Nothing goes together like poetry and peanut butter, right?
I wanted to make tea biscuits for last night’s Poetry Teatime, but we had no butter left. Instead, I ended up making super-easy three-ingredient peanut butter cookies and serving them with peanut butter chocolate ice cream. Everyone sat on the back porch couch under the infrared heater and snuggled under duvets. We read some Dennis Lee and some Mother Goose (some of my children are woefully deficient in nursery rhyme knowledge!) before I asked everyone to recite a poem they knew by heart. Mr. December recited The Raven, R managed a few verses of The Tyger before she hesitated and we all joined in to help her, and N recited a poem about how “Cats sleep anywhere.” It was a very relaxing end to the day—if you don’t count R yelling at N to share his blanket and N moving across the porch (and away from the heater) just so he wouldn’t have to share.
Today was a decent day, homeschool-wise. Everyone did their work, even K (but only after she yelled at me for a while about grammar and punctuation being stupid.) Two of my kids pointed out errors I had made in the Pirkei Avot copywork sheet, which made me want to sing, “My children have surpassed me!” (Here’s a link to the Talmudic story I’m referencing, for those who don’t know it.) I mean, really, I’m still way beyond them… but sometimes it just feels good to see what Mr. December calls “signs of life.”
The schedule boards all said “Movie Night” tonight. I turned to my Facebook friends for ideas and they came through for me. Out of a list of fifteen suggestions I picked An American Pickle. No spoilers. But if you can see it, do. The kids loved it almost as much as the grownups did.
Mr. December wasn’t planning on watching it, really. He had meetings tonight from 7–7:30 and then at 9; he told us to go ahead and he’d join when he could. “I don’t really like watching movies, anyway,” he reminded us, “so even if it’s something I wouldn’t mind seeing, I don’t mind missing it either.”
At 6:55 p.m. (45 minutes into the movie) Mr. December’s voice piped up, “Anybody want to take a short break for a bit? I kinda want to see the end of this.” I was going to give him my patented I told you so, except that I hadn’t told him so… so uncharacteristically for me, I kept my mouth firmly shut.
The kids gathered around the table with their bedtime snacks. “I don’t get it,” R reflected, “why was he so impressed that his great-grandson had 25 pairs of socks?” I explained that most people would only have had a couple of pairs of socks. This led to the story of my great-uncle who was punished by his father for ruining his shoe—it was his only pair of shoes and the family simply couldn’t afford to buy a new one.
“You guys,” I said, suddenly realizing the enormous can of worms I could open up, “The beginning of the movie? The shtetl, and the people dreaming of a life without Cossacks attacking them? That’s our history. Abba’s grandfather worked in a factory making buttonholes when he came to Canada. This whole thing is your story too!”
R’s eyes grew wide. “What about your grandparents?” she asked.
The story of my maternal grandparents isn’t the one you might expect: it’s different, more interesting, even a bit exotic. So I ran to the library to find Peddlers All, a book of memoirs of the Ashkenazi Jews of Barbados.
“There’s a chapter in here written by Aunty Leah, you know…” I said.
The kids perked up at a name they recognized. “Read it! Read it!” they demanded.
“Oh, and there’s a chapter that Savta [my mum] wrote.”
“Read Savta’s, then Aunty Leah’s.” R directed.
So I did. I stopped to explain, elaborate, and embellish. The children eagerly listened to every word.
Then Mr. December’s meeting ended, he joined us upstairs, and we finished the movie. I have never liked pickles, but An American Pickle was definitely the exception to that rule. It was possibly the funniest movie I’ve seen in years.
It was also an excellent opening to talk to the kids about Jewish history, Jewish identity, and how they are connected to this long, complex, vibrant story that is our people. I could have done months of Jewish history curriculum and not piqued their interest the way this movie did. I guess I’ll start curating a list of Jewish movies to watch… I wonder if Yentl has aged well?