How to Be Liam (in the Summer)

Wake up very early, even though you are 15.

Say good morning to and hug your mom.

Design video games: Scratch programming, JavaScript, or your submission to Minecraft.

Then, play video games with your brother, and sometimes your sister.

Practice your clarinet.

Reluctantly read your summer reading required texts.

Nap. Sometimes you do this before playing the clarinet or reading.

Spend the rest of the night snuggling with your mom, watching Big Bang Theory, and telling corny math jokes that we find hilarious.


*This poem is inspired by Vicki Spandel’s “How to Be Ms. Sader.”

A Difficult Conversation


“You never say anything positive to me.”

“It’s not that, buddy. I just think you are not hearing what the coach is saying and getting both frustrated and offended.”

“She hates me. She’s never going to let me play with kids my own age.”

“But, you are not at the level of the kids your own age.” I choose my words carefully. I make sure not to say, “not as good as…”.

“How does she know how good I am or not when she never watches me play? She never gives me a chance and only puts me in the group with kids five years or more younger than me.”

I get distracted, “They weren’t that young.”

“I don’t care. I’m totally embarrassed out there. Why won’t you help me practice?”

“This is the first time that you’ve asked. Of course, I’ll help you practice.”

“You say that, but you always get too busy with work or the other kids.”

“I won’t. You want to work on this, so I will help you. But if you are not happy playing tennis, you don’t have to.”

“I don’t know what I want to do. Maybe I would like it better if I was better at it.”

“You absolutely would. But you have to put the time in. Just like with your trumpet. If you only practice some of the time, when you really need to play, you will be frustrated.”

He gets distracted: “I’ve been practicing! Why don’t I get credit for practicing more?”

“But now we are talking about tennis.”

“How can I get better if I only play with the little kids and do the same stupid drills over and over for skills that I already know?”

Sigh. I cannot tell him that he has not perfected those skills yet. He’s too raw.

“I will help you practice like you asked. I just want to make sure you are like playing.”

“Let’s do some practicing and I’ll see how I feel.”

“Sounds good.”

#SOL18 – “I Don’t Need…”

“I don’t need you to ask me about my homework.”

“I was just trying to help you stay organized.”

“I don’t need to talk right now.”

“I was just making sure you were okay.”

“I don’t want to sit with the family and watch tv.”

“We didn’t get to see you much today.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“You need to eat and this is something that I can do for you.”

“I need to be alone.”

“I know, but I miss my little boy…”

(Some things that were said this week… last night we shopped for the week’s meals and hung out later that night to catch up. My guy was back, at least for a little while. I know he won’t always have this pre-teen angst, but I miss him when he does.)

Change of Heart


Last year, Liam was just about the last person Kieran wanted to see in person or hear someone talk to him about.

It was probably because he was either asked: “Is Liam your brother?”

“Have you seen Liam around?”

“How’s it going, Little Liam (or Little Hower)?”

Or because he was called “Liam” more times than not during the course of any one day.

Then Liam moved to the high school and Kieran got the whole middle school to himself.

Soon, it became:

“Liam, can you help out the Math Counts team on Mondays after school?”

“Liam, run with me during cross country.”

“Liam, we are rooming together for TSA!”

I’m glad that Kieran has changed his feelings about having Liam around now that they are not together as often.

I’m glad that Kieran is looking up to his brother and not seeing him as someone to “get away from” or disown.

I am especially thankful that, while they certainly don’t see eye to eye on everything, they are friends, maybe even the best of friends most of the time.

Texting Relationship


Liam is more likely to share what he is thinking and feeling through texting.

Because he uses perfect grammar and spelling,

And does not even write “K” or “ok,” but spells out “okay” and capitalizes his “I,”

I especially love reading his texts.


I can tell when he’s ready to be picked up when he tells me “Done soon” or “Where are you?”

I know he is a bit bored when he texts “Hi, what are you doing?”

I feel his love when he texts me heart emojis and wishes me “sweet dreams” before he turns his phone off for the night.

I know he’s a bit lonely when he writes, “When will you be home?”


I look forward to hearing from him right after school, when he gets off the bus, or from a practice or rehearsal at night.

It’s an easier and direct way for him to share his thoughts and feelings.

