Kids’ Party

It was happening tonight at the St. Thomas Library – performers singing, playing instruments and telling stories. Kids showing their stuff to other kids taking it in. Wide eyes from the little ones.

First up were the “Jingle J’s”, children singing as well as playing guitar, ukulele and drums, along with adults grooving as lead guitarist, bass guitarist and backup singer. Songs ranged from Silent Night to Momma Rock Me – beautifully eclectic! The young’uns were hopping around and warbling their tunes. They urged we the audience to sing along to classics such as Feliz Navidad but very few of us grabbed the golden ring. I, however, grabbed. Life is short … go for the gusto.

Then it was time for a lovely lady storyteller. She sat on the floor, leaning against a chair, with a semi-circle of five-year-olds spread around her. As she recounted the innumerable adventures of Santa and friends, tiny faces watched her every move. One two-year-old decided to bounce on an upholstered chair while checking the traffic outside. All those cool red and white lights! Her smile aimed at mom would melt the grumpiest heart.

The story creator then turned to song, specifically Jingle Bells. She just happened to have enough wrist bells for every child, and they shook, rattled and rolled for all they were worth. Such delight everywhere l looked.

As Gerard took the stage with his acoustic guitar, a little girl and boy professed their love for each other in dance. Around and around they twirled as he sang, oblivious to any idea of “performance”. Let’s just have fun.

Our fearless leader favoured us with Ricky Nelson’s Garden Party and inspiring lyrics from John Lennon:

A very Merry Christmas
and a Happy New Year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear

And our mini-couple danced on.

As Gerard started in on Blowin’ in the Wind, one of my favourite singalongs, the woman sitting beside me leaned over and proceeded to tell me all about the children she sponsors in Africa. And in that moment I had a choice: indulge my singing needs or be with her. I decided to look into her eyes and celebrate the kids. It was a good choice.

Now our evening together is over. I spent time with many fine people and I am the better for it. Folks wanted to communicate. I wanted to listen. It works well that way.

Kids’ Play

There’s nothing like the annual Christmas play in elementary school.  Today I got to watch a practice.  How marvelous to see children be children.  I tried to imagine adults doing all the cool stuff I witnessed.  Sometimes the imagining was a stretch.

One young lady has perfected “Bah humbug!”  It wasn’t just her face, which was a contorted mask of fury.  Her whole body got into the act, crouching down in a spasm of scowl.  I just had to applaud.  Sure wouldn’t want to meet her in a dark alley.

Three elves, two girls and a boy, were doing their conversational thing.  The fellow kept extending his ball of greenery towards the nearest girl.  Mistletoe!  She cringed and backed away from him, fending off the offending amour with her arms.  Then he did it again … and so did she!  Ahh, the battle of the sexes.

And soon there were grandma and grandpa, expecting holiday mail.  At the end of the scene, the darling couple exited the stage with their twin canes, slow and bent over as I hope I never am.  (Good luck on that, Bruce)  How strange to see 10-year-olds hobbling along in pain.  My brain just couldn’t make sense of it.  Good acting.

Next was the mailman, striding onto a long white box which doubled as a slippery sidewalk.  Down she went in a heap, slip-sliding away.  Letters and presents tumbled every whichway.  Pure slapstick fun.

Also, what would a Christmas play be without reindeer?  Eight of them lined up on the box, with antler heads proudly displayed.  Arms were flying in the air and mouths bellowed the good and bad.  What a motley crew … and immensely lovable too.  You should have seen them all hopping off at the end.

My favourite moment was when a young girl was pleading with someone  – I think the mailman.  Hands in prayer position … imploring, begging.  So good.  Soon to be followed by another girl, crying her eyes out, in the best tradition of drama.  Angst always gets me.

I smiled a lot
I clapped
And I wished that more than a few of those kids were mine
Maybe next lifetime

Kids!

I’m back volunteering in the Grade 6 class.  Although I talked to some of these kids last year, they’re essentially new to me, except for a few of them who were in the split Grade 5/6 class last year.

