Creation Station Summer

So the school year is over at the Cotchaleovitch residence, and it is time to sleep until 9:00 every morning, let the kids binge watch TV while I kick back with a book, and only change out of pajamas and emerge into the real world when we’re down to our last Capri Sun. Once we’ve recovered a little, we’ll consider a vacation.

Well, not quite. But by the last day of school, I was feeling pretty elated that we’d all made it. There were a lot of firsts in the 2015-16 school year: it was my first year teaching full-time; it was Ian’s first year in school; and it was Peter’s first year with an in-school reading resource for dyslexic kids, which meant I didn’t have to run him to a tutor twice a week.

We were on the home stretch. Other teachers commiserated with me when I noted that my students needed a second spring break. Like a permanent one. For the last month of school, we were all just holding on. That’s not to say that there weren’t good days, but there comes a point when a child can only take so much, and then every new bit of info you try to cram in their brains just comes spilling out of their ears. I’m sure parents felt much the same way (read one mom’s hilarious recap of her kids’ end of school year experience here).

Then, when it seemed that all the end-of-year events were falling into place, my eight-year-old got sick. I mean three-trips-to-the-doctor-in-six-days, two-different-antibiotics, absent-for-six-days sick. My husband, my parents, and I took turns watching him, and I stressed out over what he could possibly have (at the third appointment, the conclusion was bronchitis, but the fever that wouldn’t quit is still a mystery). Believe me, I was ready for some uninterrupted home time.

But there’s a part of me that knows what will happen in the fall if I just totally deflate and turn into a zombie for the next two-and-a-half months: everything my kids have learned in the past year will be relegated to their mental back burners, and the readjustment period come mid-August will be painful for both them and their teachers.

I had a rough idea of what my kids needed to accomplish this summer. Peter has a summer reading book, and so he doesn’t forget all his math skills, we need to play some math games that his teacher showed me. As for Ian, he’ll need to work on his fine motor skills. From working with four- and five-year-olds, I know that strengthening his fingers can be as simple as letting him put beads on strings, practice cutting with safety scissors, color, and play with Play-Doh.

So now, to implement all of these things into the days we spend at home. It was actually during Peter’s sickness that it all came together for me. One day, when his was fever was down and he had the energy get creative, he made this cute monster-Mickey-Mouse-ears thing:

Monster Frame.jpg

Ian loved it so much that Peter made another one for him. It shouldn’t have surprised me that the boys had so much fun inventing crafts from their own imaginations; after all, it’s what we encourage kids to do at school when we set up a table full of various supplies. It’s called “creation station.” At his age, it’s not the kind of thing Peter does much anymore, so it’s particularly enjoyable for him to do at home.

Creation Station.jpg

This is something that I can let my kids do with supplies already on hand and minimal brain power on my part. So many moms see crafts on Pinterest and then get stressed out because they think (I don’t know why) that their children expect perfection – or for them to spend hundreds of dollars on obscure supplies at craft stores. I promise you, they don’t. The kids I taught all year were usually happy with paper and crayons. While it may not be as easy as letting the TV babysit them, it keeps their little minds engaged without them even knowing it.

And the creation station portion of each day has an added benefit for me; it gives me a dedicated time to do a little prep for my class next year… and to do a little creating of my own. 🙂

Creation Station II.jpg

 

 

Prescribed Staycation

Staycation

If you read my blog last week, you know that I’m still working on my NaNoWriMo 2015 novel, and I was hoping to use this week to finish it because it’s our spring break. Yes, we’ve had other spring breaks in which we traveled – my kids’ first plane ride was over spring break – but this year, we’re having a well-deserved staycation. Since November, we’ve taken two big road trips and two trips to Disney. With another big road trip looming this summer, the idea of leaving home for a fifth month in a row didn’t appeal to me (or our budget).

So far, the kids and I have been to the dentist and the doctor; my elder son had a baseball game and piano lesson; we went to story time at our favorite indie book store and had lunch out with my husband; we visited my grandmother for an afternoon; we even saw a movie in the middle of the week – all the normal stuff that I did before I started working full-time again (except for the movie in the middle of the week part – I had to do something a little spring break-y). I’ve even gotten eight hours of sleep every night – doesn’t that sound like heaven? My main goal was just to be a homebody. My kids have ridden their bikes a lot and made pillow forts on the couch – things that we don’t always have time to do when school’s in session. They’ve had the chance to be boys (and I’ve had the chance to write).

