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3000 Days of Reading Aloud

“I like how this book has stories. It works well for how we read now.”

Zoe shared this as we finished up a chapter about Witch Hazel in Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, our current book. We just completed three thousand days of reading aloud on December 12, 2020. When we began keeping track of our Reading Streak, Zoe was in kindergarten. We started reading chapter books before that, but that’s as far back as our logs go.

We read for minutes now each day, not the hours we read when her appetite for listening could outlast my voice. These moments of connection tie me to my nearly fourteen-year-old daughter in a way that remains sacred to us both. She invites me in for this time each day to share a story or part of one, sometimes only a paragraph.

We negotiate which books to read. Nonfiction seems in favor. The National Team then Hidden Figures. We tried Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and after a week, Zoe asked for something else, something she didn’t want to take from me and read on her own. I proposed a few. She agreed to Braiding Sweetgrass as it had piqued her interest at her nature camp this past summer when a counselor read a passage. It fits with her environmental and social justice passions.

I had listened to enough of it as an audiobook to know that there are sweet passages about relationships between a mother and her daughters, that it weaves science, poetry, history, politics with phenomenal stories and poetic language.

Three thousand days is worth marking. I don’t trust the user error in marking our daily logs so I relied on the computer to tell me when it would be two-thousand-nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine days since September 26, 2012. It is Hannukah this week, so on Sunday, our three thousandth day, I decided to give each of my girls three thousand pennies worth of books, that is gift cards to a local bookstore for 30 dollars. They may each choose two or three books.

This reminds me of one childhood birthday when my two aunts gave me some seemingly large amount of money to spend at a bookstore. I came away with a pile of books, and still remember the freedom and joy from choosing them.

I also gave them each two books. I gifted Zoe our current read-aloud, Braiding Sweetgrass, because Hoopla kept losing our place on the library-borrowed e-book. I chose Megan Rapinoe’s new book because we read about the US Women’s National Team for soccer and I knew Zoe would enjoy another perspective on those events. She read it yesterday in one sitting. This is why we mostly get books from the library.

For Mia, I chose A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein and a beautifully illustrated book about the periodic table. But, first, we need to finish Ogden Nash’s Zoo. Mia and I don’t keep track and we sometimes skip days. She favors poetry currently.

In a time when we have been mostly housebound for nine months, having this small daily ritual with each of my daughters has kept us connected. Reading together is a doorway into other conversations about the books, characters, events, and life.

For me, looking back on all the books we have read in three thousand days, or eight years and a few months, I see growth and possibility. Using the braiding metaphor, we have woven together a love for words, appreciation of books, literature, a quest for knowledge, and time together. I had no idea it would last this long, even though five-year-old Zoe said she wanted to read like this for more than three thousand days. It may shift forms still, but I am now certain that this reading streak of ours will endure in our hearts and minds. Consistently showing up breeds that sort of knowing.

7.5 Years of Reading Aloud

Everyone is home for weeks now, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And, still we read. It’s been quite a while since I updated our reading streak log. The last time was when we were at 2222 Days of Reading Aloud. Here we are, 7.5 years into our reading streak. We started when Zoe was in kindergarten and Mia was 3 years old. Now, they are 13 and 10.

Reading aloud to older kids is pretty different and much the same as reading to little ones. It’s different because they can read well on their own, and often prefer to do that, especially for stories that they want to enjoy more quickly than our late evening schedule often allows. In usual weeks, we get home from sports or other activities, juggle dinner and homework, and fit in a quick page or two of reading aloud. Some books take months at this pace. Reading aloud to older kids is the same in that we all still look forward to this connecting time, to the shared unfolding of story, narrative, facts, and characters.

So, what have we been reading? Since the last time I updated the log, we read several more books in the “Swallows and Amazons” series of sailing adventures by Arthur Ransome, that is up until “Missee Lee” a pirate story that takes place off the coast of China. We tried to get through it a couple of times, and it was too scary and too racist, written in a different time. Fortunately, Mia and i were reading the Penderwicks series, so Zoe joined us as we made our way through books 2-5.

