Friday, February 24, 2012

Honoring the royalty in our midst

We spotted the princess in the Burger King in The Dalles, sleeping.
Seven to ten admirers surrounded her, waiting impatiently for her to open her eyes.  Finally someone, overcome by her beauty, woke her with a kiss.
Adults and teenagers vied for position as they sought a personal audience with Her Royal Majesty—a good-natured conflict. In the end, everyone got a personal audience.
Each used every stratagem of voice and facial expression to get her attention.  When the wide-eyed beauty ventured a shy smile, they cheered joyously.
She looked about two months old, a tiny beauty captivating this large group of adoring relatives—a couple of grandfather-aged men, a great-grandma, two grandma-aged ladies and assorted aunts, uncles, and cousins. 
There was even a young Prince Charming—a boy baby who was too young to see that the world was revolving around his cousin.  He had likely had his turn in the spotlight about eight months ago.
We didn’t catch the name of the princess or understand their praise because they were speaking Spanish, but this family was under her spell, head-over-heels crazy about her, talking baby talk, coo-chee cooing and laughing.
Travel time was ticking, so the entourage said farewell and left the princess, young Mr. Charming and their mothers at the Burger King. 
Later, on I84, some of them passed us in an SUV with Utah plates, and I thought how empty that full vehicle must seem without Their Royal Majesties.
Something about a baby brings out the joy in us. 
I grew up in a home where loving babies was almost a cult. It was blasphemy to say a newborn was ugly, though people in other families did. My Uncle Henry laughingly told about overhearing his new grandson’s other grandma say, “Ugly little cuss—looks just like Henry!”
Mama loved babies and was loved by them. Even when she was elderly and crippled by arthritis, she welcomed babies into her arms—and they laughed and cooed, or slept peacefully. 
Here are some of her beliefs.
--Dr. Spock had issued his “Let them cry it out” advice when Mama and Daddy started their family.  One day, Daddy’s mother, a somewhat austere woman, picked up the screamer and said, “Babies don’t cry it out in this house.”  And they never did in Mama’s house thereafter.
--“Baby the mother.”  When my babies were due, having Grandma come was half of the excitement. She took care of the cooking, the children, and me—so I could focus on breastfeeding and bonding with the new baby.  She had learned this pattern from her own mother, and it goes back for generations.
--Cuddle babies and sing to them every time that you can. A young mother told me a child’s ability to do math develops between ages one and three—and a key to building math ability is singing.
--Growing up doesn’t end a person’s need for love and respect.  What would the world be like if we responded to our family members as if they were new babies—or royalty—all their lives.  My Mama did.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Share magical stories with a new generation

The small school of my childhood harbored enchanted treasures: a few bookcases in each classroom constituted the only free lending libraries in town.  
In third grade, You Were There with Clara Barton changed reading from agony to ecstasy for me. The drama of a woman nursing wounded soldiers through the horrors of the Civil War captured my eight-year-old imagination.
Union soldiers respected Barton, who battled bureaucracy and scant supplies to succor their wounded.  The story below is from the website
Coming to a stream where the water was too deep for wading, Clara decided to wait for her wagons and cross the torrent on a cart. An infantry captain halted his men in mid-stream and shouted, ‘Now boys, there stands Clara Barton. I want every one of you to kneel on your right knee and let Miss Barton cross this stream on your left knee.’ Thus, Clara crossed the stream without getting her feet wet.”
Initiated by Clara’s story, I was off and reading.  As a 12-year-old, I discovered Tolkien, and over the years, other authors have pulled me in.
My sister, Shanan, remembers another book from Teton Elementary School—ChiChi’s Magic, about a clever monkey.   She couldn’t read it, but she loved hearing our sister read it. 
We’ve talked about the power of drawing maps and using sensory images to capture memories—Carolyn Hawkins re-drew her map to include the Mennonite Church on Nampa’s north side, and Mickie Rennie remembers “the smell of Dad’s shaving soap.”
Consider also sharing your past with the rising generation by imparting the magic of books you’ve loved. Nowadays, we tell kids, “Read, and we’ll give you stickers, and pizza, and baseball caps.”   Fine—but if they get sucked into a story, they won’t need rewards. 
Anthony Doerr, Idaho’s Writer in Residence, says: “All it takes is one. One book that reaches inside and shifts things around a bit, expands your understanding of who you are, and opens up that little conduit of magic. Once you find it, once you’ve felt that tidal pull, that danger, you’ll be a reader for the rest of your life.”
Just like with fishing, the hard part is hooking the kids in the first place.
That’s where we—yes, those of us READING right now—come in.  We should teach by example—letting kids see us read and hear us talk about what we read—and by precept.  We should read out loud to them.
Every school in Treasure Valley appreciates adult volunteers who read to children. Sign up at the school nearest you to change young lives.
Need bait? For examples of “magic books” go to
Some years ago, Shanan was reading to elementary students who said, “I love that story! I wish I could read.” Shanan told them, “I have dyslexia, and when I was your age, I couldn’t read.  When my mom read Old Yeller and Savage Sam to me, it made me want to learn—so keep working!”  She could’ve said, “Somewhere, a priceless book is waiting for you. Don’t give up ‘til you find it.”