Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Rules

  *  a poem  *

The Rules

You are free from many things,
but you are not exempt from the rules.
Even you, yes you, have rules to follow.
Follow them
and the results are infinite.
See that boy over there?
His crossed arms,
sprawled legs,
slightly alcoholic breath masked by minty freshness
and unfairly long eyelashes
mark the beginning
of an identity
that he will hold onto
for as long as he can.
He wants to follow the rules.
Do you?

Rule Number One:
Let nothing impress you.
Whatever it is,
 Just walk by it.
Make fleeting eye contact.
Shrug your shoulders.
Do not smile unprovoked.
When you receive a compliment,
Do not say thank you.
Just nod.
You already knew that.

Rule Number Two:
Let nothing scare you.
Thunder and lightning?
Don’t jump.
Teachers and principals?
Make them cry if you can.
Job interview?
Wear a tie.
You got this,
smooth talker.

Rule Number Three:
Drink.
Smoke Pot.
Hang out with other people who
Drink
and Smoke Pot.
Have Casual Sex.
Slip your hands into your pockets
and leave afterwards
with a shrug.
Maybe you enjoyed it.
(But only maybe. You can’t be impressed by her, remember?)

Rule Number Four:
Think highly of yourself.
Always.
If the moment comes when your self-opinion falters,
fill the empty thought-hole
with knowing guffaws
and sit on the couch next to someone who is
not as cool as you are.

Which brings me to Rule Number Five:
Remember that most people in this world are
not like you.
When you can help it, do not give them a chance.
It is like you are human, and they are bug.
Make them cry if you can.
(But only subtly. They must think you are sort of nice).

And Rule Number Six is implied in Rule Number Five
but sometimes you forget
because nobody is perfect
so I will advise you loudly and clearly:
Do Not Get
Romantically Involved
with
one of them.

Because this is what will happen:
It will start on the phone.
You will talk to her
and she will listen to only your voice
and she will not see your shrugs
and she will not remember who you are
and you will start to forget who you are
and you will sit across a table from each other
and you will share your French fries
and you will make lasting eye contact (no!)
and you will smile unprovoked (I told you not to!)
and you will be impressed with something she says (no, no, no!)

And before you know it,
you are not even having sex
because she has limits
and you are drinking more with your friends
because you can’t drink with her
and you are opening yourself
because she has the key
and you are facing yourself
because she holds the mirror
and you can’t you can’t you can’t do that
so you open the car door
and push her out
because she has threatened to impress you;
she has threatened to scare you;
she has threatened to change you—
but the ice has frozen over and it is too late.
You will always be cold.

Rule Number Seven:
Commit to nothing and to no one.
Except to these rules.

*     *     *




Inspired by my experiences as one of them and by the spoken word poet Sarah Kaye, who says in her Ted Talk: “The number one rule to being cool is to seem unfazed. Nothing scares you or impresses you.”

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

For Your Inspiration (and Mine!)

A few thoughts that have been inspiring me and maybe can inspire you, too...

Cleaning in Order


I heard a pre-Passover lecture about cleaning -- who hasn't? But this one was different. The rabbi quoted Marie Kondo's recent bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. According to this book, we are to change our lives in three steps:


1. Clean out the clutter in your house. All of it. At once. 

2. Realize there is nothing left to distract you, so now you must analyze yourself and your own inner "mess."
3. Change it!

Obviously, the process has a few sub-steps, but the overall message is clear: if your outer space is clean, then your inner space can be clean.
For a person whose room is rarely cluttered or messy, you have to be a little creative with the first step: dust; give away old clothing; donate that college textbook you thought you might open again but never have. Get rid of something. Do the physical work. And then the mental work can begin. 


It's a scary prospect--being alone in a clean room with just yourself and your thoughts. And maybe a pen and paper. Go.



