Kinder Garden

12 06 2013

School’s out and my garden is blooming.  I, of course, am reflecting on the past year while looking at the various blooms from my back porch when that tired old metaphor pops in my mind.  You know the one: children grow like flowers, blooming in the fertile soil of…blehhh.  Let’s not even go there.

Yet, looking at the flowers with the dazed numbness left behind from a crazy two weeks, I start to see personalities emerge.  One by one, former students populate my garden.

Bee balm: the flower pops with personality and a student begins to take root in my mind (hang on, this is fertile ground for puns).  Here we have the most noticeable one of the bunch.  You can’t miss him: not only does he stand tall, the bright red color draws your attention. The fiery petals stick out from the top like a Mohawk, screaming “Look at me, I revel in my craziness.”  Bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies compete to befriend this wild character, who would be glad to take over the entire plot if allowed.bee balm

Easter lily.  So white, so free of blemishes that it almost hurts your eyes.  Clean.  Innocent. Perfect in every way. I almost feel the need to bow down before her.  Give her a halo and she’d be set.  Yet I don’t know if I’d want a garden full of these.  I rather like the variety pack, the wild flowers sown haphazardly.easter lily

Here then is the zinnia.  I didn’t plant her: she just grew where her mama dropped her seeds.  Playful, bright, and cheerful, she doesn’t take herself too seriously.  Accessories?  She’s got them and knows how to use them.  She adds color to the garden, but if I’m not careful, she’ll grow where she shouldn’t.  Yes, a little guidance is needed to keep her on the right track.  By the end of the season, her leaves becomes a bit jaded with a grey ash; the hot humid conditions of a crowded garden get to her.  Not to worry, she’ll be ready to go the next season, putting forth her best face as she makes the best of her experiments 130

Gladiolus.  Their very name screams at their awesomeness: “I’m the one, aren’t you GLAD I’m here?”  They were planted for a purpose, and that purpose is to wow everyone with their color and delicate structure.  “Show and tell? It’s all about me, so forget the rest.”  For all their showiness, they need support or they will experiments 126

Cosmos.  Year after year, my garden glows with these bright orange blooms.  Spindly, they haven’t quite grown into their bodies.  Like the zinnias, they grew from last year’s seeds, underfoot and in the way at times.  Until they bloom, I’m not quite sure if they are flower or weed, but when I see their familiar orange smiles, I know I’ve made the right decision to let them grow.  By August, my garden is ablaze with these golden beauties, and when all the other flowers have dropped their petals, even up until the first frost, my eyes are still rewarded with their brilliance.cosmos

There are weeds in my garden.  I try my best to keep them under control, with varying degrees of success.  Then I remember it was Emerson who said  a weed is just “a plant whose virtues have never been discovered.”

It’s summer, and I’m seeing students in my garden. Yep.  I must be a blooming idiot.

Teachers Lament

2 08 2012

When I stepped outside this morning to walk my dog, the first thing that struck me was the pink-tinged clouds and the relatively cool air. 

The second thing that struck me was that it was now August, August 2 to be exact, and my mornings like this were numbered.

With these thoughts and the rhythm of my steps as inspiration, I pounded out this poem.  And yes, I meant to leave off the apostrophe in the title.




Teachers Lament


August, where’d you come from?

   The summer’s just begun.

The ocean waves me onward,

    My reading’s yet undone.


My dresser still is piled

    With books and papers high.

My cluttered closet stuffed

    With sizes well gone by.


My winter belly bulges

    From food both fast and fat.

The diet plan’s just started.

    Oh, August, you’re a rat.


Time stretched long and lazy

    Way back, just yesterday.

Now summer’s almost over.

    Come back, my old friend May!

