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.
This morning, I was attempting to put on just enough makeup to look acceptable in public. I didn’t have time to micromanage Ari’s responsibilities. Once I applied Ari’s sunscreen and brushed his hair, I tasked him with three things to do once he got downstairs since I knew it would give me enough time to apply my makeup.
“Okay, repeat to me what you need to do when you get downstairs,” I said.
“Ummmmm…” Ari replied.
“C’mon, anything. What do you need to take care of?” I prompted.
“Get a book so we can read before school,” he said.
“There were two things before that. Do you remember?”
Ari shook his head.
I had a hard time believing that he didn’t remember, but I wasn’t in the mood to get into an argument when I had blush and mascara to apply.
“What if I write down what you need to do on a piece of paper?”
“That would be good,” Ari said.
I followed him to his room, where I discovered no sticky notes. I opened a notebook and asked, “May I use this part of the page you didn’t write on?”
“Sure!” he said.
I thought about drawing, but then I remembered HE CAN READ. So, I made a simple list of the items he needed to accomplish. But just in case, I made a couple of crude drawings in the margins.
“Read back to me what I wrote,” I said once I capped the flair pen and put it back where I found it.
Ari began reading the list aloud. By the end of the fourth item, he had a sheepish grin on his face.
“Are you proud of yourself for being able to read that list?” I asked.
“Mmm-hmmm,” he said with a bigger smile.
“You should be. Now, go and do these things and then holler once you’re ready for me.”
We’re barrelling towards summer vacation, which means summer reading! I want to say something for any parent/caregiver whose child is reading leveled readers (aka easy readers). PUBLISHER READING LEVELS (e.g., Level 1, Level 2, Level 3) ARE INCONSISTENT! A book labeled a “Level 1” from one publisher can vastly differ from a “Level 1” book from another.
Reading levels are not an exact science and can vary depending on the specific book, publisher, or reading assessment tool used. While I value publishers’ efforts in creating leveled readers, the criteria for what makes a book a level 1, 2, or 3 should be clarified. That’s not happening anytime soon.
YET, kids look at the levels. So what is an adult to do? Here are four things that have worked in our household as I’ve battled with Ari about the way he’s thought about publisher levels while attempting to select books for the past few weeks:
1) Get your child’s Guided Reading or Fountas & Pinnell Level (i.e., A-Z) from their teacher. Many leveled readers also have these levels listed on the back of the book. These are more precise.
2) Open a page and have your child read the text. If it’s too hard, look for another book. (This is similar to the “five-finger test” many kids learn in school.)
3) Find a wise person to talk to your child about reading levels and book selection. Ari could care less that I’m a certified literacy specialist. But he listened to Lynne Dorfman when we had lunch with her this past weekend. This chat with Lynne helped Ari make better book choices when he selected books at the library yesterday.
4) Enlist the help of an older sibling, cousin, or family friend who is an avid reader. Isabelle raided the boxes of leveled readers in our basement and handed Ari books she thought Ari would be interested in and could read. She also told him, “You’re not ready for Henry and Mudge YET, but you will be soon.”
Finally, let reading levels be ONE thing that guides your child. Ari found some Paddington books with a level that’s beyond his F&P instructional reading level. However, we’ve read many Paddington picture books, so he is intensely interested in reading these leveled readers. Plus, he’s familiar with some trickier words from having us read the Paddington picture books aloud so that he can stretch himself as a reader.
Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. I’ve never been overly sentimental about the day. Maybe that’s because I grew up with a mom who wanted to know I cared about her all year. (I do. Hi, Mom. I love you!) That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy receiving tulips from my husband. I adored the handmade items Ari made for me — and dictated about me — in school. (The things Ari made melted my heart since he gave all of them to me as soon as he unpacked yesterday. Some are pictured.)
I looked at the backseat of my minivan yesterday and was HORRIFIED by Ari’s side of the van. This morning, I announced, “I need you to shop vac the backseat of the van for me.”
“Why?” he asked.
“It’s covered in mud and Smartfood from last week’s t-ball game. Plus, your detritus is all over your side of the backseat.“ (Yes, I’m the oddball who recently taught her six-year-old the word detritus to represent everything from crumbs to crayons-on-the-floor that I find in the spaces where he lives. It sounds much better than telling him to pick up his junk/litter.)
“Okay,” he replied.
This afternoon, I brought the shop vac over to the car and let Ari use it. Once Ari finished his side, he willingly vacuumed the rest of the minivan, including the trunk and Isabelle’s side (typically tidy). I didn’t have to invoke Mother’s Day since Ari must know there’s only so long I can tolerate his messes.
