Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Blue Satin

My keys jingle as I unlock the door to my new fourth grade classroom. On the other side of this door, books sit neatly stacked atop each desk. Buckets of sharpened pencils, colored pencils, Crayola markers , highlighters , and pens await eager fingers. What will today hold? I take a deep breath and glance upward praying, "Dear God, please give me the words to teach these young minds." I pause in silence for a few seconds. When I open my eyes the blue satin curtain above my door catches my attention.

I smile as I think back to the project that material was originally meant for. For that project, I was as nervous as I am today. Of course, I was in about 4th grade and my baton instructor had asked me to lead the rest of the twirlers in the Sturgis Week parade. My mom bought this blue satin to sew a flag for my baton.

On the day of the parade, I looked the part with my baton ready. Yet my mind kept questioning, why did she pick me? I'm not good enough to lead everyone else. None the less, there I was out in front leading the group down the parade route.

It seems fitting that this blue satin fabric hangs above my classroom door today, since I have the same questions running through my mind. Why did they pick me? I'm not good enough to lead these children.

Today, I look the part with my desks ready. So, I'll do as I did more than 20 years ago...I'll lead the group through their 4th grade parade, hoping that someone else sees me as well as my Baton instructor did.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tummy Personification

      I swallow a salty bite of sausage and potatoes as Cole jumps down from his chair.  I spear another bite onto my fork, and steer the hot potatoes towards my mouth.  Suddenly my body jolts forward, knocking my delicious bite into my cheek.
      "Cole! Go back to your seat," I groan, "Get out from behind me!"
      Giggling he squeezes me into a hug from behind.  Sighing, I continue eating as his small body wiggles and pushes around between my back and the chair.
       Trying to ignore him, I feel his tiny sticky fingers cupping around my ear as he whispers, "My tummy says that it doesn't want any more food in it."
       I giggle and lean back, sandwiching him between myself and the stiff chair back.  As his giggles and shrieks beg me to stop, I consider his statement.  I guess if anyone would know -his tummy would.

A Memory, Ripe and Juicy

Outside the trail of smoke from the grill winds its way through the open window.  My nose draws me from my homework, and my stomach grumbles its impatience.  Without thinking my brain switches from think to observe.  Resting my feet on the opposite chair, I relax - enjoying the sights and smells of a Sunday afternoon cookout.  A fan whirls nearby and my little sister's voices echo from outside.  The pool water glistens from the back window.   

On the counter three barely ripe tomatoes squat, brightening until the most perfect day when my mother scoops one up.  Knife in hand, she positions the now bright red tomato on the cutting board.  With quick precision her knife cleanly cuts the first slice, she pauses briefly and wipes her sweaty forehead with the back of her hand.  I watch her as a small seed slowly slides through the juice left on the knife.  Mom quickly slices the next piece as if slicing butter.  Slice after slice, the pile grows across our plastic green patterned plates like small steps climbing to our mouths.  I grimace as mom slides the plate across the table.  Those tomatoes sure look perfect, but none will grace my delicious hamburger.

Friday, March 25, 2011

It's March When...

You know it's March when the sun peeks out behind the clouds to tease you.

You know it's March when your morning routine isn't quite as smooth since you must calculate the appropriate attire for the fluctuating temperatures. 

You know it's March when every piece of clothing you pull out of your closet looks less and less appealing, and you are pulled toward that pair of Capri pants in your drawer.

You know it's March when you get closer and closer and closer and closer to that last week forcing you to question April's existence.

You know it's March when your students seem to have a limited tolerance of their classmates, and in turn you question your own tolerance.

You know it's March when you see your students longingly stare out the window at the bright sunshine.

You know it's March when you see that bright sunshine, and then you actually feel the frigid, deceiving temperatures. 

You know it's March when you start making statements such as:  "That can wait until Spring Break."

You know it's March when basketball takes over my TV, and my husband.

You know it's March when brown lawns stare at you as if begging for a makeover.

You know it's March when you start thinking of flowers, lawn mowers, and home repairs.

You know it's March when...-well, when you feel as if Spring will never come, and you start wondering if you'll survive March. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Blogging Begins...

Our class has begun writing their own individual blog posts.  They worked very hard to write their first post.  Our goal was to write about something we care about, and try to persuade our readers to change their thinking after reading our post.  We discussed how to use our own experiences as examples, and listing reasons to prove that their view is the correct one.  Our blogs have a wide range of topics.  Each post has one thing in common, they are written about something the author cares about deeply.  Surprisingly, several wrote of why their favorite book series was the best. 

We are working on rereading our posts before submitting them.  We continue to work on using our comments to push everyone’s thinking in a positive way, and to explain our thoughts in our comments with clear words and examples.

Today, I tiptoed through our classroom as the students were spread out across the floor typing posts and comments on our blogs.  Every student was engaged in purposeful communication.  They were discussing how their posts sounded, whether they made sense, or if they could add anything.  They have a reason to complete these posts -authentic audiences.  They are writing in order to change someone’s thinking, to be heard, and to tell their thinking.  

The most exciting part of our blogging does not happen during the school day.  The most exciting part happens after school as several students log on to their blogs to complete their post or read other posts.  I usually have emails confirming new comments within minutes of the kids bounding off their buses at home.  I just spent an hour reading through twelve different blog posts, and more than 30 comments.  How exciting!!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sucked In...

I can't stay away, even though I planned to skip tonight's post.  I've become completely obsessed with writing, and reading everyone's slices.  I stalk my own blog page waiting for someone's thinking to spring back at me, and give me new thinking from my own writing.

