June 2010

Such a busy time I have not been able to write. I miss it, but I am thinking and feeling and seeing and doing and being. For now that takes priority, as it will on my week in the woods and on the prairie and in the meeting and meditation spaces of Gilchrist. Such a private place I don’t know what more to say, except I can’t wait to arrive, and best get on my way.

Poem in Writers’ Almanac today aptly titled, and beautiful. Passing it along to you as a parting gift before I go offline. Enjoy.

The Return

by Thomas R. Smith

Unto Him all things return. ˆThe Koran

Walking on the park road
early morning, summer solstice,
we came to a place in the still-
shaded cool where, looking
up a grassy hillside,
we could see, through a gap
in the trees, the rising sun.

Burning clear with all
heat and strength befitting
the day of its longest dominion,
the sun, boiling from that
high nest of foliage,
lit a silver swath
of sparkling, dew-bent

grasses all the way down
the drenched slope.
So brilliant was that carpet
of light the sun unrolled
down the hill to our feet,
we stopped where we were
and sat awhile in pure wonder.

And I remembered an old
secret promise, deemed
unwise to speak, though
who could deny it,
seeing these folk, humble
yet adorned, nodding together
on their way back to the sun?

And soon enough we got up
again and wandered on
into whatever we had to do
on that day, though not unchanged,
having accompanied a little distance
on the morning road of their return
those illuminated pilgrims.

“The Return” by Thomas R. Smith, from The Foot of the Rainbow. © Red Dragonfly Press, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

Today is the day of my divorce. I hired a sub for the day care so I could go to the courthouse to meet the judge, sign the papers.

All weekend long I was thinking about it, alongside the big ideas and small ideas of the AERO conference. No doubt I will think about it the rest of my life.

Big deal, big day. Very private, though. Much the opposite of our wedding, which was full of dancing, family, friends, food, photographs, celebration. Tears in both places, though, in both times. Emotions run the gamut no matter the life marker.

One day of the conference behind me, one or one and a half left to go, depending upon my plans to leave early to get my kids and ex from the Cape where they are camping and the keys to their car are lost in the sand. Bad person/good person dynamic kicks in, do I stay, or do I go, power of their ideas (to borrow a phrase from Deborah Meier) kicks in, holds on strong. This conference is full of people and ideas I want to get to know, which give me power and hope and which answer the question posed to a group yesterday by a young participant in response to Shilpa Jain’s request that we formulate an authentic question which would connect us deeply to those in our community, What breaks your heart the most? Which followed another question by another participant, What do you love the most? Seems they are wrapped up together, those two questions. And that is the struggle for me, What breaks my heart the most? sent me directly to my tour of the 8th grade at the Healey School three springs ago, when my son was in the seventh grade there and the eighth grade class was full of struggling brown skinned boys/men who may no longer be in school. What do you love the most sends me to my day care walk to the park each day, the flowers and trees and birds and children and neighbors and friends there. The intersection of those two is my school.

Two weeks ago my nine, who has been mine since she was one, and who inspires and who even sometimes looks after me, and her friend, the other nine, who has been with me since kindergarten, now on her way to fifth grade, came to me as I was struggling a bit with a hard day, and sat across from me in the dining room and said, Maria, when are you going to start that school? They had a plan for how to use my big old house in Somerville, to take over not only the first and second floors of our home, but also the basement, to take in what they think I can handle, seventy kids, and to make a school. I told them about the AERO conference I was going to attend to learn about how to start a school. The next time the one girl saw me she asked me if I had been to the conference. I had not. Now I have. Yesterday a woman in the start a school session I attended with Jerry Mintz, founder and leader of AERO, talked about her experience running a summer camp and of the kids asking her at the end of each summer, why do we have to go back to school, and how that question lead her to start her own school, which is school in an alternative form, a group of kids and adults learning together seems to be the basic all these alternative folks could agree upon, but which is modified and named according to what the authorities regulate and accept, so her school has been a collection of kids, a group home care program (family day care) and now a homeschooling center. A path to a school can be circuitous, a dance between regulations, zoning, budget, relationships, ideals, exhaustion and exhilaration. I love hearing stories of these journeys from folks at AERO. They give me hope, a path to follow or to understand, stories and images that will live on in my mind.

