Category Archives: Athletics

Nails in the Coffin?

As many of you may know, and to no one’s surprise who follows women’s basketball, Brittney Griner, a 6’8” Senior from Baylor, was the first player to be chosen in the 2013 WNBA draft and will play for the Phoenix Mercury. With only three rounds and only 12 teams drafting, very few players are invited to attend in person, but of course Ms. Griner was there, all smiles, in a white tuxedo.

Two days later, during the course of an interview with “Sports Illustrated,” Ms. Griner was asked why she felt sexuality was no big deal in women’s sports. She responded, “I really couldn’t give an answer on why that’s so different. Being one that’s out, it’s just being who you are.” Asked if making the decision to come out had been difficult, she said, “It really wasn’t too difficult, I wouldn’t say I was hiding or anything like that. I’ve always been open about who I am and my sexuality. So, it wasn’t hard at all.” Though the interview received a fair amount of attention on social media, it received attention more for the low-key “no big deal” feeling to the moment than for the news itself. As Wesley Morris said in his article “Brittney Griner and the Quiet Queering of Professional Sports,” “Maybe it was amazing for its utter whateverness.”

Mr. Morris continued to point out that Ms. Griner had painted her fingernails “a shade of orange that might have been awkward had she been picked up by, say, the Atlanta Dream instead of the Mercury.” To him, the combination of the nail polish and the tux emphasized that Ms. Griner was not playing dress-up but was simply expressing who she is. In his eyes, this is simply the confirmation of a quiet revolution, what he calls “the small but increasing genderlessness in professional sports.” He continues to affirm that “This younger generation of gay athletes — accustomed to degrees of cultural, social, and legal inclusion — better knows the relative personal normalcy of being gay than the crisis and melodrama of telling the world you’ve been living a lie. More and more straight ones have gay friends, classmates, cousins, siblings, and parents.”

The discussion may get a bit tricky when you consider that sexuality and gender aren’t the same thing, though of course, for most people, they are related. And of course, fashion is only significant to the extent that a person deliberately chooses their appearance to reflect their true authentic selves. But Mr. Morris’s fundamental hypothesis – that while we might have been expecting the closet to be smashed open in men’s sports, perhaps the revolution may have already been quietly going on for a while as shown by a certain breaking of gender-based fashion rules – is intriguing. Certainly, if the world of men’s professional sports can embrace gay people wholly and unequivocally, that has the potential to create a major shift in public opinion – one which has also, it must be acknowledged, already been taking place slowly but surely for some time.

And maybe women’s sports are indeed showing the way.

The Humanities 7 class, at one point last Fall, was considering holding a “Come as you are” day. They abandoned the idea for two principal reasons. One, that several people were concerned it might not be taken seriously and become just another excuse to wear sweatpants. Two, that several people were confused as to why anyone wouldn’t “come as you are” in the first place. Their honesty and self-confidence were both refreshing. For Brittney Griner, too, it seems, every day is a “Come as you are” day. Maybe those orange fingernails are helping close the lid on homophobia. Maybe transphobia will meet the same fate soon after.

And maybe my students and their generation will help nail the lid shut.

Once and for all.

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Filed under Athletics, Gender, In the Classroom, On Athletics, On Education, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Gender Matters

You could say I was frustrated. On the way home from Virginia on Sunday, April 7, at a gas station near Scranton, I had downloaded first the CBS Sports app and then the ESPN Sports app, but was unable to tune in to the UConnNotre Dame game. Baseball, NBA, and discussions about baseball and the NBA – and men’s college basketball – abounded across my virtual dial. However, nowhere could I find a live broadcast of the women’s Division-I basketball semi-final game even though it featured one of the premier rivalries in sports.

Shaking my head, I sent out a general tweet asking my friends to keep me informed of the half-time and final scores, started up my car, and got back on the road. Jeremy Deason, our former Athletic Director, and Susie Highley, a middle school teacher friend from Indiana, would both oblige, updating me every 10 basketball minutes or so. I knew Liz Feeley, our Director of Development and a former Notre Dame coach, had been nervous with excitement and anticipation all day, and I decided if only one of us was to be able to experience the game firsthand, it should be her. She must have been experiencing her own frustration, though, since Notre Dame ended up falling to UConn by nearly 20 points, a highly atypical margin from two teams who had produced a one-point game, a triple-overtime game, and a two-point game over the course of the season (all three games going to Notre Dame).

