“Pomp and Circumstance” didn’t play in the background. There weren’t any caps and gowns in sight. There were very few photographs taken. BUT, it was graduation day, nonetheless.
Today’s graduation was for Ari and it was from feeding therapy appointments.
Ari loves food and is always willing to try new things. However, he had issues making the transition from puréed foods to table foods. As a result, we saw a speech therapist who specializes in feeding issues once or twice a month for nearly a year. Today, 51 weeks to day after Ari’s first appointment, he was discharged from feeding appointments since — as of today — Ari can successfully eat beef, apple with the skin, and clementine segments! (These foods were too tricky for him just six weeks ago.)
While we will still carefully monitor Ari when he eats, we are in a better place than we were in a year ago. It is an understatement to say I am relieved. And relief is better than any mortarboard and tassel!
He nodded. Naturally, I began suggesting other options for things he could eat: cheese, raspberries, blueberries, peaches… you get the idea. But he just kept saying “pnt-zins.” I had no idea what kind of fruit would be called “pnt-zins.”
Thankfully, Ari stayed patient. He didn’t cry; he kept repeating “pnt-zins.”
“Do you want pretzels?” I asked. (That couldn’t be what he wanted.)
“Yes!” he said, his face lighting up.
“But you’ve never had pretzels. Or have you?” I looked at Ari. Ari grinned back at me.
I walked across the kitchen and grabbed a bag of pretzels from the pantry.
“Pnt-zins!” Ari yelped.
“Who let you try pretzels?” I asked him.
“Ih-ba-belle! Daddy!” He implicated his sister and father.
“Oh really? Isabelle and Daddy let you have pretzels?” I said. Must’ve been when I was out of town…
“Yes!” Ari declared.
“Oh boy,” I said, making a mental note to have a conversation with my husband and daughter tonight.
Ari took a bite. “Good!” He smiled. “Yummy!”
“Of course they’re yummy, they’re salty,” I replied.
Ari kept biting and chewing. “Yummy!” he declared again and again, until he finally said, “Muh pnt-zins puh-lease.”
How do you deny a polite (and somewhat-reasonable) request?
You don’t. At least, I didn’t. So I handed over two more pretzels.
I’m still planning to talk to Marc and Isabelle tonight. Because I kinda want to know what else Ari has tried that I don’t know about.
Autumn is my favorite season. I love everything about it: the splendid foliage, the cooler temperatures, the bug-free air, the harvest festivals, the Jewish High Holidays, and the birthday celebrations for Ari and Marc!
All of this makes autumn feel busy. But it’s a good busy, even when you add in the four conferences my husband and I each attend each fall. (Plus, we host Thanksgiving, which happens a few days after I return from NCTE!) It feels as though autumn moves by at break-neck speed, leaving us wondering where the it went every time we reach Winter Solstice.
Despite the beauty and busy-ness of autumn, I don’t want this summer to end. I’m clinging onto the final week of Isabelle’s summer vacation with a white-knuckle grip. My heart aches a little when I think about her boarding the school bus next week to start second grade. It means earlier wake ups and earlier bedtimes. It means less time with her and Ari running around the house together. It means less time to play. All of this makes me sad. Dare I say, I am not ready for her to go back to school just yet.
Today, after a medical appointment, Isabelle asked “What are we going to do?” We had no plans, which felt glorious to me. I looked at her and said, “Would you like to go to Cocoa Castle?” She cheered. (I guess that was a yes!) So I drove across town and let my kids play on the playground until it was nearly lunchtime. Once at home, I made the kids lunch and put Ari down for a nap. That’s when Isabelle and I sat down together to work on her miniature library, which was a birthday gift from one of her friends.
Isabelle cut the pages of the tiny books, while I folded and glued them together. As we did this, I realized we’ve been working on this project all summer long. We’re almost two-thirds of the way finished. There’s no way we’ll complete the entire library in the next six days since the final books are ones we need to write (in teeny-tiny handwriting) ourselves. And that made me long for yet another week of summer. (Don’t get me started on how bogus I think it is that schools in Central Pennsylvania start before Labor Day!) However, I know better than to voice my disdain for back-to-school time. Instead, filled with a heavy heart, I admired my daughter cutting carefully along the dotted lines just savoring these quiet moments together.
