By DIANE R. CHODAN
OBSERVER Staff Writer
Poetry in motion refers to movement so elegant and flowing that it seems like a poem. This is not a phrase I would use to describe my husband, Peter. When I think of him, I think of the two words separately. Motion and poetry are two characteristics that make him a special father and grandfather.
OBSERVER Photo by Diane R. Chodan
Peter Chodan with his granddaughter, Tori Jo, at Point Gratiot.
Peter is 6 feet, 2 inches tall. He's not big and tall, but rather medium and tall with a 36-inch inseam. While that has made finding clothes a challenge, the long leg span and his own energy allow him to move quickly. This quickness and energy has been and is very useful when interacting with children. When our daughter was growing up, he could cover distance quickly when necessary to rescue her or to divert her from harm. He could also keep going until she got tired. Now he employs those abilities with our two granddaughters and our three "almost" grandchildren.
Quinn, our 5-year-old "almost" grandson, is a tall-for-his-age bundle of energy spiced with a mischievous nature. When Quinn visits, Peter takes brisk walks with him and finds other physical things to do such as raking leaves. Quinn loves him even though Peter often sets limits for him.
Our 3-year-old granddaughter, Tori Jo, is quick, quiet and apt to get into trouble. Recently, we took her and Alex, our 6-year-old granddaughter, to the beach at Point Gratiot. Since Alex is willing to stop when asked, I watched her. Peter kept Tori Jo safe while letting her physically explore the beach and playground area. When necessary, he quickly moved at an angle to herd her away from harm or reached down and scooped her up into his arms.
Peter enjoys reading to children, and finds books to make reading fun for an individual child. One of his finds for our daughter when she was little was "What Do You Do with a Kangaroo?" by Mercer Mayer. His expressive reading always made her laugh. Recently, he found "Pinkalicious" and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" for Alex.
Anneke had shelves and shelves of books. Years later, she told me that she never whined for treats or toys because then we would buy her the books she loved. I am sure Peter's influence contributed to that love.
Peter introduced me to T.S. Eliot's "Old Possum Book of Practical Cats" when I taught third grade, and my students loved the poetry. Later we shared the poetry with Anneke. Most people became aware of those poems when they were put to music and became the musical "Cats."
Peter enjoys playing with the English language - meanings, rhythms and rhymes. He has a keenly developed sense of the ridiculous, and is a fan of Mark Russell and the Capitol Steps who perform political satire. Over the years he has developed his ability to find a ridiculous idea and to put it to a known poem or song. At times, he develops his own poem. In my opinion, he is extremely clever and gifted.
When our daughter Anneke was young, I taught her the well known nursery rhyme, pat-a-cake. After seeing a newspaper mini-page about Australia, and thinking a bit, Peter started reciting:
Platypus, platypus, duck-billed mammal.
Down in Australia, they have strange animals
Kangaroo, wallaby, koala bear, too
If you can't go to Australia
See them in a zoo.
For Anneke's sixth birthday, I took her, her classmates, and some parents to see a children's play called "Alligator Pie." The production was based on a book of children's poetry called "Alligator Pie" written by Canadian author, Dennis Lee. The title poem is a three stanza sing-song bit of silliness. The first stanza is:
Alligator pie, alligator pie,
If I don't get some I think I'm gonna die.
Give away the green grass, give away the sky,
But don't give away my alligator pie.
The next two stanzas of the original poem deal with alligator stew and alligator soup. The poem is in a relatively easy format to match. For several months, in spare moments, Peter and Anneke worked together on adding additional stanzas. I remember alligator cake and alligator wine.
As Anneke got older, Peter came up with more age-appropriate nonsense. After we saw the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera, The Pirates of Penzance, and laughed at the song "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General," Peter decided to write a parody "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Purple Dinosaur" which referred, of course, to Barney. Anneke was way past the age to watch Barney herself but was interested in how different people reacted to the character.
Now that Peter has younger children in his life again, he writes for and recites his poetry to them. I am hoping his influence will help them find joy in language.
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