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Spring-cleaning, like morning sickness, can be a bit of a misnomer. Sometimes these urges follow an agenda of their own, oblivious to the hour or season.
Charles and I went on a housecleaning rampage recently after a winter more of the spirit than of the calendar. The long, dark season of discontent struck unexpectedly. Life seemed to be going smoothly.
Our son is back in the country after years away, happily absorbed in graduate school at UNM. We’re all in good health, with no great financial pressure. Perhaps this outward stability teased the demons down from the rafters. Old tensions led to fights that led to silences that drove us into therapy.
“Face it,” our couples therapist snarked at the end of a session, several months in. “The relationship as you’ve known it is over.” I’m guessing they didn’t teach hand-holding in his psych school, or he failed that class. I’d swear I actually saw him make a tiny gesture of a cross, as if administering last rites.
But it wasn’t the marriage whose death he was anointing. It was this chapter of our lives whose passage he saw us resisting: our salad years of starting a family, making a home, shaping our careers.
And what a lush and verdant phase it was, magical years of creation and re-creation: having a child, saving clips from his first haircut, buying a tiny house that we expanded and adapted, practicing spelling words with him, beaming through music recitals, raising chickens and snakes, shaping our boy’s youth while healing wounds from our own.
“Empty nest” and “midlife crisis” are tired clichés, until they ring true. When we have a small family, as so many of us now do, the family-centered years can end abruptly. We also tend to live longer than previous generations. This calls on us to create new chapters of our lives if we’re not to grow stale, or grow apart.
Neither of my grandmothers was conversant with empty nesting. Both married in their teens and had a houseful of children by the time they turned 20. My father’s mother had her last child after Dad moved out at 19, and by the time her last children were on their own she was already a grandmother. My mother’s mother had several grandchildren by the time she was my age. These women lived their entire adult lives in relation to children.
Charles and I had our one child when we were 30. That little bird fledged early, first on a high-school study-abroad program, then to college, a year in Spain and a year in Germany. Even now that he has flown back to New Mexico, we just see him for occasional weekends and celebrations. “Grand-birds” aren’t part of the conversation yet.
I thought we had adjusted by now to this extra space in the nest, but Charles and I went through this transition — much like the transition into parenthood 25 years ago — on a different timeframe. Motherhood began changing me as soon as my body experienced the first signs of pregnancy. Fatherhood transformed Charles utterly but more gradually, since he didn’t carry and feed a child with his own body.
Likewise this period of unwinding from the day-to-day intensity of childrearing hit us differently. Ariel’s departure to college several years ago left me dopey and unmoored, even as I began enjoying the emotional space opened up by his departure. Empty nest hit Charles in slow motion, ultimately colliding with that other too-real cliché: midlife crisis. He took an unscheduled (and unannounced) hiatus from work. We swung from raging tempests to icy silences. We entered therapy. We slogged. We slogged. We slogged.
And so we found ourselves one Sunday morning, unexpectedly, on a spring-cleaning bender. I can’t say what made it strike that particular day, that morning. Perhaps all the internal de-cluttering we’d done in therapy and our journals created an urge for external order. Who knows? But it was the beginning of the thaw.
Ground zero was the laundry room, the geographic center of our house, a little room that over the years became the dumping ground not just for dirty laundry but stacks of all manner of things acquired and forgotten, things unused, outdated, broken or that no longer fit. (We could put quotes around any word in this paragraph and talk about it in therapy.)
Out went mismatched candleholders, partial sets of dishes, past-dated vitamins, dried-up markers, skirts I’ll never get around to shortening, appliances someone else may actually use. Out went memorabilia no longer attached to actual memories. By the time we finished the room had somehow disgorged more than half its contents but didn’t feel barren. It felt spacious. It felt clean, open, ready for a new chapter, new possibilities.
Most of you reading this are probably deep in the phase of shaping your family life, and I urge you to savor it, as I’m sure you do. You will find much in this issue to keep your family engaged this summer.
Outdoor-educator Griet Laga suggests ways to develop a sense of love, wonder and delight for nature (page 12 in English; 18 en español).
Santa Fe County Fair is coming in August, and you’ll meet a family that is showing chickens, rabbits, sheep, horses and goats, the culmination of a yearlong effort through their local 4-H Club (page 10).
Expand your appreciation for the technologies and tools that enable discovery and imagination, at any of several museums in Santa Fe, Los Alamos and Albuquerque on a journey of “Techno-Tourism” (page 14).
If you’re new to town or want a refresher on summer hot spots, see our guide to Pools, Parks, Preserves & More (page 20).
Our Summer Calendar of Family Events and Directory of Summer Camps and Programs are fatter than ever, a sign of the robust strength of Santa Fe organizations for children and families.
Keep Tumbleweeds with you in this chapter of your family’s life, and keep in touch!
Remember Corduroy, the little bear in green overalls in the children’s book who waited patiently in the toy section of a department store for someone to pick him out and take him home?
The Corduroy in this real-life story lived in the Toy Lending Center at the Santa Fe Community College until it closed in December. For over 20 years, this lending library served parents and caregivers with 2000 toys for babies through 8-year-olds — blocks, games, puzzles, dramatic play and dress-up items, dolls, puppets, counting toys, Legos and more — to borrow, absolutely free, for up to a month. When the child outgrew or got tired of the toy, Mom or Dad could go back to the center for one better suited to the child’s developing abilities and interests.
The Toy Lending Center had its home at the community college, but it was funded through a contract from the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department’s Training and Technical Assistance Program — otherwise known as TTAP. Eight TTAP programs across the state provided parents, teachers and early childhood caregivers with a variety of programs, including toy libraries, and services prioritized by the local communities.
In June 2012, CYFD restructured its statewide TTAP network and consolidated the eight programs across New Mexico into four. The Santa Fe and Farmington TTAPs were absorbed into “UNM Northern,” based in Taos. At the same time, CYFD removed toy lending centers from the scope of work covered under the TTAP contract. This meant that each of the eight statewide toy lending libraries had to find a new funding source or shut down.
In effect, Santa Fe’s toy lending center became the orphan child of the community college — on its premises but not funded — at a time when college enrollment was sky high and space more precious than ever.
“We were very encouraged at first by the college’s commitment to preserving the Toy Lending Center,” said Leigh Fernandez, program manager of Santa Fe’s TTAP for 10 years, now under contract with UNM Northern. But in late summer she received word from college administrators giving just a few weeks’ notice to shut the toy center so the Continuing Education department could move into its space. What was a little bear in green overalls to do?
At that point the Brindle Foundation, a family philanthropic foundation focusing on early childhood, stepped in with a small grant allowing the center to operate through the year, in hopes that a long-term funding arrangement could be reached by then.
