I have two young nephews, the youngest of my siblings’ children. In the hustle of my life as a teaching artist, and many months spent on the road with this career, I often miss important events in their lives: school plays, sports activities, even their birthdays. In addition, since so often I am waiting for payment, or am faced with the current challenges of the economy, they suffer not just the lack of time we can spend together but maybe even the things that we would do together that I cannot afford. I regret these obstacles and they do not deserve to reap the consequences. I lost time with my older neices and nephew and now that they are all grown, I want to make sure I am present and active with these two, to get it right, and to be a source of support and affirmation, a person with whom discovery and laughter are constant elements.
A few weeks ago, with the summer vacation waning, the three of us were in the car headed for a hike at a wonderful place south of Syracuse called Tinkers Falls. One of my nephews, the 12-year old, had been there with me once already but his 9-year old cousin had not. This would allow the one boy to show the other what he had discovered and be a bit of a mentor.
The discussion of the looming school year, the list of summer activities left to do, the roller coasters that were yet to be conquered, was primary on our drive. I posed the question: “What if you could go to school for an extra hour each day but you could have a longer summer vacation? Would you do that?”
There was a quiet moment of contemplation, probably during which they each listened to an inner dialog that likely runs, “Oh no, there Aunt Georgia goes again with another crazy idea.”
Additionally, I proposed that the extra hour per day could be designated for electives, enrichment, extra study time, or intra-murals, etc. This didn’t sound so bad to any of us all of a sudden.
I suggested that we figure it out. I pulled out my driving log and the pen I keep in the pocket of my car door and handed it to my older nephew. “Let’s do the math…multiply 180 days of school by 6 hours.” I marveled at the weird way he computed the total. I admit I am clueless about the ways math is taught to children now and I would never be much help with homework. But he came up with 1,080, the total of instruction hours they now experience.
So then we agreed that they would lose 20 days of school if there were a month more of summer free time. So the next step was to multiply 160 theoretical school days times 7 hours of instruction. Once we had a sum, it turns out that there would be 1,120 hours of school plus an extra month to do summer stuff. That sounded pretty good to all of us. Who could we talk to? Could we ever get this idea across to people who make decisions? We figured it would be unlikely.
We talked a lot more on our 30-minute drive, mostly about what the 9-year old might find when we got to the falls.
While I walked the path, and the boys walked the nearly dry creek bed, taunting frogs and finding fossils, their pockets grew burdened with more and more weight. They know I love to collect rocks so a lot of these were gifts for me. But we also had to embrace another teachable moment: once you start finding rocks you like, you find even more. And once you start picking them up, you had to carry them. They grew heavier. The best lesson: some of them you leave behind and rely upon the memory of discovery.
I cherish each one of these memories because some day these two gems of my life will be adults. My goal is that they will be sitting with friends, talking about being kids, laughing as they share stories, and they will say to group, “Let me tell you about my crazy Aunt Georgia…”
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