Democratic/Free School Ideas


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.

Today was quite a day. The kids finally got off to school near ten, when AAA released their keys from inside the car. The day care had been going over an hour by then. Richard then got on his way to Connecticut to visit with his mom. The other end of the day, after all the day care kids went home, I filled with errands, since my kids were spending the night in Framingham, traffic across town to an appointment near Fenway Park, where there wasn’t much parking due to a Red Sox game, work time in a coffee shop nearby, then groceries, banking, carrying in and putting away the food near ten, a smoothie of pureed fruit salad and frozen banana for dinner on the hammock in the backyard, not much of a dinner, but a fine place to dine.

Hammock in the backyard you say? Why, yes. Just because our Somerville garden is the size of a postage stamp didn’t stop me from going to Ace Hardware before dinner Saturday night and coming home with a hammock, a hammock stand, and a car load of groceries..and setting the whole thing up while barbecuing/burning burgers on the grill and commanding the crowd through the preparation of a decent meal, first at home together in a week.

There is something about Father’s Day that pushes my buttons. Probably lots of things. No father for me, no father in the house for the kids for a start. This Father’s Day, to complicate the matter, was supposed to be Mother’s Day, suggestion of my daughter, to avoid having to switch our alternating between mom’s and dad’s house weeks..So, after hammock buying and setting up, and dinner making and eating, and hammock swinging and dishes came Mother’s Day pie baking..a strawberry rhubarb pie, ingredients from the Shaw’s beside Ace Hardware, pie power produced by Jonah my boy the baker and me, mother to be celebrated with the promised strawberry rhubarb pie, or else.

This time there were one strawberry rhubarb pie, made by my boy and me for Mother’s Day, and three tiny gluten free strawberry rhubarb blueberry pies for Father’s Day, for my gluten free guy. Wahoo..Had my third piece about a half an hour ago, around 11, last course in my several course evening grazing…belgian chocolate brioche at the coffee shop while I worked, and drank coffee to pump me up for late night grocery shopping, then smoothie in the hammock around 10, cold pork loin at the table near 10:30, pie around 11, now an attempt at bed near midnight, in the warm third floor, 87 when I arrived, cooling slowly with the ceiling fan and air conditioner, only one running in the house, trying not to feel too anti-green running these machines so early in the year.

The hammock after shopping and errands was a fine, fine thing. Above the hammock I studied the overhanging branches of junk trees, mulberry and Norway Maple, grown enormous in the twenty some years since I arrived, none planted intentionally, all thriving on our neighborhood’s neglect, not a neighborhood of gardeners or lawn enthusiasts, but a place I now feel surrounded by green leaves, whether in my third floor bedroom or in the hammock in the yard.

I’ll need to move the hammock when mulberry season arrives, unless I want to swing in a bed of mulberry mash, which I don’t. I wonder as I lie there if I could trim back all these trees, mulberry branches overhanging the house roof, more overhanging the hammock, maples grown up in the last few years from over the fence where the landlord hardly cares. I don’t imagine I can trim them by myself, nor do I imagine it would be wise to follow the other plan I had this weekend, hiring someone to clean the gutters, and seeing if they would trim back the trees from the house at the same time. It seems I’m going to need a tree service, as well as a driveway crew, an electrician, and who knows who else, to restore order to this place gone wild. Ah, well, the hammock was more relaxing when I wasn’t thinking that way.

It’s been years since my family has treated the yard as it’s own. The back is filled with day care kids most afternoons its not too dark or wet, from April or May through September or October. There are a tree house, a climber, teeter totter toys, buckets, shovels, bubbles, goggles, rakes, brooms, all in child size. What there hasn’t been til this weekend is a hammock. Now there is. We shall see how that goes.

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.”

 

Today we are walking to the park. The sun is out, the sky is clear, and the temperatures are not as low as they were yesterday. As we near the apartments for disabled and elderly persons, my German speaker spies another thrill, a worker and his truck, which I explain is a glass repair or replacement truck. The worker is fussing with things in his truck, cigarette dangling from his mouth. The children have initiated a new favorite version of the name song. The spanish/english/german speaker is singing proudly, “My name is Poopy, Poopy, Poopy. My name is Poopy. I like Poop.”

