SEARCHING FOR A SILVER LINING IN A DELUGE

20141023 90fbw

(Click map to enlarge and clarify.)

Some glitch in the NOAA satellite has me unable to download the map I like, but the above map shows the situation this morning, as a nor’easter stalled south of New England, and drenched the dickens out of me.  As often is the case, the computer models failed to forecast the heavy rain, instead showing heavy rain up in Maine and down in New Jersey, but only light rain over us.  As is also often the case, Joe Bastardi and Joseph D’Aleo dusted off old-fashioned forecasting tricks, and beat the computers.  (In this case their trick was the idea of “teleconnections,” wherein a digging trough along the jet-stream in one place often results in a sympathetic response elsewhere, and specifically, a trough digging in the Pacific down the west coast of the USA should make one suspicious of flatness in the jet-stream in the east of the USA, and suspect a trough will dig there even if computer models don’t see it.)

However I had a better forecasting tool, and it involved the simple fact we had planned an “open house” at our Childcare. I think we’ve had around twenty such events, at various times of the year, and I am starting to feel hexed.  The weather is never sunny and calm, and, if not bitterly cold and blustery, is often rainy. We haven’t had an earthquake yet, but one wouldn’t surprise me. There hasn’t been a volcano in New England in over a million years, but if one blows, you can bet good money it will be on the day we hold an “open house.”

The purpose of such an event is to show off. We are proud of how kids at our Childcare are not incarcerated in some basement, and only briefly allowed out to play in a playground smaller than that allowed to criminals at the State Penitentiary.  Our kids have pastures and woods and ponds to scamper around, just as I had when I was a child. Under benevolent supervision they scrape knees and cut fingers and get muddy and learn about thorns through first-hand-experience.

It’s amazing how swiftly children learn at ages three to six. I’ve seen city-kids, accustomed to walking on flat sidewalks and incapable of walking in woods without falling down five times in a hundred yards, become country-kids, hopping from rock to rock atop a stone wall, in a mere fortnight.  It is amazing to me,  partly because I’m an old dog and can’t learn new tricks at a speed faster than a snail.

During an “open house” the children get to show their parents the landscape they have become familiar with. They get to lead their parents along the trails to “Lightning Rock” and “Autumn Woods.” Usually the landscape is very beautiful.  However how beautiful can such a landscape be during a drenching nor’easter?

It was with a sense of the inevitable that I watched the weather maps deteriorate, and the nor’easter develop. I know every possible way such a storm can fizzle out, for back when I was a boy I wanted such storms to explode, and cancel school. I wanted school to be cancelled because I also know every possible way a school can have nothing to do with learning and everything to do with incarceration.

My philosophy involving Childcare was encapsulated by Ernest Thompson Seton when he said, “Because I have known the torment of thirst, I would dig a well so others can drink.”

I try to make it clear to parents that, at our Childcare, their children will not be bubble-wrapped,  nor will they expected fit some “curriculum.”  Small children often don’t need our ridiculous tests, for they are constantly testing themselves and their own limits on their own, and if anything they only require our supervision to keep them from conducting some test that defies the law of gravity. (This is not to say an adult shouldn’t notice that the child is displaying signs of a shortcoming or handicap, but rather that a child is able to arrive at such a revelation on their own, under the impulses of their own natural curiosity.)

Some parents are somewhat horrified when I suggest small children should be allowed to be free. They conclude out childcare lacks an “agenda.” and that we don’t teach enough math and computer-science to three-year-old’s.   I shrug and wish them well. They have every right, as parents, to educate their children as they chose, and obviously our Childcare is not for them.

However when a parent does chose our Childcare, it indicates the parent  themselves believes that freedom, and the outdoors, and play, might not be bad things for small children. I approve of such parents, and want to encourage them by allowing them to see how our Childcare works on a sunny day when everything is working correctly. That is what I hope an open house will let them see. But, of course, it always rains.

Yesterday it didn’t just rain. A gentle rain is bearable, but this rain was nasty.  I was pretty sure the parents would veto the first part of our open house, which was to have the children show their parents our trails as the sun set. Under the glowering overcast it was already so dark it was as if the sun had set an hour earlier.

During the fit of absurd optimism that always precedes such an event, and which always assumes it will be sunny, (though it never is,) my wife and our staff had prepared a nice wandering path around the grounds, which passed all the children’s favorite landmarks. It was nearly a mile long. If that wasn’t enough, attached to the trunks of trees along the route were blown-up photocopies of pages of what currently is the children’s favorite book. And if that wasn’t enough, the staff also had illustrative props from that favorite story at various points on the path, which would allow the children to show off how well they knew the tale. However the wind was rising, driving a drizzle that swept in shrouds across a landscape growing so dark it would be impossible to read any pages affixed to trees. What parent in their right mind would bring their precious child out in such weather?

I was pretty certain the answer would be, “zero.” I felt sorry for my wife and staff for going through so much trouble. (I have little to do with such an “open house” production, beyond being ordered about, to move furniture, mow lawns, and do other jobs to “spruce up” the grounds.) (My only job during the actual “open house” was to walk with the crowd along the path, and to look like a wise old farmer, and to make sure no one took a wrong turn, and, only if necessary, to speak.)

