As we’ve come to learn throughout the course of the semester, stories seem to be the binding forces of culture. All nations, people, families, and individuals have their own stories; those of which are held sacred, and told again and again because their telling has so much to teach. In her novel, Potiki, Patricia Grace shows us that the Maori are no different. They tell stories of the past to illuminate the future. They speak of the dead to comfort the living. And interestingly, they listen to the tales of children as if they hold divine wisdom. The importance of the younger generation within this culture impressed me. I admired the respect the adults have for the inherent wisdom children hold. Reading about their place of value helped me to reflect on my own experience with little ones this past week.
My first day at Tunbridge was a little nerve-wracking. I wasn’t sure what exactly I would be doing, who I would be working with, or how I would feel being back in an elementary school setting. I hadn’t worked with young kids in a while, and I was anxious about being around them again. What if I lost my patience? What if I couldn’t control them? What if they didn’t want me to be there? All of my nerves were quickly diminished when the Pre-K came running into the cafeteria after dismissal. They immediately began clinging to my legs, asking if I would be their new teacher. I had forgotten how little five years old is, and I was shocked by everything they had to tell me. Barely knowing who I was, they were eager to talk to me and share their stories. What I learned in those first few hours was incredible. Children have much to offer, their innocence brings about a kind of spirited inhibition in their stories. All they want from us as adults, is for us to listen.
Within minutes of arriving at Tunbridge, a little boy asked me where I was born. I told him I was born in New Jersey, to which he responded with a flustered sigh. “No silly” he said “Were you born in America or not?”. Indulging him, I said I was born in America. He proceeded to tell me that he wasn’t, so of course I asked where he was born. He told me he was born in Africa, but when he said this, all of his classmates immediately put him down. “No you weren’t” they said “You were born in Baltimore”. Ignoring them, he continued telling me his story. “I was borned in Africa and when I was reeeaaallllly little my mommy wrapped me up in a blanket one night and took me on an airplane to America”. Whether or not his tale was true, I found it fascinating. He must have heard this story somewhere, the details were too rich to have been pulled from thin air. Maybe he was born in Africa, or maybe it was one of his parents or grandparents, or maybe he was lying. Wherever he got the story from, I loved that he shared it with me. For some reason, he found it important to share a part of his life with me, and ask me about mine as well.
While the kids were eating a snack, a beautiful little blue-eyed girl sat down next to me. She told me she wasn’t going to participate in the next activity because her nana was coming to pick her up soon. “I live with my nana you know” she told me frankly. “Oh really?” I said, “That’s nice”. “Yeah I don’t live with my mom and my baby brothers. I live with my nana and my big sister. But sometimes I go to my mom’s house, and sometimes I visit my dad” she continued, “And I have two dads”. All of this information was overwhelming, and I didn’t really know what to say. “It sounds like you have a big family” I finally came up with. Immediately, I felt sorry for the little girl. From what she told me, it sounded like she did a lot of bouncing around from house to house, caretaker to caretaker. But I forgot about the little girl’s story until we began reading Potiki. Toko, like this little girl, has many parents. His “borning mother” and his “making father”, Hemi and Roimata, Granny, and all his brothers and sisters make his family whole. He does not distinguish the love he has for each of them, instead he views all of them as the pieces that make up a whole. Learning from Toko, I reconsidered this little girl’s family. Just because it doesn’t resemble my own, or any type of conventional family, it is still a grouping of people who love her and provide for her. No matter how it’s broken up, family consists of the ones we love and the ones who love us.
Starting my service-learning project and reading Potiki couldn’t have come at a better time. Both have reminded me how much children have to offer. Their stories not only provide entertainment, but a kind of unconventional wisdom, which probes me to think more about my own life and how I have come to view the world.