June 2013


There has been no water at our usual park which has sand and trees and friends. It’s been too hot to play outside without water so we’ve been going to the park in the neighborhood.

A long time ago I spoke up at a planning meeting when this park was being rebuilt, asking for water. I’m more grateful than ever this week that I went to that meeting and that the planners and the city listened.

I spent the evening at a friend’s party across town, visiting with old friends, checking out the chickens, and admiring the pool.

Happy summer, city style.

Please forgive my first iPhone post. It will take some time to learn this format.

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Today is the first day of our new summer schedule, my first full day Monday in awhile. I have a group of kids who eat breakfast, walk to the park, and have lunch with me, most of whom have not been in my Tuesday meal group all year. I find them sweet and charming, if somewhat unfamiliar after so much time away.

On the short walk to the nearby park where we’ll find a sprinkler on this very hot day, my nearly five, who was my special gal for years until I went away, and who has been happily in my group again today, says to me, “Maria, I wish I could be a bird.”

It is such a hot, still day, I wonder what has made her think this way, agree I would also like to be a bird, wonder if a bird to her means flying above the world.

“What kind of bird would you like to be?” I ask, and she knows, without hesitation.

“A robin” which makes total sense to me.

I ask the other children if they would like to be a bird. Each one I ask says yes. The older girl, and eight come back to visit two half days this summer, also an old friend who I enjoy reconnecting with throughout the morning, tells us she would like to be a Blue Jay. Again, without hesitation, she knows.

The third child to answer my question, would you like to be a bird? is a three, new to the day care this year, who I have only known on Monday afternoons, when he mostly naps, wakes, snacks, goes outside. He charms me, though, and I’m curious what he’ll want to be. “A turkey!” he says, again with total assurance, and of course, this is the quote I hold onto all day, share later with my co-teacher Alice, and with my teenage son and his gal just before heading up to bed, amazed that this little guy would want to be a turkey, the worst bird ever, in my personal opinion, after we’ve watched two old episodes of Parks and Recreation, and we’ve talked and laughed and worked and eaten together, first time together in awhile. I feel pleased to have a small story to tell that makes us all laugh as hard as anything Leslie Knope says on Parks and Recreation.

I am even so happy to remember my little guy who wishes to be a turkey that I am compelled to write this here for you, even though I thought at the end of last week that I was done writing on this blog. Perhaps I am not. It was lovely to be back in the day care today. I began to remember the feeling I had doing work that suited me and in which I find great pleasure, being in my home and neighborhood with the little people and their caregivers, thinking about what it would be like to be a bird and wondering how to share it with the world so the world can see these small people as not only cute and charming, but worthy of the greatest respect. Perhaps this small world living and sharing is all I’m meant for, changing the world one small park walk and sweet conversation at a time. We’ll see. It’s three days in a row each week with day care kids for me this summer. I’m looking forward both to it and to the changes being back home more regularly will create in me.

Unlike the kids, I didn’t know, and still don’t, what sort of bird I would be if I could be a bird. How about you?

This is my last week as staff at Sudbury Valley, the last week of our school year schedule in the day care.  This Thursday night is the Moving On Ceremony at school.  Next Thursday night is the day care celebration for kids going off to kindergarten and preschool in the fall. Next week and throughout the summer I’ll work Monday through Wednesday in the day care. In September I’ll work there Monday and Thursday afternoons, Tuesday and Wednesday full days. The days off will be for lots of things, time with my kids, travel, day care administration, shopping, work on the house, preparing for a relicensing visit this fall, driving kids here and there. I’m hoping there will also be time for surprises, for walks in the woods, for swimming, for yoga, for reading and writing and maybe meditation, for Quaker Meeting, for new friends and pursuits, if all goes well. Making space allows new things to grow is what I keep hearing from others and telling myself. I’m hopeful, if not assured.

I’m done reading The Middle Passage. On Father’s Day Eve I read parts of a Sharon Olds poetry collection, The Father, about her father’s death and dying. I have a novel in the queue, which I started awhile back, My Dream of You, and a pile of other books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction I’ve been collecting for awhile. I’ve been collecting blank books, in hopes of filling them with I don’t know what. I’d like to join a writing group, for now need to figure out what to write, am hoping maybe reading will lead me there, or life.

