My Hearts

I love you, my dear family. Stay safe and save me some snuggles.

Bedtime

I’m going to miss bedtime over the next five nights.

It can often times get pretty frustrating. We give the kids an hour of wind-down time starting at 6:30pm to get jammies on and watch a couple of shows as a family. Usually we watch Curious George and one other choice. There is often the battle of calming down after a full day.

But then sometimes they do cute things like set up a back-scratching chain in front of Word World, and I am reminded that this time is so fleeting.

And as hard to settle down as they can be, our three goobers are some of the best snuggly relaxers we could ask for.  While they love being wild, they also love being close and cozy.

And it’s that before-bed time routine I will miss over the next five days because as calming as it is for them, it’s a vital part of my day too. I get to just sit, many times with a child plastered to me, but without work or any other distraction from my day.

Cortney and I take turns putting either the boys to bed or Alice. Two nights of each and then switch. When I put the boys to bed, we cuddle into Eddie’s bottom bunk and read books. Charlie generally chooses a book, then we read Harry Potter after that. And then, even though they are eight and five, they still ask me to lay by them, which means I tuck them both in and then I curl up in Eddie’s bottom bunk next to him until they both drift off to sleep.

Is it necessary? No. But I am almost certain our days of this are numbered and I can’t bear to be the one that ends it.

On my nights with Alice, we cuddle up in the glider in her room while her glow worm, Glowie, plays for 10 minutes. In that time she chats and chats and chats about everything. Sometimes she sings to me. Sometimes I sing to her. I always nuzzle my nose into her hair to sniff in the remnants of baby that are left. After Glowie “goes to sleep,” I tell her “two more minutes means two more songs.” Tonight she picked to sing a made up song of Loo Loo Loo’s and La La La’s followed by “Jesus Loves Me” three times.

Then I pick her up, rub noses Daniel Tiger style and say, “I love you, Alice. God Bless you, Alice.” And she smiles and says, “Love you mommy. God Bless Alice.”

I tell her that her daddy will get her in the morning and to have sweet dreams. She rolls to her side and pushes her glow bear’s tummy on.

Yes, my kids have stall tactics and fight bedtime. Yes, Charlie throws major tantrums about brushing his teeth. Yes, Eddie worries and bites his nails about things when he should be sleeping. Yes, Alice thinks she needs one more drink, one more hug, and one more cuddle with one of her babies. It’s rarely perfect.

But it’s ours.

Book Talk Tuesdays

We read a lot in my class. NEWS FLASH, right?

People ask me how I get my students to all read so much, and the answer is simple: I give them books and time to read them. I wrote about ways to help kids find the right book in an article over at The Educator’s Room. But the best way to get titles to them regularly is to do Book Talks.

Every Tuesday I choose two books to share with my classes. Usually they are titles I’ve read, but sometimes they are not. Sometimes they are ones that are my To Read List and I want to share with them why I want to read them in hopes someone else will want to too. And sometimes I grab books I have no interest in either because it’s outside my taste or usual genre, but I know the book is one that is popular and that not all my students share my taste.

Each of my students also have a sheet to write down the titles of the books they hear that they may be interested in checking out some day.

I’ll be honest, some Tuesdays it seems like I’m talking to the desks; however, this morning during first hour, after I announced that it was Book Talk Tuesday, a kid said, “Oh good! Book Talk Tuesday is my favorite day of the week!”

Ok, so my first reaction was skepticism; I questioned him because I thought he was kidding. Turns out he was absolutely serious. “No, really, Mrs. Sluiter. I love it when you get all excited about books. It’s great.”

The photo above is what I book talked today: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Random Riggs and Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. I chose today’s books because they are ones I have “alternative” options for reading. For both I have the audio version available, and for the Riggs novel, I also have the graphic novel version (plus it’s a first in a series, and kids love a good series).

By the end of the day, everything was checked out and in the hands of eager students.

