Observations and stories from day care and life


Yesterday at lunch my three was singing a song. In the song a Sabur was looking after the sheep, counting them in the meadow and in the pasture and putting them to sleep.

While she sang, two other threes were covering their ears and exclaiming about being irritated by the song. The back and forth of singing versus ear covering and exclaiming was building.

I found the singing quite lovely, a lullaby I had never heard, sung in tune by a girl about to welcome a new baby into her home. I also wanted us to get back to lunch and conversation and peace. I wondered aloud if the children knew what about shepherds.

My singing three reminded us it wasn’t a shepherd in her song, but a Sabur. Still I wondered if the children knew about a shepherd. When one of the ear covering threes said she did not, I let her know a a shepherd’s job is to take care of sheep. I explained how a shepherd goes out to look after the sheep in the field and counts them when it’s time to move along, just like we look after the children at the park and count them to make sure we are all together before returning home. In that way, I pointed out, a shepherd could be anyone who looks after other things, even the earth.

Like the aliens’ job is to take care of the planet, added my singing three.

Connect the dots of thoughts never fails to delight.

 

 

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We are going on our third major snow dump in three weeks. Today is the first one I have to manage on my own. I dread it, come home last night to six inches of it after being away twenty four hours, don’t even shovel, just pull the car in, lay on the couch, eat leftover stew for dinner after nine, tuck myself into bed, and wait.

This morning I am full of dread, but also of a need to face my fears. I suit up after seeing my neighbors’ trash and recycling bins beside the snow banks and realizing I forgot to put mine out.  At least I can put the bins out, shovel the stairs, and walk to the top of the hill to fill the gas can before the snowblower runs out of gas.

Turns out my neighbor Gary is out already, blowing snow for several neighbors. He did my walk the first snow. Now we are partners in snowblower bliss, he passes me by for others who don’t have machines. I do, and after I drag out the bins, I go under the porch to see about the status of the gas, end up dragging the machine out, remember Liana telling me Steve wanted me to know his machine needs the extension cord to start the first few runs of the season, then starts with the pull cord and see if I can start it that way now, which I can!! For the first time, I pull start the machine. The primer button, the choke, the gas lever, the key, make sense to me now. The parts of the machine are familiar, I know how they work, and I can work them.

I blow snow at the back of my driveway first, a new technique, so I can move the car to the back as I clear the heavy snow up front. This goes so well, I finish the drive and walks before going to get gas. At the gas station, I find the attendant inside on his phone. He fills the gas can for me, and I tell him I wouldn’t have come looking for him except I thought perhaps they were closed. He tells me he is there to clean up, business is dead today, he will soon close up. I feel lucky to have gotten there when I did, before 10, unusual for me on such a snowy day.

When I get back to my house, Gary sees me with the can, reminds me to get dry gas so the spark plugs don’t freeze up, or something, more words that don’t make a lot of sense to me. I tell him I have gas stabilizer, which I hope is what he means, and I feel proud. Richard and Dave have taught me this, first Dave showed me how to run the riding mower in Ashfield, then Richard taught me to run the snowblower at my home, now Gary is inviting me into the club of those who maintain small machines. I feel almost like a man.

Except that when I go inside, I am wearing leggings, a purple cashmere sweater, and girly socks under my nearly thirty year old men’s Eddie Bauer coat, to which I’ve attached a key ring so I can pull the zipper up and down, zipper pull long gone, as well as several of the snaps, but not the down, which is warm and thick, nor the hood, which keeps the snow off my head, and because the coat is so old, I don’t mind that it smells of gasoline after I’ve blown the snow.

Today was supposed to be my first writing class. Instead I blew snow and now I’m writing here, alone in my kitchen, in the form I know best. Poetry would be a stretch for me, maybe a stretch I need. Writing here is as much like coming home as I am likely to find.

