In March, I volunteered to help my son’s elementary classroom collect sap from a couple of trees they had tapped at nearby Fresh Pond. The aim was to boil it down to make maple syrup, to be enjoyed with pancakes!
I accompanied a small group of children on two different mornings to stroll over to Fresh Pond, lower the buckets from their posts on the trees, and pour the golden liquid into a large collecting bin before returning it to school. My husband also helped out one morning. We were signed up to help on several more occasions, but two things cut our duties short. First, the weather warmed up. Without a temperature differential from chilly nights and subsequently warmer mornings, the sap wouldn’t rise to flow out the taps. The buckets were dry.
But also, COVID.
A few minutes later, while my husband and I were seated on a bench outside the conference room waiting our turn, those same kids skipped by us on their way to gym class. They each waved, but the last one stopped, hesitated, and then spoke:
“I just heard the teachers talking,” she said quietly. “They said they might close the school.”
I took a breath.
“That’s true,” I told her. “They might close. But for now, we do school,” I added gently.
The girl gave me a small smile, nodded and skipped off to gym class.
“What was I supposed to tell her?” I asked my husband.
“I think you did fine. She was just looking for someone to share what she’d heard.”
The next day turned out to be the last day of school for the school year, but our job of trying to help our kids navigate their feelings is far from over. I became a homeschooling parent overnight and have been wondering why anyone would voluntarily choose this job.
But, as I’ve written elsewhere, there have been good moments, wow moments even. Still, this is a service to my kids now. I am helping to continue their education, to give them structure, to provide reassurance and connection to the familiar during very uncertain times.
And we’ve been exploring our own outdoor classroom, with hikes two or three times a week or more. On one hike recently, my son (the one whose class had been collecting sap) brushed a tree with his hand and cried out from an unexpected sensation on his skin.
You see, when they collected the sap, they were under strict instructions NOT TO TOUCH IT so that it wouldn’t be contaminated. This was the first time my son had touched sap.
We looked at the sap dripping down the bark of the tree, and I wondered aloud who had made the hole. I asked my son, what kind of animal might dig into it to find the food inside?
“A squirrel!” he exclaimed. “Hey guys! Guys! Guess what I found!” He ran ahead to try to convince his siblings to turn around and check out the tree.
Now, the other kids didn’t retrace their steps (“No! Let’s keep going!”), and my son got pretty annoyed when he realized that he couldn’t wipe all the sap from his skin with a Wet One, but it was a great lesson.
Prior to the closure, my son’s classroom had begun boiling the sap they collected in pursuit of maple syrup, and their teacher continued the process at home, sending us a picture of tasty topping that the class would all hope to enjoy once they are together again.
We don’t know when that will be. Maybe in the fall? Hopefully in the fall.
But for now, we do (home) school.
Here you will find a catalog of my writing and reflections.