Then the english speaker follows up, giggling, “My name is Pee-Pee, Pee-Pee, Pee-Pee. My name is Pee-Pee. I like Pee.”

I am wondering what to say, know extinguishing such songs is a challenge in a group of twos almost threes. I also wonder what the worker will think, wonder what the disabled and elderly persons will think. I smile at the worker as he walks from van to building beside us, sure he has overheard what I think of as our fresh talk. “They all love those words,”  I say, smiling.

“You have the best job in the world”, he replies, huge grin on his face.

And I am reminded, and reply, “It is a good job.”

Face saved, critique of children’s behavior avoided.  The children naturally move on to wondering about the owl that is resting on the veranda of an upstairs apartment, fixture of every trip we’ve taken to the park this year, and then about our friend, who they refer to as the Hi-Ho man, name passed down through generations of day care kids since the man we adults know as Michael used to sing to us from his balcony three floors up, or pop out of a door to serenade us on the sidewalk, “Hi Ho Hi Ho its’ off to the park we go”, or some variation on that Disney Snow White and the Seven Dwarves theme, who hasn’t sung that in quite awhile as far as I remember, but who keeps his name. And so we talk about the Hi Ho man, wonder what he might be up to today, off to a store, reading the newspaper, talking on the phone, watching tv, until I come to going on a bus adventure, which the German/English/Spanish speaker likes a lot, says, “Yeah, riding a bus.” And then we arrive at the park, where we are on our own for the hour, are visited by the mother of a late arrival, play in the sand and sun and wind, until it is time to go home again.

It’s a typical day in our world, and I wonder if the man who believes it’s the best job in the world had such loving care when he was a child, if he remembers it and is glad we are giving it to our children, or if he didn’t and wishes he did. Our presence in the world serves as a reminder of how our society ought to treat the children, of how childhood should be lived and revered. Not bad for inspiration from a repairmen on the sidewalk by his van.

Early this morning, I read an article from The Washington Post shared with me by two fellow providers, including a letter written by a Cambridge Public School teacher resigning her post due to not being able to live the life she believes in with the children in her classroom and school. I’ll share it here. We at WFDC are indeed lucky to have the freedom we have to live life with our children in the way we do. No tests, minimal data, all children, all the time. Lucky indeed.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/03/23/kindergarten-teacher-my-job-is-now-about-tests-and-data-not-children-i-quit/

 

Definition from the internet, found via google search, making me feel that I am not alone in the world:

  1. Attunement | Define Attunement at Dictionary.com

    dictionary.reference.com/browse/attunement

    Main Entry: attunement. Part of Speech: n. Definition: being or bringing into harmony; a feeling of being “at one” with another being 

Today I walked to the ICA with my beau and my gal. We left the house somewhere near two, both my gal and my beau having a hard day, me wishing to cheer them up, to bring us together. We walked to Davis Square, where we took the T to the museum. Before we were halfway up the hill to Broadway, my gal in her pink coat was far ahead. She continued this way until we arrived in front of the T station, making my beau wonder if he was doing something wrong, reminding me of the time I walked her to meet the carpool, and followed her all the way there. At the museum, we wandered the exhibits, mostly on our own, coming together a few times, when one of us missed the other, for a brief shared glimpse to show another what we loved, to take a photo, and for a long time, inside the exhibit, The Refusal of Time, put together by William Kintredge.

For those many moments, I stood beside my beau, our breathing in sync as we watched the black and white images projected on three walls. For awhile, my daughter stood nearby, then she eased her way through the crowd to a place on the floor, where she sat and soaked in the exhibit. Others sat on chairs, or on the floor, or stood nearby, some in groups, some on their own, some in pairs.

