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Today I’m in my kitchen. The dishwasher is running, already full after less than twenty four hours at home. Last night we ate homemade soup with salad, bread, and cheese, left in our kitchen by Liana as a welcome home gift. Today I’m here, making albondigas, meatballs in three stripes, regular, sans gluten and lactose, and vegetarian, for the ones I love. Tonight, as I hoped, my two kids and one gal will join me for dinner. Richard’s gone home, after over two weeks away, Somerville, France, Spain, Somerville. The house is quiet, save the noisy “quiet partner” dishwasher, misnamed from the beginning, noisiest machine ever, but a sound that is familiar, here in this house these twenty some years with me, noising it up.

Frances the cat was lonesome I believe. She tore small holes in the living room upholstery, left twisted strands of fur on the ottoman, coatings of white fur on several chairs. When we first arrived, she stayed on her belly under the dining room table for awhile, til I called to her, gave her some love with the comb. Then after dinner, as I waited for the bread machine to do its thing, she came to visit on the couch, more petting, more love.

I took quite a lot of pictures while in Spain, even while in the air returning home. I didn’t write much at all, something small day one in the notebook I brought thinking I’d write more. I didn’t read much either, in spite of traveling with my usual pile of books. I came home with a new book I love, which I read for an hour or so at the end of the flight. It’s from an exhibit on playgrounds which we visited at the Museo Reina Sofia, museum we could see from the bedroom window of our apartment in Madrid.

The right stuff found us this trip. I feel like I’ve been away and I’m happy to be back, letting it all soak in.

Once upon a time I thought I had been born in the wrong time and place. I should have been a hippy. I should have been born in a country whose diet was based on rice. I should have stayed in New York City and taught in a progressive public school when progressive public schools existed. Thoughts like that have captured my imagination and stuck. These days I’m accepting child of the world status, learning to take in the times and places when things were different, wondering when things might feel right again, when children and the right to play will have the respect they deserve, when rich and poor won’t live such different lives, when shiny and well-loved will take their proper places, when the artists’ and farmers’ and mothers’ and elders’ voices will be heard. All that occupies a mind on vacation in Spain in 2014, a place of economic crises, class divides, great art, a circus festival in a walled city and a new school on the edge of the view, sun streaming in through newly installed windows on extra shiny toys, color and white and wood and sand and stone each taking their place in the child’s world with bureaucracy, anger, love.

I don’t think I’m ready yet to make sense of what I took in in a way you’ll understand. I’ll share some photos soon. That may help. Or not. We stayed with fine people, were hosted by another in a lovely air b and b. We walked the streets and parks and even el campo, sat in our friends’ patios, shared meals in cafes, visited more exhibitions of art in one week than I have since I visited Paris and Barcelona nearly thirty years ago, drove between Madrid and Torrelodones, Moralzarzar, Segovia, Avila, and back, rode subways and trains and cars, walked miles over stone and concrete, dirt and tiled floors, cooked a little bit but mostly ate out or were fed.

So today, its a good day for home, for cooking for my kids and man, for washing dishes and clothes, for paying bills and depositing checks, for unpacking if I’m ambitious, for writing a few minutes here, for a short walk around the neighborhood, later for dinner and a grocery shop, maybe television before bed. As always for me, it’s great to get away and it’s great to come back home. Hugging my kids and my guy feels good no matter where we are, but at home it feels just right.

Here is a link to the Reina Sofia exhibit, Playgrounds: Reinventing the Square, which includes a podcast, video, and description of the book I bought, as well as a little explanation of the exhibit that I loved. Lucky me to see it just before it left:

http://www.museoreinasofia.es/en/exhibitions/playgrounds

And here, at the request of my daughter, at long last, is the recipe for tofu albondigas, just for you, or anyone you know who likes tofu in a meatball. So far, all of us do:)

Start with:

1 pound tofu, mashed with a fork in a medium bowl

Add:

Two eggs, beaten
1 cup bread crumbs (I make my own by putting stale bread in the blender. Good bread a bonus)
1/2 cup parmesan
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon minced parsley (we are out, so meatballs won’t get cooked until after I run to the store:()
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 clove garlic, minced

Mix together with a fork. Preheat broiler. Roll meatballs and place on broiling pan. Broil until lightly brown, flip, broil other side. Serve with favorite tomato sauce and pasta. Currently my gal loves rice pasta, but whatever you like will do. Tofu meatballs are also pretty good on their own, sort of a falafel sized piece of protein with a yummy cheesy garlic taste.

If you are a meat lover, you can make the same meatballs with meat! Instead of the pound of tofu, use 3/4 pound ground beef and 1/4 pound ground pork.

If you are lactose intolerant, use lactaid. If you are gluten free, make bread crumbs of your favorite gluten free bread. For my guy, I do both, and the meatballs are equally delicious. Yum. I can hardly wait til dinner. It’s been awhile since I cooked a real meal.

