Four months into a new relationship, into a new day care year, into my first school year with none of my children living at home, three months from my daughter deciding where she’ll go to college, four from her high school graduation, six months from my son’s wedding, I’ve got a lot to think about.

One week ago I heard from Smith, good news if I count the acceptance and scholarship and financial aid. Tricky news if I think of all the change they might precipitate.

Sunday I had dinner with my framily, my new guy, my daughter home unexpectedly for the weekend, her brother, his fiancé. We laughed and talked over bowls of veggie chili and corn muffins and I sent leftovers home.

Today and yesterday the children were delightful. At the park they filled buckets with mud. Poison for everyone! For the witches. Wood chip soup. Inside they played and built. We made a sign: Hello in many languages. We know thirteen. The children gathered round. They wrote their names and each other’s names. We made another sign. Workers only. Construction site. Then we cleaned up and sang the hellos to one another in turn around the circle, one child in my son’s lap, one in mine, the other eight filling in the gaps between us.

For lunch there were banana pancakes my son made. Yesterday he drove my daughter and his fiancé to the Bernie rally in Vermont. I heard about it early this morning before we opened the door for the children.

Tonight I was at a meeting where mid year I began to find myself at ease in a new role, where I accepted compliments bashfully and smiled and called on people who raised their hands to talk.

My boyfriend left this morning saying he might be back tomorrow, not Thursday as I expected. I asked why. He said because he’d miss me.

For dinner last night we ate scallops over orzo with capers and tomatoes and white wine and fresh oregano. On Friday night we had an argument. On Saturday I came home from dinner with my friends to find him in bed with his cookbook. On Sunday he showed up with flowers and a bag of groceries.

How can I leave this life, I ask myself, as my mind races and races, and how can I say no?

A day or two ago I started a book I read about in the New York Times last Monday as I escaped the news in Iowa, Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offil. Tonight after the meeting, along with a bowl of my granola with strawberries, I finished it.

She makes me want to be a writer, to tell about motherhood, marriage, work and love, womanhood, life, with the tenderness and wisdom and intelligence that she does. So much to give up, so much to give, to do it, she reminds us. I feel lucky that she has.

For now I just want to read and read her. Weather, her most recent book, arrived today. It’s going to be hard not to stay up too late to read it. Wish me luck.

This morning my guy and my gal are sleeping in and I’m up early, having planned to make my gal tea before she headed off to yoga, before I knew she wasn’t going.

Lately I’ve been working on essays for grad school applications, have written a bit on my stack of plain paper at my desk, Proprioceptive Writing style. I haven’t written much here. I don’t know why. I do miss it.

Yesterday my daughter took over my laptop, reading and editing my essays. Before that I had been losing confidence. Her help felt solid, not only because she’s a great editor and knows me well and has just finished a fall of college essay writing herself, with lots of helpful editing at school, but because she was doing it, and only a few years ago, I didn’t know she’d be in this place, college applications submitted to fifteen colleges, many acceptances and scholarships to sort through as she makes her way to spring.

Last night I wondered why the essay writing is so hard for me. I suppose there are lots of reasons, but the one that lingered was the piece about my daughter leaving, and my wanting to leave too, in some way, perhaps to avoid being here and being left again, to have something new of my own when she leaves, when my years of raising children at home end, rather than continuing on with only the empty nest, to make a positive change for myself as my children build lives of their own.

Our children all leave, if they are healthy and strong and able. Wanting them not to is no good. Letting them go is still hard.

When my oldest left for college at seventeen I took a new job at the kids’ school. When my middle child left at nineteen I was planning to move my life to Northampton and spending two long weekends a month there. Partway into his second semester he moved back home, in a hard place that took time to move through, which he did, and I was grateful to be here for him at that time.

Now my youngest is preparing to leave, also at nineteen, I’m preparing more seriously for the empty nest. She’s an adventurer and would like to go far, has acceptances that could take her across the country to Colorado or Washington State, to Florida, is still waiting to hear from colleges in Ohio and Maine, might end up as close as Vermont or Western Mass, will most certainly not be in Boston, is not likely to be home weekends, may not even be home more than at the end of the semester. She’s also applying to be a camp counselor for the summer, and would like to live away from home rather than work with me in the day care as she did last summer.

