It takes all kinds

Every morning my older son, T, leaves the house at about 7:40 and walks half a block to pick up his friend R. Together, they walk another half block to pick up their friend F, and then the three of them walk together to school. These three have grown up together: they were born within 10 weeks of each other; they attended the same daycares, the same preschools, and now the same elementary school; they have sleepovers together, go to camps together and read books together. They are each the oldest in their family, and when they were babies their mothers (me, my friends) spent hours and hours together trying to make sense of our new world. They could not have more in common.

So this morning, when my guy had trouble getting out the door, I texted my friends to let them know he was running late. You see, the elementary school has this thing where the 4th graders have to give a short speech to the whole school – in French. The project was announced last week, and my son is really struggling with it. There have been a lot of tears (but he swears he is NOT afraid), and since they don’t give the speeches until April 17, I expect there will be more tears. As a parent, I don’t know quite how to help except to love him, offer what support I can, and remind him that he has done hard things before and he can do this one, too. And then I send him to school.

I’ve been assuming that his buddies are equally nervous about this BIG SPEECH. So today, I sent a text as he ran out the door, late. The responses from my friends – immediate, of course – made me laugh out loud with their clarity. Please meet our three children, friends since birth, practically the same age, who live within 100 metres of each other:

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It takes all kinds, my friends. It takes all kinds.

 

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Slice of Life, Day 27, March 2018

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for this wonderful month of inspiration.

Parkour Pedagogy

Today was parents’ day at the gym where my boys are taking a parkour class. This is hands-down their favourite hour of the week, and today I saw why: their instructor could teach a master class in pedagogy if he weren’t so busy running up walls. Here are some of his teaching moves:

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Establish a clear routine – the kids knew exactly where to go and what to do as class started. The coach pointed out what was different about today (“there are a lot of parents in the space”) and made suggestions about how to handle this (“so make sure you don’t accidentally kick anyone”).

Demonstrate – right away, he demonstrated something cool and new. The new vault was related to one they had already practiced, but it was a bit harder. And he gave an advance organizer (more on this later this week, probably) by telling them the plan for the session: “We’re going to practice all the vaults we’ve already learned and add some new ones. Then we’ll learn a new way to get up a wall.” He also set a purpose: “if you’re being attacked by, like, three bad guys and you need to get away, these moves will come in handy.” I scoffed, but the kids didn’t.

Connect new skills to prior knowledge – the instructor really shone here. First, he related the new skill to a previously mastered skill (a new vault was the next version of an easier vault). Next, he visually demonstrated the whole vault. Then he broke it down, showing the motion step by step and pointing out what was different from the previous skill. Finally, he used a metaphor that the kids related to – a fantastic way to connect new knowledge to old – pausing at important points in the vault demonstration and saying, “so, you don’t want to look like some girl on a piano in an old time movie (pause, pose – giggles); you want to look like Spiderman in a movie poster (pause, pose – oohs and aahs).” I heard one or two kids breathe the word “Spiderman” as they tried to remember where their foot was supposed to go.

Interleaving (Practicing an old skill and a new skill in connection – I could be accused of being a bit liberal with this definition her, but I’m ok with that.) The kids learned several new moves today (some of them nearly gave me a heart attack). In every case, they practiced the new move in combination with one at which they already had some competence. This meant that every attempt offered them a decent chance of some success and some failure.

Lots of practice – they ran around and around the circuit, practicing over and over. They actually ran until they were panting, something that is rare for my kids. There was time to jump and then time to watch others. And the coach had planned so that while he supported a new skill one-on-one (shimmying up between two walls), the kids independently practiced a skill they had already started but not mastered (running up a wall and heaving themselves to the top – Heaven help us all).

Which leads me to the next two things…

Failure is part of the practice – the coach openly talked about failure. He didn’t expect anyone to be immediately successful or succesful every time. He didn’t harp on this, it was just part of what was going to happen. He anticipated it (this will probably happen to you), planned for it (when it does, you should keep moving forward in the circuit; you’ll try it again the next time), and made it clear that any failure was not the last step of the activity. The learning would come. The kids fell over and over. They made mistake after mistake. In the whole hour, only one child got upset, and both the coach and the other kids reminded him that it was no big deal if he didn’t get the move this week.

Peer support – the coach moved around unhurriedly. After all, there was going to be enough practice time that he could observe each child. And the kids were busy helping each other. They gave plenty of high fives and compliments and showed a willingness to demonstrate or help a peer when asked. This meant that the coach wasn’t pressured to be everywhere at once and learning was happening all the time.

