An Eclipse and An Inauguration

2019 Lunar Eclipse (Source: USA Today)

My daughter wakes up at 9:00 PM.

I hear her upstairs, stirring, waking up from what she must assume is a nap, in her pajamas, in the dark. Someday, I’ll put her to bed and she’ll just stay asleep. But not today. Oh well.

Anyway, I’m hardly busy. I’m literally lying on the couch in a darkened room, looking out the window at the moon. Rusty and unevenly lit, its customary reflections blocked by the earth, this eclipsed moon is mesmerizing. I go upstairs, fetch my restless baby, and come back down, laying her on my chest and going back to moon-gazing. She falls back to sleep immediately, but it still feels like we’re sharing this.

As Facebook reminded me this morning, it’s been exactly ten years since I dragged a media cart into Ingraham High School’s Room 120 for some second-period TV watching. Such an anachronism, that rickety cart that squealed as I pulled it down the hall, the TV, DVD player and even VCR that promised that this is a different kind of day for students to anticipate. Perhaps we’d be watching a Shakespeare play, or an adaptation of The Great Gatsby. Or perhaps we’d watch Barack Obama become the first African American president of the United States.

Fourteen-year-olds know so little about politics, but I still remember their insistence that we watch the Inauguration. I had thought I’d have to convince them that this was important, and they thought they’d have to convince me of their right to witness history in real time. Seeing the TV ready and my student teacher searching for the right station, they became elated, pleased that I’d seen fit to set aside whatever all the other classes were doing so that they, just second period, could watch this together.

It was a good day at Ingraham, one of many good days. When I got home, I wrote about it, a post called “Small America Watches The Inauguration.” Because that is what it felt like, like I’d witnessed something grand and hopeful with a microcosm of our nation. A room full of kids, 35 of them, mostly kids who’d grown up in Seattle, but also some who still remembered Somalia and Ethiopia, Mexico and the Philippines. A room full of stories in many languages, all gathered around one exciting thing. That’s the America I love, a varied and interesting place, full of hope for better days ahead.

It would be easy to write about how the world and our nation have changed since then—the media cart alone could take up a paragraph—or even the difference a decade has made in my own life. But I’m also struck this evening, sitting on the couch with my daughter and watching the moon, with what’s remained the same.

I’ve written a great deal about what I love about teaching in general, and teaching English specifically, but at its core the classroom is a place where we gather around interesting things. Whether it is a line of poetry, a symbolic resonance, or a fragmentary narrative, it’s the gathering that makes teaching delightful. Otherwise, we could all read the books on our own.

As I hold my daughter and watch the moon, I remember other times that this has happened in the last few years, with my eldest, moments that I’ve gotten to share some spectacular or amusing aspect of being human with this little person just discovering what it’s all about. Sometimes it is a baby llama, or a sunset, or the smell of vanilla. Sometimes I hear her talk about the Underground Railroad, or ask me who will be the Star Baker on an episode of The Great British Bake-Off, and I realize that she’s learning. That we’re teaching her, whether we know it or not.

In the past few years, I’ve heard several different mothers—both friends and famous ones—reflect on what they’ve brought to motherhood from their life before kids. I love this question, because it starts with the premise that we all bring something, that who we are isn’t thrown away or wasted in this new life, but that our gifts are repurposed in the service of this new calling. I think of the pastor whose kids retell Bible stories and help her set up for church services, or the artist whose sons love to paint with her. I remember my own childhood, spending summers hiking and camping with my mother, who studied outdoor recreation in college and now volunteers with the Forest Service.

One thing that I had looked so forward to when I had children was reading to them, introducing them to the books that I’ve loved. And I’ve done that, have spent hours reading Dr. Seuss and Angelina Ballerina and Little Bear (in German!) to my daughters. Along the way, I’ve discovered ten times as many books that I love now, ones I’d never heard of until this season with young children. Discovering together, just as I’ve done with my students all these years.

Yes, I hope someday to watch another inauguration we’re excited about with another group of excited students, or at the very least to return to the more everyday artifact-examining of the classroom community. But until then, there are new books to read, new recipes to try, and eclipses to watch with a baby on my chest.

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