Bedtime Routine #SOL19 22/31

“I would like to be chased upstairs by turkey vultures.”

If this were Survivor, the contestant would be sweating. In our house, it’s bedtime.

Allow me to explain.

We have a really long bedtime routine at our house. It takes at least an hour – usually more – and, in addition to the standard washing and brushing, includes the kids reading out loud in French, me or their dad reading out loud in English, and often time for reading quietly in their beds. And lots of snuggles, some of which are code for “for the love of all that is good, stop moving your body.”

From an outsider’s perspective, that may seem excessively long, but last evening alone perfectly illustrates why our children need so much time to settle down.

7pm, our kitchen

I look up from commenting on a blog post. “Thomas, you know the rule: no handstands after 7. Are you done making your lunch?”

“Yes. Just let me get in one more good one. Wait – will you take a picture? No wait, a video. You can put it on your blog.” He continues to do handstands. Up. Down. Up. Down.

I stare implacably. No, wait, I don’t. I actually say, “Sure, one picture” because I am a sucker and I am tired. Plus, I am twenty-two days into a month-long blog challenge, so I will take almost any topic. Three handstands later, I crack, “Enough. That’s all the handstands for today.”

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In the background, his father is unperturbed. This child does a lot of handstands.

Thomas pleads: “Please…. Just one more. Wait, that one wasn’t good. One more good one.”

This time I hold firm and shoo him up the stairs. I am turning my focus to child #2 when my husband jumps in to help.

“Mr. Eric, do you need to do any more on your lunch or would you like to be chased upstairs by your father screeching like a Tyrannosaurus Rex?”

Long pause. Eric tilts his head and shoots his father a mischievous look. 

“I would like to be chased upstairs by turkey vultures.” He tears out of the kitchen.

And dad is up, running through the house, lifting his knees high, gobbling like a turkey while flapping his “wings.” Eric runs shrieking in front of him, swings around the newel post and flees up the stairs.

Don’t judge, it’s the fastest way to get him up to bed. But it does make a for a long bedtime routine. Good thing we all like the snuggles.

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Both…and #SOL19 20/31

In the next room, my younger son is saying “win-dow.”
“Good! Tap it,” responds his tutor.
A few minutes later she says “pay-per. Now, would you double that?”
“No!” He is confident.
“Right! Explain why!” she cheers.

They will continue on this way for the next hour. It’s a lot of work for him, but he loves this phonics-based tutoring and looks forward to his tutor’s arrival twice a week. Because of this intensive intervention, he is currently reading at grade level. We plan to keep it up and hope that eventually his brain makes all the connections he needs to be a fluent reader.

As they work, my thoughts keep returning to a Twitter “discussion” I was involved in this weekend. A well-known figure in the world of education tweeted a quote from a speaker at a conference she was attending: I would argue that most students who are in intervention wouldn’t be there if we just had good classroom libraries.

I nodded in agreement as I read this, but something niggled at the back of my brain. What was bothering me? I am actively working to develop my own classroom library, and my kids’ bedrooms are filled with books – “bedroom libraries,” I guess. For Christmas, a group of us parents gave one of our kids’ elementary school teachers a bunch of books from her wish list and a gift certificate to purchase more because we wanted to support her classroom library. All evidence shows that I clearly believe in classroom libraries. Yet my younger child, surrounded by books, still needs intervention in order to learn how to read.

I rarely respond to people on Twitter, but this time I really wanted to say something. After all, this person is widely followed; lots of teachers would read her tweet. So I tweeted back:

As the mother of a child with dyslexia & an English teacher with a classroom library I’m proud of, I really want to emphasize the “most” in this tweet. No number of good books will make my child a reader. He needs phonics for that. The books, however, will keep him reading.

This did not seem revolutionary to me.

Her quick response was XXX was not talking about children with disabilities, with IEPs, with dyslexia. Of COURSE all kids need explicit, systematic phonics instruction. But they also need time to read books they can and want to read.

All three tweets received some attention – a lot by my standards, probably not much by hers. And really, the tweets are all true enough. But…the more I think, the more my mind fills with questions.

