Looking back and thinking forward

Month: July, 2012

Blimey what a week that was

Quote of the day:

Climbing out of the cave I laid low in this past week to wait out the storm, I discover a clearer, safer world. I breathe in and out and feel the cooler air coursing through my veins. Moving on I marvel at the resilience of young children to overcome all kinds of abusive parenting and not only survive, but excel. I realize that the kindness of strangers and surrogates are critical to children's resilience. I now have a theme – a focus. An exploration about the importance of surrogates in the lives of young children everywhere. 

Unpacking the term, "kindness of strangers," it does not have to be grand acts, although those are included of course. It is in the small day to day reaching out, listening and validating, as well as invitations into another's home, and taking care of someone with food, finances and emotional support. For example, I remember arriving at Inge's door, in my early adulthood, in need of someone to talk to – a safe, emotional haven. Slipping into my bed that night in her small guest room, I noticed a bowl of strawberries at my bedside. That act of generosity and kindness stayed with me forever. For, in that moment, concretely, I knew I was important to someone, and deserving of a sweet treat before turning out the light.

This past week, I survived my storms laying low in my cave. However, there were a number of acts of kindness from no longer strangers, but strangers who have become friends, that made me stronger than ever. I am indebted to each and every one of them – for noticing, listening, believing in me, and even taking action on my behalf: Marion, Ilene, Mira, Nancy, and Anna.

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: "Be the change …"

Seven years ago at Tamarika: Meme the interview


Quote of the day

I've been siftin' through the layers
Of dusty books and faded papers
They tell a story I used to know
And it was one that happened so long agoKate Wolf

These past few days I have been summarizing my professional life.

Laying it out, organizing, categorizing, displaying, and compartmentalizing it in distinct sections when in reality there are so many connections throughout and within each. How does one take a life and divide it into chunks separate from one another?

And as I sift and sort in this enormous, silent house, alone as life partner has traveled far across the world, days and sleepless nights melt one into the other, and memories of the past forty years rise up in unexpected moments, jumping out of faded papers, and startling me through restless dreams. Just like so many early childhood professionals, my path has taken many twists and turns: first as a preschool-kindergarten teacher in Israel; then as undergraduate and graduate doctoral student, university instructor, and director of child care centers in Buffalo; professor, chair of department, and coordinator in New Jersey; presenter, author, and consultant everywhere; and all the while mother, daughter, life partner, sister, aunt, cousin, niece, and friend.

Now and again I stop to look back over older blog posts. The ones I included at the end here were especially interesting to me these past few days. For I realized while reading back that the month of July represents loss – of dear friends, my cat, and especially leaving my home in Israel for America twenty four years ago. Grief has often been my companion through each step I took in my profession. Mostly, I did it alone, often without support or encouragement, and, at times, even in spite of criticism and shaming. Memories of my achievements are accompanied by trepidation. It has been exhausting. And yet, each time, I somehow managed to overcome my fears with a kind of passionate inner will – a force driven by hope. 

The past few days I have been challenged by migraines, trembling, weeping, and restless sleep. Each morning I rise up and try again and again to put into words what I think has been my contributions to the early childhood profession. I am blocked by feelings of worthlessness. Specifically, that I am not deserving – I am nobody. I am not sure why I feel the need to prove myself at this late stage in my career, but the opportunity has presented itself and, once again, it seems that I am taking it on in spite of my ancient wounds and haunting fears.

The storm within has not yet passed, but this morning I see a glimmer of light on the horizon. Gathering inner strength, I am reminded of a poem that Carrie, a student of mine, once gave me, with much love, and for support and encouragement, during the first few years in Buffalo:


Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

Seven years ago at Tamarika: Back in Buffalo & The last breath

Six years ago at Mining Nuggets: Alone and strong


Reaching into the recesses of my memory, I learn about how I came to be me. The most disturbing, and difficult habit to overcome is that I repeat what I did for attention as a young child as an older adult over and over again. Even as I understand how I developed this way, it is an extraordinary challenge to alter my behavior and feelings associated with it. For the only way I felt worthwhile or seemed to gain attention, was by taking care of my mother and father emotionally. 

