The Field Trip to the Bath

field trip to the bath

A loud announcement blew in through the screen on my bedroom window this morning. With it the distant sound of crows cawing and the tinkle of scallop shells blowing in the wind. Warm wind brought me the announcement again a few moments later, like a properly timed alarm, just to make sure I was up. Wilbur was obviously busy in the backyard, keeping a close eye on his ladies, and on the rising sun. It was the perfect morning for a spur of the moment field trip.

I sat up in bed and thought about how I needed a bath—a nice cool bath to go with the spring weather that was blowing in through that screen on my bedroom window. The wind was lying. In one week spring would leave again. But I knew where I could get a proper spring bath anyway.

Field Trip, Off we Go

The sun was rising quickly, there wasn’t much time. I threw on springtime’s appropriate attire for a bath. I tossed French toast in a frying pan. The boy licked the maple syrup off of his plate. The tot dribbled it onto the chair and then across her cheeks, mingling it with smeared snot. “I’ll wipe you down in the van,” I said, grabbing my bag. “We’ll get a proper bath when we get there.”

field trip to the bath

We made a fifteen minute drive through uncommonly heavy traffic. “Out-of-towners,” I grumbled. “They better not have taken all the good parking at the bath.” We were in luck. Our field trip was going well.

Wonderful, Sticky Bubbles

The scent of the spa wafted around us. It was such a relief to be at a proper place again, where everything was tailored to my needs. I admired the shape of my fellow humans stripped down for their proper baths—skin faded from no sun for two months; round hips; pink painted toe nails; a wide sculpted chest.

field trip to the bath

First, my skin was well exfoliated. Next, my hair was scented. Then, and only then, did I stick my feet into the bubble bath. The bubbles were a bit excessive, but no complaints from me.

“It is cold and sticky,” the boy said disapprovingly of those bubbles. I nodded, but leaned back and watched the wind turn the excess into bubble tumbleweed. Gobs of that white foam rolled off and away; wheels of bubbles rolling on the ground.

field trip to the bath

The bath field trip was so relaxing, I’m too tired to write more than three hundred and ninety words about it.

The Pretty Christmas Lady at the Top

“He’s going to bake me in a pie!” The tot rushed at me as I walked in the door, tears pouring down her cheeks.

“Nobody is going to bake you in a pie,” I said, hearing a devious giggle from the older brother nearby. Immediately the tot stopped crying and carried on about her business. Sometimes we all just need a little reassurance—toddlers are just a tiny bit more ridiculous about it.

The Christmas Walk

Christmas
Evening Walk

I tossed Big Dog’s leash onto the table, where the metal clanged. Big Dog looked at me, innocent eyed. It had been a less than peaceful walk. Headphones on, I was deaf to the sounds around me. We walked on the street next to a house, and a small dog decided to lunge at Big Dog. The dog was about twice the length of Big Dog’s snout, but his ego must have been making up for the rest. Big Dog of course lunged forward, trying to pull me toward the dog’s property—he couldn’t be shown up by that midget. The instantaneous thought was that if this had to happen, it would be in the street. I jerked him backward, as that little fool hardy thing charged us onto the blacktop. And then, the little creature changed its mind at the last second – a Christmas miracle.

Adrenaline still coursing through the veins, I traveled to the garage to be handed down the Christmas decorations from the attic. I was telling the story of Big Dog the Beast, when the bottom side of a box gave way at the attic door, and Christmas ornaments rained down the steps and onto the garage floor. The tot spoke up quickly, in her most cheerful tot voice.

Sweet Christmas Optimism

“I will help you pick them off papa’s floor!” The tot was excited about this, and apparently thinks the garage is her papa’s exclusive property. Fragments of childhood memories were scattered all around, several shattered, but it was hard to be sad about it with such a cheerful assistant.

Christmas
Thanksgiving was still so fresh on the mind.

We don’t generally decorate before the first of December—November belongs to fall and not until the first day of December does winter and Christmas arrive. The kids were excited about it though, so it seemed unnecessary to wait.

