Tag Archives: time

Day 29: The intangibles and my time in the desert with students

Dear Readers,

This  post by Frank Nappi from The Badass Teachers Association  is fantastic! I  relate to it in a few ways.  A long time ago, I was an educator /counselor in the Israeli army education branch (Gadna) of the IDF in 1985-1987 for my two-year service. I worked in a poor and disadvantaged rural community in the Northern Negev. Many of the children I worked with had illiterate parents with minimal grade school or no education of their own. They were some of the most warm, welcoming, caring, and generous people I’ve ever met. And they were also suspicious of me, the army, and outsiders in general.  They held patriarchal, conservative,  religious, and superstitious views of society. Women’s roles were  defined as wives, mothers, caregivers, food makers, house cleaners–traditional, old world views that were entrenched in their lives and viewpoints which they had brought with them from the social norms of the day in various Middle Eastern countries.

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They had been placed in these remote settlements, in my opinion, wrongfully set aside and marginalized by the establishment of the country. They felt ignored and for good reason. They made the best of their situation as they had no choice. One family grew flowers. One had fields of radishes. Their homes were small but very clean. They made delicious food and hung laundry on clothes lines outside.

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The women  seemed to work harder than the men, and they showed it in their  bodies which appeared older than their ages, always serving others. They were tired, but never stopped. They always wanted the best for their children.

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When  I entered their homes, I was  treated with respect and the well-known, Middle Eastern hospitality; immediate offers to sit down, and an abundance of food and drink placed before me in an instant. It was considered an insult to refuse and I learned quickly to always accept tea, water, a delicious pastry–something. The children I worked with ranged from elementary school to high school and beyond. I taught in classrooms, in fields, in bomb shelters, around kitchen tables,  on the side of dirt roads, etc. It took a while to gain their trust. To do that,  I made house calls. One house at a time, meeting the parents and grandparents, explaining why I was there. Showing them that even though I was a woman and in the army (which they generally disapproved of), that I was a decent person, that I meant no harm, that I was there to help their children. I  listened to their stories.

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I realized early on that the children primarily needed attention and love along with help channeling aggression and frustration. They needed me to show up and wait for our group meetings even though no one came at first. I told them when I’d be there and I waited. Eventually, they started coming. Just a few, then more, then all the kids that could. We played theater games and role played situations to help them deal with all kinds of issues and problems. I did art projects with them and we played for hours. I had a general curriculum we were expected to follow, but within that, I had a lot of flexibility to do whatever worked with my group. I made sure to follow what was prescribed to us, but I made it as fun as I could, and I often added my own topics or ways of delivery.

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One of the older students was the leader and all the others followed her. She was smart,  funny,  cheeky, and gave me the hardest time. I started bringing a camera to my meetings and visits. I started photographing the children and showing them the pictures. Many suffered from  low self-esteem, so I decided that showing them how I perceived them, how I saw their surroundings (they thought it was ugly, but I saw beauty in it), would maybe help them start seeing themselves as worthy and beautiful human beings.

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It worked.  It also gave me chance to hand my camera to the students themselves,  and I showed them how to use the camera. A camera was not something most of them had, so it was a novelty. My father gave me one of his Nikon cameras to use. That was kind of big deal. I was always afraid it would get ruined by the sand and dust that was everywhere, but it survived just fine.

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The students had a blast posing for the camera and thought it was silly that I kept telling them, Just do your thing and I’ll grab the pictures. You don’t have to pose. But pose they did. Showing off bike tricks, running, “Look what we can do!” I praised them for their strengths and abilities and offered support and help where they lacked confidence or knowledge. I often helped them with homework, never doing it for them, but tutoring and helping them arrive at their own answers. The most difficult student came around to me. She loved the camera and taking pictures. Once she accepted me and started changing her attitude, the rest followed suit.

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Long after I finished my army service, I learned that she had become a photographer. It was a truly gratifying moment.  I wondered if  my work with her had anything to do with her choice to pursue photography. I’ll never know for sure, but it could be, and that’s enough to think about how much one person can influence another when you’re able to  teach in the best possible way. No tests or punishments. Just love,  attention,  communication, and learning to develop a relationship based on mutual trust and respect. The information and academics followed from that and were weaved in between the games, playing, conversations about things that mattered to the students. All the topics got covered, but first the work was about building relationships. They had to trust me first. I had to meet them where they were.

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As was written in The Little Prince by Antoine St. Exupery:

“What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Love and peace,

Elana

The Magical Mystical Time Machine Box

Dear Readers,

I’ve been thinking about time— past, present and future. I’ve been noticing how Max relates to time, what it seems to mean to him. A few days ago as he was playing, I asked, “What’s your favorite game?”

He replied, “The one I’m playing right now.”

Things grown ups say: Time marches on. Time flies by. There’s not enough time in the day. I’m running out of time. Time for bed.

I’ve found more boxes from the ongoing unpacking sessions that I do periodically— artifacts and pictures from long ago. From so long ago, it feels like I’m looking at another life, or another dimension. Memories comes back. Some are better left alone. Some are precious. It reminds me of  The Kinks song by Ray Davies, “People Take Pictures of Each Other.”