  • How many kids who are in intervention do NOT have some sort of disability? I’d bet many of them do have disabilities. So… intervention might be necessary, right? It’s not a bad thing. And probably having a classroom library in and of itself won’t fix that.
  • How many kids are receiving “explicit, systematic phonics instruction” in school? Mine did not.
  • How many kids have access to good classroom libraries? I honestly don’t know. Probably not nearly enough.
  • Is having a classroom library enough to build readers, as the original tweet implied? Because I think we’re using “classroom library” as shorthand for having teachers who love reading, have the time to read regularly and share the books they discover with their students. And libraries also imply funding and time. I don’t want to undersell what teachers actually have to DO with classroom libraries to help kids learn.

I don’t know the answers to all these questions. To begin with, I teach high school, not elementary school, so my perspective is different. I’m not trained in teaching reading. (…yet! I’m signing up for a course that starts in April.) And I live in Canada, not the US, so I think intervention has a slightly different meaning.

Nevertheless, as I listened to my son learn, the niggling in the back of my mind finally resolved itself: the tweeted response – the one that says that the speaker was not talking about kids with disabilities – I don’t like that. I am uncomfortable with solutions that work for everyone except kids with disabilities. We already risk leaving these kids as afterthoughts when the truth is that students who fit this description are in most classes, and they deserve solutions that work for them, too. Equating the mere presence of classroom libraries, even good ones, to a dramatic decrease in the need for reading intervention veers dangerously close to the idea that these kids just aren’t working hard enough.

“Just have a lot of books available” sounds great on Twitter, but for up to 20% of our students (dyslexia alone affects between 5 and 20% of students depending on whose research you read), that’s not enough. My child is lucky: our family has the time and money to support his learning. I see high school students every day who have not had the same access to research-based reading instruction and who are suffering because of this. My classroom library will never make up for this, no matter how many good books I put into their hands.

That said, I don’t want to undersell classroom libraries. My son’s reading is thriving in part because of the books available to him, and I can personally point to high school students who have grown enormously when allowed to choose books that have meaning for them. I’m looking for a both…and solution. I want literacy instruction that helps all kids become readers – and I really don’t want the “all” part to be an afterthought.

I could keep thinking myself in circles here – though writing this has helped straighten my thoughts a little. I have considerable respect for the tweeter (and I’m not familiar with the presenter she quoted, but I’ll bet she’s thoughtful and concerned, too). I know that Twitter can erase nuance through enforced brevity and rapid responses. For me, this tweet seemed worth digging into.

In the next room, I hear clapping.
“Pi-rate,” says the tutor. “Which syllable has the stress on it?”
He can’t quite figure it out. They practice saying the word different ways and in funny voices, and he giggles when they get the stress wrong. Then, they do it again.

Phonics, multi-sensory learning and a lot of books.

He’s going to be a reader, this kid. He really is. 

 

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Tippy Cat #SOL19 19/31

This is our cat, Tippy. img_8330

She is not particularly interested in being introduced to you, but since I’ve insisted, she’s allowed me to post a few photos. She knows she is beautiful, you don’t need to tell her. (She’ll listen happily if you do say it, it’s just that she already knows.)

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She was a stray – a dilute calico with Scottish fold ears; the vet says she may have been bred by someone. She has really bad teeth, which are the only reason we can imagine that she ended up at the Humane Society.

When we got her, she was skinny and so sick that the vet thought she had a deadly virus called FIPS. They told us she would die within months. She had other ideas, and perhaps out of sheer willfulness, she lived and then thrived. She now looks at each day as a potential new adventure – or a time to sleep. Kind of depends on her mood.

Her early adventures might also explain why she turns into a crazy cat at the vet’s. They call her a “fractious kitty” and she’s only allowed to go to the vet for emergencies. Ahem. Oh, and she will knock anything she can possibly move off of any surface she can possibly reach. Paper, mugs, plants, containers of all sorts and more have met untimely ends since Tippy moved into our house.

She really, really likes children. She likes to play with them. (I swear this video is worth 10 seconds of your time.)

