Tag Archives: education

Even kisses

We listened to a sleep meditation recording as he fell asleep last night, hanging on to me like driftwood.  As the faintest snores began to come out of him, I kissed his hair and tried to retract my arm. He grabbed it and kissed me on the wrist.

He always wants us to be even on kisses these days.  If I happen to shortchange him, he’ll yank on my arm, reach his hand toward my face and say “I need three smooches.”

A few nights ago, he walked on my back when I was achy, patting my hair when he was done, asking “is that better?”

I hugged him close and told him yes.

“You take such good care of your mom,” I told him. “Do you ever feel like you’re always taking care of me? Or do you feel like I take care of you?”

He snuggled into me, stuck out one arm and pointed his finger at my shoulder, bouncing it there repeatedly.

“You take care of me,” he whispered.

I was overwhelmed with relief. I just lost a friend who helped keep me steady over the past year and half. I know I have days when I feel awfully alone and uncertain right now. I work hard to take care of myself so I don’t get lost in those feelings. And my son feels loved and safe and taken care of. By me. What more could I ask for?

This morning I took him to the first day of first grade. We walked in to a quiet room with a big circle of children already cross-legged on the floor. He tiptoed in, put a card with his name onto it into the attendance basket, hung up his backpack and sat down with the group, looking around excitedly.

I stood in another part of the room with a couple of other parents who were snapping photographs and taking deep breaths. The joy on my boy’s face threatened to crack him wide open. He was so engaged in the newness of everything – the faces, the classroom, the whole, fresh ritual – that he didn’t see me wave and blow him a kiss goodbye.

My heart tightened a little, then let go with relief as I slipped into the hallway. He wasn’t afraid to be on his own. He wasn’t afraid to leave me on my own either.

And I know he’ll even up the smooch count before the day is through.

Related Posts:

He can do it himself

Once, when he was two or three, he asked me in earnest, “can I drive?”

Now he watches my right knee as we travel through town.

“Why does it move when you drive? What is your leg doing?”

I love the way he constantly looks under the hood of the world to find out how it runs. How his school has encouraged that.

At one point, keeping him from falling off the ledge (or driving there, apparently) was so important.

Every year since, it’s been more important to drop that habit and just let him do.

I’m not allowed to see what clothes he picks in the morning until he’s fully dressed. His style is better than anything the celebrities can afford.

He loves to have a job to do.

He loves to get things done.

Related Posts:


On Children
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.
Kahlil Gibran

I’ve neglected to finish at least seven blog posts in the last few weeks. Posts about BlogHer. About New York City adventures and feeling at home, or not feeling at home. About recovery meetings and Refuge Vows.  About work and changes and possibilities. But it was all leading to this week. The week that I haven’t stopped thinking about for months. It sneaked right up on me while I was looking at staircases and feeling subway steam and kissing friends I hadn’t seen in decades on the cheek.

I’ve said the words “he’s going to start Kindergarten” quietly, firmly, loudly, confidently and weakly. I’ve heard “he will be great, and I promise that you will be okay, too,” kindly, from many people who know. I’ve cried almost every time I’ve heard it. I do know this, I know.

I knew it when we arrived on the playground yesterday for orientation. He held my hand, reluctant for a few moments, but he made a friend quickly. When I returned two hours later, it took me several minutes to find him, he was so immersed in his play.  His dad and I dragged him from the playground as he told us about fraction puzzles and designated quiet spaces and blocks — more about those two hours than I ever heard about a day at preschool. This morning, in his first half-day of school, he returned to his new buddy’s side immediately in the circle as one of his teachers pulled out a thick magnifying glass and said “it looks like almost everyone is here. Let’s talk about magnification.”

I walked over and kissed him goodbye. He kissed me back happily, whispered “bye,” and fixed his eyes right back on the teacher.

I have a lot of confidence that he is in a good and caring place, but that doesn’t make this any easier.

I am going to miss him so. During every crappy thing that has happened within the past five years, his large-heartedness, his curiosity and his light have been my refuge. He’s changed my perception of the whole universe, literally. He’s helped me see the better parts of people, including myself. It stuns me when I think about the things I was overlooking, or not appreciating, before he arrived. It would be greedy for me not to share him. Like every crying mommy I saw in the hallways and classrooms today, I’m just prayerful that the world will be gentle with his precious, precious heart.