Ari expressed his excitement about the cod cakes throughout the day. When I realized I forgot to buy the basil for the cod cakes at the grocery store this morning, he was happy to accompany me to the grocery store this evening after a play date so that I could buy it.
From there, dinner prep progressed like a beautiful domino run:
Ari asked if he could help me prepare the cod cakes. (I said yes, of course!)
Ari helped me remove many of the ingredients from our pantry and fridge so everything was ready to go once we prepared everything.
Ari dumped the ingredients for the aioli into the food processor. Once the lid was in place, he processed the components using the on/off and pulse buttons.
Ari mixed the ingredients for the cod cakes in a large bowl.
In the most shocking development, Ari rewashed his hands so he could help form the cod cakes and dip them in GF panko breadcrumbs.
Ari controlled the timer, so our cod cakes were browned evenly in the frying pan.
Ari tried the garlic-basil aioli, despite it having lots of green flecks in it. Ultimately, he didn’t like it as a dipping sauce.
Not only did Ari devour his first cod cake, he asked for a second one. I took several videos in case my parents didn’t believe he ate it.
Meanwhile, across the table, Isabelle was bribed with ice cream if she ate a mini cod cake I made. She gobbled it, which made me believe she liked it. NOT. THE. CASE. She detested it but wanted to try the new mint-chocolate-chip ice cream we bought today.
I made the shopping list last night. Since nearly a month had passed since Ari’s promise to eat cod, I decided TODAY was the time to collect on his word.
Knowing Wegmans might not have skin-on cod, I earmarked an alternate cod recipe if only skinless cod were available. Butter-Basted Fish Fillets with Garlic and Thyme were less complex than the cod recipe Ari tried in April, so I figured it would be a slam dunk.
Fast-forward to dinnertime this evening. Ari looked at his plate and declared, “I’m not eating that.”
There was begging. There was rationalizing. There was mentioning of dessert.
Nothing was getting through to Ari. When I thought he’d go to bed hungry, I said, “I’ll make you a honey-cake-ice-cream sandwich for dessert.”
Ari’s eyes lit up, “I’ll eat it!”
Here’s the thing: a honey-cake-ice-cream sandwich is not a thing. Typically, I make honey cake once a year for Rosh Hashanah. Somehow, Ari convinced me to make a honey-pound cake with him last week. Never before has anyone ever offered to turn a honey cake into the “bread” of an ice cream sandwich. I meant it as a joke figuring no one would ever put ice cream between two pieces of gluten-free honey cake.
YET, Ari was willing to eat dinner in exchange for a honey-cake-ice-cream sandwich.
As I cut a slice of honey cake, Ari asked, “Can I have chocolate syrup and whipped cream on top of it?”
Gross-gross-gross, I cringed.
Marc said, “That’s too much,” at the same time as I declared, “I don’t think that’ll hold up, and it would be too messy. I could put it in a dish for you.”
Too bad I didn’t wait for a beat for Marc since this is what Ari landed up eating for dessert!
When I tucked Ari into bed this evening, I asked, “Would you eat cod again?”
“No, yuck,” he said.
“But you ate it,” I offered.
“For the honey-cake-ice-cream dessert,” Ari retorted.
“You like lox. What if I make you roasted salmon in a few weeks?”
“Does it taste like lox?”
“Less salty and warmer. It’s the same fish, just a different preparation.”
7:15 PM: I took a shower. 7:22 PM: I discovered no one had come upstairs to get ready for bed at 7:15. I gave the kids a five-minute warning since they said Marc hadn’t set a timer for them. 7:28 PM: Texted Marc to let him know the kids needed to come upstairs. 7:30 PM: My children pretended they couldn’t hear my phone’s timer or me. 7:32 PM: Patience was waning. 7:36 PM: Isabelle graced me with her presence. Ari continued to give Marc a hard time. 7:50 PM: I tucked Isabelle into bed since she was exhausted. 7:55 PM: I read to Ari. 8:07 PM: Lights out for Ari. 8:15 PM: I went to my office to catch up on emails. I promised myself to be in bed by 9:00 PM. 9:12 PM: Whoops! Still in my office. 9:18 PM: Shut my office lights. 9:19 PM: Stopped dead in my tracks when I discovered WHAT kept my kids so busy that they couldn’t come up at the regular get-ready-for-bed time.
