celebrations · slice of life

On Turning One

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It’s hard to believe my baby will turn one this week. It seems like yesterday when I was laying on the couch (like a beached whale), coughing intensely, and wondering what I did to deserve coming down with pneumonia during my 38th week of pregnancy.

But it wasn’t yesterday. It was a year ago.

I remember the sense of relief I had when Isabelle turned one. It was a long year… and on her birthday I celebrated the fact we kept her alive!

No matter how much I didn’t want to believe the people who said, “Your life is going to change after you have a baby,” it really did change after we became parents in 2011. And let me tell you, it changed more after we became parents to Isabelle and Ari in 2016!

By the time Isabelle was 18 months old, I recall retiring to my home office for a couple of hours to do work — every single night. Not anymore. Most nights Ari goes to sleep around 10:00 p.m., which means I collapse into bed soon thereafter. If I want to participate in a Twitter Chat or meet with my TWT Colleagues, I need to check my husband’s schedule so Ari is not supervised and entertained. One day I’ll go back to having my nights open again. I’m not sure if it’ll take six months or longer, but I know I’ll have more time to write again. Right now, I’m not wishing these nights of playing on the floor away.

Most days, I would give myself a B- as the mother of two kids. I never feel like I get the balance right. While Isabelle and Ari play together (Nicely, thank G-d!) often, I feel guilty leaving Ari to play by himself when I sit down to read with Isabelle. On the same note, I feel bad that I don’t get to do art as often with Isabelle since I’m often taking care of Ari. That being said, I know I’ve given them the gift of each other so I try not to beat myself up about it.

As Ari’s birthday approaches, I am catching up on his baby book and getting ready to write a year-end letter to him. I kept a baby book and wrote a letter to Isabelle every year on her birthday so I’m making sure I do the same thing for Ari so he doesn’t pull the you-didn’t-do-anything-for-me-because-I-was-the-second-child card on me when he grows up. I’m also getting ready to break my diet on his birthday. I totally deserve a piece of ice cream cake for keeping two kids alive this year!

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Here’s what I’m up to in Ari’s baby book.
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family · slice of life

On dying… and death.

I’ve known, since April, that death would be knocking on our family’s door sometime soon. You see, in April, we learned my uncle’s cancer was worse than we thought it was when he was initially diagnosed. We held out hope that he’d be strong enough to undergo more treatments or even surgery.  But things spiraled out of control in early August, which signaled that he wasn’t going to see his 75th birthday next year.

My uncle was admitted to hospice last Wednesday evening. From my experience, I know that a trip to Hospice is usually a one-way ticket, so-to-speak. I knew, once my uncle entered hospice, that the end was near.

On Friday, Isabelle asked me, “What are we doing next weekend?” While I had planned for us to go to the pool and to go apple picking with some kids from her school, I knew we’d be busy with family things. So, instead of lying and saying, “I don’t know,” I sat her beside me and explained that Uncle Leonard was really sick and he was dying. I told her we’d probably be at Bubbe and Zayde’s for part of next weekend since we’d be mourning the loss of her great-uncle.

Have you ever explained death to a young child? If you haven’t, then consider yourself lucky. The death conversation is the one talk I’ve dreaded. (That’s right. I feel much more confident with the impending “birds & bees talk” than I felt with talking to my child about what happens when someone dies.) And for good reason. Despite my simple explanation, Isabelle had tons of questions. She wanted to know:

  • What happens to your body when you die?
  • Where is Uncle Leonard right now?
  • Where would Uncle Leonard ‘sleep’ after his heart stopped beating?
  • How would Uncle Leonard get from Florida to New York?
  • What happens at a funeral?
  • Why do adults cry at a funeral?
  • How does Uncle Leonard get up to heaven? (I explained, which led to the follow-up question of “How does the Kaddish prayer help the soul go higher and higher?”)
  • How does the body get under the grass?
  • And more and more and more.

