knee-deep in higher learning

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Gray Seeds

 Calendula, 

                                                In all its glory.

Right?

Well, I guess you had to be there.

By "there," I mean "a balmy afternoon, exactly one year ago." So recently returned from a two month trip to Mexico that my tongue was still burning, I was happily back at work. 

By "work," I mean "hanging out with my homegirl, my partner in crime, my charge, and my best teacher." We were at her house, for afternoon homeschooling. 

By "afternoon homeschooling," I mean "hand-in-hand strolling, rolling, digging, picking, plucking, reading, ringing, singing, and sleeping." 

Life was nice. She leaned back in an adirondack, smiling as she watched me pick anything that looked like that photo above, from the calendula growing in her garden. The breeze was not like the wind usually gets around here in the afternoon. It was soft, just enough to cool us off and rustle the leaves of the maple trees towering over us. Her smile gave my heart a leap of joy, so I started singing a song I sang to her on our first first day of school.

Ha llegado ya el momento, de decir muy bien las cosas...

She smiled more. Uh oh.

Esto que me esta pasando, no es normal ni cualquier cosa.

 As I picked what once were bright blooms, and dropped dried seeds into a zip-loc, singing to her, smiling at me, I thought, "What beauty this life holds." 

 I didn't think, "How sad. Those flowers are dead." or "How sad. She is dying." 

Those were things I knew, but did not need to look at, at exactly that moment. That beautiful moment occurred like so many beautiful moments with her: accidental, and completely wonderful, for that suspended second the mind enjoys before it remembers to feel sad about probably having to say good-bye to her far too soon. 

 Eventually, I grew to expand that moment into whole school days. That was one of them. 

September, 2019. I'd say I thought we were going to spend our last school year together, before I started student teaching in September 2020. But when you hang with my homie, you don't really think like that. You don't take the future for granted, at all. It's as present as the petals in that photo. What future?

Still, I know that as she chillaxed in that lawn chair, grinning at me like we were about to go rob a bank, I let myself luxuriate in September. Why, it's just sunflowers time! Pumpkins next month! Woo! I love fall! And you! And school! And you! And CALENDULAS! AND YOU!

Just the bright things. Just the pretty things. Just the song. Just your smile.

Just the seeds: dead, dry, still, for now. But, next year...right? Won't there always be next year?

Yeah, I know, I've seen my friends in seeds before. Now that I write about it, I realize it's the same two friends who are connected to these calendula seeds. In their original school garden, grown by Shelly Bowe, they grew orange, almost coral. Here, in Anni's garden, their recessive yellow tones danced to the front of the flower company. In my garden, where the seeds I sang over and gathered last year were planted this year, they bloomed in both colors, and everything in between. 

This year, bound to stay in the USA all summer, I have been harvesting the abundantly colorful calendula blossoms, dehydrating them to bright crispy blobs that I've been stuffing in a mason jar. Hopefully, there will be enough of me, and enough of my time, to figure out infusing them and making a balm, putting to good use the rumored soothing properties of this humble sweet relative of marigolds or daisies (depending on which website you read.)

I think I could use something soothing this fall; though I do adore autumn, am thrilled to be a new teacher, and of course, I still hang with my homie just for kicks, on the regular. She is still smiling, and I still sing to her. Those beautiful moments are as beautiful as ever. I am more grateful for them than ever.

Still, as I embark on my first September at school without her, my new classroom blurs before me. Tears fill my vision and my face buckles under my mask. This moment between bright colors offers a different view, one that hurts, but I will not look away from it. 

There is value in the lessons learned, but spinning to the sunny side of things can be a dangerous compulsion. Losing her will hurt more, later, but this moment now needs its own appreciation. 

She is dying, and I am so sad about that. No school year exploits to plan for us make the finality of it stare back at me like gray seeds.

The calendula bobs in this year's September breeze, just as gently as ever. Their sunshine hues do not need to comfort me. Their light, curled seeds don't need to soothe me with a promise of next year's colorful show. Who knows who among us will be there to enjoy that? No, today was enough. The seeds, like today's smiles and today's song, are enough. They are everything.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Speaking Freely

Don't believe what all the scientists are saying nowadays. This world of ours was hotter in the 1980's. Especially that one time, when I was nine, and had to stand in line all day at Six Flags over Texas.

