May 2014

Today got better. Must remember that. Take a walk. Go out in the sun. Read a novel. Eat delicious food. Drink coffee. Visit with friends. Rest. Hang with young kids. Do yoga. With a friend. Talk afterwards. Eat chocolate, and veggies, and garlic.

All these things help. They take the sad and lonesome and gray away. They give back energy where things felt low. This past weekend, at the advice of a 96 year old, I watched a great segment from 60 minutes on living past 90. Many of the ideas above prove true. Drinking coffee and wine extend life. As does keeping weight on, versus getting thin. I’ll see if I can find the clip and share it here. I watched it on a DVD the 90 – something had sent away for in the mail, 90’s style.

This evening, while eating dinner and tidying up, I listened to a podcast on mindlessness and mindfulness. Much of the same stuff could be taken from that. Paying attention matters. Living life in a language of caring for ourselves cares for us. Listen to the podcast if you can. Take care of yourself. Might as well. Who else will?



Yesterday afternoon, after washing dishes, tending to e-mails, and orienting the new sub, lovely guy, son of a fellow provider I’ve known since he was small, I sat down to write the daily observations. They weren’t heady or fabulous. I wrote about rain and spare clothes, bibs and messes and being two and taking responsibility, being older and trying something new, about the usual stories and blocks and meals and toileting and dressing for the park. All that in a regular day, made a bit special for getting it’s own written account. Then when I pressed View Post, there was nothing.  The whole thing was gone. I thought to recreate it, but no go. No steam, not much time, waking kids, bad mood.

Usually, when I’ve posted a blog entry on WordPress, the old version is there somehow. This time around not so. The past revisions were also blank. Autosave never kicked in. You’ve gotta wonder. Last night at the Sharing Circle I’ve been attending every other week for several months, a place I love to go on Wednesday nights when the kids and Richard aren’t here, my place of belonging, one of the circle members shared something he’s said before, “I don’t believe in accidents.”  Why no autosave this time around?  Perhaps another reminder to let go.

It’s uncomfortable when something dear disappears. It hurts and makes me mad. I feel bad. I think I might have made a mistake, that this time perhaps I pressed View Post before Publish, forget about Update. That happens. We forget. We get anxious, want to see how things are turning out before they’re ready to be seen. Sometimes, like yesterday, those things disappear before our eyes, never to be seen again, except in memory, in whatever weak way we reconstruct them. That is how it is. Acceptance follows fear and greed, healing follows hurt and anger. Life goes on.

Tuesdays after an appointment, I visit with my kids, weeks they’re with their dad, if they’re up for it, if I am. This week I did. First I had dinner with my son. One hour in a restaurant for the eight days he’s at home. Not my home this round. Not one visit. This time it was Dad’s. After that I stopped by the house, to drop off my boy and to see my gal, to bring her sandals from Northampton, bright yellow patent leather in a special order size, to get a gander at my younger son’s new cut, Alibrandi barber/stepmom combination, looking fine. Life moves on. We smile, we laugh. Even the one hour in a restaurant with my boy I enjoy. Fully. In that hour, I don’t regret not seeing him in my home. I only focus on his smile, hear his stories, ask him questions. He’s all mine. When I leave my three children in their father’s house, with their stepmom and him, all five in the living room, me on the stoop outside, I am fine. We are laughing. Other times it wasn’t so.

It’s not til a day later that I feel it, on the phone with my beau last night, two or three nights, two or three mornings only this week on my own, between time with Richard in Northampton last weekend, time with Richard and the kids in Somerville this weekend. One hour with the boy in an eight day break between school and work, plus our weekend, really day and night in Northampton two weekends ago, and my boy is off. Back to school this summer, having been away a full semester. This is the way it goes these days. This is the way it goes. They grow up, they move on, we become irrelevant as they go. Not one hundred percent irrelevant, but what is one hour in eight days, one weekend in many months? Pretty irrelevant.

All those fine days my kids were here with me, full time, small kids, needing me for homework, for rides to and from, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, seven days a week, twenty four hours a day, 24/7, I didn’t press publish once. There was no autosave. I barely took a photo or made a written observation. I was in it and they were here. I didn’t stop and think, “Time to write before it’s done. Time to take a picture.”  Somehow I never did.

