Can I Sit with You?

School Nurse
December 18, 2007, 6:55 am
Filed under: Canada, elementary school, kindness, self esteem, stories

Ken Putnam
Fourth Grade

In 1959, I was in grade four at Brentwood Park Elementary School in Burnaby, British Columbia. I was not a bright student; far from it. One day, while I was trying my best to avoid a question from the teacher, the PA system came on. It was the school secretary, summoning me to the nurse’s office. The school nurse was a nice lady, and since I did not feel sick and other kids got called to see the nurse all the time, I was not at all concerned.

When I knocked on the nurse’s door, a male voice said, “Come in.” I went in, and was met by a really old man — probably around forty years old — who introduced himself as Doctor Someone. The good doctor wore a light scruffy beard, thick glasses with large black rims, a plaid sports jacket, and of course a tie. On the desk was a pipe, because this was back when most adults smoked just about everywhere.

The doctor asked me some questions: “Ken, do you have brothers and sisters?” “Where do you live?” What’s your favorite colour?” “Do you have a pet?” I answered all the questions to the best of my grade four ability and was feeling pretty good about the whole deal. At least here I could get some answers right, not like in the classroom.

Then he hit me with the big one: “Ken, I’m going to give you some coloured pencils and I would like you to draw me a picture of a man.” I began to panic. Fear froze me. I couldn’t draw a straight line, let alone a picture of a man. He told me he was going to leave the room and come back in about 10 minutes. He left. I wanted to jump out the window. I had no idea why this guy wanted me to draw a picture of a man. What had I done? Why was this happening to me?

I did know one thing: the results of my artistic endeavors were going to be very very important to my future. A pass or fail on my drawing would no doubt be the catalyst for something great or terrible. I picked up the green pencil, then the red, followed by blue and yellow. My brush-cut head was wet from sweat, and my fingers sore from squeezing the pencil so hard. My little brain was roaring at 1000 MPH.

The door opened and back in came the doctor: “Well, how did we make out, Ken?”

“Okay, I guess,” I said, and I handed him my picture. A slow smile came across his face and then a soft chuckle. He put down the picture, looked me eye and said, “You know Ken, I don’t think there is anything wrong with you at all, you’re going to be just fine.”

The doctor was right. I’m 58 years old now. In 2005 I retired after 34 years with the RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] and now work for Yukon Department of Justice. And the picture? Well, I drew the Doctor: complete with his pipe, plaid jacket, glasses, and beard.


December 13, 2007, 6:00 pm
Filed under: "Can I Sit With You", fundraising, philanthropy, special needs kids

Can I Sit With You? is the #762 book in sales on!. This may not seem like a big deal, but when you consider that the book I bought my brother for Christmas is #23,216, then our rank is remarkable. We’re so happy, so grateful for everyone’s support.

Keep spreading the word! Keep telling your friends to buy this wonderful, helpful, inspiring, reasonably-priced book. Use the special education angle if it helps your argument; after all these years of parenting special needs children, we’re not above a wry little knife-twist to the guilt/philanthropy section of anyone’s heart, if it’s for the greater good.

Can I SIt With You? News
December 11, 2007, 6:38 pm
Filed under: "Can I Sit With You", advocacy, blook, blooks, charity, fundraising, special needs PTA

Can I Sit With You? is on a tear. At this moment we’re the #813 seller on (we started out at 22,000), we’ve sold almost 250 copies, and we’ve cleared almost $1300 in direct donations to SEPTAR. Thanks so much, everyone, and please tell even more people to buy our book!

In other, also very exciting news:

Beth Kanter featured Can I Sit With You? as one of her charitable holiday giving recommendations for the BlogHer holiday gifting guide. Thank you, Beth!

We have also been featured at Blooking Central, a blog all about [blogs+books=] blooks. There may even be a follow up Q&A on how we made CISWY happen, so stay tuned.

Our local library is very excited about Can I Sit With You? and wants to set up an author’s event, since our book features so many local writers. Again, we’ll post updates as we receive them.

