Back to School

I’ve had enough experience teaching now to realize that my worries about returning to school after spring break — potential laziness, potential mutiny, potential problems of every sort — are almost always unfounded. The first week back is almost always painless. But it’s busy, getting used to the schedule again.

This week was the last week before testing. Our school has decided to do the state-mandated testing a little differently this year, and I applaud the decision. Instead of having a week of eighth-grade testing, where we test day after day after day (math, then English, then science, then social studies), followed by a week of seventh-grade testing and a third week of sixth-grade testing (divided by grade because we still don’t have enough Chromebooks for the whole school to test at the same time), we’re testing one day a week for four weeks. Next week we begin, and once those four weeks of testing are over, the school year is almost over. Perhaps that’s what makes the transition from spring break always a bit easier: we all know we have that final push until the big break.

After talking to Babcia

It’s also the time of year that students who are at risk of failing a given class — students who throughout the whole year have usually done very little other than disrupt class — decide they might want to try to do something to save themselves. There’s always one or two who don’t, and they usually move on the ninth grade anyway through this or that administrative and summer school magic. I’m not putting down our school: it’s a phenomenon that occurs throughout the country, I suspect. But I do have mixed feelings about it.

Morning snack

On the one hand, what will keeping these students back accomplish? It’s not like they’re going to behave any differently if they repeat. Because our district — perhaps state? never cared enough to check into it — has a policy that a child cannot fail two years, they’re just going to get pushed on, and if they have already been held back, they know they can’t be held back again, which probably prompts a lot of the apathetic behavior. (Students have told me, “I’ve already failed one grade: you can’t hold me back again.”)

Getting things in the ground

On the other hand, isn’t this just teaching them a wonderful lesson for the future? “I can do nothing and still succeed!” What happens to them when they get to high school and the rules change? I’ve told several students over the years, “When you get to high school and fail freshman English, they don’t say, ‘Well, he was close. Let’s give it to him.’ They say, ‘Try again.’ And if it looks like you’re going to fail a second time, they don’t say, ‘Well, he’s already failed once. Let’s move him on.’ They say, ‘Nope. Try a third time.'” And by then, they’re old enough to drop out, and they do. What happens to them when they try to keep a job with that kind of thinking? In short, they don’t. They can’t.

Proof that it’s shaping up to be a good day

So this is the time of year all of this swirls through my head, and I find myself thinking about my own responsibilities. It’s much easier for me, regarding paperwork and the like, just to move the kid on as well. It’s much easier for me to make my class almost impossible to fail. I think to myself, “They’re still kids: they’ll grow out of it.” But I look around at some millennial young adults and find myself thinking, “Well, maybe not.”

It’s also the time when thoughts and plans for summer are solidifying. This time last year I was getting a little nervous about the huge project that was looming on the horizon. I didn’t know what all was behind the walls, what all awaited us. And now I know what’s behind the walls because I put it there, and the only thing that awaits us in the kitchen is a bright, open space now.

But plans are just that, and now it’s time to get planting, get mowing, get weeding — all the joys of spring that just leave you exhausted but strangely satisfied.

And time to play guitar with your neighbor.

Spring Planting

Another unbelievably sunny morning. Perfect for what we’d planned for the day: spring planting, which the weather and our schedule has put off for two weeks.


First task: purchases. We drove across town to our favorite nursery to pick up veggies and flowers, but the Boy decided that he must — simply must — run like a maniac.

“E, if you don’t stay with me,” I explained, wondering how much he understands. At what point can a child understand cause and effect? Certainly not his age, but we must begin at some point. “If you don’t stay with me, we’ll go to the car.”

He ran off; we headed to the car.


The Boy spent the rest of the visit fussing in his car seat; I spent the rest of the visit listening to the Magliozzi brothers on Car Talk with accompanying screams, cries, and general tantrum-related noises from the back seat.

In the meantime, the Girl picked out flowers with K, always drawn to the most expensive flowers: six, seven bucks for one. In the end, K bought her one expensive flower — a lovely blue and white blossom that is completely unknown to me and will be for all time, as inept with flowers as I am — and several less expensive but equally lovely varieties.


The rest of the day was a furry of preparing the raised beds (which took most of the rest of the morning), and planting, planting, planting. Then came the grilling, grilling, grilling. And more time with the grandparents.


And finally, after the bathing, bathing, bathing, some relaxing for K and me.We finished up a Coen brothers’ film (Inside Llewyn Davis — how can a protagonist be so utterly unlikable?) and then just sat on the couch, TV off, the sounds of the evening pulling us to bed, though for me, not so directly.

A good day.

