May 2013

My four comes to the kitchen in the midst of the busy afternoon transition and stands beside me as I try to finish a blog post to the families.

“Maria, do you know what is the most importantest thing in the world?”

“No, what?” I wonder.

“That you be with your kids all the time.”

“Really?” I ask.

“Yeah, that is what my dad told me.” she confirms, and she is off to play. Lucky kid.

This morning I return from the country very early. Yesterday a friend and I spent awhile in the garden in Ashfield, tearing out old growth, raking away dead leaves, hauling debris to the edge of the yard, dumping it over the wall. The sun was shining. After two days of cold and rain, it was wonderful to kneel on warm earth with sun on my back. Afterwards, I took my first swim in the pond, cold, tolerable, seeking the sunny patches there, too, as it was late in the day.

Today I find myself working beside a day care boy of four. First we test all the markers to see which are dry, which must be thrown away, which can be refilled, which should be kept. Then we refill the markers, step by step, finding each marker’s match in watercolor, half filling the small containers with liquid, removing the marker caps, resting the open markers in the containers where they can be refilled. My boy and I work side by side at the kitchen table while we test the markers. He stands on a chair to reach the counter where we do the filling, well out of reach of toddlers who might spill. As we near finishing, three of his friends join, two fours and a one, wanting to keep working when the job is done, commenting that the first boy has done more. He’s been working here all morning, I point out, while you were doing other things.

As we finish filling markers, we begin day care clean up. I wonder who will do what, back room, toy dishes, mats. Mats get the most takers. Two  young fours offer and the newly two joins, opening the closet, taking each mat from the pile, identifying it’s owner, carrying it along with it’s partner blanket to it’s place in the day care, preparing for nap, which will come after toileting, breakfast, park, and lunch. When lunch is over, the children help Alice unfold the mats, open the crib. At the end of park time, I see a four help a one dump sand from her shoes, then later, when we are inside the house, another four helps another one to take her shoes off.

Working alongside another and watching people work together makes me happy. Productive companionability, contribution to a group, making something better are only part of what enlivens these scenes. There is also the timelessness. As I wash dishes with my friend, I remember washing dishes in my grandmother’s kitchen, as I work in the garden I imagine my parents’ generation helping on their family farms, as I work alongside the day care children  and watch them work with one another, I think of children in tribal cultures learning to be adults from the world around them, looking after babies, preparing food, keeping watch.

Its important that all the members of our society have worth, find value in our contributions and those of others. Children in child care centers and schools are no exception. I’m not suggesting a return to child labor. I am suggesting that we find ways to work alongside our children, and for them to see us working alongside one another, to see and feel the pleasure and satisfaction in learning to contribute and to do a thing with skill. Filling markers was a start for my four today, getting rid of last year’s brown grasses was a start for me this weekend in becoming a more useful gardener in our country place. What will be your  next starting place?



by Davi Walders

That you and I, I and you,
this twenty-fifth year after
you stamped your foot, shattered
the glass, and friends, so many dead
or forgotten, applauded in a ballroom
long abandoned, twenty-five years
of Monday good-byes, monthly wars
with stacks of bills, bags of garbage,
frozen gutters, nights filled
with pink medicines, fevered cheeks
on shoulders, the other hand reaching
for the pediatrician’s call, termites
chewing, and hours waiting
for the door to open, holding
our own daughter’s head vomiting
beer into our own leaking toilet,
that now, as mirrors mark the descent
of breasts, the tub catches silvered
pubic hair and our eyes wear pouches
and hoods, as though expecting rain,
that you and I could smell the salt
of each other, coming together after
long absence, silent, still, staring up
at the darkening ceiling, naked in a house
with empty, orderly bedrooms, the last
of dead roses and discarded boyfriends
tossed out, your hand touching mine,
our breathing slowing,
the wonder of it all.

“Anniversary” by Davi Walders, from A More Perfect Union. © St. Martin’s Press, 1999. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

My attention is drawn to today’s Writer’s Almanac poem by a friend who is slightly older. His girls are young adults and his wife is gone after many years together. My children are teens and one is just home from college and my husband and I split up. Two of my three day care teachers and most of my fellow day care providers at the park are dealing with empty or emptying nests. Most of those friends are growing older with partners.

In the day care, Liana and I find ourselves identifying increasingly with the mothers of our mothers. I tell stories to the young pregnant mother about how quickly the children grow up, how soon it is that the college return seems to happen. Liana talks about never seeing her high school age son while the parents we work with cannot get a moment’s break. A young dad stops by the park, overwhelmed, checking on his son crying out his first week in a nearby child care center, their second child for whom we had no space when they were ready for group care. We talk about the reality of life for young families today, and I remind him it is a stage of life. We give all we’ve got when our partnerships and our children are young, and then we look back, wonder how we did it and where they’ve gone, usually, but not always, the children, sometimes the partners.