Cheap people buy a fake Christmas tree and keep it for ten years. Ours might be going on year twelve. I strongly dislike putting the thing together, but this year I had the boy to assist with his five-year-old abilities of having me do almost everything, and then having me do the rest of what he was doing. It was a boost to tree-putting-together morale.

“Ooo, it’s almost up!” The tot said when I had attached three branches to the very bottom. Such a good, cup half-full kind of girl she is. Three down, fifty to go, I thought. After this exclamation she sat down in a pile of boxes and declared, “I’m sitting in the Christmas tree house.” The sound of her feet drumming against cardboard was a rhythm to work by. Fluff the branch, hand it to the boy, then help him snap it in; fluff, hand, snap…fluff, hand, snap…fluff, hand, snap…

Christmas
Those Christmas decorations you never quite know what to do with.

The Pretty Christmas Lady at the Top

I can never quite reach the top of the tree, so I just throw garland and lights up there and hope for the best. My tree always strikes me as the work of someone on her fourth mug of the spiked eggnog. Fortunately after the children finished putting the newly mangled ornaments onto the tree, it was so coated no one could really evaluate the look of intoxicated disorder. I moved on to other decorations that needed to be crooked or otherwise set in place haphazardly.

“My finger!” the tot ran to me, tears running down her cheeks. She held up a tiny pointer finger, looking slightly more pink than normal. I eyed the boy. That decorative nutcracker was essentially a little sister trap, just waiting there on the hall table, begging to be used. I gave him the look while he feigned innocence. The tot quickly forgot her troubles, looking up at the top of the tree. “Lift me up, so I can see the angel.”

Christmas
Wondering about that pretty lady at the top…

I remembered then how it was as a child. That angel looks so beautiful to little girls—more classy and elegant than a model on a magazine cover, more mysterious by nature, and elusive so very high up. She looked with wonder up at the pretty porcelain cheeks.

I stepped back and gazed at our work. Not half bad for a Day-After-Thanksgiving Christmas tree.


The Schoolhouse in the Spiderweb

Among the excavators and the backhoe, sat the boy. Slowly bits of stone were being excavated from the construction site, piece by piece. It was the makings of an archaeological dig to explain the history of the bit of sand near our raised septic tank. What might be found within that raised septic mound was something no construction worker, or his mother, was prepared to find. The boy is an expert at turning anywhere into a schoolhouse. 

I observed all this from leaning out the back door, after I’d called the boy to the table for school five minutes earlier. He was playing the I can’t hear you because I’m so far away game. The boy’s next tactic was of the I’m so tired variety. 

Schoolhouse in the Woods

“Good news! It takes about an hour to go through math, reading, writing, and grammar! You will be done in no time.” The boy has no idea that regular kindergartners spend eight hours at school, and accomplish way less. 

That is the first year of homeschooling, in a nutshell.

The Schoolhouse in the Woods

Fast forward one hour. We were standing on a boardwalk over a pond, heading to the woods. It was Nature Walk Day, and our curriculum had us examining the weather.

After a bit of walking we found our tree, where we had observed moss two weeks prior, and lichens the week after that. We sat down in the pine needles and got out the nature journals so that the boy could document his observations. Meanwhile, the tot stole colored pencils, demanded snacks, and stomped around our pine needle floor like the Godzilla version of a toddler. Toddlers without naps morph into all sorts of unpleasant creatures. 

Schoolhouse in the Woods

Fast forward another half an hour.  Out of that woods sat a playground. On it sat a contraption made for a mother to swing while facing her tot. And on that swing, sat us. I love the feeling of the stomach flying up into the throat as the swing offsets the body’s equilibrium. The tot’s face was spread with a wide smile. As she veered upward, her blue eyes met the background of the matching blue sky. Those blue eyes were like two windows of blue sky in a field of blond daisies blowing in the wind. It was a sight so beautiful, it could make a person laugh. I laughed, while my stomach flew into my throat, and then back down again, over and over. 

