Thursday, March 31, 2011


March 31st.
The Slice of Life Challenge is over.
And I did it. Or almost did it.
I wrote 31 posts.
But I didn't technically totally do it,
because I skipped one day
and wrote two posts another day.
But I almost did it.

I wrote approximately nine posts about life at school.
I wrote approximately fifteen posts about being a mom to teenagers,
or about specific conversations I had had with my teenagers.
I wrote two posts about our dogs.
I wrote approximately four posts about life in general.

I wonder, does the fact that I wrote more about parenting teenagers
than I did about school, mean anything?
Does the fact that I wrote more about Son #1 than Son #2 mean anything?

I loved writing every day.
I loved opening my email and seeing that someone had commented.
Tonight, I loved reading back through the slices
And remembering stuff that I had kind of already forgotten.
And I wonder if I could keep slicing all by myself
To save for the boys.
And I wondered why I had not written more for them sooner
because I know there is a lot I have forgotten.

I loved reading other people's slices
and getting to know people around the world.
I loved seeing all of the different genres people tried
and seeing how different authors crafted their work.
I loved hearing the stories of other people's lives.

If I had it to do over again--
I'd be a better commenter.
I did try to comment on three posts every day.
And most days, more than half, I made it.
But if I were going to do it again,
I think I would choose two Slicers to follow consistently
And then vary the third one from day to day.
And I wish I could have figured out a better way
to respond to people's comments.

If there was one thing I would change about Slice of Life
I wish we would have one day, the very first day,
where we wrote slices about ourselves--
who we were, where we lived, our jobs.
Some people had that on their blog,
but some people I wanted to know better.

Thanks, Ruth, for pulling all of us together.
Thanks, Slicers, for committing to writing every day, or almost every day.
Thanks Commenters, for responding with grace and sensitivity and kindness.
It was a terrific month of writing!


At 1:00, Son #1 stalks out of the bedroom, where he has been playing video games with brother and friend. "Will you take me to work out with R at 2?" he asks, in a voice that is more than a little demanding.

Despite the ugly voice, I am thrilled. This is the guy I know. The one who connects with football friends every chance he gets. The one who love, love, loves to work out.

"Sure, buddy. Where is he working out?" I ask.

"With some trainer," says my son, "It's a speed camp. You have to pay."

An hour or so later, I sit with another mom, watching him run up a hill. It's a steep hill. They run the hill. Rest a few seconds. Trot back down. Run up backwards. Rest a few seconds. Trot back down. Over and over and over again. One kid throws up in the gutter.

For the first two or three heats, my guy is at the front of the pack. After that he drops farther back. Even so, he is carrying himself in the way that I usually see only on the football field. Big. Confident. Shoulders squared. Light on his feet.

Afterwards, he talks to the coach, who calls him Big Man. He smiles, big enough so that I can see his dimple. His eyes sparkle. He asks if he can go two or three times a week to work out with R and this coach.

We have had a rough couple of months- hating school and not wanting to go. His dreams have seemed far away. Almost unreachable.

Today, it was so good to see this guy.

Today, it was so good to hope.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


It's super windy in Colorado today. I hold off taking out the garbage as long as I can, then finally blow out the back door, dragging a ginormous bag of trash along behind me. I wrestle the back gate open and am trying to stuff yet one more bag of trash in our overflowing can, wondering why our trash guys, who usually come on Tuesday morning have not yet showed up this week.

All of a sudden, the gate, which I thought was latched, blows open and two black flashes, that I quickly identify as my labs, go flying by me. Star, the escape artist and her faithful follower, Jack, have escaped yet again, the second time in the last two days. I debate whether I should run and grab a hot dog, or my car keys and decide maybe I should just take off running.

Within seconds, the dogs have made it the half block to 26th, a pretty busy thoroughfare. Thankfully, both dogs make it across the street, but I feel the glares of three drivers as I chase after them.

"Jack, Star," I shout. "Want a hot dog?" My two escape artists are no dummies however. They pause only momentarily to sniff the air and then, picking up no meaty scent, resume their mad dash.

I try again. "Jack, wanna go bye-bye? Come on Star, let's go. " The car is another favorite treat, and I think maybe this will get their attention, but that doesn't work either. I look to see if I see any angels that might grab my two wild beasties, but there is no one in sight. We keep running.

Another half block down, there is a construction site. The both dogs are distracted momentarily by a fast food bag and I sneak up and grab Star by the collar. Usually when I get her, Jack will follow along, but that is not the case today. He changes directions, but won't come close enough to allow me to catch him. Instead he stays two or three houses ahead, as I drag Star along, gripping her pink collar firmly in my hand.

I'm afraid to risk 26th again, so I do an about face. Jack pauses, then decides he will follow us. I hear him come tearing up behind, delighted at this new game of doggie tag. I lunge for his collar and am practically pulled off my feet, but I am successful. Jack gags as his forward momentum is stopped in mid-flight.

I get a firmer grip on both collars and the three of us- one slightly winded, middle aged lady and two big black labs, tongues lolling, tails wagging, march down 26th and up our front walk.

Just another day in the life of the Great Houdinis…

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


I have lived alone for the majority of my adult life. I had a roommate for the first three or four years after I graduated from college, and then one year during my doctoral program, but aside from that, I have pretty much always lived alone.

In 2003, I adopted my boys, and my life changed almost overnight. I went from quiet evenings, Lean Cuisine, walks at the park with a dog or two, to, hmm, I don't want to say chaos, but it definitely was a lot noisier and busier. And I liked it. A lot.

For the most part, my boys are kind of homebodies. They are much more apt to have friends over here than go to someone else's house for a night or weekend. I like it that way. I like having kids around. I like the noise- the pounding up and down the stairs for food, the rap songs they compose on Garage Band, and the laughter. I like knowing where my kids are and what they are doing.

Tonight, though, both boys are across town at a friend's house. Aside from the dogs racing madly in and out, the house feels really, really quiet. I'm watching the CU game. And reading. And doing laundry.

But it's really quiet. And I don't like it. Not one little bit.


Last night I went to Tattered Cover to see Lois Lowry, who is on a book tour for her newest novel, BLESS THIS MOUSE. I didn't intend to buy it, but of course, I ended up bringing the book home.

BLESS THIS MOUSE is the story of a community of 200 mice , who live in St. Bartholomew's church. Hildegarde, the Mouse Mistress, must shepherd her flock through periodic visits from the dreaded X (the exterminator) and also the Festival of Saint Francis, when the parishioners bring their pets, including cats, to be blessed. She is assisted by her bumbling wanna-be boyfriend, Roderick, and Ignatious, a wise old mouse who spent most of his life nibbling books in the university library, and therefore knows a little bit about a lot of things. And then there is Lucretia, the mouse who is constantly trying to usurp Hildegarde as Mouse Mistress…

I'm not usually big on animal fantasy, but this book is delightful. Hildegarde is a brave and resourceful leader. The complex "underground" life of mice, living in a church, where humans are kind of aware of them, but not really, reminded me of the Borrowers, which was one of my childhood favorites. The mice have their own religious life, complete with services on Sunday (led by Hildegarde) that I loved.