9:21 PM: Knocked on Marc’s office door to ask him what happened downstairs. He was on the phone. I made him mute himself so I could ask him why the kids did this while I was in the showered. He was like, “Oh, you know… kids!” Yes, I do know. I also know that I rehabbed my ankle injury of 2019 and value my ability to walk through the playroom! 9:33 PM: Snapped a photo of every possible toy that was lining the play room floor. From Isabelle’s old Little People structures to Ari’s old trains and vehicles, I couldn’t believe my kids still possessed all of this stuff! 9:34 PM: Imagined how else they could’ve made the playroom impassible to adult foot traffic. 9:35 PM: Legos. Legos strewn all over the floor would definitely be worse!
My children have something after school every single day this week. Toss in two pre-school-day appointments for one child, an important meeting on my mind, and a husband who is busy at work.
This afternoon, I managed to get both kids to an appointment by 4:10 p.m., get home by 4:40, prepare school lunches with the kids, get a whole chicken into the oven, read with Ari, listened to Isabelle’s Bat Mitzvah speech, and proctored showers. By 6:05 p.m., the chicken was roasting and both kids were clean. I don’t know how I did it without raising my voice or anyone melting down, but SOMEHOW it happened!
Ari’s gotten into audiobooks now that he has a second library card from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. (He can borrow up to 20 books at a time and have another 20 on hold!) I asked him, “What do you plan to do now that you’ve read with me and showered? Are you going to read your audiobook?”
I figured he’d say no, but he’s very into the Who Was …? series. They’re too advanced for him, but he enjoys reading about everyone from George Washington to King Tut to Nelson Mandela. Who am I to balk?
“Yes!” he replied. “And I’m going to pick some new books too.”
He disappeared into his room. I walked down the hall and found Isabelle reading a Babysitters Club book I read in sixth grade. She got annoyed at the interruption. I backed out of her room, closed the door, and said, “I’ll just be downstairs… cooking dinner.”
This was the half hour of serenity I needed in a hectic week. Because the rest of the week feels the “Seinfeld” episode where Frank Costanza yells, “Serenity now!”
“How does this one sound, Ari?” I asked. I read the description of the one-mile trail to Ari from TrailLink.
“It sounds good,” he replied.
“Can you handle a mile there and back?” I inquired.
“Can I run as long as you can see me?” Ari asked.
“Yes, as long as you don’t run too far ahead.”
“I can do more than two miles. I can walk five miles. I can walk ten miles! I can walk 100 MILES!”
“Aren’t you the same guy who starts dragging after a mile?”
“Not if I can run,” Ari insisted.
“Super! Then you can run.”
About 0.4 miles into the walk, Ari began to lose steam.
“Remember when he was little and used to stop, tell us his train was out of oil, and then he’d pretend to fill himself up so he’d have more energy to run?” I asked Isabelle.
“Yeah,” she replied with a chuckle.
“Don’t look now, but I think his train needs more oil,” I told her.
“Your train needs more oil, Ari!” Isabelle replied.
“What?” he asked.
I retold the story. WRONG CALL. That’s when Ari picked up a stick, plopped himself down on the middle of the trail, and pretended to refuel.
“Dear Lord,” I said to Isabelle. “Or, as you’d say, ‘he’s being ridiculous.”
“You’re being ridiculous, Ar-eye!”
“You weren’t supposed to say that to him, Iz.”
And so began a series of stop-and-complains, the throwing of gear (i.e., water bottle, jacket), and other slow-us-down-on-the-trail behavior.
This was supposed to be a nice trail walk with my kids on your final day of vacation! This was also supposed to be my exercise for the day! NEITHER OF THOSE THINGS WAS COMING TRUE.
Once we finally reached the other end of the trail (actually 0.7 of a mile rather than a mile long), it was time to turn around. Was that motivating to Ari? Nope! His antics continued.
“Why don’t you run? That’ll make the time go faster!” I replied.
Do you think he ran?
HE DID NOT.
Instead, Ari veered off onto the grass, flinging himself to the ground. After the third time, Ari threw himself to the ground, I looked at Isabelle and said, “A different kind of mom would pretend to walk away and leave him here. I’m not that mom.”
“What if you were?” Isabelle asked.
“Then he’d probably walk up to someone’s house and be content to be done with us. Or not. I don’t know. We’re not finding out.”
So we continued the same way, with a brief respite for the kids to play on a playground beside the trail on our journey back to the car. We almost returned to the car when I noticed something red on Ari’s hand.
“Let me see your palm,” I said.
Ari opened both hands to me. That’s when I saw blood oozing out of his palm.
“Oh my Gd, you cut your hand!”