Schoolhouse in the Woods

The Schoolhouse at the Park

Meanwhile, the boy was struggling to pull his short self onto the high swing adjacent to us. He succeeded. Then he asked for a push. I told him the only way he’d ever learn was to do it on his own. I coached him while my stomach was bouncing up and down, and then the magic happened. He figured it out. 

In the span of two hours: learning to capitalize the months of the year, observing the raindrops in a spiderweb, and figuring out how to swing. A healthy mixture of school and home, well blended—discipline and fun. 

The Schoolhouse in the Dining Room

Fast forward another four hours, back at home. The boy, the tot, and the boy’s two best friends were standing in the dining room. The boys were squirming, almost tackling each other as I clapped my hands and spoke loudly above the ruckus.

Schoolhouse in the Dining Room

“Later this week we will be getting together with family to celebrate Thanksgiving. Tonight we are recreating the actual first Thanksgiving meal. It took place very near our home in the year 1565, when the Spanish landed here and the Timucuans welcomed them.” I passed out some copies of the sketches made of the natives in that time period. Handsome, chisel-muscled, nearly naked natives stood at attention, their bodies covered in tattoos and their hair tied up in topknots. 

I was telling a half-truth. The actual first Thanksgiving probably took place about five years prior, when the French landed just a bit farther up from us on the first coast of Florida. But the French were lacking in food, so the natives were kind enough to provide for most of their feast. I didn’t have any gator tail on hand, so we were sticking with the other, easier first Thanksgiving. 

Schoolhouse in the Dining Room

“The Spanish brought ashore soup made of salted pork and garbanzo beans, dry biscuits, and red wine, which we will be eating tonight. The natives offered several things, including squash, which we will also be eating tonight.”

A Schoolhouse Everywhere

My short speech was complete, and the boys went back to wrestling like wolf pups. I sat down at the table with my red wine and very good friends, musing. Homeschooling is historically relevant dry biscuits dipped in ham and beans.

Simply put, homeschooling is a complicated act of love and devotion to the future, accomplished in schoolhouses located everywhere. 

Tiresome Tuesday

SunsetI was exalting in my nakedness. The house was still an appropriate temperature, the bathroom was full of morning sun. I entered the shower blissfully—and this is the part where if I were Dr. Suess, I would say something like “A frog on the wall? Shouldn’t be there at all!” But I’m not, so I just looked at it for a instant before turning on the water. The water hit the wall; the frog jumped onto my forehead. If I had been standing in the summer heat, his two-inch long body would have worked nicely as a cool pack. Instead, I decided a frog on my head shouldn’t be there at all.

I chased him around the shower, he hopped fast. I chased him faster; he knocked off the shampoo bottles. “This is not a rain forest!” I shouted at him; he jumped out of the shower. I chased him around the bathroom; he hopped faster. Puddles were all over the floor; he was hopping all over the walls. I caught him twice; he forced his lithe body out between my fingers.

I’m not good at catching things —I’m too afraid of hurting them. The third try I had him in an iron grip. He was released into the wild, both of us in our birthday suits. If I were Dr. Suess, I would conclude this beginning with something like “And that is how Tiresome Tuesday began.”

Grasshopper

Now, if I were following along the lines of one of my son’s favorite Dr. Suess stories—Wacky Wednesday, only this is the Tiresome Tuesday version—there would still be a frog on the wall. There wasn’t, but with artistic license, let’s assume there was. One big fat tree frog, right in the middle of the kitchen, nearby where I was making French toast this morning.

What else might be amiss? How about a tot sitting on top of Big Dog’s face—yep, that actually happened—and both were tolerating it well. She was reading a book, held upside down, expounding on it with words of toddler nonsense. I sat down with a plate of warm food and that delicious foreign maple syrup, when I felt someone’s eyes on me. I then locked eyes with a huge grasshopper on the window. I broke eye contact swiftly, fearful of what other creatures may have come to call.

Turn the page.

In Dr. Suess’s story, things escalate quickly. And so, it seems, does real life. There were dishes outside, and dirt in the sink. There was the rustle of squirrels in the attic, instead of the trees. The rooster was roosting in his bed at lunchtime. It was ninety degrees outside in mid-October. The boy pooped his pants, and the tot made it to the toilet. The world had gone mad.

