I’m big on putting myself out of a job because I constantly strive to help my kids become more independent. For instance, they’re expected to pack their own backpacks every morning. If they pack an ice brick in their lunch carrier, there’s a natural consequence: warm lunch. I don’t come to school to bring forgotten iPads, water bottles, or winter gear. It’s their job to make sure they’re ready to go.
But, that isn’t always easy. Our refrigerator’s water filter spigot dispenses water s-l-o-w-l-y, which leads to complaints.
I wasn’t in the mood for complaints this morning. Both kids had an early breakfast with Marc, dressed, and wanted to do their own thing.
Everything was tranquil. Who was I to disrupt the peace by demanding that they pack their backpacks.
I decided to ditch my normal expectations in favor of a quiet morning. I packed their lunches in their bags, filled their water bottles, and placed them by the door. Then, I went upstairs and applied my makeup in peace.
When it was time to leave, I asked both kids to come downstairs.
“By the way, both your backpacks are packed by the door. All you have to do is put on your shoes and coats.”
They were stunned into silence.
“Thanks, Mom,” I said in a kiddie voice.
Ari and Isabelle echoed proper thank yous, put on their shoes, then their coats.
As lovely as my quiet morning was, I looked at their backpacks and wondered if they’d expect me to do this again tomorrow. (Spoiler alert: This was a one-time offer!)
I’ve been a chronic over-packer ever since I started packing my suitcases. I don’t travel lightly. It’s why we own a minivan that seats eight but only have two kids. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I bring a shoulder tote with me whenever I take one or both of my children to a medical appointment.
My rules are simple:
A device may be used whenever you’re in a waiting room or waiting for a provider to enter an exam room.
The device must be closed when any provider or staff member is speaking with you.
This morning, Isabelle had allergy shots, which meant a 30-minute wait. It’s not exactly time well-spent since she’s supposed to be in school. Therefore, I try to make it academic. However, it’s challenging to concentrate on a book in a pediatric waiting room. Therefore, I proposed something she hadn’t tried before: listening to an audiobook.
She liked the idea, but said, “I need to go to your office first.”
“Why?” I asked.
“I need to find a book I want to read.”
“Sure,” I replied.
Isabelle returned with several books and requested her iPad. I knew what she was up to. After finding a novel, she often borrows the audiobook on Libby to follow along with the text. (That was one of the best tips I learned from Colleen Cruz two years ago!)
I watched Isabelle remove her Beats from the pouch to set herself up with her book and iPad when I checked her in for her appointment. I looked back at her and didn’t notice her eyes darting around the waiting room as they would’ve if she were reading a printed text. Instead, she was laser-focused on turning the pages.
Isabelle got as cozy as possible in the second waiting room after her shots. She blocked out everything and everyone. She was the picture of a focused reader. While I had brought work with me, I decided to take advantage of the quiet (and of the fact that I didn’t have Ari with us). I opened up my audiobook, Pineapple Street by Jenny Jackson, too.
Neither of us heard the nurse approach. She must’ve asked Isabelle where she wanted to get her arms checked a couple of times since she seemed to wave a bit to get our attention.
Packing this much for an appointment is — on the surface — a lot. But, I think it’s worth it.
I’ve been making my rendition* of Chunky Monkey Oatmeal nearly every morning for the past two weeks. Somehow, it’s fueling me until lunchtime. After consulting the original recipe, I realized I should eat half, not a whole, banana. (I’ve been eating a whole banana since sitting in a baggie for a day isn’t as good.) Yesterday, it occurred to me that Ari would happily take the other half of the banana off of my hands.
Ari has told me what he’d like for breakfast for the past two days. (Shocker, considering how adamant he was to make it himself for the past few weeks!) He ordered, “An English muffin with cream cheese and chocolate milk.”
I began his breakfast while my oatmeal simmered in the pot. Once the English muffins popped up, I spread cream cheese over them. Next, I placed half of a banana on the plate. The English muffin halves looked like eyes, and the banana resembled a frown. I made an accidental foodie face! I decided to make it come to life by adding two chocolate chips out as a Chunky Monkey Oatmeal topping to the eyes to give the face pupils.
Of course, Ari was not thrilled when he discovered the nose was missing again. Unsure of what to add, he grabbed his allergy pill from the plastic container and declared he could use it as a nose.
I don’t think medicine appeared anywhere in Wurtzels’ Foodie Faces book. We’re ridiculous, aren’t we?
*= Here’s my rendition of Chunky Monkey Oatmeal:
1 cup of water (+ pinch of salt) ½ cup rolled oats 1 tbsp maple syrup 1 tbsp peanut butter, separated 1 tbsp chocolate chips ½ banana, chopped
Directions Follow the package instructions to make the oatmeal. Stir in the maple syrup, peanut butter, chocolate chips, and banana slices.
