Month: November 2014

We sang lots more songs at story time today than we heard stories.

The song I liked best was When Animals Get Up in the Morning:
When cows get up in the morning, they always say good day
When cows get up in the morning, they always say good day
They say moo, moo, moo, moo, that is what they say
They say moo, moo, moo, moo, that is what they say.

Repeat with other animals and the sounds they make, for example, sheep, horses, elephants, seals, chickens, ducks, snakes, and so on.

The early learning tip was about race:
“Two reasons (just the tip of the iceberg) why discussing race with young children is important:

First, one of the ways that children’s brains make synaptic connections is by categorizing, and one of the most superficial types of categorization they do is based on what things and people look like. Acknowledging that different people look different, but that these differences do not define who they are or what they are like is developmentally appropriate and recommended by child psychologists and child development experts.

Second, even if we assume that children are making neutral categorizations of racial difference on their own (which is a huge assumption), we live in a society that does not promote equal or equitable portrayals of all races. Left undiscussed, research shows that children default to negative stereotypes of race as they see perpetuated in the dominant culture, in media, and even, in some instances, at home. Talking about race in a simple, age appropriate, non-prejudiced way prevents these negative stereotypes from being the only contextual information young children have about people who look different from themselves.”
––Amy Koester, Skokie Public Library

The following resources about how children learn race and how to talk about it were shared:
Children Are Not Colorblind: How Young Children Learn Race by Erin N. Winkler (published in Practical Approaches for Continuing Education)

Teaching Tolerance: How White Parents Should Talk to Their Young Kids About Race by Melinda Wenner Moyer (published in Salon)

How to Talk to Kids About Race: What’s Appropriate for Ages 3-8 by Madeleine Rogin (published in InCultureParent)

Ten Quick Ways to Analyze Children’s Books for Sexism and Racism by Louise Derman-Sparks and the A.B.C. Task Force (published in the Anti-Bias Curriculum: Tools for Empowering Young Children)

name

H sat at the dining room table the other day making vigorous marks. He was working with pencil on paper.

“H is making marks,” I observed.

Without pausing his project he told me, “I am writing my name.”

I want to hold up to the light words and actions of mine that don’t sit right in my gut, the ones that leave me feeling heavy and sad.

I want to face those words and actions and sort through them with an explorer’s curiosity about what I might find. What do they signal? What was the external landscape like? What were my emotional reserves at the time? What changes can I make to help bring my speech and behavior in line with my core values next time?

I want to do this with gentleness and respect toward myself, with a healthy sense of boundaries.

I want to acknowledge and take responsibility for those words and actions with the people who find themselves on the receiving end. I do not want to hide from the discomfort of the feelings and pretend that nothing has happened between us.

I want to do this with gentleness and respect toward others, with a healthy sense of boundaries.

So tomorrow I will say to H, “H sweetest, I have something to tell you.”

“I love you,” he might tell me, because he has taken up ‘I have something to tell you’ from me as an invitation to play at figuring out the vastness of my love for him.

“Yes, sweets, I love you. And there’s something else. I was frustrated last night. I was not patient, and I did not use words in the gentle, respectful way I want to. I did not like my tone. I used force when I need not have. I am sorry, sweets. Mama will do it differently next time. And I love you.”

“Mama don’t love H,” he might say, because this is part of our play.

“Yes! I love you! I can’t deny it! We don’t have to talk about it right now, but I can’t deny it!” I will say in an exaggerated, playful voice, doing my part to uphold the game.

He might laugh, as he usually does, and we might go round like this for a while.

Or he might want to talk about what happened at bedtime, how H wanted to walk and mama picked him up. About how H didn’t want to brush teeth and mama got frustrated. About how he pushed the brush repeatedly from his mouth to tell me things in his sweet, sweet voice and how mama said no no no with a stern voice. About how mama tried for the briefest moment before she thought better of it to wrestle H into stillness. About how mama held firm on one book even though H kept asking for two. If he wants to talk about it, I will tell him about a part he might not remember, how sleep came fast, one of his small legs thrown over my thigh, one tiny hand, palm face up, nestled next to his head. I will tell him about something he couldn’t know unless he heard it from me, about how I see all the ages he has been when I watch him sleep, how he is at once little little and in the NICU, a newborn at home, an older infant, a toddler. About how I try to imagine him in the future, at four, seven, sixteen, twenty-two, twenty-nine, thirty-four, forty. About how I can feel our whole lives spiraling out from where we are, making larger and larger circles until it contains everything that is and ever will be.

If he does want to talk about it, we will likely talk about it countless times, wearing smooth the rough edges of what happened with our acknowledgment that it did and the comfort of knowing that we love each other still, that neither of us has left the other, that we remain steadfastly in it together, each witness to the other’s growing.

