Category Archives: teaching

BY ANY OTHER NAME

 

Aunt Mary? Mrs. Shepherd?

Aunt Mary? Mrs. Shepherd?

 

 

Beth knew the answer.

Beth knew the answer.

 

"...a rose by any other name..."

“…a rose by any other name…”

My mother’s two years as a kindergarten teacher in Kansas City were rich with stories that took place long before I was born. This is the third story from that time period.

Remember the large group picture of my mother in the back row, posed with the other staff and the kindergarten students? My cousin Beth was visiting that day, so she was included in the picture, too. What the picture doesn’t show is the intense argument she had with one of the little boys in the class. “That’s my Aunt Mary,” Beth told him proudly. “No, it’s not,” he replied indignantly. “That’s Mrs. Shepherd.”

“No, sir.”   “Is too.”   “Uh-uh.”   “Uh-huh.”   Back and forth it went.

My mother made it a teaching moment for the whole class: names can show our relationship to other people ~ Mom, Grandma, Aunt Mary, Mrs. Shepherd, or a nickname like Mary Ibbeth or Mary E.   Names can also make it clear what we do or who we are to others ~ teacher, writer, friend, neighbor. We can have many names, and if someone tells you, “Don’t call me that,” then be polite and don’t use that name.

Writers—including my mother, before the dementia—know that literature has many examples of the importance of a character’s name. “Call me Ishmael,” the opening line of MOBY-DICK, is a classic example. In Neil Gaiman’s THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, much importance is attached to the character learning his name and who he is: “Kiss a lover ~ Dance a measure ~ Find your name ~ and buried treasure.”

Jarod Kintz, author of   99 CENTS FOR SOME NONSENSE, had a different perspective. “Male or female, if my name were either Don or Dawn, I’d be up at sunrise to celebrate the glory that is me.”

W.C. Fields said this about the name issue: “It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.”   Which he might have taken more seriously if he’d been bullied on the play ground. Or he might have shrugged and said, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”   Oh, sure; children aren’t ever hurt by name calling.

My mother never saw Andrew Lloyd Webber’s CATS, but she enjoyed T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which was the core of the musical. “…Before a Cat will condescend…To treat you as a trusted friend…A cat’s entitled to expect…These evidences of respect…And so in time you reach your aim, and finally call him by his name.”

The story of my cousin Beth arguing about whether my mother’s name was Aunt Mary or Mrs. Shepherd makes me smile. This Christmas Mom’s dementia is so advanced that I doubt either name—or any of the others—will mean much to her. She fades in and out of life as a child on the farm, and sometimes scenes from working with my dad or raising children.

For those of you who have a loved one in a similar situation, I wish you the simple joys of being together: gentle humor, genuine acceptance, delicious foods and holiday music. In difficult situations, feeling love and hugs are more important than remembering names.

"...and so in time you reach your aim, and finally call him by his name..."

“…and so in time you reach your aim, and finally call him by his name…”

 

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, kindergarten lessons about life, life questions, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, teaching, writing

SOLE LESSONS

Mary Elizabeth as a toddler in buckle shoes.  No shoelaces to tie!

Mary Elizabeth as a toddler in buckle shoes. No shoelaces to tie!

 

My mother (in the middle). Look at the buckles on those shoes.  Tying shoes would have been easier!

My mother (in the middle). Look at the buckles on those shoes. Tying shoes would have been easier!

Last week’s story featured Tommy, the boy in my mother’s kindergarten class who needed to rest behind the piano until he could participate without distracting or hurting others.  

In that same class was five-year-old Billy, a sweet boy who had a very different problem. He couldn’t tie his shoes.

This was over seventy years ago, long before Velcro was an essential part of children’s shoes. Being able to tie your shoes was a learned skill back then, one of the eye-hand-coordinations on a child’s check-off sheet. Schools everywhere taught “bunny ears” loop-tying, or other techniques to help kindergartners tie their shoes. Billy struggled with every attempt, but nothing worked.

One day during Story Time, Billy sat in his little chair in the circle the children formed to listen to the story. As the teacher read, Billy leaned over in his chair and began working oh-so-diligently to tie his shoes. My mother watched him try again and again, and she hoped this might be the time it all worked out. Finally, after a painfully long time, Billy looked up and proudly smiled. Success!

It was like a bad dream, Mom told me many years later. In quick succession, several things happened: Billy beamed triumphantly; the fire alarm went off; and as the other children stood and formed a line at the door as they’d practiced, Billy remained seated. His eyes got big, his lower lip trembled, he pointed down at his shoes, and his eyes filled with tears.