Unfortunately, kids these days just don’t get the chance to be kids as much as they should. They’re overscheduled either because their parents both work full-time, and so they assume the children should also be occupied 40 hours of every week, or the stay-at-home moms want to have “freedom” when the kids are out of school – in other words, a kid-free house. While I am a huge proponent of structure for children, that doesn’t mean that they need to be up at 6:30, out the door by 7:30, and spending until 5:00 that night in day camps and kids’ gyms and sports and play groups and you-name-it.

One mom of now-adult children told me that she always felt like a cruise director when it came to her kids’ vacations, and while some of us may admire the Pinterest moms who have cool crafts and activities planned for every play date, what’s wrong with sending the kids out the door and just letting them play? If you’re at home with the kids, that doesn’t mean you have to helicopter 24/7. On the other hand, if you work full-time, you need to remember that your precious time off needs to be split between “me” time and kid time. A teacher I know once told a full-time working mom that, instead of signing her daughter up for a week of camp, the mom needed to take that week off to spend at home with her daughter. What a novel idea!

I know that many people don’t have the choice but to work full-time, but there’s something wrong if both of you are so busy that you can’t find the time to read to your child for five minutes before bedtime. Or go out for ice cream on the weekends. I know of a mom who gave up a great career when she had a harsh wake up call; after losing two family members, she realized that if something were to happen to her, her kids wouldn’t miss out on much more than a kiss right before bedtime. The money took a backseat to being able to be the one to pick her kids up from school.

Remember the 1989 movie Parenthood with Steve Martin and Mary Steenburgen? Remember how Steve Martin’s character is the overworked, underpaid, baseball coach dad of three with another on the way? Remember how, when complaining about not getting a promotion, his wife is more worried about him missing their kids’ upbringings, not the money? Yeah, she got it.

In his book The Christian Moral Life, Timothy F. Sedgwick writes that, while many take issue with the idea of sacrifice (such as losing one’s self in giving everything up for some other), “[t]he broader meanings associated with sacrifice arise from the original Latin meaning of sacrifice, which was to make something sacred or to perform a sacred act.”

Keep it sacred by keeping your children at the forefront. That sometimes means having a date night or a mini vacation away from them. But it also means coming back. It means letting them be kids – and being there to experience their childhood with them. Sometimes the only medicine needed is a vacation day with your child, snuggling on the couch and reading every picture book in the house.

Sound anticlimactic? If you’re thinking, But this isn’t what I thought I was signing up for when I became a parent, you’re right. It never is. It’s a whole lifetime of sharing amazing/frustrating/sleep-deprived/joyful moments with a unique human being that wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for you.

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.

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.

Why No One Comes First in My Family

Spending Time with One of My Precious Men

Spending Time with One of My Precious Men

Earlier this week, I read an article entitled, “Why My Husband Will Always Come Before My Kids.” (Read it here – really, please read it; I promise, it’s short.) The title evoked all kinds of nasty thoughts. It might as well have said, “Why My Children Will Never Come Before My Husband” – doesn’t sound as nice that way, does it?

But what if it’s one of those articles with a cool twist? I wondered.

So instead of continuing to judge, I read it. Then I got my husband to read it, then my mother. My husband – and this is the man who should be all for this kind of article – noted that author Amber Doty had a good point when she said parents should be good role models of what a marriage should look like. “But the rest is just crazy,” he said. (What’s he talking about? you ask. I told you to read the article.) He thought Doty was making excuses for relinquishing parental responsibility. Ouch.

My mom’s reaction was quite different. As soon as she finished it, she was full of praise for Doty, who values her relationship with her husband and has discovered that a child-centered lifestyle is not ideal for either parents or children.

I came away wondering who I put first – husband or kids? What does always putting one before the other look like? According to Doty:

With very few exceptions, you will not find our kids in our bed at night. If we can only afford one vacation a year, we take it alone, and I feel no guilt about soliciting the help of family so that we can have a date night where we talk about anything but our children.

