Thursday, March 31, 2016

You never know until you try

Day 31 of 31!!!! at TWT!
I did it! I seriously, actually did it! I wrote all 31 days. With Little Sweetie! Without even very much stress! 

The first Marches, there was never any question that I'd do it. Of course I would write every day! That was the whole point! I don't start things without finishing them. I'm too much of a perfectionist to allow myself to come short. Sure enough, 2012-2014 were three perfectly triumphant Marches.

Annnnd then there was last year. Oh, yikes, last year. Pregnant, swamped with testing, and so stressed I could barely breathe. I almost didn't even try, because I didn't think I could do it, and I didn't want it to be one more heavy weight pushing down on me. But not trying would have broken my heart, so I did. And I was decidedly not perfect. I only wrote 14 posts. However, as I tell my kids, that's 14 posts more than I would have written if I wouldn't have tried, and I still had a fulfilling experience.

This year, I didn't know what would happen. Could I really do it? I'd done a pretty good job all school year navigating my new teacher-mom identity, but... could I really blog every day, on top of all of that? I knew I was much stronger, more confident, and better balanced than last year, but... would trying to do this challenge upset the teetering stability I'd so carefully crafted over the past few months? I wasn't sure, but I knew I wanted to try. After all, I'd probably do better than last year, right? 

For the first half of March, the new, chill, not-freaking-out-all-the-time me chugged along, mostly free of pressure and pleasantly surprised at how well I was doing. Then, somewhere around Day 20, it hit me: I might actually DO this! Whoa. Suddenly, my perfectionist self woke up: I was so close! I had to do it! The old clenched jaw, tight neck muscles, and clock-watching (would I have enough time to write today?!) started to creep back, but still not as intensely as old, stressed, lots-of-worrying me. And by the time I got through Easter, I knew, with the proud weight of absolute certainty: I was going to do this! Sweeping through the remaining evenings with glee, I suddenly found myself waking up this morning with that surreally proud feeling I sometimes get on Friday mornings and at the end of the quarter: Wait, did I really make it through? Look, I did it! That wasn't so bad! 

As it turns out, having an adorable Little Sweetie around actually makes it easier to write. I've had a dedicated, uninterruptible time slot each night to write after she goes to bed, complete with 30-45 minutes of peaceful brainstorming time while she eats her bedtime meal. Moreover, she's a perpetual source of fun writing ideas! In fact, this was the first March that my "writing possibilities" list in Evernote actually got longer, because every time I'd come up with a new idea, she'd do something else irresistibly cute!

And so, here I am, in my usual spot on the couch, at the usual writing time, crafting my 31st slice in a row. I did it! Super Strong Teacher-Reader-Writer-Mom to the rescue! You never know until you try, and, as always, I'm so glad I did.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Raising readers

Day 30 of 31 at TWT!
"I don't like reading because in my country [UAE] baby don't like to read, and when they grow bigger they still don't like." Sadly, I'm not even surprised when I get to this part of A's reflection letter.

The first time one of my Middle Eastern students told me in a reading conference that he had never read a book before, I almost fell out of my chair. Never read a book?! How could someone get to high school having never read a book?! I knew reading was a less common pastime in some other countries than it is here, but...?! No wonder it was such a struggle to help these kids find "just right" books in English -- they'd never even done that in Arabic!

But after several years of getting that exact response nearly every time I conference with another new student from the Middle East, I've come to expect it. "In my country, I was weird because I read books," admitted J, the one Iraqi student who came to me already identifying as a reader. "I love being here because there are so many books, and other people read! I'm not weird for reading stories here."

Turning kids into readers is one of the absolute best parts of my job, but even many high schoolers who "hate" reading have chosen books before, read books before, and often even have fond memories of a time in their childhoods, long ago, when they did enjoy reading. Winning back those reluctant readers is a much different task than starting from absolute scratch with kids who have no concept of what's it's like to choose a book and no cultural frame of reference for the idea that reading is something that people do for fun. While I'm used to this by now, hearing students identify and articulate that cultural norm still jars me.

