PART THREE 1958 or Nine

A preschool child is the perfect human learning machine, gathering survival information through every one of the five senses, and perhaps his sixth.  A child is born with unique and inherited DNA in which are embedded characteristics and traits which have helped related generations survive prior to the time of his birth.  In other words, he is born knowing much about how to navigate the world he has never known or experienced.  He has also been accumulating information in utero, responding to and remembering sounds and watery experiences long before he is able to verbalize them.  Children from the very first day of life are filled with an unearthly wisdom, which adults gradually and constantly erase, as the baby moves along his natural path of development.

I believe this because I recall how it felt to reside in that early stage of life.  I was in my high chair in the kitchen and I knew the woman at the sink was not my mother.  I felt she was my second choice even though she had just placed food in front of me moments ago.  She was distracted and disengaged in a way my own mother never was.

I see the blocky back side of her as she leans into her work at the kitchen sink.  I am resentful it is not the slender figure of my mother.  Her apron is tied over the house dress, and she has on stockings and house shoes.  I do not like this combination, but I remember the feel of ladies’ legs covered in nylons, so smooth and silky to my sensitive hands.  I begin to rub my hands across the tray in front of me, and it is wet with some kind of food, and it feels wonderful beneath my palms.  I forget about the woman at the sink and immerse myself in the experience of the food on the tray in front of me.  The room is sunny and bright from the window over the sink in front of my grandmother.  I am in a reverie of tactile learning, lost in the taste, smell, and feel of the tray and the food.  I feel for my hair, which connects to a related memory of “silky” and am surprised it does not feel smooth at all.  Grandma Sophie turns to me, and is laughing and speaking in Norwegian and chiding me in a very loving way, wiping at the tray, removing the learning like magic, and I am polished by a smiling face.  I feel her hands, but in my mind, I believe her face is doing it, and I am loving her openly and without reservation.  She allows me to remain in the chair with the tray, and turns back to the sink.  There is some kind of distraction placed in front of me, but it holds no attention as it is cold, noisy and metallic, and has hard edges.

It must have been measuring spoons.  But the spell was broken.  I was cut off from smoothness.  I accepted this, but felt disappointment…I did not cry.  Moments later, my sisters came in from outside, and I felt fully joyful.

Diane sweeps past me, on the right.  I feel the burst of her energy, and watch her disappear.  Grandma Sophie says something to her in a sharp tone.  It is in English, heavily accented.  Diane responds with a happy tone, but does not return to the room.  My sister Pam, four years younger than Diane, comes straight over to talk to me, and play with me.  Her face is small, and her hair moves around it like a halo as she speaks to me.  Her chin barely reaches over the height of the tray.  Her excited smiles and chirps of affection stir up the same feelings of unguarded love I felt a moment ago.  Grandma Sophie pulls out a chair, causing a very loud noise that startles me, breaking the reverie.  She sits down heavily and somehow causes my sister Pam to leave me and go to the table to sit with her.

I was alone then.  There was nothing to learn at the moment.  I sat quietly and waited for something to happen.  My eyes studied the linoleum, my nose sniffed the fresh air of the outdoors brought in by those little girls, and my ears were listening for those who were absent.  I was aware they would be coming, and soon.  I already knew the pattern of my days.

A.table.old

I have asked my sister about this memory, and she validated I must have been barely two years old. She knew the kitchen, the name of the street, and why my mother was not home. She filled out some more of the details and we both marveled this particular hour had travelled with me for over sixty years, intact, and fully accurate in every detail.

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End Of Days…Why Grandmothers Are Like This

I decided to select a photo from my collection from October a few years back, more than a couple of years, really! I chose October 2008, which held a series of pictures of my grandson Cavin on an all day adventure at “Dodie’s House”.   I wish I could insert the entire album! He was maybe twenty months old.   Running in only a diaper, I snapped photos of him in his brother’s cap, my wide-brimmed sun hat, and a bent up cowboy hat. He tried each on in turn, trying out characters, as if to learn who he might become.
He spent an entire day in various get ups, and while I played paparazzi, my photos show him climbing, squatting, licking spoons of brownie mix, wiping his hands on his lil belly. He is inside, outside, devouring slices of watermelon, and patting dogs from the neighborhood. In the series he is never still, and I feel joy in the memory, with a keen awareness of the gift he was to me, and his cavalier disregard for me snapping photos of his antics.
I remember thinking how different boys are from girls in the way they play and do the work of childhood. I had been a mom of girls, never actually knowing how completely my experience differed from my friends who had sons.
Then I got a slew of grandsons, and realized my joy was only beginning!
I admit it was challenging to me to allow the climbing, jumping, and mechanical experimentation that never stopped. Their serious faces, intent on bugs, guns, and machines would change suddenly, brilliantly, into bursts of unbridled movement…and I felt each was on the verge of death if I failed to keep up! It was tiring, aggravating, and scary.
But then there would come this moment in early evening, when the boy would become quiet, truck still in his hand, and the tipping would begin, softly at first, gently, like soft snow falling…the squat became a sit, and the sit, a belly roll, and the army crawl lightly became a rolling over, with one last look at the ceiling before the stillness, a toy truck falling from open fingers, and suddenly silencestillness.
It would come like some kind of spell, right in the midst of chaotic and jerky movement, as if this boy who moments before had been inexhaustible, had accidentally hit the kill switch, the safety switch, the off button, and just fell asleep in his tracks.
This moment, that special and amazing moment happened over and over again, and my mother’s heart would return to me. All of the annoyances of my day seemed sinful on my part, and the shrieks of “No!” and “Watch out!” and “What is wrong with you?” confronted me there, in the waning daylight, and I would silently ask forgiveness for my harshness over his day of development.
It is different when you become a grandmother. We take time. We feel no obligation to get it right.  Yet we are still mothers.  MOTHERS, with all the accompanying guilt, frustrations, hopes, and dreams, while at the same time knowing we will not be there to watch over them when they are growing families of their own unless we are very, very lucky, and do a very, very good job preventing their deaths as we boldly face our OWN.   Whether our time left is short or long, we spend it lavishly, as if we will always be here.