A terrific read aloud for primary grade students.

Monday, March 28, 2011


"Where are you going?" asked my son, as I headed out the door this afternoon.

"To see a friend," I shouted over my shoulder. "I'll be back in a little while."

It was the truth, kind of anyway. I was going to see a friend. OK, a friend I had never met. But a friend who I had known through her books for a long, long time.

Lois Lowry was reading at the Tattered Cover) this afternoon, and so I made the sixty mile round trip, through rush hour traffic, to see my old friend.

Lowry has a new book, BLESS THIS MOUSE, that has just come out in the last few weeks. She talked first about the origin of this story. Lowry was at her summer home in Maine sitting at the dining room table writing when a little mouse scurried out from his hiding place. Unlike most mice, however, he was not afraid of Lowry, or her dog either. He sat in the middle of the room, and even allowed the author and her dog to approach and touch him. Lowry said that finally she scooped him up in her hand, said, "I think you will be much happier outside," and took him out into the yard, where she released him. When she came back into the house, she opened a new file on her computer, and started the story that became BLESS THIS MOUSE. The book only took her three weeks to write.

Lowry talked a little about the characters in the book, especially Hildegarde, the Mouse Mistress and Roderick, her not so smart friend. An author, said Lowry, must first make her reader care about her characters, and then she must create a problem that leaves the reader worrying about them. Hildegarde and Roderick live in a church, along with 218 other mice. The Feast of Saint Francis is fast approaching. On this day, the parishioners and townsfolk bring their pets to be blessed. The mice hate this day because they know the church will be filled with cats. Lowry read several scenes; one was a conversation between Roderick and Hildegarde that would be perfect for teaching kids how authors use conversation to reveal characters. In the other scene, Hildegarde, wearing a green gumdrop hat tied with a gold cord from the priest's garments, decides that the mice need to receive the blessing of Saint Francis.

Lowry also talked a little about her process. She said she typically starts with a character and a quest. She sometimes, but not always, knows how the story will end. She never outlines, because that makes the writing boring for her.

She also talked a little about her current project. Lowry is writing the fourth book in the Giver series. The main characters in this book are Gabriel and his birth mother. Lowry described it as a long book, she said about 450 pages, which will come out next spring, if she gets home and gets it written.

So far my spring vacation has been more work than fun, lots of appointments, and chores, and cleaning. It was really nice, then, to spend this chilly Monday night with an old friend…

Sunday, March 27, 2011


A single day can shape an entire life.

Today I had lunch with my boys' older sister. R doesn't live with us, but we have stayed in pretty close contact with her since I adopted the boys. She comes over once or twice a month, and we keep in touch with her by phone, facebook and email.Today R and I had lunch.

Somehow, we got on the subject of the day the four siblings were put into foster care. R was seven and she remembers more than my boys, who were 4 and 2 at the time. R remembers being in someone else's apartment, she thinks they were babysitting her. She could look out the window and see where her mom parked. At one point, she saw her mom's car and went back to her apartment. Her mom wasn't there. R remembers that the police came to the door, and that a social worker came and told R and three of the boys to pack up their stuff. She remembers her mom showing up at some point and everyone crying and screaming as they went from the apartment to the car. They went from the apartment to Denver Human Services and then drove a long, long way to a foster home. That first night, R was supposed to sleep in a room with another girl. All three of her brothers were in what sounded like a dormitory room in the garage or off the garage. R had never been away from her brothers and was missing her mom, so she found her way to the boys' room, and slept with them. She remembers doing that every single night they were in that home.

That single day, probably more than any other, has shaped four kids' lives…

Saturday, March 26, 2011


Today was the first day of spring vacation.

My sons slept until about noon, then got up and played video games and messed around on the computer all day.

I got up at 6 and did two loads of laundry. I called the phone company to schedule an appointment because our phone keeps saying "check phone line." I called the dishwasher repair guy because our dishwasher is not working. I called the carpet cleaners and scheduled an appointment. I emailed the boys' sister and made plans to celebrate her birthday tomorrow. I took all the trash and recycling out to the alley. I finished getting my taxes ready for the accountant. I copied my taxes. I went to the post office and mailed my taxes. I went and helped with the t-shirt sales for the high school football team. I took my school shoes to the shoe repair shop to be re-heeled. I came back to the house and spring cleaned the tv room- washed walls, vaccumed behind the couch, and dusted (OK, so the basketball games were on in the background, but I really was working, and I only stopped to watch at the very end of each game). I hand washed all the dishes that I had found under the couch, behind the couch, down the side of the coach, etc., from the boys' endless stream of football friends because our dishwasher is not working. I went and got pizza for the boys and their friends.

And then my son told me I was lazy.

And I completely and totally lost it.

This was not one of my finer moments in mothering.

Friday, March 25, 2011


Friday night. Son #2 is out with his girlfriend.
Son #1 is in his bedroom, with the door shut,
where he has been, pretty much all evening.
Approximately once every 30 minutes I check in.

Visit #1
What are you doing?
Relaxing. Leave me alone.

Visit #2 (before Son #2 goes out).
We are all downstairs watching basketball. Wanna come down?
No. Leave me alone.

Visit #3.
I'm watching basketball all by myself. Wanna come down?
No. Leave me alone

Visit #4.
You ok?
Yes. Leave me alone.

Visit #5
Good night. Love you.
Yeah. Love you too.


This has been a month, or maybe a year, when everything feels accidental…


…To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance.

You are not a troubled guest on this earth,
you are not an accident amidst other accidents
you were invited from another and greater night
than the one from which you have just emerged…


Read the rest of the poem here.

Mary Lee is hosting Poetry Friday at Year of Reading. Thanks for hosting, friend!

Thursday, March 24, 2011


I wish I was one of those mothers.
The kind that can find stuff--
Birth certificates,
adoption papers,
social security cards.
I try hard to stay organized.
I really do.
I try to keep everything in a special folder,
in a special place.
But inevitably,
when I go looking for it,
the one thing we need
is not there.
And I have to go on a mad search
Which usually last several days,
And consumes many hours,
And involves digging frantically
Through pockets,
and drawers,
and boxes,
and file cabinets.
And greatly annoys my sons
especially the organized one.
I really wish I was one of those mothers,
you know,
the organized ones.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


It is 10:15, and I am up to my eyeballs in administrivia when I get the call. Two of my kindergarten friends have had a fight and need to see me. L has been to visit me many times since he was placed in a foster home in our area in early October. Usually we do a little problem solving, then end up reading a book or two. I'm never quite sure that L views our time as punishment, in fact, I think he actually looks forward to our visits.