A.'s insightful reflection illustrates how crucial it is to grow readers from the moment they are born. I don't know if he would have noticed the cultural difference anyway, like J, or if all the pictures I show of my baby reveling in her books helped him realize and articulate it. Either way, it's such a powerful statement:
"I don't like reading because in my country baby don't like to read..."

Not in my country, thank goodness. And definitely not in my house!

Even the Easter Bunny knows...
... Little Sweetie is already a reader!
"Look, Mommy!"
Raising readers is important, magical work, whether they're ten months old or in tenth grade. So grateful that I get to share the joy of reading with one very special kid who wiggles with glee at the sight of a book... but just as thankful that I also get to spread it to so many others who have either lost that delight or never even knew it at all.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

New mornings

Day 29 of 31 at TWT!
Mornings were always the worst. The very worst! The abrupt beep of the alarm jarring me out of peaceful sleep. Peeling my eyes open, only to be greeted by thick, bleak darkness. Who decided high schools should start when it's still dark out, anyway?! Sluggishly convincing myself to peel back the cozy cocoon of covers that protected me from not only the cold, but also the inevitably looming weight of stress and exhaustion.

Sweet Husband tried everything to make that early hour more bearable. He'd get up early with me even though he goes to work much later. He bought me a cheerful Wake-up Light to repel the darkness and greet us with a gentle, tinkling chime. He even created a special "wake-up" playlist for me to listen to while I plodded listlessly through the nearly insurmountable task of getting ready each morning.

Each improvement brightened the day and lightened my steps a little, but I still hated mornings. Hated them. And the more stressed I got, the more miserable those mornings became.


Tiny squeaks and yelps emerge from down the hallway. "Ba-ba-ba-ba. Woooo!" She babbles to herself. Rustle-rustle. Thump! Thud! A smile sneaks its way across my face and sleepiness quickly slips away as I picture her squirming and swimming on her Nemo crib sheet, rolling from side to side to reach her dainty fingers out the bars of her crib, and lifting both feet high just to thump them down again. "Aaah, she's SO CUTE!!!" I whisper in Husband's ear and throw an arm happily across his chest.

Flutter, flap, flail! She always convulses with pure joy when one of us walks into her room to get her out of her crib, stretching her signature smile so wide open it seems it might split her face in two.

"That's Nemo! And there's Brutus! There's Nemo with the seahorse! That's Brutus again! That's your big bunny. There's Nemo and Squirt! Hi, Nemo and Squirt!" I know she's pointing and waving at all her favorite "friends" in her room as Husband carries her to the changing table. How can I be anything but happy as I listen to those two sweeties chatter and play?

"Ha-aaAAH!" She squeals and cackles, and I peer through the doorway to glimpse her tugging on his hair as he bends over to search through her dresser for the latest adorable outfit. "What do you want to wear today, Sweetie?" He croons in the softest, sweetest, just-for-her voice.

"That's Daddy's nose! Boop! There's your nose!"
"Are you getting Daddy's arm? Are you gonna eat Daddy's arm?!"
"That's Nemo. And that's Squirt! Hi, friends!"
"Whoooooop!" I know that's the sound of him pulling a shirt over her head. She's not a fan of getting clothes pulled over her head, but she doesn't mind nearly as much when he makes this cute little sound effect!

"Yes, we're going to go see Mama. She's getting your restaurant ready!"

They round the corner and there's an immediate storm of squirm-flap-flail-thrashing. She bounces up and down in his arms, panting, grabbing his shirt with clenched fists and pointing & waving at me. "Ma-ma-ma."

"Hi, sweetie!" All traces of sleepiness are long gone, lost in these happy, sweet, precious morning moments. The very best.

Monday, March 28, 2016


Day 28 of 31 at TWT!
Last night I couldn't fall asleep. Not the awful, anxiety-driven can't-fall-asleep, but the excited, Christmas-morning can't-fall-asleep. And this morning, I didn't even mind when my alarm went off two and a half hours earlier than I'd been getting up last week. I get to see my kids! I wonder how they're doing? I can't wait to continue our Slice of Life mini-lessons this week! I can't wait to see what everyone is reading! 

