I Thought That I Should Never See/Poems So Stuffed With The Kiwi

The teacher thanked us all for coming, ending her welcoming speech with, “And I’ve told all the kids that the parents are here to enjoy their poetry, not to judge their poetry.”

“Aw, come on,” whispered the hipster rock star dad sitting behind me (no, really, he is a rock star; his band is opening for Death Cab for Cutie on tour this spring). His barely-audible joke made me stifle a snort, for I am ever a fan of those who enjoy with judgment.

As each middle schooler took a turn hopping up on the Reading Chair at the front of the room, snorts were stifled while judgment flowed freely, particularly when a boy sporting an unruly mop of hair hopped into the reader’s chair and began, “My brother likes to eat beaver…”

Had Rock Star Dad emitted an under-the-breath hiss at that point, concurring “So do I,” my day would have been perfect.

Despite being nervous, the language arts class of sixth grade poets comported themselves well, and while there were many predictable poems about snow, friends, and trees, there were equally many that contained flashes of surprise. Strangely, at least three poems referenced kiwi–making me think the teacher had tossed out a random example of that green fruit as something original or attention-getting in a sea of rhyming couplets about kitties and bicycles. Perhaps it is in seventh grade that students realize they can’t all grab the teacher’s example for their own poems and still call it “fresh.”

There were quatrains, free verse, haiku, limericks. There were several poems that leaned startlingly heavily on Jersey Shore references (I did find a place in my heart for one Star-Wars-leaning lad’s “From Wookie to Snooki,” however); there was a standout piece called “My Grandmother’s Fridge” that lamented, “Filthy/Stinky/A blight on mankind.” Well able to respect the guts it takes for a gangly, red-cheeked kid to get up in front of 40 parents and peers, I applied my clapping hands liberally.

Because so many of the kids read with soft voices–and because several wild siblings in attendance were using the occasion to hone their toddler versions of “Nessun Dorma”–I often couldn’t hear the poems. What’s a judging, snorting mom to do? I had to turn my attention to the humanity in the room.

Middle schoolers are fascinating creatures–so accomplished yet on the cusp of something; so complete yet unfinished; so smart but idiotic; their confidence wadded inside a tangle of insecurities. Any time I see pre-adolescent kids, I want to walk up to them and whisper, in a quick moment of assurance, “You are wondrous already. But still, it will only get better, so keep at it, Toots. There’s so much fun ahead of you, and only small bits of it will involve kiwis and Jersey Shore.”

Most heartening to me, as I scanned the mass of sixth graders, was the fact that my own child’s personal hygiene wasn’t the most execrable in the room; sometimes Girl comes out of the shower, lets her hair dry, and I’m left staring at the resulting ‘clean’ and thinking “Did she forget to use shampoo?”. Until we got to this stage as parents, I had forgotten what an unkempt lot twelve-year-olds can be. Too old to submit to parental ministrations, youngsters in this developmental stage of life are still figuring out how to apply soap to all the nooks and crannies of their bodies, still resisting the amount of scrubbing their oil-secreting hormones demand.

Fortunately, when Girl’s name was called, and she stood up, Byron and I had a quick moment of registering, “Why, she actually looks quite tidy. You know, relatively speaking. Seriously, Kids of Room A308, y’all might take a note here of what brushed hair looks like! And the part where she’s wearing a cardigan over her uniform polo? Yea, try that one out sometime, O Ye Ruffian Poets!”

