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My North Stars ~ A Portrait of Three Dedicated Families: Part 1

Updated: Feb 3, 2022

By Annie Newcomer:

“Be the parent today who you want

your kids to remember tomorrow.” ~ Unknown

When I graduated from university, I interviewed for a few jobs that seemed devastatingly boring. While mulling over which I should choose, I decided to go backpacking in Western Europe with two wonderful college friends. On that trip, the plan for my future took shape. When I returned to the States, I applied for graduate school to embark on a career as an elementary school teacher. My time freely learning out in the world and having so much fun meeting people from both mine and other cultures helped me face the truth: maybe I was not meant to be the amazing scientist who solved the origins of the universe in a laboratory. Travel gifted me the opportunity to realize that I was more fitted to be in a classroom and the person behind amazing students. I was determined to motivate each of my future charges to love, not just tolerate, learning. I believe this is a teacher’s most important role.

To me, all children are amazing. I define "amazing" as embracing curiosity to find the path of discovery to one’s unique skills. Especially for a child, this discovery, backed with a selfless and caring mentorship relationship with a parent and a teacher, raises the chances to succeed. This collaboration also enhances the potential for a child to grow up with a better way to process and lead a happy and fulfilled life. This has been my observation over decades of teaching.

Thus, a bonus to my role as a teacher/coach/volunteer is a bird’s-eye view of the parents/grandparents of my students and how they impact their child’s development. Even though I am retired, I continue to volunteer, so Parent Watching is still of great interest to me.

Together let’s take a look at lovely North Star families who I am blessed to have in my life. I believe they have tapped in to ways to answer this question:

How do loving parents/grandparents

motivate their children to enjoy learning?

Again, I feel that it all begins with believing that one’s children come into the world already magical. How do we assist them in the uncovering of this magic?

This article will be presented in two parts. In the first, allow me to introduce to you to

the Wang Family & the Stinson-Alexander Family.

The Wang Family

The Wang Family: Boyang, Ray, Joshua, & Hannah

Boyang and Ray are exceedingly hard workers and devoted to their children, Hannah and Joshua. Their primary goal is to enhance their children’s futures. I enjoy welcoming them to the U.S. by sending little treats to their young children from time to time.

A couple of months ago, Hannah’s father texted me concerning his five-year-old daughter after I sent over some Valentine’s candy. “Hannah says that we mustn’t just receive gifts from Annie. She tells me that I need to go out and buy you a gift too.”

This ability to show appreciation, especially from one so young, felt like a gift in and of itself. I tried to convey this emotion. My friend insisted though, “Hannah won’t be happy until she gives you a gift.” So I replied, “Oh, Ray, many children draw me pictures. I line my wall with them. Just have Hannah draw me a picture,” thinking this would fulfill Hannah’s urgent need to “repay” my gift while not costing him too much money.

Hannah's Peacock

A few days later, Ray texted me again, sharing that the drawing was complete and that Hannah insisted that he bring it right to me. A little while later, I discovered an eloquently wrapped package on my front porch. I brought the package in and carefully unwrapped it. To my amazement, I beheld a beautifully framed painting of a peacock. Hannah’s selection of vibrant colors and the great detail on the feathers took my breath away. Her piece now hangs in my writing room. I find inspiration and experience joy every time I look at this beautiful art.

Since receiving Hannah’s gift, I’ve shown it to my friends who are artists. They are astonished by Hannah’s talent. Her father and I asked Hannah for her permission to share her painting in this article, and she liked that idea.

Out of deep curiosity, I asked my friend, “How did Hannah create such beautiful work? After all, she is only 5 years old!” He responded to me in his sweet and humble manner,

“We googled, ‘How to paint a picture of a peacock.’”


The Stinson-Alexander Family

Tessa & Helen

For over two years, Pat Durkin has delighted me with video clips of her six-year-old grandchild’s recitations. So when she offered me the opportunity to meet Helen and her daughter-in-law, Tessa, over this past Easter vacation when they were visiting from out of town, I knew I was in for a treat.

I think that it is so important when we engage with children who have special talents and children whose skills may still be hidden to us (because all children deserve recognition) that we approach with care and respect. We never want children to think that they are on display. Sometimes that means baby-steps and not leap frogs and an understanding that we are entering their world and not the reverse. So that afternoon, with the co-operation of the Kansas City weather, we gathered around a table in Pat’s welcoming backyard and, while the three of us chatted, we just let Helen play. Observing her play was joyful and natural. After I left that day, I felt as though I had been meditating.

I knew from the videos (some of which we have permission to share in this article) that Helen was talented. The bonus that day for me was meeting Helen's mother, Tessa. Tessa’s attention to everything I shared in our chat surprised me. I tend to talk a lot. While still keeping an eye on her child and sharing stories about Helen, she stayed engaged and interested in my stories too, making comments and even offering suggestions that I welcomed and found very helpful.

This ability to “see” another person and not just our loved ones, I believe, is a valuable component in a child’s life. This teaches children to learn that while they are special, their audience is special too. My heart felt full that Helen was surrounded by family who could demonstrate this quality of respect for others, which will only enhance her special gifts as she grows up and shares her gifts with others.

Inspired by Helen’s skill in recitation, I went home and immediately looked up Robert Frost’s “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” and memorized the poem. They say that even an old dog can learn new tricks. A six-year-old taught me on a beautiful Kansas City afternoon that this is indeed true.

Next week, I will share the collaborative photography project of seven-year-old Filu and her mother, Uruguayan poet and translator Laura Chalar.


Annie Newcomer teaches poetry classes at the University of Kansas Medical Center's Turning Pointa place for hope and healing for people suffering with chronic health problems. Her North Stars series shares interviews with poets and writers and Annie's own experiences through writing.

Annie is also helms the Flapper Press Poetry Café—dedicated to celebrating poets from around the world and to encouraging everyone to write poetry!

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