One of the great things about raising homeschoolers is that there is always time for spontaneous field trips. If, for instance, Dad shows up from work and he wants to take you with him to a public meeting to look at road designs, there is no need to even check the calendar before you dive into some pink boots and scramble on all fours for the door. Alphabet books and math worksheets still fluttering in the air as you climb over your sister and strap yourself into your car seat. Shivering with nervous giggles as the car slides backward down the driveway.
And it hardly matters where you are headed, because everything is new and everything is magical and everything is fresh. And your home is just a tiny space ship drifting in orbit and the world looms massive outside the window like an unapproachable giant. A world seen in cartoons and depicted in books, but always protected behind a thin sheet of glass. A caged and dangerous thing in the blackness of space. The world hangs upside down from a string. And to leave this ship and walk around is like finally being given a chance to lay on your back and blow at the world, and wait as you watch it spin and spin and then drift back into place lazily. The secret motions blurring in the most remarkable way, as you pull back in the driveway at the end of the adventure. The mysterious paintings still wet on the cave walls of your mind. The images transferred to paper the following day as a craft project, or recreated as towering monuments in blocks.
These are the mysteries that those of us of terrestrial origin take for granted. The dizzy delight of the homeschooler is often the very gravity other children live in every day.
So it was, last week, in this upside down homeschool world, that my daughters and I pulled into the parking lot of the most fascinating field trip of their young lives. They unbuckled themselves quickly and crowded each other to look out the front window to take in its dark angular shape, the ominous looming form of a public school. Long after all of the other children had loaded onto buses and gone home, all the offices locked, and the class rooms darkened, I walked to the door with an excited daughter on each arm.
We exploded through the entryway as if it were Disneyland. The girls twirling to take it all in. They struggled to touch the walls in every direction, arms outstretched, tapping their toes on the tile floor, peaking down hallways and memorizing posters. “What does that say?”, “What is that for?”, “Where do they keep their snacks?” They tiptoed down hallways, cowered in a doorway watching boys play basketball, and banged their fingers along a row of lockers like a giant xylophone.
At one point we stood quietly at the door to the library and inadvertently interrupted a meeting between a number of women sitting at a table in the center of the room, “Excuse me, can we help you?” They asked, offended by our intrusion. “No, sorry.” We told them. “We have just never seen a room like this before.” The women stared at my wide eyed daughters with their massive smiles pondering the space like a Florentine cathedral. The women shrugged and returned to their private discussion.
Then, at last, my daughters found a class room. With its door locked, and the lights off it was a machine sitting dormant in a field. And in absolute amazement and quiet reverence they pressed their eyes up against the glass and studied it. Like a museum exhibit. Like a diorama of an ancient world. They had passed through the portal and were seeing it now, for the first time, this mystical place of worship.
I gave them time. When they were ready, they slowly came across the hall and sat next to me on the floor and we discussed what they had seen.
“They placed the desks facing the wall.” Clara told me. The teacher’s desk was on the side and the students faced the wall.” She shook her head. “I would have thought the teacher’s desk would be in front and the students would face the teacher. That’s how I would have done it…” She struggled with this question of arrangement for the rest of the week. Rolling it over in her mind like a stone in a stream. Smoothing it down.
We laughed our way back to the car, and drifted home. But as we rolled into our neighborhood I could still hear Clara’s half sleeping whisper, “Why were their desks facing that way…” A mystery. Just one more mystery among a heavy pocket full of new mysteries.