January 30, 2011

Our Week with The Poem Farm: Sunday

I'm very grateful to Amy at The Poem Farm for sharing her own poems this week and for offering comments so generously to Nathaniel and Jessica on their poems. We've really enjoyed participating in this group effort. I hope we try something like this again.

Sneeze at a Sparkler
by Jessica

On top of the fourth of July
All covered with fireworks
I lost my poor sparkler
When somebody sneezed

It rolled off my hand
And onto the grass
And then my poor sparkler
Exploded with pizazz

And then my poor sparkler
Rolled off of the hill
And there it grew into
A tree that grew sparklers

So here's a little tip:
When you're playing with a sparkler
Don't let anybody sneeze!

Watching My Crabs
by Nathaniel

Falcon-fast when in need of speed
These little critters don't need a lead

Sometimes hungry, sometimes not
Sometimes they leave their food to rot

Their constant love to explore
Is to the watcher sometimes a bore

Their tunnels are usually where they take their tour
If they meet, there might be some gore.

Scurry, scurry, scurry all day
They love to explore their life away.

Shakespeare in Our Kitchen

In sixth grade I thought I read Hamlet.

Shakespeare was a famous name to me, nothing more, and I think I saw some personal challenge in reading this most famous of grown-up writers.

When my book report came back, Mrs. Miller explained, very gently, that I hadn't read Hamlet at all.

I had found the wrong library shelf. My book was a historical study of the staging of Shakespeare. Seeing a title like Hamlet: A Performance History, I mistook it for the real thing. And there were bits of the real thing in there, but only bits, out of order, and buried among bits of other plays and lots of commentary.

A whole book about...another book? This was unexpected.

Skip ahead 30 years, and Camille and I have just read Macbeth aloud with our children, neither of them quite as old as I when I had attempted Hamlet.

Our kids are more familiar with how plays work, having seen many live dramas and musicals. (Homeschoolers buy tickets at the heavily discounted school rates.)

Initially wary, Nathaniel warmed enough to create costumes and two prop knives—a clean "before" and a blood-stained "after" version. Jessica embraced the role of Lady Macbeth a little too eagerly. Over the course of several nights we invited friends to read some of the parts, enlisted stuffed animals and dolls to stand in for characters, and compared notes from different editions while stumbling through the language.

We made delicious mistakes:
  • Banquo's issue, referring to his descendants, was read as Banquo's tissue. Sneezing jokes ensued.
  •  That business in your bosoms became the more intestinal business in your bottoms.
  •  The blessings that hang about the king's throne were, about our kitchen table, no longer sundry but sun-dried.
  •  When I asked for ideas about what a hurley burley might be, Jessica looked offended that I should ask, then hulked her lanky ten-year old body into a bicep-flexing pose and said, "You know, a hurley burley! A big tough guy with muscles."

    And we were victorious! I don't pretend that any of us understood every word. But we got through it, followed the basic plot, and even discussed a handful of poetic images and plot parallels. Shakespeare migrated from the mysterious unknown into something recognizable. 

    In college I was struggling to read Karl Marx when a biographical detail struck me. A fan of Shakespeare, Marx insisted that his children know all the plays.

    Recalling my sixth-grade failure, I tried to imagine that. Were the whole family geniuses? Did other kids ridicule the young Marxes?

    Above all, what sort of weird parents read Shakespeare with their children?

    Now I have kids of my own, and the older they get, the more certain I am that homeschooling, well, weirdens them. I just hope it's in a wonderful way.

    January 29, 2011

    Our Week with The Poem Farm: Saturday

    I've been delighted and surprised to see the different structures and forms our kids have tried during their collaboration with The Poem Farm this week. Most surprising of all, perhaps, was to see Nathaniel take on the voice of a crab's shell or to see Jessica speak to a firework. I admire their imagination.

    Philadelphia, July 4, 1777
    by Jessica

    Thirteen ships a-sailing
    Among the waters so blue

    Thirteen cannons shot out
    As many people who had shed
    Red blood for our country
    Watched the crew

    Thirteen American flags fluttered
    On white sails as our nation grew

    Hooray! All thirteen states are free!
    And so are you and me!

