Thursday, March 31, 2022

New words, new connections

Day 31 of 31 at TWT!

When I pull into a parking place, the 12 year old shyly waves out their front window and I laugh as the 3 year old starts jumping up and down. Someone opens the door and I put my hand over my heart, grinning. "Salam Alaikum!" 

"Hello ma'am!" "Salam!" "Hello!"

I take off my shoes and settle on the couch, knowing that hot tea and a plate of nuts and dates is coming. It's familiar and cozy. "The other day, my 3 year old said she wanted to go to Afghanistan again sometime!" 

The oldest son interrupts me and they all shake their heads. "Oh no, not go to Afghanistan!"

I giggle. "She meant coming here! She loves visiting your family!" 

They laugh, eyes wide. "Ohhhh, THIS Afghanistan! Yes!" 

We all laugh together, and I think back to my first time visiting them. It might as well have been a real trip to Afghanistan! I'm so used to working with my EL students from around the world at school, but a visit to the apartment of a family I'd never met, from a culture I was not familiar with, was a whole different exprerience.


Salam alaikum. Name man Jennifer ast. Salam alaikum. Name man Jennifer ast. Noticing too late that I was sweating, I turned down the car heater despite the frigid temperatures outside. Don't point with the finger; use a whole hand. Take off my shoes. Eat anything they offer. Salam alaikum. Name man Jennifer ast. I'd spent most of the morning studying the Afghan cultural information and Dari phrases included in our Welcome Team materials, and I didn't want to forget it all on the drive across town to meet the family! I tried to remind myself who all the family members were too, but I found I'd already forgotten most of the unfamiliar names from our spreadsheet. 

I took a few deep breaths as I pulled up to the address and put on my mask. Curtains at the front window swung around and some curious faces peered out above a couch. Salam alaikum. Name man Jennifer ast. 

Grabbing the bags of masks and kids' art supplies, I started to knock tentatively when the door swung open.

"Salam alaikum!" I put my hand over my heart just as I'd practiced. 

Their faces lit up as their hands went over their hearts too. "Salam alaikum!" "Salam!" "Hello!" 

"Please, ma'am, sit." They motioned to the couch with open hands and I sat. 

"Name..." Now I wasn't sure if I remembered it right. " Jennifer... ast...?"

"OHHH! You speak Dari?!?!" Their eyes flew open wide. 

"Oh, no, just a little," I held up pinched fingers, "for you!" 

"Oh, very good! Very good!" So many wide smiles and bright eyes. 

"Look, tomorrow is a special American holiday about love. I brought crafts!" I started digging out craft supplies that were snatched by small fingers before I could even finish explaining. Suddenly, I looked down at my feet. Oh no, I forgot to take off my shoes! I scrambled back to the doorway to shed them on the doormat. 

Digging back in the bag, I found Sweetie's example Valentine card. "Here, my daughter made this for you!" I showed them a picture of Sweetie and pointed back at the card. "This is what we can make together!" 

"Ohhhh, beautiful!" "Very good!" They crowded around as the dad, who knows the most English, exclaimed, "She write 'I love you!'"

"Yes! It's a holiday about love and friends!" 

He put his hands over his heart. "Oh, beautiful!" 

The 12 year old and 6 year old immediately dove into the supplies and started making their own cards, then handed them to me. "For your daughter!" they declared proudly.

They asked their dad to write their names on their cards, and as he streaked the smooth lines of Dari across, he asked "Your daughter name?" When I told him, he wrote it in Dari too, then painstakingly formed the English letters "i lov you" in the middle. 

"You are CRIS volunteer?" the dad asked as the kids colored and cut.

"Yes, I'm a teacher with some of the other volunteers you've met before."

"Ohhh teacher, very good! In Afghanistan, my job is help American soldiers. We love Americans, very nice. So we come here with SIV. I am so..." He paused, searching for a word, then just put both hands over his heart with gratitude shining in his eyes, "... to America for bring my family here."

Suddenly, the door swung open again and their cousin, who has lived in America for several years, entered. "Salam alaikum!" I put my hand over my heart again, and she smiled. 

In the flurry of Dari and pointing at me and the cards that ensued, I could clearly catch that they were explaining that I'd spoken to them in Dari and brought the craft supplies. "I love you!" popped up interspersed with Dari as the dad proudly pointed to the card Sweetie had made for them. 

By the time I left several hours later, there was a whole pile of cards to take home to my girls, and my whole family was invited for a special meal the next night. "Tascha kor! Tascha kor!" Thank you was certainly the most important phrase to learn when spending time with this amazingly sweet family.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

When we're together

Day 30 of 31 at TWT!

 "Maybe this is a new family tradition!" I lean forward at my two sweet girls as they share a shamrock seat and nibble chicken nuggets from a flower table. The not-quite-setting sun casts a golden glow on their faces as an astonishingly warm breeze tosses their soft hair (one blonde, one brown). 

"A tradition?!" Rainbow Girl's eyes light up. "Like Olaf and Anna and Elsa at Christmas?" 

"That's right!" I giggle. "A tradition is just something that we like to do again and again!" I scoop refreshing Frosty into my mouth. And I think we really like eating Wendy's at this playground!" 

<3 <3

Sweetie plants a kiss on her little sister's head and they both laugh. When they finish eating, they scamper off to play some more on the unique structures; Rainbow heads for the gigantic outdoor xylophones while her big sis uses brute arm strength to hang-climb up some inclined parallel bars, then turns around to sit on top of them and slide back down again. Sweetie climbs the large dirt mound with an embedded slide while Rainbow floppily runs to the mini city, clambering onto the red fire truck climbing structure and running in and out of the little buildings, pretending to buy items at the market and take them home to the little house.

I just breathe the spring air in and out. It smells like hope. While we had flurries of snow just a few days ago, this Spring Break day is a hint that summer isn't far away at all. 

One of our new favorite songs from that Frozen Christmas special that Rainbow was thinking of pops into my head. "When we're together, it's a holiday every night... when we're together, it's my favorite time of year!"

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Going to Afghanistan

Day 29 of 31 at TWT

"I wanna go to Afghanistan again sometime!" Rainbow Girl bounces in her booster seat. 

