Chilling

At the back of the school there’s a bench. It’s a perfect spot to place an adult bum. This morning before the bell rang, the kids were told “tarmac only” since the grassed part of the yard was oozing with mud from the recent rain. So the asphalt was crammed with kids.

I took off my mitt, wiped off a layer of water, and sat down. Some kids seemed revolted by this act, as it would surely result in wet rear end syndrome. Inside this particular adult, I chuckled about how so many athletic kids flinched at the thought of water invasion. Three children did join me on the bench, no doubt safe in the knowledge that what becomes wet will later become dry.

For five minutes, we seated folks and a few standing ones talked about I don’t remember what. All I know is that it was silly.

A Grade 1 girl came up to me. “Please sing the song.” It took me a few seconds but I finally figured out what she wanted … for me to recite Twas The Night Before Christmas, just as I had done for the classes in December.

I looked her in the eyes and solemnly shared “Oh, I forget how to do that. Every year I have to study the song before saying it to you.”

(A very turned down mouth from the little one)

I leaned towards her … and started blasting out the fast version of Twas. Her eyes went wide and the other kids held on for the ride. I do believe a fine time was had by all. I was a mite rusty but that didn’t matter. It actually made my reciting more fun.

A few minutes later I engaged in a staring contest with the same young lady and two of her friends. I lost every time. I guess old folks blink a lot.

Then the bell. From Grade 1 to Grade 6, the kids tootled off to one of three entrances. I lingered a bit on the smooth wood and thanked my lucky stars for the privilege of hanging around open eyes, easy laughs, and emerging hearts.

Large Family

I like being on FaceBook. I like watching movies on Disney Plus. Last week, I saw a way to unite the two … naturally the Disney Plus Facebook page.

I’m already on the Evolutionary Collective page. There are about one hundred folks doing this work (EC Core and EC Global – and I realize that most of you don’t know what that means. Another time.)

My second group appears to have 109,000 members. That’s a step up, at least in quantity. As I lay in bed last night, I asked myself what it means that I’m a part of something so immense. I noticed that lots of folks have posted, talking about some movie or asking questions of the multitudes. So … why not me? I’m good at asking questions.

I’m looking for movies on Disney Plus that portray kids as smart, kind and brave human beings. What do you suggest?

In the eighteen hours that followed, I’ve received about seventy responses. I wonder where in the world all those people live. I thank them all for making me real in the Disney universe and for extending a helping hand.

The first response I read was this:

That’s rather specific. I’m curious why. Anyways, luckily I can help. Big Hero 6, Meet the Robinsons and The Incredibles come to mind.

I volunteer in a Grade 6 class. I want to tell them “Go watch this”.

I answered a few more:

Iron Will. 17-year-old saves his family’s farm and gets the money for the college he was accepted into by racing and winning a sled dog race. Based on a true story. Highly recommend and don’t forget the tissues.

Thanks. The kids I volunteer with would have their eyes glued on a young person brimming with determination and love.

I adored the new Timothy Failure movie. Don’t judge the movie by its title lol, but it’s such a heart toucher. Had me in tears before the movie was even half over.

These kids need a heart toucher or two. Thank you.

Big Hero 6, Meet the Robinsons. And I don’t think it’s on Disney Plus but Shazam was pretty cool … kids (in their adult bodies but still kids) saving people … I loved it.

Thanks. I’ll find Shazam.

There is a short film Float … my daughter found it and habitually watches it every morning. Me being a teacher, I naturally cried, but she adores it and I think it’s very powerful in its message.

Perfect. Maybe the teacher will let me show it in class, especially since it’s short.

:::

I just watched Float. Breakthrough! I’ll ask the teacher if the Grade 6’s can watch it.

Holes. That’s if you want something more realistic. It’s about a group of kids at a prison camp and focuses on the character Stanley Yelnats the Third.

Realistic is good. Thank you.

:::

I just watched the trailer. There’s some huge power in that young boy.

I’m glad it grabbed your attention. I read the book in Grade 3 and in Grade 5 or 6 it came out. I was really impressed.

***

Mulan, Meet the Robinsons, Holes, Moana, Big Hero 6, Coco, Tangled, Queen of Katwe, Pocohontas, Pete’s Dragon (new version), Remember the Titans, Cool Runnings, The Incredibles, The Color of Friendship, Chronicles of Narnia.

Wow … that’s a lot! Thank you.

Ruby Bridges is about the first African-American child to desegregate a school in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1960. It’s a great fit for African-American history month in the U.S.

