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Para que nadie sea esclavo

Last night, at 3:00am, Fritz woke up, calling for mama.  He fell back to sleep almost immediately.  Lucky him. Once I gave up trying, I got online and started researching articles in Spanish about writing workshop to support some upcoming work I’ll be doing. This week, to supplement my part time work with the Heart of Texas Writing Project, I signed a contract to write Spanish Language Arts Curriculum. In addition to writing in Spanish, this summer I will be leading a 3-day training for middle school Spanish teachers–in Spanish.  Conducting writing professional development in Spanish, even for teachers who teach in Spanish, is rare.  This contract puts significant value on students’ and teachers’ Spanish language development.

The preparation for this work will take more researching for articles, reading, writing, and thinking than it does when I do similar work in English.  Hence, the mid-night research, months prior to the work.  I came across some great literature and read one quote that, like many  things do these days, made me think again about the power of publication.

“El uso total de la palabra para todos me parece un buen lema, de bello sonido democrático. No para que todos sean artistas, sino para  que nadie sea esclavo.” ~Gianni Rodari

My translation: Total use of the word for all seems like a good motto, of beautiful, democratic sound. Not so that all will be artists, but so that no one will be a slave.

A few weeks back, I met with a former student of mine, now a senior, and we talked about her 4th grade year in my class. She also told me what she remembered about her 5th grade year in a class, across the hall from mine, that focused entirely on test preparation.  In my class we had studied the history of discrimination in the U.S., created anti-discrimination imovies, and presented our writing at La Resistencia, described on their website as “the go-to place for Chicano literature, poetry readings and revolutionary, social justice and human rights texts. It is also a space where intellectual exchanges are encouraged and where finding the right book is a way of life.”

Sitting there with this now 18-year-old, I sat quietly and listened to her recount her experience in 5th grade.  The worksheets, the rote memorization, the prison laps around the track, hands behind backs, for recess.  I also have strong memories of that year: the push-ups for punishment, the teacher-demanded silent treatment of some students, their fear to answer a guest’s question until the teacher instructed, “Speak.” I won’t forget observing my cherished students’ voices silenced. But I wanted to hear her perspective, unadulterated, and so I didn’t share what I remember, what I witnessed that year. I just listened and wondered if I could have done more.

After she spoke for a minute she said, “It was oppressive, really,” using the words she owns now to describe what she experienced then.  “We were oppressed.”

When someone asks me what I do, I tell them I’m a teacher, an educator.  I used to teach elementary school and now I teach teachers how to teach writing.  But that’s just the easy, surface answer. What my colleagues and I do goes deeper than that.  We design liberating curriculum that not only gives all students access to high quality writing instruction, but also guides all students to see the power of their voice to change an audience.  We teach writing for that beautifully democratic motto, total use of the word for all.

A Little Motivation

Today someone unexpectedly told me they’ve read my blog.  An audience. Right at the moment when I’ve been thinking and writing about audience. A lot.  And how appropriate, too, since I haven’t posted to this blog in almost two months.

Knowing that there is someone listening, someone reading, someone thinking about what we have to say is motivating. It motivated me to get on my computer (when I should probably be getting a good night’s sleep) and write.  It motivates our students, as well. When the teacher is the primary audience for students’ writing, the motivation is a grade or compliance or to avoid consequences.  Students are not learning to write. They’re learning to obey and follow rules.

Having something to say, having a reason to say it, and having someone to say it to are all factors at play when we write. Story, purpose, and audience are the words we often use in school.  We teach kids to summarize stories or to read the words and explain what they understood. We ask students to identify an author’s purpose or to discern how an author is trying to affect his audience.  Too rarely do learning experiences in schools call for students to make meaning, produce text, write for a purpose to affect a listener, a reader, a thinker, another human being.

