Category Archives: motherhood

Trials, tribulations and WTF of parenting

Wildcard Wednesday: travel souvenirs

souvenirsAny time I travel anywhere without my kids, their inevitable first question upon my return is not: How are you? What did you see? Did you miss us? No, their first question is the same universal one uttered by kids all around the globe: What did you bring us?

On my most recent trip to the UK, this particular question was a bit more specific, although just as insistent as usual: Did you bring me my wand?

Much to my delight (and my instigation), both of my kids LOVE the Harry Potter series. My son, who is 11, and I have read the first 5 books together. We started this tradition when he was 7 with the first book. My son is a very advanced reader. He was no doubt capable of reading and mostly understanding all seven of the books back in first grade when we started the first book. However, I knew he wasn’t even remotely emotionally ready for the series and so we took our time, each reading a page for 15-20 minutes at bedtime. It took us quite awhile to get through that first book, but it was perfect. He never lost interested, in fact, he was enthralled until the end. When we finished it, I let him reread the first book as many times as he wanted to. We repeated this when he was 8 with the Chamber of Secrets. At 9 we moved on to the Prisoner of Azkaban.

I’ll admit I was quite worried about what the Goblet of Fire would bring when he hit 10. He was stunned at the death scene, but since we read it together, we were able to talk through it. We did the same with The Order of the Phoenix, although the talk took a bit longer as I spent quite a bit more time crying than he did.

As he gets older and is more emotionally ready to deal with the content of the books, I have decided to step up our reading of the books. I’m going to hand over The Half Blood Prince this fall when he starts sixth grade instead of making him wait until February.

My daughter, who is 8, however, is still only on the second book. Unlike my son, she still truly believes in the magical world and is very concerned with the prospect of being a muggle. Although I have tried to tell her they are just books, I don’t think she believes me. She refuses to believe that Hogwarts is not a real place, so I finally had to tell her that she won’t get her letter because she is not British. For now it seems to have done the trick. She no longer asks why her brother hasn’t gotten his letter AND she has stopped asking when exactly she’ll get hers.

It was no surprise to me that when she realized I was actually going to the UK that she’d ask me to bring her back something Harry Potter related. After all, she knew I’d already visited Platform 9 3/4 once and when she asked if I’d be going back, I wasn’t going to lie to her.

Knowing where I was going, she made her request: a wand. And a spell book. After all, what good is a wand if there are no spells to go with it?

My son was less sure of what he wanted until he looked at the Platform 9 3/4 shop website and saw a copy of the Marauder’s Map. That was what he wanted.

I’d visited the shop at Platform 9 3/4 three years ago and knew wands were not cheap. I just happened to be looking around on the WISH app and found Harry Potter’s wand for under $10, so I bought it. Sure, it took several weeks for it to arrive, but I ordered it in plenty of time. I also ordered her a spell book off of Amazon. For less than the cost of one wand in the UK, which I would have to pack in my luggage and bring back home, I got her a wand and a spell book. I hid them away, told my husband where to find them and had him bring them to the airport when he picked me up. As I was loading my bag into the back of his vehicle, I slipped the wand and book into my suitcase so that I could open it later and surprise my daughter.

And she was ecstatic!

We were a bit less ecstatic when all through dinner she tried to cast spells on us. She couldn’t understand why her new wand was not working quite the way she hoped it would. I was VERY sleep deprived after being up for 20 hours straight, but managed to remind her that she was only 8, and hadn’t actually been taught how to do the spells yet. I reminded her that even Hermoine needed a little help. She was pretty ok with that, especially when I jumped in my seat a bit when she tried to levitate me. Yes, I know, that will probably come back to bite me in the end, but I’m not quite ready to destroy her sense of wonder yet.

