My One Good Parenting Tip

When I was a school board member, we were asked to participate in a retreat. I had a less than cheery attitude about this. For starters, the retreat was three hours long. The evening, however, ended with us in the school library digging fruit into chocolate and talking. I learned so much from being a school board member; I received so much more than I ever gave. That night, what I took home was this: the facilitator insisted curiosity is a real force of nature — not simply a trait or a habit, but a genuine skill.

When I’m in a saner frame of mothering mind, I lean on this tool. Why? Why are you saying this? What’s the subtext? And then again, simply, why?

When I can hold to coolness — and I frequently fail — the why can carry me through. Send me your parenting tip?

Possible, unthinkable,
the cricket’s tiny back as I lie
on the lawn in the dark, my heart
a blue cup fallen from someone’s hands.

Dorianne Laux

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13-year-old’s baking

Vermont Democracy

Outside the town clerk’s office, a little after 8 last night, I’m talking with an another adult while the kids jump around in what feels like balminess at 14 above zero when I suddenly shout out, Look at the moon!

Ringed by a rainbow, the luminous half-moon hangs over the town clerk’s building — a former one-room schoolhouse.

Our friends head home one way, my daughter and I the other.

Woodbury, Vermont, with its population less than a 1,000 souls, has a 3-person selectboard. I’m there as the town librarian. Most of the school board is there. Members of the public. The worry is to how to retain the tiny elementary school the state seems intent to close.

The kids are not in the meeting. They’re hanging out at the clerk’s main desk, reading graphic novels, and raiding the clerk’s candy jar. They’re giggling about kid stuff that’s important to kids.

I want the kids know this version of democracy — a group of people wearing fleece and hand-knit sweaters, jammed into a tiny room, our knees bumping, some of us liking each other and some maybe not at all, but all of talking, thinking things through — what’s the wisest course of action? how do we tend the common good?

It’s the first snowfall —
When it melts again we’ll see
Dewdrops on the grass.

— Buson

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Break That Cliche: Writing Lesson from the Kids

My ten-year-old came downstairs the other morning dressed in shorts although it was only 39 degrees. No. I immediately said. But it might warm up, she insisted.

In this afternoon’s rain, the kids have headed down the road to the neighbors’ trampoline because it’s fun in the rain, apparently, even in a cold May rain.

These Vermont kids, like the unfurling leaves in my apple trees, are vigorously unstoppable with their own flowing sap. At ten and eleven, the world is as new to them as this magnificently unfolding spring. Lacking rigid expectations, why not leap in the rain? – Although I did notice the girls had the foresight to pull on extra pairs of socks.

 

The artist, and particularly the poet, is always an anarchist in the best sense of the word. He must heed only the call that arises within him from three strong voices: the voice of death, with all its foreboding, the voice of love, and the voice of art.

– Federico Garcia Lorca

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Vermont dusk

Of Tacos and the Inner Life

The after school kid topic today was how many tacos were eaten at lunch.  The girls each ate two.  The younger brother ate three.  Another child at the table quit after four. Teacher?  Four, apparently.  A fifth grade boy claimed the prize with eight.  Pondering this impossibility, the girls drew a diagram of how large his stomach might be and sandwiched in eight hand-drawn tacos.  A variation of anatomy, in the elementary school world, complete with graphic illustrations.

Don’t days sometimes seem a collage of pieces, one funkily shaped thing pressed in against another?  In my realm today of concrete things — washing dishes and writing tech bits, things I could hold in my hand — I had a conversation with one person about some of the deepest things in my life, a literal spading up of soul debris.

Aren’t the best novels that way, too, filled with the physicality of action and the deeper layers that turn our lives one way or another?  Surely, we’re shaped by the trees in our yards, maybe the nubs of apples fattening up that we finger every afternoon, or the roads we drive along particular rivers, watching their levels rise and ebb, or the patchwork quilt we smooth over a bed, every morning.  But within this, too, are the murkier regions of desire and raw longing, of resentment’s ice and anger’s torrents, and even when our surface belies a calmness, our inner workings foment.

Writing sifts down through those unclear, swirling layers, and tries to make sense of the impossible, accordions us out so we may see less of a mosh and something resembling sense. Know thyself, Socrates advised.  Writing arrows toward that knowing.

How would eight tacos fit into one boy?  We stretch, children.

THE LAYERS
Stanley Kunitz

…In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

Photo by Molly S.

Photo by Molly S.