We have a reader!

He’s reading! He’s really reading. Just look at this picture – reading at the breakfast table this morning, ignoring his pancake.

img_6443I actually had to tell him to put the book away. And I’ve had to add “make sure he’s turned the light out” to our bedtime routine. I can’t quite believe it.

Eric has dyslexia. We knew something was not quite right by the end of Grade 1, but we couldn’t put our finger on it. He was in the highest reading group in class, but he regularly “read” without looking at the pages. He learned many things quickly and easily, but he didn’t like school and he just couldn’t seem to get along with his teacher. This made no sense: she was experienced and beloved by many; he was funny and eager. They hit an impasse and, bless her, she just kept saying “I don’t know what it is, but something isn’t right.” Finally, despite my misgivings about testing young children, we took Eric for an assessment. And it turned out he was reading at the 3rd percentile for his age. THE THIRD. He was fake reading all over the place.

We are incredibly lucky that we figured this out early. I learned about dyslexia and found a tutor who uses a researched method with proven outcomes (The Barton method – Orton Gillingham based). She’s amazing and Eric, the trooper, has rarely complained about two hours of tutoring a week. Still, frankly, the progress has been slow. I know that the tutoring is not simply supposed to teach him to read but rather to actually rewire his brain so that reading becomes easier, and I know that takes time, but knowing something and believing it are two different things. In grade 2, he read dutifully with me every evening but nothing else. This summer he basically avoided reading altogether. I was beginning to despair.

And then, three weeks ago, he picked up a book and read it. The whole thing. He stayed up until 10pm. I was on my way to bed when I noticed his light on – talk about a shock! He was three pages from the end and so excited when he finished that he couldn’t go to sleep. The next day he read the second book in the series.

Soon, confidence growing daily, he enlisted others. He read out loud on the couch to his brother. (Thomas was really encouraging: “Wow! That was a big word! Good job, Eric!”) He told a friend about his reading, and the friend showed up at our house with the rest 

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of the Dog Man series and a new series to start. Unbeknownst to me, Eric devised a reading plan. Dog Man => Bird and Squirrel => Bad Guys => something? => Wings of Fire. Wings of Fire is his ultimate reading goal. He watched his brother read it two years ago and, apparently, has been desperate to get to it *by himself*. He has every book in the series lined up on his bookshelf, ready to go. And until he gets there, he’s planning to read all the time. Which explains the reading at breakfast. And after school.

And here he is in the car in the driveway, reading in the backseat, refusing to get out.img_6445

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a reader! 

 

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Airing My Laundry

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photo credit: Capt. Christopher Love

Once the weather gets really nice – late spring around here, or even early summer if it’s a rainy year – I love hanging our laundry out to dry. We have two (TWO!) laundry lines off our back porch, and I find pleasure in the quiet rhythm of shaking open a wet item, reaching for the clothespins, pinning the clothing up, sending the line squeakily towards the yard, and beginning the cycle again. Hours later, as I take the laundry down, I revel in the slight stiffness of some of the dried clothes and the fresh almost non-smell as I fold them.

Laundry lines, which generations past saw as either a necessity or a drudgery, are a luxury for me. Hanging laundry means slowing time and honoring place. We live in a busy downtown where not everyone has a backyard, much less a porch or space and time for laundry. In fact, our house is bounded on one side by housing units, about 10 of which look into our backyard in some way, and on the other side by a larger house that has been divided into three apartments. Our back-door neighbors have a well-used laundry line, and next to them two other houses rise above our yards and look down into our little space. Basically, a lot of people can see our laundry dry.

This potential public combined with my children’s enthusiastic ability to grind dirt into pretty much any item of clothing they wear means that every time I hang the laundry, I end up thinking about the phrase “airing your dirty laundry.” I mean, our laundry is clean-ish, but it’s out there for everyone to see. My neighbors know what my underwear look like, just how big a hole has to be before I declare a shirt unwearable, and exactly how clean is acceptable for socks in our house (hint: not very). I’m not airing our dirty laundry, exactly, but I am surely sacrificing some of our privacy when I head out with a basket full of clothes to dry.