You Don't Have to Suffer

We all search for happiness, right? Wrong. It turns out that people often embrace their pain or dissatisfaction and hold onto it longer than they need to. I know that I have done this at certain points in my life; the important thing to recognize is that it is perfectly acceptable to feel negative emotions sometimes--healthy, even!--but it is not acceptable to think that you deserve them whenever you feel them. You do not have to be constantly burdened or hardened to be a better person. In fact, a friend of mine who is a life coach puts it like this:

"Some people consider the quest for happiness to be self-centered and self-indulgent. However, survey after survey has shown that it is unhappy people who tend to be most self-focused and are often socially withdrawn, brooding, and even antagonistic. Happy people, in contrast, are generally found to be more sociable, creative, loving and forgiving than unhappy people."

So, what can we learn from this? That it's okay to search for your own happiness! It serves yourself and others! Searching for happiness is not selfish at all; just remember that once you find it (even if it's only a spark!) spread it around. 

Life is too short to be gritting our teeth and pushing the pedals. Get a job you actually enjoy. Move to a new apartment, city, state, country. Cut contact with that person who is really pissing you off. Yes, these things take effort and patience. But we're adults now, I think. Most good things take effort and patience. So sober up and go chase 'em.



Confused? Just Write About It.

Today I decided to watch some Ted Talks. I landed on the spoken word category and watched a talk by one of my favorites, Sarah Kaye. She begins and ends her talk with poetry, but in the middle she talks about getting students to write poems and the power of writing poetry as a mode of discovery. Kaye explains, "I write poetry to help me work through what I don't understand," and I have to say that I agree. Writing poetry can help you figure out how you feel, why you feel it, or why something happened the way it did. And you don't have to write a poem, necessarily--journaling, list-making, or stream-of-consciousness writing can also help you be a self-comprehending, emotive human being. Need a push? Try starting some sentences with these phrases: I want, I enjoy, I miss, I love, I hate, I know, I hope, I remember, Today is, Tomorrow will be, Next year...


Check out Sarah Kaye's Ted Talk here.

Find a Golden Frame

The Wall Street Journal published an article today about constructing our own personal narratives (Healing Power of Good Spin, Elizabeth Bernstein). When something happens to us, how do we think about it; talk about it? How do we explain our lives? Do we feel victimized or in control? Do we feel alone or connected? Did a negative experience teach us something positive? Do we let the negatives color a good experience? Naturally, the more optimistic and positive our narratives are, the more content we will be (dare I use the word 'happy'? See above!) 

For example, I caught a nasty virus as soon as Passover break started. I mostly missed the Seders, didn't go to synagogue, didn't get to see my relatives, and cancelled a trip to see my friends. I told my mom that “Hashem must be punishing me for something.” BUT! At least I don’t have to worry about missing work. I have time to read, learn Torah, and write. I am at my parents’ house so good meals are easy to come by. I have a nice bed and couches to rest on. There is no pressure to 'be productive'--just get better; my body is telling me exactly what I need to do. I have time for phone calls and Skype dates. And I can return to work as a hopeful and healthy human! A friend of my parents' told me: "This is a good sign. Only conscientious teachers get sick over vacation." So obviously, this bodes well for my current career path. 



*     *     *

I hope these thoughts have inspired you, and that you also find your own inspiration throughout the week! 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

They Grow Up so Fast!

I never understood teachers when in May or June they told us: "You're closer to being (n+1)th graders than nth graders!" (insert appropriate number of n+1 and n, where n = current grade level). No matter how close I was to the next grade, I was still technically in my grade, so wasn't I closer to the grade that I was in? Or was this a math concept that would be taught in the anticipated next grade?

Hurrah! Fourth grade!
In any case, the third grade lead teachers at Maimonides have been encouraging (and reprimanding) students with "You're almost fourth graders now!" and "Would a fourth grader do that?" And the results are in: it's almost Passover, so the year really is almost over.

I want to use this post to mark a few changes that show that my students are, indeed, on their way to being fourth graders. It's just that time of year.


1. Tefillah (prayer) in the morning -- On my first day at the school, as soon as tefillah ended, I scurried over to my notebook and wrote down, "Tefillah: DISASTER." Then I scribbled down a list of idealistic plans of how I was going to change it all and make these kids love tefillah more than they loved Oreos or Rainbow Loom. Needless to say, that didn't exactly happen. What did happen, however, was that as we incorporated more prayers, more songs, more what-and-why discussions and more hand motions, tefillah became less of a disaster. Now they pray the entire amidah quietly. They enthusiastically sing  the shema because they act it out with hand motions and know what it means. Their fingers bumble along the many lines of Az Yashir (Song of the Sea) as they listen to a Sephardi guy sing the tongue-twisting Biblical words (take a listen here. It's the second one). They have learned so much.

