Soccer

We chatted about practice during breakfast. He was excited about the prospect of doing what we did yesterday with a lot of kids. All the running and kicking yesterday resulted in a lot of laughing, and that undoubtedly fueled his enthusiasm for today. I was a little worried that, as he’s done other times, the Boy might start having second thoughts as the moment approached, but there was none of that. We put his shoes on sans shin guards, which were too small we decided, and headed to the field.

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We met the coach, and E began following the other children’s example and kicking goals. His first shots were comparatively strong, hard shots. The coach’s daughter, who was a couple of years older than the players, was standing in as goalie and E’s shot flew right by her into the back of the net. I remembered how relatively tentatively L would shoot goals at the beginning and thought this might be a good sign.

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Practice shifted and the coach explained to the little ones what dribbling is and set them off toward the mid-field. Some children set off at a light jog, kicking the ball a few feet in front of them and running to catch up. Others kicked it with all their might and ran to the ball. E and a few others delicately pushed the ball with each foot as he stepped forward, a slow and deliberate journey to the mid-field. Yesterday, it was the opposite: wild abandon, kicking the ball and running as fast as he could. Such a change today. “He’s not doing it like we practiced yesterday,” I thought, wondering why he was being so very careful. It might have been tempting to compare his journey to other children’s, but to what end? He is who he is, and he was doing the exercise the way he felt comfortable doing it. I was thankful for that.

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The Girl spent the first half of practice reading. She finished her book and began again with a shrug. She’s got some books that she’s read so many times that she must have them virtually memorized. The second half of practice she headed to a playground down at the edge of the fields and made a few new friends with other older sisters. What did they talk about? I so rarely see E with other girls — our neighborhood is simply filled with boys — that I can’t imagine. That shift must slowly be starting, mustn’t it? Surely they’re not talking about which Barbies they have (L hasn’t had any in years) and similar topics. Fingernail polish? School?

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While I wasn’t able to watch and listen to the Girl’s interactions with her new friends, I was able watch the Boy interact with adults without my mediation. He listened well, remember later in practice the earlier instruction to stand with one foot on the ball when the coach is teaching a new skill. He did the best he could, but as a four-year-old will always do, he regularly checked to see where I was, making sure I was still on the sideline. The Girl became so absorbed in her activities that we could have easily left her behind — she never would have noticed until the other girls left.

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That independence is growing and will only increase, I know. Are we ready for it? Ready or not, it’s coming.

Meeting Family Twenty Years Ago

It was twenty years ago today that I arrived in Lipnica Wielka, my home in southern Poland for seven years. Upon arriving, I wrote in my journal:

It has taken so much time to reach this point. I am a Peace Corps Volunteer, sitting in my apartment at my site, Lipnica Wielka. In a way I want to cry – not from happiness or sadness. It’s just from relief. I finally made it.

At the time, I was so strung out and excited that I didn’t even realize that it was also my mother’s birthday. And today, thinking about the fact that it’s Nana’s birthday, I had no idea that it was also the twentieth anniversary of my arrival in Poland. One eclipsed the other, and then they changed roles and did it again.

The Boy having his evening snack

The Boy having his evening snack

The seeds of my own family start on that day as well. I didn’t meet K immediately, but it was only a matter of weeks after that I met K in a small bar that served as a dance hall — a disco as it was called — on Saturday evenings for local youngsters (at least that’s how I view the 18-25 bracket now). Twenty years later, we’ve started a new branch of our family trees.

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The Girl picking pictures for a class project

The final connection for today: out of the blue, I decided to tinker the other day with the family tree I’d started creating on Ancestry.com. The site offered me a two-week trial subscription, which would allow me to delve into the records of the site rather than just use the site as a record-keeping mechanism. A few hours of research later and I have several generations of the family in America, back to the late eighteenth-century. Or do I? There’s really no way of knowing whether or not the Robert Divenny (1773-1852) is my paternal grandfather’s mother’s grandfather or just some Divenny that seems to match enough of the criteria — birth period and general location. And of course I don’t know anything about the family tree going forward. Still, somehow have a potential name makes it all the more real.

