Friday as I was anticipating spending my first Halloween across The state from my kids I tried and could not remember the last time I took them trick or treating. Could it have been the year we dragged my daughter the ghost bride along with my son’s young teenage friends, her energy flagging until at last we arrived home frozen and worn out only to discover her fever? She seemed so young in my memories and photos of that night I can’t believe it was our last, and I can’t remember going together again.  

How many other lasts have passed unnoticed? I wondered Friday as I served breakfast to my day care kids who asked me if my kids would be trick or treating.  I wrote down the title of this post while they are in hopes of thinking more about it when I had time this weekend. 

I don’t remember lots of things, not the last time I saw my father alive, nor being at his funeral, though I know I was. Yet I remember the light on my aunt’s stairs as I came to greet my mother returning from the hospital to share the news afte my father died and I remember the conversation on my grandma’s couch shortly after hearing the news. Why those two memories stuck and not the others, I don’t know. 

I don’t remember the last holiday we spent in my mom’s home, though I remember a Christmas I cried in my room after opening my gifts, including turtle necks I’d chosen myself and a makeup mirror my sister had wanted and I had not. I remember the sadness and confusion crystallized in that moment of transition from childhood to adolescence, but still can’t say what caused the sadness to run so deep. 

This year my teens and young adult children did their thing on Halloween, one in Watertown at a sleepover with friends, one at work at Improv Boston, one at college at Rpi. Late afternoon I sent them a texted photo, along with my mom and sister. Richard had me climb into a coffin in someone’s Shutesbury yard after we’d been hiking with friends and and my daughter had texted me Happy Halloween. Other years I would have seen my sister for her Halloween birthday. This year we met over text, sending well wishes and photos back and forth across our group messages.

Later I carved a tiny pumpkin Richard bought at the farmers market while the two big ones the kids had chosen on our way back from Ashfield on Columbus Day sat on our Somerville porch uncarved and alone, no one home there to give out candy or light them up. Richard was pleased with my carving.  I asked him when he last carved a pumpkin. He didn’t remember.  Ah, well. We lit the tiny jack O lantern and put it on his Northampton porch to welcome the trick or treaters that never came. Richard carried it through the neighborhood as we walked to friends’ for dinner, and it lit up the table during our kids free dinner party, stayed the night after we went home to Richard’s quiet house.  

Richard left early Sunday morning, after a weekend of barely being together. The kids left Monday night for the week with their dad. Kids and partner will return over the next three days, arrival plans TBD. It’s been a rocky stretch…hard news on many fronts..death, illness, hurt, sadness. In between low points were lots of highs. I heard a fab talk Friday night at the Museum of Science with Richard and Jonah, spent Saturday morning with Ben who was playing Ultimate at a tournament at Yale and made time for lunch with his mom, found some solace in Quaker Meeting Sunday morning and a quiet Sunday evening at home with Jonah and Isabel, followed by a fine Monday visiting Hampshire College and UMass Amherst with Jonah, including surprise visits with an old friend from SVS and my nephew Harrison at UMass.

Still, I miss my people. When hard news comes in droves, I need the comfort of my loves.

Tomorrow is the twentieth anniversary of the West Family Day Care. Our license went into effect October 23rd, 1995, when my son Ben was ten months old. This month Ben is working on finding a job. He’s got interviews from companies all over the country. He plans to graduate May 28th with a dual degree in Applied Math and Computer Science. Bright guy, promising future, funny feeling to watch my boy start on his young adult way as I find my way again in middle age. The good news is that all that playing around when he was young didn’t hurt him one bit. I’d like to think it helped a whole lot. Play away kids. At 20 you too could be looking for full time work, which may or may not offer you the opportunity to show off the lighthearted, passionate self you brought into the world. My wish for WFDC and for Ben is that the kids who start out with us will hold the feeling of doing what they love so that when they see it in adult life they can go for it and not hold back, just as they did when they were playing here with their friends and on their own.

Monday was also the first day of my new writing class. I skipped it to be with my son. This coming Monday I’ll be there, sandwiching that and my kids’ annual check ups in between time with my visiting mom and Richard. I haven’t got a clue what I’ll bring to workshop, haven’t written much of anything worth attention and revising in awhile. Last night at Sharing Circle a friend talked about being careful with her time so she could spend three hours a day working on a new book. After the circle, I talked to her about her writing..her inspiration, routine, her love. Made me happy to hear her starting a new project, wishful that I could find one, too. Hers came to her in Meeting for Worship. You never know what might be born in that fertile silence that draws me back again and again and again.

