Looking back and thinking forward

Month: November, 2006

Here I am

Quote of the day:

Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle

(Susan sent this quote to me yesterday. She said it is from Clinton after leaving Washington)

Atlantatam And here I am.

Mira took this photograph last month after I had bought this doll in the exhibits hall. She sent this photograph to me a couple of days ago. Some of you might remember my love of dolls?  Oops … can you see my buttons? Click on the picture to enlarge. We had just spent some time at the Syracuse Cultural Workers booth too. One of our favorite places. Mira is one of the truest activist I know.

It’s in the giving

Caring A few days after Thanksgiving I had such fun reading The Joy of Six. It brought back memories of a post I wrote last December. These past few days, being out and about running errands and seeing the latest James Bond movie, I enjoyed the holiday feeling that was already stirring in the stores, malls and decorated streets. And as I commented at Joy’s post: "Why not spread joy around … the sooner the better."

Oh I know some people really do not enjoy the rush of consumerism that accompanies the season of good will and giving; the frenzied hysteria of shopping, shopping, shopping … but I have to say that the little tamarika inside me becomes very excited to see twinkling lights and decorated trees. I love the angels and stars, Santas and glitter. I feel as if I am inside a huge, exciting movie and the hum-drum, routine of life is put on hold, even lit up for awhile.

I enjoy thinking about what I would like to give to whom. I have always loved giving gifts to people. I know, I know, it is definitely connected to my sickness of trying to please everyone so that they will love me. But, it mostly has to do with giving others pleasure. I take pride in choosing the very best, most suitable present, matching it with their personality, wants, needs … their secret desires. I get such a kick out of getting it right! I enjoy sharing their satisfaction and delight. Somehow I just feel a whole lot warmer inside. There have been phases in my life when I have gone completely overboard with giving gifts, and I have had to experience a few hard knocks to temper my enthusiasm over the years. However, I think that this is one area where I could never become a cynic, no matter what happens to me! The inner child, idealism and pleasure about giving is just way too strong.

And yet I realize that the act of giving is complex for me. For example, I know that for many years I wanted (and tried) to give my son everything and anything to compensate for my messed-up life, failure as a mother, all those marriages, and for him having to endure my troubled, troubled soul. It just did not turn out the way I had dreamed or wanted for him. How fortunate I have been though, because he constantly teaches me, in the kindest, gentlest ways, that just being together is enough for him. He makes me battle to give him money. He shows me that he wants to do for himself and is capable and competent, and helps me let go of my guilt and shame.

There are those times I gave too much, later realizing that I just so wanted people to love and accept me. And then was filled with shame for being so pathetic. I once had a very wise therapist, Ziva, who helped me understand this sorry side of myself. She warned me not to give so much away. She said, "Keep some for yourself until you can trust the other to understand." As right as she was, it is still one of my most difficult struggles. For, giving myself away is not only with presents, it is in the sharing of too much emotion with the wrong people. Those who are incapable of understanding my expression or self-exposure as a gift of myself. I seem to hold onto a naive hope that if I share myself honestly with others, they will do so in return.

I love to receive gifts. Always have! Each time someone gives me something I immediately become excited and grateful. I can never get over the feeling that I am undeserving because somehow I am so bad or such a failure. And so, when I receive a gift, greeting card, kind words, a positive evaluation at work, when someone listens and validates me, and, even, a comment on my blog, it is always a surprise for me. I almost feel like jumping up and down clapping my hands in glee. And then there is … well, yes, a sense of relief that accompanies the receiving. I have to admit it. Relief that I am all right, at that moment, worthy of another’s attention, interest, or kindness. I am even ashamed to say that at those times I weep … with gratitude and relief.

Indeed, I never take gifts for granted. I keep each and every one. In boxes, on shelves, in my brain and heart. I am capable of remembering the simplest act of kindness towards me forever!

And so, as we enter the season preparing to travel out West to see Tom’s wonderful family, lists are being sent back and forth, via Amazon, e-mail, secretive proddings of one another about each other, and excitement mounts. By the time we all arise early Christmas morning, I imagine Jared, Makaila, Madeline (young nieces and nephew) and I will all be equally excited as we stare at the huge mountain of beautifully wrapped thoughtfulness laying under the tree.

