The freedom to take a risk

No babies should try to walk until we’re sure they’ll not fall down.
No child should take an exam until they’ll get every problem correct.
No learner of a second language should utter a word until they’re sure they’ll pronounce it right.
No one should drive cars until we can guarantee they’re 100% safe from accidents.
No one should leave their houses until all danger is gone (never mind that most accidents occur in the home . . .).

And then everyone will be safe.

But no one will ever have lived.  

Make mistakes

Do what makes you feel safe, but don’t forget that in this world there’s no such thing as “completely safe.”

Life’s not supposed to be safe. How can we grow in a dull, quiet bubble? We can’t. And why would we want that? The greatest growth comes from the biggest mistakes. We learn more from failures than successes.

Remember Miss Frizzle on the “Magic School Bus”? She was right. (Although I’ll agree that bus was potentially terrifying, still I’d go on it and sit next to Ralphie.)

Reminder to Self Part 1: Create OR Analyze

(Quote from Book 6, Flight of the Wounded Falcon, here and here.)

A good-bye, but more importantly, a THANK YOU to WA!

I’ve read a hundred or more books about lives taking abrupt turns, about dramatic endings, about sudden loss. 

I’ve even written a few books on those topics, too, and had readers email me with comments such as, “I hated that. Why did you do that to my favorite characters?”

Right now I feel like I’m living all of those stories simultaneously, and I keep waiting for the books to close and life to go back, pretending that I’m in charge of this plot.

I’m not.

And I know all of you can relate to what I’m feeling.

Today I’m cleaning out my classroom, a task I didn’t plan on doing until June 12. But on that Friday in a few weeks I anticipate moving into my new rental house in Utah–2,700 miles away from where I now sit in Maine.

(For those of you who have read my books, I went through and “patted” everything first just as Mahrree did in Edge at the beginning of Book 5.)

I always expected to be here only three years anyway. I had told my adult children living in Utah we’d return after Dad’s jaunt to the east coast. Only three years. But then we thought we could stretch it out for longer, another year or two. And then everything started going strange, and I wanted nothing more than to be back with my kids. So it turned out to be only three years after all.

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Three very fast, unforgettable years.

I expected sad good-byes this month and next, when school graduation took place June 1, and the rest of the students left by June 10th.

Today, I would have expected still four more weeks of students crowding into my slightly-too-small classroom, leaving the musky, sweaty scent of teenagers in spring that my window fan would struggle to swirl out of there each afternoon.

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I expected to give them all a little farewell speech in June where I thanked them for accepting me, entertaining me, and teaching me for the past three years. Where I told them that I had quickly grown to love them, and that they had become “my kids,” and always would be.

I never expected that Friday, March 13, would be the hurried last day, when I called out to my students who suddenly found out they wouldn’t be coming back on Monday, “Take everything home with you! We might not be back for two full weeks!”

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Unimaginable. Two whole weeks?!

But it was two whole months. And now three.

They never came back.

I had intimations of that when I did lunch duty that day in March, Friday the 13th. I had lunch duty once a week to monitor the doors, and I hated it. I usually write notes about something I needed to do, trying to ignore the noise of Lunch C.

But not on Friday, March 13. I felt God nudge my head up from my notebook and I heard a whisper, “What if today is the very last day? Your last look at the students of this school?”

Being someone who loves to entertain any plot, I played along and watched the kids that day. I tried to name each one in my head, remember their behavior in my class (I’ve had about 75% of the student body in my classes by now), I watched who they interacted with, and I smiled or cringed.

At that point of the day, none of them knew that my husband had messaged me earlier: The admins will be temporarily closing school because of the virus. They’ll announce it in the last period. Keep it quiet for now. 

I took notes, and just now I found them, still on my shelf behind my desk where I dropped them, exactly two months ago today.

My handwriting is difficult to decipher, but some of the lines read,

“What if this is my last lunchtime? I can’t swallow it. I imagined it so different, but also so grateful I got to pull this shift. I usually hate this. Today–I’m grateful for one last look, if it is the last look.”

It was the last look.  None of us would have imagined that.

Ridiculous.

I had a prom dress boutique to put together with the National Honor Society in April. We had junior prom in May, and I was asked to again announce the juniors as they entered. I was planning to have my AP students come to my house to watch “The Great Gatsby” and have a barbecue before the end of school, we had the AP Exam coming . . . (which is starting in just one hour. I’m writing this in my classroom as my kids sit at home trying to write only one essay to pass the test. It’s like putting all your eggs in one basket, then running through a forest and not dropping any . . . )

Ridiculous now to think of any of those past plans while we try to make some new, tentative ones.

