Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Dinner Hour Empties

Clissold Park

I worry about friendly deer
and children who are not.
The way he introduces himself

to animals and rarely people.
Hello moor hens! His name Winston,
he chirps. Prefers

the playground at dusk
when shadows are long
and equipment aches

to hold children. My arms
empty for the first time
all day as he tries each slide,

swing, merry
go round
in the quiet.

Missing the different
heft and weight
of someone else’s dear

one. Graceful,
skittish boy
sitting, observing

beasts at play.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Day He Taught Himself To Blow Bubbles & Unschooled His Mama

in Abney Park Cemetery

We have left the cool house for bubbles. He likes to walk
now, it is finally hot. Twenty minutes later,
we arrive at the bus stop. We have stopped
to walk on a wall, count fence posts;
examine butterfly bushes, say good morning to the three
drunks on Ramsgate Avenue. One gives him a pence.

Within moments, the 149 swerves in the vague direction
of the curb. A harassed woman with a cranky child -
who is still content in a buggy -
waits as the real citizens jostle, scurry and
hasten to cut her off.

I am done with this greedy churlishness.
I combine my bulk with his gaily swinging body
to block the entry so woman and pram may board.
People scowl. I think, Relax.
We are learning something here.
We are learning to think
of others rather than our own selfish selves.

Secretly, I am thankful that he is walking now.
Otherwise, our lesson would have been one of the three:

a. how to be a cutthroat bitch and jockey myself to the front
of the line so the woman with the cranky baby
has to stand in the hot sun and wait for the next bus, or

b. how to be gracious about standing in the hot sun
waiting myself for the next bus with an impatient toddler
while I let the harassed woman and cranky baby board or

c. how to keep moving forward by getting
Running Boy out of his buggy, fold it down
while trying to keep him from dashing
into the street and haul both baby and buggy
onto the crowded bus where no one stands up
to let a mother and child sit unless you remind them
of their civic duty through gritted teeth without once saying

He reminds me that he can do by self.
He follows the horde to the 2nd level. I think,
a toddler on a bus with steps,
how can I live through this?

But, we live through things everyday.
Nothing is as huge as it seems. Until, feeling

the breeze, gazing out over the streets from on high,
I revel in the notion of a thing with wheels and two floors
that is larger than my flat. I could live here
on this sunny double decker bus carreening,
lurching through London.
Suddenly, Harry Potter takes on a depth I had yet unrealized.

This exhilaration works up an appetite. He remembers
that he is hungry and thirsty.
Not having a buggy to stow things in,
I am without consolation. Thankfully, he trusts
that we get there, I will help him solve this problem.
Fifteen minutes later, we are in Stoke Newington.

We have come this far for bubbles.
But, first we must rest and refresh.
We have done so much today already.
I buy him a box of chips and a soda
regretting it two blocks later when I pass
fruit, juice, nuts and crackers. But - I like him to know
that when I say I’ll take care of something. I will.
We are learning something here.

We duck into Abney Park Cemetery
and picnic next to the tombstone of “Grandpa”
I am glad he is not reading yet because
Grandpa “fell asleep” on April something.
But, we have come this far for bubbles, so off we go

into the ancient sentinel trees
past tombstones toppled like dominos;
through Queen Ann’s Lace, buttercups, daisies, and
faded raspberry flowers bulging prickly green promise;
we linger by the sarcophagus whose cracked
lid has turned it into to a watery grave
and said good afternoon to the drunks lounging
on a dead tree stump which has been carved into a bench.

Emerging an hour and a half later
onto the traffic screaming street.
A few paces to the toy store.
He only has eyes for bubbles.
Not the nifty bang-the-ball toy.
Not the trains or cars or animals
not the sunglasses or funky pull cow.
After such a long journey
I think we deserve prizes.
But - he is only interested in
one simple tube of soap and a wand.
Which is what we buy and

back to Abney Park. I am going to perform magic,
now, in just a second, hold on, wait
not there, just a little farther, maybe here

I sit on a fallen down slab
of rose marble next to the broken urn.
As I pull out the bubbles he dances
a little hopping jig of impatient eagerness.
I am still fixated on all the other better things
we could have bought: Brio trains, Plan Toys,

but, only bubbles matter.
Not the Kestrel observing us,
or the nervous collared dove
waiting to be eaten. Just
the ten iridescent orbs floating
and bursting in his hands.
He wants to do it by self .
I hand him the wand and he jams it into his mouth.
As I start to take it away, I realize that
it won’t kill either of us if he sips a small amount
of nontoxic soap or spills or splashes.
It certainly can’t kill him to fail.
Trying and trying. Patience. And finally,
something more fragile than bubbles is won.

And he is satisfied. Confidant. Proud.
So we wind our way past the drunks
and bid them Good Evening.
They give him some advice and 20 pence.

We went this far today so I could learn how
to get out of his way. So, I could remember
the way Knowledge quietly presents herself
and all too often I interfere or block her
entrance when all I have to do is sit, watch
wait for these two old friends to play.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Abney Park Cemetery

random clusters of recollection.
haphazard graves rubbed
clean of words,

celtic knot crosses
split in one hundred
shards of disrupted

memory, or shiny fresh
tombstones recently
flowered. five elders clutch

a tattered map
plod through brambles.
daisies push up

from a broken sarcophagus
we are all laughing.

Friday, June 10, 2005

And So

here is Spring. full of dead
old women and birth.

boys coming butt first
or too big heads already

cutting women in half.
and wisdom so much

hot, dry, sand & wind
with plentiful rain,

mud and quivering.
blessed be this season -

like every other before it.
new enough for us

to complain. nature
remembers to invite us

to contemplate challenging her will.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Blowing Off Steam

after reading
a Village Voice article about O'Neil Walker’s ordeal with Middlebury College.

Shame on you David Hawkins.

If she’s not ashamed of you
then yo’ Mama must be one of those

white bed linen hoodie wearing women
who fantasizes about Black dick so much

she’s scared herself into lynching
any imaginary boogie man

to the point that your soul is the one burning,
dangling and dickless from the soul-tree

on which the village voice was written.

Our world lingers in suffering
because of arrogant, young men

like you. You are the reason
fecund, vibrant, strong

pregnant Black women weep twice.
Once for joy. Once because

we realize that at any moment,
something wondrous

and precious - that we’ve spent
nine months making - is vulnerable

to those of your ilk. Shiver

in your shallow frigid victory.
Remember the heart always rots

once severed from truth.

At The Pond

He has decided they are berries.
I am not so sure. I say,

let us come back. Maybe tomorrow
or the next day. Let us see

what these round, fat, green ovals do.

One is hinting pink. He can sense its ripeness

- like Mama when deep sleep must be
interrupted to protect his milk supply -

it might become strange, lush
and full if he does not pluck it fast.

But, he nods. I caress wet, red,
wild splayed rose petals.

She may open tomorrow or the next
day, like this one. Let us see

how everything changes

when we aren’t looking

or even as we wait
in verdant silence observant .

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Bully For You, Peacenik For Me:

Our Top ten Tips For Toddler Discipline
Thanks Deena for listening. Thanks to the Highland Park Playgroup for developing, modeling and practicing these strategies cooperatively. And thanks to all the attachment parenting, mindful parenting gurus who wrote books from which we could quilt little bits into a warming quilt.

Bullying. It made front page news here in London a few weeks ago. Probably 1 part N.H.S., 1 part A.S.S. / P.L.U.M.S. and 1 part British attitudes towards children. Bullying is causing a high suicide rate, truancy, and all of the other social ills that make “decent citizens” shake their heads and wonder what happened. Okay - so what, how sad, Jiminy Crickey what nation isn’t having a problem with their youth? Norman is planning for me to unschool Winston anyway. So, it doesn’t affect us. Wrong.

For more reasons than selfish ones, it does affect us. Whenever he is willing, I take Winston to these bizarre government subsidized playgroups. Which.... these days...... is not often. I think he knows about the unschool plan as well.

In England, a playgroup is not an organically grown group of parents with common interests, similar parenting styles and lifestyles who get together with their kids to make the day more pleasurable for all parties. It is not an intimate sharing of time wherein we question, validate, research and engage in constructive dialogue about improving ourselves as people and parents.

Here, playgroups are sponsored by the local government council. A social worker caters to the lowest common denominator and follows a schedule which has objectives such as:
* teaching us all how to play with our children;
* helping us train our children to go to nursery school;
* helping us all learn the benefits of a rigid, unyielding schedule; and
* creating the next generation of obedient serfs.

I’m glad we have somewhere to go to meet people. I’m grateful we can use their paints and mess up their space. I’m delighted there is an indoor space to go when it is raining and cold. Except, the social worker never intervenes in any conflicts. S/he never reprimands children who aren’t behaving. She just marches merrily along singing the songs from today’s chart of songs. AND We will sing and we will all make the right hand gestures and we will get up and do the exercises. We will paint the ambulance yellow. We will make the walkie-talkie black. We will paint the police man’s stop sign red. He will wear a smile. And we will control our children.

The rest of her time is spent making sure that her statistics will be accurate. More importantly, she will insure that nobody from a better or worse neighborhood has slipped in under her radar, “We have very strict cachement areas that we serve. Please make sure you write your full postcode.“

There is no modeling of conflict resolution. There is no teaching of positive parenting techniques. It is a lot of, “This is how you play with a puzzle with your child,” or “Everyone must make a nice circle right now.” And the best thing I’ve ever heard a social worker say to the parent of a 17 month old toddler, “Make your child sit down and sing.”

And there is rampant bullying; out of control children and zoned out parents who don’t do anything about it. And there is Winston. And he sticks out like the first crocus of Spring after a snowstorm.

At one of our playgroup, there is this one totally out of control boy.  His mother alternates between trying to bend him to her will and being totally oblivious.  He is a real bully.  Winston either stays out of his way or attempts to include him depending on how dangerous the boy reads at the moment.
Well last week, Boy has made off with the crayon bucket.  Mother is shouting and chasing and trying to get it back.  Winston walks up to Boy, and offers him a stuffed bunny and says: "How about this bunny?"  Boy takes the bunny, gives Winston the crayon bucket and Winston marches over to Boy's Mother and gives her the crayons.  She is astonished, floored, impressed and totally surprised.  She looks over at me and says, "Oh your boy, he is such a good boy, such a good boy."  It felt great.  Thank you Karen.  Thank you Ethan.

So - I begin to wonder why my child is so different here, but was “average” in The States. And I have come to understand that his truly formative years were spent around people who practiced the following guidelines.

My (OUR) Top 9 Tips For Toddler Discipline.

Discipline begins at birth. It begins with recognizing that - you - the parent are charged with socializing an instinctual creature into a human being. It is an active recognition of the potential humanity within a wriggling, screaming need-machine. It is about learning to let go of expectation and learn adaptability. first and foremost it invokes The Golden Rule.

1. Praise parenting.  
I take time to notice when he has done something I want him to do.  So - he seeks praise attention because he prefers it to negative attention.   I say "thank you for listening" or "I really like it when you ...."   about 75 times a day.
2. Knowing When To Say No 
I never say no unless I am prepared to get up, walk across the room and enforce it.  Sometimes, I don't bother to say no when I don't feel like enforcing something.  And that's okay - because when I do say it, he understands that I really mean it.
3.  Consistency
The movement of his day is always much the same.  He knows what to expect and when to expect it to happen.  If I say something is going to happen, it does - whether that is going to the park, getting a toy or "helping him" cooperate.
4. Respect
I don’t often grab things out of his hand (unless it is dog poop or something dangerous and vile.)  I make a trade or offer an alternative.  I say please and thank you - always.  I stop what I am doing and listen to him.  (We are learning right now how he can do this as well.)
5. Reasonable Choice
I never offer a choice when there isn't one.  I don't ask if he wants to put on his shoes.  I don't ask if he wants to wear a coat.  I don't ask if he wants to go home when it is time to go home.  I tell him.  Sometimes, there are not choices in life.  
I do ask if he wants a croissant or bread.  I do ask if he wants to go to the farm or the sand playground.  Sometimes a choice is not red shoes or blue shoes.  Sometimes a choice is "You can use that crayon on paper or I will help you not draw on the walls by taking it away."
6. Compromise
I do allow him to stay in his jammies all day.  It just means we have to stay at home.  "You can wear jammies AND we will stay home until you wear clothes."  This is our current battle.
7.  Environment
Childproofing - yes.  Forcing them to "be good" - no.   I don't think children should learn to walk through a porcelain world.  Frankly, I don't have that much energy.  (I'd rather spend my time in a peaceful, happy, calm environment than screaming about a vase or a light socket.)
8. Meaning
Giving a child context or reason to cooperate.  If it is not a life-threatening situation (or after you've saved their life) children need to know why.  Two current examples include "I like it when you sit in your high chair because I don't have to worry about what to do if you fall." He fell out of the high chair and as I soothed him I said, "Oh gee, I was so worried this would happen." (And I give no comfort num-num at this time.)  Next time I ask him to remember when he fell.  He sits right down.  and "Cars hurt when they bump into people.  They hurt so badly you'd have to go away from Mommy for a long long time." I had to help him a twice by strapping him in his stroller. But, it clicked best when I said, "I like how your hand feels in mine.  It feels like when we share num-num but we can walk around and see things and go places when we do it."   Needless to say, Winston now happily holds my hand when we walk down the street.  And he tells me "Cars hurt. Bump peoples."

9. Enforcing Family Values - We share. It doesn’t matter if it is fair or not, nothing is wroth fighting, kicking, biting, grabbing or screaming about. Our lives are filled with abundance and there is enough for everyone. And we enforce it. If someone grabs something from you, so what...offer a trade and if that fails, walk away, find something new. Chances are they’ll get bored with it in ten seconds.

Bully for you. Peacenik for me. Golly willikers, I’m such an American.