Time for tea and breakfast, maybe more beef stew, made in the last storm for my kids, nearly expired in the fridge that could feed me for months, no worries about getting out for groceries or running out of food, or preparing any for anyone. The snow is still falling, but some of it is blown, so I have time now, will attack the tax organizer, maybe fall contracts, find time for a walk if I have energy enough for that and the second round of clearing snow. It’s very quiet here without my loves, buried in deep snow, another day in the life of this single mom with shared custody and a boyfriend in western Mass.

This morning is quiet. Ben is back from school, arrived last night past ten, to clean out the fridge and laugh and talk with us before we all fell sound asleep. I moved the van out of the driveway where he parked it, full up in back with the fancy bike his dad gave him last Christmas, otherwise, tidy as can be, so the other two could drive the car to school. Today I’ll visit my friend from high school, a charter school teacher in town for a national conference of Expeditionary Learning. I’ll walk and T it, or go along with Richard in his old car, 1998 Accord Coupe with leather seats and a moon roof our fancy mobile, bought from his mom when she bought her new civic several years ago, once upon a time belonging to his beloved dad, now gone. The cars and vans go down through the family that way sometimes. For the moment we have three here, after several weeks of barely one, since Jonah was in the crash that totaled his dad’s and mine was the one the kids needed every day, and took to their dad’s the weeks they were there. We got over that hump. This week their dad’s new car arrives, last night Ben came home with the van, all weekend Richard’s been here with his car. Walking has hardly been on my mind. And last week, to no one’s great pleasure, I drove my mom’s car, brought to MGH by my sister from the Cape where my mom was visiting before Thanksgiving, before she went to the ER last Saturday and was admitted, week of long days and long nights, visiting the hospital, driving back and forth between Somerville and Northampton, Somerville and Boston, working the usual shifts, including one on my own when Jen needed to stay home with her sick son.

And this weekend there was another car to move around. My brother and his son arrived Friday very late, left Sunday midday, visited and fixed things in between. My nephew and I had fun with old machines. We repaired a broken ribbon on the eighty year old adding machine in the dining room my nephew loved, replaced the ribbon on my son’s old manual typewriter. As I was putting store bought cinnamon buns in the oven for Sunday brunch, my nephew said, “I know what you can do. You can fix things and you can bake. You could fix a toilet, too.”

He’s right. I can fix things and I can bake. Somehow the two feel linked. All weekend long I cooked. Soup for Mom’s return from the hospital and her boyfriend Paul’s arrival. Pasta and meat sauce and salad Friday night for the kids’ return from their dad’s, Richard’s arrival from Northampton and dinner with Mom and Paul. Eggs and tortillas for Dave for Saturday second breakfast. Mac and Cheese and roast carrots for Saturday lunch for whenever folks got hungry, and beyond. Roast chicken and fingerling potatoes and spinach salad with egg and sweet potato and candied pecans and stilton and maple dressing for dinner with the brother and the nephew and my kids and Richard. Frittata and cinnamon buns for Sunday brunch to send my brother and nephew off, to bring us all together one last time before he was off to my sister’s on the Cape. Tortellini soup at my daughter’s request for Sunday dinner and to welcome Ben home at 10.

Today I’m not cooking. Leftover night has been pronounced, though by the time Ben get’s through the fridge it may be rice and beans for dinner.

Charles and I fixed the machines, then last night while I cooked and put away the shop, my daughter mended and hand washed her clothes, telling me she could do it, but I would be here guide. She mended skirts, leggings, dresses, washed sweaters and a sundress. It made me proud, inspired me to sort and tidy and mend the sewing box I’d recently moved upstairs, broken latch and wood repaired easily with the super glue and screwdriver I found in my newly organized hall closet.

My brother’s Christmas gift to me is a socket wrench set. The one our good friend Dave gave me and Eric for our wedding went to his house with the divorce. Since then I’ve done without. A woman without a socket wrench set all these five years. Who knew I could get along under such deprivations:)? But now I’m set. The snowblower is locked securely under the porch in anticipation of snow, thanks to Richard and Isabel’s U-shaped bike lock and some ingenuity and my brother and Richard’s persistence in rehanging the other porch door in the cold, so the wagon and stroller can stay there when the frost heaves up the brick walk. There’s a shovel on the porch and not much junk. The back porch pre-winter clear out is on my list for the day. Writing here is not, but I’m doing it anyway. Been too long. Been a hard fall, a hard few weeks, and yet not. Things are getting repaired and made and enjoyed, even as we speak.

