Democratic/Free School Ideas


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)

Today as we were walking to the park, my four and I were talking. He let me know he had spent time with his grandmother recently and the following morning he had pizza for breakfast. I wondered what sort of pizza he likes, maybe cheese or pepperoni?

“I hate pepperoni pizza!” he bellowed, lowering his voice and his eyes as he finished the sentence.”

“Actually, I don’t prefer pepperoni,” he said, catching himself, and my eyes.

Then, grinning to himself, and nearly winking at me, he added, “I never find pepperoni pizza tasty.”

This one made me smile very wide, and remark about how polite my boy has gotten, and to think, how much more self and other aware he has become in the years I’ve known him.

For the last few years, my boy has begun many meals in the day care telling us what food he HATES! I’ve been asking for many of those meals for him to respect me and the food I share with him and his friends by choosing another way of speaking or of just letting the offending food go unmentioned. I don’t insist he eat the food, just that he let the rest of us enjoy it in peace.

Today, after my four told us he “never finds pepperoni pizza tasty” several threes found the impulse to share how much they love pepperoni pizza. I wondered if they would have done that had their older friend held on so hard to his hate. I was also reminded how long it can take to teach a small skill and to learn to change something small in our behavior, and how, often when something seems to be taking too long, it is just taking it’s course.

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.

Yesterday was a day to get ready. Vacation ended Sunday. My kids and I returned Sunday afternoon and evening, back from a Hingham wedding for me, following two weeks wandering New England, from Dad’s for my boy, after hiking in New Hampshire, two days on the Cape earlier in the week, Ashfield the week before that, from a week of Maine camping, preceded by a week in Ashfield, before that a week at summer camp for my gal. Sunday evening I made a nice dinner, and that was about it..Can’t even remember what else I might have done. My suitcase is still in the tv room downstairs, unopened.

Yesterday the day care reopened after two weeks of vacation. Anne began her work with us. The day care kids came back, some older ones here just for a day or week. Everyone seemed happy to be back, save the youngest one at first, but even she adjusted. From start to finish yesterday I was doing transition tasks, updating files, schedules, contracts, sorting out tuition, policies, bills, making sure Anne knew the lay of the land, while she and Liana were the teachers with the kids. My boy was off to work, his older brother started classes at college, my gal and I made it as far as the bank up the street before turning back on our errand mission, due to heat and exhaustion and ennui.

Near bedtime, I realized my boy, nineteen, starting his junior year, had moved his own stuff from summer sublet to college dorm apartment, had started classes and semester without a bit of help from me or his dad, not even a call or text from me. Made me feel sort of lousy on one hand, that I hadn’t been more helpful. Also made me realize how far a kid can come in two years, from living at home and having his mom help him organize his stuff and drive him to college, full of angst, to doing it on his own, without a word.

Today my gal is off to babysit across town. She’ll babysit closer to home the two days after that. My son will be off to work in Framingham, at school, where he’s worked most days this summer when he hasn’t been away. I’ll be back to work downstairs with children and Liana, still getting ready for fall, also enjoying the last days of summer. 

The heat caught me off guard yesterday. Over vacation we had an electrician here, updating and installing outlets, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, replacing broken fixtures, redoing the kitchen lighting. He removed a ceiling fan in the kitchen that was heavy when I took it to the curb on my brother’s advice, so the metal collectors could have it next. They carefully removed the fan blades from the motor, laid them in a pile on the curb. I picked up the fan blades and brought them to the day care, to be bases for wood sculptures down the road. Last night I made dinner in the hot kitchen, broiler on for tofu balls, stove cranking for pots of pasta, sauce, and broccoli. By the time my daughter was working on the dishes after the dinner we ate on the porch, she was bemoaning our long lost friend, the ceiling fan. It was ugly, we both agreed. We’re hotter now, and a little bit of regret set in. Out with the old, in with the new, always a challenge.

Time to rise and shine and shower and wake the kids. Feels almost like school is starting, but for my kids this week it’s work, not school. Next week the day care shifts to our school year schedule. The following week my own kids return to school. That week I’ll be in Spain. Hard decision for me, that trip. Not yet used to so much traveling without my kids, or to not being around this time of year. Still a mom and a teacher, and most of those will be close to home and school this month.

