September 2012


Yesterday I spent the day at school learning to use the sewing machine and getting it in decent shape for folks at school to use it. I worked in a room of other people, some interested in the sewing machine, some doing their own things. I wrote about that yesterday. Today I realize how much that experience reminds me of riding my bike again in my forties. When I was a girl I loved both things, to ride my bike, and to sew. I learned to ride my bike in the garage of my family’s home, in the driveway, on the country roads surrounding my house. I rode by myself, in the company of my family, with my friends. It was scary and exciting and relaxing and energizing and it made me proud. It gave me freedom I would not otherwise have had. When I got older, I saved all my money to buy a ten speed bike, then rode it into town to meet my friends, later to work as the Arts and Crafts director for the local recreation program. As an adult, there were many years I didn’t own and/or didn’t ride a bike. I didn’t have one at all in college, nor in the many places I lived after that until I moved to Cambridge and got a job across town. My then husband is an avid biker and encouraged me to ride to school. I got a nice bike, the first one since the ten speed I bought at age eleven, and rode it a few times along the city streets and bike paths, to school and back and with my husband on the weekends. It never became a habit. I didn’t like getting to school sweaty and I wasn’t comfortable riding on the city streets. I was a country girl used to riding on country roads, where my biggest fears were unleashed dogs and too fast cars, bugs in the eyes and mouth, steep hills, and getting tired. In the city, my young husband rode everywhere, fast and confident, had two incidents where he was hit or hurt on his bike, learned to ride more safely, kept on riding while my bike stayed in the basement. Then the kids were born, I didn’t feel comfortable riding with a kid seat or a trailer bike, and it was rare all three kids had bikes that fit and could keep up with one another. Riding with young kids in the city, and I was with kids, almost all the time, was just not something that I learned to do..But when my kids got older, and at last we all had big bikes, a new one for my daughter, mine to my middle guy, a vintage road bike for my oldest, a recovered speedy thing fixed up for me by a friend, I learned to ride again. I’m still learning. City biking with adolescents and teens is fun. Riding on my own or with a friend is, too..I was struck how much I felt like a kid again when I got my new/old bike, how much seeing my daughter on hers reminded me of my childhood biking, how much there is to learn about riding in the city, how quickly my kids pick it up, how much I struggle.

I learned to sew in the same neighborhood and era as I learned to ride a bike. As girls, my sister and I sewed early and often, doll clothes from scraps of cloth handed down from my mom and grandma, who sometimes sewed our clothes. The fabric collection was loaded for me with meaning. I was miserly in my sharing of these scraps of fabric leftover from baby blankets, dresses, housecoats, overalls, and other things these two important woman created with their hands for us, many of which hung in our closets as we used scraps of the same fabric to make clothing for our Barbie dolls. Many of those items, kids clothes made my my grandma, my mom, and me, and doll clothes made by me and my sister and our friends are in boxes in my house now, memories packed in cardboard which is also from that era, Girl Scout cookie boxes from my years as a Girl Scout, or newspapers tucked in dated 1970 something, plastic bins of Barbie stuff my daughter has collected over the years.

When I was eight or nine my mom and some neighborhood women were our 4-H leaders. We made sewing boxes and kits, pot holders and t-shirts, aprons, skirts, dresses, even pants and jackets (hard). We learned all the steps of sewing, mostly on a machine not much different from the one I used yesterday, manual controls, heavy metal, straight and zigzag and button hole stitches.  We worked in the homes of our neighbors, women and girls in basements or dining rooms figuring stuff out together. I loved sewing so much I was in the local 4-H Dress Review for which I made something each spring, had it judged, paraded it on stage in a fashion show in the Batavia High School Auditorium. Later I made my own formal dresses and gowns for dances at our school, using Butterick and Vogue patterns and beautiful fabrics I chose at Joann Fabrics, also in Batavia. I’d spend long hours pouring over the pattern books and bolts of fabric, choosing thread and notions, then cutting, sewing, ironing, adjusting, until I could try on and wear my new clothes. The last thing item of clothing I made was a dress for my grandmother when she was an older woman and I was a young woman. I stayed at her house overnight a day or two, perhaps for the last time, and sewed a dress for her on the machine that lived in her spare room at the foot of the twin bed where I slept all through my childhood on visits to her home, a lovely wooden cabinet, a smooth running machine, well used by my grandmother into her old age, until it was too hard for her to thread the needle, and she’d have to wait for someone to rethread it if it came undone. She also had a sewing basket which sometimes lived in her living room between the couch and the wall. When we were small, we would use that to make small projects when we visited, or do some mending, which she liked to do.

