Getting Ready for Reading (in two languages!)

April 17, 2014 by  
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This month's Multilingual Blogging Carnival focuses on teaching reading to multilingual or bilingual children. Since Elliot is only 4-1/2 years old, we're not yet working on either English or Spanish. But, I'm hoping that I'm doing the right things to set the stage for Elliot to become a reader in both languages: 

Reading, reading, reading: Tim and I are both readers, so Elliot is surrounded by books. Since we live in the US, he has more books in English. But, I've made sure that his Spanish-language collection is sizable and I make an effort to read at least one book in Spanish to him each day. To supplement our collection, we turn to the local library, which fortunately has some non-fiction children's books in Spanish, which are somewhat harder to find.
Elliot also has a subscription to a Spanish-language kids' magazine, which is a great way to continually bring new reading material in Spanish into our home.

Giving him audio books: Elliot enjoys listening to a CD as he drifts off to sleep. Sometimes, it's music, but sometimes, it's a bilingual or Spanish-language book on tape. He's listened to books by Alma Flor Ada so many times that he makes jokes (in Spanish) out of her name! And, when I read the books to him, he likes to chime in, "reading" some of the sections he's memorized.

Teaching the letters: At Elliot's Spanish immersion preschool, he learns the letters in Spanish. We also have several CDs in Spanish with letter, vowel and alphabet song (although I haven't found one as catchy as the classic alphabet song in English.) Although I'm realizing I don't do it as often as I should, I sometimes ask him to identify letters in Spanish from books or in public (but it's not that effective when the letters are spelling words in English).

Telling him I read in Spanish: I'm not sure if this has any effect, but I let Elliot know that I read books in Spanish (even without him) and I go to a Spanish-language book club monthly to discuss them. 

I guess my list of reading preparation is pretty short. But, Elliot is only four-and-a-half. Am I doing enough? Is there something else I should be doing?

For more perspectives on teaching reading to bilingual and multilingual children, check out the blogging carnival on Homeschool Ways on April 27. 

Out loud

April 15, 2014 by  
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I have never read my words aloud. I enjoy my safe place behind the laptop, telling stories when they come to me and sitting in front of a blank screen when they don’t.

Since November, I have been working with a team of women who have now become the closest of friends to bring stories TO A STAGE. What was I thinking? I was thinking that other women would read. They would share their stories and we would build the platform for them to do so. Things would be warm and sepia toned with breaks for tissues, hugs and chocolate.

This is all true, until the part of our process where I committed to getting on stage and reading something I had written as well. You see, I had an exit plan since the first day I was told that two of the directors/producers of the show could read. I nodded and took a deep breath and said “ooooookay.” Then I drove home and had a long conversation with my anxiety about how we would tactfully bow out of the discomfort of public speaking.

Sunday was our last rehearsal before the show (May 4th at Saint Andrews Hall in Detroit at 3pm, doors open at 2 and you can buy tickets here). I had sent my piece to my co-directors weeks before, fully expecting to execute the Anxiety Plan and never read it at all. But weeks of listening to our amazing cast pour their hearts out chipped away at my crafty excuses for lack of participation.

I was scared and so were they. I might cry and many of them already had. I had never done this before and most of them hadn’t either. My ugly cry sometimes turned into a snort-laugh… that argument might still stand. I haven’t heard a cry-snort-laugh sequence out of anyone else in the group.

So I did it anyway. I stood in the wings of the stage Sunday afternoon and as I waited for my turn to read I was all alone with the reason I started pouring my heart out to begin with, my daughter. I felt Hadley so strongly as my heart threatened to beat out of my chest. The way that I don’t feel her as much anymore, six years removed from seeing her face. I listened to the beautiful, beautiful story read before mine and I peaked at the amazing faces of our cast in the audience and I walked out and read my words for the first time.

I cried and I did not complete the snort-laugh part of the sequence (thank God!) but I did give my voice to the words I’ve been placing here for years. It was humbling and scary and overwhelming but in the strangest turn of events, I can’t wait to do it again.

Saint Andrews Hall

I know I’m biased but Listen To Your Mother: Metro Detroit is going to be an amazing, life-changing event. Tickets are on sale here and we would love, love, love for you to join us. 

The Kindergarten Conundrum

April 14, 2014 by  
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Will Elliot be ready for kindergarten in the fall or would a Young 5s program be a better fit? This question is stressing me out more than you might imagine...unless you also have a child Elliot's age. (And if you do, I've probably already talked to you!)

Kindergarten is not at all what it was back in the day. When I was in kindergarten, it was morning-only. From what I remember, I learned my phone number and address, played dress-up, ate graham crackers and took a rest on a mat on the floor. Today, kindergarten is a seven-hour day and it's not about playing or getting ready for school like it used to be. It is school, with reading, writing, science, social studies and math.

