So I published a children’s book….

About 15 years ago an idea popped into my head about a girl with a loose tooth.  I had a little baby girl who would someday have loose teeth.  Often when I think through ideas, I hear rhyme.  I started to put my idea to paper and a girl named Red-Head Ruth came out.  I tweaked it and changed it until I really loved it.  I decided it was good enough for public consumption.  I sent query letters to dozens of literary agents.  I received dozens of rejection letters.  “Cute story”, “not something we can invest in at this time”, etc.  I sent letters to several publishing companies.  Same result.  After a few months of this process, I put it on the shelf.  Fast forward about 10 years and 3 more kids later, I dusted it off.  I read it to my kids.  They really liked it.  I took a printed copy to one of their classes to read to them.  They liked it.  So I gave it another serious look.  I made some minor adjustments.  My next step was to get it illustrated (I can’t draw a stick figure).  I quickly learned how expensive art can be.  Then I remembered that I have a cousin who was an artist.  I shot her an email with my story to see if she would be interested in partnering with me.  She was an immediate “yes”.  She got to work and we agreed upon a style.  She worked for a few months to get me a final product.  I was getting excited.  I didn’t bother submitting to agents or publishers again.  I went straight to self-publishing.  This is not cheap either.  I had a special financial fairy that made this all possible.

So now I have a finished product.  Red-Head Ruth Has a Loose Tooth is available for all the world to read and enjoy.  I hope that kids from all corners get a chance to read this story and laugh at Ruth’s attempts to get that first tooth out.

Buy the Book

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No PARCC-ing Zone

I don’t believe myself to be much different than other parents in my wishes for my kids’ education.  I expect my kids to learn age-appropriate subject matter and grow their social skills.  Going to school is one facet of learning to be an autonomous, productive citizen.  We put a measured amount of trust in our schools that our kids are being nurtured in a respectful, safe environment.

Unfortunately, our state and federal governments are using all of this trust and blind assumption to make money for the wealthy; the wealthy that keeps them in office.  Yes, we’ve all grown up on tests.  We also rode bikes without helmets to the grocery store/gas station, drank water from a garden hose, took rides in the back of a pickup truck, hung out in smoke-filled bowling alleys, and came home from school to an empty house with no adult supervision for hours.  How many of those things do you let your kids do now?  Not many I would guess.  And why is that?  We know better now.  We know the possible negative outcome of these things.

Fortunately, we also know the outcome of high-stakes testing.

-These tests are currently only testing a narrowed curriculum (mostly Math and LA, some Science).  This deemphasizes the importance of other subjects in the class by way of instructional time limits.

-Teachers are forced to “teach to the test”.  Their career standing is at least partially tied to the results of the tests.  State and federal officials are pushing for a greater weight being put on the results for teacher accountability.  What incentive, outside of personal achievement,  do teachers have to teach anything else if their job doesn’t depend on it.  But if they lose their job, then what’s the point?

-The pressure put on those teachers is then projected onto the students.  Do not underestimate the perceptiveness of children.  If a teacher is stressed, they know it.

-Good teachers are leaving the profession.  A more narrowly-focused curriculum prevents creativity and discourages teachers from teaching outside the box of what is being tested.

So what do our kids get from taking these high-stakes tests?  Nothing positive.  The tests do not teach them age-appropriate subject matter.  They do not allow them to grow autonomously.  They get to become the number that the test says they scored.  School districts and real estate agents use the scores to portray the geographic placement of high property values.  These tests are used by our leaders to compare with other countries with many different educational philosophies and goals.  They will attempt to persuade us that we are falling (or have fallen) behind the leading countries.  If you believe that, how many sweatshops do we have in the United States that China uses to produce goods for their country’s economy?  We are NOT falling behind.

We send our kids to school to learn.  Testing is NOT learning.  Our teachers are constantly assessing their students.  They know where each one stands.   They don’t need a national test to tell them where each student needs more attention and where they need more challenge.  The teachers know this.  If our Governor or our Secretary of Education wants to know how our kids are doing in school, they should just ask a teacher.

“Dad, you’re squishy”

He means well. He says it while giving me a genuinely loving hug. He says it with an honest smile. “Dad, you’re squishy,” my 9-year-old son says while hugging me and playing my belly like a Wurlitzer.

“I like hugging you Dad,” he says.

“Thanks,” I reply with a prideful smile.

Then comes the qualifier. “You’re softer than Mom.”

My smile melts into a curled lip. Don’t get me wrong, I love every time any of my 4 kids want to hug me. The older they get, the fewer the hugs. When they’re babies and toddlers, there are hundreds of hugs per day. It’s one of their main modes of communication. Then pre-school starts and hugs become a “goodbye” and “hello” thing, with “good night” hugs to end each day. Into elementary school, hugs are still daily. But I often have to initiate the embrace. Middle school has proven to make the hugs even less frequent. They have become the more “situational” occasion. “Good job” on the band concert. “I’m proud of your report card”. The daily hugs are gone at this point. Sad, I know.

So when I still get hugs, I can’t be bothered by the “squishy” comments that come along with them. But I am. Getting caught up in the everyday activities of caring for my kids and running them everywhere, I’ve lost my ability to set aside “me” time. The time I do get, I use to decompress. Once I catch my breath and gather my senses, I then feel guilty that I didn’t use my time to exercise. So, I think I could wake up before everyone and run/exercise in the morning. Who am I kidding? I’m already waking up as early as I possibly can just to get up with the kids to feed them and make their lunches for school. What about when my wife comes home from work? CRAZY TIME! Homework, after-school activities, dinner, bath time, bed time. The day is over and here I am back to my decompress time. And I feel the guilt, again.

Sitting on the couch watching some mind-numbing television show or sports highlights, I look down at my “squishy” midsection. His voice rings through my head. “Dad, you’re squishy.” What’s the answer? I need to make time for myself. My wife has been supportive and offered to give me time. Who does she think she is, Father Time? When can I really get away? Our kids aren’t in an after-school program that I can just leave them for an extra 45 minutes at the end of the day so I can hit the club. I’ve already nixed getting up earlier in the morning to work out. There must be a compromise!

Hmmmm. Maybe if I sacrifice some of my “decompression” time to get to bed earlier, I COULD get up earlier in the morning to get a workout in. I do believe I remember in my younger, more athletic days that the healthier you are, the more energy you have. Maybe I won’t need as much decompression time. I’m going to give it a try. I’ll let you know how it works out.

Kids! Say goodbye to your “squishy” dad! Soon, after hugs I’ll hear, “Dad, I like hugging Mom a little more because she’s softer than you.”

I’d be fine with that.