Sometimes A Kid Is Just A Kid

Sometimes A Kid Is Just A Kid

“By endurance we conquer.” Edward Shackleton

In life you will meet a lot of people and most of them you will end up forgetting. I will never forget an eight year old boy who rolled into the first day of 826LA summer writing program  where I volunteer.

It wasn’t just a wheel chair. He was strapped in with a plastic plate across his chest and a large clear plastic tube attached to a hole in his throat. I have lung problems and hate to see breathing tubes.  Since I was a child, I have always had a strange fear of deformities and people who look sick. The pediatrician told my mother that it was because I had watched my grandmother who lived with us, shrivel away and die when I was three years old.  I don’t know if that is true.

“Please don’t sit at my table” I thought when he entered. I’ve often heard that when you phrase something negatively and put it out into the universe, the universe doesn’t hear the negative word.  It hears “Please sit at my table” and that is what happened. I won’t be able to help him. But I smiled and introduced myself. After all, I am grown up now. He says his name is Tony.  His eyes lit up and gave me the most beautiful smile. He participated shyly as all the kids did on the first day. I wasn’t sitting next to him and he couldn’t reach a paper in his binder. I froze for a second because I did not know if I was supposed to get up and help him or let him struggle and do it himself. Alejandra, the girl sitting next him quietly gets it for him. Neither of them say a word to each other. He is sitting next to a boy named Omar and he says that there is someone in his class named Omar. Omar smiles in delight at him and says ‘You know someone with my name?” It will be all right at this table.

I am late the next day and a volunteer is already sitting there when I arrive. The program leader tells me that  the kids at my table  were asking for me. I seem to be doing ok. Do we talk about the wheel chair and all the stuff he has with it? No one that I have asked seems to know. I watch nine-year old Alejandra who is sitting next to him this week. She does not interact much with any of the kids at the table – only adults. She is on it. If Tony can’t reach something or drops something, she gets it and hands it to him in total silence. I learn from her that helping someone is just something you do. You don’t need a big discussion about it.

At the end of the week, we do a group project and everyone has added something important to save the sea turtles. We have become a team.. Tony tells me that he hates doctors but likes the dentist. I have to go to the dentist for a filling and a crown and I tell him that I HATE dentists. He laughs hysterically as if I have just said the funniest thing. He is a warrior and clearly I am not. He looks like he has gone through so much at such a young age. Most of us cannot even imagine doing that but the smile never faded from his face. He told me he didn’t smile a lot when he was in the hospital  but he smiles all the time now.  Sick definitely does not mean weak.

The following week the kids have changed tables.  I arrive early. “Tony is sitting at the second table”, says the program leader.  He is very happy to see me there when he arrives. I am happy to see him as well.

The summer program is ending and I do not know if I will ever see Tony again. I have dealt with worsening health problems that seemed big to me but are small in relationship to his. I learned from him to be grateful  for the health I have and always make the most of my situation. While I was busy wallowing in self-pity, Tony was smiling through adversity and putting a smile on my face as well. But more importantly, he taught me that at any moment, even when you least expect it, someone or something can change your life.

Fly safe,
JAZ

Amelia’s Divorce

Amelia’s  Divorce

“But in the real world, you couldn’t really just split a family down the middle, mom on one side, dad the other, with the child equally divided between. It was like when you ripped a piece of paper into two: no matter how you tried, the seams never fit exactly right again. It was what you couldn’t see, those tiniest of pieces, that were lost in the severing, and their absence kept everything from being complete.”  Sarah Dessen

 I  have noticed that kids around the world are all the same. They might eat different foods or attend a village school in the rainforest but they share universal commonalities. They all need to have their basic needs met and feel safe, secure and loved.

A little girl came over to my dog Banksy  at the hairdresser.  She wanted to pet him. I said that  he was kind of nervous because we had just moved to a new place and dogs don’t understand moving, She asked where we had moved to. I said to Venice/ Marina Del Rey.

“My dad used to live in Marina Del Rey but now he lives in the valley.  My dad doesn’t live with me anymore. I am from a divorce now. I live with my mom near here in a new house,“she replied.

