October 2009


House looks like a tornado hit it. Middle boy is sick with fever. Big boy, teenager, is out with friends, taking the train to his trick or treating destination. Girl is pulling together a fancy version of a pilgrim from the dress up bin, Grandma’s nightgown gets yet another life. Sick boy is debating going door to door or just sitting on the porch with the candy bucket, costume is in progress as I type, what should I write, H1N1 virus? And I wonder what will the neighbors think? He is using fabric markers from the day care and a painting t-shirt with a picture of the Grand Canyon turned inside out (from my trip cross country after college), twenty years in my cupboard, finally turned into a costume. Maybe I’ll just draw a pig on it says the boy, as the girl debates hair in or out of the white fabric kerchief, debates cutting off the trailing torn layer of filmy petticoat with scissors. I have always been grateful for children who expect little of me for Halloween costumes and school projects and here they are.

Pumpkin is carved on the table, big boy arrived around 1 pm from his Halloween dance turned sleepover at a graduated friend’s house, to help with chores, eat lunch, talk, play music, cut the top off the pumpkin, shower, whisk himself into his bat man gone mad costume, wearing another of my odd treasures, a fuzzy animal print jacket, and another, a fancy pink men’s shirt with french cuffs. I catch only the corner of his cape with the camera as he runs down the stairs to catch the bus to the train.

The kids will trick or treat with their dad around the block while I pass out candy on the porch, glimpsing kids we wonder about all year long who appear this once, in real life, but disguised, not the neighborhood I grew up in where every kid was a playmate, but familiar just the same.

Best sign off to get the last few pics of the kids getting ready. Fun to take pictures this year of the process, house wreck be d—–, for now, just have fun. Trick or treat!

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I have been thinking a lot about this question. Today when I broke my camera, and a little bit of my heart, I wondered how I would survive without it, will get a new one as soon as I can, have a loaner from Eric for the time being, big, bulky, slow thing that it is, with a launch pad of a charger, I used it as soon as it came in the door, just to take pictures of my kitchen table, which would not have looked so pretty had I not had the camera, which I would not have looked at so closely had I not framed the scene in the window (yes this one has a window, and the screen is broken), would not have noticed all the circles if I had not been trying to compose something aesthetically pleasing.

Today when I had my camera at the park, just before it broke, I was fascinated by the leaves, but taking pictures of those alone was not that much fun, the light was not spectacular, the colors were brighter in real life, the shapes more lovely to see and touch than to photograph. But when the toddlers started exploring the leaf covered hill, then I could not stop, I followed them with my eyes and my camera, squatting, sitting as they did, walking around the hill where they walked, climbed, clambered, dribbled a ball, chased, interacted, hid, all kinds of things that I might not have noticed had I not had my camera and was I only thinking of a narrative of words to tell. Toddlers don’t say much but they do a whole lot. Slowing down and looking at them through a camera makes me want to tell their story in pictures, and maybe also in words, but I think the pictures come first, sort of like when I was an exchange student living in Ecuador, and finally, at the end of eight weeks I would think and dream and remember in spanish rather than english, did not translate, and when I got home and lost my spanish, I lost my memories, except the visuals, the tastes, the textures, the general storyline but not so much of the words and conversations as if I had been living in English, I bet. Sort of like that with the camera, have been looking at the world and using that visual language the last six months, have started to see things before saying them or thinking them in words, pictures and ideas coming more from the visual, from the images than from the language or the text, funny thing.

And then I notice the kids changing, too, asking me to take a picture occasionally, but more looking into the camera with a relaxed expression, notice that difference from when we had a sub this summer and the kids looked at her differently in the camera, I think, did not know her as well, were not so used to her with the camera. Alice has always experienced this no doubt, but for me it is new, and I like it. Like being able to capture kids in their natural state on camera, not posing, not ill at ease, on stage, nervous, just themselves.

I have also been wondering if taking the pictures is almost like a gold star or a good job, though I am silent and try not to draw attention to myself or the camera most times, I do talk to the kids while they are doing art, for example, or dressing up, and ask permission to take a picture of their art or them in costume, and then sometimes they call me back for the next transformation. I have been wondering if the photos tell the kids, or my photographing them tells them, that what they are doing has value, how my choices in picture taking affect their feelings about their work and play, how much it might even deter someone from doing something they might not want documented, maybe like hitting or grabbing, maybe though something I might want to happen, but which feels too private for the camera. But we are social beings living in a group, so my guess is that the camera serves more as a positive reinforcer than a negative, not too much in family day care is out of sight of others, after all.