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Today I have a full day at home on my own. My children and I returned last night after days and weeks apart, after long drives, traffic, a scene that required more of us than expected. This morning when I woke shortly after 6 the scene replayed and I got up to start the day, to cover the brand new outlets installed in the day care while we were away, to drag the trash and recycling accumulated from the last week of day care to the curb, to put our kitchen together, to drink a cup of tea and answer e-mail, to install a new to us air conditioner in the day care window above the outlet the electrician installed just for it.

As the kids were about to leave the house the rain began. I searched out raincoats from the pegs and basement and sent them off and then the rain began in earnest. It came down hard and fast and when I looked outside, there was a flood and then there were my children driving through it in our new car. I screamed as I had last night during the scene I won’t describe here, this time at my son, who couldn’t hear me through closed doors and hard rain, but soon they were through the flood and parked in front of the house. Later they were back on the road and the house was quiet upstairs, full of kids and day care teachers below. 

More desk work all morning, and laundry, and now I’m restless as can be. Time for ratatouille, first batch of summer, inspired by my favorite table at the Northampton farmers’ market this weekend, offering baskets of ripe tomatoes, mixed peppers, french squash, small potatoes. It’s cooler and less humid than it was when I woke up, though the storms are predicted to return. I’m listening to Krista Tippet interview a young artist for On Being, feeling good to be up from the table where I worked a long while, hoping the batch of ratatouille will be a good one, if a bit small, that it will be a fine meal for my kids and me tonight, second dinner of the week, last week we’ll be together at home for awhile, planning to make the most of it, fridge full of local produce, blueberries, veggies, eggs, mind less full of plans for cooking than of hopes for meals together, conversation, companionship, kindness, family in my home.

Here is a photo of the flood on our street, along with a link to the Krista Tippet pod cast with Dario Robletto, and if I am ambitious, the recipe from Moosewood for Ratatouille, should you be hungry, too.

I’m not able to cut and paste the recipe, but if you google Moosewood and ratatouille, you’ll be all set:)

And now I can’t do the photo, either..but here is a link to the podcast! I’m technologically challenged today. Time to go back to the chopping board, hands on learning where I’m at. Well, even the podcast link won’t copy..ugh..maybe later it will. Google Dario Robletto On Being and you’ll be all set:)

Today I started the day preparing food in the kitchen. A young guy was reluctant to say good-bye to his mom. I invited him to use the vintage egg beater to scramble the eggs for lunch. At first he wasn’t sure, but when I sat beside him at the table, he asked to give it a try. I cracked the eggs one by one into a small bowl, then dumped them into the larger bowl he was working with the egg beater. Soon a crowd joined us. We took turns, the first guy a four, the five additional kids all twos. “Take turns”, one of the younger twos kept saying as we passed the bowl of increasingly frothy eggs and the beater around the table. Each child learned to use two hands on the simple machine, left hand steady on the top handle, right hand turning the crank to beat the eggs. The nice thing about beating eggs is that it can go on and on and on. As the kids finished, some drifted off to play while two remained to sponge the table, another chore that can go on forever.

At lunch today, we had soba noodles, fluffy eggs, edamame, and golden delicious apples from the farm of one two’s grandparents. The apples were so delicious, we told the story of where they came from, and the kids called them golden apples, asking for seconds and thirds and fourths. The two whose grandparents grew the apples told us he plays at his grandpa’s house. There is a ball there. Inside there are toys. I comment that his grandpa must want him to visit to have all those things for him to play with there.

The noodles challenge the kids, too. They are long and unwieldy. Are they fork or spoon or finger food? All three for most. The eggs are so good today the children eat them all. The edamame is in the pod for the second time this year. Children must learn to remove the seeds from the pods. Once they figure out how to do this, they work and work and eat and eat. One two takes such pleasure in this task and treat she stays at the table after all the others are settled for rest, finishing all the pods in the bowl, putting the beans in her mouth, the pods in a “peel bowl’ we keep on the table to help us transfer peels to kitchen compost bin to side yard compost bin where the worms await their turn. Which reminds me it’s about time to introduce our new kids to this local pleasure, the compost bin with it’s colony of worms, pungent odors, and mystery contents transforming into soil.

Today our lunch time was generous due to an early arrival home from the park. Same was true on Friday, when we had a rainy day. It was a great pleasure to spend half an hour with our little ones enjoying our meal, taking our time to free the edamame from their pods, to retrieve noodles from their bibs for a second trip to the mouth, talking about the apples and the grandpas and wondering on other things, conversation ranging from storytelling to focus on the food. I’m reminded to get the group home in time for leisurely lunch, grateful to parents who arrive midday and are patient while we finish eating, pleased to be in a group of such curious cooks and eager eaters, happy to begin to do cooking projects with this new group, to watch children begin to pour their own milk, to scoop their own cereal, to choose their own bread. Even that choice today at breakfast, between bagel and bread, felt empowering to the children. Which do you prefer? is a way of getting to know a child, for a child to be known, allowing him or her to create a more elaborate identity, to choose. There is power in that, as much as in the healthy food we serve the children.