It feels hard to go on with this blog. I’ve lost the focus of exploring ideas for starting a school, and have no clear readership following along with my rambling thoughts. It seems it may be time to end, nearly five years after I began, many hopes and dreams raised and dashed, more in the works or on the way, but none clearly tied to starting a school. It might be time for a new writing project, maybe not. It’s hard to know. It’s that kind of place in life, requiring enormous openness to the unknown. Please wish me luck and safe passage to the next project and the next stage of life.

I’m reading The Middle Passage, very slowly. I wake up this morning, very slowly. I answer e-mail, read stuff on the internet, edit a piece of writing, come back here. The idea I want to write about is written about better by James Hollis in The Middle Passage, but I’ll try to say what I think about it here, at least as it relates to my life.

For some time now, I’ve felt unmoored. I’ve been remaking home. I’ve felt lost and at sea. I’ve felt I was on my way somewhere and I didn’t know where. I’ve felt and dreamt I was on a path and did’t know where it lead.

Thursday night I dreamed another path dream. This time, I wasn’t in water, as I have been in many path dreams. The road didn’t end abruptly as it often has done. Instead, I was climbing up and down mountains, then in a large house with rooms without doors, trying to see where I was headed when I was on top of the peaks, trying to find the door when I was inside the house.

This morning the theme of what I have distilled from the latest pass at Middle Passage is coming home to Self. The book talks about the first adulthood as being a time of going out in the world and the second adulthood as being a time of returning to Self. This return to Self, as Hollis says, can be misperceived as narcissism, when what it is in authentic experience is an exploration of the depth of the interior, and the bringing of who one was meant to be into fuller being, ideally to engage with the outer world.

Sounds like mumbo jumbo on one level. On another level, I’ve been feeling and dreaming it awhile, pulling up roots of relationships and projects that haven’t worked out and spending more time alone and with my thoughts than I have ever done, perhaps since early childhood, perhaps ever. The passages I read last night talked again about our human fear of being alone and how hard we work to keep the voices of our interior at bay by entertaining ourselves and distracting our minds from the self, from the realization that we are on some level alone and that must be enough.

At the same time, Hollis acknowledges the terror many of us feel at midlife when we experience great change, much of it experienced first as loss, if eventually liberation and depth. Whether it be the loss of a partner or close friends or our children or a job or a life path we thought that we were on, many of us find ourselves suddenly abandoned or abandoning, and terrified of what next and also who we are in this new place.

I’ve been experiencing the terror for some time, first losing love and marriage, then social circles and close friendships, career and educational and financial goals, my children are children growing up, and I’ve lost love again, and am trying again. The reorganization of my brain has stunned me again and again and again. How a person at midlife can reorganize experience and expectation to start again, and again, and again has been the fascination that has pulled me here to write, even as I realized my dream of starting a new school was not the project that would fulfill my dreams.

I started this blog to make a school. Instead I’ve been remaking my Self. I found Jung. I found poetry. I found writing and reading and love in it’s many forms. I found art and music. I found my children in their emerging adult selves. I found some of the larger world waiting for me in ways I hadn’t expected and I found the life inside myself and in a few close others to be richer and more fascinating than I had known.

For many years, I remembered my dreams sporadically. Those I did were profound, many dreams of houses with other rooms, of paths not taken, of fears of making change. The last four years, I’ve slept less and dreamed more than I have in any part of my life, and I’ve learned to pay attention to the dreams and to accept the night time waking as a part of the reorganization of my mind. Last night as I read The Middle Passage, and James Hollis’s suggestion that the only way back to Self is by cultivating Solitude, and his suggestion that we create rituals in our day for experiencing solitude, I thought of my wakeful nights and early mornings, and lazy times waking to the day, about my long drives and my retreats, about walking in the woods and swimming in the water, about taking photos and writing here, about reading Writer’s Almanac and going to readings, often on my own, and about how critical those have been to finding my way home at this disorienting phase of life.

