March 2009

This spring we have been watching for the flowers. First there was snow, then just the green tips poking out from the near frozen ground, then the snowdrops and their blossoms hanging down. Last week we saw the first crocus, yellow spread sparsely in a circle near the snowdrops. This week the white crocus bloomed. We walked by the garden and gasped at the Easter bonnet on the ground, the invitation so strong we knelt in the new spring earth, buried our faces in the faces of the flowers and breathed. The sweetness was something I had waited forty two years to know. The children could barely leave the spot. 

The next day we found the flowers closed in the midmorning gray. Children leaned down to touch their cold, wet petals, one tried to pry them open with her fingers, another knew the mystery, “They need the sun.” On the way home, after noon, the Easter bonnet had returned. We knelt, breathed deeply, the sweetness still there. This time the youngest one, who stayed in the carriage the first time we breathed the flowers, asked to get down. I lifted her out so she too could put her face in the flowers and stroke the open petals with her tiny fingers, the baby who touches all, sweet as the flowers down on the ground with the others. When she finished we walked home.

and the rules of Michael’s red rover, the sadness of a grandfather dying, the thinking that is playing, the shared humanity kids find and know and share so simply.

thoughts that were shared (or I remembered and got up to type in my computer) over breakfast of cereal and pears and milk and water 


then in the afternoon, big kids playing you versus us, boys armed with guns, girls with eye contact. my boy says no fair, girls have the advantage.

When I was a girl we had an old, flowered chair in our living room. It is the place I used to sit with my dad. When he died, at some point, my mom got rid of the chair. I can’t remember where it went, maybe with the junk man who lived down the road. I was sad and angry to see it go, mad at my mom for sending it away. Later, of course, I understood, time to move it on, but as a child, it was hard to let it go.

In the day care I have two old, flowered chairs. We used to have an old, gray chair, but after awhile, the upholstery on one arm wore out, and one arm wiggled loose. I have memories of many children in that chair, one boy who sat there much of his first year with us with a cloth diaper over his head. He started with us the week his baby sister arrived 8 weeks premature and it took him a long time to recover. Another boy used to have a horrible time when we returned from the park, hitting kids and running wild. We gave him a place in the gray chair to find himself once we were back from outside, and this worked. I struggled to put that gray chair out, eventually I did. I hoped someone would rescue it from the curb. No one did. It was a sad day the gray chair was eaten by the trash truck. I was glad to miss the sight.

Sometime before I put the gray chair out, a yellow flower chair appeared on the curb up the street. It was in front of an old gray house which always makes me wonder, so quiet and still, what is life like inside. The yellow chair was lovely, high backed, wings, heavy, heavy, dense old fashioned upholstery, slip-covered in muted gold cotton with large white flowers, zippered up the back so I could take the cover off to wash it if it got too dirty. We dragged it in and it was just right. I thought it might go upstairs in my home, but it has stayed downstairs in the day care.

Then this fall, another old, flowered chair arrived. My daughter and I were visiting a church yard sale, looking through a collection of barbies when I spied it. The church ladies wanted 8 dollars, which I had, and remembered the old woman who had owned it. Another wing chair, high backed, blue and brown flowered cotton slipcover, not sure about the zipper, very heavy. I got my teenage boy to come back and lift it over the church yard fence and to help me hoist it into the van. It came home to the day care and now we have a circle of comfy chairs, rockers, and a love seat around what used to be the front room, now feels like a living room.

I love to see the kids in these chairs. One or two can fit, or one on the lap of a teacher. They sit and read books or wait for folks to arrive in the morning. When we sit in the living room we talk to the families about their weekends, we read, we sing. In the middle of this circle the children make music, dance, build with large blocks, dress up, lots of living. The chairs are for sitting, relaxing, watching, cuddling, talking softly, listening, thinking, singing, reading, sharing made up and real life stories, things children and adults both need in a long and busy day. 

When I was working in my kids’ school I remember talking with some of my favorite teachers about comfy chairs. I once helped one of them get a couch by posting a note on the internet. The other one found his own. When I would go to school at night for a family event in the classroom, my son was always on the couch reading, at home in his school.

