Slow-Mo WriMo

It’s been one of those kinds of months – you know the kind. I’ve had mornings in which I almost put apple juice in my coffee. The day before Veteran’s Day (a holiday for everyone in the family), I was in a near panic about my son’s baseball game that night and getting the kids to bed on time afterward – and my husband just stood there and listened to me stress about this – before I realized that because we had Veteran’s Day off, we could all sleep late the next morning. Problem solved. Duh.

This November has been exactly as crazy-busy as I feared November would be back when I first participated in NaNoWriMo in 2013. I had every excuse to not participate this year.

But I’m not here to give excuses. According to, I’m on schedule to finish my 50,000 words by November 29th. I would have been appalled by this last year, but I’m just happy that I’m still on track to finish this year.

So far, 2015 has been a very different experience than 2013 and 2014. Rather like trying to run in a dream, I can see exactly where I want to go and am trying desperately to get there, but my legs seem to be pumping in slow motion. Some nights, I don’t get to sit down and write until 9:30 (and I’m supposed to be asleep by then during the week). Sometimes I’m so tired that all I can do is stare at a blinking cursor, at a total loss for what to write. Other nights, I’ve written under 1000 words, happy that I was able to increase my word count at all. In fact, I told myself I would not write this blog until I had my word count met for the day, and this is the first day in two weeks that I’ve been able to do that before the kids were in bed.

This year’s novel is the third in a trilogy, the first of which I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2013, the second of which I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2014. Last year, it helped to edit the 2013 book right before I started on 2014, so I figured that this year, I would go back and edit 2013 and 2014. The only problem is that I only gave myself a month to do this (I was having too much fun writing my Camp NaNoWriMo book before that).

I got to the halfway point of the first book by mid-October and switched to the second book, which I wasn’t nearly finished with by October 31st. And at that point, I realized that 1) I needed to finish editing it anyway, to avoid terrible inconsistencies in this year’s novel, and 2) I had no idea how I was going to open the third book. Whereas with the previous years, I was brimming with words and could hardly stop them from flowing from my brain to my fingers/keyboard on November first, this year, I spent half the day editing, praying for a brainwave. None came. Sure, I knew lots of things that would happen later in the book, but I didn’t know how to start the confounded thing.

After three false starts, I got going and was able to limp forward for 2000 words. Now, 2000 words is a great daily goal. That means finishing on the 25th of the month, with plenty of time to spare. But my first year, I wrote  4700 words on the first day alone and had reached 10,000 by day three, 20,000 by day six. Last year was tougher, but I still managed 4100 words on November first and 10,000 by the 4th. I wrote well more than my personal minimum of 2000 per day, despite feeling like it was a slower start. It was a struggle the whole time, so I never imagined that this year would prove even more difficult.

Aside from dividing my writing time between two books for two-thirds of the month (I just finished editing last year’s book two days ago), being in editor mode – cutting, polishing, perfecting – is not the right mindset for NaNoWriMo, when the goal is to build, build, build.


So I’m dumping mounds of sand right now, trying hard not to judge, trying to just get the job done so I can go back and make it the way I like it later. This dumping is ugly. Sometimes I’ll write a scene that’s not in chronological order because it just won’t let me go. Although these are fun to write, when I fill in the scenes in between, I often discover that I have to make so many changes that the fun-to-write scene barely resembles what I originally wrote. Oh well. It’s all a part of the process, I suppose.

And another part of this process, one that I just realized a week or so ago, when I was thinking that surely I should be on a roll by now, is that the middle is always the most difficult for me to write. It’s the in-between stuff that’s necessary but not exactly glamorous. And since this is a trilogy, much of this third book is still actually the middle of the story.

Plenty of exciting things are going to happen, but I just have to plow through and get to those things. Then maybe (please!) my story will take over and start telling itself. But even if it doesn’t, this girl isn’t about to quit.

Longhand NaNoWriMo?

