Me: If you could have any animal trait or ability, what would it be?
Josh B: Fly like a bird!
Me: But if you were to fly like a bird, you'd have wings instead of arms... Are arms worth giving up for flight?
Josh B: Oh no... I take that back. [He returns to thinking]
Lucy G: A turtle! I'd be a turtle!!
Me [perplexed]: A turtle? What trait are you getting from a turtle?
Lucy G: I'd breathe underwater!
Josh B: Turtles can't breathe underwater. They are reptiles.
Lucy G: Then a penguin!
Me: What trait are you getting from a penguin??
Lucy G: They are awesome because they are a flightless bird. I could slide on my belly!
Sit down meals are a Deerfield Academy tradition. Students and faculty eat several lunches and dinners each week in randomly generated groups of one adult with eight students. These groupings cultivate our school community. You may be a senior without a musical bone in your body, but you may end up eating several times a week with freshmen and the orchestra teacher. These randomized table groupings last a few weeks, then switch.
|Today's cast of characters: Adam, Josh B, Brennan, Ethan Y,
Tim/Mr. Schaffer (me), Alicia, Lucy G, Fiona, and Ava.
Me: If you were a plant, what type of plant would you be? You answer this either by considering what plant you would want to be, or what plant you think best suits your personality.
Adam: Probably some sort of tree.
Josh B: Grass.
Me: Grass? Why grass?
Josh B: Because people would take care of me! People work really hard to help grass grow -- they feed and tend to it.
Me: Ah, so it would be an easy, pampered life?
Josh B: Yes!
Lucy G: A potato.
Me: A potato?
Lucy G: Yes. Definitely a potato.
Me: Why on earth a potato?
Lucy G: Because potatoes can be cut up and grown into new potato plants. I could keep living forever!
At the Experimentory, we have what we call a modified sit down. We're all randomly assigned to tables, but some of the more formal aspects of DA sit down meals are left out. For example, we get our food from a buffet line--we don't have students assigned to retrieve food from the kitchen or require staff to serve the food onto plates. However, the community goal is the same.
As a mostly behind-the-scenes Experimentory staff member, I really enjoy Experimentory sit downs. This is my best chance to personally connect with students. And we can have a lot of fun.
Adam: OK, I have one. Imagine you wake up and you are trapped in a room. What would you do?
Lucy G: (immediately, without hesitation): Sleep!
Ethan Y: Yes, sleep!
Me [laughing]: Sleep??
Lucy G: I like sleeping.
Me: But... You were just asleep! And aren't you a little curious as to where you are? And how you got there?
Lucy G: You have to go to sleep to conserve energy and oxygen.
Fiona: Yes! Take small breaths and speak in a very soft voice.
Lucy G: If you move or shout you'll suffocate!!!
Me: Who said this was a sealed room?
Josh B: Yeah, it's hard to make an airtight room.
Lucy G: I think that it would be.
Me: But you are saying that you wouldn't even try to get out?
Lucy G: The room is inescapable! There is no door!!
Fiona: Yes!! After you're put in the door disappears.
Ethan Y: What if you wake up and you're in the center of the Pentagon?
Me: Most of the Pentagon is offices. I'd probably wonder what I was doing in a cubicle.
Ethan Y: No, they have the highest security holding cells there. Haven't you ever seen X-Men? That's where they hold Magneto in that giant plastic cage.
Me: This is getting crazy! How do we know what the room is like?
[All eyes turn to Adam]
Adam: I think this is up to you all to decide.
Me: I'm just saying: How do you know is inescapable until you try to escape? You might as well put in the effort. And what are you conserving energy for if it is impossible to escape? You'll just die slowly of lack of oxygen rather than quickly.
Lucy G [mind made up]: It's best to peacefully die in your sleep. I'm sleeping.
Different tables pass their time together in different ways. Classic pastimes are trying to touch fingers above your head without looking, or playing clapping games. Some tables breakout cards to play "Bluff" or Uno. My favorite are these crazy what-if scenarios. There is some creativity and imagination involved, but best of all personalities come on display. (Lucy, I must say, wields silliness and logic in such a masterful way that I can't tell when she's messing with us and when she's not.)
Me: Imagine you must be limited to eating a single dessert for the rest of your life. Any time you have a dessert it must be that thing. What would you choose?
Josh B [tentatively]: I think Key lime pie...
Adam: I'd have to go with a chocolate chip cookie.
Me: A classic! Great choice!
Brennan: I would want apple pie.
Me: Ah yes! I like it!!
Quinn (shrewdly): I don't think of ice cream as a dessert food as much as a snack food...
Lucy and Fiona: Yes! Ice cream is totally an afternoon snack.
Me: Hmmm. I can see what you mean, but I can also see where you're going with this. I'm afraid that for the sake of this "what if" ice cream is a dessert.
Quinn: But I sometimes eat ice cream for breakfast. I think it could be a breakfast food.
Me: Knowing this only raises you in my esteem. However, I don't think this actually changes its status to breakfast food.
[Quinn concedes the loss of this skirmish and returns to thought]
Alicia: What about the Dining Hall's carrot cake?
Me [frowning very seriously]: Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and taste. However, you have given one of the only answers I think I can definitely call "wrong."
Alicia and Lucy G [laughing]: WHAT???!!!
Me: Carrot cake is gross. The only worse answer would be "rice pudding."
Alicia: It's so good!
Me: I don't like desserts that taste like spices...
Ava: But pumpkin pie is like that, too.
Me: I don't really like that either...
[The joking hits a lull...]
Quinn [seeing an opportunity]: In my family, we always bake brownies at night. Then we eat almost all of them the next morning before lunch. So...
Me [laughing]: That is a great tradition! It pains me to say that I still can't consider brownies a breakfast food.
Ava: But donuts are a breakfast food, right?
Adam: Donuts are definitely a breakfast food!!
Me: Now that's an exception I can get behind. Coffee cake, too. You could still get away with eating those.
[Quinn is not reaching for for this low-hanging fruit, but instead deep in thought. Finally]
Quinn: I have it. Brownie ice cream sundaes. Two desserts in one, and I can always separate them after they come for variety.
Me: That. Is. Brilliant.
I found myself especially enjoying my table this week, and so I asked their permission to reproduce some of our conversations here in the blog*. They all happily agreed. "Why would any of us have a problem with that?" one of them asked.
"Well, I wouldn't want to assume. And I wouldn't want you to be embarrassed by any of your answers."
"Why would we be?"
"I think all your answers have been in pure fun and shouldn't be embarrassing at all! But as someone who can sometimes be easily embarrassed, I want to respect your privacy. And besides, maybe Quinn's mom doesn't know about the bowls of ice cream for breakfast."
Quinn laughed, and then didn't. "She doesn't, and she doesn't really need to know."
Which is why I've changed that name above. Some secrets don't need to leave the sit down table.
* I apologize for any mistakes or misattributions in my account. I'm working entirely from memory -- and I don't always have a great one.
-- Tim, Program Coordinator