On Sharing

Last week we were at the playground outside of Laurel's school and she wanted this other little girl's chestnuts. Well, they were actually buckeyes, but they both kept calling them chestnuts. There's a buckeye tree on the playground at her school. It's been dropping nuts all week and apparently, it's become quite a game for the kids to collect them. I find them tucked in the bottom of her backpack, in her sweatshirt pockets, and in her lunchbox.

I have a pet peeve about parenting and teaching and it's mostly about myself, lest you think I'm casting a wide judgmental net. I hate when I attempt to teach a lesson and in doing so give a wildly inaccurate picture of how the real world works. It feels like lying to me.

Getting to work on time is one of those things. Yes, generally speaking it's a good idea to figure out how to get where you need to go by a certain hour, but neither M nor I are punching a clock these days. We work a lot, but the "when" is sort of up to us. So, when I need to enforce this rule with my teens (who have a job where they do actually have to be there on time), I try to emphasize that the reason is because the program staff is counting on them and that minutes count when you are working with kids and blah, blah, blah. It has nothing to do with some universal, when-you-have-a-job-you-must-be-on-time rule. I'd rather teach them to understand the context of their situation and behave accordingly.


Parents are always nagging at their kids to share. Sharing is good, right? We're supposed to do it. And little kids don't like to do it, so we have to teach them. Obviously the best way to teach them is to nag them incessantly when they resist doing it.


This is sort of what happened at the playground. Laurel wanted a nut, and the other girl didn't want to give it to her. The girl's babysitter saw this interaction and then tried to convince the girl it was the right thing to do to share. The girl wasn't buying it. I hate this conflict. It's my least favorite part of any playdate. I'm inclined to just let the kids work it out, but usually parents end up getting involved and we think we're turning it into a teaching moment. But it must not be very effective, because it happens over and over and over again.

There's a famous poem, "Children Learn What They Live." Written by family counselor Dorothy Nolte in the 1950s, it has been passed on by photocopy and email and cross-stitch ever since. You might even have a copy hanging on your wall. It's all about surrounding kids with the traits that you want them to take on. Be the example.

Parenting is like being on stage. Never have I felt so vulnerable in having my flaws and quirks exposed and examined and imitated 24 hours a day.

At some point, you have to separate your actions from the free will of your child, but I think it's a useful exercise to at least ask yourself the question, what is my child seeing in me? Do I share? Do I just share with my family? Or do I share with everyone? Do I share things that I worked really hard for? Do I share with people I don't know or don't like? Do I share willingly or do I stomp around about it? Do I place a high value on personal ownership? What does sharing mean to me? Do I have to share until I have nothing left or is it ok to put a little something aside for me?



It's that time of year, equal sun and darkness, and my house settles into itself so that the doors close all the way again. My house is very old and no longer has any right angles, if it ever did, except right now, while the night air is cool and our boiler hasn't kicked on yet.

I'm seeking my own equinox right now. Drawing lines around the different obligations in my life. Deciding what can go and what can stay.

Marko just turned 8 months old and if I could freeze time and make this part of babyhood last longer, I would. He's curious and imitates us all the time. His toothless grin is disappearing as he gets new teeth. He prefers standing to any other position. He recently discovered the stairs, and then a few days later, discovered that we have a second set of steps from our kitchen. He eats lentil soup and mashed up beans and sweet potatoes, smacking his lips loudly. I gave him some pasta pieces a few weeks ago, but he choked on one, and it was such an unpleasant experience for all of us that I've really limited finger foods. He'll be walking by Christmas, that's my prediction.

Laurel is "3 and a half I'll be four in November" - and of course you are invited to her birthday party. (She invites everyone she meets.) I better throw her a good party because she's been thinking about this pretty much since last November. She's settling into Montessori, even using some of her skills at home. I carpool with another family twice a week and it's so delightful to hear Laurel and her classmate chat with each other in the backseat on the way to school. "Peacefully" is a new word in her vocabulary. She also uses the word "immediately" a lot, but not correctly.


Nothing in my bag....

Ironically, the same day we received a 7 page instructional packet on how to log on to the parent portal web application to check our child's grades, we also got this poem. Ah, the juxtaposition of a Montessori program run by a large, urban public school district.

There’s Nothing In My Bag Today
  Author Unknown 
Today I did math and science and I toasted bread,
I counted, measured and I used my eyes, ears and my head.
I added and subtracted and used magnets and blocks on the way
I learned about a rainbow and I learned how to weigh.
So please don’t ask me, “Is there anything in your bag today?”
For you see, I’m learning all about sharing as I play.
I learned to listen and speak clearly when I talk,
To wait my turn, and when inside, I learned I have to walk.
To put my thoughts into a phrase,
To guide a crayon through a maze.
To find my name and write it down,
To do it with a smile and not a frown.
To put my painting brush away.
So please don’t say, “Nothing in your bag today?”
I’ve learned about a snail and a worm.
Remembering how to take my turn.
I helped a friend when he was stuck,
Learned that water runs off a duck.
I looked at words from left to right,
Agreed to differ, not to fight.
So please don’t say,
“Did you only play?” 


