I Can’t Tell You

I’m eating dinner with my six year old, and she announces that she has the world’s best math teacher.  For a little girl who has struggled in school, her report amazes me. 

“She doesn’t tell us the answer, Mom.  She lets us learn.  Do you know the difference between telling and learning?”

I feel the flair coming on, and I put down my fork and look her right in the eyes.

“Telling means you just get the answer from the teacher.  Learning means you have to figure it out.  And then you know it.  And then you can solve any problem because you know it.”

She tilts her little chin up in the air, proud and confident.  “I can probably solve any math problem now,” she reasons.

This, of course, explains why God doesn’t always tell me the answer.  He’s letting me figure something out so I know it. Oh, the problems I will be able to solve one day!

What is learning?  How do we know we’re learning? 


I Just Couldn’t Do It

You lay your clothes out, you pack your backpack, and you hardly sleep because you just can’t wait for it all to begin again.  

It’s a new semester here at college. 

I’ve been packing a backpack for 30 years, but for the last decade, I’m the teacher and not the student.  My backpack has syllabi, course rosters, grammar books, and a tattered anthology of literary works.   I still have a red pencil case (some things never change), lunch, and notebook paper.  But I’m the teacher now. 

I study them: I learn their names and remember their hometowns and majors.  I’m suddenly fascinated.  I can’t help it. I’m a student of the students, and maybe that’s my secret. 

One just returned from Africa and will introduce us to his passion for African modern art.  Another just switched majors from nuclear engineering to classics (there’s a great story hiding there!).  Four of them have parts in a musical theater production in April (which we all must attend).  A dozen kinesiology majors, seven history majors, five communication disorders majors, and three education majors captivate me with their career paths.  I forgot to mention the philosopher, the criminal lawyer, the animal physical therapist, and the international stateswomen. 

Here we all are together in one place for a college semester to learn advanced writing and professional development. 

That’s why I couldn’t do it;  I couldn’t turn on all the technology and hide behind elaborate presentations.  I sat with them in the circle, looking into the white of their eyes.  Once the big screen comes down and the hum of electricity rises like a swarm of wasps around me, I know I won’t see them the same way.  And they won’t see me.  I’m not ready for that.  There’s too much to learn. 

Living with flair means I’m a student of the student.  I earn the right to teach by learning first, and sometimes (most times) technology impedes rather than promotes authentic connection.  We’ll see what I do with this high-tech classroom.  I’m still learning.  


That Hilarious Staples Commercial

There’s a hilarious Staples commercial that never fails to make me laugh.  You know, the one with the father dancing in the aisle saying, “You’re going back!”  Meanwhile, the children sulk.  The commercial captures that end-of-summer mood so pervasive among parents right about now.  However, this particular commercial misinterprets the attitude of most children in my community.

Yesterday, for example, a little boy rushed over to me to describe his backpack and school supplies (down to the color of the pencil grips and the size of the erasers).

These children are ready.  

I keep asking my daughters if they want to go to the pool, and my oldest says, “Mom, I’m done with summer.  I have to sharpen all these pencils and arrange my erasers.”

At this very moment, I’m observing a beautiful mound of pencil shavings on the carpet.  I pull out her eraser pack and smell the soft pink rubber.  Could someone bottle the smell of new eraser and pencil shavings?  Could we market room spray?  Potpourri?  Yankee Candles called “Back to School”?

I’d buy it all.

My youngest (the one I just brought home from the hospital in that little hat the size of my palm, the one who just started walking, who just slept through the night) has her pencil case ready.  Her purple backpack is by the door.  She’ll hardly sleep tonight because tomorrow marks the day it all begins.  She will learn marvelous and life-changing things in kindergarten. 

I want to keep this momentum going all our lives; returning to school–that community of curiosity, wonder, complexity, and beauty–should always be this exciting.  The anticipation of learning, amplified a thousand times in the heart of a 5 year old, might challenge us all to greet the day with that same enthusiasm.

We’ll have not one pencil but a dozen in multiple colors.  We’ll have our backpacks by the door.  We’ll hardly sleep tonight because of how great tomorrow will be.

Living with flair means I’m too excited to sleep because of what I’ll learn and friends I’ll meet tomorrow.


The Everyday Apprentice

I want to enter the various cultures around me with a curious mind and a willing heart.  In the past few days, I’ve been invited to experience various “cultures” whether it’s joining the swim team community, learning about the various spiritual cultures of my neighbors, or entering the college culture by watching movies students love, listening to music they download, and attending the places they go downtown.

As I thought about what it means to love people and be a good friend, this concept of entering different cultures seemed suddenly so important.

Right at that moment, my husband was leaving to go to his workshop.  On his days off, he apprentices with a carpenter to learn the skills of woodworking and carpentry.  (Note:  Apprentice is a fantastic verb.  It means to study under a master to learn the skills of a trade.  Apprenticing represents a whole cultural system by which a new generation trains for a trade.  I wish I could apprentice under certain mothers, teachers, and wives.)

He’s asked the family before if we want to visit his workshop.  We’ve always said, “no.”  We don’t have time!  We aren’t interested!  What would we do in a workshop?  Well, not today.  I want to enter that culture with a curious mind and a willing heart.    

So we go.

It feels like a foreign country.  He shows us big, scary machines with names like planer, jointer, miter saw, and band saw.  I start asking questions.  Soon, I learn that my husband can take material like these split logs:

And turn them into this.   

I start feeling some flair happening.  I start looking around me with new eyes.  I notice some order and beauty in this place.

And I notice my children are captivated by what their father is doing.  He puts safety gear on them and shows them what he can do on the machines.  He takes a scrap of wood and transforms it into something smooth and square. 

Right now, we are back home, and the girls are playing with their block of wood–imagining all sorts of things with it.  We entered the culture of woodworking with a curious mind and a willing heart, and we had more fun than I could have ever thought possible.  Living with flair means I enter the various cultures around me by being curious and willing.  I apprentice and learn.  I want to do it everyday.