My kids loved their souvenirs and I loved not having to pay full price for them, especially since hers were available in the states. I did get my kids some inexpensive UK specific items. I got them some fun candies we don’t have in the US. I got them really need multi-colored pencils from a Scottish art museum. I got them buttons from a castle, a bookmark from Oxford and cool scene changing postcards from a Harry Potter store I found in York. All told, those souvenirs rang up to less than 10 pounds.

It’s not that I’m cheap, but my kids already have so much. I like to see their faces when I bring them something from my travels, but I also hate spending hours and hours searching for the one thing they really want when I can just order it ahead of time and have it waiting. I learned that lesson four years ago when I went to Vegas with my best friend and my son wanted a scorpion encased in plastic/glass for his bug collection. He figured Vegas was in the dessert, so this would be an easy find. I agreed. Turns out I spent a good portion of the trip trying to find it and finally, in one of the last stores we visited, which was completely off the strip, I found one. Too much work for something that sits on his shelf. So now, if I can order ahead, I do.

 

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Chocolate Monday: The Cake Shop (Oxford)

Oxford cakes.jpgOne of my absolute favorite parts of traveling is trying new types of chocolate. I just got back from the UK on Thursday and I wish I could say the majority of my souvenirs were not of the edible variety, but alas, I spent more on chocolate goodies than on anything else. In all fairness, this was my 5th visit to the UK and I’m not someone who wears t-shirts or sweatshirts very often nor am I someone who collects shot glasses or random tchotchkes of Stonehenge or Stratford or Edinburgh Castle…no matter how cool I may find the actual places.

Instead I spent my money on a few Harry Potter gifts for my children, magnets for my classroom whiteboard (I’m always in need of them) and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.

making cakes in OxfordOne of the coolest chocolate stops I made was at the Cake Shop in Oxford. When I set out to look for fun and unique chocolate treats in the UK, I was thinking more along the lines of candy bars, truffles and cookies. The idea of buying a cake never crossed my mind. That is until I saw the absolutely adorable cakes on display in the window of this shop. I knew I had to have one.

The shop, which is located inside The Oxford Covered Market, had about 100 small square cakes on display. Some of them were extremely elaborate like the ones in the picture at the top of this post. I really, really wanted to buy that octopus cake in my picture, but knew there was no way I would want to eat all that fondant. Fondant may be beautiful, but it is not tasty. Most of the truly gorgeous small cakes for sale were also English fruit cakes. Try as I might, I have never been able to develop a taste for fruitcake. My grandmother, who was a disaster in the kitchen at anything except desserts, made fruit cake every year. Every year I would try it and while others raved about how good it was, I couldn’t stomach it. So, despite really wanting one of those beautiful designs, I had to make another choice.

close up Oxford CakeThey had simpler sponge cakes that just had expressions like “It’s a boy!” or “Happy Birthday” on them. I didn’t want an occasion cake though. Luckily for me, there were also blank sponge cakes in chocolate and vanilla available for sale. There was also a whole shelf full of fondant decorations that could be added onto any cake. My choice was easy: a chocolate sponge cake with an adorable book (in green, my favorite color) and a sunflower. It might not have been the cutest cake they made, but it was one I thought I might actually like.

 

I didn’t get to eat the cake right away. We had some VERY long days on our tour of London and I actually didn’t get to eat the cake until the morning we left for home. Yes, that’s right, I ate the cake for breakfast. My students laughed at me, especially after I teased one for eating sushi for breakfast, but I didn’t care. It’s not the first time I’ve eaten cake for breakfast and it will not be the last I’m sure.

The cake itself was moist. It had a layer of chocolate cream on the inside that was rich and delicious. Since it was covered in fondant, it did take a bit away from the taste of itself. It was lovely to look at, but it was mostly just a bit of chewy tastelessness. Although when it was eaten with the cake, it was fine and actually tempered some of the sugaryness of the cake. Still, I ended up sort of picking the cake out from under the fondant and leaving a rather large chunk of fondant on the cake board. I ate the sunflower, but not the book. I wanted to, I really did, but instead I pawned it off on a student. Even she could only eat part of it.

