Right from Terrible Twos to My Little Threenager

The middle child. The younger and far more spicier bruise.

HOLY MIDDLE CHILD!

No seriously, I don’t know if it’s just a stereotype or some funny joke that people make but our middle child is the epitome of MIDDLE CHILD. And I’m tired. Like I can’t fight the exhaustion any longer. And when his daycare provider starts asking me questions about his ability to listen, attention span, you know, all the things I’m frustrated with at home, I get that pit in my stomach like oh gosh here we go he is that child.

A few nights ago we started weaning him off the pacifier. And he was addicted so we fully anticipated it’d be hard. We used the “snip the tip” trick. If you don’t know, now you know. Our pedi recommended it when the oldest bruise was having trouble weaning from his…after we had tried both cold turkey and the binky fairy. And it was a miracle. But we also weaned the oldest at just over 2 years old, and Dominic is closer to 3 years old right now (I know, I know, we’ve been lazy about it but ehh who cares!). He’s only been using it at night/naps since turning 1, but still he was addicted.

Honestly, it’s been easy…he whined a little bit night one, but we told him his binky was getting smaller because he was getting bigger and offered him his favorite stuffed dino instead and eventually he went to sleep. And then he was fine at daycare and each night as I’ve snipped a little bit more off the 5,000 binkies he has, he’s been totally fine.

BUT let’s talk about awake time, because since the first snip, during awake times he’s been a monster. He’s always been our more emotional, loud, intense, mischievous, physical (any other adjectives I’m missing?) child but these past 5 days have been a whole new monster, a bigger one. Of course I love this monster with all my heart so please don’t take this post that way. I’m really wondering if this new monster was birthed out of the pacifier transition. Could it be?!

It’s this new monster that inspired me to write this post because it also got me thinking about terrible twos and threenagers. And I realized we’re probably in the heat of it because we have the best of both worlds colliding since he is turning three in a few months. I feel like we were lucky with Luca because he didn’t really give us a terrible two phase or a threenager phase. Maybe that’s just because he was the first child. But it’s got me thinking and I want some advice. Here are the things we are struggling with right now:

  • Voice volume: On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being no voice and 10 being outdoor-voice-scream-as-if-you’re-in-trouble, he’s at a hard 10 most of the time.
  • Patience: If he asks for his water and I don’t give it to him before he’s done asking, it’s an immediate whine fest, which leads to the next one.
  • Whining: 24/7 whining to the point where he needs to be reminded to “speak like a big boy” or “ask nicely”…I’m at that point where I model for him what he should be saying/doing, and it often sounds like this: “Dominic, try saying ‘Mommy can I please have a snack?’ instead of ‘I WANNNNTTTTT SNACKKKKK NNNOOOWWWW!'”
  • Anger and Biting: The oldest bruise was long over the biting phase by now. But when Dominic is really, really, really angry – at his brother – he still bites, and he bites hard. We have had a handful of occasions where he has bitten Luca so hard that there is blood, and a full teeth circle bruise left over on Luca for weeks. The good news is he hasn’t done it to anyone other than Luca in a year, but I still worry so much about his anger management if, at his worst, it comes to this.
  • Listening: This one doesn’t make me lose my temper, instead it just makes me worry. Any time we give him a direction or ask a question, he definitely hears us, but doesn’t actually listen to us. We have to tell him to get his shoes from the bin 20 times, each time more aggressively and loudly before he actually gets his shoes. His daycare provider says he’s always the last one that everyone has to wait for during transitions (because, and I quote my daycare provide, “He’s usually still in the middle of the room dancing or jumping around.” Yup sounds about right). Or sometimes we will even tell him something, he’ll look at us and smile, and completely ignore (or do the opposite!) of what we just asked. It’s maniacal actually.

Before I go running to the pedi at our three year appointment with all of these concerns (that are probably just normal but when it’s your kid you worry way more right?), what’s your take? I want all the tips and tricks for everything above, because I can’t keep losing my patience any longer. Is this all related to the binky? Or some type of bigger developmental phase? (Usually I’m pretty good at understanding these phases, but this just seems kind of out of the blue.) And if it’s some bigger developmental change, what can I do that’s different from my usual lose-my-patience-then-lose-my-sh*t approach? Help a sister out because I need it!

Would You Rather, Mom Edition: A day with kids or a day without kids?

Name something better for a mom reset than time away without kids. Time AT HOME without kids. Seriously, time at my own house with zero kids around comes rarely, if at all. So when hubs offered to take the kids to Nana and Papa’s just to give me some time alone…at home… I just about burst. He rightfully instructed me to rest and relax and do all of the things I never get to do. But here’s the thing, I think the reason why time at home without kids is so appealing to me is because I can do all of the normal things that need to get done in a normal amount of time with a normal amount of sanity. Maybe a little rest and relaxation if I have time, but really that’s a bonus. To illustrate my point, here’s two normal days at home…one with kids around, one without kids around…which one would you pick?!

A Day With Kids

6:00am Wake up. Most likely to the bruises chanting, “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” or “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” Get kids up, bruises get their iPads in Mommy and Daddy’s bed while we hang there for as long as we can manage before the bow is too restless to sit still anymore…which is like five minutes. We’re lucky if one of us gets back to sleep. (And actually I feel like a 6am wake up call isn’t half bad…)

7:15am Breakfast. Brew the coffee, forget to add cream and sugar till an hour later while you fix kids’ breakfast (one wants waffles, one wants a bagel, so you make them fight it out because you aren’t making more than one thing…). Finally remember your coffee, take a sip and put it down somewhere you’ll never remember. You may or may not remember to have breakfast yourself.

7:45am Playtime. The bruises play independently in the playroom happily for a little bit while you frantically try and wash the dishes from breakfast, put away the dishes from the night before, clean up the counter, and maybe squeeze a load of laundry in the wash if you’re lucky. The bow sits at the kitchen counter watching you work, because, well, she can’t be trusted to play on her own without eating everything in sight. An hour into playtime you hear the bruises start arguing and scuffling ensues, so Mickey goes on the TV and you promptly leave whatever chores you are doing half done because they can’t go any longer unsupervised. So you grab your ice cold (not on purpose) coffee and plop yourself on the couch to actively supervise because Mickey isn’t doing the distraction trick. So much for chores.

9:30am Snack time. Even though you just finished breakfast, somehow someway the bruises are hungry and the bow is whining for her morning nap. So you give them the choice of goldfish or cheez its because, no, chips and gummies are not a good morning snack, and while they munch for two seconds you run the bow upstairs and throw her in her crib so you can take advantage of any free time to get back to chores while the bruises are occupied with snacks. Only thing is you don’t remember what chore you were doing so the wet laundry sits in the washer for another 3 hours before being turned over to the dryer, and the loads just keep stacking up. Meanwhile you frantically try and clean up the playroom that’s been destroyed – because when they play they don’t actually play they just take everything out and throw it around the room, creating a real-life landmine perfect for shoeless feet.

