I Am a Writer. Writing as a Mother of Three Under Three

Happy Halloween Eve, Dear Reader!

Being a writer has been a lifelong dream for me. As far back as I can remember, I always had my pens, pencils, and notebooks at hand. When I was 7,  I was paid a dollar in cash from the Howard County Times to publish my poem “Camp”. In high school and college, I had editorial positions on the student newspaper, and I also wrote a few interviews for the music pages of the Weekly Dig back in the early 2000s. I started this blog in 2012, and I have written steadily online since then.  So why have I only recently called myself a writer?

As a mother of 2-year-old twins and a 1-year-old, my brain and my body operate much differently than they did before I was a parent. I have to sprint through my writing because I know that I will be interrupted sooner rather than later. (My kids burst into the kitchen within seconds of me writing that sentence.) Where I once had several hours each weekend available to read and write, I now have perhaps an hour or two. I collapse into bed each night and much earlier than I did in my non-parenting days. When my children go down, I go down shortly after. On Friday night, I was asleep by 7:45 pm. And so, I need to tell the world I am a writer to hold on tightly to this now-essential piece of my identity.

This blog is now called “Literacy Changes Everything!”.  This title reflects my life as it is at present. With less free time and much less extra spending money, my physical life exists within the handful of miles between home and work. Reading and writing are my primary sources of escape to a world beyond the city limits. My twice-a-week visits to the library, my 5 a.m. morning pages, and my newly-minted designated creative space (more on this later) cost nothing, yet they mean the world to me as a much-needed outlet from my responsibilities as a teacher and as a mother. Best of all, my daughters have begun to imitate my writing habits, which makes me feel l’m not less-of-a-mother for taking the time for what I love to do.

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Like Mother, Like Daughters: My three little ones share my writing life with me.

It is my hope to write more and more often, and I will be sharing our family’s favorite picture books and literacy-oriented activities, in addition to musings about my own reading and writing life and my role as an educator in the Boston Public Schools.

I look forward to sharing my tiny corner of the world.

Best, Jenn

Goals for Summer: Talks with Teachers May Challenge Week #2

The theme for this week’s Talks with Teachers May Challenge is restoration, which is quite a natural fit for teachers approaching summer vacation. Our project for the week is to share a list of 10 or more goals for the summer.

Although I have completed seven years of teaching, this upcoming summer will be my first “summer off” from any formal  teaching or professional development activities. Following my first three years of teaching, I served as a volunteer teacher in the Dominican Republic. Following my fourth and fifth year of teaching, I worked in Boston Public Schools’ summer school programs, and last summer, I completed the required practicum for my reading specialist license at  MGH’s Speech, Language, and Literacy Center.

This summer, however, my primary focus will be on my health and my family with professional goals of secondary importance. Additionally, as I will not return to work from my maternity leave until January, the timeline for my goals extends into the fall.

My Summer and Fall Goals

Family

1. Establish a reading routine with my daughters.

My twin daughters, Sofia and Francine, are due on June 16th. It is really important for me to establish a reading routine with them from infancy. I have already begun to read to them every time that I am riding in the car with my husband driving. We also read to them at night before we go to sleep. Thanks to my teacher friends, my daughters already have a small library of books (in both English and Spanish) to enjoy! I am really looking forward to sharing my love of reading with my daughters.

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Sofia and Francine’s Little Library Space: the bottom two shelves of one of our bookshelves

2. Create a playlist of Spanish songs for my daughters.

I love listening to music in Spanish. I listen to mainly reggaetone and bachata, however, which I think is better for dancing than a sing-along. I would like to take the time to find some mid to slow tempo music in Spanish to sing along with for Sofia and Francine. (Please comment if you have any ideas!)

3. Take my daughters to the Curious George Room at the Cambridge Public Library.

Recently my colleague Paula Leoni sent me photographs of this delightful children’s reading space at the Cambridge Public Library’s main branch. I definitely want to spend an afternoon there with Sofia and Francine, and I would love to get their pictures in front of the beautiful Curious George murals. Apparently, there are quite a variety of activities, including lapsits and concerts, there as well.

Gateway to Heaven?: The Entrance to the Curious George Room (photo: Paula Leoni)

Gateway to Heaven?: The Entrance to the Curious George Room (photo: Paula Leoni)

4. Bring the girls to the Infant and Toddler Storytime at our local branch of the Boston Public Library.

BPL Roslindale is our local branch of the Boston Public Library, only a short walk from our house. I am looking forward to taking Sofia and Francine to the infant and toddler storytime offered on Tuesday mornings.

Health

5. Take long walks again.

Recently, for longer outings, my husband and I have had to rent a wheelchair for me from a local medical supply store. This is so frustrating as I normally take walks of three to eight miles around Boston when the weather is nice. But lately, I really can’t go more than twenty minutes due to either my lungs or my legs. I really look forward to taking many walks this summer, as I usually do!

