Looking back and thinking forward

Month: August, 2008

I rest my case …

Summer summary


[My friend Mira and her kite – somewhere in the sky out of sight – at Cape May Point]

It really has been a good summer. Starting off on May 22nd when I set out for a two week trip to Israel to reconnect with family and old friends I had not seen for three years. There, I was embraced by a loving family as we celebrated my 59th birthday. I felt comfortable and happy to give and receive familial love, and came back refreshed and refueled to face my new position at work.

Most of the summer was spent part-time working and partly taking care of body and soul with good food, exercise and one or two visits with friends close by. 

It concluded with a trip to Cape May Point and Buffalo, reconnecting once again with old friends from my Buffalo era.

A summer of re-connections and rejuvenation. A summer of concluding medical problems that had lingered for almost eight months prior.

No time period in my life is ever free of self-reflection. And this summer had its moments of reflection, revelation, and even a little insight. Just recently I have been wondering why when people ask me about Zimbabwe I am at a loss for words. Of course I care about the horrific human rights issues, just as I would about any nation's dictator abusing his people. However, I do not feel ownership that I think others expect me to feel about the country where I was born, and grew into a young woman of nineteen before emigrating to Israel. Now, ask me about Israel (where I spent the following nineteen years of my life), or America, where I have lived for the past 20 years, and as level headed or objective as I might want to be, I am often emotional and passionate in a way that shows I feel a deep sense of belonging to both of those countries. Indeed, I often refer to either of them as "home."

I started to think back to my childhood and adolescent years, and, quite frankly, have been having a difficult time coming up with pleasurable memories. Mostly I cannot remember much at all. And if I do, the memories are dark in color and nature. In fact, it almost feels as if the days were always gray and dark. Rationally I know and can even remember hot sunny days that built up to heavy summer thunder and lightening storms. But the atmosphere of my early childhood memories are dark. In fact, I cannot remember a time that I ever felt I wanted to return to Rhodesia/Zimbabwe even for a visit. In 1981 I took my seven year old son with me from Israel to Bulawayo – the town where I was born – to spend the last four days of my father's life with him as he lay dying in the general hospital. I felt like a foreigner in a strange land and wandered around my old "home"town as if in a daze. 

I guess I was just not a very happy child. I remember being lonely and afraid so much of the time. These days I envy my siblings, relatives, or old friends when they reminisce fondly about the Africa of their childhoods, and wish I could feel as happily attached, as they seem to be, to those bygone formative years or to Zimbabwe in general.

Wondering and self reflection never ends. There is always something new that rises up out of the depth of my consciousness that makes way for yet another realization, revelation, or a deeper understanding of why I feel the way I feel, or how I came to be me.

Summer is winding down. I can feel it in the cool crisp mornings hinting at autumn that waits in the wings. I can see it as acorns from the huge old oak tree fall about our path and flower beds. Squirrels and chipmunks are scurrying about quicker and more energetically than usual. And, of course, I know it because the new semester is starting up for a new academic year.

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Both sides now

Quote of the day

Don't feel entitled to anything you didn't sweat and struggle for. 

Marian Wright Edelman (from CCIE)

“This Is No Ordinary Time, This is No Ordinary Election”


Obama on my mind

Quote of the day:

And it is not just Obama's skin color and parental background that makes him  different.  He  has a fundamentally different world view from anyone who has ever been President. He was raised in the global cultural polyglot of Hawaii; he spent four years as a formative youth in Indonesia; today his Grandmother and dozens of his cousins and kin are scattered through out rural Kenya, many living in dirt floor huts.  Phil Noble [Bold letters, mine] 

Last week I had the pleasure and honor to facilitate a Staff Development Day for the staff of the old Center where I was Director. Some of the veteran staff were sharing stories about how or why they remembered me. One of the Korean teachers reminisced about the time she had come to me concerned. She and the head teacher were both Korean, and she was worried about what people might think if both teachers in an American preschool classroom were both Korean. She recalled that I had laughed and said, "Well, there are two white teachers or two African American teachers. What's wrong with two Korean teachers?" She expressed being grateful about that. For some reason, that incident and memory made me think about why I am voting for Obama.

Walking along these past two days, proudly wearing my new Obama T-shirt, I have been thinking many Obama thoughts and, mainly, what he represents for me. This morning I heard a somber, gloomy James Carville urging Obama to get angry and forcefully challenge McCain. So many media pundits seem so anxious that Obama is not angry enough. Hm … I wondered, as I walked along, how do we change politics and the status quo fundamentally through anger? How do we reach out to the other side with an open mind and willingness to understand their language through anger? Obama represents for me "a different world view from anyone who has ever been President." More than that, he symbolizes for me the end of White Supremacy, a sincere confrontation of bigotry, and, more importantly, the end of ignorance. In short, I like the way Obama talks to me – the people – and the way he treats me – the people. He does not insult my intelligence. He does not use language like "obliteration" when talking of other nations. I like the way he hesitated with his answer about what constitutes the beginning of life in the abortion debate. For the answer is complex. There is no one Truth, and he was not afraid to show that in his response.

