Thursday, September 23, 2010

Generational Serendipity

When I was 13 years old, some brave family friends took me, along with my best friend, Sue and their own three kids to the New York State Renaissance Festival. They may have even brought additional kids, but I honestly can’t remember. In fact, I don’t remember much about that day: long rows of porta-johns, long lines for funnel cakes, a wooden bridge. That’s near everything. But one event from that long ago excursion remains crystal clear.

I hadn’t brought much money with me—certainly not enough for a souvenir at the arts fair prices found at the festival. At one point I remember browsing a stand of pewter figurines; dragons, fairies, warriors, some as small as my finger, some large and spectacular, perched on rock crystals or holding dazzling jewels in their silvery talons. I gazed longingly at the beautiful statues, wishing I had the means to take one of them home with me, but I knew it wasn’t to be.

Then the lady, decked out in period costume, who was running the stand called to me. “You know,” she said, “I need to run to the rest room. Would you mind watching my stand for me?” I looked around. Me? I was the only person at the stand. Honored by her trust, I said, “Sure.” With a grateful smile she wandered off toward one of those long rows of biffs, leaving me basking in the reflected glow of dozens of metal and crystal sculptures.

It must have been early in the day, because not one other person stopped to look at the stand while its proprietor was gone. After a short time, she returned from her errand and thanked me for my help. “You’re welcome,” I said. As I was about to go, she held out a hand to stop me.

“Here,” she said, pressing something into my hand. “For your help.”

Wide-eyed, I looked down at the tiny pewter dragon she had gifted to me, no more than an inch tall, with a curled tail and open mouth, detailed down to its tiny claws and the scales on its body. I was astonished and gratified. Grinning back at her like an idiot, I thanked her and ran off to find the rest of my companions and show them my newly acquired treasure.

I never shared that story with my husband and children. In fact, I’d forgotten all about it until about a month ago, when I came across the little pewter dragon in a box that had been under our stairs for twelve years. I moved it to the vanity top in my closet, expecting there would be a time to show it to the kids and tell them about its origins. But life kept moving at its breakneck pace and school started and there the tiny dragon sat, forgotten once again.

This past weekend, I took my daughter to the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. The first hour or so of the day she couldn’t contain her excitement, jumping and squeaking with glee every couple minutes. She wanted to see everything RIGHT NOW and I practically chanted, “one thing at a time, Ledon,” as we walked/ran from booth to booth. Wooden games and ceramic instruments, floral headpieces, copper sculpture, face painting, hair braiding, soaps, swings, food stands, and performance areas, midway-type attractions, a petting zoo, and a place to ride an elephant. Complete sensory overload! It was marvelous to see her experience it all for the first time.

To keep her from exploding entirely, I kept our pace even, stopping in to look at every merchant’s wares and encouraging her to see everything before deciding what type of souvenir she might want. At every stop, she would find half a dozen things that she “wanted for sure” and I would say, “We’ve been here less than an hour. Just keep your eyes open.”

In one corner of the grounds, the row of shops along the outside wall was mirrored by a few free-standing booths, one selling incense, another costume hats and another small ceramics. We stopped at this last, as I was thinking of buying a hand-made coffee mug. As we browsed, the proprietor engaged us in friendly conversation. It was very early in the day and traffic was light—he was still removing the previous weeks’ cobwebs from some of his items and adding things to the shelves. Eiledon babbled about how this was her first time at the fair and she was SO excited and it was SO cool, and on and on. The man smiled at her good-naturedly as he worked and commented whenever he could get a word in edgewise.

As we were preparing to move on, the shopkeeper called Eiledon over. “See this dragon?” he said, holding a ceramic statue about six inches high. Eiledon nodded and smiled. “His tail broke—see there? Just the tip of it broke off. I can’t sell him—would you like to have him?”

I gaped.

Eiledon accepted, of course, and then helped the man dig through a few other broken pieces of pottery to see if they could find the broken tail. At length the man did find it and handed it to Eiledon. “You can glue it back on with superglue or epoxy,” he said. “Let me wrap it up for you.”

“I have to tell you both a story,” I said then, still a little overcome by the coincidence. And I shared what had happened at my first Renaissance Festival.

The shopkeeper was nonplussed. “That’s amazing!” he said, finally. “You’ve come full circle.” I nodded. I almost felt like crying. “Well, it’s meant to be, then,” he finished, handing the wrapped dragon to Eiledon. “Enjoy your day!”