I can't stay away, even though I should be grading papers and going to bed.  I think I have an illness.  Is there a doctor for this writing obsession?  I wonder if my medical insurance will cover it. 

I can't stay away, even though I have been sleep deprived for the past 3 weeks of slicing.  I can't seem to wake up in the morning, but I can't go to bed without writing something from my day.

I can't stay away, so here is a little snippet of my day.  I check my blog before I did anything to get ready this morning.  I check it quickly before I leave for work.  I check it after I come home, and then when the kids are finally snug in their beds - I write.  I read the post.  I preview the post, and reread.  I go back and modify the post, then reread again.  Then I post, and, of course, reread the finished product.  I smile, close my computer and go to bed feeling accomplished.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Four Year Old Reader's Thinking

My 4 year old son, Cole, absolutely loves The Story of Ferdinand by:  Munro Leaf.  Lately, Ferdinand's story has been read nightly in our house.  I remember when my daughter went through this stage, reading her favorite picture book over and over.  Some nights can be rather mind numbing reading the same pages over and over. 

As my son began this obsession with the docile bull, I paid close attention to his observations.  He always notices the illustrations, and makes a lot of meaning from what he notices in them.  He began with fairly general questions.  "What's a cork tree?"  "Why does the big Ferdinand have horns, and the little Ferdinand doesn't?"  After reading 3 or 4, he started noticing more specific details such as the characters expressions in the pictures, and asking questions about the background illustrations.

Tonight, Cole proved that he not only knows the story by heart, but he also proved, that even after more than 20 readings -he is still growing his thinking about Ferdinand.

A Glimpse of Our Conversation...

"Cole, what do you want to read?"  I call while Cole brushes his teeth.  Before he even answers, I fish out The Story of Ferdinand  and hop onto his bed. 

He runs in yelling, "Ferdinand!"  We curl up with the book between us to read.  "Once upon a time in Spain,"  I begin.  He listens intently, finishing the words on each page when I stop reading.  He's completely focused on the illustrations. 

Suddenly he stops me, noticing the bandages on the other bulls as they look at a poster advertising the bull fight in Madrid, "What happened to his leg?"

"He probably got hurt when he was fighting with the other bulls,"  I remind him. 

"Oh, let's go back and see the picture of when they are fighting,"  he instructs.  We flip through the pages, looking for the picture of the little bulls fighting.  When we get to the page, he analyzes to see if he can see the exact fight that would have caused a wound to the back leg of the solid color bull.

"No, go to the page when they are older, " he continues, determined to make sense of the injured bull in the picture.  Finally, we find the page with the older bulls.  He looks closely at the scene, but doesn't see proof to confirm our thinking that the bull was injured while fighting.  His mind quickly shifts from the bulls fighting on the page to a small object in the background.  He asks, "What's that Mama?"

I pull the page closer to me, and I honestly had no idea what the object was.  I turned the page this way and that, tipped it toward the light, and finally said, "I don't know, Cole."  Without missing a second, he begins digging around under his pillow and pulls out his bug magnifying glass. 

"Let's use the magnifying glass to see it,"  he demands as I look at his determined face with amazement.  Who keeps a magnifying glass under their pillow?  I actually froze briefly before looking through the magnifying glass, and desperately wanted to run get the video camera.  But I didn't, and continued to investigate that strange object with Cole.  We finally determined that it was a "round scooper thing", and continued on through the book. 

Cole stopped to analyze the bee's expression after Ferdinand had crushed him, wondering why the bee looked like that.  He wondered how a branch from the cork tree was flying across the picture of Ferdinand's hooves.  "Did Ferdinand kick his hooves up into the tree?" 

He asked if the final picture of the flower was the same flower that the bee was sitting on when Ferdinand sat on him.  He laughed at how crazy the men in the funny hats looked, and said that he liked their hats.  I asked him why, and he said that their hats looked like the hats that artists wear.  He shook in fear when the Matador came into the ring, and told me, "The Matador kills the bull at the end of the bull fight, but not Ferdinand because he doesn't fight.  He just wants to smell the flowers."

I could tell more and more of Cole's observations, but I mostly want to remember what I thought about after reading with Cole.  I thought about how often I read a book just once, and never go back to it.  I wondered how many more things I would notice if I spent as much time in my books as Cole has with Ferdinand.  I thought about all of the other books that I have read to my kids and students, and I wondered if I rush them through without really taking the time to discuss what is going on in the pictures.  I wondered what kind of a reader Cole will be when he begins to focus on the print rather than the illustrations.  Will he continue to analyze those miniscual details as he has in Ferdinand's story?  How can I help him to maintain that focus -that pure determination to understand every detail?  I noticed how my own excitement about reading grew through this one small conversation with my four year old son, and wondered how many more things my fourth graders notice that I could discuss with them. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Boys and Bullying

One strong, athletic boy stands in the middle of the gym. He scans his teammates for an opening. Dribbling the ball, he avoids the small boy to his right. The small boy, Alex, yells, "I'm open, Jeff!".

Jeff pretends to ignore him, and walks slowly toward the hoop. He forgets about that thought in his head to give the small boy a chance. He thinks only of his desire to make the point, and hear his team celebrate his greatness.

Behind him, Alex, the small boy, clenches his fists, angry that his teammate won't give him a chance. Running without thinking, he slams his entire body into the back of Jeff. If he won't let me play, then he won't play, he thinks triumphantly as Jeff crashes to the floor and the ball slowly rolls away. His entire body feels the sweetness of revenge pour through him -until his teammates' voices echo across the gym.

