Around this time, she also got fitted for a neoprene hand brace to wear on her right hand. We tried having her wear it under her goalie catching glove and it worked for a while to keep it on more consistently, but she eventually said it was not as comfortable with the hand brace so she stopped wearing it.
When Zoe was in Kindergarten, I read The Reading Promise and told her about it and she asked how many days that father read to his daughter. 3218 days. Zoe wanted to beat that. We were already reading aloud most nights, but we started to keep track. Well, we’re nearly 2/3 of the way there! It’s hard to believe. Two thousand consecutive days of reading is more than 5.5 years. In that time, both of my children have grown so much. Zoe will finish elementary school in a couple months. She’s eleven, Mia’s nearly nine.
I started reading chapter books when Zoe was four. Mia was not yet two. Zoe’s appetite for listening grew until she could listen for as long as I was willing to read, sometimes hours per day, in two separate sessions, sometimes two books at once, one for each girl. We read some books many times, some series repeatedly. You can see our complete list of books on our reading streak page.
Zoe graduated to listening to audiobooks which meant that I was not the only source of read aloud pleasure. She could listen to five or six hours in a row, and often refused to get out of the car after a long drive as she wanted to finish the book. “Harriet the Spy” and “The Penderwicks” were early listening favorites on audiobook.
With “The Penderwicks in Spring” which was first published in the spring of Zoe’s second grade year, I started to read it aloud, and my pace was too slow for Zoe, not my reading pace itself, but how many pages or chapters we could read in one sitting. It was finite, and her appetite for words was not. She said, “Sorry Mom, I need to read the whole thing.”
Since then, it’s been a bit more challenging to choose books that have staying power for our reading streak. They need to be meaty enough to hold both girls’ interest, but not so compelling that Zoe wants to grab the book out of my hands to race ahead. We learned about the “Swallows and Amazons” series from a reference in “The Penderwicks” and the first book was really slow. These books are set in the 1930s in the Lake District and Norfok Broads areas of England, a pack of kids on sailing, hiking, and camping adventures without many adults in the action. There are references to “Treasure Island”’ and “Robinson Crusoe.” And, now we’re finishing book 5 “Coot Club” and starting book 6 “Pigeon Post.”
Zoe reads independently, devouring books, and I do not attempt to keep track of her reading. She prefers to read in English, historical fiction or sometimes fantasy, though she can read well in Spanish too. Sometimes I get piles of books for her from the library. More often, she requests them herself from the library and if she’s feeling particularly impatient, she’ll read directly through the Libby app. But, she prefers paper books. We still sometimes say that she’s a “book head” or “lost in a book.” The intensity of her reading is such that it’s comparably hard to get her to pause her reading as to get her off of a screen. In one reading binge over the Thanksgiving holiday, I know that she read more than 24 hours in a week because she was reading the “Warriors” series on an app called Epic, and Epic sent me weekly reports on the girls’ reading.
Mia enjoys listening to the books we’re reading now most of the time, but it’s not her special thing. She still has a sense of it being Zoe’s reading streak. So, when Mia and I have time alone together in the evening, she asks to play games. The hard part about games is that it’s more challenging to keep the timeframe in check and it’s not easy to stop a game in the middle. Books can be stopped at a chapter, page, or paragraph break. So, with games, I have to say, “We’ll play three rounds.”
Mia also has become a capable reader in both English and Spanish. Graphic novels are her favorite genre and she reads on her own every day. The most telling sign that Mia’s listening is that she comes out with vocabulary I might not have predicted. The most recent was when she started to say, “dismantled.” I don’t specifically know where or when she learned the word, but it’s now part of her working vocabulary.
I was away for four days last weekend, and I called each day to read aloud to the girls from “Coot Club” to keep the streak going. It was hard for them to have me away, and it was both nice for me to get a break and hard to be away. The reading for minutes together on each of those days over the phone was like a lifeline pouring connection into them, giving them my voice and a bit more of this long-running story to carry them off into sleep. On the day we hit 2000, and I told them we had, they asked me to blog about it, to mark the occasion. So, here I am.
Tomorrow marks the four year mark of our reading streak, that’s 1460 consecutive days of reading aloud to my girls, always Zoe, often both Zoe and Mia. Today, Zoe volunteered to help paint faces of kindergarteners at their picnic. The Scholastic book fair ended on Thursday. When Zoe was in kindergarten, I read “The Reading Promise” after buying it at the book fair, and I told her about it. She decided we needed to start our own reading streak. Here we are four years later, still reading.
The list of books this year is notably shorter than in prior years. In part, it’s because the girls are getting older, the books are more challenging and take longer for me to read. In part, it’s because both girls are independent readers, and have a full schedule of activities and also itch for screen time. Still, we read daily aloud. The characters are part of our lives, so in our current run with the Emily of New Moon trilogy, when the kitchen door closes suddenly due to a gust of wind, Zoe proclaims, “The Wind Woman is out there.”
