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,

Tricia

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…

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getting the costumes ready…

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

Prosciutto and a Writing tip

It’s nice to get out sometimes, isn’t it?

Yesterday Belén, Susanna and I went to the city and after a quick doctor’s appointment, the day stretched before us with opportunity. We went to an art gallery, wandered around a bookstore ’til our eyes got sore, and talked about going to Chuck E Cheese’s. Susanna kept on calling it Checkered Cheese’s, insisting she didn’t want to go because she didn’t like “checkered cheese” anyway. (The girls had never been there and I thought I somehow owed it to them.) I, of course, was happy to skip out and we ended up substituting a little Italian deli for ol’ Chuck E.

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deli packages

When we walked in the doorway, a man with slicked-back hair and a mouthful of rolled rrrr’s welcomed us in. Sausages hung from the ceiling and the rotund lady behind the counter patiently answered all my cheesy questions, cutting slivers of gouda, fresh goat cheese and aged parmesan. When I asked about the prosciutto she held it up like a trophy then lowered it to the table where she cut it so thinly, I thought the strips might evaporate. She laid down each piece of sliced meat with a slow flourish, seeming so appropriate and natural I wondered why I’d never seen interpretive dance with cured pork before.

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More deli packages (isn’t brown paper SO photogenic?) and some of Stan’s homemade wine (in a recycled bottle).

While she packaged my goods in brown paper the owner of the store made his rounds between customers: slapping them on the back, making suggestions on what kind of cheese to pair with mortadella, and escorting them out the door. When it was our turn at the till, he slipped two chocolate bars to Belén and Susanna and we all left feeling like we’d hit a jackpot.
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Back at home, while eating our meal straight out of the brown wrappers (adding a little olive oil and butter to the spread) I asked my family a favour:

“Remember how Laura Ingalls had to be Mary’s eyes for her after she went blind and Laura described everything so perfectly, Mary felt like she was seeing? Well, I want you all to be Laura and I’ll be Mary. Only instead of being blind, I’m celiac (which I am). Now, tell me everything you can about how that bread tastes.”

Belén tore a piece off one of the artisan loaves and started talking, “This one is as light as a cloud–on the inside; on the outside it’s like soggy cheerios.”

She closed her eyes, reached for the second loaf, and chewed it slowly before deciding on her words. “This crust is about as hard as a rotten log…”

She gets points for understanding simile, I’d say.

***

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Belén, writing in her new diary. It took us NINE stores to finally find one with a lock and key–apparently an absolute must for eight-year-olds.

While searching for just the right diary for Belén, I am tempted by all the beautiful journals available. I finger the leather covers and and funky closures. Some are embossed with whimsical birds, others are filled with heavy paper that seems to promise meaningful and substantial prose. I almost pick one out for myself… but then I don’t. Here’s why:

Most of what I write is incomprehensible. I am consistently amazed by how much garble I cough up when trying to capture a poignant moment or a simple story. And so, if I had a pretty book I might try to fill it with pretty writing–which would be a very time-consuming and painful affair. Instead, I write down bits of conversations and scraps of sentences in an old notebook so I can catch the words before they’re gone, without the pressure of matching the quality of the journal. The tired clichés and overused imagery slide onto the paper right beside the stuff that isn’t so bad; the stuff that makes me sit back and smile. Then, on some clear day when I feel up to the task, I can pick my way through the verbal debris and pull out the parts worth saving. Fine, expensive journals are nice ideas; I just don’t think I could get mine out on them.

If you’ve come this far looking for the writing tip, thank you so much. Unfortunately, that was it; that’s all I got. You should probably leave my blog now and check out Anne Lamott or Natalie Goldberg, my two favourite authors on writing. I am currently re-reading Bird by Bird and it is just as inspiring, funny, comforting, pathetic, and hopeful as ever.

Does anyone else have other great titles on writing to share? Or recipes with goat cheese?

-T

The Good Life

The other day I asked Stan what he thought about me painting a list on our entry-way walls. For some reason, I love the idea of hand-painted words framing our living space; it seems different than the vinyl stickers available in stories. After I brought the idea up, he reliably countered with the practicalities of dripping paint over our smooth beige walls.