It takes me a second. Has she heard us talking about Afghanistan and figured out that it's a place? Then it hits me. "Ohhh! You want to go visit the /family/ from Afghanistan again sometime?!"

"YEAH! And RUN AROUND!" She leans toward me, lifts her chin and scrunches her face into her biggest smile.

I grin, remembering watching her and Sweetie frolic with the Afghan kids in their apartment when we first visited over a month ago. In their typical fashion, Sweetie put her hand over her heart and said "Salam" as I'd taught her, then immediately started trying to engage her 6 year old counterpart in a mutually unintelligible conversation about the pictures they'd drawn for each other, while Rainbow Girl initially wanted to stay in my lap. (It didn't help that her 3 year old counterpart kept toddling into the other room and shyly peering around the corner, even more uncertain of new things and people than Rainbow sometimes is!) Knowing how much Rainbow loves helping Husband cook, I'd tried to get her interested in watching the mom craft handmade bolani in the kitchen. We peeked as she formed soft dough balls and tossed them like pizza dough, then folded a potato filling into them.

One of the teens grabbed a couple of toys from the closet for the little ones and Rainbow scrambled off my lap. Soon, there was so much running and giggling it seemed like there were 10 young kids instead of 5, delighting in the universal language of play, dancing, and laughter even though they couldn't say any words each other might understand. Uncharacteristically, Rainbow even let the oldest teen girl pick her up and hug her! Between a smattering of English words, gestures, photos on our phones, and Google Translate, the teens and adults all talked about how cute they were, which kids gravitate towards mom or dad, and what we like to do.

By the time we were saying "tascha kor" ('thank you') and miming that the girls needed to get to sleep, both Rainbow and Sweetie were already asking when we could play with them again. 

I'll never forget the way their 6 year old squealed when she caught sight of the playground equipment the first time we took them to a park. "YAY!!!!" she screeched from my backseat, and they all ran around again, climbing and sliding together, both 6 year olds ending up with arms around each other on the walk back to the cars. (The family does not have a car yet, so as registered refugee volunteers, a colleague and I drove everyone from their family who wanted to go to the park, while Husband drove our girls to meet us there.)

Sweetie playing with the Afghan girl who's her age

When I told Sweetie that the kids were finally able to enroll in school after finishing all their medical checks, she noted, "But won't that be so hard for them? They don't know English!" She's met some of my students before when I've taken her to school events, but she'd never really spent quality time interacting with newcomer kids until we met this Afghan family.

"That's why I teach English to students who speak other languages!" I smiled proudly. "They'll have a teacher like me to help them! In fact, some of my friends are their teachers!"

Just a few months ago, I was reading about refugees and wondering what I could do to help (especially now that I teach in a part of our district that doesn't really receive them). Now, thanks the opportunity to be part of the district's welcome team in conjunction with our local refugee resettlement agency, my family has gained a whole family of new friends. It's an experience I highly recommend! 

Monday, March 28, 2022

Shouting out 'Hooray!'

Day 28 of 31 at TWT!

 "What're you turning on the TV for?" Rainbow Girl cranes her neck from her spot crouched on the floor, playing with the VTech Smart Animals set affectionately known in our house as "Kitty and Baba's house". 

"Oh, there's something special I'm hoping we can see today..." I grin.

"What is it? What is it? What is it?" Sweetie starts leaping around the family room, and Rainbow soon imitates her. 

I just smile and find the right place to click on the tv's YouTube app until the event pops up... with a preview picture of someone very special! 

"LAURIE!!!!" Both girls squeal and jump as if they're seeing a best friend or favorite family member. 

The countdown timer appears, and after yelling, "church!" because it's the same one our church uses before online services, they excitedly count down as they prance around the room. ("Is it church?" Rainbow Girl keeps interjecting, and I keep reassuring her, "It's just the same countdown as church. It's gonna be Laurie!")

"5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0..." Bouncing curls, bright eyes, a smile that seems to tell even me that everything is going to be ok, and a guitar appear, and it's spring of 2020 and 2 years of rocking chair snuggles all at once as Laurie Berkner launches into the song that's become our special lullaby, "When I Woke Up Today". Rainbow runs around the room for a verse and then scrambles onto my lap as if she can't decide if it's better to dance or cuddle to this song. "I shouted out 'hooray'! / 'cause I knew I'd see you..." I pull her close as I coo into her ear, "and we could sing together..."

Just like we've seen her do for 2 years now, Laurie looks straight into the camera after the song, telling us to grab our instruments and stuffed animals, seeming to talk right to us in that Mr. Rodgers-esque measured, caring way. Even I forget that she can't actually see us; her conversational tone is so authentic. It truly feels as if an old friend is visiting us as we notice the new decorations in her house and watch her tune her guitar, take sips of water, and dance around her family room as we frolic around ours.

blanket-monsters for the "Monster Boogie" today!

I can't believe it's been 2 years. Rainbow has grown from a sitting baby flailing her "Laurie shake-shake" to a preschooler who can actually jump along with "Chipmunk at the Gas Pump". We've curated our own playlists to enjoy when the daily Lives stopped and eagerly celebrated the release of new music videos. Sweetie has gone from finishing preschool remotely to thriving in person in 1st grade.

so little in spring 2020!
a quick dance break with their daddy in summer 2020!

When I see Laurie's smile, I remember how Rainbow gradually stopped crying as Laurie put on her mask at the end of every Facebook Live in spring 2020; how that simple act helped her understand that Laurie was still Laurie in a mask and by the time we actually started needing to wear masks, it was no big deal. I remember the guaranteed half hour of joy each day when the stress and weight of the pandemic lifted away as we danced and wiggled around this room and listened to Laurie tell us we were superheroes and she loved us. I remember the delight of learning fun new songs and the familiar comfort of classics we already knew. I remember stuffed animals on our heads, becoming goldfish and dinosaurs and monsters, and grabbing Husband out of the den to blast off Rocketship-Sweetie into the air while I lifted Rainbow-Rocketship beside her. I remember scooping up 1yo Rainbow to fly her around like a bumblebee. I remember the magical excitement of Laurie saying the girls' names or playing requested songs we put in the chat. I remember dragging all our our pool toys into house for the virtual beach concert and wearing our costumes for the Halloween one. I remember the way both girls' faces absolutely lit up every single time Laurie appeared on our TV, and the way Rainbow would grab favorite toys and run up to the TV to show Laurie, convinced that she could really see us. I remember both sisters running wildly around the house with their toy guitars, "Laurie shake-shake" (tambourine), toy Harry the Chipmunk, and superhero blanket-capes.