Today was my second visit this fall and I’m enthralled to be with these children.  Since the Grade 6’s will graduate in June and head to a school in another community next year, there’s a real sense of loving them for ten months and then letting them go.  Perhaps my life is largely an accumulation of moments in which I often make a difference in the present environment … with new folks showing up after that.  Maybe a few kids will look back when they’re 40 and remember me fondly, or maybe not.  What I do hope is that I plant a few seeds that will blossom when they’re adults.

The Grade 6 teacher is new to the school.  I’ll call him Ben.  He’s already showing a great willingness to have me contribute to the life of the classroom.  The discussion early this morning was about 911.  When I arrived in the afternoon, Ben invited me to share my memories of the day.  Thank you, Ben.  I love sharing my history, in hopes that my stories will touch a heart or two.

I told the kids that I was in an elementary school that morning in 2001.  All the TVs were on.  Students and staff members were crying.  All I could think of doing was going around to kid after kid and saying “You’re safe.”  Of course I didn’t know that.  I didn’t know if Toronto would be attacked next.  I was terrified.

Most of the kids were with me as I spoke.  In general, I think they watch us adults like hawks, trying to figure out how to be one themselves.  So we need to speak the truth, and kindly so.

At one point, Ben had the class read a short story in which a boy ends up applauding a girl who bested him in a hula hoop contest – another great lesson for these young ones.  The victorious girl was Rachelle, and I noticed that as each student read a sentence or two they all pronounced her name “Rachel”.  Afterwards I asked them the question “If, while people were reading, you thought the girl’s name should be pronounced ‘Rachelle’, would you have made the change when it was your turn to talk?”  And then I told them there was no right answer – it’s just something to think about.  The opportunity to say things like this to 11-year-olds is absolutely precious to me.  Thanks again, Ben.

When I’m volunteering, I’m always on the lookout for kids being kind to each other.  It’s what the world needs.  Today I didn’t notice anything but I’m sure it will come.  And when it does, I’ll take the giver aside and privately thank him or her for doing something that helps.  For school is most deeply about growing human beings.

 

Visitors

I had set up my new tent in the family room but that’s not the same as staking it down outside.  And I’d better learn how to do that before I fly to Vancouver on Friday.  So after supper yesterday, I got to it in the backyard.  Made a few mistakes but that sounds like me and technology.  I know myself pretty well and I’ve learned to laugh at my foibles (usually).  Finally the tent was up and was being embraced tenderly by the waterproof fly.  Yay for me!

I was about to crawl into the finished product when I heard “Mr. Kerr!” from around the corner of the house.  And striding towards me were five wonderful kids from last year’s Grade 6 class.  I love them all.  I’ll make up names here: Jessica, Darla, Aimee, Dinah and Jeremy … all smiles.  These fine young people had graduated and are now at another school.  I hardly ever see them.

I was thrilled that the kids wanted to visit me and say bon voyage.  I would guess that right now their friends are most important, with adults a distant second.  These Grade 7 human beings are smack dab in the middle of discovering who they are, and that’s a big job.

They wanted to crawl into the tent (which I’ve christened “Ben”).  Okay … come on down!  In a flash, all six of us were crowded into a two-person enclosure.  We laughed and laughed, especially about Aimee, who seemed to be regularly escaping out the second door.  She was a good hider.  The kids chattered on about this and that, and I just sat back and beamed.  What a privilege to be in the same space with them.

After awhile, they wanted a tour of my house and we went inside.  Four of them squeezed onto the couch and whipped through the pages of the book that the class created for me at the end of last year.  “Darla, here’s something else you said to Mr. Kerr!”  Aimee curled up in my red lazy boy chair and poured through kids’ books I’d bought at a recent book fair.  One was called “Hotel Bruce”, a particularly apt title I thought.

Then it was time for the grand tour.  I love the colours of my walls: red, rust brown, yellow, blue, turquoise, green and purple.  I think the kids enjoyed them too.  Jessica played my keyboard in the bedroom.  Kids bounced on the bed.  One ventured behind the shower curtain in my ensuite bath.  In the den, I told them the story of the ancient toy truck I was holding.  When I was five or so, I left the truck outside and a bird pooped on the cab.  “Somebody painted my truck!” I screamed the next morning.  Mom and dad took their time in letting me know what really happened.

