The Blanket

diaryofaquilter

photo: diaryofaquilter.com

 

He took it with him everywhere: School, the doctor’s office, the park, the car, the dinner table. He carried it in hand, in the backpack, over his shoulder. It was to him a cape, a comfort, a memory of tucking in, a constancy.

It’s always been there. He couldn’t remember a time before.

Well-worn, oft-washed, much-handled.

His blanket.

Never out of sight.

He’d sit before the washing machine and watch it spinning, floppy, in a foamy sea. Later he’d guard the dryer as the blanket tumbled, already impatient to come back warm and scented into his arms.

He’d place it at the ready on the bathroom stepstool to guard him as he washed. A sentinel over his pajamas.

It waited right under the chair at mealtime, in temporary exile from his lap after his argument that the blanket could make an excellent napkin had failed.

Even at school, where he wasn’t allowed to hold it, he’d leave a small blanket-ear peeking out of his cubby; to remind him it was there, with him, waiting for the end of the school-day.

It was a coat of heart, a shroud of courage, a cover against storms of any kind.

It was almost part of him. His blanket.

Then the fire came. He was carried half-in-sleep and heavy-headed, by a man whose giant shadow painted wall-monsters against the orange flicker and the swirling smoke.

There was more flicker outside: blue and red and white and blinding. Shouts and calls and creaks and cries and movement. Yellow coats, red truck, bright door, funny mask.

And no blanket.

It was gone. To Blanket Heaven.

A spark in the sky now. A spot of cloud. A star.

Lost along with Curious George and Teddy Ben and his dinosaur car.

 

 

 

For The Daily Post

 

 

 

“I Gray?”

play-dough-people-faces

Photo: picklebums.com

 

His maman is from Haiti. His “so called papa” is “no one you’d want to remember” (as per his maman and grand-maman) because he has “no color in his eyes or heart.”

The boy has soft waves of honey brown hair. Cupid lips. Deep brown eyes. Light caramel skin. Freckles on his nose.

He’s recently discovered the magic of combining colors. He finds it entrancing. He is especially moved by the alchemy of what happens when you add white.

“You have black?” he asks, pointing to the Play-doe containers on my shelf.

“No,” I note, “I ran out. But I have brown.”

“Let me see.”

I hand him a container and he pulls the lid off and inspects the contents. “It in the wrong place,” he states, pointing to the yellow lid.

“I know. I just used a container I already had. It didn’t come that way. We made the brown from mixing different colors.”

“Who make it?”

“One of the other kids I work with made it. You want to try and make brown, too?”

He frowns, considers, shakes his head. “But I want some.”

“You want to use some of it? Sure. Go ahead.”

He pinches a bit of the dough and rolls in pensively between his fingers. “You have white?”

“I do!” I give him the white-topped container. He peeks in. After the yellow-topped one holding brown, one never knows …

He pulls out a chunk and begins kneading the white piece into the brown. A moment passes, then another. He’s quiet. He’s got something on his mind.

“Brown people are called black,” he notes.

“Hmm…” I nod. I wonder if he’d say more.

He glances at the yellow lid and I wonder if he’s wondering if it is one more of those “in the wrong place” designations. He sighs.

“I black but I also white,” he raises his eyes to me. “That mean I gray?”

 

 

For The Daily Post

 

 

Small Fry

Children phototechnique.com

They may be small

They may be young

They may often get taken, transferred, pushed around.

They may get little voice

About things that affect their lives.

They may have few actual ways

To keep alive.

Their views may be ignored

Laughed at

Minimized.

Their needs may all too often be relegated

To agendas others have.

But small as they are, they are mighty

They are brave of soul

And heart.

They hold opinions

Dreams

Ideas

Insights.

Our care makes all the difference

To the future

That they hold

Inside.

For The Daily Post

 

Cranky Monkey

 

CrankyPants Etsy.com

Photo: Etsy.com

 

 

He didn’t want to put on shoes. He didn’t want a sweater. He didn’t want to read a book. He didn’t like the weather.

He didn’t want to go outside. He didn’t want to play.

He didn’t want to take a walk. He didn’t want to stay.

He didn’t want to sit on lap. He didn’t want his chair. He didn’t want to play with blocks. He didn’t want his bear.

He never liked this yogurt. He never liked bananas. He never even wore this shirt. He hated these pajamas.

He didn’t want to take a bath. He hated Yellow Ducky. He didn’t want to wash his hands. The shampoo smelled yucky.

He didn’t like his bedroom. He didn’t like this bed.

He didn’t like this towel. The brush bothered his head.

A Cranky Monkey day to be

In Mama’s arms instead.

 

 

 

For The Daily Post

Tenacity

orphanage

 

He lay alone. A crib among a sea of cribs.

No one. No home.

Lifted, unwrapped, rewrapped, put down.

Indistinct sounds

Disembodied cries: His own? Others? Anyone?

His voice ignored.

Too many babies, too few staff.

He learned to rock himself to sleep.

His mind took him away from hunger, fear, despair, exhaustion.

Alone.

Alone.

Alone.

Contracted world. Folded unto its own.

 

Eternity.