I’m glad I took the chance on this little cake because it was a truly fun experience, but it was a bit pricey. My cake ended up costing about $12.50, which was definitely a fair price for the artistry that went into the cake, but since the artistry was all fondant, it’s not a price I would pay again.

Overall:

Taste: 6/10
Appearance: 10/10
Value: 7/10

 

 

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Throwback Thursday: Creepy dolls

all the dollsOne of my favorite things about going to visit my nana was her collection of porcelain dolls. I was obsessed with them. They decorated just about every room of her house. Every summer when I went to visit my grandparents, I found myself hanging out in the formal living room with the dolls. Not that I was really allowed to touch most of them. They were antiques after all. I was, however, allowed to sit in the room with them and make up names and elaborate stories for them.

terrifying dollsHave you figured out that there wasn’t much to do at my grandparents’ house? My grandparents were older than pretty much everyone else’s. Although my parents had had me in their very early 20’s (my mom was 20 when I was born), my grandparents didn’t adopt my mom until they were in their late 30’s. Even when my mom was a kid, toys had not been a priority for them. My mom was allowed to play with dolls, although “play” might not be the correct word as many of her dolls were very delicate and appeared to be there more for display than play. She did have a collection of Barbies that my nana kept for me to play with, but aside from a very out of tune tiny toy piano, and three baby dolls made of plastic (including the one on the left, which was known as “Kissie” because you could squeeze her cheeks to make her kiss you–just imagine this heading toward your face), the Barbies were the only toys I was really able to enjoy. Sure, I could bring my own toys, but as I was only at their house because I was visiting my dad for the summer, I didn’t even have tons of toys from his house I could bring with me.

intense stare dollThankfully what I did have was a very active imagination and a penchant for making up stories. Even with my own toys, I much preferred the elaborate back stories and plays I made up for them than I did having to play along with other kids. My Barbies, Cabbage Patch Kids and baby dolls all had intricate family relationships (with my other toys), jobs, hobbies, talents, etc. The hours I spent at home with my own toys helped me during those times I had no choice but to play on my own and truly create hours of entertainment for myself. A less creative child in that environment would have gone crazy.

But I LOVED those dolls. All of them.

As I grew older, and my nana did too, her ability to care for her precious antiques began to wane. The dolls, which had once been meticulously cared for, including regular cleaning and rotation so they didn’t get sun damaged, were neglected. It’s not that my nana no longer cared about her collections, but more that she was unable to really care for them. In her last decade of life, I’m not actually sure how often she even made it back to the formal living room where the majority of her dolls resided. Not that her house was huge, but her mobility was so limited that she rarely did more than go from bed to the the living room, with occasional stops in the bathroom or kitchen when really needed. And since she never made it back to the living room, I don’t think any of her many, many cleaning ladies did either. Why bother if the boss won’t see it?

creepy lighting dollAs a result, over the last decade I’ve watched the dolls I grew up loving and sort of playing with slowly morph into creatures from horror films.  I think the first time I saw the transition was when I introduced my husband to my nana. Although she wasn’t really up for it, I gave him the “grand tour” of the house, spending extra time in the living room and telling him how much time I used to spend playing with the dolls. He gave me a dubious look.

“Really?” he asked. “You played in here? Why? These things are awful.”

 

At first I figured it was a rather typical reaction by a guy who’d never known the joy of playing with dolls. But, as I looked a bit closer, I started to see that it wasn’t my husband who had a warped sense of childhood imagination. It was my beloved dolls that were warping.