I’m sitting in my classroom, one last time right now. I took down the chairs, turned on the lights, and made it seem like a regular Wednesday afternoon. My husband will call me maudlin. I call it therapeutic.

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And just now, as I’m taking pictures and saying good-bye, I’m realizing it more important to say THANK YOU!
This isn’t a time for brooding, but celebrating! 

  • Thank you, WA and students, for reminding me that I love teenagers.
  • Thank you for accepting me so readily.
  • Thank you for asking me to chaperone dances, to advise groups, to take pictures, to come to your activities, to write you letters of recommendation. It was fun. Truly, deeply, amazingly FUN!
  • Thanks for letting me dance at those dances and pep rallies, and for even playing my music and not laughing at me.
  • Thank you for such growth! For such trials! (Don’t make me name names–you know who you are, and there are several of you.)
  • Thank you for pushing me to my very limits–mentally, emotionally, and even intellectually. I didn’t know I could go that far and still survive. And then come back the next day and do it all over again. (But you have to come back, just to see if you can do it again.)
  • Thank you for your patience, for your willingness to try new things, for laughing at my lame jokes, for letting me roast you in front of the whole class. But you asked for it, because you tried to roast me first. But I never, never lose a roasting. You know that now.
  • Thank you for such life, such activity, for teaching me about “Bubs” and trucks and hunting and lobster fishing and cheering and even the darker elements of your lives. You have enriched me and sobered me.
  • Thank you for your inspiration, for showing me true resilience, patience, endurance, and determination. Many of you live difficult lives, and I wept for you and prayed for you. I will continue to do so until the end of time.
  • And thank you for letting me come back some day, because I know I will. I’ll come looking for you. And that’s when I’ll get to hug you again. And we’ll laugh and remember together.
  • Until then . . .

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I love you.

Thank you for these past three unforgettable years.

Why your kids will be fine without “schooling” for a few months; 4 myths we should toss now

We’re spiking with unnecessary anxiety that our kids are going to fall behind because of our current school mess. But as a public school teacher for the past three years, and a homeschooling mom of six kids before that, I promise that these March-June months will NOT delay your child’s learning.

Unless we push too hard.
Then we’re ruining everything.

So let’s not. Too many educators and parents are steered by myths that should be tossed out the window (and leave that window open–we need the fresh air).

Myth #1children and teenagers learn at a steady and constant rate of progression.

Reality: Kids learn just as they grow—they shoot up rapidly, then plateau, then they burst again, then rest again, and with no predictability. Growth is exhausting work—physically, mentally, and emotionally. No student is ever “on task” every single day, all the time. Even my most ambitious AP Literature students will have days where they say, “Do I have to ‘poem’ today?”

One of my daughters struggled to read, weeping daily from age five until age eight, trying to sound out even simple words. Then one day it all “clicked,” and two months later she was reading Harry Potter, finishing the entire series before she was ten. She’s now a successful college student.

Every insightful parent and teacher will tell you that they see peaks and plateaus in their kids, and even in themselves. The “steady progress” we try to impose on students has never worked across the entire gamut of students, but only for a handful of children, which makes us think that if we just push hard enough, all of the students will fall into line.

No. That’s never, ever worked. Let’s abandon that faulty premise right now. Kids need routines, yes–but don’t expect methodical progress from creatures who are fundamentally irrational and still developing. (And when hormones kick in? Oh, heavens help us all.)

Myth #2If we don’t consistently teach children, they’ll suffer. Skipping even one day will set them back.

Reality: If kids miss a day, or a week, or even a month or three, the long-term effects are negligible. Since children are learning in unpredictable stages of peaks and plateaus, nothing we as educators or parents do can change that.

When my adult children were teenagers and younger, we had a period of a couple of years where we moved four times around the country and added an eighth baby. Sometimes schooling was set aside for weeks, and even months. My kids still read books, created art, or explored the nature and history of new towns, and—with no interference from me—still learned.

Not formally, but naturally.

They chose what to discover, and that’s what they remember even years later: exploring new places and learning what they wanted to.

