January 8, 2017 · 10:28 pm
“You need to teach me how to make a fire,” said my middle daughter as we enjoyed the warmth of the fire on a shared New Year’s Day evening. But it was more than that. It was about learning to use kindling, soft pine logs and finally larger more solid oak logs to bring a glow to the room, to provide warmth and ambiance. It was about sharing a space that felt like family. I know, because it is the way I felt when I learned to make a fire back in my 20’s when Gary taught me. My dad occasionally lit a fire, but it was Gary who loved fires and I still crave the warmth and the glow.
The holidays have passed and the memories have joined the others now. The image and scent of sweet potatoes adorned with marshmallows, the corn flake topped string beans, the simmering latkes, the sweet crumble-topped cranberry-pears, bakery goods from Bea’s Bakery and the pot roast recipe created by my Auntie Joyce and made a million times by my mom, complete with carrots, onions and potatoes in gravy, requested and deliciously remembered now. The holidays trigger emotions too and longing for the holidays of the past when everyone was here, but we go on and create new and different traditions that bring the cozy joy of sharing with family and friends.
How do we pass on our traditions to our children? It’s more than telling them about how we celebrate; it’s about embedding the sights, sounds and smells associated with family. The house is decorated with relics of the past, preschool painted dreidels, menorahs made of felt, elementary school laminated holiday poems, holiday lights and the three little Hanukkah mice my mother gave me, one for each daughter. The smell of burning candles, the anticipation of small, secretly selected gifts opened together, eliciting small tears of joy. What makes the holidays real is the togetherness we share.
My job as a mother began more than 32 years ago, but as a mother, once you sign on, that’s it. I’ve taken it seriously from the start feeling that as a mother, my primary jobs were to take care of my daughters, pass on everything I know to them, pass on all family traditions and of course keep them alive. My daughters appreciate their handmade (by dad) dollhouses, the quilts I made for each of them when they turned nine and the special quilts made of all of the sweatshirts collected from ballet, music and theater performances over the years.
Making a fire. Beginning with the kindling, then the soft pine and finally the solid oak. This is what it takes, and the reward is so great. The warmth, the glow, and a place called family.
September 9, 2016 · 10:45 pm
A life-changing event occurred this week when my granddaughter was born. It has been such a bittersweet time filled with equal bursts of joy and sorrow. Anticipating a joyous birth while grieving the loss of my husband has left me feeling a little confused. When grieving, I welcomed the images of my lovely daughter, expecting my granddaughter and so filled with the natural feelings of bliss, terror, excitement and anticipation. When I got consumed with the bubbling-over excitement of my impending grandmother status I felt the drips of sadness that Gary will not be sharing the joys of being a grandparent with me and so angry at the unfairness of it all. He would have loved holding her and watching her grow. I am sure he would have spoiled her with attention and introduced her to the drums, perhaps with a little drum of her own. He would have loved to take her to the mountains and watch her little face gaze at the giant trees.
Birth is a celebration and a confirmation that life does flow in a circle of seasons. While some are just beginning and others have gone, there are those of us here, traveling this circle and considering all that life is. I look at that lovely little face, the cheeks chubby and her serene eyes. She is an old soul. I already want to nickname her Buddha. She is the joy we have been waiting for and an amazing tribute not only to my mother, her namesake, but also to all of the women in our respective families who move forward in strength through the times we think we can never survive.
I heard a TED talk today that talked about different lives. We think we are living one life, but really we have many lives. My family is starting a new life now and it is a life without Gary, but a life with little Marjorie. Even though my dad and my mother, the original Marjorie, are not here, we are. We are here to take part in this journey and to share in the excitement of our growing family and the love we all share.
Mothers have a tie to their children that is so strong it can be felt long after birth. There is a physical feeling connected to any separation that I still feel and an ache in my heart when my daughters are not nearby. It is not depressing, or debilitating, but still a very real sensation. It’s amazing and overwhelming when I think about creating a living being and how women get that honor and tremendous responsibility. It is even more incredible to see that continue with my own daughter’s entrance into motherhood. I look forward to watching them both grow and develop their own tie, the kind that binds women together.
May 30, 2012 · 8:39 pm
My warm-up return to the world of writing:
A whirlwind of emotions swept through my school this week with the announcement of a ruling allowing LAUSD to impose 5 furlough days this school year. This announcement is on top of the RIF notices already delivered to 3/4 of our teaching staff and our principal. Spirits are dipping and the fact that this happened during testing season, when teachers and students are buried under a mountain of tests is ironic. While I am not impacted by RIF notices, the pay cut due to the furlough days impacts me as does the fact that I have not had a raise in 7 years, other than the increase I earn from earning my Masters Degree in 2008. Fifty dollars per pay check. My student loan payment is $250.00 per month so essentially I am going into debt each month for the privilege of my higher education. How is one to keep one’s head up and carry on?
I decided to refocus for the sake of sanity and to feel empowered instead of dwelling on feelings of helplessness by taking a look at what I do for 7 hours everyday. Children arrive in late summer (this year that will be pushed back to August 14th) to my Transitional Kindergarten classroom, some with preschool experience, others with no school experience or socialization skills. They merge, and our classroom becomes a family. This is no small feat and requires planning, preparation and daily lessons from the Conscious Discipline program by Dr. Becky Bailey. We learn about using our “big” words (speaking up for ourselves), seeing the best in others, being helpful rather than hurtful, making positive choices, learning about the consequences of our actions, exhibiting empathy when encountering diversity and controlling our emotions through breathing. My students follow the school rules: Be Safe, Be Responsible, Be Respectful. All of these social skills help the children evolve into students capable of paying attention in class, taking turns and learning. Many of the students spend more time at school than at home each day and they look at the classroom family as a true part of their family.
