Category Archives: Childhood

Once upon a Time…

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“Media are major industries, generating profits and employment, they provide us with most of our information about the political process, and they offer us ideas, images and representations (both factual and fiction) that inevitably shape our view of reality.” (David Buckingham, Media Education)

I immigrated to the United States in the fall of 1990.  Iraq invaded our adopted country of Kuwait (my family was originally from Palestine) in August of that summer and after weeks of fleeing and general bureaucratic drama we finally landed in little Rhode Island, making us refugees twice in three generations.

The most memorable part (even though there were many) of leaving the only home I ever knew in Kuwait was the fact that I was only allowed to bring one toy and one book along on that journey.  This was a tall order, an only child and grandchild who (until then), but been lavished with every toy, craft, and Barbie dream house set available in the 80’s.  I spurned the cabbage patch kids and Barbie bedroom set for the soft and cuddly panda bear I aptly named Dabdoob. (Doob is Arabic for bear).

The infamous Dabdoob posing with a photo of my youngest child

The infamous Dabdoob posing with a photo of my youngest child

I provided emotional support to poor little Dabdoob (he was a bit guileless in his young years) on the journey out of Kuwait; military checkpoints, arid desert heat, custody battles, embassy lines, patriarchy, you know the usual…and the main way I did that was by reading to him.

The book I chose was my favorite at the time, Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid.  Now, before we get any farther, I need to clarify this was NOT the Disney version.  Happily ever after was ambiguous for the Little Mermaid, who ended up essentially sacrificing her life for that of her love, the prince.  You can read this version Here. It was clear that even at that young age, I already had deeply entrenched ideas about gender, female power (or lack of it), and societal expectations.

A mermaid has not an immortal soul, nor can she obtain one unless she wins the love of a human being. On the power of another hangs her eternal destiny.

I mean you may as well take out “mermaid” and replace it with female here and take it from there.

Unseen she kissed the forehead of her bride, and fanned the prince, and then mounted with the other children of the air to a rosy cloud that floated through the aether

Yup, here she is, giving it all up so that the prince can have this other lady while she floated through the aether until she can earn an immortal soul…

anyone wanna tell her they are other fish in the sea...?!

anyone wanna tell her they are other fish in the sea…?!

 

Well, needless to say, Dabdoob was totally taken by it, but I wasn’t buying any of it. I liked my princesses strong and loud with big badass hair but it would be another twenty years before Hollywood and the general media caught up.  At least it kept us occupied while my mom replenished our water supply in the intense August heat, or when we ran out of gas on the outskirts of Bagdad.  The familiar story lulled us to sleep in the back of my mom’s read Honda at the desert sky darkened and filled with stars.

Flash forward a couple months in America, I found myself repeating first grade since I had zero English. I have vivid memories of my teacher being really nice and patient. For one of our projects that year she had us write stories.  My oral English was fine, but I hadn’t mastered reading or writing yet.  She let me tell her my story while she transcribed my words for me to copy down later and this was the result:

The Poor Princess

The Poor Princess.  Wait? Is she levatating?

 

 

And here is the story page by page:

 

dat penminship tho

dat penmanship tho

 

story-2

 

What's better than a cookie eating monster vanqushing princess?

What’s better than a cookie eating monster vanquishing princess?

 

story-3

 

story-4

 

happily-ever-after

Big hair dont care

 

last

The end.

The princess didn’t need anyone’s help, just her own ability to eat a magic cookie. BAM!

In 2nd grade I created a princess that was also able to enlist the help of forest creatures and the natural environment to kick invading colonial forces (okay, an evil witch) out of her land- er, castle.

I wrote this one is 2nd grade!

There was ALWAYS a princess...

The princess was made a refugee, wonder where I got that idea from?! Ha!

 

My stories have gotten more complex over the years (probably not by much!) But the ideas of going against the general or popular grain of social expectations, especially ones reflected in the media remains at the heart of my writing. Dabdoob is not impressed though, he doesn’t like making waves.

Before the war, surrounded by my bday loot!

Before the war, surrounded by my bday loot!

 

 

 

 

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Kids These Days

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Kids These Days (2015)

magic

Light as a feather, stiff as a board

Anything could happen child, anything could be.

My child today: my brown boy one day brown man-child

Days after news of school shootings. Weeks after and before another Black person slain

Talked about emergencies, running to his aunt’s house that is close to his school, knowing how to get there

I respond in jest: yeah in case something happens, like what? like alien invasion, bad robots, things like that?

He says that is not real

it will be a man with a gun that causes me to run he says.