"Come on, Alex! Why did you push him down? He could have scored a point!" they yell as Alex returns to reality, realizing what he just did. He lowers his head and walks to the sidelines. His teammates continue their taunting.

"I wish you weren't on our team. We always lose because of you, Alex," they continue on and on until Alex buries his head in his arm and sinks to the wooden gym floor.

Jeff gets up just as the final second leaves the clock. He walks over to where Alex lays with his face covered in his shirt. He bends down as his anger twists his stomach around and around. He waits until Alex looks up at him, and says "You're such a baby, Alex. That's exactly why I never throw the ball to you. You always mess up, and then we always lose."

Alex's mind jumps about trying to make sense of everyone and everything. He can't understand. He doesn't have anyone that cares. Why do I even try, he wonders as he curls himself back into a ball. Maybe they're right. Maybe I shouldn't play ball anymore. He plows through his negative thoughts as a wrecking ball bashes into a building that's already crumbling from disrepair. As Alex lays on the ground, he torments himself with put down after put down. He begins to feel numb to his frustrations. Soon, he no longer cares anymore. If they don't care enough about me, then why should I?

His self doubt eats away at him, day after day. He doubts everything and everyone -every single day. He loses faith that there are caring people in the world, and soon loses trust in anyone at all.
Every night when he goes to bed he wonders, why should I get up tomorrow?

Isn't it amazing how our own desire to receive praise blinds us to the hurt that we cause others?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, March 20, 2011


          I've been a teacher for nearly 10 years now, and a mom for 6 and a half of those.  Just when I think I have the role of mom and teacher balanced -something changes and my system crumbles.  On days like today, I wonder whether I'm successfully riding the ride of motherhood and teacher.  Am I doing either job justice?  Am I taking time to enjoy the ride of either?  Today, I sit surrounded by papers to grade.  I plan my week, and pray that my bedtime will not stretch past 11.  I watch my children playing around my work bubble, and I sigh that I am not a part of their world today.  I'm definitely not enjoying the ride of teacher today because I feel guilty about missing my ride through motherhood. 

As I fret about missing out, I reflect on how I can make my work more efficient.  I search for anything to reassure myself that I am getting better at this mom-teacher thing.  I search for any trick or strategy that will improve how I do either job.  As I search I list out my improvements as if I am writing down a grocery list of needs. 

Improvement #1: 
Whenever possible use the books that you read with your own children in classroom lessons.  Your children will provide some great insight on how your students will relate to the book, and you will have a chance to think through the strategies that you could teach through that book.

Improvement #2
Find a book or two that you know inside out.  Refer to those books whenever possible.  Your students will learn to know those books as well as you do.

Improvement #3 
Use as many parent volunteers as possible.  For the past 2 years, I have had at least 3 parents in per week.  They have helped with tons of math centers, bulletin boards, and in our class library.

Improvement #4 
Assess students daily throughout lessons and daily work.  I keep a notebook handy where I can do a quick check of what my students have mastered.  This list helps me create my small group instruction.

Improvement #5
When that pile on your desk becomes a daunting moutain, collect all of it, take it home, and sort after the kids are in bed.

Improvement #6
Assign as many jobs to students as possible.  They can't wait to help clean and organize. 

Improvement #7
Looking at notebooks.  Yikes, this has taken me some time to improve.  When I'm looking at  specific items, I try to use my specials time and my handy, dandy notebook to walk through each student's work.  This gives me a quick idea of how they are doing with that concept.  When I do my end of the unit/quarter work, I allow students to do a self-reflection and mark evidence of each concept with post-it notes.  Then I meet with each one and they give me more details in our discussion about their understanding of the concepts or strategies.  This has become one of my most favorite times to reflect with the students over their unit work.  When I want to spend more time with their entries, I make a copy and take them home to read rather than carting 25 notebooks home.

Improvement #8
Use to give each spelling group their word test.  They print out their tests already graded! 

Improvement #9
Use the end of the unit Math assessments to pinpoint exactly which concepts your students struggle with, and use that data to form your small group remediation lessons.

Improvement #10 
Instead of trying to read everything that kids are reading, allow peers to share books with each other.  Kids are more apt to try a new book, if their friend refers it.  I'm also beginning to have parents that have read a book come in and share with the students.

Improvement #11 
At home, plan your meals out a month at a time.  Buy as many of the ingredients as you can in one shopping trip each month.  Then run to the store for the fresh ingredients on your way home from work.  (I usually send my husband, since I am the first one to get to the kids.) 

Improvement #12
When cooking, double the recipe for meals that are freezable.  Eat half of the meal, and freeze the 2nd half for another night. 

I'm sure I'll improve many, many more times on my teacher-mom path.  I enjoy both roleso much, but sometimes I wonder if I'll ever figure it all out.  Will I ever reach that moment when I won't have to change and everything will fall into its perfect place?  I'm sure the answer is no, but I can dream can't I?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Girls and Bullying

Three girls stand in line for lunch, two whisper secretly back and forth. The third examines her shoes pretending she doesn't notice. At the end of the day, she boards the bus full of worry and anxiety. Silently she rides home, talking minimally with her seat mates. As the bus pulls away, she shuffles up the driveway kicking small pebbles into the grass. Opening the front door, she finally let's all of her feelings go. In between tears, her mother hugs her not knowing what exactly caused her daughters tears. Her mother stares down into her daughter's blotchy red face and asks about her day. The girl swallows hard and fiddles with the zipper on her jacket. Slowly she shares about the whispers, the stares, and how she was excluded throughout the day. She tells about how the girls take advantage of her friendship by stealing her pencil sharpeners and her answers on the most recent assignment.

