Reflections from Outside School

Photo by Leonard Reese on Unsplash

It’s the end of March

And I feel bold enough to write that I made it through a New Jersey winter teaching mainly outside.

I’m surprised by this and also by just how much unexpected pleasure I discovered in the adventure. 

Back in late August, when I earnestly began to plan for a year of outdoor teaching (because of the pandemic), I wondered if I’d be capable of such a feat– I’m the person who is always cold, the person who secretly raises the thermostat in the living room. But I wanted to be teaching, in person, and was determined to do so without jeopardizing the health of myself, my family and my students. Outdoors seemed like the best option. 

I was emboldened by the Scandanavian mantra there is no bad weather, only bad gear. And would realize the truth of this deep in January as I stayed warm in the snow pants I wore daily and even on weekends.  

I learned that weather offers an opportunity to let go of control. It entreats us to take advantage of what it offers in the moment.

Take that one February afternoon, for instance, when the sun suddenly came out, warmed us so thoroughly, that we finally sat down. This, in itself, was notable. We’d been spending our days in near constant motion. To be warm while sitting was a pleasure I no longer took for granted. 

There, at a large round table, three of us sat on stumps that were still half buried in the ice-topped snow from a storm two weeks before. My legs rested on top of this mini-tundra – nearly perpendicular to my body- and it impossibly reminded me of the beach. 

I dealt out cards to the game Old Maid. Two four-year-old girls shook off their mittens, one wore heart-shaped plastic sunglasses. She’d been my shadow the past couple weeks, always missing her mom.

“I miss my mom,” she said and also

“When will she be here?”

Today I was ready for her. Old Maid would fix things. And, now the bright, warm sun.

I hadn’t played Old Maid in nearly forty-five years — the last time was on my nana’s lap. I couldn’t believe I was about to play now. It’s rare to get such serene moments in the hustling of a preschool class-

“My mitten!”

“He pushed me!”

“I have to go to the bathroom!!”

Exclamatory sentences prevail more often than not.

But this sun, it soothed and settled us, it seemed right to to sit and play one of the card games I’d unearthed in the back of the school supply closet. 

Cards, I realized, were a perfect outdoor game. Easy to transport, they offered a multitude of skills, could be played anywhere. That morning I’d grabbed a checker’s board for my outdoor wagon, too. The world of possibilities continued to open up. 

Old Maid, in my childhood, was the pleasure at my nana’s house. The thing I waited for all day. And, once in her lap, there was nothing else, only who had that card, who would end up with it. 

I laughed and hoped and plotted.

My nana, too, she could be sneaky.

And it was just as if she had nothing else to do that whole afternoon. Of course she’d been waiting to play Old Maid, just like me.

And wasn’t just passing time until I went back home or wanting to get back to whatever needed doing. Like making dinner. Born in 1900 she was a farmer’s daughter and lived by the will of the land, Her complexly rendered hand-embroidered linens still live, now in my home.

A cool wind suddenly blew the cards off into the snow. 

“The North Wind, Megan!” said one of the girls

She referred to a story I told the week before, The Lad who went to the North Wind. The North Wind is a character who steals oatmeal from a boy. 

And now it threatened our game. I was pleased that they could finally relate to the frustration the boy felt when his oatmeal went adrift. 

“Oh, North Wind,” I yelled, “You stop that.”  The girls giggled and scrambled off the stumps to collect the blowing cards, hollering at the wind as well. 

We looked up to consider the clouds, how fast they were moving, I wondered briefly whether or not we’d be able to finish.

I watched heart shaped sunglass girl straighten out her hand of cards. She no longer wondered aloud about time and her mom. Maybe she was relieved, like I was, that the wind settled, that we could continue on. 

That we could sit a while longer. 

5 thoughts on “Reflections from Outside School

  1. Lovely story. So wonderful to have kept these little ones happily engaged with one another, the natural world, and a hearty and creative teacher during the long winter months.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Megan, I loved the piece. I could just visualize every moment and could imagine you as a little girl in your grandmother’s lap playing old maid! I enjoyed your thoughts both past and present.

    Liked by 1 person

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