You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming.

--Pablo Neruda

Morning Walk

Blue skies in the morning, and there’s only one thing to do: take a walk. It’s been almost two years now since I was taking daily walks with the Boy in the summer mornings. School was just out; the Boy was able to do little more than open his eyes and look straight ahead. On this lazy Sunday morning, with Polish Mass in the afternoon (the last Sunday of the month comes around with surprising suddenness), we have the time for such a trip back through time.


The difference, of course, is in the air, in the trees, in the flowerbeds. The walks two years ago with the Boy were in the summer, when the temperature could rise to the mid-80’s by late morning; today, there’s a cold breeze that reminds us it’s still March.


During the summer walks of two years ago, the shade of trees brought relief; today, the trees are still almost completely bare, and shade only makes us feel the chill more acutely.


Then, the flowerbeds were not nearly as colorful as the beds today.


Then was a beginning, with E just a little bump in the stroller; today is a beginning, with the buds opening and the Boy kicking his feet on the wheels of the stroller and doing his best to chat with me about everything he sees.


“You really want to talk, don’t you?” I ask as we turn to head home.



Spring Saturday

Saturdays have set-in-stone morning rituals: a talk with Babcia and Dziadek in Poland; coffee (for we’ve given it up during the week); ballet lessons. Once it’s all done, we have time to play.


And time to work.


We have several bird pairs nesting in our Leyland Cypresses that block off our deck from the sides. One builder seems more industrious than the other, though. I watch this fellow make at least half a dozen trips in the space of five minutes.


But I have my own work to do: a backyard that’s been neglected since the end of last summer, with enough twigs and branches to make five piles throughout the yard. Plus there’s more tomatoes to plant, stakes to arrange, hedges to trim, grass to mow.


Most of it gets done, but by dusk, I’m ready to put the tools back, lean the wheelbarrow against the house, and call it a day.


Blossoms and Satan

Our lone rose is blooming.


And with our holly cut back, it’s easy to see why the sweet gum that continually plagued me was so difficult impossible to kill, other than it being a sweet gum tree.


It wraps itself around all that’s good and perverts it to its own nefarious ends. Sounds familiar…

Flowers for the Morning

“I promised her!” K mouths to me as L thumps up the stairs to brush her teeth, disheartened by my casual dismissal of her idea to go down to the blooming azalea and pick some flowers to take to school. “You can just get some from our neighbors’ azalea in their front yard,” I said just moments earlier. They’re out of town, but I knew they wouldn’t mind: they’re like long-lost family to the Girl.

“I’m not tromping down through the cold, wet leaves and grass to pick blooms for her when she can walk fifty feet…”

Morning Azalea

A few minutes later, I’m pulling small clumps of blooms from the bush, excited about the foggy early morning that promises a sunny mid-morning.

Suburbia Morning

An hour later, the prophecy is fulfilled.

April Backyard


A trip to the park is nothing new. When it’s warm, with everything blooming, it’s hard to stay indoors.


The Girl gets to climb, run, slide, swing, and fall.



Get to relax a little bit.


The difference today was the transportation:


Spring Evening

The trees in the backyard are slowly filling out; the sun came out today after two days’ rain. The only option was to get out in the warmth.


Swinging is always the start. Swinging sets the stage for everything else. It often bookends activities in the summer: it’s that popular with the Girl.


Afterward a walk — such a change from last spring’s walks.


Baby came with us; turtle had to stay in the mailbox.


Lonely, I’m sure.

Eviction Notice

He flew in with a beak filled with building materials, landing on our back deck banister. L saw him first.

“Tata! Look! A bird!”


1/500, f/5.6, 270 mm

We’ll have to begin playing “I spy” soon.

The bird sat for a while on the railing, then flew into one of the juniper trees in our backyard. The ones which I’ll drastically cut back at some point this spring, thus disturbing the bird, possibly spoiling a nest (though I’ll do my best not to).


1/250, f/5.6, 300 mm

If only I could have reasoned with him: demolition work ahead. Best build elsewhere.


In South Carolina, spring comes when the calendar says it does: late March. The tops of trees, where the light is most direct, already have buds beginning to open.


The tulip poplars have buds all over.



In the brush beneath the trees, there is just enough light for some blossoms.


All this inspires me finish up with the leaves that have been blanketing the ground for four months now.


A new mulching mower makes relatively quick work of the leaves (except for those in the rocky, uneven areas that remained undisturbed this time around), turning them into a powder that will improve the soil for the spring of 2011, when we think we might get around to doing something with the backyard. This spring we’re concentrating on getting veggies growing; next spring will be the front yard’s turn.