All of it is wonderful. It’s what we both want. And I can’t get enough of her while she’s home. She’s a fine young woman who has the potential to make a full and wonderful life. She’s always been wonderful, but the last three years she’s come to love school. That is a mystery I would not have known how to predict before it happened. But it did.

All my predicting doesn’t create the life I’ve lived or the lives my children have lived and it won’t create our lives ahead. It’s tempting to want to know the future and probably best we don’t.

Last night as we snuggled in front of the fake fire, beside the little lit tree, my guy and I talked about unknowing and nothingness, the mystery we humans face and often fear when we don’t know what is ahead, don’t know what to do, don’t know how to predict the future or control our lives.

Writing the grad school essays stirs that up in me. Applying to Smith and getting accepted could change my life, with three summers of classes in Northampton and two years of clinical work in places I can’t predict, into a career that is new and where I’ll be a novice, with financial and relationship implications that are also unknowable. The Simmons application is next. Going there would be a less extreme shift, with local classes I could stretch out over time and clinical work that would keep me nearby.

Somehow I’m drawn to the bigger shift of Smith, to the more intense coursework, to the option to spend three summers in Western Mass, to be there or elsewhere for two years of clinical work, to the demands of a program known to challenge it’s participants on lots of levels.

Either place has potential to be a good fit. Both would be enormous investments of time and money and energy. Both would involve big changes in how I live my life, and both would involve figuring out what will happen to the day care over time.

For now, though, it’s writing and editing essays and submitting applications and not knowing, while also keeping the day care and home life and relationships going, finding time to relax and talk and share a meal, to walk and be out in the world.

Happiest of New Years to you. Mine feels intriguing. Next year at this time life will be different, as it always is, moment by moment, day by day, year by year, and this time, decade by decade.

This morning I wake up in a quiet house, facing the prospect of a weekend on my own, no plans other than to move through a list of tasks I’ve been putting off or avoiding or need to do, and Quaker Meeting on Sunday with a friend.

My daughter is off to Hawaii for the Thanksgiving break, staying with her dad overnight, where her summer clothes have been stored, so she can pack her things between school today and airport in the morning.

My sons are living their lives. The older one is in New York, where he will have brunch with my sister and nephew as part of their birthday gifts to one another, a weekend in a hotel and a chance to see To Kill a Mockingbird on Broadway. Late Wednesday evening my New York son will arrive at Alewife station on the GoBus. I’ll meet him after making pies and applesauce and squash and stuffing with my mom and Somerville son that day, a day off work to prepare for the holiday I’ll be hosting this year, preparations on my mind when I wake the last three mornings at 5 to ponder life and the folks and things that make it.

My Somerville son is working today at the restaurant, after having worked two days in the day care with me this week, and having lunch with me yesterday, restoring our tradition after a few weeks’ break. Tonight he’ll welcome his partner back from her business trip. Tomorrow they’ll welcome her family from Florida, who will be here for the week, celebrating Thanksgiving with us for the first time as we all anticipate our families joining with the marriage of our children in the summer.

The house is as quiet as can be, except for the sounds of the electric kettle making water for my tea, footsteps down below, my tenant or co-worker getting ready for the day, and the tapping of my fingers on the keys.

Outside my window the maple leaves have turned November gray, hanging on and colorless. Cars in the distance are headed to work or school or errands with their passengers inside, though my street is quiet.

I’ve been living mostly alone this year, have chosen not to take in another tenant just yet, though this morning I was wondering if I should. Last fall began with a full house, a family of three, my son and me, sometimes my son’s partner, some weekends my daughter, some nights my former boyfriend, some weekends his daughter.

Gradually, sometimes suddenly, the house has emptied out. The family moved into their new home last October. My son moved in with his partner last Halloween unofficially, then into their new and shared apartment last February. My former boyfriend and I gradually put the house together over the course of our time together. As I cleaned out the boys’ rooms and he painted them, I spent time in them meditating, doing yoga, and writing, burning candles in their honor and in homage to my life ahead.

This morning, I’m typing on my living room couch rather than writing on paper at a desk in their old rooms. It feels important to have an audience, not to tuck my words in a drawer upside down, to say what I am feeling in a more public way.

Many women I know are living similar lives. My sister is newly divorced, moved into a new and smaller home, without her children half time for the first time in their lives, learning to live alone.

My former day care partner and good friend is living in her own apartment, having moved this fall out of the home where she and her husband raised their children, making her way alone.