“We’re about babies,” said Kim Straus, manager of the Brindle Foundation, “That’s what our focus is.” Brindle’s close relationship to the college’s early childhood program has included a $35,000 grant for childcare scholarships to college students so they could finish their degree. Last spring it sponsored an “appreciative inquiry summit” to bring vested interests together to consider how the college could become a center of excellence in early childhood education. “My partner and I have an 8-year-old,” Straus added, “and when our son was young we were there all the time!”
The nature of the Toy Lending Center aroused similarly passionate feelings among others those who passed through. “We watched children grow up there,” Fernandez said. “We may have called it a library, but it was an interactive library. Children could play with toys before they took them home. Parents could check out toys for four weeks, with an option to renew, but many came in every week because it was their child’s favorite time of the week.” Children grow through toys so quickly that the expense of replacing them challenges many parents. Access to high-quality toys at the lending center allowed parents to replace toys as soon as their child was ready to progress to a new one.
Then there was what I call the “stealth parent education” component. For most of its history, the center was staffed by a child development specialist who could answer parents’ questions and guide them to toys suitable for their child’s age and developmental stage, while providing a compassionate, knowing ear.
“I would say our fastest-growing audience in the past few years was grandparents,” Fernandez said, noting Santa Fe’s many retirees have grandchildren who live in town or come for visits. She saw many of these grandparents come in before each visit, stocking up on toys and games for the little ones.
I couldn’t get a figure for the program’s operating budget, since it fell under the broader scope of the TTAP contract. Fernandez said they devoted at least $1000 a year to replenishing and refurbishing toys. When more money became available, perhaps because of a temporary staff vacancy, they would move more money into the budget for higher-priced equipment.
Straus drafted a letter in November to Dr. Ana Guzmán, the community college’s new president, on behalf of a group of advocates including representatives from SFCC, New Mexico Highlands University and the Community Development Institute, asking her to visit the center and observe its value before considering closure. The team of cosigners requested a meeting with Guzmán to discuss “how we can preserve this incredible community resource at Santa Fe Community College.”
They got no response. At the end of November Fernandez was informed that the toy center would need to be out when the Brindle grant expired. On December 10, not with a bang but a whimper, the center closed.
And what of Cordoruy and his fellow orphans?
The majority of the toys have absorbed into the classrooms and resource library of Kids Campus, the college’s childcare center for infants to pre-K — “with the hopeful intent of getting it going again,” Fernandez said. Some went to early childhood programs in the community and other toy lending libraries, and a few to the center’s regular clients. Some were boxed up and put in storage for a short time, “but that just didn’t feel right,” she said. “They need to be used.”
The sad thing is, if the decision to close the Toy Lending Center was strictly financial, the Community College did not exhaust the possibilities for keeping it open. “We had provided the physical location but none of the operational money,” said Janet Wise, the college’s executive director of marketing and public relations. “And when CYFD stopped the funding — well, unfortunately we can’t keep things going if there’s no funding.”
Yet Brindle’s readiness was perhaps a stone unturned. “If the college had been willing to embrace the toy center, I’m sure we would have given them money to run it,” said Straus. “We certainly were supportive of the toy lending library continuing at the college, but they didn’t see it that way.”
“It wasn’t just, ‘Oh, let’s go in and get a toy,’” Fernandez said. “It was a much richer experience than that, by the quality of the materials we had. It broke my heart. I hope it’s not the end of the story.”
And perhaps it isn’t. With so many of the toys still available, and Brindle likely to put up some chunk of the operating budget, we may not have seen the last of the toy library — particularly if the community expresses a desire for its return. Add your voice. Write us at email@example.com with any memories or wishes of your own for the future of the Toy Lending Center.
As a child of the 80s, raised on technology, I imagine that it can be overwhelming for today’s parents to teach their kids about Internet and social media safety. It’s intuitive to assume that parents are the ones who teach their children how to perform new skills and make use of tools, but technology has turned that idea on its head. I grew up with technology that my parents couldn’t begin to understand, and oftentimes they didn’t know what else to do but trust me to do the “right” thing with it. For this article I have thought about the things that might have helped my parents guide me, even when “technically” I was much more savvy.
Online safety is no longer only a matter of strict browsing controls. Yes, it’s advisable for parents to seek filtering software that blocks adult content and viruses. However, even the best filters can’t stop certain inappropriate sites from surfacing, as the content may not yet have been “flagged” as inappropriate. There are also no filters smart enough to block inappropriate interactions between your kids and their social media contacts. Because of this, it becomes imperative to keep an open conversation with your kids about online and social media safety.
Parents should give kids an idea of what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior online, starting from their guidelines for acceptable behavior in day-to-day life. Computer safety also requires us to discuss issues of privacy and reputation. This includes helping kids to understand what things should stay private, as they decide what information to share with their contacts.
Setting some basic (or not so basic) ground rules will allow you to stay informed about your kids’ online habits and help you provide guidance for their safety. Just as you wouldn’t allow your child to go to a mixed-age event without supervision, you should recognize social media and the Internet as a real-world means of communication that should also be moderated.
The following are some ideas to help you get started with setting your own ground-rules for Internet and social media use:
1. Know their online friends. If you know your kids’ friends at school, your role in their social media use shouldn’t be much different. You have a similar right and responsibility to know who your kids are “friending” and interacting with on social media sites. Make this an important part of your ground rules: you should have open access to their account so that you can browse through friends and make sure content they are sharing is appropriate.
2. Limit use. Designate times and limits for use, just as you would for TV and video games. Social media shouldn’t replace face-to-face interaction.
3. Pick a centralized location. Allow them use of a computer or tablet only in a shared space in your home, such as the family room or kitchen, as opposed to privately in their rooms. Kids are less likely to engage in risky behavior if you are in the room or might walk through at any moment.
4. Block pop-ups. Tell your child to block pop-up windows and to ask you when they’re unsure about online ads. Kids are more likely to click on a colorful button that says, “You’ve won $1,000 dollars, click here to redeem.” These announcements and pop-up windows usually lead to viruses or inappropriate websites.
5. Beware what you share. The issue of privacy online quickly becomes an issue of reputation. Advise your kids that with the widespread use of social media sites, our lives are being “recorded” online, and anything we say or post can easily be shared and copied. Parents should urge their children to think twice about what is appropriate to post in public platforms.
6. Don’t believe everything you see. Teach your kids that not everything they see online is true. A lot of information has not been verified, and many websites and blogs are filled with opinion presented as fact. The same principle applies to others’ identities; not everyone is who they say they are. The Internet brings new meaning to “Don’t talk to strangers,” and parents have a key role in identifying risky behavior.