Consequences – At first I thought maybe parkour is just so dang cool that the coach doesn’t have to fight for their attention, but that wasn’t true. After all, he has a bunch of 7-10 year olds out there, and they have busy minds and bodies. And he really needs them to pay attention. (His motto is “Don’t Die”; parkour is not for the faint of heart.) So the consequence of not listening or not following the rules (four pushups) is non-judgmental and non-negotiable – AND it builds strength to do the desired activity.

Consolidation – after the skill-building portion, the coach set up a new circuit and allowed the kids to decide how to approach it. They independently chose which skills to practice – some kids ran the circuit trying to perfect the same moves over and over; others tried different versions every time.

Inspire – Finally, the coach showed them what the next step looks like, and sent them off convinced that practice would get them there. (My 7-year-old now wants to jump off of our roof, but that’s a different story altogether…)

Obviously the kids are signed up for this class again. And me? I’ll be at parents’ day, taking notes!

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This kid has been seriously inspired to practice – in every doorway he can find. Also, he wants you to see his cool parkour moves.

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Slice of Life, Day 26, March 2018

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for this wonderful month of inspiration.

The first kisses

I had some ideas for today’s slice, then I drove the swim team carpool. Nothing like a bunch of 9-year-olds to throw off your plans. 

Tonight as we left swim practice, one of the little girls kissed the other on the nose. They giggled. Then she came towards my son, the only boy in the group of three.

He said, “Don’t you dare kiss me” but she was on her way over before he even started to talk. She kissed his cheek. He wiped it off. “GROSS.”

She giggled. She kissed his arm. He wiped it off. “GROSS.”

The three of them tumbled through the hallways of the sportsplex, chasing and catching, twisting and turning, giggling and gasping.

She caught him and said, “Your choice: I can kiss you or I can lick you.”
He furrowed his brow, “Gross. I think I’d rather if you bit me.”

I tried not to laugh.

She kissed his shoulder. He twisted away but didn’t go far.

I wanted to be reasonable, to be appropriate, to talk of consent or, well, something. I said, “You know that it’s not ok to kiss someone who doesn’t want to be kissed.” Three sets of eyes looked at me pityingly. “WE KNOW.”

We got in the car. He sat in the middle. They whispered and giggled. As the door opened for her to get out, she kissed his cheek. “I’d rather you bit me!” he yelled after her. 

She just might, at that.

 

This is the first time I’ve seen him act like this. This is the first time he let himself be caught. Later, I reminded him that no one should be touched or kissed if they don’t want to be. He told me he knew. He said he “didn’t really mind.” Oh, my heart!

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Slice of Life, Day 21, March 2018

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for this wonderful month of inspiration.

Secure the school

The text message said “Kids’ school on lockdown shooter on the loose” and all the blood immediately drained out of my lips, my hands, my feet. I read it again. The blood pounded in my ears which was odd because I could feel it leaving my face.

I was in my office at school and some instinct told me I was not well, I needed help. I stood up and walked into the hallway. No one was there. Everyone was in class. I weaved towards the stairwell. Andrew found me. Sweet crazy Andrew who last year in Grade 9 English had discovered graphic novels and figured out allegory all on his own. Andrew who brought me that novel and said, “Miss, I really think that this bear and these lions mean something else.” Andrew who could see beyond the page to discover the unexpected. Andrew saw me. He saw beyond the teacher. His eyes widened in alarm and he ran to my side. “Miss, are you ok?”

No. There’s a shooter.

No, I’m not ok. There’s a shooter in my children’s school.

No.

Finally, “No,” I said out loud.

Poor Andrew, gawky Andrew who had grown inches over the summer, put his hand on my arm. “What should I do?”

“I think I need a grown up” was all I could manage.

Andrew said, “I think you need to stay with me. Come on, Ms Potts.” He grasped my upper arm and led me gently not to the nearest classroom but, he later told me, to the nearest teacher he trusted. He knocked respectfully and when the teacher came to the door he said, “Ms Potts is not ok.”

I was not ok. My colleague came forward and my legs gave out.

I don’t remember much after that.

I was in my office. My colleague was there. She was giving me water.

I was in one of the good chairs. The principal was there. I was telling him about the shooter. No, he said, no, no shooter in a school. My phone. I showed them my phone. They saw the message.

They checked the computer. Yes, there had been a shooting. Someone was dead. I couldn’t breathe. Near the school, it was near the school.

It was not in the school. I could breathe a little. I took little breaths, I was gasping. “Breathe!” said my colleague. “Breathe.”