The mother of my daughter’s closest childhood friend, and a former close friend of mine, has moved out of the home where they raised their children, and traveled across the country alone to work for the Indian Health Service as a midwife in North Dakota.

Another friend posted on facebook today from Mexico, showing pictures of the first place she has chosen to live alone, two tiny rooms sparsely furnished. She hopes for visitors, and for one who might stay. She is 48 and wrote of leaving a marriage, of children leaving home, of sharing a home with others here in Boston, of being deported back to Mexico, of taking shelter with friends, on her way to making a home of her own.

Virginia Woolf talks of making a room of one’s own. The study that used to be my son’s room, that used to be my husband’s office, that was my son’s room even before that, that was originally intended to be my study, does not feel like a room of my own. I don’t know how to live that way.

I live in my kitchen, at my dining room table, in the living room. I have never known how to set up a study or an office or a room of my own. Even my bedroom feels less than homey, more a place to sleep and store my clothes and books.

As a young person, I chose to share living space. I never lived alone until I was divorced and my children spent half time with their father, then grew up. Their leaving came in so many unexpected ways it was hard to prepare, though I wonder if any of us mothers ever can prepare for our children’s leaving.

My partners since my marriage ended have come and gone. I’ve visited their places and they’ve visited mine. Like my friend in Mexico I’ve hoped that one would stay. I’ve contemplated leaving, moving elsewhere, to be with Richard in Northampton, to go to graduate school at Smith, though at the moment, I don’t find myself packing up or clearing out as much as settling in, contemplating, if not feathering the nest.

Last night I ordered a tiny electric fireplace. I don’t know where I’ll put it, but it’s mobile so I don’t have to know. My new guy has one in his room and his family has one in their cabin in the woods. Sitting beside them is homey, homier than sitting by my candles, my ongoing connection to fire.

Last weekend I was alone a long stretch in a cabin in Maine while my daughter was with friends. There was a small wood stove there and I lay beside it reading and even slept there in the living room, feeding the fire, remembering the retreats in Michigan as I was learning to live alone and the comfort I found in building and in keeping company with the fire, in candles which I burned as I meditated and wrote and drank tea, and in the fireplaces, which I lit at night to help me relax and sleep, alone for the first time that first July in a way that was profound, away from my children, for a week, contemplating their moving out with my husband at the end of summer, knowing the loss before it came.

So, perhaps the fire will add warmth to my winter. As quiet as the house can feel, I’m not ready to invite a tenant to share it yet. Maybe next year when my daughter leaves for college and isn’t home much at all, I’ll do that, maybe not. This is a learning year, a learning time for many of us women at midlife, as we say good-bye to our years of raising children, of caring for others, as many of us transition out of life partnerships and marriages and learn to live alone, sometimes to re-partner.

Though my observations are that more men find their way into new long term partnerships and cohabitation than women post divorce, I haven’t given up hope. I haven’t resigned myself to another ten years of living alone and sharing space only sometimes with a partner, though I know, from watching my mother, my aunts, and many friends, that I may live the rest of my life alone, that whether I make peace with that is up to me.

Books and writing and quiet are my solace. I am not a watcher of tv. I don’t have a close group of women friends at the moment who gather and chat. I don’t have a close friend who is here regularly or who invites me regularly to her home. I have friends and a sister and a mother who text and talk and sometimes get together. I have a daughter and two sons who love me and who I love. I have a new partner I’m getting to know, who is here sometimes, who invites me to his home, and who loves his time alone.

Life unfolds. At the moment, it’s time for little loves, the tiny wonders who show up at my door each day of the work week and remind me, in fact I am not alone. They are here, needing care and love and attention, calling me into the moment we can call our own. We are lucky to spend our days together one little neighbor girl and I remind each other every so often. We are. Whatever has happened in my home over the last 28 years, the day care has been here for twenty four of them, holding a place in my heart and keeping me going through thick and thin. Lucky life, lucky life, lucky, lucky life.

This morning my sister woke me up in the dark to have breakfast with her before she headed off to a conference and I started my day care week. Before joining her in the kitchen I put on my daughter’s hand-me-down comfy pants and my son’s hand-me-down hoodie, soft items and comfort objects which hold their energy now they’ve grown up and moved out of these items and into other worlds.