Also taking the pictures helps me to slow down and see the very physical effort involved in so much of what we do, not only young children struggling with a zipper or a shoe, but also adults catching crabs, cooking dinner, playing an instrument, how much of our life is hands on becomes more obvious when you are taking pictures. Very hard to take pictures of words or conversations, not very interesting to take pictures of paper and pencil or computer tasks, so taking pictures reminds me of the physicality of life, of the look of things, the shape, light, dark, color, interplay, makes me wonder on where my camera rests, what that is telling me about what I find attractive, interesting, puzzling. When I give the camera to kids or other adults, seeing what they photograph gives me a window into those questions for the other. What does my daughter or either of my sons or my co-teacher or my friend look at, what does he or she move closer to see, further from to get perspective? What and who draws the photographer in, what captivates her or him, what shapes and colors and perspectives does he or she find beautiful, compelling, memorable?

Must read The Hundred Languages of Childhood, a classic Reggio Emilia text, to see what the authors have to say about all this,wishing for a dialogue, if only in my mind, about how this photographing, documenting thing works and feels for others, how it has transformed other teachers or programs or schools, how it has affected the individual and the group and the outside world.

Makes me also want to find some way to use this piece of our day care life to advocate somehow for what we love and know and care about in care and education and life in 2009. If my eye is drawn to some particular aspect or other, like good food, for example, how can I use the pictures and words to show the world the value of this thing. I am convinced that pictures will be a piece of the advocacy and dialogue and explanation, or exposition, just not sure sometimes what I am advocating for, the photographs somehow feel more personal than the words, different in some way because they are only in our immediate environment, not like words which can travel in time and space, connect with words of others, reference stories, books, facts. Pictures must do this, too, but for an amateur like me, not so much, feels more raw, more unpredictable, more questionable, authentic, maybe, or maybe not, maybe more forced, not trained or practiced in this language, sort of like my Ecuador spanish, wonder where it will take me, if I step away, will I forget it, if I were to have stayed longer would I have become fluent, what is fluent in the world of pictures?

Just as we arrived home from the park, after a full morning of taking lots and lots of pictures of all sorts of things that would not be as interesting to show in words, I thought how nice it would be to take a picture of the big kids’ energy running through the front yard over piles of colorful leaves, climbing the stairs to the porch. All our hands were cold on this brisk fall day, and I lost my grip on the camera and it smashed to the cement. When I picked it up, the battery was out and the lens was out. The battery went back in, but the lens did not.

My heart is a little broken, too. I wanted to cry, but could not, the kids somehow decided to do that job for me, and three of our young ones bawled while I made lunch and Liana changed diapers (not about the camera, as far as we know, but who knows?). My camera is full of pictures I had wanted to see and share and to write about and my days are going to keep being full of things that will not feel right without a picture, and how will I show you all what we are doing now that I have nearly forgotten how to write without the image to back me up? Amazing how quickly a person gets used to seeing the world through the lens of a camera. I haven’t had a camera for years. Since buying this one in April I have become addicted.

Does anyone know how to fix a camera or to access pictures taken on a camera that doesn’t work? If you could help me, I would be grateful. I tried forcing the lens back into the camera body, but could not. Without retracting the lens, I don’t think I can upload pictures to my computer. SAD, SAD, SAD.

Two eights are studying Pilgrims and Colonial Times at school. Today was meant to be their field trip to Plimoth Plantation. It was postponed until next week because of rain. In honor of Halloween, I had thought, the girls dress up themselves and the two kindergarteners. They make themselves into Pilgrims and I take their pictures. I wonder when they will do their homework. My daughter is making a plate for the Pilgrims. She asks if they can eat in the tv room, I say yes, provided they are not too messy. They are not. There is a table cloth, gingham check, carefully arranged food, which they call midday meal, remembering that the morning meal is called Break Fast. My daughter persists when I ask about homework, Mom, this is the first time we have made a game altogether. She is right. It is hard for me to stop them and make them do their math. So instead, they are going to tell me about the Pilgrims.

We came from this little village in England. We came from England searching for religious freedom. Finally we decided to go on the Mayflower to America. We packed our bags and went onto the Mayflower. We were on there for one month and then this big storm and our father was thrown overboard. At that same storm our mother almost got thrown, too.

