Friday, November 16, 2007

One Laptop Per Child | My Christmas present

This year, I'm finally getting something very cool for Christmas. When asked, I usually say, "surprise me." Or I say something like, "I have everything I need." This year, anticipating my typical response, my husband has chosen me the perfect gift for me and our son.

One Laptop Per Child is a company which has designed a durable, rugged laptop for children. The keyboard is smaller. Things can get spilled on it. It can be dropped. It can connect to the internet. AND....

they are giving them away to children in developing countries! For kids in remote developing countries, it doesn't even need electricity. It can be charged by a hand crank! The best thing, however, is that kids can control their own computer environment by learning to program it to do what they want it to do. Best of all - they are cheap!

How it works. Buying a laptop for your child funds the cost of giving a free laptop to a child in a developing country. This is going to be our big Christmas gift. (Even though he may not get it by Christmas.) So, this is my Christmas present. I'm sharing this tremendous gift I've been given. I'm sharing the privilege of being able to commit to providing a personalized, inventive, stimulating education with a child in a developing country. I love the idea that I can give my son an important learning tool and that this action benefits another child far away.

Recently, I read a powerful case study about their efforts in Peru & Nigeria. The pictures are touching! The stories are even more amazing!

Geeks all over the world are scrambling to write programs for this thing so that it can be fun. This weekend, in my hometown, Carnegie Mellon University was having a fun, educational programming challenge for One Laptop Per Child.

There are only 11 days left to order. (Not that it really matters, but, about 1/2 of the purchase price is also tax deductible.) So, it's something to consider.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Halloween Shine

After much anticipation, Halloween cam. My son, Winston, dressed up as a bat. Out and about during the day, people would ask him what he was going to be that night. His answer was a very enthusiastic and confidant, “BAT! Because, they’re coooool

Eyebrows raised, throats chuckled, hands quickly leapt to curving lips. From time to time, people said, “How scary!”

“No. Bats aren’t scary. They’re cooool,” he asserted, “they eat bad bugs and they don’t fly in your hair.” (Thanks Grandma Elizabeth for the cool bat tape.)

More controlled expressions of mirthful amusement. Meanwhile, he grows more and more excited for the evening revels.

Let me not fool you. Finding a bat costume was a major feat. Few and far between are the manufacturers who want to produce a simple animal after size 3T. Fortunately, it was one the cheapest costumes I’ve ever put together! A vampire cape and some cat ears did the job. His imagination filled in the rest of the details. In fact, he almost refused to wear the black turtleneck I’d purchased because he” didn’t need it to be a bat.” Much to the amusement of our friends and neighbours, I dressed up as the Ottoman Empire’s Empress.

Last night, brought a smile to my lips as we traversed the streets of our neighbourhood seeking only treats. After we overcame the shock and amazement - that this indeed was happening to him - Winston’s arms spread wide in the waning light. From time to time, he caught a glimpse of his shadow on the footpath. Dancing there, in silhouette, were his head, fluffy hair and ears topping the black shadow of his bat body. Oh, the glory of transformation! He was a bat!

It was a tremendously validating experience. We encountered some older kids passing out treats who gave him extra candy for his costume. (Lots of extra brushing the next few weeks.) One boy piled some candy in his bag and said, “You win the prize for best costume.” Self-conscious and unsure, he smiled and ran to the next house.

I suppose he stuck out. His costume demonstrated some imagination. Simplistic, lacking attention to special fx, and fuelled by an unfailing belief in in his own transformation, it had shine.

Lately, I’ve been trying to help him come to terms with the facts of his life: random children spontaneously take his hand on the street; strangers need to touch him; and the arbitrary person remembers him from a previous visit to their shop and wants to have a conversation with him. I’ve been calling it his shine. In London, it meant what I am now calling “the-old-woman-pinches-cheek- then caresses-then-pulls-hair-scolds n’ compliment manoeuvre.” (Often delivered with lollipop.)

But, there was a downside. So many children don’t shine today. Above the age of 3, we saw pirates, brand-name candies, and every media character produced in the last 25 years. In the 8 to teen bracket were the children who have a need to personify evil. (If only for an evening. Scary, ghouls and devils were actually rare compared to horror movie characters. And it took the shine out of me and my boy,

Before Halloween, we stumbled across a lovely illustrated version of the e.e. cummings poem “Hist Wist.” He fell in love with the text and evocative images. So much so, that he has committed part of the poem to memory. He adores snarling the “devil, devil” part. This book - of course - brought about a discussion of devils and what they are. I said that they are bad spirits who are invisible and can’t get to our world without help.

Then, I carefully steered this conversation with a discussion of angels and the power of shine. My theory was that he’d already watched Kate Bush - his favourite music star - performing in a music video about making a “circle of fire” by calling on your angels. I felt pretty secure about his ability to centre and feel powerful and competent when faced by evil. The weird, foreign, evil, costumes shook that underpinning of control.

We did have a lovely time that night. But, our sleep was fitful and filled with fighting. His vividly dreaming body committed - literally - to the battle. Thrashing, punching, kicking until my husband and I woke him and offered him the idea that he could control his dreams. He had to make his circle of fire and call on his angels.

In the morning, there were more discussions about devils. Suddenly, a creeping sense of discomfort crawls across his inner self regarding them. So, I talked a bit about his shine. But, thanks to my daughter, I remembered a song she and I used to sing 15 years ago. I think I got it from a book called “The Joyful Child.”

Sung to “The Farmer In the Dell”

Energy follows thought.
Energy follows thought.
My thoughts will take form in life,
‘cause energy follows thought.

Form follows energy.
Form follows energy.
My thoughts may take form in life,
‘cause form follows energy.

My thoughts bring me joy.
My thoughts bring me joy.
Because I choose them carefully,
My thoughts bring me joy.

He liked that song, especially when I reminded him about a scene from book we’d read recently, “Zen Shorts. ” (Thanks, Karen.) The monks encounter a haughty, arrogant, selfish woman. The elder monk, joyfully carries her across a mud puddle even though she berates him and assumes it is her right to be carried. The younger monk is still angry about his treatment hours ago. The elder monk replies, “I put that woman down hours ago, why are you still carrying her.”

I’ve been using that phrase a lot lately. He gets stuck in some perceived transgression. I ask him, “Is it that important for you carry? Should we spend our next few hours talking about this?” He often thinks about it. Then, states, “I can put it down.” Sometimes, he can’t put it down. That’s okay also. But, when we’ve been reviewing some small thing; and suddenly it is time for bed; and he missed his opportunity for play, then he truly learns the value of letting go. Some things can’t be let go. That’s okay and they shouldn’t be. Somethings are worth giving up play time until the resolution you desire is achieved. But, most things - three chocolates rather than four, forgetting to let him open the door for me - can be let go.

And here is where his shine lives. And this path we are on are all about strengthening and preserving his shine.