And so it was that Tuesday night, April 9, I was sitting with my legs stretched out on the couch, my computer balanced on my lap as I worked on my preps, my cat scrunched between my legs with her chin on my ankles, my lucky Connecticut Sun cap on my head, watching the pre-game show with an edge of excitement and anticipation. They were profiling Louisville’s star point guard Shoni Schimmel, and in my haze of trying to think what might be a fun activity for my French 2 class to learn the new imparfait tense, I heard one announcer mention that at age six, she was playing with boys. I looked up half-curious, half-perturbed, to see where they would go with this inane insight. Luckily, they dropped that line of thought quickly and focused on her career and her accomplishments. But the moment left me thinking.

Recently, there was a bit of controversy over a statement by Mark Cuban that he would consider drafting Brittney Griner, the 6’8” Baylor senior who has dominated the game from her freshman year, for his NBA team the Mavericks. Part of the controversy, of course, was whether she was genuinely good enough to play in the NBA. But another part of the controversy was whether or not she should even try. Some people felt she should go for it, making the point that there are women good enough to play with the guys. Others felt she should go for it, making the point that one should follow one’s opportunities wherever they lead. Still others felt she should stick to the WNBA, a lifelong dream of hers and one of the premier women’s leagues in the world, adding the cachet that a player of her quality can bring even to a well-established league with many stars.

Pat Summitt, the retired coach of the women’s basketball team at the University of Tennessee, accumulated 1098 victories during her career, more than any other Division-I basketball coach. From time to time, the question would come up: Could she coach men? The general consensus was divided between two opinions – one the one hand, people believing that of course she could coach men, and on the other hand, people wondering what the heck kind of question is that anyway?! Because after all, she is the winningest coach in history. She loved her job, she loved her players, and she was proud of what they accomplished. She has nothing to prove. And besides, the question suggests that coaching men is tougher and/or somehow more important than coaching women. Granted, the men’s game is awash in much more money than the women’s game, and coaches (and, at the professional level, players) make much more on the men’s side. But that’s just money and has nothing to do with actual importance.

That said, as women’s basketball gains in respect and in financial resources, more and more men are drawn to coaching women, and the percentage of women coaches has fallen even as no woman to my knowledge has yet coached a men’s team at the Division-I college or professional level. That is a disparity worth noting – and worth correcting.

Recently, browsing through a Barnes and Noble bookstore, I picked up Pat Summitt’s autobiography, Sum it Up: A Thousand and Ninety-Eight Victories, a Couple of Irrelevant Losses, and a Life in Perspective. In it, she describes a moment when she was doing a question-and-answer session and one person asked her “How do you coach women?” She fixed him with her Gaze and responded with perhaps a tinge of scorn, “You don’t coach women, you coach basketball.”

I remember taking my son and my nephew to their first WNBA game, the Connecticut Sun vs. the Phoenix Mercury right after Phoenix had taken UConn alumna Diana Taurasi in the draft. I can still picture the moment. Standing right in front of us, Taurasi caught a pass and redirected the ball toward a teammate in one impossibly quick flick of her fingertips. My nephew turned to me and excitedly asked, “Who is that?” (My son already knew.)

Good basketball is indeed good basketball, whoever plays it and whoever coaches it, and anyone I know who has truly given the women’s game a chance has enjoyed it. Yet, for most fans, and apparently for most pro team owners and college presidents (who hire coaches), gender still matters. That Shoni Schimel played with boys at age six should be entirely beside the point. Whether or not Pat Summitt could have coached men should be entirely beside the point. Whether or not Brittney Griner could play in the NBA should be entirely beside the point. Someday, maybe that will be true. Maybe then, CBS Sports and ESPN will see the wisdom of giving women’s sports equal weight.

And maybe then, cars passing me on the highway near Scranton will be able to hear me yelling every time UConn scores.

**********
P.S. For those who don’t already know and who may be curious, UConn did win the championship, beating Louisville 93-60. This tied coach Geno Auriemma with Pat Summitt for eight championships, the record in women’s ball and two behind overall NCAA Division-I record holder John Wooden.

P.P.S. For those who may be interested, here is a link to the Pat Summitt Foundation which raises money to fight Alzheimer’s Disease.

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Bikinis, Lingerie, and Women’s Athletics

When I click out of my Yahoo! email, I often scan to see if there’s a news item that interests or intrigues me. The other day, I was shocked and outraged to learn of the existence of something called the “Bikini Basketball Association” through an article entitled: “Deion Sanders’ daughter joins the Bikini Basketball League (sic) despite her dad being ‘kind of upset’.”

