Monday, September 27, 2010

How to Raise Boys Who Read -- Signs of the Times News

How to Raise Boys Who Read -- Signs of the Times News: ""

My husband handed me this article today on his way out the door. He thought I might want to take a look at it. The article is entitled "How to Raise Boys Who Read". Very interesting topic as we have five sons, and I feel that reading is the number 1 essential to a good education, and number 2 to pretty much nothing other than the study of faith, for which, (mostly)one must know how to read.

I am an avid reader, and a life long lover of the classics. My mother developed a love of books in us early on. She gave me some classics to read when I was really small, probably as early as 1st grade. So I grew up on The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew and Little Women, and An old Fashioned Girl. I fell head over heels in love with books. With a mother who was also a great reader, I had access to plenty of books, many of them saved from her own childhood. I still have many of her treasured copies of Nancy Drew.

I remember clearly when my mom gave me Anne of Green Gables, my favorite book of all time. We were going on vacation, so we stopped at our favorite used books store (which may as well have been Disney Land to me)and she got me a well read copy. I devoured that book in short order, only to turn back to the first page and read it all over again. I think I have probably read it fifty times. I have read it at least once a year since I got it, and have actually read it many times in one year. It is a comfort to me. I love the way Anne (Anne with and "e"!) thinks, I love how she sees the world around her, and I love that she has a good imagination. I have taken pieces of that book and tried to instill a healthy imagination in all of my kids, as well as a love for the written word.

Though I love Anne with all of my heart, I have to mention the real trigger that turned me into a life long reader. Remember the Trixie Belden books? Well, a sweet little friend gave me the first one along with a bunch of other books as a gift for my 11th birthday. The Trixie Belden series were very sweet little mysteries based on friendship, honor, integrity and love of fellow man. I fell in love all over again. My mom would take me to the book store in the mall and let me get two at a time. I can remember worrying about what I would do when I ran out of Trixie Belden books. What would I read?! Turns out, everything I could get my hands on.

We homeschool a crowd here, and in doing so, one of my goals has always been to create readers. I wanted my children to be able to travel the world, time, and space through books. I think I am working on a 70/30 ratio, which is okay, but it took us a long time to get here. My oldest didn't turn into a reader until she was about 17, and she discovered (shudder) the Twilight books. I shudder because there is such an abundance of truly wonderful literature at her fingertips. I have purchased and collected books from the moment I started reading. My kids barely have to go to the library, we have so many books here. While the Twilight books are by no means what I would have chosen as a trigger, they have turned my girl into a reader, at last.

My other children have had a somewhat better start, having always been homeschooled. Everyone in my house read the Wimpy kid books over the summer, even my 2nd grader. They LOVED them! From the oldest all the way down to Kolbe, they were a hit. My younger kids seem to be somewhat less jaded than the two who went to school, and more open to the classics. (There isn't anyone here telling them they are dorky!) So, we have read a number of lovely books outloud, such as Sarah, Plain and Tall and we've recently started reading Tom Sawyer. We had so much fun reading the Junie B. Jones books, even my oldest would listen in because they were so funny! I think reading to the kids, even the big ones, is as important as getting them to read. Don't be shy about funny voices and sound effects - those things make the stories come to life in the imagination of your child! If you need a place to start, get a couple of the Shel Silverstein books such as A Light in the Attic or Where the Sidewalk Ends. They are light hearted and really funny. Children love them, and they will memorize them quick as you please.

Well, this turned into a big, long love story when what I wanted to post was a cautionary tale. You see, all these years, I have never allowed video games into the house. Then, for some reason I still cannot imagine, I caved and let both my son and daughter get a DSi for their birthdays. Now I feel like a sell out. I feel like taking the games away and handing them each a copy of Sign of the Beaver or Little House on the Prairie or something a bit more worthwhile. So, read the article - and go a buy a truly good book and read it with your boys, and your girls - do what you can to make them fall in love with books. And while I don't mind if they read the occasional "Captain Underpants" if that's what it takes to get them to read, I think it's important to read really good books. Like Treasure Island and Oliver Twist and Sherlock Holmes and Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. And the Chronicles of Narnia! And a hundred others. There's good stuff out there, there's a reason they have been loved for generations. Fill your children's hearts with these lovely stories. Your children, and their SAT scores, will thank you for it.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Just like my very own...

I come from a large family. There were four of us growing up,  and we used to visit the rest of the family almost every other weekend. We spent many happy hours with our cousins running all over the 8th Ward in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. It was awesome. We walked all over, ran between my grandmother's house and my Uncle Jim and Aunt Pat's. I grew up thinking that cousins were my favorite people in the world.