The cynics are rocked, moved, uncomfortable, and that is all right with me. The message of hope and change works well for me, and Obama's style feels strong and knowledgeable. When the storm of cynicism and despair, hate and fear crashes around and about, up and over, I will stand firm with Obama. For he represents for me an end to fear and hatred of "the other." 

So, I'm wearing my Obama T-shirt and black Obama hope wristband, hanging out the Obama sign on my fence for everyone to see. I'm donating my allocation monies to his campaign this year for I believe he is the change we need, and he will be good for the world too! A friend of mine shared with me last weekend how she fears that he lacks substance. I thought to myself that perhaps it is the very substance of Obama that scares people so. The different world view – systems changes are indeed the scariest, the most uncomfortable for people to face. 

I am not a religious person but I will be praying these next few months. Praying to the people of America to have the courage, even as they fear difference, are rocked by the cynics, and long to hold back in the delusional safety of the shadows of darkness and ignorance – to stand together in full force, and vote with me in November for Barack Obama to be the next President of the United States of America.

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Quote of the day

More hats …


Teatime at the Physick Estate.

Went away …


And now I'm back …

Babatamar2    IMG_0018

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: A summer question

A letter to my child …


My darling child,

It was so good to see you looking strong and healthy, navigating the streets, and participating in the culture of a new and different city of your dreams. As we wrapped our arms around each other and talked of this and that I realized your questions and confusion about advice I have given you over the years. How right you are to question it! How courageous and strong you are! I have always loved and admired your intelligent, inquiring mind, even from the very day you were born. I could see it in your bright, searching, and sensitive eyes as you stared back at me from your little newborn-crib – sizing me up through your long intent gaze.
The older I become, the more I understand my own psychic and emotional development, the more life experience I acquire, and the more I work with teachers of young children and their families, I have come to realize that advice giving is a treacherous and risky business. Especially between parents and their children. 
Especially between you and me. The desire to give my child the very best that life has to offer clouds my clarity of vision or understanding of where you actually are in your own psychic and emotional development, or what would really be good, or make sense for your present and future. Indeed, my advice is subjective in the extreme, made up of painful life experiences, dreams and fantasies of how I would have liked to be.
Follow your heart, was just one of those types of advice that I metered out to you immediately, spontaneously, and generously – or so I thought. Based on pure fantasy, I might add, and not coupled for one instant with any details about the trials and tribulations, payments and punishments that come with such a dream – a notion. For, following one's heart, is made up of other people's dreams and fantasies, poetry and fiction, movies, plays and songs. It is a dream that inspires great art. For example, recently I realized that Jane Austen wrote the most inspired stories that have lasted for generations. They are all based on magnificent happy endings where her characters achieve all their desired dreams. In point of fact, she never married herself, and one has no idea what loneliness she might have experienced in her own life. Following one's heart, is advice given by sages and artists, many of whom have paid the price for it in other ways. It is a dream that gives us hope and inspires creativity.
In point of fact, I have found that for me to be successful, belonging or accepted, or taken even half-way seriously in real-life society, professionally and personally, whether in Africa, Israel or the United States, no matter whom I married or worked with, I had to bind myself to a life of obligation, duty, commitment, resignation, and compromise – laced with healthy doses of guilt and shame. When I was young I felt trapped in conformity or obligation, and tried time and again to follow my heart. Each time was met with self destruction, and most of all I seemed to cause pain for those closest, the most dear to me. When I said to you, "Follow your heart," I gave you advice that I could not use. It was the advice of my dreams. For, as Bob the therapist told me more than once, most of us live quiet lives of desperation.
I have tried to weave joy, music, love, and creativity into a life of obligation and responsibility, and always seem to find strength, courage and hope through it. So, please, do not think I am sad or wistful about how I see my reality of now. Indeed, it feels like a relief for me to face these things realistically. I feel as if I am finally mature – have grown into an adult, even at age 59.
I want to tell you, and I wish I could do it with my arms wrapped around you like yesterday as we walked through those busy and intense streets surrounded by the noise and bustle of that wonderful city of your dreams. I want to tell you not to take my advice. I really do not have any idea what is best for you or what makes sense for your psychic and emotional development right now or ever, really. I want you to be happy. Even though I know that's a crazy notion. For I grab at moments of happiness and peace of mind. They are not constant for me – they cannot be – not based on my life, past and present. Just not my reality. I want you to feel successful for being who you are: sensitive, loyal, courageous, creative, talented, intelligent and full of love to give and receive. Even though I know that it is so hard to feel successful or know what one is capable of. Self confidence is something that eludes me. I hold onto brief moments of that feeling. I hardly know myself what it is like to feel successful – indeed, by whose measure? Whose definition? I want you not to feel alone or lonely. Even though I have always felt alone and lonely even when surrounded by friends or family. For, now and again I have sensed belonging and comfort, not often, and often when I was alone, with nature, or Ada, or in the quiet of my study. Feelings of happiness, belonging and self-confidence, have always been elusive to me, and yet I want all of them for you!
And so, I do not want to give you my advice unless you can see it for what it is. Stuff about me! As most advice is – stuff about the people who dish it out! Mostly, and most importantly, though, I want to tell you that I have loved you, do love you, and will always love you with all of my heart, mind and soul, and as long as I can and am able, I will support you in any way I can through whatever you choose to do with your life.
I will always be your mother and friend.
With great love I write these words to you.
A year ago at Mining Nuggets: My morning greeter

