Don’t Miss It

Our first two weeks of school have been behind-kickingly hard. You wake up and you take the dog on a run and you come home and try desperately to stop sweating even after dashing through a cold shower so you can get your clothes on and then you grab your lunch and instrument and yoghurt and stumble out to the car so you can drive 45 minutes and listen to the mandatory 2nd grade reading /flash cards for the mandatory number of minutes and then arrive at school in time to start the day at 8:00 am. 6 people do this. Although only I walk the dog.

I’m exhausted and it’s only 8:00 am. Is this normal? It helps me to feel normal to tell myself it is. Ahem. The teacher I work for as an aide does twice as much as I do. If you look up hardworking in the dictionary her picture is right beside it. It’s possible she feels exhausted sometimes but she keeps the pace right up until the last child and the last minute of the day. I like that about her.

But being here with my own kids and lots of other people’s kids is amazing. There are days when I feel like it’s really hard and sometimes I ask Lucy to come with me, to help me see her face in their faces. (That’s a little pathetic, to find 36 hours a week with people half my size really hard. Life is really hard, though. And all of these small people are very honest and aware of what is hard for them.)

Today we shouldered myriad bags and dragged out to the car in the mid-afternoon heat at 3:30 to go home. There was sniping and complaining about too much to carry. Somebody whacked somebody else with their bag climbing into the car. The intelligent among us demanded to know why Mom always parks the Suburban in the HOTTEST spot in the entire lot. Seriously, Mom? Seriously?

And I looked up from the back of the car where I was trying to wedge a full-sized violin safely on top of 5 backpacks and saw Abbey holding Helen in a cradle hold beside the car, pausing in the act of putting her into her car seat. You know that hold? The one where you lay a baby in your arms so you can look into his face? I couldn’t hear her but she was murmuring or singing to Helen, bending her face a little lower and the wind blowing both their dirty blonde mops in the same direction. Helen paused with her thumb in her mouth and one finger wound up twirling her hair, smiling a quirky half-smile and enjoying the sweetness of being held and loved.

If I wasn’t there? Working in the place they all go every day? I would have missed it. Lucky me. – Katie

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Helen’s first day

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Helen’s first day of school. She reported to us later that it was great, and all my brief glances of her showed her having wonderful times. – KatieIMG_2858

First Day

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It was the first day back to school for everyone…except Helen who woke up with a fever.IMG_2848 IMG_2849

Honestly, in spite of the fact we are wearing nice clothes for chapel, we’re a little scruffy at 7:00 am. IMG_2851

We went, and we did our things, and it was a good day. – Katie

flowers of glass

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Flowers of glass

My heart is caught

at the sight of you

momentarily still

contemplating the not-flowers

on the sterile wall

all of you trapped in the sunlight

as if in a spider’s net.

Beauty has a power

that may guide you

into embracing the messiness

of real life. I believe that

you can learn

to let go. – Katie

Tortoises

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There was one bit from the zoo I kept meaning to write about: while we were there earlier this summer, the Galapagos Turtle enclosure had a keeper who paused in his work to discuss something with a curious zoogoer. While he stood chatting, the large turtle at the far left of the above photo literally dashed over to take a bite of the greens in the keeper’s hand. I had no idea turtles could dash, even the large ones.

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Those pads of feet can be lifted up and set down surprisingly fast, and when they move with determination there is a slightly alarming element to them. Look at his eyes!IMG_2399Here are more sets of eyes, alarmed and otherwise. No one could resist climbing on top of the metal statues, although it surprised me that the metal wasn’t hotter to the touch. It must be because zoo people put them in the shade. – Katie

Jill Lepore

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I have read two books this summer by Jill Lepore. She is a professor of American History at Harvard and a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine. That is a lot of credentials, but I can solemnly attest that her writing even captivates Forney housewives who read with multiple children bickering in the background.

