Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Home for the Holidays

I hope all is well on the home front. It's been quite a busy break. I kicked it off with a Nurturing Narratives session at my old high school. It was so fun to see so many old faces and lots of new, little ones! We read The Night Before Christmas, The Magical Snowman and The Polar Express. Hot chocolate was served and fun was had by all!

I have been reminded this holiday season about the importance of family. About acceptance and about love. Many of us live far from home and even though we miss them it's not always easy to spend 24/7 with our family. They do things differently than we do, they are too loud or too opinionated. The truth is, though, that they help us grow. With each adversity, with every irritation we exhale, we get closer to the real definition of family...love. Some of our families are those we are born into and others are those we create for ourselves. Some of us may be coming home to re-build relationships and others might be re-defining what family means after years. Whatever your situation is, I wish you all a season of love, joy and growth. May we continue to evolve as readers, writers, listeners and people in the new year.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009



Yesterday I taught my first class with PenTales, a wonderful organization I have partnered with to help them with their children's curriculum. It's a new age group for me (10-12 year olds) and I was a bit nervous, not entirely sure if my methods would hold up (given that I spend my teaching time with very young children). But I had nothing to fear, they were an amazing bunch. Excited, eloquent, respectful, eager and a real treat to have in my classroom. I am thrilled to be working with them and look forward to a January filled with adventure. I wanted to share the writing exercise we did yesterday in case any of you have older children. I know I talk a great deal about early literacy but the process continues well into grammar school. These children are still, in many ways, coming to the written word. It is a joy to see them grow and expand on the platform they have already built. Here is what we did:

A writing exercise I call the "What If?" exercise.
I spoke at the beginning of class a bit about how stories usually come out of one of three things: people, places and things.

I asked the students what people are called in stories. Characters!

I then asked if anyone knew what places were called...setting!

And the third, things, I call details...little things that make a story special.

The goal is to get them thinking about narrative in terms of elements, so they understand the structure for how a story is built.

I told them we were going to pay some attention to setting today and do an exercise I use when I need to get in the writing mood. I then had everyone close their eyes (I imagine many of them didn't do it but I couldn't tell you, being as that I kept mine closed!). With their eyes still closed I asked them to think about if they could be absolutely anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?

It could be a made-up place, a place from a dream, a faraway place they have never been to or a place that makes them feel really happy and at home. Once they had chosen a place I told them to "open" their eyes in the place (with eyes still closed) and record every single thing they saw.

What does it smell like there? Taste like? What colors are there? What do they feel? Hear? "Look around, remember everything you possibly can about this place." Are there other people there? Who? Where are they? I gave them 30 more seconds to really take some mental snapshots and then had everyone open their eyes, get paper and pen or use a computer, and write it down. Everything about the place they could remember. "Make us feel like we were there with you. Tell us everything you possibly can about this place."
I gave them 15 solid minutes for writing but the children wanted more...as a writing teacher, is there anything better? Afterwards we all sat in a circle and shared our pieces. Some children had written more of a list of details, that read like poetry. Others got really into the description of their place. All of them were wonderful.

Next up: a character description and three details. Then we are going to put all three elements together and start talking about that big one...PLOT!

Read away,


Monday, December 7, 2009

Protective Parenting...a problem?

I came across this great lit list of 7 fascinating books about our parenting culture. I haven't read any yet so I cannot give a review (I will soon) but I wanted to make some umbrella points that the post seemed to hint at. And, of course, encourage you all to glance at the list and summaries.

The overwhelming feeling seems to be that parents need to relax. The books range in emotion from one that acknowledges and explains our culture of fear to another that says we are downright crippling our children with these methods of protection. Will a room-temperature baby wipe really injure a child? Children need to be exposed to mild discomforts so that as they grow older they can take on more challenging ones. Almost all the books seem to assert that we are doing a disservice to our children by catering to them this much and for this long.

I have always been of the mindset that you cannot spoil a child with too much love, it's an impossibility, but how do we draw the line between love and love's gestures? Certainly we want to buy pre-warmed wipes because we love our children and we want them to be comfortable and happy but how do you distinguish between productive and unproductive acts of love? I'm curious what your thoughts are on this topic and how you parents out there view the current "protective" parenting culture. Comment away!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The 7 Conditions of Learning Language

I have been reading Helping Children Become Readers Through Writing by Arlene C. Schultze and I'm finding it very illuminating. It is accessible and draws on many staples of literary fact and example. I wanted to share for you all here today Cambourne's 7 conditions of learning language. I have read them before but have greatly enjoyed the reminder as the philosophy is one I agree with and employ.

Cambourne (and Schultze) assert that there are 7 conditions that must be present for a child to learn language. This translates from spoken language to written language over the course of a child's developmental years. They are conditions used mostly in the classroom for teachers of kindergarten and first grade...but why shouldn't parents know, too? If there's one word to describe a great literacy trajectory it would have to be abundance. Abundance of words, of chatter, of books, of encouragement, of practice. As Schultze says "parents do not force children to wait until it is 'talking time' two or three days a week to have experiences with language. Teachers too should allow students plenty of opportunities to independently use meaningful speech, reading and writing everyday." I would add to that that parents, too, should allow children the same written opportunities.

The 7 Conditions of Learning Language

1) Immersion.
When teaching literacy children should be saturated with language. This includes meaningful reading and writing and lots of talk time. A book before bed instead of television, your child's name on the refrigerator spelled out in block letters, nursery rhymes and poems recited out loud. We want to create a culture of literacy at home.

2) Demonstration.
When a child is learning language they receive thousands of demonstrations of speech all the time, every day. Demonstration in this sense refers to demonstrating to a child not just how you read and write but how you LEARN to read and write. This involves pointing at words as you say them, doing shared writing exercises, and, at home, demonstrating your own desire to read. I have spoken before about the importance of a strong "book" presence in the home. Children model what you do, not what you say. Read.

3) Approximation.
Young children use approximation in speech as they are learning to talk. They often do the same as they are learning to write. While a child is praised when they say "writed" they might be reprimanded when they put the same thing down on paper. Children should be encouraged to use approximations both in oral and written language. They are testing out the literary waters and beginning to store information that they will refine as time goes on.

4) Employment or Use.
There should be plenty of opportunities to engage in reading and writing. There should be independent reading and writing time as well as shared reading and writing time. Remember our key word: abundance.