On the way home, my gal and I sat side by side on the subway, across from my beau. He had searched for three seats together, but the train was too full. My gal’s arms and mine touched through our coats, and our shared gaze rested on the others on the train. Earlier in the afternoon when I had asked her which route to take from the museum to Fanueil Hall, the Greenway or the Waterfront, she had chosen the Greenway, where we could see a group of skate board dudes opposite us, telling me she wanted to people watch. So on the train, arm to arm, I shared my observations of a couple across from us, observed that the woman spoke what sounded like a Spanish accented version of Spanish, much like our friend Carla, with whom we had shared two weeks in our home last spring, and a surprisingly deep connection. My daughter observed how pretty the woman was, and I observed how nice she seemed, wondered if the man she spoke with was a partner or a friend. My daughter speculated he was her partner, confirmed her suspicion in my ear when he kissed her cheek. Then I noticed her diamond ring, wondered if they were married, noticed he didn’t have one, and my daughter said they better be. I said he could be someone else, besides her husband, and my daughter noted that if she were the one with someone besides her husband she would remove her ring.

I wake up in the night with the back of my beau pressed against my own, on my side of the bed. He arrived late Friday night, straight from his mother’s home, after making a plan to send her to the hospital, which was supposed to happen via his brother’s car, driving her to New York City from Connecticut. Instead she went via ambulance, met his third brother there at the hospital where that brother’s son is in training as a neurosurgeon. One connection to the other, stringing dots to safety, or not, his mother a very old woman, on the brink of death, threading the needle on a Hail Mary prayer, as my beau had described the days ahead yesterday morning, before calling his brothers and his mom and asking the home health aide to give him a first hand report on his mom. Four days he was by her side making plans for her to get some pain relief and to be cared for in her home after a steep decline from independence, or to go to the hospital for a treatment aimed at relieving pain. It may be the end of her life, the end of my beau’s physical connection to his mother, though the relationship will live on.

All this wakes me near five am thinking about attunement, about the way a mother and a newborn baby come together after  birth, seeking to regain that shared breathing and respiration, circulation which in utero was effortless, how sharing a home or a bed or a subway train or even space in a museum or a coffee shop brings us great satisfaction and contentment, or leaves us feeling all alone.

So, I rise, in the absolute dark upstairs, to find lights on in the tv room below and my cat Frances waiting at the door, to sit beside me and purr while I type, her body warming mine through the blanket on the couch, the furnace breathing through the pipes in the house, loud now I stop to listen, filling the house with hot air, as soon we’ll all wake and breath closer together or far apart, the shared breathing moving from sleep to wakefulness a mixture of separation and contentment.

Yesterday my beau and I made frittata. Really he made frittata and I cleaned the kitchen and invited the kids to the table, a round one in my kitchen where we sit when meals are cozy. Later in the day, my beau and gal and I shared a table in the ICA, she hungry, we craving coffee, and then at 7 we met up with my boy in Davis Square to share four plates of Tibetan food, warm light, in the company of strangers who cooked and served and cleaned, and ate and talked and laughed. Then we walked home again, along the sidewalk in the cold, stopping at CVS for a razor, a binder, some nail polish, a lip gloss, toilet paper, notebook dividers, all carried home in four bags shared between four people.

At home we took time apart around the dining room, living room, tv room, three adjoining spaces, all in separate chairs, all with separate devices, my beau and boy on laptops, my gal and I on phones, my gal watching tv, the rest of us reading, looking, watching, whatever you call checking e-mail, Facebook,and searching the internet. Then the kids and I watched New Girl, my latest addiction and pleasure in the tv world, joined for an episode and a half by my beau. Lots of casual sex seemed to be the theme of those last two episodes, though in the nuances of the series I see the cast of characters fighting against it, talk with my gal briefly about all the sex we’ve seen, noting that it seems ok, that she is a teen, and it seems normal to want to play or read or watch about those older than ourselves, remember a conversation or an article I read when she was young about Barbie play for young girls, and how many think it’s inappropriate with Barbie’s full grown silly woman’s body, but how from the time we are small, we are learning about the next phase of life through story, play, and image.