In a glum mood, dressed in rain-gear that would do a Gloucester Fisherman proud, I was feeding the pigs and goats, who were utterly disgusted by the weather and in no mood to venture from shelter, when I glanced up and, to my astonishment, saw that all the parents were heading out with their small children into the gathering gloom.  I dumped the final food for the beasts and dashed off to play my part.

A favorite saying of my wife is, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing,” and therefore all the kids resembled Hobbit Gloucester Fishermen, however their parents resembled people snatching an hour after work to go to some event held by some school. They were inadequately dressed, though they have all heard my wife’s saying enough for it to become a sort of joke. As I reached the crowd one parent, attempting to hide from the searching mist with an umbrella, had her umbrella ripped into an inverted form by a particularly nasty gust of wind. In an ironic tone I stated, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad umbrellas,” expecting some sort of equally ironic and sarcastic retort.

Instead, to my astonishment, there was cheerful laughter.  And it went on from there. The parents actually seemed to enjoy the discomfiture of being asked to walk through a gloomy woods in a rapidly deepening nor’easter.  The children were having a blast. The only grouch in the entire group was me.  However that was acceptable, for it was quite in character for me to play the part of an old, grouchy farmer.

I can only suppose modern parents are not the wusses and weenies I supposed they were.  I took a quick poll, to see if any had walked in the woods during a rainstorm before, and discovered not one had ever done it before. Therefore their acceptance of the situation had nothing to do with experience, or anything else that could be put down on a resume. Instead their joy seemed to be due to the fact they had never before walked through drenched trees moaning in a gale, and they found the experience refreshing.

(Nor am I talking about particularly fit young parents. Some indeed were hale and vigorous physical specimens, but others were overweight. Some were even overweight grandparents, nearly as old as I am. But all of them had a better attitude about the bad weather than I did, and all of them, to be quite frank, put me to shame.)

I can not describe how wet those woods were. A single example must suffice: The hemlock boughs that usually are ten feet above the trail were weighted down to eye-level by rain in their needles, and drenched walkers when the walkers nudged them, and the boughs sprang upwards scattering droplets. The little children, who were lower down, saw no obstruction in the path ahead, but the poor parents had to press through wet boughs that drenched them. Even as I agonized over my customers getting drenched, they themselves laughed and seemed to think the experience was enchanting.

It was so dark under the trees that the young parents couldn’t read the pages affixed to trees, however the young parents had resources I lacked when I was their age. They took out cellphones and shone them on the pages. They had only to read a few words before they children chanted the rest, because the writing was from one of those stories children get grabbed by, and make you read over and over until you feel your eyeballs might fall out.

In this particular case (and I never know why a story becomes popular with snall children, or why it just as abruptly becomes boring),  the story was “The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid Of Anything.”

In a nutshell, the story describes a lady walking through a dark forest and meeting all the parts of a scarecrow which one by one follow her through the woods, and in the end become a scarecrow that scares crows and not the little old lady. Each part of the scarecrow she meets makes a certain noise, as it follows her. For example, the pants say, “Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle.”

As we walked along the path, we came across the various props my staff had left to illustrate the tale, and eventually came across the pants. They had been hung high up, but the weight of the rain had pulled them down, so the cuffs were on the ground.  The belt was eye-level to a four-year-old. I said, “Wiggle wiggle wiggle.” The four-year-old turned and looked at me, with round eyes that said, “I have heard this story told 197 times, but now I am seeing it first hand, for myself, and IT IS REAL!!!”

All the children knew the end of the story, and towards the end of the walk discipline broke down and all the kids broke ranks and went stampeding ahead into the deepening dark, and then all began screaming, “Here it is! Here it is!  The scarecrow! The scarecrow!”

I confess I was blushing slightly at that point. I figured the parents would be muttering, “What sort of whack-job institution have I got my kid involved with?”  Instead they seemed pleased their kid was learning a story they were familiar with. (I just goes to show you that a children’s book that wasn’t around when I was young may be a tradition an d institution to a thirty-year-old parent.)

At that point, at the end of the tale, we were southwest of the hot soup and hot apple cider the staff had waiting back at the Childcare. This meant we had to walk northeast into a nor’easter, into the teeth of a growing gale, with gusts above 35 mph. I was the only one complaining, and then I stopped.

I was abruptly really glad I got dragged out of my ordinary way of being. For all my talk about how wonderful the outdoors is, it has been a while since I’ve been outside during a nor’easter that wasn’t nice and white and snowy. When I thought about it I realized a wet nor’easter is something I haven’t experienced, in the woods,  since I was as young as the parents I walked with were, over thirty years ago.

A sense of gratitude crept over me. As we arrived back at the Childcare, and enjoyed the children singing songs while being warmed by hot soup and cider (that the children helped to prepare for their parents), I felt Baby Boomers should learn a new Mantra.

(Though perhaps it is merely a remembering of what we already knew.)

Long, long ago I would say, “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.”

Now I say,  “Much is to be learned from parents under thirty, and children under seven.”

The nor’easter gave us over 4 inches of windswept rain, but it had a silver lining. Or maybe it had more than one, for NOAA has fixed the satellite glitch, and here is a map of that stalled storm, a day after it showered silver on me.

20141023B satsfc

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One thought on “SEARCHING FOR A SILVER LINING IN A DELUGE

  1. The “silver lining” is what your place is doing for those kids!

    (I checked your blog today, doing some research on sea ice, and after I read this post, I forgot what exactly I was researching….)

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