November 18, 2009

Stuff you learn from three year olds....

Probably I've made mention of Yeymi before. She's one of my favorite small people. She does not speak English, per se, though she is learning rather rapidly. This being the case, she tends to stick pretty close to me as I am our center's designated speaker of español. She is also hugely introverted... when we go to play outside her first impulse is to sit down at a table and watch everyone else with those big brown eyes of hers. We're supposed to try to get them to interact with others, so usually it falls to me to get her away from that table, which is fine. First I taught her to go down slides... the first several times I had to hold on to her all the way down. (Good thing the slides are short, 'cause tall I ain't.) Then I had to promise to catch her at the bottom, and even then she would hesitate a good long while at the top, deciding whether or not she really trusted me to catch her. Then she started doing it by herself. Then she wanted to climb up the slide, but she kept slipping and many, many times exclaimed, "Me voy a caer!" (I'm going to fall!) So I had to teach her to use the soles of her shoes rather than her knees. And now she climbs slides. And now we're working on the monkey bars. And that is all well and good, but I taught her something way cooler today.

All our kids  have a journal, and their name is printed across the top of every page. The instructions we give them every day are, "Write your name any way you want, and then draw a picture." Some of them don't actually write their names, but some of them are three so that's okay. Yeymi is a very young three, and usually she just draws pictures. Then yesterday at journal time I was sitting next to her and I asked her if she wanted to write her name and she said she didn't know how. So I held her little hand in mine, she held the marker, and I guided her hand to make the letters. And it dawned on me... She's been sitting there all these weeks staring at those letters, and no one has showed her how to form them. As adults, we take writing the letter Y for granted, but when you're three that's kind of a daunting letter, getting all those lines to connect up right, and she's got two of those suckers in her name! And then what about the lower case "e"? And the "m"? (She was all over the "i", though... that one was easy.) It never occured to me that she might just be sitting there waiting for someone to come along and guide her... "Okay, this is how you do Y..."

So today we get out the journals and the very first thing Yeymi does is look at me and go, "Ayúdame!" (Help me!) So I sat down by her and held her little hand in mine again (she is so tiny!) and we did one page with me guiding her hand to make the letters in her name. Then she said she wanted to do another one, so we turned to a clean page and this time I held her hand but I didn't guide her. I was just reassuringly there. And she made the Ys by herself. I had to help her a little with the "e" and the "m", and she did the "i". And she said, "Quiero hacer otro!" (I want to do another one!) So we got a new page, and I held her hand but didn't guide her. And she did the whole thing. The "m" and "e" were a little funky, but not at all bad for being three years and five months old. I could recognize them. And she wanted to do it again. And the next time I didn't even hold her hand and she wrote her name. And she ran off to play (because by that time everyone else was done), and I'm sitting there looking at her little book thinking to myself, "I just taught a kid to write her name."

And so I put the date on the pages she did and put the book away and wondered where she went. Usually she likes to do puzzles (she's a pretty smart little kid), and I expected her to be there, but no... today she was at the writing table, marker in hand, busily writing away. I'd never seen her at the writing table before... usually those four chairs are pretty coveted and she's not pushy enough or big enough to fight for one. I asked her what she was doing and she said, "Estoy haciendo una carta para mi mamá, porque ahora sé escribir." (I'm making a letter for my mom, because I know how to write now.) So I left her to it and moved on to make a train with Angel, and pretty soon Yeymi was there tugging on the hem of my shirt. She just wanted to inform me that she had finished the letter and put it in her cubby to take home, and I said okay and she started playing with trains.

So later I went and peeked at the letter in her cubby because I'm nosy. She had put a few scribbles and a drawing on her "letter", and without looking at anything had done a pretty good approximation of her name at the bottom. And I was thinking to myself, "Man, what is her mom going to say when she sees this? The kid's been in preschool for all of two months and today she brings home a 'letter' with her name written at the bottom. Her mom's gonna cry." And I almost wanted to cry, because my little baby (all 17 of them are my babies) had gone in one afternoon from thinking she couldn't write her name to believing she could write a whole letter to her mom.

It makes me wonder... how many doors would open up to reveal whole new worlds for us, even as adults, if rather than just putting a task in front of us and saying "do this", someone would take the time to sit down and guide us once or twice before letting us fly solo.  Would we also go from thinking we'd been given an impossible task to believing we could do above and beyond the task before us?

And I wonder how often we get impatient with people who are struggling to do something they've never been properly shown how to do. Maybe that chick who can't get your order down right at McDonald's is struggling because she was never given a proper tutorial on that touchscreen thing... I used to hate those. Especially since the management kept moving things around. You'd learn where something was and then one day it wouldn't be there anymore, and nobody would have told you where it had gone to. Or you're a dinner hour worker normally, and then they ask you to come in and work breakfast and they get annoyed with you because you don't know where anything is on the stupid touchscreen. (Have some pity on your fast food workers, people... the job is beyond sucky, especially at McDonald's.) And I know a lot of the parents at our center were baffled at first by the sign in/sign out book. There'd be a line of increasingly impatient parents forming behind the one mom who was hesitating, trying to figure out where she needed to write what, and finally I'd go over and ask if she needed help and she'd nod, and I'd show her, and then try not to smile as the two parents behind her watching over her shoulder realize that they've been doing it wrong (quickly, yes, but still wrong).

Since I started working here, I've started seeing the world through the eyes of a three or four year old in little glimpses. I'm taking field trips back to the time when you could just decide that you were going to be Ariel for the rest of the day, when a red wagon could be a bus, and when a climbing structure was a pirate ship... when learning to spell your four-letter name was a HUGE accomplishment (I'm thinking of another one of my three year olds there... Cloe was forgetting the L for a while). And suddenly I'm remembering back to a time when I used to spend entire days making myself Ninja Turtle costumes out of crepe paper and scotch tape and probably driving my mom bonkers. I remember when a windstorm knocked over our apple tree in that nice, pulling-half-the-roots-out-of-the-ground fashion, and once the tree had been cut away and only the tilted over stump remained, the stump became the "turtle van" and the hole where the roots had formerly been was "the sewers".

I miss those days big time. But now for the confessional section....

I suffer from chronic overactive imagination. I played those "let's pretend" games well into my teens. Then I went from acting everything out to just playing out the scenes in my head. That nearly drove me nuts, though, so now I write it down. I have scores of half-written epics on my hard drive... characters I invented, played with for a while, and then got bored with and abandoned. There is always a story going on in my head during any moment of the day in which nobody is actually speaking to me or demanding that I do something, and it usually gets written down in the evenings. Even now, as an adult, I suffer from a very shaky grasp on "reality" and sometimes for me the fantasy/reality line is a very blurry thing. This is why I don't like to watch movies. I don't need someone else's fantasy... I've got plenty of my own. In some ways I'm a three year old functioning as an adult (at least I think I'm functioning as an adult, but due to that fantasy/reality problem, I'm never completely sure). And now I throw song lyrics at you:

Don't bother pretending I seem fine
I like that I'm a mess
I can't stand much longer in my head
But it's not time for a bullet yet...
("So-So Suicide" by Finger Eleven)

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