Eventually, I cried in front of Isabelle. The questions were too much for me to bear with a stiff upper lip. (Of course, that led to “Why are you crying if he isn’t dead yet?” And that led to me imploring her to say passed away instead of saying dead.) I’m trying to deal with my own grief of having my uncle pass away since I believe he should’ve had many more years of life. I’m trying to support my dad and cousins. And while I’m doing all of this, I’m attempting to manage the everyday things I need to do as a mom of two, a wife, and in my own personal and work life.  It’s a lot.

The questions have continued since my uncle passed away on Saturday morning. And I’m sure they’ll continue all week as we get ready for the funeral (which she will not attend) and the shiva period. While it’ll be nice to have the family gathered together for a few days, the circumstances are not ideal.

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This is how I want to remember my Uncle Leonard… smiling with a camera around his neck taking pictures of the family.

Click here if you’d like to read my uncle’s obituary.

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slice of life

Rainy Day

Last week, I lamented about the final days of summer vacation. I didn’t want to wish them away, but the days felt l-o-n-g.

Yesterday, Isabelle began first grade. However, Ari and I had a busy day, which was filled with a PTO Breakfast, a Neighborhood Moms’ Mimosa Party, and a medical appointment. Seeing as Ari woke me up during the four o’clock hour yesterday morning, I was exhausted by 3:00 p.m. However, I didn’t stop moving until after 10:00 p.m.

 

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We look ridiculous. I know.

Today was Isabelle’s second day of first grade and what felt like getting back to normal of my days with just Ari. We had NO plans today. It rained all day, which meant it was the perfect day to stay indoors. I retrieved and cleaned some of Isabelle’s old baby toys from the basement so Ari could explore new items. We read books. We snuggled. We even goofed around with the camera function on Facebook!

 

Ari is still napping twice a day (for now), which means I should have ample time to work while he sleeps. Despite needing to work on WELCOME TO WRITING WORKSHOP and prepping for this school year’s consults and speaking engagements, I didn’t get all that much work done since I had so many phone calls to make. Even though it was day two of Isabelle’s school year, I am cutting myself some slack. I didn’t get to take a luxurious nap like Ari did, but I got things accomplished and spent lots of quality time with my son. That matters.

routines · schedules · slice of life

Children crave structure & routine.

I remember hearing “children crave structure and routine” when I was in my first semester of my first graduate degree at Hunter College. I remember thinking that I should write it down since my professor repeated it over and over. Turns out it was an important lesson that I still have to remind myself of fifteen years later.

Once I had my own classroom (two years later), I realized the truth behind this statement. My students thrived when things were structured. (Let’s be honest, I wasn’t as regimented as I should have been during my first year in the classroom.) I sought to create a more structured environment, but it wasn’t until my second year of teaching that I figured out how to make that happen daily. (READ: I was in survival mode that first year of teaching.)

We’re in the final week of summer vacation around these parts. My daughter has been out of camp for the past three and a half weeks. With six days left until school starts, I have to be honest with you, she’s falling apart from the lack of routine. Even though she’s having play dates, mornings where she can sleep in, and lots of time at the pool, she isn’t thriving. She’s arguing with me about nearly everything. A half hour ago, I gave her some time away in her bedroom since she was yelling at me when I reminded her that she had to finish the water in her water bottle before she could watch a half-hour of TV. She felt as though she had been mightily wronged and screamed at me the entire way up the stairs. She continued once she was in her room.

That’s when the idea for this post was born. {NOTE to my daughter who may read this post years from now: You’re not alone in falling apart from a lack of structure during summer vacation. Keep reading so you don’t feel singled out.}

And that’s when I snapped this selfie of me being berated by my six-and-a-half-year-old from my office chair.

 

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Weary.

 

I inhaled deeply. I reminded myself not to take this personally. I repeated the mantra my professor uttered 15 years ago:

Children crave structure and routine.

I began brainstorming ways to make the final few days of summer vacation more structured.