To be sure, sometimes tefillah still qualifies as a disaster. Sometimes they don't stop talking or poking or shoving. Sometimes that loud kid just leaves everyone else five notes behind. Sometimes they eat or sleep or play with their spy watches. Sometimes I can barely sing three words in a row because boy after boy asks if he can go to the bathroom. But the disaster days are notably fewer and the disasters are often confined to only one desk cluster (there was a hot chocolate spill on a siddur this week -- oy vey).

At the beginning of the year, I was in constant debate with myself about whether or not I needed to pray on my own before I got to school. If I did so, I would have to be careful to omit God's name in certain places  when leading the kids so I wouldn't be repeating a blessing unnecessarily. That caused some internal anxiety. But now I know for sure that I can pray with the kids and I don't have to pray beforehand. We say all of the morning blessings, ashrei, az yashir, yishtabach, the shema, the amidah, aleinu, and some other bits and pieces. And now that the kids say the amidah in sweet silence, sometimes I can even pray with grateful intention. :)


We taught the kids the Shema in American Sign Language


2. Believe it or not, these kids are getting smarter. Their paragraphs are longer. They (mostly) stopped writing "I to eat" in Hebrew. They know the classroom routines and some of them even write down their homework before we tell them to. They know way more about Purim than they did a few months ago (most of them did really well on their pop test!) and they sit on the edge of their seats waiting to hear what Avraham actually did with that knife. Oh, and they can read Rashi script. No big deal.



3. Hugs. Some of the girls now give me hugs. I'm not sure this indicates fourth-grader-ness, but it does indicate that the girls have grown more comfortable with me, and this was definitely not happening six months ago. Some of the boys have grown more comfortable with me, too, but they express it in different ways: telling me about their ski trips, their moms, their dads, their play dates, and by trying to pronounce my last name.

4. Sarcasm. It is a well-known fact that young kids do not understand sarcasm. If you use sarcasm with them, they think you are being mean and they cry. Or, on the off chance that they don't think you are being mean, they still do not think you are funny, so they give you a blank stare and go back to playing with their rubber bands.

Third grade is the age where an understanding of sarcasm can begin to dawn. There is one girl in particular who totally gets it. During the apocalyptic fortnight of snow, she started asking me if I had climbed any snow mountains on my way to work, and we soon began a daily ritual of telling each other about our earthen adventures. Had her leggings always been blue? No, she had come across some snail dye. Had my scarf always been red ? Only after I killed that lion. When another student (or teacher) walks by looking confused, we share a knowing look.

Another instance of understanding that people often mean the opposite of what they say: I always go to art with the kids because the art teacher wants an extra set of adult hands (and I not-so-secretly love going to art). Recently, the kids were making Minions and other various objects out of clay. I sat next one boy and quickly noted what he was making.
"Is that a whale?" I asked. 
"No!" he exclaimed. "It's an airplane!"
"Right," I replied. "I knew that."

A few minutes later, another boy came up to me.
"He said you thought he was making a whale!"
I looked at him with a straight face. "I never said that."
"He said you did!"
"No, I always knew it was an airplane."
"You're lying!" With this, my lips began to smile.
"I wouldn't lie."
"Yes you would!"
"I definitely would not."
He is laughing by now.
"Ahh!! I can't tell if you're lying or not!!"
At this point I burst out laughing, and my conversation partner flies around the room laughing frustrated-ly and trying to figure out Is Morah Naomi lying? He's definitely onto something.

