This Is Childhood Review (and Giveaway!)

It is clear from reading This Is Childhood Book and Journal (Edited by Marcelle Soviero and Randi Olin of Brain, Child Magazine) that each age, from one year to ten years, brings startling changes for both mother and child. These thoughtful essays capture what it is to be still caught in the shadow of the previous year, with the next big changes looming. I mention all the writers here because I could not choose essays over others that best depict the mysteries of childhood; each casts a particular light on the mundane and the magical.

This Is Childhood cover

Galit Breen calls four an age of “betwixt and between”; it is one of many years suspended between what wasn’t and what suddenly is, can be: In “This is Six,” Bethany Meyer writes, “This is the year my third son ran with confidence, his eyes no longer on his feet…”; Tracy Morrison predicts, “…very soon my seven will know more than I do, and will be able to do what I can do”; and to Lindsey Mead, “Ten is a changeling…I see the baby she was and the young woman she is fast becoming.”

What reverberates most poignantly though is that more than childhood, this is motherhood. In her introduction, Lisa Belkin says, “My childhood happened only because my mother says it did.” And this collection of essays and commentary, with its blank spaces for journaling and questioning and sharing, is one of those places we mothers create childhoods.

In a letter to her daughter, Aidan Donnelley Rowley imagines a future eighteen year old eager for details of her one-year-old self: “Soon, you were running and jumping and climbing our stairs and diving triumphantly from the kitchen counter to the family room couch. Fearless!” Childhood is our puzzle to assemble. And within those stories of first words and potty training adventures and uncertain transitions, as Denise Ullem foresees the heartache in the years following nine, “Friends will throw sharp-edged words, mistakes will me made, love interests will choose others,” are the fears and triumphs of mother-storytellers.

There is a transformation that motherhood calls forth, slowly, quickly, comforting and forever challenging us. When her son was three, Nina Badzin could finally let go of the “fear and self-doubt” that had slowed her road to motherhood. Pregnancy, Amanda Magee found, “made so much in life make sense; my body was strong, not big, my intensity was purposeful, not irrational.” We need these childhood stories and words of love and nostalgia, and the memories they evoke to tell our own as women and mothers.

These days, years, these thoughts–they change us at an almost cellular level. This Is Childhood captures only ten snapshots of the years before our children branch off from us–but they capture moments many mothers will recognize. We work endlessly, consulting countless experts to learn how to send our children into the world, but when Kristen Levithan expresses gratitude that “you might not need me as much as you used to, need me you still do,” we understand exactly. With the third kid, Allison Slater Tate says, we are still “wistful and misty,” but repetition is confidence to leave a nervous child at kindergarten. With our children at two or twenty, our identity in motherhood is carved. From its crest, we appreciate all the changing angles of our lives.

{closed}Giveaway! I am so happy to offer three readers a copy of This Is Childhood. To enter, please leave a comment on this post describing a childhood/motherhood moment or memory of your choice. Three winners will be chosen randomly from the comments. Contest ends Sunday, June 22, at 11:59 ET.

I was given a copy of this book for review purposes. As always, all opinions are my own.




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Missing Preschool

These are the last days of preschool for us, and I’ve resisted writing about them, embedding them with meaning and sentiment with which I am not sure I am in touch. And then today I took my oldest daughter back to her own preschool classroom to say a hello and a goodbye to the retiring director. It was as I stood in that room, where my daughter had once a cubby, and a rest mat, and had memorized her own address, that I realized with a thud, there would be no more preschool rooms for me. And I wish that weren’t so.

These rooms are not so different from one another—my five year olds attend a different school—the tables and chairs are miniature; the blocks are wooden; art work fills the walls and hangs by wire from the ceiling so low it grazes the tops of parents’ heads; the dress up corner is the most popular. And there didn’t seem to be all that much to miss until now—now that there will be no child of mine in this gentle in-between phase again. These preschool years have been filled with tantrums about clothing, learning to legibly write their names, misunderstood song lyrics, and questions about the exact origin and nature of everything from God to planets to flowers to construction workers. I have watched unsure toddlers disappear into bold and dauntless children. Every moment has tried and fed and defined my soul. And I will never do exactly this again.

My children are looking forward to kindergarten, what they understand of it—and they are ready and prepared in their individual ways. The day will be longer, the class much larger, the expectations worlds greater for them than those of preschool. They will decide where to sit and eat their lunches, and next to which friend. They will decide who is a friend. It is what happens now, and we’re melting with joy at the possibilities ahead. I’ve waited for mothering three small children to “get easier,” and this is when it does. But I am not ready for these young and simple years to be over.

I bought a lady bug backpack and a Thomas the Train backpack out of sweet, adoring irony two years ago, laughing as they zipped toy cars and dolls and hair brushes in and carried them off. Sometimes we put their snacks in there for the day. Next year, the school supplies for kindergarten cost almost a hundred dollars. Each child knows exactly what kind of backpack, lunch box and water bottle he or she wants. They tell me what to order “on the computer.” And I do it. Because this stage too, is enormous; their opinions are outstanding and always surprising us.

