Learn317

Home » Our Story

Category Archives: Our Story

Learning To Walk In Wisdom

Originally Posted September 2014

It’s been a busy few weeks, but we are now well into 7th grade. He’s had his first quizzes and exams. He has had his first football game. He appears to be doing well and to be enjoying himself. But I will say that after only 2.5 weeks of being back in school, he is uncharacteristically comfortable to have a lazy Saturday at home. He even passed on racing MX this weekend. This tells me many things.

  • His new schedule and commitments are stretching him.
  • He still needs his quiet time.

Neither of these things surprises me as my child is a lot like his parents. Quiet time calms the nerves. 🙂 He has taken on quite a bit of responsibility this year. He has played football before but it was a weekend league that was not connected to his school. This time around it’s at the middle-school level and his teammates, classmates, teachers, and coaches are all connected. When he was in 5th grade and played in a league only a handful of other players at school even knew he was on the team. Now, his classmates show up to the games and his coaches are also his teachers.

Football2014Wide

Right now, it looks like he’s enjoying all of this, even as he is managing himself so that he can rise to the occasion. The fact that he chose not to race this weekend, in order to rest and to keep from risking injury (his words) after getting dehydrated in Thursday’s game, tells me that he is committed to his teammates in a manner that demonstrates maturity and wisdom. Goodness knows we’ve been praying that he walk in wisdom. –cd

A New Year A New Person (7th Grade)

Originally Posted August 2014

For many of us, it’s time for our kids to return to school. If your household is anything like ours, you and your kids might have mixed feelings about this time of year. Our schools are now complex environments that can be very tough to navigate–especially once kids enter middle school or junior high school.

For all of the attention we give to the quality and/or adequacy of public education, there is little said regarding what plays out socially in our schools. While my husband and I feel well equipped to help our 12-yr old achieve academically; the social side of things is another world altogether.

We had a rough year last year. Our son nearly drowned in a school that was too big and culturally different from what he had experienced previously. In short, he was not ready for the social dynamic created by large numbers of kids and teachers with varying values, cultures, standards, and personalities. This caught my husband and I both off guard as we have always been in very diverse environments. Or have we?

As academics we have raised our sons in very open, accepting, globally-focused environments. Even when we lived in small towns we were surrounded by other academics who basically had the same general values. We had different religions, different beliefs, and different approaches to life, living, and raising our kids. BUT, what we all had in common was a respect for our differences and an open acceptance that allowed people to be who they chose to be–period. Unless someone was hurting someone else, we were fine with each individual being a unique package and contributing in his or her own unique way to our little community. Some were introverts, some extraverts. Some were dancers, some musicians. Some scholar/athletes, some just scholars. Many traveled, some chose not to travel. Some who worshipped a higher power, some who didn’t. But in the end, we all respected the rights of others to choose who and what they wanted to be/become.

Through a series of complicated circumstances, our son entered middle school in a community that operates a bit differently. He ran into stereotypes, overt racism, elitist behavior, entitlement, and a number of other things he’d never before seen in such concentrated doses. He struggled beyond belief to understand survival in an environment that at times played by rules he had never been exposed to and at other times appeared to have no rules in place until after the fact. He made many mistakes and regularly operated on the wrong assumptions. He imitated behavior he should have found disturbing. He watched behavior we wish he had reported. He fought back when he should have given in and gave in when we wished he had fought back. In the end, he learned many valuable lessons and finished the year a better person for all he experienced. We spent a good deal of the summer helping him understand the role of emotional intelligence in surviving socially and reinforcing what he believes personally as compared to what he saw play out in the classrooms and halls at school.