5. Young love. One of the best parts of working in a third grade classroom is that there is no romance -- right?

Recently, a boy named R walked into class and dropped a home-made bracelet onto a girl's desk. The girl, J, looked shocked but pleased. Although I thought they were an unlikely match, J seemed to return R's affections. They started writing notes and leaving them in each other's classroom mailboxes. R made a bracelet for himself, too, so now they can match. Parent-teacher conferences gave us more information: J has a small picture of R taped inside her jewelry box. R's mom hopes this will be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Today at recess, R threw a paper airplane at J, and she smiled at him. To me, that seals that deal: if she's able to cope with his immature qualities and poor communication skills, this relationship could last a long time. Maybe even into fourth grade.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

In Costume

In the weeks leading up to Purim, my third graders have had much reason to dress up. They recently completed their Hero Projects, in which they researched and presented Biblical characters; next, they worked very hard on their Purim Play, a Hebrew/English medley of rhymes and famous songs re-written with lyrics about Purim. It was a general ode to chaos and confusion, but nonetheless highly adorable to watch. Pictures and stories are below. Enjoy!

First, the Hero Projects:


So apparently that's Joseph in his "technicolor dreamcoat." Did you know he was also a hippie?



This is King David. Despite this child's red hair, he still insisted on wearing an orange hat under his crown just to make sure that there was no doubt about David's hair color.



Daniel -- as in Daniel and the lion's den. From the wizard costume it should be totally obvious. 
In any case, when the students learned the story of Purim, we taught them a midrash about Mordechai and Haman being friends many years before. This little guy raises his hand and connects the whole thing to Spongebob Squarepants. He proceeds to tell us how "It's just like Plankton and Mr. Krabs! They used to be friends but then Mr. Krabs created the krabby patty secret formula and now they're enemies!" The lead teacher looks non-plussed and says, "I think you have to see the episode to really understand." I told him afterwards that it was a great connection (it really was).



I forget who he dressed up as. Oh wait, I remember: Adorable. 


This girl is a character. She dressed up as Sarah by wearing a white dress. Was that a midrash or something, that Sarah always wore white? In any case, I work with her on Hebrew reading and Judaics homework, and sometimes we can barely continue because she's constantly cracking jokes and making us both laugh with her sarcastic, goofy, out-of-nowhere sense of humor. One time I asked her amid giggles, "How did you get to be so funny when you're only in third grade? I wasn't that funny in third grade!" She continued to gasp for air through her laughs and told me, "And you still aren't!"


Miriam, Moses' sister.  Complete with rosary beads.


THIS GIRL DRESSED UP AS JUDITH
She is very shy in public, but  mustered up the courage to tell us the story of how Yehudit killed General Holofernes in the Hasmonean war against the Greeks. She fed him wine and goat cheese to make him fall asleep (pictured above), then chopped off his head, put it on a pole, and stuck it on the city wall. She is the real hero of Hanukkah.


This isn't a costume, she was just excited  to show me her geometric masterpiece on the day that I subbed for the English teacher (remind me never to do that again. The role reversal confused the kids way too much, resulting in one of them responding to the writing prompt, "If you met a famous person, who would it be and what would you do with them?" with "Kill Barack Obama").  Anyway, the child pictured above is very sweet and would never do anything like that. I recently had occasion to tell her that she is a good friend. She replied, "Yeah, my dad's a psychologist." I laughed and told her: "Some people would just say thank you."

And now: the Purim Play!


These are the kids singing their hearts out in the Purim Play. I did not have a good picture-taking spot, so hopefully I will get some pictures from other people (the parents took about 7 million) and post them. Some of the boys are wearing tallitot because they were the "Anashim" -- Jewish men persecuted by Haman in Persia.


The "feast" after the play featured Ginger Ale and left-over fake facial hair.


Ah, Purim, the holiday of drinking. And sugar.


All of the girls got to wear beautiful gowns for the play. What did I learn from this? That I want to wear a beautiful gown!! The girl on the left was one of the narrators and town gad-abouts. The girl on the right played Vashti, and did so with stunning attitude. She was also the subject of the song "Let Her Go," a new version of Frozen's biggest hit that I wrote for this year's show.  Think: "Vashti always bothered us anyway..."


This kid is just "so yummy" (his mom's word, not mine, but it's true. What a sweetheart.) He isn't dressed up as anything in this picture, but you gotta admire how his neon shoelaces match his sweatshirt. And how his glasses are so trendy. And how, when he can locate it, he wears a kippah that says "REAL MEN WEAR PINK."