Most of all, I remember having something certain to look forward to when the days dragged into weeks and months, and hope turned into uncertainty, monotony, and frustration. And I remember, as we noticed small changes in Laurie's room, saw her dial in other bandmates from their houses across the miles, and watched her overcome technical challenges and learn new digital tricks, feeling like we were really in this together.

So on a much-too-frigid-to-be-outside, still-not-safe-from-Covid-indoors first day of Spring Break, there was truly "no better thing to do / than sing a song and hear you sing it too" with Laurie. Thank you, Laurie, for your concerts in our house these past 2 years. Someday, we hope to see you in person.

Rainbow, now 3, holding her own animal for "Pig on Head"!

Sunday, March 27, 2022

The best sisters

Day 27 of 31 at TWT!

 "I wanna eat at the craft table!" Rainbow Girl scampers over to the white plastic table and pulls out a pink chair. "With YOU, Sis!"

Grabbing her Minnie Mouse plate and unicorn cup from the big table, Sweetie heads over to sit with her little sister. I remember how she loved that table when she was a toddler, and now she has to scrunch and squeeze to fit. 

After rummaging in the pantry for my own lunch, I'm met with a sweet surprise: instead of each sitting on one side of the craft table like usual, both girls are huddled beside each other on the same side of the tiny table. "Aww, are you sitting right beside each other?" I scurry over to take a picture before one of them decides the other is too far in her space. 

"You're the best sister in the world..." Sweetie puts an arm around her little sister and starts crooning the song she made up when Rainbow Girl was a baby. Rainbow leans against her shoulder and grabs her hand. 


When Sis finishes, Rainbow adopts her declarative reading / announcing / performing voice and starts singing the same song loudly back. "'re the best sister in the world / come here, Sissy, / and give me a hug and kiss... / I love you, Sissy!"

Sis leans her face almost-too-close, gazing and grinning with wide blue eyes that glitter. 

"Aw, look, she loves the song you made up for her!" I remember how my heart swelled when Sweetie first made it up, how I thought it was a one-time thing that she'd forget, and how she kept singing it to her baby sister for months. And now here's Rainbow, not a baby anymore, singing it back. 

The best sisters in the world.

Saturday, March 26, 2022


Day 26 of 31 at TWT!

(a slice from earlier this week; it's freezing cold today!)

"Mommy, marry me!" Rainbow Girl giggles in my ear as I carry her away from the playground after an afternoon of too much fun in unseasonably warm weather. It's already past bedtime on a school night, but it was so hard to leave the park with 70-degree-weather in March!

Behind us on the sidewalk, her exhausted big sister has convinced Husband to carry her to the car too, gangly legs and wiry arms wrapped around him as she croon-whines, "Daddy, I LOVE you! MARRY me!" Always a Daddy's Girl, Sis must have already said this once as she begged him to pick her up, and that must be what prompted Rainbow, my mama's girl, to say it now.

"Ok!" I squeeze Rainbow closer. "I promise to love you forever and ever!" I rub her nose with mine. 

"Is that MARRYING?!" she squeals, giggling more. 

A few steps back, I can hear Husband protesting, "I'm already your daddy! We're already a family!"

"Yes, Honey Bun!" I reply to Rainbow. "Well, and we have to kiss!" I gaze into her blue eyes and plant an exaggerated smooch on her face just as she opens her mouth in a loud cackle. 

"I love you oh so much, Sweetie Pie!" I whisper in her ear. She flops into my shoulder, super snuggly now. 

"Mama Pie," she mumbles, wiggling against me. 

One daddy's girl and one mama's girl. One family so full of love. Yep, that's marrying! <3

Friday, March 25, 2022

Nuestro arco iris

(I write in Spanish on Fridays. If you don't read Spanish, feel free to experience the magic (and imperfection) of machine translation by pasting this post's url into Google Translate! And if you can write in a language other than English, join me next Friday!)
Write in another language on Fridays!
Day 25 of 31 at TWT!

- ¡Está lloviendo! - con las piernas y los brazos rígidos, mi hija de tres años señala con el dedito. 

¿Lloviendo? Veo las gotas en la madera afuera a la vez que noto la luz anaranjada de unas rayas del sol. Salto de la mesa de inmediato y corro hacia la ventana. Sí, allí está. -¡Un arco iris! - grito, corriendo de vuelta a la mesa para sacarle a mi hijita de su silla mientras su hermana cruza conmigo, corriendo hacia la ventana.

Llevo a mi hijita a la puerta de vidrio y asomamos a ver el arco pintado en el cielo. -Wow- suspira ella. Nos quedamos un rato observando los colores suspendidos en el cielo como si un niño los hubiera dibujado en las nubes. Detrás de nosotras, mi esposo saca unas fotos de nuestra Hijita Arcoiris mirando al arco iris.

anoche <3

La abrazo y siento el peso de su cuerpito en la cadera. Inclino la cabeza hacia la suya y la beso. Cierro los ojos por un instante. Mi arco iris. 

Su hermana mayor la toma de la mano. Mi esposo me mira fijo. Las lágrimas, la desesperación, la mezcla de terror y esperanza, las oraciones. La gratitud. Nuestro arco iris. Nuestro regalo de Dios, nuestro recordatorio de la promesa que Dios nos guarda, nos cuida, nos ama, a pesar de las tormentas de la vida en la tierra. 

La lluvia y el sol. Las nubes oscuras y las rayas brillantes. El llanto y el gozo. La promesa antigua que la vida en la tierra continuará. 

Sé que hay tantas familias que no recibirán ningún arco iris. Que a veces el dolor no se alivia en esta vida. 

