Friday, June 1, 2007

The Sylph of Success

Friday afternoon, the last Friday of the school year. The grades are recorded, the school shelf cleared of used workbooks and folders full of art projects, the sun shines steadily with increasing warmth through the kitchen windows.

There's a cloud, I think, as the light dims momentarily. "Now what?" I cry, seeing that instead of a cloud, a hazy shape is forming in front of me.

The shape solidifies--if that word can be used--into an impossibly thin elderly lady clad most unrealistically in a wispy gown all pale blue and sparkling lavender. "Relax, dear," she says, settling lightly atop the back of a chair and peeping at me over her delicate half-moon spectacles. "It is only I."

Appreciative of her commitment to good grammar, I smile. "Hello, Sylph," I say. "I don't think I've seen you for a while, have I?"

"Oh, I've been around," she says airily. "You may not have noticed, but I was there. In fact, I've been with you on many occasions since the last time we talked."

"You mean..."

"Yes. That unexpectedly good grade on the difficult math test, the sudden comprehension of the difference between adverbs and adjectives, some of those surprisingly well-written essays--well, you know. I try to help where I can, as our objective is the same: Homeschool Success."

"I definitely appreciate your help," I say, a little abstracted. "But do you really believe that I can count this year as a success? There were so many things I could have done differently, so many times when I was disorganized and even downright slapdash..."

"Let me guess. You've been visited by the Siren and the Goblin, haven't you?"

"Among others," I said darkly.

"Oh, dear," she sighed, the force of it almost knocking her off of the chair. Resettling herself, she once again looked over her glasses at me. "You do know that they don't really know what they're talking about, don't you?"

"Most of the time, I do," I admitted. "But sometimes, I'm afraid, I do give in to their voices. I wonder if it's all worthwhile; I fret over what we're not doing, or over the way we're doing the things we are doing. I get grumpy, or lazy, and lose my focus..."

"And that," the Sylph said almost sternly--at least, for her--"is why we have summer vacation."

"It is?"

"Of course! You need some time and distance before you can tell which areas really need improvement, and which were working just fine before they came around to confuse and depress you. You need to start looking forward to the next school year, instead of running endless and pointless postmortems on the year that just ended. Your students need time, too, to play and laugh and read books that don't require a book report. You remember how important summer vacation was when you were a child, don't you?"

I nod slowly, remembering long, lazy days glowing with freedom; remembering how I used to find some special hiding placeor other and settle in with a book and a snack for hours at a time; remembering how much I learned, without even knowing I was learning.

"Well, it's just as important now, to you and to them. So, let's see, hmm. When do you plan to order the books for next year?"

"No later than July 15, as always," I say. "I may be making a few changes..."

"Good," the Sylph interrupts me. "I'll come back about a week before, and we can discuss the things that could stand a little improvement. But for now, put all of it out of your mind! You'll do a better job of planning next year without the lingering ghosts that haunted you this year."

As if on cue, I heard someone clear his throat. "Who's there?" I ask, a little fearfully.

"It's only me, me darlin'," the Leprechaun of Laziness said brashly from the chair just opposite the Sylph.

"What do you think you're..."

"Relax," the Sylph said, smiling a little impishly herself. "I invited him."

"You did?" I ask, puzzled.

"Everyone can use a little laziness from time to time. All things in moderation, of course," she added, frowning a little a the silver tankard that had appeared along with the Leprechaun.

"Are you sure?" I ask doubtfully.

"Don't worry. I won't let him spoil your summer. You do have a lot of other things planned, besides making arrangements for next year's school books. But right now, at this moment, a tiny bit of doing nothing will do you some good." And with that, she nodded her farewell, and vanished into a cloud of lilac-scented sparkles.

"Come, now," grinned the Leprechaun, gesturing grandly at a pitcher of iced tea and some oatmeal cookies that had somehow appeared on the table. "Join me for a toast or two."

I sit beside him, pour myself a glass of the cool, refreshing tea, and raise it. "To summer," I say, clinking my glass against his tankard.

"I'll drink to that," he murmurs. "Slainte."

We sit there quietly. Outside I can hear the chimes of the neighborhood ice cream truck and the voices of my children as they play in the warm fresh air. This year has been good, I think dreamily, wrapped in the sleepy warm quiet of the afternoon. But next year will be even better.

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