Emotional boundaries

On my morning walk recently, I got to thinking about how this year, all year, has been the twentieth anniversary of my emigration to the States. I realized that I have learned so much since arriving in Buffalo, and even more since our transition to Philadelphia four years ago. Indeed, I grew up in America – emotionally – and it does not matter that next year I will be sixty years old. I am learning new things all the time. As I walked along looking at the scenery and allowing my mind to wander, I found myself asking silently through my brain, what was the most important thing I learned since coming here. The answer rose up to greet me immediately, without hesitation: 

That emotional neglect in my childhood led to a confusion of emotional boundaries throughout my life. Since coming to America, I have learned about understanding and clarifying – tweaking at – some of them:

  • What I need, how I need it
  • What I give, how I give it 
  • What I receive, how to receive it
  • What I hear, how I hear it
  • What I say, how I say it
  • Who I love, how I love them 
  • Emotional memory 
  • Emotional space
  • Emotional distance 
  • Emotional availability 
  • Intimacy
  • Connections between emotional boundaries and sexuality

It was exciting for me, thinking about these things. Enormous energy seemed to rise up together with the realizations, and I felt as if I was flying high – my feet barely sensed the pavement under them. I arrived home rosy-cheeked and breathless. 

I must have crossed some kind of forbidden line, though, because as quickly as the energy rose, so it pulled back in fright, and I became light-headed and dizzy for the rest of the day. Feeling faint and nauseous, I lay down and withdrew inwards, nursing my fear. 

One more thing I have learned these past twenty years. Emotional boundaries are deep. They come from way, way back. Separating myself emotionally and crossing forbidden lines feels dangerous, and causes anxiety attacks. 

Twenty four hours later I felt stronger and less fear-full. As I walked along the tree-lined roads the following day, I thought of the expression: Pride comes before a fall. It reminded me of another one I had often heard growing up whenever people were raucously laughing, rough and tumble playing, or just having a really good time: Be careful! It will end in tears!

I wondered: When we are children, do the significant adults in our lives give us those warnings just to keep us in our place? Or do these warnings come from their own fears and past life experiences? 

On the tip of my tongue

Each day a blog post is on the tip of my tongue. There was the afternoon while watering my yard that a 24 inch East Ribbon snake sidled out of the ivy and through the flower bed as droplets of water sprinkled its back. That day, as I watched with a type of mesmerized fascination as the snake meandered around the building to the hose, and then proceeded to suck up a tiny frog, legs wiggling and sinking into its belly, I experienced a chill throughout my body, skin crawling uncontrollably. I wanted to write about my traumatic snake experience as a child growing up in Africa and explore innate fears, expounding theories about thus and such to do with snakes, mice and so forth. 

Then there was the morning I jumped on the scale and realized that after only one month of dieting and exercise I had miraculously lost 10 pounds. My fingers itched to scribe about feeling lighter and relieved at health-fullness. I longed to write about the return of energy as each morning early I walk out into the sunshine and briskly stride about the neighborhood for 3 miles or so, greeting fellow exercisers, cyclists, runners, or other walkers like myself, and feeling, for the first time in close to four years, at home in Philadelphia. But then the past week even with all the exercise and dieting that I maintain, the scale shows a plateauing and I struggle to hold onto the hope, energy, and motivation I mustered over a month ago!

Working through July starting out as the new Chair of our department has brought up many moments of thoughtfulness and ponderings about the upcoming year’s challenges and interesting times ahead. Blog posts have been starting up in my mind over and over again. 

Excitement at the thought that within only a few weeks my next book will be born, published, sent forth into the early childhood communities for teachers and professors alike to explore, read, critique, question, and share. I have wanted to write about the growing anticipation as I await its arrival. For, this particular book, has been brewing and hatching, incubating and simmering for all of my teaching life. And just as I thought my writing days were over, I was asked to edit a tome about gender and early childhood education. This is a subject close to my heart for, after all, I discovered feminism only 16 years ago, and there is still so much more to think and wonder about. Just as I was sending out a call to colleagues and fellow early childhood professionals, yet another book was offered me by a very dear friend. He said, “write about anything – from the bottom of your heart to the middle of your mind.” These books will accompany me as I start out in a new position this new academic year. I have been wanting to write a blog post about how fulfilling and exciting all of this is – just when I thought my writing days were over.

Oh, and of course, I have been meaning to write all manner of posts about politics, summer as it slips away as fast as it arrived, Ada Mae as she sits close to my back while I pull my body into yoga postures, and especially about upcoming trips to Cape May and Buffalo next week. 
All, on the tip of my tongue, edge of my fingers …

… But, quite simply … I have not had the time …

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Internal ethnography