Haven’t written in awhile. Needed to get back in the swing. Not flowing out of me as it did for a long while. This fall will be the sixth anniversary of this blog, started when I thought I’d be starting a small school, before the Charter School attempts, before my year at SVS, before divorce, before my oldest went to college, before my youngest two went off to SVS. A lot has changed in six years. A whole lot. Funny thing is I’m just starting to find a new normal. As different as things are, they’re beginning to feel right again, day care and family holding together just fine after lots of changes, kids and I all doing well, new guy a fine fit, if far away in Western Mass sometimes, house not tumbling down, bank accounts holding up, Ashfield place still shared, travel and new clothes and dinners out and house projects not eliminated from our lives, though all done with greater care on a budget held up more by one than two. Out with the old, in with the new, keeping some parts for the next project, letting others go.

Today I have a full day at home on my own. My children and I returned last night after days and weeks apart, after long drives, traffic, a scene that required more of us than expected. This morning when I woke shortly after 6 the scene replayed and I got up to start the day, to cover the brand new outlets installed in the day care while we were away, to drag the trash and recycling accumulated from the last week of day care to the curb, to put our kitchen together, to drink a cup of tea and answer e-mail, to install a new to us air conditioner in the day care window above the outlet the electrician installed just for it.

As the kids were about to leave the house the rain began. I searched out raincoats from the pegs and basement and sent them off and then the rain began in earnest. It came down hard and fast and when I looked outside, there was a flood and then there were my children driving through it in our new car. I screamed as I had last night during the scene I won’t describe here, this time at my son, who couldn’t hear me through closed doors and hard rain, but soon they were through the flood and parked in front of the house. Later they were back on the road and the house was quiet upstairs, full of kids and day care teachers below. 

More desk work all morning, and laundry, and now I’m restless as can be. Time for ratatouille, first batch of summer, inspired by my favorite table at the Northampton farmers’ market this weekend, offering baskets of ripe tomatoes, mixed peppers, french squash, small potatoes. It’s cooler and less humid than it was when I woke up, though the storms are predicted to return. I’m listening to Krista Tippet interview a young artist for On Being, feeling good to be up from the table where I worked a long while, hoping the batch of ratatouille will be a good one, if a bit small, that it will be a fine meal for my kids and me tonight, second dinner of the week, last week we’ll be together at home for awhile, planning to make the most of it, fridge full of local produce, blueberries, veggies, eggs, mind less full of plans for cooking than of hopes for meals together, conversation, companionship, kindness, family in my home.

Here is a photo of the flood on our street, along with a link to the Krista Tippet pod cast with Dario Robletto, and if I am ambitious, the recipe from Moosewood for Ratatouille, should you be hungry, too.

I’m not able to cut and paste the recipe, but if you google Moosewood and ratatouille, you’ll be all set:)

And now I can’t do the photo, either..but here is a link to the podcast! I’m technologically challenged today. Time to go back to the chopping board, hands on learning where I’m at. Well, even the podcast link won’t copy..ugh..maybe later it will. Google Dario Robletto On Being and you’ll be all set:)

This morning I wake up to find a song shared via forwarded e-mail via Youtube which stirs up feeling that take awhile to untangle..from my swimming buddy via his, close friend of his and of the woman who used to be his wife, now gone. All of life is like that these days, midlife full of memories and connections to untangle and sort through. This past weekend I was in Western New York for a class reunion and to introduce my beau and swimming buddy to the places I grew up, hometown, parents’ birthplaces, Letchworth State Park and its gorges, high school friends and a relative or two. Not one of us is getting younger, and with each passing year, there is opportunity for struggle as well as triumph, and both show through. Two weekends ago I was in Western, New York with my kids, no beau, as he was with his own kids in New Hampshire, celebrating a past birthday, on a delayed, long-promised trip, and my kids were due to be in Texas during the class reunion weekend with their dad and stepmom and his family there, and when the family picnic date came out it made sense the kids and I would be do a visit home that weekend instead. Its like that these days, family trips come in many forms. Last weekend it was me and my gal and my guy in Northampton, skipping our trip to Ashfield to keep things simple, missing the swim in the lake and hitting the pool in Florence just before we left, rain drops coming down and only us three in the water at one point, taking over the diving board and talking about our jumps.

