Flag Pole Guys

Today was another oppressive day of rain in Atlanta. I had some errands to run, and some dry cleaning and donations to drop off, so I piled up the car with all my errands and headed to grab Jackson. Jackson is released a little earlier than the other kids because he’s a “walker,” meaning we walk home most days, though as of late I can’t recall the last time we were able to walk home a full week. It’s a nice treat to get my kid before the chaos of carline, which we were used to at previous schools. On days when the weather is bad, I park in the school lot and walk up to the “walker” door to grab him. I’m usually the last parent there, because he’s usually the last kid to leave. He makes sure all the others get safely to their parents before he departs. Part of his “Safety Patrol” pledge.

Today I parked close to the school because of the rain. I decided to sneak up in front of the school so I could stay under the school’s awning for as long as I could before I headed to the walker door. As I hopped up onto the dry sidewalk in front of the school I noticed three young boys standing around the flag pole at the entrance, and recognized Jackson immediately. His favorite Under Armor coat on over a hoodie whose hood was shielding his head from the rain, and his black Nike glasses being pelted with the big, round droplets. I was surprised because he doesn’t have “Flag Duty” right now, so I was just about to call over to him and ask what he was doing when I noticed they were having some trouble.

There are two flags on the pole at Jackson’s school. On top is the US Flag, which is customary to have at all public schools, and just under that one flies a smaller white flag recognizing Jackson’s school as being part of the International Baccalaureate program (they are also a STEM Certified school from AvancED). An IB school, according to an article at Great Schools, was created in Switzerland in 1968 for students in international schools. Great Schools says that IB is now offered in 5,175 schools across 157 countries — with about 1,800 public and private schools in the U.S. IB has gained popularity for setting high standards and emphasizing creative and critical thinking. IB students are responsible for their own learning, choosing topics and devising their own projects, while teachers act more as supervisors or mentors than sources of facts. IB emphasizes research and encourages students to learn from their peers, with students actively critiquing one another’s work. Beyond preparing students for critical thinking and college-level work, the full IB program calls for students to express themselves through writing, requires community service, and aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.

Essentially these kids are learning to set themselves, and each other, up for success at problem solving, among of a myriad of other important lessons about life, culture, and critical thinking. The problem solving though, is a big topic for fifth graders. Problem solving on the fly, as well as researching and planning solutions to larger, global problems like world hunger, city infrastructure, and urban decay. I tell you all this so you understand what I saw yesterday in the rain. Two boys attempting to take down two soaking wet, tangled flags, relying on each other and their ability to problem solve, work through creative solutions, and recognizing when it was time to ask for help.

It wasn’t raining that morning, they would come to understand, when the morning safety patrol put the flags up. But it had started raining right after, which means it rained steadily on the flags all day. As the day waned on, the IB flag tangled itself into a knot at the clip that attaches to the cable that hoists the flags up and down. Which means, try as they might, they were only able to bring the flags halfway down, then they would stop.

One glance up at the flags told me that they were tangled, but I couldn’t see how from my vantage point. Later, I learned that within a few minutes of discovering a problem, one of the boys had bowed out, opting instead to stand under the awning in the rain and yell possible solutions to his friend. That’s when Jackson happened by the front door, was spotted, and his friend called to him. Essentially his buddy needed a little help and knew just who to ask. Great start to the problem-solving, knowing who can help.

As the rain beat down on Jackson and his friend, they tried, and tried, and tried to get the flag down. They shook the metal cable that hoisted the flags up and down, the tried to move the white flag around the flag pole to see if they could stand in a different spot to get it off, that’s when they saw the tangle and realized what had happened. All the while I silently watched under the dry awning, as did the Assistant Principal, who was between shuffling kids back and forth from the door and the line of busses. Neither her nor I ever stepped in to offer advice or assistance. Why would we? They didn’t ask, and they are fifth graders. IB model tells us both not to help quite yet. So instead we stand, me under the awning and her under an umbrella nearer to them, and we watch.

Several minutes go by. They have been able to get the flags down to their lowest point now by shaking the cables, which have dislodged a portion of the knot on the white flag. They hoist the two flags back up again, then quickly back down, assuming at this point that they have solved the problem. The get them almost within reach (so they can just unclip the flag) when boom! The cable is caught again.

