Friday, October 22, 2010

Graveyard Explorations

I may just be giving you yet another reason to call me crazy, but many times if I cannot find a park for my son and I to explore, we will stop at a cemetery (actually if there is a cemetery nearby, I will likely pick it over the park if I am to be truly honest).

I love cemeteries. I used to take my preschoolers each year on Day of the Dead for some graveyard explorations. It is much more than a love of the dead though, I really think it is important that these places be spaces children experience.

In working with parents together on this issue, I have faced many criticisms and am familiar with them all. Instead of dealing with all of those, let me tell you why I love it.

1. Children have wide open space to run. They bring an exuberance to a quiet place that I think would leave many of those who lie beneath us smile.

2. When you are there, you see lots of names and I use this to remind me of the people in my life with the same name and what they mean to me and my family. A nice reminder to cherish those I love. I do not force this on children of course, but you would be surprised how children have their own way of doing this.

3. As they get older they ask many questions and what I ended up realizing was that cemeteries are not sad places, but places full of love. During one of my field trips many years ago a child asked me, "Why are there two pictures on there (a grave marker)?" I answered, "because some people love each other so much, when they die, they want to be buried together." The child responded, "Teacher Tracy, I want to be buried with you!" Ok now, lets take a moment to process that. Oh my goodness! This moment still ranks as one of the most special of my life. I know I have never received a better compliment.

For all of these reasons and more, I adore cemeteries, but if you do visit them with children, try to keep these things in mind:
1. Don't use words like sleeping, past away, etc... when referring to the dead. Children do not understand those words or concepts. Use "dead" and if you need to define dead, it means one cannot breathe, eat, sleep, talk, cry, poop.... you get the picture.

2, Don't insist that children be quiet or in anyway show reverence for the dead. This is not how young children are designed. I make an effort to be away from anyone who is grieving or from any funerals taking place and then I let the children explore as they need to.

3. Answer questions honestly, simply, matter-of-factly, and without too much woe. By this I mean treat death as simply a fact of life. Everyone dies one day, but were are not dying today. I do not mean that you should not acknowledge any feelings of concern your children show, you definitely should as you would with all their feelings, but also allow this topic to be something you feel confidant about discussing with them.

Today, my son and I had to run an errand near the memorial park where my grandma and great grandma are at rest. Both of them are in a wall in the mausoleum. So we stopped. It is a very large and there was LOTS to explore. In some ways it was like having a huge arboretum or garden all to ourselves. I got to introduce my son to my grandma. He waved at her as if he knew exactly what was going on. Makes me think children understand these issues on a deeper spiritual level that we, as adults, are further removed from.
Another opportunity for my child to teach me.
I hope you enjoy the photos.

First time at a cemetery and he did what every other child does when they hit the grass running.

"Look!" And notice, not a soul around. Well maybe a few we can't see.

There were fish in there too.

Cemeteries are a tractor lover's paradise!

On our way to the Mausoleum...

Playing in an out of the columns near my grandma.

He found running circles around this ramp to be the most fun!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Becoming Tracy....

Side Note: I am stealing a little bit with that title from someone who has become a good friend, my go to person on all things green, and someone whose work on her blog I highly admire, my friend Sarah. She makes me laugh, cry, and I believe we may have been separated at birth we have so much in common.

What does it mean to become more of myself? I have always seen myself as growing, learning, and in process if you will. I believe that the day you stop growing as a person should be the day you say goodbye to it all.

In my study of child development, education, and my other passion, the environment, I have often felt overwhelmed. As if there is so much to learn and not enough time. A few days ago we watched Food, Inc and I felt like I would never be able to eat again, much less trust my government to do something simple like, ummm... keep food from killing people. Since then I have even entertained the idea of forgetting it all and living a life as an ignorant, smoking, fast food addict in front of the television all day. I mean it would be easier after all.

But then, there is my son. All of these years of reading, changing, therapy, inner reflection, tough decisions, paying more for the items I purchase, questioning practically everything that most of society takes as blind truth, and standing up for what I believe in even when it made me feel lonely, isolated, and even suicidal was for him. And it continues....

There are so many things I want for him, so many things I am falling short of providing for him, so many days when I feel like I know better than my current actions....

And then there are days when I am reminded about how much I do know, how much I can pass onto other new moms.

