Every so often I’m lucky to be at my table in my shared room when a group of kids comes in for math club.
Today was a lucky day. First graders filtered in, their intervention teacher, Mrs. P was just a few steps behind them. So I got a front-row seat to their entrance shenanigans.
Lisa and Sam* came in first. They acknowledged me with a slight nod of their heads. I said hello and watched them choose a seat at the kidney table.
Sam jumped up and said, “Oh! I forgot to hide!” and he went to the calm corner, behind a curtain. Lisa stayed at the table and kept looking back at me as Sam talked about how he was hidden.
“Are you supposed to hide at the beginning of math club?” I asked them, honestly curious.
Lisa said, “Um. I forget.”
I laughed a little and said, “You forget if you are supposed to hide at the start of math club?”
Lisa smiled and mumbled something, adding “But if Sam wants to, it is his choice.”
Pete and Anya walked in and Lisa let them know that Sam was hiding in case they were interested in doing the same. Pete and Anya went to hide in the calm corner, but Pete came back to the table quickly.
I asked them again what they were supposed to do while they were waiting for Mrs. P. I mean, I wasn’t actually sure. Maybe they always start math club on the rug, or in a choice spot, or by calming down!
Mrs. P walked in and said “Okay, friends. We are going to play a game today.” I saw her eyes scan the room. “Remember, hiding is not appropriate.
At this, Lisa looked back at me, eyebrows up, caught in her little white lie about forgetting if they were supposed to hide. She looked at Mrs. P and said “I chose the table because I didn’t think we were supposed to hide. but I told sam it was up to him what he did.”
Mrs. P agreed that we are all in charge of our own selves, adding that you can give friendly reminders sometimes.
Pete said, “I wanted to hide, but I knew I shouldn’t.”
Anya said, “I know we aren’t supposed to hide, but it looked so fun!”
As you can tell, it’s super hard for me not to listen in to first graders. Mrs. P took a teachable moment to talk about impulse control, and soon enough they were on to the math. If you were there you would have heard many a conjecture about the making of tens, and Sam’s Ted Talk on zero, which started with a proclamation, “Zero means nothing! Nothing!”
Oh, how I love listening in to first graders.
*I have changed all student names here, of course. This was actually challenging and made me think of how my amazing para when I taught 2nd grade would read the class books at lunch, and change all the characters’ names to names of kids in our class. How she kept track of that is a mystery to me. I had a hard time just keeping track of these 4 first graders’ code names!
Another Writers’ Club teacher and I are standing in front of the kids who have chosen to work in our collaborative space. They are all spread out on the large bleacher-like steps, in small groups working, talking, writing.
One kid asks me if it would be okay for him to make brochures and fliers.
“Sure!” I said. “What are you going to make brochures and fliers about?”
“I don’t know, ” he said as he skipped away.
We are watching them, and kind of laughing. They don’t really need us. Sure there are a few who need our support. But for many of them, if they aren’t ready to share and celebrate their work, they don’t really want to be interrupted. They are busy creating worlds, characters, and books. They are writing a series with their friends or planning a new story to co-write. There are a few who end up making paper crafts, like a boy I noticed who was taping post-it notes into cones that he could fit on his fingers. Creative, yes. Writing? I don’t know.
One of the many joys of Writers’ Club is that sometimes you can sit and write with a student or two. Sometimes you can even do some writing near them, and hope they get interested in what you are doing.
So, I sat near the boy making finger cone claws. I had a stack of index cards, a sharpie, and a pair of scissors. I drew a stick figure and cut around it. Then I drew a stick figure dog and cut it out too. The boy took a break from his post-it note claws and scooted a little closer to tell me how cool my stick figures were.
“Isn’t he so cute?” I asked. “I want to make a story with him. What else do you think I need?”
He suggested a friend. Then he suggested the characters could be at a park. A park would need a tree, swings, and a slide, he told me. He thought probably the main character was wondering where he could plant a tree. As he told me elements, I drew them and cut them out. Then we started placing them on the steps.
“What do you think this guy should be saying?” I asked.
“Probably something like ‘Where can I plant this tree?'” my co-writer said. And I tried to put the tree in the stick figure’s hand. He stopped me and suggested that maybe the character should plant a seed, not a fully grown plant. I asked him if he’d ever seen someone plant a tree, as I drew a sapling in a sack for our main character.
He thought the dog should say “arf arf arf’ when he was asked where to plant a tree in the park.
I suggested that the cat have a real answer, and he suggested that the cat say sarcastically, “Maybe like in the ground??” We laughed as we put all the pieces together.
We decided that the friend should be looking for his cat.
I drew the friend, moping about his cat. “Now I’m going to have to figure out how to draw a bench!” I said.
“Oh. I can do that,” the boy said. “I think I can draw a bench.”
He got his own stack of index cards and a sharpie and drew a bench. He cut it out and added it to our story.
“This story is amazing!” he said as I took pictures so we could clean up.
I think sneaky-style I do, we do, you do might be one of my absolute favorite ways to write with kids.
My 12-year-old is waiting for me to finish writing so we can watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Somehow, my 15-year-old is in the driveway with his dad getting a pre-driving driving lesson. “In just a few months I’ll be able to actually drive,” he said.
Before that, I was at Home Goods, missing my daughter. “I had to call my daughter who is away at school to ask her about having these pillows together!” I told the associate when she complimented the dining room chair pillows I had picked out.
