Sunday, August 24, 2014

6 to 9

This is my beautiful daughter...over a decade ago. In conversations with other moms it seemed many moms had their "favorite" age or stage to experience with their child. My husband used to tease me because every summer I would gush about how, "THIS was the best summer EVER because our kids are the PERFECT age."
     "Teres, you say that EVERY summer!" I had to concede that was basically true, and maybe because each age grew to be my favorite for different reasons.  The cocoon cuddling of my newborn baby contentedly sighing asleep on my chest, to the lurching marionette arms of my infant asleep in the crib, to my baby giggling and arm flapping in excitement as I would read board books, to my toddler teetering about exploring the world on herky-jerky legs, to my pre-schooler asking "Why?" to just about everything encountered, to my school ager thinking independently and forming opinions of what is just and unjust in the world. All these ages and stages a glorious continuum of splendor. If I were truly pressed to select just ONE age or stage that was my favorite though, it would have to be six to nine months. According to Women and Children's Health Network, there are some amazing milestones that little ones at this age reach. Along with rolling over front to back, swapping toys from one hand to the other, scooting, crawling, sitting up, discovering hands and feet, working out food and textures, there are some big social and emotional pieces as well. The six to nine month old begins to realize that he or she is a separate individual with certain concrete physical boundaries and that his or her parents are separate individuals as well. With this realization sometimes comes apprehension of whether or not those favorite individuals will be there or return when absent from the baby's world.  The six to nine month old also begins to differentiate specific feelings and communicate his or her desires. This wonder emerges due to the former responses of caregivers to the baby's needs.  Recognition of familiar and favorite individuals occurs, and the baby of this age is very sociable and babbling. Women and Children's Health Network

I can freshly recall this stage for both of my children. These two pictures of my daughter beautifully capture her in the midst of the mentioned milestones.  Her aquamarine eyes frequently were sparkling with surprise and wonderment from anything to a story or song I was sharing with her to the newly blooming crocus in our front yard. Her hands and feet were also a sheer delight to her.  She would watch in awe as it dawned on her she could not only wave those pudgy little hands on the end of her appendages she could actually use those phenomenal phalanges to obtain a better look at the terrific tootsies on the other end of her little body. As long as she was at it, may as well give them a taste

because how else does a baby experience the world?
I made a connection the other day when someone asked what grade level I was teaching this school year. I have taught pre-school, kindergarten, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. I also was fortunate to instruct undergraduate and graduate level education students at university.  Like my biological children's ages and stages, each of these levels were my favorite instructionally for different reasons. However, if pressed, I would also choose 6 to 9 (grades, not months) as my favorite years of students with whom I share learning.  When I made the move back to middle school this year, many friends and colleagues had commentary. In unjustified sweeping generalizations too many were inclined to give middle schoolers a bad rap. I heard terms like "gawky," "awkward," "armpit of adolescence." My response was always to advocate for these my favorite aged students. Like 6 to 9 month olds, the grades 6 to 9 can be a bit encumbered when attempting to do things more independently. In moments of self-realization as independent beings they may balk against (or cling to) adults closest to them, all the while wondering if that adult will keep showing up for them. Six to nines are finding out who they are as individuals and honing the words and communication to reveal that to the communities in which they find themselves.  Despite any glitches along the journey, overall though these brilliant 6 to 9s are discovering themselves and their world in new and wonderful ways.  If the right loving persons come along side them to encourage them and point out magnificent elements along the journey and within each traveller, what a joy and excitement life and learning is for EVERYONE involved. How fortunately blessed am I that I have an opportunity to BE one of those persons for these 6 to 9s!


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Kind of like Frogger...

Remember this?

                                                                         via (

Just glimpsing this screen shot ala 1981 I could hear the "blip, bleep, blip, blip-blip-blip" in my mind. I spent a slender sliver of my youth BEING the frog. With the Atari joystick,  I would assist his treacherous journey across first the black top, avoiding various vehicles including (but not limited to) cars, buses, taxis, dune buggies, vans, and taxis. Then (hopefully) making it to the aquatic top screen tier to face turtles, logs, and alligators. "In November 1982 Frogger earned the ominous distinction of being 'the arcade game with the most ways to die'" (Softline p.19 retrieved 17 Aug.14). Frogger had its challenges to be sure, there were certain variables on the top aquatic tier. The bottom asphalt tier was generally straightforward as the vehicles traveled in horizontal paths with only minor accelerations and rare swerving.  I found a bit more in the way of variables (and potential ways to die) when I headed out cycling for my first go in Hanoi. Just to give you an idea...

Hanoi traffic via Lonely Planet

My husband had seen these videos and ridden through traffic in taxis, so his final words to me as I departed that morning were, "Please come home alive." My retort, in sixteen year old girl tone, "I'll be fiiiiine." After my 25k around West Lake and beyond, rolling some very exciting roads, and a quick stop for watermelon juice, I returned home. "How was it?" my husband queried. My reply?

"It. Was. AWESOME! Like being IN the game of Frogger, but with no extra frog lives. Additionally the experience laughed in the face of most of the conventional bike safety protocol I have learned prior."

My husband shook his head and walked away mumbling something about "no thanks" or "I don't get it" or perhaps he was just questioning my sanity in general. I was hooked and began the process of researching which bike I would buy since I was riding a borrowed cycle.

I learned some important things from the people with whom I was cycling on that first ride. First, despite the fact many viewers interpret the traffic as chaos there is a certain hierarchy. Buses and cars own the top of the pyramid. Wherever they choose to go is okay, be warned. Motor bikes occupy the next level down on the pyramid, leaving bicycles on the bottom with walkers weaving where they may. We were told when walking across a street walk a steady pace at a slight diagonal and just keep going everyone else will avoid you. Lesson: even when I do not see a pattern or system, one exists. Just because the approach is not one I readily recognize does not make it any less valid.

