Tag Archives: children

The Helpers, According to Mr. Rogers.

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“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”
– Mister Rogers

Grieving for all the precious little lives lost today, and praying for peace for their parents and families.

Not Knowing, According to Sagan.

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“Many adults are put off when youngsters pose scientific questions. Children ask why the sun is yellow, or what a dream is, or how deep you can dig a hole, or when is the world’s birthday, or why we have toes. Too many teachers and parents answer with irritation or ridicule, or quickly move on to something else. Why adults should pretend to omniscience before a five-year-old, I can’t for the life of me understand. What’s wrong with admitting that you don’t know? Children soon recognize that somehow this kind of question annoys many adults. A few more experiences like this, and another child has been lost to science. There are many better responses. If we have an idea of the answer, we could try to explain. If we don’t, we could go to the encyclopedia or the library. Or we might say to the child: ‘I don’t know the answer. Maybe no one knows. Maybe when you grow up, you’ll be the first to find out.'”

-Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as the Candle in the Dark

Happy Birthday, Mr. Dickens!

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Today is the 200th birthday of the great Charles Dickens! Not only is he one of my favorite authors EVER, but he’s also a writer whose works, much like Shakespeare, have permeated and remain a fixture in the culture of the English language. I bet you could ask almost any native English speaker to quote Dickens, and they could do so easily, spouting “God bless us, every one!” or “Please sir, I want some more,” without ever having read A Christmas Carol or Oliver Twist. Mr. Dickens was often called The Inimitable, because there was truly no one else who could write like he could. He wrote with humor and keen social observance, creating a deep and wide scope of characters from all walks of life, and he had an undeniable soft spot for children and the poor. And luckily for him, he had the rare opportunity to enjoy popularity and financial success during his lifetime. All of which is to say: Charles Dickens was awesome, and his life and his works are something to be celebrated!

Language.

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In my day-to-day life, I don’t hear a great deal of English spoken. Yes, people will speak to me in English when they realize that I don’t speak Dutch, but they are not native speakers, and honestly, that makes a bigger difference than you’d think. If I’m not speaking directly to someone, if I’m just walking down the street or standing in line at the supermarket, I hear a language that I don’t understand. I’m able to pick up a few words here and there, but it’s largely unintelligible to me. As a result, it’s become white noise, like one of those bedside machines that make waterfall noises to help ease you into sleep. It’s just a gentle whirring that doesn’t register on conscious level for me anymore. It’s strange not to be able to eavesdrop on people’s conversations, but it’s also kind of nice to not have to contend with that particular class of verbal distraction.

Because I’m able to block out most of the Dutch I hear as white noise, I’m able to do it in other countries I visit too. There have been a couple different occasions where I’ve looked around me, completely blocking out all sound in my mind, and have seen familiarity in people and things that aren’t familiar, and I’ve thought to myself “I could be anywhere in the United States right now if I didn’t know any better,” and then sometimes I pretend like I don’t know any better.

The only thing that really jolts me back to the reality of the foreignness of the place I’m in is hearing children speak. I walked behind a group of kindergarten-age children going on a field trip in Barcelona, and I sat next to a a few German pre-tweens on the U-Bahn in Berlin, and on both occasions I found myself staring at them, listening to the enthusiasm in their little voices and trying to wrap my head around the fact that they were communicating something to each other that has a comparable meaning in English, but that they probably couldn’t communicate that same thing to me, nor I to them. It has no reason to surprise me, but I often find that a child’s (whose understanding of their own language is still situated on a pretty simplistic level) mastery of a language that is completely strange and unknown to me is something that sort of surprises me, with regularity.

It feels like a horribly ethnocentric feeling on one hand, but on the other hand, I like that it surprises me. It makes me feel like I’m seeing things as a child would, with a sense of wonder and delight at commonplace and explainable occurrences that so often gets stamped out by adulthood. Isn’t something spectacular that the same sentiment can be expressed in so many different ways? Isn’t it something spectacular that, even being aware of that fact, the variations can still be a mystery to you? Language is something truly magical, and I’m grateful to be learning that in an uncommon way.

6 Confessions.

Well, everyone’s doing it (and by everyone, I mean Leigh-Ann, Kyla, Katie and Kelly-Ann), so if you can’t beat ‘em, you may as well join them, right?

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1. I’m a total grammar snob. It’s difficult for me to take someone seriously if they consistently misspell words or use them in the wrong context… it’s the pretentious English major in me.

2. I don’t care what anyone says, I absolutely adore Lady Gaga. She’s incredibly talented, she’s amazingly thoughtful and intentional about her art, and she’s a relentless advocate for a relentlessly marginalized group of people. Every time I listen to “Born This Way” I get choked up because it’s such a loving and affirming message for people who really need it.

3. I used to want to have ten kids when I grew up. I think big families are awesome. There are three kids in my family and my parents always say that they wish they had had more, so I figured if I had ten kids, I wouldn’t be in danger of wishing I’d had more too. The number has been whittled down to a mere four in the past couple years, and I still want kids someday, but I don’t want to get married (like, ever) so that may not happen.

