Tagged vignette

Change up Change Up

The title is a sentence, not a repetitive title! The following is a story from our last Change-Up meeting, re-told a couple days later so know it’s from my perspective and memory, and there may be parts I fill in from imagination to make the story flow. An example of this is filling in specific words said when there is no recording of the exact phrasing. In these cases, I strive to portray the integrity of what was said or meant, rather than caring to know the exact phrasing of words used. There’s also the possibility that I confuse later conversation into the ones from the moment of the story due to memory mix up. Finally, for those in pictures, I will change the names of the kids for their privacy. 

Knowledge that is helpful to know before reading is that we’ve changed up Change Up a little this year. There are times where it only takes 20 minutes to go through the Community Mastery Board, so we spend the other part of the hour doing some type of Community Connection – a game, an activity, a discussion, a group challenge or a practice that helps us bind as a community. For this Change Up meeting, participating in a group challenge (within smaller groups) was the activity presented.

 


 

“I can’t hear anything, how am I supposed to do this?” Marcy cries out in frustration, after asking a group of boys nearby to be quieter.

“Hm, I see it feels really challenging for you focus on what you’re doing when the room is so loud. The noise level is challenging for me too. I see that the other kids are also trying their best to so speak and hear each other, and there are probably ways this activity could have been set up differently. I’m sorry, Marce.” I respond, genuinely appreciating the enthusiasm of the kids who are being loud while also really empathizing with how the set up is challenging for her to participate in the way she really wants to. The activity is really fun, and most of the kids are pretty excited to do it.

The room is loud and cluttered with the bodies of children, blocks, blankets and boards. I listen.

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“Okay, so take the longest rectangle block and put it sideways on the ground, so it’s right in front of you. Like if you are sitting criss-cross applesauce, the block is sideways just like your leg is.”

“Now take the red block – you’ve got two left, right? Okay, put it so it’s make a cross with the yellow one on top of that castle piece, that one that’s like a cylinder, ok?”

“Put the block so it runs like a path from you to me, along the ground in front of the tower. Make sure it touches the bottom of the arch piece.”

I look back at Marcy, who is trying to so hard to hear Shawn’s instructions on where to place her blocks. Rena, Marcy’s partner, has moved closer to the white board that divides them from Shawn and Jennifer so she can hear better. She’s repeating the instructions given so Marcy can feel included and can participate in recreating the block tower that Shawn and Jennifer made. Their challenge is to build structures with blocks and then explain to another group how to build it verbally. The other group is behind some type of barricade so they cannot see the structure that was made. They just have to listen to the explanation given and recreate it.

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I walk over to Melissa. “Isn’t it fascinating to observe this? I feel like I am seeing their personalities come alive, seeing their differences and how they respond, describe, and engage! Like, how when Andrew and Gabe first described their structure to Luke and Ayan, they said told them to take all of their blocks and build a wall. So the two walls were completely different. But how Caleb jumped in right away to describe every single block in detail and give very clear, step by step instructions. Both sets of kids given the same instructions, and both carried out in completely different ways!”

Melissa chuckles, “I know, it is really interesting. But have you noticed how Gabe and Andrew’s group have become more detailed in their description since?”

I look over and see that Luke and Ayan are now giving instructions and that the towers being built are similar in appearance from other side of the barricade.

“Can you guys PLEASE be quieter?” Marcy interrupts my observation, and I can see in her face she is thoroughly exhausted from the mental exertion it takes for her to hear their instructions in separation from the background noise. The other nearby group is engaged in their challenge and communicating through the noise. It doesn’t seem to bother them to be in a loud room.

“This is really hard for Marcy,” I say to Melissa.

She nods, “Yeah, and do you notice how Evan isn’t even participating? He would have probably been able to engage if it was just him on one side of the barricade and just one other person on the other. Working in a group like this, in this setting, is not easy for him.”

“Totally. I feel like we can learn a lot from this experience.” We both drift away from each other as we continue to listen and observe.

