We are trying to lifehack school mornings, which seem to be some test of American fortitude, or I don’t know, a scheme to increase reliance on snack foods. For the first couple weeks I felt a bit like an anthropologist discovering a highly strange cultural phenomenon. So everyone rises to an alarm and rushes around putting small bits of food in containers and shouting at each other?
Which is to say, mornings are intense. Dan told me a story he heard about 15 elk gathered at a water hole, clicking their teeth territorially at each other. He told me this after I had apparently been clicking my teeth at him trying to move him aside at the stove. After which he pivoted. And I grabbed the pot I needed.
We are on our bikes at 7:45am, all senses deployed as we ride single file through commute chaos, Dan practicing his elk call (he’s been put on notice by Rose to stop before we approach school grounds) and me reminding Rose that it’s not a great time for me to answer questions, unless it’s really important.
“Okay,” she agrees. Three minutes later she wonders cheerily, “Do you say fridge, refridge, or refrigerator?” Right. The really important stuff.
It’s all somewhat surprising, really, to hear Col announce on the way home from school, “I really enjoy the way Mr. Rich teaches math.” I make a point not to fall off my bike, but just reply, “Oh, cool,” as if I totally saw it coming. Same with all the unprompted showering and changing clothes, something homeschooling at the kitchen table never inspired.
All of which to say, school is going really well for both kids. Col often goes hiking for P.E. and today groups of children spent several hours building boats out of cardboard and duct tape to send their teachers across the river in. During school. It was some sort of team-building competition of engineering, although a friend of mine asked if they were actually trying to drown their teachers.
Offering up an innocent little question to the kids, like, “how does lunch work at your school?” can yield so much information, it can get a little competitive, like if you were interviewing Sonny and Cher simultaneously.
I appreciate the streamlined nature of my new role: feed and support children (and drive them to soccer). Which I find to be much easier than trying to facilitate a whole education.* When they arrive home I am ready with snacks and empathy. Col tells me that he hates when this one boy shares his kettle corn with everyone but him. “Hmm, sounds like you want to be included,” I reply, rather than tracking this boy down and roughing him up, or giving Col a lecture about the nutritional components of kettle corn.
When Rose and I reunite, she usually needs about fifteen minutes to wade through everything that didn’t go quite right: her water bottle leaked, recess was too hot, she didn’t do well on her spelling test, this one boy at her table is disruptive. Offering her the balm of my presence without advice or empty reassurances (“it’ll get better”) is like beating a dusty rug with a broom, eventually all the dust falls away, and the rug is fresh, renewed.
And sometimes if everyone’s really ragged, I pull them close to me and we read, like I did when they were overstimulated toddlers, or exhausted preschoolers, or like I’ve been doing their whole life. I imagine Col calling me someday from work, overwhelmed and aggravated, and I’ll pull out Harry Potter and begin reading.
Also, here is a link to my last Durango Herald column, which a friend said was my best, because there was actually a plot.
And, I’ve written many things for Edible Southwest Colorado magazine, if you’re interested:
Squirrel for Dinner – yes, it happened
The Great Homemade Dog Biscuit Challenge (in which I got to “interview” some of my fave dogs)
*A friend mentioned she’d been waiting for me to explain why we stopped homeschooling. For us it was a lovely way to keep the kids close when they were young, to avoid the reward/punishment game that most schools rely on for cooperation, and to give them space and freedom to get curious and follow that curiosity. As time passed it become clear that it was challenging for the kids to feel motivated to learn from me and Dan. Last year, trying to teach Rose the difference between it’s and its, I gave her seven sentences to work through. She reported matter-of-fact, “I’ll do four.” And instead of insisting she do them all, I might have said something like, “OK, then lets just snuggle and have a snack.” Which was a clue (one of many) that the parent as teacher dynamic had reached its limit for both of us.
Oh – and this is Sadie, our latest foster pup. She’s part border collie and part cray cray, but so smart and fun. She often invites our neighbor’s enormous dog over for a playdate and they go wild finding bones and antlers in the yard. And then, Dan busts them for stealing useful bones and antlers out of the solarium, “hey – that’s the deer ulna I use to scrape my hide! And that’s the antler billet I use for flintknapping.”
p.s. Accepting any and all suggestions on how to life hack school mornings. My wise friend Carrie suggested that if I got out of bed at 6:30am rather than use that time to watch half an episode of Orange is the New Black, I might end up feeling a bit less frantic. This is the kind of help I need.