1818. New Orleans.
Just years after French Louisiana becomes part of the United States and a culture clash is born.
The steamboat had just kicked into high gear; trade explodes in the port city. Business was booming and word spreads that New Orleans is the place to be.
But New Orleans already was the place to be. No one knew that better than the French Creoles living in this old European city, once referred to as the most western suburb of Paris.
Bernard Marigny is one of my favorite former residents of the city. Marigny came from old Louisiana money. Marigny gambled away that old money.His large plantation bordering the French Quarter slowly whittled away to nothing after years of unsuccessful gambling.
I married a chemist. He is a full blown chemist. If you ask him a rhetorical question like: "Why does it have to rain today??", you will get the FULL answer. When he launches into a detailed explanation about hot air masses meeting cold air fronts and condensation, I usually make it through the first few minutes before my eyes glaze over and I'm onto the next question or day dream.
When I told him I was doing the Spooky Tour, he gave me the biggest eye roll yet. He definitely doesn't believe there are invisible floaty things surrounding us or hiding inside of us. It is cold, hard facts. Things you can identify, measure, explain.
But- I found a way to connect! I dug down deep into the archives of my brain and found the file about mass actually being energy and the form of it reflecting how many molecules are in a space and how that affects the way energy looks and feels. The Law of the Conservation of Energy.
Nothing is "solid". The number of molecules present determines the force of resistance against our hand pushing on a hard surface or invisible gas. Mass can change form but not lose energy. Solid objects are visible, containing lots and lots and lots of molecules / energy pushing against us. Gases have less molecules so are invisible- but can still be measured. And spirits? Well, they can't be measured but they can be felt. They can be caught in orbs, mirrors, electromagnetic radiation detectors. Spirits are another form of energy. He just can't see it or measure it. So, he doesn't believe in it. But I do.
I feel like I won that argument.
He still walked away shaking his head.
On a recent tour, this kid starts rattling off all of these truly disgusting and disturbing facts from the past. He knows about pooping in the floor and blood letting and poisonous make up. He knows so much- and it was so gross!! I was instantly impressed. Alright kid, how do you know all of that?
Horrible Histories. It is a Monty Python-esque series that introduces kids to the worst parts of the past. It's high interest, hilarious, and educational. The skits are in a familiar format: cooking shows, Wife Swap, game shows, late night talk shows, music videos. I love it!!
My family recently downloaded it from Amazon. I can't stop watching. I've already plowed through the first season (but don't tell my stepkids; I was supposed to wait for them!)
*fyi: The time periods are not shown in order and they are limited to Europe.*
15 years ago, as a junior at Tulane, I spent several days "observing adolescents" as part of my Adolescent Psychology class. Alcee Fortier High School, of which I was assigned, was just down the street from Tulane but a world apart. It was reputed to be one of the worst schools in the city. It used to be one of the best.
I was sent to Coach Rusell's math class. Those few days broke my heart. The handful of kids attempting the problems on the board all had the same incorrect answers. They were dividing integers. They'd been told a negative number divided by a negative number is negative. The kids that were trying to study and learn were being outright denied an education.
Thus began my career in teaching. Offering kids who were already disadvantaged an adequate education would not level the playing field- but it was a start. I definitely wasn't the best teacher. There were plenty of times my lessons flopped or spelling time wasn't included in the schedule. I tried.
And then I left. I couldn't take the weekend work... the late nights of grading papers... the endless supplies that I needed to purchase. The list could go on. The kids were the one aspect of the job I loved. Being silly with them, offering unsolicited meant-to-inspire lectures, growing to know their families, their dreams, their struggles. I have many, many fond memories and many faces I'll never forget.
But today, my last batch pf pumpkins graduated on to high school.
I'm so proud of my former 3rd graders. Watching the girls dressed in their finest (with high heals on!) walking the stage while finding their balance... the boys standing tall in their tuxes trying to hold their heads high... It's a beautiful moment. It's a moment that reminded me why I became a teacher and question why I left teaching.
On my tours, I introduce kids to "white gold" that delicious cash crop grown here and there. I teach them about slavery and our shared slave law, the Code Noir. I describe a religion with deep, deep roots that is still practiced there, a religion hidden under the Catholicism imposed by our shared colonial rulers. I point out similarities in our architecture. I went there to learn about our shared culture. I returned having learned much more.
Saint Domingue, or Haiti, is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. It was the richest. As a French colony, cities were on par with Paris, replete with elegant balls, theaters and opera houses. These riches were built on the backs of slaves. Slavery in Saint Domingue is difficult to read about. Slaves were treated as if they were disposable, worked to death with a life expectancy of 5 years upon arrival. There was a constant influx of "new" Africans as "old" ones were dying in the fields.
After years of work and suffering, the Haitian Revolution made Saint Domingue the first free black nation in the western hemisphere. In my selective research, the story stopped there with great victory. I knew thousands of Haitians emigrated to New Orleans after this, as the revolution had destroyed much of the farmland. I read about Haitian immigrants that impacted New Orleans' history. But that ignores the rest of Haiti's story.
Despite the triumphant revolution, there is an ongoing war with poverty. It seems trite to describe or reflect on but I want to see if there's a way FQK can somehow help. Sponsoring a school in Haiti with proceeds from the tours or sending books, pencils and notebooks seem trivial in the face of such poverty...
