February 2010


I have mono. My girl has a stomach bug. Both kids have science fair projects. I have taxes, chores, enrollments, scheduling, more. It is Sunday morning and we spent all day Saturday lolling around being exhausted and sick. Today is Sunday and things are looking up, if slowly. We talked about the science fair project as my girl woke up, able to talk and smile, not only wretch. The boy printed out his papers, has laid them across the display board. The groceries are going to be delivered. The subs are lined up for one or two mornings, making some time for recovery. The plans for the day are more laying around, putting away groceries, typing, printing, glueing, dishes, laundry, another day without leaving the house, other than a quick trip to the doctor for more tests, but hopefully without falling too much further behind.

I am never sick. I am rarely home with my kids full time when they are sick. It is something to learn to be sick and lay low. Not so bad, just different. To say there is nothing to be done. Let time pass. Things will get better. Do what you have to do. Fall asleep in the chair as the boy plays his bass at 8 pm. Have trouble opening your eyes when your daughter asks to be put to bed at 8:15, she herself having just woken from an early evening nap on the couch. Wear pajamas and slippers all weekend. Eat rice and broth and drink ginger ale and tea with honey, first cup brought to you by your son at 11 am while you are still in bed, giving directions to the boy for making tea, which you realize you have always made for him, and for making rice, which you have also always made for him, and he brings it cheerfully, happy to be cooking and making tea rather than doing his science fair project. Ask for and accept help from their dad, who brings ginger ale and popsicles for the girl, conversation for awhile. Accept help from the co-teachers, who will give up their time this week to sub. Let the house go until all the bowls and spoons are stacked on the counter, in spite of thinking the DW phrase should be in the boys’ heads (dishwasher), then load the dishes with the little bit of energy you have at 6 pm, unload in the morning before the grocery delivery, load the evening’s worth. Good news is there is little laundry with people lounging in pajamas all weekend and the girl making it to her bucket for her pukes, boy not leaving the house not likely to change clothes without a perky mom to push it. Trash will go out, and recycling, and compost, not an entirely closed system, even if the people stay inside, tv, netflix, mail, groceries come in, trash day on Monday, compost in the side yard, middle boy trained to take it to the bins, oldest to take trash and recycling to the curb, both boys to put the groceries on the shelves, all will work out, money in the bank, bills even can be paid online, by mail, makes me begin to imagine the life of a shut in or an agorophobic, how a person can live a life inside a house, which until now I have never really thought too much about, now I see it’s possible, if not what I personally would want.

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Last night the wind blew so fiercely I could hear things tearing off the house and whipping across the yard. There was rain, then snow, then rain. This morning the steps were slippery, but the snow on my skylight did not mean loads of shovelling. I am grateful. I have mono. I am not up for shovelling.

This morning as I prepare to start the day care day on my own, Liana away for training, I hear bird song. They are chirping like it is spring. The sun has melted the snow from the sidewalk and I only had to slip the small shovel across the shaded steps and to scrape the windshield to start my day. The compost is on the counter from the blustery afternoon, but in the sunshine, I can take it out, see the destruction in the yard, small sand tray of vehicles tossed across the porch, another downspout down and laying in the gutter, but the compost is there unfrozen, and now my kids are here, too, more sunshine and birdsong, and enough energy inside me to do the day.

Maybe it’s our yearning for spring. Yesterday’s sunshine yielded to today’s raw gray cold. This morning Liana came with a special onion from her kitchen, which she shared with the children midmorning. It had grown a long green shoot, about a foot long. The kids explored the physical weirdness of the onion, then we pulled out, at long last, the Amaryllis bulb I had bought in December to brighten our winter. By now I am beginning to imagine crocuses poking up through the snow, remembering that sign of new life last spring.  Still it seems a long way off.

We explored the bulbs on the kitchen table. Our four got way into peeling away the layers of the onion. Our three asked if we could taste it, and sure enough, those kids loved the pieces of raw onion Liana tore and chopped and shared with them. The four just loved the peeling, and believe it or not, the smell of the onion. Funny how little contact we offer young children with these sorts of strong scents and tastes, and how easily they are attracted to them if encouraged just to explore.

