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Pearls of Grade 3 Wisdom

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I teach a group of Grade 3 French Immersion students English for 40 minutes a week. They are mostly a very sweet and funny group. We’ve been working on poetry, including a poem with a template called “I Am.” The first two words of each line are given, and then they fill in the rest. The results are sometimes predictable, sometimes decidedly un-poetic, sometimes surprisingly insightful.

Here’s an example of one whole “I Am” poem, written by a (very bright) Grade 3 student:

I am brave and curious.

I wonder if I will ever change the world.

I hear babies crying.

I see my friends walking by.

I want to live and hope.

I am brave and curious.

***

I pretend I am my sister.

I feel sad sometimes.

I touch the air that we breathe.

I worry about my family.

I cry because of war.

I am brave and curious.

***

I understand the world we live in.

I say do not change.

I dream about life.

I try to change the world.

I hope for world peace.

I am brave and curious.

Pretty straightforward, but interesting and optimistic, no? I liked it. And here are some other lines that cropped up in various other kids’ poems:

I wonder if Santa is real.

I wonder if I will ever be an artist.

I wonder if I will ever be a mom.

I wonder if the pandas will be OK in China.

I wonder how wonderful my dog drawings are.

I wonder if I am as cute as a baby.

I wonder why Donald Trump won the election.

I hear the phoenix song.

I hear Santa breaking my house and sitting on my house.

I hear Hogwarts.

I hear a tiger roaring in the desert.

I see a leopard catching its prey in the tundra.

I see a kitten fly on my shoulder.

I want people to stop buying palm oil.

I want a credit card.

I pretend to have the cheese touch.

I pretend to ride on a black bear.

I feel proud to be Canadian.

I touch every cat that I have had in my life.

I touch the world flooding.

I touch a glass sphere with memories in it.

I worry that my stuffies will go away.

I worry about Donald Trump.

I worry that Donald Trump will kill me.

I worry about my parents being taken.

I worry I will touch a spider.

I worry about the sun exploding.

I worry that in a few years there will be no orangutans.

I cry because Santa didn’t bring me a present.

I cry about every cat that has passed away.

I understand how to make paper.

I understand bravery and love.

I understand that my iPad makes myself mad.

I understand that paper is made of trees.

I say I believe in Santa.

I say that Santa is real.

I say I believe in God.

I say I can do the armpit fart.

I dream I would meet God.

I dream that my cats will wear little elf costumes on Christmas.

I try to be the best that I can be.

I try not to eat tomatoes.

I hope for hot chocolate at Christmas.

I hope that I will stay young forever.

I hope I will meet Prince William.

I hope I get a red hockey puck.

I am… generous, brave, a youtuber, a lover of soccer-baseball, humorous, lovable, curious, funny, smart, creative, intelligent, part Dutch, super, cool, awesome, helpful, respectful, a cat lover, a small kitten and I can fly, active, nice, happy, and I like bubbles.

***

I felt privileged to read these. They are so honest, and so much more interesting than their “About Me” paragraphs in September. And there’s imagery there that amazes me. Some of their worries seem really deep and scary for Grade 3 – but I remember having similar grand worries at that age. (Some of them still apply.)

And it made me happy that the characteristics they named about themselves in the first and last line were, without exception, full of self-confidence.

Teaching in English is fun.

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Antique Children’s Book, Part 1: Kitty, Polly Parrot, and Cubby Bear

We’re taking a break from Nerdy Mom for today, to introduce you to the Antique Children’s Book my parents found among their inherited things. It is surmised to be a book that belonged to my mom’s dad when he was a child, so it’s getting on towards a hundred years old. And it’s more than a hundred percent bizarre.

This is the title: Animal Cutes.

antique children's animal book
Animal Cutes, for the animal at heart.

They can’t say “Cute Animals” because I’m afraid these animals just are not. That’s in spite of the eye roll I’m sure this kitty thought would be enchanting, along with its darling checkered jacket and blue bow. Then again, perhaps that bow is just tied way too tight, and this is actually a portrait of asphyxiation. Kinda like flowery children’s songs that are actually about the plague.

antique children's animal book parrot
Pretty Polly PARROT, perched at rest, Says “Hurry up and bring me my breakfast.”

This parrot looks jolly Scottish in the tam-o’-shanter and vest, but as above, I’m not sure “pretty” is in the cards for Polly. “Haggard” and “oppressed” come to mind more easily. She’s out of her cage but still chained to her perch, waiting for the right moment to snap that chain with her beak and make her getaway. “Breakfast” is the code word. It’s too bad she was ill-advised on the outfit, since Scots parrots are incongruous in any crowd.

antique children's book cubby bear
Cubby BEAR, all dressed in colors gay, Goes to Cubtown, in the woods, to play.

