The 13 Original Colonies blues

Ellie has entered the “Colonial History” phase of first grade this past month, and let me tell you, it is AWESOME. The other day she had an assignment to draw the Battle of Lexington (!) and her ink rendering of patriots and redcoats running hell-for-leather at each other, loaded .45’s (sorry, Dad) gripped in both hands (those colonials were HARDCORE, y’all), with little dotted lines to mark the bullet trajectories … well, if they don’t hire that girl to illustrate elementary school textbooks when she grows up, it’s a crime, that’s what.

The colonial era is one of my favorite historical periods, and one of the only periods of American history that interests me. (Yeah, I prefer European history. I also voted for Obama, eat arugula and yearn for a single payer healthcare system. I’m a pinko, is what I’m saying. Try to contain your surprise.) It never occurred to me until this month that one of the probable reasons for my enthusiasm about the American Revolution is that I grew up in one of the original 13 colonies. And you better believe that even in the free-lovin’ 70s, every little Georgia scholar had it drummed into their brains that we were among the first – the last of the first, to be precise, squeaking into that elite group at the late date of 1733. It’s cool, dammit! Even as a first-grader, I was awed by the ineffable link between my boring daily life and the exciting days of Boston Tea Parties and cruel winters in Valley Forge. Starvation! Marching with your feet wrapped in rags! The Redcoats are coming! SHIT JUST GOT REAL, YO.

I kind of wonder if wee Minnesotans have that same sense of wonder about something that happened not only so very long ago, but also so very far away. Anachronistic illustrations of weaponry aside, can they comprehend the reality of the Revolutionary era? Or is it just another story from “once upon a time?” I don’t know, but having volunteered in Ellie’s class recently I can tell you that (1) Ms. Larson, Ellie’s teacher, is an enthusiastic and creative leader on this historical journey (her in-class reenactment of Jefferson throwing out discarded pages from the Declaration of Independence is a sight to behold), and (2) first-graders think the word “Monticello” is HILARIOUS. I have no idea why.

But ANYWAY, the POINT of all this is, a couple of weeks ago Ellie came home with a homework assignment to memorize all thirteen original colonies. Now, as a theatre person I am all about teaching kids how to memorize shit, because, call me old fashioned, but that is one skill that will come in handy all over the place as you grow up. And it’s a skill that is sadly undervalued in the present time, when dates and names are right at the tip of your smart phone whenever you want them. It takes my college students the best part of three weeks to memorize a two minute monologue, for chrissakes! What is this world coming to? (Also, turn down that crazy rock and roll music and get offa my lawn.) So memorizing = good in my book, but I knew it was going to be an uphill battle tackling all thirteen colonies in one evening. I mean, six-year-olds aren’t exactly known for their attention spans, and that’s not even getting INTO the whole language disorder thing. (Wait. Have I mentioned that Ellie has a language disorder?) And sure enough, she could not have been less interested in committing those damn colonies to memory. Even getting her to listen to the correct pronunciations was like pulling teeth. There were tears, there was yelling, there may even have been throwing oneself bodily onto the floor in dramatic abandon. I don’t know WHERE she gets these impulses.

Finally, I decided that a little silliness was in order. “Let’s make it into a song!” I trilled enthusiastically. Nothing but scowls and grunting. “No, really, it’s like a magic trick for memorizing!” I got up and started shaking my booty around the dining room table. “Lessee … New Hampshire,¬†Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut … what the heck rhymes with Connecticut?” Ellie looked up, hiding the beginning of a smirk in the corners of her mouth. Moms are so weird, you guys. “What about King Tut?” she offered (they just finished a unit on Ancient Egypt, which did not have 13 colonies and was thus WAY COOLER). “Perfect! That’s great!” I said. “How about … um … ‘I’d rather be learning about Egypt and people like King Tut?’ What do you think?” She grinned, and I knew I had her. We stole the tune from “Do Your Ears Hang Low,” Ellie came up with a couple more rhymes, and by the end of the evening, we had a dandy little mnemonic device all ready to go. She didn’t quite get it down that night, but she woke us up the next morning with the song in its entirety, and she hasn’t lost it since. Once she got over being shy, she sang it for her teacher, who made her sing it for the entire class. We occasionally bust it out in the car on the way to school, just because we can. She will never forget the 13 colonies. Parenting hurdle: cleared. Thank you, theatre background. Next up: talking to Grandpa about firearms so she knows the difference between a musket and a handgun.

Anyway, I had her sing the ditty tonight after dinner and finally caught it on video. Here’s the 13 Colonies Song:

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