November 2010

This morning in the day care my just three made a picture. Look! he kept telling me, drawing my attention to his work. I made a picture! It was all scribble lines, but they were organized, and they were his and he had chosen to make this picture on his own agenda, joining a group of twos, threes, and fours who sit at the tall table in the kitchen after breakfast and draw.

After lunch my four printed very carefully atop a tidy piece of white paper, CAT. Her mother saw it and wanted to take it home. We adults wondered where she learned to write that word, her mom and I remembered writing CAT and DOG and YES and NO and all those lovely early words.  I remembered CAT as an image on the standing chalk board in my childhood basement where I played school with my sister and our friends.

This afternoon I have four children at the dining room table all afternoon. It’s dark outside and we’ve turned on the lights. I’ve cleaned the kitchen, washed the remaining breakfast dishes and wiped the counters while the kids ate popcorn made by our departed ten, off now to ballet class while the rest of us eat popcorn, munch dried cranberries, sip apple cider and cappucino, talk softly, write and draw. My daughter, the other ten, has been making writing papers for the five, a new kindergartner, who is practicing the letters of her names, first and last, upper and lower case, using lined paper my daughter has made with dashes down the middle like the center line on the highway, showing the younger girl just where to end the bulbs of the lower case a’s and e’s and n’s.

Nearby my six began the afternoon with paper and scissors, snipping shapes out of a folded paper, not snow flakes, just patterns, you get the idea. Beside him the other six is making a pattern on lined paper with colored markers, which reminds me of the cutouts, except that where there would be holes in the paper, there are shapes of color.

We sorted out the markers, setting aside the older set of thin ones for the day care kids downstairs, opening a brand new package of 50 for the after school kids upstairs, which the kids are now using, my daughter is drawing the face of the five whose name she was guiding with words, eyes as blue as blue, hair as black as black, and the girls discuss self-portraits, and the six takes breaks from her drawing to observe, and the other six covers his paper with many dark colors of markers, pleased with himself, calling out, I made black.

And I think beside them, and take some pictures, and wonder on the kids and their self-motivation, on their drive to do these somewhat rote tasks, making just right letters, making lined paper for homework, and I think of SVS and how apparently children there play school, and how much I did that growing up, how little of that I imagine happens when children are spending their afternoons in Enrichment programs or Homework Help programs, or even just large group free play programs. It takes a table and paper and markers and freedom and not too much homework and maybe a small group and some quiet protected space to make time and place for play school, or at least that’s what I imagine, and it’s lovely to watch the children take such pleasure in these tasks, to have the drawing and writing and reading evolve in it’s own way, in it’s own time, on the children’s timetables and at their leisure, and I know these are all kids in formal schooling much of the day, and so perhaps that is where they learned to love to draw and write and read, but I wonder, always, how it would be different, or the same, if they weren’t. Would they still learn to take pleasure in their work? Would they still love to write their names? Would upper and lower case letters still bring such fascination?

And now there’s been a hula hoop accident, quiet table time turned active play, and I am needed for First Aid!