When we got back to “formal” learning, they were on track within a couple of weeks. How do I know? Because later these kids all entered school. Those attending public school for the first time in junior high were straight A students. Those who went to college (three skipped their senior years) all succeeded and graduated, or are on track to graduate.

Missing school, even skipping an entire year in some of my children’s cases, made no significant change to their ability to succeed.

Consider the missed time as a natural plateau, and allow kids to explore and learn naturally.

When they return in the fall, I predict most kids will be more than ready to run to the top of the peak, eager to see which of their friends are already there.

Myth #3We have to make sure they finish the curriculum for this year.

RealityCurricula are created by governmental or private entities who know nothing about your child, or, I would assert, even how children naturally develop. “Standards” are a collection of “that sounds effective” ideas that are quite often unrealistic, unnecessary, and/or just plain boring.

Kids should never be bored of education.
Learning is a natural part of their development—it’s hard-wired into their progression.
If kids are bored by “education,” we’re doing something seriously wrong.

Aristotle once said, “All [children] by nature desire knowledge.” We don’t have to force it, just allow it.

Governments and school boards set standards and teach incrementally for diagnostic and testing efforts, in an to attempt to educate large masses of students. But that’s never reflected the needs of kids, only of the evaluators.

(Blessedly, some of us get to teach in schools where the curriculum is left up to us; I’m extremely fortunate to teach at a school that says, “Do what you think would be most engaging for the students.”)

But ask any other teacher: Do you like the structured and scripted curriculum you’re directed to follow?

They will respond with, “No! I know what these kids need, because I’m with them every day. If only I could teach them what I see they really need!”

Parents concur. In fact, many parents roll their eyes at how and what their children are being taught and the homework they bring home, and wish all of that could change.

It can! Here’s our chance!

There’s no reason why the current curriculum MUST be completed. Most schools aren’t bothering with standardized testing, and many universities are waiving SAT/ACT requirements. The big testing monsters have been locked in a closet for the year.
(Here’s hoping they never get back out.)

In some regions, schools are no longer requiring grades, or aren’t penalizing students for struggling in classes, or are moving to a simple pass/fail assessment.

So while these testing and grading “monsters” have been removed from the equation, let’s truly experiment with education!

Parents, let kids learn what they want! If they want to do the homework pages, let them. If they don’t, forcing them to graph linear equations while holding their phones as hostage won’t actually teach them anything about math, but will teach them a great deal about your relationship with them.

Plato once wrote, “Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds.” And “Nothing forced into a mind will be induced to stay there.”

In other words, we can’t force learning. We never have been able to, in thousands of years.

So let’s just accept that reality and let kids explore and learn what they want to, just for a few weeks.

Myth #4—But without constant homework and assignments, students will be unproductive and lose academic ground with their peers!

RealityRemember that learning is a natural part of children’s growth. And I agree with Mark Twain that schooling often interferes with education.  Our current form of mass education has never been the best for kids.

It’s like throwing a gallon of paint in a room. It’ll cover everything, but sloppily. Some walls may feel pretty good about themselves, but the couch is wondering what just happened to it, and the lamp will want to limp off to another room to cry.

Maddeningly, our education system still believes children are simple computers which function with the right data input, although every parent and educator in the country knows otherwise. Every decade we have reforms, and every result is still more factory-line education.

Here’s the hard truth: formal education is already unproductive, and has been for a hundred years. Kids filling out worksheets at home isn’t accomplishing much, if anything. Some parents are expressing extreme frustration, and so are their kids. We’re spinning wheels in the mud, making no progress but creating huge messes.

All that some families are learning is that they hate doing homework sheets together.

(And I’m sorry, but I’m teaching my 2nd grader how to carry the one and borrow the one.)

For the past month, the tenuously-structured education system has collapsed like a poorly-played game of Giant Jenga. Some people are still frantically trying to build back up that tower into some semblance of what they knew, and as the weeks drag on, their efforts seem even sadder.

But many others are quietly taking away planks and letting their kids use the boards as see-saws or catapults or bird houses.

Conscientious administrators are stepping back and noticing that now is not the time for a heavy hand and observations, but to let teachers and parents do what they’ve always wanted to do: nurture children.

Brave teachers are setting aside formal curricula and creating projects and activities that make sense in these times, and not money for curriculum developers. Some of us have reduced by 75% what we try to teach, distilling lessons and activities to the most essential parts, and discovering just how much fluff we can carve away.

Smart parents are taking what parts of the homework sent home makes sense for their families, and are watching their children with love and open minds to perceive what they need, and what they want to learn.