“It would be hard to cover up if you got tired of it… I guess you’d have to sand it all down. Remind me, again, what’s wrong with a canvas?”

I think we’ve had some version of this conversation at least 14 times before. At this point in our exchange I usually admit it’s probably not a good idea. It suddenly strikes me as tiresome, what with sanding and all. I’ll decide to write whatever phrase has caught my imagination in my journal instead, or maybe on a piece of paper and tape it to the wall. Of course, I never get around to doing either and a few months later we repeat the whole scenario.
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My latest wall-painting proposal was inspired by a trip to the library. Even though I walk there at least once a week I often leave feeling amazed, like a kid who finds a half-eaten box of smarties under the couch cushions.

Stan always tells me, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is,”, suspicious that I might sign up for a trip to Vegas through some junk-mail voucher one day.* This may be good advice, but it doesn’t hold water when it comes to libraries. Especially ones with online ordering services. In a few clicks of the mouse I can choose enough books that I’ll need my backpack with the hip belt when I go to pick them up.
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I am especially fond of my librarians and feel particularly flattered when they go out of their way to make recommendations based on their observations of my reading taste. It’s comforting to think we’ve become intimate friends despite conversations consisting of “I”ll take your card now”; “Some books came in for you today”; or “Would you like to pay your fines now or later?”

Tonight, I take Belén and Susanna to chose some books for themselves. I pick out a few from the browser’s shelf for myself and then let the girls know it’s time to leave. They slowly move toward me with their heads bent low, hair brushing the pages. I shuffle to the check-out counter and they catch up to me before we reach it. Instead of moving forward, we lose momentum and fall back into our reading, forming a silent clot in the middle of the library. A few pages later I remember we are leaving and revive my entranced companions.

When we come home I tell them they have a choice: extra reading time before bed or a chance to talk for a bit after the lights are out. For once, they agree on something…

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The list I started this post with–the list that never got written or painted–is titled, The Good Life. As you may have guessed, library within walking distance is the first entry.

Enjoy your weekend,

Tricia

*Does this ring a bell, anyone?

Good Words: Our Real Stories

I wish I had been in Nairobi, Kenya, a few Sundays ago to hear my friend, Kirsten, deliver her homily.

I knew she had been invited to speak at a church service, so I emailed her yesterday to ask how it went.  She attached the homily she had written with her email response.  I opened it up and soon after I started reading, looked at the little square that slides down the right side of my computer screen, to gauge how much I had left to read.  I was hoping there would be much more and didn’t want it to end any too soon!

Near the beginning of her text, she included this quote from Frederick Buechner:

“…we may tell stories about ourselves as well about other people, but not, for the most part,

our real stories,

not stories about what lies beneath all our other problems,

which is the problem of being human, the problem of trying to hold fast somehow to Christ when much of the time, both in ourselves and in our world, it is as if Christ had never existed.

…[we] tell what costs us the least to tell and what will gain [us] the most; and to tell the story of who we really are

and the battle between light and dark, between belief and unbelief, between sin and grace that is waged within us

all costs plenty

and may not gain us anything, we’re afraid, but an uneasy silence and a fishy stare.”

You can read more here.  I just ordered the book from my library!

*My own end of the week tradition: words in song or story that move me in some way.  I might type my very favourite parts in bold text, and I’ll always try to post a link below the quote so you can get more if you want it. Enjoy!

Good Words: “Pippilotta Comestibles Windowhade Curlymint Ephraimsdaughter Longstocking”

Last week we started reading Pippi by Astrid Lindgren.

My daughter’s recent fashion leanings inspired me to order the book from the library.

Waiting for the school bus…

Her sock-wearing habits are pippi-ish, don’t you think?

I remembered reading Pippi when I was a girl, but I had forgotten what it was that I liked about her.  After turning the last page of the book and setting it down on the couch we decided it was her unpredictable, creative, and confident character that made her so likeable.

I had a staff meeting this past week during which we spent a good chunk of time talking about homework and how to get the students to do it.  Then I came home and opened up Pippi where we had left off the night before.  Ironically, we were at the part where she goes to school for the first time.  I have to admit, it was delicious reading, especially after coming home from my meeting.