The damage wasn’t quite enough to change my love for them though. After all, I had spent so many hours of my childhood with them that I could ignore a few flaws. As my children came along and got old enough to listen to me and keep their hands off, I showed them the dolls as well. My son thought they were strange, but much like me, my daughter liked them. She wanted to play with them, but I reminded her they were delicate and she was not allowed to. To my great surprise, my nana actually gave her one of the dolls that was still in pretty good shape. It was dressed in a blue crocheted sweater that was not exactly clean, but the doll itself was lacking any major damage. My daughter cleverly named him Blue Baby. He now resides on a high shelf in her room, but I do take him down and let her play with him from time to time.

doll with cracked faceThe rest the dolls, however, were starting to develop serious damage from years of neglect and exposure to the sun. I’m sure the fact that some of them were already over 100 years old probably didn’t help. But many of them were literally cracking up. I mentioned this fact to two of my friends, who happen to be sisters, as we were out to dinner one night. We were all talking about aging parents and grandparents. She replied that she’d always found antique dolls creepy. I was surprised considering how much I’d loved them and even collected porcelain dolls myself as a kid (although they were not antique or of any real value–we got them at swap meets).

The next time I was at my nana’s house, I snapped a few pictures of some of her more degraded dolls and texted them to my friends. One of my friends loved how creepy they were and begged for more pictures. Her sister, however, sent me emojis with horrified expressions and begged me to stop giving her nightmares.

doll with receeding hairAfter that, it became a kind of game. I’d look for the creepiest of my nana’s dolls and text them to all of my friends. The creepier the doll, the better the responses. One friend told me if my nana was ever looking to get rid of them (which I knew she would never do as she still saw them as valuable), she’d like them to put out in her yard for Halloween. Another wondered if my nana’s house might have a secret opening into the gates of hell–I told her it would explain the constant smell of sulfur (her house is supplied with water from an old well). My doll texts and posts on FB became a source of great amusement and horror to my friends and family.

When I sent one of the texts to my friend who finds the dolls the most horrifying, she was appalled as it looked like the doll’s brains were coming out. It was actually just a wig separating badly from the doll, but when I looked at the picture again, I too saw something straight out of a zombie movie.

wind up crawling babyIt’s sad to see beloved memories of my childhood disintegrating. With my nana’s recent passing, the fate of the dolls gets even sadder. While I did love them in my childhood, I have no place for them in my life. Even if they were in good shape, my house just isn’t one where antiques fit in. Even her antique furniture, some of which my husband really likes, would look odd in our house. And we are definitely not a display kind of house, so even her few dolls that are in decent shape, can’t find a space here. Much to my daughter’s dismay, we’ll have to make due with just hosting Blue Baby.

 

Thankfully after my nana died, my mom had a company come in to take everything we didn’t want out of the house–separating into a junk pile headed for the garbage and a sale pile heading for an auction. This meant that I was saved from having to actually deny my daughter the ability to bring any of the dolls home. This was definitely important to me as one of her most coveted items was what I can only describe as baby weeping angels. I’m actually not sure which I am more terrified by, the grown up ones in the Whoniverse or baby ones I found sitting on my nana’s back patio.

I’ll let you be the judge.

weeping angels

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Wildcard Wednesday: New kitten

turnipI had my darling cat Olivia for nearly 20 years. I got her for my 22nd birthday. She was the perfect gift to go with my first real grown up apartment (technically a townhouse) and my first real grown up job teaching English.

She was an amazingly precious kitten who used to play the most adorable game of “fetch” with this tiny stuffed green frog my sister bought me. She’d use her paws to push the frog into position. Then, she’d run behind something and prepare herself to pounce on the helpless stuffed creature. Once she had it, she’d sort of get it between her front two paws, almost like a toddler grasping a toy between her hands, and carry it for a foot or two. She’d wrestle it for a few minutes, snap it up with her mouth and bring it to me. Then she’d wait patiently for me to pet her, praise her and throw the frog across the room so she could start the hunt all over again.

