Monday, April 30, 2012

Portrait of a Third Grader

"It's not easy being green," my father would acknowledge to me and my siblings, invoking Kermit the Frog's familiar lament whenever one of us was experiencing a rough phase or facing the reality of some temporary or permanent state of being. 

We'd heard third grade was a seminal year in terms of development; eight-year-olds gain social consciousness, better understand life and death and other abstract ideas, and are challenged to make significant academic leaps at school (hello multiplication tables and cursive handwriting!). 

What I didn't know was how like thirteen, or thirty, would be third grade.  It isn't easy being eight. 

It is a landscape of deep heavy sighs and merry peaks of giddiness.  The emotional currents shift swiftly; I think of the lyrics to a Crowded House song I love:  "Even when you're feeling warm/The temperature could drop away/Like four seasons in one day." 

When I watched this video--a time-lapsed compilation of footage recorded by a father of his daughter, birth to 12 years--I reflected on just how complex humans are from the very beginning.  Papa Hofmeester captures such a wide range of his daughter's expressions in a video with no sound; we see her plaintive and contemplative and triumphant and pouty and pained and teary and resolute and ecstatic--a celebration of the privilege of hosting the growth of a human from birth. 

We wonder if the videos continue past his daughter's twelfth birthday.  I am particularly interested in knowing what permissions he has from Lotte, the subject of his video.  I promised Big Sis I wouldn't post the photo above without her permission.  We had lots of discussions about trust and sharing of confidences before she agreed I could publish this post.

Because third grade means more privacy.  It means defining comfortable boundaries in every domain:  with language, relationships, the truth, actions, her body, with laughing out loud in class. 

The emergence of insecurities makes us wince.  She is appraising, already, her appearance, and her actions.  We've watched her replay scenarios and review them, as well as her own behavior and that of others, in a quest to understand and become a better person in her own eyes.   She is balancing her sense of justice with her fear of peer reprisal.  She's paying close attention, and she's exhausted. 

With greater understanding of the world comes greater depth of feeling.  Over the past year we've watched our daughter mourn.  We've watched her fret.  We've observed her manage strong feelings coming her way as well as confusing feelings she has for others.  We are watching her sort it out.

Yesterday she squealed with glee. Tonight she's wiping tears.  Tomorrow she'll skip down the sidewalk, or...?  We'll see. 

We're along for the ride.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Is That a Poem in Your Pocket, or...

As you know, I have a penchant for poetry, and I am prepping you for something portentous, pals:  tomorrow is Poem in Your Pocket Day, part of National Poetry Month (Hey!  How are you celebrating April??  You best be getting your O'Hara, Gioia, Oliver, and Collins on, to name a contemporary few). 

The premise of Poem in Your Pocket Day is to pack your pocket with lyrical lines and pass on a little literary love.  Don't be afraid of poetry, people!  If you need a primer, peek at Poetry 180 (Say, when is Alliteration Day?  I am prepared to participate). 

Little Sis is on board--she wrote her own haiku to give out to friends and teachers at school.

Big Sis is pondering her poetic participation.

As for me, I have 700 copies of this rhyming refrain to ration tomorrow:

Literary Lint

When you want to give a gift,
And make somebody’s day
Show you care, provide a lift,
You have to find a way.

But you don’t need a wallet
And you don’t need a purse
Here’s how I would call it:
Write a poem, give a verse.

Your pocket’s full of thoughts, you see
Just waiting to be shared
And words are always free
To distribute everywhere

Words don’t need to rhyme
To be deep or true or funny
You only need a little time
For lines worth more than money

It’s “Poem in Your Pocket” Day,
And here is mine for you
In hopes that other people may
Find inspiration too

Let's bomb the world with ballads, buddies!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Heart of a Whale

Yesterday I spent the day with thirty students and a few colleagues in an experience our high school hosts called Human Relations Day.  The aim is to bring together students from diverse groups and grades and engage them in activities and dialogue that help them build community and see one another differently--or for the first time at all, in some cases.  The facilitators are teachers and counselors, and by the end of the day there's been soul-baring, tears, lots of laughing, and vows to go forth and make a difference. 