Consequently, try as I may, as an older adult I continue to transfer to everyone else those old patterns of emotions and behaviors. In other words, I find that I continuously put myself on a back burner when it comes to getting my emotional or any kind of needs met. And, lately, it has become quite a burden for me. I want to shake it off. Stop it. Change the feelings and actions about it. It has been intriguing, interesting, even shocking for me to understand and realize where these habits came from. But, now, it is enough! I simply do not have that much more time in my life to play this suffering game any longer.

I have been trying out something new, and I think it is beginning to take hold. When something happens and I start to sink into my habitual self loathing, I ask myself instead how the situation makes me feel. Mostly I discover that I am angry at not getting my needs met. It does not take long – a few moments. I allow myself to feel angry and very shortly after that I sense a type of release – even joy – often forgiveness, love and understanding. And even better than that, I am able to solve the issue without much of a to do! The strange part about it is how quickly I feel better. In other words, I am able to make the connection between fear of anger and turning it into self loathing. For some reason I always thought that if I was angry I would have to express it, when just allowing myself to feel it was difficult and complex enough.

Now, more than ever, I am starting to see that "attention getting" is a huge, loaded issue in our work with young children. How on earth can teachers accept the fact that children have a desperate need for their attention, when we had to develop all kinds of weird ways of seeking it ourselves?

Even stones have feelings …

This weekend I heard a story about a little seven year old girl, who picked up a pebble in the back yard one day and explained to her playmate that "even stones have feelings." 

At a late brunch last Sunday morning sitting in a crowded sidewalk cafe in New York City, I listened to a sixty year old playmate tell the tale to the others at our table. He said he had never forgotten those words. The little girl he described in the story was me.

I was amazed and intrigued. I decided that this might have to be the title of one of the chapters in my memoir.

I thought about it all the way back home on the train, before I fell asleep that night, and for two days afterward. "Have I always been sensitive to other people's feelings? Have I always known that it was important to validate them? How did I learn that?" I reflected.

Excitedly, I delivered the information to my therapist, and when we unpacked the implications of what I had understood emotionally and philosophically, even as a very young child, we uncovered its significance for me.

That is: Even back then I knew that feelings for everyone (including stones!), were important.

Except my own.

For, I had learned that my feelings would have to be put on the back burner, because the emotional needs of the significant adults in my life came first. Furthermore, it seemed that my emotions were construed as destructive and harmful to the very people from whom I needed validation and approval the most.

Indeed, even stones were more deserving of having feelings than me.

What a bind!

It becomes clearer to me now, more than ever, why my work with young children and the people who care for and educate them, is and always has been focused on emotional development – specifically, the validation of children's feelings.

Seven years ago at Tamarika: Thoughts about it

Water games


[Me at the Michmoret beach, May 2012]

Quote of the day:

Make sure that swimming is somewhere in your memoir. Why? I don't know. It seems a memoir needs a splash of water. For now, give us ten minutes of it. Go. Tell us something about swimming.

Of course, swimming can lead to drowning. When did you feel like you were drowning? Go. Another ten. (Natalie Goldberg: Old Friend From Far Away. Page123)


This summer I treated myself to a pool membership. I always forget how much I love to swim. Of course, I much prefer the ocean and seas of one sort or another, but pools are fine too. It is something about being enveloped by a body of water. Like the heated blanket the nurse wrapped around my shoulders yesterday when I woke up out of the anesthetic at the Huntingdon Valley Surgery Center. I smiled and said, "This feels like a warm hug." Swimming in a body of water has the same sensation for me. A warm hug. Yes. I feel loved. My body breaks free and plunges into the water, usually head first, no matter the temperature, and I feel joy from the top of my head to the tips of my toes that splash around, up and down behind me. I wonder if I adored swimming around in my mother's womb. Although I came out quite quickly and easily according to the stories my mother tells me about my birth day. She reports that she was sitting chatting with the midwife when suddenly out I came – surprising everyone. Perhaps I was keen to emerge. That tale always delights me. At least my birth did not cause her pain or suffering, for from then on I seemed to cause her constant trouble or distress in one way or another – for the rest of my life. Until most recently perhaps. Have we made our peace?