“Nancy, we’re done, can we do it again?” Caleb calls out, this activity seems to be well suited for his strength in articulation and explanation. I noticed this right away, he is really adept at voicing his thoughts and this task is right up his alley.

I walk over to the group to address all four of them, “So how would you like to take all your blocks into the cloud room and try again? I think Marcy might like to experience the block challenge in a different setting.”

“Yes!” she exclaims, “Thank you! That would be so helpful!” The group members gather their materials and run off.

The challenge continues as Melissa walks over to me and says, “Now wouldn’t this be really funny to do with spouses? We should invite parents to come in and try this, it would be a real test of communication!”

“Oh my goodness, that would be funny to see,” I chuckle. I look around and notice that groups are finishing up, “Oh, how about you and Tomis do the challenge together! Then the kids can see how adults fare at this.”

“What, you don’t want to do that with him?” Melissa asks.

“Ha! Let’s try just two grown ups before we jump into the spouse challenge,” I laugh as I respond.

A group of four boys have finished their challenge, and Tomis and Melissa take over their station. Tomis builds a structure and then the descriptions begin. Slowly but surely, a crowd of children form around them.

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“Okay, so you see the small piece that has indents on one side, like a castle?” Tomis asks.

“The castle turret?” Melissa responds.

“Well not the cylinder, but the really small piece that has the indents on one side.”

“Oh I think I have it. I think you mean the piece that looks like a Pacman ghost.” She does have the correct piece in her hand, the rest of us could see this from our view point of both sides.

“Okay, so put it on top of the cube piece with the windows, but put it so the ridges are facing you, you see how one side has ridges? Put it so the ridges are facing you.” Tomis explains.

Melissa looks confused. From where I stand, it seems so clear the confusion, and hilarious! His vocabulary changed, and she’s examining the side for ridges, and the indents are facing down, so the piece literally looks like a Pacman ghost. He wants her to lie the piece so the Pacman ghost is laying on its side, feet facing sideways.

“Do you understand?” Tomis takes Melissa’s silence for confusion, which is totally correct.

“No.”

He continues with another explanation that is not understood, and finally Melissa just says, “Okay, I think I have it, what’s next.”

I look at the faces of the kids, they are whispering to each other and trying not to laugh. I turn around so they don’t see me trying to hold back laughter as well, I don’t want to give Tomis a clue that Melissa needs more explanation.


We gather in a circle after everyone wraps up to discuss the activity.


I look around at the kids and ask, “So I’d love to hear from you, what did you think of doing this activity? Was it fun? Was it challenging? What was easy? What was hard? For the sake of being able to hear all voices, let’s practice hand-raising for this sharing.”

I sit comfortably in the silence, giving anyone who wants to share time to do so.

A couple hands then go up and I call on them to share.

“It was really fun.”

“It was hard to hear.”

“Can we do it again?”

“I thought it was interesting to see what people would make from our description. I also didn’t realize how hard it would be to follow the instructions given.”

“I am glad I was allowed to ask questions. If I couldn’t ask questions, I don’t think I would be able to do it.”

I call on myself to share my own observation, “I found it interesting that some people describe using more imagery and others are more about describing the shape, like Melissa’s Pacman ghost. If Tomis described the shape as a ghost, she would’ve understood how to place it.” I pause, and then pose another question, “Why do you think Melissa and I proposed this activity for today’s Community Connection time during Change Up?”

“To help us with communication skills.”

“So we can practice working together.”

“To have fun.”

Rena’s hand goes up and I call on her. “I think it’s an empathy practice. It was really fascinating to me to describe something, to say all the words that I know mean putting the block the way I have it, but then seeing that someone else interpreted those words differently. I can see how someone else understands those words, and how it’s completely different than what I meant.”

I am floored at her insight. “Rena, I didn’t even think about this being an empathy practice, wow. I’m so grateful for you sharing this perspective! Your description of this reminds me of many times in my life when I have said something to another and then later realize how it was received was completely different than what I intended.”

I see some nods around the room. Marcy raises her hand and adds, “It’s really interesting to see how you can describe how to put a block, and your description is right, but that when someone puts it down, how they put it is right too based on the description. But it’s different than how you put it!”

