Join me on my journey to raise my children to read the word and read the world.
Author: Stacey Shubitz
I am a literacy consultant who focuses on writing workshop. I've been working with K-6 teachers and students since 2009. Prior to that, I was a fourth and fifth-grade teacher in New York City and Rhode Island.
I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).
I live in Central Pennsylvania with my husband and children. In my free time, I enjoy swimming, doing Pilates, cooking, baking, making ice cream, and reading novels.
Ari expelled maniacal laughter after I shut the door behind Isabelle.
“I got a video of you,” he said.
Why was that funny? Well, it wasn’t because it took Isabelle forever to walk down our driveway with her backpack and science project. No, no. It’s because Ari caught my hurry-up-so-the-driver-doesn’t-leave message along with an extra long shot of my tush after I shut the door behind Isabelle. Yes, he’s a six-year-old boy, alright!
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Ari grabbed my phone without me realizing it AGAIN this evening while I was reading to him. I knew he was pretending to listen to the book as if he were his stuffed dog, Rhodes. What I didn’t realize is that Ari was videotaping me reading to him.
If this keeps up, I’ll have to remove the camera icon from my iPhone’s lock screen!
I find myself asking the same question to myself often. “How am old enough to…?” I don’t feel old. (Plus, I subscribe to Sheryl Sandberg’s philosophy of “If we grow old, we are lucky.”)
I mean, my youngest is in Kindergarten! (Never mind the fact that Marc and I are probably the oldest parents in the class.) However, with my older child’s Bat Mitzvah rapidly approaching, I find myself shocked by how quickly the years are moving.
However, I’m starting to think about what I want to do for my 50th birthday, which is less than five years away, so I suppose I am old enough to ______. (Fill that blank in with whatever you wish.)
Isabelle turned 12 earlier this month. I haven’t driven her around much since I’ve been sick for most of this month. After going for much needed haircuts over the weekend, I asked her, “Would you like to ride in the front passenger seat?”
“Yes!” she replied.
“No tuning the radio when I’m driving or else I pull the car over so you can return to your regular seat.”
“Okay,” she agreed. “But can I listen to KidzBop?”
“Yes, but I don’t want you to change the volume while I’m driving. Reaching over the console is distracting to me. Do we have a deal?”
As I pulled out of the parking spot, I looked both ways before I turned onto the street. When I looked to the right, I noticed Isabelle sitting beside me and wondered, “How am I old enough to have a kid who can sit in the front seat?”
As soon as the school year started, I declared I wouldn’t be packing 360 lunches solo this year. I enlisted the help of my children so they could learn how to prepare their lunches. We’ve gotten to the point – in January – where they can pack their lunch without adult help, but it’s often heavier on cheese and animal crackers than fruit and veggies when they do it without supervision. (Therefore, I supervise!) But no matter who packs the lunch, there’s always a note from me inside of their lunchbox.
On Sundays, though, I give the kids a day off from packing their lunches. Most of the time, I get their Monday lunches ready while I prep their Sunday lunches. Yesterday, there was some resistence when I pushed Ari’s apple juice box into the outside compartment of his Planetbox carrier. I stuck my hand inside and discovered a bunch of crumpled-up lunch notes.
“How come all of these notes are in here?” I said as I unfurled them.
Ari gave me a grin as he speared a chicken nugget with his fork. (Ari is to chicken nuggets as Mr. Pitt is to a Snickers bar.)
“Are you saving the notes I give you for lunch?” I asked.
“Mmm-hmmm,” he replied as he chewed.
My heart swelled. Earlier in the school year, I noticed that Ari often brought home the notes, but I tossed them in the trash when I saw them at the end of the day. But now, it seems he’s been stashing them in the deepest spot of his lunchbox.
“Would you like an envelope to save them in rather than shoving them where your juice box goes?” I asked.
“Yeah, that would be good,” Ari said.
I immediately went to my office, labeled an envelope, and stuffed the notes I found into it.
I have no idea what will happen to these lunch notes. Perhaps Ari will toss them at the end of the school year. But right now, it warms my heart he wants to save them.
