popcorn and poetry

“I don’t like poetry; I like non-fiction,” our first-grader said as I scanned titles in the poetry section of the library. “I like animals.” I took it as a challenge. It’s national poetry month after all. The first book I grabbed was a book of animal poetry that looked like it held promise: animal poetry Some of the poems in this book qualify as nonfiction, though not all of them. But the pictures alone earned the book high marks with my two young book critics. Then I found a book of nature poems by an author we know and like, Jane Yolen: count rhyme The poems are fun, and it too has outstanding pictures. It was a quick read with some memorable poems, as was a similar title by the same author:   color rhymeWe’re likely to check both of them out again. Another winner was an anthology edited by Mary Ann Hoberman: forget me notsThis book has a lot of classics in it as well as contemporary poems, organized by topic. Some made us laugh out loud. I also appreciate the tips on memorizing poems, a skill too few people value these days. The book would make a great gift for the child in your life.

So last week when I suggested we read poetry, we had options. “Popcorn and poetry!” Our younger boy welcomed the idea but insisted that popcorn was a part of the package. We had my sister to thank for this, but I don’t mind a bit. There aren’t many things I enjoy more than sharing a book with my boys before bedtime.

We persuaded their daddy to join us. “Which do you like better – popcorn or poetry?” he asked.

“Both!” my four-year-old said.

making time for the important stuff

My freelance commitments have sort of been taking over my life for the past several weeks. (Very much not what I envisioned when I decided to stay home and take care of my kids rather than hire someone else to do it.) In recent days, to get everything done by deadline I’ve resorted to working mornings several days per week as my four-year-old is left to entertain himself.

Some independent play is good, but he already has scheduled quiet time from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. each day. So he’s been sharpening a lot of pencils, drawing more than ever and hovering nearby, adding to my guilt with questions like, “Mom when will you read me a book?” and “Can you be done now?” I do allow him to interrupt me from time to time. But I’ve found myself frustrated for seeing my son’s requests as interruptions.

One recent day, after I’d crossed some big tasks off my to-do list, my son and I took a walk. We wandered through the cemetery near our home with no agenda beyond enjoying the sunshine and being together.

As we turned to retrace our steps toward home, two Canadian geese flew overhead. We stopped to watch them flap their powerful wings. “Coo-ool” my son said. Then, “Activate Canadian goose power!” He extended his arms and started flapping them as if they were wings. I smiled to myself. Why do we lose the wonder of experiencing the world with four-year-old eyes? What a blessing it is to have someone remind me of the joy and beauty in this world, and to point out what I’m missing. In a blink of an eye we’ll be sending this boy to school and I can work for a seven-hour block without interruptions. I will miss moments like these.  And I’ll miss our Friday mornings at the library together. And I’ll miss… the interruptions.

My husband showed me a page from his textbook about the African view of time: “Time is not a monetary commodity but an experience to be shared with others.”

So even when I come across articles that suggest things like it doesn’t matter how much time parents spend with their children, I’m still planning to better guard my time with my family. Not only because I question the research, but also because those experiences shared with others bring a lot more richness to life than a slightly bigger pay check ever could.

black history month at our home

“What language were those people speaking?” my four-year-old asked me as we were driving home from Aldi this morning. He was talking about the couple I had a brief exchange with on our way out of the store.

“English,” I said. “They speak English, like us.”

“They speak English?” he asked.

“Yes, they speak our language but they have a different dialect — they speak Black English.”

There were no more questions. Until evening.

After dinner we read Coming Home: from the life of Langston Hughes. In the book, Floyd Cooper explained that Langston Hughes’ father went to live in Mexico because, as a black man, he was not allowed to practice law in Oklahoma.

“Because he speaks Black English?” my four-year-old asked.

Living in a biracial household, I think it’s more important than ever to address my children’s questions about race and skin color and culture head-on. And they get a dose of Black History Month each February. I make up the ‘curriculum’ as I go.

This year, we started out with reading a picture book version of The Negro Speaks of Rivers and then moved on to the biography of the author of the poem, Langston Hughes. I’m still looking for ideas of what topics to cover this month. That’s part of the adventure. I am expecting some interesting conversations along the way.

sharing a story and a game

As we were driving toward St. Paul’s east side, my seven-year-old son was in the back seat muttering something about having the worst mom ever. My four-year-old was in an equally foul mood, demanding to know why I hadn’t scraped all the frost off his window.

I turned on the radio. The announcer informed us that it felt like 18 degrees below zero at the moment and the wind chill advisory would be in effect until noon. “I told you we should have stayed home,” came the accusation from the back seat. No, we most definitely should not have stayed home, I thought. What we need right now is something to turn our eyes off of ourselves and our petty grievances.

When we arrived at our friends’ home, I got a grocery bag full of books (procured during a recent book drive) out of the trunk and we went inside.

