Mea Culpa: I haven’t read enough informational books to my daughter.
There, I said it.
I’ve known this is a problem for a long time. However, Isabelle doesn’t seem to gravitate towards information books since she isn’t deeply passionate about anything. She isn’t obsessed with trains or dinosaurs. That is, she isn’t one of those kids who marvel about facts. Isabelle’s strongest interests are going to hotels (She likes to travel!) and visiting Hersheypark. However, there aren’t too many informational books for four-year-olds about hotels and she’s too young for the biographies of George Ferris. I suppose these are halfway decent excuses for not exposing her to much nonfiction. But, honestly, I really haven’t wanted to fight a reading battle I didn’t have to fight with my kid, which is why I haven’t pushed anything other than fiction and poetry.
This weekend, I reorganized some of our bookshelves they were beyond messy. Isabelle helped me reorganize a shelf containing picture books. Afterwards, she pulled a book that looked attractive to her and asked me to read it. I was delighted when I saw the title since it was…
…an informational text!
She must’ve picked it because of the leaves on the cover. (She had just come in from jumping in leaf piles my husband was trying to rake.) I didn’t question why she grabbed it off of the shelf. Instead, I cozied up next to her on the couch and read.
I started out by stopping and talking with her after reading each page spread since I wanted her to hear how I was synthesizing the information I was learning from the text. I asked her questions and tried to have conversations with her about what she was learning. She was less-than-interested in talking about what she was learning, which was evidenced by her slouchy posture on the couch and a few “I don’t knows.” Therefore, I tried not to push too hard since I didn’t want her to equate a book that we can learn from to torture. I eased up on the talking and focused more on the reading. I even used some Whole Book Approach strategies with her, which I often do while reading fiction texts, so that we could talk about the design and pictures.
In the end, Isabelle said she liked the book because she likes fall and leaves. However, I don’t know how she’d feel if I kept picking informational texts to read with her. She’s the kind of kid who likes a good story. And right now, I think it’s more important that she has a positive view of books and storytime with mommy. She has the whole rest of her life to read nonfiction.
There are plenty of teachers out there who land up teaching their own children at some point during their child’s education career. And quite frankly, I don’t know how they do it! I mean, if I had to teach my own child in the classroom, I’m sure I’d make it work. But, OHMYGOODNESS, it would be hard!
Case in point: I was volunteering in the writing center of Isabelle’s preschool classroom yesterday. I was there to work with the kids on their writing journals. Only one student is in the emerging stage of writing where she’s attempting phonetic spelling on the page. (#notmykid) The rest are drawing pictures and dictating to me.
Isabelle entered the writing center about 15 minutes into writing time. But she wasn’t ready to work. She was more interested in chatting than writing. So I got tough. I insisted she write her story (for which she claimed she had no ideas even after we thought of some things she could write about). She stood up and bothered her friend at the table who was trying to draw the people in her story. She wanted to talk to us rather than work. I knew what I had to do. I told her to “leave and come back” when she was ready to write.
She was NOT happy.
I remained firm. “Just because you’re my kid doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want when you come over here to work with me.”
She muttered, “But Mommy…”
“No,” I cut her off. “If you need to think of me as Stacey when I’m in the classroom, then do that. But you have to come back when you’re ready to write.”
She sulked her way out of the writing center. Eventually (i.e., ten minutes later), she returned with a better attitude.
However, she wasn’t committed to her journal like she has been in the past classroom visits. Her drawing was sloppy; not at all like the writing she’s been producing at home when she voluntarily sits down to “write.”
After she dictated her story to me, I asked her, “Was this your best work?”
“No,” she replied.
“You’re right. It’s not your best work. I know you’re capable of telling stories and drawing pictures. You will do better than this the next time I come in, right?”
Tears welled up in her blueberry eyes. This time, the waterworks affected me. I dropped the teacher side of me and became Mommy again. I drew her close and hugged her. “I know you will do better next Monday when I come in. You have so many stories to tell. We’ll write more at home this week. Okay?”
