Current trends in Society that Impact our School Concept


Yesterday as we walked to and from the park on a day which was unseasonably warm due to the hurricane off the coast, we talked for the second day about the weather. One three said, “I looked out the window this morning and the weather tomorrow is going to be very rainy.”

Another three replied, grinning widely, “Yes, and we will wear our rain boots, our rain pants, and our rain coats!”

Before long, another three exclaimed, “I wish it was winter!”

A woman alone with a long driveway and many feet of sidewalk to shovel, this had not been my wish. “What will you do when winter comes?” I asked.

“Make one hundred snowballs!” exclaimed the three with the winter wish.

“Yeah! We will make snow men!” called the fourth three with glee.

“We can make snow people, and balls and throw them!” chanted the group.

“Yes, we can make all kinds of things out of snow,” mused my three who started this conversation. “We can even make…snow mushrooms!” And this girl, these children remind me that yes, each day this world is born anew.

***

This morning I wake up in the quiet house, two of my three children sleeping here. The light outside my windows is an orange I am not sure I’ve ever seen. i wonder if its the hurricane making that light, check the weather, see indeed it will be a rainy day, worry about my son and daughter driving through he worst of it, think of my other son and his gal, parted ways yesterday, and the hard day they must both be having. In the Writers’ Almanac, there is a poem about prayer, and I’ve been thinking about prayer, again, since my beau and I’ve been struggling all this past month, and worked it over in my mind all this past weekend, throughout my Silent Retreat for Quaker Women, through the night I thought my love and I were bound to part. So this  morning, I feel differently about those in the women’s circle and in the weekly Sharing Circle I attend every other week at best, who offer prayers when the suffering is deep, when a hard decision looms, when a baby is born. I imagine doing the same myself, thinking I could offer a “prayer” rather than “good thoughts.” We’ll see.

This same morning, when I check my phone for the poem, I try to update my apps, as my battery is low, and I think that might help. Instead I end up with a Pandora channel singing to me, first Halllujah by Kd Lang, then something else that feels modestly religious, and I wonder on the word divinity, offered to me several years ago at retreat, as a way back in, I think, when god and religion and most words with spiritual meaning felt loaded, off-putting, not for me. Divinity I could wonder on. Mystery, too. Grace. Transcendence. Spirit. Even Soul, to some extent. There I found the surprise of childhood prayers coming back to me as I walked the paths, rhythm of the prayers in sync with my own steps, with my breathing, with my heartbeat. I spent time in a small hand built chapel, wondering on the meaning of the cross, found the heart shaped stones left there, the heart shaped hole in the acorn on the path more relatable, but still, the cross was everywhere, challenging.

******

Later yesterday on our walk home, the children held out their arms and began to wonder if they would get a sunburn because their parents had not applied sunscreen to their delicate skin. One child who told us her parents had put the sunscreen on walked in confidence. I realized aloud that we were in that same spot where the sun strikes our arms so strongly when this conversation happened the day before, walking home from the park, around the corner from the tree shaded lot where we play, beside the tall cement buildings which are home to the elderly and disabled people who bless us each day as we pass. On the other side of that same building is where the children remembered winter. i realize now as I write that in winter that side is where we always pause to put on the extra clothes, the wind and cold there is so strong. Winter side and summer side of that building never struck me so clearly as now. The children are sensors. I was once reminded that they are windows to the divine. something like that. The wonder of them does amaze.

******

After talking about the sunscreen, my small three said she was going to invite me and her other small three friend to her birthday party. It is dawning on me in stages that these people who I’ve known since they were one or two will soon be four, and that is a different place, four, where most of us begin the lives we can remember. But for now they are three, and talking so much more than last year, and I’m invited to the birthday party, where, my three tells me we will make apple dolls, and her family will save them to dry for one or two days, then give them to us to keep at home. My other three, who was also invited, says, “Yeah, because we love Maria” and I think about the other three who asked me why I didn’t come to her birthday party, who told me she would have liked the teachers to be there. A compliment and a burden to be thought of that way.