I’m thinking and writing a lot about audience and how purpose and story and publication affect audiences and how audiences affect our story, purpose, and craft. NWP forgave my verbosity and granted our proposal.  In 2017-2018, I will have the pleasure of thinking and planning, studying and writing more about publication and audience with 10 Bastrop ISD K-4 teachers with whom I am collaborating for this grant-funded project: Choice and Voice: Audience and Agency in a Resilient Rural Texas Community. More to come.  Thanks for the motivation, Brady and NWP!

Spark an Interest; Ignite a Passion: 2017 LRNG Innovators Challenge Kicks Off with 10 National Awards 
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See here for a map of awardees and read more about their work via LRNG @ Educator Innovator. 

Breaking the Silence

Over the last, say, 56 days, I have suffered from alternating waves of being.  I slosh back and forth from a deep need to speak out and be heard to a profound pull to cut myself off from the world and hide in silence. I wrote my last post during my most recent wave of voice. In the three weeks following, I hosted a Women’s March huddle with 20+ people from my area, including friends and now-friends who want to organize in support of a variety of causes. We learned about recent efforts of organizations like Moms Demand Action, Battleground Texas, TX21Indivisible, and American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. We broke out into groups to get to know more about each other’s priorities, availability, and skill sets that can help increase our active engagement as democratic citizens.  We started a facebook page to communicate action items and a google folder to record our work and share information we’ve gathered.

A week later I met with two inspiring women who work with TAMSA, Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment. We talked about my experiences working in schools where over-testing had significant negative effects on students, teachers, and the quality of instruction in schools. We brainstormed about opportunities for me to testify to legislators about my experience and provide ideas for authentic student assessment of writing.

On February 25th, I worked alongside my Heart of Texas Writing Project colleagues to put on a workshop for 50+ Austin Area teachers entitled Building on Strength: Multilingual Students and Writing Workshop. We engaged teachers of multilingual students in conversations about how to create safe spaces for our immigrant students even with today’s  hostile climate, how to provide authentic and student-centered writing instruction, and how to use strengths-based teaching to push back on deficit-based programming and pedagogy in our Bilingual and Dual Language classrooms. In my opening, we marveled at the linguistic strengths of three of my former students.

 

Following the Building on Strength workshop, I met with my HTWP book club group. We’re reading For a Better World: Reading and Writing for Social Action.  I cried a bit as I asked my colleagues/peers/friends for help with how to take the same strength and conviction I have speaking at conferences along with me when I talk with family that differs sharply from me politically.  Besides the bout of tears, I mostly sat silent. My wave of voice had hit its peak and began to slope down to its trough.

Three days later I got up early to attend the Texas Tribune’s Conversation with Congressional Public Education Committee Chairman, Rep Dan Huberty. I was uplifted to hear about his strong opposition to school vouchers and to over-testing in schools though dismayed at his part in and support of the A-F rating of our Texas schools. I listened but didn’t raise my hand when the moment came for questions, though questions I had.

I made it to my March 5th meeting with our newly formed South Austin Action and Advocacy Group, though barely.  I skipped my appointment to get deputized as a voter registrar with Battleground Texas. I have writing to do, I rationalized. I can reschedule.

In the following period of silence, to fight the urge to drug myself with mind-numbing television, I am reading and writing. I just finished writing a grant application with more fervor and verbosity than the grant reviewers will be anticipating.  Don’t hold it against me, NWP. I continue to read For a Better World and also to re-read segments of Teacher Organizing for Change: Making Literacy Learning Everybody’s Business.  I am up at night scribbling in my notebook and sneaking off to my desk where I can re-write the outline for the book proposal I’m determined to send off in a few months.

And three days ago, before the camping trip where Rob, Maya, Fritz and I unplugged entirely, Maya said something that created a ripple that reverberated through me until I had to sit down and write here again.  I was deep in the trough when she said it and so we were watching a movie. A princess movie. And I was feeling guilty.  And then she said, “Mama, all the people in this movie have white skin.”  And I felt this little glimmer of hope.  I had forgotten to notice but Maya hadn’t.  Maya reminded me to put on the critical contact lenses that only some of us in this world have to be mindful to put on every day.