Our household is not a child-centered one, but I can’t say that I follow Doty’s prescription, either. And I think the reason is because I don’t boil my life down to a marriage that has remained unaffected, despite the birth of our two children. Maybe this is where many people go wrong because they assume that a baby is simply another person sleeping in another room. They don’t expect the sudden wellspring of love that is born with the baby. Nor can they comprehend exactly how much care that baby will require. So there are pros and cons, and both can blindside new parents.

There’s a certain amount of preparation new parents can and should do to avoid this (although parenthood isn’t like the SAT, where you can just try again in a few months if you don’t like your results the first time). When I was pregnant with my first child, my sister-in-law gave me her copy of On Becoming Baby Wise (read my review here), and one point that authors Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam stress is the importance of marriage. Baby Wise parents are encouraged to welcome the new baby into an already-established family of which everyone is a contributing member. Children are raised in a household where they are loved and where they grow to learn to respect others.

So when Peter was born, even though there was that incredible insta-love that kept Thomas and me glued to his bassinet, watching in wonder as he slept, ours was not a household that centered around our new little guy. (But don’t read this to mean that we neglected his needs in order to not be child-centered – please!) We already had a structure in place that allowed us to take care of Peter while still taking care of us – the new, parental us.

Unlike Doty, who seems to think that one person must be ranked first, I’m not big into hierarchies. To use an absolute like “always” or “never” suggests that if I put Thomas before the kids, he might get a hot supper while the baby wails to be nursed. In reality, needs change from moment to moment. After changing my newborn’s diaper, I helped Thomas carry his food from kitchen to table because he was on crutches and couldn’t carry anything. (Yes, Thomas actually sprained his ankle within a few days of coming home with our first baby.) But you know what? Thomas also realized that I was sleep-deprived (so much so that, once with each baby, I referred to my new son as “her” because I was too tired to remember that I had not, in fact, delivered a healthy baby girl), and he hopped around on one foot and changed diapers in order to give me a few extra minutes’ rest.

This isn’t some sort of magic but rather how a good marriage turns into good parenting. We were and continue to be attuned to each other’s needs, as well as those of our children.

Baby Wise suggests parents have couch time every night, so the kids can see that the parents make time for each other. Couch time has never been my thing. It wasn’t before we had kids, and so I wasn’t about to contrive something to “show” our boys someone else’s idea of effective communication. Thomas and I cook together and bathe the kids together and talk as we go, and sometimes that means telling the kids not to interrupt us while we catch up. Sometimes we get away to see a movie. Even more rarely, we may go out to eat without them. And I don’t consider us martyrs because of this; I actually like spending time with my husband and my kids. It’s something I did with my parents growing up, and since it was a positive experience, it’s something I want to continue with my kids, and the way I see it, my time with them is short.

And here’s a shocking revelation: when we are away from our kids (and this isn’t often, especially on vacations – I’m a family vacation girl all the way), Thomas and I can love being together but miss the boys at the same time. Yes, we talk about them. We marvel that we made two such amazing, unique people. No one loves our kids the way we do, and that is something very special that we share.

The two main points of Doty’s article are that 1) she wants her kids to be able to have the same kind of loving marriage that she and her husband have, and 2) she doesn’t want to discover, as an empty nester, that she no longer knows her husband. Some people are so wrapped up in their kids that they lose each other. They allow their children to be the glue that holds the marriage together. This isn’t fair to anyone in the situation, and when the kids fly away, so does mom and dad’s relationship. Sometime over the years, the kids were nurtured, but the marriage wasn’t.

One commenter on this article mentioned that on airplanes, adults must secure their oxygen masks before tending to children. So in the same way, parents need to make sure that their needs are met in order to take care of the kids. This makes logical sense. Sometimes that means “me” time or time apart as a couple, but as Thomas pointed out, we can’t use this as an excuse to ditch our kids on a regular basis. What are the oxygen masks of our relationships? By all means, let your kids see you and your spouse in a stable, loving relationship, but also give them the time and attention they crave.

What makes me sad is Doty’s answer: “I love my kids and would do anything for them. But I love my husband more.”

