My middlest is not a fan of school. He’s been struggling a bit this fall, especially with reading. We’re thrilled with his teacher, she’s not pushing or pressuring him to progress faster. She has a great sense of humor and knows enough to recognize that reading is developmental and kids will read when they are ready. Likewise, at home we try not to put too much emphasis on reading. We do our reading homework every night and read John chapter books full of rich vocabulary–right now we are almost finished with Mr. Popper’s Penguins. We talk about we’ve read and check for comprehension with his both his own reading and when we read to him. We have special “reading gum” that he can chew while he reads allow to help make reading time special and to help him focus more.
However, despite doing what we should at home and celebrating John’s slow improvement, despite having a teacher that doesn’t pressure John, he doesn’t feel good about himself. He doesn’t like to read and he fights homework tooth and nail some nights, informing us it is “too hard” (it’s usually not). He doesn’t want to go to school.
And he’s angry. Very, very angry. Our house has been one of lots of yelling, lots of “it’s not fair,” lots of begging and pleading and screaming in disappointment. We were hitting our breaking point a week ago. We didn’t know what to do with our boy. We didn’t know what we were doing wrong and we felt like controlling John was beyond us. Curtis and I sat and talked frequently, both about John’s behavior and about his reading progress. We both admitted feeling like a failure deep down because our boy was struggling so much and we couldn’t fix him. We felt like we failed in getting him ready to school and ready to read. Did we let him watch too much TV when he was little? Did we not push him enough in preschool? Did we not read him enough books or sing him enough songs or simply talk to him enough when he was itty bitty? We both know reading is developmental and kids read at different rates. Curtis lived it (he was a later reader and caught up with no problem). However, when we watched our boy, our heart broke and logic and reason flew out the window.
Last Monday, John and Madeleine started swimming at the YMCA. Our Y has a junior masters swim team that Madeleine has done the past two winters to help with her stroke and strength. Madeleine, we have learned over and over, needs to be active in sports to be nicer. Her behavior improves exponentially when she’s involved in organized sports–the more strenuous the better. We signed up John up this year in hopes his stroke would get better for our summer league swim team. John wasn’t fan of the first swim practice. He got out of the pool with fifteen minutes left and informed us, “This just isn’t working.”
We went back again on Wednesday anyway. The coach let him wear fins for his timed fifty (because he had to swim against Madeleine). He stayed with Madeleine and couldn’t have been more proud of himself. He didn’t swim every set of practice, but he swam more of it.
When it was over, I collected them from the pool area. John was happy. He was proud of himself. I was pleased he wasn’t leaving in tears like he did on Monday.
That evening, both the kids were tired, but Madeleine was happy. The evening careened towards bedtime and before John could get to bed, he was disappointed. He didn’t get his way and I tensed up. I waited for the explosion–the yelling, the screaming, the “it’s not fair!” It didn’t come. I could see the emotions come to the surface and then I could see him deal with them, without the loud anger and indignation.
The next few days proceeded just like that. The explosions that normally occurred were dealt with in more productive ways and our house was a bit quieter. I started relaxing and I realized exactly how bad things had gotten in our house. I realized too what part of John’s problem was–he didn’t feel like he had anything he was good at. Soccer was over, baseball hasn’t started yet. All there was for John was school and school makes John feel unsuccessful. Swimming gave John something to be proud of. He needed that more than anything.
It’s not that different for us adults. I get cranky and unhappy when I feel like a failure or like I don’t measure up to others. Despite what Paul in the Bible says about many gifts, I worry that my gifts aren’t the same as others. I don’t have the gift of prophecy or serving. I don’t perform miracles or heal others. I don’t know the right words to say at the right times. However, I have other gifts–the gift of teaching for one. I forget it’s not about how well others are using their gifts, more important is whether I am using mine.
When I struggled with acedia when Isaac was at home more–before John started school, I think a large part of the problem was there was nothing that made me feel successful. I’ve learned since then I need to teach. It’s some of my happiest moments. So I’ve learned to sign up for things I don’t feel like doing because I need to do–leading the Bible story room at Vacation Bible School, coaching Math Pentathlon, and even planning special learning projects for Madeleine. My place is teaching and it makes me insanely happy to be able to do so. I love the thrill of standing in front a group of kids and figuring out how to help them understand something. I love sitting on the floor with kids gathered around me and asking them, “What do you think? or “How else we could we solve this problem?”