Locals who would prefer to get their hands on a hard copy of CISWY right now can do so at Main Street Coffee Roasting Company or Canyon Coffee. Both places feature fantastic, roasted-on-site coffee.

And, finally, we will be hanging with our Blogosphere buds at the BlogHer Holiday Meetup on Thursday in San Francisco. If you ever wanted to see just how tall and striking Jen is, or how short and fuchsia-haired Shan is, then come on by. Just don’t forget to RSVP.

The Cure of Nowhere
December 5, 2007, 6:11 pm
Filed under: exhilaration, family tragedy, isolation, kindness, tragedy, travel

by Amanda Jones
Age twelve at the time

When I was twelve years old, the father of a girl in my class committed suicide in deplorably bad taste. One fine Sunday afternoon he suggested the family go to the movies. Excited, all four children and their mother drove downtown with him. There, outside the parking building, the father told the family to get out of the car, leaning over and kissing each of them as they did so. Not being a demonstrative man by nature, the family thought this act mildly unusual, but no one commented. They stood on the sidewalk and waited for him to park and join then on the street.

Instead, he took the car to the sixth-floor rooftop, got out, locked the door, and jumped off, landing in full view of his family.

The man was clearly disturbed, but the malevolence of his method stunned the community. In the full bloom of pre-adolescent egocentricity, none of us knew what to say to Lucy Q, whose father had introduced domestic horror into our lives for the very first time. She was an odd girl to begin with, bony and skittish. She didn’t perform well in class and she played no sports. I can’t remember if she had any real friends, and though I had known her since kindergarten, she was not one of mine.

Naturally there was a tide of morbid pity that swept through the school, but in reality that pity translated into most of us avoiding Lucy Q, as she came to be known, mainly to distinguish her as, oh, that Lucy.

The truth was, I was haunted by the suicide. My mind kept attempting to recreate the scene. What were Lucy Q’s thoughts as her father hurtled towards her? Possibly, I postulated, she didn’t see him until he landed, with that sickening thump, in front of her. What happens to a body that falls six floors? Was there an obscene amount of blood? Was the family spattered? But the question that none of us could answer was why anyone would do something so infinitely terrible.

I never spoke to Lucy Q about the “episode,” as my parents referred to it. I could not bring myself to mention it in her presence, and when she talked about her father, she referred to him as “dad,” and spoke of him as if he were still alive.

I never knew what possessed my mother to invite her on our vacation mere months after the suicide. Of course it was something as basic as kindness, but surely, as I said at the time, she could have dropped off a smoked fish pie or offered to take Lucy Q to the pictures. But to invite her to share my grass hut for ten days on a tropical island without consulting me, well, it was ludicrous.

I had the impression Lucy Q was as appalled as I was, but her mother came to school to take her off for a passport photo, giving me a grateful smile as she left the room. I had no choice in the matter, and subsided into ill-mannered acceptance.

The first few days of the trip were consumed with travel and adjusting to being in the tropics. My mother fussed over Lucy Q, giving me fraught looks when I failed to live up to her ideal of a hostess. Lucy Q and I did not talk very much. She kept occupied by reading Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five series and watching the geckos that moved industriously over the woven sides of our hut. I wrote moodily in my diary and walked the island, which was a tiny South Pacific dot, a place of no consequence on the global map.

It was my first time in a developing country. There was poverty on the island, but a moderate, subsistence kind of poverty that seemed not to make the locals miserable. They were hefty and tattooed and their teeth were dazzlingly white. They dressed in cloth bound around their torsos, even the men. I remember this fact surprised me, that they could work their crops wearing a skirt. They smiled unreservedly and beckoned to me if I walked past their fields, handing me a stalk of sugar cane that they had deftly peeled with a machete. There was a constant low current of excitement for me on that trip. It was years before I put a name to that feeling, but I believe it was the exhilaration of discovery.

Some days later one of the staff at the hotel asked if Lucy Q and I wanted to take a boat ride to an outer island to go snorkeling. Neither of us had snorkeled before, but we both agreed to go.

