You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘second grade’ category.

Last night after eating too many churros, we decided to withdraw Zeke from second grade at our local public elementary school and homeschool him for the rest of the school year. Maybe it was the cinnamon talking, but it feels like the right thing to do.

I have entertained this idea since March, when it was clear that the distance learning provided by the school system on short notice was not enough to hold Zeke’s (or my) attention or provide any intellectual stimulation or challenge. So I made up school, confident that although I am not a licensed teacher and I don’t have the patience to stand in front of a classroom of 25 kids, I knew enough stuff to finish out first grade. Some days it worked, some days it didn’t. But I didn’t worry (too much) about it because I knew everyone in our community was in the same nebulous boat. Zeke read a lot of books and did a lot of math and that was good enough for me.

I do, however, have my own business and actual work to do, which I had decided would make it impossible for me to actually homeschool Zeke for a whole school year. I figured the school system had all summer to figure out how to make virtual learning work and that we would trust them to provide Zeke a good second-grade education. I even talked with the principal a couple times over the summer, who assured me Zeke would be in good hands even though there was so much up in the air.

So we picked up Zeke’s iPad and we participated in the virtual open house and we struggled to log in on the first day with everyone else in Arlington, and it got better on the second day. And every day after that it was slightly easier technologically, but every day Zeke asked why he had to go to school and said he would rather do homeschooling and had to be cajoled into getting dressed and logging on. Every day Zeke would come downstairs during sanctioned breaks and tell me his teacher told the class to tell their parents to remind them to go back at a certain time. He didn’t always remember exactly what time that was. And he’s still learning to actually tell time on a regular clock. Yesterday his teacher emailed me while I was in the middle of a meeting to tell me Zeke was not in class, and that he had been leaving class daily. I texted Randy to talk with Zeke about this. Zeke swore up and down that he was not leaving intentionally but was being kicked off by the app. Either or both of those things could have been true. I know he was bored by everything they were doing. He knows more about iPads and apps than I do and probably than the teacher does. I completely understand that other kids in the class need to learn all this, and it’s necessary for the teacher to spend time going over the use of the apps for the rest of the school year to proceed as planned, but I wondered how long it was going to be until something happened that engaged Zeke.

When I was in college I had a summer internship at a community newspaper in a nearby suburb. Journalism is my family’s trade and I had assumed since I was a kid that I would become a reporter, editing every school newspaper along the way. It turned out that I hated being a real reporter. What they asked me to do seemed far removed from the kind of writing I had envisioned doing. And some of what they asked me to do just felt wrong. When I discussed this with one of my editors, he said I had to pay my dues. My reaction was that I didn’t want to pay any dues, I wanted to write. So after college I launched a career writing for and about nonprofit organizations, which has proven much more satisfying. The reason I bring all this up is that I feel like Zeke slogging through virtual learning was the equivalent of him paying his dues. But to what end?

Then last night I attended virtual back to school night. The principal and assistant principal at Zeke’s school are lovely people. I had witnessed his teacher doing her damnedest to make all this work even though none of it was what she had signed up for. These people are responsible for educating hundreds of kids and working with an immensely diverse group of families. I get it. But watching the standard presentation about school and the standard presentation about second grade left me cold. There was nothing that got me excited for Zeke or optimistic about what lay ahead for him. If we were in non-Covid times and had been at back to school night in person, I think I would have overlooked the standardness of everything, banking on the fact that Zeke would make friends and develop a relationship with his teacher and experience new opportunities at school that I couldn’t provide for him at home. But in virtual school they have no chance to make friends, or even chat with their classmates. It is not part of the schedule. And it’s really hard to differentiate for a variety of skill levels when you’re all watching one screen. I know they are supposed to use Mondays to pull small groups for extra help, but that wouldn’t include Zeke. The tipping point may have been when the teacher told us that the kids needed to stop spinning in their chairs and doodling and playing with fidget toys. They are seven years old and they have to do school from home and not go anywhere or do anything fun. I think you can at least allow them a little spinning or fidgeting or doodling. It is entirely possible, and even helpful to many kids (and adults) to do something with their hands or bodies while they are listening to someone talk. I’m pretty positive the teacher isn’t going to be able to stop these kids from moving during class, and I imagine everyone is going to get frustrated if she tries.

