Conversations with Kids · Education · Family life · Growing Up New Hampshire · literacy · Local · Mom is Doing Her Best · Nature-Based Learning

An Ode to Squirrels, 8th Graders, and Middle School Teachers

She came home with this yesterday from school so clearly squirrels are on her mind…

If you haven’t heard, here in New England there is an ABUNDANCE of SQUIRRELS.   They have been pictured happily swimming across lakes and sadly squished along highways.  In a recent trip to southern NH, we counted 15 in about three miles on the interstate.  Needless to say, the carnage has captured our children’s interest.  “Mom, there’s another dead squirrel. And there’s another.”

I want to reply, “Damn, that’s a whole lot of dead squirrels in the world,” but I don’t; instead I use the information I’ve been reading in the news about the fact there are not more dead squirrels in the ratio of living and dying squirrels.  There is just an abundance of squirrels due to a crazy crop of acorns and pine cones.  Apparently, this food source helped a lot of baby squirrels survive the cold winter.  So, it appears that more are dying than usual because they are scurrying around trying to store up for the winter, if that makes sense in regular, non wildlife biologist language.

In an unfortunate turn of events, we were biking as a family along the Franconia State Park path, and I was following our daughter  aged 7.  I saw the squirrel make a run for it and connect with her back wheel; before I could swerve out of the way, my front wheel connected with it mid air, and he rolled off into the woods.  Never saw that happen before.  Greta was horrified.  “Mom, we should check on it.  What if he is hurt?”

I wanted to say, “Honey, he is more than hurt; he is probably grossly disfigured by not one but two bicycle wheel impacts.”  Mommy doesn’t have the knowledge to fix a squirrel.  I wanted to tell her he was probably dead already and would become food for someone else, the carrion of life, the circle continues.  Instead, I lied like all good parents when trying to protect their kid from something terrible.  I told her he went into the woods over here, not over there where he actually rolled, and, “Oh, hey, looks like he may have just been stunned because there is no injured squirrel here.  Thank goodness, he is probably headed back home now, grateful to have escaped with his life.”

I’m not trying to draw any deep, dark connections to teenagers with suicide or drug use or texting while driving or drinking while driving or the “run of the mill” assumed carelessness of youth.  Instead, I wanted to tell you about this remarkable film called Eighth Grade which just came out.  A few teachers saw it together at the Flying Monkey in Plymouth, NH and between dodging the dead squirrels on the high way and replaying this film over and over again in my mind, I almost didn’t make it home.  Check out the trailer on their official website, and you too might be sucked in as I was regarding the main character  Kayla Day played by Elsie Fisher in Eighth Grade.

There is also this fabulous page on their website where people, famous and regular folks alike, have uploaded their 8th grade yearbook photo.  This was not a good year for me personally; actually I truly wish I could visit the Heather Ehrman from 6th-9th grade to give her a dose of what I know now to be true about confidence and courage.  That’s why watching Kayla Day relive those challenging days of adolescence almost made me feel like I had suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.    I’m a teacher; I recognize the TRAUMA every day when teenagers are suffering from a pain I can’t fix.  But to watch the scene unfold of at a popular girl’s pool party, a party Kayla forces herself to attend because her dear, sweet, loving dad thinks it would be good for her to “put herself out there socially” and she agrees–sort of  but is tortured also- just about killed me.  Oh, to be her dad, a single dad doing his best to be available to listen to her questions or problems or worries.  He thinks he says the right thing, yet they both flounder in dealing with her feelings about being a teenager who only wants to be the confident courageous version she portrays on her Youtube self help videos which gain only one or two views.  The movie is rated R for obvious reasons once you watch, so please view first prior to thinking it’s a good one to watch as a family.

No, I’m not saying eighth graders are like squirrels, running into traffic without thinking.  Instead, these middle school kids who face their peer group each day sometimes THINK more than any other demographic.  It’s the only thing they have control of really– of what is happening inside their brains. And to those of you in the world of education who spend your days teaching or coaching middle school children/young adults, we honor you.  Imagine the “Kaylas” and “Kevins” in your own house or in your school- or my own kiddos later in middle school, maybe crying in the office or openly in the hallway, slamming doors at home, “putting themselves out there” too.  I pray there will still be those compassionate middle school teachers using reassuring, low tones, letting them know they are there and not alone, asking the question: What do you need?   We do our best to protect all of our kids–whether from themselves, the teenage years, or the abundance of scurrying squirrels in the road.




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