Tag Archives: 1990’s childhood

The Fall: a True Story

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I woke up in a room filled to the ceiling with colorful balloons and flower arrangements and a beautiful bandaged girl sitting up in the bed across mine. Both of her legs were up in slings and she was surrounded by family and friends. I looked over at my mom and asked “where’s the hundred dollars you promised me?”*  Then the girl told me her story. She broke both arms and legs as a result of pushing her little brother out of the way of a speeding truck. He only suffered a small scratch. She was lucky to be alive. 

“How’d you break your arm?” The hero asked, sincerely interested and attentive. I felt heat rise to my face as everyone’s eyes turned to my cast, reminding me of my clumsiness.

“Oh. I just tripped”.

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The summer of ’92, I tripped over an exposed tree root and broke my elbow. In school, the kids with broken bones got the best of everything: they got to leave class early, got to be first in the hot lunch line, and best of all, they were always surrounded by other students oohing and aaaahing at their story. Then we went on summer vacation.

We had just immigrated to the United States following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, my birth place, and after a series of serendipitous events, my grandmother, mother, and I landed in the town of Johnston. People assumed I was a native speaker even though I had only been here for a year. When a classmate described a math problem as “a piece of cake”, I took it literally and demanded loudly, “where’s the cake?” 

My mom was incredulous- I had the tendency towards dramatics as a child. Breaking a bone is searing rawness. The pain took my breath away, for that long moment of silence my lungs stretched to catch up with my body, my mom thought I was still playing a game. Once the air was released, my throat squeezed out an animalistic guttural sound reverberating throughout the parking lot. My mom ran over to where I stood and demanded answers.To her, I was disturbing the peace of a quiet suburban park on a sunny afternoon. 

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“I broke it” I stammered.

“You didn’t break anything, let me see”, she demanded, forcing me to let go of what was once my intact limb. After seeing the unnatural fall and bend of my arm, her face turned white. We rushed to the emergency room less than a mile away. My mother, who a year previous confidently kidnapped me from my father during a war, defying her family, was now so panicked, she forgot which direction to drive to the urgent care. The waiting area was a dimly lit room lined with empty chairs, save a few moms shielding sniffly children. The seen-it all-before woman at the window responded to our pleas by flatly asking us to find a seat and wait. After the x-rays confirmed the obvious, I was sent home with a temporary cast and instructions to get myself to a real hospital. Once back at the house we shared with my grandmother, aunt, uncle, and baby cousin, I leapt through the house showcasing my temporary cast, nearly tripping over myself in excitement. I heard a loud thud as my mother fainted, the weight of our fall catching up with her. 

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The summer before, bombs were falling on Kuwait City, and I just happened to be at my mom’s house. My parents divorced when I was too young to remember, the details of domestic unrest and emotional abuse still hidden from me, but I went back and forth to their houses. My dad’s house was fun, but the best part of being at my mom’s house was the nearby toy store and my favorite art supply shop, both of which were damaged when the bombs fell.

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A few months into our new life in Rhode Island, my mom found me in the kitchen feverishly dialing random numbers into the phone.

“What are you doing?”

“Calling baba” I snapped, pounding away numbers while pressing the receiver even harder into my ear.

“What? Why?”

“I am ready to go home now”

  “Going back? Why do you want to go back?”

“I want to see Baba! All the other kids have their Baba but I don’t, I want my Baba!”

This must be some misunderstanding. To me, America was a cold place with mean kids that I was just visiting, the fact that this was my home now went against everything I believed. After all of my struggles with learning a new language; bundling up in the snow, coloring with crayons instead of markers, I was supposed to be rewarded with going home. If I could’ve formed words in that moment, I would’ve said that it wasn’t just about my dad, but about my grandmother, who was particular about how a girl is supposed to act, my grandfather, that would look the other way when I cut off all my barbie’s hair in protest. You know what mama?  I snooped in the cupboard and there was a brand new art set that grandma said she was saving for my birthday…and it had watercolors…I know it’s still waiting for me.

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That night, my aunt and uncle were called down to my bedside. My uncle is so tall he needed to drop down on to his knees to face me. He placed his hand on my shoulder and said “I can be your Baba habibti, please don’t cry.”

When the bombs fell, that was the end of family picnics at the beach at dusk, the end of sharing chocolate bars with friends outside of class that were half melted from the midday heat, the end of playing outside our high rise apartment building with the children of neighbors my mom grew up with. This dank basement of my uncle’s house couldn’t possibly be where we stay. 

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The journey out of Kuwait took place after weeks of driving through desert check points, navigating armed guards, waiting in endless lines at embassies, staying at beat down hotels, the homes of friends or extended family. The only routine being the lack of routine, each night laying in a different bed, beside my mom or other children, surrounded by mosquito netting in compete darkness, hungry buzzing at my ears lulling me to sleep. I remember feeling the distinct sensations of vertigo, falling and floating upside down while my body lay still, spinning while falling, falling, falling. 

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Jasmines were in bloom in Amman during our journey

I needed surgery to set my elbow. The break was millimeters away from being a compound fracture. Compound fractures are terrible, bloody affairs when the bone breaks and also exits the skin….so close. That summer passed slowly with an itchy cast up my left arm, covering everything from knuckle to shoulder. I wasn’t allowed to get it wet, because the fancy water proof cast was for people who could afford it, and I was a recent immigrant whose tourist visa ran out with a mom who worked under the table. My developing swimming skills put on hold as my arm lazily floated around in my uncle’s pool while tightly wrapped in a plastic stop and shop bag. The weeks turned into months of sponge baths and my grandmother tightly braiding my hair. I fell backwards into a more helpless version of myself.