Perhaps that's why the state of Michigan is gradually pushing back the deadline for eligibility from December 1 through September 1. This year, it will be October Elliot's early September birthday makes him eligible for kindergarten. However, many parents with kids whose birthdays are near the deadline, especially when they are boys, decide to delay the start of kindergarten for a year and give their children more time to develop by attending a Young 5s program.

The thing is: I don't necessarily agree with the trend. It creates a situation where you might have four-year-olds (whose parents signed a waiver for them to start early) in the same classroom as six-year-olds. It means starting high school at 15 and college at 19. And after all, somebody has to be the oldest and somebody has to be the youngest.

But, do I want Elliot to be the youngest? After all, I do often think his reactions to new and unfamiliar situations seem quite babyish. And, he seems quite a bit younger to me than kids at preschool who are six months older. Or is that his personality?

He's very I'm not really worried about the academic challenges of kindergarten. I worry more about his ability to suddenly be in school with twice as many kids as he's used to for triple the number of weekly hours. On the other hand, I worry that he might not be intellectually challenged if he's the oldest in his class (not right away, but later on).

So, I've attended a kindergarten readiness program and am reading a book. I've visited at least six schools looking for the best option for my baby. I plan to take him to the official kindergarten assessment at the local school as well as have a kindergarten teacher I met at an event give me her opinion.

On one hand, I think: it's kindergarten...relax! On the other, as many people have told me, this will be his formal introduction to school so I want it to be positive. I want him to feel confident and ready to learn.

Is he? Will he be? I'm not yet sure. 


April 6, 2014 by  
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Towards the end of preschool Parker made a rainbow painting at school with streamers hanging down from the end of each color. My love for rainbows hung it no where but the best place. It sways from a hook up high in our kitchen so we can walk under it often because hanging out under rainbows is important. The streamers have held on as crepe paper affixed by a five year-old’s glue stick do. The first few dropped soon after I hung the picture. Others waved as kids raced by or dangled from a quarter-inch shred because I couldn’t bear to cut them.

I’m sure someone who knows more than me about interior decorating (which would be everyone) would tell me the artwork should be displayed somewhere else in the house. It hangs by a threadbare piece of yarn and I don’t look at it as much as I used to, just like all those other things that make permanent homes in our lives. We pass them or they pass us and our heart doesn’t open up as widely as it did on that first day we decided they were treasures.

We are down to one last streamer. It’s orangish although it might have been red that faded or yellow that darkened and the rainbow tilts to one side a bit from it’s weight. I never reach up to straighten it though for fear the whole thing would crumble.

The weary little picture crafted with lips bitten in concentration and paint-filled sleeves is barely hanging on. I walk more slowly under it now and look up to double-check on the piece left because I know what comes next. I’ve caught each strip as it’s tumbled or found a streamer on my slipper when hitting the biggest coffee button on my Keurig, but the last one needs to stay.

My hands are way too full and far too empty to let it go or put it back or know what happens when there’s nothing left to walk below.


(photo taken when the sun was warm and there was more rainbow to walk under)

Bringing KidLit to Life: Baking Mrs. Peters’ Birthday Cake

April 1, 2014 by  
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"Let's make Mrs. Peters' pink birthday cake," Elliot suggested after the third or fourth reading of Mary Ann Hoberman's rhyming picture book, The Seven Silly Eaters.

This clever book features a family that grows to seven children, each of whom will only eat one food item. In the ending (spoil alert!), the kids make their mother a birthday cake made of all of "their" foods, which then becomes what they eat every day for dinner.

I tried to explain to Elliot that a cake made of pink lemonade, applesauce, bread, oatmeal, eggs and milk would not be very tasty. "Besides, we don't have a recipe."

"Just look on your computer."

After repeated urging, I finally did. To my surprise, the author had the recipe on her website. So, we put on our truck-themed aprons and went to work finding the ingredients.

As usual when Elliot and I embark on our baking projects, I soon realized that we didn't have all of the ingredients. We only had one egg, not three, so I decided to make just a third of the recipe -- although I have to admit that I didn't calculate 1/3 of four drops or 1/3 of 1/2 teaspoon all that carefully. We were out of applesauce, so we decided that a cut-up apple would do just fine. And, I  squeezed fresh lemon juice into the milk (which I'd randomly heated in the microwave, not to the specified 70 degrees) without really measuring the amount. Then, since the cake was so much smaller than the recipe, I set the oven timer to 40 minutes, rather than the 60 in the recipe.

As you might have noticed, I tend to have a fairly casual approach to baking. Lately, somehow, Elliot and I have been making some pretty tasty treats.

Mrs. Peters' birthday cake did not exactly fall into that category. It's not awful..but it's certainly not something you'd want to eat daily. And it's really not pink...which may be because it's somewhat burnt. Nonetheless, Tim, Elliot and I all ate a piece.