In the family room downstairs, Darla started in on her rap lyrics.  Actually, she was pretty good at it.  Jeremy wanted to know more about my ride across Canada and I loved answering his questions.  They all wanted to try my cross country ski machine and managed to schuss along in their sock feet without hurting themselves.  At one point, I looked around to see Dinah rolling on my exercise ball.  Gosh, it was fun!

Aimee, Jeremy and Darla had to get home so Jessica, Dinah and I headed back to the living room where we talked about life and family and goats and bike rides and writing.  Dinah said she wanted to read all my blog posts, which would be a trick since there are 682 of them (soon to be 683!)

Finally the last two walked out my front door and waved goodbye.  “Have a good time, Mr. Kerr.”  I sure will, kids.  I will see my country by bicycle and meet Canadians at every turn.  Plus I’ll often think of those five young’uns crammed into my tent.  Thank you for including me in your lives, dear ones.

 

Moments With Kids

I was volunteering this afternoon in the Grade 5/6 class.  What I most enjoy about teaching is the conversation, especially when it’s just me and one child.  Had a few of those today.

Jayne loves having the students give Book Talks, the chance to share the author’s thoughts and the reviewer’s reactions with classmates.  She asked me to visit kids and record the title of their next book, and to mark down what page they were on.  Just two simple questions but I enjoyed the connection so much.  From child to child to child … moments of eye contact and often the sharing of a book cover.  Perfect.

Jayne talked about limericks, and how silly and fun this type of poetry can be.  How wonderful that there’s a place in education for lightness and laughing.  She had the kids read seven limericks and deduce from the examples what the principles of this poetic form were.  Marvelous!  Far better than listing “the rules of limericks” on the board.

One young man – “Trevor” – told me that the last words of lines 1 and 5 were always the same.  As it turns out, that wasn’t quite accurate, but it certainly was a tendency of limericks.  Later, Trevor left the room for awhile, just as the discussion of limerick rules was starting.  I hadn’t noticed what Trevor had, and I could feel the urge to blurt out his idea without giving him credit for it.  Happily, I squashed that plan and told the students about “Trevor’s insight”.  And that felt so good, to acknowledge him, even in his absence.

Later I got to coach individual kids as they wrote their poems.  A limerick has three “beats” in lines 1, 2 and 5, and two in lines 3 and 4.  It was such a delicate process to sit with a child and have her see that “He decided to go to the moon” wouldn’t work for a line 3, while “He went to the moon” got the job done beautifully.  We counted out the beats together and I loved it when the child felt the rhythm in her own poem.  Those “ah hah” moments are joyous ones for any teacher.

I love being in that class.  Being next to the energy of young minds and hearts is the best.  Hearing from a girl how sad she was that some people and animals have become sick due to cropdusting … is a blessing.  May we all grow in compassion and insight.  And may those 10-, 11- and 12-year-olds turn into adults who express their highest values long after I’m gone from the planet.

 

 

The Kids I Love

Friday was my first day volunteering at Davenport Public School, where last year’s Grade 6’s at South Dorchester School now go.  Those are the kids I love.  We shared so many awesome moments.

After signing in at 8:45, I walked out to the schoolyard.  As I rounded a corner of fhe building, I wondered if any children would come say hi. The answer?  About ten of them!  I was so happy.  Since it’s now Grade 7, I didn’t expect any hugs to come my way, and my expectations were met. And that’s fine.

What did land on me were many smiles, which changed to some frowns when I told them that two of the three Grade 7 teachers had said yes to me volunteering.  There was great sadness on the faces from the third class.  I told them that I was sorry that I wouldn’t be in their classroom but inside me young sorrow created senior sorrow.

A day later, as painful as that moment was for me, I’m seeing more deeply that I’m important to many of those 12-year old souls.  I am humbled and privileged that this is so.  And I am blessed to have touched these kids, and to be revered in return.

