Sunday, September 25, 2011


We've all been there...done something that others just don't (or frequently won't) understand. Perhaps you're new to the area and don't speak the local language. Do we care? Sometimes. Not always. But, sometimes it just gets to us. We can't help it...we're human...emotion driven. And, EVERYONE wants and needs a friend, to be accepted, to be understood...even by just one person. It doesn't feel like we're asking much. "What's wrong with me?" we ask ourselves when things aren't going right. The answer: Not a thing. It's the other guy who has the problem. Not you. She, or he, hasn't bothered to get to know you. Really know you. If she did, she'd find out that you are really no different from herself. A barrier would be broken and true friendship would be born. As for the rest of the crowd? Well, they'd be left to stand around the pasture fence wishing for what you've discovered.

For example,"There was once a cow that went OINK.  The cows that went MOO laughed at the cow that went OINK. MOO-HA." As poor cow's luck would have it in The Cow That Went Oink, everyone else in the barnyard Cluck-ha'd and Meow-ha'd and Baa-ha'd at her in her attempt to make a friend. Nothing like being in a new neigh-borhood at not able to speak the language. Sheesh. As if moving weren't tough enough, making new friends is even tougher. Cliques and circles are already formed and frequently hesitant to admit new to speak. Why that is has yet to be formally answered. But, I have a pretty good idea as to the reason: Change.

Yep, it's that simple. Change. No one likes it. Anything new pushes us out of our comfort zone. Unfamiliarity scares us. We clutch. We run from the door because the kids on the other side of it are rumored to want to turn us into stew. We're convinced from the moment we lay eyes on someone (or something) that there's absolutely no way whatever it is that's new is going to be any benefit to us. We know what works. Why fix it if it's not broken? Nevermind that it might actually make us better or that the other person involved may be just as terrified...if not more.

Stretching is good for the soul. Millions of people engage in simple stretches at the end of the day, yoga, tai chi, and other similar relaxation techniques for any number of personal reasons. But, they all have one thing in common...they help us tune in to the body and relieve tension. Well, the mind needs similar attention. Otherwise it experiences to one similar to that of a muscle accruing an abnormal supply of lactic acid, "Doink!" In other words, it seizes up instead of seizing the day.

Trying something new, reading in area or genre we're not familiar with, taking a few extra minutes to get to know that "new kid on the block" all stretch us mentally and leave us feeling better about life and ourselves after we've done it. The brain cramps begin to disappear, the neuro-lactic acid melts like a popsicle on 100 degree day. It isn't long before we find ourselves wondering how we managed without this new thing in our lives. It just seems so normal and natural.

Fortunately for the oinking cow, it wasn't long before she met a pig who...wait for it...yep, you guessed it...a pig who could moo. They spent quite a bit of time teaching each other how to moo and oink with attempts ending in hilarious results. It's not like "OINOOMOO" and "MOINKOO" are quickly found in Webster's Dictionary. But, they persevered, never giving up on mastering that new yoga contortion until they finally could both OINK and MOO...much to the consternation and jealousy of the rest of the barnyard.

Anything worth having is worth working for. Moink.

The Cow That Went Oink by Bernard Most
Published by Harcourt Brace & Company, 1990

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Kid's Say the Darndest Things

Biten. Deedle. Hah-di-lah-di. I'll never forget the day my mother-in-law called me at work and asked what those words meant. She was watching my son for the afternoon while my husband went to a few client appointments and could not for the life of her understand what he was trying to say. "How is he saying 'biten'?" I asked. "Is he pointing and does it sound like a question? If so, he's wondering what it is he's pointing at. Otherwise it's a statement. Oh, and 'deedle' means toy." I understood perfectly what he was getting at. For the rest of the world it understandably would be clear as mud.