Kintredge’s work, The Refusal of Time, if the words on the entrance to the museum are true, has something to do with the standardization of time, how at one point Greenwich Mean Time, even the clock, took over the world. The piece I remember was a parade of shadow puppetry, individuals, who all appeared to be black, African, danced along from the corner nearest us at the back left hand side of the space, around the front wall to the right side wall. There were sounds and images and for awhile there was a feeling of a parade, with each member moving along in a rhythm of his or her own, with style and grace. Then, as things shifted, forms overlapped, technology, even in the form of a simple baby carriage pushed by a small girl, shifted things away from human forms, and by the end of that scene, gobs of black scattered across the images of dancing people overshadowed the dancing and stuck in my mind. It’s hard to explain this work without a shared experience of being in that room. When I got home, I encouraged my son to visit with his gal, as seventeens and under get in free and I’d really like to talk with him about it, to see what he thinks and how he and his gal might react.

In the gift shop before we left the ICA I looked at a beautiful book of the Kintredge exhibit, a store copy unbound in plastic, wishing the exhibit could go on for me, wanting to read text to explain the images, and to have more time to absorb the work. The book in it’s plastic cover cost one hundred and twenty five dollars, so I went home instead with a book of houses published by Phaidon, a sort of bird book of houses around the world, houses created throughout history to reflect a sense of home in a particular place and time. Home, that wonderful word.

As we closed up day care, my friend and I talked about home, about how hard it is to find it, how hard to let it go..She gestured with her fist over her heart, telling me how she learned, after her parents divorce when she was a young child, after living in multiple apartments, feeling homeless her whole life, where home is..and I wonder still, is it in the walls of Garrison Avenue where I’ve raised my kids, does it need to be here, or could we find it elsewhere, could I without them, could I with another, not my former husband, but my beau, or someone else, if this one doesn’t pan out? It’s the attunement we’re seeking is what I think, that sense of oneness in the world, whether in a coffee shop or a museum, whether alone in our chairs with our devices inside our shared home, or in front of one tv, snuggled up on couches and cushions and soft chairs, or with our backs pressed up against one another, sharing the same bed, breathing, temperature, somnambulance in sync.

Learn more about Kintredge. It’s not all about attunement. The colonial powers might have wanted that on some level, too, when they insisted the world live and breath on their time. Apparently Albert Einstein argued that it was possible for time to move differently, for each of us to experience time in our own individual way, for time somehow to pass differently that we think. The dancing parade made me think about that, about standardization, top down education, top down time and place, about finding our own individual rhythm and way of being, about how we more organically get in sync or don’t, about the pleasure of  a conversation, whether in day care with the fives and twos, or on a subway ride with my gal, or around the kitchen table, of how that can’t be planned or forced, though it can be orchestrated, and if we don’t try, it often won’t happen, which is probably why I love so much to cook and share a meal, the family style dining part of our day care something I can’t quite give up, in spite of being up in the middle of the night typing, really now 6 am, and needing to spend a good chunk of Sunday shopping for the day care and my home.  Stopping time is worth it, to notice together the sweetness of a pear, to hear about my son’s experience of his first college class, to look into my beau’s eyes, to have my arm rub up against my daughter’s on the train. All those times are rare in days of wandering life alone, the glue that holds me together, though not the only thing. The spaces in between the togetherness are sometimes more mysterious, like when I wake up in the night and tiptoe down the stairs, only to find the cat there waiting, and I wonder what will come in the dark if only I take time to listen and pay attention and record the thoughts inside, percolating up from the day.

Somehow the exhibit felt familiar, all of us in the room with the breathing machine and the images on the walls, the sounds and movement bringing us along, reminding me of SVS, of WFDC, of life in the city and in my family, disunity into unity and back again, resonance and synchronicity, joint venture, conflict and harmony. Rhythm of life stuff, not always music, not always noise, sometimes silent, sometimes dull, sometimes cacophony, sometimes shiny as can be.

Check it out at the ICA, on your own, with a child or a friend, even in a group. Then tell me, if you can, how the experience was for you.

http://www.icaboston.org/exhibitions/exhibit/william-kentridge/

Today at meal times and on walks to and from the park I found myself in interesting conversations.  My meal and walking group, put together by two visiting fives, consisted of those two, a full time five, and two twos. As we sat down to breakfast, after serving the kids, I let them know I was going down to check the furnace, because it seemed a bit cold. The furnace was fine, and the conversation took off from there. We talked about furnaces, different heating systems, warming ourselves over forced hot air vents, radiators, how the furnace works to push the hot air or hot water or hot steam through the house to the vents or radiators, then about other heating systems, propane heaters, electric baseboard. The kids were not bored, they wanted to know more, their questions made sense, they brought their home experience to bear, I learned something about my own limited knowledge of heating and furnaces.