At forty seven, with teenage kids and a long distance beau, and a whole adult life to live outside my day care life I rarely accept the invitation to a child’s or a family’s party. Its not that I don’t feel welcome, but that I feel I have permission not to go.

*****

The same three who told me gleefully they would all wear their rain gear and who asked me why I didn’t come to her birthday party also asked me, early yesterday morning over breakfast, “Maria, why it isn’t it a Richard day?”

We were sitting in the kitchen, in the same place where last week, over lunch, my four turned to me out of the blue and asked, “Maria, do you have a partner?”

These kids know how to make me stop and think. I answer the best I can. “Richard has a home in Northampton” “I don’t know if I have a partner. I guess Richard. Who is your mom’s partner?”

The conversations move on quickly. “Today is Wednesday. Wednesday is a T— day. My sister comes for after school today.” “C– is my mom’s partner.” C— is his dad.

***

Friday afternoon my new three told me she has two moms. “So do my kids, sort of,” I replied. “They have me and a stepmom.”

“What?” she wanted to know.

“They live here with me and also with their dad and stepmom in another house.”

“Why?” she wanted to know. Harder question.

“That is the way our family is.” and she was happy enough with that, though puzzled if I had to guess. Turns out divorce and remarriage is less on the radar of these kids than two mom families.

Later, as I was helping her with her shoes, this same girl asked why it was Z–‘s day that day. “Its a Friday,” I replied. “That’s a Z– day.” and I realized they had connected that day, Friday being their only overlapping day. She had fallen at the park and needed a cuddle, was crying in my lap on the bench when he came over to talk.

“Why doesn’t she talk?” he had asked me.

“Oh, she does,” I replied. “Once you get to know her you’ll see.”

Then we had talked quite a bit. She had stopped crying and soon they went off to play.

It is a surprising window into their little selves, into their little souls, if I may, when they begin to talk.

My new one has begun to say my name. “Ria” I carry her on my hip to check the pasta on the stove, talk to her about our meals, ask her what she likes, cut her apples when she says, “Cut it up!”, offer her pieces as I work at the counter and she watches and talks to me from the high chair.

Later, when I’m changing her diaper, another three comes to visit and the one says my name, causing the three to remark. “She says your name.”

“She’s learning how to talk. She’s learning who we are.” And I think, it does feel good for a child to learn our names.

Later, in the yard, the baby calls to Liana over the gate where Liana is emptying the compost in the side yard, baby calling Liana “Ria”. “I’m Liana,” greets Liana. I recall out loud how our other one calls Liana by name, and uses Liana sometimes for other adults here, realize that the kids attach a name to us as caregivers and may universalize it until we all become more real. At the park, the one had come to me calling, “Ria” and my friend Macky had said, “Yes, that’s Maria. Is she your person?” And I had been pleased to confirm that “Yes, I am her person.” Attachment happens that way, small steps.

Here’s today’s Writer’s Almanac poem, in case you, too, are musing over prayer, or meaning, or transcendence or grace, or any of those other thoughts that are so hard to put into words. I can’t say I understand the poem, but that in a way, is what I like. More mystery. More to figure out.

LISTEN
Prayer
by Carol Ann Duffy

Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade I piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child’s name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer—
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.

“Prayer” by Carol Ann Duffy, from Mean Time. © Anvil Press, 1993. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a woman. Also about what it means to have trouble and to solve a problem, on one’s own, with a partner, in the company of friends, in community. Last night I heard a story from a young man with lots of troubles. Also with a young wife for whom he hopes to be a strong man, the person he wants to be, his words. This reminded me of my younger brother, who’s had his share of troubles, and who often comes back to this source of strength, his duty to provide for his wife and young son. Both men want to be the one to make the home, to earn the money, to keep the ship steady. I was reminded again of my own sorting out of what it means to be a strong woman, of what it means to make a home and to provide for my own family, with a partner or without. There’s a lot of glue in the world, holding us all together. Sometimes the glue feels like most of what we’ve got. What amazes me is how folks do hold up, continue to go on. When things are really bad most of us don’t give up.

