Tag Archives: kids

Latin in the Summertime

IMG_1382Twice a week, I tutor an incoming 8th grader at Barnes and Noble. I order a large green tea, he tells me he’s “fine” when I ask, and we launch into Lingua Latina, every middle schooler’s dream way to spend a summer morning. He never complains — even when I open the door for it — and his desire to do well is lovely. I hope he doesn’t lose it come September.

We even made a friend. Glenn is retired and he comes to Barnes and Noble every morning. I never noticed him until, as I rounded the corner of the cafe, I saw him talking to my student. My hackles immediately went up (which is not exactly the most sane response to a stranger talking to a middle schooler, but my maternal instincts are strong). Glenn proved kind and engaging, Latin being the magnet it usually is in public.

“I heard you talking over there, and I thought: I know some of those words! I took Latin all through high school and I loved it.” Glenn is quick to divulge the ways in which Latin helped him with vocabulary, writing, etc., but I can see my student’s eyes glossing over. I do not want to squelch this man’s excitement, so I smile and talk about my teaching and love of languages.

Glenn is surprised that I teach Latin, and the next time we meet, he gets up excitedly, a red book in his hand.

“Have you heard of this?” he asks, handing it to me. “After we met, I was thinking about all the Latin I took and I remembered this book.”

It’s a book on Latin in English, a huge list of Latin terms that one could use in everyday speech. I’d never heard of it, I know my coworker would love it, and I thank him for thinking of me.

IMG_1357 (1)Many people are surprised that I teach Latin. More are surprised that I enjoy it. I’m not sure I fit the stereotype of Classics enthusiast (at least I hope I don’t), and yet I’m never quite sure how to respond to such shock. Part of me wants to enumerate all the other things I love just to balance it out, but the other part wonders what I could change to seem more of a Classicist.

My coworker and I have been brainstorming the upcoming year: How do we make it fun? How do we make Latin more part of our culture instead of just something students have to do to graduate? How do we collaborate and make our subject more interdisciplinary? Each of us brings unique things to the table, and honestly I am grateful to be able to lean on his knowledge of Roman history and other things I somehow missed during my education.

I sit with my student at Barnes and Noble, and I worry about him losing interest. I make sure to move from thing to thing — translation, vocabulary, grammar, derivatives — because nothing kills joy faster than doing the same thing over and over and over. I wonder if I should make him call me Miss Hawkins instead of Catherine because in the fall he will have no choice, but it feels strange to be in striped shorts and a tank top as “Miss Hawkins.” He never wants to chat afterwards, and I bid him adieu until next time.

“Are you a tutor?” the woman next to me asks as my student hurriedly leaves.

“Yes, we’re working on Latin,” I say.

“You’re good,” she says. “You make it fun.”

I am pleased.

“Thank you, I’m glad. He’s also smart, so that helps.”

I’m a little embarrassed how much this affirmation from a stranger makes me. You would think after tutoring for seven years I would no longer need someone to tell me I can do it. You would think I had arrived.

September will find me teaching Latin and ESL, not teaching English (alas), trying to integrate music, history, and etymology as much as I can, and learning and re-learning my students as a year-older and a summer-wiser.

Now, I am enjoying my twice-weekly tutorings, my days in the sun with my old babysitting charges, visiting with friends, and gearing up for all the fall will require of me.

Today, Glenn asked if I taught full-time.

“Yes,” I said. “September, I’ll be back at it.”

“So no more Barnes and Noble,” he replied.

It wasn’t a question so much as a realization.

[First Photo: Andrew Phillips]

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Sneaky Three-Year-Olds and Naptime

FullSizeRenderWhen I was little, my mother would send us up for a nap every afternoon. This didn’t last long, given our persuasive personalities and Mom’s fairly chill parenting style, but there were a few years there where I loathed what seemed like the three hours I’d be trapped in my bedroom. What was the point of “trying” to sleep if I wasn’t tired? Because I certainly wasn’t. I don’t care that I’m acting out, whining, slapping my sister, what-have-you. It isn’t because I’m tired, it’s just because I’m awful.

