June 2011

This week we have two children reuniting after many years apart. They were with us as toddlers and were the best of friends. One went to preschool and kindergarten elsewhere, has come back for after school and now some summer care. The other stayed with us through preschool, goes to school in another town, comes back for school vacation. They have fallen easily into one another’s company.

This morning they’re playing in the yard, all morning long. Liana and I notice how easily they relate, the relaxed smiles on their faces, the calm and presence in their bodies. Yesterday I had asked if they remembered being together. The boy thought not, the girl thought yes. Today as I watch and listen, I hear the boy say, “I don’t remember anything, do you?”

The girl giggles, smiles, says, “I remember a little bit. I think we chased monsters.” which they did.

“How did we chase monsters?” the boy wonders. “Was it the Abominable Snowman? Did we go to the Arctic Circle?”

They laugh and play and climb and pretend and talk together as they used to, though in six and seven year old ways.

Last night at our Charter School meeting we talked about mixed ages and looping. To me it is about knowing and being known, relationships over time. To another founder it seems like magic. I think the kids would say it’s all that and more. So nice to have our old friends back in day care.

As we are dressing for the park, another girl, a sibling who has joined us for after school while her brother has joined us for day care, now is here together with her brother for some time in summer, says, “Maria, you are more like a mother than a teacher. Liana is like..(.and she struggles to define our roles)..Like your friend who helps you out.”

Liana suggests maybe she is like my sister. I suggest maybe we are like aunties. It’s very good to be considered more like family than anything else.

As I prepare for some time away, in body and in spirit, I am lead to this poem which comes in my inbox to light the way. Working with young children makes me question every day what is imaginary and what is real, what can only be real if we can imagine, what imagination leads us to, what it looks like in real life to create a new reality. Some alchemy of creative process, story telling, building things, relationship, connection, motivation, can make a poem, a novel, a pretend game in one’s imagination, in one’s doll house, within a group of friends or a group of kids who’ve just met at the playground, can make a school, a business, a life. We’re all making it up as we go along. What holds it and us together remains mystery. Some would call it love. In search of that and more, I leave on retreat next week. In search of connection to my kids, to my friends, to my land, to nature, I’ll spend the weekend in the country. In search of purpose, meaning, a living wage, connection to my co-workers, my clients, my neighborhood, my local community, I get up today and go to work. There are many kinds of love.

Two nights ago I was reading a charter school application for the relatively new Gloucester Community Arts Charter School. The authors focus heavily on learning as making meaning. That is a definition I can agree with, towards which we can work our whole lives long. Onward for today. Starting with a poem that says more in several lines than I can say in many blog entries, makes me again wish to write a poem.



On the 747

by Malena Morling

As soon as I sat down
the seven year old girl
offered me gum
and showed me a postcard
of the airplane we were in.
She was writing her mother
whom she had just left at the gate,
smearing her love
in blue magic marker.
Then she pulled out a drawing
she had made of the wind
and one of a cloud
and a man who had ladders
for legs and eight arms
extending eight hands.
After the heavy body of the plane
lifted off the ground,
she held my hand and talked
about her flute teacher’s birds
and the eels she had bought
in a bait store and let loose
on the beach, each one
slithering into the dark
of the green waves,
returning to what she said
she could not imagine.

“On the 747” by Malena Mörling, from Ocean Avenue. © New Issues Press, 1999. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today at breakfast, the children are pensive. We talk about the kitties upstairs. My seven, just back from school for vacation care with us, is a lover of the kitties. We talk about how the kitties are now two, no longer babies, but adults, how cats grow differently than people. One of the children knows the seven’s cat has died, the seven tells the story. The cat was vomiting a lot, they took her to the vet, she got a shot, she went to sleep and died, they burned her. The end. I note that Nancy the cat was old, the seven clarifies she was fifteen, that a cat of fifteen is like a grandmother.

“She’s not really gone,” my four pipes up, having told us also about her tadpoles who turned to frogs, then died, are buried in her yard. We have also talked about cremation, about ashes and the seven’s mother’s preference for cremation, the many ways we want to go. “She’s with the spirits,” adds the four.

“I wonder what heaven looks like,” beams the seven quietly, looking me squarely in the eye.

Then I tell the children about the work a teacher I know did with his children at Eliot Pearson, where the children were very interested in what happens when you die, in heaven and other ideas about it, where they built their idea of heaven in the classroom. My seven wonders if it was like clouds. I wonder, too.