Part of my task as a parent is to help my kids feel successful at something–whatever it may be–they need something to be proud of. We’ll continue to sign John up for sports and try to keep him in them year around so no matter what is happening with his reading, he has something to be proud of. It will help him deal with his struggles with reading, because he will know he is good at something. He matters, he is important, he has a purpose. We all need know we have a purpose and we aren’t just taking up space. We matter. We are important.
Ahh…November is over and the month of daily (kinda) posting is over. I spent most of my writing time in November being thankful, and sharing those things with you. I didn’t manage to write every day, but I got closer than last year. Small victories.
What did we do this past month?
Well, we went camping. It was quite cold (for Central Texas)–not out of the 30′s all weekend. We managed to have a delightful time though, but were still thankful to be home on Sunday afternoon. Other than that, it was a sustaining type of month. I started the month with a nasty stomach bug. Soccer seasons ended, for the most part, save an upcoming tournament for Madeleine. Curtis’s 98 year old grandmother died. He and John traveled to Iowa for the funeral while the three of us left at home decided to have our own special, fun weekend. We rode the light rail, took in Formula 1′s FanFest, ate out, and went to see a movie.
I think our back porch project is finished. In the middle of the month we added a fire pit, which we’ve used a lot for warmth, marshmallows, hotdogs, and general coziness. Thanksgiving weekend, Curtis hung strings of globe lights and added a new outlet (in other words, got to rewire and play with electricity). I love our back porch.
I can’t get over quite how much I read this month. It was a good mix of fiction and nonfiction and I enjoyed all of the books. Here goes:
Son by Lois Lowry. This is one of two of the juvenile fiction books I read this month. Usually my reading involves reading books the kids check out, but this one, I got just for me. It is the conclusion to Lois Lowry’s Giver (series) which was a Newberry Medal Award winner in the mid 90′s. It ties together the previous three books, showing how characters that didn’t necessarily seem connected were very connected. The whole book builds to the last two pages. There a bit of redemption and being willing to die for those you love (I love books with redemption! We all need a new chance and forgiveness sometimes). This wasn’t an easy read and the subject matter is more for middle school aged kids, than younger readers, as Lowry takes on the idea of evil without flinching. She challenged me to think about what I would be willing to give up for my wants.
How to Seize a Dragon’s Jewel by Cressida Cowell. This is the other children’s book I read this month. I need to admit, I missed some of the middle pages because it was Curtis’s turn to read to John. We would jokingly fight over who would put John to bed because we both wanted to read to him. I can’t say enough about the How to Train Your Dragon Series. We all love them–they are full of humor and villains, rich vocabulary and wonderful Viking like pictures. We worry about the books being too dark and scary for John (Harry Potter still is), but Cowell presents the conflict with a lighter sense, not the foreboding sense of evil present in the Harry Potter series. We can’t wait until book 11 comes out at the end of December.
Day After Night-Anita Diamont. This is a historical fiction set in Israel immediately post World War II. It was an enlightening and shocking book, as I learned about how the Jewish people who immigrated to Israel from WWII Europe were placed in refuge camps upon their arrival. I’m glad I read this one, which I picked up on a whim as a walked by a shelf at the library (Anita Diamont’s name jumped out at me–She also wrote the Red Tent).
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbach. I enjoyed this book. I liked the idea of communicating using flowers and then, like all communication, that flowers can have multiple meanings–how we know something isn’t true for everyone. While this book was a great read, at times I found myself thinking, “this is not realistic, this is too easy.” However, I’d recommend it in a heartbeat. It’s a good redemption tale as well.
How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny. I am now finished with Inspector Gamache series, as things appeared to tie up neatly at the end of the book. The multiple story lines in addition to the murder that had been carried along since the first book (this was book nine, I believe) were resolved. I couldn’t put it down and spent Thanksgiving afternoon finishing the book. I’ve really enjoyed Penny’s writing and her outlook on life.
Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber. Pastrix did not disappoint. I read this book early in the month (thus, don’t remember lots of specifics) but I loved this book. It was part spiritual memoir, part greatest hits of her sermons. Since reading the book, I try to listen to her sermons online whenever I can. I love Bolz-Weber’s humanity. She doesn’t to pretend to be any better, any less than human than she is. Her insights to some of her sermons were different than what I read before and after reading I felt like I understood a bit more. It’s all about love, friends–it’s all about us accepting God’s incredible love and then showing that love to everyone, no matter what.
Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist. This was our book club book this month. My friend and I co-hosted and made Niequist’s grilled cheese bar from the book (in the cupcake chapter, I believe). I mostly enjoyed this book. At times she lost me, but I kept reading and she pulled me back in. She most definitely challenged me to be more hospitable and not as worried about perfect–whether it was perfect food or a perfect house or the perfect music. The salad in the beginning of the book is yummy too!
Red Letter Christians by Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo. Ok, I need to admit I started this book in January or February and then set it down for a long, long time. It wasn’t until I read Bread and Wine that I felt compelled to pick up this book again. I know, you’re wondering what the connection is. In one of the latter chapters of Niequist book, she mentioned having her friend Shane over when he was in town. Lightbulbs went on in my head as she described and I thought, that sounds a lot like Shane Claiborne. Sure enough. So, I followed the path and picked up Red Letter Christians again. The time away was exactly what I needed. I found the last section inspiring and challenging. I needed a reminder to think about the words of Jesus versus the words of institutional religion and my own beliefs. I can’t recommend this book enough (and the Niequist/Claiborne connection? He did an internship at her church and talks about that church in his book as well).
take this bread by Sara Miles. Again, Bread and Wine led me to this book as well. While Niequist doesn’t mention Miles, the idea of bread led me here. I loved this book.
I’m trying to keep this short since I read so much (and consequently wrote so much about reading). Madeleine, Isaac, and I ate lunch at Lucy’s Fried Chicken during our fun Austin weekend, and we loved it! Didn’t love the pie, but everything else was fabulous! And the collards there….I would go back to Lucy’s just for the collards. We also had pizza from Southside Pies at FanFest which Madeleine decided was in her top five favorite pizzas in town. A friend and I went out for lunch at the Steeping Room, which is always a favorite of mine–especially their buddha bowl and their curry bowl.
My two favorite recipe finds this month came from the Pioneer Woman Cooks–her Frito Pie was perfect cold weather camping food, eaten in mugs instead of frito bags like she suggests. After failing with Niequist’s toffee recipe, I tried the Pioneer Woman’s and it was wonderful. Shh…don’t tell anyone that may be one of my only Christmas treats that I make this year. I also finally! (I’ve owned the cookbook for over 3 years) started attempting recipes from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. I’m quite pleased with my Italian bread successes.
Movies, TV and Music
I learned this month that watching Gravity in 3D while getting a stomach bug is a bad combo. That said, I feel like I can’t really tell you how I felt about Gravity because I was half sick–all that spinning when you’re nauseous is not fun. Madeleine, Isaac, and I went to see FreeBirds. At times I wondered about the appropriateness, but overall it was fine. The kids didn’t catch what I thought was inappropriate. Curtis and I watched Thor the other night, during which I fell asleep. We also watched Before Midnight, which we both liked and it was good springboard for conversation about marriage and getting older. I’m on season 7 of Grey’s Anatomy in case anyone is still keeping up. I also bought my yearly Christmas Album–The Crossing Choir’s Christmas Daybreak, in which my cousin’s wife is part of and has a solo (in Gabriel’s Message). You should check it out if you like choral, modern music.
I’ve linked up with Leigh Kramer’s What I’m Into. She has new button that will be coming to my sidebar once I figure out again how to add sidebars.
Here it is, the second to last day in November and I still haven’t written about one of the people I am most thankful for! In some ways, it’s kinda good I saved two of my most thankful to last, because it will keep me posting!
I am thankful for my wonderful Miss M. –my Madeleine Anne, who won’t be called Maddie so, we compromised with M. Now, I can’t imagine her as a Maddie, she is definitely a Madeleine or a M, but not a Maddie.
These are wonderful years with Madeleine. I am enjoying them and trying to savor them, because I know they are fleeting. Soon, she’ll be older, a middle schooler, a high schooler, and beyond. Now, she is 8 and I love 8. I love her independence and her desire to do things all my herself. That’s always been there, but I like seeing her challenges change–from getting dressed when she was 2 to making a yeast bread all by herself or raking and bagging leaves without my help.
Madeleine’s fun to spend time with. I enjoy just hanging out with her and running errands, seeing what she finds interesting and wants to explore. We have real conversations, instead of her constantly asking when she was four, “What’s under the road?” (every single time we got into the car). She’s in that cusp in between. She still loves playing with her American doll–at her playdate with a friend on Wednesday, they played for hours with her dolls. At school, for indoor recess, her and some friends (including a boy or two) played school. She still does those fabulous little girl things. On the other hand, she has distinct clothing and music opinions. She’s way too good at talking back and rolling eyes and acting like I am totally clueless. She’s reading harder books, about harder subjects and asking harder questions. She’s still trying to categorize things into black and white, but she’s slowly starting to realize, maybe things aren’t always as simple as that. She still wants to be a veterinarian, but also talks about being herpetologist.
