New Year, New World, New Weird

As part of our unit on Colonial America, we have the kids imagine its the year 2090, and Earth is not in good shape. We ask them to imagine they are given the option to board a spaceship to go to a new, relatively unknown planet. Would you do it? Would you leave your family and friends, the life you know, and risk a dangerous journey to a place you know very little about? Is it worth the risks to have a new, better life? Some really great discussions come out of this, and it’s a lot easier to empathize with and understand the early colonists this way.

We also ask them what they would pack for the journey, emphasizing survival over personal belongings. The results are, unsurprisingly, hilarious and disturbing.

Inevitably, some students insist that yes, they do need their football/iPad/hair straightener/favorite book to survive. Others argue that they could fit an entire generator in a suitcase. They need to make these discussions as a group, so things get heated.

With my last class, they really understood that this was theoretical. This new class has a much more heightened sense of imagination, apparently, because I had to keep reminding them that this was entirely pretend. It didn’t actually matter what color the jacket you packed was, or who was going to get to share the two tents that you brought. None of this was real!

Here are the highlights from this year.

In one group, a small girl walked up to me and casually asked if a colonist could kill the other colonists for food. Her group tried to argue that once she killed one person, the others would stop her. “I’ll kill everyone at once.” She rationed. They pointed out the meat wouldn’t last, and she replied “Why do you think I packed so much salt? I’m going to preserve you.” Through the whole discussion I kept trying to wrest the conversation back to the realm of more school appropriate and less downright horrifying, with limited success. At this point I had to say “Cassie, you may not turn your classmates into jerky.” “Theoretical jerky.” She answered.

In another group, someone was arguing that they should bring purse dogs. Thinking I misheard, I asked him to clarify. “Small dogs that fit in purses.” He answered. After a long pause I could only ask, “Ok… why?” His reasoning was that they could breed them and trade them for other supplies. “People love purse dogs.” He said. Luckily one of his group members started talking about the dangers of invasive species, saving me from having to talk someone out of bringing chihuahuas on a spaceship for trade purposes. (That sentence right there is why I love my job.)

After leaving that group, I overheard a heated discussion about bringing a baby. “A human baby?” I clarified. They nodded, and again I had to ask why. “We’ll need more people.” a very earnest boy explained. “Otherwise when we die our colony is gone.” Knowing I was treading into dangerous territory, I explained “Well, the people in your colony could get married and have babies.” He narrowed his eyes. “You said our colony was only the people in the class.” “Well, it’s imaginary, and you could imagine there are other people-” A girl next to me cut me off. “Kyle, I told you. If we want the colony to continue you have to marry one of us.” He turned beet red and yelled back, “I’m not having children with you, I told you already!”

I guess the moral of the story here is that even when you’re imagining it, thinking about marrying your classmates is weird. And even when you insist it’s imaginary, talking about eating your classmates is weird.

The Tattooed… Mom

I’ve had a lot of big news I was able to share with my classes over the years. Buying a house, getting engaged, getting a puppy, getting married. This is the biggest so far- pregnancy!

As soon as I found out, one of my first thoughts was of telling my students. Both how exciting that would be, and how awkward that would be. To little kids, having a baby is somewhere between fact and magic. “Well, you got married, so this is the logical next step. Now something will happen involving birds and bees, maybe specifically storks, some scientific terms I don’t understand but my parents told me so the could feel progressive, and you’ll have a baby in you. Voila. When’s recess?”

My students are ten and eleven, the age when certain aspects of human relationships start to become both extremely interesting and extremely gross. They have, at the very least, a vague sense that what starts this process has a lot less to do with storks and a lot more to do with those feelings they’ve all started having when they look at each other. In short, “I don’t know exactly what you did to get this way, but I’m sure it’s sort of gross.” The preteen years are a magical time.

When it became evident to both myself and my colleagues that I couldn’t go on pretending I was suffering from a low grade stomach bug all the time and smuggling fruits of increasing large sizes under my shirts, I decided to tell the kids. I broke the news, and reassured them I’d still be here for most of next year (since my school has classes with the same teacher for two years, I’ll be their sixth grade teacher, too). Their reactions were about as awkward as I expected, as hilarious as I could have hoped, and much sweeter than I thought they would be.

After a moment of stunned silence, one of the boys clapped his hands to his face and yelled “That’s so exciting! This is awesome!” Then the floodgates opened and a million questions were unleashed.

“How big is your belly?”

“How big will you get?”

“Is it a boy or a girl?” “When will you find out?” “How can they tell if it’s a boy or a girl?” (The answer to the last one was a shocker- no one apparently thought the same rules applied for babies in utero and the rest of the mammal kingdom.)

“How do ultrasounds work?” “Why are they called that?”

“What will you name it?” “Can we pick the name?” “Can we vote on the name?” “Will you name it after me?” “Or me?” “What about me?”

“Do you have any cravings?” “Have you eaten weird food?” “Does it like (fill in random food here)?”

“Will it come to visit us?” (Not, will you bring it in to visit. Will it come to visit. Of it’s own volition.)

“How does it get food?” “How does it breath if it’s in there?” Following this was a student provided run-down of how the umbilical cord works, much to the discomfort of everyone else, including me.

“If the cords attached to you and the baby, what happens to the part in you when they cut the cord?” (Full disclosure, I used the best of my evasive ‘answer without really answering’ techniques and then found the nearest colleague with kids as soon as I went to lunch to ask her the exact same question. Apparently I still have a lot to learn.)

“Does all pregnancy ruin your stomach? Because my mom says I ruined hers. If it does, don’t tell the baby, it will feel bad.”

“Will it go to our school?”

“Will your dogs like it?”

“Can we at least pick it’s middle name?”

All in all, it took about an hour of processing and questions, both the practical, the personal, and the scientific. I’m excited about the whole thing. I’m so glad they know, and so happy they are excited for me. This lucky little bean has 23 big friends looking out for it already.