    What Would I Do?
    by Nathaniel

    What would I do if my crabs grew three times their size every day?
    What would I do if my crabs started spitting up clay?
    What would I do if my crabs killed each other in a duel?
    What would I do if my crabs tore up my sheets while I was at school?

    What would I do if they fell down the loo?
    What would I do? What would I do?

    The King of Pop and Taylor Swift

    On the way home from choir practice, the radio news played a report related to the investigation of Michael Jackson's death.

    Jessica, still surfing the gregarious wave that an ocean of thirty girls roiling for two hours will kick up, started to prattle.

    "Michael Jackson. I don't know much about Michael Jackson. He was a singer and he's dead now and he had five brothers and they were called the Jackson 5 and he had plastic surgery but I don't really know much about that and he looked kind of weird that is all I know I don't know very much about Michael Jackson."

    Our kids really don't see much TV or Internet. I'm still amazed at what they absorb.

    "And he kissed Mom," I added.

    This is a fact. When Camille was a very young girl in an aisle seat, The Jackson 5 ran into the audience, and an almost-as-young Michael kissed her cheek. Camille's siblings validate the account.

    "I KNOW! HE KISSED MOM! ISN'T THAT GREAT! He's like a sell-uh, what's that word, a sell-uh-britty or something, IT'S ALMOST LIKE MOM KISSED TAYLOR SWIFT!"

    January 28, 2011

    Our Week with The Poem Farm: Friday

    As part of our participation with Amy LV at The Poem Farm, today Jessica pens an acrostic, and Nathaniel opts for a conversational poem.

    Is there a word for a conversational poem—one in which two voices just talk back and forth? Some of Robert Frost's poems come to my mind right away, like The Telephone.

    Fourth of July
    by Jessica



    YEAR 1776

    A Conversation Between My Crabs
    by Nathaniel

    “I want to.”
    “No, I.”

    “I want to be held.”
    “But so do I.”

    “Oh, here he comes!”
    “We’d better hide!”

    “No, I’d better stand on this rock.
    "Then maybe he’ll take me outside.”

    “Get off!  Get off!
    "I want to stand there.”

    “But so do I.”

    January 27, 2011

    Our Week with The Poem Farm: Thursday

    What Do They Do at Night?
    by Nathaniel

    They make such a racket during the night
    Sometimes I wonder what they do at twilight

    Do they talk?  Do they dig?  Do they play hide-and-seek?
    Oh how I want to take a peek!

    If I Were You
    by Jessica

    If I were you, I would be able to burst into a million colors

    And if you like me, you would throw your colors around me
    As if I were dressed in a rainbow

    You would lift me up into the deep indigo sky and keep me there,
    So I could be a firework too.

    In cooperation with The Poem Farm, Jessica has been writing every day this week about the Fourth of July, and Nathaniel about hermit crabs. (Last Independence Day we actually missed the fireworks. I'm starting to wonder if we scarred Jessica.)

    January 26, 2011

    Our Week with The Poem Farm: Wednesday

    A Haiku by Jessica

    Flying sparks, don’t touch.
    Could burn your hand, ouch, don’t touch.
    Be careful, don’t touch.

    Pick Me
    by Nathaniel

    I'm shinier than the rest
    I'm roomy and colorful

    Clean and sturdy
    I wait for you

    I need you to come to me,
    Little crab

    The sea of my kind
    Blankets the sand

    I am only one in this sea of shells
    Pick me

    January 25, 2011

    Our Week with The Poem Farm: Tuesday

    by Jessica

    Flying in the sky
    A mile high

    Green, pink, and red
    “Holy cow!” I said

    God’s men
    Doing great works of art

    Looking up at colors
    You say, “Amen.”

