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’ve been kvelling for over a week. Day after day, my former fifth graders (from the final year I taught in Manhattan) have been posting their photographs on Facebook of graduating from college. They’ve graduated from schools like Davidson, Iona, Ithaca, NYU, and SUNY-Albany. Some have graduated magna cum laude. Some are attending graduate school this fall, while others will be working. All of them have made their families (and their former fifth-grade teacher) extraordinarily proud.
If you’ve ever heard me speak about successful writing partnerships, then you might recall the name Tyresha. She was part of the most dynamic writing partnership I ever witnessed as a teacher. Tyresha and her writing partner worked together the entire school year when they were in my class. In fact, they plead their case — mid-year — for why they didn’t think it would be fair for them to have any other writing partner while in my class. I agreed. Not only were they helping each other grow as writers, but if one of them missed school, the other one would turn-key the previous day’s minilesson so I wouldn’t have to do it! (How could I break up that kind of dynamic duo?!??!)
Over the weekend, Tyresha graduated from college with a major in psychology and minors in counseling and marketing. She’s completed multiple poster presentations about mental health and plans to attend graduate school once she hones in on exactly what she wants to do in the field of psychology. The first line of her Facebook post, which included photos from her graduation, began with these words:
I come from a place where people are not supposed to prosper, yet here I am.
Tyresha continued by thanking her parents, family, friends, mentors, peers, and professors who supported and guided her through her educational journey. She expressed a beautiful sentiment, which matched the radiant smile on her face as she stood in her cap and gown for photographs.
However, hard as I tried, I couldn’t get past Tyresha’s first line. Her words pinged around inside of my brain all day. By Sunday evening, I emailed Tyresha to ask her if I could share her words in a blog post (She said I could.) and if I should attribute them to her or leave her anonymous (She wished to be mentioned by name.) in the post.
As a former inner-city classroom teacher, I am troubled by the sentiment Tyresha expressed in her post.
There she was — a college graduate — despite other people’s expectations based on the zip code in which she grew up and the color of her skin.
I cannot imagine feeling as though I was not meant to go to college. I cannot imagine how it must feel to grow up thinking as though people didn’t expect me to reach my potential. I cannot imagine what it must be like to know people wouldn’t be rooting for me to succeed in life. These things were not my feelings growing up in suburban New Jersey, but they are real feelings for many young adults like Tyresha.
No one should grow up feeling as though people are rooting against them. To marginalize someone’s potential because of where they’re from is unfair and just wrong.
Included in Tyresha’s album of college graduation photos was a photograph of her mortarboard, which looked like this:
The message Tyresha donned as she marched across the stage of her college graduation is one that shouldn’t need to be repeated. However, it MUST be repeated. It reminds me of what still needs to be done to help young people in communities like East Harlem, where I taught, so they feel as though people — not just their parents and teachers — want them to flourish. No young adult should reach their college graduation day and feel as though people didn’t want them to cross the finish line. It’s been nearly two days since I read Tyresha’s words. I still find them heartbreaking.
May Tyresha’s words remind each of us of how much more work must be done so all kids — regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, immigration status, or sexual orientation — feel as though there are many people rooting for them to succeed.
Isabelle has enjoyed doing art for the past couple of years. She’s taken a couple of art classes. However, despite the instruction, most of her masterpieces look like this:
I appreciate these pieces since they feel like modern art. However, there aren’t any discernable objects most of the things she creates. Ever since the ocular motor dysfunction diagnosis, I understand why she struggles. Therefore, when I picked her up at art class this afternoon, I looked at her oil pastel creation and felt tears prick my eyes. But they weren’t tears of sadness; they were tears of happiness.
“Is this a self-portrait?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” she responded.
“Is this a picture of yourself?” I asked.
“Yeah, how did you know?” she replied.
“Because it looks like you, honey!” I responded.
Sure, her eyes aren’t that big nor are her lips aren’t that red. But I could tell it was a self-portrait prior to reading note the teacher sends home with each child.
“You should be very proud of yourself,” I told my daughter. “This is a masterpiece! We should hang this in your garage gallery.”
“Okay,” she said as a small smile spread across her face. “When can we hang it up?”
“We have lots of other pieces to hang up along with this one. Would this weekend be okay?”
“Yes!” she replied with more enthusiasm.
Progress takes time. Today was a reminder that she may be taking small steps forward, but they are, indeed, forward.
