Archives for category: Reading

Yesterday was a two-birthday-party day, a day with both a brightly colored confetti-esque cake and chocolate cupcakes laid out in the shape of a horse on green grass. Yesterday’s parties involved a stint at a paint-your-own-pottery place and at Amy’s farm, with lots of kids (both human and goat) and pony rides and – best of all for Boy and, perhaps, all of the boys there and a girl or two as well – a big, big dirt pile to dig in.

Yesterday was Girl’s seventh birthday.

Neither of these celebrations was for her.

Instead, we celebrated her at home tonight. To be fair, her celebration began early with both sets of grandparents, and yesterday, we gave her some presents, too – including All-of-a-Kind Family, which she’s well into and loves (“I love it!”) and Cool Circuits Jr., a puzzle sort of game to create closed circuits (challenging but, we hope, not too challenging). We also began to watch Disney’s Mary Poppins, a favorite from my own childhood; on the way home from the pony party, we had finished listening to P.L. Travers’s book, and I thought they might enjoy the film after the book. I was right; they were rapt.

Tonight, though, we celebrated more fully with her other presents, including Break Your Own Geodes (she opened it, read through all the directions, and read aloud that “Geodes were once gas bubbles trapped in lava!”), plus a meal of her choice and the dessert from the Smithsonian Maker Lab book which she’s been wanting to try for a long time now: Baked Alaska.

Slightly adapted for our taste, there were homemade brownies on the bottom, cookies-and-cream ice cream on top of that, and meringue all around – and a sprinkle of pink decorating sugar on top for good measure. The warm-cool-warmness of it was delicious, an unexpected combination.

And that’s how it is. What’s the surprise hidden beneath the surface? Tonight, it wasn’t pie – or even just vanilla ice cream. What will be inside the geodes? Will they just be hollow rocks, or will they have crystals? As Girl read through the directions, she told me than an amethyst is “very rare.” Will there be a hidden gem?

Now that Girl’s seven and Boy’s four, what will we discover about them? What will time reveal? A bit of magic, like Mary Poppins? Secret powers, like the rodents in Emmy and the Home for Troubled Girls (our current bedtime reading and a sequel to Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat, which we greatly enjoyed)? Maybe their revelations don’t need to be as exciting as that – and their gem status isn’t hidden. To me, they already sparkle and shine and are multi-layered, exquisite in their own right.

BOY

Monday, February 27th. Yesterday.

It is lunchtime. Boy and I sit across the table from one another; Girl is at school. On my plate, a sandwich; on his, a quesadilla. I look forward to mine, toasted with mayonnaise, with blueberry jam, spinach, and ham, at the intersection of sweet and savory.

“Let’s toast!” I say. To his left sits his water glass, which I left on the table from breakfast in the hopes he’d return and drink it; to his right sits his glass of milk. He reaches for his milk and, in slow motion, I see his water glass tipping, and I reach to stop the inevitable. As I do, I nudge my own glass,  and the more-viscous nut milk spills thickly, more milkshake than milk, pooling with his water, here clear, here opaque. We look at the spill. We look at each other.

“Guess we’d better clean it up!” I say cheerfully, trying to put into practice my remain-calm life goal.

With much blotting, dabbing, wiping, and removing sodden placemats and napkins, we return to lunch, one glass each left on the table – mine far emptier than when we’d first begun. I put our plates in front of us again.

“Let’s try this again – cheers!” I say, successfully lifting my glass. He reaches for his glass and fumbles, his fingers not quite fully encompassing the jelly-jar-turned-drinking glass, and the cup goes down, the slow spread of his nut milk making a mockery of our still-slower reaction time.

What is there to do but clean it up?

So I do. We drink what remains of our milk, we eat our lunch, and we go on to do letter work and play camping and argue about playing Super Grover games on sesamestreet.org. It’s just a regular day, after all.

GIRL

Tuesday, February 28. Today. Fat Tuesday.

For Read Across America Day/Week, Girl’s first grade teacher has parents coming in to read. Boy and I go in, reading the Dr. Seuss book of Girl’s choice. We end up staying, and Boy gets to go to recess with the big kids. He races around, an elementary student in miniature. First grade girls talk to me, and I hear about one girl’s mother’s pregnancy, her sister’s vision, the age of her father, her own blurriness when reading sometimes.

School ends, and we leave together, heading down the mountain. “I don’t like to go down the mountain!” Boy protests. We go anyhow.

