Earlier this summer, I spent a week going to zoos. That’s because Jesse came to stay. Most of the time grandchildren come to us in a whole pile. Food flies from the freezer to the oven to the table to their stomachs. All manner of clutter collects in corners and across counters—Lego creations, sketch books, Kindle cords, rocks and sticks, kicked-off shoes, faced-down books, skateboards and scooters and the necessary tubes of wheel grease and bars of wax and wrenches to make the scooters and skateboards work. Through the house you can hear the slamming of doors and the pounding on stairs and the barrage of ack-ack-ack-ack that comes from kids talking over each other.
And this bustle brings back for me the crackling energy of the classroom, where kids push their thoughts and energies up against each other, creating new, untapped ideas.
But in all this splendid chaos, it’s possible to lose a kid. And that’s why our grandchildren take turns, coming one at a time. For that week, we concentrate on the enthusiasms of that kid.
“You know how to tell that’s a predator?” Jesse asked me at our second zoo. “Look at its eyes.”
And that’s how I learned the mnemonic device: Eyes in the front, the animal hunts. Eyes on the side, the animal hides.
Because I slowed down to one kid, I was transported into his world, marveling at the many ways insects feed: chewing and sucking and sponging and siphoning. I managed to watch buzzards feast on a dead rabbit and to look, really look at the markings on snakes and lizards and to inhale the putrid smell of the komodo dragon.
My grandchildren keep teaching me on these weeks—that you can build rabbit cages if you watch a how-to video, that skate parks are all around me and that wonderful, risk-taking kids use them, that you can have just as much fun staying home all week and stretching the dining room table way out to build a gigantic Lego city, that doing logic puzzles down on the floor in front of the fireplace is a fine way to spend the afternoon.
I couldn’t do this often in a classroom full of middle school kids, take the time to consider closely the interests of one student. But each time I did, I came away richer, knowing more about Saudi Arabia or mullet haircuts or black holes or how to make clapperboards or what it’s like to stutter or to put a drunk parent to bed or to already know almost everything that’s taught in class.