July 2013



July 24, 2013 by 

A three, a four, and a five are sitting at the tall table working with writing things. The four finds a card with two polar bears on it. He gives it to the three who tells the five, He gave it to me. That means I need it.

The five retorts, Because you want it. Not because you need it.

They go on pouring over cards and stickers, finding and choosing beautiful things.

A cardinal. My favorite bird! Exclaims the three.

Abundance allows for sharing is the message I receive. Companionship allows for mutual appreciation. I am reminded of my trying on wedding outfits with my daughter last night and of my friend shopping for furniture with his elderly mom.

We all enjoy beauty, abundance, honing our preferences, defining wants and needs. We are all human.

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This morning in the day care many mothers linger, one with her young baby who will be in our care in the fall. At one point, the living room is full of people. I don’t call it the living room during the child care day, because living rooms don’t exist in schools. When the front room of the day care, which lives in the first floor apartment of my home, is full of adult and child people, I am tempted to call it a living room. Otherwise, when it’s full of children dancing, or building, or laying around on the love seats talking to one another, I call it the front room.

The kids are little today, many twos, and they are dressing up, trying on shoes and hats. Then a five asks me for ribbon for a project and I go to get them down for her and the projects begin. One two finds an old bag of materials from my daughter’s princess days, and is captivated by exploring a bag of beads and sequins. One five cuts and tapes ribbon into a 3D shape similar to a project he did last week with strips of paper. A brand new two finds many toddler toys and explores those at the same table. Another two comes and takes a long ribbon and scissors to see what she can do, then walks off with the ribbon around her body. I go to see what’s happening and find the climber being loaded with bins tied on with ribbon and yarn, and my five says they are for capturing animals. My brand new two has discovered the paper roll and tried first cutting it with a melon baller, now has begun cutting it with scissors, telling me every so often, I’m cutting paper.I go to take his picture and he says, I want to see the picture, which means the picture is of him standing beside the paper with scissors in his hand.

Elsewhere there is reading, a boy lining up cars and telling a story to himself and his toys, laughing, talking, a beeper telling me the rice cooker has cooked the rice. My new two comes to me at the laptop saying, It’s easy, It’s easy. I ask if it is easy to cut paper, and he says yes, exchanging the pink sparkly scissors for a blue handled pair. The four in the back room with cars calls, Does anyone want to play me? and wanders out to the couch where Liana is reading to a group. The two with ribbons comes dragging her ribbon to the back room where the four has returned. The two sits on the floor and says every so often, I’m cutting paper. Powerful stuff, scissors, paper, ribbon, friends, time, space, relationships, home, and freedom, I think more often after my year at Sudbury Valley, where the older set explores the world and grows in much the same way as our young ones do here.

My son is off to driving school, having spent the morning trying to figure out how to get himself from her to there to Sudbury Valley and back via foot, bike, subway, commuter rail, friends’ cars, charm and wit and planning. For him, learning to be independent in the larger world is as important as learning to cut paper is to my two. My daughter, at twelve, is in between and feeling it. She tells me last night she wishes she were going to swim camp, but she wouldn’t want to take the subway there and back each day and doesn’t think her dad would want to take her there, implies I could not either. She is learning to be in between, to get from playing and home to working and the outer world.  My older guy drives, bikes, walks everywhere, has his own bank account, which he wants me to help him manage today, learning to negotiate the institutions of college, banking, financial aid, and the next stage of relationships, girlfriend, professors, bank personnel his new stage of learning.

Time to return to the life of the young child, to make the breakfast, organize the chaos, dress for the park, take our walk and outside time, then lunch and nap and yard and home, routine of this small world the bread and butter of my adult life, a place I easily feel at home and love to connect to everything else in life.

Before writing here, I was absorbed by taking photos of the kids and the materials and their interactions with one another, child and materials, child and child, child and adult. I’ll share some later when I have quiet time at nap. Its a gray day and the light is lovely.

IMG_3356 We walk to and from the park each day through the neighborhood around my house. Over the years, most of the neighbors who used to be out in their yards have died or moved away. We still have folks out for walks and bike rides and the residents of the apartments for the elderly and disabled, though the folks we visit there have shifted over the years, too.

On the walk home today, I realize how much fun it is to walk with a mix of ages. In my group there are three twos, one who is brand new, riding strapped into the bench of the wagon, two walking along, one holding on, one protesting, and needing a hand to hold. There are also a three and a four .The three and four look after the walking twos, the four guiding the two along with the running game, hand on her back to guide her to the stopping places, and to keep her from running ahead, the three holding her hand and keeping her with us when she refuses to hold the carriage, telling her in words what he has learned to do, “You have to hold on. Keep going. Stay with the wagon.”

This is a boy learning to use the toilet. My co-teacher has reminded me that part of toilet learning is feeling big, and I think that perhaps the fact that he is doing relatively well today with the bathroom has to do as much with his sense of being big as with anything. When the older kids divided the kids into meal groups this morning, I thought the three and four might be disappointed to be with me and three twos instead of the older group in the kitchen, which included a six and an eight. I was wrong. The three and four put bibs on the little ones and pushed their chairs to the table, carried food from the kitchen, and looked after the littler ones on our walks to and from the park.

