Lessons Learned

Our children receive so much direct instruction from their parents, schools and institutions. Day in and day out, the lessons are specific with measurable outcomes that are often tracked and nearly always mitigated by systems of praise and punishment.

The lessons our children are supposed to learn are simple, well-defined and have remained nearly the same for many years.

Parents teach: Say please and thank you. Clean up after yourself. Brush your teeth. Wash your hands. Eat your vegetables. Look both ways before you cross the road. Use your words not hands to solve conflicts.

Teachers teach: Don’t forget to write your name on your paper. Memorize your multiplication facts. Answer questions in complete sentences. Dot your i’s and cross your t’s. Raise your hand before speaking. Try your best. Do your homework.

But, as important as these lessons are, there are other lessons that adults teach children indirectly. Powerful lessons that have lasting affects not just on the children, but on our society as a whole.

When parents choose to not be educated and informed or choose not to act in the face of injustice either locally, nationally, or internationally; they send a message.

Instead they need to talk to their children. Engage in difficult discussions about the news and the depths of sorrow, anger, hatred and greed that lie in those stories. And they also need to share stories of hope, love, and kindness that prevail in even the darkest of times. 

When teachers choose to teach the same narratives or subject matter, year  after year, ignoring pressing current events outside the confines of the textbooks, screens, standardized tests, and walls of the classrooms, they miss the opportunity to connect students to the real world that they will inherit.

The water protectors, bravely standing up for their communities and the earth, offer important lessons for our children, but only if adults allow them to be taught.

Our children should know that the civil disobedience promoted by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is not a story about the past, but also one about our current reality. Children need to know that injustice still exists  and that there are people in the world willing to stand up against it at all costs. Children need to know that the very people we think will protect us; sometimes will not.

Children need to know early that they are powerful beings, capable of making a difference in the world.

After talking to my children the first time about the pipeline, my oldest son got the most visibly upset. He was indignant that President Obama would not intervene. He could not believe that the president that he looked up to and thought was “so nice” would not help the Native Americans that he learned about in second grade.

For Christmas that year, he wanted a dream catcher….a real one, just like the Native Americans had.15138354_10211344717958204_8713426760154199435_o

Well, this year he is in fourth grade, and I want to give him a different kind of dream catcher to honor the Native Americans and others fighting to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline from jeopardizing their water supply and desecrating sacred land.

His idea was to get people to write letters to President Obama and ask him to stop the pipeline. We went on Amazon and ordered 50 postcards. This week we will organize a postcard campaign to send President Obama a message.

Though our postcards may not change the president’s mind or stop the pipeline, it will serve as a dream catcher for my son.

He will learn that the only way to make the world a better place is to dream of a better world and get busy trying to catch that dream.

Actions speak louder than words.

Life has all of the lessons that our children need.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Glory of Gardening

“The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul.”

-Alfred Austin, an English poet

Alfred Austin surely wandered through an English garden in his day and sipped tea, while his eyes feasted on perfectly pruned roses.

I too have strolled such English gardens, and admired them so. Maybe I even gasped at their expanse and lush delicacy.  Yet I cannot recall those English gardens feeding my soul…not the way it was fed in the four hours we spent at the Community Garden beside the Salvation Army on Texas Road in Atlantic City.

Sure New Jersey is nicknamed the “Garden State” but, despite its great expanses of farmland, many chuckle and think that it’s just the name of the Parkway referencing some day of yore-when Jersey wasn’t crowded with roads and identical sprawling suburban neighborhoods. But even for those of us who know the gardens of the Garden State, Atlantic City is an uncommon city to find one.

img_9130

It was Election Day, all 4 of my kids were off from school. I was nervous about the election and the uncertainty that comes with democracy. I had only been working on the Goji team a little over a week, when I saw the Community Garden Day pop up on my Google calendar. I didn’t know any details, but I figured let’s just go see what it’s all about. We can always leave.