Not sure at all, though, what next, which is a place others here seem to be, too, not all, but some, knowing what we feel is right and good, learning about what is out there, what is possible, what is practical, how to reconcile family, friendships, money, time, with dreams, ideals, collective efforts, individual passions, on the path of building a school or a learning community, a supportive, nurturing place where each of us can reach our fullest potential.

Best shower and eat so I can get on with the day. Would like to take the day to write and try to capture the experience here for you (and for me), but that would keep me from living the day in the midst of others who have something real to offer, another of those struggles, get out there, go back inside, process and reflect, live and gather new experiences, conference this weekend, retreat this week, wonder where my heart and brain will be when I get to the woods in a cabin by myself, what will come then when I am away from the internet, e-mail, the outside world, the blog, where will these ideas go, and how will I shape them.

So much to live and learn, I may never stop here. Best get to the shower and come back later, never, ever done. New day, though, one after the other, hope in that alone.

I am here at the AERO conference with my friend and newly elected School Committee member, Christine. We arrived late last night, after a long car ride from Somerville, when we had a good, long conversation ranging over all kinds of things we both love to talk about. Seems that is what this alternative education is about, too, things we all love to talk and think about, some of which are very high ideals, some of which are very real struggles, many of which are full of inherent contradictions.

By midnight, I am exhausted, but still I am not really ready to go to sleep. This morning I woke up early, and when Christine woke up, we had each independently decided to go for a swim in the pool we had checked out just as it was to close last night. It was a fine way to start the day, warm water spa with jets for relaxing, cool water, oddly shaped pool for swimming and floating and gazing up at the ceiling.

This morning we heard John Taylor Gatto speak for two hours, which flew. He got us here early, arriving on Thursday evening instead of Friday evening like last year, and it was worth it. As I listened, I took notes in a hand decorated notebook waiting for me outside the ballroom doors at a table set up by two teens who seemed to be students of the local Albany Free School, or the High School associated with it. I had forgotten my notebook and felt sad about that, and there was the notebook waiting for me, complete with words and decorative paper, I Follow My Heart. I nearly filled that notebook today with ideas I wanted to record, or maybe I just hoped they would sink in better if they went through my hands as well as through my ears and brain and heart.

I am still too tired and overloaded to write much coherent about John Taylor Gatto’s talk, or about the workshop I took with Jerry Mintz about starting a school, or about Shilpa Jain’s workshop on Creating Learning Communities, or about the keynote by a young man whose name I can’t now bring to mind, who riled the audience so much we went over time by an hour, or about the movie that followed, Schooling the World, or about the many conversations I had with inspired and inspiring folks attending the conference. I wish I had had more. Will try for that tomorrow.

One strong image I will share is of a young man who had been schooled away from his native village in the film Schooling the World. The interviewer had asked many teens about their schooling, and they smiled as they described their attainment of a certain grade level of formal schooling. The camera focussed on their faces, and their expressions were clear and bright. Then she asked about their culture, and their faces shifted, and they expressed in words their disconnection from their former worlds. And then, my eyes welled up when the interviewer asked about their families, and this young man, in baseball cap and formerly broad grin, said, yes, he missed his mother, and I was right in my family day care world, wishing to give that boy comfort and to return him to his mother at the end of the day. But for him, there is no going back. His life is forever changed and his time as a child with his mother is gone.

Part of the conference for me is reassessing my place in the world. I feel still like a family child care provider, and in each of the venues, I feel that identity coming through in some way that feels right. In Shilpa Jain’s workshop, I drew a map of my daily walk with day care kids through our neighborhood, labeling the map with all the important things we learn along that route, from empathy and compassion and passion and integrity and accountability at home to observancy at the tall tree that is a perch to the hawks and crows, to the gardens along the route where we connect with nature and the seasons and our neighbors, to the apartments where we feel a sense of connection to the larger community as well as some sense of boundaries with people who are connected to us but who are not our intimate companions, to the park, where our world and our relationships relax, open up, expand, where our imaginations are a bit freer than even in our home. By the end of the evening, in the movie, I had an intense craving to keep the world from allowing children to be raised away from their homes, whether it be my family child care home in Somerville, Massachusetts or the mountain homes of the Tibetan children in Schooling the World, the senses of place and home and community and connection children and adults feel when they are in whole communities and free to roam and be are things I want to fight to preserve.

