December 2: Yesterday in STEAM (science + technology + engineering + arts + math), the teacher announced that my fourth grade class would write code for a robot. (I gaped in wonder.) To explain the specificity required of computer coding, she pretended to be a robot (“beep boop,” she said, with robot arms gliding up and down) and asked the students to program her to open the classroom door.
As the students offered instructions, the teacher turned circles, waved her arms and explained that a robot doesn’t understand “door” or “small” or “knob” or “again.” Eventually the students built on each other’s work and succeeded: stand up and stay standing; turn 90 degrees to the left; turn 90 degrees to the left; walk forward five feet; and so on.
Everyone gave up when she reached the doorknob; even I didn’t know how to tell her to grab it. The teacher then instructed the fourth graders to grab their computers and program a miniature robot named Edison to navigate a maze. Amazed, indeed.
December 3: At my coffee shop, I sat next to a twelve year old girl working with her dad on math homework. Having spent the last two days teaching long division, I inhaled deeply and refrained (mightily) from jumping in.
When I peeked again a few minutes later, I spied complex algebraic equations, realized that the man might be a tutor, and remembered that I know absolutely nothing about algebra. My guardian angel had saved me from profound embarrassment.
December 4: Over dinner, Kevin admired (again!) our Christmas tree shimmering in a galaxy of tiny lights and sparkling ornaments. “What memories came to you while you worked?” he asked.
Such a kind question! Maybe Pear Man’s plump smile (and Bethany Beach provenance) despite losing an arm years ago in a tree crash. Maybe Froggy in the Bubble Bath, still smiling despite similar misadventure. Maybe the tattered cowrie-shell-and-straw ornament from our Hawaii honeymoon that I once hung too close to our dog’s nose.
Or maybe a painted ornament from Tuscany (2016) and an engraved brass one from New Jersey (1976), both connecting me to my friend Kathy. Maybe tiny china William, a bear tucking his paws into overall pockets, that I once bought for my friend Joan’s baby boy but kept for myself — along with 25 years of warm thoughts toward the entire family each Christmas. And definitely the tandem bicycle ornament, which I gave Kevin when I agreed to do a five-day tandem ride with him. (The ornament and, happily, our marriage survived; the tandem is long gone.)
Jeremiah cued up the Christmas music. The singing of our Christmas tree filled my ears too.
Bonus: I’d love to hear a memory associated with one of your Christmas ornaments.
December 5: Tonight, from a highway bridge, I saw a brilliantly lit triangle of land wedged between the river and a golf course. Shipping containers, planted nose to tail, created a compact metal maze. Construction equipment offered occasional vertical interest and a few helmeted workers navigated the congested space. As I whizzed by, I took one last glance at this strange metal city and saw, in a corner of its “plaza,” a small illuminated Christmas tree.
December 6: I navigated my grocery cart around the grapes and saw a small boy nestled in the large basket of his mother’s cart. Twenty minutes later, I saw them again. The mom was hoisting him out of the basket and placing him into the child seat up front. She smiled at me: “He wanted me to put the groceries on top of him, but that eventually stopped being fun.” I smiled back. And somehow a memory stirred of Nate or Jeremiah wanting to do the same thing (amid cereal boxes and tortilla chips) — with exactly the same outcome.
December 7: Gloom (and twinkle lights over the fireplace) suggested a pot of tea, a lap blanket and a book. But I went exploring.
I landed in Salisbury, Maryland, where the nice lady at the visitor’s center handed me so many pamphlets that, pitying me, she also gave me a reusable sack to corral them.
Off I went. Wandering the two-block 19th century Main Street, I consulted my architecture guide and found cornices, pilasters and Art Deco eagles. I paused in front of a Romanesque church, where two loud chimes startled me (“Hel-lo” and “Come-In,” the bells said.) Shortly after, I startled four college kids when I accidentally paused in front of their eye-level restaurant window table. (They smiled “hello,” but not “come in.”) Finally I treated myself to a warm, delicately sweetened pastry-like Belgian waffle fresh off the grill. (“My grandmother’s from Liège,” the proprietor explained.)
I’m glad it wasn’t a beach day!
December 8: Yesterday’s waffle maker from Salisbury said her grandfather met her grandmother during World War II; she was in the new family business of margarine-making and he was a U.S. Army cook in the business of buying it. Rationing over and transplanted to America, the grandmother never ate margarine again.
This reminds me of the time we took my mother to a fancy Italian restaurant and pointed to a $16 polenta entree on the menu. My mother recoiled in horror: she had eaten polenta every night during the Depression, albeit prepared by her mother a dozen different ways. “Polenta! Polenta! Polenta!” she exclaimed. And then she laughed to think that poor-people food was now pricy exotica.
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