Category: kids (page 1 of 4)

Eavesdropping — A Dialog-Writing Exercise

So yesterday in my Novel Writing class, I sent the kids into the commons for the last 20  minutes of class, which happens to correspond with the lunch they don’t have. The commons was full of teenage humans. I instructed mine to sit down somewhere and start eavesdropping. They were to write down random lines of dialog that they heard people say. They turned in their 5 favorite lines. I laughed a lot. Their overheard lines were weird. Funny. Awesome.

Today I had them pick their favorite one or two and put them up on the board. I had made columns for them to place the lines in, and after they’d all put up their best lines, I revealed the  topics heading each column. So now there are 5 or more lines of dialog – totally unrelated – under each of the following topics: Song Lyrics, Polygraph Machine, Job Interview, Explain Earth to the Aliens, Break-up, Babysitter Report, Newspaper Interview, and Love Letter. Now they’re furiously writing scenes that use at least one of the lines in whatever category it fell. I love watching them grin while they’re working.

Here are some of the overheard lines:

“It’s more than just a hat.”
“I’ve been drinking your blood and tears.”
“No. He doesn’t want them on because of his bug bites.”
“She’s literally like the spawn of Satan.”
“Babe. He doesn’t like the shirt.”
“Do you want your socks on?”
“I’m the whitest white girl here.”
“I seriously almost hit someone in the parking lot.”
“There was a guy who shipped two whales to Utah and kept them.”
“It’s free real estate.”
“Don’t write that down.”
“There’s a drink called the Hissy Fit?”
“Get out a marker and write YES on the goldfish.”
“He underwent intensive psychotherapy.”
“Something magical is about to happen.”
“Just buy a hose, you freak!”
“My mom was like, ‘Did you put on makeup? You know there’s guy makeup, right?'”

Clever little eavesdroppers. I can’t wait to see what they’ve made from their spoils.

Thoughts on Growing Up, Again and Again.

I was always kind of offended by the phrase “terrible twos” – is it really fair to condemn a toddler for acting his age? But I get the problem. I totally do. And I think I know why it is what it is. (*Easy for me to say, my youngest is 12.) Here’s what I think: Two year olds are split almost evenly in two halves – no, not good and evil. “I want to be big,” and “I’m the baby.” Hold me. Let me. Help me. I will do it myself.

Fast forward three years. Many of the same behaviors are exhibited by a kid starting school. A fairly even split between wanting to be independent and wanting to be coddled. In my family, it happens again at eleven or twelve. Coincidentally (?) add in hormone shifts (sweet!) and this manifests itself mostly as moodiness – but work with me here. If you could figure out if the kid wanted to be snuggled or sent on an errand, wouldn’t you kind of have life managed?

What I’m finding now is that it happens again in high school. Here’s my theory: growing up is a series of decisions about how a person wants to be treated. Kid or grown up? I mess this up every single day. I assume my students know more / can do more / are willing to stretch more than they know / can / will. They freak out. “Too much pressure!” Okay, so I’ve been treating them too Big. So I back off. I assume they know nothing and will try nothing, and they rebel. “We’re not idiots!” No. You’re not. You’re in the process of growing up. And Process is the key. (*Sometimes I get it right. Or right-ish. I try.)

If I can keep this in mind, and if I can strike a balance, for a class or a section or a kid, I can help that kid succeed in the moment. Just like when my kids were tiny, and really, really NEEDED to make their choices. If I could give my kid a couple of reasonable options, it was far more likely that the choice of the moment would end happily for both of us. (As opposed to, you know, “What would you like for lunch?” which could end in a variety of terrifying disagreements.)

So I’m searching for that balance. I’m seeking to do it respectfully – to give genuine adultish opportunities for those who are leaning that way, and to be patient about repeating the same directions a thousand times (and answering “why?” questions over and over) when they’re feeling needy. When they’re lucky, kids grow up in increments. They do it over and over, a little at a time. I need to learn to access and respect their place at the moment. And, if I’m being fair, I still have days when I want to get wrapped up in a blanket and snuggled. And plenty of times I have a fit when I think I’m being treated like a dumb kid. This may be a lifelong process, so it would be awesome if I could figure out how to do it right.

Open Letter to My Little Girl on Starting High School This Week

You’re doing it. High school. So, natch, I’m doing it – passing out advice. It’s more a list than a letter. Because you’re a busy girl and you’ve got places to go. Here are Things I Know about you starting high school. Ready?