  • Set a consistent wake-up time like we do for school.
  • Make sure bedtime — even on Friday and Saturday night — doesn’t exceed 8:00 p.m.

Then I stopped making my list.

Who was I kidding? We’re planning to do Hersheypark tomorrow morning, then the pool. Thursday and Friday include some appointments and more pool time. There’s also a birthday party in there and time with grandparents. There is nothing structured about the next few days!

My thoughts were interrupted by Isabelle walking downstairs calmly. Under her arm was Little Teddy. In her left hand, an empty water bottle.

I rose from my chair to meet her in the foyer. I knelt down to her level and cupped her face between my hands. “You should be proud of yourself for drinking your water. Do you remember why Mommy wants you to drink the water in your water bottle?”

“So my legs don’t cramp,” she replied.

“That’s right! How would you going to walk around Hersheypark if your legs hurt tomorrow?”

She shrugged. “You should be proud of yourself not only for drinking your water, but also for calming yourself down before you came downstairs.”

She smiled.

That’s enough, I thought.

As I transitioned her to her TV show, I started to think about ways to make the next few days more structured — even though they weren’t going to be routine in nature. All I came up with is a picture schedule that we could co-create the night before so she knows what to expect the following day. If you have any other ideas, please leave a comment on this post. The last thing I want is to start wishing away summer vacation. Summer vacation is meant to be savored.

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accomplishments · OBSERVATIONS · reading · slice of life

Glimmer of Hope

Isabelle's reading tutor worked with her on Friday morning. Saturday got away from us and we didn't read together. (i.e., She was read to, but she didn't practice reading aloud.) Yesterday morning, I knew I had a battle ahead since the day after her reading tutor comes is always the trickiest practice day (since we have a new lesson to review). With every subsequent day, the Orton-Gillingham practice pages get easier. However, the day after is always — always — a challenge.

I poured myself extra coffee at breakfast. Once the bottom of the cup was in sight, I asked Isabelle, who was playing in the next room, "Do you want to read now or five minutes from now?"

"Five minutes from now!" she called back.

Of course.

I finished the last few ounces of coffee, knowing I would need as much energy as possible to get through our session. Not only were the Orton-Gillingham practice pages new, we were also starting a new Elephant & Piggie book.

When the five minute timer rang on my iPhone, I pushed myself back from the kitchen table, inhaled deeply, and called to Isabelle, "it's time to read together!"

As we settled in on the couch beside each other, I asked myself some questions:

* What if I didn't harp on her about keeping her tracker finger straight and underneath every single word?
* What if Iowered my voice every time she raised her voice in frustration?
* What if I hugged her and kissed her cheeks every time she thrashed her legs when the words tricked her?
* What if I didn't mention she was making reading take a long time by complaining?

I tried all of those things yesterday. I praised her as much as I always did, but gave her extra attention, in the form of love, every time she got frustrated with something in the binder. (She is practicing voiced th words this week — and it's HARD for her to say and read —
so there was lots of frustration!)

After five minutes of her usual antics, the amount of frustrated outbursts decreased. I think Isabelle had no idea of what to make of her mommy who was approaching the reading session as less of a teacher and more of, dare I say it, a loving mother.

By the time we finished the Orton-Gillingham practice pages, we decided to take a break before starting Let's Go for a Drive! Once we started the book, there were almost no complaints (except for one time when she got annoyed because I insisted she use her tracker finger on the page to help her reread accurately after two miscues of the word "the.")!

Yesterday was a small reading victory. Tomorrow might not go as well as yesterday went. But when your child struggles with reading, you'll take whatever glimmers you can get.

board books · books for little hands · read aloud

10 Board Books Beloved by My Baby Boy #pb10for10

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The Reflect & Refine and Enjoy & Embrace Learning Blogs are hosting their annual picture book extravaganza today.

Today’s the day… it’s time for PICTURE BOOK 10 FOR 10, an event co-hosted by Cathy Mere and Mandy Robek.

