Sunday, March 10, 2019

Audrey is a teenager...

Well, despite my attempts to freeze time, the moments kept ticking by. I now am the proud mother of a thirteen year old daughter. In my mind, I think I have worked up the age of 13 (and teenager-hood in general) to such overblown status that I was actually a teeny, tiny bit surprised to find the same old Audrey woke up in her bed this morning. She didn't automatically mutate into some sassy, unmanageable thing overnight. Don't get me wrong, I've heard from enough Momma's who've gone before me to know that I'm in for some challenges. But here is what I have noticed about my "teenager" during the last 24 hours.

1) I got to witness her doing what she loves - soccer. She had two assists and generally played like a champ. Moreover, I could see that she loved it...

2) She doted over her young cousins this afternoon and spent close to an hour playing Mario Kart with Killian.

3) She was very interested and engaged when we tried to teach her and Allison to play Spades. (I'm looking forward to some fun competitions ahead...)

3) She was polite and showed proper respect and appreciation to her grandparents and aunts and uncles who came out to celebrate her birthday.

4) She even thanked good ole' Mom & Dad for making her birthday a special day.

I'm sure we'll have our moments ahead, but if this is what 13 looks like...I'll take it. I'm honored that I am getting to watch her blossom into this smart, intelligent, funny, caring woman she is becoming.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Date Night

Stop #1: McGurk's Public House

This is a favorite go-to for us. The atmosphere is perfect, with exposed brick and dark wood. We found a little two-top bar table. The Kettle One & club soda helped me shake off the work week, and the bacon-wrapped shrimp, as usual, didn't disappoint.

Stop #2: Art Foundry

I'm not a big fan of (over)commercialized holidays like Valentine's Day, so we typically don't exchange gifts. But this year, Ryan bought me tickets for the Wine & Chocolate Festival. (You certainly aren't going to hear me complain!) Milk chocolate or dark? Almond or salted caramel? Pinots, Merlots, Roses, oh my! Time to post for today...

Oh, also, Happy International Women's Day

Top Women’s Players Sue U.S. Soccer for Gender Discrimination

Thursday, March 7, 2019

An open apology to my husband...

Dear Ryan,

I owe you an apology. You are a smart and observant man, so I am sure it did not escape your notice that I immediately went to the computer to began typing shortly after I walked in the door from Audrey's soccer practice last night. I ate, on my own, while Audrey was at practice, so I did not join in the smorgasbord of leftovers you had out (nor did I acknowledge the fact that you had waited until we got home from soccer practice, presumably so that we could all eat together). Even worse, as you were cleaning the kitchen, you tried to engage me in conversation --about your stock/401k decisions, about the news of the day. I can't recall the details because (again, as I'm sure you noticed) I was only casually listening. I was physically turning to you occasionally and trying to ask a pointed question, while I continued to mentally focus on the "slice" (blog post) I was madly trying to finish so that I could finally call it a day. Indeed, I even rudely typed a line here and there as you were talking. This was not kind behavior, and it certainly did not demonstrate the love I feel for you. Although this will sound like an excuse, my hope was to finish up what I was doing so that we could sit on the couch together and I could give you my full attention. But you came over and told me you were going to bed as I was hitting publish; I realized I had missed my opportunity to connect with you.

So, I am sorry. I was not fully present for you. I made a mistake, one that I realized I was making in the moment, but didn't stop myself from making all the same. In the future, I will ask you if you can wait for us to have a conversation, rather than trying to multi-task our relationship. Better yet, I will put my work on hold and make you my priority, knowing that connecting with you in that moment is more important - the work/"slice"/email/etc. can wait. I will apply this intention to my interactions with our children also.

I'm pretty sure you don't understand this whole "Slice of Life" challenge I have voluntarily committed to, given all of the other things that need to be accomplished within a 24-hour period. It is even likely that the fact I was working on this "blogging thing" last night rather than engaging with you lends an extra sting to my slight. So that you might understand why this matters to me (and so that I might be reminded), I want to reiterate why I started this...and what I have learned in just 7 short days so far.

1) I agreed to this challenge mostly out of social pressure. I wanted to "practice what I preach." Part of the core mission of GWP is to promote the importance of teachers as writers. I regularly espouse the virtues of modeling writing for and with students to the teacher candidates with whom I work. Yet, I can honestly say I have not written regularly since those final harried days of trying to finish my dissertation so that I could graduate on (my self-imposed) schedule. Maybe I needed 18 months to recover from the trauma that was writing my dissertation, but I now need to try to more authentically live my beliefs.

