Comfort

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This past year has been a year of change, upheaval, new beginnings and mourning – so in this season of thanksgiving, I took a little time to list out some top ten lists of what has sustained me through this past year.

We all have our comforts and supports –  what we do, who we listen to, and who we read. I took some time to list out (not necessarily in order) what those have been for me in this past year.  It made me realize that despite ups and downs of living and being – that I live a life of opportunity and resources; I am incredibly fortunate.

Of course what really gets anyone of us through hard times are those who we surround ourselves with – for me I have been blessed with incredible brothers, sisters, and four amazing children.  And, I would be nowhere without my incredible friends or the irrepressible, Casey.

Beauty surrounds us.  Find your path.  Take time to realize all that you have.

In Thanksgiving:

  1. Conservation Land
  2. Running Sneakers
  3. Bike
  4. Oil paint
  5. Back porch
  6. Walden
  7. Turntable & Vinyl
  8. Maine
  9. Hoop
  10. Yoga
  1. Adele
  2. Nathaniel Ratecliff & the Night Sweats
  3. Bon Iver
  4. Edith Pilaf
  5. Mumford & Sons
  6. The Hunts
  7. Mary Lambert
  8. Sara Bareilles
  9. Bach
  10. Yo-Yo Ma
  1. e.e. cummings
  2. Thich Nhat Hahn
  3. Tyler Knott Gregson
  4. Mary Oliver
  5. Elizabeth Gilbert
  6. Maya Angelou
  7. Emily Dickinson
  8. Winnie-the-Pooh
  9. Fred Rogers
  10. Pablo Neruda

 

Freeschool

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We all want our children to love school. I haven’t yet met a parent to say otherwise. Regardless of our own experiences or memories – we all want our children to love school.

It starts early. No matter where you are from, or where you are – it is always there – this conscious desire and in fact sense of urgency that our children have a positive, pro-social, empowering, meaningful, long lasting experience of school. And as their parents – we are driven to find this place for them in order for that good start, that first taste, that lingering warmth that underscores the rest of their educational journey.

It is where they will make their first friends, work on writing their first name, paint something to adorn their refrigerator or bedroom walls, and learn how to say goodbye and wow how they learn how to celebrate hello.

When they are young, we scour the options – if we are so lucky to have options – and try to find a place that mirrors our own values and expectations and understanding about what makes for a good school. And the funny part of that – is that has been my experience, both personally as a parent myself, and based on the hundreds of visits with prospective parents – it is really all a feeling. A gut instinct kind of experience. You walk through a school, you hear the words, but it is in how a place makes you feel that you know if this is the place for your child.

And now, in these coming weeks and months, I will meet a new batch of earnest, inquiring, parents – who come to find out in person about this community, our program, curriculum, and who walk about and wonder if this could be the place for their child to fall in love with school.

And here’s what we forget as parents sometimes…they will love if we do too. The children feel that most of all. When parents embrace a school – so will their children. And in that hug, that hello – the child can then be nurtured. The love and trust that exist between parent and teacher, parent and place become the fertile ground from which the beauty of love and learning can take place.

Community Nursery School is a co-op – meaning that the parents are all involved in the operations, decisions, and daily life of the school. I often tout the research that supports the connection that children benefit when their parents are involved with their school. But do we really need the research to back up what we already know and feel in our hearts? It just makes sense. When a child knows his parents care enough about a school to go to a night meeting, or attend a work day weekend or take time from work to parent help – the child gets the message. School is a special place. An important place. A place where mommy and daddy get to play, too.

This year, I have the much fun of welcoming some children into our youngest group — that I knew before they were born.  I can remember with each of these children when the mom told me she was pregnant.  And so now those babies are Front Roomers.

One of them happens to call CNS, “freeschool”.  And I think that is just beautiful.  Because isn’t that really what it’s all about?  A place where free play and love abound.  An environment where freedom is cherished and a child’s self will is respected.  Freeschool.  I like it.  (Thank you Charlie.)

Our connections go deep.  Our love is deeper still.  This is more than just a school.  It is a community.  And I am just so grateful to be along for the ride.

Keeping it REAL

 IMG_0012“It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” 

― Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

I recently moved to Belmont.