“Do you think you’ll be able to understand the story if you’re miscuing this many words?”
Ari nodded, “Do not worry. It’ll be fine,” he said in a funny voice.
He slogged through the first few pages mispronouncing the word squirrel, despite repeated reading every time.
ARGH! I was beyond frustrated. It was taking everything in me not to comment.
By page 21, I noticed it was taking him too long to read through the book. There was no way to talk about the text to make predictions or do any other comprehension work since he wasn’t self-correcting his errors when I asked, “Does that make sense?”
“Listen, buddy. Let’s talk about just-right books for a second. Does this book really, REALLY feel just right to you?”
“I guess not,” Ari replied.
“It’s okay to read books with challenging words. I do that because that’s how I learn new ones. But sometimes, there are books I must abandon because the amount of unfamiliar words weighs me down. This book is taking you a long time to get through… and you have to go to school soon. Why don’t you get an Elephant and Piggie book you haven’t read yet instead.”
Ari looked defeated. I added, “Just because this book isn’t just-right for you today doesn’t mean it won’t be soon.”
Tracked the print with his eyes only. He didn’t use his finger a single time.
Determined that the bubbles in the middle of the book were not speech bubbles but thought bubbles. He modulated his voice to almost a whisper. When I told Ari I couldn’t hear him, he replied, “But they’re thinking it, so I’m whispering.”
Made predictions and was able to discuss the text at the end.
Missed five words in the entire book.
By the time we finished, it was three minutes past the time I roll away to bring him to school. We rushed to put on our shoes and coats and exited the door two minutes later. (We had ten minutes to go until the bell rang.)
“Hey, listen, I want to say something to you,” I said to Ari as we headed towards the car.
“What?” he said, tossing his backpack onto the seat.
“I want you to know that just-right books aren’t punishment. They’re meant to help you become a stronger reader. You get to pick what you want to read, and you can read it in a way that feels good. Can you understand that?”
“Yeah,” Ari replied.
As we drove away, I reminded him that he started reading Elephant and Piggie books on March 1st. “Today is the 27th. How many days have passed since March 1st?”
“26,” Ari replied.
“Right. So in 26 days, Elephant and Piggie went from being a little challenging to being a series that’s just-right for you. I feel the Unlimited Squirrels series will be just right for you in about a month.”
“Nah, probably a couple of years,” Ari lamented.
“Does that make sense?”
“I think it’s reasonable to think those books will be just-right for you really soon. All you have to do is keep reading and believing. Can you do that?”
Isabelle and Marc met with our rabbi to review Isabelle’s Bat Mitzvah speech. At the end of lunch, the three of us talked about it. That led to me sitting with her and to some level of frustration that she’s still unsure of what happens in her Torah portion. (Click here to learn what a Torah portion is.) In Isabelle’s defense, it’s a challenging Torah portion! I tried to capture what Isabelle was trying to articulate about the big ideas, but I could tell she just wanted to be done with it. (I can’t blame her.)
After a half hour, we set the speech aside. It was time for Isabelle to review her Torah portion. As she sat there, chanting from Torah perfectly, my heart swelled with pride. Here is my kid, diagnosed with Dylexia a few years ago, reading from the Torah. Why is this such a big deal?
Direction: Hebrew is written and read from right to left, which is the opposite of English.
Letters: The Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters that look nothing like the English alphabet’s 26 letters.
Vowels: In Hebrew, the vowels are represented by marks below the letters. But here’s the thing, the vowels are MISSING when you read from Torah.
Punctuation: A chumash is a printed-book version of the Torah that contains punctuation. A Torah scroll lacks hyphens, periods, etc. to help the reader.
Font: A Torah scroll doesn’t have an easy-to-read, block-print Hebrew. Instead, it is written in K’tav Ashurit, a calligraphic form of Hebrew. (It doesn’t jive with what I would consider an accessible font!)
Chanting: The right-to-left, hard-to-read, vowel-and-punctuation-missing words are supposed to be sung… to a particular tune! The trope marks are given to people when they’re learning the Torah portion, but those are also missing when one reads from the Torah scroll. (You can read about the purpose of the trope marks by clicking here.)
It is a lot for any kid to prepare for the day they become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah! The challenge is even more significant for a child with Dyslexia because all of the things they rely upon as support in English are GONE when they read from the Torah.
YET, despite all of that, Isabelle learned her Torah portion in a month. All we do is practice it together a few times a week. She is ready!