 

Then in the numbing monotony

Different arms.

 

Lifted into chaos

Faces too close, movement too rapid, changes too many.

Sounds mouthed.

Rapid. Jumbled. Urgent.

Unknown.

Numbness threatened, overwhelm piled on.

Snail in. Check out. Burrow deep into alone.

 

Still something tugged. Come back.

Smiles. Cooing. Soft hands.

Gentle rocking that filtered into his own and

Enveloped

Awakened

Yearning. Sorrow. Despair. Hope. Panic. Need.

Too much. Too much. Too much.

He fled into his mind.

He peeked out. Fled back in.

Moments alternated:

Aware, away, awake, afraid, alarmed, asleep.

 

Days passed on

Eternity or weeks or months.

Soft words repeated gently

More faces

More holding arms

In rocking, humming, tenderness

Language.

Song.

New scaffold rose as

Meaning slowly dispersed fog

Into words.

A world.

Gentle hands.

Comfort.

Soothing voices at disembodied cries: his own?

His own.

His voice.

Calling.

For someone.

To come.

And they come.

 

 

 

For The Daily Post

Interconnected

phones Etsy

Photo: Etsy

 

“She has a symbiotic relationship with that phone,” the mother complained, eyebrows raised and head tipped in the direction of her daughter.

The pre-teen (on cue) rolled her eyes without lifting them from her opposing thumbs and the aforementioned item’s screen.

“See?!” the mom announced, vindicated.

“Whatever,” the girl sighed in the tone dedicated to oldsters who cannot possibly understand the nuances and necessities of modern life. She placed her phone face-down on the desk and turned her head to her mother. “Happy now?”

The mom nodded, half-mollified, half-mortified.

The lass-with-sass turned to me. “She keeps on me for that phone but she’s the one who’s always on the phone.”

“It’s work stuff,” the mother defended, reddening. Her own ‘lifeline’ already half-way out of her purse.

“Mine’s school stuff,” the girl countered. Her eyebrows rose in victory, a mirror image of her mother’s.

I smiled at their banter. It was a well-rehearsed dance, a sparring of connection more than true conflict.

“Funny thing …” I pulled out the work I had planned for our session that day: a passage and discussion about symbiosis, the close and often long-term interaction between two different species …

 

 

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Symptomatology

Reflection--Photographer unknown

He over-eats because he’s nervous.

She over-sleeps because she’s sad.

He hits because he doesn’t know another way to show he doesn’t understand.

Her stomach hurts when there’s a test

His when a certain uncle comes.

She ‘checks out’ when her parents fight

or students raise a hand.

He cries with every little scratch.

She’s stoic with a shattered arm.

Their eyes glaze over at the sight of checkered shirts

Or painted nails

A hairdo

A certain aftershave

Or lip balm.

He can’t sit still.

She won’t stop day dreaming.

He mopes. She cries. He pouts. She flies

Off the handle

If someone meets her eyes.

He wets the bed.

She carves red lines into her thigh.

He fights because he’s scared.

She spits because she’s feeling trapped

and

flirts because it is the only way she knows

to interact.

They’re judged

For all

Of the above

When in fact

Their behaviors speak a loud broadcast

Of unabated stress

And lives

That turned

Hard

To survive.

 

 

 

For The Daily Post

Controversy: Friend or Foe?

heart-stone

In the current climate of contention, many seem to see controversy as indication of animosity or ‘wrongness’ rather than an entry point to discussion.

What is that turns a difference of opinion or even heated disputes into declarations of allegiance or betrayal?

How does dissent become a call for combative rhetoric, rather than an invitation for conversation and possibly a point of understanding where one might’ve been wrong, been wronged, been blind, been blinded, yet can still find growth?

Why do so many find arguments a threat and varied views a sign of weakness or enmity?

Where have we gone so wrong, so long, that we forgot what we should already know?

In the give and take of conversation, even very young children learn that not all share their point of view, and that they cannot always get their way (not should they). They hopefully learn how to persuade as well as how to accept that not all persuasion means they’ll get their heart’s desire … That they aren’t wrong to have wishes even if those did not manifest, and that to not get their way doesn’t make them weak or ‘losers’, nor does it make the other ‘stronger’ or a ‘winner.’

Living as part of a healthy society requires we accept differences and listen to more than just the echoes of our personal view chambers – be it in the small groupings of family, classroom, playground, and work environment; or in the bigger congregations of towns and cities, countries and religions and cultures and the whole blue marble we’re all traveling on.

How much do we lose if we refuse to engage with anyone who sees a different perspective; if we attack any who disagree with words that are meant to silence, put down, dismiss, disown, distract?

How much do we limit our humanity – and our children’s, for they are watching – if we divide the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’; into those in the ‘right’ and those in the ‘wrong’ (and any who do not share our views we place automatically into the latter …). If we split the world into those who are ‘with us’ and therefore somehow morally superior, and those who ‘must be against us’ if they challenge things to not be exactly as we see then?

Controversy is the soil of growth. It can be made good use of, or it can be muddied into insult-slinging till it buries up real issues under heaps of refusal and refuse. Dissent can offer new space and pathways, or it can become no-mans-lands where any who dare venture risk a wounding and the blame for encroaching their view point onto another’s walled-off boundary.

