December 27, 2006

The Very Short Carnival of Kid Comedy

I have the honor of hosting the Carnival of Kid Comedy this week, but I'm afraid that I've had only one submission.

(And still I'm a day late in posting it!)

Perhaps we're all enjoying our kids instead of writing about them this Christmas.

Allow me to link to one of my favorite bloggers, David of Bruggie Tales. I don't know how he finds the time to spend with his many children and to write regularly about them, too, but he does, and in a clean, wry voice. On Christmas Eve he wrote about his five-year-old's plans for marriage.

We're having a wonderful Christmas (I hang on to all twelve days of it), and hope you are, too.

December 23, 2006

Carnival of Kid Comedy Is Coming

This blog will be hosting the Carnival of Kid Comedy on Tuesday, December 26. If you've posted any amusing stories about your children this holiday season, please send the following information to by midnight on Monday (Christmas!) night.

Your name:
Name of your blog:
URL of your blog:
Name of post:
URL of post:

More information about the carnival is here.


Christmas Pageant Politics

Jessica may play Mary in our church's Christmas pageant this year.

We're new in the very small church, and the father who is producing the pageant already had a girl in mind for Mary. The pageant will be modest, and last week we sat in the pews with other kids and parents as he assigned the parts. Eventually he said, “And that leaves Megan to play the part of Mary.”

“I want to be Mary,” called Jessica.

“We should probably have Megan be Mary,” he said. “You can be an angel. Angels get to wear the wings.”

“I want to be Mary,” said Jessica with a winning smile.

He sized up Jessica, a head shorter and visibly younger than Megan. “Well, Megan can read,” he replied.

“I can read,” piped Jessica.

“Megan's already taken some acting lessons,” he said, playing his trump. “Megan should really be Mary.”

Our trained instinct as parents is to teach our children respect and politeness: let others go first, share what you have, defer to adults.

But at some point, a deeper instinct kicks in, and we start to look out for our own. Perhaps the assumption about Jessica's lack of reading struck a nerve.

“Jessica's had acting lessons, too,” Camille said firmly.

And this is strictly true. Jessica had participated in a “Mini Movie Stars” program at a community center back in Chicago. There, some fearless young woman had attempted to herd Jessica and a dozen other four-year-olds into their roles in The Emperor's New Clothes.

As The First Thief, Jessica had chortled with sinister zeal:

Heh, heh, heh! Can't you see the cloth? Isn't it beautiful?

The villains always get the good lines.

So yes, strictly speaking, she has had acting lessons.

He backed down. “All right. Let's draw names for Mary from a hat,” he said. “Does anybody else want to be Mary?”

Now that it was a question of chance, two other girls entered the fray.

Of the four Marys in the hat, one of those last two was drawn. Victory made her shy, however, and she indicated some second thoughts. It was decided that she needed an understudy, and Jessica's name was drawn.

The shy Mary didn't make the first rehearsal, and Jessica played the walk to Bethlehem with a painful wince and a hand on her belly. (Where could she have picked that up?) We'll have to wait for Christmas Eve to find out whether she is ultimately chosen among women.

Poor Megan, alas, gets to wear the angel wings.

December 14, 2006

Robert Frost for Four-Year-Olds

When Nathaniel had just turned four, I introduced him to poetry. A great listener, he had already sat rapt through Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I started with a handful of Shel Silverstein's lyrics for kids, then one day pulled Robert Frost from the shelf.

First I read Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, maybe Frost's most accessible poem. Its bouncy, rhyming, iambic tetrameter might occur in Dr. Seuss. It is short. It paints a clear picture.

Of course it touches on dark things, and its storyline is unexciting: A man is going home with his horse when he stops and thinks. Then he continues going home.

The next night, Nathaniel surprised me by requesting more Frost. He may have been just delaying his bedtime, but he could as easily have pointed me toward the Silverstein book that still lay open. I read At Woodward's Gardens and tried to explain why a boy would taunt a caged monkey with a magnifying glass. He wanted more.

On a whim I read one of my favorites: Wild Grapes.

I should confess that I don't understand Wild Grapes. It describes a girl's moment of terror when she finds herself hanging from a high branch of a tree, unable to cling forever but afraid to let go. Her brother bends the tree and helps her down. She draws conclusions from the incident.

