April 2013


As our fours sit outside the bathroom waiting for their turns to pee and wash their hands before lunch, one girl lifts her shirt a bit off her belly and says to her friends, “Some boys have breasts.”

She pauses and reflects. “That’s the Buddha.”

This is a girl who has loved to nurse her whole life, who is strong and agile in her body, whose friends talk about everything in the world together. Even still, overhearing this little bit of wisdom makes my day and I share it with my co-teacher who’s been helping kids in the bathroom while I prepare lunch in the tiny kitchen nearby.

Most of the morning we were outside, first in the yard visiting and soaking up the sun as the children played, then on the porch enjoying a picnic breakfast, then walking to and from and hanging out at the park with the children and our friends, fellow providers, and their group.

While we took care of the children, workers came to take care of the house, installing energy efficient treatments on the doors and along the space between foundation and house. We watched and the children wondered and we told them it was to make the house more comfortable. The worker even met us at the park so I could sign off on the project there, rather than bring kids home early.

Midway through park time, our fellow providers took small groups of kids in turn while they voted, a tradition in their group.

As we sat down to lunch, another four said to the room, “It’s so peaceful.” I had been setting the table for our meal and her friends were drifting in to join us for one of our favorites, maple yogurt, raspberries, english muffins, and cucumbers. “Except for —” said the four. “She’s being too noisy.”

When — arrived for lunch, she was indeed making lots of noise. One of her friends asked her to quiet down and she did not. I pointed out that her other friend had just said how peaceful it was, except for her noisy voice, and wondered if she could help us make it peaceful. She quieted down and we enjoyed our lunch.

Awhile later, the same four who talked about how peaceful it was suggested her friends play the silent game, seeing who could be quiet the longest. Each round ended in giggles. Then they organized the be still game. Soon they were all wiggling. Then it was the I Spy game for many rounds, then a game of trying to get the babysitter to make bubbles when she arrived to pick up, as she had once upon a time, which the kids never did forget.

All morning long, I think about the ease in our days and how grateful I am to spend them this way, and to be able to give the kids the freedom and space they need to be themselves, to be known, to know one another, to talk and laugh and play and bug each other and make friends. I wonder aloud as my co-teacher and I sit in the yard how it can feel so easy for us, and yet how it is so hard for so many children in the world these days to spend their days in peace. Perhaps the boy with breasts, the Buddha, can help.

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Last week at school was not an easy one. Friday, for the first time ever, I took a personal day and headed out of town. For a good part of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, I walked in the woods. One foot after the other, trees, sun, sky, leaves, conversation, I sorted out the story til it began to make sense again. By Monday I returned to city life restored, ready for the day, traffic no big deal, leaf bins to the curb, appointments and errands and chores to fill the morning before I am due downstairs again in day care.

In the fall I’ll be making a change again, leaving my position at SVS and returning in some greater capacity to WFDC. It’s a change I’ve been sensing for awhile, but it still feels sudden now. By the end of the weekend, I could face the problem-solving tasks of restoring my old life, scheduling, budgeting, reconciliation of wants and needs, income and expense. This time around I hope to leave more time for life outside of work. While I’ve loved my year at SVS and WFDC, I think I’m ready for more integration, more time in the woods, more leisurely dinners served before nine, more of the weekend to walk and wonder, to talk and be.

For many of us, midlife is full of change. This is not where I thought I’d be when I was twenty five, nor where I thought I’d be when I was five, those years of looking ahead to the future and imagining adult life. The second half of life for me is make it as you go, not plan it all ahead, a bit of improvisation, a bit of intention for the future.

The thing about the walks was that was all they were, one foot in front of the other, hours in a day, time well spent, connection. For so long, it’s seemed the days had to add up to something more, to children well-raised, to home well-kept, to  business strengthened and expanded, to volunteer work to change the world. Most of that worked out on some level. None of it was on my own. Some of it might last. Most won’t. There’s no phd or pension or plaque on the wall to mark any of those things. Mainly it’s memories and two houses full of stuff, both fading as I age, and my kids and those I’ve helped to raise, gradually taking over the world as I recede into the background in my own life.

I read an article this year, possibly in The Atlantic, about the chance of a woman in my generation making it big if she hadn’t by her early forties. A friend recently told me that pretty much all musical success is determined by people in their twenties. Us forty-something women can be happy for what we’ve got. Some of us might still strike it rich, whether in wealth or deed. Most of us will not. Then what, is where we are now, kids nearly grown, houses overfull, retirement savings accruing very slowly, years ahead of work easing gradually into play, if all goes well, with more walks in the woods, more leisurely dinners, more talks on the phone with kids far away and aging parents and friends in similar boats.