We will be out of town the day of their “moving up” ceremony at preschool. They will miss that and the entire last week of school for a family trip. I was feeling sad and very guilty about this—that they and we wouldn’t have these memories of the last official day of preschool, the pictures of the ceremony, the special outfits for the day, the hugging of other parents with wet eyes. And now at the end of the year, I think it may be better to leave for vacation early, saying goodbye to their classroom, still decorated with drawings and paintings, and their friends still seated around the miniature tables, as if any of us could possibly return to this place again.


This post was originally published on Appleseeds blog.


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A Review of the Bronx Zoo by Molly

This is a review by six-year-old Molly; it was a school assignment. The second part of the assignment was for parents to post the review online (or at least type and print the review). For months, Molly’s was lost among the papers at my work space (I thought I had recycled it); she was very upset. Molly is an imaginative and thoughtful writer, and I’m so pleased to feature her first review on my site. 

photo-2Do you want to go to a zoo? Let’s go!

But be careful! The animals can bite.

You can see all sorts of animals at the zoo. Let’s go to the Bronx Zoo!

My favorite animal the Bronx Zoo is the red panda because it is red and because it is so cute. I would like to pet a panda.

When should you go? On weekends.

They have this slide that is in a tree. I have slid on it a lot of times. It may have stairs or a ladder. The slide is all open. It will be bright at the slide.

You can drive to the Bronx Zoo. Or you can take some other stuff. For example, maybe a taxi. I do think you can take an express bus, the BxM11; or subway.

I think the Bronx Zoo is better than the Central Park Zoo because it’s cool and fun. I think it’s better because my mommy used to work at the Bronx Zoo. It is also better because it has an exciting children’s zoo.

I give the Bronx Zoo five stars.



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These Hours

I asked if she did her homework. It was close to bedtime.

“Yes, I did.”

“All of it?”


“I didn’t see you do it.”

“Because you’re always on the computer.”

Or looking at my phone. It’s the truth. I admitted to my husband that I hide from the kids, tapping away at my laptop in the kitchen, accomplishing close to nothing most afternoons. Because it’s stressful to be with them sometimes. In the morning I scroll through Facebook while they fight about whose shirt that is and who picked what movie last.

I’m avoiding a lot of my life while looking through everyone else’s. And my kids are noticing. I’m noticing how distracted I am almost all the time. Not surprisingly, the more I am on the laptop or the phone, the more I want to be on the laptop or the phone. I’m like that.

These hours with them must not continue to be marked not by my semi-conscious, reluctant presence. These hours belong to them.

I have decided on some changes. Unless it cannot be put off, I will avoid texting and e-mailing if I am with the kids; I won’t check my phone for social media while I am with them; I will avoid posting pictures of them while I’m with them (because I will just want to check back); and I won’t spend the afternoon on the laptop, repeating “give me five minutes,” as they come in to ask me questions, or to just be near me. And I get irritated by that because “I’m in the middle of something”: a phrase I’ve now heard them repeat.

The hours that they are in school go by quickly, and I am tired when they are in bed, but I’m embarrassed that I’ve been asked by my five-year-old son to “stop looking at the phone, mommy” on more than one occasion. Once, he wanted me to look at a superhero on a television show. It wasn’t important to me. It was to him.

My five-year-old daughter brings me drawings while I’m working at the computer, and it takes everything I have sometimes to turn away from the screen and acknowledge her.

These are not moments of which I am proud. And I’m saying they are real so that I can start making them better.

I would rather they see me reading a book or magazine while they play, than mesmerized by images on a smart phone. I have been using my phone for “notes” related to my writing; I am using a notebook more now. My oldest has her own special notebook; I’m happy to have her watch me write in mine.

Wish me luck. And if you need me during these hours, you will have to wait.



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A Review of The Sleepy Star

The stars above Manhattan compete with the many lights sprinkling on at dusk. Still, outside our window the great unknown night sky calls my children as it has always called children. They kneel on the sofa at the window, leaning their faces upward to the first bright lights: Why are the stars so far away? Why don’t they fall? Who made them? Can we go see a star?

In their room are baskets of overflowing books, many are tales about outer space, astronauts, the planets, the vast universe; a few are about the adventures of aliens and underpants; and one is about a great green room, and a picture of the cow jumping over the moon. I added recently The Sleepy Starwritten and illustrated by Adrienne Werle-Austermann, a book in rhyme, about the nighttime adventures of one little star.

photo-2 copy 2

We follow the little star as he falls from the sky and into the sea: “It seemed the little star had gotten his wish to leave the sky and become a starfish!”

The rhymes are soothing at bedtime: “He passed by fish of all colors and size… and an old seahorse that looked very wise.” It is a sweet venture into another world. I appreciate the sense of imagination and adventure the book captures, keeping it simple at the same time.

