Depressed and Surprised

Kids these days depress me.

When I start working with new students I ask them open-ended questions to get to know them: What do you like to do after school? What are you good at? If you could do anything you wanted, what would you choose do? Their responses to my inquiries are consistent and predictable. The answers always involve video games.

I work next door to a speech therapist, and a lot of conversations I overhear resemble my own with students. It seems the only reference point children have for dialogue is their gaming life. It’s not about what they did or made on the weekend, who their friends are, or where they went, but what they accomplished in a virtual world with their thumbs. The dearth in their vocabulary and lack of basic concepts is frightening, but not inexplicable. If children never communicate and interact verbally through diverse, real-life experiences, it’s no wonder they’re in grade two and still can’t carry on a decent conversation. Did I mention kids depress me?

But, kids surprise me even more.

Last night my girls told me about the storyteller on their bus. I’ve heard about her before and how even the big boys sit down and lean in close when she starts talking, but it’s still hard for me to believe.

“You mean all these kids want to sit beside her and listen?” I ask.

“Yep. And when she starts we settle down and get less hyper.” Then Belén qualifies, “Well, a little less hyper.”

I imagine this nine-year-old casting her spell on a gang of kids smushed between hard seats and backpacks, all of them anticipating who will be the next hero. Even at her age she understands her audience will be more engaged if they’re a part of the story. Today two fourth-grade boys were pirates. Not long ago, Belén and Susanna were kittens and I know of others cast as geriatric patients. Once, she picked up pebbles from the floor of the bus and wove a story around them, describing the plight of two peers turned to stone.

“Where does she get all her ideas from?” I wonder.

“Oh, she takes an imaginary card and swipes the top of her head to unlock the files in there,” Susanna explains, then adds in a confidential tone, “When she finds an idea she likes, she has to unlock it with a special key so no one else can steal it.”

No teacher has given her this assignment or demanded these performances, but she gives them anyway. No adult coordinates her program or guides her stories, but she keeps on telling, and her friends keep listening–even the kindergarten babies, and the fifth grade football players. This is her gift. Her magic. And she’s using it.

Did I mention that kids surprise me?

Have a great weekend,


Oh, and here’s a couple of pictures from yesterday. The girls decided what they wanted to be, but needed their dad for some technical support. He hates Halloween (I think it has something to do with flooding an over-entitled nation with slave-produced chocolate while celebrating evil) but he’s like a moth to the flame when comes to making stuff…


getting the costumes ready…


“the band” (Susie, our friend Sarah, and Belén)


8 thoughts on “Depressed and Surprised

  1. When we woke up this morning, the kids were asking if we could look at your blog to see if there were pictures of the girls in their costumes. Thanks for posting! I also enjoyed what you wrote about kids!

  2. Have your girls read Gooney Bird Greene? The girl on their bus reminds me of that book. I identify 100% with Stan on Halloween…but making costumes is just so irresistible! I love how the girls’ costumes turned out. Perfectly customized. 🙂

  3. I’ve been loving all your posts about literacy! I’ve got a kid who “surprises” me at school, who sings as he reads to me and throws in an opera or a radio song during our Word Work time. 🙂 The ones who depress me, I try to surprise them….to make them smile, engage in life and love reading!

    PS – I have a great article for you about talking, reading and writing and the powerful connections!

  4. Those costumes are amazing! Of course they are, with Stan on the job. I think they did their part to combat evil on Halloween night. 🙂
    As far as video games go, what’s even more depressing is when your kids think they’re missing out on something so mystical and “cool” because we don’t have video games, and tell you that it sometimes makes them sad that we don’t have such entertainment. Meanwhile, Luke will spend half a Saturday in the cold garage, hammering away on a wooden chair he’s made from scraps and I think he’s the coolest 8-year-old in the world. And he thinks he’s the one missing out. Boo.

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