I keep thinking about this. Once upon a time, everyone had to hang their laundry dry. People hung clothes out tenement windows in New York, and Ma hung clothes on the Prairie with Laura and Mary and little Carrie. There was a time when it was scandalous to let your underclothes peek out, but everyone around you knew about your underclothes anyway. Privacy was different then, I imagine. Your neighbors saw your laundry and they knew your business. It must have been an oddly intimate sort of knowing in a time before the tell-all era we currently inhabit.

Today, bras show frankly under t-shirts, boxer shorts parade above saggy jeans, and panties flash below short shorts. Online, I am wildly public about some things, but oddly reticent about others. For example, I cannot for the life of me to bring myself to describe my underwear to you. I’ll hang them up for everyone in the neighborhood to look at, but no way will I write about them here, even though people who read this blog for sure know more about me than some of my neighbors.

Why my hesitation? There are companies on the internet that know more about me than any one person ever will. They know what I browse and where I pause and when I buy. They know all my numbers and statistics and Heaven only knows what else. Yet I curate my social media and consciously choose how to present myself to the world as if my life is private. It’s disconcerting. I don’t particularly like either side of this modern privacy – the curated face or the grasping attempt to monetize everything behind that face. It makes me uncomfortable, like looking at your neighbor in church and knowing that under the fancy Sunday dress are worn-out knickers.

I persist in hanging my laundry. And as I clip another dingy sock to the line, I recognize one more laundry-line luxury: no internet entity, human or otherwise, knows exactly how dirty those socks have to be before I throw them back in the washer for another round. If you want that kind of intimacy, you have to live next door.

 

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Lessons from the grilled cheese universe

The bread was burning. The smell was unmistakable, so I grabbed the turner and flipped the sandwich over to see if it was salvageable. It was not. Nor was its compatriot, blackening merrily next to it in the pan. I flipped them anyway and, as I ruefully considered whether I could scrape off enough burn to make them kid-edible, I burned the other side. Thoroughly.burned sandwich

Two grilled cheese sandwiches, straight into the compost.

I took a deep breath, closed my eyes briefly, realized this is as close as I get to meditation most days, and started over. Butter the first slice of bread; slice the cheese; arrange the orange strips on the bread; place the second slice of bread on top; butter again; into the pan. Repeat.

These two didn’t burn.

How many hundreds of times have I made grilled cheese sandwiches? How many times have I made *these* grilled cheese sandwiches? Same bread, same cheese, same pan, same stove. How on earth did I manage to made such a mess of something so simple? I watched the second batch like a newly-minted chef. They did not burn. My house was brimming with 7- and 8-year-olds making the most of another glorious summer day, so I started another batch. Nothing burned.

As the boys charged in and scarfed down the sandwiches, I tried to get rid of the lingering acrid smell. I opened the door and turned on the range fan. Still the question remained, like an accusation, “How many times have I done this? How could I burn them?” And then, suddenly, I started to chuckle. Yup, how many times? How many hundreds of times have I made these? How many more will I make? Most will turn out, and some will undoubtedly burn.

Ah, but the universe communicates in funny ways, and here – thanks to some sandwiches – was my end-of-summer lesson. Sometimes, the sandwiches burn for no reason at all. Sometimes, I can do everything right and it still won’t work. Sometimes, I just need to throw it away and start over without judgment or blame or worry.

This is exactly what I needed to remember as I head into the new school year: Sometimes, the sandwiches burn; I can always make more.

 

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Listening for thunder

I’m sitting on the dock at the lake watching my children swim and listening for thunder in the clouds I can see rolling our direction. It’s surprisingly hard to tell the difference between the low rumble of distant thunder and the thud of the dog running across the dock, the grind and clang of metal ladder as it thumps against the wood while the kids clamber up, or even the occasional dive-muffled yell as they tumble back in. Listening requires attention, an immersion in the moment.