If you are coming to social media new as an adult, or even to the Internet, you are not alone! There are countless resources online and locally that can help you keep your kids safe. Look for free computer literacy classes offered at the Santa Fe Public Library, or sign up for a beginner course at the Santa Fe Community College. As a good parent, your responsibility is to make an effort to get familiar with new communication technologies that affect your children.
Finally, remember to model proper technology etiquette. Be a good example for your kids! Don’t text and drive or check email — even at stoplights.
* Oh my god! Too much information! Do the right thing! What's a parent to do?!
Look for Mari's "Techie Corner" column in upcoming issues of Tumbleweeds, and please email firstname.lastname@example.org with questions you'd like her to address.
The Lightning Rug by Camryn Joshua
The notification I was hoping for arrived in early May: an email from the Council on International Relations and the Turkish Cultural Foundation (TCF) telling me I was one of three Santa Fe teachers selected to go to Turkey this past summer as a guest of the TCF. Happily, I began preparing with weeks of research for the two-week trip.
The Turkish Cultural Foundation put together three overlapping tours, each with about 25 teachers from all over the United States, including two other teachers from Santa Fe: Andria Liesse, a language arts teacher at Capshaw Middle School, and Tracy Akers, who teaches history at Santa Fe High School, and myself. I teach art in kindergarten through grade 6 at Atalaya Elementary School.
TCF’s aim was to give teachers the big-picture view of Turkey, past and present. We had an academic guide and were accompanied by two Turkish teachers. At each location we visited, we looked for inspiration we could bring back to our students and classes. As you can imagine, this was awe-inspiring!
Our phenomenal tour took us to as many natural, cultural and historic sites as could be fi t into two weeks. We saw the Hagia Sophia, the Spice Market, Islamic and Turkish Arts Museum, Topkapi Palace and the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, then went on to Gallipoli, Troy, Ephesus, Caravan Hostels in Konya, caves in Cappadocia and Museums in Ankara. We visited several artists in their workshops, strolled down streets and met with Turkish diplomats and representatives from NGOs.
My first productive inspiration of the trip turned out to be our visit to the nomadic rug workshop and market in Cappadocia. The basic design form of the rug, the multi-layering of the imagery and limited color palettes, made the perfect lesson for my students.
Back in my classroom, students viewed slides of Turkish rugs from different regions. We noted the similarities and differences, how each had a limited palette with a dark color, a light color and three or four middle colors. Another consistency was the mirror symmetry inherent in the design and surrounding borders, the central area and the medallion in the middle. We discussed the use of symbols in our lives. A single symbol can have different meaning to different people. Drawing on the white board, students took turns turning their favorite animal or activity into an abstracted symbolic shape.
While I read from a list of topics, the students drew images and wrote notes about their favorite things: animals, vegetables or sports. From this visual collection, students created secret symbols that could represent their favorite things. Everyone created a limited palette of six colors. Then, using both theme and palette for selection, they were matched up with two other students to form a group that would design a rug together.
Students used templates to create outer and inner borders and set up their rug design. They sketched their design onto large poster boards with wax crayons and oil pastels, which provided a resist when they added another layer in watercolor. During the creation of these posters, students learned about another culture and the art form of Turkish woven rugs. They studied and created their own symbols, learned how to develop a limited palette, and experimented with the effects of different media. They had the opportunity to collaborate and work as a team.
These completed rug design posters have been displayed around town at Atalaya Elementary School, in the Santa Fe Public Schools’ central office at 610 Alta Vista Street and other locations, and now throughout the winter print issue of Tumbleweeds, with more here on the Tumbleweeds website.
Nina Mastrangelo, an artist living with her family in Santa Fe, has taught art, media, architecture and science at Pre-K through graduate levels and served on many school committees and boards. This is her eighth year teaching elementary art in the Santa Fe Public Schools.
“It’s your first hurricane!” my friend Marsha said over the phone Monday afternoon, the word “Congratulations!” reverberating between the lines. I had been in Maryland for about 10 days, helping my parents clean out their house in preparation for moving, when Sandy delayed my plans to return to Santa Fe.
Marsha lives in central Florida and has seen her share of nature’s follies, so I knew she wasn't being flippant. "If you’ve got a good roof and you’re not in immediate danger, a hurricane is totally amazing,” she said, pausing to put the gist into words. “It reminds me that I’m just a leaf. A leaf in the wind.”
The devil is in the “ifs,” of course. All day the satellite maps had looked like a Van Gogh painting, clouds covering the entire Eastern Seaboard like a swirl of thick white paint. If all went as predicted, we weren’t in line for a direct hit, but with the strong winds and rain there was no way to know if a tree would fall and break through the roof (as one did several years ago), or if the power would go out for several days or a week (as it did after this summer’s “derecho”). With elderly parents in a house where the heat, lights and kitchen appliances are all electric, those were no small “ifs.”
Down in the kitchen, my parents didn’t share Marsha’s existential zeal. Mom was all nervous energy, singing old songs at a volume matched only by her propensity for getting lyrics wrong. “Chock Full of Nuts is a WONDEFUL coffee! WONDERFUL coffee! WONDERFUL coffee!” she belted out as she checked flashlight batteries and filled water pitchers. “Should we cook the fish now in case the power goes out?” she asked. (Yes.) “Could we carry mattresses downstairs if we have to sleep in the basement?” (No.) Dad coped in his characteristic fashion: quietly, his eyes deep in thought and lips shut.
“I’ll be coming down the mountain when I come!” Mom blasted as she sprinkled balsamic vinegar on the salad we ate for dinner with the salmon and rice she had prepared earlier in the day. After dinner we played cards together as the TV flashed images of waves surging Maryland’s Eastern Shore and New Jersey’s beach towns.
By the time I went to bed, the wind was howling in longer gusts than any I’d ever heard. The graceful fir trees along the driveway arched like kids doing the limbo. “Marsha’s right,” I thought, awed by nature’s force (though for good measure I moved from the guest room into my old bedroom, because it has fewer trees on the periphery).
By morning the trees were steady and the rain had slowed to a drizzle. I flicked the light switch in the bathroom and smiled. Electricity. No fallen trees. No broken windows or flooding. I went down to the kitchen to make tea. Dad followed right behind me, chipper and talkative, and I realized how frightened he must have been the day before. He keeps his cards close to the vest, my dad.
I went out to pick up the newspaper (wrapped in TWO plastic sleeves) off the front patio. Dad and I shared sections quietly until Mom woke up and turned on the TV. Seeing the flooded towns, collapsed homes, downed power lines, and sea rescues, I appreciated the opportunity to ponder nature's fickle powers and ephemeral gifts with the comfort of a cup of tea and warm slippers; to be able to say, “I survived Sandy. And all I got was this lousy blog post!”
photo: Ana June
I was sprawled out on our “zero-gravity” lounge chair on the patio, soaking up some vitamin D one early summer afternoon, when Charles came into the yard with a little box and a long face.