This year, NaNoWriMo (AKA National Novel Writing Month, AKA November) is going to be different for me. I thought I was crazy to try to write a 50,000-word novel in one month in previous years, but this time, I really am a glutton for punishment. I’m working full-time for the first time in almost eight years, and November concerns me a teensy bit. I’m not worried at all about having a 50,000-word idea. In fact, I already have a novel idea for next year, too. What I’m worried about is not having enough hours in the day to get that idea on paper.

If you’ve read my recent posts, you know I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo in July, but although I met my word count goal, I didn’t finish that particular novel in July or even later in the summer. I hoped to finish the first draft by the end of September, giving me October to edit my 2013 and 2014 NaNoWriMo novels (which are the first two books of the trilogy that I will complete this year). But I can no longer carry my MacBook with me wherever I go and write in my spare time. I’ve had to squeeze all my writing into a few minutes after my kids go to bed and on the weekends. At the end of September, I dutifully (but regretfully) set Camp NaNoWriMo aside and started editing.

Then one day recently I had a stroke of genius – I can still write longhand. Actually, aside from the inconvenience of having to read and then type my sloppy scrawl, I prefer writing that way. Research shows that writing longhand (particularly cursive, which is how I write) makes what we write stick in our brains better than when we type. It’s how I took all my notes in college, in the dark ages before students carried tablets and laptops to every class. I rarely read over those notes after taking them; it was in the taking that the magic happened.

I used to carry a massive folder of loose pages – a novel in progress – with me everywhere, writing when I could. And then, I went back with a pen and edited over my hand-written draft. A guy in my fiction workshop saw me doing this once and marveled that I still “actually wrote longhand.” Gasp! Can you imagine? This was still the early 2000s, folks. He would really flip out now, but I’m excited to employ this method again – something I’ve hardly done at all since 2011.

You might think that there’s no possible way to write longhand and still validate a 50,000-word novel with NaNoWriMo, but they have a specific guideline for just this issue (read it here). Would it be a bit of a pain to keep track that way? Sure. But it’s possible. And who knows – maybe something magical will happen if I write this novel (or a good portion of it) by hand. It’s certainly a more laborious process, but it’s better than the alternative – letting my ideas fade because there’s not a word processing program nearby, losing the thread of my novel in the absence of technology.

As for Camp NaNoWriMo’s novel, I’m still working on it, pulling a pad of paper out of my purse and adding to it one sentence at a time. I may not be able to finish it until after November, but as long as I carry a writing implement and paper with me, I’m ready when inspiration strikes.

I am excited about NaNoWriMo. I know I’ll at least be able to type on November first, and maybe I’ll make up for the time I miss during the week on weekends (and our super long Thanksgiving break – yay!). My fingers are crossed, and I’m ready to go. Maybe I’ll even regain the mark of the writer, my good old friend, the callous on the finger where my pencil rests.

The Return of the Callous

The Return of the Callous

A Lesson in Humanity

Humanity Quote 2

My church employs a chef whose family came to the States from Bosnia in the mid-1990s. When they arrived here, our chef’s husband needed a prosthetic leg, which cost $24,000. Knowing that they could not afford the prosthesis, several families within the church pooled their money to purchase the leg. “That’s not something you forget,” our chef told me earlier this week.

I’d run into her in the church kitchen, where I smelled something wonderful. There wasn’t a church event planned at that time of the week, and I wondered what she was cooking. She told me she was preparing a meal for a widow from our congregation, one of those families who helped purchase the $24,000 leg. This widow has lots of dietary restrictions, yet our chef is glad to prepare tasty meals that follow the dietary code. And she always refuses payment.

“That’s so sweet,” I said.

“It’s not being sweet,” she told me. “‘Hi, how are you?’ That’s sweet. This is just being human.”

I didn’t know what to say. My friend, the Bosnian chef, does not mince words, and she’d put me in my place.