Ever since 2008, I’ve been trying to live by “one little word.” Some of my past words have been:
I can look at each of those words and nearly always remember what was happening in my life when I selected the word. This morning, at the top of the new year, and I didn’t have a word in mind to guide me. (Typically, I know what my word will be and I schedule a blog post ahead of time for the morning of January 1st.) After a lot of thinking, I found my word. Finding it took a circuitous path. Here are the highlights:
Last night, I was reading a Twitter thread from Carly Pildis who is both a writer and the director of community engagement for the ADL. Last year, she took time off from writing so she could have a safe pregnancy. One of the tweets in her thread was this:
This spoke to me. 2022 felt like a year where I wanted to have it all, but didn’t. I’ve had trouble finding my way back to my professional life after a year of homeschooling. There’s a book I want to write, but my writing time often gets squeezed each day. If I’m being honest, I’ve been bitter on the days that I haven’t gotten to the work I need to do. I often feel like I am running an infirmary since my children returned to school. (You know your kids have had a rough go of it when you get on a first-name basis with the PAs at urgent care!) It’s gotten to the point where it’s hard to call myself a writer since I’m not throwing myself into my work like I did before the pandemic began.
Carly’s tweet reminded me that I cannot have it all at once. Right now, in this season of life, I need to be available for my children. BUT, I know I cannot let my children overtake my life to the point where I’m not doing the kind of writing that fuels me.
See? I told you it was a circuitous route to my word. Almost there… I promise!
Despite all of the sacrifices, setbacks, fatigue, and frustrations, I continue to move onward. Most of the time I don’t move onward with intention. I move forward hemming and hawing. I don’t like feeling stuck nor do I like talking about how stuck I’ve felt in recent months. I have to find and keep some momentum to help me move forward. Therefore, the one little word I’ll live by in 2023 is ONWARD. It’s my hope that being intentional about moving onward, both personally and professionally, will help me grow in ways I cannot even imagine as I type this on New Year’s Day.
At the end of the final leg of “The Amazing Race,” host Phil Keoghan says something like:
(insert number of continents/countries), (insert number of cities), (insert number of miles), you are the official winners of The Amazing Race.
I started tearing up as Isabelle neared her Torah portion’s final verse. Isabelle chanted her entire Torah portion, without vowels, aloud to me for the first time this afternoon. While I’ve been working with her on all of the parts of it, this was the first time she chanted it from start to finish. I was verklempt.
I wanted to be like Phil and say to her:
Isabelle. You’ve learned 18 prayers, 3 sections of your parsha from the Torah, and have triumped over a Dyslexia diagnosis while doing it. You are ready to become a Bat Mitzvah!
But I knew Isabelle wouldn’t handle my kvelling well. Instead, I gave her a big hug, several kisses on the head, and said, “Yasher Kocheich. You did it. It took you less than two months to master your Torah portion. You are ready.”
She scoffed and pushed me away.
“Look at me,” I said.
Isabelle gave me the side-eye.
“Please look at me,” I asked.
With eyes bulging, Isabelle stared at me and said, “I’m looking at you.”
“You did it! You’re ready. Why won’t you let me be proud of you?”
“I’m not done,” she said.
“But you are. You learned all of the prayers and your Torah portion. You don’t have to practice daily anymore. Three times a week will be more than enough for the next few months.”
But she stomped off to get a snack.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I still have to work on that thing,” she replied.
“What thing?” I asked.
“That thing I have to say,” she replied disdainfully.
“Your D’var Torah? That’s not a big deal. It’s a couple of minutes long. Rabbi Jack will work with you on that, and Rabbi Stacey will help.”
“It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be a lot of work.”
“And you will get it done, just like everything else. It’s short, no more than a couple of minutes long. You’re going to get it done.”
Isabelle made a face at me, grabbed herself a snack, and sat down at the table. Her reaction made me realize that even though I thought she had reached the finish line, she doesn’t see herself as there yet. Close, but not on the mat like the contestants on “The Amazing Race.” Perhaps, once she crafts her D’var Torah, she’ll feel finished. Or maybe it’ll be at the end of the service when we wrap up by singing “Hatikvah.” Only time will tell. But in the meantime, I AM SO PROUD OF MY DAUGHTER!
I have a couple of “rules” about what goes into our bathrooms. I think they make a ton of sense and I don’t think anyone my kids should question them. They are:
Do not bring any food, drinks, or anything from the kitchen (e.g., aprons) into the bathroom.
Do not bring stuffed animals into the bathroom.
I feel like both of these rules are obvious and don’t need to be explained to anyone over the age of 14. My children, on the other hand, have heard my rationale — especially about the second one — many times.
BOTTOM LINE: Rubber ducks are for the bathroom. Stuffies, which lay on beds and couches, are not.
This morning, Ari did NOT want to brush his teeth. Or make his bed. Or eat his breakfast. (In all fairness, 3/4 of us had the flu last week and even though we’re better, none of us are ourselves yet.) I did not want to fight with him since I am not back to normal yet.