Okay, maybe Cubby is kinda cute. Those cheerful honeybee stripes… the festive tambourine… The look that says, “Bye, Mom! I’m off to the woods, nothing but gaily gadding about!” Mama Bear thinks it’s a picnic. Little does she know that Cubtown is a cult, and they’ve just set the forest on fire. And you don’t want to know what they do with those tambourines.

Turns out I’m still nerdy. Whadaya know. NaBloPoMo Day 7, signing off.

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Possibly The Randomest Book You’ll Ever Read

On one of E’s earlier works, Daddy helped him with a short author bio in which it was conveyed that E’s goal is to make 100 books.

He is barrelling toward this goal, let me tell you. He’s kind of obsessed with my stapler.

Here’s a creation from this past week. I love how he’s unencumbered by the fetters of plot, theme, or common threads of any kind, swinging freely between the physical and the metaphysical.

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This is the title page. He’s really into stormy weather patterns right now. I’m pretty sure the circular one at the bottom is a typhoon.
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Only one of each – no need for overkill.
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These names come from his class list, hence the abundance of appropriate vowels.
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He makes jump tracks just like this. You’ll notice that spoilers are very important to him – as they are, verily, unto the world.
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This looks like he doesn’t understand food groups, but he’s actually been talking quite knowledgeably about them recently. Apparently the colour-code is the critical part.
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You have to have a Stuffies page.
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And of course you DOUBLE HAVE TO have a Dragons page.
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Spoiler alert… this Colours page might just lead to a spinoff book.
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I’ve always loved his plane drawings beyond all description.
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And the heart-pounding dénouement: CANDIES!

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100 Happy Days + NaBloPoMo – Day 2: Super Mom

I did not have to wait long for the sequel! Dad is not the only Super one, folks.

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The Adventures of The Super Mom
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Chapter 1: A Breakout. One day, Super Mom was going to a big race. When they were racing suddenly there was a breakout.
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Chapter 2: A Big Party. It was Arwen’s Birthday. It was a big success. (“I <3 U,” Wow,” “I <3 U 2.”)
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Chapter 3
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I had a party too. It wasn’t as big of a success.
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The End.

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NaBloPoMo Meets 100 Happy Days – Day 1

{Hi everyone! This is yesterday’s post. It was honestly ready to go on the appropriate day, but I have been having major technical difficulties with my blog. So I’m going to sneakily attempt back-publishing it – here’s hoping this silly post will actually post. And there will be Halloween photos – but the technical difficulties extended even unto those, so they will be unfashionably late.}

NaBloPoMo is here! And at this stage of my life, the prospect of writing a real post every day is really daunting. So, inspired by some of my friends, I’ve decided to do 100 Happy Days and practice my pithiness.

For today, I thought you’d like to see this thing that made me grin hugely, courtesy of my charming five-year-old.

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The Amazing Adventures of Super Dad
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Chapter 1: Flying. Once upon a time there was a Super Dad.
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He was flying happily along when he saw a giant monster.
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Chapter 2: A Monster. So he tried to fly away but it was too late. The monster had already got him. “I’m hungry.”
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Chapter 3: The Amazing Adventure. Today Super Dad was going on a adventure.
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The End.

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A Prayer for Your Family

Seven years ago, in my second year of teaching, I taught at a Catholic elementary school. I’m not Catholic, but French teachers are often in short supply, and I was in no position to be picky about jobs.

Sometimes I was a bit uncomfortable being a Quaker inside the Catholic bubble with all the unfamiliar liturgies and rituals, like on Ash Wednesday, for example. One of the Grade 6s remarked, “Hey, your ashes have already rubbed off, Madame!” Of course, I hadn’t had ashes dabbed on my forehead, because I would have felt like a faker, but I didn’t feel comfortable explaining, either.

Then, the night before the last day of school, I got a phone call from one of my co-workers, telling me that our principal’s husband had died suddenly in a farming accident.

I was thunderstruck. We all were.

We loved our principal – one of those women who knows exactly how to wear with grace the many hats her job entails, adored by the kids, but also feared just the right amount. A practical and affectionate mother and wife, with a son in Grade 4 and a daughter in Grade 1; theirs was the kind of happy, healthy marriage and family a newlywed like me could aspire to.

Suddenly, violently, she was a single working mom, the loving company of her husband replaced by an unfathomable weight of grief.

Emelyn_Story_Tomba_(Cimitero_Acattolico_Roma) wikimedia commons

On the last day of class, the school became a cloister of shared sorrow. I don’t remember what actually happened during the liturgy assembly that gathered us all together, but I was grateful for it: the community, and the ritual that gave a shape to the sadness.