Today in the day care some little boys (mostly fives) were playing in the back room. One of them had asked me earlier for permission to shut the door, and when he told me who was there and what they were doing, I agreed. Later in the morning, a little girl (a one) came to the door and one of the fives slammed it in her face. I was right there and spoke to the boy sternly, commanding him to come out at once and find another place to play.

Then I went back to my work, washing up a group of young ones covered in paint and scooping up the brushes and cups of paint before the little ones returned without smocks to the lovely mess. While I was tidying, one of the fives came to me and said his friend was at the door, was thinking of leaving the day care, but the top lock was locked. This is a little boy who had been testing us earlier this winter and who we had worried might run off, for whom we had again become hypervigilant about locking all our locks. I knew he knew the danger his friend was considering. I let my co-teacher know I would be going to visit with our friend at the front door.

When I arrived, he was standing at the door clutching his family photo, the one we ask each child to bring when they join us and which we keep behind plexiglass above each child’s coat hook. ” I want to go home,” he cried.

“Are you sad about not being able to be with your friends?” I asked. Yes, he nodded. “Come with me, I asked. “Come and sit on the couch and talk with me about this.”

We went to the couch and he let me put my arm around him and stroke his hair.

“I want to go home.” he said.

“Home is nice. What would you do if you were home? Would you see your mommy and daddy?” nod. “Would mommy and daddy give you a big hug?” Nod and then sobbing. “Oh, sweetheart, it is nice to be home with mommy and daddy. But teachers try to take good care of you, too. Do you understand that we care about you and want to take good care of you?” Nod and less sobbing.

“Were you thinking about running away?”

“Are you sad that I told you you could not go into the back room with your friends?” nod. “Are you sorry you slammed the door on the baby?” nod. “Do you understand that I want you to be safe with your friends? That if you are safe with your friends you and your friends will all feel better?”  more nods. “Do you wish that I had understood that you made a mistake?” Nod. “Do you think you can remember to be more careful if I let you play with your friends?” Nod. “Would you like to go now?” Yes.

I stopped writing this story because I could not remember a piece that had triggered the urge to tell it. Somewhere in the conversation with my five year old friend, I asked if he had planned to run away (not sure the place I have written it is where it actually came in). He told me he knows how to do the top lock, which is where his fingers were when I came to tell him how sorry I was to have made him feel so sad, how important it was that he feel safe. Yes, I let him know, I know you know how to do the lock, but you didn’t. I wonder why. I wonder where you would have gone if you had opened the door. He told me he knew how to get back to his home and I believed him. I wondered though, if he could walk all that way on his own, such a little boy and such a distance. I think he knew he couldn’t, also that he was safe with us, that I would come. I’m glad I did.

When we were sitting on the couch I asked him if he knew that one time when I was a little girl I had run away. He wondered about my story and I told him about the time I ran away, when I was just a bit older than him, maybe when I was six or seven. We had a pool in our backyard and so did our next door neighbors. My mom had gone to swim and talk with Caroline, her friend next door and I had been slow to change into my suit. I called from my bedroom window to my mom at the pool, asked her, begged her to come and help me with the zipper on the back of my dress. Both stubborn, she insisted I come to the deck of the pool for help. Instead, I packed my suitcase, a little blue flowered thing I took with me to my grandmother’s and my godmother’s when I slept over, and started off.

I went around the corner.  We lived in a small development built on farmland, and around the corner there were only fields. I crossed the railroad track that ran behind our house and kept on going. In front of the next house, where my friend Kelly lived way back from the road behind a piece of swamp, and next to a small group of houses which were the first ones I had come to where I didn’t know who lived inside, I sat down to think. The road was warm, and bubbles of tar poked up through the gravel. I burst them with my fingers as I squatted down to make a plan:  couldn’t go to Kelly’s, not sure why, maybe because her big, loud dad scared me, couldn’t knock on the doors of strangers, could imagine the route to my grandma’s but it was miles and miles away. I imagined knocking on a door, someone taking me in, or catching a ride with a passing car, and then my mom pulled up in our big blue four door Dodge with the bench seat across the back where I would lie down and sleep on the way home from grandma’s late at night. My mom opened the door, took me home. My pink shorts had tar stains on the seat after that, which made me mad.