Today is no different. L marches into my office, dragging B, who has only been at our school about a a week, along behind. We ascertain that a small physical brawl has indeed occurred, and we talk about other ways we might solve the problem and apologize.

Then the fun begins. "Can we read a book?" says L.

"I don't know how to read," says B. I tell him that he can read the words or the pictures.

L chooses DO YOU KNOW WHICH ONES WILL GROW, which I read to his class a week or so ago, and sits down in his favorite corner of my office. B hasn't practiced the routine, so it takes a little longer to convince him that it really is ok to read the pictures, but soon he is paging through a book too.

I settle back to my administrivia, but it isn't long before L interrupts.

"Dr. Carol! Dr Carol! I see yes. See, it's right here!" He turns the book to make sure I can see the big red yes. I exclaim over his reading skills and try to go back to the administrivia. I last about 8 seconds, then L interrupts again. "Dr Carol, here's no. I see no and yes." Once again, he turns the book to make sure I can see it. L, meanwhile has gone through about three books.

I return to my administrivia. This time I last about 6.4 seconds. L interrupts again, "Dr. Carol, look, there's hat and cap. Hat and cap rhyme, right?" I explain that hat doesn't rhyme with cap, but that it does rhyme with mat and bat and fat, and lots of other words. "Oh yeah," says L. "That's what I meant. I meant hat and cat."

Back to the administrivia. Four seconds. "Dr. Carol," says L. "Look at this big cake. It has one, two, three, four rows (layers). I want a cake like that for my birthday. Do you know when my birthday is, Dr. Carol?" I don't, but that's ok, because L is more than willing to tell me. I ask B if he knows when his birthday is. He doesn't. L looks a little perplexed.

Having talked his way through DO YOU KNOW WHICH ONES WILL GROW, L is ready for a new book. "Hey, Dr. Carol, where's the one where the guy says Blargy blargy?"

I push my administrivia to the side and find CAT THE CAT. L is at the really great stage, where he is just starting to develop voice print match. I watch as he works his way carefully through CAT THE CAT, touching every word, but still making up a little text when the words are too hard for him. It takes about five minutes to get to the blargy blargy part. By this time, B is getting a little restless.

"Can we go back to class?"

"Not yet," says L. "I haven't read the skeleton book yet." L drags Steve Jenkins' BONES out of a different box. "Look, Dr. Carol, here's the skeleton one. Remember you promised you would come and read it to our class? Hey B, you want to read the skeleton book with me?"

B doesn't. "I think it's almost time to play outside," he worries.

L remembers an activity from a previous visit. "Hey, you can see the playground from here." He drags a chair to the window, climbs up, then scoots over so B can climb up also. "Do you see?" says L, peering out my second floor window at the kindergarten playground below. "We are really high. Just like the birds."

This time B is at least a little impressed. "Is that our swings?" he asks.

"Yep," says L, with the authority of one who has climbed on this chair several times before.

"Can we go back?" says B. "We might miss recess."

As we walk back down the stairs, I try to think what I might say to the kindergarten teacher, about how the boys have spent the last 45 minutes. I'm not sure the time we have just spent together was exactly what she had in mind…

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Slice of Life #22b- That Ding Dang Baby

I drop by second grade just as read aloud is about to begin. The teachers at my school know read aloud is one of my most favorite things so Cecile hands me PECAN PIE BABY. "Here, Carol, do you want to read to them?"

PECAN PIE BABY, by Jacqueline Woodson, is new to me. The story is about Gia, a little girl whose mom is expecting a baby. Everywhere Gia goes, someone asks her about the baby, or does something special for the baby, and Gia is getting very tired of the whole subject. At Thanksgiving dinner, she can't take it anymore. She announces, very loudly, that she is tired of talking about the ding-dang baby.

When we are done, I ask the kids what they think. At first they surprise me with their quiet, it's rare that someone doesn't have something to say about a book. I ask the second graders to rate the book, one to five stars, and to share why. This gets them going.

D is one of the first children to talk. He gives the book five stars. I am surprised to hear him incorporate Woodson's language into his comments, "When my mom had a ding-dang baby, that's just how I felt."

The kids love this phrase, and after that, every comment has something to do with a ding-dang baby. One little girl is the oldest of seven children. She tells us she has had six ding-dang babies at her house. Someone else has a ding dang little sister. Another child has a brother, who she likes, but her mother is pregnant with a new sister, and the little girl is not excited about giving up her position as only girl to the ding-dang new baby.

Two hours later, I am in the lunchroom when two of the second graders call me over. "Thank you for reading the book to us," they say. A makes me laugh when she points to her friend and says, "C's mom is having a baby. But she doesn't want her to. I told her to bring that ding-dang baby to me, because I want a sister."

I am surprised and delighted at the way the kids are playing with Woodson's language, rolling it around in their mouths, trying it out in different contexts.

Definitely a ding-dang great time!

Slice of Life #22- World Water Day

Happy World Water Day!

Did you know that one third of the wells built in developing countries
in the last 20 years are broken?
Did you know 4000 children die each year
because they don't have clean drinking water?

Today I'm joining with bloggers from all over the world.

We are asking people to donate $20.
(In my life, that's how much I spend if we go out for semi-fast food one time
Or how much I spend each week on snacks for kids at school
Or how it costs to take my sons to the movies one time- with no snacks).

Your donations will be used not to build more wells,
but rather to train and employ handpump mechanics.
The mechanics earn an income,
bringing themselves out of poverty
and they save lives-
turning water back on for thousands of people each year.

Our mission is to raise $10,000 to repair the wells of India.
If we raise $10,000 the funds will be matched by The Prem Rawat Foundation.

That $20,ooo could bring water to lots and lots of people.
It could give jobs to lots of people.
It could save lots of lives.

Can you please help?
You can donate here.

You can check out THE ADVENTURE PROJECT here.

Monday, March 21, 2011

SLICE OF LIFE #21- Miss Dr. Warecox

I am doing hall duty in front of the office when five year old S. approaches first thing on Monday morning.

"Miss Dr. Warecox," he says very seriously, managing to alter not only the title, but also my last name. Until this year, kids have always called me Miss Carol or Dr. Carol, but somehow at this school, it's been Dr. Wilcox all year. Actually it's been Dr. Warecox more often than not-- my principal's last name is Ware, my last name is Wilcox, the principal two years ago was Mr. Wera-- and the kids have, for whatever reason, just never quite gotten it straightened out.

"Do you know how to spell T--, ?" questions S, mentioning his third grade brother.

"I think so, buddy. What do you need it for?"

"Look," he says, taking my hand in his small chocolate one, and pulling me across the hall to the clipboard where students who stay for the after school program, sign in every morning. "T forgot to sign in, and I'm going to do it for him, but I just need to know how to spell his name."