“Since you are in a new house,  maybe you could help Banksy. Do you have any ideas how to make him more comfortable in his new home?“

She asked if Banksy was from a divorce? I said “No, it was just me and Banksy.”

”It is just me and my mom now,”she answered. Amelia told Banksy not to be sad because everyone will still love him the same even if he has a new stepmom who is going to have a baby.  “My new stepmother is Filipino so we don’t know what the baby will look like because my dad is Jewish. But the baby won’t look like  me and no one will know that she is my sister.”

“You will know and she will know and that is all that counts.” I said.

“She isn’t really going to be my sister. She will be my half-sister because we don’t have the same mother.”

”To her, you will be her big sister and a very important person in her life when she gets a bit older.“ I said.

She smiled and said “Yes, but the valley is very far away. Banksy, even though you are scared now, your new home will be great. You won’t have to miss things when it is your weekend with your mom or your weekend with your dad.” Amelia is seven.

Fly safe,

JAZ

What Kids Said When Donald Trump Won

What Kids Said When Donald Trump Won

“Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

“I don’t think he will make a good president. He doesn’t know how to use his Twitter account and so I presume he will be hopeless at nuclear codes.”

“If Donald Trump deports my mom can I come live with your family?”

“He seems very bossy.”

“This is a hijab. It’s really hot. I don’t sleep in it. If you have questions, ask me. Don’t say terrible, scary things.”

“I don’t think he will be on the list of good presidents in the history of good presidents in the US.”

“If the president says bad things about Mexicans, then other people will too.”

“If he is a bully, how did he get to be president?”

“I woke up to find out that Trump was President and my sister was using my expensive shampoo.”

“I really like it here. I don’t want to leave.”

“Will I have to be a slave?”

“He might be a good president if he controls his anger.”

“Will I have to wear numbers on my shirt?”

“I’m not speaking to white people today. It is their fault,”

“He gets angry and interrupts people. He goes bankrupt a lot. I don’t thing that is good for a President.”’

“Im worried my brother who has leukemia will lose his health care.”

“I am hopeful that Donald Trump will not end the world or the country.”

“He got the most votes. He won fair and square.”

“I hope he is a great president and he doesn’t build a wall and send my friends home. I hope he is the best, kind, amazing president.“

“I’m scared people will hurt me because I am a girl.”

“Im ok with the outcome as long as he makes America better again.”

“Black people don’t vote for white people unless they’re like cool. He said what people wanted to hear, and they voted for him. Also, don’t tell anybody this, but I cried in the bathroom this morning when I found out.”

Children are listening, Speak to them. Let your intelligence and not your fear guide your words.  Hear them. Listen to what they have to say. Make them feel safe.  Read to them.  Encourage them to read books by authors and about people who are different then you are. Teach them about the world.

Fly safe.

JAZ

Travel Advice From An Eight Year Old

Travel Advice From An Eight Year Old

“Row, row, row your boat. Gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.” Alice Munro

My daughter wrote me a letter when she was eight years old before leaving for sleep away camp for a month for the first time. I recently found it and thought it was really good advice.

1. Always carry a picture of me around with you at all times.

That is an easy one now that every cell phone has a camera.

2. Even though I’m not there and it is summer, still wake up early. It is good for your body.

Did she think I was going to sleep all day when she left? Little kids can not imagine your life without them.  It is always a good idea to keep the same routine when someone is gone for a while.

3. I know you will miss this one. I will record it.  “Can you buy me this?” or write it and you can take it out of your purse when you want to say no to something I want.

Everyone wants to be missed  and remembered for something. 

4.Just a reminder. DON”T DRINK DIET COKE.

 We all have vices that we need to be working on whether our kids are there or not.

5.DON”T EAT CHOCOLATE AT NIGHT. It’s not good for you.

Some people have more vices than other people do. 

6. Oh, and please remember that I still exist when I am at camp.

 Please remember that I still exist when I am traveling.

7. Write me letters and send me packages.

Texts, emails and travel gifts work too.