In the classroom, the teacher let me participate in a class discussion about how you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the Internet.  I even got to share with the kids about my swallowing of everything I read in high school textbooks, including the wonders of Canadian democracy. Only years later did I learn that women weren’t allowed.to vote until 1921.

The teacher had some very cool ideas about writing, such as the rhythm of grouping phrases in threes.  And I got to help a special needs kid with his wordsmithing.  Plus I looked around and often made eye contact with young folks I care deeply about.  Talk about dying and going to heaven.

It feels like the gods are smiling on me these days.  I know Jody is.  Thank you, my dear.

Slip Slidin’ Away

I went on a class trip today with the Grade 5/6’s.

“In 1973, the Ska-Nah-Doht Village, located within Longwoods Road Conservation Area, was constructed.  It features a village reflective of the Native settlements found along the river close to 1,000 years ago.  This village, created with the information gathered by archaeologists and First Nation peoples, offers tours, workshops and an opportunity to see how First Nations people once lived.”

We made and decorated bowls from clay, sat in a longhouse, listened to our tour guide describe how important deer were to the native people, and saw the trees that these folks used so well.  Very cool.

But the best was being out and about with the kids.  On a break, I followed about fifteen of them along a road.  Down a little trail, we spied a pedestrian bridge spanning a shallow ravine.  The sign said “Maximum 40 adults”.  No sweat.  Soon we were all on the bridge, with the wood bouncing under our feet.  Great fun!

And then the question … Should I have allowed the kids to walk onto the bridge?  My answer – a resounding “yes”.  They had great fun and it was safe.  And the smiles were huge.

Later in the day, there was another opportunity to explore.  Maybe 20 kids this time.  A trail wandered through the sparse woods and soon we were at another hanging bridge, this one twice as long as the first.  Sadly, no bouncibility this time.  Five kids asked to climb down some steps towards a pond.  I said yes and watched their progress from the bridge, along with the remaining children.  One girl had found a 10-foot branch on the ground and recommended I use it as a walking stick.  So I awkwardly did, to the amusement of many.

A few folks wanted to break off some pieces of ice from the bridge and toss them into the ravine below.  I had them make sure there were no beings down there and then said “Go for it!”  More fun.  The kids who were near the pond climbed the hill beyond and joined us at the far end of the bridge.  Then it was time to go back.

Should I have been more cautious?  Should I have kept them off the bridge?  Should I have said no to the group who wanted to go near the pond?  Should I have said no to plummeting lumps of ice?  Well … I said yes.  Fun.  Safe.  I was watching.

And then the day ended.  We were back at the school with about 15 minutes to home time.  I was supervising 10 kids on the schoolyard.  Behind the Grade 5/6 portable was a circular patch of ice, about 40 feet in diameter.  The kids wanted to slide.  My answer was to head gingerly onto the ice and start floating along.  Right away, there was a line of 12-year-olds, soon zooming over the glassy surface.  Squeals of delight.  Bodies flopped every which way on the ice.  I loved it!

The small voice inside my head urged me to be aware of liability, school rules, angry parents.  Be careful.  The big voice retorted with fun, smiles and joy.  Be out there!  I voted for door number two.  The kids deserved it.

 

Hairstyling

I was walking by the junior kindergarten door on my way to volunteering with the Grade 6’s.  There seemed to be a flurry of activity inside.  I wandered into the comings and goings of short people and saw that the class was having a spa day … hair makeovers and pretty nails.

A 5-year-old hairstylist invited me to take part.  I was ushered to a tiny chair and covered with a tiny plastic apron.  Then the clothes pins.  At least ten of them were artfully placed through my short grey hair.  After much debate, my two stylists declared that I was ready for the world.  Except for the nails.

Across the classroom I floated to the nail salon.  A palette of colours was presented to me by a young esthetician.  “I’ll take pink.”  That would go well with my glasses and fitness tracker.  Soon a brush laden with water-based paint descended towards my digits.  A few minutes later and I was as pretty as punch.

An assistant walked me to the floor fan, where my fingers dried.  Gosh, I looked good.  I really should go the spa more often.

