Monday, May 21, 2018

Alessia at Seven and a Half

I didn’t write this to you when you turned 7, because I was worrying and I didn’t want to write from a place of worry. So I’m writing now.

You were in the Christmas pageant last December. You stole the show. You spoke clearly and with emotion. You were “in character” and you knew it. 

Last fall, you got up in front of the congregation at church and spoke of your faith. You were so small, they had to put a footstool in front of the podium. Everyone applauded. I don’t know if you noticed though that a few adults also laughed, and when I asked a minister about it, he said some of it was nervous laughter. Adults startled into thinking, if this child has made a connection between her faith and the way she eats, maybe I need to as well.

You still worry, a lot, but you’ve also embraced Moana’s theme song and you talk more about your emotions, including the negative ones. (Thank you makers of the film “Inside Out.”)

Last week you let me dunk your head underwater at the pool! Can I say it again? Last week you let me dunk your head underwater at the pool! Bravery is not not being afraid, bravery is what you do when you are afraid. You told me later that day that “there was a little fear,” but you did it!

You are still not sure about this whole friendship thing and how it works and whether or not you are “good” at it, even though you are. 

We love you, all the time and everyday. You are a wonder to me, and here’s a picture of you doing a color experiment on your face with ice cream.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Exploring Art with Our Bodies

Art museums can be tough for little kids. Looking at art and responding verbally really is limiting. Even as an adult I sometimes feel this way. We always bring paper and colored pencils with us to an art museum, and this helps my kids, but I've noticed that often their drawing activity is completely unrelated to the art, and it just isn't practical to take the art supplies out in every gallery. So last summer, we started posing like the people in the art we were looking at. I’ll just say that we love it. 

We spend longer looking at each work of art as we adjust our poses, and we feel more of the art in our bodies. 

In meditation, we practice what is called a body scan. Time is spent slowing feeling each part of our bodies, really becoming aware of what our bodies outside of our heads has to tell us. It is part of the process of learning to see the world from other perspectives. 

Posing with the art is akin to this. My kids felt the seriousness of the dancer and the playfulness of the dragon  in their bodies at the museum last week. Their experience of the art was much deeper, than if we had just talked about it. Plus, it was a lot of fun.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Finding Nature in the City

Walking to the grocery store a few weeks ago, I noticed a tree branch on the ground. It had been knocked off a small street tree. I thought, “if that’s still there on my way back, I'm going to take it home with me.” 

It was. And I did. I can only hope that right now you are smiling in the same way that the young man in the pick-up truck did when he saw me awkwardly carrying several bags of groceries and a rather large branch up my street.

I cut smaller branches off the larger branch and put them in some water. I couldn't remember what the tree had looked like last spring, so I had no idea what to expect, and from what I had read online about “forcing” tree branches to blossom, I was prepared for nothing at all to happen. The buds were rather large though, which made me think each might open into a large flower. 

Then they began to slowly open and it became clear that each bud was a collection of small buds. 

All shut tight, each little bud had a shocking pink center, and so I was surprised again when each one opened into a white flower, all trace of pink having disappeared. 

I think I have learned to notice and appreciate nature more living in the city than I ever could living in the country. I enjoy the immersive experience of being in the woods, but I am the kind of person who “loses the trees for the forest.” In the city, each tree, each wildflower in a sidewalk crack, each set of bunny prints in the snow stands out more clearly. A fallen tree branch in the woods is just another fallen tree branch, a fallen tree branch on a city sidewalk on my way to the grocery store is an opportunity for wonder.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Mending as Meditation

A friend of mine gave me this blanket before moving back to New York City. The tag says it was made in India. The colors brighten my room, and the fabric is wonderfully soft. Over the last couple of months I've been noticing holes appearing in the blanket. I think a combination of age and the love of my cat (the lump under the blanket) have started to take their toll.

A few months ago I listened to a Ted Talk by the German monk and scholar David Steindl-Rast. His subject is gratitude, and his message is that it is the grateful people who are happy, not the happy people who are grateful. He encourages us to be truly grateful for even the little blessings of life. Grateful people live out of a sense of abundance, rather than scarcity, he argues.

I am a big fan of Marie Kondo's books on "tidying up." If you haven't heard of them, or if you have only heard negative things about them, Marie Kondo's books are essentially about our relationship with our stuff. In one of the books, she explains that in Japanese culture objects have three spirits: the spirit of the original materials, the spirit of the makers, and the spirit of those who have owned and used the object.