Although I was a strong swimmer, I was anxious about snorkeling, never having been taught how to do it. I wondered about Lucy Q. She was not on the swimming team, and her pale body in that loose bikini looked thoroughly inadequate for the task. Perhaps there would be another “incident.” There would be a drowning and we must return home and tell the benighted mother that her daughter was dead too.

But something curious happened on that snorkeling trip, a delicate shift that had the impact of a proverbial epiphany. Lucy Q and I donned the mask and fins and spilled into the sea, kicking in the direction the native guide pointed. The waters were of bluer blues than existed in my world previously, and the light flickered through it, dancing without rhythm.

There was entirely another world beneath those bluest waters. A parallel universe. A place of such great beauty that my head reeled. I looked over and saw Lucy Q, her eyes magnified comically behind the mask. I could see she was smiling. The reef sprouted in strange colors and unlikely shapes that made me laugh and suck water into my snorkel, and the fish in their outlandishly loud costumes seemed unafraid of us, the clumsy observers. When we approached they spun around with choreographed precision.

Lucy Q and I would raise our heads above the water to shout at one another about what we were seeing, and on one such occasion we saw our guide gesturing for us to swim into a cave with him. Once in the cave, he told us to swim to the back where we could dive underwater through a tunnel into another cave. It was pitch dark in the tunnel, he said. He would go first and pull us through by our hair. I felt my heart quicken, but both Lucy Q and I were so intoxicated by what we had seen that day that there was no turning back.

There was a blank moment of panic when I swam into nothingness and felt a hand grab my hair. My skull smashed on rock and I felt an urgent desire to turn back, but was pulled upwards suddenly into a glorious cathedral of rock and spectral light. And then Lucy Q surfaced beside me and I heard her shout, and it was a shout of amazement and triumph.

Looking later at Lucy Q’s sunburned face and listening to her chatter on for the first time, I knew why my mother had brought her to this place. On this tiny island no one but us knew her misfortune. She had escaped her own context. She was here to understand that she was not inextricably tied to her tragedy, she had the rest of her own life at her disposal, and she had the option to fill it with adventure and elation.

Because of that trip, I learned early on the curative power of travel. And ever since I have lived with a reverent appreciation for it, knowing it permits us the incalculable freedom of perspective. And I like to think it was a turning point for Lucy Q too, who went on to do great things with her life.

Schooltime Story
December 3, 2007, 8:01 am
Filed under: cruelty, elementary school, fitting in, race, self esteem, yearbook

by Mariann Vlacilek
Fifth Grade

Back in grade school, in Huntington Beach, California (in the 1940s), I felt so out of place, plain and unnoticed. I was very thin, and olive complected with long, straight, dark hair plus I felt like I was all arms and legs. I was born in Panama and my mother was Castilian and French, ergo the complexion that is now called “Mediterranean.” I grew to envy all the girls at school with light skin and blue or green eyes. One girl in particular had red hair and green eyes, and I though she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

Sometimes, I was mistaken for another race and even called by a racial slur. At one point, this actually led to an altercation in the nurse’s office. I am a very laid-back person but enough was enough! This was so very hurtful and damaging to me and I became even more self-conscious, and suffered a great loss of self-confidence.

It was a custom at my school that members of the graduating class would compile a list of underclassmen’s traits that they admired and would like to have, and then publish it in the yearbook. Imagine my utter amazement and disbelief when my name appeared on their list not once but twice — it had been unanimously voted that I had the most beautiful eyes and hands! Me … the fifth grader with the long dark hair and olive skin. ME!

This was somewhat of a turning point for me. It made me realize that I wasn’t an unnoticed nobody, and that there was something of me that was admirable. I should have learned from this, but the previous hurts were so deeply embedded that I bottled them up inside me, for years.

I didn’t fully realize the lesson of being listed in the yearbook at the time. It didn’t hit me until some thirty years later, when I looked in the mirror one day, and that little girl seemed to reflect back at me. At that moment I learned from her that, although thought of as pretty, I was also someone of value. That changed my life.

Every so often, I think back and am once again thankful and amazed that these “older” girls actually wanted something of mine that they didn’t and couldn’t have!