It was fine to talk with my sister about her date last night, to catch up after missing her last night because I was tired and went to sleep before she returned to sleep in my son’s old bed, third of my children mentioned here in this post, whose room I painted and freshened, while trying to preserve his essence and leaving space for his remaining at home possessions, guitar cases, books, art materials, clothes he has yet to integrate into his new life or to discard.

Last week my friend and I went to a day long workshop on chakras and energy meditation. One of the most powerful pieces of the day was the guided meditation on the chakras and the invitation to totem animals into our individual psyches. All week my friend and I have been relating to these images and they have been shaping our lives.

On Friday my friend got news the cabin his family has shared the last many years was damaged by a tree that fell in a recent storm. His worry was not for the furniture or books or structure so much as for the worry it would cause his family and for the objects that live there which are his links to his grandparents, which he felt sure would be safe, due to their location in the space.

I’ve been reading a book given to me by the woman whose home held the workshop last weekend, a book by a woman in the Jungian tradition. She tells of an image created in her mind when she was a child and feeling insecure due to a family who traveled a lot and parents who weren’t always present and how that image of an island shaped her life. The island exploration she writes about leads to a description of the importance of stones to humans. The rock her partner discovers when they visit the island of her imagination, which turns out to be an island in real life, Iona, contains the universe, and in noting that, the writer explains how we all are created from elements of the universe, and thus contain it, as do the rocks.

All around my house are piles of stones, lines of stones, jars of stones, pockets of stones, from around the world, from beaches, from mountains, from other countries, from east and west and north and south. Some I remember finding, others I do not. I’ve loved stones such a long time I can’t remember the first ones I collected, though I know I’ve carried some with me for decades.

My friend Alice collects stones and bits of nature, too. Many of us do. When I enter a home with piles of stones or shells or pine cones or childhood treasures, I know I’ve found a kindred soul. We understand the memory and meaning an object can embody, the power it has to link us to important people, places, and times in our lives, to the universe.

I hadn’t thought so much until last weekend about the power a totem animal or image could have to help me/us relate to deeper parts of myself/ourselves, to help me/us imagine new ways and worlds. Life surprises that way. If we are open to possibility options continue to unfold.

I’m happy to have returned to Jung as I begin my applications to grad school and imagine myself transitioning at some point in the next few years to work as a therapist. These images and totems and meaningful objects in our lives are guides, perhaps, to how I want to work with others, to the power we can access via intuitive or meditative or contemplative or narrative routes.

Last night I visited the home of new people. When I arrived one of the hosts gave me a tour of the space he and his partner have only recently been living in. The most powerful piece of the tour for me was a book shelf carefully arranged, across from a baby grand piano in their living room, with small carved wooden figures lined up on a shelf above a menorah, which the host told me had been in his family a long time before he turned from it to a shelf by the window on the other side of the piano which held photos of his parents and his partner’s mother, all dead, reminding me of an altar Thich Nhat Hanh had described in a book I read this weekend about creating space in our homes for meditation and making an altar with images of our ancestors to return to and honor and to include as we go about our lives, and which I had talked about with my friend as he was worrying about the cabin and his parents who are going through a big transition.

Maybe that will be my project for the week, to create a space like that for myself, to honor the life of the spirit and my ancestors and to relate to them in my home space, in a physical way that might offer opportunity for a ritual of grounding in the knowledge of my place in the spirit world. We’ll see. Just the image of it created here holds power. For me, writing is ritual, and words are power. Also objects. As the workshop last weekend reminded me, the grounding in the everyday, earthly world is not to be dismissed or contrasted negatively with the spiritual, but to be connected and honored as a place of equal importance and power.

Heaven on earth, heaven and earth, both are true.

Today at lunch one three and two fours were talking. I felt lucky to listen to their conversation. I had been talking with a friend about the importance of friendship in his life and so I was attuned to the way we support and witness the emergence of friendship in our day care, to how important a part of our days and lives are our friends and the way we see and value one another.

Sharing Dreams – Lunch time conversation – What do we want to be when we grow up? How will our selves and our connections evolve over time?

Today at lunch my lunch group was doing their thing, eating way too much cous cous, dripping bits all over the place, talking and laughing. I had the pleasure of offering seconds and thirds and fourths and listening and cleaning up, roles I am happy to play in my current life as family child care provider more than teacher.

Friendship is important. These kids are working on that right now, talking about what they will be when they grow up. And I get to stand by and watch and listen to the images of self emerge and the friendships blossom.