For now, I’m still in the thick of the child-rearing, though my job now is to wake the teen who was up too late, to stop attending to my own needs for reading poetry, writing with friends, posting thoughts here, to unload the groceries I was too tired to take to the house when we arrived home at eleven last night after our last SVS staff party, and to replace them in the trunk with the tie dye supplies so I can make shirts with a young woman who was too sick to make hers last week.

Enjoy the poem, and whatever stage of life, child-rearing, and partnering you’re at. They are all fascinating, compelling, and poetry worthy. There was a piece in Writer’s Almanac below the poem about Jane Kenyon, who both wrote poems and suffered from depression, which I’d like to share as well. It’s right on. I think often about how sorry I am Jane Kenyon wasn’t able to enjoy the rest of her seemingly perfect life of gardening and writing poems alongside her poet husband Donald Hall and how weird it is to read both about their life together and to read his poems to the wife who followed her, many of them erotic. Until today, I don’t think I ever knew she suffered from depression. Life is complex, unpredictable, rich and dull, and I’m glad on another level that the poets write it all.

“It’s odd but true that there really is consolation from sad poems, and it’s hard to know how that happens. There is the pleasure of the thing itself, the pleasure of the poem, and somehow it works against sadness.” Jane Kenyon

I’m back in day care today after a weekend with family and friends and three days before that at school. I find myself returning to life closely observed, taking photos of small buildings full of animals, of children cuddled in Liana’s lap listening to stories, of two friends talking while clearing block shelves to make themselves bunk beds. Life in this small world is intimate if it is anything. We change diapers, we feed, we clothe, we talk and touch and sing.

In the larger world I’ve come to know at school, I help to organize events, Tie Dye Friday, Joan and Wally’s Disco Dance, the Moving On Ceremony, making a motion to school meeting for a change of use for the first stall of the barn to be used again by the Video Games Corp. In between we talk about books, college, JC business, inch worms and sunshine and what a beautiful day it’s been, things which require a bit more experience and a larger perspective than the conversations and experiences I have here with the littlest ones.

I wonder how shifting back from larger world to smaller one will feel this round. The pictures help a lot. Much of this world is tactile, physical, observed. In the world of a democratic school much more is tradition, written and preserved, documented, or experience of a wider nature.

Just now our toddler is crying and calling “Mommy.” None of us knows why and we ask, but probably it will remain a mystery. Even the littlest ones are self-contained on some level. Their inner experiences register and we can’t always know their thoughts. Now, as quickly as she began, she has stopped. Walking around to see what is happening has distracted her perhaps, and now she begins again, “Mommy, Mama.” My guess is the solution may be a cuddle..which Liana or I will offer..Back to the small world I call home a day and a half a week, soon more. Await news of the effects of the shift. Liana is offering puzzles, a favorite of the mama toddler, and others say, “I want some puzzles” and a new adventure has begun. “This will be interesting with so many people wanting to do the same puzzles, some who know how to and some who don’t.”

The day care is covered in pieces, tiny blocks and figures in the back room, books and instruments in the middle room, brick blocks and scarves in the front room, now pieces of many puzzles. Life here is not only intimate, it’s messy, another message to take in as I shift. I’m going to take more pictures in an attempt to see more closely what’s going on. I’ll share some here later in the afternoon if I can find quiet time to do that work in the midst of the other things that will be going on, settling kids for nap, washing dishes, making salad for the staff meeting tonight, helping Liana prepare the registration materials for families.

Here is the first entry I’ve contributed to the Sudbury Valley School Blog, started a few months back and gaining momentum as the school takes on a greater presence in the world of social media, updating their web site, adding a blog, a facebook page, and a twitter feed. Feel free to subscribe to any or all of these new offerings. It’s fun for me to read and hear the voices of many folks describing their experience with the school and to try to find my own voice to contribute there.

This morning I wake up in the house alone. The rain patters outside on the rooves and cars and on the lilac in the yard, given to me by my mother years ago, from a bush given to her by her mother years before that, trimmed by my brother a month ago, so that the bush loaded with blooms arches perfectly over the gate to our back yard, gate built by my former father-in-law many years ago, now usable by the day care children and families as they come and go, no longer blocked by the overgrown bush, trimmed by my brother along with the rose, which had  grown up in front of the day care kitchen window, where we could see it’s blooms, rose a gift from my sister and brother-in-law when my ex and I bought this house many years ago, still blooming, trimmed way back by my brother so all the dead and lanky bits are gone, or under the porch in yard waste bags, awaiting the next day when the city will pick them up, bags put out last Sunday night by me to no avail, dragged back in by me on Monday after work, when I had given up on the yard waste pickup for the week, accepted the return trip.

