I saw more recent photos of him too, so I wasn’t going entirely on memory when I spotted him walking into Café Mimosa one Sunday in February. He and his wife, Diane, were in town visiting their daughter, Laura, who has been here on an internship at the Institute for Applied Ecology, and we’d arranged for our families to meet for brunch.
John is still tall, thin and smart. Laura, a beguiling young woman with curly red hair, has her father’s smile and her mother’s eyes, and tattoos of a gingko branch on her shoulder and a three-winged maple seed on her ankle. We ordered eggs and coffee and mimosas. Laura and Ariel, my 30-year-old son, talked about their various international travels, as the adults skipped down memory lane.
John (who has degrees from MIT in civil engineering and transportation design) vividly remembered our school’s mid-century modern architecture, with classrooms surrounding a large central courtyard. My memories floated towards the verbal. I remembered the playgrounds were covered with “tanbark”—what they called the wood chips we stomped over and sometimes flung at each other in play.
We had some of the same favorite teachers. There was Mrs. Lee, the tiny, ebullient math teacher everyone loved. She was Chinese and had a funny way of pronouncing “hypotenuse.”
And there was Mrs. Fishbein, our reading teacher. She had a large gap between her two front teeth, and taught us how to read Shakespeare (Julius Caesar; Romeo and Juliet), and The Washington Post. I got a chance to thank her several years later when she brought a school group on a field trip to the Montgomery County Sentinel, my first newspaper job.
And Mrs. Miller, the upper-grade art and English teacher, who wore floral dresses and sandals. She was eccentric and inspiring—and a tad too much of a hippie for our principal, the stately Mr. Cohen.
Long-forgotten faces popped capriciously to mind. There was Virginia Eddy, a round-faced girl who dubbed herself “Eyeball Eddy” and drew self-portraits as a bloodshot eyeball with legs. And Kent Taylor, the dark-haired boy I decided in first grade I wanted to marry. (I didn’t.) And Miss Edgerton-Bird, our second grade teacher, from England, who wore long sweaters with a Kleenex tucked up her sleeve.
Our elementary years overlapped the Civil Rights movement, feminism, the Vietnam War and the heyday of the space program. One year we were assigned to draw “cities of the future”—which for some reason we all envisaged under a giant dome. We graduated just after the first Earth Day in April 1970, which was also the month the Beatles broke up. As close-focused as our eyes were on our own next steps, a wide-angle shot of the world around us would have captured seismic cultural and political changes.
We scattered to various junior high schools (as they were called back then) and gradually lost contact—at least until Facebook stitched some new connections. I visited the school for some occasion a year or two later and was shocked by how small everything seemed. We’d gone off to bigger things.
Maybe an astute eye could have foreseen the adults that would emerge from the kids we were back then. John has had a successful career as a software engineer. I started working as a journalist between high school and college, and created Tumbleweedssoon after I became a mom. We couldn’t see that far ahead, but we were lucky to have had caring adults around us, paving our way with good possibilities.
Maybe that’s a constant: Children can’t see too far into their own future, but if they’re lucky they have teachers, parents and community members who see the best options for them academically, creatively, socially and environmentally.
Those options begin with fostering a love of literacy, as early in a child’s life as possible. Abby Bordner, one of Santa Fe’s most tireless advocates for young children, makes a pitch for stop-gap funding for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, a national program administered locally by the United Way of Santa Fe County, which provides children with a free book by mail every month from birth to age 5: “Early Literacy Program Seeks Community Support.” Perli Cunanan, director of Santa Fe School for the Arts and Sciences, describes the launch of Santa Fe Talks, a year-long project to raise money and community service hours for literacy programs for grade-school children: “When Santa Fe Talks, Readers Benefit.”
Best creative options include looking at and learning to talk about art, even from a very early age, as retired teacher and new grandma Shari Cassutt shares in her sweet article, “Get SmART!” Dawn Kaufmann, an educator at the Museum of International Folk Art, introduces us to a new program, Family Mornings at Folk Art, offered during the state museums’ monthly free admission days for New Mexico residents: see “Museums Are Child’s Play.”
Young children are exposed to abstractions like immigration and citizenship and can begin understanding these concepts in age-appropriate discussions, as Sarah Harris, director of Temple Beth Shalom Preschool, shares in “Where I’m From.”
How do you teach kids compassion and responsibility? Adults have probably been slapping their foreheads over that question for eons. The New Mexico Wildlife Center and Santa Fe Animal Shelter have found an inspiring method by enlisting the help of birds and dogs, as NMWC director Melissa H. Moore describes in “It Takes A Village of People & Animals.”
Since that first Earth Day in 1970, awareness of our environment has grown both more far-ranging and more locally-focused. This year we’ll have a celebration of local species at the Railyard Park (see Rebecca D’Agostine and Shannon Palermo’s “Earth: Our Neighborhood”), along with events in Los Alamos and at the Santa Fe Children’s Museum (see our Spring Family Calendar.)
Providing children with the best options increasingly means helping them connect to our natural environment. I’m sure you andyour children will learn things you never knew about bird migration in “Look Up, Look Around!” by Sally Maxwell of the Randall Davey Audubon Center (translated into Spanish, “¡Miren por todos lados!” by Flor de María Oliva). I know I did.
And of course, “best options” include fun! This spring and summer we’ll see a veritable feast of programs, at all price points, including the city of Santa Fe summer youth program, church camps and private camps and classes. See our Spring Break & Summer Camp Directory, and Summer Spotlight highlighting two new programs.
Finally, since healthy kids need healthy parents, Antoinette Villamil, executive director of Many Mothers (and Tumbleweeds’ new assistant editor), writes about a new postpartum parenting group: “No Mama is an Island.”
Before I said goodbye to my old classmate, I thought about how hard it would have been to imagine this day back when we graduated elementary school almost 50 years ago. Yet looking back, it seems so much of who we were then is still here in us now. I took that as a little nudge to keep doing what we can to be good to our children, community, planet and country, and ourselves. The future may be unimaginable, but it’s coming.