Monday, February 28, 2011

It's That Time Again -

SOLs. The bane of all juniors' existence and the English teachers who instruct them. The writing SOL is next week and we've been working so hard to get ready for this, though who knows where we stand. I must say, though, that after last year's scheduling and snow debacle, I feel slightly more prepared for this year's round of testing.

But even more than the kick-off to Virginia's standardized testing schedule, the Writing SOLs are the ribbon-cutting to something even more debilitating - the spring rush of stress and ensuing 'woe-is-me' mentality that can sometimes accompany the feelings of overwhelming schedules, meetings, grading, testing coordinating, data collection, CYA-ing (if you don't know, ask), and the serious lack of breaks because the weekends move entirely too quickly to recuperate in addition to the rush of activities that occur at the end of the year on the weekends which shorten your breaks even further.

(I'm rather proud of that sentence - quite McCarthy-ish if I say so myself...I hope my seniors who view this appreciate that...)

Ultimately, the reason why I decided to blog this evening was to re-establish my attempt - pitiful as it may be at times - to continue through the next 3 months of school with a Panglossian attitude. I wrote an entry approximately a year ago that discussed this further, but for now, I simply want to reassert my desire to keep from bogging down my students, family, friends, and co-workers with my own concerns, worries, quandaries. This time of year is rough on every one I know. Ergo, I will not contribute to your load.

It would be nice if everyone could sincerely participate in this attempt, but we know that won't happen, so I will do my part. And if you really want to know what's going on in my life, you'll have to prove it for me to unload. For now, I am actually quite content - we had a beautiful rainy day (we're truly in need of precipitation) that cleared just as the sun set, sending pink and fluorescent orange streaks through the clouds. I'm sitting in my kitchen with the doors open and letting a crisp, clean breeze blow the germs out of our house - Steve and I are both recovering - and Sydney is sleeping soundly, healthy (never caught the cold). The house is (relatively) in order, dinner is planned for tomorrow, and I am at peace. What a wonderful place to be.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Beautiful Boy

I walked in to school about two weeks ago to see a picture in the newspaper of the most adorable baby boy staring at me. He has limpid eyes that spoke of a contented peace and I yearned, absolutely yearned, to hold him, cuddle him, make everything right in his life.

He is from Ethiopia, and was born with hydrocephalus. He was brought to the United States to have the necessary surgery to preserve his life, and he is residing in my town. There were photos of the nurses crowding around him. I was jealous.

Juddah has journeyed further in his young, 4 months of life, than anyone I personally know, and more than most of us probably will. And through all of this, he still has that beautiful, peaceful face. Please view the blog (click on the first link) to see his whole story. His American guardian is regularly updating his progress.

But the point to my story is that, several weeks later and on a whim, Steve and I went to Target to pick up a few items on which we were running low. We split up in order to speed the trip up - this wasn't a casual "Let's hang out" (Yes, we do that in Target. Leave me alone.), but rather, a quick in-and-out trip. I was pushing Sydney, who was getting fussy for dinner, in the cart and we turned a corner. There, those deep pools of dark eyes were staring at us.

Juddah was fussy, too. He was crying weakly, half-heartedly, but as soon as he and Sydney locked eyes, both stopped their fussing. They stared at each other, enraptured by the sight of the other. His guardian and I spoke briefly, and she gave me a picture of him, which I scanned and posted below. I was so excited to meet Baby Juddah, and I will follow his progress on his blog.

I couldn't resist sharing the experience with my faithful readers. The picture in the lower left is his mother, holding him, and his grandmother, holding his twin sister. Baby Juddah, you are in my thoughts as you continue your journey.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Back by Popular Demand -

I haven't posted pictures of Sydney in a while. Here's what's been shakin' in the months of January and February!

I rotate out toys periodically, so he always thinks he's gotten new toys when he hasn't seen them for awhile. Here, he decides he wants to join the velcro vegetable pieces in the kitchen set his aunt gave him for his first birthday.

After playing with his "food," he finally decided to help Mommy make dinner. He loves to stir the pot then smack his utensil on the side of the pot (just like Mommy!) to get the food stuck to the utensil off.

Here, he's actually making 'Cheerio Soup.'
A beautiful break in the weather permitted us to play outside last weekend.

Syd and Mommy enjoying the blue skies and birdies!