I think now as I retell these stories of me and my five year old friend, of the importance of feeling safe in your home or day care, of knowing help is there and that you will be understood and that your friends are looking out for you, that sometimes this piece breaks down, of having somewhere to go when you run away, not just knowing your way, but being able to get there safely and to be taken in. I am grateful my mom came to get me and I to get my friend. Locks on the doors don’t seem to help much at a certain point. They slow you down and make you think, give help time to arrive, remind friends to notice that you need it. They are not the things that keep you in.

I thought about school yesterday in the Delicious Food piece. Remembered one of the reasons I stopped working as a parent organizer in my kids’ school, the letter from the District telling parents, in many languages, not to bring their dreams, or their childrens’ dreams for longer lunch and recess, to the planning process for Extended Learning Time.

In the middle of the night, I remembered the other reason. I was worn out. I had given it my all. I believed at some level that I alone was responsible for saving my kids’ school. Which I realized, rightly, and after pouring my heart into the place for many years, was impossible. If I truly believed I was responsible for changing a school, as a parent volunteer, I was deluded, on the wrong path, bound for disappointment. I gave up.

What I remember being told that made sense to me last summer, when I wondered how I could continue to be involved, or to step away, after eight years of caring deeply, was that if the work had value, if the ideas that I felt were so important to take hold were real, then I could not make them come true on my own, and that I needed to find out what would happen if I stepped aside, to see if others would step up, if the ideas would take hold without me, without the hubris I was bringing to the situation saying that I alone could save the school. Which of course, seems arrogant, foolish, to think a parent could save a school that has been around for years, to think that saving a school in this day and age is something a parent could do in twenty hours of volunteer work some weeks on top of my full time job running a day care and caring for my family. I needed to see the arrogance to step away. This morning I also remember the love, which I realize can make a person arrogant.

This is not to say that I did not work in collaboration, that I ever, ever saw myself as the one and only important person doing the work. That is not true at all. I never believed I could do any of it alone, which seems like a paradox, to say I believed I alone was responsible, but that I could do none of it alone, but that is the way it was. I found help all around, found hope and despair all around, found passion and disrespect all around, found love and hate all around, in the other parents, the students, the teachers, my kids, the school committee, the administration. We were all feeling it all, the love and hate, the hope and sorrow of being in a public school and wanting things to be better for the kids and teachers and families and community, the cafeteria workers and the custodians and the office staff and the neighborhood, the City, the State, the World, such a big thing to make a public school that works for everyone.

This week I have been reading some things that make me feel hopeful again. I read a piece on Central Park East Elementary, the school where I student taught, the school to which I have compared all others, that reminded me of what I love about public schools, about the essence of what I had wanted for my children and myself and my community. I found in that piece the word “soul” and I stopped to notice, how the author used that word to describe the learning and the meaning needed to make a place alive, the connection that must occur between the essence of the student and the essence of the teacher, and I was reminded of the human element that I found so hard to describe in my pleas to the school committee, the teachers, the parents, the students, that makes a school authentic and supportive and real.

And then I began reading writings by Parker Palmer, the founder of The Courage to Teach and he also talks about heart and soul and passion and compassion, and about a concept he calls Standing in the Tragic Gap, which if I understand it correctly, means putting myself in the place that feels most uncomfortable, between the reality of the institution the way it is now and the ideal that I imagine, and being there. Hard stuff. I had to get out for awhile, felt my arms giving out, my heart too loaded with caring and disappointment, discouraged, maybe hopeless.

And I think that was a good thing to do. I have had a thoughtful year stepping back, have worked to find another way to be part of education, have explored my ideas of what makes an ideal school, of what children need to learn, what teachers and students need to make a meaningful life together, what families and communities want and need for their children. Part of my wish is for Delicious Food. Part of the reality is that the children in our public schools cannot have all I wish they could have. Finding a way to stand in that tragic gap is hard. Still thinking on it. Wondering how or if I can get back.

Today on the playground I talked to my daughter’s teacher about her husband’s cancer, about how she is coping, about how she talks with her class about it, how they all are feeling, about my own experience with the death of my dad from cancer at 6. The conversation started with Disney World, with a bag the teacher had put together for our family of  a video and a book, of her offer to spend an afternoon with my daughter next week talking with her about our trip at Spring Break and the experiences she has had in Disney World with her now grown children. We talked about her need to be out tomorrow, to learn how to care for her husband in the most practical of ways, and about the modeling she is providing for the children in how to care for him, for herself, for them, about the language that she uses to describe what is happening, what is needed to do right. I felt so relieved to know my daughter, in her eighth year, is getting this from her teacher, the love and support and the modeling of how to live a life. 

