Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Mirror, mirror

          My sweet neighbor across the street and I often water our gardens in the morning, waving across to each other as we greet the day.  On Monday Denise's grand-niece was visiting, dancing through the flowers while we chatted.
          I met Zahira, a little two year old sprite, as she twirled by on the way to make sure her mother was still in the kitchen making breakfast.  When she came back, I lifted her in my arms and she gave me a big hug.  Standing cheek to cheek we watched as cars and trucks passed by.
          "Look, Zahira," I said to her.  "There's a big, white truck."
          "Big, white truck," she parroted.
          I pointed at another one.  "And that truck is red."
          "Red truck," Zahira echoed.
          I turned to Denise.  "I love this age...they are so curious and repeat everything we say."
          Having been a teacher, she nodded.  "Yes...we watch everything we say around Miss Z.  She repeats everything!"
          Zahira touched my cheeks, turning my face to hers.  "Ladda..ladda...ladda!" she laughed, sticking her tongue in and out of her mouth rapidly.
          I mirrored her and she giggled with delight.
          "Baa....baa...baa!" Zahira beamed.
          I did the same.
          "Look!" she said, pointing.  "Truck coming!"
          "Yes, a big truck's coming!" I replied, easily flowing into "Mommy speak."
          Zahira and I had a wonderful visit, echoing each other, until it was time for me to go back home.
          As I crossed the street, it dawned on me how much young children mirror their parents and caretakers.  For more than twenty years I have taught pre-school aged little ones and have learned by experience the old adage:  "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree."
          But we all know this to be true....don't we?

          While working at Greenwood Elementary, I would occasionally have a student teacher during the fall semester.  After six weeks or so, I would say, "If I want to know what I'm really like as a their teacher, I have one of the kids go up and instruct calendar time in the morning." 
          Sure enough, when I asked one of my first graders to take over for me, he or she would use the same inflections that I did, the same order of events, and even sit on my stool in a similar manner as I did, hooking one foot over the rungs.  It was often hilarious to watch a smaller incarnation of myself teach the class and, if the child who was teaching had a good sense of humor, I would sit at his or her desk and behave like they often did.  We all had a great time looking in the proverbial mirror of how we appear to others.  
          But sometimes what can be seen in the mirror is not always funny.

          A few weeks ago, I met a woman who is pregnant with a little boy, due in a few weeks.  I asked if it was her first and she said, "No...I have a three year old daughter.  And it's a good thing my husband can say, 'No' to her because I sure can't."
          I lifted a brow.
          "We were at the store the other day and she asked for candy in such a cute voice, what could I do?" the woman said.  "I give her whatever she wants."
          "You know someday a teacher will have to deal with your kid," I said, recalling the myriad of spoiled children who had passed in and out of my classroom.
          "Good," she said, grinning. "Let her deal with it....because I don't want to."
          I wanted to say, "Your choice not to parent is one of the reasons I left teaching!"  But of course I did not.   Still, it was difficult not to regale her on the long, exhausting days of setting boundaries for kids who had no idea what healthy limits were, let alone consequences.  Just when I'd get them used to the calm, structured environment, there would be a long weekend or a holiday, and many of the kids would come back re-wired by their home environment, so I had to spend a couple of days getting them back on task.
          But, instead of rebuking the woman, I told her, "Well, you're going to reap that when she's sixteen and wants a car....wants a phone...wants whatever she wants and expects you to give it to her."
          "Oh, I know," the woman said.  "But I don't care."

          Spending time with Zahira this week reminded me of the very tender, very open spaces within a young child's heart and mind.  They are little sponges, soaking in everything they see, hear, smell, touch, taste, and most importantly, infer.  The right words may not be available to them yet, but little ones know when they are surrounded by love, anger, confusion, joy, hypocrisy, and even complacency. 
          And then they mirror what they have experienced. 
          Yes, nature has a lot to say in how a child evolves.  But how we raise our children, how we speak and how we behave around them teach them much more than we realize.  The home environment, the school setting, and even the people we surround ourselves with teach our children by osmosis. 
          My friend, Barb, has told me that I'm a child magnet.  She's matter where I go, little ones try to get my attention.  They stop and stare at me with wide eyes.  They giggle.  They engage me in conversation.  Barb says this is because I mirror them with love.  And I try to do that as much as possible, most recently with my new friend, Zahira, for I know that I am revealing to them who I am just as much as I may be mirroring who they are.
          As my teaching friends head back to school this week, my thoughts are with them all.  May they be blessed with wonderful parents who love and nurture their children with love and clarity.  May they find renewed enthusiasm for the gift of sharing knowledge with those in their care.
          May they be a mirror of love and respect for their students.
          And may they be mirrored with love and respect in return.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Letting go

This morning as I prepare to write the chapters of my life while living in Big Sur, I went  back to this article I wrote for the Examiner in July of 2009, eight months after my return.  The seeds of what I will sculpt this week were planted then and it's a wonder to see how very far I've come in creating a new, healthier way of being.  

