Yesterday, at about 4pm, I hit a wall. A familiar wall. One that sticks out its hand and announces that my energy reserves are depleted, and I will be grinding to a halt as a result. I don’t mind this wall. Before children it meant that I needed to make a cup of tea, curl up at one end of the couch with a cat on my lap, and read a good book. Stopping only when the book ended, and then only to reach for the stack of library books and start another one. Put the kettle on again. Repeat until I started to wonder if the world outside was still intact and if I would recognize it after so long away in the nether regions of my ever so accomodating imagination. It takes a lot to haul me out of my imagination, and so now that I have children, I can’t go there as often as I used to. Or if I do, I take them with me, which sometimes does the trick (and which is how I can spend an entire afternoon hunting hobgoblins), but sometimes I need to vacate entirely, by myself.
Thankfully, I am a mama who takes advantage of my obsessive organizational skills and tucks things away for rainy days, so I happened to have an activity to pull out. While the kettle was heating up, I dug out a bag of little pom poms and a yogurt tub. I cut a hole in the lid of the tub, and offered it and a pile of pom poms to Hawksley. Of course he knew what to do with them. This is the kid who likes to carefully place each piece of his elbow pasta into his little glass water bottle with the narrow opening at the top. This activity had his name written all over it.
Esmé thought it looked like fun too, so we made up an older kid version. We cut the bottom out of a paper cup, then taped it rim-to-rim with another one and then poked a little hole in the top. We put a third cup over the bottomless one, so that Esmé could retrieve the pom poms whenever she wanted, without disturbing the tape.
I sat at the table with them and my tea, re-reading Deer Heart, a short story by Bonnie Burnard. This is, perhaps, my most favourite Canadian short story ever. I adore it. I’ve read it dozens of times. And I love it more with each read. I happily fell into the story, and when I emerged at the end, shaking off the dark prairie night, the children were still playing with the pom poms and containers. Thank you, pom poms. Thank you, Bonnie Burnard. And thank you, children.
Sometimes I find it hard to stay in the real world, when the pull of my imagination and my creative drive are yanking me to that far away place full of shadows to chase and stories that demand to be told. Sometimes all I need is a shot of good fiction, and I’m okay for another few hours. Most days I can make it until they’re asleep, and then I can travel, in the astral way that writers do.
The miraculous thing about this pom pom and container activity is that it harboured all kinds of learning, and all of it fun. For Hawksley, he worked on his fine motor skills and had a tactile blast. For E, it was endless. She counted the pom poms as she poked them (all the way up to 33!), she separated them by colour, she counted by twos. She added and subtracted and multiplied and fractioned, and all without being instructed. Math manipulatives without being even remotely math-y.
And when the pom poms all ended up on the floor, as they are going to do, the kids joined them. Hawksley collected them in fistfuls and threw them so that he could collect them again. Esmé decided they were snails that were attacking her and needed to be carefully captured, one by one, which resulted in me being able to read a second short story by Bonnie Burnard.