Book Advent Calendar

A mommy friend posted on Facebook last year about doing a book advent calendar or book countdown to Christmas for her child. Apparently this was already a thing, and she did not invent it, but being the first time I saw it, I thought she was a genius. Twenty-five days of celebrating the holidays through books? Twenty-fve excuses to share my love of reading and the Christmas season with my little guy? Twenty-five ways to spoil him with stories and snuggles? Sign me up!

So this year I pulled together twenty-five winter and holiday themed books, wrapped them up, and stacked them artfully (as artful as I get) with a Santa hat plopped on top. Tonight we dove into the pile and explored our first new book, Elmo’s Countdown to Christmas, because, ya know, toddler. (And yes, I’m starting early because I want to end on Christmas Eve with The Night Before Christmas.)

Little man was pretty impressed when he realized the stack of Mickey Mouse wrapped packages were all books and all for him. He was so impressed, in fact, he strung together four words “one book more…please” which is pretty good for a pint-sized beggar and the polite please almost had me caving—but not quite.

For those who think this is as awesome as I did but worry about the cost or work, here are a few ideas to simplify it:

  • Reduce, reuse, recycle. My little guy doesn’t know that 20 of his 25 books were gifted, donated, or bought used. Even as he gets older and might remember favorite books from year to year, it’s still okay to reuse because it’s about the fun of opening and (re)reading the story, not about ‘getting things.’ I plan to rotate in a few new titles each year to fit his interests and age. This year the new ones were Mickey, Daniel Tiger, Elmo, Mac the Tractor, and Little Blue Truck.
  • Involve the relatives. If you have plans to see aunts, uncles, or grandparents a few nights over the holiday season, see if they’d be willing to share a favorite story with your little one as his/her book that day.
  • Make an outing of it. Take a weekly trip to the library and pick out books for the week to read each night.
  • Do the 12 books of Christmas or the 8 books of Chanukah. Or for the older kids just pick a special novel and read a chapter or two each night.
  • Skip the wrapping. Stick the books in a festive bag or box and pull one out each night. Or maybe that creepy Elf can deliver a new, unwrapped book each night. (Sorry, I have elf issues.)

I can never pass up a chance to read to my little man and am lucky beyond measure to have the time and means to be able to share stories with him on a daily basis, but however you choose to instill the love of reading and/or the magic of the holidays in your child, you are giving them some of the best gifts there are to give!

Happy reading!

Here are the books I included in our book countdown to Christmas this year. The covers below are affiliate links to Amazon:

IMG_5270

One and Done

One and Done.

Some people want and plan to have just one child. Others are physically unable to have a second and make the decision not to adopt another. Other families who had planned to have more decide after having one child that their family feels complete.

I don’t fit into any of those categories. I’d always planned on having two or three kids. Then again, I’d always planned on having a partner to help. While it wasn’t easy to conceive, I was able to and probably would be able to again. And while I love my little man more than I ever thought possible, I feel I have more love to share—maybe not right in the middle of his toddler and teething stages, but certainly down the road.

But the fact is, I am probably a ‘one and done’ mom. Financially at this point, it wouldn’t be feasible or responsible for me to bring another child into our lives.

And frankly, that sucks. And it makes me sad.

I thought I’d gotten over the fact I hadn’t met someone to raise a family with well before little man arrived. What I haven’t gotten over is the limitations of being a single mother. Because I didn’t know until I had my son how amazing the experience of being pregnant would be, or what it felt like to fall in love with someone over and over again as they grew and changed almost daily, or how much I wanted to share all the things I love about life with someone else who is still wide-eyed at the world around him, or how cool it would be to see my nephew with his younger sister and cousin and wish my son could have the experience of being a big brother too. In short, I never knew just how much I was meant to be a mom.

Maybe I’m just feeling sad over my inability to afford a second child because my hormones are changing again as I (slowly) begin the weaning process. Or possibly I’m worried about raising an only child, because I didn’t know any growing up, don’t know many now, and worry about that being yet another thing that will be different about our family. Or maybe my ovaries are aching because some of my friends and acquaintances, including a few other single mothers, are in the process of trying for more, and I’m a little nostalgic and a little, or a lot, jealous.

