Sunday, December 21, 2008

Book Review: 32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny

As a writer who often has to tap on the keys for hours and pages before I can find the most important thread of an essay, I have great admiration for authors like Phillip Done who can present a smart, witty and fulfilling treatment of a topic in just a few paragraphs and at the same time weave all the little pieces into a coherent broader narrative with a natural arc.

In his tight, fast-reading book, 32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny: Life Lessons from Teaching, Done shares the insights of 20 years of teaching experience using the vehicle of a walk through one particular school year. Each chapter is focused on one issue that comes up for teachers – like the reluctance to give your child the same name of someone you’ve had as a student, the importance of a day out of the classroom for mental health, and the never-ending search for (inexpensive) toys and materials for the classroom.

But this book is by no means just for teachers. It’s for anyone who has been a kid, had a kid or given any thought to how we develop from kids into something else. The stories address such universal issues as how different people inhabit (decorate, clutter, organize) their physical space and how the effort to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is really the best way to relate to a person (and to teach them).

As a mom of just one toddler but an aunt of 11 older children, I found myself reflecting on my own childhood, gaining insight into the lives of my nieces and nephews and fast-forwarding five years (is it only five or six years?!) to get a glimpse of life with a third-grader. The book reminded me of rituals I’d forgotten and of joys and frustrations I hadn’t considered in years.

As a former high school teacher, I greatly appreciated Done sharing his weaknesses and challenges with humility and humor. After seeing Done’s awards on the cover, I was a little worried that his book was going to make me feel inadequate about the six years I taught in public school, as though I could never have achieved the author’s greatness and it’s a good thing I “retired” when my son was born.

But insecure teachers (and parents), have no fear! Done is all about sharing the slip-ups and awkward moments in a way that teaches us something or makes us laugh – usually both. There’s no doubt that he’s a great teacher, but it’s refreshing to have such a light-hearted look into some of the things that make the job really challenging to return to year after year, especially when the reader is a parent who has no choice but to address challenges day after day.

Pick up the book for the favorite teacher on your list (makes a great New Years gift!), for your friend who could use a bunch of laughs broken up into bite-sized pieces or for yourself to sympathize with your children and the people who care for them in their classrooms.

The book’s 288 pages are small in size, and they go fast. There are five sections, each with between 15 and 18 short essays. My brother-in-law read several of them out loud while we were preparing Thanksgiving dinner, prompting much laughter and discussion among the group that included his elementary-school-teacher wife and their two middle-schooler kids. Everyone could relate on some level, and sharing the different perspectives was as fun as any board game. I've ordered copies for other people in my life. This hardcover book retails for around $15 on and yes, it qualifies for Free Super Saver shipping. So order a copy to read and share today!

This review is cross-posted on my other blog, Mama's Mouth.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

This is what 106 lbs and size 0P looks like

For your viewing pleasure, we first showcase me pooching my belly out, looking about 5 months pregnant (I'm not even five second pregnant! Honest!) Next we have me sucking in to reveal all the extra skin I am now blessed with, almost 32 months postpartum. It really feels like skin more than flab, so I'm not sure how it is that I had almost a six-pack back in June when I was training for the Zooma Annapolis Half-Marathon. Of course, back then, I hadn't yet had a postpartum period (PPP). These photos were snapped on the eve of my fourth PPP about three lbs. heavier than normal and five or six lbs heavier than I was during my cleanse last spring and before the race.

Despite not being svelte in this winter pack-it-away time, I still can't find a whole lot of clothes that fit me. Size 0P is often too big, as is XSP. Sometimes 00P and XXSP are too small on the hips, but there are times when those are too big, too.

I am not super skinny, people! How can it be that I am so much smaller than any fashion designers think exists in a real woman and yet I look like a chunky monkey or FLABulous compared to waifish fashion models?

Monday, December 8, 2008

What I did on Halloween

While drafting a piece on the economy and the holidays for DC Metro Moms Blog, I realized I never wrote about our Halloween. It was a great day with crisp air and squeaky clean blue skies. I'm happy to say that, at two and a half years old, my son had a blast without having any clue that candy has anything to do with Halloween.

Here's what we did:
Parade at school near my house. Meet a friend and her two kids. Boy wears leopard hat from the costume my mom made for me in 1975 and clutches in handkitty ears from IKEA that I actually got for me before I realized I did, in fact, still have the black ones I got from Hallmark at some point in the 1990s (I sure hope it was the 90s. Could that have been 1989? Does Hallmark still exist or has it been bought up by Gatorade or something?)