She reminded me to wake up and that through talking with her about issues of privilege and representation in our consumption of all forms of media, she has been awakened. When we teach critical literacy skills, when we talk to our children about the marginalization of people, languages, and cultures, they are listening. And changing.  They begin to see the world and how it favors some over others. And that is the first step not just to changing but to making change. And so, though in my action there are periods of silence, maybe, if my periods of voice are strong and focused enough, I can rest assured that when I am silent another person in my tribe will let her voice rise.

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Cozy with Conflict

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For my first 26 years of life, I, rather unapologetically, self-identified as someone who avoids conflict. Dodging debate is pretty easy when you’re white, privileged, and largely surrounded with like-minded classmates, colleagues, friends, and family. When I moved to Texas eleven years ago, however, I found it more difficult to avoid heated conversations. I found myself in work, social, and familial relationships with people who have views of the world that sharply counter my own and, for the first time that I was aware of, simply being honest often put me where I was not used to being–at odds.

First through graduate school and professional communities, I began to reflect on my privilege and my beliefs. I began to equip myself with the knowledge of history and its affect on the present and with the vocabulary and research I needed to defend my beliefs. And so it was first in professional settings that I grew the courage to actively advocate for equity and justice.

It has only been over the last two years or so that I have begun, as many of us have, to challenge myself to engage in these same debates about the truths of the world and its injustices with family and friends.  In those discussions, on facebook, over the phone, over email (but not yet in person), one theme I have heard is that we should shield our children from such conversations.

Though it is still a little difficult for me to say, I must disagree.  While we must be thoughtful in the ways in which we engage in dialogue with our children about sensitive topics, avoiding these conversations or waiting until our children are “old enough” is perpetuating the problems that are pervasive in our world.

A few months ago, a friend and her 3 children visited me for a few days.  While she was here, she saw a picture book out on the table that I had recently read to Maya about immigrants coming to America to flee persecution.  In the beginning of the book, the main character, a child, is hiding under a bed with her family.  Later, they board a ship to America. My  friend asked me, “Aren’t you worried Maya will be afraid, that she will wake up and worry that someone will come after her? That she will hide under her bed in fear?”

I had to pause, to think. “No,” is pretty much all I said. Even though she had asked me out of absolute curiosity and maybe even looking for guidance, I still didn’t feel ready to belt out my reasons for making the choices I do.  Maybe her question even made me doubt myself for a moment. But now, today, in a time of so many decisions and orders based upon fear, I feel braver than ever to say that I know that to avoid such discussions with my daughter would be to side with the silencer.

The days are numbered when I will have my children’s undivided attention. I want for them to hear from me loudly and clearly that I love them and they are safe, yes, but also that we have friends and neighbors who are not as privileged as we are to simply avoid the uncomfortable, to ignore the injustices, to evade the truths. I want them to be aware and to want change.

I have been meaning to share resources with parents about how we can use children’s literature to begin to talk to our children about the topics of inequity and diversity that some of us have long been avoiding.  Today’s the day. Here’s what I have to say.

Professional Educators: Revising Practices, Responsive Teaching

The National Writing Project‘s model of teachers teaching teachers depends largely upon the belief that teachers are professionals. Professional teachers collaborate with their professional communities to be responsive to their students, reflective in their planning, and to constantly revise their practices as they encounter new students, experiences, and educational research.  They resist “we’ve always done it this way” habits of mind and push back on scripted curriculum by providing individualized, research-based instruction for their diverse student populations.

Last summer, the Heart of Texas Writing Project at UT Austin, a National Writing Project affiliate, conducted week-long mini institutes with Bastrop ISD’s K-12 teachers.  During Heart of Texas Writing Project intensive institutes, teachers are treated as professionals, engaging in graduate-level work, reading professional articles and books, and using inquiry and debate to merge prior experience and knew understandings. Then, participants are challenged to design plans to apply this new knowledge through the implementation of writing workshop in their classrooms.

