Favorite Quotes:

Child sitting on parachute: "Don't shoot me up too high, okay?"

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Power of Pixie Dust

From time to time, I take out a beautiful glass bottle that is filled with "pixie dust" and topped with a flower stopper. Whenever I do this, the children's eyes widen with anticipation. Sometimes it is sprinkled on princesses at coronation ceremonies, and sometimes it is used to create a magical path for fairies to follow.

Recently, I was doing a “Nutcracker Sweets” program, and the children were pretending to be various characters from the ballet such as sugarplum fairies, snowflakes, wooden soldiers, and dancing flowers. Pixie dust was an essential ingredient in creating the magical atmosphere. I sprinkled the snow fairies with pixie dust, and they twirled away into a land of candy canes, gumdrops, and sugared snowflakes.

At the end of the program, it was time for the children to leave their magical world, and get ready to go home, much like Clara herself. As I was making sure that the students had all of their belongings, two of the little girls approached my husband and asked him if they could have a bit more pixie dust before they left. My husband replied,

“Let’s wait for Miss Angela to finish, and then she can do it.”

One of the little pixies looked up at him and said,

“Why? Because we might turn into frogs?”

The faith that children have in possibility and their willingness to accept that magic is at work in the world is just staggering.

Children are the truest of believers, and that is one of the reasons I so enjoy working with them. Flying reindeer? Giant bunnies that deliver chocolate? Some lady that pays for kids’ teeth? Why not? They really do not know the limits of reality (lucky them) and therefore, are willing to give most ideas a chance. When it comes to children, seeing isn't believing. Believing is believing.

The frog comment reminds me of the following anecdote, which I wrote several years ago after an event:

Raising my glittering magic wand in the air, dressed in my pink, sparkly princess crown, a tiara, jewels, and glitter head-to-toe, I am tackiness personified. A prom-queen-in-pink-taffeta nightmare times ten. In the eyes of the three year-olds, I am beautiful. Tacky+sparkly+lots of pink=beautiful. Disney and Mattel figured that out a long time ago. I say to the children with excitement,

“…and now! I am going to cast a spell on you!”

I prepare to wave my wand dramatically, when a little hand shoots up.


“Will it be a good spell, or a wicked spell?”

Will it be a good spell, or a wicked spell? It sure would be nice to know ahead of time, wouldn’t it? We spend so much of our lives trying to figure out whether what’s coming our way next is good or wicked.

The little princess was prepared to accept her fate, for better or worse. We do the best we can, but some things we just have no control over.

“A good spell, sweetie,” I answer.

I raise my wand, and with a dramatic swoop, I cast the spell, secretly wishing for them a lifetime in which the good far outweighs the wicked.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Carolyn Out in the Snow

Happy holidays to all of you, and especially to Carolyn, out in the snow.

As an overly sensitive child, I remember being distressed by how casually the singers of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” would sing perkily about how there’d be, “parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting, and Carolyn out in the snow…”

I would puzzle over how people could be celebrating in their cozy, festive homes, while they knew perfectly well that poor little Carolyn was standing out there in the snow. It was definitely NOT the hap-happiest season of all for Carolyn. I would expect that summer would be her happiest season. At least she wouldn’t be freezing to death.

The picture that always came to mind was as follows: It was early evening, and the temperature was about 5 degrees...cold enough that the sides of your nose stick together when you sniff. Carolyn did not have a hat or gloves; just a hand-me-down coat and boots that were two sizes too big. She was not one to complain, so she would never think to ask to come in, but she did enjoy looking in on the happy scene with people dressed in their holiday finery, toasting one another. She would particularly enjoy looking at the twinkling lights on the Christmas tree, and wondering what kinds of things were wrapped up in the beautiful presents beneath the tree.

If I continued in this vein for too long, I would eventually come to tears. Who was this Carolyn that she got a special mention in the song? I would wonder. Why was she out in the snow alone? Where on earth were her parents? Was she lost? Maybe she ended up dying, like the little match girl. Good grief, why wouldn’t anyone let her in if they saw her out there?

I remember singing in an assembly during elementary school, and the song that our grade sang was “Bless the Beasts and the Children” (for in this world, they have no voice…they have no choice…for this world can never be, the world they see…) singing this song would hit me like a ton of bricks every time. I would picture all of the little helpless children like Carolyn, and lost puppies and kittens. My throat would swell up into a lump, and I would squeak through the rest of the song, while the kids next to me would shoot suspicious looks at me out look of the corners of their eyes.