But misery is not what sears one summertime amusement park line into my memory, like the hot asphalt scorching my little purple flip flops. Everything else about that white hot day, though viewed through the squint of my mind's eye, was completely ordinary to me as an Okie, temporarily living in Texas. To roast in one ride line or another was a rite of passage for modern western prairie youth: a price willingly paid for the wind-whipped centrifugal, animatronic, splash-landing reprieve to come.

No, it was the sound of Spanish, being spoken nearby, that made that line, that day, stay. I could hear the two women in front of me, unassumingly, flipping sounds around like they were supposed to sound like that. A conversation, likely about mundane family gossip, hypnotized me. Probably plans for where to eat between leaving the park and heading to the hotel, danced in my ears. Impossible music. It made no sense to me, but I could tell it made sense to someone. I longed to understand them. They were enchantresses, putting me under a spell with their casual incantations.

Surprise surprise: I was a precocious and talkative kid. Sometimes, after dropping some lengthy, bookworm-fueled chatter on a glazey-eyed grown-up, they'd smile at me stiffly and ask if I had an "OFF" button.

It was a question which elicited about as much comprehension as I enjoyed that day, listening to eleventy million hours of a Spanish at Six Flags. So many words.Those were words, right? All of them? Hearing another language sounded liberating.  Like the freedom to leap out of my small world of conversations with well-known adults and their weary attention spans. Speaking outside of the comprehension of some, yet still within the understanding others. But who? Who else talked this way? Who else understood? Could I understand it too, someday?

Can I tell you another story? Just kidding, it's my blog. No "OFF" button here, just "PUBLISH."

Ahem, Once Upon a Time, two days later, back home in Big Spring, Texas, language left me out again. Some kids from my church and I were bumping along a country road in a van, on our way to another vernal tradition of my youth: VBS. (Vacation Bible School. One week of memorizing verses, gluing popsicle sticks, drinking apple juice, and singing about that "Arky Arky." Y'all know. Don't front.)

Our church offered rides to and from VBS, in the form of a van that came to each kid's house, picking us up every morning and dropping us off in the afternoons. That day, that van ride, like the Six Flags line, was no novelty.

Had it not been for my first encounter with " the N-word," my only memory from the whole week would most likely have been the devastating victory I delivered in a contest to look up Bible verses faster than everyone else. To be fair, none of those other kids stood a chance. They could all best me at any physical game, but, like I said before, words were my domain. I was merciless, destroying kids as old as twelve who didn't even seem to know which testament they were in. An inspirational poster, mounted on a large piece of cardboard and shrink-wrapped in cellophane, was my trophy. I was certain it meant great things for my future.

Such a glorious defeat of mine enemies could have outshone the week if it weren't for a freckle-faced boy, on the ride to VBS, introducing me to the language of his people.

It began, as I imagine it often must, with the exchange of jokes. Just kids, young enough to actually heartily laugh at knock-knock jokes, but old enough to want to sound like the adults we have heard nearby. A boisterous lad with a wavy reddish shag asked everyone what he was certain would be a humorous question. His blue eyes flashed as he cheekily made an analogy between the night sky and the color of ....what? What was that word? Everyone in the van laughed. I looked around, confused. Left out. Next, another camper had a similar joke to tell. And another one. Their meanings were all alike, and elusive, though the new vocabulary differed. What were they all laughing about? Of course a better question would have been, "Who were they all laughing about?"

Their sounds made sense to someone, but who? Could I understand it? I came home, attempting to replicate the words I had just heard, hoping my parents could translate them. This was my language. I should understand it. It made everyone laugh. Ever the talkative word nerd, it unsettled me to lose out on the meaning of something. As soon as my parents heard me approximating a word salad of racial slurs, they stopped me, horrified, saying those were ugly and terrible things to say. I was never to repeat them because they disrespected people of other races.

The end, right? Except that was only the beginning.

Because this is America. 

Each pair, or van-ful, of us might only understand each other, but an individual can feel more connected to a "foreign" language than her own, here. It is the strength of a pluralistic society: one where there's no official anything: language, religion, ethnicity. It means our kids grow up with a wide array of meaning with which to communicate, seek understanding, and shape new meaning.

For all its frustrating complications, this country holds, sometimes hostage, the potential for just about anything. 

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Last Day of School (from a distance)

Today was our last fourth grade Zoom class meeting, so we were asked to choose and share three words with our friends, as the year ends. When it was my turn...