Then at some point, either at breakfast or lunch, we talked about the holes in the day care kitchen floor, two holes in the wood flooring near the base of the stove, which are covered with clear tape, because kids over the years have loved to look through them to the basement below, and have also loved to figure out which things in the day care fit through those holes. Every so often the tape gets peeled off and I find piles of tinker toys and pencils and marker caps and other slim things on the basement floor. The kids this time were curious about the possibilities the hole might have in terms of houses, though..and I really don’ know the story of those holes. I thought they might have been put there to accommodate pipes to drain an icebox and I explained how I thought that might work, and one boy wondered if there would be a puddle in the basement, and I had to admit, I really didn’t know what the holes were for and that I might like to ask someone who knows more about these old houses to tell me.

The other five wondered how the hole got in my floor..I thought a drill, but he thought maybe an animal chewed it. It is clean and round, and the first five and I thought not..but then we talked about animals who chew wood..bugs in particular, termites and carpenter ants, and the time we found them in our porches and stairs eating up the house..and had to get rid of them..and the third five was sure to tell us she has no bugs eating her house.

Later we talked about mail..the two had asked who the man was walking on the sidewalk as we returned from the park, and I talked about him being a mail carrier, and the five wanted to know why he was doing that and I talked about how mail goes from one house to the post office to another post office to another house, in this day and age and part of the world, carried often by mail carriers and trucks..and about the pony express, which the kids thought was a funny name for a pony..and then we talked about the GPS truck, the name one five had for the truck that delivers packages, and I thought maybe it was UPS, and he thought so, too, was sure that is the quickest way to deliver a package or mail in Cambridge, and my disagreeing about the way the service works didn’t matter at all, the five moved on to planning to mail a UPS package that afternoon to his other friend the five, and we talked about a book we read last week where Frog mailed Toad a letter by Snail Mail, and how long it took..

Then another part of the day we talked about where my laundry machine is, a question my five just had to ask..and when I said it was in the basement, he said his was on the third floor for his mom’s apartment and in the basement for his dad’s. Then we talked about our houses and what is on each floor, and his friend the five told about her bedroom being on the second floor and what was on her third floor..

Somewhere in there we came upon the topic of mice, probably after the termite talk, and I was bemoaning the mouse who ate my Valentine candy yesterday and the mouse who ate a pecan out of our Thanksgiving Pie and I think a bite out of someone’s Christmas birthday cake, and the poison that doesn’t seem to work, and the present my cat Frances left by the trash can two weekends ago, when I was away, and my five gave the cat credit saying she must have left it there because she couldn’t open the can, which she couldn’t, so I suppose he’s right. The kids thought and thought of creative ways to trap and kill the mouse, the fives inventing traps of tubes and poison and chocolate, even a cheesecake dangled out the window on a string, to ward the critters off before they reached the chocolate, and the two reminding me I might just like a pet mouse, which she herself would like, and I let her know that when I was a girl, that is just what I wanted, even made a shoe box house and kept it in my dresser drawer, in anticipation of the mouse moving in and having a cozy bed. And I let the kids know we used to trap the mice by using a special trap of a paper towel tube hung off the counter top over a tall trash can with peanut butter on the trash can end of the tube, and the mouse would walk the plank to get the peanut butter and drop into the can and we would wake up in the morning and take the mouse to Alewife Brook, over and over again, which is something I no longer do, but the poison isn’t working either, nor the cat, at least neither can keep my candy safe, so perhaps it’s time for more humane treatment, which my two continued to remind me even as the fives invented ever more dastardly traps.

It’s been ages since I’ve had conversations like this in the day care. I’ve missed them a whole lot, these big kids in small groups asking and thinking and wondering together. Nice to have them back for February vacation, hopefully next summer again. During after school I tend to be busy these days, doing desk work and dishes and diapers and resting my weary brain,  while Liana or Jen hang with the older kids, but at meal times on vacations, I get my fill of interesting talk.

