Kids to Spare

    I didn’t see it coming, the “F” I got at mid-term in my Toad Blog “class”–the one I designed and am taking as the only student this year. Oh, I’ve failed before, but this was a surprise because I was so sure in early September that I could pull it off: a blog post every couple of weeks. But it’s not happening, and here’s why: Every time I start an entry, it grows, like Andrew Marvell’s “vegetable love” (To His Coy Mistress), and soon, I’m into an entire treatise on, say, collegiality or the power of place. I can’t seem to write short.

    Today’s the day I’m going to turn it around, keep it brief, not worry it to death in wordsmithing or wring my hands over what I’ve left out, but rather give what Natalie Goldberg calls “First Thoughts” their sway. I’m giving myself an hour to write this. Period.

    Here it is: Megan and Jason Carney were sitting in the bleachers yesterday, multitasking: during breaks in daughter Riley’s volleyball game, they puzzled over son Rob’s impossible word search homework (which seemed to have some key directions missing) and planned the rest of their boarding school night as teachers and parents. I sat down next to them for a minute, joking about their version of Date Night, and we all talked a little about Fall Family Weekend’s sort of sneaking up on us. After we shared a deep sigh, Jason asked, “Are you looking at things like Family Weekend in terms of ‘lasts’?”  I told him No, and smiled. “Not yet, at least.” I blindly keep thinking there’s “world enough and time” (more Marvell) in this last year, that there are still miles on what I’ve termed our long off-ramp. 

    But “time has big handles on the hands” (If I Could Only Live at the Pitch that is Near Madness, Richard Eberhart), a truth made clear when I realized yesterday that I needed pumpkins prontissimo for the weekend and hadn’t hollered up my young friend and helper, Hiram Hooper, to do the fetching and toting with me down the hill at Boccali’s Pumpkin Patch.

    I started calling Hiram H3E,LLC years ago, when I first hired him for odd-jobs in the Head’s Home: Hiram Hooper Helper Enterprises, Limited Liability Corporation. Soon enough, Hiram had become my secret weapon in making jars of hot fudge for faculty and staff each holiday season. Come the second week of December, he’d hoof it down to my house, put on an apron and elf hat (de rigueur) and set to business: crack up the chocolate, melt it into the butter, alternate sugar and milk and stir, stir, whisk, stir. We’d put on Christmas music and sing along, dance a little. For the delivery, we’d pile all the jars into the Hoopers’ rickety but still serviceable Radio Flyer and haul it all around campus, door-to-door holiday spirit, Mutt & Jeff. We even perfected our own dramatic version of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” which we bellowed at each stop, jazz hands not optional.

    Yesterday, though, Hiram wasn’t available for pumpkin patch work on such short notice. And that’s when I came up with a work-around: I’d get enough pumpkins at Vons to make do for this weekend, and then figure out with Hiram what day next week would work for our annual Boccali’s outing. Without knowing it, I’d factored in a “last,” a sense of the ending at the level of the subconscious.

    Faculty kids at Thacher: the daily lift in random moments, the littluns especially. (I’ve got much more to say about those of other ages, but I’m still on the clock here.) Cici flitting into formal dinner in her ladybug outfit, arriving at her chair with a flourish and a grin. Luke roaring across the grass down on the sidelines of the football field, careening into my legs, knocking us both over in laughter. Annika and Ansel calling to each other in quiet, purposeful animal sounds from their branch perches in the “jungle” on the other side of the Senior Wall. Cooper’s wee voice coming down to me from the top of the Upper School lawn as I’m on my entryway walk: “Is that you, Joy?” New-to-Thacher Arlo–Pony Boy to me because he eats even the stem-end of any carrot–having al fresco lunch w/ his mum, Mel, on the bottom wall of the Pergola terrace, coming out of his initial reticence with this stranger (me) inch by inch. Gavin, just back from his family’s sabbatical in Spain, patiently explaining to me, in great detail, a typical school day; he ends in classic curiosity and empathy: “What did you do last year?” Luke and Greta demonstrating the fine art of sibling wrestling on the Sophomore Lawn. After dinner, on the Kidney edge, Zoey climbing into my lap and snuggling in, reporting very seriously that she’d just returned Cici’s sparkly cape because “she really needed it” and that she’s a little sad about giving it back because the cape really went so well with her sparkly shoes.

    I’m frankly delighted to be in this information loop. And in the gloaming, after one of those watercolor Ojai sunsets that happen when there’s a light scrim of almost-fog in the Valley, I close my eyes and imagine the handles on the hands stopped for just a moment, while I breathe in all the blessings.

    Joy Sawyer-Mulligan

    Joy teaches English, advises sophomore girls, and, with her husband Michael, welcomes the entire School into the Head of School's home for their weekly Open House. In her final year at the School, she's bound and determined to capture in regular Toad Blog posts some of what her Thacher life's been made of.

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