I listen to children negotiating play: who will be whom, what the rules would be, how best to proceed, who gets to ‘be whom’ for how long, how far to push the limits of roles and imagination and possibility … And I think to myself: It is from the mouths of babes we should re-learn how to engage. How to take turns listening. How to accept that we do not hold absolute truth about almost anything, and that our views do not give us the right to hurt, to harm, to wound, to bully.

Much power is already cemented into viewpoints. An ossification of attitudes as proof for battles ‘won’ or ‘lost’ in pseudo-righteousness tips the balance of discussion so it loses any common ground and becomes blind to shared humanity and understanding. It is past time we all re-learn, remember, and take on added practice … for how to keep open hearts to and amidst controversy.

negotiation--prepare2play

Photo by: prepare2play

 

For The Daily Post

For The Record

dressup

 

For the record, she is fierce, even if she is in fluffy skirts and fleecy socks and every color of barrette holding on to dear life in her hair.

For the record, she is loving, even if she screams at her baby brother, narrows her eyes to daggers when she doesn’t get her way, and pushes every one of her mother’s buttons till something gives and tantrums fly.

For the record, she is smart, even if she cannot quite “do numbers” the way some of her classmates can and even if her words tend to come out upside down and sideways and in the wrong order and all too often not quite on the topic.

For the record, she has lots to say, even if she shrugs an “I don’t know” or grunts a precocious “whatever” because explaining feels too hard and some words hide and narrative does not form the way she senses that it ought to.

For the record, she is funny, even if she may not laugh at some jokes other people say, because she doesn’t get the puns and is still out to lunch on idioms and doesn’t quite see humor in confusing riddles.

For the record, she is thoughtful, even if she often acts before she seems to think (because she cannot always get the thought in time to matter), and reacts as if she doesn’t care (when she if fact cares more than many).

For the record, she is brave, and utterly indomitable. She works harder than most realize and deals with more frustration than is reasonable. And yet, she does still try. She may do so in frowns and pouts and at times even in ways that appear less than fully loveable. But she has no bone in her that isn’t kind. Just all too many that are over-tender.

For the record, she is a handful and a heart-full. She is bubbling with spirit and wriggling with life. She’d keep you on your toes, but oh boy would you earn a good dance for it! For a little body, she packs some serious soul punch.  She is fabulous personified. A guaranteed-to-wake-you-up-in-the-morning child.

 

 

For The Daily Post

Her Whole Life in a Plastic Bag

three-clock-bears

Photo: threeoclockbears.com

 

Tamina attended first-grade in a Harlem public school. She was homeless most of that year. Her mother lost the apartment after she lost her job. Sometimes they stayed with relatives but mostly Tamina, her mother and her sister slept in shelters where they could never stay very long. They carried their belongings in thick black garbage bags, protection from the weather. Tamina used to have a teddy bear, but it got left in a shelter and her mother was ‘too tired’ to go back for it. Tamina never got it back.

Tamina had very little. Other children had a home, their own bed, place for their stuff, more stuff. So she stole. Mostly small things: erasers, crayons, hair-pins. Things she could hide in her pockets and later in her black garbage bag. If confronted, Tamina would furiously demand it “was always hers.” I suspected she often believed it and wondered if some items resembled things she once had and owning them was a link to a time when life was less overwhelming. Beyond an overall language delay, Tamina seemed confused about concepts like the difference between possessing and owning: in some shelters cots were ‘first-come-first-serve’ and while you had it, it was ‘yours’ even if it did not remain so for long. You had to ‘watch’ your stuff or have it disappear. Why could an unattended eraser not be ‘hers’?

 While children often crave things that are not theirs, Tamina’s stealing was possibly about unmet needs. Her mother was “always mad and cussing” and Tamina could not rely on her for support. Children whose ‘hungers’ are neglected seek other ways: become secretive, dissociate, numb themselves with substances, steal, hoard. These behaviors often further distance them from care and social support, when they in fact communicate confusion, loneliness, anger, loss, and shame.

[The above is an excerpt from “Communicating Trauma” Routledge, 2015]

Communicating Trauma-Yehuda

Homelessness does not necessarily mean neglect, but the realities and causes of homelessness pose many risks, especially to children. In addition to loss and grief, there are increased health and safety risks, along with reduced access to care. Children without homes suffer insecurity, and their caregivers may be too overwhelmed to attend to their emotional needs. Depression, posttraumatic stress, illness, disability, poverty, domestic violence and other life-crises are all too common among parents of homeless children. Any one of these factors can overwhelm a parent and reduce their availability, let alone when such factors combine.

Having no place to call home–in all the forms it takes–can be distressing and occupying. It leaves children anxious and unavailable for learning. Homeless children are often wary and worried, angry or withdrawn. They are three times as likely to require special-education, four times as likely to drop out of school, and almost nine times as likely to repeat grades.

Homelessness devastates. It is crucial we work together to understand it and resolve it as well as support families in crisis and address risk factors before they reach a loss of home, hearth, and heart.