To this day, I am still often gripped with agony over the plight of the beasts and the children. I once risked my life pulling over on a highway, to save a cat that was on the median. It turned out to be a stuffed animal. I held up traffic on Route 4 saving a baby bluebird that was standing in the middle of the road. I spent one Easter driving a stray cat to the vet, and a shelter. My husband’s “potential animal-in-distress radar” kicks in pretty quickly, and he attempts to diffuse the situation before I can say anything: “It looks well-fed. It has a collar. It knows where it’s going…you can tell.” Children are part of my protection program as well. I hang around whenever I see a child who appears to be too far away from his/her caregiver in a store, just to make sure that everything turns out okay. Children standing up in grocery carts, leaning too far over bridges, wandering alone in store aisles, or standing too close to the road are all potential problems. I also rescue children that I see being bullied.

An animal or child in trouble can put the brakes on whatever I am doing during the course of the day, no matter how important. I have seen ads in the Yankee Flyer for lost cats, and then see ads in the Foothills Trader for found cats that fit the description, and make the necessary phone calls in hopes of a match. I won’t even get into the lengths to which I went to “rescue” a parakeet that was loose outside near the office. It is a long, sad story, with a tragic ending.

Every story that I hear that involves a child or animal in pain leaves a permanent scar in my mind, that never seems to go away. So, if I get upset over a current animal in need, I have to revisit the cat that got hit by a car, the parakeet that died in my hands, the dog that was left out in the cold, the horse that was abused…and on and on.

I am sometimes concerned that my feelings for animals and children are disproportionate to my feelings for, say, the rest of the world. (Do you think?) If I am watching a movie, and a few adults die, well, that’s life. But if the movie is about a dog that dies, I am a mess. I won’t read many books that are stories about beloved pets, because I know how it’s all going to end. Books about the tragic loss of lives during wartime…it’s a shame and all, but I just don’t feel it on the same level.

Being overly sensitive complicates my life, and causes me a lot of unnecessary stress, but I guess that I'd rather feel too much than too little. So, if you see Carolyn out in the snow, please let me know; I’ll be right there.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Gift That Keeps on Being Given

I believe that the Seinfeld show coined the phrase “re-gifting” although they certainly didn’t invent the concept. Re-gifting has probably been around for hundreds, maybe even thousands, of years. Imagine that you are a cavewoman, and that you see a friend of yours loping toward your territory. You remember that she recently gave you a tasty snake, and that you haven’t yet returned the favor. You don’t have time to club anything yourself. What’s a cavewoman to do? Ah-ha! There it is! A rat pelt. Given to you by your crazy Aunt Ugg sixteen moons ago. What are you supposed to with a rat pelt anyway? So, you welcome your friend with a big toothless smile, and present her with your offering.

Flash forward to 2006. It’s the last class before our holiday break, and a little girl comes into the classroom dressed in a beautiful black and red Christmas dress. Her hair is woven into two perfect braids, each of which is tied off with bright red ribbons.

She walks toward me with a huge smile on her face. She holds out a small, perfectly wrapped box, looks up at me, and says proudly,

“Here Miss Angela. My Grandma gave this to my Mommy, and now I’m giving it to you.”

She spoke with no trace of sarcasm, humor, or any hint of awareness of her faux pas. She was a four year-old, simply delighting in the joy of giving. It was a “bite my tongue really hard so that I don’t laugh” moment.

I am not casting any judgment on re-gifters. I have done it myself, although I usually have to tell the recipient so that I don’t feel as if I’m being deceptive. But really, if you receive a perfectly good gift that for one reason or another you will never use, why not pass it along to someone that is a more suitable recipient? For example, I wouldn’t use a sequined coin purse, but my niece would be thrilled to take it off of my hands. As a matter of fact, I did enjoy and use my gift from Grandma/Mom/Daughter. In order to protect the relatively innocent, I will not mention what the item was. This year with so many tightened budgets, I bet a lot of people will be shopping at home, and I don’t mean on the internet or by catalog. I might just be one of them.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Contents Under Pressure

In one of our summer theme weeks, “Tropical Island Fun,” I conducted an experiment to illustrate how volcanoes erupt. The required items included baking soda, vinegar, a little plastic bottle with a cork, and some very quick fingers.

My original intent was to conduct the experiment outdoors, in our sand table, after having the children construct a volcano out of sand. However, shortly after we went outside, it began to rain, and we had to go back inside. Needless to say, the children were very disappointed. After weighing my options, I decided to do the experiment indoors. I figured that a little baking soda and vinegar couldn’t really do too much harm, and our studio ceiling is at least 16 feet high, so there was plenty of room for the launch.

So, having seated the children at a safe distance away, with their little plastic goggles in place, I prepared the concoction. There were several attempts during which I was unsuccessful due to being unable to get the cork in before the bottle flowed over. The kids sat patiently; I tried three more times. The area had become quite messy, so I told them that we’d have to wait until the next day when we could try the experiment outdoors. But the children were very eager to see an eruption; they grabbed paper towels and cleaned everything up, asking me to try again.

