Saturday, July 9, 2011

Space and Time

And....cue Doris Day singing "Que Sera, Sera"...

Now that we have that lovely background music, a few thoughts on Time, and Space… I have recently been thinking a lot about the importance of taking the Time and Space we all need for a mindful and productive life.  Recently, I went to visit my beloved grandmother in New England.  She is an inspiration to me for many reasons, not the least of which is that at 96 years old, she lives on her own, drives (!) her own car, earns her own money by taking in tailoring for others, plays the piano, reads voraciously, completes a crossword puzzle every day at lunch and is a fierce competitor at Scrabble.   She is also very aware of taking the time and Space she needs to appreciate and fully live each day, each hour, each minute of her life.
  I am sure that, as a child, or young woman, she never expected her life to be what it is today.  For one thing, she is baffled at the technology we use now, the fast-paced world of instant gratification.  She asks me about email, and Facebook, marveling and wondering about how things can just come and go "over the air".  My grandmother is also a wonderful letter-writer.  She writes by hand, on paper, with a Flair pen, and mails each beautifully written missive in an actual envelope with an actual stamp.   This email thing is a mystery to her.   I marvel and wonder, too, but not for too long as I have to go...check my Facebook for the latest up-to-the-minute-too-many-things-to do-right-now updates.  And we get frustrated when the future does not happen, or when don’t know what will happen, and we want it to happen right. NOW.  Enter Time. And Space.  Allowing things to just unfold, naturally, has become increasingly difficult.  We do not tend to want to take the time to just be. Not to be and do.  Just be. (sounds like ol blue eyes…do be do be do…)  Taking the time to just be here now is crucial to all life.  We are the only ones on this planet who rush about, trying to make something happen, trying to change the Future... who do not listen to ourselves.  As Doris sang, “whatever will be, will be…the future’s not ours to see…que sera, sera…what will be, will be…”
In order to use Time for good and not evil, we must also give ourselves Space.  On the same trip to New England, I woke up early each day (the teacher’s schedule is a hard habit to break!) and went for a run.  Yes, I am still running, and my twitter/blogger friend was right….it is life changing.  It gives me the Space and Time I need to just be.  I ran looking at the mountains, feeling the 6:30 am sun warm on my face, listening to the early morning stirrings of birds and breathing in the fresh air.  At that moment, for that half hour or so, I was just there.  Not worrying. Not planning, or stressing, or anxious. Just being.  Sometimes, when life takes over, and I find myself being too overwhelmed, too over-stimulated, too obsessive, I hear a little voice.  Sometimes it is my own, sometimes a reminder from someone or somewhere else.  It tells me to breathe.  It tells me that everything will be okay.  It tells me that some things just need Space and Time.  And, as much as possible, I listen.

Sometimes, the reminder comes in a small package--a package about the size of a Kindergarten boy. 

Yesterday, at school,  (Yes, I said yesterday…It is July. And we are still in school.  Bitter, much?  Nah…) as I was picking up some of my first graders for their time with me, I noticed one of the more “difficult” Kindergarten children down the hall.  He seemed to be in some sort of trouble, as his teacher and two security guards were talking to him.  As I stood and watched him, he turned, saw me, and began to walk towards me.  I did not move, but waited.  As he got close, he opened his arms, and wrapped them around my waist.  He buried his head in my side, and we just stood there.  After a few beats, I took him by the hand and walked with him to my room.  The other children I had with me seemed to know that he needed Time and Space, since they said nothing, but went about their business of reading their new chapter books. 
I allowed the boy to choose what he wanted to do.  He went straight for the large bin of mixed, dried beans I keep in the room.  He has been invited to visit me before in just such circumstances, and has found comfort in running his hands through the beans (it really feels amazing- try it!!). 
He sat for a while, quietly, hands in the beans, while I read with my students.  Then, he came and stood next to me.  “Excuse me?  Can I ask you something?”  I looked and him and nodded.  “May I put my feet in the beans?”  I nodded again and smiled.  He returned to his seat, put the bin on the floor and carefully removed his shoes.  Leaving his little white socks on, he slid his feet into the beans, and a smile broke across his face.  He remained there for about twenty minutes, just being.  Then, he removed his feet, put on and tied his own shoes, and carefully returned the bean bin to the proper place.  Again, he approached me. “I think I am ready to go back to my class now.”  I waited.  “Thank you for letting me stay with you.”  I smiled at him and watched him leave.

We all need to take the Time and Space to listen to ourselves. We all need to just be.  Even at 96.  Even at 5.  Even me.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

finding your voice

Someone once told me that confidence is sexy.  I agree.  But, I had forgotten, until recently.

See, I had become a person without much confidence.  Sure, I spoke up at work about the injustices I saw, sometimes getting in a little deeper than I ought.  I had just enough confidence to get by- to make friends, to participate in life only so far, and then retreat to the comfortable and familiar.  Trouble was, it was NOT comfortable, and although it started to become familiar, like a rut I could not get out of, it was not who I am, at my very core.