At that point, I don’t see how we could’ve done otherwise!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Teachable Moment

Eiledon dealt with a little bullying last year in school. Truth be told, her own behavioral challenges can make her seem quite nasty to other people, and her tendency toward the melodramatic might make her perception of others’ behavior more upsetting than those others intended. But I’m inclined to believe that there really were some ‘mean kids’ in her fifth grade class.

This year, Eiledon is in a new school, which offers an emphasis on fine arts, and a smaller and far more diverse student body. We were hopeful that she would find more kindred spirits or, if nothing else, a place where acceptance of differences was prominent in the environment. We warned her that there was no “geographical cure” for her problems, that she would take herself with her to the new school, and that she would still have to work hard both academically and socially to get the most benefit out of it.

The first week was encouraging: “Mama, the kids at this school actually think I’m cool!” She already has a good friend who has invited Eiledon to her upcoming birthday party. And she has a group of friends with whom she eats lunch every day. That NEVER happened last year. I didn’t want to jinx anything, but the relief was overwhelming.

Then yesterday evening, after a prolonged melt-down spurred on by hunger and fatigue, she muttered, “I hate school.” My heart dropped.

“Already?” I asked.

“Well, just because of that girl on the bus.”

Ah. That girl on the bus, whose name Eiledon still doesn’t know even though they’re in the same class of 20 kids. That girl who has said some pretty mean things to Eiledon including, according to my melodramatic eleven-year-old, “Go away. I don’t want to see your face.” And “Just shut up. No one wants to hear you babbling all the time.” The girl also allegedly knocked Eiledon down to the floor of the bus in order to beat her to the back seat one afternoon. (I don’t know if it makes me a bad mom that I’m wondering what Eiledon has said to her, even though she insists: “I have never done ANYTHING to her!” But I’ll let that lie for now.)

By the time Eiledon had finally finished her bedtime snack, and was feeling more coherent, we talked about some strategies for dealing with the situation. I kept coming back to encouraging her to ask for some kind of mediation between the girls. To having Eiledon offer to “start over” and figure out how they can “get along” rather than just complaining about the other girl’s nastiness. Eiledon was unsure. “I know what she’ll say if I ask her that. She’ll just tell me to go away and that no one wants to see my face.”

“Maybe,” I conceded. “But if you really make the effort to hold out the olive branch, and stay positive about it, and she still isn’t willing to be friendly, then it’s her problem and not yours.”

As Eiledon went off to bed (finally!), I could tell she wasn’t completely convinced, but she agreed to talk to her teacher about how to proceed. Good for her! I thought, and then collapsed into bed myself.

This morning, as she sat eating breakfast at the kitchen counter, we somehow started talking about the literary device of personification. The conversation soon turned to the anthropomorphism in her favorite book series, Warriors, which is about feral cats living in a tribal society with lots of human-like customs and beliefs. All of a sudden Eiledon said, “I feel so bad for Scourge. I really relate to him. He was such a cute kitten and it’s so sad that he turned out to be so evil. It wasn’t even really his fault!”

BINGO. “Eiledon,” I said, “I think it’s interesting that you relate to Scourge. Do you think that some of that is because you have lots of challenges that sometimes make people think you’re mean when you really don’t intend it?”

“Yeah,” she said, a little sadly.

“So maybe you could look at that girl on the bus like Scourge.”


“You don’t really know her. Maybe she doesn't want to be mean. Maybe there are other things in her life that make her seem that way.”

“I guess,” Eiledon answered philosophically.

“Do this,” I said. “When she gets on the bus this morning, think of her as Scourge. And just talk to her. Tell her you’re sorry you haven’t been getting along and you wonder if you can’t just start over and try to be friendly.”

“What if she just yells at me to go away?”

“Well, then just say, ‘okay’ and go sit down. Then you can talk to your teacher at school about it, like you’d planned.”

She nodded and then grabbed her backpack and headed for the bus. You go, Girl! I cheered silently.

I don’t expect Eiledon to come home all smiles about her new friend, or anything. But I could tell, just by looking at her as she walked out the front door, that she ‘got it.’ That by reframing her adversary as someone misunderstood, someone she related to, she suddenly had a little compassion for the girl. And no matter what happened after that point, Eiledon had learned something very valuable.