Well, the neighborhood boys eventually brought the bicycles back last weekend. They had borrowed Ann's vintage female bike and also borrowed the little mongoose BMX bike, one that needed a new inner tube. They told Ann they thought she would be mad, and she told them that yes, she did expect them to bring them back as promised. They had replaced one of the inner tubes on the mongoose, and we've thanked them for that. I think my plan is to give them the price of a new inner tube from Wal-Mart; it makes no sense for us to feel obligated to them for fixing something we never asked them to fix when they hadn't asked to borrow the bike anyway. The rest of this week they have returned the BMX bike faithfully, but we're now telling them that we don't want to lend out the girl's bike any more. Ann is worried they are jumping ramps with it and it is cool bike that she can wear with a skirt. Such a strange situation. If we'd never let them borrow the bike, we probably would have had no further contact with them. So it is bittersweet, but just being realistic about it, we don't have a great deal of time to form relationships with them during the school year.
Our lives have been much more typical in Mississippi than they were in Missouri. By "typical" I mean the usually overplanned kind of back-to-back activity-filled lives that my friends whose kids play sports tell me about. I always had this feeling in St. Louis that things were temporary. Even during years in St. Louis when I was thinking "I want to live here for the rest of my life" I just didn't feel settled. There is a settled-ness to my life in Starkville that makes me feel less anxious and more willing to get the boys involved in things. Nathan went from belonging to zero after school activities to now being in the Boy Scouts, Jazz Band, robotics club, and debate club. Charlie is also in the Boy Scouts. Perhaps it is also the drive time. There is no activity in Starkville that is more than 7 minutes away.
I went to the first meeting of the robotics club with Nathan. His school is involved in BEST robotics, which is sponsored by Auburn University. I was really hoping they would do FIRST robotics, founded by one of my heroes, Dean Kamen. I asked the teacher here why they didn't do FIRST and she said it came down to money. 5k to have a team, plus all the travel expenses. Thing is, when you go to the FIRST website you see that there are millions of dollars in scholarships for the taking for anyone who participated in FIRST. They also have guaranteed paid co-op positions at big engineering companies for FIRST kids. Hopefully BEST will be a source of opportunity too, but just judging by the website, it seems more like a regional thing. Anyway, my kids will get half off at Mississippi State since I'm on staff, so that's probably where they'll go unless they get a full ride somewhere else. And the teacher assured me that all the southern schools know about BEST and respect it.
Today is the big MSU vs. Auburn game in Starkville and Ann's sister and her husband, both Auburn grads, are here for the game. We aren't going to the game itself (the tickets were 60 bucks a pop even for staff) but we'll listen to the game on the radio and hang out here. Early this morning I took the boys to Reed's clothing store on main street in Starkville to try on Boy Scout uniform shirts. The troop here gives them shirts for free, which is really generous because they aren't cheap. But I don't know their sizes, so trying them on was the only way to go, short of just guessing. I felt so guilty trying on the shirts for size knowing that we weren't buying them, and I told this to the salesperson. Whenever I'm in a store just to look, I always make it a point to tell the salespeople that I'm a looky lu and that they don't need to waste their time on me. I really hate inconveniencing salespeople. It's also why I try never to touch glass when I'm in stores or in the mall because you know that someone has to clean all those smudges.
I've been listening to the first Harry Potter book in the car on my 5 minute commute, and it is so great to be back in the middle of Rowling's language and humor. The humor is something you wouldn't get in the movies, so be sure to read Harry Potter if you haven't. But listening to these books again gave me a strange admiration for the Dursely family. Yes, the Dursely family is comical and rightly mocked, but I admire the way that they have an unqualified belief that Dudley is the finest boy who ever lived and that their house and their family and their yard is the greatest in all of England. Just once, I would like to know what it feels like to be blindly proud of something in my life. There is a terrible, suppressive realism that creeps into every positive thought I have. I realized this while hearing Mr. Dursely say it was the proudest moment of his life to see Dudley in his Smeltings uniform. If I made a statement like that, I would immediately feel guilty - would I be slighting something that someone in the room thought should have been my proudest moment? Would another child be listening and think I was judging his proud moments inferior? Even my Ph.D. diploma. I hung it on the wall, but every time I see it, I remember all the inconvenience to other people that it represents. At this point it is like a grand jape or a monument to my hard-headedness.
It has been fun to have access to a university library again. This week I got two books on the 19th century and all the changes to religion and hymnody in America during that period. You could take all the hymn tunes out of the hymnal that were composed between 1840 and 1905 and I wouldn't miss them one wit. Half of them are lullabies, which are great if you are trying to sing a child to sleep, but not if you're trying to storm the gates.
I think this period of hymn writing, here early in the 21st century, with all the RUF adaptations of songs, will probably be remembered as a very gloomy period in church songwriting. Most the RUF tunes are replacing tunes that were great for vigorous corporate singing and that had the right mood for Sunday morning worship. The RUF tunes I've been hearing are slow, contemplative, even morose. The happy has left the clappy. Hopefully that will change, but it will take people experiencing vigorous psalm-like hymn singing with the good 18th century tunes in order to be inspired to make new ones like that. Yet all the PCA churches seem to be capitulating to the desire to use RUF tunes in worship, and so it is hard for the students to get a different exposure to hymns on Sunday. RUF tunes from informal contexts on Thursday night are being brought into Sunday worship without much regard for whether they really "work" in that context. Don't get me wrong, they are preferable to slow gospel songs from the 19th century, but "better" is the enemy of "best" in this case.
Well, gotta run try to make even the smallest dent in the to-do list that is my personal life. Work has been very challenging and tiring and at night I have been about one tenth as productive as I used to be.