“You all have added so greatly to the value of doing an activity like this! I was thinking it was a neat brain activity, one that challenges you to use your articulation skills and your listening skills and you all have shown me it helps us practice even more than that. I like that it’s also hands-on so you get to feel kinetically, and of course you are using your eyes as well. You’re coordinating so many different skills that your brain has to really work. Our brains contain so many different neural pathways, and it’s a healthy practice to challenge it to do fire neurons in many different ways. That’s how we work out our brain. It needs work outs just like our muscles do. That’s why I think it’s healthy to try new things when I can, so my brain can work out.” I get up and do some brain gym movements that we’ve done at school before and continue, “And these movements also help our brains work out differently because you need coordination skills to do them.”

Then Liberty raises her hand to speak, and I call on her. “How come we aren’t doing regular change up?”

I look at the clock. It’s five minutes to three, whoops. I intended to only do this activity for the first 20 to 30 minutes as our Community Connection, but then to have Change Up meeting as normal afterwards. We never went through any of the items on the Change Up board.

“I lost track of time, Lib, I’m sorry. I did mean to go through the board but I was having too much fun with the activity and the discussion. I guess I didn’t want to stop it and it seemed like most of the group was happy to keep doing the activity too.” I pause and hear some “yeah’s” and nods, especially from the kids that I know do not like Change Up meeting. I make gesture toward the Change Up board and say, “This board is really useful for some things. It is helpful to make community agreements and see how we are doing. But I think it’s important to do more than talk about the culture we are doing, but to actually come together and create the culture we want by doing something together. It challenges us to interact as a community, to see each other, to learn how to communicate with one another, and so I think that spending this hour with a mixture of a game, activity, challenge and then sometimes reviewing the board is a healthy compromise.”

Tomis raises his hand, and he adds, “I agree, and also, the culture here has grown to a point that we probably don’t need to have regular change up meeting every week. Perhaps we do something like this every other week for the whole hour and only go over the board every other week, we can talk about that at the next Change Up meeting.” The kids really perk up at this. This statement is a huge compliment and accomplishment. We’ve worked hard as a group to grow to a point where conflicts don’t take up most of our time, but the pursuit of our interests, passions, hobbies, and play do.

 

Spawn Point Vignette

Please enjoy a Spawn Point Vignette published in Tipping Points Magazine in December 2016! I have copied and pasted the content below, the format is a lot prettier from the original publication.


I walk into the Quiet Room, the home of my Spawn Point, after our clean up time. At an Agile Learning Center, a Spawn Point is a small group of students and a facilitator who start and end their day together. It’s about 3:10pm. Clean up keeps getting easier and faster, I think to myself. I look at the facilitation sign up board and see that Evan is facilitating this afternoon.

“Hey Evan, Ayan and Elisha are going to be here in a few minutes.” I see he’s moved the magnets on our GameShifting board to Connection Activity –> Game.

“Hey Nancy,” he says, “I was thinking we could play the game where someone is blindfolded and then they try to walk across the room with our directions.”

For some reason when he tells me this, a big light bulb goes off in my head. Last week I learned about a game I really wanted to play with the kids, but I drew a complete blank on the rules when I was at school. All of a sudden the directions to the game come to me and I can’t help but share.

“Oh, I do like that game, but Evan, remember last week when I forgot the rules to the new game I wanted to play? It just came to me right now. Can I explain it?”

“Sure.”

“This is a game where we get to test our mind connections, like a telepathy game. One person looks around the room and writes down 5 objects they see. These objects have to be small enough that we can pick them up and put them on the table. They don’t show anyone their list. When they say go, everyone else goes around and picks up an object and brings it to the table. We try to see how many matches we get!”

Leyla, Tessa and A.J. perk up, chiming in that they want to try this game.

“Can I pick the objects?” Leyla asks, directing the question to Evan, our facilitator.

“Okay we can try it,” he responds.