My three and two fours were talking. One four was telling her friends she plans to be a mother and and an artist when she grows up, something she’s been telling me awhile.

The other four and the three were telling her they plan to be firefighters, something they have been pretending for awhile.

Then the first four added that she also wants to be a veterinarian and a dentist. Her friend the four thought she might like to be a dentist for animals and she agreed. He felt sure at first as did the three that he only wanted to be a firefighter, just one thing.

The conversation was so interesting, I tried to capture it in notes on my phone. This is what I got before it was time to clean up from lunch, though the conversation and the play continued, wtih more about growing up, and then another game of hockey in the kitchen, this time in a game where the four suggested they were playing a game of hockey and that they didn’t want anyone to win. “Yes,” said the three. “We don’t want anyone to win, but someone always wins, right?” Always there is that tension between self and other, between the expected and what we have the power to re-imagine, to change.

But at lunch, imagining the future of their friendship, the first four suggested, “One day you can visit my artist studio and I’ll show you my paintings.”

“And you can come over and see how I fix the animals’ teeth and you can see my cute little baby.”

And her friend the four replied, “And you can see how we go down the fire pole.”

“Do you want to go down the fire pole with us?” wondered the three.

At this point, they got up, cleared their places, and began to walk around the kitchen and talk.

“I’m gonna be a firefighter and an artist, too.” decided the four.

“Can you draw a picture of us in our fire engine?” the three asked the four intending to be an artist and a mother and a veterinarian and a dentist for animals.

“Yes,” she replied. “I’ll also draw a picture of you spraying out a fire.”

“And us driving a fire truck.” suggested the three.

“I’ll draw the hose and the ladder and the fire truck.” added the four.

“How about you will work at the same artist studio as me, too,” she suggested to her firefighter and artist friends.

“Only on some days,” agreed the four.

“Only on days there’s no fires,” agreed the three.

“I might not be there. I might have to check out some animals,” said the four, making sure to be clear in her commitments.

That the children imagine themselves as firefighters, mothers with cute babies, artists, dentists who take care of animals, and veterinarians, makes me happy. That they imagine their lives well into the future also makes me happy. That they imagine themselves continuing to be in each others’ lives is why I do what I do.

The reality is that it has happened, again and again and again. Children who have played together in the early years have remained friends into adulthood and beyond. They have continue to feel cared for by us, by one another, to be in many ways similar and connected beyond the time they have spent with us.

Teens have visited after years of being away. Teens and young adults share wishes for a reunion of day care kids. Teens have hugged me in faraway places after years of not having been with us. Teens and young adults have helped one another through hard times, have been each others’ rocks when ground has shifted.

What is it, I wonder, about this shared imaginative life, about this day to day, sleeping, eating, playing, talking, laughing, wrestling, running, jumping, swinging life that binds us to one another, maybe for life?

In my life it was my sister, my neighborhood friends, my cousins, who shared my early life of play and daily living. I feel connected still to those early days when we made up the story as we went, when our imaginations and games and lives were so easily intertwined. But it wasn’t all smooth and easy, nor was it all full of happy dreams.

Solving Problems, Hard Times, and Sorrow – Earlier in the day, working things out on the swings and on the rug and in the kitchen

Earlier in the day, my twos were screaming mad. When we arrived at the park, they both expected to swing. There was one swing available and one got it, while the other one cried and cried. Offers from her older friend to push her on a tire swing with her little buddy and close friend did not help. Holding my hand she told me through tears how she had wanted the swing, how her friend had pinched her cheek before climbing onto the swing.

Nearby her friend watched and listened, pumped and lilted, looking less clear in her dominance as the back story to her triumph was revealed. Eventually she got off, her friend got on, thanked her at my suggestion. Still, the winner stormed. She lay on the ground and cried. She cried at the top of the climber where two friends had taken two seats and she had none. She cried at the monster sounds a friend made. I offered a hand, offered solace, was rejected again and again until on the walk home, I offered my hand, rather than a loop to hold and she accepted. Partway home, she smiled again, looked up, asked me a question about my life I’ve now forgotten, asked about something I might have in my life which she also has, establishing our shared vision, our commonality, our connection, and from there the storm had passed.