We arrive at the eye clinic, and without fanfare, without whistles or bells or snacks in celebration – or even instructions to the first grader – she receives her first pair of glasses. The frames look red, now purple, now pink, and the shape seems oh-so-much more pleasing and adorable than the glasses I first got at the age of four. Her future self may judge her past self more harshly, but these are some adorable glasses! “I love them!” she says.

She wears them as we stop in the grocery store. She takes them off for the ride home; Boy does not complain about the trip up the mountain. We are listening to The Wizard of Oz on CD, and Dorothy is being left behind as the Wizard of Oz’s balloon takes off without her; they are rapt. (At home later, Boy will be heard repeating lines of the story to himself: “I am Oz, the great and terrible. Why do you seek me?”)

She does not wear her glasses at home, even as she reads The Boxcar Children and The Bobbsey Twins. Astigmatism. Farsightedness. Reading is the targeted activity for the new spectacles, but they sit next to her, across the room, in a different room. “I’ll wear them tomorrow,” she says. “They hurt my ears.”

Another day ends, and they sleep.

The school year’s begun – we’re nearly three weeks in, and starting first grade has been a little trickier than kindergarten. There were some early stomachaches and reluctance to walk into the classroom; even before school started, Girl said she was nervous (not that you can tell from her smile).

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When we asked if she had butterflies in her stomach, she said she had butterflies, birds, and worms. No wonder her stomach bothered her – she had an ecosystem inside her!

Things have mostly settled, as most things do. The only sign of homework was a reading log, which made me happy. In spite of my many years of teaching, I have some strong feelings against homework now: with only two fifteen-minute recesses (if it’s not raining and if no one has majorly misbehaved), there isn’t much free or outdoor time. I like to see her in the afternoon (or let her be involved in activities) without the extra pressure of homework. Besides that, Girl LOVES to read, and filling the log would be no hardship.

I asked her, then, if there would be other homework.

“There will be homework soon,” she said.

Tactlessly, I followed up with, “That stinks!” Not, perhaps, my best parenting moment.

“No!” replied my daughter. “That means learning and figuring it out.”

Ah. Yes it does. I think parents hope that they set the stage for a better life for their children, that their children will surpass them in all sorts of ways. I just didn’t know that it would start so soon.

School’s out, and the days yawn, tantalize, or drag on, depending on whether they’re filled with packing and errands or play and pleasure.

For the pleasure-filled ones, however, we are most grateful. Here are our greatest pleasures, of late:

  1. Picking blackberries. The patch down the road is in the slow-rolling ripening stage. We’ve been checking for weeks, smelling the white-blossomed flowers, watching the blossoms transform into green berries, then noticing the green-to-pink development. This week, we walked down and found that, in a few cases, the transformation was complete: blackberries! (Never mind that they’re really a deep purple and not really black.) Weeds and flowers rise among the brambles, and the snags on clothes and hands (or hair, arms, legs…) are just part of the price of picking. Girl enjoys picking them perhaps more than eating them, but Boy eats all that he picks, and when I put a handful into his cup, he upends it, and the berries roll down into his mouth, warm, plump, and sun-warmed, making the eating-berries-in-the-berry-patch experience at least twice as good as eating the same berries at home. It is completely glorious.
  2. Sitting on the front porch. Shaded from the near-summer’s heat, we do all sorts of things: Trim nails. Draw with chalk. Listen to – and watch for birds (especially pileated woodpeckers – those that Woody Woodpecker was based on. I think our local pair had babies!). Eat popsicles (homemade from grape juice, most recently). Eat blackberries. Snuggle on the bench. Read books. We finished Edward Eager’s Half Magic, a book I remember loving from my own childhood. Even after an adult read, I love it still. The possibilities in a world of magic! Something I appreciated, too: Jane remembers her father, who died, and while the book is about adventures and misadventures with a magic charm, the family matters add a little weight, bringing the book down from airy fluff to something more solid and earth-bound. Girl was engrossed, and we’re eager to continue reading his books.
  3. Playing with water. It’s hard to beat the joy a pool brings, whether we enjoy a friend’s pool or go to a public pool with friends (or make new friends while there). Girl’s swim lessons/swim team practices aren’t a chore but a treat. A puddle, real naturally running water – we should get out and enjoy more of that, too. Goodness knows Boy enjoys having his shoes off as much as possible! The hose at the Bluestone House is a big draw, too: arcing it to see rainbows, splashing water on the cars, watering the clover so it will grow – until they use up the water, of course (the ease of the plumbing manifold system – we can turn off the water supply to the outdoor faucet when needed!). I’ve even gotten them to paint with water on the driveway a bit, like Emily and I did when we were kids.

