Tag Archives: children

Squiggles on a Page: The Magic of Reading

Child-readingThere is a magical moment that occurs around the middle of the year, every year, in a grade one class. I have been married to a first grade teacher for 20 years and the thrill of that moment enchants me every year. It’s the moment that squiggles on a page suddenly, out of the blue, morph into words, phrases and sentences. The gates are open, and the child tumbles through into the world of reading and writing.

Last year it happened rather late. Sometime in August (the South African school year begins in January) Jen said to me, “Last week it all clicked into place for most of the children.” Perhaps it was the hype around the 2010 Soccer World Cup, which created a five-week winter holiday. Whatever the reason, Jen thought that the children were more restless, less able to concentrate.

It is impossible for someone who has been reading for 50 years to imagine, let alone remember, what it was like not to be able to read; not to be able to make sense of the squiggles. The Greek alphabet and a Greek New Testament when I was at university were, I guess, a similar challenge. But I had mental tools and written language experience by then to guide me through what was, well, Greek to me. For a child, the slate is clean; there are no links, no associations; only the frustration of knowing there is something there but not being able to find it. It must be something like looking at one of those busy patterns and waiting for a face or picture to emerge. I’ve seen crowds standing outside shop windows staring at those pictures. I confess; I’ve joined the crowds to no avail. Nothing has ever emerged for me. I stand there like a grade one child staring at squiggles, longing for a teacher to make it work for me.

Of course reading and writing skills are subjects of a vast treasure of sociological and developmental research beyond my ken. My wife would be able to tell me something of how it works, but I am content simply to watch from the sidelines, captivated by the enchantment of it all.

ReadingManiacsFor some children it’s an easy transition; others struggle. Some have their own difficulties to overcome; others have external pressures but, in each one, God’s creative grace is at work. Hush, be still; a miracle is about to happen.


Related posts:
Odds ‘N Ends  “Mom I know LOTS of words”


Filed under General Writing, Odds & Ends

Christchurch earthquake tragedy

It is such a difficult thing to have children on the other side of the world at the epicentre of an earthquake, devastation all round them, and you can’t do a single thing to reach them, let alone help them.  An eight-month-old baby and no power, no water, no sewage, and no idea how long the food that’s in the house will have to last.

My little family in Christchurch were among the fortunate ones.  Their house was not damaged and they were able to take in other family members who were not so fortunate.  The power came back on just before they went to sleep on the first night and they were able to source water from a friend.

Christchurch survived the more powerful but less catastrophic earthquake in September last year and all its aftershocks.  I think that people had just begun to relax again thinking that they were over the worst.  Now this new catastrophe, and more aftershocks.  80 deaths confirmed and too many more still missing.  The iconic tower of the Cathedral is in ruins as are many other buildings.  The original Methodist Church, in which my son and his wife were married, is gone, only the front door standing.

Being this close to tragedy makes one realise just how anaesthetised we tend to be, unable to give full attention or take in the intensity of the anguish and distress that’s all around us. 

I had a call at about six on Monday evening and another on Tuesday evening from a call centre looking for donations towards two different and well-respected charities.  Worthy causes, but I am not enthused by either of them.  Neither of them grabs my attention.  Those suffering from the illnesses that the charities focus on have my sympathy and I am moved by what they suffer, but not moved to action.  

HIV/AIDS, poverty and unemployment in South Africa produce untold stories of misery and heartache.  The protests and violent suppression in North Africa are creating their own horrors.  Then this news comes in from the other side of the world and I’m there, involved; my prayers are focused and intense.

I feel guilty about the intensity of my prayers.  A voice asks why I don’t pray just as intensely for people dying in Libya, Bahrain and down the road.  But I don’t think that’s God’s word of reprimand. 

Prayer is not a shopping list that we throw at God hoping that he will take care of the details while we go about our business.  Were that so, we could throw every news headline at God as it comes off the wires.  “Here’s another one, Lord.  Look after these folks, and these, and these.  And intervene over here, and over there, and there.”