When we got to America we were one of the few families that got to come off. Most of the families had to stay on the Mayflower. Lots of them got ill and died.  On the first winter another quarter of them died. Kristen, Becky, and Tom were out looking one day for some berries and water when we noticed a Indian. No one has seen an Indian at all yet. It’s been about three months. We found out that he was from the Wampanoag tribe. Then he told us that he was the only person that survived from his old tribe in the place that they were living. Then we got very scared about where we were living in America. Then he told us about the new chief in his new tribe. After that no one had died.

Now we are living in a peaceful home in America that the Indians built for us. We called it a new world. (The kids take a break from telling the story to make the couch and the whole room into a bedroom.) We have to transform it every day. Ok, that’s it.

And now they shift into play. “Could you put the ripsticks away, Rowan?”

“Oh, no, Mom forgot her purse.”

“It’s ok. She’s just going a little while”

“I’ll just put it on the bed.” and she tosses it on the couch. The two eights take the table cloth off the table, fold it together.

“……, get out of your sister’s bed.”

“ok”

“brother, stop bragging about cowboys. It’s not your thing.” says the five, playing with a Littlest Pet Shop bear.

“What are we going to have for breakfast?

It’s not time for breakfast it’s night time.

I mean in the morning what’s going to be for breakfast

Whatever is in the barnyard.

I wish I was back in england.

You wish you were back in england.

It’s ok for her to wish that. It was her home.

I miss my home, too, Mom.

So do I.

And they darken the room, close the curtains on the already dark rainy day, make beds on the couch and pillow.

Hey, where do we sleep?

Where do they sleep?

And they move the furniture around.

R…go get the pillow upstiars.

Ok, I’ll get it.

Children!

M…for grabbing it, you get this on.

Lean against that with your head.

Guys, we are not ready yet.

HOld on guys, we are still getting this room ready to sleep.

Ok, it’s nighttime, says one eight, turning off the lights.

NO! says the other eight.

Ok, I just wanted to see how dark it got. And she goes to put the hat on the five.

No, we are going to sleep!

Ok, and she puts the hat aside. The fives wait patiently for the eights to make the beds.

R, can you move?

No, no, no, no, no. Ok, we are going to move these pillows, One second, R, can you help me with this? And the eights lift the ottoman together.

M can you move this one. A, can you move the orange pillow and put it where M put it.

Now we have a lot of room! and the five skips. Look how much room we have!

Could one of you go get those pillows from teh back room, those long ones?

Ok, one?

No, all, ok, let’s all go. And the four march off to get pillows while I feel homework angst mixed with observer focus, what to do pilgrim play, group development, fantasy, reality, homework? What is my obligation and to what and to whom?

They are back with pillows.

Ok, M, you can go, Just lay back.

Ok, Children, I have a special announcement to make . Tomorrow we have church.

This is what I am wearing to church.

A, you are wearing that, and the eight lifts a fancy outfit for the k girl.

And you are wearing the same thing.

R, remember we have the tuxedo downstairs!

Ok, get comfy, get comfy, and the eight tucks the blanket over the k’s.

Mom, you like it? Since they are twins they share a bed.

I wish I could sleep under that curtain

A, do you want to sleep here together since we are the child girls? M, you can sleep on the comfy couch? She rarranges things, eh lies down, she covers. Comfy?

A, you get over here, and the young k goes under the curtain on a pile of pillows.

And teh play goes on, early chidlhood style.

This is for you at church, my eight says in an english accent, laying teh suit beside the boy.

Isabel, here are the two aprons.

Where’s the tux? Where’s the tux?

Here it is, right here.

Lay down, Rowan.

Ok.

And all are under cover, small light gets turned off, kids rest, restless, whisper. Rowan, close your eyes and turn off the light.

Good night, children.

And in the other room I hear the brother and sister talking, no interest in the Pilgrim game today, talking about Tae Kwon Doe and the upcoming seekign of a tape toward a belt.

Signing off to edit, though the game goes on as usual. all is quiet, then my girl come back with stuffed animals, goes to each bed and gives one to each child, whispering. power of story.