She nodded and walked off to the puzzle area. When it came time for me to leave, she didn’t give me her usual hug. In fact, she didn’t even gaze up from her puzzle when I came by to say good-bye. Great, my kid hates me now. But I didn’t push it. I talked with her teachers about something unrelated and walked away.
I spent the next few hours feeling miserable about how writing time went this morning. Was I mean or firm? (I decided on firm. I wouldn’t have let another kid goof-off like she was. She thought she could get away with it because I’m her mom.) Either way, I felt terrible.
I pondered how I would respond if she were still upset with me as I drove back to school in the afternoon. Would I apologize? Would we talk it out?
Moments after crossing the threshold of the classroom door, I was greeted by a mega-watt smile and a big hug. Apparently, we were going to just move on!
I drew back the curtains in my hotel room to reveal the morning sun. My gaze fell to the ground level. I eyed the parking lot for my rental car. It was there, but it was frozen. Frost in November… Hmph!
After breakfast, I went back to my room to brush my teeth, gather my things, and don my coat. Maybe the sun will melt it off by the time I get downstairs.
But when I got downstairs and walked outside of my hotel, I encountered a car that was still frosted-over. I noticed a nearby woman who was warming up her car.
“Do you have an ice scraper I can borrow?” I asked.
“It’s tiny, but you can borrow it,” she said as she retrieved it from her car.
She reappeared with the tiniest ice scraper I’ve ever seen. “It’s small, but it works.”
Small, but mighty. That’s all it needs to be. “Thanks so much,” I said as I accepted it. “The rental car company didn’t give me one.”
“I guess they thought November was too early for cars to freeze over,” she remarked.
“I wish that were the case,” I said as I scraped my side windows and back windshield.
“At least you’re driving a Volvo,” she said.
“THAT,” I said as I moved towards the other side of the car, “was pure luck. I booked a Taurus, but haven’t driven one before. I asked if they had a Camry or an Accord since I’m used to those cars. They didn’t, but they upgraded me to a Volvo instead.”
“Not bad!” she remarked.
“It’s pretty nice,” I said as I moved on towards the front windshield. “Though an ice scraper would’ve been good. Not sure what I’m going to do the rest of the week…”
We made small talk for another minute while I finished scraping the remaining windows.
“Thanks for loaning this to me. I’ll be able to get on my way quicker now.”
“No problem,” the lady replied. “You have a good day.”
“You do the same.”
The lady drove off. I sat in my car as it the rest of the windshield defrosted thinking about the kindness of a stranger. I know this woman had to get to a job too. But she gave up a few minutes of her time so I could be safer in this already-safe car.
If you’ve never had or worked with a child who has fought for every word s/he says, then you probably won’t understand why something as small as what I witnessed this afternoon feels so monumental. But my kid has fought for every single word. And that’s why things that might be commonplace for a child with typically-developing speech feel so huge.
“Too much sugar. I’m not getting you another apple juice,” I replied. (Remember: This kid has been eating Halloween candy for the past week!)
“I’m thirsty,” she declared.
“You can have some water,” I replied.
“Okay,” she conceded.
“Let’s go to the counter and ask for some water.”
I stood up, took her hand, and led her to the cafe. Just as we approached the counter she broke away from me. She climbed on a foot bar, looked at the barista, and said, “I’d wike a cup of wada, please.”
I froze a couple steps behind her. My mouth hung open. Did I just see what I thought I saw? Who was this confident kid?
Even though her words weren’t perfectly clear, the barista understood her. “Here you go,” he said handing her a plastic cup. “Go over to the soda fountain and press the button for water. It’s beneath the lemonade.”
Once I finally found my words, I thanked the man and praised Isabelle. I don’t remember my exact words to her because I was gushing. I told her I was proud of her for using her voice to ask for something. I told her I was delighted she took the risk to speak to someone who she thought could help her get what she wanted. I told her I was thrilled she used good manners without me having to remind her.
