compare and contrast

This is “spring break.” Funny thing is that outside it’s snowing, with up to a foot of snow predicted to accumulate. And when I refer to “outside” I’m talking about “outside of my office window.” It is an odd scene to be describing on a day that is supposed to be both “break” and “spring.” But I’m not here with any kind of resentment. Karyn’s working on fixing the world, starting a campaign to open a neighborhood school that was closed a couple of years ago, which leads to our own neighborhood school’s seam bursting overpopulation. The girls are in said school, learning as best they can as they watch the snow fall outside and while crammed should to shoulder with all the other children in that room. (Like Karyn, they’re also fixing the world, but at a more preliminary stage. They think they’re “just” learning to read, to add, and to get along with one another.)

For my “spring break,” I get to engage in a few different activities. I have papers to organize, interviews to conduct, writing to engage in, letters of recommendation to send away, and some applications to review. It’s all stuff I’m looking forward to doing, and the week suddenly seems like a mini-sabbatical. I’ll save the opportunity to set foot on Southern Utah slickrock for May.

The most pressing and contrasting activities of the week, though, are hosting school visits in which I get to play science for various classes. Most of these are middle school students, but today I had two classes of preschoolers, courtesy of “Miss Pat.” I’ve said before that I would do anything for Miss Pat, simply because she is the living definition of wonderful and perseverant all mixed together*. But this call isn’t really a strain of any kind. She brings me little children with matching t-shirts (so they don’t get lost) who say things like “oooooooh!!” and “maybe it will blow up!” and “I want to stay here forever!” And then they cheer for me, say thank you, shake my hand and give me high fives. They start singing songs as they walk up the stairs to the bus.

So there’s the real essence of goodness in life, me playing with toys that I marvel at even now, sharing that with kids who have the same enthusiasm but better expressed as a bursting-at-the-seams of their undersized selves in oversized college seats. Then, immediately after that I get to go learn to use the new “scanning electron microscope,” or SEM. It’s the kind of device that gave you the image of the roughness of the leg of a fly when you were in school 20 years ago, and you (if you were me) wondered how amazing it would be to be able to use such a thing. And now I get to. And, like the 4-year-olds, I say things (to myself, so as not to scare the other scientists) “oooooooh!” and “maybe it will blow up!” and “I want to stay here forever!” My “job,” the one I get to do over spring break, is to play with stuff, some on the scale of nanometers, and some on the scale of about 1-meter-tall sitting in the lecture hall and sharing the amazement with me that the soccer ball and the bowling ball both hit the floor at the same time.

And now I need to catch my own bus, singing a song as I walk out the door.


* A breast cancer survivor and living with multiple sclerosis, Miss Pat still teachers two different classes of pre-schoolers with the energy of an 18-year-old, and inspires wonder, kindness, and cuteness in them all. If you’re having a hard time getting out of bed in the morning, think of the underpaid and chronically fatigued preschool teacher who is about to play on the ground with 4-year-olds, and then get your own sad ass out the door and do your part.


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