June 2009


We have visitors today. Their daughter just turned two. I try to explain how things will be different in the fall, when our big kids go off to school and our little ones arrive. The house feels full of stuff, the energy of the big kids feels loud and boisterous. I explain how we will clear out stuff, tell which kids are off to kindergarten, which little ones will take their places. Still, it is hard to imagine.

Then at breakfast I live the fall. I have only younger kids, a one, two twos, a four. As the four says, you have all the babies. Three babies and a big boy, big grin to end his sentence. The table is quiet, my twos talk to one another, one asks a question, the other answers, not quite right, he follows up, at least three or four circles of connection completed in that two year old conversation. The one gets to serve herself the cereal. The four quietly eats, observes, gets up to read a book, cleans his place first, so grown-up.

My four comes from the other room, stands next to me, tells me how quiet our group is, how loud hers is, all the big kids in there for a change. Now the twos are laughing, making two year old jokes, He’s a bumpy. He’s a bimpy. He’s a bud. Then on to two and one year old version of Pokemon Yahtzee, which I must get off the shelf, where big kids have piled games and my two knows they will fall, says, Help me. Can you get down? I must go to help, then soon, later in the summer, clear the shelves, make space not only in the conversation but in the house for the new littler kid energy of fall.

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The after school crowd wants to end the year with celebration. My older son Ben is home with us this afternoon, school out for him on Friday. The combination means my seven gets a chess partner and we all get tea, made by Ben, served in tea cups with fancy creamers and sugar bowls the eights collect from the corner cabinet. My offering is the graham crackers.

We sit, talk grandmothers, great-grandmothers, friends, yard sales, where the tea cups came from, who loves tea, share the crackers, pour, add sugar, milk, play chess on a rainy afternoon two days before school ends, no homework, feeling the end of the year in a mellow way.

Then the girls want to decorate, string barbies on yarn, hang them from doorways (yep!), tie scarves to sconces, make a backdrop, cue cards, for a Friendship Ceremony, rehearse the performance, invite one another up for thank yous and hugs, all written out on index cards and sheets of paper. I take pictures of the first round, the girls continue, eventually invite Alice and the younger kids from downstairs up to see the show, makes my fives especially happy to be invited, on their way to kindergarten, upstairs with the big kids watching their show, lovers of making shows themselves, good to know that part of childhood doesn’t have to go away when a kid grows up.

When I leave for an evening event with my kids, I find a note taped to the door inviting parents of big kids up for the ceremony. At school the next morning (today) my daughter finds time to tell her teacher about the Friendship Ceremony, taking a minute to share life at home before preparing for a class breakfast, her teacher braiding her hair, other moms wrapping her in shiny fabric, reading the poem she wrote to thank her teacher for two good years , then the class play and a Sumatran Dance, more friendship ceremonies here in public school. I take lots of pictures again, enjoying the colors of the kids and the costumes and being in a crowd of parents from around the city and the world taking pictures and celebrating our kids, learn something from my Brazilian friend about my camera, she now a professional photographer, me just learning my amateur art, will send another mom new to the school pictures on the internet, glad to have her e-mail, more connections with technology to folks I would never know if not for life in the city, over the internet. A long way from my grandmother’s tea cups, a new version of home.

Rain on the Housetop, but not on me.

Another gray rainy day. I spent it attending a funeral service for the auntie of one of our fours, her siblings in care with us before her, nearly ten years with the family, an honor to be part of their day, to feel the sad feelings deep down and to be welcomed and connected, honored my work as a family day care provider, never been to a funeral of a day care family member before.

The service was overwhelming, so much sadness in honor of a young mother with children, nieces, nephews, sisters, cousins, mother, aunts, uncles, friends filling the large church, tears like I have not seen in a long, long time, expressions of grief our four needed to feel her own, brought back in incense and incantations, Our Father and Sign of the Peace, funerals for my own family, father, grandmother, uncles, aunts, few so young as this woman today, the grief profound in the church and as we each placed a flower on the casket, our family there behind it, then out front, waiting for all to emerge and move on.

I wondered if I should attend the luncheon, glad I did. Our girl was so happy to see me there, hugged me close, went through the buffet, helped her choose her ham sandwich, sweet chicken wing, carrots, salad, back to our life together and normalcy, a picnic in the corner of the room where it was quiet, away from all the people for a few minutes, she says this is fun, makes me happy to be there, and her cousin joins us, we share lunch, conversation, questions and ideas about death. Then I meet the family, my girl and her mother and brother and sister and father and grandmother all welcoming me in, introducing me, my girl sitting with me now at  a table full of grown-ups, then we go and get treats, matching cream puffs, when done we take our plates to the trash, just like day care, hug, look forward to seeing each other soon, normal life coming back in small steps after such a sad, sad time.

