Thursday, January 14, 2016

Alessia and Mortality

About six months ago Alessia figured out death, and not in an abstract way. She figured it out in her heart. She burst into tears and said "I don't want us to die. I don't want to die." I told her I didn't want her to die either, but everyone does die. I talked about my dad in heaven with God and his parents. I hugged her. We read books in which death is the natural end of a life well lived. Mostly I tried to give her space.

Alessia has always been a vegetarian. I think at first it was mostly a texture issue. After she figured out death, she became a vegetarian by conviction. She respects that the rest of us eat meat, but the thought of eating it herself is repulsive to her.

A little while later, the issue of animals eating other animals came up. I told her that was just how God made certain animals. I could tell she was thinking through that one. Then one day at the Museum of Science, she put on an animal costume and asked me what the animal ate. I told her that I thought the animal ate fish. She got a very serious look on her face and ran off. A few moments later she returned to triumphantly inform me that the museum staff had told her the animal was a vegetarian.

Yesterday we were drawing together. She said something about a big fish eating a little fish, and then added "the little fish wanted to be eaten." I said, "Oh no, nothing wants to be eaten. It's just the way of things." Again, she fell into a thoughtful silence.

I wonder what the next part of this ongoing conversation is going to be.


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Big paper drawing and small things play

My girls generally aren't into small things play. They have a train set with buildings and cars. They have farm animals and sea animals, but they very rarely take them out and pretend with them. Today I suggested we do big paper drawing and take out some of our houses and small animals to go with it. We did a little of this last winter. I would draw train tracks and roads and the girls would add trees and lakes. Today I proposed a more involved set up inspired by our trips to coastal Maine.

To the far left of the paper is the ocean. Then a beach with streets leading up into a town and from there two streets leading off to the right into the countryside. The girls really got into this idea. Their drawings ranged from fairly realistic (like the farm scene) to pure fantasy (like the man with the really long snorkel fencing with a swordfish underwater) and included memories from our trips to Maine (like the Coastal Children's Museum). We used a lot of stickers. Last year Olivia was still not doing much drawing and stickers was how she participated in these activities. This year she is drawing a lot more and today she went back and forth between drawing and "stickering," as she calls it. Having multiple areas within the project worked out really well. At times all three of us were spread out each working on a different area, then we would find ourselves talking about and adding drawings to a specific area all together.

Overall we had a great time. It was nice to get out some small toys they don't normally play with and see how they could inspire drawings and stories.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Hands and Deserts and Thoughts on Christmas

I have two strong images of God's hands. A friend once said to me that God could hold me in the palm of his hands. I envisioned large, strong, yet gentle hands cupped together, and me curled up asleep in them. At church, the ministers say that God has enscribed our names on the palms of her hands. Again the image is of big hands, hands big enough to contain all our names. So when Alessia brought home this project from preschool, I just sat for a moment and stared at it. Here was God as a tiny baby, a baby so tiny that he could be cradled in the palm of my 5-year-old's hand.


Last week I was teaching Godly Play, our church school program. After my Advent story, one of the girls asked if she could work with the desert box, a large box of sand on wheels that we use to tell Old Testament stories about God's people. I asked her to pick something else this week. She and a friend decided to work with the Advent story. They rolled out the fabric used in the story, a long of strip of purple for the Sundays of Advent, and then at the end a flash of white, for Christmas. "Look! The desert!" That thought has been stirring in my head all week.

When we teach with the desert box, we tell the kids that "the desert is a dangerous place. People don't go into the desert unless they have to." It is interesting to think of Christmas day as a dangerous desert that Mary and Joseph and Christ entered into, because they had to. We also tell the kids that God calls people, like Abraham, into the desert. Perhaps Christmas day is a dangerous desert that God is calling us into as well?


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Two Books about Art with Projects

We love books and we love art projects. So books about art that lead to projects are just about the best thing ever.

Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg is a hands-on book full of ripped and bent pages and flaps that show how the artist sees magic in what other people might see as mistakes. The last time the girls painted I took two big sheets of paper and painted random splotches and lines and curlicues. I used different brushes and colors. I then forgot about them for a month. On a fidgety cold afternoon, I pulled them out and we spent some time wondering what the paint splotches looked liked and then adding pencil drawings. The activity was definitely better suited to Alessia than Olivia. The book has a lot of possibilities for other projects as well, and it's something we'll come back to over and over again.