This doesn’t happen every day. In fact, it rarely happens. Getting Isabelle to order in restaurants is hard. She rarely does it unless she feels very comfortable. I think it’s because she knows she’ll most likely be misunderstood and that bothers her. I never would’ve expected her to do something like this in a place where she’d only been once before. But she did. And for that reason, I’m a very proud mama tonight.
I retained my birth name when I married my husband. Our daughter has his name. Every now and then I quiz her to make sure she knows my last name is different than her’s… just in case. But I haven’t thought to drill her on her basic information (e.g., her full name, her complete address, my last name) for the past three weeks since I’ve been convalescing after my surgery.
Isabelle and I were putting on our shoes this morning when she started talking about Halloween. (A favorite topic these days!)
“I’m gonna share my candy from Hersheypark in the Dark with Molly.”
“Oh yeah?” I asked.
She continued. “And Andrew. And Sarah. And Marc. And Stacey.”
“Wow! So that’s how you refer to me now? As Stacey?!!?”
“Yes,” she replied. “Your name is Stacey Mobile.”
“Your name is Stacey Mobile,” she repeated.
Stacey Mobile? What is she talking about? And then it dawned on me… “Did you hear Bubbe say, ‘Call Stacey, mobile’ when she was here with you for the past few weeks?
“Yes,” she replied.
“And now you think my name is Stacey Mobile?” I asked.
“That’s your name,” she stated.
I was too tired for a fight. After all, I took over being “Mommy” again this morning. That’s because Isabelle’s bubbe, my mom, went home after helping us for two-and-a-half weeks. My husband is on-call at work this week, which means I’m doing more than usual this week. I didn’t feel like myself. I didn’t want to start correcting her and drilling her. Besides — it was kind of cute. Stacey Mobile!
“But some souls are never ready to leave. They are too sublime, too pure, too sensitive to be thrust into the harsh realities of worldly existence. It would be simply too cruel to plunge such a gentle soul into a body, to enter a world polluted by evil and selfishness. So instead of descending further, these souls float back to where they came from the higher and holier realms where they feel at home. Perhaps they will come down some other time. Or perhaps their mission is fulfilled, having come down far enough.”
I asked Isabelle’s new teacher if she’d like me to volunteer on Mondays — except for weeks when I have consulting commitments — to work with the kids during journal time. (My desire to volunteer was prompted by my freak-out about Isabelle’s journal writing last spring.) Granted, most of my experience has been with kids in grades 1 – 5, but her preschool teacher said “yes.”
Today was my first day.
Let me be honest, I am exhausted. Do you know how hard it is to get three and four-year-olds to sit down and write while there are other centers happening in the classroom? Magnatiles were being erected into skyscrapers. Jungle puzzles were being pieced together. There was something exciting inside of the sensory table. And there I was in the writing center. But somehow, I met with every single kid in the class in one hour. Well, except for one who walked away from me. I guess the idea of writing a true story about something from her life wasn’t enough of an enticement.
Thankfully, Isabelle was willing to sit with me today. In the midst of our discussion about me coming in to work with her friends, we also talked about what she’d write about today. She had a story she wanted to tell, which made her willing to come right over to the writing center. The requirement was that she bring a friend. Thankfully, her friend Grace was not only willing to join us, but she had a great story to tell (about her brother’s birthday party over the weekend). Grace was highly independent while I worked with Isabelle, which allowed me to give Isabelle lean prompts to help her (e.g., turn your paper to the side to show someone laying on the ground; “Should you draw a smiley face or a sad face if someone is hurt?), without intruding too much on her writing process. After all, today was supposed to be a baseline of what the kids could do.
I have no idea what the unlabeled parts of the picture are, but what I do know is that this is a marked improvement from where she was in the springtime. (And, yes, I have worked with her on storytelling — oral and through pictures — at home this summer.)