My husband is a beekeeper — or in the affectionate terminology of his fellow beekeepers, a “beek,” which I think is short for bee geek. He keeps two hives on the roof of our house, and manages several others in the yards of friends all over Santa Fe. It’s a common summer occurrence to see him in his white bee suit, part-Ghostbuster, part-priest, dangling the box of smoke that pacifies the bees as he inspects their hive. He often gets called out on “bee rescue,” to relocate hives from abandoned buildings or deal with swarms, and has amassed encyclopedic knowledge about bee life cycles and contributions to modern agriculture. There may be midlife madness behind all this, but so “bee” it.
On this June afternoon, one of his friends’ hives was in danger. The number of bees had been dwindling rapidly, and there were less and less “capped brood” — baby bees that go through their growth stage in cells waxed over by worker bees until they emerge as mature bees. The queen had stopped laying brood. Within a few weeks, the hive population would be too sparse to maintain itself. He made the tough call. The queen bee must die.
In the normal course of events, when a queen bee gets old or sick, the worker bees select a new queen. Sometimes, for whatever reason, that doesn’t happen, and the beekeeper has to kill the old queen to make way for a new one. Most beekeepers do the deed with a pair of pliers, or the sole of a boot. Charles brought his home in a little box.
“It’s awful,” he said in the most forlorn voice. “She was a good queen for years and now she has to die but I can’t bring myself to do it. Nature isn’t fair.”
“Because there’s no rest home for retired queen bees,” I said.
“Exactly,” he said, sensing no irony. “Because there’s no rest home for retired queens.”
I nodded sympathetically, suppressing sarcasm. I can see this is about more than bees.
Charles had spent an hour or two that windy June morning looking for the queen, inspecting each bar of comb for a queen’s distinctive elongated body. Finally he gave up and put all the slats back in the hive, when, hidden in the crease of his pants, he found the queen.
“And she looks terrible,” Charles said. “Her abdomen is shrunken like something is wrong with her. Then she drops off my knee and scurries in the weeds. I have to believe she knew what I was going to do and she was trying to hide. Because nobody wants to die. There’s never a good time to die.” He dropped his head.
“So I pick her up and put her in the container, and I know it’s futile but I put a little dab of honey in it and tell her I’m sorry. And she does a faceplant in the honey, probably trying to eat. Because here’s the wild thing. A queen bee can’t feed herself. She needs the other bees to feed her. She has attendants, worker bees, whose job it is to feed her.”
The queen lived for a few days in a little plastic salsa container on a table in his office. I could argue that it would have been more sympathetic to squash her than starve her, but this was the queen from his first hive, originally in our yard. And I know this isn’t just about bees.
Charles had already ordered a new queen, by second-day air. This is like a mail-order mother. A queen bee, he explained to me again (I tend to forget all this), isn’t born; she is selected by the hive and fed special food to make her bigger and stronger than the others. Then she goes off on a mating flight. Drones (male bees) follow her in hot pursuit, flying higher and higher to see who will be mighty enough to mate with her, in mid-air. After a drone fertilizes the queen, it dies.
“She’s a real siren,” Charles said. “She lures them to their death. But their DNA gets to go on, which is a really big deal, because we’re talking about the natural world.”
The queen will mate with up to a dozen drones on her mating flight. Then she comes back to the hive with their combined DNA stored in her abdomen. She will dole it out, a little at a time, for the rest of her life, each time she fertilizes an egg. “She will lay an egg a minute during the summer, 24 hours a day during the height of her reproductive power. She’s a reproducing machine.”
But this hive won’t survive long enough for a “virgin queen’s” mating flight and subsequent rest before laying. So Charles ordered a mated queen, from a company in California. She arrived by express mail in a little plastic cage, in a padded envelope.
For the hive to accept the new queen, Charles had to wait 24 hours or so before he introduced her, to allow the scent of the old queen to dissipate. He then placed the new queen’s little cage in the hive. In a few days the other bees would eat through the crystallized sugar that sealed her cage, allowing her to emerge. God save the queen bee.
This all took place last summer, but I recently asked Charles to tell me about it again because I needed the distraction of a good story. It’s been a tough summer, Tumblepeeps. My dad’s back problem, which I wrote about in the last issue, has put him in near-constant pain, and he is considering surgery. A nasty old sibling issue reared its head this year, causing immense family havoc. And my beloved friend Sherry Tippett, a former SFPS school board member and member of Tumbleweeds’ original advisory board, passed away unexpectedly in May. Grief and anxiety seemed to take on a life of their own in me, bringing me to tears at times with little warning.
So one afternoon, a week or so ago, feeling the waves of anxiety rise, I asked Charles to tell me about the retired queen bee that he brought home in a little box, and the replacement that came by express mail. Of course I’ve heard it before, but I’ve forgotten half of it, and I’ve been a mom long enough to know the power of a story.
And so, he tells me — again — with old details and new flourishes, about the queen that had to die to save the hive, and the face-plant in the dollop of honey, and the mail-order queen, who I am glad to learn has been laying eggs in a successful hive ever since. I feed him questions, maybe the very ones I asked the last time, until I feel the wave of panic subside. By now, I’ve been soothed by Charles’ storytelling charms, and I want to learn more about those amazing little creatures, and about my husband, the beek. Because even now, easing into the healing balm of relief from my own turmoil, I can see: it’s not just about the bees.
Learning to Play, Playing to LearnStudies, and teacher experience, show the value of outdoor activity during school day
By Anna Philpot
Santa Fe mom Tanja Bolle’s 6-year-old son didn’t want to go to first grade, preferring to forego learning to read, in order to stay in kindergarten — and play more.
“My boys are very active,” says Bolle. “They need to move.”
Recess has been a staple of the American school day for more than a century, yet school districts across the country have slashed both recess and physical education in recent years. This reduction comes even though the American Academy of Pediatrics states that free, unstructured play is vital for children’s health, improving cognitive, social and physical development while lowering stress and improving resilience. Kids get stressed; the pressure for continual academic success weighs on most youngsters. Adding to students’ worries are the challenges of interacting with peers for several hours each day. It’s no wonder children crave downtime. As Santa Fe Waldorf School’s pedagogical director Kay Hoffman puts it, primary schoolchildren need “time to run around, get rosy-cheeked and let go of part of the day.”
Before Bolle’s son started attending Gonzales Elementary School last year, she worried about his ability to sit still long enough to learn.
“Of course I want my son to learn to read and write, to learn math and other skills,” she says. “I know how hard it can be to find time for everything in a school day.” Bolle says Gonzales principal Michael Lee understands the importance of movement; in fact, she’s seen some of the schoolteachers taking their children on walks before starting their school day. “That made me feel so much better about Gonzales and Santa Fe schools,” she says.