Earlier in the summer I had reached out to various communities I’m part of to convene parents to talk about what on earth they were planning to do with their kids if school was all virtual this fall. This was before we knew school would be all virtual this fall. Some parents were trying to form learning pods or social pods, some were already committing to homeschool, and many were entirely unsure of what path to take. So this week I’ve been reading all my notes from these discussions and the emails folks have exchanged about homeschool resources. I started researching curricula and found one–based on literature and secular–that I really liked. I made a list of pros and cons and discussed them with Randy. Then Randy and I explained to Zeke what pros and cons are (Zeke’s initial guess was that pros are people who are really good at something, which is also true). Zeke added his own ideas to the lists, and enthusiastically agreed that he didn’t want to sit in front of the iPad for five hours a day. Together we watched a video about the curriculum and Zeke promised that he would do the work and I promised to be patient. Today I filed the notice of intent to homeschool paperwork with the school district and emailed the principal, assistant principal, and teacher to let them know our plans. We’re ordering the curriculum and plan to start Monday.

Today Zeke begged not to go to virtual school, and since we had already made this decision it seemed silly to force him, so I made an ad hoc lesson plan. We did some logic and word puzzles from his puzzle magazine. He read his book of female Marvel superheroes, and wrote a story about Rogue. He usually complains vociferously about writing by hand, so I let him write in Google Docs on my iPad. He wrote a whole paragraph. He knew how to press a key and say a word that he wanted to spell and the iPad supplied it. I don’t even know how you do that. When we needed to leave the house, I asked him to stop writing. He said, “once you start writing, it’s hard to stop.” He has never, ever, ever said anything like this and almost always whined and moaned when asked to write anything. And he did a few pages of multiplication tables in a workbook I bought back in the spring but never got around to using. I am not under the illusion that it will always go this smoothly, but I felt like it was a good omen. I think homeschooling will provide opportunities for Zeke that I haven’t even imagined yet.

I’m going to have to be more organized and disciplined to get my work done and homeschool Zeke at the same time. But I’ll figure it out, because I think it’s the best thing for him. I hope and pray that this pandemic will end sooner rather than later and he will be back in the classroom next year, and running around at recess, and telling jokes to his friends in the cafeteria. In the meantime, wish us luck.

It’s the kind of morning where you drop your second-grader off at a three-hour outdoor, socially distanced theater camp where a staff member comes up to your car wearing a mask and a face shield and asks–literally–how everyone in our family is feeling and takes your kid’s temperature twice.

You think about how ironic it is that all these years when you’ve dropped off kids at camps you wished you could just let them jump out of the car and walk themselves in, but usually you have to park the car and go in with them and sign them in and show ID and whisper the secret password. Now because of Covid, the counselors come to the car and don’t want you to get out.

After you and your kid kiss goodbye through your masks, and you’re pulling out of the church parking lot, your eighth-grader says she’s glad she doesn’t go to day camps anymore where you get there and you don’t know anyone but it seems like everyone else knows each other. You hope that you weren’t just imagining another kid saying hello to yours so he might have a built-in friend there.

Then your stomach drops as you flash back to the many, many mornings that each of your kids screamed and cried when you dropped them off at preschool or at a day camp that just moments or hours or days before they were really excited about and not indicating that they were going to have a full-on meltdown at the door of the classroom. Even though those days are long past, that brick in your stomach feeling doesn’t go away. Just like when you attend a wedding and you think of your own, or when you go to a funeral and get sad for everyone else you’ve ever lost, that sensation feels fresh and intense even though it’s been dredged up from a memory.

On the way home you go through the drive-thru at Dunkin’ (they dropped the Donuts name but still sell the donuts) so your teenager can buy a coffee drink that is cryptically named “The Charli” after a famous TikTokker. When we pull up to the menu you point out that “The Charli” is not listed anywhere. She says you have to ask for it. You are skeptical, but you say to the invisible person on the other side of the intercom, “Do you have a drink called The Charli?” And she says yes, though you detect a hint of derision in her tone. So you order the drink and drive up to the window and collect it and your teenager takes photos and maybe even videos of herself trying the drink. She says she doesn’t know what’s in it, but since the TikTokker likes it, she is sure she will as well. Fortunately, she does! Otherwise you would be really irritated at having spent $4.02 on an off-menu coffee drink named for a minor celebrity, instead of just mildly bewildered at yourself and your child for both your life choices.

