Painted Smiles and Iron Guts

25 08 2009

This morning, my classroom is buzzing with the taptaptaptapping of students’ fingers on keyboards. I thought I would miss the sound of pencils and pens scraping against paper, scratching out ideas and shaping words. The tapping has much more energy–it’s a sound you can almost ride, and I do. And I almost feel like I’m cheating in a way, drafting off these young minds punching keys with the conviction that they have something to say that matters.

Anyways, this morning we’re tapping about objects. The kids brought in autobiography boxes, which they construct from pictures, drawings, artifacts, newspaper clippings. One student brought in a box that lights up, another chose to adorn his with a plastic mound of spaghetti. They’re all shapes and sizes and they contain all kinds of magical talismans: wands, Eiffel Towers, rubber duckies, pom-poms, dog collars, movie tickets, pigs made out of yarn. So the prompt was to write about an object–tell the stories or ideas that your chosen object represents.

My object is a gummy worm. Last week, when I went to pick up Ruthie, she came charging towards me with a strange, lopsided gallop. Usually, I get knocked over with a hug, especially on days when she’s particularly good, but on this particular day, she ran towards me and took a knee. And then, my little buddy reached into her shoe, where she’d been “keeping it all day so it’d be safe.” There, in the toe of her baby blue croc, she had been hiding a plastic baggie containing a single yellow and red gummy worm. She proudly handed me the baggie, proclaiming, “I sabed it for you, Mommy! All day I sabed it for you! It’s a treat for you for being so good.” Her little eyebrows arched with the seriousness of what she was saying. Of course, I had no choice but to take the treat from her with a wide, affirming smile. “Go ahead, Mom, you can eat it.” So I did. It was very warm. I didn’t really think much about it until the teacher told me, with the worm half-eaten in my watery mouth, that she’d had it in her shoe since they received goody bags that morning. Mid-chew I realized that I was consuming a worm which had endured the playrgound, the toddlers’ bathroom, naptime, lunch, and all of the super-yuck places that toddlers put their feet. Then, having made the decision to not-think about where this worm had been, I swallowed. Hard. With my eyes shut.”Thank you, baby. That was, er, delicious.”

So much of parenting requires an iron gut and a painted smile. There are so many things you have to do has a parent: maintain a calm and even voice, place your screaming-squirming-kicking-thrashing toddler on her “angry spot” with a stoic face and a gentle grip, create a dinner out of nothing at the end of a 12-hour day. Being an adult is not so glamorous or powerful-feeling as I’d always thought it would be. I never thought I’d find myself standing, in a dress and heels, consuming candy from my child’s shoe.






Valentines for the Unlovable in Haiku

14 02 2008

Picture 29 students shouting these things at the teacher to write on the board: feet! toe nails! toilet! oooooohhhh! the bathroom! chicken heads! sweaty socks! locker room! rats! nappy head! port-a-potty! broccoli! stains on clothes! flatulence! uuuuuughhh–you’re nasty, man! roaches, spiders, snakes, scars, mud, deer guts, moldy bread, gum on the bottom of desks, trash cans…

From this list, students chose their favorites, or invented new ones and we wrote haiku valentine poems to things that are usually repulsive. I tried to get them to put a positive spin on them at the end if they could, but there’s really not much positive about flatulence (though this student ended her poem with “I feel better now”). I bought really cool looking scrap booking paper with glitter and metallic designs on it and had them write their haikus on the paper… from a distance, my room looks really catchy. Up close, you will find tributes to a variety of nasty, repulsive things. Such is life: everything’s beautiful from a distance.

This activity was really useful in terms of helping the kids learn about revision. Since you have to squeeze your words into that tight structure, you have to be really inventive and it takes some time playing with the words. They got frustrated, but they were pleased I think with their final products. I didn’t sit down all day, but it was really exhilarating to hear the kids talking about and manipulating language in surprising and interesting ways.

Here’s mine (see if you can guess what it is):

Your slimy, prickly

skin: I want to wash my hands.

Marinate then bake.