We talk like this for a good part of breakfast. I wish for others to know the depth of children’s thoughts, the sincerity and care with which they wonder about the world, about serious things like death and heaven and cremation and how old is a fifteen year old cat, as well as things that seem more silly, like what will happen if I eat the spaghetti with my hands, or if I grab a toy from my friend, if I scream or cry will that help, or only make things worse, what happens if I put a car down a slide, if I laugh and invite my friend to laugh. Philosophy, science, psychology, the arts, all the wondering work of adults is regularly done by kids.

This weekend my kids and I drove nearly twenty hours round trip to spend a day with our extended family in Western, NY. I can’t tell if its the fatigue from all the driving, from all the interacting, or just the juxtaposition of lives, which is troubling me now. Once upon a time I lived in the country, thirty minutes from literally hundreds of people I could consider family. Now I live in the city, an hour and fifteen minutes from my sister and her family, six or more hours from my brother and his, moved closer now after ten years on the West Coast, eight from my mother and the life we all left behind. Once upon a time, I was a girl with a history in dairy farming, both parents raised in larger German American families in Attica, NY on dairy farms their fathers began, and ended, farms not farmed my family when I was a girl, only my dad’s family farm land and house and barns still in the family, held onto by my aunt and her husband, who live in the house, rent out the barn and land. There’s no more maple sugaring, no more visits to barns full of hay and cows, no more wandering through fields or picnicking at sunset on the hill above the orchard, no more playing in the stream or in the cabins built by my uncles and cousins, no more pony to ride or cows to follow, no more cats hiding under the porch, or Grandparents to admire. My dad’s family of ten siblings is reduced to three surviving siblings and their offspring. My mom’s family of seven has lost only one, plus many spouses, from death or divorce, my own included, a step-cousin this winter in his twenties, mourned around the edges of the family picnic on a different hill, up the road from my uncle, down the road from my grandpa’s old place, now my aunt’s, between the burial grounds of both sides of my family, mom’s in town in the Catholic cemetery beside the prison, dad’s family up on the hill beside the country church my grandpa helped to build and care for in his 96 years of life, mom’s family had something to do with the building of the Catholic Church in town, dad converted to marry my mom, is buried there in town, along with my godparents, my dad’s oldest sister, who risked her family ties by marrying an Italian, buried beside him, too, gone many of them just five or ten years, so the mourning feels fresh, Grandma’s house just sold two or three years ago, turned into a menagerie, from a small house on the land across from the farm, meant for her retirement with my grandpa, who died shortly after it was built, driving his tractor on that road between the small house and farm, lots of life and death and memory in that town, in that crowd of many blond haired babies, many cooks, many gardeners and storytellers and workers with their hands, where my children and I belonged for  a weekend, then returned to our city life, work, camp, babysitting, driving school on Monday for the new generation of city dwellers, where no one knows our history, where no one nearby can call us family, except their dad, my ex, who isn’t family to me anymore.

For dinner I cook tofu and brown rice, carrots with ginger, make mango lassi for the heat and the clean out the fridge agenda, all foods unrecognizable from my youth, recipes and tastes acquired along the way, in Ithaca, Cambridge, Somerville, San Francisco, London, and New York, long trail of cities for my adult life, wondering on home and all it means, how you make it when you’ve left, if you can go back for a visit without a case of the family reunion blues.

Today we walked to the park amidst singing. My young three taught me “What do you do with a drunken sailor” perfectly pacing herself to give me time to learn my lines. My daughter sang Shoo Lei Loo, a call and response song with our two Elizabeth Mitchell lovers. We were singing as we approached the apartments for elderly and disabled folks. Under the awning sat a woman we see and hear there often. She talks in a hoarse voice, speaks about things that sometimes seem like nonsense, sometimes not, talks a lot. Today she was smoking a cigarette, with her shopping cart in front of the bench where she sat. When she saw us coming, she asked if we could get by, began adjusting her cart so we could. “We’re going to the park” the children likely sang out.

Under her breath she muttered something about “little girl..beautiful.” Then she said, to the drunken sailor singer or her four year old friend, I can’t remember which, but she looked in her eyes when she said it, “I’m praying for you. I’m praying for all of you.”