This morning I wake up to dreams. I fall back to sleep and the dreams continue. In the dreams I am trying to find home. I’m in my neighborhood at the end of the dream. I’m not alone. We are looking into houses whose walls are lined with art. Liana is beside me and we wonder on one home, a long slender passage not too different from the home where I retrieved my daughter last night, where my daughter had spent the day with her friend, a fellow artist in her eighties, a staff member from school, and her other young friend from Germany, the artist about to retire after fifty years at school, the friend returning to Germany after several years at school, the artist’s husband in the upstairs bedroom, which the artist refers to as the room where their children come when they stay, husband working there at a desk, all the walls of the house covered in art and some of it has words about freedom and it’s importance, which make me think of the artist’s work at school and her art as irrevocably entwined, home ending at the back in an enclosed garden, visible from the front entrance to the back of the house through large windows filled with plants. The house in the house has one wall covered in what looks like hand made paper swirled in a light blue varied pattern like waves, the other wall hung in all sorts of framed works, like the artist’s, and in the dream, I ask Liana about the paper covered wall and she tells me yes, her mother has done something similar with a wall covered in paper of varied depth and color and she tells me how her mother has done this, a technical description which also carries the message that in this home where we are peering, the work is stronger, that we are somehow closer here to home than we were as children, that somehow we are able to judge and know.

I wake up this morning and look at my computer and find the Writer’s Almanac in the theme of Mother’s Day and there are both a poem and a history of Mother’s Day and a story about a writer who was also a mother. The poem is about a daughter whose grandmother and mother are singing a song together about a place the daughter has never been but can imagine because of the song, a place where the mother and grandmother may or may not have been, and in singing and making a poem about that place we are all there, can imagine the place clearly, and are moved to tears.

That is what mothers do. They take us to places we have never been and allow us to take the young ones thereafter.

I sent my mother gifts for Mother’s Day this year, a card from Ashfield and some flowers and chocolate ordered from the internet. Both made her happy, not so much I would imagine because they were wonderful gifts, but because I had taken the time to send them, which is not always easy for me to do, and because they reminded her of her own mother and of me and my children. My mother also sent me a card and a gift, which arrived separately as mine did to her and so after the exchange of cards and gifts by mail, she wrote e-mails and made phone calls of acknowledgement and my daughter and I on our way back from the visit with the artist made a call to my mom.

Shortly after dropping off my daughter to her dad and step mom, where she wanted to show me their new garden, I went to Central Square to buy some tie dye and silk screening supplies for school. I had spent the day with people and was ready to go home, first breakfast with my sweetheart, then a wedding for a day care family, with Liana and several day care children and their families from many years of caring. I was overfull with love. But still, in Central Square, as I parked the van, preparing for a trip to Blick and an evening at home, and Mother’s Day on my own, full of Meeting and errands and chores, accepted with as much grace as I can muster, I found a happy smiling boy of mine waving his arms at me through the van window in the rain. He was on his way home from Liana’s, where he had spent the afternoon playing D and D with friends, one Liana’s son who was once his day car buddy, after spending the morning and early afternoon babysitting for a former day care family who was at the wedding, and here he was at my window smiling broadly at me.

I showed him photos of the wedding, of my day care girl in her stained tights knees, eating watermelon with her friend, both girls in our care four years, and the girl’s parents, together over ten years, married now in one of the most beautiful weddings I’ve experienced, where another of our former day care parents played drums for a trio which made music for the bride and groom and then their friends to tango, which I admired through the screens from the porch along with their daughter and her friend and Liana, romance in their steps. Later I sat beside the groom eating my brunch as he told me the story of his week, including math class with my ex-husband, a birthday party for his son, planning a wedding, the big day, then Mother’s Day. What a way for me to celebrate, is all I can think, surrounded by the fruits of my labor, in living, breathing color, in a place full to the brim with blossoms, flower girl Liana’s and my charge, lilacs in my garden and in the wedding place perfectly fragrant and moist, watered by Mother Nature, as the gardenia in my dining room was not, dry when I got home late, needing water as I washed the dishes from my children’s and my Friday lunches, heated myself leftover soup from dinner early in the week, lit the candle, and began the quiet part of Mother’s Day, the reflection on the good and bad, the grace the goal as much as the bravado.