Blessings to everyone in my Esalen soul family:  Kinga, Sheila, Ken, Craig, Shirley, John, Chris, Margie, C. Ray, Eva and Sanjay, Cathy, Anne, Seema, Lars, Simee and a host of many others.  Thank you for being an integral part of my life....then and now.

July 8, 2009
I drove back to Toledo, Ohio nearly eight months ago and yet the sting of leaving Big Sur, California still lingers. Last November I said a tearful good-bye to Esalen Institute, a place I had lived and worked as a gardener for nearly a year. I had hoped to make it my permanent home, but due to choices both in and out of my control, I’ve come back to my hometown to write and take responsibility for the gifts I’ve been given.
It's been the most difficult journey of my life to let go of a place that has touched me deeply and allowed me to grow as both a spiritual and human being. Still, I know that Toledo's fingerprints are imbedded deeply within me as well. Driving through Maumee a few weeks ago I passed Richland Street and instantly remembered the day my family moved to Washington D.C. when I was four years old. We lived there just one short year before moving back to Toledo and settling in the south end. I went away to college, and taught a year in Troy, Ohio before coming back to work for Washington Local Schools in the late eighties. It seems that Toledo has a boomerang effect on me. I leave and yet, somehow, time after time, I return. Sometimes kicking and screaming, sometimes with deep gratitude to see familiar faces and places.
This spring I've been gardening nearly every day. It's been a lovely season after a long, arduous winter. Growth is abundant and I am grateful for the warmer weather and sunshine. Still, my mind lingers in the shadows of the past...the moments at Esalen that tore my heart and the ones that are indescribably lovely. I imagine a part of me will always be there on the coastline, working in the gardens, dancing in the surf, sitting in silence while watching the unforgettable sunsets over the Pacific. And yet, I am here now. In Toledo. In this home and in this life as it is.
Last week while pruning my way through the wildlife of a friend's backyard, I realized how much the old, overgrown weeds and thorny vines were choking out the loveliness of what lay beneath. Even though some of the brush was vibrantly colored and amazingly lush, it was taking the life of what was originally planted. Even yesterday, while delicately pruning the trumpet vine in my own backyard, I've come to understand yet again the benefit of letting go of excess, of old growth and burned out blooms in order to let new life push its way through. The same is indelibly true for my own life. Letting go of the past, be it delightful or demonic is a gateway to the gifts of the present. They come in all shapes and sizes…the solace and sanctuary of my home, the evolving storyline of my novel, the purr and pounce of my cats. In the delightful smiles of the yoga students who come to our classes and in the stillness of my own spirit.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Big Sur or the friends who have drifted to all corners of this world. I don’t know when or even if I will see them again. Still, this is a choice I’ve made for now. In time I will choose again…and again….and again. I trust that in time I will create a new place that was conceived in the choice of acknowledging both sides of myself and ultimately choosing the one who knows how to embrace the unknown with grace and acceptance.
Playing and working in the gardens at Esalen, 2008

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The good stuff

            I'm behind my self-imposed 8-ball as I sink into the center of writing a memoir.  I'm hoping to have the first draft finished by Labor Day, and oh, what a labor it's been to write through my twenties and early thirties.  I want to skip over all of the drama, tension, and cyclical behavior to get to the good stuff....the life I'm living now.
            Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way.  I know I wouldn't be where I am now -- mentally, emotionally and physically -- without all that has come before.  One can't expect to plant a seed and magically find a rose the next day, in a week, or even a month.  It took my lilac bush nine years to finally bloom.  And yet, it was worth the wait to watch those lovely blossoms open, to cut a bouquet and bring their aromatic fragrance into the house. 
            I've learned to have patience this summer...with the rainy weather, my little kitten, Aditi, who is still learning the ropes around here, with the slow and steady pace at which the memoir is unfolding.  Inspiration comes at the oddest of times, and I find myself jotting notes while eating dinner, weeding the garden, at a stop light, and even upon waking. 
            A few days ago I dreamt I was standing in a room watching a snake slither up the wall.  It transformed into a huge, green frog which leapt onto my left shoulder and sat there, gurgling and burbling until I woke up and realized Aditi was asleep curled up next to me, her heartbeat echoing in my ear.  I smiled and knew the frog was a harbinger of transformation, just like the butterflies I felt fluttering in my stomach last week.  Frogs bring messages of renewal and rebirth, of metamorphosis and the mysteries of life.
            It's certainly been a mystery watching this manuscript unfold.  Last May I abandoned the outline I'd spent nearly six months constructing, only to let the narrative flow wherever it might lead me.  In July I revisited moments with my grandfather, sunny days in the summer of 1975 when I swam in my neighbor's pool, and the "class from hell" that I taught in 1989.  This month I'll be returning to the genesis of building my yoga business, the move to California and back, and the host of surprises that awaited my return. 
            Throughout the process I've told my friends that everyone in their forties could benefit from compiling stories from their lives.  It's given me a perspective of how very far I've come on this road less traveled...and how curious I am about the road yet to be seen. 
            All in all, I've come to discover it's been an amazing ride.  Light or dark, contented or anxious, delighted or delirious, it's all good stuff. 
            And then some.