Wait a minute. Does that mean we have to make a choice between the two?

My choice is for a healthy balance. My choice is for my family. I love my husband and chose to marry him because he’s the man I want to grow old with. And he’s also the guy I wanted to have a family with, not so we could get away from our kids, but so we could be a family and grow together. We love our kids more than we ever imagined we could love anyone. And in loving our boys, our love for each other has grown. Even though Doty seems to think so, I don’t believe that love is quantifiable. Just as I don’t love one son more than another, I don’t love Thomas more than the boys – or vice versa.

If your marriage is solid, your children will see it played out in everyday life, not just in the times when you get away to prove how much you love each other. And while Doty seems to think “sacrifice” is bad, what I thought would be sacrifices (like not being able to go out on a whim or patronize my favorite restaurants as often because diapers eat up the former entertainment budget), don’t matter to me as much now as they used to. Spending time together with one or both of my kids and as a family is precious, and when Thomas and I do get to have an evening together, it feels more special. But also, some of the sacrifices, such as spending time and money on my kids’ education rather than the latest technology and our dream home, are the kinds of things my parents did for me and that Thomas and I want to do for our kids because it’s part of being responsible for the people we brought into this world, and we want to show them what it looks like to do something special for others besides ourselves. And I guess if it’s something you want, it’s not really a sacrifice but another act of love.

I know the nest will be empty one day, and while Thomas and I will be grateful for renewed freedoms, my hope is that our boys will realize how special our family is – and they will return to the nest often.

Don’t Live for Another Day

I can’t count how many times I’ve heard or read that we should live in the present moment, and being a planner, a goal-oriented person, it can be easy to scoff at such a notion. I’m always preparing for the next thing, which is good, for instance, when I’m crunched for time and I already packed my lunch the night before. But it can also make it easy to ignore what’s going on around me when I’m always focused on the future.

My morning commute is 30 to 40 minutes, time that I use to think about whatever’s next in my personal inbox – doctor’s appointments, writing projects, the household budget, all the activities that I have planned for the day or week. Couple that with the fact that I’m usually very tired, and I make for a poor conversationalist. This, naturally, is when my seven-year-old gets chatty. I’m liable to snap at him (he always pipes up right when I’m trying to listen to the traffic report or extended forecast), only to chastise myself moments later. The very last thing I want is to stifle my child and make him feel like he can’t tell me what’s on his mind – or his heart. One time recently, I nearly bit his head off, and as soon as he heard that the weather report was over, he asked in a quiet voice, “Can I talk now, Mommy?”

It’s during these moments that he opens up to me about his theological quandaries or epiphanies, some of which are very deep, or he’ll tell me about something he’s excited about at school. These are precious conversations, ones that I don’t want to miss. There’s nothing earth-shattering about them. These aren’t Kodak moments that I can post on Facebook, so all my friends can go “ooh” and “ahh” over them. But they’re special, the small moments that mean nothing to anyone except us, and they’re what build our relationship as a family.

That’s not to say that there aren’t other, special times. We all enjoyed our recent trip to Disney World. We looked forward to that trip for weeks, and we’ll always remember it as a great family vacation. Life is made up of these memorable occasions, balanced with hard times – sudden losses and deep sadness. But we can’t forget the moments in between that hold them all together, the conversations in the car, the nights reading books together on the couch, the activities that are so routine that we don’t give them much thought.

It is these in-between moments that make up our lives, even if they don’t stand out. They are the background that can be easily ignored. Unfortunately, many people allow the foreground to get so crowded with mountaintops and valleys that they leave no room for anything else.

I notice this in people who trudge through their weeks, hardly able to stomach the normal routine, living completely for the distant promise of a two-week break from it all, only to become depressed at the end of the vacation with the knowledge that an unsatisfactory “real life” awaits upon their return.

I met a woman some years ago, who shared the story of the hopes and dreams she and her husband had for after his retirement. His retirement came, along with a diagnosis of terminal cancer. They spent his last weeks laughing at the dark joke of it all – he struggled and worked hard for 30 years, only to die before he was able to enjoy the fruits of decades of labor.

