Back to school in Indiana & why I can’t write

September 10, 2014 in Education, Travelogue, United States

First day of school... 2006, maybe? We had a purpose built school room... I miss that!

First day of school… 2006, maybe? We had a purpose built school room… I miss that!

Can I make a confession?

It’s hard for me to write in the mid-west. 

There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is that we go from house-to-house-to-house like crazy people. It’s the central hub of our “friends and family” tour and the outpouring of love and hospitality is overwhelming. Everything they say about midwestern kindness, generosity and hospitality is absolutely true. We’re hugged, fed, and backyard BBQ’d right to death in Indiana and reminded of all of the things that are the best about the center of the USA. That kind of visiting schedule doesn’t lend itself to much writing.

So here’s the part I feel guilty about, especially in light of the previous paragraph: I don’t love it here, and that makes it hard for me to find the inspiration to write. I love a lot of the people here; some of our dearest and best are rooted generations deep in central Indiana. My parents grew up here, mostly. My husband half grew up here. I have aunts and uncles and cousins who are my favourites here. Even so, I just can’t love it.

Indiana was the first place I lived in the USA when I moved here to go to university. My mother will tell you that I did NOT want to come after we visited the first time.

  • Corn fields forever.
  • A paper mill in the town made everything stink.
  • No water (I’m a water baby).
  • Summers are hot.
  • Winters are blah.
  • I was not enthusiastic.

I lived here for almost ten years, so I definitely gave it a solid try. I never fell in love. I never became an Indiana girl. In fact, I quite often felt like I was in some sort of anthropological experiment, standing outside of an interesting culture, looking in and thinking, “What the heck?!” This is my problem. I know this. It’s not Indiana. It’s me.

Of course it wasn’t all bad. I found my husband here, that’s a win, right? 20 years in, I’d like to think so. I made some life long friends. I got to hang out with my extended family in a way I didn’t as a kid. We found a little lake to build our house on, which I’d sleepily call, “The bay,” in the morning when I wasn’t quite aware of which country I was in yet. I had two kids here. There were good things. Lots of them, in fact.

When we swing back through I tend to get an intense reminder of both: the things (read that people) that we really love, and really miss, who are here. And the other things that I just can’t quite get my head around.

So… yeah… Indiana. I have a love hate relationship with it, and I feel guilty about that.

Today it is raining.

It feels very much like fall is on its way. I sat underneath the maple trees in the side garden, the ones my father in law planted the year Gabe was born, and I scrutinized the particular shade of green on the underside of the leaves, wondering if they are starting to change just a tiny bit. I’m hopeful that we’ll get at least a little bit of North American fall in this year. The last real fall we saw was in New Zealand, which is, of course, spring by our northern hemisphere calendar. That felt confusing.

I’m all rugged up in my father in law’s blue Colts hoodie (there’s nothing as nice as oversized man clothes when I’m cold) ensconced in their blue recliner, surrounded by pictures of my children as babies and his paintings of our market in Guatemala, trying to write.

There is a picture of my nineteen year old self in my wedding gown. That seems an eternity ago, and yet I remember exactly how I felt that day.

photo12There is a picture of Hannah on her first Easter, about eight months old, with pink satin bunny ears on her head and her thumb in her mouth.

Above it is the picture of the kids on Ezra’s tenth birthday, in Thailand, with an elephant.

Still life frames of the moments that matter most to grandparents, captured moments plucked from the river of time.

All of us lined up on the dock we love to waste time on in Belize.

Hannah in angel wings (her first Christmas).

A faded sepia tone frame of The Man, holding his two year old girl to his chest. He has hair to his shoulders.

Why is it that there are so many more photos of the first child? The fourth is not loved any less.

It has been a quiet week. In between the hard core visiting, the boys have started school.

It’s not that they aren’t learning the rest of the time, just that the book work begins again in earnest in the fall.

We’re not unschoolers. It’s not that I don’t trust my kids to learn, quite the opposite actually. It’s just that I don’t think they’re going to come to every single thing that’s of long term benefit to them to acquire, intellectually speaking, without a nudge. So I nudge them.

No school year starts smoothly. There are always books that we forgot to acquire, or discs that weren’t imaged and stored appropriately by an un-named first son, precluding a timely start of one last loop through world history. Ez has his requisite moment of frustration with pick-a-subject. And I have to give a long dissertation on the value of poetry to a certain son who is quite sure he’s going to be an engineer, so this language arts business is for the birds. It’s not a wise thing to voice aloud when one’s mother is a writer. Just sayin’.

And so, we’re off to the races on one more school year.

It’s funny to think that we’ve been at this for 16 straight years now. I began with each child at two on some organized schooling. It’s a much calmer process now that the results are speaking for themselves. The pressure from “others” is off as the young people exceed required expectations by all measures.

Of course teenagers are easier than toddlers.

No one peed his pants, no one lost a crayon up his nose. I didn’t have to do one set of flashcards while an active boy bounced on a trampoline. (Incidentally, if you have littles and you’re trying to get things memorized, I highly recommend a trampoline, bouncing increases retention and joy!) I haven’t once needed to pour a drink to manage one more practice run through a phonetic reader. (Have I mentioned how much I hate teaching kids to read? It’s up there with potty training. Seriously.) No one threw a fit and had to sit on the stairs and work on his “happy heart.” 16 years into this project, they take their previously negotiated plans and they “git ‘er done.” We meet on Fridays for assessment. My mornings are quiet. There is time to write.

Part of me misses the full-on nature of schooling my littles. We had fun. I thought I would die of their questions. Art was beautiful chaos. Cooking was a daily fiasco… I mean, fiesta. I was up to my armpits in boyness. Quite literally: frogs, mud, blood, boogers, balls, cork guns, sword fights, black eyes, stitches, hollering, coon skin hats, rubber boots, lost socks, and don’t-ask-don’t-tell messes.

And now… now I find that the tables have turned. I fit under the armpit of my big boy. Every morning he kisses the top of my head and he pats me and says, “Good morning, my little Mommy,” in this deep cast echo of his little boy voice that is still so cute I want to pinch his cheeks. He resists this.

Now, education happens while I do other things. All of those years in which I wondered if I would ever “have my life back” and felt as though I might drown in testosterone on a given Tuesday afternoon, have passed in a blink and… I have my life back… which is wonderful, and weird, and unsettling all at once. It is an age of beautiful possibility, for the young people, and for me as well. We are having fun branching out together, supporting one another’s educations and endeavors. I find I have compatriots and allies instead of slippery little suckers that continually outsmarted me. Well, to be fair, they still outsmart me.

While the boys are hitting the books, Hannah is hitting the road again.

She takes off next week to participate in the Hero Round Table conference in Michigan. It’s quite an honor to have been invited. She’s speaking on the concept of everyday heroes and what travel has taught her about changing the world. Then she’s bouncing off to NYC for a couple of weeks to finish the practicum part of her TEFL certification, one more weapon in her arsenal as she sets off to carve her own path and change the world in her own way. She’s still plugging away at her university work too. And of course she’s working. It’s fun to watch her juggle.

So here we are… in Indiana…

Looking at about five weeks before our much anticipated flights to Guatemala. It’s time to be hugging people hard, eating lots of Oreos and Twizzlers and Cool Ranch Doritos and drinking Dr. Pepper because we’ll miss all of those things the moment we are elsewhere. It’s time to be sipping wine late with friends and making memories with grandparents, who we won’t see until spring. It’s time for a lot of things, but not, apparently, time for writing.