The boys are apoplectic. Jackson slams his hands down to his sides, and his friend in a show of frustration throws his hands up in the air. They look at each other, then back toward the draining sky. They are cold, they are wet, they are out of ideas. That’s when they make eye contact with the Assistant Principal. She saunters over with her umbrella, pretending to have no idea what is happening. She says, “What’s up, guys?”

Jackson’s friend tells her that the white flag is tangled. Jackson adds, quickly, the various measures they have tried in solving the problem. She says something like, “That should have done it. Do you want me to try?” They shake their heads in tired agreement. She sticks the handle of her umbrella in the space between her chin and shoulder and goes to work on the cable, essentially doing the same thing the boys were doing, but with a mighty strength that only a Principal possesses. Her umbrella falls behind her. She ignores it, keeps going. Now she’s getting pelted in the face by the rain, and I think for a minute to run over and help, then I notice Jackson run behind her, grab her umbrella, and hold it over her head while she looks straight up to the sky.

Eventually she gets the flag untangled with her pure might, gives Jackson’s friend the cable, and we all watch as he lowers the flag. Jackson hands her back her umbrella and they say thank you. She smiles, and walks back to the busses.

I stand, sort of in awe of what I have just witnessed. The third boy is nowhere to be found, he’s abandoned his post years ago, and Jackson and his friend stand in the rain and fold each flag the correct way, then take them back inside.

Minutes later, as we are walking out to the car I ask him what happened. He relays the story about the friend who needed help with the flag, how the other boy chased him down in the hallway to help. Then he tells me about the knot. That’s when I say that I saw them eventually figure it out. He stops me and says, “No, it was Ms. Young who figured it out.”

“No,” I assure him, “it was you two who figured it out. Ms. Young just had the strength to do what needed done.” He smiled a little.

“Yeah, I guess so.”

M.

Field Day, 2019

Today has been a busy day, and it isn’t even lunch time yet! Whew! We were up at ’em at 5:30 this morning to take Mama to the airport. (She landed safely in Kansas City at 10:00 am), then we got back to Tucker, dropped Jackson off to school, and Jerimiah and I had a nice, quiet breakfast at Matthews Cafeteria. Then it was back to school to participate in Field Day. Well, participate is a stretch, as we were just spectators. It was also the first Field Day that I didn’t volunteer to work! It was amazing to be able to move from activity to activity and not be stuck at a damn sno-cone machine, or in this case, the apple slices station! But bless the mommies and daddies who did it!

It was a fun, old-fashioned field day too! Complete with a balloon pop (of which Jerimiah and I did end up working because it takes all hands on deck for that one), a three-legged race, a relay race, and the parachute! Oh the parachute! As soon as we walked into the cafeteria to watch them with the parachute I was transported. All the way back to my elementary days at Anthony Elementary School. Back, back, way back, to Mr. Hendee and the bouncing parachute. It was just what I needed to see.

Jackson’s class was steady in second place for all the activities (there are three fifth grade classes), and when the kids were telling us that was okay, the Spanish teacher at the school overheard and whispered to Jerimiah and me, “Well this class may have taken second, but they are always FIRST in behavior. Man, this is a good class!” We beamed, cause yeah, we saw it with our own eyes. I told Jerimiah later that I felt lucky to have Jackson in such a good class, and he laughed and reminded me that it wasn’t luck. It was hard work in parenting to get our kid into the classes that he is in. It’s kinda neat having a kiddo that all the teachers want in their class. (Excuse me while I pat us on the back…) And honestly, there are a lot of “Jacksons” in his class. That’s why they took second so many times. They went slow and steady. Even in the three-legged race, when some of the other classes had kids sorta pulling their partners along, Jackson’s class was slow and measured. “This is what happens when you have a group of perfectionists,” Jackson’s teacher whispered to us. It was super cute to watch.

Anyhoo, here are some pics of the morning. It was a bit chilly down here, so some of the activities (most of them) were inside because y’all, Georgia kids cannot handle 50 degree temps! 🙂

Here’s to fun, old-fashioned field days!

M.

