The Back to School Post I Forgot About

We went back to school like…two months ago. I took pictures and had every intention of making a nice little post here for posterity.

Then my life laughed and laughed and laughed at me.

So anyway, Back to School!

There are four of us that went back to school–in four different buildings, naturally.

Alice is in 1st grade this year at Quincy. She is in the shark room and loves every minute of it. She is happy to go to school, happy to do homework, just happy happy about all things learning. She loves learning to read and going to her music special the most, although Spanish is a close second.

Charlie is in 4th grade at Lincoln. He is in their iCares program (Emotionally Impaired program). He is doing so well this school year! We have been so proud of him as he continues to learn and use strategies for managing his anxiety. He has been doing his school work regularly and earning lots of new privileges. In fact, he will get to go into the regular ed classroom routinely now since he has been so responsible and showing so much growth! We have been celebrating him a ton this fall!

Alice rides the bus in the morning from daycare and then home to our neighborhood after school. Charlie walks to school with the Walking Group in his school’s neighborhood. This has been so great for his mental health. Movement centers him, and walking each day with a group of kids and adults he can trust has been a game changer! He also rides the bus in the afternoon with Alice. They like walking from the bus stop to home so much, that this past week when I got home early and decided to wait at the bus stop for them, they said, “no thank you” to the ride!

Eddie is in 7th grade this year. The middle of middle school. He gets to use a locker this year, and I laughed so hard when I saw they assigned my 5’7″ tween a bottom locker. He thought I was ridiculous for laughing. Middle school! Ed loves school because he loves to see his friends. He also does better being able to interact with his teachers. His favorite classes this year are Band (he plays the trombone) and ELA (that’s my boy!), but he says he really likes all his classes. In 6th grade, he struggled in math class, but he is absolutely killing it this year! We are darn proud of this kid for how responsible and respectful he is too. The kids’ district has a mask mandate for K-6 graders, but Eddie wears his all the time even though he’s vaccinated because he wants to protect his younger siblings.

And of course, I also went back to school–as a teacher and as a doctoral student.

This year is my 19th year teaching in the Wyoming Public School district. Because of a major staff shake up over the summer, I am still teaching 8th grade English, but I have the honors classes now. So I have three sections of honors and two sections of team-taught 8th grade ELA (with my teaching partner who I have been with since I started at the Junior High in 2014). This has been my hardest school year yet for a number of reasons that I am not going to get into in this post. But I have been blessed with great students, supportive colleagues and administration, and awesome parents/guardians of my students.

This semester I am also taking my very last class toward my PhD–Introduction to Research in Education. I hate it, but it’s necessary and will probably help me with all the researchy technical stuff I’ll need to do for my dissertation work.

Starting in January, I will have two semesters where I do “reading hours” that help me prepare to take my Qualifying Exams next November (2022). I will have to sit for three exams: English Education General Exam, English Education Specialized Exam (still working on my specialization area, but it will probably be something with teaching Middle Grade/Young Adult Literature), and Children’s Literature (my specialized question for this exam will focus on Holocaust Literature for Children/Young Adults). I have like a million books to read before next November to prepare. Ok, maybe not a million, but it is over a hundred.

We are all doing well as far as academics, but the effects of this pandemic are really starting to show in other ways–especially in the negative impacts on my teaching job.

The little kids and I are also in the middle of a quarantine, but that is another post all together!

The Summer of “Yes”

Last summer seemed to be the summer of “nope” and the summer of “that’s cancelled” as everyone in our family committed to not leaving the house as much as was humanly possible. Cortney was the lone contact to the outside world as he went to work and ran our errands for us that we couldn’t take care of online. We had one other family in our quarantine bubble.

This summer, with 3/5 of us being vaccinated, we were [cautiously] able to say yes to many more things–especially outdoor things. Normally, I balk at keeping busy, but this summer has been so fun!

We still have had tons of fun with our “bubble” family, but we were able to also include cousins this summer. Oh how Cortney and I have missed our siblings and their kids! And how our kids missed their cousins! So much loud, giggly chaos happens when they get together.

The library is open again! We hit up the library about every other week this summer, and followed it, naturally, with donuts for lunch from the Zeeland Bakery. Alice also got her own library card this summer! Now everyone has their own card and library tote.

Swimming lessons were offered again this year, so Charlie and Alice completed those in June. Charlie is quite the little fish being in the deep end now and working on his strokes. Alice is still in the shallow and refuses to put her whole head under water or jump in. We’ll get there!

Cortney and I were able to go out on dates again! We could celebrate our anniversary over a yummy dinner and drinks in one of our favorite places, Cooper’s Hawk. AND we could leave our kids with a trusted (and vaccinated) teenage babysitter.

I was able to meet friends for coffee, shopping, lunch, cocktails…whatever! We got caught in the rain! It was so great to be with friends again. Even though this friend was in our bubble last summer, it was still so great to be able to not be at home. We could go into stores and try on clothes.

Like I said, donuts for lunch. Anyone who says kids can’t stand masks never told them, “if you wear your mask, we can go into the bakery and get donuts.” They had those masks on before I could say, “let’s go.” Plus it gave us the opportunity to walk around downtown Zeeland and get out of the house. And eat donuts.

We got ICE CREAM! Again, going out of the house and doing stuff and running errands and stopping for treats just wasn’t possible at all last summer. And the school year was so wonky and we all have such exhaustion after surviving it that the clear answer to “can we get ice cream?” was YES!

We had my parents over and we didn’t have to socially distance outside. We were able to have Grandma over for her birthday and give hugs. Yay vaccines!

More playing with cousins! Seriously, I think one of the biggest gifts to my kids this summer was that they could connect with their cousins again. Until all the adults were vaccinated, no one felt comfortable to do this mask-free, but this summer we have all been able to enjoy each other’s company again.

