my youngest son, "Thing 3," uttered "Grass Oil" to describe what i once made for dinner. what is the Grass Oil blog? my observations about life from my cheap seats where everyone looks like ants. i'm funny, candid and i try to be nice, with some snark for flavor. Grass Oil: simple. random. elegant. there it is. ps – "Things" is a moniker to keep my kids off search engines.
Not an hour ago I received an email from our secondary school principal. The subject line was “homework over break” and I swallowed hard in apprehension that we were about to get the shot across the bow announcing a big press on the kids to get their projects started and completed over break. In the insanely high-pressure DC suburbs, it would not be unheard of.
Much to my astonishment, I read on:
Dear Parents and Guardians-
I am sending you a copy of an email I have sent to all of the Robinson Staff regarding homework and assignments over breaks. All of us need breaks in our life and we want to honor this going forward from today. I want to wish everyone a healthy and happy Thanksgiving.
As we reach the first quarter mark of the year and as Thanksgiving and the winter holidays approach, I would like to share some guidelines for assignments over breaks. There is no doubt that many of you feel pressure to maintain the momentum of your curriculum by assigning homework, projects, papers, reading, and/or studying over breaks. The pressure that you feel, often driven by standardized tests and pacing guides, translates likewise into student stress. This stress compounds as families compete for meaningful time with their children over the holidays. Subsequently, many students return to school after “break” with as much or more stress as when they left.
Children and adults (You) need breaks from the many demands of school life. Going forward, I ask that you be mindful of student stress when determining due dates for student work. Here are a few guidelines:
• Students should not be required to complete work over school breaks.
• Be reasonable with due dates. Provide enough time for students to complete their work within the normal school calendar without the need to work over school breaks. Though you may have a long-term assignment that spans over a school break, no work should be due immediately after a break.
• Pace yourself to avoid major assessments immediately upon return from breaks.
The guidelines above are in the spirit of honoring family and family traditions as we simultaneously address issues of student stress. These adjustments provide us another opportunity to reach out to our community with a united, student-centered philosophy.
In today’s crazy-competitive world, this note, and his stand on the state of the chaos, is refreshing, brave and so needed.
Here is my reply to him,
I hope you’re getting lots of grateful and encouraging calls and emails about your mindful and gracious letter to parents today about your email to your staff regarding overloading the kids during breaks.
As a yoga teacher, I couldn’t possibly agree more with your intention in that note. I have found that really little kids — ages 4 and 5! — tell me that doing yoga with me helps them lower their stress.
Four and five! What should they know about stress? But they do.
When our minds and bodies relax, creativity in innovation flows. We can not possibly subsist in a hyper-competitive, limbic-brained state all our lives. While academic success is important, we must remember that while we are today shaping the minds for tomorrow, we must be careful to foster growth. If being a parent has taught us anything, it’s that the human form grows when it rests. Muscles build and form after the workout. We have to look up from the grindstone in order to see how we can improve upon it.
We cannot grow in a state of hyper-vigilance and reactivity; if competing with China is what this is all about in America, we’re doomed. That country’s youth is in very fragile state. If you did not see the NYTimes report on the teens in China who are addicted to the Internet, now might be a good moment to see it; the kids there are overloaded, overtaxed and fracturing due to the nation’s aggressive growth and parental pressures to outdo the others.
I applaud you, most sincerely, for the missive you sent today. It takes guts, character and courage to do what you did. You’re on the right path.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
Kinds regards and namaste,
I feel that his move to send that note was a clear and compassionate message about a tragedy which befell the school earlier in the fall.
A sophomore tragically took her own life in an apparent suicide on a railroad track not three miles from my home. Kids need to relax. Adults need to relax. The world needs to relax.
The sentiment coddled and honored in our principal’s email is exactly what the world needs more of. So tell your school administrators about what’s on your mind, catch them doing something good and praise them for it.
What happens when you combine a love of featherfish with an artist who makes killa collages with a poem lauding the microwave and a family of five?