When I began to ride my bike again at forty four I began to remember being a girl, and my dad helping me to learn and being in the country and the freedom and grace I felt as I began to learn. When I worked the sewing machine at school yesterday, I was fully absorbed in the project, loved working alongside a young girl and a teenage boy and a bunch of teens and adults who came and went to see what they might do, being in a room full of people making things and solving problems,  loved the familiar feel of the machine and the way the memory of how to use it came back to my body and mind over many hours, how I used my adult self and my young self together all at once, memory and knowledge coming together, so that I had confidence to take the machine apart with a screwdriver, something I would never have done before, to see what was inside, to try to fix it, should there be a mechanical problem, and to understand it’s workings. As I did that I thought of my uncles on my dad’s side, many engineers, and my grandfather, who took apart and put together many things, and I thought of my own dreams since young adulthood of working in a place with a sewing machine and fabric where kids could create real things, and how that dream was coming true. No more for now, as I’m off to take a walk and talk with a friend before hitting the dining room table for a good few hours of desk work..and then who knows? Always, always, always more to learn, and to remember. Oftentimes, if not always, the two happen together, the interaction of memory and new learning creating stories and surprises as we go.

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I spent most of today in the art room. First I got to work with kids who were using beads. My guy and gal who learned watercolors yesterday were eager to work with beads today, which lead to search for more small needles, a lovely ring for the four and three quarters, who tired after  an intense morning of dropped needles and very small beads over very thin string..and to a day spent working with the sewing machine alongside the gal who could not find another small needle but who spent her summer at day care using a sewing machine. Midway through, a teen who had talked with me about other handy things in his life stopped by and got curious and brought his laptop to help find answers on the computer..two or three staff joined it, I took breaks here and there to eat, to get certified on the new paper cutter, to count young kids, but mostly, I spent my day in the art room figuring out the sewing machine. I loved it. After a few hours of this, experimenting with dials and levers, taking the thing apart with a screw driver, asking questions on the computer, researching sources for manuals, the gal in love with the machine figured out the solution to our problem, pressing a button that raised the “feed dogs” so the fabric would move along as the machine stitched. I spent more time adjusting the tension, the stitch length, learning to wind a new bobbin, threading and rethreading, putting the machine back together, then buying, downloading, printing, binding and stowing copies of the manual in various parts of the school. All around me folks were learning other new things, to string the hand looms, to work with the paper and mat board cutters, to mat and frame art, to fix an old paper cutter so it could be used to cut large pieces of mat board, to hang a drawing on the wall with a tack, to sign a name, to find a pair of scissors which would cut heavy stock..amazing, really, the energy and learning of that room today. The time flew so fast, I left barely enough time to learn to use the mop and bucket (same design as McDonald’s when I was sixteen so it came right back to me) to do my first shift mopping the art room floor. Nothing like a little mopping to make a gal feel right at home.

And, of course, the traffic coming home at 5:15 on a Friday on the Massachusetts Turnpike was learning in itself. More than two hours after leaving school I arrived home to a dark and quiet house, leftovers for dinner, ice cream for dessert, and time to write this piece. Still wondering about writing about this new life. It’s not my place to write about. It is my experience of it, and hopefully it’s clear that is all this is, not a representation of the school, but a piece of my life which is spent there. Lucky me.

