I had need to send some packages out West earlier this month and as usual, ribbon was involved.
Friday, September 23, 2016
For the first two years that I worked in the Middle School, we were grades 5 through 8. The 5th graders were held in a sort of protective custody which gave them an opportunity to observe the freedom that older children enjoyed, while still functioning in a cocoon. The next year, as 6th graders, they were mostly ready for the responsibility of lockers and coming to class with the right materials, having learned the ropes through observation. The system functioned fairly well, though even with limited freedom, 5th graders are prone to poor decision-making, the sort that always seemed surprising in kids not yet in the throes of adolescence.
Last year, 5th grade returned to the Lower School and we became a more traditional three-grade Middle School. 6th graders joined athletic teams to make them 6th, 7th, and 8th and our music classes also featured all three grades. Last year’s 6th graders had been in the Middle School for a year and the transition was fairly seamless. This year, with 6th graders who are new to us, has been an interesting reminder about the developmental changes of tweens.
The good news is that 6th graders are eager to embrace the independence that we offer. That eager excitement helps to blunt their anxiety. We have a gentle transition at the start of the year, where we remind them of expectations and also offer ready assistance. As we move into the third week of school, most of the 6th students have eased into the expectations, though there are moments when they hope to retreat to childhood. There is still plenty of support, but now it comes with a more direct reminder of our expectations.
This week, my 6th grade group had 10 minutes to sum up answers to questions about the failure of the Roman Empire. We’ve been working with this material since school began and they were ready to answer two questions in 10 minutes. Most of the students got after it but a few answered the first question and then stalled. My reminder to get to it was met with sweet smiles and more stalling; one student told me, “I’m thinking.” I smiled and said, “think faster” but I could tell he wasn’t persuaded. A few minutes later, class ended and I collected the answers. The two boys with half-empty pages panicked a bit, each telling me that they would take it home to finish. When I said no and took the papers, they were stunned.
Thursday, September 22, 2016
Today, Fall officially takes charge of the seasons and with its arrival I’ll be posting weekly pictures of my backyard dogwood tree. The leaves are already beginning to turn.
After a wet August, most of September has been dry and hot. September usually brings us more rain and the unseasonable dryness likely means we’ll have a less vibrant display of fall leaves. That’s rather a shame as fall around here is often splendid.
I’ll enjoy the beauty that does emerge and remind myself that each season has its value, imperfect or not. That's rather like life itself and it's a lesson that bears repeating for me.
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Fall officially begins tomorrow, but so far the week’s weather has felt very much like Indian summer, with warm days and cool nights. This time of year always feels fleeting and while it lasts I am enjoying the flowers I can still pick from my garden.
They make the dining room cheerful when breakfast is eaten at sunrise and when supper is served in the twilight. They are a reminder to enjoy the season’s bounty while it lasts.
Monday, September 19, 2016
It is a tradition around here that on the weekend before we return to school, I make a fried chicken supper. The older JT gets (and the closer he is to leaving home for college), the more these small traditions mean to me. And Sunday chicken supper is an especially happy one.
This supper had all our favorites, including corn muffins with honey butter, grits casserole, and cole slaw. There were garden flowers on the table, as befits a late summer supper.
The grandmother who taught me to make these foods is always close in my mind when I set out to soak chicken in buttermilk and fry it up. I always admired the way she could cook by memory. Now I am the one cooking by memory and I do it to equip my son with memories and traditions that I hope will last a lifetime. That’s happy!
Sunday, September 18, 2016
I’ve always had a bulletin board display in my classroom and when I moved to the Middle School, the bulletin board came to my office. Each August, I remove the items from the previous school year and then reconstruct the board for the coming school year.
Many items change, though there are a few themes that are consistent. I always have a few pictures from my summer adventures. This year, that’s JT and T in Kansas City at Kaufman Stadium. I’ve got JT, his grandmother, and his cousin C in Kings Canyon among the Sequoia trees. An updated picture of my tall nephews and JT are there, as they are every year. There is always a little baseball; this year that’s the Kaufman Stadium photo as well as the Kansas City Monarchs jersey and the postcard of Buck O’Neil, both obtained at the Negro League Baseball Hall of Fame in Kansas City. I added in a picture of JT in the St. Louis Cardinals bull pen. I’ve got a St. Louis Cardinals logo as well.
There are stickers and things that amuse me; reminders of the spirit I hope to bring to my work. There are photos I made and like; this year’s pumpkins will be swapped out for other seasonal photos as the year progresses.
