Posts Tagged ‘reading’


When I picked up the kids yesterday, Maya informed me that in one of her classes, the rabbi was talking about the shofar. This is a ram’s horn which is blown during Rosh Hoshanah and Yom Kippur. It sounds kind of like a rough trumpet. The rabbi asked the class what the sound of the shofar reminded them of.

This rabbi has taught this grade previously, so you’d think he’d have the experience to know not to ask as question like that, but he didn’t. And so one of Maya’s classmates (whose father and, I believe, grandmother, both read this blog) put up his hand and told his teacher that the shofar reminded him of his uncle in the bathroom.

Maya then told me that the new High School Musical is coming out in theatres in October. Oh, how exciting! She and her friend have already planned to go. Good, I thought, I’ll just be able to drop them off and run away. Then Asher said, all excited, “It’s coming in October? Already?” And my mommy brain calculated two things very quickly. One, Asher loves High School Musical and will want to go and two, Maya won’t agree to have him go with her. This adds up to three: I’ll be seeing the movie after all.

I heaved a sigh just as Maya informed Asher that he will not be accompanying her. “L’s brother wants to go too,” she said, “And we aren’t letting him, either.” Oo, how exciting. L’s brother, T is in Asher’s grade. They aren’t good friends, but they hang out sometimes. Maybe they could go together.

“Hey!” I said, “Asher, you aren’t the only boy in your grade in the closet about High School Musical.”

“Mom,” Asher said, in his ‘aren’t you silly’ tone of voice, “T and I aren’t in the closet about High School Musical.” You aren’t? I thought. But he went on, “T doesn’t care if people know.” Ah, meaning Asher carries this little secret alone. High School Musical, here I come!

I could try and make J go, but I’m already in his debt for letting Boo acquire more Rainbow Magic books since she first became obsessed over two Asher got her at a book sale. They look like this:

There appear to be a never-ending supply of then – weather fairies and animal fairies and fairies for each day. Every damn book is the same. Two girls, Rachel and Kirsti, must help some fairy get something back – a puppy, a weather feather, etc – from the evil Jack Frost and his ugly goblins. This usually involves having them become fairy-sized and some point and also very grateful, simpering fairies.

It’s all cuteness and sweetness and friendliness. After I read one to Boo while Maya was around, Maya said afterwards, “My teeth hurt.” They are painful to read, and usually it is J who is suckered into the job, since I am already reading The Thief Lord to the older children at bedtime.

Zach Efron will be my punishment.


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I’ve gotten in trouble several times in the past couple of weeks by referring to Maya’s ipod as ‘my ipod’. I tell her it is just a verbal shortcut, but she knows that is crap. That thing never leaves my body. In fact, I’ve discovered that if I wear my sweatshirt with a sweater over top (not unusual for me), string the wire down under the sweater and put the ipod in my sweatshirt pocket, no one can see it. I have long, shaggy hair and it beautifully hides the ear buds.

Occasionally, I make a show of handing it over to her, like when we return from school. I say, “I had your ipod while I walked the dog. Here it is.” She takes it and hides it somewhere, but I watch surreptitiously and retrieve it at the first opportunity. I should probably just buy my own, but it seems like such a waste of money, given that Maya is at school all day and, in truth, rarely listens to it when she is not.

I’m hooked on This American Life, an NPR radio show I’ve known about for a while, but never had decent access to. I am a huge fan of both David Rakoff* and David Sedaris, who are regular contributors. I have now become a huge fan of Ira Glass, the host.

The current shows download to my (Maya’s!) ipod for free, but that is too slow for me, and there are years worth to be had. They cost just under a buck per show at itunes, which is a great deal for an hour’s worth of quality entertainment. But since there are hundreds of old shows, this is going to get expensive. I’ve been picking and choosing particularly interesting topics.

When I run out of This American Life shows already downloaded, I still have tons of CBC (Canadian public radio) shows to fall back on and a lot of them are really good too. I’ve also downloaded two books so far. I wish I had an ipod since I was a kid. I used to walk slowly home from school, reading as I went. I developed really great peripheral vision. I try to read while cooking, knitting, folding laundry – anything, really. The ipod has basically given me that ability.

The other day, up at the cottage, I cleared our skating rink on the lake, shoveling for over an hour, while listening to a fascinating This American Life on the concept of sissies. The show was so interesting that I cleared the rink exceptionally well, since it wasn’t over and I didn’t want to go inside and not hear the end of it. The idea of me managing to stay shoveling for an hour pre-ipod is pretty much unimaginable, since I have an extremely low boredom threshold and, trapped alone with my own thoughts, would have snapped after about 15 minutes.

The only downside is that I sometimes fail to fully pay attention to my own children. I fake it as they ramble on, secretly listening to David Rakoff describe how badly he hated chicken-catching on kibbutz when he was a teenage and trying not to laugh inappropriately.

Yesterday, I kept listening in the car after I picked up the kids, pretending to pay attention as Maya sang me a long Hebrew song she had learned. She complained that she had to answer lame questions about the song for homework. The equivalent in English would be: “In Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” where is the Little Star?” Granted, the questions and answers were in Hebrew, but it is still simple, make-work nonsense for grade 6.

She then told me that they will soon be singing it at the home for the aged next door to the school. I managed to follow both this and the discussion on the ipod, but both badly. To demonstrate I was listening, I asked her why, if they just learned the song to sing to the old people, did she have to answer pointless questions on it?

She stared at me for a moment, then said, “Because we have to answer questions on everything.” That struck me as a really profound description of grade school and I laughed for a long time. And turned the ipod off. Turns out, my kids can be just as entertaining. (but it stayed in my pocket, as backup.)


* I have a odd David Rakoff story. I am distantly related to him by marriage and knew him from family events like brises and weddings before knowing he was a writer. I knew he lived in New York and wanted to be a writer, but that was it. When his first book, Fraud, was published, I bought it out of some vague sense of familial loyalty, expecting it to be crap. Really, crap. Because, in my utterly Canadian way, I assumed that no one I actually knew, much less was related to – however distantly – could actually be really good. The book would sell 500 copies and sink like a stone, but I’d do my bit.

Of course, having bought the thing, I had to read it.

I loved it. I laughed out loud, sometimes to the point of helplessness, tears rolling down my face. Now, having read that and his second book, Don’t Get to Comfortable, plus heard a good number of his NRP essays, I am nothing short of a goggle-eyed fan, which makes casual conversations with him at those family events a bit awkward, because I am far to cool and Canadian to suddenly gush, “I’m just a huge fan. I love your work! You are so funny!” One, that ain’t me. Two, he’d die. So he has no idea. I feel kind of stalker-ish.

The biggest irony is that the title of his first book – Fraud – refers to his own feelings of not really being a real writer, that he’s faking that, among other things. It seems that he too, had some expectation that his book would sell 500 copies and disappear. Ah, the joys of being Canadian.

Anyway, he is a brilliant and funny writer. Go buy his books.

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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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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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