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When Push Comes to Shove

Posted on Thursday, November 10, 2011 in poetry, Thoughts on Education, Writing

(The assignment discussed in this post is from A Crow Doesn’t Need a Shadow: A Guide to Writing Poetry from Nature by Lorraine Ferra.)

One of the challenges of being the teacher is facing the sigh.  The low groan.  The roll of the eyes, when I announce a certain subject or assignment.

Along similar lines, it’s also difficult to watch a child struggle with a lesson and be the teacher who has to keep her on the road through the hard stuff.

By 9:30 our day had ricocheted way off track from our original school plan, punted by outside circumstances with my Dad that couldn’t be avoided. After lunch I gathered the grumpy, out-of-sorts crew (myself included) together to get started with school.

The atmosphere was not ripe for a poetry lesson.  My ten year olds face looked so glum her frown was sliding off her chin like  unset jello.

We’re going to do a poem today about the weather.”  I pointed to window, indicating the autumn day taking place outside.

A heave of the shoulders and then through tight teeth, “Fine.”

“First you’re going to make a list of action verbs associated with people.”

“What do you even mean!”

“Not common verbs, pick interesting ones like ‘swallow’ and ‘erase’.” Picture a lot of enthusiasm in my voice, I was attempting to transfer it with the right intonation.

Then make another list of verbs associated with animals-”

“-I thought this was a poem about the weather!!” my 9 year old cried out, exasperated.

“It is. Just wait and see. Think of verbs like ‘pounce’ and ‘perch’.”

“It sounds hard,” my ten year old mumbled down to the floor.

Reader, this is is when it gets hard for me.  I forget that struggle isn’t a thing to be avoided and the mama in me wants to do something to ease it.  Especially when I’m the source of the frustration!  But I knew they could get this assignment.

“You don’t have to use all of the verbs but use some of them to write a poem about the fall weather.  Here’s an example by an 8 year old-


Wind nibbles
on the walls of the buildings.
When it hunts
in the forest it rubs its chin
on the trees
and wipes its mouth
on their leaves.

There was a slight lift in the frowns.  I grabbed at the moment.

“Grab a sweatshirt and your notebooks and go outside.”

Reality set in, they were really going to have to do this assignment.

The cheer in my voice rose hoping to cajole their spirits up and out of the dumps.

“Here put on Daddy’s warm sweatshirt.  You put on your big sister’s,” and then I added lightly,  ”Guess we better have some hot chocolate in a little while since it’s cold out today.”

I admit it, that last bit was pure bribery coated in chocolate.

Turning to math with my six year old, I occassionally glanced at the girls sitting on the driveway with their notebooks.

Twenty minutes later we heard someone burst through the side door and then my ten year old appeared.  Cheeks the color of gala apples, her dad’s sweatshirt hanging to her knees, and excitement buzzing around her entire body she said, “I’m finished!”

She waited.  She wanted me to ask to hear the poem.

“Can I hear it?”


Dramatic Pause.  A rush of breath-

Sometimes the wind
is a message bearer, whispering
to the trees news of what
I do not know.
But some days the wind
is a wild cat, pouncing
on leaves and dragging
them to its lair.
Some mornings when I wake up,
the wind flies through the window
and burrows under my covers, driving
me out of bed and into my clothes.
The wind is its own person,
changing each day.
To me
the wind is alive.

She’d had that moment.  That moment, determined to fail and yet looking at the wind, and giving it living breath on her page, she found out that with her own words the wind really was alive.


I tumbled into adulthood afraid of things that were hard.  I didn’t want to try anything new, worried that it might take effort or might end in failure.  It’s a fine line to walk as mom and teacher but when I get it just right between the “yes go do it” and  the “let’s celebrate with hot chocolate” the results are worth the earlier struggle.  I can see in the child a little more confidence and little less fear of the next challenge.


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