All public school parents are aware of the standardized testing kids face in the spring; we know that schools are fighting for limited resources and that many of those funds are based on test scores. That makes time during the school day even more precious, and recess has suffered. Olga Jarrett, a professor of early childhood education at Georgia State University, told a group of teachers, “There is this assumption that if you keep kids working longer, they will learn more. It’s misguided.”
Eldorado kindergarten teacher Lucille Fresquez put it more succinctly: “When kids get squirmy, they don’t learn as well.”
Fortunately for children like Bolle’s, the Santa Fe Public School (SFPS) hasn’t eliminated or drastically reduced recess district-wide. “The schools do offer time to students for some free play at lunch-time, physical education and additional opportunities for exercise while in class and through extracurricular offerings,” notes Athletic Director Kimberly Loomis. But because SFPS allows each school to determine its own recess policy, some of our schools are shortening recess — even as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that 42 percent of schoolchildren get most of their total
daily exercise at recess.
As adults, we forget just how much learning actually comes from recreation. Running, jumping, climbing, sliding and swinging all help strengthen the sensorimotor cortex (which manages vision, hearing and touch), the first brain region to develop fully. Basic play activities like climbing to the top of structures offers a different view of the world, while reinforcing concepts like spatial relationships (both in relation to objects and other people).
Recess and similar opportunities for free, unstructured play also help children be more physically fit. Today nearly one out of every five children in this country is considered obese. In the last 30 years, children’s free time has declined by about 12 hours per week — with 50 percent of that loss in unstructured outdoor play, according to a 2005 survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics. Kids need time to yell, whoop, run and simply be kids in a less strictly supervised environment. Those unstructured-play moments are when children learn valuable social skills — something Hoffman believes are becoming even more critical as social networking sites compete with face-to-face interactions.
Meribeth Densmore wonders why her first- and fourth-grade boys at Eldorado Community School can’t have longer recesses, even if that playtime would extend the school day. Students “spend the entire day on a schedule,” Densmore says. “Time where they can just do whatever with their friends is fantastic. Children learn to negotiate and compromise — important life skills — when they work through confrontations.”
Hoffman notes that recess puts children in a natural — not virtual — environment, and being outside reduces anxiety and blood pressure. Recess can help teachers understand their current students and their class dynamics, especially during the first weeks of school and when new students join the class. Fresquez says that during these academic breaks, “I see the natural leaders and learn why certain children choose not to participate in games. I see the kids who gravitate toward each other and students with bullying tendencies, which we can then work to nip in the bud.” Her kindergarten class’s average recess is 15 to 20 minutes, at least twice — if not three times — a day. While two recesses are standard for Eldorado elementary students, E.J. Martinez’s 2011-12 third grade classes had one 15-minute recess right after lunch, the same schedule followed by Capshaw Middle School.
Rebecca Gonzales, who teaches third grade at E.J. Martinez Elementary School, is an advocate of No Child Left Inside, a national movement focusing on environmental literacy started by Richard Louv’s 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder
. In her perfect school day, she’d have two recesses and teach integrated lessons outdoors. Yet the administration at E.J. Martinez allows one lunch recess; Gonzales was actually asked last year not to take her children outside so much.
Beyond the play aspect, Gonzales says recess is when some of her students talk to her about issues they’re facing, regarding both academic challenges and other children. “Recess is less formalized and the kids seem to feel more comfortable approaching me then,” she says.
Along with concern about the amount of recess their children have each day, many parents question the timing of recess, typically right after lunch. For students who go through the lunch line to buy a hot meal, the amount of time to eat is even shorter, with some children taking a few bites on the way to the trashcan. Kids are faced with a choice between food and play, and the latter part of the school day may suffer.
Capshaw Middle School’s Assistant Principal Clara Evans sees evidence of this, noting a rise in discipline problems in fifth period (the class right after lunch). Densmore, who says her two sons always choose play over eating enough, wonders why recess can’t come before
lunch, so kids come to the lunchroom hungry and wiggle-free.
When it comes to the need for outdoor play, “I’ve learned to listen to the children,” says Fresquez. “They’re the smart ones.”
Fresquez is right: Recent brain studies found play improves educational achievement because body movement improves blood vessels’ ability to deliver oxygen, water and glucose (a necessary nutrient) to the brain. Basically, play awakens the mind and makes it more susceptible to learning or testing. Play also burns calories and makes kids like physical activity. And other studies prove that active students receive higher test scores and have better attitudes about school.
“Movement helps kids so much. It just makes teaching easier,” says Fresquez.
Teaching kindness and communication in the art room
By Roni Rohr
Teaching visual arts to grades K through 8, at El Dorado Community School, has its challenges, but one thing stays the same: kids want to be heard, they want to express what they see, and they don’t want to be criticized for their ideas. (Hmmm…sound familiar? Who does?!) How can an arts teacher help?
Art helps students to understand their emotions, and to see and express themselves. The arts require considering different points of view and even changing our minds. When students analyze an artwork through critique or discussion, they discover that it is best to start with understanding that not everyone sees the way they do. My goal as an arts teacher is to help them find the words and images to express themselves in a respectful manner — to understand that it’s okay to disagree and even better to understand why someone is disagreeing with you. These are lifelong social skills that are vital to our society.
Can the arts teach kindness, empathy and how to get along? I know they can. Several years ago I began developing and teaching workshops that I called Kindness in Arts. As an illustrator, I had collected many books premised on kindness. The Golden Rule by Ilene Cooper, Enemy Pie by Derek Munson and other books based on anti-bullying issues became a jumping-off point for much of my curriculum. I gave many workshops and an in-service to Albuquerque Public Schools art educators to demonstrate how important combining language arts and illustrations could be in combating bullying and understanding how kindness brings out our best work. Bringing students and our community together to communicate ideas and interests through individual and collaborative art efforts was my main goal. When such communication happens, kindness abounds.
One project I developed was based around Hans Christian Anderson’s “Ugly Duckling,” a little bird that was left out of things because he looked different from the others. Students in kindergarten through sixth grade were shown multiple copies of the illustrated story, including a Spanish version, to see how illustrators told the same story with different images. They also watched a clip of the old Danny Kaye movie and heard the song. We sang the song, discussed individuality and brainstormed ideas as a way to celebrate our differences. Students then sculpted ducks in clay, and painted them with individual details like blue hair, different clothing, colors, stripes and feathers. These ducks had personality. Each one was special, and anything but ugly!
When El Dorado expanded from an elementary to a K-8, I adjusted my class and developed a Social Justice Through Arts curriculum, to help middle schoolers express what was important to them. They targeted real-life issues and created ads and newspaper front pages based on art works tackling issues like racism, bullying, the environment, adoption, immigration and politics. You name it; we’ve talked about and created different art pieces around so many topics.