 

We cannot let her out in the mornings because she will go from bus stop to bus stop to wait with various children – then she will ignore traffic and walk into the street as though cars just aren’t a thing. She goes into the home of the neighbour girls. Just waltzes right in and hangs out with them. She once spent the night in an apartment nearby. They told us she just came in. When she was younger, she ended up on a community Facebook page because she was laying about in the street, reveling. People were worried about her. They also wanted to adopt her.

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Tippy really knows how to sleep

We tried to turn her into an indoor cat, but she was not interested in that plan. Now, she goes out and then knocks when she’s ready to come in.

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Knock, knock

She is a completely ridiculous cat.

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Ready for routine #SOL19 15/31

Quiet. 10:56 am on the last weekday of March Break and the house is quiet.

I woke up just before 7 and came down to enjoy a little quiet before I wrote today’s slice of life. I fed the cats, put on some water, opened the computer and started to read. I’d read two other posts when the first child joined me and took advantage of our alone time for a long snuggle before he went off to find his ipad. A friend who slept over last night shuffled into the kitchen a few minutes later, bleary-eyed and happy, and was soon followed by my older son, who arrived complaining that a loud noise “like a radio and a crash” had woken him up. I surmised that my husband was also awake.

Before my husband materialized, my mother-in-law came downstairs. She arrived late last night for a week-long visit, and I had been hoping she would be able to get a little more sleep. Unlikely once the kids were up. Hugs and exclamations filled the kitchen. “You’re so tall!” “I missed you so much!” “I’m glad you’re here!”

We settled in for tea and conversation as the children went to play. I adore my mother-in-law and had been looking forward to this morning chat, so we luxuriated a little. Not long later, my husband appeared, dressed and ready to go to coffee with a colleague. More chatting before he left. It was 8.

I made the kids English muffins with cinnamon sugar for breakfast. We finalized the details for a trip to the trampoline park this morning. Our guest’s mother called to figure out when she should swing by with appropriate (and clean) clothes for trampoline jumping. The neighbour from down the street rang the doorbell to ask if he could borrow our ice chopper, and we chatted for a few minutes about the weather, mutual friends, and his impending move to a different apartment.

I called the doctor to set up one appointment and then the hairdresser to set up another. I made a second round of cinnamon toast and harried the kids up to brush their teeth and get dressed. The mother showed up with appropriate clothes and came in for a visit. We double-checked on that whole “brush your teeth and get dressed” request and reiterated its importance as a life skill. Another friend texted to let me know that her son, who recently stayed over, has lice. As I gathered up the sheets from the potentially problematic bed and put them in the laundry basket, I realized that I had not brushed my own teeth; I was already keenly aware that I was still in my bathrobe – I hadn’t been able to get to my bedroom since my husband woke up.

I managed to brush my teeth while checking my son’s head for lice. Looked clear. The other family going to the trampoline park arrived, and everyone tumbled out the door into the minivan. My friend stayed for an extra minute, and we were able to locate her spare keys, which we had recently realized were not hanging on our key rack where they should have been. I transferred them to their proper place, and hugged my friend goodbye.

And then it was quiet. I sat down in the kitchen and looked at the blank document I had opened just before 7 so I could write today’s slice of life. A twenty to thirty minute commitment, more or less. Four and a half hours later, I’m done. I smiled and sighed at the same time: I will find more than a little relief when our regular routine resumes on Monday.  Life just keeps happening, doesn’t it?

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Listen – grrr #SOL19 12/31

We have a multi-part problem in our house and it is driving me crazy.

Part 1: I am sensitive to noises. I can’t stand repetitive music from the on-line games the kids play, music played on a loop in a restaurant, or slow drips and other ongoing pings and dings. They make me a little nuts. I also startle easily at loud sounds, a truth which delights both my children and my students.

Part 2: Our adorable cat Tippy *loves* drinking from running and fresh water of any sort.

 

 

Part 3: I believe that we should be conserving resources of all sorts. You know, environmentalism and all that.

Part 4: My husband, in particular, is a sucker for making creatures happy.

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He even takes care of the hamster.

This is generally a wonderful trait, but…it leaves us, all to often, with this:

And now it’s March break, so we’re all home together and it’s happening all the time. Help! We need a solution asap.

