The Class of 2023

Congratulations to Riley, Mishayla, Natalie, Louisa, Raven, Nico, Hamish, Jaden, and tens of thousands of other young people who crossed the stage to receive their high school diplomas last month. The challenges they face are numerous, but we have had conversations with these eight young people, and they are ready to find their place in the world of adults. It is inspiring to know them and in the case of our beloved grandson, Jaden, to have had the privilege to be involved in his life since he was born.

Challenges for the class of 2023

This class entered high school as ninth graders and were sent home after spring break as their world morphed into the unknown world territory of pandemic. Everything around them was closing and in chaos at precisely the time young people were meant to expand and reach out. The norms they and their parents took for granted were gone. Flexibility became an essential survival skill.

As high school juniors, they re-entered their school buildings wearing masks and working to re-establish relationships, extracurricular activities, and some sense of academic normalcy. By the end of 2021 most mask requirements were dropped. But trust takes time to re-establish.  Patterns don’t happen overnight. We must not take for granted the individual courage and determination this generation of students called upon to succeed in graduating from high school.

Graduation at Culver City High School

Jaden and his parents, Joe and Sally

When we entered the football stadium where Jaden’s graduation took place, I looked around at the crowd of caps and gowns and their proud families. Tears welled up in my eyes. More than a half century ago I was walking across a high school stage in southern Minnesota. And just like these young people, I was eager to take the next steps in my own life. It was the Viet Nam war era. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy would both be assassinated the following spring. There was chaos around me, but my focus was on finding my place in the world. And walking into that stadium on that cool June morning in Los Angeles the words of our grandson somewhere in the sea of blue gowns and gold tassels rang in my ears.

When asked how he felt about graduation, he responded, “I am excited to be going to college, to meet new people, to see another part of my state.”

He is not focused specifically on the challenges of politics in his own country, the war in Ukraine, climate change, racial conflict. He is aware of these things, but focused on the next steps he can take in his life—succeeding in his new summer job, planning for college orientation in the fall, thinking about what his major might be. And that is exactly what we need him to be doing. We have always needed the exuberance, energy, and skill of young people to come along side those of us who are older and more worn down by the challenges of life.

Graduates listening to speeches

Jaden’s grandparents and father in the stadium, photo by Sally, Jaden’s mother

The field was filled with students of every race and ethnicity mingling around looking for friends. High fives and hugs were caught by cell phone cameras by parents and family members bubbling with excitement and pride. After the audience was seated in the football stadium bleachers, the class of 2023 walked onto the center of the field to the recorded notes of “Pomp and Circumstance”. We all stood. Some of us cheered. Some of us shed tears. The time-honored ritual of high school graduation had begun.

The ritual of high school graduation

In most communities this ritual includes processing into a stadium to the song “Pomp and Circumstance”, the wearing of caps and gowns with school colors, speeches by some faculty and students, a march across a stage to receive a high school diploma, the throwing of caps into the air, and a recessional. There is comfort in this continuity—a sense that the world is progressing as we have known it.

Another important aspect of a rite of passage is the presence of family and community to witness the ceremony. Jaden’s parents, sister, and four grandparents (Washington state, Minnesota, and California) came to participate. My sister, Margaret, and her son, Frank, flew in from North Carolina. His aunt drove in from east Los Angeles. This widespread presence signaled to Jaden that we take seriously this achievement.

Jaden’s mom, Sally, Aunt Margaret and cousin Frank from N.C. at the Griffith Observatory

Jaden and cousin Frank touring LA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jaden opening a card at his graduation party

Jaden and sister Sasha at the graduation party

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had a wonderful weekend of good food, games, tours, and important conversations. At his afternoon graduation party, Jaden called his own circle and asked those present to share a strength they see in him and something he needs to improve as he makes this big step. Each person’s comments and the accompanying stories spoke volumes about the esteem this young man is held in by those closest to him.