Pero también sé que los milagros sí existen. Me aferro a uno en los brazos mientras observamos la belleza de otro en el cielo.

el verano pasado, señalando con el dedito (y su conejito favorito) <3
- He puesto mi arco iris en las nubes, y servirá como señal de la alianza que hago con la tierra. Gen 9:13

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Classroom joy

Day 24 of 31 at TWT!

 "Teacher!" 5 minutes before the first bell rings, the Mexican twin boys from my 3rd period class burst into my room, springy curls flopping on their heads as each playfully tries to block the other from entering. "We're going to do something special today, right? It's our last day to see you before break!" 

I giggle and raise my eyebrows. "I thought we could play... Go Fish!"

"YEAH! GO FISH!!! That's special!!!" They jostle each other some more and scamper happily down the hallway. 

It's funny how classes develop their own personalities. Last time I was a teacher, the year that never really ended, I had a class that LOVED Bingo. Tough high school boys, constantly begging to play Bingo! They cracked me up. This year, my students enjoy Bingo well enough, but they love, love, love Go Fish! It doesn't matter how recently we've played; almost every time I see them, at least one student asks "Can we play Go Fish today?"

So when 3rd period starts, after we go through our beginning of class routines, I give them a choice. "Do you want to play 2 different games, or do you want to play Go Fish for a long time?" 

The Mexican boys nearly knock over their chairs. One flops himself over the table. "GO FISH!"

I glance at the quiet Chinese and Korean girls. "What do you think?"

"Go Fish!" they each quietly nod.

We head over to the round table, I deal out a set of emotions vocabulary cards I made from our recent unit featuring Dr. Marc Brackett's MoodMeter, and we start to play. "Let's start with the green set; since some of you want to relax over break, we'll practice our calm, good-feeling words first. Then we can play again with the yellow set since many of you are excited for break!" 

One boy is already stuffing cards up his sleeve. "We see you hiding those cards, R!" We all laugh. 

By the time it's her turn, the timid girl from Hong Kong's usually placid face transforms into one of her rare grins under her mask. "L, do you have..." she pauses a second for dramatic effect, "...serene?!" Her eyes twinkle as she asks one of the rambunctious boys for a card he'd just asked someone else for. 

"¡La racha empieza!" his brother yells out.

"Oh yeah, watch out, she's on a roll again!" I call in English to let the others in on the joke. Somehow, that girl almost always ends up hitting lucky streaks, usually several times a game. (We play that if you get the card you asked for, you get to ask again right away.)

More eyes twinkle. Cards come in and out of sleeves and hoodie pockets. Cards are jokingly withheld and then handed over at the last second. There's table pounding, smirking, shouting, shrieking, and bursts of laughter. 

This class playing with a sight words set in the fall.

There's also lots and lots of using English confidently! There are newcomers reading, listening to, and speaking words like "tranquil" (green round) and "ecstatic" (yellow round) with little hesitation. We might all stop for a particularly tricky work like "enthusiastic" and say it together before continuing the game, or I might quickly interject a reminder like "Remember, 'motivated' is when you're excited to work hard to reach a goal! It's pretty high on the MoodMeter!" 

Students in another class playing with the yellow feelings set.

We're having fun, learning, together.

Learning <=> Community <=> Joy. <3

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Daddy's Girl

Day 23 of 31 at TWT!

"Why are there tears in your eyes? / Because I just love spending time with you, Daddy!" I grin at the green message as I get ready to eat lunch. For a second, I think Rainbow said that after preschool, but then I look at the time sent and realize it must have been Sweetie at lunch.

"M said that?" I type back.

"Uh huh! During lunch! I looked over and there were tears in her eyes!"

I can just imagine her sitting in his car outside her school, purple unicorn lunchbox in her lap, gazing adoringly at him. She has always been such a Daddy's Girl! I giggle. And she's soooo sensitive!

When Omicron was raging after winter break and I panicked that she'd catch Covid from the lunchroom, I realized that we could actually make it work to pull her out of school for lunch like I'd heard of some other families doing. Our nanny agreed to let Sweetie eat in her car with the windows cracked (and piles of blankets on her and Rainbow) on days Husband works on campus, and Husband would take his lunch during Sweetie's lunch on his work-from-home days. I was afraid she'd be sad about missing lunch with her friends, but she has perfectly been happy all these months to listen to Ramona audiobooks in the nanny's car with her little sister some days, and obviously ecstatic to eat with Daddy on the other days. 

When I get home after school, he can't wait to expand on the story. "Yeah, we were just sitting there, talking about nothing, like cars or something, and I looked over and saw big tears welling up in her eyes!" His face glows with love. "And when I asked why, she just said, 'I just LOVE you, Daddy! I just LOVE spending time with you!'"

A few minutes later, when she gets off the bus, I say, "I heard you had happy tears at lunch with Daddy today?"

"Yes! I just LOVE him!" she repeats, and runs to wrap her arms around his neck in the den. 

These 2 years have been so hard in so many ways, but when she looks back at first grade, I hope she remembers those special parking lot lunches with Daddy. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

The missing spark

Day 22 of 31 at TWT!

 "I will make her a new test!" The long-term sub hops quirkily and claps his hands together, eyes bright.

Inside my mask, my mouth is probably a funny combination of hanging open and stretching into a wide grin. He'd walked over to hover at my shoulder as I reviewed my student's practice quizzes with her, and I'd just asked what the real test would be like: would it have long matching sections with words like the one practice quiz, or might it have more pictures like the other?

"Oh wow, thank you, that would be amazing!" I sputter. I've been waiting all year for this to happen with several other colleagues, and just weeks after taking over the class, he's literally jumping to do it. As a sub.

"Yes, yes, I will make her her own test, with not so many words!" He scampers to his desk to grab a sticky note and scurries back to our table.

"Oh thank you so much! That will be wonderful! Some of these element/compound pictures with the little colored circles would be great, and you could also have a picture showing a container with an object inside, and arrows pointing to label the densities of the liquid and the object..." I have to make sure I'm not talking too fast in my excitement about his enthusiasm. I absolutely LOVE collaborating with colleagues to help them better meet their ELs' needs, and it has been harder at this new school than I'd hoped. "... if you make it in a Google Doc, share it with me and I can add some suggestions! Or I can check back in with you the next morning I'm here!" 