I glance down at the sheet and see that S has already chosen a line and written Te on the right hand side of the box. S' three letter name fits nicely into the box, his brother's eight letter name, printed in S' five year old hand, not so much.

S grasps the pen tightly, and carefully writes his brother's name as I spell it, one or two letters at a time. He finishes, and I start to walk away.

"Wait, Miss Dr. Warecox," says S. "We gotta do it again." He gestures to another box on the form, and once again writes the Te, although this time he moves it a little more to the left. We go through the whole spelling ritual again. When he is finished, S lets out a big sigh of satisfaction at a job well done.

"OK," he says, "I did it. But now I gotta go find T. I have to tell him he forgot to sign his name but I did it for him."

He starts down the long hall to the cafeteria, then turns around. "Thank you, Miss Dr. Warecox. Thank you for helping me."

Sunday, March 20, 2011


So for years, I've been trying to figure out the "Sabbath" thing.
And I just don't quite get it.
Are there really people whose lives are so together
that they can take an entire day
every week
and just worship
or relax
and re-invigorate
for the next week?
Those people really exist?

Because today,
I got up and went to church,
I went to Sam's Club
and the regular grocery store,
and unloaded $300 worth of groceries.
I worked on taxes.
I took my son to get his hair re-braided
And did work in the car for two hours
while I waited for him.
I fed my kids.
I did a couple of hours of school work,
And now it's ten o'clock,
And I still haven't written my Slice of Life,
or prepared for the professional development I have to lead tomorrow,
And the sink is full of dishes
that I need to do before I go to bed.

I just don't get the Sabbath thing.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

SLICE #19-The journey to adulthood

Tonight I went to see my friend Claudia. Claudia wanted me to to meet her grandson, Jace, who is six weeks old. When I met Claudia, Jace's mom, Christina, was in middle school. Christina was a strong, opinionated young woman. On a fairly regular basis, Christina's opinions got her into trouble. I remember her being suspended once or twice for talking back to teachers or fighting with other kids in the hall…

Like I always knew she would, Christina grew up to be a way cool gal. When I adopted my boys, she had just graduated from college, and was pursuing her teaching certification. In those early days, Christina was my go to gal, a babysitter extraordinaire. I was an assistant principal with lots of extra responsibilities, and at least once a week, "Miss Christina" would pick up the boys, take them home, feed them, do homework, and then put them to bed. My boys loved Christina- she was pretty and funny and young and lots of fun.

Two years ago, my boys danced with Christina at her wedding. And now she has a baby, Jace. Tonight I held Jace and rocked him. And thought about Christina's sometimes bumpy journey to adulthood.

It gave me hope for my boys…

Friday, March 18, 2011


Friday night.
It has been a long week
and I am wiped.
I would like a quiet night
with a book
and the CU basketball game.
I am sitting
in the living room
While teenagers
Compose rap music
on Garage Band
Repeating and revising
Directly below me.

I guess it's good
that I know where they are.


Do you read Oprah magazine? If so, you know that each month she devotes a good chunk of the magazine to a featured topic. The April issue, which is available now, is devoted to poetry, and it's terrific. There is an interview of Mary Oliver, which in and of itself would be enough to make me buy the magazine. But there are also lots of other great poetry-related features-- famous people talking about what poetry or a specific poem has meant to them, a bibliography of twenty poetry books every library should own, lots and lots of other good stuff. Check it out.

Why I Wake Early
Mary Oliver

Hello sun in my face,
Hello you who made the morning,
and spread it over the fields,
and into the faces of the tulips,
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of even
the miserable and the crochety.

Read the rest of the poem here.

Poetry Friday is at The Wrung Sponge.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

SLICE OF LIFE #16- I was late to class because of the bomb thing.

As the mother of two (noncommunicative) teenage boys, I spend a lot of time honing my inferencing skills. Take yesterday, for instance.

"You are going to get an attendance call about math class," says my son in an after school phone call. "But I really didn't miss. I was just late because I was in the dean's getting searched."

"You were in the dean's getting searched??? FOR WHAT?"

"Because of the bomb thing."

"Because of the BOMB THING?"

"Yeah, you know the bomb thing from yesterday?" (OK, this, I do know about because there was an automated phone call from the school).

"Yeah, they searched everybody. And I had to go to the dean to get my backpack searched."

"Really? WHY? Do they think YOU are involved in the bomb thing?"

My son is indignant. "NO. Of course not. I'm trying to play football."

"Well then why did you have to go to the dean and be searched?"

"I don't know. But a bunch of people did. And I was late to math. And you are going to get a call. OK, I gotta go."

And with that, he hangs up. I call to talk to other son. Yes, he was searched too. No he didn't have to go to the dean. Yes, some kids did have to go to the dean to be searched. No, he doesn't know why his brother was one of them.

I guess I will be calling the dean…

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Sometimes, I wonder why I became a teacher.When that happens, I know what I need to do. I pick up a stack of books and I head down to kindergarten. Yesterday was one of those days.

I planned to read, DO YOU KNOW WHICH ONES WILL GROW?, which I had read to the other kindergarten class a few days earlier. The kindergarten teacher had mentioned that the class was studying insects, so I headed for the library and grabbed books on centipedes, mosquitoes, crickets and houseflies from a terrific nonfiction series.

First I read DO YOU KNOW WHICH ONES WILL GROW? I knew within about two pages what they had been talking about in kindergarten.

"Hey," said A. "I hear a rhyme. Owl and towel-- those rhyme."

The next page, "Snake…cake, those rhyme," shouted R, when we got to the next page.

By the time we got to the third or fourth page, everyone was finding the rhymes. And the non-rhymes. And throwing in a few of their own rhymes. It made the going a little slow, but sometimes, especially in kindergarten, you just have to go with the flow. And so I did. It took about twice as long as I had thought it would to get through that eight minute book. I wasn't sure the kindergarteners would want to sit through another book, but they wanted more, and so I read MOSQUITOES.

"Do those bite?" worried Q. "I think those might bite you." I responded that mosquitoes bite, and then he wondered if it was poison, or if they could kill you. I told him that mosquito bites itched. We read on, about how female mosquitos need human blood, and how mosquitoes lay eggs close to water. "But why do they need human blood?" asked Q. I wasn't sure, but Mrs. A promised that they would find the information on the computer after lunch.

When we finished mosquitoes, we had been going almost half an hour, and I was sure the kids would have had enough.

"Read one more," they begged. "Just one more."

"Are you sure?" I asked. "Do you really want to sit for one more book?" They did. I reached for the next book in my pile.

"We need to vote," said A, "We should vote on which one we read." And so we did. CENTIPEDES won by a landslide.