Her poems were on par for, em, grade level. Because she stuck to the poems her teacher had circled as performance-worthy, Girl actually didn’t read my favorite:

“Clementine”

Yummy, orange, juicy, squishy, fruit
It is full of flavor and taste
Orange fruit is great, don’t throw down chute
It would hurt it to go to waste

Better, indeed (‘tho less my favorite), was the poem her teacher had circled:

“The Sky”

When I look up, I see clouds, and sky
There is so much life up there, and peace
This place is way up there, up so high
In my heart it holds a piece, small piece

Just as I was mulling over the idea of holding a piece of peace and gloating that my kid didn’t look like she’d been flattened and then fluffed by a peloton of inline skaters on her way to school that day,

the daughter of the rock stars walked up front. For five years now, I’ve delighted in the disheveled appearance of Rock Star Daughter. She delivered disheveled even in first grade, when the rest of the kids were still full of “My mommy braided my hair this morning and zipped me into these corduroy slacks.” Rock Star Daughter, from the start of her public appearances, has presented as recently rolled out of bed, somehow achieving quirky charm through bird’s nest hair and unwiped eye crust.

It was with great anticipation, then, that I regarded her back as she walked up to the Reading Chair. I mean, if she’d mastered a “I Refuse to Brush Anything” look so early on in life, I could only imagine what new levels she’d bumped it to in middle school. Would there be radishes growing out of her cheeks because one time someone pelted her with seeds, and then the stuff found purchase ‘neath the grit? Would she have dreads? Would she have teeth?

Plopping onto the Reader’s Chair, Rock Star Daughter lifted her head, looked at the audience, and announced her poem.

I didn’t hear what she read. I was too busy composing my own verse:

“Rock Star Daughter”

Despite Mom and Dad’s touring

You look wonderfully boring

Hair smooth in ponytail

Red glasses sharp and porcelain face pale

You no longer look like you’ve just been snoring

Rock Star Daughter was a veritable librarian: neat, clean, ready to discourse on Dewey.

Amazingly, even though her appearance was traitor to everything they stand for, Rock Star Daughter’s parents applauded enthusiastically at the end of her poem. So proud was Rock Star Dad that he pulled out his Bic lighter and, flicking it with a flourish, waved the tiny flame high: the apex of fatherly benediction.

Sadly, the flame–sensing a trough of ready fuel nearby–snatched at opportunity and leapt onto the greasy hair of a sixth grader one row over.

As flames danced on poor Nathan’s head, and the automatic sprinkler system kicked in, dousing many kids’ noggins for the first time in weeks, I rued the lack of Pantene in my purse; properly armed, I could have dabbed at follicles left and right before rinsing and repeating. Woefully Pantene-free, though, I merely grabbed my bag and dashed for the door,

composing one final couplet on my way to the parking lot. It elucidates my lesson of the day:

“Snarls and Gunk

Setting a middle schooler’s hair on fire

is the best way to cleanse it of muck and mire.

If you care to share, click a square:

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Published by Jocelyn

There's this game put out by the American Girl company called "300 Wishes"--I really like playing it because then I get to marvel, "Wow, it's like I'm a real live American girl who has 300 wishes, and that doesn't suck, especially compared to being a dead one with none."

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19 Comments

  1. HAHAHA! wonderful.. in only a few years the same lot will be using hours in the shower, in front of the mirror and empty your stock of shampoo/soap/deodorant/perfume faster than you can say teenager..

  2. I snorted coffee out my nose at ‘eating beaver’ and love the fact that you’re a fan of others’ judgmentalism. Sometimes I think I should try harder to be nice, but life isn’t nearly as much fun without a bit of snarkiness.
    |Have to say that sometime I worry you’ll be waylaid in a back alley by a somebody who’s target has been hit dead centre by your wit. But oh what fun you give the rest of us!. I was just reading in ‘Bird by Bird’ last night that the writer ‘is a person who’s standing apart, like the cheese in The Farmer in the Dell’ except that Anne Lamott goes on to talk about the necesary self-compassion of the writerr if she is to have compassion for others. Well, all I can say to that is that there’s compassion, and there’s observation and there’s humour and that the balancing act between the three is something you do extremely well.
    But seriously, did the sprinklers really come on??? I’m so gullible, Jocelyn – I’d really like to believe that part. By the time I got the end, I had to wipe off my screen.