Parents are sharing videos of their children joyfully doing science experiments at home, or learning to change a tire on a car, or discover what all the tools in the shed can be used for, or how to run grandma’s sewing machine, or creep around in forests looking for signs of spring.

And children—if the adults in their lives are paying attention to them—will discover that the world, while closed off in many ways, is now suddenly opened in brand new ones.

This is a huge opportunity to change everything—for us and our kids and our country.
Let’s not blow it.

(My AP Lit class of 2019, happy students on the last day of class. My 2020 class never got to take a similar picture.)

Image may contain: 15 people, including Trish Strebel Mercer, Matyas Nachtigall, Bára Bajgarová and Uyen Nguyen, people smiling, people standing and indoor

 

Six Steps to Surviving COVID-19 (Most require acting like grownups)

I had several readers contact me about the descriptions in my book series of the Pox and how it mirrors much of what we’re seeing with COVID-19. While I based my “plague” on a genetically-vulnerable version of small pox, and the Spanish Flu of 1918, much of what I learned while researching and writing applies to now.

Here’s what I think we should be doing:

1) Stop complaining. All of us are suffering—every last person. Universally, we’re universally disappointed. I’ve had students and friends tearfully tell me that dances, graduations, weddings, and events are being postponed or cancelled. Well, mine too. Money and hours I’ve personally put toward an event may never come to fruition, and here’s the thing—EVERYONE is suffering from extreme disappointment. And there’s always someone suffering far worse than you. So let’s get past it and start being useful.

Jaytsy hid her face in her hands, feeling betrayed by everything in the world. “It’s not right!” came her muffled cry. “It’s just not fair!”

(Book Four, The Falcon in the Barn)

2) Check on your neighbors and friends, especially the elderly, those receiving cancer treatments, or otherwise dealing with compromised immune systems. Many of us find we now have extra time. Perfect! Knock on the doors of your neighbors, take several steps back to keep a safe distance, then ask, “Do you need me to pick up your groceries and drop them on your front step for the next few weeks? Do you need your dog walked? My kids are home from school, they can help. I see you have chickens. Can we gather the eggs for you? It’s going to snow tomorrow—can we clear your sidewalks later?” Take care of each other. There’s never been a better time.

Perrin pointed at him. “Remember this moment when you first realized that the government can’t properly take care of people. In fact, that’s never been their responsibility. They’re supposed to keep our borders safe so that we can live as we wish. It’s our responsibility—yours and mine and Zenos’s and everyone else’s—to take care of each other.”

(Book 4, The Falcon in the Barn)

3) If you get sick, STAY HOME and keep everyone home with you. We know what to do: binge watch TV, surf the internet, or—best of all—read a book and get some sleep until you’re better. We know what to look for: fevers, aches and chills, coughing, and runny noses. You or your family come down with those symptoms, stay home. Do NOT run to the hospital. There’s nothing they will do for you because it’s a VIRUS. Antibiotics don’t work. Your body will fight it off in time. Treat the symptoms with over-the-counter drugs, and rest, rest, rest. So when do you run to the hospital? See #4.

About two hours later, after half the neighborhood consisting of Hycymum’s old sewing club had come to her Cottage, assured Mahrree they would prepare her mother for burial, and gave her wet kisses, Mahrree finally accepted a ride home.

(SPOILER: this outpouring of kisses proves to be a bad strategy for old ladies. Book Four: The Falcon in the Barn.)

4) IF you find yourself unable to breathe, that means pneumonia is settling in, and that’s when—and ONLY when—you need to go to the hospital. Pneumonia’s the real problem, which very, very few people develop. So for 98% of us who might get sick, don’t even bother the doctors or hospitals. You’ve weathered nasty colds before. Just deal with another one. You’ll be fine.

Mahrree remembered something. “Wait a minute—you’ve been here the entire time I’ve been ill? What about the fort?”

He looked into her eyes. “The fort can function without me for a while. I had some leave coming anyway. I belong by your side.”

Mahrree blinked. “Four days? You’ve never been away that long without being unconscious or seriously injured.”

He shrugged. “Shem kept an eye on things for me. So did Jon Offra. Whatever Thorne may have changed in my absence, I’ll just right again.”