Now that her speech is done, it’s time for me to write mine. I’ve been putting it off since I’m overthinking how I want to structure it. That said, the speech won’t write itself, so as soon as the SOLSC is over, my next writing challenge (i.e., condensing all of my pride into a three-minute speech) begins!
This morning, we played with the Poe app, which allows you to try out a variety of A.I.-powered bots. I kept feeding Poe’s A.I. chatbots prompts to show Marc how they did writing essays on everything from Civil War battles to writing a Bat Mitzvah speech. He noticed that the essays it crafted in less than 15 seconds were better than decent. I explained to Marc that while the chatbots’ essays were good enough, they lacked voice. (I told Marc about Michel de Montaigne, who wrote in the French countryside for pleasure and called his attempts at writing, essaying, which is the French word for trying.) We also talked about GPTZero, which can detect whether a human created a writing piece or used A.I..
Throughout the day, Marc and I have circled back to A.I. and its implications on everything from essay writing to practicing medicine. On our car ride home from King of Prussia, I was trying to distract myself from a miserable (albeit healthy) decision I made not to buy myself a milkshake for the car ride home. (Marc, Isabelle, and Ari bought milkshakes for the drive home.) I decided to task Poe with some mentor text work by telling its various chatbots to write a poem in the style of “This is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams that dealt with drinking too much of a milkshake.
Most ELA teachers would know the first, second, and third poems were created with A.I. since Williams’ “This Is Just to Say” does not rhyme!
GPT-4 produced the only poem that could pass muster. (GPT-4 is more advanced relative to ChatGPT. It is supposed to be better at creative writing, solving problems, and following instructions.) I attempted to run it through GPTZero, but couldn’t analyze what GPT-4 produced because it was too short.
Now that the day is drawing to a close, I have two parting thoughts:
Before talking to my kids, I have more tinkering I need to do with A.I. Chatbots.
It all started when Ari told me about a kid who threw up in the cafeteria after eating “prep-eroni.” We don’t eat pepperoni, so Ari has little experience saying the word. But still… prep-eroni sounded funny.
That led us to talk about other things Ari has mispronounced recently. For several months, the Cheesecake Factory’s outdoor seating was closed, which upset Isabelle. But not Ari. When we go to the King of Prussia Mall (which is every two to three months), he prefers to eat at Bartaco, which has outdoor seating. However, when Ari protested Isabelle’s preferred restaurant, he said, “I don’t want to eat at Cheese-fake Cak-tory.” The flipping of the /c/ and the /f/ made all of us giggle.
After prep-eroni and Cheese-fake Cak-tory came Ari’s reminder about Juhlune. What’s Juhlune, you might ask?
Last weekend, Ari listed the months of the year while we drove on the highway. He blended June and July, which became Juhlune.
“Juhlune is funny,” Ari reminded me. He began listing the months of the year, adding Juhlune after July (knowing full well there’s no such thing as Juhlune).
“Wait, can you say that again?” I asked as I grabbed my phone and opened the voice memo app.
Well, that was silly. No wonder he was barely eating his breakfast.
The silliness didn’t stop there. Ari proposed a new type of leap year starting in 2025 and happening every 20 years. He said an extra month would be added, giving those in the Northern Hemisphere an extra month in the summer. At first, it would. Eventually, a 13th-month year would pose some trouble.
I wish-wish-wish I had recorded our conversation since we dove into how this would impact day and night. This probably occurred because we started reading We all Celebrate!by Chitra Soundar and Jenny Bloomfield last night. On the first page spread of the book, the author explains the difference between the Gregorian calendar and lunar calendars while explaining the Earth’s revolution around the sun.
Thinking towards 2025, how brilliant would it be to have an extra month of summer?!
How do I say this graciously? Hmmm… Let’s go with this.
Ari has made the bookends of our day stressful for the past week.
I won’t list all the transgressions, but let’s say he chooses not to follow simple instructions. We’ve tried to sort this out to determine if there’s a problem at school. There isn’t. He claims nothing is bothering him, so we cannot figure out why he’s defiant when we ask him to complete activities of daily living.
This morning, I asked Ari, “How much money did the Tooth Fairy leave you?”
“$2 because my tooth was clean.”
“That’s awesome! Let me see your teeth,” I replied.
“Let me show you one more time. I know the Tooth Fairy won’t look at your permanent teeth, but you need to take care of them.”
I took his Sonicare and brushed his teeth for 30 seconds. (I’m not trying to be overbearing. I’ve learned it’s essential to do this until age nine since many kids miss important spots or don’t brush long enough. However, Ari has three extra baby teeth and we know — from a panoramic x-ray — that he has at least one extra adult tooth that will have to be pulled. If I can prevent more dental visits for things like cavities, then I’m all for it.) After he expelled the toothpaste at the end of the first 30-second interval, I applied more to the toothbrush and said, “Please don’t rinse it off. You need to use that much to properly clean your teeth.”
