March 30, 2016 – Jump!

It was a gorgeous day today. From the morning to the evening, the temperature was always just right.  The breeze just enough and the day seem flowed from fishing to canoeing to lunch to a long walk through the forest. But then the inevitable question came, the one that I had been dreading.

“Dad, when can we go swimming?” Liam had mentioned on the way up the stone steps, (there were 87 of them, but who was counting?).

“I don’t know…er…it’s pretty cold in there.  I don’t think it is the best day for swimming…” I hesitantly but strongly replied.  See when I say that the temperature was always just right, the temperature was always just right for me.  A balmy 48° in the morning and rising up to 75 by midday.  But at the end of March, this is not enough to warm a lake.  I know that, but a 5- and 3-year-old do not. My relatives kept chiming in with their dissent.

“No, they can’t jump in there…it’s too cold.”

“No, boys, it’s too cold in there! You’ll get sick or get a cramp.”

But the questioning didn’t stop.  After all, we had packed swimsuits.  I might have mentioned swimming as a possibility.  So here we were.  We had just taken a long walk and the idea of what to do next was either a third canoe trip or another failed attempt at digging for worms and catching fish in an under stocked lake.

“Daaaady! I want to go swimming.  We brought the swimsuits!” whined Ben in a not-so-annoying way.

“Yeah, daddy, we brought suits and towels. We can go swimming.  I felt the water, its not too cold,” chimed in Liam, my oldest…who had already fallen in up to his knees from a slippery rock.

It wasn’t guilt or pressure that made me cave.  It was the thought, What could really happen?  They’re not going to get hypothermia.  Either they will swim and have a good time, or they’ll jump right out. 

“All right, boys…get on your swimsuits.  You can go swimming.”

Just imagine the pure joy on my face.  As soon as they hit the water, they let out the most terrified, surprised and needing yelp!  I reached in grabbed them and wrapped a towel around each of their shivering little bodies.  The looks on their faces were priceless. I could have kept them out, fought the fight all day.  But instead, they learned a valuable lesson.  They learned for themselves.  Authentic lesson, natural consequence.  Father of the year.


March 29, 2016 – Driving

I have been driving most of the day. Even when arriving at the lake house, throwing together a quick canoe trip with the boys, digging up worms and fishing, I still did not know how much driving could take out of me.  Even as I type these words my eyelids sink like the pin reset machine at a local bowling alley.  Heavy, cumbersome, and the gateway drug to sleep, my eye lids.  So farewell…I bid you… adieu.


March 28, 2016-Break

Any teacher’s break is the epicenter of pipe dreams…we create deals with ourselves:  “I’ll catch up with that [grading] during break,”  “I’ll replan this [unit] during break,”  or even “I’ll do [blank] for myself during break and because I do [blank] during break I will be better doing [blank].”  Hogwash…all of it…hogwash.  Breaks are for teachers to catch up on life, not to be proactive for the next bit of life to come. Whether you are traveling to new places, or binge watching The Daredevil on Netflix…breaks should not be spent in order to allow teachers to the time to catch up or even get ahead…though many of us try…but instead to recuperate,  to find inspiration, or to create an experience.  The latter bit, the creation of an experience this should be the teacher’s creed, to create  a memorable piece to the day.  Just take a second and think back to to your experience of school.  What do you remember?  Was it a worksheet or a mini-lesson?  Or was it the science fair?  The pioneer diorama?  The group project on The Outsiders?  And much like the slice of life challenge that asks teachers of writing to better their instruction by being writers themselves, doesn’t our ability to create memorable moments in class hinge on our ability to find, seek out,or create those moments in our everyday lives?  Do we miss out on finding inspiration for a unit or lesson by scouring the internet for a resource or creating one our selves rather than engaging in the world and letting it provide the natural experience?

I aim this week to allow my world to write my lesson plans. To find authentic tasks that beg the student to engage in learning.