I grabbed Quincy, deepened my voice, and said, “Let’s go to the bathroom and brush our teeth, Ari.”
“C’mon! I’m going to the bathroom now. Aren’t you coming?” Quincy asked.
With that, I held Quincy by his shoulders and helped him amble into the bathroom.
Pleasefollowpleasefollowpleasefollow, I thought.
“He’s going in the bathroom?!” Ari questioned.
“Yes, I told you that I need to brush my teeth,” Quincy replied.
Seconds later the pitter patter of little feet followed. Ari plopped down on the floor, took out a spare toothbrush, and began brushing Quincy’s teeth. Fortunately, Ari brushed his teeth once Quincy was finished!
While I was thrilled I didn’t have to raise my voice to get Ari to brush his teeth, a little piece of me died since Quincy was on the bathroom floor. I know my kids’ bathroom isn’t anywhere near as gross as a public restroom, but there’s something that didn’t sit well with me about it all day.
Saturday was a rainy day that kept us indoors. By nightfall, I offered Isabelle to straighten her hair. She was bored and agreed to sit for it — no matter how long it took.
52 minutes (i.e., three styling products, a hair dryer, and a flat iron) later, her hair was “straight.” It was straight, in that it wasn’t curly, but it didn’t look good. It was poofy since she was unable to tolerate the heat from the blow dryer close to her head. Her hair is WAY curlier than mine and I didn’t have the arm strength to do the job a professional stylist would do. To quote Ari, “You look like a lioness, Isabelle.”
As I was taming her curls, Isabelle saw how much work it took me… and how much time. She did NOT enjoy sitting in one place for that long. By the end, she decided a five to ten-minute investment in getting her curls to look polished was better than 52 minutes any day of the week.
But what hurts my mama’s heart the most is that Isabelle, despite my efforts for the past decade, still believes straight hair (i.e., straight blond hair, if you really press her) is better than what she has. While I know most of us would prefer hair that’s different than our own, I am concerned this comes from what’s valued as beautiful in our society. Like all parents, I want my child to believe that she, too, is beautiful especially if she doesn’t look like everyone else. Being confident in one’s own uniqueness is attractive.
But she’s in sixth grade. Perhaps that’s more than I can hope for. Maybe this will have to wait another decade…
I wasn’t expecting the response Isabelle gave me when she decided to answer my question 45 minutes after I posed it. If I had expected something so crisp, mature, and wise, then I would’ve listened more carefully. But I wasn’t listening with rapt attention because I didn’t think I could handle the disappointment response.
Marc, Isabelle, and I spent the morning with our rabbi and the other 6th and 7th graders and their families at our synagogue. The topic: Becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah*. With Isabelle’s Bat Mitzvah approaching in a little over six months, this is something that’s been at the center of many of our discussions for the past year. As a result, both Marc and I made sure to be in attendance this morning.
After spending about two hours learning, listening, and discussing, we walked up to the sanctuary for the prayer service. I turned to Isabelle and asked, “What was your big takeaway from this morning?”
“I’m wondering about the most important thing you learned…”
Isabelle groaned at me.
“I got a lot out of this morning. I’m wondering what you thought was important.”
“Do I have to tell you?” she asked.
“Yes, you do. I’m trying to have a conversation with you about a family education program we just attended together. I want to know what you thought about it. You tell me and I will tell you.”
“I don’t know. I didn’t learn anything.”
“C’mon. You know you did.”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Isabelle said crossing her arms across her chest.
“We can talk later,” I said.
Isabelle harrumphed about the absurdity of me pressing her about her takeaways.
Sensing her frustration rise, I said, “You’re in public. Please don’t make a scene.”
A moment later, Marc walked into the sanctuary. I looked at him and said, “Do you think it’s unreasonable to ask Isabelle what she got out of this morning?”
Marc sat down, turned to us, and said, “No, I don’t. But let’s talk about it later.”
“That’s exactly what I told her,” I said, thankful for the lifeline.
*= Our rabbi also spoke the non-gendered Kabbalat Mitzvah. Click here to learn more.
After services, Isabelle spoke up once we were on the way to Wegmans. “Do you want to hear what the big thing was that I learned from this morning?”
I ignored the hint of snark in her voice and said, “yes.”
I’ll paraphrase since I didn’t expect what was coming: “I learned that your Jewish education doesn’t end so you keep learning after you become a Bat Mitzvah.”