And tonight at bedtime, when I planned my week with the kids, I offered to drive to Sudbury Valley tomorrow afternoon in exchange for some driving next week. I wondered if my younger two would like to ride along. Both did. The younger one wants to play on the playground, the older one just wants to be there. I wondered if he wants to go there next year. Don’t know, he said, but some days, when I have a lot of homework, I wonder what it would be like. I love the Healey School my daughter says. And I think of the concerts at lunch time, something I dreamed of many years ago, discussed with the principal then, who had no idea how to make them happen, that are happening now and making my kids so happy. I think of the friends from school who came for Isabel’s birthday for the first time this year, after two years of not feeling comfortable enough to invite these new friends to birthdays, and of her plans on the weekend for her nine year old birthday party, nine months away, which she began on Sunday and which surely include these friends. I think of my son’s four days of music a week at school, two lessons, one music class, one crazy jam session with his classroom teacher and the music director of the district trying to teach 20 kids to play a whole bunch of different instruments all at once. I wonder how I can leave this, how I can have faith.

Today was pizza day in the day care. Liana was at school for an All School Sing with AJ, in the Quaker tradition, and I was in the day care with Vivian, a day care mom who worked with young kids earlier in her career and now teaches teachers about Art Education. I was not sure how the morning would go and wondered if I could make pizza with a group in the kitchen while Vivian kept an eye on the rest of the day care. Good news was the kids, after some singing and planning, figured out a way to make it work. Some boys who wanted to be superheroes explained the rules of that game to Vivian, stay calm and be careful you are not tangled in the spider web before you jump off the climber. Then they took off for the back room and spent the morning calmly building transformers with Mobilos and Brio Mec builder pieces. One boy did not know what to do, and when we asked him what he liked to do, he replied projects. When we narrowed it down, he thought of how good he is at making flowers and he set off to show Vivian where all our flower making supplies are kept and how to set them up. They were soon joined by two toddlers who wanted to paint and a two year old who wanted to do woodworking. Vivian was busy, superheroes were settled, and my little group had washed hands and put on aprons and was sitting at the kitchen table ready to make pizza.

I had a two, a three, and two fours. With two baking sheets between them we got busy spreading olive oil. The five noticed how nice her hands smelled and we talked about the oil, what it was made of, how some people like to use it to moisturize their hair or their skin, which of course lead to the three needing some oil on his hands, which smelled of soap, as he arrived late to the table from the bathroom where he had washed, to the smelling of each other’s hands, to the talk about the other things we use to make our skin feel good and smell nice, to the way water evaporates off our skin and oil does not. Pizza making always surprises me, though it is the same procedure, same basic ingredients and equipment each time.

After the oil, I stretch the dough, patting it gently first all over with flour. The older girls have done this enough with me to help. They pinch just a little flour, pat it gently over the dough, careful not to press down hard and squash the dough, enjoying the springy feel of the yeasty dough. Today they ask if they can add more flour and I say they can if they can flip it over, as both sides need flour. They wonder if they can do this, give it a shot, and are pleased to find they can. We sing the rhyme from the Eric Carle, Can you do it? I can do it? and the kids sing along. 

Meanwhile the two and three are busy with watching, seeing how we do this thing called dough. I stretch one piece out for them, make it the size and shape of their pan, the kids wonder if they can do it, but for now I tell them it is a teacher job. Then it is time for the sauce. I pour a bit from the jar, give the kids each a spoon. Amazing the gentle care a two and three can give to sauce on a pizza, spreading so quietly and gently with the back of their spoons. One four notices the little flecks in the sauce, wonders what they are. I read the label on the jar, she wonders if this is what we always use. She is wise, it is not, usually we use crushed tomatoes, but this is sauce with stuff. I wonder if she will eat it, keep that to myself, she spreads and spreads until I suggest that we are done, the dough is covered, they have been careful not to get the sauce on the pan, avoiding smoke and fire drills once more.

