Minimal

black-dot

 

“What is that?” I asked about the dot the four-year-old had just purposed onto the page.

We’d been talking about living and non-living things, sorting pictures and ideas.

He looked up at me. “It a minimal.” His tone stated this was obvious.

“A what?”

He raised a small eyebrow, slowed his speech to meet my apparently plummeting intellect. “A Mini-Mal. A very teeny teeny animal.”

 

 

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Biggest in his eyes!

Giraffe

“My daddy is more bigger,” he announced after examining a photo on my wall of my niece and her (rather tall) husband. His curls bounced in certitude and his tone spanned the space from pity to challenge.

“Is he?” I noted, winking at the boy’s mom.

I know the father. Objectively this little guy’s dad isn’t particularly tall, but this wasn’t about being objective … To his son, the father may as well be the giant of all giants.

“Yea,” the preschooler nodded emphatically. “My daddy is even more bigger than …” he scanned the room for inspiration, “… a whole Empire State Building house or even more bigger than …” he narrowed his eyes in concentration, opened them wide, “a giraffe!”

 

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For The Record

dressup

 

For the record, she is fierce, even if she is in fluffy skirts and fleecy socks and every color of barrette holding on to dear life in her hair.

For the record, she is loving, even if she screams at her baby brother, narrows her eyes to daggers when she doesn’t get her way, and pushes every one of her mother’s buttons till something gives and tantrums fly.

For the record, she is smart, even if she cannot quite “do numbers” the way some of her classmates can and even if her words tend to come out upside down and sideways and in the wrong order and all too often not quite on the topic.

For the record, she has lots to say, even if she shrugs an “I don’t know” or grunts a precocious “whatever” because explaining feels too hard and some words hide and narrative does not form the way she senses that it ought to.

For the record, she is funny, even if she may not laugh at some jokes other people say, because she doesn’t get the puns and is still out to lunch on idioms and doesn’t quite see humor in confusing riddles.

For the record, she is thoughtful, even if she often acts before she seems to think (because she cannot always get the thought in time to matter), and reacts as if she doesn’t care (when she if fact cares more than many).

For the record, she is brave, and utterly indomitable. She works harder than most realize and deals with more frustration than is reasonable. And yet, she does still try. She may do so in frowns and pouts and at times even in ways that appear less than fully loveable. But she has no bone in her that isn’t kind. Just all too many that are over-tender.

For the record, she is a handful and a heart-full. She is bubbling with spirit and wriggling with life. She’d keep you on your toes, but oh boy would you earn a good dance for it! For a little body, she packs some serious soul punch.  She is fabulous personified. A guaranteed-to-wake-you-up-in-the-morning child.

 

 

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Mini Picasso

 

“This is a big big big mountain and it have a train and it go ‘choo-CHOOOO!’ round and round and also flowers but you see them fast because it a train and rainbow and my name.” (J.N, age 3:4)

 

mini picasso

 

 

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Jiggly Biggly Boo

There’s a special place in heaven for well-loved toys. Missing ears, tatty limbs, dangly eyes, bald patches, poke-out stuffing, stained coats. Wet tummies with mold, too.

A little one described it to me, his gray-blue eyes bright with loss.

Their house had gotten damaged in a flood. Along with wet carpets and soggy couch pillows, a few unredeemable yet oh-so-precious loveables also had to be tossed out: a bunny, a teddy, and a well-hugged-sloth named Jiggly Biggly Boo.

“He got wet all the way inside him tummy,” the boy shook his curly head. “Maybe we don’t have no more towels … ” he paused, confused, then sighed. “Jiggly Biggly Boo had to go to toys heaven.”

He raised large sad eyes at me. “They have tummy towels? Him tummy got wet. He got mowed.”

 

stuffed-animal-sloth

Stuffed Sloth: The Discovery Channel Store

 

 

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Do It Anyway

He has stage fright. The real deal.

Social phobia with all the trimmings.

Speaking in front of anyone renders him paralyzed with irrational but no less numbing terror.

Talking to a store clerk makes him sweat.

Let alone giving a speech in front of assembly.

The whole school. Faculty, too.

He trembles at the thought.

“You don’t have to do this.” His mother. She is distressed by his distress. Protective.

“But I do,” he says.

He’s scared.

Determined, too.

He asks me to teach him how “to speak even when my throat gets stuck.”

We work on it. On breath, on visualizing, on rhythm and on parsing and on tone and pitch and breath again. He practices. With me, at the mirror, with family, with a good friend.

He knows the words by heart. He wrote them. A speech about things that oh-so-matter and are so very needing-to-be-said.

“The words come into my dreams,” he tells me. “Is that weird?”

I shrug. I don’t think so. “What do you think?”

He smiles shyly. “I think they want me not to be afraid. The words. Like we are friends now, words and me.”

 

The day comes.

He calls me in the evening.

“I threw up twice and I trembled like crazy,” he says, but his voice is giddy. “Then I thought about the words. My words … like friends. The beads on the necklace like we practiced … and I could breathe … I was still scared but I did it anyway!”

 

learn-how-vvg

Her Whole Life in a Plastic Bag

three-clock-bears

Photo: threeoclockbears.com

 

Tamina attended first-grade in a Harlem public school. She was homeless most of that year. Her mother lost the apartment after she lost her job. Sometimes they stayed with relatives but mostly Tamina, her mother and her sister slept in shelters where they could never stay very long. They carried their belongings in thick black garbage bags, protection from the weather. Tamina used to have a teddy bear, but it got left in a shelter and her mother was ‘too tired’ to go back for it. Tamina never got it back.