So there I would lie, my door closed, and it wasn’t long before I’d take a deep breath, scurry across the room, and grab the Barbie dolls. Or maybe the little notebook and pencil with which I would write extremely redundant letters to various family members (“Dear Daddy, I love you. God loves you, too. Love, Catherine”  — those were about all the words I could spell at three or four years old). I’d grab that dog-chewed, often-footless Barbie doll, write those letters, and sit up in bed with one ear to the doorway.

One ear to the doorway because there was a tell-tale sign that my mother was coming and I had to slip whatever toy I was playing with under the covers, close my eyes, and curl up facing the wall.

That sign was my mother’s creaky knees.

I still remember the thrill of hearing it – crack, crack, crack – coming up the stairs, shoving the Barbie doll under the comforter, breathing heavily because I was afraid I’d get caught.

Then the words of liberation, “You can get up now, honey,” and away with the toys and the bed and downstairs I’d bound, free from the minimal guilt I felt about disobeying.

And what would’ve happened had I been caught?

Nothing, most likely, but Mom never did catch me. Or, she never let on, anyway.

I teased Mom for years about her loud knees, her bad joints, and she took it like a champ.

“Thank God for those knees!” I’d say. “They kept me out of loads of trouble.”

~     ~     ~

The thing is: creaky knees seem to be genetic. I was walking up the three flights of stairs to my apartment, and I heard it — crack, crack, crack — only, instead of just one knee like my mother, it was BOTH. They were beacons of announcement: Catherine’s coming! She’s on her way! Any minute now! And I realized that my mother of the naptimes and sliced apples with peanut butter and tea with milk in the afternoon was a young woman of 28.

She wasn’t old or wrinkled or graying. She wasn’t wizened or aged like good wine. She was my age, and her knees cracked. She had long dark hair and perfect eye sight. She got down on her hands and knees and scrubbed the kitchen floor. She had three babies under the age of four, and she sent us upstairs for naps not because we needed them, but because she did.

When I was in high school, I asked her what she did while we were up there. I pictured her reading a book, watching a television show, napping herself.

“I usually did laundry,” she said. “Or dishes.”

Age is a funny thing. It means less and less as I get older. I wonder if this lovely change is reversed at some point. If, at the ripe old age of 70, the years mean a whole lot more. If you wish all you had to complain about were creaky knees or a compulsory naptime.

Three-Year-Old Freedom

She sits in front of me on the bus, her dark head barely visible over the blue seat. Pink bows keep two small braids from unraveling by her face, and her head turns swiftly as she tries to take it all in through the window.

I am on my way to church — not necessarily against my will, but most definitely against the yearning I feel to roam all day in the sunshine and write with my friends by the Charles River. But I made plans with another friend (in part to make sure I did indeed get up and go), so here I am on the bus that will take me to the T station. I have been audacious enough to ask to be blessed, to ask that God would somehow bless this thing that I find so difficult to do in this season of my life.

With an old man at the next stop enters the hot stench of an unbathed body, and I bristle, both at the smell and at the rudeness of the girl next to me, covering her nose, pouting. The old man looks at me, and I smile — a peace offering — because it won’t be long before I, too, offend people with aging.

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It is the Sunday after a trip to the midwest and the Sunday before I jump right back into all that I left behind. I performed a makeshift grocery-run on Saturday, I diligently did my laundry, I celebrated a friend’s engagement with champagne, and I realized I hadn’t read half as many pages of my stack of books as I had planned. At choir, I leaned in and whispered: I feel like I’m in college choir again. Like those days when I was at the beach but had to come back to campus for practice, and I can’t focus and all I can think about is the ocean and the sun.

I was giddy with something (holiday-high, maybe?), and I sang but I also laughed through rehearsal. Sally and I topped it off with our classic buffalo chicken calzone, and here I am, the next morning, praying that choosing this church to call home, at least for now, is right.