8. I love you and DON’T LOSE THIS PAPER.

I aways say I love you to my loved ones when I get on a plane.  I didn’t lose this paper for twenty years.

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Fly safe,

JAZ

The Favela – Project Morrinho

The Favela – Project Morrinho

“The world lies in the hands of those who have the courage to dream and who take the risk of living out their dreams – each according to his or her own talent.”Paul Coelho

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The story began in 1998 when Cirlan Souza de Oliveira a 14 year-old boy moved to the favela Periera da Silva in Rio de Janeiro.

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He and his brother decided to play with bricks they found in the back yard to create buildings inspired by the new places and surrounding buildings he saw. His efforts attracted seven young boys who began the creation of the replica of their community built into a hillside where they played out imaginary adventures with toys.

They kept it hidden to protect it and being in their mid teens they didn’t think it was”cool.” The ‘trafficantes” who controlled the area found out about it and encouraged the project. They thought it would help the kids in their community have opportunities so they did not become traffickers as well. Sometimes they came and played with the boys in the miniature city with their guns slinging behind them. The police after understanding that the traffickers had nothing to do with this project became encouraging as well.(utube by Cirlan Souza de Olivera)

.In 2001 the mini favela was visited by two documentary filmmakers, Fabio Gavião and Markão Oliveira. The filmmakers were so taken with their work that they developed a documentary about the project. Out of the documentary grew a partnership that helped Projeto Morrinho become a registered NGO and opened doors to the wider world of arts and social projects. The project is already famous and has been recreated in top international art festivals in Venice, Berlin, Munich and Prague, among others.  (Morrinho at Mar Museum in Rio fundraising for the favela project)

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The fame of this miniature favela continues to spread, along with the positive message it put out about young people against the odds, taking charge of their own lives and becoming role models for others in areas, normally synonymous with poverty and crime. In this respect Morrinho has become an inspiration to young people across the world.

Tenha Uma Boa Viagem,

JAZ

 

Ten Children’s Books That Inspired Me To Travel

Ten Children’s Books That Inspired Me To Travel

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes.                                                 You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” Dr Seuss, Oh The Places You’ll Go

When we are kids, books bring us the world before we have a chance to experience it. We get to see life in our imaginations first. Our books give us perspective and lets us know that there is more than one way to view the world. They expand our universe beyond time and place and inspire us to dream.

I thought about what books I read when I was a child that widened my world and made me want to go out and explore it.

Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

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Max’s imagination transforms his bedroom into an extraordinary setting, with a forest and an ocean and a little boat that Max sails in until he comes to a land full of “wild things.” Although they look and sound very fierce, Max is able to tame them with a single glance. They all realize Max is “..the most wild thing of all” and make him their king.

The wild things were modeled after Maurice Sendak’s immigrant relatives who arrived after World War ll. They spoke a foreign language, had wild hair, smelled differently, ate different foods and held him to tight; people who frightened him at first and then he quickly grew to love. Though the theme of the book is dealing with anger at those you love through imagination, to me, it was about having an adventure. The world might look scary but it really wasn’t as long as you knew how to tame the monsters.

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

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Pippi is an unconventional super strong nine-year old girl who lives with her monkey and her horse in a house called Villa Villekula in a town in Sweden. She befriends Tommy and Annika next door and the three have many adventures. Pippi is every kid’s fantasy. She can do whatever she wants , eat whatever she wants , say whatever she wants, not go to school and is afraid of no one. Pippi is the daughter of a South Seas ship captain who is believed to be lost at sea. Pippi enjoys sharing memories of sailing around the world with him and believes he is still alive. What kid did not want to be Pippi especially when she went to the South Seas to be with her father who was not a Cannibal king.

 Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

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Madeline has always been one of my favorite children’s books. I can probably still recite it.” In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines…’Madeline lived in what appears to be a Catholic boarding school or orphanage who takes a legendary trip to the hospital to have her appendix removed in rhyme. Madeline was the smallest seven-year old in the group. So was I and the illustrations made Paris look like a wonderful place.