Popsicle Sticks

I started walking to get Jackson from school this week. It is one mile there and one mile back if I take the “long route”. I take the long route because the long route involves a stoplight, whereas the shortcut involves waiting for a break in a busy state highway, in Atlanta, then running like mad across five lanes while you scream “Don’t hit me! Don’t hit me! Don’t hit me!” So I prefer the stoplight.

So this week I walked the two miles every day. By day two I had already developed shin splint. By day three my whole body hurt like I was an active person. But by day four I felt okay. I track my walk with my Apple Watch and my Apple Watch, for usually being a little, whiny bitch, has actually been pretty helpful. Everyday I’d cut my time down by 30 seconds. And by day two, Jackson didn’t even mind the walking. By day four he told me he looked forward to it. Not only is it good, quality time with his mommy (heart swoon), but “walkers” get out ten minutes before “car riders”. Oh, yep. That’s the real reason.

Anyway, on Thursday I couldn’t shake this feeling that I was missing something. But I had my Apple Watch on, and my phone in my hand just in case. So what was it that I needed. Then I realized that I was missing 15 popsicle sticks.

I don’t know if you guys had to do this, or even remember it, but when I was in fifth grade in Kansas there was such a thing as The Presidential Fitness Test. It consisted of a bunch of bullshit, if you were to ask a chubby Little Missy, like the despised “Sit and Reach”, where Mr. Hendee, our beloved, normally very rational and nice P.E. teacher, taped a yard stick to a cardboard box and you had to sit with your legs straight against the box and reach out on the yard stick as far as you could. What was the purpose? Who fucking knows! But it was for sure something we had to do twice a year. Along with “Pull-Ups” which was just us hanging on a bar until our hands gave up. I always lasted about five seconds. Then there were push-ups and sit-ups with your friend sitting on your feet (my BFF LeeAnne was as heavy as a damn stick, and I would just lift her up every time I sat up. She was useless). Then there was the dreaded one-mile run.

The dreaded one-mile run took place in the “soccer field” which was just the bit of grass after the blacktop where the cool boys played soccer at recess. Mr. Hendee set up bright orange cones. Just two. And we had to run around them 16 times. That, as he had equated, was a mile. I dunno how far apart the cones had to be, you do the math.

How did you keep track of your laps? Great question. Every time you passed Mr. Hendee, he handed you a popsicle stick. So by the end of your run you had 15 popsicle sticks in your sweaty, little hands. I often, OFTEN, wondered if they were used popsicle sticks, but never asked. Did I really want to know?

Anyway, one time, on the night before the dreaded one-mile run, I had been playing outside with my friends well into the evening. The street lights had just come on when I heard my mom’s unmistakable whistle that meant it was time for me to come in. As I got on my bike, my foot got tangled up with my pedal and fell, my bike coming down hard on my ankle. Later that night, after some medicine, it was still a little swollen and tender to the touch but it was decided that I would survive. Nothing seemed broken. But just to be safe, my mom would write Mr. Hendee a note to tell him that I was not to run the next day. WHAAAAAA?! I had no idea you could do that! I was amazed with my mom and her powers.

The next day I went to school with very little pain and a normal sized ankle, and the note happily tucked into my backpack. When P.E. time came the pain “suddenly” came back to my ankle. I started limping for effect, and everyone was asking me what was wrong. Ankle. I said. Probably broken. I limped slowly up toward Mr. Hendee when we were still in the gym. He eyed me suspiciously. I handed him the note, then looked pathetically down at my ankle.

“Did your mom take you to the doctor,” he asked, folding the note back up and putting it in his shirt pocket. He always had shirts with pockets.

I shook my head no.

“Okay, he said. You can make it up next week. Let’s go class!”

My mouth sank. Whaaaaaa?! I thought I would be exempt from the whole run, but apparently this was not Mr. Hendee’s first rodeo.

I got to hand out the popsicle sticks that day. One after the other, to sweaty, unwashed, little hands. Then the next week I had to run by myself, around the gym, while everyone else was playing parachute. Hmpf. Ain’t that some shit?

So there you go. I learned my lesson. I never tried to get out of another mile run again. And all this week, going back and forth, the two miles everyday, nothing to hold in my sweaty, unwashed hands, I suddenly missed those damn popsicle sticks to keep me company.

