Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Inherit Issue of Grounded Magazine

I am so very pleased to announce the publication of the INHERIT Winter issue of Grounded Magazine.  I was fortunate to be the guest editor for this issue and I have so enjoyed the process of connecting and working with each of the contributors included.  They are a talented, thoughtful, and generous crew.

The cover art, shown below, entitled What She Carries is by my good friend Anne Anderson.

And, as I explained in my Letter from the Editor:

I have come to think that, as much as it is about guiding and helping our children grow, parenting is also a process of re-identifying ourselves. An opportunity for us to choose what we accept to keep of that which came before us: genetics, family traditions, values, beliefs, expectations, and the experiences we ourselves have had up to this point of being cared for, of growth, of change. As parents, consciously or unconsciously, there are so many moments in which we consider and rethink who we want to show ourselves to be to our children. We take a bit here, and discard a scrap there. And we rework it. The cover image by Annie Anderson takes my breath away each time I see it, embodying this moment when the nature and nurture of our past churns about behind us and pulls at our feet as we step forward.

There is a factor that can sometimes be forgotten, sometimes gets lost in the swirl of our hopes and fears, goals and blunders, for our children. And that is the existence of choice in inheritance, that we do in fact have it, through whatever means, be it awareness and reflection or taking a similar or a very different path. There is power in this, to create ourselves, build ourselves out of the bits laying around our feet and at our backs. And there is the resulting power that we pass to our children when we demonstrate to them how we can create our own path. That we do just this, stand back and question our actual belief systems and change our trajectories. And this process allows us to be surprised, untethered, and open. To add in more sugar, more flavor than our recipe calls for, because that is what feels right to us. Often, what we thought we had inherited, the stuff, the heirlooms, the genes, the seeds, that’s easily stepped around. More powerful, more persistent, are the belief systems and values and ideas. And the story we make of them.
Please come see what we have made. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed being a part of creating it.

Friday, December 19, 2014

an interview

This fall I took on a bit of a new adventure, pushing myself in ways that were new and not always comfortable.  I have a deep respect and warmth for Mollie and Kendall Guillemette of Grounded Magazine and I have contributed a few essays to their magazine over the past year.  And so, when they asked me if I would like to assume the editing work for the Winter issue of their magazine while they took some time to be with their new baby, I was honored.

And fairly nervous, honestly.

But the support from Mollie and Kendall and the thoughts, words, and images of the contributors who I had the good fortune of working with during the building of this issue have all affected me.  And I will be carrying this experience forward, both in my work and in our family life.

Grounded Magazine, which I have written about before, is a special space in the world of parenting magazines.  The coming Winter issue, Inherit, will be released on December 21st.  I hope you will take a look.  There are some wonderful contributors included there who will make you think, wonder, laugh, and reflect.  Just in time for the new season and all of its celebrations of family.

In anticipation of the issue, today they published an interview with me here.  I hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

repeat whole thing

I know.  There is a gaudy blowup penguin in my living room.  Let's pretend it is an elephant.  And ignore it.

There is an ease to having traditions.  Such as returning to the same Christmas tree farm every year since we first moved to Maine in 2006.  And as you do the same activities, go to the same places, walk the same paths, you notice the new things, perhaps because your feet know where they are headed and you can observe more.  This year at McNeally's tree farm, the freshly cut stumps left behind were much taller.  I don't know why.  Perhaps one family decided to cut high in order to cut less.  And started a trend.

But of course, my children, who like a good challenge...

 decided that this was an opportunity.

And once one had done it, they all had to.  In their own styles.

This one clearly ran with scissors in preschool.

After much wandering and head scratching and considering and returning to that tree just over there and down the hill several times, we found the perfect tree.  

Cut it down.

And while I wandered off and snapped pictures, also part of the tradition...

They attached it to the car.

And, as we always do, we drove off down the long drive wondering whether the tree was going to stay on top of the car.  And we stopped for our traditional shadow picture.

From there, we dropped the tree at home and headed off to Nicholas' guitar recital.  In which he played a classical piece on his acoustic guitar beautifully.

And then rocked out with a friend and Santa! to Pink Floyd.  It was a perfect mix.

Back home, a quick refuel and donning of hats, and we went to work.

Missing stockings were located.

That's when the music started, in the shadow of the giant holiday blow up penguin.

The others tried to resist.

But in the end, the music got them.  And soon three hatted elves were all making music together.

And it was kind of good sounding music.  Not just the banging of googly eyed clackers and tambourines of olde.  But jazzy improvised versions of traditional songs.

And when one small elf danced off with his bells a jingling, the bigger elves changed their music.  And began playing their less traditional tunes.

Which of course led to a need to watch the rockin performance from earlier in the day.

You know.  Holidays.  Traditional, with a bit of spontaneous improvisation on the side.

The penguin is on the move.  And we will get those Thanksgiving pumpkins down just as soon as I can find the ladder.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

certain versus impossible

I spend a lot of time thinking about how our children are getting older.  Every day I feel smacked in the face by moments that bring this home.  I recently wrote a post about shoe size as a metaphor for their growth.  And I was thinking that our children are just out there doing this growing thing with very little metacognitive work themselves around the fact that it is happening to them.  That they are just chugging along, and, for the most part, enjoying the ride.