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.
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.
For the past few years I’ve started slicing on the final day of February. I’m always a day ahead since I don’t want to miss a day. Therefore, I don’t have to write today. After all, I won’t even be linking this “slice” to the challenge since I’ll be linking yesterday’s blog post on today’s call for slice of life stories.
BUT, here I am.
“I’m not a title person!” It’s something I regularly declare to the TWT co-author team (and anyone else who comes to me in search of clever wordsmithing). But somehow, I managed to craft titles for my blog posts for the past 31 days. Looking back at them helps me remember the month that was. Here’s a peek at every title I wrote for the 10th Annual SOLSC.
Can I Play Too?
Read Across America Day
The BIG Cut
The Human Body in Art
When the End Isn’t in Sight
We have an eater!
Things I’m Pretty Sure of Today
Nine Months to Take It Off
Oh Today We’ll Merry-Merry Be
I Wish You More
Picture Books to Weather the Storm
Big Sister Saves the Day
Me: By the Numbers
The Vulnerable Among Us
When the Ride Stops
In Praise of the Snotsucker
Questioning Myself (as the Parent of an Emerging Reader)
Magical Morning Moments
I Think I Need a Mommy Bracelet
Mutual Admiration Society
Ice Cream Friday Fund
Let Me Count the Reasons
Baking by Myself
At least someone appreciates my food!
My face is my child’s favorite toy.
Just a few more minutes…
Not too shabby, eh?
However, I’m still not a title person. Titles matter. Therefore, I still defer to the people in my life who are more capable at title-writing than I am! (It’s good to know and admit to your weaknesses, right?!!?)
Isabelle has been enjoying day camp. Like most kids, she comes home exhausted. There’s no way I could get her to sit with me to do her speech work at 4:00 p.m. after a day in the sun and heat. (And it’s been hot and humid this summer!) Therefore, we’ve been doing her speech work after breakfast, before we leave for camp, every weekday morning.
After breakfast, she asked to sit on my lap (what’s left of it now that I’m on the cusp of my eighth month of pregnancy.) We sat together and sang songs, like “Trot Old Joe,” for a few minutes. Then, it was time to practice. And you know what? This morning, I decided it’s not fair. While she rarely complains about sitting down with me and the iPad at 8:00 a.m., I felt angry. I wished we could sit together and sing songs, but I knew we had to start practicing.
It’s been a little over three years since her Apraxia diagnosis and we still work on her talking EVERY SINGLE DAY. And while she’s made enormous strides and can communicate with others, it struck me this morning that she’s worked harder at the age of five-and-a-half than most kids her age! I know this will serve her well in life. She’s got grit, determination, and a better work ethic than many adults. But it’s still not fair.
This morning, just before we fired up Articulation Station on the iPad, I said to her, “I want to take a picture of you sitting here and working beside me.”
“Because I want you to know, when you get older, how hard you worked for every word you have. I’m so proud of you and how you never quit.”
We’re worked on /s/ blends and initial /th/ sounds this morning. Here’s a listen into part of our practice session.
Today was my final day volunteering in Isabelle’s preschool class’s writing center. While she still has another four weeks left of preschool, her class is studying pets. Parents are encouraged to bring their dogs, cats, birds, etc. into school. (NOTE: I have pet allergies and asthma. Not a good combo!) Therefore, I had to declare today as my last day, which disappointed my daughter. Isabelle knows how bad my allergies are so she understood as best as a five-year-old can understand that kind of thing.
I’m glad I have kept records (on this blog and in Evernote) about the times I volunteered in Isabelle’s classroom this year. Fortunately, I wrote about the first time I volunteered there in September so I’m able to see growth. Here are some things I noticed about Isabelle’s growth as a writer in the past eight months:
Her stamina has increased. In September, it was challenging for Isabelle to sit for more than five minutes without whining to produce a page. Today, she spent over a half-hour at the writing center working on her book.
Her drawings of people are more representational. In September, her people didn’t have bodies. Now, they all have bodies as well as other features!
Her volume has swelled. In September, she drew one page and told a simple story about it. Now, she’s “writing” six pages! (NOTE: She’s not writing strings of letters to represent her words. She’s still dictating to me and I’m writing. However, she’s drawing across pages.)