I’m waking up and going to sleep, walking around town, driving long drives thinking about my projects. The kids and I are going to Amsterdam with friends in April, my first time in Europe since junior year of college, second time altogether, kids’ first time ever. I’m revved up about my research/writing project, collecting ideas and resources, researching, talking and thinking about what it’s all about.

This is the sort of place I like to be, excited, energized, inspired, a little on the edge of holding it all together, a bit on overdrive to sort out something I  can’ t quite name. Mystery, I suppose, wondering what might be next.

Today my beau and I walked downtown, my new downtown, Northampton, and added to the usual stops at the bakery, coffee shop, grocery, and the frame shop to say hello to his gal, I requested a visit to The Raven used book store, where they have had a surprise waiting for me on the shelves each time I’ve visited. Today was no different. After half an hour or an hour sitting on the floor in front of the Education section, a few minutes perusing the Latin American and Women’s Studies sections, I came out with a short stack of books I can’t wait to read and share and a slightly better idea of where I’m headed, topics ranging from urban education, writing, composing a life, growing minds, becoming a teacher, observing and writing about the children in our midst and our interactions with them, reflecting on our work and mission in life, evaluating the changes that occurred in British primary schools from the 70s to the 90s, teaching and testimony, finding a voice.

This afternoon it’s back to a project of the more mundane variety, data entry for day care bookkeeping, tax and financial aid purposes. The music is on, the tea is made, the toast and jam and almond butter nearly eaten, the rice is cooked, the leftover Indian food in the fridge for a meal break an hour or two down the road. This writing is my last break, I promise myself, before getting down to business, having put off this business too long, all weekend, for walking and talking, eating, cross country skiing, eating, even a movie last night, Gloria, and some music and dancing, living room style.

Reminds me that kids are no different. All work and no play makes us all dull folks..as would all play and no work.. Here I go:) Will feel good to log the hours and knock a bit off the to do list..nice also to wander into the world of playing with ideas, of playing in the snow, of browsing in the world and in the mind of another for ideas which may or may not take hold, which may or may not lead to a concrete, predictable end.  This, on some level, is what I am trying to understand, the nature of learning, the nature of meaning and life well-lived..how to master it or to be good enough at it, and how to create places which allow all human beings, children and adults, to make the most of each day. Ciao for now as I disappear into the world of Moneydance…tax appointment looms..sometimes I need a deadline to make time for the things which are hardest for me to do.

Earlier this week I was eating lunch with my group of twos and a baby. One two is quite new and has just recently begun to adjust to life in our care. When asking for something at the table, he said it so kindly, I had to let him know.

“May I have some more bread, please?” he asked.

“Sure. Such friendly words,” I smiled.

“I’m a friendly person,” he smiled back.

“Yes, I would say you are a friendly person. I’m enjoying getting to know you.” I replied.

“Do I have to like the day care?” he asked, with a thoughtful expression.

“No.” I replied.

“But I know I will like the day care when I get used to it.”

“That’s what I think.” I answered, recognizing these words from him as some I had shared earlier in the day when he was wondering about his good-bye. “I think you’ll like it when you get used to it,” I had said. “Its a friendly place and most of us like it here.” Somehow those words shared with a slightly sad and anxious small person reassured me, as much as him, that the work we do, looking after children while their parents work or do their thing, is not so bad, even when a child seems not to want to let a parent go in the morning. The day care is a place most of us want to be, adults and kids alike, once we get used to it. That, bottom line, is a good, good thing, especially when a new arrival presents himself as a friendly person. Who doesn’t want to spend life in the company of friendly people, playing, eating, talking, walking, resting, making art and building things, cuddling, reading, sharing stories, even fighting, as long as things resolve?

That being said, we all like to direct our own lives, and each of us is our own person. Who am I to say a child must eat a certain food or like a certain thing, or what it means if they do or don’t? Giving kids time to adjust, allowing them to dislike and/or reject a food or activity,  to move at will from place to place, seeking places of comfort, interest, and satisfaction, is a big part of what we do. I hope in the end, what it allows is for children to like the day care once they get used to it. More than that is hard to ask.

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