Learning Is What Happens While You’re Busy Making Lesson Plans.



Don’t worry. It’s just that I’m a wimp. I was back to normal in under an hour. But for a solid fifteen minutes I was pretty sure that life was leaving my body. It was the end of a two month hiatus from running (which I just can’t bring myself to do in the cold… or before like 2:00 in the afternoon when it decides to get absurdly dark out now. Fact: I hate winter – even the season leading up to it.). Apparently, an end that was too abrupt. After a workout my body was evidently not ready to take on yet, it sought revenge by plundering my insides until my face was pinned to a pillow, trying to hold down water.

The good news is that homeschooling has finally become a normal-enough part of our life now that when I’m missing for fifteen minutes (because I’m either dead or dying or sneaking Halloween candy in a closet somewhere), the kids actually try to find me – you know, instead of sit around thinking OH GOOD, I guess that means we randomly don’t have school today!

Coincidentally almost everything on our schedule for yesterday was a subject I wanted Mary and I to do together. So when she sat down on the bed with me and said I looked pale I couldn’t even give her an assignment to work on while I fought the room to stop spinning. It wasn’t so bad. We hunkered down under the sheets together, I with books and she with papers in lap, and we had our grammar lesson there. Abstract vs. concrete adjectives; recognizing determiners; labeling parts of speech. We blew through four worksheets without a hiccup. I even graded them right there. It was actually kind of nice.

I absolutely did not have the energy or muscle capacity for teaching Matthew, though, who likes to answer questions balancing yoga positions upside down on swivel chairs even at his calmest. So I let him off the hook to build me a tower of Legos in another room. Ten minutes later he comes back into my bedroom, tongue to lip, trying hard not to drop something that looks remarkably (to me at least, but let’s be honest: I’m his mom) like the Eiffel Tower. I’m pretty sure he’s never seen the Eiffel Tower before but I’m still impressed. Actually, so is he. So much so that while my insides settle, we probably look at forty different pictures of the real thing from every angle physically manageable with a lense, from Google on my phone. We read about it for ten minutes.

He asks how tall it is. Almost a thousand feet. 

Is it the tallest building in the WHOOOOOLE world? Not anymore, but it was at the time it was built. 

Who built it? Alexandre Gustave Eiffel. Lots of things are named after the people who either helped to discover or build them. 

Does it have a flag at the top? (He likes to put a plastic flag piece at the top of the towers he builds.) Actually, yes! *high five* 

Has a plane ever crashed into it? Nope. Still standing. 

How come terrorists didn’t crash IT down – just our buildings? (I start to answer but he gets bored and interrupts to ask something else.) 

Can you go IN it? Yes, there’s even a restaurant inside! It’s just very expensive. 

How many steps are inside? 1,710. You can also take an elevator that I believe curves on it’s way up and down. There are 9 of them. 

We also learned that it can sway in high winds and grow in high heat; that it has to be repainted every 7 years and how much paint it takes to do that compared to the two cans we use for almost every project we take on inside the house. We learned that a lot of people thought it was ugly when it was first built, and how to pronounce it in French. “La Tour Eiffel.” When he learned that it took 18,000 metal parts to build, we came up with the idea to count how many blocks he used to build his own tower in comparison. Then we tried to imagine just how many parts 18,000 actually is. He grabbed a ruler off of a hook in the schoolroom and, managing somehow not to knock it down, he discovered that his tower was much smaller than the real one, being only seven and a half inches tall. A minute later he came back out of the schoolroom, carrying a globe this time so hulking and bulbous he had to arch his back at a weird angle to walk, and we pointed to exactly where it stands in France when he carefully dropped it sideways on the bed. I kissed him, realizing suddenly that I felt much better. That I’d actually forgotten entirely about feeling ill at all.

Mary meandered into the room with us, playing with a little make-up while she listened in, and asked a few questions of her own, also complimenting his design when she noticed it.

“Wasn’t it a gift from America, or something like that?” she asked. No, I said. “You’re thinking of the Statue of Liberty, which was a gift to us from them. The Eiffel Tower was sort of built in celebration of the French Revolution which was celebrating it’s 100th anniversary at the time. Actually, it was part of an exhibit and originally planned to be taken down afterward. I guess it grew on them though because they decided to let it stay.”

“Was a plane gonna crash into it!?” Matthew asked, more entertained than concerned.

“No, buddy.”

“What about the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia?” said Mary, lining her eyes at a tilted angle so she couldn’t look at us. “Was that a gift? Or, like, didn’t they have to hide it or something? … Something about it having to go back and forth to England…” I actually wasn’t sure about the exact history of it, but because we’ve been doing a lot of side-stuff on the Revolutionary War just for fun, I told her I’d look it up to be sure and we’d learn all about it in the morning. She doesn’t care anymore and we branch off into a silly conversation about how her first date should be to the Eiffel Tower – that any silly boy who tries to tell her he can’t afford it obviously is not ready to date Mary-freaking-Stucky.

These small, impromptu side-lessons have become a regular part of our weeks. They’re always totally out of the blue, and some of the most fun that we have. They terrified me at first. Mary couldn’t wait to trip me up. In fact she took great pleasure in purposely asking only questions that were as far off topic as she could imagine, barely allowing me to finish an answer before yelping, “See! How am I supposed to learn anything when you can’t even tell me the name of Bin Laden’s second-cousin’s sister-in-law’s first pet?”

I started filing any question she had away to research that night so that the next morning, first thing, we could have a major lesson on it. I’d give her so much information, I vowed, that she’d have to beg me to stop. Only, she didn’t beg me to stop. She actually usually enjoyed those lessons more than anything else that day. I enjoyed them too.

I’m relatively sharp I think. But I’m no ken Jennings. I know a LOT of stuff about the laws of physics and big days in history and grammar (just because those things happen to be really interesting to me), but I still, after 20-some years of it actually affecting me, could not tell you what day the clocks go back or forth for daylight savings or how the fuck to actually follow some maps, and I am solidly mediocre at most math.

I’m a lot like the average homeschool mom though. If you’re trying to fish out information I don’t know off the top of my head, you’ll probably be able to do it without breaking much of a sweat. The difference is that I genuinely, genuinely like to learn. I think passing that onto my kids is the best service I could ever provide their education.


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