September 2011


Today I ride for the third week in a row with my son as driver of the carpool. The last two weeks it was just me and my kids. This week the group is larger, including three teens from Somerville, Arlington, and Cambridge, all known to me from one context or another. I wish we would talk, but we don’t, at least not much. My son drives and we talk about driving, each of us relaxing the longer we’re on the road. Partway there he is competent enough for my mind to wander. I think and begin to enjoy the time for my mind to be in it’s own places. Then my daughter asks how much longer, my son asks if his driving makes her sick, she says no, he asks again, I laugh, thinking how much better for his driving to make her sick, than his sense of humor or his something else. She says, no, she’s just bored, at which point she and I discuss new boots for winter, which cheers her up a bit.

When we get to school, the teens say good-bye, the politest of the bunch helps me with the van gate, I ask him to thank his mother again for the afternoon ride, my daughter and I haul her gear into school, where she labels her ripstick with a sharpie borrowed from the art room, a little girl, younger sister to her friends, asks for her help, Isabel lifts the little girl in her leotard up onto the shelves in the kitchen where she and her friend eat their “lunch” at 9:35, and my girl unloads hers into the fridge, puts her art supplies into her new cubby, while upstairs someone is playing the piano so beautifully that the sound coming out the windows when we come onto the porch makes me nearly cry, causes my girl to comment upon it’s loveliness, and when after going to the art room to see my girl’s works in progress, after seeing my son sitting and talking and smiling with his friends, our last year’s carpool guy messing around and talking with his, we walk to the parking lot to say good-bye, there is a girl with beautiful blue hair walking from their car to the school with her dad in his blue suit, and another family so large they drive a fifteen passenger van arriving with bare feet and enormous lunch boxes and passengers to boot, I am overcome with the importance of catching children, of making space for the blue haired kids, the ones who wear wool trench coats and orange stocking caps while others travel in bare feet, the ones who want to draw and paint and play piano every day, the ones who need years to learn to make a conversation casually with friends, the ones who feel on the fringes in some way, the girl with a suitcase on wheels who makes me wonder where she’s going after school or what she’s doing at school today that requires so much stuff, and I am extra sad for Eduardo not to be with us today, to have missed another opportunity for home.

As I leave the parking lot, I wonder on our Charter School and on our ability to catch kids, urban kids, english language learners, kids whose parents may not be literate in english, or literate at all, kids who don’t have much financially, who have things culturally we may not yet understand. I wonder on my place, when at times Sudbury seems a haven that may need fighting for to preserve, when most of the kids  there are white, not wealthy, but with the means to pay, and I wonder on my own little, tiny world of children of my own, who have needed their own forms of catching, and on my status as a single mom of somewhat limited means myself, and I wonder on the day care where when we know families well, we always find some who need catching, and I wonder on content and on the relevance of school, and on all the myriad things in the world we are each and all interested in pursuing, and on the time and wherewithal and FREEDOM to do it, and I wonder on the future and what it brings.

All this in carpool, in my two hours of having my mind detached from any firm grounding in reality.  I think about this duty and privilege of driving carpool, and on becoming unmoored in any way, on putting oneself out of bounds for a moment, of waiting for what comes, and I think of my friend Macky and her telling me yesterday about her understanding of children in transition, of how she used to worry about their being at loose ends, and how recently she has begun to see it as the children’s time to stop one thing and to look around for what next, to organize themselves for a change, and I think of Macky and her son, who is nearly my age, and of her husband, not old enough to be Macky’s son father, but playing that role, and of my friendship with Macky, her sixty one years to my forty five, and of my co-teacher Alice and her sixty seven years to my forty five, and the whole mixed age thing comes clear again, how we offer what we offer to those with whom we connect, for many, many reasons, sometimes because of age, but over our lifetimes, much more out of synchronicity, out of mutual interest or affection, out of circumstance or cooperativity, and I am grateful again, so very grateful for my kids’ school and for my day care life and for the life I lead, which is changing all the time, sometimes too quickly, sometimes not enough for my taste and for the transitions, whether carpool or divorce, which give my mind time to wander, to look around, reorganize, get on a new and different track or back on the old, we never knows until we’re there.

Now on to Charter School Work, goal of the day if I weren’t to wander, which I have..cha cha.

And here is the lovely poem from today’s Writers’ Almanac, which perhaps was a piece of this piece, too:

Living Things

by Anne Porter

Our poems
Are like the wart-hogs
In the zoo
It’s hard to say
Why there should be such creatures

But once our life gets into them
As sometimes happens
Our poems
Turn into living things
And there’s no arguing
With living things
They are
The way they are

Our poems
May be rough
Or delicate
Little
Or great

But always
They have inside them
A confluence of cries
And secret languages

And always
They are improvident
And free
They keep
A kind of Sabbath

“Living Things” by Anne Porter, from An Altogether Different Language. © Zoland Books, 1994. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

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This afternoon I brought the young guy who was meant to spend the year with us back to the air port for deportation. His paperwork wasn’t in order, and he wasn’t allowed to stay. We’d been planning on his arrival since June, had been working on preparing his room  for weeks. I made seventy five meatballs on Sunday, along with a very decent batch of ratatouille, in anticipation of another mouth to feed. We bought a futon, moved around half the furniture, many of the books, a good chunk of the toys, instruments, games, art materials, dress up clothes, and other paraphernalia in the house, adjusted our expectations to include Eduardo in our lives for the year.

He was here less than four full days and now he’s gone. Makes me sad on lots and lots of levels. I feel tired and down. I also wonder what all that rearranging will lead to, what will happen to the space we created for him, in our house and in our hearts. We talked about that at dinner, just me and the kids, after three nights of Eduardo. It felt private, quiet, and also a bit expansive. When you lose something, or someone suddenly, the vacancy can catch you off guard. It feels a lot like grief, even though we barely knew the boy. Funny how a person becomes a movie you play in your mind, how their future becomes entwined with yours, how ripping that story apart, even when it was mostly imagined, feels bad.

The boy is flying all night long. His flight left at 6 something pm, is meant to land in Spain just after midnight our time, 6:30 am their time. Four hours after that, he’ll be back home, take a small rest, then come up with a new plan for this year of his life, as will we.

This afternoon at 3:50, our exchange student will arrive from Spain at Logan Airport. Until his mother called yesterday I did not feel sure he would arrive. It’s an informal exchange we’ve arranged ourselves, following an e-mail posting by an SVS staff member to the Assembly list wondering if anyone in the school had room for him to stay this year. We did, or so I thought at the time. The kids were curious, interested. We met. The kid and his mother made us happy right away, so we said yes. Now, here he comes.

Friday night was our first Charter School Founders Group Meeting since we were invited to apply for the final round. So that is on my mind, and e-mails are circulating amongst the members of the group, getting various projects and initiatives off the ground. I’m back to waking up too early, thinking about school, about the business of the day, the larger picture things, computer is back upstairs late night and early morning, as much of the research and work is online.

My friend borrowed our van for a day of workshops in Albany yesterday, with some connection to the Free School. Her car isn’t working, mine is, I thought it best to share, which she appreciated very much, more evidence that people need adventure, friends, and are motivated to learn. She sent photos from the road and from the workshop via facebook, alternative education types seem as comfortable with bee hives as with iphones, which is nice to know.

In the process of preparing for our new housemate, I feel like we’ve moved every single thing in the house, which of course, we haven’t, but it’s sure been a lot of work and stuff. In the room where he is going to sleep, there was lots and lots of stuff. This room has been all kinds of things in the years twenty years this month we’ve owned this house. First it was the master bedroom. Then it was a master bedroom full of cribs for my family day care. Then it was a guest room for awhile. Then a room where friends and housemates lived. Then it became what we called the upstairs project room. (The day care has a project room downstairs.) Eventually, it became full of toys, games, books, dress-up clothes, blocks, legos, playmobil, art supplies, warhammer models and paints, instruments. You name an interest my kids have had in the last ten or fifteen years, and that room held the goods. The guests were increasingly surrounded, and recently, left out, by all the stuff.

So, to prepare for Eduardo, we spent one weekend removing the books from a tall book shelf which was going to my daughter’s room. This resulted in me and my daughter sorting books in piles and on shelves in three or four rooms of the house, giving some away, putting others aside for the school, sending some to the day care and her room, others to bags with the intention to find them a home real soon.

Another weekend, we sorted through board games, this time enlisting the opinion of all the kids, shuffling them off the shelves which are now bare and above the bed, onto shelves in the living room, or into bags to give away or for the school.

This week it was couch moving time. My friend James and I dragged the futon frame up from the basement, damp with mold, in this wet and muggy season, bought a new futon from the shop, along with a water and bed bug proof cover, and while I made a modest dinner, he put the frame together. The following night my kids were home and we got going moving furniture, first night every single thing in my overlarge bedroom, minus one bookshelf, second night dragging the sectional couch from what would be Eduardo’s room up the stairs to my bedroom. The girl was my partner night one, the boy and girl night two. We took off a door, a handrail, the legs of the couch, and scraped off a minimum of wood and paint from doorways and passages through the house. When I saw a little girl at the park the following day with a Wonder Woman t-shirt, I wanted one.

Then this weekend it was on to sorting more bits. We went through the closet full of nerf guns, playmobil boxes, old art. We went through the shelves of art supplies, warhammer, old school papers, and photos. As my daughter said, Do it Now! And I did. She’s a powerhouse of Gettin It Done. As she also said, It makes you smile when you do it. And it did. I love looking at my kids’ old work. Jonah filled pages of his kindergarten or first grade word book top to bottom with words starting with each letter of the alphabet. He was drawing cartoons on his homework, doodling on his folder. He was quick to learn, lost in creative thought, even then. My girl’s artwork was there in tiny notebooks, from scribbles to crowns to watercolor birds. She was thrilled to find the art supplies I uncovered on the shelves, and packed a good number of them up to take to school, where she’s drawing and painting again, nearly every day. There were photos of Ben playing soccer on his first team, his drawings of cactus and labels of carefully drawn Texas animals made in a small black notebook I remember buying him on my trip into town. There were boxes of photos from the early years of our marriage, when friends were getting married, our kids were little and being born, and we looked happy. They were laid open in clementine crates, labeled by my ex-husband, in chronological order, dusty as can be, and so I dusted the off, closed the packages, put them together in one shoe box, from my daughter’s newly purchased size 9 shoes, replaced them on the shelf. I think the last time they were organized it was part of a huge putting photos in albums project by my ex, a tender memory of how things shift. The albums are in my bedroom, where I’m sitting now, gal beside me awake from my typing, boys still asleep, after a day of music, computer, college prep, cooking, eating, talking, d and d and time with friends and planning of more for today.

Anticipating the arrival of our new friend this afternoon, I am off to the grocery store, to buy my usual enormous cart of groceries, for day care, for home, and now for another teenage boy. I have serious concerns that this once a week shopping routine isn’t going to hold up, that the cart and my stamina will not withstand another gallon of milk or loaf of bread. Of course, they will. Another person coming into our lives, and we haven’t the slightest idea, really, what that means. Getting ready, though, has been a big deal already. If just moving the stuff can move us so much, I wonder what story shifting his presence will bring.

This piece is worth a read if you are interested in progressive educational reform and those who have shaped it. The schools Vito Perrone inspired, including Central Park East in New York (improperly named in the article) and Mission Hill in Boston are two places I admire very much and which are models for our new Charter School. I have been hearing about Vito Perrone since I was a student teacher at Central Park East Elementary, where his colleague Deborah Meier walked the halls as principal of CPE Secondary, which shared the building. At that time, my cooperating teacher, Yvonne, was a part of the North Dakota Study Group, which Vito Perrone helped found and lead for many years. Many others who I have met and admired since have been part of or inspired by the work of this group, including Brenda Engel, who co-edited the book of essays by members of the NDSG, Holding Values:What We Mean By Progressive Education, one of my favorite education books of all time.

I wish I had met or been in the presence of Vito Perrone. I imagine his energy to have been unique and his ideas to have been ones that would have stayed with me differently had I heard them directly from his mouth. 78 is too young to die, especially for a man like him.  It would be an honor to name our school after him. As we make our place for children and teachers, we’ll keep these words in mind, quoted in the NY Times obituary:

Accepting a citizenship award in 1998 from a Cambridge peace group, Dr. Perrone explained his apprehension about public school systems that encourage teachers to “accept the message of test scores rather than to go beyond them.”

“What if our children and young people learn to read and write but don’t like to and don’t?” he said. “What if they don’t read the newspapers and magazines, or can’t find beauty in a poem or love story? What if they don’t go as adults to artistic events, don’t listen to a broad range of music, aren’t optimistic about the world and their place in it, don’t notice the trees and the sunset, are indifferent to older citizens, don’t participate in politics or community life?”

With a teacher’s rhetorical urgency, he added, “Should any of this worry us?”

Read the full piece from the NYTimes by following the link below:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/17/us/vito-perrone-sr-who-fought-standardized-tests-dies-at-78.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1&adxnnl=1&hpw&adxnnlx=1316719342-FIjTj7tZ01qZsYXSlbrX3w

This morning I am on my own for a brief time. After a couple of years of being on my own a lot, I find myself alone very little. Perhaps this is why I’m writing less. I miss the writing. And I don’t. With blogging, there is always the fine line, or the gray area, the tricky boundary of personal and public. For me, as family child care provider, mom, now member of a charter school founders’ group, it is often hard to know what is fair game for this blog, what is too private, what is not mine to share. Now is one of those times, I suppose, where I feel the need to keep a certain curtain around things..the school is moving forward, and in a tricky political time, of having been asked to move forward with our application, and gaining public awareness of our school, and there is so much to do there it can feel both awesome and overwhelming. The day care is taking shape again, new kids in fall, after school program much diminished, under-enrolled for now, and I am a bit stuck as to how to change that, no longer a parent at the Healey, no longer able to provide transportation from school, not sure of the proper online venue for advertising openings, of the target audience, if there is one, as after school has always been for families I’ve known before, either for kids who’ve left the day care or for siblings of those in care. Moving to a public ad for random kids to come and join us for two hours a day, in our day care space with little ones napping, or in my house, feels like a breach in some way, intimate offering to an unknown public. My kids are teenagers and adolescents. Writing about their lives, taking their pictures, focussing too much here on what they do feels invasive to them. I don’t know how to write much about my teens without overstepping boundaries that might turn them away. And my personal life feels private again in a way maybe it didn’t when the changes I was experiencing due to separation and divorce felt so enormous, life changing, and in many ways, visible to the world, in some ways invisible and needing to be seen. The aloneness, in any case, drew me to the writing, to a place to ease my mind, to put my thoughts outside my head, a place to make sense of a story gone wrong.

So, now what to write about. I really don’t know. I loved putting words to air here the last three years. I loved taking pictures of the flowers and the kids and sharing them with you. My energy’s shifted. Life feels overfull some days. Time to write is scarce, or there are other things I’d rather do. My kids and my school work feel somewhat off limits for this blog, and take up huge chunks of my mind, as do other things that I’d not feel comfortable sharing on a blog. I’ve not been to a conference, or read a new educational book for awhile. The Writers’ Almanac and Spirituality and Practice come every day, but I don’t read them every day any more. Right now, it’s time to go to work, time to start another day, and I’ve written, in hopes of coming to some purpose or inspiration, and mostly rambled on, new stage of midlife again, perhaps, finding my way over increasingly shallow hills, peaks and valleys less profound, stepping with some increasing assuredness along the path, still not much idea where I’m going, but less fear of falling off a cliff or ending up on the sidewalk all alone waiting for someone to happen by and help. Divorce and life after are a story I never wrote, a stage of life I may have wondered about, but never fleshed out enough to imagine beyond could I do it and would I survive, answers appear to be yes, story is very slowly taking shape, seems not terribly full of drama, other than of the interior kind.

Last night I dreamed I was painting outside my house. I have begun to worry already about this winter’s shoveling. My neighbor the alderman came over to talk, complimented me on my work, commented on the paint I was using, his castoff, told me he had to buy three cans to get a good one, while I felt proud to have been able to use his castoffs and make it work. Feels like much of life is like that right now, making due with castoffs, living in the generosity of the world and the discipline of a frugal mind, holding it together, if sometimes tenuously, and with a plan that will get me through the week, hopefully the month and year, with some vague notions beyond that, where I hope to live to a grand old age, in some story I have yet to invent.

Which reminds me that the sad news I read this morning, about the radical educator John Taylor Gatto, who spoke at the last AERO conference I attended, inspired me and my friend, signed my book while talking to me about the Greenbergs and SVS, has had a serious stroke. Vito Perrone, of Harvard Ed School, The North Dakota Study Group, and Fairtest, among other things, friend and mentor to my cooperating teacher at Central Park East, as well as mentor to one of my current day care mom’s, has died. The older generation of progressive educators, those who brought me into this modern world of school, are older and older each day, some now gone. Makes me wonder how to grab hold of their energy and legacy while I can, in an attempt to get back to that larger world, I’ve signed up for the Coalition for Essential Schools Fall Forum in November, and if I can get the day off work, I’ll go..one step at a time, big world, little world, here I come.

Had my first Sudbury Valley drive today..on the way home from my morning on the road, I listened to Fresh Air, where Terri Gross was interviewing Nick Lowe. The part I loved was about finding out who he was and being that for the world..and about making himself a bit new later in life..here’s the song that closed the interview..he’s also a former son-in-law, and friend of Johnny Cash, who gave him the advice, which he followed, to “be himself.” Can’t hurt to try, especially if you’ve got the sense that Somebody Cares for Me. Big deal in life. My other stop on the road was to my favorite coffee shop, Karma Coffee, for my first latte of the school year, a bag of espresso, and time to write about my day care graduate, C. What I was trying to convey is the title of the song. Good to know we’ve got that down in day care, or at least that it’s our mission.

 

It’s always amazing to me that in my work with children every new year is different. Even in this place where children and families are with us for many years, in a year when three of our four new kids are siblings of children we have or used to have in care, each new little person, each new combination of people, each shift in schedule, each child moved on, each day is new. Funny also to me that working with teachers in the second half or even end of our careers, we find we always have more to learn. It’s a long, long process becoming a master teacher, a master of our little universe, a master communicator, relator, organizer, worker, lover of little people and their worlds.

I feel especially lucky on this warm September day to be in our world, not in an office, not in a factory, not even in a school, but in a home, a yard, a neighborhood, a park. The freedom to come and go, freedom to be inside and out, to do as we choose, feels especially glorious as we all let go of summer and move into fall.

Our little ones cry a bit. They are adjusting to us and our routines. They also laugh, hug, hold our hands, smile, talk. The big ones are adjusting to the loss of their friends gone to school or off to other things, and to the neediness of the new ones in their first weeks of life with us. They are also getting stories read on the couch, freshly made play dough, a tree house now fully ours, time in the park, new people to study and love with ideas sure to change our own.

Many years ago, when I was a young teacher, I spent months, weeks, days, getting the space and my plans ready for the fall. This year I spent less time. The curtains didn’t get washed, nor did all the toys and shelves. The books in the buckets didn’t get sorted and the toddler books are mostly put away.  Somehow we still felt ready. When a long time ago, teaching and caring were brand new, reading books, making lists, shopping for and organizing supplies, preparing the classroom or day care for new kids, the curriculum for the year was a different sort of thing. Now, I think the most important thing to get ready is myself. If I can be calm and centered and energized and enthusiastic, the day will most likely go well.

Off to write the daily observations, which I can write today between lunch and getting kids to sleep (yes, today three of the four are sleeping!) and welcoming after school kids to the back door. Lucky life to work at a job that feels so good.

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