2) At this point I have no idea whether I will actually succeed in the challenge of blogging for 31 days straight, but after 7 days I have (re)learned something important. Because you know me it should come as no surprise to you that what typically thwarts my writing efforts is my own internal desire to have everything "just so." I worry before even beginning a writing project that I won't have the time or energy to make it "good enough," so I avoid it altogether. [Do you realize that after the mounds of data I collected and the 200+ pages I wrote for my dissertation, I have not turned any of it in to an article to send for publication?] This challenge has been a gentle way for me to get past my avoidance. The point of the challenge is not to write something "perfect" each day, it is simply to commit to writing (and to ultimately publish the writing publicly). I am not entirely comfortable with this. But I have learned that discomfort can be a sign of growth. It takes time to unlearn bad habits and relearn new ones. So I can't say that I don't still read others' posts and question whether mine is worthy enough to sit with theirs. And I can't help but wonder whether I might some day look back and cringe at what I wrote here (and shared publicly!). But I am having "to kill the critic" that resides in my head in order to accomplish this goal. Along the way, I have even taken a few (small) risks with my writing. Ultimately, I think that this is a step on my journey to learning to manage my perfectionist neuroses.

I hope that you will notice that I intentionally wrote today's "slice" this morning, while you are at work and the kids are at school. I'm all yours tonight! I look forward to connecting with you.


Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Comments Were Closed

My morning ritual is to wake up when Ryan gets in the shower, go pour myself a cup of coffee, and read the NYT online until I have to get Allison up for school. This morning, an article titled "Texas Says Most of Its Students Aren’t Reading at Grade Level. But Are Its Tests Fair?" caught my attention. As I read the article I felt the usual tinge of sadness for at the poor kiddos who are sorted and stratified into neat categories according to their performance on this single measure, and the ways in which these labels come to impact their identities as readers and learners. I empathized with the helplessness of the teachers who feel compelled to "teach to the test" because in some cases their job literally depends upon it. I felt the usual annoyance at the ways in which this high-stakes testing regime has narrowed our curriculum, making it sometimes impossible to teach engaging content in a responsive manner. But it was when I got to the article comments that my blood really began to boil. Callousness, cynicism, and disregard for teachers and children were threaded throughout. I decided to to something I rarely do - I hit the "Reply" button. To my dismay, I was met with a "Comments are closed" message. While I now longer have the energy (or pent-up rage) to type up all that I wanted to say this morning, here are a few snarky replies that I would have liked to leave (but probably wouldn't have, even if the comments were open).

RESPONSE #1: Here is what one person wrote in the comments:

1.  The data are for public school students, not all Texas students.  do we know how all students do?
2.  Some questions are possibly difficult for some students, which is how tests are written.  That's how students are ranked.
3.  It's accepted, "known", that family environment and social economic level affect children and how they do in school.   

My reply:

1. No, we do not. That is because only public schools are required to "play" by these "rules." If you don't understand this, then maybe you have no business commenting on this topic.

2. Why do you write as if ranking students is a neutral, normal process. The better question may be WHY are we ranking elementary students, in particular, via high-stakes tests? What purpose do they serve other than to further delineate the "haves" from the "have nots"? Oh, yeah, I forgot. The test publishers are making a mint off of our public school children.

3. Why must we "accept" that poor children or children from unstable homes are destined to do poorly with reading and/or tests of reading ? Why does this not outrage you as it does me?

RESPONSE #2: Toward the end of the article, the author reports on an analysis of the test conducted by Peter Afflerbach. One of his conclusions was that "The content of two of the passages, about making sand sculptures at the beach and stargazing with a telescope, could disadvantage low-income students, who would be less likely to have had such experiences."  Here is what person #2 wrote in response to this part of the article:

So if we should only read about things we are familiar with, what is the point of reading. Hey, either you can read grade material or you can't.

