Walkin’ and Talkin’ With My Boy

“The true charm of pedestrianism does not lie in the walking, or in the scenery, but in the talking. The walking is good to time the movement of the tongue by, and to keep the blood and the brain stirred up and active; the scenery and the woodsy smells are good to bear in upon a man an unconscious and unobtrusive charm and solace to eye and soul and sense; but the supreme pleasure comes from the talk.”  –Mark Twain

My boy is growing up– no question about that. He has gone from a scrawny little peanut with wild hair and dimples to a broad-shouldered, strong, responsible boy with carefully combed hair– and, thank goodness, he still has the dimples. Conversation doesn’t come as easily for us as it used to. With my daughters, we talk about the cooking shows we like to watch and the Little House on the Prairie books that I’ve always loved that they do too– cute outfits and hairdos and our mutual affinity for Target. My son hates stores– detests shopping– and he prefers tales of dragons and other mythical creatures to stories of pioneer days. But, my girls aren’t crazy about taking random walks to nowhere– and my son is.

So we walk. We take adventure walks around West Seattle with no clue how long we’ll last or where we’ll end up. We walk to QFC and Safeway to get groceries, and he practices his gentlemanly skills by insisting on carrying the groceries home to leave my arms free. We walk around the West Seattle Junction and pop into the little shops that line the street. He affords me a stop in the sock store if I promise that we’ll stop by the book store. He lets me look at the Seattle Skyline socks that I so badly want but refuse to pay $14 for, and I let him look at the new hardback release of the next Percy Jackson novel that costs even more than  my socks, so he says he’s willing to wait for the paperback version.

And in between shops, or grocery stores, or parks– we talk. Sometimes I tell a funny joke to kick things off and break the ice, and that’s really all it takes to get him giggling and think of a gazillion funny stories he wants to tell me. We may not have a whole lot of interests in common, but we do have a kind of messed up sense of humor in common. So we laugh about silly commercials we’ve seen or funny segments of television shows or humorous dialogue from our books. I ask him if he’s nervous about going into middle school and he surprises me with his courageous spirit and confident mindset. He tells me about his friends and the games they play at the age of eleven, because I honestly can’t remember what you play when you’re eleven and you still want to play but you’re feeling too old for certain toys. I tell him that I always want him to feel comfortable bringing friends– and someday girlfriends– to our house and he says he always will because we are cool parents and don’t embarrass him. Yet.

When our legs finally give out, and our voices too, we head home. Most of the time we head home in silence, all of our stories and jokes told, but we walk with smiles on our faces and the sun on our shoulders and the breeze in our hair. And if I’m lucky– super duper hardly ever happens kind of lucky– when we’re off the main road and in the back alley that leads to our house, I feel a strong, warm, dirty, getting-bigger-every-day hand reach for mine, and I grip that hand tightly, feeling that all is right in the world.






Tears for Our Teachers

Yesterday, it was time. After many months, and in one case, 6 long years, it was time to say goodbye. And though tears have been shed for weeks in anticipation of this moment– by myself even more so than my kids– there have been emotions other than sadness. Thankfulness, of course… but a bit of anger, too.

I clearly recall leaving my sweet little boy in his kindergarten classroom years ago– he was so trusting, so eager to learn– and I knew we were leaving him in great hands. But I truly had no idea what the next 6 years would bring.

When I envisioned school for my children, I based my vision off what I had experienced as an elementary student. A relatively nice stranger stands at the front of the classroom and tells you to sit up straight and stop talking and pay attention and read this essay and write a response and do this math worksheet. The stranger gets angry sometimes when kids misbehave, but other than that she sits behind her desk and shushes us now and then. Every so often I  creep up to her desk and shyly ask her a question, but any interaction I have with said stranger is full of trepidation. Nothing brings the stranger more happiness than when we go to lunch or head for the buses at the end of the day. And when the end of the year comes? The stranger-teacher, whom I know as well as I did on the first day of school, looks like she won the lottery. She has gained 3 months of freedom.

My children have something different. Every parent wants better for their children than what they had for themselves, and when it comes to what our kids receive at their elementary school, we really have won the lottery. We send our kids to that building for 35 hours a week– if they had poor teachers, what a scary prospect that would be! With excellent teachers, which is what he have had EVERY year for SIX entire years, it’s a blessing. A privilege. A gift.

These adults know my children. They don’t just know their name and what they look like. They know and love about them what I know and love about them. They know that Georgia is funny and Harper is sweet and Mason is a natural born leader. They know that all three are smart and capable and are such good friends to their classmates. They know what hobbies our kids are involved in and that our family is about love and acceptance and forgiveness. They know that they have the ability to build upon the amazing characteristics of each of my children’s personalities, and make them better citizens of our world. Of course, they teach them about science and math and reading and writing and social studies. But my kids don’t sit behind a desk filling out worksheets all day. They act in plays put on by a teacher who spends her own time and money making props and writing a script and sewing costumes. They raise baby salmon in an enormous fish tank from the time the salmon are still within their eggs, and after months pass they walk to a stream and release them into the wild. They go to a sleep away camp 2 hours away with teachers who swim with them and ride horses and rock climb with them, and they learn songs like “You Can Count On Me” by Bruno Mars that make tears stream down the cheeks of mothers at 5th grade graduation, because they really did count on each other– students on other students and students on teachers and teachers on students. They’ve been there for each other, and besides academics, these teachers have taught  them how to be good people. Because they are all such good people themselves. Each and every teacher my children have had at that school are truly GOOD people– people I pray my kids turn out to be like as adults.

And this is where– beside the extreme gratefulness and love and honor– the little bit of anger comes in. A little bit of anger for my kids, I suppose, because they have spent day after day, year after year, learning from and respecting and loving these good people. We as parents send them off to school and allow them to open their little hearts and love these adults like they are family members. They certainly have deep, family-like relationships with them. I’ve heard so many stories at the dinner table, in the car, and in doctor’s office  waiting rooms about the stories they’ve heard and lessons they’ve learned from their teachers. Everything from how their teachers handled bullies when they were kids to the importance of not eating cheap sushi because you could get very, very sick.

And then, June rolls around, and suddenly– goodbye. It is hard enough for me to accept that we have to move on from the people who’ve loved them for a school year and hope for the same amazing luck next year. But for our kids? The little hearts that opened up to let all of the love and lessons in are now in turmoil, because summer is here and hearts–one 5th grader’s in particular– need to prepare for changes and goodbyes and a big, scary middle school looming on September’s horizon. I try to tell my 11 year old nice things like “you will have their lessons and love in your heart forever”, but when he is used to their physical presence day in and day out, to hands patting him on his back and kind eyes letting him know in chaotic moments that things are ok, the prospect of relying on what they’ve left to his mind and heart is a bit overwhelming, I think.

So this is where the difficulties lie, where the tears continue to fall. Our kids have assimilated  that when school chapters end,  their “school family” isn’t their family anymore, because we won’t be taking vacations with them or celebrating holidays with them like we do with other family members. And I think that is confusing for my sweet kids, and for other kids as well. But what choice do we have? There is no fault in this fact, in this painful time of goodbyes– teachers have dozens of students coming through their doors year after year, and if they tried to keep up with 30, 60, 90– nay, hundreds of students– they would lose their minds, and would not be able to do what they do year after year. So their hearts grow bigger– they must, to love these children in the manner that they do– and our children are left better people, shaped by the time spent, the lessons learned, the love shared. They go on– resilient as they are– while we as families shed tears– both happy and sad– for our beloved teachers.