Diamond Impressions

31 07 2011

My sister and me with our Rambler

Walking down the sidewalk of downtown Columbia, SC, I had a flashback.  It was another sticky hot day, so hot that even the squirrels were stretched belly down on shaded bricks, trying to cool off.  A woman walked in front of me wearing shorts and a sleeveless blouse.  Imprinted on the back of her thighs were diamond tattoos, not made with ink, but rather from the weave of the chair she had been sitting in.  Well do I remember those diamond tattoos.

Playing Traffic Cop

The year was 1965 when my parents bought the Rambler.  It was a blue station wagon, equipped with a radio and (drum roll please) air conditioning.  I spent a lot of my growing up years in that Rambler, so air conditioning was a real bonus.  Each summer, my family would take off for another part of the United States, pulling the pop-up trailer behind us as we traveled for weeks on end.  My father had worked his way up to five weeks of vacation a year at that point, so we would often be gone for three or four weeks at a time.  With this being a new car and all, my parents covered the vinyl seats with clear plastic seat covers with a raised diamond design.

Just because we had air conditioning did not mean we used it all the time.  A typical day’s drive would start with the windows rolled up for the first few hours, seeing as how we’d get better gas mileage without the wind resistance.  By 11:00 or so, sweat would be trickling down my mother’s face and neck.  Folks like to say that Southern women don’t sweat, they glow.  Although by then she had lived in the south longer than from her home state of Illinois, Mom was definitely not a Southern woman.  She didn’t glow; she poured.  She never complained (we did enough of that for her), but by the time we stopped for lunch she would be soaking wet.

Getting out of the car was always an experience.  My sister and I would have to pry our legs off those plastic seats, our legs making squelchy wet sounds as we eased them out the door.  And no matter how much we tried to sit on our hands or shift around, we always had diamond tattoos on the backs of our thighs.

More times than not, our lunch stop would be at a roadside pull off, where we would drag out the cooler and have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and warm lemonade.  Sometimes after lunch Daddy would stretch himself out on the top of the concrete picnic table, crossing his legs and interlocking his fingers over his stomach.  Within minutes, he would be asleep while we entertained ourselves by pretending bahia grass stalks were magic wands or, better yet, by throwing acorns at each other.  Soon enough we’d be on the road again, this time with the air conditioning on for a few blessed hours.

It was on these trips in that Rambler that I taught myself to read without getting carsick.  I had to.  There was nothing else to do, other than letting the telephone lines hypnotize me as they swooped past.  I have mixed feelings about the video games and DVD players that kids have in their backseats today.  I understand parents needing some quiet time in the car, but sometimes kids have to be bored into reading.  Those books took me farther than that old Rambler ever did.

We played “I Spy.”  It usually went like this:

ME: I spy something green.

MY SISTER: Is it grass?

ME: Yes.

MY SISTER: My turn.  I spy something gray.

ME: Is it the road?


BOTH:  I’m bored.

PARENTS (in unison): Read a book.

I remember one time we were somewhere in New England, or maybe Ohio, and Lucy and I both got sick.  Really sick, the throwing up kind.  We didn’t head for home.  We hardly slowed down.  My mother cleaned out the Way Back and threw in a couple of pillows and a bucket.  Lucy and I lay down with that bucket between us, and we continued on.  I felt like a martyr.

Just call me "jughead." That's Daddy and me in front of the tent-trailer.

We camped all over the United States this way.  I learned that Sault St. Marie is pronounced “Sue Saint Marie.”  I learned that empty gas cans are best not thrown in the campfire.  I learned that the Golden Eagle Passport gets you in most national parks (much later, this was the answer to a high school current events question that I answered correctly, much to the surprise of my teacher).  We traveled to museums, national parks, monuments, battlefields, and beaches.  We ate black walnut ice cream on the hood of that Rambler, out of the carton, finishing the whole thing before it melted.  We waited out storms that kept us cooped up in the car for hours before we could set up the tent-trailer.  I can count on one hand the times we stopped at Mickey Dee’s or any other restaurant.  I was in eleventh grade before I stayed in a hotel, when my best friend invited me on vacation with her folks.  I thought all families traveled like we did.