We met friends at the beach and…you guessed…at more ice cream! All of the kids are happy to be able to go do things again even if it means masking up in buildings and when there are a lot of people around. They don’t care because FUN is an option again.

Charlie went to camp. He traveled with our church over 12 hours away to upstate New York to go to Camp Fowler for a week. We missed him like crazy, but he had so much fun. So much that the first thing he said to me after giving me a giant hug was that he can’t wait to go back next summer. Last summer Fowler had to cancel all summer camps due to COVID. This year, with a safety precautions in place, they were able to safely offer camp again.

Eddie hosted his first sleepover while Charlie was at camp having his two BFFs overnight two nights in a row for some Marvel Movies and gaming. And, clearly, more ice cream. But also minigolf!

Eddie did a week-long day camp this summer (which was great for him) and my mom and I took these two to our local zoo. Camel rides were definitely not part of last summer, but were a big YES this summer.

I saw my college girlfriends for the first time in more than three years. We were able to meet in East Lansing (half of us live on the west side of Michigan, the other half on the east side) for a few hours to have lunch and catch up with everything that has been going on in our lives.

We took a road trip out of state! This one made me a bit nervous, but we were able to be very safe about it. We all masked in all buildings (including the hotel in areas that weren’t our room) and did lots of hand washing and sanitizing. We drove 3 hours to Toledo, Ohio for a quick weekend.

After some lunch, our first adventure was to go to the Imagination Station in downtown Toledo. It was all hands-on math and science learning for kids of all ages. We spent over two hours there. The kids LOVED it, and it was by far the one place we went with the most masking and social distancing. Go figure, people who frequent math/science centers believe…SCIENCE.

The next day we hit up the Toledo Zoo. Cortney and I had visited before we had kids and there had been a bunch of construction. Now it is absolutely beautiful. Not that the kids particularly appreciated it. Alice was mad at her shoes and walking. Charlie was hot and cranky. Eddie was sad he didn’t get a big pretzel. Maybe going to a major zoo on a busy Saturday was partly our fault. Cortney and I enjoyed the animals though.

Our last stop in Toledo was some YUMMY pizza out as a family. I cannot emphasize how great my kids were about wearing their masks when necessary. We were able to have a really fun weekend away and feel safe doing so.

I drove to Chicago and saw my best friend for the first time in two years! You know what we did besides getting manis/pedis? Nothing. We ate and drank and sat on her balcony and talked the day away and it was my favorite day of the whole summer.

We went with my parents to Silver Lake for three days. We splashed in the pool, rode bikes, went on a dune ride, ate at a drive in, saw live music, and of course…ate ice cream.

Our summer is not over yet. Yes, I go back to school on Monday and the kids go back a week after that, but summer lasts until the warm weather fizzles out and we still have fun on the calendar! We said YES this summer to safety and fun and it was SO NEEDED after the school year we finished and the uncertainty of the school year we are about to start.

A Dozen Years Old

**This post was originally published on Medium when I wasn’t sure if I would keep this space**

Dear Eddie,

You turned 12 years old this week.

This is your last year of being a tween, but you are already as tall as I am. Your feet are bigger than mine. You are showing all the physical signs of the teen years being right around the corner.

I tried not to get too emotional in front of you this week. I know it makes you a little eye-rolly and uncomfortable. But I did appreciate that you let me give you multiple hugs all day on your birthday. I honestly thought that my biggest emotion as you get older would be sadness that your babyness, toddlerhood, and little kid self fade into tweeny big kid. But the dominant emotion I feel is pride.

I am so dang proud of you, Eddie.

This school year was a real change for you. Several times you moaned, “I miss elementary school! Ugg!” But you did it! You worked SO hard and figured out how to get extra help and rework assignments and assessments that didn’t go well, and you made the honor roll all year! You learned about communicating with your teachers, checking your grades, keeping track of assignments and due dates. Things weren’t perfect, but you definitely grew this year! You are going into 7th grade with far more tools in your box for being successful than I did at that age!

You continue to have a love/hate relationship with being the oldest. The fact that you have extra responsibilities (like emptying the dishwasher, doing your own laundry, and taking out the trash) causes such extreme eyerolls, that I am concerned that your eyeballs are going to be permanently damaged. I don’t think our insurance covers eyeroll repair. But you do the things.

Your awkward sense of humor is getting weirder and more awesome by the minute. You say and do the most random things and dad looks at me like it’s my fault. It probably is somehow, least of which is that I laugh every time which only serves to encourage you. It’s so wholesomely weird though. I love it!

Your favorite activities at age twelve include: computer games, videogames (specifically Fortnite. ALL THE FORTNITE), talking about all the games, reading books with animals or kids who have challenges, thinking about videogames, watching movies (you still love movies like Luca and Soul — never too old for a good animated film!), drawing, writing, reading comics/graphic novels, hanging out with your “brethren,” Jake and Joe, making people laugh.

The adults that get to interact with you (teachers, youth group, etc.) all tell me that you are so thoughtful and inclusive. Dad and I raz you all the time about your lack of observation skills within our family/home, but I know you are really good at accepting others and not judging someone right off the bat. You aren’t afraid to tell people your beliefs and stances, but you don’t name-call or demean those who don’t agree with you.

You are always open to learning new things and listening to new ideas. It makes me so proud to know you are out there being you, being a model for what peace and love is.

And being hella weird and funny at the same time.

I love you, Eddie. So much.

You are my BEST Eddie.

Love,
Your best Mom

Sweet 16

**This post was originally published on Medium when I wasn’t sure if I would keep this blog**

We started out as two friends who knew each other as elementary kids, became best buddies in high school, and fell in love in their mid-twenties.

It was a quick courtship. We already knew the weird little things about each other. Already knew about each other’s exes and families. Already farted in front of each other. We had already said “I love you” because we had already loved each other deeply as friends for years.

