And then I punched a shark.

Last week, I had my students bring in a favorite picture of themselves to use for a writing prompt. Being organized and having a great amount of foresight, I brought in my favorite picture from home. No I didn’t. I forgot, and grabbed one off my desk.

It’s a pretty cool picture, though. It’s me and two friends, standing on the edge of a river we had to cross while hiking in Costa Rica. There were sharks and crocodiles in the river, and we had to hold our packs on our head. I keep it on my desk as a reminder- hey, you did stuff like this, you can handle whatever is being thrown at you now. I told my kids about the picture, modeling what I wanted from their writing. I mentioned that the river had crocs and sharks, but I told them that we didn’t actually encounter or even see any.

So when I overheard this exchange, I was surprised.

One of my students was waiting in line for the bus, talking with his friend. As I walked by, I heard him say, “My teacher punched a shark once.” From another line, another of my students piped up. “I don’t think that’s what happened.” The first kid ignored him. “Punched it right in the face”, he said emphatically to his skeptical friend.

I don’t know if he misunderstood me, chose to exaggerate, or if I give off such a strong vibe of awesomeness that he just assumed. (It’s probably not the last one). 

It got me thinking- I’ve done some cool stuff in my life. Mostly while travelling. I’ve explored underground tombs and found skeletons. I’ve taken rickety gondolas up the alps. I’ve encountered crazy people on eastern European night trains. I’ve encountered venomous snakes and spiders. I’ve slept under a mosquito net surrounded by all sorts of things that could kill me in a variety of horrible ways. I may not have punched  shark, but I’ve done some pretty intense things.

Teaching is harder. It’s scarier. It’s more intense. That’s crazy.

Apples to Apples

If you really want to know what goes on in the mind of a kid, play the game “Apples to Apples.” And you will see, clearly, that they are all a little insane.

Maybe that’s sounds harsh, but I mean it in a good way! They are random, they are free thinkers, they are so outside the box that they aren’t even aware that square is a shape. It’s hilarious.

Here’s how the game is supposed to work, for those who don’t know- Each player has 5 cards, with random things on them. The kid version is a little cleaner and less rife with sleazy celebrities than the regular version, so you get things like the circus, farms, Frosty the snowman, gummi bears, Sesame Street, the first day of school, etc. Then, a green card with an adjective is placed in the middle. Your job is to pick the card you have that best fits the adjective card. The person whose turn it is then looks at all the cards put in, decides which most fits the adjective, and that person gets the green card, and is now “it.”

When grownups play, there’s some sense of randomness, of arguing in favor of your card even if it doesn’t fit with the adjective, but in general it makes sense. For example, if the adjective is slimy, and one of the choices is a slug, that one will usually win. Maybe a lawyer will be a card, and someone will pick that to be funny, but it still makes sense. Not so with kids.

This is the game I played today. The adjective was spooky. My little friend who was it gathered up the cards the other four students and I had put in. Her options were: A pile of leaves, sleep, clowns, owls, waterfalls. I put in sleep. It didn’t really work, but my options were limited. Now, if this was being played by adults, clowns would probably have won. Maybe owls, thinking of haunted forests and whatnot.

 My little gal quickly threw out leaves and sleep, then announced “Clowns aren’t scary!” And tossed it aside. “What about that scary clown movie?” Another asked. “Oh yeah! My dad had that on once. That was spooky!” She shivered, but made no move to pick up the card. “So are clowns still in?” She frowned at me. “No, that was just that one clown.” “What about owls?” I asked. “Who thinks owls are spooky?” A different boy asked. “I don’t know, the sounds… like in a haunted forest…” I pointed out. “That’s owl sounds.” He responded. “Not owls.” Agreeing, our card holder tossed owls out. “Waterfalls.” She announced ominously. “Seriously?” I asked. “They can drown you!” Another kid pointed out. “Plus, they make a weird sound!” Said the boy who had just scoffed at my comment about owl sounds.

We continued the game. When the adjective was cuteraccoons won over puppies, because, “They have those creepy people hands.” For jolly, it was in the basement, because “Santa is jolly, and our Christmas tree is in the basement right now.” For shortthunderstorms won over ants. “Ants are small, not short, you have to stand up to be short. Ants don’t stand. And sometimes thunderstorms don’t last long.”

Here are my favorite things about Apples to Apples with kids:

It’s not just one kid thinking randomly. It’s all of them agreeing with each other, some strange set of rules that only vaguely makes sense, but they all seem to understand.  It’s like a foreign language. And when you play long enough, you start to think like them. I realized this when it was my turn to choose, and I chose cheese as the best fit for exciting, because, “Sometimes I get excited about cheese!” If you can’t beat em, join em.