2014Montre

He’s excited to return to school. We all know this year will be better because we are different people than we were last year—to include the people he will reunite with in the halls and classrooms of his school. But even if he runs into the same circumstances this year and people who didn’t change over the summer, he knows what he’s walking into and he’s looking forward to navigating more successfully and maintaining his values independent of what he sees. He’s no longer a little boy. He’s a young man. He’s a young man with some experience under his belt, a renewed sense of self-respect, and an understanding of the need for street smarts in the halls of his suburban middle school. He’s a 7th grader. -cd

Bittersweet Chocolate

A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit the portion of Germany that was once (not so long ago) Communist East Germany. It was an awesome trip and my husband, son, and I had a wonderful time. We visited cathedrals and castles, ate schnitzel, rode the train through the countryside and shopped at malls that rivaled those we visit so regularly here in Indiana. When thinking back on the trip there is just one experience that comes to mind bringing with it mixed feelings.

One day of our trip was spent in the town of Halle to include a visit to the Halloren Schokoladenfabrik (chocolate factory). As stated on the English version of their website, The Halloren Schokoladenfabrik is the oldest producing chocolate factory in Germany; dating back to 1804.

Now, I will be the first to state that being given a personal tour of a chocolate factory would be on my list of things to do in any country. But not only is this particular factory open to the public for tours, it also houses a chocolate museum that, along with our tour guide, provided a thorough education for the 3 of us. To say that the history of the factory was interesting would be an egregious understatement. Here’s a quick list of some of the interesting facts we took away from the experience.

– Just because they will let you take a tour, you shouldn’t assume you can take photos of the actual factory – in the museum fine; but not in the factory.

– The factory’s main product is the Halloren Kugeln. This yummy treat comes in a wide variety of flavors and is shaped like the buttons found on the uniforms of the guild of salt workers.

– In 1933 the owner of the company had to change the name of the company from David Sonne to Mignon Schokoladenwerke. It was said that the name David was too Jewish for him to be allowed to… Later the name was changed to Halloren Schokoladenfabrik. Although I knew these things from a historical perspective, it was hard to hear this man’s particular story.

– Chocolate had to be sold in the “underground” during WWII.

As fascinating as these things were to me, none of them struck me in the same manner as the story/conversation that went along with the photo accompanying this post.

Bittersweet Chocolate

Bittersweet Chocolate

At first, I was having a good time with my son and wondering why the little girl mannequin had on crooked hair. Then our host/guide began sharing the story behind the display with the school children. You see the mannequins of the school children represented a program that was put into place to bring school-aged children into the factory. It was a formal program that included training and uniforms as shown here in the photo with my son and the mannequins. The program was designed to introduce the children selected to the chocolate factory and groom them to work there as adults.

As I look back, the tone and detail with which our host shared this story was filled with joy and wonder and pride in the rich history of the factory. But that day, while standing there taking photos of my child with the little mannequins of the communist children who were being groomed to work in the chocolate factory, the joy and wonder was lost on me. This was compounded by the fact that our host was speaking more directly to my son than me. While my son was being perfectly polite and listening to a unique history lesson I was sorting through the smiles and facts and reasoning my way through the story to come my own democracy-filtered conclusions.

As our host finished his story and I came simultaneously to the end of my reasoning we turned to face one another only to feel as if we were standing on opposite sides of the wall that had been torn down nearly 3 decades ago. He saw the mortified look on my face just as I saw the pride in his. It didn’t matter that we were both well-educated professionals who understood where the other was coming from. For a split second he was a German man who had grown up in Communist East Germany and I was an African-American woman who had grown up in a land where we’re taught that the sky is the limit. We both self corrected immediately but for the rest of the day our interactions were ever so slightly strained. Not enough for anyone else to notice. But we knew what had taken place.

Later in the day while heading to Hauptbanhopf Halle to catch the train back to Magdeburg we came upon a series of those iconic tall, plain, gray apartments so often associated by westerners with communism. Many of these communist apartment blocks have been torn down; but several were still standing in Halle and even with major refab they were still a stark reminder of how recently the wall had come down.

I regularly talk with parents who are trying to figure out how to communicate to their kids how fortunate they are to have the opportunities that they take so for granted. I am faced with the same challenges with my son. I know that one day I will share this story with him and show him the photo of him smiling as he sits with the factory-bound communist children/mannequins without knowing what they represent and how different their existence was from his. Maybe I’ll even order some Halloren Kugeln candies so that we can experience the sweet while discussing the bittersweet. -cd