Her drawings contain details. Sometimes she needs help thinking about what kinds of things she should draw on a page to communicate the meaning of the scene, but she’s gotten stronger at embedding relevant details in her pictures. (For instance, in the dance studio picture, top right below, she wanted to draw tap shoes on the girls. She also felt it was important to draw their dance bags since they change out of their tap shoes into ballet shoes at the midpoint of each class.)
She has grown as a writer one Monday at a time. I’m sure she would’ve grown more had I not taken off time for my surgery, work-related commitments, and prenatal appointments. Despite me missing several Mondays, she has progressed this year. Here’s what she wrote today:
Do we have more work to do at home this summer to make sure she feels more confident with writing as she approaches Kindergarten? Absolutely! For now, I’m enjoying the gains Isabelle made this year. As you’ll see (if you look at where she was in September or even where she was in January), she has grown by leaps and bounds!
I presented Isabelle with her playlist on my iPhone as she prepared to brush her teeth.
“Pick a song,” I said, as I do every morning.
Instead of scrolling up and down through the playlist with her finger in search of a picture she liked (which matches a song she wants to hear), she settled her finger towards the center of the screen.
“A…,” she began.
“A, what?” I asked.
“A.” She pointed towards the Jackson 5’s song. Then she continued. “A. B. C.” She looked up and smiled.
“ABC, what?” I asked. (I had a feeling about what she was doing, but I wanted to follow her lead.)
“ABC, da song! Dat’s ‘ABC’,” she said as she touched the screen with her index finger.
Next thing we knew, a new screen popped up and we heard the Jackson 5 singing and playing “ABC.”
“Wow! You read that. Instead of looking at the picture, you read the letters a-b-c and picked the song. You should be so proud of yourself.”
I continued, “That’s reading, Isabelle. The letters mean something. This song is called “ABC” and you read the title of the song. You can learn how to read the titles of all of your songs.” But then I stopped. She’s only four. Why push? And besides, we had to brush those teeth!
Have you ever heard of the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment? It was a research study about delayed gratification, self-control, and willpower. Here’s more about it:
It began in the early 1960s at Stanford University’s Bing Nursery School, where Mischel and his graduate students gave children the choice between one reward (like a marshmallow, pretzel, or mint) they could eat immediately, and a larger reward (two marshmallows) for which they would have to wait alone, for up to 20 minutes. Years later, Mischel and his team followed up with the Bing preschoolers and found that children who had waited for the second marshmallow generally fared better in life. For example, studies showed that a child’s ability to delay eating the first treat predicted higher SAT scores and a lower body mass index (BMI) 30 years after their initial Marshmallow Test. Researchers discovered that parents of “high delayers” even reported that they were more competent than “instant gratifiers”—without ever knowing whether their child had gobbled the first marshmallow (Retrieved from http://theatln.tc/1GNkWB6 on 3/13/15.)
So what does this have to do with my kid? Well, I’ll tell you. While she can be impulsive (She’s four!), I think she’d wait the 20 minutes for the two marshmallows. Here’s why:
Isabelle’s favorite color is purple. Last summer, she wore purple nearly ever day. (The only days she didn’t wear it was when I needed to do laundry.) She has a purple winter coat, purple backpack, and purple quilt. Even her lunchbox carrier is purple! Purple, purple, purple!
Every day, Isabelle selects a Flintstone’s Vitamin to take. They come in three colors: orange, pink, and purple. When she started taking Flintstone’s vitamins, she would select the purple ones. Then the pink. Finally, her bottle was filled with orange ones. She didn’t like the color of them, but she ate them anyway. (Little does she know my mother allowed me not to eat the orange ones when I was a kid because I claimed I didn’t like them.) She didn’t like getting to the end of the bottle with just orange vitamins left. On her own, she developed a mantra in late December in an effort to make sure she had purple vitamins by the end of the bottle. I’d present her with the several vitamins in the cap and I’d let her choose one. Suddenly, she began saying “Save the purple ones!” And wouldn’t you know it? The last bottle of vitamins she finished ended with a purple one. Her favorite.
The “save the purple” mentality continues. It’s interesting to shake out a few vitamins into the cap every day to see which one she’ll pick. Inevitably, she always selects a pink or orange one since she wants to save the purple ones. But this morning, her hands had food in them when I came over with her vitamins. I said, “tell me with your voice.” She tried to put her banana and napkin down, but she looked like she couldn’t move fast enough. So instead she blurted out, “purple.” I was shocked. I’m wondering if having she choose purple since I told her to pick with her voice, not with her fingers today. Or maybe she felt she had picked enough pink and orange ones this week so she could treat herself to a purple one. Whatever the reason is, I am still confident she’d pass that marshmallow test.