In exploring my new neighborhood this summer, I stepped into a bakery a couple blocks from my apartment. Ohlins. A friend was coming over for coffee that morning and I thought it would be nice to have some muffins to share.

Ohlins has a somewhat dingy store front – handwritten signs yellowed with curled edges. Inside, old time bakery cases are trimmed with an array of Green Mountain coffee options. In the cases, the variety of doughnuts is plentiful and right there in that shop on that morning, I spontaneously decided to skip the muffins and opt for the a jelly dipped instead.

I ate one on the walk back – and I was transformed. With the first bite, I was brought back to my childhood when all doughnuts tasted just like that. Pure. And good. Not just good – deliciously good. With no aftertaste – no weird slippery feeling on the top of my mouth like when I eat a Dunkin Donut – this was just a good delicious sweet treat.

And I realized something on that street corner. That doughnut was REAL. No chemicals. No preservatives. Made that morning.

It really made me consider that while I was enjoying those purely delightful calories that would do nothing for my body but give me a sugar rush and more fat to burn off – I realized that I wasn’t ingesting any chemicals. And how is it that our food system has become so corrupt that buying a real doughnut felt like a new experience? A novelty. Something my own teenaged children have yet to experience.

It is hard to find REAL this days. It is hard to sustain conversations without having someone check their phone or hear a text alert beep.  We are so distracted and our attentions split between before, now, and what’s next. It is hard to demand REAL. We live in a fast food cheaply constructed consumer driven world where there is very little REAL. We live in a world where it is cheaper to buy a new oven then get your few years old oven fixed.

As part of my move to Belmont, an old family bed came up to Long Island to furnish my bedroom. My brother graciously drove it up for me arriving one Saturday morning. I had been moving stuff into my apartment all morning – but when that bed arrived – something else happened. I couldn’t lift it myself. Not one piece of it. And I consider myself reasonably fit and strong. But there was no moving or even putting that bed together by myself. It was heavy. Made of REAL wood. Nothing like the stuff I had recently purchased – not even close.

I know there are so many new inventions and advances that make our lives better today then what life was like for my parents – or their parents. But what have we lost?

We have to become more aware of what is REAL in our lives. So that we don’t miss our own opportunities to be REAL and we recognize when there is REAL. To be present. To fully love. To be aware of what is distracting from this present moment. To eat REAL food. To appreciate the weight of REAL wood. To stop and smell REAL roses.

Be aware of what is REAL. Because with real ingredients in your life, everything tastes so much better.

Guilt without sex

When I arrived on the Swarthmore campus in 1986, there was a popular t-shirt that many undergrads were wearing, “Guilt without Sex”.  My dad laughed out loud when he saw it.  Truly at the time, I don’t think I understood it.

As my time went on at Swarthmore, I came to understand it quite clearly.  There was the guilt that we all walked around with any minute that we weren’t studying or on our way to studying. The workload was crazy and too much and there was never enough time to do it all.  My time there acquainted me with those feelings of constant worry that I wasn’t doing enough, and yes, guilt.  (And it was also true that there was not much sex either.)

Fast forward to becoming a parent.

Guilt is a very pervasive emotion. It accompanies so many moments after our children are born.  Every phase of their childhood provides us with multiple opportunities to feel guilty.

They aren’t having enough play dates.
I shouldn’t take them to McDonalds.
They watch too much TV.
I shouldn’t leave them with a sitter to go work out.
I shouldn’t buy them another plastic toy just to get through this shopping trip.
I am too hard on them.
I am too easy on them.
I should really be only feeding them organic produce.
I really shouldn’t be using screen time as a reward.
Oh, why do I love that the iPad can keep them so busy for so long?
Am I doing enough?

There is that circular internal conversation loop that we all play.  It comes from the best of intentions.  It comes from caring and loving and wanting the best for our children.

But I have come to a place of recognizing it and realizing that there is no need for that kind of guilt.  It serves no useful purpose.  And it drives us crazy. It creates an atmosphere of clouds and worry around all the love that we are desperately trying to give to our children.  It doesn’t make us better parents.  It makes us anxious parents.  And anxious, worried, “am I doing enough?” parents are not allowing themselves to just be in the flow of living.