I’m not advocating that we throw responsibility to the wind and do whatever makes us happy right now. Nor am I saying that we should give up on long-term plans. Rather, we need to find a balance between the two, but more importantly, we need to learn to be grateful and satisfied with what we have, even as we strive for better.

To put this in perspective, a dear friend of mine recently decided that she’s done battling cancer, and she’s now under Hospice care. This friend has been on disability and unable to hold a job for a number of years, but that hasn’t kept her from making her life a blessing to others. While her means aren’t great, her heart is. She embodies the ideal of a Christian servant, yet shies from receiving service for herself. Even in great pain and with ever-waning strength, she has never ceased being faithful, thoughtful, and an inspiration, even from her hospital bed. She could easily choose to let her situation weigh her down and fill her with despair, but she refuses.

How does she do it? How must it feel to know that there may be some good days, some bad, but there will never be a recovery? Her life is in that hospital room… yet her influence still extends beyond it and into the lives of her friends and loved ones. I have a lot to learn from my friend, not the least of which is that my complaints are pretty trivial.

I will never give up creating goals for myself or trying to improve my skills or situation. I want the world for my kids, and I look forward to our vacations and special times together, like any normal person. I understand there will be disappointments and stretches of days when I’m too tired to eek much joy from the moment, but that’s not going to stop me from trying. Who was it that said it’s the not the destination but the journey? (The answer is that lots of people have said it, and it’s only because it continues to be true.) So even though the destination may be wonderful when I get there, I’m going to be more conscious of the road I take to get there and the people traveling with me.

Overcoming Dyslexia: 10 Things You Should Know

Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz, M.D.

Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz, M.D.

Right around two years ago, I realized there was a serious disconnect with my then-five-year-old son Peter. He was at the end of his second year of preschool, but this intelligent child could not learn his letters or their sounds. Today, I know that he has moderate dyslexia, and it’s been quite a journey. For my sweet boy, it’s a journey that he will continue to take for the rest of his life.

The teacher who tested Peter and helped formulate the blueprint of what the next few years will bring for him lent me her copy of Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz, M.D. I recommend this book to all parents and teachers. Even after I knew that Peter had dyslexia, I still didn’t fully understand what it is – certainly more than mixing up letters, which is a common misconception.

There’s no way I can boil down every point, so I’ve chosen the ten that I found most important:

  1. Dyslexia Affects More People than You Think

In a 20-year study that followed 445 children from Connecticut, Shaywitz discovered “that reading disability affects approximately one child in five” (30). Some of the personal accounts that Shaywitz shares in her book are of bright kids who were left behind because they didn’t “qualify” as students who needed help reading. One was even unfortunate enough to attend a school in which the administration didn’t believe in dyslexia. There are many more children who can benefit from reading resources than are currently receiving help. If you think you don’t know anyone with dyslexia – think again. Especially if you’re a teacher, you likely have a child who desperately needs help right in your classroom.

  1. There’s a Reason Some Smart People Can’t Read

In her chapter entitled “Why Some Smart People Can’t Read,” Shaywitz introduces the Phonologic Model. In subsequent chapters, she breaks down why this model doesn’t work for dyslexics. They have what she repeatedly refers to as a “sea of strengths” – lots of pros surrounding one big con, the inability to decode phonemes (the smallest unit of speech). While good readers can quickly decode phonemes to make the sounds k, aaaa, and t become cat, dyslexics’ brains are not wired to do this efficiently. The frustrating part is that phonology is the lowest level of the language system, followed by semantics, syntax, and discourse. While semantics, syntax, and discourse are all intact in a dyslexic person’s brain, these higher-level abilities are trapped behind the wall of un-decodable phonemes because…

  1. Dyslexics’ Brains Are Wired Differently

There are now scientific tests that show just how a dyslexic’s person’s brain is wired. Starting in the chapter “Reading the Brain,” Shaywitz goes into great detail about how our brains decode words. A dyslexic person’s brain uses a different path – one that is not automatic and therefore much slower. The functional MRI (fMRI) is the test that shows exactly how dyslexic versus non-dyslexic people read. These tests aren’t necessary to diagnose dyslexia, but they prove that dyslexics aren’t missing a part of their brain, and they’re not brain damaged; they simply read in a different way than “good” readers.