"I saw one of those at my grandma's house," says C, when I held up the book to show the five year olds the front cover. "I was in the basement with my brother and we were playing and it walked up and bit me." With this story, 26 sets of eyes widen, and 26 little mouths turn into O's.

"Do they hurt you?" asked Q. "Are they poison?"

Centipedes can be brown, black or gray…

"And yellow. They forgot to say yellow. All the legs are yellow," declared K authoritatively pointing to the picture.

"I see a pattern," says P, a quiet little guy who rarely opens his mouth when I'm around. He was right. The body was a pattern- tan, gray, tan, gray.

I said I didn't think they were poison. Mrs. A again promised that they could look up their question on the internet.

Centipedes have one hundred legs…

"I can count to one hundred," says B proudly. "Do you want to hear me?"

"I would love to hear you count to one hundred, but maybe we could do it in the lunchroom."

Centipedes live in dark places…

"Once I lifted up a brick out in my yard and I saw one of those under there," says Z.

"Maybe they live in caves," said L.

"Or they might live in haunted houses," said M.

"That's kind of like Flat Stanley," says R. (I never did quite get that connection, but the kids seemed to know exactly what he was talking about).

Thirty five minutes later I walked out of kindergarten, promising to return soon. Sometimes I have trouble remembering why I became a teacher. But never when I am in kindergarten…

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Another heart breaking conversation with one of my offspring last night. "I hate school. I just hate it," he declares.

I don't try to convince him he doesn't. I couldn't. Instead I tell him that he could switch to an alternative school and probably be done this summer. He doesn't want to do that.

"But I want to play football," he says. Indeed, this son's reason for going to school, probably close to #1 on his list of reasons for being, is football.

"Well then," I say, "you have to go to school. And you have to do something while you are there."

He clasps his strongly chiseled arms behind his back. Emits a sigh so deep that it seems to come from the depth of his toes. Is silent for a minute.

"All right," he promises. "I will. I promise I will."

This isn't the first conversation my son and I have had about school. And I know it won't be the last. This son is not a school kind of kid. He is not a sit-still kind of kid. He is not a listen to someone else talk and write it down and memorize it. He is not a test taker.

This son is a hands-on, gotta move, gotta do, kind of learner. He is a scholar of football, who spends hours and hours and hours studying his film and perfecting his craft. He is a talented artist who never misses his first period ceramics class, where he creates detailed and colorful pots. and sculptures. He spends much of his at home time in his bedroom, composing music on Garage Band. He watches the History Channel.

This son is a sweet, sweet guy. He pays attention to people's feelings, cares when the people around him are sad. He is not super communicative, but every few months, he writes me a note to explain a situation or apologize for something, these letters are often multiple pages. He is sweet and gentle with little kids, and with old people. He is a loyal, protective older brother, who would NEVER and I mean NEVER let anything happen to his sibling.

He chose his high school. Has lots of friends. Doesn't want to go to an alternative school or vo-tech or anywhere else.

And yet every morning, I wake him up. And send him to a place he hates. A place where he really doesn't fit. Where he constantly works from areas of weakness.

And I wonder, does it really have to be this way?

Monday, March 14, 2011


I am sitting with M, a fourth grader at our school. M is an interesting kid. He lives a stone's throw away from the school, but only comes about half the time. He rarely does much in the way of work, in fact, it's not at all unusual to find him wandering the halls, or making frequent trips to the restroom when everyone else is working. M is, however, a voracious reader, and will often sit, completely absorbed in a book, most recently Walter Dean Myers' MONSTER, for an entire day.

Today M wants to tell me about a dream he had over the weekend. "The whole world had been taken up," he says, "by that what do you call it? That big wave. And only our playground was left. But it was really, really big, like the size of Denver. And we were all playing. But there were no teachers. Well there was one teacher. But it was a kangaroo. And we were playing soccer. And the kangaroo could kick really hard and it hit me in the chest, and it hurt."

I'm not sure where this story is going or what the dream might represent, but then we return to the earthquake. What caused it, M wants to know. Could we have one in Colorado? And what about the wave? We couldn't have one of those, right, because we don't live next to water.

And what about the volcanoes? M has heard that there are volcanoes ready to erupt all over Japan. Do we have those in Colorado? I tell him I don't think we have any active ones, but we get online to google it, just to make sure. We discover that there are several, but that the last one erupted thousands of years ago.

The conversation continues for about 20 minutes, question after question after question. It's clear that M has been waiting for a captive adult, who can help him process some of the events that have gone on in the world recently.

M makes me think, again, about what we are doing to kids. It's the time of year when we pretty much spend entire days and weeks filling kids' heads with practice for the big event. In talking to M, however, it's clear that he has much bigger fish to fry…

Sunday, March 13, 2011


We adopted Jack Black from the Dumb Friends' League, shortly after we lost our laughing yellow lab, Maggie, to cancer. Our other lab, Star, was bereft, and we thought she needed a new friend. And so we got Jack, a six week old lab-rottweiler mix.

Rottweilers are supposed to be brave, but not our Jack. Jack is afraid of the dishwasher, probably due to an unfortunate incident with the silverware compartment when he was about six months old. He loves to play catch and wrestle with the boys, but when I'm not home, he retreats to the safety of my room, where he stretches out on the bed waiting for me to return. And he is the only dog I have ever had that seems to have a perpetually worried frown when he goes for walks.

Although we didn't pay much for him originally, Jack has not been a cheap dog. When he was eight months old, Jack ate a dish towel, one that I think originally cost about 99 cents. It cost $4500 to get the 99 cent towel removed from Jack's stomach. His time under the knife didn't deter his appetite, however, and he regularly wakes me up gacking up socks, underwear and other unidentifiable items.

We intended that Jack would be a friend for other lab mix, Star, and Jack does love his sister, but more than his sister, he loves his mama. Jack follows me from room to room to room. He sleeps on the bed curled up next to me every night. When the alarm goes off, he lays in front of the shower, waiting for me to come out. He lays at my feet as I work on the computer, and the second he hears my laptop close, he jumps to his feet, ready for our next adventure. Right now he is laying at my feet, chewing on a popsicle wrapper he found in the trash, occasionally flipping it up in the air, hoping that I will join in his favorite game of fetch.

I can think of lots of reasons NOT to have a dog- dog hair, mud, a nice yard, for starters, and yet I can't imagine life without Jack. Everyone needs a best friend.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


My sons did not build the book habit as babies. I adopted them from the foster care system when they were seven and nine. For the next five years, I did everything I could to turn them into readers. I read aloud three or four or ten books a day. Every night, we had family reading time where all three of us sat down with a book or magazine for 3o minutes. I took them to book stores and bought magazine subscriptions. I made sure there was lots of interesting stuff laying around- shark books and sports books and joke books. I made sure they were exposed to lots of other print-- recipes and lego directions and craft projects.