Turn the page. 

Big DogI ran! I ran into Patrolman McGann! Alright, of course there is no Patrolman McGann. If you haven’t read the book, then consider yourself confused. I ran into Big Dog. His wet nose rubbed against my cheek as he sniffed me, maybe smelling my frog friend. His big, calm, gold eyes spoke. “Only twenty things more will be tiresome,” he said. “Just find them and go back to bed.”

And here we are. Bedtime. Big Dog was right.

But out on the porch I hear a frog croaking. It sounds like a taunt.

The Dreaded Words and the Public Bathroom

There we were in this beautiful place.

Beautiful Beach Before the boy spoke the dreaded words, we were examining the latest development the ocean had churned up for us. It is something so intricate it looks manmade, and therefore has a manmade name: The blue button jellyfish. I’d never seen one before, and from a distance thought it was a piece of trash.

JellyfishAnyway, we were wondering around the beach when the boy spoke the dreaded words:

“I have to go poop.”

Urinating at the beach is so wonderfully convenient. The ocean doesn’t mind. She is too busy churning up red-flag warning waves and currents to worry about a little urine insult. Poop, on the other hand, is very inconvenient.

We made our way to the public restrooms, which felt something like walking across the desert with the mid-day sun beaming down on that long stretch of sand between ocean and civilization. And all the longer dragging along a tot that got distracted every ten feet. Onto the weather beaten deck, to the faux cocina walls of the men’s room.

“You go on in, I’ll wait here,” I said, “I didn’t bring my shoes.” The boy hesitantly moved forward, into the wide open door, and located a stall within sight. The tot scampered about the deck, dancing to her own music.

“Do I need to flush?” The boy called out, as a preliminary.

“Yes.”

“Lift me! Lift me!” The tot squealed with joy as she spotted a water fountain. I propped her up on my thigh as she proceeded to dribble water all down her chest, down the side of the machine, down her arm, down everywhere but its intended destination.

Indistinct words from the boy floated over to me.

“What?”

Repeat times five; finally a translation was made: “What if I can’t get all the poop off my butt?”

“Just do your best,” I said in a hurried fashion, craning my neck around to see that he was still standing behind the stall door, making no progress. I looked around me—the coast was still clear. Apparently no other men in the vicinity needed to relieve themselves.

“Why did that light flicker?” The boy shouted.

“Poop, child, just poop.”

Having managed to drink about a teaspoon full of water, and soaking herself with about a gallon, the tot was satisfied to continue her dance about the deck. She kindly offered to assist me by holding our beach hats, and promptly arranged them in a row on the deck. “Which one do you want, mama? Big, big, or big?” She looked up at me with that patronizing smile. It wasn’t really a question, it was a toddler demand. It meant: You will take a hat.

Hats“I want mine,” I said, wondering how many poop particles and urine splashes my hat was collecting there on the floor of the bathroom entrance.

Her eyebrows furrowed. “Big, big, or big?”

“Big.”

She handed me a hat with great satisfaction; one that wasn’t mine. You have to pick your battles, I thought. Dealing with the pooping boy was enough for the time being.

“It’s diarrhea poop!” The boy shouted toward me, not going to make the mistake of needing to repeat his statement five times again.

I looked back toward the stall, and could see that the boy had taken off his shoes and pants, piled them haphazardly all over the floor, and had either disappeared within the stall, or was squatting over the toilet. I imagined the later, with hands touching all kinds of disgusting surfaces. Oh, the germs. The shoes and trunks were now vectors of multiple intestinal viruses. I shook my head. Five minutes passed.

Beautiful Beach “How’s it going?” I called out, glad to see signs of legs again…standing barefoot on the floor. How do germophobes survive parenthood?

“I got poop on my leg!” It was really not an exclamation of distress, it was just a loud announcement.

“Just wipe it off.”

“It dried!”

How long have you had poop on your leg for?! “Just wipe it and hurry up!” I said instead.

