|Source: Actors' Atelier.|
When I was 9, my grade 4 teacher taught us about the Falklands War. I think because it was a current thing going on. In my vivid, 9 year old storytelling brain, I literally imagined an Argentinian uncle into existence, and he was battling hard to drive out the evil British Empire from his land. (This, obviously, was before my severe anglophilia began...or was the start of it. Chicken/Egg.)
Uncle Pedro was a tango master, and he had a handsome mustache. He was burly and strong, but he'd often sang me sweet Spanish lullabies when I'd been an infant. I was still working out the details about (a) who's side of my family he was on--mother's or father's, and (b) how the heck my Welsh/German mother and my Welsh/Scottish/English father could possibly also have a brother who was Argentinian. And how did Pedro get from Pennsylvania, where my parents had both grown up, all the way to Argentina? Or how had my parents gotten from Argentina all the way to Pennsylvania? And why had Pedro not come with them? And why didn't the rest of us, Pedro's family, speak Spanish, just Pedro? And why were we all such poor dancers, if Pedro was a tango master?
I didn't care. In a 4th grader's brain, tiny little details like that are no matter. On the playground that day, I ran up to a bunch of teachers and wove my outrageous tale. I remember the teachers were astonished! Worried! Shocked, horrified, concerned, amazed, and impressed. But also...I could tell there was a gleam in their eyes; a twinkly sort of knowing. Now, as a teacher to youngsters who often do the same thing to me (just last week, a girl told me that over the weekend she and her family had a brief weekend getaway to Antarctica and they'd brought back some penguins...no matter that just two months ago we finished Mr. Popper's Penguins and her tale sorta kinda sounded like that one), today I know: those ladies knew I was totally bullshitting them. But I remember they were kind, and let me just own my crazy ass story and run with it...all the way to Argentina, if I'd wanted. By the end of the day, I think my imaginary Argentinian uncle was the new King of England. King Pedro, el Bigote. (I didn't speak much Spanish back then...now, I speak a lot, but I only understand 40% of what is said to me.)
The other day a little boy in my class brought me his misconduct note. For the sake of this story, we'll call that little boy David. He was supposed to take it home to be signed. He brought it back to school and it was signed all right. In 8 year old boy scrawl, and he'd misspelled his mom's name. "My mama signed it," he said.
"This is how your mama writes her name?" I said.
"My mama signed that."
"Is your mama's name David?"
"And why'd your mama spell her name all crazy, David? This name has too many letter A's in it and there's no H in her first name. This not how your mama usually spells her name."
"She spelling her name all crazy cuz she in a crazy mood last night."
"Uh huh. And she only had a pencil to write with?"
"Yeah. My mama like to write crazy with pencils. I tried to give her a pen but she say no, she need a pencil."
Unlike my kind 4th grade teachers, I could not let this tale slide. I appreciated the problem solving attempt, and typically I do reward children who show initiative with problem solving no matter the circumstances, but this misconduct was rather serious. And so I eventually got it out of him that he, actually, had signed it. And now you know what my days are like, Mondays through Fridays, August through May.
You know what's fabulous though, about imaginations? When something captures them and someone can't let go.
So last month, I read Peter Pan to my class. This month, I'm reading The Wizard of Oz. We are just at the part where Dorothy kills the witch (oooh! sorry! should have done: spoiler alert). But I had to stop because we needed to go to Physical Education. Before we left the room, though, I asked them questions about the Wicked Witch's character: specifically, was she really scary?
(Have you read the real L. Frank Baum's story? Not the abridged version, the REAL version. Because the Wicked Witch? She's a coward. She's evil and conniving, but she has others do her dirty work...she's also afraid of the Good Witch's kiss on Dorothy's forehead and the silver shoes because of their power, though she covets that power. And she's absolutely terrified of water--read the book to find out why.)
Most of my kids were fairly good in recognizing all of this about the witch, and making that connection to their own lives, about how sometimes you meet people who seem all big and bad ass but they're actually terrified little pissants who have no power but really desire to have it because they're all Ego. They think power means intimidation, and being mean or cruel, or making others feel weak and small. Yet in reality, that is them. They have no idea what real power is...but they covet it. (I promise what I just wrote there was all me, all my version of our class discussion--the actual conversation in 2nd grade today was far simpler.)
Then, one little boy got that WOW! look on his face--this is the look teachers crave and rarely see.
I asked him, "What? Why do you have that look on your face?" And he said: "Ms. S, the wicked witch is just like Captain Hook." (And here begins my real world example of when the young teach the old.) So I said, "How?"
He explained how she coveted Dorothy's shoes and power, just like Captain Hook coveted Peter's youth and wanted a mother. And that, just like the Wicked Witch, Captain Hook was actually very afraid--he was afraid of his own blood and the crocodile. But he was also afraid of death and getting old. And that's why he was so mean and cruel--he thought if he could scare enough people they wouldn't notice that he was so scared himself. (Again, that's all me, my paraphrasing--it was said much more simply this morning in 2nd grade boy words.)
Isn't that amazing! You guys! It was one of those glorious, happy teacher moments, where I wanted to take that little boy and make him King of Second Grade for the day. Except this little boy also has tremendous self-control issues, and my whole day would have gone bonkers and we had Friday quizzes to get through.
Later in the day, I asked him how he'd made that text-to-text connection, and he told me, "Because you read us Peter Pan and let us watch the movie, and now I can't stop imagining what it's like to be a pirate on Captain Hook's ship. And sometimes Jose and I play Captain Hook and Peter Pan on the playground."
O.M.G. I'm getting tears again just thinking of it. This. THIS!! It's moments like this that make me never ever want to stop being a teacher.
....and then later at recess, one little boy wrapped his arms around another little boy's neck and drop kicked him like a soccer ball to the ground and that's far too Reality for me, thanks.
I have no idea where I'm going with this. I just felt like writing and so I hopped over here. Later, when I'm done with this, I'll hop back on the story I'm working on right now.
It's about a girl who never wears her wedding ring but her husband always does. And why is that. (I've been asked to never ever put my day to day Real Life into my works of fiction, but I figure if I can use my imagination hard enough, I can write it so even the real life characters won't recognize themselves. It's the best part of being a writer, I feel.)