I remember that even the littlest kids sat and listened quietly, gravely.

I remember the image of a group of attentive friends comforting one of my Grade 5 girls, whose face was awash with tears. Her dad had died the year before. At ten years old, she was dealing with personal memories as well as empathetic grief.

Mostly, I remember the feeling: the communal heartache, the tears of so many compassionate children and their teachers, the fervent wish to do something to help, with no idea where to start.

I also remember the music. Before the ceremony began, there was a song playing that lodged itself firmly in my memory:

I… I’m desperate for you…

And I… I’m lost without you.

A female voice sang, full of yearning. I knew it was a song about God, but on that day, it was about humans – the ones lost to us. I looked around at my co-workers and saw that we were all crying, and I knew we were thinking together of how desperate and lost we would feel, in our friend’s shoes. I sincerely hoped that she had the kind of relationship with God that would bring her solace.

Over the next few days, I wrote a collection of words about how I felt – how I knew we all felt. How much we wished that we could somehow make things better, that the sadness we were feeling could somehow be subtracted from hers, to ease the burden.

That summer, I put those words to music. It was the first time (out of two, so far) I had ever tried to write choir music, and I didn’t know if I’d ever hear it sung, but I had to do something. And music has powerful healing properties. Writing this seemed necessary.

When all those people were slain in Newtown, my own words came back to me. I know we were feeling it, all over the world: if only we could do something. If only we could help somehow. What could a person possibly do?

I don’t usually pray in a traditional way, but I do believe in the value of (as Quakers say it) holding someone in the Light. People all over the world have been holding the Sandy Hook community in the Light with their own tears, and vigils, and writings, and thoughts. And music. So, what I did… was this song.

I debated about posting this now, at the beginning of this fresh new year, since it’s obviously not a festive post. But maybe that’s when it’s most needed. I know there are a lot of people out there who are facing 2013 as the first year they will have to do without someone they love very dearly. I remember how I felt as 2012 began, when suddenly there was one more barrier – symbolic, but significant – between me and the existence of Sebastian. And even if it’s been many years, missing someone still hurts.

This song was carefully put together, one vocal track at a time, by a few caring people who love to sing and were able to give some of their time during the busy holiday season. We aren’t professionals, and I admit it’s a rough recording, especially since we couldn’t all sing together… but I hope you can hear how heartfelt it is. Honestly, I feel nervous and naked sharing this – somehow even more than for my lullaby, because it’s pretty raw, both technically and emotionally. But maybe one day someone will hear it who takes some comfort from it… so I think it’s worth putting it out there, for that possibility.

Profound thanks to Matt Hunter-Tribe, Alan Spreadbury, Beth Shepard, and Dylan Coombs, for contributing your voices, and your compassion. I wouldn’t have a song without you.

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Too much to say, too little to say

wooden angels in newtown connecticut

Sean asked me yesterday if I blog to try to “make sense of the world.”

Yes. Absolutely. That has never been more true than now.

I also blog because, as I know from keeping a diary for so long, it helps a lot in painful moments. It’s a way for me to remove a piece of what’s making my mind hurt, look at it from a small distance, not quite so close to my heart, and begin to let it be… if just a little bit.

I know there’s an overabundance of writing on the topic of Newtown, but I am compelled to add to it anyway. This week, I can’t write a normal blog post about funny things my kid says, or Christmas preparations, or teacher politics.

Because this week, when I think about teachers, I can only think about the educators at Sandy Hook – the ones who never expected to lay down their lives in the course of their jobs, and the other ones who, from now on, will always wonder when they might have to. I’ve only read two news articles about the shooting, but they were enough to brand forever on my brain the thought of a teacher shot dead while shielding her tiny students with her body.

I don’t know how you ever teach again, after surviving a catastrophe like Sandy Hook.

This week, when I think about kids, it’s worse. Obviously, I think about my children all the time, but now there’s this underlying horror with too many strands to put my finger on… I look at them, my vivacious three-year-old son, my wide-eyed baby daughter, both so beautiful it makes me ache, and I feel guilt-gratitude-tumult-terror-overwhelminglove…

… and I wonder… How do I deserve these beautiful children… How could I have brought them into this messed-up world… What would I do if something like – what would I do if – what would I…

… Oh God. And I can’t wonder any further.

It might sound like a strange thing to say, but I’m thankful that Sebastian died the way he did. If I had to lose a son, it’s a blessing to feel sure that he didn’t suffer, never had a chance to be scared or alone or even to cry. His was the most peaceful death possible.

Of course, I know this doesn’t death-proof my other children.