It has something to do with self pampering when I go to a place intentionally to swim. As I plow through the water dipping my face into it and coming up for air I sense a strength of purpose and feel wrapped up as if in a warm embrace all at the same time. It is almost like a reward of some kind. I experience pure pleasure and joy. I wonder if I enjoyed being bathed when I was an infant. Did people coo and smile at me as they gently lathered my little body? Was that the last time I was cuddled? For I have very little memory of being cuddled or coddled by anyone in my earliest days. Ah that wretched memory of mine! There are photographs of my sister holding me in her lap, or my father holding me high up as he gazed happily at me. So, it must have happened. Surely?

When I married my son's father in Israel back in 1972, I was required to take a ritual bath before the wedding. Weeks prior to the event, I visited with the Rabbi in a neighboring village to where my mother lived, for we were to be married in her garden. The Rabbi advised me that the best "Mikveh" was the sea, and suggested I take a dip in it the day of my wedding, with my mother as my witness. As this type of bath required full nudity, she accompanied me to the sea at four in the morning to be sure not to encounter other early morning bathers. I stripped down and after handing my clothes to her, I dived into the sea head first, and immersed my body into the luscious sea water swirling the salty taste through my mouth and lips. I swam around and in the sea for quite a few minutes. Each time that I lifted my head out of the water, I could see my mother's form in the distance, standing on the shore, holding my clothes, bearing witness to my ritual bath. It was a glorious moment for me, full of promise and spirituality, for S.B. and I had decided to marry on my birthday – in late May – late Spring for Israel at that time, when the weather was gentle, and the sea almost warm. 

This last May I visited Israel as I always do each year lately to visit with my aging mother. Two days before my birthday I awoke very early in the morning and went out to my sister's "Buddha" garden to meditate. Suddenly in the midst of concentrating on my mantras, I realized that it was forty years since that Mikveh in the Mediterranean Sea, the morning of the wedding to my son's father. I wept quietly, and then later in the day, I made sure to immerse myself in the salty waters by the Michmoret beach. It felt good to celebrate alone the anniversary of days gone by that were once so full of hope and promise for a new life.

I wrote to my ex husband and told him I had been thinking about that, and wished him a Happy Anniversary. He responded, "Nice thoughts."


Things I notice on my walk this morning

A young buck with budding antlers peeking up over the hedgerow from deep in Carpenter Woods, catching my eye and holding my gaze as I jog slowly by.

A very elderly couple with white, silvery hair, both lean and slightly bowed over. The woman wears a large straw hat, and the man carries a stick. She holds the leash of a very elderly black, graying, furry dog, probably a Chow. They both wait patiently while the dog struggles to walk slowly to the car looking as if she has arthritis in her knees.

Two large black beetles lying on their backs in the middle of the road – their legs struggling in the air as they try to roll over.

A young boy striding up the hill as I jog slowly down. For a moment his eyes meet mine but quickly he lowers them as he walks by.

A young man bare chested runs up the hill past me looking neither right nor left – straight ahead, panting loudly.

I notice the music in my earphones and sometimes sing along. I notice I am weeping through one of Annie Lennox's song as I think about abused children everywhere.

A robin bobs alongside me carrying a twig in his beak eyeing me cautiously, but keeping close by.

Small sparrows peck at the road and fly high into the trees when a car speeds past.

Dark clouds weigh heavy above the trees as I start up the hill, and when I turn the corner to come back around, the clouds part as the sun brightens the sky above the woods. Just at that moment Lavay Smith warbles "Blue Skies" in my ear, and I notice I am swaying from side to side as I almost skip along the roadside.

Sweat drips down from my forehead sliding past my eyes and into my lips as I jog down the hill. I notice my pace has fallen into a strong rhythm, and I feel excited because I will probably make the light crossing busy Lincoln Drive and the home stretch.

