Here is an article I wrote when I was teaching English as a New Language back in the 2000s. It speaks to children’s perceptions and the importance of listening.(published in Crossroads, a teachers‘ newsletter)
When I was young, a man named Art Linkletter hosted a TV show called “Kids Say the Darndest Things.” My father, a child psychologist, panned the show, saying it was condescending, and, worse, humiliating to the children, whose sincere answers to Linkletter’s loaded questions provided the humor of the program. When Linkletter received a particularly juicy and revealing reply he would mug into the camera while the live audience roared.
As an English teacher of kindergarten and first grade students, I spend most of my waking hours conversing with very young people. I hear stories that are amazing, delightful, and unfortunately, sometimes frightening or sad.
Years ago, during a morning meeting, a boy announced, “My dad punched a hole in the wall last night. My little sister was crying and we went to bed at eleven o’clock. That’s why my dad couldn’t help me with my homework.”
More recently, a Pakistani student told me that over the weekend his mother was chased into the jungle by a dinosaur. “Me and my brother we going find her. She climbing a tree way way up. She jump down and we catched her. “That’s quite a story,” I say.
In these days of computer graphics, children have an even harder time distinguishing between fantasy and reality. One bright little boy from Mexico is working hard at sorting the input he gets in his world. “Elephants are real, right?” he asks. “Vampires are real; they suck your blood.” There follows an animated discussion about vampire bats who only live in Central America as opposed to the people with the big teeth who turn into bats. For kids growing up today, the line between what is real and what is not must be blurry indeed.
When I was little, about five years old, my favorite toys were my plastic horses. Each one had a name and gender: there was Flicka and Blaze and Snowflake. I remember one evening when my aunt and uncle from New York came for dinner. I showed my uncle that Skyrocket, the piebald stallion, could jump from one end of the living room to the other. My uncle Bob laughed in that indulgent, condescending and infuriating way of adults who consider children an interruption. I was angry and hurt. It didn’t bother me that he didn’t believe me, for I knew it was a fantasy, but I hated being laughed at. I never trusted him again. From that day on, Uncle Bob was relegated to the category of Adults Who Don’t Understand.
Five-year-old children lack a sense of elapsed time. When a beginning English speaker tells me about an event, the chronology can get really confusing. It’s a challenge to decipher some of the stories.
“Miss Alice!” (My name is Ms. Ellis, but I answer to many versions.) “Tomorrow I watch movie Chicken Little.”
“You’re going to see the movie tomorrow?” That’s me rephrasing and checking for comprehension.
“NO!” The child is annoyed. Miss Alice is being obtuse.
“Yesterday you saw Chicken Little?”
“Yes, I see it.” I make a mental note to work on the vocabulary of “yesterday, today, tomorrow.”
One morning Lucia tells me, “Miss Alice, my mom had a fire in her stove. The truck came. The wall was black. We got a new stove.”
I am alarmed, so that evening I call Lucia’s house to see if all is well. Her older sister laughs. “That happened five months ago,” she says.
Although the hamsa hand has been symbolic in Islam and Judaism for centuries, archeological digs in the Middle East provide evidence that the hamsa pre-dates these religions and originated with the Phoenicians and was used as a protective symbol for an ancient Middle Eastern goddess. The hamsa hand has always been associated with a female entity offering protection from evil and misfortune.
The word “hamsa” or “hamesh” means five. There are five digits on the hamsa hand, but the number five has additional symbolic meaning in the Jewish and Islamic traditions. Five (hamesh in Hebrew) represents the five books of the Torah for Jews. It also symbolizes the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, “Heh”, which represents one of God’s holy names. It symbolizes the Five Pillars of Islam for Sunnis, and the Five People of the Cloak for Shi’ites.
In the Jewish religion, the Jewish hamsa hand also symbolizes the Hand of God. Many Jews believe the hamsa pendant symbolizes the Hand of Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron. In the Islamic faith, the hamsa hand symbolizes The Hand of Fatima, daughter of the Prophet Mohammed.
Many Jews believe that the five fingers of the hamsa hand remind its wearer to use their five senses to praise God. Hamsa hands often contain an eye symbol, which is a powerful talisman against the evil eye. It is most often worn as a hamsa necklace, but can be found as a decorative element in houses, on key chains, on other jewelry items, and is quickly gaining popularity as an amulet in baby carriages. In addition to averting the gaze of the evil eye, it brings its wearer or owner happiness, luck, health, and good fortune.
While visiting my sister in California last September, I copied her design for making hamsas. I made three while we sat around at her table and talked. Back in New York, I still had more hamsas tickling my fingers, wanting to be made. I searched through my fabric scraps, bought an Indian bedspread, and lots more beads.
My daughter suggested including a prayer of protection, so I put one inside the layers of fabric of each hamsa:
Let no sadness come to this heart
Let no trouble come to these arms
Let no conflict come to these eyes
Let my soul be filled with the
Blessing of joy and peace.
Each hamsa is different. That’s why I’ve enjoyed making them. They will be for sale at the POP-UP CRAFT FAIR. It was supposed to be this Saturday, November 13, 10:00-5:00, at 52 Dusinberre Rd., Gardiner, NY., but the weather looks too rainy, so we’ll likely be moving the FAIR to SUNDAY, same time and place.