Sometimes we do, but those stories seem to be the exception. This summer I heard one about a friend’s elderly father, who seemed to have worn out from years of hard knocks, decided he was done, stopped eating and drinking. Two weeks later he was gone. For many years before that he’d taken care of his failing wife. When his own health began to fail, his daughter and her family stepped in, moved the two close to where they could look after them, and at that point, the man let go. Maybe it was that he could stop living once he knew someone else was there to look after his wife. While I was telling my daughter the story, thinking how sad this end of life had been, she surprised me again as she often does, reminded me how lucky those two were to have the love they had, how lucky the now demented wife had been cared for by this man, how lucky the man had loved her so deeply he provided the care he did, even in the limited life they lived.

This morning I read on HONY about a young Vietnamese woman who was taken in by a man one night. He found her sleeping with her son in a construction site, abandoned by her husband. He took her home, saying she shouldn’t have to live that way, looked after her and her son. As she said, after a few months a romantic connection developed. The two were pictured above the words, she on a motorcycle, he standing beside.

This morning I’m home on my own. It’s been a weird stretch. My kids and I and my guy are all out of our rhythm, summer vacation into fall, Spain to home a transition that’s been a lot rockier than expected for me and my guy, sorting out life apart and together a problem we’ve been working on too long, feels hard to go on. Haven’t given up, but it makes me think about strong women, strong men, home, family, solving problems, if and when we can.

So, today I make Gypsy Soup, my balm for what ails. I chop and sautee, stir, smell, taste, clean out the fridge, anticipate the weekend with my kids, a weekend plan that’s been in progress way too long, not settled yet, but Gypsy Soup worthy for the moment. The soup is good for lunch and calming no matter what the weekend brings. While I cook and wash the clothes, I also fight rats. Yes, the fine institution of WFDC has a family of rodents residing in the compost bin, now frolicking on the side yard, to and from the street. Yesterday a mom called to report a sighting after drop off. In the afternoon when I was in the yard with the kids, I saw one hopping from sidewalk to bin. Then Liana saw it or another, atop the nearby pile of bricks. The suspicion had been there, food disappearing from the compost bin, tunnels there that made us discuss a plan. Now the sightings have confirmed it’s rats not possums, as I had sort of hoped, I’ve called my pest control folks, who have given me the same advice we came up with ourselves, stop using the bin, get one that is rodent proof. The problem is dealing with the nest. So, today, I lifted the top off the bin, thinking I’d expose the rats’ home to light. I put mothballs from Liana’s home and ammonia from mine into the holes the rats have chewed in the wood platform to tunnel under the bin. Once upon a time a family of skunks made a similar show, parading out the babies at pickup time on the front walk, returning boldly to their nest beneath the trash can platform. My then husband and I researched getting rid of skunks, discovered the ammonia and moth ball trick, and it worked. The mama’s next parade was out of the nest through the yard, onto a new home. So far the rats seem more intrepid. Seems they are digging a hole in the platform under the second bin, which I thought might be less accessible. After I mistakenly dumped more compost in the second bin, and discovered that hole, I poured more ammonia there. Next step is either a new off the ground fancy bin or metal under the ones we’ve got. Haven’t gotten there. More research, more fun.

Sometimes I tell myself I wasn’t raised to deal with rats. My grandfather tended the barn while my grandma cooked and cleaned and grew the food. Maybe she did the mice in the house and he did the ones in the barn. That isn’t the picture in my head. My mom has had two husbands, neighborhood men, brothers, now a boyfriend and a son in her life who’ve helped with various chores. Still she deals with rodents, poisoning the mice and woodchucks, probably other critters I can’t think of now. I’ve dealt with mice at home and in Ashfield, but I’m a poison gal. When the mice come round live, I’m not so brave. When it’s time to trap them I look for a man.