How often do you use the defroster on your car in the summertime?
Just during rainstorms, right?
Well, for the past two mornings — both of which have been sunny here in Houston (where I’m working this week) — I’ve turned on the front and rear defrosters in my rental car since I couldn’t see out of the front or rear windshields.
Both mornings, I found it concerning when my front windshield didn’t clear after a few minutes. The only thing I could do to navigate on the highway was to keep the windshield wipers on, at a speed I’d typically use for a moderate rainfall, the entire drive. Every time the wipers squeaked across the windshield — from trying to eradicate wetness that was no longer there — I’d turn the wipers to intermittent. Seconds later, the front windshield would fog again and I’d have to speed up the wipers. Was something wrong with my rental car?
At lunch, I sat around a table with several curriculum coaches. We were talking about the weather, so I recounted my morning drives and asked, “Is this a Houston thing or a faulty rental car thing?”
There was a resounding “Houston Thing!” response from the coaches. Apparently, it’s so hot and humid in the mornings that one needs to turn on the defrosters to clear the windshields. Like me, they told me it’s easy to clear their rear ones, but not the front windshields. That’s when two of them shared a tip with me: crank up the heat in the car (even though it’s already hot outside), open your windows so you don’t faint from the heat, and turn on the front defroster.
My mouth dropped open. “Really!??!”
Apparently, that’s the only thing that will work.
Pennsylvania has its fair share of high heat, elevated dew points, and humidity in the summertime, but nothing like this has ever happened to me before! For some reason, something different happens to cars in the Houston summers.
Guess what I’ll be doing when I find my front windshield fogged up tomorrow morning?
Lynne and I planned to get together in early August to work on the study guide for Welcome to Writing Workshop, which is our forthcoming book from Stenhouse (available in early Winter 2019). However, that plan got thrown out the window late last week when Bill, our editor, sent us a first pass of edits earlier than expected. We were thrilled! We decided the study guide could wait.
So here we are at Caffe Galleria in Lambertville, NJ!
We’re spending the day working together, which means my parents have my kids for yet one more day (G-d bless them! I think they are going to need a vacation once my kiddos and I depart tomorrow. Or maybe a sensory deprivation chamber. One or the other!) so Lynne and I can power our way through the edits. For instance, moments before I wrote this post, we realized we didn’t write “final thoughts” for three-quarters of our chapters. Guess what we’re doing next? Making sure each chapter has a “final thoughts” section.
We know we won’t complete Bill’s edits today, but we’re hoping to make a significant progress.
On that note, Lynne’s back from feeding the meters so it’s time for me to get back to work.
Did you know my husband, Marc, and I met on JDate when we lived in New York City back in 2004? One of the many questions in the JDate profile was: Are you willing to relocate. I declared I wasn’t.
Three years later, I moved from Manhattan to Providence where Marc had moved for a fellowship. Two years later, we didn’t move back to New York. We moved to Central Pennsylvania. We’ve been living there ever since.
So much for not being willing to relocate!
Turns out I was willing to relocate for the right person. But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss my life in Manhattan. Even after 11 years away from this City, I still love everything about it. Truly.
This week is one of my favorite weeks of the year since I get to spend it in Manhattan studying at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project’s Summer Writing Institute. (This is my 14th summer institute!) While many people spend the week going to shows and museums, I spend the week doing what matters most to me: reconnecting with friends, former students, and former colleagues.
So far, I’ve seen:
Besides the folks above, I found myself sitting at the same table as Marilyn, a fellow Slicer, in my afternoon session. Also, I’m seeing people all over TC I’ve studied with through the years. It’s only Monday and it’s already been a tremendous week. The rest of the week will bring college friends, former students, and former colleagues!
I miss my Marc, Isabelle, and Ari. Wherever they are is home.
But… home will (also) always be New York City… no matter how many years I’ve been away.