I wake up in the near dark this morning with the Thanksgiving, Birthday, First Day Back in Day Care after a vacation, Welcoming Visitors to the day care, Visiting with Old Friends and Older People thoughts in my mind. They intersperse with the ideas from Context is Everything: The Nature of Memory, which I read last night before drifting off, and that brings in the idea of memoir, autobiography, internal and external story, memory, which I believe, leads to creating a story for the future, all the pieces matter, layer upon layer, those themes from the last two year’s writing come together with the thoughts under cover and my daughter’s sleeping face is there beside me and her warm feet and I can barely rise, but here I am, wishing for more time to write all the interconnected, overflowing, one on top of the other and one after the other thoughts, wishing to glue them to the page, the proverbial page, to the scroll of the blog, the neverending story for which I am always searching for a thread to hold it together, to make it whole, to move it along. Then here comes The Office, and the words Let Go, from a script on mothers, advice from Jack Doneghy to Floosy, whose name escapes me, now it comes, to Jenna, all the layers upon layers illustrating here as I write instead of shower, routine in memory, too, how memory works, how writing it out works, how sharing it with another works, more themes from Context is Everything, and now I wish for more time to read the book, which there isn’t, right now, it’s past time to shower, where, as Susan Engell reminded me last night, I will be alone, and more memories will appear, funny how time alone does that, raises the dead, brings a person back in time, and forward, in a way that is so distinct from social time, that washing dishes, showering, driving alone, taking a walk sort of thinking something worth noticing mid busy life with children and work and home and friends and conversation, the internal conversation does contribute, does have a voice, which if you let it out on the page, is transformed, which, if you share it with another, becomes larger. Which I think, is the theme I wanted to write about, the word Visiting taking on new meaning in mid-life, the sitting around with old people gathering stories phase has returned, and I am no longer being taken to the kitchens of great aunts by my mother, the old people are now the parents of my friends or at least the next generation above mine, and I can see the urgency in the stories travelling mind to mind, and I do see the value of creating that desire to share stories with my little ones in our day care, and in my own kids, the grace in my birthday yesterday the sharing of stories over breakfast and lunch and snack with my day care crew, over play time and a tour and a walk with my visiting prospective family, over chores with my co-teacher Alice, over the phone and e-mail with my mom and sister and friends, over dinner with my own three children, and over silly tv shows, more stories, before bed, and even with Brian Selznick as I read Hugo Cabret aloud to my daughter before she drifted off, and Susan Engell, which I read silently until my brain was so full and my eyes were so heavy I had to give up the day and drift off to sleep, where certainly I shared stories in my dreams, though I can’t remember now, creation of stories over the rhythm of the day, and here now again, in morning, over the internet with you.

10,000 good mornings to you. Another fine day.

Late again to the shower. People ask me how I find time to write. I steal it from the day. Then I rush around.

My friend and co-teacher Liana always has the just right book, for me, for the kids, for her son. This week she gave me another one: Context is Everything: The Nature of Memory by Susan Engell. Ms. Engell had written another book on play and story, I think, which Liana read for her class in Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health. I believe Ms. Engell was a visiting speaker at her class. Reading The Nature of Memory makes me want to take the class, meet Ms. Engell, and stay in bed all day the first day back from Thanksgiving vacation with the book, reading, remembering, and learning. WOW!! It is a darn good book!!  And right on, all about memory as individual and group construction, not just recall, but putting pieces together, sifting through the layers, memoir, whole bodies of knowledge, vivid singular experiences, all we know and can bring back and access is memory. WOW!! I’ll just keep saying that. It’s a complicated, cool, ever-present puzzle, memory, and I’m on the trail.. off to get my kids moving after days of love and leisure. Kind of cool especially to begin reading a book on memory at the end of Thanksgiving vacation and to have confirmed that all the story telling we did with all the friends and family has a fancy title, and that I can delve deeper into this shared experience that I love, Context is Everything, shared stories are more powerful and long lasting, and some experiences, like my sister’s drowning dogs, eyes reflected back to me from the light in the flashlight I held while my sister paddled to them in a pond of frozen water, barely above ice on an inner tube, and my brother-in-law paddled out on our kayak, both backed by friends and family on shore, some panicking, some assisting, all rooting for the whole crew, dogs got out, sister and brother-in-law got out, new shared memory formed in the telling and retelling and sharing and unpacking of the experience, new family story to pass along, possibly to generations, along with the others I gleaned at a place in NH where I had never been, with people I had only heard about in stories, in a place that lived in my friend’s memory from years and years of childhood and adult life, come alive in the car barn and maid’s rooms and butler’s pantry and in the elderly gentleman who regaled us upon our arrival with the story of the house’s coming into his world when he was a young boy, probably eighty years ago, made me crave a family home that went on and on and on, only one I have for now is in my mind and in the story. Will keep me writing and talking for a lifetime, though, that creation of home on the fly. Twenty first century stories not like twentieth century stories, or stories from any previous century, more context is everything theme, time and place and history on the larger and grander scale, dovetailing nicely with my other vacation book, The Portable Jung, still exploring the collective unconscious there, sort of another version of memory, ah ideas. And breakfast and lunch and dishes and teeth and hair. YIKES!! Back to school and work. Happy end of Thanksgiving vacation. Happy to return with stories to get me through the winter, or at least primed to collect a whole lot more in the dark days ahead.

