Archive | May 2014

All’s Fair in Friends and Brothers

I have two handsome, highly energetic, and vivacious sons. Now ages 6 and 4 years old, M and R (respectively) have been inseparable ever since R made his appearance in February 2010. Born to the same gender and only 20 months apart, they have created a kind of built-in peer and friend environment within our home. It’s a boy-universe of trains, trucks, cars, and airplanes ruled by complex procedures, routines, and play that M and R both shift and navigate. A universe inhabited by them and them alone. Until recently.



Of my two sons, M is a bit more like me-a touch socially awkward and not exactly sure how to make new friends. He’s a witty and charming, but content to play by himself or with R most of the time. R takes after my husband socially; he’s the life of the party and seems to innately know how to connect with new people. These differences were never more evident to me than this past Saturday when we attended a birthday party for one of R’s best friends. It was the standard kid party fare-outdoor play, presents, piñata, cake. It was a great time; however, it was the first time M has seen his brother run around, play, and behave like a 4-year-old boy with other 4-year-old boys. While at the party, I could tell that M was discomfited with the situation. He repeatedly tried to enjoin R in familiar “at home play,” and although R did not ignore him, he was clearly more interested in running with his buddies and engaging in their familiar customs of pre-school chase and play. M did his best to insert himself into their routines, but it was to no avail. At the end of the party, as we said our good-byes and thank yous, M was clearly jealous as R hugged his buddy with reckless abandon and clear affection. It wasn’t until the day after the birthday party that M could hold back his upset no longer, confessing amid tears after a minor brotherly scuff-up that he thought R was “not my best friend anymore” and asking “why didn’t R play with me? I’m his friend!” I had no real answer for him.

*pause for a Mommy Sob*

I assured M that he and R would always be brothers and no friend could change that. I tried to tell him that R was just excited to see his school friends and that brotherly friendship is different from school friendship, but it was unfamiliar ground for me. My own sibling and I are, and always have been, estranged. My brother and I have too many years between us to have been close growing up, and after we both reached adulthood, there were just too many differences, too many real fights, and too much in the past to bridge our gap. Thus, I really don’t know much about how siblings should play. Or how they should bond. Or how a sibling relationship evolves as the siblings grow up and branch off to their own friends, their own interests, and their own lives. Are you supposed to grow apart? It doesn’t seem that way from what I observe of my IRL and FB friends and their siblings. But what do I know about this?

I spent most of Sunday thinking about the bond between M and R and wondering if this was the beginning of the next stage inaland hug their relationship: Brothers Who Have Separate Friends. How would I help them navigate this? It has always been my most sincere hope that my children remain close for their whole lives, but I can only encourage that, not control it. I was at a loss. As Sunday rolled into Monday, we went shopping for some home improvement items, one being a pull cord extension chain so the kids can turn their overhead lights on and off without affecting the ceiling fans. Apparently, such an item is only available in 1 foot or 12 foot lengths, which is so helpful (not). I purchased the 12-foot length and figured I would have extra if I needed it. After installing the required lengths in each room, there was about 6 feet of cord left. I set it on the dresser in M’s room, and went off to put away the sharp tools. When I returned to retrieve the cord, I stood in M’s doorway and watched he and R each wrap one end of the cord around their wrists until they were connected, wrist-to-wrist–a visible representation of their invisible bond. “This way we’ll always be friends!” R exclaimed, pointing at the chain. “And we’ll be brothers, too!” said M.

I hope so, boys. I hope so.


Number Sense

I have a terrible affliction!

I have a terrible affliction!

When my son started kindergarten last July, I put off telling his teachers my occupation. First, I didn’t want them thinking I was judging their every teaching decision, and second, I didn’t want them labeling M. You see, I have this thing. This terrible, terrible affliction and I didn’t want my child caught up in the vortex. In spite of my best efforts at hiding my occupation, though, word got around. M’s teachers found out, and my efforts to protect M were all for naught. The words I’d been dreading were uttered at his fall parent-teacher conference and again at the spring conference: “He’s above grade level in math. But, of course, you already knew that. You’re good at math!”