Related Posts:

Plant an alveolus for Earth Day

We visited with some fine local women and children yesterday after recovering from the news that we didn’t hit the lottery for any of the urban magnet kindergartens that we were hoping to. We’re waitlisted everywhere, and only certain to get into the one that I’m most lukewarm about and Declan is a little afraid of.

I’m feeling oddly okay about it because I have other hopes in reserve. And I know that my kid is the kind of learner that any good teacher dreams of teaching. I don’t expect that there will be many years ahead of us that won’t require us to find him a number of challenges beyond school walls.

We went to a science-y library program yesterday too, where the kids learned a few things about trees. After getting over a bout of complete and total shyness, Declan told the librarians that “trees are the lungs of the earth.” A fact gleaned— not from school or any eco-moralizing on my part — but from his kids’ yoga video.

When we got in the car, he seemed puzzled.

“How was that science?” he asked me, though he liked it. It was earth science, I told him.

“Huh,” he said, thoughtfully. “I thought that all science had to be really cool or really gross.”

“You don’t think photosynthesis is cool?”

“Oh yeah, I guess it is.”

Seriously, you lousy schools, it’s your loss.

If only there were grants out there that parents could apply for to spend a year taking a kid like mine to the Met, CERN, a bunch of Smithsonian museums, every NASA site that’s open to the public and a few natural wonders.

That would be the education my son deserves.

Related Posts:

I hate art scavenger hunts

We had an hour or two to visit an art museum in another city the other day. No sooner had we hung up our coats than one of the volunteers asked my son, “would you like to do a scavenger hunt in the museum today? If you finish it, you get a prize!”

Being four and generally highly motivated by reward systems, he looked at me eagerly for permission to say yes. I gave it to him. If I deprived him of that kind of offer, I might as well have kissed my chances at a fun museum visit goodbye. (This scavenger hunt basically asked you to find particular pieces of art in the different galleries, then answer a question about each one.)

For the first several rooms, I tried to balance the tasks of the scavenger hunt with more meaningful conversations about the art and history we were looking at. Every now and then, I could get him to stop and ponder something like how a particular piece of art was made, how it might be used, the story it might be telling or what it even was. But as we pushed on, the tasks of the scavenger hunt became more and more pressing, pulling us away from other things we might have been able to talk about.

We saw another dad looking completely beleaguered as his 9-year-old son ignored his requests to talk about any of the 18th-century European paintings he wanted to share with him. The kid was just too far into the throes of his primal push to finish his scavenger hunt and earn his prize.

As far as I’m concerned, scavenger hunts are the equivalent of worksheet learning in the classroom. They don’t invite any real depth of understanding, and do not create a particularly meaningful relationship with their subject. They are more cheap marketing gimmick, something that seems to be designed for children to pass time while parents are supposed to either help, or meditate on paintings in solitude or something. In this case, they actually seemed to be depriving more than one family of an organic museum experience.

On Sunday, a friend of mine and I took our kids to the local museum, which is under construction, so all that is open is an illuminated Dale Chihuly exhibit and a couple of rooms with highlights from its permanent collection. We led our four-year-olds through and asked them what they thought the abstract glass forms were.

“That looks like an upside-down turkey!” my son said about a glumpy shape slumped over in a forest of spears.

“That’s like a shoe, all opened up,” said his friend about a floppy, shell-like piece.

We ventured past the people watching a movie smack in the middle of the gallery, which seemed like an unnecessary obstacle with this inherent message: “shut up and don’t talk about the art.” We squirmed out of that room. My friend’s daughter peeked around the corner, and then ran back to grab my son’s hand and pull him in, howling – “come look! It’s SPACE!”

Their imaginations and curiosity ruled the rest of the visit. A chandelier was an erupting volcano from another planet. A sphere was a “giant Jupiter that’s all dead.” In the permanent collection galleries, my friend, who grew up in Holland, had her daughter jumping up and down with excitement over her obvious connection to Dutch paintings. We all sat on the floor in front of a George Segal sculpture and talked about what plaster is and how you might go about making a person out of one.

Of course, there was a room with the dreaded reward-based scavenger hunts, which just seem to be everywhere kids may show up now, but thankfully, no one bypassed us and offered them to ours. When my friend’s daughter asked what all the kids with clipboards were doing and if she could do it, her mother dismissed it with a smooth “you have to be able to read to do that.” We sidestepped the issue and took in the grandeur and mystery of a ride back downstairs in the giant elevator instead.

