This year has been so weird, it’s hard to be surprised anymore when it gets more weird, or as Alice said, “Curiouser and curiouser.” Friday, after recovering from the news headline (was it in 72 point type?) I felt more like a curious bystander, like from another planet, than I did like a horrified American. It was kind a nice break.
I certainly never expected to be facilitating virtual school in my 69th year; but then I didn’t expect to be moving in with my mother eight years ago, either. A curious life is beginning to feel normal.
The four- and six-year-olds got a taste of election politics Wednesday night. Elliot just wanted to see what a debate was all about. “He’s such a honk-honk,” he said five minutes in, before resuming reading his Captain Underpants graphic novel. Adrian, who was behind the armchair building a bomb shelter out of Legos, said, “He’s a chicken butt mango pants.” The moms put movies on their iPads, gave them headphones, and we called him grown-up names.
It was a rough week at Three of Earth School. I tried a few tricks in an attempt to keep chaos at bay. We played “Let’s Make a Deal” one night, making it up as I explained how it worked. The little guys liked that, the moms were amused. It resulted in a trip to town for ice cream the next day, the prize behind door #2 in exchange for a peaceful bedtime. Relatively peaceful.
They did manage to squeak out a reward of popcorn with their independent reading time after school on Thursday, but it was touch and go, with a lot of yelling, to get there. I’m not sure it was worth it. It was day two of my brilliant idea of a fun way (i.e. with reward) to get Adrian to do some academic play and Elliot to do what he is supposed to do during “independent learning time,” that is, not online, which is hell time for me trying to get him to do the assignments. They flipped over cards as they completed a task.
By the time they left for home Thursday afternoon, I was having serious doubts about how any of us were going to make it until mid-June, should it come to that, and we suspect it will. I was very worried that the boys would remember these months as that time their stomachs hurt continuously because their grandmother was actually an ogre, and my stomach hurt all the time from being one. This is reminding me too much of the years with my mother.
A friend shared a post by Steven Charleston, Native American Elder and retired Episcopalian Bishop of Alaska that helped me think about both the chaos at Three of Earth Farm and in America.
“Don’t let the chaos monkey get you down. Sometimes, when things get really off the rails in the world around you, it is like having a monkey running loose in the house. You don’t know what may come next. Chasing the monkey or trying to reason with it never works. It just keeps turning everything upside down. What is the answer? Here is one suggestion that may help: get out of the house and go somewhere where you can reconnect with the Earth. Take a walk or find a spot to sit still. Breathe the air. Touch the land. Feel the wind. Watch the trees. Embrace the great, gentle, slow movement of life in creation. Remember that you are part of that life and that it is eternal. Let Mother Earth enfold you and nourish you until you are ready to go home. My spiritual bet is that when you get back you will feel calmer and the monkey will be gone, because chaos needs an audience.“
And so, I went to the Mountain. (More about that in my upcoming Adventure Log.) As I walked through the alpine glory, I had an epiphany. Don’t you just love when that happens? What, the voice coming over the hills and across the red orange meadows, whispered, do these boys and their moms need from you in this chaotic time?
I pondered that as I climbed the switchbacks, breathed the alpine air, let the stress float away. They for sure don’t need more chaos than working and teaching and schooling from the workshop over my carport and in my family room—away from home and friends—is already bringing. And with sketchy WiFi. How can I not add to the monkey running loose through the house? Stop chasing it.
Trying to reason with a child is like chasing a monkey. This is—hopefully—the most curious-not-in-a-good-way time these little boys will ever experience. What do they need from me? They need me to be the calm center.
I told their moms on Thursday I didn’t know how to make it better without letting it just being a free-for-all. But is there something between chaos and rigidity? Does four-year-old Adrian have to learn his ABCs this year? The child is a walking encyclopedia of animal facts. He can point to Madagascar on a map and tell you what animals live there, or used to before they became extinct, what their habitat is, what they eat. He pets slugs and picks up wooly caterpillars to discover their suctiony feet on his finger while his brother backs away in anxiety. And so what if he wants me to make a panda out of play-doh rather than read a book about animals that start with every letter of the alphabet—P is for Panda? He’ll learn his letters when he’s ready. I can go with him where his curiosity takes him each day.
And if Elliot wants to dance to “asynchronous PE” (I don’t even know what that means) on You Tube for the entire independent learning time instead of writing a sentence about a book he read, illustrate the school song, and five other things, his teacher can deal with the missed assignments, though I don’t think that’s happening either. He could write his name when he was two, for goodness sake, and identify all the letters; he will figure out that the second letter of the alphabet is written “b” not “d” eventually. I’m his Gigi teacher, not his school teacher. They are not the same.
Learning will happen, even if it’s not turning out the idealistic way I envisioned when we hatched this plan: math lessons in the kitchen and science in the woods. I dragged them up the interstate to the nature preserve Wednesday. A field trip. What fun! It didn’t go well, though we pulled it together after the meltdown on the boardwalk, Adrian wanting to go home after ten minutes I have no idea why; and Elliot was a hero—an opportunity he seldom allows himself.
I just need to go where their curiosity takes them. Make suggestions and try not to be disappointed, frustrated, irritated when they aren’t interested in my great ideas, even if I know they will love it. They have years ahead of sitting in a desk, behaving, doing what someone else directs them to do. And maybe after this year of alternative education, teachers will have to adjust expectations. Might not be a bad thing.
And then the mask-denier president got Covid-19, and took a lot of people down with him. Curiouser and curiouser. My first reaction, probably not just mine, was to wonder how chicken butt mango pants honk honk will spin this in his favor. How will it affect the election? And then, thanks to a friend’s words, I decided to leave it to the fates. I don’t need to hope for some outcome, it will be what it will be without my stressing over it. And I trust it will turn out as it needs to.
But I’m still writing “get out the blue vote” postcards to Georgia.
P.S. I know these photos look idyllic. There are no pictures of the chaos. It was too…chaotic.