I am thankful for how Madeleine describes the world she lives in. She’s always been quite good at expressing emotions and thoughts, but as she gets older, she’s leaving a bit more space in her language. She’ll describe things as “the second best,” so that there’s always room for better which just may be forgetting at the moment.
I am so thankful for Madeleine. I hope I can help her navigate through her challenges– her tendency to worry when things change or are different. I love watching her grow up right in front of my eyes and become a pretty cool kid.
Often, I am overwhelmed with what I hear in the media-both about the political realm and the religious realm. The media likes to emphasize the extremes–radicals and reactionaries in politics and religion. Too often, we hear about Christians not acting in love–Christians that are eager to close the doors on others and keep them from the table. Politics does the same, whose right and whose wrong, whose in and whose out, whose red and whose blue. This is all around us all the time and sometimes, it makes me tired. It makes me cynical. I tire of the fear mongering by politicians and religious leaders, we should be afraid that we are being persecuted or our values are being attacked or, this is the worse one, that socialists are taking over the country.
Then I read things. I read authors of church leaders of mainstream churches–you know, those that have been around for ages–the Presbyterians, the Episcopalians, the Lutherans. I hear them preaching love and grace and that everyone may come to God’s table. All are in fact welcome, it’s not just a Methodist slogan. The table is for everyone, the sinners and outsiders especially because that’s who Jesus came for–the sick–the poor–the women–the children. Those that the church ignores and treats as second rate, these are the ones Jesus came for. It’s not a prosperity gospel, it’s not even a cause and effect. If we do good for God, God won’t do good things for us. We’ll be able to see God with us in the bad things that happen. If we pray enough, we won’t necessarily be healed, not all the lame can walk again. However, God will walk with us as we limp along.
This is what I believe, but some days, it’s hard to remember it when those that feed on fear tell me I am threatened. I feel myself become cynical about church institutions and I forget.
On days like today though, I am thankful for hope. I am thankful for the Pope’s words–no, I’m not Catholic, but I appreciate good words when I hear them, no matter the denomination they come from.
The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.
(Pope Francis–quoted in CNN’s religion blog)
As I read that, I thought of Sara Miles’ words in take this bread. She says the same thing, the Eucharist-communion-changes us. It leaves us hungry for more, hungry for more God, hungering and thirsting for righteous, hungering for the bread of life, thirsting for the living water. When I hear book authors and Popes talking about how the church, the Eucharist is not reserved for the perfect, the saints, I am thankful. The Eucharist is even for me, as imperfect and grumpy and snarky and petty and judgmental that I can. That gives me hope.
Almost five years ago, we decided to sell the house that Curtis built and move to a neighborhood. We loved our old house–knowing that I helped frame the walls and lay the flooring and set the trim made me feel incredibly connected to it. It was our dream house–sixteen foot cathedral ceilings, a floor plan we loved, a spacious open kitchen, a big backyard, a nice covered deck. However, the street it sat on wasn’t our dream street–there were no sidewalks, no place for our growing children to ride their bikes or neighbors for them to play with. The school we were zoned to go to didn’t garner any enthusiasm from us whatsoever (in fact, I would say we felt the opposite of enthusiasm about our school).
Five years ago, we looked for new houses, a bit frantically because we got three offers the weekend it went on the market (unheard of in fall 2008). We started looking in what we thought were our dream neighborhoods, but we soon discovered we couldn’t comfortably afford our dream. We looked and looked and looked and looked, moving farther and farther out of Central Austin. This house we found was in our third or fourth neighborhood we looked in. This neighborhood at sidewalks, a school we could ride bikes to, two parks within walking distance, a grocery store (and much more!) close by, a neighborhood swimming pool, and trees.
December 15 will be five years since we closed on our house. Since then, I’ve been incredibly thankful for our neighborhood countless times. Isaac was born less than three months after we moved in (we remodeled before moving in). He was a bit late and my mom was only able to stay a day or two after he got home from the hospital. I was faced with no help at home (Curtis worked three quarter days the first two weeks) and three children at home with me several days a week. I discovered then the wonderful thing that is our neighborhood. Our immediate next door neighbor let me cry to her the day my mom left, when I felt so overwhelmed (not to mention those wonderful postpartum hormones). For two weeks, every other day, neighbors brought over hot meals for dinner. Thanks to our neighborhood, where we had only lived for three months, we were fed.