(Book Four, The Falcon in the Barn)

5) When all of this is over, realize that the bigger problem will be coming. “Wait a minute,” I hear you saying, “the danger of illness is over—all is great again, right?” No, it won’t be. Look at all the businesses closing, the massive amounts of revenue being lost to canceled events, the shortages we’re facing because of fear. Generosity of companies now (providing free internet or paid leave of absence, etc.) means they’ll have to make up those losses later. The financial cushions companies have built up will dry up in a few weeks, maybe months. Unless they find ways to recoup those losses, their employees won’t be paid and companies may collapse.

No one’s saying it but I will: We’re looking at a future financial crisis, likely globally, that will take months, if not years, to recover from. This, I believe, is when the real trouble will begin. People will become greedy. They’ll want “compensation” of some sort for their suffering (although ALL of us have suffered). They won’t accept that suffering is a part of life, but will panic when they feel they’ve “lost” experiences, possessions, or people that won’t return. That’s when #6 will become vital.

“Once that numbness wears off, it will turn to pain. And no one seems to think that pain is part of the human condition; they seem to think they should be compensated for it.”

(Book 3, The Mansions of Idumea)

6) Realize that we are a resilient species, that physical and financial losses in one area always mean emerging opportunities in others. When this is all over, we’ll have choices to make: Will we a) graciously acknowledge that life is hard but we are creative and can cope, or will we b) crumple like spoiled children, demand someone to make everything better, and throw violent tantrums if they don’t? We’ll be a lot happier and more satisfied if we follow the first route rather than the second.

In my books I speculate about people looting and rioting to be compensated for their losses. The fact that they lived through the illness wasn’t “reward” enough. Greed and fear take over. In a way, that’s already happening. (I don’t know why people stock up on TP and water. I was stocking up on chocolate, and I made sure there was plenty left for others.)

Mahrree looked out the dark window. “They’re just like animals,” she decided. “No. Worse than animals. We may no longer debate but we’ve retained our ability to rationalize away logic and compassion. We can be so great, or be so terrible. It seems we’re content to just be terrible.”

(Book Four: The Falcon in the Barn)

There’s little we can do about the events already set in motion; we need to seclude ourselves, take care of others, and ride out the virus. It’s after COVID-19 has gone, when we try to make sense of what we have left, especially financially, that we need cool heads, calm hearts, and reminders that we’ve come through far worse. 

“Yes, the world’s unfair, Nature’s unfair, because the Creator is allowing us the opportunity to resolve that, as part of our Test. We can choose to bring balance. We can choose to fix those inequalities . . .

“I believe the Creator intends for us to use our surplus to help those in need. He’s giving us an opportunity to do something good for others, not take a reward just for surviving.”

(Book Four, The Falcon in the Barn)

All of us had ancestors who survived multiple bouts of the Black Plague. (If they didn’t, you wouldn’t be here.) Our species has also survived massive volcanic explosions, world wars, tsunamis, and financial disasters. We’ll survive this, and quite well, too, with the right attitudes. Faith over fear, every time. 

Help everyone around you remember that as well. 

“We realize that we’re asking you to put a great deal of faith in us, but I promise—you’ll be glad you did.”

(Book Four, The Falcon in the Barn)COVID 19

(And by the way, I have been blogging every week, just not here. If you’re at all interested in AP Lit, here’s what we’ve been doing this semester. This has taken a great deal of my time, and seeing as how our school will likely sometime follow suit and go online with all of our classes, it’ll take even more.)

 

AP Literature, gardening, and marshmallow fluff

Only two weeks into the new semester and I’ve created anxiety in my AP English Literature classes.* I’ve told them that I’m going to be ruthless, and I’m keeping my promise by deleting words, phrases, and even sentences from their essays. “Cut the fluff,” I tell them, “and give me substance.”

Delineating between the two, however, is the challenge. They send me emails of angst, unsure of what is marshmallow and what is meat. They confuse the two, and I delete and rewrite to show them what’s what. Some sweetly email me thanks for my editing. Others greet me in the morning with a crusty glare and the words, “I thought it was good, but apparently not . . .”

I love these kids. I love their anxiety, their frantic messages, their pleas for help, their apologies for mistakes, their worry that they won’t be ready for the AP Exam or college, which I tell them I’m prepping them for.

I love them because they’re demonstrating desire to improve. They want to be better, they want to do the right (write) thing, they want me to highlight their sentences and share them on the board with everyone else as a good example.