Wow! I just watched the clip from Ruby Bridges. Immensely powerful. Thank you so much. I’ll find a way for the kids to see this.

***

So …

There’s a community of support here
Generous souls from who knows where
Just wanting to help

The kids thank you

I Want to Teach

The core of the Evolutionary Collective is the mutual awakening practice, in which two people simply look into each other’s eyes and answer the question “What are you experiencing?” To learn the practice, there’s a four-week course. I want to teach that course. I want to teach it to children and teens.

Are these folks too young to understand the deep connection that’s possible between two human beings? Some people think so. I don’t. Aren’t kids so concerned with fitting in with what their friends want that they naturally exclude some children? There’s no way that they’d embrace a philosophy of “no one left out”. My response is “Maybe … maybe not.”

Today in class the teacher allowed me to talk to the kids about this:

“What should you do if people tell you something is impossible but you feel that it’s what you’re called to do?”

“I want to teach kids to be outrageously happy.”

“Think of the classmate that you’re most distant from in this room. (Don’t look at them!) There’s a real possibility of making an emotional connection with this person. Not that you’d become best friends but that you might become comfortable with them.”

“It will take me some time to develop this course – maybe even a year or two. Who knows if parents would be supportive? Who knows if any of you would be interested?”

At that last question, three or four kids put up their hand. Hmm … Is this potential work with children part of my future?

I’m so pleased. I did it. I said to these young ones what I wanted to say. I put my vision out there, not knowing how I’ll accomplish it. I risked the possibility that they’d all return blank stares to me. A few did. Most did not.

There’s a meeting room in Belmont that would be a perfect space for us to meet. Maybe eight to ten kids. I see it. I see them sitting in pairs, doing the practice. I see them talking to the group about their thoughts and feelings in response.

Why not throw this commitment out into the universe?
Why not take steps to transform a dream into a reality?
Why not do something outrageous?

Loved

I pulled into the school’s parking lot this afternoon just before the bell rang to end lunch recess.  There’s a metal gate that separates cars from children.  Gathering my stuff, I slid out of Ruby and started for the office.

And then I looked to my right.  Six or seven Grade 5 and 6 kids were leaning over the gate towards me.  One girl yelled out something like “I know who you are!”  She meant that I was Bruce Kerr but in a deeper way these young ones do “get” me.  They know I love them. They know I challenge them to be full human beings.  They know I make them laugh.

I walked up to the throng and tried to absorb all the words that were flying my way.  Apparently a professional wrestler had been speaking at this morning’s assembly and the general consensus was that he was totally cool.  As the collective babbling reached a crescendo, I understood: They wanted to hang out with me.  They wanted me to know what they were thinking and feeling.  The lean was real.

After signing in at the office, I headed to the classroom.  Silent reading held sway for the first fifteen minutes.  I sat in a chair at the edge of the carpet and pulled up The Last Leopard on my phone, the closest kids only a few inches away.  Jeremy remarked that I had quite a crew around me.  He was right.  Children often come close.

Towards the end of the day, I put on my coat and told the students that I was heading to Toronto for a few days, especially to hear a marvelous choir from Los Angeles on Saturday evening.  One boy asked me whom I was going with.  “Me.”  A girl said “Take me.”  And then a young guy said the same.  Somehow I don’t think parents would be too interested in that prospect.

***

So what do I make of all this?  Humbly, I know that I impact many children.  I wish I had grandkids of my own.  But I don’t.  What’s left for me are the hours at school, in which there are minutes of connection between 11-year-olds and a 71-year-old.

What a blessing to reach young souls
What a blessing to contribute to the lives of others
What a blessing to walk the paths of the planet … with you

Reading to the Kids

Before I left for Senegal six weeks ago, I asked “Jeremy”, the Grade 5/6 teacher, if I could read to the kids when I came back. I love novels and all the characters, and changing my voice to suit each of them.

During silent reading time in class, I had roamed through the world of 11-year-old Martine Allen in Dolphin’s Song. What an adventure! I eventually figured out that this was the second book in a series about Martine and her friends. In Senegal, I downloaded the first book onto my phone and sped through it. The White Giraffe is aimed at kids but this loosey goosey adult was entranced by the action, the decisions the children made, and the ups and downs of relationship.

Yesterday Jeremy said yes to a young girl and an impossibly tall mammal. “Why not this afternoon, Bruce?” I glowed.

And so we began. I told the kids to put their lives between the pages. Are you like Martine, or Ben? Maybe not. What would you have done or said when X happened? Many of the young ones leaned forward, ready for an engrossing tale.

