I’m in a big shift from working last year with young ones through teens and adults to working this year with mostly toddlers, twos, an infant, and a few older preschoolers and school-agers. What is striking to me is how much the shift is in orientation towards physicality. Yesterday some of my most satisfying moments hardly involved words. I carried a young guy who’s been having a hard time. He rode on my back in a backpack I’ve kept in the basement for years, used last for my own daughter when she was an infant and toddler. The gentle resting of his hand on my arm, the pressure of his feet against the frame of the pack, his small voice singing and talking near my ear, the calm I felt as his body shifted from wiggly to still, and the moment when I realized he had fallen asleep in the midst of a transition were all quite sweet. Later in the day, a new two woke from her nap with a difficult cry, waking her friend in the crib and another on a nearby mat. We sat together on the futon, girl in my arms, and gradually she calmed. My words didn’t help nearly as much as my embrace. My cheek against her forehead seemed to have particular power to settle her down. Then, after her crying shifted to calm, she stayed there, wrapped in her special blanket, thumb in mouth, beany bear tucked under her arm, for many more minutes, a rare time of calm in a very busy day.

Other moments involve feeding, changing, toileting, washing dishes, vacuuming, tidying up toys, pushing a wagon loaded with kids and sand toys and diapers and first aid supplies to and from the park with the backpack and boy on my back, putting out mats, moving about along with the kids, sitting on a sofa with children beside me or in my lap, resting beside children as they settle for a nap.

I knew when I began work at Sudbury Valley last year that I was missing something physical in my days there, where I sometimes worked in the kitchen baking or washing up, spent days organizing the art room and supplies, sometimes spent time working with pastels or beading or weaving or knitting or sewing or dying or printing, but mostly it was talk, which I enjoy very much, the meetings, the conversations, the sorting out of how things work, the listening, sometimes over a meal, a cup of tea, a board game, other times for very serious business. I miss that talk a lot, don’t get me wrong. I’m a talker. I talk in the day care, too, checking in with families when they arrive to drop off and pick up their children, over the phone or computer via text or e-mail, with the other teachers in our day care and at the park, with the children, at whatever level they converse, even with the baby, who the kids remind me does not talk, but still, of course, we talk with him. For the first time, he arrived on Tuesday seeming happy to see me, smiled and brightened when his mother brought him to the kitchen to greet me, where I was preparing food for our meals. He reeled me in, so that I took him in my lap, held him on the couch a long while, allowed his strengthening legs to stiffen to a stand, where he beamed, even laughed. Later in the day, when I returned from a trip to the dentist, Alice shared her experience of enjoying the baby’s laughter, a good, strong belly laugh is how she described it, from a three month old baby. We all felt pleased and proud. Such a baby.

So, we’re shifting. That’s what we do. Life shifts and we shift with it. I’m curious what this new life of physicality might bring. In many ways it’s grounding, calming, centering, connecting in this way, whether putting a baby to sleep in a carrier, settling a toddler on a mat with a hand on her back, holding a crying two in a lap when she wakes up sad or has a struggle with a friend, washing dishes, putting out mats, vacuuming the dry noodles and sand at the end of the day. Its a way of living in the moment. Words can travel in time, physical gestures and work live in the present.

Time now to wake my own two kids, a twelve and sixteen, for our morning of physicality, showers, dressing, breakfast, packing lunch, driving carpool to school, then back home for quiet morning of words on the computer, on paper, on the phone, before returning to the world of the very young for the afternoon, arriving in the day care as lunch ends and nap begins, to reign in the potential chaos and to restore and experience the calm of a room of sleeping children. Not a bad life for a forty something single mom.

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