Almost there, I notice the sign at the large, old, impressive Unitarian Church building five minutes away from home. It reads that the greatest gift we can give one another is the purity of our attention. I think about that as I wonder what "pure attention" might mean for me. Wondering leads to rumination about people who have listened – I mean, really listened – to me in the past and I notice tear drops mix in with the sweat dripping down my face as I stride into our yard and up the road towards the back of our house.

A robin is bathing in the bird bath I filled with water just a few hours prior to setting out on my walk and a squirrel races up a tree as I arrive at the back door.

I sigh peacefully, contentedly as I turn the handle of the back door and enter the house. Ada calls sweetly from the top of the stairs as I climb up to the third floor to join her. She is sitting in her little bed next to my computer and begins to purr as I sit down to write my list.

A rose by any other name …


I love yellow roses. 

The greatest day of my life was when my son was born. I was twenty four years old when he came out of my body and into the world.

I will never forget that day for the rest of my life.

His father sent me a bouquet of yellow roses, and from that moment I have always loved them.

I was not aware I was thinking about this until I sat down to write about it. I guess it is no coincidence. When I looked out my window this morning, I noticed that the new little, yellow rose bush that Hana gave me for my birthday had its first bloom out in the front garden. I gasped with joy and pleasure, and rushed out to look at it closely. There were three buds waiting to burst open as well. The heat has been exhausting even for the plants, and I have been especially careful to water the rose bush often since I planted it right next to a miniature Azalea I recently received at a fund raiser downtown Philadelphia.

I picked the first rose early this morning and rushed up to write this post. And then I realized … why, it is my son's birthday in three days! My subconscious had made all the connections before I had time to notice. I am forever intrigued by my crafty old subconscious mind!

When I was twenty four, I probably felt the most unworthy I could ever have felt. I was unable to pass French "A" Levels in high school three times in a row, and married a man, who until this day maintained that he never loved me nor wanted to marry me … rather, I had forced him into it. Of course, looking back, it was natural that I stayed with him as long as I did, all the while trying to please him into loving me. For, I had the impression in those days that I was too flawed a person to be lovable to any man. For example, when our two mothers met for the first time, I was standing in the kitchen and anxiously overheard them talking, hoping the meeting would go well. His mother said to mine, "Your daughter is lucky to have my son, he is a genius!" I listened intently. My mother replied, "I know what you mean. My son is a genius too." That memorable conversation helped to reinforce my feeling that I, an unintelligent nobody, was lucky to have a man as smart as that, and from that day on, I was grateful for his tolerance of me.

On the day my son was born, for the first time in my relationship with his father I felt I had done something worthy of him. I managed to do something good and right, and when he sent me the yellow roses, I had proof that finally … maybe … I might have become lovable to him.

But then, one of the nurses brought my son to me. I held him in my arms, cradling him toward my breast and looked into his eyes. His face was wise, eyes bright and clear, and he held my gaze intently. I could not help but notice that he resembled my beloved, old father. I loved my baby immediately and without a shred of hesitation, even as I thought to myself, "He is sizing me up, wondering if he likes me." All my fears of "getting it right," or anxieties about whether his father loved me or not flew out the window. I loved my son deeply and unconditionally. From then on, for me, yellow roses represented that glorious day.

Two years ago at Mining Nuggets: The blank page

Rock the cynics – there is hope


[Thanks to Syracuse Cultural Workers]

Four years ago we had the courage to vote for Barack Obama.

We, the people.

The Supreme Court did not have to decide it – we spoke loud and clear. We wanted Mr. Obama to represent and lead us into a different time, and we made sure it happened.

Now, I know there are a lot of people, albeit ignorant, bigoted and misogynistic, who are foaming at the mouth with anger since this happened. After all, the old, patriarchal system could not abide even the thought of a different colored skinned man with a name that might smack of a religion different from theirs, actually living in the "White" House and telling us "what it is" with intelligence and reason.

I get it.

Change is tough to swallow especially when it cuts deeply into the same old system of generations. 

But, it happened. It is a fact. A man by the name of Barack Hussein Obama is President of this nation. We did it!