Nearly ever one I know has told me four years-old is easier than three. I’d like to hope they’re right since three was a downright challenging year. However, Isabelle’s been four for a little over a week and, so far, she still seems like my feisty three year-old.
Case in Point: Preschool Pickup. Unless I’m working in a school, I pick Isabelle up from preschool a little earlier than her peers since she still naps. Today was one of those days where I arrived before the class’s rest time. As soon as her teacher saw me, she began recounting a story about Isabelle finding the courage to speak in front of her peers (to tell the story of why she’s nicknamed herself the “Cheese Machine”). It was a delightful tale that made my heart happy since she was able to hold her friends’ attention and was able to be understood by her teacher.
As her teacher and I chatted, I noticed a curly-haired girl run out of the room. Yep, you know who it was: my child! She likes to do this to me (i.e., run out of the room for my benefit since she knows it agitates me). I didn’t give chase. But after a minute, she didn’t come back, so I went in search of her. I found her driving towards me in a Little Tykes Cozy Coupes, which operates like the cars on “The Flintstones.” Apparently she decided it would not only be okay to leave her classroom, but she’d join another class who were using indoor bikes and cars in the preschool hallway. Um, no, that was NOT okay.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Driving!” she grinned.
“You’re not supposed to leave the classroom. You don’t run out of the classroom. You didn’t ask your teacher permission.”
“Get up,” I commanded.
“No, I’m driving,” she replied.
I didn’t mince words. “I need you to get up and get out of the car.”
She started to whine. And cry. And yell.
I swiveled the car around and pointed it in the direction where the cars and bikes are stored.
“Go and park your car now.”
“Yes. Drive back, park your car, and come back to your classroom or I will have to pick you up out of your car and carry you out of school.”
“Fine Mommy!” she said with disdain in her voice.
I turned on my heel and walked back to her classroom. 30 seconds later she returned. Good, I thought.
BUT THAT’S NOT ALL!
You’d think it’d end there. You’d think she’d be compliant and stay by my side. You’d think these things if you were raising one of those compliant four year-olds my friends talk about all of the time. But, no, right after she put on her coat and hugged her friends good-bye she bolted from the room again. But before I could exit the room, one of her little friends took off after her. “Isabelle! You can’t leave the room!”
But then he left the room. Ugh!
And then, to make matters worse, one of other little girls follows both of them out of the room in an effort to lay down the law. At this point, her teacher and I are out the classroom door, ready to collect all three of them. When we arrive in the hallway, the boy who ran after her says, “Isabelle took my truck.”
“Give it back to him,” I said. And she did.
Her teacher retrieved Isabelle’s friends and brought them back to the classroom. I admonished Isabelle for leaving the classroom and told her that she could get her friends into trouble by leaving since they followed her. I told her she had to ask permission before departing the classroom. While she nodded, I knew, in my heart of hearts, that she’d be doing this to me again sometime soon since she knew it didn’t bother me. I sighed. Enough. Let it be for today, I told myself.
Just as I was about to take her hand to lead her out of school, a girl from one of the other classes pedaled by on a tricycle with a passenger seat (or what reminds me of a preschool rickshaw). Isabelle attempted to jump into the passenger seat.
“Oh no!” I cried. “You are not going for a bike ride! We’re going home.”
“But I want to!” she whined.
“It’s not happening. Not now. Put on your mittens. We’re going home.”
* * * * *
I recently polled my Facebook friends asking:
I have a question for anyone who’s ever told me parenting a four year-old is much easier than a three year-old. (And there are quite a few of you out there!) We’re a week and a half into age four and no one has flipped the proverbial switch. I’m wondering… when did your three year-old morph into a more compliant, more mellow person?
NOTE: If you don’t have a happy tale to tell (i.e., four was just as hard, if not harder than three), then please don’t tell me that today. I need some uplifting four year-old stories… please!
I got a variety of answers, links to articles, and promises of hope. Most people reassured me that the change came later-on in the fours. So for now, I’m going to try to stay calm and firm like I did today. And when something ridiculous happens, I will write the stories down so my daughter will know exactly what she was like at this point in her life as she grows up into the amazing, strong-willed adult I know she will be.