It’s been awhile since I’ve written. Once upon a time, I wrote nearly every day, sometimes more. Life was changing quickly. I was alert, tuned in, sorting out. Lately, things have been on a more even keel. When it felt both like my life was coming apart and my creative urges were on fire, Liana told me, this time will pass, one day you’ll be happy for the quiet. Not a direct quote, but that’s the take away.

So here I am. That time has passed, as much as any time can be measured, contained, left behind. The disruption of divorce has settled down. My kids and I and my ex have more or less gotten on with our lives. I’m paying the bills, keeping the house, cooking, cleaning, laundering for one to three most weeks, sometimes more, sometimes less. This weekend was a big deal. Richard and I hosted all three of my kids, plus two girlfriends at his place from Friday night through Monday morning, plus or minus a few kids and young adults coming and going on either end. Part of the weekend was the passing on of the family van to Ben for the summer job at RPI and the picking up of a new car for home. The small green hatchback Impreza is in the Somerville driveway, pale green with off white interiors, back seat already stained from the salad dressing my daughter dripped as we drove home from school yesterday, ah, well, things can only be perfect so long.

The van clean out, passing on went smoothly, if it took a lot out of me in sleep and cash and energy, as did the new car purchase and pickup, completed over two weekends with Richard’s help in Northampton. Ben drove away in the van yesterday morning on his way to his summer job, we drove away shortly after, maxing the cargo hold with four sets of bags, and the stuff we took from the van, maps, css, shopping bags, ice scrapers. This week I’ll get a new EZPass transponder and Somerville resident parking sticker, then the transfer will be complete. The new car has bluetooth, heated seats, no third row, no box on top, a usb and device connection for the modern world, six speakers and a phone connection so you can talk hands free while you drive. The van has a cd player and a wire coming out of the dash where we connect our iPhones, two speakers on one side that work most times, two on the other that don’t work much, not to mention new shocks, new struts, new ignition and two keys, one for the old locks, one to start the car, new wiper motor and blades, old paint job falling off, one automatic door on the blink, not working at the end of the week, working when Ben drove away. It’s all good. Scary, but good, to pass on the old van to the kids, to take the leap into new car ownership on my own, first new car I’ve bought myself, ever. Wahoo. I’m an American, car payment and all. My son’s an American, minivan and all.

We also saw a fine Hayes Carll concert. There were seven of us at two tables meant for six. We were cozy and up close, though not at the base of the stage, where we might have had more room, as there were two tables of four waiting when we arrived. The man put on a fine show and we had fun. As I left I bought a USB prepared that night, a live recording of the show. First time buying music that way. The USB is in my wallet, waiting to be plugged into the USB drive in the Subaru, hidden in the box beneath the armrest, where we’ve stowed our charger from the van, converting one plug to many so the two kids and I can charge our iPhones all at once, iPhone leap being the last no sleep big decision I made a couple of years ago, no regrets, hopefully a good sign for the car/van decision of this week.

Richard was a fine host. When I was waiting for the kids to finish school in the parking lot of the Sudbury library, having dropped them off on the way back home from Richard’s, gone to my old favorite coffee shop, headed back towards school for a library stop before picking up the kids and heading home to the dentist, we talked about the weekend. I said something about how nice it was for him to host us, how nice it was that it isn’t going to become a full time deal, that we all have lives to go back to, how fast the kids are growing up, how much clearer it feels at times that soon they’ll all be gone. At sixty one, Richard and his kids are there, doing dinners together at his daughter’s house, meeting up downtown for dinner, getting together for a few days at a time with his younger one, for walks and work visits and meals now and then with the one who lives nearby, rarely more. My kids in their one away at college, two at home half time with me, half time with their dad stage of life are more present in our daily livess, still moving along. There won’t be a Brady Bunch situation here, no family of five kids to put together in one house, no Alice to cook and clean and keep the peace. That opportunity for me has passed, that dream of post divorce reunion with another adult to raise the kids and make a home is not for me. For a weekend, we can do it in Richard’s home, for Richard’s visits to my home when the kids are here, we do it every other weekend, often into Tuesday morning. Neither one of us is giving up our home and our community, even our autonomy really. At any point, we can walk away. The fact that we don’t means something, that we choose to stay.