Grandpa Joe and Aunt Juell

Living room set-up for Jaden’s graduation circle and party

 

 

 

 

 

 

The graduation cake

Kudos to Jaden and his family

To Sally and Joe—congratulations! A parenting job extremely well done.

Be well, Jaden. Thank you for being such an eager participant in our Whidbey Island Granny camps all these years, for allowing us to help with the college application and choosing process, and for speaking so openly to us from the time you were a young boy.

Do good work  in the world. Your communication skills, work ethic and moral compass are deeply needed. Sonoma State University is lucky to have you as an incoming freshman and you will learn a lot in return.

Ann wearing the Sonoma State University t-shirt, photo by Christina Baldwin

P.S. To read about the road trip we took, driving 2,838 miles to the graduation, read Christina’s blog:https://christinabaldwin.com/road-trip-hello-again-hello/

 

A surprise

It is a warm, sunny Monday afternoon in mid-May on the lawn outside South Whidbey Elementary School. Our group of two teachers, a dozen first and second graders, and myself as a volunteer are sitting on the lawn in a squiggly shaped circle. We have spent the last two hours visiting their pollinator garden, reading a book, and writing in journals.

Visiting the pollinator garden the students have established in the back of their school—with the help of fifth graders.

The book the class is reading together.

Writing in a journal at day’s end. (Children’s faces purposely obscured.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fifteen minutes before the close of the school day it is time for the daily check out circle. Their teacher, Miss Ristoff, reviewed behaviors for circle. One child volunteered to lead. Another placed a water bottle filled with picked daisies for the center. Another child suggested everyone say names so I can remember them.

Centerpiece of our circle: a water bottle of picked English daisies.

He began our round of checkout by saying his name, his nick name, and his age. The child next to him passed, not yet ready to speak, and the twig being used as a talking piece went to the next child. “My name is Evan. My nickname is “Ev” and I am 7.3 years old.” By the time the talking stick reached me, nearly everyone has checked in.

“My name is Ann and because it is such a short name, I don’t have a nick name. And I am 73 years old.” I saw some raised eyebrows on the other side of the circle. The girl sitting next to me said quietly, “That’s older than my grandmother.” Smiling, I leaned over to her and responded, “I am a grandmother.” And then I passed the talking piece on.

I can’t stop smiling. For the past several decades I have lead PeerSpirit circles in places ranging from hospitals to university classrooms to non-profit board rooms in many different countries. Nobody in this circle knows or cares. They are just present to their own circle, as they should be.

The closing round of the talking piece is a response to the question, “What is a ‘glow’(something that went well) and what is a ‘grow’ (something that could have gone better) from today that you experienced?”

It is now ten minutes to 3 p.m. and some of the students in other classes are beginning to file out of the building. Yet, the two teachers maintained calm as the natural twitch factor of first and second graders began to ramp up.

First and Second grade teacher Caris Ristoff setting up the journal writing exercise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alternative Learning Experience teacher, Andi Kopit, reading a book to the students.

“OK, everyone stand up and do either five somersaults or five jumping jacks,” said Ms.Ristoff. Little bodies instantly went into action. In three minutes everyone was done and sitting back in circle. It took some refocusing, but we were checked out and the students ran inside to pick up their packs a few minutes after 3 p.m. This was a masterfully held circle. Perfect in its timing, respect for individual voices, and content.

I had volunteered to spend an afternoon with the students so they would better know me when I came to be part of their field trip later in the month to visit a blooming prairie. I should have guessed that the students and their teachers would be familiar with circle. However, I had no idea that sitting in a circle with them would be such a poignant reminder to me of the power of circle.

These youngsters are being raised to understand and love the natural world around them. And they are being raised to listen and respect one another. This bodes well for the future of the world around them. And as a complete bonus, two of them gave me a hug on their way into the building!