When you brought up dating — or at least being interested in being more than just friends — it seemed crazy at first, but then the most natural thing in the world.

Our beginning was so sweet, so fun. I remember feeling like a cartoon with heart eyes bugging out of my skull every time we were together.

My prayer was that after years and years of marriage, it would still feel so sweet and so fun.

Now we are sixteen years into this marriage thing.

Together we have lost a parent, six grandparents, a niece, family friends, two pregnancies, a pet, an appendix, a gall bladder, a tumor, three lymph nodes, a hernia, a job, a headful (and most body) hair, relationships, our cool, our sanity, control.

Together we have gained three children, brothers and sisters-in-law, seven nephews, five nieces, a godson, life-long friends, a job, three college degrees, a company (part of one), a Nintendo Switch, a deep appreciation for how short this life is, and sore stomachs from laughing so hard — especially late into the night when we should be asleep.

Our love has grown and changed over the past sixteen years, but we still hold hands often, still say “I love you” every time one of us leaves the other, still email all day long (and text all day long when one of us travels). We still watch shows that no one else watches (lately it’s been A&E’s biographies on pro wrestlers. WHY? I have no idea) and play Animal Crossing together almost every evening. And neither of us can sleep well if the other isn’t in the bed.

Not all of the past sixteen years has been sweet, but how we love each other has only gotten better.

43 and 14

Where does the time go? I started this blog when I was 29 years old, had already suffered a miscarriage, and was looking for a way to connect with people–my family and friends in particular–but really anyone who wanted to read.

Now, fourteen years later, this space goes largely forgotten in my daily life. As many bloggers who have bowed out of the blogasphere before me have said, the kids get older and their stories seem more theirs…more private. Less open to sharing on a platform like this.

It’s definitely happened with the Sluiter kids. Eddie is a middle school kid now. There is SO much I wish I could write about–mostly wonderful with a side of typical middle school kid annoyances–but it would be so embarrassing for him to have his friends’ parents or people from church know those things about him. Charlie has gone through a ton. I could start an entire blog devoted to just one part of who he is, but I won’t. That part of him is his. And anything I do share, I share with permission. And Alice–who is very much her own person–is still #3. I have written all the things that are shareable about having a kid her age.

And I am 43. I turned 43 almost three months ago and wrote nothing about it, which gives the false impression that there is nothing to say about it.

There is PLENTY to say about being 43–middle-aged.

I feel my middle-agedness these days. I feel the age gap between me and my students, grad school peers, and the new teachers in my building.

I have come to realize that I relate better to my professors than the other grad students in my classes.

I am finding that my oldest child who used to think I was the beginning, middle, and end to all that is cool, finds my claim of ultimate awesomeness a bit “sus” these days. (Thank goodness Alice still looks to me for tips in coolness.)

When I read Young Adult Literature, I relate to the parents and other adults.

I do not bounce back from a night of too much fun like I used to.

Random aches and pains make me ask, “did I sleep weird? or is that just be being over 40?”

It’s not all negative things, though. Oddly, I feel like younger adults listen to me as a veteran mom, teacher, scholar. Which is…a different feeling. It feels good, but it also feels like a huge responsibility to get things right.

The biggest thing that I have noticed, however, is how I spend my time. As I said, I used to pour lots of time into this blog. I wrote about all the baby things and toddler things and having two little ones things. I did sponsored posts and wrote about my postpartum depression and anxiety and OCD. I supported small businesses and wrote poetry. This space has held so much of our life from my point of view.

And now there are cobwebs because honestly, it is a chore to log in. There are so many plug-ins that always need updating. There is just so. much. content. that it lags when uploading photos or opening a draft or even just logging in. In fact, I have had to log out and log back in a couple times because the “autosave” keeps giving me an error. I just don’t have the time anymore to fight with it.

I don’t have this blog to be a money maker. It used to bring in a few bucks or free product here and there, but it’s never been supplemental income.

More than anything this space is where I keep my memories.

And now, as approach…ok, as I am now IN…my middle age adulthoodness…I just don’t have the time.

Yes, I want to write and share photos. Like look! I had my lazy eye fixed and don’t need glasses or prescription sunglasses anymore and it’s so fun! Plus my hair has grown back enough to actually get shaped into a real style, so I have a CUTE bob going right now that I LOVE!

But I don’t want to fight having this huge blog anymore.

So I think I am closing up my WordPress blog. I’m going to download it so I can make a book…or books…out of it. I’m going to go back to writing on a free platform, I think. Unless someone can tell me how to keep this space, but downsize? I’ll keep the url because why not? But I don’t want to pay for hosting anymore when I blog like 5 times (if I am lucky) per year.

I’ll probably delete my Sluiter Nation FB page because I don’t maintain it.

I just want a space to write and I don’t feel like this (waves hand at blog) is that anymore.

I am 43. Sluiter Nation is almost 14. And it feels like the time for a bit of a change.

Nine

Dear Charlie,

It’s been three weeks since you turned nine. You have grown taller and your feet have gotten bigger in the past year, yes. But you have grown in ways that most people can’t perceive as well.

The past year has been full of challenges, yes. It’s best to acknowledge that right away. Between trying to do school in a pandemic both virtually and in-person and navigating your mental health with zero in-person options for therapy, it can feel like everything is just a big Debby Downer. But it’s not!

Sure there have been struggles, but I am not here to roll out a list of those. I want you to remember how joy-filled your life is too.

A definite favorite is to do just about anything with our friends, the Visels. Because they were our “bubble” friends during the worst of the pandemic, we spent a lot of pool party time! We also played at their house and ate lots of yummy food prepared by Ben. This year you told me that Trisha is like your Mom 2.0 and you listed Ben as a “safe person” on a form at school.

If we weren’t at the Visels, you were begging your brother and sister to play outside with you. All summer you were in and out of water-related outdoor play. It meant for lots of wet swimsuits and beach towels along with grass clippings all over the house.