I leaned over him, smelling his breath, turning my face to feel it on my cheek, and counting his eyelashes when I turned back to look at him, marveling at the length of them.  I set my camera on the bedside table, and leaned closer  to study his face for several minutes. The sheer miraculous beauty of the boy with his lashes sweeping over a perfect (but dirty) cheek lying there, with his heavy head crushing his cowboy hat astonished me! I gently tried to take the hat from him, but he stirred, firmly lifting his strong little hand to the top of his head, preventing me from removing the thing. He was a cowboy, at least for that day, and early signs show more of the same. I allowed it then, and allow it today.
I lifted the camera for one last shot. Somehow I needed proof for myself that hard men all over the world had once been like this child. ALL men, all over the world. Yes. ALL.
Were it not for mothers of boys, the world would have destroyed itself long ago. I will never fully understand it, but I am grateful for every girl who is one of those mothers chosen by God to be one of them.

Red cowboy hat

Red cowboy hat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

31 Days in October to Write My Story

Portrait of Socrates. Marble, Roman artwork (1...

Portrait of Socrates. Marble, Roman artwork (1st century), perhaps a copy of a lost bronze statue made by Lysippos. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The challenge comes from Lisa Jo Baker at http://www.lisajobaker.com.  She suggests I write “my story” over the next 31 days in October.  I have been wondering about this lately.  On a Dr. Phil Show, he said we have 10 defining moments, 7 critical choices, and 5 individuals that have impacted us for a lfetime.  These external factors help to shape the life we live.

CAN THIS BE TRUE?  I will be writing about this for the next thirty one days.  “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  Socrates could not be wrong.  Join me, won’t you?

Think What You Want

A strongly held opinion is not something we arrive at lightly.  Normally it is born of life experience, and grows over time to be reinforced, eventually becoming crystallized into a foundational structure for every action we take on a daily basis.  The belief has become so ingrained we operate within it, without even understanding why.

We arrive at adulthood early in life, but from the day we leave our parents until the day we die, we operate within the life structure provided to us during our formative years.  For this reason, the study of early childhood development has always fascinated me.  When I observe a “dysfunctional” adult, I immediately see a child who has had some kind of early childhood life trauma.  One can only imagine.

I  had to stop trying to do interventions on these people.  They are already lost.  Though this seems a harsh stance, it has saved me from disaster more than a few times.  I am now using my personal energy and resources to assist young families with the arduous task of rearing healthy adults who will eventually do the same when their turns come.  As a mother who has completed the cycle of launching three daughters, I have enjoyed observing them “getting it right” even among huge piles of laundry, and supper boiling over on the stove.  Their children absolutely glow.  And they have friends with kids just like them, which gives me great optimism about the future of this world.

Mom was a school teacher, one of those very gifted and energetic individuals who could bring talent from nearly any child.  When she retired she said sadly, “Give me a child five years old, and I will tell you whether he will succeed or fail in life.”  WHAT?!!  She went on to explain her opinion.  “By age five, the foundation for the rest of his life has been set.  His love of learning, his courage, his willingness to cooperate within a group, and many other things are already in place.  When he arrives in the classroom devoid of good experiences it is nearly impossible to reverse the damage.”

Wow.  This was a very heavy thought for me as a young mother.  I played devil’s advocate, sounding the depths of her position to be sure she had said something she could defend, because if it were true, it meant parents play a critical role in the general health of our entire society.  Before we finished she had explained it has nothing much to do with religion, political views, or even the public schools.  Great kids and bad come from homes.  HOMES.

Now I am a “wisdom carrier” myself, one of the “elders” who observe from the sidelines, watching  young families struggle with decisions that could break a heart, yet still must be made.  They consult me daily, looking for some hint, a clue, some guidance in the process.

A little known secret of the elders is never spoken.  I will take the risk here.  The secret is simply this:  There is no escape.  None.  You must do the work of LOVE, and it takes a lifetime to understand all that this implies.  Ironically, it is what any newborn knows from its first moments.  We are born with every tool, every willingness to learn, every good intention, and too much trust.

All we can do as parents is preserve this or mess it up.  By age five, the windows are closed.  The child enters the larger world with the evidence of our choices.  The most important work we can do in life is to rear children with their tools, their willingness to learn, and their love and trust intact.  If we get even close to right, we have made an impact on the world at large.

When you have time, watch a large group of young children at play, and without a doubt, you will be able to spot a child who glows and a child whose light has been diminished.  One will graduate with honors, and the other one will have a criminal record later in life.  Sound extreme?  Think what you want to.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are  created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable  rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  Thomas Jefferson was referring to men all over the world.  For us to return to sanity in America, we must, MUST extend these tenets to include our children at the earliest formative stages.

Be a light carrier, for the days are dark ahead.  We must martial ever resource, and this includes our foundation, the children.  They are the real wisdom carriers. If you doubt it, sit down and talk to one of them.