The four of us, my brother and two sisters, have gone forth and multiplied. One of us just multiplied a couple of weeks ago, as a matter of fact! (Sorry for the math metaphor - homeschooler)

Between us there are 21+ cousins. I love that my kids are growing up with their cousins, but what I love even more is that when I pick up one of these babies, and breathe them in, I know them. I know them, and they know me. They know I love them. If I close my eyes, the little body I am holding in my arms feels like one of my very own, because my heart knows that little child belongs. I love the security that brings me as a parent, and as an aunt. I know that, God forbid, anything should happen to Doug and me, that my children will be loved. I have sisters (including my beautiful sister-in-law, Amy) who will make sure my kids get pieces of me, that they will know what was in my heart. And my sisters and brothers know that if need be, my heart  and arms will stretch wide open to enfold their beautiful little ones. What a blessing. God knew so well what was needed when he built the family.

Family dinners are a regular occurrence. We all decide at the last minute to converge at my mom and dad's. We cook, or grill out, or order pizza. The kids run all over the place. But, as the go dashing by, I grab one. I hug them, smell their kid-dirt-goat-pizza smell, and set them back on their feet, but not before I whisper something at them, a blessing, or just an "I love you", or tell them they are beautiful. That last trick I learned from my Uncle Jim, and my dad. Both great lovers of family, it is a regular sight to see my dad snatch up a child for a squeeze and a toss. Every time I saw my Uncle Jim he made me feel like he was waiting just to see me. A squeeze and a "Where have you been, Beautiful?" always made me smile, even when I was no longer a little girl. Family. There is such perfection in the way a grandparent, uncle or aunt can love a child. I hope all my beautiful nieces and nephews remember always how much I love them, that I pray for them, and that they are part of my heart and soul.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Jonah, Joey, Jo-D, D-Man, Deedlicious

I have a 12 year old son, Jonah. Jonah was born after a near perfect pregnancy, with a knot in his umbilical cord, wrapped around his neck twice, and then twined around his entire little body. The doctors seemed to think something was wrong even before he was born, though all of his tests came back perfect. We were all so glad that everything turned out okay, despite the doctor's worries. But, for some reason he wouldn't wake up enough. You know that wide awake period that most newborns have shortly after birth? He never had that alertness, the wide open eyes that try to make sense of the world they have just joined. I asked a nurse about it, but she just replied that some babies were sleepier than others, but it niggled at me.

The day we went home from the hospital we had a lot of trouble waking Jonah up to eat. He went six hours without nursing, and I was starting to get really worried. When the day dragged on and calls to the nurses' station assured us that he would wake when he was hungry, we hoped that everything was okay, but we were nervous. By the next morning we knew something was wrong. Jonah had not really woken up to nurse, and was now not very responsive and exhibiting some jerking movements. We piled into the car and took him to the ER. The staff put us in a room where a doctor eventually looked him over. He was not as responsive as they would have liked, so he ordered a CAT scan. He walked out, and I looked down at my tiny son. I was so scared, and it felt even worse than when Kenzie had gotten sick as a newborn.

I was looking down at this tiny little guy, and he started to turn bright red, and his little body just seized up. I screamed for someone to help us. No one even looked our way. It felt like that nightmare where you can't scream and you can't move. I yelled, no one responded. My husband, my Douglas, walked out of the room and roared...ROARED for help. People came running. I still don't know if I made any noise or not when I yelled for help - but they were finally coming. I thought my little baby was having a stroke. They whisked him away to start working on him. While they were getting him stabilized the doctor said that he felt they could not handle Jonah as well as the Children's hospital, so they were going to life flight him to Akron. I was scared and relieved at the same time. We had gone to Children's with Mackenzie, and I knew how amazing the hospital was. When the life flight nurse arrived, she took over, and I grabbed my Douglas and just prayed. I prayed to my Blessed Mother. I asked her to watch over my son, and to beg her Son to protect him.

The life flight nurse, who was as beautiful as any angel, discovered that Jonah had 0 blood sugar. ZERO. This shocked me, but I knew he had not eaten. We hadn't been able to get him awake, and had been placated by nurses since his birth. They never checked his blood sugar when he was born, but I think his umbilical cord had been pinched when he flipped and got the big knot, wrapped it around his neck, and around his whole little body. The doctor knew something was off, but could not say what it was. Now we knew.

The angel nurse who flew with Jonah promised me she would take very good care of him on the flight, and that we could see him as soon as we arrived at the hospital. Jonah spent a harrowing five days in the NICU while they ran test after test trying to find the cause of what turned out to be a hypoglycemic seizure. Doug and I spent the days with him and the nights taking turns while the other got some sleep. We were so scared that something was terribly wrong, but every test showed that he was fine. We took him home on an anti-seizure medication, which the doctor weened him from a month later. Jonah  and I spent the next 18 months nursing. Day and night, night and day. I was NOT going to let that happen again. If he wanted to eat, he ate, no matter where we were, what time it was, or if he had just nursed. I'm still not completely over it. I watch over his eating more than anyone else's. Not that I need to, Jonah, now 12, eats like a horse. He goes through at least a box of cereal everyday all by himself. Breakfast, snack, regular lunch, snack, regular dinner, snack.