Leave early and miss part of marching band concert on the basketball court. Still small, they've gotten better since we started watching them practice two months ago! I'll be hearing the tuba from "My Girl" all day long.

Regularly scheduled Spanish class. Out of the chill that made the hat make sense, boy now wants to wear IKEA kitty ears.

Meet friends at playground. Play. Eat. Wear kitty ears and eyes. Take them off. Scream that no one else should wear them. From top of play structure, watch 1:00 parade and subsequent concert of West Side Story tunes at different elementary school with different high school band (bigger and better but they didn't have the decency to wear full marching band regalia. Only the warm-up tops with jeans!)

Pathetic attempt to have some quiet rest time at home.

Carve pumpkin. Boy wants it to have a mustache and beard.

Parade in our neighborhood. Two blocks of strolling and pulling wagon ending at playground. Hungry (mostly adult-)types snack in nearby gazebo safely away from frolicking children. Boy wears leopard costume my mom made for me in 1975.

Eat leftovers at home. Boy sits in booster seat out of view of the front door and just thinks it's funny that he hears kids' voices. Kids get Organic Naturepops- chocolate or citrus. No choice, no doubles, no apologies. No guilt.

Boy asleep.

Next year I will probably put in more time thinking through my options and get thoroughly acquainted with projects like Green Halloween. But this year Halloween was a hit all around, for my son and for his parents.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Where does your food come from?

An article about seasonal eating in today's Washington Post reminded me how annoyed I was a few weeks ago at the National Air and Space Museum. In "I'll Miss My CSA, but It's Time to Go," Stephanie Witt Sedgwick reflects on her season of buy-in to Potomac Vegetable Farms' community-supported agriculture program (CSA). She concludes that it was a great experience that kept her largely out of the supermarket for months, but now she's ready to move her seasonal produce-buying over to farmers markets. PVF owner Hana Newcomb says she welcomes this kind of turnover.

Despite the interest among green types and even others to become locavores, there's still a strong sense of entitlement out there that we Americans here in the 21st century can eat whatever we damn well please.

Case in point: The America by Air exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall. We had just finished the Fannie Mae Help the Homeless Walkathon and made a stop in the museum to warm up before walking back to the L'Enfant Plaza Metro station. I was struck by the irony of coming in from an event about people who don't have a place to live to read a placard bragging about how, thanks to aviation, we're no longer limited to eating what's local or in season. Not that I never eat an apple in the early spring or an orange in the middle of summer, nor do I shop only at the farmers market. (Like Sedgwick, I enjoyed my summer and fall CSA through PVF last year but didn't return, mostly due to the inconvenience of having to go out to get the bag during my son's nap.) I do try to look at labels when I shop in the grocery store, though, and I put some thought into what I eat when.

I don't expect Air & Space not to tell the story of aviation, but I do think the museum could just think about the impression it leaves on a kid to gloat about being able to get whatever, whenever.

Monday, December 1, 2008

About Five Miles on the Erie Canal

Our Thanksgiving took us to Rochester, NY where some of my husband's family lives. Three years ago, we all took a walk along the Erie canal, including another member of the family was pregnant, about 11 weeks to my 22. Two years ago, she couldn't make it, but we did with my super-clingy 7-month-old who would not let me out of his sight. I carried him in the Ergo when we walked along the canal. I was thrilled to have such a loving boy, but my body was tired from all the nursing and carrying, and my skin was freaking out.

This year, my little boy had a ball playing with his older cousins and didn't even notice when I went to go jogging by myself (or to go biking the next day to take photos). He was supposed to go on a walk with his aunt while I cooked, but he was too interested in the biking-ahead cousins to go very far and so settled on the tree swing in the front yard. Sometimes he tells me, "You can go back" to wherever I came from so that he can keep playing with the much more fun person in front of him. Last night, he woke around midnight calling out for his daddy, who put him to sleep.

My boy has gotten over his separation. I've gotten over my skin problems and came back from a sprained ankle to run a half-marathon in June. I'm not in that shape right now, but it still felt pretty good to just go out along the water in the super grey November chill and just run. The next day I biked a short ways to take some photos, and that felt great, too. Two days later, after driving home, I went out and ran 7.5 miles here at home on my regular bike trail. Can't say that I'm sore.

I may be staying up too late, recently addicted to caffeine and trying to do way too many things. But compared to my pre-baby depressed self and my postpartum tired self, I've come a long way.

The bed saga

I intend to work on collapsing my three blogs into one around the new year. For now, I'm trying to not be redundant or leave anyone hanging. Please visit this post on Mama's Mouth to see my son's new bedroom!