When we arrived, it was a half hour after the start time, so all of the volunteers were working. Like worker bees in a beehive, each seemed to have a job and were engrossed in it. We walked in and I asked someone what we were doing and he said pulling apart these mounds of dead plants and soil. Hmmm…perhaps bringing a shovel or 4 would have been smart. I wondered why I didn’t think of that, and before the thought had fully landed, someone  handed one of my children a rake. A little boy handed my little girl a shovel he had finished working with. My other two boys and I got down on our knees and made shovels out of our hands.

img_9163

The rake nearly poked some eyes out. The little green shovel instantly sent soil flying through the air. My other kids fought over an adult shovel and I moved in to mitigate turn-taking …and we were off. 10 hands working in the soil. Sun on our backs. It didn’t even matter when we found out we were moving the soil counter to the plans. We adjusted with little pause and just started pushing soil the other way.

The sun was warm, felt even warmer from our work. We stopped for a drink and into the garden walked a family who lived about a block away. The father just asked what we were doing and within minutes his little two year old boy and my three year old girl and two other young children sat in the soil and started digging with their little hands.  Once tired they moved on to dropping rocks and sticks into a metal grate on a door.

img_9136

The kids ages 1-9 worked side by side, barely talking but moving in busy synergy.  The boy’s 12-year-old sister gravitated to the adults, chatting with us about the garden at her school and her new shirt that she mused that she probably shouldn’t have worn that day.

We got to talking about the pile of half edible produce on the table. My son pulled off a piece of kale to eat and she looked interested so I offered her some. Then her father and mother tried some and we discussed the best way to cook it. I began separating the edible leaves for them to take home with them.  Then we started to notice the colonies of insects that had made these dying vegetables home.

 

Fascinated, we pulled the leaves apart, and with encouragement she let the insects crawl on her hand, after she made me try it first! We were surprised how many we found as we shook the kale onto the table. The orange and black insects were neat as they laid on their backs and rotated little pieces of kale around and around with their legs. We speculated several reasons for their actions.

Then a volunteer rounded up the kids to help with spreading green sand over the soil. The kids oo’d and ah’d when they heard that green sand was around during the time of the dinosaurs.

 

Many hands made quick work, soon it was time to spread the leaves.  The kids’ laughter was infectious when Grant started a little leaf fight. We had been there for hours by then, but the kids had not once complained or asked when we were heading home. They delighted in the task at hand.

img_9158

Usually gardens won’t bear fruit until after a long winter, but not this one. The fruits of our labor were right there for the picking. Instant gratification.

What better way to spend Election Day in today’s tumultuous world? Grounding down into the earth. Planting the seeds of the future; seeds with the power to fill your soul, build community…

img_9152

And transform us all into something so delicately beautiful; ready to fly.

img_9162

Notice

Sometimes…

More often than I think…

There is no need to rush.

No people to see

No places to go…

I notice…

The breeze on my cheek

The sunshine in her eyes

The quiet hush of the forest.

 

Sometimes…

I walk with my daughter…

A girl that won’t remain small forever…

And I drink the moment in like water

I quench my thirst for more

With the sweet nectar of now…

 

When I notice,

What lies right here before my  eyes…

Suddenly,

Effortlessly…

I begin to live.

file_003

 

 

Childhood Is

inlet kids

Childhood is fleeting.

The days rush by like subway trains as I stand at the station feeling the rush of air as another one departs.

The hundreds of thousands of inhales and exhales propel me through this life powerless as they grow up before my eyes.

Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Inhaleexhaleinhaleexhale…

Sometimes I have the wisdom to slow my breath and take in the moment that I have right now.

Right now with them as they are.

Not the babies they were and not the grown ups I hope they grow to be.

Who they are right now. Where we are right now. Feet in the sand, head turned to the blue expanse of sky.

I inhale their laughter, their sobs, their smell, their bodies in perpetual motion.

I exhale my worry, my doubt, my rush to think about what’s next.

For childhood is precious and meant to be savored one moment at a time.

 

 

Never Grow Up

13151451_10209426202436515_6301974242264454915_n

As they  wheeled my grandmother into surgery, over 15 years ago, she held my hand and squeezed it hard. She, an impossibly strong woman seeming impossibly small, looked up at me and said quite frankly, “Don’t get old. Do you hear me? Just don’t do it.”  There was no sadness to it or rationality even. There was nothing to do but nod and watch her disappear behind the enormous, cold metal doors.