The “Mindfulness” movement is something that is ancient – so to call it a new idea or a ‘movement’ is very silly.  However, it has gotten a lot of recent attention and within our current cloud of parenting resources, it comes up a lot.  And I like it.  A lot.  The concept of slowing down and breathing is exactly right.  It takes us out of our self-talk and doubt – and even guilt.  It brings us to the present.  To the now.  That’s where life happens. And if you practice it, the guilt has a way of floating on. Away.  Where it belongs.

Guilt doesn’t make us better parents. It only makes us second guess ourselves and regret decisions that we have already made.  Don’t allow guilt to take away this moment.  You are here.  Doing your best. That’s what makes you a good parent. The caring.  The awareness. Feel the confidence in that.  And just remember this, when it starts to unravel and guilt works its way in (and I know that it will despite all intentions), breathe.  Just breathe.

And remember, that all they need is love.

 

This is what happened.

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On December 9th, I grabbed a rebound, turned up court to run the break, and I fell down. My Achilles tendon, long nursed through bouts of tendonitis and many sore runs, just gave out.

Since that time, I have been limited physically – have spent two weeks on bed rest – and have had to completely slow down and take that very deep proverbial breath.

Many people who know me have commented as to this must have been so very hard for me to do. I live an active lifestyle: whether training for a new race, swimming across the pond, coaching a team through a practice, or trying to keep up with my children.  All of that had to stop.

And something magical happened.

Community happened.
Friends happened.
Life happened.

Meals began to arrive.  Friends dropped in and sat on my bed with me and spent hours just chatting and catching up.  Some friends that I hadn’t seen in over a year.  A year. There was so much to say, share, tell, and think about.

My children – who are constantly hungry – were sustained by the daily meals being delivered (still being delivered).  But on a more important level – much more – they have been witness to “Community”.  To an outpouring of love and meals and help – and so they are experiencing firsthand what it means for us to take care of each other.

It is perhaps one of the most important life lessons that we can teach them.  For wherever they go on in this life – no matter what happens to their friends or extended family, they will know what to do; how to help.  They will remember.

Thank you all for this lesson.  I could never have done it without you.

Every parent wants their child to grow up and know how important it is to care for their neighbor, their friend, the person in their community that needs help. But how to teach that?

I don’t wish a ruptured Achilles tendon on anyone.  It hurt a lot – and so did the surgery.  But I do wish that all of our collective children experience “Community”.  I like to think they get a little taste of this at CNS through daily parent helping.  Your child’s special day is special – but it also is giving every child a message that their classroom is an important place to be. Important enough to shift your schedule, take a personal day, or find a sitter for a younger sibling.

To nourish each other is something incredibly special and can take on so many forms. Thank you all for nourishing me and my family through these days of recovery.  I promise to pay it forward – and who knows, maybe one of my kids will even cook dinner for you one day?

All I want for Christmas…

In this season of giving and getting…in this season of shopping and shipping and lists…I have just one simple bit of advice for parents of young children that I wish someone had told me.

Here’s the thing.  When my children were young, it was easy to satisfy their wants.  It was relatively easy to cross off all the items they had listed.  Trips to Toys R Us, the Lego Store, Pottery Barn Kids…and we were done.  Nothing better than a credit card around the holidays.

I think I felt such gratification over making all their dreams come true.  Of making them feel so incredibly special and loved.  But I got a little lost in it.  And for a number of years – maybe the first ten of being a parent, it became almost like a game to win.  Chasing after those next great thing that they wanted – stretching ourselves probably too thin – just to make that Christmas morning so perfect.

And what I learned is this:  the bar kept getting higher.  And the after holiday bills always bigger – so much so that the year end bonus instead of giving us a head start on a new year, went to paying off one morning in December.

By the time my children got to middle school – their wants and desires started to cross lines that I wasn’t willing to cross – that crazy Bad Theft Auto game and those really scary bloody war Xbox games.  And here’s the thing – up until that point, they had almost always gotten what they wanted…but now ‘what’ they wanted wasn’t something I was willing to have in the house – and the cost of all of these items just got so incredibly crazy.  It wasn’t sustainable.  But we had set the bar.  We had made Christmas all about all that stuff – all about those lists being crossed off…we had done that.