Setting aside the focus of the headline on a male athlete and his disapproval of what his daughter is choosing to do…

My initial impression of the league from its webpage did little to calm me down, as the subhead was “Basketball League for Sexy Athletic Ladies.” The statement, “Women were selected based on athleticism, personality, as well as beauty. The combination of these traits will help the BBA athletes stand out in their respective communities.” reminded me of the tryout procedures and practices for the All-American Girls’ Professional Baseball League. In the 1940’s.

The Yahoo! article mentioned that the name of the league as actually something of a misnomer, as the players will be wearing shorts and sports bras, in contrast to the Lingerie Football League, where the players actually wore lingerie. Deiondra Sanders compared the two leagues in defending her decision to join the BBA: “I just think that it’s a lot different because we actually do have players, real basketball players, that actually have played in the WNBA before. So I think that this will make a difference because people are really gonna see real-life hoopers. They just look good while doing it.” (Sanders)

Thinking about what Ms. Sanders said, I tried to put myself in her position. Woman athletes don’t have a lot of opportunities to play professionally as there are far fewer leagues. The WNBA is much smaller than the NBA and doesn’t have a Development League. If I lived for basketball, was good enough to try out for the WNBA, and wanted a second chance when I didn’t make it, would I grab this opportunity? I truly don’t know. But I do know that, whatever I decided, I would be feeling incredible anger that the only way for me to get a second chance was to use my looks. It would be a way to play ball, for fun and for pay and with other athletes of my calibre – but in a context where I could never be sure people were taking me seriously as an athlete.

Meanwhile, in what appears to be an effort to be taken more seriously, the Lingerie Football League has decided to rename itself the Legends Football League and has announced their players will begin wearing uniforms, sparking a series of smirking headlines such as “Lingerie Football League shedding lingerie, and not in the fun way.” Will they continue to draw attention as the “Nation’s fastest growing sports league” or will they go the way of the Women’s Professional Football League, disbanded in 2006 after seven seasons, or fade into the obscurity of the other three women’s professional football leagues currently playing, the Independent Women’s Football League, the Women’s Football Alliance, or the Women’s Spring Football League?

The fact is, as members of my Life Skills 8 class are now even more acutely aware after watching “Miss Representation,” women continue to be primarily judged and valued by our society as a whole by their looks. My students know they are lucky to be part of a community where women’s and girls’ voices matter, where you are actually judged more by the content of your character than by your appearance. But they are also acutely, achingly aware that it will be tougher for them to be taken seriously in the world beyond our school.

And with all that in mind, I just can’t help but think that, even if well-intentioned, the Bikini Basketball Association is going to seriously undermine women’s chances to be taken seriously as athletes. You can’t fight patriarchy by reinforcing it. And meanwhile, for those of us who truly love women’s basketball, we still have the NCAA and the WNBA. For now, those will have to do.

For now.

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Moving Mountains

For January 1, 2000, my mom and stepdad helped our family assemble a time capsule which we would open exactly 20 years later. Among other things, we were asked to respond to a list of questions about our favourite things. For my favourite sports team, after some thought, I put the SBS varsity basketball team. My son’s sports career had not yet begun, and after years of running the scoreboard for home games, I felt a deep connection to the program.

As I processed the similar question “What is your favourite singer or rock group?” during the middle school bonding trip at Camp Becket last September, I realized that I couldn’t go with the semi-obvious “The SBS Rock Band” as I teach two separate groups, one each in the middle and one upper schools, and even if I felt favoritism (which I never would!), I wouldn’t dare show it. Furthermore, I love so many different musicians that I could never settle permanently on one favourite. Sitting there surrounded by 43 middle school girls, thinking back to summers with my son listening to our phones and sharing music, I settled on Taylor Swift as my favourite singer of the moment. There were in fact around ten other students who made the same choice, and we settled together in a group on the floor waiting for other groups to form.

Driving into school this morning, Ms. Swift’s song “Long Live” came up on my phone. The cover image shows her hair flying out behind her as she prepares to strum a chord on her Les Paul electric guitar, pure power in a sparkly dress. I thought back to last week’s Upper School Rock Band rehearsal for last night’s informal end-of-term concert. One of the combos performed “Alice” by Avril Lavigne last night. Those who know Joyce, our lead singer on this song and typically one of our quieter students, got a surprise and a treat. During rehearsal, we plugged her through the keyboard amp, and the power of her voice as she sang “I, I’ll survive / When the world’s crashin’ down / When I fall and hit the ground / I’ll just turn myself around / Don’t you try to stop me!” just about blew me forward into the piano. Later, as we discussed costuming (with the informal concerts, we have a lot more latitude than with the three big performances of the year), Jin having already determined that hoodies would be acceptable, Joyce asked if she could wear ripped jeans. She could, and we settled on jeans (ripped or otherwise) and SBS hoodies as our costume for the night.