There is nothing more human than mortality. We will die. Those we love will die. It is a knowledge that resides in our bones as we move through our days. Growing up is progress, but it is also a reminder that our days here are numbered. Yet, somehow there is comfort in knowing that all us humans are in it together, riding the ups and downs of life until the ride jerks to an end and we have to get off.

I hear the words of the older and wiser in my life.

” Time flies.”

Yes I know.

“Before you know it they will be in college.”

Yes I know.

“How did I get this old?”

I don’t know.  (Will I blink and be that old too?)

But no matter how hard it is to deal with the reality of today, there is no use holding on to the past with white-knuckled passion.

Might as well open my hands to receive all that these precious moments of childhood have to give.

 

 

 

The Late Evening Sun

13241271_10209525277473329_6288011867672225312_n

She sits on the stoop, head tilted to the sky,

As the late evening sun breaks through the cloudy day,

Before turning in for the night.

The air is crisp,

She pulls her hands neatly into her lap.

Her newly planted seeds beside her,

Buried by her chubby finger carefully poked into the soil.

Left to rest there with her faith in its power to grow.

The seeds down too deep to feel the touch of the sun,

But not too deep to be forgotten by my daughter, who keeps them company.

I am struck by this vision of her and her seeds sitting on the stoop.

Her grandfather, my father, lies like those seeds under soil.

He passed before she was born.

She will never run to him down that path when he pulls up from NY.

When he comes to visit,

He will come like the late evening sun at the end of a long cloudy day.

And  I will be sitting there beside her

With his faith in our power to grow here ,

Without him.

 

 

The Value of Homework

boys cooking

Talk to any parent of a school age child, especially on a weekday (or Sunday night), and the subject of homework is bound to work its way into conversation.

An article recently came out about extensive research that showed clear evidence that elementary students reap nearly no benefit from homework. But for many parents, this was just official confirmation of what they already knew.

The intention of homework is often stated as reinforcement of skills learned in class. That purpose itself is problematic.

Every child in every class does not need the same level of reinforcement assigned across the entire class  after every lesson. Some children do not need to do nightly, monotonous spelling assignments to score 100% on the spelling test, while some children can do spelling homework until they are blue in the face and never score above a 70.

Many children are avid readers and do not need the burden of a reading log or endless comprehension questions slowing them down. Many other children just need someone to read to them and talk to them more to increase their access to positive literacy experiences.

When  I snapped the photo today of my  sons helping me prepare vegetables for a stir fry dinner, the irony of the word “homework” struck me. Perhaps what children need most is less homework in the traditional worksheet or book report sense and more home work or housework. In trying to keep up with the modern obsession with perfection, many parents outsource house work rather than go the traditional route of assigning chores to their children. Too many children have become so disconnected from the concept of work in the home and that leads to the same disconnect when they get out into the world.

A landscaping company comes to upkeep the perfect lawn. A cleaning service comes to upkeep the perfect house. A company comes to open and close the perfect pool. Painters, plumbers, roofers, ….you name it.  All so that parents can free up time to upkeep the perfect body at the salon or gym or to work long enough hours to pay for all of those expenses.

It is more common to buy food or eat out than to grow food in the backyard where kids can be a part of the process that gets food on the table. Heck, so many American families rarely even make it to the table together due to endless activities and sports practices that often start at age 4.

As a result, work becomes something arbitrarily assigned by an authority figure, rather than something integral to daily life. Our children become input/output machines and then the teachers in the upper grades and later employers lament the lack of problem solving skills and work ethic in the younger generations.  Companies have made fortunes on convincing consumers that life was hard and that we needed a plethora of products and services to make it easier. But actually, the answer is easy and cheap.

Bring back home work in the traditional sense. Turn off the website that drills math skills and put down the spelling lists. Take the time to reinforce life skills and a sense of responsibility. Imagine the potential such a simple shift could have on the typical American family.