“Hey Ev, we really don’t have to play this game, I just wanted to share the rules while I remembered them. I love the blindfold game too and would be happy to play.” I really didn’t want Evan to feel like we had to switch games. I have no name for this game and cannot remember where I learned about it. I have no idea why I couldn’t remember it last week, and why it jumped into my head today.

“I want to pick objects.” Leyla says, hoping we will still play the new game.

“It’s fine, we can try this game,” Evan says.

I toss Leyla a post-it pad and a marker. Just as she uncaps the marker the write, Ayan, Elisha, and Tom come in. Tom is visiting from Australia for two weeks. He and his wife are planning to open a school in January of 2018. Tom really wanted to see an ALC in action before they opened, so here he is!

“You’re just in time for our game!” I say, and explain the rules. We sit quietly as Leyla writes. She looks around and is really deliberate and thoughtful about her choices. I look around the room and observe quietly to myself all the objects that look small enough to put on the table. I see the workbooks on the desk, the hands-on equation set, a little painted peg-person on the shelf. That peg-person should be in the basket by the blocks. I make a mental note to put it back where it belongs later. I see the singing bowl, the spirit animal cards, the dry erase markers, my shoes. Would she choose my shoes? I don’t want to put those on the table.

“What would Leyla think to choose?” I say aloud. “This game will give us the opportunity to focus on Leyla and think about what she would pick out in the room. Right now, I’m trying to see the room through her eyes.”

Leyla smiles as she continues to add to the list. She’s not quite done yet when Evan gets up and moves Penguin, our school stuffed animal/therapy toy, to the table.

“Hey Evan, she’s not even done yet,” someone tells him.

“Yeah, let’s wait for her to finish first. Are you almost done, Leyla?” I’m an adult and I’m getting a little antsy, so I completely understand Evan’s excitement to get started. Evan puts Penguin back and waits for her to finish.

Leyla nods, writes one more thing down, and then says she’s done. Before she says “Go!” everyone is up and moving, thinking about what object they want to pick.

The room is pretty quiet. I stand up and turn around to face the altar I have set up against the white bookshelf. I scan the room. I reach for the turkey feather on the altar, but hesitate. Is this what I want to choose? My hand says yes, it’s still reaching out for it as my mind hesitates. I go for it, placing it on the table. I guess I’m just going with my first gut instinct.

This time Evan places a pen on the table. Someone grabs the game of Dixit. A few other items are placed. Finally, Tom grabs the guitar and puts in on the table, the last item. We all look at Leyla, excitedly seeing if we got any of the items correct.

“Do you want me to tell you?” she says, with a smile on her face.

“Yes!!” we all cry.

“It was Penguin, the feather, Dixit, the guitar, and a magnet.” We look at the table. All of us are shocked that three out of five items are actually there.

“Evan, do you realize that your first instinct was to have Penguin on the table? That would be four out of five items we got!” I say, still amazed that we actually got so many of the items correct. I thought we’d be lucky to guess one correctly.

“I’m putting it back!” he says, moving the pen out of the way to make a spot for Penguin. The rest of the kids seem to be in agreement that Evan’s initial item should count. We clean up and then sit in a circle to look at our intentions from the day.

A GameShifting Board helps facilitate group gatherings.

“Okay, let’s go turns in a circle,” Evan starts. “No, wait, we’ll go in board order.” He moves the magnet under Communication Style from turns in a circle to board order.

“Hmmm,” he ponders, taking a few moments to stare up at the board. Then Evan leads us around the board, checking in with everyone about what they intended to do that day, and if they got to do it or not. We each have our turn and share. Then, after the last person is finished, Evan walks halfway across the small room, looking up at the clock.

“Okay, it’s 3:23,” he says, smiling broadly back at us.

“Wow, Evan,” I say, actual tears brimming up behind my eyes. “Do you realize that you set the intention to learn to tell time about two weeks ago, and now you know how to do it?” His smile gets even bigger, “Yeah.” Words can’t begin to describe the feeling I have inside. Here’s a kid who knows how to learn. He learns when he’s ready, on his own time table.

