The calendar reminds me that we approach the season of chaos. I’ve written before about the rhythm of the school year, particularly that of the Waldorf schools. Though I’m not inherently a particularly structured person and my thoughts tend to jump from A to Q to 42, parenting has taught me to appreciate the value of structure and the discipline a framework provides.
Each of my children’s classes has had events or moments that bookended this school year. The kindergarten began the year with their capes and swords of light, preparing to face the dragons of development. They will close out the last week of school with a trip to the river, braving the chilly water and sailing wooden boats they have made with their own hands. The third grade’s year has a more subtle rhythm: that of the season and of the harvest as they have tended their garden, learned to cook the food they have grown, watched the shearing of sheep, and learned to card and spin the wool. (You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a 9 year old very seriously discuss fiber crimp while petting a sheep.) But, even for them, the end of the year is a celebration, proof of their accomplishments – today, according to rumor, they will make cake and ice cream in cooking class. And the sixth grade? The sixth grade has completed the cycle with perfect symmetry.
In September, it was a rough and tumble class, pulsing with a fire of their own, that journeyed to Mt. Lassen to study geology. In the fall, they were at the beginning of the metamorphosis of puberty, fluctuating wildly from child to teen at a moment’s notice. Though they were a great and polite group of kids in the fall, there was, at times, an almost feral energy that mirrored the rugged mountains and geologic turbulence of the volcano.
We have just returned from another camping trip, closing the year with a visit to Cache Creek Canyon Regional Park. Like the rounder hills of the Coastal Range, the children have matured. Some of their rough edges have been worn away; the drama of their evolution has quieted. Like the landscape, they are anything but static, yet rather than eruptions of steam, we saw the trickling cascades of miniature rock falls. Meals and activities ran smoothly, even in the face of Wednesday’s rainstorm and subsequent flooding of a tent. Changing the direction of the day was no longer (as Caitlin would say) like “herding cats with bagpipes.”
Were they perfect angels? Don’t be silly; they’re 12 year olds. There is still a wide range of maturity within the class and within each of the kids. A few experiments in pyrotechnics still needed to be curtailed. Two pairs of stray and sodden socks went unclaimed. It was occasionally necessary to point out that rocks thrown into the river should be directed away from one’s classmates. But something has shifted.
As a class, they have learned (thank you, Dr. Tan) to accept order as a natural part of things rather than a burden imposed by authority. Their energy is (for now, at least) directed toward meeting challenges rather than resisting structure. This will probably shift back in a year or two; eighth graders study rebellions for a reason.
Yet, on this trip, rather than whining about assignments, we saw focused work and rehearsals for their Talent program and “Zodiac Rap.” Well, mostly focused – there were a few comments of “we don’t rap.” But the talent performances were as engaging and as varied as the kids and showcased their uniqueness. We saw a dance routine performed by a group of friends that almost always seems to function as a unit. We were treated to an engaging storytelling set by a future Garrison Keillor or David Sedaris. We saw a magic show accomplished with poise and panache despite an initial flub or two – and all the more impressive because of it. A budding novelist gave a synopsis of her work-in-progress and displayed her fabulous illustrations to the delight of her classmates. Forget American Idol: the song and acoustic guitar performance by one of the girls would put most of those wanna-bes to shame. She even impressed the professional singer/songwriter that was the camp host. And, of course, near and dear to my heart was the vocal/flute duet of “Rainbow Connection” sung by Caitlin and played by one of her friends. Though they weren’t note perfect, I loved their performance for its sheer bravery: the flautist in question has only been playing for a year and I know for a fact that the music for the piece was only downloaded for her a couple of weeks ago, and to see my introvert daughter stand and sing solo in front of her class was a delight.
They were all about bravery this trip, these kids. Not the ‘I dare you’ sort of bravado, but a quieter ‘I can do this’ acceptance of challenge. Tents were set up with minimal adult involvement. Raps were written according to assignment and performed with a day of prep. Even the least athletic joined in a volleyball game. And currents were swum.
Our campground had an amenity one doesn’t expect in Yolo County – a beach, a real, sandy beach. Bracketed by rapids above and below, our section of Cache Creek had a shallow, quiet bend near the beach, a moderate current one could cross to still water on the other bank, and a more intense current just downriver from the upper rapids. Much of the trip was spent testing their strength, skill, and courage against the current. A few of the stronger swimmers tried the crossing first, at the lower, slower current, adjusting their trajectory for the river’s flow. Once the whole class had made the crossing, and a couple of the adults showed that even grownups could do it, they were off to a new challenge, swimming the slightly faster waters and even riding the current back to the slower waters.
The waters came from above as well as below. On the second day of the trip, we were treated to a five hour deluge that resulted in one total failure of tent, and one failure of ground cloth (mine). Yet, despite the clothing and sleeping bags spread on rocks and cars to dry, despite the hours in the tents in the morning, we heard few complaints, and if anyone said, “I want to go home,” they were well out of adult earshot.
Around 3:30, a rainbow arced over the hills to the east of us. I yelled to my daughter, “Hey, Caitlin a rainbow!” She looked up, shrugged, and focused her eyes on the net. The child who said, “I can’t play volleyball. I can’t do sports with balls. I always get a bloody nose,” was ready to serve. And, maybe, that was the real magic.