I don't think there's a parent out there that hasn't at some point not understood what their youngster was trying to say. Take Trixie's dad in Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems. He and his daughter, a toddler, are enjoying a day together, running errands and a trip to the laundromat. Things go horribly wrong on the way home, though. Something is missing, something VERY important, something that should NEVER EVER be left behind...the all-important stuffed animal. In Trixie's case, it's Knuffle Bunny...and when she tries to tell her dad he just doesn't get it.

We've all been there, trying to decipher our child's code that's complicated by distress-induced tears, hiccuping cough, and my personal favorite, the boneless flop fit. Trixie's no different than any other kid in communicating her problem and the usual looks of disgust are aimed at her dad from passersby. But really, is it her fault? Isn't a little patience required? Trixie's tale is something everyone can identify with, whether it's the child understanding the importance of Knuffle Bunny or the grown up reading the story commiserating with dad's lack of understanding. But, there's an subtler message buried in here, one of patience and taking one's time.

Part of helping a child learn to communicate is slowing down and listening to what they have to say...and how they're saying it. Trixie's dad is in such a hurry to get to the next thing on his to-do list that he fails to realize that she's trying to say something...something that is important to her. Perhaps the single most important thing in improving a child's communication--right after reading to them regularly and frequently--is listening to them.

Actually, this communication speed bump comes along at least twice. Twice? Yep. The teen years. How many misunderstandings could be avoided if everyone stopped and listened to each other? I'm not talking about the "following orders" type of listening. I mean respecting that how and what is being said--shared--is important to the person saying it. The teen equivalent of a boneless flop fit--the requisite eye rolling and shoulder slouching--and Knuffle Bunny being left behind might be happily avoided.

Fortunately for Trixie, mom-the-codebreaker is right there at the door when she and dad return and quickly deciphers the problem. Knuffle Bunny is rescued from the dryer and all is right with the world.

Kids aren't the only ones who can say the darndest things, however. 'Hah-di-lah-di'? For our son that meant 'socks', his translation of us always saying "Let's put on your socky-wocky-doo-da's" before putting them on and heading out the door with Mommy Bunny...who has never been left behind.

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems
Published by  Hyperion, 2004 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Here's to You, Nancy Drew!

           Nancy Drew is my hero. I was nine when we were first introduced thanks to my mom.  Reading and I didn’t get along and my mom was trying desperately to get me hooked on books.  I loved stories, still do, and fondly remember sitting on my bed with a glass of milk listening to my dad read the Berenstain Bears’ B Book, or my mom terrifying me with the poem “The Skippery Boo.”  She’d pretend to be the Skippery Boo coming to get me and I would scream in terrified delight.
            My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Novik, would let me sit at my desk and write my own stories as much as I wanted…even during math so long as I kept up and did the work at home...which was easier said than done, especially when fractions were involved. I didn't like them. They were the math version of Brussels sprouts, sour. Anyway, interest in reading wasn’t the issue.  The actual act of reading was pure torture, and it would be a few years before the reason why would come to light.  In the meantime, my mom searched high and low for something I could manage to read and that would take me to another place, to help me forget about my troubles.
            The Secret of Old Clock and all its sequels was just what the detective ordered.  Nancy Drew was so cool and got to do the most awesome stuff.  She had her own car, for one thing.  She had a boyfriend and two best friends who always stuck by her. She was good looking, but not so much as to be intimidating.  In short, she was someone I wanted to be friends with.  And, she solved mysteries.  It sounded so exciting.  She experienced the most incredible adventures.  I wanted to do what she did and I figured she had much to teach me. I was right…she dared me to dream. 
            Like all good friends, Nancy eventually introduced me to others.  Trixie Belden, another ingenious sleuth, and I hit it off immediately.  Agatha Christie, cool under fire, proved a great instructor of deductive reasoning, a key ingredient to solving any question.  Anne Shirley, whose independence, spirit, fearlessness, loyalty, and ability to remain true to her self is still inspiring.  I loved her Green Gables as much as she did and hoped that one day I might live in a place as magical as she. 
And last but not least, Elizabeth Bennet, a fiery romantic and solver of the mysteries of the heart if ever there was one.  The six of us cried together, were frightened together when foundations and beliefs were threatened, and laughed and cheered at triumphs.  They were then, and continue to be, my best friends.
Somehow, though, Nancy, Agatha, Trixie, Anne, and Elizabeth managed to make me feel better.  They made mistakes but lived to tell about it.  Elizabeth Bennet was convinced Mr. Darcy was beneath her, yet was willing to admit her mistake when the truth was revealed.  Nancy, Agatha, and Trixie followed dead end after dead end before finding the answer to a puzzle.  Their perseverance was to be admired and emulated. And Anne, well, trouble always seemed to find her.  Yet she was able to win people over with her warm heart and good intentions.
              No matter how tough some things may have been growing up, if those five women could overcome their setbacks so could I.  No way was I going to let an obstacle get in the way of my dream.  I wanted to be a super sleuth, and my dream came true.  I’m a librarian, finding answers to stubborn questions and conquering dead ends in a single bound.  So, here’s to you Nancy Drew.  Thank you.