When we left, Richard had a guy at the house, a general contractor who he’s known, there to give Richard feedback on his house..on  repairs and improvements he might do if he were to stay. When I met Richard, he was preparing his house for the market, cleaning cupboards, watching prices. Many weekends we go to Open Houses, see what’s there, Richard’s habit, an occupation not totally new to me. No house we’ve seen has made Richard want to move. No condo he has looked at without me has taken him from his home. So, we’ll see. For now, the repairs don’t make a lot of sense, nor do the improvements. Same deal in Somerville. Living with the old kitchens, the slowly upgraded baths, the dirt driveway that long ago was asphalt torn up so we could lay down brick, the basement renovation, none of that for now makes sense, though interestingly, Richard’s thinking he might rebuild his falling down garage and I’m thinking I might get someone to pave the driveway with brick. We’ll see. Both are big bucks in lives tending to conserve.

While we were away a day care family welcomed a new baby into the world, via C-section after a health scare, in a local hospital, baby number two, a girl to follow a boy. The days of new babies in our family are passed. Next one with likely be a grand kid. Transitions, however, continue. Kids grow up and move out, step-by-step-by-step, new families form in their own ways, quickly, as my former husband and his second wife the year that he and I divorced, slowly, as Richard and I are doing, not family exactly, but a couple and their kids sharing a life.

Here’s one of our favorite songs from the Hayes Carll concert. It made me remember the wrenching newness of parenthood, and all of us could giggle at how far we’ve come.

Well, I can’t find the baby tune on youtube, so I’ll include the less funny, but sweetly touching one about his kid, once his personality was more fully developed, as Hayes said at the concert. I have the other on USB, and maybe I’ll figure out how to share that here eventually, given time and technologically savvy, if you know what I mean.

Walking home from the park today the children are drawn once again to a neighbor’s garden. Where once there were a chiming carousel to jangle and a shimmering butterfly on a stick in the ground with wings to unfold, now there are also new things, fresh mulch to feed to the newly arrived eighteen inch plastic alligator, flowers to smell and touch. Our four lingers with the flowers as our nearly three pries open the jaws of the alligator, stuffing in the mulch. Hungry and eager to get home, I urge the children on. “Come to the wagon,” I plead.

“I want to smell the flowers,” pleads the four, tugging at my hungry heart.

“Do the marigolds have a smell?” I ask, surprised marigolds are in season so early in the year.

“I want to smell the miracles!!” Exclaims the nearly three. Of course she does. How can I say no?

Browsing the Book Mill shelves Monday afternoon, I found a small pile of treasures to bring home. One of them is Robert Coles’ book, The Spiritual Life of Children, which feels like a natural flow from the book I read on the airplane to and from Amsterdam, Composing a Life by Catherine Bateson, daughter of Margaret Mead, which had been a gift from Liana several years ago, and took on new meaning as I read it the second time around. It turns out Robert Coles was a friend of Erik Erikson, whose wife was featured in Composing a Life, small world perhaps, but one I am entering with curiosity, the world of those who study and write about people and how they live and grow..whether from the point of view of anthropology, memoir, and biography, like Catherine Bateson in Composing a Life, or from the point of view of a medical doctor, child psychoanalyst, and field worker studying the lives of children and layering his experiences and observations with literary and poetic interests, as Robert Coles does in his books, of interest to me right now, The Spiritual Life of Children.

I took time to read before bed Wednesday evening after working with the children, again yesterday morning in a coffee shop before my afternoon kid time, at bedtime last night, and again this morning, just before the children arrived in the day care to start the day. It’s sinking in slowly, but what I wanted to write about this afternoon is how the book is helping me think about the day with children. Mostly, as I’m a slow reader, I have read the Introduction and the first chapter, which help me to frame Robert Coles’ thinking and the timing of this book in his lifetime. What interests me is that this book came relatively later in his career..and was inspired in part by a comment when he was searching for the next project, by Anna Freud, who suggested Coles look back at some of his earlier work, in which he had interviewed children around the world in an attempt to understand their moral thinking, how they coped in crisis situations, and the cultural contexts in which they lived. When Coles and his wife looked back at their earlier work, at collections of children’s art and conversations, they found many missed references to children’s interest in spirituality, which lead Coles to want to devote study and a book to this aspect of children’s development. Coles was not a religious man, though his children, at his wife’s organization, did attend religious education classes, and Coles seems interested in the impact that had on his family. When he tried to secure support for this new project, he found it more difficult to get backing to explore this topic, perhaps given who he is or the nature of the topic..and while he eventually did, this makes me think the book is a labor of love, rather than a book aimed at commercial success. In any case, I’m glad I found it.