We’ve had squirrels in the ceiling of the third floor. Seems they may have returned. Over the years we’ve had fleas, lice, grain moths, dead things under the porch, pets with creepy problems, floods, massive snow. Torrent after torrent of these critters and overwhelming situations have come to test us. Each time they do, I wonder if I’m strong enough, who I can count on to help. Each time I make it through, knowing I’m a little bit tougher than the troubles. I’m a lot like the young guy last night and my brother. They fight for their wives and homes. I fight for my world. We do what we can, men, women, children, to keep things working as best as we can.

Now it’s time for smaller problems, those within my sphere of less fear, finishing the laundry, paying bills, writing up new contracts, tidying the house. Then onto the easier part of the day, nap time in the day care and evening with my kids..perhaps replacing the gate latch in there, too. No steam for yard work again today. Soon the weeds in the drive will die, the hedges will stop growing, the leaves and then the snow will fall..season by season I’m tested. Most times I pass. Sometimes I fail. Still standing, trying to feel proud:)

Today I’m in my kitchen. The dishwasher is running, already full after less than twenty four hours at home. Last night we ate homemade soup with salad, bread, and cheese, left in our kitchen by Liana as a welcome home gift. Today I’m here, making albondigas, meatballs in three stripes, regular, sans gluten and lactose, and vegetarian, for the ones I love. Tonight, as I hoped, my two kids and one gal will join me for dinner. Richard’s gone home, after over two weeks away, Somerville, France, Spain, Somerville. The house is quiet, save the noisy “quiet partner” dishwasher, misnamed from the beginning, noisiest machine ever, but a sound that is familiar, here in this house these twenty some years with me, noising it up.

Frances the cat was lonesome I believe. She tore small holes in the living room upholstery, left twisted strands of fur on the ottoman, coatings of white fur on several chairs. When we first arrived, she stayed on her belly under the dining room table for awhile, til I called to her, gave her some love with the comb. Then after dinner, as I waited for the bread machine to do its thing, she came to visit on the couch, more petting, more love.

I took quite a lot of pictures while in Spain, even while in the air returning home. I didn’t write much at all, something small day one in the notebook I brought thinking I’d write more. I didn’t read much either, in spite of traveling with my usual pile of books. I came home with a new book I love, which I read for an hour or so at the end of the flight. It’s from an exhibit on playgrounds which we visited at the Museo Reina Sofia, museum we could see from the bedroom window of our apartment in Madrid.

The right stuff found us this trip. I feel like I’ve been away and I’m happy to be back, letting it all soak in.

Once upon a time I thought I had been born in the wrong time and place. I should have been a hippy. I should have been born in a country whose diet was based on rice. I should have stayed in New York City and taught in a progressive public school when progressive public schools existed. Thoughts like that have captured my imagination and stuck. These days I’m accepting child of the world status, learning to take in the times and places when things were different, wondering when things might feel right again, when children and the right to play will have the respect they deserve, when rich and poor won’t live such different lives, when shiny and well-loved will take their proper places, when the artists’ and farmers’ and mothers’ and elders’ voices will be heard. All that occupies a mind on vacation in Spain in 2014, a place of economic crises, class divides, great art, a circus festival in a walled city and a new school on the edge of the view, sun streaming in through newly installed windows on extra shiny toys, color and white and wood and sand and stone each taking their place in the child’s world with bureaucracy, anger, love.

I don’t think I’m ready yet to make sense of what I took in in a way you’ll understand. I’ll share some photos soon. That may help. Or not. We stayed with fine people, were hosted by another in a lovely air b and b. We walked the streets and parks and even el campo, sat in our friends’ patios, shared meals in cafes, visited more exhibitions of art in one week than I have since I visited Paris and Barcelona nearly thirty years ago, drove between Madrid and Torrelodones, Moralzarzar, Segovia, Avila, and back, rode subways and trains and cars, walked miles over stone and concrete, dirt and tiled floors, cooked a little bit but mostly ate out or were fed.

