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10 influential people from my life

All good things must come to an end. We know this truth in life, we just don't always truly know it until we are faced with it, and as this school year closes we are saying goodbye to a man who was not only influential in Jon's life, but thankfully in Calvin's as well. The director (and founder) of the Boychoir of Ann Arbor has been shepherding boys, offering vocal and life training, for thirty years now, and he is retiring. Jon's experience in the Boychoir was important to him, and I feel priviledged to have had the opportunity to meet the man and witness the effects the choir has had on Calvin. Not only has he learned a lot about singing, he has learned a lot about coming together as a group, about honor and tradition, and about shaking hands (strong grip, look them in the eye!).

As we've spent this year, especially the past month or so, saying goodbye to this man who has been profoundly influential for so many, I've spent some time thinking about how formative these years are for children, and the importance of early role models and leaders. And that led me to thinking of my own formative years and the people who saw me through them. Parents aside, of course, because their influence is obvious and special, I have come up with the following ten:

(1) My parents. Yep, let's get the obvious out of the way. I'd say it's a given, but not every child respects their parents or takes their lessons to heart, so I put them first and foremost here because I learned so much from both of my parents, and continue to learn so much from them, that the top of this list is where they belong.

(2) My grandparents, and other extended family members. Another gimme, I'm sure, but my maternal grandmother especially imparted a lot of wisdom that I have carried with me. And beyond verbal lessons, time spent on her hobby farm when I was little I'm sure helped form some of my love for nature. I remember it so vividly. My Godmother taught me to ski like a woman (we have hips!), and later how to sew. My paternal aunt aroused in me a curiosity about my history that fed a later obsession with the broader subject of human history, then evolution. All of my larger family have quietly and influenced who am through our many years.

(3) Early friends (and frenemies). Yes, I realize this is a kind of nebulous list item, but specific names, even the specific people, from so long ago aren't what really matter here as much as the idea of them. The first half of elementary school is a maze of social learning that leads kids down many paths, some of them ending in disaster. I had a few friends who meant the world to me, some who stuck with me, even have stuck with me, through many years, and others who definitely led to hurt. 

(4) The young Authors program at my elementary school. Again, this isn't a particular person, but the program and the team that ran it were invaluable in developing my love for reading and writing. I can't even remember now if it was an in school special, or an after school club type thing, but I remember attending writing workshops where we received encouragement and constructive advice while we exercised our creative writing sides. 

(5) My fourth and fifth grade teacher. She was the kind of teacher who took a personal interest in each and every student. In her class(es, because I had her twice), we put on amazing plays, shared full thanksgiving meals where we learned about etiquette, and earned special Friday night dinners at her house through good behavior. She read aloud to us every day, which definitely deepened my love for reading.

(6) My middle school advanced math teacher. He was terrible—the worst—but I didn't say this list was all about positive influence, it's just a list of the most influential, and he was influential for sure. After a partial year in his class learning, above all else, that math is not, under any circumstances, meant for girls, it took me until my adulthood to regain any confidence in the subject. And you know what? I'm pretty darn good at math.

(7) My high school band director. He was taking no flack from anyone. None. Wasn't having it. And because of that our band was pretty good. But he was also jovial, and very supportive. I definitely remember whole class hours spent discussing important and difficult current issues, and those times were as valuable to our development as the music was. The life lessons I learned in band have never left me (like how to properly hang dress pants on a hanger, for one).

(8) My high school drama coach. Yes I was a band and a drama geek, and it wasn't as IN then as it is now. And it might be that my involvement in the club was as influential as the drama coach himself. I wasn't an actor, I was everything else behind the scenes, and I learned a lot back there, like how to wield a power drill or operate a table saw. Plus you can't beat theater for teaching self respect and confidence.

(9) My high school psychology teacher. This is another one on the list that is not entirely rosy in my memory. He was a difficult teacher, and not particularly nice, but that might be why I learned so much that really stuck with me in that class. I have several "flashbulb memories" of deep discussions in that classroom, including the one that taught me the term "flashbulb memory".

(10) My ninth grade literature teacher. When I got to high school I already loved to read, but my freshman english teacher taught me to read in a different way, opening up a whole new amazing world in my mind. That is a lesson I believe I will keep building on all my life.