Afternoon at the Lake

I wouldn’t know about them but for the Olympics, which have put in us in front of the television more than usual lately, but State Farm has been apparently hiring known musicians to embed their “Like a good neighbor” in one of their stylized creations. Clever, I guess, but it’s a meaningless ad if you don’t have good neighbors. We have great neighbors, and we spent the afternoon at the lake with them today.

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E has been eyeing our neighbor’s boat for years, and Mr. F has been promising to take him out on the boat for ages. Today was the day. Mrs. P, who works at E’s preschool, told us that he’s been talking about today’s outing for the whole week. “Everyone knows he’s going out on the boat with Mr. F,” she laughed.

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When we arrived, everyone went straight into the water while Mr. F went to put the boat in the water. The plan was simple: swim, lunch, boat ride.

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The first part of it went fine. They even managed to slip a short boat ride in just before lunch.

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But then the rain began and intensified and it was fairly clear fairly quickly that we weren’t going on another boat ride. The thunder began and it became clear that we weren’t even going back into the water.

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So it’s a good thing the kids got the short boat ride in before lunch.

I was talking to the Boy about it, wondering how he’d take it. I tried to set things up to ease the reality of going home sooner than expected.

“But we’re big boys and not really upset about it, right?”

“Yep.”

“Because we can’t control the weather, right?”

“Nope, can’t control the weather.”

If only all disasters were so easily averted.

How Many?

They always seem a little surprised that I can do it. I strike up a conversation with a student before school, someone unknown, someone who’s caught my attention. We chat a bit, and then I ask the question: “If it’s not too forward, can I ask you how many referrals you got last year?” Today’s student, E, raised his eyes to the ceiling as he began count, but I didn’t let him continue. “It’s okay,” I explained. “The number is not the point. The question is the point.” He looked at me with a bit of confusion. “Did you notice I didn’t ask you, ‘Did you get any referrals last year?’ but rather, ‘How many referrals did you get?’, which is a different question entirely.” I paused. “Do you want to know how I knew you’d gotten referrals even though I’ve never seen you before in my life?”

Later, when E is in class with me, I recalled for the class, with his permission, the conversation. They were intrigued and asked if I could do it again.

“Really? You want me to put you on the spot like this?”

“Yes, we don’t mind!”

I pointed to a boy who had already been quite chatty. “You’ve gotten a few.” I pointed to a girl who, despite her best effort to hold it in, had displayed a bit of attitude. “You got a few.” I mentioned two or three other students, and I was not wrong with a single one of them.

“Do you want to know how I do it? Do you want to know why I can confidently say that I could walk down the all on other team and tell you who’d gotten referrals, that I could go up to the sixth grade hall and make bets on who would get referrals within a few weeks?” They all wanted to know, so I explained the simple fact: “You are constantly, constantly communicating. With everything you do.” I glanced around the classroom and created a list on the fly: “The way you’re sitting in your desk communicates,” I said to a young man who was slouched in his desk. “The way you carried on at the beginning of class, before we really got started, communicated,” I said to the girl who was arguing loudly at the start of the period. “The way you wear your clothes,” I said to a girl who obviously takes a great deal of pride in her physical appearance.

“Every little thing about every one of you communicates, some of it positive, some of it negative. Some of it you’re aware of; most of it, I would guess, you’re not aware of.” And so many of them are not. They don’t see that they’re communicating disrespect with their body language and get upset when a teacher calls them on out on it. They don’t see when they’re communicating apathy by the simple way that they hold themselves. They think they’re riddles wrapped in mysteries, but so much of it is just so obvious.

“Are you saying you know everything about us?” one girl asked.

“Certainly not. I’m only making inferences based on what I see, inferences based on past experiences. I don’t know why you all do the things you do.” That was a bit of a lie: I don’t know about the specifics for this or that student, but I know many of the contributing factors.

Every year, I have this same conversation. Every year, I have the same hope that I can help them change.

New Start

Dear Terrence,

Tomorrow is the first day of the new school year, and I’m assuming I’ll meet you tomorrow, but sometimes you don’t really show up until the second or third week. That is to say, your behaviors don’t show up until then.