A year ago at Tamarika: One for the bone chewers

We greet the day together

In this season of good will, reflection on past transgressions, and giving thanks, I awake this morning thinking about so many things. The frost crisp under foot as I fill the bird feeder, trees now bare, and that close-to-winter chill in the air. How I love this time of the year! Ada calls me from the porch while I am out beyond the fenced area and I smile to myself. Her soft cry is welcoming for me. Each morning, we greet the day together. Ada and my blog. For the past almost two years this blog has been a constant presence in my life. And still, I am not sure why I blog. Sure, it helps to write things down, and encouragement from other bloggers has been a surprise benefit that I was not expecting when I started out. I went through phases of guilt when I did not manage a post every day, or self recrimination when my writing was bad or few people commented on this or that post.

Lately, I write for myself. I simply enjoy the act of writing. Putting the words down, reading back, editing to acquire a tone I feel comfortable with, and over and over again being amazed with what lies within me. Because at times I start out with one idea and as the writing progresses other things come out. Often I am surprised at what I had been thinking. Yes indeed, I surprise myself! I am not good at small-talk and usually feel uncomfortable speaking on the phone for too long. However, when I write I give myself permission to express thoughts or ideas I have been acquiring and developing as I observe, listen and journey through life. It is, in fact, the safest form of self-expression I know.

And yet, while it feels safe for me to express myself in this way, my writing has often caused others pain or discomfort. Partly because I spend so much time outwardly trying to please everyone so that they will love or acknowledge me, when I finally get to say what I really feel it is a terrible shock and surprise for those closest to me. I watch, amazed, as they feel betrayed, as if I have been lying to them all the while. I, on the other hand, am always shocked that they were unaware I was feeling all those things in the first place. But how on earth could they know, if I never told them? If I smiled or giggled when all the while I was hurting inside? How would they know?

Telling my story, writing it down, these are ways that I am able to share myself outwardly. When I hold within my most intimate feelings, I withdraw or keep myself from others. One of the most important aspects about loving is being able to share those intimate pieces of myself, good or bad. And so while I could talk all I liked about the virtues of loving another, I was unable to give or receive love if I withheld myself so completely. And, of course, one of the reasons I withheld myself for so long was the fear of rejection. Giving away who I really was felt risky. What an understatement! It was more like I felt I would die from such exposure.

Sharing myself through writing, whether in blog-posts, letters, articles, or books, has become a release for me. The more I opened up those uncomfortable spaces in my psyche and exposed them for others to see, the more vulnerable I became for rejection. Indeed, I experienced rejection from some people, even as I expected. And, it was awful. Even excruciating. However, as long as I did not allow those few to become a confirmation for past expectations, or generalizable, transferable to everybody else, I discovered that I survived! Oh no, let me be clear. Much more than survived. In fact, I became free. Withholding myself was a terrible burden. Not only did I feel weighed down, lonely and sad, I was completely unsure of myself and my worth. Now, I find that the more I am able to share and give of myself, the more open I am to love. The more able to forgive others and myself, and thus, stronger in my self worth. And, I become more authentic.

There is no happy ending. It is a process of back and forth, development and regression, complex and painful, messy and wondrous all at the same time. But I do feel more present, in the now of living and experiencing real feelings. Not as numb or blocked out as I used to be, and certainly not as lonely or unsure of myself.

And so, while I feel genuinely sorry that my writing might have caused others pain, I am extremely grateful for it as well. For without self-expression I would still be locked away, on the outside looking in, yearning to belong, aching for love that eludes me over and over again.

Reflections on a theme

Notes from my writing journal.

Very early one morning I shared a taxi to the airport with a colleague, another early childhood teacher educator like me. We talked about what I would be writing about in my next book. I shared that it was about how teachers’ emotions affect their interactions with children, and especially with their challenging behaviors. She was silent for a moment and then said reflectively, “I often think that people who work with young children have been emotionally wounded when they were children themselves. It’s almost as if they have chosen the profession of early care and education because of that.” I thought about what she said and recognized that through the years as a teacher and professor, I certainly learned and came to understand much about my own childhood experiences and inner self through working with, observing and interacting with children and their families.

