St. Paul and his old stories

My four-year-old asked me to spell “Oshkosh” for her the other day. We moved from there a few years ago; it’s a common enough word in our house, I suppose. Weird, but so are kids. I went with it.

“O-S,” I said, waiting for her. “S is like a snake, like this.” I drew one with my finger in the air. She copied it. “Then H.” You get it.

“Look! I spelled ‘Oshkosh’!” she said. She held it out to me: “I miss Oshkosh.”   

IMG_20160506_134207

I keep no fewer than 754 items on my coffee table at one time.

Bull-oh-knee, sister.

[…]

Wonder upon wonder; wonder after wonder

This semester, Mrs. H’s sixth-graders at Mt. Hope School in Lansing are “doing journalism” with me. While I’m volunteering there twice a month, I’ll be helping them form story ideas, learn to ask good questions, and write a story about the world around them.

The first day of our lesson, I turned the corner from the folk-tale lessons we did this winter. The two topics aren’t totally unrelated. A lot of information’s conveyed in a newspaper or storybook: what the writer values, what the culture considers important. The difference in reciting The Little Red Hen or writing about cafeteria fare is simply enabling a student to investigate what’s important to them.

P1010049

Like when I was an editor at a daily paper in Wisconsin, all good stories begin with some wondering. Any sentence that begins with “I wonder” is fair game — it’s like pitching a dozen story ideas to an editor and letting her choose the best one. 

“I’ll be your editor. So, what do you wonder about?” I waited. No one bit. “OK, I’ll start: I wonder how long some of the teachers at this school have been teaching. I wonder how the district can keep up with old school buildings.” Hands started going up. “Yes! What do you wonder about?”

“I wonder why cafeteria food is so bad,” someone said.

Another: “I wonder why this school building has a bomb shelter in the basement.”

“These are great. What else do you wonder?” Three-quarters of the kids’ arms shot up.

“I wonder why all the rich people live on this side of the street and all the poor people live on that side.” Oh. That got heavy fast.

[…]

A Big Nag, a namaste, an invitation

The Big Nag began a couple months ago; January maybe?

Let me back up. One morning, I was in one of Lansing’s elementary schools on a preschool tour. Louisa’s old enough to go next year and I’m old enough to see the value in free childcare, should we get in (please, sweet baby Jesus). This particular building is a public Montessori school called Wexford. Sounds very British (it’s not). Its neighborhood is near ours; it’s full of small, tired houses and potholes. Koi swim in a small pond outside the front door.

file0002102573717

On our visit, the principal walked Louisa and I by another fish tank in the lobby and into a preschool/ kindergarten room. I’d braced myself to see typical preschool fare: glitter glue, blocks, someone crying. I have children; I know what this looks like.

Instead, hear me: all was quiet. Children’s bodies lay in a loose circle on a big piece of carpet. Their little eyes were closed; they inhaled and exhaled at the teacher’s yoga instruction. We watched, mesmerized (my children are never this quiet, not even in sleep). After a minute, the class returned to “pretzel legs.”

Namaste, they all said.  

“What’s that word mean?” the teacher asked.  

A boy said, “It means, I see the good in you and you see the good in me.”

[…]

My white kids with their backpacks

Catholic grade school, mid 1990s. We were prepping for a field trip to a metro art museum: stay with your chaperone; be on your best behavior. And “When you see black people,” the teacher said to a sea of thirty white kids, “you just treat them like anyone else. Just say ‘hello’ if they say hello.”

I remember this because it was weird to me then, two years into living in the rural community. Sure, diversity in that rural area meant you might meet a Lutheran or a Baptist; someone whose ancestors disembarked at Ellis Island from England instead of Germany like so many of us with weird consonant-heavy last names painted on the sides of barns.

I want this to be a totally weird story for my kids, too. I want to someday tell my kids this story and have them go, “I can’t believe that happened.” So to do that, we’ve gotta seek to put ourselves in positions where we may or may not be the only white Christians from middle-class backgrounds in the room, right?

10852564_1006803459351439_1369385407_n

This isn’t an easy thing to write about, talk about, or live out — especially with kids who right now are more concerned about their Christmas lists (already) than their perspectives on diversity.

[…]

It’d be all out of context, this future-knowing stuff

 

 

Louisa was hiding under a blanket on the couch. “Where’s my Weezy? Where’s Weezy?” I called from the kitchen. She giggled. I came in and tickled the foot that was sticking out. I scooped her up: “Weeza!” And in a moment, looking into her eyes, I remembered how impossible this moment seemed four years ago. And I thought, “Wouldn’t it have been lovely to have this snapshot then? Wouldn’t I have slept better? My God …”

[…]

The three thousand who learn somewhere else, and we who live here anyway

I lugged a ladder around my house Monday morning, spraying vinegar water on the windows and wiping them clean with newspaper. It was the Sunday paper, and that matters because it wasn’t just the paper in my hands that left its ink on my fingers. I kept the front section on the front stoop under a Read more about The three thousand who learn somewhere else, and we who live here anyway[…]

We’re in so deep

11855614_10155855488710582_5523651218886830120_n

She stood stoically by the brick wall, a gaggle of giggly girls to her left. “Look at my new puppy backpack!” one girl shouted over and over to last year’s classmates as they walked by. Alice didn’t move much from the line Ms. W’s class was making outside the second-grade wing before their first day this morning.

She looked at her shiny new shoes, her yellow lunchbox with bicycles on it hanging by her knees. She sniffed. Her three-year-old sister sat at my feet.

 

Around the building stood Dave with Violet, outside the kindergarten wing.

We made it; we landed outside the school building today, sputtering and wiping the water from our brows.

[…]

Owning a piece of earth

We found the house taking a long detour home from worship on Sunday. When we turned on the street I thought, “I could live here.” Maples, the first in leaves, lined the street.

When we stopped outside the house, I thought, “I feel as if I already live here.”

An hour later, as we waited for the realtor to unlock the door, I felt my heart beat in my throat. Louisa was on my hip; we’d woken her from a nap to see this place, and she was groggy and her fist clung to my shirt. And inside, I kept saying, “Dave. This is it.”

They flipped light switches and pushed garage door buttons, and banged the side door open and shut going in and out, claiming the house with their informality. “Are we going to live here?!” the girls asked as they ran around the back yard. Louisa’s grogginess morphed into hyperactivity.

“I think we are,” we said.

This place is going to be home, God willing. 

[…]