“Cause for a moment a band of thieves / In ripped up jeans got to rule the world.” – Taylor Swift

In the second year of the SBS Rock Band, then known as PW Rock (PW for “Performance Workshop,” the original name of the course), we set themes for each concert, and discovered as the year progressed and we were growing together and as individuals, the themes we chose reflected that growth. You saw that especially in the ani difranco songs that framed the year, from the in-your-face attitude of “not a pretty girl” (“I am not a pretty girl. That is not what I do. I ain’t no damsel in distress and I don’t need to be rescued. So put me down, punk…”) to the affirmation of “32 flavors” (“I’m not saying that I’m a saint / I just don’t want to live that way / no, I will never be a saint / but I will always say / squint your eyes and look closer / I’m not between you and your ambition / I am a poster girl with no poster / I am thirty-two flavors and then some”), the lyrics reflected the girls’ take on their own lives and their place in the world.

“You knew our lives / Would never be the same / You held your head like a hero / On a history book page / It was the end of a decade / But the start of an age / Long live the walls we crashed through…” – Taylor Swift

I sometimes wonder about the long-term effects of performing in a group where you are not only allowed but also encouraged to get up in someone’s face, to affirm without challenge or question that you have the right to be exactly who you are and think exactly what you think, and to do so publicly and be recognized for it. I’m sure they remember – two former members of my Humanities 7 class who are now off at college recently shared with each other, and with me, memories of writing and performing their seventh grade play, and I know that former members of the SBS Rock Bands have also stayed in touch. At its best, rock music is not simply about rebellion, but about breaking shackles and emerging free and whole and complete, in the process freeing others to do the same. I hope and trust that spirit has animated the group down through the years and that spirit is being passed on. Somehow, I suspect it is.

“Long live all the mountains we moved / I had the time of my life fighting dragons with you / I was screaming long live that look on your face / And bring on all the pretenders / One day, we will be remembered / Hold on to spinning around / Confetti falls to the ground / May these memories break our fall / Will you take a moment, promise me this / That you’ll stand by me forever / But if God forbid fate should step in / And force us into a goodbye / If you have children some day / When they point to the pictures / Please tell them my name / Tell them how the crowds went wild / Tell them how I hope they shine.” – Taylor Swift

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Olympic Heights

The hills up into Conway are starting to feel a little longer than I would like, and I can feel my leg muscles straining to keep the pace I’ve set, a little faster than I would normally choose. But I dig deep and force myself to keep going, maybe even step up the pace slightly. “You don’t get to the Olympics by giving up on yourself,” I tell myself. Eventually, I’m at the spot about two miles out where the road flattens out a bit before finally giving way to a longer downhill, and I enjoy a brief moment of exhilaration as my body shifts into cruise control.

To be clear, I have absolutely no illusions that I am going to the Olympics at my age and fitness level. But that doesn’t mean I can’t draw inspiration from those who are. It’s a scenario that plays out every four summers, one that reminds me of my childhood. How many last-minute buzzer beaters did I sink in the driveway while practicing on my own? How often did I complete a pass to my friend Paul that brought invisible crowds to their feet cheering at the top of their lungs? Whether I was Tony Conigliaro up at bat or Chris Evert nailing a cross-court forehand, there was often an inner sportscaster narrating my every move. It’s a phenomenon noted by Garry Wills in his introduction to The Doonesbury Chronicles, observing that we all have that inner voice and that part of the genius and humour of those early Doonesbury strips was extending that inner sportscaster’s voice to narrate everything we do.

In an episode of “Modern Family” I saw recently, Claire (a mother of three) wryly observed (I am paraphrasing here), “You know that inner voice you have growing up that tells you you’re not good enough? That voice was outside me, and it was my mother’s.” The joke hits home not just because of the delivery but also because of the fundamental truths about girls’ and women’s lives that it reveals. That voice outside them might be the Australian and Japanese Olympic committees determining that men will be flying business class and the women in premium economy. It might be woman beach volleyball players sporting QR codes advertising websites on their bikini bottoms (although the IOC has forbidden this during the actual Games). It might be the Melbourne Herald Sun publicly questioning whether swimmer Leisel Jones has gained too much weight and initiating a reader poll on whether or not she is fat. It might be the continuing disparity in the percentage of photos of female athletes in action vs. male athletes. All this in an Olympic year commonly dubbed “the year of the women.”

