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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Fire & Ice: My Time as a Poetry Bully

I recently heard that the best predictor of which children will be emotionally healthy are the ones who have been raised hearing stories of family, relatives and ancestors. (This was the most statistically significant variable in an econometric model, for those of you who are interested in statistics).  Stories like these give children two things: 1) a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves; and 2) a sense that people that they know or are related to have dealt with adversities, and  that those bad times eventually pass and furthermore the stories suggests ways to deal with pain.

So I decided that my husband and I should each tell one story from our side of the family when we are all together for dinner (about 5 times a week). Actually, my kids know lots of stories from my mother's family and from my family, because my grandmother told plenty of stories, and my mother told some, and I have seven brothers and sisters, so I have lots of stories from my growing-up years. My dad was quite silent about his family so I don't have many stories, but I have a few. My husband's family is very taciturn about their past, so it's harder for him to come up with material.

Tonight my husband told about something amusing that happened when he shared a room with his little brother, so I decided to tell something about when I shared a room with my sister who was six years younger than me, from the time I was 13-18 years old and she was 7-12. We had just moved to a new house and my parents assigned us to a bedroom together, and though I liked my little sister, I was resentful that I was down the hall from my sisters who were one year old and one year younger than me. I wanted to be down there, talking about teenager topics, not stuck with a 2nd grader. So my reaction to this was that when I would go to bed and my sister would either wake up or already be awake and want to talk, I decided to make her memorize a poem. And the poem I chose was Robert Frost's "Fire and Ice."

Every night I we would lie in the dark and I would drill her on her lines. When she made an error, I told her to start over. Imagine a 2nd grader speaking into the night, "Some say the world will end in fire. Some say ice." It took a couple of months for her to get  the entire poem memorized, and once she did, she had to recite it every night. We never spoke of it during the daytime and we never mentioned to anyone else in our family that this is what we did when waiting for sleep to come. I remember myself being a gentle coach, but it would be interesting to hear her recollections of this time.

Years later when my sister was in college, she was assigned to pick a poem that was meaningful to her, and to write an essay about it. So naturally she picked that poem and told the story. When she got her graded paper back, her professor had written that she wanted to see her, and when my sister went to talk to the professor, she was asked if this had actually happened. When my sister said that it had, her professor told her how lucky she was.

I'm not sure that my sister thought she was lucky; I'm not sure she was lucky. But it made a great story at dinner tonight.


Leslie Jam said...

I am not your blood sister but I would fully expect you to share our college stories with them-so many awesome ones!

p.s. and realy we are sisters aren't we? :)

Jessica Goodfellow said...

You KNOW you're my sister, and you KNOW that our awesome college stories are being told to my sons!!! (Though some are being saved until they are older!)

Leslie Jam said...

Probably best :)