More importantly, baking Mrs. Peters' birthday cake was a fun experience and something that Elliot really wanted to try. The fact that it was inspired by a children's book makes it even sweeter.

I will not be a broken record this year

March 31, 2014 by  
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With April comes Autism Awareness month. In the past I was the first mom to wave my puzzle piece ribbon while shining my blue light but I’m just not there anymore. Everyone knows someone with autism. I don’t need to remind you that the numbers have now risen to 1 in every 68 children. I’m aware, you’re aware and there’s a certain broken record quality to announcing the month.

Which is why I’m so glad the month has finally turned into a time of DOING rather than just talking. The Candlelight Vigil for Autistic Children Who Have Lost Their Lives After Wandering was created this year and I have to say, being part of this group and this event has been eye-opening, tearfully, heartbreakingly eye-opening. I knew children with autism were at risk of wandering from their homes and I followed the cases of the ones gone missing, hoping that they would be found. I cheered when they were and cried when they were not. But I never knew the volume of families affected.

Since promising to light my candle and remember these children gone too soon, I’ve watched name after name be added to the list of those lost. I’ve seen pictures of bright-eyed boys and messages of hollowed out parents and my heart continues to sink.

These children have wandered from school or home or a caregiver and never returned again. Let’s remember them on April 1st and every day after that. Remember their families who are changed forever. Say their names because they need to be said.

We can’t bring them back but we can bring a little comfort to those who miss them most by lighting up their world tomorrow.

You can join this years vigil through the Facebook event created by Jill of Yeah, Good Times.

candle light vigil

"Don’t Want to Talk about It (Adoption)"

March 28, 2014 by  
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We recently had a nice visit with Elliot's birth father, whom we hadn't seen in a while. Elliot was happy to see him and immediately led him downstairs for what he termed a "play date."

So, Tim and I figured the next day was an ideal time to bring up a topic related to Elliot's adoption that we suspected he wasn't clear on: the role of his birth father in his birth. While simple to an adult, this concept is pretty darn confusing  from the perspective of a four-year-old.

Elliot is somewhat familiar with the idea that babies grow inside of women's "tummies" and understands (to the extent that he can) that he grew inside his birth mother's. But, like most kids his age, he doesn't have much of a handle on the specifics of how babies are made.

So, Tim started off by saying, "You had fun with [name of birth father] yesterday, didn't you?"

We then told Elliot (not for the first time) something along the lines of " it takes a man and a woman to make a baby" and that his birth father was the man who helped make him. His immediate reaction surprised me.

"I don't want to talk about it."

What? Was there something in one or both of our voices that made him think that this was a more serious conversation than the type we normally had at breakfast? Was this topic somehow uncomfortable to him? Was he simply too engrossed in his cereal to talk?

I really don't know. But, his reaction was not at all what I was expecting, especially when our goal has always been to "normalize" his adoption -- meaning that the fact that he joined our family via adoption would always be just "the way it was" and something he knew about. Obviously, it's not something we talk about all the time...just as my sister doesn't frequently talk with her preschooler about how he was conceived and born.

Taking Elliot's cue, we dropped the topic soon thereafter as I've realized there's nothing more frustrating than trying to talk to Elliot about something he doesn't want to talk about.  Later that day, I asked Elliot why he hadn't wanted to have the conversation. "Because I didn't know," he responded.

Assuming he meant that he didn't know about the role of his birth father, I continued, "Maybe you just forgot. We've talked about it before."

"Yes, I forgot."

I'm not sure if that's really the case. But, it was a good reminder I need to find the "How You Became our Son" book I wrote for him and once again make it part of our reading rotation.

I’m with the band

March 23, 2014 by  
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There’s this strange argument I used to have with myself and I’ve always wondered if other parents did the same. As the mom of a special needs child, I looked for every opportunity for her to be with her “peers.” I wanted her to be treated like them. I wanted her to be included in gym and art and to never ever ever have to sit alone in a cafeteria.


So if I wanted all these things was it fair for me to ask for special treatment in order for her to be included? If I wanted her to be just like the rest of the class should she have to do things just like the rest of the class? As I became a worn down seasoned advocate I learned the answer to this question.

It was the work she put in, not the results she achieved, that made her worthy. We might have been learning the alphabet while the other kids were writing it but she was going to get the same sticker on her paper and a star on her chart. She was trying just as hard.

On Friday, as her bus left for the Special Olympics state championship, she sent me a message to let me know they were receiving a police escort. For a moment I panicked and then I was overcome with emotion.

special text

Years of hoping she would love herself the way I do triggered the ugly cry, the trying not to scare the small children, ugly cry. The fact that she felt special, that she knew she was special, after the odds have been against her for roughly 75% of her entire life was overwhelming.