My nephew’s lego toilet is in pieces in the lego bin my son brought upstairs. The house with the pyramid roof my son made on the rug beside my nephew is nearby. The legos are still in the living room, between the old couch and the new one, beside the stack of New York Times Richard bought and we read yesterday and the day before, under blankets I brought up from the day care where my brother and nephew slept Friday night. It was a cozy Sunday, and full, just the sort of day to start the week right.

Today is my birthday. I’m not sure I’ve posted on my birthday before. It’s been six years this fall since I started this blog. I’ve written my way through some hard times and big news. This birthday doesn’t feel like either of those. Today I’m 48. Fifty is approaching. My good friend and day care partner Liana loved turning fifty. She had looked forward to it since she was a girl when she had an older friend she admired who was fifty. Now I’ve got loads of older friends and folks in my life leading me into the second half of life, fifty seems sort of young. Not young like thirty, which didn’t seem young when I was twenty, but does now, but young compared to sixty or seventy or eighty, which come next. Whoa. I’m not ready for any of those yet, but figure I will be when I get closer, which I will, no doubt in record time, though forty seems a ways away, and not a birthday I like to remember. Compared to forty, the idea of fifty feels great. I expect less angst, hope for less loss, less stress, less ambiguity perhaps, more grounding if I’m right and lucky. At forty I still had high hopes of making great change, and worked hard at it inside and out. At 48, I’m not so invested, and would even say not so hopeful, about my ability to do the things I wished I could do at forty, and in many ways, that feels not just ok, but good. The stuff that matters seems to be working, more or less, friends, family, work, a modest sense of community, love, home, money. I’m keeping on keeping on, and all the parts are more or less working, roof leaks and unfilled day care spots and van repairs of the day notwithstanding. I’m relatively sound of mind and body, and if those ahead of me in years are right, this matters more and more, while the other stuff matters less and less.

So, it’s been a good week. I’ve met with a million roofers and am hoping soon to decide what to do and to choose the ones to do it.  My big birthday gift is a snowblower! Go figure, the woman who trims hedges with a big set of shears is going to push a big, loud machine to plow the snow. Now to figure out how to store it and the carriages and wagon for the day care safely and securely and without too much hassle under the front porch.  We said good-bye to a beloved day care guy on Tuesday, in the last hours before Thanksgiving vacation. I have mixed feelings on that, too. His spot is only half filled, which hasn’t happened in years. He’s a lovely guy, and we will miss him and his lovely family. Richard is back and we’re walking the path, though without so much of a vision of where we’re headed as happiness in being together, hoping that will do.

My kids are home, all three since Wednesday, coming and going a bit, but here for meals, with me and our family on the Cape for Thanksgiving, here today on my birthday, up late last night in the house after dinner, here for breakfast and lunch today. Ben asked me what I wanted to do on my birthday. Brief thoughts of a trip to the ICA dimmed when I considered the glow of being at home with my kids. Really, that’s about it. Later we’ll head out, Ben to a friend’s for a post Thanksgiving bash with SVS alumns, Jonah and Isabel and I and maybe Isabella to Richard’s, where tomorrow we’ll have a big brunch and an outing to a concert I’ve been looking forward to awhile, a Crooked Still reunion, with appearances by Daisy Mayhem and another band of which I’d never heard, whose music I streamed and liked this week, sort of Ralph Stanleyish old timey tunes performed by youngish people. Then we’ll stay another night at Richard/s, return to school and home on Monday. I’ll drop the kids at their dad’s Monday night and return to a quiet house, then day care work on Tuesday. Life goes on, marching towards Christmas, birthdays, Isabel’s trip to Australia, hopefully roof repairs,