The little girl reaches out and touches the back of her father’s thigh. Her hand is small and her fingernails are perfectly-shaped crescents that I imagine her mother carefully clipping after a warm bath. The girl gazes up at her father’s face. He does not look down, and I realize she is merely checking in. She doesn’t need acknowledgment, only presence.

I am captivated.

We funnel off the bus and onto the T. I do not mean to, but I am sitting directly across from her. Now she stands, her little body full of the confidence so many of us grown-ups lack. She knows to grasp the T pole with both hands — she knows the world loves her.

I snap a picture.

I feel guilty, a thief. But I am spellbound and I can’t explain it.

When we reach my T stop, I get off, knowing I will never see her again. I had wanted so badly to reach out, to cup the top of her head with the curve of my palm, but her ease and wonder would not be possessed. She unselfconsciously took in the world and demanded that it love her.

And I did.

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I have been laboring over this piece now for days. It’s the first time I’ve ever sung alto in a choir, and my reading skills are finally being honed after years of skirting by on melody. My music is all marked up in a vain attempt to make sense of the accidentals and crazy key changes and seemingly senseless alto line.

I take a deep breath.

I plunk out the notes again.

Jen tells me to listen to the recording, to try to pick out my part.

“Copland thinks chordally, so it’s really helpful,” she says.

The first moment we began singing it in choir, I thought: Have I sung this before? How do I know this?

Ah, years ago. In Boston — Jen was the soloist and my mom and I had travelled down to see her. It’s a big piece. An overwhelming piece. And I could feel right away that I had heard it before.

It’s kicking my butt.

~     ~     ~

Miss Hawkins, is English your life?

[Just one of them.]

In reference to Edmond Dantés and Mercédès:

Well, obviously they didn’t love each other enough, or they would have waited. They would have gotten married.

[Hold on: What about circumstances? What about life? Is it possible that you can love someone deeply but have it not work out?]

In reference to Aylmer and Georgiana in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark:”

I think he really loved her. He was trying to help her.

[Woah, woah, woah! Careful. What is love? Aylmer obsesses over a tiny blemish on his wife’s cheek, to the point where it is all he sees of her. All her beauty and charm and kindness means nothing. Is that love? Trying to change someone? Trying to make them perfect?]

In reference to a grammar grade:

Wait – so you took a whole point off because I missed a verb tense?

[Yes, it’s called grammar.]

Why aren’t you married yet?

[Because I haven’t met anyone I wanted to see every day for the rest of my life.]

Really?!

[Here is where I wonder at their ideas of love and marriage. How I find it more amazing that anyone has found someone they like enough to see every day than it is that I haven’t.]

Why do you like writing so much? It’s boring.

[No! My heart!]

Why would you want to become a teacher?

[Here, I pause. Why? Do I tell them the truth? That it crept up on me and surprised me? That really, these twelve faces are the reason I became a teacher? And all their manifestations? They think I am not cool because I’m a teacher. This bums me out.]

Miss Hawkins, can I have some of your buffalo chicken calzone?

[No. Way.]

~     ~     ~

As difficult as the Copland has proven to be, it isn’t the piece that excites me. It’s the Whitacre that puts bubbles in my blood, makes my heart swirl. I listen to it over and over. I imagine da Vinci, consumed, obsessed, like Aylmer in Hawthorne’s short story.

the sirens’ song

I wonder what it must be like to feel compelled to create. To destroy the boundaries that the known world has imposed.

I sink into the low notes with silky enjoyment of their depth.

I paint pictures with my voice.

[7th graders: This is one of my other lives.]

A Hundred Years of Singing

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I remember discovering music as a little girl in the old brown church. Out the thin windows, I could see the pink hydrangea tree dipped down to the ground, bent from years of blooming. I couldn’t read yet, but I stood next to my father and followed him. I remember wondering How do I know where to put my voice next? and it was like the first time you think maybe there is more to be known than you will ever learn.

My grandfather used to sing “How Great Thou Art” under his breath while he hoed the garden, sorted the mail, wrote notes in his little breast-pocket notebook. He would hum and whistle, and ever since he’d lost some of his hearing, the tune hadn’t been quite right.