There is so much to say about emotional development. Indeed, lately everyone seems to be talking about social emotional development including the importance of social competence affecting academic achievement. Brain researchers explain that emotional memory stored in the brain during the first four or five years of life is un-erasable. That, in fact, the ways in which we interact with young children will affect them for the rest of their lives. The literature tells us that meaningful, loving relationships are crucial in young children’s emotional development. Behavior management and discipline seems to be such a popular topic. More than that, early childhood professionals seem starved for information about it. During my workshops or presentations about discipline at conferences or in-service trainings, I have hardly managed to complete my introduction when teachers of young children are anxious for solutions and answers, strategies and prescriptions, and for me to tell them exactly what to do when a child bites, hits, refuses to clean up, answers back, “throws” a tantrum, or does not follow directions. So many express feeling helpless or frustrated with challenging behaviors of young children in their classrooms or child care settings. Most often I start off with asking participants or students to describe how they were disciplined as young children. We write the list of punishments on the board or overhead and discover that the majority of attendees have experienced pain or humiliation when they were young children. Parents have slapped, pinched, yelled at, or threatened them. They express feeling resentment. After these sessions over and over again I cannot help but wonder how those earliest memories have affected the very people who will be disciplining the children in their care.

If, suddenly, you don’t hear from me regularly on this blog … this is where I will be … writing it down

It’s about time! Isn’t it Liz?

Thank my first commenter day (update)

What? Yet another idea from Neil Kramer? I do read other bloggers too you know! But I just really love the idea of thanking my very first commenter.

I remember the feeling of exhilaration and acknowledgment, of being heard and read. And looking back (which I am doing so much of these past couple of years!) I realize that Cheryl (and Bob and Anya) has been with me all the way … almost from day one of my arrival in Buffalo, or put the Thanksgiving-way … from day one of arriving at these American shores.

And so, way back in January 2005, almost one week after I had started blogging, my first commenter was Cheryl. She wrote:

The statement “But fear of terrorism and "insurgents" who, by the way, used to be called guerrillas or freedom fighters when I was young seems to be causing ignorance like a cloud, a plague, a disease to multiply in the brains and minds of otherwise intelligent people.” reminded me of a stage a few years ago, well maybe more than a few, when parents and teachers were attempting to make kids ‘safe’ by talking to them about stranger danger. Of course children need to be taught about potential dangers but the way adults were bombarding children with these messages instilled both fear and the potential for much bias. I’ve never thought of it before reading this BLOG but of course any cultural message that ‘we need to fear others’ will inevitably, and very subtly, lead even “otherwise intelligent people” to act in ignorant ways.

Thank you, Cheryl, dear friend, for reading my blog since its very inception. It has been such a source of support and comfort knowing that you are with me all the way, bearing witness to my struggle and challenges. And, hey! Congratulations! You were my very first commenter. I am sending you cyber hugs {{{}}} especially because we will not be participating at your generous, hospitable and friendly Thanksgiving table this year, after so many years.

And while I am at it. In the business of giving thanks I mean, I wish a very Happy Thanksgiving to all my blogger buddies and readers out there whoever you may be and wherever you are!

A year ago at Tamarika: Giving Thanks (Update)


Oh, and, check out this Thanksgiving Greeting!

Some of the best days of my life

Come to think of it, some of the best days of my life were when I was Director of the UBCCC. There was always something going on. Each day I would have a chance to connect with this or that child age six weeks to five years, respond to a board member, resolve a situation with staff or parents. Some of the finest moments were folding laundry early in the morning with Mar-Mar or joking with Patti about who should fetch coffee for whom. Watering plants, feeding the birds while parents and children arrived in the Center were a way we could all stop and chat a moment, taking a breather before the onset of our hectic day, talking about our lives, learning a little more each time about one another.

Then, there were interns, work study students and other all sorts of young people coming and going, learning and challenging, questioning and growing. Custodial staff, gardeners, plumbers, fix-it people arriving at my door completing those never ending lists of work-orders to maintain the building and grounds, keeping it safe, aesthetic and comfortable for everyone. I had one rule: "I want everyone to be safe here." And that meant everyone.