Zoe asks me to read whenever she needs her cup filled. Last night, she asked to go upstairs early to be sure to have time for more than one chapter because the previous night it was too late for that request. Some nights, if we are out doing something fun, we only fit in a page or two. There have been times when I’ve had two read-aloud books running at the same time, one of Mia’s choosing, and one of Zoe’s choosing. There have been times when I was reading both mornings and evenings, daily. Right now, I am only reading in the evenings as part of bedtime, unless it’s my one night each week when I take the night off from bedtime routine and our au pair puts the girls to bed. Those days, I carve out time to read in the morning, even for only 10 minutes.
Their school is performing “Willy Wonka” this year as a bilingual musical. To prepare, we got the 1971 version of the movie from the library and the “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” book. In one day, we watched the movie and Zoe read the book, in one go, lying on her bed. Zoe calls this style of reading, “being in a book.” Or, we sometimes affectionately talk about her being a book-head. It’s delightful except when she neglects eating and moving for too long and then the reentry can be tough. Zoe now requests her own books from the library on the computer, and finds book references from friends and in books she’s reading to give her ideas of what to read next. If we don’t have a book on hand that Zoe wants to read, we sometimes need to make emergency trips to the library.
Mia often listens, though there have definitely been times when it’s too many words for her. She seems to have caught up in her listening level so I haven’t heard that complaint in a while. She does prefer to use her time in the evenings to play a game with me and Zoe, or to read on her own while these multi month sagas go on and on.
I’ve heard from several parents in the past year who want to encourage their kids to read, and the kids know how to read, but don’t know what to read. This seems to be a common challenge. My first question is, “Are you reading aloud to them?” It’s super common to stop reading aloud when kids seem to outgrow picture books. I still read picture books aloud sometimes in between chapter books. My girls especially enjoy picking up books to read on their own that they’ve already heard me read aloud. The stories are familiar, the choice is a good bet.
My girls have had very different learn-to-read processes. Zoe was not very interested in reading independently until she could read content of interest to her. That clicked in second grade for her and she started to read lots of books quickly. Mia has been more methodical all along, staying the course with some of the easy readers, enjoying the decoding process, and gradually increasing the content as she goes.
There is no end in sight for this reading streak. The Emily series is ending though, so I’ll go get a pile of books from the library after reading some reviews, and see what the girls choose next.
Sunday, July 10, 2016
On Sunday, July 10, 2016, Zoe, Mia, and I arrived at the trailhead at the Mount Washington Cog Railway Base Station parking lot just after 10 am, and we were on the trail at 11 am. We were not in a hurry as we understood that the forecast was supposed to be improving throughout the day on Sunday and definitely be better on Monday. We headed up the Ammonousuc Ravine Trail. It was about 50 F, not raining as we started.
Note: Click on any of the pictures to see them in a larger size.
At about 0.3 miles, our trail merged with the one coming from the U.S. Forest Service parking lot. We continued to climb. We took lots of breaks. Roots and rocks are relatively easy going, and there was a lovely sound with the stream all along the trail, with great waterfall views.
The trail got significantly steeper just after Gem Pool, and it was raining too. At that point, we had to put our hiking poles away to use our hands and feet to climb some of the slippery ledge rocks.
There were a few others climbing up or down the Ammonousuc that day, though not very many, most likely because it was not a nice day.
One guy made a big impression on Zoe as he ignored her warning not to step over a rock crevice and he bounded across it.
The girls were faster than me on the big rock scrambles. Mia had led most of the way on Sunday, and they worked together to coach each other on foot and hand holds and also to coach me.
The girls made it to the top of the final ledge section and yelled down that they could see the hut!
We arrived at the Lakes of the Clouds Hut at about 4 pm, so the 2.4 miles and 2300 vertical feet took us about 5 hours.
We were happy to go inside, hang up all of our wet gear, and find our bunks. There was a super eager ten year old girl who was helping the hut croo as we checked in. As it turned out, she was part of a party of ten sharing our fifteen bed bunk room. Her grandfather takes his clan to a hut every year.
The girls had hot chocolate, while I had tea, and we shared some cornbread and some kind of baked bar made by the croo.
The girls made friends, ran around in socks or bare feet as we hadn’t brought any shoes other than our hiking boots. We found our three bunks, built into the wall, all three stacked one above the other. I was on the bottom, Mia in the middle, Zoe on top.
Dinner was served family style at 6 pm, a four course meal: black bean soup, subalpine salad, stuffed shells, broccoli, and lemon poppyseed cake. The hut croo entertained and served us. We sat at a table with the family of ten.
Our final two bunkmates arrived just before dinner, a mother and her fourteen year old daughter.
Zoe found it helpful that we had time to get to know people before we had to go to sleep, so for her it was like sleeping in a room of friends, instead of strangers.
