slice of life · writing

A Piece of Self-Initiated Writing (in three acts)

I was surrounded by three jackets, three pairs of socks, and three pairs of shoes. I reached out to Ari, in an attempt to wrangle him into his jacket, when Isabelle called out, “I want to write a letter to Casey.”

“C’mon in here!” I called back.

“Help me spell Casey,” Isabelle shouted back.

“I’m not going to yell back and forth with you,” I responded trying to catch Ari as he toddled away from me. “Come in here and I’ll help you.”

A minute later, Isabelle appeared with green construction paper, a pencil, and a flair pen.

“What do you have so far?” I asked grabbing my socks and shoes in an attempt to ready myself.

“C-a-s,” she replied.

“What do you think comes next?” I asked.

“E?” Isabelle said.

“Yes and then something else, but it’s silent,” I replied.

“Y?” Isabelle responded.

“Yes! You know that y’s sometimes don’t make the /y/ sound and make the long e sound. Excellent!” I said.

Isabelle finished writing her cousin’s name on the paper. Then, I asked the question which led to our first argument. “What are you planning to write in your letter?”

“Dear Casey. Love, Isabelle.”

I waited. I expected something more. I got nothing else.

“You can’t mail your three-and-a-half-year-old cousin a letter that only says “Dear Casey. Love, Isabelle.” You have to tell her something. You should write about what’s been happening in your life. Maybe you could ask her some questions and one of her parents can help her write a letter back to you.

{Argument #1 erupted.}

Once everyone was calm and had their coats and shoes on, I told Isabelle, “I’m taking your clipboard, the construction paper, your pencil, and your pen in the car. You can rehearse what you want to say with me and then you can write it. Okay?”

“Fine,” she muttered.

As I buckled Ari into the car, I said, “Think about what you might want to tell Casey in a letter for a minute. I’ll ask you what you’re thinking about when we pull out of the driveway.”

“Okay,” she said, a bit more chipper.

As we drove away, I asked Isabelle, “What could you tell your cousin about?”

“I don’t know,” she replied.

{This continued, in a civilized way, for a couple minutes.}

Finally, Isabelle decided she wanted to tell her cousin about math games she plays in school and a birthday party she went to over the weekend.

“Those are great ideas. Practice saying them aloud before you write them. Tell me what you’ll write first.”

Isabelle wrote in the air. At first, she only gave me a word or a phrase. I encouraged her to have a complete thought. Once she did, I helped her stretch out the words she didn’t know how to spell so she could approximate the spelling.

I picked up a cup of coffee and helped her with the final sentence on the first page. “Friend,” I said slowly.

“F-r-e-d,” Isabelle replied.

“That’s Fred, honey. Fred is someone’s name. What do you hear before the /d/ in friend?” I asked.

{Argument #2 erupted.}

Once Isabelle calmed down and realized there was an n before the d, she erased her pencil mark and attempted the word again. I kept driving.

IMG_2246
Isabelle’s letter to Casey.

After Isabelle signed her name, she decided to trace over her pencil marks with a black flair pen. Everything was quiet for a while. Eventually, she handed the clipboard to me as I was driving. I set it aside and looked at it once I parked the car.

I glowed. I complimented. I asked her “On a scale of 1 – 10, with 1 being the easiest thing you’ve ever written and 10 being the hardest thing you’ve ever written, where would you put this?”

“A two,” she replied.

Then why did you have to give me such a hard time?!??!!

“A two? Well, that’s great. And it didn’t take you long to write it once you figured out what you wanted to say, right?”

“Right,” Isabelle said.

“I’m sure Casey is going to love getting this letter from you,” I said.

I reread it and noticed one of the sentences said ‘We ply gas with a freind.’ I spoke up, “I noticed you wrote gas instead of games. But on the second page, you included the m in games. I think you should add the letter m so Casey knows what you play.

{Argument #3 erupted.}

Once Isabelle realized that it didn’t make sense to write gas instead of games, I taught her, “Many writers often forget to add letters, words, or phrases when they write. One thing they fix-up their writing before showing it to someone is to use a caret, which is an upside down v, to help them insert the missing letters or words. When they add whatever is missing, it makes it easier for the reader to understand. If I help you make the caret, will you add the missing letters?”