Today at the park our kids had a wonderful time. There was rain and there were puddles and kids gloried in the water, some sitting in puddles in rain pants and boots, others whipping down the wet slides, some swinging in the rain.

As I watched the kids play, I thought how much our kids can be happy with real life stuff, how little things like an old rice cooker or someone’s castoff camping dishes can make the most special toys at the park in a puddle in the rain.

Today our one brought me soup in a red plastic bowl. “Soup!” she offers. I ask if she wants some, pretend to slurp, she says yes, tosses soup to the ground. Her friend the two spends minutes after minutes next to her in the puddle with a longhandled flat shovel, boy who loves any long stick, scooping miniscule bits of water up with his tool, dumping the drops in bowls and pots, making soup with her. Another three, sits legs out in the puddle, delicately using her short handled shovel to pick up the water from the puddle, transfer it to a plastic pot.

I think of kids all around the world and feel the universality of it, my daughter in the claw foot tub in her grandfather’s Texas dogrun, scooping water with a measuring cup into a plastic bowl, kids in other places using coconut shells or sea shells, carved wooden spoons, plastic trash to make their soup.

 I wonder as I watch, what is the bare  minimum we would need to make our lives with children rich, remember a book I bought Liana and Alice one year of a program in Latin American, where children drew in the dirt, in trays of sand, the same stick figures and suns our children make on reams and reams of paper, this week I wished for the dirt and trays of sand, tired of recycling and floors covered in scraps of paper.

I also think of kids in places where all they have are sterilized primary colored plastic toys, sets of letters and cupcakes with matching numbers to make them learning things, and I wonder how or if these kids could get their hands on some junk, how that would affect their minds.

Two German speakers begin discussing breakfast in German. This morphs to teaching us words in German, the best one being Vassamelon (spelled incorrectly I am sure) for Watermelon. I try pronouncing it and come out with Wassermelon, which my five points out is really washer melon. Then it is on to all kinds of melon, adding funny beginnings to the german ending.

Then we go on to Nanananananana Batman. Right now we are on the fifty thousandth variation on that, Whoa whoa oah oah ohman! Cokeman! Have moved through all the possible rhymes and bathroom combinations, which started I now remember with Wasser caca, Water Poop translated into English, for those without babblefish. We also discussed the use of caca in Spanish and Serbian, wonder how many languages have this word in common.

Fun to learn German from my day care guys, to watch them after many years of being together in our care speak their home language at day care, also to do the rhyming thing the cat, rat, bat, sat thing with a child directed chant, not hitting them over the head with it on a chart, but having fun with it in a silly song over breakfast. And even the bathroom language is less loaded when it is part of a foreign language discussion, takes the power out of those words to disrupt or hurt, turns them into learning language, what all fours and fives love, teachers learn to love, too, on lucky days.

Board game time. Ten days in a row of rain, end of the year antsyness, need something new to focus the energy. Board games do the trick. Two weeks ago on Friday we did checkers, first two school age boys, seven and nine, then a group of fives, then two twos. The seven and nine follow the real rules, play quietly at the tall table. The fives make their own game, using a large rug for a board, big plastic checkers, lay out the checkers in the grid, red on one side, black on the other, then the rules are their own. The twos each get a wooden checker board and fancy container of little checkers, one with a lid that snaps on and off, another with a hinged lid. Taking the checkers out, putting them in, covering the board, maybe in the grid, maybe just whereever, putting the checkers back in the container, closing it up, all the rules of the twos for board games on display for the camera. At the end of that day the seven and nine teach the fives the rules, they sit around and make fair teams, one bigger boy and one littler boy against the others, using the big board and explaining as they go.

Today we do Mastermind for Kids with fours and fives, one five has played a lot with Jonah, my twelve, in a pickup extension each Monday when the two boys choose a game to play for fifteen minutes. This boy sets up, teaches the game to a four and a five. We take turns making guesses, explaining the rules, guesses of the new five and the four still pretty random, me looking for their strategy to emerge, experienced five somewhat amazed they don’t yet understand.

A two sees the board games, goes to get Pokemen Yahtzee, he and a one fill the shaker cup with game pieces, shake it up, dump it out, fill it with dice, shake it up, noisy, laugh, take turns, the rules of their game emerging, taking turns, sharing, picking up the pieces when they fall. No, Okay! squeals the one when the two tries to put the pieces in the box. Oopsy! She squeals as the dice flies off on the floor, she picks it up, puts it in the cup, laughs while the two is busy filling and refilling the box with game pieces and the board, trying to put the cover on this rectangular, tricky thing. 