Alice was walking along with older ones. She had two fours, a three, a six and an eight. The three walked part of the way home holding the hand of the six rather than holding the wagon. The eight chose a scooter and a helmet and scooted along. On the way home, he said he didn’t want to ride the scooter. When I said he would still need to get the scooter home, he didn’t complain. The fours hold on without a thought, do the running game, give clues to the others when we take turns running down the hill. The three can help the twos figure out when to run when the four gives the clues. The fives and sixes and sevens and eights can walk alone near the adults or hold the hand of a younger one who prefers a hand to the carriage rail.

Alice is sixty-eight. She continues to work and thrive amongst the younger set, happy perhaps to have the carriage to push on the long hot walks to and from the park, energized, it would seem, by the conversation of her school age kids. Over lunch, the eight says his favorite time of day is nap and she asks why and he says it is because he has time to read and she tells him how she is never without a book and how tickled she is to see him reading such a large book on his own. This is a boy who came to us at one, who enjoys his summer days with us, alternated with summer camp. His mom dropped him off today, telling another parent how much he likes to be with us, how calm and relaxed he feels, and I am grateful once again for the mixed age group, which allows us to care for children over many years, and for our home based program,which gives kids and families a low-key, relaxed, age-integrated option for their kids. All day the guy is happy. Still, each time I set up a situation with an eight in the mix without age mates, I wonder how it will go. Even I, having spent nearly  my whole life and career in mixed age groups of people, can be swayed by the modern bias that we should spend time in same age groups. It takes special care to see the alternative as normal, healthy, even beneficial, when so much of the world is so different from the one inside our walls.

This summer I am not going on retreat, as i did the last four summers. Instead, I’m spending nearly every weekend away from home, with friends and family, with my guy, working three or four days a week, finding time for the chores in the early morning or evenings of those days, making space for people when I can.

Last week my daughter asked me if I was going to miss my retreat this year. As she often does, she made me think. Twelve years old and she is powerful that way. Yes, I am going to miss it, but there are other things I wanted to do this year more than the retreat, the get together with my kids and my college friends and theirs in Ithaca, New York, where we swam and climbed and balanced and talked and laughed and ate, watching one another and our kids after twenty five years apart, looking for recognition in the faces of who we are and were and finding it in each other and our kids, the weekends away with my new guy, this past one on a lake with his friends where we stayed in a comfortable home that felt more like a tree house, swam again in a lake, boated, ate, talked, laughed, read, rested, or days beside the lake in Ashfield, doing much the same.

All the years when my children were little I didn’t swim much. Only the last few years have I reclaimed that pleasure, that soaking in water for long stretches, floating on my back with the sun on my face, arms outstretched, swimming breast stroke out across a lake or pond as far as is comfortable for me or my swimming companion, returning to shore to warm in the sun. This weekend laying on the dock on my towel after a morning swim, I could have been eleven, lying on the dock on Keuka Lake, where I spent many summers of my life. The sensation is the same. It’s visceral, that return to childhood, to memory of forgotten times.

This morning, though, I’m up early to beat the heat, to trim the hedges my daughter started, to reach the places she could not, in her urge to earn summer spending money and please her mom. The hedges have gone wild, as they do, partially trimmed by the neighbor on one side, partially trimmed by my daughter on the other, trimmed quite nicely by her out front. I’ve nearly given up wondering what the neighbors think, not quite. Each time I leave my house for the weekend, bags packed, loading up the van, I see the crazy hedges, and I see the faces of my friends and family and I choose them.

I’m reading Benediction, gift last weekend from the guy who’s learning to know me well, newest from Kent Haruf, author of Plainsong, one of my favorite books. Benediction catches me as Plainsong did, perhaps not as “perfectly four square” as a review I never forget described Plainsong, but lovely just the same, full of characters I want to know and love, some who wish they could do better, some who do just fine, all human as can be, described by Kent Haruf in his forthright, tender ways.

This book is full of folks who’ve been disconnected finding one another in small ways, in transactions at the hardware store, on the front porch, watching a child learn to ride a bike. In one scene, the family recalls earlier times when families spent the evening on the front porch, rather than watching the tv. In a scene a few chapters later, they pull a table into the yard and spend the evening watching a young girl, who has recently lost her mother to breast cancer and who is living with her grandmother, enjoy her brand new bike. I think of that scene this morning, how we have to think and dream and sometimes say out loud the things we’ve lost and want in order to make things right, and how in very small steps, if we keep going, we do.

On the way back from the park we have a group of school age kids walking between the carriage and the wagon. I am halfway up the hill from the high school when I hear one of the big kids say to another, “You can marry Maria.”

“Maria is already married, right?” another replies. Then silence, or whispers.

Beside me there are two fours, who are enamored of one another. The boy says to the girl, putting his arms around her and looking in her eyes, “I will marry you, –”

She embraces him back, says, “Yeah, I will marry you, —”

The three beside me warns, “You will forget.”

“No, we’ll write it down.” assures the boy.

“Yeah, we’ll write it on paper in the kitchen.” assures the girl.

“It might get lost if the cleaners come and throw it away.” warns the three.

“We won’t put it on the floor.” assures the boy.

“Yeah, we’ll put it on the table” says the girl. “We’ll mail it to each other.”

“You’ll forget.” says the three, and I wonder if she thinks they will forget by the time they grow up and she says, “Yes.”

The fours assure they will mail the letters one to the other and they won’t forget. I am stuck on the silence of the school age kids, wondering on the mystery of my marriage, also wondering on the hopes and dreams and doubt these children form at three and four, and the future they will live.

At the park today my friend Macky and I talked about marriage and commitment, love and family. Last night at a party at my friend’s we talked about this, too. I wonder if the children heard us at the park or if they have just come to this topic on their own.