Tag: Parenting

the fall of lisa bellow a must read

The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo: A Must-Read About Mothers, Daughters, Trauma and Loss

Posted on June 3, 2017 by

“Sometimes in the morning, while she waited for her brother to get out of the bathroom, Meredith Oliver would stand in front of her bureau mirror, lock eyes with her reflection, and say, “This is me. This is really me. Right now. This is me. This is my real life. This is me.”~from The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo: A Must Read About Mothers, Daughters, Trauma and Loss

When I read the first page of The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo, I wasn’t sure it was going to be for me. Not only am I extremely picky about the novels I spend time with (have you seen my Instagram shelfie shots? It’s obnoxious how long my ‘to-be-read’ list is), but also I spend every work day surrounded by girls like the main character of the novel, Meredith Oliver. Meredith is a typically self-conscious eighth-grade girl. Now I love my job teaching 8th grade, but sometimes at the end of the day, I just want to escape into a  novel nowhere near my real life.

I’m sure glad I didn’t give up on this one. The Fall of Lisa Bellow got under my skin – in a good way. That’s why I’m calling this one a ‘must read’ about mothers, daughters, trauma, and loss.

the fall of lisa bellow a must read

What it’s about:

Meredith Oliver is the youngest in her family; her parents, are both dentists and her brother Evan, is a high school junior. The novel starts off describing her typical teenage angst as she goes about her day, feeling overshadowed by her brother who has experienced life-changing trauma. The plot takes an uptick when on an ordinary day, in broad daylight, Meredith finds herself in the middle of a sandwich shop robbery, quivering in fear on the dirty floor next to the most popular girl in her eighth-grade class, Lisa Bellow. When the gunman chooses Lisa as his hostage, leaving Meredith behind, the plot expands to pull in their families, Meredith’s emotional struggle with being the survivor, and the ripple effects of trauma on the mothers of both girls.

Meredith’s mom, Claire, is uncomfortably pulled into the grief Lisa’s mom is experiencing, which forces Claire to desperately try to cling to her own daughter, the survivor. Claire’s character development weaves threads of maternal guilt, the anxiety of knowing if she’s doing the ‘right thing’, and the universal struggle between parent and child during adolescence. Evan, Meredith’s brother, appears first as a victim of his own traumatic accident and develops as an example of how one can rise and triumph. Mrs. Bellow, Lisa’s mom, portrays the gut-shattering grief experienced by parents experiencing the loss of their child, and the conflict of trying to live without her.

the fall of lisa bellow a must read quote

Why I liked it:

Aside from the fact that I am fascinated by the teenage mind and how humans seem to navigate into and out of its murkiness, I think what I connected with most in this novel was the battle experienced by Claire as she grappled with her maternal instincts versus the reality of her life as a mother, wife, and woman. I know firsthand, like so many mothers, what happens when our children are hurt, either mentally or physically. When my son experienced his ski racing injury and had to rehabilitate and adjust the trajectory of his life experience, I felt the anxiety of second guessing the enormity of his experience and wanting to trust my belief that ‘all will be well’. You can read my reflection on that experience here. Motherhood is no simple task, and add in marriage and career and mid-life disquietude I certainly connected with Susan Perabo’s character.

One of my favorite scenes came about half way through the novel. Claire, in desperate attempt to connect to her daughter’s experience, is consulting Meredith’s therapist. Frustrated at her inability to control the situation, Claire asks,

“How will I know when she’s ready?”

“You’ve been protecting her your whole life,” he said. “You’ll know.”

But he was wrong. Protecting her? …She could not protect her daughter. She could not protect her from the stomach flu. She could not protect her from cancer or AIDS or the common cold. She could not protect her from the mean girls. She could not protect her from her friends. She could not protect her from her own thoughts…She could vaccinate them and make them wear seatbelts and batting helmets. She could give them cell phones with emergency numbers on speed dial. She could give them straight-talk books and scared straight DVDs and a solid, honest, pitch-perfect piece of advice every single morning on their way out the door. But in the end, there was no intervention.

There was only awareness”

~from The Fall of Lisa Bellow, page 165

How many parents have felt this urge to protect, to intervene, to try to anticipate every hurt and shield our children from the pain of real life? This novel reminded me so much of the book If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie with a somewhat reverse plot line. I wrote a post inspired by If I Fall, If I Die called “Please Don’t Go Outside” in which I explored the paradox of wanting your children to grow and love and become their own person and the fear of letting them go where you can’t see. You can read it here.

I also enjoyed the narrative structure of the story; told in alternating points of view, the novel bubbled with tension and kept me connecting with both Meredith and Claire as the plot unfolded. Additionally, there were points in the storytelling where I found myself pausing and thinking about why the writer chose a sort of ‘flashback’ technique that made me wonder if I was really understanding the point of view at all. This beautiful writing, combined with authentic characters and suspenseful plot lines, kept me pushing to finish my end of the year grading so I could reward myself with just a few more chapters of this lovely book.