Now, I wander the world searching for a center as comfortable and homey, emotionally respectful and safe as the teaching staff made it at UBCCC. I often feel lost, so lonely, and wistfully remember and long for those frenzied, terribly busy, intense, frightening days as a Director. I had never learned to be an administrator. Indeed, had never had one course on the subject! And so I made it up, learned from many, many mistakes, and especially from honest confrontations with courageous staff who would tell me exactly what they thought, direct and to the point. Sometimes I would close the door of my office, pull down the blinds and just weep – with fear, anger, love, or exhaustion. And then come right on back out to face whatever it was that needed my strength or attention. The best part was watching beautiful and wondrous teachers grow and grow becoming better and better at understanding and accepting all kinds of children and families, developing authentic, relevant curriculum with intellectual integrity.

I think back to how I was always longing to leave the Center and become a full-time professor. It seemed like that would be the highest state I could possibly aspire to achieve. What a myth! What an illusion! Of course, now that I look back and know what I have learned these past couple of years, I realize that I was trying to fulfill the delusional dream of acknowledgment and acceptance within my family system, that drove me to yearn for that status. It was the impossible competition, ridiculous desire to reach for a star that was not only non-existent, but not for me in the first place.

Well, now I am here, high up in the stars but really down hard on earth. Am starting to enjoy being a full-time professor. Able to contribute and influence on various different levels and learning to navigate the academic culture so much better since I have given up my impossible dream, letting go of the hunger for acknowledgment and acceptance. Just part of the plodding along I feel comfortable doing lately, I guess.

And all the while, I remember those days, not so long ago, as some of the very best of my life.

I am reminded of the song: San Diego Serenade:

I never saw the morning ’til I stayed up all night
I never saw the sunshine ’til you turned out the light
I never saw my hometown until I stayed away too long
I never heard the melody, until I needed a song.

I never saw the white line, ’til I was leaving you behind
I never knew I needed you ’til I was caught up in a bind
I never spoke ‘I love you’ ’til I cursed you in vain,
I never felt my heartstrings until I nearly went insane.

I never saw the east coast ’til I moved to the west
I never saw the moonlight until it shone off your breast
I never saw your heart ’til someone tried to steal,
tried to steal it away
I never saw your tears until they rolled down your face.

Last year, this time

Looking back a year ago at Tamarika was an idea I saw at Citizen of the Month. It has been really interesting for me to read back a year ago. I discovered such turbulence and sorrow in my soul, but more than that, I was able to explore for myself much held-back anger and pain. Writing about it was as cathartic and therapeutic as could be. Indeed, one year later, I am experiencing a sense of peace that I never dreamed possible. Of course I realize that it was a long time coming, through years of intense and supportive therapy with Bob-the-therapist back in Buffalo, my first book where I first gathered the courage (thanks to Danny‘s support, editing expertise and advice), time out from work – a sabbatical – where solitude (and my cats) was my only companion, and, finally, culminating in my Tamarika blog.

[While I’m at it … and after seeing old friends a couple of weeks ago … and missing Janna especially because I don’t know how she is doing … I’m looking back at November 18, 2005]

And so …

A year ago at Tamarika: Between the shadow and soul; Pray, momma. pray; & Gilad Barkan.

The art of fiction


I really enjoyed Stranger Than Fiction yesterday. Well, you see, only recently I became a fan of Will Ferrell, ever since I caught a peak of Elf some months ago on television. And, of course, I have loved Emma Thompson forever it seems. I love a movie that makes me think and this one surely did. Mainly, I came out of it thinking that non-fiction is for wimps! My oh my. If only I had the courage to write fiction. To climb into the head, the lives of others and create a story that awes, inspires, fills the mind with tragedy, humor, love, and passion.

When I was young I could dream up all sorts of stories in my head. Their theme always seemed to have something to do with heroic acts by some brave and wondrous young woman. Talk about wishful thinking! Talk about searching for attention and acknowledgment! I must admit that it just seems easier to write non-fiction, commenting, debating, sharing my own story. Not much creativity there. In non-fiction I don’t have to be empathic or imaginative. Sure, I can show my smarts or share my opinions. I might even write well modeling self-reflection and opening up pieces of my past. But fiction is so much more complex. Especially because, when done well, it places the characters in agonizing situations while exploring or resolving moral dilemmas. Fiction enables us to suspend reality and yet steep us in it all at the same time. It is magic and mystery while being as comfortably mundane as can be. It certainly gives us an illusion that there is more to life than just, well, living the daily routine.