And you know what? I remembered that Book Talk Tuesday is my favorite day of the week too.

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Donate to my classroom library here.

Travel Anxiety

Since having kids, this is the fifth time I am traveling away from my family to a conference, and I still get horrible travel anxiety.

It’s not the actual traveling that freaks me out. In fact, I love the traveling part. I’ve discovered that not only am I great road trip buddy (this I have long known), but I do airports and ubers and taxis well too. Who knew this introvert actually does well with public transportation?

Anyway, it’s not the actual traveling; it’s the days leading up to leaving. I am a fricking hot mess.

I stress out about getting everything done on my To Do Lists for home and school so that my transition to not being here goes smoothly. Most days you can’t tell I have OCD just being seeing me, but these days leading up to leaving it gets painfully obvious that I cannot stop myself from the compulsive obsessing—which I guess is the definition of my OCD diagnosis: not being able to stop myself.

It starts out with lists. I make lists of everything. I even have a Master List of Lists and as I accomplish a list, I check that list off the Master List.

Then each time something “not on the list” pops up, I over-react.

What’s that? The kids all need winter coats, snow pants, and boots? NOW? THIS IS NOT ON THE LIST. I CANNOT DEAL WITH THIS EXTRA COST. WE HAVE A STRICT BUDGET FOR THIS.

Then I burst into tears, have a minor panic attack, and curl up in a ball until Cortney puts on his soothing voice and gets me to unclench.

On top of all this, I begin to have intrusive thoughts about “what if…?” But I can’t shut the intrusive thoughts down, and I’ve figured out via YEARS of therapy, that I shouldn’t try because I make the panic worse. Not only do I panic about what happens in my thoughts, but I panic that I can’t stop the thoughts.

I have tell myself, “This is an intrusive thought,” and let it play out if that doesn’t stop it. But I have to name it.

This is exhausting when I have to do this every time I think of something going wrong, or worse–something happening to me, Cortney, or the kids.

And then this is when my sleep anxiety kicks in. Will I get enough before the trip? Will I get enough during the trip? Will I snore because of this sinus infection that is on it’s way out (thank you, antibiotics)? Will I keep everyone else up? Will I stress out about my sleep sounds, thus keeping myself awake and being a total ball of emotional over-tired awful for the entirety of the trip? Do I have a plan to get the rest I need post-trip?

Will I miss Cortney and the kids too much? This is a definite yes. I cry at least once every time I go away from them.  At some point I will get overwhelmed, feel so very tiny in a huge city so vastly far from my loves, and I will cry. I know it will happen, and I still stress about it.

I DON’T KNOW WHY.

But here is the reality: I will cry and miss my family and have at least one introvert-induced panic attack, BUT this will also be so fun because I am road-tripping with a couple of my favorite people, sharing a room with people I feel close enough to fart in front of (heh…sorry, not sorry), and I’m going to get so inspired and filled as an educator.

It’s going to be great DESPITE this stupid anxiety leading up to it.

I Am Not In Church

For the second time in a month, I am not in church with my family.

The first time I was pretty horribly sick. I still have that sinus infection, but it’s not what is keeping me home today. I went last week and felt enormously…awkward. It wasn’t the people (although sitting toward the back didn’t help my feeling of disconnect), or the message, or really anything the church or the pastoral staff did or did not do.

I love our church because the familiar ritual of the pattern of the service have always given me a sense of calm in my crazy busy week.

But lately, it hasn’t been enough.

I am home today because, yes, I have tons to do before leaving for St. Louis on Thursday. I have school stuff to work on, writing to do, and between now and then this is the only alone time I will have. I needed these couple hours.

However, there is something else too.

My faith is hurting right now and going to church feels empty.

Whew. That was hard to write.

There is so so so much bad in the world and I do not feel comfort in that hour service like I used to. It feels…empty. It feels hollow. It feels like it’s not doing anything to help.