At 7:15, when Little Sweetie would have normally been waking me up, I was practically skipping around the room. Turning on the happy lamps, changing the calendar and the idiom of the week, adjusting the pillows and rugs... getting our little "home" all ready.

Bouncy steps mingled with half-tired smiles. "Hi, Mrs. M!" "I missed you!" "How was your break?" "You finished The False Prince?! See, I told you the ending was great!" "I liked your posts over break!" "I didn't go anywhere either, but I had fun taking my baby to the zoo and the park! Sometimes, the best break is just to relax, right?" Many of my students don't have exciting breaks, unlike many other kids in our upscale suburban town. For some of my kids, break isn't really even a very nice time. "I was kind of glad to be back into the routine of school, weren't you?"

I love this job. I LOVE this job! Genuinely full of joy, my heart reached out with invisible hugs as each of those sweet students walked into my room. Noticing and enjoying the familiarity of their haircuts, their clothes, their smiles, their strength. Remembering their stories.

And at 4:00, when I walked into my mom's house, the other side of my new life. I love this too. What a bundle of adorableness! Little Sweetie giggling, wiggling, squealing and cooing. All flailing arms and thrashing legs, with her most gigantic jaw-stretching smile. "Ma-ma-ma!" The best feeling in the world.

In greetings, our most true feelings shine through.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

New Life

Day 27 of 31 at TWT!
Streaming sunlight. Almost-summer warmth on bare arms and legs. Toes wiggling in my dressy sandals. Cerulean sky. The most gentle breeze playing with my curls.

That tiny finger pointing to the handbell choir. That wide, toothy smile and playfully curling tongue. Wiggles, bounces, and babbles to the music. Snuggly warmth on my lap and silky skin patting my hand. Active eyes absorbing every person and decoration.

A perfect Easter Sunday.

(Mommy used to play those handbells. Now M&M loves to hear them!)

"He arose a victor 
from the dark domain..."

"God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also..."

"Raise your joys 
and triumphs high..."

As I listen to each snippet of scripture, sermon, and song, I look back on the past year and thank God for the transformation he has brought me: Little Sweetie gave me my new life. Darkness to light. Stress to peace. Bleakness to exuberance. Fear to strength and joy. A whole new kind of love. A whole new meaning to the Easter message.

A day full of pure joy and new life.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Shared discoveries

Day 26 of 31 at TWT!
"Bwoooh!" From inside her stroller, Little Sweetie becomes a whirlwind of flailing arms and legs.

"Do you see all the friends? There are so many friends at the playground today, right?" Our usually peaceful park is now the site of a swirling hubbub of color centered around the playground. The street is lined with cars, and other families with their own sweeties in their strollers converge from all directions.

I can't help but skip a little as I push the stroller through the sunshine. "Are you excited for your very first egg hunt?!" What an absolutely perfect day! 

Holiday traditions have always made my soul feel so light and joyful I could almost float away. Thank goodness I never outgrew that childhood magic, and now it's even stronger since I get to rediscover each delight in a new way with my little M&M!

What a funny friend!
Ooh, a real bunny!
And we're off! The 3 & under egg hunt!
What is that?!
Ooh, there's a surprise inside!
Bright dollops splash against verdant grass, highlighted against a brilliant blue backdrop. Giggles, squeals, and scurrying feet. So much to discover! So much to share!

Friday, March 25, 2016


Day 25 of 31 at TWT! 
Siempre echo de menos a mi España querida durante la Semana Santa: las procesiones, las torrijas, y la manera en que es imposible olvidar la importancia religiosa de estos días. 

En los EEUU, es demasiado fácil perder el significado verdadero de la Pascua entre la diversión de los huevos, los conejos, y los dulces. (Cuando mis padres me visitaron durante la Semana Santa en Madrid, mi papá no quería perder nuestra tradición familiar de buscar huevos, y él hizo una pequeña búsqueda de huevos en nuestro piso. ¡Nos costó bastante explicar a mis familia española la relación entre los huevos, el conejo, y la Pascua!)