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That summer, I learned that when expectations, families, or bones fall apart, they won’t ever go back together the same way. There are three bones that form the elbow joint: the humerus of the upper arm, the paired radius and ulna bones of the forearm. I needed three thick metal pins to hold my bones together while it set back in place. When I finally got the cast taken off, my skin was pale and wrinkly. My arm, thin and limp. The doctor said the procedure was called a realignment; when extra cells are sent to the site of the break to actually make it a denser area of bone. Stronger.

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Although my cast had been off by the time school started up again, I had a raised scar in the shape of an L marking where my forearm and upper arm meet.There is also a cluster of scars at the base of my elbow where the metal pins once were. Over the years the scar shrank and flattened out, eventually becoming another part of my skin’s landscape.

 

  • According to my mom, I was nervous about going under for surgery so she reassured me by saying “when you wake up, I’ll give you a hundred dollars”. She assumed I would be too drugged up to remember. The first thing I asked for when I came to was “where’s my hundred dollars?” 
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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?

 

 

The Power of Reading: My response to Neil Gaiman’s ‘Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming’

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Reading Rainbow was the bomb...

Reading Rainbow was the bomb…

As a teacher, (and a young one at that),  I often wonder what makes schooling today so much different than when I was in school. No matter where I’ ve taught ( charter or public school, Urban or Suburban…) , its all so very different than when I was in school, which was again, not that long ago ( graduated in ’07’) !      So, I was pretty moved after reading Neil Gaiman’s lecture in the Guardian
 ( http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/15/neil-gaiman-future-libraries-reading-daydreaming)  I think it touches on I i’ve  why the gap between educational experiences is ever widening.
One of the main differences I’ve seen is the school culture around reading and appreciating fiction has vastly changed… whether through the take over of standardized testing or the push for an English curriculum that values informational texts over creative texts; its impacts are far reaching and speak volumes about what how we see ourselves and connect to each other.   I remember reading endlessly and being read to from all teachers in all subjects, I remember being the audiance to several school sponsered puppet shows, storytellers, and fairytale events.   I remember library being an actual class where we learned to work the card cataloge and put together multistep projects and work as a team.
reading in the 90's was wicked awesome!

reading in the 90’s was wicked awesome!

What is interesting to me is that as a Palestinian woman  growing up in post 9/11 America, I didnt realize that is wasn’t my work as an undergrad antiwar activist or as a spokesperson for students for justice in Palestine that was going to spark a revolution, but my imaginiation that will. How empowering it is to be reminded that one of the most revolutionary things I could be doing right now is exactly what I’ve worked on and wanted to do all my life; “make stuff up and write it down”.
ok, so what this wasnt a book? still pretty great...

ok, so what this wasnt a book? still pretty great…

When Gaiman states, “We need our children to get onto the reading ladder: anything that they enjoy reading will move them up, rung by rung, into literacy” I am reminded of how I was taught to teach- just hook kids into reading anyways, anyhow… ( so I had creative control and freedom of what I was teaching them)    It was life or death…  and for the group of students I primary taught it was.  It didnt matter if I got teens reading graphic novels, or those hood novels which some schools thought were too violent…just get them to read!  Now its about reading informational articles that are short and boring as hell… last year, the public school had me teaching a scripted cooperate program ( so much for creative freedom or even professional respect) about polar bear habitats to English language learners in the 7th grade.  This was supposed to be an English class… and yes getting poor students  of color in Providence reading is life or death:
                      “The prison industry needs to plan its future growth – how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners  are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldn’t read. And certainly couldn’t read for pleasure.”
The most important thing reading did for me anyways is to build empathy with others.  I didnt know a lick of English when I immigrated from Kuwait and didn’t understand a thing about American culture.  Needless to say there were times growing up I felt awkwardly lonely and very misunderstood. Gaiman says that [reading helps] “you get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well.”  That other world, for me, was America.
Alex Mack was the BEST

Alex Mack was the BEST

He goes to say, “you’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.”
I certainly was.
I learned about the Black struggle through fiction, about slavery and immigration and other wars and other times besides my own.  I wasn’t simply born political by way of nationality as others like to joke ( Ive known many a palestinian with sucky politics…) Reading helped me form my own thoughts and ideas about the way things could be.  Reading provided me with the background and the historical context I needed to build from, its not only personal experiences that shape one’s politics, its all these things and more.
 Reading fiction assured me I wasnt alone, that I had a place, that there were others out there like me who I could one day connect with, organize with, change the world with… This was revolutionary given how cut off my mom and I lived from any Arab or Muslim community, how sedated my suburban white environment actually was and how drowning that felt as a youth.  Reading was my savoir, the key that unlocked the wider world and my future possibilities.  More than anything reading fiction gave me hope, it taught me that “the world doesn’t have to be like this. Things can be different.”
My son and his friend with Big Nazo puppets at PRONK festival, imagining a different world...

My son and his friend with Big Nazo puppets at PRONK festival, imagining a different world…

Gaiman goes on to talk about reading as a form of escapism, arguing that “escapist fiction opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real.”  As a child witness to war and domestic violence and now as a teacher of students with varying levels of  trauma, Ild agree that reading is certainly a real way to cope with and in turn, change reality.
I wholeheartidly reccommend reading Gaiman’s lecture.  Here’s the link again: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/15/neil-gaiman-future-libraries-reading-daydreaming
                      “Fiction is the lie that tells the truth, after all” and the truth is, all of us, whether or not we are teachers or writers, have the power to imagine and create a better world and the obligation to provide for others to do the same.
Sunset over Providence

Folks marching at Providence PRONK festival