After the sauce comes the cheese, which is the best part, because as the three remembers, he is done after a short while. When I ask him what he really means, as his pizza has barely any cheese and we have talked about making sprinkles not mountains and covering all the sauce and he knows that well from past pizza making times, he says he really means that he is hungry. I smile, more experienced and relaxed now than in my early years of teaching, and say, well then, you may eat some cheese, and I will finish the spreading of cheese on the pizza, take the tray into my lap and spread the rest of the bag while the kids nibble from their bowls. Another two comes just exactly at the cheese spreading stage, and gets her nibbles, too, no doubt remembering from past pizza lives how good it tastes.

Then the pizza goes in the oven and the smells are the next part of the experience, then the sight of the bubbling cheese the lightly browned crust, and the scent attract newcomers. One two, the hammering boy, pulls a chair, saying, I will help Maria, comes over to me at the stove where I cut the warm pizza with scissors and he wonders if we will eat it. I say we will and he wonders if it will be for breakfast. They always ask, but it never is. No, I say, we will have waffles and mango for breakfast (which are also lovely, and the kids notice all the smells and sweetness is our topic at breakfast, the honey and the bees and flowers, the mango, the waffle, the vanilla and cinnamon, who prefers which kind of sweetness, which waffle is the best, how delicious is the honey or the mango or the waffle or the milk). And we will have pizza for lunch.

Which we do, and it is reheated, not quite so lovely as it would have been for breakfast, but we enjoy it just the same, wonder at the crust, at the cheese, wonder with a two if it could really be the thing she helped make, try to convince her by including her in the group, naming all four kids who made it, recalling the experience, but the transformation is unreal, she is unsure. We will have leftovers for the school age crowd this afternoon, and more pizza in three weeks, the pattern of our menu says it is Thursday of week 2, and unless I forget to defrost the dough, and must postpone till Friday, that is what we can expect.

I think as I prepare the pizza, talk and smell and cut and eat it with the kids, how lucky we are to have delicious food, to make it ourselves from basic ingredients, to smell the smells and feel the softness, stretchiness, crunch, taste the sweet and salt, the raw and cooked, simple and spiced, to enjoy it together in a home at mealtime with conversation and good company. Such a simple thing, really, but so hard to find sometimes.

I made my break from the public school advocacy work I was doing this fall in part because of my feelings about the importance of delicious food. I had volunteered to study with a group of others in the district the possibility of Extended Learning Time, of adding time to the day and school year for kids in our schools. While in many ways, I see the importance of providing quality experiences for our kids while parents work, of giving kids who have less more, I had to give up for awhile this year. The invitation to participate in the discussion of ELT that was sent home to all the parents in translation stated clearly that while we were invited to bring our hopes and dreams for our children to the discussion of ELT, the district wanted to make it very clear up front that extending the time devoted to lunch and recess was not on the agenda and would not be considered. I felt defeated. When I was working for the schools last year as a volunteer coordinating the visioning of a future for our alternative public school program, I asked my after school kids what they would do to make life at school better. To a child, from age 6 to 14, each child said they would like more time for lunch and recess and PE. Yet the district has said no before the discussion has begun. I wonder at my ability to enter a discussion when this is the way it starts and ends, when delicious food and the time and place to enjoy it is so far off the agenda. I know the schools want healthier options, that there is a school garden and after school programs devoted to using what we grow in healthy dishes, that the cafeteria often has taste tests, one time had a corn shucking day, that the new mural on the cafeteria painted to cover the wall sabotaged by graffiti is of a garden, but I want kids to make and smell and taste and feel and enjoy the full experience of delicious food in a way that feels more authentic. Seems silly in a way to stop my work on behalf of the schools over food, and really there is a lot more to it. On the other hand, if meeting children’s basic needs for healthy food and movement are not on the agenda, I know there are all sorts of other things I can’t even begin to hope for, and hope is hard to come by for me some days, I need it for the things I can change.

I remember the class where I was a student teacher at Central Park East, and the cooking we did each day, pumpkin muffins in the fall, sometimes from pumpkins we roasted, simple recipes the kids could read and follow almost on their own, the family style meals we had with baskets, napkins, pitchers, a team to set up and clear away, the birthday celebrations at those tables where the teacher glowed as she honored the birthday boy or girl. I remember the Thanksgiving dinner prepared by the fifth and sixth graders that we came just to see and smell with our pre-k and kindergarten class. I remember also many meals in my home, food prepared by my grandmother, mother, aunts, which I helped to make and serve and enjoy and the dishes we did afterwards with towels slapping, jokes, conversation, taking turns with washing and drying and putting away, putting leftovers away in the fridge and looking forward to them the next day.