Quiet hours are 9:30 pm to 6:30 am. Mia was asleep well before quiet hours, Zoe just after. I took advantage of the free earplugs offered, and we all got a decent sleep.
Monday, July 11, 2016
Our original plan had been to climb Mt. Monroe on Sunday afternoon or evening, but the weather didn’t cooperate for us or anyone else. So, along with some others, we decided to do it before breakfast. It’s only 0.3 mile and 360 vertical feet from Lakes of the Clouds Hut up to the summit of Mt. Monroe.
Mia putting on gloves before climbing Monroe
Girls on the way up Monroe.
We made it up and down in about 45 minutes. Some kind folks took a couple sets of pictures of us. It was misty and wet on the climb. We saw a rainbow, and got some views. It was also very windy and quite cold. We all wore hats and gloves and rain pants and jackets.
View of Washington from Monroe
Mia on way down from Monroe
Breakfast was served family style: oatmeal, eggs, bacon, pancakes, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, juice.
The croo put on a Cinderella skit as they taught us how to fold up the wool blankets on our bunks. My girls and I had brought sleeping bag liners which worked well on the bunks with the provided pillows and blankets.
We loaded up our backpacks, and headed outside to start our hike at about 8:30 am. Some others took a picture of us in front of the hut.
It’s about 1.5 miles from the hut to the summit of Mt. Washington, and 1270 vertical feet. It was clear and sunny, though windy still. The girls started out slowly and we had to adjust clothing, take several breaks, and sort out whether Mia or Zoe was going to lead. Most of the other guests who had stayed at the hut passed us on their way up Mt. Washington, and that was definitely discouraging to the girls. Around this time, Mia also realized that she had been the youngest person in the hut that night. There were some other nine and ten year olds close in age to Zoe, but nobody Mia’s age. Zoe told me that she’d like to have a Feelings Class that took field trips then spent time thinking about and writing about the feelings of other classmates. I was in awe as she invented this concept in her mind, clearly recognizing her own spread of feelings and those of Mia and me as we confronted the elements and our own limitations.
As we were approaching the summit, a student intern with the U.S. Forest Service approached us to do a survey about use of the Crawford Path. The survey was asking about our experience in terms of our sense of whether it was too crowded on that day and what might make it too crowded. We had to estimate number of hikers per hour, and look at some pictures to see if that seemed too crowded. It was supposed to take us five minutes, but took more like fifteen.
We finally made it to the summit, about 3 hours after we had left the hut. We asked some folks to take a summit picture of us. There were a lot of people up there, most of them had come up by Cog Rail or in cars. There’s a full visitor center where we were happy to rest and eat hot food. The girls enjoyed pizza. I had chili. We saw our friends, the family of ten. We charged my cell phone which had run out of power on Sunday.
And, we conferred. I wasn’t at all sure we all had the energy for the descent we had planned. Mia seemed really tired and said she just wanted to take a nap. I asked her at one point what she wanted to do and she said she was okay to take a shuttle down. My right knee hurt. Zoe kept going back and forth. She asked what would happen if we got halfway down and one of us just couldn’t go anymore. I explained that we had enough food and warm clothes and gear to wait it out until we could go again. So, I posed it to Zoe that I thought we might need to take a shuttle down. She was very disappointed. Mia saw her upset and by then the hot food had reenergized her so she said she could walk it. I checked in again with each of them. Yes, they wanted to hike down, the Gulfside and Jewell Trails as planned, another 4.4 miles.
We all changed out of our long underwear and rain pants and put on hiking pants as it was dry and getting warmer, and would be getting even warmer as we descended. We filled our water bottles and Camelbaks, and set out just after 1 pm.
Zoe led most of the descent. We first had to get off the summit of Mt. Washington and down to the Gulfside Trail. Then, we headed along the Gulfside Trail, crossing the railroad tracks of the Cog Railway, and seeing some trains puttering up and down the mountain. The wind was bothering Zoe, and she decided she really wanted to be below treeline. I was especially enjoying the views and took a number of pictures. We all thought it was super cool when we spotted the Mount Washington Hotel and the Cog Railway Base Station, though the station looked really far away which was a bit discouraging.
White patch is Mount Washington Hotel
We continued on slowly and took a lot of breaks. There were definitely a lot more hikers out on Monday than Sunday. We passed a couple of the croo from the prior night. They had walked over to Madison Spring Hut and were on their way back to greet that night’s guests. They were practically running.
It was interesting to see how when the trail required us to climb before joining up with the Jewell Trail, the girls thought that we were going the wrong way. We weren’t, it’s just not all down, even as we were on the way down overall. Zoe was trying to see the way that the trail went as there were two sets of cairns and so I studied the map and showed her where I thought we needed to go. It was confusing to her as it didn’t seem like a direct way to the Cog Railway Base Station which we could see.
