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Someone said that to me the other day. She claimed that having children made it impossible to read. I told her she’d just not looking at it the right way. Then I told her I read my New Yorker magazine in the shower. I wasn’t kidding.

So, in her honour, when and where I read:

1. In the shower. We have one of those multi-shelved racks in the far corner of the tub, so I prop the magazine in there, with some shampoo bottle holding it up. Yes, it gets a bit damp, but it’s a magazine, so who cares. I keep my towel in reach to dry my hands before turning the page.

2. While singing lullabies to Boo. I have several songs – Mama’s Going to Buy You a Mockingbird, Little Boy Blue, You Are My Sunshine – that I have so utterly memorized that I can sing them while reading something else. I can’t do the more serious stuff, though. I read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol a couple years ago, and found that the unfamiliar language required even that small portion of my brain dedicated to the song.

3. In the car waiting for kids, or even at long stop lights.

4. While walking the dog, as long as I don’t need gloves.

5. While playing games with Boo. The older two don’t let me get away with it anymore.

6. While frying anything.

7. During meals, if I am alone. I’ve been trained that reading while eating with others is rude, but sometimes I sneak it in when I am just with the kids, just leaving a newspaper lying there on the table so it doesn’t look so obvious.

8. In waiting rooms. In fact, waiting for anything, like the sub sandwich to be made or to return something.

9. While brushing and flossing.

Many of these places are good for knitting too. Doesn’t work so well in the shower. Knitting is also good for watching TV or when chatting with people. I got most of a hat done during parent-teacher interviews, as I waited for the teachers to be freed up. At one point, another parent commented on the hat and how nice it was, and lamented that she hadn’t knit in so long. Didn’t have the time, she explained. I didn’t point out that both of us were sitting there waiting, but I was getting a hat done.

Of course, she’s making the same mistake many people do – that knitting is something else to do, rather than the thing I do to fill in the boring bits. And same with reading. You don’t need extra time to do these things. You do these things to make the other daily stuff less boring. Well, I do, anyway.

Maya’s iPod has opened up a whole new venue of boredom-busting, since I discovered downloading podcasts. Now, as I walk the dog, shovel the driveway and shop for groceries, I listen to radio documentaries and interviews. Now I never have to be left alone with my own thoughts, ever!

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A cuckoo in the nest

Someone just surfed onto my blog using the search string, “tiny whale.” I swear on all my chocolate I have never used the word ‘whale’ in my blog. Until now.

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When Maya was 11 weeks old, a newspaper story came out of two sets of parents in the US who had discovered their sons had been switched in the hospital at birth. This boys were about 9 years old, and yet the parents switched them back. We were baffled. After only 11 weeks, we were so utterly besottled with this child that we could not imagine giving her to someone else, even if she turned out to not be ours biologically. Which is good, because yesterday we had this conversation:

Me: Look, I got this promotion card for 28 free song downloads and one audiobook. Cool, huh?

Maya: I want the songs.

Me: Okay, but I get the audiobook then.

Maya: Well, duh. It’s a book. Like I’d want that. (laughs, then assumes a false voice) No, no, give me the book! (laughs uproariously, even more so as I start to sob quietly in my chair.)

Wherever my real daughter is, I hope she’s with a proper, book-loving family. I’ll always love my reading-phobic Maya, even though it is completely clear that she was switched a birth with another kid.

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Like all parents, when my first baby was born, I looked forward to many milestones – first word, first sentence, first steps, no more diapers. As they grew, I even looked forward to ones like outgrowing the annoying car seat, being able to open the fridge by herself. The one I didn’t expect until it was upon us was learning to read.

That was particularly slow of me, given how central reading and writing is to me. Maybe that is why – it seems as natural a breathing. It isn’t, though. It is work.

Boo, my last baby, has just figured out the key. Reading isn’t just a switch – one day you can’t, the next you can. But, at least with my kids, there has always been one day when the kid suddenly gets running those sounds together. For the longest time – desperate to read – Maya would sound out words like ‘cat’ as cuh-ah-tuh and then run it together as ‘cuhatuh.’ Then she’d get frustrated and take a wild stab at it – “Chicken?” It was hard not to laugh, I admit.

She spent a long time in the ‘cuhatuh’ stage, not quite getting it. And then, one day, she did. And I realized that the whole world had just open up to her. I teared up, I admit.

It was somewhat harder for Asher, in that he didn’t care, and somewhat easier, in that he didn’t care. He didn’t kill himself at it the way his sister did. But one day, about a week before he was to enter grade one, I decided it was time to see if he could get phonetics. We sat down with Hop on Pop, and he Got It.

Having never really thought about it before, he was wildly delighted to realize that he could actually read.  I’ll never forget the excitement with which he raced up the stairs to demonstrate to his dad that he could actually read. Unfortunately in his case, it immediately got difficult and figuring it out has been a struggle ever since. It just doesn’t seem to come naturally to him, much as he wants it to.

