By now we have all been well initiated into the idea that "kids say the darnedest things". This has been perpetuated by the countless emails that are endlessly forwarded and highlighted in movies like Kindergarten Cop. We all chuckle when kids innocently mention the naughty bits or blurt out intimate details of their parents private lives. (I am here to tell you that sitting in a parent teacher conference after knowing such information adds new shades of color to the meeting.) But in focusing on this aspect of children as they learn what is appropriate in polite society and work out the rules of social discourse we lose track of the poetry in their language.
The other day I had a little six year old girl in my class turn to me during Reading Workshop with a surprised expression on her face. In her small, angelic voice she said, "Gary, I spilled myself". While she waited for me to take action I was lost in thought. I was so impressed by what she has just said. It was so much more poetic than saying "I just peed in my chair". Have I ever said anything so descriptive, that caught the moment so clearly? I spilled myself. That about says everything you need to know.
It has been days since this happened and I am still thinking about it. And I am on the lookout for this sort of rich language in use. How many golden nuggets do I hear each day, how many do you hear from the children in your lives and never take heed? Well, I want to know. So start tuning in.
I also wonder why it is that all children seem capable of producing this spontaneous, poetic language while it is a foreign domain for adults. I have a theory. As adults we have a vast store of clichés from which to draw and do not need to think of new ways to express ourselves. Everything we want to say has probably already been said. And it is difficult for new sayings to catch on. For years I walked around with a tidbit that I would use to wrap-up conversations. I would (and still do) say "Six days does not a week make". My friend Joy would tease me that I made it up and I would fight her on that point. This has gone on for years and just when I started to believe that it WAS actually my own personal saying I attended the Broadway revival of Barefoot in the Park and realized that I was not the author of that phrase, Neil Simon was.
I was saved however by a dream that brought on a new phrase. It is "I was blowing on a tea string". This is said in instances where you come to realize that you are believing or hoping in vain. This is stressing the useless nature of your actions. So far this saying has not caught on. I am also wondering if I heard it before I fell asleep one evening and am now claiming it for my own.
At any rate, I do not think that I will ever achieve the kind of poetry that is "I spilled myself". All I can do is remain receptive to the configuration of words around me and document them. Wouldn't it be cool to get a forwarded email some day whose topic is the poetry of young children? If I keep my eyes and ears tuned in I may just be the originator of it. I will keep you posted...