Your brain is always moving a million miles a minute. You are always thinking of the next thing to do or to create. Often, you bring your ideas to Grandpa and somehow he can make those ideas into reality in his workshop. The two of you have created a bow (pictured), wooden hatchets, a shield, a sword, a trident, and probably more that I can’t remember.

Oh and you love selling things: art, lemonade, whatever. You haven’t gotten many buyers, but that doesn’t stop you. Related to this: you are terrible at saving money. So bad. As soon as you get money you want to spend it on stuff for Fortnite or take it to 5 Below or buy an app for the ipad or spend it at a garage sale. This past summer we had to hide your money because you were buying literal garbage from the neighborhood garage sales. That didn’t stop you, though. You started hitting up the sales asking what you could have for free. That is when I found you wheeling home a yellow rolling office chair with your bike in the chair: “They asked if my mom would mind. I said you wouldn’t!”

You were mistaken.

But we still have that dang chair.

You love to do things and you do not want to bother with silly things like being clean or picking up after yourself. It seems Dad and I are always trying to get to you to clean up something: your room, the table, yourself. But you just don’t want to be bothered with that. Tidying up is not fun. It is a distraction from what you would rather be doing–the next thing, whatever that may be.

This fall both you and Alice were able to play soccer. You taught her how to kick the ball correctly. She wasn’t as serious about the game as you, but she could at least do all the moves correctly. Recently Little League started up–your first year. You have had two practices so far and you are in love with the game. You are definitely our most athletic kid. Your love of games and competition coupled with your natural ability make it fun to watch you in whatever you play.

You want to do so many things, but it’s hard for you to stay focused to get really good at anything. You want to play the drums someday, so we had you in piano lessons. You loved the lessons, but you had no sit in you to practice or do your theory homework. You want to be able read well, but you don’t have the patience to sit and practice. You want to be a better writer, but practicing makes you insanely mad. Sports are different. You aren’t immediately good, but you will stick with it at practice. You won’t practice at home or with anyone else though if there are other things you could be doing. Recently you were diagnosed as ADHD. In retrospect, this seems like maybe it should have been obvious to us.

Fun fact: If you don’t have to have a shirt on, you don’t. In fact, you are most happy just hanging around in underwear, but since Dad and I insist on pants at the dinner table, you’re preferred clothing is undies and gym shorts…and that’s it. For awhile people wondered if you owned shirts since all my photos of us during the pandemic included you being shirtless.

There is no one quite like you, my Charlie Bird. Your emotions are all BIG. That can mean some explosions, but it also means that you love big too. Navigating those emotions can be really hard for you (and us), but your wit and power of observation make up for it. Your loud chortle when Eddie makes you laugh (like no one else can, by the way), brings a smile to everyone’s face.

I hope you know that you are so so important to us. That we fight every day for you to have a fair shot at school and sports and all the things other kids have. I hope someday you will look back and know that Dad and I did the very best we knew how.

And tomorrow is a new opportunity to try again.

I love you more than you will ever know.

Mom Mom

Upon Turning Six

Dear Miss Alice,

Two weeks ago you turned six! I keep waiting for the newness of having a daughter to wear off, but even after 6 years, I am still amazed that you are ours–that I made you. You bring our family such joy, my little caboose.

Where do I even begin to describe you at age six?

Despite the pandemic and starting elementary school with masks and distancing, you love kindergarten. You come home with stars in your eyes for your teacher, Mr. F. You learn quickly, and sing us the songs you learn for remembering to spell your sight words and for the seasons and the days of the week. You love to count. And, like your mother, you love books and reading, achieving 1st grader-level reading by mid-year.

Your daily specials are a favorite part of your day: art, Spanish, PE, and technology. And lately you have been writing about animals, coming home to tell us about king cobras and hedgehogs.

You like to play school and restaurant and really anything that lets you write things down in one of your little notebooks.

You love Barbie dolls, LOL dolls, animal stuffies, your “Big Nora” squishmellow, and your American Girl (really it’s an Our Generation) doll, Millie. You still love rainbows, unicorns, mermaids, and anything with glitter. You love to do crafts and play dough (and recently kinetic sand). You love to paint and draw.

Another one of your favorite things is to play beauty shop/salon/spa day. Not only do you love when I pamper you and do your nails, but you have amassed quite the collection of play beauty supplies and you love to do my hair and make up and nails too. Maybe someday you will become a stylist!

You also love to play, play, PLAY outside. You will ride your bike around the block over and over and then walk around it. You will play with the neighbor boy and run and jump. This past weekend you made hop scotch on the driveway and begged for a partner until daddy came out. Then you giggled and giggled as he hopped on your teeny tiny squares.

You are still a little bit of a wimp when it comes to getting owies. Last weekend you fell running with Charlie and put a hole in your pants and skinned up your knee. We put a bandaid on it, but you refused to put it in the water in your bath and you hobbled around with a limp for two days. Later, you asked daddy if you should take the bandaid off since it was getting a little ratty looking. Then we heard you in the bathroom giving yourself a pep talk before pulling the bandaid off: “Who’s a strong girl? I’m a strong girl! Who’s a strong girl? I’m a strong girl! Who’s a strong…OUCH! girl? I AM A STRONG GIRL LOOK DADDY I PULLED IT OFF!!!!”

You are silly and cute, but oof…you are also strong-willed. You know what you want and what you don’t want and you are not an easy one to compromise. You have a very “my way or the highway” attitude. You will put yourself to bed in your clothes if you don’t want to brush your teeth and wash up like we ask you to (no brushing/washing = no bedtime books). It is tiresome now, but I hope your strong will stays with you, and you use it to stand up for what is right and just someday.

Just as strong-willed as you can be with us, you are kind and helpful with others. You make friends easily, and are kind regardless if someone wants to be your friend or not. You follow rules and encourage others to do so as well.