What are your greatest summer joys? For now, we’re looking forward to more blackberries!

October 6th, Tuesday. Boy had his first car ride (and out-of-the-house trip) in underwear. He stayed dry, which the car, the Piggly Wiggly, and I all appreciated. Woo hoo! Within two or three weeks, he had fully transitioned to underwear during the day. Celebration!

October 6th, Tuesday (same day). Boy had his first real experience throwing up. There was a lot of orange food involved: cooked carrots, raw carrots, goldfish – so as you can imagine, this was quite the first. Sadness.

This was also Girl’s full week of fall break, her first real break from kindergarten (excluding Labor Day). She, too, spent it sick. Pretty much the whole week, between them. We each had a turn. Not the most fun we’ve ever had.

November 13, Friday. Yes, that’s Friday the 13th. No, we wouldn’t have picked it that way. Today, the house that Boy and Girl have dubbed “The Bluestone House” finally became ours. Their very own home – it will be Girl’s fourth home of residence but only Boy’s second.

November 30, Monday. Girl first tried and subsequently succeeded at tying shoelaces. Hooray! (And did you know that one method involves making two loops, not one? And apparently, it’s easier??) At school, beginning on December 1st, kindergarteners could get into the Jingle Bell Club. Once they showed their teacher that they could tie their shoes, they got to wear a jingle bell necklace every day at school for the rest of the month. Her entry into the club didn’t come until roughly two weeks later, but she’s now a confident shoe tie-er – not bad for someone who still has no shoes with laces.

December 9, Wednesday. Girl, Boy, and I all got haircuts. For Girl, it was her first time donating hair (two of the cutest little braids). She was delighted to have chin-length hair and never once thought she’d made the wrong choice. I donated mine, too (yea!). For Boy, it was his first not-at-home haircut. All the same, I think I’ll be cutting his again next time, which should really be today!

December 22, Tuesday. After going to the public library for an ornament-making craft, Girl got her first library card and checked out her first book: William & the Missing Masterpiece by Helen Hancocks. She was so proud of herself!

December 25, Friday (Christmas at the grandparents’ house). Boy was given his first pack of gum – Glee Gum, just like Girl got for Christmas when she was two – and chewed up a storm. Glee covered how he felt about it. (Sure, he swallowed a good bit, too…maybe we should call it “swallowing gum” instead of “chewing gum”!)

December 27, Sunday (our bonus Christmas at home). Girl received her own mug, “I (heart) Cupcakes!”, and was delighted. Sometimes, it’s the funny little things that are your own that become special.

January 2, Saturday. Girl read two books all by herself. I think she just holed up, snuggled in, and lost track of time. (What a great way to spend a day!) She read a Magic School Bus Chapter Book, Rocky Road Trip, and a Geronimo Stilton book, A Cheese-Colored Camper.

January 9, Saturday. Boy and Girl got to make pasta with their Auntie Lou. This was a first, and they enjoyed cranking the machine and helping to pull the pasta out. Family visit: yea!

After Matthew came home from a conference in Seattle (his return is always like a gift for the kids, whether it’s after a trip or just a morning at work), he unpacked his sack, Santa-style. (He should have laughed “ho-ho-ho,” too!) Among the goodies was a gift rolled in newspaper for Boy. He unrolled and unwrapped then said in high-pitched delight, “My very own mug!” His says “Seattle” and has one scene with a blue sky, clouds, and folks covered by umbrellas and another scene with a grey sky, clouds, and folks covered by umbrellas!

January 10, Sunday. Our first snow of the season that stuck. There was a little snow in December, the kind that decorates the air but not the ground, but this was enough to make a heavy powdered-sugar showing. Delight again! “I bet the house is wearing snow!” said Boy, upon seeing the snow on the ground, trees, and playset.

January 11, Monday. My first blog post in too long, my first reminder of the year of the many kinds of things that happen and pass all too quickly (or, in the case of stomach bugs, not quickly enough!) in the lives of small children.

Happy New Year, 2016!

Dan Yaccarino’s Five Little Pumpkins isn’t my favorite work of his – the drawings don’t match the charm of Every Friday, and the rhyme, new to me, doesn’t bring up any feelings of nostalgia. Girl doesn’t know it, either, so our first reading was her first exposure to it, too.