At home my three and four who shortly after shared dreams of a future fighting fires, making art and visiting their friend’s cute baby and art studio and animal dentistry practice, tugged viciously at an old copy of The Magic School Bus they both wanted to read, until the book was bent and torn. I took the book, asked them to choose another, went to the kitchen to prepare lunch.

Soon the four was tugging another book out of his friend’s hands. I called him to the kitchen for a talk. What was going on? I wondered.

“I had planned to read the book after I got back from the bathroom.” he shared, “But —- was reading it.”

“Ah!” I could see this could be a problem.

” Well, can I tell you what I do if someone uses something I was planning to use?” I asked.

“I know!” said the four, enthusiastically. “I can tell him I was planning to use it and ask him to give it back.”

I looked out only to see him asking while tugging on the book, and called him back.

“It didn’t work!” he said, tearing up.

“You need to ask without tugging on the book. And sometimes it doesn’t work the first time. What else can you do”

“I know!” he replied. “I can ask if I can have it when he’s done!”

And sure enough, I was able to continue making lunch while the young ones worked things out and read.

It isn’t magic, the way friendship and connection builds. It does take time and coaching. Insight and empathy help. Some say patience. I prefer understanding.

As I was preparing lunch, my two who had been stirred up at the park climbed up on the chair and slipped off, wool socks lacking traction, and bumped her head. I gave her a hug and a cuddle and her friend the three brought a boo boo buddy, a small furry dog with a plastic ice cube inside.

Children do this often. They want to help one another heal.

At lunch we sat down and I began to serve the food. My four who had figured out the book problem reminded me we forgot to pause and put our hands on the table, so we did, breathing deeply and holding hands around the table before saying our thank yous to the world, “Thank you for this food and for our friends and family to share it with.” My three who had the book, ended it with Amen, and Bon Appetite. I added Namaste. Someone remembered we had forgotten to do the gentle squeeze, so we reconnected hands and squeezed gently, began our meal.

It feels good to share these moments as a group, to share food with gratitude, to heal one another with kindness, hugs, and boo boo buddies, to see that we matter to one another, to feel our power to connect and to repair.

There was more I wanted to say, but the children are waking one by one and my time today is done. Thanks for sharing your children and for reading. I feel lucky to have time with them and to write about our days.

Today I am thinking about math with our little people and the way they teach themselves and talk about concepts they are learning.

Growing Up – Past, Present, Future, Age, Sequence, Years, and What they Mean, Including the Continuity of Self

In the swings, a two was learning to pump and her friend, a four, was pumping powerfully. Power Pumping Girls! I called them. They looked strong. Both girls stretched out their legs in front of them as they swung, but only the four could get going really high. I let the two know that she was doing a lot of pumping for a two, and that when she was four like her friend she would be bigger and stronger and be able to pump like her.

The four remembered being a little girl and looking up to older friends, mostly the older sister of her buddy, another four, who is now six.

The two thought of her life moving forward. “Now I’m two,” she said. “Next I’ll be three, and then I’ll be four.”

After some more pumping, the four said to the two,” -E— ,when you are four, you will still be E—“

“Yes!” said the two. “And when I’m five I will still be E—-, and I’ll be a grown up!”

“Well, E—,” said the four, “You’ll still be E—, but five is not a grown up.”

As I write this I remember a video at a conference on early childhood learning at Lesley College. There were children riding around a big room on wheeled vehicles, coming up with theories about the solar system. The researchers who had filmed the children talked about how in early childhood, movement and deep thinking often coincide. Today that seemed true on the swings.


Puzzles – Problem Solving, Geometry, Sorting, and Persistence

In the house, our three is obsessed with puzzles. His last two days with us he was not ready to go home when it was time to leave the park. I was able to convince him by reminding him there might be more puzzles at home hiding in the cupboards. Both days it worked. Today he found himself a place on the floor apart from the other kids after breakfast and before lunch to work on a set of vehicle puzzles.

Izzy had been working with him on those puzzles in the morning and had requested zip loc bags to store the separate puzzles, as separating the pieces all mixed up in a boxed set took a lot of energy. I suggested Izzy label the different puzzles on the back by drawing a particular shape on each piece of a particular puzzle, so the children could sort them if they got mixed up. They put hearts on the backs of the train puzzle pieces, and different shapes on the airplane, dump truck, and tug boat.

When it was time to clean up, our three was able to organize his pieces into a bag. His friends were eager to help.