This is what I want. I do not always live this process, and it is often not completely comfortable when I do. So I take deep breaths, and I work on cozying up to the discomfort for my own sake and for H’s, so that it becomes easier and easier to live in integrity and to pass that skill along to H, too.

The letter at story time today was T (t). We talked about the sound the consonant blend Th (th) makes.

We heard stories about giving thanks, including Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson.

We sang Thanks So Much!
(to the tune of Row, Row, Row Your  Boat)

Thanks, thanks, thanks so much
All day long I’ll sing
Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you
And Happy Thanksgiving!

The early literacy tip was about singing:
“Clap, tap, and bounce! Singing and playing music is a great way to practice hearing the natural rhythm of language. As they tap or clap out a beat, kids can get the rhythm into their bodies. Then, as they learn to read, they will start separating longer words into syllables, or beats, to make them easier to decode.”

Every other week for the past eight months, H and I have taken the elevator from the parking garage to the main lobby of the hospital where he was born. Every other week, we have walked through the lobby to reach a second bank of elevators. There used to be a dome in the lobby’s ceiling where we would pause for a moment to hear our whispers amplified and ricocheting in space as others strode purposefully around us. In that spot now stands the information desk, above which hangs, from the patched over dome, a Calder-esque mobile that looks blue, purple, pink, or some blend of those colors depending on where you stand in relation to it. The gift shop, which we pass on our right, has also received a makeover. It may be more open to the lobby now, although I am not sure, having never paid it much heed before. Predating these changes, but not our visits to the hospital, is a Starbucks where we sometimes stop for a treat on our way home. Much has changed in eight months.

Our return trips to the hospital started 21 months after H was born, 19 and 1/2 months after he came home for the first time after his birth. Every other week, we have returned to the hospital for physical therapy to support his gross motor development. After passing through the lobby, we have taken an elevator from the second bank to the sixth floor and headed west, and every other week, I have paused at the first T in the corridor and looked left before we turn right. At the end of that hall, in the opposite direction from Pediatric Therapy Services and visible from where we stand, is the NICU. Hidden somewhere in the labyrinth of wings and corridors in the direction of the NICU is the postpartum room where I spent two nights before being discharged without my baby. As we make our way to playing with H’s therapists, it is impossible not to think about the circumstances under which H was born and spent his first 41 days.

Recently, we have stepped up to twice a week visits: weekly physical therapy for gross motor support and weekly occupational therapy to keep a watchful eye on sensory issues that might hinder play and learning. The unintended consequence of this added support for H’s development is that my encounters with the NICU and the flood of memories and feelings that follow have quadrupled. Perhaps because of this or perhaps because the time just seemed right, I found myself one day explaining to H that we had been in this place before, much before we started coming to play with Kathryn and Cameron.

“We’re almost to Kathryn,” I told H. “If we went the other way, we would be going to the NICU. That’s where mama and H were for a while after you were born, when you were little little.”

H’s gazed followed my pointed finger. I could tell that he was taking this in, perhaps not quite sure what it really meant, but incorporating it into his understanding of the world as best he could anyway.

We often stop at the T in the corridor now and talk about the NICU and our early days together. It has been a part of my story for the past 28 months, and it will always be part of his. It is worth acknowledging and honoring with conversation and explanation, with words and with silent pauses that allow us to reflect together on where we’ve been. It is his birth story: You were born early. We were here, in this place. Mama had to go home while you stayed. Mama was with you as much as she could be, all the time, except when she was eating or sleeping. You were always in mama’s heart, as you always will be. Our conversations about his birth and our time in the NICU allow him to weave new words into the story of his existence, creating a beautiful tapestry of where he has been, who he is, and who he is becoming. It was an indescribably hard time, but from it beautiful things have grown. No mud, no lotus. We need to talk about the mud just as much as we need to talk about the lotus.

H has since brought up the NICU twice in other contexts, once when I referred to his hands as little little and once seemingly out of the blue. He has once requested to go left where we usually turn right, and we talked to the nurse stationed at the NICU’s front desk. H watched the NICU doors open to admit a young mother, and I described to him how I used to scrub my hands and arms each time I went through those same doors to see him. I pointed out, through the windows behind the reception desk, the room he was in and talked about how his isolette was last in his row, near the windows. Then we went to play with Cameron. I have a suspicion that it will not be our only visit to the NICU.