Thought a lot last night, this morning, and today about Where The Wild Things Are and the shape of a story. Funny how the panelist last night planted the seed in our minds that our feelings for the movie would evolve over time, after a night of dreams, and then I had a night full of dreams, which I have not had in awhile, and the dreams were about loss and searching and gifts and games and make believe and rules and some feelings in there, too, which I have yet to fully identify, and even some music. And my kids woke up thinking about the movie, too, and we talked about it briefly before they left for school, and I talked with the carpool group about it, and one teen, who works in a movie store, had seen it, two others had wished to, knew something about it. My son, though, was tired of talking about it, so we stopped, and then the thoughts were just in my mind, all through the carpool, nearly two hours of quiet in a car full of kids listening to ipods, then by myself, only WUMB to prod my thoughts, and the scenery.

Lots of things bubbled up, from the movie itself, from the conversations with the kids, from the panelists and the audience in the talk after the movie, from my own reactions, from my life. The piece I kept thinking about was about the stuff that was new in this version, and I hate to divulge secrets, but there is a background story in the movie that was not in the book, and there is a lot that happens with the wild things in the wild rumpus that is spelled out in a lot more detail than in the book, it is a full length movie based on a forty page picture book after all, and some in the audience loved that back story and added story line and others hated it, others found it puzzling, a challenge. I fall in the loved it, puzzling, challenging camp. The story resonated with my own and with that of my kids. I found myself in tears, on the edge of my seat, captivated emotionally. As one audience member said, it was a more psychological drama than the book in many ways. Others thought the back story took away from the universality of the book, that is took away from the innerness of the book’s story, that the film was a bad fit with the book. Maybe so, but I liked the back story and the detail. It reminded me of working with children and families. You know things about their lives, and you watch them every day at play and you wonder how those two pieces interact, how does the stuff in their lives come alive in their play, how does their fantasy shape their lives, how do the other characters/children/adults in the group or in their lives affect their internal development? All these things were the questions I asked, though not at all formally, as I watched the movie. It was full of echoes, questions, behaviors and emotions to observe, interactions, intensity, a lot like children’s lives in a family or in a group.

Which made me think a lot about this writing, about my attempt to put a story to my life, to bring a fantasy alive, the interchange of the two for each individual, and the ability of some, like the makers of Where the Wild Things are, Maurice Sendak, the author and illustrator of the book and a participant in the making of the movie, Dave Eggers, some apparently well known person who made the movie, and others whose names I don’t know but could look up if I were to google the movie, how did those folks bring their stories to the movie was another theme that kept coming from the audience, did their versions come together, clash, who had the right to tell the story, whose story was it to tell, can the movie maker change the idea of the book author and make great art? So many questions like these adults ask in a group of Harvard Alumns and yet they are so similar to the questions our children ask each day as they play together, the whole process of creating fantasy play alone or in a group is so similar to so many adult occupations and to the creation of real life dreams and of the way adults shape our world, that I find it amazing some days that people like Piaget can tell us about stages of devolopment and almost leave out adults. Do adults not employ the same ways of being in the world which are employed by the youngest children? Do we not use language to understand ourselves, our world, and each other? Do we not touch, feel, smell, listen, and look to make sense of our world? Do we not dream, invent, play, imagine, talk, negotiate to make almost anything happen in our lives? Even having breakfast requires a dream. First, as an adult, a person has to imagine the possibilities, then to decide on which of the many fantasies to follow, then construct the breakfast, then follow through and eat, savor if possible, live off that breakfast, fantasy turned reality, story told and followed shaping life, on nearly every level I can imagine, but for some reason lately, the construction of drama is what fascinates me, the creating of a peom, or a story, true or made up, the performing of a play or the making of a movie, a dance, even a painting or a sculpture or a song, all dreams come out of the imaginations of people, built on the imaginations of those before and around and of the world, turned real, turned out, shared, partaken of by many if the dream holds true and others can accept it as valid, inspiring, compelling, puzzling, worthy of attention. Amazing, amazing, amazing, all through time, into eternity, if we can dream ourselves that far into the future.

The kids and I went to see Where the Wild Things Are in Harvard Square tonight. We met our friend and summer day care teacher and former middle school math teacher for dinner before hand and went to the special showing and talk for Harvard Alumni and guests. It was nice to be the guests. I loved the movie, as did about half the audience according to our informal show of hands poll. So did the kids. As one of the panelists said, though, give it ten minutes, an hour, a night of sleep and dreams, a couple of days, a week, ten days out, and take your temperature then.

