Monday, June 27, 2016

the silence game

Image taken on our Alaskan honeymoon.

So often, in this training, I think, I wish I'd known this before, I wish I'd known this when Maya started.

I said this at a parent night, after spending some time photographing the school for the website, that I had already become a better parent after observing Kai and Juliane in their environments. I found myself slowing down, not speaking so loudly, feeling peace as I interacted with my children who were so easily swept up in heightened feeling--to not immediately react, to take that deep breath, to remember, when they are so small: I am the centering for the storm.

Therefore, I cannot become stormier. I cannot push this storm into some sort of next-level alert.

I wish I could more thoroughly express how much I've learned in these seven days, but I can say this: they have been life changing. Kai knew this as I began the tentative observations I did last winter and spring with Nicole, the woman who led the elementary program before I stepped into the position.

There's so much talk about the transformation of the adult. About the prepared adult.

I know I will always have road in front of me, but I also always have road behind me.

We've practiced some of the things we've explored in the first plane--that is, children who are from birth to approximately age six, children who attend our toddler program and Children's House, or casa, as it is often referred to here. So we've learned How To Carry a Chair and How to Unroll a Working Mat, and the other day--how many days ago was it? I can't even remember now--either yesterday or a hundred days;it must be one of those two--we did two very meditative activities that are designed to thread that mind and body together: Walking On the Line (not to be confused with Johnny Cash, though I understand having that run through your head while reading that phrase) and The Silence Game.

Walking On the Line seemed to me something silly that mainly helped with balance but could be relegated to a gym class. Nothing of true importance--it's just some tape on the floor, right? But then we did it, and I have to say: transformative experience. The peace I felt fall over my body was remarkable. It's done in complete silence and challenges you to be aware of those around you, respecting both your own breath and the breath and pace of those around you.

The Silence Game should not be mistaken for the silent game, in which the frustrated parent throws the request at the hyper-active children to calm them in desperation, but instead a game in which the child becomes fully aware of his or her body in space and in conjunction to others. We didn't do anything terribly complicated--we were to sit silently on one side of the classroom and stay quiet enough to hear our instructor call our name in a whisper from the other. So we had to be still, and we had to hear our own body in movement. After the activity, she read us a book--If You Want to See a Caribou--to raise us out of that space and back into our working selves.

I asked my children if they knew this game as we drove home with their new animals in their carriers in their laps. Maya immediately rested her head on my shoulder, and I returned the gesture, and we were completely still and quiet, whereas Finn kept wiggling and wiggling and when we were done, I asked them: "What does the silence game mean to you?" Maya talked about being completely still and quiet, whereas Finn crouched his body and whispered, "It means you creep around like this" and he grinned wickedly. I'm not sure if this was an adaptation--moving quietly--or if he was just good-naturedly playing along in his own way.

Either way, what a sweet moment: the three of us in the backseat, a guinea pig named Luna and a bearded dragon named Max with us, quiet as bugs.

(Side note: Maya often asks, when we clean things, that we make it "clean as a bug in a bucket.")

Sunday, June 26, 2016


My daughter has a special passion for those things bright and small. And large and cumbersome and fluffed out and sleek and scaled and all the other adjectives you can apply to the animal kingdom. It's her calling, as far as a five-year-old can have a calling, and I've always known her getting her very first her-own print would be a big day.

And, apparently, when your mama is in training to become a Montessori teacher and just spent some time touring the classrooms full of the sweetest of class pets, and you've had these discussions of stewardship, then you might stumble into a conversation with your daughter about your own class pets and might somehow transition into her very own first pet--I don't know where the turn came. I think it might have been when we started watching guinea pig videos--when she asked what they were, so I asked Ryan to look it up, and suddenly we were calling a pet shop to make certain those sweet critters were, you know, around.

