The Oregon Trail

Apr 12 2012

I, personally, have never died of dysentery.

If you have died of dysentery, though,

and lived to tell the tale, then you undoubtedly attended public school in the United States, and you think the the Oregon Trail game is RAD.

My sister-in-law, for example, born and raised in Yamhill County, Oregon, died of dysentery dozens of times, and it still makes her giggle.

This year, my Aden is in the fourth grade. And in the fourth grade in Oregon, kids learn about the Oregon Trail. That means this is the time of the year when parents kids bring their completed Oregon Trail projects to school for their final grade – like carefully crafted covered wagons made of popsicle sticks and torn bedsheets and held together with heavy globs of Elmer’s glue, hope, frustration, and parental intervention.

And the kids learn SO MUCH about our country’s history…

the circumstances that drive people to take tremendous risks for a new life…

the call of freedom on our souls…

and dysentery.

Aden’s grandma picked her up from school this week. Aden’s grandma is a retired teacher. Aden’s grandma has lived in Oregon most of her life. And so Aden’s grandma asked Aden all about the Oregon Trail.

Their conversation went like this:

Grandma: So, Aden, are you learning about the Oregon trail this year?

Aden: Mm, hmm. We’re making it! But I only have the mountain done.

Grandma: You’re making a map of the trail?

Aden: Yes!

Grandma: So where did the trail start?

Aden: Mississippi.

Grandma: Missouri?

Aden: Yes!

Grandma: How did the people travel? Did they walk?

Aden: Yes! But they had those other things, too.

Grandma: You mean covered wagons?

Aden: Yes!

Grandma: What made the wagons move?

Aden: The wheels.

Grandma: Well, didn’t they have something to pull the wagons?

Aden: Yes! The buffalo.

Grandma: You mean the oxen?

Aden: Yes!

Grandma: So, are you learning a lot about the Oregon Trail this year?

Aden: I am!

I’m pretty sure that teaching and parenting are two sides of the same coin. I plan my words. I organize my thoughts. I teach the life lessons. I give my kids the very best information so they’ll have a sense of their place in history, empathy for the plight of modern immigrants, pride in human tenacity, and respect for native culture. I hand them all of my knowledge, wrapped with bows and pretty paper.

You guys, they don’t even have to experience life for themselves to learn my fantastic lessons! They just have to pluck those lessons out of the gift boxes, fully formed.

And you know what my kids do? They absorb or discard what I offer them. Randomly. All willy-nilly. Intuitively and easily understanding some things. Wrestling and fighting and learning other things the very hardest way possible. Just like regular people. So beautiful. So maddening.

In the end, I suppose I must walk the Trail beside my kids and their buffalo, our covered wagon stacked high with lessons, some that I packed on purpose and some that they picked up along the way.

I just hope we don’t get dysentery.