Billy had succeeded in tying his shoes all right…together…and around the leg of his chair. Plus, bless his little over-achieving heart, he’d even tied the shoe laces in knots.

That day, when the kindergarteners and first graders marched down the stairs to the main floor, blended with the other students and filed out the front door, the principal and her secretary checked off how long it had taken everyone to leave the building during the fire drill. One teacher and one student took longer than everyone else in the building.

My mother was last out that day, carrying Billy out the door.  He still sat in the chair, his feet still tied to the chair leg. Children giggled, staff members clapped, and Billy buried his face against my mother’s neck.

The “sole” lesson from this story is the reminder that to really understand others we need to walk a mile in their shoes…or at least down the stairs and out the door.   But the other lessons my mother taught by example over and over were these: We’re all pretty much just doing the best we can, so our first response should be helpful instead of critical. It also helps to keep a sense of humor…but never laugh while another person is sobbing against your neck.

Current baby and toddler shoes.  No buckles...but they do have shoe laces!

Current baby and toddler shoes. No buckles…but they do have shoe laces!

Or, just go bare-foot!

Or, just go bare-foot!

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, memories for great-grandchildren, spending time with kids, teaching

THE RIGHT WORDS

What words would "Mr. Wonderful" say to impress a woman?

What words would “Mr. Wonderful” say to impress a woman?

What would John Bunyan say about Mr. Wonderful's words?

What would John Bunyan say about Mr. Wonderful’s words?

What would a patient Grandpa say to his grandson about fishing?

What would a patient Grandpa say to his grandson about fishing?

In 1871, Lewis Carrolll wrote the nonsense poem, “Jabberwocky.” It begins “’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves ~ Did gyre and gimble in the wabe…” It’s a well-known poem, often praised for the flow and sounds of the words, and in every English class there are always some students who swear they understand exactly what Carroll was saying.

Author Roald Dahl (1916-1990) was a prominent novelist, poet and short story writer who was also known for Gobblefunk, his own language. Two examples are “swigpill” (disgusting food), and “splath-winkled” (hurrying about). Despite this special language he scattered through some of his writing, his also wrote this: “Don’t gobblefunk around with words.”

Sometimes words work; sometimes they don’t. All writers know this, and most agree that one place where this is particularly true is when they write dialogue. It either works, or it doesn’t. 

To loosen up the writers in my classes and workshops, I often jumped right into exercises on writing dialogue. My favorite prop was Mr. Wonderful, a 12” doll with a flashy smile, a button-down shirt, khaki pants, and real-tie brown leather shoes. Press the palm of his hand and he said sixteen different phrases—all from the heart—and all as fake as his smile. Two of my favorites were “You know, I think it’s really important that we talk about our relationship,” and “You know, Honey, why don’t you just relax and let me make dinner tonight…and do the dishes.”

It was obvious to both males and females that Mr. Wonderful’s words were stilted and didn’t work.   So the writers were to act as his “coach” and choose any three of his phrases and write what a “real guy” would say. After they’d finished, they were to hand the sheet to another writer who would write what an imaginary Ms. Wonderful would say in response. Everyone relaxed with the dialogue of this fake-to-the-core doll. It was a great way to get started.

Before my mother’s dementia, once when she was visiting I introduced her to Mr. Wonderful. She listened to his phrases and laughed. Then she said that some of the hardest dialogue to write was how children talk, so another exercise for my students could be to write what a young girl or boy would say to Mr. Wonderful, telling him how to dress and what to say. I really liked her idea, and asked if she wanted to try writing some examples.

Mom looked around, shook her head and smiled. In her opinion, the best way to write dialogue was to get comfortable and sit quietly, in a waiting room or a classroom or anywhere adults or children talk and do things. Then listen to what they say, how they pause or move when they say something, if they chatter on and on or speak in short sentences, if they mumble or whine. That’s how you learn to write like people really talk, she said. You listen.

And then she laughed and added that you didn’t want to sit quietly too long. You might fall asleep and then some uppity writer might write about how you sleep with your mouth open or snore.

My mother taught me that getting words right is important, but so is watching and learning. And getting your heart involved, too. As John Bunyan, author of THE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, wrote: “In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”

The same is true in life.

This "borrows" from Keep Calm and Carry On.  Write your own version, or choose another well-known saying and rewrite it in your style.

This “borrows” from Keep Calm and Carry On. Write your own version, or choose another well-known saying and rewrite it in your style.

 

Use the title of this book. Write for five minutes and tell where the men are.

Use the title of this book. Write for five minutes and tell what happened to the men.