Wisely her mother allows her daughter to share and comforts her through her pain. She offers words of advice on how girls act sometimes as a result of jealousy. Her daughter feels better just because her mom listened, and they go back to their regular routine, pushing the school situation further from their minds.

The next day the girl boards the bus again feeling a bit better, but with that pull of worry on her stomach. She goes to her class, does her work, and hopes for the best. At lunch the line scene plays out just as it had the day before, and she returns to her worry and anxiety. By the end of the day, the girl holds herself together long enough to go home, cry in her mom's arms again, and feel better long enough to get in bed and wait for the predictable events of the next day. The girl continues on with her friends and their hurtful actions. She continues her comfort sessions with her mom each night. Yet each day, she doesn't try anything to stop feeling anxious or worried. She continues to stand with the same friends. She continues to remain silent when she feels upset. She continues to allow others to trample on her spirit. Unwisely, her mom tries to give her daughter what she hopes will get her through each day, but does not tell her to take a stand and hopefully stop how she is being treated. She does not encourage her to involve her teacher and others at school.

Three months later when the girl can no longer push through until she gets home. She can no longer stand alone and take the constant criticizing. She can no longer be silent. The tears erupt and she finally shares every single offense that has been done. Those months of mistreatment pile up in the air, and she lays her head down to pray that this means it will end, that the hurt will disappear.

As her teacher listens, she wonders how this will fix overnight. She wonders if the other girls will even understand how their actions have affected their "friend" day after day. Her teacher knows that those actions will be addressed, but hopefully in a manner that allows the girls to realize the pain they have left their friend with. She prays that everyone involved will change in some way. The girls that excluded the third girl will be able to recognize how their actions affect their friends. The girl feeling hurt by her friends will know how to share with her friends and her teachers before she reaches the point where she can't continue on. Hopefully with time, healing will come and new thinking will emerge.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, March 18, 2011


          Today, I found myself pausing briefly throughout the day
- to savor the moment.

Driving to work, reflecting on my epiphany about reading.


Arriving at school, my room ready for the day.  I reread several articles.


Watching my students, eagerly grabbing and trapping their thoughts in their notebooks.


Munching on a Subway sub for lunch, listening to colleagues share as I grade tests.


Smiling, I listen as my students share their thinking with such passion that they move from their knees to standing.


Writing notes, I wait as one student describes her book with reflections and comparisons. 


Sighing I pack up my bags to go home, knowing that I'll see my Grandma when I get home.


Easing back on the couch, I feel my eyelids dropping as my son curls up next to me for a nap.


Asking to ride bikes, my kids and I laugh as we test out new tricks.

Swinging through the brisk air, Cole begs, "Higher, Mama! Higher!"


Pouring water from a pretend teapot, my daughter smiles asking, "Do you take sugar?"


Reading books, my daughter demonstrates lots of new reading skills, grabbing book after book.


Dressing for bed, Cole asks "Kenna, will you marry me?"  "I can't, Cole" "But, I have to marry you, Kenna." "Mama, if I don't marry Kenna, will I marry you?"  "Who will I marry then?"


Crying, Kenna begs to keep reading when bedtime comes.  I'm so proud of her.


Realizing how complete today was I find my book, head for the comfort of my bed, ready to join beloved characters in their world.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Marginalia, what?

           Years spent reading in high school and college, my own comprehension always felt less than my classmates.  I always read, but I'd walk away feeling like I hadn't read any thing at all.  When you leave a text without any new information, you start wondering why you even tried in the first place.  Later in college I would take notes and highlight minimally so I could resell my books easily.  In my first few years of teaching, I purchased books that I knew would be my own books forever.  I wouldn't resell these books, and I began to write with more than a highlighter and post-it notes.  I began to write with a pencil in hand.  I'd draw lines and write snippets of thoughts right next to the text that I read.  I'd circle the parts that I had questions about, and then write those questions right next to those parts.  My thinking seeped onto the pages, and suddenly I was able to finish a text with new information.   My writing on those pages became marks of pride.  I found myself revisiting the texts just to pour over my thoughts more.  The funny part of this whole discovery was that I actually believed I had originated this way to read.  I believed that because no one in my academic career had taught me to do this as I read. 
              With that being said, I have now read two sources that explain writing as you read as marginalia.  A post on the Stenhouse Blog with Cris Tovani shared about several New York Times articles explaining the "history, value, and future of marginalia".  Hold it-stop the clock...the history?  I thought I created this great way to read on my own, but now I'm reading that this form of reading was more "common in the 1800s", but "in the 20th century it mostly came to be regarded like graffiti: something polite and respectful people did not do."  So, maybe I was naive to think that I invented writing in books to understand my reading.  Now that I know it is common, and was especially common in the 1800s, I am thrilled to read more about the books we know have the thinking marks of great minds such as Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, or Mark Twain.  What would it be like to read a book that had Thomas Jefferson's thinking throughout?
              This leads me to more thinking.  Why didn't any of my teachers take time to show me how I could learn so much more if I had a conversation with the text?  When will my own children and students begin to value the art of putting their own thinking down on the page next to the writer's words?  To use the writer's words and merge them with the reader's thinking.  Together melding the comprehension we need to truly understand and remember the story.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My Mental Writer's Notebook Entry