Another favorite interplanetary fiction tucked into a wicker basket is The Little Prince, a story more complicated than others among those children’s books. All possibilities in The Little Prince exist above the planet, in the stars. As the narrator concedes, “Look up at the sky. Ask yourself, ‘Has the sheep eaten the flower or not?’ And you’ll see how everything changes…”

Each of our many space-themed books however, including The Sleepy Star, unravels in its own thread the magic of childhood, which lasts so short a time, among the great and infinite story of the cosmos. To close in on the mystery of a sleeping child, these stories repeat, simply look up at the sky.

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I was sent The Sleepy Star for the purpose of this review. I was not compensated in any way. All opinions are, as always, my own.

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Putzel Is a New York Story With a Human Side


My husband walked in from work when I was about ten minutes into the award-winning film Putzel, this evening. I had purchased it on iTunes as it was released April 8th world-wide, and I was watching on the laptop in the living room.

“Oh, does this take place in New York?” He asked, chomping on chips because I neglected to provide dinner.

“Yes, on the Upper West Side,” I answered. “Shhhhhh!”

We love films with New York City in a leading role. And Putzel, with its heart in a fish store on the Upper West Side is a New York story, a Jewish story, a love story, a family drama, a comedy, and a coming-of-middle-ish-age story, as much as it is a lesson in supervising over-zealous employees around smoked fish in the case.

Most of the cast is super recognizable; the characters, however, are so well sunk in to the New York streets they inhabit, you will believe easily each is tethered by an invisible force to the historic Himmelstein’s fish emporium.

“What is a Putzel?” Sally (Melanie Lynskey), the dancer slash white-fish-salad-loving bartender asks Walter, who has worn this nickname–in life and on his shirt–since he was a baby. The Yiddish slang word putz may be familiar, but the film seeks to answer just that: What will the man with the name tag become?

Putzel (Jack Carpenter) literally, physically cannot leave the boundaries of his family’s store’s delivery zone. His ambition is great (he wants only to take over the store according to his 40-year plan), but also greatly jeopardized by fear, romance, a shiksa, and years of misplaced loyalties.

Putzel tells us: life is long and difficult; and the end comes sooner than we wish. In between is the home and the best and the luck we allow ourselves to make of it: “The…what-if’s will zing you every time.”

These are real problems set against a backdrop that is the most human place on earth. You cannot help but hope that almost everyone in this film–however foolish or high on the dysfunctional meter–gets what he or she deeply wants.

This was in no part sponsored; the filmmaker is a friend, however, and I am pleased to do this unsolicited review. All opinions are my own. (Producers: Jason Chaet, Rick Moore, Allegra Cohen, Sheri Davani. Cast: Jack Carpenter, Melanie Lynskey, John Pankow, Susie Essman, Jarlath Conroy, Armando Riesco, Allegra Cohen, Steve Park, Adrian Martinez.)

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Little Notes

I blame my husband. He started them thinking about the notes.

One afternoon my four year old girl asked why I hadn’t put a note in her lunch.


“Daddy puts notes in our lunch.”

He’d been leaving notes on napkins when making their lunches in the morning: Have a great day. I love you. Love, daddy.

When I make them the night before school–no notes.

One morning our six year old forgot her lunch at home, so my husband ran it over to school on his way to work. When I took out the half-eaten contents later that day, I found a note that read: Sorry I forgot your lunch. I love you, Daddy.

And the six year old wrote back to him on a corner of the original note: Thank you.

That note is pinned to the bulletin board above my laptop still.

The six year old often leaves me notes, as well as questionnaires. When we fight at bedtime, she comes out with a piece of paper, at the bottom for me to circle are the words, Yes and No. In misspelled children’s language reads: Mommy, circle one if you will ever leave us. 

I have tucked among the many books next to my bed a recent note she wrote me after we discussed one weekend what it will mean when she goes to college: I love you mommy. I like every thing you do. I will or might stay nearby or not when I grow up.

Then one night after a particularly difficult bedtime during which I screamed and threatened and cursed, and they cried and laughed at me and cried some more, I was feeling horrendous and guilty and ashamed. I wanted to tell them how sorry I was we fought at bedtime.

I left them notes at the table for the next morning. The younger two can’t read, so the six year old read the notes to them. Each one gets his or her own short message: I love all the questions you ask me, and how you know so many things. Love, Mommy.

“Look Mommy left us notes!” I heard them scream the first few times they saw their names on folded paper by their chairs at breakfast.

And when I don’t, my son comes into my room, “Mommy, did you forget to leave us a note?” (Yes, sometimes I do forget.)

Notes have become what we do for each other. The younger girl did her best to sound out her way to an apology note this weekend: Daddy, on one side; Mommy, on the other. I’m sorry for being mean to you.

Our evenings are often hard as we squeeze in dinner and baths and homework and bedtime in a few hours. There is no way to undo the chaos once they are in bed and asleep, yet I spend much of the night wishing I could. These little messages, and the generous nature of mornings, give us all permission to begin again.




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