My Maine grandpa would sing fun ditties as he rocked us in his rocking chair. “How much is that doggie in the window?” and other silly songs that came from decades ago. It was when he took out his harmonica, though, that the music really started — his gnarled, hard-worked hands making music unlike any I had ever heard before.

And then there was singing in the car, belting along to Randy Travis and other 1990s country artists, wondering why I sounded different from the man singing. I hadn’t yet learned what octaves were.

I remember staying in the blue van while my family left because we’d gotten to my grandparents’ house, but it was in the middle of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” and there was no way I was going to miss that key change, that high note at the end.

Standing in front of a large woman at church, in awe of her operatic voice but also afraid of it and confused by why she was always a little bit behind everyone else.

Getting a thrill whenever “Black Velvet” came on the radio. Alannah Miles’ sultry voice and lyrics of desire had me enthralled before I hit kindergarten.

My great-grandma played the piano by ear, sang through the open window while she washed dishes and hoped someone from Hollywood would walk by. She never did get her big break, but she sang for 105 years.

~     ~    ~

We start our lessons with stretching to the sky and then hanging loose like a rag doll. I tell her to take deep breaths, to feel her back expand with air. We do sirens to activate the different registers, we talk about our diaphragm and how it supports our breath, and we talk about opening our mouths as the notes get higher.

She loves to sing hymns. She has big hazel eyes that take in what I say with this look of hunger to learn it all. She asks to sing “Amazing Grace,” but she doesn’t want to sing it alone.

“Can we sing it together? You know, when you sing different things than I do?”

“You mean when I sing the alto line and you sing the soprano line?” I ask.

“Yes, yes! Can we?”

Who would say no? Besides, I love hearing her little-girl voice paired with my slightly-less-little-girl voice, a cappella in my practice room with the string of Christmas lights.

I’m not sure she’ll be able to hold the soprano line, and she falters a bit. Then her voice stops wavering. She sings with confidence. At the end, we smile at each other.

I tell her I love singing with her.

I don’t tell her that she’s been gathering music memories for eight years, that they will build on each other and come out at surprising times.

I don’t tell her that maybe she’ll remember singing “Amazing Grace” with her voice teacher, how the mismatch of their voices mimicked the mismatch of their time of life.

[Photo: geraldbrazell]

On Saying “I Love You”

IMG_1638“I love — ” he shouts from behind me, his voice stopping just short of “you.”

I turn around and see the surprised, embarrassed look on his face. I make a split-second decision.

“I love you,” I say with conviction, because if you don’t say “I love you” and mean it, you shouldn’t be saying it at all.

I smile big so he knows I don’t feel uncomfortable. I leave these three children I’ve been babysitting in the kitchen as I head down to my car. Saying goodbye at the end of the summer is never easy.

He stops short of saying “I love you” for a few reasons. First, he’s a thirteen-year-old boy, and everyone knows we teach our children (boys, in particular) that expressing love or affection is not cool. He desperately wants to be cool. He wouldn’t let me post a picture of us sipping iced tea because he was afraid of what his friends would think, so I didn’t. I understand ego, even if I have a slightly different perspective. Second, I’m his babysitter. I am not his mom or his aunt or his grandma. If our young boys do express affection and care, it is almost always in the context of family, and I am not that. I can imagine his struggle as he tried to figure out what was going on: Do I love her? How can I? She’s 26 and not related to me. But what is it, then? It’s definitely not a crush. Because that is reason number three: he didn’t want to be misunderstood and have his care confused into something it wasn’t.

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[My face most of the summer. They loved stealing my phone and leaving me photographic surprises.]