11:00am Outside time. At this point you probably kicked the kids outside because now instead of playing in the playroom they are running around the whole first floor throwing pillows at each other and wrestling, which is the key sign they need to get some energy out. So you pause the playroom cleanup, take 20 minutes to get everyone dressed to play outside in the freezing cold, and they run around happily playing while you freeze your a** off repeatedly asking “Hey does anyone want hot chocolate?!” in an effort to get them to come inside but no one seems to hear you. The baby monitor stops working because it’s too cold out or it lost signal, so you hear muffled crying while you’re outside letting you know the bow has woken up from her nap. Dang that was a short one. You were hoping her nap would take her to lunch time. Here’s your first bad mom moment of the day: You can’t get the boys in so you run inside as fast as you can leaving the boys unsupervised outside, grab the bow from her crib, throw her snowsuit on and grab a half defrosted bottle and get back outside as fast as you can hoping no one died or got kidnapped while you were inside. As soon as you get back outside the bruises tell you they’re cold and ask to go inside.

11:30am Lunch. You whip up whatever leftovers you have, and if you have none then its mac and cheese or PB & J or butter noodles, and you wait to make your own lunch because you KNOW they won’t eat much of theirs so you just resign yourself to the leftovers so that you don’t waste any food. You have about 2.7 bites of mac and cheese, 1 bite of PB & J, and maybe some leftover cut up apples, and hey, not so bad of a lunch after all.

12:00pm Play time. You kick the bruises out of the kitchen so you can clean up, sending them to mess up the playroom that you already cleaned up once all over again. And it’s only a matter of minutes till the two year old is whining and crying which is your signal for his nap time. You were hoping to make it to 1 but you don’t want to deal with 55 minutes of whining so you bring him up early.

12:05pm Nap time. The two year old takes his nap early, so the four year old asks for his “games” – code for his iPad. And while you know you shouldn’t give him technology again because he already watched his iPad and watched three episodes of Mickey this morning, you oblige in another bad mom moment because if you hand the baby off to husband you know it means you get to grab a shower. While you’re in the shower you promptly sit down on the floor of the shower and let the water run down your back for as long as you can manage because it’s your one minute of peace and quiet, and by gosh you’ll take that minute and turn it into 30 because 30 minute showers are where the rest and relaxation’s at. You get out of the shower and the middle bruise is still sleeping (Yay!), but it’s time to put the bow down for her second nap and the oldest bruise is saying he’s hungry again. Didn’t you just eat lunch ten minutes ago? You deliver and serve his snack bowl and water bottle while he continues to watch games because you know you can grab 15 more minutes to get dressed and brush your hair. No time for a blow dry or make up. You lay down because everyone is content and think you might steal a few minutes shutting your eyes or scrolling your phone but within 2 minutes the monitor is going off and the middle bruise is up, cranky in his true fashion, and whining for gummies and milk.

2:00pm (More) Technology time. Because the middle bruise saw the older bruise watching his games, he of course wants to watch games too. So rather than putting the iPads away and enjoying some tech-free family time, you don’t want to hear his tantrum anymore so you give them each another hour on technology. Tantrum averted, and you pry the iPads out of their hands an hour later, when the baby wakes up from her second nap.

3:00pm Family playtime. You muster up the energy to actually play with the kids because you know all they want is for you to play with them. You prepare yourself for a few hours of outside or indoor play depending on the weather…which means hide and seek when everyone hides in the same spot or peaks through their hands when counting, or pretend play with toys and you have to show your best pink power ranger moves. Good thing the bow is such a gem because she just sits and scoots along following every move the family makes. Sometimes she’s forgotten about and you have to run to the front yard to grab her because she’s sitting there all by herself eating dirt happy as a clam.

5:00pm You’re having fun with your kids for once but dinner calls so you wrangle everyone inside with a snack and more Mickey so you can buy some time to prep and cook dinner. The bow sits with you at the counter while you cook, and if you’re lucky the boys are spent so they aren’t at each other’s throats while watching Mickey. You remember you never turned that load of laundry over so you go downstairs to flip it real quick and spy the other ten hampers lined up and you realize you’ll be lucky if you get this all done before the hampers are full again.

6:00pm Dinner. And dinner means you made it because you drag dinner out to get you to 6:30 so that right after you can get everyone in the bath and in their pjs ready for bed.

7:00pm Bed time. If you time it all right (which happens once in a blue moon), you go dinner-bath-story-bed, and you get all the kids to bed on time. But you come downstairs and realize the playroom is a mess again and there are a few lone dishes still to be done. So you clean and wash dishes and flip the laundry one more time. Only nine more loads to go.

8:00pm Adult time. Lay down on one couch while hubs lays on the other, he watches football on the big screen while you watch Tik Tok on your phone. You have every intention of just checking social media for a few minutes before watching a show with hubs, but before you know it, it’s 10:00 and you’re still on Tik Tok. So you go up to bed, but you have trouble falling asleep because your eyes have been glued to a screen for the past 2 hours. And you remember there’s still nine loads of laundry waiting to be done downstairs, and you know you’ll get them all done tomorrow but they’ll sit in hampers unfolded until next weekend when it’s time for the new loads.

You go to sleep, get up, repeat, never really getting anything done effectively or efficiently, and the cycle just keeps going.

A Day Without Kids

7:30am Wake up. Holy hell you slept till 7:30! You don’t remember what it’s like to sleep in but you’re also anxious that you’ve already wasted so much of the day. You check the monitor out of habit and are reminded that the kids aren’t here, which makes you kind of sad, but remember you asked for this…or at least welcomed it. You lay in bed on your phone for a few minutes and then facetime the kids because even though they’ve only been gone a day you miss them like heck already.

8:30am Shower. To actually have time to take a shower and not worry about anything else while you are taking a shower is heavenly. You shave your legs and pluck your eyebrows for the first time in a month, and when you get out of the shower you wrap yourself in a robe and hop right back in bed, laying there for an hour because you don’t know what to do with all this time so it feels perfectly normal to do nothing at all but stare at the popcorn ceilings.

9:30am Breakfast. Because at this point you’re starving because usually everyone is eating at 7:15, but you’re pumped because you get to enjoy a hot cup of coffee IN ITS ENTIRETY while watching the Today Show. Savannah I see you!

10:30am Cleaning and laundry. You drag your butt off the couch and away from the Today Show to clean as much of the house as you possibly can, remember to flip the laundry every single time it’s needed – it’s like you and the washer and dryer have ESP because you’re gona kill it today and get everything done that normally doesn’t get done.

12:45pm Lunch time. Before you know it, it’s 3 hours later and you realize you haven’t eaten lunch. For once you make yourself a salad and aren’t resigned to the kids’ leftovers, but you eat quick because you still have the other half of the house to clean.

1:00pm Cleaning and laundry. You clean the other half of the house, and by some miracle all the loads of laundry are done so you have all ten hampers upstairs in the living room. You go on a folding spree while watching Dateline because who doesn’t watch Dateline when you have the TV to yourself? And two hours later you’ve watched an episode, folded all the laundry, and if you’re lucky, you’ve even managed to put it all away.