All for now. I’ve been looking forward to reading my book since last night at bedtime when I was too tired to read, Dorothy Day:  A Radical Revolution by Robert Coles, author of another book I mentioned here, The Spiritual Life of Children. This one came to me at the Ashfield Fall Festival book sale. The other one turned up at the Montague Book Mill a year or so ago. Tonight I’m thanking my Western Mass life for inspiration, even as I mourn that my man is there and I’m here. Good Night.

 Writing with fours is

 really taking off



The kids and I are in the yard. We came out because they were noisy and wild inside. Once they came out they were quiet and still.

Two fours and two twos found sticks and scratched troughs in the dirt. One four found an acorn, put it in his trough, buried it with dirt and hay. I wondered if and how the squirrels would find it.

“They have a sense,” he replied.

“What kind of sense?”I wondered.

“A finding sense.”my boy said with assurance.

I listened this weekend to an episode of On Being with Krista Tippet who was interviewing Mary Catherine Bateson, daughter of Margaret Mead and ? Bateson, famous anthropologists. In talking about religious versus spiritual versus scientific people Mary Catherine Bateson talked of the sense of wonder at the root of all these human impulses toward understanding and deeper meaning. May it take root and grow in our backyard. Certainly the children cause me to pay attention, and in so doing often allow us to enter a state of wonder. Happy sticks and seeds and nuts and squirrels to you on this fine fall day.

This morning the kids were super busy. For a little while there was fighting, and then it settled down. The little ones were here and was in the tent with her friend the four, another two were moving about, making trains and tracks, sharing toys, hearing stories, checking on the action.

In the kitchen were a group of fours that had begun the morning in a state of great contention. Who would play with who? Who would be kind to whom? Liana and I decided to give them space to work it out. I didn’t go into the kitchen where they worked with tape and scissors, but stayed nearby in the project room sorting through piles of too many markers.

When I went to the kitchen in the midst of my marker chore, I heard one girl exclaim, “I’m making lots of tickets, because tickets are so important!”

“They are for our wedding,” her friend said. “Maria knows me and E… are getting married because we are always holding each other’s hands.”

“Mine are for my wedding, too,” confirmed the first four. “I’m marrying A…” which was the first time I’d heard of this particular pairing.

“We have to fill the envelopes with tickets.” said the second four, stuffing her recycled envelope with many snips of paper. Nearby her friend the second four was stacking small rectangles of paper on top of her envelope before putting them inside. Earlier their friend another four had handed me a small rectangular strip a ticket for his wedding. I had heard him say it was going to be a long time from now, so long the others might be dead.

Earlier I had wondered if I should offer a project in order to dispel the unfriendly energy. Turns out the kids invented one for themselves, and in so doing, found their way to kindredness. One boy had said, I hate you, or something like that, had heard his friends say that hurt their feelings, had apologized and moved on.

I am again impressed by the power of fours to make these extended games, like the wedding that has been in process for a month or more, and projects, like the ticket making, which involved getting out all the supplies and materials, scissors, paper, envelopes, from places in the day care, organizing themselves into a space in the kitchen that would hold the project kids and their work, visiting and planning amongst themselves while they cut the tickets and stuffed the envelopes, and cleaning up so we could have breakfast in the same space. The competence is breathtaking when we stop and think how far these small people have come in just four years.

Later as we walked home from the park three fours and two twos, one four referred to one two as younger. “I am not younger!” she bellowed.

“Yes, you are,” explained the four.

“What do you want us to call you?” asked the other four. When the two didn’t reply, this four suggested asked if she wanted to be called by her name.

The first four suggested they call her adorable. “Should we call you Adorable?” she asked the two.

“No!” the two replied, indignant.

The four persisted, explaining the meaning of adorable, sweet, cute, just what this two is.

“No!” the two insisted. I shared a story about being a very small child when I was in kindergarten and not liking to be carried around or picked up by the other kids.

“Why?” asked the fours.

“What do you think?” I wondered.

“I don’t know,” they replied. “Because it hurt you?”

“No, it didn’t hurt,” I said, “I think I didn’t want to be littler. I wanted to be the same as the other kids.”

The mixed ages are fun to work with throughout the day. In the morning we had a large group of fours doing four-year-old things and some fours playing with twos quite happily, some twos being invited in to the play of the fours and loving it, some twos enjoying being amongst peers. We also remember when these fours were twos and marvel at how much they’ve grown.