It requires courage to embrace the type of autonomy and responsibility that a Writing Workshop classroom expects of its teacher.  Calli Caperton, a third grade teacher at Red Rock Elementary, participated in the HTWP institutes in Bastrop last summer.  She had studied Writing Workshop in an undergraduate class but had yet to try it out in her room. The opportunity to process and prepare for implementation during this week-long PD, motivated Calli to put these practices into place in her classroom.

In the first weeks of school, Calli and her students began to set up routines and procedures for mini lessons, conferences, and share time.

Q: What are a few of the example routines you taught students that helped you get your writing workshop going?

Calli: The first mini lesson I did was how to come to the carpet and what it should look like when the kids are participating in a mini lesson. Then I did a mini lesson about “What is a mini lesson?” The next lesson was on “Ways to get started”. I shared my experiences with having trouble writing as a child. I also did a mini lesson on how to share stories. It was mainly about how to do the author’s chair because they were excited about sitting in my chair. We did mini lessons on how to share in other ways such as partner or group share and gallery walks as we came to a time that we were sharing in those ways.

As Calli describes above, a writing workshop teacher thoughtfully structures workshop time and designs mini lessons that lead to student independence and autonomy. Explicit teaching and practice of routines are the key to getting Writing Workshop going strong from Day 1.

This early work includes teaching students strategies for how to explore topics of their own choosing rather than depending upon the teacher to provide a prompt.  In a writing workshop classroom, students are not given prompts. They choose topics about which they are passionate, knowledgeable, and interested. Calli designed a series of mini lessons that equipped students with strategies on how to get started.

Once students had spent the first weeks of school practicing many ways of getting started writing, including such lessons as jotting lists, looking around you for inspiration, or getting inspiration from their lives, students delved into their first unit of study to take through the writing process.  Rather than putting their notebooks aside to start anew, students used these entries to unearth topics for more in-depth pieces of writing. The “choice” writing students had done in the first weeks of school now served as a treasure chest of ideas that could be used in a crafted piece of any genre. An entry about a pet could inspire a fantasy piece about talking animals. An entry about a farm could inspire a memoir about family working together.

Q: What are some of the mini lessons you taught that helped students to explore topics of their own choosing for their first published pieces? 

A:  I taught a mini lesson about flipping through my journal to find what I was writing the most about. We talked about how they could flip through their own notebooks and find a topic based on what they write most frequently about. I also gave them a lot of books that they could read and look at to come up with ideas.We also did a a lesson on jotting a list of things that we know a lot about because authors often write about the things they know. 

For this first piece, students were in charge of choosing their own genre and topic for a piece they would bring through the writing process to publication. Students wrote fantasy, memoir, and informational texts inspired by their family, their interests, and experiences.

 

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As is also crucial in a writing workshop classroom, students chose an audience for their work. For this first piece, they decided to have the administrators at the school read their publications and provide positive feedback.

As students were still publishing their first pieces during writing time, Calli began to prepare students for their next writing unit of study through the reading curriculum.  She immersed her students in a study of poetry.

Q: In your unit of study on poetry, what mini lessons in reading and writing did you do to help kids study different type of poems?
 
Calli: We read different types of poetry and recorded on chart paper all the things we noticed and categorized the poems that we read by what they had in common. We looked at how poets organize their writing and how they used punctuation and then practiced that in our own writing. I also wrote a poem and shared that with my class. We also looked at videos of people performing their own poetry. I always left out a variety of poetry books out for them to explore and use during writing. 
As you can see in this video, Calli used published poetry and also tried out writing her own poetry as students took on roles as poets. As she explains below, Calli’s mini lessons were responsive to the observations she made about students’ knowledge of various kinds of poetry.

 

 

Q: How did those mini lessons affect students’ poems? For example, what types of poems and authors’ craft did you see them trying out in their poems?
 