Each day I instruct the children in phonics, math, social studies, and beginning technology skills. They receive instruction in physical education and science, drama, art and music taught by myself or by specialists, passionate about their subject area. What is the impact? Children that take part in Transitional Kindergarten have more school success.
While it is true, that teachers are in it for the outcome, not the income, a competitive living wage would be a welcome relief and a much needed moral boost. Taking care of the people that take care of our youngest makes sense in the same way that funding educational programs for young children is an investment in our future. It is time to look carefully at the priorities of our society and at the consequences we impose upon ourselves by allowing the 1% and corporations to suck funds in the form of tax breaks, from those in our society who need it the most: the young and the elderly. It is time to fund those who care for and serve the polar spectrum of our society, and who better to do that, than those making millions from the products sold to them?
October 29, 2010 · 10:40 pm
“Everyone is smart, but if you tell a fish to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life thinking it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein
I am spending a lot of time thinking about life choices, paths and opportunities. We often spend a large part of our lives trying to figure out what we are meant to do, or who we are meant to be. I spend a lot of time watching children, being a teacher and all, and I think we need to tune into the natural, innocent “knowing” that children poses. We try to make children conform to our preconceived notion of who they should be or to fit into the mold that the experts determine is right for children, what they should be able to do by a certain age, how they should learn, and how we can measure their knowledge. But, what if they are wrong? What if children are born to be something else, to learn in a different way and perhaps even to teach us?
Observation is a great tool that is often underutilized but always available. The next time you have the opportunity to observe children at play, take the time to really watch their actions, interactions with other children and choice of play. Some choose solitary play, quiet time alone. Perhaps they a retreating from an overstimulated life. Some chose to softly sing or hum, giving their life a soundtrack, future composers in the making. Some chose to recreate family situations that need more processing to understand totally. Some choose to draw elaborate scenes of dream worlds or scenes of events from their past. Children need to process information and they need the time and medium to do that without interruption of adult direction. Play is the method through which children learn and they need time for unstructured, child-centered play.
Take the time to think like a child. Instead of completing a list of “have too” tasks, create a list of “want to” activities. Think like a child. What will help you process your world? A quiet walk along the shore? A hike in the mountains? A dance class or listening to a concert? Sometimes creating art is a way to process reality. For me, it can be all of these things, but writing is the way I process-thinking on paper.
Children are innocent and don’t rely on preconceived notions, just on immediate desire. Their play erupts from ideas hatched spontaneously, relying on instinct. Trust your children to know their path. At the most, you will give them the gift of acceptance, at the least they will be happy trying.
July 5, 2010 · 6:38 pm
The countdown for our camping trip has begun and the last-minute gathering of supplies is upon us. Time for lists and enlisting help! This is our first official camping trip in years, since the girls were younger and we were able to escape from the trappings of life more easily. Now, work schedules are unforgiving and three adult daughters have agendas of their own. That being said, it is a major accomplishment that we actually got all of our schedules to coincide for five days. Thursday morning we leave at dawn for the drive to the ever-enchanting Yosemite! This is the first place I ever camped, back at the age of 24, having just met my future-husband and willing to try new adventures. The park holds a dear place in my heart. We took our oldest daughter there when she was three and watched her play in the low river, ankle-deep. Another trip found the two younger girls captivated by the multitude of pine needles perfect for constructing small villages and houses, which kept them occupied for hours.
What is it about being in the forest that brings the imagination forward? I am looking forward to a reprieve from technology, a break from schedules and breathing clean, mountain air. I am excited about our new smaller tent, just for us. The girls will have their own tent this time. We are meeting my oldest daughter and her boyfriend as well as his parents, whom we’ve not met. It will be a family affair, complete with campfires, stories and s’mores. This is the stuff of memories; the ones we remember and the new ones we are creating.
February 10, 2010 · 6:40 pm
They are other people’s children, yet they feel so much like my own for I spend the better part of each day with these little ones, caring for them and about them, dedicated to their growth and development, in fact, we spend so much time together that we think of each other when, bringing each other small gifts of appreciation; pictures, pencils, books and cards upon return. They are “my kids,” our days with lessons in the academics, life, world of arts and an education in manners and behavior top the list. They are learning to say, “please”, “thank you”, “excuse me”, and “may I please”, to earn the prize of a fancy tea party, parents invited. These children care about each other and are in this for a team win, everyone succeeding together because help is given freely and no one falls through the cracks in this room because there is always someone there to catch you. We are all practiced catchers and we all take turns falling.
These children are wise beyond their years and their ears are fine-tuned to the nuances of the adult conversations they silently hear, taking everything in, not always know how to process it so it emerges during group discussions, at unexpected times, during a vocabulary lesson, example definitions. I find out more than I sometimes want to know, about their worries, their fears, and their strong feelings.
Some of these little ones have power at home, demanding attention, voices loud, tantrums forthcoming, while others slink into the crevices of family, observing, while waiting for their turn. Some are parents to their siblings while others live alone in adult worlds, taking on the responsibility of carrying part of the burdens housed in their family
Most of the children are happy, regardless of circumstances, because in this place, the place they live for six hours a day, five days a week, they are members of a bigger family and the communal aspect provides enough for all. There are enough toys, enough crayons, enough pencils, enough friends and enough time, their pride growing daily as they become more accomplished and learn to take pride in their own work, their own creations and their own ideas. “Our job is to come to school,” they say.
“Yes, so is mine.”