It’s the last day of summer, and I know deep down it’s my last summer with them. There’s a time and place for a babysitter who takes you to the Museum of Science, the beach, mini golfing, the Museum of Fine Arts, even to Funtown Splashtown, USA. But then you start to feel itchy, like it doesn’t quite fit anymore, and both you and your mom and even your babysitter realize it’s time for a change. You don’t really want it – you do love her, in some strange, mysterious way – and when you hug her, you don’t let go right away because you’re not sure when (or if) you’ll see her again. Will you ever ride the train to Boston again? Or try new things like bubble tea or yoga or hiking Mount Pawtuckaway? You’re excited for eighth grade and high school, but you’re missing your best friend who moved across the ocean, and your grandparents who moved to Florida, and even though you know it’s time, you’re wondering what next summer will look like without this strange loud singing buddy you’ve had for so long.

At least, this is what I imagine is going through his head. I know it’s probably not nearly as spelled out as this, or as worry-filled (because these tendencies come later in life), but I can’t help thinking about his voice in the hallway. How the words flew out of his mouth and he had to stop himself. How many times I’ve done that myself — felt an overflow of emotion that had to be expressed, but my words got strangled in my throat because of fear. We don’t have enough words to express what we feel. No wonder he feels strange saying he loves me; it doesn’t fit our paradigms of love, but there is no other word. And so I say it back to him because it is true, but also to show him that it’s okay to say.

I wonder what he thinks as the screen door closes behind me. I wonder if I embarrassed him. I hope he is able to get past that initial feeling of discomfort because someday, I hope he doesn’t stop short of saying it. I want him to be able to hug people and not let go too soon. I want him to be able to say “I love you,” and to receive that same love back. I want him to be free from coolness and uncoolness, debilitating fear and self-preservation, because when you’re able to let go of these things, love comes a whole lot easier. I wish I could be there to watch him grow into this, but just like my students who graduate every spring, he has to go this one on his own. All I can do is help him see that caring for someone is good and telling them is important. Maybe someday I’ll run into him, all tall and grown. I hope he isn’t afraid to give me a hug.

Funtown Deathtown, USA

photoSo I’m sitting on the roller coaster and the bar comes down. A. looks at me, her eyes wide, and she leans in to whisper, “Catherine, I kind of have to go to the bathroom.”

“Ha, well that’s terrible timing,” I say, hoping the need is fear-induced.

Suddenly we’re making the ascent, the boys looking back at us with big grins because they know how much I am about to scream. Most people are putting their arms up high in the air, getting ready for the zip, but I clutch the bar instead. This is only my second roller coaster ride, after all.

At the very top is a sign that reads “Absolutely No Standing,” and I barely have time to wonder why in the world they would need that sign before we are careening down the steep wooden coaster and I am screaming like a little girl.

Unlike the little girl sitting next to me. She barely makes a peep, just flings her arms around and looks at me once in a while to see how I’m doing.

I wonder for a minute why I do this to myself.

Why we do this to ourselves.

What is it about adrenaline that is so addicting?

Oh, right, it’s a brain-thing.

As we zip around the corners and I hear the wheels crunching and turning, I’m proud of myself for getting on. For allowing myself to be buckled in. For choosing to feel like my stomach was going to fly out of my mouth.

Because they’d begged me to go on the ride, and I knew for some reason this was important to them. They wanted to share the fun with me, I think, and a little bit of them wanted to hear me freak.

But it had a little bit to do with love, too.

I’ve been thinking about love a lot these days, as I ponder how best to love my family after I move, how to be a good friend, how to care for my students. This might sound far-fetched, but I was loving those kids by getting on that ride.

I was telling them making them happy was more important to me than not dying.

I was telling them that making myself uncomfortable was worth seeing joy in their eyes.

And most of all, I was showing them that sometimes you do things you wouldn’t normally do because you care.

I’m sure they aren’t thinking about this stuff at all – that they are just glad they’d convinced me to get in line and that there’s no turning back now.

But I still want to show them what it looks like to stare an old wooden roller coaster in the rickety rails and say:

Bring it.

It brings it. My ponytail falls out and my hair’s flying and we all stagger a little bit when we get off.

I didn’t die.

She looks at me with her big eyes and says, “Okay, now I really have to go to the bathroom.”