Then, one day, I decided that enough was enough.  I decided to embrace who I am, to let go of the fear (see previous blog entry for all THAT business!) and just be me.  After getting to "know" this woman on "the Twitter" and reading her blog.  I was inspired by her enthusiasm for running!  She went on and on about the benefits of running- not necessarily physically, but emotionally and psychologically, that I thought, "Know what?  I can SO do that!"  So I began.  I have been running for five weeks now, sticking to a routine, getting out in nature, watching the changing weather over the City, and listening to myself.  And guess what?  She was right!  I love it.  I even ran in a 5K last week, and did not die.  I did not even come in last.  And I felt confident.  And I felt sexy.  And I felt good about me. 

But, see, it has not stopped there.  I am also a singer in a wonderful choral group in the city.  I sing with talented and fun people, and although I love to sing, I was feeling stuck.  I felt as though my voice was trapped in my throat, and although I sounded good enough, getting it out was a struggle.  I would go home tired and frustrated from rehearsals, knowing it was in there, but unable to get it out.  Enter Confidence.  In our most recent concert, the voice came out effortlessly.  I had fun singing, and I knew it sounded good.  I even, (almost!), regretted that I had not auditioned for a solo...but I am not crazy!!  One thing at a time...

Here is the thing.  Confidence IS sexy.  There is nothing more compelling and attractive than watching someone who is truly confident doing that thing they excel at, whether it is singing, running, teaching or...or...or...

So, how does this confidence issue show up in my children's lives?  For that, a little story about one of my favorite students:   This little guy is in his third year at our school.  He has Special Education help in just about every area, and has been classified as "emotionally disturbed."  Having known him three years, and having taught him for two, I am pretty well aware of his emotional life, and what triggers a meltdown.  And, what it boils down to is this: Confidence.  When he is struggling with something, and feels frustrated and upset that he cannot do it, he gets upset.  Angry even.  Case in point: writing.  Last year, in his second year of Kindergarten,  I had him as a student.  When writing time would come, I could see him begin to fall apart even before he got his paper out.  He struggled with the physical writing part, the actual mechanics, as well as the illustrating and spelling.  He usually required a one-on-one teacher during writing, and even that was hit or miss.

Fast forward a year or more.  The other day, I came across him on the floor in the hall outside his classroom.  He had his writing folder and was lying on his stomach engrossed in his work.  I asked him what he was doing there, and he said "I was distracted so I came into the hall",  I took him to my room to finish his work, hoping it would not result in frustration.  As we were walking he could barely contain himself.  He said, "Guess what??  I have written four comic books!  I am working on a new one about Flash.  Wanna read it?"  And then, the most magical words..."I LOVE writing!!"  I asked him why, and he told me, "Because I know I can do it!!"

That is why I teach.  I had just forgotten it in my own loss of confidence.  But no more.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Fear and other absurd realities

It has been way too long since my last entry.  I knew it was there, just waiting to be written, but I could not get any words on the page.  Instead, I have spent countless hours checking "the facebook", following tweets, reading (well a few minutes before I conk out right on time at ten!), sending text messages, and generally *not* writing anything.  I have spent equal amounts of time trying to figure out WHY I have so much trouble getting the words on the page.

Here is my conclusion:  Fear.

Fear of not writing well.
Fear of offending someone or saying something that someone else will judge.
Fear of not being witty enough. Or smart enough. Or interesting enough. Or...or...or...
Fear of "too".  Too trite.  Too serious. Too full of myself. Too boring.
And most importantly, fear of my own words.  That once I write it, and send it out into the world, I will realize that was not what I meant at all. That when I say something, I need to commit to it.  To own it.  To be able to stand up and defend it, or support it, or justify it in some way.

But here is the thing:  I write my feelings.  I should not fear how I feel.  I should not defend or justify or support my feelings.  I write so that I can understand and share my inner thoughts, and my emotional reactions to things, and my heart and soul.

What is fearsome about that?

To be fair to myself, I have had past experiences of being judged or belittled or ridiculed or, worst of all, ignored when I have expressed myself and shared my innermost feelings.  No wonder I find it hard to speak up (or write up, in this case).  Who wants to go through that?  Better to just be quiet.  Keep it inside. Until you explode, bursting with all the sadness and rage and joy and fear unexpressed until you cannot contain it any more!

Which brings me to my children.

Their emotional lives are HUGE.  They feel their feelings and express themselves in raw, explosive and brilliant ways.  They have the potential to be anything, do anything, feel anything.  But at what cost?  The environment they learn in, that I work in, is emotionally and creatively stifling.  It is about test scores and following rules and shouting and tantrums and frustration.  They are not encouraged to express themselves, but to conform, to fit in, to "just do what (fill in well-behaved child's name) is doing."  And this is a problem.  Even when they should be able to be creative, in writing or singing or painting, the rules are rigid, the curriculum scripted, the expectations expected but not expanded.  They are nurtured by some, belittled by others.  The "worst offenders" are the ones with the most vibrant emotional lives, the ones who do not fit in, do not conform, and therefore are on the outside trying to be heard.