And you LOVE to talk. If you’re not talking to one of us, you are chatting with your stuffies and/or dolls. Or singing to yourself. If you’re quiet, you’re either concentrating on an ipad, a show, or you’re sleeping. Bedtime is when you get the most chatty with me. Once we have read books and sung songs and the lights are out, you start telling me all the things on your mind–who got new shoes, who said something about someone else, what teachers said hi to you in the hallway, and how Charlie was mean to you today. It reminds me a lot of what Eddie was like at age six. He doesn’t chat with me as much now that he is a big middle school kid, but he is still comfortable asking me questions and getting my view on things. I hope you will be too as you get older.

You are a hugger and a relationship girl. Each night you are personally offended if one of your brothers does not want both a hug and a kiss from you before bed. You love to snuggle your daddy, me, but mostly soft stuffies. Your favorites are Big Nora (Squishmellow) and pink blankie. Other stuffies you have that you also love include Mr. Sprinkles (a bunny who is a girl, but prefers the title Mister), White Tigey, Tigey, Brown Horsey, and Everest (from Paw Patrol). You still play with your Bitty Baby who you named Babycita as well. Your favorite movies are still the Frozen movies, but Grandma gave you Mulan for your birthday and we have watched that a few times now as well.

You drive us crazy and make us laugh. You bring magic and joy to our family as well as authentic hugs and snuggles. Just tonight, as a protest to brushing your teeth before bed, you announced to me, “fine. I don’t NEED you to put me to bed!” And you went to bed in your clothes and fell promptly asleep without your shade down or your humidifier turned on.

We love you fiercely, my Alice Beans. You will always been the exclamation point on the sentence of our family.

Love,
Momma

One of my biggest struggles during the past year has been keeping a healthy perspective. All the political and social unrest coupled with a global pandemic had (ok, still has) me teetering on the brink of feeling like it’s literally the end of the world. I feel small and helpless and very afraid.

Watching Alice play and make comments about needing masks for her Barbie dolls and baby dolls makes me wonder if bringing children into this world was a good idea. The logical part of my brain says, “stop it. you had no way to know that this was going to happen.” But the very illogical (and loud, I might add) part of my brain constantly beats myself up for having children in a world with no future.

Recently, I watched a video about World War II and a Holocaust survivor mentioned feeling like it was the true end of the world. This was just days after the insurrection at the US capitol–the coverage of which I could not pull myself away from.

I have found that once or twice a day I have to sit quietly and remind myself what humanity has been through without the world ending. The waring and the disease and the famine and the floods. Events that both the survivors and the victims must have truly felt was the end of time.

Truth has been on my mind a lot lately as well. What is truth? Cortney and I watched The Social Dilema on Netflix last night, and while none of the information was that revelatory to me, it did make me see how someone’s social media timeline algorithms coupled with isolation in a pandemic would push them to come to believe certain things as fact and even to get emotionally invested as to leave their homes and act on these beliefs.

I’ve cut a lot out of my social media in the past few months. Some have accused me of creating an echo chamber of liberal views. And perhaps there is truth to that, but I don’t use social media solely for politics or debating issues. And social media is a terrible place to debate those things anyway. So I’ve made two types of cuts: people who post things that are blatantly false and refuse to admit to any fact checked corrections (because I don’t need that toxicity), and people who may not post much, but leave comments that promote misinformation.

I have also cut folks who refuse to see that there are injustices and inequities in all–ALL–systems and institutions in the United States. To be blind to the history and present-day struggle that is going on tells me that you will not be able to love my family (or me) if we are in a group of people who face oppression because you don’t believe that the oppression exists, which means you do not fully see us or value us and our lived truths not to mention those of everyone else in the world. And while I struggle mightily over my faith and what I believe, I know this: Jesus never preached hate or intolerance.

All of this rambling to say that my mental health has not been at it’s best since March 2020. I spend most of my time just trying to stay level. I haven’t felt “normal” or even “good” in months. I’ve felt like I’m either surviving, on the verge of going under, or drowning. The hardest thing for our family (and we are clearly privileged with this being the hardest thing, I know that) is the lack of in-person mental health care. Both Charlie and I struggle, but he needs to be able to sit in a room and be forced to face some things. He needs to be re-evaluated in person.

We have been doing what we can to get by, but just “getting by” wears on you after awhile.

Last week, I was able to bring a glimmer of hope that maybe there will be an end to the isolation, the lack of physical contact, and the uncertainty about when “going virtual” won’t always be looming. Last Wednesday I was given the first dose of the COVID19 vaccine.

As I waited in the line, my mind wondered if this was the beginning of the end of the pandemic, or if we were at the beginning of a long, changed reality that will always involve masks and vaccines and virtual meetings.

The logical part of my brain tells me to be postive.

The other, much LOUDER, anxiety-soaked part of my brain, struggles to stay in it’s place.

So I continue to be careful how much news I watch, who I allow in my social media, and how much quiet time I give my whole brain.

https://sluiternation.com/2021/01/13161/

What I Read: 2020

It’s been a long-standing habit of mine to post all the titles I read each year. And just because I have been a slacker with writing, does not mean I have been a slacker with reading!

My reading goal on Goodreads.com was 50 books. I read 64! Here is my list.

The ones in BOLD are the ones I recommend the most. The ones wit (F) are fiction written for adults (not kids), (YA) are young adult lit, (MG) are middle grade books, (P) are novels that are written in verse/poetry, (N) are nonfiction, (CB) are children’s books (aimed at an audience younger than middle school), and (C) are comics.

