School Disorientation

As an American in Australia, I get a serious case of September envy this time of year. This week my Instagram and Facebook feeds are filled with darling photos of returning scholars--preschoolers to college students--posing in the morning sun with wet, comb-tracked hair, brand new shoes & crispy jeans and basking in that hopeful, heady glow of new beginnings. (No filter needed.) It makes me get all Joe Fox/Kathleen Kelly-ish: I would send you a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address. (Really, it goes beyond the back-to-school photos. See also: apple orchards, fall boots, cozy sweaters, brilliantly colored leaves--on trees or in piles, jam making, garden harvests. Oh, September you are so wonderfully cruel. Please don't stop.)

And then I look out the window, the planet tilts and I am in late winter/early spring, which definitely has its joys and delights but...still.  It's a little disorienting, frankly, and even after two years I have to take a split second to locate myself in the correct season. After all those decades of apple-y Septembers and autumnal Octobers, my seasonal clock is more difficult to reset than my time zone one.  I'm not complaining; it's just so weird. And I think social media makes it more difficult than ever to be here now, with such easy windows into what's going on everywhere else.

Here the kids are no longer basking in that clean slate, new beginning glow (that wore off back in February).  The pencils, figuratively and literally, are no longer new, no longer in bouquets, and rarely sharpened. There's a lot of homework and studying happening (and yes, a little stress) around here as the kids are midway through their third term of the school year. Maddy's life is particularly filled with studying and deadlines as she zooms toward her final IB testing in November. The International Baccalaureate program has a lot of positives but it is definitely rigorous and demanding. And because of how the Australian schools grading systems are set up, Maddy won't have a GPA when she applies to universities in the US; instead she will submit her IB scores, which are mostly comprised of the test scores she receives from comprehensive exams at the end of this year, covering two years' worth of content. But no pressure, ha!

(Here's a little bit more about the IB system if you're curious.)

While I'm vicariously living the back-to-school, early autumn bliss through my US friends, Maddy's FB feed is filled with all of her high school friends' posts about leaving for college, their new dorms and roommates. This would have been Maddy's life right now, too, if we hadn't snatched her off to Australia, where the class of '14 graduates in November rather than June. Instead she has an extra five months of school and will start university a year behind her US cohort. Secretly (or not so secretly) we're glad to have her around for this bonus Maddy time but I know it's not easy for her to see everyone else moving on into their exciting new lives and opportunities. But she's been a good sport.

As with most things in life, though, there are tradeoffs. When the northern hemisphere is shivering in January tundras, we will be basking in beachy sun. And Maddy just found out  that she was chosen for the UN Youth Australia delegation to the Middle East, something she definitely wouldn't have been able to do if we hadn't come here. As you can imagine, Maddy's thrilled. It's the light at the end of the IB tunnel for her. As you can also imagine, I am equal parts excited and nervous for her, my protective mothering activated by all the news of violence and unrest in the region.

Shhh, mother bear. It'll be fine.  And, hey, look! Is that a daffodil coming up?

Occupying small street

We said goodbye this morning to our French exchange student who stayed with us this week. It's an interesting experience having a stranger stay with your family around the clock and jump right into your routines with you. It made me look at our habits and our home in a completely different light. (Are our packed lunches up to par? Should we have more structured activities going on? Are we boring? Too busy?) Sure, we have guests and friends here quite often in short bursts but when someone stays with you for a week--and sees you in your pajamas, in your hurry-up impatient times, in your feeling-too-sleepy-to-get-up-and-make-breakfast times--that's another level of acquaintance and sudden closeness! As I told Sarah mid-week, it's tough to keep the shiny facade in tact for that long, haha! Margaux was terrific, though--smart, funny, easy-going--and a lovely guest who spoke English really well. Her visit was a great preview and example for Sam, who is excited to head to France on a school trip for the month of April, including two home stays--one in Lyon and one in Carcassonne. 

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Over the weekend we went to Enlighten, where Canberra illuminates some of the public buildings and museums with artistic light shows.

Old Parliament House

Old Parliament House

Then we happened upon a really cool project in the Museum of Democracy in the Old Parliament House. They had collected hundreds of toy figurines and invited everyone to choose a figurine, make a mini protest sign out of broken toothpicks and small cardboard squares for the toy to hold (either something you believe in or something the toy might advocate for) and add it to the masses assembled in the "Occupy Small Street" there in the hall (sorry for the grainy phone photos!). 

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Some were silly, some were funny, some were serious. Sam chose to speak out on a crucial issue facing the world today:

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It was a fascinating exhibit. I thought I'd mention it here because I think it's an activity that would appeal to most big kids and teens, since identity development in the teen years includes a very typical fascination with advocacy for causes. They are developmentally right in the process of piecing together what they believe in, what to stand up for, what advocacy means. I think this could work as an art installation, classroom or school or even city-wide project. I can also imagine the appeal of using this as an activity at home--a sort of animated version of a suggestion jar!

Okay, so what would your protest/advocacy sign say?  Mine was a little playmobil guy holding a sign that said "Educate me!" but later I thought of several other slightly more witty things I wished I had said.
Story of my life!