Traveling is so much more comfortable now.  We have soft seat covers, leather even.  We run the air conditioning just as soon as it starts to get warm.  Electronics keep our kids entertained.  We stay in nice hotels, condos, or resorts.  We eat out without even thinking twice.  We let tour guides show us the best sights.

Eventually, the long road trips came to an end.  The Rambler was put to rest out at Sassafras, the hundred-acre plot of land out on Highway 302 that my father bought upon retirement.  I went to see her once.  She was resting comfortably under a shed, sharing space with stacks of old lumber, windows scavenged from a house Daddy tore down, and rolls of chicken wire.  Her blue paint was dull with age, pine needles clogged her wipers, and her tires were up on blocks.  Inside, though, her seats were in pristine condition under the now-cloudy plastic seat covers.  I ran my hand over the raised pattern, remembering the temporary indentions they made on my thighs.  Although they faded from sight fairly quickly, those diamonds had left a permanent impression on my life.

Blueberry Summer

28 07 2011

Somehow the blueberries know.  It’s not the heat.  Here in the deep South it is hot starting in May and continues well into September.  Yet the first day of summer vacation, I go out to say hello to my bushes and somehow they knew I’d be there and all those green berries had turned blue overnight.  I know that summer vacation is coming to a close when the bushes on the side yard, the first ones to turn blue, stop producing.  And by the last day of vacation, there are only a few berries left on the back bushes.  Somehow they know.

If school-year weekends are sips of warm water, then summer vacation is a pitcher full of ice water, filled to the brim, with glistening droplets holding tight to its rounded belly.  I need summer.  I especially needed summer this year, following a school year that was tougher than most and had me wondering if it was time for another career.  It was my first year in fifth grade.  New curriculum, new ideas to develop.  Same students.  We had “looped,” with us fourth grade teachers keeping our same classes as teachers and students alike had moved up a grade.  It was an inspired idea: teachers wouldn’t have to waste time getting to know their students, students knew what to expect, and an issue of replacing fifth grade teachers who were leaving was dealt with.  We even got to stay in the same rooms, the janitor simply changing the number outside our doors. It worked well, mostly.

By the end of the year, however, things had changed.  Students were sick of each other, worse than usual since they had been with each other for two years now.  They were ready for change, a change that some felt they had been cheated out of in fifth grade and couldn’t come quickly enough as they headed to middle school.  I was tired, having spent the previous summer both in class and working on new lesson plans, and I didn’t handle the issues that arose very effectively.  I lost my sense of humor.  By the end of the year, I was completely dried out, parched and prickly.

That first day of summer vacation finally arrived.   I woke up, poured a bowl of cereal, went out to my bushes, and there they were: blue, plump berries begging me to cover my cereal with their bursts of summer succor.  Each morning would find me out there, cereal bowl in hand, swatting gnats and mosquitoes, listening to the coo of the mourning doves and the final rasps of the cicadas, brushing dewdrops off my face as I delved deeper into the bushes, feeling the promise of another hot day on the back of my neck.

So here it is, the end of July.  The bushes are slowing down, and my own pace quickens.  I’ve spent the last few days working in my classroom, hesitantly at first and then with growing purpose and interest.  I find my mind wandering to school projects, plans for fine-tuning the coming year.  Soon enough there will be no more fresh berries, no more slow summer mornings.  But I’ve gathered enough for the coming months.  I’m fully hydrated, plump and juicy as a ripe berry with good humor.  I’m ready.  This morning, I’ll stop by the school office to talk with the staff who have been working all summer, a blueberry pie in hand, so that they too can know the goodness of a blueberry summer.