4. When I was studying abroad in South Africa almost three years ago, I was proposed to by a South African. I met him in Stellenbosch and we played Jenga together at a pub called the Brazen Head. We started talking about families and as it turns out we both wanted a big family, so he asked me to marry him. He said he would give my parents cows as a dowry (!). I kind of thought he was joking, but he kept Facebooking me after that and referring to me as his fiancee, so I had to let him down easy and remind him that I was twenty years old and we lived on different continents. I found out that he died in a car accident about two months ago, and I was so sad. Meeting him and being proposed to by him was one of my fondest memories of South Africa.

5. I’m a really picky eater. Among the foods I can’t stand: olives, mushrooms, mayonnaise, alfredo pasta, tomatoes, pulled pork, ranch dressing, sushi, and anything/everything that could be classified as sea food.

6. I’m typing this at a laundromat. :)

Overzealous Parents and Getting Accepted to Nursery School.

If there was any doubt in your mind that the “cult of the child” is not a reality (and a disturbing one, at that), you are hereby required to watch the documentary Nursery University. The film follows several groups of parents in New York City who are frantically and obsessively trying to get their two- and three-year-old children into the elite nursery schools in the city, because they assume that starting out at the best nursery school will lead to the best elementary school which will lead to the best high school which will lead to the Ivy League. It is amazing how much emphasis these parents put on starting their children’s education on the right foot when their children aren’t even fully potty-trained yet, and what lengths they will go to in order to get their kids accepted into their (the parents’) first choice school. It is also horrifying. (Although, there is one particularly hilarious scene where one of the couples sits down to open the decision letters, and the husband explains to his wife, who is a native Argentinian, that big envelope packets usually mean acceptance, while little envelopes mean rejection. The wife then opens and reads aloud each of the seven little envelopes, all of which are acceptance letters.)

Throughout the whole film, my feelings were split between understanding these parents on an emotional level, and thinking they were just batty. I really do feel like all of the parents in this film had their hearts in the right place, and were willing to spare no expense (some NYC nursery schools cost $20,000 per semester!) in order to give their children every opportunity to succeed, which is really admirable. And I suppose it’s never too early to get a head-start on education. But at the same time, it worries me how early these parents are beginning to micromanage their children’s lives. There is no conclusive evidence that shows that children who attend a prestigious nursery school (if there even is such a thing) will go on to attend a prestigious college, and it takes a lot of the fun and frivolity out of being a kid when you’re being groomed for college before you’re even out of the crib. And if parents start micromanaging their kids at a young age, it sets a precedent of micromanagement that inhibits a child’s abilities to make their own mature decisions without parental intervention, and can keep them in a state of permanent infantility (Betty Friedan definitely talks about this in The Feminine Mystique). Also, there is the danger that these rich families that use nursery school as a funnel into the Ivy League are just furthering the nepotism of the private school network that seems to be especially heinous on the East Coast, teaching their children that having connections is the most important thing instead of working hard and earning their success. (In the film, one of the nursery schools did a random drawing to choose who would attend, which I thought was a wonderful way to go about it: it levels the playing field, so that no matter who has the most money or the best connections, everyone has an equal chance. I wish all schools were like that; it would make it so much easier for able students, who happen to be poor, to go on to higher education.) Money and connections can only get you so far before you have to actually prove yourself worthy. Just ask George W. Bush.

Basically every film I see is an opportunity for me to mine some future parenting skills, and I feel like this film gives me both sides of the spectrum, positive and negative. I’d love to hear anyone’s thoughts on this topic of over-parenting and education obsession.

a sense of wonder.

today i went to the seattle aquarium with my dad and my brother. none of us had ever been there before, and we had a wonderful time seeing all of the different marine life and my brother and i even got to touch some starfish and anemones in a tidal pool (!).

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photo courtesy of la maison bretonne

my favorite thing about my experience at the aquarium was observing the younger children that were there. my brother and i were way older than the majority of the kids there; most of them seemed to be between the ages of 3 and 9. their reactions to the fish in the aquariums were so precious. i heard multiple children say “nemo!” as they pointed to a clownfish, and i heard another girl, probably 5-years old, say “this fish is just beautiful!” and it seems like every child i passed, regardless of age, would see an animal or fish and say “mom, look at that! look!” or “dad, this is so cool!” i didn’t see any kids that looked bored; for all of them, the level of excitement was high.

watching and hearing these kids’ excitement made me kind of envious. they were so excited, and so amazed and impressed by everything, and i feel like that’s a quality that all children have but that they lose once they become adults. it makes sense: children encounter new things all the time because of the sheer fact that they have only been alive and conscience of their environment for a few years; with adults, after a certain point, it’s like nothing is surprising anymore, like we’ve seen it all. i would give anything to have a child’s sense of wonder, to be in awe of everything, to absorb everything without bias, to not be cynical.

i wonder if the jadedness of adulthood can be reversed, if one could make a conscious effort to alter their perception, to try to see everything as if through the eyes of a child. i think it’s something worth attempting to undertake. especially for one such as i, who is constantly disappointed by the failure of people and institutions to live up to my expectations. i think it could be good for my generally dour disposition, and for my writing. i’ll let you know how it goes.