Professional development for educators is vitally important, and while attending The National Art Education Conferences in Seattle and Baltimore, I met others who have created wonderful programs using art to develop emotional intelligence and kindness — one being The Hexagon Project (www.idayscranton.org/hexagon.html
), which we adopted at El Dorado in 2010. All of our students and many of our teachers, staff and other community members were given a hexagon template in which they drew images representing kindness, friendship and community. We attached them together and they filled the hallways! During art night, students and parents walked around picking out each other’s work and observing how all the hexagons “fit in” to create a visual whole.
In the beginning of each school year, my students create a large piece of two-dimensional art together. It takes trust to work with a table full of people and create a large image. The class gets to know who leads, who follows, who knows how to compromise, who bullies. Each group of four to five students gets a three-by-four-foot sheet of white paper, on which they trace their hands or other objects over and over, creating a composition and coloring it in with patterns, line and shape. It’s amazing to watch.
Some tables create masterpieces: hands that create a peace sign, or hands that overlap and burst forth with color. Other tables can’t get their act together, ending up with an unfinished disjointed piece, frustration and arguments. In the next class we put them all up on the walls and talk about what happened. There is no getting away from it; the visual image actually tells how well everyone worked together (or didn’t). When the discussion is over, everyone has learned something about everyone else, with new motivation for getting along visually as well as emotionally, in the art room and out. You can see and feel the change.
Eighth grade students in Art & Social Justice class created a “Legacy Mural,” with help from a Partners In Education grant. The mural addressed the overarching question, “How do you want to be remembered?” This 16-foot-long piece, based on kindness, empathy and respect, was used as a backdrop for the students’ graduation ceremony.
Combining their own written works developed in a Language Arts class with Mr. Jamie Guevara, and working with visiting artist and activist Issa Nyaphaga, students used their own empowering poetry, words or phrases and overlapped dynamic tracings and images of their bodies in black, adding color later. We had many discussions throughout the year about how to empower each other and our community through the use of these visual elements, shapes and colors.
Projects like these require a lot of collaborative and guided brainstorming. Art teachers always need to start fresh and communicate well to find out what’s important to our students and then get out of the way so that they can express themselves! I put large sheets of paper on tables with open-ended questions like: What’s important to you? What do you love/hate? What are your favorite subjects? Music? Clothes? Then, during a few sessions, students walk around filling the papers with doodles, lists and words, and we cull it down to get to the heart of it all. We then have a beginning of an idea for a Social Justice Mural.
The artwork is stunning. Layers of paint and layers of trust build as students learn to work with one another. My hope is that, in the future, these pieces will be shown off in a much larger way. I’d like to see this project as part of a non-bullying initiative. If more people brainstormed, if they learned to argue in a respectful manner and question each other intelligently, there would be less bullying.
Analyzing, reflecting, creating, working and enjoying the process as well as the finished piece is happening daily in our schools. Allowing students K-8 to make their own decisions and not create “cookie-cutter” art is more of a guided process than a directed one, and a much more authentic way of creating. My students know where to find things and know where to put them back. We have a working studio, and you can see the empowerment that comes from being in control of your materials as well as your ideas.
I am a working artist in the classroom, getting messy and finger-painting right along with my students: I consider my students some of my finest colleagues. For me, art teaching is about bringing expertise into the classroom and exciting those around me. It’s about modeling the process, making mistakes and fixing them or abandoning them to create something better.
Elementary art is about experience. It is about thinking like an artist and creating different experiences to feel like a “maker of art.” I believe if you are a scientist, math professor, writer or engineer, and you do it right, then you are thinking like an artist! Art supports all the goals and standards in our public school system and I am privileged to gain inspiration from working with some of the finest, most passionate and inspiring art teachers in our state! Incorporating the arts in every classroom helps empower students and fill them with joy as they build up, take apart, get messy and move on in life. If they do it with a bit more kindness and empathy, I feel I have done my job. Roni Rohr teaches art at El Dorado Community School K-8 and is an educational consultant for museums, schools and other organizations. In 2011 she received the New Mexico Art Education Award from the National Art Education Association and a Teacher Who Inspires award from Partners in Education in Santa Fe. Visit her website, www.ronirohr.com, for information on workshops, lesson plans and more. Explorations in Clay: Creating Friendship in Art
(A lesson based on the book Enemy Pie
by Derek Munson) Age:
Kindergarten through fourth grade Materials needed:
Plasticine clay in different colors
Small pre-cut matt board, 4” x 4”
Scratch tool to make indentations Steps:
First, read the book Enemy Pie,
by Derek Munson. Then ask students to close their eyes and imagine the world’s tastiest pie! What’s in it? Berries? Chocolate cream? What feelings of goodness, love, sharing go into the making of their pie? Who might they want to share it with? Recipe:
1. Knead the “dough” until soft (play with it until it softens).
2. Roll out the crust, making a pinch pot and pushing out the edges.
3. Roll up edges of the dough to form your crust. Pinch edges for that home-baked crust look!
4. If making “cherry” pie, keep colors separate. Or, if making a surprise magical pie, mix colors (red and yellow=orange, etc.). Using more of your dough, make the pie filling.
5. What else goes into the pie? Show students how to roll clay into balls to make tiny berries, and encourage them to create their own ingredients.
6. Make a fancy lattice crust for the top. Roll out very thin snakes and crisscross these snakes along the pie, leaving triangle spaces over your filling. Or, get fancier: flatten the snake with your finger and put a pattern into it with pencil or finger, or roll up the snake like a garden hose.
7. Use remaining clay for details. Perhaps you need a small spoon and plate to “eat” off of!
8. Place finished pies on your cookie sheet boards. Put your name in the corner.
9. Share your “Friendship” pie. Turn to your neighbor and discuss what is in it, how it tastes, how you made it. Assessment:
1. Did students participate, explore, make mistakes and work with them?
2. Did students listen to the story and understand the concepts of sharing and creating with one another?
© Roni Rohr 2006 Heartful Art Resources
· Encouraging Creativity in Art Lessons
, by George E. Szekely (Teachers College Press, 1988), an out-of-print book that is brilliant
and worth finding used!
· Engaging Learners Through Art Making: Choice-Based Art Education in the Classroom
, by Katherine M. Douglas
and Diane B. Jaquith (Teachers College Press, 2009).
· Hello World!
by Monya Stojic (Boxer Books, 2009). I use this beautiful book to show young students that everyone in the world smiles and says hello in their own way. Students repeat after me different ways of saying “Hi!”