3:00pm Be sad and miss the kids. So far you’ve been busy all day trying to get things done so you haven’t had time to stop and think. But now that you have time to stop and think, you realize you miss the kids, start texting the husband, who’s clearly annoyed that you’re texting so much (you can tell by his one word responses) so you lay off and wait for the night time facetime. While you wait, the TV is mindlessly on in the background while you scroll through the picture reel on your phone looking at photos of your kids because you miss them so much.

5:00pm Dinner? Do you think about dinner yet? Who eats at 5 anyway? But you’re bored and you don’t really know what to do, but you also don’t feel like cooking so you make yourself some butter noodles (lol) and are done with dinner by 5:30pm.

5:45pm. Shut down the house downstairs (most likely forget to turn off a few lights but shh hubs isn’t home so he’ll never know) and head upstairs for the night. If you’re lucky, you’ll get the facetime call from the kids saying goodnight. And you’ll talk to them for an hour before the hubs softly says, “Ok I should probably get them to bed.” So you say goodbye, turn on 90 Day Fiance, and binge watch seven episodes in bed. You did remember to get yourself a glass of wine after the third episode, but you’re too lazy to bring it back downstairs so the empty glass sits on your nightstand all night long.

9:00pm You go to sleep, with the TV on, of course, because if you turn the TV off you’ll hear every noise in the house and be convinced a serial killer is downstairs and is moments away from coming for you. You wake up on and off all night because it’s freaking creepy sleeping alone in your house, but you make it through the night and when you wake up you can’t contain your excitement because the kids come home today and OMG you missed them so much you’ll tell hubs to never take them away again!

But seriously if you compare this to the day with kids, look how much more you still have to read!

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At least if it’s the day without kids you were able to stop reading ten paragraphs ago. 🙂

So for real, which one would you pick? Kind of a trick question, maybe. Yeah it’s nice to have the occasional time without kids, and don’t get me wrong I’m super grateful I have a hubs who can recognize when he needs to give me my space and let me do me. But, I don’t think I would ever trade a day with kids for a day without kids on the reg? It’s this crazy beautiful life with kids I realize I love so much!

And on the afternoon of the second day by myself, I was able to crash on the couch!

Social Justice Through Children’s Literature Part 2: Gender Identity, Stereotypes, and Discrimination

Last week I wrote about ability and strength, up next is gender. This one’s personal, because, well, I am in the minority group of this category. And to give you a snapshot of myself in a nutshell, I have two profound memories/experiences growing up that really shape this part of my identity.

That’s me circa fifth grade? Spent most of my childhood and adolescence in Ts and gym shorts, and sweats are still my preferred outfits today.

First, I was a total athlete growing up — I ate, slept, and breathed sports. I worked my a** off to ‘get good’ at any sport I set my mind to, and worked my way through soccer, basketball, and eventually field hockey. Played club all the way through college, and playing sports is when I felt I was my best self. But I experienced a lot of gender crisis and coming to age moments because of this. I remember one day, high school, I think? Where I called my mom admitting I was feeling depressed and bawling my eyes out because I felt like I couldn’t live up to the girly expectations and pressure I was feeling at school. Felt like I looked like crap, was insecure, and generally just hormonal and crazy. I have the best mom ever, so she promptly took me shopping to find outfits that I thought would match what I needed to look like. She did everything for me, and I love her for it. I spent most of my high school days preferring to be in sweats and t-shirts…longing for game days because I could wear my sports gear and feel comfortable and dreading other days because I’d sweat through outfits that I thought would make me look the way I was supposed to look..feminine and composed. Obviously I’ve grown up now and realize my experience mirrors many experiences adolescents go through, and I know that it wasn’t nearly as bad as others’ experiences might have been, so for that I’m grateful. But middle and high school is hard, y’all. Because that’s when we really start to face our own identity head on, and how that identity fits in (or doesn’t fit in) with pop culture and our society.

Second, I hated — and I mean HATED — math and science as a kid. I hated it because I wasn’t good at it, and I never felt like anyone really reached out to me to help me understand it. Like really understand it. I’d stay after school with (mostly male) math teachers for extra tutoring and they’d just keep drilling me on formulas and giving me practice problems to apply the formula. And then I’d take these tests with novel problems and have no idea what to do. “Hmm I guess I’ll just use this formula and hope it’s the right one,” would always run through my mind. And then I’d fail tests, badly. I always got As and Bs because of participation and homework (go figure), but I never ever really understood the math. Still have bad number sense to this day because of it. One day I even cursed out my physics teacher in front of everyone and stormed out crying because I. JUST. DIDN’T. GET. IT. and no one was answering my cries for help. I felt so alone and inadequate. And only now do I realize that I fell directly into that trap of women in math and science. I was subconsciously driven away from the discipline by my environment and the people in it, most likely because I was a girl. No, people weren’t explicitly saying “She’s a girl, don’t bother,” but I can almost guarantee that when they saw me struggle, they didn’t help me because they wanted me to understand it, they helped me to simply get me through the class. And that, right there, my friends, is implicit bias around gender.

*If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading and listening as I relived some pretty formative experiences with you.*

So, my list of children’s books that help me explore gender identity, stereotypes, and discrimination is two-fold. On one hand, I’ve included titles that address gender stereotypes and identity. On the other hand, I’ve included titles that address implicit bias, and discrimination against women, and how we might encourage our fellow male counterparts, whether they are the adults or children in our lives, to be an ally. I also included one title on transgender. This is probably controversial to some, and many would advise to ‘stay away’ from this topic until middle or high school, when kids’ brains are more developed to understand this concept. But let me tell you, this advice is once again formed from implicit bias and discomfort. If we looked at kids’ true, lived experiences, we’d realize we need to start addressing it now. In my 10 years in teaching so far, I have witnessed a kindergartener, second grader, and fourth grader (and their families) experience gender questioning and confusion. In two of these instances, these beautiful souls realized, and publicly declared, that they are transgender. And these are the ones who have felt comfortable and brave enough to go through this journey. We know many do not until much later in adulthood, and some never at all.

5 Children’s Picture Books to Support Gender Identity, Stereotypes, and Discrimination

One of A Kind, Like Me / Único como yo by Laurin Mayeno: A bilingual English and Spanish story about a boy named Danny who wants to be a princess for his school parade. The story features his mom, an ally to Danny, as she supports him in finding the materials needed to make his costume. At the end, there’s a wonderful exchange between Danny and his classmates about Danny’s choice to be a princess and how the other students process it. Best for grades 1-3.

ABC For Me: What Can He/She Be? by Sugar Snap Studio and Jessie Ford: Both ABC What Can He Be and ABC What Can She Be is a series of board books that teaches boys and girls they can grow up to be or have any profession they choose. It is subtle – it does not directly address the issue of gender, but the professions included in each text are ones that are often associated with the other gender if thinking in the terms of a binary gender system. Best for babies – grade 1.

A Is for Awesome!: 23 Iconic Women Who Changed the World by Eva Chen: Another ABC board book, but this one showcases women from history who have overcome obstacles and challenges to achieve great accomplishments and make great contributions to our world and our society. Not only does this book support women in shattering the glass ceiling, it also features women of many different cultures, ethnicities, and backgrounds – kind of a double whammy! Best for babies – grade K.