And then.  It stopped.  It had too.  And I felt foolish.  But all of a sudden, there I was trying to dream up what was going to get to make my son happy.  I knew I couldn’t get him that iPad on his list – so what was going to substitute?  And there I was looking for something and realizing – how no “thing” should never be what it is all about.  And that we never should have made it about the stuff.  They would have been so happy with less.  They would have been fine.  It didn’t make us good parents to fill the under the tree.  It made us just blind and unconscious parents getting that one more piece of plastic for our family room.  And it taught them that by buying or getting stuff, they will feel loved and that they were ‘good’.

And so now Christmas is very different at my house.  No more lists. And the gifts are simple.  Functional.  Stuff that they need.  And maybe a very little simple something else- usually small enough to fit in their stocking.  It was a transition.  And we talked about it.  And guess what – they were fine.  And now the bills after Christmas make sense.  And the credit card debt doesn’t exist.  And my kids…they are just happy to be together.  They just want the bacon and the together – warmth.  Family.  That’s really all we need.

So don’t do what I did – don’t think your job as a parent is to fulfill every dream with ‘stuff’. Don’t try to fill up that tree and blow their little mind with the resourcefulness of Santa.  Keep it simple.  Beautiful.  They really don’t need the latest video game or game system. Set different priorities – and stick to it – regardless of their list, their friends, your credit limit or your bank account.

There is no judgment here.  Just a sharing and a desire to pass along a little bit of wisdom that I wish someone had shared with me.

Happy Holidays.

…for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes

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i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

e.e. cummings

Dave

IMG_1282 (Originally posted 10/10/2011.  Reposting after having just seen Dave again, three years after I wrote this.  All still true.)

This weekend I was treated to a visit from my dear friends, Dave and Lyn and their daughter, Alaigne. I first met Dave and Lyn when I was searching for a place to live during the summer of 1991. We ended up living together cooperatively and vegetarian for about three years during which there many laughs, some tears, a number of international guests, home brew, strawberry jam, hot toddies, graduations, divorces, a wedding, and a baby.

Dave and Lyn are from New Zealand and returned there after Dave completed his doctorate. I have seen them once since – when they were coming through the States for a brief lay over about nine years ago. Since that time much has changed for all of us – and it was with great anticipation that I picked them up on Friday afternoon for their weekend visit.

I have often said to others that Dave is the kindest person I have ever met. The time we had together was special – fraught with all sorts of transitions and drama – but through it had many laughs and tender moments of true friendship.

I was very excited to see them again and to have the whole weekend to spend together. I was anxious for my children to meet them and see why I thought so highly of them as people and what they meant to me.

And it was a wonderful visit. We did simple things like apple picking and applesauce making. We had lots of cups of coffee and the kids played many games of chess. I dusted off my copy of the Moosewood Cookbook and remembered how to cook without any meat for the weekend.

On Saturday, I brought them by CNS and showed them around. They did not know me as a preschool teacher and they were curious to learn about what it is that I do now. Dave found the brick in my office to be particularly humorous, “Listen More, Speak Less”. He thought that was directed especially toward me and had been given to me as a gift. I explained that it was something that we try to do every day in our relationships with the children and with each other. I spoke a little about Reggio and our philosophy. He still had a big chuckle – remembering me as the eager graduate student, always ready for a debate or a conversation around our dinner table. I guess I wasn’t such a great listener back then.

Over the years, I have often wondered what it was that made my friendship with Dave so special and so categorically different from any of my other friendships. Seeing him laugh at the brick, I realized something. I realized that what was so special about Dave was in fact his ability to listen. I immediately flashed back to the evening before, watching him bleary eyed and exhausted, listen to my son Hugh describe what was happening in every single picture from our Montana trip. And later, how he patiently explained seismology to Maggie and Harry – answering all their questions and listening to their observations about what it must be like to live in a country where earthquakes are a regular occurrence and almost an inevitability.

Dave approaches every conversation, every person, with the same patience and respect. He listens. And in listening, he nurtures his relationships. I realize that he was nurturing me all those years ago in Cambridge. That best friendship had its foundation built on that kind of patience, that kind of listening. And the comfort of silence – that sometimes it’s all right not to have anything to say at all.