        Today, while walking outside in the beautiful sunshine I found myself thinking.  Not of the sunshine, although pleasant.  No, my thoughts obsessed over my looming blog post for today.  I jumped into my van, realizing that I needed gas.  As I drove to the gas station, my thoughts again returned to what on earth could be interesting for a reader from my life today?  My mind jumped from topic to topic as if creating a mental entry in my writer's notebook.  I pictured an elaborate web of details piling up on the page, but none of them hooked me.  None made me want to drop everything and write.   
        Hoping to find a topic somewhere, I paid extra close attention to my children chattering, listened fervently to the news on the radio, and searched the window on the drive home.  My mental notebook entry scribbled down Kenna's thought that the moon was fluttering about in the sky, when Cole referred to Kenna's lip gloss ring as a laser, Errrr!  I penciled in a passing thought about a young family in Japan that has been searching for their mother since the devastating tsunami.  I highlighted an idea to write about a student that was bullied regarding a disability that is out of her hands.  Could I write something to make the bullies truly understand their actions?  I traced over a snippet of my class sitting in a circle during our interactive read aloud taking in one of the most powerful parts of the story when suddenly the fire drill went off- right in the middle.  Could I write something to line up my thinking of the roller coaster of life, the highs and lows?  Yet, another highlighted idea in bold letters shines from my mental notebook entry.  I could describe the amazing feeling I had when I listened to Kenna read a book independently without hearing the story before.  Another addition to my mental list would tell of my drive to work and listening to the song my husband sang at grandpa's funeral, and how the tears flowed as pictures of my grandpa flashed before me.  
             Sitting in front of my computer, I analyzed that mental notebook entry and realized today's post must tell of my thoughts.  I must sum up my obsession with what to write, and realize that some days the words will be either too few or too many to truly express.  That some days life rushes past, and the only way to truly reflect is to try to catch everything in as few words as possible.  Just as you would catch a butterfly in a net to quickly snap a picture, and then release, watching as it soars away from you.  So, I'll look back at my mental notebook web of ideas for today's blog, and pray that tomorrow I can grasp that one idea that consumes my thinking.  That I'll find one idea that holds onto you and allows the words to flow like water.  Today, I'm satisfied with my mental notebook entry and the plan of another day spent writing tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mysteries of Motherhood

         Sweet motherhood!  The baby powder smell, the cuddly baby, the precious cooing.  All things that sweeten the early days of motherhood.  Time stomps on and suddenly sweet motherhood loses that honeymoon glow.  Messy motherhood! The stinky diapers, the "why" questions, the temper tantrums.  All things that push mothers towards the local spa.
           Ever-changing Motherhood!  Glorious change as mothers sprint to keep up with our creative, curious bundles of joy.  The play dates, the ballet lessons, the field trips.  All things that force those pride-filled smiles across mother's faces.  On and on, kids change then mothers change to meet needs.  Through all of this change, there are still small things that can flabbergast many mothers.
           Speechless motherhood!  Gum in the hair, picking noses, or coloring on walls force us to scratch our heads.  Mountains of macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, and candy pile into our shopping carts.  McDonald's Happy Meal toys, stuffed animals, and Legos shoved in between the couch cushions.  Bedtimes, nap times, and quiet time all become coveted minutes in the day.  Doctors appointments, dental cleanings, and haircuts take over your weekly duties.  Yet, time shoves its way through all of the planning, organizing, and dramatizing.
           Stop You in Your Tracks motherhood!  No matter how fluidly these events are, a mother will always puzzle over the trivial moments.  Those moments when she thought she had a grasp of the routine, situation, or event.  But that grasp loosens and loosens.  Suddenly, she's sitting in the living room folding clothes, realizing that there are 21 socks without a match!  When that happens, it's time to go to bed and hope tomorrow aligns itself.

I just don't understand how none of these match at all.

Monday, March 14, 2011

What If?

        Sitting in a Penny Kittle Workshop today, I learned of reaching readers and returning the joy of reading to them.  She spoke of seniors who had read little, if any, books in their high school years.  As she shared her journey towards joyful reading with those students, several people flashed through my thoughts.      
          First, I imagined my 4th graders.  I saw them huddled in the hallway with coveted books in their hands.   I heard them sharing their favorite parts with their friends during silent reading time because they just couldn't wait for sharing time.  I thought of them in eight years, as seniors, would they still have that passion and zeal for their reading?  Would they still believe they are readers?  How do I support them with strategies for a life filled with reading beyond the 4th grade?
          Then, I imagined my own daughter.  She began her school journey this year.  I could compare her to a sponge.  She looks for words, letters, and names everywhere.  The chip bag.  The tag on her jeans.  A magazine.  Will her passion for reading and learning waiver as she continues on through school?  Will the joy of discovery and reading a story cease to be?  How do I support her with strategies for a life filled with reading if her teachers force her into books she has not chosen?
          Lastly, I imagined myself years ago.  I remembered my high school English classes.  I remembered the exact book that hooked me.  I remembered how I felt when my friends could read book after book, and how I covered up my non-reading life.  I remembered the year that I really read books joyfully.  It wasn't a year when my teacher opened up the library shelves and said pick what you want.  It was the year that I lived abroad, and books became a safe haven.  I could read and imagine myself back home in the States.  I could read and feel the family love that I was so missing.  I could read and forget how lonely I was.  Those reading experiences changed how I viewed myself as a reader.  I could read books - long, difficult books, and that's when I became a reader.
            When I reflected on my own reading journey, I wondered how different it could have been.  Given the right book, given the right teacher, given the right encouraging friends.... I could have been a reader a lot sooner in my life.  Then, I wondered about my 4th graders and my daughter.  Will they have to leave the country and feel lonely to actually appreciate the power of a book?  Will a teacher change how they view themselves as readers right now?  Will a class requirement suck their joy of reading from them?  What if they lose that joy, how will they remember their childhood passion and zeal for reading?
              Such tough questions.  I do know this... books pull kids in and keep them reading.  When I hand over a great book to my 4th graders, I know that book will stay with them beyond my classroom.  I know that in my classroom they journeyed into books with their classmates through discussion and writing.  I hope that they'll return to that feeling and those skills time and time again.
              As a parent, I plan to continue talking to my daughter and son about books.  Even books that might not be on my Next Read list.  Even when they are old enough to read a book independently.  I want to read those classics that I love with them, but I also want to experience a new adventure with them.  For my own reading life, I plan to keep my pile of next read books on my bed stand.  I plan to carve out time in my daily routine to read.  I'll carry those stories to my students and to my daughter and son.  I'll push those stories onto my friends, and ask my family to read them as well.
              I hope that Penny Kittle takes her message to the many teachers across America.  I hope she causes teachers to reflect on what a student truly needs and desires, rather than on what they think a student needs.  I hope those teachers remember when their own reading life took off, and use their own book reading to share with their students.  I pray that my students and children keep their joy of reading forever.