I traipsed over to the Grade 6 classroom, where eyes widened upon my approach.  A couple of guys said, “That looks really good, Mr. Kerr.”  I wasn’t totally convinced of their sincerity, but there were lots of laughs too.

It was time to head home from school.  I was scheduled to visit a 92-year-old resident of a seniors residence with her niece, my friend Pat.  I asked a few 12-year-olds if I should lose the accessories and got a mixed response.  A few said dump it all, some said yes to one and no to the other and a couple of adventurous souls thought I should show her the whole enchilada.  So a full meal deal it was.  Was Thelma going to have a heart attack?  I’d soon find out.

On my way to London, I dropped into the Belmont Diner, my favourite haunt.  It pretty much came down to women laughing and men staring.  Not to be thwarted, I approached a few guys, telling them that they too could look like me.  All of them declined.

I was walking towards the front door of the home when I saw a woman sitting in a wheelchair.  I asked her if I looked good.  She said something fun and positive.  And I went off looking for Pat.  It turns out that the woman was Thelma.  I hadn’t seen her for 45 years.

The three of us sat in the lobby, enjoying coffee and tea (and cookies!).   Residents and staff came by, for some reason looking at my hairstyle.  I got many compliments and smiles.  I told them that it was the latest style from Paris.  I’m sort of a cutting edge guy, you know.

So … no heart attacks and lots of happiness.  I should see my young stylist more often.

Back in Belmont, I had a ticket to a community dinner in my hot little hand.  It was at the arena, at the far south end of town.  I’m at the north end, about a 25 minute walk away.  So again the question was yes or no.  I voted yes.

The walk southward was uneventful, just a few quizzical looks from passersby.  The real test was my entrance to the arena’s meeting room.  There must have been 150 folks chowing down when I walked through the door.  (Actually the door was open).  Immediately there was a mélange of raised heads and icy stares.  A few giggles.  I went over to my friend Rosemary to tell her my story.  She knows me well so I don’t think my coiffure was any big surprise.  Later she told me that several people had come up to her to see if she knew that man.  I’m pretty sure she didn’t disavow all knowledge of the human.

I saw a lot of men with arms crossed as they no doubt contemplated my sanity.  Women don’t seem to cross their arms so much but they too were curious.  I explained myself to my tablemates and really enjoyed heading out on the dance floor to get more baked beans or another glass of orange drink.  Hey, if you’ve got it, flaunt it!

Finally, I started visiting the residents of other tables, and the warm-ometer needle gradually rose.  After hearing me yap away about JK kids, I guess the adults realized I was a benign character.

So there’s my adventure.  It could be that a hundred people laughed at me.  Not a bad day’s work.

 

 

Kids At Work

I went to a silent movie festival last night in St. Thomas, Ontario, with some early “talkies” thrown in.  The evening was to celebrate the life of Dell Henderson, a St. Thomas native who starred in many pioneering films.  It was wondrous!  Especially a five-year-old girl in 1912’s Sunbeam.  Our host told us that the wee actress died in her 40’s.  So I was looking at a darling ball of energy who’s been dead for 65 years.  Wow.  That stops me in my tracks.

I’ll call her Mary.  She lives in an apartment upstairs with her mom.  In the first scene, it appears that mother dies in bed, with the little one sitting beside her.  Mary looks to be in shock.  As the movie progresses, she befriends a depressed single lady who live in an apartment on the first floor.  The woman tries to shoo Mary away until the child gently takes her hand.  Then their eyes meet.  Then the woman melts.

Across the hall is a harried single fellow, caught up in the stress of life.  Mary walks right into his apartment.  He’s aghast at her intrusion and tries shoving her out the door.  But Mary works her magic again and soon he too is putty in her hands.

Older friends of Mary post a “Scarlet Fever” sign on the gentleman’s door.  Somehow Mary gets the lady to check on the apparently ill fellow.  Then the police come and quarantine the three of them in his apartment.  Mary holds hands with both of them and soon the adults are looking into each other’s eyes.

Once Mary’s dead mother is discovered upstairs, the young man and young woman, through the magic of non-verbal communication, launch a plan to wed and adopt Mary.