And when one of them says something insightful about a poem or a character, and I write it on the board and say, “Ooh, I hadn’t considered that,” they beam: they got it right. They surprised the teacher.

Already more than once I’ve been able to say honestly to the classes, “Oh, good job, guys–you’re getting it! You’re so smart, I love it.”

And oh, how they glow.

Then I grade their essays and show them how half their words could be deleted to make the paper twice as effective. And the glow fades a little, but I’m not worried.

It really is all about gardening: they dig deep and plant new ideas, and weed and water–and a fair amount of manure is involved–and they worry and fret that nothing may come from all of their effort.

But already I see budding that they don’t yet recognize–my cruel pruning has its purpose–and in a few months these teenagers will bloom. Oh, how they’ll bloom.

I love spring.

Zweedy words

From Book 4, The Falcon in the Barn, available in paperback and Kindle.

*And why I haven’t had time to post here. There’s a lot of prep–I’m putting all my lessons on a website for when kids are absent or need reminders–and it’s a lot of grading. Whatever I make them do, I have to grade. (Who came up with this system?! It’s a punishing cycle for all of us.)

The joyful heartache of growing up

I seem to stay the same, but all around me children are moving on. The semester is ending this week, my students will wave good-bye and new groups will come in, many I’ve had before but are now older, many seniors for whom this will be the last semester of high school. Then they’ll walk away.

At home, I will have new grandbabies this year, a new in-law joining the family, and adult children on the move in all directions. I feel the need to chase them down, as I did when they were toddlers racing to the toy section of the store. But now, they run faster than I can.

My only consolation is that my adult children with families also express their happiness at their babies’ milestones, then complain that their children are growing too fast.

I think every generation for thousands has endured the same joyful heartaches.

Children grow away

 

It’s time to be brave and fight the current

“It’s time to be brave.”

My friend messaged me those words yesterday after we had been chatting about Ricky Gervais and his audacity to public tell his “Hollywood friends” what hypocrites they are. I wrote that I wished I were so brave, and she replied with only five words that have been echoing in my head:

“It’s time to be brave.”

I have another friend online who every day stands up for his beliefs in religious and moral issues, and is castigated by dozens, if not hundreds, of people. I’d cower under such scrutiny, but he wrote, “I have to say what I know is true, so that others know they’re not alone.”

“It’s time to be brave.”

In towns, in cities, in states, in countries, lines are being drawn, and we’re no longer able to straddle two worlds and pretend they’re not at odds with each other. We can either drift along helplessly with the current, letting it drag us wherever and act surprised when we find ourselves somewhere we really didn’t want to be.

Or we can fight the current, swimming with those who school like fish alongside of us, refusing to drift to an uncertain end. There’s enough of us willing to stand for our beliefs in God, in morality, in family, in our country, and in each other.

It’s time to be brave. I’ll fight the current.

rather fight the current

“Why fight it?” Mahrree asked her neighbor. “Because what if everything we believe is wrong?”

Mahrree saw her poor neighbor’s eyes glaze over. She knew better than to get into a debate with Mrs. Shin. That was something else everybody ‘knew.’ If Mahrree didn’t break people down by logic, she did so out of sheer persistence. Mrs. Hersh realized too late she’d been dragged into the discussion, and the dread in her eyes demonstrated a frantic desire to escape.

But there was also something else there: a sudden loyalty to her society that demanded no one step out of bounds. “Then we’re wrong together,” Mrs. Hersh decided. “Being united is important,” she said as if realizing she actually believed that. “What everyone thinks together is correct,” she reasoned out loud, “and so if you follow the crowd, you’ll never be wrong.”

Mahrree’s shoulders fell. How can you open someone’s eyes who holds them firmly shut, yet claims she sees just fine?

“It’s like the river,” Mrs. Hersh went on, emboldened by Mahrree’s discouraged silence. “Everything flows downstream. Simply . . . go with that flow. It’s just easier that way.”

Mahrree saw her way back in. “Fish don’t flow downstream.”

“Yes they do.”

“No, they don’t.”

Mrs. Hersh put her hands on her hips. “Why wouldn’t they?”

“Because then there’d be no more fish up here in Edge!” Mahrree pointed out. “I’ve seen them when I’ve taken my students to see the river, and when I’ve dragged my fishing husband home again. Many fish swim in the same spot, fighting the current. A few species even swim upstream, against everything pushing them to the southern ocean.”

