Friday, June 14, 2013

smoothies and wrinkles

Our plan was to have muffins and smoothies on the porch in our pjs even if it was already an embarrassingly late hour for breakfast.  I was rounding up all of the kids from their favorite just them places in the house, Nicholas and Julia both in their rooms and Elliott at the dining table, where he had a full chaotic spread of art supplies and a growing stack of unsuccessful and successful drawings.

As I walked about the house to collect each of them, the smell of muffins wafting along with me, I realized just how strange the sounds of the house were, but also familiar, as I had grown accustomed to these sounds over the past few days.

It was quite noisy in the house.  There were three rather loud vocal performances coming from each of the children's spaces.  An elderly woman's voice was coming from behind Julia's door.  A deep toned British man was telling Nicholas stories of battles between dragons and humans.  And Elliott was listening to probably the most dramatic of storytellers, voices of anthropomorphized pigs and birds and cats and one very kind hearted and tender old man.  The voices were loud and out of synch with each other, as though they were embroiled in a story war, trying to blot out the sounds of the other storytellers.

Nicholas is currently working his way through the audio version of Christopher Paolini's Inheritance cycle.  He and Jonathan are both listening to the series at the same time, but not together.  Jonathan on his way to and from work and Nicholas in his room while he fiddles and creates with Legos.  I have not read it yet, and I find myself a bit jealous when I hear them talking about their shock, outrage, and enjoyment of a plot twist or development.  Nicholas has told me that the intensity of the third book in the series, the one is he currently listening to, is high, which I think is a code word between us that means it is gorey, violent, and disturbing.  And that likely I would wonder whether it is appropriate for him to be reading if I were to hear it myself.

Julia recently made her mommy proud, as it was a personal favorite when I was her age, by listening to A Wrinkle in Time.  She loves Meg, the female heroine, and she gets all sparkly-eyed when she talks about her.  Nicholas had also listened to this book last week.  Julia had moved on the the next book in the series that morning, A Wind in the Door.  She was in her room listening, sorting her beads into bins that we scored at a tag sale last weekend while visiting my parents.

Elliott was downstairs at the dining table drawing.  He is currently working through a series of pictures of the characters from his last audio book, Dragon Rider, drawing scene after scene of the world in which dragons and humans meet, as told by Cornelia Funke.  He does this with longer unillustrated books we read, especially with books about creatures and animals.  Drawing picture after picture, working through the books, it seems to me, by turning what he has heard into pictures.  He had brought his CD player downstairs, carrying it with the cord bumping down the stairs behind him, and set the machine up next to him.  Now he was listening to Welcome to the Bed and Biscuit as he drew, the pig/bird/cat tale.  I know there are many pictures of this well-creatured world to come.

He is very proud of his new ability to work the CD player on his own, including the more complicated functions such as skipping forward over sections (useful when rereading a book and only wanting to listen to the kind-to-animals-parts) and figuring out how to switch the function from radio to alarm clock to CD player, something even I struggle with on that machine.  He is particularly fond of the pause button. This pause button causes the story to stop for a certain amount of time, and then the story comes back on.  Therefore, often when we return to the house, or are in another room, we suddenly notice that there is an unfamiliar shrill human voice impersonating a bird coming from the other room.  It can be a bit spooky.  Elliott will smile and run off...and press pause again.

It has been raining here, our first full week of being home together, pretty much off and on all week.  Audio books are saving the day.  We started the week by heading to the library all together and choosing a new stock of library books, heavy on the graphic novels for Julia and Nicholas and focused on picture books for Elliott.  We took out as many audio books as we were allowed...I still question the rules for a number limit on those, as each of my children are individuals with their own tastes, and five audio books for three children can be very limiting when you use them the way we do.

The kids, curled up with art supplies and building materials near their CD players, are getting a bit floppy and underexercised, despite the fact that I force them outside to run around and play badminton every time there is a break in the rain.  Both Nicholas and Julia are off to lacrosse camp next week and I am enjoying our boot camp of intensive togetherness before they are off, I really am.  But a part of me is worried that the sudden lack of exercise and fresh air is going to have caused their muscles to atrophy, and they will flop and flail in their cleats next week during their camps, legs like long and pastey noodles.

So, there we were eating our muffins on the porch, like civilized human beings.  Nicholas and Julia began talking about A Wrinkle in Time, and Julia mentioned how she was disturbed by the section in the book in which Charles Wallace is probed by IT.  Nicholas agreed that this part was really scary, and in fact this part was the reason we had had to stop reading the book when I tried reading it to them a year ago.

Which got us to talking about tesseracting, and about our reading of Rebecca Stead's remarkable When You Reach Me, after I had seen her speak about it last year.  We talked about how A Wrinkle in Time holds a prominent role in Stead's book, and how Stead's characters grapple with the idea of tesseracting and of an overlap that can be created when someone tesseracts in and overlaps with themselves in time, two selves standing next to each other in the same moment.

Elliott asked what it meant to tesseract.

So, we pulled out his handy dandy aforementioned number line, the section he was given to bring home of the days of his Kindergarten school year.  And wrinkled it, holding the number 99 next to the number 107, the numbers in between looping and falling down toward the floor.