My First Book of Feminism for Boys by Julie Merberg: Another board book (gee, I have a lot for babies on this topic!), this one targets young boys especially, in helping them to understand what they can do to be an ally to women, without being too pushy or direct. The language is simple, and so are the pictures, and while it is designed for babies and toddlers, I’ll still revisit it with my boys as they get older and understand this more. Best for babies – toddlers, but useful through elementary school as well.

I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel: This picture book tells the story of Jazz Jennings, based on her real life experiences of being transgender, and recognizing her discomfort with her assigned gender at birth at a very young age. The story is told in a simple, clear way and has received great reviews. Jazz Jennings continues to be a spokesperson for transkids everywhere. Best for preK – grade 4.

Remember, each title is linked directly to my Amazon List for Social Justice Children’s Literature, including other titles in this topic that didn’t make my top 5 but still deserved a shout out. I hope you enjoy!

Social Justice through Children’s Literature Part 1: Ability and Strength

This is the first post of a mini-series focused on using children’s literature to discuss social issues and move towards social justice.

Preface: Throughout this piece, I use the word ‘disability’ when referring to individuals with conditions that are labeled as a disability in mainstream society. I suggest (and am trying myself) beginning to shift one’s understanding of an individual with a disability to an individual who is differently-abled. I am also committed to using people-first language, or language that puts the person first and foremost, not the condition. I try my best to stick with “individuals with disabilities” rather than “disabled individuals”.

I’m in the midst of working on a project at work involving a social-justice themed, after-school, virtual, book club (yeah that’s a mouthful). It’s year three of this club, and it has evolved so much since we started three years ago. But it feels like this year is different, given everything going on in our world right now. We’re trying to be brave and tackle social issues head on, and as a result I’m learning so much about my own identity, privilege, implicit bias, and ways I can become an ally to disadvantaged and minority groups. To put it bluntly, I’m an educated, straight, white, comfortably-living, female with a heck of a lot of privilege (that I will always be working to understand), and that makes me a member of many majority groups (with the exception of female, of course). I want to raise my own children to be able to understand and recognize their own identity, and privilege, and be thoughtful about ways they, too, can be an ally to peers and others who may be experiencing bias, prejudice, discrimination, and/or racism. So how has that landed me here, in another blog post, writing about books?

I’ve said before I often turn to children’s literature to help me teach my students and children about topics that others might deem uncomfortable, controversial, or risky. I have found that when I am discussing heavy (loaded?) and important societal issues that can also be very emotional (and sometimes trigger fear and anger), I can create a safer space for dialogue and discussion by talking in the context of a book or it’s characters. This creates a “once-removed” experience that often then opens the doors for true and honest discussions and sharing of personal experiences within the group.

When we launch Reading Club 3.0 in a few weeks, we will be targeting categories of social issues each week, ranging from ability and strength all the way to race, culture, and religion. We’ve bit off a lot, and I’m not sure if we’ll be able to chew it all, but we sure as heck will try. The other facilitator and I decided to start with ability/disability, simply because this is a category that is accessible (usually) to young children, because it is spoken about much more openly than some of the other categories like race and religion. Also, since some individuals with disabilities kids are exposed to throughout their short lives in school and at home are physical and therefore visible (think wheelchairs, crutches, walkers, etc.), we start with the concrete in order to move into the more abstract (invisible) issues later on. (And we plan appropriately to address individuals with invisible disabilities as well, don’t worry.)

So, let’s talk about the identity category of ability/disability. I have already seen my 4yo and 2yo react to individuals with visible disabilities that we’ve seen or socialized with in our own lives. For example, I have a very dear friend with CP, and we get together usually once a year. The past few years, Luca has exhibited trepidation, nervousness, and overall avoidance during our visits. I also distinctly remember one occasion a while ago at Dunkin Donuts where we were waiting in line for coffee and donuts. A little person was waiting in line in front of us, and Luca was openly scared and asking questions. My point in sharing these examples? YOUNG kids, like babies and toddlers, start to identify and feel most comfortable with people who are LIKE them (research-based, not just opinion…look it up!), so as they start to experience differences in the real world, their implicit biases can already start to show – like Luca’s did in these instances. I use these examples to show how addressing ability/disability (and any other social issue) with third and fourth graders is nothing new to them, I promise. Still, it can be uncomfortable for anyone because our society’s norm is to ignore and pretend like it doesn’t exist so as to not offend…it hasn’t been until recently where people have started to speak up about addressing it openly and head on in order to educate and progress.

I’ve been rambling a bit, so to make a long story short, here it is: I’m going to share 5 picture books I’ll use with my students and with my own kids to address individuals with a disability, both the visible and invisible kind. I’ll link each one to an Amazon List called “Social Justice Children’s Literature” too!

And I’ll create follow-up posts recommending picture books to address gender, family unit, poverty and homelessness, immigration and cultural identity, and religion and race.

Here we go.

Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull: A retell/biography of Wilma Rudolph, a US female Olympian runner, who became the world’s fastest runner after experiencing polio and a resulting disability as a young child. This book addresses a visible disability.

Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson: Another book that addresses a visible disability, this book tells the story of a West African boy who was born with “only one good leg” and experienced prejudice, bias, and discrimination as a result. Rather than feeling resigned to his disability, he persevered to learn how to ride a bike with one leg, and set an example of how being disabled is actually being differently-abled, and people with disabilities can still do everything one without a disability can do. You might be familiar with the movie Emmanuel’s Gift, narrated by Oprah Winfrey!

We’re All Wonders: Read Together Edition by R.J. Palacio: A companion to the chapter book (and movie) called Wonder, this books shares what it’s like to be Auggie, a boy who feels like any other kid but is not always seen that way, because of his facial deformity. It shows a child’s desire to belong, and encourages all of us to choose kindness and to understand empathy.

My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay by Cari Best: This book takes the reader along with Zulay and her three best friends, who are all in the same first grade class. She is just like her friends, except she is blind. A fun school tradition is fast approaching…Field Day! Zulay decides she wants to run a race, and the story shows her journey to doing just that, much to everyone’s surprise.

My Brother Charlie by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete: Told through the perspective of his sister, this book explores what it’s like to have Charlie, a boy with autism, as a brother. Even though he doesn’t look any different, his brain works in a different way. I like this story because it explores an invisible disability.

There are sooo many other good choices for this category, and all categories, so be sure to check the Amazon links on each title for a full list of titles!

If I had one wish for this post, and the series of posts to follow, it would simply be to encourage parents and teachers out there to be selective and purposeful with the books we might be choosing to read to or read with our kids. Children’s literature can go a long way in helping to shape and form the character and values we hope our children develop and grow up to have!

DINNER. And how I got my kids to eat it.

If you know the Nardini’s personally, then you know we are foodies. I’m pretty sure when my husband wakes up, the first thing he asks is, “What’s for dinner?” And on Saturday morning, the first thing he’s downstairs doing is planning Sunday dinner. Look at all his dude group texts and family group texts and I’d put money on most of the photos being pictures of whatever food their eating or text messages asking everyone what’s on their menu today. I appreciate having a husband who can eat because that means I have a husband who can cook. And that’s #winning.