One Morning....

This morning, I woke up to the smell of french toast and coffee....M cooked breakfast before leaving to work at the farm, and for some reason Marko was not up at his usual 5:30am. M took the car, so we had to be especially watchful of the clock, so as not to miss the bus. There is no school bus for preK, so I have to drop Laurel off at exactly 9:05 each morning, at her classroom door. This involves a lot of logistics....dressing two kids and myself and getting ourselves over there. If we drive, Marko almost always falls asleep in the car, and then I have to wake him up and put him in a carrier. Today we took the city bus...the money bus, Laurel calls it. It was almost easier than driving...no car seats to fuss with, lots to look at on the way there. The bus picks up at our corner and drops off about 3 blocks from the school, which was just the right amount of walking and exploring. Laurel found a buckeye, a tree stump and a slug leaving a trail of slime on a blackened stone wall. I thought about my grandmother and great-aunts, exploring these same streets when they were children. I wondered if that stone wall was there.

I would have considered it a total win except I missed the 71C going back...the worst kind of missing a bus when it passes just as you are about to cross the intersection. At least the weather was good and Marko was dozing in the Ergo.

You have to love parenting advice dolled out by old people at bus stops. "Babies these days," a gray haired lady leaning on a walker said, "They come out with attitudes and walking so early. Not like the old days when babies were just babies."

As the bus approached, the man carefully tapped out the ember on his cigarette and slid it back into the box. Pall Malls. "My nephew, I about raised him," he told me. "You want to talk about a splitting image. His mother, oh the things I taught him...."

Not sure what to say to that, I just smiled and thanked them for letting me get on the bus first.

When we got home, I turned on the radio and danced with Marko, while he made little squeals, and grinned. I can see his new teeth when he smiles like that.

Life is good. And I might have just gone on with my good life this morning...but I read this story about a professor who recently died, in poverty.  Income inequality is real, and getting worse. I thought about the line between Here and There...Here being the place where I can afford good food and to turn on my heat in the winter to whatever temperature I want and bus fare when I need to get my daughter to school....and There...well, you all know where There is.

Two years ago we marched for OWS. It's funny, since then we've switched jobs a few times, watched our income bounce down to half of what it was, and landed in a place where we are suddenly both doing exactly what we love. Not getting rich, but there's food on the table. (Abundant food, since M works on the farm once a week and brings home extras.)

But believe me...I know that we are ok here because we were blessed to avoid hardship this year. Nobody got cancer. Our car wasn't stolen. The roof leak was patched and can hold off being replaced a little longer. We got a better health insurance just in time for Marko's birth, saving us a $10,000 hospital bill. What's luck and what's our own bootstraps and adaptability? I'm not sure how to separate it. I do know that I run across people all the time who seem just as smart as me, and are certainly as worthy - as all humans are - to be treated with respect and have their basic needs provided for...and yet, they aren't.

The story about Margaret Mary Vojtko hit me because I know so many people just like her. Her plight need not negate the abundance and joy I felt with my family this morning. But I should not forget it as my day goes on, and even better if I can take some action.

"A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life's roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth." Martin Luther King Jr., From the speech "Beyond Vietnam -- A Time to Break the Silence" delivered on April 4th 1967.


The Things We Don't Mention (in Polite Company)

Never forget, they say. A firefighter pays tribute with his bagpipe. Names are read aloud. People tell their stories.

9/11 once felt like my tragedy - in a generational sense, anyway. I was 22, finishing college and working. I can remember that day exactly. Clear blue skies, low humidity. Perfect Pittsburgh weather. I had worked late the evening before, recruiting college students to be tutors in my reading program (some things never change), and I slept in and turned on the news while I ate my breakfast. The first plane had just hit. When the second plane hit, I guess it didn't really sink in, because after watching the news anchors stumble through their reports, I got dressed and walked to work. After the other two planes crashed we were all sent home from work. The streets were gridlocked, so I walked to M's apartment. We watched the towers fall down, over and over again, on the television. Eventually, we couldn't take it anymore and we went out and bought a case of beer. We took a small American flag with us and waved it out the car window as we drove. Because we were 22 and it was a national tragedy, and some of the initial reports had estimates of up to 50,000 casualties.

I didn't much think about it today. I posted a silly picture of Marko on Facebook, and took Laurel to gymnastics and chatted with a friend. I don't know anybody who died that day, and after 12 years and two wars and a whole bunch of other people who died, it just seems a little overwhelming...all this remembering we are compelled to do because human beings still suck at getting along with each other. Maybe that's not the right way to be, but that's how I was.