I’ll be honest: I’ve talked to your administrator from last year, and I have a pretty good idea who you might be, but that of course is never certain. The move from seventh to eighth grade works wonders sometimes, and you disappear into the crowd and become just another student. Still, you sometimes like to come out swinging, letting me know that very first period who you are with your disruptive and sometimes disrespectful behavior.

I would just remind you of a simple fact: you don’t have to go that direction this year. You can choose to make a different path for yourself. You don’t have to play the same part with the same actors as last year, possibly the year before. It can be different. It can be better. All you have to do is meet my smile with one of your own, and when in doubt, don’t speak. Don’t get me wrong — I want to hear what you say, but what you say can sometimes be disruptive, so just keep the burner on low for the first week and let’s see how things go.

With hope,
Your New Teacher

Saturday Ritual

Saturday is for the house, and while we’ve spent an inordinate amount of time and money on one part of the house — namely, the kitchen, we’ve neglected other parts of the property. With all the rain of the last few weeks, the yard had gone absolutely crazy, and there was much cleaning and rearranging still to be done in our downstairs.

K started with some final painting — the baseboards in the living room. The Boy, of course, just had to help.

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“Daddy, you can’t touch this paint because it will just hurt you, okay?”

I tackled the yard.

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It was finally not all that hot, but the humidity was stifling. Despite the discomfort, the Boy came out to help mow. This means he walked beside me for a few minutes, pretending to mow the steep section near the ditch.

After a shower, I checked out our oven.

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The burners work, but the oven doesn’t ignite. In the end, the Boy and I decided that we should just call the experts who sold us the equipment and let them decide if it’s something I just didn’t do or there is some defect in the appliance.

 

New and Old

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Slowly, we’re returning to the old within the new. The grandparents were over for lunch yesterday, eating in our new kitchen at our old table a meal that was cooked in our soon-to-be-outdated field kitchen.

Afterward, we had quiet a rain — unlike any we’ve had this summer. The ground was so hard and dry that puddles formed immediately, giving me a chance to walk around the house and see how our filled in trench from our unexpected sewer renovation was draining. A few problems there, but the rain didn’t last quite long enough for those problems to actually materialize (i.e., start to flood the crawl space). Which means we still don’t know how our sump pump works, whether or not it takes care of the problem.

Moving In

Three, maybe three and a half weeks ago, we reached a point in our kitchen remodel project that everything more or less looked like a kitchen. The counters and tops were in, and while the floor wasn’t finished yet, it was installed and looked like a floor. And yet there was so much to do — trim around the windows and doors, baseboard trim, final plumbing (including fixing problems the sewer line in the front yard and with the newly-installed gas line), lights, and the like. So it looked like we were almost there, but we were still so far away. All the changes from that point on were so small in comparison to ripping out a window and door to rebuild the header.

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Finally, we’ve reached a point that we’re almost to the point that we can say, “We’re almost done.” “Almost done” because the under-the-cabinet lighting installation has been put off for some time, as has the final venting of the microwave through the room (right now, it’s just popped into the attic). So even when the back splash gets completed next week, and we finally move in the stove — the final appliance — we still won’t be complete done. And then there’s the new dining room furniture we’ve ordered so that every little thing in the kitchen, except for the coffee maker and toaster oven, will be new.

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So today we made the final little adjustments and started moving in. L and I filled all the trim nail holes with spackling while E and K cleaned all the windows. Then I set out with the caulk gun to caulk the trim before it gets a coat of paint.

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K, in the meantime, prepared all the new shelves with liners and began running all our dishes through the new dishwasher. We quickly discovered the enormous difference between the old dishwasher and the new: the old sometimes cleaned; the new is so powerful that it knocked the finish off a couple of items that we’d put in the bottom.

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Tomorrow, the table migrates back to the dining area, where it will stay for a few weeks until the new furniture arrives, and we begin moving food to the kitchen, reverting our basement to just that. We’ll tear down the field kitchen in the backyard, move the grill back onto the deck, and begin to forget the work of the summer and just live.