Once upon a time, I looked forward to big things, starting a school, spiritual transformation, marriage and kids and house and home. Most of that I’ve had. Some of it I’ve lost. Some may lie ahead. The not knowing has grown strong. Being happy while not knowing feels important. The kids’ well-being, all our happiness, love, family, friends, home, enough cash to make things work, all that I have for now. Thanksgiving feels about as real as it could, with gratitude for life as it is, hope and faith for the future, love all around. I don’t feel particularly inspired or inspiring. I do feel relatively at peace, well loved, strong enough for now. I’m looking forward to the day, to the shop, the packing up, the time around the house and on the road, the reunion with my guy, the life I’m living now. More than that is hard to say. I wonder if you hoped for more.

Yesterday as we walked to and from the park on a day which was unseasonably warm due to the hurricane off the coast, we talked for the second day about the weather. One three said, “I looked out the window this morning and the weather tomorrow is going to be very rainy.”

Another three replied, grinning widely, “Yes, and we will wear our rain boots, our rain pants, and our rain coats!”

Before long, another three exclaimed, “I wish it was winter!”

A woman alone with a long driveway and many feet of sidewalk to shovel, this had not been my wish. “What will you do when winter comes?” I asked.

“Make one hundred snowballs!” exclaimed the three with the winter wish.

“Yeah! We will make snow men!” called the fourth three with glee.

“We can make snow people, and balls and throw them!” chanted the group.

“Yes, we can make all kinds of things out of snow,” mused my three who started this conversation. “We can even make…snow mushrooms!” And this girl, these children remind me that yes, each day this world is born anew.

***

This morning I wake up in the quiet house, two of my three children sleeping here. The light outside my windows is an orange I am not sure I’ve ever seen. i wonder if its the hurricane making that light, check the weather, see indeed it will be a rainy day, worry about my son and daughter driving through he worst of it, think of my other son and his gal, parted ways yesterday, and the hard day they must both be having. In the Writers’ Almanac, there is a poem about prayer, and I’ve been thinking about prayer, again, since my beau and I’ve been struggling all this past month, and worked it over in my mind all this past weekend, throughout my Silent Retreat for Quaker Women, through the night I thought my love and I were bound to part. So this  morning, I feel differently about those in the women’s circle and in the weekly Sharing Circle I attend every other week at best, who offer prayers when the suffering is deep, when a hard decision looms, when a baby is born. I imagine doing the same myself, thinking I could offer a “prayer” rather than “good thoughts.” We’ll see.

This same morning, when I check my phone for the poem, I try to update my apps, as my battery is low, and I think that might help. Instead I end up with a Pandora channel singing to me, first Halllujah by Kd Lang, then something else that feels modestly religious, and I wonder on the word divinity, offered to me several years ago at retreat, as a way back in, I think, when god and religion and most words with spiritual meaning felt loaded, off-putting, not for me. Divinity I could wonder on. Mystery, too. Grace. Transcendence. Spirit. Even Soul, to some extent. There I found the surprise of childhood prayers coming back to me as I walked the paths, rhythm of the prayers in sync with my own steps, with my breathing, with my heartbeat. I spent time in a small hand built chapel, wondering on the meaning of the cross, found the heart shaped stones left there, the heart shaped hole in the acorn on the path more relatable, but still, the cross was everywhere, challenging.

******

Later yesterday on our walk home, the children held out their arms and began to wonder if they would get a sunburn because their parents had not applied sunscreen to their delicate skin. One child who told us her parents had put the sunscreen on walked in confidence. I realized aloud that we were in that same spot where the sun strikes our arms so strongly when this conversation happened the day before, walking home from the park, around the corner from the tree shaded lot where we play, beside the tall cement buildings which are home to the elderly and disabled people who bless us each day as we pass. On the other side of that same building is where the children remembered winter. i realize now as I write that in winter that side is where we always pause to put on the extra clothes, the wind and cold there is so strong. Winter side and summer side of that building never struck me so clearly as now. The children are sensors. I was once reminded that they are windows to the divine. something like that. The wonder of them does amaze.

