March 2011

Yesterday I woke up too early wondering how I was going to get myself and my taxes to the Copy Shop and the Post Office. As I prepared for the day care day, I realized I could walk with a group to the Copy Shop, which is not too much further than our usual park. When I got the group together, they were so enthusiastic, I proposed walking to Davis Square to the Post Office.

I had forgotten how parochial our lives in day care can be. I knew it would be hard to explain to the kids what they were signing up to do. For starts, to a three or four, Coffee Shop sounds a lot like Copy Shop. I tried having the kids repeat the plan back to me..”You’re sure you want to go to the Copy Shop, right?” But their responses didn’t reassure me all that much. A three year old swedish accented version of Copy Shop sounds enough like Coffee Shop that I thought I ought to make it clear were weren’t going to be getting any coffee or cookies or donuts.

We did pass by one three’s street, her house three houses down from the end impossible to explain to the fours and threes..How to give directions to kids for whom ordinal numbers aren’t quite solid? Third house down on your left also requires directionality. “What’s left?” asked my four, reminding me how differently we each must view the world. Accross from this three’s house is Dunkin Donuts, which allowed us to talk more about a Coffee Shop, and donuts, and life in this three’s family.

Then we passed the street where our friends from the park go to family day care at Macky and Michael’s House. Again, the difficulty of pointing out the place..”Third house on the right” again triggers the wise four to ask, “What’s right?” If we weren’t going to be so wiped out and pressed for time by the end of our errands, we might have detoured to actually look at the front of the houses, to have looked in the windows and on the porches to find some way to confirm that these buildings were in fact connected to the lives of those we love. But we didn’t. We marched on to sit two to the chair in the front of the copy shop while the man who owns the shop and makes the copies copied my tax forms and the rest of us looked out the window, where I again foolishly tried to point out things of interest, this time vehicles, such as a mail truck (which no one ever seemed to indentify, in spite of my pointing across the street to where it was parked, describing it’s location with words, and it’s color), the digger, which my three and four who love vehicles correctly re-identified as a front loader, and a tow truck, which reminded our four later of a story about a tow truck getting in an accident and needing to be pulled away by another tow truck.

Then it was off to a construction site, where there were not one, but two cement mixers, of the grand variety, and we watched to see what they would do, overcame the anxiety of my three who loves toy vehicles but isn’t so sure of life sized ones, and we looked through the fence where I had thought I had seen a drill, but in fact, it was a rig which injected cement loaded into it from the mixer through a long pipe into frames a distance away, where men held the end of the pipe to direct the cement, I marveled at something in my forty four years I had never seen, and tried, again in vain, to communicate my thoughts to the children, who were not so much amazed as puzzled.

Then on to the bike path, where we learned the rules of the road, where one three fell off a small sculpture and surprised herself, the other three saw two dogs with runners and said, to my surprise, “I hate dogs”, where we again learned some new vocabulary or concept, light post, as we played the running game and I asked kids to stop at the light post, which to the kids was so tall and ornate, they might not have known what it was and what to call it, but they learned, and soon were bopping from one light post to another, until we got to the grating over the subway, which the threes had to climb upon and lie upon and listen to and wonder about, “Are the trains down there now?” to which I had to reply I thought not, as I didn’t hear them, and to the statues of people, which always make kids a little uneasy, and about which on the way back, the four asked, “Why do they make statues of PEOPLE?” and to which I had no answer but my usual, “Why do YOU think they make statues of people?” and none of us really knew.

We also visited the post office, where kids were so rambunctious by now that the temptation to run up and down the ramp and to crawl under the carriage and the dividing ropes was so strong only my exhausted because of a bad night’s sleep four could resist. In spite of my admonitions to stay close, to talk softly, to stay off the ropes, the gentleman behind the counter was kindly, as most are when I’m out and about with such a group, and he gave us four lollipops, and not one kid fought for a favorite flavor, each one pleased to be given a pop, two of the four with blue tongues, four without blue tongue made her pop last all the way home to the day care half an hour or more later.

But first we had to visit the trains, a request of the other four, who suggested we take a ride, which I wouldn’t allow this time, but perhaps in the future, at which point the four would like to go to Harvard Square, which seems a reasonable option, and instead we walked down three flights of stairs, looked at the turnstiles, looked over a half wall to the train platform below, waited for two trains to arrive and depart, first one not showing enough of the top of the cars to satisfy our four, second one just right, and to ride the escalator back up, then to consider our route home, street or bike path, to start along to the path, then to realize how tired and how late we were, and to suggest a bus ride, which all agreed to do, and so we found the bus stop, waited a very few minutes, climbed aboard the bus, where all four were comfortable and happy walking to the back of the bus, sitting amidst a crowd of passengers unknown to us, or standing holding the bars, and the bus lurched forward again and again, and each time we laughed, as I stood near the back door with the carriage and the backpack and the mittens and the hats, smiling at my little crowd of threes and fours, till we got to our stop, hustled across Broadway and down Garrison Ave to my house, where we put in the trash cans and recycling bins, just in time to meet up with Alice and her crew coming back from the park, and to go inside for lunch.