"Yes, I can do that! I will make it this weekend and share it with you! I will adjust to your notes! Then she can show her learning without so many words!" 

I lean into my student's ear. "Mr. R is going to make you a new test! It will have more pictures and not so many words. So don't worry!" I know she gets so anxious about tests. "We will work together to make it better for you!"

She nods as imperceptibly as ever, but I see a tiny glimmer of relief in her eyes. 

As the students file out of class, I go back up to his desk. "I really, really appreciate your enthusiasm for making a modified EL test! I'm so excited to work together to help her show her learning better!"

His smile is huge as he nods vigorously. "Yes! I have to! I have to differentiate!" 

I grin. "Yes, absolutely... but not everybody does." The discouragement of my hopes for the year washes through my mind. "Thank you so, so much for caring about our EL students!" I'm so grateful I could fly and cry at the same time.

When he sends me his draft over the weekend, it's even better than I expected. He used a couple other strategies that I would have recommended but hadn't even mentioned yet. I suggest a few wording simplifications and tell him what a great job he did, adding, "Could I use this as an example of an excellent modified test to show colleagues?" 

This could be the missing spark: a model of ownership, enthusiasm, and eagerness to adapt. I can't wait to get the ball rolling.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Yummy air

Day 21 of 31 at TWT!

 "Sister Time!" Rainbow Girl squeals as I buckle my seat belt. 

"I'm getting it on, just a second!" I swipe to start their playlist and back out of the driveway, pausing to open the moon roof as soon as we're out into the dazzling sunshine (and clear of the possible threat of spiders falling into the car from the garage roof... something that has never happened but always occurs to me!). 

The sunshine streams into the car and our bare arms soak up the warmth as if they've been thirsty for it all winter. The girls sing along in the backseat: "Sister, sister, sister time!", and the breeze playfully flips and whips our hair around as we head down the road to one of our favorite parks.

When I turn the corner out of our neighborhood onto a road with a higher speed limit, the wind whooshes into the car, tossing our long hair with more powerful tugs. Rainbow says something, but I can't quite hear her over the wind and music. I glance into the rearview mirror to see her still-light-as-baby's-hair flowing straight out from her head as she lets out a whooping cackle. 

As I roll the windows up just enough to make the gusts more pleasant than overpowering, she loudly proclaims, "This air is yummy!"

Her big sister and I both giggle, then laugh out loud. But she's right. To be riding down the wooded road to our favorite park in March, in short sleeves, with windows and moon roof open, singing to our favorite songs, is absolutely delicious.

"It's so sweet!" Rainbow continues. 

It is. So sweet. The fresh air, the taste of spring with hints of summer, the car ride, the sister time.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Flying Rainbow

Day 20 of 31 at TWT!

 "Who wants to fly with you tonight?" This may seem like a strange bedtime, but it's the signal that kicks off Rainbow Girl's special bedtime routine. After we all read a bedtime book in her big sister's bed, Rainbow gives Sis a goodnight snuggle. Sometimes she comes running out to me in the hallway while Husband tucks Sis in, and this question is just the next step. Other times, this question is the switch that coaxes her out of Sis' room. 

Either way, the next step is to choose one of the myriad stuffed animals from her bed. "Boo!" she declares tonight, so I grab The World's Cutest Dog and she burrows her face in him as I scoop her up. Now the real wildness begins. 

I stand up, she stretches out belly-up in my arms. "Whoooosh!" I whisper, spinning her around and flying her a few steps down the hallway. "Whoosh! Whoosh!" I fly her partway through the bathroom door, dipping her in and out several times as she giggles at herself in the mirror. "Whoooooo...." I dip her head down low and spin back around, headed back the way we came, where Husband stands with open arms. (The whole point of all of this is transferring her from me to him; it's just gotten very elaborate!)

"Whooop..." I pull her back away from him, then fly her almost into his arms. "Woo!" But it's a fake-out: back and forth again! "Whoop... woo!" She sing-songs with me. (One night, exhausted, I didn't make these exact sounds and I got an earful! I won't make that mistake again!) 1 more time: "Whoop... whoooosh!" and I finally transfer her all the way into Husband's arms. 

She grabs a section of her hair and starts twirling it around a little finger as she snuggles into him. They head into her room and turn on her night light and sound machine, then turn at the door so I can give her one last huggle. "Nightnie, sweetie pie!"

She leans out from Husband's arms, enthusiastically pointing at the wooden name rainbow sign on her door. Touching each letter with a dainty finger, she proudly reads the letters of her name. 

I wave and blow her kisses as she finally helps close the door. Inside, I know she and Husband are about to start the next routine: songs on the rocking chair, a last snuggle, and her waving sweetly to him as he closes the door.

No matter how the day was, I always end it with a smile after these sweet moments. 

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Sweet readers

Day 19 of 31 at TWT!

 Book in hand, Sweetie slides onto the couch, declaratively reading the title aloud. Rainbow Girl scrambles to clamber up beside her, slip-pull-flail-climbing her way to her big sister's side as Sis opens the book and starts to read. 

How amazing. She reads confidently, in mostly fluent phrases, occasionally problem-solving a particularly tricky word or phrase. Incredible. First, we read to her. Then she "read" memorized books to us, and to Rainbow when she was born. Now here she sits, truly reading real books to her little sister. 

As Sweetie reads, Rainbow sidles closer, leaning her small shoulder against Sis. At times, she leans forward, pointing and wiggling a little finger, exclaiming "Who's that?!", patting something on a picture, or reaching out a dainty hand to help turn the page. 

Pages and pages go by, and Rainbow nestles even farther into Sis, starting to twirl a section of hair near her forehead (her ultimate signal of sleepiness and relaxation). 

See the hair twirling? 

She reaches her other arm around Sis, who grins and hugs her back as she keeps reading.

<3 <3 <3!

There's just nothing better than these sweet sisters curled up together with a book... especially now that one can truly read to the other!

Friday, March 18, 2022

Conexión tecnológica, conexión humana

(I write in Spanish on Fridays. If you don't read Spanish, feel free to experience the magic (and imperfection) of machine translation by pasting this post's url into Google Translate! And if you can write in a language other than English, join me next Friday!)
Write in another language on Fridays!
Day 18 of 31 at TWT!

