Observations, Learning, and Activities for the New "Over 21s"

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Patterns

In one form or another, I have been an observer all my life. It started during infancy and early childhood in my birth country of France. But that was only the beginning…

France

I was born in 1950 in a small town in France. My parents, Displaced Persons from World War II ravaged Belarus, were “undisplaced” in northern France, in a town that needed more workers for its coal and steel industries. My father came from a family of comfortable farming, while my mother’s German-ancestry family originated in Russia where her family owned a flourishing grain mill. The story of how she ended up in Minsk is much like the Proletariat takeover of the house in which Dr. Zhivago grew up in the movie. Her family ended up in Minsk because they had relatives there. However, the relatives had already left–either through escape or through evacuation because of their German heritage–and my mother’s family was stuck there for a while. Minsk turned out to be a major battleground between Russian and Nazi forces, and male family members who had not already been conscripted by the Communists back in Russia were conscripted or arrested by either the Russian forces or by the Nazis. My father’s family fared a little better initially because my grandfather was shrewd enough to negotiate with those who would take his landholdings by demonstrating how he could run the newly expropriated farm. Although my father’s family lost all personal possessions, they were allowed to move into a small home on the property from which my grandfather could serve as overseer of the new cooperative. However, during the “negotiations,” my grandmother was badly beaten for trying to save her chickens (primarily laying hens) and died shortly thereafter.

Somehow, when the Nazis were defeated through the joint efforts of US and Russian forces, my parents ended up in a camp for Displaced Persons, where they met. Neither of my parents talked much about their experiences in this camp, although they managed to become part of a theatrical and choral group that met in the evenings after work, where they met each other and eventually fell in love. I am not certain, but it seems to me that the camp was in Germany, because they talked about how their German marriage certificate was not valid in France and they had to marry all over again.

In France, they lived in a community of Polish immigrants. The effect on me was that my first language was Polish, as that was the language of the community. So, when I started pre-school at two and a half years of age, I was an outsider looking in on other kids whose native language was French. To participate, I had to learn French. To become part of the group, I had to learn to communicate; so I learned to speak French. Now, science has taught us many things–one of which is that children pick up the languages used around them. In general, the first language children learn to speak and respond to is the language of the home. However, if this is different from the language of the community in which the child lives, the most likely language in which the child learns to respond is the language of the community. When a child begins to attend school, the language one speaks is the language of the school, which usually. Or responds to the language of the community. In my case, at a very young age, I was simultaneously moving through three languages simultaneously, probably learning none to any great degree of fluency, and having to contend with a fourth language–German–when we trekked to Germany to visit my grandmother, aunt, and uncle. Talk about potential confusion! Yet I managed, according to my parents. And then, at age four, we immigrated to the USA–where yet a new language needed to be learned–English.

USA

It didn’t take long for me to end up in what was called a nursery school back then. Again, I had a new language and a new group of children to adapt to. Again, I found myself in the role of observer. By age 4, language skills are pretty well developed, so I had to start at a higher level of “beginning English” than where I started with “beginning French.” Although I observed and observed, it was not until a WWII veteran who worked as school custodian began to help me that I made any real progress. For whatever reason, he took an interest in helping a young child learn English. He was a natural teacher, and led me through naming objects and putting together words and phrases so I could communicate with the other children. Because of his help, I was able to catch up enough with English so that I could attend kindergarten from mid-year (January) in my neighboring school a year after my arrival in the US. Interestingly, not even the kindergarten teacher realized–until the first parent-teacher conference–that I was not from an English-speaking home. In fact, my teacher–Miss Oxenford–so quickly forgot that I did not start the school year with my classmates that she inadvertently provided me with my first sense of “differentness” when we were working on a circus unit.

Each child had been given a circus animal to color. At home, I was not limited to the box of 8 Crayola crayons that is characteristic of what kids got in schools back then; my mother insisted on as wide a pallet of colors as she could provide, and always purchased for me the 32 or 64 color box. I, even then too much of a realist apparently, knew that elephants were gray. I had a personal experience with an elephant just before we sailed for the US, when an elephant at the Paris zoo and a monkey in the same area became involved with a bow that my mother had affixed in my hair. The monkey stole it from my head; the elephant stole it from the monkey and actually returned it to me! Thus, I knew that elephants were gray, and–from my Crayola collection at home–knew there was such a thing as a gray crayon. However, there was no gray in the 8-color box. When I asked the teacher if she had a gray crayon, she turned to the class and asked how she had taught them to make gray. The response was that you use the black crayon very lightly. She had forgotten that I had only joined the class a short time ago, and I remember her blushing when she saw my own embarrassment. The good part of this exchange, however, was that she had established my sense of belonging in the class.

