52 Weeks of Sisterhood: Raising Readers

My husband and I have been reading to our girls since they were born. They have their favorites and so do we. We know that the Dr. Seuss books are fun but long. We know the books that rhyme and the ones that don’t. We know which books require special voices or sound effects. And we know which books are sure to get a laugh. 

In that latter category of humorous books, my little one has been favoring “The Pigeon” books lately. Are you familiar with the Pigeon? OMG he’s hilarious. The author is Mo Willems and he used to write and animate for Sesame Street – which totally explains why I love his humor. Among her faves right now:



She laughs at just the right spots. And she can’t wait to turn the pages. She’s even memorized some of the words so far, which makes me beam with pride.

(As a side note, my husband and I have a standard baby gift. We always buy a Pigeon book and the accompanying stuffed animal. We had generous friends and family contribute books to our girls’ library and we want to pay it forward.)

My nine year old is also enamored with books. She most recently finished the memoir, “Behind the Secret Window” by Nelly S. Toll. It’s the story of a young Jewish girl’s experiences during World War II.

My daughter’s always been fascinated by Anne Frank, but I’ve spared her some of the horrid details until she gets older. This book so captivated her that she hasn’t stopped talking about it for weeks. As she was describing the book to me last week, she said how much she’d love the chance to meet this woman (who now probably in her 70s or 80s).

This might sound morbid, but I did some research to see if the woman was still alive. Turns out that until recently she was teaching at a college near where we live. There was no mention of a death date online so – onward! I continued researching and found what appeared to be a viable email address. I sent her a note.

No response yet.

But whoa. My daughter will completely freak if she gets the chance to meet this woman. I’ve met a few authors whose works I’ve loved and for me it was like meeting a rock star. I’m in awe of authors and how they can inform, educate, entertain, persuade, or frustrate me by the words they so carefully string together. I adore the fact that my daughter feels the same way.

I believe reading to kids and in front of kids is something really special. Oh sure there are lots of studies noting how it helps with the developmental and cognitive abilities of children…blah, blah, blah. That’s all true, but I read to my kids for different reasons. I want them to discover how books can transport you to another place and time. I want them to know that books can make you laugh and cry and leave you thinking about characters long after you’ve turned the last page. 

OK fine. It’s really because I can’t resist the extra cuddles I get when it’s storytime. 🙂

Where Are The Dads’ Voices?

If you go to any bookstore, big or small, and visit the parenting section, notice how many books are written by and for women and moms. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, but it kind of makes you wonder where all the dads are. Where are their voices? Where are their stories?

When I think about the parenting books I read when I was just starting out raising my girls, they were almost exclusively written by women (with the noted exception of Dr. Spock.) They were stories from moms who eagerly shared their experiences about breastfeeding, potty training or navigating the challenges of a child with special needs. Their stories were told with great candor infused with humor, as if they were your best girlfriend sitting in your kitchen.

But what about the dad’s perspective? Why are their voices all but absent from the conversation?

Certainly there was a point in time when it wasn’t considered masculine to be a hands-on dad or to be concerned about how well you were parenting. I’m happy to say things are changing.

A new book will be released this Father’s Day and it’s a beautiful compilation of some of the most heart-warming and heart-wrenching stories you’ll ever hear about parenthood. And they’re all written by dads.

The book is  called, “Dads Behaving Dadly: Real Stories of the New Fatherhood Culture” and is co-authored by author, speaker and life coach, Hogan Hilling, and Al Watts, President of the National At-Home Dads Network. The book is being released by Motivational Press and will feature more than 60 stories by fathers who share some of their most intimate and defining parenting moments.

I had the great pleasure of reading some of these stories in advance of the publication and they really touched my heart. The stories are real and moving and so very powerful. I think it’s incredibly brave for these fathers to be vulnerable in sharing with the world the tender moments they experience with their children.

Parenthood is a scary and uncertain time. You navigate each day as it comes. We like to think if we read all the books, manuals and how-to guidebooks that it will all make sense. But nothing could be further from the truth. What gets us through the day-to-day struggles is the connections we make with other parents. It’s in the sharing of our stories and discovering that we aren’t in this alone.

THAT is what these brave men are doing. They are showing fathers (and mothers) that parenthood is complicated and wonderful and frustrating and exhilarating (sometimes all in the same day), but it’s worth it. 

I love the idea of this book. I was told by the authors that they are still accepting stories. So if you know a father who would be willing to share his story of what fatherhood and being a dad means, please go to Dads Behaving Dadly for more information. You can also read some of the sample stories on their site.

I applaud Mr. Hilling and Mr. Watts for their vision. I can’t wait to read more of the stories.