As we go through the familiar patterns of worship, I see how many people seem to be just “there.” They are not paying attention, on their phones, or more occupied with the drawing their kid is doing than what is being said/done in front of church. So what is the point?

What is the point of showing up if you’re not really there?

What good is sitting in church doing? What good are the words being said, the songs being sung, the bread being broken if we are just…there. How is that helping the the immense pain and suffering in the world?

I don’t know that there is a reason for everything. I don’t think I believe that everything bad eventually will bring a good. I don’t know if shooting up a church or a concert has a “good” to “even it out”. Or that God “has a plan” for shit like that.

I don’t think racism or sexual assault or bullying is part of anyone’s plan, let alone a God that is supposed to be love and goodness.

Yeah, I used the reason of needing to get stuff done to stay home today. And it’s not a total lie, but I definitely don’t want to sit in church and paint a friendly face on when I pass a peace I’m not sure I believe right now.

So I am not in church today.

Watching Them Learn

We had parent teacher conferences for both boys this week. I get nervous before parent teacher conferences, I admit it. I’ve been on the teacher side for fifteen years and I never get anxious for that even though I know that I will have to have difficult conversations sometimes. Sitting on the parents side of the conference is a whole different feeling though.

We have not had to have any hard discussions with teachers about our kids, and for that I am thankful. Yes, Eddie has been known to have impulse control issues, and we had a bit of a rough start to Kindergarten with Charlie learning the routine and learning respectful behavior with all adults, but we have been lucky to have two kids who have not had any academic concerns.

That said, I walked out of conferences this year with a whole new respect for elementary teachers.

I’ve always laughed when people have said they think middle school would be the toughest. Yes, it’s a tricky age, but I don’t have the same kids all day teaching them ALL the subjects. I worry about the ELA standards, not ALL the content area standards. Plus I get a guaranteed planning hour every day. I don’t have to work around specials teachers who don’t have their own classroom or recess duty.

As Charlie’s teacher handed us writing, drawing, and math samples from the first term compared to current assessing, I was no less amazed than when we went through this with Eddie. The vast improvement is almost unbelievable at that age. In less than a year, Charlie went from a non-reading little kid, to someone who is reading a little above level and writing words by himself. It’s astounding to me to watch that learning take place.

Then we walked to Eddie’s teacher where we saw social studies scores and math scores and writing samples. He, too, is reading a little above level, and has a fierce love of learning.

Holding a salt dough map of Michigan with all the geography terms labeled smacked me in the face with how much kids learn and grow at this age.

Elementary teachers must be magicians of sort. They literally mold and shape our children’s minds into something totally new throughout the year.

I realize that I probably know more about standards and laws and proficiency and the research about whether to retain or not to retain, about whether homework is actually good for kids than the average parent because it is my job to know these things. However, knowing that stuff and watching it in action with your own children is very, very different.

I know, for instance, that a child’s success in school and college is linked to their ability to read at grade level by third grade and if they are behind then, they may stay behind. I also know that retention solves nothing without intervention. I know a good early childhood education is key and that third grade is the pivotal year.

I know these facts, but I am watching them in motion with my own children and it’s amazing.

 

One of my most favorite parts of being a mom–that I did not foresee when we were in the baby stage–is watching my children learn.

Eddie asks so many questions! Just tonight, he mused, “When I spin my water bottle, why does the water always go down?”

(Of course,  I was tired, so I said, “physics.”)

We went to my district’s fall theater production of Freak the Mighty and he was FULL of questions about language and acting and bullies and books and writing.

Charlie wants to sound out every word! Today he eagerly did all his homework that was supposed to take until Wednesday because he feels so accomplished and proud when he writes whole sentences (with punc-shay-shon, mom mom!) by himself.

He reads his Just Right Library book over and over to anyone who will listen, and almost every night he reads Brown Bear, Brown Bear because he can.

His current favorite game is chess because he loves strategy. HE’S FIVE. HE LOVES STRATEGY.