5) Responsibility.
This is a condition I really believe in and love. It refers to the idea that children should be able to decide what topic and what conventions of language they want to master based on their individual needs. They should be responsible for the direction of their own language learning. If a child lives in Southern California, he or she might want to read and write about the ocean. If a child loves art, he or she might want to learn how to write the colors. When children are engaged in what they are learning they retain information much better and often at a much faster rate. Not to mention that then they begin to develop not just a need for but a love of reading and writing.

6) Feedback or Response.
The example Cambourne uses is this one: "How do we get a child to progress from saying 'I goed downtown' to 'I went downtown?'" Correcting a child, no matter how tempting, is not the answer. Instead we should use what is called "feedback and response." When a child says to you "I goed downtown" instead of saying "it's went downtown," we repeat their statement using the correct form of speech and then expand on it.
Example: "You went downtown? How exciting! What did you do when you went downtown?"
When a child hears the correct form in a non-corrective way it registers in their memory. By expanding the statement we also get the child to continue actively constructing language. The same method should be employed in a reading a writing workshop. Approximations should be encouraged and congratulated and then built on verbally. If a child has written "I goed downtown" on the page we can say the same thing in response that we would to a verbal comment and then encourage the child to keep writing from there.

7) Expectation.
Teachers (and parents) can expect that when all seven of these conditions have been met that children will learn how to read and write. Expectation is important when it comes to literacy. We want to let children grow with words in their own time while simultaneously retaining the belief that they will learn, and flourish.

Take some time this weekend to employ the 7 conditions and begin to make them staples in your own home.

Have a beautiful day,


Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Waldorf Education

Receive the children in reverence; educate them in love; let them go forth in freedom
- Rudolf Steiner

I believe in a Waldorf education for many reasons. For starters, I was educated in a Steiner school from grades 1-8. I believe it fostered in me and my fellow students a true, fundamental love of learning, one I hope to replicate in my students today. In a Waldorf classroom students engage with the building blocks of education in a holistic way. Children don't just learn about Greece through a textbook but study (and replicate) the ways of the ancient world through drawings, plays, readings and activities. How do you think a child will feel visiting the acropolis when they can call on not only textbook education but real-life experience? When learning becomes fun and we feel engaged in the process we want to continue, it's really that simple. I believe firmly that the right environment (from the beginning) is essential for the lifespan of a student's academic career.

Another thing I value so much about the Waldorf experience is the opportunity for another human being to profoundly influence your child. A Waldorf teacher stays with your children through the duration of their education and can be a huge, powerful force in their development. A child spends more waking hours at school than he or she does
at home and wonderful teachers, the ones we all remember, really know that. They understand that the little lives they have in their classrooms are just that, lives. Not simply heads or brains but hearts and souls.

Some people have trepidations about Waldorf education, saying that it doesn't stress academia early on. This is true. For young children, creativity is the most important thing, not mathematics or reading. But wait, you say, you're all about early literacy, how can you support Waldorf education? I believe in early literacy, yes, but I believe in supporting a child to read through joy. I believe that story, narrative and fun come first and that words follow in their own time. My mother likes to tell the story of how I did not read until the third grade. "The third grade? What kind of education is your child receiving?" friends would ask her. Today I admit I am a bit horrified at the thought. Certainly I wouldn't be as calm and cool as my mother if my students were on the same time plan. But, my mother was not phased. She knew, as Waldorf does, that it would come in my own time. It did, indeed. I'd say I learned to read, and then some. By the time I made my
way to the page I was so excited to be there no one could tear me away.

The world, as we all know, is changing rapidly. I don't pretend that growing up is the same now as it was when I did it simply fifteen years ago. It's not. Things are faster, cruder. There is more that can affect your child, more that you have to be cautious of as a parent. The thing I wish to express and acknowledge is the sacred nature of childhood, that precious time where there is a certain magic to the world. I was blessed to be a part of Waldorf and whether you are a Walorf parent, considering a Waldorf education, or simply want to learn how you can use some of their techniques to support your child, we can all benefit from Rudolf Steiner's approach to education.

To find out about a Waldorf school near you or to learn more about Walorf Education visit: http://www.whywaldorfworks.org/

Have a wonderful week,


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

I wanted to wish everyone a happy and healthy thanksgiving. I have been battling the stomach flu and probably won't be up for too much turkey eating but the hours on the couch have given me some time to ruminate about thanksgiving, and about what I'm grateful for. I even made a list. Ever notice that writing things down helps you see them clearly? Well what better things to see clearly than those that you are thankful for? I encourage you all to make your own lists this year, as well. Get the kids involved! Get out the crayons and markers and coloring pads and WRITE IT: what are you grateful for?

Have a wonderful holiday,


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Celebrating Life, and the beginning

Yesterday marked the 89th year of my grandmother's life. My grandmother is an incredible woman. An artist, a free-thinker, a soft-spoken lady and a trail-blazer all rolled into one. She is beautiful, inside and out and doesn't let any of us forget how many men used to line up around the block to take her out (it's true, too, I've checked with my mother).

In the late hours of the evening yesterday I called her. Just back from dinner with my aunt and cousin she was settled at home and we were both feeling contemplative. After a bit of chit chat about her day I cut to the chase.

"So tell me, birthday girl," I said, "what wisdom do you have for me?"

"I am loved, baby," she told me, "I love and I am loved."

Powerful stuff. We spoke a bit about life, about the importance of love and letting go. About how so little of life is about getting and holding onto the things you want (even love) and how much of it is about growth. How all of it is about growth. We spoke about the death of my grandfather and her resilience and amazing, inspiring ability to always challenge herself. To want to challenge herself.

She was curious about the new book I am working on and wanted to know if I needed any ideas (I love you, grams, but no) and we spoke a bit about childhood, about that magical time where somehow life congeals for the first time and a foundation is built from which to take flight. Which led to some reminiscing about my own childhood, about walks with her in our back woods and roadtrips to museums and park picnics.

One story she mentioned I found particularly illuminating and I wanted to share it here. She told me about how a friend of hers had taken her to a concert the other night. There was a pianist there and when she saw the pianist she was reminded of her childhood, of having to play the piano in school for gym class and being terribly, tragically embarrassed by it. She told me, in that moment at that concert, that she recalled one day before school stopping at a friend's house to borrow a bandage to put on her finger so she could pretend she was injured and wouldn't have to play. She was eight. "I am 89 years old," she told me, "and that is what I think of when I see a piano."

Why is it that we are drawn back to the beginning? I asked her the same question and she didn't miss a beat. "It is where we become," she said, "it is where we get set on the way to who we are." The formative years are so important. They set a tone for the rest of life. I can only hope, my beautiful grandmother, that I will walk an equally magnificent path.