My eyes grew wide beneath my sunglasses. Wow! If that is what she took away from the morning with our rabbi, then SHE GOT IT! I had a choice, right then and there. Option A: I could ask her to say more about what kind of learning one should do. Option B: I could praise her for synthesizing the essence of the morning and then add my biggest takeaway.
I chose Option B.
Later in the afternoon, I called Isabelle into my bedroom. I complimented her. I told her how impressed I was with her ability to take the time to think through my question and then share a thoughtful response. I reminded her that we aren’t trying to engage in a gotcha-session when we ask her what she learned in Hebrew school. We want to understand what she’s learning and talk with her.
“Anytime you need more wait time, just ask for it. We will give it to you any time you need to reflect before you speak.”
She nodded, then walked away leaving me to feel like we took a few steps forward today.
I began thinking about my Thanksgiving hosting duties once the calendar turned to November. After 13 years of hosting, I have tried-and-true recipes, but I like to try new dishes. I am constantly on the lookout for new recipes. Puréed Roasted Squash and Yams With Citrus sounded like a delicious side dish when I came across it on the NYT Cooking website. I printed it out so I could remember to consider it for Thanksgiving.
The other day, I discovered a Maple-Mustard Roasted Chicken recipe in The Washington Post’s Eat Voraciously Newsletter. It sounded like it would pair perfectly with that NYT Cooking side dish. Why not make it now… for a weeknight dinner?!
First, I don’t know what I was thinking by trying two new dishes on a weeknight. Yet, somewhere between working with the kids to pack tomorrow’s lunches and helping Isabelle decode her Bat Mitzvah Torah portion (Yes, we are preparing for her Bat Mitzvah!), I managed to pull off both of these dishes!
I bargained and lost. Isabelle began complaining as soon as she learned the names of the dishes. Of course, this led to Ari turning his back on the table and REFUSING to eat dinner.
“The chicken is good, Ari,” Isabelle declared after trying a bite. Then she tried the puree. “But not this, yuck!”
Marc and I dug into our food and were delighted by the taste of everything. However, our company was not great. Isabelle was pouty and Ari was obstinate.
We sweetened the pot. Instead of allowing them two small pieces of Halloween candy after dinner, we agreed to let the kids have three pieces if they finished their dinner.
Ari still REFUSED to try anything. In fact, he got up from the table and attempted to make himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Marc took the peanut butter away from him and placed it on a high shelf. Then, Ari went into the fridge, removed a yogurt, peeled off the top, grabbed a spoon, and sat down at the table.
“No way am I letting him have a yogurt,” I said.
“The top is already off,” Marc declared.
“Fine,” I sighed, resigned to the fact that at least Ari made a healthy choice. I continued eating.
The next thing I knew, Ari finished his yogurt, retreived our ceramic candy jar, and brought over three small Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for me to eat since I finished my dinner.
“I don’t need dessert,” I protested.
Then, he gave three candies to Marc. Ari must’ve had a plan because the next thing I knew, he grabbed one of Marc’s Reese’s, opened it up, and shoved it in his mouth.
“I think you have the wrapper in your mouth!” I called out.
Ari removed the wrapper from his mouth.
Isabelle and I sat there — stunned. Marc took away the candy jar.
“I’m still hungry!” Ari yelled.
“Eat your chicken,” Marc and I said in unison.
The next part is fuzzy for me. In the midst of all of this, we made a deal with Isabelle to eat half of her side dishes and we’d give her two pieces of candy. Thankfully, she got with the program!
“I want my candy bucket too,” Ari whined.
“But you didn’t eat your dinner. You had one bite of chicken. Eat your dinner and you can have some candy.”
“No!” Ari responded.
It was no use. Ari was on the move! He retreived his helper tower from the dining room, brought it over to the pantry, climbed up and tried to reach his Halloween candy bucket (which was not-so-conveniently located on the top shelf of our pantry).
“It’s too high,” he declared, climbing down. “I’m gonna adjust the height.”
“Don’t do that, Ari. It’s too heavy for you to do. And besides, you cannot have candy if you don’t eat your dinner.”
Do you think he listened to me?
He did not.
The next thing I knew, Ari let out a blood curdling scream and dropped to the floor, writhing in pain while grasping his fingers.
“Did the platform land on your fingers?”
Cue the big sister giggling as she popped M&Ms in her mouth. I shot her a look.
Oh. My. Goodness. If only Ari had eaten his dinner!
And that is how I landed up on my kitchen floor, after what should’ve been a lovely meal, cradling my son and rubbing his head until the pain in his fingers dissipated.