I missed my kids when they were away camping at Nickerson all week. I was also just fine, as were they. We’re learning to be apart, not just physically, but emotionally and psychologically, too. The other piece of the book I’ve been absorbing is the importance of Individuation, or developing oneself, to the relationships we have with others, whether our children or our friends and partners. If we aren’t our full, true selves, we are less use to everyone, our children included. While this makes sense to lots of us on one level, it’s coming home to me slowly, not in the form of yoga classes or girl’s night out, which are ways I thought I might find my way home, but in figuring out slowly who I am and what makes me whole and alive again after such huge disruptions in the life my children and I once lead.

As I prepared our dinner last night, one kid fast asleep after spending his last night camping awake, the other enjoying the solitude of her own room after days of social time and campground living, I thought of the words my mom shared with me when I was mourning some early stage of parenting and my kids’s early life. “Every age is good.” she told me. So far, she’s been pretty much right. Other than a few minor bumps in the road, living life with and even increasingly without my kids has been good. We love each other whether we’re together or apart. We have rich lives, inside and out, as a family and on our own. If all goes well, those feelings will abide. Though it takes effort to imagine life without children under my roof, we’re headed there day by day. And this means I better get to know my Self, as she’s the gal who’ll stick around.

For now, though, I’m just happy to be more at peace in our home, not to feel so much that I’ve gone wrong or something’s missing, that the life we’re living is not right. “It is what it is” as my friend is fond of saying, another version of “just breath”, which was my earlier coping mechanism for dealing with the panic of major life disruption.

The T-shirt I used to wear with words from Ghandi, “Be The Change You Wish To See In The World” used to mean change the world. Only now am I beginning to see the world is right inside. Do you think that’s what Ghandi meant? There are always more layers of meaning to explore. Second half of life, here I come:) I mean, here I am..oops.

This weekend I took some time to clear the many messages accumulating in my inbox. One of them was from my mom, a story from one of my father’s three remaining siblings, shared with her on his 90th birthday, a celebration for a man who was once one of ten children, a son, a husband, twice widowed, a father, who became a grandfather when my own father, his brother, was becoming a father to me, who is now a great and probably great-great grandfather. I was not there for that party, nor have I been to many of those family gatherings, other than funerals and family reunions, now sparse, in a few years. Instead my mom shares the stories with me, often via e-mail.

The story she shared over e-mail which I read this weekend was about my father’s family, beginning with the death of his mother, followed shortly after by the deaths of his two siblings. Then, the rest grew up, on a farm through the Depression and beyond, til some went off to work, some went off to learn to fight, some went off to marry, some eventually went off to college, and all came back home to celebrate their father’s birthday, until he was ninety six, whole large groups of Wests getting together to honor the man who held on, through my childhood, until I was a very young woman. Now, as I write this many years later, I am stunned to realize I was in my early twenties when my grandfather died. I realize this because one of the stories I tell myself is that the house where I am living is in part my house because of the money my grandfather left me when he died, three thousand dollars if I remember correctly, which came to me because my father was long gone, and which I put into this house as a piece of the down payment, along with the money my young husband and I had saved from being frugal like he my grandfather was, a skill he must have come close to perfecting while raising first ten and then eight children alone on the farm.

So, this morning what I wonder on is which of the stories were not shared because my father’s mother died when he was six years old, and which stories were not shared because my grandfather worked too hard, which stories were not shared because my great-grandmother died when my mother’s mother was six years old, which stories were not shared because my father died when I was six years old, which stories my children will not learn because we live far away from my place of growing up, because I don’t do a good job of keeping up with certain folks, because I work too hard, because of the others gone from our life for reasons I’d rather not say.

When I share the story my mother’s e-mail story with my friend, new to me since April, he tells me a two line story shared the day before by his ninety five year old mother, who he interviewed in the presence of his niece, who works for CNN and held a camera while they talked. His was a story of Nazi Germany, a place my  German family never knew, having arrived in this country in the 1870’s. In my friend’s mother’s story, as in my uncle’s, there is tragedy and in my response there is horror, and I realize now, we have managed to contain both in our e-mails and our filming, and I wonder if these stories were told when I was a child at the dinner table of my grandmother, or in the living room of my grandfather, how they would have been different.

