Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Ideas on Being a Working Mom

This morning I worked with a group of teachers who are getting ready to teach a personal essay unit of study to their fourth graders. We were writing our own essays in preparation--what better way to prepare, than to go ahead and try it out for yourself.

As I was working, all I could think about was the fact that I couldn't go with Little L. to her four-year well visit at the doctor's today. I knew she was going to get a bunch of shots, and I worried about her all morning long. Knowing that my husband, B. has an irrational fear of needles didn't help!

So when I started to give examples for my own essay, I ditched my original safe plan. I've gotten in the habit of using the same old examples over and over. Usually I do, "Dogs make the best pets,"  or "Sometimes being alone is a good thing." But today, I ditched my usual examples and went with what was really on my mind.

Here are my "boxes and bullets" (thesis statement and supports) from my own essay that I used as a demonstration text for the teachers I was working with:

It's hard to be a working mom.

  • It's hard to be a working mom because sometimes you have to miss out on important things at home.
  • It's hard to be a working mom because you sometimes you have to miss out on important things at work.
  • It's hard to be a working mom because you constantly wonder if you are doing the right thing.
When I shared my example with the group, I started to feel a little uncomfortable. The whole working mom thing is such a hot-button topic lately in magazines and on social media. It felt very negative.  Nobody said anything or questioned my opinion, but I kept thinking and thinking about it all day long.  Then I realized why my essay plan was on my mind. I actually love my job… LOVE it… and it was bugging me that my plan for my essay didn't account for this. Yes, being a working mom is hard, incredibly hard, for all the above reasons and more, but there's more to it than that.

So, I'm revising my essay now, to redeem myself for earlier:

It's important for me to be a working mom.
  • It's important for me to be a working mom because I love my work and it helps lots of people.
  • It's important for me to be a working mom because, let's face it, we have bills to pay.
  • It's important for me to be a working mom because it's setting an example for my daughter.
In fact, right now, as she sleeps, I'm working… and I'm okay with that. In fact, I'm better than okay with it.

I hope that lots of kids have a similar experience as a result of the personal essay unit. I hope that they too start out thinking about their own lives in one way, and then have that moment like I did. A moment when they say, "Hey, wait a second…" and they too are able to see their own issues or ideas in a new way.

Choosing a thesis statement that was close to my heart helped me think deeply about an issue in my life that eats away at me every day, and helped me make sense of it in a way that I would not have otherwise. I've always believed that we learn alongside our students, especially when we practice our own writing. But to get the most out of it, we've got to be willing to think deeply about our own lives and to tackle questions and ideas that aren't so easy to figure out. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Slice of Life Story Challenge

Getting Little L. to School

Little L. just turned four and getting her ready for school each morning is NOT easy.

This morning went something like this:

5:45am "Mommy! I need to be with you!" Little L. shouts in my ear as she climbs into bed on top of me.

6:00am "Mommy! Why aren't you awake yet! I need to be with you!" I roll over, groan. "I'm getting up," I say. I'm not, really. But maybe if I tell her I am she'll be peaceful for a few more minutes.

6:10am "Mommmm--yyyyy! I'm hungry! Wake up! I need you!" This time I roll out of bed, slowly. Very slowly.

We head downstairs to the kitchen. "What would you like for breakfast?" I ask.
"Toast with butter...AND peanut butter," is L.'s response.
"You get that from your daddy," I say. She does. B. loves butter and peanut butter combined.
"Come sit right next to me," demands L. as she pulls my chair right next to hers so that they're touching.

6:30am We go back upstairs to L.'s room to get dressed, brush teeth, battle to brush L.'s hair (resulting in only sort-of brushed hair).

7:15 Yes, it really does take us forty-five minutes to get our child dressed in the morning. Don't judge. Finally, we put on shoes and coats and backpacks and climb in the car.

7:30 In the car, L. tells me she doesn't want to go to school. She wants to stay home. She wants to be with Mommy. She wants to be with Daddy. She wants to play. The more she says, the more my heart sinks. I desperately want my little girl to love school. I desperately don't want to feel guilty about going to work, but I do. By the time we're at school I have a headache.

8:00 We arrive at school. Amazingly, L. skips down the sidewalk to the front door, holding my hand and chirping away happily about nothing in particular. She hops up the steps to her classroom, and... most amazingly she hangs up her coat, switches into her 'inside shoes' and puts her lunchbox away all by herself. 

