Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve

December 24th is magical.  There is no day that quite lives up to this one.  The feeling is universal on Christmas Eve.  Anticipation trumps chores and expectation is king.  Maybe it's residual little kid stuff because, after all, children hold this day as sacred.  Miracles happen on Christmas Eve.  The jolly fat man flies through the air and delivers toys and candy.  Lightness wipes darkness away for the day and people smile as if they mean it.  All is good in the world.  Why can't it be Christmas Eve all year long?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Keep It Simple

     What's up with this Christmas bah humbug?  I just want to keep it very simple - There is value and good stuff in the holiday but it can seem like so much work.  My ideal Christmas would be one of two scenarios.  The easier scenario is to leave town - go to the beach somewhere and pause for two weeks -- and then come back to January's stillness.
     The more difficult to orchestrate is to stay in town and take it down so many notches.  No need for a Christmas tree - what is that about anyway?  You go out and get a tree or a part of a tree and then you set that in your living room and put lights on it - huh?  How about a few pretty lights here and there - that's okay but scratch the "Christmas tree"  - don't get that.
     And these presents?  These guys don't need anything and most people in my world are trying to scale down on "things" - yet I go out looking for more things to spend hard earned money on.  Then I take precious time to put funky paper and ribbon on them so that other people can act surprised and take the paper off.  Really?
     And then there is the food thing - ugh.  No one needs all that sugar and fat - I don't even want any around.  I don't want to bother with cooking anything - can I just have pb on ww toast. please?  And, for a change, can we go out?
     My ideal Christamas holiday time would be some hikes or, if it is raining, a movie or two.  I would like to paint and to read, maybe futz in the yard, take a bike ride or a walk with the dogs.  I do enjoy hanging out with friends and family.  I enjoy that a lot - but no strings, please.  No expectations - no find a gift or get a gift or clean up the house or get dressed up.  Just keep it simple.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Oh Tannenbaum

December catches all
Bright and gray
damp fog
fills the mornings,
erases the fall trees
paints  the road wet
changes fall into bare winter.
Orange and yellow
turn to
red and green,
turn to
sparkles and metal,
starlight  and moonlight,
heat turns to ice.

Carols and drums and wind at the door
jingle bells
welcome the
Christmas tree.

Santa Claus is

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas - Now and Then

     A friend of mine has me thinking about Christmas, vintage 1960, and the contrast to Christmas 2010.  Forty years makes a big difference.    1960 era Christmas was about going to Church, visits with the relatives, sacred Christmas music and the joy of anticipation.  2010 Christmas seems so artificial in contrast.  For me, personally, Christmas is still about the relatives, the music and the lights.  It’s about the human warmth on cold days and connections among people.  But it seems so much less than it was back then.
     I do miss the Church part.  Back in the day, Christmas at Church was magic. The music was haunting, the colors were rich, the words were poetic, and the connections with the holy were palatable.  I haven’t been to church much in the last 25 years but when I have gone it feels like the music has lost its haunting beauty.  The colors seem more neutral, the church less dark and solemn.  The words are more accessible but they have lost some of their poetry.  I miss that world.
Christmas was only slightly about getting presents back in the day.  For several years I pined for the Angela Cartwright doll on page 412 of the Sears catalog but she never made it to my house,  Truth was , presents were frosting on the cake of Christmas.  My parents scrounged to secure Christmas gifts for all of us but beggars can’t be choosey.  The thing is, it didn’t really matter.  After Mass on Christmas morning, there would be the once a year, sit down breakfast.  Eggs, sausage, toast, and homemade coffee cake - a rare breakfast feast!  And finally, papa would say something along the lines of, “Shall we see if we caught Santa in the chimney?” and that was the cue to assemble in the living room.  We didn’t do stockings but colorful packages would be arranged in piles around the room,  one collection for each person.  Thus would begin an hour or so of oohs and ahhs - each person attacking their own stack but all watching the others at the same time.  The presents were not fancy.  Typically, there was one “big” one for each person - maybe a fishing pole for one of the boys, one year a bicycle for several of us (used and refurbished by Uncle John), one year a bride doll for me, something that was impressive - and then six or seven smaller gifts.  These would include a book, a piece of jewelry maybe for me, some new colored pencils or crayons, a board game or some small toy - all good.  It was also important to open the gifts from siblings and to be effusive in your appreciation for the thoughtfulness of your brother or sister. The air in the small living room was electric and unforgettable.
There are still many wonderful moments associated with Christmas.  These years I choose not to go to Mass but my four family goes out to the coast on Christmas Eve and  acknowledges all for which we have to be grateful.  I play the sacred and the fun Christmas music and I look for the Christmas vibrant colors everywhere.  I fail to take time to find the poetry in Christmas but I can change that.  I am disgusted with the commercial and plastic elements of Christmas 2010.  I hate that the paper is full of ads starting in October and it seems to be only  about getting stuff  I hate that people go into debt trying somehow to buy love or comfort or forgiveness.  That sucks. 
December is such a dark, wet , and cold time.  Christmas can bring warmth and light into the world and for that I am grateful.  I don’t need nor want the big hoopla -- way too much energy and squandered resources for that.  I just want to connect a bit, rest a bit, reflect a bit, and wait for spring’s return.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Middle School Rocks

