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Learner, Teacher, Leader, Family Member Interview #3: Theresa Gerstenkorn

Everyone needs a Theresa in their life, and I'll get to why in just a second, but before that, HUGE CONGRATULATIONS to Theresa's whole family! They welcomed their baby girl to the world on Friday, Feb 22 and she is ADORABLE. Mama and baby are doing well. The night before baby girl made her appearance, Theresa sent me her interview :).

My two biggest struggles moving from NC were leaving a job I loved with people I cared about a lot and leaving while my sister was expecting my first nephew - Theresa, intentionally or not, played a huge role in helping me with both of those struggles. Initially, I met Theresa online as I tried to get the word out about Tinkergarten in what was my soon to be hometown. She offered to watch HG as we settled in to our new home, came to one of my first Tinkergarten trials, helped spread the word about my Tinkergarten and yoga classes, introduced me to our local library system, and sooooo much more. A few months ago, I painted her little boy a Blippi peg person. Since then, encouraged by Theresa and aided by her business mindset, I opened an Etsy shop. And, after a lot of frustration with our housing offices, I finally took Theresa's advice and called the library to see if I could lead yoga there. If you're starting a side hustle or just need general encouragement, you need to find a Theresa :). I am so grateful that I met Theresa and her family as they've become our local family. I recently got to watch her little boy while she and her husband had their second kiddo. Theresa is one of those moms who will help you push yourself to be an awesome parent and to be awesome at whatever you love doing. Now, I'll hush and let Theresa tell you about herself!

  1. Tell readers a little bit about yourself! Who are you? What do you do? What excites you about the upcoming year? I am 30 :(. I'm a full time mama of a very handsome 2.5 year old boy and have a brand new baby girl! My husband's in the army and we've moved 5 times in the past 6 years. I'm excited to stay put here at Fort Lee for at least another year! We've got amazing friends and a lots of kid friendly activities to do here!

  2. What is the most helpful thing you learned? Where did you learn it? How did you learn it? I used to be a licensed massage therapist before the army uprooted me (I'm OK with it! I love being full time mommy and homemaker), but holistic health like massage therapy and chiropractic care really did change my life! Learning natural healing brought me on to yoga, essential oils, clean beauty products, and safe cleaning products. It really is an eye opener when you educate yourself on what America is offering us when it comes down to all the things we use in our homes, on our bodies, ON OUR BABIES!

  3. What is a daily ritual that is important to you? I'm a very "neat" person keeping my home tidy is very important to me and keeps me sane. It doesn't have to be clean or spotless, just picked up. When things are out of place or disorganized, I stress. So I guess keeping things picked up is my daily ritual.

  4. What are your daily musts and why? My son has flexible BUT mostly consistent routine. If I have a doctor's appointment in Richmond, he can nap on the way there or back, but most days we are home from 12:30pm-4pm. He eats lunch and naps in that time frame and I take a break. A break could mean I tidy up a little, eat a non-toddler friendly snack, take a nap, or simply just sit and chill, but it's MY time. If I don't get it, the day is much tougher. Same with bedtime, we start bedtime routine at 7:30 or 7pm if it's bath night and Nik's tucked into bed by 8. I get 2 hours to myself and am at least laying in bed by 10:30pm. Of course this is all about to change now that we've welcomed our daughter into our family, but I'm hoping to get it back on track at some point!

  5. If you could change one thing about teaching and learning, what would it be and why? My husband and I are both public school kids through around from school to school starting over time and time again because we we are army brats. We missed opportunities and sometimes completely missed important education milestones like multiplication or history lessons (if you live in TX you get TX history all through elementary, at least I did in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade). There has got to be a better way. Also, my husband and I both have completely different learning styles. I'm a hands on or visual learner and y husband can be listening to music, drawing, and hardly looking and he can ACE a test after. Standardized testing is ridiculous and doesn't work at all.

  6. When your family spends time apart, what special traditions do you have to stay connected? Easy, if at all possible, we communicate daily. My husband was in Korea and away from our son from the time he was four months old til he was 22 months old and he came home knowing his son and his son knew him because our morning routine and his evening routine included at least an hour of FaceTime. There were very few days we couldn't talk because we made it a priority. We also used tools such as Daddy Bear (a Build-a-Bear with daddy's voice recording) and Hallmark recordable books so daddy could read to him. For our relationship, we wrote each other letters, sometimes romantic, sometimes encouraging, but always about our hopes and dreams when we were able to be together again!

  7. How do you get plugged in to your community when you move? Sometimes getting connected with people at each new place is extremely difficult. FRG (Family Readiness Group) helps, but it seams that's quickly fading away. This time around, we had friends already stationed here and then getting involved in activities with my boy brought me the rest of my amazing friends here!

A few notes of reflection on Theresa's comments:

I love Theresa's emphasis on the role routine plays in her family. A lot of my grad school coursework and discussion expounded upon the fact that it is from structure that we branch out and explore and learn. Military families often face extended time apart, frequent moves, and unexpected schedule changes, so giving military kids a sense of security is both challenging and so much more critical. Daily routines can bring security during that turmoil, and sometimes, we have to fight for that routine. Theresa's family faced HUGE timezone differences, yet still made actual contact a part of each day. Some military families, or families separated for other reasons, do not have the option of synchronous time together, so those additional tools Theresa mentioned like Daddy Bear and recorded books are amazing! I love that Theresa included that time for her was key in their daily routine too. I think sometimes parents staying at home think they are a little less worthy of small (or big) pampering moments, and that's simply not true and not sustainable. Self-care is NEVER selfish and we cannot serve our families or communities from an empty well.

Finally, not surprisingly, I'm already seeing a trend between interviews that there are gaps in education, that we are not meeting every learner where they are. To me, this is a reminder to all educators (parents, teachers, etc), that we are teaching PEOPLE before we are teaching CONTENT. If someone had slowed down and said, "So, you just moved from ____, what did you learn last year?" rather than forging ahead with the assumption all kiddos come to us with the same experiences and understandings, we'd be better serving our students. And, no, I'm not suggesting wonderful standardized pretests. Or that our teachers really have time for those conversations. I suggest talking to our kiddos and students about what they know and understand and then figuring out how to spend our time (if you're a public ed teacher, still within the parameters of your standards). In Earth and Environmental science, I did this by placing items around the room, and students listed facts they knew and questions they had. With a toddler, this might sound like, "You keep asking about turtles, want to go to the library and get a book about turtles? Then, maybe we can go to a nature center and see a turtle!". For infants, you might notice a baby continuing to reach for items, you might place a few items that rattle, crinkle, or clink within and just out of reach. All of these invite us to slow down the teaching (or input from us) to speed up the learning that matters to children in front of us.

THANK YOU Theresa for welcoming me to Fort Lee, showing me around, trusting me with your kiddo, and pushing me to grow! I can't wait to watch your family grow joyfully! Congratulations on your new addition to the family!

You can follow along with the Gerstenkorn's family adventures on Instagram at @bluejeansbowsandbeauty. You'll find inspiration for play, ideas for an organized kiddo space at home, cute outfits and where to find them, and cheesey kiddo grins that light up your day :). You'll find tips on safe products and see the intentional toy choices Theresa makes. And, military families, reach out if you need a kind word if you're facing an extended time apart. Theresa's been there, done that.

(Brands in the pics above: Slumberkins, Lulu and Roo, Watch Wonder Bloom; Activities at Tinkergarten, Home Depot Kids' Workshops, and Science Museum of Virginia - this woman is a wealth of awesome resources for kiddos!)

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