Then we explored the potting disc that came with the Amaryllis. It was a pressed six inch disc wrapped in plastic inside a box with the bulb and plastic pot, hardly recognizable as soil. We passed this around, then someone cut the plastic off and others poured cups of warm water over it in a bowl, and we all watched it change. My other four, who has enjoyed making pizza dough from scratch, thought it was surely yeast causing the soil disc to rise. Eventually, we stirred the soil and water together with a wooden spoon, and even that provided lots to explore. My three who loves the plants kept digging down with the wooden spoon to the bottom of the soil where there would still be a puddle of water. Later on the school playground, I saw a group of school age kids doing something similar, scooping away a trail of mulch to expose a small riverway below.

When the soil had absorbed most of the water, we filled the plastic pot by scooping the soil in a measuring cup from the bowl to the pot. Then we placed the amaryllis bulb in the soil and nestled more soil around it, pushing the soil gently with fingers until most of it fit into the pot. The Amaryllis was already beginning to sprout like the onion. The children were tempted to tear at the layers of papery stuff on the outside of the bulb and to squeeze the soft whitish shoots.  We had to differentiate the treatment of the onion from the treatment of the amaryllis, which we want to grow into a large dramatic flower, hopefully sometime shortly before the crocus and hyacinth and tulips and daffodils and jonquils and irises push their way up and bring us into spring. I moved some junk off the windowsill, hoping the light there would give our bulb a boost. Its cold, though, and I wonder if it will make it, hope it will.

We are walking home from the park. The sky is blue. There are no clouds. It is breezy, but not so cold that we all need mittens and hats, though we are still in snow pants, coats, boots, and of course, I am wearing a hat and am zipped up to my chin. My three tells me she is going to outer space in a helicopter. Wow, I reply. Outer space in a helicopter. That should be interesting.

She looks up to the sky above us and the Matignon High School and asks, Is that blue stuff space?

Yep, I answer, then catch myself. Well, actually, the blue stuff is the atmosphere and after that is space.

Then the conversation shifts. Another three talks about something she understands. I can’t even remember what now, but my mind is on explaining things like space to little kids, on teaching and learning and how much and how. Kids love space. They love dinosaurs. They love big numbers and far away places and times and abstract thinking of all sorts, what happens when you die to is that blue stuff space are questions kids ask all the time. How do we adults answer is a question I always ask myself. In the Sudbury Valley literature, I remember reading from one staff member about how he felt it was most authentic to answer directly. For example, if a child asks how to spell a word, the adult might just give the spelling to the child, rather than encouraging the child to sound it out, though even that might depend on the context. For making a poster advertising a fundraiser, the proper spelling and efficiency of communication might be most important. For spelling a favorite word, like the child’s name, it might still help to talk the child through it, reading teacher style.

Another inspiring person who talked about questions, I think, was Eleanor Duckworth, in her book The Having of Wonderful Ideas. In my teacher training the constructivist thoughts like Ms. Duckworth’s are what stuck. Answering a question with a question is something I do a lot, maybe to the frustration of the kids, or maybe to their good fortune. If I don’t know, I always say so. If I think they might have an interesting theory or idea, I always want to know. I might have asked my three, Do you think the blue stuff is space. But I didn’t. Some days, I just say what I think and sometimes I am wrong, and then I fix my own mistake, something else I like, having kids see me make a mistake, think again, correct myself, always learning, always ready to take a stab, sometimes get it right the first time, sometimes not.

One night during vacation I lay awake for hours traveling in my mind. The whole while I was in a near dream state, visiting my childhood. I went to my grandmother’s house, and it was all clear as day to me, every last detail of her kitchen, the china plates on the walls and the rose painted china tooth brush holder on the vanity of her bathroom, the furniture in her bedroom and living room, the shadows on the wall of the guest bedroom, the footsteps of my uncle coming home from the night shift at the prison, my grandmother breathing there beside me in her big double bed the one or two times she shared it with me, snoring as she napped on her living room sofa, my flowered suitcase on the chair of the guest bedroom, my eyes there in the single bed looking up at the ceiling as I lay listening to the cars pass by on the highway, the barn where my cousins had taken over the farm from my grandparents, smell of the hay there, even my grandfather, who I barely ever knew, was there that night, walking amongst the stanchions, gathering the cows for milking, and I was there, too, climbing the hill to the woods, beside the creek, at the dining room table between my cousins, listening to my aunts and uncles talk, sitting on the sofa with my plate of Thanksgiving food, chasing the cats through the house into the cellar with the stone walls and jars of tomatoes, in the garden with the sun overhead and the prickly leaves of the vines, the warm green beans snapping off in my hands, the warm summer earth smell and the gray tan crumbling soil there, all in my dream state in the night.