Isabelle has two distinct hairstyles. Most of the time, she wears her curly hair down with a bow holding her grown-out bangs to the right side of her face. However, in the summertime, she wears a ponytail any day she is going to go swimming.
It’s a very different look. Since her hair is curly, I have to pull it back into a ponytail after her shower at night. I use bobby pins to hold up the short ends so that it’s easier to brush again in the mornings.
This morning, I complimented Isabelle on how beautiful she looked with her hair pulled back.
“You know,” I said, “I could pull your hair back in a ponytail during the school year if you’d like.”
“I know,” she replied.
“Would you like me to do that?” I asked.
“No,” she replied immediately.
“It’s my summertime hairstyle!” she responded.
“A ponytail doesn’t have to be worn in the summertime only,” I said.
She looked annoyed, “I only like wearing it back for swimming, okay?”
I nodded my head. I know better than to push.
But I also know enough to write these pearls of wisdom down so I can tease her about them when she grows up (and perhaps wears a ponytail in the wintertime!).
When Isabelle was little — and words were beyond challenging to utter — I noticed she would keep practicing. Isabelle wanted to understood so she kept trying. To hear her now, you’d never know she was diagnosed with CAS at 27 months old. Even today, on the occasions when her mouth can’t say the words her brain is thinking, she perseveres.
Isabelle joined swim team this summer. It wasn’t a try-out swim team. While everyone wants to win, the coach assured me his goal for Isabelle was to help her become a stronger swimmer and to do her personal best at swim meets. Both of those goals were met when swim team ended on July 6th. She shaved time off her freestyle and backstroke times every time she raced!
On July 9th, Isabelle started day camp. I pushed her to take the deep water test since I knew she could:
Swim across the pool (from deep to shallow) without touching
Tread water for 15 seconds
Float for 15 seconds
What I didn’t know — until after the first time she failed the test — is that she didn’t pass because she didn’t keep her head down to breathe. As a seven-year-old kid, she doesn’t breathe properly when swimming freestyle. Rather than complain (Safety first!), I asked if she could swim backstroke across the pool. That request was denied. She’d have to swim freestyle and breathe properly (to the side rather than lifting her head) or she wouldn’t pass.
After she failed for the first time, last Thursday, I told Isabelle I was proud of her for trying and that she didn’t have to take it again. (After all, you can’t learn how to do side breathing overnight.) The next morning, Isabelle grabbed her swim team swim cap and told me she would try again.
And she did.
She didn’t pass again — even while wearing the swim cap.
I learned she didn’t pass for the second time when we were writing in her line-a-day notebook. She had been holding it in for about five hours. But when Isabelle told me, she didn’t seem sad. Rather, she seemed determined to try again. In fact, she requested a lesson with her swim coach (which I set up for this weekend).
Today, Isabelle didn’t pass for the third time. She told me she was going to try again tomorrow. She’s prepared to side-breathe as best as she can. Seeing as I know she will most likely not pass again, I wanted to talk to her about how she might need to try again and again and again before she will be given the green light to go into the deep water during free swim. So, I read her Ashley Spires incredible book at bedtime:
My favorite line — from Isabelle — when she saw the girl toss a broken prototype over her shoulder was, “I can’t throw away the pool.” No, she certainly can’t.
I don’t know if Isabelle will pass the deep water test — due to the side-breathing she hasn’t perfected — this summer. Taking a deep water test again and again, rather than giving up, is incredible. No matter what the final outcome, I am beyond proud of Isabelle’s determination to keep trying to pass the test.
Over the weekend, we attended a blueberry festival at the farm where we pick pumpkins, apples, and blueberries annually. While there were plenty of berries to pick, one of the best parts of the festival happened away from the blueberry bushes. It happened amongst the craft vendors.
Isabelle insisted on browsing the craft vendors’ wares. I felt myself get frustrated since Isabelle, like many kids her age, usually wants to blow her money on junk. She’s been saving her money and had $24 to spend. And that made me fearful she was going to buy $24 worth of junk! (Yes, I do have the final say. Like I said no to her buying stuffed animals. However, I can’t say no to everything!)
