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

Reclaiming Self

My usual Saturday morning-nap ritual (if I’m lucky enough to get little man down for a morning nap) is to take a longer than normal shower, shave my legs, and maybe even moisturize after. Non-moms may call this basic hygiene; I’ve come to think of it as a little luxury. And I cherish it.

Last Saturday I had plans to go out late afternoon with my girlfriends, a much more significant and even more beloved luxury. So in my mind I needed to compensate for the ‘lost’ hours of housework that I’d be skipping out on in order to see friends by cramming more work into my son’s morning nap time. Yet, once I got him to sleep, I found myself still lingering in the steamy shower, still smoothing my skin with scented lotion after, and even rummaging through my vanity drawer and pulling out some long forgotten makeup (that was well past its expiration and will likely lead to some hideous eye infection). Part of me felt guilty. Part of me worried about the risk of permanent blindness. But most of me just felt empowered.

I’ve always been a minimalist when it came to makeup and felt good about the fact I was confident enough—or lazy enough—to bare my face to the world. But after even just the lightest touch of mascara this weekend, I felt pretty, womanly, confident—and not in my ability to keep a little person alive, but in myself. And I realized, to my surprise, this was something I missed a little over the last year. Or, correction, it wasn’t something I missed over the last year, but rather something I was starting to miss now. And reclaiming it felt good.

Being single, I didn’t know if I’d get the chance to be a mom. Even when I made the decision to try, I went through six cycles and five IUIs before becoming pregnant. So when I got there, I was thrilled, and grateful, and I loved being a mom more than anything else, certainly more than poking myself in the eye with mascara. And after years of weight struggles and body image issues, for the first time I was so damn proud and amazed at what my body was doing that I didn’t need anything else to make me feel confident.

A year later I still am amazed at my body. I’m still nursing, despite plenty of struggles early on. I’m keeping up with an active little boy despite having little to no time to workout. Oh, and that little boy, yeah, he’s the most amazing thing my body ever created.

I am also still thankful everyday for my chance at motherhood. I love my son and love watching him grow, but I also love the chance to grow myself as I adapt to caring for and loving another person so intensely.

But being thankful for and amazed at my body and cherishing my chance at motherhood isn’t enough anymore. Now that little man isn’t so little, fragile, or dependent and he’s (too) quickly becoming his own little person, I’m beginning to realize I need to reclaim my own person, too.

Of course being a mother is now a part of my selfhood—the most precious, and important, and amazing part. But there are other parts, parts I pushed aside for a while after becoming pregnant, parts I’m ready to reclaim and rekindle.

Before becoming a mom I was a writer, a wanna-be athlete, an involved teacher, and a more attentive friend. I wore make-up on occasion, liked changing my hair color and/or style on a monthly basis, and was beginning to accumulate a fantastic collection of Doc Martins to match my every outfit and mood.

Starting when I got pregnant, I became less interested and less oriented on these other parts of myself in order to learn about, embrace, and struggle through my newest role. My body and my baby needed the bulk of my attention, and I was not only fine with giving both what they needed, I wanted to give my all to my son. And I have no regrets.

But now that we’ve survived that crucial and trying first year, the best thing I can do for my son and myself is to strike a better balance. I need to reexamine what it means to be me—because I’m not the same person I was before my son arrived, but I’m not entirely different either. Then I need to make room in my chaotic life for all the parts of myself I still deem important. First and foremost the mom. But also the writer. The athlete. And, yes, the woman who still likes to live dangerously and throw on a little (questionable) eye makeup now and again.

Even if it means leaving the laundry unfolded a few more nights.

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.

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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.

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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

Needed: Honest Mom Friends

Me, making polite small talk with a friend and fellow baby boy mom: So how’s your little guy?

Her, replying in an equally sweet tone: Oh, good, thanks. And yours?

Me: Great… (pause, wondering how this will be received, then not caring, because I really needed to spew) …but he’s kind of driving me nuts wanting to ‘walk’ all the time and not letting me put him down even to pee without freaking out. Weekends alone with him are exhausting right now. I live for naptimes.

Now she could have laughed and tried to convince me it was just a stage, or nodded and said, “Yeah, that must be tough,” leaving me feeling even more guilty about not loving and cherishing every moment I’m home with Little Man.

Instead she shared her own honest feelings about the loveliness that occurs as babies develop their own personalities and opinions (i.e. temper tantrums), and the beauty of increased mobility (otherwise known the as danger-seeking-missile stage). We shared stories, sympathized, and promised to meet up to drink wine in the very near future.

We all can be guilty of being that social media mom whose Facebook page is more accurately a Fakebook page. Some parents might do it mindfully, but most of us just don’t think to stop in the middle of an epic meltdown over sitting vs. standing to snap a photo and upload it. Not to mention, we’ve all been schooled about being careful about what kind of online footprint we’re leaving for our children while they’re still too young to consent to those less-than-perfect pictures. Unfortunately, that sometimes leaves moms wondering, “Am I the only one ok with leaving the baby to go back to work some Monday mornings?” or “Is my kid the only one who does or doesn’t do x, y, or z?”

That’s where the honest mom friends save the day.

I’ve always been a big believer in the need for women to have a strong group of other female friends. Women need other women—to build them up, to have their back, to slap some sense into them, to bitch and rage with, and, of course, to shop for shoes with. But never have I appreciated honesty and openness in my friends, especially my other mom friends, more than since I’ve become a parent.

Motherhood, especially single motherhood, can at times be isolating. Even as a working mom, there often isn’t enough time in the work day to talk with other moms openly about parenting. There’s quick inquiries passing in the hall or lunchroom small talk (and for a nursing mom, there’s not even that). But what moms really need is a few minutes (or more) of straightforward mom-fessions.

I need to hear other moms tell me they threw out ‘the rules’ or that, like me, they didn’t even know some ‘rules’ existed. I need to know my anxiety is normal, my impatience or dislike of a stage is not a sign I’m a horrible mother, and that one day teething, too, shall end. I need to not be judged, but simultaneously to be told when there’s spit up down my pants. I need someone to please tell me the picture of my living room above looks completely familiar. In short, I need honest mom friends. We all need honest mom friends.

I am so blessed to have friends who were honest with me about motherhood before I even stepped foot in a fertility clinic, and even more lucky to have met new ones since becoming a mom. If I thought motherhood, real nitty-gritty motherhood, looked like it does on Instagram or in a Dr. Sear’s book, I’d be pretty down on myself and my parenting skills. Thanks to my honest mom friends, though, I can be confident that sitting here at 9pm without having (yet) cracked a beer or been peed on makes today, at least, a total mom win.