I have stopped worrying about being up in the night. I have missed my grandmother’s house, missed her, missed my family and the farms and needed to go back, hard to find the time in real life, but on vacation, in the middle of the night, in my mind, I was there.

Next day I was driving and remembering who held me when I was a child, not so much literally, but figuratively, who held me in love, and all those travels and more came back to me, and my neigbhorhood full of kids and nature and play and grass and trees and basements and back yards, all those people and places in the country in my youth have held me all these years. Made me think of our place in the day care and how we wish to hold the children and their families safely and securely in ways they will remember, wonder now if the little children will come back in the night when they are in their forties and hold my hand and walk to the park the way I walked with my grandfather through the barns to help him with his milking this weekend. You never know what a child will remember, what an adult will hold dear, what will get each of us through the night.

Making Pies, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2HC7KABegj0, Patty Griffin’s song that hit me over the head like a ton of bricks on my drive to the Cape for Thanksgiving calls out to me this morning as I drag my feet on the way to my Sunday morning ritual, making banana bread for my sleeping kids, all under cover after a long week away in Texas with their dad, up yesterday morning in the 3’s, asleep between 6:30 (big guy!) and 10 (middle guy) last night, I wonder how long they’ll sleep today, before waking to the smell of banana bread, maybe just in time for the mac and cheese if I get that far, in time for the science fair project, the help carrying in the groceries, the phone call to the friend who wants to go snowboarding, maybe the dance class, the February vacation journal, the unpacking of suitcases, the catching up of laundry, the laying around the house together and running of errands, maybe if all goes well, the dance class.

End of February vacation blues, I think, also grounding in the reality of everyday life with kids and a home and a job, back to taxes, back to enrollments, back to parent communication and meetings, back to the photos and the observations, the incidental blog entries, not back to any big new plans, moving on and moving on and moving on to the next day and the next year, working it out as we go here, the whole living life one day at a time thing hits home, making pies, making banana bread, making life, making love out of whatever scraps are here, the overripe bananas, the songs, the sweetness of three sleeping kids, one nearly an adult, so big my six this week who borrowed his old size 12 kids boots could not believe they have ever belonged to my boy who is so much bigger than I am now, the whole motherhood thing passes by so quickly some days you wonder where the time went, other days the time between waking up myself and the time the kids rise from their weary beds is forever.

I was typing up this recipe for my friend Silvia, who is from Brazil, and wants to learn to make banana bread. I have been making it nearly every weekend since the spring, and it has become my family’s weekend tradition with mom at the helm. I thought some of you might like to try it, too. Enjoy

Banana Nut Bread

From Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cook Book 1961 Edition

This is the recipe my mom made growing up and the recipe I make for my kids most weekends they are with me. I hope it brings you as much happiness as it has me and my family, then and now and down the road, keep those traditions alive.

1 cup sugar

2 tablespo0ns soft shortening (I use softened, not melted butter)

1 egg

¾ cup milk

1 cup mashed bananas (I use overripe bananas, mashed with a fork in the liquid measuring cup)

3 cups sifted flour

3 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 tsp. salt

¾ cup chopped nuts (I use walnuts)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a loaf pan, 9 x5 x3”. Mix sugar and shortening together till creamy, then add egg and mix thoroughly. Stir in milk and mashed banana. Sift dry ingredients together and stir in. Blend in nuts. Pour into greased loaf pan. Bake 60 to 70 minutes, or until tooth pick stuck into center comes out clean. (Crack in top of loaf is characteristic.) Cool thoroughly before slicing with a thin, sharp knife. For sandwiches, spread with butter or cream cheese.

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