With love,


Teaching Moments

On Friday I spent some time with a few lovely 5 and 8 year olds and my dear friend and colleague, Kate Tempesta. We did a Nurturing Narratives/ creative movement class and it was a ball. Kate is always a joy to work and be with and the children were no exception. A riot-y bunch, but lovely indeed.

We had a game-plan, sort of. We were going to read a story and then do some movement with it and then make a storybook around a concept connected with it. Simple enough. Wrong. The children were in high spirits and they were squirmy and squiggly and all of things teachers punish on time-out mats. Not us! Being the forward-thinking and holistic educators that we are (ho ho) we went with it, and you know what? It went well. More movement, more laughter, more free drawing, so what? Which brings me to what I really want to talk about today: the importance of teaching moments.

Teaching moments are those moments that you cannot plan for. You cannot schedule when a concept will be illuminated and when a child will provide you with an opportunity to help them learn. The only thing you can do is remain open and calm and be on the look-out. Children teach us the way they need to be taught. If we listen and stay present with them, they will show us all we need to know.

We finally got the children settled on the couch and I launched into, How I Learned Geography. You're rolling your eyes, right? I know, I am obsessed with that book and write about it way too often on this blog, apologies. We were about halfway through when one of the children, a five-year old beauty, looks at me, point-blank, and asks: "is this a nonfiction book?"

Say what? I kind of gaped at her for a moment or two and then explained that yes, actually, this is a nonfiction book and the author had written about something that happened to him a long time ago. All at once, the lesson clicked. A teaching moment. "You know what?" I said, "today I think we are going to make nonfiction books which means we are going to be the characters in our own stories." And we were off. Completely different plan from the original, (pick a person, place and thing to put in your story), but far more worthwhile. Not only did the children show me what they needed to learn, they showed me what they wanted to learn. By recognizing and paying attention to their curiosity, we had a wonderful and fruitful afternoon.

Stay present, stay calm, stay quiet. Even in the midst of the noisy monkeys and lions and bears running around the living room, maintain a sense of peace. When you do you open yourself to really teach children. What ends up happening, of course, is that they teach you.

Read away!


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Remembering why we love to read

Let's face it, we don't have a lot of time these days. Between work and meals and kids and the gym and trying to keep up with new episodes of Glee (yes, me) our days are pretty much packed. Where does reading come in? And why is it important?

At the end of the day turning on the television and disengaging sometimes sounds much more appealing than cracking the pages of that new novel. And if we do actually spend the time getting into a book who knows when the next opportunity to pick it back up will be? Even the best stories can be lost in the shuffle.

What's the harm? We live in a modern world. The children of this current planet might not even have books when they grow up. They very possibly might be able to press a button and internalize a story. And if not that, then certainly holding a book will be considered old-fashioned. Heck, even some libraries are getting rid of their shelves in favor of an online digital space.

I have often said on this blog how important it is for children to see you reading, how so much of what they learn regarding literacy is based on modeled behavior. What I want to argue today, however, is why it's important for YOU to read. Why, regardless of the effect it has on the children around you, it is important for your own well-being.

Reading is active entertainment while television is passive. There are skills we must use in reading that we don't have to when plunked down in front of the tube. We imagine, we synthesize and we decipher.

Our world is based on narrative. Storytelling is the oldest art form known to man. Our lives are built around story. So much of my program involves collapsing the space between child and writer to get them to understand that the things that happen to them in their lives are stories. That even the most mundane of activities has a narrative gem inside. When we read we strengthen our storytelling muscle. We remember a good tale and, just maybe, see the magic in our own lives a little more.

Reading requires we use our own imaginations. Fantasy is an important part of being human. Dreaming big and wide is a gift we have as human beings. One of the things I love about reading is how people can get such a varied experience out of the same book. I love that Hogwarts looks just a bit different in my head than it does in my friend's. I love that, despite the movies, when I pick up those books I still have images of Harry, Ron and Hermione in my head. I love that they are mine. No one sees these characters exactly as I do. When we read, we build the visual world to the words we see and what we create belongs to us alone.

Reading is relaxing. No noise, no neon colors. Quiet and peaceful. Who doesn't need that these days?

As the weather gets colder and winter creeps up on us, I encourage you to make the bookshelf the centerpiece of your home. Think about why you love to read. Remember the first book that got your hooked. Get back in touch with that narrative spark inside us all. Curl up with a hot chocolate, a nice blanket and a book. You will be doing yourself, and your children, a world of good.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Barefoot Books


I had dinner last winter with a woman named Nancy Traversy, CEO and founder of Barefoot Books. At the time Nurturing Narratives was just a pipe dream and I listened intently to Nancy talk about her company, her ambitions, and her hopes to spread love of literacy around the world. I was impressed, mostly because she had already done it!

For those of you who don't know, Barefoot Books is an independent publishing house that publishes children's books with an emphasis on community, conservation and connectedness. Perhaps the coolest thing about Barefoot Books is their ambassador program. Dedicated to creating an online community where people can dialogue about books, they have also created a program where people can turn that love into profit...right in their own homes. The ambassador program allows anyone to start selling Barefoot Books in your own community. You can set up a book fair, sell to neighbors and friends or simply advertise through a blog or website. If you don't want to become an ambassador I encourage you to follow the link above and join the Barefoot Book's community. I know all of us in the children's world love a good dialogue and I think you would enjoy the chit chat with Barefoot tremendously. I know I have.

Read away,


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Fairies for today

I wanted to share this article from today's New York Times. I love fairy books. That's a terrible generalization, isn't it? But it's true. I like them all and I read just about every one I can get my hands on. Fairies were a big part of my childhood. In fact, the first short story I ever wrote was about the fairies I believed were in my back yard. I think I was eight years old at the time.

Last year, during a memoir class, I revisited that fairy glen. I haven't made a habit of displaying my work on this blog and I don't think I will but today I thought I would make an exception. I hope you all enjoy the below and if you get a chance check out the website for The Night Fairy. Beautiful, isn't it?

There is a path that leads from one place to another. I know because I have been down it before. There was a time when I followed it everyday. I still do, now and again, but the path I use is a replica. The real one has been covered by cement and years. No one travels down it anymore. No one even knows it exists. Before, when it was visible, the path wound from my house down to the backyard. It is a small path, big enough only to walk single-file, if you are traveling with someone else. If you follow it directly the path delivers you to an old oak tree. Right to the base. When we used to wander down it the path’s existence was validation, proof that what we searched for really existed. There was no sense of cause an effect, no idea that our imaginations took flight because of where the path delivered. There was simply that lovely dirt path, the old oak tree and our illusive friends.

