Photo: 6 months ago, this child could barely do the doggie paddle at the local high school swim lessons. This is him dunking a ball from off the diving board with no flotation device necessary. What? Both of my boys can dive off the diving board. Both of my boys are confident in the water! What a difference a summer makes!
One week since my last post (sorry), and it’s like night and day. Well… not completely. I’m still sore and tired, but it’s a good thing. I recognize it as Teacher’s Tired, which is a real thing: it’s a bone-deep kind of tired, an ache in the back, a buzz in the brain. There are questions about what could have been done differently, what could have been said to make a message more powerful, a tweaking of lessons via a play-by-play memory reel that’s on loop… and the body responds to this Friday Night freedom by sinking low into this bed and pleading for an alarm that goes off no earlier than 8am. We’ll see if I can actually oblige. Maybe. There’s a lot to do tomorrow.
I spent my week teaching Storytelling to kiddos at camp ranging from 3 to 13. Lessons were half-hour long and campers saw me 2 times total this week. Teacher friends who read the blog, and Dear Readers who just happen to be teachers probably chuckle at this because it’s a real challenge: how do you make a lesson plan that can be differentiated to scale for kids with an age-range that spans a decade? How can you teach anything with any true meaning within 30 minutes (and, to be clear, it’s really like 25 minutes)? How do you somehow manage continuation of concept over the course of a week when lessons are, at maximum, 3 days and not necessarily contiguous?
The short answer to all these questions is: You don’t.
Well, you do… but… you don’t.
I’m a teacher, I trained for this. But this isn’t school, it’s camp. So, you know, relax. Have fun. Loosen up. This is low stakes stuff.
(I can practically hear my former co-workers laughing at the very idea. I hear dear friends laughing, too: I don’t think many would ever describe me as “relaxed.”)
We made fables together, talked about the difference between legends and myths, and ended up telling each other ghost stories and tall tales. I told the students stories about Chessie, the sea monster who lives in the Chesapeake Bay. They told me stories about roaring frogs in the math/science building basement and haunted chairs that refuse to be sat upon. There is even a legendary serpent who lives in the river where canoeing happens. I learned to enjoy letting the kids tell the stories and make up monsters to draw. The 30 minutes went by fast and I laughed my way through them.
By the end of this week, I have managed to make contact with not one, but two other interracial families who live close by, each with bi-racial children the same age as my own. I ran into the headmaster of the very expensive private school where all this going on and I think I managed to be charming… or, at least, not awkward. I figured out an outline for a small project I want to do, and established the foundations for a character I’d like to develop for another project. I spent this week busy, but not stressed.
And the boys… my Lordy. It’s all the same as last week. They have made friends, they have tried new things, they have made stuff, they have earned high-fives from the big-kid counselors… they are growing darker and taller and more confident. Ursa Minor even has a loose tooth, Dear Reader! My boys are still boys… these are the solid boy years… but they are growing and changing right in front of me. It’s such a wonder. It’s a real, true miracle.
I’ve spent a lot of time this week considering and re-considering the good fortune of it all. I knew that this experience was going to be meaningful for the boys, but there was no way of knowing that it would be like this. When I think about all that they’ve experienced, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. It’s so worth it to do this work and go to bed sore, knowing just how much they gain from it all and just how much a place like this can do for them if we are so lucky to continue this amazing opportunity.
And that’s where my Quiet Thoughts are today, because I think that opportunity is a big word. It’s a word I’m using really deliberately here because I don’t want to take any of this for granted or somehow become bitter about the arrangement. In moments of frustration, or even self-consciousness (it’s hard not to feel out of place when you’re older than many of your co-workers by no less than a decade and older than at least 2 of your bosses by a handful of years), it’s easy to decide that this isn’t worth it somehow. I came to realize this week that I’m getting just as much out of it as the boys are. This is important. I can’t believe it’s even happening.
Opportunities come and go. Some fall in your lap, others are sought and held onto with iron grip. Some are unrealized until it’s too late. Some are unrealized until realization comes and you’re left breathless by your good fortune. A life can be defined by opportunity–the ones we’re born into and the ones we earn through damn hard work. It’s good to stop and look and say thank you. It’s good to name the opportunities given for the value that they provide. I’m two weeks into an opportunity, and I’m so grateful I get one more week, no matter how much my back aches. I know my life has been on hold for a bit, but you know what? That’s not such a bad thing either.
It’s a night in Massachusetts that is cooler than it has been for a good week and a half. It’s a night in Massachusetts for cricket-song and air-conditioning hum and giggles over iced-down drinks. It’s a nice in Massachusetts for swaying with some song, noticing the goosebumps a passing breeze brings. It’s a night in Massachusetts for porch swings and candle light, company that can sit with a bit of silence, stars that glitter in a particular pattern, and lightning bugs just realizing it’s time to come out in play. It’s a night in Massachusetts. Comfortable, finally, and inviting a bit of lingering and longing.
It’s a night for wishes. I wish you that time to linger in a bit of comfort, a bit of peace. Have a moment to listen to nature try to tell you something. Have a moment when the beating of your heart is the steady invitation for quiet thoughts of your own. I wish you words of wisdom either spoken or read. Not the news, not social media, not even this blog. Real wisdom for a real wise person. Bonus points if you can be in the presence of someone who loves you and is wise enough to deliver such words to you. I wish you crispness and juiciness and we start to enjoy the height of the harvest. Chocolate tomatoes are ripening in our garden and I’m praying on peppers. How is your own garden doing, Dear Reader? I wish you a call from someone who loves you, yet doesn’t call all that often. I wish you a story told with gusto and expertise. I wish you a hand extended in invitation, paired with a loving and mischievous smile… a call to adventure, the opportunity to learn just a little more about yourself and what you’re made of.
I wish you a moment to be reminded that you are loved, near and far, as ever… as always. As I and a few of my friends here in Massachusetts prepare to say goodbye to a dear friend and colleague, I’m reminded of the dismissal prayer that is often uttered at my church: “Life is short, and we do not have long to gladden the hearts of those who gather the way with us. So be swift to love, make haste to be kind…” The ability to gladden the hearts of others is a skill and a practice. You must exercise it. You must choose to do it, and choose to do it without any desire for anything in return. Be swift to love this weekend, Dear Reader. Make haste to perform even a small service for someone in your community this weekend. Others will notice and do the same. May your life be measured just this way: by the kindnesses you perform and the kindnesses your life inspires along the way.
I think I’ll see you again for Quiet Thoughts next Friday. Then, I pray, back to my regular schedule. Thank you for your patience as I provide this incredible opportunity for my precious sons.
Until then, my Dear Reader, take care.