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, lessons about life, special quotations, teaching, writing, writing exercises

THE ART OF PREPARING FOR THE BEST

"Riders of the Dawn" - by Frank Tenney Johnson, 1935 (all photographs by Marylin Warner, with permission by the Broadmoor Hotel)

“Riders of the Dawn” – by Frank Tenney Johnson, 1935 (all photographs by Marylin Warner, with permission by the Broadmoor Hotel)

"Indian Weaver"- 1914 by Eanger I. Couse

“Indian Weaver”- 1914 by Eanger I. Couse

Last week’s post, “Preparing For The Best,”  offered suggestions for preparing for a visit with a loved one who suffers with Alzheimer’s or dementia.  There were many responses and additional suggestions, and I sincerely thank each of you for sharing excellent information with us.

Gallivanta of “Silkannthreades” provided this link to the “The Art Of Urging those With Dementia to Think.”  This is excellent information about the benefits of viewing art, making art and responding to art for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia. http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/8739661/The-art-of-urging-those-with-dementia-to-think

Pablo Picasso said,  “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” In my experience with the failing memories of both my parents, art also temporarily washes away the confusion of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

For instance, using the three wonderful paintings from the early 1900s, imagine viewing these very large, colorful paintings with an Alzheimer’s or dementia patient.  For “Riders of the Dawn,” the focus could be the action. Which horse do you like best? Or start with a statement: My favorite horse is this one (and point), and then ask if they agree. For early stages of dementia, you might ask, Where do you think they’re going? and let them create a story or build on a memory.

Or move on to “Indian Weaver,” and early Alzheimer’s and dementia patients might respond to the weaving and the parent and child.  The picture might trigger memories of trying to work with children around, or cute things children do.

My favorite of the three paintings is “The Peacemaker.” After breakfast at The Broadmoor Hotel’s Charles Court recently, my husband Jim and my brother David and I studied this wonderful 5’x5’ 1913 painting and debated which of the characters is REALLY the Peacemaker. Art truly does make us all think, and for those with Alzheimer’s or dementia, it might possibly be the nudge that triggers memories and responses.

There are no medical solutions for dementia and Alzheimer’s at this point, and there are no quick fixes or easy answers for helping those we love who suffer with confusion and memory loss.  Pablo Picasso says, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”  Maybe the same is true with keeping alive the attraction to art in the lives of ourselves and those we love.

________________________________________________

With thanks to Rod of “Just Rod” for suggesting using CDs with favorite old songs, hymns or tunes; to Diana of “The Best Chapter” for suggesting that we read aloud to our loved ones; and to Nancy of “BackPorchBreak” for suggesting we look at family pictures together.

And special thanks to Clem, a psychiatric nurse of “Zachandclem,” who gently reminds us that Alzheimer’s victims’ fury has nothing to do with actual angry emotions, but with the dementia reaching the frontal lobe.

(My sincere thanks to the 5-star Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs for allowing me to photograph some of their valuable paintings and share them with you on this blog.)

"The Peacemaker" - 1913 by Ernest L Blumenschein

“The Peacemaker” – 1913
by Ernest L Blumenschein

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Filed under art, art projects, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, making a difference, teaching

LEFT? or RIGHT? (and we’re not talking politics)

The left hands of six good friends and very talented writers. Can you tell which ones are right-handed or ambidextrous?

Dear Mom,

I remember first grade, proudly holding my hand up TWICE in answer to the teacher’s two questions. First question: “How many of you are right handed?” (We were 5 and 6 year olds, it was the first day of school, and she had to explain the question to some of the students.) In answer, I held up my right hand, as did many of the others. Then she asked, “How many of you are left handed?” I paused a second and then held up my left hand.

The teacher gave me an irritated oh-no-here-we-go look. But after I showed her I could print my name with my right hand AND my left hand, she tapped my right hand with a ruler and said, “From now on, beginning in this classroom, you will use this hand.”

At home I continued to use both hands, but at school I avoided the ruler and joined the majority of right-handed students. Maybe it bothered me more than I realized. In 5th grade I began “mirror writing”—even in cursive—writing from right to left. I could write it quickly, and anyone could easily read it by holding the paper up to a mirror, but the teacher wasn’t impressed, so I stopped doing it at school.

Well Mom, guess what tomorrow, Monday, August 13th is?  It’s International Left-Handers’ Day!  In honor of those good old “confused about which hand to use” days, here are some statistics. About 90% of the population is right-handed, so that leaves 10% left-handed (but maybe some were actually ambidextrous and lumped into the big group against their wills). And speaking of ambidextrous, there’s an unproved medical theory that difficult or stressful births often happen among babies who grow up to be left-handed or ambidextrous. But the AMA doesn’t endorse it. Just as most religions do not accept the ancient superstition that left-handers were more prone to evil and are either weaker or stronger on both sides of the body than right-handers.