Math in the form of figuring out puzzles and sorting sets happens all day long in family day care. Kids are naturally drawn to solving problems, to fitting things together, to scanning for patterns and similarities, to putting things where they belong.

This year, though, we have a group that just loves puzzles and teachers who enjoy working with them and so more than in many years past, there are puzzles in use almost all the time, kids asking for puzzles that have been kept up high, and energy spreading from one kid to another about the fun and fascination of puzzles.


Keeping Score – Numbers, Counting, and Comparing Quantities

After lunch the last two days, the children have turned a collection of brooms into hockey sticks. Today they made hockey pucks by rolling paper into balls. They scooted the balls around the kitche with the brooms while I cleaned up from lunch, keeping score. The scores were all over the place, One hundred to One Million, Five to Six, Ten to Twenty. I can’t even remember, but what I noticed, was that again, kids were moving and relating to math, calling out scores to one another and us teachers, lively, laughing, eager to master these concepts called numbers, to think about big and little numbers, relative size, adding scores to the numbers before, playing a game in which the higher score wins.


Finding and Exploring Commonalities

At lunch, my two turned to me, after hearing a story requested by my four about why I started the day care which included me not wanting to drive my baby a long way to the school where I was working when he was born, and asked, “Maria, do you have a car?”

“Yes, ” I have a car, I replied.

“Me, too!,” replied the two. “My family has a car, too!”

“Maria, I have a mom. Do you have a mom?” she asked, continuing the thrill of finding all we have in common.

“Yes, I do” I smiled back.

“I have a dad, Maria. Do you have a dad?” she asked, the question which inevitably follows in this sequence, which turns things a bit for me.

“I don’t have a dad.” I first replied, then added for clarity. “But I used to.”

“What happened to your dad?” one of the kids asked.

“He died,” I let them know.

“So sad,” said my three who loves the puzzles. “Maria, that is so sad.”

“What happened to him?” my four wanted to know.

“He was very sick,” I replied.

“Very sick, so sad” said the puzzler with deep compassion.

“___ was so sick and died” relates my three who has until been silent, thinking I imagine about someone in his own life who has died.

Then my other four popped an edamame out of it’s pod and it hit her friend the puzzler and made everyone laugh and laugh and laugh, dead father conversation alleviated with humor for now, though I always wonder when I share this news if it will travel home and if families might think death of a father is too much for their child.

Mostly, though, I’m happy the children and I know one another well, that we care, that we share parts of our stories every day, that we are exploring life’s big and little questions as we squeeze poppy peas and twirl pasta and nibble oranges from their rinds.

Today my Uncle Tom is on my mind. Last night I was explaining to my friend how my family told stories, how I was surrounded not so much by books, but by tales told by uncles, aunts, cousins, parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, friends.

The one I was thinking about first was my Uncle Tom. When I was small, Uncle Tom lived in the basement bedroom of my grandma’s house. My grandma lived in a little house she and my grandfather built for their retirement. I was born when my grandma was sixty, shortly after they moved to the new house from the farm across the road where my mother and Uncle Tom and the five other sisters and brothers grew up. My grandfather died when I was small. He was hit by a car while driving his tractor along the road between the small house and the farm and did not recover.

There’s one photo of me and my grandfather, who had a fine sense of humor, according to the stories I was told, holding me and maybe my cousin Pete, who was two weeks older, one on each knee, if I remember correctly, with a cigarette in my mouth. I wonder now if that’s correct. I was a plump, round baby with a velvety scalp, a big smile, and a sweet little baby dress, bouncing on his knee. My mother lost her father just as she was becoming a mother, then her husband shortly after, all in her twenties, but that’s another story.

My grandmother lived in that small house forty years after my grandfather died, until she was nearly one hundred and I was nearly forty. For most of that time my Uncle Tom looked after her and her place, first living in the basement where there was his bedroom, the half bath, the root cellar, the laundry area, the dining room set that must have come from the farm, where we laid out food when we had family picnics, and the storage area where Grandma kept empty jars and a cardboard box full of toy dishes that had belonged to my mother and her sister Judy when they were small, which came out whenever children visited my grandmother all those forty years. Some may be in my basement now or my mom’s, waiting for the great great grandkids to take them out.