 Ferdinand The Bull by Munro Leaf

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Ferdinand would much rather smell the flowers than butt heads with the other cows. When the men come to choose the bull for the fight, Ferdinand accidentally sits on a bumblebee. The men see him dash around madly, so they pick Ferdinand send him to Madrid. At the bullfight all Ferdinand cares about is the bouquet of flowers a woman tossed to the matador so they send him back to the pasture, “where to this day he is still smelling the flowers.”

The book was published in 1936, nine months before the Spanish Civil war and was seen as a pacifist book. Franco banned it in Spain. It was burned in Nazi Germany. Stalin allowed it in Poland as the only non communist children’s book and it was Mahatma Gandhi’s favorite book.

I wanted to see the bullring of Spain that Ferdinand was taken to and weirdly I did. The illustrations in the book are not of Madrid but of the beautiful city of Ronda in Andalusia which has the gorge, the old bridge and the oldest bullring in Spain. They are faithfully reproduced in the drawings in the book. I recognized it when I was there and they told me I was right.

 The Five Chinese Brothers by Claire Huchet Bishop.

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“Once upon a time there were five Chinese Brothers and they all looked exactly alike.  They lived with their mother in a little house not far from the sea.The first Chinese brother could swallow the sea.  The second Chinese brother had an iron neck.  The third Chinese brother could stretch and stretch and stretch his legs.  The fourth Chinese brother could not be burned.  The fifth Chinese brother could hold his breath indefinitely……”

One brother is punished unfairly and they outwit their executioner by using these abilities. The book was published in 1938 and by today’s standards the artwork is considered to be promoting stereotypes. But as a kid I loved those Chinese pictures and already liked egg rolls.

 The Story Of Babar by Jean de Brunhoff

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Babar was a French children’s book published in 1931 and brought to America and Britain in 1933 by AA Milne. Babar is a young elephant living in the jungle. His mother is killed by a hunter and Babar escapes to the city. He returns to the jungle and brings the lessons of civilization with him. Just as he returns the King of the Elephants dies. Because of his travels and civilization, Babar is appointed King of the Elephants and goes on to teach many valuable lessons. I learned early on that travel is always a good thing and there is a lot death in children’s books.

Harold and the Purple Crayon By Crocket Johnson

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One night, after thinking it over for some time, Harold decided to go for a walk in the moonlight.” So begins a story that shows just how far your imagination can take you. Armed only with an oversized purple crayon, Harold draws himself a landscape full of beauty and excitement. He conducts his adventure with caution drawing landmarks to make sure he won’t get lost and sketching a boat when he finds himself in deep water. I plan my trips like that as well.

 Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling

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How did the camel get his hump? Why won’t cats do as they are told? Who invented reading and writing? How did the elephant get his trunk?

Kipling’s collection of stories brought me to distant lands and jungles and answered questions that all children had. His stories are based on the fables of India and oral traditions of Africa. They are intertwined with little pearls of wisdom about the pitfalls of arrogance and pride and the importance of curiosity, imagination, and inventiveness.

 Stone Soup by Marcia Brown

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Stone Soup is an old folk story in which hungry strangers trick the local self involved people of a village to share their food. It has been told as a lesson in coöperation. There are many versions of this story from different countries. As a kid from New York City, the village thing was fascinating. Even as an adult when traveling I really feel that I’m somewhere different when I’m in a village.

 The Little Prince by Anton St Exupery

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The Little Prince is a book for children written for grown-ups. It is an allegory about human nature. But as a child, it was story about a grownup aviator who’s plane crashes into the Sahara Desert. He meets a little boy from asteroid B-612 where he has left behind three volcanoes and a rose. Before reaching Earth, he has visited other planets and met some very odd people. He learned many important life lessons when traveling through the solar system which he imparts to the aviator and the two develop an interesting friendship. The hardest lesson for me was that sometimes friends part ways. I always wanted to be the little prince telling stories about my visits to the other planets.

Fly Safe,

JAZ

PS. These photos were taken off the internet. I’m not sure who to give credit to but if it gets you to read one of these stories to a child or reread one yourself, I think the author won’t mind.