I’ve thought about what she said quite a bit over the past week, being human versus being sweet. And she’s right; there is a difference. I had to think about all the times I’ve thought of someone as sweet, and I haven’t been giving them enough credit. My son is sweet when he gives me a hug, but he’s human when he shows his great capacity for compassion, when he immediately thinks to pray for someone in need.

Many people call this being Christian, and if you call yourself Christian, you certainly should pray for others, feed the hungry, house the homeless, and visit those in prison, just to name a few. But I think it also short-changes those people who don’t share my beliefs, yet are compelled to act in ways that are selfless, in ways that humble themselves while serving others.

Perhaps these people are simply being human. Perhaps it’s the way we’re all born, but then the pressures of life get in the way and cloud this original purpose.

Humanity Quote 1I often see the ugly side of people, the kind that gets reported in the news: mindless mobs, riots, senseless violence. But even though they are humans committing these acts, I don’t think its our humanity that is to blame. Think of how we are born: innocent. It’s not until we grow older, when we can choose how we act, that the problems arise.

Our brains set humans apart from the rest of the animals. But not only that. While some animals are able to feel compassion – think of service dogs or perhaps the gorillas that have learned sign language – it is our humanity that leads us to reach out to other people in need and help them. Our humanity is our goodness, not the ugliness. It leads us to give when we expect nothing in return, to show our gratitude in the best ways that we are able.

I don’t think it’s a mistake that this simple message came to me at the start of my favorite season – but also the season when so many people become cynical. Consumerism is about to rear its ugly head in many ways in the next couple months. People will have their feelings hurt when they don’t receive what they expect they deserve for Christmas, or they’ll spend all their energy trying to give the perfect gift, plan the perfect event. But all of us – all of us, no matter what we believe or celebrate – have the capacity to be human with one another. In today’s society, it may even take a little rebellion to get back to our humanity, but I’m willing to try. And I think it’s something we should practice all the time.

Steady Now, Inner Critic

It’s official: September is more than halfway over, and fall is on its way (even if it’s still in the 80s where I live). Pumpkin spice everything is available now, and our local warehouse store started displaying Halloween decorations several weeks ago.

It’s time for me to start thinking about this year’s National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo.

Last year, I had lots of goals going into November. My NaNoWriMo 2014 book was going to be the sequel to 2013’s novel. But before I could start writing the sequel, I had to finish revising the first one. This was particularly important because I needed to change the ending. In order to know how to start the second book, I had to know what happened at the end of the first. I revised NaNoWriMo 2013 up to the last minute – actually past the last minute; I finished on November first and immediately started writing the second book, barely giving myself a second to breathe. This can’t-catch-my-breath feeling continued throughout the month.

This year, I don’t want to stress myself out like that. It’s going to be hard enough to meet the 50,000-word minimum as it is. So if you know me, you know I have a plan.

No matter what, I am setting October aside for NaNo 2014 revisions. That gives my beta readers time to read – but even if they’re not done, I’ll go ahead and spend my month editing and prepping.

What that means for the remainder of September, though, is that I’ve got to get moving on my Camp NaNoWriMo novel. In case you missed my summer posts, I got the writing bug something fierce in July and dug through my old manuscripts until I found one with some promise. It was just a jumble of unconnected scenes with a loose outline at the time, something I would pull out and work on every once in a while. During July, it became a much more cohesive story as I filled in new scenes to connect all the old ones.

Having a number of scenes already written was a huge help. I always knew where I was going next. But then there came the day when I wrote up to the last scene that I’d already written. I had this sinking feeling, like: That’s it? Didn’t I write more than this? But no, I was on my own. And even though I knew where the story was going, my mind wanted very much to transition into editor mode and start fixing what I’d already written.

And in this way, many of my manuscripts have fizzled out and died.

I couldn’t let this happen this time. Often, when I have trouble moving on with a story, it’s because I just can’t get it right. That’s the trouble with perfectionists. But the wonderful thing about NaNoWriMo is that you have a deadline. There’s no time for perfectionism. You just have to get the job done. And even though I met my Camp NaNoWriMo goal in July, I still need to employ that NaNoWriMo urgency and finish this manuscript.

