Monday, January 26, 2015

There Are Three Stories in Every Book

489 days ago, Molly and I started our read aloud streak. We decided that we were going to try to read aloud together for 100 days. Well, we did that and kept on going. We are 11 days away from hitting 500 days. In that time, we have read 25 books together. We have met talking mice and a smiling dog. We have met crickets and a pig named Beryl. We have walked the streets of London with a nanny with a flying umbrella, and a wizard that wasn't quite as powerful as we first thought. We have been to a chocolate factory and Times Square. We have walked through museums and have traveled through time. These last 489 days have really been a great experience.

Every book you read has three stories, the one that the author actually writes, the background story of how the book came to be, and then there is the story that the reader brings to the book. Right now Molly and I are reading Winnie-the-Pooh.

Molly and I have never read it. In fact, Molly has never seen the Disney movie. I couldn't believe it when she told me, because I have memories of Shannon and Timmy watching it all the time. When they were little, they had a kid couch with Winnie-the-Pooh fabric on it. The nursery in our house was Winnie-the-Pooh and as I had each baby, they went into the nursery and the older sibling moved into their "big kid" bedroom. How did Molly never see the Winnie-the-Pooh movie? 
So before we started reading the book, I shared a little background story with Molly about A. A. Milne. I told her that Christopher Robin was his son, that he was not just a character in the story, but a real boy. I found out that Christopher Robin's real toys are all on display at the New York City library, all of them except for Roo because Christopher Robin had lost Roo in a meadow. How sad is that? And then today we read:

Kanga was frightened at first because Piglet was in her pocket and not Roo. And then we read, "...for she felt quite sure that Christopher Robin would never let any harm happen to Roo."

But Molly and I know the background story, we know that Roo DID get lost in a meadow. We know that all of Christopher Robin's childhood friends are in the New York City library, except for Roo. This made us so sad.

Molly and I planned to go to New York this weekend. There is a children's book exhibit at The Grolier Club that is only there until February 7th. There are 100 children's books on display from the past 400 years. They are first editions of Grimm's Fairytales, The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland, and Winnie-the-Pooh, just to name a few. Our plan is to go into the city to see these original first edition books and then swing by the library to see Winnie-the-Pooh and all his friends. You see, there are three stories of Winnie-the Pooh, the actual story in the book, the story of the real Christopher Robin, and then there is OUR story, mine and Molly's. 

Now as I write this, New York is under blizzard warnings. Some forecasts are saying they could get up to 20-30 inches. Molly and I are really hoping that they don't get that much and that we can still make it to New York this weekend. We know that whatever NY gets, they will do a better job of clearing the snow than we do here in Virginia. We are almost finished with Winnie-the-Pooh and then we are moving on to The House at Pooh Corner. The Disney Winnie-the-Pooh movie just arrived and Molly's plan is to watch it during the car ride up to NY on Friday. Hopefully the blizzard won't stop us and we will be trudging through snow covered streets of New least it makes for a good story.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Don't Let the Perfect Get in the Way of the Good...The Middle School Years

Don't let the perfect get in the way of the good!
Don't let the perfect get in the way of the good!

I find myself saying this a lot lately. I need to remind myself...constantly! I'm still adjusting to being a "working outside the home" mama. For the most part, we've got the hang of it as a family. But sometimes the laundry piles up and the kids' rooms need bull dozers in order to get through them, and there are late nights trying to help my youngest as she starts to do reports for school on power points and needs to save to USB drives, and type written reports.

But as my kids get older, it is so hard to find the right combination, the right balance to help and guide them. I don't want to be the helicopter parent that we read so much about nowadays. I want my kids to be independent. I want them to figure out problems on their own. I want them to be advocates for themselves as they get older as they go through middle and high school. 