Evenings here, storms roll in from the northeast. We can see them coming from miles away and they don’t always reach us, so we linger in the lake for as long as possible. Sometimes a gray haze of rain connects the distant clouds to the green forest roof. Sometimes there’s thunder. Every now and then there’s lightning, which means everyone out of the lake, even if the storm is visibly far away. Tonight, we are hoping for no lightning, no thunder. We’re hoping to wallow in the warm water, play on the sandbar, maybe even get in one more boat ride.

Ah, the neighbor is out for her evening swim with her three dogs. She strokes out to the sandbar buoy and back. Her dogs swim over to play with the kids as my parents’ dog – not a water dog – whines, paces and barks from near my feet. In the near distance a speed boat slowly pulls a new wake-boarder who struggles for balance; the humid air carries the sound of their motor and music trails in their wake. Is that thunder? No, I don’t think so.

We leave here the day after tomorrow after nearly 6 weeks of vacation. I am ready to go home, but I’m not quite tired of this yet. My school year doesn’t start for another 3 1/2 weeks, but I feel as though summer is coming to an end. Online, I’m surrounded by talk of back to school – teachers are setting up classrooms, attending PD, planning lessons. Here in South Carolina, back to school sales abound.  I tell myself that I have plenty of time –  so much of summer remains! – and still, I feel the tug of September, I sense the ending.

The great blue heron flies by and this evening she does not stop to perch on the sandbar buoy; she skims the surface of the water on her way to wherever it is she rests. The boat passes again, no wakeboarder now, heading home. And…I think I hear thunder.

Early August brings a barely perceptible increase in pressure, an almost gentle sense of melancholy: I have things I want to do, things I wanted to get done. Time is running short, or at least shorter. September is there, looming. It’s like I’m sitting on the dock at the lake, watching my children swim and listening for thunder in the clouds I can see rolling my direction.

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Up again

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He’s up again. I tucked him in, sang him songs, kissed him. I hugged him one more time and promised to check on him later.

But here are the footsteps on the stairs, the pause in the next room, the little blond head peeking around the kitchen doorway. “Mama?”

Just one more kiss.
Just one more hug.
Just one more snuggle.

Up we go. I run through our relaxation routine. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in and make your body hard as ice. Breathe out and melt. Melt your toes, your feet. Your ankles, your calves. We move up his body, melting into the bed.

I melt, too. I move with him into a space of quiet. Our breathing is even. It’s time for sleep.

He’s down. And now I’m the one who has to get up again.

Looking at you looking at me

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We live in an urban area – our neighborhood is called “Centretown” for heaven’s sake – but that has not stopped wildlife from declaring us invaders and insisting on reclaiming their land. Specifically, in my backyard, the squirrels and raccoons are feeling pretty comfortable.

The squirrels have more or less become family pets. They laze on our porch railing, in full sight of our cats, who have decided that they might as well all be friends. Convinced that my garden is just a complex food delivery system planted for their pleasure, the squirrels pause, looking up at me happily, as they take bites of nearly-ripe tomatoes and then toss them aside. They’ve gotten fat enough on what I grow that they don’t even bother eating all of the scraps of food that my children leave behind on their daily rounds through various backyards.

The raccoons are significantly less tame. A few years ago, a BIG one lived in our neighbourhood. This thug was at least the size of a small dog and came out the victor in several scraps with neighborhood cats. I think he might have been a mafia don in a previous life. Evenings, by light of the moon, he nonchalantly climbed over the raccoon-proofing on our neighbor’s fire escape and wended his way upward to his favourite spot on the landing, where he would sit and survey his domain. Unsecured trash cans were regularly mauled at night: not just turned over, but nearly destroyed by scrabbly paws and sharp teeth. I looked both ways before I went out to clean up the detritus, afraid that I would catch the offender in the act and suffer the consequences.