One of the things I love about children is their curiosity. They question everything and are constantly on the hunt for connections. On each of my tours, kids will reference something that I'll invariably want to go look up, freshen up and remember. That I have to stop and refresh is always a bit embarrassing. But here's why:
I hated school. A day in the life of my time in school consisted of giggling with friends, writing notes to them, and hiding under the on-going "teacher looks". Sitting and listening? Not so much. I remember thinking that history hurt. All of the dates, names, and outlines made me miserable. Picturing the past, envisioning a day in the life of those living in the past and relating this to my own life just wasn't happening.
But my family looooovvess history. I was not going to get off that easy. We lived just outside of Boston, a city chock-full of museums, historic sites, grouchy, tea-drinking, taxpaying colonists and witchy women too wild to be holy. My parents couldn't resist. My sister and I were taken to places that made the past come to life. I can still smell the fires burning and hear the blacksmiths banging at Plimoth Plantation and Sturbridge Village. The 1600s, 1700s and 1800s came to life as costumed men and women relived a day in the life, a day I could finally picture. Colonial Williamsburg, further down the road in Virginia, served as the apex of this type of learning.
These sites acted as our family's Disney world. Even though I knew those old fashioned, costumed characters speaking with funny accents were about as real as Mickey Mouse and Goofy, they did something for me I'll never forget. They made the past come to life.
Every day that I torture children with my terrible french accent or risk getting yelled at by that angry homeless lady who is appalled by my 19th century underwear, I hope that I am passing along that tradition of bringing the past to life.
Now I finally welcome those opportunities to figure out dates and remember historic figures and maybe, occasionally, outline this history in my head. Getting to this place took time. About 300 years of living. history.
What a Difference 2 Years Makes...
Just two years ago, I was a single lady entering my ninth year of teaching elementary school. Days were consumed by lesson planning and grading papers. On a whim, I joined Match.com- and the rest is history. Within a few weeks of our first date, Curt and I moved in together.
Curt has two young children, Vivienne and Gus. When we first met, they were on the cusp of the age I love: 4 and 6. Having taught every grade of elementary school, I was so grateful they were beyond the bedwetting and waking up in the middle of the night stage- and before the rebellious and sullen teen years.
Becoming a stepmom was something I looked forward to, having worked with children as my chosen profession. I am naturally drawn to their silliness, curiosity and innocence. I’ve always said they make the best coworkers.
My own experience with stepmoms was hot and cold. I’d had two of them. The first stepmom was textbook terrible. She alternated between ignoring me and blaming me. She outwardly favored my stepbrothers and she made it very clear from the beginning that I was unwelcome in her house. I vowed I would never treat Vivienne and Gus like that.
My second stepmother is amazing. From the beginning, she took an interest in my interests. She bought me my first frying pan (admittedly, I was already 27!) and my first sewing machine. When my tumultuous twenties occasionally unraveled in dramatic tears directed at my dad, my stepmother would silently leave the room and take to her many hobbies. She was also there for the no-nonsense, get-it-together lectures I needed right when I needed them.
This is how I aspire to be. Like that Kenny Rogers song, “I want to know when to hold them and know when to fold them.”
Another dimension of this new life is my business. When I was single and responsible for making all my own ends meet, I could never have quit my job and pursued this unusual idea of historic tours for kids. With my new family, I did just that.
Even better, I have the best experts to vet my tours! Vivienne, because she’s a bit older, has become my veritable apprentice. She could probably give the Creole Kids Tour all on her own. She loves the costumes, the gross props and the maps we use. She is part of the reason my business has been so successful. Gus has trained me as well. Rambunctious boys are drawn to pirate talk, acting out duels and gross stuff. Who knew?
On my tour, we talk about the role of women in the 19th century: the expectation that women would run the household- and not work outside the household. They were the silent heroes, not included in his-story. I am so grateful that history now reflects her-story and that women have choices. That more and more moms are not only working outside of the home but even running their own businesses is a testament to the strength of women.
For this reason, French Quartour Kids would like to offer a Mother’s Day Special: all moms tour free! On Sunday May 11th, we’ll offer the Creole Kids Tour at 3 pm. This will allow time for a brunch with your family, while giving families a fun activity to do together in the afternoon. If you have been waiting to take this fun tour, now is the perfect opportunity!
For nearly 10 years, I woke up before nature even deemed it reasonable. I fumbled through the darkness to find the most professional outfit I could muster. I rushed into school to make my limited copies and organize the bursting at the seams classroom. Papers were hole punched. Caps secured on markers. Pencils sharpened.
Creativity was constantly at war with administration. It was an endless battle I could never win. Grade after grade, school after school. Things had to be done a certain way.
I knew exactly where my objectives needed to be posted in my classroom. I knew how to format the word documents my life revolved around: my 35 lesson plans for the week. I knew the hour they were due, with 6:00 on Sunday evenings constantly looming over each moment of the weekend. The micromanaging list is long and someday when I'm done with my PTSD therapy, perhaps I'll be brave enough to recount those stresses.
Last year I quit. Not because of the kids. It was never because of the kids. I love them.
It was because of the micromanaging. It's been a year without the micromanaging. A year without a manager. I'm my own boss. I don't have to wake up early. I don't have to dress professionally (or even get dressed at all- except my unmentionables!) I don't have to decorate my classroom a certain way or assess child learning a certain way.
I also have no idea what I'm doing. I have no idea how to be a business owner.... how to network... how to use social media... how to advertise effectively. So, at the suggestion of others, I'm going to blog about this crazy career change, the blunders and beautiful moments, the lessons learned through trial and error and the ideas for the future. I'm also going to share the wonderful things about this new career. The history I'm learning. The kids I'm meeting. The moments that make this so special (and at times terrifying).
To be continued!