The other day a 17 year old boy was shot and left to die near a school that I'm working at this year. At another school, the children no longer go outside for recess because there are too many daytime shootings nearby. There will be candles lit at vigils for all of this one-at-a-time violence. T-shirts printed and tattoos inscribed. I was worried that my high school kids would feel nervous or their parents wouldn't want them to work for me after all, but they just laughed and said, "you just hit the ground when they start shooting. Don't run, Ms. Katy."

The thing is, these tragedies that are not exactly mine, and I feel funny bringing them up. What is mine to mourn? What is mine to challenge? Do I have the right and responsibility to stand up against all acts of violence? Or should I just hit the proverbial ground and hope nothing hits me directly?

When I tucked my kids in tonight I realized they had no idea what today was, and even when they grow up and read a Times For Kids news article on it, it will be like Pearl Harbor Day was to me. Something bad that happened to some other people. An event in the social studies books.

But what happens when we stop talking about it? Or when we save the discussion for the anniversaries that roll around once a year and remind us that we're getting further and further from the rawness of the event.


A Taste of Here on a Sunday

The neighbors have two young children and sometimes, around dinner time, we can hear the rise and fall of their tantrums in the background, behind our two yelling about this and that. Tonight was one of those nights, but now, with bluegrass on the radio and lights turned out except the one bright one over the kitchen sink, I can't even remember the chaos of the day. It feels good to breathe deeply. I used to hold my breath because I feared the next moment. Hated the one I was in and knew I would hate the next one. But now I think I must hold my breath simply out of habit, and when I release it and look around, everything feels good enough to make me smile when I look at it.

There are two vases of flowers on my table. Black-eyed Susans from the neighbor and deep red dahlias my mother planted in my yard. Yesterday I had a little party while waiting for M to return from his 30 mile race. Crockpot chili and corn muffins and brownies. Sometimes I need to throw a party in order to have a reason to scrub the yogurt and cheerios off the wood floors and find some extra rolls of toilet paper. (I don't know why my own family isn't good enough reason to see that that gets done, but maybe because they are the ones throwing the yogurt down?)

We went out to breakfast very early and then wandered through Frick Park on the way home, stopping to pretend fish in Nine Mile Run and say hello to dogs. When we were nearly home, we ran into a friend of Laurel's from school and she arranged a trip to the playground before we realized it. Half the day was gone by the time we got home, but in a nice Sunday sort of way. I put the football game on and took a defiant sort of nap. (Chores were left undone and emails streamed into my inbox all afternoon, begging to be dealt with right that minute.)

Marko's tooth popped out yesterday. He has two coming in on the top sides. Little vampire teeth. This is the first full week of school and I'm out of ideas for creative lunches, so peanut butter and jelly it is, except we are out of jelly and it's almond butter and not peanut.

Tomorrow I'll walk Laurel up to her school to drop her off. I wonder if she'll still grip my hand tightly, or if she'll run ahead. And then there will be that moment when Marko and I are alone and we look at each other and smile at the silence and are at a loss as to what to do next.


One Little Bag

We took out one garbage bag to the curb this week. One.

This was down from 3-4 bags stuffed to capacity that prompted my post last week. And it felt effortless.

I can't exactly applaud myself for being earth-friendly over it, since I now spend hours a day driving up and down Penn Avenue with dropping Laurel off and picking her up from school.

But no matter. It's not really about trash.

It's about how easy it was to change something that was bothering me. It made me wonder about why it feels so hard to change things sometimes.

I had to quit smoking nine times before it stuck. But the ninth try was easy.

When we lived in Arizona, we yearned for adventure. For a year or so, we complained about our boring lives, working long hours, settling down. Getting old. Then one day we decided that if we wanted more adventure we should shut up already and do it. We started by wandering off into the Superstitions, and then a few months later started getting rid of all our stuff to go on a cross country road trip, followed by a thru-hike of the AT. People asked us all the time how we did it. Sometimes their questions started off about what we packed and did we use a water purifier or a filter and what are our favorite boots. Usually, though, it ended up with, "how'd you find that kind of time?"

We all have the same 168 hours in a week. We didn't find any secret time that was hiding out. We made choices.

About 10 years ago we met a friend of Jack's, and I've been following his work since then, as his career as a writer and story teller has blossomed. Just this morning, he posted this video on Facebook. Today, he and his wife are moving to Costa Rica. They wanted to do it and are making it happen. (You can read about their adventures here.) Anyway, I'll hit publish before I get all self-help-y on you. Enjoy the video. Now go do something epic. Or just paint the bathroom wall already, or whatever it is that's hanging out on your to-do list.