Calli: I limited the amount of rhyming poems that they could see, so I found that only a few kids did a rhyming poem. At first I saw that the kids were writing a lot of shape poems, so I pulled out a lot of narrative and other styles of poems and they began to branch out. When they saw a type of poem in a book that they hadn’t been exposed to in a lesson, I saw them modeling their own poems based off of the new ones that they saw. Most of the kids tried using onomatopoeia in their poems after I read my poem to them. 
This type of responsive teaching challenged students to “branch out” as Calli says.   When students are challenged to try new techniques and styles and to learn from a variety of poems, they form opinions and preferences, deepening their knowledge and ability to not only write, but also read and understand poetry.  In the below clip that shows the rest of Calli’s mini lesson, we witness students’ understanding of the craft of poetry.
As Calli moved through the unit, she identified prior knowledge and misconceptions that students had about the genre.  This way, she was able to be responsive in her teaching and design mini lessons that met students’ specific needs.  As a professional teacher who reflects upon and revises her practices based on research and students’ needs, Calli was able to differentiate for every student in her room.  She carefully crafted mini lessons and conferred with students to challenge them and move them forward in their work.
Q: What are some of the successes you saw through these units of study?
Calli: I saw that my students had a better understanding of the particular genre that we were studying. I exposed them to a genre in reading first for a couple of weeks before incorporating it into writing lessons and having them write. When they listened to different read alouds in one genre they were able to identify noticings and then apply that to their own writing. I found that the majority of the kids were able to find the main noticings and apply it to their writing. 
Q: What are some of the things you had to troubleshoot or do some responsive teaching around in these units of study?
Calli: The main thing I had to troubleshoot were misconceptions about poetry and how poets format their poems. We spent a lot of time on punctuation in poetry and how to apply that to our own writing. I found that we had to keep cycling back in how poets use punctuation. 

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Before students had finished publishing and sharing their poetry, students began reading and studying various fictional genres during her reading block.  Just as they had with poetry, students noticed the characteristics of various types of fiction and prepared for trying out fiction as authors.   And after fiction, came a unit of feature articles.
And so it continues. Through each genre study, Calli continues to spend time immersing her students in a genre, guiding them to make observations and develop understandings, preparing them to write in that genre on a topic of their choosing for an audience who is anxious to read their work.
It may feel risky, at first, to throw out the script and trust in our professionalism and knowledge of our students to guide us through units of study.  This year, in her first year as a teacher of writing workshop, Calli had to trust herself and the mentors around her.  She allowed herself to be guided by the authors she’d read, the colleagues supporting her, and her students whose work gave her inspiration for each next lesson.
Each unit informed the next.  Each mini lesson taught her something new about herself as a teacher and about her students.  By the end of February, Calli’s students will have developed the confidence to fill their notebooks on topics of their own choosing and the knowledge to craft any genre–from poetry to feature articles–using as resources the guidance of mentor authors and their writing community. Audiences inside and outside the walls of their Writing Workshop classroom will continue to have the pleasure of reading and being affected by their work.
As professional educators we should thank other professionals, like Calli, for reminding us to trust in our professionalism, in the research and published authors that inform our teaching, and, most of all, in the belief that our students have important things to say and original, inspirational, ways to say them.

Omnivore’s Dilemma: How the Book I Never Read Changed My Life

When I first met Rob he was a backpacker.  It was 2004 and I was living and working in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Rob had made his way there after the first year and a half of his three-year backpacking trip through Central and South America.  He owned a pair of zip-off pants and a coupla t-shirts.  The rest of his backpack was filled with books.  I was intrigued.

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He had a lot of time on his hands and a lot of that time was spent reading.  Rob was the first person to pass me Vonnegut and Dostoevsky.  He let me borrow his copy of Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom. I think he’s almost forgiven me for writing in the margins.  I’m pretty sure, however, that he hasn’t quite gotten over the fact that I lost his copy of Ishmael . (It’s no longer in print in Spanish!)