Thank you, Aunt Dawn and Uncle Steve, for the tricycle! He can't quite reach the pedals, but he has a lot of fun with it, regardless!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Shakespeare Seeping In

One thing I've noticed about teaching a range of grades is that every time I move on to a new unit, covering a 'new' piece of literature in my students' eyes, I find myself rediscovering that piece. I may, at times, experience a bit of burn out at a pending unit, but once I dive in, I find a renewed love, a refreshed vigor, for each piece of literature I teach.

Today, two things occurred that validated what I and my co-workers do. Both involved the Bard. And looking back on the day, I cannot but celebrate the fact that, at some level, be it cellular or merely surface, we ARE making an impact on our future, and it would be nice if society noticed.

The first occurrence was in my first block class of the day. I have juniors on odd days of the month, and in our school system, juniors focus on American Literature, which means there is no Shakespeare in the curriculum.

We were in quite a jolly mood this morning. Everyone was working, it wasn't a Monday, just an overall good start to the day. A student was joking with me about getting his work in on time. I told him to settle down and do his seatwork or I'd have to hand him some consequences. Again, jokingly. Something along the line of "Quiet down and do your work or I'll punish you."

To which he replied, "And I'll bite my thumb at you!"

I was floored.

If it weren't for the fact that he remembered that line from...who can tell me? Come on, don't be shy!! - then I would have scolded him for what that line actually means. But I was so caught off guard and absolutely tickled that two years after reading the piece he could quote Samson and Gregory. A divine moment in education.

The second instance where William made his presence known was in my freshmen class. We are in medias res of Romeo and Juliet. Rafe gave me a flier at the beginning of the year that explains the premise behind the movie Letters to Juliet. I held on to it and a pre-stamped letter addressed to the Club di Giulietta, and as my student teacher and I planned out the unit, we decided we'd have the freshmen write letters that we would mail. To apply the assignment even more to the SOLs, we printed off directions for folding a piece of paper into an envelope. The students folded their envelopes, decorated them, and inserted their letters before handing in the assignment.

We got our first section of letters in yesterday. As the day was rather long, Erinn and I decided to relax a bit after school and read through "a few" of the letters, which means, get so caught up on reading them that we read the entire class's submission. We needed to read them all, anyway, to verify the assignment guidelines and appropriateness, but my goodness. Unbelievable. For 14 and 15 year olds, these were surprisingly deep and heart-felt. A few brought us both to tears. It proves just how much kids are willing to say if you give them a venue to say it.

I should also say that my student teacher received a little flak at her class meeting for the assignment. A fellow teacher claimed this was ruining the beauty of Shakespeare and dumbing it down. One of the last letters we read for the day stated, at the end, "I am so glad my English teachers told me about this program." If nothing else, even if everyone in the class except this one child wrote off the assignment, having one student verbally appreciate the opportunity was redemption enough for me.

Friday, February 11, 2011


My son. My beautiful son who turns 17 months next week has recently been balking when it comes to using basic manners that he's known and had reinforced for several months, now. I don't know if this

  • is a side-effect of exhaustion (last week was teething hell for us all),
  • if he's regressing due to a pending growth spurt (they tend to do that...go backwards right before a huge jump forward in development),
  • if he's just in need of Mommy-time (anyone see the recent backlash Gwyneth Paltrow has received for keeping her daughter, Apple, home from school with her for 'Mommy-time'? Can't say I entirely disagree with her - sometimes, we just need to top our tanks off...),
  • or if he's fighting something off (I think I was fighting a cold last week, ergo, he may have been doing the same).

All I know is he was obstinate tonight. He had just woken up from a nearly two-hour nap when I first got home, so he should have been in a good mood, but he was down-right feisty all evening. And when it was 'free play time,' he adamantly refused to say 'Please' when he wanted a toy.

He's used 'Please' for several months, now, starting with sign language and moving to the word, plaintively called out, 'peese.' It's been a long week, and he had guests during the day, today. I can only presume that he was over-exhausted, even though he just had a nap. But if I gave in to him on something as simple as please, where would I draw the line next time? How much would it take for him to strong-arm me into acquiescing to his demands? And what about when we REALLY hit the temper tantrum phase of toddler-hood? He didn't like it, but he never got his toy.