Today I was at a park with a friend and we started a discussion about sharing. We talked about the nature of young children and how important it is to not force directly, but to model the virtues we want our children to have. To not constantly take toys out of their hands and force them to share, to stop forcing them to say "please", "thank you", and "I'm sorry", but instead to be grateful ourselves, to show our gratitude, compassion, and love to and for others.

It is in these moments that I realize how much I know to be the right, but more importantly how much I need to continue learning and to make sure I am always doing my very best.

Hopefully one day my son will be able to say that he is grateful he had me for a mother. I know I am always trying to live up to deserving the incredible responsibility of that role.

Friday, October 15, 2010


When I first saw this word, I had a little chuckle, mostly because I thought it was extremism and emotionally charged. I know now how emotionally charged it is, because all those emotions overcome me on a pretty regular basis.

Many years before I had my child, I did not really think twice about circumcision, it was something that you just did or the child would be dirty and have possible problems down the line and after all it was medically necessary, and at the time the virgin in me thought about how disgusting it would be to have sex with an uncircumcised man!

I mean after all, I am an American and American culture is nothing if it isn't completely sex oriented. Breasts are for sexual pleasure, mothers who don't cover up when breastfeeding are considered exhibitionists, the penis, testicles, and breast have hundreds of names associated with them to avoid saying the real word while elbow is never heard as anything but well... elbow. Any pictures of a penis I saw were circumcised.

But somewhere along the way, circumcision came up again in my study of child development and this time it did not make any sense to me. Something felt wrong. I could not picture any baby going through such a horrid ordeal (with or without anesthesia) only days or even moments after coming into this world.

This is not a place where I want to discuss all the reasons that are out there for keeping your child intact (although there are many), but instead to talk about the hurt it causes me.

I cannot hear about a baby boy coming into this world without praying for it to be left alone. When I know a parent plans to circumcise it is almost impossible for me not to send out information in an effort to beg them to reconsider, and when I have read stories about parents who had wished they known more beforehand, I ache for what that must feel like.

I am eternally grateful for the crazy amount of research I do on all things child development, because if for no other reason, it saved my son from a senseless, shocking procedure.

Even if you take the infant genital cosmetic surgery (as I like to refer to it) out of the picture, even the act of strapping a newborn to a table to me seems like the cruelest thing one could do to a baby who has just emerged from the warm, dark, and quiet space of the womb.

So I am proud to say I am an intactivist. What has happened to us as a species that we can still allow this? Please let it end!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The part I really didn't understand......

That statement of "just wait until your a mom" that I heard over and over again probably applies the most when I think about the bond I have with my son.

I used to always say to parents, "you are the expert on your own child". I believed this, but the level to which that has rung true for me with my son is at such a deep level that I could not have understood before being his mom.

The other day, I caught myself saying the exact statement I heard so many times.
"She doesn't understand because she is not a mom."
You can substitute parent or dad for the previous noun as well. The point was, this person I was referring to held a bachelor's in child development. While she had very little actual experience with children, it was a very similar situation to the one I had been in with parents at the school where I directed and taught.

So I have spent the last week or so really thinking about what I meant, why I ultimately believed my current statement to be true and what it was about being a mom that holds so much weight in regards to understanding children, children's issues and parenting. This soul searching was the least I could do, I felt like I owed it to the poor child development major for whom I inflicted this statement upon after despising it myself for so many years.

I think one thing that it comes down to is the relationship I have with my child personally and hopefully the relationship each parent has with their own children. No one understands his language and gestures the way his father and I do. No one sees every little expression he makes every second of the day. No one stares at just him when he is seeing something new for the first time. No one else can hold a completely non verbal conversation with my child and know exactly what he is thinking.

I know all the parents out there have wanted to scream out loud at one time or another, "Did anyone just see how amazing this child is?" or "Isn't he the funniest, most beautiful child you have ever seen?" We all now the joy of witnessing our children do something for the first time ever. Or the love and satisfaction you feel when you can meet your child's needs so completely they melt into your arms.

I have to tell you this relationship with my child makes me a better teacher, friend, and person. It makes me look at all children differently. It makes me notice more the little things all children do to communicate with us. It makes it impossible to hear another child cry and not want desperately to be there for them. It makes me even less tolerable than before to the injustices against them.

And I as much as I would have said that I understood all this before I was a mother, it was on an intellectual level that I understood it, not on the emotional, hard core, straight to your soul level on which I now GET IT.