Finding Joy in the Small Things

        Situated comfortably upon my bedroom floor, Kenna in front of me, looking through books and coloring.  Her wet hair twists about her face as I blow-dry it.  Leaning back, she whispers in my ear, "I love when you dry my hair!"
         Curious, I ask her why.  She shoots her "I'm so cute" smile up at me and says, "Because then I get to be with you."  This girl sure knows how to butter her Mama up.  I must agree with her, drying her hair sweetens my night.  Smiling, I glance over at Cole crawling into my closet.
         What is The Little Man up to now?, I wonder as he crawls back out with a pair of my tennis shoes.  Slipping them on his feet, Kenna starts to giggle.  He shuffles around the bed, and back into the closet.  Reappearing with one of my boots on his left leg he begs, "Mama, zip this for me."
         Zipping the knee-high boots, I notice the zipper extending well past his thigh.  "Cole, be careful these have high heels," I warn him wondering how this idea popped into his head.
         "I gotta get the other one," he shouts and hobbles back into the closet.  Returning, his right leg drags the second boot behind him.  Kenna shrieks hysterically as I finish zipping up his boot.  
         Standing in front of Kenna and I, Cole looks suited to go fishing in his thigh-high wader boots.  We both bubble over with laughter as he walks away to show Daddy.  I turn off the hair dryer, and we wait for Daddy's response.  After a minute or so we hear, "Oh, my!"  Cole giggles, and Daddy continues saying, "That's different."
         Minutes later, our little fisherman rounds the corner of the hallway.  Kenna and I laugh at the sight of him.  He grins with that mischievous twinkle in his eye, kicks off both of the boots, and walks off as if he's done that every day.
        Leaning back Kenna whispers in my ear, "I love my little brother."  Curiously, I ask her why.  She answers, "Because he has the funniest ideas."  I smile back at her, enjoying the delight in her eyes.  She sure knows what her Mama likes to hear!  Or better yet, she sure knows how to find joy in the small things.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

All the Times I love...

After a conversation with my husband tonight, I reflected upon the many reasons that I have to love.  In my day to day routine, I forget these loves and focus on those small insignificant details that will affect my job and my daily home duties.  I must keep my loves at the forefront of my mind, and the rest will fall into place.  I must remember how truly blessed my life is.  I must embrace.  I must appreciate.  I must savor.

 My Loves

I love twinkling excitement in the eyes of my children.  The way it ripples across their whole body preventing stillness.

I love music exploding with emotion.  Mood changing music, forcing your thoughts.

I love when my daughter reads.  A 6 year old making sense of words and pictures, self-checking for comprehension.

I love fun questions tossed around by my 4 year old son.  Making me think of overlooked details.

I love motivation from my husband.  Pushing much-needed positive thoughts into my guarded brain.

I love technology.  New ways to think about communicating, new communities to connect with and explore.

I love God's word speaking to me in the most unexpected ways.  Seeing and hearing God's voice strengthens my weak heart.

I listen...  I notice... I love...    

Friday, March 11, 2011


Simply said, my day exceeded my own hopes.  
My goals met reality.  
Relief followed.  
My own reflections were confirmed by instant feedback, 
and my body feels less of gravity's effects.  
My questioning, 
my doubt 
cast from their predominant position.  
I stand.  
I believe. 
I am.  