The Best Gift

16 06 2011

Already it seems like the end of school was forever-ago, but only two weeks have passed since the last day of school.  That last day was filled with tears and smiles as we said good-bye to our fifth graders, most of whom we had had for two years now and all of whom were heading for middle school.  My desk was piled high with gifts: beach towels, lotions, gift cards, all the usual teacher gifts that say, “We appreciate all you’ve done.”  A warm feeling of accomplishment filled the air: in my students for having survived yet another year of school, and for me that my job with this group was done.   Yet amidst all the gifts, one stood out from the rest, although I didn’t realize it until I got home.  There under all the fancy gift wrap and pretty bags was a plain envelope, addressed To Mrs. Eberhard,  inside a story handwritten in pencil, with lots of misspellings and punctuation mistakes.  It was, quite literally, the rest of the story.

You see, about two weeks before, our class had been lined up outside the P.E. room door.  One of our students (I’ll call her Tara) noticed a hole in the cement wall and wondered why it was there.  I suggested to Tara that there was probably a story inside that hole.  Tara got that “lightbulb” look on her face, and at lunch and later at recess I noticed she was hurriedly scribbling away on a small notepad.  On the way in to class after recess, she read to me what she had written:  the start of a story about several children who had found a portal to another world in their P.E. wall.  Interesting, I thought.  Maybe next year I’ll take the kids for a walk around the school to look for stories.  Then in the bustle of wrapping up the school year, I forgot all about her story, assuming that Tara’s interest would also wane and the story would be left unfinished.

Not so.  In the envelope that last day of school, I found the rest of the story.  And it was quite a good story, too.  Her voice shone through as her characters discovered made an exciting discovery, the story built to a climax, and then loose ends were tied up.  Through it all, her sentence structure, vocabulary, and word choice were clear evidence that somehow, some way, Tara had become a writer.

When Tara had come to me at the beginning of fourth grade, her writing was basic at best.  Short, choppy sentences.  Phrases that didn’t make sense.  Between her poor handwriting and even worse spelling, many times I could not even read what she had written.  The change did not happen overnight, nor was it a simple path of me teaching her a skill and her learning and applying it.  Without realizing it, I had turned her on to reading by introducing her to American Girl books.  Her mother related to me that instead of having to drag Tara to the library and force her to read books, now she was devouring books as though they were chocolate.

Yes, I had taught her writing lessons that gave her the building blocks of writing.  Yes, I had used mentor texts to point out how authors applied their craft.  Yes, I did model each skill as I introduced it to the class.  But I would have blinders on to say that I made the change in her, that I had made her into a writer.  Tara’s transformation was the result of six years of consistent, directed teaching.  It was the result of a school media center that stocked children’s books that appealed to a variety of interests.  It was the result of former teachers maintaining an interest in their students, encouraging them to continue striving for that next level of excellence.  It was the result of a school environment that valued achievement, but at the same time valued the worth of each student, no matter how gifted each was.

No better gift can a teacher be given than evidence such as this story that she has made a difference in the life of a child.  But, if I may be critical, I must point out that the envelope was labeled incorrectly.  Instead of reading, “To Mrs. Eberhard,”  it should have said, “To Aiken Elementary.”

Hello summer! Hello world!

7 06 2011

Today is my official second day of summer.  After a long season teaching fifth grade,  I’m ready for a break.   I’ve been working nonstop since last summer preparing to teach a new grade level, always a challenging task, but especially for me since I like all my ducks in a row, all the time.

Weekends during the school year are sips of water; summer is a tall glass of sweet ice tea.  I enjoy teaching, but I need some time to step back and look at the world around me.  I get so focused on lesson plans, grading papers, and finding ways to reach my students that I miss out on the rest of the world.  I enjoy writing.  Having this blog will allow me an outlet for my literary urges, with the added benefit that some living human out there might actually read it.

In this blog I will be writing about teaching, naturally, but also about my life as a mother of two teenaged girls, my mild adventures in the outdoors (Alaska in two weeks!), family stories and history, and observations about life in general.

Hello summer.  Hello world!