Tuesday, January 29, 2013

From Mockingbirds to Octopi

This month at school, we are studying Harper Lee's novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird." Although this is one of my all time favorite books, I was concerned that A) the students wouldn't read the book (It is long and dense) and B) those who did read it, wouldn't really care about it. I tackled the first problem by assigning reading quizzes every class period. I tried to thwart any sparks notes users by specifically avoiding questions that can be answered just by reading the chapter synopsizes.

The second problem took more effort. How do you make the novel meaningful to a group of students who have never lived in America or studied American history (I only have four American students)? My fears materilized when I had a student ask, "So when does this book start getting interesting?" (He was on chapter 10). Luckily, he answered his own question a few days later. He burst into class and announced, "It's getting interesting!" (chapter 15). 

Today was monumental for me. We sat in a circle and did a Socratic-style debate about prejudice. The students with discussed how everyone feels the effects of prejudice - from Miss Caroline Fisher, to Boo, to Calpurnia, to Mayella, to Scout, to Tom Robinson. But more than that, they realized that what Harper Lee was trying to say was as simple as "Really, we're all the same" and how important it is to stand up for the right. My students did not want to stop talking. Hands were up. Minds were engaged. And the application of a story written about the 1930s, published in 1960, became completely relevant to a group of students living in Jakarta Indonesia in 2013. 

I LOVE my job! I am humbled and grateful to get to teach such incredible stories and principles to such incredible kids.

Which leads me to another favorite part of my life and some more incredible kids...preschool with Charlotte.

Yesterday I got to teach these darling girls about the letter "O" and the number 8. We did an octopus craft, spent time in the kitchen making "O" doughnuts, and did a reading matching game.   
 There were giggles, one meltdown (my child), one timeout (my child), and wonderful breakthrough moments when all three girls read the words: dog, log, jog, and fog.
From great literature with ninth graders to learning to read with four year-olds. 
I cherish my time with both.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Today I am a Mermaid

Let me preface by confessing that I don't particularly enjoy imaginary play - which may surprise those of you who know how much I love to be in a play (as in, on a stage).  And my dislike for imaginary play seems to have increased (instead of decreased) with each addition to our family. Chances are, I've even blogged about this particular subject before. I LOVE reading books to my kids, or playing a game, or building a puzzle, or having my children help in the kitchen. But the moment one of them brings out the dress up box, I really want to run and hide.

However, now that Madi is nearly 13, I realize that the imaginary-play-phase of childhood is fleeting. And so in an effort to correct past wrongs, I've tried to embrace pretend play.

Last week, I played power miners with Tman. I was the rock monster that attacked the rig and stole the jewels. I lasted fifteen minutes. But they were a good fifteen minutes.

Since Thanksgiving, any chance CJ gets, she asks me to play Pilgrims. We've enacted the plight of the Pilgrims again and again. We pretend we're on the Mayflower. Then we survive the winter in Plymouth. The Indians help us. And we celebrate with a Thanksgiving feast.

And just a few days ago, CJ wanted me to be a mermaid. I didn't have to do much - just perch on the couch and flap my feet as though I had a mermaid tail. 

I tried really hard NOT to keep checking the clock.

I have a memory of my mom sitting on the floor in my room when I was young. I must have been less than six years old because we were in our house in Alabama. I remember there were long yellow curtains in my room. We sat together and played with my "Sunshine Family" dolls - predecessors to barbies. I don't remember the storyline. But I just remember being there with my mom. And it is a good memory.

I have some wonderful roles to fill in this life: wife, mother, friend, teacher, runner, writer, traveler, baker, singer, etc. But I humbly add the following roles to my list:

Rock Monster

Friday, January 18, 2013

Jakarta Floods

 Here is the view from my car as we drove home from school on Thursday afternoon. School was let out early in order to beat the expected heavy traffic in the flood waters. The American Embassy closed early too.
The boys pictured below were carrying what looked like a make-shift surf board.
So far, our housing complex and neighborhood are safe from any flood waters. But the thunderstorms the past couple nights have literally shaken the house. Lightening sets off car alarms. The booms of thunder are so loud I can feel them, like punches to the chest.

Today was designated a "Rain Day" (kind of like a Snow Day) by both Jakarta International School and the American Embassy. We slept in, ate a leisurely breakfast, and spent the day playing games and visiting friends.  
I know there are many here in Jakarta who are not as fortunate. 
Near the Lippo Mall, just a short distance from our house, an entire campoon is under water. Elise and I walked there today to see and take pictures. Normally, the river flows behind these homes. Now the river is waist high and flowing through the homes.
I hope the residents have found shelter.

If you want to read more, here is report from ABC News: Jakarta Floods.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Madi Goes to China

My most exotic honor choir trip was from Sitka, Alaska to Seattle, Washington. As an 8th grader at Blatchley Middle School, I thought a flight to Seattle was a huge deal.

This morning, I drove Madi and her friend, Erin, to JIS where they boarded a bus and headed to the airport. They are currently on a plane to
for an AMIS (Association of Music for International Schools) girls' honor choir trip.
Here they are in the back seat of our car, at the insane early hour of 4:30AM.
Madi and Erin waiting in the parking lot for the other choir members to arrive:
 I still remember my honor choir experience from (cringe!) twenty-six years ago. We sang "Cat Duet" by Gioacchino Rossini. I had a crush on Ty (a boy from my school who was in the honor boys' choir). And there was a girl who wore a Hubba Bubba bubblegum shirt that I coveted. (Pretty eclectic memories.) Mostly, I remember it being an incredible experience - an important step in fueling my love of music.