I also pick a few items of historical significance. There is something presidential; this year’s honors went to George Washington on an antique postcard and a card with pictures and quotes from Washington, Lincoln, and FDR. There are a number of campaign buttons from my collection; Hillary Clinton buttons are on their way. I don’t have a T-rump button and I won’t be buying one. I also include an item that reminds me of the focus of one of my American history class; this year that’s Harriet Scott, the wife of Dred Scott, the man whose 1857 court case shook the nation into understanding just what it would take to end slavery. Buck O’Neil, alive a generation later, and playing baseball in a segregationist nation, is yet another reminder of what I will teach this year.
There are always flowers —— this year it’s a lovely zinnia seed pack (these were planted in my backyard garden) as well as the antique postcard of a flower market in San Francisco.
The bulletin board is meant to be brain candy, fodder for my memories and imagination. It’s made up of items and mementos that make me smile and make me think. It’s hopeful and happy and its creation is one of my favorite traditions for the start of the school year.
Friday, September 16, 2016
The backstory: Like most families, JT and I often communicate by text message. Typically, we’re exchanging need-to-know information. But sometimes, need-to-know is complicated, as it was earlier this week when he was at home and I was at Middle School Back to School Night.
JT: Do you know what time you are coming home
As an experienced reader of JT’s texts, I sensed the urgency in this message and opted to ignore the poor punctuation.
Mama: Yes, around 10:30. Do you need anything?
JT: I can’t find a shirt to wear tomorrow. I have no clue where my 2 blue shirts are and the white one does not fit
He’s referring to dress shirts. The next day was a dress-up day at school and he needed a shirt and a tie.
Mama: In your closet fresh from the dry cleaner.
JT: Alright thank god. Still gonna need something for pic day on Friday
Mama: There are two shirts in that dry cleaner bag.
JT: Sweet. Also, I fucked up and forgot to tell you I am supposed to bring treats for advisory Thursday so do u think its possible to get Munchkins from Dunkin I’m sry.
I pride myself on providing homemade treats and on the next day a late-afternoon cross country race was scheduled at a course more than an hour from home, so this late-breaking news created a bit of a jam up, which our hero well knew.
Mama: I may let you live…we will get a treat together because I am awesome.
JT: Thanks m8.
Oh, 16, sometimes you can be charming.
Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Since the 7th grade, JT has run for the cross country team in the fall. He started running under the direction of the amazing Coach L, a man who is as gentle as he is strong and whose patience with kids is extraordinary. Those Middle School cross country years started slow, though JT ran well and liked it immediately. When he started high school two years ago, he joined the cross country team in the fall. This coach, a different Coach L, is funny and strong, and a fan of a work ethic. JT respects her and looks to meet her ambitious expectations. For two years running, he’s earned the Iron Man award, a distinction given to team members who never miss practice. JT is a never-miss-practice kind of kid, so this challenge was right up his alley.
JT is a moderately good runner, with the tenacity to go long distances and enough energy to finish strong. He’s an even better teammate, who has steadily brought his friends into the sport. Last winter, when the cross country season had ended and wrestling was just under way, he and a group of wrestlers headed out on the cold mornings for some extra runs to maintain conditioning. Something truly clicked on those mornings and a runner was born.
Throughout the spring and into the summer, he ran nearly every day. He made easy 5 and 6 mile distance runs; he ran sprints; he ran tempo drills. He was excited for the start of practice; the arrival of weekends finds him consulting Coach L’s instructions and going out for a run.
On the weekends, Lucy the cat takes over coaching duties. She's gone from supervising a little boy who played with Playmobil and ran around in the back yard to supervising homework and athletic practice. She watches from the window when JT steps out the front door.
She stays in the front window while he stretches outside, a watchful eye on her boy.
She looks on as he consults his watch and sets his timer.
And then he is off.
Lucy retreats for a nap, but stays downstairs because her boy will be back soon. She must be ready to supervise the post-run shower and snack.
Monday, September 12, 2016
The backstory: Saturday’s steamy hot morning found JT out early, warming up for the first cross country meet of the year. T and I headed out to IHOP to score some breakfast before we went to the meet. We made our orders and then sat and talked while we waited. Soon, the IHOP soundtrack began to intrude as we realized that it was an odd array of songs, all of them with an ear worm quality and none of them like one another. Abba, Glen Campbell, Leonard Skynard…..it was a dizzying assortment of songs you never wish to hear again. Pancakes arrived and we tucked in while the disordered playlist sang on. We finished eating and T made an announcement:
T: Let’s get out of here before Karma Chameleon comes on.