Its like if you could go from day 99 to 107 without everything that happened in between.  It is a way of traveling through time, explained Julia.


* * *

All these voices, all these stories, in our own individual spaces.  I started to feel like we needed an all together book.  I chose R.J. Palacio's Wonder, recommended to me by a friend who kept telling me how captivating and thought provoking she found it to be, for herself and for her children.

We started the book in the car on the way to a very complained about trip to the pediatric dentist  This visit was met with even more reluctance than usual because Nichoas and Julia had both been told that we should be prepared to have a discussion about the need to begin orthodontics at this visit.

Given some very cooperative and solidly rooted baby teeth that are still with us, this discussion was put off until next time.  Phew.

But we listened to Wonder in the car.  And I was finding the beginning of the book very difficult to listen to.  I kept expecting someone from the backseat to ask if we could stop listening.  Because I have some sensitive readers.  Though some of us can handle gore and violence, we still struggle with things that feel a little more real.  Human struggling and unkindness are really difficult for my children to tolerate.  I struggled with it for a bit myself, and then turned off the book and checked in with the kids.

I am really finding this hard to listen to.

Yeah!  They all agreed.

I am finding myself really wanting to know what he looks like, and it is bothering me that I so want to know that.  What that means about me.  And I am having the sense that we might not ever find out.  That this might be the kind of book that never tells us.

What do you think he looks like? asked Nicholas.

We talked a bit about what a cleft palate is.  I think the concept of this was made more disturbing by the fact that they were being driven toward possible oral reconstruction of their own...but maybe it's just me who saw that connection.  And we all agreed that maybe the point was it did not really matter what August, the main character, looked like, but what kind of person he was, and how this process for us was kind of like the same process that the kids in August's new school were going to need realize as well.

Then we listened some more.

This book is, as Nicholas put it, unlike most of the books I is like when I read Liar and Spy.  How you get inside the heads of different characters and learn about what makes them do what they do.  

Psychological , I thought to myself.

I think it is one of the first children's books I have read in a while that talks so explicitly of gives you such a window into the prespective of a struggling child, but with a very good story as the medium.  This child, while you struggle to imagine what he looks like, is so very palpable in terms of how he is feeling.  And how the intentional and unintentional behavior of other children affects him.

It is a well chosen book to be reading together as we launch a boy into middle school ourselves, who we know has the capacity for such big thoughts about people but who, at the same time, really wants to be liked by his friends.  And as we enter our summer of togetherness, needing to give each other our own space, but also needing to figure out how to come together and navigate our family stew.

The book's focus on kindness is compelling.  And important at this age. Its gentle reminders of the need for us as parents to step back and let this all unfold for them.  Also very important.  It reminds me of the ideas of one of my favorite parenting books, Above All, Be Kind.

I commented on how I thought that likely Mr. Tushman, the director of August's middle school, had very intentionally chosen the three children that he did to be the first kids at the school that August meets.  That there were likely qualities about each child that he thought would be helpful to August as he began his first experience in school.  One of the children, as Elliott so adeptly put it, is not nice.  Not nice at all.  The two others, at least at this point in the book, are welcoming and more accepting of August.

Nicholas interrupted the story.  I pressed pause.  I am thinking a lot about who I am.  Would I be more like Jack or more like the mean boy.  I hope I am the boy who would sit with him when he is sitting alone, but I am afraid that I am not.  I am thinking a lot about that.

I remember from my days of psychology training that one of my supervisors told me I needed to be better about allowing my clients to sit with their discomfort.  That I needed to try not to jump in and try to rescue them or make them feel better.  That discomfort was one of the greatest motivators of change.

This therapy technique, and my own tendency to try to smooth things over, present themselves to me often as a parent, especially as our children get older.  I try to not jump quickly and in rescue them or shield them from adversity, despite my desire to do so.  To let them sit with and feel discomfort, in hopes that they will learn to problem solve and to be able to find solutions on their own.

I let Nicholas' comment sit.  Swallowed my assurances.  Let a few moments pass.  And pressed play.

After hearing about one of the children's teachers, Mr. Browne, and his precepts, rules that his students must follow, and then about his first precept for the year:

When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.

Nicholas interrupted again.

I think I would really like August's teacher.

So we have found our first all together summer read.  One story, one voice, to bring us all together.  If I hold the first day of the summer up next to the last, and we tesser, how will the place we land be different, and how can we make it different, better, kinder?  This book is one of the ways.

If I hold my now-self up next to my future self, and my children do the same for themselves, how can we make stepping into our future selves be steps into kinder, more aware, stronger people.

And I am thinking that it is all about the wrinkle.  That it is all about that cascading loop of numbers in between the now and the then.  The moments and experiences and conversations and times that we are quietly fiddling with Legos and beads and drawing characters we love and making muffins because I want to bring everyone together for a few moments to be able to connect.  Reading together and apart and together again.  A well chosen book.  Those are the moments of change.  That will bring us to better and kinder future selves.

So I press play.

1 comment:

  1. Wonder is a fabulous book! I love how you see the connections between what different books have to teach and bring to our lives.


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