Poster paint kids in a watercolor world

My kid is all poster paint.  She’s bright, messy and loud. IMG She doesn’t stay much in the lines, and does everything with her fingers, and she’s almost 10.  Now, I am not one of those parents who thinks everything my child does is precious-I myself am a watercolor person.  I like subtlety, I like staying in the lines, and blending.  I shrink when we are out in public and H wants to do a ‘look at me’ show.  I die when she walks around with dirt and jam bedazzling her mouth and shirt.  And when you say “H!  have you SEEN yourself?” She says “huh?”  My daughter is the ying to my yang-she is is as different from me as could be.  She loves soccer balls like I loved baby dolls, and is as unconcerned with mess as I was obsessed with order at her age. I have to force her to sit and read, whereas the minute I could read, you rarely found me again without a book in hand.  But the most important difference between us is far deeper-she struggles with self regulation and curbing her impulses in ways I never did, for reasons that are not her fault.  She has an invisible disability, and it will haunt her her entire life.  But for once, I can relate to my kiddo.  And because of my mother’s wisdom, I hope I can protect her.

We are living now in educational pergatory-it’s not quite hell, but it’s far south of heaven.  In the dusty town we call home, plopping children into chairs five rows deep where they are expected to stay, and stuffing backpacks with multiple 200 page textbooks passes for education.  Anything outside this paradigm is looked at with suspicion, and children who cannot swim in this model sink.  There is no shallower water for them.  My daughter is one of these kids, and just yesterday, we received a document from her school with the ever so diplomatic phrase that “they had decided a change of pedagological environment would be recommended for miss H.”  Well, how nice of them to decide this for her.  How nice of the only school in the city who advertises that they work with special needs kids, to decide that my own dusty angel-who has in her meager 9 years  already changed last names twice, countries twice, and schools 4 times, to decide she would be BEST served by being kicked out of school.  Because, as her head teacher so elegantly put it in a parent’s meeting, she is not one of the children who DESERVES to continue on at the school.

Now like me, you may be asking, whathuh?  Is this a school for miniature politicians, in which they must campaign prove their worth?  Is this school run by the capitol? (If that were the case-H would would be the winning tribute, no doubt;)  But no-this is simply a school that has decided poster paint kids are messy, and they’re rather keep the watercolor kids, and clean house of the messy ones.  Of course, the fact that we as parents have lodged complaints against our daughter’s teacher with the ministry of education does not help.  But did this motivate the teacher to change her practices and do better?  No.  Because SHE does not need to campaign to be worthy.  For the real comedy in this little tragedy, let me tell you about a conversation we had with the “educational” team that politely told us our child was not welcome at their school.

Educational team: “Mr. and Mrs. D, we’ve given your daughter all the support we can this year, and she has just not made the improvement we were hoping for.  She continues to be very impulsive and has problems regulating herself.”

Mr. D: “I’m sorry.  What did you say?  Exactly what kind of “improvements” are looking for in a year?  Do you THINK she will “get better?”  She has damage to her BRAIN.”

Educational team. “Well, we understand that.  But she just doesn’t meet our stated policy of school conviviality.  We haven’t mentioned it before…but we have gotten lots of complaints from other parents about her touching their children aggressively.”

Mr D.: “Have you gotten any complaints from us? No?  Right.  Because H DOESN’T complain.  Doesn’t mean other kids aren’t aggressive to her. H learns from watching other kids, and imitates them.”

(Now, for those of you reading my little Greek play here-you should visualize the chorus being split into 2-on one side, a mob of children rolling on the ground, punching each other and yelling, and on the opposite side, a group of sanguine adults looking on but NEVER intervening in said behavior.)

Mr. D. “So basically, you are punishing a 9 year old with a disability, whom we brought to your school BECAUSE you deal with disabilities, for having a disability and not being “cured” within a year?”

Psychologist. “No, no, Mr. D.  We aren’t saying anything, really.  Because that’s our policy, not to say anything.  But what we are saying is that we can only handle 3 kids with disabilities in your child’s class, and this year there were 4.”

Mr. D: “And who’s fault was that?  And why have we never heard this before?”

Director: “Well, Mr. D. It’s all very unfortunate.  Now who enrolled you at the beginning of the year? Because they really should never have let you in without a lot more paperwork.”

Psychologist: “Now, Mr. D.  We have asked and asked you to take your daughter to the neurologist…”

Mr D: “The neurologost lives down south!  And only visits her office in the city near us on occassion.  (And costs lots o money).  And we DID get you a report from an occupational therapist with strategies you can use (but haven’t)…”

Psychologist: “Yes, yes; now we know you don’t WANT to medicate your daughter, but the neurologist could tell you how.”

