quotes


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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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.

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.

Today I’m home from Northampton, home from Amsterdam, from the tiny town of Giethoorn, Holland, all homes for a time. When I arrived yesterday morning, debating dropping off Richard’s car at the shop or coming home first to drop off my bags, Ben Harper and his mom were singing to me on the radio, and I chose home first, shop second, so I could take a listen. Here’s their song for you, youtube style:

Some days I do wonder where home is, especially days when it’s just me and the cat here, even more so when the cat is here on her own, poor Frances girl. Home is with my kids, wherever we are, with my beau, wherever we are, with my friends and family, wherever we are, in the day care here, or making my way from home to Northampton or here to LeRoy and Pavilion and Attica, New York, where I grew up, walking around Somerville and Boston, on the campus of the Healey or Sudbury Valley Schools, in the living room of the Charter School Founders Group, at the park with my day care buddies, all those places are home. Still the house is here, home to me and my kids and my ex-husband, ex-boyfriend, current guy for over twenty years, and it’s got its own vibe, is a hard place to imagine leaving, though these days I do spend time wondering if and when and how.

When I come back from other places, where I’ve mostly lived with a few things, clothes, books, computer, phone, I wonder at this four level house of stuff. I’d just as soon be rid of lots of it, but the memories are imbedded and the time and energy it takes to sift through those is time I’d rather devote to living.

Monday Richard and I walked in the woods of Mount Toby, a place I’ve never been, a place he’s walked a lot. At the top there is a fire tower, which we climbed, hoping to be let in by a worker who drove ahead of us on an ATV and was too busy working when we were up top to let us have a look from inside the tower. Instead we sunbathed at the base of the tower, a ritual of Richard’s climbs, new to me. To have the earth warm enough below us to lie for half an hour, faces to the sun, was a new pleasure, first time for me this spring. Walking back down the mountain, we passed a group of older women hikers, seeming to be in the same spot they had been when we hiked up, halfway up the trail, but this time they were split in two, one group walking down the mountain further up the trail, the other group waiting down below, one of whom commented as we passed that one of the members of the slower group was getting “you know what”. All I could imagine was old.

Richard is fifteen years older than I am. Getting old is something we think about a lot. For now, though, we are hiking, enjoying a fine life together. Halfway across the Atlantic, up in the air with Aer Lingus, tears came to my eyes, out of the blue, as I imagined Richard at 96 like his mom, me at 81, like the parents of my good friends Laura and Dave. I figure he’ll be a fine old man. I don’t’ count on dying first. Life will have to go on. Until then, though, I’m pretty happy hiking, drinking maple milk and tea and sharing salads at the Book Mill cafe, browsing the shelves of new and used books after wards, going home to Richard’s Northampton place for a quiet Monday night on our own after a busy weekend of socializing in Northampton and Somerville, after a week apart while I was traveling, before heading back to Somerville on my own. We don’t make big plans to plant a garden or remodel the house. We don’t buy furniture or make children. We aren’t building careers or even a social circle. We’re holding on, keeping things going, trying to sort out life in two cities, one small and one big, mixing up our family and friends little by little, trying to figure out retired and working, older and younger, his kids and mine, two/three homes, much older mom and not so much older mom, both dads gone.

When I was in Amsterdam, I thought I would visit the Ann Frank House. We didn’t, for lots of reasons. Richard’s parents came to the US during the Nazi era, lost many members of their families, their homes and livelihoods, and started fresh here, supporting both sets of parents, building new lives, bearing and raising three sons. Its a story I’m interested to learn and join, one as a descendent of German emigres I feel I ought to know. Today a friend liked a Humans of New York photo and story that made me smile, happy that as the subject said, “You can’t kill a people with hate. There will always be someone left to to carry on”..lucky for me that Hilde and John Brunswick carried on, to make the man I love, giving me another chance to try and make a life that’s not so on my own. Here’s the HONY, so you can see and hear the woman as I did:

Today in Exchange Everyday, there is a piece on choice, on setting up the environment so children can be independent, so that each individual can follow his or her own thoughts and interests throughout the day.

Today after lunch of yogurt, raspberries, english muffins, and cucumbers, one of our favorites, two twos climb up to the tall table. One says to the other, “Hey, H—, do you want to play checkers?”

For the last two weeks, there has been a set of checkers on the tall table, a wooden board and a red can of checkers. My co-teacher first got it out to occupy some restless fives and a ten in the late afternoon. Then it became popular with the young ones, who like to line up the pieces, to stack the checkers on the table, sometimes to see them drop to the floor, probably also to see me react when they do that.

But, today, it’s the two initiating a game with her friend that interests me. For a long time, since the very first moment these two entered the care, they have been curious about one another. First thing I remember was a scuffle at the play sink and stove when the mother of the inviter was dropping her off that first day.

Today the guy accepts the gal’s invitation..and for a few minutes, they take checkers out of the can, put them on the board. Then a third two, almost three, comes along, and there is a spat, which I don’t fully follow, as I am at the sink washing dishes, and shortly that game ends. That is how it is with twos. The game starts and ends, often very quickly, often with a spat, but over time, it is building in it’s way, from grabbing, side-by-side at the play sink to invitation at the tall table, from dumping plastic fruit and veg to organizing small parts of board games, lining things up alternated with tossing them about.

Life is a little like that, I think. I’ve been reading a good book about adolescents, and teens, as my life is full of those, too, and many friends are sorting out life with older parents..The struggle between being a baby and being independent seems to strike in all three places, toddlerhood, teen, and elder..and we middle agers are struggling with it all, asking the twos firmly but kindly to pick up the checkers as they toss them on the floor, asking the teens to take out the trash and recycling and compost, even as they disappear into the worlds of their phones and their rooms, offering choices to our parents, who often choose the thing we wish they wouldn’t, inviting us all to live with the consequences of our decisions, choice at the heart of living a good life, no matter our age or stage. Grateful as always to live in places where choice reigns.

Here is the piece from Exchange, should you be interested in that. Also, if you are interested in teens, consider “Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall?: A Parent’s Guide to the New Teenager” Fascinating read for me, fine to put it off if you are living more exclusively in the world of the very young.

https://www.childcareexchange.com/eed/issue/3579/

The Right To Choose
April 8, 2014
Cheerful company shortens the miles.
-German proverb

“Our view of children strongly determines if we support and challenge them or direct and correct them. Adults must believe that children deserve the right to choose and are capable of understanding that with rights come responsibility. If we believe this, then we will use our role to coach children in making good choices.”

These are the words of Deb Curtis and Jess Guiney in their Exchange article, “Seeing and Supporting Children’s Right to Choose,” which serves as the basis for Exchange’s newest Out of the Box Training Kit by the same name. The authors give an example of how to support children in making choices:

“A teacher who values autonomy in decision making will organize his classroom so that materials are accessible to children — and so that children are responsible for the care of those materials. Children benefit from an environment that is intentionally designed and well provisioned with engaging materials so they are able to see what is available. The arrangement and care of the environment communicates to the ­children the value of focus, collaboration, and choices for complex play and learning.”

 

I spend the morning at the play dough table with a group of twos. I am amazed at how they’ve grown this year. We are having a conversation as we work. We share the dough, take turns with the tools.

At one point I comment on how nice this new dough feels, compliment those who made it, ask one girl if she helped. She did. Another girl, one for whom language came more slowly, now in full bloom, says she watched. I point out that she was not there, that Alice made the dough on Friday, when she was with Mommy.

She beams, this girl who spent many early afternoons weeping for Mommy, who only recently learned she could accept a babysitter pickup without tears. “But I’m here now!” she beams. Is she ever. As am I.

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