This afternoon as Liana washed the dishes later than usual, with three young twos up from nap more interested in helping her at the sink than in puzzles or in drawing, I realized again how much these young ones enjoy real work, and expect we’ll find more of it day by day. I’m going to think about what other cooking and real work projects we might do this year, reminded that many twos do love the kitchen and the work we do there.

This year we lost many of our older children to kindergarten and preschool and in their places we are caring for many more toddlers than we have in years, and an infant, which we haven’t done in over ten years, nearly since my own gal was born. It’s a huge shift for caregivers in our forties, fifties, and sixties, who have worked with children our whole lives, another reminder of how much there is to learn, even when one continues in the same field for a lifetime.

The toddlers are fast and we are slowing down. They are social as can be, while we have become observant and reflective. They engage with the world in the most physical of ways, while we often live in the world of words and ideas. They are full of emotion, from tears to rage to anger to joy to crankiness and they trigger physical responses in us. Just now as I was clearing up from lunch, feeling a sort of panic in my chest, I realized, and was able to say to Liana, which calmed me a bit, that I am responding to the energy of the toddlers, who finish their meal all at once and want to be instantly in their beds, covered in soup from head to toe, table full of cups of milk, dirty dishes, and leftover food a trap I’ve set for myself which must be cleaned up before the toddlers toss or overturn it all when I release them or they clamber down from their chairs.

One two and a half asked me at breakfast, asked me, I repeat, if she could splash her cereal,  as she soaked her shredded wheat in milk and dropped them from as high as she could, kneeling on her chair, onto the surface of the table. No, I replied, quite clearly. What if I splash them into my bowl? she suggested, demonstrating the shorter drop into the pool of milk waiting there to add to the splash. No, I said, not that either. Why not? she queries. It seems a bit messy, I reply, noticing again how I live in the world of the loony, also the rational. What is —- doing? asks a neighboring one. Doing experiments, I reply. Figuring out how the day care works. And the world. Probably this was not an answer for the one, but a reminder to myself.

Now the trial is how to get a bunch of little wigglers to settle at nap and to write a thoughtful observation of the day, one that doesn’t reflect too much exhaustion or exasperation, shows enough wonder and appreciation. Some are still as can be. Only one or two wiggling, talking, protesting nap is enough to derail my concentration, to keep the much needed hour and a half of peace from happening. Now the toddler is experimenting by tossing his lovey and his pacifier in turn onto the mats of the other kids. First Liana snags the pacifier and stows it near me on the couch. The I stow the lovey beside it. Now the challenge is calling out why in echo one to the other. My stern voice only goes so far. I have friends whose stern voices might be all that’s needed. That’s not me. Another young family child care colleague whose program is similarly loaded with toddlers this year, a young mother of a toddler herself, was near tears last week, refers to our experience as we say good-bye at the park fence on our way home, my wagon as loaded with toddlers as she’s ever seen it, Toddler Hell. We say this with light hearts, knowing this is the work we will continue to do, loving each one of the kids and expecting each of them to grow into a reasonable, lovable, creative human being whose words will charm and enhance our lives, world of wonder, drops of divinity also part of the work, mixed-ages, and long term care arrangements allowing us to anticipate the days of leisure ahead when the toddlers are trained, socialized as all our kids eventually have been, not to dump the milk, to pick up the toys they’ve taken out, to play long extended games with one another that go on seamlessly for hours, days, weeks, months, and years, to make friends, to come back eventually to tell us about their lives, sometimes to be our helpers.

For now those days come in small glimpses. Riding to the park today, five toddlers beaming out of their seats in the sunshine, a passerby in a car asked me if they were all mine, a classic question I’ve gotten any year I’ve had a load of toddlers. No, I replied. I would be in the papers if they were. One two and a half leans over shortly after to stroke the side of the head of a one, gently running her finger over the girl’s hair, outlining her ear, looking to me to see if it’s ok. I smile back and she takes the girl’s hand, says aloud, We’re holding hands, she’s says to me. We’re really holding hands. I stop to take a picture, and sure enough, the two girls are in a tight grip, third girl beside them, and I wonder if at three and four and five and maybe six, if these girls will have playdates and storylines and favorite dress-up clothes or styles of building which we’ll come to recognize and love. My hope is they will be with us that long.