    I Am a Hermit Crab
    by Nathaniel

    I love to dig
    Tunnel after tunnel
    I love to dig

    I love to climb
    Everything in sight
    I love to climb

    I love to explore
    Every inch of ground
    I love to explore

    Our Week with The Poem Farm: Monday

    Our kids are taking on The Poem Farm's challenge to write seven poems in seven days about one topic.

    Observing a Hermit Crab
    by Nathaniel, 12

    Scuttling down the beach
    And up a rock
    Into the water
    And out again

    Up and down the beach
    Day ‘til night
    Up and down the beach
    Day ‘til night

    The Fourth of July
    by Jessica, 10 and a half

    Red, white, and blue
    Banners passing through

    Laughs and fun
    Laughs and fun
    All my chores are done

    Picnics in grass
    Tubas made of brass

    Lots and lots of fireworks
    Dancing in the sky

    January 08, 2011

    Moments of Childishness

    Jessica emerges from brushing her teeth to the kitchen where I'm wiping down a counter.

    "Dad, look at me." She's cheerful and eager and slightly bouncing with excitement. "Is this my tongue or is it a piece of candy between your teeth? I mean my teeth."

    She grins proudly. In the middle of the grin she's clenching hard on the tip of her tongue. Bright red from the biting (or is her new fluoride rinse red?) it looks almost like a hard candy stuck onto her front teeth.

    I roll my eyes and answer "It's your tongue."

    It retracts, and her eyes flicker sincere disappointment before she says in mock anger, "I can't believe you got it!" and stomps off to her bedroom.

    Immediately I'm a little sorry I didn't play along.

    Because these moments of true childishness—the ones that happen when she invents a funny face instead of brushing her teeth, or when Nathaniel mutters mechanically "God bless me" after sneezing, or when their first instinct as I approach any room is to hide and startle me—these moments are becoming rare.

    Poise and self-awareness are still newcomers to our house. I welcome them, but I'm a little sad to see them taking my children away.

    January 01, 2011

    My Sippy Cup Habit

    My switch to sippy cups wasn't planned. The kids were still toddlers, and I wanted some orange juice as I headed out early one morning, and the fancy travel mug that always leaks and dribbles onto my tie was dirty, and I was in a hurry.

    I’d like to say there was a moment when I recognized the wisdom of the sippy—when I had to to avoid a deer on the snowy road, for instance, and my juice shot harmlessly out of my hand into the windshield as I swerved to safety—but in truth there was no such turning point. I just gradually came to appreciate that the sippy cup made a lot more sense than the stainless travel mug.

    It fits in the cup holders. It doesn’t break if you drop it on the pavement as you get out of the car. And no matter how forcefully and awkwardly it falls, it never leaks more than a drop or two. Nothing compares: next time you’re in Starbucks, see how tightly that little white lid clings to your cup when somebody in need of caffeine opens a door into you.

    I am a grown-up, and I don’t want to give the wrong impression. I don’t gnaw on the bit that fits into my mouth, so my sippies are free of tooth marks. My cup never has that slimy sheen that reveals its owner as someone who hasn’t yet adopted the fork. Those little vacuum plugs that prevent leakage entirely? Not in my cup—those are for babies.

    Occasionally when I’m at a stoplight, head tilted back, cheeks pumping slightly while I suckle an iced coffee, I’ll sense another driver looking at me. At first I suspected mockery, but I finally confronted one of these gapers by peeking sideways around my cup. I took him in: the gleaming chrome chopper, the leather tassels blowing gently, the studded gloves working the throttle, the impossibly small, hemispherical helmet. When our eyes finally met, I saw only deferential respect, and sure enough he flashed the peace sign before roaring away.

    Recently I set a sippy on the conference table when I joined a video call with some European colleagues at 4:30 in the morning. It was the green one with the hot pink lid, and I like to think it added some color to an otherwise dry meeting.

    Our kids drink their milk out of glasses now, and for years my wife had been threatening to throw away the battered sippies. She finally did on Christmas Eve. A lesser man might have made a scene, but I trusted in my spouse’s love. In my stocking the following morning I found two new Gerbers: the top-of-the-line, 12-ounce models.