1. Sometimes people are mean.

2. (This is WAY more important than #1) More people will be amazing, kind, and supportive than will be mean. But they might do it more quietly. Look for the amazing. Look for the kind. Point it out (to yourself or to someone else) and it will get louder. Make it louder – make it roar.

3. You are beautiful. This is more a “nice” thing than a “crucial” thing, but it’s something you’ll probably forget, and I don’t want you to forget it.

4. You are good company. People love to be around you.

5. You are capable of doing hard work, and you are capable of succeeding in all your efforts.

6. It was a Very Good Idea to join a team. Join one more. Be part of at least two things. Let those two things be part of you.

7. I pray for you every single day before you get to school. Look around. See those other kids? Someone is praying for them, too, even if it’s only me.

8. Hold on to your confidence. Some days it will get a little raggedy. I can help shine it up for you, but it’s your job to carry it. Always.

9. Never be ashamed of being a nerd.

10. You can have it all. You may not be able to have it all at once, but you can have it.

11. People will look at you. Assume they’re looking because they want to be your friend. This will not always be the case, but it’s okay to be wrong now and then.

12. You won’t regret the things you do that are motivated by kindness and love.

13. You know that we don’t live in a particularly culturally diverse place, but seek out the diversity and celebrate it.

14. You’ll get hurt. (You’ll get better.)

15. Embarrassing things happen. Laughing is first aid for the wounds of embarrassment. It won’t erase the embarrassing thing, but it might save your life.

16. Eye makeup? A little bit goes a long way. You know.

17. Eat breakfast. Eat lunch. Lots of plants. A little protein. Come home and have dinner at the table.

18. Everyone is going through something. Everyone. Imagine that written over every head (kid and adult) in the building and you’ll be more empathetic. It’s always good for us to be more empathetic.

19. It’s Human Teenage Nature to assume the world revolves around you. It’s not accurate, but it’s natural.

20. I will always get excited with you when The Boy asks for your number, or sends you a vague text, or wants you to go to the dance. I will always take your side when The Boy acts like an idiot. But remember the rules. They are your protection.

21. You are stronger than you think you are.

22. Sing something every day. In the shower, in guitar class, somewhere.

23. Keep reading. You have time.

24. I’m right in the middle of the English hall if you need me.

25. There are hundreds (HUNDREDS) of people I love in that building. There is no one I love more than you.

Open Letter to the High School Kid who Played Ball with my Boy

Thank you. I’m not talking to the You who was my student, or the You who is a poet. Right now I’m talking to the You my boy watches at the varsity basketball games. The You who makes effortless three-pointers. The You who smiles and congratulates other players who play well – on your team or the other. The You who calls little kids by their names, like they were your friends.

Last night you played basketball with my eleven-year-old son. You spent time with him, there at the Rec Center. You shot free throws with him. You dribbled with him. You complimented his efforts. And then you played one-on-one. You stood feet taller than him, but you didn’t laugh when he reached to block your shots – when his upraised hand didn’t even reach the top of your head. You held your arms out to “block” him, but you never got in the way of his shot. You celebrated his baskets. You kept score out loud – the score that stayed pretty close despite your vast skill difference. He won. He got to 30 before you. Do you have any idea what that meant to him? To me?

When we left and I asked him if he had fun, he grinned at me. Obviously. I asked him how much you spotted him. He didn’t know what I meant. “How many points did you start with?” I clarified.

“Oh, no, Mom. I didn’t get any free points, but I think he went easy on me.” (No kidding.)

You gave him your time. He felt important. And cool. And so, so grateful.

And I feel grateful. I thanked you when we left, but what I wanted to say is, “Way to go. Way to be a genuinely decent guy. Way to make someone’s day. Way to give a little of yourself to increase the gladness in someone else’s world.” So I’m saying it now. Thank you.

That hour you spent with my kid may not be anything you’ll ever remember, and it may not be an hour you’ll miss. But it will be a forever memory for him. And hopefully, when he’s a graduating senior and he meets a fifth grade kid who thinks he’s cool, he’ll remember what you did for him last night and pass it on. He’ll take a little of what he learned from you to increase the gladness in someone else’s world. He’ll pay it forward and he’ll think of you.