With all my hopes and dreams for summer swimming, things of late have petered out. The last four weeks I’ve logged two short trips to the local MDC swimming pool on Thursday morning and evening with my daughter, a quick drip in between chores or after work to break the heat, and two trips to Richard’s pool in Florence, one with only Richard and one with him and my gal, not a single dip in lake or pond or ocean, no fresh water for me. I could use a long swim in deep water, more than laps across the pool, and I’m hoping this weekend to be in Ashfield Lake again, swimming with my guy and my housemates there, kids off to Woolman Hill, where I used to be, won’t be this time, where they’ll likely jump off rocks and swim in a river with friends who used to be mine, but who I now see mostly dropping kids off and picking them up from events where I no longer belong. This time the kids will drive their dad’s car, stay on their own, be looked after some by various adults, mostly look after themselves. The problem with this, as my daughter explained, is not having food for snacks and Saturday lunch, and of mooching off others when they are at the river. To solve that problem, I’ve asked her and her brother and dad to make sure the kids bring some groceries, another way it seems they grow up too soon, but of course they can do it, as I can, manage this separation in weird stages phase of our lives, when our family combines and reconfigures nearly every other day into some new shape to which we try to adjust as each of us carries on.

Tonight is day care graduation, which I now want to call our Moving On Celebration, as this round we have only one true graduate heading off to school, and even he is not heading off to kindergarten in the traditional sense, but to a Sudbury school in Colorado, where there aren’t any grades, and the other two are heading to preschool programs, one in town, one far away, and the third one to be celebrated is Alice in her retirement. It’s another mix of tangled emotions as we round out a tricky year of shifts, of my return to full time life at WFDC after several years of working on the charter school and trying out the idea of a career there, then at SVS, where I worked a year, going to school three days a week with my children, balanced with two days running and working in the daycare, a full life I enjoyed, but which at times wore me out, of Jen moving on to another school part time and staying with us two afternoons a week, of Alice’s retirement and our summer working with a sub, my son’s gal Michaela, who stepped in at a moments notice and has been a fine example of how to do it right, a pleasure for me and Liana to get to know her as a young teacher learning more about the little ones we love, and of our year of working with infants and toddlers and twos, very few preschool-age children in the mix, first infant we have taken in many years leading to another young one this summer, taken on when the first one was away, and soon to be the year we begin to work with Anne, our new hire, middle aged mom of young kids, returning to the work force more substantially after time away from classroom teaching, easing her way in via Jen’s coop program, where she’s worked as a parent helper and a sub, to our place where she’ll become our next WFDC teacher.

Now it’s time to start my day, first a trip to the vet for my kitty and me, so long as I can get her in her crate and out the door on time, then chores around the house to prepare for the graduation/moving on event, tidying the yard, counting heads for pizza, laying bright clothes over the counter on the back porch to make a buffet table for the offerings families will bring, sweeping off the porch and looking for paper goods, setting out some chairs. The families and teachers will do the rest today, and Richard when he’s here. My kids are back from Texas as of late last night, won’t likely make the party as they used to do, disconnected from this group of kids and families, living their teenage lives of work and friends and travel and adventures about time balanced with quiet time at home and in their rooms, most likely staying at their dad’s until the weekend, avoiding another shift. Alice’s husband will be with us. Afterwards they’ll celebrate on their own. Liana and I, who used to have our children in the group when we first began our work together thirteen years ago, will tidy up the day care and the yard when the families go home, maybe with some help, though so far, the only line on the sign up sheet not to be filled is for the clean up helpers, families of young children knowing, I imagine, how long the day will be and how much they’ll need to get their small ones home to bed, and Richard will be here for the first time, to see what this graduation/moving on ceremony is all about, and then we’ll all start the day tomorrow, work or pleasure, on some level it would be nice if they were all the same, if the divisions between paid work and retirement, between work and leisure were a little bit less clear. Some days for me, that’s true. Yesterday, for example, we paused on our hot and humid walk to the park beneath a big old tree at Matignon. There in the High School parking lot in the middle of the day we felt the breeze. The children removed their hats from their sweaty heads and we all looked up at the leaves blowing in the wind and felt the cool air come down to cheer us up. It worked and we waited there to share the spot with Liana and her group and later when we were walking home and talking about something or other, one two wondered if someone we were talking about might be enjoying the breeze. Memory is like that, rooted in experience that returns, whether good or bad or tangled up or in between. I remembered that breeze and it’s remembering last night at Sharing Circle as we sat in the community room at Quaker Meeting on a hot night and the breeze came in the window as we closed, and I remembered it this morning when I woke up and the heat had broken and the breeze came in the window, and I could see the leaves moving in the trees outside, and I was inspired to write this morning, in part with that memory at the core, and even though I lost the thread in the beginning of this piece, it found its way back to me, the cool, cheerful bounty in the world, which finds us often in our moments of struggle, and echoes on in memory long after that.

Here’s the swimming song. Hoping to return to fresh water this weekend. Wish me luck. Now time to deal with Frances the Cat.

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