I know for sure it’s in part due to the fact that I’ve already begun to realize my little man and I are leaving behind certain stages, and while I love watching him grow and make new leaps, I’m sad to say goodbye to some of those infant things forever.

I know my son still has a lifetime of firsts ahead of him. First sentence. First bike ride. First time on the potty. First day of school. And I know if I had a second child, he or she would also grow through the stages more quickly than I would like, and I’d soon be saying goodbye to babyhood all over again. But I can’t help but think everyone who wants to should get to do this parenting thing at least twice, because maybe the second time I’d be more aware, more in the moment, more appreciative of all the little firsts—and lasts.

My chances of having a second are about the same as winning the lottery, because that’s likely what would have to occur. And that does suck, and it does make me sad. But realizing it now while little man is still so small also provides an opportunity, a chance to cherish every amazing moment with my guy—and to comfort myself during those less-than-amazing moments. He may be my “one and done,” so I have no one to hold back for, no one for whom to say, “next time…” There is just this time. There is just us. And we will make the most of it.

But I will occasionally still play the Powerball. Just in case.

 

Photo credit: Christine Passler

Don’t Discourage Young Rereaders

Two years ago when I was writing for another site, I took a break from writing about trying to conceive as a single mom by choice to write a couple back-to-school posts wearing my teacher hat instead. As I was preparing to reread the summer reading book I’m in charge of this year for at least the fourth time, I decided maybe it was time to add a post for parents of older kids. So here is this year’s back-to-school bit of advice.

Tell me your child doesn’t read enough—of anything—and I will hear your concerns, offer suggestions, and sympathize with your strong desire to raise a reader. Kids need to read; it helps build vocabulary, strengthens empathy, and is ultimately the best way to become a more fluent and sophisticated writer. If your child doesn’t read, I’m concerned.

But tell me your child reads, but only the same series, genre, or even one particular book over and over again, and you’re likely to get a guilty grin. Because I was that kid. Heck, I am that adult. When I find something I like, I stick with it—for a long time, longer than any relationship I’ve ever had with non-fictional character. I’ve reread some of my favorite books or series more than a dozen times. I often binge read a series or genre for months at a time. (This was the summer of Southern mysteries with a touch of romance.)

I won’t make apologies for my reading habits, nor will I let anyone tell me they are less valid or valuable than other reading. And I won’t tell a parent they ought to discourage such reading in their children. Rereading is reading. And all reading is valuable.

You never read the same book twice.

Yes the words on the page may be the same, but you will never have the exact same experience reading a book no matter how many times you read it, because you aren’t the same person from day to day, or year to year. Rereading is especially prevalent in tweens and teens, which makes perfect sense; they’re at a stage of development where everything about and around them is changing constantly from their friends, to their bodies, to their sense of self. What speaks to them in a book one month will not necessarily be the same as what speaks to them the next. Even as adults this is true. Does anyone honestly think he’d have the same reactions and opinions about something he read before major life events like marriage, children, or losing a parent, as he would after those experiences?

The craft is hidden in the details.

I’d also argue one can learn more about writing and craft from rereading something multiple times or reading multiple works by the same author than one could from never doing so. The first time you read a book you’re caught up in the plot and characters. A skilled author won’t hit readers over the head with their craft. Things like voice, symbolism, and tidbits of character’s backstory that become crucial three books later in a series are often overlooked during the first read when readers are rushing to the resolution. But reread that same book or series and suddenly you find yourself yelling at the characters, “You idiot! If you had paid attention to that you could have saved yourself a lot of trouble!” Or for the first time you see and are awed by the way an author always takes the time to describe certain things and you realize it was another layer to developing mood or character. And if you’re thinking that kids aren’t capable of recognizing such things, you’re not giving them, especially those of them who read regularly (yes, even those who reread), nearly enough credit.

So by all means encourage your children to read and read widely. Model such reading for them. Discuss what you’ve read and what they’ve read. Try to find non-fiction articles about the authors or topics of their favorite genre. But please do not discount or discourage their reading simply because “they always read the same thing.” There are plenty of parents who would love to have that problem. And plenty of English teachers and writers who reread quite often themselves and find value—and enjoyment!— in each rereading.

