It’s all Greek to me

No Torah Study for me today. After last week’s Jewish Journal article in which I gushed about Rabbi Bernstein’s Friday morning ancient-history-philosophy-religion-mythology-spirituality-and-parenting seminar, I felt sheepish to miss today. I had wanted to go, but at the last minute the second graders needed one more driver for their field trip. I hadn’t said yes the first time the call for drivers came out, because the idea of an 8-12 field trip seemed too much of a commitment. But I had a car, I could make the time, so I raised my hand and said I’d do it.

Thank goodness. I was headed to the Getty Villa with fifty second-graders. Talk about ancient-history-philosophy-religion-mythology-spirituality-and-parenting skills. Have you tried to corral rambunctious seven- and eight-year-old boys through a palace of priceless sculpture?

The morning was filled with many pleasures, however, not least of which was the drive. It was the first time I’d needed the third row of my Toyota RAV4. This is a big deal to me. I chose this car in anticipation of our move to Venice. Guessing that parents wouldn’t relish having to drive their kids from the old neighborhood to our new house, I bought a practical, 3rd row SUV so I could take everyone. This was instead getting a wildly impractical but super fun convertible, which would seat just us four! I repeat, I gave up a convertible in order to ferry many children. And this is the first time I have ferried. Bitter? Not at all.

Listening to the five boys in my car was another highlight. It wasn’t the topic (Lego Ninjago, which was pretty funny) as much as the passion they brought to it. And their jokes. And the screeching laughter. Their excitement was electric. All it took was being out of their normal, run-of-the-mill classroom environment, on an adventure. Leaving behind routine is implicitly awesome. That’s why I love travel.

Finally there was the Getty Villa itself. Our docent, Rick, carried a children’s book of Greek Mythology with him, which he read from to make the art come alive. He told them the story of Herakles slaying a lion, strangling it with his sheer strength, then brought them to the statue of Herakles holding a lion skin, a statue which inspired J. Paul Getty to build the whole museum.

Second graders reenact the lion slaying.

He sat the kids in front of an ancient stone mosaic floor with a Medusa in its center, and then he read the story of Perseus slaying Medusa. Now that stone mosaic meant something. The same with a sculpture of sirens. Yeah, these may have been cool to look at for a minute or two, what with their bird legs and feathers on the bottom, female bodies on top. But add to that the story of Orpheus sitting on a boat and playing his instrument (the original “guitar hero” in Rick’s words) in order to drown out the sound of their tempting, dangerous singing and thereby save the lives of the sailors, well, now the kids were hooked.

I loved hearing how much my son knew about the Greek myths. He raised his hand to answer all sorts of questions: “What power did Medusa have?” “What did a siren do?” “What is a sickle?” I give thanks to author Rick Riordan for writing the Percy Jackson books, and to whomever wrote and illustrated the Greek Mythology comic book Emmett has been reading in the school library. I give thanks for school libraries.

(This sounds like a good time to plug Proposition 30. And 38. Field trips. School libraries. Books in schools. Please vote for them. If you want to phone bank for them, call me up and we’ll go together.)

I give thanks for the opportunity to see him in his element, to get out of my own normal, Friday routine and experience some surprise, and to be reminded of the power of stories to capture imaginations. Which is, after all, what Torah is all about. Our stories — heros, villains, folly, morality. The human experience of the supernatural.

Okay, then. Chew on that. Class dismissed. Have a great weekend.

Playing Hooky: What Killer Whales and Floor Hockey Have in Common

“We went whale watching and we didn’t see any whales, Papa!” Emmett reported to his grandfather this morning, a day after our family played hooky to catch the grey whale migration. Whale watching was high on the list of “stuff to do in 2012” that Emmett came up with as 2011 faded into its final midnight. And while I get queasy from looking at a boat moored to a dock, whale watching sounded cool, and I did not want to miss seeing Emmett and Aaron seeing their first whales.

Their Dad’s January birthday seemed the perfect opportunity to look for gray whales moving toward warmer waters to have their babies. No matter that the birthday fell on a school day — all the better! I am a proponent of playing hooky – with one caveat: I can’t shush my inner voice that says there ought to be some kind of enriching element to it. God forbid we take a day to goof off. (Not all moms are so serious. I have a friend whose mom took him out of school every time a new Star Wars movie came out, so they could be at the very first screening on the very first day. That is ultra cool. I am who I am.)

That said, I’m getting better. Rather than sending the boys to school for two hours before our expedition, as we’d planned, I let them sleep in. (I warned them they’d better remember how nice I was being, even as I heard my words detracting from said niceness.) We spent the morning playing 2-on-2 floor hockey. Kids beat parents in a nail-biter, 15-14. Then it was off to Long Beach, for a three-hour tour that left all of us a little woozy by the end.

Back to this morning. “You didn’t see any whales?” Papa asked Emmett, puzzled.

“Nope.” Emmett smiled, his too-big-for-his-face front teeth separated by a gaping space, a beautiful smile that will someday be ruined by a well-meaning orthodontist and parental co-conspirators.


“Weren’t you on a whale watching boat?” Papa pressed.

“Yep.” That smile again.

“What did you see?” Papa continued the friendly direct examination.

“We saw all kinds of sea animals!” Emmett exploded. “Sea lions, two kinds of dolphins, and the most rare kind of animal ever seen in the water …” he paused for dramatic effect… “ORCAS!”

He looked at me for confirmation. I nodded, adding “The naturalist said she’d only seen this kind twice in 25 years.”

“Wow. But, aren’t those whales?” Papa asked Emmett.

“No…they’re dolphins!” Emmett shouted his punchline. Then he lowered his eyelids, gave a lips-closed self-satisfied smile, and turned to go find his brother.

The absence note I gave his teacher this morning said, “Please excuse Emmett’s absences on January 18 due to illness, and January 19 due to a home school field trip.” (I didn’t mention the floor hockey.) I wasn’t sure how his teacher would take the “field trip” excuse. For a fleeting moment I considered saying he was sick both days and leaving it at that. But honesty, and I confess, a measure of pride, held sway. It’ a good thing, too. The first thing his teacher said to me this morning was, through her broad smile, “Was Emmett well enough to go whale watching yesterday?”

“Yes,” I replied, my own broad smile covering my relief. Without me knowing, he’d outed us days before, his anticipation for the whale watching too big to contain. As big as the whales we didn’t see.