"How To Make a Bad First Impression" - May 29, 2006

by Mary Jo Thayer

It was an accident. Really. I didn't think anything of it until the moment my daughters emerged in their competitive swim suits at a homeschooling event. The looks on everyone else's faces said it all. Now, please, before you begin to judge my sensibility or lack thereof, let me explain.

Our local group offers a way for kids to showcase their literary talents and perfect their public speaking skills by giving book reports, recitations of poetry, etc. We call it Book Buddies. Once a month, homeschoolers of all ages gather with their peers and parents to take center stage and perfect their presentation skills. Most of these performances are serious in nature, such as a book report on a saint or an important historic event, or a lengthy memorized recitation of a meaningful poem from the National Catholic Reader.

As a new homeschooler, I did not grasp the gravity of Book Buddies just from reading about it in our newletter. So, as a former high school English teacher ready to engage the audience, I had coached my girls to go for the entertainment value. This would have been fine, if the other homeschooling moms had an idea of what I was really made of, but most of them did not know me from Adam. Therefore, when my two pre-adolescent daughters came parading out in their competitive swim suits and goggles ready to perform, I am afraid there were more than a few gaping mouths and whisperings among the moms, not to mention some embarrassed giggles among the boys and girls seated on the floor. No one knew what to expect. They had never seen anything like it, especially not in the livingroom of a conservative Catholic family!

My daughters had no option at that point. They had to keep going. Their new reputations were at stake, not to mention their grade in speech class. Besides, they had worked too hard to perfect both the diction and the drama of their poem. So, with firm resolve and airs of confidence, they stood among their new peers and gave a rousing, joy-filled rendition of Paul Fleishman's "Water Striders," which can be found in his lovely little book named Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices. This book is comprised of 14 poems about various insects, each having both separate and simultaneous parts for two people to perform together.

Well, it was such a success that our daughters were asked by other children if they could do one with them next Book Buddies. Even the moms who could not believe their eyes, and wondered whether my daughters or I had any sense of the virtue of modesty, liked it. Several, in fact, went out to purchase their own copies of Joyful Noise. So far, children have dragged in blow-up runner rafts and small oars for the performance of "Water Boatmen." They have carried in volumes of stellar literary works for "Book Lice." The have wielded flashlights for "Fireflies," and they have spun ribboned batons in circles for "Whirligig Beetles."

What started out as a bad first impression was transformed into a wonderful learning experience for all, especially for me. I learned that no matter how fun you are going to make something, itís a good idea to warn the other parents and bring them up to speed on your plan, especially when people are meeting you for the first time!

By the way, some of those moms have become my very dear friends, and our children have gone on to enjoy years of solid Christian friendship, complete with the virtue of modesty, along with a little more interest in and knowledge about the joyful noises made by insects.

Used with Permission.
Mary Jo Thayer