8:05 "Bye Mommy!" L. wraps her arms around me and gives me a goodbye squeeze, and amazingly, miraculously, skips off happily into her classroom without a single tear, not even a peep or a whimper. I sigh a huge sigh of relief as I head out the door to start my day.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Make New Friends, But Keep the Old

It's Little L.'s second year at her preschool, and she's lucky to have a handful of the same friends from last year in her class again this year. I am so excited and proud to see her really come out of her shell at school, playing and laughing and telling me all about her friends when she comes home.

But... there is just one thing.

L. doesn't really want to play with the new kids. In fact, sometimes, she can even be a little bit mean to them. Especially during "outdoor time" (that's what they call it at her school) on the playground.


So we've been having many, many, many discussions at home about being kind, making new friends, and thinking about how others might feel. And of course, we've been reading lots of books to help Little L. understand how her words and actions can hurt -- or help -- others.

Here are a two of the many wonderful stories that are really helping L. make sense of what's going on during outdoor time. Thankfully, her teachers have been telling us that she's already thinking more about others, and now will even remind other kids to be a good friend.

The Recess Queen by Alexis O'Neill, illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith

This book, The Recess Queen,  really hit home. At four years old, Little. L. can totally relate to both "Mean Jean" and Katie Sue and the other kids in the story. We've read and reread this book many times on L.'s request. She's really into it.  Here are some of the ways we've talked about this book:

We try to put ourselves in the character's shoes. I asked L. one night, "Why do you think Jean might act so mean?""Maybe she doesn't know how to make friends yet," L. said. "Maybe she doesn't know that the other kids are sad."

We think about all of the characters, not just the main character. We talk a lot about how the other kids in the story feel, but we also talk about what they might have done differently. "It says nobody ever dared played with Jean. What do you think about that?" I asked L. and she said, "The other kids could be like Katie Sue and ask her to play--then she might not be so mean."

We talk about different ways to figure out how characters in books, and people in real life, are feeling. I asked L., "It seems like Mean Jean doesn't know that the other kids are sad. How would she know that she's making them feel bad?" L. responded, "She should look at their faces," or "Maybe she should ask them 'How are you feeling?'" 

The big thing we talk about is that it's important to try to think about how other people feel. Look at their faces, ask them questions, talk to them, invite them to play.

Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell, illustrated by David Catrow

Little L. relates to this book this just as much as The Recess Queen. We've probably read it ten or twenty times in the past week!

We use what we learned about one character to help us figure out another similar character. In this book, Ronald Durgin reminds L. of Mean Jean from The Recess Queen and we talk a lot about how they are similar and different. Especially we talk about why Ronald might act the way he does, and how maybe he feels a lot like Jean who nobody ever plays with.

We talk about how the character's actions are similar to real life experiences.  Ronald calls Molly Lou Melon a name, making this book the perfect spring board for talking about a name calling episode L. experienced at school. "What could Ronald have done differently?" "How do you think Molly Lou Melon feels when he says that?" leads right into, "How do you think Little E. felt when you called her a name?" "What could you have done differently?"

We talk about how characters change across the story, and what they might have learned along the way. Along the way in this book, the author repeats the line "and he felt very foolish..." L. asked about this one night. "What's foolish?" she asked. "It means he knows he did something wrong," was my response. "So why does he keep being mean to Molly Lou Melon?" L. asked. I had to think about it for a second. "Why do you think?" I asked L. She stopped to think about it too. "Maybe..." I said finally, actually having to really, truly, think about it, "...maybe, it takes some people lots of times to really learn something." Then on each subsequent page we stopped and talked, "Did he learn a lesson yet?" "Nope, not yet..." Next page. "Did he learn anything yet..." Nope, not yet. Then on the last page, it's so clear... Ronald finally learns how to be a friend, and isn't so foolish anymore.

We talk about why characters react the way they do.  In this book Molly Lou Melon always reacts very positively even when Ronald is being extremely mean to her. We talk a lot about why she's able to do that. "Some kids would be really sad if someone was mean to them. Why do you think Molly Lou Melon is still so happy and cheerful?" Little L. has to think about this, every time, even though we've had the same talk lots of time. But she always comes up with something along the lines of, "Because her grandma told her to stand tall."

With this book we talk a lot about how even though Ronald starts out as a bully, he's able to change, and if he can change, then anybody can. And thank goodness for grandmas!

Has your child ever had trouble on the playground? What books do you recommend? Leave a comment and share the love!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Slice of Life Story Challenge

Little L.'s preschool class was sitting in a circle on the rug in the center of their cheerful classroom. A special candle had been placed at the center. Ms. C. introduced me, saying, "Everybody, this is L.'s mom, she's come to visit for L.'s birthday."

