Adventures…

I was given the opportunity to present a session at a conference out of state last week in beautiful Moorhead, Minnesota. I’ve spent months going rounds in my head over the logistics of it, my reasons for wanting to go at all and whether or not they were the right ones, who would be adversely impacted by my leaving and how everything about this adventure would be perceived by others. In the mind of a gifted adult, these things matter greatly.

I use the word “adventures” with intention. I’m the type who has been quite afraid to do anything different the majority of her life. I was taught early on that the purpose for travel was to get to a new place to live where a job existed. There was no room for adventure or travel beyond the type that led to gainful employment. Exploration of a new place had a purpose–to locate the grocery store, doctor’s office, mechanic’s shop, bank, and going beyond a five mile radius was just silly because everything you needed was right there–that’s how cities are set up. I grew up walking to the grocery store because we didn’t have a car, not because it was nearby and it made more sense. When you went outside, it was to get somewhere specific and rarely for fun. You parked near to where you were going and didn’t “wander.” You got in and got out. Hiking or traipsing through the woods was silly–it accomplished nothing and was a waste of time. Even going to Denver, which is 45 minutes away, is seen as silly to my family–why go there for anything? So I have had an anti-adventure story in my head for a long time.

I felt ridiculous asking questions like “What the hell do you mean I have to fit my hair and beauty products in a quart sized bag and how on EARTH do they think any woman on this planet can do that with only ONE and what is the rationale behind it? Why does TSA get to decide how I pack?” I felt silly asking what going through TSA was like–the last time I was in an airport, TSA didn’t exist and your people walked you to the gate and waved from inside as you took off. (This was back when peanuts were still provided to all passengers and you hoped you got the dry roasted ones and not the honey roasted ones and kids got wings from the airline.) I felt stupid when I did finally buy my tickets and realized a $173 fare is actually $307 because you need to bring a bag with you and now you get to pay for the privilege of having luggage. I am pretty low maintenance, but I am not capable of living out of my tote-size purse for two days no matter how intentional and minimalist I am with packing.

The drama in my head over the GETTING to Minnesota expended more energy than actually going.

People gripe about air travel fairly often. Long lines, rude TSA people, being stuffed much like sardines into winged tubes capable of flight because science. Horror stories are shared on social media like sixth-grade girl gossip. I found parking in the cheap lot at DIA. I rode the shuttle without much drama, connecting with a woman who travels often for work and was headed to St. Paul for a wedding on the way in and a sweet man who was on his way home from a two week business trip in Atlanta only to be unable to find his keys and a family with two very unamused littles who still had a four hour drive to Wyoming to undertake once they found their car. TSA out of Denver was business-like, but not rude, and out of Fargo was kind and funny.

“You’re just a girl, standing in front of a TSA agent, wanting to go home, aren’t you?”

Clearly, I am an easy read.

My flights were uneventful beyond sitting with someone who knows the man I love more than anything and his shop. We talked fishing in Elevenmile and Catholicism (and recovery) and kids and hot dish. Two hours went by quickly. The captain warned of turbulence both ways, but I didn’t notice any–at least not the kind I remember from when I was young. Planes were landed like warm butter on toast–clearly all those “How to Land a Plane” YouTube videos paid off.

Leaving the airport to meet the lovely woman who would drive me to campus and dinner, I noticed how absolutely breathtaking somewhere different can be. Fargo isn’t a traditionally beautiful place, but the difference between what I’m used to and what it looks like to an outsider makes it lovely. It’s like the morning pictures a friend posts from out east every day–we are looking at the same sunrise, but her view is quite different from the prairie than mine is from inside the city. The green in Minnesota is different. It’s just more vibrant and their trees are fuller and more varied in size and type. I’m sitting on my deck and I have some fairly decent sized pine trees and some thinned aspen (snow destroyed many of the branches in May…) and a few cottonwood. That’s kinda it for my five mile radius. And it’s familiar.

The conference was held on the campus of Concordia College, which is kind of in the middle of Moorhead from what I could tell. You have to remember that I didn’t attend a “real” college so this was very different with lush trees, a pond, old buildings with a history that didn’t involve tuberculosis, benches and chairs outside surrounded by sculptures, and updated buildings complete with local art celebrating the area and purposeful seating. UCCS was four buildings big with no dorms and I lived in my parents’ basement. I went to work and class and sometimes out with friends, but I didn’t hang out there much unless I was between classes. I’ve often felt like I missed out on what college should have been…and yes, as I walked back in the rain from the building the conference was held in, I let tears fall and meet the raindrops on my cheeks.

The conference itself was wonderful. The keynote speaker, a local education celebrity, was incredibly inspiring and brought us all to tears more than once. She gets it. She understands why we choose to do this “Big Work” and to keep coming back year after year to serve kids. I’ll write more about her soon–still so much to process.

The people attending and presenting at the conference were mostly alumni of Concordia, which I found fascinating. Most of them lived in or around Moorhead, serving kids in schools within a few hours of there and had grown up nearby. One teaches in Kuwait at a private school, but comes home every summer and is getting married next month, and then she and her husband will decide if they want to keep teaching overseas or come back to the US and settle in. Their philosophy of education wasn’t too different overall from our teachers here in CO, but the resources they used and how they used them were different. We talked about strikes and reasonable pay and teacher shortages and snow days (or lack thereof) and where we get ideas and how we implement them in the classroom.

I was, again, the only speaker advocating for gifted kids and their needs. In my session, I had about 20 people, and though few identified as teaching gifted kids in their classrooms, as I described the variety of gifted profiles, I saw heads begin to nod, and pens furiously jotting notes. As we talked about the short piece that I’d brought to share and discussed how to go from “What’s the setting and who are the characters” type of questions to “What current events might the author be alluding to in this piece” and “What does this writer intentionally do in this piece to help you identify with it?” and “Why would she bother to write such a piece? What message might she be sharing?” I saw lightbulbs… They got it.

Gifted kids need different questioning and discussion and opportunity to explore a piece of literature in a way that is inherently more complex than the typical kids you are serving…but all of them benefit from being a part of this work.

I had a few stick around after my session was over and ask questions and request copies of my presentation. I found emails in my inbox later from others asking for support in getting their administrators to allow for a class for THESE kids…something that addresses their need to explore literature and write at a more complex level. A member of the faculty asked for my presentation as well–that meant so much. Clearly, there’s a need beyond Colorado’s colleges and universities for gifted education in teacher prep programs.

I spent most of the day after the conference in deep reflection. I walked to a coffee shop about 15 minutes away, explored parks on the way there and back, admired flowers and beautiful homes, and wandered a bit, just to see what was there. This wasn’t a traditional adventure with lots of sightseeing, but for me, it was a chance to reflect on what I want my life to be and how I can fulfill my “Why.”

To engage in work that impacts the world around me positively so that others can grow, learn, and honor one another.

This adventure fulfilled my “Why.” I wonder what the next one will hold.

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