We walk on tiptoes through the snow, trying not to make any footprints as we go. “We don’t want anyone to find out,” Bethany says, as she did the first time we went. We are at the spot in about ten minutes. It might have taken us only three if we hadn’t been so worried about leaving tracks. The spot is an old oak tree right down the way from my house. The bark is peeled in places and there is a gash in the trunk that appears like a little open cabinet, the perfect place to store a hidden treasure. We drop down at its base, pulling off our scarves and setting them down.

I peek inside the cabinet.

“They aren’t home,” I tell Bethany, “should we wait?” She considers it and then nods her head.

“It’s cold out,” she says, “maybe they’ll come back soon.”

For about a year now the fairies have been our friends. We leave them presents in their home in the cabinet. We know they like chocolate and granola bars the best because they are always gone when we come back to check. They also keep the things we make them. We have laid down moss in the cabinet for a floor and we made them some furniture out of acorn shells and flower petals.

We never see them. It used to upset me that they didn't want to say hello but Bethany says they are shy and don’t really like people. Together we come here once a week to give them some gifts and see if they will show themselves. In the summertime we braid dandelion crowns from the grass and leave them strung around the tree like Christmas lights. We wait for about an hour each time depending on the weather. There are some days it rains, of course, and we have to go back inside.

Today we have brought two Thermos’ of hot chocolate that my mother made us and we hold them in our un-gloved hands to warm us up. I wish we could leave some for the fairies but we don’t have a cup that small. “Next time we should bring one,” I tell Bethany, and she agrees. We speak softly, there is something about the place that makes us feel we should whisper. Sometimes we tell stories about the fairies, where they have been and where they will go. There is one named Zelda who likes to travel to far away places. We suspect she is the one who likes the chocolate best.

It is cold and we go inside early today, taking care with our footprints on the way back as we did on the way there. When we get inside my mother asks us where we have been but we don’t answer. No one knows about the fairies. They are our secret.


My family moved from that house, the only one I had known, that coming summer. There is an entire photo album dedicated to our last day there. I made my parents take pictures of me next to every piece of furniture, in every nook and cranny. There is a photo of me kissing my bedroom door, one of me standing looking out of the kitchen window. There is a series of photos of me pointing to my favorite stairs, at least four taken around the dining room table. There are pictures on the porch, by the stream in the backyard. There is one of me with my favorite rose bush on our lawn and a rock I named “Barbara.” Yet nowhere is there a photo of my old oak tree and the cabinet fairy home. I know this is on purpose. I would never have revealed their hideaway, never have given the secret of their existence away. Yet still I wish I had something. A confirming glance of what my memory has worked so hard to hold onto all these years.

The day Bethany and I say goodbye we do it there, at the old oak. It is spring and we bring down a blanket to lie on at the tree’s base. Our pockets are stuffed with granola bars, cookies, and some chocolate for Zelda. We have just an hour before I have to be in the car. Bethany has told me that I shouldn’t worry, that she will still come over and take care of them even when I’m gone, but I cannot help feeling a little anxious, there is so much they rely on us for.

“I wish they would come,” I tell her, “I just want to see them before I go.”

We are lying on our backs looking up at the sky. It is blue today but there are more than a few clouds. I wonder if there are clouds in Hawaii. I have been there before but I cannot seem to remember. It is always so sunny.

“Shh,” Bethany says, putting her finger over my lips, “be quiet.”

We continue to lie with our eyes open and our mouths closed. Soon I hear my mother calling to come back up. It has started to rain, a light drizzle. I sit up and see her on the back porch, waving away the raindrops like they are nats.

“I don’t want to leave,” I tell Bethany, tears in my eyes.

“Me either,” she says, taking my little hand and putting it in hers.

“You will visit,” I tell her and she nods fiercely.

“All the time,” she says.

We embrace then, her soft blonde hair tickles my nose as we lay our heads on each other’s shoulder. If I could I would stay this way forever: on a blanket at the foot of our tree with my best friend in my arms.

“We should go,” I say, pulling away and wiping the back of my hand over my eyes, “my mom is waiting.”

We both sit up and Bethany gathers the blanket, scrunching it in a ball and tucking it underneath her arm. We start walking back up towards the house, our footsteps as heavy as our hearts.

“Wait,” Bethany says, spinning around, “stop.”

I freeze in my tracks, my heart racing.

“What?” I whisper.


It is difficult to make out above the slight patter of raindrops but I hear it too, the hum of wings in the distance. Our eyes widen as we look around, trying to place in what direction they are moving towards us.

“They’re coming,” Bethany says, “they’re coming to say goodbye!”

Sure enough a moment later they fly right by us. They move so fast we are only able to catch a glimpse. A colorful blur above our heads.

“It’s them!” I yell, delighted. They do not go into their cabinet but instead continue on, down past the tree and into the forest below. We stand in silence, our hearts pounding, our eyes wild.

“They are practicing,” Bethany says, turning towards me, a gigantic smile on her face.

“For what?” I ask.

“For the trip,” Bethany says, “so they can fly the long way to see you.”

We link arms and walk side by side up to the house, following the path as we go.

I often wondered when we moved whether the people who bought our house had any children, whether they ever took that path down to the oak tree and saw those fairies. As I grew older the question changed and I wondered what they discovered when they journeyed down, what made the tree special for whoever came after us. And, similarly, what had made it important for whoever came before.

Five years ago when my mother and I were visiting our family in Philadelphia we decided on a whim to make the journey down to our old house in New Hope. I hadn’t been back in eleven years. It is a very odd feeling when memory is tested. In my mind I knew those old roads too well, every curve and pothole, but as we drove down our street and driveway I saw that time had evolved the memory of those roads in a way the actual roads had not. They were the same as when I had left them yet they felt unfamiliar, not nearly as real as the ones I had been meandering down in my mind all these years. I sat in the car wondering if I would feel the same way about the path. Would it look the same as I recalled? Would it be smaller or bigger? And then: would it even lead to where I thought it did?