But then I get little reminders that they are aware of these thoughts too.

Julia is certain that ultimately she will have a bigger foot size than me.  Because currently we wear the same size.  And that her name will not morph during the night.  Nor will any parts of her body change into something else altogether, though incremental changes will happen.  And no mythical creatures will descend to the backyard, though we did wonder once if they had.  

I can't help but see her bigger thoughts in this simple list.  That despite all the changes and developing and maturation, she certainly will still be her.  

And I am reminded of what is so good about the mind of a ten year old.  The ten year old mind's certainties and impossibilities.  Such seemingly simple thoughts, with such enormous meaning.

Friday, December 12, 2014

the work of home

Conversations change between parents as their children get older.  At least this is my experience.  I think it is a combination of many factors, a large one being the desire to protect our children's privacy as they mentally grapple with things bigger than the latching on, toilet training, and tantrums of their younger selves.  But there are things I wish we still talked as openly and often about.

There are the little mundane things, like acne, and how to deal with it.  How involved do we get beyond the buying of products and reminders to, ahem, use them.  And how to deal with the moods and emotions and energy fluctuations that come along with it.  Exercise is one of my most powerful weapons these days.

And the bigger things, the enormous things actually, like how to talk with them and their growing capacity to connect and understand and ponder the hard stuff in our world, such as issues of race.  Or the stories behind the homeless and struggling people outside our car windows and how do we encourage compassion without fear?

I find myself sprinkling books, self care products, a roll of new socks even, about the house, left out just in case Nicholas needs them, wants them.  I put them on the table, a pile of possibles collected by me, in case he needs them, or needs anything from me.  I watch from the corner of my eye as he stops as he walks by them.  And sometimes keeps walking, but every so often, takes them in his hands, and disappears.

And I am struck by how those beginning efforts to walk, kick a ball, learn the fingering for a chord, all of which I also sat nearby for and was ready to help if he needed me, have turned into the ability to, well, make music.

A new struggle for us this year is homework, and its presence and process in our home, how we support it, how we are involved or not involved, and how we support Nicholas as he experiences himself in this work and decides what kind of student he wants to be.  And even more importantly, how homework will or will not affect him in terms of his whole child identity.

These days I am wondering about the difference between creative writing and research writing, for instance.  And why can a child be really good at one and struggle so with the other?  Ok, of course I have some ideas about and understanding of this question.  But every once in a while I take a step back from our evenings and I think about the differences between what bedtime used to look like and what it is now.  And I am not sure I like what I see.

And I think about what our younger two children see of his homework process and how this affects their understanding of school.  Before Nicholas, before homework became something we had to plan around, remind of, and sometimes change plans for, it was just not on their horizon.  Their carefree afternoons and weekends had some reading requirements and occasional projects and they all practice for music lessons, but really, that was all.  These have to's were what they were for themselves alone.  Not leading, as it is now clear to them, to something that was bigger, looming, and sometimes causing tears and frustration, and endless conversations about how to handle it.  I worry that this knowledge, from watching their older brother's experience, is taking away from their ability to enjoy their own work for what it is now for them.

Homework versus the work of home.  Sometimes I feel as though the assigned homework is getting in the way of how we would otherwise do our work of home.  And that is a struggle for us.  The work of our home life is so much bigger than these assignments we are trying to help Nicholas get done and feel good about.  But the work, at home, of helping him grow and be healthy and feel good, that's were I want to be placing our energy and focus.

This work at home needs to include exercise and socializing, and taking breaks and deep shuddering breaths, and being silly.  And lots and lots of food.  And talks about technology and social media.  And endless parades of decisions that need to be made about activities and opportunities and processing of things that happen during the day.  I leave out books I know will make him laugh on his work space, and tuck Lego brochures next to the computer.  I have him do quick Google searches of how to wash his new and beloved nordic skiing team hat as a quick break from writing a paper.

When the children were smaller, and back when my work involved lots of other people's children, I often had what I called the three month rule.  When I would remind myself or others that sometimes children are just going through a development.  And it can be concerning or scary or weird.  And the temptation is to jump in, address it directly, or seek help.  But sometimes, if we sit back, and wait it out, for three months or so, we will find that this worrisome thing will have changed, disappeared, or resolved on its own.  In a way, my three month rule taught the process of trust in our own children's resilience and strength and hardiness.

As I have watched Nicholas this week working on a research paper with a related visual aid/artifact assignment, I am reminding myself of this trust in their own resources.  He is even working with tools that are sharp and could be dangerous and I am learning to not gasp as he uses a sharp knife to carve a piece of wood.

He, too, is thinking about homework, how it is affecting him, who he should talk to about it and when, how to ask for help, and what kind of student and person he wants to be.  And I am watching.  And waiting.  Here, just in case.