Second, be prepared for the beeping, bells and horn blasts. They do not indicate anger or rage, but rather a reminder. "Hello! I am here and I am approaching your space." Growing up in the States I am accustomed to cringing if there is a horn beep because one can basically infer the user of the horn is not all too happy at the recipient of the beep or blast. Admittedly I was one prone to using my horn to let other motorists know my displeasure.  This is not the case in Hanoi. Driving through traffic one constantly hears beeps and blasts. The resonant sound of horn is far more prevalent than turn indicators as a form of communicating to others using that road way.  Lesson: sometimes my understanding of communication is not what is actually intended or vice-versa. Here is where understanding others and empathy enters when giving and receiving communication.

Which brings me to the third and most important rule, ONLY pay attention to what is IN FRONT of you! This seemed odd to me because I have been ingrained with defensive driving and scanning. Plus there is a WHOLE lot going on around one while on Hanoi roads, so it was challenging to set my eyes on what was ahead--only. That third piece proved critically important (especially at intersections) and I found myself internally going Kung Fu '72 and repeating, "Focus grasshopper!" If I would have been caught up in what was centimeters beside me or behind me I would surely have crashed into the plethora of beings, bikes and cars IN FRONT of me. I grapple with this principle "off road" as well. It seems like multi-tasking should make me more efficient and smooth rolling, but it often makes me figuratively crash. I want to pay attention to everything and scan instead of focusing on what is IN FRONT of me. Back in the States I had a sign on my classroom door with classic Winnie the Pooh holding a gift. I had cut it from a birthday card I had received and I mounted it to a typed paper with the quote, "Today is a gift, that is why it is called the PRESENT." The biking and experience served as a reminder to pay attention to what situation and more importantly WHO is right in front of me.  Lesson: I will keep asking myself the three questions Tolstoy posed so long ago, (and Jon J Muth helped younger readers access so beautifully) "What is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do?" How I answer these questions matters SO much.

Monday, August 4, 2014


Last summer on a balmy August evening my family and I were out taking our two dogs on our regular post-dinner stroll, when we came upon a sidewalk sight to behold. "M, H, look at this!" I gushed. I dropped to my haunches and my kiddos followed suit (much to my dogs' and husband's chagrin). There was a cicada mid-molt. My son being the kindhearted soul said earnestly, "Mom, we have to help him!" 
   "No," I gently replied, "if he doesn't struggle through the process his wings won't be strong. If we interfere to help we may actually hurt his growth." We continued to watch. My son was somewhat uncomfortable as a bystander through something that was obviously so difficult. My daughter took to another role. "Come on mister cicada! You've got this!" I stifled a grin as this was something I repeated to her for the last leg of her first 5k. Another feat that was fraught with difficulty, but yielded great gains within my girl upon completion. 
   A couple of days ago this phrase "the gift of struggle" came back to mind as I am prepping to reenter teaching junior high as well as settling into life in Vietnam. While I have always driven myself to provide enough challenge to my students to stretch, yet not discourage them in their learning journey, I now poetically find myself in the role of student. 
   I must learn how to do basic tasks, and speak, in ways that are no longer intuitive. No longer possessing my own mode of transportation, I must communicate well enough to get from point "A" to point "B" via cab. Ordering water, shopping for food, and basic wares have proven to be grand adventures. After benefitting from the kindness and guidance of another expatriate family who has been in country for a while, I told my daughter we were going to forge out solo. My declaration was met with more than mere hesitation. "We should just ask Mrs. W to come along," my daughter suggested. Once again I gently disagreed saying if we never struggled through it, how would we ever get anywhere. I could tell my daughter was torn between her need for security and her fear of allowing her often directionally dysfunctional mother out into Hanoi alone. She opted to go with me, but gave me a concerned shaking of the head as we set out to my, "What is the worst that could possibly happen?" I struggled though communicating the address of a place to which I had never been before, to a kind cab driver, and we set off. He landed us (unbeknownst TO us) about two blocks away from our intended destination. After walking in 109 degree heat, we opted to hit a three tier shopping plaza to walk about where I purchased a fitting journal 
"Brave because no sooner do we think we have assembled a comfortable life than we find a piece of ourselves that has no place to fit in."

We also enjoyed a Taro flavored Fro-yo and a Cafe Sua Da (iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk) for lunch. After our nourishment, and asking a few folks the true location of our original intended destination we set out on foot to find it. After a street map discovery and a final quick inquiry "Eureka!" It was such a feeling of accomplishment to reach our goal. 
     I have to be honest that there were a couple of times I thought about abandoning the goal and settling for the lesser experience. As sweat was running in rivulets down my back and legs it would have been more pleasant just to grab a cab, rattle off our address and head home. After all we had serendipitously found a pretty nice shopping plaza and an apropos journal. That could have sufficed. So why didn't I settle? My daughter who had unknowingly been my encourager. Earlier in our excursion, when we were still cool-ish and confident she said, "Mom, this is kinda like you running your marathons. It doesn't seem easy, but the finish line sure is sweet victory!" I know my students often struggle with this "It's good enough" mediocrity approach to learning too. They settle for getting a pretty good learning experience, when they could strive towards the goal of excellence. Students try particular strategies, (like I tried addresses, maps, and asking) that may or may not be effective. Students must then decide if they will continue on or remain where they are in learning. I think my daughter reminding me of the sensation of sweet success put me in the correct frame of mind to persist. How can I do that for my students? How do I avoid the error my son almost made with the cicada by "helping" the wrong way? I have decided this year I will be especially mindful of creating challenging, yet success yielding situations for my students, as well so that the gift of struggle will yield the gift of growth.