 

Previous Back-to-School posts:
Making the Most of At-home Read Alouds
5 Tips for Reducing Back-to-School Stress
How Your Child Can Benefit from Having a New Teacher
Making the Most of Parent Night

 

Photo credit: © Budyanskaya1979 | Dreamstime

Unlocking Family: Discovering Diblings

“You’ve got siblings.”

It’s not everyday that you open your email to discover your child has another sibling—or two. But this summer it seemed to happen every few weeks.

These emails or online connections came from moms who used the same donor I did to conceive Little Man, so technically they are half-siblings, also know as donor siblings or, my fav term, diblings.

Once a family has conceived using a donor, there are several registries (national or cryobank specific) where one can connect with diblings and their parents. I hadn’t really thought much about it before I became pregnant, but after my son was born I became curious and searched. At first there were only two other families listed and neither had left contact information. Then as Little Man neared his first birthday, I decided to check again and, sure enough, found an email. Then another. Then a couple moms contacted me. As of today we’re just a couple diblings short of a round dozen.

But what’s the big deal anyway? These women have no relation to me, they and their children are spread across the country, and they may never be more than an acquaintance online. Yet each and every time I’ve connected with a new family, I’ve gotten a thrill and felt an instant connection. Yes, it’s exciting to see pictures and compare physical features, but it’s deeper than that. These women were drawn to at least some of the same things I was in a donor, and they are raising children who share 50% of the same genes as my son. Choosing a donor is such a personal choice; in the moment I was thinking only about my decision, my family. I didn’t spent a lot of time thinking about the other families we’d be tied to. Yet, while it’s hard to explain, I definitely do feel a bond with these families, one that I never would have expected.

Mostly though, I’m excited for my son to have donor siblings with whom he can connect in his future. I will likely never be able to afford a second child on my own, so he probably will not have siblings in the traditional sense. Maybe that won’t faze him. But maybe it will. And if it does, I’ll feel good knowing he has people he can reach out to. I was not donor conceived, or an only child, or a son of a single mom. Heck, I didn’t even know anyone who fit any of these descriptors growing up. So it’s hard for me to know how important biological ties will be to my son. It’s easy to say I’m providing him with a loving family and a network of amazing friends, so he shouldn’t “need” these other connections. But if the tables were turned, I’d want to know. I’d at least want the option or hope of someday getting to connect (which is the same reason I eventually changed to an open donor).

For now, I will follow his diblings online, ’liking’ all their moms’ adorable posts as I watch the kids grow along with my own little man. I will compare features, cheer on milestones, and reach out to the families as needed in order to stay in touch. I even hope to meet a few of the closer ones once our babes are a little bigger and better able to travel. But ultimately what becomes of these dibling relationships will be up to my son. Whether he chooses to unlock this added layer of family or not, I’ll support him. In the meantime, I’m just the keeper of the keys.

 

Photo: © Judith Dzierzawa | Dreamstime

Don’t Cancel Father’s Day on Account of This Single Mom’s Son

In the days before Mother’s Day this year, many of our favorite parenting sites shared articles about a school in Canada who cancelled Mother’s and Father’s day, “In an effort to celebrate diversity, inclusivity and also nurture our students who are part of non-traditional families” (Albert McMahon Elementary School’s letter to parents). It seemed everyone had an opinion about this controversial decision, and many online commenters pitted non-traditional families against traditional mom and dad families.

Since I’m a single mother by choice, my son has no father, only an anonymous sperm donor, and I don’t think Hallmark has invented a card for that yet. Due to this, my son may someday be a little sad or jealous of his peers who have two parents, especially of his male counterparts with a dad in the picture. So you might think I’d be in favor of such a ban. You’d be wrong. It’s not that I want my child or any child to suffer or be sad, but eliminating, ignoring, or erasing differences is not celebrating diversity or inclusivity.

I absolutely want my child’s school to someday understand the struggle he may have surrounding Father’s Day, but I want them to do that by acknowledging and teaching about all types of families—because that’s what celebrating diversity looks like. Eliminating all mention of Father’s Day for all the kids with dads and saying it’s for the sake of my child will only serve to stigmatize him and other children from non-traditional families. This is as far from “nurturing” as it gets. To that I say, no thanks.