  1. Training Kids Before School Age Helps

Unfortunately, dyslexia often goes undetected in children until they reach the third grade. At this point, they are very far behind because they are still struggling to sound out words, while their peers are transitioning from learning to read to reading to learn.

One way that we can save these kids so many years of frustration is by catching it sooner. Kids enrolled in preschool are ahead of the game (which is how we were able to catch Peter’s dyslexia so early), but even if you keep your children at home, helping them differentiate beginning, middle, and ending sounds of simple words (pig and pan, hen and pet, and hen and pin are the examples Shaywitz uses) will not only help them when they learn to read, but it will also help to identify if there is a problem.

With Peter, while I could say a word like “bird” to his four- and five-year-old classmates, and they would hear b, rrr, and d, he might only be able to pick out the beginning or the ending sound – forget the middle. Peter’s dyslexia wouldn’t let him distinguish the different sounds.

  1. The Severity of Dyslexia Differs from Person to Person

While “one-quarter [to] one-half of the children born to a dyslexic parent will also be dyslexic,” the way in which dyslexia manifests itself differs from person to person (99). Shaywitz writes that “the ultimate expression of dyslexia depends on an interaction between a child’s genetic endowment and his environment.” So if your child is dyslexic, don’t throw your hands in the air and give up. Continue to read aloud to him at home; expose her to as much language as you can. This particularly helps dyslexic children develop larger vocabularies because they will not read and pick up new words as quickly as their classmates who can read fluently.

  1. Dyslexics Have High IQs

High IQ’s and difficulty in reading just don’t seem to correlate, but that’s exactly what happens with a dyslexic person. In fact, dyslexic people are often amazing problem solvers; their dyslexia forces them to be creative in order to read, and they carry this skill into other areas of life.

Dyslexia should never discourage someone from pursuing his or her dream. The last chapter of Overcoming Dyslexia is devoted to the personal accounts of highly successful people, such as author John Irving, American businessman and finance expert Charles Schwab, former West Virginia governor Gaston Caperton, and a number of others. These men and women struggled in school and failed entrance exams that could have kept them from getting higher education – yet they persevered and proved that a reading problem would not force them to give up on their dreams.

  1. Retention Does Not Help Dyslexic Children

While retention is sometimes helpful for other reasons, dyslexia should not be one of them. Not only does holding a child back a year in school avoid the problem (which is decoding words), but it can also be a psychological and emotional hindrance.

Ignoring the problem is just as bad. Waiting a month or a year to see if the problem straightens itself out only robs your child of much-needed help. When I first thought that Peter might have a problem, I hoped that a little tutoring over the summer would solve it. But that tutoring didn’t address his specific issue, and the frustration we both faced the first few weeks of his kindergarten year were enough to make me wish I’d had him tested sooner.

  1. Common Indicators of Dyslexia
  • Delay in Speech While children typically start saying words by one year and phrases by 18 to 24 months, a delay could indicate dyslexia.
  • Trouble with Pronunciation This can manifest itself as baby talk, the right syllables pronounced in the wrong order, or whole syllables (such as the beginning of words) not being pronounced at all.
  • Inability to Rhyme Because they have a hard time separating phonemes, dyslexics may not be able to ascertain what rhymes and what doesn’t because they are not able to distinguish what the last sound of a word is.
  • Talking Around a Word If your child is a regular Mrs. Malaprop, that’s another indicator. Two examples that Shaywitz uses are lotion used in place of ocean and tornado used in place of volcano. The children who made these mistakes knew exactly what they were trying to say, but they simply could not recall the proper word. (This can be very embarrassing in dyslexic adults when speaking publicly.)
  • Difficulty in Learning the Alphabet They may be able to sing their ABC’s, but when shown the actual symbols that match the sounds, dyslexics may not be able to identify them.
  • Inability to Learn by Rote While dyslexics generally have strong math skills, when it comes to rote memorization of times tables, they may suddenly have trouble. The same goes for memorizing words that don’t follow the rules, people’s names, place names, and even phone numbers. I wondered, since dyslexia is a phoneme problem, why dyslexic people often dial the wrong phone number – especially since they’re often so good at math. It’s not because they can’t see the difference between the numbers but because those seven numbers seem random. There was no logical way to arrive at them (as in the answer to a math problem).
  • Inability to Focus While Reading Especially in a noisy classroom or study hall, a dyslexic person may not be able to complete a homework task because she needs quiet to be able to concentrate. Dyslexics use a lot more brain power to get the job done, so it’s harder for them to focus.
  • Discomfort When Reading Aloud Some kids will act out or fake being sick when asked to read aloud because it’s so uncomfortable for them. They may even be misjudged as ADHD by a parent or teacher, but the problem here isn’t inattention but discomfort. Be sensitive to dyslexic people when they ask not to read aloud.
  • Misspelling Even if a dyslexic person is able to read difficult words, do not expect him to spell those same words from memory. In the same manner, if shown a new word out of context, he may not be able to read it, even if it seems simple to a non-dyslexic person.
  • Terrible Handwriting This is another tell-tale characteristic of many dyslexics. The word processor is the dyslexic person’s best friend.