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Glimpses of Grandpa

Laughter and tears, tears and laughter.  How could you ask for two better emotions?  When tears and laughter meet, well then you have a celebration.  I know.  I've been to many celebrations.  My most recent celebration? When I bid farewell to Grandpa.  I know farewells are not typically celebrations, but my Grandpa wasn't just a typical grandpa. 
         Beginning to say farewell to Grandpa, with tears ever-present, my cousins and I sit in the first two rows of the church pews.  Three boxes of tissues evenly spaced between our feet.  The service begins somberly with the torturous droning of the organ music.  Looking left then right my sisters smile at me as I express my hatred for that music.  Our tears are then joined by silent laughter.
          My cousin's husband stands before us to guide our farewell to grandpa.  Our laughter leaves, and we return to our tears alone as music is sung and the obituary is read.  I begin feeling that Grandpa is far away from here.  What would he think about this?  Would he like it?  These moments are so sad, so formal.  Grandpa's not here.  This isn't him.
         Ripped from my wonders, I hear my aunt sharing her thoughts about her father.  She shares his life.  She shares his thrills.  She shares his faith.  Suddenly, I can feel Grandpa again.  His laughter echoes around me through his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.  My tears are joined by laughter yet again.  Grandpa's closest friends come forward sharing hunting and fishing stories.  We laugh through memories of Grandpa catching gobs of fish, much more than his legal limit.  We laugh through stories of tracking deer.  When my cousin's husband reminds us of the Thanksgiving when Grandpa woke Grandma up before 6 am when he shot his muzzle-loader from their spare bedroom, we forget our tears completely for those gigantic belly laughs.  Apparently if Grandpa couldn't go out to hunt, he found a seemingly great alternative.  Amidst my belly ache I glimpse Grandpa once again.  He filled life with laughter, passion and love.  I said farewell to Grandpa today, but I can't wait to glimpse him again in the people and world around me.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

My Little Author

Anticipation builds,
Kenna's book for the Young Author's conference shipped.

Watching the UPS tracker, her book slowly traveled from Massachusetts to Rhode Island, and had been sitting in New Jersey for an entire day.  The March 17th arrival date dragged its feet.

Logging in for our week-long ritual check of the UPS tracker, I took a double take when I read "Out for Delivery" at 8:05 this morning!

Upon hearing this, Kenna briefly danced around the room.  My Mama heart mirrored her little dance.  Quickly, she drags a chair to the window to wait.  I silently hope the UPS tracker site was accurate.

Within fifteen minutes the big, brown truck pulls up beside our mailbox.  Kenna, leaping from her chair, barely touches the ground as she grabs the door, opens it, and watches the driver slowly walk to the door.  He hands her the brown cardboard package, and her celebration dance begins again.  The driver chuckles as he walks back to his truck.

In between twirls, she begs, "Can I open it?, Can I?, Can I?"  Trying to catch every move of this young author's first printed story on the camera, I persuade her to close her eyes while I cut open the box.

Placing the opened box in front of her, I grab the camera just as she lifts the cardboard flaps.  She cradles her book like a fragile baby.  She gleams as she studies its hot pink cover, and slowly reads her name on the cover.  "I love it," she repeats.  She looks at her own drawings and carefully selected words throughout the book.  She gasps when she sees the "About the Author" on the back cover.  Her picture along with a summary of her hobbies, grade, and how she was inspired to write a book like Cynthia Rylant. 

My teacher heart soars as I watch this young writer gush over her first piece of writing.  I can't take my eyes away from her.  She reads the book to her brother.  She gathers paper, and begins crafting a new sign for her bedroom door, "The Author's Room".  Taping it to her door, she returns to her paper and starts another poster, "Making a New Book Room".  This poster hangs on her closet door.  I peek my head in to see her book neatly propped up on her doll's closet.  She's a writer, and she's already making plans for more stories. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Thinking too Much

         Around 7:45 Kenna and Cole begin their nightly ritual of bath and bedtime.  "I went first last night,"  Kenna proclaims shortly after Daddy announces, "Bathtime!"
         Within seconds Cole joins the conversation with, "No, I went first last night!"
         Sighing I walk down the hallway with both kids groaning the whole way.  I wonder why they fight their bath so much.  Their baths mean 100% of Mommy and Daddy.  No distractions.  They take turns in the tub while the one waiting plays with Daddy or Mommy, wrestling, tickling, and giggling.  Maybe it's the fact that bedtime is getting closer, but even then they each get to choose a few books and spend the next half hour or so, reading, chatting, and snuggling.
          I guess I groan a little when we start bath time too.  I have a hundred other things to do, catch up on my facebook, my twitter, read some of my professional books, plan my lessons, do the laundry, clean up after supper, make the lunches, and on and on.  Then I wonder why I groan, when bath time means 100% of Kenna and Cole.  No distractions.  With this ironic realization in mind, I walk to Cole's bedroom for his story time.  I purposely push every thought from my mind - except the thought of my son and enjoying books with him.  Why does that always seem so hard when I love my kids so?
          In his room Cole scours his book rack, searching for that favorite book.  Watching him, I silently hope that he picks one of my favorites.  His small fingers riffle through book after book.  "Mama, where's The Napping House?"
           I smile because he chose a favorite of mine!  I pull The Napping House from behind the tall "Search and Find" Wall-e book, and bounce onto his tall mattress.  Cole begins his climb up into his bed.  I grab him up with a hug, and smooth the blankets up over him.  Then, we read.  As I read, he fills in the missing words that he knows by heart.  He interjects often with his observations of the illustrations.  "Mama, look the animals are on the floor before they crawl on the Napping Bed."  "Mama, look the flea -it's getting closer to the bed on each page."  "Mama, look that's where the bed breaks.  See that crack in the leg?"
           As he shares, and I push him to let me finish reading, my mind clears.  It's not a struggle to keep it clear.  I can't think of anything else, only of my son and this book.  When the book ends, I groan.  I groan because I know that reality is getting closer, and soon my mind will again be clogged up with all the other stuff again.