Last night I had a glass of wine with a friend from the Czech Republic. She is a poet and a writer, a lover of poems and literature. She is also a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a teacher, and a wife. When we get together we talk about all these things, how they fit together, how they almost do, how they don’t. She tells me about her writer’s group. I tell her about my wish to write. We wonder together about lots of things. One thing she tells me which I remember this morning is that she is writing a piece about her experience growing up in Czechoslovakia, about her brother, a sort of memoir in poems. Then later in the conversation, just before we leave, I ask about her mother, when she will visit again, and then I ask about her parents, how happy they are, how they met, what their early life was like, and my friend tells me stories about her family which will stay with me always, or until I forget. She also tells me about writing poems by hand in a notebook, something I’ve thought to do, but have not. Later we are talking about something which reminds her of a poem she shared with me awhile back, which I want to reread now, about something new beginning when something old ends, a lovely poem by a Czech poet which she in her scholarly world to which I do not belong, has translated, perhaps published. Here it is now, in honor of the past and present, the stories shared and not, those yet to come, the poets and storytellers in our lives.

I’ll share the poem here, then write it on smooth paper, in my new notebook, the hand writing in honor of my friend and of poetry and dreams. Then I’ll pack my bags so that after a day with children, I can spend the evening and the following two with my friend in Northampton while my children are away, life moving in new directions even as we speak, or write, or read, or listen.

THE SONG
Jaroslav Seifert

With a white scarf waves
the one who takes leave
every day something is over
something marvelous is over

homing pigeon beats her wings in the air
coming back home
with hope and without hope
again, always, you are returning home

wipe away your tears
start smiling with the tearful eyes
every day something begins
something marvelous begins

Yesterday was a very hot day at school. I was aware all day of how the heat slows us down, if we are allowed and allow ourselves.

Last night on our way home, we stopped for iced coffee at our favorite place, which gave me energy to be productive late into the night.

My daughter and I slept with open windows and fans. My son and I installed his AC, removed the flannel sheets from his bed, at last.

This morning I woke up late, spent awhile with the open windows and my dreams, eased into the day. It’s past noon and my daughter is in the shower. My son and I are at the kitchen table, both on our computers, toast crumbs on the plates, tea cooling to room temperature in our handmade mugs.

The weekend ahead is full only of plans for small things, laundry, packing for the kids’ week long camping trip with school, replacing storms with screens, Quaker Meeting if I am ambitious, book club after a many month hiatus, held at Walden Pond if the group takes my suggestion, at 5 pm on Sunday night, grocery shopping at some point if I gather steam, or not, if I choose to postpone til Monday morning, which I might.

My older son and his gal are house sitting for his dad the next two weeks, have been there all week with him in between weeks one and two and three of his being away, first for work, then on vacation. Our life is like this now, whole weeks and months when I don’t see my older son, whole hours and days and weeks when I don’t see my younger two.

Soon, as my daughter teased last night, she’ll move out, too, and live on her own. She said it with verve, as though she can’t wait, in the same long, languid conversation we had in the kitchen and on the back porch in the heat of the evening, during which she also told me about packing up all her toys at her dad’s house, and we thought of how that might happen here, who might like the collection of Littlest Petshop and other toys to which she no longer has an attachment.

Earlier in the evening we had joked about our “five person housing situation”, a variation on a joke from the first new episode of Arrested Development, in which Michael, the middle aged single father, moves into his son’s dorm room and is soon ousted from what he later refers to as his “four person housing situation.”

Fortunately, I haven’t stooped that low. I still have my home and the kids can’t kick me out.  But the shift is here, the children becoming independent, moving toward adulthood, the mom living gradually without the kids. I’m caught a bit off guard, was not expecting this so soon.  It’s good to have a warm and quiet day to absorb another phase of change.