Hi kids, these are my three words.


Now, this sounds great, right? But maybe a little generic? And what if you change the world by going out and kicking a puppy? Maybe it's not always such great advice.

But I didn't choose these three words as advice. They're more of a reminder, something you should know.

I want you to know your power.
I want you to know that you always have, already do, and always will


Here's a math problem:

See, I get into this sometimes when thinking about how I want to


I think, but! I want to



and make it all like I want it to be!

But I can't do that.

None of us gets to do that.

Back to the math problem.


Even though adding a dinky little 1 does not drastically alter the 1,000,000, there is no denying it. 1,000,000 and 1,000,001 are different. The 1,000,000 is no more, when it becomes 1,000,001.

It is changed.

Just like every little one of you, and every single thing you do. When you pick up your little brother to watch this Zoom class, and make him feel loved and smart, you



When I slam a door, because I feel frustrated. And it makes people in my house feel stressed out, I, unfortunately


When we all show up for each other every day and do our best, through these strange and challenging times, we


So, don't forget the power you hold. As soon as you know you have it, you can start thinking about how you already use it.

And how you want to use it, in the future.

Keep reading and have a great summer!!

Monday, May 11, 2020

Who'schooling: Mae

The following was contributed by Mae (11), when asked what she'd like to share about staying home.
 
I'm here to talk about stuff, and life, and my yard, and stuff that has happened, and is about to happen.

Zelda has become calmer, since my visits to her have become more frequent. Seeing Zelda pawing at the gate makes me want to stick my hand through the fence.


And I want to be on the other side of it because she just licks my hand, and then my hand is sticky. So, I open the gate and I hang out with Zelda and sit next to Janie. Zelda tries to get in on the fun by running up to me, and disrupting the peace that is me sitting next to Janie.
 It's sort of adorable because Zelda licks Janie's eye?

My mom gave me a tiny little patch of garden, and I plan to grow tea leaves in it. Yeah!
I just received the stevia seeds. I'm still waiting on the chamomile. It's like having control over a tiny little forest, and you decide what's in that forest.

So serene, because the garden plot is next to the fence, next to which is a pretty bush that is hanging over my garden plot.
 The forest that is not yet a forest.

Okay, next is the barrel. We used to roll on the barrels all the time when we were younger, except for me, because I was 4? 3? Recently, George and I have been playing lots of games outside with Thomas. One day, Thomas said that he wanted to roll on the barrel like we did when we were younger.
It can be pretty difficult. For one, when I first started, I wore flip flops. Now, with shoes, it's much easier. Still, you're walking backwards, while the giant blue cylinder is going forward. Keep your back straight and keep glances at your feet to a minimum!

 I climb the tree much more often now that George and I have been playing more games outside. I've made myself a new throne. It's very high up, and super comfortable.


This photo is the view that I get to see every time I climb up and sit in my throne.

Throne System: There are not many throne opportunities in the tulip tree. If there is a comfortable place in the tree that you can sit in without getting scared, and it is safe, then you can claim it. UNLESS, someone else has already claimed it. Claiming it means you basically have control over that certain area of branch. So, if you're putting on your shoes when someone else goes outside to climb the tree, you can say, "Please, don't sit in my throne."

This is my closing: Good-bye. This was Mae Laszlo. Have a nice day. Wash your hands. Good-bye. Have a nice day.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Who'schooling: George

The following was contributed by George (14), when asked about what he's learned, and what it has been like to stay in our house all the time.
  
What I learned is a bunch of new stuff about math. How to translate, on a graph. And also how to dilate and how to reflect.

That was so easy!

I love this painting, and I'm happy it's hanging in the hallway now. So, I can get a better view of it.  It's so beautiful!

(by local artist, Eric Sappington)

You don't need to paint a picture to make a painting. You only need to paint what you think of.

This took me forever to make. It took me forever to draw. There were so many small details.
I am planning to make a stop-motion animation with it. I imagined it and thought it would be a fun thing to do.

Because, 


making stuff


 is fun!


Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Who'schooling: Thomas hi

The following was contributed by Thomas (17), when I asked him about what's it's like to live through a historically significant event, what he's learning, and how he's managing. 