And on and on and on.  At least my daughter has a medical REASON for being dense.  And she understands differences, and limitations.  And she adores the teacher we lodged a complaint against, because she gives her love freely, and looks for the good in people.  Did I mention that this school keeps a running log of any and everything “bad” they could find about my daughter’s behavior? And no, there is not a parallel log about the “good.”  So imagine you have a child with a short leg, who runs slowly because of it. And the school kept a record of every time that child was late somewhere because of their leg? And imagine, one day, that school sat that child’s parents down, and explained that, unfortunately, in the space of a year, the leg hadn’t grown.  And because it was really interfering with the class, that child would be needing to find another school.  But of course, there is no other school for that child, because they now have the baggage of a book they must take with them that has every “slow” thing they ever did written down.

I’d say we had a good start on writing a log for that school themselves.

When I was a child, I had an 80 percent hearing loss. But of course, no one could see it.  So my parents began to think I was ignoring them on purpose, and my teachers thought I was “slow.” Until the day my mother noticed my little sister speaking like a deaf person, so I could read her lips.  And it dawned on her.  “K can’t hear.” And sure enough, I couldn’t.  So when I went to Kindergarden, my mom pulled my teacher aside and said “K can’t hear, so you’ll need to put her up front so she can read your lips.”  And sure enough, a few weeks later, mom gets called to the school.

Teacher: “K is being very difficult, and not following instructions.”

Mom: “Where is she seated?”

Teacher: “At the back of the class.”

Poster paint kids are like deaf children in a world that thinks yelling will help.  It’s so much easier than making modifications that actually WILL help.  Sometimes I am guilty, because it’s been a really long time since I was deaf.  But even I know that you don’t ask a short legged child to grow a long leg.  And so, I ask forgiveness for all the poster paint kids I’ve ever tried to shout at, and kindness for my own child.  And of course, because this is Greek tragedy, vengeance on the schools that close their doors to them. I ask for the courage to be disliked.  This is my particular flaw, and an area where I will try to emulate my mother; she knows how to pick her battles.  I am a people pleaser by nature; it’s like a tic I have, to smile and smooth things over, when yelling and anger are called for.  My husband has a particular talent for demanding justice.  Someday I’ll make him a spandex body suit with “the avenger”  stitched across the chest.  He can flash it before he gets going, so people know what they’re in for.  I wish I had his talent.  I’m glad I at least married it!  There is such a thing a righteous anger; sometimes it’s the only language people will respond to.  It is certainly true in our city, where most people feel no particular obligation to offer any kind of service unless it suits them, even if that means you won’t get paid on time, or you’ll miss your flight, or your daughter will be in educational limbo.

On the other side of the coin, I ask blessings to the teachers who have listened, really listened when we offered strategies and asked for support-you become lifetime friends!  And if my own messy angel ever reads this, let it be known that the world NEEDS poster paint children.  They are perfect versions of themselves, and give us COLOR!


The Age of Innocence

I overheard my daughter talking with two friends yesterday about their classmates who *pish posh*;) don’t believe in Santa.  With world weary sighs, they gave each other “the look”, and began to come up with proofs that Santa is.  These included staying up as late as possible on the stairs with a computer and built in video camera-until of course it got very late (and the camera operator succumbed to sleep); empty cups of coke (apparently, in one house, Santa gets sick of the milk and appreciates the variety), and-the topper, a friend saw him, and reported it.  I think the eye witness takes the cake.Christmas 057

David Duncan wrote a marvelous short story in his collection River Teeth called “The Garbage Man’s daughter”.  It’s about a wary little girl who doesn’t believe in any of the usual suspects-not the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, nor Santa.  However, what she does believe in the garbage man’s daughter.  More specifically, she believes that the garbage man’s family subsists on the items he picks up from people’s homes, and thus begins a campaign to make sure said daughter is properly clothed and fed by leaving small well wrapped bundles of quality stuff on the top of the garbage can.  I love this little story, because it so accurately captures the inner workings of a child’s mind, and the elaborate logic that children employ to make sense of their worlds.  It is just like my daughter being absolutely convinced that faeries exist, and in the same breath disdaining unicorns.

Almost as much fun as the questionable logic of 9 year olds are age old traditions that are so familiar, we rarely stop to ask why.  In his gift to long road trips, David Sedaris wrote a brilliantly funny collection of short stories called “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” which includes an essay called Jesus Shaves.  (Click the link to read the whole thing, but make sure you don’t have any liquids in your mouth when you do!).  This little gem narrates Sedaris’s trials and tribulations learning french with a sadistic teacher, and in particular, their discovery of the absurd practices we take for granted.  My favorite section is when the students begin to compare holiday traditions, and find each other’s equally confounding.

Part of the problem had to do with grammar. Simple nouns such as cross and resurrection were beyond our grasp, let alone such complicated reflexive phrases as “To give of yourself your only begotten son.” Faced with the challenge of explaining the cornerstone of Christianity, we did what any self-respecting group of people might do. We talked about food instead.

“Easter is a party for to eat of the lamb,” the Italian nanny explained. “One, too, may eat of the chocolate.”
“And who brings the chocolate?” the teacher asked.
I knew the word, and so I raised my hand, saying, “The Rabbit of Easter. He bring of the chocolate.”
My classmates reacted as though I’d attributed the delivery to the Antichrist. They were mortified.
“A rabbit?” The teacher, assuming I’d used the wrong word, positioned her index fingers on top of her head, wiggling them as though they were ears.