Me encanta nuestras tradiciones de decorar y buscar huevos con dibujos especiales para las cosas que son más importantes para nuestra familia. Me encanta decorar la casa con muchos conejos, patitos, y pollitos. Pero también me encanta sentarme en la iglesia el domingo por la mañana, contemplar la luz del sol brillando por las ventanas del santuario, y cantar "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" con un latido fuerte en mi corazón que me recuerda que la Pascua significa renacer con paz y inocencia.

Este año, renazco más, porque mi bebé me recuerda constantemente que cada cosa cotidiana es un milagro asombroso. Con ella, renacen la curiosidad y el encanto. 
¡Uuh, un huevo! ¡Qué interesante!
Y en convertirme en su mamá, ha renacido mi identidad también: más fuerte, más tranquila, más alegre, más agradecida, y más consciente de las maravillas que nos rodean.
¿Mami, qué hacemos?

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Serenity and wonder

Day 24 of 31 at TWT!
Soft sunshine warms our faces, contrasting with the murky power of the river rippling in front of us.

"Bvvvt!" A tiny pink finger reaches out.
"That's the river. It has lots of water. Do you see the duckies?"

A sweet breeze brushes away the hectic bustle of the suburbs. We've had so much fun this week that I can feel myself recharging immediately here. Breathing as deeply as I can, I let myself fall right into M&M's state of pure wonder.

Ripples. Bobbing ducks. Squawking geese. Rustling trees.

This might have to be our springtime spot! I love that this park is so close to my school, but mostly I love that Little Sweetie inspires me to get out and enjoy it.

"Look at that cool tree over there! Let's climb your first tree!" Its outstretched arms beckon like it's just waiting for us to snuggle into its lap.

You just HAVE to climb onto this tree, right?

We carefully clamber onto the spacious, inviting trunk-branches and settle onto a well-worn, sturdy junction, low enough to be safe but perfectly surrounded by tree-i-ness: ancient, steady, wise. I settle back into the welcoming crook of stately benevolence, nestling Little Sweetie against me. Pure serenity.

This would make such a cool spot to read or write in... My mind drifts back to that enchanted tree at Kenyon College. From the outside, this tree is totally different, but its branches wrap me in the same feeling of timeworn tranquility.

I gaze outward, spellbound by the extra magic that now seems to glow from the scene around us: the mighty-yet-placid river carving its path through a backdrop of gray branches against blue sky.

Cuddling further into the enduring bark against my back, I ponder the mysterious living spirit of this steadfast bulwark. So solid, yet so alive.

"This is a tree! You love seeing trees, but now we get to snuggle in one!" I gently encourage M&M to explore the sinewy bark, and even let her sit carefully on the lowest piece of trunk-branch, my hands hovering next to her.

There are so many miracles in this world, if we only open our eyes. I can't wait to keep introducing them to my bright little sweetie as she helps me discover wonder in a whole new way.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Two sweet

Day 23 of 31 at TWT!
"Ha-aAH!" Little Sweetie squeals as she triumphantly stretches her face into her most ridiculous, crazy-eyed, gaping smile: the one where she opens her mouth so widely I wonder how her jaw doesn't unhinge.

"Are you very big and tall?" Husband's eyes sparkle as he croons at her in his sugary just-for-her voice. His arms are stretched toward the ceiling, holding her up at she pushes her tiny feet against his shoulders. She flails her little arms as if she's trying to fly, then claps her hands together and rolls her shoulders in, forming a picture-perfect pose that I'm not sure how she learned.