There's no way to tell how it's going to feel later, right now. Because right now, we're in the middle of the pandemic.When the future arrives, then I'll know, that's what it will have felt like like to have lived through that.
I mean, during the Dust Bowl, there wasn't really time or need for thinking about the future or the history books, just trying to do your best until the dust hits. Obviously the two time periods are nearly incomparable; but it is important to be here now so you have an experience to reminisce later in life.

There's a different perspective there, obviously. And hopefully that's what I'll be around for.

Overall, the effect of the virus has definitely subtracted a lot of structure from my life. So that's been something I've had to face myself. And that's the whole theme of the virus. I mean, it doesn't really have a theme, but its significance to us poses many obstacles. Rather than a 100m dash or something you can anticipate and train for specifically, there's more of a versatility aspect to the overcoming of these obstacles.

The whole thing is kind of a reality check. But an ongoing one: Now is a time for self discipline and versatility

Before, anytime that we weren't doing school work, or some sort of work, we felt like we should. That we don't really deserve rest, like a cloud is always hanging over you casting a shadow you can't ignore. It felt like the only time we took a rest, was to do more work.

But now everything is blending into each other, because all the walls that held everything in compartments are now gone. Everything is kind of one flavor now, so it's hard to navigate and distinguish aspects of your life.

School work has kept it together, but the school work is not that engaging, I have to say. I still make an effort to talk to the teachers and pretend that what they're doing is helpful. It is a very nice thing they're doing, and it's extremely selfless of them to put up together these classes, and adapt so quickly to the confusing in and outs of the interwebs. And that's what I respect about them, and that's why I make an effort. Because I feel like I'd be squandering that if I didn't. But, it doesn't really change the fact that it's not that engaging.

 Mae has been going after those radishes, like a beast.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Who'schooling: Mom

Once upon a time, I tried so hard. With the books, and the papers, and the pencils, and the assignments, and the sighing, and stomping, and flopping with exasperation, and the crying baby, or the morningsick me, or needing to spend the morning mowing a lawn rather than battle my son's ironclad apathy about completing worksheets at the kitchen table. I did try.

Gears ground hotly in my head as my careful plans were, at best, rejected. At worst? Done badly, barely. My integrated and exciting activities were reduced to mere hoops through which an obligatory jump was half-heartedly executed. 

And I didn't even have packets.

 I was packetless. 

I'll back up. See, homeschooling wasn't my original plan when having kids. I loved school, and couldn't wait to enroll my own li'l learners, while simultaneously getting all up in the PTC/boosters/fundraisers/whathaveyou. 

Plot twist: The oldest two did not feel like playing along with my grand delusions of someday owning one of those My Kid SuperLoves School bumper stickers. They never even liked school, showing and saying so in a number of ways. I tried to talk them out of it, volunteered at the schools, backed off, pushed in, celebrated victories, tried to appear nonchalant about victories, ignored defeats, and nearly sounded like I was threatening them when their unhappiness stubbornly flared and I'd bring up The Homeschool Option.


I never expected them to take me up on it.
But they did, and we've got the blog to prove it. No need to say much more. Messy, fun, brilliant, frustrating years followed, as we learned and lived in the same sticky spot. A spot we find ourselves in, once again. 

With packets. 

And Zoom meetings, calls with specialists, and weekly online quizzes.

Across the world, millions of parents are currently realizing what I struggled to hold in my head without shame all those years: School at home, kind of sucks. It feels like a tremendous buck with very little bang, running in several different academic directions every day, while juggling a home and raising siblings/pets/corn. 

Reading friends' Facebook memes these days gives me no satisfaction. That thing I found so difficult? Really is difficult.

We are doing that difficult thing as well as we can right now, to stay ready for the fall, whatever it brings. But, these days have me reminiscing about a time when, instead of playing school at home, we did everything else, everyday, in the space created by bowing out of civil conventions.

Staying home can be the start of something valuable, something that might not have happened otherwise. That's how we rolled, for years, literally.


It is this belief that compelled me to have a talk with the homestudents,Thomas, George, and Mae, about contributing something here, soon. This blog could use some new voices, saying stuff about things.

This week, the BU crew has an unofficial assignment of the home variety: I have asked them to fill this space with their own original posts, photos, thoughts, antics, and exploits. What they're up to, what we're up against, and what it's all about.  I'll do what I do best: set the stage, rake up the aftermath, and call the authorities if necessary. See you all between things, just doing what I do best: trying to keep up.