I found this the other day, and it was just what I needed to hear at the time:

James Thurber Quote

If I had an office, I would have one of these posted on each wall because when self-doubt sets in, it’s easy to pull the writer’s block card and quit. One of the easiest ways for a manuscript to go from boiling to tepid is to decide you need to start editing when you’re stuck in a tough spot. Maybe if I edit for a while, I’ll get my groove back. Hey, it sometimes happens, but often, it’s exactly what it sounds like: an excuse to stop writing.

Just this week, when thinking about one of the thin spots in my plot – one of the places I knew my beta readers would pick apart – I had an epiphany that solved the problem. But this epiphany came when I was already 78,000 words deep into my novel. I’m going to have to weave this new info in and cut a lot of the old out to make it work, and I don’t have time for that right now. Instead of worrying about it, I silenced my inner critic by going back to the first page of my story and writing a two-word reminder in red. When I go back to revise, there it will be, screaming at me to make this massive change. (Of course, from this point on, I’ll be writing as if I’ve already made this change, so if anyone were to read my first draft, it would be extremely confusing. A reminder why no one but the author should ever be subjected to a first draft.)

As of this moment, I know where my story is going. I just have to help it get there. It may be sloppy and full of holes. It may be some of the worst writing I’ve even put on paper, but I can’t let myself worry about that now. October first is coming quickly, and November first will be right on its heels. This year, I vow to be ready and excuse-free.

Schedules and Sticker Charts – Success!

Educators of young children know that children love structure. Sometimes, parents are fortunate enough to know this, too. I have my sister-in-law to thank for giving me On Becoming Baby Wise when I was pregnant with Peter eight years ago (read my review here).

My first son was born with a compliant disposition, and since he didn’t have any competition in the sibling department until he was four, it was easy to build structure into his daily life by following Babywise‘s suggestions. By age three, he had been fully potty-trained for a while and was fairly independent. When Peter started preschool, the only thing I worried about was me surviving a much earlier wake-up time.

Everything changed with baby number two. I tried so hard to implement the same structure into Ian’s life as Peter’s, but there were two major stumbling blocks in the way of achieving this goal. The first is that when Ian came along, Peter didn’t just disappear; I am now a mom of two. Second, Ian is a completely different animal than his brother – strong-willed (he’ll touch the stove even when he knows it’s hot), mischievous (he’ll pull on the oven door just to find out what it does), clumsy (he’ll walk into the kitchen and fall flat on his face – right when I’m opening the oven door)– and did I mention strong-willed?

I feared Ian was developmentally delayed or somewhere low on the autistic spectrum (jury’s still out on both of these – trying to get an appointment with the only local developmental pediatrician has been harder than I imagined). Last spring, I started talking to the woman I hoped would be Ian’s teacher about his potty training issues and my worries about his behavior. She had also taught Peter and seemed alarmed to hear about Ian’s issues, but she was more than willing to advise me. To encourage Ian to be independent, as far as the potty is concerned, she told me to use incentives, rewards. As for his social behavior, she suggested structuring his day as much as possible. He had to learn to deal with interruptions in the middle of an activity he was enjoying without throwing a fit.

I was stressed over not being able to prepare him in time for the first day of school. I dreaded being in the middle of teaching my own class and getting a phone call that Ian had already messed up all three of his outfits. Or if that wasn’t the problem, he would disrupt class, push other children, fail to follow the rules, scream at the drop of a hat… he would be the nightmare student that no one wants to have. It was June. I had two months.

Fortunately, at the end of twelve months of potty training hell (read the account of the first nine months here), Ian was bowel trained the same day we solved a dietary issue – we got him on a magnesium supplement. The new issue was getting him to dress himself before leaving the bathroom. (I honestly don’t ever remember teaching Peter how to get dressed, other than how to tell his right shoe from his left – it was a total non-issue.) Obviously, it wouldn’t do for Ian take himself to the bathroom but not know how to pull his pants up again. It’s baby steps, folks, and with this child, each step seems to take about a decade.