For now, I will leave it at that. Kids are in bed way too late for a school night, but hey, don’t do these things every day. It was fun, they thanked me, we were out on the town in a movie theater, in Harvard Square, in the Science Center, in a lecture hall full of people who knew a lot about Maurice Sendak, Children’s Literature, Film, lots of things, and we had fun, held our own. More work tomorrow.

This Friday the homeschooling mom brought food her family had raised or grown or collected from their farm share. There were eggs from their hens, marked by her to keep track of how many eggs the chickens are laying in an attempt to figure out if the eggs are worth the money that goes into feeding the chickens. There were greens from the garden, plucked out after the first frost and looking prettier than the greens in my upstairs fridge in a plastic box from Whole Foods. There were apples from the farm share, and in the morning we had talked about all the fruits that the children’s grandparents grow in the country in France and about the vegetables my grandfather had grown in his garden in Western NY.

Today my mom made us a delicious dinner at my sister’s house on the Cape. There were a few store bought items that were not necessarily local foods, roast pork, chicken broth for gravy, Stove Top stuffing, potatoes (might have been local, but I don’t know). There was also a bounty of local food, which was beautiful and delicious. It was my job to cut the brussel sprouts off their stalk. My daughter who loves brussel sprouts saw for the first time how they grow. My son, who loves brussel sprouts, tempted my nephew with a baby brussel sprout, as I remember being tempted by the baby potatoes my family grew when I was a kid. Where do the babies go when brussel sprouts and potatoes are sold in the store? There was apple cider from the local farm where my high school friend’s parents still grow apples, and apple pie and apple sauce my mom made, probably also from their apples. There was squash, probably from a local farm at home, maybe from the farm stand where another high school friend now makes a living and creates his dream of agri-tourism on a plot of land his family has owned for at least a few generations. There was zucchini bread my mom made herself, maybe from local produce, though that seems unlikely in October, but when I was a kid, we sure had a lot of zucchini and zucchini recipes for using it, including this one.

Makes me happy to see and handle and cook and eat and now even photograph all this glorious food, happy to know the story of how it got to our table, happy to eat in a room with a mom who is raising and growing her family’s food, and to talk with and learn from her about it, happy to eat my mom’s fall foods, season after season after season, tasting the cider that indeed tastes different than the kind in my fridge from Johnny Foodmaster, NY blend versus MA blend resonates in my mouth more distinctly than vintages of wine.

I’m wondering how to bring more of this to my day care kids and to my own life. I love procuring, sometimes growing, preparing and sharing and taking pictures of food. It’s wonderful being around people like my brother who raises, catches, and hunts for much of his own food while holding down a full time job running a small business, or like my homeschool mom, who is learning to do all these things midlife in a country far from home, and like the small farmers in Ashfield who are raising bulls in our field, tapping our trees for sap, growing tomatoes in green houses and making small batch yogurt that is the best I have tasted, raising bees, raising sheep for wool, raising vegetables and animals for food and selling them in the local square to folks they know and who come to talk with them and appreciate their work each week.  All this makes me hopeful that we are connecting again with the most basic piece of our existence, feeding ourselves and our children, in a new and timeless way. I like it. Hope you are not sick to death of all my pictures of food. I find food and the sharing of it terribly beautiful and so I keep on taking more.

When I look back at the pictures, I see it is not just the food which I love and which brings back memories and connects me to my history, but also the dishes and the home things from family members or childhood, and the traditions alive for the next generation.  In the pictures I see my grandmothers’s punch bowl and glasses, angels made by my godmother, a pot lid just like the pot lids in our kitchen growing up, a juice pitcher that used to be full of minutemaid concentrate every day, a cut glass bowl beneath the candle that used to hold candy on my grandmother’s countertop, a ceramic bowl for applesauce I gave my sister for a previous birthday, photos of my dad and uncle as boys and of my nephew, placed side by side under holiday crafts on the side table when the kitchen table was cleared for dinner, dishes my sister got for her wedding just like the dishes my Aunt Joanne had when we were growing up, off which we ate many Thanksgiving meals, tables set with placemats, candles, matching dishes and glassware a long tradition in our homes, not just on holidays, but most days (not the candles, but the rest), kids waiting to be photographed around the birthday girl (my sister) who is in the middle and making a fuss, kids wiggling and making faces, nothing new here, we have been doing it for years, farm folks moved to Massachusetts, Cape Cod and the city, eating local, carrying on the traditions of food glorious food (and family).

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