We all used our hiking poles on the descent and it definitely was helpful to maintain balance and to help me cushion some of the pounding for my knees. Zoe started an estimation problem. “If a quarter is about an inch in diameter and there are twelve inches in a foot,… How many feet in a mile? How many miles are we walking? How much money would that be if we lined up quarters all along the path?” I loved her questions but I had to tell her that her questions were beyond my mental math capacity in that moment. I was tired.
Mia started to talk to herself in the same sing-songy monologue she often uses in the bath or when she’s playing by herself. She was processing everything she’d seen, so there were stories in the snippets I heard about the hut stay, about the various phases of the hut. She was happy and just kept going.
We finally started to go down the Jewell Trail. A large group of fourteen and fifteen year old girls and their chaperones were also descending. We played leap frog with them for a while. Each time they took a break, we passed them, then we’d take a break, and they’d pass us.
The girls explained to me that it wasn’t like you immediately went from being above treeline to below treeline. It happened gradually. And so it did. The scrubby pine started to emerge after we’d been careful for hours of stepping on the fragile alpine flowers. Eventually, the trees were as tall as Mia, and then much taller than all of us. One of the chaperones of the group of girls took this picture of us, happy to be back in the trees!
Mia got really tired and started to whine. Zoe didn’t want to listen so she went a bit too far ahead. I had to corral everyone together, especially after Mia and I each slipped and I cautioned Zoe that we needed to stay together. I checked in with Mia who wanted to keep going despite some tears. We got low enough that we each had to take off our rain jacket. I stuffed each of our rain jackets into our respective backpacks. We descended further and the bugs came out. They were super annoying. Nobody wanted to stop to put on bug repellant. I eventually did because I couldn’t stand it, and I swabbed some on Mia’s neck and forehead too. We were all yelling at the bugs and at the missing trail branch that was supposed to be on the left any time now. Actually, the girls were confused as to how the trail could branch to the left as to the left was the slope of a hill going up. they didn’t want to go up.
We crossed a stream. I thought we were getting close. I went to look for my map which had been in the pocket of my red rain jacket. Uh oh. My red rain jacket was missing from the outer pouch of my pack where I had stuffed it. The kids were in good spirits at that point. I asked them to rest and eat another snack. I thought I might have snagged the jacket on a tree branch that I had to crawl under. I left them and my pack, took note of the time, determined to only go 10-15 minutes up trail to see if I could find my jacket. Not seven minutes later, I was beyond thrilled to see a family carrying my jacket. They were Austrian, had a couple of older kids, and had traveled in one day the same route that we’d done in two days. They said they’d found my jacket quite a way up the mountain. We walked out the final half mile with them. They even helped us with the last stream crossing which was a bit tricky. And, I shared some tips as they were headed to the Boston area for a few days after their White Mountain adventures.
We arrived at our car at 7 pm, took off our boots, stopped to get gas for the car and salt and vinegar potato chips for the girls, and drove the nearly three hours home without further stops. The girls were amped up and super goofy the first hour of the drive, but then slept the duration. Zoe claims she only slept twenty minutes. I know better. I tried to turn on my music. She awoke and asked me to turn it off. I kept it off as I wanted her to sleep.
Total distance hiked on Monday: ~6.5 miles
Changita means “little monkey” in Spanish. We are lucky to have Latina au pairs caring for my girls so here is “Mia Changita” doing her monkey thing!
Mia continues to amaze me, now at age six. This video is from a few weeks ago. Her inventiveness, strength, experimentation, and courage are all palpable. And, it’s really hard to tell that she had a stroke as she does most everything with both arms and hands and both legs and feet.
If you want to have some appreciation for this beyond imagining the abdominal strength needed to do this, check out my earlier post about Monkey Mia from when Mia first mastered the monkey bars at age four, or this one on neuroplasticity, or Mia learning to do skin the cat, and why Mia is an outlier as explained by Karen Pape, MD.
Tonight, Mia found the splint we used for constraint therapy when she was a toddler and until she was nearly 3 years old. She put it on even though it’s too small, and said she was going to give herself a “challenge” and give “righty” practice doing everything and that’s how she got ready for bed, using only her hand that doesn’t work quite as well as the other one for fine motor tasks. I asked her if she wants us to get a new splint that fits her better so she can do this “challenge” more often. She said yes. She asked me the name of the orthotist that we need to go see. I told her he’s Dr. Wall and he’s very funny. His name cracked her up.
For the third day of school, third grade, Zoe gets to bring in a small paper bag with three special things. She chose, “Little House in the Big Woods,” a small elephant carving from India, and our reading streak log book. Two of her three precious items are connected to the shared experience of reading aloud. “Little House in the Big Woods” is the first book of the first series that we’ve read multiple times. We’ve been reading aloud since she was a baby, and reading chapter books since she was four. We’ve been keeping track of our daily reading streak for nearly three years, tallying more than one thousand days of consecutive read aloud with only a few guest readers at times when I had to be away overnight. Last night and this morning, I captured to a digital log the last several months of reading just in case our little notebook log doesn’t make its way all the way to school and back. Though, Zoe assures me it will, after all she took it for a similar show-and-tell event in first grade too.