But food and toddlers? That’s a whole different story! There are two things in raising my kids that I have been batsh*t steadfast about. Like no compromises, not willing to cave, this WILL happen no matter what: sleep and food. (Sleep is for a different post a different day.)

I remember being pregnant with Luca and making Mike promise me that when our kids were old enough, we would always eat dinner together as a family. When I was little, my family did this as much as possible and I know Mike’s family was the same way. I wanted our family to grow up like this. [No qualms against families who don’t or didn’t do this…to each his own and I respect every mama’s choice and circumstances in lifestyle and habits!] We have our fair share of food stories and food battles, but I’m pretty happy with the fact that we stayed true to that wish and eat dinner together as a family every night, and most meals on weekends and stay-at-home days too! And not only do we eat together, but the kids eat the same thing as us. (I was also steadfast at never wanting to have to prepare two dinners: one for the parents and one for the kids.) So what’s my secret? Rules. Rules for my kids AND rules for my husband and I.

Dinner Rules for the Kids

  1. You eat what I cook. No asking for something different. If you don’t like it? Tough luck, I guess you won’t have dinner tonight. (This has happened, and OF COURSE I don’t send my children to bed hungry. Instead, I make sure I clearly separate dinner from whatever food they eat later that night and I don’t call it dinner.)
  2. No dinner means no dessert. The bruises are heavily motivated by sweets (foodies!), so the mere mention of no dessert usually does the trick. The oldest bruise has gotten smarter and fresher, and even started to say “I don’t even want dessert tonight Mommy.” (LIES!) But I just say ok no problem, and make him a plate and put it to the side for later. Every. single. time. he comes back an hour later saying he’s hungry and we pull that plate out and say “Ok, here’s dinner!”
  3. The one bite rule. This is how we’ve avoided picky eaters (for the most part). For every new food we have, or every food item on their plate, there is a one bite rule. 75% of the time they take one bite and realize they like it. And if they don’t, well there’s always something else on their plate, which brings me to my next rule.
  4. We always serve at least one thing we know they like. The pediatrician told me this once a while back and for whatever reason it stuck and it works. There are plenty of meals where we have something they don’t like. But I always make sure it’s not the only thing we’re having. If they don’t like the salmon, I make sure the sides are something they like. Or if they don’t like any of the items at all, a bowl of diced strawberries accompanies dinner too.
  5. Not eating? Fine I won’t force you, but you do have to sit with us. Coming to the dinner table is a rule. And even if you’re going to throw a fit or not eat or complain, your bottom will still sit there. Coming to dinner is an expectation, not an invitation.
  6. We keep a predictable line up, changing things up every once in a while to introduce new things. I found that if I change it up too much or too frequently, they started to get anxious about dinner. So instead, every Tuesday is taco Tuesday, and every Friday is pizza Friday. We have our usual chicken nights, and pork nights, and spaghetti and meatball nights too. I’ve found that being predictable means they’re excited for dinner.

Dinner Rules for the Parents

  1. Follow all the same rules as the dinner rules for the kids. LOL, but seriously! How many times have you told your kid not to do or say something and they say, “But you do it Mommy!” I got smarter a while back and realized that if I follow the rules, then there’s no opportunity for them to say things like that. So Mike and I follow all the same rules. And yes, that means sometimes we eat dino nugs and french fries for dinner too (and shhhh! we actually enjoy it!).
  2. Keep emotions out of it. I try to take an apathetic approach to food or dinner battles. I’ve found little success actually fighting the fight. Instead, I ignore or tell them no problem, which at first came unexpectedly (I think Luca is always ready for a fight!). Now, I’ve realized they come around eventually so I don’t waste my energy.
  3. Allow cheat days because no one’s perfect. So YES we have had meals where the kids had one thing and the parents had another – sushi nights are a prime example. We’ve also had meals where we don’t eat at the table. Heck, every parent knows sometimes lunch in front of the TV is a guaranteed quiet five minutes and sometimes that’s just what we need. And usually breakfast during the week is at the island! So, I grant myself grace whenever I need it and I don’t feel bad about it.

The Bruises Take Town Sports

And why I’m annoyed AF after the last fall soccer session.

Hubs and I have been talking a lot recently about how we would really love to meet more families and kids in town. Mostly because Luca is turning 5 in April, which means he’ll start kindergarten next year. We did Little Spartans soccer this fall as our first exposure. And the program was really good! For 3 and 4 year olds, but the coach still let Dominic play from day 1, even giving him a team shirt and everything. Each session was an hour – 30 minutes of structured play around the big skills of soccer…dribbling, kicking, etc., followed by 30 minutes of free play on all the little goals that were set up. Parent on the field with the kid was mandatory. No qualms about the program, Luca really enjoyed it and was super outgoing, always responding to coach and participating happily in the activities.

Yesterday was the last session of the season, so after the normal first 30 minutes, coach actually split all the kids up into teams, and they got to play their first “game”. Here’s where I’m hot and bothered. Not a lot of kids came to the last session because it was rescheduled from a cancellation, and rescheduled to 1:30 – nap time for lots of kids. So Luca’s team was him and two other kids, a boy and a girl. The team he was “playing” against was three girls. Now remember, I’ve never actually seen my kid play in a game situation because it’s always just been these structured activities. So I really didn’t know how this was going to go.

Wait for it…

Well, turns out two things: (1) Luca was fast as hell, like a lot faster than all the other kids, and (2) I think because he was on the older side of the age range he was a lot better than the other kids just due to coordination and development, etc. I’m not convinced he was actually that good at soccer. But he spent most of the “game” beating all the other kids to the ball, winning every challenge for the ball he took, sprinting down field on breakaways, and scoring goals. Case in point in the video above. You’d think that as Mom, I’d be super pumped for the kid – and I totally was! But I became self conscious when I started overhearing other parents and grandparents talk badly about the kid who kept taking the ball, scoring the goals, beating all the other kids. I found myself actively coaching my kid to let the other kids have a turn, and when he scored, he would look towards me to see if I was cheering. And he’d be utterly confused when I was just quietly standing there cheering inside my head but too self conscious to cheer out loud. “But Mommy if I score a goal in soccer you and Gammy are gona cheer really loud for me right?!?!” he had asked me a few weeks ago. At one point, he had the ball again (because none of the other kids were even trying to get the ball) and a little girl from the other “team” ran and just stood in the middle of the goal. The girl’s mom was behind the goal and yelled at Luca, “Don’t kick the ball at her!!” At least I’m pretty sure that’s what she yelled, but I could have been in such culture shock over what was going on that I misheard her (and if so, then I’m sorry for representing her this way). Luckily, Luca listened and just softly touched the ball to the corner of the goal. At the end, Luca even accidentally knocked a girl over trying to get the ball and we yelled at him, causing him to stop dead and cry in the middle of the field.