Time to sleep and see what dreams come next.

The newest edition of Rethinking Schools is available online at http://rethinkingschools.org/ProdDetails.asp?ID=RTSVOL24N4&d=etoc. This one stole my heart with a focus on poetry, as well as an article on Finnish Schools by Linda Darling-Hammond, and all kinds of other good stuff I can’t wait to read. If only there were more hours in the day! Maybe I’ll read it at AERO:) Or maybe I’ll be too busy hearing from real life school reformers and school revolutionaries about how they are working to change the world. Looking forward to the weekend!

This is the first week of the Openair Circus. My kids have been in it, continuously except for one year, for such a long time that I can’t remember which of my kids was still nursing when we started, my nine or my thirteen. We sit in the park, all us circus people, with bags of fruit and veg and snacks, bottles of water, while the kids and funky teachers hula hoop, stilt, unicycle, manipulate hats, tumble, juggle, mime. We talk, reconnect, smile, laugh, tell stories, catch up.

I have loads to do this week. On my own, I am struggling with the worries of how to get it all done. But at the circus, I feel good. My kids are happy. Their friends are there, at least their circus buddies. The folks on the blankets and under the trees are friendly. I don’t multitask. I help a little, today by blowing up unicycle tires with some girls who want to learn to use the pump, by steering my girl for the first few tries on the unicycle, till she gets it on her own, help folks who are new to relax, enjoy, wait, find patience and joy, not to worry, it will be all right, we are all here to have fun.

And when my kids’ classes are done tonight, I say good-bye to them as they go off with their dad to Judo class, I say good-bye to my friend on the grass, who has offered to look after my devil cat and her brother, while I am away at the AERO conference and the Gilchrist Teacher Retreat, and I go back to work, groceries from 8 to 1o, dishes, house tidy, bed, early morning with more chores and day care, which will be fun in my day, more chores, then on the road to AERO, hoping to arrive by midnight, crash in a comfy bed, wake up in another world.

My boys’ last day of school was Friday. My girl’s is today. After school upstairs ended yesterday. Day care kids who are on school year only schedules will finish this week. We are onto summer, in sync with Summer Solstice, hot and playing in water at the park, laying low or high energy in the house, doesn’t feel at all like winter, spring, or fall. Funny how the energy shifts in a place with seasons. I like that. I also have to adjust, as do the kids.

Yesterday at the park, we caregivers talked about routines, transitions, simplifying. I couldn’t stop asking Macky and Alice for ideas to make things all that much smoother. I’m craving a cleaner slate, a more peaceable routine, more connection and play, less stress and mess.

Also, I’m going to the AERO conference this weekend, and the Gilchrist Teacher Retreat next week, wanting to get life in order here for summer and anticipating fall before I and families break up for summer and I leave things around here in other people’s charge. That working mama mix of work and kid time when my kids are out of school and I am working, they haven’t yet got camp or a summer routine, and I am not yet on vacation, is another tricky shift. Getting there, bumps in the road to get over, no great crevasses to fall into. My kids are independent, mostly it’s mother’s guilt that gets me down, wishing for more time to play and talk and read and lay around when they are finally free. In August we’ll have that, and some weekends, and that will be terrific.

For summer in the day care, I am looking forward to seeing old friends together, to talking with families who have been away at school, to the mix of young kids and older, to lazy afternoons of art and tea and time in the yard, no rushing off to school, nap time for little ones, quiet time for big ones, to digging channels and water slides and sprinklers and pools and conversation and tree climbing at the park (how lucky is that, even as a country kid, I didn’t climb trees), and to some cool mixed age cooking, art, and science projects, along with books and singing and drawing and writing and dress up and pretend and building and woodworking in the house in the morning.

Been up half the night trying to catch up before I go away, funny how the week before vacation you have to work twice as hard to get ready to leave. Good to stop here a few minutes and sort it out in a slightly different way. Lots to look forward to at this time of year, but transitions are tricky, too, all in the mix, never just one thing.

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