Instead schools need to know the families they work with and be in communication with them about such events. Ask parents in non-traditional families for suggestions of books teachers can read that include, explain, or celebrate differences. Provide alternative activities to the traditional card making, such as writing about what makes each child’s family unique or just writing a card to any special adult in their lives. And probably most importantly, schools should reach out to parents of children who may be struggling to see what resources the school and community can offer. Most districts have guidance counselors, psychologists, and/or mentor programs available. If a child is struggling with being from a non-traditional family, the last thing we should do is ignore all discussion of families, making him feel it’s not something he should be talking about, leaving him to suffer in silence.

Now, obviously there are extremes. After the initial letter to parents in that school in Canada came out and caused such an uproar, Mission Public School District Superintendent Angus Wilson added that a student suffered a “recent trauma,” and that was one of the reasons for cancelling traditional celebrations of Mother’s and Father’s Day. If a school decides to take a year off from mentioning or celebrating these holidays while a member of its community is dealing with some fresh tragedy, that’s completely understandable. Perhaps next time, though, they could be more open about their real and reasonable motivation (while still protecting the privacy of the family involved, of course), instead of trying to please people by throwing around catchphrases like “celebrating diversity,” when that’s not at all what was being done.

Similarly, as a teacher I understand that there often isn’t time to cover most states’ mandated curriculums, never mind to add separate lessons on every holiday, religion, family structure, etc. So if a school decides to focus entirely on academics and can’t or won’t incorporate lessons on diversity into their units, so be it, but call it what is: choosing content over character education.

Celebrating diversity means taking the time to acknowledge differences and then to show they are valued by highlighting what makes them special, not by ignoring they exist. And nurturing students of one family structure, race, or religion shouldn’t come at the expense of others. Let’s find the time and the means to educate and celebrate what makes us us.

And hey, if a few years down the road my little guy wants to make me, my dad, my brother or all three of us a card on Father’s Day, we’re not about to turn it down!

 

For anyone looking for good books about different types of families, this is my favorite so far. (And I’d love other recommendations!)

 

Photo credit: © Subbotina | Dreamstime.com

On Turning One

To my little man on turning one,

You probably won’t remember anything of your first year. Your knowledge of it will come from photos, videos, and stories told to you by family and friends. In other words, you’ll get the highlight reel.

Honestly, I’m not sure my memory will be much different. Already those early hours, days, and weeks have begun to blur into that foggy place we call the past. My clearest memories are those too special—or too scary—to forget.

Waking up from surgery and wanting to meet you so badly it hurt.

Seeing you for the first time, so small, so fragile, so mine.

20160430-5

Watching you find my breast and begin to feed, and feeling overcome with amazement that our bodies worked together so innately to give you just what you needed.

Snuggling skin to skin with you that first night. Secretly enjoying the fact I had no one there to share you with.

The overwhelming fear of hearing you had two holes in your tiny heart. The comfort of your uncle’s words, when he reminded me worrying about the future was futile and told me to focus on loving you in the moment. He was so right. You healed in record time, amazing the doctors and relieving your worried mom and grandparents in just six short months.

The struggles with nursing, every other day weight checks, reflux and dairy intolerances that left you screaming in pain and me willing and wanting to do anything to make you feel better. Then finally the chub, those cheeks, that little crease in your thighs that made all the struggle worth it—and made the whole world want to squeeze you!

Your firsts. First smile. First giggle (which was for your cousin, not for me, by the way). The first time you rolled. The first real injury, a faceplant into the cabinet. Your first word (out, not momma; I’m starting to see a pattern here).

But that’s not to say I won’t remember little moments, too. The snuggles in my bed (when co-sleeping became my first never-say-never parenting realization). The way you smile at me every morning when I walk in your room (because you eventually did learn to sleep there). The magic you seem to have to make your grandparents melt when you enter a room. The softness of your hair and the sound of your breathing as you drift off to sleep each night. And so many more everyday things that won’t necessarily make the baby book, but are etched into my memory for being as unforgettable as they are unremarkable.

IMG_2406

You may read this years from now and think it silly I got so sappy and sentimental at what is really just the start of our adventures. And maybe you’ll be right to laugh at me. But for now, I’m going to allow myself to reminisce, because, while our bigger adventure together has indeed just begun, this one part, this year of newness and need, is over. And already I miss it.

