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imagesI realized recently that Zeke has a different mom than Zoe did. Certainly I gave birth to both of them. I remember both days clearly. But I have come to understand that I am a different person than I was seven years ago, and that it is impossible to be the same mother when you have two kids as you were with your first. And they are totally different human beings, so you can’t really parent them in the same way.

Does this seem totally obvious? Perhaps it is, but it just occurred to me the other day, and Zeke is almost 13 months old. I realized as he was lying on the rug in the kids room, crying and gently rolling back and forth, that I have a much higher threshold for crying than I did with Zoe. Not that I enjoy hearing Zeke cry, but it is usually clear to me that he’s not breaking or broken, especially when he’s lying on the floor crying and doesn’t want to be held, and that he just needs to get over himself. Zoe did not have tantrums, except for a couple months at bedtime when she was giving up her afternoon nap. Apparently we were extraordinarily lucky in that regard. Zeke has already started these microtantrums when he doesn’t get what he wants. I just look at him in disbelief, like “you are not doing this. I refuse to acknowledge your behavior.”

I used to worry before Zeke was born that he wouldn’t get as much attention as Zoe did when she was little. If anything, he gets more. It’s hard to ignore a baby. And truthfully, impractical and unwise. It’s much easier to make the seven-year-old do her own thing, which thankfully she is quite capable of, but doesn’t always enjoy. And Zeke has two parents and a sister to chase him around. He is not hurting for attention.

At the same time, I definitely let him do things I would never have let Zoe do. I don’t know if this is because I am 40 and tired, more distracted–and sometimes trying hard to pay attention to Zoe, especially when she’s playing soccer, practicing martial arts, or doing homework–or more relaxed. Or if it’s because he’s a boy or because he has an insane amount of energy and doesn’t seem to mind diving headfirst off furniture. You would think this last one would make me pay more attention and that would be something we would not let him do, but he is fast and determined and very rubbery, it seems. During Zoe’s soccer practice last week Zeke was furiously climbing up a hill, into the trees. He was fine. There were many parents and other siblings there who I’m sure saw him. Would I have let Zoe out of my site climbing through nature for even one second when she was one? Unlikely. I am hoping this means I am just more chill and not actually negligent.

So my attitude and my attention span have changed, but I also recognize that Zeke’s adventurousness and mischievousness demand a different parent than Zoe did. I don’t know if this is because he’s a second child or a boy or just the happenstance of his personality, which is already joyfully and exasperatingly abundant. But I know what worked with Zoe won’t necessarily work with him. He is going to make me develop some new skills, which is not a bad thing, but I’m sure won’t be easy. Being the mom of a seven-year-old requires different skills than parenting a four-year-old for sure, so clearly I am a work in progress already. Even at this moment I can feel my tolerance for dirt increasing dramatically.

There Is a Bird on Your HeadToday I volunteered in Zoe’s first-grade classroom for the first time. Her teacher had asked if I would come in and read with kids. When I arrived, she handed me an index card with five kids’ names on it. I read about the life cycle of frogs, about goats (I learned there are more than 600 kinds), about how monsters make their meals (lots of metal junk), about Teeny Tiny Tina, about a tricky Grandpa, and about Elephant and Piggie dealing with a bird who makes himself at home on Elephant’s head.

Zoe’s teacher has signs posted all over the room about how to read–strategies for sounding out words, techniques for reading with partners, questions to ask yourself to help you understand what you’re reading. I’d attended a reading celebration in the classroom already so I was familiar with the techniques. I’ve loved learning about how first grade works now because it seems completely different than it was in 1981 when I was in it. The options for reading with partners include choral reading (reading in unison), taking turns page by page, or echoing. With every book I read with every student, I asked how he or she wanted to read that one. When L. and I were going to read There Is a Bird on Your Head he chose echoing. L. is a fairly fluent reader, and I thought echoing was really for kids who are still trying to sound out words, but it was his choice. And, although it took a long time, echo reading with him–especially that book–was fun. He read with enthusiasm and expression, and I echoed. I realized I could simply mirror his expression or interpret the lines (which are short) in a slightly different way with different inflection. I could see the benefit to echo reading for a young reader to hear another way of doing it even as he’s exploring his way.

A few kids saw me carrying my card and wanted to know whose names were on it. One boy who is a friend of Zoe’s asked if I was going to read with him. When I said not today, he said he hoped I would read with him next time.

As I was leaving, the teacher thanked me and said I was welcome to read with the kids anytime, and asked if I would be willing to read to them aloud–as if this would be a significant and daring feat to accomplish. I said yes. She also said she appreciated me coming in because some of the kids don’t have anyone to read with them at home. Somehow I was startled by this. I realize there’s a wide socioeconomic spectrum in Zoe’s class, and probably some parents work multiple jobs. But the idea that no one would be reading to these kids at home was heartbreaking to me. Zoe has probably spent thousands and thousands of hours reading and being read to over the past six years–by parents, grandparents, teachers, babysitters, and whoever else was willing. All this good book time has made her the reader she is today. Thinking that some of these kids don’t get to enjoy that time and attention at home makes me want to go back soon and read with all of them. By the end of the year I will know everything there is to know about goats.

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