Tomorrow I am moving away from Lynchburg, VA (well, technically Forest, but let’s not split hairs), where I have been living for 15 years. I am writing this list partly to convince someone (perhaps you?) to move to the area and buy my lovely three-bedroom, open-floor-plan, single-story house in a quiet, convenient neighborhood (see realtor.com for further details), but mainly as an elegy to my life in this small city, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, that has been so good to me for so many years.
It’s nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I’m really bad at geography and topography, but I’m pretty sure Lynchburg is in a valley, which means that it’s sheltered from the harsh cold and snowfall that can occur in the mountains themselves. It also means that just about wherever you look (especially out in Forest, where I know about a nice house for sale!), you can see the blue silhouette of the mountains, especially on a clear morning.
There’s a cliff in the middle of downtown. Officially, it’s called a bluff. I’m sure there are other cities that have this odd geographical feature, but I’ve never been to them. At the top of the bluff is most of downtown; at the bottom is Jefferson Street, some recreational spaces, a railroad track, and the James River. You can enjoy the view by sitting on the deck at Bootleggers eating a delicious burger or by walking a skinny trail along the bluff at Riverside Park.
It has historical sites you haven’t already been to. Lynchburg and the surrounding towns have a number of historical locations that aren’t overrun with tourism. (Appomattox, about a 20-minute drive away, is pretty overrun, but even there you can find some newer attractions, like the Museum of the Confederacy, which is not a glorification of the Lost Cause but a thoughtful, objective presentation of history.) Forest is home to Thomas Jefferson’s second house, Poplar Forest (just down the road from a cute house I know!), and downtown Lynchburg’s Old City Cemetery is full of Civil War and railroad history, plus some beautiful old graves and trees.
Most people seem to enjoy serving their community. I think this is because Christian culture and hipster culture intersect in Lynchburg in a way that you don’t really see elsewhere, except in a few other cities (such as the one I’m about to move to–Grand Rapids, Michigan). Your Facebook news feed will give you lots of suggestions for ways to meet people, have fun, and do good all at once: from food truck fundraisers to racing in the CASA Superhero Run (or actually becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate–they’ll be looking for a new volunteer to replace me!).
Speaking of races, Lynchburg has the most enjoyable one I’ve ever run. The Virginia 10-Miler, which occurs the last weekend of September every year, garners a massive turnout from locals as well as people who love it so much they travel in order to participate. The course is scenic and challenging (you don’t have to run up the bluff, but Lynchburg is hilly in general), and hundreds of volunteers turn out to hand out water and Gatorade and to cheer, making you feel like a celebrity even if you’re the slowest runner on the course. If a 10-mile race sounds like punishment to you, there’s also a four-miler as well as a four-mile walk.
I’ll stop here, though I could go on: Lynchburg has a cool old baseball stadium where the minor-league Hillcats still play, some good coffee and ice cream shops, and a full schedule of various festivals throughout the year (even more if you venture out into the surrounding hills–if you love apple-picking and hoedowns, you’re going to love fall in this area). Whether or not you decide to move here (and buy my house!), Lynchburg is a lovely place to visit. I’ll be visiting as often as I can.
At the end of my last post, I mentioned that my fan-fictional Hufflepuff prefect, Patrick Weasley, wants to go into the Ministry of Magic and work toward making school a safer and friendlier place for students. I didn’t get to clarify what I meant by “safer and friendlier,” so I want to take a moment to do that now. I fear that when some people read that phrase, their immediate reaction may be to grumble about how we make things so easy for kids these days and how we should be teaching them to grow up instead of coddling them. I’m glad these hypothetical curmudgeons brought this up because teaching kids to grow up and to thrive–i.e. teaching them resilience–is exactly what I’m concerned about too. 🙂
Before we can even have a conversation about resilience, we first need to understand that it’s necessary and acknowledge that childhood is hard. I wrote a post about this last fall, so I won’t repeat myself here. Suffice it to say that childhood is hard for everyone–you’re figuring out who you are and who everybody else is and how the world works–but it’s especially difficult for children who experience major forms of trauma. I just watched an excellent webinar by Dr. Allison Jackson and sponsored by Emote, and I’ve been given permission to share it, which I’ll do as soon as the recording is available. It’s the first in a series on identifying and addressing trauma for educators and anyone who works with children; for me, it’s relevant to both my children’s literature teaching and my volunteer work as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for abused and neglected children. Normally the word “webinar” doesn’t suggest engaging viewing, but I had tears in my eyes at one point during this one, and they weren’t tears of boredom.
When I talk about making schools safer and friendlier for kids, I’m not talking about making everything cheerful; I’m not talking about making everything easy–those things are impossible. I’m talking about letting kids know that they’re acceptable, even if they don’t have designer clothes and fancy lunches, even if they are a different size/shape/skin color from everyone else in the class. And then I’m talking about teaching them that they have the responsibility and the power to be kind to others. I will say more about this in future posts–or maybe Patrick will!
First, I’d like to apologize for not posting last week. It’s a busy time of the year. But I’m back!
Over the past week, a number of situations and stories have brought to my attention, with unusual force, the difficulties that face many children. Some of these difficulties are brought about or compounded by social ills like poverty and abuse; others are just part of childhood. Yet we adults tend to romanticize childhood retrospectively, talking about it as a carefree time when all we had to worry about was winning at baseball or video games. Millennials talk about “adulting” as if life just recently became hard, forgetting or denying that being a kid can be just as tough.
That was all very abstract, so let me quickly run through the situations and stories that I mentioned.
I went to see It, which shows children being empowered by genuine friendship but also portrays harsh bullying and parental abuse that are just as frightening as the elemental force of evil that comes out of the sewer embodied as a creepy clown.
I am about to start training to become a volunteer CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate). This means I’ll be assigned to observe and report on behalf of children involved in court cases due to their guardians’ abuse or neglect. Just from filling out the paperwork and reading the manual, I know this work is going to break my heart sometimes.
But this is the example that stopped me in my tracks. I recently reread Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in preparation to discuss it with my children’s lit class. Like all of Dahl’s novels, this one is zany, exuberant, and the utter opposite of realism—except for one passage in chapter 10, “The Family Begins to Starve.” This bears quoting: “And now, very calmly, with that curious wisdom that seems to come so often to small children in times of hardship, [Charlie Bucket] began to make little changes here and there in some of the things that he did, so as to save his strength. In the mornings, he left the house ten minutes earlier so that he could walk slowly to school, without ever having to run. He sat quietly in the classroom during recess, resting himself, while the others rushed outdoors and threw snowballs and wrestled in the snow. Everything he did now, he did slowly and carefully, to prevent exhaustion.” Here, in the middle of this wacky, colorful story about Oompa-Loompas and marvelous candy, is a textbook description of a child who can barely function because of hunger. I told my students, mostly future teachers, to pay attention—they might see a boy just like this in their classes one day.
And even for children who aren’t abused, bullied, or starving, everything feels more intense in childhood: fear, jealousy, shame. The good feelings are more intense too, sure. But be careful when you make rosy generalizations about childhood. Don’t let yourself forget that it isn’t easy.