 

 

 

 

 

Hogan Hilling
Author, Speaker & Life Coach
Twitter @TheDadGuru

The Disappearance of Joy

What do you remember about kindergarten?

I remember:

  • Those cute little carpet squares for rest time and cubbies for winter coats and hats and mittens
  • The Dick and Jane books and the artist’s easels where we could all be Picasso for the afternoon
  • My favorite place: the book nook! And the smell of paste and the thrill of using safety scissors
  • The yellow, upright piano where Mrs. Greene would sing the hello and goodbye songs each day
  • I remember making a Christmas tree out of an old paper towel tube that we glued with different sizes pieces of green-painted pasta

There is a piece dated yesterday in The Washington Post by Valerie Strauss that should make every parent in America angry.
In it, the author shares the story of a Massachusetts kindergarten teacher who became so fed up with the endless requirements, testing, standards, methods, and assessments (which she believes are robbing her students of an optimum learning environment and taking her out of the classroom for inordinate amounts of time), that she gave her notice.

“We (her colleagues) found ourselves in professional development work being challenged to teach KINDERGARTNERS to form persuasive arguments, and to find evidence in story texts to justify or back up a response they had to a story.  What about teaching children to write and read through the joy of experiencing a story together, or writing about their lives and what is most important to them?  When adults muck about too much in the process of learning to read and write, adding additional challenge and pressure too soon, many children begin to feel incompetent and frustrated.  They don’t understand. They feel stupid.  Joy disappears.”  (the bold and all caps are mine.)

Her resignation letter is included in full on the site. This is a teacher who worked for 18 years in the public school system. You can feel the passion she has for her students and her profession in this piece. And you can hear her heartbreak as she tells of her decision to leave.

“I began to feel a deep sense of loss of integrity.  I felt my spirit, my passion as a teacher, slip away.  I felt anger rise inside me.  I felt I needed to survive by looking elsewhere and leaving the community I love so dearly.  I did not feel I was leaving my job.  I felt then and feel now that my job left me.

What I found most interesting about this whole piece was how many times (I count 12) that she refers to the amount of time she has to spend outside of her classroom, away from her students to attend meetings/conferences/workshops so she can learn about new methodologies, assessments, and standards to which she and her colleagues would be held. Take that number and contrast it with the amount of times she makes any mention of additional compensation for the extraordinary amount of personal time spent out of the classroom (I count twice – but note that she isn’t spiteful; she is a realist. She mentions that she and her colleagues simply asked if they could apply some paid leave to compensate for the time).

I don’t have any recollection at all of tests or memorizing math facts because, um, it was KINDERGARTEN. I also don’t recall there being a student teacher to occupy the class while my teacher was off at a conference or another meeting to learn more about how she will be held accountable for every little thing I would learn or worse, might fail to learn.

Let me just say that I have absolutely zero background in education apart from my own schooling (K-12, associate degree and a bachelor’s degree) and a good part of my professional career working for a stellar two-year school in upstate New York in PR, not as an educator. I am not a teacher, but I have one child in the public school system and another one ready to begin soon. As a parent, I want the best for my kids. I want them to love learning just like I did. I can rattle off all of my elementary school teachers easily and recall at least five or six fond memories from each grade. I adored school and yes, I excelled at school. But I attribute that not to some innate gift but rather to the ability of my teachers to motivate me and get me excited to learn. The last thing I want for my kid, or any kid, is for them to feel stressed or pressured into performing for some arbitrary standard that may or may not mean anything in the long term, but that will surely frustrate the hell out of them in the short term.

Let me also say that I am a big believer in testing. How else can we know we’ve mastered a particular subject or concept well enough to progress? I’m not a believer in the “every kid gets an award for participation” thing. In fact, I think that’s the most ridiculous concept. There are tests in life and you either pass or fail or fall somewhere in between. That said, I firmly believe that when learning is forced and play is either compromised or reduced to an extracurricular activity ESPECIALLY IN THE EARLY CHILDHOOD YEARS, that we’re doing a great disservice to our kids. And to the teachers who teach them.

Kids are supposed to be joyful. I mean, do we really want our kids to go through some archaic, militant-style school system that is only concerned with test scores and rigorous academic work which will probably sharpen their brains, but also harden their hearts?

I don’t. And I don’t think you do, either.

“When we treat children’s play as seriously as it deserves, we are helping them feel the joy that’s to be found in the creative spirit. It’s the things we play with and the people who help us play that make a great difference in our lives.” – Fred Rogers

 

An “Elbow-Bump” Turned Her Day Around

My girl missed the bus this morning.

But in her defense, it’s unbelievably freezing and I didn’t want her hanging out at the bus stop, which is not far from our front door. So, I told her to get ready and then wait in our front hall until we could actually see the bus arrive.