6. Connect back into my running.

The most difficult part of my pregnancy, both mentally and physically, was having to give up running. Running has been a big part of my life since 2009, when I completed my first 5K race. I am by no means a very fast runner, but I absolutely love putting on my headphones and going for a long run. It just clears my mind and body of all stress, and I often get my best ideas when running. Running often allows me to clearly think through large tasks or just to be creative inside my own mind. I completed a half-marathon in October of 2012, and I hope to eventually run a marathon, but my post-pregnancy goal is to complete a 5K by the end of September.

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Runner’s High: Feeling Great After a Race in Salem, MA in Spring 2013 (Portrait with Whale Mural)

 

Professional Life

7. Find a meaningful 1-credit education class.

I am one credit shy of receiving a higher salary, so I hope to find a 1-credit education class that I can take online. Boston Public Schools History Coach Sharon Ennis suggested  Facing History courses, but unfortunately the online courses offered take place in June, too close to my due date. I think I would prefer to take an online course in adolescent literature if I can find one. (Again, please comment below with any suggestions).

8. Work through Teacherpreneurs

I recently purchased the book Teacherpreneurs: Innovative Teachers Who Lead But Don’t Leave. From just skimming the pages, the book seems to be a combination of a text book as well as a book that encourages discussion and reflection on the role of a teacher leader. I am at a point in my career where I really want to think about my next moves as an educator, and I think this book with help me to unpack my career desires.

9. Participate in the Talks with Teachers Summer Book Club. 

I just today signed up for the Talks with Teachers Summer Book Club, which is a completely free online book club for teachers in which we will read three books. In June, the selection will be a novel; I voted for Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which has been on my Goodreads to-read list for quite some time. A non-fiction selection will be chosen for July, followed by a back-to-school professional book in August.

10. Figure out how to participate in a Twitter chat.

I see great chats for educators advertised on Twitter all the time, and I just need to sit down and figure out how to navigate them. (Once again, please comment with any assistance!)

 

Change Agent: Orquidea Garcia, Supermamá de Cabarete

In the office of the Mariposa DR Foundation, located on Calle 9 in the Callejón de la Loma in Cabarete, Dominican Republic, Orquidea Garcia is known by her alias:”Supermamá”.

La Supermamá Orquidea (left) with Jennifer Dines (center), daughter Orianna (right) and two of the La Supermamá’s students

In 2010, when I first met Orquidea, she was very excited for her daughter, Orianna, to join the Mariposa DR Foundation’s First Ever Young Women’s Summer Leadership Program , an all-girls summer program that, in its first year, provided 50 at-risk teenage girls with four weeks of academics, activities, and excursions. When Orquidea agreed to join the program herself as a part of the School Staff Training Program, she took the first steps towards her new life as “Supermamá”.

Orquidea’s talents were immediately apparent in her abilities to use her quiet yet radiant personality to engage the Mariposa program’s young women in both casual conversation as well as in their academic work. I remember one day in early July of 2010, I walked into the library at Puerto Cabarete and saw Orquidea with a group of twenty or so girls. Not one of the girls turned towards myself or Mariposa Assistant Director Jessica Lawson when we entered the library. Orquidea had these young ladies completely enamored with a Spanish translation of Tomie di Paola’s Italian folktale Strega Nona. Afterwards, when I commented to Orquidea about her abilities as a librarian, she said: Jenny, tengo mucho ánimo. “Jenny, I have a lot of positive energy.”

Along with her neighbors and best friends, Claudia and Kathy, Orquidea continued to volunteer with the Mariposa DR Foundation, and in the fall of 2011, she was extremely excited when Executive Director Tricia Suriel arrived at her home along with Jessica Lawson to offer her a job working in the office of the foundation.

Today, Orquidea works full-time for the Mariposa DR Foundation, where she serves as the office manager. Each morning, she starts her day by chatting with the program’s young ladies as she prepares breakfast for them and then sends them off to school. Orquidea has gained many computer skills as well as learned English through her work in the office, and she handles e-mail and phone correspondence, arranging trips, appointments, and guest speakers.

Additionally, Orquidea tutors younger girls in mathematics, and she works closely with the girls in the health class alongside of clinical child psychologist Alexandra Milián Martinez. Although Orquidea admits that she worries frequently about the problems that these young ladies discuss in their groups, from typical trials of coming-of-age to more intense personal and family struggles, she loves being able to guide the young women of her community through their teen years and she is learning much from Martinez, her mentor.

Orquidea hopes to complete a degree in psychology at the local university in Puerto Plata, and she is currently taking the first steps towards making her dream a reality – Orquidea is completing her bachiller or high school diploma in evening classes at Puerto Cabarete, a local public school. Orquidea says that working with the Mariposa DR Foundation made her realize that she was actually very smart. Although she attended school through the 8th grade, she didn’t really think of herself as a serious student or learner until she began working with the young ladies in her community.

Between her roles as an office administrator, social work intern, student, and mathematics tutor, Orquidea remains a “Supermamá” to her beautiful daughter, Orianna, now age 13. Orianna graduated from the 8th grade in June, and she will begin classes at Colegio CADIN, a private preparatory school, in Islabón on Monday.

Orquidea is an inspiration to her friends, family, and students in the Cabarete community, and Literacy Change is proud to feature her as our very first Change Agent profile because Orquidea is making positive changes in education in her community, and she is a model of a teacher who is also a learner.