Since my last major update about our reading streak at the 800 day mark, we’ve read several more series or parts of series. “Sarah, Plain and Tall” and the four books that follow were hits as were the “All of a Kind Family” books. For those, Zoe was really bothered that the books were not in chronological order and so she wanted me to read them in the order that made the most sense to her. The fourth Penderwicks book came out, we heard the author speak at the Brookline Public Library the day before Zoe was due to make a presentation and perform a puppet show in school all about the author, Jeanne Birdsall. Zoe read “The Penderwicks in Spring” in three days, impatiently but politely informing me that my pace of one or two chapters per day would not cut it. Later, she let me read it aloud. That marked a turning point in our reading streak. Zoe’s reading level has caught up to much of what I read.
I continue to choose books with lots of words, like “Little Women” and the two that follow it, and we’re into the second book of “Anne of Green Gables” now, intent on continuing. Some of these books are “too many words” for Mia who protests by doing headstands during reading time, or being even more provocative when she really has had enough. To keep her in the mix, we also include books that hold her interest. The Doctor Dolittle books, “Dear Mr. Henshaw” and “Shiloh” have been recent hits with Mia, and the next Shiloh book is on deck after we finish “The Borrowers.” Interestingly, even when it seems like Mia isn’t exactly listening, she is. Out of the blue, she’ll make a comment about one of the characters that is spot on in relevance. The characters of these books become like members of our family, used in conversation to explain how someone might be as evil as Dexter Dupree, for example.
All summer, I read a chapter from each of their chapter books each morning and night. As school begins, we’re struggling to shift to a more workable morning routine which means I may need to start using the timer in the morning to limit our read aloud time. Protests mean that I’m thinking about alternatives, like doing some of my other morning jobs before the girls wake up so we can still fit in the two chapters. Tough choices for a beloved shared time we spend together morning and night.
While we listened to “Mary Poppins” and “Stuart Little” on our trip to Ithaca and the Adirondacks, we didn’t listen to as many audiobooks as in past summers. One reason is that Zoe can satisfy her thirst for words by reading chapter books independently. There were several books that she devoured in one or two days of sustained focus.
Our reading streak continues, and while we started with a modest goal of making it to 100 consecutive days of reading aloud, we just hit 1067 and keep counting. As always, we welcome suggestions on titles, authors, series, and all genres that might interest two girls, ages 6 and 8.
Today was our fifth visit to the Pediatric Stroke Clinic at MGH. The first was when Mia was 2 months old, then 14 months, 26 months, 4 years and 2 months, and today at 6 years and 2 months. Every one of these appointments has been in mid August. The stroke clinic happens once a month, and we’re on an August schedule, at first once a year until Mia turned two, now once every two years. It’s a form of time travel for me, revisiting this place, with an older and more capable child each time, answering the same questions and some new ones, sharing information, seeing if I’ll learn anything useful.
The heat, the drive, the traffic, parking garage, finding the bathroom, remembering doing it all with a stroller, getting a snack at the cafeteria, finding the right elevator to the eighth floor, waiting, the really friendly staff in the waiting area as the stroke clinic shares space with the pediatric oncology team. They seem friendlier and more gentle with families than the other floor with pediatric neurology and gastroenterology. The toys in the waiting area are nicer. There are many books and a beautiful huge fish tank.
Today, there was a new neurologist on the team and she was great! She is an M.D./Ph.D. from Buenos Aires, spoke Spanish with Mia, and is eager to learn from me as they work to set up resources for families. Mia’s main pediatrician is a woman, and all of her therapists have been women, but this is only the second specialist we have seen who is a woman. She took time to get to know us, was patient when Mia wouldn’t answer her questions, gave her time to warm up, and asked really good questions. She asked me what kind of support system I have. She asked me to share resources with her as they are setting up a website to support families. She offered to write letters to support me in advocating for Mia to continue to receive occupational therapy through the school district and to get speech therapy too.
I found a sweet video of Mia at that first appointment six years ago. She was swatting at the toy horse hanging from her carseat, snapped into her stroller frame. Then and now, I watch this video clip and see that she is hitting the horse a bit more purposefully with her left hand than her right. It’s subtle but noticeable. And yet, her right hand is active too. I used to wonder what it meant, what would she be able to do with her hands.
Today, Mia read aloud for the new neurologist on the team. She ran down the hall, with no apparent gait issues. She hopped as easily on her right leg as her left. She turned pages in a book, took off her sandals, all using two hands in a very functional way. She can tie her shoes, paddle a kayak, climb trees and rock walls, swing across monkey bars, ride a bike, swim, waterski, play soccer, ice hockey, lacrosse, and piano. She is amazing and our journey has been rich with rewards and challenges.