A few weeks ago, Evan decided he wanted to learn how to read an analog clock so Melissa, one of my co-facilitators and his mom, found some resources online to support his interest. Evan’s motivation was clear and remained steady. He spent a couple mornings using some worksheets to identify the time, and would constantly test his knowledge on the analog clocks to check his own accuracy. Now, he’s mastered this skill.

Last month Evan decided he wanted to learn how to ride a bike, and last week he biked 6 miles from school to Uptown and back. After watching Evan learn to ride a bike at age 10, Melissa told me, “It just goes to show you that when they are ready, they will learn, and they will learn easily. I could’ve spent a lot of time worrying about how he couldn’t ride a bike, but I’m happy I just let it go so he could do it when he was ready. I think this is a great reminder about reading too. I think if more kids were able to just wait to read when they were ready, it would happen a lot easier for them.”

I couldn’t agree more.

I look at Evan’s face, and I see that he feels really good about himself. It feels great to decide you want a new skill, then to go after it and master it.

“We still have time for a game,” he tell us. Now I can see he understands how many minutes away from 3:30 we are! We dismiss at 3:30.

“Oh how about a magic trick?” Ayan asks. I hear murmurs of “Yes!” coming from the girls sitting on the couch.

“I want to play the object game again, can I be the person who writes the list?” Elisha pipes up. The kids are directing their requests to Evan, who is back by the GameShifting board, considering how he would like us to spend the last few minutes of the day. He picks up a jar filled with popsicle sticks that has been sitting on the small shelf that props up the GameShifting board. Again, here is another item I need to remember to put away, I think. Like the peg person, I have no idea how this got left here. It’s a math game that belongs in the storage closet.

“I want to play Kaboom.” Evan looks around the room, and I can see he is filled with certainty about playing this game.

“Cool,” I say with a shrug, “I’ve never played it before, but I’m happy to play whatever you want.” Here I am trying to make up for derailing his earlier game choice! I’m still feeling a little bad about that.

“Okay, I’ll tell you how to play. It’s a game my mom made.” He continues to explain how there are multiplication problems on the bottom of each stick. You pull a stick out, answer the problem, and then if you get it right you can keep the stick. If you pull out a stick that says “Kaboom!” you have to put all your sticks back in. You can make the game shorter or longer by setting the winning number of sticks higher or lower. He decides we’ll play to the amount of 6 sticks.

We begin passing around the jar, pulling out multiplication problems. They are all one digit by one digit for the most part, the only two digit problems involving tens. The game was made when Melissa was trying to support kids in finding fun ways to memorize their multiplication tables. I look around, seeing how happy and calm the kids are as they play.

The jar gets to our youngest Spawn Point member, who is 7.

“Hmmm… 3 times 1,” she ponders. I sit back and just observe what will happen. A.J. is a new student at school. I have no idea if she even knows what multiplication is. “I don’t know.”

One of the other other kids tells her it’s 3. That any number times one is just the number.

The jar continues around the circle, and then it’s back to A.J. again. “3 times 4,” she reads aloud.

“A.J. hasn’t learned multiplication yet,” her sister, Leyla, tell us.

“Oh that’s no big deal,” I say. “Hey A.J., so multiplication is just adding a number multiple times. 3 times 4 means you add 3, 4 times. 3 plus 3, plus 3, plus 3.”

She starts counting on her fingers, then looks up and says, “12!” The jar continues around the circle.

The jar keeps moving.

Back to A.J. again. “6 x 3” she reads. Short pause, and she is counting on her fingers. “18.”

Tone Setting Camping Trip Vignettes

As we drove up highway 85 towards Hanging Rock State Park, I racked my brain for items I may have forgotten to pack. Sunscreen, check. Bathing suit, check. Hiking boots, check. Coffee…uh oh. No check. Hmmmm…oh well. Tomis roasts coffee at home and we have become quite the coffee snobs lately. We wanted to bring our own special coffee with us to enjoy during this trip. I was surprised at how this realization didn’t bother me at all. The thought of being in the woods for the next three nights was exciting and only brought the feeling the joy, not having coffee wouldn’t ruin the experience. Either I’ll go without or another one of the adults would have some to share, I thought. Hoping Tomis would feel the same way, I picked up my phone to let him know.