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Moment I'll Always Remember

One moment, fresh in my mind lingers even after two weeks.  I can replay it as if I am watching a show on TV.
         I'm in my Grandpa's hospital room- there is standing room only.  I stand shoulder to shoulder with my aunts, uncles, cousins, my mom and sister.  My Grandma, sitting near the window, cuddles her great grandson close.  Seated by my Grandpa's bed are several doctors.  Holding a few sheets of paper, they have run through all of their questions. we must look beyond this hospital room.  We must prepare.  Each doctor shares, and gives advice.  Several options, laid before us, would allow Grandpa to leave this horribly, uncomfortable hospital bed.  None of the options give us the answers we silently plead the doctors to say.  Grandpa says that he'd like to go home, but glances at Grandma and says, "Do whatever is easiest for her."
        Grandma looking at the doctors says, "I'd like to see him get better before he comes home."  She said it, and the idea floats around the room as tears push closer to the surface.
        "Hospice care allows your husband to return home, and gives the best scenario of comfort for him right now," one of the doctors says using extremely measured words.
        Grandma looks up at my aunt, who stands by Grandpa's bed holding his hand.  Grandma grabs her great grandson's hands, and asks, "You mean he isn't going to get better?"
         Then, I glance back just as my aunt shakes her head at Grandma.  I hold my breath as I look back at Grandma.  She bows her head, and I watch as silent tears drop onto her pants.  Then, I begin to see and feel the reality set in.  Many of my cousins fix their eyes on the ceiling tiles, my mom and her siblings look to each other through blinding tears.  The doctors wait.  Grandma does not speak when they ask again what she wants to do-to prepare.  Shifting my weight, I watch my mom move towards Grandma.  Squatting down, my mom looks up at Grandma, and pleads, "Mom...Mom, what do you think?"
         Realizing the heaviness of the moment, my aunt looks back to the doctors and asks, "Can we talk about it and let you know?"
         Quickly the doctors nod their heads, give their business cards, and plan to come back the next day.
         Even two weeks later, I still see and hear every second of those brief minutes.  I am amazed by my mom and aunt's strength.  I'm also overwhelmed when my Grandma's face flashes before me.  For more than 60 years, she has loved and supported my Grandpa.  She has held his hand.  She has stood by his side.  She has laughed with him, and I'm sure cried.  During their marriage, Grandpa survived two life-threatening accidents, breaking bones and losing his eyesight for several months.   Grandma saw him heal.  She saw him survive, time and time again.  He was a fighter, and it shouldn't surprise me that she expected him to do the same this time.      

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Deeper Meaning - A Stronger Connection

Stepping into my classroom, minutes before my students arrived, I took a deep breath.  My throat tightened slightly as I thought about my weekend.  I wondered how I would tell my students about my Grandpa?  How do I tell them without crying?  Maybe I should act like everything is normal.  But I realized that they knew me too well.  They would notice that my heart was breaking.  So, I planned my morning around a class meeting, during which I told them about my Grandpa's death.  I told them how much I was missing him.  I told them that I would probably get upset during the day, but reassured them that I was okay.  Okay, but sad.  I looked in their eyes as the tears entered my own, and their eyes reassured me that they understood my hurt.  Following the class meeting, we returned to business as usual.  Lessons and practice, learning and sharing flowed through my classroom.  I'd feel that ping of sadness entered my stomach occasionally, but looking at my students helped me push through and keep teaching.
       Shortly after lunch, I grabbed a book to use in my reader's workshop lesson.  I wanted to look closely at character, and how their feelings, the setting, and other characters affect a character's actions.  I chose the book, City Dog, Country Frog.  I began reading the story, encouraging my students to write down their thinking about how the characters were acting and why.  With every page I turned, I realized that this short story dealt with a whole lot more than just a character's actions.  I began seeing my Grandpa, and feeling that ping of sadness.  I finished the book, and we wrote down the things that related to our lesson topic.  As we wrapped up our class chart, I picked up the book.  Flipping through the pages, I asked my students if they could think of anything that this book would make me think about today.  Immediately Jacob's hand shot up, and he grinned when I called on him.
         "This story made you think about your Grandpa.  I think that when the frog left, he is like your Grandpa dying.  I think you are the dog left behind waiting for him," he explained.
        Through tears, I smiled down at Jacob.  "That's exactly what I was thinking, Jacob!"  I agreed.  "I feel like City Dog,"  brushing away the tears I shared, "and I feel like I am in Winter like the dog.  I'm waiting for my Grandpa to return to me, so I can play with him again.  But when I turn the page, I see that Spring comes again for the dog.  When the dog smiles his "froggy smile" at Country Chipmunk and says, 'But you'll do!', I realized that even though my Grandpa is gone I can still take parts of him with me for the rest of my life."
         Closing the book, I dismissed the kids to go and look at the characters in their own books.  When I looked up, I noticed John standing in front of me.  He had the collar of his shirt pulled up to the corners of his eyes.  "Mrs. Rohrer, that story made me think about my Grandma," he said looking down at the ground.
        "John, I'm so sorry," I tried to comfort him.
        "Yeah, but she's in a better place.  She's in Heaven, and she doesn't have any pain anymore," he continued stretching his collar back around his face.
        "John, she's with my Grandpa.  She's with my Grandpa!"  I repeated, "Can I give you a hug, John?"
        As he nodded, I pulled him into a hug that I will never forget.  Not only will I always remember John, and his connection to my own sadness.  But I'll never forget how this book helped me heal, and see beyond my own hurt.  I still have my Grandpa with me, whenever I follow his example of how to live life.