He swings her down low and folds her in a cozy hug, then heads upstairs with exaggeratedly bouncy steps.
Daddy! You're so fun!
That always-curious little finger pokes outward in myriad directions, signaling the fascinating qualities of usually overlooked objects that Husband cheerfully names for her. "That's the remote. That's the window. There's a picture of you! Lamp. Mommy's bag. Marching Band flag..." Wiggling and clinging to him, she digs her minuscule fists into the fabric of his shirts and babbles all the way up to her room.
Look, Daddy!
A few minutes later, muffled cackling drifts down the hallway. I peek into her room, and his skinny fingers are scampering up and down her pink pajamas, making her writhe in delight. "Is Daddy getting you?" She squeals and giggles through squirmy, toothy grins, and I can see pure love gleaming from his eyes into hers.
I love playing with you, Daddy!
Those two: too sweet! Every moment I see them together, I love each of them more.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

La batería se está agotando

Day 22 of 31 at TWT!
"La batería se está agotando." Yeah, me too! I snort as I dismiss the low battery notification on my phone. It always cracks me up that the Spanish verb for "running out" is the same as the verb for being exhausted: "The battery is getting exhausted." Word play that creates personification has always been my favorite; I just can't help imagining the literal picture and bursting out laughing. Whenever my phone or iPad is low on battery, I picture a pitiful little phone character with arms and legs, all sweaty and droopy from running around all day. Poor little exhausted phone!

At this point in March, that same message should be popping up in a balloon over my head: "La batería se está agotando." State testing. End of the quarter grades due. Blogging and commenting every day... AND commenting on my students' posts! Easter's coming. More state testing right around the corner.

Right now, I'm on Spring Break, which is such an essential respite, but also an opportunity to have so much fun! Now that I have Little Sweetie to buddy around with, every break is full of so much more delight... but that much joy is exhausting too! (After I posted the 108 photos I took today on our family photostream, Husband asked if I was going to need a break to recover from break!) Reading, learning, playing, "talking", snuggling. Baby storytime at the library, lunches out, making "friends", shopping, enjoying the weatherthe zoo... what fun! No wonder my poor phone is all worn out!
Yay! I love storytime! 
After all that fun, it would be easy for me to collapse on the couch and skip writing. But challenges are made to be hard, because only hard things make you grow. That's worth it, and that's exactly what I hope my students learn too.

And guess what? Just like my phone needs to connect to more power when it gets exhausted, being strong is just what I need to recharge. By connecting to the most important parts of myself, I end up rejuvenated. Writing is definitely work, but it's work that powers me right back up.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Making friends

Day 21 of 31 at TWT!
"You have the most beautiful baby!"

"Aw, what a big smile!"

"Wow, such a sweetie!"

"Hi, pretty girl!"

"Is she always this happy?!"

M&M stretches out her tiny finger, pointing out new "friends" everywhere we go. Storytime, out to eat, shopping, running errands... the world is full of so many friends!

She tries out different kinds of waves, depending on her mood: the slow-wiggly-finger wave, the backwards-slow-wiggly-finger wave, and the crazy-straight-arm-flailing wave.

After selecting the correct type of wave, she then decides which of her signature smiles to beam: the ecstatic-gaping-so-tall-it-seems-her-jaw-will-unhinge laugh-smile, the straight-mouth-barely-open-but-stretching-wide smile, the showing-off-all-seven-teeth grin, and the silly-pursed-lips-holding-in-a-laugh smile. Some are accompanied by crazy-popping wide eyes, while others come with scrunched-in-delight slit eyes.

But whatever the wave and whatever the smile, her joyful sweetness wins over everyone, everywhere. Grandparents, teens, people of all different ethnicities. Tired cashiers and scurrying waiters. Couples on dates, lunching ladies, businessmen in suits. Everybody returns the waves and smiles, telling us how sweet and wonderful she is. Strangers who would have never acknowledged us begin chatting about her age, her teeth, her beautiful eyes. Everyone becomes a friend.

There's nothing like a baby for bringing people together.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Born a reader

Day 20 of 31 at TWT!
"... a quiet activity, like reading a book."
"Don't worry if your baby does not pay much attention to the book..."
"You don't have to finish the book..."

I snort every time I read an article mentioning reading to babies. Obviously, these people have never met a baby like Little Sweetie. Quiet? Calm? Losing attention? Not this baby!
Not quite a month old, and flailing like crazy!