And so I am mending the blanket. Sitting with my needle and thread, I live in a moment of abundance, enjoying and extending the life of this blanket. In mending it, I express my gratitude to the cotton, the people in India who sewed the blanket, and the friend who gave it to me, and I stitch into it my own meditations on the teachings of an old German monk and a young Japanese author.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Rape culture in children's books

A few days ago I grabbed a book for my daughter at the library. Usually I read through books before giving them to her, but this book is part of a very popular silly series, and I didn't. I gave her the book when she got home. I could hear her laughing over it, and then she brought me the book and said she wished the book wasn't all about a boy. She asked me to read a particular passage. The main character is a little boy and he's the narrator. In the passage my daughter showed me, he makes fun of a girl until she cries and then declares her a crybaby when she runs away. So we talked about that. Is it ok to be mean to people? Should he have apologized? I hoped it was a one-off incident in the book and gave it back to her.

Both of my girls wanted to read the book as a read-aloud before bed last night. The main character and the other kids are in a Halloween parade. The boy accidentally steps on the costume of the girl in front of her, ripping the costume off. He laughs, along with everyone else, and when she runs off crying, he says that it was her own fault for wearing that costume anyway. I was very upset, and we talked about what the little boy should have done. He should have helped her. He should have apologized. My girls resisted the apology at first. "It was an accident," they told me. I said I know that he didn't mean to do it, but he did and so he should have apologized. At that point, it was time to be done reading and we set the book aside.

It wasn't until a little later that I realized why I had reacted so strongly to that incident. "It's part of our rape culture problem," I told my husband. A girl's clothing is ripped off. She's embarassed and hurt. Yet somehow it is HER fault, because of her choice in clothing.

There is a strong double standard in children's books. In many books aimed at girls, when girls misbehave they feel bad, relationships with friends and caring adults are damaged, and apologies and ammends are made. In many books aimed at boys, when boys misbehave, it is funny and there are no regrets and no consequences. I see how my children are absorbing these messages. They laugh when it is a boy book and the boy misbehaves. They are uncomfortable when it is a girl book and the girl misbehaves. This double standard is incredibly dangerous for both boys and girls. It lets boys off the hook ("boys will be boys"), and puts a heavy burden on girls both to always be perfect and to take the blame when someone misbehaves toward them.

So this afternoon, I will be talking with my 5- and 6-year-old girls about victim blaming. Then we will get out one of our favorite girl power books.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Playdough and Music

A couple of weeks ago we sat down with playdough, and I put on the music from Frog and Toad. Did you know there was a musical about Frog and Toad? We didn't, until a couple of years ago when Ms. Smith, our incredible local children's librarian, recommended the cd to us. Then this past winter we saw it live at the Children's Museum. It is fantastic, especially if you enjoy reading the stories to your kids. My kids ask to listen to it about once a week, and there are a few songs that we sing all the time. "Eating cookies, eating cookies, we're so happy eating cookies....."

Today when the music started I told the girls that I was going to make things inspired by the music. I didn't know if they would join in or not. Sometimes if I suggest a project, Alessia will say no, but if I just start doing something she will join in. Today both girls joined in and we had so much fun trying to make something unique for each song.


There's turtle waiting for Toad to come out of the water, because "Toad looks funny in a bathing suit." We made cookies and a box tied with string, the big plan for eating no more cookies. I made a shoe, and Olivia made the clock that Toad smashes with the shoe. I made the snail ("I'm carrying a letter"), Olivia made the letter, and Alessia made the snail "coming out of his shell." We had a lot of fun, and after admiring our work, we mushed the playdough back up (by color, of course) and put it all away.





Sunday, May 14, 2017

An Alphabet Book and a Project

One of our favorite alphabet books is Alphabet Under Construction by Denise Fleming. It features a manic mouse constructing the letters of the alphabet. The mouse quilts the Q and tiles the T, for example. This weekend we decided to make our own action-oriented alphabet. The project took two days. We spent lots of time brainstorming ideas, and everyone made suggestions and helped create the letters. Here it is:

The Adventures of A (the movie)


Bag the B


Color the C


Coronate the C


Deal the D


Eat the E


Far away F


Give the G


Hop over the H


Invite the I


J in Jam (being eaten by Olivia)


Kick the K


Look for the L


Mold the M


Near N


Ogle the O


Put together the P puzzle


Queue the Qs


Rip the R


Sit on the S


Tape the T (and get tangled)


Under the U umbrella


Vote for the V


Water the W


eXtrude the X


Yap at the Y


Zap the Z