This fellow is named Max, and he's a bearded dragon, and he's actually mainly Finn's pet. His full name is Heartsy Love Max, because Maya calls everything Heartsy Love and Finn's begun adopting that name. And Max is the name of his imaginary friend.

Ryan told Maya that if she read to her friend, it could become a reading companion--that her little critter loved being read to. This was after I told her all about the Flemish rabbit that roams the Children's House and is read to by the children. We were hoping, you know, a nudge. It worked!

It just was Finnegan who went straight to the bookcase to get some books to read to the new pets. What sweet little voices he used too.

Maya's new friend is a guinea pig she named Luna. Luna is a boy, but Luna doesn't mind so much.

Luna makes this wonderful yerp yerp yerp noise which I think seems to mean contentment. He kept cuddling into Maya's lap, nesting in, peeking up, snuggling.

The guinea pig is 100% her responsibility with a little side-kicking built in. We make sure all the things happen, but when Grandma asked her, "Who's going to take care of the poop and all the bedding?" Maya pointed at herself. Before we went to the store, I sat her down and said, "OK, you get that this is your pet. You choose it--you pick which one, you pick what you want to go with it, you pick where it goes--though it has to be somewhere in your bedroom, you name it. You're its mama, in a way. So you will have to make sure he's fed and has water and you have to take it out every day and love it. It needs attention too. Are you ready to take this on?"

She feels quite serious about this task now, so the work, from our part, is helping maintain the momentum. After all, this is a thrilling new addition to our home, both pets (Finn didn't get "the talk" because we are co-parenting in this case--I let him name him just the same and we are trying to acclimate the bearded dragon to him as well, but I do know that I am the caretaker and we aren't communicating the same things to Finn as we are to Maya--he's three, she's five).

Maya didn't want to fall asleep tonight. She didn't want to put Luna back in his little hutch. I told Maya the story of the night she was finally born--after 42 hours of labor, she was in the world, nearly ten o'clock at night, and I wasn't about to surrender her to the bassinet, so we became instant co-sleepers, and from that night on, she never slept in a crib, save one strange afternoon nap in which Ryan got her to sleep and slipped her in. But every other attempt, even in the co-sleeper, was loudly rejected, and we let it be. I know attachment parenting doesn't gel with the Montessori inclination towards independence, but there are places in my parenting where I will deviate, and I'm going to make peace with that.

For now, she can look down from her bunk and see the soft sweet form that is Luna, and I am going to hope like heck that her little brother doesn't lift the latches and let him out because who knows where that little guinea pig will scurry if given the chance! It'll take a while before he realizes this is his special space, that this is the safe space we have set up for him. It's hard to understand that with little kids in the room, but it's an important skill for my children, for any children--developing that respect for the act of stewardship not through lectures but from authentic experiences in their own lives.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

the first week

On this first week of training, I'm afraid all I have to give, at this moment, are snippets from my brain, most of which I've already forgotten. I've also got these panoramas I took inside of the L-shaped practice Children's House that we'll be using over the next few weeks, though finding the right spot to capture it was tricky. Believe me when I say the light is amazing, the materials pristine, and our curiosity in that flow of the cycle (as opposed, of course, to ebbing, you see).

:: So much of this would have been helpful to know when I was struggling with whether or not Montessori was right for our children so many years ago. I was such a skeptic! All I need was to observe a classroom though--the hum of industriousness and that thrill of how it all tocks together would have swayed me. I might not have needed the theory lectures, truly, but it helps, to think about things like what's learned in Practical Life and Grace & Courtesy and how that just snowballs into so much else. How it cracks the whole thing open.

:: I'm thinking a bit about a parent engagement night, or a series of nights, where some of that theory can be used to demystify a few things, especially the materials that seem so foreign.