“I did?” Ari asked. He looked down, saw the blood, and complained of the pain.
“Listen, big shot. This only happened because you kept flinging yourself onto the ground.”
“Yeah, Ar-eye!” Isabelle replied.
“Stop it, Isabelle!” Ari whined.
“We’ll go back to the car and get you cleaned up. It isn’t much further.” I replied.
Maybe this was Ari’s comeuppance for turning our walk into an ordeal. Who knows.
I may not be the kind of mom who threatens to leave her kid when they’re annoying, but I am the kind of mom who keeps a first aid kit in the trunk. One hand sanitization, one medicated ointment, and one bandage later, we went to the grocery store, where I’m thrilled to say Ari behaved perfectly.
I don’t remember when I started putting my printed recipes into a binder, but I know it’s been for about a decade. Inspired by my father, I began slipping recipes into plastic sheet covers and filed them away in the appropriate section of a three-ring binder. A recipe was deemed binder worthy if it met the following criteria:
I cooked it.
Marc and I enjoyed eating it.
Notice I failed to mention my children.
One or both of them often doesn’t like something I make because they have fussy palates. They don’t understand how lucky they are to have a mom who can cook and wants to introduce them to different kinds of food. Therefore, a recipe would still be a binder worthy if Marc and I liked it.
Some recipes get notations like these on the top of the page:
This is my cue to make the recipe on a night when I have time (usually a Sunday) to heat up a pizza or have enough stovetop space to make ravioli for them. Because as much as I want everyone to eat the same thing, sometimes I just wish for Marc and me to be happy (with more than the ten recipes that don’t cause my children to complain) at the dinner table.
Last night, I made One-Pan Roasted Cod with Cherry Tomatoes. Since both of my children claim they don’t like fish (NOTE: Isabelle will eat tuna fish, and Ari is a lox lover!), they got to eat cheese ravioli. Marc couldn’t get over how delicious the fish tasted. He begged the kids to try it. They refused. After he implored them some more, Ari finally agreed to taste a small piece.
After touching it with his tongue, he said, “I don’t like it.”
I rolled my eyes. “You didn’t even chew and swallow it, so you don’t know.”
He licked the fish again. “I don’t like it,” Ari complained.
For the love of G-d, just masticate the cod!
I don’t know how Marc convinced him to try a third time, but that was indeed the charm. After chewing and swallowing, he said,” I can have that for one night.”
“SOLD! I’ll be making this recipe after Passover!” I declared.
“Nooo! I don’t like cod,” Isabelle whined.
“Well, I guess you’ll find out if you really don’t like it the next time I make it for dinner.”
It’s the final day of March, which means it’s the final day of the 16th Annual Slice of Life Story Challenge at Two Writing Teachers.
In 2008, when the Challenge began, I was still raw after the death of my beloved grandmother, who passed away on March 24, 2007. She missed a joyful year of events (i.e., my graduation from Teachers College, my 30th birthday, and my wedding), which made losing her — my final living grandparent — painful. She was 92 when she died, and I was there until the end.
If I’m being honest, I hadn’t liked March for a long time. My grandfather (her husband) passed away on March 16, 1990, less than three months before my Bat Mitzvah.
Most Tuesdays year-round, I participate in SOL Tuesdays where I share a slice of life about one or both of my children, Isabelle and Ari. (Isabelle is named after my Grandma Ida. Ari’s Hebrew name, Matisyahu, is the same as my Grandpa Morris’ Hebrew name.) I love reading the stories and comments from the Tuesday Slicers as much as I enjoy reconnecting with Slicers who participate in the March Challenge only.
Here’s a look back at this month’s slices:
A Dog Named Fish
New Title: Fish and Dasher
“I don’t like my blood type” is not a real complaint!
“Mise en Place” is not a guarantee!
Hair for the Big Day
Mother Knows Best
Play with Your Food
Don’t Make Fun of Invented Spelling
Feed the Meter
The Lox Snob
Impervious to the Cold
From Traps to Brackets
Definitely Not a Marriott!
Everyone’s a Comedian
The Genesis of the “Whale Shirt”
Talk to the Puppy
Proposal: A New Kind of Leap Year
The Big A.I. Talk
Read from Right to Left… And Hold the Vowels!
Does it feel “just right” to you?
An Edible-Medical Nose
The Gift of a Quiet Morning
That’s 31. I made it to the end of March… and so did you! Thank you for coming along on this writing journey with me. I treasure every exchange I have had with the Slicer Community this month.
I’ll close by sharing some music that inspired the title of this post. Take a listen.