Not a sophisticated film, but so what?  A very sentimental effort, but again so what?  Look what a five-year-old girl can do.  I volunteer with twenty-seven 12-year-olds.  I sense they’re just as powerful.

***

And then there was Choo Choo, made in 1932.  Here’s a review:

“Without a doubt, Choo Choo has to be one of the finest Little Rascals films ever made.  [The kids were also known as “Our Gang”.]  During a stopover, some orphans convince the gang to take their place on the train that’s taking them to their new home.  The gang manages to make the train ride a living hell for the prissy, child-hating Mr. Henderson, (played by Dell Henderson) who is assigned the unenviable task of shepherding the “orphans” to their final destination.  There is enough mayhem here to rival any Three Stooges short – perhaps this was inspired by the Stooges themselves who were as popular during this period.  There is not one wasted performance here – Wheezer, Stymie, Sherwood and Breezy, and of course Spanky, who steals the show without a single word of dialogue, socking Henderson in the nose.  Henderson’s response (“Nice boys don’t do that!”) earns him another bop in the face.  The mayhem accelerates as a drunken novelty salesman passes out noisemakers to the gang in the sleeper car.  Things then go from bad to worse when Stymie and a monkey in the freight car release a menagerie of animals into the sleeper section of the train.  One can tell that everyone involved in the making of Choo Choo must have had a great time doing it – and it shows.”

So … a somewhat different display of kid power.  I sure don’t condone hitting people in the face, but oh, was it funny!  The adults had no chance against the cunning of children.  Makes me want to be one again (maybe for a day).  I wonder what mischief I could get up to.  And as for Sunbeam, what kindness could I send to sad adults?

On The Bike Again … Part Two

I get nervous every time I start cycling again.  And it had been many months since my bum was glued to the saddle.  I have clipless pedals, meaning that my shoes are attached to the pedals.  When I need to stop, the idea is that I jerk my left foot leftward and it detaches (from the pedal, not my leg).  Once I’m stopped, I detach my right foot.  If I fall, the impact sets me free so I don’t break an ankle.  Sounds good.

Last Monday, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to get my left foot off the pedal since there really wasn’t any lubrication between the metal piece on the sole of my shoe and the pedal.  Being a resourceful type, I poured gobs of chain oil on the offending parts.  I then snuck around to the side of the garage, got astride ta-pocketa and did a clip-and-unclip dance for several minutes.  I hoped that my neighbours weren’t watching.  (John and Sharon, you’re not reading this, are you?)

Appropriately chagrined with my irrational fears, I pushed my dear bike to the roadway.  It was time.  I had a funky cycling jersey on my back (featuring a snarly clown), padded shorts on my rear end, and a red, white and black helmet atop my noggin.  My destination?  South Dorchester School, where I intended to surprise unsuspecting 12-year-olds.

It was 11.9 kilometres and I was painfully gaspy.  I unclipped and reclipped a dozen times before I convinced myself that I hadn’t forgotten everything I’d learned on the bike.  A slight slope became a 20% Tour de France mountain.  I started pooping on myself but then happily gave it a rest.  My fitness is what it is.  Over time, it will be what it will be, i.e. better.

My goal was to roar up to the Grade 6 portable about ten minutes before afternoon recess.  I got there two minutes before the bell.  A boy was opening the door, heading into the school.  He stopped, gaped, and rushed back inside the classroom.  “Mr. Kerr’s here and he’s on his bike!”  I entered the fray and was surrounding by short people staring at my getup, especially at that nasty clown.  Questions, questions, questions, and between pants the occasional answer.

I stayed through recess and for half an hour thereafter, opening myself to curious children.  Then they started working on an assignment and it was time for me to go.  On went my helmet, on went my jacket, and on went my fanny pack.  I waved goodbye and headed outside to get foot reacquainted with bike.  All attached, I heard voices behind.  At least twenty kids were out on the playground, cheering my departure.  Their teacher Tiffany was leaning out a window, recording it all for prosperity.  Thus inspired, I cycled away, feeling like an Olympic hero.

I love volunteering.