Your Best Fan

There are times when I’ve watched my boys and felt as if I were going to explode with pride.  Today, when my eighth grader gave his This I Believe speech about the power of reading, I was so proud I wanted to tell everyone in the room that I think he’s absolutely amazing. (I held back… until now.)

It was beautifully written, laced with humor and a window into he is. He was also extraordinarily poised standing up before classmates, teachers and parents. Looked up at his audience. Paused at just right the moments for laughter.

But what struck me almost more than that was his huge smile of encouragement, whispered congratulations, and the high fives he gave each classmate as they passed him on their way to and from the podium. Not just his crew of his friends. Everyone.

I’ve seen it before – I may have written about it before, because it seems to come so naturally to him – when he came in last in a swim race, but was the first to reach over the lane ropes to shake his opponents’ hands. Last week, when his friend made his first basket in a game, he was as happy as the hoopster. And in past years, in the math competition, when each competitor moved on to the next round, he greeted them with encouragement, as if they had just impressed him like no other.

So, as I walked away from a great speech about the power of reading, I thought about the power of his very big, genuine smile, greeting his more nervous classmates, his teammates, even his competition with… “you were awesome!” and “isn’t this fun?!”

We Can Do Whatever We Want

My house echoes with the school year’s constant whining that school and homework “get in the way of life.” My older two boys couldn’t wait for summer, so “we can do whatever we want.”

On the last day of school, I said to a friend, let’s see how quickly “whatever we want” turns into “we’re bored.”

And the sun rises on Day One….

I sat on the edge of the pool chatting with my thirteen year old, who had been floating alone, looking up at a clear blue sky, occasionally glancing at his brothers at swim team practice.

“Mom I am soooo glad it’s summer.”

“Me too,” I smiled.

Pause. Dramatic sigh. “But I’m bored. I’m happy. It’s just that… I don’t want to do anything at all for the first month. No reading anything, no exercise, no golf, no work at all. I hate running. Don’t make me run.”

Running was the deal if he didn’t do swim team.

“And don’t remind me to do my summer journal.”

Last weekend, he passed his test to be a golf caddie, which he was thrilled to do soooo many days ago, when he sought a distraction from exams.

“And I’m not going to caddie.”

“Yes you are.”

“Why? Because I invested so much time in it?”

“No, because you were sooo excited about it two days ago.”

Sigh. “I’m bored.”

Ahhh, teenagers.


Developmentally Inappropriate Reading

I was at a small get-together with some sixth grade moms last week, and we were debating whether a school-required book our kids are reading is age-appropriate. We have all read the book so we can guide our children through some issues it raises in case their teachers focus on other things.

As we were talking about those issues (i.e. cocaine use, neglectful parents, violence from older brothers, and bad decisions with no consequences), I realized that the extra assignment I had given my fifth and sixth grade sons this summer might be more intense and grown-up than the book we were discussing.

We got a subscription to USA Today, because I decided they should start reading the newspaper, and the writing is less sophisticated than the New York Times or Wall Street Journal, which my husband and I read. Plus, the kids would get drawn in by the sports section.

What a summer of developmentally inappropriate news… for any age!

This really hit home when my eleven year old walked into the kitchen, which at the time was filled with six snacking boys (his brothers and friends, age 6-10) and addressed them in a stream of consciousness:

“Wow, lots of plane crashes lately. How many people do you think have died? And that war in the Ukraine. Do you think it could start World War Three? I mean, really, did you see they bombed a school in Gaza? What’s the world coming to?!”

Six little ice cream covered faces just stared at him. Wide eyes. Still-chubby cheeks. And now heads filled with real-life stories they may not have been ready to hear.

The sad thing is… the truth can be far worse than fiction.

Majek Speling

In the first days of summer, as my son transitioned from kindergarten to first grade, he lost his first tooth. In fact, he yanked it out of his mouth after we claimed it still needed a few more days of wiggle time. No fuss.

“Only a little blood, mom.”

And in the time-honored tradition of our family, he wanted to keep his tooth.

So his first summer homework was to write the tooth fairy a letter, which captured this brief moment in time when losing teeth and learning to read and write are things to celebrate.

Der toothsfary

Plese don’t take

Mi tooths.

Thak you

Lad and the Fat Cat

I realized about a month ago that my two older boys were already starting to read at this point in their kindergarten year. My youngest is not there yet.

“Yes, he’s near the bottom of the class,” said the kindergarten teacher when I brought it up, “but nothing to worry about. They all learn to read.”

I immediately pulled out a set of books specifically created to help kids learn to sound out words. I told my little guy that he is working on breaking a secret code.

Yesterday, I brought “Lad and the Fat Cat” to an appointment with us to work on the short “a” sound. Ignoring “Lad,” he told me a story about Frosty, the baby red dragon who could not breathe fire. As he drew pictures for his story, I saw him hide “Lad” among other books in the waiting room.

“I was hoping we would leave it here by accident,” he grinned when I pulled the book out of the pile. “It is so boring!”

I again explained the secret code he was trying to break and how the book was like a key.

“But mom!” he shook his head. “You know picture books? The ones where one person writes the story and…what’s the other guy called who does the pictures?”

“The illustrator?” 

“Well, how do they make their books so perfect?”

He looked at the reading primer in disgust. “And then look at this! Look at all the white on the page! Why would you read this when you have a picture book with a writer and illustrator making it so perfect?”

He already loves to read. The secret code will come. 

The Young and the Bookless

I love to read, and that began for me before I was ten. I read Little Women and several other Louisa May Alcott books, the entire Little House on the Prairie series, Nancy Drew mysteries, and the biographies of Helen Keller, Florence Nightingale and Amelia Earhart ten times each without ever being assigned them. The Secret Garden. A Little Princess. The High King. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I remember them better than some of my more recent favorites.

So I am puzzled when my ten year old rarely picks up a book for pleasure. If I suggest it, I get the dramatic eye-roll and “all you want me to do is work, work, work!”


The Wall Street Journal recently published an article about the high number of young people who do not read for pleasure. It seems it’s an epidemic, but the article failed to address the reasons why. The following is my attempt to think about why, so that I can do something about it in my house.


The Gifts of Imperfection

After my parenting book club mistakenly assumed that Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection was about imperfection in our kids, I found myself reading a self-help book. Such books are not typically on my reading list, so I was slow to process it. Writing about it helped a little. My book review is in this link.