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ATPM 2.12
December 1996

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Apples, Kids, & Attitude

by Robert Paul Leitao, rleitao@atpm.com

The Great Fall “Expotition”

In the classic story "An Expotition To The North Pole" by A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends set out to find that northern-most place on earth. They travel a seemingly endless distance while never really leaving the Hundred Acre Wood. Along the journey they reckon that the North Pole, because of its name, should be marked by a large pole sticking out of the ground. Toward the end of the story, while Pooh is using a long wooden pole that he found nearby in an effort to help Kanga's son Roo from the river, Christopher Robin declares that the grand expedition is over.

In Christopher Robin's mind, the wooden pole that Pooh had found and used was the one and only North Pole. The only thing to be done was to place the pole upright in the ground with an appropriate sign indicating that the North Pole had been discovered by the little bear.

Similar to Pooh's great "expotition," I had a wonderful opportunity to accompany my daughter's Kindergarten class on their first official field trip. This field trip, while less ambitious in its plan than the one undertaken by Pooh and his friends, was no less an adventure for the two classrooms of kids and the parental entourage that traveled with them.

We set out from the courtyard outside the classroom with two Radio Flyer red wagons in the lead (filled with the crackers, milk and other provisions), forty or so kids and a seemingly equal number of parents. Our journey would take us to the nearby park as the kids searched for things that are associated with the Fall season.

For readers who may be unfamiliar with the climate in Southern California, Fall is an interesting time of year. It's mostly sunny and warm during the day, cool at night and it seems to fit in the yearly cycle as halfway between "here and there." Leaves tend to linger on trees almost apologetically, as if they are debating whether or not they're supposed to fall to the ground. People are still running about in shorts during the day and simply covering them with sweat pants at night. The only real change is that there are fewer hours of sunlight and the store displays are quickly changing their theme from Halloween to Christmas. Nonetheless, our journey was to find things in nature that are associated with this particular time of year.

My daughter's teacher is, in my view, a remarkable woman. The ability to fill the minds of children with awe, whether it be learning how to use a calendar or looking at a fallen acorn, is truly a magnificent gift. Quite honestly, I'm in awe whenever I have the opportunity to watch her work.

Although I've always had a vivid imagination, I've never been a person that was well organized. I've always admired people, like my daughter's teacher, who are able to keep themselves organized and help others maintain focus on a task or learning exercise.

One of the reasons I have trouble with organization and maintain a somewhat "scattered" approach to things is because of a very sad truth — I was a profoundly abused child. I lived a life of waiting for "the other shoe to drop." I remember feeling a need to cover my head whenever my father or an older sibling came in the room. My childhood perception of things was, figuratively and literally, that I had to keep one eye on what I was doing and the other eye on keeping out of harm's way. When a child's mind is preoccupied with the concerns for physical and emotional safety, it becomes much more difficult for constructive and positive skills such as personal organization to be understood and practiced. I've had to spend a lot of time and effort relearning how to keep my mind focused on the incremental steps involved with many tasks and projects. One of my latest software purchases may help with my personal organization efforts, but it also requires changing the way I go about getting things done.

When one is raised in an environment where every decision or action is subject to criticism and seemingly constant judgment, it can often be difficult later in life to avoid self-judgment and personal discouragement when things take time or require repeated practice. Learning to be patient and work step-by-step through any process is a very hard for me.

Although I was not a particularly good student, I would spend hours at home reading the dictionary, newspapers, magazines and the family encyclopedia. It's what I did when I had trouble falling asleep. I liked reading information because it would fill the voids in my life. Information doesn't require emotion but it also does nothing to soothe the deep emotional wounds of abuse. As a child it simply occupied my eyes and mind until sleep took me to the next day.

In my home creative expression was not encouraged nor was there any real exposure to the arts. To explore those areas was to deviate from stringently enforced family norms of behavior. In short, you'd pay a price through humiliation, ridicule or emotional abandonment. Throughout most of my life I did not dare "dabble" in creative activities. By the time I reached young adulthood, my patterns of behavior were too well-established, and I was much more comfortable with careers and pursuits that were more linear in terms of thoughts and behaviors.

For many years I steadfastly kept my personal pursuits in life to areas that I knew I could do either from occupational experience or from a natural aptitude. I almost instinctively shied away from things that were difficult or awkward for me simply because if I wasn't among the best, I felt very uncomfortable making even a small effort. I was petrified by self-criticism or a concern about receiving criticism or ridicule from others. Consequently, many avenues of personal creativity were stifled.

