Aug 142012

Do you have fly on the wall moments? You know? Those moments when you are in a time and space but either not meant to be there, or completely meant to be there, but not meant to have input or involvement. Come on, you know you have. Like that time you got the e-mail from a “friend” and as you read it you realized how very much you were NOT supposed to get that e-mail, but the “friend” hit reply all by mistake, and let’s just say you started putting those quote thingies around the word friend. Oh wait! That was me, not you. So maybe all your friends have grown up and you don’t have to sometimes put quotation marks around the word friend, but maybe you’ve had the good kind of fly on the wall moments like the kind I had this past month.

I should definitely clarify. I consider the finding of the e-mail fly on the wall moment “the good kind,” too. Good in the most important and eye opening — at least if one does not want to make a habit of being stabbed in the back — way, but not in the warm and fuzzy way. I am a stickler for proper usage and punctuation, and if a word demands to be in quotation marks, then so be it.

Just past midnight on Tuesday, (okay, fine, about 5:00 am, still, it felt like just past midnight to my two teens who were forced privileged to be going to debate camp) we hopped in the car to head to the airport to pick up some fellow campers and head off to debate camp.

Speech and debate is a requirement for graduation in my homeschool of which I am the dictator. I can’t force my little minions to like the sport, but I certainly can force them to learn it.

I didn’t have to twist the arms of my first two; they had no idea what they were getting into. They actually wanted to debate competitively. I had no idea what we were getting into either. All I knew was that I wanted my minions to have skills — critical thinking, reasoning, and speaking skills — and debate was the means to that end.

The thing about not having any idea about what you’re getting into is that as it reveals itself to you, you might fall in love with it. So it’s hard? So it requires sleep deprivation? So it’s frustrating and exasperating? So? You already love it. So it’s all good. But if you happen to be a sibling watching the enormous and inordinate amount of work — real work, hard work, intellectually challenging work — you might wonder why on earth anyone would volunteer for that load and you might not be so excited about the skills.

Picture the not-so-excited kids at 5:00 am Tuesday morning riding along with me to spend a week learning the basics of this extreme sport we call debate.

I put on my reassuring happy voice. “Reeeallllly, you guys are going to do juuust fine.” Glancing to my right and in the rearview mirror, “Why do you look like someone is driving you to prison?” Hmm. “Don’t answer that.”

The whole ride up to Denver the minions had that I wish I was shoveling manure or at the dentist having a root canal look. I didn’t have high hopes.

After the opening session and welcome, the campers all listened to Shane give a talk about the speech event called Impromptu. (Mind you, when I told the boys what Impromptu was and that I thought they should try it, they said something like, “Pfft.”) Shane spoke for about an hour. The boys nodded, laughed, took notes, and notified me that impromptu speaking is extremely important and they thought they should try it. Well, pfft.

Then, midway through the first series of lectures I overheard stuff. Fly on the wall moments. I heard one of my guys talking with another camper about how excited he was to try Extemp. What? Really? He had this toothy grin and he and the other kid were “talking Extemp.” They were offering opinions about prep time and the amount of time spent picking articles versus outlining the speech. WHA! Who is this? Is this the same kid I brought here this morning?

Look at those smiling faces!

Then later during the debate portion of the camp I caught the glance the boys gave each other when Shane said, “Anyone can argue; it takes an educated mind to debate.” The glance the boys gave each other said so much more than I wish I were shoveling manure, it said I want to be a part of the educated minds. They gave each other that mental fist pump and nod that includes a stealthy grin and raised eyebrows. So cool!

The camp progressed with lectures, frisbee football, and some weird murder in the dark game. The boys didn’t complain or drag their feet.

I got to witness more fly on the wall moments the next day.

After only a day and a half of introduction and instruction the boys had their first debate round. It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad first debate round, and the boys were mentally booking tickets to Australia. (Oh no! Why did the camp organizers let Shane leave early?? Blast those family reunions! Shane! Come back!!) Would they hate debate after all? If I were them, I would! I mean, it was a humiliating round. I watched as my boys thrashed in the deep end of a wave pool. I was pretty sure I was watching their newfound desire slowly drown. It was tough to be a fly on the wall right then. I knew anything I said would be discounted because I’m mom, so of course I’m going to say things like you’ll be fine, and don’t let it get you down. 

We were quiet as we walked outside after the round. We sat at a table and the boys stared off into space. I sat quietly with them.


Oh, then.

The debaters who watched the round started filing out of the building. They came over to the boys and surrounded them. They offered consolation and stories of their first debates. They offered coaching and advice. They began rebuilding. I sat back, a fly on the wall, and watched as they nodded, laughed, straightened their shoulders, and realized that this group of really smart, really athletic, really diverse kids could also be really kind. Their peers went the extra mile to breathe life back into the saddle and dust off the silver lining . . . what? I can mix metaphors if I want; consider it a delicious metaphor smoothie . . . on the house!

When we got home Ken asked how they liked it. You know what they said? They said, “It was okay.” That’s all. All that excitement, all that learning, all the ups and downs, all of it summed up in three words.

I’m so glad I got to be a fly on the wall so I could get the real picture: the one worth a thousand words. I got to see the sparks fly when they got excited about something new, I got to see the toothy grins and mental fist pumps, I got to see the kindness and caring.

What I really wish is that our language had a superlative form of the word thank you. We have superlatives for many words: high, higher, highest; good, better, best. Thank you, thank youer, thank youest? Oh well! Shane, thank youest (thankest you?) for being that educated mind that lit the fire for my boys. I wish you well as you head off to Minnesota to pursue your dreams. Please know that our prayers go with you. (Ahem! Eighteen years old. College graduate. Full ride. Top twenty LAW SCHOOL. AMAZING! You might want to remember this name: Shane Baumgardner. Just take my word for it.) Thank you to all the campers; thank you for your kindness and your grace. Thank you, God, for allowing me to be a fly on the wall. Thank youest!!

"Anyone can argue; it takes an educated mind to debate." Shane

  One Response to “Thank youest! (Or thankest you!!)”

  1. Wonderful insight to the life of a brand new debater. Well done Kian.

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