Yep. I’m good at math. It’s a terrible thing to be an American who is good at math. People assume so fuck this shitmuch about you, but the worst thing is that people assume you were born naturally good at math and that you didn’t have to work for your knowledge. That you didn’t spend hours and hours and hours trying to understand Calculus III or Abstract Algebra. That differentiation and integration came to you naturally. Geometry? No problem! I sprouted from the Geome-tree!  *sigh* And people also assume that because you’re good at math, your children will also be good at it.  *double sigh* I’m also good at reading and writing. Does that mean M doesn’t need to practice those skills? That he popped out of my womb reading War and Peace and soon after wrote a book report on the tome? *sigh and eye roll*


Georg Cantor 1845-1918

Georg Cantor

Certainly, just as some people have a natural inclination for drawing or for writing, there are those among us who DO trend more naturally toward mathematics. As far as math being passed down genetically, though, no known mathematical masterminds had children who also carried on their same love of mathematics (at least, none that I can find). For example, Carl Friedrich Gauss, sometimes considered the Prince of Mathematicians, had two sons and a daughter, none of whom ended up being mathematicians. Georg Cantor, who put forth the modern theory of infinite sets, had six children, but again, none of them took up the mathematical mantle. Other more famous mathematicians, such as Newton and Liebnitz, had no known children. Science has also shown that your genetic make-up has little to do with your mathematical abilities, and that any natural abilities you might possess must be enhanced by hard work, perseverance, and a positive attitude. That might why those elements were included in the standards for mathematical practice in the Common Core. But, I digress.


The real problem, though, with people generally assuming that math genius-ness is passed to you from your parents is that those same people assume that no amount of hard work will propel them to understanding mathematical concepts. They put off the hard work of learning true mathematics and blame failures on a lack of inherent ability. Which is a crock of bullshit. The truth is that we all have an inherent number sense, or an idea of the quantity of people, animals, and stuff around us. We’re born with it. Having good number sense was essential for our distant ancestors, early man, who needed to use that number sense to determine if s/he was outnumbered in a situation and to answer the question, “Do I fight or do I fly?” Those with better number sense chose wisely and lived to pass on their genes. Although most of the people I know don’t have to number sensebattle wildlife for their food on a daily basis, you use that same number sense that helped our antecedents every day. You use it when you estimate how many cars are ahead of you in the line for the traffic light or to choose which check-out lane is shortest at the grocery store. You use it to estimate how many kids are at the park, how many boxes of cereal are left on a shelf, and whether or not you need to buy more goldfish crackers or if what left at the bottom of the box will last the week. And it’s that same number sense that allows your kids to accurately protest when you accidentally pour out too many Cheetos for kid #1, but not the same number for kid #2. That number sense is what we math teachers try to mold into mathematical prowess later on in life. It’s that number sense that this math-lovin’ momma is trying to capitalize on every day with my own kids. Frankly, THAT is why M is good at math…it really has nothing to do with my own abilities.

There are many simple activities you can work into your everyday routine to help your kids build their number sense. Doing these activities not only helps your own and your child’s number sense, it also helps your children see mathematics in a more positive light and it inherently tells them that math is important to you. Both of which have been shown to help children do better with math in school. Here are some every day math activities for the preschool/early elementary set that any parent or caregiver can do:

  1. Estimate & then Count Stuff! Guess how many crackers on a plate and then count them to see how close you are. Do the same thing with the number of steps from one point to another. Count how many minutes it takes to do something. Count how many signs you see while driving to school. Count money and count change. For older kids, count by twos, by threes, by fives, by tens. Count, count, count!
  2. Sort Stuff! Sort by shape, by color, by size. Then count how many of each. One of my favorite things to do is to give my m and mkids a fun-size bag of Skittles or M&M’s and have them sort by color. Then, we stack the candies by color to make a bar graph on the table.
  3. Name Shapes: There are so many shapes in the world. Start by pointing out common shapes like circles, triangles, squares, and rectangles. Once your child has mastered those, move on to more complicated shapes like trapezoids, rhombuses, and other polygons. Then start asking them to tell you the name of the shape you point out. “What shape is that?” and “How do you know?”
  4. Compare Stuff!: Which item is bigger? Which item is smaller? Which item is the biggest? Which item is lightest/heaviest? Who took more steps—you or me? How many more/less? Which number is bigger – 4 or 9? How do you know?
  5. Ask Math Facts: For my kindergartner, I randomly ask questions like, “If I had 7 trains and then two more came into the yard, how many trains would there be?” Or, “If you had 6 angry birds and your brother stole two of them, how many would you have left?”
  6. Introduce Fractions: Cut a sandwich in half (or have your child split an item). Show them that two halves make a single whole by putting the halves together like a puzzle. Or split a small bag of pretzels three ways. State that adding together all the thirds make a whole bag. And so on.
  7. Measure Stuff!: You don’t need a ruler, but that can help. Use a crayon, a pencil, your foot, a hand, etc., and start measuring the world around you.
  8. Read Maps: The next time you’re at the mall, or an amusement park, or anyplace that offers a map of the grounds, homer simpsonread it with your child. Point out (on the map) where you are and where you need to be. Estimate how far away you are from your destination. Which path should you take? Point out the symbols and the legend. Help your child decipher the code.
  9. Do Puzzles: Puzzles promote logical thinking, extrapolation from the whole, are a form of map reading and color sorting, and are just plain fun!
  10. Read Books about Math: There are many kids’ storybooks about math. My personal favorite is relatively new: 1 + 1 = 5? But, I also like: G is for Google, How Much is a Million?, Whole-y Cow: Fractions are Fun!, Bedtime Math, Mice Mischief, and How Many? How Much?

Honestly, it really doesn’t matter if your child answers your questions correctly or if you don’t know how to respond to some of the unique answers your child will inevitably give you. What matters is that you are practicing math with your child and you are giving them a glimpse into the everyday mathematical world of an adult. Just as you read stories to your kids and that helps with their early literacy skills, these activities will help with your child’s mathematical literacy. Then you, too, can be told that your child’s mathematical prowess stems from your own abilities. 🙂

So, the next time you catch yourself blaming a lack of mathematical ability on your genes (or thinking that someone’s math abilities came to them naturally), stop right there. Not only are you wrong, but you’re also setting a bad example for your kids and others around you. I can’t tell you the number of times students have stated that their problems in math are okay because, “…my mom/dad isn’t good at math either.” As if genes had anything to do with it. You ARE good at math. You were born good at it. We all need to start acting like it.








Healthy Living: An Ongoing Journey

1997? The delights of the 19 year old metabolism!

1997. The delights of the 19 year old metabolism!

It seems that I have always had a complicated relationship with my weight and my body in general. I was a bit of a pudgy child who turned into an overweight teenager. After I graduated high school, I did drop about 50 pounds over a 6 month period (oh, the delights of a 19 year old metabolism!), and I managed to keep it off for a while. But then, well, life interfered–I started a new relationship, I moved, I got engaged, I moved again, I got married, I moved again, I traveled, I moved again, and then I moved again, I traveled some more, I graduated college, I had two kids, I got a new (real) job, I started grad school, I got an assistantship, I quit grad school, and then I got back with my old (real) job. Yeah, that pretty much covers it. During all that time, I was always either starting a diet, on a diet, or coming off a diet, yo-yoing back and forth between 140 pounds and 170+ pounds.  I also alternately hated and did not hate my body. When I was close to the magical 140-pound number, my body was spectacular and wonderful. I looked younger. I fit into more trendy clothing. I received more attention and life was just generally easier when thin. But, the further north my weight climbed from 140, the more my body was the enemy; something to be battled and triumphed over. During those times, my body was nothing more than a shell that needed to be beaten into an acceptable shape by any means necessary–because doesn’t society determines a woman’s worth by how skinny/pretty she is?