I would like to say I am proud of my kids–because I am. But here’s the thing: I am actually amazed by them. The things they learn and know and say. The way they think.

Getting to have a front-row seat to that and cheer them on is an honor. It’s an honor to have these small people call me mom.

Pharmacy Stories

I had to go to the pharmacy today because I actually saw a guy about my sinus infection, and he prescribed me an antibiotic.

Pharmacies are weird, sad little places, aren’t they?

I had to wait about 25 minutes for my script, so I plopped down in a chair with my tissues and phone, and pretended to be reading emails when in reality I could hear everyone who was talking to the pharmacy register ladies.

The lady behind me gave her birth date and leaned in and said not quietly, “I am here for my Wellbutrin. I need it. I ran out and I have to have it.”

Lady, I have BEEN there with my antidepressant. You are NOT alone. (Of course she could be on it to quit smoking or for whatever other reason, who knows).

Anyway, there was some sort of mix up where the pharmacist told her she didn’t have a refill until December 9, and she was like, “but I”m out. I need more.”

I could here the desperation in her voice.

Then there was the line of people behind her. Every one of them looked glum. All of them.

I suppose it makes sense. If you’re standing in line at the pharmacy it’s probably not for something great. You’re probably not there for recreational drug, ya know what I mean?

While I was slumped way down in my seat, another woman argued loudly with the pharmacist about her prescription costing way more this time than the last time. I started to get nervous that things were going to get out of control, but the lady stormed off–without a script.

I felt sad and a little nervous for her.

What kind of prescription wan’t she paying for? Was it that she couldn’t afford it or just didn’t want to pay that money? Was it for her or a loved one? Was this just one instance or was she someone who had to get dozens of meds for a chronic problem, or was this just something small she wasn’t in the mood to pay for?

Then there were the moms with full carts of groceries and kids who were hanging from the blood pressure machine and the wracks of first aid splints while she looked frazzled and totally over it. I have been there too. I imagined that she was picking up a script for a kid with an ear infection, and she really just wants a break.

I also watched as a very small elderly man set at least eight empty prescription bottles on the counter. I couldn’t hear the conversation, but he was shakily holding up one after another and talking to the pharmacist. She took about five of them from him, and he put the others back in the plastic bag.

As he walked away, I smiled at him and said a little prayer that he didn’t just negotiate which were the most important to fill. In my head, those meds were for his wife, but they could have been for him. Or maybe he was returning unused pills. I don’t know.

It was seriously busy, and when they called my name, I tried to smile at the tired looking pharmacist even though I had a horrible headache from the sinus pressure and I just wanted to lie down. I admit, I grabbed my antibiotic, and walked out head down, though.

No one wants to see someone they know at the pharmacy.

When Things Go Right

Being a teacher is difficult. This is a truth I will never deny. It can get easy to sit and list all the challenges and frustrations, and I have done a LOT of that so far this school year.

(This is where we all pour one out for Cortney and his tired ears.)

But there is a reason I stay in teaching, and it ain’t the paycheck or the benefits (although THANK YOU, UNION AND SCHOOL BOARD FOR MY PAYCHECK AND MY BENEFITS!). It’s days like today.

Today was not anything spectacular either. We didn’t do any big projects or presentations. I didn’t have any fancy lesson or activity. It was just a regular day in 8th grade, but things went right.

Most students came into class and, after hearing that I still didn’t have much of a voice (see sinus infection post from yesterday), quieted down quite quickly to allow for me to give directions for the bell ringer, announcements about the school play, and remind them what they will be working on for the day and why.

Then they got to work.

No really, they did.

Students either worked on their vocab that is due tomorrow, or they worked on their tribute essay that is due tomorrow. I walked around handing back things and making sure everyone had something to work on, then I settled in and started opening their working documents and having “silent conferences” via the comments in Google Docs.

A few kids had actual conferences because there was more I wanted to say/comment on than just in writing, but overall, most kids worked quite hard and smart.

