Categories
kids

Preschool Pom Poms

Out of the cacophony of Facebook, good things can emerge. Tips, recommendations, friendships, support, connections, networking — all of these have come to me through Facebook. But my favorite Facebook moments happen when a thinking person uses the platform for storytelling. My friend Ellen is a master at maximizing the Facebook space for sharing vignettes and insights from her days. As someone who teaches yoga to children, she has endless material and inspiration. Below is one of her stories.

Every time I read her posts, I get to love her more.
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Today in preschool yoga we played “The Popcorn Game.” It basically involves me putting pom pom “kernels” in a pot, pretending to “pop” them, and then throwing them all over the room for the kids to pick up and put back in the pot.

Let me tell you, it is a thrill. Seriously. Most requested activity by far in every age group. The sentence I hear most frequently in class? “Are we playing the popcorn game today?” Some kids even peek in my bags, and yell out, to cheers, “SHE BROUGHT THE POM POMS!!” (Best $2.69 I ever spent!)

When I play it with big kids, they have to pick up the pom poms with their toes, no hands allowed.

But for preschoolers, it’s enough to run around without smashing into one another, to organize their bodies to gather the little fuzzies and get them back to the pot.

Today I took out the pot and the pom poms to the usual cheers.

Except for one little boy I’ll call Charlie. Charlie was sad and worried, remembering that last time, he “didn’t get any popcorn.”

It’s true. But it’s not because the other kids were grabby or hyper competitive. It’s because Charlie’s nervous system was so mesmerized, so overwhelmed by the mere visual WOW of seeing pink and green pom poms all over the room, all he could do was stand in the middle of the room, grinning with every muscle north of his toes. He. Was. In. Heaven.

Until all the popcorn was cleaned up and he hadn’t gotten a single pom pom. And then tears.

So today we had a pep talk before class. I walked everyone through the steps. Find a pom pom. Bend down. Pick up a pom pom. Bring it back to the pot. Repeat.

Charlie was still very worried. You could see the worry on his face and also in his sadly clenching and unclenching hands and toes.

The pom poms flew, and Charlie’s joy took over for a few seconds, dancing him up and off his mat and into the game. There he stood, pointing at the other kids, telling me in a very sad voice, “They are getting all the pom poms!”

“Charlie, sweetie!” I encouraged him. “Look down! There are pom poms right there, next to your feet! Get them!”

But his focus was on the other kids and on his lack of pom poms, and he had no extra brainspace to coordinate the next step.

“They have lots of pom poms, and I don’t have any.”

“Charlie! Bend your legs! Bend down! Touch the ground! THERE ARE LOTS OF POM POMS RIGHT THERE BY YOUR TOES!!” I coached him, in as gentle and patient a tone as I could muster.

Meanwhile, well-meaning, cheerful kids were closing in on his ankles, and…..GONE! Pom poms were all back in the pot.

Tears.

So we tried again.

And again.

And on the third try, with some help from me levitating a handful of pom poms halfway to Charlie’s hands, SUCCESS! Charlie put some pom poms in the pot!

VICTORY!

My takeaways:

1) The preschool nervous system is very much a work in progress, and some kids need LOTS of time to figure out what seem to us like the simplest of tasks. Kids need time and space and patience and for things to be broken down into the smallest steps.

2) Worry about failure can be so big that it consumes the resources we do have to see what’s in front of us, to take the next step, to see how close we are to success.

3) My next book will be entitled Who Moved My Pom Pom? I’ll have Charlie write the foreword.

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Categories
kids

The Creek Elves

creek elf

He doesn’t care that I’m running past him, earbuds in. From his three-foot height, perspective is a tricky thing.

Intending to slide by, I smile at the little boy.

As soon as his eyes meet mine, though, words fly through the gap in his top front teeth. A big boy at age six, he shouts: “I brwaught my sister to the creek to show her the creek, and we rode our bikes!”

Slowing to a molasses trot, I smile again — my heart genuinely feels the smile at the same time my public face, knowing it must be kind to children, makes the right move. “Hey, cool,” I reply, grinning towards his younger sister, all of four, who, gasping with excitement at the sight of her brother talking to a tall person, hikes her charming flowered sundress and holds up a single muddy hand, showing the tall person that she’s been busy.