Although her health had been in a fairly steady decline over the last two years, she finally reached a point where she was in a lot of pain and her back legs basically stopped working, so we decided to put her to sleep. It was a very hard day for all of us. My daughter, who is mildly autistic, had a particularly hard time with it. Over the past year, my daughter had taken to kind of babying Olivia. Although she never picked her up (Olivia no longer liked to be picked up), my daughter would sit next to her on the couch, baby talk her and just carefully pet her. She must have had 100 pictures of the cat on her school iPad. Actually, it was probably way more as her teacher kept making her delete them to free up space. My daughter was a bit lost without Olivia.

A few months later, my husband and I started discussing the possibility of getting a new kitten, mostly for our daughter. We thought helping to care for the kitten might be a good learning experience for our daughter and since the kitten would be added to a house where my daughter already existed, she wouldn’t have to get used to my daughter’s behavior like Olivia did…a new kitten wouldn’t know any other life.

So, one Saturday when my husband was at work, I checked our local Humane Society’s website. Sure enough, they had some kittens who had recently arrived at the shelter. I loaded up the kids and we went just to have a look.

Turnip #2A look…who was I kidding? The second we got in the building and saw those tiny bundles of fur, we were all in love. One of them was a grey and black striped kitty. I won’t lie, when I looked at the website and saw her name was Hermione, she was my immediate favorite. I thought my daughter might really love having a kitten named after one of her favorite literary characters (well, Hermione or Junie B. Jones). But my daughter hardly glanced at that striped cutie, which was probably for the best as someone who arrived minutes before us was already snuggling her and had asked about adopting her. In fact, all four of the kittens were adopted in less than an hour.

My daughter was immediately drawn to a quiet little white kitten near the back of the multi-level cat cage. She had beautiful ice blue eyes and a pale tan bit of fur over her left ear that also had an even tinier bit of black on it. She was so tiny and so sweet looking. Unlike her two siblings, who were meowing quite a bit, she seemed content just to sort of hang out and look at the world. My daughter desperately wanted to hold her. She asked the lady in charge if she could and was told only if we were serious about adopting. I assured her we were and in moments, we were holding Turnip.

Turnip was the name she was given at the shelter. Her siblings (one boy and one girl) were called Cabbage and Radish. Both were cute, but my daughter has a great eye because little Turnip was the best of the bunch.

It only took a few minutes to get the initial request in and about ten minutes later, we were back in a cubicle discussing the adoption process. My daughter was not at all happy that we had to give Turnip back while we talked to the adoption counselor, but we repeatedly promised her no one else would be able to take Turnip while we were away from her. It didn’t stop my daughter from asking about her every few minutes. And we were back in that cubicle for quite some time. I totally get it. I don’t think any shelter should just hand a cat off to just anyone off the street. They wanted to do some checking in to us. I didn’t actually think we’d even be able to take the kitten home that day. I figured we’d have to at least wait overnight which is why I didn’t bring a carrier with me.

Imagine my surprise when we were told we could take her home less than an hour later. I ended up buying a cardboard carrier as I knew there was no way my daughter was going to let me go home to get ours, no matter how many times everyone assured her Turnip would be there when we came back. She was not taking any chances.

I sent my husband pictures (which were not good as she would not stay still) and he was not impressed. He thought she looked sickly. Even though he’d agreed we could get a kitten, he was far more hesitant than I was. He loves cats, but he wasn’t sure he was ready for 20 more years of litter box cleaning. We already have another cat, Bob, who is 8, very fat and has a real attitude with me. When he got home, he went in and peaked at Turnip in the guest room. That was all it took. He was smitten. He came back and asked when he could hold her (I’d quarantined her in the guest room to help her acclimate). I told him he could go back in when she woke up and he was there the very second she did. He played with her and fell in love (I knew he would). He babies her more than anyone else in the family.

turnip in basketWe’ve had Turnip for about a month now (my daughter decided she loved the name and I agreed). My daughter scoops her up just like a baby and Turnip sort of rolls her eyes and takes it. She lets my daughter push her around in a doll stroller. She lets my daughter give her raspberry kisses. She humors my daughter and all of her little attempts at mothering the kitten. Not that she knows much else, but it’s sweet.