As we were driving home it occurred to me that for as long as I can remember I thought life was just so much bigger, more dramatic, and intense. My expectations were full of wonder and awe. And yet recently I have been noticing that, in fact, life is quite ordinary. It seems so much smaller, and my expectations have become almost non-existent. Dreams of academia or the one love of my life have been brought way down to size. I don’t think they have been shattered. It’s not disappointment, cynicism or disillusionment. I am not sad or bitter about it. Rather, it feels like a peaceful acceptance that life is just that. Little acts, mundane, daily routines. Every now and again someone will surprise me with an act of kindness, compassion or generosity of spirit. Or there will be a beautiful sunrise bringing me out of a painful night. Sometimes life will be sprinkled with fiction that might suspend my reality for a moment, filling me with joy or pleasure and then on I go again, plodding along through life.

In fact, I realize, it is quite comforting not to have to go crazy any more, trying to cover all this reality up with desperation and pain, angst and glorious passion.

Plodding feels just fine to me right about now. Sitting still, like a Sphinx, and just watching, observing, understanding, deepening, listening. And sometimes, even, finding myself smiling with joy.

A year ago at Tamarika: You’ve had your chance


[Thanks, Mira]

"1. You accidentally enter your password on the microwave.

2. You haven’t played solitaire with real cards in years.

3. You have a list of 15 phone numbers to reach your family of 3.

4. You e-mail the person who works at the desk next to you.

5. Your reason for not staying in touch with friends and family is that they don’t have e-mail addresses.

6. You pull up in your own driveway and use your cell phone to see if anyone is home to help you carry in the groceries.

7. Every commercial on television has a web site at the bottom of the screen.

8. Leaving the house without your cell phone, which you didn’t have the first 20 or 30 (or 60) years of your life, is now a cause for panic and you turn around to go and get it.

10. You get up in the morning and go on line before getting your coffee.

11. You start tilting your head sideways to smile. : )

12. You’re reading this and nodding and laughing.

13. Even worse, you know exactly to whom you are going to forward this message.

14. You are too busy to notice there was no #9 on this list.

15. You actually scrolled back up to check that there wasn’t a #9 on this list

AND NOW U R LAUGHING at yourself.

Go on, forward this to your friends. You know you want to.
Enjoy, and Happy Thanksgiving"

Sometimes I cry …

… sometimes I sigh

I wake up with the phrase of a song ringing in my head. Echoes of some dream I can not remember. Tears prickling and twinkling in my eyes. I keep thinking the song and staying with the phrase, "Sometimes I cry …" and then, "human condition," comes next. I realize it is connected to the children I had seen yesterday and the day before, during my visits to different classrooms to supervise teachers or consult with other early childhood programs. Little children reaching out for love and attention, soft, sweet bodies with bright eyes burning into my soul, searching my face for answers. Little hands clasping mine, warm bodies melting into my lap as we listened to the teacher telling a story. One little girl asked me, as I tied her shoelaces in preparation to play outdoors, "Will you come back tomorrow?" I wanted to reply, "Yes, and forever after that. I will always be here." Instead I said, "Soon." She registered resignation in her face and I went on, "I have to go to my work of teaching teachers, but I will come back another day and see you." She smiled and skipped out to play. And I drove away with her eyes imprinted in my heart and brain.

I think about my Chair who said to me, "Children should not be poor. It simply is not right." My heart melted at that. "No," I thought, as I drove away from one of the schools in one of the poorest districts, "No child deserves to be poor. But more than that, no child deserves to be unloved or neglected, teased or humiliated, ignored or laughed at."

I think, too, of missed opportunities. Instead of enveloping the children in their mental and physical embrace, a few of my students choose to sit back and scorn the school culture, despising the teachers who host them.

White privilege is insidious, toxic, all pervasive, deep in our collective psyche affecting who we are, choices we make, how we think, behaviors, expectations …

The human condition.

Sometimes I cry … sometimes I sigh … and then I climb wearily into my car, and off I go again …