There is no word for how crazy it is to me that pro-gun types are advocating more guns right now. The idea of guns in an elementary school is so, so wrong that my brain can’t even process it. People actually dare to make the argument that if the teachers at Sandy Hook had had access to their own guns, not as many people would have died that day. This may be mathematically true (maybe), but guns in school classrooms is a tragedy unto itself. And let’s be realistic: there’s no way those guns wouldn’t do harm, and most likely unnecessary harm.

As a Canadian born of pacifist parents, my mind is boggled that anyone could possibly believe anything contrary to

MORE GUNS = MORE DEATH FROM GUNS.

It’s already proving to be true in Canada, even though we have no “right to bear arms”, and we don’t generally have the cowboy mentality toward guns that is common in the U.S. We are still utterly shocked and outraged when someone opens fire in a public place in Toronto, but the frequency is increasing: our gun problem is growing. As more illegal firearms enter the country across the border, more people get shot. Period.

It’s common knowledge that the majority of gun crimes are committed by males. I don’t disagree with people who say it’s because society puts too much emphasis on male toughness of a certain kind, but I think it’s deeper than that.

It’s scary: somehow, little boys seem hardwired to think guns are cool. I noticed it while teaching kindergarten last year: young boys – even the quiet, gentle ones – seem to gravitate toward games involving guns. They’ll turn almost any inanimate object into a gun – to “shoot bad guys”, of course.

My father, who, along with my mother, transplanted himself decades ago to a new country to avoid being obliged to kill people, has admitted that he ate puffed wheat as a kid solely because it was “shot from guns”. (So ironic that it’s “Quaker”.)

My own son, with no toy weapons and zero violent TV or video games in the house, has been known to say, “Guns are cool,” and, if we allowed it, would do plenty of pretend-shooting.

If I were to see him do that that right now, I think I would burst into tears.

To me, this is the greatest argument for gun control. Wherever this “manly” urge to shoot stuff comes from, it’s far more likely to reach fruition if there is easy access to guns. Add mental illness into the mix, and obviously, it’s deadly. Since neither the urge nor the illness is going to be eradicated, it’s the third ingredient that has to go.

The other question that I can’t get out of my head is: Why is this so much worse?

I remember the massacre at Ecole Polytechnique in 1989 – the one that deeply shocked our nation, and spurred much tighter gun control laws, along with discussion of childhood abuse and mental illness. It filled us all with fear and incredible sorrow. I also remember Columbine, and Virginia Tech. And I know that countless innocent people die violent deaths every day in countries filled with war and terrorism. On the same day as the Newtown tragedy, sixteen people died from a car bomb in Damascus – which was forgotten by news sources almost immediately.

Why does this awful event haunt me – and all of us, it seems – so much more?

Not just because it’s still so raw. Not just because it was so unexpected, so appallingly incongruous in that little town. Not just because a massacre in America is so much rarer than a car bombing in the Middle East.

I think it has to do with how easy it is to put yourself into the scene. I saw pictures of those parents, rushing to the school to find out if their children were safe or dead, powerless to stop the world being ripped from under their feet… and they could be me. I think of those traumatized teachers and students, and I can’t help picturing the faces of my own wonderful students and colleagues at my school. They could be us.

And then. They were so young.

The murder of innocents is almost impossible to take.

On Easter Sunday in 1997, I was eighteen years old. I sat in silence at Quaker Meeting in my hometown, reeling from the news of the murder of two-year-old Zachary Antidormi, remembering the Dunblane school shooting a year before, feeling like the world should be ending, and composing this poem in my head.

Light is in everything
But a shadow fell upon a woman
at a moment
Blade in hand she slayed Innocence
and God was not in that knife.
Baby Angel of momentum growing
    now impossibly stopped.
This is a shadow where anguish is complete and
Innocence hides.

Light is in everything
But a darkness possessed a man
on a morning
A score of bullets tore Innocence
and God was not in that gun.
Tiny Spirits of energy flowing
    now indelibly cut.
This is a darkness where heartbreak is real and
Innocence cries.

Your words     life      rebirth       hope        spring      chances
fall alien on my ears like a sick joke

Tell me God needs little students and maybe
a little guard to help them across
    but not
that God’s hand wields knives and machine guns.

Remind us how to find Innocence
    somehow
because that is where God’s Light lives.

We are in the darkest time of year, in our corner of the world. Hannukah has just ended, Christmas is almost here, and we are filling our homes with light, warding off that darkness.

As Hawksley Workman wrote, “the darkness defines where the light is.” When I lost my son, I suddenly understood these words. At the awfulest moments, humanity’s love can be a very powerful thing. It plunges into the hole with you, and gradually, it can help you climb out and stand up again.

Humanity’s love being sent to Newtown right now is immense and beautiful. Let us find ways to be part of it.

newtown-memorial

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