The second day was so much better. Thank God.

I would still give anything to have the kids back in regular in-person school right now, in a Covid-free world, but I no longer think the school year will be a complete disaster. (I may have been a little dramatic yesterday. It was a little rough.)

Today both kids were able to log into their classes with no problem, and I think only Zeke got kicked out a couple times but easily logged back in. They came downstairs on their lunch breaks and ate healthy food. Meanwhile, I was in a three-hour meeting, which luckily I didn’t have to leave to intervene. Also fortunately Randy was working from home again since he assembled his fancy new desk yesterday so he was on hand to clean up some spills.

Both kids were exhausted after their school days ended. We made a quick smoothie run as a reward. They had martial arts tonight for the first time after school instead of during the day when it was all summer. Zeke was acting so out of it that his instructor called me after class to see if he was ok. After a summer of relatively little exertion, he needs to figure out a new routine. Inertia is strong with that one. Zoe, as a black belt, remains motivated and really loves the community her class provides, even when it’s virtual. When this thing is finally over, I’m going to be so excited to go back to EvolveAll and to church.

So yesterday morning started off pretty rocky, but by the evening I was proud of us for surviving the day, and especially proud of myself for successfully advocating for Zoe. In addition to all the technical glitches, Zoe had been placed in an elective class she did not want. The teacher of one of the classes she did want said she was welcome to transfer into his class, but her counselor said that wasn’t allowed because of…reasons. But I persisted and the counselor said she asked the counseling gods to make an exception and they agreed! I am usually disinclined to make waves but I felt strongly that in the midst of all this chaos and uncertainty I wanted Zoe to have something to look forward to at school and not dread. Happily, she has reported that she really likes her other teachers and the classes seem promising, so I’m glad about all that.


My mood is lighter today than it has been in a while. There have been other days when I’ve felt like this, like when we went to the alpaca farm with friends. How can you feel sad around a bunch of adorable alpacas? But then something happens and it seems like one step forward two steps back, or 10 steps back. Because, you know, the world is still a freaking disaster right now. But I’ll take what I can get. And a good day is something to be thankful for.

There are no new outfits laid out for tomorrow. No backpacks filled with fresh school supplies, no lunches prepared in the fridge. We haven’t met any of Zoe’s teachers. We sort of met Zeke’s teacher online for a few minutes but she was preoccupied providing tech support to everyone. Usually the night before the first day of school is exciting, if also nerve-wracking. But this year—-the year of Covid—we are mostly filled with dread.

Ok maybe I’m just speaking for me. But I do know my kids are not looking forward to tomorrow. Based on the track record with school technology, we have extremely low expectations for how smoothly anything will go. And what are we supposed to say to motivate them? How can you make new friends in second grade when you can’t see any of your classmates or talk to them at lunch or play with them at recess? And friends are the only thing that makes middle school bearable but once again, how can you find them when the only activity you have in common is sitting in your room watching your teacher on a screen?

To be clear, I don’t blame teachers for this. I love teachers. I know teachers work their butts off and I know they hate this situation as much as we do. They didn’t sign up for this. And I assume that the principals and administrators are all doing the best they can. Certainly I wouldn’t want to be working for a school district and trying to figure this mess out. I guess I could blame Trump for his ineptitude at handling the country’s response to the virus. But that doesn’t really help us tonight.

I heard on NPR that a quarter of Americans report having symptoms of depression during the pandemic. And that probably doesn’t count kids, whose feelings often manifest in a million different ways that can be hard to identify. I’ve witnessed a wide variety of these behaviors this summer. And what’s going to change now? The kids will have something they have to do during the day, but will they be engaged in it? Will any of it be fun? Will they be able to develop any real relationships? Is there anything to look forward to? I’m generally an optimistic person, but sustaining a positive outlook these days is hard. I can only manage it for a few minutes at a time.

I have thought a lot about homeschooling Zeke but ultimately I don’t feel like I could devote the attention to teaching him that he deserves and also do my job. And I want him to have friends. More recently I thought about taking Zoe out of her middle school and enrolling her in a virtual homeschool program that is more established and seems more well run than her school which is currently making everything up as they go along. But she wanted to stick with what she knows, even if it’s not exactly what she’s used to. I thought about arguing about it more but I honestly don’t know what the right thing to do is.