It was so freaking hot that day!

July 2013. It was so freaking hot that day!

Regardless of the larger societal issues with which I am still struggling, that brief history brings us up to July 2013, when my family and I took a mini-vacation to Worlds of Fun/Oceans of Fun. At that time, I was in my “off diet” phase of life. Honestly, I’d been “off diet” since prior to the birth of my youngest son in 2010. The trip itself was great; the kids met Snoopy and the Peanuts gang, they rode new rides, played at the waterpark, and most important to this blog post, we took lots of photos and videos. When we got back, I was sorting through the digital files and deciding what to share. Up until this point, I had become a master at hiding my “off diet” body in still photos by strategically placing my youngest in front of me, or in my lap, and then peeking out from behind him. But, there was one waterpark video where I didn’t know my husband was filming. I was coming down a kiddie waterslide behind my son and in the video I was having fun, but

April 2013. You totally can't see how huge I am. Hooray children!

April 2013. You totally can’t see how huge I am. Hooray children!

watching the video, I just horrified at the state of my body. I was not only fat, but also just clearly flabby and unhealthy-looking. I looked old. And fat. I could not deny it—I was a fat mom. At this point, I am sorry to say that I deleted the video just as fast as I could, but I do still have this gem, which gives you an idea of my body state 10-ish months ago. Watching that video was a real wake-up call. I didn’t want to be a fat mom…a mom who had clearly let herself get so very unhealthy after having kids. After all, my “baby” was 3.5 years old at the time, sleeping through the night, potty trained, and just about to go off to preschool; thus, I really didn’t have any excuse not to be taking better care of myself.  I didn’t feel fat or old inside, but if I’m truthful with myself, I DID feel unhealthy. I wanted to feel healthy. I decided to take control and go “on diet.” Again. For what felt like the 100th time.


Yummy new foods!

Of course, deciding to take control and become healthier is always the easy part. Actually taking control, getting healthy and staying that way, well, that’s the not easy part. Unlike times in the past when I have been “on diet” and lost weight, this time felt different. I felt different. I wanted this go-round on the diet wheel to be more than a diet; I wanted a permanent lifestyle change. I wanted to feel better and not just look better. I really didn’t want to be on some fad diet or magic bullshit Dr. Oz weight loss quacky-mcquack-quack pill. I knew there was no way I was going paleo (yeah, let’s eat like people did when they died at the ripe old age of 20! sounds great!), or giving up refined sugar and carbs (I’ll cut a bitch who tries to take away all my sugar), or going on a gluten-free diet (mmmmm….cardboard!), or slathering everything in some kind of disgusting powder (have you seen this shit? WTF is it?). I wanted to learn how to have a healthy relationship with food. ALL food. I wanted to stop the on-and-off-again diet cycle. I wanted to learn how to be a healthy mom who eats well and exercises regularly to show the kiddos how to live a healthy lifestyle. There’s really only one way to do that–I started eating better. More veggies. More fruit. Less chocolate. More lean proteins. Fewer crackers. I began drinking more water; a friend recommended drinking half of my body weight in ounces of water. That meant drinking 90 ounces of water every single day. It is difficult, but it’s doable. I also downloaded the Loseit app, a calorie-counter that automatically calculates your needed intake based on your gender, age, and current weight, and I began tracking what I ate. Slowly, very, very slowly, my body began to change from unhealthy and icky to healthy.

run crop

It’s always so fucking hot during August in Iowa.