Who should read it?

As I paged through the story, I questioned if this was a young-adult novel or simply a story for parents struggling with watching their children grow. At the end, I decided it was both. I’m going to share this book in my 8th-grade classroom, and watch who gravitates towards it. I think teens will certainly connect with Meredith’s character and conflict, and I know moms and parents will align with Claire and Mrs. Bellow’s challenges.

Overall, I think The Fall of Lisa Bellow is a must read, and I sure hope you’ll come back here and let me know what your thoughts are.

The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo is published by Simon & Schuster, who provided me with a complimentary copy. All opinions are my own.

 

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle PlusYelp

Love Note To My Seventeen-Year-Old Son

Posted on March 1, 2017 by

The clock ticked just past noon, and I decided to see if you were awake. Not that I hadn’t been checking on you – it’s the habit begun when you were tiny and I was so full of love for you I was sure I couldn’t go one more minute without seeing your found little face. I quietly turn the door handle, take three steps in -sometimes four, depending on your position -and wait until I see you breathe.

It’s stupid, I know. You’re seventeen, far past the stage when SIDS or any sort of sudden, unexpected loss of breathing would occur.

At 6’0”, 155 pounds you’re considered skinny by some measures, but far, far bigger than the tiny little preemie I brought home. That’s when it started, you know – when you were in the hospital. I’d tiptoe into the nursery just to check that someone was watching over you. I’d stand there for a minute, watching your chest gently rise up and down, bird-like. It was the only way I could sleep.

Lately, you’ve spent a lot of time alone in your room. I guess it’s what 17-year olds do, but it still feels unsettling. I’ve learned to knock and wait – you say I’m getting pretty good at it. My normal inclination, to walk in and ask a question or share something funny, has been squelched over the last year. I wait, tentatively, as if requesting permission to enter. Sometimes, just to get you to laugh, that’s what I say through the closed door.

Today it’s Sunday, and the cinnamon rolls have been cooling on the counter for well over an hour. I tried to wake you when they were pulled from the oven, golden brown and oozing with brown sugary goodness. You didn’t growl this time – you didn’t even open an eye, but I swear I heard you say, “I love you, Mom” before you rolled over. I pushed your bear into the space between your pillow and the covers and noiselessly backed out of your space.

This time, I decided it was too late to still be sleeping. My grandmother’s mantra, “You’re going to lose the day” ringing in my ears, I went downstairs and checked for signs of life. Nothing stirred. Walking down the hall, unusually quiet music wafted over the sounds of the lawnmower next door. Could it be true?

With all the gentleness I could muster, I tapped on the door. “What?” you responded, slight annoyance in your voice. Surprised, I turned the knob. It was dark, even though the midday sun was high overhead. You looked up from your chair, school binder balancing on your lap.

Surprised, I turned the knob. It was dark, even though the midday sun was high overhead. You looked up from your chair, school binder balancing on your lap.

“How’re you feeling?” I cautiously inquired.

“Fine. I’m doing homework,” you muttered as if I was interrupting your favorite video game. Your hair is tousled to one side, and I notice how small your black and white bathrobe suddenly looks on your elongated frame.

“Did you see what I made you? Are you hungry?” I question, hoping food will make the connection.

Love Kelly Rae Roberts’ love notes

Do I sound cheerful? Pulling out conversation with you is oftentimes the most difficult part of my day.

“No, I’m doing homework. I want to get it done before I eat,” came your reply, your eyes never leaving your notes.

“Ok, I…umm…” Defeated, I backed out of the room.

“What?”

Your voice was just a touch softer as if you knew.

“Nothing,” I softly replied as the door inaudibly closed between us.

In the kitchen, I wrapped the now cold cinnamon rolls in plastic and walked back up the stairs.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle PlusYelp

4 Easy Tips For Moms To Keep Organized

Posted on February 1, 2017 by

I like to keep my kids busy – and organized. The students in my middle school classroom know that from start to finish each period will be packed with learning, accountability, and hopefully a little bit of fun. I followed the same philosophy with my own children; school comes first, but activities play an essential role in keeping life running smoothly. Beginning at age 2, my kids participated in sports, music and art lessons, and what I’ve learned is that keeping organized makes the difference between managing and madness when school and activity schedules need to co-exist.

My number 1 rule for keeping it all together? Stay organized.

Tip # 1: Get a calendar.