Since then, the number of times I’ve been thankful for our neighborhood has been countless. I’m thankful for the neighborhood swim team that has let me kids (and myself) make new friends, not to mention that has taught them to swim. I’m thankful for the neighborhood events–the fourth of July parade and pool party, the Easter egg hunt, the December hayride and snacks. I am thankful for our newly formed book club, with mostly people in our neighborhood. I am thankful that teachers from my kids’ school live in our neighborhood and that one of their daughter babysits for us. I am thankful for the street I live on, where there are ample children for my children to play with and race up and down the street on their bikes. I am thankful for neighbors whose house I can go, when on a Monday morning I discover there is no.coffee.in.the.house.
I am not fast at making friends, but in this neighborhood, I keep at it. It is good knowing that these neighbors my children will go to school with until they graduate from high school–they’ll swim with them on swim team countless summers. It’s a community. It’s a place to put down roots and to spread our branches. I am thankful to be able to do that in our neighborhood. We may not be the cool or trendy place to live in town, but it’s our place and it fits us.
While our cold weather camping made for a great weekend, I must say, I was thankful to be home yesterday afternoon. Curtis poked up the heat to 70 (it was set at 65 while we were gone) and we enjoyed a warm afternoon and evening in our house. I made a vegetable soup and sweet potato biscuits and we had homemade toffee for dessert. We took afternoon naps, watched a little monster truck competition on TV, and lit a scented candle for supper.
The nap though. The nap. Aaaah….to lay down in my own bed again under a pile of blankets and sleep, not worrying about whether or not everyone was staying warm (every time I would hear a child move this weekend, I would ask them if they were warm), with my good pillows, produced bliss.
Being cold takes a lot of energy and we were all tired yesterday afternoon. I was thankful we no longer had to try to keep ourselves warm and wear three or four layers of clothing. I was thankful for early bedtimes (for me included) and good, long night’s sleep.
Soccer puts a bit of a damper on our camping schedule. In the prime camping months in both spring and fall, soccer (and baseball) is in full swing. We try to limit the number of games we miss, one or two are always inevitable, so we limit the amount of full weekend camping we do.
Last year, we discovered cold weather camping (at least cold weather for November in Central Texas). We decided, just like Mother’s Day weekend, we would try to make it a tradition to camp the weekend before Thanksgiving. We booked our campsite at one of favorite state parks and was off.
We had the best case scenario with weather. For the entire weekend, there was a s 60 – 80% chance of rain, at about all times, with highs not getting out of the 30′s. We worried a bit, mostly about getting wet. We could deal with the cold, but wet and cold is just miserable.
It rained just one night, after we went to bed. Because we were expecting rain, we had put all our outside gear (chairs, etc) under a large tarp and nothing under the tarp–including our fire wood–got wet. The weather report kept most of the other campers from coming to the park–we were one of three campers on our half of the camp on night (and the park was booked for the weekend). We mostly had the place to ourselves. Maggie ran free and no park rangers came by to make sure we were following the rules. (I guess they figured if we were crazy enough to brave the weather we could do whatever we wanted).
Cold weather camping is cozy. All weekend we had a fire going and we spent a lot of time sitting in front of said fire. Hiking is quite comfortable and for the most part we stayed warm sleeping–the dog had the hardest time staying warm. We drank a lot of hot drinks and ate frito pie out of mugs for lunch on Saturday. We roasted marshmallows and discovered apple cake was fabulous heated up on the fire. We discovered a new hill country town which we feel in love with–Curtis and I would love to go back to San Saba, just the two of us. The kids didn’t complain about being cold, except for one time which involved them also being soaking wet because they kinda got into the springs. They enjoyed finding hideouts in trees for cold animals and looking at animal tracks while we hiked.
We all went to bed early and slept later than usual (for camping). The time had already changed, so we were able to sit around the campfire in the dark longer. We read books in the tent as the kids drifted off to sleep. Curtis and I spent time talking and relaxing. It was fabulous. If you ask the kids about our weekend, all of them will say they had a great time and loved it. Madeleine will tell you about the dead tree she found and imagined as a habitat for other animals and about the very much alive tree that she was finding little dips in where she could lay down and stay dry. Isaac would tell you about spending time with Daddy. You would hear about the vine tree from John, which he enjoyed exploring (and getting stuck in).
I am thankful for cold weather camping, for all the reasons I wrote above and so many I can’t think of at the moment!