I’d tried incentives with almost no success before, but as nothing else seemed to be working, I decided to go at it whole-heartedly. We found a school supply store and cute little incentive charts. Ian even picked out his own stickers. What I was really looking for, though, was some sort of calendar. When I subbed in the past, teachers used something like this:

PreK 4 Schedule

PreK 4 Schedule

These signs have Velcro on the back. My preschool class inherited the ones above from the kindergarten teacher who was in our room before, and we can move the components around every day. My four-year-old students actually pay attention to this schedule and depend on it to tell them about their day. I wanted to find something similar (but portable) for Ian.

Lo and behold – I found an Easy Daysies magnetic board with all sorts of optional magnetic schedule categories on the clearance table. I picked up the standard daily schedule (most of the magnets on the picture below are from this collection), as well as a set geared toward extracurricular activities like sports and dance and gymnastics – even one set that’s all about potty training.

Ian's Schedule

Ian’s Schedule

Between the school supply store and the local dollar store, I picked up a number of activities that I knew Ian would enjoy – foam alphabet puzzles, coloring books, stickers. I even filled a shoebox with scrap paper that he practices cutting. After buying all the supplies on a Saturday, I started “summer homeschool” the next Monday. I introduced Ian to songs I knew he would sing in PreK 3. I drew his attention to the new magnetic schedule. I awarded him with a sticker when he pulled his pants up by himself.

Sticker Charts! This kid has earned a bunch of rewards.

Sticker Charts! This kid has earned a bunch of rewards.

The transformation was amazing. It’s not like he’s morphed into a different person – he hasn’t turned into a miniature version of his brother – but he’s gained patience, is able to sit at an activity for an extended period, has an expanded vocabulary, and is even – gasp! – more compliant.

Although Ian loves his sticker charts (and earns some sort of reward every time he fills one up), he loves the schedule even more. He has to check it several times a day. Even though there are many days when nothing special happens, he reads it eagerly, reciting, “Naptime, suppertime, clean up time, brush teeth time, bedtime.” He is even willing to go right to bed when the schedule dictates. Maybe you don’t think that’s miraculous, but it certainly feels that way to me.

Even Peter has gotten onto to schedule/sticker bandwagon. I picked up a whiteboard for him. Over the summer, I wrote his daily chores, and now, I have a list of his morning chores. If he completes everything on the list before we leave, he gets a sticker, which equals a dollar. If he leaves his pajamas on the floor or doesn’t make his bed, for instance, his forgoes the sticker and money.

Peter's Jobs

Peter’s Jobs

My house is a different place. It’s still messier than I’d like, and it’s certainly far from peaceful at times, but a lot of the pressure that I used to feel – to be perfect, to do it all myself, you name it – is gone. It’s only natural, you say – my kids are growing up. Yeah, that’s true. And maybe I just happened to start implementing these plans at the time when my kids were ready for them anyway. Doesn’t matter – my house is a good place to be. It’s a place where I can entrust at least one child with some responsibility and in which I’m watching the other grow into his own little personality.

And, as always, even when a mishap happens, it’s all fodder for a good story.

No Back to School Blues This Year

Two years ago, I posted a blog about the stress that surrounds the end of summer break and going back to school – and I wasn’t even the one going to school. Still, as a parent of a then-five-year-old, I was fully responsible for getting him there on time every day and felt that pressure. I don’t even remember if I had the same feeling last year – I was probably too busy to notice.

This summer, I’ve done more summery things than probably any other summer of my life, including a two-week vacation with my family. It would seem that a summer like this would stir that familiar anticipation, that early-morning-wake-up dread. But for once, I look forward to the days ahead, when I will have a set routine (even if it means a 4:15 alarm). Funny how things change.

