs started taking over about a week later.

I’m sure it’s uncomfortable for the little ones. But they can shrug it off a little better, it seems — wipe your nose on your sleeve and get on with the business of being a kid. For all the confluence of green goop always pooling around Miles’ nostrils, you won’t ever hear him talk about feeling “sick.” And even Owen, who just turned a year old, seems to take it in stride. His poor raw, red and crusty little nose doesn’t really seem to deter him from his daily routine of household exploration (AKA destruction) and dog-tail chasing.

For me, though, it’s another story. I already have such chronic sinus and allergy problems that getting a full-blown cold on top of that is just about all my immune system can take. I feel feverish and get chills, my throat hurts, my body aches and get a heavy hacking cough that always seems to linger for weeks. By the end of the day, I’m a disaster, all used up by 7 p.m. or so, which just so happens to be my bedtime for most of the last week.

And what’s worse is, right when you think you’re starting to get better, it comes back on you full force.

I don’t know if we’re just passing the same set of germs back and forth among each other or if there are new invaders constantly making their way into the house.

It certainly can’t help that we’re all in close quarters, breathing and recirculating each other’s germs constantly. My guess is if you had a microscope the place would look like a bacteria’s dream come true, complete with a little bacteria Statue of Liberty right outside the front door:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses of germs, waiting to break free.”

Surely this whole season of germ-giving will come to an end soon enough. In the meantime, we will continue to live in a world where there are too many boogers and not enough Kleenexes.

Extracurriculars, already?

I have no one to blame but myself (well, maybe my mom too since it was a Christmas gift) but my kiddo already has a “thing.”

miles gym

He’s only four and already has an extracurricular activity! I’m not really upset about it; it just makes me feel old (and a little nervous as to what a hectic, “scheduled” life we are too soon going to be leading.)

We signed Miles up for gymnastics about a month ago, and he’s already gone to two sessions. The third is tonight. He LOVES it! One of his buddies from school is in the class; he gets to run and jump and twirl.

miles gym2

And they mean business in this class. He sits on a dot, does stretching, has spun around the tall bar on the uneven bars, jumped on a balance beam and even vaulted! We are very pleased with this. It was one of the reasons we joined the YMCA. Thankfully our family is enjoying some of the other benefits (swimming and working out so far!)

miles gym3


We love that Miles is involved with this, but decided one thing was enough. Let’s wait a little while longer to get too much on our plate.

miles gym4

How do you keep your kids from getting overscheduled?

Second day not so great

There was little trepidation the first day and definitely no tears from either Miles or momma. Day two, not so much. Lots of tears for both of us.

Things went GREAT day one. Miles came out of school excited and chattering about his new friends, the toys and lunch. He was stoked about going back. And Michael and I were excited about how positive he was being, his enthusiasm about school and what that meant for the next day, the day after that and so on.


We were feeling pretty confident that things were going to go pretty smoothly with this whole school thing. I mean, if the first day is good it guarantees a good year, right? OK, real talk, I know that isn’t the case, but I at least was banking on the fact that he wouldn’t have an issue with going back the next day.

Unfortunately I was wrong.

He got a great night’s sleep, was chatty all morning about looking forward to going back to school and we got off with little issues. As soon as I drove by the school to drop him off the protests began.

“NO! Not this school mom! The other school,” he whined.

“Which school honey, this is the only one,” I replied, trying to figure out where else he thought we’d be going.

“NO! The one with the race track!” Mile said, now in tears.

We recently joined the YMCA, and Miles went to their “Childwatch” room last night and had a great time there. There was a race track… He thought we were going back there.

“Honey, that’s the Y,” I said, desperately trying to calm him in the next 30 seconds before my car made it to the front of the drop-off line. “We’ll go back tonight, after school, after momma is off work.”


I pulled up and looked at the teachers at the door, desperation and tears in my eyes wondering what I was supposed to do as he could be heard crying and shrieking from the back seat.

Mom of the year right here… I peeled him out of the car crying, kicking and screaming and handed him off to one of the loving teachers who promised me he would be fine within minutes and who snuggled him close, carrying him into the school as I slunk back into my car and drove off no longer able to hold off the floodgates.


So here I am, sitting and waiting, tapping my finger waiting for dimissal to hear how it went and wondering what tomorrow holds.

This too shall pass, right?

How was day two for you?

Happy Miles playing with his brother.

Happy Miles playing with his brother.

First day of school


It has come and gone… the first day of school.

There was some fretting (my part, not really his) and some excitement (definitely Michael and my part and his).