But that doesn’t lessen my excitement for the year to come. If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that just when I think I can’t love you more, I do. So bring on year two. The good, the rough, and the love that shines through it all.

I’m so lucky to be your mommy, Little Man!

Love,

Mom…mommy, momma, mum-mum—any version will do. Keep working on that, ok?

Raising a Child Without Religion

Sunday morning my son, like many kids, woke up to a brightly colored basket with books, colored eggs, and a few small toys. This year he had no clue what was going on, only that he liked hanging out in mommy’s bed, shaking the rattle eggs, and giggling like mad at my attempts to sing “Shake it, shake it” with lingering laryngitis.

But some year he’s going to ask what Easter or Christmas is all about, why we celebrate, and what we believe. Frankly, I don’t have very good answers for him.

Like many in my generation, I stopped associating myself with any form of organized religion sometime in my 20s. I don’t remember exactly when, because it wasn’t a formal decision. I never said, “Yesterday I was Catholic; today I’m not.” It happened gradually, and for a variety of reasons. I’m not sure whether I believe in a god or just in the human spirit. And if there is a god, I believe he or she can best be found in the joy of my son’s smile or in the power of an ocean wave, and not inside a building. I’m not into labels, because I believe labels are limiting and part of why there’s so much hate in the world, but if you must stick one on me, I guess I’m a Buddhist-leaning, humanistic, spiritual agnostic. But there’s no box for that on most questionnaires.

Deciding what box to check, though, isn’t my concern. I’m not even really concerned about explaining to my son why we celebrate Christian holidays. For me, that’s easy. Beyond my upbringing and family traditions is the greater meaning of the holidays themselves. The celebrations sprung from religious events and beliefs (as well as many pagan rituals), but they’ve grown to encompass more than that. They’ve become celebrations of family and love and giving and renewal. And those are things I absolutely believe in and want my son to believe in, too.

I also don’t worry he’ll lack morals or values without religion. Recent studies have shown kids raised without religion may actually be more empathetic.* Whether that’s true or not, I have no idea, but I know myself, and I know the other adults who will shape my little man’s sense of right and wrong, empathy, and compassion. He won’t lack for wonderful real-life role models—or good fictional ones, for that matter.

I worry more about the ‘big questions’ I don’t have answers to, especially those that can be scary: What happens after we die? Why do bad things happen to good people? Many religions set out to offer comfort with their answers to these questions, and I will gladly share with little man what different people believe, in hopes he may find an answer that feels right to him. Honestly, though, I never found too much comfort in any answers I was given, and now I realize maybe that was ok. Maybe it’s as important to accept that there are things we can’t know for sure, but still work to be the best we can be.

So maybe my lack of answers is the answer I’ll some day provide. And maybe it’s not such a bad answer after all. I don’t know, little man, how it all came to be or what happens when it ends, but I do know there’s a lot of life, love, magic, and joy to be found in ourselves, each other, and the world. And if some of that comes in the form of opening an Easter basket with mom or believing in Santa, we’ll celebrate it!

 

In preparing this post I found some books and articles that may be of interest. I haven’t read the books, so I’m not making recommendations, simply sharing what I found.

Online reading: *These articles mention and link the studies referenced in the post. At least one of these studies used parents’ self-reporting on their own kids, which makes me a little skeptical. I mean, who’s going to say her kid is an uncaring jerk? Then again, both the religious and nonreligious families self-reported, so maybe that was taken into account.

http://www.bostonmagazine.com/2012/12/losing-our-religion-non-religious-parenting

http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-oe-0115-zuckerman-secular-parenting-20150115-story.html

Books for Kids

Older than The Stars by Karen C. Fox – a scientific view of who we are

The Belief Book by David G. McAfee – a look at the beliefs of a variety of religions

I Wonder by Annaka Harris – a book about curiosity and accepting that some questions don’t have answers

Books for Parents

Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion by Dale McGowan

Relax It’s Just God: How and Why to Talk to Your Kids About Religion When You’re Not Religious by Wendy Thomas Russell

 

Photo credit: © Evgeny Karandaev | Dreamstime.com