#WhatIWrite

October 20, 2012
National Day on Writing, via the National Writing Project.

“At the National Writing Project we believe that writing, in its many forms, is the signature means of communication in the 21st century. We envision a future where every person is an accomplished writer, engaged learner, and active participant in a digital, interconnected world.”

It’s strange: I distinctly remember the process of learning to read, from pretending to read aloud from books to actually recognizing singular words (I was four when I was sitting in the waiting room of a vet’s office with my mom and the family cat and realized I could make sense of the animal names spelled out on the walls), but the events surrounding learning to write are much fuzzier. I do have a clear memory of sitting at my desk in first grade — how I loved my desk! — looking at the tag taped to the top edge with my full name spelled out across it, first and last. I had become accustomed to writing “Jenni” on all of my papers in kindergarten, but now I would have to write the full eight letters of my surname each time as well. To my then five-year-old brain, this seemed incomprehensible. How would I ever learn to write all that by myself? And how would I have the patience for such a daunting task? I’m pleased to report that within a few short weeks I had figured out that my surname was comprised of two smaller words that I already knew fairly well, so I had my name writing down (and could move on to sorting out that whole number line thing come math time). When I got married, years later, I increased the length of my surname by a letter but also made sure it was a name comprised of two smaller words to keep the task of writing it down manageable.

I’ve always been in love with the tools of writing, from crayons to pencils to pens to calligraphy brushes and markers. When I was growing up, I loved playing “office,” laying out my writing tools, an old rotary phone, and tapping away on my mom’s electric typewriter. For a period of time, I practiced typing on an Atari keyboard-console that plugged in to our TV. I loved seeing the words I chose to type on display across the blue screen. Sometimes just my name, sometimes a message to members of my family (plenty of, “Hi, Mom!”).

I had a small chalkboard in my bedroom, perfect for playing school with my stuffed animals, where I would sometimes write messages to my family as well. One day when I was about six, I was angry with my mom for something (funny that I don’t remember what) and scrawled, “I hate you,” across the board. I’ll never forget the expression on my mom’s face and the quiet way she said, “That’s hurtful.” I soon erased it and wrote a note of apology, but I can still feel the deep pang of empathy and guilt I felt in that moment. I understood early on that there is power and responsibility in writing things down.

I’m required to do a fair amount of writing at work each day, but I also delight in it. I still love the act of writing things down, although I have learned to weigh and measure my words a bit more than when I was six. I write anecdotal notes on the children in my care each day, daily reports for the families, emails to parents, co-workers, and administrators, and love notes to my co-workers. I write Facebook status updates, text messages to my husband and friends, and I write blog entries. Inside a journal, I write down the things I most want to remember and the things I want to reflect on. I jot down to-do lists, grocery lists, titles of books I want to read, quotes from books I’m currently reading, and little things I observe that make me happy.

Yesterday I wrote down two different observations of two different children. I am recording them here as well because they were both special moments in their own right and I don’t want to forget them.

R. hit M. in the head repeatedly with an empty box. I said, “R, I can’t let you hit M. That will hurt him.” R lowered the box, looked at me for a moment, and then walked over to where S. was sitting. R held the box over S.’s head and looked at me. “It would hurt S. too,” I said. R then carried the box over to another box on the floor and began to bang one with the other, smiling.

I was holding M. before his nap and he turned his face towards me, smiling. He reached towards me with one hand and tugged on my hair very gently, then held his hand towards my mouth. I made a kissing sound and he laughed and held his hand to my mouth again before pulling his blanket to his cheek and closing his eyes.

Those are two quick moments in a chaotic day that struck me as important to record. Moments like that fill me back up to the brim when depleted. I write them down as a record of development and as a note-to-self to pick me up in trying times. I write them down throughout the day to model writing — I want all of the children in my life to be writers.

What do you write?

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