Rearview

 

car side mirror

Photo by Shukhrat Umarov on Pexels.com

 

Hurry them out of the car,

one grumpy, the other sleepy,

both smelling of toothpaste.

Try to ignore the wistful eyes

of the little one.

She hates being stuck

at the sitter’s house

with three boys.

 

The prickling guilt

lasts until the ignition turns.

Already other children

sweep onstage.

Twenty-four shoving,

claiming the spotlight.

Who needs more phonics?

Whose parent called?

How to fit in fire safety

when we’re behind in math?

Mark workbooks at lunch.

A meeting takes up prep time.

 

Rush to collect the kids.

Dinner.

He doesn’t like eggs.

She hates tomatoes.

Nobody wants pasta.

Yelling.

 

Wait for the neighbor girl.

Should have left ten minutes ago.

The grad class prof takes attendance.

In the rearview mirror

see the three standing on the lawn.

He looks mournful.

She flips the finger.

 

Parenting at the speed of light.

Did we ever just rest in each other?

Listen?

 

Now I hold a photograph.

Two young children,

long grown.

Wishing I could step inside.

 

My Father’s Wisdom

selective focus photography of child hand

Photo by Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas on Pexels.com

 

My father had a few pithy sayings that he liked to repeat. Some of these merely justified his personal preferences, such as, “Fruit juice is for sick people and babies.” But other aphorisms made sense. One of these came to me the other day.

“Address the behavior, not the child.”

My father was a child psychologist. He may not have applied all of his theories to raising me, but this idea, at least, I remember, and still find valid. Not only in relation to children, but to adults as well.

For parents, it’s tough raising children in today’s culture. They have a lot to contend with. So many labels in social media are out there, waiting to stick to a child: bad, fat, stupid, ugly, or smart, talented, etc. We even have a president who throws labels around, calling people “bad” or “nasty.”

Bad behavior or choices, okay, but just “bad people?” We can do better.

To say, “That’s good,” or “You’re a good _______” doesn’t help a child much. It’s more useful to be specific. “I like the way you _______ .” Arranged the pillows on your bed. Cleaned up all the Legos. Helped your friend who fell down. Used the yellow paint in your picture.

We let the child know specifically what was done well.

Adults also respond positively to hearing what they do well.

In my writing group, structured according to the Amherst Writers and Artists method, we give positive feedback to first drafts. We point out what was strong or memorable, what “stays with us.” Writers use that information to improve.

It works the same way with kids.

Listen

animal animal photography barbaric big

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

 

Listen.

When the scalp prickles.

When the child speaks.

When the gut tightens.

Listen to the heart’s whisper.

 

Listen.

To the hiss, the words, the warning,

Of the wrong step, person, choice.

When the lonely days make you desperate,

When you long for a caress,

When the body shouts loud,

Listen to the heart’s whisper.

 

Listen.

It’s so easy to get caught,

Trapped by legal fishnets,

By a house, by a promise.

Listen to that whisper,

the soft, the soul,

the voice that knows.

 

And follow.

 

 

7-31-20

The Real Mary Poppins

 

mary poppins

 

My sister’s and my copy of Mary Poppins had a battered blue leather cover. It sat on a shelf with our other valued stories. However, it’s been years since I actually read the book.

Yesterday we had a longish drive ahead, so I borrowed the Mary Poppins audiobook from Libby (a useful app where I’ve done most of my reading since COVID March). And as I listened, I began to remember what a strange and somewhat frightening character she was.

Mary Poppins—the real Mary Poppins—is a severe, vain and mysterious personality who shows up at Number 17 Cherry Tree Lane. When she takes Jane and Michael on an outing, she denies their entire experience afterward, and acts insulted that they would ever suggest such goings on.

The real Mary Poppins seems to have superpowers and holds a lofty position in the book’s world. The animals at the zoo honor her birthday on the full moon. The reigning creature at the zoo is not the lion, but the hamadryad (king cobra) who tells the children that the trees, the animals, and the people “are all one.” Throughout the book there are similar echoes of P.L. Travers’ spiritual ideas.

Mary Poppins takes the children to a bakery where the creepy Mrs. Corey breaks off her fingers for the infant twins to suck like peppermint candy. Along with Mrs. Cory and her giantess daughters, Mary Poppins glues stars onto the sky. She translates Andrew’s dog talk to his owner, Mrs. Lark. She elevates the tea table and the landlady at Uncle Albert’s house. When the children dare to ask her questions about the afternoon’s events, Mary Poppins becomes quite irritated and insists that her uncle is a decent man who would never go bouncing around on the ceiling.

The imagined world of Mary Poppins is not sweet and musical like the Disney movies. In fact, P.L. Travers, the author, claimed she was not a children’s author. Travers sounds like she was similar to her famous character, opinionated and ornery and maybe a bit delusional.

As I listen to Mary Poppins, I hear it both as the child I was and the adult I am now. Like my childhood self, I find the magic of the book delightful and surprising. But I remember that, as a child, I found Mary Poppins’s actions and responses to be unpredictable and therefore somewhat frightening.

For those younger than I who have grown up with the Disney version, I encourage you to read the original.