Mimi's Dada Catifesto by Shelley Jackson is a new discovery for us. It explores the dadaist art movement through a cat and the dadaist human she is wooing. The book led to my kids twirling around the living room yelling "salami" and, much to Adam's dismay, the three of us declaring each other's burps "good sound poems." We also made our first word box for writing poems. I cut words out of the newspaper and put them in a box. We take words out randomly (no peeking per the book's instructions) and lay them out. Alessia reads hers and I read Olivia's. Following Mimi the cat's lead, Alessia has been leaving word poems on the floor at the front and back door for Adam when he gets home at night.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Alessia at 5

Oh, my dear sweet Alessia. So big, yet so little.

Last winter, you finally learned to use the potty, and then four months later you taught yourself how to read. You always have been on your own schedule.

Yesterday we read a book about Amelia Earhart, and I explained that when Amelia Earhart was alive girls weren't allowed to do all sorts of things like fly planes and becomes scientists. You cried.

You love to draw and paint pictures, and you love just exploring paint with your hands. You feel much the same about food, and we are still trying to convince you that not all foods (I'm thinking of peanut butter here) are hand foods.

Your television alter ego is Bill from Curious George.

We tell people that you have an "old soul." You are so serious and have a deep sense of melancholy. When we watch Sesame Street you sing "It's not easy being green" right along with Kermit. On the way to school we sing "This is the day that our God has made" and your joy overflows.

You are so silly, and you and your sister can make each other laugh, which makes me so happy.

You've stared a new sassy phase. You pretend not to hear us the first time we tell you not to do something, and the second time you respond with "but I was just..."

When you started preschool last year, it was hard. You found it overwhelming and couldn't figure out why you couldn't just stay home with me. You became so much more social though, and this year you are excited to go to preschool.

We love you more than I can describe. You have always been a wonder to me, and I look forward to being with you as you grow up.


Monday, October 26, 2015

The Mixed Up Signs Game

Today we invented a new game. Like our alphabet game from last winter, it involved taping bits of paper to things in our living room.

There is a series of books about a character called Mr. Pine. He is a sign-painter, and in the book Mr. Pine's Mixed-Up Signs he puts up new signs all over town even though he has lost his glasses! As you can guess mayhem ensues, until the townspeople and the mayor find Mr. Pine, he finds his glasses, and he puts the signs where they belong.

Today I played the part of Mr. Pine. I made signs with the names of objects. I also added little pictures so that my younger daughter could participate. I then taped them up in the wrong places. The kids then ran around finding the signs and putting them in their correct places. The silliness of finding them in the wrong places really appealed to my kids, and Alessia enjoyed reading the words.




Saturday, October 17, 2015

Why I Studied and Continue to Study Italian

I first studied Italian, because it is the language of my father's parents. They came here as children, and they didn't speak Italian with their own children (I can only imagine that WWII had something to do with that). I grew up knowing that my dad regretted not knowing Italian, and when I got to Smith College I enrolled in intensive beginner Italian with the goal of spending a year of my undergraduate studies in Italy. For most of my 20s and early 30s, I didn't use my Italian much. When my first daughter Alessia was born, I decided to try to speak a little Italian with her every day. Now I learn Italian with my girls. I keep studying Italian, because it is the language of my grandparents, and because of the ways that English and Italian words relate to each other. My English is richer with meaning, because of my Italian.
A parasol is for the sun (per il sole) and my umbrella makes shade (ombra). When water falls (cascare) it is a cascade, and when a man falls (cadere), he becomes a cadever. A porter brings (portare) my stuff. When my hunger (fame) is big, I am famished. My hands (mani) get a manicure, and my feet (piedi) a pedicure. With my arms (braccia), I can embrace someone. The nurse holds my wrist (polso) to take my pulse. My bellybutton (ombellico) is what is left of my umbillical cord. A jellyfish (medusa) is beautiful and mythic...