I can talk about and visit the NICU with much more ease now than I could when H was a newborn. I can still feel achingly sad when I think about the experience, and talking about it can bring tears to the surface easily. But the pain is not so raw, the wounds not so tender, because I’ve had the space and time to process and grieve the unexpected experience of H’s preterm birth and all that followed. I know I will never be done grieving it, but now I know that the grieving is survivable and that it can sit comfortably alongside all there is to celebrate about H’s existence . It feels good to be able to touch the experience without so much charge and pain and to have the mental and emotional space needed to help H understand that time in our lives. I couldn’t have done it then, but I can now. Much has changed in the last 28 months, and it’s not just the hospital. I’ve changed, too.

No mud, no lotus. We need to talk about the mud just as much as we need to talk about the lotus. I’m glad it’s easier to do that now.

Today is World Prematurity Day. Visit the March of Dimes to learn more about premature birth and how it can be prevented.

“Milk is in English,” H declared at bedtime, just before nursing.

“Yes, milk is English,” I agreed.

“Milk is in English,” he confirmed.

“I wonder what milk is in German?” I mused aloud.

“Lekker, lekker, lekker!” he said with gusto.

I couldn’t help but smile. Lekker is German for delicious or tasty.

I had always looked forward to the day when H could tell me about his experience with nursing. It turns out that it is every bit as delightful as I thought it would be.

A young girl clambered out of a play firetruck at the Children’s Museum, her swollen eyes red and overflowing with tears. She sobbed as she teetered toward an adult standing nearby keeping an eye on both the firetruck and the play Metro bus parked next to it. The woman silently and calmly put her hand on the child’s head when she came close enough, then let her arm drop when the crying child moved away. The loud, unhappy tears continued as the girl moved close then away, close then away, close then away from the silent woman.

H stopped in the middle of refueling the bus to locate the crying person.

“Girl is crying,” he told me.

“Yes, the girl is crying. It sounds like she is upset. Mama is not sure why. I didn’t see what happened.”

He went back to working the gas pump, occasionally looking with concern in the direction of the crying girl.

Later, while having milk at the museum, he said, “Girl is crying.”

“Yes, sweetest, the girl was crying. She was having some feelings.”

H was silent for a moment.

“Just like H has some feelings,” he told me.

“Yes, just like H has some feelings. Just like mama has some feelings. Everybody has feelings. She was letting her feelings out of her body with tears. Sometimes letting the tears come can help you feel better when you are sad or angry or upset.”

Much later, at home, he said, “Girl is crying.”

“Yes, sweetest, the girl was crying. She was upset.”

“Having some feelings in her body. Letting out with tears,” he explained.

“Yes. She was having some feelings. She was letting them out with tears. Sometimes letting the tears come can help you feel better. She was crying, sweet pea. She was.”

As I sat with him on the couch, I felt like a weight had dropped in my body, pulling my shoulders down and all of my internal organs back where they belong, where there is silence. How profoundly settling it is to watch him knit himself into the fabric of collective existence by using his understanding of his own experiences to reflect on the experiences of others. He is growing the roots of empathy and the start of an ability to cultivate the respectful, peaceful relationships that this world so desperately needs.

Sometimes I feel anxious about sending H out into the world as it is, but I realize that despite my fears, real and imagined, I can’t keep him from it. He has to fly. The world needs his concern about the sadness, upset, injustice, and cruelty he sees, and the world needs his gentle soul to soothe it.

The letter at story time today was W (w).

The wacky stories we heard were Chickens to the Rescue by John Himmelman and The Seals on the Bus by Lenny Hort.

We sang A Rhino Likes Popcorn (by Jason Anderson):
A rhino has a horn
And a rhino likes popcorn
Do you like popcorn, too?
Do you like popcorn, too?

A rhino has a horn
And a rhino likes popcorn
Do you like popcorn, too?
Do you like popcorn, too?

A fish swims in the lake
And a fish likes chocolate cake
Do you like chocolate cake, too?
Do you like chocolate cake, too?

A fish swims in the lake
And a fish likes chocolate cake
Do you like chocolate cake, too?
Do you like chocolate cake, too?

A lion has a mane
And a lion likes candy canes
Do you like candy canes, too?
Do you like candy canes, too?

A lion has a mane
And a lion likes candy canes
Do you like candy canes, too?
Do you like candy canes, too?

A bird has feathered wings
And a bird sure likes to sing
Do you like to sing, too?
Do you like to sing, too?

A bird has feathered wings
And a bird sure likes to sing
Do you like to sing, too?
Do you like to sing, too?

Do you like to sing, too?
Do you like to sing, too?

The early literacy tip was about reading:
“Cuddle up! Reading together isn’t just about sharing stories, building literacy skills, and all that good stuff. It’s also about spending time together doing something you love with someone you love. So as the weather gets cold, snuggle close and enjoy a book together!”