A Proud-Making Moment

My 10-year-old son just finished reading THE BOOK THIEF. He worked on it for several days, but it’s literacy month at his elementary school, so he’s got loads of external push for reading a bunch of minutes. Today he spent two and a half hours finishing it, and when he was done, he walked down the stairs, sighed a great 10-year-old sigh, said, “That was so good,” and climbed into my lap for a hug. I didn’t mention his flushed cheeks or the redness of his eyes. I told him “I know.” Because I do know. That is a brilliant piece of writing — a heart-filled work of art.

Tomorrow we will go to the Dollar Movies and watch the film adaptation. I’ll have the discussion about “different art forms” three or four more times, but I know it won’t change the disappointment he and his sisters will feel. They come from a line of people who feel personally offended by any change to favorite works of literature. Some of us grow out of it. Some of us don’t. Some of us slip in and out of the two camps — wishing things could be made visual in the precise way they play out in our heads for one story; being satisfied with a different vision for others. [1]

In any case, it makes me proud that he would tackle that book — all 550 pages, and that his heart is large enough to feel all the feels that go with it.

____

[1] For instance, I may never forgive the terrible adaptation of Kate DiCamillo’s brilliant DESPEREAUX; but I’d watch the film of HOLES over and over. (But, HOLES is really, really true to the book, thanks to Mr. Sachar’s screenwriting abilities; so, there you go.)

My Boy

The sunlight slides down-and-across the wall.
Partly reclined, I sit propped against four pillows
(one too hard, one too soft, one flat as paper,
and one Just Right)
writing notes on Whitman and Miss Emily Dickinson.

He comes in, grinning and waving,
and crawls in beside me,
bed-warm toes against my leg,
reading the words appearing on the screen.
Pointing out my typing errors.
Patiently waiting to tell me about building rockets in fourth grade.

When did I slip my left arm around him?
When did I let go the keypad?
Did I give him all my attention without even
paying
attention?

He stays. I type one-fingered.
It takes longer, we both notice.

So he places his left hand on the left-side keys,
fingers curved in perfect form,
and taps out the As, the Ts, the Es in each word
as I handle all the right-side rest.

This moment, with my boy in my arm and our
tousled morning-heads touching, our
hands neighborly on the keypad,
laughing at our spelling errors and our fumbled
attempts
at written communication …
this moment is one I want to hold

Forever.

To Be Nervous, or Not To Be Nervous…

That is the question, people.

Tomorrow I begin my first long-term subbing job. Will it be awesome? It will. Why?  Wait for it: It’s teaching AP English and Drama.

Guys. *Snort* THEY’RE PAYING ME FOR THIS!

I get to direct plays. And teach Shakespeare (along with other poetry, which can be amazing or terrifying, you know). And do grades and attendance. And coach monologue delivery. And park in the teacher lot. And hang out with my Kid 1 in 3 of her 8 classes. (She hasn’t decided just how much to love this yet. Ask her in a week.)

And mostly I’m not nervous at all, because I got to choose the Shakespeare play we will read, and I chose Hamlet, natch, because it’s my favorite. (Ophelia! Show me your broken heart right here, out loud. And then break mine, just for good measure! Polonius! You’re completely full of it, and when you’re right, it was almost certainly an accident! Rosencrantz! Gildenstern! I want to marry you both so I can have your names! Yorrick! Alas! Like that.)

So I think, I choose Not To Be (Nervous) and just enjoy the ride for the next six weeks.

What kind of choosing are you doing these days?

My poor kids.

So the Boy (he’s 8 — for 3 more weeks) is the only one in this house (well, besides me, on occasion) who has had a Real Haircut in the past decade. He had a trim (with a Free Haircut coupon) at the beginning of September. So, for the past week, I may have *possibly* nagged him a little about his copious neck hair. I’m telling you what, the boy can grow neck hair. So he finally agreed to let me cut his hairs tonight. Which I did.

Into a mullet.

Classic mullet, ala Batesville High School circa 1989. Except no perm in the back. Only mousse to shaggy it up. It was lovely. Truly.

The mullet, which was achieved by using a #3 blade cover in the center section of the back of his head, lasted as long as it took him to show his sisters, who were not as amused as I was by the whole thing. Husband considered taking a photo for posterity, but in his words, “let’s not encourage this.” I think he meant *me*.

Let me assure you that I understand I should not use my kids as a canvas for my own amusement.

I do understand this. But I do it anyway. Because they’re such GOOD canvasses.

So let it be done.