The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene
Published by Grosset & Dunlap, 1959

Monday, September 5, 2011

2 1/2 Lessons from a Penguin

"1--2--3, 4--2, 3--6--0, 2 1/ 2, 0." No, these are not the numbers for a combination lock. Nor are they the numbers to a  Swiss bank account, but they are equally important. They are numbers that teach us, and later remind us, to march to our rhythm.  Too often everyone, kids included, get caught up in keeping up with others, in trying to be like others instead of just doing and being whatever it is we do and be best at.

Tacky the Penguin has no such hesitations. He marches however he wants and doesn't care a frozen shrimp what his iceberg companions Goodly, Lovely, Angel, Neatly, and Perfect think. Tacky has much to teach. Splashy cannonballs have a way of breaking the monotony of day-to-day routine. Think about it. Have you ever been out walking the neighborhood on an egg-scorcher of a day and noticed a sprinkler in someone's front yard taunting you to run through it? Did you run through it? Uh-huh. That's what I thought. Tacky would have, and I can't blame him...neither would the neighbors. It's hot out, so why not. They might even join you.

Tacky reminds us of the importance of music. Not the secret stuff that plays privately in our head, but the stuff that everyone can hear. "How many toes does a fish have? And how many wings on a cow? I wonder, yup, I wonder." Now that is great music. Does it have to make sense? No. And so what if it's off-key. Crank up the volume. Sing with everything you've got...and not just in the car as you head home from work or an awesome date. Sing when the mood hits and who cares how you sound. Just sing. Doing so provides a rhythm that carries you through the day, makes cleaning the igloo speed by faster than a dolphin, and gets the endorphins flowing. It has this magical way of lifting a mood to heights not thought possible, and yet the view is spectacular.

Everyone runs into their share of "hunters" once in a while. They're not fun. They come with "maps and traps and rocks and locks" and definitely look rough and tough. The trick is to not run behind an iceberg and hide. The real Hawaiian shirt trick is to stand and face the growl. Most of us are right there (or wish we were) with Goodly, Lovely, Angel, Neatly, and Perfect, hiding. That is, after all, the usual natural reaction when a threat appears. But, Tacky takes a different approach. He's brilliant, actually. He lays his sardines out there, daring them to "bring it." As is often the case, the antagonist is confronted with something he didn't expect...confidence. It's hard to continue following the maps and traps and rocks and locks when the path is blocked by something as formidable as confidence. When you think about it, though, anyone who can wear a Hawaiian shirt, do splashy cannonballs, and joyfully sing "How many toes does a fish have?" deserves respect and admiration...and to be learned from.

So march, 1--2--3, 4--2, 3--6--0, 2 1/2, 0, and run through the neighbors sprinkler. I did.

Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger
Published by Houghton Mifflin, 1988