It was worth the wait. On the next try, just as I secured the cork, there was a sonic-boom of a “POP!” the cork went flying, and the foamy "lava" shot up to a great height before ultimately spraying down onto me, leaving me smiling and smelling like a giant Easter egg.

The kids clapped, and laughed, and screamed “DO IT AGAIN!”

Then, one little boy ran up to me and said, “I need a new pull-up.” And so, in one way or another, we all learned the lesson of how liquid under pressure can only stay in place for so long before forcing its way out.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thankful for Princesses

It was towards the end of our "Kids Can Cook" class, and our table was set for the Thanksgiving feast. The salad, turkey sandwiches, and pumpkin pie had all been prepared by children 2.5-6 years of age. After sitting down at the table, I asked the children to tell everyone something for which they were thankful. There were some typical responses such as toys, family, dogs, food, and friends. One little girl said sweetly,

"I am thankful for princesses."

Which made me feel thankful that the children at our table were living lives in which they had the luxury of being thankful for princesses. So many children in the world are burdened by hunger, inadequate shelter, fear, and illness. Those children would never even consider being thankful for princesses. It is heartbreaking to think about all of the children that are missing out on the joy of being a child, and are strapped with burdens beyond their power to overcome.

It disturbing that in this day and age, basic care is not being provided for all children. There is more than enough wealth to spread, and while I am no politician, I am sure that there are ways in which we can reallocate funds in order to take care of our children. I am thankful that so many children are well cared for, and hope for a day when all children can be thankful for princesses.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Beautiful or Kind?

After reading a favorite fairytale, I sit the girls down in a circle, and ask,

“Do you think that it would be more important for people to think that you are the most beautiful person in the world, or the nicest person in the world?”

Before anyone can answer, one of the children begins to cough, and it turns into quite a fit. We pause, and I give her some water.

“Are you okay?” I ask, patting her gently on the back.

She nods, “yes,” and then the coughing starts up. First one, then another, and another. Suddenly, everyone is quite ill, and in need of a drink of water and a pat on the back.

“My, everyone here certainly is sick today! Maybe we should stop the class and go to the doctor instead!” I say dramatically.

The coughing abruptly subsides.

“That’s better! So, anyway, what do you think? Think about being the most beautiful person in the world, or the nicest.”

One of the girls says,

“One time I got really sick, and had to take medicine from the doctor.”

Another child offers,

“My medicine that helps me poop tastes really bad.”

There is a brief lull as the children seriously study the girl with the pooping problem, and after a moment, they seem to come to a place of understanding, and let it go.

“I have a boo-boo on my finger,” says one little girl, presenting her tiny, unflawed finger.

Another girl fiercely picks her scab, and then screams,

“Blood! I’m bleeding! I need a Band-aid!”

So I get the kit.

“I think I only have Spiderman Band-aids left. Is that okay, or does it matter?”

“It matters.”

After digging deeper, I find a Dora, and she is pleased. I get a hug around the knees. Me personally, I would rather have everyone see me as the nicest person in the world.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Firefarter Frank

I find that quite often the words that come out of my mouth are quite different from what I actually intended to say. For example, “Argentina” comes out as, “Art-and-Gina.” Or, if I mean to say that I got stuck in traffic, I might say, “I got stunk in traffic.” I often wonder if I’ve used too much bug spray with Deet over the years, or if there’s such thing as verbal dyslexia. Could it be super-early onset Alzheimer’s? A brain tumor? A side effect of my hearing problem? Regardless of the cause, it is embarrassing. Due to the nature of my job, I frequently speak to groups of people such as children, parents, customers, and so on.

One quite memorable verbal fumble occurred when I was reading a story to a group of children during “Firefighter Week” at summer camp. The story was called, “Firefighter Frank.” And so I began,

Firefarter Frank…”

I got no further due to the mass breakout of hysteria. You must admit that it conjures up an amusing image, even if you are over the age of 3. After about ten minutes of mayhem, asthma attacks, and peeing-of-pants, things calmed down. I explained my error, and I started again, carefully enunciating every syllable.

Fi-re-FIGH-TER Frank was on duty…”

More hysteria breaks out, and I am momentarily puzzled, but then a little girl shouts out, “DOODY!!!” slaps her hand to her forehead, and falls backward laughing. Thanks to me, their minds were already in the gutter, and that, compounded with the fact that they were unable to read, led to their interpretation of Firefighter Frank sitting on a pile of, well, doody. That one was not my fault, but nevertheless, everything was chaotic for another five minutes or so.