So today, its a good day for home, for cooking for my kids and man, for washing dishes and clothes, for paying bills and depositing checks, for unpacking if I’m ambitious, for writing a few minutes here, for a short walk around the neighborhood, later for dinner and a grocery shop, maybe television before bed. As always for me, it’s great to get away and it’s great to come back home. Hugging my kids and my guy feels good no matter where we are, but at home it feels just right.

Here is a link to the Reina Sofia exhibit, Playgrounds: Reinventing the Square, which includes a podcast, video, and description of the book I bought, as well as a little explanation of the exhibit that I loved. Lucky me to see it just before it left:

http://www.museoreinasofia.es/en/exhibitions/playgrounds

And here, at the request of my daughter, at long last, is the recipe for tofu albondigas, just for you, or anyone you know who likes tofu in a meatball. So far, all of us do:)

Start with:

1 pound tofu, mashed with a fork in a medium bowl

Add:

Two eggs, beaten
1 cup bread crumbs (I make my own by putting stale bread in the blender. Good bread a bonus)
1/2 cup parmesan
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon minced parsley (we are out, so meatballs won’t get cooked until after I run to the store:()
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 clove garlic, minced

Mix together with a fork. Preheat broiler. Roll meatballs and place on broiling pan. Broil until lightly brown, flip, broil other side. Serve with favorite tomato sauce and pasta. Currently my gal loves rice pasta, but whatever you like will do. Tofu meatballs are also pretty good on their own, sort of a falafel sized piece of protein with a yummy cheesy garlic taste.

If you are a meat lover, you can make the same meatballs with meat! Instead of the pound of tofu, use 3/4 pound ground beef and 1/4 pound ground pork.

If you are lactose intolerant, use lactaid. If you are gluten free, make bread crumbs of your favorite gluten free bread. For my guy, I do both, and the meatballs are equally delicious. Yum. I can hardly wait til dinner. It’s been awhile since I cooked a real meal.

This past weekend Richard and I took Isabel to the bike store, in Northampton this time, after our bust visit to the Somerville shop. There, of two possible options, was my gal’s dream bike, tan and brown, like the ten speed I bought at age twelve, but unlike my boys’ ten speed racing bike, my gal’s city cruiser exudes elegance, a bike not for a gal riding miles on open country roads, but for a city kid heading to Newbury Street and beyond. The bike is a women’s bike, as my gal loves skirts, which I never wore on a bike until I met her. The handle bars ride high, so she can sit upright, enjoying the view, whereas I’ve always preferred to ride bent over. The thing has fenders, something I haven’t had since about age six, so no rain or mud will splash on her clothes. We added a new helmet, a water bottle holder, and a Northampton Bicycle water bottle, all accessories I never knew of in my day. Today we rode to Ace Wheelworks in Porter Square, with my gal out front and me behind, and added a heavy duty lock, two lights, and a bell, all things my adolescent self never needed in my country life . The baskets in stock didn’t suit her, wire and wooden baskets on the shelves when what she wants is white and wicker.

We pedaled on to Porter Square Shopping Center for a trip to the artist’s cooperative and the book store, where we bought Divergent for her, birthday cards and gifts for my guy and my brother-in-law, both celebrating this weekend, then a quick peppermint soda and three Vietnamese spring rolls, none of which could have happened thirty four years ago in Leroy, New York, where I’ll return this weekend for my thirtieth class reunion while my daughter flies off to Texas with her brother and stepmom, to meet up with her Dad’s family in Houston, where my city loving girl had wanted to go, rather than to the Texas Hill Country place her granddad shares with family when they return from China, Australia, Massachusetts, and Houston, city dwellers all but him.