Turnip is an amazing addition to our family and I am so glad we brought her home. Although since we haven’t had a kitten in about 15 years (Bob was my dad’s cat and was 3 when he came to live with us), I’d forgotten how crazy kittens are. She attacks my feet pretty much every chance she gets. She loves when I wear maxi dresses (which I do several times a week), because she sneaks under them so that she can bat at the hem when I walk, which means I trip over her constantly. She loves when I refill my water cup and constantly tries to knock it off the water cooler shelf. She meeps every single morning and evening when she wants her wet food and will not stop until her bowl is placed in front of her (although it is about the only time she meows at all). She terrorizes Bob; she is enthralled by his tail. It cracks me up and has actually made him attack me like 75% less. Granted, she’s now attacking me, but mostly just my toes and she’s yet to draw blood.

Turnip is our sweet little furry vegetable.

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Wild card Wednesday: Wicked

WickedFor as long as I can remember, I have been a Broadway baby. Musicals are, without a doubt, one of my favorite forms of entertainment. I think it started with the Muppet Movie, which came out when I was an itty bitty child and it has grown from there. I don’t care if it started on the stage or as a movie, if it’s a musical, there is a good chance I love it.

My true love of musicals really hit when I was getting ready to enter 2nd grade and the movie Annie came out. I was enthralled. I had everything Annie–the soundtrack, the sticker books, the dolls…I even had an Annie outfit (which we scrapped together at Goodwill) because when I was in second grade, I was in an elementary musical pageant where we mostly did group numbers, but I was chosen as one of four girls to play orphans in a bit which consisted of four songs from Annie. We all sang and did a choreographed number to “It’s the Hard Knock Life.” One of the Tiffany’s (yes, there were two chosen) sang “Tomorrow,” Melissa got to sing “Maybe” and I got to sing “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile.” The fourth girl (and second Tiffany) did not get a solo. It was during this moment that my true passion for musicals was developed and I’ve never looked back.

I’d read the book Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire in early 2000. I actually read Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister first. My best friend had gotten a copy from the Half Price Books where she worked and I’d liked it, so I checked out Wicked shortly after. While I wouldn’t call it great literature by any stretch, I thought the retelling to make with witch a sympathetic character was quite entertaining.

When Wicked premiered on Broadway, I heard about it, but the closest the first national tour got to me was Chicago and at that point I’d just moved back to Indiana and didn’t have the time or money to go. I did, however, get a copy of the original Broadway recording and by the time I actually saw my first production of the show in 2009, I knew every song by heart.

Wicked 2I saw the second national tour of the show in Indianapolis at the Murat. Although I’d purchased tickets up in the nose bleed section with two of my co-workers, my best friend heard about the Wicked Lottery and  we’d figure we’d give it a try. At worst, it meant we’d get to hang out downtown for a few hours and have a fun lunch together. At best, not only would we get to hang out and have lunch, but we’d have really close seats for only $25 each. It must have been my lucky day, because mine was the second name drawn and within the hour my best friend and I were sitting in the second row, so close we could actually see the actors spitting as they sang. I’ll admit this was a bit gross, but it also gave me a rather spectacular view of Fiyero, who was played by Colin Donnell. I had no idea who he was at that point, but I knew he was super handsome.

When my co-workers and I saw the play the next week from the far balcony, at first I couldn’t convince them just how cute Donnell was. However, on our way back to our car after getting a late lunch/early dinner after the show, we ran into Donnell and Tom McGowan (of Frasier fame) who played the Wizard enjoying some food at an outdoor table at a local pizza joint. I had a total fan girl moment, but luckily one of my friends kept her cool and asked if she could get a picture with us. They kindly obliged (and signed my program). It was awesome!