Then we played a review game with our vocab words for the last 15 minutes of class.

That’s it.

Nothing fancy in the least.

But it all felt good because kids were engaged, I was coaching them through it, and–the best part–I read some of the best writing they have done yet this school year.

We have days were we do really, really cool things. Today was just a typical day, but it was pretty awesome.

This is why I teach.

Sinus Infection?

I think I have a sinus infection.

I’ve had this head cold thing for what will be two weeks tomorrow. It started last Thursday with a bit of a scratch in the back of my throat. The next day my entire head was all blown up and feeling awful.

I slept a lot of the weekend.

Last Monday I maybe should have stayed home.

I didn’t. I worked all last week.

I tried to sleep a lot this weekend.

My nose has been running nonstop and now my nose is all chafed and red and raw and sore.

This morning when I still felt like a pile of snotty garbage, I messaged my doctor because come on. I’m supposed to road trip my way to St. Louis next week Thursday evening and then share a room with two other people. No one wants to share a hotel room with a mouth-breathing mucus face.

Also I lost my voice today, and that is just not a good thing for someone who has to do three presentations next weekend.

So, I messaged my doctor.

He thinks it’s probably a sinus infection and that I should be seen.

That is easier said than done with my doc, but the stars aligned and his office was able to get me in with the PA on Friday just after lunch. Yes, I will have to take the afternoon off on Friday (which I don’t like because I have three days off coming up and I’m trying NOT to leave my students with a sub more than I have to), but at least (oh please let it be at least), I’ll be able to get some meds to get rid of this nonsense.

I’m going to hobble through the next day and a half of work and beg my afternoon classes not to be poop heads for a sub on Friday, and I’m going to get better.

Because snot is dumb.

YA for Beginners

My classroom door is always open (quite literally because it gets really warm in there in the morning) to anyone coming in to observe me. Because of this policy, I’ve had fellow teachers stop by, but I have also had college students/teachers-in-training and student teachers come through my door as well. I welcome them all because I enjoy the wonderings and questions I get from each of them. I love to see my class and my teaching through the eyes of someone else so I can stay fresh and always keep “why do that?” in my mind.

That said, one of the biggest draws to my classroom is my library. I’ve got about a thousand titles that I’ve painstakingly collected through my own purchases and many many many donations. Everyone wants to lay eyes on this glorious wall-o-books, and the question that is always asked is, “what would you suggest to get first? If I was going to start a library, what books are good ones to start with?”

This answer changes every year as new books come out and student interest changes, but I think I can make a Top Twenty Starter Pack list for anyone wanting to either start a classroom library, or start reading YA Lit for the first time.

Here is my list in no particular order (keeping in mind that I am cheating a bit and just naming authors so I can cover more than just twenty. What? I’m addicted!).

  1. Winger by Andrew Smith (and then Standoff because it’s the sequel. And then, well, let’s just put Andrew Smith books at the top of the list. But read Winger first.)
  2. Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.
  3. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  4. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (ok, again, just read everything he’s written, but this is his newest and it’s incredible)
  5. The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
  6. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (she is another one that you should just invest in all her books)
  7. Me, Earl, & The Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews (seriously inappropriately funny)
  8. Lily & Dunkin by Donna Gephart
  9. Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina
  10. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
  11. La Linea by Ann Jaramillo
  12. A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
  13. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (again…just get everything she’s written)
  14. Everything Walter Dean Myers has written, but specifically get Monster- both the novel and the graphic novel
  15. Yummy by G Neri
  16. All of Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novels
  17. Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick
  18. Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt
  19. Any (or all) of the Blueford High Books–kids LOVE them because they are accessible and high interest. I suggest starting with Brothers in Arms
  20. Wonder by RJ Palacio

Oh gosh…I really could keep going. This is really just a very small start. Other authors you should really read include Ellen Hopkins, Matt de la Pena, Ibi Zoboi, Neil Shusterman, and so SO many more.

Happy reading!

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