So what do you think he did? He put his finger on the toothbrush head and moved some of it into the sink. Gross! Annoying! I didn’t take the bait.
“I’m going to get ready for the day. Please think about how you’re brushing.”
The next thing I knew, I heard the hum of a toothbrush coming down the hall.
That’s when I decided I should talk to the stuffy, rather than Ari, in an effort to get him out the door on time.
“Puppy, would you please remind Ari to wash his face after he finishes brushing his teeth with you?”
I Puppy mmm-hmmmed.
“Great! Make sure you bring in the cream so I can apply it to Ari’s cheeks after washing his face.”
The pair were off. A few minutes later, they reappeared.
“Make sure Ari gets dressed, Puppy. Come back when he’s ready to get his hair done.”
Five minutes later…
I styled Ari’s hair. At that point, I had the choice: talk to my son and have him get his shoes and socks on or talk to him through Puppy. Seeing that something small was making a difference, I opted to give the direction to Puppy.
“Go downstairs, fill up Ari’s water bottle, and make sure he gets his sneakers on,” I said.
Have you ever figured something out — after years of failing — that you wanted to shout your discovery from the rooftops? Because that’s how I’m feeling today. But this is the Slice of Life STORY Challenge, not a cooking show. So, I’ll do my best to make this piece story-like since my children will probably not want to read a piece about a must-have kitchen gadget when they’re in their 40s.
I’ve been trying to make healthier choices in the afternoons. Therefore, I added a 6” piece of fresh ginger to Sunday’s shopping list for smoothie making this week. I had forgotten all about it until 3:45 p.m. Once I remembered that it had been sitting in my fridge since Sunday, I realized I needed to use it this afternoon.
I grabbed baby spinach, kale, ginger, frozen pineapple, and agave nectar. After mixing the greens with the water, it was time to add the pineapple, ginger, and agave nectar.
BUT WAIT, I had to peel the ginger! While this might not be a problem for a TV chef who can peel a piece of ginger with ease using the back of a spoon, I am not a TV chef. I’ve always struggled with peeling ginger, especially when it has nubs. I didn’t have time to meticulously peel a piece of ginger since I had 15 minutes to return to the road to drive Isabelle to an after-school activity.
I thought fast and grabbed my newly-acquired Y-peeler from the drawer. I figured it might work since it had made peeling sweet potatoes easier.
The ginger’s skin came off with ease.
“Oh my Gd! I can’t believe it!” I said aloud.
“What?” Ari asked as he shoved a fig bar in his mouth.
“Remember the y-peeler I bought for sweet potatoes?” He nodded. “Well, it’s making the skin of the ginger come off quickly. Look!”
Ari seemed mildly impressed, though he was more interested in watching me grate the ginger with a Microplane.
Minutes later, my smoothie was made. Ari tried some after I poured it into the only clean cup I could find in the car. (My regular one had water in it.)
“Can I try some?” Ari asked. (He liked the green juice I had with the same ingredients last week and loved it.)
I handed the cup over to him. He swallowed it, but didn’t like the taste. Quite frankly, I didn’t either. I made it too quickly and probably used way more kale than I should’ve since it was bitter. But I drank it since I was delighted that after nearly 14 years of trying to peel ginger properly, I finally had a straightforward method.
I was an early adopter of carrying a bottle of Purell in my purse. It was 1997, and I was commuting around Manhattan on mass transit for a summer internship. At the time, my father thought I was a germaphobe (though there was no name for it). I defended myself by saying (something like), “Do you ever wonder how many people touched the handlebar on the bus before you?”
Given this information, it shouldn’t surprise you that I directed Ari to “Choose a stuffy who can go into the washing machine” when I learned his school was hosting a bring-a-stuff-and-wear-pajamas-to-school day.
Many of Ari’s favorite stuffies are only able to be spot cleaned. I don’t know what would happen if I threw them in the wash, nor do I want to find out. Instead, he’d need to select a safe puppy to go in the washer.
I Puppy had a great day at school, though he complained of not doing much. Not knowing if that meant he sat on a desk or in Ari’s cubby all day, Ari and I marched I Puppy up to the laundry room after he returned from school. Ari placed him in a mesh bag. We grabbed Patchy for good measure, and the two went in for a bath.
I headed upstairs a few minutes ago to remove them from their mesh bags and put them in the dryer. I hope they’ll be ready to reassume their posts on Ari’s bed in a couple of hours.