Frank Bruni nailed it in his excellent op-ed piece “Women’s Time to Shine” when he wrote, “There’s much to savor in the quadrennial spectacle of the Olympics, which will begin in London next weekend, but perhaps nothing more exhilarating than the way it showcases and celebrates the athleticism of women almost [italics mine] as much as it does the athleticism of men.” We’re certainly getting closer. For the first time, all countries involved are sending female athletes, even Saudi Arabia, and for the first time there will be equal numbers of female and male athletes competing. Women’s boxing is making its Olympic debut.

All this being true, the ultimate goals of true equality and true equity are still a long ways off in many ways. At times, it seems an uphill battle that we will never win. And then we dig deep and refocus in hopeful anticipation of the moment of exhilaration when we realize we have made it.

Or so says my sportscaster within.

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Ninja Women

It’s Sunday morning, February 5, and my Twitter feed is bursting with sports news and opinions. Most are about the Super Bowl, of course, and then, somewhat less mainstream, there’s the one from Talib Kweli which links to an Atlantic article by Max Fisher on “Why Thousands of Iranian Women Are Training to Be Ninjas.”

Why, you may ask, are thousands of Iranian women training to be ninjas? In a word, power. Iran is a country where the supposed inferiority of women is so institutionalized that their testimony counts half as much as that of men. Yet, despite what we may believe in western societies, burqas and chadors hide women surprisingly resistant to 33 years’ worth of efforts to disempower them. Sports, and in particular ninjutsu, are one visible sign of that stubborn resistance. (Fisher)

Is it really that simple? Fisher makes important points but in various comments on the article, readers affirm the strength and power of Muslim women as something that should not be so surprising, remind us that Islam is not inherently misogynistic, and point out other regimes are more repressive than Iran. Additionally, it may be argued, western society is not exactly a perfect model for the encouragement of women athletes.

One of our periodic homeroom rituals is for Martha, an ice hockey player, to announce her games, invite people to come, and/or thank those who did. The rules for girls’ ice hockey are modified to discourage hits and strong checking, and Martha is quietly irritated by that. Her attitude seems to be that it’s part of the game, and to disallow girls to play hockey as it was meant to be played dishonors both girls and the sport.

Meanwhile, Women’s Professional Soccer has just announced it is suspending its season, though they hope to resume play next year. Since its release, the film “Bend it Like Beckham” has been a perennial favourite among my students. When it first came out, the idea that girls could dream of playing soccer professionally was bright and fresh and new and exciting. Then, the Women’s United Soccer Association folded, and part of our discussions became the contrast between the exhilaration and hopefulness of the film and what the reality turned out to be. Still later, WPS formed up and our discussion shifted yet again to include a sort of nervous relief that girls could once again dream of playing professional soccer – as long as the league found a way to stay open. Now…well, we’ll see.

Professional women’s soccer leagues do continue in a number of other countries, and of course professional women basketball players have a plethora of teams to choose from all around the world. Most of these pay much better than the WNBA, where the starting salary is lower than what a rookie teacher makes and the maximum salary is $105,500. Minimum rookie pay in the NBA, in contrast, was $473,604 last year. In theory, our country is at the forefront of women’s rights. Why then is the disparity in professional sports so great?

One common argument is that women’s sports just don’t pay for themselves. It is true that the WNBA has survived longer than any other women’s professional league in part because of the support of the NBA, and that WPS was trying to make it on their own. Poor fan support is often cited as the main reason. My favourite WNBA team, the Connecticut Sun, has an average attendance of 7056 per game. My favourite NBA team, the Boston Celtics, has an average attendance of 18,169. So if the critical factor is fan support, then the Celtics as a team should making a bit more than quadruple what the Sun do (their season is twice as long, a fact we’ll set aside for the moment), and player salaries should reflect that. But that isn’t even close to reality. No, it’s all the rest that makes the main difference – concessions, endorsements, TV exposure, etc. Men in this country still have more economic and political power than women, and masculinity in this country is still more highly valued than feminity. That institutionalized sexism, I suspect, is what is really at the root of the vast difference in opportunities for male and female athletes.