Things I’ll Miss

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I spent the last three months in a house with wind chimes. I woke up in the middle of the night to the music of them in the breeze, and there was an eeriness to it. I had to grow accustomed to its sound.

But I did grow accustomed, and soon I will miss the music of wind in glass.

I have never awaited summer with less anticipation.

[She hugs me, tucking her head in like a child, and her face is red. “It’s just hitting me now,” she sobs into my shoulder, “everyone is leaving.” I take her hand and say, “I know this is hard, I know. But you’re going to have a wonderful summer, and next year, the first day of school will be just as exciting and fun as every other first day of school. It’s just hard right now.” And I try to get her to act – to put on the performing persona she does so well in homeroom – but the pictures are proof that hiding pain only works for so long.]

Good evening, my name is Catherine Hawkins, and I am an Upper School Latin teacher.

I hand out awards one after the other. I try to speak slowly because I rush when I want to be done. I pass out two Perfect Scores on the National Latin Exam; I clap for a row of students so long it has to loop around the stage.

I jump into a class photograph – right in the middle – but I do not tear up once the entire evening.

Someone has to hold it together.

And we all know Jim wouldn’t be able to [cough, cough, no-emotion-man].

I have never awaited summer with less anticipation.

[“Magistra, I will spit out my gum every morning at my new school in honor of you.”]

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I packed up my room. It is hideous and you would never imagine such learning and fun and difficult conversations happened here.

I am not even leaving forever – I’ll be back in September – but there is something about this year that was precious to me. Too dear, maybe, in a way that could not be sustained.

Good thing I have a good memory. Good thing they have left me better than the way they found me.

~     ~     ~

The past few months, I have questioned my work in a way I have never done before.

Is it valuable?
Is it challenging enough?
Is it the easy way out?
Is it glorifying to God?

This past week, tear-stained cheeks, awkward middle school goodbyes, and a gift I will proudly hang on my wall prove that this is valuable work I do.

[“Catherine, he’s been working all day to make you something special.”]

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I grew accustomed to saying the same few names over and over in class: Refocus. You need your textbook, not your workbook. Sit down. That’s hilarious, but NEVER DO IT AGAIN.

I grew accustomed to these faces, these voices, these antics that – on my more tired days – were not quite as endearing as they’d hoped.

I grew accustomed to being their Magistra, but now, as many of them move on, I will forever be their Swagistra.

[Photo: Rie H]

Flat Magistra Goes to D.C.

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So I’ve been a little busy chaperoning my 8th graders’ D.C. trip.IMG_3129

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I haven’t been answering my emails.

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I’m loving this spring weather. And eating at a restaurant right next to where Lincoln was shot.

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I have a thousand text messages, but I’m just too busy checking out national monuments to reply.

IMG_3280 IMG_3282My coworker loves showing me around. We’re really bonding.IMG_3147And I’ve been eating super healthy on this trip. I’m determined to come back thinner than ever.

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The kids are getting a little tired of looking at my pigtails that look like piglet-ears from Winnie the Pooh, but I forgot a hairbrush, so they’ll have to do.
IMG_3138I’m Jim’s righthand-man, and he loves posing for pictures with me. I’m the bad-cop in our co-teacher relationship: “You’re out of dress code! Spit out that gum! You’re late for homeroom again! Give me your cell phone!”

IMG_3140All these 8th graders really know how to brighten my day. There isn’t a moment when I’m not wearing the same exact smile on my face this entire trip.

IMG_3158So, if you’re looking for me, I’m a little busy hanging with the coolest almost-high-schoolers ever.

[Fear not – permission was obtained before posting these pictures.]

Dating Advice from an 8-Year-Old

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[This is what happens when you leave your phone unattended and fail to put a passcode on it…]

There’s this thing about kids that I’ve realized, and it’s that they hurt your feelings without meaning to. Adults usually mean to. Or at least, they mean to more often. I’ve got a handful of non-hateful mean things kids have said to me over the years, and with my elephant memory for tiny hurts, I’ll probably always have them tucked away somewhere.