I noticed she started another page in her journal when I started working with one of her other friends. I didn’t have time to coach her at all, but she did have a story to tell about her picture:
The second picture is what I’d consider her default. This is the kind of picture Isabelle defaults to when left to her own devices. And that’s okay. It counts as writing and will live in her writing journal at school, just like the previous page will.
I’m looking forward to watching her grow this year — one Monday at a time.
I thought I knew what Hersheypark Happy meant. I thought it was:
- holding hands atop the Ferris wheel or the Kissing Tower.
- witnessing the joy of becoming watching my child become a Reese’s..
- eating ice cream any time of day.
And it kinda was all of those things, but today I discovered what a Hersheypark Happy truly looks like.
I found Isabelle sporting a Hersheypark Happy smile while the three of us spent way too much time under the sun’s hot rays in the wave pool at The Shore. Isabelle took turns holding my hands and Marc’s as we jumped the waves for well over an hour. Her face glowed beneath the sun’s rays. She giggled incessantly. Her pearly whites gleamed. She didn’t complain about the water being too cold or the pool being too crowded. Instead she grinned from ear to ear (trite, but true) as she bobbed up and down with us. At one point, when it was my turn to hold her, I asked her if she was having a good time.
“Yes!” She squealed. “I like being a kid! Did you like being a kid?”
“I did,” I replied.
I continued with an answer, but my response doesn’t matter. Watching her, seeing her have a good time, and then hearing her say she likes being a kid. Priceless.
“Where’s Teddy?” I asked Isabelle as she followed me into the library’s family bathroom.
Her eyes darted down to her arms. Teddy wasn’t there.
“I dunno,” she said.
Oh sh*t! Not again!
This tiny teddy bear — whose been so loved that its head is hanging on by threads — was lost again.
“Where did you leave her?” I asked Isabelle leading her out of the bathroom back to the stacks.
She shook her head.
For the love of G-d!
“Do you remember when you last had her? Was it by the toys? Was it when you were sitting with Yonatan over there? Was it at the checkout desk?”
“I don’t,” she paused, “remember.”
“What are you looking for?” asked a mom with a baby strapped to her chest.
“My daughter lost a small, tan teddy bear,” I replied.
She crouched down and helped us search the floor with her baby in the carrier. How kind is that?
We searched for a minute, but nature was calling.
“Mommy has to go to the bathroom, Isabelle. We’ll come back in a minute.”
As I led her away by the hand, she sniffled and started calling, “Teddy! Teddy! Where are you?”
“She’s not going to answer,” I snapped.
Isabelle’s lip quivered. I softened my demeanor. “I promise I will help you look for her as soon as I use the bathroom.”
Isabelle was weepy while I took care of things. “We’ll find her,” I reassured. But I wasn’t so sure. What if some kid had walked off with Teddy and placed her where we hadn’t been? What if some kid had taken Teddy home. What if Teddy was gone — and I mean seriously gone — and we had to go home without her. She’d been lost in the supermarket and at a Bat Mitzvah. We’d already lucked out twice with Teddy being returned. What if we didn’t get her back this time?
Once we were out of the bathroom, we enlisted one of the librarians to help us. I showed her a picture (one of the many) of Isabelle holding Teddy — who is like an appendage — so she’d know what to look for. Then we split up. We retraced our steps from the art area to the book stacks to the play space to the benches to the circulation desk.
And that is where, on the way to the circulation desk, we found Teddy. She was nestled into the corner of an orange chair just waiting to be discovered and loved again.
I dropped Isabelle’s hand and raced ahead — as if walking slowly would somehow diminish me finding the bear.
“Isabelle! Look who I found?”
I grabbed Teddy with my hand and pivoted around to Isabelle holding the bear out towards her.
“Little Teddy!” she shrieked. She rushed over and enveloped the bear in a hug, kissing her all over. “It’s okay Little Teddy. You’re all right. I’m here now.”