“You mean one of these? A rabbit rabbit?”
“Well, sure,” I said. “He come in the night when one sleep on a bed. With a hand he have the basket and foods.”
The teacher sadly shook her head, as if this explained everything that was wrong with my country.

“No, no,” she said. “Here in France the chocolate is brought by the big bell that flies in from Rome.”
I called for a time-out. “But how do the bell know where you live?”
“Well,” she said, “how does a rabbit?” (Sedaris, 2000).

It’s a good question, right?  I mean, we all know the bunny doesn’t really bring the eggs, but why did we decide it should be a bunny?  Why not the easter lamb, or donkey?  Wouldn’t it make more sense?  At least France’s mythology makes sense!  Rome=church=resurrection=celebratory candy from Rome!  I don’t recall Jesus ever being referred to as the great bunny of Judah.  Here’s another thought to contemplate-why the tooth fairy?  In Chile, where we currently live, it’s the tooth mouse.  (And right here, I’d like to give a shout out to Disney for the addition of Cheese the mouse to Tinkerbell’s back story.  It has made our cross cultural transition much smoother;)

I should admit at this point in my rambling that I have strong suspicions about the origins of these stories.  When my daughter was smaller, she was a prolific “artist,” and while I appreciate her efforts, I do not need a painting a day, no matter how sentimental I may be.  And so I created a little convenient fiction for her (i.e. a big fat lie!) to get those paintings out of my house sans tears, that she continues to believe to this day.  Are you ready for it? (You just might want to take notes here, moms and dads): I told her about the art fairies.  You know-they pretty much live in the same time zone as the tooth fairies, only they collect art.  In fact, they probably hold exhibitions in conjunction, exhibiting the best art and teeth they have collected.  And the really great part is that they collect all this world class art for a very small fee-less than they’d pay for a tooth, and sometimes as little as a piece of gum.  It works, its fun, and it adds to the little canon of fantasy that already populates her childhood. Now, just in case you are taking notes, let me tell you what NOT to do.  Don’t leave those little teeth or pieces of paper where little hands and eyes can discover them “after.”   I made the mistake of keeping my kiddelinks teeth with my jewelry (does that seem creepy?)  and one day when she was rooting around to make mommy fancy, her eyes got very big.  Our conversation went something like this:

H: “MOMMY!  HOW did you get my tooth?”

Mommy: “Well, um, H, the fairies know that mommies are sentimental, and sometimes leave us teeth as a little  momento.”

H: “Nah uh mommy-this is MY tooth” (as a Gollemesque greedy little glint stole into her eye).

Mommy: “Nah uh H-you got your money, fair and square.  Tooth’s mine.”

H goes away for a little while, and comes back later.

H: “Tell you what, mommy, let me borrow that tooth, and I’ll share the money with you.”

Mommy: “H!  You can’t scam the tooth fairy!  That’s a mean trick, and you’ll never get money again if they find out.”

So, later on that evening, as I’m checking on my sweaty, sleeping little scam artist, I find a tiny note in tiny print right next to the tooth. “Deer tuth farie, this is my real tooth but I already gaved it to yu, but pleez give me just a little money.  Love H.”

My small criminal will soon be 10, and is still a naïve, gullible, whimsical kid.  Just yesterday, we were going down the street and she handed me her “leash” so she could be my baby dragon.  These are behaviours that the “too cool for school” crowd will slowly erode sooner than I would like.  I’ve seen it already, when H walks into a group of kids holding a baby doll.  It’s like sharks, as they sharpen their teeth and get ready to attack the soft one.  And equal parts of me want her to be calloused and hard, so they can’t hurt her, and open and vulnerable, so she is her authentic self.  What solution is there to this conundrum? We are going home in just a few short weeks to spend some long anticipated time with our American family-including Haley’s much younger cousins, who for a few wise and sensible reasons, do not believe in such nonsense as Santa Clause.  And I am bracing myself for the beginning of the end, as it seems unlikely the 4 year old will “keep the secret” from the 9 year old.

The wonder years set for each of us, but I suppose I can look forward to conspiring with my kiddo some day when she tells her own children about the “art” fairies, and be reminded about her own wonder years.  And perhaps that is why some of us take so much pleasure in the shine in our own children’s eyes when they talk about “el viejo pascuero” or the tooth fairy.  When H asks me if “he” is real, and I ask what do you think, I love the little light of possibility that illuminates her face-it’s the light of innocence. It makes me think of the lovely Emily Dickinson poem on the topic.

I dwell in Possibility–
A fairer House than Prose–
More numerous of Windows–
Superior–for Doors–

Of Chambers as the Cedars–
Impregnable of Eye–
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky–

Of Visitors–the fairest–
For Occupation–This–
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise–

May we all dwell in possibility this holiday season!

Works Cited:

Sedaris, David. “Me Talk Pretty One Day.” Me Talk Pretty One Day. New York: Little,

Brown, 2000. 166-173.