Time is the thing for those of us who haven’t struck it rich in gold or fame. If we can reclaim the hours for ourselves and those we love and figure out how to make them happy, I’m curious what will happen. How will the walks and talks and leisurely meals transform us, inside and out? That perhaps, more than the what next I’ve been pursuing, is where I ought to go at midlife, back to love of the world, of one another, of self. Instead of what next, I’m going to start asking myself what now.

By Friday evening the bombing suspect had been caught. My children returned to their dad’s, where they were meant to spend the vacation week. My brother finished a list of house and yard projects longer than any I could have invented, gave me a tour and direction on what to do next, climbed in his truck full of dogs and scrap and other things to be carried off from here to there, a large mug of coffee, and after a good hug, departed. Just as he was finishing his chores, a friend arrived and we spent a lovely weekend together. When the friend left, I fell into bed and slept five or six hours, deep, deep sleep like I get only on retreat, woke in the evening to wash the breakfast dishes, to eat leftovers for dinner, to do the grocery shop and to take loads of stuff to the curb from our massive clean out of house and yard.

Today my old friend is here doing an energy assessment on the house, walking up and down the stairs testing things and giving me information on ways life can improve, offering efficiency, savings, comfort, warmth and cooling, amongst other things.

My children returned to school this morning from their dad’s house. The teachers and families and children returned to the day care below. I sit in my kitchen while my world begins again to turn in its usual fashion. My friend and day care partner has called to see if we can get together before I’m back to day care work downstairs this afternoon. She is at her house awaiting a refrigerator delivery and I am here in my house with the energy inspection. Time for those care taking tasks for now. Homes need care as well as people. Balancing the two is where I’m at, figuring out how to take care of all the small worlds in my life the task at 46, as much as learning about the larger world outside. Start where you are. Write what you know. Notice. Appreciate. Be.

This morning I wake up to texts and facebook posts and e-mails about the manhunt in the Boston area and to my brother who is anxious to finish our week’s work. My kids are here. Turns out the suspects lived a block from their dad’s house. My co-workers cannot come to work with me as the police have asked us all to stay inside, lock our doors, and beware of strangers knocking..not that these would knock.

My brother loads his truck and I call the scrap metal dealer, who is around the corner from some serious investigation. They advise him to come right away, before Somerville is shut down, too. He does, and I talk with my daughter about the cancelled sleepover and walk to the mall at her dad’s with her suburban friends. No one wants to be out of sight of their kids today, not her friends’ parents, not me.

I work on puttering, clearing out closets and rooms, moving stuff from here to there, getting rid of trash and things we do not need. Every few minutes I check my phone for updates. I don’t want music or piped in news. The windows and doors are now open, suspects not likely anywhere near here, and all I hear outside are silence, the birds, and occasional distant sirens.

Today I took a walk to Davis Square. The streets in Teele Square were quiet. I wondered if it was because of the Boston Marathon bombing. The bank was somber. Davis Square was festive. People filled the park. Dave’s Fresh Pasta, where I chose delicious food and wine to celebrate the week off with my brother and a friend, spent a gift certificate from my day care families and a discount coupon my brother found while clearing off the fridge near midnight Monday night after the bombing, when I rose after napping to renewed energy, having napped after negotiating the city during the worst of it, dropping off my house guest from Spain at Logan and finding the news on the bar tv, waiting for the Silver Line bus with others who were checking cell phones for news, riding the bus and T and walking home e-mailing with friends who wondered if I was ok, in the midst of many doing the same, all of us somber.

The food in my bags on the walk home was heavy. Near home I ran into friends, a mother and two girls. We hugged, exchanged news. I commented on their beautiful outfits, wondered on their destination, raised the issue of the pall. Such a sunny day, vacation week from day care and school, all of us going on about our business while the world downtown is shattered. Here in Somerville my brother and I are energized, taking the first week we’ve had together on our own in years, probably in our lives, to unpack my adult life, to clear the basement and the yard and porches and house of layers of debris.

