And Then I Stepped in Gum . . .

Monday, February 14, 2005

Teachable Moments

Lately I've been finding myself having serious, educational conversations with Katie, who will turn 6 next month. One, occasioned by her having four (!) loose teeth*, involved a lengthy explanation of the baby teeth to adult teeth transition, complete with illustrations, while waiting in line at Target's pharmacy. I'm just so glad that we can give back to Target's customers, supplying them with endless amusement at our expense. Ian was listening to our exchange, and came away with his own addition to his knowledge. After getting the story from me, Katie summed it up by saying, "So the adult tooth says, 'Hey, baby tooth! It's my turn! You get out of here, I'm coming in!'" Ian now walks around the house expressing his take on the whole thing: he gestures in an expansive pushing motion with his arms while saying "Gum!" repeatedly until you acknowledge that yes, the teeth are pushing through the gums. Then he screws up his little face to look angry and yells, "You out! I in!" Hey, look, a shoe-in for the school play on dental hygiene. Our little prodigy.

* (I've decided I like Mimi Smartypants's digressions in asterisk form and will copy her, imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, of course.) What kind of horrible parents are we, not to have been paying attention to what's going on inside our daughter's mouth? She got in the car after school the other day and said, "Hannah says I have a big tooth coming in behind my other teeth."** I look, and sure enough, she has two adult teeth pushing their way through behind her lower front teeth. And one's halfway up! And I had no idea! Neglectful, that's us. Call CPS.

** Teeth are apparently a hot topic of conversation in kindergarten. Kids are yanking them out during lunch, wiggling them, reporting on their loss -- I can just imagine how much fun that must be for the teacher! Another reason that I trained to be a high school teacher, rather than studying elementary ed.

Next, we had a discussion about my work as an editor. I was copyediting a bibliography and getting frustrated with its poor quality. (Side note: Why on Earth can't authors write a decent bibliography?? I mean, how hard is it, people? You supposedly used these resources to write your book (if I turn a blind eye to the fact that at least one of the references is copied wrong, verbatim, from other sources) -- how difficult is it to obtain the correct information and put it in the correct order? I know I'm there to clean up, by making sure the punctuation is in the right place and it follows the style, but I shouldn't have to spend four hours on a 3-page bibliography!) Anyway, Katie and I talked about the process of writing books and getting them published, and about what I do to help make a book the best it can be. And I emphasized, given how irritated I am about this particular book (could be hormones, could just be a poorly written book, could be both), that it's very, very important to always do your best work before turning something in. I think she got it. She says she always fixes mistakes in the books she writes, like the time she noticed a period was missing and she went back and put it back in. Ah, it warms the cockles of my little copyeditor's heart.

I should really scan some of her books. They're hysterical. Especially the one about the zebra who didn't realize he was a zebra (inspired by the movie Racing Stripes). It ends thusly: "Hay!" he says. "I'm a zebra!" Cracked me up.

The most recent topic of "serious conversation" was slavery and racism. It's amazingly hard to couch these issues in terms that an almost-6-year-old can understand. I think this one started in the car because she brought up the fact that it was President Lincoln's birthday, and I asked if she knew who he was. She really didn't, and you can't exactly talk about how great he was without referencing the Civil War and slavery. I'm not one to get all gushy about the innocence of children, but I was encouraged by her reaction to my description of racism. She couldn't understand why anyone would think that other people were different because of the color of their skin. I know that's typical for young kids, but I'd really like to preserve that feeling, and culturally, down here in Alabama, that's going to be difficult, I think.

Oh, it won't be hard to maintain in theory, but in practice, she knows no people of color. I know no people of color. She goes to a private school where there are few students of other races. It's one of the reasons we're trying to get her into a magnet school, which is not only a good school but which, by law, has a 50% non-black to 50% black ratio. We visited the school on Friday, and I'm pretty confident that it has an atmosphere that I like. Unfortunately, the drawing is by lottery only -- you can't test into the school -- so I'm not sure what her odds are. Guess we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. In the meantime, Dave is thinking about accosting the one black dad he sees at dropoff time at Katie's school and asking, "Will you please be my black friend?" We'd like some gay friends too, but my guess is they're even harder to find here in the Bible Belt! So much for cultural diversity.

2 comment(s):

hey, jm smartypants...

how great of an idea do you think it is to go on about how bad the books you're editing are in your decidedly NOT-anonymous weblog??

:)

By Blogger Dave, at 3:57 PM  

Just found you here. I can sympathize with wanting to approach gay/people of color and asking to be their friend. We don't come in much contact with people that could help broaden our children's experiences. I think growing up in an open-minded house helps them keep their innocent beliefs in place. (I hope!)

By Blogger MoMMY, at 9:56 AM  

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