I didn’t actually say anything to any of the other parents. And no one tried to talk to me. It was like a mob, or maybe it wasn’t and I just felt this way because I was so self conscious and protective of my kid. I was so confused. Why was I embarrassed? Why did I feel like everyone on the field hated my kid? I wasn’t even able to sort out all my emotions till afterwards on my way to Target (because who doesn’t jump in the car and go to Target when you’re in need of therapy?). And that’s when it hit me. I was legit pissed. Screw the mom who yelled at my kid not to kick the ball AT THE GOAL. It’s SOCCER. How about you tell your kid to get out of the way if she’s not going to do anything? I know I’m angry and this is probably extreme, but what the heck. These were the people I wanted to try and be friends with?! Or the parents of the kids I wanted my kid to try and make friends with?! Better yet, the parents of the kids my kid will be going to school with?! The ones that actively were cheering against my kid and making comments to each other when they clearly saw I was within ear shot. Is this really what my town is like? I think I honestly would have felt a lot better about the whole situation if my kid was the one who sucked.

So now I feel badly that I didn’t hoot and holler and scream and jump up and down every time he scored a goal. Now I feel badly that I didn’t stand up for him when I started to hear other parents mumble. Now I feel badly that he would stop and look at me sheepishly and shyly every time he got the ball or scored a goal because he was confused he might be doing something wrong. And now I feel badly that I yelled at him for accidentally bumping a girl to the ground trying to get the ball and thus making him cry.

Man, if this is what town sports is really going to be like, I’ve gotta figure out a way to grow some thicker skin, stand up for my kid, and be loud and proud when he totally kicks ass. Yesterday I just felt like a panicked hermit crab retreating into her shell, and my kid deserves more than that.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

(Picture just because.)

Developmental Holiday Gift Guide: Everything you need to succinctly know when buying TOYS and BOOKS for infants through five years old

It’s here! Because a lot of you asked for it, I put together a holiday gift guide by age with a combination of (mostly) developmentally appropriate toys and books from the teacher side of me (professional opinion) and the tried-and-true, our-family-favorites mom side of me (non professional opinion). These are by no means complete lists. I’m sure there are things I forgot or things I might add along the way, but with each age range I’ve attached a general description of things to look out for/things to consider depending on the child’s age. I’m always hoping to hear your ideas too…send them along and I’ll add them into the lists! If you actually click on each age range heading, you’ll be taken right to my Amazon lists. Amazon is great, but I’m also going to try to buy local this year, so we can try and help save some small businesses along the way!

Full disclosure: I’m a huge fan of limiting technology – usually one technology gift per child per year. (Also full disclosure, somehow they end up watching way more TV and movies than they should on a weekly basis so don’t let that statement make you think differently of me.) This year we’re replacing the boys’ old iPads and that’s considered a huge gift for us. But most of the time I gravitate towards simpler or more traditional toys. For infants and young toddlers, I like a lot of the wooden toys, handmade toys, or montessori themed toys. For older toddlers I start to merge what is tried and true and high quality with what is high interest – and yes, that sometimes means forgoing classic and stylish toys for tacky trends and well known brands.

We’ve also ended up with a lot of crap over the years, and our playroom is in desperate need of a clean out, purge, and re-org. I usually do this right before Christmas anyway, in order to make room for the new crap that’s about to roll in. This year I’m really thinking of moving to a rotational toy room just to make space and get rid of the clutter. You know, the kind where we store bins in the basement of different types of toys and each bin gets its monthly turn of playroom feature and you keep rotating so things don’t get old and stale (and so you have more space). But this is a topic and a post for another day so let’s get right to it…

Infant – 6 Months

Think vision, think tummy time, think dangly, think texture. For this age I really don’t/haven’t bought much. But what I DO buy are things that are high contrast: black and white, or bright, bold colors in symmetrical/geometrical patterns because for babies the vision stimulation is everything! Go with soft crib books and loveys/security blankets with lots of texture. The more texture the more comfort. Anything to promote tummy time. Activity gyms are an absolute MUST HAVE because not only are they a valuable tool for tummy time, but the soft toys that usually dangle from above are perfect for the many milestones babies will hit in the first several months of life: visual stimulation, baby push-ups, kicking and batting, and grabbing and tugging.

6 – 12 Months

Think teething, think fine and gross motor, think mobility, think strength. You need things that are both small enough for a baby at this age to manipulate, but big enough so that they aren’t a choking hazard. We love rubbery teething toys, and any type of “in and out” toy. By “in and out”, I mean toys that can be transferred in and out of buckets (i.e. shape sorters, stacking rings, blocks) because this provides not just entertainment for long periods of time, but fantastic fine and gross motor practice and coordination. If you go the mobility route, do your research. We’ve had plenty of walkers or push toys that are not built for balancing, and the minute a baby puts weight on it the whole thing topples over (including baby!). We’ve had luck with the two I specifically put on the list – baby can learn to take assisted steps without the parental fear of everything and everyone toppling over. If you go the book and puzzle route, think wood puzzles with chunky pieces, or books with bright colors and simple organization (like first word books or board books with short sentences – 3 or 4 words). At this age, they start taking in words and receptive language like crazy even though their expressive language won’t pop out for a while still. Activity centers are also a worthwhile investment because everything is usually attached (no missing pieces, no choking), with lots of fine motor practice and different activities to explore.

1 – 2 Years

Think fine and gross motor ON STEROIDS, think active and physical strengthening, think practice and patience, think the building blocks of imagination and creativity. If your one or two year olds are anything like mine, by this age they are testing out every physical skill they have and getting into everything. If there’s one word I’d use to describe them, it’s BUSY. That’s why this age is filled with toys and activities that promote open-ended exploration and lots of movement, with some more detailed, refined, and delicate fine motor skills. Old favorites like Mr. Potato Head are perfect for this age, as there are endless combinations paired with trickier fine motor. For larger movement toys, sit and push or ride-on/ride-along toys are great for promoting movement in a more controlled way. At this age kids also start to have an imagination, and begin to dapple in pretend play. This is the best age for an introduction to things like baby dolls or stuffed animals or larger pretend play toys like figurines or animals, or my most favorite gift of all time – the play kitchen and play food. Megablocks (oversized legos) come in here too, but I caution you to avoid sets that build a certain thing (your kid will never follow the directions to build a certain structure at this age) – instead opt for the general starter kits that give you all the various blocks but with no specific design. Towards the end of this age, I also start to think about sensory (more on that in the next age range) so play doh makes its first appearance here. Nothing fancy though – no need to get the big elaborate kits – just the dough with cookie cutters are plenty for this age. If you’re considering books at this age, think language development. Board books (still!) with simple story lines, seek-and-find, or rhyming patterns help kids at this age develop their language as well as a sense of story.

3 -5 Years

I really couldn’t decide if I wanted to do 3-4 years or 3-5 years for this category, as I feel the jump in development that happens in year 4-5 is massive, so what would be a good gift for a 3 year old may not be a good gift for a 5 year old. But I just wasn’t able to splice it out enough to have two separate categories.