The importance here is that I used the observation skills I had been using for almost 3 years to blend in to a great degree, and to do so in a relatively short period of time. However, I should also add that the embarrassment that I felt forced me to observe even more carefully so that I could avoid future episodes of “standing out.”

These observation skills, due partly to self-preservation and partly to a need to communicate and belong, continued to be useful to me as I grew older. That’s not to say that I always applied the observations good behaviors and shunned the less socially acceptable ones; it’s just that I became an expert on observing and assimilating those observations as I grew older.

The difficulty with being an observer, however, is that it can interfere with genuine and sustained social interaction. And I can look back and see how many times I interacted or responded in a less than socially “proper” way. For example, although I learned to observe behaviors, I cannot say that I ever developed a fashion sense, or that I ever fully understood how I interacted with other children. Because of my parents’ background and their jobs, the social skills that were reinforced were not necessarily those of American children. Because my parents’ ethnic community was more scattered than the communities of other ethnic groups, that led to fewer interactions with local children than were perhaps helpful to my overall social development as a child growing up in America. Home and “community” expectations were simply at odds sometimes with American expectations. So I grew up functioning with one foot in two different communities, without adequately filling either set of expectations–this despite my observation skills…

 

Li’l Ole Lady Ellie

 

New Beginnings…

Short and sweet for today…

Just after I christened this site, I had an experience that–although not physically damaging–caused a lot of emotional damage.  I won’t go into it right now, but it was enough to make me forget I had a place where I could explore myself.

Over the course of the 12 days since my introduction, I have experienced an emotional crash, a surge of deep anger, an incredible need to share, and–finally–total acceptance.  Here is a summary of what occurred.

My husband went off-island to undergo angioplasty. He didn’t want me with him, claiming expense. That was the surface reason, but that wasn’t the real reason. However, that’s what I’ll go with. While he was away, I experienced such an emotional peace that I was glad he didn’t want me along.  I finally had some time to regain my own personhood, and it would be at least 3 weeks before his return. Well, because there turned out to be no need to insert stents, he returned only a week after he left.  When he called to let me know, my world collapsed.  Clearly, there was no time to find myself again–that person I was before we married 23+ years ago.  Since then, I have been posting on Facebook, and generally sharing feelings that I learned are shared by more other women than I expected to hear from.  I tried to respond to each individually while continuing to analyze my misery during my marriage.  To be honest, I learned much about myself and this relationship through that sharing back and forth, and began to look at this experience more objectively.  So it came as no surprise to feel the shaft drop yesterday, and the realization that all would be well with me.  Eventually.

Because I shared publicly, others were able to share privately.  This is a shared journey I am on.  I am not alone, and they are not alone.  But it may change the direction of my reflections, from the general life experience commentary to a more focused discovery of personal growth that can start this late in life.

This particular post is purposely vague because I am no longer clear on what this journey will become.  I am certain that things will appear on this site that are of a personal nature.  Those will be shared to help others in similar emotionally abusive relationships know that they are not alone.  Other posts will be focused on general observations prompted by an everyday occurrence, or something I read or heard…  I do not expect this to be a “bashing” place.  I expect it to be a place of sharing hope and positive energies and stories of recent social and historical events.

If you are following this blog, please have patience with me.  Read those posts of interest to you, skip those you have no time for, provide an alternate view point, etc.  Just please do not bash.  We are all fragile just because of our very human-ness.  Disagree carefully and without intent to harm.  Share, if you wish.  Suggest a new topic.  Just keep this blog site safe from the emotional abuse that some readers might be fighting or have fought.  And let’s see together where this road leads.

Thank you.

Welcome to my mind!

Hello!

So happy you chose to visit me.
On this site, my plan is to share my observations and thoughts, reminiscences and forecasts–anything I believe might be worth sharing with others. 

Although I have other blog sites, those are related to education, educating, learning and learning disorders, educational psychology and research, children’s books… The stuff of which my professional life was built. This blog is more general, aimed at sharing rambling thoughts that may cover some “professional” topics, but mostly personal thoughts on life and living. 

On these pages, you will share my journey of discovering the finer points of my ebbing life, including my observations of change in institutions across time. My eyesight is beginning to fail, and so I am more cognizant and aware of imagery around me. Being a lousy photographer and a mediocre writer, words do not flow from my brain to my keyboard; but I’m hoping to sketch out what I see and how I view the world around me now that I am aging.

Join me on this voyage of discovery. Share your own thoughts and insights. This is a place for me to just be. And I invite you to share my space…to be a fellow traveler… 

 

Looking forward to your next visit,

Li’l Ole Lady Ellie