Friday, July 19, 2013

"I'm Not Talking About Poppin' Tags"

Sometimes I sort of overwhelm some kids. Not me, per se, but rather the idea of me, Teacher Tom. Their parents say they love school, that they sing our songs in the car, and talk about me at home "all the time," but at school they seem to prefer me at a distance. Many years ago, Sammy was like that, a 2-year-old who would flee to another corner of the room any time she found herself too close for comfort. I've written before about my basic approach to these kids, but the bottom line is that there's no rush, it's a long school year, it's a long three or four years at Woodland Park, it's a long life: we'll get there when we get there. The last thing they need is Teacher Tom getting in their face.

I recently completely outraged my teenaged daughter by finally discovering local artist Macklemore's hit song entitled Thrift Shop, you know, the one with the line "I'm gonna pop some tags," about shopping in thrift stores and wearing "your granddad's clothes." It's not that I knew about the song that got under her skin, but rather that I found out about it "at least a year" after it was cool. "If people your age know about a song, you know it's over, Dad. It's not even one of his best songs. I'll bet even your preschoolers are singing it."

And sure enough, she was right. Only a few days later, at a parent meeting, we all learned about one of our two-year-old classmates who could sing the whole thing a cappella. When the kids won't talk to me, I make sure to listen to their parents, trying to find anything I can use to start making a connection, and I was hoping that Thrift Shop was exactly the hook for which I was looking.

This girl tends to hang out with her mom at school (we're a cooperative, so that's always an option), using her as a sort of base from which to make forays into the classroom. I see and hear her talking with her mom and other adults, and she even has a reputation for being chatty when I'm not in the area. For past week or so, as she hides from me behind her mom's legs, burying her face, I've been singing the Thrift Shop chorus, not at her or to her, but just the way I sing all sorts of songs at school. There have been a few moments of recognition where she would suddenly forget herself and lock eyes with me before remembering to go back to avoiding me. That's enough for now: it's a long life.

Yesterday, I assigned her mom the job of managing our Stomp Rockets activity at the bottom of the hill, while her daughter elected to stay at the top of the hill, maybe because it attracted such a throng and she was more uncomfortable with the crowd than being on her own at preschool.  She was concentrating on climbing up our A-frame ladders and walking across the "monkey bar bridge." I casually positioned myself near her and started singing, "I'm gonna pop some tags. Got twenty dollars in my pocket . . ." She ignored me, picking her way across the climber, so I moved a little closer. I said, as if to no one in particular, "Tomorrow I think I'm gonna wear your granddad's clothes."

Without looking at me, and without stopping, she said, as if picking up right in the middle of a conversation, "I'm not talking about poppin' tags. I'm talking about going to the aquarium and we saw scuba divers feeding fish . . ." And she was off on a story with no punctuation.

As she spoke, she kept moving, climbing, repeating patterns, all the while keeping up her story that was not about poppin' tags. At first she stuck with climbing the ladder, crossing the bridge, climbing down the other side, repeating it over and over as I followed her from the ground, listening to this one-sided conversation, a stream-of-consciousness rant worthy of James Joyce. When another child joined her on the climber, without a hitch she looped our wooden pony into the cycle, climbing on its back, shaking her body as if galloping, then returning to the climber, still always telling me her story that was about everything, it seemed, except poppin' tags. When another child, while she was busy in another part of her circuit knocked over the pony, she smoothly switched to climbing on then off one of our wooden boxes, incorporating it into her movement pattern that seemed to be one with her story.

Constantly in motion, constantly climbing, constantly talking, she told me her story that was not about poppin' tags. It was as if she had been telling me this story for a long time, perhaps since the day she met me, and now I was finally able to hear it. 

(Please note, I've written this entire post without once referencing the emotion called shyness.)

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1 comment:

lucyoh said...

I recognize those shoes and the shy, reticent, and musical little girl. Thank you, Teacher Tom, for making those connections!
Her Nana, the elementary teacher