My ten year old daughter is becoming a better writer than I will ever be. As her vocabulary continues to grow, she seems to be able to access her words with the same level of abandonment that children have when scribbling with crayons. The reckless freedom of her expression is like a salve amidst the paralyzing reality of our worlds being shut down.
Six weeks into semi-quarantined life, she is finishing the fifth grade via Zoom video calls. We have had to loosen the restrictions on her screen time and I am struggling with the realization of how much she is missing out on. She has always been super school-spirited, participating in choir and history club and taking great pride in being a member of the “safety patrol” in which she dons an orange vest and helps make sure the younger kids find their way home. This was her last year of elementary school and the culmination festivities have all been canceled.
She is too young to fully grasp what is happening yet wise enough to recognize the gravity of the moment.
One of her teachers asked all of the 5th grade students to consider logging their time during this pandemic through haiku poetry. She has been writing at least one every day without fail, even when no one else does. From time to time, her teacher will give her feedback or provide general praise for her efforts. At some point, she suggested that she switch things up to tanka poems. Her most recent submission read:
My mom ordered seeds
Going to plant a garden
Now the yard is bare
But soon flowers will blossom
And yes colors will invade
After receiving this, her teacher felt there was something more there than the tanka format allowed for and asked her if she would consider a revision. She suggested that she try free verse and not worry about the syllables, to use some rhyme and personification and expound upon the idea of seeds bringing new life to the soil, and to just: “go with it.”
10 minutes later, she sent this back to her teacher:
AND TO THINK IT STARTED AS A SEED
The uneven lawn seems to cackle an evil laugh
The patches of crumbly dirt bore into my eyes.
But it won’t stay like this for long…
I dig my finger into the bare ground
And drop in a dark umber milkweed seed
For now it’s not much
But soon a sap green sprout will grow
Reaching up to touch the flaming sun
With water and care
The plant will stay there
Strong and steady
Bigger and bigger until there are buds
Rose pink flowers will open their petals full of possibility
And soon it will blossom bringing new life
To me to you…
To every person or animal it sees
And to think it started as a seed
Sharing this exchange with me, her teacher added: “She makes me glad I am a teacher.”
For the first year of my daughter’s life, my wife had a job that gave us health insurance. While she was at work providing for us, I was on baby duty. I remember that I would talk to her for hours. As parents, we refused to talk “baby talk” to her. We decided to always speak to her as though she were our intellectual equal, even when she was prelinguistic. Our hope was that if we spoke to her as a fully formed human with the full breadth of our words, it might fill her brain with the capacity to someday better communicate her will and purpose in life.
Last week was particularly stressful as I, like everyone, was trying to navigate the ramifications of this pandemic. I was feeling overwhelmed and not able to be as present with my family as I would have wished for. It’s hard to play and have fun when the walls are seemingly caving in. One day, in particular, I was in a bad way and my daughter was acting atrociously. She was being downright mean to everyone and I was angry at her. I was on the verge of losing it and about to lay into her when it hit me: she is only ten and is totally freaked out, she just doesn’t know how to express what she is feeling.
The big picture looks grim but the immediate moment still holds joy.
She had mentioned to me that she was writing poetry with her class but hadn’t shared any of it with me. After reading the poem her teacher sent me, I was in tears when she walked into the room and asked:
“Dad, why are you crying?”
“I just read your poem. I feel moved. It’s beautiful.”
She beamed and I will cherish that smile on her face forever.