Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Start of Something New

The game’s afoot!  The school year is underway for Cleo and me. 

What a difference just a couple months has made to her maturity level!  It’s very much like seeing last year’s pint-sized, squirrely ninth grader striding across the quad in his new sophomore form, a head taller, mustache sprouting, confidence brimming over.  Cleo, though still ready to wrestle, chase, bound, leap and play at the smallest hint of an invitation, has come to understand that she also serves who only stands and waits.  Or lies down and chews. 

On Tuesday, she came with me to school for a day of faculty meetings.  I had left her home on Monday because I thought she would be too bored and fidgety, but John told me that she moped around the house all day long.  It’s true that when I got home Monday night after several hours of meetings and an orientation for new students and their parents, Cleo greeted me as if I’d just returned from the wars.  A seventeen pound, squeaking projectile with a very wet tongue packs a surprising amount of force.  So I decided the next day that six hours of meetings might be more enjoyable for her than house arrest; at least we’d be together.  It was something of a gamble, though, because if she proved too much of a distraction at the meeting, I’d have to lock her in my office by herself.  Then only I would be distracted, worrying about her being bored and lonely.

All of our colleagues were glad to see her, and she had to greet most of them, giving special attention to her favorites: Jennifer who stayed with her when we were away this summer, Charlotte whose grandmother had Bedlingtons and who always makes a big fuss over her, Kim who roughhouses and wears jangly bracelets, Cammy who is the only playmate fast enough to nab a toy right out of Cleo’s mouth, and Chuck who, as the head of school, often takes a central position which always fascinates and impresses her.  I laid her blanket down at my feet and deposited her favorite chew toy, an antler, on top of it.  I told her “Down” and “Stay,” then sat poised to corral her back into place should she move.  Only a couple of times when speakers changed positions, some returning to their seats while others moved to stand up front, did Cleo jump up, thinking it was break time. 

During lunch, she went on an extended explore of the campus perimeter, never going out of ear shot, but having a marvelous time hunting lizards and ground squirrels.  For the afternoon session, she sacked out contentedly on her blanket, occasionally sitting up for presentations and discussions that caught her interest.  Her favorite was a video of one of our students speaking at a TED-x conference.  Maybe the laughter and clapping coming from the screen reminded her of The Colbert Report.  We know how she feels about him.

It's not easy waking up early
after sleeping in all summer.
So after this good-as-gold performance, I was excited to see what she would do with all the students on campus Wednesday morning.  For a while, she stood and stared at them, but then she saw Betsy, her pal of last year.  The night before, I had gotten an email the complete text of which was, “Will Cleo be at school tomorrow?”  No salutation.  No sign off.  It was good I recognized her email address.  It was obvious from the exuberance of the greeting that they had missed each other.  I made one big mistake by taking Cleo into the opening of school assembly.  I had hoped to introduce her to the new students, but I had forgotten how boisterous the student body always is, letting out a huge cheer and clapping when the head of school says, “Welcome to the new school year!”  We may be only 225 students and 40 adults, but we pack a roar when we want to.  And before you accuse me of indulging in fantasy, it’s really true—the kids cheer about being back at school.  Loudly enough that I made the hasty decision to take Cleo back to my office for that part of the morning.

One great treat about this school year so far has been our experiment.  We have been leaving the baby gate off the office door.  While one of us works at her desk, the other sometimes naps on the couch, plays with a student or occasionally makes a circuit of the library, never going far and never (knock on wood) trying to leave the building.  When I have to leave her behind, she follows me to the outside door, looking after me reproachfully as I tell her to “Hold the fort.”  When I return, she is always back on her blanket on the couch in our office.  It would be so wonderful if we could maintain the gate-free door, so much more inviting for the students to come in and out, so much healthier for Cleo to have the chance to visit—politely—with folks in the library.

I’ve also been taking her to my classes, blanket and antler in hand.  She chews or sleeps or observes and has been a perfect gem.  The first time I walked into class with her, my students actually gasped.  I teach the youngest students in the school, the unique grade eight in a high school.  They are innocent, earnest, curious kids who for the first few days are confused and vulnerable and awestruck.  After a couple of Ohs and Ahs, as Cleo settled down on her blanket to gnaw on her antler, one of the students quaveringly asked, as if it were too good to be true, “Do we get to have Cleo in class?”  By Friday afternoon when I dismissed them, half of them clustered around Cleo to pat her and rub her tummy.  One boy put his forehead against her side, then rubbed his cheek against her.  “She’s so soft!” he exclaimed.  “Let me feel,” said a girl.  She rubbed her cheek in the downy hair.  “Oh, she is!” she agreed.  One after another, six or seven more students knelt down to rub a forehead or cheek on Cleo’s side.  She sprawled contentedly, not the least bit concerned by being completely surrounded, nearly smothered by, half of the eighth grade class.  Up she popped when it was time to go and pranced her way back to our office.

This is her territory.  These are her people.  She doesn’t care about what grade they’ve gotten, their GPA, SAT or AP scores.  She cares about the important qualities, the lasting qualities.  Is this someone who will get down on the floor and rub his cheek in your fur?  Is this someone who will stop on her way across campus to pat your tummy and rub your ears?  Is this someone ready to play with you?

Let the games begin!

1 comment:

  1. Nice way to start the new school year for Cleo, and for the kids (Not to mention Cleo's mom.) Thanks, Joyce, and thank John for sending the link.
    Love, Jo Ann