Of course, I never dreamed I'd be sending my daughter off to her first honor choir event...in China. 
As with most things Madi sets her mind to, she earned her place on the choir after a lot of hard work. It was not easy. Madi leans toward the shy side, so singing solo for audition in front of the entire choir was a bit scary. However, she practiced and developed a beautiful clear tone. We're pretty sure she inherited her high soprano voice (which I'm very envious of) from Nana. She auditioned with 40 other girls and was selected as one of 9 to represent JIS at the honor choir.

As I sit here typing, I find myself thinking about my parents - grateful for their support of my love of music. I wonder if they were as excited for me boarding the plane to Seattle as I was for Madi boarding a plane to China this morning. 

I can't wait to hear about her adventure.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Haunting Side of Jakarta

A figure is on the ground. In the dark of early morning, with no one around but a few drowsy guards, I am alone.  At first I think the mound is a pile of construction debris covered by a tarp. But as I get closer, I see something much different.

It is a person. He is curled on his side, asleep. I have seen plenty of people sleeping on the ground here in Jakarta. In fact, Indonesians seem to be able to sleep just about anywhere: on their parked motorcyles, stretched on a wooden bench, and yes, even on the ground. What is different about this person, is there is nothing cushioning him from the biting asphalt except his thin clothes. No bamboo mat, not even a cut-up cardboard box.

He lies on a small driveway where there is an incline of asphalt between the road and a locked high gate.  If he were to stretch out, his feet would be in the street. He lies so perfectly still that for a moment I wonder if he is still breathing. And I wonder what brought him here. How exhausted, desperate, or sick would a person be to sleep on the hard ground?

There is something so troubling about this sight, that I cannot think of anything else for the rest of my run.

As soon as I get home, I grab some cash, get in my car and drive back to the spot.

He is still there. Just as before. The only difference now is the sun is up. And so I can see him more clearly. He looks smaller in the daylight. His bare feet and legs are covered with sores. His shorts are frayed and filthy.

I park my car on the side of the road and get out. I call to him softly, not wanting to startle him, "Pak?" (Mr.?) He remains still.

I reach out and pat his bony shoulder.

He lifts his head, and for the first time I see his face. This is no man, nor even a teenager. He is a boy. No older than my own son.

I am as startled by the sight as he is by being woken. But when I hold up the money, he takes it eagerly. "Terima Kasih banyak" (Many thanks) he says in a shy whisper. With the money fisted in his hand, he rolls over and falls back asleep. On the ground.

I can barely see as I drive home. I choke on my tears. I park my car and enter my large, air conditioned home. I walk by not one, but two fridges full of food. And I don't know whether to be grateful or ashamed. Relieved or guilty. Humbled by my blessings or disgusted by the excess and the inequality of it all.

These two polar worlds live side by side here in Jakarta. Poverty and suffering spills into my morning run. It pushes against the walls of my house. It breaks into my heart. And it scares me - not because I will be harmed by it, but because I have so little power to do anything to change it.

I do not know how to reconcile the polar worlds of Jakarta or my polar emotions. I only know one thing. The boy, sleeping on the ground, will forever haunt me. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Twins Turn 9!

This year whizzed by. Whizzed. How is it that my twins are 9? Didn't they just get baptized? I've been told by veteran parents that, at this point, the clock doesn't slow down. But wow, I'm still surprised by the speed of time. As much as I told the twins to "Stop growing!" and to "Stay small!" they did not obey.

We celebrated with double pies: lemon cream for Amelia and pumpkin for Truman (thankfully, I had leftover canned pumpkin from holiday care packages - thank you care package fairies!!). 

We spent their birthday morning driving back from the Ambassador's guest house in Puncak. We left at 5AM to try to beat the traffic. I love this picture I snapped of the two of them. Amelia had just woken up. She tried to stay still so she wouldn't wake Truman.
Here are some of my thoughts about you two:

Amelia, you have followed your passion for anything hands-on: drawing, creating, and sewing. You hand-sewed a tiny, blue satin jacket for your sister's Calico Critter as a Christmas present. And you surprise me, almost daily, with a new drawing, or handmade card, or doll made of sticks. You were thrilled to sign up for an after school ceramics class. You tried out for "Alice in Wonderland" the elementary school play. You wanted to get a speaking part so badly. You said, "I just want one line. I'd be happy just to be the door knob!" And although you didn't get a speaking role (and it broke our hearts a little bit), you maintained your cheerfulness. You are tenacious and eternally optimistic - both traits will serve you well throughout your life.

Truman, you have continued to develop your talents at chess, soccer, and piano. And you have really tried to be a good friend. You've enjoyed time with Tane (your friend from New Zealand) and Daniel, who lives here in the neighborhood. You have a perfectionist tendency that I envy.
I know it was a disappointment to not make the Coca Cola Soccer team this year. But I'm proud of you for not giving up. The fact that you chose a soccer after school activity so you can continue developing your soccer skills, shows great resiliency and determination.

Perhaps my favorite thing this year is the fact that you two are in back in the same class at school. Yay! You both love Mrs. Eward. And you look out for each other. Remember when you told me about your project presentation day at school? Truman, you said you made sure you put a positive comment (sticky note) on Amelia's game. And Amelia did the same thing for Truman's poster.

Here you are with Mrs. Eward on the day I brought in birthday treats for your class. I love how you both couldn't stop laughing and smiling.

Not only are you incredible individuals, you are also really special to each other. Everyone in this world needs a friend. Lucky for you, you came into this world not just with a twin, but with a built-in friend.

Happy Birthday!