I follow my girl back from Porter Square, watching her weave in and out of traffic, stop behind a Harley on Mass Ave, wave her hand in front of her nose at the exhaust, stop on the sidewalk to tighten the strap holding the lock to her bike rack, weave back into traffic, then onto the sidewalk, then back onto side streets, coming home just ahead of me. My gal is tall and strong and straight on her bike, all confidence and calm. Behind her I feel the same, whereas last time I was out riding on my own I felt small, unsure, and weak. Funny to be in this position, nineteen and a half years after becoming a mom, to watch my kids bike and drive and move away, one by one, and to see the paths they take, whether off to a radical school like SVS for all three, to RPI for college and summer work for my older son, or to Newbury Street on her own for my baby gal last week, when she rode there from the house she shares in Cambridge with her dad. Makes a mom proud, if a little wistful, to be the one trailing behind as they all go on ahead. 

Today as we were walking to the park, me in front with five kids, Alice and Liana behind with five, my group was singing. First one young two invited her friend, another yought two, to sing Abiyoyo with her. Then the seven, who is back visiting for the summer after two years at school, wished the group would sing You are My Sunshine, because she didn’t know Abiyoyo. Then they all just began to sing, Abiyoyo on my right, You Are My Sunshine on my left, turning to I’ve Been Working on the Railroad all around, and then the seven even remembered that at her school she had learned another version of Abiyoyo and she sang that an the others picked that up, too.

The kids wondered where Alice and Liana had gone. They were only a few steps behind. In that moment, my life was absolutely, terribly perfect.

These moments happen in family day care. The horrible monsters, the missing ones we love, the songs from our earliest childhood memories all come together as we walk to the park, all exist in our shared memories, all mean something to each and every one of us.

And the children’s voices are lovely. They are pure and sonorous and the sound of them wafting through the air to our neighbors reminds me that the children are all of ours, and that just by being here in this neighborhood all these nineteen years we’ve brought some joy. Also our fair share of monsters and tears, but joy above all.

Alice visited today after a tricky leave taking, a retirement begun more prematurely than any of us expected. The visit, however, could not have been made with more care. She brought photo albums she had made for the children of pictures from our year. She brought Miss Rhumphius, a book her day care parents had given to her when she ran her own program, a story that was one of my favorites in my young days as a public school teacher, and now, I realize, a perfect tale for explaining her retirement to the children, as it tells of the life of a strong, artistic, adventurous, nature loving woman named Alice from childhood to old age.

The children were happy Alice was here and so was I. It’s rare, I realized to take leave from a lifetime career with care and grace, and Alice is doing her best to do that. I’m happy that our family child care made a place for her after she closed her own program and that we’ve had these last many years together, and to know that her life in retirement will be long and rich and that we will stay connected.

And now, to post the photos I took for the parents. As I expected, they don’t really capture the moment. I did try. The singing and walking were better.

Browsing the Book Mill shelves Monday afternoon, I found a small pile of treasures to bring home. One of them is Robert Coles’ book, The Spiritual Life of Children, which feels like a natural flow from the book I read on the airplane to and from Amsterdam, Composing a Life by Catherine Bateson, daughter of Margaret Mead, which had been a gift from Liana several years ago, and took on new meaning as I read it the second time around. It turns out Robert Coles was a friend of Erik Erikson, whose wife was featured in Composing a Life, small world perhaps, but one I am entering with curiosity, the world of those who study and write about people and how they live and grow..whether from the point of view of anthropology, memoir, and biography, like Catherine Bateson in Composing a Life, or from the point of view of a medical doctor, child psychoanalyst, and field worker studying the lives of children and layering his experiences and observations with literary and poetic interests, as Robert Coles does in his books, of interest to me right now, The Spiritual Life of Children.