Little did I realize it would take her a bit to get ready. She had forgotten her retainer, her socks (!) and her viola.

As she ran upstairs to get all of these things, the bus pulled up. Well, by the time she got everything together and put on her winter accoutrements: coat, hat, scarf, boots and gloves (damn you, winter!) and was ready to walk out the door – you guessed it. The bus pulled away.

She was devastated. She loves hanging out on the bus with her friends. It’s like her version of study hall. But today we would have to drive. And I would have to coax my 3 year old out of her princess dress and into something more suitable for a cold ride in the car. Good times.

As we drove to school (virtually behind the bus, mind you) my girl was sulky. She was mad at the bus driver (who is notoriously late, but of course, not today). She was mad at her socks for not already being on her feet and she was made at her viola because today is her lesson. Logic has no place in a nine year old’s mind.

We talked on the drive. If you can call her one-word responses and/or grunts to my questions ‘talking.’

Soon we were slowly making our way through the drop-off circle at her school. She was still sullen-faced as she gathered her bags and viola case. And as we neared the front door, we saw something that as a “busser” she doesn’t normally get to see. Her principal – who is just about the coolest dude ever – was standing outside to greet the students as they walked in. He’s relatively young, a little taller than me (read: short), and completely bald. So much so that he dressed as Popeye last Halloween. None of the kids knew who he was. Yes, I like him a lot and I love his leadership style. The kids know he’s tough and won’t put up with any crap, but they also know he is by far their biggest cheerleader.

So there he was on this frigid morning with a giant smile fist-bumping each kid as they arrived saying, “Hey, good morning! Glad you’re here, make it a great day!”

My daughter was so loaded down with her viola, backpack, and lunch sack that she couldn’t get a free “fist.”

So he elbow-bumped her. 🙂

And she smiled and giggled.

these are the days

Jimmy Fallon Rocks

OMG did you see the video with Jimmy Fallon and Idina Menzel singing “Let It Go” ?? I know the song has totally been overplayed and everyone is sick to death of hearing about it – but I can’t get enough of it.

I think I need help.

My girls are singing it non-stop, too.

We are a household in need of an intervention.

If you haven’t seen it – here’s the video.

We own the Frozen dolls, the soundtrack and of course we’ve pre-ordered the Frozen DVD.

We are freaks.

Reinforcements

Sometimes I let my emotions get the better of me. I can’t be alone in this one, right? I mean, do I just chalk it up to being female? Is that just a cop out? Do other people feel this way sometimes too? Or is this a sign of depression.

I’ve been depressed before. And I’ve felt the effects of prescription drugs acting like a snuggie around my heart. Protecting it from going too far…and yet preventing me from feeling much of anything at all.

No, I don’t think I’m depressed right now. But last night I had a moment. I just felt like crying. So many things bubbled to the surface. Things related to my girls, and being a mom, and being a birth mom, and how those things all intersect. Or not.

I’m not sure what triggered it, which is odd because over the years I’ve become pretty adept at identifying triggers. Movies, books, TV shows, songs, places, people. These triggers are like time machines that transport me not only mentally but emotionally to another state. But nothing like that happened yesterday. At least not that I can recall.

No, yesterday something was different.

I told my husband how I was feeling and he instantly diagnosed it as a sign of depression. And maybe it is. But as we talked and he asked questions and I cried a bit and he talked some more and I talked, something lifted.

I started to feel a bit better.

My husband is not any kind of a medical professional, but I often wonder if he’s missed his calling.

He’s the one who encouraged me so many years ago to just FEEL WHAT YOU’RE FEELING. But I was often too afraid. I’ve worked really hard on this and I’ve gotten better. But I often seep back into the comfort of just dealing with it on my own. Although it’s rarely of any comfort. I think it’s just been comfortable – and quite frankly, too easy to do.

Last night was one of those nights where I almost just shoved whatever it was I feeling deeper down inside. But with some poking and prodding from my “safe place to fall” husband, I feel like I’m OK again.

Overwhelmed

I just read this piece on NPR “ORPHANS’ LONELY BEGINNINGS REVEAL HOW PARENTS SHAPE A CHILD’S BRAIN” and it makes my heart hurt.

I struggle every day with inadequacy. Am I doing enough? Am I paying enough attention? Do they know how much I love them?

I wonder if my girls only think of me as the one that does the cooking and the cleaning and all that clickety-clack typing on the computer.

And then I read an article like this and it makes me want to run (swim) and run some more to Romania and scoop up the kids in these pictures and hug them and laugh and smile and play dolls and build blocks and sing the ABCs and color and run and jump and giggle…

And then I find myself wanting to go upstairs and look at my two girls as they sleep and know that no matter how shitty a parent I sometimes think I am, we’re all pretty lucky.