Archive for September, 2009

Old Dog, New Trick

Sep 21 2009 Published by under borderland

My 14 year-old son and his sisters have been on skis since they were toddlers, but my son decided at an early age that he’d become a snowboarder. I was proud and a not a little awed to see him, at age 6, take off into the terrain garden at Alyeska on his $40 plastic K-Mart snowboard, bombing the hill straight for the biggest jump in the place. It was the first time he’d tried this, and he held nothing back. A small group of teenage boys sitting around the top of the hill noticed him, and one of them said, “Way to go, little man.” He nailed the jump.

I was so inspired I rented a board the next day. Not that I wanted to do jumps, I just wanted to see how hard or fun it would be to ride. I found out quickly, when I tried to get off the ski lift. After I crawled away on my hands and knees, dragging the board with one foot, I got the other foot strapped in and tried to stand up. The very next thing I learned about snowboarding was that standing up with both of your feet strapped to a single board, flat on the ground, is harder than it looks. I could not get up. Peter, age 6, observed, “Maybe you’re too fat, Dad.”

Sadly, I suspected he was right. I got around the standing-up problem by laying on my back, picking the board up off the ground with my feet, and rolling over to my stomach. No style points for that. No style points for getting down the hill that first time, either.

This past summer I decided it was time to get rid of all the useless weight I’ve been carrying around for the past 20 years, and as of today – 4 months exactly from when I started – I’ve lost a little over 50 pounds. People have asked me how I did it, guessing that I exercised it off. I say, yeah, I’ve been doing that, but I’m also eating less. A lot less. I kept a food journal and counted calories, eating less than 2000 a day.

I saw the doctor for my physical and told him what I was up to, about the journal and such. He said, “I tell everyone to do that. Can I give people your phone number?” I understand how he feels. Teachers hand out lots of advice that people never follow.

At some point during the summer, I announced that I’d be real happy this winter if I could learn the snowboarding “trick” of standing up with both my feet strapped to my board. The kids chuckled, and said that it wasn’t hard at all, even though it’s been impossible for me. Until now. Tonight I tried sitting on the floor with my feet flat on the floor in front of me. And without moving them, I can stand up!

It’s a good day.

4 responses so far

Ripped in Pieces

Sep 16 2009 Published by under borderland

Today was Picture Day at the elementary school. Picture Day is that special day, each year, when kids come to school in their nicest fanciest clothes, shirts buttoned all the way up to the collar, hair just so. They get herded down to the place where the photographer invites them to choose their background color, sit on a stool and face that way, chin up, tilt head a little bit, OK, now….big smile….

It seems so simple. But it involves multiple trips to the bathroom throughout the day for some so they can look in the mirror to make sure they look just right. Picture Day also requires special classroom management strategies so the teacher can go with the photographer’s flow. I was ready this year. I’d already sent the kids to the bathroom to perform necessary maintenance chores. The only loose end I had to take care of was to run down the hall to get a couple of kids out of another class when the picture lady came, earlier than expected, to escort us to the Commons. I told her that she could put the kids in any order she wanted while I was out of the room. This cleared me of cattle herding duty. Bonus.

After the pictures, there wasn’t much time left in the day, and everyone was charged up from all the excitement. This is where the afternoon reading and writing workshop comes in handy. The kids got the laptops and started writing as if it was the most natural thing to do at the end of the day, even though we’ve only been working together for a couple of weeks. Most days, I do a short presentation about something I’ve noticed some of them trying – today it was punctuation for quotes – then I turn them loose on the website.

It’s an exceptionally talented group. I’m really getting a charge out of Zelnox, who knows a thing or two about word choice, and the rhythm of language. Eskimo M is prolific. Luna Lovegood is our culture critic. And good1 is a humorist:

My dog Oscar is a big boxer. He is black and brown and very strong. He is also very smart, and very bad. He picks the lock on our fence and gets out. But the worst thing he ever did was eat my sister’s bunny.

My family and I had gone out for breakfast, and when we got back Oscar was chewing on a bunny head. When my sister saw what he had, she freaked out and chased Oscar with a stick. We buried the bunny head, and put up a cross that said R.I.P. My sister asked what R.I.P. meant, and she thought I said ripped in pieces. So she hit me with her stick and ran away crying.

Another thing about Oscar is that he failed obedience school and is impossible to train.

Academic style has its place in school, but we don’t need to dwell exclusively on formal writing. Writing conventions – spelling and punctuation – are important, but the kids have wide latitude with topics and length of their pieces. What good are reading and writing if all kids ever do is generate tired texts they’ve been directed to produce in school? The writing they’re all most likely to do is just this sort of thing – creative and informal. I see the curriculum as a jumping-off point rather than a destination. We’re going for it, and having fun messing around with writing.

As for me, I expect to be able to post more regularly after cross country running season ends in a couple of weeks. I’ve got three kids in high school this year, and they’re all running. I’ve also got a woodpile that’s not quite split and stacked, and the geese and cranes have mostly already flown south; winter soon.

6 responses so far