“Yeah, okay,” she said begrudgingly.

So I did.

And then she did.

It took three small arguments to help Isabelle produce a letter that consisted of more than four words for her cousin. However, she created a piece of self-initiated writing, which thrilled me since writing isn’t her go-to downtime activity.

That being said, may I mention how hard it is to be a parent and an educator!!??!

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slice of life

The engine turned over & my heart skipped a beat!

Waterlogue-2017-11-06-21-40-59
Later in the day, when Ari was in the driver’s seat, I took the keys away!

We’ve decided to buy a minivan.

In a matter of days, my husband will turn-in his leased sedan will start driving my SUV.

I will drive the minivan.

But this isn’t a story about how the minivan feels like a pair of mom jeans to me. No, no. It’s a story about what happened when we left our almost-seven-year-old daughter and our 13-month-old son alone in a parked SUV at the car dealership while we shopped for a new car.

…..

Marc and I were talking to the salesman.

Isabelle and Ari were seatbelted in the front seat of an SUV in the middle of the showroom not far from where we were talking.

Suddenly, I heard an engine start, which isn’t something you typically hear inside of a car dealership. I whipped my head towards the sound and saw illumined brake lights. My eyes bulged out in my head. My kids were in the car that was ON! I froze in place as I envisioned my children shattering the dealership’s glass windows and speeding onto Route 22!

But while I stood there, pathetically frozen, Marc rushed over to the car as Sidney, the car dealer, said to me, “One of you should really be in the car with them.”

“Why are the keys in the car!?!?!?” I spat back, feeling a little judged, while I witnessed Marc run towards the car, open the driver-side door, and depress the start/stop button to turn the car off.

“It’s state law, ma’am,” Sidney told me.

“Since when?” I asked him. “We looked at cars last year and this never happened when my daughter sat in them.”

He shrugged.

“Excuse me for a moment,” I told Sidney.

I walked over to the car where I could swear I smelled exhaust. I peeked my head into the vehicle, looked Isabelle square in the eye, and said, “Did you know you were turning the car on?”

“No, mommy,” she said wide-eyed.

“I believe you, but one of us has to stay with you now in the car.”

“But I want to pretend to drive with Ari,” she replied.

“I understand that, but I had visions of you and Ari driving down 22 just now and they weren’t good visions. One of us will be staying with you now, okay?”

“Okay,” she said.

My daughter is an inch shy of four feet. There’s no way she could’ve depressed the brake pedal while pressing the push-start ignition. At least, I don’t think she could.

…..

See? I told you this wouldn’t be a woe-is-me minivan story.

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accomplishments · art · ocular motor dysfunction · OT · slice of life · Uncategorized

An Artsy Celebration

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:

Scannable Document on Oct 30, 2017 at 5_43_33 PM

or this:

Scannable Document 2 on Oct 30, 2017 at 5_43_33 PM

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.

Scannable Document on Oct 30, 2017 at 5_42_40 PM“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.

 

Scannable Document 2 on Oct 30, 2017 at 5_42_40 PM
One of the things I adore about Isabelle’s present art class is that her teacher sends the kids home with their artwork + with an explanation of the artist whose work they studied (in addition to their task).

 

“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.

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family · siblings · slice of life

Someone wants his mama…

We are not a co-sleeping family. Despite the “back to sleep campaign,” it never occurred to me to have my kids sleep with me since I always slept in my own bed as a kid unless I was sick or there was a terrible thunderstorm.

I hesitated about bringing Ari into our bed when he was up screaming in the wee hours of Monday morning. However, I was tired and wanted to go back to bed (and Ari wanted no part of my husband rocking him back to sleep).

The same thing happened last night around 1:00 a.m. Ari settled down when I was the one rocking him or sitting close by. When Marc tried to take over Ari screamed. Flattered as I am that my son wants me, I’d rather not be this wanted. I value my sleep!

After an hour up with Ari, Marc took over for me so I could go back to sleep. However, I couldn’t take the baby screaming from down the hall so I texted Marc.

Five minutes after Marc thought Ari would lay down, the two of them appeared in our bedroom.

“This is how bad habits start,” I muttered to him. “But I don’t care. We have to get back to sleep.”

And sleep we did.