“There’s poop on my trunks!”

Lord help us. “Just do the best you can.”

There was a shuffling sound for about two more minutes, and then the glorious sound of the stall opening. The boy started walking toward me.

“Wash your hands!” I held up my own as the international body language for ‘stop’, or more accurately, like I thought the poop germs were coming like a swarm of bees toward me. The boy headed for the sink.

“I can’t reach the soap!”

“Climb up there!” I have seen the child scale any manner of complicated playground equipment, and yet he is helpless at a public bathroom sink.

“I can’t!”

I looked at the ground, and my cleanly feet. To have feet carrying poop germs and possibly athlete’s foot, or little boy hands covered in germs that will then go into his mouth infecting himself, and eventually the whole family…

“Alright, I’m coming,” I gingerly tiptoed across the disgusting, wet, grainy, diseased floor.

But, all that drama aside, we did find this little collection of sea glass odds and ends, and likely enhanced our microbiomes. Overall, a successful trip.

Sea Glass

Homeschooling in the Woods

I parked the van next to a medicine man. I didn’t immediately see him, I just saw the large amount of stuff hanging out of his aging Ford Explorer. Turning off the engine of the homeschooling version of a school bus, I let the eighty-five degree heat of the afternoon smack into me. I looked around my surroundings. There was woods, woods, a distant mobile home, woods, and a large tractor mowing the grass in the ditches in the distance. Ten minutes out of town was essentially the middle of nowhere. Then I noticed the medicine man. I’ll admit, the title of Medicine Man may have been a leap of faith.

Homeschooling in the woodsHe was sitting in the back of his SUV, with the back window popped open. I could only make out his silhouette through the tint, but it was evident he was sitting perfectly still, staring out at the woods. A carved staff was in his hand, held out horizontally.

I went ahead and got the kids out of the van, starting to have second thoughts about the whole excursion. We walked around to the head of the trail, standing behind the large wooden sign that displayed the trail map a short distance from the SUV. I was busy thinking to myself: Where in the hell is the rest of the group? They need to get here before Medicine Man wakes up from his trance. 

The Schooling Begins

As luck would have it, they did. A group of friendly strangers unloaded from many vehicles approximately five minutes later. Children frolicked over to the head of the trail to join us. The group of fellow homeschoolers commenced their walk into the woods to achieve a particular goal for the week: Locate and learn about seeds.

Homeschooling in the woodsWhere Medicine Man left vibes of questionable intentions hanging in the air, these ladies all exuded kindness. I felt safe in my pack. Making it only a short distance into the woods, multiple cans of bug spray were whipped out. Clouds of bug poison wafted toward us, and my kids coughed, scampering to escape it. Someone was already complaining about the yellow flies.

City kids, I thought as the kids and I walked onward happily, swatting a yellow fly here or there. There is that saying, “We should be rigorous in judging ourselves, and gracious in judging others,” or “Judge not and you will not be judged.” But who takes advice from solid, time-tested sources, right?

It wasn’t long before it was decided that the walk was concluding due to bugs. It was to be relocated to a place about a ten minute drive back into town, to a little state park with well-maintained property. We didn’t mind too much—there might not be a medicine man there.

Homeschooling in the woodsThe kids spent a bit of time trotting about the mowed property, locating seeds that can be scattered by wind, animal poop, pod explosions, etc. It was a lovely afternoon near a nice heavy smell of salt water and steeped in late afternoon sun. It was then that I noticed some creepy-crawlies meandering across my hands and arms. Just a few stray seed ticks. I flicked them off, thinking how we would do a careful inspection at bath time.

The Great Tick Examination

A careful inspection indeed. It took an hour just to cleanse the tot. The wise thing would have been to immediately soap ourselves down all over once getting home. Unfortunately, wisdom often seems to be acquired by experience. Sometimes, itchy experience. The poor tot evidently got into a tick nest, and after bath time the six-legged arachnids had already attached themselves. All seventy-one of them.

Homeschooling in the woods
What is this crappy picture, you ask? It is the beasts in a bowl of alcohol.