This afternoon I was able to slip out during nap time to get the groceries, as our numbers were low. The twos napped. The fours rested, made masking tape casts on their feet. I let them know that when I returned I would need their help putting away the food and then they could go outside while I wrote the observations. When I returned from the store I heard one four say, “She wants us to help put away the groceries, but we won’t.” I heard the teenager in her words, said to Liana, “I asked them to help and I want them to, even more so having heard those words.” Liana agreed. One four had been waiting to go out and hadn’t made a caste. I asked her to take the food out of the bags and put it on the table, as my own kids often do. She did that as I carried the bags into the house.

The other fours finished cleaning up from making castes and came to carry the food. The four girls carried everything from the table to the pantry where I put it in the fridge and freezer and on the pantry shelves. “I can carry the milk!” pronounced the four who had said they would not clean up. The others carried so many things at once I had to ask them to be careful of the fruit lest they drop the apples and bananas which might bruise. The food was put away by the fours and me much faster than my teens and I can do it. The power of fours, when we can harness it, is real. The twos need their sleep. It’s time to wake the last one now!

Friday morning in a when I felt warm and loving I scooped up our two after he’d been naughty, tossed him around a little, swung him by holding him under his arms with my arms, bending over just a bit as I planted my feet apart to line his swinging body up with the space between my legs. He giggled so much two fours asked for turns. Why not? I thought, adjusting my stance to accommodate their taller frames, saying aloud, this can’t be good for my back.

That afternoon I wasn’t as comfortable as I usually am while doing paperwork on the couch, collecting nap things and mats when the kids got up, bending over to pick up stray toys and bits of paper. My back was hurting. By dinner time, I was sitting at the table while preparing green beans for the stir fry, taking a break from standing between setting up the rice in the cooker and frying the pork at the stove. After dinner, I wasn’t great.

By Saturday morning I was awful. I wrote the book group folks planning to meet at our house that evening to say my back was out and I was having second thoughts. The first reply sent me to her massage therapist. In his office at 12:30 I cried getting onto the table and as he did his work, muffled my tears and adjusted carefully from front to side to back, felt slowly better under his care, but cried again as Richard and I walked down the street to his car. It was like that a few days. At first many movements produced cursing and laughter, as things continued, cursing and tears, then just tears, then just exclamations. The book group came and went thanks to lots of pitching in and my unwillingness to cancel a party. I left the party halfway in, fled to my bed to get off the chair, stayed there until late Sunday afternoon, when I came downstairs to eat dinner with Richard and the kids in the living room, where I could lie on the sofa and they could sit nearby.

All week long I’ve been off work. Folks have been beyond kind, my own kids, Richard, the other teachers and our colleagues, kids and families, my mom and sister. Everyone has had back pain or knows someone who has. I’ve gotten more referrals and suggestions than I could possibly follow, each passed along with the gratitude the person must have felt when their own pain or that of their loved one was relieved.

I was one of those kids who got the certificates for perfect attendance in elementary school. In nearly forty nine years of life I’ve rarely taken sick time. This round I have my doctor boyfriend and my conscientious colleagues telling me to lay low, to heal my back rather than aggravate it. I have folks stepping in to help. Just now Richard is at Stop and Shop buying next week’s day care and home groceries. I haven’t left the house since Friday, except for a walk halfway up the block on Monday and a short trip to the ATM and to my son’s Improv Boston performance Tuesday night, a welcome respite of laughter in a not so cheerful day.

This afternoon Richard and I will share my half of the day care work while Jen does hers. The kids and teachers have been fine without me in the day care. My household has been fine, too. We didn’t resort to eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner, thanks to Richard’s shopping and cooking and to others giving me time off work so I could make simple dinners for my family the last two nights, practicing in slow motion and with breaks the things I’ll need to do when I return to work next week, modified to accommodate and nurture my back’s recovery, squatting instead of bending over, climbing on a step stool rather than reaching overhead, working at the counter in short stints followed by lying on the couch.

This is one of those scenarios we single self-employed mothers fear. When I was going through my divorce I had a nightmare that I had fallen on the ice in front of my house and had to wait there for someone to find me to help me up. As I lay face down on the massage table Saturday the tears were not only from the pain in my back, but also from the massage therapist’s recognition that we hold our bodies in certain ways in response to our life experiences, that the pain can be scary, especially the first time it strikes. I thought of the recent weeks I’ve spent sitting at my desk going over numbers, trying to make sense of where things stand, of the worries I’ve taken on about the future and what it holds for me, for my kids, for my relationships with them and Richard, about the day care and my home and how my career and life will take shape as my kids get older and as I try to make a more solid life with Richard. All of that, no doubt, goes into the body, though no one knows which part of the back pain comes from loving the day care kids enough to want to swing them around, which part from getting older with a body that can’t do what it used to, and what part is the pain of life lived through all its ups and downs.