I love that part of life, the making and sharing of delicious food and I wonder how I will take that love into my school. If we go that way, will we give up our meals? Can I shop for a school? Now I can feed my family and the day care and the teachers, all in one trip to the store, one very full carriage going in, two coming out when the food is in bags, about two hundred dollars to feed a family of five, a day care of ten, two teachers for a week, not bad, but how to do that for a school?

When I was a junior in college, my fall semester was a split. I lived in a sorority house, my goal had been to meet more men, but I hated it, hated spending my money on beer for idiots and ate way too much popcorn in my room. I also took a class I loved, Participation with Children Ages 6 to 12, with  Dr. Ziegler, an older woman who introduced us to all sorts of education, and exposed me for the first time to the ideas behind alternative education, and specifically open classrooms. As part of the class, I spent regular time in a first/second grade classroom in an alternative school in Ithaca, Central Elementary, with a jewish male teacher who job shared with a new mom. I loved it, made life sized whale murals, saw water tables, block corners, class meetings, whole language, hands on math, and education based on relationships and child-centered learning and conversation and doing all laid out in real life as I learned about it in class. We watched videos of British Infant Schools and learned about the models of open classrooms and open education, along with all kinds of basic child development theories, and more traditional forms of learning. But for me, the alternatives were fascinating, and I wished to learn more.

This combination of degradation and inspiration lead me to my semester abroad in London, where I hoped I could intern in a British Infant School and also escape my sorority house life. After lots of research, I was unable to find a way to do the internship I wished for, but did manage to find a program at the City of London Polytechnic which allowed me to earn half my credits doing an internship at Heathlands, a residential school for children and teens with autism, along with an independent study of autism, and the other half of my credits in two college courses, which turned out to be Politics and Photography.

I was thinking this morning as I drove back from Sudbury Valley, in the minivan by myself in awe of the sunshine on the water, remembering a John Denver song we used to listen to when I was a kid that made me cry, of what a time I had that semester alone in London. I was thinking of the notebook I had kept because mostly I had only myself to talk to, and the Irish sweater I bought with the few extra dollars I could spare, both lost in the airport in NY on the way home, the camera I bought with my other spare dollars, which I carried with me everywhere, taking pictures mostly of old buildings and decrepit parts of town, my fascination was the Battersea Power Station, and parks, that I left on the backyard picnic table when I arrived home, only to have it rained on in an afternoon thundershower, ruining my photos and my camera, and of the pottery I tried to bring back from Spain, smashed in my backpack, which I had to stow at the last minute lest I miss my flight back to London, all gone the physical reminders of the trip, and the only ones left are in my mind, as I was mostly alone and have lost touch with everyone I knew while I was there.

So, I was thinking of the importance of writing down what I remember, which was quite a lot even as I was driving, memories of the Heathlands School, where we took the children horse back riding, bought tea and chocolate at the stable, of the biscuit tin for tea breaks with kids who were nonverbal, tantrumed violently when they could not share their thoughts, of the movement classes where we held their bodies to guide them in the dance, the twin beds in the residential part of the school where each child slept at night, the yard out back where I talked to the high functioning boy about planes, and Christopher, the blond, tantruming, strong boy whose smell I can still remember as I held him rigid with a fit. I also remember the study of autism that fascinated me those months, the hours in the University of London Library, the train rides from North Finchley, where I lived with a family, Barbara, Nancy, Sarah, and the longworking dad who came home for dinner at 10. I read many, many articles and books, used as many coins as I could gather to print things on the old copy machines, read and took notes, tried to understand this illness, the researchers early conclusions that it was the mother’s fault, then other ideas about biology and inheritance and illness and stress. I wrote, handwrote in cursive, because I had no typewriter and it was allowed, my ideas out for an independent study project, buried maybe somewhere in my basement still, and now I find myself wondering what I said, how all that time with autistic kids and their dedicated teachers, in the library reading and researching, on the bed in Finchley (no desk either) writing, helped me understand the children I teach today, some of who have come through our program and gone on to be diagnosed with something on the autistic spectrum, others who just make me wonder.