Our Animals Help Us Be Better Humans

Blue-eyed girls, photo by Christina Baldwin

 

Daily our little blue-eyed corgi helps me be a better human. By doing the things she loves, I become a happier, healthier, kinder person. Having a dog makes sure that I tend to the following:

Plan time outdoors every day.

 Share love and affection and, of course, snacks.

Pay attention to needs other than your own.

Offer kindness.

Be curious.

It seems so simple really. Yet we humans can get involved with matters of consequence and overlook or minimize these basic tenets of a good life. But our pets, be they dogs, cats, horses, birds, guinea pigs or something more exotic, thrive on these things. And so do we!

Because Vivi is only two years old, she needs a LOT of exercise—which is very good for us. Two good walks a day of at least two miles. Time in the big, fenced yard of her best friend, who also happens to be a corgi, racing around flat out  with no leash. Lots of time on the floor playing with stuffy toys and keeping her two 70+ year-olds flexible. And did I mention race and chase? Her favorite indoor game is to be there when the laundry comes out of the dryer and steal a -falling sock or underpants that then requires a fun romp and keep-away around the living room. Such good laughter for us two serious humans.

The laundry helper stealing a dropped sock. photo by Christina Baldwin

Come get me. I know you want your sock!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vivi loves meeting people— especially children. She does a hilarious belly crawl as she approaches them—as if a short corgi needs to make herself even shorter so as not to intimidate little children. People always laugh and ask what she is doing. We explain that she wants to meet them, and this is her greeting crawl. During the pandemic, when meetings with passersby have been reduced, her six-foot leash is just the right social distance and her friendliness a wonderful bridge builder. We call her our little Minister of Joy. There are, of course, people who simply ignore Vivi and walk on by. She watches to see if they are dog aware or not, almost shrugs her little corgi shoulders and then heads onto her next interaction.

 

Always on the lookout for something new and interesting!

 

Regularity of schedule and pattern provide a secure rhythm to our days. Yet, Vivi is always “up” for something spontaneous—like the surprise appearance of a squirrel on the feeder or a neighbor who stops for a chat during a walk. (Honestly, I am quite sure that most neighbors in the next community over have no clue what my name is—I am just the one who walks that cute tri-colored corgi named Vivi.)

At the end of their weekly Medicine Walk in our local state park, Ann writes in her journal and Vivi remains alert.

 

As a longtime wilderness guide, I have incorporated two practices from guiding into my life: a weekly Medicine Walk and a daily Sit Spot. (A Medicine Walk is more about being than doing. It is a walk with intention to seek greater awareness and guidance.) Vivi has made this easy. She loves our Medicine Walk. She gets to sniff as much as she likes and when she stops to notice something, I stop to try and perceive what she sees,  hears, smells, or senses. Always she knows when someone is coming well before I am aware of their presence. Walking alongside our perky little pup, I pause as often as she does and listen to the forest. May I do this the rest of the years of my life. It will surely take that long to perceive both the underground symphonies of resonance and the above ground harmony of sensory overload.

Winter Sit Spot on our front porch, photo by Christina Baldwin

 

The other nature-based practice that Vivi helps me honor is the Sit Spot. When dusk comes, she comes to find me until we head out the front door and sit on the porch together.  On a near daily basis, here are some of our gifts—eagles coming into roost, the last flickers at the feeder, or a surprise clearing of the mountains just in time for sunset.

I cannot end this blog without sharing the journey of two dear friends who walked their 15-year-old chihuahua/Italian greyhound to her final breath this week. They did so with beauty and attention, taking care of their “old lady” as she aged. After she had a stroke, they stopped everything for three days and simply prioritized her needs and their own. Tootsie has been on every hike and camping trip we’ve taken with them all these years—an adventuresome little dynamo. We will all miss her. Tootsie helped them be their best possible selves. She deserved no less.

Tootsie in the last week of her life. Photo by Nicole Luce

 

Would love to hear some of your own stories about how your pet helps you be a better human in this complex world we live in.

Henry Beston’s famous quote from The Outermost House:

For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear.”