I breathed. I could breathe. I could hear. Shooting. Monument. Went towards Parliament Hill. How many shooters? Where were they? Not in the school not in the school not in the school. The voices told me not in the school not in the school not in the school. I could breathe a little. I could hear again.

I started to cry. I am crying as I write this, years later. I cried and then I breathed. My hands were trembling, no, shaking. My fingers were white. My chest ached for breath.

I sat there for a long time as we made sense of what was going on. The reports were unclear, hurried, breathless. But none of them mentioned a school. No shooter was in the school.

Our office was crowded, crowded. I needed to walk. I walked. The Vice Principal, the curmudgeon not the kind one, saw me. “Come in, come in,” he hustled me into his office.

“Why are you so upset?” he barked. He does not like upset; he does not like tears.

“My children,” I said. “Their school is on lockdown,” I said. “A shooting,” I said, “only one kilometer away.”

“Nonsense,” he growled. “None of our schools are on lockdown.”

“But this one is, this one…”

He was impatient. He does not approve of overreaction. He believes in data, in facts. “What makes you think that?”

The text. I told him about the text, the news.

He bristled, “News media.” Harumph, grumble, growl. “Let’s review the facts here, Amanda. There are facts.” He turned his computer screen toward me. “This is the Board’s current status of schools. You can see as well as I can that no schools are on lockdown.”

I was getting a little angry at him. His stupid growling voice. His insistence that he was right and I was wrong.

“I see that, but I actually don’t believe it,” I snarled back.

“Ridiculous.” His pronouncement seemed final. Then he looked at me, almost unable to understand that I would not believe the screen in front of me, “Hold on.” He picked up the phone and called someone. “Are any of our schools on lockdown?” he barked. “No?” He looked directly at me. “Ok, thank you.” He hung up.

“There. Now, use your head. The public, the media, they don’t know what ‘lockdown’ means. They think everything is a lockdown. ‘Lockdown! Lockdown!’ It makes a good story. It scares everyone. Look at you!” He was on a roll. “You know better. We have levels! We have plans! Here, for example, at our school we’re on ‘shelter in place.’ Does a reporter know what that means? No! No, and they don’t care. They write “lockdown” and everyone goes to pieces. Your children’s school is on “secure the school.” They are safe. You need to calm down.”

He paused for a breath. I was getting angry. I needed to calm down? *I* needed to calm down? To calm down! I felt my jaw set. Energy coursed through my veins. I was just about to say something rash when he interrupted again. AGAIN. He is always interrupting. Oooh… that man.

“Now. Have you eaten lunch? Can you teach next period? Because if you’re not going to teach, I need to get someone to cover for you.” He was no longer looking directly at me. He slid his eyes over and sneaked a peek at me. He waited.

I was mad and then I started to laugh. I was still a little freaked out, but I was no longer in shock. I’d seen the school status, I’d heard the phone conversation, I knew he was right – and he’d managed to get my blood pumping again. I thought about my Grade 9 class. I thought about how scared they might be right now – the news had shooters running all over Ottawa, though later we would learn that there was only one. I knew my room would be safe for them, and I knew we could talk about it. I took a deep breath and said, “Yes. Yes, I can teach.”

I stood up to leave, started to walk out, turned and said, “Thank you.”

He nodded, already distracted by the computer screen, “They’re fine, Amanda. They are completely safe and fine.” And he went back to work – and, carefully, so did I.

My children were fine. They were more than fine. Their amazing teachers, a mere one kilometer from a shooting that rocked Canada, carried on without telling the kids what was happening. The kids came home from school saying things like, “Guess what? We got to watch a movie today!” They didn’t have a care in the world. I hope that I can have their teachers’ strength in the midst of a crisis.  I wrote their teachers and support staff a thank you note. It wasn’t nearly enough.

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Slice of Life, Day 20, March 2018

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for this wonderful month of inspiration.

 

 

Mini-slice, no pie

It’s pi day and this year I’ve been trying to explain to my kids what that means. We’re on vacation right now, and I suggested pie for dessert in honour of pi day. I was imagining cutting it and talking about diameter. So we went to the grocery store, where they chose Oreo ice cream and ice cream sandwiches. I said, “What about pi day?” They said, “Mom, we want ice cream.”

So we had ice cream.

Learning to love again

Once, when my older son was about 3, not long after his brother was born, he started a list of all the things he loved. He was inspired by the large roll of paper we were drawing on and the urgent need to capture the incredible greatness of everything. He dictated; I wrote. He had a LOT to share, and I had trouble keeping up. At one point he stopped to take a breath, looked over at me and commanded: “Mommy, you do it, too.” Good idea: next to his list, I wrote the heading “Things Mommy loves” and underlined it. I wrote 1. Then I hesitated.