I also remember the joy of being alone and abroad, of travelling many hours each day on the Tube,of listening to my only two cassettes on my battery powered walkman, Cat Stevens and Simon and Garfunkel all over Europe and every time I needed music, of walking the city alone or meeting up with a friend, sometimes someone also studying abroad who was in London for a visit, of spending hours in art museums and cathedrals, traveling around the UK on trains and buses and on foot, of taking enormous chances being on my own, one trip to Scotland and another to France and Spain that I pulled off only by the good fortune of finding things as they were described in the Let’s Go books. I remember whole afternoons with my camera, taking photo after photo of the Battersea Power Station as I roamed around it and took photos from all directions for probably a few miles around its perimeter, then hours in the dark room printing and matting the work, talking with the other students, eating fish and chips in the cafeteria with some, reading the words on my final project from the teacher saying I could have a career as a photographer, and then having my camera destroyed due to my exhaustion and carelessness, never really getting it back or taking pictures the same way again. I remember the politics class, with mostly local students at the working class Polytechnic in central London, studying in their library, writing a paper about different systems of government and how elections work in different systems, finding the variety of ways to vote, to be represented, to lead and make decisions so eye-opening and appreciating the opportunity to see it all from outside the US in a working class college in London.

And, I remember sitting in Barbara’s kitchen, while she cooked a stew for dinner, fed the girls kid food early, talked with me, did her wash around the corner in a tiny machine, served the food on rice ware dishes brought back from Hong Kong, where they had just spent three years, waiting for her husband to come home so the three of us could eat the stew with glasses of red wine. So grown up for me to be with Barbara this way, so sad to hear her stories of being lost now back from Hong Kong, no meaningful work outside of home, no more high life abroad, a house in transition, no flooring on the bathroom, boxes in the dining room, a boarder to pay the bills. But she took me in and welcomed me and the only photos I took of people while I was in London were at a birthday party in her back yard, all the cousins and a cat posing like a cheering squad, big smiles, glasses, striped pants, so happy.

Last week one of our threes turned four. She wore a fancy outfit, flowered skirt, white cardigan, patent leather shoes, tights. She was beaming when she arrived and everyone noticed she was the birthday girl and that she was four. Her four and a half year old friend had been looking forward to spending her birthday with her and decided the two should make valentine’s in honor of the special day. They spent the morning at the project table with red paper, doilies, foil hearts, wallpaper in lace and floral motifs, heart pastas, glue sticks, and markers for the loving words. The new girl found them there and spent her morning exploring the choices, finding out we also have glue sticks at day care, talked with me about the gluing she does at home with her brother.

This week the projects have been about even springier things. In response to our Spider men, one teacher thought to make spider webs. Last week a group of two through fives made a large web of colored tape across an open door frame. Lots of cutting, measuring, planning, and sticking, then a game of tossing things to the web to see what would stick. This week the web moved to the climber, three boys and one teacher worked with yarn and scissors to tie the web all directions from bar to bar, making a nice trap for toddlers. Today the web was revisted by our home school boy, who made it much stronger, so that a child could sit in it. Others joined, a two year old girl spent ages with long strips of tape fastening her bits to the wooden rails. A group of four and five year old girls added many more strands of yarn. A three year old boy took his scissors to the thing, and needed to come down before he mischieviously cut the thing to bits. A five year old boy found a way to make dragon flies with pipe cleaners, this boy who has mostly been superhuman so focused on gentle bugs. Then the girls joined him and the insects multiplied, lady bugs, bees, flies, more dragon flies. The insects entered the web, as did many kids, exploring the power of the trap and their powers of escape.

Two days this week girls made paper flowers attached to green pipe cleaners, lovely bouquets, that if I had set out the materials and made the plan, would have seemed like cookie cutter art, but since the girls invented them, I found them lovely. Today one girl made more for her dad, just returned from a trip. 

Our home schooler filled his pages with a sea today, blue and turquoise and green with fish and larg sea creatures after breakfast, then with a garden after lunch, flowers, insects, plants blooming in full color. One of the fours wrote cards, asking me to help her spell, I LOVE YOU. Then I LOVE PLAYING WITH YOU, then took her time from story to copy the letters in time to share them with her friend before their afternoon playdate.