Although I am a little anxious about what the fall will bring, with my little guy transitioning from loosely structured days with me or other family members, I’m thrilled that he’ll finally be in the classroom his brother first entered four years ago. I’ve spent much of the summer preparing my three-year-old by teaching him the songs he’ll sing in pre-school, as well as the concept that it’s not cool to walk out of the bathroom sans pants. It’s a work in progress, but he’s actually getting it. For the past month, he’s told me almost on a daily basis that he wants to go to school – and it’s not just Peter’s school anymore but Ian’s, too. And Peter, who will be entering the second grade, is excited to meet his teacher and see what friends will be in his class.

But the kids aren’t the only ones who are excited. A couple months ago, I received the call from one of their school’s administrators, asking if I would be interested in a PreK 4 assistant position. I jumped on it, probably sounding rather giddy. It was one of those pinch-myself kinds of moments. Summer break had just begun, though, so it didn’t sink in fully for a while. Every once in a while, when thinking about the upcoming year, I would have to remind myself that this year will be different. I will have an assigned parking spot. Instead of walking the kids up, they will come with me to my classroom. No more phone calls while I’m in the shower, asking if I can sub. All welcome changes.

Toward the end of July, I did have a little bit of an overwhelmed feeling, knowing that I had a couple weeks of training and pre-planning ahead of me. Before most of my teacher friends were even back, I was at school, learning how to administer and interpret the assessment we use for pre-schoolers and kindergarteners. Then this past week, while many of my friends posted pictures of their end-of-summer vacations on social media, I’ve been hard at work. I have my badge, which makes me official, and people keep welcoming me to the faculty, but I can’t help but feel like I’m still the same old volunteer-slash-substitute mom that I’ve been since 2011. I belong here, I have to remind myself. Not only do my colleagues help cement that feeling, but my delight in my position tells me it’s true. As I confided in another teacher, I’m having more fun than I feel like I should be allowed to have – and someone’s paying me for it!

Regular readers, fear not – I’m still writing. I’m not about to give up on that dream. But now I’m able to help support my family in a way that freelancing didn’t allow, and my kids and I will be at the same place every day (although in different classrooms). I’ve die-cut, laminated, copied, stapled, cut, sorted, and painted my way through a number of projects this week, and while it sometimes felt like the room would never be finished, I’m proud of the results. I’m working with an amazing teacher, and since I subbed a lot in PreK 3 last year, I know eight of our ten kids already.

PreK 4 collage

I’m sure there are days ahead when I will be tired and irritable. There will be kids who grate on my frayed nerves. There will be days and weeks that never seem to end. I’m not deluded about what’s to come. Even so, I am very excited. So much so that I don’t have back to school blues at all. Instead, I feel like I do when a much-anticipated vacation is just around the corner. In fact, I feel much like I did over twenty years ago, when I was a girl attending this very school.

The night before the first day back will likely be a sleepless one. I’m just the kind of person who gets too excited to succumb to unconsciousness. So if you see me Tuesday, I’ll likely be carrying matching grey baggage under my eyes. But don’t worry, this is exactly the kind of thing I don’t mind losing sleep over.

Parental Pressure

This past week, I was fortunate to be trained to give an assessment, the Gesell Developmental Observation-Revised. My school administers it to all PreK3 students and any applicants for PreK4 and kindergarten. Although I may not ever be the examiner, I will need to know how to interpret this assessment’s results and share them with parents.

During the Gesell Institute‘s training, I realized that the information I gained about child development is crucial – not just for teachers, but for parents, as well. After being a mother for nearly eight years and being in the classroom almost three, I’ve figured out a lot of things, but some facts came as quite a surprise.

For instance, did you know you can do your child a disservice by teaching her to read too early? And the reason isn’t what you might initially think. Like everyone, I’ve been told that young brains are sponges, and this is absolutely true. But young bodies are still developing, and while a child’s brain might get that A is A and B is B, his eye muscles aren’t able to track from left to right (which we Westerners do when we read) until, on average, age five-and-a-half. In fact, you can usually tell a child who has learned to read too early because he turns his whole head in order to read across the page.