We call Ringo’s cat carrier, The Magical Mystical Time Machine Box. We have for years, long before Max got here. Oh, he loves that. One day recently, he wanted to “be a cat and be in a magical mystical time machine box and you can carry me.” The giant cardboard box we’ve kept for him to play in was not an acceptable option. It was not OK with Max that I said, “I can’t pick you up and carry you like that.” I tried to explain that people aren’t carried around in cages, but he hated my reasoning. He wanted to “BE A CAT IN A BOX RIGHT NOW!” Pretending wasn’t working. Max was frustrated, heading into a meltdown.

I offered another option. “Max, we can draw a picture and write a story about whatever you like; about you being a cat in a box.” He whined. He grumbled. Then he came around and asked me to help him.

So, first I drew exactly what he asked me to draw. And he added some to it.

Magical Mystical Time Machine Box

Then he drew on his own. Meltdown averted. New pictures and some  imagining saved the day. Just as it always has worked for me, time and time again: Write. Paint. Laugh/Cry/Laugh.

MMTMB by Max

24 years ago, on March 16, 1988, I arrived at JFK airport in NY on a flight from Dublin, Ireland, where I had lived for almost a year. Before that, I lived in Israel for eleven years, and before that, in the Boston area of MA, for ten. The day before St. Patrick’s day, I remember looking down on the brown landscape of almost spring in NY. I had $20.00 in my pocket. I had a backpack. I had dreams. I had no real plan. I stayed with a kind and generous cousin in Bayside, Queens for a few months, and then I made my way.

What else about time? Max has gone to school for three whole weeks in a row. It is the first time since he was in camp back in August, that he’s  attended this many weeks in a row. I notice how I’m changed from having time back when he’s in school regularly. I see how he’s  always changing and growing. It is good when he’s healthy.

Max knows he’s going to “big school” kindergarten in the fall. He’s  told me, “Mommy, I don’t want to leave my school. I want to keep all my friends.” These conversations about what will change and what will stay the same are hard sometimes. This is life: one thing ends, another begins. Along with it comes the unknown, the fears, the excitement and anticipation.

“I want to be a cat. I want to be carried in a Magical Mystical Time Machine Box.”

I get that. And so I grab on to the magic of what is right in front of me. Plow through the upsets to land on the other side of understanding. What is the hurt about? How can we understand it better? Please let us enjoy this moment where we can imagine whatever we like. Please let me stay present, not wanting to rush ahead in worry or concern. Here is where a blue marble has powers to heal. Here any object can be something else. Things transform in an instant. I have to pay attention.

There are big dreams. Max tells me what he wants to be. This week: “A police officer. And a doctor. Oh, and a Power Ranger. I can be more than one thing. Right, Mommy? I want to help people. I want to get the bad guys.”

I say, “Yes, you can be more than one thing.”

I say, “Those are good jobs to have.”

I reach down and hold his hand. Or he’ll reach for mine. He still has that soft skin children have. He has a tender touch when he is kind and gentle. His innocence, disappointments, sadness, anger, fears, and joys are wrapped up in the softest skin, with bruises covering his knees. He  will lose friends, and friends will lose him and that hurts. But he leaps faster and higher now. He isn’t afraid to climb up high.

There will be some friends we get to keep. And new friends and new adventures. We will have to get to school on time. That alone makes me squirm a bit. There will be no more preschool bubble. The cubby. The small scale tables and chairs. All the familiar people, things, and routines. The decisions we make about things that matter and don’t matter will continue.

Max & Charlie with their "Take Apart" school project

Max’s class took apart old computers, radios, phones, etc. for a “Take Apart” project. Then they built their own inventions out of the many parts and their Invention Museum is open for business. Max told me that “Parents are VIPs and are invited to visit anytime.”

Max & Charlie's invention

Max was a baby. Wasn’t it just yesterday? But last week in the city, (Max loves going to the city), as the C train pulled into the 50th Street and 8th Avenue station, I said, “This was my subway stop. Someday, I’ll show you my old apartment building.” Max’s eyes lit up. I can show him NYC.

So, I have been here, back in the US for 24 years. And some dreams have come true. Some have not. Then there were the dreams I didn’t even know I wanted, that materialized.  Most of my biggest dreams have come true. I haven’t dreamt much for me the past few years, but that’s changing. I still have more it seems and it’s been good to discover that.

Max has his dreams and what he wants, and we try to make his dreams come true. Some of them become stories or pictures. Some of them become real and some don’t happen at all. Time passes too quickly, yes. Time marches on, yes. There aren’t enough hours in the day. We’re all running out of time the minute we get here. But since time is all we have, really all we have, I dive into Max’s  imagination because it is a place filled with possibility, hope, silliness and fun.  All the wonderful things in a 5-year-old’s  mind.

Yes, the dark side is also there, but today, if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather celebrate this anniversary. That I arrived here 24  years ago and made a life for myself.  And in my life there are friends, family, and my beautiful husband, son, and cat. We have our Magical Mystical Time Machine Box. In it, we can dream big, be anything we want, and go anywhere. And the good guys always win.