Despite all my efforts, my sons, as high schoolers, are not readers. They read the stuff they have to read for school (sometimes) , but they never, ever, of their own volition, pick up a book. It breaks my heart. And so I have become a reading espionage agent--

Sunday morning, 6:30 a.m.--
I dig frantically through the trunk of my car for a Christmas bag that has slid way to the frontmost corner. Every year I give the boys a book for Christmas. This year (before I knew about the controversy surrounding it) I purchased I AM NUMBER FOUR for Son #2. He opened the present at my mom's house, put it in the car to bring back to Denver, and never touched it again. After we saw the movie yesterday, I reminded the boys that we had the book. "We do," said son #1. "That's cool" Now I need to find it and place it in a strategic spot, where someone might pick it up and get hooked.

Monday, 4 a.m.
Son #1 has to read a book for his African American lit class- something about the conspiracy to destroy black boys. He leaves it on the dining room table on Sunday night, so this morning, I pick it up and start to read. Some of the ideas are interesting to me as an educator, but the writing is not that great, and the fifteen-year-old book seems a little dated. Even so, I see the potential for interesting conversations. I make a few mental notes and wonder how/when I might talk with my son about some of the ideas in the book.

Tuesday night, 8 p.m.
I run to the bookstore to pick up the newest Gerald and Piggy book. While I am there, I make a quick stop in the sports section to see if there are any new football books. Tony Dungy? Got both of those. Retired Bronco Karl Mecklenberg's book about scholar athletes? Already read it. Jeffrey Marx's book about the long snapper? I read that one too. I am fairly sure that I have enough sports books that I could stock this section of the bookstore.

Thursday 5 a.m.
Come across a link about teens and social media on Twitter. I read the article, then jump on Facebook to send it to the boys.

While I am on Twitter, I do a search for Paul Hankins' and Donalyn Miller's tweets. Paul and Donalyn always have the greatest book recommendations for middle and high school kids. I try to get one or two of these a month from the library, and leave them on the coffee table, where someone, in a moment of inactivity or boredom, might pick them up or become hooked.

Friday night
A super hectic, hard week and I would love to flop down on the couch and just veg in front of the television. My family room, however, is filled with teenagers, so I pick up my newest toy, a Kindle that I got for Valentine's Day. I am messing around with the highlighting feature when Son #2 comes upstairs to get something from his room. He stops for a minute to look over my shoulder before heading back down to his friends. I wonder about the possibility of buying e-readers for the boys. Would those be more appealing than the books I love?

Saturday morning, 7 a.m.
I read the paper with my English muffin, then hunt through the pile to find the sports section. I open it open it to an article about the CU Buffs' first football practice and carefully place it on top of the stack. I am hoping that maybe, just maybe, one of my boys will find the photograph interesting enough to read the article, and maybe even another article or two.

As a lifelong reader, I know that print has the power to entertain, to inform, and to expand the world. My boys aren't readers right now. But I will keep trying…

Friday, March 11, 2011


I am longing for a beach right now.
I want to get on an airplane.
And go somewhere.
With sand.
And waves.
And sunsets.

Thursday, March 10, 2011



When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,

When the road you're trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit-
Rest if you must, but don't you quit.

Edgar A. Guest

Read the rest of the poem here.

While I was looking for this poem,
I found a photo rendition on You Tube.
It's really beautiful. Check it out at this link.

Poetry Friday is at Liz In Ink.


8:30 on Thursday night. Son #2 is playing video games in his room. I haven't heard from Son #1 in a while, so I wander back to check on him. He is laying on his bed.

"What do you need?" he growls when I walk in the door.

"I just wanted to see what you were doing," I respond, trying to summon up my sweetest June Cleaver voice.

"Nothing. I'm doing nothing. Just laying here. Can you please just shut my door?"

I return to my schoolwork. Five minutes later, same son, he of the back bedroom, can you just leave me alone, comes around the corner.

"Can we run to Walgreens real quick tonight?" Inwardly I groan, imagining some forgotten school project, with a night of poster board and glue looming on my horizon.

"For what?" I ask, trying to sound calm.

"I need hair dye. I want to dye a streak in the front. And K wants to dye his tips."

This is a new one. "You want to dye your hair? What color? Why?"

"Blonde. Cuz it would look so cool. There's a rapper. See? His name is Wiz Khalifa." Son #1 turns his phone so that I can see the rapper.

"So you think I need to go to Walgreen's right now so you can buy hair dye? Didn't you just tell me to leave you alone?"

"Well, yeah, but that was because you were being annoying. I'm sorry. But sometimes you are kind of annoying…"

It seems like someone wrote a book, LEAVE ME ALONE, BUT FIRST CAN YOU DRIVE ME TO THE MALL? I think I need that book!


Franki and Mary Lee are hosting Share A Story at Reading Year today. This post is part of today's theme.

My sons are in high school. I wish they had reading homework. I really do.

I wish a teacher, any teacher, would tell one of my boys that their homework was to sit down with a book and read for 30 minutes every night. I wish teachers would talk to them about great YA authors or titles. I wish my boys would come home with books from the school library, notices about overdue books, or titles that I needed to go buy.

Because as someone who has always been a reader, I know the power of books. I use books to escape. When life is hard, I ignore the dirty house, the mountain of laundry, the pile of papers to be read, and I grab a book. When I want to know or understand something, I grab a book. When I need to know I am not alone, I grab a book.

My high schoolers do not have this solace, or source of information, or escape. They do not have books. Because in high school, my boys do not read for choice. Ever.

Actually, my boys do have reading homework. They have reading homework almost every night. Over the past three years, I have dragged them through that homework- TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (actually one of my all-time favorite books), CATCHER IN THE RYE (or CATCHER OF THE RYE BREAD, as it has come to be known at our house), 1984, A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, FAHRENHEIT 451. All considered great literature. I drag my boys through those kicking and screaming. They write the required papers. They do the projects. They take the quizzes. But they are not readers.

Granted, my boys are not the top-performing students at their high school. But I don't think it's any better at that end of the spectrum. Over Christmas vacation, for instance, one of the boys' friends dropped by for a visit. She mentioned she had gotten a Kindle for Christmas. At that point in my life, I was at the peak of "e-book envy." I wanted a Kindle int the worst way. I told K how lucky she was. I told her how badly I wanted an e-reader. I talked to her about all of the cool things my friends were doing with their Kindles. K wrinkled up her nose, "Well maybe," she said. "But I don't really do that much reading. I don't have time for it. I have too much homework."

And it's true. Several nights each week, she comes over to study with my son. Each time, she brings a packet from her English class. They are preparing for the AP test, and each time she comes, she pulls out the dreaded "pink packet." A sheaf of papers, anywhere from five to ten pages long, with hundred and hundred of multiple choice questions. Sometimes she asks me to help. Most of the questions seem like the kinds of things that you learn for a college English exam, then don't think about for twenty five more years.