· New Mexico Art Education Association’s Annual Fall Conference
: A weekend of workshops, lectures, vendors and presentations for art educators, teachers, homeschool parents and others interested in the arts, November 2 and 3, 2012 at The Lodge in Santa Fe. www.newmexicoarteducators.org
· The Peace Book
, by Todd Parr (Little, Brown, 2009), a wonderful illustrator on par with Keith Haring. Students relate to his simplicity and honesty.
· Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB),
a nationally recognized, choice-based approach to teaching art. teachingforartisticbehavior.org
· Visual Arts as a Way of Knowing,
by Karolynne Gee (Stenhouse Publishers, 1999).
The storyline shifted with a phone call from Dad, one afternoon in March.
Back in January, my father had fallen on his tailbone, walking backwards as a balance exercise, and he was still in a great deal of pain. He had had two epidurals — one outpatient, one in the hospital — but they hadn’t budged the pain. I was concerned for him, and for my mom, who relies on him for so much. “My work’s pretty mobile these days,” I assured Mom, “and if you ever need me to come stay with you, let me know.”
My dad called three days later. He needed help getting his tax papers ready for the accountant and wanted to take me up on my offer. I couldn’t imagine being particularly useful in that regard, but if he was asking for help, I was not inclined to hesitate. My father is a crack businessman — organized, efficient, self-reliant. I couldn’t remember him wanting anything from his children other than our company and happiness. But the storyline was changing.
I loaded my laptop with any work I might need, and cashed out some airline points for a flight to Florida three days later. When their car pulled up to meet me at the airport, Mom was behind the wheel. I don’t think I’d ever seen her drive when Dad was in the car. As Dad got out of the passenger seat to give me a hug, I could see that just getting out of the car was painful. I hoisted my suitcase into the trunk and got in the back seat.
Memories of my last visit, just three months before, flooded me when I walked into their apartment. In December, Charles and I had flown out from Santa Fe, and our son Ariel and his girlfriend Hanna flew in from Germany, where they’ve been living. We celebrated Hanukkah and Christmas, winter sunshine and my dad’s birthday. Wheeling my bag into the guest bedroom where “the kids” had slept, I could still see Hanna’s cute sandals and Ariel’s big flip-flops in my mind. But the story was changing.
Dad had lost 10 pounds since January. Standing up, he would lean on a counter or chair for support; sitting, he slumped a bit from the pain. The dining room table had been co-opted as his workstation, since it was less painful than sitting at his desk. He handwrote tax data into lists that I typed into a computer spreadsheet.
We all know we’re going to lose our parents someday. It’s Chekhov’s proverbial gun on the wall in the first act that will go off by the end of the play. It’s actually the “better” grief, compared to seeing children go before their parents. My parents have been remarkably healthy and fit for their 80-some years. I loved seeing my friends’ jaws drop when they learned my parents’ ages, when they came to visit last summer for Ariel’s graduation party. I told my brother our dad had been “blessedly spoiled” by good health for so long. But age was gaining ground.
I made Dad’s breakfast in the morning — an elaborate ensemble of three or four cereals, sliced fruit, raisins or dried cranberries, which I’d watch him make for years. I made dinner with Mom, watched Dr. Oz with her in the afternoon (“Ozzie!” as she gushingly calls him), and showed her how to search for recipes on her laptop. I accompanied them to doctor appointments and met their financial advisor. I enjoyed the time just to settle into being a daughter, without rushing off to the beach or a museum with the hubby and son.
After dinner every night Mom took two containers of gelato from the freezer and put them on the kitchen counter with three spoons that we’d use for eating straight from the jar. I could still hear her shrieking when as kids one of us put a spoon in the ice cream container after it had been in our mouths. The rules had changed.
For several years I’ve had a tendency to picture a human lifespan in the typical five-act structure of a Shakespearean drama. By their ages — 84 and 88 — my parents are deep in Act V. They’ve just been so healthy that that reality hasn’t pressed itself upon me. By the usual formula, the Grand Dramatist may have plenty of action in mind before the final exeunt but no major new plotlines, no new characters. Looking at their lives’ drama, I see two profoundly kind people: loving parents, good citizens. They donate to PBS, recycle everything, support the arts, volunteer. They’ve even been able to model a loving 60-year relationship. I don’t know how much more you can hope for from parents.
Meanwhile, the other half of my loving relationship was 2000 miles away. I was able to keep up with work by email and phone, but as my trip ended its second week, Charles began emailing photos of the apricot tree blooming outside our front door. Spring was reaching Santa Fe — for all intents and purposes for the first time in two years. Would the hard frosts and winds that blasted out last year’s spring nip this one before I got home?
“You should write a story about the apricot tree that didn’t bloom long enough,” Mom said.
The night before I left, I woke from a frightening dream. I was climbing a ladder to the top of an unfinished building, with a group of people I didn’t know. At the top we were informed that we’d have to jump off the roof. I was terrified. I was angry. “How can you expect us to jump off a two-story building?” I shouted. No one else seemed worried. Someone was even annoyed with me for making a fuss. I asked a sympathetic looking woman for advice how to do this. “Don’t think too much about it,” she said. “Just jump, and when you get to the ground your feet will be happy.”
I peered over the edge, hoping I had been exaggerating the distance to the ground, but as I looked down at the terraced slate patio below us, I couldn’t imagine jumping without getting hurt. I woke in deep panic, before my turn to jump.
I couldn’t make heads or tails of this dream until I told it to Charles the morning after I got home. It was about preparing myself to let go of my parents, he suggested. We know many people who have gone through the process, but each of us has to make that leap ourselves. I know it is a natural, inevitable process, maybe even ultimately beautiful. But I also know I’m not ready to see that curtain fall.
Now, I know you must think I say this about every Tumbleweeds, but this is a really, really great issue. Did you know that there are over 28,000 species of worms? That there are more than 150 species of plants in the Railyard Park? That a single cup of healthy soil contains more living species than have ever lived above ground? Or that foraging bees pass nectar to their sister-bees by kissing each other? Read on!! Celebrate the life around you in all its expansive, exquisite, messy and hopeful splendor. And please let us hear from you!
¡Olé! Two for Flamenco
Claudette’s husband, Charles, stomps his way into her dance class and column.
by Sarah Marcus
Claudette: It started with an email to Tumbleweeds from the Institute for Spanish Arts: “Teen Flamenco Class, Scholarships Available!” I don’t have a teen, and I’m not one, but I saved it to announce on the Tumbleweeds Facebook page. A follow-up email arrived a few days later:
“We received many inquiries from adults interested in the class, so by popular demand the class will be open to adults as well!”
A little seed fell onto the ground….
I called the Institute for Spanish Arts and spoke with Mari, the operations manager.
“Yes, we have openings,” she said warmly. She told me what type of clothes to wear (a long skirt or loose pants). If I didn’t have my own flamenco shoes I could borrow a pair from the school. The class would meet twice weekly for 10 weeks.