Sun worshipper


May 2017 recap


Fox on a farm

When Calvin did his first YPT show last year I remember being skeptical when the powers that be warned us about post-show depression. There was entire handout on the topic, warning us to be prepared for irritable, recalcitrant children in the week or two following the production. In my head I giggled a little, but remembering the validity of similar afflictions, like post-holiday ennui, I filled those weeks with activities sure to keep a young mind engaged. 

Having at first inwardly giggled let me tell you, post-production depression is a real thing, and it way outpaces post-holiday ennui. These kids put so much work in the show that it becomes a defining part of their lives for the two plus months they rehearse. During tech week and production weekend, the show really is their lives. And's gone. Just like that this creature they'd been nurturing with all their energy and time has passed away, and the days following such a loss will inevitably be devoted to mourning. Inevitably.

Last year, all the activities I had planned were not enough to ward away the blues, but I know they helped, so this year I focused on a combination of extra activities, and a pointed return to routine. After letting him sleep in for a couple of days I dragged him out of bed and kicked him out the front door to play with the kids at the bus stop. When I set our weekly school calendar (after having taken tech week mostly off) I planned all the subjects in their usual places, but lightened the load a bit in most. And I registered us for two homeschool field trips during the week.

But you know what doesn't care about my kid's depressing week of post-show mourning? The weather. So we didn't make it to the frog catch-and-release field trip because even though frogs don't mind the rain, we do. And our second field trip was almost as much of a bust except that laughter, and our own brand of sarcastic cynicism, is also good medicine. Because Northfork Farms, where were slated to enjoy a morning of reliving the wild west, turned out to be a strange mixture of backwoods zoo, cheap carnival, and run-down roadside tourist trap. We played some "old wild west kids' games", which until I've seen their resources I'll be convinced were games they made up to go along with the cheapest plastic kid toys they could get on clearance last fall. We embarked on the Louis & Clark trail, which was a short walk through a collection of small dioramas in plastic boxes so yellowed by the sun that it was hard to see the "animals" in them (I'm still not sure whether they were taxidermied or merely plastic molds with fake hair glued on, but I'm leaned towards the latter). We went to a saloon (where they ran out of time to give us the snack we'd been promised) and learned that women didn't go to saloons because they didn't (not couldn't...didn't) vote back then. What? We washed our rags at the "Chinese laundry" (a mini lesson so racist I was embarrassed just listening) and panned for a gold piece that later chipped away until it had returned to its original state as a pebble. 

So the trip, while disappointing, turned out to be okay, misleading and offensive lessons aside, simply because it was such an easy target for comedic absurdity. That, and because there was a baby fox. A baby fox who loved people and just wanted to be held. Who wouldn't love holding a baby fox? (And here I'm refraining from touching on how I actually feel about a fox in captivity, or the coati, tiny monkey, and peacock they also had in captivity, all in tiny cages, because that's a big subject for another platform). And then we rode off into the sunset (because that's what they do in the wild west, right?) on a weird oil drum mini-train (because that's what they do in the absurd wild west, right?), and laughed all the way home. And they do say that laughter is the best medicine...for post-show depression.


Beauty and the Beast

Words cannot accurately describe the emotions of our past week, or two. Last year Calvin performed with Young People's Theater, a local youth theater organization, in their production of Tarzan. It was an amazing experience in so many ways, so when he asked to try out for their spring staging of Beauty of and the beast we were delighted to say yes. Well, he got a part—a dancing, singing, chorus extraordinaire part—and things got busy fast. With a varying rehearsal schedule, multiple days a week, to fit in between other ensemble rehearsals (band, choir, dance), the calendar gets complicated in a hurry. And while Calvin was practicing I found myself taken in, for a second time, by the extremely talented YPT costume crew. This season they entrusted me with the designing and creation of the teacup costumes, the result of which I am pretty proud of.

The last week before the show is tech week, with nightly rehearsals running from 5-9. Performance weekend includes four shows, followed by strike. Jon and I attended opening night after a much deserved, relaxing dinner together, I worked the remaining of the shows, and, having seen them all, I know Calvin was stellar in each and every one. I love watching him on stage, watching him come alive with energy and talent. He amazes and awes me every time.

Although some of the following photographs are my own, the only camera I took with me on this excursion was my phone because YPT has a group of extremely talented photographers who volunteer their time and openly share their captures from backstage and front with the rest of us parents so we don't have to worry about capturing moments, only memories, during the show process. Many of hte following shots are from those photographers.