High school is a tough, tough time. Every day, I watch my boys get out of the car, adjust their baseball caps, and saunter into school. My guys are cool guys, big, good-looking(at least their mama thinks so) football players. They have friends. They are involved at school. Even so, I know high school is unbelievably hard.

There is the regular social stuff- adolescents, with all those raging hormones, all those insecurities, are not always kind, sometimes they are flat out mean. At least once a week, one of my boys comes home and goes to his room, and won't talk. Often, the other one will tell me about something that was said at school, or something that happened at a practice. And I knock on the door. And they tell me to go away.

Then there's all the other stuff that happens- the stuff my kids tell me about- the stuff that takes my breath away, and wakes me up in the night. The drugs that you can buy, right across the street from the campus. Eating disorders. Cyber-bullying. Kids hurting themselves. Kids being hurt. Kids without families to love them.

Hard stuff. Scary stuff. Heartbreaking stuff.

I want the kids I know to have books that they can hang onto. I want my boys to remember Sharon Draper's great series before they get in the car with a drunk driver. I want them to read Walter Dean Myers' MONSTER and know that a single poor decision can change a life. I want to hand K WINTERGIRLS and tell her that her body is wonderful and perfect and she does not need to lose one single pound.

But in high school, reading is only about requirements. It is not about reading for escape or to understand the world. It is not about reading to explore your own passions.

And I wish, just once, it could be. I wish we could have homework that was sitting down with a real book. Just reading.

Like adults do.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


I come back from two hours in the cafeteria to find a large yellow sticky note affixed to the front of my computer. LOOK AT THE BOOKSHELF! Per orders. I turn around and look at the bookshelf. Usually the shelves groan with books from my personal library- books I've recently read, books I think kids will want to pick up, books to tempt my non-reading friends into my world of words. Right now, however, we are mid-test, and there cannot be any print visible in the room, so all of the books sit in sad stacks on one end of the shelf, waiting for this two weeks to be over

Today, however, the shelves have a new filler. A huge chocolate cake, probably half sheet-cake sized fills an entire shelf. I'm not that surprised to see the cake because my fifth and sixth grade friends stash stuff in my office on a fairly regular basis. What I am a a little surprised at, however, is the yellow sticky note stuck right in the middle on the top. "We will come and get this cake at 2:30. Please Don't Eat It!" I wonder if the kids have visions of me hunting down a plastic cafeteria fork and digging in, and am not sure whether I should be amused or offended.

And as if they needed to add insult to injury, V and S show up at my door. "Did you see our cake?" S asks. "It's right there on your bookshelf."

"Yeah," says V. "But don't eat it because we are having a going away party for D (who is moving to a town two hours south) and we need it at 2:30."

Ok, then…

Monday, March 7, 2011


The hard thing about my boys is that they are, so, well, so, um so, I guess, so boy-ish. And I am just not quite used to boyish. I didn't have any brothers. Nine out of my ten cousins were girls. I've never been married. Basically, I just don't quite get the boy thing (or at least that is what I think I don't get, but maybe it's something entirely different and I'm just missing it).

Every once in awhile, the whole boy-ish thing gets to me. Take yesterday, for instance. It was my birthday. My family and book club had celebrated with me the week before, but I wanted to do something with the boys- a movie, or dinner, just something to acknowledge that the day was supposed to be a little bit special.

My boys, however, did not feel that need. Son #2 invited a friend over to spend the night on Saturday. I didn't know about it until he showed up on the doorstep. And then we had the girl on the couch incident. And then the friend stayed and stayed and stayed. And then I had to get my resume together for the district job fair. And then pretty soon it was almost six and was getting too late for a movie. And the boys were being ugly and yucky and not treating me like the birthday queen. Which I was supposed to be. And I got mad. And left by myself.

When I came back, Son #1 had gotten three wine glasses out of the cupboard. He filled them half way full with the cheap raspberry drink I keep in the fridge for the endless hordes of teenagers that pass through my kitchen, then took fruit- raspberries, grapes, bananas, and lemons from the fridge. He cut them up and stuck them on the sides of the glass. He set them out on a crocheted dishcloth. He found a card, ok, it was actually a leftover Valentine's card that I never sent, and crossed out Valentine's and put Birthday in. He and his brother signed the card. And then we had a little toast. And that was enough. I was the birthday queen again.

I just needed a little sweetness…

Sunday, March 6, 2011


At 11:55, five minutes before the midnight curfew, I say goodnight to the last teenagers hanging out at my house. I lock the front door and head downstairs for bed. This is the second night in a row of the midnight thing, after a super hectic week at work, and I am pooped.

At 3:15, I wake up. I can hear that the television is still on so I head to the family room to turn it off. I expect to see two or three large football player-ish bodies sacked out on the sectional and on the floor. Instead, there is one small petite blonde head, long hair tossed across the back of the couch, wrapped in a blanket, sound asleep. I look at the girl more closely. She is not a girl I know- not Son #2's girlfriend who is here a lot, and has been known to fall asleep in our family room. It is not M, the girl the boys walked home at 11:30. It is not any of the other girls who regularly frequent my basement.

I fly up the stairs to find my son. He and his friend, W, are in his bedroom playing video games. "Who is that girl in our basement?" I hiss.

"That's W's friend."

"What's her name?"

I don't know. I can ask W."

"Why is she here?"

"She had a fight with her parents and she didn't have any place to go, so W told her she could spend the night here."

I shudder, thinking of her poor parents, who are probably frantic. I remember myself, on homecoming night, when I couldn't find my son until two in the morning (he had fallen asleep in his girlfriend's rec room and was actually fine, but I was terrified). My son, usually not all that sensitive, is very earnest and serious, and totally empathetic toward this girl, whoever she is, that has had a fight with her parents, and had no where to go for the night.

"How long has she been here?" I ask.

"I don't know, since about one. She doesn't have any place else to go."

Again, I think of this poor girls' parents, frantic, worrying about their sixteen or seventeen year old, wandering the streets of our large urban metropolis. I also imagine police officers, billy sticks and flashlights in hand, showing up on my doorstep, to arrest me for harboring a minor.

"She can stay here, if she needs a place to stay, but she needs to call and let her parents know. And I need to hear the phone call."

Son #2 brings W out of the bedroom. "Who is that, W?"

"That's C. She had a fight with her parents, so I told her to come over here."

"Her parents are probably scared to death. She needs to call home right now."

"She's a junior," says W. "She probably gets to stay out late." I point out that Son #1 is also a junior, and never gets to stay out past midnight, unless it's a really special occasion, like prom. And when he does get to stay out, it's never without me knowing exactly where he is.

W heads downstairs to wake up C. While he is there, I try again to help K understand how frightened her parents must be. "And besides that, I don't want the police showing up to arrest me for harboring a minor."