This is what we strive for at CNS when we say “Listen More, Speak Less”. It is in that listening that relationship is grounded. Where it has space to be nurtured. When that connection is not all about your own personal relationship to the materials or the world, but when you are just as curious and genuinely interested in what the other person has to say, share, or worry about. It is then an authentic relationship. There is tremendous patience involved in this kind of listening – especially with children. But the benefits are tremendous.

I love that there are layers to our lives and to our life experience that continue to repeat themselves in time and space just when you might not be expecting it. I never thought that in seeing Dave again, I would have this perspective about why it is that our relationship is so special and how that relates to my work at CNS. I feel deep appreciation today – not only because Dave and Lyn came to visit – because I am newly recharged in my mission to listen deeply and patiently to each person I meet and to never hurry through a chance to touch someone’s life by hearing their words. This was Dave’s gift to me. And mine to you.

 

The kids are all right…

IMG_3373As we head into the deeper part of the fall which for some of us will bring first quarter report cards and for others, our very first parent teacher conference.

Here’s what I know:  the longer that I am a parent, the more I understand about how all of our worries don’t mean much at all.

We have been given this great opportunity to take care of another person in this world.  And of course, we all want to do the very best that we can in that stewardship –

And we all fall in love with our children..

But..here’s the thing.  We only have a little tiny fraction of control.  And it’s mostly about whether or not they want their eggs scrambled or fried.  Or boxers or briefs.

Recently, my daughter went through a neuro-psych evaluation to get a bit finer view on the way she learns.  How her brain works.  And here’s the thing…I can tell you right now that my daughter (fourth child of four) has the most adaptive life skills of any of my children.  But her brain has this really hard way of figuring out the world.  One that won’t work so well for certain tasks.

I have known this forever.  Since she was tiny.  Since she didn’t want to sit with me for “Goodnight Moon” or “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom”.  Since then. Because here’s the thing.  You know.  You know right now.  Those instincts that you have.  Very much most of the time are right on.  If you don’t listen to them, then they will become louder (or others will help you with this).

But here’s the point.  None of us are all set.  Or perfect.  We are all just a jumble of feeling and brain and life.  And none of us are perfect.  Some of us are average at everything and some of us are crazy good at something.  Remember this as parents.  Take them as they are.  Love them for who they are.  Because they are beautiful.

And they are just right.

Ebola is not the only Big Bad Wolf

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As I listen to the news coverage on Ebola and the various precautions being made in all parts of the country, it is scary to think of that kind of pandemic happening here.  And I am grateful that health care professionals and politicians are already anticipating, preparing, and taking necessary precautions.

But what I really wish is that they – and we – would instead look closer to home at the pandemic that is creating disease, distress, cancer and long term health issues for our children, for ourselves.

Since reading “The Omnivores Dilemma” a few years ago I have been concerned and worried about our food chain.  Now, having just seen the documentary, “Fed Up” – I am truly distressed about what is happening in every grocery store across our towns.  It has been drilled into us that we need to keep our kids moving, exercising, active.  But it isn’t enough to combat the sugar.  80% of the products on the shelves today have added sugar.  Sugar works like cocaine in our brains and creates addictions.

Please take two and a half minutes to watch this trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c7A2RylUTiw

As some of you may know, I spend my weekends in gyms; either coaching basketball or watching one of my children play.  It has been especially disconcerting this fall to see so many young girls, fifth, sixth, seventh graders who are overweight, bordering on obese.  On the one hand, it is absolutely wonderful that these girls are out on the court, running and enjoying the sport.  Exercising.  But I know now that it isn’t enough for them – and then mostly I really worry about the children that aren’t in the gym at all.

In the United States, the increase in type 2 diabetes among children since 2001 is 30%.  At that rate, by 2050, it is predicted that 33% of all American children will have diabetes.  That is completely preventable – and not by playing basketball or exercising – but by demanding radical change in our food industry.  It is argued in the movie that today’s food industry is behaving like the tobacco industry of thirty years ago.  The good news is that we have created dramatic changes when it comes to cigarettes.  We need now to do the same for our food.

We can do this – but we need to wake up.  We need to demand change.  We need to be worried maybe a little less about Ebola – and a lot more about what’s happening at  Stop and Shop.