You get Transcendental Frienditation, and the gift of this friendship, now spanning between Northern Virginia and a little town in New Mexico has reached new heights.
I adore as you may know, the lovely and talented Lillian Connelly. The poem I wrote last week about the microwave, I wrote on the fly (as I do most of my posts; sadly, this one is sort of planned). While she liked that one enough and we had fun with it, it was the next post, the one about the featherfish that caught her eye; so much, that she fell in love with the featherfish as evidenced by many back and forth tweets on Twitter about them.
I planned to go all by myself the following Sunday morning to the Eastern Market in D.C. It’s insane to get out of the house with the kids for a planned event; a spontaneous one: fugedaboudit. When I thought I was sneaking down the stairs, I saw my husband on his computer. That was fine. Then I saw Thing 2. Thing 2 likes shopping and going places, so I knew he’d be game. That’s ok. But I really wanted to be there hassle-free: out and about, in the sun, eating a crepe without having to deal with “idonwanna” and “letsdothisinstead” coming from the back seats.
The truth is, I love my team and as much as I wanted to be alone, I really wanted them to see the fantastic experience that lies only 25 minutes away.
My thoughts and plans of leaving at 9:30 in the morning were dashed like a skiff exploding on the rocky bluffs of Ireland when Thing 1 decided he wanted to come too. That meant Thing 3 simply could not stay home alone. Despite his assertions that he would be fine alone for several hours in our house, we made him accompany us. It was on this day that his fever returned and that the amoxicillin he’d recently been prescribed stopped working on his strep throat. He was an absolute pleasure to be around.
But what started out as a solo venture, ended up becoming one of the most fantastic days my family has had together in a long time.
Upon arrival, the first order of business was to stop and get some featherfish for Lillian. Imagine my shock and awe, when we encountered this:
I simply could not decide. I mean, what if she had a preference for the tortoises or the rams? So I called her, at likely 8am her time on a Sunday (you know, late) and left her a message that she did not listen to until Monday. It’s ok. I chose the fish, and I’m sure she’ll write about them. But in the meantime, she has been working on my homage collage, and I’ll let her show that to you.
So while we were purchasing the featherfish, my husband started talking to FeatherMitch, the maker of the featherthings. And um, let’s just say they got along well. “He is my long-lost brother!” Mitch said, about my husband. “You never know!” he said:
Mr. Grass Oil and FeatherMitch, long-lost brothers. Mitch has a zen that makes my own husband’s mellow ways seem like my zen, which is to say: no zen. (that little creature in front of Mitch is a featherladybug)
We spent about half an hour with featherMitch and he told us his story. I will sum it up: his grandfather left China during the revolution with nothing. He was not allowed to take his sheep or his money or his food or his clothes with him. He could only take his roll-up mattress and almost no money; China got everything. He wanted to go to Thailand. He met his eventual wife in Thailand, she too was a Chinese refugee. He stayed there and they raised a family, Mitch’s father. He married and Mitch was born. He said that his grandfather wanted to die in China, he wanted to die where he was born, but he wanted all his money to stay in Thailand. The story is a little sketchy and I have a feeling my husband will return many times to iron out the details because he has told me he has a fondness for Mitch (and honestly, who can’t?).
When Mitch was finishing his story, he looked at my oldest son. “What you want to do when you go to college?” he asked. My son stammered a little, kicked a rock, smiled, wasn’t quite ready to answer the question. Mitch had asked it so deliberately. I answered, “He likes engineering, and he loves science and math.”
“You be a doctor. Medical engineer. My daughter, I have two: one is at Columbia, getting her PhD, all she does is call me for money; and the other is at Berkeley. I don’t want them to call me anymore,” he said with no irony. “It’s expensive to live in New York, she calls me for money all the time. I tell her, ‘stop learning, get a job!’ but she’s my daughter. So I send her money.”
“You learn technology, but stay away from Facebook, iPads. Study instead. China wants you to stay on Facebook. All of us, it wants us to be all ‘waaaah waaaah woooaah…’ like zombies on the computers. That’s the only way it will win. Stay away from that. Go outside, exercise, meet people, read science and literature. Artists. Keep doing things, stay away from online talking. China will win and we will all lose,” he said very sharply and lovingly to all my sons.
