Sunday, June 30, 2013

Making Way – for Ducklings


There are many charmed life moments with three-year-olds. Their understanding of distance is pretty unparalleled (to live far away is either Brimfield. Or Egypt. Nothing in between); their questions are intensely-stumping (why don’t spiders get stuck in each other’s webs?); and moments you’ve (silently) been longing for turn out well worth the wait.

Ten years ago today, Robert McCloskey, author of the 1941 Boston Public Garden-centric picture book Make Way for Ducklings, passed away. A careful artist, McCloskey decided on brown ink for the final product and actually drew his copy on metal sheets which were set onto the press. This allowed his beautiful illustrations higher clarity.* 

When I was young (and even more so now) I was sold by page one.

I’ve been waiting for this chance to bring Henry and Sophia into Boston where we could journey to this anticipated location – at an age when they could start to better see how the leaves of books and those of the physical world can occupy the same page. I also think I was unintentionally trying to recapture a moment when the city was brought to a standstill for reasons other than those this spring.

So for this exercise I tried to take on a child’s eye view and document our day (in homage to McCloskey, with brown). Acting the part is pretty easy (minus the height requirement), but I started noticing everything from short opened gates, trees as tall as clouds and paved trails just desperate to walk you through a story. 

And then – then, of course, is the silently gliding centerpiece.

As is identifying the still-present elements of the story, “There is the water!” “There is the island!” “The bridge!” “The swan boat!” 

We found them all.

We also saw artists sharing their work; we fortuitously saw eight ducklings and a poised swan; we admired the recently bloomed roses, held back the willows’ leaves so they wouldn’t fall into the water; we climbed on the Nancy Schön bronze replica and read Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings the story (because I’m sure they haven’t heard it enough). 

Last Fall, as my final-elective, I took a children’s literature course. It was out of this world. I had a few opportunities to meet and hear authors and illustrators as well as have copies of their works signed for the twins.

My (awesome) professor remarked, “Your children will have quite a collection.”


Though part of me is (unrealistically) sad that Henry and Sophia will never have an inscribed Make Way for Ducklings to add to their little (but growing) collection, after making this pilgrimage to his Public Garden, I guess I feel like he already did sign their copies. 

* Anita Silvey’s 100 Best Books for Children, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004 p. 30-1.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


I find little comfort in the words, “Her pain is over” or “You gave her the best life possible.” While these might be true, they’re not soothing. But I’ve kept that to myself this past week.

I want to hear, “How is it possible for you to breathe?!” or “I just bought you this massive punching bag.” Now those are cheering words. Actually, my good friend Mia brought me a king size chocolate bar to work with a note that said “here is what I use for medication.” That melted my heart I had pre-sworn would be frozen forever.

I like to think of myself as someone pretty happy and who isn't bothered by a whole lot. The first time I read Harry Potter I was (admittedly) bland in my impressions of the Mirror of Erised. Maybe I wasn’t sure (and wasn’t interested in exploring) what I’d see in it.

I think I know now. 

We lost Cappy (unexpectedly) on Tuesday which was also Tony’s 35th birthday. That fact alone would have completely destroyed me, but he soldiered on. We tried to have a subdued party with cake at his work, presents, tears and pictures. But each moment was punctuated with a little three-year-old voice whispering, “My doggie is in heaven.”

I’ll confess, their questions are quite sophisticated for their age. As is the way they are unpacking it. A few people have said, “They’re not old enough to get it.” And I think, “But…no, they really do.”

Art has definitely helped us. Okay, okay me. It helps me tell them stories where words just give up. Sometimes what I say and what they hear doesn’t quite match. I mean when I said, “…and the little lamb wailed” they heard: 

The outpouring of cards, thoughts, prayers, {chocolate} and photographs of her has been overwhelming. Apparently she was followed with the camera more than my children (which I actually thought was impossible).

The day after Cappy died, Henry laid his blanket in the space where her bed was until the night before. He then took his stuffed puppy and faced it out the window “To look to the sky. To Cappy.”

I know, you weren’t actually interesting in wearing eye makeup today.

I keep telling them:


This is the hardest thing in the whole world.

During that horrific week this past April I created a playlist to keep the twins and I focused and distracted. At the top of the list was a single called “Runner” by Dustin O’Halloran.

I’ve found peace in its recurrence, and the twins were happy for me to keep it on repeat. Its title and cadence seemed to keep us coming back to meditate on what happened in Boston. Even for that week they knew something was happening. We spared them the details but did give them the outline.

This week I’ve found myself listening to it all over again. Perhaps for different reasons now. For another runner. A twelve-year-old retired racing greyhound.

When we meet again Cappy, I promise, I’ll be there. With a sign. At the finish line. Calling your name. Cheering you on.

And we’ll see then who is running faster. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

End of the Year Celebration - Parent-Child Home Program

This week I had an amazing opportunity to do a reading and activity at the Parent-Child Home Program (PCHP) graduation ceremony in Worcester. The program is a brilliant one which advocates for early childhood literacy through school readiness and pairing children and families with a trained paraprofessional. There are books and toys and home visits involved; AND smiles, proud parents and an elated group of supportive staff. It is tear-jerking-ly-homemade-chicken-soup-feel-good. 

So on Tuesday night, about thirty-three children enrolled in the program (some who, sniff sniff, graduated from it) attended with their families. When I talked to the coordinator about developing an activity, I was pretty much given free-reign (hooray!). As each child left with a copy of Goodnight Worcester, I kept our hands-on art project centered on the book and its content. And since so many of them were from Worcester, why not do a map project?

What started out as way-overly-ambitious was whittled down to something more appropriate. Looking at a few maps of the city, I decided to recreate and draw some of the main streets and highways and then pull out four scenes for the participants to place in circles. We decided too that the children and their families could match the scenes in the book (if they wanted). I selected Elm Park, the Ecotarium, Shrewsbury and Water Street to have them stick onto the map. 

Why maps?

I like maps. A lot.

I like the way they visually work. The way they are never and always wrong. The way you can interact or just study them. Or how they show everyone’s interconnectedness. The way we cross. That we’re all moving targets. We can web, branch out and come back together. They are lovely and powerful tools.

Right. So the one I made isn’t entirely to scale. And some identifiers are missing. But I allowed myself some artistic license. For the stickers I used Avery-craft sheets (intended for labeling canned goods), scanned the original artwork, edited/sized them and ran them off through my printer. Each child got a set of four (and a few more stickers to take home of the Art Museum, Armory and skyline); Henry and Sophia insisted that the maps (printed on cardstock) also be used as coloring sheets.

So the children could select. Um. Crayons. Um. Colored Pencils. Or. Ta-da! Watercolors. I tend to plead and push for watercolors + young children. I've been known to carry gallons of water, boxes of Ball jars, mini-easels, watercolor paints, paper and other sundries around the park just so young artists can have the full watercolor experience. 

So I am a watercolor-believer. Sink or no sink. Ability to clean up efficiently or inefficiently. Soaking wet paper and paint filled hands everywhere. I love it.

The Verdict? YES.

Can you guess what almost every child selected?! Like a moth to a flame. I joked the other night that I would like for every child in the City to be a watercolorist convert.

And, if they are anything like this group, I think they *all* will be more than happy to comply.