Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Bossa Nova

When summer comes on full blast, I almost long for the days of my youth. Memories of angst and acne aside, summer still means one place, one person to me: Camp Maria Pratt and Bernie Moore. When I try to explain myself to people now, I always mention Bernie, and I always say, "She made me who I am." It's difficult to go beyond that very cliché statement, difficult to put into words, verbal or written, why I have had only one hero in my life, and why I credit that one hero with more of my making than my parents, siblings, or life-long friends.

Bernie was a woman comfortable in her own skin. That, more than anything, is reason enough to call her a hero. For this young girl in the 1970s and into the 80s, an older woman who didn't complain about her figure, fuss with her hair, or need a matching bag and shoes was an unknowing godsend. And add to that someone who could cook an entire meal over a fire, play the panicky victim in a lifesaving drill, bike for miles, and dance the bossa nova. Bernie rocked, we knew it, we adored her, and she adored us. But she also instilled in us a great sense of responsibility and respect: for the environment, for the importance of routine, for equity and justice, for our selves.

As a camper, I remember Bernie in several ways. I remember her cooking fried dough on the porch of the lodge: white apron over green tee shirt and jean shorts, wavy silver hair pushed back from her face, sweat running from every pore. Every now and then she'd take a break, come onto the tarmac where we huddled in small groups, put her arms around all of us (somehow), and make us feel as if we were the most important people she knew. I remember Bernie dancing on that same tarmac, keeping time to the bossa nova with those few bangles around her wrist that she wore at all times, stepping lightly in worn sneakers and somehow getting all of us to join her. I remember her best at candlelight ceremonies, where we'd mark the close of another session in one immense gorgeous candlelit circle. Bernie would recite, "If you stand very still in the heart of the woods…" and no one would move, speak, or giggle, simply because we recognized the beauty of the moment and wanted to hold onto it, forever.

When I was old enough to work at camp, Bernie became so much more than the coolest camp director ever. She became a parent for eight weeks, urging and challenging, scolding and comforting. Bernie's cardinal rule for staff was, "Whatever you do on your free time, you better be able to be at 100% for your job the next day." On more than one occasion, I took advantage of the freedoms allowed me at camp, and a few times, I had to answer to Bernie the following day. You always knew if you'd let her down. She'd approach wearing a serious expression, and you'd know you fouled up again, and that somehow, she knew where you'd been, what you'd done, and with whom. Bernie would talk of your responsibility, then her concern, and finally, the ultimate response, disappointment. All quietly, patiently, and firmly but lovingly, usually with her hand on your arm or her arm around your shoulder. Tears would come, then the hug. Getting in trouble didn't get any better than that.

I couldn't bring myself to visit Bernie in her old age, or even, most days, to ask others about her health once she was ill. I was, thoroughly and completely, in denial. To picture my hero anywhere else but camp, or in her cozy home she made with Harry, was (still is) impossible. And despite the years that have passed since Bernie died, I can't accept that she won't be somewhere this summer, teaching young girls how to paddle, making the perfect campfire dessert, or dancing the bossa nova into the warm night.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Stop Complaining

After a hiatus of nearly two months, I've finally returned to this blog. I use the term "hiatus" pretty loosely, seeing as how my absence hasn't been any kind of a hiatus at all (summer might bring the true hiatus), but instead a steady stream of end-of-school responsibilities in May and June that became practically unmanageable.

But not really. Not really unmanageable. Typical. Usual. To be expected. And I handled them all relatively well: the PPTs, the CPTs, the last essays, the union meetings, the exams - creation, modification, correction, the retirement parties, the elections, the classroom cleaning, the meetings about next year's batch, the graduation... and the housekeeping, the car maintenance, the grocery shopping and meal preparation, the laundry, too....

I made a conscious decision, on a daily basis, to forego writing here. Part of me struggled with the loss of one laptop, the acquisition of a borrowed another, the desktop sitting idly by (but all the way downstairs), and the iPad I was lent. I hemmed and hawed about the device on which I would write, until it was time for bed and I hadn't written a thing (in retrospect, pathetic). Part of me wondered what, if anything, I could still say about teaching, and the rest of me worried about what it meant that the other part of me was wondering about that (in retrospect, even more pathetic). A whole lot of me just knew I couldn't do it all, and so I didn't (in retrospect, totally smart).

When I started this blog I thought big, grandiose even. Although I formally planned to write only on the weekends, internally I wanted to top that and write three or four times a week. That's easier said and done when daylight only lasts until 4:00 p.m., I guess. And I secretly hoped for a readership numbering in the hundreds, with fans the country over. Clearly I ignored the need to market the blog in order to achieve this goal and also forgot that, simply put, teachers. are. busy.

But this week feels like time is once again on my side. And I'm remembering my perspective and bringing forcing into focus my good fortune, my real reasons for writing, and all the good things about teaching and learning that I want to memorialize here.

This morning I drove with a colleague to a meeting about a new evaluation system that our district will be piloting next year. We talked shop on the way over. And on the way back. Shop talk, and lots of it. One week out of school (excluding the three days of summer curriculum work already completed and the one more to get through), and there we were, already talking about next year, making plans to improve how we service our students, sharing best practices, and neither of us minded. Really, we were both pretty darned excited.

And that's why I'm back, really. I'm excited again. Not just going through the paces, but really and truly excited, and it isn't even July yet. Hiatus schmiatus - it's going to be a great summer!!