Before that, I had indeed been Facetiming my daughter. She was at dinner, but answered the phone anyway and helped me decide on a few things. “Why do you have to go to college anyway?” I asked her. “Shouldn’t you live here so you can go to Home Goods with me?”
Before that, I’m pretty sure, My kids were babies.
Today I am grateful
Today I am grateful...
for kids who make bakery messes
and also cinnomon rolls and sourdogh bread
for cold weather, biting wind, March snow
and how it encourages rest and early pajamas
for a long basement to do list, hasitly scrawled
and organized by a friend who helped to clean the basement
for a dead phone battery
and how I have to plug it in and get to work
Today I am grateful
I finally successfully forced the boys outside to take Finn on a walk.
“It’s sunny finally! Don’t come back for at least a half an hour!” I called to them as they left.
I did a few chores and then sat on the couch with my water, looked outside, and saw that it was snowing. I knew they’d be back any minute, and I was right.
At first I was annoyed, I admit. What’s a little snow? But then I remembered how Finn hates the snow. And then the boys came in and described the actual snow to me.
Was it snow? Hail? Styrofoam?
H and I went into the backyard to explore.
It was cold, soft, but formed, and squishy. Little pellets all over the yard.
H and I joked about the weather not know what to do. The neighbor kids were running around their yard laughing.
“Why is styrofoam falling from the sky?’ I asked.
“I think the government messed up and programed the wrong kind of snow,” H said, and it started to really come down.
We Facetimed my mom to show her the odd hail-like snow and of course, it stopped coming down and the sun came up. But we showed her the piles that were still all around. She didn’t know what they were either.
We walked back to the house, and the sun was so bright I was really expecting to see a rainbow – at least some sort of chunky pixelated rainbow to go with the snow-hail-pellets.
Oh, and I looked it up. I guess it’s called Graupel!
“It doesn’t even seem like that was on our trip.” One of the boys said. He was right. Kansas was one of the first places we stayed on our 3 week road trip last summer. It feels like a lifetime ago.
There’s no place like home, but we do miss our road trip. Even Kansas! Kansas was where we met the cutest little kitten. I don’t know what his actual family called him, but to us, he will always be little Pepper Jack.
When I was planning the trip, everyone said it didn’t matter which road I took through Kansas, they were all boring, all flat.
So I was surprised to see such beautiful rolling green hills.
We stopped in Oz, where everything was even greener. We took pictures in the Oz museum. I got close to one of my childhood nightmares… a FlyingMonkey!
I always thought the Flying Monkeys were scarier than the witch.
Come to think of it, we didn’t see many witches while we were in Kansas. I guess they hadn’t moved there yet.
I’m sitting at the piano, relearning things I learned decades ago.
Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge FACE Great Big Dogs Fool Around All Cows Eat Grass
I’m 44 and I’m still reciting these things as I stare at music.
My first piano teacher was my best friend. We sat at her piano and she taught me to number my fingers, and how to play Mary Had a Little Lamb (32123332223553212333322321).
Then I had a piano teacher who came to my house every week. When I moved in 5th grade, I had a piano teacher whose house I went to every week.
In college my then-boyfriend, now ex-husband and I had my old piano teacher come over once a week to give us lessons. Soon we realized we weren’t ever practicing, since nobody was making us. So, when he came over we were paying him to play the piano for us. I mean, he was an amazing piano player…But I’ve never been wealthy enough to hire my very own concert pianist. Is that even a thing?
Now I’m learning by myself again. This time my teacher is an app, instead of a human, but I’m still basically the same kind of piano student that I’ve always been. (Although, I do practice more, and for longer, and with more joy now.)
I’ve always hated to count, but I don’t actually have any natural rhythm. So I have to count. My app plays along with me which helps me with my pace, and the measures move from right to left on my phone screen. I still don’t ever get 100% on the rhythm score at the end of each song. My teachers used to write things like “COUNT!” at the top of my sheet music, and I have “I-e-and-a-2-e-and-a” etched in my skull. But I still think to myself “Oh, I can just play this now.” And then I picture one of my piano teachers and the way they would remind me to count. Every week.
I am relearning things I already knew. Sometimes my son will call out from the other room, “That sounded good, mom” and twice I played for my parents.
They said they enjoyed it and also that they would look for the old metronome if I wanted it…
Once, as a teenager, I spent hours on the couch, transfixed by the shadow of clouds and trees reflected on a metal filing cabinet. The shadow was in the form of a man’s face, and the wind made his mouth move over and over again. It looked like he was shouting. I tried to figure out what he was trying to tell me, it seemed very important.
I used to sit and make mixtapes, or sometimes just listen to the same song over and over again.
As a kid, I spent days trying to solve the riddles in King’s Quest on our IBM. I had the joystick mastered, and knew many of the phrases I had to type out to the characters to get by. But there was still more adventure ahead!
In the summer, I’d spend the afternoon by myself floating in the fold-out pool.
When I was very young, I loved to listen to my records of Disney stories. I’d follow along in the book, and turn the page at the sound of the bell. Sometimes I’d switch to the Disney song records, and sing along to my heart’s content.
I used to color, and later, I’d spend hours talking on the phone.
When I got something new – a cassette, a walkman, a video game… I would study it closely to really get to know it. I used to spend the time.
Why is it so hard to spend time now? Why does slowing down feel wrong? Why do I feel guilty? Why don’t I sit around and listen to music just to listen to music anymore? And for goodness sake, why am I not playing King’s Quest anymore? I would totally rock that game now.