The school science fair – two hours of bacteria gone bad, baking soda gone berserk and rocket ships gone rogue. As this was our first time at the rodeo, we chose the experiment-in-a-box approach courtesy Amazon Prime. With a few clicks and the cost of 3 Starbucks Ventis, we had a surefire, turn-key solution. 5 swabs, 10 petri dishes and 48 hours later, we confirmed that yes, our dog does have the dirtiest mouth in the family, which should be no surprise because he is the only member who regularly licks his butt.
Strolling through the aisles of 36×24 Avery boards, I was struck by how creative kids could be with a little latitude and a lot of parental support.
How long does it take for a mouse to master a maze?
Check out aisle 2.
Which singer is more conducive to weight loss – Taylor Swift or Tim McGraw?
Find the answer in aisle 4.
Samantha, a 5th grader, stood at the end of aisle 6. At 5’2 she already towered over some of her classmates. And with her untamed frizzy hair and oversized glasses she looked every bit the part of the mad scientist.
“Do you know if you see what’s really there – or here?” She motioned to her display. “I’ve always wondered if what I think in my head is identical to what I see. Don’t you?”
I shook my head. My thoughts were more along the lines of Did I turn the stove off? I wore a bra today, right?
“This is quite a setup you have here, Samantha.” Her display was impressive – a slick tri-fold with an iPad mounted on the center panel.
“Indeed it is.”
Samantha was one of those kids that everyone seemed to know…sort of. They knew who she was, but not really what she was about. She spoke like she swallowed a BBC program guide, even though she was from the north side of Chicago. And she pushed the boundaries of the school’s uniform on a daily basis. Today she sported flashing globe earrings and a matching – and flashing – headband – “For Earth Day,” she supplied when I had commented on them.
She cleared her throat three times before launching into her presentation. “I find great satisfaction in building things. So I had to determine the best way to display the information such that people could absorb it. I’m exploring a relatively abstract concept – “ She paused, then laughed. “Abstract! At a science fair. How droll. I’ll have to relay that to my mom. But I digress. The question I sought to answer is: how do we witness what we see? ‘Tis a conundrum to say the least.”
She tapped the iPad.
“So tell me, what do you see?”
“People in a circle playing basketball.”
“Spot on.” She reached across and hit the pause button. “OK, I’m going replay it from the beginning and you can tell me how many passes you see. Not too much of a challenge, I hope?”
I nodded, then squinted slightly – the low cafeteria light not doing any wonders for my post-40 vision.
“27,” I announced proudly at the end of 30 seconds.
“And what of the gorilla?”
I cocked my head. “Wait, what gorilla?”
“The primate that walked past the group. Observe.” She scrolled back to the 15-second mark, then paused, making sure that I registered it before resuming. There was the gorilla. It had actually stopped, waved, then done a little dance before continuing across the screen.
As she explained inattentional blindness – the failure to see what is in plain sight – my smile slowly faded to a regret-tinged sigh.
This kid was clever.
This kid was creative.
And…this kid was leaving.
I had learned of her transfer the week prior, during morning drop-off in a drive-by conversation. His mother and I had parked next to each other, twin minivans rolling up just as the tardy bell had rung. After we’d hustled our respective kids into the building, I shook my head and laughed. “I swear, next year we are going to be on time for a change!”
“I know what you mean,” Margot replied. “We’re going to have an even longer commute next year.”
“Oh! Are you guys moving?”
“No…” She dropped her voice, drawing closer as we walked to our cars. “No, we’re transferring at the end of the year.”
“Wow. Wait – all of you?” She had 4 kids in the school, ranging from preschool through 5th grade. To say she was busy was an understatement.
“Yeah.” She took her sunglasses off and I saw the start of tears she struggled to hold back. “We had a family meeting about it. The kids were great – all of them. It’s been a really rough year for Samantha. We don’t want to go, but we can’t keep her here. But the logistics of two schools – it’s just too much.”
I nodded sympathetically. “Is it something specific?”
“Samantha gets teased every day. Well, teased or ignored depending…I mean, I get it – she’s a little different. OK, she’s a lot different. She loves her teachers, but I have to drag her to school every day. That’s why we’re always so late.”
(We, on the other hand, did not have an excuse for being late, other than, well, CPT which we were really trying to work on this year.)
“Did you mention anything to the teachers…maybe the administration?”
“I did. They were great. I mean, they listened, and agreed to do some interventions, keep an eye out on the playground…but…you know how it goes. If you don’t fit in, don’t find your ‘tribe’, it can be really hard.”
I looked around the parking lot as I struggled for a response. There were the usual clusters of post-drop-off parents – the spiky-hair hipsters joking about the latest Game of Thrones episode, the North Face SAHMs coordinating the next toddler playdate, the yoga moms, the suit-and-tie dads…so many islands and nary a bridge between them.
A diverse community
Isolated by sameness
I looked back at Margot, my eyes filling to match hers. “I’m sorry.” I said, then squeezed her arm. “I wish…“
I wish I knew the names of her 4 kids – apart from their shared last name.
I wish I had some idea of how she spent her free time – what little there was of it.
I wish I knew If our paths would cross again – though it was highly unlikely.
“I wish things were different,” I said, knowing how inadequate my words were.
She patted my hand.
At church this past Sunday, we celebrated the Feast of the Good Shepherd, the One who tends the flock, but will leave to find us should we stray. When the priest asked, “who among us is the Good Shepherd,” I hesitated for a moment, half-raising my hand, not wanting to be “wrong”.
“All of us,” he said. “All of us are called.”
For the rest of mass, his words echoed in my head.
We’re not called to be perfect, only to be present – to take the time to acknowledge that yes, we are in this space together.
No matter who we are
No matter where we find ourselves
We are all wandering in this wilderness
Called to lead each other home.