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.

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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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slice of life

Rainy Day

Last week, I lamented about the final days of summer vacation. I didn’t want to wish them away, but the days felt l-o-n-g.

Yesterday, Isabelle began first grade. However, Ari and I had a busy day, which was filled with a PTO Breakfast, a Neighborhood Moms’ Mimosa Party, and a medical appointment. Seeing as Ari woke me up during the four o’clock hour yesterday morning, I was exhausted by 3:00 p.m. However, I didn’t stop moving until after 10:00 p.m.

 

FullSizeRender
We look ridiculous. I know.

Today was Isabelle’s second day of first grade and what felt like getting back to normal of my days with just Ari. We had NO plans today. It rained all day, which meant it was the perfect day to stay indoors. I retrieved and cleaned some of Isabelle’s old baby toys from the basement so Ari could explore new items. We read books. We snuggled. We even goofed around with the camera function on Facebook!

 

Ari is still napping twice a day (for now), which means I should have ample time to work while he sleeps. Despite needing to work on WELCOME TO WRITING WORKSHOP and prepping for this school year’s consults and speaking engagements, I didn’t get all that much work done since I had so many phone calls to make. Even though it was day two of Isabelle’s school year, I am cutting myself some slack. I didn’t get to take a luxurious nap like Ari did, but I got things accomplished and spent lots of quality time with my son. That matters.

routines · schedules · slice of life

Children crave structure & routine.

I remember hearing “children crave structure and routine” when I was in my first semester of my first graduate degree at Hunter College. I remember thinking that I should write it down since my professor repeated it over and over. Turns out it was an important lesson that I still have to remind myself of fifteen years later.

Once I had my own classroom (two years later), I realized the truth behind this statement. My students thrived when things were structured. (Let’s be honest, I wasn’t as regimented as I should have been during my first year in the classroom.) I sought to create a more structured environment, but it wasn’t until my second year of teaching that I figured out how to make that happen daily. (READ: I was in survival mode that first year of teaching.)

We’re in the final week of summer vacation around these parts. My daughter has been out of camp for the past three and a half weeks. With six days left until school starts, I have to be honest with you, she’s falling apart from the lack of routine. Even though she’s having play dates, mornings where she can sleep in, and lots of time at the pool, she isn’t thriving. She’s arguing with me about nearly everything. A half hour ago, I gave her some time away in her bedroom since she was yelling at me when I reminded her that she had to finish the water in her water bottle before she could watch a half-hour of TV. She felt as though she had been mightily wronged and screamed at me the entire way up the stairs. She continued once she was in her room.

That’s when the idea for this post was born. {NOTE to my daughter who may read this post years from now: You’re not alone in falling apart from a lack of structure during summer vacation. Keep reading so you don’t feel singled out.}

And that’s when I snapped this selfie of me being berated by my six-and-a-half-year-old from my office chair.

 

IMG_7806
Weary.

 

I inhaled deeply. I reminded myself not to take this personally. I repeated the mantra my professor uttered 15 years ago:

Children crave structure and routine.

I began brainstorming ways to make the final few days of summer vacation more structured.

  • Set a consistent wake-up time like we do for school.
  • Make sure bedtime — even on Friday and Saturday night — doesn’t exceed 8:00 p.m.

Then I stopped making my list.

Who was I kidding? We’re planning to do Hersheypark tomorrow morning, then the pool. Thursday and Friday include some appointments and more pool time. There’s also a birthday party in there and time with grandparents. There is nothing structured about the next few days!

My thoughts were interrupted by Isabelle walking downstairs calmly. Under her arm was Little Teddy. In her left hand, an empty water bottle.

I rose from my chair to meet her in the foyer. I knelt down to her level and cupped her face between my hands. “You should be proud of yourself for drinking your water. Do you remember why Mommy wants you to drink the water in your water bottle?”

“So my legs don’t cramp,” she replied.

“That’s right! How would you going to walk around Hersheypark if your legs hurt tomorrow?”

She shrugged. “You should be proud of yourself not only for drinking your water, but also for calming yourself down before you came downstairs.”

She smiled.

That’s enough, I thought.

As I transitioned her to her TV show, I started to think about ways to make the next few days more structured — even though they weren’t going to be routine in nature. All I came up with is a picture schedule that we could co-create the night before so she knows what to expect the following day. If you have any other ideas, please leave a comment on this post. The last thing I want is to start wishing away summer vacation. Summer vacation is meant to be savored.

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accomplishments · OBSERVATIONS · reading · slice of life

Glimmer of Hope

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.

Of course.

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.