Thursday, July 22, 2010

Getting an education from the ground up

Helicopter Seed
It was the occasion of a grasshopper clinging to the windshield on a recent road trip that made me understand just how much children miss these days. Not all children, perhaps, but those whose mothers work and those who are enrolled in after school programs and weekend sports and never know the pleasure of spending an entire, sunny day sitting in the grass and learning about the world that thrives beneath everyone's feet - even those who hurry through it day after working day.

I realized that my son had never seen a real grasshopper before. I learned he didn't know how to make a whistle out of a blade of grass. He'd never watched the diligence at the business end of an anthill. He'd never had time to sit and watch.

I realized then how much knowledge we gain from just being children at large. The experiences of children without a schedule to keep. Sitting in the grass or under a tree reveals the secrets of this lowly world. There are treasures to be found at the base of an old oak tree or in the damp soil beneath a rock. Crawly and slimy treasures at times, but also the rare sighting of a walking stick bug, glimpsing a chipmunk happily scurrying away with an acorn, the odd garter snake or toad.

I have advised The Boy that if he wants to learn anything useful about the world, he must start from the ground up. The luxury of a nice back yard is helping us with this and has provided us with views of chipmunks, squirrels, skunks (from a distance), the dissection and identification of mysterious green globes in the grass (they would have been black walnuts apparently, if they'd managed to hang on the tree another month or so) and lessons in how to make a funny decoration for your nose out of those helicopter seeds that fall from the maple trees.

Today, as I watched a group of sparrows gather on a telephone wire and chirp their daily news to one another, I thought "this is a sign that I am getting old, I am watching birds sitting on telephone lines". Then I realized that it is very much what I did as a child on those long, summer days when everything was interesting and not just the news or work deadlines counted as important. Then I realized that age is not what makes us old. The harried, hassled, workaday me was old. She didn't care about sunsets or raindrops or anything that really mattered. As I stuck a helicopter seed on my nose and listened to boy laughter, I thought to myself how good it is to be young again.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Who Turned Out the Light?

Remember when you were a kid and the greatest mystery in the world was whether or not the light stayed on in the refrigerator when the door was shut? Of course, once you'd found the button that depressed when the door shuts, the mystery was gone.

I haven't had to worry about the light going on or off for about a year now - the bulb burned out. I know it's the simplest thing in the world to replace it, but for some reason I just never get around to it. I also have some very good reasons for keeping the food in the dark.

Aside from the fact that the dark keeps most things fresher longer, especially milk, there's also the hope that the fridge is a less inviting place to visit. The children treat every visit to the fridge as if they were on a window-shopping expedition. Even the day before grocery shopping, when it's fairly empty, they can stand and stare at the nothingness for ten minutes.

Children must be hopeful creatures because they will return to a refrigerator several times just to ascertain that it still contains nothing they are interested in eating. In fact, the less it contains, the longer they stand there staring. The day after I've done the shopping, they can lay hands on something tasty within seconds of opening the door. But the day before is a day of bleak lack and snack hunger. With wide-eyed, unblinking gazes they survey the barren land before them and sigh.

According to my calculations, a 40 watt light bulb that runs an hour a day could cost me nearly $2.00 over the course of a year. I know it doesn't sound like much, and it won't make us rich. But it will annoy everyone to have to explore a dark fridge and I will make $2.00 at the same time. What a deal!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Keep the Negatives

One thing I have noticed from being on Facebook is that people like to take photographs. They take thousands of photographs. What they don't seem to do is edit. They need to edit the content, edit for quality and basically, edit out all those boring photos that no one wants to see.

As an example, there was recently a wedding in the extended family. Several family members who attended the wedding posted pictures online. I have viewed several dozen photos of people that either I do not know or who are close relatives made unrecognizable by the cellphone camera they were caught in the lens of.

One set of photos had me wondering whether the guests were wearing glow-sticks or if the reception had been invaded by luminescent worms from outer space. I know your cell phone takes lousy pictures, but still, a definite lack of talent is needed to get photos this bad.

Facebook is crowded with photos - photos of the kids, the grandkids, the kids holding the grandkids, the grandkids holding toys, the garden, the new car, the old car, the grass on the lawn - anything and everything people can go "click" at. Honestly, most of these photos are very, very boring. Some of them are potentially embarrassing to the subjects. I am most surprised by people who post hundreds of photos of their kids on the internet for anyone to see.

I haven't ever put photos of my kids online. I wouldn't put them on Facebook either. If I want to send a photo to a particular person, I can email it. One day my children may thank me for this - the day that their friends are looking at photos posted online from when they were potty-training or eating their first bowl of spaghetti or appearing in their first school play. None of this is going to be online to haunt my children into adulthood. No bearskin rug photos with bare behinds to be found by potential employers. And let's face it, if the picture is online, there goes the potential for blackmail.