We stopped at our house and knocked on the door. No one was home. The house had been changed a great deal. An additional den had been added on and a garage stood where there used to be just gravel. My mother went strategically around the house, peeking in any window she could to get a better glimpse of what the interior had become. I, however, took off for that place, the one I hoped more than anything that my memory had stayed true to. I was so caught up in my excitement, imaging my feet on the path once more, my fingers on the bark, holding onto the ridiculous notion that there would be some mark of my past existence there, perhaps an acorn shell or a small ribbon, that I didn’t notice the pool until I had almost fallen inside. The entire backyard had been leveled and filled with cement. In the middle was a black-tiled swimming pool surrounded by white plastic beach chairs, round wooden tables and large, thick canvas umbrellas. The old oak tree had probably been knocked down and split. Perhaps used in the fireplace to keep the house warm or maybe even crafted into this furniture, the trunk with the cabinet now a leg of a table.

I stood there, staring inside at the dark water, trying to find my reflection. I wondered when this had happened, for how long my memory had been calling up a ghost. And then, just like that, I began to weep. There was no more path, no more tree. There was no more future or past, no possibility for the path to deliver someone else to something entirely different than what we experienced there or for me to re-experience the same. Worse still, there was no more Bethany. I didn’t even have the courage to call her on this trip back. I didn’t even know if she still lived there.

The owners came home a few minutes later. There was some confusion and then they understood. They recognized my mother from all those years before. They didn’t have any children, just a big, brown dog I heard the man call “Paul.” I turned around from the pool and watched them walk inside. The house was bigger, whiter, the backyard unrecognizable. In truth, I could have been anywhere. And then I had a thought. I remembered that seeing and believing never had any correlation at this place. We believed in those fairies long before we ever saw them. We knew their names, the color of their hair. We imagined them to be true and they were. Perhaps the path had never existed, perhaps it had never led from one place to another. Right next to that black tiled swimming pool standing on the cement I closed my eyes. I imagined I was wandering down that path to where the old oak tree still stood, the cabinet filled with moss and chocolate, waiting for the fairies to come home again.

When I open my eyes I see exactly that, and for me, it is real.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

catching up

Last week I had the privlege of going up and touring St. Thomas More Playgroup, a wonderful preschool on the Upper East Side. A dear friend of mine and fellow educator, Kate Tempesta, runs a wonderful creative movement class there and I wanted to go and check her and the school out. As I walked around the different nooks and crannies and meandered in and out of classrooms one thing struck me: how visually stimulating the entire place was. It screamed: let's play!

Their library is beyond impressive with thousands of titles. What I loved most about it was how visible and integrative it is. Shelves and shelves of books line most walls and covers face forward so children can see the books. They are truly surrounded by literature. It was wonderful to see.

On Saturday I did a Nurturing Narratives Halloween-themed evening with about ten children. We read The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything and Room on the Broom, two of my now permanent Halloween favorites. I dressed up as Glinda the good witch. It was quite fun.

In other news, the website is finally up! Please check it out at www.nurturingnarratives.org and let me know what you think!

Read away,


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hansel and Gretel: The Halloween Addition

And now for a bit of literary criticism this morning.

I asked my dear friend Catherine to do a post on fairy tales and she suggested we put it up around Halloween. Fairy tales, on Halloween? You ask. So did I. Apparently the roots are a lot scarier than we know today. Catherine is a fantastic literary critic and has taken an academic eye to Hansel and Gretel. I hope you enjoy her thoughts as much as I did.

As of right now, historians believe that Halloween (shape-shifted from All Hallows Evening) is the step-child of Samhain, a Celtic festival, which roughly translates to “summer’s end”, held at the end of the harvest season. But, as with most celebrations of the harvest, Samhain also honors the deceased members of the community. It is believed that this festival of the dead was carried over to North America during the Great Irish Famine of 1845-1852, and that the present day Halloween, the traditions of trick or treating, bobbing for apples, and spooky costumes were all remnants of those darker, and more superstitious, times.

With that in mind, I thought the Brothers Grimm’s terrifying Hansel and Gretel was the perfect story to look at this month!

Hansel and Gretel combines several important and spooky motifs: the wicked step-mother, the evil witch, the abandonment of children, the edible house, the tricking of the witch, and the triumph over evil.

During the time of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, fairy tales were much, much darker than they are today. Now, because they are so frightening, some parents won’t even consider telling a tale from the Brothers Grimm.

But sometimes a good scare is exactly what a child wants. Though unlike Halloween, the Brothers Grimm deliver a moral lesson, one that every child must learn.

In the beginning, Hansel and Gretel’s family “had very little to bite or sup, and once, when there was great dearth in the land, [their father] could not even gain the daily bread.” Much to the father’s chagrin, the step-mother (who is actually the real mother in a much older version!) tells her husband that in order to save themselves they must abandon the children out in the woods.

According to Bruno Bettleheim (whose favorite fairy tale happens to be Hansel and Gretel), the Mother represents the source of all food to the children, which is why they still want to return home after being deserted. This psychological interpretation is about dependence, in fact, Bettleheim says that, “before a child has the courage to embark on the voyage of finding himself, of becoming an independent person through meeting the world, he can develop initiative only in trying to return to passivity, to secure for himself eternally dependent gratification.” (The Uses of Enchantment)

But, regression and denial will not get poor Hansel and Gretel anywhere. They must overcome their primitive desires to return to their Mother, the womb, or to a time when they were completely taken care of and did not have existential dilemmas of their own that they had to solve.

Stranded in the woods, the children finally come upon a house, albeit a house made of candy, and they immediately eat the house. It doesn’t occur to them that the house could be a place of shelter or a home.

“So Hansel reached up and broke off a bit of the roof, just to see how it tasted, and Gretel stood by the window and gnawed at it. Then they heard a thin voice from inside,”

When the witch asks them who is eating at her house (in a voice that could be misconstrued as the children’s consciences), they answer that it is the wind, knowing full well that they are stealing, and worse, eating this witch out of house and home, something their step-mother feared they might do and therefore abandoned them.

Such unrestrained greediness cannot lead to anything good, especially in the morally structured world of fairy tales.

At first the witch is kind, “she took them each by the hand, and led them into her little house. And there, they found a good meal laid out, of milk and pancakes, with sugar, apples, and nuts. After that she showed them two little white beds, and Hansel and Gretel laid themselves down on them, and thought they were in heaven.”

But appearances are deceiving. Just as the children gobbled up the gingerbread house, the witch is equally determined to gobble them up!

The witch’s kindness and then inevitable transformation are symbolic of the inadequacies and betrayal of the Mother.

