cycling through

February 28, 2012

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly life cycles through periods of upheaval and periods of normality, seamlessly sliding from one to the next. So it was that today there was little trace of the great fear that was all around us even as recently as yesterday.
Today there was a level of comforting reassurance in the most mundane tasks of my day. Even the frustrations held a certain level of sweetness: I snuck a muttered note of sarcasm into a response to one of my troublemaker students, enjoying my private joke over his incessant excuses. I puzzled over a Trigonometry problem for a while, then shrugged and looked it up in the answer key so the students could figure it out by working backwards. I complained about the hassle of trying to get groceries when under restriction, then remembered that I have never liked shopping anyhow! I slipped and fell on the ice then smiled at how much more graceful this fall was than my last :-)
Yes, we are still on a high level of alert. But the great thing about working with children is that you simply cannot dwell for long on the uncertainties. You simply have to just keep on with life as usual, even if you have no idea whatsoever how long “usual” will last.
After classes ended, I joined a couple upper school students in the painting of a backdrop for the upcoming play. And I marveled at how this same space in which we have huddled together to wait out the alarm threat is now taken up with creative endeavors.
Would that we could do the same with all that mis-placed and mis-used energy, directing it towards projects of peace.

a shot in the light

February 27, 2012

So this time I specifically requested more snowball-throwing. I mean, when you are confined together for expended periods of time, within the gates of a compound, you’ve gotta find outlets for releasing energy. After spotting some expert tosses by this young shooter, I went for my camera and returned to capture one of his shots. As I did so, I thought of how much better this land, this life, would be if more people could be satisfied by the shooting of snowballs. But no: hatred has such force that even when the weather is brutal, and daily life a struggle, people still have the need here for life-taking displays of power. I do not understand. There is much, in fact, in the “grown up” world that I simply do not get.
And that is one of the reasons I think I work with children. In the simplicity of childhood there is much that the adult world would do well to take to heart. Last night as I Skyped with my niece, I mused on that pure beauty of the young. So have her smile at me, laugh at my antics, and call me by name: it was the simplest of things, but oh so lovely. That is the stuff of life–the true stuff. When weapons and war are overpowering one’s vision, we must remember what is true: therein lies our hope.

unto the hills

February 23, 2012

. . . unto the hills.
When my state of mind is as unsettled as my current home [a mattress on the floor in another’s dining room]. When the future is uncertain, and the pressure is on. When security has come to mean guards with guns instead of personal stability. When rioting is outside our gates and interpersonal conflicts within . . . from whence cometh my help?
I will lift up my eyes . . .

step by step . . . ooh, baby?

February 21, 2012

So this is what it feels like to be a mother of 16 5-year-olds . . . or that’s the closest thing I can think of right now to the experience of Kindergarten teacher. Probably a bit more dramatic for me at the moment because of the combination of work responsibilities and housing issues. Seven women sharing a house with weeks of power/heat/hot water outages, and no idea of when that will change? Check. Roaming sub, with 2nd graders one full day, 4th graders the next, High School Honors the following day, and Kindergarten following right behind? Check. Wearisome decision-making and uncertainty about next year, with a looming pressure to know soon[or maybe now?]? Check.
One slightly-scattered and definitely-drained teacher/librarian? Check.
Sometimes you just have to keep on moving forward, one baby step at a time . . . or kindergartener-step, as the case may be :-)

not it

February 20, 2012

As I packed up my classroom materials and walked out to carline duty, I had to laugh at the sight of the upper school P.E. class. We spend our days hounding students about snowball-throwing. But I really can’t blame them, in the midst of my scolding. I mean, how else is one to let out excess energy in this sort of environment? But of course we have to wear our stern teacher faces and give the appearance of utter disapproval.
So here I was about to go to the after-school job that consists almost entirely of stopping snowball fights, and I spot the seniors enjoying a teacher-sanctioned game of what appeared to be snowball tag. I watched for a moment and then carried on my way without a word . . . just making sure I hid my smile behind my camera :-)

come unto me

February 17, 2012

Let the children come. How fitting, considering my recent readings and inspirations, was the lesson I had for today’s Funday School. Come unto me, He said. To the least of these. For the activity portion of the lesson, I had the children cover sheets of red and green butcher paper with drawings or words illustrating how they are told to “stop” and how J demonstrated “go” . . . or, rather, “come,” to Him. This led to some interesting depictions of sibling interactions and parental intrusions, as one might imagine. Then we all came to J together, with our prayer requests. One little one raised his hand. “I came from Canada. And I miss my home,” he deliberately articulated. After a few more children had spoken, he raised his hand again, “I have a dog in Canada. Her name is Roxie. And she died. We had to kill her, because she was hurting . . . I miss my dog.”
For a bit, I could say reply with nothing more eloquent than “Oh!” Eventually I recovered my proper teacher mode enough to give a more appropriate consolation. It did remind me, however, that work with little ones is a constant exercise in improvisation. That and the fact that I actually mis-prepared one activity, thinking the children had already done one story that they had not. A bit of re-staging the scene, and of reminding myself that children were pretty forgiving, and all was soon well again. But when it came down to it, I think I probably learned more from the lesson than I taught.
Let the children come. Let the weary gown-ups come. Come and find rest.

if all be failure

February 14, 2012

“What if all be failure—I have no fear.—If only one family—if only one little unhappy child is made happy with the love of Jesus, tell me, will it not be worth us giving all for that . . .?
Once again, I find the words of Mother Theresa to be both inspiring and comforting. Today I face the same challenges as usual for these workdays: the need for stamina through the sometimes-too-much of daily responsibilities . . . the need for patience with little ones—and with not-so-little youth . . . the need for wisdom in the midst of future uncertainty. But today there was a bit more inner peace in the midst of it. Not due to any practical resolutions—or not that I can tell, at least. Due rather, I can only assume, to my waking this morning with a determination to spend the day seeking Him, and beseeching Him, for the guidance that has been promised. I have nothing to give, in and of myself; this truth is one that is hammered into my stubborn will daily . . . hourly . . . moment-ly, as I take one baby step at a time. I lose my patience, in spite of my determination to have the patience of . . . Mother Theresa? I react rashly, in spite of my determination to be slow, and deliberate, in my actions. I respond emotionally, in spite of my determination to respond with rational wisdom.
But the promise is that I am under His guidance no matter how much of a failure any given part of my days may be. So today I taught my classes and interacted with my students. I evaluated art projects and instructed in portrait drawing. And later, in the slower pace of after-school activities, I enjoyed low-key crafts with the youngest ones of the school. One of them asked me if we could go out to the playground again, as we had yesterday. “Sure,” I said, anxious myself to get outside while the sun shone. I stood watching the children play, in a patch of twilight sun. It shone so brightly on my face that I didn’t even feel the cold anymore: my warm cheeks seemed to radiate heat to the rest of my bundled up parts. Agreeing to a request to for swing-pushing services, I smiled at the pure joy of children in the snow. Time stood gloriously still, and I gave thanks.
If all be failure? Yes, it will be worth it all . . .

snow portrait

February 11, 2012

I can’t really take credit for the idea. But I like it. As we walked through the falling snow this afternoon, one of my students asked if she could take photos of the snow falling on my face. Seeing as how she is in my advanced art class, I justified the digression from our normal lesson for its creative value. Later, once class was finished, I thought it might be kind of fun to see if I could manage the same thing as a self-portrait. I didn’t get the full snowy effect, but it was a nice way to enjoy the beginnings of the flurries before they get to their inevitable conclusion of, for me, not so enjoyable walls of icy confinement.

word play

February 9, 2012

I guess it was bound to be an unusual day in the classroom, considering we held school as usual today on what is normally our Saturday. And sure enough, it was. I tried to carry on with business as usual. Really, I did. Beginning with “Critique” time: one class had finished their latest project, so students were expected to give thorough critiques of each other’s projects in class. One student began, evaluating the printmaking project hanging on the wall: “I like it,” he said. “It is a nice composition, and I like how the people and words are carved into it. And I like how the word ‘fart’ curves up like that . . . ”
Wait a sec, I interrupted him. What did you say?
“What do you mean?” he asked.
What word did you say was on the print? I pressed.
“Fart,” he said, straight-faced and serious.
I resisted the urge to giggle and corrected him, Actually, no–that says ‘faith,’ not . . . well, don’t worry about it. Carry on.
He continued with his critique, and I enjoyed the joke on my own, realizing that he did not realize the significance of his goof, not knowing enough English slang to be aware of it.
Oddly enough, this interaction was not in one of my middle school classes, tell-tale humor notwithstanding. They had their fun though, for sure, creating some pretty decent drawings of their shoes . . . using their toes to draw with :-)

making peace

February 4, 2012

Passing time. All we really need is sleep. But the chairs are too hard, and the floor too dirty in this airport terminal. So instead we camp out together at metal tables, in plastic chairs. Passing time. We have spent 5 days together at a hectic pace, traveling together from one Arab country to another, preparing debates, researching topics, socializing with some 400 delegates from all over the world, and making mad dashes for almost-missed events [due to the learning curve of figuring out how time-consuming teenage prep time can be!]. And we are tired now, as we head back to our place of school and work. Ok, so I am tired now. Don’t know if I can speak so much for my troop of teens. No doubt they feel it less than I do. For my part, I must admit to a feeling of dread for jumping into the beginning of the week immediately upon arrival. It will be a challenge to face the week after skipping one night of sleep altogether, and skimping on a series of them. But this is one of those situations in life when you just have to trust that there will be grace for that weakness . . .
*pausing now to respond to a “Hey, Miss J—come look at this!”
So is this what it feels like to mother teens? I do hope that having 6 at once, cold turkey, makes it slightly more challenging than your average parenting process: Lord knows it’s kicking my butt! But oh, how good it has been! More prominent even than the feeling of dread for the long week ahead, in fact, is the sadness that this time has ended. It flew by so very quickly—as times like this do. And after the softness of this time, so far as the relations between us go, the sadness of the time ending is largely due to the return to “normal” teacher/student relations that must come now.
The last evening of the conference included a “Culture Night,” in which each school’s delegates presented some sort of snippet of their country’s culture, mainly in the form of dance and song. Needing no prompting, our group chose to spend long hours preparing a traditional dance in which all of them would participate. Before the presentation, they decided to have one student introduce the dance. This was unusual, so far as the other presentations go. And what she said when she got up before the audience was even more unusual. She had come to me beforehand, nervous about the fact that she kept crying when she thought about what she was going to say. And I was awed. Awed by the heart of this mature young woman, and awed by her insight. I don’t think I would even have had such far-sighted wisdom when I was in high school. I don’t think many people ever get to such a point, for that matter! She explained the history of this dance and then she did indeed tear up as she continued, “Most people don’t realize how beautiful our country is. They only think of it as a war-torn land. But it is the most beautiful country in the world . . .”
Then they began to dance. And in that dance was packaged all the beauty that brought such emotion to her young heart. It was beautiful. They were—are—beautiful.