When I was small one of my favorite things to do was to spend time with my grandma and my Uncle Tom. They were a fine pair of grown ups in my life. We would ride around the country in Grandma’s sedan, or in Uncle Tom’s pick up truck, with me in the middle of the bench seat between them, collecting fruits and vegetables, stopping at yard sales, going to lunch in a roadside cafe, buying plants.

In the evening they would make dinner and I would help. My grandmother had a way of frying white rice in butter in a skillet no one else has ever made for me, which I ought to try someday. We would set the table with a cloth, my favorite one was terry cloth with pink and orange flowers, and the brown dishes and brown wood handled silverware now resting in my drawer. My grandmother loved all flowers, roses especially, and often had some growing in her yard and cut in vases on her kitchen island or dining table. Her favorites were deep pink multilayered roses, like the ones blooming along the side of my house now.

During dinner we might wheel the tv stand around , turning it to face the dining area, and watch the news. Even that would be fun with Uncle Tom, who would make the news into a funny thing to watch. Other times he would tell stories. I can see his mouth, the way he talked out of the side of it and rolled his eyes at the outrageousness of someone’s business or way of handling something. I can’t remember a particular story. What I do remember was sitting across from him and smiling broadly, laughing as he laughed, and Grandma well cared for and caring, sharing life with him.

My Uncle Tom worked at Attica Prison, Attica Correctional Facility if one speaks more formally. In the years I was growing up, Attica was not a place to speak of lightly when one traveled the world. The uprising happened when I was small and Uncle Tom was one of those to respond the day after, something I learned of recently as I was reading Blood in the Water, a relatively recent history of the uprising/massacre/riot and it’s aftermath.

That book haunts me still. It’s full of my childhood memories, twisted and turned into something mean.

From where I played with tractors with my cousin Pete under the chestnut tree on the farm where my mom and then my cousins grew up, we had a clear view down the hill and across my grandmother’s fields and yard and the creek behind it to the rodeo grounds, the cemetery where my father was buried, and the prison rising up between them, looking to my children when they were there years later most like a castle, with its tall walls and turrets (watchtowers).

From where we played there was no evidence of the prisoners inside. I can only imagine them now from the images depicted in Blood in the Water and from the men I’ve come to know so well in the Sharing Circle, whose lives in and out of prison have become real to me.

When my Uncle Tom came home from work early in the morning after his night shifts I was asleep in the twin bed in the spare room across from my grandmother’s room with the bathroom in between. I would hear my uncle’s truck in the driveway and if it was winter I’d see the glow of the headlights slide across the walls of my room. He’d get out of the truck, crunch across the gravel drive, open the wooden gate between the house and detached garage and close the latch quietly, walk around the back of the house, passing my bedroom window, open the screen door and the wooden door to the house, come into the kitchen for a drink, then head downstairs to sleep. Or maybe he’d join us for breakfast and sleep later. I was aware he’d come home and I was small. It was a long time ago and certain pieces linger.

Later, he moved to his own small house up the road from Grandma’s and the farm. He built an A Frame on a hill just outside of town and filled it with antiques and art. I stayed there once or twice, sleeping in his loft, looking at the novels on his bookshelves, where I found Joyce Carol Oats waiting for me, and John Gardner, both Western New York writers who let me know people from Western New York had stories to tell the larger world. Those are the only books I remember borrowing from my family. I kept them on the small nightstand beside my bed in high school, when I read them late at night, took them with me to college and on to my first apartments and may still have them now. My uncle didn’t talk about books, and if I hadn’t stayed there in his loft, I don’t know if I would have known he read them.

These days Uncle Tom lives in Batavia. He took care of my grandmother as she was aging, mowed the lawn, brought groceries, made dinner and shared meals with her many times a week, and slept in the spare room nights she was too frail or old to be alone. Those two kept fine company and cared for each other well.

When I was home last year, my mom took my sister and me to visit Uncle Tom. I was reminded of the artful way my family lived when I was growing up. Uncle Tom chose antique chests and art to decorate Grandma’s house and then his. His latest home is a gallery of paintings and collectibles and furniture. Each room has the feel I remember from visiting his A-frame on the hill, though now instead of his dog Schultz, he has a bevy of cats, who have their own room and run of the place, and are his companions.

His back fence is a work of art, too. He painted big yellow flowers on it and hung decorative pieces of pottery there. He looks out for his neighbors and has stories to tell. He works out at the Y twice a day and is fit as he’s always been, and funny.