When a child is first born the Mother is the entire world, but even then, the Mother cannot possibly satisfy all of the child’s needs like she once did before the child was born. At the moment of birth the separation between Mother and child begins. As the child ages, the Mother no longer serves the child unequivocally, but begins to focus more of her energy on herself. For the child, this leads to rage and frustration with the Mother, as well as feelings of abandonment.

It is important to note that the first time Hansel and Gretel are abandoned, Hansel saves them, but it is Gretel that pushes the witch into the oven. Hansel and Gretel is one of the few tales that stresses the importance of siblings cooperation. The children move from depending on their parents, which will only lead them to a life of regression, to depending on each other, on people their own age. (This last step is key to understanding Roald Dahl’s children’s fiction.)

In order to stand to their full height as separate individuals, children must overcome their desire to return to infancy. They must also learn to face their fears, their anxieties, and their misgivings, as embodied in the human-like appearance of the witch. In Hansel and Gretel, both the step-mother and the witch must die for the children to transcend their infantile dependence and finally grow up.

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

No help, please

I had coffee with a colleague of mine last week to talk about a possible partnership for Nurturing Narratives. Amidst the lattes we talked a lot about child development. My dining partner shared that her daughter has just started the first grade and went through the whole "just right book" routine the day before. She also has real homework now in which she is required to write about the elements of her day and certain things about school. My colleague told me that even though her daughter doesn't get it right all the time (writing, that is) the teachers were firm about this one rule: no help from the parents, please!

No help. None. "What am I supposed to tell her when she asks me if it's right?" she said, frantically. While I don't have children of my own, I understand the predicament. You want to support, sure, but you also want to help instruct.

But there is a reason parents are asked not to participate, of course. Children can easily get bogged down in the language of "right" and "wrong" and it's dangerous to give them too much critical feedback. It prevents them, oftentimes, from running into writing full-speed ahead, from outputting and outputting with no fear of a possible mistake. That is not to say parents should not be able to encourage. Far from it. Positive feedback is perhaps the best gift you can give a new reader and writer. Just remember that everything is right.

Yes, that includes the wrong stuff. Odds are the words won't have vowels and some consonants will be backward but it's all part of the process. Children learn how to write and they learn how to read. It is, with some rare exceptions, fairly inevitable in a literary environment. It's not so much when they come to the written word as much as in what way. By supporting children and encouraging every mistake, we invite them to see writing as exciting and expansive...feelings that will shape their future writing careers.

Embrace the no help rule and encourage away. Also, keep the "mistakes." Many of them you and your child are sure to giggle over in the years to come.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Reading to Felix

The following post is courtesy of my very good friend Brian. Brian is a fellow writer and stay at home dad to his five month old son, Felix. I know that Brian and Felix already have some reading rituals together so I asked him to do a post on early (early!) literacy. Below are his thoughts on books and his baby boy. Thank you, Brian! 

About a week after my son Felix was born, we started reading The Iliad together. 


Ok, so I did the reading while he lay in my lap looking cute, staring at the ceiling, or, more often than not, sleeping.  I had no pretensions that he was paying attention or getting anything from the work itself.  Though if he was, the themes of the epic—mortality, morality, free will versus fate—seemed an appropriate introduction to the human experience.  Really, my hope was that the intonation and cadence of my voice giving breath to the musical rhythm of Homer’s verse (in the vibrant translation of Stanley Lombardo) would make some deep, lasting impression on his consciousness, planting the seeds of language right from the start.  Some pregnancy books actually recommend reading to the fetus in-utero for a similar reason, but I felt ridiculous addressing my wife’s ripe belly.


We made our way through the first few books of The Iliad before Felix out grew it at a month old.  Sitting still for long periods of time was something newborns do—big babies want to move and explore the world around them!  So my wife and I introduced block books.


Again, we didn’t care about the actual content so much as his experience with the book as an object.  Not surprisingly, pictures excited him right from the get go.  Warm colored objects in particular drew his gaze.  His favorite was a Baby Einstein book called Mirror Me!  The bold, blocky faces made him coo and hoot, and he flashed some of his first smiles to himself in the mirror.  Another favorite was the Usborne Touchy Feely That’s Not My Bear.  The repetition of the words “that’s not my bear” inspired me to sing rather than read it to him—again drawing attention to the rhythm and musicality of language, and inspiring giggles at daddy’s off-key crooning.


Soon Felix was sitting for longer periods and had developed better eyesight.  One afternoon, I propped him up against the pillows and read him Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax.  He loved the orange, flame shaped little Lorax, and began ooh, ooh, oohing whenever he saw him.  I could see his eyes scanning the page every time I turned, trying to locate the fuzzy little character.  This was the first time I witnessed him being engaged by a character on the page, and it was thrilling.  Felix was creating his own story, or game if you like, of find the Lorax.  In later readings, as Felix became more adept with his hands, he reached out, trying to grab him.  This book remains one of his favorite reads.


Improved hand eye coordination has allowed Felix to get involved with reading by turning pages.  The thin paper of picture books is more challenging, but block and fuzzy books he flips through with ease.  Sometimes, he turns them so fast I don’t have the opportunity to read him the words. 


This isn’t to imply that words themselves don’t fascinate him, because they do.  Black type on white pages, whether in the form of language or the notes of the sheet music propped up on our piano, intrigue him.  The pages he responds to the most in Peggy Rathman’s Goodnight Gorilla aren’t the ones with pictures, but the ones when the lights go out and the character’s word bubbles hover on a black field.  He reaches for the letters, as if he could grab them from the page.  He does the same thing when sitting in my lap while I read The New Yorker.  I like to think that he knows these markings are special.



Felix turns five months next week, and already he displays an excitement and warmth towards books.  He’s building a positive relationship with them, which my wife and I hope will stay with him his whole life.  The most basic pleasure he experiences with books as physical objects is similar to that some bibliophiles feel when they smell and feel an especially lovely old tome.  It’s the very beginnings of a love we’ll nurture and feed in the months and years to come.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are: a review

I have to say I walked into the theater with almost no expectations. I had heard so many mixed things about the movie I wasn't sure what to think so I just plunked myself down in a chair and thought, I'll go with it. 

Go with it I did. From the moment Max's costume-clad frame comes tearing around a corner, I was in. There is something about those opening scenes (and inevitably, the movie as a whole) that makes you feel as though you are that child. You are Max. I loved that the camera held true to Max's height so that it looked like you were seeing the world through his eyes, exactly as he saw it.  