The number of times I have said “hold still” in my lifetime was duplicated in that one hour span. The boy was the flashlight holder, shining down the best light for finding the pin-head sized little beasts. Asking the boy, being five, to hold the flashlight was kind of like asking a puppy to hold it. Every five seconds it was swiveling in another direction. Somehow, we got them off. The boy managed to only harbor one. I was a bit more popular, collecting approximately twenty.

Those city kids had the right idea. Thank goodness we didn’t go any further, I might have been picking ticks off all night. And who knows, maybe Medicine Man was the modern day Buddha, and I’ve missed out on obtaining enlightenment because I was too scared to approach his SUV/house. Who knows? I’m just fine keeping it that way.

And now I will be spending the rest of my evening itching and scratching.

A Log of Eccentric Homeschooling Activities

Homeschooling ActivitiesWhat to do on a steamy fall morning, after the school books have been taken off the table? The traffic had calmed, the stores were full of retirees—the perfect time for a homeschooler’s outing.

First Up: The Hardware Store

The mid-morning sun was hot enough to turn the plastic handle on the fancy race car cart to the temperature of scalding dishwater. I stood there in those strong golden rays at the store front, while the children had a good educational examination of the lawn mowers for sale. The tot nearly tripped over the fat yellow cord that is either there to trip up the schemes of thieves, or to trip up toddlers that want to climb on them. Maybe both.

The boy knows a lot about riding lawn mowers. He quickly popped the hood.

“Here’s the oil! Let’s check the battery,” he said, shuffling around the machine. The tot climbed aboard, gripping the steering wheel like she was ready for a bumpy ride. “Look! Here’s the gas!” Continued the boy.

I eyed the passersby, all nice retirees thinking the kids were cute. I wondered when a sales associate would show up and tell me that children are not supposed to open the gas caps. None were in sight. The kids moved onto the next mower. A quick examination of oil, battery, and gas tank was made. Then the boy got comfy up on top, moving levers that made uncomfortable clunks. I was beginning to sweat. The boy hopped off the row of green mowers and onto an orange one.

Homeschooling Activities
The tot shaking the skeleton like a puppy shakes a toy.

“Look! This one is like ours because it is not a John Deere!” The boy said. I hadn’t realized that all mower manufacturers could be lumped into two categories: “John Deere” and “Not John Deere.” I felt like the boy should be wearing a baseball cap with the John Deere logo on it. Maybe he ought to be staring in a commercial with that line.

Moving Right Along

I managed to usher the kindergartner and the nursery school tot into the race car cart and into the air conditioning. Shop class was over. We strolled through the store, through the appliances.

“This place is a house!” The boy said, pointing to all the display kitchens. “How do they get those kitchens home?” If only kitchens could be installed with a crane, the entire room dropped down inside as though it were part of a doll house.

We meandered over to the Halloween section. The tot looked with trepidation at a large blown-up pumpkin-headed creature. We kept the cart moving.  There was no fear of the green-faced witch, or the growling wolf-man, and some genuine affection for the skeletons. We squeezed in a little bit of anatomy in today’s lessons after all.

We headed home.  The children then took it upon themselves to take home economics class. Today’s topic covered was cookie making, in addition to flour scattering, raisin eating, and other more minor skills required in baking.

The results were quite impressive.

Homeschooling Activities

The Twelve Inch Tire Version of Life

Twelve-Inch Tire“Hurry! We’ve got to catch those people!” The boy yelled, picking up his bike where he had tossed it on the road. There was something reminiscent of a person hopping on a motorcycle and blasting off, the way the boy hopped onto that twelve-inch-tired bike and sped off.

“Oh no! We’ve got to catch the people!” The tot shouted in the twelve-inch-tire version of a voice. She started the twelve-inch-tire version of a run, which I could manage to keep up with pretty well with my twenty-six inch tire version of legs.

I ambled onward, looking at the sky. The Florida version of Mother Nature isn’t convinced that the seasons are shifting. Today she took a day off from her work toward autumn, and decided to sic some nasty summer thunderstorms on us. The clouds were still swaying about the sky, slowly clearing off, as the sun gave over to the moon.