Ever since my mom set our old copy of Wet Willy's Water Fun beside her on a blanket when she was about a month old, this one has LOVED books.

She swipes and flails. She pats and whacks. She squeals, coos, giggles, and squawks!
Yeah, we're readers in this family!
Daddy! This book is awesome!!!
Whoa, I can open this!
And now that she's a big girl, she can do even more.

She grabs and holds the book. She opens and closes it. She helps turn the pages. She leans forward and rocks with anticipation.

She flips the book back and forth, studying how the front and back cover are different.

Her curious fingers search for textures and flaps. She claps, points, and babbles.

When we get to the end, she wants to explore more, turning back to find her favorite pages and practicing turning them.

She even picks up books and "reads" them independently as she plays on her turtle mat or in her playpen.
I can read by myself now, you guys!
This is more than a treasured time to snuggle. This is not just her another part of her general desire to investigate everything. This is a love of books. This is the beginning of a reading life.

This one was born a reader.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

We didn't know

Day 19 of 31 at TWT!
Dear M&M,
1 year ago today!

Today my Facebook memories alerted me that one year ago, we were on our "staycation" downtown, and a butterfly decided to show us how special you were by landing right on my belly to greet you!

One year ago, you were just a wiggly little mystery in my belly. We knew you were a girl, and we were pretty sure what your name would be, but we didn't know who you were.

You were pretty cute when you wiggled and jiggled around in your cozy belly home, making ripples and tiny earthquakes that we could watch and giggle at. Those dance parties were special moments of pure happiness in the midst of a lot of stress, apprehension, and uncertainty.

We didn't know you'd courteously cut short the worst of the worries by coming three weeks early. We didn't know you'd make such a dramatic-yet-easy entrance to the world. We didn't know that when the doctors pulled you out of my belly, you'd have a sweeter, more adorable little face than we could have possibly imagined. And we didn't know that when they carried you across the surgery room to examine you and wash you off, you'd make the cutest little animal yelps and squeaks we'd ever heard!

We didn't know that you'd be such a good sleeper that we'd wake up in a panic our first full night in the hospital, scared to death because we'd slept four hours and you were supposed to eat every three! Or that you'd start sleeping through the night at a month old, leaving us to just laugh whenever people ask us if we're getting any sleep. And we didn't know that you'd immediately be such a good eater that our nurse would marvel at what a talented baby you were.

How could we have known that you'd be the happiest baby in the history of the world, filling our days with huge, wide-mouthed smiles, delighted giggles and chortles, joyful squeals and screeches, excited hand-clapping, and lively wiggles? How could we imagine the way your bright eyes would widen inquisitively as if every ordinary object was an incredible marvel, helping us to see the world in a new, wondrous way?

We didn't know you'd love exploring new places and meeting new people so much that we'd be able to take you wherever we wanted to go, or that you'd actually inspire us to get out and do more fun things than we used to. And we couldn't have dreamed how you'd make every part of life (from folding laundry to going on a walk!) so much more fun.

We didn't know what a joy it would be to watch you grow and change, teaching us to see what a miracle life really is. First, we were amazed that you could keep your eyes open and notice things. Then, you started to be able to control your body, progressing from uncoordinated flails and swipes to precise hitting, grabbing and grasping. Your eyes started tracking objects you were interested in, and you began turning your head to look in the direction of a sound. Those cute animal noises changed into babbles that are now almost words! You roll over! You sit up! You say "mama" and "dada"! You pull yourself up, and you can stand with minimal help! You point, clap, and wave! We didn't know how amazing you'd be.

Most of all, we didn't know how you'd help us improve our lives. We didn't know who you'd help us become: happier, healthier, stronger. And able to love in a whole new way.

Thank you for bringing so much delight to our lives, and for being so lovable that we just can't help calling you "Little Sweetie" so much that we're afraid you'll end up thinking that's your name! Your daddy and I love you more than we could have possibly imagined, and that love grows every day.