I can’t talk about the weather for very long. I really try to remember to compliment you about something. But while I’m saying “Yes, the sun is very shiny today,” what I really want to know is where you’re from and who you are, and why you chose …, and what do you think about …? And we’ll just be getting started talking about public schools, church stuff, and our cities when one of us will grab our watches and say, “How can it be that late?”
That’s my favorite thing.
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Two years ago, The Year of Small Things went out into the world. My copy of the book is on my bookshelf and sometimes I take it out to remind myself of that time we felt radical. Because I don’t feel that way now, to be honest, especially after reading hundreds of other books.
Before I break down the book list, let’s celebrate for a moment, shall we?
“That’s not a bumper sticker I would’ve guessed you’d ever have.” One of my besties was pointing out the new soccer club cling, stuck right next to my Great Lakes sticker, right next to the parking brake on the van.
Soccer? Youth sports? Wasn’t I the one who contributed to a chapter about time, someone who talks and talks about sabbaths and being the boss of our own schedules? How did we let this happen, this endless slide into kids’ sports? And … did I mention that Dave’s coaching this team of our daughter’s? Suddenly there are games and practices on my otherwise heavily guarded weeknights and weekend afternoons.
We were stuck in the middle of the lake. Lake Lansing. This was Saturday and we’d had enough wind for the sailboat to show off and take us over sandbars and fish and water that felt warm because Lake Michigan had been so cold last week.
But the wind was shy so there we were, Sarah, Tom, and I—three-fourths of the Small Things adults—leaning back against the sides of the borrowed boat. We were like the bobber on the end of both fishing poles I’ve ever held: closer to still than actually bobbing. I had only been sailing once before—and I use that phrase to mean “I sat in the boat while my friend Sarah captained like a boss.” This time, she and her husband instructed me to pull a rope a couple times, so … “I sailed a boat” is now something I can put on my life’s resume.
Grand Rapids Public Schools; Grand Rapids, Mich.
By Meryl Herr
This year as winter lingered, quickly freezing any sign of spring, my passion for investing in our neighborhood public school grew cold. My hope, my idealism, my energy wore thin.
When the cracks in my perseverance began to show, doubt seeped in and a familiar idea took root: “Do what’s best for your child, what’s best for your family.” Was this low-performing, under-resourced public school the best choice for my child?
By Catherine McNiel
A Suburban Chicago School District, Illinois
My first encounter with the local elementary school crossing guard was six years ago, the year my oldest child was in kindergarten. In my eyes, it seemed the height of reason that I double-park my car in front of the school, just for a moment, to send my small boy off safely—without parking blocks away and unearthing my babies from their car seats.
The crossing guard did not agree.
Johnson City Schools, Johnson City, TN
District 41, Glen Ellyn, IL
By Sarah Lindsay
Most parents experience at least a twinge of emotion as they send their child off to kindergarten: that first day of school marks a significant transition. I certainly felt that when I dropped off my oldest for the first time. But for me, the twinge was heightened by the fact that I wasn’t just sending my daughter into a new experience for her — I was entering a new experience myself.
You see, I was homeschooled.
We’re not from here. Lansing isn’t where we were born or raised; our relatives live hours away. Sometimes we joke that’s by design. Sometimes we don’t make that joke. …….
Um. So, as I meant to imply, when family visits, it’s a big deal. It’s an event. We roll out all the good stuff: we eat at the soup place or the crepe place or the place with all the local beers. We go to the art museum or we hike at a park or we play games at our kitchen table. We show them all the highlights.
By Stephanie Reeves
Orange County Public Schools; Orlando, Florida
Our high school sits nestled in the back of a low-income neighborhood, bordered by a Catholic church and run-down houses, many with jacked-up cars sitting in carports lined with discarded appliances and other paraphernalia of living.
It’s a neighborhood I wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable walking in after dark.