What does come very clear to me after a week like this is that I am not alone in the world, not alone in experiencing intense pain, not alone in making my life and the day care work, not alone in my home, not alone at all. That above all has made everything all right. Thank you to everyone who reminded me of that this week, whether by offering your own story and something that worked for you when your back hurt, by stepping in to take care of the children in the day care when I could not, by offering words of kindness or an errand or a schedule shift, by making me toast or coffee or feeding my family when those tasks were out of reach, by sending a picture up the stairs from the day care or calling out my name at nap time to let me know that even to the smallest people who are receiving excellent care when I am out, I matter and am missed.

This morning I wake up as I often do on Friday morning, in leaving for their dad’s after school, me leaving for Northampton or staying here, depending on my energy and my will. In a single parent family with shared custody and a long distance relationship, these are the transitions that give me trouble. Its rare I get to be with all the ones I love, my kids and my guy, even rarer these days I get to be with others outside that little circle, my mom and sister and brother and their families, my friends outside of work, the Quaker world to which I am loosely connected, rare also that I take time for anything on my own for pure pleasure, other than writing here or reading a book or article or fantasizing about houses that would put my ideal life back together.

The kids got me thinking about how we make our way through life. I continued thinking with Liana, with my kids, with Richard, with my park friends this week, not there yet. Feeling another round of lost and confused, also dazed and confused if Richard’s teasing gets it right.

But while I was puttering in the kitchen two nights ago, another quiet night with kids here and no partner at my side, so cooking was a solitary affair, I kept company with Eve Ensler being interviewed by Krista Tippett on my favorite podcast series, On Being, introduced to me when things were very hard by a loving day care family who knew how to make things better.

Eve Ensler talked about a lot of things related to mindfulness. Two things that stuck were her belief that we needn’t compromise in life, that compromise means lose-lose, while what we should be aiming for is win-win, and how if we change our thinking that is always possible. Good thought, Eve. The other piece she added, which has been resonating in my brain all week is that it is important to ask ourselves not if we can do something, but how we can do it.

She talked also about the power of words and ideas on real physiological outcomes, about older men who behave as if they were younger and whose bodies soon reflect that, about runners who believe that running makes them healthier and the question about what is causing improved health, the running or the belief in making oneself healthier. She talked about the placebo affect and how it’s been seen as a negative, as a mystery, but how she has spent her life studying how our beliefs can change our world.

In changing my own world, I struggle with my beliefs, as we all do in some ways. I didn’t expect to spend midlife as a single mom. I didn’t expect to live two hours from my partner. I didn’t expect to send my kids to SVS. I didn’t expect to spend my life running a family day care. Once upon a time I didn’t expect to live my life in Boston.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the dreaming and changing phase since Jungian thought hit my head a few years back, since the dreams reappeared and the impossible seemed possible. I’ve dreamed and fought my way out of a marriage, not a purely happy change, but one that was coming for awhile and which in the end seemed unavoidable. I’ve allowed my kids to dream and make their way out of public school into a place so unreal to most it’s hard to explain how it works. I’ve dreamed my way into and out of the founding of a charter school, after dreaming my way into and out of the transformation of a public alternative school, all in the company of a groups of intense people. I dreamed myself into a staff position at Sudbury Valley, and out of it again when that didn’t turn out to be the dream I was meant to follow. I dreamed my way back home, to Somerville, to my home, to my kids, to my family day care, and now I’m dreaming my way out of here, as my children grow up and leave home, as I spend many long weekends in Western Mass, as my circle of friends and community here has dwindled, as my connection to my home has felt less secure, as Richard and I have imagined a future together that can never be here.

But, boy is it a hard dream to follow. The place I’ve called home and the children I’ve raised and their father who they love dearly and his wife who’s become their stepmom and the work I’ve made my own and the partners and colleagues I’ve worked with and grown alongside for twenty some years are here. My house is full to the rafters with stuff and memories and I don’t know how to get out. But here is where Eve comes in, it’s not compromise I’m seeking, its win-win. It’s not if I can do it, it’s how, the it being the living of a more integrated life, where I’m not always choosing between kids and Richard, between here and there, between shouldering it all alone and having a full partner, between raising my kids and taking off, between financial stress and maintaining this big old house, between living for Richard and the kids and work and having a larger circle.. a larger life.

But at the moment it’s time to make the sandwiches and unload the dishwasher, to get downstairs to look after other people’s kids, two joys in my day I mustn’t leave out. Off I go. Time is my master at the moment, thoughts and ideas get sorted out making sandwiches and loving children as well as they do at the computer.


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