Lauren St. John knows how to grab her readers’ attention. How about this on page one?

The night Martine Allen turned eleven years old was the night her life changed absolutely, totally and completely and was never the same again.

Okay, Lauren. You’ve got me.

Martine was home in bed, dreaming:

It was a wild goose with a broken wing. But instead of helping it, some of the children began tormenting it. Martine, who could never bear to see any creature hurt, tried to stop them, but in the dream they turned on her instead. Next thing she knew she was on the ground crying and the injured bird was in her arms. Then something very peculiar happened. Her hands, holding the wild goose, heated up to the point where they were practically glowing and electricity crackled through her … Suddenly, the bird stirred. Martine opened her palms and it shook out its wings and flew into the violet sky.

Do dreams come true? Does this girl have the gift of healing? How can I possibly resist this story?

Our soon-to-be heroine was home in England. And the house was on fire! Lauren places us Canadians inside that choking bedroom:

Martine stood paralysed with terror. Far below her, the snow glinted mockingly in the darkness. Behind her, the room was filling with smoke and fumes and the fire was roaring like a factory furnace.

The snow was mocking Martine. Oh … what exquisite writing!

An ordinary writer might have said “Martine started crying.” But there’s no ordinary here:

Martine’s eyes streamed.

Even with all the panic, The White Giraffe isn’t emerging as a one-dimensional story about preteens. There’s already plenty to chew on about loving and being loved:

And Martine had smiled at him and thought how lovely her parents were even if they were sometimes a little weird.

Lauren has me. I hope she and I already have the kids. There are worlds to explore together.

Day Twenty-Nine: Rigueur/Douceur

The kids’ vests said it all: rigor and softness. We’ll ask the children to work hard and we’ll love them.

Lydia, Marie-paule and I visited the Toubacouta school for young students yesterday. I was there first so I walked through the gate into a courtyard with swings, hanging backpacks, and shoes lined up in neat rows outside of the main building. I sat on the step and wondered if this place would be a big part of my life someday.

When the women arrived, we walked towards the door and were greeted by a teacher in a lovely African dress, splashed with colour. She smiled radiantly and ushered us inside. Kids were spread over the floor in two groups, all sitting on big mats. Eyes widened and bodies started bouncing. Marie-paule and Lydia began talking to a few adults but I didn’t want to do that. I sat on a chair beside lots of young ones – about five years old. Within seconds, legs lifted bodies, hands extended to mine and personal space was just some weird Western concept.

Kids reached for my glasses. They rubbed my white arms. They sought my grey hair. I said no to some of it but mostly I loved the contact.

A shrill teacher voice in a language I didn’t understand jolted eyes wide and sent feet scurrying back to the mat. Tiny blackboards were distributed and students got to work with their chalk. Drawings, rather than letters, were created. Rags and a bucket of water were nearby for erasing and starting again. It reminded me a lot of the Grade 5/6 class back in Canada when the kids were doing Math.

The space was packed with noise … and movement. I smiled to think of teachers’ reactions to this situation back home. Every minute or two, a Senegalese teacher would yell at some kid. At least I think that was what was happening. It was rapid-fire words with definitely an edge to them.

Later in the morning, I got to attend a language class with about fifteen kids. French was the language being learned. It appeared that a new girl was joining the class and the lesson was about how to welcome her. As well as coaching the students about what words to use, the teacher had each child approach the new one, make eye contact and shake her hand. Very cool. When each student completed the task, the teacher smiled at them, drew them close and placed a kiss on the cheek. Yes, I was in another world, but it was still reminiscent of tender moments in Canadian classrooms.

During my time in Senegal, I’ve given away most of the gifts that the kids in Belmont had made or provided – bracelets, books, beach balls. What remained was four skipping ropes, donated by a creative young lady in Grade 6. Lydia advised me to give them to teachers at the school so everyone could enjoy them. Good plan. So I did.

At recess, one of the teachers took an orange rope outside. Soon she and a child were on either end and kids took turns jumping in. I should have suspected that they’d be naturals. Then Lydia grabbed a rope and demoed solitary skipping. Woh! Small eyes followed the bouncing human.

***

Lots of young faces
A few old faces
Faces

Day Seven: Nima

What can give you a true sense of Senegal? I have many moments to choose from yesterday but my time with Nima was the best.

She’s a four-year-old girl, the daughter of my friends Ice Tea (Moustafa) and Fatou. As I arrived around midnight a day ago, she was sleepily there to greet Jo and me. At the gate, Jo picked her up and said “She’s grown so much!” I looked over to see two eyes shining in the darkness. Soon she was asleep, and we adults joined in conversation. But those eyes remained in me.