When we were getting dressed for bed, he wanted a stuffed toy that hangs from his bulletin board. Same thing. "Say 'please!'" "No." "Then no toy. Just say 'please.'" "NO!" "Ok, then let Mommy put your pjs on!"

Thank goodness this is a Friday, and I'll have two glorious days with my son with a forecast of beautiful weather so we can play and enjoy our time together. And I'll have two days where I don't have to leave for 8+ hours, enabling me to, again, reinforce the manners I expect him to use consistently in life. I'll have two days with my beautiful boy.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

An Influence in Life

I was about 10 years old when I walked in on my mom and older sister discussing a novel my mom wanted Dawn to read. It sounded interesting, though in retrospect, they cowed their discussion when I entered.

"Can I read it?" I asked.

My mom looked at me, hesitated, shrugged, and said yes.

I was about 10 years old, and the book was a legitimate 2 inches thick in fine print. I still have the book. I read it in about a week.

At that time in our town in Wisconsin, only those who lived more than a mile from school rode the buses. The rest of us walked, rode bikes etc., to school. I remember, distinctly, being so absorbed by the book that I would be too anxious to get home to read, so I started reading while I walked. Yes, this is before we had iPods and iPads and Kindles, etc. A 10 year old, reading a huge book, navigating curbs, cars, dogs, etc.

After the first book, I learned it was a series. The second book was even larger than the first, and I devoured that one, as well. By the third book, all three of us, mom, sis, and I, were fighting over the volume as we each tried to be the first to finish it. After that, the time elapsing between the newer books in the series spread out, more. I can only presume that the author was living her life and involved with her 5 kids, etc.

Since then, I have anxiously awaited each arrival in the series. The last book to be published was received with such anticipation that I picked up the book on the way to work and read on breaks, lunch, etc. I did nothing that night nor the next until it, too, was fully digested.

Skip ahead 9 years. NINE YEARS. I was at Barnes and Noble yesterday perusing for gifts when I saw the series displayed, prominently. I have had so much happen in the years since the previous book came out that I truly forgot we were waiting for the last one. My suspicions were instantly raised, and as I checked out, I asked the cashier if there was a reason for the displays.

Cut to slow motion. He is scanning the computer screen, finding the author, and with the slightest up-lift to his chin I am giddy. As his head comes back down to finish his nod, he opens his mouth to begin forming the phrase, "Yessssss." Hallelujah! "Her 6th book will be coming out March 29th." I am butterflied in the belly and want to reach across the counter to hug him. Instead, I texted my sister in all caps. Sorry I yelled at you, Dawn!
Picture found on the link below
Jean M. Auel is the world renowned author of The Earth Child Series. The first book I read, entranced and stumbling over curbs, was The Clan of the Cave Bear. I credit the books, the series, the ideas with shaping, to an extent, who I am and my interests to this day. I fell in love with ancient history through these historical fiction novels. I have a concentration in Sociology (read: Anthropology) due to these books. And Jean is completely deserving of her many accolades not only because she is a phenomenal writer, but because of the extensive work she does prior to writing - the research that goes in to a mere page is awe-inspiring.

I cannot talk enough about Jean Auel and these books. I cannot possibly put in to words the impact these books had on me, especially since I started reading them at such an impressionable age. I can only say that I identify, in some ways, with the main character.

Many years after first reading The Clan of the Cave Bear, my mom told me the only reason she said yes, the first time, was because she didn't think I could finish the book. Thus starts the love affair I have with those who 'don't believe I can ___ ' (fill in the blank - I love a challenge...).

That, too, is very Ayla.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Ode to a Glider

The summer before Sydney was born, Steve surprised me for my birthday by purchasing us a glider and matching, gliding foot stool. The chair was barely used the first few months of his life, as I was able to merely sit up in bed and nurse him before putting him back down to sleep.

We had brief encounters where our relationship grew. Sydney was rather tetchy at times due to gas and I would rock him to help the bubble move up. My chair always received me with open arms that were padded just right, beckoning with a 'come hither' motion.

By the time I went back to work, we were using the crib and he was sleeping, fairly successfully, through the night. Our relationship waned a bit. On the occasions where Sydney did need me at night, I would take him to the living room. I was an expert on what was on tv at 3 in the morning. Mostly just Roseanne reruns, but every once in a while, I'd hit a gem.

