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.

I’m ok, You’re ok.

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This is the time of change.  A new school year begins and with that for some of us, new routines, new locations, family transitions, and new adventures.

For the families at CNS, the start of a new school year is often well anticipated – either because it is the beginning of some sort of formal school experience for a child, or the continuation of a child’s immersion in the land of creation, socialization, peer negotiation, and playground participation.  Change. Shift. Beginning.

For me personally this fall, what feels like a really big shift is going on.  My oldest child has left for boarding school.  He will be doing a post-graduate year at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.  He graduated from Lexington High School in June. This decision came about for many good reasons – and can be thought of as a similar step to keeping your child at CNS for one extra year of preschool before sending them on to Kindergarten.  

“The days are long, but years are short.”  I know if you are reading this and you currently have young children, you are most likely rolling your eyes right now.  I think I got sick of it too when my four children were young.  It didn’t really help me at all between diapering and lactating and washing and folding (never mind cooking, cleaning, nose-wiping, and tantrum-dealing) to somehow believe that time would actually begin to fly.  It never felt that way.

But it happened.  I blinked.  And now he’s gone.

Yesterday, as we were saying our final goodbye, my tears began to flow and I almost lost my ability to speak.  Something came out of my mouth similar, to “Take care of yourself”.  And my beautiful boy, who is so very ready for this next phase of his life, gave me a huge hug, practically picked me up, and said, “Mom, I’ll be ok, as long as you are ok.”.  Which of course only made my tears flow even more.  Here was my 18 year old son helping me deal with this transition.  I suppose life has already done what was needed to get him ready for his.  

And so as a parent, I continue to be humbled by my children – the independent, confident, and practically grown-up people that they have become, all while I was looking away or caught up in the moments of doing (because while the diapering and the lactating soon fade away, the driving and the cooking and the laundry never stop).

As some of you enter this week of new beginnings, realize how ready your children are for a new adventure of their own.  As Hugh hugged me and reminded me of our connection – and about how important it is for him to know that I’m going to all right – it reminded me of how so much of our children’s experience and reactions to new situations are drawn from the cues they receive from their parents.  He was reminding me that he can be ok and brave and able – as long as he knows that I am also confident and sure of his new path.  

And so yesterday, I wiped up my tears, did my best to smile (you know that sort of crooked smile you try to form on your face when your eyes are still trying to cry.), and hugged him back. 

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here.
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you,
If you leave it you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

-David Wagoner, Lost

 

Sorority

Barbara
I never belonged to a sorority.  Until now.

When I landed at CNS in 2000 I found a sorority of women that I call family.  I know they will be there for me whenever I need them – in the small moments of a regular morning as well as the big milestones of my life.

We have a connection perhaps born of our shared love of the smallest people among us – or perhaps because the sense of community and cooperation lives in our hearts and manifests itself through our work at CNS.  Or maybe we’ve just been lucky, inheriting this feeling of comraderie from those who came before us –handing it down to the newer additions to the group.

Whatever the reasons, it is a special bond – and continues.  I know I can share anything with these women – about my life, my children, my work – and they will listen and absorb, nod and smile, offer me some advice, a story, or best of all, a hug.

Tomorrow we gather together to celebrate Barbara Cowen.  Our matriarch.  Our Queen Bee.  Our sister.

A woman with an ever present twinkle in her eye.  And a spring in her step.

I remember when I first met Barbara and it felt like coming home.  Transplanted here from a small town – I was searching for new roots and connection.  Barbara was the kind of person that made me feel special.  She made me feel seen.  Her warmth and humility and kindness emanated from her smile.  For me, she made this new big town feel small and familiar.  She would touch my shoulder in church, smile and pass along that feeling of good morning, so nice to see you.

Barbara was fun.  She was a dancer, swimmer, bridge player, traveler.  She was a mother, grandmother, teacher, friend.  She showed up.  She listened.  And she loved.  And she was the most beautiful teacher of young children – and their parents.  Mrs. Cowen. With Barbara, perhaps because her teaching spanned almost four decades – wisdom, hope, and patience, just radiated from her.

I am grateful for tomorrow.  To come together and celebrate the life of Barbara Hayes Cowen.  Shoulder to shoulder, my sorority of sisters will sit together, pass the tissues, and share a laugh.  Then we will gather at CNS – the place where we all belong – and tell some more stories, pass along a few hugs – and begin the process of goodbye.

But Barbara will always live in the walls at CNS.  She will always live in our hearts.

She once told me when I began teaching in the Front Room that she loved teaching the three year olds the best.  She said, “What you see, is what you get.” (meaning that they are without guile, without agenda).  And she was right.  She was also describing herself.  She was just as pure.  Just as true.  Just as beautiful.

I last saw Barbara a month ago at CNS – for an alumni gathering.  As we parted and said good night, she whispered in my ear, “Miss seeing you at church”.  Well, I’ll see you there tomorrow Barbara.

With love in my heart for you, dear soul.