-¡Mira, la otra estudiante ha llegado a la reunión! - Mi estudiante se queda mirándose a su imagen previa en la pantalla. - ¡Ingrésate!

Demora unos segundos más en silencio, y por un momento, temo que no va a hacerlo, que tendré que disculparnos... ella es tan vacilante, especialmente sobre hablar en la escuela (aunque no se niega a hacerlo por completo, casi nunca)... ¿realmente no aprovechará la oportunidad de conocer a otra estudiante que habla chino?... pero por fin, hace clic y escucho el sonido alegre que anuncia su llegada a la Meet. 

Me presento a la estudiante de la otra escuela, y se le presento a mi estudiante. - ¡Buenos días! Apagaré mi video y me pondré en silencio ¡para que ustedes pueden conversar! - Sonrío con los ojos sobre mi mascarilla.

Puedo escuchar la voz de nuestra asistente bilingüe diciendo algo en chino junto con el nombre de mi estudiante. El salón queda en silencio y los segundos se ponen eternos mientras ella permanece con la mirada fija. Otra vez, me preocupo. ¿Dirá algo? ¿Debo decir algo para animarle? ¿Está contenta o no?

Por fin, oigo su voz baja, hablando en chino. Miro de soslayo hacia su mesa. No se ha cambiado la expresión de los ojos.

Pronto, escucho más palabras chinas, y más. Y por fin, los ojos se arrugan y brillan en la manera que esperaba, con la chispa preciada de felicidad que veo con tan poco frecuencia. 

Siguen conversando después del principio de mi clase y no me importa. ¡O sea, me alegra! ¡Lo logramos! ¡Están divirtiéndose! 

Más tarde, le pregunto - ¿Qué tal la reunión con la chica china de la otra escuela?

Me queda mirando, y casi empiezo a preocuparme otra vez. 

- ¿Te gustaría hacerlo otra vez?

Se asienta con la cabeza, y veo que la chispa más escasa se ilumina los ojos otra vez. 

- ¡Bien! ¡Lo arreglaré con la otra maestra!

Antes de 2020, no nos hubiéramos ocurrido nunca el idea de utilizar la red para conectar a unas estudiantes de distintas escuelas que hablan un idioma poco común en nuestro distrito escolar. ¡Cuántas oportunidades perdidas! Hay algo único que brota con el idioma nativo. 

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Irish I love you

Day 17 of 31 at TWT!

"Look, here comes Sis!" My mom, my dad, Husband, and I all point towards the middle of the park patio as Rainbow Girl bounces on Husband's lap. A reel comes on over the loudspeaker, and Sweetie bounce-skips gracefully out onto the patio with her classmates. They pause, one foot outstretched, in the Irish dance waiting pose. Suddenly, Sweetie glances over at us and flashes her hand up with her thumb, index, and pinky fingers raised in the "I love you" sign, before starting to dance.

Sweetie is on the left. It's hard to see, but her hand (which should be down at her side) is raised in the "I love you" sign! <3

"Awwww!" The family we don't know beside us coos. 

"Look, Sis is saying 'I love you'!" I nudge Rainbow. "We love you, Sweetie!"

Rainbow Girl stretches both arms into the air, hands raised, little fingers clumsily fashioned into the same signal she just finally learned a few weeks ago. As we all watch Sis bounce lightly, graceful toes tapping in fancy footwork, Rainbow alternately claps, waves her arms wildly, and stretches out double "I love you" signs several more times. 

Rainbow Girl working on the "I love you" sign while Sis performs on the park patio at our city's St. Patrick's Day celebration! <3

It's a gorgeous evening, but nothing is more gorgeous than the love these two share. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Full of stories

Day 16 of 31 at TWT!

 "What don't you like writing?" It breaks my heart that Sweetie has made it quite clear this year that writing is her least favorite part of 1st grade. 

"It's so long, and I don't have any ideas! I can't think of anything to write about!" She sighs in the backseat as I drive her home from Irish Dance practice.

"You're always talking, sharing your ideas and stories! Writing is just talking but on paper!" I pause. The line between mom and teacher is getting blurry. "Think about your favorite people or places. You could have so many stories to tell about Emilia or Daddy! You should make a list of writing ideas! That's what I do!" The mom-teacher line is going from blurry to erased. "Sometimes I have my students make something called a heart map..."

"Oh yeah, my teacher had us make those!" she interjects, but then admits that she doesn't really use it to help her write. 

"Maybe you can add some new things to it to give you fresh ideas! Like what about favorite places? I bet you'd have so many stories to tell about Myrtle Beach or the zoo, or Wildlife Camp..."

Her eyes start to brighten in the rearview mirror. "Oh! Yeah! And I'm thinking of Girl Scouts..."

"That's right! See, you have so many stories! All writers get stuck for ideas sometimes or have days that we feel like we don't know what to write about! That's why I keep a list!" I giggle. "In fact, that's what I wrote about last night! Remember how I'm doing that writing challenge to write a new story about my life every day in March? Last night, I couldn't decide what to write, so I looked at my list, and it had so many good ideas that I ended up writing a story about my idea list and how I use it!"

"Really?" she giggles too, then pauses. "How long is March?"

"We're halfway through! So I've already written 15 stories!"

"Even on the weekends?"

"Yep! I'm trying to write every single day in March! It's hard, and sometimes I feel like I'm running out of ideas, but that's when my list really helps me!" 

We turn the corner into our neighborhood, and a familiar song comes on. "I'm thinking of a story about (our favorite local Irish band)!" she declares, then adds slyly, "but I'm not going to tell you yet."

"Oooh, see?!" I grin. "Look how many stories you can find in your life!"

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

The list

Day 15 of 31 at TWT!

 Hmm, what should I write about today? I try to start brainstorming in the tranquil 20 minutes between coming home and getting Sweetie from the bus stop, but no particular story is tugging at me today. 