My Jonah has been through so much because of that rough start. He has some learning challenges that, in my mind, are a direct result of the problems he had at birth. He has a seizure disorder, and has undergone many tests,  and takes medication every day. The meds change the alkaline in his saliva, which causes severe tooth decay. He has put up with some pretty horrible dental procedures to try and correct this problem. Through all of this, he has been brave, strong, and completely uncomplaining. I am so proud of him.

Jonah is, of course, much more than his medical issues, but this is one of those things that will always haunt me. The night before the first seizure he was awake, and screaming. Doug was walking the floor with him. Why didn't I feed him? Why did it not even occur to me to try? We had, at that point been up for several days straight with no sleep  (chicken lice - whole other post!). It is amazing what sheer exhaustion will do to your judgment.  I have had nightmares ever since where I have a new baby and I forget to feed him. He nursed a lot in the hospital, through his sleepiness. The doctor tried to tell me not to let him do that - he camped at the breast - but I am so glad I didn't listen! It could have been so much worse.

As an aside, I know this all would have been so, so hard without our family. My parents kept our girls, Megan and Mackenzie, while Jonah was in the hospital, and made sure they were with us as much as possible. My brothers and sisters took turns with them, too. Both of our parents sat with us, brought us food, and comforted us. It would have been so, so hard without them - so, if they see this - thank you. I truly don't know what we would have done without you, especially during this particular crisis, and Mackenzie's.

In the end, Jonah is a healthy 12 year old, who also happens to have a seizure disorder. He has a seizure every 5 to 10 seconds. They are tiny, and he doesn't feel them, they are doing no harm. But, with that kind of frequency one is bound to go to the body and become a grand mal every once in a while, so he is on the medication to keep that from happening. He's beautiful and funny and clever. I pray that he knows, and God knows  how very much I love him.

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Grandmother

My grandmother is 89 years old. She always used to tell me I was her 50th birthday present, as I was born just a few days shy of that birthday. I would be lying if I were to say she was the cookie baking, sweet little grandma who welcomed you with open arms and told you to put on a sweater. She was much more worried about how neat we were and how we were dressed. And that we were being raised Catholic, she was really worried about that!

We used to go visit my "Nain", which is Welsh for "grandmother" and Pop-Pop about once a month or so when I was growing up. I have vivid memories of her following me around dusting and picking up. I never understood why she spent the whole time cleaning. She kept a very clean house, and I am sure it would have made her crazy to watch it deteriorate as the four of us swept through it and created chaos in our wake - which we certainly did. Or would have, if she had given us a chance.

Growing up, I think Nain softened a bit. She told us our first dirty joke. She taught me how to iron, which is a skill I have put to good use! Really, I have. On Sunday mornings, if one of my kids has a shirt or pair of pants that I cannot "release" with wrinkle releaser, I have been known to whip out the iron and give it a once over. I have also been known to iron in the instance of a wedding or funeral, but that's where I draw the line.

Anyway, back to Nain. Even with a less than demonstrative person, a grandmother is someone special. Someone you tend to love no matter what. So, I did. We all did, growing up. We all loved her with all her quirks and preferences. We knew she liked things neat, we knew she would always be dressed to the nines, we all knew she loved to be the belle of the ball, we knew she always smelled good. Not grandmother good, but really, really good. Like clean laundry and light perfume. It always made me feel good to smell that "Nain" smell. She used to laugh at us, she couldn't figure out what we were talking about. We all tried to make our laundry smell like hers, but could never get it quite right. We also knew she loved us, in her own way, and always did what she thought was good for us.

My grandmother faced some challenges and real heartbreak. Nain grew up the youngest of 5, the only girl, during the Great Depression. Her family was 1st generation,with her being the only child actually born in the U.S. . Her parents didn't speak English at first, and she could understand Welsh, but never spoke it. She married Pop-Pop during WWII, and raised my mom by herself for most of her first year. She lost one son in a tragic accident, and the other when he abandoned his entire family. She also lost her husband long before she should have, when they were only 72. She is now the last one left of her generation, all of her brothers, their wives (whom she loved dearly), all of her friends are gone.

Until recently, Nain has been fairly healthy, and very alert, most of the time. She might get confused as to how to get somewhere, or what day it was, but she always knew who we were. After a bad fall where she broke her hip, she has had some problems with memory. She has now been diagnosed with a subdoral hematoma, bleeding on the brain. The doctors say it could have been caused by the slightest bump on the head. She is in a nursing home, and is deteriorating. We go to see her, one day she knows me, the next she is very polite, but you know she can't remember who I am. She cannot put sentences together. She has had a few good days, and some bad. She looks so tiny and frail. She says "I love You" so easily now. I HATE LEAVING HER THERE. I hope she can still tell that I love her, because I do. I always have. I hope that somewhere in there, she's still Nain. Nain, who loves football and baseball. Nain, who dresses to kill, and always, always smells good. The Nain who made tiny, fancy, mince and plum pies at Christmas. Nain, who loved peach schnappes, black licorice and oatmeal raisin cookies. Nain, who chased after me with a dust rag. Nain, who told me I was her best birthday present, ever.