That’s not prayer.  Intercession is much more than mere words.  It’s a commitment.  It’s engaging with God for the suffering in us and around us.  That engagement is real.  Sometimes it’s an angry, intense experience of wrestling with God against injustice or gratuitous suffering; the type of wrestling we find so often in the Psalms.  Sometimes it’s a gentle ongoing talking with God, keeping ourselves in touch with the need and open to God’s interventions and his call. 

I can throw all the needs of the world at God in a rush of chatter, but then I will not hear God calling me to action; I’ll be too busy worrying about the next crisis to listen.  Far better to let God prompt me, either through close family involvement, or through some other connection, into meaningful caring prayer for a particular need.  Then I will be able to listen to the prompting of the Spirit, whether God is calling me to more focused prayer or to more direct action.  I might, through laziness, indifference or a host of other sins, miss God’s prompting towards a particular need, but I think God would rather I missed something to pray for than have me babble away about everything and anything without meaning and without engagement.

So, forgive me if I seem out of focus for a bit.  My attention and my prayers are on a small city on a small island at the bottom of the world, where a terrible tragedy has engulfed a nation and buffeted a little family in its path.


Filed under Community, Meditation & Prayer

Three sausages and a funeral

I attended the funeral of a dear family friend yesterday.  By the way, I thought long and hard about the title to this post. I decided that Eunice would enjoy it.  Her sense of fun and mischievousness was one of her traits we all appreciated.

Polenta, Sausages & Basil Tomato Sauce

Eunice was part of our family circle for some 45 years from the time her husband-to-be brought her to his friends (my parents) for dinner to see what they thought of his choice. They approved and, as they say, the rest is their-story. He had already been approved by brothers, cousins, uncles, aunts, and most of the nursing staff of the local hospital where Eunice was a nursing sister.

This was her husband’s second marriage and he had two children, a girl of ten and a boy of eight years. The son spoke at his Mum’s funeral. He said they weren’t sure what to call her at first but that she had earned the title of Mum many times over. He went on to say that when his Dad told them he was going to marry again his first thought was, “What will happen with the sausages?”

He explained.

“Sausages came in packs of eight. When Dad cooked them I got three, Dad got three, and my sister got two. Now, unless Dad were to open a second packet (and that wasn’t going to happen) the status quo was about to change.”

He never told us how they worked it out.

It struck me how little we know about what goes on in another person’s mind, and particularly in a child’s mind. We assume we know, we anticipate the likely thoughts the expected reactions and try to prepare for them. We listen and we make assumptions about what we see and hear. But so often it’s the little things, the completely unexpected things, things we could never have anticipated, that are the sticking points.

How we need to be open and to listen to each other, especially to the children and the vulnerable. We simply do not know what’s going on in another person’s mind and heart. Someone said that it’s not your first question that’s important; it’s the second or third that begins to get to the heart of the matter. Listen carefully, ask questions, and ask again. Give the person you want to engage with plenty of opportunities to express his or her thoughts in a variety of ways. And when it’s all come out, expect there to be more.

A friend blogged about her impending move across the States. Their youngest (three) was very sad.

“This is our house. We don’t need another one,” he said.
She writes:

“Poor kid…. His concepts of home, family, and all things familiar and lovely are probably inseparable from this house. Again, we tried to allay his fears, but—bless his little heart—we didn’t know the horrors he was braving until he asked, ‘Could we bring the guitar?’
He thought we were leaving behind everything near and dear for the utterly unknown.”

(You can read her full story here.)


Filed under Community, Odds & Ends

Fixing Education: more, not different

 First published in The Witness 27 December 2010

 Every new Minister of Education in  South Africa (and perhaps the world over) has suggested something new to revamp and fix what definitely seems to be broken in our public school system.  And every parent, teacher, unionist, and student has his or her own solution, which usually involves someone other than themselves doing something different. For more click here

(The mug from The Opinionated Liberal)


Filed under Articles, Books & Movies, General Writing