Oooh, and the great movie I saw on Saturday, The Long Engagement, was also another big fat treasure full of the power of story and memory and connection..Check it out if you can.

Busy, happy day of preparation for Turkey Day. No time right now for a long post. Want to say how good it is to be in the world. How good it is to have friends and family to celebrate the season, food for the celebration, time to prepare, a kitchen in the city and a place in the country and a big van to take the crowd out there, along with the fixins, good job that allows me to take time off, paid, day care families who are mostly able to celebrate with their families and friends, pies in the oven baked by me and my son and our young friend, all sorts of stuff in the kitchen and around the house about to be wedged into the van with all the kids and adults and then a big long drive in traffic to meet up with my mom and her friend and my nephews and then lots of cooking, and making beds, and more cooking tomorrow, then more will arrive, in time for Thanksgiving dinner, with all sorts of traditions we’ve developed together over the years. The joy of midlife is this comfortable place of time to come and time behind, strong foundation and hopes for change.

Thank you to all who read what I write. I read somewhere recently that the deepest form of nurturing is listening. When you read what I write, that counts. I appreciate it. Comment now and then if you like. It’s more fun that way. Or just read in silence and commune with my thoughts and send me yours in return, ESP style.

Happy Thanksgiving. Another year, another dollar, another wild ride. Here’s to many more to come.

Days are getting shorter. Flowers in the yard are dying or dead. Leaves have colored and mostly fallen, dried and turned to brown. November is my birthday month. What I remember of growing up in Western New York in November are the barren fields and bare limbed trees, stark against the gray sky, wind whistling around the house, shaking the windows of the bedroom I shared with no one, save my sister, who came to visit and sort my clothes, keep me company. November is no month for a birthday.

One Thanksgiving when my second son was nearly one both my grandmother and my then husband’s grandmother died. I took my baby to spend my last hours with my grandmother in Western, NY. I’ll never forget bringing that baby to that dying woman, the grace he brought to the room as her breathing slowed. Meanwhile my young husband and nearly three year old son flew to West Texas, where they arrived in time to find the family taking photographs off the walls of his grandmother’s house. My son was there with his extended family, on his own with his daddy, away from his mother and his brother for the first or second time in his young life. Grief on many levels.

Another year at either Thanksgiving or Christmas my uncle, older brother to my already passed on father, died in his garage working on his car, had been working in Detroit, hours away from his family, after having lost a career position late in life, no way to go, kind hearted man who broke his father’s heart, my grandfather, who cried at that funeral as I never saw him cry before or since, asking God why he hadn’t taken him instead of his children, fourth child to die and a wife, while he lived on with emphysema, unable to do the work he loved, all things physical and outdoors and country. Instead my grandfather died tied to an oxygen machine, spent his last days in an armchair in his sitting room accepting visitors, including me, remembering the past.

A year or so before my uncle died, my stepfather’s mother, who I called my grandmother, died alone in her house, gifts unwrapped on Christmas Eve, heart stopped before Christmas, we think, don’t know, or maybe we did. She was meant to be alone on Christmas, save the packages we had sent and maybe others from a few. Broke my heart as a young person to imagine my grandmother dying alone on Christmas. Made me think, and I believe it to this day, that a person can die of grief, of one form or another, loneliness perhaps topping the list.

This past week, there was a squirrel on the sidewalk on the way to school. It was still and there was blood coming from its nose. The children wanted to see and talk about it. Some believed it was dead. First response was that it had been shot. Others disagreed. One two thought it had fallen from high up, gotten an owie on it’s nose. Some children thought it would come back to life. Others disagreed. Days later the squirrel was gone. The children had seen a squirrel running on the sidewalk nearby. One girl thought that was the squirrel come back to life. Another told the group the only one who could come back to life was God. The one who believed most strongly in the power of the dead squirrel to be resurrected was a girl whose mother had recently lost a friend’s husband to sudden death, father to two young children, husband to a young wife.