Yesterday morning, it was Nima again, finding me from across the room. She wore a pink t-shirt and her hair fell in countless braids. What was going on that I had trouble maintaining normal conversation with the tall people? There was a power here, in a tiny package, that reached over to me. How we can affect each other.

Later she sat in the next chair and her smile shone. There was Beatles music in the background and I began drumming on the wooden arm of my seat. Nima did the same, and soon we had a beat going that would have made Ringo proud … a Senegalese kid and a Canadian forty-year-old giving ‘er in the percussion section of the orchestra.

As Nima drummed, she stuck out her tongue. And I realized that I’d never really noticed tongues before. Hers was so pink against the black of her skin.

The beat went on and so did we. I plopped my hand on hers briefly. She returned the favour, and soon we were trying to escape each other’s touches from above. And still we drummed, now to the songs of Neil Young. We laughed.

I don’t believe that Nima knows any English, and my French is slowly moving from marginal to moderate. No matter. We were rejoicing in the melodies of life.

Later in the day, we had visitors. Two young boys crammed a chair with Nima. It was her fourth birthday. Conversations in French bounced across the room. And the song with “anniversaire” in the lyrics burst out. Happy Birthday, dear little one. The song morphed to something else and the kids started dancing. Somewhere along the way, I picked up my phone and started videoing. I wonder if I can send it to you. Let’s try:

Une grande célébration! Parfait pour tous les gens.

Perfect for us all

The Parade

Every year, on the first Sunday evening of December, the fine citizens of Belmont, Ontario are treated to our Santa Claus Parade, complete with the big guy.  And every year since 1846 I’ve dressed up as Charles Dickens, handing out candy to the short people.

Yesterday morning I got a call from John, the owner of FreshMart.  He sponsors the float that I start off walking beside.  Every year, I’ve never been able to keep up with the rolling hay-bale bed full of kids, because children at the curb deserve their candy and a few words of greeting.

“Bruce, I have 250 candy canes.  Do you think that’ll be enough?”  The Belmont parade has always been a popular destination but as we spoke the freezing rain was coating the world.  I’m no meteorologist or predictor of consumer trends.  However …  “No.  Make it 400.”  I have no idea where that estimate came from.  It didn’t feel like it grew out of my cognitive mind.

I arrived at the staging grounds at 5:30, a half hour before the big rollout.  My task was clear: find kids on floats.  They’d be candyless and probably would remain so for the duration of the parade.  I bet I gave out forty candy canes before the proceedings started proceeding.  Right away, I saw the challenge before me.  Candy canes have their hooked ends, which in a bag tend to resemble a glob of clothes hangers.  Try to get the buggers apart.  Happily, my finger dexterity skills improved as we hit the streets (actually just Main Street).

And now we begin.  Just a sprinkling of kids on the first block, but they were already loving the glitz and glamour that passed before them.  The candy wasn’t bad either.  I saw a girl I had volunteered with three years ago in Grade 6.  She opened her arms for a hug.  I asked if she was under 12, my fictitious limit for bestowing canes.  With a smile she said “Yes”.  During the parade, I asked many adults the same question.  The hardy souls who uttered the same lie got rewarded for their bravado with one of the little hooked things.

In a parade, if a candy dispenser has a favourite line to say, he can do that over and over again since every person is new and fresh.  I loved approaching a little girl or boy and saying “Would you like candy or lettuce?”  I’m sure you can figure out the predominant response, but there were a few kids who bubbled up with “Lettuce!”, to which I replied with “Oh, I just gave out my last bunch two blocks ago!”

So many wide eyes looking up at me with their bags open, hoping that this guy in a top hat, fake moustache and trenchcoat would drop something in.  I didn’t disappoint.  I have a certain radar when it comes to locating children.  I encouraged their nutritional awareness by often commenting “Candy is one of Canada’s Four Major Food Groups … Sugar!”  The parents smiled, knowing that I had spoken the truth.

With two blocks to go, the FreshMart float was long gone, and I was passed by Santa Claus himself.  He and I made eye and wave contact and I silently uttered an oath in favour of a red Lambourghini.  Santa zooming ahead meant the parade was over and families were drifting off to their cars.  Still with candy in my bag, I chased folks down a side street, foisting my wares on unsuspecting but grateful young ones.

I ended my evening walking back towards my car.  Within the festive beauty of Belmont Community Park, I rummaged in my bag for the dregs.  Four adults approached.  I could tell they were all under 12, and so they received candy canes in their palms.  I went to a Christmas display and dumped the contents onto the frozen grass.  Merely fragments of candy remained.