A few months ago I received a very thoughtful reader response to an Apples, Kids & Attitude column that appeared in ATPM (2.08). In that column I mentioned that I have prayed for the continued survival of Apple Computer. The reader very much enjoyed the column but did question the efficacy of praying for a for-profit enterprise. In thinking about that letter, I thought it would be appropriate to explain myself a little bit more. My concern for the well-being of Apple Computer is akin to the sentiments of a myopic man for the person who provides him with a pair of corrective glasses or those of an artist with an idea and brush for the person who gives him a palette with a full spectrum of colors.

My personal affection for the Macintosh developed as a contrast to my childhood experiences. Something about the Mac intrigued me from the first moment I saw one. That was 1984. The Macintosh "bridged" the two worlds in a way that was acceptable to me. After all, it was a computer. But what a computer! It seemed to be a "safe" outlet for my long-dormant creative skills and my desire for personal expression. Today my wall is lined with boxes which contain the manuals for software such as Illustrator, Photoshop and PageMill. It's an excruciatingly difficult process at times, like trying to write with one's "other" hand, but slowly I'm learning how to express my creative ideas on screen and on the Web.

The Macintosh has helped open creative doors in my heart and mind that were brusquely sealed shut as a child. It has also re-shaped the manner in which I express my dreams, desire and hopes. On a global scale, the Macintosh technology has literally changed the way the world communicates and shares information and ideas. The fact that the company needs to make a profit to remain in business by satisfying its share owners and the institutions which lend it money, is more of a tertiary concern. Although, I suppose if I co-owned a business I'd like it to have a profit, too.

Fundamental financial issues aside, Macintosh technology has helped millions of people be more productive at what they do, more expressive about who they are and more effective with the words, pictures and sounds with which they choose to communicate. It's no wonder so many Macintosh computers are installed in schools. I'm glad my daughter's school uses Macs, too.

I cannot change what happened to me during my childhood. I can only hope to heal the painful memories and learn how to do things better. It is often a very difficult and lengthy process which requires lots of patience and time. As I go about the business of rethinking how I do things, I'm often using skills and talents that were left dormant for decades. The Macintosh has been an extraordinary tool and personal resource in my efforts to rebuild, restart and learn things anew.

I mentioned in the Apple, Kids & Attitude column of our July issue (2.07) that I very much like Adobe's family of products. I'm also quite impressed with the products being released by Claris Corporation. I use Claris Em@iler, FileMaker Pro and I'm very much looking forward to Claris Works 5.0 as an OpenDoc container application. I've recently purchased Claris Organizer 2.0 and I'm very happy with the way it's helping me in my struggle to organize my day and bring a bit more order to my life. Although it's taking a bit of work, my efforts at organization have helped me schedule things like taking the time to enjoy a sunny Fall day with lots of Kindergarten students and an entourage of fellow parents.

When we arrived at the park with our provisions, each child was assigned the task of finding things that are associated with the Fall season. Within moments, the park came to life with young nature scavengers searching high and low for every fallen pine cone, acorn and multi-colored leaf. Each child carried a paper bag to store their discovered items. The park was quickly transformed from a wooded and grassy playground to a land of enchanted learning and fun. I'm constantly amazed at what a gentle demeanor and attentive approach to children brings forth in them.

After snack time and a short "recess" we headed back to the classroom. With our provisions exhausted, we were able to load the wagons with the seasonal evidence collected by our junior scientists. We arrived in time for the students to return to the hard work of learning and to share their impressions of the day's great "expotition." I guess the class discovered what they were looking for - the opportunity to learn a bit more about their world and to share the experience with those around them.

In A.A. Milne's story, Winne-The-Pooh may not have truly discovered the North Pole. But he did pick-up a wooden pole to help a friend (in this case, Kanga's son, Roo). He invited Eeyore, Piglet, Owl, Rabbit and Rabbit's friends and relations to join the "expotition". And, while they traveled along, he spent time making up a song. Maybe he didn't find the North Pole. But, figuratively speaking, I do think he was headed in the right direction.

Next month in ATPM we will debut our new education "department." Let's see what we can discover together.

[apple graphic]"Apples, Kids and Attitude" is © 1996 by Robert Paul Leitao, rodestar@aol.com

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