Today at the park we shared stories of parents lost by forty, of a young librarian who once read stories at the Cambridge Public Library to my own children and to my first day care groups and to the children of many of our neighbors and fellow providers. She died  this month of an aneurism. Not a mother but a wife and too young to die.

My dad died in July at age thirty eight. It wasn’t fall. His birthday was in September, beginning of fall. Still I think about him as the days get short. This time of year we all miss the ones who’re gone. Fall light fading can’t help but remind us of the light in each of us fading, leaves, squirrels, grandparents, parents, friends, partners, children. Sadness lives alongside the holidays and the turkeys and the kids raking leaves. There everyday, it’s harder to see in the long sunny days of summer.

Listening to my itunes Genius Mix, I hear this song for about the fourth time tonight, having sat at my kitchen table with high hopes of getting loads of work done, instead falling into the writing hole again. Song goes with the theme. Not the best version, live and a little rough, but if you like it, you can listen to a cleaner version on itunes and treat yourself for ninety nine cents or so, put some loss or another into perspective in Lucinda William’s song, Learning How to Live:


It’s a quiet night here. Kids are off with their dad. Day care lovelies raked the yard the last two after school days, earning money for the tree house. Dishes are mostly done. Last load of laundry is in the wash. My girl cleaned off the bathroom counter top on Saturday, in hopes of a trip to the American Girl Hair Salon on Sunday, then was happy doing the dolls’ hair herself and with me and a friend on Sunday, saving me a four hour round trip to the mall AND mother guilt. Candle is on the table, beautiful thing bought as a holiday splurge at Whole Foods, burning slowly and evenly for the second week of evenings now, lighting up the dark of fall turning winter, keeping me company when I’m in the house alone, making me feel like I’m offering Family Day Care when we light it for snack in the afternoon, continuing my ritual with my kids of burning a candle whenever we share a meal altogether, amazing all the power in one candle, makes the high price of a high quality, beautiful thing from Whole Foods feel like almost a bargain.

All things to be thankful for, along with the Thanksgiving holiday coming soon, potatoes and apples and squash bought directly from the farmers in Ashfield, stored there in wait for us to arrive with a Turkey and stuffing ingredients and a pumpkin pie baked by my boy and his friend, along with a new tradition, chocolate cream pie, my favorite as a kid, and a guitar for my son to play and a bunch of sheet music for us to sing along with the latest “anti-folk” tunes he and I have been collecting and learning together, and Apples to Apples, if we remember to bring it and have time to play it, house full of family and friends for two nights and nearly three days, walk in the woods, fireplace, big open kitchen, table full of kids laughing and talking together, bodies asleep all over the house like in one of my early favorite picture books, Cythia Rylant’s The Relatives Came, all that breathing feels good already, nothing like a big old slumber party after a big old meal cooked and enjoyed together to make me feel peaceful.

Back to Moneydance, my latest attempt at achieving peace of mind, getting my accounts for 2010 in order, in hopes of filing my taxes in January this year, instead of May, like this past year, when the basement flooded three times and the sump pump ran for six weeks during tax season, when folks in Middlesex County received an extension to file in May rather than April, when my accounts plummeted with taxes due going to the hands of the IRS, while I contracted and recovered from Mono, not going to repeat all that this year, blown off roof tiles, leaking roof through two floors of ceilings, year of scourges, one after the other, lice bout after lice bout after lice bout, interspersed with fleas for the kitties and plumbing leaks and floods and huge bills. I was tested. Feel like I’ve come out the other side. Happy to be alive and solvent. Thankful for all I’ve got, not for Pilgrims invading land of Indians. Not for Colonial Times and false pride. Thankful for now and where I am and we are today. Always more to do, more to make right, but for now, the candle’s burning, Paul Simon is singing to me from the itunes, my files are in order, and soon another few months of accounts will be entered into the computer, one step at a time, putting life together, ordering what had come undone, self included.