The people of the old system want to pull us back into darkness and regression – into the old patriarchal system – it's to be expected, and there is a remote chance that they might succeed … but, even then …

… it can only be for a short while.

I have great hope for all of us, for the system has been cracked wide open, and when that type of change occurs, there is no turning back. Indeed, I believe the 2008 election has far reaching consequences for everyone considered a minority in a patriarchal system. 

"Barack ran so all our children could fly."

Just as an aside …

… I must say that I can't help but identify with the political situation on a personal level. For I feel that in a sense the changes I have been making with the help of therapy and reflection, have cut deeply into my own brain and family system, and for me too there is no turning back. 

Outside looking on

Have I always been on the outside looking on?

I remember sitting in the living room with my father and his wife. They were speaking Ladino and I did not understand one word. Well, perhaps a word or two here and there: "cierra la puerta?" She sat in a blue chair in the corner of the living room and puffed on her cigarette, holding it between her fingers in a slim, black holder. I remember she wore gloves when we drove into town to have tea and "a thousand leaves" cakes at Haddon & Sly. I was mostly very quiet. I sat as still as I could so as not to be noticed. I was terrified of doing anything at all in case it was wrong. For I had heard that she had a very large temper. When my father brought me home for the weekend, she would meet me at the door and lead me directly to the bathroom to wash off all the dirt from my mother's house. "Remember to scrub your knees and neck," she would say.

I wrote about some of this back in 2009:

I would sit quietly watching my step-mother closely as she dressed herself with great care, slipping hairpins into the neat roll she created around the bottom edge of her blue-silver tinted hair. After donning her beige colored gloves, we would drive off together into the town for our outing. I cannot remember what we did at Haddon & Sly except for the times we would visit the store's tea-room for tea and cakes – and, usually Mille-feuille was among them. I would sit at the table politely making sure to be on my very best behavior. 
I remember feeling almost as if I was being initiated into some type of aristocratic, sophisticated world meant for other people – everyone else, that is, except me. It was like some kind of lucky fluke that I was even allowed to participate in it for a brief moment. I understood that I would have to keep very quiet, not fidget or make any unnecessary movement in my seat, and eat my cake ever so carefully until each crumb was cleaned off the plate and into my hungry little mouth. I probably could have eaten sixteen of them one after another. They were so delicate and petite, and so completely delicious – expert flaky pastry, creamy custard filling and elegant powdered sugar frosting the top. I was always so proud not to allow one tiniest drop of the powdered sugar to fall onto the table cloth, or more importantly, onto my clothes. My step-mother would have hated that, and I feared her wrath considerably.

I only visited their home for about five years until I was ten years old or so. After that my father told me something had happened and he was no longer allowed to take me there. He never told me the reason why. Perhaps he thought I was too young to understand, or maybe he did not want to hurt me. Nevertheless, naturally, as a child I assumed and imagined it was because of something I said or did. He and I would have to visit in the park, drive out on outings or go to the movies – it felt like meeting a clandestine lover or something.

It would be years until I could visit him in his own home again.

I came from the outside – another life – and she allowed me to intrude for awhile. 

Laugh out loud

Quote of the day:

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. T.S. Eliot

Yesterday's "nostalgic reading" whet my appetite this morning for more backward looking. And so I checked out, on this blog, each July since 2005, right up until today. 


Laugh out loud.

Or as we are all saying and writing these days … LOL.

… And the reason is, gentle readers, I have been navel-gazing in a very similar way from year to year. While I might be sensing stirrings of change in my attitude, outlook, or even behaviors, I pretty much feel the same way year after year.

Hm. Interesting. Unpacking "interesting" a little more, it is a tad frustrating to be sure. I had been hoping for gut busting revelations that blast open old paradigms and create a self-altered moi!



Me is just me – year after year – plodding, struggling, ruminating along. If there is a change in me, it is happening in the tiniest of increments. Minuscule to be sure.

However, one thing is common in all the posts each year: hope abounds.

I think I am trying too hard. 

And … honestly? 

I am not sure what for …

Four years ago at Mining Nuggets: The right track