The second vendor’s tent she walked into was selling polymer clay-covered notebooks. They weren’t cheap: $12 for small ones and $24 for large ones. Isabelle insisted she wanted one. Even though it was a notebook, I felt my heart sink a little bit. Was this going to be an overpriced scribbling pad?
“Let’s come back after we pick raspberries and blackberries.”
Isabelle held me to that promise. Even though she visited other vendors’ tents, she bought a small notebook since “that will mean I’ll still have $12 left.” (Imagine how pleased I was with that declaration!)
Lo and behold, Isabelle has written in her new writer’s notebook the past two days. In fact, she’s pretty excited about writing in it. She’s decided to keep it in the car so she has something to do while we’re driving places. Of course, that makes looking up unfamiliar words and decent penmanship challenging, but I think she’s off to a great start. Take a look:
Perhaps I should’ve looked inside the notebook to make sure it would be appropriate (in terms of line size) for a rising second grader. But then again, she wants to write, so perhaps I should continue to have a hands-off approach on this one!
I wanted to give a couple of my students a second recognition award during the school year when I was a classroom teacher. I was met with resistance. I was asked if all of the students in my classroom had received an award. The answer was no. I was (politely) told everyone needed to receive an award before anyone could win a second recognition award. I seethed. Basically, I was being told that the kids who were working the hardest shouldn’t be recognized for their diligence until everyone’s ego was stoked, whether they deserved it or not. That didn’t sit well with me back then. Years later, I still don’t understand that line of thinking.
Over the weekend, Isabelle, Marc, and I drove home from her swim banquet. Marc and I remarked about how proud we were of Isabelle for trying a new sport, being on a team for the first time, and doing her personal best each and every time she swam in a meet this summer. However, there wasn’t much coming at us from the backseat.
After some small talk, I said, “You should be so proud of yourself, Isabelle. Are you proud of yourself?”
“I didn’t win a medal or a trophy,” she replied flatly.
“What do you mean? You got a medal.”
Isabelle quickly pointed out that everyone who was new to the swim team got those medals. (She was correct.) “I didn’t win a trophy like P.J.,” she said referring to a boy her age who received two trophies.
“You’re right,” I replied. “You didn’t win any trophies.”
“Why not?” she inquired.
I explained how those trophies were for kids who finished in first, second, or third place in a swim race. I explained that even though she shaved time off every time she raced, she didn’t finish in the top three in any of her races. I explained that not everyone can win the races.
Isabelle didn’t seem to care about the things I said. She was disappointed she didn’t go home with something three-dimensional and shiny.
Here’s the thing. I AM MORE THAN OKAY that Isabelle didn’t walk away with a participation trophy. Here’s are a few reasons why:
Isabelle saw right through the first-year recognition medal she won. She knew it wasn’t a real award. Maybe receiving a participation trophy would’ve helped in the moment, but she would’ve seen through anything unattached to a top-three finish.
I was a terrible athlete in middle school. (Let’s be honest, I never excelled at anything besides Pilates and swimming.) I was on the “B Team” for both field hockey and softball. As a result, I never received an award because I wasn’t any good at either sport. Perhaps if I had received a phony award, I would’ve kept participating instead of finding something I could excel at. Instead, I tried other things, like drama, student government, and newspaper. Eventually, I found something I enjoyed doing AND was good at. I’m sure the coaching staff was happy when I was no longer on their teams too!
Isabelle has a fire in her belly ever since Saturday night. She never talked about winning all season. Now, she’s determined to win a race next year, which means she’s going to practice more this summer and before next year.
Isabelle loves to swim, which is why I signed her up for swim team. Somehow, I think not receiving a participation trophy was a good thing. You see, because I knew she wasn’t going to come in a ranking position at any of the meets, I kept her focused on doing her personal best each time. She bought into that all season long. And that matters! But now that she knows there are trophies, I am confident she will work towards individual progress and contributing to the team’s overall score next swim season.
We shall find out how this shakes out next summer!