Shortly after their reunion, I laid down the law. “This is the third time Teddy has gotten REALLY lost, Isabelle. You can’t keep taking her inside of places with you.”
“But I love her,” Isabelle said.
“I know you do. But searching for her is taking years off of my life.”
Isabelle looked at me perplexed, but a few passers-by chuckled. They knew what I meant even if my four (and a half!) year-old didn’t. I changed my line of reasoning.
“You don’t want Teddy to get lost again and feel sad, right?”
“No,” Isabelle said.
“Well then, for her sake, you have to leave her at home or keep her in the car when we go places. We don’t want her to keep getting lost.”
“Okay,” Isabelle said. She kissed Little Teddy again.
And while she agreed — for now — with me, I have a feeling this is a conversation we’ll be having again soon.
I’ve been recuperating from the surgery I had on August 12th. I haven’t written since August 11th. Earlier today my father told me, “you’re back to reality now. Start writing again.” (Thanks for the tough love, Dad!) So here I am.
I’m taking some inspiration from a piece Dana Murphy shared on Facebook last weekend. It was written by Glennon Doyle Melton. I read it as her way of preparing herself to have a conversation with her son about being compassionate to others. And it reminded me of a conversation I want to have with Isabelle before she starts her second year of preschool this week. In fact, this conversation has been on my mind ever since I overheard her say, “He holds his marker like a baby,” about one of her peers after she learned how to properly hold a writing utensil this past March. She starts school on Thursday so here’s my letter to Isabelle (which I’ll use as fodder for the conversation I will have with her tomorrow).
You start preschool this week. Well, one of the two. The other one starts after Labor Day. I can’t believe you’re going to be out of the house, doing some type of school, every weekday this school year. Sometimes I wonder if it’s too much school for a four-and-a-half-year-old… But you love your first preschool so hopefully you’ll love the second one too.
But that’s not what I want to discuss. Instead, I want to talk to you about struggling and kindness.
Struggle is defined as proceeding with difficulty or with great effort. I hated to watch you struggle to crawl, to stand, to walk, and — most of all — to talk. Things haven’t come easily for you. You’ve exerted great effort to attain every goal you have reached. And while I could look at those struggles as weakness, I’ve reframed them in my mind. You have an excellent work ethic. You’re tenacious. You have grit. And that’s why you’ve been able to overcome your struggles.
I know you will continue to struggle with things in school. And that is okay. Everything happens for you. However, things often happen later than they do for your peers. And while you might have to work harder to attain things that come naturally to other kids, I’ve come to believe it will make you a stronger adult since you’ll know what it is like to work diligently to do something.
You’ve overcome so much in the past two and a half years since your CAS diagnosis. I am so proud of everything you’ve accomplished in speech and in OT. And while I know you’ll have to continue to work at things, I know some things may actually be easier for you (e.g., using scissors, imaginative play, following classroom rules) than they will be for some of your peers who haven’t had as much practice as you at doing some of those things. And that is okay. Just because someone cannot do something you can do doesn’t mean they are a “baby.” All it means is they haven’t mastered that skill yet.
It is important to stay calm if someone’s actions, behaviors, or habits annoy you. Trust me, I know from experience, that’s really hard to do. But part of being a good friend is being patient. And part of being patient is being a kind person. Instead of making someone feel bad if they cannot do something as well as you, you can show them how to do it (if they want your help). And if they don’t want your help, you can play together or do something together both can do. We want to make our friends feel good. Being sweet towards others usually makes people happy.
I hope you’ll be the kind of person who chooses to be kind, especially when you see a friend struggling. That’s what I’d want for you if you were struggling. I hope you’ll choose kind, again and again and again.
I hope this year is filled with happiness and growth. I look forward to watching you develop into a confident five-year-old this school year. I hope life hands you an easier path — one that’s not riddled with struggles — in the years to come. But if it doesn’t, I will be your biggest supporter — always.