  1. The Behavior Code: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Teaching the Most Challenging Students by Jessica Minahan (N)
  2. The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson (CB)
  3. Dogman: Fetch-22 by Dav Pilkey (C, CB)
  4. The Arrival by Shaun Tan (C)
  5. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (re-read) (YA, P)
  6. A Treasury of Mother Goose by Linda Yeatman (CB)
  7. Journalism by Joe Sacco (C)
  8. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling (re-read) (MG)
  9. They Called Us Enemy by George Takei (C, N, YA)
  10. Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi (YA)
  11. The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown (C, YA)
  12. Illegal by Eoin Colfer (C MG)
  13. The Scar by Andrea Ferraris (C)
  14. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany (YA)
  15. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling (re-read) (MG)
  16. Inspector Flytrap by Tom Angelberger (CB)
  17. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (re-read) (YA)
  18. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (YA C)
  19. Speak the Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson (YA C)
  20. The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (YA C)
  21. Alpha by Bessora (C)
  22. LaGuardia by Nnedi Okorafor (C)
  23. Stamped by Jason Reynolds (read twice) (YA N)
  24. The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui (C)
  25. White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo (N)
  26. Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay (YA)
  27. The Year We Fell From Space by AS King (MG)
  28. The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan (MG)
  29. New Kid by Jerry Craft (MG C)
  30. How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X Kendi (N)
  31. The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio G. Iturbe (YA)
  32. Halsey Street by Naima Coster (F)
  33. Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan (MG)
  34. Becoming by Michelle Obama (N)
  35. This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell (MG YA N)
  36. Percy Jackson and the Titan’s Curse by Rick Riordan (MG)
  37. Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson (YA)
  38. So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijemona Oluo (N)
  39. I Crawl Through It by AS King (YA)
  40. With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo (YA)
  41. Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram (YA)
  42. Percy Jackson and the Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan (MG)
  43. Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith (YA)
  44. We Set The Dark On Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia (YA)
  45. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling (re-read) (MG)
  46. The Writing Thief by Ruth Culham (N)
  47. We Want to do More Than Survive by Bettina L. Love (N)
  48. Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson (YA)
  49. I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina (YA C)
  50. Percy Jackson and the Last Olympian by Rick Riordan (MG)
  51. Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows (CB)
  52. Engaging Students in Disciplinary Literacy:K-6 by Cynthia H. Brock (N)
  53. Internment by Samira Ahmed (YA)
  54. Ivy and Bean Take Care of the Babysitter by Annie Barrows (CB)
  55. Pet by Akwaeke Emezi (YA)
  56. Best Practices in Writing Instruction by Steve Graham (N)
  57. Ivy and Bean Break the Fossil Record by Annie Barrows (CB)
  58. Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor (YA)
  59. Ivy and Bean Doomed to Dance by Annie Barrows (CB)
  60. Ivy and Bean Bound to Be Bad by Annie Barrows (CB)
  61. Linguistic Justice: Black Language, Literacy, Identity and Pedagogy by April Baker-Bell (N)
  62. Ivy and Bean and the Ghost that Had to Go! by Annie Barrows (CB)
  63. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart (MG)
  64. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson (re-read) (CB)

You can probably tell a few things by this list:

First, I took a grad class a year ago that focused on refugee and immigrant stories as told in comics/graphic novels.

Second, I took a Multicultural YA Lit grad course in the fall.

Third, my own children got hooked on different book series for our bedtime reading.

Looking back, I personally chose only 19 of these–fewer than half–to read on my own. The rest were either chosen for me, I had to teach, or my kids requested them as read alouds.

I set my 2021 reading goal for 65 books and I am already on my second book (if you don’t count the Ivy & Bean title that Alice and I finished), so I would say that’s a pretty good start for it being just the first week of the new year!

Happy reading!

First read of 2021–SO GOOD.
Current read by a fave author

2020 in Review

It’s been four months since I published anything here. In fact, I was halfway through a post about going to the cottage with my parents in August when I saved and closed and never came back.

This semester has been grueling to say the least. In fact, I learned what my limits are for committing to things…and then I ran right past those limits. Do not recommend.

The year didn’t start as a dumpster fire though.

Charlie started piano lessons this year. He was really enjoying it, and then the world stopped. He didn’t want to do them virtually, so we waited until it was safe to go back. Then Cortney decided since he wouldn’t be bowling league this year (pandemic, you know), he would learn to play the electric guitar. So he and Charlie had back to back piano then guitar lessons. Just this month, Charlie was experiencing quite a bit of stress and decided to take a “pause” from piano until life wasn’t quite so overwhelming.

Eddie finished cub scouts this year. In February he “crossed over” from cub scout to, well, not much because he decided he didn’t want to continue on to Boys Scouts at this time. Honestly, that worked out because, well, pandemic. But we are super proud of him! He started as a Tiger cub in first grade and saw it through all the way to Arrow of Light.

Cortney recently accused me of choosing a photo of us where I looked cute and he looked gumpy, so here is one where he looks super hot and I look like a troll. Ha! At the beginning of the year, Cortney planned and arranged a sitter for us to go out on a date once a month from January through May–until school got out. This was our February date where we shopped for new bikes for Alice and Charlie’s birthdays, had dinner, and then hit up Coppercraft Distillery for drinks. That was the last time we went out. Life pretty much got cancelled after this.

Just before the world shut down in March, this kid went and turned five! Being five is such a fun time, and I felt bad that preschool and kindergarten have been different due to COVID, but she doesn’t know any different. She has been a sparkle of glittery rainbow sunshine in our lives. When she is not screaming at her older brothers.

The very next week, Charlie Bird turned eight. Eight is great! In fact, his birthday was his and his siblings’ last day of school due to COVID. My district cancelled school starting that day. So I had time to bake those Batman cupcakes!

Eddie also won the Pinewood Derby (cub scouts) for one last time. He took a trophy home every single year!

My paternal grandfather also died in March just as the pandemic was beginning to shut things down. It was one of the first funerals that couldn’t be held inside, which was Ok because my grandpa wanted a graveside funeral anyway. No one was wearing masks outside of buildings, but we were all social distancing. It was weird to not hug my family–especially my dad.