It’s uplifting work, dusty and dirty and endless in some ways, companionable to work in the basement and talk to each other, to be in the yard and on the porch, with the sun shining brightly, bringing the house and gardens back to life. So long as we’re working we are solidly here, fixed on the planet, taking care of it and ourselves and one another. For today, that is the task and I am happy in it, working vacation something I have not done with someone else for awhile, could make a habit of it if the opportunity presented. For now, my brother is out of work, and I am committed to getting my place in order for the next stage of life, whatever life may bring, and so this working vacation, even under the pall, is all right. While I’m thinking of those for whom this is a week of horror, at least I’m doing my part in the small world where I belong, this house and yard and everything in it. My self, my family, friends, the day care, and school are what I’ve got. Better to take care than to burrow in and suffer in solidarity with the loss.

The last week and a half I’ve had a house guest from Spain. She is a lovely woman traveling the world visiting schools. She was allowed to spend two weeks at Sudbury Valley and I was asked to be her host. How lucky that coincidence. Since she’s been here, I’ve returned to sleep. In the morning we share our dreams. We began the time together neither of us sleeping much and by the second week, we sleep soundly and in the morning the dreams I remember take me a long while to savor before rising from my bed.

This morning I wake to a full and rich dream. In it I have moved my house and day care life to an enormous house owned by my friend and day care colleague Sue. The house is rambling and huge. It is my first week there with my day care and I am having a visit from a new licensor. We talk in a cluttered room and the first thing she asks me about is drugs, then standing water (the yard is covered in snow and ice, but it seems apparent in spring it will be a large inground pool, with the doors and walls of the house open to the yard. As we talk, we are surrounded by people, young children, animals. She asks me about the twenty dogs and cats. I notice there are large balls of horse manure on the counter and floor where we talk. She seems not to notice. It is an old house full of stairs. None are covered by gates. The house is so huge and so full of things living and collected, there is no way she can count the children. There are no toys, no play rooms, no pieces of child sized furniture, no closed doors to the outside. There is another level below which I consider as a possible separate space for my day care. Along that yard there are wrought iron tables and chairs as in a cafe. Inside there is an enormous open room, with display after display of knives, and a man there who seems to run a knife shop. Midway through the licensing visit, an elderly African American woman arrives regally at the door. She is the former owner of the mansion, the mother of a friend of Sue, who has handed this palatial dynasty on to Sue, who has taken me in to share the space for both our day care programs. Later Sue and Sue’s kids sit on the curb beside two school buses, eating their lunch from home. She tells me they haven’t yet eaten inside and I realize there is no proper kitchen, no tables for large groups, try to envision preparing meals. The place is also miles and miles from our homes in Somerville and Cambridge. The licensor tells me I am the first to inquire about a license in this part of the world. I have no idea how our families will reach us. Perhaps by school bus.

In the dream, I realize I have made an enormous change without much forethought. I tell the licensor that as a single woman I have decided to rent both floors of my two family home and move here with my program into Sue’s house. There are outbuildings which I visit and find others visiting, too. We are all a bit lost and bewildered and bewitched by the history and wonder of this rambling place. On the outside of the buildings, as the dream ends, I find we are in a poorish community. There are a collection of red, white and blue signs, collected over years, advertising products, hung on the backs of all the buildings. The place is in an huge lot, one side which is accessed by a dirt lane and bordered by country, the other which is along a city street, across which there are plain triple deckers.

I wake from the dream wanting to rewalk the house and grounds. It is expansive and full of intriguing possibility as well as risk and foolish sense of having stepped out of familiar territory into an unknown place.

Two or three nights ago I also dreamed of moving. This time two older friends, one a day care mentor, another a mentor at school, are helping to organize a kitchen. It seems we are to share a living space. The cabinets are lovely old oak. The rest of the kitchen is pure white. There are rows and rows of open shelves above the counters and in the dream we are unpacking dishes and sweaters and arranging them on the shelves as we talk. My day care mentor has a beautiful pottery piece, green with colored dots, which seems to be a mug or vase, and we take special time admiring it, talking about it, and placing it on the shelf.

It’s time to get up and start the day. I’m curious what this new stage of dreams portends. They feel portentous, as though there is another opening in my life. Beyond that I don’t know what they mean. I am grateful for the return of dreams and for the deep sleep that accompanies them. Four years ago I began to have dreams that changed my life, accompanied by a drastic change in sleep. Then I found Gilchrist and Jung and a draw to photograph and write. This came after my son entered SVS, after I had begun to explore the idea of starting my own school, after years of intense obligation to making change in the worlds of education and care, and a pulling back to rethink life. The dreams accompanied my transition out of my marriage into the unknown, reconnected me to my dad, after years of not thinking about him, followed years of family funerals and the losses of many whom I loved.