For some reason, it struck me today that she was indeed praying for us, that perhaps she was looking after us like the older woman who redirected our after school kids walking from the bus stop in the rain, come up against a locked gate at the top of the Matignon Hill. “Are you going to Maria’s house?” that older woman had asked, helping the kids to find an alternate route around the Ecole Bilingue and the Serbian Orthodox Church, another way through the neighborhood to our house. The kids told me the story when they arrived, damp, breathless, just off their most recent adventure, safe and alive.

As we walked that way to the park the next day, detouring once again, I wondered about that older woman. Who in the neighborhood would recognize our kids, redirect them, know my name and the way to my house? “It must have been our fairy godmother.”  was all I could think to tell the day care kids when I retold the story.

I’m still wondering who she is. It’s nice to know folks are looking out for us, in their prayers and on the path. Of course, there is also the alternate hypothesis, that it would be better to be anonymous, invisible, that our kids are at risk because they and their routes and my day care and I are known to the world. I like to think of it as fairy godmothers and prayers, not predators and pedophiles, though I’m not delusional, and we’re careful with our kids.

This morning I am in day three of no kids in the house. I miss the gang a lot, makes me feel a bit restless and weird to be in this stage of life and not actively a mother. Yesterday I visited one of the schools whose leaders are sponsoring our Charter School Application. The visit was intense, so many questions and things to observe and wonder about and learn, such a smart, dedicated, sure-footed leader, calm, caring, collected staff, relaxed and happy children, garden of delights out front, cookbook in three languages with photos and drawings of it alongside recipes sitting on my dining room table, hoping to share some of the food with the day care kids and my family.

Tree house is nearly completed, just a few adjustments to the roof yet for this week, celebration by and for kids and parents and teachers on Tuesday was a big event of the week for after school as it tapers off before school ends. We made it nearly to our one thousand dollar mark, thirty dollars more to go and I wonder when I wake up if the consignment store where the last of our yard sale goods await has sold them, if they will send us the thirty dollars to get us to one thousand.

Day care schedule for summer filling in, for fall shaping up, once again a massive group effort spearheaded by many, many e-mails and adjustments to the plan..and anticipation of wide age mixing of summer, days with only one teacher and a mixed age group of children, play, projects, relationships, mixed-ages the theme of this place, growing broader, and somehow richer for the summer air and new/old friends joining us during break.

Charter School taking shape, becoming real, application unfolding, Founders and Advisory Board member commitments due this Sunday, my resume and letter of commitment turned in this past week, some small bits for me to write, Founders Meeting this coming Wednesday to discuss school structure and governance issues which could clearly be discussed for years, time is moving on, must sort out somewhat decisive plans in the coming month, make what we decide into a school that works, next project on the horizon that, now the Proven Provider search has ended, it’s the Making of the School on our plates next, big job that, big group helping, though, and many grand ideas, small hopes, mostly in sync with one another. Always more to do.

Family reunion on Saturday, first in several years, first since my separation and divorce, though my ex-husband didn’t often go, there’ll be questions, and also, my grandmother’s house has been sold, no more home place, we’ll meet at my cousin’s place up on the hill, play games, eat homemade food, tallk, admire babies, catch up, feel part of something larger and over time. Two of my three kids will join me for the long, long drive, two days of travel for one day of reunion, feeling tired already.

Gilchrist Retreat coming soon, too..looking forward to it, also worried about the four days of driving and so much time alone, though that is the point, still learning how to do it without being sad, or perhaps being sad is the point. Kids are excited this week because their dad is newly married, his new wife’s birthday, first with him and them, is today, celebration with kids was yesterday and my daughter made a necklace of beads I had found in the closet which her father bought several years ago which we hadn’t given to her then because of too many gifts. She chose the colors and when she hung it around my neck, I knew it wasn’t for me, she had said she was going upstairs to work on Simona’s gift, and the colors reminded me of the colors Simona wears. Still, my girl hesitated, asked me to tie the string, wondered if Simona would like it, I felt sure she would. Also, they are looking at houses to buy, big houses with many rooms, a yard, places for all the kids and guests, and I wonder when I wake up this morning, if I will ever buy another house in my life, what it would have been like to have been the one to have left this house we bought together when we were twenty four, twenty years ago and newly married, to have been the one out now looking to start again.

The book I’m reading, The White Woman on the Green Bicycle remains wonderful. One of the things it’s about is a couple who struggles, starts out in love, comes apart, disappoints and hurts, stays together. I read with fascination, wondering how some do, some don’t, different era in part, when women had fewer choices, but still, we do, have fewer options, stay poorer, remarry less easily, have less opportunity to make more babies, marry younger partners, start again. It’s different for men and women still, and different for each couple and person..no path is all smooth, I’m sure, and the best I can do is keep walking along, noticing the flowers and the raindrops on the leaves, looking for surprises in the brush, little animals rustling, birds in the trees, small world stuff is where it’s at for me right now, besides the school and day care, making my way in a womanly way, no drama of new house, new babies, new marriage, new life, old life patched together like a quilt, well-embroidered and appliqued and held together by the stitches of my friends, the fabric of my kids, too many worn metaphors here and time for the day to begin.

I come downstairs to plug in my computer, whose battery has nearly run out, as I’ve broken my promise to keep it downstairs, taken it upstairs, where I read from it at bedtime, read and wrote with it this morning, woke up early in a quiet house with cool breezes, leaf shadows dancing on the curtains bringing me back to other such days, children asleep in their beds, high hopes, after reading something I had written last fall which made me proud, that I might write something worth remembering today.

It was remarkable to me that only after being awake awhile, when I went to check my e-mail or something like that, and discovered the Writers’ Almanac for today, did I realize it is Father’s Day. I keep wondering as I type this morning, is it Father’s Day or Fathers’ Day. For me it’s both. I wake up both keenly aware that my children’s father is not here, that my own father is not here, that my mother’s father and my father’s father are not here, not with us in body, but also, I read things I had written about Jung, about Joseph Campbell, about body and mind, and I think all morning as I read and write and remember, about fathers of all sorts, and I wonder on the archetype or mythology or metaphor or meaning of father and how it plays out in our lives.

According to Writers’ Almanac, Lyndon Johnson signed Father’s Day into national existence in 1966, my birth year. Also according to Writers’ Almanac today, the last chunk of their sharing, Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into existence on this date in 1964. I was born in 1966. In 1996, I chose not to name my son Linden because when we called his Texas grandparents from the hospital, their first reaction to a name I had chosen for it’s connection the the tree and the lilt of it’s sound, was to say, Oh, after Lyndon Johnson. Image in my mind at that time was of a boorish hunter, a man who would take a crap while conducting meetings, of someone course and crude, nothing like my linden tree or the graceful dark black man who ran track and came from somewhere graceful who had carried that name as a runner on my friend Laura’s track team at Cornell. The stories are shaped and reshaped in ways we can’t predict.

Last night I fell asleep reading a book I love and sometimes can’t put down, sometimes nearly fall asleep reading, sometimes am too tired to pick up, The White Woman on the Green Bicycle. I love it for it’s complexity, for it’s themes of home and strange land, of white and black, of hope and revolution, fear and disappointment and distortion, love and confusion, and for it’s ability, like so much fiction, to create a world in my mind shared with not only the characters and the author but others all around the world, throughout space and time, who choose to read, and for the language, which is effortless, not like a constructed story at all, but like something the author or the narrator is telling to me inside my mind that must surely have happened. How is it that human beings can do this, tell stories, write books, dream dreams, love one another through their literature, their letters, their speeches, their expressions, their physical being? Surely, that’s a question for Sunday morning worth postponing the dishes in the sink, the shower, the waking of the children, the sorting of the outgrown clothes, the adjusting of the budget, the writing of the charter school prospectus, no other way to construct meaning in our lives other than with love.

Which is why on this Father’s Day I feel at peace, three children in my home, fast asleep, having spent a full week together for the first time since April, much of it in the company of others who made us all happy and with whom we shared story after story, old friends and new. While we weren’t together, we were at school, at day care, in the homes of friends, on the road, in coffee shops and stores and other public places where we were welcomed by strangers. It is a whole wide world of love, in one form or another, father, no father, or something in between.

I could go on, and wish to, but now it’s time for dishes, laundry, shower, shopping, desk work, banking, all in three hours, so the rest of the day can be spent with the ones I love, swimming, talking, eating, walking, driving, hugging, kissing, laughing, all those private, somehow indulgent human things that somehow feel like luxury in the face of all the work that looms even on a Sunday morning, even on a Father’s Day, even in the age of washing machines, computers, telephones, dishwashers, cars, all those things meant to give us ease which we still have to fight to take the time to be together.

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