Isabelle seemed to love being read to more than Ari does. While Isabelle munched on her board books more than her baby brother, Ari likes to turn his board books upside down, crawl on them, and smack the pages as he’s being read to. Despite his babyish (He is a baby, after all!) reading habits, he does have favorite board books! Here are ten board books the little man in my life loves to listen to (and flip through) right now.

  1. Bear on a Bike by Stella Blackstone and Debbie Harter (Barefoot Books, 1998) –> Great rhyming and adorable illustrations.
  2. Hair by Leslie Patricelli (Candlewick Press, 2017) –> This is the first book Isabelle learned to read to Ari so, naturally, he loves it!
  3. I Love You, Little One by Patricia Hegarty and Thomas Elliott (Tiger Tales, 2017) –> Sweet, loving rhymes made even cuter by touch-and-feel pages.
  4. I Took the Moon for a Walk by Carolyn Curtis and Alison Jay (Barefoot Books, 2004) –> Stunning illustrations match the soothing cadence.
  5. In My Forest by Sara Gillingham and Lorena Siminovich (Chronicle Books, 2010) –> The plush baby deer on every page delights my little guy.
  6. Making Faces: A First Book of Emotions photos by Molly Magnuson (Abrams Appleseed, 2017) –> It has a mirror on the final page. Need I say more?
  7. My Little Cities: New York by Jennifer Adams and Greg Pizzoli (Chronicle Books, 2017) –> A favorite way to prep the little guy for his first trip to Manhattan.
  8. Peek-a Moo! by Nina Laden (Chronicle Books, 2017) –> Cute rhymes, bold illustrations, and another mirror!
  9. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star illustrations by Yu-hsuan Huang (Nosy Crow, 2015) –> An interactive book that mommy sings is always a hit.
  10. Where is Baby’s Yummy Tummy? by Karen Katz (Little Simon, 2011) –> Squeals of laughter come from every flap that’s lifted.
Ari’s Board Book Stack
siblings · slice of life · travel

The Empty Seat

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I’ll be honest with you. It’s strange to have only one child in the backseat again. Much as I will enjoy a few days with Ari, I miss having both of my children at home with us.

They are seriously in love. It is a love filled with silly noises, hugs, tickles, nonsensical conversations, and kisses. Lots of kisses.

They’ve been together every day for the past ten-and-a-half months. However, the long good-bye happened yesterday when Isabelle separated from Ari for the first time since he returned from the hospital at two days old. (Marc and I were taking Ari back to Pennsylvania while Isabelle was heading off to Connecticut to spend a few days with my in-laws.) Isabelle seemed fine about saying good-bye to us, but she didn’t want to let Ari go. Eventually, I put him in the stroller and a few more kisses later she departed.
Ari isn’t talking yet, but his actions showed that he missed Isabelle yesterday afternoon. For instance, he woke up from his car nap and cried. As the front-seat passenger, I was able to turn around to see what was wrong. I found him crying while staring aimlessly at the space to his left. Rather than seeing his sister’s smiling face in her car seat, he saw shopping bags. Despite my attempts to soothe him, it took me sitting in Isabelle’s seat for the remainder of the ride home so he wouldn’t cry.
This morning, I noticed Ari staring towards the place where Isabelle sits again. This time, I needed to be the driver so I couldn’t do much other than to say, “She’ll be back on Thursday.”
Thankfully, he didn’t cry during today’s car ride.
new york · slice of life

A Week Away in NYC

It is a privilege to attend the TCRWP August Writing Institute while my parents watch my children. This is the 13th Institute I have attended since 2005. I skipped last year's Writing Institute since I was in my third trimester with Ari. It is wonderful to be back in a place that feels like home! So far, I've listened to Lucy Calkins, Amanda Hartman, and Katherine Patterson speak. I'm taking courses with Katie Clements and Rebecca Cronin. I've eaten lunch with Fran McVeigh twice. I'm surrounded by inspiring educators from all over the world.