The drop off went smoothly — a few extra hugs and brief puppy dog eyes but mostly smiles.

Miles at school.

Miles at school.

Miles was in school last year — preschool four days a week for three hours — but this felt more official. It is nearly a full school day 8:15 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. (it ended up being past 2 p.m. before he made it back in the car as the “car riders line” didn’t go all that smoothly on this first day of school) five days a week. It’s a much larger classroom (15 students instead of the five most days at St. Theresa’s), and the expectations of independence are a lot higher here.


Goofy kiddo

Goofy kiddo

I talked to Miles over the phone as soon as he got home. My takeaway — they didn’t have time for recess, he really wants to ride the bus, there are some fun toys to play with, he made friends but can’t remember their names and, most importantly, he’s excited to go back tomorrow.

I’ll take it! I can’t wait to see how tomorrow goes!


Figuring out how to let life win sometimes

I constantly feel the pull of work vs. life. It’s a strong one, but luckily work allows life to win as often as it can.


One such example was Friday, when I was able to take the morning off to be a chaperone for my son’s first field trip. I had about two weeks left of work before maternity leave and at least a month’s worth of work, the only other reporter in my department was on vacation and my editor was doing her best to prepare to be gone for a week of vacation herself. But without hesitation she said, “Go, take the time off. Have a great time and be careful!”

Not only are my co-workers pretty accommodating, they all are a bunch of mother hens to this pregnant chick.

I’m not sure if Miles will remember moments like this in 10, 20 or 30 years, but I know I certainly will.

When I heard that St. Theresa’s preschool through second grade would be taking a field trip (Miles’ first-ever) I quickly asked his teacher if they needed any chaperones. I’m not sure if they really did, but thankfully the kind Mrs. Bartley graciously said, “Of course,” giving me permission to tag along.

The students all piled onto a big yellow school bus, another first for Miles. We talked about that part of the field trip the night before because I wanted him to be prepared. I was trying to squash any potential fears of doing something different. But there was nothing even remotely scary about the school bus, well unless you count the frighteningly ridiculous number of times he asked about when he got to ride it between bedtime Thursday and school drop off Friday morning.


All the parents were to meet the kids and the bus at the destination — Goebel’s Farm in rural Vanderburgh County. I was anxiously waiting outside of my car, camera in hand, to catch the bus pulling in and Miles descending the steps. Of course life happens and the bus was about an hour late. I made the best of it and pulled out my laptop and whipped out a story while I was waiting. (See, work won there!)
When he hopped down the steps with his teacher’s help the smile on my guy’s face was visible from across the parking lot. He spotted me and started to run toward me.


Gah! That sound of pure joy and glee at seeing me. That has got to be one of the best sounds and feelings in the world. We all filed inside and learned about how pumpkins were grown, the difference between the different kinds and even met a chicken. It was fun to see Miles interact with the other students and for the other teachers to tell me how sweet and cute our little dude is, reassuring to hear because you always wonder how well behaved they are when you aren’t around.


The whole group piled onto a straw ride (it wasn’t hay, we learned) out to the pumpkin patch where we got to traipse around all the growing pumpkins. It was magical watching Miles discover things he found, hearing him excitedly proclaim his discoveries of “punkins.” The group headed back to the main farm, home to the amazing barn slide. We’d gone to Goebel’s a few times last year and spent quite a bit of time playing on the barn slide.

Mrs. Bartley picking out the class' pumpkin.

Mrs. Bartley picking out the class’ pumpkin.

This thing is no joke. It’s pretty high up and has some challenging steps to tackle. Last year, when Miles was still just 2, he definitely couldn’t navigate his way around up there alone and Michael and I took turns going up and down with him. But with the whole class lining up to go up the slide I thought Miles would be OK. So my nearly 37-week pregnant self decided to watch from the ground with some of the other teachers and parents who skipped the slide.

But after Miles made it all the way to the top, I saw him coming back down with one of the teachers. He was too scared to do it by himself and wanted his momma. Heart melts, of course, and I quickly start to climb the stairs with him. When I get to the top a parent and teacher exchange glances with each other and then eye my now pretty obvious baby belly.

“Are you sure you should be doing this?” one of them asks.

I laugh, “What, go down a slide pregnant with my son? Of course I should do it!”

So Miles and I zoomed down the slide.

What a fun morning. It was just a few hours but it was full of memories and moments I’ll treasure. I’m not sure how many field trips I’ll make, but I’m hopeful I can do at least one a year. I’m grateful to have a kiddo that is happy and proud to have me tag along and an employer who values the importance of family time.