I want my kids to be good people, and be kind and curious and creative. I want them to want to learn new things and meet new people. I want them to learn how to get along in the world while still being true to themselves. I want them to have fun. Can they do all that in virtual school? Is it up to us to teach them these things and not rely on school for anything? Is the time they’re going to spend staring at their iPads going to be worthwhile or a waste? I do not know.

In any case, I’m setting my alarm for earlier than usual, so I can make sure everyone is awake and dressed and fed before school starts. The school district tech support number is written on a post it note on my desk.

If your kid is starting school tomorrow, good luck. May the force be with you. Here goes…

I have no idea why my hair grows out instead of down. I have left the realm of Bob Ross hair and have entered Malcolm Gladwell territory, and that’s not somewhere my hair wants to be.

But like every other seemingly small decision in our current circumstances, I have to evaluate the relative risk and safety of getting my hair cut. I’ve gone to see my stylist once since the pandemic started, and the salon was practically deserted and we were both masked. But every day is a new chance for some coronavirus bits to float in through the front door, right?

School starts a week from tomorrow and our house is in chaos. We are rearranging most of the rooms in order to give the kids their own rooms. This was a shift we had first discussed in the spring before the pandemic, which we planned to implement when summer started. Then we canceled that plan because my office, which was to become Zeke’s bedroom, was suddenly occupied by my husband, who was working from home. Because my work is more flexible and sporadic, my office became wherever in the house I was sitting.

Of course none of that has changed—we are still both working from home—but the realization that the pandemic is nowhere near over and the kids may be doing school from home from now through June has become undeniable. So we have been selling furniture and giving away furniture and buying new furniture and rearranging furniture to accommodate everyone in the hopes that we will each have a modicum of privacy and quiet. Randy will carve out a corner of our bedroom for his office and I will try to create an oasis for myself on one wall of the family room. In the meantime, our stuff is in bins and boxes and piled in the hall while we try to assemble all the pieces of the puzzle.

Hopefully a positive side effect of this undertaking will be the purging of many toys and books and who knows what else that’s lurking in our closets. I have no idea what to do with all the upcycled art I’ve made. It feels like it would be counterproductive to throw it in the trash from whence it was once rescued. I am trying to calmly remind myself that this whole thing will take a while. Of course we want the kids’ rooms mostly in place by Tuesday, but getting all the details right and inevitably buying accessories and giving things away in order to maintain the proper balance of stuff takes time.

Zoe is the most excited of all of us about this transition. She has thoughtfully researched design concepts on Pinterest and noted cool lighting and decor she’s seen on TikTok. I asked her if she could help Zeke with his decorating, so she asked him what kind of vibe he was going for. I don’t think vibe means a lot to a seven-year-old, even one as sophisticated as Zeke. He has said he wants to put up some of his drawings on the walls. I suggested getting a white board so he could write down things he needs to do or when certain activities are happening. He said, “maybe YOU need to remember when things are happening, but I don’t.” Perhaps he’s right.

So we’ve been spending a lot of furniture but it’s probably fine because we saved so much on school supplies this year. No need for new backpacks or lunchboxes or pencils or crayons or erasers or glue sticks. Or all those supplies that are communally used in elementary school—tissues, ziploc bags, wipes. We did go to Target and buy some notebooks and folders and post-it notes for each kid. Otherwise we have enough crayons, markers, pencils, and paper for a whole class of kids. We stopped by Zeke’s school today to pick up his new iPad, and we received instructions from Zoe’s school about how to reset hers for the new year.

The thrill of a new school year is tarnished by the fact that the kids aren’t actually going to school. I’ve seen so many first day photos on Facebook of kids at their desks, or in bed with a laptop. Zoe dyed some of her hair pink this afternoon for the occasion. We’ve gotta figure out something to get us excited.

I keep hearing fragments of news items like social distancing will continue for two more years and we’re heading into another Great Depression and we won’t be allowed to shake hands or hug people in the future. As the saying goes, I can’t even.