After some ooh's and ah's, and after a few kids called out, "I know her!" things settled down, and Ms. C. handed Little L. a small round globe. "L., will you hold on the to world, and walk carefully in a circle around the candle, the sun, while we sing the special birthday song?" Little L. stood up, holding the world in her hands and stood near the "sun" and waited.

To the tune of "The Farmer in the Dell," the class sang.

The Earth goes round the sun,

The Earth goes round the sun,
The Earth goes round the sun,
The Earth goes round the sun.

While they sang. L. walked slowly, slowly, around the "sun," holding the Earth in her hands. I watched her, proud of how careful and sweet she was. (She would have NEVER followed directions so well at home.)

When the song came to a stop, Ms. C. said to the class, "Now L. is one year old. What was L. like when she was just one year old, mom?" That was my cue to share one of the photos I had been asked to bring. "Here she is!" I said,  "This is when we still lived in Brooklyn, before we lived in Vermont." The picture was very cute. She was such a cute baby, really. Some giggles from the kids... and then we sang again.

The Earth goes round the sun,
The Earth goes round the sun,
The Earth goes round the sun,
The Earth goes round the sun.

After a brief moment of thoughtful silence, Ms. C. said, "The Earth has gone all the way around the sun twice now. Now L. is two years old! Mom, can you tell us what L. was like when she was two?" I held up the photo of L. with the NewYork City skyline in the background. "This was the last summer we spent in Brooklyn, right before we moved here. L. was still just two when she started at your school last year. This picture was right before school started!" I thought to myself, I cannot believe it has already been a year since we moved. I can't believe how tiny she was when she first started school!

The Earth goes round the sun,
The Earth goes round the sun,
The Earth goes round the sun,
The Earth goes round the sun.

L.'s teacher now said, "The Earth has made the long trip all the way around the sun three whole times since L. was born. Now she is three years old. What was L. like when she was three?"

I paused for a moment. My little girl isn't three anymore. It was as if it were really sinking in.  Finally I said, "Well, in this photo, here she is learning to ski. Do you think we're still in New York City?"

"Nooo!" shouted the class.

"You are right!" I said brightly, shaking off a little bit of nostalgia. "When L. was three we lived in Vermont."

Phew. I made it through the tough part. No tears.

The Earth goes round the sun,
The Earth goes round the sun,
The Earth goes round the sun,
The Earth goes round the sun.

The children stopped singing, and L.'s teacher said, "Now the Earth has traveled all the way around the sun four times since L. was born. L. is four years old now! What a big kid! Mom, do you want to share anything about L. now that she is four?"

And then, what do you know? All of a sudden I was holding back, fighting tears! I couldn't believe my baby girl was already not just three, but four years old! I coughed, pretended like my throat was just dry. After an  uncomfortable pause I finally held up the fourth photo. It made me smile. My little girl in her dragon costume that she had chosen for Halloween. "Here she is!" I held it up and the kids gave me the reaction I knew I would get. "Wow! Cool! I love dragons! Is that her Halloween costume?" I smiled. "Yup, L. is four now and just the other day we tried on Halloween costumes. She tried on a fairy, a princess, and a dragon. And what do you think she chose?"

"Dragon!" the kiddos shouted. L. smiled a big huge smile, and hugged the Earth she was holding in her hands. "I love dragons," she chimed in.

The rest of the afternoon in Little L.'s classroom passed in a blur. I was still thinking about how quickly four years had gone by and how L. had grown from a tiny little thing--to this bold, strong little person. A kid who goes to school, and has her own friends, and is getting bigger and smarter and more and more herself everyday. And yes, a kid who chooses to be a dragon for Halloween.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Long Time, No See!

Hello Readers!

So, it's been a looooong time since my last post. Almost two years! In that time, my family and I have moved multiple times. First we packed up our Brooklyn apartment and headed home to Vermont, where my husband and I grew up. We spent a few months hopping from one family home to another while we searched for a house to buy, and then finally... finally... finally... moved into our house that we live in now.

That was about a year ago.

Also, while all that was happening, I coauthored a book! Check it out! This book, titled How-To Books: Writing to Teach Others is part of a series of books titled Units of Study for Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing. My coauthors, Lucy Calkins and Laurie Pessah are two of the most incredible teachers and mentors a person could ask for. If you teach grades K-8, check out our stuff!

Also, while all that was happening, my husband started his own business, Little L started preschool, and I continued to travel all over the country doing consulting for the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. 

And, we're expecting another baby to arrive in December of this year! Hooray!

So, it's been a busy two years. But, things are starting to settle down (for now, anyway), so you can find me blogging about our littlest readers here, and you can also find me blogging about teaching with an amazing team of writers over at Two Writing Teachers.