Thursday, July 2, 2009
Leo as Dieu Pan
For the first time in his school life, Leo received the honor of the lead role in the younger grades' end of year play. They were three in his class who raised their hands, asking the teacher for this honor. And he was chosen. He was thrilled. Unbeknownst to me, this play which is a yearly event now for the school, resonated in his heart and he'd hoped as he entered into his 5th year class this September, that he might, just might, have this role.
It is and was a big deal. Leo is not at the top of his class and he knows this. As the French put it, "il galère." We're working with writing and reading therapists to improve his grammar and spelling skills, and simply to assist him towards a fluidity in the act. He is quickly exhausted by writing, and has as yet not grasped the necessity, nor the true usefulness of this act. The time spent learning French grammar, writing, and more in class is for the time being, time wasted. Little seems to have entered his head. The parts of speech, and the families of rules (i.e. the adjective mauvais is akin to anglais is akin to français), that these go from masculine (mauvais) to feminine (mauvaise). In French there are ten different ways the sound "a" is written. However, each (é, ais, ait, ai, ée, er, et, è, ez, et) has its moment and its place. As a child, I simply memorized what I was taught, good little girl that I was. But oh how complicated this grammar stuff is! and spelling in both English and French is as much about history, linguistics and roots as about pronunciation. Culture is communicated when we learn to spell, and one who masters a written language is viewed as cultivated, educated. It is a separator of class, and mindless, frustrating, useless and more as it must seem to a child who actually thinks and reflects to learn this strange thing called grammar -- rather than obediently, unquestioningly learning as I did -- it could be that which impedes his ambitions later in life.
Leo is living this duality, this frustration. On the one hand ever so aware of the kids that do well in class, and on the other, wearied and quickly discouraged when he attempts the school work before him. And yet, he is one of the eldest of the class, and he tries so hard to be good. He is a protector, a leader at heart. This dichotomy is a struggle. What is it to succeed? What virtues do size and age convey? His best friend in class is a year younger, and at least a year ahead of him in reading fluency and writing.
And yet, he received this honor. An honor that, had he not been able to memorize the 40 lines of the play, he could have shared with another. But this idea was not for him. He would do the work necessary to memorize his lines, and he would be present at each rehearsal with each participating class. The first grade (in which his brother Jonas is) were gnomes, spirits of the earth.
The second grade played mosquitoes and frogs, there to awaken the summer spirits.
The third grade were the hot salamanders, there to warm the earth and encourage the plants to transform flowers to fruit.
The fourth grade were the spirits of the air, carrying seeds to new destinations.
And the fifth grade was divided into fauns (the boys) there to taunt man and stimulate him to better,
and ondines (the girls), the spirits of the water, there to moisten the earth.
Leo, as Dieu Pan, led them all, asking of each spirit what he or she had contributed to the earth, to life on this day of the St. Jean, the Solstice. He asked, he approved, he guided, he led. And with grace, he intoned, he scolded, he praised, and he went upon his way.
We were there, his father and I, ever so proud. And he looked to us, smiling shyly, happy, proud, and concentrated on his role. Oh, he fell out of character occasionally when he wasn't speaking, but he popped right back when he spoke his lines. The teachers of the school, who've known him, watched him, and discussed him (he's a favorite case) were impressed, proud, and as one put it, eager to watch him grow up. With such a moment of glory behind him, there will be great moments before him.
As his mom, I praised him, but I also reminded him that I was there to watch his little brother too. Yes, he has the lead, yes, it is a huge honor and I'm prouder than proud, but this is Jonas' first play, Jonas' first line, and Jonas' first act in the school tradition. I am ever so proud of them both, and there is enough to go around, truly. No need to insist that the lime light be his. It already is. But, graciously sharing it would be nice too, no? ... we're still working on it.