Thursday, June 26, 2014

Childhood Revisited

"You guys didn't really take many family vacations when you were growing up, did you?" my husband asked me once, several years ago, while we were flipping through old photo albums.

I had never really thought about it before, but he was right. We went to the beach a couple of times, but never anything beyond that. There were no trips to Disney or educational forays to Williamsburg or long treks across state parks.

It's not that we couldn't afford it, although I'm sure money was tight in my parents' early marriage. My father was still in college when I was born, after all.

"We didn't need vacation," I answered, matter of factly, "We had my grandparents' house."

My grandparents live in a small town in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. To my sisters and me, it was our own little slice of heaven. It wasn't the tiny Appalachian town itself that was so enthralling, although the occasional trip to the Wal-Mart was always exciting (note: in small towns the mega-store is not referred to as simply "Wal-Mart." It is always THE Wal-Mart). No, it was my grandparents that made our visits so special.

From the minute my parents dropped us off up until our goodbyes, we knew that our grandparents had carved out this week just for us. The kitchen was stocked with our favorite foods and the days were blank canvases waiting to be filled with romps in the creek, tire-swinging, raspberry-picking or firefly-catching.

One of our favorite pastimes was dressing up in my grandmother's old gowns from the 50s and 60s. We'd spend an hour selecting the perfect combination of dress, wig, gloves and jewelry. The final accessory was always a couple of pairs of Grandpa's tube socks, balled up and stuffed down the front of the bodice to give an air of authenticity to the ensamble. Mamma, as we call her, was delighted to see us parading around the house in her vintage sequined top or a glamorous cocktail dress. Over the years, even her wedding gown became tattered and kool-aid stained after countless hours of dress-up. "Now tell me, how many wedding dresses have been this well-loved?" she would laugh.

My grandpa always had a surprise or two in store for us. Once he brought home an enormous refrigerator box from the local appliance store. We quickly fashioned it into a house, made Grandpa sit inside and fed him sandwiches through the tiny window. Another time he and I trapped a perfect little white bunny in the yard using the old carrot-under-the-box-propped-up-by-a-stick trick. Years later I learned that Grandpa actually got the rabbit from a pet store and stuck it under the box while I was asleep.
I think I named her Buttercup.
When I visit now, I'm taken aback at how quickly I'm transported to my childhood. The summer air still smells of honeysuckle and everything that's familiar. A small piece of me lives forever in those hills, along with the memories ofl Mamma's contagious laugh and Grandpa's late-night tales of the frightful Gohumpy that lives just up the holler.

When I first got married, I wanted to share this part of my past with my husband. And he's been to the house and he loves my grandparents too. But there are some things you just can't impart with words and grown-up visits.

This week my oldest is having a vacation of his own in the Kentucky mountains. This is the 3rd summer he has taken a solo trip to Mamma & Grandpa's house. 

My grandparents have been texting me photos  of his time with them. (yes, TEXTING. They're hip like that.)

He is swinging...

...roasting marshmallows...

...eating his favorite foods...

...dressing up (after a quick trip to the Wal-Mart)...

...and enjoying his own slice of Appalachian heaven.
I see his face and I recognize that joy. And I am blessed knowing that a piece of me and a piece of him are intertwined in those same hills.

We share the same love for the same two people in the exact same way.

We are sharing a slice of childhood.

And it sure is delicious.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

For Father's Day

He wakes up before me. I can hear him downstairs, the plates clink and the silverware rattles as he unloads the dishwasher. I hear the thumps and the bumps and the giggles, because the 4-year-old is up with him. The 4-year-old always wants to be wherever his daddy is.

He brews the coffee and sweeps up last night's crumbs and takes out the garbage. Just the little things that mean everything to get the day going smoothly.

Somehow, a stripey tie just doesn't seem enough.

He works long days, long hours. He returns home to tiny children who have been impatiently waiting for his car to pull up. They greet him with cheers and questions and kisses, as if his homecoming is the highlight of their day.

And why wouldn't it be?
This is Daddy who pitches the ball and pushes the swing and plays the bad guy every time.
This is Daddy who is always up for ice cream outings and late-night movies.
This is Daddy who gives bear hugs and tickles and sneaks them potato chips after Mommy says no.