And therein lies what made our first reading interesting, what makes me love Five Little Pumpkins so much more than I expected to love it:

She read it to me.

She. Read. It. To. Me.

She read it to me!

She needed help with a few words, like “there” and “are” – we talked about the silent “e” at the end of words, and how that makes the vowel long (as in “five”), so she figured out “late” and “gate,” but “there” didn’t work that way – although she knew to make the “th” sound. “Night” proved difficult, too – no ghost of a “g” sound slips in there. She patiently sounded out what she could, trying out sounds until the word settled into place, like finally getting a chord right when sight-reading difficult sheet music. The ear knows.. “G-ah-t-uh…g-ah-t…g-a-t-uh…g-a-t…gate!”

For this four-and-a-half (plus one week!) year old, the gate is open. She’s known words like “the” and “and” for a year, at least, thanks to her daddy’s patient work, and now, she knows more. What she doesn’t know, she can often figure out – and that’s reading. Reading!

And maybe I love Five Little Pumpkins more than it deserves to be loved, but really, isn’t that what love is all about?

Our trip to the library yesterday has replenished our stock  – yes, we have lots (and I do mean LOTS!) of books at home, but new books are always welcome anyhow. Mrs. Katz and Tush, by Patricia Polacco, is one of them.

Mrs. Katz and Tush

While I was preparing food for a new mama with Baby Boy asleep on my chest in the Ergo, Matthew read to Baby Girl. In the book, Larnel, an African-American boy, gets his neighbor Mrs. Katz, a childless, elderly Jewish immigrant from Poland, to take in a homeless kitten by agreeing to help her care for it. A friendship burgeons and blossoms, and Larnel learns how similar their pasts are, full of oppression but of love, too. It’s educational and informative but isn’t preachy. It’s touching without being maudlin, in spite of what could seem like a contrived relationship. For the record, it does not come off that way – it is as genuine and believable as any relationship one might have with a neighbor. (I had a neighbor Grandma Grace as a little girl…maybe some of you had someone, too?)

Spoiler alert!

When her cat, Tush, about whom she often adds, “Such a person!” has kittens, she says she’s finally a bubee – a grandmother.

The story end in the way a story about a grandmother figure often does:

“As the years passed, Mrs. Katz, Tush, and her descendants became part of Larnel’s family.
There were graduations, weddings, new babies, and finally a kaddish.

Larnel stood in front of the headstone.
He read from her book.
He placed a small rock on top of her headstone.
Then he, his wife, and their children read the inscription together.
MRS. KATZ, OUR BUBEE…SUCH A PERSON.”

Matthew paused on many pages, as it’s the kind of book that gives you a bit of a punch in the gut. He didn’t read the final page aloud, either.

After this, Baby Girl needed to go potty. As she headed off, he told me how, when they went to Mrs. Katz’s husband’s grave, Baby Girl said, “We will die. But it will not be for a long time.” He then had me read the last page, which I hadn’t heard. We teared up over the nature of life, the nature of death – they’re sort of a package deal.

From the potty, we heard, “Daddy, I peed out! Daddy, my pee got on the floor!”

Thank God for children. They’ll have you crying in your soup one minute and laughing the next. Sometimes, you’re doing both. Just be sure the soup doesn’t come out of your nose.

Polacco, Patricia. Mrs. Katz and Tush. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

In a few hours, the month of January 2013 will end, and we’ll be that much closer to April, when Baby Baby should be born, barring an early appearance. How are we already into week 31, I want to know?

For our little lovely, the baby is still a frequent topic of conversation, both during the day and at night, as she’s lying in her crib and about to nod off. We’ll do the call and response of “Mama!”, “Baby!”, she’ll be quiet, then she’ll interject something like these lines.*

“You’re Baby Baby’s mama, but you’re my mama, too.” (And of course, when her daddy’s around: “You’re Baby Baby’s daddy, but you’re my daddy, too.”)

“I’ll save some moaty for Baby Baby, and Baby Baby will save some moaty for me!”

“Baby Baby makes your belly big! Before, I made your belly big, but now, Baby Baby makes your belly big.”

Tonight in the kitchen, she patted my belly and said, “I love you, Baby Baby,” then told her daddy to “give her a kiss!” She often tells Baby Baby, “I’m your big sister!” Who knows how things will really go, when push (finally) comes to baby, but so far, she shows a lot of promise as a big sister. We’re excited about that, and at the same time, we’re trying to relish this last chunk of time with just her. Our sweet girl.