    1. I know what you mean about worrying that someone I’ve written about will try to shank me in an alley some day. Year after year, though, it becomes more obvious that one can’t overestimate how Not Interested In Others most people are. They’re in their worlds and heads and have no idea I’m out there. Also, I actually loved everyone in that room on poetry day; Rock Star Dad was awesome, and each of the kids was being brave and silly all at once. I would hope, if, say, Rock Star Dad happened across this post, he’d have no objection. Basically, I say he’s hilarious and his kid looks great, right?

      (oh, and, no: I make sh** up all the time; there was no lighter…no hair on fire…no sprinklers…)

      1. I wrote a post in which I was snarky about a person in this little ex-pat community over here, and was promptly found out by the town gossip – a woman I had barely ever spoken to and had certainly never mentioned my blog to. That has made me wary, but then again, why should it??
        btw I just saw that ‘who’s target’ and am cringing. I do know better, Ms. P. Please don’t fail me.

        1. It all boils down to how you’d feel if you were found out–as you were. How’d you deal with the town gossip? My feeling is that I’d have plenty to say to someone who wanted to discuss his/her appearance in a post. It wouldn’t be an attack, but it would be about my right to describe, in my own writing world, behavior as I perceive it. They are free to do the same in theirs.

  3. Just a quickie in reply:

    I am seriously relieved that there are schools that still teach and celebrate poetry.
    Too few adults have any interest in it. (Yes, Deb. that goes for you too!)

    I have heard “not another bloody poem” quite a few times.

    Fire from a baby lighter? Hm. But I love the idea.

  4. I’m having a bit of trouble believing the fiery ending, but the whole experience, listening, judging, snorting, wailing toddlers, hygeine-challenged tweens, struck a chord. I can practically smell the rotting lunches in the waste baskets! I always enjoyed matching the kids to parents; neatly shorn heads parented by mullets, burgeoning goths begotten by preppies, black kids with white moms, etc. Entire families with the same unfortunate nose (even mom and dad – CAN cousins marry?). Loved poetry in school, but only mastered the silly or rude, myself.

  5. Ah. Kids and poetry.
    And now for the rest of the day I shall wax on about “love, skies above, alone, I moan, be strong and belong.” I used to mentor teen poets. Great fun.
    And shame on rock star dad for missing the beaver joke. You are WAY hipper than him, clearly.

  6. oh dear lord, you have reactivated my middle school induced PTSD…both from being that age and from student teaching that age. true story. my first daughter was conceived as a result of celebrating the end of that student teaching assignment in just a bit too carefree a manner. i knew i’d never have to go back to that classroom and was deeply relieved at moving on to the juvenile delinquent males at a maximum secure facility.

    and how fun would it have been to engage in judging by pelting the performers with rotten kiwis? too much? ok. i shall slink away in dishonor.

  7. I turn into a middle-schooler internally when I enter the place. I have to bite my tongue repeatedly to keep from snarking about the mean girls and their former mean girl mommas. Sometimes I fail.

  8. The girl is rebelling against Rock Star Dad. I love it.

    My own son, in rebellion against his left-leaning, DFL hippie-style mother, enjoyed a brief foray into music I don’t care for (both Country AND Western) and bought a gun rack for his pickup.

    Now that I think about it, I really should write that one.

    🙂

    Inspirational, as always.

    Pearl

  9. “My brother likes to eat beaver…” Is that for real? Or was that just some poetic license on your part, just like the lighter and sprinklers part, which by the way, seriously had me cracking up. I make stuff up all the time too. 🙂 Oh, and middle school hair, don’t even get me started…Ultraviolet washes her hair and I also wonder if the shampoo even touched it, and even though she brushes it, it always looks like she’s just gotten up. I want to cut it so bad, but she won’t let me anywhere near it with scissors. Loved this post, Jocelyn, you captured the moment so well.

  10. Many of my clients are middle school age. I should only hope that someone would teach them poetry, that they would then write poetry, and a group of adults (with or without parents) would listen to said poetry. Never. In a million years. But it could be so great for them. I am a very judgmental person, and even I am impressed. I’d love a piece of peace, btw.

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