But they are also learning fear. Fear of being who they are.  Fear of not achieving.  Fear of being belittled, judged or, worst of all, ignored.  I don't want this for them.  Or for myself.  I want them to learn to express themselves, to feel and own their emotions, so that one day, when they are grown like me, they will not have to struggle to get words out.

I will end this with something that really speaks to me.  I received it from a colleague during a rare and wonderful workshop where I actually felt empowered and rejuvenated.  This is I believe from Marianne Williamson, but was spoken also by Nelson Mandela.  It resonated with me in all this mulling about fear:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Last week, I attended a recital at Carnegie Hall.  The lovely soprano Renee Fleming sang her current repertoire of German romantic songs accompanied by Hartmut Holl.  The concert was lovely, and the hall was packed despite the impending snow storm.

Now, if I was a blogger of all things music this entry would be all about the recital itself: the gorgeous dresses she wore, the choice of songs and composers, the technique and the encores.  But, I blog about other people's children.  So, why would I be writing about this exquisite evening at one of the premiere concert houses featuring one of the premiere sopranos of our time?

Because as I looked around the balcony (where we sat), way up, far away from the stage, I saw not one or two, but nine children with their parents.  These little people appeared to be anywhere from five years old to tween-aged.  They sat still. They listened. They did not talk through the performance.  The littlest one (a few rows in front of us) played with his binoculars for a bit, then fell asleep after the intermission. The concert from up there was not visually exciting- just a piano and singer, center stage. There were no 3-D effects, no crazy costumes. There was no story line, and the words were sung primarily in German.  Yet, they sat, quietly, some peering through binoculars to get a better look, and listened.

It got me thinking.   I remembered being about five myself when my parents would take me to the Philharmonic concerts in my hometown.  They would put their winter coats on the seat between them, so I might see better.  They would explain to me what we were hearing, and that they expected me to sit still and listen.  I would have my own program, so I could follow along, and a pencil in case I needed to doodle.  I vividly recall attending a performance of Beethoven's "Pastoral" Symphony (No.6), and my mother explaining between movements that it was about nature, and that if I listened I could picture the rabbits hopping and the birds singing and the thunderstorm approaching.  And, I could.  I still hear that every time I listen to the piece.

Do I think that all children will love classical music, or sopranos, or going to concerts?  Definitely not. I have loved music of all kinds since I was a child, and even majored in it in college. My younger brother, on the other hand, who had the same upbringing as I did (violin lessons, singing in a Cathedral choir, etc), was not fond of these "forced" concerts. But, since my parents also exposed him to animals, hiking, fishing and respect for nature, today he is an outdoorsman who teaches his own children about birds and snow and how to track deer.

I was so happy to see those children sitting in the audience at Carnegie Hall.  Not because I thought they would all end up loving concerts or sopranos or opera, but because their parents were sharing their own passions with their children.  Children follow what the adults around them do.  And whether it is camping, hunting, reading, dancing, singing, playing music, making art or attending performances, exposure is the only way that children (and adults, for that matter) can decide for themselves what brings them pleasure and meaning.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

a new chapter

...but first a fresh cup of coffee!  Ok, let's do this...

Welcome to my first entry, a new endeavor to channel my thoughts and experiences with other people's children into something positive, contained and occasionally enlightening.

To begin, I suppose an introduction is in order.  I am a teacher of young children in an inner city school.  Currently, I am a special educator, though I have taught kindergarten, and many years in Montessori early childhood.  This is my eighteenth year in the classroom, and every minute is a learning experience for me.

I am also the auntie to four lovely little beings all under the age of six, whom I try to see as often as possible.

I am partnered with a wonderful woman, and we have no children of our own, unless you count our fish (rescued from the classroom for summer break and never returned..) and our two year old hamster with no teeth (heretofore known as The Toothless Wonder).

My life is rich with experience.  I sing in a 60 voice choral group, attend the opera and concerts when I can, go to museums and various restaurants, the occasional movie and read every night before I fall asleep.  I have traveled to Italy, France, England and Wales, have dug for dinosaur bones in Montana and explored orchids in Costa Rica.

I love to share what I have done and learned with my children.  Once, my nephew asked me if it was true that I dug for dinosaurs in the "the mean place".  Apparently my sister had told him that I went to "The Badlands" of Montana.  We laughed about it for days!

Having never blogged before, but having made a resolution this year to not bring home every little thing that happens at work (my girlfriend will be happier, I'm sure!), I don't know what this will bring.  At least, it will be an outlet for my poor, overworked, never-settles-down brain.  At most, someone else will read it and get something out of it.