These dreams feel more like a return to the living than a return to the dead. In them I am surrounded by people, by beloved things, not fancy, but evidence of long life layered with experience. In the dreams I am confronted with huge change, and in the case of the licensor, a challenge of my right to exist, but the pervasive feeling is that I am not alone. If anything, I am surrounded and embedded in a world of people whom I love.

With that, I have completed my mission of recording my dreams. I bought a slim red notebook for the purpose several weeks ago, but have been unable to use it. I prefer to share my dreams in the kitchen with an intimate companion or here in writing, the place I try to make a narrative or a path to follow from past to present to future, which honors the dreams and the mystery and connects them to yours.

Here is today’s Writer’s Almanac Poem. It felt right as it is about a free flowing feeling of a home and a mind as the earth warms. Perhaps the dreams are seasonal. Last time I had them it was a similar time of year. It’s also by Jane Kenyon, wife of Donald Hall, couple whose life I have admired and at times wished to emulate when I’m old, though she’s now dead and he’s now with a new, much younger woman. The life Jane Kenyon and Donald Hall lived together was to my mind from their description, not far from idyllic.

 LISTEN

Philosophy in Warm Weather

by Jane Kenyon

Now all the doors and windows
are open, and we move so easily
through the rooms. Cats roll
on the sunny rugs, and a clumsy wasp
climbs the pane, pausing
to rub a leg over her head.

All around physical life reconvenes.
The molecules of our bodies must love
to exist: they whirl in circles
and seem to begrudge us nothing.
Heat, Horatio, heat makes them
put this antic disposition on!

This year’s brown spider
sways over the door as I come
and go. A single poppy shouts
from the far field, and the crow,
beyond alarm, goes right on
pulling up the corn.

“Philosophy in Warm Weather” by Jane Kenyon, from The Boat of Quiet Hours. © Graywolf Press, 1986. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

In the center of my dining room table there is a gardenia. Yesterday the first blossom opened. I put my nose inside and the smell was consistent. I introduced it to my son and to my house guest from Spain. It’s a powerful scent to which I’ve been drawn of late. I’ve been lathering my skin with gardenia lotion, was pleased to receive an Easter gift of a gardenia candle, so happy to find the gardenia waiting for me in the flower section of Whole Foods last Saturday evening when I went in search of Easter flowers for my table. The shiny leaves reminded me two days ago that they were thirsty, drooping and looking dull. Given water, the plant blossomed. Today the blossom keeps me company with its scent while I sit at the table trying to pay bills.  Qhen I look closely, I can see endless buds nestled in the shiny leaves, waiting to bloom. I anticipate the glory of the white layered petals and of their feminine scent filing the dining room in the center of our house emanating out until the the house fills gradually with sweetness.

The last time I had a gardenia it was a gift in the early life of my marriage. A friend gave it to us for our engagement or wedding and it lived in our home a long time, until we put it on the porch in summer and the aphids filled it with their sticky remains.

This morning Quaker Meeting was silent a very long time. The one to break the silence delivered a message about grief and loss, memory and love. Her husband had been a beloved member of the meeting and as far as I could gather, was the man memorialized two weeks ago on Saturday. The widow delivered a message full of poetry and quotations, inspiration, courage, depth of feeling, sorrow. Her message was followed by others, one a song of comfort, another a story of a friend whose husband died this week, another of a funeral of a favorite uncle who had lost everything but love before dying last week. I sat beside my house guest, her first time in meeting, and we absorbed the messages, shook hands when meeting ended, went next door for conversation and coffee, left somewhat restored. Stories will do that, and poems, and handshakes and smiles and hugs of recollection and welcome. Meeting is all that for me right now, and I am grateful to have found it at this in between place in life where belonging sometimes feels hard.

Here is the TS Eliot quote I wanted to write in Meeting, remembered enough of to google..I’ve not read much of TS Eliot’s work. Perhaps now I will. It’s from The Wasteland, a famous poem longer than I’ll share here. The first two stanzas are what I’ve pasted. Perhaps you’ll choose to read the rest.

T.S. Eliot (1888–1965).  The Waste Land.  1922.

The Waste Land

I. THE BURIAL OF THE DEAD

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering          5
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,   10
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the archduke’s,
My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,   15
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,   20
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,   25
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.   30
        Frisch weht der Wind
        Der Heimat zu,
        Mein Irisch Kind,
        Wo weilest du?
“You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;   35
They called me the hyacinth girl.”
—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,   40
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
Öd’ und leer das Meer.

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