Tamina had very little. Other children had a home, their own bed, place for their stuff, more stuff. So she stole. Mostly small things: erasers, crayons, hair-pins. Things she could hide in her pockets and later in her black garbage bag. If confronted, Tamina would furiously demand it “was always hers.” I suspected she often believed it and wondered if some items resembled things she once had and owning them was a link to a time when life was less overwhelming. Beyond an overall language delay, Tamina seemed confused about concepts like the difference between possessing and owning: in some shelters cots were ‘first-come-first-serve’ and while you had it, it was ‘yours’ even if it did not remain so for long. You had to ‘watch’ your stuff or have it disappear. Why could an unattended eraser not be ‘hers’?

 While children often crave things that are not theirs, Tamina’s stealing was possibly about unmet needs. Her mother was “always mad and cussing” and Tamina could not rely on her for support. Children whose ‘hungers’ are neglected seek other ways: become secretive, dissociate, numb themselves with substances, steal, hoard. These behaviors often further distance them from care and social support, when they in fact communicate confusion, loneliness, anger, loss, and shame.

[The above is an excerpt from “Communicating Trauma” Routledge, 2015]

Communicating Trauma-Yehuda

Homelessness does not necessarily mean neglect, but the realities and causes of homelessness pose many risks, especially to children. In addition to loss and grief, there are increased health and safety risks, along with reduced access to care. Children without homes suffer insecurity, and their caregivers may be too overwhelmed to attend to their emotional needs. Depression, posttraumatic stress, illness, disability, poverty, domestic violence and other life-crises are all too common among parents of homeless children. Any one of these factors can overwhelm a parent and reduce their availability, let alone when such factors combine.

Having no place to call home–in all the forms it takes–can be distressing and occupying. It leaves children anxious and unavailable for learning. Homeless children are often wary and worried, angry or withdrawn. They are three times as likely to require special-education, four times as likely to drop out of school, and almost nine times as likely to repeat grades.

Homelessness devastates. It is crucial we work together to understand it and resolve it as well as support families in crisis and address risk factors before they reach a loss of home, hearth, and heart.

 

 

“I tried and I tried”

Everything is harder for this little one.

Her body doesn’t quite know how to calm itself. Her hands don’t always know the extent of their reach. She trips. She falls. She bumps into. She upsets the cup, the plate, the markers on the desk. It takes her longer to climb up a flight of stairs. She needs help tackling them going down. Her mouth doesn’t quite make sounds as easily as others’ can: words come out jumbled, not always the right sounds or meaning, often in a mismatched grammar and word order. Food gets messy. Swallowing’s tricky. She gags. She coughs.

But she tries.

Oh, boy, she tries.

And tries.

And tries.

She’s a perfectionist, too.

Indomitable.

Determination personified.

Everything requires repetition. Still she tries again. Again. Again. She shakes her head at any suggestion she accept the unperfected.

“I do more time,” she insists, sometimes in tears but with no less conviction.

And she does. ‘More time’ and time again and then again and then some.

And slowly, sometimes out of the mist of helpless frustration and gritted teeth and hugs and endless patience — she succeeds.

A circle that closes. A list of items in a category. An idea expressed. A multisyllabic word with no sounds missing. A full sentence with all words in attendance. A coat pulled on without assistance. A triangle traced. A tower of blocks. A pattern of beads. A banana that peels without the insides getting mashed. A sip of apple juice from an unaided cup, no spill, no cough.

“I tried and I tried,” she beams. Each time anew. Sometimes with tears still glistening from the last attempt that didn’t quite get up to her own standards. Each time there’s fire in her eyes.

“I told you I can!”

Indeed you had.

Indeed you can.

Hats off, little one.

Every. Single. Time.

drseuss-determination

 

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Overworked, Underplayed

overscheduled

The mom consulted her phone’s calendar.

“She has soccer on Mondays right after school, then she has a pre-reading tutor. Tuesday she has piano after school but I can rush her to you if you have time for a session at 5:30 or so? She’ll be a little tired and maybe hungry but I can give her dinner in the car on the way here or something. Oh, actually, next month she’ll start rehearsals for her recital. Thursdays are really difficult because she has gymnastics and then they have rehearsal training, so she won’t be able to do anything before 6pm. Maybe that’s a bit too late? Fridays she has another pre-reading class. I really don’t want her falling behind. Maybe I can bring her to you after … though she has some playdates scheduled next month. Saturday she does ice-skating. …” Looked up. Sighed, “Do you work Sundays?”

The little girl is not yet five.

 

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Shine

fall back clock

From Etsy

She looked at me with sparkles in her eyes: “My Granny’s coming tomorrow!”

I smiled.

“We going to have so much fun!” Her eyes shone. “Granny is my favorite grandma ever forever!”

“You’re excited she’s coming,” I stated.

The child gave me the “that’s-the-understatement-of-the-year-look.”

The mom and I exchanged glances and laughed.

“Can you imagine her as a teenager?” the mom noted, chuckled. “She’s practicing the eye-roll already …”

The little girl transferred “the look” to her mom, but only half-heartedly. They were both of them quite giddy with the prospect of the visit. The grandma lives out of the country but the bond is evident. I often hear tales of simultaneous cookie-baking on both sides of the Atlantic, bedtime stories on FaceTime, and daily checking-ins. Now Granny will manifest in real life, and Mom’s eyes–an only child herself–were just as shiny as her daughter’s.

“She going to stay in my room,” the four-year-old danced on her feet, shoes alight with strobes and glitter. “I have the best comfy bed for her …” she lowered her voice in exaggerated gossip-conspiration, “because she old … but …” she glanced at her mother, maybe aware of the weight of possibility or maybe remembering the source of the added information, maybe both, “…she not dying yet. She just a little bit very old.”

 

For The Daily Post: Shine