Monday, May 30, 2011

Eating my words

(I swear we're not some sort of jingoistic, flag-waving, boasting patriotic zealots here, but the concept of nationality keeps coming up for us in unexpected ways lately.)

Esther is proud of herself. I am proud of Esther.

She wrote a poem for her school's annual Memorial Day poetry contest and it was chosen as the winner.

It's a good poem. And, embarrassingly, I didn't have a whole lot of confidence in it, or her.

In a strangely Tiger -Momesque moment,  I even warned her before she handed it in not to get her hopes up too high. I told her that if she really wanted to win the contest, if she had truly cared about winning it, she should have given it a bit more time and effort, and most of all, she should have told me about it sooner than 8:30 p.m. the night before it was due, so I could have encouraged her to do her best. "No worries," I said, "there will be other poetry contests at school." Better luck next time. 

I obviously know nothing about the creative process and have no eye for talent or quality. Or at least that eye goes blind when it's gazing upon my offspring.

She won. She won. And it’s a lovely poem. Heartfelt, innocent, full of naive hope, about the American flag. "Our Flag of Freedom" was the theme of the contest.

Our flag of freedom. 

I stand tall above you all
giving you freedom
giving you strength and hope
giving you a name
I am red white and blue
I have stars and stripes too
I billow in the wind
Soldiers have fought wars for what I represent
And I will always be here
blowing in the wind
strong and true
here with you 

At first I thought it was odd, a girl who just got back from living two years in France would have much to say about the American flag. It's not like she has been pledging allegiance to it every day for the past two years.

But then it occurred to me that this distancing from her country might exactly be why the things she said about her flag resonated with the judges.

She told me the opening lines, "I stand tall above you all, giving you freedom, giving you strength and hope, giving you a name," came to her as she was falling asleep. She got up and turned on the light so she could right write them down.

Living as a foreigner for two years has given her a unique perspective. In the times, they came often, when she was in distress, upset, homesick, and it was so very clear to her she was not, nor ever would she be, home, it was America that soothed her, that called to her, that gave her a name.


mooserbeans said...

Oh Betsy, she's a writer like you! I can totally relate to the pessimistic mom quote. We want to shelter them from heartbreak and at the same time want then to learn life's valuable lessons. How conflicting is that? You should be very proud of her!

Beth Byers said...


Bethany said...

that is quite a poem. beautiful, Essie.

Laree said...

Isn't it amazing when these once tiny creatures become self sufficient, capable beings all on their own.

What a beautiful thing!

Seamingly Sarah said...

i like it

Living Down Under said...

Some of my best work was done at the last being a procrastinator and all - not sure I'd share that with my kids though!

Great work Esther! I can totally see where you're coming from don't want to be the parent that gushes over everything she does - I probably would have done the same thing! You must be so proud of her. And what a boost for her as she assimilates back into American life and school in English.

Living Down Under said...

Oh and I think it was Roald Dahl who kept a notebook on his bedside table so he could write down his dreams, ideas, etc. I think it's cool that it came to her as she was falling asleep. That's how poetry works isn't it? From the heart and when your mind is clear is when it tumbles out. Good on her!

Betsy said...

LivingDownUnder: So funny you mention Roald Dahl. We go to the Roald Dahl museum almost every time we are in England, it's only half an hour from Ian's sister's house. The entire museum is devoted to motivating kids to write it all down, pay attention to their thoughts and dreams and turn it into story. I think Esther has certainly-- after seven visits to this museum, starting when she was 2--absorbed this message

Anonymous said...

That was beautiful and refreshing to read right now.


Living Down Under said...

That's awesome. I'll have to put it down on a list of places to visit when we're next in the UK.

My mum was the one who told me about Roald Dahl. I think she was trying to get me to keep writing. I am one of those people who writes to unload. But poetry for me, only comes when my head is clear. And it hasn't been clear in years :). Anyway, the reason I'm telling you this, is because one day when i was about 7 or 8, my mum came home holding something behind her back. In her hands she had two large cahiers, two pencils and two for each my brother and I. The books were ours to write in whatever we liked, poetry, stories, journal entries. I still have mine. It's fun to go back and look at what I wrote as a preteen. Something about growing up in an age when we had no tv, and limited access to shops (think Abu Dhabi in the 70s), we were pretty stoked about a notebook, pencil and eraser!

Betsy said...

Living Down Under: what a fantastic story. And what a clever mom you had. We just read a bit about Abu Dhabi, inspired by your comment, and Esther wants to know if you were ever in a sandstorm.

Emma said...

Wow, Esther, that was a great poem! You must feel so proud of yourself, well done.

Living Down Under said...

Abu Dhabi in the 70s was no where near as developed as it is now... Though it's metamorphosis from a desert village to a city had begun (oil was discovered there sometime in the 60s). I lived there for most of my childhood - as an expatriate (talk about identity crisis! ;) ). Yes we did experience sand storms (tell Esther the word for them is Shamal), though being in the city we would have been somewhat sheltered from them. I'd bet my mum would remember more than i would. We did go sliding down sand dunes on occasion (lots of fun!)

Funnily enough, a sandstorm I do remember was one that happened in September 2009, here in Australia. We woke up one morning to find the sky red. The winds had blown through the Australian desert carrying with it the red sand out to Sydney and most of the east coast, over the ocean and into New Zealand! You should look it up, some of the images were awesome. :)

Emma said...

Yes, LivingDownUnder, that was freaky, wasn't it? Very eerie to wake up to.