Our sweet girl is sometimes our sweets girl, too.

Our sweet girl is sometimes our sweets girl, too.

*Tonight, in addition to the above sorts of lines, she also asked, “Why did the queen yell at Alice?” because today, we watched Disney’s Alice in Wonderland after nearly finishing Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. The queen’s red-faced yelling – and yelling in general – upset her. As with other examples of Disneyfication, that’s not really how it goes in the book: Alice talks back! The queen mostly yells at other people! Alice doesn’t cry first about trying to get home and not being able to! Reading the book hasn’t negatively affected her at all; watching the movie has. *sigh* Guess we’ll stick to episodes of Word World, Dinosaur Train, and her new favorite, Diego…minimal (no?) cartoon violence and anger. She doesn’t like it better in real life, either; last weekend, from atop a piece of playground equipment, a little girl yelled at her to get off, and it made her cry. She’s sweet and not, I hope, mean-spirited, and she doesn’t like it when others are mean.

Marco! Polo!

I love you. I love you, too!

The second comment often follows the first (and, in the case of Marco, is part of what makes it problematic as a first-name option, in my opinion).

In our house, we have our own call and response. It’s generally a sleepytime thing, at pseudo-naptime or bedtime. “Mama!” she’ll say, sometimes in her normal voice, sometimes softly, sometimes with her own special inflection. “Baby!” I reply.

Although we haven’t read it in a while, I’m rather certain that she remembers this from Richard Scarry’s Funniest Storybook Ever. Flossie loses her doll into the bread-dough trough, and when a strange loaf of bread says, “Mama!” (which may be spelled “Momma!” in the story), Lowly helps solve the mystery. In the final story, in which Lowly’s birthday is being celebrated with an enormous cake, the doll is in the cake. The doll says, “Mama!” as Flossie runs toward is saying (you guessed it), “Baby!”

And so it was tonight. The past few days have been rough. It’s Wednesday, and since Sunday, she’s had a cold or some viral infection – a runny nose, tiredness, a cough which sometimes sounds a bit barking – and she even threw up once, last night, when she cried too hard (after not napping, she also couldn’t go to sleep and was beyond distraught). A trip to the doctor today confirmed it’s not the flu or anything obvious, and to our relief and her necessity, she’s now in bed – her converted-as-of-last-week toddler bed! – asleep. It took many rounds of our call and response. If I tried to keep quiet to encourage sleep, she’d remind me of my role: “Say ‘Baby!'” And I upheld my end of the bargain. Sometimes I’d get quiet to imply the need for quiet, for sleep.

And she sleeps. To call, to respond, to know that someone is there – we all need a little comfort, sometimes.

My daughter, my husband, and waking up in the morning with both of them. Baby Baby growing inside me. Watching ML put on records and either listen and read along, if it’s something like Dumbo, or sing and dance along, if it’s Yankee Doodle or I’m a Little Teapot. Reading to her at various times of the day – small books with simple stories, nursery rhymes she knows better than I do, big books like Moomin, during which she’s beginning to ask so many questions that the story is sometimes buried beneath the mountain of where’s and who’s. Watching her look at a book by herself – the intensity of her looking, as if the words and pictures could tell the stories to her without an intermediary. How friendly she is to people and animals alike. My family, my dear and wonderful family. My friends spread across the globe. Moms’ group, which helps to save my sanity. Reading. Listening to her retell stories or sing or make up songs. Watching her dance when there is music, no matter where we are. The time after ML has gone to sleep, when I’m overwhelmed by the sweetness of my sleeping child and when Matthew and I can have a linear conversation or just flop on the couch.

Mommy and Daddy,  Maria and Pepper. Nene and Poppa, ZeeZee and Pop. Aunties and uncles. Fruit snacks and cheeseburgers. Playing in the water, including the ocean, the pool, the tub, the shower, or puddles, big and small. My record player. Reading books. Being read to. Being held. Animals. Watching WordWorld or Pinky Dinky Doo or another show. Playing with Daddy’s iPad. Sweeping. Playing with Play Doh. Moms’ group, which is when I get to see my friends. My friends. Playing outside. Itsy Bitsy Yoga. WND. Dancing. When Daddy comes home from work and hugs me. Having Mommy and Daddy in bed with me in case I get sad or just need a snuggle or a song at night.

And still, and still, Mama’s mole.