Eyes ahead, we adjust and learn

by Mr. Sheehy

So far, our mouse count is up to five. At least three of them were babies, though, so yesterday I happily caught something older, maybe even cutting off a reproductive line. It’s a struggle of life and death, our lives and their death, and I have almost grown used to reaching blindly over the 2×4 in the ceiling to grab the full trap that always falls behind the slat when it catches something. I wear some old gloves, but it was creepy at first. I’m willing to overcome any disgusting aspect, however, because what I read recently is far more disgusting. Mice’s gestation period is only 20 days, they can toss out a litter of 10 babies, and they breed year round. Folks keep telling me I need a cat, but I do not want another animal, I want fewer.

In reality, I’m still adjusting to the home owner life. Take, for example, my adjustment to living in a neighborhood. We’ve moved a bit further away from downtown, which means we have much less noise from traffic. But we’re not alone. If I ever fancy that we are alone, the wonderful chorus of barking dogs reminds me of the presence of others. My favorite poem at the moment is Billy Collins’s “Another Reason Why I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House.” I have begun reciting it to myself like a neurotic encouragement:

The neighbors’ dog will not stop barking.
He is barking the same high, rhythmic bark
that he barks every time they leave the house.
They must switch him on on their way out.

The neighbors’ dog will not stop barking.
I close all the windows in the house
and put on a Beethoven symphony full blast
but I can still hear him muffled under the music,
barking, barking, barking,

(Follow the link to the rest of the poem, but more importantly, buy Collins’s book, Sailing Alone Around the Room.)

Annie continues to bark back, which is terribly cute, but that doesn’t make it less annoying that when we walk around the block, Dog Set 1 flips out at us as we walk by, cuing off Dog Set 2, then Set 3, until we have circled the entire block to the Best of the Canine’s Soundtrack.

I’ve been in neighborhoods before, and I knew this would happen, and the reality is that I’m not that annoyed, but could it be more obvious that I’m not an animal person anymore? You’d never know I thoroughly enjoyed living with two dogs less than seven years ago. But that doesn’t mean those dogs did not annoy me at times. Like when we had to shut the living room shade permanently so Tucker (the dog) wouldn’t know when the neighbors were coming and going. Because apparently it was important to tell us all that the same people had walked by that window for the 15th time that day. Thanks for the tip.

Now, however, I’m not annoyed so much as adjusting, just like I’m adjusting to having to fix things. This weekend I tackled more little projects than I have in all prior years combined, and my daughter might be getting the ridiculous idea that I’m the man to turn to when something is broken. The poor girl. She’s too young to realize that installing a toilet paper dispenser and a window blind is not difficult, not to mention too young to notice that the toilet paper roll is crooked and that the blinds bend slightly because the plastic holders are not quite lined up.

The odd thing is that eventually, I might be a fraction of the fix-it man my three year old thinks I am. After all, in the short future I’ll have to completely dismantle my second toilet of the year. It’s not hard, but still, I’ll be kind of good at it by then. Just as I became awfully adept at wiggling sofas into houses (after delivering 500 of them), I’ll probably not only develop a taste for straight towel bars and curtain rods, but I’ll be able to accomplish the feat of installing them.

Ellen is dancing ballet, as I’ve mentioned a million times, and this weekend she playfully pranced on her tippy-toes. For a couple steps, she went all the way onto the ends of her toes, and I caught a glimpse of what she may look like 12 years from now when she goes “on pointe.” She hasn’t got it yet, but after only a month of ballet classes, she’s already catching a glimpse of what it can look like, and she’s adapting her own dance to that more beautifully crafted ideal.

Meanwhile, Annie sat at the girls tiny table with me last night drawing. She did not draw anything in particular, just a scribble or two before repeatedly removing and returning the crayons from their package, but whenever she held the crayon, she held it properly. She’d seen us hold pencils, catching that glimpse of how it is supposed to be done, and she has begun there. She’ll continue to watch, and eventually, she’ll have it.

The obvious common factor is that our adjusting is really learning.

And as I teach, I strive to provide more chances to my students to see and study those ideals, even if the ideal for particular students is different. Maybe one student needs to see a professional composition to catch inspiration, but another needs to see another student’s work. Whatever will help them see the beautifully crafted ideal, whatever will help them see how to form their own creation, that’s what I want to do. I suppose what I’m trying to describe is technically called “modeling” and “scaffolding,” but I have seen the ideals of educational writing, and they don’t use jargon. Jargon is a crooked toilet paper bar and a barking dog.

I want to hold my pencil lightly between my first three fingers and be on pointe.

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