Fine adventure for threes and fours and one forty four, complete. Doesn’t take much to make us very happy.

Here I am on one of those lucky Sunday mornings. My kids are all with me, plus a friend.  We all sleep well. We rise and are happy to be together. I clean the kitchen, make waffles. They play Bananagrams and smile and laugh and draw. We eat. We talk. I play music in the kitchen and I dance. My daughter dances with me. My son plays his ukelele. UKELELE, BEEZNEEZ, and CHIDOG grace the top of my dining room table, alongside glasses of orange juice, piles of things my family has collected and not put away over the last month or so, clutter alongside today’s creativity, taxes on the kitchen table, dishes in the sink. Day ahead of errands, groceries, doll house store, and friends, boy off with a crowd who will meet up here, yay, and chores, old friend and co-teacher here late afternoon to do work, laundry in process.

All of this feels so lovely that when I find this piece just arrived in my inbox, I read it and want to share it with you. Apparently my sense of luckiness at having made it through to what would have been the twentieth anniversary of my wedding is a feeling others share. Who doesn’t want to feel transcendent on a Sunday morning in March? Who can deny Grace when it enters the kitchen before noon?

Recycling and trash here, too. Won’t get me down, all the chores and debris piling up around the kitchen. My kids are here and we have music and waffles and maple syrup from my good friend and co-teacher Alice, brought in our honor from her special place near Skyland in Vermont on her vacation last summer, to grace the skirt of our Christmas tree in December, the waffles on our table in March.

“Lucky life. Oh lucky life. Oh lucky lucky life,” as the poet Gerald Stern is quoted in the piece below. Grace and transcendence reign. Maybe in my first game of Bananagrams I’ll find the letters to make those spiritual, risky, sure fire words. New meanings and vocabulary coming our way every single day.

Which reminds me of a story one of our day care mom’s shared over e-mail late last night, which I read this am, more Sunday morning thoughts on love and life and death, more transcendence and grace, more proof that life as a human being is rich and full and deep and wide. Hurrah. Amen.

An Excerpt from Living from the Center: Spirituality in an Age of Consumerism by Jay McDaniel

Jay McDaniel presents a vibrant spirituality based on wisdom, compassion, and inner freedom. Here is an excerpt on the spiritual practice of grace.

“I recommend instead that we recognize that there is an ultimate mercy in life — a deeper grace — in terms of ‘success’ and ‘failure’ as defined by consumer culture are quite irrelevant. I want to call this deeper grace the luckiness of being alive. Not surprisingly, a recognition of this luckiness does not come easily in our age of consumerism. To be sure, consumerism does speak of a luck we can enjoy if we win the lottery. But it always encourages us to compare ourselves with others who seem luckier because they have more consumer goods or better figures, because they have bigger houses or higher salaries. In so doing, it creates a culture of envy, not gratitude. It neglects the deeper luckiness — a pure grace — that lies at the heart of reality.

“This grace is not an idea that we entertain in our heads or a condition that is imposed on us from the outside. Rather, it is a living gift — like fresh bread, or fresh air, or fresh water — that lies within us yet deeper. It is to this luckiness that the poet Gerald Stern points to when he says, ‘Lucky life. Oh lucky life. Oh lucky lucky life.’

“Stern’s words are playful, childlike, and extravagant. It is fun to say them aloud, like a mantra or chant. A grace chant. But perhaps they are also a little embarrassing to adults, who are all too aware of the darker sides of life. And such extravagant language does not come easily to us, because we too often feel inhibited by the armor of envy. Still, the words are psalmlike and true, worthy of being included in any sacred scripture. Let’s try them out. Let’s chant the grace mantra.

“Let’s say that we are indeed lucky to be alive, not only when things are going well for us and for those we love, but also when we are sad and lonely, or mean and bitter.

“Let’s assume further that our luckiness does not lie in the circumstances we face, which can be fortunate or unfortunate, deserved or undeserved. Instead, let’s recognize that bad things do happen that could and should have been otherwise. Earthquakes kill thousands; people are murdered; children are abused; good people are nailed to crosses. Sometimes we ourselves are the nailers.

“Let’s say instead that our luckiness lies in a capacity to respond creatively to these circumstances, day by day and moment by moment, in fresh and healing ways. If we are sad, for example, we can lie gently with our sadness and let time begin its healing. If we are mean, we can be honest about our meanness and let honesty wash our souls. If we have nailed someone to a cross, we can ask for forgiveness. If we have ourselves been nailed, we can choose to forgive.

“Let’s go further. Let’s assume that in these creative responses we are inwardly animated by a source of wisdom and compassion deep within nature that is forever fresh and new, however stale we might feel. Let’s say that there is a Freshness Deep Down. Let’s call it God.

“Perhaps better, let’s call it God’s Breathing, since the Freshness is dynamic and nourishing, like breathing itself. Let’s say that this divine Breathing is everywhere in the universe such that there is nowhere we can go, not even to hell, where it is not already present, awaiting our openness to its healing power.

“Let’s say that this, then, is why we are so lucky to be alive. It is not that everything happens as it should or that we always do the right thing. It is that, whatever happens and whatever we do, there is always hope for us and for all living beings. We can be animated by the Freshness. We can be breathed by the Breathing. We can be washed by the Ocean. We can live from the Center.”

Today would have been my twentieth wedding anniversary had I stayed married. I didn’t, and so I wonder how to mark the day. A year ago this past September would have been my dad’s seventy fifth birthday, had he lived to see it, which he didn’t, and so I wondered how to mark the day. On my fortieth birthday, I wondered how to celebrate what felt like the transition from youth to middle age, from young motherhood to no more babies land. That fall my grandmother had just died and my uncle was gravely ill. I celebrated my birthday with dinner with my immediate family. Today I celebrated my anniversary by driving my kids to school, saying no thank you to the teen who offered to drive in my place. For my dad’s birthday, I spent the day doing normal things, working, driving my kids around. Today, in spite of a rough start wondering what this day should mean, I’ve been ok, have found myself grateful to be alive, in a weird way that may sound melodramatic, but feels real. Divorce is trauma. Divorcing is hell on earth. I feared losing myself, losing my home, losing my friends, losing my family, losing my children, losing my business and my ability to pay the bills, losing against piles of snow and flooding rains, ripping winds, plagues of lice and mono, hate and hurt. So far, I’ve survived, changed, yes, lost a lot, yes, found some things along the way, am finding my way back to some center place from which I’ve drifted and for which I’ve longed.

I spent the morning not only driving carpool but also in a fun meeting dreaming about our new school. Then this afternoon my friend stayed to talk when she dropped off her children for after school. We talked about our children and our friends, our children’s school and their friends, about sadness and loss and work and play. Nothing restores the spirit like a good strong connection, conversation that ranges over things of great meaning and small significance. Healing in small steps, one day at a time, one moment following the next. Anniversaries can crystalize the process, catalyze the change, mark the days and years, give the story shape.

This morning my three are off to school on their own, new routine of middle guy walking the bike path to the T, mug of tea and poppyseed bagel in hand, reminds me of my own self setting off for class in college, though he’s just fourteen, oldest and youngest walking on their own across town, sixteen striding long and quick steps of his lanky body well ahead of ten in her scissoring to keep up, lunch bag swinging from her arm loaded with treats from the larder, which she’s taking from home, along with her coat, her clothes, her shoes, and certain intangibles, all three off with teens who drive to SVS and back, no school bus or parent, kids on their own in the world.

I take the time to put the snow shovels away, to re-stow the carriages in their non-winter space. My fingers are cold on the metal bar of the wagon, on the handles of the shovels, but I’m happy enough in my sweater and bare hands, knowing the shovels will be put away till next winter, the carriages will be free to come and go with no more ice heaves at the closer end of the porch to the front door, where the little ones will soon pour in, later pour out, coming to us from their homes, going with us to the park. And I feel lucky as I do on every single working day to be the one that I am, doing the work that I do. Which is only exaggerated when I take my five minutes break, earned from my own kids’ growing up, and the resulting lack of carpooling, to read my Writers’ Almanac, and today it’s William Wordsworth remembering his own early childhood, lamenting a bit the shine that goes out of our lives as we age, noting the bits we earn as we go along.

I never was one for old poetry. Perhaps getting old has shifted my perspective. I find this very beautiful and hope that you might, too.

Excerpts from Ode on Intimations of Immorality from Recollections of Early Childhood

by William Wordsworth

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;–
Turn wheresoe’er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.

