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.

img_8673

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

Reading from the Very Start: Establishing a Literacy Routine with Newborns

My daughters Sofia and Francine were born on June 1st, but their interactions with reading began from early in my pregnancy. Since I am a middle school literacy teacher,  the girls often heard me reading aloud to my students or heard my students reading aloud to me while still in utero. I noticed them kicking in reaction to read alouds during my second trimester. I remember when the librarian from the local library came to visit our sixth grade students, and I sat at my desk and felt the girls kicking me the whole time she read to the students. Also, I kept books in the car starting in the third trimester of my pregnancy, and I read aloud to the girls while their dad was driving.

It was much easier to keep up with reading to the girls when I was pregnant than it is now that they are actually here, but I am proud to say that I have found at least a few minutes every day to read to the girls. Below is an overview of the various reading materials I have tried in order to keep up with our reading routine.

Sing Along Books

I love the bilingual (Spanish and English) songbooks De Colores and Diez Deditos by Mexican-American educator Jose-Luis Orozco. The books are beautifully illustrated with colorful borders on each page, and background information as well as melodic notation are given for each song. I love the minimal arrangements of the music – mostly simple guitar accompaniment and vocals. Even if you don’t know much Spanish, these songs are so catchy that you will be singing along to them after only a few listens. Diez Deditos is especially fun for Sofia and Francine because I do the finger motions for each song on their bellies or arms when I sing along.

Sing Along Books by Mexican-American Author Jose Luis Orozco

Sing Along Books by Mexican-American Author Jose Luis Orozco

Audiobooks

I have found two electronic resources for free audiobooks that are great for when I am holding a baby and have only one hand free. Or when I am just completely exhausted but want the girls to have a few minutes of reading.

Librivox

Librivox is an amazing collection of over 15,000 audio books in the public domain. I have the LibriVox Audio Books app on my iPhone, and we are currently enjoying traditional tales by the Brothers Grimm and James Baldwin.

Reach Out and Read

The Reach Out and Read website is an unmissable resource for early childhood reading. I love the “Lola” audio books on their site because they are designed to get children excited about reading!

Children’s Chapter Books

My husband and I both enjoy reading chapter books to the girls. When I was still pregnant, I read The Little Prince to them just by having it in the car over a couple of days. We are currently about a third of the way through The Children’s Homer. The great thing about chapter books is that they really encourage me as a parent to keep reading to the girls because they hold my interest as well.  Also, they are easy to hold in one hand while holding a baby.

The Children's Homer: a chapter book for kids and adults as well

The Children’s Homer: a chapter book for kids and adults as well

Picture Books

Picture books are a little trickier to read alone with newborns because they are huge and not easy to hold in one hand. However, picture books are great when more than one adult is around or when the babies are in their bassinet or propped up on pillows.

Sofia and Francine received Take Two: A Celebration of Twins by J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen as a gift from my friend Pat Harris. It is such an adorable collection of poems and pictures for twins!

Sofia and Francine received Take Two: A Celebration of Twins by J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen as a gift from my friend Pat Harris. It is such an adorable collection of poems and pictures for twins!

 

Daddy Daughter Time: Reading a picture book after mealtime

Daddy Daughter Time: Reading a picture book after mealtime

Board Books

I enjoy reading board books with the girls when they are alert and awake (which is only for 20-3o minutes a few times per day), so they can look at the pictures. We usually will read 4 or 5 board books in one sitting.

Board books - all from my teacher friends

Board books – all from my teacher friends

 

Online Books

WeGiveBooks.org has a wide variety of short online books for ages 0-3. These books are great for when I am holding a baby in one arm. Our favorite so far is Skippyjon Jones Shape Up because Skippyjon does a lot of different movements, and I move the babies to match them as I read.

A Goodreads of Their Own

If you would like to check out what Sofia and Francine are reading, you can visit their Goodreads profile online. I am really enjoying keeping track of all the books we have read together, and I think they will enjoy looking at the list when they are older.

My goal is to create as many positive associations with reading as possible for my daughters and to show them that reading is a fun family activity and a great way to bond together.

 

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.

sf_library

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.

salem_whale

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!)