We were greeted by a preschool and an elementary aged boy, their parents, one set of grandparents, an aunt and a few other relatives. Their boys and mine started pulling books out of the bag and previewing them. The children’s mother studied a board book about body systems, anatomy for kids basically. “These are the lungs?” she asked pointing to one of the diagrams.

“Yes, lungs,” I said. She studied each page of the board book. The grandfather had chosen a book as well.

One of the boys was looking through a book called 1000 Monsters. Soon four boys were watching the monsters change form as they flipped the three different segments that made up each page. After a bit, I picked out a level 2 graded reader with a cartoonish crocodile on the front. I read it aloud to everyone in the room. The words were easy enough that several of the adults could follow along. Many of them laughed at the end. They got the joke.

I told the mom that I read to my boys every day and that reading to your children – or even just paging through the books and talking about the pictures – helps kids do better in school, no matter which language she’s using.

“These books will help us with our education,” Na Ni Moo said. She already knew what I was trying to explain. She told me about the library that she used to go to while she lived in the refugee camp. She said she had learned a lot by reading library books. The best part was that there were books in her first language.

Then, behind me I heard, “Osprey power, activate!” My sons had introduced Eh Ku Moo to their animal powers game. What better way to spend part of your winter break than sharing a story and a game with friends?

speaking of Santa

Today I took my four-year-old in for his early childhood screening. The interviewer began the assessment with some small talk. She stated that Christmas is coming up and asked my son what he wants from Santa.

“Santa’s fake!” he told her. She started laughing. “I’ve never heard that answer before,” she said, looking at me rather than my son.

“Okay, so what do you want for Christmas?” she tried again.

“A sketch pad,” he said.

“What else?” she prompted.

“A Bible,” he said. At this point I started wondering if my boy thought he was saying what his mommy wanted to hear. I also started wondering what sort of judgments the interviewer was making about our family.

“Oh, I’d want one of those too,” she said. “What else?” By then, I was getting tired of the question. What are we teaching our children in this country? That Christmas is all about getting? In our family, we try to spend a lot more time talking about what we’re giving for gifts than discussing our wants.

I think my son was tired of the question too. “A box,” he said. Thankfully she let it go at that and moved on to her scripted questions.

Despite this awkward beginning, he scored well above the average four year old. I expected that — since we live in a place “where all the children are above average.” Now, I’ve just got to teach him not to break the news about Santa to his classmates. Thankfully, we’ve still got some time to work on that.

encouraging your kids to try new foods

I asked my boys for their input when I was selecting seeds for our garden in early spring. My older boy wanted carrots. Carrots seemed like a waste of precious garden space to me. I tried to talk him into something more interesting, but he didn’t waver. Carrots are his favorite vegetable. Raw only, thank you very much.

So we planted a short row of carrots. Our very prolific lemon cucumber vines almost covered them up, but we did have carrots to dig in late October.

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The biggest one weighted nearly a pound, I think. It made its way into a batch of carrot soup not long after we picked this book up at the library:

carrot soup

Of the eleven books we checked out that week, my preschooler asked for this one to be reread the most. On the last page, there’s a recipe for rabbit’s favorite carrot soup. So we made a half a batch one day.

You know that theory about having your kids involved in growing and cooking their food? It seems to hold true somewhat – they do tend to be willing to try new things when they’re involved in the decision making process. Both boys ate a small serving of the soup. The older boy even asked for seconds. And he suggested I write the recipe down before we turn the book in.

But when I offered them carrot soup the following day, they were willing to let their mom eat all the leftovers. I didn’t mind. It was the best carrot soup I’d ever made. (The first as well.)

some of the finest art materials around

This year, our leaf collecting was spurred on by story time. The librarian was reading books about fall. (No surprise there – everyone seems to be on the topic these days so we’ve been reading books about the season at ExploraTots and Kids at the Castle too.) Anyway, what caught my eye that particular day was one of the books the librarian didn’t read but had set aside. I picked it up and added it to our check-out pile.

leaf man 2

Since then my boys and I have been collecting leaves.

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We pick them up off streets and sidewalks whenever we go walking, press them, and turn them into art.

Ehlert’s book gives lots of ideas of what to do with the leaves. For example you can make a butterfly, fish or turtle.

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Buildings and jet planes are fair game too. (Use your imagination- that top of the building below looks like an onion dome, doesn’t it?) Also notice the bird in the lower right corner. My older son was most pleased with his bird.

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One evening I took the book and some leaves to share with friends from Burma. The eight-year-old girl in the family studied the examples from the picture book and made some lovely art. So did her brother and neighbors. They filled both sides of their papers.

Art project 4

The next day she began collecting leaves herself. I think she agrees with Ehlert and me that autumn leaves are some of the finest art materials around.