I live by planners, calendars, and to-do lists – for myself as well as my children. My kids have always played one year-round sport, and one seasonal sport, which helps keep them busy but not overwhelmed. As they aged, I let them determine what they could handle in terms of time. To keep track, over the years I’ve evolved from purely pencil and paper calendars to embracing the digital age. Every school year I purchase a “Mom’s Planner” that goes with me to work and school. I find it handy to jot notes, grocery lists, important phone numbers, and insurance information. This way, wherever I am I can fill out forms, sign up for events, and make contacts with other parents.

Tip #2: Harness the power of your smart phone.

The advent of smartphones keeps kids and parents organized on a whole new level. Suddenly, my teens were setting their own calendar reminders for piano lessons and dental appointments. They could text when they were running late, and if they needed to change their lesson time, it was up to them. Just in case, for recurring practices or lessons I set an automatic reminder to beep me 15-30 minutes ahead of time, helping me (and them) to never miss a beat.

Tip #3: Streamline meals.

Keeping organized with meals is another challenge. Again, I rely on a weekly menu planner and grocery list. Choosing meals a week ahead saves money on last minute trips to the grocery store, as well as eliminates the “What are we having for dinner” question when you only have 60 minutes between karate and piano lessons. I love the apps that allow me to keep multiple lists for different stores, and when the kids want something specific, they can add it – no forgetting the paper list on the refrigerator for us!

Tip #4: Sort out school.

Finally, as a teacher, I completely believe the key to school success is to keep organized. Make sure that homework and study time is scheduled and adhered to. Let your kids figure out how they want to organize their study space – just because it worked for you might not mean it will work for them. Teens today have different resources and different strategies – but staying on top of due dates, supplies, binders, backpacks and upcoming projects will help your kids earn the grades they desire.

Why not start today? Talk to your kids about what is working and what’s stressing them out. For little ones, give them a few choices about how they’d like to stay organized. Listen to your teen’s ideas, and try one for a focused period of time – then re-evaluate. Keeping organized is a necessary and valuable life-long skill – one your children will practice for a lifetime.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle PlusYelp

How To Avoid Being A Stressed-Out Middle School Mom

Posted on August 22, 2016 by

Do you know how to avoid being a stressed-out middle school mom?

Beer.

No-seriously.

We’re nearly at the end of the summer, and you feel it coming. Your middle schooler has gotten quite comfortable sleeping away half the day. They’re either tired of their friends, or want to spend every waking (and sometimes sleeping) moment with them. Their room is full of dirty dishes, socks caked with dried grass, wet towels and swimsuits flung carelessly on the floor. Most days, you’re lucky if you get ten minutes of eye contact with them, and you delight when they string together more than three words in answer to any question you might gingerly toss their way.

Teenage summer is upon you, and you cannot wait until September when you can return your tween or teen to the structure of middle school.

Am I right?

But wait – does the thought of middle school stress you out more than it does your kid? Are you like many moms who find middle school one of the most stressful times of parenting? According to research done on 2,200 moms by Arizona State University, middle school moms fare the most poorly.

Does that make you feel any better?

If you’re feeling like a stressed out middle school mom, or you know a stressed out middle school mom, I’m here to help. After 25 years of teaching middle school kids (and parenting and teaching two of my own), I’ve got a few tips that might just help you feel a bit better.

stressed out middle school mom

How to avoid being a stressed out middle school mom – grow gourds?

How To Avoid Being A Stressed-Out Middle School Mom

Talk With Your Child – I mean really try to TALK to them. I know it’s hard – monosyllabic answers are the norm, and trying to get them to make eye contact is like jumping the Grand Canyon – but if you can crack open the door (literally and figuratively) and avoid ‘yes’ and ‘no’ questions, you’ll likely create some space for a crevice into their world. This takes a bit of work on your part – try to keep informed about general topics of areas of interest (sports, music, books, class subjects). See what’s trending on Twitter for ideas. Starting off with “What do you think about” is a great way to nudge the conversation their way – remember, middle school kids are EGOcentric. Center a question around them or their interests and you’re likely to break through the zombie glaze.

Keep Calm and Parent On – Breathe, watch, listen, and let them fail. No, really. Trust the parenting journey. You can’t fix everything. It’s their life – you’re just the cheerleader/coach/cook/laundry person – don’t be the sage on their stage. Let them move through their own world – if they know you’re there to help create a soft landing when things get really rough, that will help. But if you catch them every time they fall, what are they really learning? Middle school is a time to let kids learn independence – and helping kids learn through mistakes is a place where you can really be a parent.

Get Active – Volunteer, pay attention, find your own hobby. It’s good for kids to see their parents passionate about life. Is there something you’ve always wanted to do but couldn’ figure out how to push a stroller at the same time? Or did the idea of being creative-while-sleep-deprived keep you from pursuing your passion? Bonus points if your activity has an opening for your kid to participate – but remember, it’s not always about them.  Role modeling your own self-love behaviors is positive parenting. Middle school kids are watching adults – they want to see how different people go about life, and this is a great time to set a good example. Pay attention to what your middle school child is doing, who they are hanging out with, what they’re watching/reading/writing. Open your ears more than your mouth and listen.