I remember reading his well-worn copy of Steinbeck’s The Winter of Our Discontent while standing on the subte on my way from Belgrano to Zona Norte for work.  I would wrap my arm around the metal pole for support, pinky and thumb of my left hand holding the pages in place as my right fist grasped my cafe con leche in its American-sized to-go cup.

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Each book that Rob lent me changed me but none in quite as tangible a way as the one I still haven’t finished reading.

In the decade since we moved to Austin from AR, our reading habits have shifted. We devour the news but it takes us much longer to get through a full novel or autobiography. My cooking has also undergone serious revision. Rob has always insisted on cooking everything from scratch–like, even spaghetti sauce. I used canned beans to make chili once and he refused to eat a bite. This was all fine and good when Rob had no job and did all of the cooking. But when we got to Texas, we were both working and started to split the task. In our first years back in the states we had more than one “discussion” about how complicated we wanted to make, or not make, our cooking and eating routines and habits.  I made a lot of salads.

Around the time I had finally learned to make about 4–optimistically, 5–dishes, most involving chicken, Rob came across the book, Omnivore’s Dilemma. Rob is an animal lover who grew up hunting and an environmentalist in his ideology as well as his work.  The book spoke to him, to the self he was when he was young and to the self he was turning out to be.  Little did I know as I watched him flip through those pages that we were about to throw out my new, hard-earned recipes and start from, well… start before scratch.

What do you mean, Rob, that you’re only going to eat the meat that you hunt yourself?  What do you mean that each of my go-to poultry dishes is now, literally, off the table?  The salami-eating city-dweller I met in BsAs is now a vegetarian hunter? Huh?

I grew up in the suburbs of DC. If I met anyone who owned a gun before meeting Rob, I didn’t know about it.  I’ve never shot a gun and don’t have any interest in ever shooting one. To be honest, just typing the words shot, gun, shooting, make me terribly uncomfortable.

Under the influence of Michael Pollan, Rob had decided to make our culinary choices more sustainable.  He was going to quit eating meat–except the meat he, himself, hunted or fished.  He already had access to the family’s ranch to hunt deer and turkey and figured that he’d pick his rifle and fishing pole back up.  He’d never enjoyed hunting simply for the sport of it and Pollan had reminded and further educated him on the benefits to our health and to the earth. If we were to eat animals who had enjoyed a life in the wild and to boycott the meat raised in cages, we could eat both hormone and guilt-free.  I had heard these “back to the earth” arguments before. I even had friends who lived according to these convictions. But I didn’t relate to those decisions.  I liked my deli sandwiches and ground beef tacos. And though I had listened with interest to those friends speak of their choices, I certainly hadn’t cooked for anyone who had such dietary restrictions.

I did a lot of huffing and puffing when Rob made this life decision that would affect us both.  I rolled my eyes and ordered beef fajita tacos or steak just about any time we went out.  I refused to cook the venison even though, by the time it got to our freezer, it was processed, packaged, and looked store-bought.

Earlier this month, Rob went to the processor to pick up this year’s kill: two white tailed deer and one axis.  Four years ago when he stocked our freezer in the same manner, I cried. And for those of you who don’t know me that well, I mean I really did cry. There was no more room to store breast milk for Maya or frozen bananas for my shakes.  Where was I going to stash the baby teethers or back-up meals of black beans or chicken soup?

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But this year, as Rob labeled and sorted each package of sausage, backstrap, ground venison, and cutlets I asked, “Are you sure this is enough to get us through the year?”

Since Maya was born and I’ve been home more, I’ve taken on even more of the responsibility of cooking and grocery shopping and I have, begrudgingly, learned to cook. Though it’s been a long process, my cooking has become less-processed.  When I want to cook Argentine-style I make venison-filled empanadas.  When we’re in the mood for Asian food, I make vegetarian sushi rolls or spring rolls and venison-packed potstickers or ginger venison stirfry. I cook vegetarian Indian dahl and channa masala (with dry chickpeas, of course :)) and when we want Mediterranean food I make falafel from scratch.  20161214_183126For pizza night, I make the crust with oat flour, pumpkin (canned–sorry, Rob) and chia seeds.  In the past year or two I have even begun to experiment with baking cupcakes, breads, granola bars, or muffins sweetened with beets or honey or dates.