But with Boo, whether it is because she is a third child, or a lucky one, it has happened with the greatest of ease. She figured out the alphabet by herself. As we went through the grocery store when she was 2 and 3 years old, she’d say, “I see my letter! I see Bubby’s letter!” Only later did the letters get their own names, and she already had a good idea of their sounds.

A couple of weeks ago, while I read to the older two, Boo was looking at one of her own books and suddenly said, “puh-ah-tuh … pat!” I cheered, “Boo, you just sounded that word out!” She was delighted, and has been sounding out everything she sees since then, with varying degrees of success.

So last night, I dug out Hop on Pop. And she read it. She even took little leaps, like sounding out ‘see’ as ‘suh-eh-eh’ and not running it together as ‘seh’ but ‘see.’ The best part is her utter delight. She was so excited I had trouble getting her to stop (it’s a long book) and go to sleep, then she showed up bright and early this morning in my bed insisting on continuing the book.

Later, when I insisted on cutting her fingernails, she said, “Okay! I can read while you do it!” She grabbed a book and picked a word, then said, “Buh-uh-tuh-tuh-on. Button! Button? I always thought it was ‘buttin’! Wow, this reading thing is really cool.”

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Thirteen Things about just making it up.

  1. Top of my list is a book called How to Read the Bible, by James L. Kugel. It puts the Bible (and by that I mean the Torah, the one Christians call the Old Testament) into historical, archaeological and etiological context, as well as giving the traditional interpretations of the various elements and stories. It looks at the assumptions people bring to it as they read it, and why they bring those assumptions. It is just fascinating. I stumbled across it at Barnes and Noble in the US. The only problem is that, at 800 pages, it is hard to drag around in my backpack or read in the bath (although I’ve been doing the latter anyway).
  2. Biblical Literacy, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin. I have several of Telushkin’s books, as I like him as a person and a thinker. He does a lot of speaking about Jewish ethics. I got this book because J was at a conference at which he was scheduled to speak, and when he arrived at the hotel, it had bumped him from his room. The desk dork was directing him to some Super 8 miles away so J, who recognized him from other talks, approached and offered him the other bed in his room. Telushkin gave him this book in thanks, and several others since, but they are made out to me as I’m the one who reads this sort of thing. Anyway, I’ve read a lot of it before, but it is an interesting companion to read along side #1. It’s only 600 pages, though.
  3. The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, Wendy Mogel. This one was a Borders buy, but I’ve been looking for it, as several people recommended it. It is a parenting book along the sort I like – that say that this self-esteem thing is producing self-absorbed little shits for children (doesn’t put it quite that way, though) and they actually need a little hard work and to be allowed to experience failure and disappointment in order to grow up to be happy, successful adults. The twist on this one is that the author uses the Torah and Talmud as her jumping off points for parenting successfully.
  4. The Optimistic Child, Martin E. Seligman. Another parenting book that’s all for letting your kid fail on her own, and succeed on her own too. This guy’s thesis is that not allowing this sets our kids up for depression as they grow up, and we need to produce resilient, realistically optimistic kids in order to ‘innoculate’ them against depression. Based on a ton of research and study, and very interesting.
  5. The New Yorker, latest issue. This stays in my car in case I get caught without anything else to read. (heaven forbid!) My in-laws got me a subscription for Hanukkah last year and it has been one of the best gifts ever. The damn magazine is expensive, though, and up for renewal soon. I’m going to have to start making off with their copies again, which was what inspired the gift in the first place.
  6. Inkheart, Cornelia Funke. I read this to the older two every evening.
  7. Pain, The Fifth Vital Sign, Marni Jackson. It is a sort of sociological look at pain in our society and how we deal with it (or don’t, as the case may be).
  8. Stumbling On Happiness, Daniel Gilbert. It’s a kind of Freakanomics sort of look at happiness. Interesting. I think it is due back at the library soon, though.
  9. The Dangerous Book for Boys, Conn and Hal Iggulden. Reminds me of my childhood, even if I’m not a boy. Asher and I are reading it. He’s very keen on the part about making a battery and about making a bow and arrow. He hasn’t discovered the chapter on hunting and skinning a rabbit so far, thankfully. I’ve noticed this book reviewed and wanted it, but it is damn expensive. The friend we stayed with in NY had a copy, though, and when I commented on it he gave me permission to steal it, so I did.
  10. Several days of newspapers that I refuse to recycle until I’ve at least had a look at.
  11. The Case Against Homework, by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish. The title is pretty self-explanatory. I haven’t opened it in a while because it is too painful, as Maya slogs through her homework each night. I’m toying with just giving it to the vice-principal as a gift.
  12. Blogs.
  13. Okay, I’ve run dry. But doesn’t the fact that I’m reading an 800 page book and a 600 page book together kind of make up for not having a thirteenth?


Links to other Thursday Thirteens:
1. Pass the Chocolate

2. Bring Your Own Cheese

3. Burnt Offerings

4. MamaArcher (kindly put me in her 13 favourite Thursday Thirteens on motherhood.)

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!


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