My middle schooler is in seventh grade this year. He is in the middle of middle school. He is one of the middle kids in my family...and it is hard! I've been trying to give him more responsibility and me be less of that helicopter mom as far as school goes. We have talked about strategies he could use if he needs help in a class. We talked about using his resource time wisely, asking his teachers for extra help if he needs it, using the school website to check for assignments, and plan studying and homework around his after school activities. He knows what is expected of him as far as grades are concerned at school. I tell my kids that as long as I see the effort, as long as I see the hard work, as long as I see you using all the the strategies that we have talked about, that is what makes this mama happy. There have been times that I have rejoiced and did a happy dance with one of my kids who got a B- because so much work went into that grade, and there have been times I have given the mom speech about responsibility and effort for a different B-, the one that could have been a A if only the kid had put forth a bit more effort. It's not the B- itself that we rejoiced about, but hard work and effort that went into that B-. Its not the B- grade that I was upset about another time, but the lackadaisical attitude of the kid that got the B- when he could have gotten a much better grade. It's all about the attitude.

So at the beginning of this second quarter of school, I sat down with my middle schooler and I went over the to what to do if he needed help in a subject. I told him I wasn't going to police him. I hold him I wasn't going to hover. For me, this is a hard thing to do. I work in his school. I know his teachers. I know when his reading log is due and when his tests are going to be. So I try to guide and encourage, but not be that helicopter mom. 

Well, on Friday, I checked his grades online. It is amazing that we can do this as parents. I remember in the "old" days when you had to wait for the end of the quarter to see your grades on your report card, but now, you can check your grade at any given moment. This is good and bad. I've been trying to teach my kids to do it themselves. One of my high schoolers had a zero for a grade and didn't know why. The assignment was done and it was handed in. He spoke with the teacher and she called the house and came up with a solution for the missing grade. He told me later about the conversation. This mama wasn't apart of it. He did it himself. He was a self advocate.

But my middle schooler isn't quite there yet. When I checked his grades, a couple of his classes were a bit disappointing. Friday afternoon we had one of those talks.

Did you study a few minutes every night like we talked about?

Did you ask your teachers for extra help during your resource block?

Did you ask your teachers if they come in early or stay after school for extra help?

Did you make flashcards like we talked about for the vocabulary words?

I gave him consequences, not for the grades, but for the lack of effort...and then the mama guilt sets in. Should I have guided him a bit more closely? Did I give him too much rope to hang himself? Am I trying too hard not to be a helicopter mom that I dropped the ball with him. Does he need more guidance than his two older siblings because every kid is different and there is no cookie cutter solution?

He was angry and upset. I was angry as well, but also conflicted and reflective. He stormed off to his room and slammed the door. Not a good way to start our three day weekend. I stood in the kitchen and started cleaning up some messes. Unloaded and loaded the dishwasher, cleaned off the kitchen counter, and then started sorting through the mail. 

Bill, junk mail, bill, junk mail, and then there was an envelope from the middle school, addressed "To The Parents of..."

Dear Parents,
We are pleased to inform you that your child will be receiving an IMPACK award. These awards are presented to students for Inclusion, Motivation, Perseverance  Altruism, Compassion, and Kinship. 

My first reaction when I read this was, "Dam-it, he did it again!!! I swear he does this on PURPOSE!!!" 

You see, my middle schooler is the one who makes a joke out of everything. It is very hard to stay angry at him. I can be strict and stern and have on that angry mama face and he has these one liners that completely defuse the situation and I start laughing, but at the same time I start yelling at him, "I'm serious, I'm mad at you!!!" And it just doesn't work. He always seems to manage to get a smile out of me. 

So there I was, standing in the kitchen, angry at first because I wanted to be happy about this letter, I wanted to rejoice with him, but all I could think about was, "He did it again!!!! I'm suppose to be mad at him. He wasn't responsible about his schoolwork! He's not taking school seriously enough! I need to turn this kid around!" And then that phrase crept into my head again,

Don't let the perfect get in the way of the good!

None of us are perfect, we mess up as kids, we mess up as parents, we mess up because we are human. Life is the messy bits! So I showed my middle schooler the letter. He read it. A smile came across his face and he said, "See mom, I'm a completely different kid at school, I'm a good boy! I'm not all bad."

Yep, he did it again! Can't stay mad at this kid. He still has consequences for not following through with his schoolwork, but what a reminder to me that I shouldn't let the perfect get in the way of this "Good" boy. I don't know exactly what he did to earn his award, I will find out next week at the ceremony, but I certainly will be a proud mama when he gets it.

First day of seventh grade. See how happy he is about school!