Eight of our presidents have been left-handed, most recently George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. On a Qwerty (standard) keyboard, 3,000 words can be typed with only the left hand; 56% of the touch-typing keystrokes are made with the left hand. In fencing, about half of the participants are left handed.

What I really want to say to you on August 13 is Thanks, Mom.  At home I could always use whichever hand I wanted. When I was learning to knit, you taught me the basic stitches, but you also took me to a left-handed knitter to learn, and then you let me choose. And when I did mirror writing, you were irritated only because I’d actually written a sentence on the mirror…with your lipstick. After I cleaned it off, you had me write on paper, and you complimented me, saying I was creative and talented.

Years later, a teacher myself, in a classroom of high school students I’d sometimes quickly write information on the board in mirror-writing. The students who could read it without hesitation would nod and smile, but most of the others had to squint and  figure it out. No one felt bad. It was okay either way. You had taught me that.

It was just one of the many things you taught by example, Mom, and I thank you.

I’ll be coming from Colorado to visit you in Kansas soon, and together we’ll celebrate International Left-Hander’s Day a few days late. I’ll bring the lipstick, we’ll write on the mirror, and then we’ll celebrate with cookies.   Love you, Mom.   Marylin

With my mom and Flat Grace (hand-colored by mom’s great-grandaughter, Grace)

 

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, teachers, teaching, writing

WASHING AWAY THE DUST OF EVERYDAY LIFE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Mom,

Pablo Picasso said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” When Molly visited you and Dad the summer she was six, the art project you set up that week required washing away the dust of the garage. For “the marble village” your grandchildren created, marbles became the people who lived in the papier mâché town built and painted on a big piece of plywood on the garage floor. (The French term made the result even grander.)

You were also the grandmother who discovered a safe-to-eat recipe for play dough. You wrapped the colorful wads in plastic, tied them with ribbon and shared them with children in the neighborhood and at Sunday school. For a long time, play-dough rings, bracelets and necklaces were local gifts-of-choice, with painted snakes and rolled paper-clip holders a close second.

Encouraging art projects was always your trademark with me, Mom. I added to the projects and passed them on to Molly, and now your great-grandchildren have joined the adventures. Recently, Grace and Gannon both made portraits of me–in the style of Picasso–and proudly presented them for framing and hanging. In our family, creativity is the result of both nature and nurture. We’ve created with sidewalk chalk, puff paints, clay, old socks and T-shirts, watercolors, sand and glass, pen and paper, and computers. It’s all good. Sometimes surprising and open to interpretation, but still good.

George Bernard Shaw said, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. It’s about creating yourself.” (Or, in my case, figuring out how I inspired two Picasso-style portraits.)

Thanks, Mom, for encouraging our creativity.

With love from your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren

(Above: Gannon’s and Grace’s Picasso pictures of Mor Mor)

(Below: Molly’s 3rd grade Indian Art sculpture with yarn)

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Thanks, Mom

Dear Mom,

Before I post my newspaper op-ed, I want to thank you. All my life, you’ve supported, encouraged, and sometimes gently questioned, my writing. When I was working on the article about Notre Dame vs. Chapman, Kansas, you listened as I explained it, but you fell asleep twice. Dementia and 93-years have made you a fast drop-off napper, and I wasn’t offended. You slept, and I kept writing. This was only my second newspaper article since my days at McPherson College, and it was slow going.

When I cleaned out the house where David and I grew up and you and Dad had lived for more than 50 years, I found a wonderful gift tucked in folders on a closet shelf. You had saved copies of my published stories, essays and articles through the years. Some of them I know you enjoyed and approved of more than others, but you celebrated each acceptance letter with me, and encouraged me to keep trying when there were rejection letters. I doubt you remember that now, but I will remember.

After “Notre Dame’s Missed Opportunity” was published in the Chapman Times News last week, I learned that a wrestling coach read it to her team, and readers were talking about it all over town. One long-time resident of Chapman posted a note on this blog (see ABOUT US, the last comment) and he closed by saying this:

“…You wrote like you had grown up in Chapman and had the pride of the town that I haven’t seen for a long while. It seems we feel it but it is not expressed as you did. Very good of you to take the time, hope you do more of it.”

THAT is one of the reasons we write, Mom, to make a difference. You taught me that by your example, and supported it with your encouragement and support.

Thank you, Mom.

Love, Marylin

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