Extracting Narrations: More Stubborn Than Wisdom Teeth

Most days, I would rather visit the dentist than try to extract a decent narration from my older kids.  I don’t know who suffers more; well, actually I do. I’m the one forced to endure my children’s never ending sentences, inability to capitalize anything when under duress, and repeated cries of “I don’t know what it’s about!”

It was so much easier when we read simple picture books, and they copied sentences or drew pictures. The progression to verbally re-telling a simple story while I wrote and they recopied was seamless. And then at some point I asked them to read and write their own darn stories and next thing I know it’s all wailing and gnashing of teeth.

It’s most frustrating when they read or watch a story they enjoy and quickly come to find me, outside usual school hours, to relay all the minute details of said story. Ten minutes later, after patiently listening to my son or daughter’s dramatic retelling, complete with exaggerated gestures, I try to suggest that he or she select that book, movie,  etc for a narration that week. Immediately a look of horror will come over my child’s  face. “But I won’t know what to write!” he/ she will protest.” Why not write just one page of details you’ve been sharing with me (when I really just wanted to wash the dishes and listen to my Dance Pop Pandora station)?” The child sulks off, the mere suggestion of writing having cast a somber pallor over his or her whole existence.

So as we sit at the table the next morning I suggest, again, that maybe she should consider writing about the book she told me about previously. After gently insisting this several times, I will succeed in getting her to slide a narration across the table to me, all the while shooting dagger eyes, before she runs outside. Rather than all the wonderful descriptions and funny details still burned in my memory from yesterday,  I get five sentences on tear-stained paper that tell me the title of the book, the main character, that it was “good” and then one sentence consisting of something like “junie b jones went to hawai on a plane with her parents and took a scrapbook and her favorite doll too.” And usually, she will want “The End.” to count as a complete sentence.

So then I read this sonnet, take a deep breath, go find her hiding under the deck, and convince her to come inside and ‘go over it’ with me in a non-threatening tone. “Revision and making a second draft are just parts of the process!” I quip cheerfully.  Seated next to one another, I try to ask questions about the main idea, ascertain more details about plot, conflict, maybe the story she so glowingly bored me with yesterday.  With some prayers and patience and a little luck,  I’ll help my child add some more sentences that actually re-tell something of the book. If I can achieve this while not raising my voice or my blood pressure, and she still says she loves me when I tuck her in that night, I feel successful.

Recently I started using graphic organizers (doesn’t that sound so teacher-ly?) to help the kids organize their thoughts before writing. It helped up to the point where the kids realized they had to take those webs or pyramids or Venn diagrams and, surprise!, turn it into a narration. They failed to see it as a helpful tool and instead thought I was trying to get them to do more work. Which may indeed be the case, however, if it could save me some aggravation on the tail end, it was certainly worth their effort up front in my opinion.

I try to take comfort in the fact that both my husband and I  are avid readers and we became writers later on. Neither of us enjoyed writing when we were our children’s ages. In fact, I often suggest to my children that one day, they may enjoy writing and may seek to do it for pleasure. Yes, it’s true! They roll their eyes and insist otherwise.

Until then I Google terms like “magic narration worksheet”, “how to make narrations painless” and, the most fruitful thus far, “English tutors for hire.” If you’ve stumbled across a secret to extracting details from your children please let me know. I might be willing to hire you.


Things I Love; My Conquistador Lamp

The summer before my junior year of college I fell in love with a Spanish man. It made no difference that I was still dating my high school sweetheart. As soon as my eyes beheld the Conquistador’s thoughtful eyes, dark beard and pumpkin pants I knew I had to make him mine.  Thankfully, he was for sale.

He sat quietly in the corner of the motel gift shop where I worked. In addition to the usual touristy bric-a-brac, our gift shop included one of a kind “antiques”;  i.e. flea market finds the owner bought and tried to pass off as collectables to unsuspecting guests. But my friend, the Conquistador lamp, he was different. Every day he watched me from his tabletop. His strong ceramic build was accented with a shiny suit of armor and gleaming helmet from which the light bulb and shade extended. At first I questioned the folly of falling for a lamp. Such a relationship could never work out. My room at home and dorm at school both lacked the space to properly showcase him. Plus, the lighting elements were old, the bulb often tilted to the right and the shade was discolored.

I argued back and forth with myself, weighing the pros and cons of spending several hours worth of pay on the lamp. However, at the start of every shift, I heaved a sigh of relief when I arrived for work and discovered he had not been sold.

At the end of the summer, I purchased the Conquistador lamp much to the delight of my boss who quickly replaced it with another marked-up garage sale find. My college roommate, an art student, saw the beauty of the lamp and welcomed it into our abode. My boyfriend hoped it was a passing phase.

Fast forward twelve years and seven moves  and he is still with me. Yes, I wound up marrying my boyfriend but I remain in love with the lamp. With every relocation I had to take special care to make sure the lamp was never “accidentally dropped” or “lost by the movers” or “run over by the moving van.” My husband remains cool towards the Conquistador. He can’t decide whether it’s better to hide the lamp in the bedroom, so guests can’t see it, or place it in the living room so he doesn’t need to look at it at night.  My children are confused by the fact that their mama, who is so quick to dispose of their clay pots or popsicle stick masterpieces can cling so completely to a lighting fixture. Even when we read about Cortez and I was so excited to have a visual to show them, they failed to see my Conquistador’s allure. “Look children, my lamp can give you an idea of how Cortez and his men looked, gazing out on the unknown wilderness that awaited them. Its obvious why the Aztec mistook them for Gods isn’t it? Of course, Cortez wouldn’t have been dusty like this but..kids? Kids! Why aren’t you paying attention?”

Although not everyone can appreciate my Conquistador lamp, I remain firmly enthralled with him. He has captured my heart as completely as the Spanish seized  Tenochtitlan.