:: We give children real objects because we want to let them know that we respect them. Things break--yes--as they do in life. It makes me think a bit to how we save our "best" clothes for special events--this does make complete sense as we do want to show a kind of reverence for those events, but if those events never come, our favorite dress hangs, collecting dust. We have these beautiful things for a reason. In turn, we give them glass cups instead of sippy plastic things because they need to learn to use them, but also this: they have given us a great deal of trust (we are their sense of time, their clocks, their rhythm of the day, their trust in getting fed and well-rested and what else more), and this is one way we can show that trust is returned.

:: In my own life, my favorite areas are language, the fiber-related aspects and making-by-hand of practical life, but I hadn't realized how much I would enjoy the meditative parts of the classroom work too. At lunch, a small group of us go outside and go through a few simple yoga-based movements, and it's so impressive how it restores me for the rest of the day. Today, we learned what it meant to walk on the line, and it is certainly one of those experiences one must actively participate in in order to understand the absolute restoration it can provide.

:: We've talked a lot about the transformation of the child, but we've also made sure to recognize the transformation, the ongoing always-learning transformation of the adult as well. And already, six days in, I can tell you, great shifts have happened inside of me. Great passion. Great this is right feelings are trickling around inside of my, fluttering against my ribs and thwacking my sternum. Hello! This is right, this is right! Yes.

Yes, this journey is right.

Monday, June 20, 2016

today was the first day of training,

... and I'm not sure if I can keep myself upright. As I write this, I am on the back patio, tired from the hour commute, but grateful that I can come home to my family every night. There are parents coming in from Duluth, from Sioux Falls, from Houston Denver and Colombia. My own are just an hour's reasonably paced drive away.

I wish I had the brainspace and energy to unpack today. I could make a list of events: introductions, snacking on fresh fruit on the front lawn, learning a new song, a documentary, a lecture, a game involving balls, some journal-writing, what else? Oh, yes. The silent walkabout in the only Montessori Museum (at all? or in the US?)--here's one of the earliest moveable alphabets.

One question that has rattled around in my mind: Why is Montessori not more well-known? If the studies are correct, if this is such an ideal form of education, why aren't more people learning in this way? There are plenty of off reasons we can list, mainly about misconceptions or lack of awareness, but the one that I think makes the most sense to me is this: there needs to be a transformation, or, as some of the other students put it, a personal connection. It's like the discovery of one of those kitchen tricks or just how buttery those leggings really are, except it's education.

For our family, we opted to send our kids to preschool after a mild discussion (do we invest more in college? do we send them now? do we go with a church-y place or something else? What is Waldorf? What is Montessori? They both like natural things; that's good, right?) and found the only option that felt like it had much to do with education (and it had much to do with education, let me tell you) was Red Cottage. So off Maya went, even though I was mostly skeptical because I wanted her to make friends--the point was social interaction, wasn't it?--and they were teaching her independence. What the what.

All that shifted when I finally got the opportunity to observe. Suddenly, that click, the one that you can hear as some gear falls right into place. Suddenly, it was amazing! miraculous! why on earth was this not happening in every classroom? I became a convert swiftly after that and in this most recent year, when I did some volunteering in the classroom and thus was exposed to more, I found myself coming up with excuses to come in more and more: oh, I'll do gardening with them and oh, let's do a poetry lesson, and yes, I'd be happy to come back again and again to photograph the children at work for the website. What else, tell me what else.

We all need that transformative moment, the one where we finally see what it's all about and step back and say in that small I-just-realized-it-voice: oh. But that OH is HUGE! That oh is all of your skepticism sloughing off, and it's even more special if it's your own son or daughter who hails the arrival of your new view. Hello, parent, this is what's best for my brain and soul--isn't it amazing? All in that one little sound, that oh.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

the creek

There's a special place in town the kids call a magic kingdom. It's long and flowy, and there are lots of places that are special for different reasons: there's the spot across from the original school where Kai would take the kids for tromps and tree climbs and labyrinth design; there's this small divot of a spot where we would take our dogs when they were just pups and now take our children to splash and splash and toss sticks; and in winter, there's a trail we'll go down that is surrounded by hills and has lots of great logs to balance on.