We picked up prescriptions last night and our favorite pharmacy tech announced to anyone within earshot that Ashlyn and her team were silver medalists. On our way home we stopped to pick up dinner. The man at the counter, noticing her warm up suit and medal, started singing “We Are the Champions.” Ashlyn beamed and carried her medal even though it dangled safely from her neck.

I’ve posted updates and photos to Instagram and Facebook and maybe you’re all just blocking me out by now but I can’t help it. I’m overwhelmed by the whole thing. That same pharmacy tech has rushed us through past purchases, noticing the signs that Ashlyn is out of coping mechanisms. We’ve left restaurants with my face a deep shade of purple when her aggression has cancelled out our dinner plans.

It’s been a walking-on-a-cloud sort of weekend for both of us. She deserves all of this. The police escort, the fan fair at the pharmacy counter, the cheering gym at her award ceremony. I’m happy to walk behind her as she hopes others notice her accomplishment and watch her glasses lift from her smile as they do.

She’s a bit of a rockstar right now and she’s fairly good at it. She’s been rehearsing the role for years.

Special Olympics

Multilingual Blogging Carnival: Learning Language through Immersion

March 21, 2014 by  
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How do language immersion programs help in terms of both language and culture? This month's Multilingual Blogging Carnival takes a look at this question.

We're lucky enough to a have a Spanish immersion preschool in our community, and it's been extremely beneficial for my son Elliot's Spanish. Now in his second year at the school, he's progressed to the point where he's speaking complete sentences and carrying on conversations in Spanish -- with me and the teachers. Of course, since we live in the US and he hears a LOT more English, his command of English grammar and the size of his English vocabulary exceed his skills in Spanish. But, still...I'm very happy with the way he's progressing.

Spanish is a non-native (but beloved) language for me, and I've always spoken to Elliot in Spanish, as well as in English. I have no way of knowing where his Spanish would be now if I had continued to be his only source of the language. But, I've got to believe that singing in Spanish, playing in Spanish and hearing Spanish words associated with all the fun of preschool has played a huge role in his language development and in his confidence in speaking Spanish.

A recent trip to Costa Rica provided another kind of immersion experience. Although Elliot didn't speak as much Spanish there as I would have liked, he received a lot of positive reinforcement from locals every time he did. Since then, I've been very pleasantly surprised by how he's taken to initiating and maintaining more complex conversations with me in Spanish.

The impact of both Costa Rica and the Spanish immersion preschool on Elliot's understanding of Latin culture are harder to measure, especially since it's not my culture, so not something we reinforce at home. I know he's learned a little bit about the Mexican custom of Day of the Day and talked about famous Latino painters. More important has been Elliot's realization that not everyone speaks English (or only speaks English), which I'd imagine many American kids his age don't realize. Some of his classmates speak a third language at home in addition to Spanish and English, so it gives me an opportunity to talk a little bit about different countries and the languages spoken there. So, we he asks me how to say "capers" in Portuguese (a language I don't speak), I know it's because his friend's mom is from Brazil. And thank goodness for my Google Translate app to look it up!

Occasionally, I worry a little bit that Elliot's recognition of letters and words in English isn't as strong as it would be if he'd gone to an all-English preschool. But, he's a smart kid...and I'm not really concerned. I am much more concerned, however, about how we're going to keep the Spanish going now that his time at the Spanish immersion preschool is drawing to an end, and there isn't a Spanish immersion elementary school close to our home:-(

 This post is part of the Multilingual Blogging Carnival, to be published March 31 on

Just what he needed

March 16, 2014 by  
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My husband is not a jewelry wearer and he’s not a lover of framed quotes. I’ve looked for something meaningful to get for him for years. I wanted to find something he can carry with him every day that is a reminder of Hadley. Something more subtle than a necklace with her name on it but less painful than a tattoo across his back (he’s also not really a tattoo guy).

We have a photo he took of the kids last summer where they are all hugging and rays from the sun are streaming down over their heads. Neither of us can look at the picture with out feeling a little whisper of her hello.

kids in the sun

Recently I discovered Jewelry Keepsakes. They create beautiful cremation jewelry like the necklace I wear that carries a bit of Hadley’s ashes as well as gorgeous photo jewelry. I found the perfect solution to my search for a gift for Mark. They create custom keychains with a photo engraved and also a personalized message on the back.

I sent them the photo I know he loves most and a message for the back and was completely amazed at how perfectly the photo was transferred. My plans to hang onto it for a Father’s Day gift quickly changed to maybe hanging onto it until Easter and then dissolved into a St. Patrick’s Day weekend gift because I couldn’t wait any longer. We’re Irish so that works right?

He absolutely loves it and I’m thrilled to have found the something for him that I’ve always been looking for.

engraved keychain

Jewelry Keepsakes has offered to give away a personalized keychain to one Four Plus An Angel reader. They will engrave it with the photo of your choice and also include a personalized message on the back.

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