This year, for my birthday, Rob surprised me with a tablet for the kitchen that I’ve been hinting at “needing” to display recipes as I cook.  My best friend, Vicki, sent me and the kids matching superman aprons.  I still don’t consider myself a cook.  Many days, I can’t even bring myself to say that I enjoy cooking. But I have begun to really appreciate eating a well-prepared meal and having a good idea of where the ingredients came from.  Maybe this holiday break I’ll take the time to finish Omnivore’s Dilemma or another of Michael Pollan’s books like Cooked.

While I don’t think I’ll ever be one of those people who strays from my measuring cups  to create my own concoctions, I look forward to trying new recipes and to writing and posting about them here. Maybe it’s through writing and sharing that I will begin to identify as a cook who loves the process–or at least loves to write about it.

 

Drawings and Wishes

In 2014, for Maya’s 2nd birthday, I went all out.  I sewed her crown. And the gift bags.  Oh, yeah, and the monkey finger puppets (it was a “monkeys and bananas” theme) and the monkey bean bags to throw in the mouth of a monkey I painted on some cardboard. I made frozen chocolate covered banana bites.  I also made chocolate covered pretzels and 80 empanadas even though monkeys don’t eat either of those.  I was 6 months pregnant.  It’s been 2+ years and I’m still exhausted.

For Maya’s 3rd birthday we went to the movies.

This year, we decided to have another party. I thought back to her 2nd birthday party. I knew I wanted to make it special but would have to take it down a notch–for all of our sake.

Maya loves to draw these days.  Sometimes she just asks to go in the playroom to draw for awhile.  It’s wonderful.  She sticks her tongue out and leans over her work, taking care to add three long eyelashes on each eye and three triangles on each princess’s head.  As a writer, a teacher of writing, and a teacher of teachers of writing, I’m thrilled.  I keep pretty much all of the drawings that are always strewn around the floor. Sometimes I videotape her talking about her drawings. Especially if they’re of me.

What if we had a drawing party? I thought. Drawing is quiet and calm and easy and Maya loves it!

Done.

I framed all those strewn sheets I’d saved with craft paper and we had our decorations.

I called La Mexicana down the street and ordered breakfast tacos.  I threw some fruit in bowls and set up ingredients for make-your-own mimosas or bloody marys.

I covered tables with brown butcher paper and put crayons out.  Gift bags? I bought mini clipboards at TOPS and used paint pens to write the kids’ names on ’em.

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When they arrived, little guests put on gold dollar-store crowns and grown-up guests grabbed silver-wrapped food.

Then, I rang the teacher bell I use at work and brought the kids together for our lesson. I read The Dot by Peter Reynolds.

Maya came up to the easel and drew an oval person ala Talking, Drawing, Writing.  We passed out paper and frames and note cards.

This year, we only invited kids ages 4 years and up.  Fritz was here, of course, but we had to really reign him in so he didn’t steal markers and tear up artwork.  Sweet little Vivienne wrote a Happy Birthday card for Maya.  Darling Kate asked me to hang up her artwork, too. Maya’s friends from school and from the neighborhood drew and played.  Parents sketched and coached their kids to write their names or add some more color.   I passed out adult coloring pages on clipboards and some of us shaded in snowflakes or owls.

When it was time, we lit the candles and stuck them into the chocolate beet cupcakes with cream cheese beet icing I made (I couldn’t order pre-made everything!)

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and sang Happy Birthday. Then we sang Feliz Cumpleanos.  And we all made wishes. Because in my family, we all do.  When we were all ready, Maya blew out the candles.

I don’t know about the rest of the crowd, but when I saw that 4-year-old’s smile I know my wish came true.