I took time to read before bed Wednesday evening after working with the children, again yesterday morning in a coffee shop before my afternoon kid time, at bedtime last night, and again this morning, just before the children arrived in the day care to start the day. It’s sinking in slowly, but what I wanted to write about this afternoon is how the book is helping me think about the day with children. Mostly, as I’m a slow reader, I have read the Introduction and the first chapter, which help me to frame Robert Coles’ thinking and the timing of this book in his lifetime. What interests me is that this book came relatively later in his career..and was inspired in part by a comment when he was searching for the next project, by Anna Freud, who suggested Coles look back at some of his earlier work, in which he had interviewed children around the world in an attempt to understand their moral thinking, how they coped in crisis situations, and the cultural contexts in which they lived. When Coles and his wife looked back at their earlier work, at collections of children’s art and conversations, they found many missed references to children’s interest in spirituality, which lead Coles to want to devote study and a book to this aspect of children’s development. Coles was not a religious man, though his children, at his wife’s organization, did attend religious education classes, and Coles seems interested in the impact that had on his family. When he tried to secure support for this new project, he found it more difficult to get backing to explore this topic, perhaps given who he is or the nature of the topic..and while he eventually did, this makes me think the book is a labor of love, rather than a book aimed at commercial success. In any case, I’m glad I found it.

Today’s conversations and explorations with the children remind me how much of children’s lives are devoted, as Cole says, to making meaning of the world and trying to understand our place in it. The children respond to the basic elements, the sun, sand, water, wind, light and shade, hot and cold, with renewed awareness each day. When the sun came out at breakfast time, one three commented that we would now need our “sun suits”. Another child was concerned he didn’t have one. A third commented that she has a swimming suit, which allowed the second to tell us about his swim suit, a sweater and shorts, just like his dad’s. The impulse to make sense and meaning, to create a coherent narrative for the immediate experience of the day, drives the children in ways that make the world fresh for me.

Later, at lunch, the children noticed that the room had darkened, and as young children often do, asked who had turned off the lights. I remarked that the cloud had gone over the sun, but wondered if that had any meaning for the child.

On our walk to the park, the children were happy not to need their jackets, proud I might say. They walk bolder the first few days without them, swinging their arms at their sides, running powerfully from one stopping place to the other for the running game. As soon as we began to walk, we saw we were surrounded by flowers, first purple ones on a low wall, then bright yellow forsythia on the corner of that wall, then pale pinkish white on the magnolia across the street, even green on a maple down the way. The children find this worth shouting about, look, purple! yellow! AND GREEN! The world is new each day for them, in one way or another. At two and three and four and even five their experience of seasons is still brand new, worth commenting upon and rejoicing over in full force.

At the park, the baby only eats rocks and sand and sticks and leaves. I spend the entire time taking them from his mouth. The twos wonder why he does this, as they no longer do and don’t remember when they did. I explain that putting things in his mouth is the baby’s way of learning about the world. Tasting things, feeling them, holding them in his hands and mouth tell him what they are all about. Some might not call this spiritual, but it is certainly a drive for the child to make meaning, to find out how the world works, to identify more clearly his place in it, even what he likes and what he doesn’t, to gauge his relationship to others. When I say Yucky as he lifts the leaves to his mouth, he smiles, takes it out, says something I feel sure is an attempt at “Yucky.” At pickup time his mother tells me he is doing something similar in German with her, responding to her use of the German word for yucky by pausing before putting something in his mouth..nice to see these early forays into language are developing in bilingual parallel!

The older children are fascinated, now the earth has thawed, with digging in the sand. One girl fills a bucket for what seems to me like hours, then places sticks all over the top of the sand. Another girl comes and identifies it as a birthday cake. The first girl agrees. The children pretend all the time to make fires, laying sticks on the ground in piles. I wonder at how many have seen this done by adults, how much of this impulse comes from within. Several children sit in a circle and dig and dig and dig, making a large hole in the middle of their circle, filling buckets, but mostly digging a hole. Children will do this for hours, days, seasons..digging holes to where and for what? I still don’t know, but they all do it, year after year after year.

Robert Coles talks of children’s impulse to create monsters, witches, and other evil creatures as a way to make sense of the bad stuff in the world, not so much as an immature impulse, but as a way to create a story to account for what might not be rational. He talks of children living in poverty or war as they wonder how a god, who perhaps their parents talk about and believe in, could allow the suffering that they see. Children do seem to come with an innate sense of fairness, and many, it seems, can recognize, perhaps more easily than many adults controlling the world, when things are not as they should be, when a group of people is not getting their fair share, or a particularly heavy load of bad luck is hitting one part of the world or another.  It seems reasonable that a witch or a superhero might be an easier way to manage this dilemma than explaining how an omnipotent god or powerful humans could make things as they are.