“I joke with my mom that we should all learn Chinese because we will be speaking it one day when China buys the United States…” Thing 1 said.
“This is no joke.” Mitch said. “Mandarin. You and your children will speak Mandarin if we don’t get away from the iPhones and the Facebook. China loves that we love our phones. They make them and we forget we are alive when we use them.”
He was so correct. My heart sank. Here is a man who knows what China is capable of. We left him for other kiosks, but we planned to say good-bye before we left.
After featherMitch, we went to see a glass artist make pendants and watched his glass blowing demonstration:
Thing 3 was entranced. He and this artist talked so much about the pendant and heat and compared it all to the sun’s heat.
Then after that, we met another artist, Shumba Masani, who makes “canimals”: giraffes and other animals out of aluminum cans. Thing 3 saved his yoo-hoo can for him; he planned to make a turtle out of it. This artist’s works have been in the Smithsonian. He made a 6′ tall giraffe and sold it for $1,000.
This is Masani’s interview on YouTube, he’s amazing and he just sort of stumbled into his art. His lesson is important, so check it out:
I bought this little rhino from him for $20. It’s made from a can of olive oil -infused hairspray:
I suppose $20 is steep, but I’m thrilled because as Thing 3 said, I get to have an original piece of art from an artist whose other works sit in a museum. What I was most thrilled with was that my kids met him and talked to him and saw that all things are possible as long as you try and never give up.
After Masani, I found a second-hand leather backpack purse. Fully lined, “Fossil” brand and it was as soft as butter. At this kiosk, it was originally $35, but that price was scratched out and the new price was $25. I just had $23 on me. “That’ll do.” said the vendor.
“I love that it’s already got scratches on it and that it’s broken in.” I said. “It’s like a car: once you get that first ding in the door, no matter how painful it is, it’s still a car. It’s just less than perfect now. The pressure’s off to keep it pristine. Are you sure? Just twenty-three? Really?”
“Sure. Man, I like your style,” he said. “I wish more people were like you.”
I inspected the bag; it was fine inside: clean, no smells, intact. I love a bargain and I love a broken-in, butter-soft, leather backpack purse even more.
Yesterday, Thing 3 called me from school. He wasn’t feeling well. The amoxicillin had not done its job. We needed to go back to the doctor’s. While we were waiting, I opened my new backpack purse to put away my insurance cards and I looked over and saw this:
It looked like it was talking to me.
So we were having more fun in the exam room and Thing 3 asked me to take this picture:
“It said, ‘Gryffindor!’ mom, like the sorting hat from Harry Potter, but it’s a sorting bag.”
I have a sorting hat puppet. As far as I’m concerned, you can love Harry and Hermione and Ron and all those people all you want, but when I saw that sorting hat, I was sold. No one else mattered, ‘cept McGonegal. No one messes with Maggie Smith.
Lillian and I are going to embark on more homage collages; or collages with poems and make a calendar of them all for people to buy. It’s all because of the featherfish (that post is about living in the now) and the fact that I was stalled on what to make for dinner one night. The takeaway from all this is that friendship is everywhere and the gift we’ve given to each other is one of new ideas and possibilities for our work; something that will take the writer’s blech for me and give her new things to play with. But the gift she gave to me and my family is permanent and lasting and it’s those little things: taking a leap of faith on a friend and loving what comes of it, that makes it all the richer. So do it: get to know someone and collaborate.
The featherfish were packed up in a box by featherMitch waiting by my front door Monday. Taking them to the post office was also a gift, I stood in line with some of the funniest people and shared stories with them and the very clever man behind the counter. Who knew one set of featherfish could bring me this much joy?
all ready to go to new mexico!
Lillian should get them today. I can’t wait to hear from her when she opens the box. She’s so great. As it turns out, her grandmother lives near me. When she comes to visit her, we are SO going to meet featherMitch. It’ll be a reunion of people who’ve never met.