We spend a lot of time talking about the intangible benefits of playing a sport, and these are unquestionably important and available to any athlete of any age, gender, nationality, or for that matter skill level. I watch the JV basketball team working hard, improving, always doing their best throughout the entire game despite being probably two years younger and smaller on average than most of the teams they play. We’re always working to build resilience in our students, and certainly the basketball court is one of our most important classrooms. But at the same time, I can think of no good reason why woman athletes shouldn’t be able to look forward to some tangible benefits as well. “Congratulations and welcome to the WNBA! You’re one of the top 130 basketball players in the world! Keep your day job!” just doesn’t have the ring you’d hope it would. Our students would, I think, emphatically agree.

So now it’s time to go back to the world where most people are focused on some football game, where many of the ads will be just as stereotypically male-centric as the game itself. In the back of my mind, a thought… what if, some day, the entire country puts the rest of their lives on pause to watch, say, the WNBA final? Naah, couldn’t happen.

Or could it?

– Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean

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Time Passes

It was not easy to tear ourselves away from the games. The varsity soccer team was playing for the league championship in a closely-contested tie game (we would eventually lose in a shootout), and the sun was shining warmly down on the spectators cheering them on. Meanwhile, the varsity volleyball team’s last match of the season was also close (it would end in a 2-3 loss). But once we got to my car, after having been forced to take last week off from service at the animal shelter due to power outages, it felt good to be on the road again.

At the shelter, Lisa smiled at us from behind the front desk and said it was really good that we came today because some of the morning volunteers had not been able to make it. Two adult volunteers had already started in on some of the work, and so it fell to us to clean four cat cages and ready them for their next residents, plus set up two additional cages that had already been scrubbed clean and disinfected. One of the students, in her second year of volunteering, had her cage scrubbed and newspaper already laid on the floor of one of the clean cages before I even had the chance to see how she was doing. The two other students, both first-years, needed little guidance themselves and also worked at a quick pace. As I wandered back and forth to touch base with them all, I was startled to walk in the front room and see one of the girls smiling out at me from within a cage – I imagine in order to gain easier access to the back wall and ceiling.

Cat cages, once scrubbed, need to sit for ten minutes to let the disinfectant do its work, and as the other volunteers had gotten us all caught up on dishes and laundry, this was the perfect chance for kitten snuggling. The girls know by now that they have to leave adult cats in their cages when socializing with them, but that it is okay to take out kittens. Luckily, there were three, each of them in a quiet and snuggly mood, and it was hard to tell who was happier, the kittens or the girls.

Ten minutes later, we got the cages all set and checked to see if Buddy (a one-year-old yellow Lab) needed time in the play space. Two days previously, as I was walking him to the play space, two of the girls had taken off running with excitement, and when he leapt after them I was momentarily worried he was going to pull my arm right off. So when this group asked if they could walk him out, I hesitated for a moment and then, remembering how well-behaved he had been when we were just walking together, I said they could if we all promised to walk the whole way. Once in the play space, with his leash off, he did his best to pursue a wide variety of flying objects that filled the air within moments of our arrival. For a moment, it seemed we would need skilled air traffic controllers, and indeed there was at least one close call. There were also two home runs, both of which were cheerfully pursued by the girl who had thrown them.

We returned Buddy to his cage and resisted giving him treats because we knew his stomach was delicate. I rinsed off some dishes that had been soaking in disinfectant while the girls went to say good-bye to the kittens, we signed out, and then after a pass by the candy bowl at the front desk, we hit the road.

It’s hard to put a finger on what made the day feel so special. On the face of it, it was unremarkable – there wasn’t even all that much work to do. Perhaps it was the sense of confidence the girls showed, their belief that the work was important and they knew how to do it well. Perhaps it was the cheerfulness they brought to every task. Perhaps it was how well they worked together, or how smoothly everything went. And perhaps it was their continual engagement in the moment, just as deep when scrubbing cages as when snuggling kittens.

Earlier today, Ellen, our school counselor, and I were talking about how fast the trimester has flown by. We are well aware that the passage of time feels very different to our students, both because we remember our own childhoods and because the girls remind us regularly. “Is it because a year is a much smaller percentage of our lives than theirs?” we wondered, but that didn’t feel right. “Maybe,” Ellen said as her eyebrows lifted slightly and the corners of her mouth turned up, “it’s because they live so fully in the present.” “Maybe it is!” I responded. “And if so, maybe there’s a lesson for us.”

Maybe.

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