Flowers! No, they are not from a secret admirer; rather, they are from the PTA, thanking us teachers for coordinating 41 eight- and nine-year olds in an hour of song, dance, and memorized lines! 

חג פורים שמח

Chag Purim Sameach!

Have a *HAPPY* Purim!! 
(it's not really a *choice*; it's the halachah!)








Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Child in a Box

 * a poem *


The UPS man just delivered a brown cardboard box.
It is taped with light brown tape;
next to the scrawled address is a warning:
Caution! Contents may cause fragile objects to break!
Before I open the box, I check my apartment for breakables.
(I forget to look inside myself).

I slide the dull blade of a scissor through the tape and a child pops out.
“I’m hungry!”
I lead the child into the kitchen and listen to baby teeth crunch a sugary granola bar as I boil water and stir in some instant hot cocoa mix.There are marshmallows, of course.

The child slurps up the last chocolate-y dregs and pronounces,
“Let’s play Legos!”
but I shake my head. I gave all my Legos away years ago.
“Do you have trucks?” It tries again,
but I have to say no. I never owned any trucks.
“Then let’s make snow angels.”
This time it is certain. But I shamefully look down at the hardwood floor because, well, people like me grew out of their snow pants one day and didn't buy new ones.

The child plops down on the floor
looking up at me with round brown eyes.
I twinge inside (but don’t break)
and I think of the eight-pack of Crayola markers hiding in my closet.
I retrieve it.
The round brown eyes get rounder.

We begin drawing on the walls.
The walls were boring and white (very adult)
but we fill them with stories.
A swirl of blue forms an ocean,
a spurt of red is a volcano,
a blob of green is a jumping frog prince,
a spot of orange is a retreating sun.
We are busy for hours
writing our lives’ adventures together.
And oh, what adventures they are.

The child gets tired
and curls up against me,
the head snuggling sweetly into my waist.
I want only to feel its softness there forever.
I look up at our wall
and begin to tell the child our stories.
If I tell of a frog prince and princess
who meet just as the sun is setting
and who flick their rough tongues out at each other
at just the right moment
so that magic begins
maybe I can keep the child’s head
nesting against my belly for just a little bit longer.

But then I notice a black spot where the orange sun was just a few minutes ago.
I falter, pausing for a second. How did it get there?
The child twitches.
The story comes back to me then,
but it no longer flows like it once did.

Suddenly, there is a knock on the door.
The child stirs.
I feel an unpleasant pressure in my hip as the child’s elbow digs into it.
When my hand touches the cold metal knob, I know who waits on the other side.

The UPS man--always kind, always polite--holds out his roll of tape and a fresh box.
The child scurries toward him and climbs in.
“But why?” I ask. “Why do you have to go?”
The child looks at me as if it should be obvious.
“You don’t have snow pants.”
With that, the child ducks down and the man tapes up the box.
Because children, like lovers, need you 
and warm your body for only a short time.

With the child gone,
I return to the hardwood floor
and sit
fragile
--and perhaps broken--
staring at the blazing wall
and reading our story
again and again
and again.




Monday, February 2, 2015

The Prophet

"Who needs soap-operas when you have a family?" my grandmother likes to say. Safta Bilmes, as we call her, never has a shortage of stories about her youth, adulthood, motherhood and grand-motherhood -- each one more riveting than the last, and most of them revolving around her family. As I grow up, I can start to see the truth of her statement: families are a web of weird uncles, long-lost cousins, estranged daughters, divorced parents and wandering children. I have never actually watched a true soap opera, but I can only imagine the mosaic of characters and plot lines. If my Safta says that's family, then that's family.



But we all know that, for the most part, television is highly unrealistic. Especially reality shows (irony of all ironies). Doctors just aren't that gorgeous; there are no vampire slayers; parents don't commit such high levels of cheesy-crime when telling their kids that they love them; string music does not start playing as soon as two lovers lock eyes.

Oddly enough, however, occasionally television does imitate life. I noticed a striking example last week when I re-watched an episode in the seventh season of Gilmore Girls (thank you, Netflix). I have been slowly re-making my way through the last season of the show, hoping to find some redeeming plot points in it while entertaining myself with episodes I have only seen once before.