Thanks Mr. Hendee. For calling me out on my bullshit. And for teaching me how to juggle scarves.

M.

Hey, It’s Jackson!

Walking down the hall of my kid’s school with him, is like walking on stage with a rock star. Seriously. Since he was in kindergarten it has been this way. In kindergarten he was popular because he walked with an air of confidence. He was one of the few kids that went into school knowing how to read. He could read. He could write. He could color inside the lines. But above all else, my kid was confident. He didn’t cry on the first day like I did in kindergarten. He didn’t watch, misty-eyed as we walked out the door and left him behind with Ms. Gamble. Instead, he sat at attention. He helped the girl in front of him line up correctly. He volunteered to lead the line. He took Mrs. Turner’s hand and walked into the unknown with a smile on his face. And well, it is still the same today.

I was scared for a little while. When we moved him in the middle of third grade, I was terrified. We moved from a rural area in North Carolina into a school system that was very different than where we had been. He had been at a public school, an “A” public school, where 98% of the kids looked like him, and talked like him, and came from the upper ranks of the socioeconomic tiers. His new school was a STEM school. But it was also an urban charter school where he was a minority.

But by the end of third grade he had friends in every classroom. He knew all the teachers’ names. They all knew his. Fourth grade teachers already knew about him. Fifth grade teachers already knew about him. The Gifted teacher was eager to get her hands on him. In short, he did just fine with the transition. And then we moved in the middle of fourth grade.

We hadn’t planned on this, of course. Truth be told, we were hoping to stay in Charlotte until middle school at least. Hoping he would only know two elementary schools. Two I could deal with. But three? We scoped out his new elementary school the day we signed the papers on the new house. He wasn’t with us. Jerimiah and I came alone that day. We walked in not knowing what to expect. We hadn’t heard the best things about Atlanta’s schools, but then again, we were coming from Charlotte, so it kinda felt like home.

Turns out we made the right choice. His new school is a public school in DeKalb County. It isn’t an “A” school, but it doesn’t have to be, because it is an IB school. It is a STEM school. He isn’t a minority, but not all the kids look like him or speak like him. They have a Spanish immersion class. They have art, and music, and sports. It is a heck of a lot different than anything we have known, yet it’s exactly the same.

I walked Jackson to class yesterday to have a quick chat with is teacher. We are headed out of town tomorrow and he is going to miss a test. I wanted to make sure he would be allowed to make it up, and yes he will be. While we were walking down the halls of this fairly new school (this is his third week of classes) it all felt very familiar.

“Hey Jackson!” and “Jackson Goodnight!” and “Good morning, Jackson” rang out all around us. Teachers, administrators, second graders. They all know Jackson. The janitor gave him a high five. A kindergartener said, “Hey, it’s Jackson!” and pointed. To hear him tell the story, though, you’d think no one knows him, well until he digs in.

Jackson isn’t special just because he walks with an air of confidence, he’s special because he is friendly. He is kind. Turns out that kindergartner was wearing a shirt with a car on it one day, and Jackson walked up to him and said, “Wow, I like your shirt! I love cars too.” The kindergartner blushed and said, “Thanks.”

When Jackson meets the janitor in the hallways, he tells her “Thanks, you know, for picking up after us and keeping the bathrooms clean.”

When Jackson met the Assistant Principal he said, “I really like what you’ve done with the place.”

When Jackson met the STEM teacher he said, “I love STEM and am so excited about your class.”

When Jackson met the music teacher he said, “I’m not a very good singer, but one day I’ll probably have a record deal.” Well, he’s still a little confident.

The point is, Jackson notices people. He notices their hard work. Their dedication. Their cool style. And he says something, something nice. He gives a compliment. He doesn’t expect anything back. He just wants them to know he likes them, or he respects them, or they have crossed his mind. And that is what garners attention from people. From kids and adults. Kindness. Confidence. Vulnerability.

I guess today I am wishing to be a little more like my kid. A little more kind to everyone I meet. A little more confident. A little more vulnerable. To really put myself out there. I think maybe it would serve us all well to be this way from time to time. You never know, when you leave a room someone might just be saying your name in awe as well.

Here’s to being more like Jackson!

M.