I can already hear outraged parents saying that their children learned to read on their own or that reading is a wonderful thing – we should promote it in any way possible. Number one, I know it’s possible that some kids just figure it out – my younger son certainly did, surprising us when he started reading the letters off my husband’s shirt a few months ago. It was not something we’d taught him at all. Number two, I absolutely agree that reading is wonderful and should be encouraged.

But could it also be possible that, underlying the desire to do what’s right for our kids by stimulating their little intellects and filling their minds with lots of valuable information, there’s something else at play here? Something a little selfish that you don’t want to admit?

I’m talking about peer pressure morphed into parental pressure. Peer pressure is an ugly thing when you’re thirteen, and your best friend makes a stupid decision and wants you along for the ride. It can either make you also do said stupid thing, or it can ostracize you from that friend when you say no. Either way, no fun, right?

But it doesn’t end when your zits disappear and your braces come off. It continues in fraternities and sororities, in the work place and across your neighbor’s fence. It’s the whole “keeping up with the Joneses” mess, which can turn expensive if you’re susceptible to it. It can wreck marriages or throw a kink into what you thought was a lifelong friendship.

And if you’re a parent, you can drag your innocent children into it. You have the best of intentions, but you’re actually doing damage to the precious people that you love so dearly.

I’m not saying that I’m immune. Far from it. When my son Peter was a toddler, I was talking to a mom whose child was a little older. This other child knew the entire alphabet and most of the sounds the letters made. While impressed, I also felt guilty. My son could sort of sing the alphabet, but that was the extent of it. Knowing little about early education at the time, I thought that I was remiss as a parent because my own child’s brain wasn’t brimming with this knowledge. So I came up with a brilliant plan.

Peter had a cute, wooden train, each car holding a different letter. I decided that every time he mastered a new letter, I would put the next car on. He loved trains. It would be a fun reward for him. We never got past B. I tried computer games, but the only ones he liked had nothing to do with letters. I was frustrated when nothing seemed to work, and I assumed that there was something wrong with how I was trying to teach him. But there was hope: in preschool, the problem would be solved because he would be with a person who was qualified to teach him.

Except letters didn’t come any easier in preschool. By the end of his first year, he could almost always tell you how to spell his name (and when he couldn’t, it was because he mixed up the order of the middle letters), and sometimes he could even recognize those four letters when they weren’t in his name. Otherwise, he knew the letter O.

Although it took until he was almost seven to get the formal diagnosis, we now know that Peter is dyslexic. When he couldn’t learn his letters, it wasn’t his fault, wasn’t my fault, and wasn’t his teacher’s fault. I could have saved myself a lot of frustration if I hadn’t tried to push him to do something at an age that was young for a normal child, not to mention unachievable for a dyslexic.

And reading isn’t the only place this happens.

Moms of babies, how often do you compare milestones with friends?

My child is seven months old and pulling up, but poor Susan – her baby is eight months old and hasn’t even crawled yet.

It’s hard not to feel that pride when your child does something that you think is Facebook status-worthy. I was thrilled that both of my boys walked at ten months, and I wasn’t shy about spreading the news. But that didn’t stop my elder son from having dyslexia. It didn’t teach my younger son how to behave.

One excellent resource that the Gesell Institute puts out is a booklet entitled “Ready or Not: Is My Child Ready for Kindergarten?” It points out that while the average child is able to walk at twelve months, the normal range is anywhere from eight-and-three-quarters to seventeen months. By two, all normal children can walk. Where is the relevance of my ten-month walkers now, when they’re seven and three?

Just as you don’t expect your newborn to get up and walk, you shouldn’t have ridiculous expectations for your child when it comes to reading. That’s not to say that exposure to words is bad or that certain children won’t start reading spontaneously. But it does mean that when it comes time to fill out college applications, the child who was seated in front of an encyclopedia at age two won’t have the upper hand over a child who learned to read in kindergarten.

