Home + Work: Setting the curve in first grade

My son was a unicorn baby. He — and the possibility of paying exorbitant day-care costs — motivated me to start my business. For the first 17 months of his life, he was my main coworker, nursing while I unmuted myself from calls to add value, sleeping for hours while I typed from the couch, and cheering me on with his big, easy grins.

I’d look at him and remind myself of why I made the choices I did, less for him and more for the woman I wanted him to witness.

During brain breaks, I’d take him to swimming lessons at the Lynnwood pool or to the spray park in Edmonds. Our neighborhood in North Seattle saw a few too many unsavory characters and behaviors for my comfort level, so I’d often load him into his car seat and head north.

By the time his sister arrived three days before his second birthday, our family had moved to Edmonds.

Our daughter is the opposite of our son in many ways. “Chill” is one of the last words anyone who knows her would use to describe her. We gave her a name that means “white light, sparkle” because that is exactly what she is and does. Her energy and vivaciousness often overpower our son’s quiet, contemplative nature. Because she demands more attention, she often gets it.

I’ve been aware of that, especially this past summer when our child-care situation was — I’ll say it kindly — less than ideal.

I did my best to take each of them on dates, but it wasn’t easy. Our daughter’s obsession with me is intense for everyone. I had feelings about doing less with our son.

And then he came home from the first day of first grade with something that would change our lives forever: a mandatory reading log.

Five days a week, every week, we are required to read for 20 minutes. We record the time and a parent or guardian initials the total. My son’s teacher set a goal of 800 minutes for the quarter.

I set ours at 1,000.

I went through his books, which include purchases, gifts, Free Little Library finds, and treasures from my childhood. I made us a stack and I also placed holds on books from the library. We are absolutely abundant in books. Variety abounds in his bedroom, its book piles starting to resemble my own.

This is the assignment I’ve been waiting for.

I never set out to be the mom who is low-stress in the kitchen or who hand-sews Halloween costumes. I’m not a particularly willing volunteer. Dave and Buster’s (one of his new favorite places) is far from my scene. I will not sign up for the PTA. There is no “soccer mom” gene that I know of in my DNA.

But a reading goal? Oh, yeah.

We’ve been reading together for two months. He looks forward to it every night, his needs for my time and attention met in a way that is uniquely ours. And the way he gazes up at me for validation after he’s just sounded out a word? I cannot tell you how thick it makes my throat and how much it swells my heart.

On Wednesdays, he has early release and an hour without his sister. I pick him up, look at his reading log to see what kind of stamp his teacher gave us (a football this week, Minnie Mouse last), and we race home to read before the sound of the garage door opening signals she and her dad have arrived.

All of that to say, I am the business owner, the wife, and the mom I decided I wanted to be, not what the world told me I should be. I thrive with the reading log. I do my best with the rest. And, at the end of every day, when we have exceeded our twenty minutes, I hug my son, kiss his delicious cheeks, tell him I love him, and we both go to sleep smiling.

What a beautiful place to be.

— By Whitney Popa

Whitney and Emilie

Whitney Popa is a writer and communications consultant in Edmonds and Emilie Given is a virtual assistant agency owner in Lynnwood. They write this column together to share work-from-home ideas. They love where they live and are grateful the virtual world allows them to achieve more work/life harmony. They also co-host a weekly podcast where they share their entrepreneurship journeys while learning about those of others. You can learn more about Emilie here and more about Whitney here.


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