I turned forty-two at the end of March, which was only just the beginning of quarantine.

And so began the age of Zoom. We all learned how to use Zoom, Google Meet, WebEx, BlueJeans, Teams, and whatever other platform for video conferencing. With no answers as to an end to the isolation, many times we logged out of these conferences in tears wishing to connect in-person.

Cortney and I decide that the best way for us to survive quarantine is to get a Nintendo Switch with Animal Crossing: New Horizons…but not tell the kids about it. So we would play on the TV after they went to bed, or lock ourselves in our room while they were awake. This secret lasted until Labor Day when two things happened. 1) Alice saw it on the charger and when it was on TV informed her brothers that “we have one of those behind the upstairs TV,” and 2) Eddie had been saving for a Switch Lite since his birthday in June, but they had always been sold out. I saw one on Target’s website and ordered it for me (he paid us in advance) and it arrived the same day the kids asked whether or not we had a secret Switch. We were like, “What? Yes, but LOOK!”

As soon as the weather hinted at being warm enough, we tried to get outside as much as possible. Alice and Charlie had new bikes and, well, we were incredibly sick of being on top of each other in the house. The fresh air and exercise was exactly what we needed each day!

The spring was really hard on my mental health (and that of my family, but I can only speak for myself here). I got incredibly depressed and felt very lost and purposeless once my grad class wrapped up in April. We had switched to a sort of virtual holding pattern for school where each week teachers posted work for students to do, but if they didn’t do it, it wasn’t going to hurt their grade. This ended up feeling like a struggle to keep my own kids doing something academic each day, but it was torture as a teacher. We didn’t have required meetings, so I wasn’t even seeing my students via video conferencing. I started to lament the fact that the libraries had all closed and my students had nothing to read. I didn’t understand how others could suddenly read all the things or write all the things or create all the things when I couldn’t hardly get out of bed. There felt like there was no reason.

Then YOU all showed up. When I stated on social media that the only way my students could all have books was they were gifted, you gifted them. You paid for postage and bought books. I wrapped each book carefully, wrote a personal note for each one, and mailed them out.

Working from home all together had some benefits, I suppose.

I started a little hobby during all this isolation: crafting cocktails. I started by looking up recipes, but ended up making them my own way. It’s been pretty fun!

Alice finished preschool! She loved being in the Fish Room with Mrs. Y. It was so sad that it had to finish virtually, but we were super blessed to have our last kid have such a fun year.

Charlie finished 2nd grade and Eddie completed 5th grade. They were able to pick up their things from their desks/lockers at the end of May.

Eddie officially “graduated” from elementary school in June. We celebrated with…dinner at home, of course. But we also bought him a watch since being a middle schooler comes with new responsibilities.

We are rule followers. The only person to leave our house from March-June was Cortney. And even that wasn’t super often since he mainly worked from home and we ordered our groceries via Shipt. We had one other family we decided to “bubble” with. We spent a few nights chatting with them–both of us disclosing every place any of us had been, and we decided to connect our bubbles. BEST. DECISCION. EVER. Thanks to them, we were able to have fun with friends during the summer. Lots of pool party fun.

Black Lives Matter.

Cortney and I had planned to spend our 15th anniversary in Las Vegas since I was confirmed to present at the Summit on Young Adult Literature at UNLV. That did not happen, because COVID. I still presented, but from our bedroom.

June means PRIDE!

This is the photo Cortney says I look cute in and he does not. I blame the pandemic hair and fully shaved face he is rocking. But he is still cute. And this was our 15th anniversary date–a boat ride on his brother’s boat complete with dinner and drinks put together by our sister-in-law. We had not been on a date since February. And we have not been on a date since this evening.

My first baby turned eleven this summer. The change from elementary to middle school kid floors me. He is so much more grown up even now from this summer. There are definitely hints of surly tween that surfaces, but overall, I am really enjoying who this kid is becoming. He makes me happy.

Again, so thankful to be blessed with friends who could be in our bubble with us. Our summer was full of fun and laughter because of them!

We got rid of the Saturn and upgraded my ride to a Traverse named Trevor.

Again, thankful for friends who quarantine and then invite us to socially distance outside so the kids can swim and explore the lake they happen to live on. This was July and also the last time I saw this friend due to COVID.

Oh, and we cannot forget about all of Charlie’s business endeavors this summer. This child did everything from the classic lemonade stand to trying to sell art he and his sister create and bracelets they made. He created an imaginary Bird Blog where he would pretend to take photos of birds around the subdivision and write about them on an imaginarily blog. He created a real newspaper called The Good News that he would draw and write and then run copies of on our printer. He then delivered it to all the neighbors. They loved it!

Oh and we did go up north to Pentwater with my parents. As you can probably tell from this photo, the cottage is very socially distanced from all the things. We interacted with no one except each other for the three days we were away.

The end of summer brought new, different beginnings. Alice started Kindergarten in the Zebra Room at the elementary school where Charlie goes to school, and where Eddie used to go to school. She LOVES being a school kid!

Charlie started the 3rd grade. There are many, many things I could write about in regards to Charlie and school and mental health, but they are all his stories, not mine, to tell.

Eddie started middle school this year! This has been a much bigger change than any of us anticipated. It’s not just a change of school buildings; it’s taking 6 classes with 6 teachers instead of one teacher and a different special each day. It’s homework. It’s real grades. It’s band and learning the trombone. It’s making new friends. It’s learning time management. Eddie has had some missteps, but overall he is really doing a great job with this transition from “big kid” to “tween kid”.

As I mentioned, Cortney started guitar lessons this summer. At first he borrowed a guitar and amp from my younger brother to start and make sure it was something he really wanted to do. He loves learning guitar, so this fall he bought his own Les Paul and amp. It’s so fun to hear him practice familiar songs!