Today, we were introduced to a new sweet spot by some of our favorite people to go on play dates with: Eydis on the right, who was in the Children's House with my two littles, and Nicolai, who is actually one of my own students as well as a friend of my kids:

This is another branch of the paths surrounding Hay Creek here in town, perfect for wildflower picking, lamb's ear stroking, and bug counting.

Maya: "Mama, why are the striders in that water there and those little flies in the water over there?"

Me: "Look at what the water is doing. See how one is still and the other is moving?"

See how still she is, watching:

She brought this bit of bark home. It's amazing how they collect things, refuse to relinquish, claim certain sticks as their own. Some things get forgotten, like the clover bud behind mama's ear, or the smoothly curved stick that snapped in half, and others get toted about like the treasures that they are.

And then the fantasies begin, the ones where (in the first picture) bridges are built or (as above) the beginnings of rafts are woven together and tales of Huckleberry Finn are quick on the tongue. Or their own adventures--we don't need sails because we'll let the current take us, and we'll go that way, and we don't need paddles, we'll just go and go....

The clover is out in full force, as are the asters and vetch.

One of the mamas we went with is a master at diverting energy. To shift around a kerfuffle, she gathered burdock leaves, turned them into umbrellas, into wings, into helicopter blades.

This is what I hope to get better at as I continue in this parenting and teaching journey: the patience to take that deep breath and hand over a new tool, a new object, and watch how it evolves. Introduce something constructive and of value.

The other mama, I must say, is also just as inventive--she had each of the sparring children take one side of the path and watch for elves (or was it gnomes? oh dear, my leaky memory!)--either way, creatures inspired by all of the Icelandic folklore I'm sure her daughter is steeped in, which makes me kind of want to slip in and listen to the stories too.

How many folkloric narratives can we give our children? Can we just tell stories all year long?

This particular area of the creek is good for all things, especially beyond the simple forest meandering: in the winter, you'll see many snowmobiles and cross country skiers, and in all weather, but especially the good, you'll see horses. The kids squeed in delight at this--two Tennessee walking horses, so impressively enormous, it might have taken two of me to reach the tips of their ears, and the well-meaning rider of a particular gelding named Shadow popped Maya atop his horse, but unfortunately had dropped the reins and the horse took a few bouncing steps backwards, which led to that brief moment of terror for this mama--but Maya stayed, no broken bones, and I know the man's partner had a few words to give him--she was incredibly cautious and leery of the kids, whereas I think he was thrilled to share this love with them. I get it. Both ways. He had good intentions, and I appreciate that generosity. 

There's an old-fashioned water pump up by the picnic pavilion, so the kids made an ocean and a river leading up to it. Maya made moss islands and squatted in the gravel while her brother filled and refilled his water bottle and came home long-soaked.

My Montessori training begins on Monday, and I'm both elated and a bit sad. I'm loving these play dates with fellow mamas at the school--my heart feels so good during and after.

It's nine weeks this summer (and more next and the more after that), and I feel so lucky to get to take this time--we have both grandmas coming in to help, and we've got a good community to fall back on, and the play dates for the kids can continue (I've been invited to pass along phone numbers to them for texted gatherings). I'm longing for two things--the companionship of these women and their children but also the time apart from my own four walls and two kids. I love them fiercely, but for over five years now, there haven't been a great number of disruptions to me being the lead parent, which isn't saying my husband isn't a formidable co-parent (he leads when we are together; he just has a full-time job and then some, and he's accommodated my attendance at writing retreats and writing conferences without complaint). Partly I'm writing this out of an acknowledgement of my need to relinquish, but also my desire to embrace some time where my focus is not half-elsewhere. It will still be with them, just perhaps not as substantial a percentage as I ease myself back into professional life.

Until then, I toast to Hay Creek with oranges and--is that a wren? Well, rich, verdant woods, at any rate, a toast!