“Hey babe, I’ve got some bad news.” I said.

“Um, okay, what’s that?” he replied through the hazy sounds of the bluetooth car connection.

“I forgot to pack the coffee beans. I packed the filters, pour-over mug, and the grinder, but I forgot to put in the jar of beans.”

“Oh, I did that this morning,” he tells me.

And so it was, we had coffee for the trip! After I hung up the phone, I reflected happily on the fact that during the few minutes I thought we wouldn’t have coffee, I didn’t waste any energy being mad at myself for forgetting to pack it. I decided to keep that mentality going for the rest of the trip. There are many things in life that just aren’t worth the time being upset over!

On our second night, a child lost their toothbrush.

“Alright, well I know we’ll find it somewhere. I’m happy to help you look! Let’s imagine what it’ll feel like when we find it,” I said.

“Oh, I’m not worried at all. I know I’ll find it. If I have to go a night without it, it really isn’t the end of the world,” he replied.

We looked a little, didn’t find it, and released finding it for the night. Neither of us was upset. About 30-45 minutes later, before going to tent for the night, there it was in plain sight on tree stump nearby. Off the child went to joyfully brush their teeth!

 


 

On the second morning at camp, I woke up in the morning to the sound of quiet clapping.

“Ayan.” Clap. “Ayan.” Clap. “Are you awake, Ayan?” Clap. In my head I’m laughing hysterically. Tomis looks over at me with a huge smile on his face, also holding back gales of laughter.

“Well, he’s certainly going to be awake after that,” I whisper, trying to keep quiet so we could listen to what would happen next.

The conversation of the boys tenting right next to us kept us going to bed and waking up with huge smiles on our faces.

Me, in front of our tents. Ours is the little orange one, the boys shared the bigger green tent. We were VERY close to them, as you can see, and could hear every rustle and whisper from their tent!
Me, in front of our tents. Ours is the little orange one, the boys shared the bigger green tent. We were VERY close to them, as you can see, and could hear every rustle and whisper from their tent!

“What are your top five favorite animals? Do you know all their top speeds?”

“What do you mean you don’t know how fast a peregrine falcon can go? This is your favorite animal, you need to know this!”

“My dad’s a graphic designer and a broker, do you know what that means?”

“Um, well a graphic designer is different than a designer right?”

“Yeah, and it means he gets samples. Do you know what a sample is?”

“Yeah I do, samples are like a smaller thing of a bigger thing. Like a little model of what the bigger thing is that you want to make.”

“No! It’s like if my dad designs 6 shirts, he’ll get one shirt before those 6 shirts are made. Like it’s another whole shirt outside of those 6 shirts. It’s the same size as the actual shirts. He gets one so he can see what it looks like first. We get hats too.”

“Oh! Okay. What’s a broker?”

“Oh well, he’s a graphic designer. So he can design things and not leave the house. He’s also a broker so people send him things and he sends them to other people, and he gets more money that way.”

Tomis and I look at each other. During this trip I tell him, “I now know that if we have a baby, I will be totally happy if it’s a boy or a girl. The boys are so fun to be around!” Previously, I thought I would only want a little girl. This is no longer the case for me! (By the way, Tomis is my husband).

 


 

Huffing and puffing I climb the stairs up to Balanced Rock and Moore’s Knob, the highest peak of Hanging Rock State Park. It’s straight up. The map said this hike would be strenuous, and it certainly was! As I approached each curve, I thought, Please let this be the last set of stairs. For many of those bends it wasn’t. Behind me, I could hear Caleb and Tomis talking, Tomis patiently supporting Caleb up the many stairs. Caleb was already down one water bottle in the first 30 minutes of the trip and, having not had much breakfast, asking to turn back.

I look back at Alona, whose face was as red as mine, and smiled. She smiled back and said, “I don’t know if I would’ve signed up for this hike if I knew this is how it started!”