Setting up my classroom was a bit different this school year. My district started with two weeks of remote learning before going in-person. Normally my classroom is a place of collaboration and group work. Not so, this year. I had to spread out the desks in rows, we masked up, and we made do. It’s not ideal, but we all agree that being in-person is much better for learning than being remote–which is what we are currently doing.

This fall we had two soccer players in the house. Even with the mask rules, Charlie and Alice were able to have their seasons. It was SO good for both of them. It was Alice’s first season and while she may not be super competitive, she had a lot of fun learning the game. Charlie loved getting better and playing to win! He is a soccer player like his dad and uncle and Papa!

Charlie also took an interest in the kitchen this year. He has always been my little baking helper, but this school year he started taking home cookbooks from the school library. This is when he made meatballs for our spaghetti dinner. He also made different pizzas. Over break he brought home a “mayonnaise” cookbook. I admit I haven’t even cracked that one open because…ew.

Halloween was different this year, of course. For one it was a beautiful day/evening and it was a Saturday. But we couldn’t gather together at Cortney’s mom’s house like we usually do. The kids still did a little trick or treating with masks on and to houses that had “take your own” style candy bags set up. Eddie was Link from The Legend of Zelda, Charlie was Robin Hood, and Alice was Elsa…again. This could be the last year all three dress up. I know we are on borrowed time now with Eddie.

This semester I overcommitted myself in a HUGE way. Of course teaching middle school during a pandemic is its own set of crazy, but on top of that I took two grad courses (instead of the one I usually take per semester) and taught an undergrad course (all online). So I had around 100 8th graders and 21 undergrads. Plus I had my own coursework for two classes. While I am grateful that having the assistantship Fall semester allowed me to knock three requirements off of my PhD program rather than just one, I will NOT do that again. I wasn’t able to give my best self to anything, and more often than not I felt like a giant failure to myself and those around me. I did get A’s in both of my grad courses (although I do feel that both my professors were being generous), and all of my undergrads passed my course. My 8th graders struggled when we switched to remote learning before Thanksgiving, and their struggles caused me a lot of distress as a teacher wanted to give them the best chances and opportunities for success. Luckily, my friends had my back. My BFF sent me the mug in the photo above because she is the best, duh. And I survived the semester!

Every November, just before Thanksgiving, I hop a plane (or sometimes drive) to wherever the annual NCTE and ALAN conferences are being held. I’ve been to Atlanta (2016), St. Louis (2017), Houston (2018), and Baltimore (2019). This year it was supposed to be in Denver, so Cortney and I had arranged for us to both go since his best friend lives in Denver and we had never been there before. We were going to be gone for almost a week! It was going to be so fun! He could hang out with Mat, I would present and do my conference things, and we would also have time to double-date and see the sights with Mat and Shawna. Then COVID cancelled that too. While I didn’t do NCTE this year (it was virtual, but I chose not to spend the money or time for that), I still attended the ALAN conference virtually. My kids were home doing remote learning, and we had the genius idea to have the upstairs floors ripped out and replaced. So Cortney took Alice to his office and set her up away from anyone else to do kindergarten there. Eddie set up shop in the boys’ room. Charlie and I shared the toy/family room. It was…interesting.

Speaking of those new floors…they turned out GREAT! The entire upstairs (except for the bathroom) is this darkish wood vinyl. The only drawback we have found is how LOUD things are when you drop them now and how many crumbs we see everywhere. We also ordered new living room furniture, but with the pandemic, it won’t be here until February or March.

Just like everything this year, Thanksgiving was different too. In a normal year, we would have gone to Cortney’s mom and step-dad’s house with his siblings and their spouses and kids. Then in the evening we would have stopped at my parents’ house where my brothers and their wives and kids would be and play Bingo. None of that happened this year. Instead, I made an entire Thanksgiving dinner for the first time, and we had way too much food, but it was nice. We missed family, and would rather have been together, but this didn’t suck.

My sweetie turned forty-two in December. This is the first year I neglected to blog his birthday. I neglected a lot of stuff this past semester. Even though I couldn’t take him out, I made him brownies from scratch and we sang and he got gifts and I think he had a good day. I hope so because he deserves it!

The advent season was, you guessed it, different too. Usually Alice and I join the other aunts and girl cousins on Cort’s side to have a baking day with Cortney’s mom. And there is typically a Saturday or Sunday in December where my side of the family gets together at my parents’ house to celebrate Cortney and our nephew Jack’s birthdays and decorate Christmas cookies. None of those things could happen as usual. Instead, Cortney’s mom had each family over individually to bake some treats, and I sucked it up and made cut-out Christmas cookies at home with just my kids (I hate making these cookies). My mom came over to sample them on her own. I also baked two treats each day the week of Christmas leading up to Christmas Eve to make up for the lack of treats they kids would have at Christmas parties with their grandparents that would not take place.

And of course, celebrating Christmas was much quieter and different this year. I cried three times on Christmas Eve watching my nephews and nieces opening their gifts from us via Marco Polo. We watched Elf as a family–the first time for all of us. We were able to spend some time with my parents without my brothers and their families (my mom hosted all three families individually with the option to mask if we wanted).

And last night we said goodbye to 2020.

In 2021 I hope to make better, healthier choices for both my mental and physical well-being.

I hope to go on a date or three with my husband.

I hope we all get the vaccine.

I hope to finish my PhD coursework and move on to preparing for my comprehensive exams.

I hope to have a meal with all my siblings and their families.

I hope to hug my brothers and sisters-in-law and nieces and nephews and parents and parents-in-law.

I hope to find a better way for Charlie.

I hope to see my best friend in person.

I hope to hug Cortney’s Gram.

I hope to leave Michigan safely.

I hope YOU have more good than poop in 2021.