All this to say that I was not surprised to hear a loud commotion in the trees as I read on the back porch on Sunday. Distracted from the page, I decided to look for the source – and there, smack in the middle of the tree hollow of the Manitoba maple, a little face was staring out at me. I looked at her, she looked at me, and we were both still for a minute. Then, motion in her home: a baby – and then another! The babies were eager for mama’s attention. There was a lot of squeaking and pawing. Mama gave up looking at me and turned to take care of her brood. I watched, entranced. She nursed her little ones and, later, gave them both a good clean (to their apparent dismay). Finished, and looking slightly harried, she gazed out of her hollow again.

Raccoons in the tree
The photo is a bit blurry, but there are mama and baby peeking out.

For my part, I made my mother-in-law take a break from cooking to come look. A few minutes later, my children arrived home from their activities and became part of the gazing back and forth. My husband found binoculars. The babies peeked out on occasion. My boys looked back. All the parents supervised.

Mama and babies are active just around the time we get home from school, so my boys and I have observed them for three days now. The raccoons have a clear routine; we do, too. Mama nurses and washes the children. I go in and out, getting dinner ready and settling my own children. Daily, Mama looks at me; I look at her. Then we both go attend to our chores.

I’m pretty sure her partner is the mafia don of raccoons, whereas mine is a civil servant, but for now, I’m enjoying this bond with another mother.

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I didn’t take this one, but look at the cuteness.

Accept the fluster*

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I am looking for my sunglasses. Again. I’ve been planning lessons – poetry broadsides for the 9s, I think, to emphasize the connection between word and image, but what will I do with the 10s? – and I’m not fully focused. I walk back into the kitchen and check the table. They still aren’t there. And they’re not on top of the shelves near the phone or next to the printer or even in the TV room near the lamp. They’re also not in the cubbies by the front door or on the stairs.

By now I have a blanket over my arm and a glass in my hand. I head upstairs to put the blanket in its bedroom and then downstairs to put the glass in the sink.

Four kids are already in the car. We’ve gathered our children and some neighbour kids and we’re heading to the Arboretum for a “romp.” This mostly involves tree climbing, but will also include looking for frogs, finding very large sticks and rolling down hills. Even though I will likely not do any of those things, I would like my sunglasses.

My husband has moved into the hallway, waiting patiently near the front door as I check the kitchen table one more time. After putting the glass in the sink, I’m here. The sunglasses are not by the refrigerator either.

He is nonjudgmental, my husband, whether because he understands my fluster or because he is used to it by now, I do not know. He usually helps me search for things for a minute or two, then moves to the hallway and eventually, quietly, into the car, leaving me to search for whatever I’m missing.

My sunglasses are not next to the refrigerator, but I do locate some sunglasses left over from my cousin’s wedding last fall. Or last spring? I should remember this. Let’s see… the baby is 7 months old… so….

These sunglasses are not the ones I’ve been looking for, but they are going to have to do. I pick them up and take a few steps toward the front of the house. I’d like to go meet that baby this summer. If I see my friend from college… when is that?… well, whenever it is, can we then get down to see my cousin’s baby? And when is Beth visiting? I should probably send her a link to “things to do in…”

I hear the door close. My husband has moved out of the front hall and into the car. I spot another pair of sunglasses – where were they hiding the last time I looked here? – on the bookshelf, but still not the right ones. Why do I suddenly have so many pairs of sunglasses? When did this happen? Nevermind. I have the wedding sunglasses. Good enough.

I move toward the front door, nearly stopping to pick up some nerf darts – no! I move on. I am thinking about the lessons for my 10th grade class. Again. Is the work actually “applied” or am I fooling myself? I grab my keys from the hook we installed so I can easily find them. I put on the sunglasses and head out the door.

(In case you are wondering, my sunglasses were on the shelves over the TV. I found them at 9:30 pm. While I was doing something else.)

*the title is taken from Elizabeth Bishop’s poem One Art