And the good news is the snow drops were back today, no snow, popped up well above the earth, with white blossoms in full bloom. Still in snow pants and mittens and winter coats and hats, mostly in boots, though some in sneakers, we are finding our way to spring.

Sunny weekend, snowy week, daylight savings time, hard to know where we are this week. Today snow is melting. Friday we saw snow drops pushing up the soil, today they were buried, hoping to catch a glimpse tomorrow. Ice on the stairs this am, melted by noon, hawks soaring over the park, thinking on the way there of flowers, birds, worms, bumblebees, honey, and mosquitos. Snow pants and coatless, we negotiate the wet, melting earth, some digging water tunnels in the sand, others using snow shovels to scrape the melting stuff off the benches and cement. Riding toys are freed from ice, we re-teach the rules of where they go and how to share. Running game back in business in patches where the ice and snow banks are gone, though the hill is slippery with sand and one girl flails in disappointing speed and crash, another little guy tumbles as we negotiate the sidewalk, comes up with cold, sandy hands, holds mine tight until we get to the park, keeps holding on when we get there, taking me along as he walks the path from carriage to sand, then lets go.

The sun is glorious today, though, yesterday the sky was pouring cold, wet rain on top of ground covered in slush and ice. We stayed inside yesterday, not knowing how we would stay dry and warm in such weather. Today we could not get out quick enough and enjoyed 90 minutes of fresh air. 

Funny to do this each year with children who may or may not remember the year before, for whom seasons still have no clear order, for some who expect winter to follow spring. It has been a long winter, more snow and ice than ever in my time as a family child care provider. Kids are antsy, wiggling, wanting to be set free, no recess at school many days, homework a trial after all the sitting, yard at home and at school a muddy or icy mess, needing to be out and in motion. Sitting at the table today was wiggly city, yesterday my girl went to school, following a weekend of warmth, but traveling through snow, in bare feet and crocs. No recess anyway, she reminds me, but still I worry about being the mother of the barefoot girl in snow. Looking forward to the days we’ll all take off our shoes and socks and make our way across the rivers of water and sand at the park together, school age and young ones alike, soaking up the sun and the time to play.

When I walk to the park with our children, especially if a child is being inattentive or disobedient, I often remember the beautiful grey Weimeraner that used to walk my neighborhood, tall and lovely, hit one day when off it’s leash at the high school by a car rounding the corner, in full view of her owner. Just at the spot where we round the corner with our children I sometimes tell this story to a child who needs to know. The children who were in the day care when that dog died used to visit with the beauty when it walked each day, and then it was gone, so the story was almost too much for them to hear. For the children today who don’t remember, it is just a picture in my mind, but the picture comes through vividly enough to make them stop and hold on.

This story often reminds me of the child I saw hit by a car one day coming out of church. If the dog does not get a child’s attention, I may tell about the child, about the fact that I once saw a child hit by a car, will never forget, don’t ever want to see that again, don’t want the precious children in my care to be hit by a car. That one almost always works. The children see in my eyes and hear in my voice the serious nature of my worry, sense the depth of my concern and caring for their well-being.If they ask me if the child was ok, I must say no, the child died. This is a horrible thing, but true, and no child I have told has ever expressed a need to turn away. What I don’t tell, but I remember, though once or twice a child has needed to hear it, is about the shoe that flew from the child’s foot when he was hit by the car in front of our country church running from mass to his grandparents’ house across the highway by a man in a pickup truck who could not stop, and landed on the lawn of the church. In my mind I see the child hit the windshield, the face of the man who hit him, the instant, horrifying grief of the child’s mother and father, the place in the pew where the child used to sit in front of me, a blond first born of a mother who remarried and had three dark-haired lovely siblings with her second husband, the son of the grandparents across the street, and the sadness on that mother’s face each Sunday after when that place was empty, the empty pew that I believe was there for some time a few years after that child’s death, my own awareness as a child sitting in the pew behind that family of the preciousness and precariousness of life, and my awareness now as a mother and a caregiver of the vulnerability of my responsibility for children, the vigilance and adrenalin required to maintain that care each day. Of course, all these pieces must come through in my story, but only a few words are needed to explain them to a child.

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