This week, I'm living a life like the one I left ten summers ago when I moved out of Manhattan. While I'm staying in a hotel, rather than living in an apartment, the essence of what I'm doing — studying literacy by day and eating dinners out with friends at night — is relatively the same.

That being said, I texted my mom a few minutes ago with this message:

No matter how wonderful this week of learning is, and how much more I'm sleeping at night, the bottom line is that I miss my kids.

raising boys · slice of life

Look What the Boy-Child Did

I felt twinges of annoyance when people have told me things like "just wait 'till you see how wild he's going to be" or "he will destroy your house" when referring to the fact my second child was going to be a boy. How different could boys and girls be?

There are things I've noticed Ari doing that Isabelle never did, such as, crawling on the shelf below the top of our coffee table and unloading all of the board books from bookshelves. I've chalked this stuff up to the fact that his physical development (i.e., his gross motor skills) is happening earlier than his sister. No big deal.

This morning, I was getting ready to for the day in my bedroom while the kids played together in Isabelle's bedroom. Suddenly, I heard Isabelle yell, "Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! Ari destroyed something!" A second later she was standing in front of me.

"What happened?"

"We were playing and he grabbed the nightlight out of the wall."

So what? This is an every day occurrence.

"Okay…" I replied.

"And then this happened!" Isabelle produced the nightlight — in three parts — for me to see.

"Whoa! Were there any other parts on the floor?"

"No," Isabelle replied. "This was everything."

"You were wise to take this away from him and bring it to me. That shows me you're looking out for your brother. Thanks for being responsible."

"He broke my nightlight," Isabelle stated matter-of-factly.

"He didn't mean to do that," I said as I tried, unsuccessfully, to put it back together. "We have other nightlights."

"Okay," she said.

"C'mon, let's get the little destroyer and go to camp."

My take-away from today: This is the first of many things the boy-child will destroy.

reading · slice of life

The Worst Words You Can Say to Me

Isabelle gave me a gut-punch on Saturday without ever laying a hand on me. We were in the middle of practicing the binder pages her tutor gave her. She was growing increasingly frustrated. That’s when she finally exclaimed, “I hate reading!” It took everything in me not to break down in tears.

About an hour later, I talked to her about books being wonderful things that teach us things and take us to new places. I acknowledged that I know reading is hard for her right now. I discussed having a different mindset.  I encouraged her to say “Reading is hard for me right now,” rather than “I hate reading!”

While I haven’t heard the words “I hate reading!” since Saturday morning, Isabelle’s declaration has continued to nauseate me every time I’ve thought of her making that declaration.  Of course, she detests reading practice. She mixes up words — possibly because she’s not seeing them correctly. On Sunday, which was a slightly better practice session, she saw the word Look and couldn’t figure out what it was (despite reading the word look several times that morning) and declared, “This word is trying to trick me!”

This morning, we snuggled under a blanket on the couch for our practice session. She brought her beloved teddy bear, aptly named Teddy, who read some of the words for her. We set a timer and discovered she could get through her three binder pages and two books in under 16 minutes. She was pretty pleased with herself when she realized it didn’t take that long to practice.

The first of three practice pages.
Reading a just-right book.
I use a stopwatch (and graphs) to help Isabelle see how long it takes to practice reading. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a relatively short amount of time.
The reading specialist from Isabelle’s school provided her with a bag of books and activities to do over the summer. While I’m not a fan of the activities that correspond with the books, Isabelle liked the idea of filling in the names of the books she has been able to read on her own. Seeing we’re less than two weeks into summer vacation, I have a feeling I’m going to need to create additional sheets like this so she can track the books she’s read independently over the summer.

I’ve been turning to educators like Deb Frazier and Tammy Mulligan for advice on how to get through this rough patch in Isabelle’s reading life. Therefore, I wanted to publicly thank them for their support. If you have any other words of wisdom, please share them in the comments below. I want my daughter to love reading on her own as much as she loves being read to. (And thank goodness she still loves to be read to every day!)