Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Patricia Polacco - Part 1

You know how sometimes you’re going to do something, you have every intention of going to an event, but when the event actually happens you find it easier to just stay home? I do that sometimes. Just stay home. I can’t help it—I’m a homebody.

Well, today I almost did that. There was a “cultural arts” event at Maggie’s school—an author was speaking to the kids—and I told Maggie I would be there, but I almost didn’t go. Today it just would have been easier to not go.

My world would not be the same if I had decided to stay home.

I had the privilege of hearing Patricia Polacco at my daughter’s school this afternoon. She’s famous—hugely famous—in children’s literature circles.
Patricia Polacco wrote the Babushka books that I read to my children when they were little. She also wrote a book called “The Keeping Quilt” (more about that later).

This woman held me in the palm of her hand for the entire hour that I was in her presence. Being with her (even though I didn’t meet her) was what I imagine being with Paula Deen would be like—so fun, so comfortable, so warm and inviting. Only without the mac and cheese.

She started out talking about the very first book she wrote called “Meteor.” She said to the kids, “You guys,” (she talked just like that—“You guys”!) “This really happened!” From that point on, she had the kids right where she wanted them.

She told them about the meteor that actually did land in her grandparent’s yard. And about how her family legend told of people coming from all over the country just to touch the meteor in order to make a wish. And then she told the kids that her grandfather would let people make a wish on that rock, but that they could not wish these three things:

1. You cannot wish for money.

That one’s obvious.

2. You cannot wish to change someone else.

She told the kids that nobody can change another person; we only have the power to change ourselves. She then talked to the kids about how our words matter. She explained that when she was young she had learning disabilities—she couldn’t read until she was 14 years old! And how on the playground the other kids would call her “stupid,” and “fat.” She said, “You guys, I’m 64 years old and I still feel hurt about those words.” She encouraged the kids to use kind words with one another and to never, ever, use words to hurt another person. We may not be able to stop someone from being a bully, but we can respond in a kind way, she explained.

I had tears in my eyes at this point.

3. You cannot wish for toys (something that can be bought with money).

Patricia Polacco feels very strongly about this point. She explained to the kids that they spend too much time in front of the T.V. and that T.V. is destructive to their minds. (At this point I was doing a little Mommy-dance. Validation! Hooray!)

“You guys,” she said again, “T.V. is lying to you. Girls, T.V. is telling you that you have to be beautiful and thin. I mean, really, do you think a skeleton with skin on it is pretty?”

Preach it, sister!

“And boys, T.V. is lying to you, too, by telling you that the only important thing in life is winning. Whatever happened to just playing for the fun of it?”

Amen!

So, for these reasons, her grandfather would not let anyone wish for toys on his meteor.

At the end of her talk, Patricia Polacco told the kids that they she would stand at the back of the room and that each one would have the chance to touch the rock and make a wish—as long as they followed the rules. So I watched as each child walked past Ms. Polacco, and as each one reached up to touch the rock in her hand, she would place her other hand over the top of the child’s hand. She did this with each and every child in the school.

At one point, a little boy stopped to ask her a couple of questions. I couldn’t see what he was asking her, but she took her time, answering him gently, kindly. When he seemed satisfied, he reached up to touch the rock while his lips moved quickly. He was making his wish, and it seemed like the most important thing in the world to him.

Now, please don’t get into a theological discussion on wishing with me. I don’t believe in wishes, but I do believe in hope. Today, Patricia Polacco gave 300 kids a moment of hope.

And that is priceless.

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