Today’s conversations and explorations with the children remind me how much of children’s lives are devoted, as Cole says, to making meaning of the world and trying to understand our place in it. The children respond to the basic elements, the sun, sand, water, wind, light and shade, hot and cold, with renewed awareness each day. When the sun came out at breakfast time, one three commented that we would now need our “sun suits”. Another child was concerned he didn’t have one. A third commented that she has a swimming suit, which allowed the second to tell us about his swim suit, a sweater and shorts, just like his dad’s. The impulse to make sense and meaning, to create a coherent narrative for the immediate experience of the day, drives the children in ways that make the world fresh for me.

Later, at lunch, the children noticed that the room had darkened, and as young children often do, asked who had turned off the lights. I remarked that the cloud had gone over the sun, but wondered if that had any meaning for the child.

On our walk to the park, the children were happy not to need their jackets, proud I might say. They walk bolder the first few days without them, swinging their arms at their sides, running powerfully from one stopping place to the other for the running game. As soon as we began to walk, we saw we were surrounded by flowers, first purple ones on a low wall, then bright yellow forsythia on the corner of that wall, then pale pinkish white on the magnolia across the street, even green on a maple down the way. The children find this worth shouting about, look, purple! yellow! AND GREEN! The world is new each day for them, in one way or another. At two and three and four and even five their experience of seasons is still brand new, worth commenting upon and rejoicing over in full force.

At the park, the baby only eats rocks and sand and sticks and leaves. I spend the entire time taking them from his mouth. The twos wonder why he does this, as they no longer do and don’t remember when they did. I explain that putting things in his mouth is the baby’s way of learning about the world. Tasting things, feeling them, holding them in his hands and mouth tell him what they are all about. Some might not call this spiritual, but it is certainly a drive for the child to make meaning, to find out how the world works, to identify more clearly his place in it, even what he likes and what he doesn’t, to gauge his relationship to others. When I say Yucky as he lifts the leaves to his mouth, he smiles, takes it out, says something I feel sure is an attempt at “Yucky.” At pickup time his mother tells me he is doing something similar in German with her, responding to her use of the German word for yucky by pausing before putting something in his mouth..nice to see these early forays into language are developing in bilingual parallel!

The older children are fascinated, now the earth has thawed, with digging in the sand. One girl fills a bucket for what seems to me like hours, then places sticks all over the top of the sand. Another girl comes and identifies it as a birthday cake. The first girl agrees. The children pretend all the time to make fires, laying sticks on the ground in piles. I wonder at how many have seen this done by adults, how much of this impulse comes from within. Several children sit in a circle and dig and dig and dig, making a large hole in the middle of their circle, filling buckets, but mostly digging a hole. Children will do this for hours, days, seasons..digging holes to where and for what? I still don’t know, but they all do it, year after year after year.

Robert Coles talks of children’s impulse to create monsters, witches, and other evil creatures as a way to make sense of the bad stuff in the world, not so much as an immature impulse, but as a way to create a story to account for what might not be rational. He talks of children living in poverty or war as they wonder how a god, who perhaps their parents talk about and believe in, could allow the suffering that they see. Children do seem to come with an innate sense of fairness, and many, it seems, can recognize, perhaps more easily than many adults controlling the world, when things are not as they should be, when a group of people is not getting their fair share, or a particularly heavy load of bad luck is hitting one part of the world or another.  It seems reasonable that a witch or a superhero might be an easier way to manage this dilemma than explaining how an omnipotent god or powerful humans could make things as they are.

I haven’t gotten far in the book. I hope to keep reading. Knowing me, I may not make it to the end. I do expect the book to feed my work with children and for my work with children to enrich my reading of the book.  It makes me wonder, when I read about Herbert Coles revisiting his earlier work, and finding, when he did, that he had missed opportunities to talk with children about their spiritual beliefs, what sorts of conversations lie ahead in the book I’m reading and in the work I do, as well as what opportunities I’ve missed thus far in my own thirty years of working with young kids.