My reply:

So, then, what is the reading level of the material you normally read? I bet you don't know that information do you? As an adult, you are afforded the privilege of reading material that interests you or serves some purpose for you. You seem to do just fine with the NYT (typically written at at a 10th grade level according to the Flesch-Kincaid index), but how would you do with, say, a medical text (assuming you are not a doctor) or an engineering text (assuming you are not an engineer). Do you think maybe your lack of familiarity with these content areas may impact your ability to comprehend? If you had to take a "high-stakes" test over that type of material, do you think that you would perform as well as someone who is a doctor or an engineer? Moreover, why has it become normal and natural for us to assume that all kids have to read "grade level" material, that they have to master all reading content and skills at the same pace? We allow for variability in development when kids are infants and toddlers. We don't expect every baby to learn to walk at the same time or start speaking at the same time. There is a range of what is considered "normal" development. Yet, once kids turn 5 years old and enter the public school system, all of the sudden they are supposed to learn and progress in lockstep with their same-grade peers (with up to a year's difference in age). Let's get rid of the idea of "reading at grade level" altogether and help students develop knowledge and skill with reading a variety of materials, just as we do as adults. Let's allow for some variation and choice, knowing that if we engage kids in content that is interesting and purposeful to them, they will grow and progress as readers.  Don't misunderstand me, I am not saying we lower the bar for students. Let's just do away with our obsession of ranking students as "above", "below", or "at" grade level and focus more on identifying what kids need to continue progressing beyond their current levels of skill and knowledge.

RANT OVER!! I feel better!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019


Today my youngest daughter, Allison, turned eleven years old. On this day each year, I am always apt to reminisce on the day of her birth and all the years gone by. But tonight I was granted the rare opportunity to actually feel like I had stepped back five years in time.

As often happens around dinner time when we are all congregated in the kitchen, there were some conflicting instructions being directed at poor Alexa.

"Alexa play 'Eastside' by Halsey," commanded Allison.   
"No, Alexa, play 'Sunflower' by Post Malone," says Audrey, getting Alexa to change tunes mid-note.
"Alexa, volume up," Audrey continues.
"Alexa, volume DOWN!" Ryan and I say in unison.
"Alexa--" begins Audrey.
"ENOUGH!" shouts Ryan.

(I'm sorry, I cannot find the song 'Enough,' replies Alexa.)

I can almost see the gears shifting in his mind as he quickly thinks about what music he wants to play to tease them now that he has effectively ended the back and forth. Then he calmly says, "Alexa, play the Frozen soundtrack." He is met with the groans of my two daughters who feel they are much too grown-up for such Disney nonsense.

I steel myself for more protest and pouting, but before long they are both quietly singing along, remembering every word with ease. Soon their voices get louder, and they are both getting into it, singing "Do You Want to Build a Snowman" to each other. By the time "Let it Go" comes on, they are up from their kitchen chairs, dramatizing their actions and giving it everything they've got. For just a moment, it feels like five-year-old Allison and seven-year-old Audrey have joined us in the kitchen. They are giggling and dancing and hugging on each other, just like they used to when they worried less about what others thought about them. By the time the next couple of songs play, they have lost interest and gone their own separate ways.

It wasn't much, but it was a welcome treat for this nostalgic momma who is watching her babies grow up too quickly right before her eyes.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Becoming More Like My Mother...

It happened again tonight. I caught myself doing one of those things that I used to tease my mother for doing. There I was, standing at the kitchen sink, cleaning out the container that the "Panera at Home" Mac and Cheese had been in just minutes before. This is a perfectly good container, I thought. Nice and sturdy, with a good fitting lid. No, this container is not destined for the recycle bin just yet. In fact, this container can probably be used several more times before it needs to be tossed. I will use it to take leftover potato soup to work for lunch tomorrow. And it will be perfect to send leftovers home with Dennis when he eats with us. (I'm never too sure if I'm going to get my "good" plastic containers back from him.)

My musings were broken by Ryan's light-hearted teasing. "You're channeling your mother right now," he chided. First, I laughed. Because I knew he was right. But then I quipped back, "Hey my mother was green before green was cool." And I found myself imagining the large tub of mismatched sour cream, margarine and cottage cheese containers that sit on the pantry floor, the stacks of tin foil pie plates or baby food jars that sometimes overflow from a particular cabinet, the McDonald's coffee cups and QT cups that she rinses so she always has a to-go cup on hand.

And it's true - there are a million little things I find myself doing that are just like my mom (and probably more that I am not even aware of). But I've come to realize that's not such a bad thing. My mom is a truly amazing person. I don't mind becoming more like her at all. But I draw the line at washing the plastic disposable silverware!

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Bring it on March!

Is it the fresh flowers
that sit on my kitchen table?
(An impulse purchase from Costco)
Maybe it is the slightly full feeling in my belly
after enjoying
homemade potato soup
It's most likely
that I am here
in my clean (after-two-slumber-party) house
lounging on the couch with Ryan and the girls
ready to ride out a Sunday evening with a  movie
relaxed and ready
to keep on swimming again