After things calmed down, we had a quick lesson on homonyms. I was able to make it through the rest of the book after that, but there were several more perilously close calls with the word “firefighter,” and all of the childrens little eyes darted up to my face in anticipation every time I nearly misspoke. To this day, I still have trouble with that one. I am often tempted to go back to the pre-P.C. label of “fireman.” It would make things a lot easier. I think that female firefighters would be less offended if I referred to the occupation as “fireman” as opposed to “firefarter,” but you never know.

So, if I happen to be speaking in tongues during a future conversation with you, just bear in mind that this little issue occurs with me from time to time, and take your best guest at what I actually mean to spay.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Chicken Ball Pizza

I dial the number for the pizza shop. After a few rings, someone picks up, and I hear heavy breathing. Maybe they need a little customer service training. I guess what really matters is whether or not the pizza tastes good.

“Hello?” I say. “Is this the pizza shop?”
“Uh, yes, I’d like to order a medium mushroom pizza.”
Hhhu-hhhuu-hhhhh…” CLICK.

Well, no problem, the restaurant is very close by – I’ll just order in person. I arrive and the waiter/chef ignores me, and continues to work on his pizza. Several other waiters and waitresses stand around writing down orders and boxing up pizzas. I go up to the chef and say,

“That pizza looks good. What’s that you’re putting on it?”

No eye contact, he keeps working.

“Chicken balls.”

Uh-huh. Chicken balls. Interesting choice. I politely cough to cover my gasp/laughter. I don’t want to offend the chef.

“Oh. Well, may I please order a mushroom pizza?” I ask.

“No. Chicken balls.”

Ah, a house specialty. Fine, I tell him. Let’s make that a small then.

“So, how long will it take?”

“Forty-hundred-minutes. It’s ready at thirty o’clock.”

This is what happens when pizza shops are staffed by two year-olds. What’s that saying we're always throwing at kids? “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset.”

I don't know that teaching children that "you get what you get, and you don't get upset" is beneficial to their developing sense of self. It's kind of borderline totalitarianism. A better slogan might be,

"Sometimes you get what you get, and you might get upset. It's okay to assert yourself and ask about why you got what you got, as long as you are not disrespectful. If you feel that the explanation that you are given is unfair, then you can make a plea for your case. However, this will not always result in you getting your way, because sadly, life isn't fair."

But then, that's kind of wordy. So I say,

"Are you sure I can't get a mushroom pizza? I really don't care for chicken."

Reply: "Chicken balls."

Sigh. Sometimes life gives you lemons, and you make lemonade. Sometimes life gives you chickens, and you make chicken ball pizza.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Don't Shoot Me Up Too High, Okay?

Do you remember the "parachute" unit in gym class? It was an amazing feeling to be able to manipulate something so huge... so many little arms working together to create a sea of silky waves. Unfortunately, the parachute unit only lasted a day or two. We had to make time for more important things like "four-square." ANY-hoo...

Now that I have control over such things, I bring out the parachute for my own classes from time to time. Parachute games are an excellent way to develop gross motor skills, the concept of teamwork, and listening skills.

One of the activities that I enjoy doing with the children is letting them each take a turn sitting on the parachute while the rest of the class shakes it. So, as I was introducing this activity to one of my classes, I instructed the first student to go and sit in the middle of the parachute. I told him that the rest of us were going to shake the parachute.

The three-year-old child went and sat down on the middle of the parachute, looked up at me, and said,

"Don't shoot me up too high, okay?"

Of course, I immediately clarified the exercise for him, but in my mind I was just amazed. Amazed that this tiny person would have enough faith in me, and his classmates, to allow himself to be launched into the air. It chokes me up just thinking about it. I'm verklempt! (but that happens a lot these days).

Lately, I feel just like that little boy. Bracing myself to be thrust into the unknown, but pleasantly surprised to find that although I am treading on shaky ground, I am supported by those around me. Thanks to all of you out there who are holding onto those handles.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Bitten in the Stomach by a Lion

So there I was, with a lion running straight toward me at full speed, and I was its prey. Time slowed down, and I couldn't help but wonder if I was actually going to be attacked. Sure enough, seconds later, the lion was sinking its teeth into my stomach.

How did I live to tell this tale, you ask? The lion was actually a three-year-old child, fully engaging himself in his character at a Jungle-themed birthday party. Fortunately, there was a thin layer of foam mask separating his tiny teeth from my stomach, or else he may have drawn blood.

I am not sure who was more shocked - me, or my predator. After it happened, I stood there in disbelief, and he did too. He looked up at me, beady little eyes peering at me from beneath the mask, and then he ran off to his pride.

This is just one of the many unusual experiences that I have had over the course of the thousands of enrichment classes and birthday parties that I have conducted for children and families, I have had many wild and wonderful adventures.

I plan on sharing some of the amazing experiences that I have had working with my students, and hope that you will share my blog with others, if you find it of interest.