Imagine my surprise when a few years later I saw Donnell turn up not only on the briefly lived Pan Am but also as Tommy Merlin on Arrow. Interestingly enough, I met John Barrowman at Comic Con one year and so I have pictures of myself with both Tommy and Malcolm Merlin…but that’s another story.

I went to see Wicked a few years later when it returned to Indy. This time I saw it with a former student who was also obsessed with the show. My son, who was 5 at the time really wanted to go see it with us. Due to my obsession with the soundtrack, when he was three, he too fell in love with it. It was so adorable to sing a duet of “Defying Gravity” with my young son. At one point, he said to me, “Momma, this song is about gravity.” When I confirmed it was, he replied, “I like gravity songs!” I chuckled and asked him if he knew what gravity was. “It’s what holds us on the earth.” I was amazed at my brilliant boy and we sang even louder. Even though my son wanted to see the show, I thought he was a bit young, so I told him I’d take him when he was 8.

Unfortunately, it was not until this year that the show made another stop in Indianapolis. But, it meant that since both my kids were a bit older, I got to take them both. We actually got to see the very last show of the run, on Mother’s Day. It was absolutely glorious. Not only were my kids very well-behaved despite the late hour (they are usually in bed by 8:30 and we didn’t get home until an hour later), they both loved it. My son actually said it was better than two full weeks at Disney World (not that he’d know). They both loved seeing all the bits of plot that connect the songs. They knew all the words by heart, but they hadn’t understood why those songs existed and how the characters were really connected.

They left the theater with a renewed love for the show and for about three weeks, all we listened to in the car was the Wicked soundtrack. Each time my kids would recount details from the show to me, which I loved. I love seeing them as excited about live theater as I am. I’d taken them to a few of the shows my high school put on (Beauty and the Beast, Seussical the Musical and Cinderella), but this was their first real exposure to Broadway theater and they were enthralled.

When I asked my daughter, who is already adores Annie after only seeing the movie if she wanted to see the stage show at a local dinner theater, I got a very enthusiastic (and loud) YES! Even my son, who I was worried might be too old for it, also nodded his head frantically.

I love that I have a set of Broadway babies!

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Teaching Tuesday: Senior gifts

When I first started teaching 20 years ago, I was at a very small public school. It was a university laboratory school, so there was a cap on enrollment that never changed. In addition to educating students, the school also existed to help educate future teachers. Every year a cavalcade of wanna be teachers would tromp through my classroom during their practicums. Some were there for only a few weeks, while others spent two months with me. Some had to teach only a handful of lessons and some had to teach for two or three solid weeks.

Since we had to supervise not only teenage students but also adult ones, class sizes were limited to make the job more manageable. There were only 40 kids in each grade and since I taught both of the 9th grade English classes, at some point, I had every single student before they graduated. Actually, I had each of them at least twice. For awhile I also taught some middle school classes, so I had some of them four times.

I was also the drama director at this school and we did three plays every year. Since the school was actually a K-12, I did a few big musicals with elementary kids, so I got to know some of those kids really well. My first group of kids who tried out for my very first play when they were in 7th grade (I directed A Midsummer Night’s Dream for middle schoolers), were with me for 6 years, with most of them being involved in every show I directed, either on stage or behind it.

I really knew those kids.

When they graduated, I got invited to open houses. A LOT of open houses. Back then I had no kids, lived very close to the school and had a lot of free time. I went to just about every open house. And why not? For the price of a small gift or card, I got to eat really good food and spend an hour (or two) with students (and parents) I had come to truly love. Since I was usually invited to about 20 open houses a year, I had several weekends where I didn’t have to do any cooking at all.

At the time, my best friend worked at Half Price Books, so I would go there the weekend before open houses, grab books for each kid that was graduating and use her employee discount to get even better deals. I would then write a personalized note to each kid graduating inside the book. It was a lot of work, but totally worth it.