Think pretend play and dramatic play, think energy, think creative and imagination, think longer, more extended projects and play time, think sensory, sensory, sensory, and think about massive amounts of skill and knowledge development in huge bursts and leaps and bounds. Lots of sensory options, and it really depends on how much mess you want to deal with. (Full disclosure: I recommend letting them get messy sometimes because if you avoid all things messy they are missing out on important sensory stimulation and opportunities.) I love the variety packs play doh has come out with that include their cloud, krackle, and slime. Train sets or toy car collections or animal collections or doll houses (Calico Critters is a good gender neutral option!) come in at this age, as kids are able to more successfully organize their play to be able to play with lots of things at once. This is when you start to see kids set up zoos and towns and cities and race tracks. You also start to see them assume the role/perspective of someone else – maybe they’re running around the house as Woody from toy story all the time, or they spend an hour playing Paw Patrol with their Paw Patrol figures. High energy activities like bikes (balance bikes are amazing for development of balance!), scooters, and (gasp!) bounce houses that are small enough to fit inside your basement but large enough to allow for lots of jumping and wrestling and bouncing. I also love incorporating crafts and art supplies at this age – things like crayons and markers and coloring books and sticker books and even blank artists’ pads are engaging but also help to develop more specific fine motor skills. We introduced the grand easel at 3ish (maybe it was even 2.5ish), and it was a little too soon. We spent a lot of the first few months having to hover and teach to make sure markers or chalk weren’t drawn on anything other than the easel. But once that lesson was learned it is the perfect activity center. For puzzles and books, you’re now moving into the more complex, traditional puzzles (still with larger pieces but a smaller number!) and books in a variety of genres like non fiction, traditional picture books (I still keep it hardcover at this age if I can!), and old favorites like fairy tales and books in a series (Berenstein Bears anyone?!).

Remember to check out the post about Snow Day Boxes, too!

A little while back I did a post on Snow Day Boxes – boxes that Santa brings my kids every year filled with no-tech/low tech special activities that the kids can do on snow days (or rainy days or quiet time or rest time, etc.). It’s worth a read, as it could become your newest yearly tradition! If you’re interested, click here to read that post too. Happy shopping!

So…Voting

One of the most controversial yet most important civic duties of an American citizen’s lifetime, especially now. There are lots of reasons I believe people should vote. Today I wore a graphic T that reads “voting for my future”. My future is in this picture. In fact, the future IS these three, and they are the most important future that exists in this world. They are my reasons why.

Our district had the day off today — it’s the first time we’ve had Election Day off in a LONG time. I appreciate our Board of Ed’s commitment to encouraging all of our stakeholders to vote, and one of the ways they did that was by having a day off from school. Luca came home from preschool yesterday saying, “Mommy tomorrow is a stay at home day because it’s a special voting day.” And it would have been easy for me to just say ‘yep’ and move right along onto the next thing. But I believe now more than ever we can help our kids begin to understand what this process is and why it’s so important. We can build their good habits now. Yes, at 4 and 2 years old.

Here’s what we did to celebrate (and learn about) Election Day in our household:

A while back I grabbed these blank booklets in the Target dollar section. I pull them out every time I make a social story for my kids (like when I made the book about getting a haircut for Luca). Last night, I pulled one out to make a voting book for the kids to do in the morning.

This morning, when the bruises first came downstairs, we voted on our day: what we wanted for breakfast, what book we wanted to read, what math activity we wanted to do, what craft we wanted to do, what we wanted to do outside, what we wanted for lunch. The pictures made it easy and clear for the boys to see their choices, especially Dominic who is far from letter/word recognition. The names helped Luca practice letter and word recognition. The boxes to put a checkmark helped both boys practice a challenging fine motor skill.

Not only were they hooked and their engagement was spot on, but we had some difficult conversations too. Like when Luca voted for rainbow rice for sensory time but the rest of the family voted for kinetic sand. He shed some tears because he ‘lost’ and was upset that he wouldn’t get to do what he wanted to do. We talked about what makes voting fair: the idea that everyone has a voice to make a choice, and sometimes our choice isn’t the winner, and that’s ok. It’s also ok to be sad or mad if our choice isn’t the winner, but it’s NOT ok to treat others poorly because we are sad or mad.

An unanticipated tie on a few items (what we wanted for lunch and what book we wanted to read) had my husband and I laughing as we tried to explain a tiebreaker…call Gammy to ask for her vote? A recount? Of course my husband had to throw his math brain at me and tell me I should have avoided that by only including an odd number of voters. Oh well!

But even despite some tears and some confusing situations, what was also important with our activities was follow through. In order to show that voting matters in a concrete way, it was important to follow through on our “results”. So when everyone chose button owls over bead snakes for our art project, that’s what we did. Our voting results dictated our day, and surprisingly the boys got it. It made sense. They understood. And they had fun.

At one point, Luca was so into it, he decided to create his own poll. He got his own piece of paper, made check boxes on either side, and went around to each family member asking if they wanted “this” or “that”. Get a good laugh at the two choices he gave Mommy by watching the video below.

I wish so badly that we weren’t voting in a pandemic. My husband and I made the choice a while back to physically go to the polls on Election Day, forgoing mail-in voting (and our safety?!) to show our kids what it’s like to go to the polls and vote. I wish so badly that I could take Dominic and Luca with me, so they can see what it’s like to be a good citizen, to uphold our civic duty. To each get the sticker that says “I voted!” and wear it proudly. They won’t be coming along with me when I head to vote in a few hours for the sake of their safety – I trust myself to avoid germs, and I do not trust their curiosity to avoid germs. But at least they’ve begun to build an understanding of what it means to vote, and why it’s important. I hope our country turns itself around and begins to set a good example for them in the hours, days, weeks, and months to come – regardless of who I vote for, and regardless of the outcome of this election (I recognize there is privilege in this statement).

Mommy do you want to make monsters or drink wine? LOL.

We Were Broken, But We Were Rebuilding: Using Interactive Writing and Shared Reading to Find our Classroom Community Again

A few weeks ago my working life did a literal 180. I went from being a full time literacy specialist at one school to a full time first grade teacher at another. I volunteered to temporarily fill in as a long term sub when the previously-hired substitute wasn’t able to teach anymore. My reasons for volunteering? (1) I didn’t want it to impact anyone else at my school – it was easiest if it was me who went, (2) getting my hands dirty actually teaching during this pandemic would give me valuable insight that would only help me collaborate with and support the teachers I work with when I get back to my normal position, and (3) teaching first grade for a longer period of time would only make me a better literacy specialist – first grade is one of the most important years of a child’s literacy development.

BUT.

It flipped me on my head. I went from stability, happiness, and comfort at work to chaos, unpredictability, and exhaustion. I inherited a class of 13 in-person firsties and 6 at-home firsties in community crisis. I spent most of my first day preventing physicality, redirecting unkind comments and behaviors, and mediating peer-to-peer conflicts. I went home that night and had the most panic attacks in 12 hours I’ve ever had in my life. I spent my entire night and next morning hysterically crying and vomiting from the stress of having to step foot back in that classroom. I was broken. The kids seemed broken too. And it certainly wasn’t anything like what I had thought I signed up for. How on earth had these kids survived in an environment like this for the six weeks they’d already been in school? How on earth have the kids learning at home kept it together having to observe this as spectators through a computer screen, while they wait to virtually never make it through a single lesson in peace? How on earth did the previous long term substitute come to work every day? And HOW ON EARTH was I even going to begin making a difference for these kids? Five plus weeks wasn’t nearly enough time for this community to heal. But after several more agonizing days, I made one single commitment: to show up. To let the academics go (for now) and focus on this classroom’s (and each individual’s in it) mental health, safety, and well being.