The first time I watched Season 7 was in 2007 -- I was 16. I watched Rory graduate college with the wide eyes of someone who had only yet dreamed of such halls of intellect and tome-filled libraries. Someday, I would be her.

Now, eight years later, my stage of life matches Rory's and all of a sudden, I understand what's going on. She's floundering in a pool of self-doubt and uncertainty, looking for a first job post-degree. Is she "good enough"? Will employers be willing to take a chance on her inexperience? She also faces a question of priorities: will she follow a job or follow a man? She and Logan have decided to "factor each other in," but what does that really mean? About a year ago, a certain guy and I had decided to "factor each other in" in our job searches, too, but as that process progressed, I realized I wasn't ready to factor in such a wild card. My own self was wild card enough. So I chose career. Spoiler: Rory will, too.

I was struck by how well the lowly art form of television could imitate my life. It made me think about my own journey and my own choices. It made me empathize just a little bit with the brilliant, privileged, gorgeous Rory Gilmore. It made me thankful for what I have (cue cheesy violin music).

And now there is a poem that I want to share with you. It does not relate to Gilmore Girls, but it is the episode of my life that most resembles television, or perhaps a movie. As it was happening to me, a part of my brain knocked at my consciousness: Is this real? Are you sure this is real? Because this is the type of thing that only happens in movies. Except, of course, that it happened to me.
Exactly  like this.  

The Prophet

I met him on a plane.

No, that’s not right.
I met him on the public ride-share van on the way to the airport
but it sounds more like a fairy tale (a modern one) to say that
I met him on a plane.

He hurtled into the van
full of sweat and beer
but wearing a tall suit
and a badge with the name of a prophet on it.
He was breathing hard
so I took a breath and a word slipped out—
just a little one, with a question mark dangling on the end.

The mark led us through the snaking airport lines
(and by “us” I mean me, him and his harmonica)
and as we pushed one cart,
music flowed around us
and the people looked more friendly
than they would have if I had been traveling alone.
We glided past the candy kiosks and the cascading fountain,
and when his passport picture smiled up at me
mine blinked, in disbelief,
back at him.

It was past midnight
and the prince had not yet
turned into a pumpkin.

And then we were in the golden carriage;
bumping along and then flying—magically—
into the night  
and past the second star on the right
and backwards, towards the sunrise.

With the harmonica tucked away,
our voices swung quietly back and forth
between our two seats
until finally he asked,
Can I see your hand?
and so I showed it to him; gave it to him,
wondering if he was reading my palm
with his prophecy,
but it turned out that he just wanted to hold it.
Which was even better.

When we finally fell asleep,
there had been stories
and music
and musical stories
and gazes
in silence
and gazes
with words
and moments when I had closed my eyes
praying that there would be something to gaze at
when I opened them.

And shoulders became pillows
and words became dreams
and every so often
I would wake
in wonder
because arms that I had known for only a few hours
were around me
in comfort
saving me
from the world
that I had come from
and the world
that I was going to.

(Maybe he knew about this place that I was going to.
Maybe he could tell me—he was a prophet, after all.
But prophets don’t reveal the word to just anyone.
You have to deserve it. Would I?)

His lips on my forehead
and the squeeze of his arms
were the final touches
that made our world complete.
Just the two of us.
No other passengers,
no shrink-wrapped omelets,
no dinging seatbelt signs.
Just the prophet and me.

But plane rides end,
and so do all Edens.
All I have left are apple seeds
that the wind blew through my fingers
when I tried to plant them,
and withered flower petals
that flew away
into the sunrise.








Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Every Girl's Dream

Winter vacation has come and gone, and third-graders still send forth hilarity. Just about every day.
Lately, however, I've noticed a theme to their hilarious comments: gender. I don't really know what to make of this, except that I am fascinated to watch how gender socialization starts to manifest at such a young age. I find myself thinking: What is contributing to their concepts of gender? Do I, the non-influential teaching assistant, get any input? How can I prevent them from thinking that boys are Y and girls are X? But if boys are at least partly Y and girls are at least partly X, is it worth trying persuade them otherwise?