“We’ve got to catch the people! We’ve got to catch the people!” The tot chanted, her words garbled up here and there as she stumbled over nicks in the road. I picked up the pace a bit, dragging an umbrella stroller with a mind of its own along with me. The thing was bent on turning in any direction that wasn’t straight, and we skittered along together to the sound of the tot’s garbled chant.

Onward

Down the curving streets, as twilight started to seep in. There were no other kids out so late on a school night; just us homeschoolers. Nobody in our house is getting up at 6:30 in the morning to pack a school lunch tomorrow.

“Hurry! Hurry!” The boy egged us on, held back by the rule of not getting too far ahead, dragging us along like a rusty anchor. “They turned the corner!”

We soon stood at the crossroads.  A left turn to be homeward bound; a right turn to further the chase. I looked up at the moon, almost full, shining down on us. My mom used to say that walking in moonlight was good for you. I decided I agreed.

Moonlit Walk
Chasing the Moon

“We’ll take the long way tonight, because the moon is full,” I told the children, who cheered and continued on. The suspects were getting away—they had to act fast.

The moon followed us, sneaking a glance at us through the pine trees. I watched how the branches of live oaks, so normally appealing in the daylight with the stately way they stand horizontal to the ground, suddenly looked eerie in the growing darkness. Everything loses its comfort in the dark. All that full moonlight soothes us.

Win or Lose

The boy was still held back, dragging along his anchor; a breathless tot made a false move in a shallow ditch and landed her butt in muddy water. Tears were shed, mud was sloshed, and then again: “We’ve got to catch the people!”

By the next bend I could see our heroes were growing tired. The tot’s trot was becoming a waddle. The boy’s enthusiasm had waned. The sun sent out its last burst of color, bits of pink here and there—a backdrop of light to all the silhouettes of Florida: Short needle pines, miscellaneous under-story scrub, and palmetto fronds.

Florida Sunset
The dramatic version of Florida, that exists in my imagination.

Sadly, the people’s distant figures disappeared around a curve, too far off to be pursued any further. The scent had gone cold. I don’t know what the neighbors did to be chased like that, but no doubt it was something very offensive—the twelve-inch tire version of offensive, anyway.

Cooking with Children: Teaching Skills and Vulgarity

Big gold eyes stared at me from the darkness.  Unblinking, full of misery—the stare of determination. His breath was held, as he waited for my response. I gave none. Finally, he folded. Give me the cheese, he said with his eyes.

Teaching Children Cooking
In case you wondered what I look like, here is my self portrait—forty-one eyes.

“It’s been a long day,” I said, “You’ve got dog food you know.” The house is very quiet now, so quiet I can hear the summer insects singing through the walls. Everything has its balance. Twelve hours ago it was all noise.

Scout Meeting Number Two

Today I handed over my newly cleaned house on a silver platter to our Spiral Scouts circle. As their fearless leader, I ushered seven kids under seven into the dining room to continue work on our cooking badge. I got lucky. The first badge my circle is working on is something I enjoy teaching children.

As per the badge requirements, the children are learning the seven-year-and-younger version of self-sufficiency. Self-sufficiency began today with making a side salad, largely because I could incorporate a bunch of physical skills into it.

The Procedure

My dining room table would have looked very elegant set up with various shining metal bowls of water for washing the lettuce leaves, if it were not for that ugly red bowl. Scouts’ dues don’t exactly pay for beauty—they barely pay for lettuce.

Teaching children cooking
That blasted red bowl…

After washing the leaves, the scouts had to break them into appropriate sized pieces and put them in their own bowl. I should have gotten pictures of the salads. There were many almost intact lettuce leaves. I heard one parent saying “Are you going to fit that in your mouth?” The kids either learned to break salad greens, or learned how to have vulgar eating habits. Either way.

