Taking Time to Learn the Basics

Wow, what a year it's been...

Two years ago, I was accepted into a doctoral program at the University of Central Florida. Eighteen credits and roughly 14,112 miles later, I am just now approaching a conclusion to my coursework. I will have fifteen more credit hours to complete in the fall and spring of next year, in addition to the six I am taking this summer.

I was one of just a very few that was awarded a competitive sabbatical by my employer, Florida State College at Jacksonville, which will expire in August. I'm truly thankful for the College's support in helping me return to the classroom. None of this would have been possible without the College's help. FSCJ also reimburses tuition, so the College has definitely placed a premium on investing in its employees.

It's been a great year for us, all in all, but we've also had some rough patches along the way. Numerous health issues for Jeanne and me (I just got the bill for the eight stitches I received in my foot--$5500, and that's not even including the doctor's fees...thank goodness for decent insurance!) sapped our patience and our savings. We're not destitute by any stretch, but I'm sure looking forward to a prolonged period without tests and doctor's fees and ER visits, that's for sure.

I was told I would likely have work for the summer if I wanted it, and I certainly did want to work, given the diminished earning potential that comes with a sabbatical, but enrollments are down throughout Florida and UCF had nothing to offer the teaching assistants (actually, a lot of full-time faculty are having a hard time making their loads, from what I hear...). Because of the nature of the sabbatical, I couldn't work anywhere but UCF, so that means I'm home for the summer.

Which leads me to my next blessing. I have such a sweet daughter, and what a pleasure it has been to be with her every day this summer! We took her out of school, of course, since Dad was staying home. And since the first day of summer, we've had a tremendous time in learning from each other.

Here is a picture of her that I snapped earlier:

The object she is holding represents part of our attempt to learn to read and write. We're keeping a botanical journal this summer, and Lyla is writing down the names of the plants before drawing them and collecting a specimen for pressing and presenting in her pages. It's a codex text, but she may digitize a few pages when it's all said and done. We've been to the Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens just about every single day of the summer. 

When I took her out of school, I told we had two goals to accomplish over the next three months: we needed to learn how to swim and how to read. So far, so good on both fronts. We're reading our first chapter book together (The Boxcar Children) and practicing our letters every day. Lyla can swim about fifteen meters without any problems. She's learning a modified crawl stroke, and she's starting to tread water. When she gets her breathing down, we'll challenge the test to get a green necklace, which comes with the all-important deep-end privileges (we're talking water slides here, folks). 

We're also learning a lot about Florida's fish and reptile populations. Every time we visit the Arboretum, we bring bread to feed the birds, turtles, and fish. We almost always see a snake or three, and there have been cormorants and ducks and all kinds of neat birds. 

Here's a banded water snake we saw earlier:
Our routine is a lot of fun, and it's been productive for us both. We get up together (Lyla still climbs into our bed every morning) and have breakfast and clean the house up, then head to the YMCA for some exercise (she does Kid's Cardio, which is basically an hour of dodgeball--how great is that?), then off to the pool, then over to the arboretum, then lunch and a nap. I work on my summer schoolwork (Bakhtin, Nietzsche, Foucault, Pereleman, Weaver) or write some fiction while she snoozes, then we hang out with Mom.

But you know what the best part of it has been? The best part is holding my daughter's hand and answering her questions about the world. Just in the last few days, she's asked me:
  • Dad, do trees like being trees?
  • Do clams have faces?
  • Do cats eat monkeys?
  • Did I hatch?
She's really observant, and she loves figuring out how things work and why things are the way they are. 

I also like just sitting together in the humid air, listening to the birds while she quietly works on an entry in her journal. She counts the number of leaves on a plant sometimes, just to keep things accurate.

It's so neat to see the person that she is becoming--the person that she'll be someday--in those little glimpses into the developing human. 

Jeanne's working until next Tuesday. Usually she would stay on in the summer and make some extra money as well, but the budget is lean this year in Duval County, as it will be in our home until September. Still, who cares? We'll have time together, and that's invaluable. I was a little worried when I discovered that neither of us would be working, but now I'm ecstatic that we won't be.

When else will we have that same amount of carefree time together, with our young daughter? She's learning from us, and we're learning from her, and we couldn't ask for a better situation...

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