Here are a few examples of what I have heard recently:

*     *     *

We have been learning how to describe eyes and hair in Hebrew: blue eyes, brown eyes, glasses, blonde hair, red hair, short hair, long hair, curly hair, straight hair, there's-no-Hebrew-word-for-wavy hair, etc. A wiry little boy (let's call him T) who is either giggling and giddy with energy or mortally angry because someone took his [insert coveted object here] today, decides to offer his input about hair. E, a very bright but socially awkward boy sits next to T. Depending on the day, T and E are either best friends or arch-nemeses. After we learn that "long hair" is שערות ארוכות (se'arot arukot), T says,

"My sister wants long hair. That's every girl's dream." 
E has a different opinion: "My sister's dream is to overrule her mom," he says

So here we have two eight-year-old boys waxing scholarly on the hopes and dreams of girls. I'd say they've got it about right. Except that they obviously don't know about angled, asymmetrical pixie cuts.

Um, that's a boy. Click if you don't believe me.

*   *   *

Here's another:

An incredibly sweet and kind boy -- you met him a few posts ago -- loves spicy salsa and thinks he becomes "a man" if he eats it without drinking water. He remembered that I laughed heartily at this joke (which I probably shouldn't have if I wanted to discourage him from thinking in gender stereotypes, but it was just SO CUTE) and has since continued with his "be a man" regimen -- mostly to make me laugh. When the class made Hanukkah cookies, he asked me to peel his dreidel-shaped dough off of the table and put it on the cookie sheet.
"I'm a man," he pronounced, "and I can't do delicate things! That's why YOU need to do it for me." I pointed out that he was already deep into the baking process, which might be construed as 'delicate' if he wasn't careful.
A few weeks later, the same child comes in from recess yelling,
"Morah Naomi! I'm the manliest of the manliest and the craziest of the craziest!" I have yet to figure out exactly what that means, but I think I get the gist.

She made the cookies, of course.
As you can see, the concept of "manliness" is already evident in eight-year-olds, even if they don't have a complete grasp on what it can mean. When I ask the boys what they want to be when they grow up, they say things like: engineer, scientist, IDF soldier, police officer. During lunch, one of the boys sometimes pushes around a trash can and says in a deep voice: "Hey, I'm a janitor!" At this point, it seems that the boys are just modelling what they see in their own lives. It doesn't occur to them yet that men can be bakers, artists and teachers -- even though some of them love art class and others greatly enjoy explaining things to others. Hm. They will learn.

Venus Flytrap! The sides close and the fly gets trapped.
But my favorite gender comment by far came from a girl. She has quite the sense of humor and consistently badgers me to buy her a dog. She got a Venus flytrap for Hanukkah and, in addition to her obsession with carnivorous things, has a great sense of style. On one lovely occasion when I had lunch duty, she got up from her boy-heavy table (totally breaking a rule -- the kids are supposed to raise their hand if they need something) and made a request of me:

"Morah Naomi, can you make the boys be less boy?"

I knew exactly what she meant. Unfortunately, I had to say,
"No, I can't."
If only! But now I know what every girl's dream is: not to grow long locks, nor to overrule a parental figure; rather, to make third grade boys act less like third grade boys. To make them stop burping, teasing, and launching food particles off of their spoons. To make them move off the soccer field so the girls can practice cartwheels and back-bends. To make them stop tackling each other at every possible moment.

Because one thing I have noticed is that, at the third grade level, boys are distinctly "boy" and girls are distinctly "girl" and there is very little overlap. They do not play together, and a girl will even submit a request "to sit with more girls" at her classroom desk cluster. The girls bring in dolls and stuffed animals to play with at recess, and the boys bring in toy cars, Gameboys, and spy watches. And so I come back to the questions: Where did they learn that? Did their parents teach them? Did their siblings teach them? Did society teach them? When? They're only eight!

Well, eight years is plenty of time -- plenty of time for norms to take hold. And dare I say that these norms will always exist? I dare. And when they come to an end, every girl's dream will be... a Venus flytrap.