Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Best Laid Plans

Sometimes, what you plan doesn't always go the way you think it will go.  As a former teacher and now as a mother, I understand this. There was the time in '99 when I planned an activity that I thought would take 45 minutes and it took 5, and I wasn't sure what to do with the remaining time.  One of my students picked up on this and asked, "Is this what we are supposed to be doing for the rest of the time?"  I told him that yes, it was all we were going to be doing.  He replied with an, "Alllllllrighhhht!!!!!"  It went downhill from there. 

Or there was the time in '07 when Jesse and I were determined to make excellent time on our drive from DC to the midwest for Christmas.  We buckled Hadley in the carseat, armed with plenty of snacks, books, and juice.  She promplty threw up 3 or 4 times in the first hour we had been driving. Thinking she had Swine Flu, SARS, or whatever the sickness du jour it was, we turned around and went home, only to get back in the car 8 hours later.

So the conclusion is that there are times when you're in the middle of an activity and you think, "Hmmmm, this could've gone better."  When I write "you" I mean me. 

Such was the case with my Book Club yesterday.  I planned activities around the book, In the Small, Small Pond by Denise Fleming.  First, we'd read the book, then made these cute little frogs.

This child, right here?  She's a trouble maker.  Don't be fooled by what you might think is someone carefully coloring.  That's about the only marker that got on paper.  She drew on her pants, and all over the floor.  Don't even get me started on what happened when we got out the glue sticks.  At one point a mother said, "Harper, that's not lipstick." 

After the frogs, I gave each child a large piece of paper and told them they were going to create their own pond.  I cut out pictures of ducks, racoons, dragonflies, fish, and turtles (all things mentioned in the story), and asked them to color them and place them on their pond picture.  After this, I thought we'd read the story again and using the frog that we made, we'd move him (or her, I'm all about equal opportunity) from one animal to the next as the story was told.

This child right here?  The one with the green shirt on?  She was all, "I'm not doing this.  I don't like to color."  Who brings these kids?  And then, when we read the story again she was all upset because she couldn't move her frog to the different animals because she didn't color or glue any

We played frog bingo, and that seemed to be fun for the group.  I printed out a bunch of frogs and put numbers on them then called out several as the kids wrote an "X" on the correct number. 

I think the activities were good, but it was chaotic.  And my girls were the contributors of it.  Harper ranted and screamed, because, forbid it that I should pay attention to anyone other then her, and to show me how annoyed she was she glued her lips together. And Hadley decided to go on a color strike.  It's alright.  Next time (September 24-sign up mommies!  I know you will after this post.) I'll be more prepared.

There is one thing that happened that I think you can't pull off no matter how prepared you are.  I told the group to watch the frog in the story (because the story is told from the frog's point of view).  They looked for him in each picture, and one of the little girls noticed that on one page he looked "serious."  We stopped and took a look at the frog and pondered what might make him look serious.  His eyes?  What was going on in the picture? I loved that she noticed that. 

This is why I love talking about books - even with 3-5 year olds.  To hear what people observe, appreciate, found funny or touching about a story is one of my favorite things.  I think reading the story was the best part of the morning.  And really, it should be.

Monday, August 9, 2010

To Make Less Tense

This was hung  on one of the walls in a home where my family and I were staying last week.  We were on a little vacation in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and I took a picture of it because it's good for me to remember what the definition of "relax" is.  Of course, knowing the definition and actually doing it are two different things.

One thing I did to aide in my relaxation was bring along a Sarah Dessen book.  I first read one of her books a few years ago when I was pregnant with my first daughter, Hadley.  I had a terrible cold and was afraid to take anything for it (due to the pregnancy), so to try to keep my mind off of being sick, I picked up This Lullaby and had no problem entering the young adult world.   I like Sarah Dessen books because I can pick out characters that remind me of friends I had when I was in high school.  I also like that she captures the pleasant moments of growing up even in the midst of teenage drama, however real or serious the drama is.  The other thing I enjoy about her books is that the adults in them are more then one dimension.  They have their own story to tell and while they're not perfect, she shows, empathetically, that they love their children.

Anyway, the book I took along was Along for the Ride.  The main character, Auden, doesn't sleep at night.  This started when she realized her parents began to fight when she and her brother went to sleep.  So to try and prevent them from fighting, she wouldn't go to sleep.  Her parents end up splitting up, but Auden still can't sleep at night, and decides that while she can't control relationships - friends, parents, boyfriends, etc. - she can control academics.  So she throws herself into that world.  I think she understands she's missing out on experiences, like having a best friend, but she decides it's safer to invest in academics then it is to invest in making friends.

I read these YA books now with my girls in mind.  It used to be that I'd enter into the teenage world and wax nostalgic about my own high school life.  I still do that, but if a story resonates with me, I'll file it away and hope that perhaps one day Hadley and Harper will enjoy and learn from the stories they read.

For example, I hope they don't have the problem of not being able to sleep, especially because they're trying to find something that is controllable or reliable.  But if they struggle with something, I hope they can take a story like Along for the Ride and see that even though making friends, having boyfriends, finding your way in the world is scary, it's also quite exciting.

Auden becomes friends with a girl named Maggie, someone who Auden assumes is shallow and only cares about fashion and boys.  But Maggie is smart and funny, and I think Auden likes her effervescence.  The point where Maggie and Auden become friends, Auden is having a rough time with her mom and Maggie sits with her for a bit.  Auden says, "It was all new to me, from that second on.  But clearly, she'd been there before.  It was obvious in the easy way she shrugged off her bag, letting it fall with a thump onto the sand, before sitting down beside me.  She didn't pull me close for a big bonding hug, or offer up some saccharine words of comfort, both of which would have sent me running for sure.  Instead, she gave me nothing but her company, realizing even before I did that this, in fact, was just what I needed."

I can't relate to Auden's issues with her parents, but I understand her feelings of being hurt and hesitant to make friends.  Maggie reminded me of my best friend in high school.  When I met her junior high, I was confused about how to go about making friends.  The ones I'd had the past 12 years didn't seem super interested in hanging out with me anymore (they were proabably going through the same middle school stuff most of us go through), so when Celena walked up to me one afternoon at lunch I remember being flustered and unsure of what to say.  But it wasn't long before she and I were laughing together and being worried about saying something stupid, or whether I was cool enough for her became a distant memory. 

If Hadley or Harper ever read Along for the Ride, I am sure they'll get wrapped up in the love story between Auden and Eli.  It's sweet, and if they must hang out with boys, I hope that they find interesting ones to spend their time with.  I thought Eli was interesting.  And while I won't blame them for getting swept away with the love story, I hope they can relate to the friendship Auden and Maggie have as well.  Learning how to relax is very hard, and so is making a great friend.  But once you learn how to do it, once you find another kindred spirit, life becomes quite pleasant.