I actively avoid watching or listening to the President speak because most of what he says is false, damaging, and hateful. But I hear plenty of commentary on social media and it all makes me sick. I can’t even count the number of times during this administration that I thought, “this behavior is disgusting/appalling/illegal/shocking/impeachable/fill in word or expression of your choice here. Surely our country will not let this stand.” And then nothing happens. I remember when Trump was authorizing the government to steal immigrant children from their parents and put these children in cages and mistreat them and I thought, “how can this get any worse? This is the lowest of the low.” Clearly a failure of my imagination to make the leap to pandemic in which hundreds of thousands of lives are at stake because Trump doesn’t want to look bad and doesn’t want the economy he benefits from to suffer.

Please don’t tell me to limit my media consumption, because right now it’s already at a minimum, but it’s essential to me to stay connected to people I care about and to see cute videos of babies hugging and everyone’s new puppy. I can’t bear to isolate myself any more than I already am.

The return to homeschool today went ok. Midmorning I texted Zeke’s kindergarten teacher (even though he’s in first grade now) to ask her to 1) give Zeke a pep talk and 2) help me with strategies to get him past his refusal to write. She was, as always, extremely kind and enthusiastic and helpful. We’ll see whether Zeke decides to cooperate tomorrow. I offered the incentive of an extra 30 minutes of screen time if he does his writing work with a good attitude. I also realized that he’s really good at finding effective ways to communicate and record things without writing. He’s making a Kahoot for his birthday, which we did for Zoe as well. A Kahoot is an online quiz you can create about anything, and then invite people to take it. He asked for help coming up with some of the questions, but instead of trying to write them out, he used the dictation feature to speak the questions aloud, then went back to edit them by hand if there were any mistakes. He did this with near 100% accuracy (not including punctuation or capitalization, which are not super important in an online quiz). Also he added images to the quiz from both my photo gallery and the Getty images gallery included in Kahoot, which I didn’t even know existed. He basically did the whole thing himself, with minimal assistance. He and Zoe both use voice recognition or Siri to find things online that they want to watch, or look up information. And it doesn’t always work–which is usually funny–but often it does and they never had to write anything at all. Maybe I’m worrying too much about this. It’s not that Zeke needs to be writing pages filled with beautiful prose. I just don’t want him to freak out when asked to write a word or a sentence. Teachers have a lot more patience than I do, as well as that whole degree in education thing. I’m looking forward to second grade.

I had the privilege of leading the service this morning at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, in a fabulous collaboration with Ashley Greve and Bob Blinn. Our wonderful artist in residence Maya Rogers led the music.

You can watch the service here!

I included this poem by Naomi Shihab Nye as part of my prayer and meditation.

Different Ways to Pray

There was the method of kneeling,
a fine method, if you lived in a country
where stones were smooth.
The women dreamed wistfully of bleached courtyards,
hidden corners where knee fit rock.
Their prayers were weathered rib bones,
small calcium words uttered in sequence,
as if this shedding of syllables could somehow
fuse them to the sky.

There were the men who had been shepherds so long
they walked like sheep.
Under the olive trees, they raised their arms—
Hear us! We have pain on earth!
We have so much pain there is no place to store it!
But the olives bobbed peacefully
in fragrant buckets of vinegar and thyme.
At night the men ate heartily, flat bread and white cheese,
and were happy in spite of the pain,
because there was also happiness.

Some prized the pilgrimage,
wrapping themselves in new white linen
to ride buses across miles of vacant sand.
When they arrived at Mecca
they would circle the holy places,
on foot, many times,
they would bend to kiss the earth
and return, their lean faces housing mystery.

While for certain cousins and grandmothers
the pilgrimage occurred daily,
lugging water from the spring
or balancing the baskets of grapes.
These were the ones present at births,
humming quietly to perspiring mothers.
The ones stitching intricate needlework into children’s dresses,
forgetting how easily children soil clothes.

There were those who didn’t care about praying.
The young ones. The ones who had been to America.
They told the old ones, you are wasting your time.
Time?—The old ones prayed for the young ones.
They prayed for Allah to mend their brains,
for the twig, the round moon,
to speak suddenly in a commanding tone.

And occasionally there would be one
who did none of this,
the old man Fowzi, for example, Fowzi the fool,
who beat everyone at dominoes,
insisted he spoke with God as he spoke with goats,
and was famous for his laugh.