The rainbow comes and goes,
And lovely is the rose;
The moon doth with delight
Look round her when the heavens are bare;
Waters on a starry night
Are beautiful and fair;
The sunshine is a glorious birth;
But yet I know, where’er I go,
That there hath past away a glory from the earth.

What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be;
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.

Excerpts from “Ode on Intimations of Immorality from Recollections of Early Childhood” by William Wordsworth. Public domain. (buy now)

This morning Writers’ Almanac sent out a poem that strikes me deeply. As a family child care provider and mother, and human being, this prayer/poem feels just right, and somehow resonates with other signs of spring we have been witness to this morning, the rising of the Irish Soda bread, the bursting forth of crocus blossoms, daffodil leaves, and the greening of the Hens and Chicks after months below ground or below snow, the sun and the cat rolling in it on the sidewalk as we walked home from the park, scratching it’s back and soaking up the heat, the kids tumbling on the hill of deep, deep grass, packed down with snow from winter, now rising for the spring..down/up/down/up/down/up, forward/back/forward/back/forward/back..seasons and poems remind me we need one for the other, one follows the other naturally, if we have the patience or the ability to wait, if we can hold more than one thing in mind at a time.

Prayer for Our Daughters

by Mark Jarman

May they never be lonely at parties
Or wait for mail from people they haven’t written
Or still in middle age ask God for favors
Or forbid their children things they were never forbidden.

May hatred be like a habit they never developed
And can’t see the point of, like gambling or heavy drinking.
If they forget themselves, may it be in music
Or the kind of prayer that makes a garden of thinking.

May they enter the coming century
Like swans under a bridge into enchantment
And take with them enough of this century
To assure their grandchildren it really happened.

May they find a place to love, without nostalgia
For some place else that they can never go back to.
And may they find themselves, as we have found them,
Complete at each stage of their lives, each part they add to.

May they be themselves, long after we’ve stopped watching.
May they return from every kind of suffering
(Except the last, which doesn’t bear repeating)
And be themselves again, both blessed and blessing.

“Prayer for Our Daughters” by Mark Jarman, from Bone Fires: New and Selected Poems. © Sarabande Books, 2011. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

My five has at last, in his fourth year with us, learned to enjoy his time at the park. Just before we are to leave on this first warm and sunny day in ages, I go around to see what the kids are doing, only to find him with two girls, a three who has had her eye on this guy awhile, waiting for him to be ready to play, and a four, nature girl extraordinaire. They all have big shovels with points and long handles. They heft them like workers on a job scene, digging deep and tidy holes in the sand.

My five says to the three, who is working away at her hole, “You could dig to China if you could make a hole through the earth.”

“Well, I can’t,” she replies matter-of-factly, clear in her inability to oblige.

“Maybe we could work together,” she adds. The conversation goes on, but I have walked far enough away and shifted my attention, saving the words to share with Liana, my co-teacher, and with you here, not sure at all which, if either of the kids were imagining digging to China for real, wondering if one or both might have been considering it, amazed that digging to China has been going on so long in the sand areas of childhood, remembering my own ambition at that age, and confidence in the digging of my holes on sunny afternoons wondering how much longer till I saw the light on the other side of the earth..

I admire the children in their commitment and drive and belief in possibility. If they can consider digging a hole through the earth to China, what ambition might I consider?

Sitting at my kitchen table on a Wednesday afternoon multi-tasking after having dropped my daughter off for her first day as an enrolled kid at Sudbury Valley, candle is lit, lily water fountain is trickling, lamp is lighting the gray and rainy day, cat is napping beside me on the upholstered chair, self-same chair he was tearing to bits when I walked in near noon, having been out all morning on carpool duty and in a coffee shop working on my laptop.

Taxes are coming together, summer schedule is coming together, after school transportation is resolving, bit by bit, fall plans are evolving, Charter School group is expanding..crazy family dynamics are abating, if temporarily, still the content of my life is mystery..and then, out of the blue, really out of the lame speakers on my laptop, comes three-way pleasure, it’s as though this morning WUMB was just for me, latest in a streak of songs which have spoken directly to my heart, resonated with my story and mood, made me stop and listen, is this one here, sung by some of my oldest favorites, Natalie Merchant, 10,000 Maniacs, and David Byrne, written by another, Iris Dement. How is it that so many great people in the world are connected, and how is it they know just what to say when I need it most..

Let the Mystery Be – Gracias to Youtube and to whatever mystery person placed this song there so I could share it with you, and to the folks at WUMB who are brightening my day along with the candle and the lamp and the kitty cat nearby and the e-mailers far away. Enjoy:)

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