Often during March (or on the rare Tuesdays that I actually remember it's Tuesday), a slice (or even 2 or 3!) will jump out at me sometime during the day: a special moment or beautiful scene that I consciously try to slow down and freeze as it happens, mentally rehearsing the details in an attempt to remember it as vividly as possible when I have the chance to sit down and write later. 

Other times, an idea has been sitting in my head for days or weeks, just waiting for the chance to be written. Or a past memory pops up, begging to be remembered in story form, perhaps ushered in by a song, picture, or other small occurrence in the day. 

Of course, there are always days (especially in mid-to-late March!) when I don't know what to write. Some days, I don't feel like writing. Other times, like today, I want to write, but when I toss ideas around, nothing feels quite right. 

That's why I have the Blog Ideas List, my faithful companion through these 11 (is it really 11?!) years of blogging. Once housed in Evernote, now just a Google Doc, my ever-growing list is a messy, living combination of bulleted topics, details I want to include in those topics, half-written sentences and paragraphs I don't want to forget, notes to myself that nobody else would understand (even some that take work for future me to decode!), and mentor text links to blog posts that inspire me or that I want to try to emulate someday. The slicing topics section is most extensive, but there are also sections for other posts I want to write about my teaching (in the mysterious someday in which I somehow have "more time", hahahahaha). 

And sometimes, like now, I set out to write one slice and discover that, as I travel the winding road of writing, another one writes itself instead, and what I thought was going to be an introduction is already an entire post. So I tweak the post title (if I've written one yet) and add another note to the list!

Living as a writer means an ever-growing list, just like living as a reader means an ever-growing to-read stack!

Monday, March 14, 2022

The dino zoo

Day 14 of 31 at TWT!

"What's the big dino that says 'rawr'?" Rainbow Girl has been leaning over her booster seat towards Sis's chair beside her, chattering about her dinosaur chicken nuggets. 

"Um, T Rex?"

"No, the big dino that said 'rawr' at the dino zoo!"

"Ohh, the one that said 'hi' to us?" I know she's remembering when I took her around the corner to peek at some of the animatronic dinosaurs before we rode the dino boat ride at our zoo for the first time, in hopes she'd be less afraid of them than Sis was at her age. "That's Apatosaurus, with the big long neck!" I point out an apatosaurus nugget. "He was so friendly!" I remember trying to enthusiastically talk up how he was a nice dino who was saying hi, so she wouldn't follow in her sister's footsteps of being terrified during the  the gentle boat ride, clinging to our hands and muttering "friendly.... friendly...". (Despite being generally more hesitant of the world in general, little sis was actually much braver in this particular instance!)

"Yeah!" She giggles at sticks out her legs in excitement. "He said hi! I saw him with YOU!" She points a little finger at me, remembering the same moment I'd just pictured.

"That right! I had so much fun peeking at him with you!" I love how she remembers such little details so clearly.

"Can we go to that zoo sometime again?"

"Of course! I love going to the zoo!"

"Not the playground zoo. The dino zoo."

"Oh, it's the same zoo!" I giggle. "It's all our zoo. It's just very big, so we go to different parts on different days!" Our zoo is huge, with so many unique regions, and I can see how to her, it seems like each part might be an entirely different place. 

"Ohhhh yeah!" She opens her blue eyes wide and nods her head vigorously like she does when she's trying to show her understanding of something. "I like the playground zoo! And the dino zoo!" She starts making her apatosaurus nugget talk to her in an adorable falsetto. "Hi! I'm friendly!"

"Yeah, it's all one zoo! I like all the parts of our zoo! It's very fun!" I love when she shares these glimpses of how the world looks to her: separate zoos, perfectly preserved memory moments, and talking dino nuggets.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Catching our breath

Day 13 of 31 at TWT!

"Yes! I'm still catching my breath!" Sweetie's eyes sparkle and her wiggly body is even bouncier than usual as she answers my question about if she feels proud. I know that under her mask, her gap-toothed grin is as wide as it can get. 

"How did you feel about dancing in front of your whole school?" I don't want to plant the idea that she should've been nervous, but I certainly would've been nervous to be on stage in front of 800 people, especially knowing some of them were my friends and classmates. 

"I was excited! I was a little nervous beforehand, but after we practiced, I felt good!" 

She's practically skipping as we weave through the hallways, passing kids headed to buses and kids headed to cars. Her curly Irish bun-wig (which cost me quite a bit of effort and 50 bobby pins this morning!) piled on top of her regular hair makes her seem even taller than her usual already-tall-for-her-age skinny self.

"Your friend from Girl Scouts saw me walking to get you..." I'm interrupted by a cluster of girls waving and saying "Great job! Good dancing!" "...and came up to tell me that you did a great job, just like that!" We both giggle. 

Around the corner, it happens again. And again. "Good job!" "I liked your dancing!" "Good Irish dance show!"

"I don't even know those kids!" she beams. 

"They can see your wig and uniform! You must feel so proud!"

"Yeah! I'm still catching my breath!" she repeats, hopping a little. 

And seeing her so proud, seeing her celebrated by her peers and teachers, knowing how hard she's worked for years to make this dream come true, I'm breathless too. 

Ready to dance for her school! <3

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Snowflake, snowflake, change of plans

Day 12 of 31 at TWT!

"It's SNOWING! It's SNOWING!" Rainbow Girl's blue eyes sparkle, wide, as she points out the window. "We can SLED! And make a SNOW ANGEL!"

The wind whips flurries around the yard, turning our view of the woods into a snow globe. Big Sis was supposed to dance in our city's St. Patrick's Day parade today, but it was canceled due to the frigid temperatures (on this one day, in the midst of weeks of overly warm days!). It's been a strange winter; we've had just a couple snows, and none in probably a month or more. 

Little hands outstretched, the girls start to sing their favorite song from one of their favorite winter specials, Minnie's Winter Bow Show. "Snowflake, snowflake, sparkle and glowwwwww, my winter wish is for snow!!!"

When we step outside after the somewhat arduous process of layering up, we're glad the parade was canceled. A biting wind slashes at our faces immediately, and like every snow that's fallen this year, it's so bitterly cold that the flakes are light and fluffy. We haven't had a single packing snow for snowmen or snow forts! Yet despite the wind, I'm struck by the absolute silence. It's incredible how snow must absorb sound; it's like we've entered a magical world of pure tranquility.