“At exactly ten o’clock the follwing day, she lifted her horse down from the porch…  At full gallop she raced into the playground, leaped off the horse before he even stopped, and tied him to a tree.  Then she flung open the door to the clasroom…

‘My name is Pippilotta Comestibles Windowhade Curlymint Ephraimsdaughter Longstocking…”

Both Pippi and her teacher, end up frustrated with each other and Pippi decides not to attend school after all…

“Give me the schools in Argentina any time…  You should try going there… It’s bearable because at least there’s no homework.  It’s strictly forbidden to do homework in Argentina.  Sometimes an argentinean boy might sneak into a cupboard and sit there and secretly do homework, but I feel sorry for him if his mother finds out…

‘Well, what do they do at school then?’ asked a little boy.

‘They eat candy,’ said Pippi firmly…

‘But what does the teacher do?’ asked a girl.

‘She unwraps the candy for the children, silly,’ said Pippi.  ‘You don’t really think they do that themselves, do you?  Hardly!  And they don’t actually go to school themselves either.  They send their brothers.’

Just so you know, if you invite either of my daughters to your child’s birthday party they will probably end up receiving a copy illustrated by Lauren Child.

 

*My own end of the week tradition: words in song or story that move me in some way.  I might type my very favourite parts in bold text, and I’ll always try to post a link below the quote so you can get more if you want it. Enjoy!

Good words: the beauty of innuendos

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendos,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.”

-Wallace Stevens, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

When I saw the picture below, I thought of Stevens’ poem right away.  The first stanza starts like this:  Among twenty snowy mountains, the only moving thing was the eye of the black bird.  The poem also ends with a snowy image… but it’s really not about snow at all.  (I’m not totally sure what it is about, I just know I like the fifth stanza.)

Susanna took this photo on Wednesday, from our back step.  The snow was falling thick and heavy–the girls were ecstatic, of course.

*My own end of the week tradition: words in song or story that move me in some way.  I might type my very favourite parts in bold text, and I’ll always try to post a link below the quote so you can get more if you want it. Enjoy!

Good words: a swift kick to the frontal lobe

On Wednesday morning I felt sorry for myself.  So sorry, that I picked up the phone to ask Bonnie if she too, was also feeling sorry for me.

This whole business started a long while ago (the reason I feel sorry for myself) but I remembered it again this week when a friend was describing her current situation to me.  It was a situation I very much wanted to be in myself.  And the more I thought about it, the more unhappy I became.

Then yesterday I checked on Rachel Turiel.  She had written the following, about a day in the mountains with her family:

As we walked through the aspen groves, I had one of those moments where the world shrinks to a spotlight illuminating this one day, and I’m present enough to realize that right now, everything is good in a simple and straightforward way. Our family unit is still an uncontested force that everyone believes in. The kids’ smiles are free of any real heartbreak.  In a contest between “looking good” and “having fun,” there is no contest: Col delves straight into the mud puddles soon as he’s sprung from the car. Rose is both old enough to hike a good distance, but young enough to turn to me and say, “can you hold my hat while I run like a pony?”

…Here we are, still belonging sweetly to each other before the bigger world, appropriately, begins to lure the kids away.

Photo by Rachel Turiel; click on her name to read the full post.

Reading her words was like giving my frontal lobe a swift kick as I thought, this is where we are at, too!  This is us!  I was reminded that my life, not the one I yearn for, is where I want to put my energy.

Who knows what your “alternate lives” look like, but I wish you the chance to look at your own life from the sidewalk and through the window (in  my case the “window” was Rachel’s blog), and see the good in your midst.

Happy weekend,

Tricia

Ps.  By the way, Bonnie assured me she was, in fact, not feeling very sorry for me at all…

Pps.  The frontal lobe is the part of your brain involved with abstract thinking, making comparisons, regulating social behaviour, and many more executive functions.

*My own end of the week tradition: words in song or story that move me in some way.  I might type my very favourite parts in bold text, and I’ll always try to post a link below the quote so you can get more if you want it. Enjoy!