“I this dirt water brudder.” Her lips move, the voice reaching me faintly over the podcast that pours into my ears.

Still, a four-year-old is waving her hand at me, so I wave back, slowing my movement to two inches per second. Part of my brain thinks, “Should I worry that a six and a four-year-old are by themselves at a creek?” while the other part reassures “Those noggins are still strapped into bike helmets that some bigger person helped clasp.”

As if he reads my fleeting consternation, the big brother in charge continues his information dump. Pointing, straight-armed, up the gravel road, he yells, “We live on Idlewild, and we came over there from Idlewild on our bikes, and there are two ways you can get to our house from here.”

My bladder is full; I consider asking him for specifics about main-floor plumbing.

“Two ways, huh?” I ask, still shuffling my feet, trying to convey that the runner lady has places to go. Yet, gad, an enthusiastic gap-toother is about to provide me with a map to the place where his Legos live. I surely do love Legos.

And I surely do love teaching kids lessons about not talking to strangers, which is exactly what they’ll learn when all their Legos disappear.

I pull an earbud out. All the better to hear him with.

“YETH, THERE ARE TWO WAYS TO GET TO OUR HOUSE ON IDLEWILD FROM HERE,” the creek host hollers. “YOU CAN GO UP THAT ROAD, OR YOU CAN…”

His arm remains outstretched, but he stops. This is hard. Two ways is hard.

“Okay, first you can either go up that road. Or you can –…” An invisible hand reaches up and scratches his head.

I am compelled to help Short Stuff out. “Can you maybe also get to Idlewild if you go on that road, right there?” I ask, pointing at the nearest street.

Attempting to win through volume, the brother corrects me. “NO. NOT THAT WAY. BUT THERE ARE TWO WAYS. ONE IS THAT ROAD. AND THE OTHER IS–…”

He stands, frozen. Yet the energy of adventure fuels him. “THERE ARE ACTUALLY THREE WAYS. IS WHAT I MEANT TO SAY. THERE ARE THREE WAYS. FIRST, YOU CAN GO ON THAT ROAD. AND THEN YOU CAN–… BUT THEN THERE’S A THIRD WAY, TOO, IF YOU GO OVER…”

In this election season, I am familiar with his impulse to cover confusion and ignorance with a flood of words. His parents, no doubt sipping vodka gimlets in deck chairs somewhere on Idlewild while their kids riddle their way home, must be CNN junkies.

The kid is flummoxed, but he persists, saying words about the third way. Street. Bikes. Go. Up. No. Down.

Behind him, his little sister twirls, admiring the flare of her skirt.

I love these kids. But a thin trickle of urine threatens my spandex. Inhaling deeply, I reach for closure. “So there are three ways home? You seem really sure of the first one, so when you head home, that would be the best one to take, right? When you have a couple of choices, but you’re unsure, it’s best to–”

The four-year-old interrupts me with a bellow learned from a gap-toothed master. “HE SAID THERE ARE THREE WAYS. THREE IS NOT A ‘COUPLE.’ TWO IS A ‘COUPLE.'”

These kids are going to be just fine.

Shrugging with defeat, I wave goodbye and turn towards home.

Wherever it is.

There are probably fifteen ways I could get there.

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Categories
racism

A Message for the White People

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Photo: “Clayton-Jackson-McGhie-memorial-Duluth-Minnesota” by Carol M. Highsmith – Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Collection. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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The teens found a photo of their classmate and made some changes to it.

The classmate is a young black man.

They drew a noose around his neck and added the words “Gotta hang ‘em all” and shared the edited photo on social media.

When this story hit the news in Duluth, Minnesota, last week, our city of 86,000 reeled. The act itself was hateful—but for it to happen in a city that is still coming to terms with the day in 1920 when six black circus workers were wrongly accused of raping a white girl, a day when a mob lynched three of those innocent men on a corner downtown, well, it made people wince. In an effort to acknowledge that terrible day, to publicly commemorate the city’s darkest moment, a memorial was erected on that corner in 2003. Since then, citizens have been able to point to the memorial with a feeling of “That’s how it was. But never again. We aren’t like that now.”