Mrs. Hersh pondered for a moment. “That doesn’t make any sense. Why wouldn’t they just go with the flow of the river?”

“Because,” Mahrree tried not to sigh at her neighbor’s inanity, “maybe they don’t like where the river is going. Salty water at the end of it likely kills them.”

Mrs. Hersh squinted. “How would they know about the salty water? Besides, so what? At least they had an easy time getting to it. They’re going die eventually, so might as well go easily instead of fighting the current.”

And right then Mahrree realized, to her horror, that the Administrators had won.

People didn’t need to think for themselves, they only needed to think what everyone else thought. They didn’t need to worry about the color of the sky, because everyone agreed it was only blue. They didn’t need to worry if they were drifting to an irreversible tragedy, as long as they were doing it together, united.

Because as long as everyone else was doing it, you should too. Hold hands and jump off the crevice together, never questioning why.

“I’d rather fight the current,” Mahrree said quietly.

Mrs. Hersh shrugged her shoulders. “You’re a lovely neighbor, Mrs. Shin, always willing to lend an egg, but I truly don’t understand you.”

The debate was over.

~Book 2, Soldier at the Door, available here.

Something’s wrong when children don’t have questions (but sometimes, I really wished they didn’t)

I wrote these lines before I became a high school teacher. Now I sometimes wish my students would stop asking questions. Take yesterday, for example:

Me: Today we’re going to start Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, which is–
Students: What’s a shrew?
Me: So glad you asked! Remember when we were discussing archetypes, and one of them was a shrew? Here’s a perfect example–
Students: I thought a shrew is a small mouse?
Me: It is! And what do you know about those small rodents?
Students: They’re mean.
Me: Yes! And that leads into–
Students: And they carry rabies, right?
Me: Uh, I’m not sure–
Students: If you get bit by a shrew with rabies, will you get rabies?
Other students: You get rabies from raccoon bites, right? We had a raccoon in our trash and that’s what my grandpa said.
Me: Yes, I’ve heard that about raccoons, but I’m not sure about shrews. I would assume that–
Students: So you die if you get rabies, right?
Other students: No, you can get shots in your stomach. That should cure you, right?
Yet other students: Mrs. Mercer, if this is a Shakespeare play, are people going to die from rabies in it? Or is that only raccoons?
Me (now not even sure what play we’re about to start reading, so I look back to what I wrote on the board: Taming of the Shrew): Look, let’s get back to Shakespeare–
Students: I can look up rabies and shrews on my phone. Can I get my phone to look it up?

Somewhere at this point I blacked out.

Ok, not really, just wishing I did. Somehow I got them back on track, but now I’m thinking about a version of Taming of the Shrew which is a tragedy where everyone dies of rabies.

children no questions

Get Book 2, Soldier at the Door, here.

What, really, is the point of power?

A wonderful university where I worked 15 years ago tried to instill the idea of Leader-Servant, that leaders serve those they lead, and no one makes a truly good leader who hasn’t been first a humble servant.

But we have it all backwards. There’s a battle in America now for who gets to be in charge and have the most servants (meaning, us). But America’s leaders are supposed to serve us; that detail has been ignored for some time now. (An interesting side note–historically, no republic has even lasted more than 200 years without a revolution; we’re now at 244 years. We’re overdue.)

Ppoint of power

(I personally hate having power or being in charge; it’s too much responsibility and I don’t want to disappoint anyone. Being #2 is far better–I’m a good helper, not a good leader. Ask anyone who’s had me in charge of something.)

Try to smile, even if it looks scary

After spending a wonderful but fast week with my children and grandchildren in Washington DC, and getting home late last night after driving through snow and ice, and taking down all of Christmas this morning, and trying to wrap my head around the idea of returning to school tomorrow (who thought a two-day week after Christmas would be a good idea?!), and realizing that I’m very far behind in grading, but still trying to plaster a hopeful smile on this weary, weary face, this quote seems quite appropriate to begin the new year:

strained smile

I’ll do my best to face my students tomorrow with a “naturally pleasant face,” but it’s gonna be tough. I just checked the weather, hoping for a sudden snow day, but alas–the weather gods are against me. It’s going to be partly cloudy and 36 degrees. Curse you, decent weather!!!

IMG_6131.JPG

But being with all of them again (even though two sons, two daughter-in-laws, and a granddaughter are missing) is totally worth it. I’m a wife, mom, and grandma first, and always.

Get Book 2, Soldier at the Door, here.