Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Bombs and Bellingen Bats

During this entire year in Australia, a recurring, near-daily theme that the older boys discuss in our household is Odyssey, their public charter school back in Denver.  Sure, they talk about the friends they miss, but it's so much more than that--they talk about the teachers and the principal, all of whom they endlessly adore.  When I admire any work they've done, they say that it's because Lori (or Billy) was such a good teacher.  Because they go on camping and hiking outings with Odyssey, the school assuredly comes up on every single road trip as we camp and hike.  They talk about things they've learned and the way they learn there, because it is so much more interesting than the school they're at in Wollongong.  I agree wholeheartedly; I've said before that the Odyssey community is what I miss most about Denver.

A long and painful story short, our participation in this school district-sanctioned teacher exchange program has caused our boys to lose their spots as students at this school.  Current state and district funding rules don't take this exchange program into account, despite the fact that this teacher exchange program has run for upwards of thirty years.  With charter schools on the rise, especially in Colorado, the rules need to change--it is a detriment to the exchange program that while my husband continues to earn his salary from the school system, gains another year towards retirement, and retains his position, our children are the ones who will be punished by being cut off from the educational community that they know and love upon our return.

We found out a couple of months ago that the kids had definitely lost their spots at Odyssey, and I was gutted.  Our plan was to wait as long as possible before telling the boys, especially since we didn't know what school they would attend and we thought the unknown would cause even more anxiety.  Recently, though, the talk about Odyssey has increased, and it has felt more and more like we're lying to them.  I didn't want to cause them anxiety, but I was experiencing extreme amounts of anxiety myself whenever they'd bring it up.

On our way to hike at Warrumbungle National Park, Odyssey came up for the second time in an hour, and Sam and I looked at each other and gave a small nod.  I took a deep breath and dropped the bomb on the kids.  With a shaky voice, I told them I had some bad news and let them know they wouldn't be returning to their treasured school right away, that it would take some time with wait lists and such.  That I was working on getting them into another great program and I'd let them know when we knew what it was (after this year of joyless education, all I want is for them to be in a program where they can feel engaged and fulfilled).

The dust settled, and we were all still alive--the boys had tears in their eyes, but it was far, far better than I had imagined over the preceding two months.  We processed it as we hiked, and Jackson said he was angry and sad.  I agreed, and said I felt the same way.  I assured him that he'd see his friends all the time and that we'd have lots of sleepovers, but he said he'd really miss the teachers as well.  I agreed.  I'm sure there will be more processing in the coming months as we prepare to head home, but I admire the way they have handled it thus far.  I don't handle perceived injustice very well and have had a far rougher go at this news myself.

I am fully aware that if this is the worst bomb that is dropped on them during their childhoods, they will have been blessed--but still, I hate the fact that this community that has nurtured them since their foray into education will not be there to welcome them back with loving arms when our exchange ends.


Just a 5 minute walk from the place I want to sell all my earthly possessions and move to the hostel we've been staying at is a mini nature reserve that houses a huge colony of grey-headed flying foxes.  These massive bats are unlike anything I've seen in the States.  We have seen them flying in the sky here at dusk, but we took a walk over there around 4pm to see them hanging from the trees.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but as we walked down the short path we saw them immediately.
Whoooooa.  Tree after tree, infested with these strange, wondrous creatures.

Um, holy crap.

When we first arrived, they were all sleeping but within a couple of minutes they began to awoke and began  chittering noisily, stretching and poking at each other.

Many of them were staring down at us, and although they eat fruit I was a bit nervous that they would angrily swarm us for invading their territory.

'Stay up there, nice little bats' was my silent mantra as we watched them, necks craned towards the sky.  And then here and there, they started taking to the sky.

Amidst school difficulties here and the boys losing their places at their beloved school, I have often wondered whether we've detrimentally altered our kids' educational paths by selfishly doing this exchange.

And then we watch fruit bats awaken right over our heads and fly off for their evening feasts.  My mind flashes through watching kangaroos box right next to our campsite, spotting octopus in the tidepools, rainforest hikes, swimming in perched lakes, and I hope those amazing experiences and so many more we've had as a family this year will render those dreary classroom hours immaterial.

And boys, I am so, so sorry that you won't be back at Odyssey.


  1. What timing. Chloe went on her first Odyssey camping trip this week and as I sat in Lori's classroom this morning, watching the slide show of pictures of the kids on their first adventure, I of course was the sappy mom with tears in her eyes. Instinctively I wanted to look around and catch eyes with you Annie, as I'm sure you would have been teary as well. I was asking Lori about you guys just this morning. So I came home and looked up your blog and read this post. My heart is so sad as I can't imagine the Tunheim's anywhere but Odyssey. I'm not giving up hope.

    1. Well, I got teary reading what you wrote! :) We're all sad, too--the kids will be back at some point, but the time from now until then is unknown. And if one gets back in before the other? Ouch.

      I'm so glad Chloe has Lori; she's got two years of awesome adventure and wonder. I hope she had a great time on the trip. For the spring trip, maybe I'll have to sit in on the slide show just so I can have a good cry. :) Miss you!