Then, the eczema hit. And teething. See my posts from February of last year or click on the link. It was really bad. Syd was no longer sleeping wonderfully. I would be up twice a night, and the light of the tv was too much to bear for my extremely exhausted and bloodshot eyes. I could barely read the time on the digital clock in Syd's room. My glider was restored as the first 'person' I went to - welcoming me and rocking us both to comfort, and sometimes to sleep, though not often enough for me.

We finally got the eczema under control and the first tooth finally broke through. We made it (Holy Saint Francis, I don't know how...) through to the end of the school year, and I was finally able to ferberize Sydney. He was hit or miss - he'd get 'trained,' start sleeping til 6, then another disruption would hit and we'd be back at 4 am waking times. Instead, though, I would stretch out on the couch where I could more easily lay back and doze while he nursed and napped.

We finally hit our stride. He was consistently sleeping til 6, as were we all. The glider was sadly forgotten in the corner of the room, sitting forlornly and waiting, patiently, for me to return, preserving my butt imprint so I could more easily settle in when "IT" finally happened.

"IT" happened about a week ago. Syd is, again, not sleeping well. I blame the teeth, again. Whoever said teething didn't hurt them was suffering from denial and the forgetfulness of infant hood that accompanies maturation. He's having a devil of a time.

Last night, at 1:40, he woke up crying. It didn't subside at all, and by 2 I finally got up to ensure he didn't have a fever, as he had been burning up all week. I gave him some medicine and returned, arms outstretched, to my glider. We rocked, we coaxed, we comforted together. It took a little more than an hour, but Sydney finally returned to the crib and Mommy to bed.

The killer is - Steve never woke up. He got up this morning praising Sydney for sleeping through the night until 5:40...I just laughed.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Wanting the Best for Syd

Sydney is now almost 17 months old and his language skills are taking off. My most recent count of words he knows and uses on a regular basis is over 50, which, from what I can tell, is really good developmentally. What truly surprises me, takes me aback, forces me to pause and reflect, though, is the fact that I can tell when his cogs are turning and his sponge is activated. There have been times when I'll say something one time and he repeats it like a mantra. I know - this is nothing new for the experienced parents out there, but it is still new to me and therefore, an awesome sight.

Syd's 18 month check up isn't until March, so I'll be able to offer a more precise developmental update at that point, but in the meantime, Steve and I are doing what we can to ensure he has the stimulation and opportunities he needs. One thing, in particular, falls into both those categories...

The human brain is a fascinating, foreign, Star Trek voyage that is only beginning to be explored and understood. Some things we know for a certainty, others are mere theory and speculation. Some things we are still years and studies from understanding. Some things we probably will never know or understand. But one certainty is that the human brain is a sponge at Sydney's age and that the window to learn language - any language - is from infancy to approximately 5-6 years of age. Steve and I are trying to capitalize on this absorbency.

We decided that, for Christmas this year, we would look into exposing him to foreign languages. I heard of Little Pim in a mothering magazine (click on the link) that I had and decided to check out their website. Little Pim offers a variety of languages and features an adorable panda bear that instructs the viewers using cartoons mixed with videos of many babies, toddlers, children, and their parents performing the activities discussed (Lui si lava le faccia, anyone? - The little boy washes his face while Pim says the phrase...).

We watch the videos, together, every day before dinner. What was once a struggle to balance preparing his components of dinner while fixing our dinner is now easily handled. He is absorbed so much in these videos we can almost hear the "thuuuup" of his brain sucking in the new language, and it is more than babysitting, since he's begun to identify things and activities in both languages. It is a beautiful sight and we're very pleased that, even if he doesn't become fluent in Italian, the synapses are being stimulated to aid in language acquisition later.

The best part of this is that Little Pim is affordable. It made my jaw drop to see how much some of the other language tutorial programs are, and when I first logged on to their website, I was hesitant...suspicious. The site offers a variety of packages. We purchased a package that includes a stuffed animal of Pim, and it did not break the bank. I am considering investing in other language(s), too, as his English and Italian develop.

I have no visions of grandeur regarding Sydney and his future. But, you never know what little step may be the stone on which he will step to greater heights than his father or I have reached. And isn't that what parenting is? Wishing better for your children than you have or may achieve? Now that we're on the path to learning Italian, I need to contact our friends in Grottaglie and start saving for a trip there!