Teaching children cooking
Banana-Split Carrots and Tomatoes

The children then traveled to the west side of the dining room table, where I had put seven carrots in a pretty little banana-split dish. Who makes banana-splits in a fancy dish? Clearly, it was made for holding carrots. Reverse psychology—now I really want to make a banana split in that thing. Anyway, the kids then had to peel their carrots, and grate them over their salads. This, thank goodness, resulted in no skinned-knuckles. I heard more than one parent say “Now we don’t want any thumbs in our salads.” I love these people.

Teaching children cooking
The Aftermath

Then they added a few cherry tomatoes, and moved onward to the east end of the table, where I hovered over the bottle of expensive olive oil. It was time to make my standard vinaigrette, which was almost guaranteed to repulse any child, but did require a great deal of measuring and pouring for practice’s sake. The children poured their olive oil and balsamic vinegar, measured out their sugar, salt, and garlic, and then got to shake the mixture up in a mason jar—the fun part. Miraculously, three out of the seven children (including the refined taste buds of my son) actually liked the vinaigrette. The other children were given your standard American ranch dressing to mask the garlic/balsamic vinegar.

Teaching children to cook
And then the return of quiet, to balance it all out.

Then, all restraints gave way. The children ran circles around the house like screaming banshees, just blurs of the same colored polo shirt uniform. Another scout meeting under my belt, complete with a side salad.

I gave the cheese to Big Dog. Those sad gold eyes—he’s too good.

The First Day of School, at Home

Sunset WalkAugust 1st was our first day of school, out of laziness. I wanted the official beginning of schooling on a nice easy day to remember, like the first—rather than the 8th, when all the public school children started. As it turns out, I suck at preserving memories. I was going to take the iconic back-to-school pictures with my son wearing an (empty) backpack next to the front door. I totally forgot. But I can still do it, and no one would know…

For the first day of official homeschooling, we did exactly the same thing we have done every weekday morning for the last six months. (Again, I’m not excellent at making memories.) I got to look at the squiggly lines of a five-year-old’s printed letters, listened to a cute voice carefully picking through the words of a story, and rolled chocolate chips across the table for every correct subtraction answer spouted out.

Other New Beginnings 

The day got more eventful later on, when the boy got to attend his first karate class, which only by luck coincided with his “official” beginning of school. We’d tried martial arts in the past, and that is a separate story for a separate paragraph.

DirectionsSix months ago we tried out a class. It was one of those places with the fake rubber bad guy staring out the window at you. The American flag was emblazoned all over, like a permanent Independence Day celebration. The man running it was one of those people that is supposedly very physically fit, but looks a bit soft around the middle. He had a robust personality. A big talker—that was clear immediately.

The boy sat in on a class. Twenty other kids were subdued into little lines on the mats, while twenty parents all lined up against the wall, watching. Quite an audience. The boy shut down; there was no chance he’d perform in front of that crowd. It was just as well, because I watched the big talker tell the kids all about the glory of his military experience, and then instruct the kids to bow to the flag, rather than the instructor.

Choosing Our Teachers Wisely

Picking our own wise ones to follow is tricky, and even more so trying to pick them for the next generation. Patriotism aside, bowing to the military isn’t something I’m that keen on instilling in my son. So, I kept looking. I was pretty sure I’d found the one I’d been looking for when I spoke to him on the phone. He had a subtle Hispanic accent—his words had a soft rhythm, spoken smoothly and calmly, those words entering my ears and circulating, relaxing all my muscles. I listened in silence. Yes, the details are all good. Oh, let’s take a nap.

Not surprisingly, the class went swimmingly. My son added some extra superhero flair to the kicks and punches he was instructed to do. There is nothing cuter than miniature superheroes learning to control their bodies, and learning to bow to someone hand-picked for his wisdom.

Reading

A Learning Milestone

When we got home, as though to bring a proper conclusion to our first official day, the boy picked up a chapter book and just started reading. Of his own accord. After he read one chapter I asked him what it was about, so he read the next two chapters aloud. It was a brilliant moment in teaching, and I am hooked on The Magic Treehouse series too, like a five-year-old.

Now to remember to get that dusty backpack out tomorrow and get those first-day-of-school pictures.