Wild Grapes doesn't rhyme and is longer and is quite abstract: a harder poem altogether.

But it hints at wonders: fear and revelation, the afterlife and forgiveness.

How do you read it to a boy of four? I decided just to plow through, reading aloud to myself, letting it wash over him. I hoped for a non-musical version of The Mozart Effect.

To my amazement, he scrutinized it carefully. “What's an ornament of grapes?” he interrupted. “What does that mean: 'stated in lengths of him'?” “What are banjo strings?”

He was grappling with it, but what could he possibly understand of this poem? A rush of images, perhaps. An occasional abstract noun. The rhythm of the words. His father's voice. The serenity of bedtime.

Now that he's eight, I'm afraid Nathaniel would have less patience with Wild Grapes.

Is a child who still reads picture books more content to view a disjointed stream of images? Is a toddler, still learning to speak, more attuned to, more satisfied by, the mere rhythm of words? Is a boy more open to mystery when the routine things of his everyday world—breakfast and furniture, fingers and shadows—still offer untold surprises?

He asked for another poem, but it was bedtime. “One more,” I said and turned to Frost's shortest lyric.

We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the Secret sits in the middle, and knows.

He looked at me expectantly, so I added “The End.”

His eyes went up skeptically. “But that was no poem at all!”

Already a critic.

(This blog got a nice mention in a recent Carnival of Kid Comedy.)

December 09, 2006

I Think They Call It a "Camisole"

We continue to struggle with the gender issues.

It's getting cold, and Camille recently bought me white, sleeveless undershirts for the winter. I never used to wear them, but I'm getting to like them.

Jessica first saw me in one the other morning before work and watched, bemused, while I hastily put on a sweater.

Finally I made to leave, but she stood in front of me.

“Dad. You're not.”

“Not what?” I said, maneuvering around her to grab my travel mug full of hot chocolate. I needed to go.

“It's a joke,” she insisted. “You're joking.”

Impatiently, I said, “What's a joke, honey? I love you. Be good today.” I reached for the door.

Her amusement was turning to wonder. “You're really wearing Mom's shirt to work?”

I missed it at first—she still emits the occasional non sequitur, after all, and parents learn to filter what they hear.

“Mom!” she called the alarm. “Dad's wearing your shirt! He's dressed like a girl. Look under his sweater!”

Ah, now I understood.

I kissed the top of her head and walked out, leaving Camille to sort out the details.

December 05, 2006

Completing First Grade

Our first homeschool evaluation last May was a bit anti-climactic, actually, but I want to share the experience in case any other beginning New Hampshire homeschoolers are wondering about what they're getting into.

We located our evaluator when Homeschool Scholars in Concord hosted an information session. Camille took comfort in meeting the evaluator before signing her on. I believe the only criteria for evaluators is that they need to be certified teachers.

The evaluator scheduled a half-hour meeting at our house. It actually ran an hour.

The session didn't involve any testing of Nathaniel, just a portfolio review. Camille had assembled all of Nathaniel's “school work” from the year, including:

  • Filled-out workbook pages

  • List of books we had read to him

  • List of books he had read on his own

  • List of field trips with descriptions of what he had learned

  • Notes he had made on science experiments

  • Pictures he had drawn and sculptures he had made

The evaluator arrived with her six-year old daughter, who played outside with our kids during the meeting. Apart from shaking the evaluator's hand when she arrived, Nathaniel did not interact with her.

Camille walked her through the portfolio.

Then the evaluator explained that the formal results of the evaluation would be short and legalistic: “Nathaniel has shown age-appropriate learning advances” or something to that effect.

(The actual statement that arrived weeks later was only slightly more detailed. A few errors in grammar and spelling made us wince, but it was otherwise unremarkable.)

After the formal review was done, however, the evaluator became more personal, discussing different options in math curricula, offering advice on how to improve our planning in second grade, and complimenting Camille on a job well done.

She was especially impressed with the 24 field trips that Nathaniel took in six months. (To us, it didn't feel like many!)

Incidentally, thanks to Kim at Life in a Shoe for hosting this week's Carnival of Kid Comedy.