“Love” is such a big word. There are many things I like, but things I love? I wanted his expansive, all-encompassing list, but I could only think “my children, my husband” in the most common and inane way. I wanted to feel his urgency, but instead I was mired in uncertainty, unwilling to commit, unable to generate even one thing. I rejected everything: yoga? I mean, I really enjoy it, but love it? Maybe ice cream? How silly is it to start with ice cream? Teaching? I love teaching, but what does it say that my list of things I love starts with my job? I got tangled in my own head and couldn’t get myself unstuck. My toddler loved THE WHOLE WORLD and I couldn’t write anything. I was exhausted and I was nearly in tears. My child had no interest in my existential crisis.

“Mommy!” His little voice was imperious. “Do you like fudge?”

“Well, yes,” I hesitated.

“Then write that down.”

And my love blew the world open again.

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This memory returned to me when I saw Elisabeth Ellington’s 12 things I love slice. I was inspired. (She, in turn, was inspired by Margaret Simon who was inspired by two others.) With a nod to those who came before me, and special gratitude to my son, who continues to teach me to love, here are 12 things I love.

12 Things I Love

  1. I love fudge. (Because even though if I stopped to think about it, I would probably list it under “likes”, it counts. Everything counts.)
  2. I love chai tea, creamy with milk, in the morning
  3. I love the way my 7-year-old hums and sings as he goes about his day.
  4. I love reading a book that’s so good I stay up past my bedtime or sneak paragraphs in the car before picking up the children.
  5. I love breakfast. I love that we eat breakfast together as a family. I love that we make big elaborate breakfasts on weekdays and then laze around and eat dry cereal on the weekends.
  6. I love when the phone rings and the caller ID tells me it’s one of my sisters or one of my best friends. I love that sliver of time before I press “talk” when I’m already smiling.
  7. I love ice cream. I especially love Breyer’s vanilla ice cream with real vanilla beans. Because that is the best.
  8. I love starry nights at the beach.
  9. I love teaching. I love being in the classroom, getting to know the kids, trying to figure them out, trying to show them why I love literature, helping them find their own voice and their own love.
  10. I love yoga. I love feeling my body stretch out and my mind pull in to focus on body and breath, breath and body.
  11. I love baths. Long, hot baths are one definition of luxury.
  12. I love.

 

Day 13 of the Slice of Life Challenge

Carrot-ing on

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I’m just going to leave this here at the top: I promise that we have tried everything. But…

I just found these carrots on the table near my son’s lunch bag.

Two lonely carrots.

This morning, they were half of a quartet, nestled into a shiny silver container, part of a brilliantly healthy lunch I provided for my darling child.

Who doesn’t eat vegetables. Or fruit. Or most meats. Or, honestly, many foods that aren’t beige. Except yogurt. He eats vanilla yogurt. And hamburgers. Plain hamburgers.

There was one amazing day in his 7 years on this planet when he wavered ever-so-slightly in his anti-vegetable convictions and said he would eat carrots.

To be precise, he said he would eat baby carrots, the “new” ones that look “wet.”

And he did: he ate carrots! For a week – or maybe two – the memory is a little hazy now, blurred by my euphoria, faded by time…

Because of course he stopped. And, being who he is, he now refuses to eat the carrots. Nevertheless, I continue to put carrots in his lunch, undeterred by their daily return, now a little dry and sad looking, languishing in the bottom of the container in the bottom of his bag. Every day, I add the carrots, three if they are “big”; four if they are “small.” (These are baby carrots; they are, by definition, not big. This fact is of no interest to my child.)

He does not eat them at school. Ever. He has not eaten carrots for lunch this entire school year. When he comes home, I open his lunch box and, ever hopeful, peer inside each container. Maybe today he ate an apple. Possibly he consumed some grapes. Finally, wearily, I check the carrots. They are always there.

I pick up the open container and go in search of the boy. I point out that he has not eaten his carrots. He agrees that this is the case. I tell him he must eat his carrots. Mostly, he consents to eat two.

I eat the other two.

Later, after he is asleep, I begin again. I open the fridge and remove four small, wet baby carrots. I nestle them into the shiny container. I tuck the container into his lunch bag. I send them to school, glaringly obvious in a sea of beige food.

Maybe today he will eat them.

PS – The 7-year-old in question has approved this post, though he wants you to know that I have exaggerated a little. His 9-year-old brother also approves this post, doesn’t believe there’s much exaggeration, and would like you to know that he eats everything.