Rhyming Time

Yesterday I wasn’t too enthusiastic about going to teach art to the kids. I felt like they were losing their focus, and I’m not the goddess of construction, paper, glue and cute crafts. I’m an artist, dammit! But I went. The kids were waiting in the alley,. The little boy was on his bike. Regular readers of my blog know that a period of my life was spent with a group of boys and their BMX bikes. It was a strange time (but really, how would I know?) and our little group of a lady with a truck and boys on bikes was the best part. And there I was yesterday, looking at C, a little boy who was eager to show me how fast he could ride and the great stop he’d learned.

My heart went back to those Boys on Bikes, now in their 40s, some dead already. The one to whom I was closest is raising his own kids now and is teaching his little boy — who’s about the age of C — to ride BMX.

Mark Twain said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” Personal history too, it seems.

C’s parents are more protective of him than the Boys on Bikes’ parents were of their boys. He’s only allowed to ride in the alley when I’m out there, otherwise he has to ride in his yard and driveway. Knowing this, I walked down the alley very, very slowly. He showed me how fast he can ride and he showed me his skidding stop. He fell, took it “like a man,” and I said, “Good for you. The only way to learn is to fall.”

The Boys on Bikes — until they met me — rode their bikes ten miles from our neighborhood up to the BMX jumps. My Ford Ranger and I, and the fact that almost daily I drove up to where the jumps were, were a big boon to their lives.

It’s just a different world today in so many ways, but I liked our old world. I admired the reckless courage of those boys so long ago and the way they took shovels up there to perfect, adjust and repair the dirt jumps. They were amazing.

Little boys are an interesting species. Much derring-do and showing off of prowess; they are all medieval knights.

Yesterday I ran the art “class” a little differently. I had two activities planned and made them go run around the yard for 5 minutes in between. They’d also done their homework. The little girl, M, had drawn me pictures of animals and C had three nice pictures of trucks. He showed me one and asked if I could read the writing on it. “It’s Morse Code,” he said. “Can you read Morse Code?”

I said no and he told me it said, “Hi Miss Martha.”

He used the charcoal pencil I gave him for the road beneath the truck and the tires.

When they came in from “recess” we made tissue paper sun catchers. They loved the project, which was incredibly messy, and Mom even joined it.

“Isolation…exposed the deep sense of connection I took for granted within my relationships with friends and family. Don’t forget to express gratitude for those connections.” From today’s Washington Post newsletter on coping with COVID-19


23 thoughts on “Rhyming Time

  1. Art class that comes with recess – love it. Yes, it’s the connections that make all the difference. Those kids are connected to you – morse code and all ❤️

      • Excellent analogy! My son’s first grade teacher assured me she understand his high activity level…thinking of him as a Great Dane as he would make his way from one end of the classroom to the other. Touching desks, bumping into chairs. Thank goodness she understood.

        • That teacher was a good one! The little girl I’m teaching has so much to struggle with. It’s strange to think that what she will learn in that struggle, the important lesson, will be to persevere not vocabulary. Seriously, I wish sometimes as kids we’d been told what was ACTUALLY going on. Would it have been easier and more relevant?

          • Yes she was. He was lucky to have her.
            I think it would most likely been easier and more relevant if we’d been told what was actually going on. Adults usually underestimate kids and what they perceive and can learn. Kids are much deeper than most adults realize.

            • Yes they are. I think they also have a better awareness of themselves and who they are than most adults realize. I did. I’ve always known who I am. The two little kids I’m “teaching” now know who they are. In a way I think the fight is to help a kid not lose him/herself along the way. The little girl is in danger; the little boy isn’t. It’s scary. She’s really growing up with the idea that she is “less than.” What she is is “different from” whatever arbitrary standards exist.

  2. Neither my son nor I were ever the sort of little boy you describe, but I hear you. The sad thing is when they never grow up. I see them all the time in my work…the little boys in big bodies who get drunk and crash their cars or get in bar fights or shoot each other. Sometimes that little boy comes out in another way when they lie in that hospital bed, afraid to move because it will hurt and wanting mommy. Sorry to take this in another direction but that’s what came out when my fingers started moving. I’ll stop now.

    • It is sad when they don’t grow up. Some of the kids I hung out with back in the day were dead or in jail before they were 20. Others had something stronger inside and came out of that moment in life to be awesome people. They were all “at risk” boys and their bikes were the one thing that kept them from the bad stuff that was all around them. The ones who stopped riding are the ones who self-destructed.

      After one of them killed himself and another went to jail for grand theft auto, I sat at Taco Bell with Jimmy after he’d ridden the jumps alone and I’d ridden my Mt. bike in the hills. We were both so sad. We knew our moment was over and that it had been golden. “If only Jason had stayed on his bike,” said Jimmy. We made a pact then and there to stay on our bikes. Jimmy went on to ride pro for several years.

      There was a moment when I was teaching at San Diego State and I looked at my boy students — 18 and 19 — and I knew they had at least one more dangerous year before their frontal lobes matured enough that they would be a little safer from themselves.

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