Three-line love

May 11,2010
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

If I can Mommy brag for a moment, L. made the most wonderful Mother's Day haiku for me at school. When he gave his poem (set against a backdrop of blue and green and purple watercolors) to me at breakfast on Sunday I was touched and surprised and the tears sprang to my eyes immediately. I have come to expect lovely cards and pictures made at school from T., but I haven't received anything like that from L. since he was in first grade. I felt a surge of gratitude for L.'s fourth grade teacher--for all the fourth grade teachers who gave their time and skills to help the kids create something so memorable. I always wonder why so many preschool teachers and kindergarten teachers and first grade teachers carve out time in the school day for artsy, unique activities that will come to mean so much to parents and caregivers and then, as the child gets older, the cards and handmade keepsakes dwindle away, become things of the past, buried under a heavy avalanche of worksheets and assessment exercises and end-of-grade test prep--none of which I particularly want to keep at all. In the plastic bins where I save the truly treasured artwork from my children's early school years I have piles and piles of paintings and drawings, and those charming melt-your-heart cards kids make, with the huge loopy lettering that they never leave enough room for on the paper (so that the word LOVE starts out all big and bold, but the the final "e" is a tight, scrunched-up dot barely on the page). But I'm missing the recent years of L.'s childhood. Actually, I'm missing much of the early years, too, simply because he created very little once he started school. School was, as it turned out, the ultimate damper of most--if not all--creative energy for L. He has spent so long coping with the chaos of school that little spark was left to create anything while there. He wrote almost nothing between kindergarten and third grade, frustrated and bound by his poor handwriting skills and the disconnect between the constant explosion of thoughts and ideas in his head--rapid like fireworks popping, and the sheer pain of transcribing it all to paper. He draws only pictures of his special interests and, despite how technically sound his drawings are, I rarely feel inclined to hold onto sketches of WWI tanks, hand grenades, or a dismembered clone trooper, fallen in battle. But this haiku was a surprise; the kind of surprise that's like a burst of unexpected light through a cloud, or something unusual you see from the corner of your eye--like a deer dashing across your neighbor's yard and you stop, a mundane Monday morning transformed into something extraordinary--if only for a moment. "L. this is beautiful!" I said to him, when I saw the haiku. He shrugged, in an off-hand, unassuming way. "It's just some poem I wrote," he said. "And a haiku is only three lines." "But they are often the hardest to write," I told him. "I can't write haiku very well at all." (I can't say what I want to say ever in three lines, and with restricted syllable counts. This is also why Twitter just doesn't work for me--I've tried.) I told L. it wasn't just some poem. And it might have been just three lines, but for me it was a masterpiece; a tribute to the amazing progress L.'s made at school these past three months, to the progress he's become fiercely possessive about, and proud of. When your child so rarely gives you those little glimpses into his inner soul, and seems completely unable to give you those trivial and not-so-trivial details of his day, who can talk on and on for hours if you let him about the make-up of the planet Geonosis but can't find the way to talk with you about how he feels, or what he worries about, or what makes him the most happy, or the most sad or the most just so-so about the world at that moment; when the art of conversation becomes more of a one-word guessing game than an exchange of thoughts and ideas, when you ache to understand and all you get are crossed lines, or slammed doors, a three-line haiku is simply the most beautiful, most important, most tenacious thing ever to take root in your world. And bloom.