I know a family new to this world of pediatric stroke. I know several such families in the online community of CHASA (Children’s Hemiplegia and Stroke Association). It’s a scary, bewildering journey. Love your child as if they are fine. Educate yourselves to advocate for the best care possible.
I have felt sick this week. It started as a bit of congestion Monday evening and then turned into intense fatigue Tuesday afternoon, worsened overnight as Mia needed some nighttime parenting. I did get good sleep Wednesday, night but still felt tired in my bones this morning. I felt sick again this afternoon from the heat and sun during the drive as I didn’t take the time to put on my sunglasses. I have been doing some amazing healing work with Irene Lyon to support my nervous system in healing from stress and traumas small and large, recent and distant. I sensed that my fatigue this week is a release of long held stress. And, then today, as I was trolling through my memories brought on by the heat and places on our route into Boston and through the MGH campus, I was moved to write here to process all of this, and it made sense all of a sudden. I am releasing some of that stored tension, the wonder and worry that started when I learned my two day old baby had suffered a stroke.
I felt it all today, the fear and uncertainty that made me anxious through the early days, weeks, months, and years, intense pride and connection with Mia as she showed off her many skills, compassion for my imperfect parenting of both of my children through a tough several years, and joy to have them both on this journey with me.
Since I had to take the afternoon off from work for the trip into Boston, after we finished with the appointment, Mia asked me to take her to get new sneakers before school starts next week. We found shoes she loves, blue boys’ ones, no laces please. And, I agreed because last year in Kindergarten, she learned to tie her shoes in September and had to practice all year with her lace sneakers that are now two sizes too small.
We met Zoe at home after her afternoon playdate and took her to soccer practice. Mostly now, life goes on like this with our full schedules of work and camp, soon shifting to work and school. We get help from our au pair to fit in all the activities, transportation, meal prep, and care needed to support the development of both of my girls. And, occasionally, I make time to pause, write, and share how much I appreciate the wonder of it all.
Mia and I like to joke that Zoe is becoming a Penderwick. You’d agree with us if you heard her exclaim things like, “Mama, Jane just said she’s lost count of how many times she has read ‘A Little Princess’!” We are into year three of our Reading Streak, that is reading aloud every day and logging our books.
To get to 800 days, we’ve had to invent some new rules. Guest readers are allowed and make it possible for me, Mara, to take a break from reading and parenting every once in a while. Zoe was recently sick and spent an entire day on the couch listening to “The Penderwicks on Gardam Street.” She fell asleep in the evening before Mara had a chance to read to her. We counted that as part of our streak anyway.
Coming out of her illness, Zoe decided to write to Jeanne Birdsall because she really can’t wait until the fourth Penderwick book is published in 2015. She tells me that we’ll keep on reading the three existing Penderwick books over and over until the fourth book becomes available. I keep introducing other options, and we come back to the Penderwicks again and again. This reading streak has echoes of life and parenting, dramatic tension, resistance, repetition. Here are the letters and art. Jeanne Birdsall has seven pets which is totally fascinating to Zoe since we currently have zero pets, having lost two fish and one hermit crab to the negligence of young children and their busy mother.
We are definitively done with the Little House books after traversing five generations of Little House girls and women over many months of reading aloud together.
Mia has an entirely different relationship to the Penderwicks and to the reading streak in general. There was the phase in which we read “Charlotte’s Web” something like eight times in a row at Mia’s repeated request. But, then there was the series of weeks in which Mia simply asked me for addition problems in lieu of her reading time. Other nights, she’ll want to play Go Fish or Crazy Eights. In the car, on a recent drive to Ithaca, we alternated hours, one hour we’d listen to The Penderwicks at Zoe’s request, the next hour we’d have “quiet” at Mia’s request. We did recently read “Matilda” which Mia chose from a stack I brought home from the library. Much as she sometimes protests “so many words,” I do believe Mia is listening too. She and Zoe were making up sounds and rhymes today about Jeanne Birdsall and Jane Goodall.
Our recent trip to NYC was made more fun by a quest to visit the Met as we’d just read “From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.” Zoe was thrilled to find the mummies and see the fountains and Etruscan sculptures. Mia was tired and most interested in the gift shop where we found some novel toys and crafts.
In the summer, Zoe asked me one evening, “Does Einstein really exist?” And later, “How did they take his brain without killing him?” The questions continued so I said I have a book about him, “Einstein, His Life and Universe” by Walter Isaacson. It was my mother’s. I haven’t found time to read it. So, I pull it down off of the dusty shelf, and Zoe starts paging through the 675 page volume, asking if I’ll read it to her after we finish all our “Rose” books, and lands on the epilogue. “This is the chapter that mosts interests me, ‘Einstein’s Brain and Einstein’s Mind’.” She made a plea for me to read it, “Right now!” And, of course, I did. She listened to the whole epilogue, asking more questions. As I read one passage that quotes Einstein’s fundamental creed, “The development of science and of the creative activities of the spirit requires a freedom that consists in the independence of thought from the restrictions of authoritarian and social prejudice.” Zoe remarked, “He’s really smart. I don’t know most of those words.” She lugged it upstairs and continued to study the contents, reporting that there’s a chapter on “Divorce” and “a girl named Elsa” (think Frozen as do many 7 year olds), and asking, “What’s a Red Scare?” So, then I was trying to explain Communism and Democracy. But, later when I brought a close to the usual upstairs bedtime reading before she was ready, because we’d taken time out for Einstein, she lost it and we had a bedtime tantrum. Did I mention that while I was reading the epilogue to Zoe, Mia was blowing a high-pitched whistle loudly in protest?