When I was a babysitter in high school, a little girl said to me,

“Where are you from?”

“I’m from town – I grew up here,” I said.

“Huh. I thought you were from somewhere else. Your eyebrows don’t match your hair.”

And she spun around and ran to the swing set.

Now, at the tender and hideous age of 16, I was pretty bummed by her astute observation. It’s true: my eyebrows indeed do not match my hair. I dye neither, but somehow, God didn’t get the memo that if you’re from Massachusetts, your hair and eyebrows should be the same color. Maybe if I were from England or Colombia, but not Massachusetts.

And I thought about this for days.

I went home and told my family, who laughed.

I thought about dying my hair brown. Then I thought about bleaching my eyebrows, but the upkeep seemed horrendous.

Then, slowly and finally, I accepted the fact that my eyebrows are dark and my hair is light and I look like a foreigner.

~     ~     ~

These days, I babysit for a different family, and a different little girl has made the same observation. She said it quizzically, as though I were a specimen to be studied, and it seems often that I am; there is a mixture of wonder and confusion on her face when she looks at me, but she doesn’t always hold back her less-than-stellar thoughts.

“Why don’t you brush your hair more?”

“Why can’t I paint your nails?”

“Why don’t you curl your hair?”

“Why do you always drink water instead of soda?”

“Why don’t you have a boyfriend?”

It was that last one I always tried to answer in a way that a seven-year-old would understand.

“I just haven’t met anyone I liked enough.”

[Sort of true, sort of not.]

“Seriously?” she asked skeptically, her mouth hanging open a little in disgust.

“Yeah, and I mean, it takes a lot of time. I have to really like the person if I’m gonna give that much time and energy to him.”

[Definitely true.]

I could tell she still didn’t understand because she looked at me sideways before demanding I tell her another story about when I was little.

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Two weeks ago, I was babysitting in the winter, which is rare. This same girl who thought everyone over the age of 15 must have a boyfriend was sitting across from me in a cozy restaurant. Her bangs had grown and were tucked behind her ear, more teeth had fallen out, but she was, overall, very much the same precocious strawberry blonde.

“Tell me a story,” she said as our buffalo chicken wings and fried pickles arrived. “I’ll give you a category.”

Her category was “something new that happened,” and I paused.

Should I tell her?

What would she think?

It might be opening a slew of questions I’m not interested in answering.

“Well, you know, actually,” (and it took forever to finally say), “I have a boyfriend now.”

I swear she stopped chewing her fried pickle and stared at me.

She blinked.

She did not smile.

“Remember that day I got a phone call? The last day of summer when we were at Canobie Lake Park?”

“Yeah…”

“That was him. He asked me out on a date, and now we’re dating.”

She didn’t ask a question.

This was not at all how I imagined she’d react. I’d pictured excitement and interested questions and “when can we meet him?!”

I, in my awkwardness, said,

“I think you’ll really like him. He likes hiking.”

He likes hiking?! That’s all you got?!

And then she steered the conversation in a totally different direction, asking for another story, one that involved a lot more animation and hand gestures. I started to tell it, surprised by her lack of interest. I don’t remember what the story was about or if it were even funny, but I know I was pretty engaged in telling it. She was enjoying it, her green-blue eyes big and her focus not on the fried pickles anymore.

I was just about to get to the good part – buffalo chicken brandished high in a dramatic moment – when she cocked her head like she does when she’s about to say something slightly critical.

[Remember: this girl is eight years old.]

“Catherine,” she said, “whatever you do, don’t let your boyfriend see you eat chicken wings.”

WHAT.

And she reached over and took her own chicken wing and dipped it gingerly in blue cheese dressing.

I laughed because what else can you do? and I said,

“Guess what? He’s an even messier eater than I am. And that’s so not fair! You can’t ask for a story mid-chicken-wing!”

“I’m just sayin’,” and she proceeded to nibble.

My latest in child-critiques. This one I’m not too upset about.

charles

[Look, no buffalo sauce on my chin.]