I haven’t gotten far in the book. I hope to keep reading. Knowing me, I may not make it to the end. I do expect the book to feed my work with children and for my work with children to enrich my reading of the book.  It makes me wonder, when I read about Herbert Coles revisiting his earlier work, and finding, when he did, that he had missed opportunities to talk with children about their spiritual beliefs, what sorts of conversations lie ahead in the book I’m reading and in the work I do, as well as what opportunities I’ve missed thus far in my own thirty years of working with young kids.

 

Today in Exchange Everyday, there is a piece on choice, on setting up the environment so children can be independent, so that each individual can follow his or her own thoughts and interests throughout the day.

Today after lunch of yogurt, raspberries, english muffins, and cucumbers, one of our favorites, two twos climb up to the tall table. One says to the other, “Hey, H—, do you want to play checkers?”

For the last two weeks, there has been a set of checkers on the tall table, a wooden board and a red can of checkers. My co-teacher first got it out to occupy some restless fives and a ten in the late afternoon. Then it became popular with the young ones, who like to line up the pieces, to stack the checkers on the table, sometimes to see them drop to the floor, probably also to see me react when they do that.

But, today, it’s the two initiating a game with her friend that interests me. For a long time, since the very first moment these two entered the care, they have been curious about one another. First thing I remember was a scuffle at the play sink and stove when the mother of the inviter was dropping her off that first day.

Today the guy accepts the gal’s invitation..and for a few minutes, they take checkers out of the can, put them on the board. Then a third two, almost three, comes along, and there is a spat, which I don’t fully follow, as I am at the sink washing dishes, and shortly that game ends. That is how it is with twos. The game starts and ends, often very quickly, often with a spat, but over time, it is building in it’s way, from grabbing, side-by-side at the play sink to invitation at the tall table, from dumping plastic fruit and veg to organizing small parts of board games, lining things up alternated with tossing them about.

Life is a little like that, I think. I’ve been reading a good book about adolescents, and teens, as my life is full of those, too, and many friends are sorting out life with older parents..The struggle between being a baby and being independent seems to strike in all three places, toddlerhood, teen, and elder..and we middle agers are struggling with it all, asking the twos firmly but kindly to pick up the checkers as they toss them on the floor, asking the teens to take out the trash and recycling and compost, even as they disappear into the worlds of their phones and their rooms, offering choices to our parents, who often choose the thing we wish they wouldn’t, inviting us all to live with the consequences of our decisions, choice at the heart of living a good life, no matter our age or stage. Grateful as always to live in places where choice reigns.

Here is the piece from Exchange, should you be interested in that. Also, if you are interested in teens, consider “Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall?: A Parent’s Guide to the New Teenager” Fascinating read for me, fine to put it off if you are living more exclusively in the world of the very young.

https://www.childcareexchange.com/eed/issue/3579/

The Right To Choose
April 8, 2014
Cheerful company shortens the miles.
-German proverb

“Our view of children strongly determines if we support and challenge them or direct and correct them. Adults must believe that children deserve the right to choose and are capable of understanding that with rights come responsibility. If we believe this, then we will use our role to coach children in making good choices.”

These are the words of Deb Curtis and Jess Guiney in their Exchange article, “Seeing and Supporting Children’s Right to Choose,” which serves as the basis for Exchange’s newest Out of the Box Training Kit by the same name. The authors give an example of how to support children in making choices:

“A teacher who values autonomy in decision making will organize his classroom so that materials are accessible to children — and so that children are responsible for the care of those materials. Children benefit from an environment that is intentionally designed and well provisioned with engaging materials so they are able to see what is available. The arrangement and care of the environment communicates to the ­children the value of focus, collaboration, and choices for complex play and learning.”

 

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