March 27, 2016 – Eggs

I once heard a speaker say, “You don’t buy a banana, you buy a banana peel. You believe in the integrity of nature , that inside that peel there will be a white fruit, maybe with a few bruises but you believe a banana will be in there.”
Eggs uphold the same integrity. But on Easter they do not. We dye them. We place them in a solution of vinegar and dye and soak them. As we opened these eggs today, my boys were astonished to see that the colors had seeped through and colored select spots on the solid sheer egg white beneath.
An interesting practice on a day in which so many celebrate the relationship of humanity and the divine, mortality and immortality, life and death. As humans we are not like bananas or eggs. What we appear to be is at best a front for the emotional and reactionary condition that is the human soul. In each season of our life we are dipped into new and broken relationships, successes and failures, tragedy and comedy. These experiences seep through our seemingly rough shells creating a chaotic pattern of color on the canvas beneath.
Is that what keeps the churches and cathedrals packed on Easter Day? Are we trying to find the integrity that we once held? Or are we looking for an integrity that is beyond banana peels and egg shells?

March 26, 2016 – Waiting

Light filters in through the fat slats of a window blind, spreading a faint binary pattern of light and shadow that tickles the corner of your eye. Thoughts flitting through your mind of an unspoken space that you can’t quite fill but is a comfort for the fact that it is there. A task to be done, a spot to be tidied, a friend missed, or a song to find.
Where is he? When will he get here? An eight-to-twelve window holding you hostage to the confines of a four-by-four plot of land and a cell phone with a full charge. Time tics as you tick small tasks off a to-so list that only scratches the surface. Waiting. Making phone calls and thinking how great it would be to take a walk, a ride, even run an errand at the hardware store.
But instead I’m imprisoned by an ambiguous arrival of an anonymous who will fulfill the warranty I elected to purchase on a couch because I knew Ben would eventually take a marker to it like an impassioned artist choosing a new medium.

March 25, 2016 – Squirrel Stare Down

It’s a beautiful Spring day, here in the Midwest…a day of bike rides and long sleeve college shirts. A day that reminds you of the bliss to come and beckons you to throw open the windows and doors to let the mildly brisk breeze blow the dust of a weary winter off the shelves…
…which is just what I was doing right before I saw a squirrel spastically crossing my lawn to the tree. It the proceeded across the branches, raising its pointed face and arching its spine and then made a repeated sound that I can only best describe as clucking…
Then…eventually it made its way to the corner of my roof where it stayed…and stared. It stated right at me…every so often it would cock its head to the side and give me the ol’ stink eye out of the single shiny bead of an eye.
It was an epic stare-down. At moments I was scared, thoughts of a squirrel flying from my roof on to my face like a scene from a Chris Farely film flittered through my mind. At other times I felt at one with the squirrel’s sputtering spring-induced mind. That limitless meandering of possibility that spring brings: a walk, deep cleaning, a car ride with the windows down…how can anyone stay still? That was what the squirrel was saying, right? Get out there! Why are you standing here? As it raised its head again and its spine gathered the rest of its body into a ball, it once again clucked, staring straight at me…go, go, go

Or maybe it’s just a squirrel that was freaked by the large creature staring at it.

March 24, 2016 -The Grocery Store

Shopping in a grocery store is such a banal experience.  Shuffling along, looking at rows and rows of well- (and not-so-well) designed packaging begging for you to pick it up, place it in your cart and merrily move along to the next choice.  Oh, once in while you might have the thrill of a sale or being the oh-so-clever-one-who-knows-about-unit-price-but-also-has-this-amazing-coupon-slash-points-deal-that-actually-makes-the-store-pay-you-to-buy-organic-fruit-cake!  Yeah, grocery shopping is not a thrilling excursion.

But….do you remember those times awhile ago? When you were younger and with friends?  When you danced in the aisle or fenced with French bread?  When reading ingredients was like performing a comedy and the people around you gawked at your ability to actually enjoy the process of purchasing food? Maybe you don’t…maybe you have never had fun while purchasing your weekly list. But stay with me here… and imagine, just for a bit, trust me and imagine, a grocery store like that, where we enjoy our time, where we are silly and whimsical. An experience in which we strike up conversation and don’t hustle and bustle our way in and out, wracking our brains on unit prices and calories. One in which we share our deals, our recipes, our hopes for next week and memories of the last.

Go shopping with a close friend. Share your lives and your thoughts, laugh at the melons, sing with stalks of broccoli, and dance to the dull muzak. Find a food that you’ve never tried and buy it.  Strike up a conversation with the elderly gentleman who’s basket contains a small jar of peanut butter and three cans of tuna.  What a glorious place to engage in humanity!

“Did you find everything you were looking for?” asks the cashier.

“No, I found more than I was looking for…”