"What's that?!" Rainbow Girl points at the roll of foil in my hand.

"Foil! Let's make our snowballs for the 4th of July!"

Just last night, Sweetie had forlornly realized that we'd never saved any snowballs for our family tradition. I'd really thought we'd have another snow, and we almost didn't! We're all disappointed today's parade was canceled, but at least now we get to throw snow in the summer after all!

Both girls gather snow in their little mittens and help me put it on pieces of foil. Last year our snowballs froze too hard, so maybe looser snow will actually be better. It's an experiment!

Once we have several foil-wrapped snowballs, we grab the sleds. The girls hop-run excitedly up the backyard hill and we race down in various combinations: them sledding alone, sitting, lying down, in our laps, riding on our backs. "Wheeeeeee!" Rainbow Girl giggles and squeals every time. 


It's not what we'd planned for this particular day, but it's still magical. 

Friday, March 11, 2022

¿el primavierno?

(I write in Spanish on Fridays. If you don't read Spanish, feel free to experience the magic (and imperfection) of machine translation by pasting this post's url into Google Translate! And if you can write in a language other than English, join me next Friday!)
Write in another language on Fridays!

Day 11 of 31 at TWT!

Por la mañana, subí el aire caliente de la coche hasta el próximo nivel, tiritando. Abroché mi abrigo lo más alto posible mientras caminaba de mi coche a la puerta de la escuela. 

Pocas horas después, me puso el abrigo otra vez para nuestro simulacro de incendio, esperando el frío, pero acabé desabrochándolo y disfrutando el sol, pensando que realmente habría estado bien dejando el abrigo en mi aula.

Al final del día escolar, un lluvia ligera empezó a empapar las aceras y los calles. - ¡Uy, no quiero salir en la lluvía! - pensé...

... y una hora después, mi deseo se cumplió... porque ¡la lluvia había cambiado a una nevada bien fuerte!

Cuando llegué a casa, me di cuenta que los techos de las casas ya estaban cubiertas de nieve, azucaradas como en una tarjeta de Navidad. 

Y mientras conducíamos a McDonalds a conseguir unas malteadas Shamrock, había tanto nieve que parpadeé en sorpresa. ¿Me había caído dormida y me había despertado en el medio del invierno? ¿o había soñado con los días soleados y calientes de las semanas pasadas (¡pues, incluso hoy por la mañana!)?

No, sólo es que estamos en marzo en Ohio, donde podemos pasar por casi un año de tiempo en menos de un día. ¿Estamos en la primavera? ¿Estamos en el invierno? 

¡Estamos en el primavierno!

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Weaving friendship

Day 10 of 31 at TWT!

 "Mommy, will you show me how to do my friendship bracelet kit now?" My proud Daisy Girl Scout has waited months since she earned this kit in the fall product sale; it was backordered and just arrived a week or two ago. 

She's read her book-in-a-bag aloud to me and finished her math homework for the week, and her little sister is still napping. The kit says 8+, so I hope she doesn't get frustrated, but she is really good at crafts for a 6 year old. "Sure!"

I never learned how to make friendship bracelets when I was a kid. I remember seeing girls with their huge, clear, multi-compartment boxes of colorful thread, half-finished bracelets dangling from the latches, but that craze never hit my friends, so it never hit me. I suppose we were too wrapped up in our elaborate imaginary worlds at recess, pretending we were in the worlds of our favorite books or back in one of our favorite historical time periods. Friendship bracelets were one of those vague things other kids did, along with beaded lizards, plastic-woven keychains, and soccer. (This may be why I came home from 3rd grade and announced to my mom that my interests were different from everyone else in my class!)

In college, working summers as a daycamp counselor, I finally mastered several of those typical childhood activities, including friendship bracelets. There was something so incredibly soothing about rhythmically tying knots across bright strands of string that I found myself taking home bracelets I'd started at camp and continuing them on my free time. Make a 4, pull tight. Make a 4, pull tight. Next color, make a 4... Suddenly, at 20 years old, I was that girl with a half-finished friendship bracelet taped to my pool chair or dangling from my backpack! 

Sweetie chooses her colors: 2 shades of pink (of course), purple, and yellow. I gather and cut the strings, tie a loop on one end, then hitch it to the handle of the purple water bottle her kit came inside. "Ok, scoot close, you'll get confused if you watch upside down." I pat the couch beside me and she squeezes next to me. "Ok, um, it's been a little while since I did this..." I know I have to make the 4's, but I feel like I'm missing something. I glance at the directions from the kit, but I've always had a hard time with picture directions that don't have words. I make a 4 with each color, but something seems wrong. 

Her little sister wakes up just as I consider resorting to YouTube. "Ugh, we're going to have to try again another day, sorry!" I know I'm so close... what am I missing?!

After dinner, there's just enough time. I only have to watch 2 seconds of a YouTube video before I realize what I did wrong. "Do you want to try the friendship bracelets again?" I grin.

She squeals and scampers off to grab the kit, skidding back to me before I've made it to the couch. 

"You have to make the 4s with the same color across all the other strings, then switch!" I can't wait to see if it works this time. Make a 4, pull tight. Make a 4, pull tight. Make a 4, pull tight... "Yeah, look, I made a row!" Triumphantly into the rhythm, I start a new row. 4, pull. 4, pull. 4, pull. I almost don't want to hand it over, but her eyes are sparkling with anticipation. 

"When you finish that color, can I try?" 

"Of course! Here!" I make sure she gets the strings spread out so they won't tangle. 

"Make a 4," she mutters, little hands tugging and twisting a little awkwardly. I show her how to adjust her grip on both strings, and she keeps trying. "Make a 4..." 

She picks up new skills so quickly. "I did it! I made a row!" she squeals. "Sofia's going to love this!" I love that she wants to give her first bracelet away.

an impressive start!

It's time to get ready for bed, but we're both chattering happily all the way up the stairs. 

"See how fun it is? I always thought it was really relaxing!"

"Yeah! I love it! And I feel proud!"

More friendship bracelet string might be in our future... so I can finally make friendship bracelets with a friend (albeit, one who's half my size)!