******

After talking about the sunscreen, my small three said she was going to invite me and her other small three friend to her birthday party. It is dawning on me in stages that these people who I’ve known since they were one or two will soon be four, and that is a different place, four, where most of us begin the lives we can remember. But for now they are three, and talking so much more than last year, and I’m invited to the birthday party, where, my three tells me we will make apple dolls, and her family will save them to dry for one or two days, then give them to us to keep at home. My other three, who was also invited, says, “Yeah, because we love Maria” and I think about the other three who asked me why I didn’t come to her birthday party, who told me she would have liked the teachers to be there. A compliment and a burden to be thought of that way.

At forty seven, with teenage kids and a long distance beau, and a whole adult life to live outside my day care life I rarely accept the invitation to a child’s or a family’s party. Its not that I don’t feel welcome, but that I feel I have permission not to go.

*****

The same three who told me gleefully they would all wear their rain gear and who asked me why I didn’t come to her birthday party also asked me, early yesterday morning over breakfast, “Maria, why it isn’t it a Richard day?”

We were sitting in the kitchen, in the same place where last week, over lunch, my four turned to me out of the blue and asked, “Maria, do you have a partner?”

These kids know how to make me stop and think. I answer the best I can. “Richard has a home in Northampton” “I don’t know if I have a partner. I guess Richard. Who is your mom’s partner?”

The conversations move on quickly. “Today is Wednesday. Wednesday is a T— day. My sister comes for after school today.” “C– is my mom’s partner.” C— is his dad.

***

Friday afternoon my new three told me she has two moms. “So do my kids, sort of,” I replied. “They have me and a stepmom.”

“What?” she wanted to know.

“They live here with me and also with their dad and stepmom in another house.”

“Why?” she wanted to know. Harder question.

“That is the way our family is.” and she was happy enough with that, though puzzled if I had to guess. Turns out divorce and remarriage is less on the radar of these kids than two mom families.

Later, as I was helping her with her shoes, this same girl asked why it was Z–‘s day that day. “Its a Friday,” I replied. “That’s a Z– day.” and I realized they had connected that day, Friday being their only overlapping day. She had fallen at the park and needed a cuddle, was crying in my lap on the bench when he came over to talk.

“Why doesn’t she talk?” he had asked me.

“Oh, she does,” I replied. “Once you get to know her you’ll see.”

Then we had talked quite a bit. She had stopped crying and soon they went off to play.

It is a surprising window into their little selves, into their little souls, if I may, when they begin to talk.

My new one has begun to say my name. “Ria” I carry her on my hip to check the pasta on the stove, talk to her about our meals, ask her what she likes, cut her apples when she says, “Cut it up!”, offer her pieces as I work at the counter and she watches and talks to me from the high chair.

Later, when I’m changing her diaper, another three comes to visit and the one says my name, causing the three to remark. “She says your name.”

“She’s learning how to talk. She’s learning who we are.” And I think, it does feel good for a child to learn our names.

Later, in the yard, the baby calls to Liana over the gate where Liana is emptying the compost in the side yard, baby calling Liana “Ria”. “I’m Liana,” greets Liana. I recall out loud how our other one calls Liana by name, and uses Liana sometimes for other adults here, realize that the kids attach a name to us as caregivers and may universalize it until we all become more real. At the park, the one had come to me calling, “Ria” and my friend Macky had said, “Yes, that’s Maria. Is she your person?” And I had been pleased to confirm that “Yes, I am her person.” Attachment happens that way, small steps.

Here’s today’s Writer’s Almanac poem, in case you, too, are musing over prayer, or meaning, or transcendence or grace, or any of those other thoughts that are so hard to put into words. I can’t say I understand the poem, but that in a way, is what I like. More mystery. More to figure out.

LISTEN
Prayer
by Carol Ann Duffy

Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade I piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child’s name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer—
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.