Here’s my reflection: The New Kid

The New Kid

Picture me, age 7, wearing a sunshine yellow Izod shirt and matching cotton shorts, missing a couple teeth, cruising down the sidewalk in blue and white roller skates. I would happily skate up people’s driveways to see who was available to play. Some days we watched monster movies with Geoff and David, some days we twirled batons with Amy and Karen, some days we played king of the hill on the pile of mulch in the Perrys’ driveway. It was all very suburban and lovely. Until…

After I finished second grade, our neighborhood elementary school closed and became a police station. The kids in our neighborhood were sent to two different schools, one of which included the gifted program that I had been assigned to. I was nervous about going to a new school, but then third grade started, and I found my people, and absolutely loved my new school. One of my best friends from third grade remains one of my best friends today.

Meanwhile, back in my neighborhood, something strange was happening. When the kids I used to play with in the cul-de-sac realized I wasn’t going to school with them anymore, they stopped playing with me. Or speaking to me. Somehow, they got this idea, whether it was from their parents or each other or who knows where, that I thought I was better than them. I didn’t. I wasn’t. Just because I was going to a different school with a different program did not mean I didn’t still want to ride bikes and play tag with them. I did. But I wasn’t allowed to anymore. They unceremoniously unwelcomed me from their midst. It was awkward and painful. They assumed something about me that wasn’t true—that I was suddenly arrogant, or a snob, even though I wasn’t behaving any differently than I had when we were hanging out in their basements. But that was that.

Fast forward a few years to ninth grade and another fork in the academic road. My friends from junior high were scattering to different high schools. My neighborhood school did not have a stellar reputation. I had heard rumors of chain-wielding gangs of immigrants roaming the hallways. Somehow, I bought into some bizarre stereotypes. I assumed the worst. So, I found a math class I could take at another, allegedly better, high school, and transferred. And I had the absolute worst year of my entire public education career. At this school, which was much richer and much whiter than my neighborhood school, people were mean to me. I was turned away from activities I wanted to do. Hardly anyone in my classes spoke to me. I was miserable. I made a handful of friends who sustained me that year, mostly people from the literary magazine who considered themselves willing outcasts of the school’s elitist culture. By the end of the year I was willing to face the prospect of roving gangs at my neighborhood school because I figured they couldn’t possibly be more unkind than the privileged white kids I’d been surrounded by all year.

First period in 10th grade I walked into Mr. Lunsford’s biology class at my neighborhood school and a whole bunch of people, most of whom I had never met, seemed surprisingly, genuinely happy to see me. As the days and weeks went on I was warmly greeted by familiar faces from elementary school and total strangers. I felt at home instantly. And guess what? No threatening thugs anywhere. Whatever I had assumed turned out not to be true. Surprise!

Recently I’ve been reading this book—Wonder by RJ Palacio—with my daughter at bedtime. I read it originally when it came out in 2012, and it’s one of my favorite books. Wonder is about a boy named August Pullman who is starting middle school and he’s nervous. Not just because he’s been homeschooled his whole life, or because it’s middle school, but also because he has a severe craniofacial anomaly. Genetics conspired to make Auggie’s face startlingly different from typical faces. By age 10 he has already undergone dozens of surgeries. When Auggie introduces himself at the beginning of the book, he says, “I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.” Our only insight into Auggie’s appearance comes from his description of people’s reactions to him. Stares, gasps, kids running away on the playground. At his new school, all but a couple kids give him a wide berth. They cover their mouths when they whisper about him, but he knows exactly what they’re saying. Many of them play a cruel game they call the Plague, where they try not to touch Auggie, even in passing, and if they do they have to immediately wash their hands to prevent catching what they somehow imagine is the disease that caused Auggie’s facial differences.

The few kids who actually get to know Auggie discover that he’s awesome. He’s funny, he’s smart, he’s kind. He loves all things Star Wars, and playing video games, and when his dog Daisy licks his face. But because he looks so different, most kids, and many parents, don’t give him a chance. They make assumptions, such as that the school made an exception to admit a student with special needs who requires extra accommodations, none of which is true. One mom goes so far as to Photoshop Auggie’s face out of the class picture, saying he just doesn’t fit in.

Later in the book we do read a detailed description of Auggie’s looks from the point of view of his big sister, Olivia. She is realizing that there’s the Auggie she sees, of whom she has always been fiercely protective, and the Auggie that other people see. She is candid about the effects that having a little brother who looks so shockingly different has had on her life. She is loving, and patient, but also weary. And honest.

