Like a “bug”

We catch things from our parents like a “bug.” But unlike a cold, I believe those things we catch never go away. I know I caught claustrophobia from my mother. In my child recollection it was either in the stuck elevator going up to the top floor of my orthodontist or when they had to back up the submarine ride at Disneyland. Not sure which–maybe both.

Patient and calm is an understatement of my mom who was the second mother of 10 children (her sibs), a mother of six, and grandmother of 27. Feeling stuck and out of control made her a crazed animal. She was my rock, so I became crazed too. When we finally got air, we both were bonded with the “bug.”

Drapes or blinds closed, tight clothing, an escape route, locked doors, summer heat…  flying in a closed up tin can called an airplane, and of course elevators and submarines; these are just a few…

But, the good thing about claustrophobia is appreciating how nice it feels letting the sun shine on you as  you awake in the morning with those little dust sparkles floating in the beams; letting the cool earth air in through the window to freshen a room and make it feel alive; feel the gentle presence of the tree as it offers us shade and stability of the earth; comfortable clothing to make you feel exactly that–comfortable; sitting by “the door” gets you to the bathroom quicker, and who really likes planes, elevators, and submarines anyway! No one or you lie.

What we catch we endure.

But we do catch things…


Terror to the Core

It was Halloween night. We were making our way around the neighborhoods standing back as self appointed flash light holders while our two children, four and six years old, were filling their pillow cases with more candy than they could ever dream of. Most houses welcomed children with that “happy spirit” of Halloween with silly-faced pumpkins, orange lanterns, a few hairy spiders, and mild scary ghosts. You could hear giggling and “trick or treat” and doors closing and opening as dressed up fairy’s, firemen, ninjas, or princesses scurried ahead, behind, and across the street, each with their own designated grown-up flash light holders, carrying out the happy ritual of the best children’s holiday besides their birthday. Then there are the fright fest houses whose intent is to give heart attacks by the thrill of terror; smoke machines, creepy music, hanging or hiding demons and devils and people dressed up to jump. These places are gruesome on purpose and do not care what it takes to give that fright.  It is their goal to terrorize. But for the sake of a free Twix Bar, Dum-Dum, or Tootsy Roll parents push their little children inside these domains, thinking it is funny, or silly. Most adults would wet their own pants if someone pushed them inside. We skip those.

Our children were only noticing, like children do, what was directly in front of them as they now understand what this amazing holiday means. They were picking up speed now; more porches more candy. My husband and I could see, and hear up ahead that people were running from a dark eerie property. It was the place the teenagers rushed past to get to, talking quickly, explaining about someone who had lived through it.

In our family we do not promote scary, ever! It is one thing in our parenting points of view that my husband and I are completely in-sync with. (The rest is a toss up). We were already planning the U-Turn, when our son, who was the youngest of the two dashed across the lawn towards the house of doom. He did not even make it to the front of the property when a woman slithered out of nowhere, dressed like the most horrifying witch, and grabbed our little boy by the arm leaning down into his face. I am not sure what she said but Halloween was over.

I would consider myself a peaceful soul. In fact I run from conflict. But my mother lion was about to transform into a very large evil serpent and crush this person into dust after I bit her in two and ripped her black heart out! No one messes with an angry mother of any type of animal!!

We ran to our son and knew in a sense, his spirit had been wounded– forever. That is the piece about scary that people do not understand. It never leaves your memory but sits dormant waiting to leak out of your sub conscience through imagination and nightmares.

He was inconsolable with fear and practically climbed on top of my head when I reached him, candy thrown on the pavement. My husband began yelling at her as she kept in character, smiling the most evil smile as she looked back over her shoulder and slunk back into the darkness of the bushes ready for the next kill. What kind of evil adult would do such a thing to a four year old child.

My husband had to carry him the whole two blocks to our house while he shook and cried the entire way with his eyes tightly closed so nothing would pop out at him. We did everything we could to calm him down, giving him his candies to eat, diverting him with singing, his favorite toy, etc. Nothing would console him. He closed his eyes and hid.

The only thing I felt would get this child to calm down was a dose of reality so we would go back and look, in a safe way without any surprises. I hoped it was the right thing but I was not sure. Somehow I had to show him this was not real and that the people were only pretending for silly Halloween. But what I did not fully understand at that time is that it IS real to him as a four year old! All of it is real!

We waited until it was later then went. I wish I could say it worked great. Our son stayed in the car as we went in to explain what happened. He was hiding behind the drivers seat in the fetal position with his eyes still closed.

The witch was there. I hated her with a mother’s hate that is fierce. YOU! HURT! MY! BABY’S! SOUL! And I constrained myself. It was difficult to say the least.  We had to right this wrong in a good positive way somehow. Good always wins, right? I wasn’t so sure. It wasn’t working out so well.