Now, we’re onto nonfiction. Zoe listened for six months as I read “The National Team: The Inside Story of the Women Who Changed Soccer” by Caitlin Murray. Zoe had done a school project two years ago about inequities in women’s ice hockey, and so the topic felt relevant to her, and she remained interested throughout, even though we sometimes only managed a paragraph on particularly late nights.

We just started reading “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race” by Margo Lee Shetterly. The girls and I saw the film when it first came out in the theaters, and I’ve listened to the audiobook. Reading it is bringing alive history, with Zoe interrupting frequently still to ask questions and place events in the emerging historical timeline in her head. It feels like we may get through it faster than “The National Team,” but then again, we have more time to read late into the night now, and sleep in if needed.

After finishing the Penderwicks series, Mia and I have enjoyed a poetry anthology, and now are working through Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” Note that I don’t log the books I read aloud to Mia, though I do write about them when I write these occasional updates. Mia likes to read and be read to, and she likes to do other things too. When she was younger, she’d often ask for a game instead of reading, because it was too many words to listen to the books that Zoe liked. Last night, we worked late into the night on a jigsaw puzzle together. These days, Mia wants a poem or several before bed.

As most families and schools sort out what schooling looks like in this unusual moment in history with kids unexpectedly home instead of at school, I feel grateful to have this anchor in our lives, time to read aloud daily with each of my girls. And, I love hearing about the books they have chosen to read on their own. Zoe and I made it to the public library on the last day it was open so she is still working through her pile of books. Otherwise, we’re relying on what we have in the house, what we can borrow digitally via Libby and Hoopla, and occasionally ordering Kindle books when the wait would be too long for digital loans. Happy reading!

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2222 Days of Reading Aloud

This week, we hit 2222 days of reading aloud. I had noticed it coming as I logged our daily reading as we passed day 2200, and since our reading streak is reliable as a daily connection time, I shared with Zoe that we’d hit 2222, and she asked me to blog about it.

The reading streak was initially created by Zoe’s request, though for most of the past six plus years, I’ve read aloud to both Zoe and Mia. Sometimes each had a separate book going for me to read. But, in September, we ended our six years of hosting au pairs which meant that Zoe could move out of the girls’ up-to-then shared bedroom, and into the vacant room. So, now I read nightly to Zoe and continue to log it. Mia and I read separately in her room, and she likes to alternate reading to me and being read to and playing games. It’s an entirely different pace. It’s easier to give them each the kind of bedtime they want now that they are not in the same room.

Our pace has definitely slowed over the years as Zoe and Mia have become capable independent readers and as busy sports and activity schedules and the constant pull of electronics compete for our shared leisure time. For more than a year now, we’ve been reading the series “Swallows and Amazons” by Arthur Ransome, sailing and boating adventures set in England. Each book takes us more than the nine weeks you get with two renewals from the library, so we pay fines, or if I remember, we request the same book on Zoe’s account, return the one I had checked out, and carry on with our reading. These books are an antidote to our always-connected life now. The child characters have days or seemingly weeks as a pack with their friends to map a whole island, invent pretend worlds, and sail across seas. With each book, I inquire if Zoe wants to continue with the series, and she does. We are nearing the end of “Secret Water” and we await arrival of the next book “The Big Six.” There are four more in the series so that may occupy much of this year of reading. After that, I suppose we’ll branch out. Now that Zoe is interested in more challenging content, I have notions of reading “The Diary of Ann Frank” or maybe something by Ursula Hegi as I have fond memories of reading that aloud to a precocious nine-year-old friend when I was in my late twenties and staying with her family on sabbatical in Brittany, France.

Mia and I are currently reading “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio. She has seen the movie. I have not. Mostly, she doesn’t like movies and Zoe has only recently started to enjoy movies. They’re curious about that. I think it’s because we didn’t watch a lot of movies when they were younger so they still find them loud and fast, and kind of overwhelming. Mia also still finds picture books engaging, and she really likes to play games, so a lot of nights her time with me has been in playing Scrabble or Iota or rounds of War.

I’ve begun to travel more this year for workshops and trainings, and I give the girls a choice about how to keep our reading and connection lifeline going during these separations when they are home with overnight sitters. When Zoe went on to a week-long sleep-away camp, she took photocopied pages from the book we were reading at the time, and we read in parallel those days we were apart. When I can call them, to read over the phone or video-call, they prefer that. On one recent trip, when Mia was missing me, she read me a couple of picture books about other mamas and their young, “The Kiss Box” and “Make Way for Ducklings.” It really helped. After that, she got Zoe to do origami with her.

For independent reading, both still enjoy books from the library. Zoe has also discovered the Libby app on the iPad and so she can request and read books from the Overdrive collection without involvement from me. The usability is better with that than using the Kindle which requires me to do the final Amazon to Kindle push.

As Zoe has started middle school this year, and has moved further away from us in the house, our shared reading time remains a special connection. Even when we’re mad at each other, we read. Even when we get home at 10 pm, we read, sometimes before we go out, sometimes after and only for a paragraph. But, I’d say reading aloud together has become an essential part of our life, and I particularly love when I hear questions from the girls connecting characters from the books to real life situations, or when I hear the girls use vocabulary they could only have learned from reading.

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Remembering Nightly Conversations with Grandma Barb

I wrote the post below when Mia was eight months old and Zoe was newly 3 years old. I was thinking about my mother yesterday, on Mother’s Day, how complicated relationships between mothers and daughters can be, how messy ours was. I was thinking about my own girls, about the imperfect parenting I’m doing. I was thinking about how all mothers do the best they can with the resources they have. And, now eight years after I first wrote this, I’m sharing it again here, even more grateful that I made the effort to repair my relationship with my mother in the limited time she had as a grandmother to my children, as a mother to me as a mother.

November 2007, Grandma Barb holding Zoe (10 months old).

August 2009, Grandma Barb holding Mia (2 months old).

August 2009, Grandma Barb reading “The Little Red Hen” to Zoe (2.5 years old).

March 14, 2010

A month ago, I drove to Ithaca for my last visit to see my mother. Two days before that was our last of many hundreds of nearly nightly phone conversations over the past three years.

I didn’t always talk with her daily. There were many years where I understood that her expectation was that I’d call each week and I dutifully did so, sometimes with stressful anticipation for many days worrying about what zinger of a remark she might make, what questions she might ask that I’d need to artfully avoid, and of course what small parts of my life I felt comfortable and safe to share with her.

But, something shifted when I became a mother myself. My mother’s last visit to the Boston area was for a baby shower when I was 7 months pregnant with Zoe. My sister Amy brought our mother and they stayed at Nan’s house where together my sisters threw me a beautiful baby shower. My mother enjoyed the trip, delighting in being part of the celebration of another grandbaby-to-be, reconnecting with friends of mine from high school, college, and meeting some more recent ones for the first time.

Her ability to travel was limited. Her health was fragile even then. And, her days were pretty monotonous. She spent a lot of time watching TV. She managed to get out to the pool 3-4 times a week for some water exercise. She had home health aides to help her get to her appointments and manage her own selfcare. She saw my 2 siblings who live in Ithaca frequently, and the rest of us less often.

So, I started to call, daily. In the early days when I was on maternity leave and spending great amounts of time sitting around nursing Zoe, it was fairly easy to call, and it helped the time pass. My mother enjoyed hearing about every little milestone, hearing Zoe’s coos through the phone, and I suppose remembering her own days nursing each of her 6 babies as newborns. Then, there were the few months that I started working part time while my house was also being renovated. She was interested in everything, Zoe’s adjustment to daycare, my return to work, progress on the house. We visited Ithaca every 2-3 months during Zoe’s first year so my mother often would say that she couldn’t wait to see Zoe doing this or that, whatever I had told her she was doing now. I also sent pictures every month. And, when I visited, she had albums ready waiting for me to fill with these pictures of Zoe. I have all those albums now. In fact, they’re the only photo albums I have of either of my kids. All my pictures are in digital albums and any prints are in a big box. There are several more months worth of prints that are in the basket where my mom collected them. I suppose they’re waiting for me to continue the tradition, to find an album and fill it. I might just need to make time for that.

As Zoe started to eat solid food, I adapted our phone conversations. I turned on speaker phone so I had both hands free to manage the feeding process. My mother wanted to know each night what Zoe was tasting now. “Is it all over her face?” “Does she like it?” “Did she make a face?”

Sometimes these conversations were as brief as 5 minutes, other times they were longer. It really depended on what was going on with us, how much attention Zoe needed, what else I needed to get done.

As Zoe started to talk, she could say things directly to Grandma Barb. At some point, they began a nightly tradition of “Night, night, don’t let the bedbugs bite!” Only, my mother didn’t like bedbugs, so she asked Zoe to start a variation on the game. So, bedbugs were replaced by monkeys, kangaroos, koalas, and tens of other silly things that do and don’t really bite.

At times, mostly when Zoe was two, she didn’t want to call Grandma Barb, so I struggled to keep it interesting for her. Sometimes, we read stories together over the phone to Grandma Barb. Sometimes, Zoe’d be contentedly playing and I’d get to have an adult conversation with my mother, usually brief, often interrupted, but still a useful break from an evening of chatter with my extremely verbal toddler then preschooler.

These conversations went on through my whole second pregnancy. I didn’t know if I was having a boy or a girl. My mother wanted to know. She was impatient to find out. She was very excited that I had a second girl. And, then she was as worried as anyone when Mia’s early health complications arose.

At first, I was too overwhelmed to call her. Eventually, I did. She was frustrated and felt left out because a lot of the fast, real time communication in the days immediately before and after Mia’s birth went via text messages and e-mail, media she was not able to manage herself. My brother Andrew printed hard copies of these sagebaby posts and brought them to her. I have her stack of them, in the folder with flowers on it, where she kept them. She read them so carefully, and followed up with questions when we talked. At one point, she corrected me about Mia’s weight. She was sure that I had gotten it wrong in a post. In fact, she was right, I had made a typo off by a pound, and I went back and fixed it after she told me. Unbelievable.

She tried to keep track of every early appointment that Mia and I had. It was a lot to remember and so she’d ask me over and over again for the details and the sequence. She’d follow up to learn what had happened. She was remarkably understanding when I was unable to plan to visit until late August when Mia was almost 2 months old. On that visit, she enjoyed Mia so much. Mostly, I’d put Mia in a spot where my mom could watch her – in her carseat with a toy dangling for Mia to bat at with her hands, or on the baby gym mat where Mia looked at her toys and started to hit them. And, she held Mia too as much as she could. Even in August, it was tricky for me. I had to make sure my mother was in a chair with enough support that I thought Mia would be safe.

In September, my mother was hospitalized with pneumonia for 5 days. She was released with round-the-clock care at home and lived most of her last 5 months in one room. And still we called. I took Mia to Ithaca to visit right away, left Zoe for 2 nights with a friend from work. We all visited her in Ithaca again for Thanksgiving. And then, one last trip – Valentine’s Day. All together my mom saw Mia on 4 trips we made to Ithaca in her first 8 months. Mia had started to “talk” in our phone conversations, jabbering loudly enough that my mom would talk back to her.

In the weeks before her final illness, my mother said so many times that she wished she could come help us. She knew I was stressed juggling my two girls and work and the household maintenance. She tried to suggest things that might help. She was eager for us to visit again, though she knew that we were not ready to travel because of illness, weather, and my work. She said that she couldn’t wait for spring so I could bring my girls to visit again.

Spring is coming soon, perhaps jump-started today by the clocks springing ahead and the rain falling all day long.

We can’t visit her now. All we can do is remember and find small meaningful ways to keep her spirit alive for these girls who only barely knew her. I can continue the photo album tradition. I can wish Zoe “Night, night, don’t let the *** bite.” Lately, Zoe’s been wanting me to say “bedbugs!” Funny. I can go shopping for a baby doll for Mia. I had told my mom that Mia recently started to play with Zoe’s two baby dolls. My mom wanted me to get one (from her) for Mia that’s exactly like the one she gave Zoe at Thanksgiving 2008. I was busy. I didn’t go right out to get it even though she kept asking me about it. Soon, I will.

Yard Work is Great Therapy

Both of my girls have long loved digging in the dirt each spring. Here they are at 4 and nearly 2 years old.

And, in the next picture, you can see how Mia is bearing weight on her right hand while digging with lefty in our backyard sandbox.

We also would play “wheelbarrow” where I’d hold her feet and she’d walk on her hands (not many pictures of that as I was usually the one holding her feet). This was great for weightbearing on both hands and for balance. Mia had a stroke at birth which largely affected her right hand and arm.

This afternoon, we set out to solve a puppy predicament. This morning, too early, our doorbell rang. I was asleep as the fifteen month old dog still wakes me up too early most days so I had fallen back asleep. The girls were up though and had let him out in the fenced back yard. Well, those holes he’s been digging finally panned out for him. He escaped into the neighbors fenced-in back yard, and was brought back to our front door by our lovely neighbor.

After researching a bit, and filling in the holes along the fence as best we could with bricks, dirt, and rocks, we decided to create a digging pit for Toby in a place where he already likes to dig. So, we dug a hole, and then used the wheelbarrow to transfer some sand from the sandbox that my kids have outgrown to the pit, layering sand and dirt, to make it a digging spot. Now, Mia can fill and push a wheelbarrow on her own, and it’s great for helping her use her whole self to coordinate balancing the wheelbarrow. She holds the metal rake the same way she holds a hockey stick when she’s skating out, and opposite from how she holds a lacrosse stick (for that she has her right hand near the end and her left hand near the head of the stick).

Zoe joined in the action for the training part. The girls buried Toby’s toys in the new pit and encouraged him to “find it.” Time will tell how effective this solution is for Toby. Meanwhile, he’s only allowed in the back yard with supervision. I’m pretty sure he’ll try to escape again.

Cutting with a Knife with Hemiplegia


At age 5, Mia was able to peel and cut a cucumber independently with some supervision. She has more limited use of her right hand due to a stroke at birth and resulting hemiplegia. Notice how she’s using her right thumb to hold the cucumber in place. For kids and adults with more limited use of their affected hand, cutting boards are available that hold things in place.

Today, at age 8, she used a utility knife to cut through cardboard for a school project. I don’t have a picture of that because I was supervising a bit more closely.


Monkey Bars at 5 and 8

Mia mastered lower monkey bars when she was turning four. Here she is traversing the high ones for the first time as an almost six year old. And, about six months after this picture, she did her improvisational routine on the parallel bars. She continues to enjoy all kinds of climbing, on play structures, rock walls, and natural environments. Hanging from bars or rings and bearing weight on both arms are both very important for developing and maintaining strength in her right hand and arm. Also, the problem solving, coordination, and tenacity to truly master these play structures is fantastic.

Here’s today’s video of her crossing the same monkey bars in an almost effortless way at age 8, almost 9, so 3 years after the picture above.

Playing Piano with Right Hemiplegia

Imagine that you are learning to play piano and your left hand and fingers seem to follow your brain’s plan with ease but your right hand and fingers do not. So it is for Mia, practicing playing piano. She uses her left hand to help position the fingers of her right hand on the keys. Messages travel fairly effectively to Thumbkin and Pointer on Righty but the other three fingers are much tougher to control. Mia was five years old at the time of this picture. More recently, she tried ukulele, but that’ll be another post.

Spontaneous Supination to Receive Cherry Blossoms


Spontaneous supination (palm up) with both hands. My girls were playing with cherry blossom petals, and Mia offered her palms up to receive the petals from her sister. Supination has been one of Mia’s goals since she was an infant as she had a stroke at birth. Many people with hemiplegia struggle to turn the palm of their affected hand upwards. In the picture above, Mia is 5 years old and Zoe is 8 years old.

And, because this is the season when the cherry tree blooms in our garden, we use it every year as a way of marking time. So, in 2018, my girls are now 11 and 8. You may notice in the picture below that Zoe is as tall as the cherry tree. And, Mia has both of her arms in a relaxed position by her sides. This was not always easy for her as she used to frequently hold her right arm in a contracted and pronated position with both her elbow and wrist flexed.