In fact, I slept until a little before 7 when Marc had to leave for work. But that’s when I encountered a new problem: a big sister who wanted to play with her baby brother. Isabelle tried to stay quiet by laying near him, but eventually the giggles started… and she woke him.

And so another day begins. Thankfully, coffee exists.

slice of life · vision therapy

When does it get easier?

Vision therapy homework lasted

Over 30 minutes

Which means she’d fought me tooth-and-nail whenever something was hard

So when she gave up on the balance exercises

I walked away

Our fight felt soul-crushing

Even though I didn’t raise my voice

Or utter anything I later regretted

I walked away

Rather than screaming

And that’s when she began to cry

And yell

At me

What should I do now?

Who else will help me if you don’t?

I can try again!

But it was too late

You’ve yelled at me so many times.

I don’t like it when you scream at me.

I’m finished working with you today.

She yelled at me for awhile longer

Until she noticed I was going to remain unresponsive and unflustered

What would you like to eat?

Yogurt and apple juice.

I set both on the table

And she sat immediately

I grabbed a Muuna from the fridge

A spoon from the drawer

And began eating at the island

A few minutes later

A small voice asked a question

Will you come sit with me?

I softened

As she de-escalated the tension between us

So I sat

We chit-chatted

Until she complained of being cold

She went in search of a sweater

That wasn’t there

So I offered her my lap

She crawled in with her juice cup

You know I love you, right?

Yes, I know.

I don’t want to fight with you about vision therapy. I want to help you get through this quickly so reading and writing aren’t so hard for you.

I know, Mommy.

May I read you a book you might connect with before bed tonight?

What’s it called?

Thank You, Mr. Falker. It is about a little girl who had trouble reading, but worked hard to overcome the problems she had and went on to become an author and illustrator.

I’d like that.

We walked away, hand-in-hand, in search of the book

Which she later asked

to keep in her book nook

After we read it together

Together

we will get through this

We always have

But with just four weeks of vision therapy so far

This journey promises to be rough

slice of life · writing · writing challenges

A Day-Changing Tweet

I ‘met’ Dana Kramaroff when she participated in the 2015 Slice of Life Story Challenge. Over the past two and a half years, we’ve Voxed and chatted on the phone since we have a lot in common. However, we’ve missed seeing each other at conferences, like the EPA SCBWI Retreats in 2016 and 2017. Dana reached out to me when she noticed my session featured in the 2017 KSRA Annual Conference Brochure. However, we realized we’d once again miss each other since I was presenting on Wednesday, 10/11, and she’d be gone by then.

{Sigh.}

This morning, I was putting on my makeup when I noticed a tweet that mentioned me.

 

Dana was pictured, on the right, with one of my local friends, Ariel, on the left. Somehow they met each other at the conference!

I messaged Dana and found out she had a break this morning between sessions. Seeing as I had to drive to Hershey for a medical appointment at 10:45 a.m., I asked her if she wanted to meet for coffee at the Cocoa Beanery. She said yes so I told my mother-in-law (who is in town to watch the kids when I’m presenting at KSRA tomorrow) I needed to leave a bit earlier than expected for my medical appointment. I tried to explain who Dana was, but found myself blabbering on and on. Finally, I realized if I didn’t get in the car, then I’d miss my chance to link up with Dana so I hustled out of the house leaving Ari and my mother-in-law sitting on the couch together. (Ari was perfectly content in his Grandma’s arms and didn’t seem the least bit concerned that I was rushing out of the house.)

IMG_0362Twenty-five minutes later, Dana and I met up in the Hershey Lodge lobby. We chatted, grabbed a coffee at the Cocoa Beanery, talked some more, and snapped a photo. Unfortunately, our meet-up was too short since she had a session to attend and I had a medical appointment to get to. But, we FINALLY met in person!

Our meet-up reminded me of how strong the bonds are between writers. We’re a tribe. We connect by leaving comments on each others blogs and through social media. However, there’s no substitute for hanging out in-person!

 

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Jewish · reading · slice of life

Charts, Charts, & More Charts

Adon Olam à la Hamilton
The verses are in blue, the chorus (or is it a refrain) is in red, and the repeated words are in purple.

Have you ever spent hours making charts only to finish and wonder:

Will these help kids?

Are these charts meaningful? 