Instead I’m a family day care provider. Days like today, when we’re in the groove, when two year olds build with wooden blocks like no twos in our group have built before, when my three invites me again to the table to make art, and we all sit there for a good long while, and then there’s conversation, and its about art, adult and kid discussed in the same tone and conversation, Mark Bradford at the ICA and kids at the WFDC, and there’s cooking from raw ingredients, homemade bread and applesauce and french toast, which the children from youngest to oldest help to prepare, when we thank the honey bees for the honey over breakfast, anticipating lunch, and my two giggles as she says thank you to the bees, and then at lunch we also thank the apple and dairy and wheat and chicken farmers, as we enjoy our meal, and on the way to the park, there are leaves and sweet gum pods to collect, and during the art, now I remember, we talk about alone time and imagination and dolls and books and story, and how it’s all really one, this living and imagining of life, boy who insists he doesn’t like to pretend admits to enjoying the pictures in a good book when he’s alone, others all think of their dolls and stories and their rooms, and I wonder about how different those two things are, imagination living in books and imagination of pretend play, and we talk about how it’s good to be alone, which we can discuss in a small group of friends, including the teacher, me, who has something to contribute, and also much to learn, on those days, day care is as much a religion, teaching as much a vocation, thank you to the bees as close to a prayer as anything I could imagine.

Last night I used my ICA membership, purchased with a Groupon, to attend an opening of Mark Bradford’s work. Tonight, I dropped in to the Brookline Booksmith just after eight to check out the used books in the basement, only to be treated to a poetry reading. Man oh Man I feel lucky. Hard to imagine leaving city life, where on any given night, I could visit a museum or a book store or a concert hall or a theater and be treated to more great art than my heart and brain could manage.

No more for tonight, as I am eager to read my new book, on loan from a day care parent, The Hardest Questions Aren’t on the Test by Linda Nathan, founder of the Boston Arts Academy. More free stuff and more inspiration to understand art in the city, if in a slightly different format.

The world is a rich, rich place, almost more so now I’m so tight of funds.

Check out the Mark Bradford exhibit at the ICA, or just view his work and find out a little about him here:

Check out upcoming readings and events sponsored by Brookline Booksmith:

Or get excited about democratic, arts rich education for urban public school kids:


Lastly, if you want another way to feel clear about why standardizing education isn’t helping, and how to get our kids to be more energized, creative learners, check out this animated TED talk..great history lesson and inspiration to change education and to value the arts:)

My girl can create a world anywhere, anytime. She comes home from school and goes to her room and from outside the door I hear voices, her voice really, but it’s as though there is a conversation there, not just her. She has a world of gnomes living in a fairy house in Ashfield. She has a world of a playmobil castle and garden, moved last Friday from the second floor project room round table to the third floor landing on her brother’s old train table, flowered tablecloth disguising the melamine base. She has a world of American Girl dolls in her room, a world of Barbie’s, too. Then at her dad’s, there is another playmobil world, in modern times, complete with dolphin pool and rv and horse trailer and modern home. At her grandmother’s there is another Barbie world, complete with my 1970’s Barbie airplane and my cousin Sue’s 1960’s classic Barbie clothes and accessories, including a small wooden television with silver foil screen. In Somerville, the Barbie’s have cell phones and hip new clothes, as well as 1980’s Mod Ken looks and 1970’s kitchen accessories, pretend Tupperware perhaps, in all it’s newness. Last winter she and her friend had a world on the snow banks pushed up in their asphalt school yard by the City plows. She can create a wedding out of younger children and scarves, an elegant home of blocks and doll house furniture, a family out of almost anything.

No matter what the world, my girl has a story to go with it. This is my girl who scorns reading books for pleasure. She enjoys a good read aloud, prefers most often picture books to chapter books, at nearly ten. Her brothers at this age lived in a world of books, The Hobbit, His Dark Materials, Harry Potter, Mossflower, all those fantasy worlds captured their imaginations and even their physical bodies, till I wondered sometimes if they knew I was in the room, till I wondered how they could walk the halls of their urban school with books in front of their noses without a clue as to what was going on around them. But they did, and now they barely read books at all. Their world is on the internet, Starcraft Two, Museblog, Facebook, itunes, story lines and conversations and imagination continue, world after world after world.