The movie made me remember what it felt like to be a child. And no, it wasn't nostalgic. Sure there is a whimsical element to the film but the truth is that I felt sadness, loneliness; I felt like those monsters. I remember how close anger and sadness were as a child, how one could quickly morph into the other. I remember the supreme sense of possibility, of dreams, of anything- is- possible and simultaneously the complete, crippling inability to do anything, the lack of resources. The freedom and the dependence. The safety and the fear. The bold, brilliant desire to be heard, respected, valued and the growing confusion (suspicion, actually) that you may not be as different as you once thought you were. 

The sets were beautiful. Magical and fantastical without being frilly. I found Max's dialogue to be superb: exactly the thought process of a child. And some of it was silly. Very silly. But I did not feel as if I was laughing at him. I was laughing, actually, at the completely nonsensical expression of a nonsensical world. Which, of course, makes it all perfectly sensible. 

There were some really lovely details like Max's mother typing out the story he narrates (go home literacy!) and the way Sendak's lines were worked into the script. 

In the end I'll admit, I had some tears in my eyes. I loved the scene in which he returns home and his mother simply looks at him. Like he's the only thing in the world that matters. I loved their whole relationship, actually, what little we saw of it. I loved that I was torn between wanting to tell Max it would be OK and wanting to tell his mother the same. I wasn't sure who needed the words more which I thought was complete brilliance. I left feeling deeply, the kind of all-encompassing feeling that hits you, right in the sternum. Childhood is hard and anyone who says differently just hasn't been reminded of it in awhile... so why then did I get up from my chair feeling sad that we all have to grow up? 

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Big Picture

A friend of mine asked me the other day if I had any writing tips for third graders to help them with the editing process. Instinctively I answered: focus on the big picture and improvise to get there. Ask the question: what am I trying to convey here? 

I don't work with third graders. Nurturing Narratives is for very young children (3-6), but that was my advice. No sooner had I said it than I realized it is the exact OPPOSITE of what I tell my young children. For children who are just coming to writing the big picture is the least of my concerns. It's practically irrelevant. A story they make could be about a bat and a baseball and a tree and a telescope and one thing has very little to do with the other. For them, it's all about process and detail and free-flowing creativity. It doesn't matter if the narrative doesn't have an arc or the characters change from page to page. What I want is for them to have a sense of possibility, to understand that the world of writing can take them anywhere. That as authors, they are limitless. 

So when does that change? 

Certainly as writers we need a creative direction, a kind of order, a purpose, if you will, but why not stress the joy of the moment, the importance of process? I didn't want to revoke my advice on a whim so I thought long and hard about this. What I came up with was this: in mentioning the big picture I was trying to say intention is what counts. 


I can't count the number of times I brought this word up in my creative writing classes. I find it to be the most important thing there is when it comes to writing. Knowing what you're trying to say and using all of your resources to say it. For me, intention is the big mama bear of good writing. It is what separates a mediocre tale from an excellent one. It is, in my humble opinion, what every great writer, regardless of style or time, has in common. 

How do we cultivate intention? Really believing in what it is we are trying to say is where to start. That is why I think it's so important for children a bit farther down the road in the writing process to have a clear idea of what they are trying to say. Big Picture. 

As we grow and develop intention comes into play more and more. We pick out our clothes and intend them to go on our body in a certain order. We make lunch and intend for it to taste a certain way. We brush our teeth, we decorate a room, we pick a job, we chose hobbies and partners and friends. We build a life on intention. 

While the creative process is still crucial and freedom of expression should always be valued, I stand by my original "big picture" advice. 

Speaking of Big Pictures, I'm now off to see Where the Wild Things Are. Expect a review sometime in the next few days. 


Monday, October 12, 2009

Thou Shalt Read

Yes, I have now made it a commandment.

I must credit the idea for this post to my dear friend who is a self-named "lit nut," mama, and a member of the blogosphere herself. Her children are very young but I asked her what she thinks parents would really like to read here on the blog. She mentioned the importance of children seeing their parents read. I have mentioned in my literary tips how important modeled behavior is when it comes to reading and, as my friend put it, "readers raise readers." If you are not a reader yourself, don't despair. I'm not saying everyone needs to be making their way through Chaucer and Milton every afternoon, what I'm saying is that reading should be a REAL part of every household.

For me, it was my dad. My dad loves to read. Since I can remember he has read about a book a week. Every night before he goes to sleep he picks up the novel he is working his way through and cracks the pages. I saw this growing up. I remember going on family trips and looking at my dad sprawled out in the sun or even just a chair in a hotel room, reading. I remember him on the plane reading, at an outdoor restaurant reading, on a boat, yes, reading. It's no surprise, then, that loving and looking up to my father as I did, I wanted to read, too. As I grew older and had books of my own I began to join his bedtime reading ritual. We read aloud (The Boxcar Children, The Lord of the Rings) but as the years passed we just started reading together. In bed, side by side, he with his novel and me with mine.

More than our reading time, though, I cherished our discussions. Dad loved to talk about books. It didn't matter that we were reading middle-grade books, he wanted to discuss them all. He listened to my impressions of the characters, my expectations for the plot and, inevitably, my thoughts on the ending. These books may as well have been Crime and Punishment, that's how in-depth we talked about them, theme and all. I felt listened to, important and most of all like I had something to say. I felt smart.

I can't stress how important this is for children, how what we do and what we value is more often than not what they will eventually put their attention to. Read. Let your kids see you. Talk about these books. Listen to them. Show them that there is a reason they do what they do in school, because reading matters and real, live adults, adults they respect and love, do it too.

We often think that we have to read to children for them to get the benefits of literacy. What many adults don't know is that simply reading yourself could ignite a true, lasting love of reading in the children that surround you.

Today my dad and I still talk about books. We pass them through the mail and through our (far too infrequent) visits. I always know when he calls me and he wants to talk about a book. His voice is strong and his tone is a little rushed. He'll spill his side and then he'll pause, take a deep breathe and say, "but what I really want to know is, what did you think?" And I smile, and tell him.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Who are the wild things for?

With all the Where The Wild Things Are hype over the last few months I found this article surprisingly honest. 

Do children even like this book? 

I pitched it to two five year old children during a Nurturing Narratives session a few weeks ago and to be frank, they weren't thrilled. I thought it had more to do with the familiarity of the text than anything else but perhaps I was wrong. The story is beautiful, rich and symbolically telling...not necessarily the primary things to catch a child's eye. I imagine many, many children will still trek in droves to see the movie (next week?) but I also believe people from my generation could be the primary target. 