One of the most powerful games we played was "Cows, Chickens, and Ducks."  Each participant was given a slip of paper with the name of an animal on it, and we were directed not to reveal our species.  The task was to roam the room acting out and/or making the sound of our animal, and we were forbidden from using words to give hints or ask anyone explicitly if they were what we suspected. 

I was found by my fellow dolphin in no time, despite the fact that I sounded like a strangled kitten.  It was my diving--apparently spot on. 

But not every animal had a partner.  And not every animal communicated his species clearly enough to find his pair, either.  We had two separate whales at the end, one who thought the other was a bird.  The two pigeons were among the last to find each other (that pigeon noise is a hard one to make), and a single, lonely seagull.

And that's where the metaphor started kicking in.  What if you're a whale who doesn't know there's another of your kind in the community?  What if you are a whale who sounds like a bird, and that really throws off the other whales, who don't see themselves in you?  But then, what if you are a whale who is actually for the birds?  That works if the birds accept your birdy whale-ish-ness. But if you're a whale mistaken for a bird, at what point do you reveal your true identity?  It's no wonder the birds assumed our chirping whale was one of them--there were lots of birds around.

One observant student noted that it was a mistake to assume the only interest in the game, and in life, was finding one's own kind.  He admitted to feeling sometimes, as a dog, that he wished he could fly.  He admired other animals' abilities to "breathe" underwater.

He also argued that if you're a wolf looking for your pack, it doesn't help to wander around murmuring growls.  Wolves who embrace and celebrate their inner and outer dog and who howl and bark wildly are more likely to draw other wolves to them.

He apologized to those animals in the room that he ignored.  If you're a cat, for example, he might have only given you a cursory nod.  "No offense," he reassured, "it's just that you're meowing, and I'm looking for someone who woofs.  It doesn't mean I don't respect you, even if others assume we're opposites."

I thought about our students and the troubles and worries and identities they share with trusted adults behind closed doors.  And how we attempt to reassure them there are others who've experienced similar pain and understand, on some level, who they are.  I think of the whales I know who have been mistaken for birds, or who pretended to be birds for the sake of safety or sanity or stage of their development, or who needed to really be birds although somehow manifested in a whale's body.  Or who waited too long to hear someone else recognize and say, "I know you're a whale.  And I love whales."

It's not as simple as sorting ourselves in a room by species.  Even whales distinguish themselves from one another--some seem more like dolphins, others like sharks.  We've got to avoid over-generalizing our categories and characters.

Here's to the whales among us--with the largest hearts of any animal--who sound like birds.  And who might dance like gerbils and look like elephants and feel like monkeys.  We each have to be our very own kind of whale.  Because as Oscar Wilde said, "Be yourself; everyone else is already taken."

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Louse in the House

It all began with Big Sis approaching me in the bathroom with, "Mom, can you check if I have lice?"

"The answer to that question is always no," my father declared emphatically when I recounted our day over dinner.

Except when it's not. My first searches through her hair reassured me we had nothing to worry about. Until, WAIT A MINUTE. WHAT IS THAT BUG BY YOUR EAR.

Google Image search. I thought lice were more flesh-colored, gray. Nope. They turn into pretty big dark mofos.

And Big Sis had a few. We combed them out, and as the louse count increased, Big Sis shook her head at the bounty and observed, "This is NOT what I needed for my stress level."

Little Sis looked safe, and I hoped I was too. But sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy, and finding a louse there does not. Dang it. It's harder to search your own head.

If sharing lice with my daughter is a byproduct of all our snuggle time, then so be it, I figure.  We can conquer this together, too.

We spent the morning at the drug store, then in and out of the bath and shower, with shower caps on our heads full of shampoo and then conditioner, and combing, combing, combing.

Getting rid of lice requires being, well, obsessively nit-picky. It's not a one-treatment-and-wash-your-hands-you're-done gig. I'm going to be a vigilant Mama Monkey for a few weeks till I can move on to another issue.

So I woke up this morning and immediately imagined lice proliferating in the parasitic playground of my sleeyhead overnight. More combing. Big Sis woke with the same worry.

Is your head itchy yet?

Lice, be gone. We're going to Disneyland.