    Some years back I was the parent of two elementary aged school kids and simultaneously taught in the K-2 OA program at Park Side School.  I loved my days.  I was in my element as a mom in  a family with young kids.  I was also passionate as the first public school teacher that many families would encounter.  I hugged those children on their first day as mom left or I hugged mom as she cried and her kindergartner grew up in an instant.  I lived kids all day.  I celebrated with them as they mastered their ABC's and read their first chapter book.  I spent happy hours planning engaging math lessons,  exciting science stuff, fun PE games and so cool art!  The best part was creating a community.  We - kids, parents, and teachers - studied and played together,  wrote each other notes and drew pictures for each other.  We got frustrated with each other and with ourselves..  Sometimes we stomped our foot and sometimes we held each other as we cried tears of grief or fear.  It was a safe world where we all, kids and adults, learned from each other and took care of each other.
     After close to ten years of primary teaching, I was given an opportunity to return to an earlier double passion  of mine:  the adolescent and school counseling.  Earlier in life I had been a teacher and counselor in a middle school and now I was going back to that role at Brook Haven School.  I had doubts about this role of school counselor because it meant that I would no longer have my sweet Room 28 world.  Instead of interacting with 20 families every day, I  would now be interacting with  over 500 families daily.  How was I doing to feel connected to all these people?  How could I possibly create community here?
     Guess what?  I didn't have to create it.  It was already there.  At BHS, I found a caring and fun group of adults who all enjoyed the middle school kid. These adults liked laughing with 12 year olds.  They liked seeing the potential in an 11 year old and then watching that child mature into a confident high school student.  These adults sometimes behaved like silly middle school kids themselves, playing practical jokes on each other or singing in rock bands together.  And, most importantly, they wanted a safe community in which the kids could  learn, grow, and find their adolescent selves.  Gradually, I came to see that the community was here and I needed to find my place in it.
     About ten years later, I am still thriving at Brook Haven.  My son and daughter have grown up and left their dad and me cleaning our own quiet home.  I spend my days in the company of about 320 kids and their families now.  BHS has expanded its grade levels to include about 25 4th and 5th graders in the REACH program and they have added dimension to our BHS world.   The highlight of my day is often lunchtime.  I am out on the yard every day and always head to the 4/5 yard first.  I love checking in with the youngest of our students just because they give me my little kid fix.  They are so outright affectionate and joyful.  Next I tour over to where many of our 8th graders eat.  I love that part too because they always intrigue me.  What are they wearing today?  Who is visiting with whom?  Who seems isolated or upset today?  How is the kid whose grandmother is in the hospital?  Did that girl pass her science test? Lots of greetings and brief check ins happen in that walk through their chosen lunch spot.  Next I walk on to where my 6th and 7th graders eat lunch.  Typically I find lots of goofiness there and plenty of silly questions (Can we get hair straighteners in the bathroom ,JT?) and I notice the same things that caught my eye in the earlier walk arounds.  The rest of lunch I continue to move, greeting every child by name (how better to demonstrate that I care about who they are?), poking my head into the girls' bathroom (everything okay in here?) and generally assuring myself that all kids on campus are safe.   Sometimes a student will confide in me about a problem they are having or a friend about whom they are worried.  They know I will follow up.  They know I care about their world.  They know they can trust me with their secrets.  They trust me to help them navigate middle school and I take their trust seriously.  I believe I almost always deliver.  
    Middle school can be a tough time for kids and for parents.  Everything is changing for everyone and it’s tough to make friends with all those changes.  Middle school students sometimes seem as open, joyful, and young as the little kid 4th graders.  At other times, their fresh perspective and relatively new eyes reveal wisdom that jaded adults have long left behind.  Just as in the adult world, you will find an occasional bully but steps are taken to both prevent or stop such behaviors when they are reported.  Middle schoolers need community as much as they did as kindergartners.  They need friends to talk to, peers to reflect back their world to them, a culture to call their own, and trusted adults to watch out for them.  That sounds a whole lot like what I find at BHS.