granddaughter turns on to poetry

I’ve always said that re-discovering the world through younger eyes is one of the best things about having children around. Yesterday afternoon when our six-year-old granddaughter came for a sleepover, she discovered the children’s book section of my “library” and I re-discovered one of my favorite children’s authors, Shel Silverstein. She wasn’t a very enthusiastic reader last year but we were happy her older brother was and decided one out of two (voracious readers in the family) ain’t bad. It seems quite recently that things have changed. Not only has her fervor for reading been ignited, her reading skills have developed to what I like to think of as phenomenal–just the right inflection, dramatic pauses, etc.–and of course I’m not at all prejudiced.

I’m such an admirer of Silverstein’s quirky, laid-back style, and defy anyone–no matter the age–NOT to find something they can identify with in one of his poetry books. His books have been translated into 30 languages, and have sold over 20 million copies and it’s so easy to see why. Silverstein died in 1999 at age 68. Too bad he couldn’t have gone on forever.

That’s Vimmy (ABOVE) preparing to read aloud to me from WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS, but her favorite poem of his–at least as of yesterday–was from A LIGHT IN THE ATTIC. When she read it to me, I understood perfectly that she had found herself in this one I’d like to share with you here. Perhaps through it you can re-discover the child that (probably) still lives in you.

“Little Abigail and the Beautiful Pony”

There was a girl named Abigail
Who was taking a drive
Through the country
With her parents
When she spied a beautiful sad-eyed
Grey and white pony.
And next to it was a sign
That said,
“Oh,” said Abigail,
“May I have that pony?
May I please?”
And her parents said,
“No you may not.”
And Abigail said,
“But I MUST have that pony.”
And her parents said,
“Well, you can’t have that pony,
But you can have a nice butter pecan
Ice cream cone when we get home.”
And Abigail said,
“I don’t want a butter pecan
Ice cream cone,
And her parents said,
“Be quiet and stop nagging–
You’re not getting that pony.”
And Abigail began to cry and said,
“If I don’t get that pony I’ll die.”
And her parents said, “You won’t die.
No child ever died yet from not getting a pony.”
And Abigail felt so bad
That when they got home she went to bed,
And she couldn’t eat,
And she couldn’t sleep,
And her heart was broken,
And she DID die–
All because of a pony
That her parents wouldn’t buy.

(This is a good story
To read to your folks
When they won’t buy
You something you want.)

In spite of poor Abigail’s unhappy demise and her parent’s (deserved?) comeuppance–for which they must have forever been woefully sorry–I’m here to assure you and other girls like Abigail who may be reading this that no, you probably won’t die if you don’t get absolutely everything you want. Vimmy’s mother, who also wanted a pony when she was young is still around to this very day, and she finally understands why we didn’t buy her pony all those years ago. For my next poetry share I’ll have to tell you the poem I chose as an identifier for Vimmy’s older brother.

School Daze . . . some things never change!

It’s been a busy week here along the Wasatch. Along with our more mundane routine, keeping up with the Republican National Convention and the gym, Hubby and I were busy squiring grandchildren to and from school due to Mommy’s illness. Along with thousands of other children, they began school last week, Thomas in first grade at the elementary school at the bottom of the hill, and three-year-old Vimmy in a local Montessori school, a real school, she says, not day care. It’s been a long time since our own were in school so there were some things we’d forgotten that invariably go along with any new school year.

The 3-year-old, who isn’t exactly the most flexible of children when it comes to change, is trying because she accepts that big girl school is part of the natural order of things. But that doesn’t make it easy. She’s had quite a bit of change thrown at her this summer–a switch from her baby crib to a new big-girl bed, Daddy being out of town at conferences, Mommy working long hours, along with leaving all her old friends and her favorite teacher Miss Cat at the day care, being thrust in with 20 other children she’s never seen before–all within a few weeks. Naturally she’s showing the typical signs of stress. Top all of it off with Mommy falling ill, and it’s just too much for a little girl to handle at one time. How do you tell a child that this too will pass? If only there such a thing as a magic wand to wave.

So it was really hard when we had to leave her the first time, Tuesday morning. Two days the week before wasn’t long enough and the 3 day weekend made the new school and people all the more strange I’m sure.  She was being very quiet and clinging to my hand–this from a child who is so independent she’s insisted on doing everything for herself for the past year, even when it would have been so much easier and faster for a grownup to do it for her, everything from putting on her own socks to buckling her own seatbelt. But I hugged and kissed her, and eventually talked her into joining the other children gathering in a circle around the carpet to begin the school day.

The next day, she campaigned her objection more forcefully by collapsing on the sidewalk, having a temper tantrum, then begging to go to my house instead of school. It was even more heart wrenching to leave her this time. One thing about this child, she doesn’t want the public to see her stress so when we got into the school room, the only signs of her discomfort was the clinging to my hand. Eventually she joined in the line with other children to go outside for Spanish. She wanted to join in, I could tell by the tiniest of grins trying to cross her lips, but she still held tightly to my hand, not crying. I knew the sadness she was feeling. I’ve felt it myself thousands of times over the years. Again I told her everything would be okay, and I’d see her later on. But I left her that day with a lump in my throat. Then I came home and worried, something I’m quite used to doing, even though I know it’ll be alright eventually.

At the end of the day we found out what had happened after we left in the morning. It seems there had been another child having even more trouble settling in and his daddy left him screaming. According to the teachers, Vimmy went over to him and wrapped her arms around him and told him, “don’t worry. Your mommy will come back.” Needless to say, the teachers were as impressed as we were. Adjustment will be slow, but we know it will come. Within a week or two, Vimmy will be helping the teachers teach, I just know it.

That same afternoon, Thomas climbed into Grampa’s car as excited as he could be, opened up his backpack and pulled out a coupon book. “Grampa, today I got my very own credit card,” he said, then began going on and on about how lucky he was to have his own credit card already and he was only in the first grade. He informed his little sister in that big brother tone that she wasn’t old enough yet, because you had to be in first grade to get your own credit card. She would have to wait three more years.

Obviously, this child–and I imagine most every other child in first grade–did not understand what that coupon book was for. In his childish mind, the sales hype they’d been given meant that the plastic card on the inside front cover was a credit card to be used for all kinds of things without having to pay for them, and all he had to do was get his parents to send in $20 for it. Imagine the power of a card that works like that! What six-year-old wouldn’t be ready to go out and beg the neighbors to give him $20 for it. It was a real service he was offering.

Imagine! Second day of school and already the big assignment was to sell coupon books to your family, neighbors and friends at $20 each. I know it’s a fund raiser for the school, but I’ve always taken exception to making kids into door to door salesmen. I hated it when I was a kid in school, I hated it our kids were coerced into it years later. As a PTA officer I tried–along with a few other supporters–to abolish the practice altogether by asking parents to offer the equivalent of what they’d spend buying the useless merchandise anyway, and outright donate $5 or $10 dollars at the beginning of the school year, and then ONLY if they could afford or wished to.  I guess we weren’t rebellious enough for that idea never passed.

By the time he went to bed, Thomas was a lot wiser but sadder child than the one who came home from school that day. No credit card for Thomas after all! His parents had decided to take a stand against the exploitation of their child in the schools. Yes, they know schools are always underfunded, but with the taxes we all pay, whose fault is that? What they’re doing instead is what I and my PTA cohorts tried to do years ago. They’re writing a check to the school to deposit in the same fund the proceeds of the coupon book sales would go to, and they’re sending the book back to the school.

Thanks! But no thanks! All I can say is Bravo!