“It’s a beginner class — I hope you’re okay with that.”
A little rain drizzled on the little seed, and it started to sprout.
Charles: When Claudette came home one day and announced that she was taking a flamenco class, I immediately blurted out, “Can I come too?” I’ve had a lifelong wish to learn how to dance, some kind of structured dance, not just flailing around to disco music. It’s hard to start cold in your 50s, though. I hadn’t necessarily wanted to learn flamenco, though it is beautiful music and dance — and completely new.
Claudette: I adore Spain. I haven’t stopped dreaming of returning there since my “flying sola” trip to Granada last year to study Spanish. I love flamenco — its mysterious movements and singing as obscure as a new language — but never pictured myself learning its exquisite, exotic movements. A beginner class might be just what I wanted — the basics; no experience necessary — to begin to decipher its mysteries.
Charles: I had a lot of trepidation that Claudette might resent me for being part of something she really wanted, or I might cling because I wasn’t sure of myself, or somehow we might ruin it. Because you can get too far into somebody’s space and what they want to do. I was acutely aware that in our new marriage, our “after-child marriage,” having our own separate space is just as important as having our lovey-dovey, we-are-one time; it’s a balancing act to figure out the things we can and should do together and the things we should do alone.
Claudette: I admit I had mixed feelings about taking the class with Charles. Would I enjoy it more on my own? Married life, post-kid, is about balancing separate time and together time; throw off that balance and you throw the relationship out of orbit. Would it be selfish of me to keep this to myself, or better to have my own experience that I could bring home to talk about?
I figured that if I didn’t encourage him, Charles would probably let the idea fall into the “someday” category.
Except that the next day, Susan, in the office next door to mine, threw up her arms flamenco-style and clapped when I told her I’d signed up for the class, and asked on her next breath, “Is your husband going to do it, too?”
“Yeah, he’s thinking about it.”
“You have to do it together!” she insisted. “Flamenco has such” — she looked around for a word —“so much yum-yum.”
I called Mari back to ask if it was open to men. “Yes,” she said, but I sensed she was fielding the question for the first time.
Okay, Charles. We’re on.
Charles: As soon as I found out I could take the class, I immediately had misgivings: I can’t do this. I’m scared. Do guys really do this stuff? I wanted to try one class and see if I liked it, but they were so affordable, and everyone was so open and inviting, that I signed up for the whole series. Everything about it was unthreatening; it was in an old gymnasium, in an old closed-down school. Yes, men could take the class, but as it turned out I’m the only man in the class of anywhere from six to 20 women.
Claudette: We started lessons on the first Tuesday in October. Our teacher, an adorable young woman named Emi, with a Jean Arthur voice and jet-black hair, has gone through ISA’s Next Generation pre-professional company, and at 20 is already performing professionally with Antonio Granjero. She started us with the basic steps: golpe (stomp hard), planta (plant the sole), tacon (drop the heel); the arm positions; and the floreo — how the hands and fingers curl into long-petaled flowers. How to clap: Palm to palm or fingers to palm, with their different sounds. How to stand: Chest out, shoulders down. Don’t break the line from shoulder to fingertips. Keep a space between the torso and arms — pick an apple, put it in a basket; pick an apple, put it in a basket.
“Thaaaaat’s it!” she said as we clomped around like elephants reaching for apples with our trunks. “Great job, guys!”
Charles: Our teachers are gentle but firm. Certain movements are different for men, and they point those out to me, but at the beginner level those differences are small. Nothing is made of the fact that I’m the only man in the class. I don’t feel any expectations of me other than to try to follow along and learn. For now I’m just trying to keep time and learn the footwork that everybody has to learn. I’m just another body in there trying to learn how to do this dance.
Claudette: “Have we started too late?” I ask Charles, getting into the car after our third class. It’s an obvious, nearly idiotic question. We’re starting in our 50s. We’ll never attain the grace of our teacher Emi, who began studying with Maria Benitez when she was 4. Or La Gran Maria herself, who has mesmerized me since I first saw her perform 20 years ago.
But unlike classical ballet — with its metaphor of weightlessness, effortlessness, floating — flamenco honors maturity, passion, life. Unlike classical ballerinas, who peak in their 20s, a flamenco bailaora can perform well into her 60s. Flamenco is a dance of earthiness. Experience. Hips.
So the question becomes: too late for what?
Charles: I’m getting the steps and working hard on adding the arm movements. It’s no longer a total mystery – there’s some rhyme and reason to what we’re doing.
Claudette: For a while, each lesson feels like an isolated bubble, floating for an hour and then popping. But after several lessons I begin to remember enough to practice at home. It’s still dizzyingly hard, but too fun to consider stopping.
Emi left at the end of October, to dance with Granjero in San Antonio. Panic! But her replacement, Amanda, has an equally wonderful, complementary teaching style. Jaime, a flamenco guitarist, plays accompaniment for each class. Amanda has taught us the steps of a basic sevillana, the southern Spanish folk dance.
“Ok,” she nodded after this week’s class. “I think you got it.”
“Got it” is a very, very relative term. But I’ll take it.
Charles: It’s kind of cool in midlife to have these opportunities, and to take them. To do them with my wife is kind of the icing on the cake as far as I’m concerned.
Claudette: I’m learning that life-post-kid has as many phases as child-rearing. A year or so ago I did clamor for space in our post-kid married life. I’m glad we were both willing to stretch our relationship to allow for that. I’m glad we can — and both want to — do this class together.
And what a treasure Santa Fe has in the Maria Benitez’s Institute for Spanish Arts. Many thanks to the Santa Fe Public Schools, which rents space to ISA and the Santa Fe Youth Symphony in the former Larragoite Elementary School. It’s gratifying to see one of these erstwhile elementary schools providing arts education to kids — and some very lucky adults.
Charles: You know the saying about riding a bicycle and chewing gum at the same time? Putting the pieces together that make up flamenco is difficult. Hard but very satisfying. When I stomp my feet — loud, hard — it feels great. I feel like I have shoulders and a chest. It’s a very powerful experience. I feel like a bull when I do this!
We didn’t set out to focus this issue of Tumbleweeds on the arts, but it drifted that way. When Santa Fe High School’s theater department was one of just 26 programs selected from 2500 schools in the U.S. and Canada for the Edinburgh Theatre Festival Fringe next summer, we knew we had to get them in here. Then two creative teachers from Rio Grande School asked to share their first grade class’s “story paintings,” an inspired project merging art with literacy, which you’ll find sprinkled throughout this issue and on our website. Then, a group of amazing high school students who spent a month together on the Bali Art Project agreed to share some of the lasting influences of that journey. You know how art is…got a mind of its own….
Charles: ¡Hasta luego!