Friday, November 19, 2010

Theme-Looking up


The lazy ‘s’ scallop, the meadow stream meander of the wing shape make it unmistakable. The white body and mottled brown wings of an osprey sails across the sky my 2-year old and I walk under. I point up and say “osprey. Look there an osprey.” The sun is bright and my son has not fully acquired a sky watchers skill of curving his spine and leaning back his head to look up so I’m not sure he sees it.

We’ve lived a year and a half now in central New Jersey—an urban space 30 miles or so from Manhattan. Our near daily walks show us nothing wilder, usually, than resident Canada Geese whose droppings cover every park lawn and bike path. I make a game of pointing out goose poop and stepping over it in exaggerated strides in hopes my son can keep his shoes clean-ish He likes the game and takes big steps too—though sometimes too big and into the next squishy pile.

The osprey is a gift. We see them but not everyday. Although I’m not sure my son sees the way the bird’s striking white-black pattern cuts across the fall sky’s intense blue, he hears the name. “Us pray,” he repeats, “us pray.”

Never before have I noticed that the 2nd syllable in this bird’s name is “pray.” Even though the osprey has been an important symbol in my life since I learned to identify it 15 years ago while living in rural northeastern Utah where it was nearly a daily sighting (in spring and summer) along with river otter, deer, elk and even moose (though not daily). And so often now thoughts of my semi-wild upbringing make me ache as my son and I walk along the Raritan river covered sometimes in a suspicious sludge and as I have to remind him again and again that—unlike the rivers and lakes at grandma’s—this river we don’t put our feet into.

But the Osprey reminds me that the Raritan still lives. “Us pray,” my son says and so we do. I, that I can find enough to love in this urban place wild with the human cultures of the world, but sick (sometimes dead) in non-human diversity. I pray the Raritan’s soul keeps fighting and mine too. My son prays in his way for endless cool sunny days when our outing to the park stretches out indefinitely and it seems that maybe we will never have to go back inside.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Theme: Music

Music Class

Each week I take my toddler to a kids’ music class where 11 other parents and I take directions from a smiling energetic sometimes almost manic woman. We sing, clap, dance, throw scarves, twirl, play tiny instruments, and even chant a little all the while hoping our children will following along or at least stay nearby to remind us why we subject ourselves to 45 minutes of mild humiliation. I’m pretty sure all the parents feel the same way that I do. I judge this assumption on facial expressions. At some point of course each parents smiles—during a favorite song maybe or when a child unexpectedly sings along or dances or bangs the drum. There is no doubt there are moments of sheer delight from all parents. But sooner or later each parent’s face wears an expression of mild suffering. One mother looks doubtful while we sway our hands during a song about falling leaves. Another grimaces when we have to get up and walk around in a circle acting like squirrels. When we have to chant “hey-y—ho-o-o” and alternatively clap our hands or bang our chests one father’s eyes completely glaze over in humiliated defeat as he waves his hands in at least the general pattern as the rest of us.
The kids all under the age of 3 seem to love it. A few sit happily near their parents and follow along by both singing and copying the extensive hand motions. Some excitedly spin circles in the middle of the group or scream wildly when scarves or instruments appear. And some appear not to participate at all but sit solidly on a parent’s lap looking both terrified and amazed—though this reaction is almost always short lived and sooner or later each kid shakes a tambourine, taps a foot, or at least turns a quick circle before running back to mom’s lap. The class length is perhaps too long to keep even the most avid music lover’s attention completely and usually a posse of kids ends up playing in the curtains or running circles around the blue tae-kwon-do kicking posts pushed to one side for the classroom’s other clients.
So the question is why are we here? Why do we pay $190 for 10 sessions of weekly eye rolling interspersed with moments of delight? What pushed any of us to strap our kids in the car or push our strollers though blustery November weather to trudge up two flights of stairs and make fools of ourselves in a hodgepodge multi-purpose room full of mirrors where we can’t even hide our silliness from ourselves?

I think what we hope for are kids unafraid to dance, to sing aloud, to whirl about at the slightest whim. I think that some of us know that the most ridiculous thing in the room is our own unease. There are moments when one parent loses her discomfort sings louder, or twirls fast while holding tight to a toddler’s hands. Moments where she lets her chanting voice drown out the little toy drums or wildly throws the colored scarves higher in the air. And we don’t look at this parent and roll our eyes or think that maybe she needs to get out of the house more. Quite the opposite. I look at my own son and hope he’s watching.