Earlier in the morning many toddlers were going to the park, going to the zoo, getting baskets and babies and scarves from the shelves and parading around. They all wanted to be involved. Later I offered music to one whose baby was not a doll but an instrument, and when he said yes, the others followed, one asked me to hold her basket and began to bounce as soon as the music was on, soon joined by many others in playing music and dancing and just being amidst a party crowd. We’re on our way, I remember thinking. These kids are lucky. Soon they’ll have a whole group of friends, boys and girls growing up together with shared history and space to which they fully belong.

Shortly after it was “clean up time” which no longer feels like that at all..more like prevent total chaos time! Which we do, but only with our very best efforts. Liana comes to tell me while I’m writing, most of the toddlers still awake after an hour of rearranging mats, speaking sternly, helping kids to the toilet, quiet music, covering with blankets, retrieving and returning pacifiers, that she feels she is running all day long. I noticed earlier how much my heart was racing, and figured I’m working on an adrenaline rush half the time.

Was too hard to write a chronological observation today. I took photos. I’ll share those and this and hope the narrative of the morning begins to emerge with more coherence soon and that I’ll find the peace during nap time to recall it. Some of the eyelids are droopy. Only one guy is still chattering. Maybe in the end they’ll all sleep, as they did yesterday, even the baby, who I meant to write about here, the guy we thought would challenge us most, who is in fact relatively easy, other than needing one on one holding and feeding. He doesn’t grab toys, doesn’t walk around and chat loudly at nap time, doesn’t dump toys or milk or fight with his friends. If he’s lucky, when he’s a toddler there will be one or two like him in a mix of older kids, our usual family day care dynamic, shifted this year due to a collision of circumstances beyond our control. We love our toddlers. We love our mixed ages more, and threw an infant in for good measure this year, to balance out the toddler energy, to keep us all intrigued with the range of development, which is not lost on the toddlers at all. The theme of the morning, carrying babies to the zoo and park, is all about our baby, the center of care taking, even as our toddlers are our babies, in relation to the baby, they feel very grown up.

Now three of six toddlers are asleep in one room, three are awake in the other. One five is playing happily in the back room. Two school agers and a four are on their way for the later afternoon. Liana is in the kitchen washing dishes. I’ve got photos to edit and post. Seems likely all will sleep, that there will be a few minutes of quiet before the business of late afternoon, toileting, snack, time in the yard, going home, then on for me to the dentist and to celebrate a friend’s birthday in Harvard Square, to pick up my gal at her dad’s just before bed, to tuck in my near teen and hit the sack myself. All in a busy day with toddlers through teens, keeps me young, I hope.

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Today we had a house full of toddlers. Every where we turned they were dumping collections of objects. We followed, culling excess, musical instruments, scarves, toy doctor equipment, after weeks of culling and culling and culling. Still, after breakfast, when peace reigned, to our great surprise, kids playing quietly, I washing dishes, Liana going to the front hall to retrieve a bag of name tags, our intrepid nearly two surprised us again, unfurling a roll of easel paper left thoughtlessly, in a loose pile on the project room floor, much as a child would unfurl a roll of toilet paper.

As I rolled the paper back on it’s roll and searched for a high up place to put it until I could think of something permanent, I was grateful for all the motivators and inspirations in my life right now reminding me to pare down, the toddlers, the fleas of last month infesting my home upstairs, the teenagers who seem to manage with a book bag of personal possessions, depending mostly on a change of clothes, a toothbrush, deodorant, a laptop, a cell phone, pen and paper, and sometimes a book.

Our house has been full of toys and games, building materials, art supplies, dress ups, books, from basement storage to first floor day care space to second floor still holding materials from life with after school and my own children, to third floor, full of outgrown dollhouses, playmobil worlds, and the boys’ abandoned childhood room. Even further into the gills are stuffed the remnants of my life as a teacher, math manipulatives and games, school age books, even handwriting papers and book group guides.

Gradually, we are letting it all go. Yesterday at the park, my friend Michael showed me a photo of his weekend’s work, a handmade buffet table up against a handpainted wall, in what used to be a cluttered back hall of their family day care home, a place I once admired for it’s well-stocked shelves and stores of educational materials. Over the eighteen years I’ve run a family child care program and known Michael and his wife Macky, we’ve all come to realize children need less stuff from us, not more. To see Michael’s home turning into a space of tranquility and beauty, to watch a formerly cluttered back hall become what Michael called a “staging space for backyard entertaining” was inspiring. What areas of my home full of stuff could be transformed this way? What stage of life awaits me and my kids when the toys are gone from our upstairs home? What freedom will we caregivers and kids feel when we’ve lightened our load downstairs? What will happen to the basement space as the stuff stashed there leaves and is not replaced? What will happen to my dreams now I’ve let go the idea of being part of a school again?

Making space allows space for new things to enter. That is something not new to me or you. Still, the process of unloading feels fresh and real. I’m only hoping the inspiration and motivation continue. As Liana said today, the little guy unfurling the paper is our greatest teacher.

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.

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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