One of her books, (which I had to get through inter-library loan from Texas Women’s University), called The Story of America: Essays on Origins, was a collection of articles about how writing affects history. She lists types of written works like the Declaration of Independence, the campaign speech, the memoir, the sensational novel (a la Davy Crockett or Kit Carson), the historic poem (such as Paul Revere’s Ride or Hiawatha), a historical novel; and each essay describes a famous American person or event with a written work associated with them.  She posits that a widely read piece of writing influences how the nation of America thinks about itself. It fixes events of the past into our consciousness by describing or interpreting them in a certain way.

Which is not a new idea, but her ideas feel potent because she respects her subjects even while describing their flaws. Thomas Jefferson, married twice to white women and the father of four children born to a slave in his household, Sally Hemmings, wrote about the evil of slavery. Noah Webster, a man who believed that only white, educated, land-owning, wealthy men should be able to vote or govern, wrote a dictionary filled with ordinary, common words (in addition to all the highbrow, erudite ones) with standardized spelling for ordinary, common people. George Washington, Father of our Country and All That, wrote so little interesting material that his (many) biographers have had to rely on others’ writing about him and their own ingenuity to make him interesting.

I appreciate this kind of feet-of-clay description. It makes the past seem accessible.

“Still, it strikes me that, taken together, they do make an argument, and it is this: the rise of American democracy is bound up with the history of reading and writing, which is one of the reasons the study of American history is inseparable from the study of American literature. In the early United States, literacy rates rose and the price of books and magazines and newspapers fell during the same decades that suffrage was being extended. With everything from constitutions and ballots to almanacs and novels, American wrote and read their way into a political culture inked and stamped and pressed in print.”
― Jill Lepore, The Story of America: Essays on Origins

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The other book I read is above: Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin. It is, in short, a biography of Benjamin Franklin’s sister, Jane, as pieced together from small fragments of her writing and letters that passed between the two. They were the youngest two of 17 children, and she was taught to read but not to write, which was typical for that era. (Apparently, women were expected to be able to absorb written ideas but not to contribute opinions about them.)

She married a ne’er-do-well who spent a lifetime in debt, had 12 children, 9 of whom lived to adulthood and only 3 of whom outlived her. (Records are unclear because one of her sons was believed to be killed in the Revolutionary War and later proved not dead.)

He started as an apprentice to his older brother in a family printing business and worked up to inventor, publisher, statesman, diplomat, and wildly successful entrepreneur. He had three children, one illegitimate and another who died of smallpox at 4.

There are endless things written about him, and virtually nothing written about her. She is almost a nobody, and the utterly, utterly charming thing is that Jill Lepore says in the book that she feels like nobodies deserve biographies just as much as famous people.

“One Half of the World does not know how the other Half lives,” Franklin once wrote. His sister is his other Half.”
― Jill Lepore, Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin
As a member of the other Half myself, I’m grateful for the attention and respect. It is refreshing to read history written by a person who believes that people matter. – Katie

Nature Walk

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This bejeweled mountain of treasure came from a nature walk. 5 children and one grandmother notice many things when adventuring, and when you are equipped with a handy basket the fascinating bits can come home with you. IMG_2717

Texture in abundance: silk and fur and shine and juice. Flowers, pinecones, magnolia grenades, prickly things, leaf after leaf like different types of skin. Their grandmother is a uniquely patient guide and encourages all sorts of exploration. A little crowing is in order not just for WHAT they found but WHERE it was discovered: how many times they had to step right in the creek, or dig in the sand, or reach past the thorns. IMG_2720

The above is Amos’ prize find. A toad. Alive. I’m always reluctant to bring home wild pets because they usually expire so fast, helped on, no doubt, by an excess of handling and peering. Sort of a grim way to go. But this one has become a pet. Amos has declared it 1) a toad not a frog, 2) a girl not a boy, and 3) an eater of living food only. There has been an orgy of small-grasshopper-catching in the interests of keeping Lady fed. IMG_2722

I forget sometimes that my kids are not nearly as exhausted from the heat as I am: it is easy for them to turn a neighborhood sidewalk into an uncharted path. With the capable guidance of a grandmother. – Katie