I am thankful for texting and how it has kept us connected during his first year of high school.

If it wasn’t for Liam…


If it wasn’t for Liam, Mea and Kieran wouldn’t do as well in math.

If it wasn’t for Liam, I wouldn’t hear beautiful music in my home.

If it wasn’t for Liam, we would not have started running 5ks on summer, fall, and spring weekends.

If it wasn’t for Liam, we wouldn’t cheer on the band every Friday night and weekend in the fall.

If it wasn’t for Liam, I wouldn’t have anyone to talk with about poems or short stories that he was assigned, or learn anew about Imperialism and World War I history.

If it wasn’t for Liam, I wouldn’t have someone giving me hugs and telling me he loves me at least ten times a day.

If it wasn’t for Liam, there would be a huge hole in my heart and less rich experiences in my life.


IMG_1165 copy

Kieran competed in Technology Student Association competition this weekend.

He probably joined the group initially because Liam had been so successful at it.

It’s sort of what we’ve been doing in our household for the past two years.

Two years ago, Liam had been the only 7th grader to qualify for nationals.

Last year, he had been the only middle school student to qualify.

Kieran was a bit overwhelmed by the amount of work that was going into this activity.

He seemed to be struggling and I shared that he didn’t have to participate in TSA anymore if he didn’t like it.

I asked him to just get through Saturday’s competition and then make a decision.

Kieran placed 1st or 2nd in all of his four events.

I had slightly underestimated him, to be sure.

When we got home, I talked to him privately.

“Kieran, you tried cross country and did better than Liam did in his seventh-grade year.

Now you are have placed in more events as a seventh grader than Liam did, and he went to nationals.

You are seen.

You are talented.

You don’t have to feel like you are in Liam’s shadow anymore.

You are achieving and growing on your own.”

He told me he’d think about what I had said.

Ironically, when I posted his picture and success after Saturday’s event on social media, a few of my friends wrote, “Congrats, Liam!”

His comment: “I’m not in his shadow, am I, mom.”

But I will continue to know and tell him differently.


Heart Map

I was reminded of the importance of students’ completing a Heart Map to encourage their writing.

I had my pre-service teachers complete one as we embark on what could be their first experience in writing (and hopefully planning to one day incorporate into their own classrooms) a writer’s notebook.

Because I always write with them, I thought it was time to update my Heart Map as well:


What would be on your “today” Heart Map?

Quite Obsessed


Although I like to refer to it as “fastidious,” I have come to realize that I have an obsessive personality.

It’s genetic.

My grandmother dries out the sink after she uses it, among other things.

I have found myself stopping teaching to fix a book on a shelf – it was so distracting to me.

I cannot allow any “numbers” to appear next to apps on my phone or iPad.

In fact, if you have a notice for 237 emails showing on your device, I may actually move to sit in another seat.

I have found that I have steered these obsessions into “socially acceptable” avenues: collecting books, watching both seasons of “The Crown” in about two days over winter break, taking college classes… no seriously, after my 90+ credit doctorate (I took extra classes in ed. leadership and literacy coaching), I got my superintendent’s letter of eligibility.

Then, my ESL certification.

Then, my National Writing Project fellowship.

Only my credit card and student loans are privy to the detriment of my obsessions.

Kieran seems to have inherited my habits.

He collects stuffed animals, K’nex, Legos, rocks, and Minecraft.

It used to be Skylanders and dinosaurs.

I have to convince him to donate unused toys before getting new ones.

We have had days where he doesn’t play video games until he finds 10 things to purge from his overcrowded room.

Sometimes he brings me a string.

I cannot even take favorite PJs and shirts away without him finding them and putting them back in his drawers.

He obsessively checks in on his video games: there are rewards to logging in each day.

I was similarly obsessed with DuoLingo (educational, so good, right?)

I understand how he feels and pray that he also turns these obsessions into “good.”

Feeling Nostalgic


Flipping through the channels

To see what I could watch

Lo and behold some old cartoons

Still run during the day.

I immediately felt a wave of melancholy nostalgia

For “Little Einsteins” and “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse”

But really for what they represented:

Simpler times

Frequent snuggles

A house filled with singing

I love each stage that my kids have and are going through

but I find myself during this cold winter, missing my little ones

and the warmth and light they gave.