Hey, John … 400 did nicely!  And all was well in the world.

Monster Walk

On Saturday morning, at least 200 mini-ghosts and princesses walked down Main Street in Belmont, Ontario, searching for goodies.  “Mary”, the owner of the Belmont Diner, had asked me to dress up and hand out candy from 10:00 till noon.  Yes, of course I would!

The day before, I went to a costume store and picked up a greyish black handlebar moustache that made me look extinguished.  I thought about adding a black wig for consistency but then reasoned that the blond one I had at home would do just fine.

Then it was off to Value Village for the subtle tones of a shirt and pants.  A bright orange top drew me in and resistance was futile.  As for the pants, I couldn’t imagine I’d find an appropriate pair in the men’s section, so I asked a saleswoman what size I’d be in female lingo.  She thought a 12.  Alrighty then.  Lurking on the rack in front of me were bright pink trousers.  I rushed to the change room to check out the effect but couldn’t get into the pinks.  Down another aisle was a glowing turquoise version of conservatism.  Yes again.  A perfect 14!

At home there was the wig, a red foam nose and a blue fish head to frame it all.  When I created costumes in the past, I always got the question “What are you?”  Saturday was the same.  I still didn’t have an answer.

Mary had cute little plastic bags stuffed with chocolate unknowns.  I was ready.  Shortly after 10:00, the trail of young costumites and their parents wound its way to the Diner’s front door.  I had the vague idea that my job would be done in thirty minutes but the answer to that was “Not!”  The flow flowed for nearly two hours.

Kids would come into the restaurant looking impossibly cute and glance around, not knowing where to go.  I was at the far end in full regalia, waving my hands in unison and yelling “Hello!  Over here for the candy.”  Wary little ones, often urged on by mom, found their way to me.

I saw so many glimmering dresses.  So many masked demons.  And I looked into so many eyes.  Put so many bags into so many hands.  It was special.  Many kids didn’t know what to make of me but they all enjoyed receiving my gifts.  The stream of young humanity was virtually constant and so was my happiness.  Eyes of wonder.  Mine and theirs.

When the bags were just about gone, Mary pulled out a box of tiny chocolate bars.  All was well … until about 11:30, when there were maybe thirty bars left.  I moseyed over to a table of women regulars and asked if someone would walk over to the nearby grocery store and pick up more treats.  “Barb” bounced up off her seat and headed out the door.  I was handing over my very last bars when she came back.  The universe was truly unfolding as it should.

I was happy
The kids were happy
And I think the cosmos was wearing a big smile

Voices and a Cookie

I volunteer in a Grade 5/6 class.  Wonderful kids.  They create so many moments for me, some of which I’ll remember for the rest of my days.  Last week, I had challenged these young ones to sing “O Canada” with me when our anthem was played over the PA system.  Today, when I realized that the announcements were coming on in a few minutes, I piped up with “Remember the challenge!  You don’t have to do it, but …”

And then the opening chords of the song.  I looked at the wall and let the words flow from my mouth.  Tilting my head a mite, there was the chorus.  I don’t know how many kids of the twenty-four were singing but it was more than a few.  Ahh.  Life is good.

There is great power in putting out a challenge and having it accepted by some.  It feels warm inside.  It makes me wish that I had a time machine and could leap forward into these folks’ lives.  Will thirty-year-olds sing their anthem at hockey games?  Will they believe in their country?  I hope so.

***

As the bell rang, announcing recess, I plucked my coat from its hook.  “Lisa”, a Grade 5 girl, came bouncing up to me, plastic bag in hand.  “Would you like a cookie, Mr. Kerr?”  I gazed down into the bottom to find some black spots on said cookie.  Red alert!  Specifically a raisin alert.  I looked at Lisa, grimaced, and said “I hate raisins.  That’s so kind of you to offer and someday soon I’ll definitely accept if you give me another variety.”  She smiled and I returned the favour.

How lovely that she thought of me and was brave enough to come over and hold out the bag.  I feel honoured, cherished.  Just as lovely was me telling her the truth.  Kids deserve the truth.  My dislike for raisins has no impact on my relationship with Lisa.  I’ll always enjoy the kind and generous humans who come my way.  One of these days, another plastic bag will hold a chocolate chip goodie, or maybe a peanut butter one.  Lisa will give and I will receive.

***

I need kids in my life
Some kids enjoy having me in theirs
We are both teacher and student