Driving home from school on Thursday with my children in the car I cried at images of breakfasts in bed with my small children, lilacs on the tray along with the omelette and potatoes and grapefruit their dad used to prepare, their small, smiling faces and wriggling bodies climbing into bed beside me; all those images were fresh and also gone. Today I want not to cry for those lost days, though in writing this small bit, I do, but to live in the moments I have and had and to see the mothering all around.

Now it’s time for breakfast on my own, a shower, and off to Quaker Meeting, where I expect others with be with and without mothers and children. Some will instead have decided to march with others for peace, a Mother’s Day tradition from way back. I will not be alone. My children will spend today with their father, though part of me thinks I may visit them briefly, as I’ll be in their dad’s neighborhood when I return to Dick Blick, which closed while I was showing my son the photos of the wedding and while he was taking one of us, which he sent to me via text and which I’ll share with you here. Happy Mother’s Day, in whatever form it comes.

Here’s a link to Writer’s Almanac, should you want to learn the history of Mother’s Day I enjoyed today, to put the day in historical and personal perspective, and listen to the lovely poem below that was my morning’s gift. My mom is also alone, so I should check in with her, too..Mother’s Day is not all joy, at least if we’ve lived life in many facets.

Also, I’ll share the photo of me and my boy, on Mother’s Day Eve in the Central Square lot where he smiled through my window, serendipity for sure, or good luck, allowing me a second trip to the neighborhood where my kids may get a Mother’s Day visit from their mom after Quaker Meeting and before my shopping for the day care and for school, many roles for me to share my mother love.

And, lastly, I’ll share a link to the On Being podcast in honor of Mother’s Day, What We Nurture with Silvia Boorstein (, a podcast I enjoyed very much before and may listen to later in the day, if I finish my errands and cleaning out the van so my third child and his gal can use it to bring his stuff back from college on Thursday. We’ll celebrate our Mother’s Day again next weekend when he’s home.


I Ask My Mother to Sing

by Li-Young Lee

She begins, and my grandmother joins her.
Mother and daughter sing like young girls.
If my father were alive, he would play
his accordion and sway like a boat.

I’ve never been in Peking, or the Summer Palace,
nor stood on the great Stone Boat to watch
the rain begin on Kuen Ming Lake, the picnickers
running away in the grass.

But I love to hear it sung;
how the waterlilies fill with rain until
they overturn, spilling water into water,
then rock back, and fill with more.

Both women have begun to cry.
But neither stops her song.

“I Ask My Mother to Sing” by Li-Young Lee, from Rose. © BOA Editions, 1993. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


Last night my boy and I had a moment. On Monday morning he got his permit. On Monday evening after closing time he drove his dad around the vacant Market Basket parking lot in Union Square. Last night, after attending our friend’s campaign kickoff in Teele Square, my boy and I hit the former Foodmaster, soon to be Stop and Shop parking lot around the corner.

The lot was sort of empty, except for the crane and the security guard and a woman we thought to be his wife, sitting in the passenger seat of his mini van, dented on one bumper much like ours, and the guys on bikes and in trucks and beat up cars, coming to load up at the liquor store, still open and advertising that once the grocery store closed and the lot cleared out, liquor sale signs filling the vacant grocery store’s windows, and the neighborhood folks crossing the parking lot as a short cut from Broadway to Rt. 16 or the reverse, in exercise gear, work clothes, and downtrodden getups. The parking lot is a place where stuff happens after dark. Last night part of what happened was my boy began to learn to drive.

He was right when he said as we left the house that he wasn’t ready to drive on the street. It takes awhile to learn the van, a 2003 Honda Odyssey we bought when his sister was small and we outgrew our Civic and our Accord wagon and had inherited some money from his great grandfather to buy our first new car. The thing is a bit looser in the steering than his dad’s new Impreza, a bit more sensitive in the accelerator, a bit larger to maneuver. He did just fine. Gradually we moved from loose loops to driving between the lines, to sticking to the right side of the lanes, to zig-zagging around the lot. Midway in our hour of practice, my boy pulled a turn a bit close to the security guard’s van, and we saw the expressions of the guard and his wife watching us from their deep, dark faces. We smiled, laughed, waved. They smiled, laughed, waved back. Then each time we looped around their van again, with more grace and style, we exchanged a greeting, each of us lighting up the other’s life a bit, speculating on a story to go with the faces.

At nine we stopped. I put on Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road and we drove the three blocks home, mom at the wheel. In front of the house, song only half over, my boy hopped out, went upstairs. The sound track was a bit off, but the night was right on. I detached my iPhone from the cable, headed inside, too, another milestone achieved, second son a driver. Here we go!

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