And I’m here to share with you what my rainbow after the rain has been.

I turned to interactive writing and shared reading as my saving grace. My hope when I had no hope at all. Here’s how it goes: each week we made a class book. Old school class book – like the kind where the teacher models with a student sharing the pen and then each kid in the class gets to do a page, and we collect all the pages and put them together into a book. Then we made copies of the book, one for each kid, so everyone has one in their book box and we can read it together as a class over and over again. The literacy skills this enforces are endless: interactive writing promotes concepts about print, idea generation, sentence construction, conventions, spelling phonetically, and learning sight words (to name a few). Shared reading of the books we make helps us practice 1:1 correspondence, reading sight words, text directionality, and most importantly builds our confidence as readers – even my one student who was a non reader can read these books because we’ve practiced it so many times again and again.

While the literacy skills are endless, the social-emotional work these class books targeted was LIFE SAVING.

The first class book we made was all about our emotional health. How do each of us want to feel this year? Sophie wants to feel safe because the virus is scary. Ethan wants to feel happy because he hasn’t felt happy at school in a long time. Grace wants to feel calm because the classroom has been anything but calm. Every time our class was in crisis, or we had friends not getting along, or we had friends making poor learning or friendship choices, we went back to that book. “Hey Susan, go get your book. Look at how Joe wants to feel this year. What can we do to help him feel that way right now?”

The second class book (and the ones thereafter) was all about getting to know each other as people. We did one (in the video above) about things we like in fall. Through that book we learned that there are a few friends in our class who don’t celebrate Halloween, a friend who had never seen the leaves change before. I realized that these kids had no motivation to be an active, respectful, and responsible member of a classroom community because they didn’t even really know, and I mean really know, anyone in that class. They were classmates, and were slowly working on becoming friends, becoming teammates, becoming family.

I did a post a little while back about not losing sight of the teaching practices we know are best practices just because of this pandemic. And a little after that post I watched the closing address at this fall’s TC Saturday Reunion by Lucy Calkins, in which her message was to just show up. Just show up. (If you haven’t watched it, even if you aren’t a fan of TC, give it a watch – the message is powerful and brought me to tears.) It’s like everything that has gone through my reflective teacher brain this fall has brought me to this moment.

And you know what? Our days were still long and our days were still hard. Like really hard. I sacrificed LOTS of time with my own kids and my own family (like all teachers always do!) so that I could make sure I could continue to show up for these kids. If they’ve ever needed anyone to just show up, it was then. And most likely now that these five plus weeks are up, I’ll slowly turn into a blip in their radar. They’ll grow up probably not ever remembering that time their class was in crisis, that time their teacher changed more times than they could count. I’ll slowly become “Mrs. Who?” but that’s ok, my job was to just show up. And not give up.

So we kept writing and we kept reading. Not just me…them too. We all showed up, we all learned, and we all grew. It wasn’t perfect, but it was worth it. And in 2020, that’s what matters. ❤️

From Diva Baby to Delicate and Dainty

One of my first few posts on my blog was aptly titled “Diva Baby or Quarantine Baby…That Is The Question”. That’s because Tessa has been a very different baby than the bruises were (they were more similar than not). She had infant habits that I’d call diva (and I now say diva because I’m pretty sure it wasn’t just quarantine, but she is, in fact, a diva)…like not taking a bottle, not wanting to be put down, crying whenever mom hands her off to someone else. A lot of these habits have evolved and gotten much better as she’s gotten older. But I now notice how delicate and dainty she is compared to the boys, who were all over the place like a bull in a china shop.

And delicate and dainty sure is cute. She has the sweetest fine motor…she will sit for minutes and hours trying to pick up leaves or wisps of grass from the ground. You give her a piece of ribbon to hold on to at daycare and she’ll still be clutching it in her hand by the time you get home that night. She’ll play with all the food you give her, but gosh darnit she won’t bring any of it near her mouth on her own. The bruises run circles around her as she just sits there happily with no desire or intention to even try moving. Lots of noise or too much talking startles her…she prefers the peace and quiet (which she rarely gets thanks to the bruises).

Here’s where the mom-anxiety comes in. At what point is delicate and dainty a concern? I’m no stranger to the birth to three experience. The educator side of me saw some red flags that I was never able to let go of with Dominic, and at 9 months he qualified for birth to three, with moderate to significant developmental delays in 4 out of the 5 major categories: communication (expressive and receptive), cognitive, adaptive, and physical (fine and gross motor). The only area he was totally fine in was social. We worked our tails off for a year in OT, Speech, and Behavioral Intervention (our service providers were angels!), and the kid graduated advanced in all categories a year later. So he was either just a late bloomer from the start, or his early intervention worked miracles. I’ll never know the answer to that question.

So here we are with my bow and I can feel those little anxieties creeping up again. Mostly because it’s impossible not to compare your child to every other baby around you, especially the ones who are younger or the same exact age but are doing more advanced things. The boys were scarfing down soft table food and feeding themselves anything they could get their hands on at 9 months. Tessa takes her purees like a champ, but wants nothing to do with anything solid. We’ve also been in a few social situations lately where Tessa just sits on the ground while babies who are two months younger than her roll, crawl, and scoot circles around her. She hasn’t made it beyond push-up position.

Case in point: we’ve resorted to using mama’s cordless jump rope as a training tool for trying to encourage Tessa to crawl. She loves it, and I can see her little body working so hard!

I’m trying SO hard to sit on my anxieties this time around and not jump the gun. To wait it out because deep down I think I’m just realizing (and beginning to accept the fact) that all my babes are late bloomers and that’s ok. But man, you know how hard it is to sit on that worry? To feel it creeping into your mind and have to actively work to squash it. It’s hard! Especially when the pediatrician is peppering you with questions at the 9 month appointment like…is she feeding herself? (No.) Is she putting things in her mouth? (No.) Is she crawling? (No.) Is she trying to crawl (No.) Hey, she’s clapping and waving…that counts for something right? And to be totally clear, the pediatrician had zero concerns despite us answering no to a majority of her questions. Just said babies develop at different paces.

Yeah, yeah, I hear this all the time, and have heard it all the time since kid one. But it still makes it so hard not to compare! It must be a mom thing.

You know what the worst one is? I hate hate hate when people say…”She’s number three, she must know all the tricks by now.” Or, “usually after kid one they all develop faster.” Guess what? My kid one hit his developmental milestones earlier than my kid two, and so far, my kid three. I think the best advice (to myself AND to the people who keep saying junk like that) is to just stop. Let it go. Enjoy the moments, those milestones will come. Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise that she’s not tearing the house apart yet? I’ll never ever ever complain about her preference for all things mama either. I’m ok with my delicate and dainty, I don’t love her any less. ❤