Yesterday at school I had the pleasure of working with two young kids learning to use the watercolor paints. The older of the two, a new girl about 8 or 9, asked me a question that made me smile..How do you know so many of the names? It’s my job..It’s something I’ve been working on, was my answer. I felt proud that she had noticed my efforts, pleased that perhaps one of these kids who I see here and there, felt that I had begun to know her and the others in our school.

When I got to bed last night, I found time to read the observations Liana had written about the day and to look at photos Jen had taken beside the Alewife Brook where the day care had gone exploring. The photos of children so open to the camera and the stories about the children’s games, their make believe worlds, the way they are adjusting to day care life, their art and building projects, the friends they are beginning to make and those they have long loved were all there for me to see and read.

This time I felt outside the day care world looking in and I wondered how that shift will continue. I love my new world and my old, miss either when I’m away. There’s the pleasure and intensity of learning new things, of being welcomed gradually into a new community, of being part of a larger world, and the love and loss of being less apart of the place I’ve built and called home for seventeen years, where I’ve gotten to know each child and family and caregiver so intimately at times its’ felt like family.

I wish I had a song or poem for it. I don’t..maybe someday I will.

The time I’ve been spending at SVS and shifting back and forth between there and home and day care and Ashfield is working on my brain. I can’t seem to get a story for it, a narrative or an image or a sense of shape, even..things are coming in scattered thoughts more than sentences or reasoned arguments or positions or takeaways..

Here are some thoughts/questions. I think there is a reason I’m curious again about poetry..As Muriel Rukeyser’s Life of Poetry seems to be telling me, poetry is about emotion, about chaos, about the complexity and depth in life..Shifting brings these bits to light, makes a person explore things differently..

Here are some things I’ve been noticing and wondering about…

So much physical activity..also so much computer activity..so much talking…things that are not usual in typical schools feel compelling and natural and are allowed and happen…

Kids walking the grounds on their own..solitude in rooms or corners of the school and barn and grounds and off campus..curious about that..watching to see what I learn..feeling curious about my own watching..brings up memories of my first entrance to school when I watched through my kindergarten and first grade years..can remember that clearly, sitting and watching the others..

Trying new things, new identities, nerdy people trying social or physical things..people who “have never” trying something and seeing how it feels..people showing other people things they love and wanting them to learn to love those things, too..

Lots of drawing, painting, clay work, making things..I was drawn to kids making paper chains, something I’ve seen in day care, took my first series of pictures as the project moved from two kids at a table in the art room to many kids under a tree in the yard, chains grew from two small sets of links to a huge chain meant to reach from school to barn, began to be laid out from school steps until I and others wondered about traffic flow, don’t know what next, saw girl with two bags of chains near the parking lot around time of dismissal..wonder where those are now..also why the chains were of interest to me..was it because they were most familiar to me..or out of the ordinary there..or what?

Lots of meetings and organization and structure..familiar and unfamiliar..debate, discussion, conversation in many, many formats, committee and corporation meetings, school meeting, JC meeting, kitchen table talk, talk under a tree, talk in a corner between close friends, boisterous talk over games..

Lots of movement, lots of sitting, people shifting from one to the other as they choose..interesting to watch the individual/group dynamics around movement and attention, sound and quiet..needs and requirements.

Lots of smiling, laughing, some hugging, genuine affection and sincere caring, talk about core values and principles..depth…and the choice to engage or not engage..many instances of passing a person in a hall and choosing or losing opportunities to interact, connect..

Food and eating..nonstop for some, intentional for some, outdoors, indoors, regulated/unregulated..healthy/junk..another thing to notice, study, appreciate…

Time to get ready for my full day in the day care, then tomorrow, three more days of school begin..as you can imagine, I am more a learner than a teacher in this setting.. a student of the place as much as a caretaker of it..and wondering how my role and understanding will evolve as time goes on…

This weekend the kids and I did something new. We packed our bags and closed the house Friday morning before school, spent the weekend in the country, and returned the kids to school and me to home this morning. It was a fine thing to wake up in the country, to pack our things and close the place down, to drive east instead of west, through relatively scenic passages, to arrive at school after my daughter had a long nap, my son had a short one, and we all listened to all twenty tracks of Bob Marley’s Legend. My gal even found the reggae in her dreams. After saying good bye to the kids and wishing I could spend the day at school, I drove home traffic free and am here now catching up on unanswered e-mails, unloading the van, and doing some desk work before my afternoon in the day care downstairs.

On the drive, I thought of all kinds of things I wanted to write here. Now I’m here, it seems the ideas are gone. Maybe if I keep writing they’ll come back.  I found a book on the shelf in Ashfield that’s been there for years, but called to me at last, Muriel Rukeyser’s The Life of Poetry. I read what I could, am eager to read more. I had dreams all three nights. They made me think of things I needed to consider. On the drive I found time to do that. We’ll see what happens when I return to the busy week. One dream was about cleaning my dining room, when things began to crumble and a false wall was revealed, containing a shelving system constructed between my living room and dining room, which had been covered in plaster and which had thin melamine doors. Inside the wall there were several spare closet doors and many traditional school supplies in very good condition. I wondered in the dream if the previous inhabitants of the house had left them there, if I should keep them, if my daughter might like them (when I woke up and shared the dream, she said adamantly, NO!). I also wondered if I should replace the plaster and cover the shelf, leave it revealed, or tear down the false wall, opening the living and dining room to one another. There were two men advising me, one who promised to fix the holes in my ceiling, warning of rodent intruders bound to invade immediately if I left the holes, another warning me against this repair man, saying there would soon be staples in my chimney if I let him do the work.

My friend at breakfast wondered about the doors, and opportunities not previously considered opening to me now. I wondered about my decisions in life, and the real life school supplies waiting in my bedroom for my next attempt to teach in public school, about the charter school, the day care, and SVS, my mother and her career, me and mine. Now I wonder about mine and my daughter’s. My friend said she had once believed she should be a teacher, perhaps like me, because her mother had been one, that she had tried to teach, had found it made her ill, had stopped and moved along in fits and starts. I am moved to find another friend whose body would not tolerate the life she had chosen, perhaps misguidedly, and marvel at how lovely it feels to be at my new school, SVS, not a public school as I had imagined, but a school that feels like home to me. As I drive this morning, it occurs to me that the school reminds me a lot of growing up in the country surrounded by kids and adults of all ages, and that model was one that felt familiar when I opened the day care, too…

Time to unload the van and do the desk work, and think as I am able. Nice to be away. Nice to be home.

Today was a beautiful sunny day. We woke up to cool rain, but the day surprised us with clear skies and warm temperatures, so by noon I removed my sweater while sitting outside at school enjoying my lunch. I have taken to sitting outside whenever I can, mostly to take a break after a meeting or discussion or chore, often to eat my lunch or a snack. If I sit on the steps and watch, I learn a lot about what is going on at school. Eventually, someone will stop to talk and then I get to know that person a little better and they get to know me, too.

Today a young guy who I’ve been talking to bit by bit came by on a ripstick. My kids have had them for a few years, since we first saw kids at school riding them when my older son began. They rode them in the house in our Somerville apartment, holding onto the walls and countertops to learn, negotiating the small rooms with elegant maneuvers. Before today I was afraid to try.

Today I did. It was sunny outside and learning to ripstick made me sunny inside and outside, too. I’m not a confident learner of athletic things, but this is something I figured I could do, with enough patience. Another young guy wanted to learn, too. Of course he was much quicker and much less afraid than I was at learning to do this, though my teacher reminded me the other guy had tried before, whereas I was brand new. First I couldn’t get both feet on the ripstick. Then I could, though with the support of the new fence. Gradually, I learned to hop aboard, to balance, to roll while holding on, to dismount. My challenge before leaving to help organize materials for the Yearbook Corporation with another staff member was to ripstick without holding on from the fence across the pavement to the grass. With the help and encouragement of my young teacher, I did it two times. Before leaving I promised next time to work on hopping on without the fence and turning.

When I was learning to ripstick I was remembering a piece a founder of the school had written about learning to climb a tree at the encouragement of a child who was an expert. She happened to walk by as I was learning and asked me if I was having fun. I was. It’s not all play being a staff member, but it is fun a whole lot of the time. The kids and staff at SVS laugh and joke and play in ways that are rare for folks their age to do on a regular basis, together, as part of the routine of the day. I like that. A lot.

This afternoon I arrive at day care at lunch time, just before nap. I haven’t been here for nearly a week. I spent my first three days with kids at SVS last week. Most Monday afternoons in the day care I have written observations about the morning with the kids. Since I now arrive at 1:30 from a morning elsewhere, this morning with my mom and her beau and my kids and running errands, I can’t tell about the morning in the day care. I can’t easily write about my time at SVS yet, either. I’m still learning how that works. I can write about the shift, about how adorable and small the kids in the day care look when I return, about how calm and orderly they feel when I first walk in, Monday of week three, compared to weeks one and two when everyone and everything was brand spanking new. I can recall watching the younger kids at SVS and how their lives there unfold, individually and as members of a wider age mix of kids and adults, and how it feels to see these kids here and now with those kids also in my mind, how it feels to be an adult in each and both of these worlds. That, I think, is my turf for now, figuring out how the two worlds fit together in one worldview in my mind.

For now, I’m here in my old happy place, sitting on the futon beside my gal the four, who has been my gal since she arrived at one. So nice to have old friends, and to sit beside her typing while she sleeps. On the other side is my old buddy the three, soaking in the nap vibe with his dudlik and momo, Czech for pacifier and lovey, words our new helper Jen has adopted for those things for all our newbies, too. My old buddy the two, who was our new buddy the one last year, is here without his sister, arranging his stuffed things, giving up his nap, it seems. Across from me on the couch is my other gal the four, buddy to the four sound asleep on her mat. She’s resting in her leotard, head on the arm of the couch watching the two and his toys, having finished book time and resting until her half hour of quiet is up and she can go to play. My new buddy the two is sound asleep, snuggled under his soft blankie and atop his soft pillow from home, arms under his head, flat on his back, peaceful as can be. Our new teacher Jen is softly talking to our new gal the one, who is predictably ready for her diaper change, before conking out herself, in a room where she has new company, our nearly four, who spent his morning at the doctors office having his blood drawn and is in a new rest spot so our other one, a chatty Cathy, can have the front room to herself, so perhaps today she’ll nap.

We’re getting to know these new little people, and to see the ones we’ve known take on new roles. It’s a small bunch relative to the one hundred and some at school, whose names I don’t all know, whose lives are not so much for me to write about, big kids, teens, and even little ones who live their lives under the hallmark of freedom, marking privacy as one privilege of their growing to be who they want to be. I’m not at all sure how to write about life there, if at all..and I love to write about things so that they begin to make sense, so patterns emerge, so I remember. I imagine I’ll figure it out eventually, maybe not here, maybe in the school’s quarterly journal, maybe in a private journal of my own, maybe in some format I haven’t yet discovered.

Here I can write as the children live their lives. I can write about the charming and tricky and wonderful things they do and think and feel. I can love them right away, in fact it’s better if I do. It’s not to say I don’t find the kids at school as charming or as fascinating or magnetic. In many ways I do. Just as the kids here need time to trust us, to figure out the routines and how things work amongst us, so I am like them when I’m at school, figuring out routines, getting to know the world and people there, finding my place and learning what to do. It’s fun, and super tiring. Nice to have the weekend and Monday to catch up, Monday afternoon and Tuesday in my old, familiar world.

Make new friends and keep the old, one is silver and the other gold. My mom the Girl Scout used to remind me of that all the time. It comes back when I need it, like so many other pieces of growing up stored away and waiting for the right time to emerge.

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