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Describe Joy #SOL19 10/31

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He copied the phrase
into his agenda
Wednesday, February 6
“Décris la joie.”
Describe joy.
After Math.
Before Reading.

Décris la joie.
Describe how wonder is suddenly more necessary than air
when I check on him before I sleep.
The silk of his hair
The satin of his skin
The even slip of his breath.

Décris la joie.
Describe the way my heart seizes and jumps
when they bound in after playing outside.
The whirl of the air
The whoosh of their hugs
The carefree wildness of their laughter.

I ask
Have you done your homework?
Yes, he says,
It was easy.

Reflection on my process:
I originally jotted this exchange down when the assignment came home. I kept coming back to it, and tried to write it as a humorous piece because it made me laugh out loud when it happened. It sort of worked as a funny bit, but there wasn’t much to it.

I hesitated to turn it into a poem, but decided to take the plunge because Slice of Life writing is, in part, about learning to become better writers. If I can’t try new things in this supportive community, when will I try them? Also, it’s the weekend, so I had some time to work on this if I wanted.

The first and last stanzas came easily because they are what literally happened. I nearly published the poem like that, but I know I tend to cut my poems off at the knees by not offering enough development. The middle two stanzas then, were my attempt to show how hard it is for me to describe joy. I made some of the lines longer because I wanted them to reflect the complex nature of the task. I let the sensory details be shorter because, in the end, they seemed to me to be the essence of the feeling.

In the end, I don’t love it, but I like it. I’m still a nervous poet, but I like how this combines the humour of the initial situation with the complexity of the thought behind it. I’m not sure I love the middle two stanzas, but I’m glad I pushed myself to add them. And hey, maybe I’ll try another poem or two this month. We shall see.

 

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An hour of one’s own #SOL19 8/19

An astute observer might notice that my posts do not go up at the same time every day. In fact, some days I get something written and posted first thing in the morning, and other days, like today, my posts go up much later. Every now and then – though not yet this month – I don’t post until after 10pm.

I’m a teacher, so the rhythm of my days is relatively predictable. I mean, sure, there’s the occasional before or after school meeting and whatnot, but mostly I live by the mindless monotony of minute hands and bells. Given this predictability, I feel like I should be able to write and post pretty much at the same time every day. But I can’t.

In 1929 Virginia Woolf published her (long) essay A Room of One’s Own in which she argues that in order to write, women need money and space, both literally and figuratively. 90 years later, I have much of what she argued is required for women to be able to create. Sometimes when I read her words, I feel encouraged by how much things have changed. Sometimes I want to cry at how much things are the same. I would guess that I more or less have the money and the room that Woolf was looking for. What I don’t have is an hour.

I understand why I don’t have this hour. I know the statistics on how much time women spend on housework, and how we spend as much time with our children now as in some other decade but we work more, and how we get paid differently, and how and how and how…. I know that we are helicopter parents and that we use our cellphones too much while we do or don’t sufficiently supervise the children at play. I have learned that what we do is necessary/ damaging/ laudable/ laughable. I know that I should manage my time better, discipline my children differently, organize my family efficiently. And I know that if I could just do all of those things, I could get the extra hour of sleep and I would have an hour to exercise and I would have an hour to write. I understand that this is, undoubtedly, my fault. And if it is not my fault, I understand that it is the fault of women or, at the very least, the fault of society. I have been so well socialized that I even feel badly about writing this.

But one way or another, I don’t have an hour. Not at work, where my job involves constantly responding to the desires and needs of others and not at home where my job… wait, same thing. And it’s fine, really, usually, mostly. And, you know, I love my students and I love my husband and I love my children and I swear I am a nice person and I’m only just barely complaining because who wants to listen to a whiner, but I’ve written this post a few sentences at a time in my head over the course of several days, occasionally jotting a phrase or two down and sometimes managing to get some sentences into the computer and, as it turns out, that’s not really the best way to write.

Sometimes I imagine what I could do with an hour to write every day. A magical hour that doesn’t mean I sleep less or that dinner doesn’t get made. A magical hour where the kids aren’t looking for me and I haven’t simply shifted work on to my supportive partner. A magical hour where I can gather my thoughts, put them down, and elaborate.

Next week is March Break. Maybe I can make it happen.

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