Category: Stories

Testimonial

There is no better introduction to the social world than Judy Stevens’ playgroup.  Our two sons graduated years ago but the values they learned and the experiences they were introduced to in such a small egalitarian group of three boys and three girls easily counts in their long journey through childhood to adulthood.  Where else can you find a teacher who makes everyone a cape then encourages them all to decide whether it’s a skirt or a magic carpet or an accessory for space travel! As an artist Judy’s creative ideas are endless and open but that doesn’t mean life at the loft is willy-nilly. In fact just when you need help in potty training, guess what, Judy facilitates that too and if you’re little one hasn’t quite grasped the concept of sharing yet, well this is where they will learn it because at Judy’s there is always a teaching moment going on. In the landscape of early childhood schools and playgroups, Judy’s Playgroup is the cherry on top. Its specialness is evident the minute you take your shoes off and enter the soft matted floor of her bright loft. In this safe and homey place your children will dance, plant seeds, conquer puzzles, role play, build sculptures from magnets, learn to be a friend, share lunch, navigate differences and above all have fun. What could be better.

– Leah Singer and Lee Ranaldo

Time for Transitions

I’ve always had playgroups that run from 9:30 to 1:30.  Part of the reason, in the beginning, was I could drop my daughter, Sara, off at school, come back and have the playgroup, then pick her up later.  Another, enduringly important reason, is and was, so parents could actually get something done before returning to pick their child up.

Knowing parents who were raised in other countries also informed my decision.  Kids are in the care of others from a very early age.  Over time I felt brief separations, as long as they’re consistent in some way, are very beneficial to the child and to their parents.  And not because “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” but attachments outside of the family open up an important sense of community, of other ideas and ways of approaching familiar situations.

As for my part, running the playgroup for four hours is a perfect amount of time to move through the morning in an unrushed (sometimes quiet!) way.  There is time for them to take off their shoes, put them away and hang up their coats.  There is time to have an ice pop at the kitchen table, and/or go out into the room and choose something to do.  There is time to do a lot of different things, if that’s what occurs to them.  There is time to resolve conflicts.  Then there is washing hands, alphabetically, for lunch, having lunch then doing a project afterward.  There is time to wind down, put everything back in its place and sit down as a group to read stories, then say goodbye for the day.

Frances

For three years exactly, my family had the privilege of four generations:  My mother, Frances, me, my daughter, Sara and her daughter, Audrey.

My mother died the morning of  August 13th.  It was also Audrey’s third birthday.  Life is a poem sometimes.

Frances was born on May 23, 1922 in New York City.  Her father died when she was very young, leaving my grandmother to raise her intelligent, beautiful, shy daughter by herself.  She parlayed her sewing skills into becoming head fitter at Henri Bendel and then, Saks Fifth Avenue.  My grandmother had to move with the seasons, and my mother with her, changing schools twice a year.  By the time she was ten or so, my grandmother began leaving my mother with people who took care of her, so that she could begin to finish the school year in one place.  My grandmother married twice more, to men who ultimately left.  There was alcoholism, and a general lack of understanding the consequences of raising a child under those circumstances.

My mom, extraordinarily beautiful, had many suitors.  She chose the persistent and charming Donald Stevens.  He worked hard to provide for her, and they had four daughters, moved to a fancy town in Connecticut, and lived life.  Alcoholism reared it’s ugly head again, as it does in many families that carry this horrible disease.

Fast forward to the 1960s, when her daughters began to go out into the world.  By the time the last one of us left the nest in the late-1970s, my mother left as well.  My parents divorced and my mother moved permanently to California, estranging herself from the family.  My oldest sister, Wendy, died that year.  Since then, my sister, Frances, also died.  Both of cancer.  My dad died in 2004 at the age of 85. Too much loss.

I only fully understand now that my mother wasn’t able to get over the hurdle of her crippling fear of abandonment.  In the last four years we were able to completely repair our relationship, torn apart by misunderstanding.  She died with pure love and acceptance.  My sister, Cary, was by her side and I on the phone.   I miss her so very much.

Fairness

I’m so lucky to be spending the summer in Vermont on the farm (quillpigfarm.com) with my daughter, Sara, son-in-law, Doni, and their daughter (and my spectacular granddaughter), Audrey, who will turn three only days from now.  My goodness, time flies.  And life is good.

They are raising pigs and meat chickens, and have twenty egg-laying hens (and one rooster!).  As Audrey says when asked where the chickens and pigs from last year are:  “They’re in the freezer,” in her sweet little voice.  A very different life here from the place I live most of the time:  New York City!!

The other day, I walked out to where the pigs are raised to give them my kitchen compost.   Their spot could not be more idilic.  A huge enclosure with many low bushes and small trees to keep cool under.  Plenty of sun and fresh air, and in the lower part of forty beautiful acres of farm land.  There is also an old trailer for them to go in should they choose to.

Anyway, I bring this up because that day something amazing happened.  After feeding the pigs, I stayed to watch them and suddenly one of them ran up a small hill inside their enclosure and stood there. Four or five others ran up after it and as quick as a wink, the first pig ran down the hill and began eating again.  The others just stood around up the hill seeming to wonder what was so urgent and interesting up there.  They eventually ran down the hill again and resumed eating.  I was impressed by what seemed like the first pig’s ingenuity.  Then stunned when that pig did it a second time!!  So smart and more than a little wicked.

I found myself thinking about fairness.  I’ve been equally impressed over the years with children’ innate sense of fairness.  We must be born with this sense because it is very apparent by the time children reach the age of two.  It is how I reason with kids when there is a scuffle over a toy or a space that more than one child wants to claim for themselves.  The way I encourage kids to think about taking turns is to look them in the eyes, at their level, and explain that Jack picked out the toy first and that Ruby has to wait for her turn.  Then I ask Jack to give it to Ruby when he’s finished with it.  You can see them thinking about this proposition.  It is so much on their minds that it doesn’t take long for Jack to hand the toy to Ruby.  I congratulate Ruby for waiting for her turn, and Jack for giving the toy to Ruby when he was done with it.

After all these years, I’m still amazed by this exchange.  I can see how proud each of them are of themselves, as they should be.  When this is repeated over time it becomes part of their way of thinking about the world.