What do you think? Those of you parents out there...who loves the book more, you or your children? 

Thursday, October 8, 2009

a lovely afternoon picture walk

I have been meaning to blog about picture walking for awhile now and was reminded of its importance while browsing Barnes and Noble yesterday. Picture walking is a technique many teachers use as a building block of writing. During a picture walk children are shown a series of pictures and they use their own words to come up with a story to match the pictures. There are, of course, many different kinds of picture walking activities. Children can re-arrange actual images in a specific order, they can come up with their own pictures or use ones already in a storybook and they can, depending on their current ability, put their words down on the page or simply speak verbally. 

I came across the book Wave by Suzy Lee and knew I had to pick up a copy to use for picture walking. The book is a beautiful tale (sans words) about a little girl at the beach and her relationship to the ocean as she stands at the water's edge. Wave has lovely chalk-like illustrations and a beautiful gray and blue pallet of color. I adored it and hope you all will too. If you'd like pick up the book and settle into a little corner with your youngster. Crack the pages and ask them what they think is going on in each drawing. Talk about the different elements of the picture and they inform each other to build the story. I find that when I do this more times than not the children see far more in these images than I do. They will pick up the little bubbles in the corner, the frown or smile on the character's face, the curl of her dress as it gets wet from the water. After you are finished is the perfect time to make a picture walk of your very own. Get out the crayons and make some pictures together and have fun coming up with a story to go along with them. Don't worry about whether the story builds "correctly" or whether the characters are consistent. Children have a massive creative capacity that sometimes gets distracted. And, after all, it's a writer's prerogative to change his or her mind. 

Happy strolling! 


Monday, October 5, 2009

Of Books and Bats


A friend recommended Bats at the Library by Brian Lies to me and I read it today. I have been wanting to do a Halloween book post but, quite frankly, haven't found many good ones. The one thing "Halloween" themed about this book is that it is about bats. That's pretty much the only place the holiday comes in. Be that as it may I wanted to share it here with you all today because I think it's one of the best picture books I have read in awhile. 
Bats at the Library is about a group of bats who go to the library one night because a window has been left open. There they have a "bookish feast," gorging themselves on book after book (metaphorically, they read). They then put on a play of some books and get lost in the tales themselves. There are beautiful, dark and whimsical illustrations and the pallet of browns, grays and splashes of subtle color make the whole thing seem dreamy and simultaneously utterly realistic. The details are quite fun and lovely too. Re: a copy of a book called "Goodnight Sun." 
What I liked most about Bats at the Library, however, was the message it gives: reading is magical and is a treasure to be cherished. These bats cannot believe their luck that the library window has been left open and at the end of the book, as they fly away in the pale shades of the morning, they hope and pray that a librarian might be absent-minded again soon. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

what book got you hooked?


The link above is for the "What Book Got You Hooked?" contest. 

"What Book Got You Hooked?" invites readers everywhere to celebrate unforgettable books from childhood and help provide new books to the children who need them most. First Book asks visitors to share the memory of the books that made them readers and then vote for the state to receive 50,000 new books from First Book, helping to get more kids hooked on reading."

For me, it was Freaky Friday. I kid you not. I remember reading that book cover to cover at least a dozen times. I read it out loud to my parents, I harassed my friends on the playground. I was in love with that book. That book had magic in it. That book changed my life. There have been other books along the way. There was Eloise in the very beginning, and Wuthering Heights a little later. But Freaky Friday was the one that snagged me, that grabbed me by the navel and said, "look, you're a reader now." 

I can't remember enough of it to know what it was about that book that made it the one. Like so much of life I'm sure it was timing, that it got placed into my hands at the very moment I was ready. I just know that when I finished it for the first time I felt like a reader. I felt like I had been let in on a gigantic secret, the way falling in love for the first time feels like no one, anywhere, has ever felt what you are feeling. I also remember saying those famous words out loud, standing in my parent's bedroom, book is hand: "I wish it didn't have to end." 

What book got you hooked? Please, share with us! 

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

here at the right time

I spent this afternoon with a fellow writer friend of mine who had an adorable baby boy nearly 4 months ago (well, his wife did the "having" but now he is staying home with the little guy). We wandered around the farmer's market in Union Square and then settled into City Bakery (ah, lovely afternoon) for some conversation while the baby slept. We talked about everything from our yoga practice to what we're reading and writing and then we sort of hit on a fairly interesting subject...guilt when it comes to happiness. 

Let me explain. I am one of the lucky fools who really loves what they do but being the type A (perhaps B now) person that I am I find it difficult to feel accomplished when I take some time off. I work from home so my time is always in my hands. If I decide to do nothing all day Wednesday, that's fine, I just need to figure out where and when I will make the hours up. I love running my own schedule but I find it difficult sometimes to enjoy the time I'm not working, so focused I am on not having my nose to the grind. Perhaps it's New York, perhaps it's me, it doesn't really matter. The point is: who came up with the rule that unless you're frantic and busy you haven't earned the right to indulge in happiness? 

My friend was sharing that initially when he decided to stay home with the baby he was a bit harried. "What will I do in 5 years when he starts school full-time?" "What if my writing hasn't taken off yet?" But as the moments at home stretched to days and weeks he began to focus on the supreme blessing of, well, being at home. He started to talk about the beautiful things about being a father and about how if he doesn't get his page count in for the day or something pops up it's OK, because he is enjoying spending time with his son. I was right there with him and for the next hour we weren't two writers on break from our work but two friends who understood that life isn't about accomplishing one thing or the other. It's simply about this moment. 

Children are so good at getting us to see this. They are so good at the momentary experience, it is all that exists for them. Without the incessant internal dialogue of the mind they are free to just be. here. now. It's remarkable. I am reminded constantly by my students to just be present. If my mind slips into the future or the past for just a moment, they know, and they make it abundantly clear they are aware I am no longer with them. 

There is a balance of course and the proverbial pendulum always swings. We need to work. We need to be productive. We need to give of ourselves and provide a service in the world. We also need to be present. What I realized in speaking to my friend today is that the greatest service we CAN give is to be present...both in our own lives for ourselves and the people we hold dear. When we are really focused on the task at hand we are not only more aware but we are also more productive. All our faculties are going to making this one thing (experience, project, person) the best it can be. 

"Live in the moment" sounds so cliche and this is a blog about literacy, not a self-help seminar but I would encourage you to take the motto to heart, even if just for the day. Notice how the children in your life live by this. If you let them, they'll teach you. You just have to listen.