When I came to my new school, I gave up drama and started advising the newspaper (I have a degree in journalism and English). I loved my newspaper kids, but there were only about a dozen kids on staff and since I taught all 9th and 10th graders, the first year I taught, I only got invited to three open houses. Since I was still kid-free, even though I now lived 45 minutes from school, I still went to each open house and still came with a personally inscribed book in hand.

Over the years, my teaching duties and my life, have changed significantly. My newspaper staff has grown, and this year, over half of my staff was made up of seniors (next year will be a MAJOR rebuilding year). In addition, I now teach almost entirely seniors and since I have nearly all of my AP kids for two years in a row, I once again get to know my seniors really well. This year I was invited to a record 28 open houses.

There was no way I could go. Now I have kids of my own and still live 45 minutes from school. Not to mention that even if I only spend $5 a book, that’s $140 on graduation gifts. I love my students, but that is a bit much. Not to mention that if I went to one, I’d feel obligated to go to all, and that would mean about 4 solid weekends without seeing my own kids much, which doesn’t seem fair to anyone.

So, I’ve altered things a bit. Instead of getting books for every senior and going to all of the open houses, I have limited myself to just getting books for my senior newspaper students. Since I spend a concentrated bit of time with them every single day and the class is more relaxed, I get to know them in a much more personal way.

Now we have a giant pitch-in where I give every kid an award that highlights something great or funny they did during the school year, I announce my editors for next year and I give all of my seniors inscribed books chosen specifically for them.

This year our “banquet” was a bit last minute. I’d had a few deaths in my family and my life was topsy-turvy at the end of the year. I did not get to do the planning I usually do for our end of the year party and I felt terrible about it. However, I refused to skimp when it came to my seniors. I still went to Half Price Books and used my teacher discount to get books for them all (it only came to $60!). When I gave them out, I couldn’t help but notice a few tears as they read my messages. There were tons of hugs. It was our last day of newspaper and I was definitely sad to see them go.

Each year there are always a few seniors I am THRILLED to see leave, but there are so many more I know that I will miss in August when they aren’t sitting in my classroom.

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Free Reading Friday: Look Me In the Eye

look me in the eyeOne of my students lent me Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by John Elder Robison to read. She wanted to read it for a non-fiction project in my AP Language class and my rule is that I have to read the book first before students can read/use a book for their project. Thanks to this rule, I’ve read some really interesting non-fiction works I would not have picked up on my own. I’ve also read a few books I really did not enjoy and still won’t let students live down.

I was not initially thrilled about this book. I read The Journal of Best Practices by David Finch last year and while I found it fairly enlightening considering I am married to a man who has only recently been diagnosed, it was a lot to take. And I was worried this book might be similar. While Finch’s book was interesting and informative, it didn’t quite have me hooked and there were definitely moments that I felt the book was a slog to get through.

Robison’s book was completely different! When I was only a few pages in, I was hooked. I’m not sure if this is because he begins by discussing his childhood, well before he was diagnosed, and I am currently waiting to have my daughter evaluated because she shares an awful lot of traits with her dad, OR because Robison’s writing was just so compelling. My guess is that both are true.

I had no idea that Robison was the brother of Augusten Burroughs who wrote Running With Scissors, a book (and movie) I enjoyed. I was caught off guard when Robison mentioned his brother and the craziness that surrounded his life for a brief time being treated by Dr. Finch. I found it fascinating though.

In general, I found the story of Robison’s life compelling. There are definitely connections I see between his experiences and ones my husband has shared with me, and more importantly now, ones my daughter is going through. One of the most profound moments for me was when Robison mentioned that all his life people had said he preferred to play alone, but in reality he never wanted to play by himself. He wanted to play with others but didn’t know how. This is something I have worried about with my own daughter.

I think this is a great book for anyone who has someone on the spectrum in their lives. It was eye opening and encouraging to me. And more importantly, well-written and interesting. It gave me a lot of hope for my daughter and her future.

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