These days,  is there still room for magic?

How do I let her in?
like a nervous alley cat?

Do I open a can of tuna, leave the door cracked and hope it will want my food enough to

wander in?

Please, I pray

For his sake and mine.

Won’t you wander in?

 

gorey

My Kindergarden Freak Out…part II

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I started drafting this post last winter… when I sill pregnant with Meena and overwhelmed with teaching full-time and juggling family life… as a result it sat in my drafts folder, but our recent decision to apply to an independent/private school sent me back here to finally complete this post!

Dec. 2014

Things with my son’s  school came to a head recently…I want to preface this my adding that I am currently 35 weeks pregnant… so the stress is not needed… after an awful situation regarding physically restraining my 5-year-old ( after he refused to take a time out), I had enough and pulled him out of that disorganized brand new charter and put him in our local public school.  Nothing unsafe has happened in the public schools and im grateful for the public oversight required of a public institution our taxes already pay for.

Welcome to my Kindergarden freakout!

Welcome to my kindergarten freak out!

The world of education has always felt contentious to me, but I never would have guessed that Kindergarten would feel like such a war! There has been a palpable difference between my teacher training and classroom experiences before and after the  “no child left behind” nonsense.

The problem is that it’s  policy makers and corporations making changes to education as opposed to the educators and professionals that studied human development and have experience with pedagogy.

As a result of our family’s experiences, I have become morally opposed to the way charter schools become approved in Rhode Island and I have always been opposed to “mayoral academies” and didn’t know we were stepping into that in the summer.

I am confident in my son’s resilience and flexibility and know he will be fine in most places. It’s not so much about what’s best for just my son, but now with baby #2 coming, for the whole family.  I don’t want to continue to feel this level of frantic confusion and stress so our local public school might be our best option for now. I have resigned myself to the notion that I (not alone anyways) can’t demand that a school stop using crap common core and bring back imaginative play, creative learning and recess. I cant on my own- force the public schools to stop teaching to the test and pushing screen time on students before they are ready.  I can’t force my own ideas about education on a system that puts business over what’s right for children.  This type of fight requires a collective of organized parents and citizens, one that will take time, will send us flaying and might falter, but might also ultimately win the type of education for our children that we can all be proud of.

Through this experience I have learned much- most importantly, I came out of this trusting my instinct even more ( a precious commodity these days I’ve learned) , being on my son’s side is really important being his voice and advocate, as my husband pointed out- we are his main source of support.

no child left behind

Teaching to the test-starting in early ed…

Is this what we are allowing to happen?

Is this what we are allowing to happen?

great piece on importance of recess:

http://www.commondreams.org/views/2014/10/06/let-children-play-schools-must-relearn-importance-recess

My son learning through play during the

My son learning through play during the “good ol days” of Pre-K

Wise words

Wise words

learning at the children's museum

learning at the children’s museum

Fall 2015

Where we are now is out of survival mode but back in “where is recess mode”. I reached out to the PTO about the crazy amount of homework for st grades and only 15 minutes of recess but I feel like by the time we get enough parents on board my poor child will be in highschool! So he will be off to an independent school for 2nd grade… to be continued!

READ the 1st part of my Kindergarden Freakout HERE: https://nowapproachingprovidence.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/hey-where-did-childhood-go-my-kindergarten-freak-out/

Horizon

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Etymology of Hoizon is listed as: bound, limit, divide, separate and limit of view.

 

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I am trying to stay positive in the face of uncertainty,

stay clear headed and patient in the face of parenting responsibilities.

Creative in the face of harsh realities

 

And then there’s Meena.

There is no question that child was wrought out of pure love.

I am so grateful for him. For his presence.

 For his warm squishy body next to mine at night

for his big goofy giggles,

for his squels at Ali or cuddles with Chris.

 

Life is not this or that, not black or white.

 It’s energy, light, flow

and always, always movement.

 

I will long for a snapshot of this feeling, this love long after it might pass

Long after I get grey and achy

Long after he outgrows my lap and his chubby cheeks.

The bittersweet passage of time.

How hard I tug and pull to get to the next horizon only to look back and remember what I forgot.

 

How is it some of us can hold so much love, so much light, while others simply can not?

 

Water on Mars. Plastic in oceans.

Families huddled along borders, waiting.

Pushing and pulling against tides, against horizons

 

Can we evolve to something different? Something we have never experienced before?

How much can our container hold?  