Heartbreakingly, as the altered photo of a high school boy demonstrates, that’s not how it was. From fraternity members at the University of Oklahoma using a racist chant to the police shootings of unarmed black men, we are like that now.

In response to the photo circulating on social media, the school district issued a statement that it was “taking appropriate action.”

Is there such a thing? Can any action in response to this bald, awful hatred be considered appropriate? Shock, maybe. Tears. Nausea. Anger. But those are reactions, not actions. Those are emotional responses to something horrible; in contrast, action implies intent, reason, forward movement.

So the school district will take action by applying policy. Consequences are one way to effect change. However, because what happened in our small city last week grew out of matters of the heart and mind—because racism is an infinitely human problem—we also need to engage in grassroots, person-to-person education. Particularly with our children, we need to convey our values not just through policy and not simply through parental example. We need to talk to them, explicitly and clearly.

To be honest, I hadn’t fully realized how necessary such talks are before last week when our good friends, Anne and Jenna*, sent out a plea from their family to their larger community. Anne and Jenna have been together for more than fifteen years, having moved from dating to falling in love to a commitment ceremony to a legal marriage a few years ago, when the state of Minnesota changed its laws. During the course of their relationship, they have bought houses, taken trips, become godmothers to my kids, changed careers, and adopted two children of their own. While Anne and Jenna are white, their ten-year-old son, Robbie, is black. The birth mother of their daughter, four-year-old Sadie, is Native-American.

Due to the realities of their family, these beloved friends have to wade through the world very deliberately. While all parents want to raise their children to greet life with open hearts, Robbie and Sadie—and all children of color in the United States—also have to learn to live defensively.

That is wrong.

Spurred on by the altered photo of the boy (at the high school where Anne teaches), Jenna sent out the following message—a call for action:

I am sending this email to you because we care about you and your family, and we hope that feeling is mutual on some level. Know that as I write this, I don’t mean to offend or presume (tho’ to be honest I am getting beyond caring about that because this is too too important.). My request: please teach or talk to your kids about what it’s like for kids like ours to grow up in this world–what it’s like for kids of color to grow up in this world. In the United States, skin color does matter. You may feel or say that “I don’t see color.” But much of American society does.

Please teach them that we walk around stores now with Robbie and watch OTHER people stare at him and wonder if they are thinking he will do something wrong. Teach them that Robbie, at 10 years old, feels these stares too, and that shakes a person’s confidence and sense of self. Please talk to your kids about the fact that we teach Robbie he has to be MORE polite and MORE respectful than any of his white peers because he could get hurt, badly, if he’s not. Teach them that we talk to Robbie every few weeks about the police. Right now, Robbie doesn’t like police and he says “Police shoot black people.” At age 10, he knows this is unfair and unjust. Ten-year-old white kids don’t have to carry this burden; no child should. Please tell your kids that we teach Robbie not to wear his hoody and to act polite and happy even if he doesn’t feel that way.

Please talk to your kids about Native American history and the stereotypes of Indians. Teach your kids what white people in this country did with the boarding schools, almost destroying a culture and how those stereotypes are so prevalent still today.

Please teach your kids or help them recognize that while they don’t HAVE to think about any of this, many other kids have to deal with it every single day. What a privilege for white kids not to have to carry this burden.

Please know I am not being overly sensitive or trying to be overly dramatic. You may already have these conversations in your household and if so, thank you. If not, please do or call us or talk to us. We are doing our damnedest to make this world feel less difficult for our kiddos, but gosh would it be great to know there are other white kids, peers, friends that will stand by their sides and have our kids’ and other kids’ backs.

Thank you for caring about our family. Thank you for reading this. Thank your for being part of our community.

Suggested Resources:

Beverly Tatum “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”
Anton Treuer “Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians but Were
Afraid to Ask”
Peggy Macintosh https://www.isr.umich.edu/home/diversity/resources/white-privilege.pdf

Get Home Safely: Video: https://vimeo.com/116706870

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*Names have been changed

**I did have a conversation with my fourteen-year-old about all of this last night. That’ll be in my next blog post.

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