They all continued to stay in character (which baffles still to this day) but they were in their lighted garage. There was a little too much blood and gruesome even in the light. We pleaded for them to talk to our little boy and explain they were real people, when he came in so he could see. Needles to say the witch never got out of character but she stayed away and he could see her in light. She still looked creepy. He did not want to see her. But the Frankenstein was nice and a little silly and got him to giggle a tiny bit. We left with a little hope. But Halloween was never the same ever again…

Ask him…

Love is spelled TIME

“Before I had any children I used to say, “When they come along I will not speak to them until they are sixteen, and then I will tell them to get a job.” Holding them in my arms made me rethink that idea. I have discovered very little in life that I am adept at doing. I cannot fix your car, repair your roof, or even drive a nail straight. However, I have given everything I have to being a father, and I happily stand back to see the results.

“If a child sees something in a parent that that child aspires to, he or she will copy that parent and be content. If children feel that a parent is living a life that shows compassion and understanding, patience and love, that child will not have to reach a stage of rebellion against that parent. Why rebel against someone who has listened to you and wants to help you fulfill your dreams? A parent who has proven time and again that the growth and happiness of his or her children is priority number one does not have to worry about where those children are heading in life. They will be sensitive and productive members of society for as long as they live.

This story is by and about one such girl. “ [and her incredible promise with her father] pg. xviii

Ozma, A. (2011). The Reading Promise. New York, NY. Grand Central Publishing.

A Walk

An excerpt from Alexandra Horowitz’s book On Looking, Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes:

…I was to have the conceptual foundations of my world rocked. When I headed out for a “walk” with my son, I was already being presumptuous. For me, to go for a walk is a simple matter, almost too simple to describe. But because my understanding of a walk was upended by a toddler, I’ll try. I thought a walk was a navigation of a path–from point A to point B…

Buttons were buttoned, zips zipped, knots tied and double tied. With no small amount of excitement, we headed down the elevator to “Outside!” as he exclaimed. My son ran through the lobby to our apartment building front door, …hand in hand we started our walk.

Then we stopped…

…I began to get the details of his definition…. It has nothing to do with points A, B, or the getting from one to the other. It barely has anything to do with planting one’s feet in a straight line. A walk is, instead, an investigatory exercise that begins with energy and ends when (and only when) exhausted. …It began before the elevator, tying shoes–and before that, doing a going-to-tie-our-shoes march down the hall. To him, we were miles into our walk.

A walk is exploring surfaces and textures with finger, toe, and –yuck–tongue; standing still and seeing who or what comes by; trying out different forms of locomotion (among them running, marching, high-kicking, galloping, scooting, projectile falling, spinning, and noisy shuffling). It is archaeology; exploring the bit of discarded candy wrapper; collecting a fistful of pebbles and a twig and a torn corner of a paper back; swishing dirt back and forth along the ground. It is stopping to admire the murmuring of the breeze in the trees; locating the source of the bird’s song; pointing. POINTING!–using the arm to extend one’s fallen gaze so someone else can see what you’ve seen. It is a time of sharing.  (Horowitz, pg. 19, 20, 21)

…In childhood…attention is brightened by two features: children’s [newness to the world] and the fact that, as young people, they simply haven’t seen it all before.  (Horowitz, pg. 31)

For the sake of science

It was Oscar, the Kindergartner’s diffused look that made me want to go against “policy.”

I pulled out a large bag of Skiddles for the first science experiment and then declared, “Remember, this is not for eating, only for observing.”

I was stuck between a rock and a hard place when I signed a contract to adhere to all the rules of  the private school, including no candy or food allowed that was not provided by the school. Yet the company I work for had sent a lesson plan for four science experiments that included so many types of delicious confections your heart would ever desire as a six year old. This was an after school program cleverly nick-named the “afters.”

We fizzed, crackled, dyed, sunk and floated all sorts of candy with the end of each experiment taking all that sugary goodness and dumping it in the sink where it waited to be thrown away in wet chunks. It was childhood torture for sure.

Oscar was sitting quiet on the last experiment with his back turned away from me. Time was running out and everyone was taking their “experiment” to the sink for clean up. His table was being particularly quiet with two other little boys looking at Oscar. I walked up and put my hand on his shoulder letting him know that he needed to get moving. He turned to look at me with G U I L T written all over his little cherubim face. He was holding an empty cup while the other boys were holding their full ones that had recently dissolved pixie sticks which colored their water green and blue.

“Profether Picklethz,” (my after’s nick-name)  he said, “I drank it. I’m thorry.”

And there it was. The hour of touching and smelling and watching and drawing about the science of candy was too much for his willpower to bear. He did not eat it, as I asked. But no one said anything about not drinking it! He did it quickly and it was done.

Of course I acted disappointed in him like a good teacher would. But when he walked away, I turned and smiled to myself and thought like I have hundreds of times before…



How do you catch a cloud?


I am finishing up my student teaching semester. I like talking to the children so much I keep getting them in trouble. I haven’t been fired yet, but I get “the look” from my cooperating teacher as if to say to me, “Do YOU want to go put your head down on the desk!?”

Yesterday I was privileged to be trusted with some very discreet information recently about the soldiers that lurk in the strange trees between our Kindergarten classroom, over the grass, down the magic stairs, and on to the art hut near the water. Fridays are the day we have to fend our way through that forbidding path. As we were getting in our line ready to leave, I whispered that I was getting very excited to finally meet the soldiers.

