Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Island Time

I am still having a difficult time re-entering the United States.  I have been in the Bahamas, teaching a course on coral reefs.  While J argues that I seem equally stressed there as here - I argue that it is a different kind of stress.  It suits me more.

Here, I eye my watch (or the bottom corner of my screen) all day long.  When new email pings in, I jump to determine whether I need to respond right away.  I am constantly monitoring Z, to insure that he is making progress in his (eclectic) homeschool assignment du jour.  I am trying to fit my own work in around the edges here (which is probably backwards).  I figure my job will be there for awhile, but Z will grow up and I don't want to miss these moments.  Once the other kids arrive home from school, we start the slog through the day's homework, packing their school things away.  Then, off to lessons, sports, or other commitments.  Finally, we have hungry children to feed, dirty children to clean, dirty clothing to clean, fold, and pack away.  Then, we have tired children to convince to bed.  Thus, only leaving a house to clean (not often), and the various other life forms that depend on us (dog, plants, yard, etc.).  Don't get me wrong - I love it all, but there is always a sense of immediacy.  This doesn't really suit my type B personality.

In the Bahamas, the stress is different.  My watch is less important - there, it is the weather.  I watch prevailing winds, temperatures, and storms to try to fit in all of our activities around the (mostly) unpredictable whims of the weather.  I worry about keeping track of our children and other people's children (my students).  I count heads a lot and try to warn people about risks that are new to them.  

In the Bahamas, parenting is different.  I don't cook or do dishes.  I have a different sense of clean and dirty for the kids' clothing (and my own, frankly).  The kids are busy all day exploring, creating, learning, and living - no homework drudgery.   The kids feed off of the playful energy of the students. The students feed off of the curiosity and unbridled enthusiasm of the kids. In addition to J watching the children, we have a dedicated helper keeping them from killing themselves or each other.  The kids are so exhausted at night that, for the most part, they pass out once their heads hit the pillow.

In the Bahamas, teaching is different.  The class is so compact that the students have a constant sense of urgency - no one gets tired of the day-to-day schedule.  Everything is new and different, which makes it more salient.  The buddy system in the water and their trepidation at the unknown (will there be sharks?  stingrays?  are the currents strong or waves rough?) makes them operate naturally as a team.  We are released from the drama that is associated with our relationships with people out of class.  We are released from the constant pull of electronic communication.

In the Bahamas, introverted folks like me interact regularly with new and interesting people from all over.  And, with the tropical setting and the communal meals - it is easier to get to know people than I find it here.

I returned home to a cold, gray and rainy world.  The kids are sluggish getting ready for school and balk at working on homework.  I know that they are having the same trouble re-adjusting.  How to balance providing compassion for this challenge and the need to make it happen?

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