After about a month of Loseit and drinking more water in a day than I ever thought possible, I was down almost 10 pounds. I was thinking about the food I was eating and how eating that food made me feel, both physically and emotionally. It was interesting. I am definitely an emotional eater-when things get rough, I eat. But, eating when you’re upset doesn’t soothe the pain away. Emotional eating just makes you feel guilty for impulsively eating crap food you know you shouldn’t eat. So, instead of eating away pain, I decided to take up exercise. I don’t live too far from one of our city’s biking/running paths, so I took up running. It sucked. I have seasonal allergies and I hate the heat and humidity of an Iowa August. In fact, to be honest, I hate running.  I only kind-of-sort-of like the idea of getting ready to go for a run and most definitely like being  done with a run. But the run itself? Nope– that’s fucking torture. Regardless, running was/is a relatively cheap exercise that I could do almost every day. To keep my motivation, I signed up for a 5K and printed out a free training plan.  It wasn’t terrible. In fact, I did have some fun both

October 5, 2013. First 5k...Color Me Rad.

October 5, 2013. First 5k…Color Me Rad.

training for and running in the 5K. After that, I trained for a 10K, which I finished in March 2014. I have plans for running two 5Ks later this month and another in July. I think I might like to try a half marathon sometime next year, but my knees have been rather tender lately, so I’ve been taking it easy. At this point, 10-ish months into my life overhaul, I’ve lost almost 28 pounds and I’ve run close to 400 miles. My single mile time has decreased from over 18 minutes for a mile to 10:20 per mile, and I can maintain that new pace for almost 6 miles. I have about 10 more pounds to go to make it to my healthy weight, and I’d like to run another 400 miles, as well as drop my single mile time below 10 minutes per mile, before the end of this calendar year.

It's SOOOOOO easy!

It’s SOOOOOO easy!

Of course, the description above makes getting healthy and losing weight sound simple. I ate better! I tracked what I ate! I ruminated about food! I drank lots of water! I exercised! BING BANG BOOM—HEALTH & WEIGHT LOSS, BABY! It’s so easy…why doesn’t everyone do it? HA! HAHAHAHA! I think we all know and understand that being healthy and losing weight isn’t that simple. It’s not as straightforward as my previous paragraphs make it sound. Weight loss itself is a numbers game (creating a 3,500 calorie deficit will create a 1 pound weight loss), but it’s so much more than that, too. It’s willpower and sweat and frustration. It’s plateaus and triumphs. It’s eating carrots when what you really want is Cheetos. It’s being gentle with yourself when you eat the Cheetos instead of the carrots. It’s allowing yourself to eat the Cheetos without guilt because you have XXXX number of calories you can spend any way you want to every day (I really love Cheetos). It’s going to the gym instead of laying on the couch and watching another Futurama rerun. Once you get off the couch and into the gym, it’s running another quarter-mile at 6.2 mph on the treadmill instead of cranking it down to 3.0 mph or quitting. It’s all these things and more. It’s hard.  It’s so so so so very hard. But it’s worth it.

Compulsory comparison collage.

Compulsory comparison collage.

Ultimately, weight lost and health gained is a difficult journey and it never really ends. I think that for long-term health and maintaining any weight loss, you have to look at your novel eating and exercising habits as the new normal in your life rather than something you’re doing on a temporary basis to achieve an end goal. Personally, I’m approaching my desired weight, but I don’t plan on doing anything differently once I finally get there. And when I do arrive at the magical 145 pounds, I’ll still need to continue eating healthy and exercising. After all, it’s not like we arrive at our goal weight and then stay there if we revert back to the lifestyle that made us unhealthy in the first place. Plus, I’m still an emotional eater and I probably always will be. Over the past 10-ish months, I’ve learned a lot about healthy eating, exercise, and my food relationships. I’ve also learned to appreciate and accept myself and my body.  I no longer see my body as something that I have to beat into submission by any means possible, but rather a vessel that will change as I age. And the health of my body is what matters; no matter the number on the scale.

This doesn't matter.

This doesn’t matter.