‘Reconsider’ your decision

There are days that I struggle to find a blog topic. Today I have about four swimming around in my head. But this one, the one where I ponder the letter I just received suggesting I quit my job and pull my son out of preschool, well it made its way to the top.

I want to stress that I really do appreciate this reader’s feedback for a number of reasons — it tells me people are actually reading (yippee), it gave me a chance to once again examine why we’ve made the schooling decisions we have, it’s renewed my confidence in those decisions and it gave me something to blog about.

Every couple weeks my editor will choose one of these blogs to run in the newspaper as a column. She chose to run the blog I wrote about being anxious about Miles’ first day of school on our education page just before school started for the two large public school systems. In the column I talked about my free-spirited little guy who loves to play with trains on the floor with no pants on, and who’s favorite activity is to run around screaming random nonsense.


The letter-writer was well spoken and even signed her name. And she was far from mean or ugly (which sometimes people can be.) And I get when you write about this kind of stuff for a public audience you are totally putting your decisions, emotions, family and all that stuff out there for the public eye and scrutiny. And it isn’t a one-way street. I don’t just shout it all out into an empty void (at least I hope I don’t!)

I appreciate hearing feedback, even when it isn’t just a good ol’ pat on the back or, “I totally have been there.” So I welcome this feedback; it’s just kind of jarring. And I’m still processing it all.

The writer pleads for my husband and me to “reconsider” our decision to send Miles to preschool. Instead of doing that, I should quit my job to be at home with him.

“If you feel that Miles needs to start learning — he will do it the best sitting next to his mother — snuggled up reading a book, and then when he has sit (sic) as long as he can — he can get back to playing with his trains, running and screaming not expected to sit quietly a few hours a week, four days a week.”

nuts goggles

We spend LOTS of time snuggled up reading books. We do this at least every night at bedtime, and he sits snuggled up to his FATHER reading books throughout the day as well. And he isn’t expected to sit quietly for those three hours a day, four days a week he is at school. They have recess, they have center play, they go on “color scavenger hunts,” they have a castle complete with dress up clothes for pretend play and there is even a train set there! But in the midst of that play he is getting exposed to other children, a lot of dialogue, the concept of listening to someone other than mom and dad and exposure to some organized learning and structure.

The letter-writer goes one:

“Boys are barely able to do that (referring to sitting quietly) when they are 5 and in kindergarten — there is plenty of time for him to learn — there is no scientific proof that pre-school is advantageous — much more important for him to be at home learning with his mother.”

I think it is important for my child (the only child I’m making educational decisions for right now) to be exposed to some structure and order before “real school” starts. Ideas like lining up, sitting in a circle, being responsible for his backpack and other simple lessons could be taught at home before a child enters kindergarten I’m sure. But the idea of doing those in a setting outside of the home, for someone else and with a classroom of peers is hard to replicate inside one’s home.

And the concept of home schooling is one that I think is great. And I’m sure it works really well and is amazing for a lot of families. But for us, it just isn’t the best option or fit. I work outside of the home, a necessity for our family. We are lucky that my husband is able to stay home with Miles and soon our second son but he does a lot of work from home. That schedule just doesn’t work for home school. Plus, I just don’t think it is something that would be a good fit for my husband (or me, if I was able to quit my job.)

The letter-writer says, “Miles will be expected to act in ways that are beyond his capabilities.”

That just isn’t true. He’s been in school for four weeks now and with the exception of one, “Miles had a difficult time listening” note his teacher has had nothing but great things to say. Her words are the exact opposite of this prediction actually where the teacher has said he has exceeded expectations and is doing wonderfully.

Keep reading (and responding!)​

Day off from school

This week Miles protested going to school every single day. He screamed, he cried, he even ran from Michael throwing himself into the grass declaring, “I don’t like school!”

Today, his day off from school, he wakes up excitedly at 6:15 a.m. (30 minutes earlier than I had to drag him out of bed every other day this week) saying, “I can’t wait to go to school!”

Seriously kid?

When I informed him that today was NOT a school day, that’s when the tears started falling.

Hey, at least he’s mixing it up!

I am far from wishing away time and moments with my little guy who I love SO very, very much. But I’m going to put it right out there — I’m wishing away the tantrums! They can go the way of the doo-doo (is that the old cliché), and I won’t protest a bit.

Here’s to the weekend full of promise and fun times. Hopefully he’ll wake up all smiles tomorrow and declare, “I get to spend ALL DAY with Mommy!”

Have a great weekend.