Walking on Air

luca walking on air

the best air-walker I know is nine.

The air is heavy in Sheridan County today. We cannot see our mountains through the smoke that has settled in the valley. Idaho is on fire and our horizon is missing. Their stoic grandeur usually feels solid and certain, directional; I feel lost without the mountains to my west.

The missing mountains upend me even more as I leave summer days behind for my office and curriculum planning. It’s not that I hate coming to work – I love my job and I am annoyingly fond of the starting school year. But I do not like trading fresh air and sunshine for inside time. I always feel a bit lost in my air conditioned office.

Yet today I was happy to work indoors, if only to escape the smoke. The fog I face in my brain is so similar to the veil hiding my mountains. I know where the peaks are, but when they aren’t in sight I feel disoriented. I know how to plan the semester, but I can’t see beyond the pile of work in front of me to the start of classes.

As I point out before the start of every semester, when my usual landmarks are missing, I go looking for words. Sometimes I search for class readings and lesson ideas, but more often I read poetry. The poet’s economy of words smooths the frayed edges of my back-to-school brain. This August, I keep going back to the epitaph that was just added to Seamus Heaney’s grave in Bellaghy, Co Derry, Ireland: “walk on air against your better judgement.”

Heaney has explained the line, from his poem The Gravel Walks, as a new understanding, a break from his “earth hugging” work that is so closely tied to the practical world. He said he began “to look up” and realize that “the marvelous was as permissible as the matter-of-fact.” Heaney reminds his readers to seek the in-between spaces. He has said that the space between the “dream world” and the “given world” is beautiful, even necessary. tumblr_mig2mijBIR1rrbaxho1_1280

When we cannot see clearly, we are forced to look up from the practical, “given,” world. Maybe the smoky veil obscuring the mountains forces me to seek new landmarks. And maybe the haze of the new school semester forces me to seek inspiration in unfamiliar places. Heaney’s recommendation “to walk on air” suggests an action rooted in something like faith. We cannot use our knowing brains to understand the “dream world” – we must extend our thinking and trust something other than what we can see in front of us. I feel ungrounded without my mountains, but that seems to be just what Heaney is suggesting: an un-grounding that will reveal the marvelous.

The smoky air makes it hard for me to breath and I will welcome the change in winds forecasted to move this air away from our valley. I will welcome clear skies and familiar landmarks. Likely the haze in the air will dissipate far more quickly than the haze in my head, but maybe I can take advantage of the change in perspective and find something spectacular for my upcoming classes.

~ Sarah

Home Alone

frank creek School starts this week. My boys have new skinny jeans and overpriced t-shirts for their first day. We delivered their school supplies during last week’s open house and we are already spending afternoons running between football practice and the dinner table. They feign disgust at going back, but they’re at least a little psyched to see their friends and show off their new haircuts. It is time: ten year old boys are not meant to stay home all day with their mothers.

Our summer was largely unscheduled. My boys did not attend summer camp or take swimming lessons. They played some tennis and made a few short trips to Colorado, but most days were long, slow versions of a cut-rate sit-com: squabbling punctuated by adventure and surprisingly manageable chaos. At least twice a day somebody claimed to be bored.

Unscheduled days at home would have been impossible a year ago. The boys needed pretty much constant direction and supervision (not to mention squabble intervention!), but this summer they started to spend some time at home alone. I only leave them for an hour or so, and in the age of cell phones I’m never really out of reach. The boys usually watch T.V. or play the Wii, but they’ve also surprised me by reading while I’m at the gym. An hour to workout or meet a friend for coffee feels like freedom – for all of us.canoe and boys

Once they’d mastered hanging out at home solo, I started sending them on errands on their bikes. They run to the grocery down the hill for milk and bread. Frank picked up his new soccer cleats at the Sports Stop down on Main Street. I encouraged them to bike to the ice cream stand at the city park. As long as they stuck together and let me know where they were going, they had their run of town. The boys don’t always love being on their own, but when I overheard them bragging to their friends, I knew I wasn’t the only one happy with the new arrangement.

luca bikeSo it surprised me that my new habit of running out while the kids sit like slugs on the couch scared some of my peers. My closest friends nod and validate my parenting – either out of agreement or loyalty (I’m good with either option). But some other acquaintances seem surprised, even shocked at my willingness to leave my boys unattended. They have expressed the usual concerns: accidents, fires, kidnappings. “Don’t you worry?” they mutter. One woman even said, “Are you sure that’s legal?”

It seems that those concerns are too often the norm. In July, a South Carolina mother was arrested for letting her nine-year old daughter play at the park alone. The girl had a cellphone and it was broad daylight, but the local police determined that the child was in danger and she was placed in the custody of child protective services. Debra Harrell’s case is complicated by class and race and culture, but public reaction was revelatory: the parents of America must contend with a culture of fear.

We fear that our kids might be kidnapped (extremely rare – kids are more likely to have a heart attack). We fear that they won’t be smart enough or athletic enough. We worry that they will be too dependent on us or too wrapped up in the virtual world. We are afraid to trust our gut instincts and our intuition.   But the biggest fear is also the silliest: we fear the judgment of other parents. Who will leer down her nose at us? Who will disapprove of our kids, of us by extension? Who will turn her back on us?

This fear has become so central to parenting that we fail to recognize the real dangers in our children’s lives: grandiose expectations, bad food, concussions, a lack of comprehensive sex education, their tendency to text while moving, our tendency to forget about unconditional love. These are dangers we can do something about. We can examine our expectations, talk about food and sex, and model good behavior. We can give our kids practice – send them out on their own to experience natural consequences while making sure they have a soft place to land. It is a scary prospect. But I’m convinced it is what I signed up for; my job is to help them leave.

My boys will come home on the bus this afternoon. They will expect a snack and help with their homework.   I will ask them about school and they will shrug and mumble something odd. We will rush out the door to football practice and eat dinner at 8:30. I’m glad they still need my help navigating their daily lives – I dread the day they don’t need me anymore.  I know it is around the corner.first day of school 2014

Stability

Going back to school is like standing in front of a fire hose on a hot day: refreshing but entirely too much to handle all at once.  I should have planned ahead for my post this week – had something powerful waiting in the wings – but I’ve been buying school supplies and tidying syllabi, closing down summer, and planning last hurrays.  This week I fought with my computer and lost.  I broke up the last of the backseat fistfights and moved into a new office.  I love going back to school – I love school supplies and new students and un-sharpened pencils.  New semesters look hopeful and open on my white desk calendar. But I’m tired and overwhelmed.  I already miss my little boys and the long evenings we enjoyed without homework or bedtime. I know that my school brain is somewhere waiting for me, but I can’t seem to find any extra words to describe that crazy combination of excitement and anxiety that comes with a new school year. But I need words – from somewhere – to ease the sharp edges of chaos.

Hiding from the calendar…

 

Earlier this summer, some friends asked me to be godmother to their infant son.  We gathered for a quiet, outdoor ceremony in the mountains near our homes.  We stood in the rain and read to the baby from our favorite books.  My husband and I chose a short poem written by a friend and an excerpt from Kahlil Gibran’s book  The Prophet.   My copy of “On Children” is dirty and frayed; before it was  tacked to my refrigerator, it hung in both my mother’s and my grandmother’s kitchens.

All week Gibran’s words have played through my head.   They are familiar.  They corner my chaos and moderate my need for control.   They could be applied to parenting, or growing up.

Or they could be a reminder to teachers going back to work.

On Children

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

 You may give them your love but not your thoughts.

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His    arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;

 For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

–          Kahil Gibran

Will I miss this? – S