Friday, June 26, 2015

Discovering Julianna's Talents

When I was a little girl, I wrote stories. My mom saved a big binder full of stories I wrote, which were also illustrated by me. I still remember many of them. "Homer and Rusty's Week" (about my cats); "My Teacher is an Alien," "The First Unicorn" (which I rewrote later in college during a very hectic semester and still plan to polish in my adult life). I also loved to take my favorite books and recreate them on my own paper, in exact detail. I loved reading the "Serendipity" series; beautifully illustrated and brought to life by the vivid and whimsical descriptions. I would create my own paper book and write out every word and illustrate every page. I absolutely loved writing stories. I even had a babysitter when I was in 4th grade, a big 6th grader, who also had a love for stories. When she would babysit me and my siblings, we would go in the backyard and we would all take turns coming up with stories and acting them out.

But then something happened as I got older. Maybe the homework was more demanding, or just by virtue of maturing I didn't spend time imagining up new stories and putting them to paper. But in my English classes throughout middle and high school, every teacher told me I would be a writer, and should pursue it. So I majored in English. I wrote lots of great research papers, literary responses and analyses, and even got to write poetry and creative fiction here and there. I also edited for publications because I loved polishing another person's writing, and still do. After marrying my husband who went on to become a high school English teacher (and dreams of becoming a published author), and having a family, that talent I developed as a young child went on the backburner.

Over the years as I have raised the kids, Blake has been the only one that seemed interested in writing stories. His gift to Julianna a few Christmases ago was a story written and illustrated by him. He has a little collection that is building as well, though he is not a reader like I was. This past week I have been seriously considering going back to school to become a special education teacher. And in the end, I felt strongly that I still needed to be home with my kids; how much longer, I don't know. And interestingly, the reason I felt like not pursuing this goal was because I need to write more, like I did as a child. So I contemplated this on Wednesday, and as I was putting the kids to bed, Blake said he wanted to write a new story. And suddenly I felt inspired to draw for him the curve of a story, which rising action, the climax, falling action, resolution. I explained each step and broke it down. I made lists for him to create characters and showed him how they fit into the curve. I gave an example by using "Cinderella," and he filled in the parts of the curve, and was able to figure out the climax of that story. I could see the wheels turning, and he was getting it. And he was then very excited to head to his bed and write a new story with this new information.

Now all this time, Julianna was close by, listening, but I wasn't sure how much she was understanding. I'm usually not sure, but I always try to include her in these conversations because I know something might stick with her. So after Blake went to his bed, she said, "What about me, Mommy? Can I write a story, too?" I was ecstatic. To this point, she has been able to write somewhat of original ideas, but usually they come from her current favorite show. And lately, if she hears a good My Little Pony Song, she will find a youtube video with the lyrics and sit down to write all the lyrics out on paper, pausing as she goes. So she does love words, but is still learning how to use them to create.

I had to think of a way to help her write a story, and quickly. So I said, "What if you write a story about your favorite My Little Pony characters, Fluttershy and Applejack?" She thought that sounded fun, so at the top of her page, I wrote a question, and then number the page below from 1 to 5. I asked her to write a 5-sentence story that answers the question. I told her I would look in the morning to see how she did. Right when she woke up, she showed me her story, and I was beyond proud to see such original ideas, and good spelling as well. So last night, she had her book there, and wanted me to do another one. So we came up with a new question, and as Nathan fell asleep, she came up with a completely new 5-sentence story, within about 10 minutes, and asked me to read it. Again, I was so proud. This little system was working!

She wanted to write another one, and I decided to challenge her. I wrote a new question, and then wrote 10 sentences instead of 5, and asked if she could do it. She got right to work, and as I sat there, I could see her pause, and think deeply about what the next sentence would be. She was lying there, thinking, focusing, intently, on this task I had given her. The level of focus was almost incomprehensible to me! She wasn't fidgeting or squirming, or getting frustrated. She wanted to write the story! And she did, a whole 10 sentences within about 15 minutes. And again, her words were spelled correctly and the stories were original and creative.

It's always so rewarding to discover new talents that Julianna has. If writing little stories can help her focus and create, then it will be the summer of writing stories. I am glad I can share my talents as a mom, and spark that imagination in them that, most days, seems to get lost in all the media my kids view, despite my best attempts. Julianna can imagine, can think intently, and can create her own ideas. It only makes me want to pursue my own writing even more, so we can share together, and who knows, I might even get some really good ideas from her!

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