Granted, I’m the daughter of an art educator, so I was raised with a particular love and appreciation for art. But I didn’t find that love via lectures or gimmicky games. I was simply given the room to respond to and be inquisitive about it – to use my brain to make of it what I may before getting down to the facts of who made it and what they thought it meant or why it might be historically or culturally relevant.

If you want a child to love art, don’t make him or her whisper about it in a gallery or do some glorified word search to earn some 3-cent superball or a sticker. I also had a total blast on Sunday… and it was the interpretations and questions of our two four-year-olds that made it so much fun for all of us, pure and simple.

At a time when there are endless books out there espousing the value of “creative” people to the richness of our lives – even our economy – why are museums, of all places, bent on such ordinary engagement with kids, who are by nature some of the most innately creative people in the world?

Related Posts:

Interview at Mama Joules’ place

If you are looking for ideas about how to engage children with science, Mama Joules has got resources and fresh ideas about everything from physics to geology to gardening. I plan to make her site a regular destination.

She and I exchanged emails through the crazy holiday time, and she’s published an interview with me about keeping up with a child whose scientific interests are greater than those of his/her parents. It was a lovely opportunity for me to reflect on the parts of motherhood I expected the least – those that have required me to become an amateur astronomer.

I also think it’s super cool to be among the ranks of her interview subjects, which also include the President of the National Tarantula Society and a beekeper.

Check out Meet Jupiter’s Mother. That’s the first part, here is the second.

I’ll update this post and Twitter (@TinyMantras) when part two is published.

Related Posts:


I’ve been blogging less and working a lot more lately, which is turning into quite a juggling act.

Happily, somebody noticed. A few weeks back, I found out that my colleagues at KnowledgeWorks and I won a national award for our storytelling project about urban high school reform. Yay us!

Incidentally, our editor’s very first children’s book is out today! Find it at your local independent bookstore. Yay Linda!

Related Posts:

School Funding Awareness Week

Back when Ohio’s system of funding education was ruled unconstitutional in the mid-1990s, I wrote about it for a local alternative weekly. There were astonishing stories about what poverty meant to education statewide — like the one about a rural school building that sat on a hillside, its foundation slowly slipping over a gas main. Many other country schools were dangerous, some with less dramatic-sounding health risks like peeling paint and bad plumbing. Resources like libraries were woefully out of date, often housed in bookmobiles or on-site trailers with little or no new material.

In our cities, structures were falling apart and creating potential health problems for their students. It was going to take billions of dollars just to bring the buildings in our poorest districts up to code, let alone begin to improve the quality of education to help students in those areas succeed.

In the time since, the ruling was upheld through appeals and lawmakers have wrangled with new funding structures, but the system remains broken. Our Governor Ted Strickland, who has made education reform one of his signature issues, is preparing to unveil his own plan early next year. I’m anxious to find out what he’s set to overhaul, especially when it comes to this long-standing, fundamental problem.

This is school funding awareness week, so School Funding Matters is promoting a letter-writing campaign to the media and state representatives. They have lots of good background information about school funding’s history and current conditions on the web site, so check them out.

(This initiative comes from KnowledgeWorks Foundation, which recently published a lengthy piece I wrote about education reform at Brookhaven High School that you can download here – more to come on that later.)

Related Posts:

Pen power

I spent a good part of yesterday as a judge for Power of the Pen, a scholastic writing competition for middle school kids, which was an honor and an absolute blast. (The blizzard threw off the originally scheduled judges, so Dawn, who has been a judge before, helped put out a clarion call to other writers and I jumped.)

I’m so glad I got to do it. These kids are on creative writing teams, replete with t-shirts that they festoon with their own slogans. They screamed and stomped their feet with every award (there were a bunch of others that we weren’t a part of).

Along with another local writer, I read about 70 stories by eighth graders that had all been written that morning in short sessions, many of which explored difficult subjects in astonishingly well-drawn, clever and lovely ways. We picked three winners and three honorable mentions. What an honor to get an afternoon’s gate pass into the thoughts of such young, brave and eloquent people.

One of the pieces that we awarded actually made me cry. It made me remember the special tenderness of a ‘tween girl’s heart.

Related Posts:

More on urban school reform

I’ve spent the last couple of days with my passionate and inspiring colleagues from the KnowledgeWorks storytelling project. At long last, our publications about early college and small school reform are out.

They are available to download online, or you can request free hard copies of one or both. Last year, our work won an award from the Council on Foundations. I have pieces in both of this year’s publications.

Related Posts: