If I tried too hard to understand it, I might miss the view.
From a hand-drawn sign taped to my daughter’s bedroom door.
of what I like and love
And like that, school’s out.
Time packs up its fractional interest,
its dewey decimals
and skips out of this slow motion town.
The hair, the shoes, the smudgy silver lunchkit are
The endless days might seem to stretch
but not one
not even one
will keep its shape.
Who can refuse to enjoy the view?
From time to time something happens to remind me there is a buddha in the backseat. And then I realize there is one in the front seat too.
“Mommy, has the world always been in color?” she asked.
Hmmm. That’s a good question. It’s been in color for as long as I’ve been around.
“Same here,” she said.
What she said: There’s still time to cast in on the BlogHer tag line voting in which your correspondent, kmiller, is contending. And if you’re telling me that you can’t vote because you can’t register because you don’t have a blog, this could well be your invitation to start one.
Last week we shared the disappointing news with Georgia. “It doesn’t look like we are going to have the first girl president this time.” Then, moving swiftly to pre-empt a pout, we delivered the good news. “This means you could be the first girl president yourself!” She busied herself for a bit, then presented her first executive order:
No gasoline at all times
No violation on people’s proporty without pormishon
No littering enywhere
No kids in front seat under 10 inless emergencey
Every victum goes to the hospital as soon as possible
All violaters go to jail for 3 months
No one eats American cheese
L’enfant terrible! Elle est un francophile.
Happy Camembert, Everyone.
We are starting a new unit in our reading series and as a part of this unit, your child will be writing a biography of a famous person. It can be any famous person, living or dead, from the United States or anywhere else. I ask only that they not choose Dr. Martin Luther King, George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, since we have already studied and written about them. I ask that you help your child to do the research as part of their homework during these next two weeks. Many biographies for children are written in such a way that the information is hard for them to find. Your child will need your help! Thank you.
Mommy, I think I’ll write about C.S. Lewis.
Pause for awe and self-congratulation.
No, I decided on Shirley Temple.
With acknowledgment to Eden Steinberg, editor.
Children need to believe that the world is an interesting and safe place. Without it, they cannot grow and explore. When we rear our children to fear other adults we truncate their growth. Human development occurs within the context of real relationships. We learn from whom we love.
–Mary Pipher in The Shelter of Each Other
I scarcely gave the circumstances of my daughter’s life much thought before she was born, occupied as I was with my wished-for baby as the imagined end of the process. But soon, I faced up to the obvious. Here on this earth she would be mostly alone, without the company of kin. [Insert tears here.]
Not only were my husband and I older parents and she an only child, my parents were older and soon to be gone, my sisters older and far away, my nieces decades older and also far away, my husband’s parents farther away and his nieces way farther still.
But as soon as I mustered the gumption to roll a stroller down the hill into our two-bit town, I saw relievedly how it would go. With every coo, grin and bat of her lash, my baby drew people to her, perfect strangers, who filled her eyes and ears with the marvel and music of love. I saw her future instantly: She would draw people to her, and she would never be alone. She would always be loved and her life would always be full and new, if I could keep mustering the gumption to leave the house.
And this makes known my third and final ingredient in my personal program to cultivate childhood creativity.
Ingredient Number 3: A Stranger
It is difficult to trust people, I know. It is difficult to trust teachers, I know. It is difficult to trust other places and even other children, I know. But when we don’t, when we burrow and hide, when we reverse and recoil, when we bind ourselves too tight to our better judgment, creativity curdles. Full and thriving, life doesn’t just depend on the new; life is the new. Life is, by definition, strange. It is always enhanced by the kindness of strangers.
But now I can see that strangers are not always strangers, rather just people with new and unfamiliar gifts. The strangers who will serve and inspire your children may well be the same-old friends, family and neighbors; those with high recommendations and faultless referrals; or they may be the untried and unknown; the teacher you most dread in the school you’re dead set against; and the troublesome kid in the back row. We cannot know or second-guess which strangeness will spark creation’s promise, only that it will. Life is forever new and unfolding; endless and – get this – good.
The stranger my daughter needs most is very often me, when I emerge from my shadowy house of fear and follow her into the bright light of an unknown world where we frolic and swirl to the marvel and music of love. That could be today. It could be any day. Anyone stopping me? Anyone stopping you?
If you still doubt the pervasive and positive influence of strangers, consider this: No one you really know was involved in the writing of this post. Or the reading.
This is a story about a girl who lived in a museum. Once upon a time, there was a girl named Opal. She decided she was going to run away. But where? Then she knew where she was going. To the Natural History Museum. Then she packed her bags and left for the Metro train. So she got on and read. Then she got off and went into the Museum.
Last Thursday my daughter took a field trip with her second-grade class to the Natural History Museum. She asked if she could take a notebook with her to write down what she saw. Lately she has been stretching her character a bit, trying on the props of an older girl, an older girl who might write in notebooks while standing in a museum. I said of course. I always give way when I see her stepping into a new and slightly oversized part.
The night after the field trip I snuck a peek into her composition book and saw that she had written the story above. You might be more startled than I was. I recognized the story as that from a book she’d recently read, and the name of the character as that in another. Those two stories now live in her story. They also live in this story of Georgia writing a story about going to the Natural History Museum while going to the Natural History Museum.
Whether we realize it or not, we make every story we ever hear our own. In that way, stories never end.
Thus was made clear the second ingredient in my personal program to cultivate childhood creativity.
Ingredient Number 2: A Story
Some stories come in books, that’s true. Some come at bedtime. Some come to second-graders riding in school buses. But stories are not always stories. Sometimes they are paintings or photographs. Sometimes they are songs or poems. Sometimes they are beads on a string. Stories begin with just anything.
Stories beget stories as life begets life.
Our children are more sagely aware than we are that life is a story. Best not to take the story so seriously, because nothing we make up is as true as the original. Besides, we can always start over again.
I’m making up a story about creativity this week. Here’s what got me started.
The other weekend my daughter implored my husband to help “her” build a trundle dollbed for her “sisters”. She was about to take possession of yet another doll, a doll she didn’t need and had nowhere to put but that “she” had duly earned. More about that later.
My husband, being the creative type that he is, “helped” her draw up plans and set up shop in the garage. When I came in a few hours later, Georgia was “working” on the construction from behind the walls of a corrugated “house” loosely assembled with the 24 empty cookie cases we have laying around. Less about that later. Mounds of sawdust had been swept into a landscape. She’d laid a “carpet” of rag towels and discarded sheets, and she was curled up in her cozy make-believe, casually supervising the ongoing carpentry. And she wouldn’t come out. All day, she wouldn’t come out. She was in bliss. And I thought to myself,
Oh my, I have made this childhood thing far more complicated than it ever needed to be.
Thus I was inspired to offer the first ingredient in my personal program to cultivate childhood creativity:
Ingredient Number 1: Paper
One of the things I feel so self-satisfied about is the investment I’ve made in drawing pads for Georgia over the years. (Target should feel good about that too, but the last time I checked, they weren’t yet satisfied with the sum total of my purchases.) A surviving remnant of my daughter’s preschool days is the crate of writing and drawing supplies that resides by our dining room table. It ends up collecting a lot more than writing supplies, but I cull it at least once a year and feel self-satisfied about that too. Here are kept the rubber stamps, stickers and pens, the paper and glue sticks, the maze and puzzle books, the crayons and colored pencils we still use every day, and a veritable landfill of Happy Meal toys.
Georgia is a terrific reader and writer, as I’m annoyingly quick to boast, and I like to think that I contributed cleverly to her early literacy.
But now I see that a piece of paper – the fundamental building block of my personal program of creativity – doesn’t have to be a piece of paper. It can be a box. Or a rock. Or an old towel or sheet. It can be sawdust. It can be string. It can be just anything.
Just anything is the one thing that I consistently withheld from my daughter in her formative years. I never wanted her to use just anything, and I seldom allow it still.
Let’s say I’m a creative work in progress.
I’m making a mound of sawdust out of creativity this week. Here’s what got me started.
There is a lot of show and tell about creativity these days. I understand the interest. Not so much now, when I can see and delight in my daughter for how colorful she already is, but in the earlier days of child-rearing when I was certain that someone other than me – a specially trained music teacher, art teacher, or storyteller – could do more to prime my daughter’s creative instincts than I could. I sought out those uniquely qualified people, I entrusted the both of us to their able hands, and my daughter and I got out of the house and enjoyed ourselves immensely. These activities were creative exercises, but they were not at all necessary to cultivating creativity.
I was doing it backwards. I thought of creativity as one of a myriad attributes to be managed; an aptitude to instill. Now I see creativity much differently. All children are creative and all adults are creative because life is creation itself. Spontaneous, dynamic, unpredictable, inexplicable and rich with inherent and inscrutable meaning. Creativity doesn’t always look like what we think it should look like, though.
The feeling that we lack creativity has given rise to a naturalistic movement – which could soon dwarf even Martha Stewart – giving us lush pictorials on creativity. Everything in displays of this kind defy my imagination: handmade, homemade, artistic, ingenious, and productive beyond human comprehension, or so it seems to me. After absorbing these images, soaking in a simmer of envy, disbelief and despair, I often feel my inspiration evaporate, more certain than ever that I am creatively disabled and DNA impoverished. I am, to be sure, no elephant among artists.
And not so with Ginger Carlson, author of a new book called Child of Wonder. Ginger is an education consultant, teacher, speaker and mother who contacted me a little while ago and offered to send me her book. I instantly agreed for reasons of universal karmic indebtedness. Having plowed this tough turf myself makes me eager to pay back the kindness of strangers. Ginger’s work is full of practical, encouraging, well-researched pedagogy and sane advice for nurturing creativity in your children and yourself. And get this: not one of these ideas requires that I sew, knit, embroider or quilt; grow my own leeks; gather fresh gooseberries; keep small farm animals; make my own curtains; distress my own hardwoods; or hold a paintbrush in my nostril. Those are all clever and worthy ideas but they are ideas that I’m not likely to use today unless I twist them into a switch and beat myself back into my cozy snail shell.
Ginger covers many of the same bases but without an outcome-orientation. In other words, her take on creativity isn’t about how it looks, but about how it acts. Her approach to being creative is more than crafts. To wit, some of the unintentional Zen wisdom I gleaned from her pages:
“Let your child be alone.”
“Don’t ignore the wind.”
“Move your eyebrows.”
“Collect paper clips.”
“Don’t underestimate snails.”
“Question your agenda.”
“Say yes more often.”
In short, I liked Ginger’s use of the everyday and everywhere, the breadth of material and resources, which touch on all the ways we fear we will fail our children’s natural curiosity.
What I liked most about the book is that Ginger asked me to read it. I, for one, recognize that single act as a creative leap of the boldest kind.
And that gave me the creative opportunity to say yes.
Furthermore, she has inspired me to inch along all next week talking about creativity, during which I will make almost no apparent progress and few will call it pretty, least of all me.
He told me I was short.
What did you say?
I told him, “That’s not a compliment! That’s a threat and an insult!”
Spoken with the force of nature that topples a wobbly head and rules a steadfast heart.
The girl will be OK.
To all ye perpetrators of holiday deception laboring with the weight of your well-meant betrayal, the fear of future reckoning, this is how the veil is pierced: with a cottony soft tail and whisker kiss:
Mommy, will you remind the Easter Bunny to come?
How gingerly, how tenderly she asks so as not to shatter the dyed green eggshell of my illusion.
Neither parents, nor parents’ secrets, are much mystery to their kin. And this truth-in-common is what we celebrate, indeed, what we should celebrate, every day.
I’m betting the place is hopping tonight.
After days weaving strands on her classroom’s loom, losing hours of sparkling daylight to an indoor obsession, missing recess and skipping lunch to feed her creative fever, more impressed and impassioned as completion neared, she only reluctantly brought it out of her backpack when it was done:
The artist’s life.
My daughter came home from Spanish class one day last week and plastered signs all over the house. Seeing them everywhere has really shed some light on things.
Over at my friend Shawn’s new review blog, The Chunky Purse, she talks about a Spanish-immersion DVD set for teaching language to young children, and it sounds pretty neat. Eight years ago, we didn’t have that, we had something else.
One of Georgia’s first words was “awa” for water. Whether she was speaking Spanish or speaking English, who can tell. We congratulated ourselves for the clever good fortune of having a babysitter who could not only put Georgia down for a nap, but speak Spanish while she did it.
How we all wish we could lock-in these predispositions. We see the astonishing development of our babies and toddlers – their seemingly effortless learning – and what we might overlook is the amount of practice they put in. From where I sit now I view it all a bit differently than I did then.
Every day from birth to age one or so they practice mobility. Every day from age one to two and beyond they practice language. Without maintaining that level of constant practice, nothing gets very far off the rug.