A dyslexic person may exhibit only a few of the above – or may have other indicators not mentioned. But if your child or someone you know shows a number of these, it would be prudent to have him or her tested for dyslexia.

  1. Common Strengths of Dyslexic People

In addition to the individual “sea of strengths” that dyslexic people have, there are common strengths that most dyslexic people share. Many dyslexic children fly under the radar because they are extraordinary auditory learners. They can hear a passage read aloud and memorize it, therefore making their teachers believe they’re reading. They are also usually skilled at math, and they are very creative. (Now, don’t worry if your child doesn’t fit this model 100%. Peter is a poor auditory learner, but kinesthetically, he’s off the charts. And I know some dyslexics who also aren’t skilled at math.)

What marks dyslexics as different than other poor readers is their reading comprehension skills, which are intact. Let them hear a book (instead of making them struggle with decoding all those words), and then open a discussion with them, and you will find that they understand the text just as well (or better) than a fluent reader. When dyslexics are not hindered by people who misjudge them, they are able to prove themselves just as capable as fluent readers, and many successful dyslexics wouldn’t have it any other way because they can easily think outside the box, unlike colleagues who never had to struggle to read.

  1. How to Help Dyslexic People in School and Beyond

The Orton-Gillingham approach of scientifically-based instruction is what Shaywitz recommends for dyslexic children. Although she lists many different ways in which parents can help their dyslexic children at home, having one-on-one instruction with a tutor who is trained in this systematic and structured method is what really helps. (Peter’s tutor uses Barton, which utilizes Orton-Gillingham and has been very beneficial to him.)

There’s also good news for dyslexic adults who have gone undiagnosed: there are programs for adult literacy, and although they do require a commitment of time, they produce dividends that improve quality of life. Many undiagnosed adults either flunked or dropped out of school and, thus, have few options for employment because of their inability to read. It’s not that they’re unintelligent, just that they were never given the proper instruction for the way that their brains are wired.

Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D) of Princeton, New Jersey provides audio copies of books, so dyslexics can listen to their material and follow along with the hard copy. Requesting more time and a quiet room for multiple choice exams is also a must, although oral or essay tests are preferable. (As Shaywitz and so many others have pointed out, these multiple choice tests really only prove how proficient people are at test-taking.) Shaywitz lists a number of computer programs that help dyslexics, as well as study tips. In a world that is not very friendly to dyslexics, there are still ways in which they can excel.

In Conclusion

There are so many more points that I wish I could list, but this post is already very long. Please, if any of this rings true for your child or someone you know, get the book! It’s scientifically-based, and one of the many case studies included may remind you of someone you know. I know the first one I read almost made me cry because it sounded so much like my son and reminded me of his early struggles.

The great news is that there is help. As I said, Peter is being tutored in an Orton-Gillingham program, Barton. After not quite five months, his reading has improved more than my husband and I ever thought possible. Over the summer, I saw that one of his friends was reading at a level two, and Peter struggled to get through “My First” books. Now, he can pick up a level two or even books that aren’t leveled readers.

Last week, we took turns reading a Magic Tree House book aloud – Peter was even the one who volunteered to read. About halfway through a chapter, he said, “Chapter books are fun!” I couldn’t agree more, buddy.