And so there.  There you have my now version of the conversation I might have started on the bench at the playground overlooking Casco Bay years ago, gripping a coffee cup after a sleepless night caused by teething pain, or a coming sickness, or general problematic sleeping behavior and routines.  That's what the work of home, of parenting, is looking like for us these days.  And what we are grappling with.  And trying to do just a bit better.

* Clearly Jay Griffiths' A Country Called Childhood needs to be next on my reading list.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

doodle swapping

One of the great miracles of fiction is that it allows us to occupy the heart and head of someone else.
Kate DiCamillo, Library of Congress’s National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature

I recently took a really long drive to buy a rug.  I arranged to meet with a woman I had never met in a parking lot.  Together, we lifted a very heavy rolled rug out of her car, placed it in the parking spot between our two cars, and unrolled it.

There was no body in it, I swear.

Taking a careful look, it was obvious the rug was dirty and had a few stains.  And I noticed a slight smell.  But I had driven a really long way.  And the price was very good.  And the pattern of the rug was the exact same pattern as one we already had at home that needed a friend in order to more completely cover our bedroom floor.  And I know how to get my hands on a rug shampooer.  So I bought it.  We rolled it up together and lifted it into my car.  And I handed her the roll of cash I had in my pocket.  And I hopped back in my car, turned back on my audiobook, and headed back north.

In the end, I got myself a $2,000 rug for $200.  It is airing itself on the porch and soon we will wrestle it inside and give it a washing.

But the real gift? I got three hours to myself alone in a car with an audiobook.  That I had chosen myself.  I sometimes find connecting to online audiobooks in the car difficult and therefore had taken two audiobooks on CD out of the library.  That day I listened to Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, by Chris Bohjalian.  I am a fan.  And I am a bit traumatized by the book, and for me, this is a good thing in an adult read.  And by that I mean I can't stop thinking about it, am troubled by it.  That it has affected the way I look at people this week, made me think about their lives as I drive about town chauffeuring children, doing errands, and doing some holiday shopping.  I find myself looking a bit more into the eyes of some of the people just outside my car windows, or around the public library where I ran in to get Julia a few options for her next independent reading book.  But everywhere, really.

And so, it has been a week of reading.  Reading books and reading faces.  With the pain and suffering that I was listening to in the car when alone, I needed a lighter read before bed, so I finally got to The Swap, by Megan Shull.  Julia had read it months ago and wanted me to read it.  As I threw myself into the minds of those around me, due to reading Close Your Eyes, The Swap was a perfect, less disturbing, but just as wonderfully thought provoking a read.  Especially since I knew Julia had loved it, had been heard giggling uncontrollably from the back of the minivan on a road trip while reading it, and she has asked me every couple days since to read it so we could talk about it.  And so, as I read The Swap I found myself trying to put myself in Julia's mind, reading it in order to discover a bit of why she had loved it so.  That is a wonderfully rich way to read a book as well, not just putting yourself into the characters, but also into a reader, seeing the story through her eyes.

Back to my trip to the library.  I searched around and got Julia a stack of possible books for her to choose from.  And had the stack on the counter for her to look through when she got home from school.

In the end she chose Nature Girl, by Jane Kelley.  We had a little adventure of our own this summer related to the Appalachian Trail, and this book appealed to her because the trail is central to the story.  She snatched it from the pile and climbed under a blanket on the couch and started reading.

For myself that day I had snatched this book, photographed on my new rug.  In which I am reading information and stories and scoops about children's book authors.  Reading the stories behind the children's books written by the authors featured in it.  It's another layer of reading a story, another perspective that can be taken to make the story richer.

That day at the library I had also grabbed the last of the Flying Beaver Brother's books that Elliott had not yet read.  Thank goodness there is a new one coming out in a few months.

I keep holding my breath, hoping that nothing is going to take away his pleasure in reading graphic novels or detract from the visual literacy that is such a strength for him, something these books allow him to enjoy and develop.  I am going to plow forward and will likely take on anyone who might try to steer him toward text-only reads.  His reading journal is becoming a graphic novel itself, with his doodles of the books holding just as important a place as the log entries on each page.

We started with Bird and Squirrel.

And then moved on to the Flying Beaver Brothers.

As I watched him work on the white board while I made dinner that night, I realized this book inspired doodling is just another way of throwing yourself into the book.  Just as I am doing with characters in my own books and putting myself in the place of Julia the reader as I read her books, Elliott is putting himself into the visual part of the story.  By recreating the scenes and their styling and color palette, he is also putting himself into the hands of the illustrator.

Julia watched him work for a bit and then couldnt stand it anymore and grabbed his book and jumped into the story herself.

Elliott and I have plans to work through the Lunch Lady series next, having tried the first Amulet book a few weeks ago but finding it to be a bit less joyful and a little more arduous that we had hoped, the text reading part of it for him.

The next morning, as I packed up his reading log for school I took one more look and realized this swapping of ourselves into the characters and readers and stories and illustrations is contagious.  

I noticed that Elliott's teacher was beginning to respond not just to his text information in his log, but also to the doodling.

And so now I am also getting the chance to read the story of their growing relationship as she reads his reading, too.