“Well, if there is one thing I know about mountains, it’s that if you get to the highest peak, the only way off is to go down. So after we get to the top, it’s got to get easier!” We laugh at my response.

“That’s totally true,” she responds, still determined to go up.

I glance up at the backs of Andrew, Gabe & Tessa. “How do they do that?” I ask aloud. The boys are far ahead, talking to each other as they quickly and efficiently climb the stairs. Tessa is right behind them, determined to catch up. I think to myself, she’s so low to the ground at her height, that’s how she’s making it look so easy.

“I don’t know!” Alona exclaims, “It’s like they are robots!”

I slow down to chat with Tomis. “Hey babe, I think we should give the boys a map and tell us to meet us at the tower. Let’s let them go. I think they can do it. As long as they stay on the trail with the red circles, they can’t get lost. I can show them where everything is on the map. How does that feel to you?”

“I have no issue with that. Is that what you really want to do?”

“Yeah. I mean, people let their kids loose in New York City with a subway map. This is way easier than that. The worse case scenario is that they get hurt and sit for a bit while we catch up. But obviously, I would only have them do this if they actually feel comfortable going up ahead.”

“Sounds good to me,” he responds.

I catch up to the boys. “Hey, do you want a map? You can just go up ahead and meet us at the tower.”

Andrew quizzically looks at me. “Like just go ahead and meet you there?”

“Yeah, if you want to. Here, look at the map.” I show him the trail, and remind him that the Moores Knob Loop is marked by red circles. I point out Balanced Rock and the Fire Tower that are coming up ahead. “This is where we are going. There will be signs, so stop at one of these and we’ll find you for lunch. We’ve got to be halfway there already.”

“Awesome! C’mon Gabe, let’s go!” They take off up the mountain, as the rest of us prepare for a water and snack break.

“Can I go to?” Tessa asks, already climbing up after them.

“Well, I’d love to have you stay with us, but I’m totally cool with you deciding what you prefer,” I respond.

“I’m going!” she yells down to me, her back already a flash of red, disappearing up the mountain.

I look at Alona and shrug. “Well, let’s see how this goes!” I think she’s a little shocked that I let them go up alone. I was confident the signage was clear, and knew that with the freedom, they would be even more careful than if they were with us. I know these kids. If they felt unsafe, they would turn around and come back or stop and wait. I had not one shred of fear about them getting lost. Okay, well maybe one shred, but I knew that was my “panic-how-I-was-raised” mind, not my grounded, centered mind.

We keep climbing, and about 15 minutes later (it really wasn’t that far off that I let them go ahead), we reach the signs for the fire tower and balanced rock. “Andrew? Gabe? Tessa?” I call out. No signs of life. “Hmmmm….” I wonder aloud. I had run up a little ahead of Tomis, Caleb and Alona, wanting to find the other kids. There were no kids here.

Well, I think to myself, somehow they have missed all these signs and walked past it. Knowing that we actually weren’t that far behind them, I guess that if I yelled pretty loud, they’d hear me.

“ANDREW!” Why I chose his name to yell, I don’t know. It just came out that way.

Faintly I hear, “Yeah.” Sighing, I melt into relaxation. It felt good to hear his voice, confirmation that everything I was sensing was on point.

“YOU MISSED THE SIGN! TURN AROUND,” I yell. I hear faint yelling in response. A couple minutes later, the three of them come tromping back.

“We were already on our way back when we heard you yell!” Tessa says excitedly. “We felt like we must have gone to far.”

I smile, totally happy to know that the kids did exactly what I knew they would do: turn back if they felt uncomfortable so they could find us again.

We eat lunch together on balanced rock, laughing and joking with each other. Caleb has totally bounced back after having food, water, and a break. He’s eating his sandwich, and we are all laughing hysterically at the breadcrumbs falling off his sandwich. We bought gluten free bread, and unfortunately for all of us who are GF…it was more terrible than usual. It literally crumbled apart when you touched it. The rest of us opted to not eat the bread today, (we suffered through it already for lunch the day before), choosing to make sandwiches out of tortillas instead. Caleb was dedicated to sticking to his GF diet this trip, and didn’t want us to waste the money we spent on this bread. In the morning, he proudly made his sandwich, and was now determined to eat it.

The breadcrumbs dotted his face like grains of sand, and he was laugh-crying as he ate. “It’s like eating cardboard with meat inside,” he wails, smiling though, knowing he is providing entertainment for the rest of us. The foil he has wrapped his sandwich in is the only thing keeping his bread from falling completely apart.

“Caleb, it’s okay, just don’t eat the bread. It’s so terrible! Why not just eat the meat out of the sandwich?” I didn’t want him to feel like I was going to force him to eat this mess of a sandwich.

“What?” He says, still laugh-crying, “I’m NOT gonna waste this sandwich. I’m eating this whole thing. I don’t care how bad it tastes!”

“Oh boy, I’ve guess I’ve told my story about my mom eating raw potatoes and raw fish one to many times. Now you all will never complain about food!” On our last roadtrip, after the kids complained about how much PB & J we ate, I told them how my mom survived her escape from Vietnam on a small boat with only raw potatoes and raw fish to eat for 30 days (I don’t actually know how many days they survived this, perhaps I should clarify this with my mom, but 30 days feels like a nice dramatic touch to the story). I told them they had no idea what starving was, that the most they’ve experienced is hunger and being uncomfortable and that eating PB & J wasn’t the end of the world. We were trapped in a food desert in Kentucky when I first told my mom’s story, in the middle of nowhere with one grocery store option to shop from. I remember walking in the grocery store and realizing that I didn’t see much that I would consider actual “food” inside. We did the best we could to feed the kids edible items for those two days…And from that point on I would hear, “I’m starv- I mean, I’m hungry.”

As Caleb struggled to finish his cardboard/styrofoam/sand sandwich, we noticed birds beginning to circle above.

“What are those?” I ask, squinting my eyes up to the sky. Three of the kids tell me they are turkey vultures.

“How do you know this?”

“We just know. Look at their wings. Those are turkey vultures,” Alona responds.

Andrew backing her up firmly says, “Those are definitely turkey vultures. I know it.”

I’m impressed. I have been to the raptor center several times and have also taught bird units to kids during my time conventionally teaching, and I still can’t seem to tell the birds of prey apart when they are flying way up above me. I have this memory problem that school taught me, the one where you remember something good enough to pass the test on Friday, and then the information just melts away into oblivion. The kids are describing to me how to tell raptors apart, and I’m glad to see they do not suffer from the same affliction.

Caleb begins laugh-crying louder now. “They are coming after my sandwich because it’s falling apart everywhere!”

Now we are all laugh-crying.

Here our group is on top of Balanced Rock, right before lunch.
Here our group is on top of Balanced Rock, right before lunch.

After lunch, we climbed to the top of the old fire tower, now simply a lookout for tourists to visit. Being a weekday, it was completely empty and we had the 360 degree views to enjoy to ourselves.

Caleb is dramatically making a statement about how hard the hike was up to this point in this picture...
Caleb is dramatically making a statement about how hard the hike was up to this point in this picture…

The highest point was about a third of the way into the 4.3 mile loop we were doing. As I predicted, this mountain was, in fact, like all other mountains I’ve climbed up: after getting to the highest peak, the only way back is down. We very quickly descended the mountain, Caleb, fully recovered now that he had eaten (albeit, a terrible sandwich), was at the head of the pack with Andrew and Gabe. Had Tessa been just a few inches taller, she would have been right up there with them. She wasn’t too far behind them, though. I felt like we were practically running down the mountain, and was carefully watching each one of my steps so I didn’t twist an ankle. Alona kept pace with me, trying to playfully place her steps where my step was just a moment before.

“They are robots,” I grunted back repeatedly to Alona. She was just as incredulous as I was at the speed they could maintain. Tomis was quiet at the very back of the group, I guessed just keeping up the best he could. We all made it back in one piece to camp, very proud of ourselves for completing this strenuous hike!

 


 

You can see more photos with captions of our trip here!