Somehow, a grill set just doesn't cut it.

He's always there with a band-aid, or a screwdriver, or a consoling hug, whenever something needs mending.

He handles the spiders, the sibling spats and even the occasional poopy diaper.

He's a coach and a cheerleader. He's a solid rock and soft place to snuggle.

He prays for us and gives for us and lives for us.

Somehow, a coffee mug falls a little short.

There is nothing we can wrap in shiny paper and a big bow to adequately express our gratefulness for you.

So the kids are scribbling some little pictures and I am writing these words. We can never give you a gift to match the one that you have given us.

All we can do is say THANK YOU.

And Happy Father's Day.

(Don't worry. We got you something to unwrap too. ;) 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Best Way to Read With Your Child

I don't pretend to be a literacy expert, but I was a 3rd grade teacher in my previous life. One of the very best reading strategies we used with our students was an acronym called CROP-QV. I have found that this approach to reading works very well with my small children, particularly my 4-year-old, and it is even helpful with my 2-year-old.

CROP-QV is an acronym for 6 different reading strategies that help students stay engaged with text while reading and support their comprehension. Each letter in CROP-QV stands for a particular reading strategy. For example, the C is for Connections. When our students read, we encourage them to make connections to the text. Is there a scene in this book that reminds you of something that happened in your own life? Does this book remind you of another book you've read?

A lot of the time, when my children hand me a book, I find myself reading TO them. I read straight through distracted by thoughts of what I can thaw out for dinner until I shut the book and they scream "AGAIN!" Some of their favorite books I even have memorized so occasionally I find myself "reading" with the book in one hand while scrolling through my phone with the other. (No I don't.) (Yes I do.)

While I suppose even my distracted, monotone 500th reading of Tikki Tikki Tembo is beneficial, rather than reading TO my children, I have been making more of an effort to read WITH my children. When you model engaged reading, you are teaching your child to think critically about the story. You are showing them that their thoughts and opinions matter. It's even kinda fun for the mom.

Critical thinking is an imperative skill they will use all through their school career. With any luck, they may even use these skills after they graduate. For example, if one day your child reads an article online titled "Taco Bell Warns Employees Against Directly Exposing Skin to Food," they will hopefully have the critical thinking skills to decipher that however probable the topic, this article is actually satire. No one wants their child to grow up to be one of those people who think The Onion is an actual news publication. 

Therefore, it is important to model critical thinking skills when you read with your kids. (Except, of course at bedtime. If you're like me, at bedtime I use the strategy RTDBAFAPAGO or Read The Book As Fast As Possible And GET OUT. Perhaps I should have titled this post "The Best Way To Read With Your Child While You Are Fully Awake, Happy and Not Beaten Down By the Day.")

So the next time your child crawls into your lap with a book (and it is not bedtime), here are some examples of how to use the CROP-QV strategies.

These stragies work best with chapter books and longer picture books, but they can definitely be adapted to books for preschoolers. One of our favorite books is The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle.

Even before we begin to read, we can engage with the story by looking at the cover.

Why do you think this book is called The Very Busy Spider? (Prediction) What do you know about spiders? (Connection)

As you read, pause to help your child think about what is happening in the story.

I wonder why the spider doesn't want to go play with the other animals. Is there anything you are wondering about? (Question)

All the animals in this book live on the farm. Do you remember when we went to a farm? (Connection) What other things do you see on a farm? What kind of sounds do you hear on a farm? (Visualization)

What is your favorite animal in this book? Why? (Opinion)

And, of course, kids love discussing the book when it is finished.

How did it make you feel when the spider caught the fly? (Reaction)

Did you like the story? Why or why not? (Opinion)

So give these strategies a try and watch your child become engrossed in literacy on a whole new level. Just see if it doesn't bond the two of you and make reading even more fun and enjoyable. You are inspiring a learner for life! (I'm writing these words to myself right now because here comes Jack with Tikki Tikki Tembo and I think if I have to say that infuriatingly long name one more time I just might throw myself into a well. <deep breath>)