“Prayer” by Carol Ann Duffy, from Mean Time. © Anvil Press, 1993. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today as we were walking to the park, my four and I were talking. He let me know he had spent time with his grandmother recently and the following morning he had pizza for breakfast. I wondered what sort of pizza he likes, maybe cheese or pepperoni?

“I hate pepperoni pizza!” he bellowed, lowering his voice and his eyes as he finished the sentence.”

“Actually, I don’t prefer pepperoni,” he said, catching himself, and my eyes.

Then, grinning to himself, and nearly winking at me, he added, “I never find pepperoni pizza tasty.”

This one made me smile very wide, and remark about how polite my boy has gotten, and to think, how much more self and other aware he has become in the years I’ve known him.

For the last few years, my boy has begun many meals in the day care telling us what food he HATES! I’ve been asking for many of those meals for him to respect me and the food I share with him and his friends by choosing another way of speaking or of just letting the offending food go unmentioned. I don’t insist he eat the food, just that he let the rest of us enjoy it in peace.

Today, after my four told us he “never finds pepperoni pizza tasty” several threes found the impulse to share how much they love pepperoni pizza. I wondered if they would have done that had their older friend held on so hard to his hate. I was also reminded how long it can take to teach a small skill and to learn to change something small in our behavior, and how, often when something seems to be taking too long, it is just taking it’s course.

This morning when I come downstairs to do last night’s dishes, I pass my son’s open door. His mattress is up against the wall. The bookshelf is full of his discarded clothes. His snowboard boots are in the corner against a shelf. On top of the shelf are his bagged linens and two wool coats I doubt he’ll want, packaged for Goodwill. In the closet and under the desk are boxes of books and notes, castoffs from his desk. I put all this away when the electricians came this summer so it wouldn’t be covered in dust. The boy has barely returned since last Christmas holidays. He traveled for Spring vacation with his frisbee team. For summer he worked at school. When he was home, he visited mostly with his dad. This past weekend, instead of coming home the night of a nearby tournament, he stayed there in a hotel with his team.

For the last two years, I lived with his door shut. I wanted his mattress protected from the cat. This summer when the heat was horrid, I opened the door for circulation. Since the mattress was upended for the workers, I didn’t worry about the cat. Now, though, walking by the room’s a little haunting. Facing reality is like that. The moving on is quiet sometimes, shut up behind closed doors.

I saw a lot of Ben the first year of college. We went to Parents’ Weekend. He came home for long weekends and spring break, lay around the house both winter and summer vacations with his girlfriend until I almost wondered when they’d go. The launching surprised me this year. In February or March I found my guy on Facebook playing frisbee in California. I said sure to his plans to go Georgia for Spring Break. We talked on the phone to sort out last minute plans for him to work and live at college for the summer. Then I rushed to buy a car so he could have the van. All summer I wondered if our family vacation would include him,finding out last minute it would only be one night, and that night would be late.

The tidiness is a lot to take. I felt good at first to go through the bags against the wall, to sort out the q-tips from the books, to take the coats off the backs of the doors and put them into bags, to send the things he needs, so little, back with his gal last Sunday, to organize the remainders on the shelves and in the closet before starting my day with the other two kids.

Yesterday my boy texted during afternoon meeting in the day care to tell me the van, which was dead this weekend, lives. As predicted by my friend Michael, whose engineering son took their old van off to college, my son and his gal and his engineer friend fixed our van themselves, jumped it first, then bought and installed a new battery. Now the van runs fine. Better him than me dealing with the dead battery. Better me than him driving the new car.

As I clear out the toys, I imagine a place for the kids who someday visit. My grandma had a box of dishes in her cellar. We’d bring them up or play on the cement floor. My mom has boxes of toys in her basement, some in the bedroom upstairs, others in the garage and barn. My basement floods. I haven’t got an attic or a garage or a barn, so I’m thinking, where will those toys go? Who will come to play, now my kids are teens and near adults, the after school program is done upstairs, my nephews are grown or far away, the grandkids are a long way off? It’s strange to have a home without children, after nearly twenty years with lots, even if the day care downstairs is toy heaven, and kids come in and out forty eight weeks a year.

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