Then the game of the two is to get in the chair of the one when the one is capturing pieces, the game of the one to cry when she comes back, to see if I will help, wooden building pieces found from an earlier dump in her hands. I suggest she build, she goes to the shelf, comes back, says her friend’s name, talks to her while the two bangs dice on the table, the one now laughing, the game back in business. The two counts, two one four five six seven eight nine! The one tosses the dice across the table, the twos and ones fighting and pulling on the box, me stopping to enforce the rules, be gentle, talk, what would you like.

When the game turns to tossing dice, saying Whoopsies loudly, I know it is my time to stop typing and redirect. Looking forward to board games with our new teacher coming this summer and our bigger kids on the way next week, board games for the summer for ones to fourteens and adults, too.

I am visiting my mom in Western, NY, staying in the bedroom where I lived from the time I was eleven through seventeen. My daughter is with me. We arrived very late last night, after 2 am, having decided at the last minute that Isabel and I would ride along with my sister on her planned visit home. Good thing my girl is an adventurer, pursues the trip when I think it is too much, busy time, she insists I call my sister after school, again at home, we connect, we go along for the ride, Susan driving, Isabel sleeping, me keeping Susan company, collecting stories save a few minutes when I fall asleep after midnight, having woken yesterday am before six, long day.

My daughter is up early, visiting with her uncle, cousins, who have been here two days, grandma, so happy to see us for a surprise visit. Isabel arrives back upstairs to visit me  trying to sleep in when my nephew gets his gun, pursuing the woodchuck under grandma’s barn, been there as long as I can remember, this boy ready for the hunt, my girl here with me to talk about the dolls.

All over the bureau that has been in this room since I was a girl, my mom has arranged  things I collected over time, left behind, music boxes, pottery , photos, figurines, handmade decoupage, as well as a collection of dolls, most given to me as a girl by my grandma when she returned from her travels, trips she took after my grandfather died and her life as a farm wife was ended, luxuries at the beginning of her old age, passed along to me. Isabel has stories for the dolls, I tell her which of the dolls is my favorite, with fair skin, a beautiful porcelain face, a white pinafore over a white cotton dress with blue flowers, little black shoes over white hose, long tidy black braids, all remembered now from childhood as well as from my time with Isabel this morning. This doll has been Isabel’s favorite, too, she tells me, always gets the best part in her stories. We look at others, one from somewhere, maybe Portugal, with layers of skirts, on tope a red one trimmed in lace more an apron, the next layer underneath Isabel wishes for herself, pleated plaid, she does not know the word for pleats or plaid, I think of the wool plaid pleated skirt I wore in high school that had been my mom’s, held together with a brass skirt pin, me a lover of vintage, and I admire the detail, the fabric, the solidity of these old dolls, another a native American doll I loved, leather clothing on the mother and on the baby strapped to her back, a surprise tucked there when you turn the doll from front to back, eyes on the mother that open and close.

Later in the morning, my mom shows me things in her house she wants me to have, some from my uncle’s house, which is on the market to be sold, a tea pot, a pottery jug, very old, two small creamers, one from his house, one from my grandmothers, his with pink roses I will use for cream, hers white, trimmed in gold I will use for gravy, similar in shape to one another and familiar to me in style from their homes, though not pieces I specifically remember. We look at all the glass and china and collectible stuff my mom has filling the beautiful, spotless china cabinets of her living room, the paintings and furniture she has collected as people have passed. She writes small notes to remind her of the people and the stories that go with each piece, puts them under the vases and pitchers and compotes and tea cups and creamers in her china cabinet, modern post it notes held down there by the china and the glass of her collection, some even with quotes from those who gave her the things, on her last visits or close to the last, when the old aunts would ask each one who came to take something from the china cabinet for the memory, tell a story as the piece went from them to the next, the visitor.

I think when I am alone after all this looking and talking and sharing of collections and stories and want to write it down. My brother collects things, too, guns, knives, fossils, tools, dogs, bones, animal hides, vehicles, even animal parts in jars of formaldehyde, projects from woodworking and metal shop. But the things we generations of women pass down seem all to be domestic. My grandmother, my mother, me, my daughter love the pretty things, the things with family stories or of memories of ones we love, the dolls from vacations passed from grandmother to granddaughter, with the mother in between making space, the dishes for tea parties and fancy holiday meals that will hold cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving for generations if we can keep on passing them down and keeping them safe in our china cabinets, the furniture  that lives in our homes long after the ones we love are gone, a chair my grandmother had in her living room now in the living room of my mother, on the same side of the house, I think now, feng shui, or obvious home, facing south in both places.

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