 

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Hey! Where Did Childhood go? My Kindergarten Freak Out…

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OH praise the heavens!!!  I am no longer freaking out about kindergarten options for my son. Partly because I am just numb with freaking out at this point, but also because we lucked out and got into a small ( just starting up) charter school close to work, that uses responsive classroom and will have curriculum written by folks from the RI Writing Project, a place I used to work at and love during my undergrad college years. But honestly, the best part of it for me is that 4 other kids that my son is already friends with are also going to attend.

old fashioned messy childhood...

old fashioned messy childhood…

Now, I know that being a teacher means that I might be super picky about schooling options for my children…  but I surprised myself  by what did and didn’t get included in the equation.

I didnt freak out :

-my kid generally attending a full school day, (he has been in full time childcare of a couple years now)

-Peers, making friends

-academic readiness ( kids get it when they get it…)

BUT, what  did freak out about was 2 things:

– No playtime ( 15 min of recess ALL day)

-Testing starting in November!

This hit me in my gut, this no play time thing, because what I assumed everyone knew was that children learn through play! Not to mention that everyone seems to be talking about the plague of childhood obesity, not enough time in the outdoors, too much screen time, ect… I just didn’t think our public schools would also be contributing to these national problems… I innocently assumed that attending elementary school today would be like when I attended elementary school in the early 1990s… oh silly me!

my dream treehouse…ahhh the '90's :)

my dream treehouse…ahhh the ’90’s 🙂

Even some of our much coveted alternative charter schools were only offering 15 min of recess ALL day.  Sheeesh! Most folks remember free play time as being the main tenant of their early school years.  All this led me to ask , ” Hey! Where didnt childhood go?”

Our neighborhood library if often packed with children and pre-teens gaming on computers, yet our parks, playgrounds, backyards and side streets are silent.  not that long ago, I remember the ways my friends and I basically ran the streets in the afternoon and evening hours.  we spent time climbing trees, exploring the woods around our homes, rode bikes, played basketball.. we spent so much time outside!

will playdough go out of business?

will playdough go out of business?

Although many of us had gaming systems at home, we prefered to roam outdoors.  Some parents raise the issue of safety especially in a city- but we had the same possible dangers of traffic, strangers and peer fights, back in the 1990’s but we still played outside.  These risks are always going to be there, but the opportunity to roam, freely and independently as a young person has a short window of time.

I feel like kids are more likely to get poison ivy than in serious trouble while playing outside, but fear seems to have grabbed a hold on the almighty parent imagination. It makes me very sad to think that the days of a “free range” childhood have come to an end.  I don’t want to raise my children in a world of fear and strict boundaries.  But, what does one do when your the only household that is okay with your child roaming freely, playing outside while other parents keep their kids in impossibly busy schedule or close to home?  All these would be easier to digest if it didnt also happen to coincide with restricted outside or free play time in schools.  I cringe to think of the long term  health and social effects on this generation in the years to come.

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Other writers exploring this issue:

Why is Narcissism Increasing Among Young Americans?       http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201401/why-is-narcissism-increasing-among-young-americans?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Freedom-to-Learn+%28Freedom+to+Learn%29

Decision to Make?  Ask your Body:  http://lauragraceweldon.com/2014/01/16/decision-to-make-ask-your-body/

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Decline in play: From   http://www.parentingscience.com/benefits-of-play.html

Over the past several decades, we have witnessed a continuous and, overall, dramatic decline in children’s freedom and  opportunities to play with other children, undirected by adults.  In other essays I have linked this decline to the well-documented rise in depression and anxiety among children and adolescents (here) and to the recently documented decline in creativity(here). Free play is the primary means by which children learn to control their own lives, solve their own problems, and deal effectively with fear and anger—and thereby protect themselves from prolonged anxiety and depression.

                                       Play, by definition, is always voluntary, and that means that players are always free to quit.  If you can’t quit, it’s not play.  All normal children have a strong biological drive to play with other children.   In such play, every child knows that the others can quit at any time and will quit if they are not happy.  Therefore, to keep the fun going, each child is motivated to keep the other children happy.  To do that, children must listen to one another, read into what they are saying, and, in general, get into one another’s mind so as to know what the other wants and doesn’t want.  If a child fails at that and consistently bullies others or doesn’t take their views into account, the others will quit, leaving the offending child alone.  This is powerful punishment that leads the offender to try harder next time to see from others’ points of view.  Thus, in their social play, children continuously practice and build upon their abilities to empathize, negotiate, and cooperate.

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more on the cognitive benefits of play:     http://www.parentingscience.com/benefits-of-play.html

What do you think?