I marvel at the kids. In the day care this morning, there were worlds in every room, houses, houses everywhere, castles, picnics, family game, fire trucks and fires, inside books, in papers covered in drawings, and I could hardly draw them out, imagination a strong, strong pull into a deep, deep hole, hard to even know sometimes how to lower the rope, what temptation can draw a child out.

Meanwhile, my own imagination struggles with the creation of it’s own new worlds, transforming day care, making a school, working with others to merge two school programs, making a new life as a single mom, trying to write a novel or a memoir, keeping a sentence flowing into a paragraph into a longer bit, keeping a life for myself and my kids and my day care staff and families, my larger family, all flowing along, holding it’s own, coherent, always striving for whole, whatever that word means, whatever that whole world might be, heaven on earth, timelessness, transcendence, eternal life, beauty, imperfect perfection, love, all goals when each of us little humans creates a world.

This weekend I was out of my usual routine, away for a weekend in the country, a place that takes me back often enough to the place I grew up. I come back thinking about the power of a friend. I also think about lots of big words that swirl in my newly liberated head, the words I use to describe my new state of mind that are more positive than the others, unmoored, out of my element, single, divorced. Parting from a life long partner is a big deal for a brain. Thinking in tandem is a funny thing to break apart, even when some of that thinking isn’t ideal. Takes awhile to put a self back together after a rupture like that, takes some remembering of past lives, if within a single lifetime, when a person wasn’t so alone but wasn’t with that partner. Funny how connected we humans are in the beginning, infants with parents so symbiotic the baby can’t live without the parent, parent, if my memory is correct, can hardly live without the child. Then we part, and if we’re lucky, we find a friend, and this weekend I was thinking of what a lucky thing that is, having a friend to get us through that otherwise lonesome time. I thought of my friend Elaine, and of my sister, and of my cousin Pete, and I also thought of my parents, my neighbors and aunts and uncles and grandparents, all those who befriended me and brought me into the world, many moved or passed on, but still there in my mind, and when I choose to go back, there we are laughing together, having a fine old time around my grandma’s dining room table telling stories, under the cherry tree in Elaine’s backyard, riding the school bus side by side, deep in our shared imagination in our basement, alone in our bedroom late at night, all those shared moments of intimacy, mostly out of school, though some were there, too, that build a person’s soul and character and sense that all is right in the world.

I think of my day care kids and of how rare it is for a child within our group to find a very best friend. Many have very good friends and all live within a group of friends, or almost all, but some will find a very best friend and it makes us all glad, though we marvel at it each time it occurs. This year we have two young girls, together last year, too, one year olds when they discovered one another, now two, one calling the other her “other sister”, as she has one real life sister of her own, who happens to come to day care, too, and these two girls shadow each other all day long, talking like a little old married couple, talking and asking questions, bickering a little, but mostly adoring the other, something to envy that total engagement with another, that ability at such a young age to take another’s perspective into mind, to feel another’s feelings, to keep company with grace and ease. The parents and the teachers and even the other children marvel.

I remember that piece of my life, when a best friend, or two, kept me company, kept my closest secrets, shared my imaginative and social and emotional and physical world so completely we could tell most anyone where the other one was or what the other had thought and done that day. Whenever I had a friend like that it was hard to feel alone. Still great to have friends, still have a lot, but we don’t sit under the cherry tree or in the basement and pretend for hours, we don’t sit shoulder to shoulder on the bus to and from school each day sharing our plans, and we don’t sit on each other’s beds and talk and talk and talk. We do share dinner and a drink, we go to movies, we talk while our kids play or socialize. We work together and hang out at the park, sharing supervision of our kids and stories of our lives. We walk in the woods and wonder, when we get the chance, walk in the city on occasional Saturday mornings, while our husbands or ex-husbands have the kids.  Sometimes we go to meetings and we think big. Sometimes we sit in one another’s kitchens and pour out our hearts or cook a big meal. Every so often we go on vacation and live our lives with our children and a whole bunch of adults. Wherever we are and whatever we do, we almost always come back restored. It’s a lot like childhood, playing for kids, playing for grown-ups, figuring out the stories of our lives, the rules of the game, remembering what we’ve done together, making plans for more, getting one another through good times and bad.

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