Olivia’s voice is one of several we hear in Wonder, in addition to August’s, which is one of the reasons I love this book so much. Mr. Tushman, the director of August’s school, says at one point, “there are almost always more than two sides to every story,” and RJ Palacio offers us windows into the many facets of this story. She wrote a companion book in 2014 called Auggie & Me, which tells the same story through the lens of three other characters, including Julian, who is Auggie’s greatest antagonist in Wonder. Just as so many kids make assumptions about Auggie based on his looks, the reader makes assumptions about Julian based on his behavior. Clearly, he’s just a jerk, right? But there are, as Mr. Tushman points out, almost always more than two sides to every story.

Our brains are hardwired to categorize for survival—is this creature friendly or likely to eat me? Is this food edible or poisonous? But what happens when that desire to classify everything you see gets out of control? I struggle with this constantly. Is that person thinner than me or fatter than me? Does that person have holes in her clothes because she can’t afford better clothes or because she’s trying to be fashionable? Why is it fashionable to have holes in your clothes? My brain goes into overdrive. So while I want to be welcoming, while I aspire to be friendly, while I deeply wish I were the person who goes over and sits down at the lunch table where the different looking new kid is sitting all alone on the first day of school, I don’t know if I really am. I am convinced that sometimes my assumptions—about someone else or myself—get in the way. What if that person who is crying just wants to be left alone? What if I am insensitive because of my white privilege? What if I ask an intrusive question because I am curious?

Sometimes this interrogation of myself keeps me from being welcoming, inclusive, or brave. Our theme here at UUCA for September is welcome. So today I’m making a commitment to be more welcoming, everywhere I go, whether I am greeting the new kid or I am the new kid. I’m making a commitment to not let those questions and assumptions ricocheting around my head get in the way of reaching out to someone. I’m making a commitment to remember that there are almost always more than two sides to every story, and to do what I can to listen to all the sides.

One of the great characters in Wonder is Auggie’s English teacher, Mr. Browne, who teaches his students about precepts—words to live by—and encourages them to come up with their own. I’ll leave you with Mr. Browne’s precept for September, a quote from Dr. Wayne Dyer: “When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”

May it be so. May it be so. May it be so. Amen.

Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 11.43.42 AMI’ve been volunteering once a week in Zoe’s class this year to help kids with reading and writing. Next week is my last time in the classroom for the year. As I’ve written here before, it’s been a wonderful experience. Recently the class has been working on writing letters, so I wrote them one of my own. 

May 29, 2015

Dear Zoe, Zain, Ryan, Parin, Morgan, Madeleine, Lillian, Kevin, Kari, José, Jonathan, Jon, Jeremy, Jackson, Isabel, Hannah, Denis, Clare, Christopher, Bryant, Brenda, Ben, Angela, and Ms. deOlazo,

Thank you so much for welcoming me into your classroom as a volunteer this year! I have really enjoyed getting to know all of you and working with you to strengthen your writing and reading skills.

I have been impressed by how hard you have worked, how creative you have been, and all the great questions you have asked. I’ve seen your reading and writing grow so much throughout the year and I am so proud of you! You’ve written beautiful haikus, funny limericks, lovely letters, bold book reviews, and more. I’m always interested to know what you’re reading and I love seeing it when you get really wrapped up in a book. I love your enthusiasm for the stories that Ms. D reads to the class and how you can’t wait to find out what happens next.

Just as much as you’ve improved your reading and writing, you’ve also grown as people. I like how you are so generous in helping each other when your friends get stuck or need to know how a word is spelled. I like how engaged you are in the games and activities that Ms. deOlazo comes up with, like the concentration exercises, stretching and meditation, and even four corners. I know that the abilities you are developing now will be incredibly useful to you as you move through school and into life. It’s wonderful that Ms. D is teaching you how to work together, how to solve problems in interesting ways, and how to be flexible and imaginative. Those are important skills for everyone to have.

I will miss spending time with your class so much! I hope you have a wonderful summer and that I will see you all next fall.

Yours,

Ms. Rosso

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,199 other followers

Follow You Ask a Lot of Questions on WordPress.com

Listen to my podcast: Five Questions with Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso

http://betsyrosso.podbean.com
%d bloggers like this: