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Archive for April 8th, 2007

My Mom’s “Kids”

Sunday, April 8th, 2007

My mother is a strong woman. She has always been strong inside, and after she was widowed with two young teens at the age of 38, she just got stronger. Of course, I didn’t even appreciate this until I lived many years myself. I particularly benefitted from her as a role model, when I found myself single at the age of 32.

I love to travel, and put 250,000 miles on my 1985 VW Golf, mostly alone and mostly during my years as a divorcee in my mid-30s. I love Boston, so I drove there five times in three years. I had a wonderful time, met a bunch of people I enjoyed, taught polymer clay at a bead shop and did polyclay demos for a craft store. Nobody told me I couldn’t do it, so I did. It didn’t occur to me that someone else might not do the same thing, assuming they wanted to do it.

Sometimes when I tell people that I have taken another one of those “long-distance alone in the car” trips, they respond: “by yourself?” For years I thought it was just an individual thing. I’ve come to notice that it’s more universal than I first thought, that most people will not travel alone.

In fact, I am shocked to discover that some people will not dine alone at a restaurant. For me, that is one of the finest luxuries I can give myself. I can knit or read while I’m waiting for my food, and I have a little island of peace for myself during that waiting time. I am a social being but I need those “down” moments to fuel myself for the next class or performance.

I realize now that the reason I don’t think anything of my trips, is that my mother traveled alone, too. She did a lot of things that I understand now were unusual for a woman at the time she did them. She was the first mom on our block to have her own car, a gold Corvair we called the “Putt Putt.” She was the only mom on our block to get a full-time job. In fact, she had been a teacher before she married my father and she was determined to go back to teaching as soon as she could. She got her first full-time, permanent teaching job (that is, first after she had her children) when I was in 5th grade, 1968. This was unusual in our area at that time.

Mom struggled with reading all her life. To start with, she is legally blind (though able to drive with glasses). She did not get glasses until she was in school, I think she told me she was in 1st grade freshman year of high school. Imagine!

On top of that, mom probably has dyslexia (sp?) although I’m sure she was never tested for it. Spelling is hard for her, and she has learned how to compensate with a dictionary and spell-check and having friends check her work for her when necessary. I think this struggle made her even more determined to be a teacher, so that she could help kids who struggled the same as she did.

Mom is a gifted reading teacher. In fact, I’ve heard on two different occasions, that peers have exclaimed “Liz can teach a *rock* to read!” I know she is proud of this reputation. She spends hours of her own time preparing materials for the kids, figuring out one more way to explain tough concepts. She teaches the letters, their sounds, numbers, key words, and the value, looks and names of coins (children often think a penny is worth more than a dime because it is larger).

Mom writes a chatty letter/email regularly and sends to family and friends. I’m so glad she does this, she is an excellent storyteller. For years she told stories orally, she did not write much because she was afraid of spelling issues (or so it appears to me) and now she’s busy making up for lost time.

She tells about her life, the recipes she tries, the adventures with friends and family, gardens, observations of the world around her, and the kids she is teaching. She is retired now, so she only teaches reading, but she goes to the school as many days a week as she can fit into her busy schedule. She does this in Michigan part of the year and Florida part of the year. She has changed probably thousands of young lives, the ones who really struggle at the beginning of their journey to learning.

This year in Florida, Mom has worked with over 20 kids on a single day, usually two at a time. I know she finds it absolutely rewarding although I think sometimes she gets tired from the effort it can take.

Mom has given me permission to post her most recent text about teaching her kids in Florida. I find it very interesting, and I think you may also.

I have just five more days with my little ones at school. I had a total of 24 children. Three moved away.

One I just got two days before vacation. He is a little one that is just learning the English words for the numbers. I am hoping I can have him learn them before I leave.

Twelve of the children I do not see anymore as just in the last couple of weeks I have been able to “graduate” them. They know their numbers to 31, can count to 31, can count down from 10, know the names and values of the coins and dollar, know the names of the letters and their sounds, know the sound when I produce it, know rhymes and know 33 words in reading.

The last seven children I am hoping can learn the numbers as they have a special day when they honor just the students that know those skills. Some of the ones I work with have been working so hard to learn them. It would be nice if they honored them for the hours they put in to learn it even if they could not quite master it.

This year, I brought my troll doll the first week so they would know my name. Later they asked if I had more troll dolls. I have six, so I brought them in two by two. After that I started to bring in my stuffed animals. First came the primates, next came the bears, next was the rabbits including one that is huge that I bought for $2 at the park sale across the street. I still have a few more to bring. They love giving them a hug as I set up things for them.

I will miss my little ones when I leave. I think I may be the oldest person they know as a person. They continue to find out more about old people. I was holding the door open for one boy and he reached up to feel my are where the muscle hangs down. Neither of us said anything, but now he knows what it feels like!

We had the word old one day. A little girl said I was old. I agreed. She said, “You are going to die.” I said, Yes, everyone dies some day. Do I look like I am ready to die?” “No.”

The twins wanted to know how I make the papers for them. I told them I had a printer for my computer. “What does it look like?” Well, that was not easy to explain, but when I put a new ink cartridge in, there is a print out of the printer and each of the steps to printing. I took that in for them to see.

Joshua was having a hard time learning the name and value of the penny. He wanted to make a pencil rubbing of the penny like I would do some days. I told him he could when he learned it.

After about five more days he came into the room and asked if I was going to check him on the penny. I said I would after our first reading paper. He was all smiles. He knows the penny now and yes, he did get to do a penny rubbing!

Thank you, Mom, for being a “guest blogger” today.