So what are we parents to do? Are we not supposed to be proud of our children? Are we not supposed to encourage them when they show potential? A dad sees his four-year-old son chuck an acorn at a tree, and Dad immediately signs the kid up for the t-ball team (where he has just as much trouble tracking the ball flying toward him as he does reading without turning his head). A mom hears her two-year-old daughter singing along with the radio and starts looking for private music instruction.

Sometimes wonderful things happen. Star baseball players are discovered. Young musical prodigies attend Julliard and become famous concert pianists.

But sometimes Bobby complains that he doesn’t like t-ball, and then what do you do? It seems that parents are either reluctant to let him quit, thinking that he’ll get there one day if they keep pushing him, or they’re quick to involve him in another sport or activity because he’s got to be brilliant at something, right?

Maybe – and I know that I’m really going out on a limb here – maybe children need to be children. Maybe they are brilliant, yes, but that in no way means that they’ll miss their true calling unless they’re turned into little professionals right now. When they’re one or three or five or even ten, their true calling is to be a child. It’s to run around outside and catch lizards. Or to learn to ride a bike and even scrape their knees in the process. Or to have weekends that aren’t packed with activities, where they can bake cookies with their moms, help their dads wash the cars. Where the whole family can sit around and read a book together.

Through play, believe it or not, children learn. Play is their work. Putting puzzles together is a pre-cursor to reading. Building with large blocks can help them with math. Smooshing clay into pancakes or working it into balls with their little fingers develops fine muscles. Finger painting encourages hand-eye coordination, and cutting scrap paper with a pair of safety scissors teaches organization. (And I know, as a pre-school teacher, I might sound like I’m bashing my own job, but it’s nurturing and guided play that happens all day long with us.)

And reading… This one has a special place in my heart. Reading lessens discipline and self-esteem problems. It keeps kids in school, keeps them out of trouble (of course, good parenting is a big contributor, too, but then good parents often read to their children).

Since I’m such a big proponent of reading yet am getting onto parents for pressuring their kids to learn to read too early, what’s the solution? Read to your kids, of course. And not just moms – dads should be involved, too. Most nights, my husband reads a book like Goodnight Moon or Brown Bear, Brown Bear to our younger son, and I read a chapter book with our elder son. Right now, that chapter book happens to be Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, but at other times, it’s something easier, like Magic Tree House, that Peter can read to me.

Parents, quit pressuring your kids to be little adults. Quit expecting your schools to turn out mini physicists and doctors and poets by age four. And quit the boastful comparisons with other parents.

I don’t mean for everyone to immediately pull their kids from all ballet and music lessons, all gymnastics classes and tutoring sessions. As ever, you have to find the balance that’s right for your family. But that balance needs to include time to breathe, time to make a pile of leaves and jump on it, time to say yes to a trip to the park because you have plenty of time and aren’t stressed out about your packed schedule.

And when they’re tired and ready to rest, sit together and read a good book.

In closing, I’ll leave you with a list because, why not? Lists are cool. I wish I could take credit for it, but I’ll give credit where it’s due: my trainer from Gesell passed it out to everyone in our workshop, and I’m passing it on to you.

10 Reasons to Read to Your Child

  1. Because when you hold children and give them this attention, they know you love them.
  2. Because reading to children will encourage them to become readers.
  3. Because children’s books today are so good that they are fun even for adults.
  4. Because children’s books’ illustrations often rank with the best, giving children a life-long feeling for good art.
  5. Because books are one way of passing on your moral values to children. Readers know how to put themselves in others’ shoes.
  6. Because until they learn to read for themselves, they will think you are magic.
  7. Because every teacher and librarian they encounter will thank you.
  8. Because it’s nostalgic.
  9. Because for that short space of time, they will stay clean and quiet.
  10. Because, if you do, they may then let you read in peace.

And I’ll add my own #11: Because when the time is right (and it will be), they will read to you.