Their little elfin ears all heard. The children all began to talk at once which is common for all children once they get their own most important idea in the universe and HAVE to share it!

“They will be hiding!”

“They are bad Miss Jennifer!”

“They don’t want us to get to art!”

And then the one comment that stood out which silenced them all.

“They are just pretend!”

Forcefully reminding me…




All eyes were on me with a pause.

It was my test into their private world. I have seen it before. They wait, and watch and know, intuitively who will pass or not. I did not even flinch.

I stooped down looking into their beautiful sparkly eyes and I said with conviction,

“I see pretend.”

There was silence–

Okay, I passed.

We began our trek together. We tip toed through the trees not to wake even one soldier and made it safely to and from the art hut with ne’er a soldier casualty. I always wonder about those cameras recording as they watch me with the children…

It feels so fresh, with every day new to associate with little humans who thrill with a pinwheel garden blowing in the wind, where one lost tooth can stop all recess and have every single child come run to look, to giggle over blowing a feather from a straw, who yawn and toot when their bodies want to, who accept my age at 150 years old, who believe they are the king of England or have an appointment in Kenya, who have deep conversations about when their birthday is, what happens when the tooth fairy forgets, where the eye-spy-with-their-little-eye actually is, and rub backs or hug friends when they feel like it because they both need to…

Childhood is best described from this song from The Sound of Music.

“How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?

How do you catch a wave upon the sand?

How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?”

 If you don’t capture the moment, it is gone…

10 things babies need


The first 3 years the brain is the most flexible. How you touch and talk to a baby increases the synapses connections with a rich network of experiences. If babies are environmentally deprived their brains will not grow and will stay small for the rest of their lives. If you took a picture of a deprived brain (Romanian orphan child study) it would look similar to an Alzheimers brain.  At age 3-5 children loose 40 percent of their brain cells they were born with. Ages 0-3 is a critical time for brain growth. The more interaction the better.


Touch is critical to development in an infant. The simple act of holding a baby literally sends signals to the brain and is as critical a nutrient as a vitamin.  Romanian children in orphanages not touched were starved for this human sense and the children do not recover and often die without it.


Children are not capable of making decisions for themselves about healthy choices and cleanliness. Many learning disabilities are a result from delinquency in providing children with a safe healthy environment to thrive, such as lead poisoning. Temperature control, healthy foods, peaceful, loving, calm…all contribute to how the child will thrive in their environment.


If you talk loudly to a baby they will naturally turn you off says Dr. Rasmassen. Babies as young as directly after birth can interact with you by hearing your calm quiet voice. Stress has a major affect on children and babies are affected if they feel stress from their parents. Their heart rate is affected and it has a physical affect on their bodies. The stress hormone cortesole lowers when a baby sits on a lap of it’s mother or is held by it’s mother in a peaceful way. Discipline or getting angry at a baby should never happen. They do not understand why anger is directed at them so they will respond as if they are frightened. Their environments thrive when they feel safe, calm and in an environment free to explore without being punished.


Do babies need to worry about self esteem? Absolutely. They are aware of tone and energy and can feel when there is tension. Babies are sponges and soak in what is around them. They need encouragement and love. Many young mothers need to be educated on how important it is to talk in a positive way to their baby and then on with your young child and beyond.


The ideal care for a baby is in a home with their mother. The child has a strong natural bond to the person who carried them for 9 months–it is a scientific fact. Yes babies can be cared for by other adults and be healthy.  Childcare is a huge business and there are many checkpoints that need to be addressed for the baby to have quality care. Ratio is critical. No more than 3 to one for infants. Nutrition, safety, cleanliness, inclusion of parents in the child’s day, sleep habits, routines, etc. The choices you make for infant care can affect them their entire life.


Talk to your baby! It is as simple as that. Language is learned by using it. Repetition is the key. Children learn how to communicate in all ways by how you model communication with them. If you do not talk to your baby you are wasting precious growth time but also connective time.  Look at your baby when you talk to them. Listen to your baby. Speak quietly and slowly to your baby. They will begin to mimic you and understand long before they can speak. Computer and cell phones keep people from actually using eye contact with each other when the speak and children lose connective language.

8. PLAY! Play is our brain’s favorite way to learn. Play builds connections in the brain. Strong research evidences parental interaction through play creates smart, connective, healthy babies and children. Play is fun. Do lots of it and all different kinds.


Babies have an infinity for music. Music helps foster language, rhythm, improve pre-mathematical awareness. Music fires off the brain in ways that scientist are only barely skimming. Bring music into your babies life.


It begins as a shared experience and the babies brain begins to hear language sounds, decoding, differentiation, etc. besides benefit by attention, touch, and communication from a parent or caregiver.  Reading helps develop language but it also benefits babies by expanding the world around him/her.

All ten of these items fire neurons in baby’s brain and provide healthy stimulation and growth. This allows baby to thrive and grow into a caring kind human being. Spending time with your baby is the best investment you can give them.

(From Infant Care Video. Masters Course Manhattanville College)