Our reading streak continues, and while we started with a modest goal of making it to 100 consecutive days of reading aloud, 1000 now seems startlingly within reach. As always, we welcome suggestions on titles, authors, series, and all genres that might interest two girls, ages 5 and 7.
A week from tomorrow, Zoe, Mia, and I are flying to San Francisco for fifteen nights in California. I’m making lists, trying to find things, working on packing after the girls are asleep, and some when they are awake, pouring over maps, contacting old friends, and making plans. Earlier this week, Zoe decided that she really wants to bring her American Girl doll, Sage, to California to show her cousin Alison who is getting married near the end of the trip. These cousins have bonded over American Girl dolls. I said no. I’ve been telling my girls that they are pretty lucky, getting to go to California at ages seven and five.
I first arrived in California twenty-three years ago, the summer after I graduated from college, for an internship with the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The summer before that, I spent several weeks at a geology field course in Wyoming and South Dakota. My hard work earned me this internship, and a wise professor of mine helped me contact one of his colleagues at the Menlo Park office of the USGS to see if he could use some help. He could and so it was that I got to join his field crew in Mammoth Lakes, California, working with five guys, driving a 4-wheel-drive government truck around mountain roads at night to measure crustal deformation with a two-color laser geodimeter. By day, my field crew buddies taught me to recreate – mountain biking, rock climbing, hiking, and backcountry skiing in winter. I was lucky then and in the ways that life is circular, here I go again, retracing some of my path through California and eager to share it with my girls.
Back then, I was twenty-one, fresh out of college, and keen to drive cross-country to begin my adult life. My father had died a few months earlier of a brain tumor. My mother threatened that she would drive with me if I didn’t find someone else to make the cross-country trip. So, I found Jenny on the ride board at Brown University, looking for a ride to San Francisco. I loaded my little red Honda Civic with my graduation gift mountain bike standing tall atop the car, picked up Jenny in Ohio and taught her to drive stick shift as we meandered to San Francisco. I vaguely recall dropping off Jenny and sharing a meal with the eccentric family that was hosting her in San Francisco. I had friends in Palo Alto then as I do now, different friends, but a place to stay nonetheless. I checked in to the Menlo Park office to do some paperwork and then drove back east over Tioga Pass to the East Side of the Sierras to learn my field job.
The job itself involved a lot of driving on mountainous dirt roads at night to set up retroreflectors for the laser to point at for measurements. About one week out of each month, we took the show on the road to other temporary networks we monitored throughout California. I was able to extend my summer internship through the end of the year. It was eye opening in so many ways. Perhaps the biggest was that it was a pause in my life from the achievement of school, before “real” adult pursuits. It was well-timed as I was still grieving my father’s death, and welcomed the mountains to explore and inspire.
As I got restless intellectually after some months, I applied to graduate school for a Ph.D. in geophysics, both on the East Coast and on the West Coast. I visited both of my top schools. On the East Coast, an MIT professor asked me during my interview, “Have you traveled much?” I thought I had and rattled off places I had been in the United States, and on a few family and school trips to Europe. I think he was trying to sell the travel opportunities in a field focused on studying the Earth. On the West Coast, I stood on the balcony of the beautiful redwood building that is the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, part of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego. The Pacific spoke to me. I could easily imagine spending years there. And, I did. Five to complete my Ph.D, and another year as a postdoc. Perhaps that MIT prof had planted a seed too as I traveled extensively, spending nearly a year abroad of those five years of graduate school. I spent a summer field season in Indonesia, took a sabbatical with my advisor in France, participated in research cruises in the Southern Ocean and off the coast of Baja California. And, while in La Jolla, I studied, researched and swam around the pier with friends and colleagues most days from April to October each year, as long as the water temperature was at least 64 degrees.
These are some of my stories that I want to share with my young girls on our trip. Our planned itinerary is oddly similar to my own route over the seven years that I called California home. We start with visiting friends in the Bay Area, then Yosemite, then the East Side of the Sierras, then San Diego with extended family for my niece’s wedding. Both of my girls and their three young cousins are all in the wedding.
I plan to mail our clothes for the wedding sometime this week so we don’t have to worry about keeping them safe through the mountains and driving adventures. I’m attempting to connect with friends along our route, including the lead guy on that USGS field crew who is still on the East Side, and some of my book group buddies from a book group I cofounded with other women in science seeking community way back in 1993 that is remarkably still active.
