Jessica Lahey

Commentator

Jessica Lahey is an educator, writer, and speaker. She is a contributing writer at the Atlantic, her column, "The Parent-Teacher Conference" appears bi-weekly in the New York Times and she blogs at her website, www.jessicalahey.com. Her book about why and how parents need to let their children fail will be published by HarperCollins in 2015.

A couple of years ago, I faced a teacher milestone. One of my students died, someone I'd visited and emailed and laughed with in the weeks and days before his death, and I was at a loss as to how to deal with the odd, not quite parental, not quite friend-shaped hole. In the days after his death, I wrote, "When I had children, I understood that I was opening myself up for a world of pain; that's part of the deal we make with the universe when we become parents.

Lahey: Green Wood

Mar 7, 2014

We are at that point in the winter where our best-laid plans of last fall have become untidy. Orderly rows of seasoned wood, have become jumbled chaos, strewn with weather-beaten tarps and tumbling, unruly, onto the snow. In contrast, the orderly, square stacks of green wood stand tall, and because of poor planning on my part, tantalizingly close to our mudroom door.

Those stacks only hold the promise of heat however, because once inside, the joke’s on us. That green wood barely smolders, mocking our impatience and haste, as water bubbles and steams out the cut ends.

Lahey: The Coat

Jan 24, 2014

New Hampshire is known for many things, but high fashion is generally not one of them. When I head out to the post office or to pick my son up at school, my priorities regarding coat selection center on its appropriateness to the outside temperature and whether there are eggs in the pockets left over from chicken chores the day before. If I’m feeling fancy, I might figure the coat’s color into my calculations, but I’m not usually feeling very fancy.

The phone doesn’t usually ring before six o’clock in the morning, so I knew before I answered it that my grandmother had died. She was in her nineties, and had been in a slow decline for months. Family had gathered by her bedside, and to paraphrase Emily Dickinson, she’d willed away what portions of her were assignable, and our eyes were long since wrung dry

We moved to the woods in search of a home, a place where our sons have space for solitude. I wanted them to know the sudden upwelling of frigid spring water in an otherwise warm lake. The silver underside of leaves revealed by winds before a rainstorm. The ozone whiff of an impending January snowstorm mixed with the comfort of wood smoke.

Lahey: Seen By Saddle

Oct 18, 2013

The trails around my home are so familiar to me that I avoid roots, adjust to slopes, and leap over fallen trees without breaking stride. I know the seasons of my territory; where some paths will be too muddy, when to avoid a mother bear’s favorite scratching tree, and which trails are best left untraveled during hunting season. I’ve been exploring the woods around my home in Lyme Center for years, and I thought I knew everything about them.

A teacher’s year is quantified by the same measures as a layman’s year; it divides up by the same three hundred and sixty five - give or take a leap - then the smaller twenty-four, and more minute sixty, but these measures are where the similarity ends.

Teacher’s lives are cyclic; fall is for new beginnings, winter is for maintaining momentum, and spring is for closure.

Lahey: Camp Rules

Jun 25, 2013

Three years ago, when he was eleven, my son Ben set down a very specific parental code of conduct we’d be expected to follow at summer camp drop-off. We could say our goodbyes at home, but once we arrived at camp, any displays of affection, attempts to make his bed, arrange his things, or force premature familiarity with his cabin mates would be strictly prohibited.

Lahey: Mother Mallard

May 31, 2013
Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

In late April, some students at Crossroads Academy noticed a Mallard duck hanging out on the perimeter of our playground. She was oddly persistent, pacing back in forth near the basketball court, and that afternoon we discovered why. Over the past two weeks she’d been surreptitiously laying a clutch of eleven eggs in a nest made of her own downy feathers.

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