I spent three hours making charts this afternoon. My hand hurts. But I’m hopeful the charts I created will be useful.

This school year, my friend Jenny and I are leading Junior Congregation Shabbat Services at our synagogue. Our mission: to make attending synagogue fun. Our daughters — both of whom are in first grade — got into a funk about attending Saturday morning services last year. As a result, we talked about taking action in the form of volunteering to lead Junior Congregation for our synagogue’s Kindergarteners through fourth graders. Granted, neither of us has done this sort of thing before. However, Jenny grew up attending Jewish day school and I have taught elementary school. Between the two of us, we should be able to handle leading Saturday morning services for children, right?

My daughter is an emerging reader in both English and Hebrew. However, I know she often feels uncomfortable trying to follow along in the prayer book. Seeing as other kids might feel the same way, I decided to make charts for every prayer we’re going to do with the kids this Saturday. I’m hoping to have time to add some relevant clip art to each of them before Saturday so that there’s a visual representation of each prayer’s meaning.

There was some joy during my afternoon of chart making. Jenny & I decided we’re going to sing the song “Adon Olam” to the tune of “You’ll Be Back” from “Hamilton.” I went a little overboard when creating that chart (so much so that I’m going to have to tack it to the wall since it’s too long for an easel). While I doubt our first go of it will be as joyful as it was in the video (below), I’m hoping the kids will take to it. It’s one both Isabelle and Jenny’s daughter love since it’s upbeat!

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ocular motor dysfunction · reading · slice of life · vision therapy

Trust Your Gut.

Anyone who knows me well knows I’ve been making decisions by listening to my gut for the past decade. Every time (except for one) I haven’t listened to my gut, I’ve regretted it.

My gut told me something more was at-play with Isabelle who has been having reading difficulties. Despite hiring a tutor and buying Elephant and Piggie books for at-home reading practice, my gut told me there was a bigger problem well-before Isabelle declared “I hate reading!” in late June.

Last year, Isabelle’s occupational therapist informed me she was having trouble with visual perception. Upon her recommendation, I subscribed to Puzzle Buzz and helped her with the hidden pictures pages. I thought she was making progress, but my gut still told me something was up. However, after she passed her most recent eye exam with 20/15 eyesight, I told the optometrist about the visual perception issues and trouble with reading. The optometrist referred me to a vision therapy specialist who we saw in mid-August. It was my hope I was spending money just to rule something out.

Nothing was ruled out. Instead, a diagnosis of Ocular Motor Dysfunction was given. I cried despite being happy my gut was correct — again. The treatment for OMD meant weekly vision therapy sessions and nightly vision therapy homework. The eye doctor reassured me that diagnosing this now would help Isabelle as she progressed in school. I continued to cry so she handed me a cheat sheet about OMD. Upon reading it, I quickly realized my six-year-old could be an OMD poster child.

I waited until the school year was underway for Isabelle to start vision therapy. She had her first session yesterday. This afternoon, I mapped out what our afternoon would look like:

After School Schedule
Click on the image to enlarge.

 

This doesn’t look horrible, right? I’m hoping it isn’t. In fact, the first, second, and fourth activities actually look fun. (The third one is tedious. I tried it myself. It’s challenging!)

 

IMG_9850
The third activity requires Isabelle to put on colored lenses that block out one eye at a time. She has to place dots in the center of each shape. (There are ~200 shapes in all.)

 

We’ll get through the vision therapy homework — and everything else — this afternoon. I’m more nervous about what happens three weeks from now. You see, in three weeks, Isabelle will begin having nightly homework. She’s been dreading it because she thinks it’ll be too hard. Now that I’ve created a schedule for how her afternoons will go, I am dreading it, too, since it means she’ll have virtually no free time after school. She’s six. That’s not okay. Kids need unstructured time to play after being in school for a full day.

I’ve been chatting with some of my TWT colleagues about homework for a while now. I’ve also been reading articles — scholarly and popular — about homework in the past six months. I plan to share some of my thinking about the impact of homework in the elementary grades soon. For now, please send positive vibes. It’s my hope vision therapy will be the key to helping my daughter become a confident and successful reader!

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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!

IMG_9655
Here’s what I’m up to in Ari’s baby book.
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.

3733726537_9786753cf9_o
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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