I may blog during our trip, or I may wait until we return. Meanwhile, back to packing! There’s an awful lot that needs to happen here at home and at work for me in the next week but indulging in these memories and sharing the anticipation helps me prepare too.
My last daycare check is in the mail. I reach this milestone with a mix of emotions.
In the first picture above, Zoe was visiting Mia and me in the hospital. Mia was just thirty-six hours old. It was a dozen hours before she had her first seizures which meant she had to be sent alone with medical staff by ambulance from the hospital where she was born to a bigger one across the river, with a full NICU, and the ability to diagnose her stroke.
In the second picture above, taken last week, Mia and Zoe are goofing around, far too big to be in the bike trailer, but asking me to take them for a ride for fun. Zoe is seven. Mia is nearly five.
In both pictures, their sisterhood is so present. It’s ironic to me now to see Mia sucking her left thumb and Zoe studying her right thumb. This was before, before we knew that Mia would become a lefty for sure.
It’s a leap of faith to have a child, perhaps a blind leap of faith to have a second as a single mom. I leapt twice and somehow we have all made it, not just surviving nearly five years as a family of three, but really thriving even in the face of some daunting challenges.
Last year, I actively participated in Pediatric Stroke Awareness Month, blogging daily through the month of May. That effort has had many benefits, new contacts with families and professionals interested in pediatric stroke, sharing information broadly that seems to benefit others, and most personally, helping me affirm how far Mia has come with my support. It was cathartic and healing to be able to share more details of our journey. And, we raised significant funds for Children’s Hemiplegia and Stroke Association.
This year, I considered repeating my blogging streak. I could easily have written updates on all the topics of a year ago, showing Mia as an even more competent kid, now almost five. But, I made an active choice not to blog. I am investing more this year in my own self-care. Blogging that intensively last year meant lost sleep. And, this spring, we are in a big transition. I wanted some space to feel my way through the changes.
To work full-time outside the home as a single parent requires tremendous logistical support. Zoe was in a family daycare in our neighborhood her first two-and-a-half years, but even before I was pregnant with my second child, I had visited the daycare/preschool where I would later send both girls. I loved it then and still do now. Some of the teachers have been there more than twenty years. They care for infants all the way through pre-K. Both girls started there when my maternity leave ended. Zoe was in the youngest preschool class and Mia was in the infant room. For three years, both girls went there full time. For the past two years, Mia has been in preschool there and on Monday she goes for kindergarten orientation at the bilingual school where she’ll join Zoe in the fall.
Mia has just three weeks left at this beloved school. Today, she hosted me as her special guest in her class brunch. I’ve been feeling nostalgic as the end of this era approaches. I’m putting some of that energy into making a special gift for the school and cards for the teachers.
Of course, my budget will be easier without having the expense of daycare. I look forward to seeing my bank balance when my mortgage payment exceeds my childcare expenses again. That has not been true since before I had my second child. I feel grateful to have been able to afford such excellent care, to have had the amazing continuity so that both children have had many of the same beloved teachers, and that we’ve been there long enough to feel like they are part of our family, certainly part of the village supporting me in raising these beautiful girls.
When I signed us up for two spots in this daycare, even before Mia had been born, I had no idea that she would have any special needs. And then she did, and I took a lot of time in the beginning to orient the caregivers to exactly how to handle Mia when picking her up, not to prop her in sitting but to let her lie down and find her own way there. As a toddler, she went to school wearing a splint on her unaffected left hand to give her time every day to practice with righty, modified constraint therapy. The teachers followed my suggestions for sensory play with my promise that whatever was good for Mia would be great for other children too. Mia played with shaving cream, sand, water, rice. And then, after eating snack with righty, the teachers could help her take off her splint so she could go outside to play and she could use both hands and arms to master the playground by climbing, swinging, traversing the monkey bars, and sliding.
Each year that Mia has transitioned, I have met with the new teachers to orient them to her needs. I have written up a one or two-page set of suggestions for how to best support Mia’s development. Remarkably, this year, both of Mia’s teachers have marveled at her curiosity, eagerness to participate, persistence and independence, and self-care skills that are on par or ahead of some of her peers. It’s through their eyes that I have come to see Mia as so ready to take the next step, to leap from the early childhood years into elementary school with her big sister leading the way.
And, it is nearly time for me to make that transition too, to escort Mia to kindergarten orientation, to believe that we made it, not just through the financial hurdle of getting care for two kids from birth to five while working full time, but through the developmental hurdles put in our path by Mia’s stroke.
Here are my girls in action recently, Mia on her 16″ bike, confidently making a turn, Zoe joyously swinging on the trapeze swing.
I will close with gratitude for making it to this transition with the love and support of many. Here’s one of Mia’s recent pieces of art, where she so clearly affirms her left-handedness.