Set Patterns – Help your kid learn to do the ‘process’ of school. Just like an effective classroom has expected systems and behaviors for learning, create patterns in your own home. Ask your child what they think will work for them, and create a system together. Do they need down time after the busyness of school? Are they hungry? Do they need time to ‘dump’ their day on you before thinking about homework? Just like when they were little, think about the basics: food, sleep, attention. Think about how to balance their social and creative or athletic interests with academics – middle school kids are all about their friends, and having a pattern established that balances time with others and time to focus on work can be key to their success – and avoid the stressful battles between middle school mom and kid.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle PlusYelp

Turning 50: My Transformation Into Wholeness

Posted on May 30, 2016 by

Two little girls nestled into their father in the pew in front of me, catching my eye as they jostled for position. The littlest one, no more than two years old, bounced on her daddy’s sturdy leg while her older sister, closer to five, curled her chubby fingers around his arm. The littlest one, blonde, wearing leggings and a pullover top, looked like she insisted she dress herself. Her undone back button and slightly mismatched outfit screamed, “I can do it myself”. Her sister’s sundress was a bit more pulled together, her honey-colored hair was gently braided to the side, and I watched as she fiddled with her headband during the sermon.

I wondered how long they would last, while at the same time, smiled silently in solidarity with a dad who could get two wiggly little girls not only to come to church but to sit quietly.

They honestly didn’t make a peep.

Within a few minutes of their arrival, the eldest removed her purple hairband and began running her fingers through her mid-length hair. Fascinated, I watched as she attempted to re-braid, then twist and contort her tresses into one up-sweep after another. When she tired, or when her hairband gave out, she would so tenderly stroke her sibling’s head as she laid on her father’s lap. I found myself wanting to reach out and braid their hair myself, to recall the memories of running my own fingers through my baby girl’s hair as she wiggled and struggled to get free.

Instead, I sat quietly and watched. I wondered what their story was. Where was their mother? Who helped them get where they were? How was their father, sitting so calmly, going to handle their squirminess when it got physical, as most siblings do?

It was their tenderness with each other that stunned me, really. As we sat, part of a bigger collective of people, I closed my eyes and listened; I thought about all that we humans do to each other when we get ‘tired’ of the way we are, or the way we look, or how our neighbor is acting. I thought about the lack of tenderness in our society and the blatant disregard many people have to simply stop, pause, look, and listen to others.

I thought about the common goals we all have, and how I see them in my middle school classroom every day.

The search for wholeness. For identity. For belonging. For authenticity.

When my kids were little, I remember often wondering what would be the measure of a successful day; sometimes, the simplest acts of survival were filled with such satisfaction. Getting up, getting dressed and figuring out how to balance mothering and teaching and marriage were my survival tasks. And on the days when it was good, I tried to set an intention to enjoy it.

And on the days when it wasn’t, I felt alone. I felt as if I must be missing something – that here I was, this educated, white woman living in a safe home in a peaceful state with two healthy babies, a job, and enough money to buy the food we needed, and yet still, my story wasn’t complete. I was now turning 50; this transformation into motherhood, I felt, should have been simpler.

Some people told me I was thinking too hard.

Some told me to relax, not to worry.

But I kept telling myself that someday, I would get there. That all I had was all I needed. That this transformation to the next chapter in my story would take time.

I was impatient. Like the five-year-old in front of me, I twisted and twirled and wrapped myself into all sorts of shapes, hoping that with any luck I’d find the one that stuck. I didn’t realize that what I was right in the middle of was what I needed. I was in the process of shaping wholeness; I just wasn’t seeing it.

Salt Lake City hike, half-way up.

Salt Lake City hike, half-way up.

Turning 50 has felt like a tipping point this year; mid-life, I can see the horizon in front of me with such an acute clarity. I feel firmly planted in my life. I’m learning to pay attention, to not only listen to my story but to share it, to pay it forward.

Maybe that’s why I reached out to help the little girl in front of me, clumsily attempting to part her hair and twirl it into a messy bun. My whispered offer of assistance denied, I sat back and breathed in. The hidden wholeness I wouldn’t have seen, couldn’t have seen, when my baby was five years old settled around me like a warm shawl. I felt it as the memories radiated through my being, resting so comfortably, so comfortingly, around my heart.

A daily reminder to be a possibilitarian.

A daily reminder to be a possibilitarian.

And in that moment, I set an intention to look for signs of transformation around me, to twist myself outside of my comfort zone, to make myself acknowledge the wholeness that I’ve been searching for, and that is right here in this ordinary day.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle PlusYelp