W escorts C up the stairs. "She's going to leave now," he says.

"Where do you live?" I ask.

"Over by * (names a neighboring high school), about twenty minutes south of us.

"How are you going to get there?" I ask.

"I have my car," she says.

W escorts C to the car, then I try again to explain how terrified her parents probably were. And what other choices might have been made. I tell the boys that I appreciate their compassion, and that people are always welcome at our house, but that their parents need to know where they are. We talk about how they might handle it if the situation ever comes up again.

They head to bed in the family room, and I head back to my room.

I wonder if C actually did go home, or if she is still roaming the streets of our very large city.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


I know before I get out of the car that I will be "other." Today is the Historic Black Colleges Fair at the boys' high school. Although I have been talking to my sons about the fair all week, today they are saying that they do not want to go. I want the information so I go alone. And I am "other." One of the only Anglo people in the entire gym.

None of the representatives sitting at the tables look like me. None of the students picking up information look like me. Only a few of the adults accompanying the students look like me.

I sign in, feeling the need to explain that my sons were not able to come, then move from table to table, picking up information. I don't see many kids I recognize- most of the kids from my sons' high school are probably watching their team at the state basketball tournament. People are cordial, but I feel very out of place. I gather what I need, then leave the gym as quickly as I can.

It's a not a good feeling, this feeling of "other."

Friday, March 4, 2011

SLICE OF LIFE #4- Tomatoes are my favorite vegetable

J is generally one of the last kindergartners to clear out of the cafeteria, so I am not surprised to see him sitting at the end of the bench today after the rest of his five and six-year-old buddies have left for the playground. Because he is usually one of the last kids to finish eating, he and I have become good friends this year, and I make my way down to say hello.

J is generally a pretty happy little kid, but today he is even more happy than usual. "Dr. Carol," he shouts in a tone several decibels over indoor voice level, "Dr. Carol, look what I got!" Before I can get close enough to see, he is at it again, "Dr. Carol, Miss G. (one of the cafeteria ladies) made me tomatoes. Tomatoes are my favorite vegetable! And they have ranch dressing."

I draw a little closer and see that J does indeed have a tomato, cut into quarters, and covered with ranch dressing. His face, his shirt, and the table are all covered with ranch dressing. "Miss G. made me tomatoes," he shouts again. "I love tomatoes! I didn't like any of those other vegetables today, so she made me my own tomatoes!" He is beyond ecstatic and gobbles an entire tomato as I watch.

When he is done eating, he throws away his tray, then comes back to find me. "We have to go talk to Miss G," he says, putting his still sticky hand in mine. We head for the back of the cafeteria.

"Thank you, Miss G," says J, "I loved those tomatoes. Tomatoes are my favorite vegetable."

"Sure J," replies Ms. G. "I'll make you some more next week."

"Did you hear that?" J says to me as we walk out of the cafeteria. "Ms. G is going to make me more tomatoes. I love tomatoes. They're my favorite vegetable."

Aside from catsup and tomato sauce, I really don't much care for tomatoes. And I know that they are not a vegetable. Even so, today tomatoes were my favorite vegetable too.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


I lost the instruction manual. You know, the one the hand you when you have kids (or in my case, adopt kids), with a chapter on what you should expect at each age. What problems you might encounter. How you should respond.

I used the manual when I needed to talk to little league football coaches. Because even though I am a really strong, capable woman, talking to male coaches kind of feels like a dad job. But we don't have a dad at our house. So I consulted the manual and I did ok.

I used it when the boys started middle school. Such a weird age. Kids growing into themselves. Struggling to fit their new bodies. Trying on new personalities. Preying on each other. Sometimes being just plain mean. I used my manual those days when I picked up my guys, and their shoulders were slumping, and I could tell that the world of tweendom had been just a bit much. The chapter on listening helped a lot then.

I used the manual when the boys were ready for driver's permits. I drove them to drivers' ed, handed over my keys so they could spend the day on the road course, and smiled bravely as I said, "Have a good day, sweetie." I consulted the manual again in those first days when I was driving with them. And did the best I could be quiet and let them steer their way toward independence. The chapter on keeping your mouth shut and letting kids learn from their mistakes was really good.

But now, in these last couple of months, I seem to have lost the manual. Teen #1 hates school, spends most of his time in his bedroom, seems to have lost his passion for the things he has always loved most. Teen #2 has had a girlfriend for fourteen months, a delightful young woman that I adore. When he is not with her, he plays video games online with friends. The boys talk to each other and to their friends, but not to me.

And I wish I would find that manual. I need the chapter on how to advise your fifteen year old about his girlfriend, who now has his last name as hers on his facebook page. And the one that tells you what to do to support your teenager as he prepares for his senior year and leaving home. And the one that tells you how to talk to them when they respond with little more than monosyllables and grunts. I really need that manual. Because I miss my guys.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


It's March 2nd, Dr. Seuss' birthday. We didn't celebrate at my school this year- too busy with another "special event." Other years, though, I have been at schools where we have done it up big- every class decorated their door like their favorite Dr. Seuss book, people from the community came to read, big kids read to little kids, Dr. Seuss art projects and readers' theaters. At one school, every class came to the cafeteria for birthday cake. Not sure how much it actually did toward helping kids become better readers, but it was definitely big fun…

Dr. Seuss holds a special place in my heart, because HOP ON POP is the first book I can ever remember being able to read. Do you remember the last page? The one with the big yellow circle and the streams of words in red letters? I remember, so clearly, laying on my stomach on my bed, in my pink bedroom on Chelton Road, and being able, all of a sudden, to pick out the individual words in that circle. And taking it to my mom and showing her that I could read. I had other favorite Dr. Seuss books- GO DOG GO (Do you like my hat?), GREEN EGGS AND HAM (I do not like them Sam I Am!), ARE YOU MY MOTHER, HORTON HEARS A WHO, and THE SNEETCHES, but HOP ON POP will always hold a special place in my heart.

I began teaching in the days when teachers spent hours and hours and hours putting up bulletin boards. The summer before I started teaching first and second grade at Boston Primary School, I spent the entire summer, I think, coloring a gigantic Pat sitting on a cactus (No, Pat, no, don't sit on that!), the Sneetches, Sam I Am, and the Cat in the Hat. The first day, we made Cat in the Hat puppets, and little booklets from the "No, Pat, No!" section of HOP ON POP. The second day, I think, we cooked green eggs and ham.

Now, almost 30 years later, I've taught hundred and hundred of kids. I've fallen in love with thousands of authors. I've probably read a million books aloud to kids. This fall, I spent a lot of time in a first grade class, with a teacher that I'm mentoring. And I read those six-year-olds HOP ON POP and GO DOG GO and GREEN EGGS AND HAM. We made Cat in the Hat puppets and did readers' theater. We cooked green eggs and ham. Because some books should be rites of childhood.

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!