Friday, December 30, 2011

i was nothing, no one, i was everything to her

As we approach the birth of a new year, I'd like to share one of my favorite poems about birth:

"First Birth"

I had thought so little, really, of her,
inside me, all that time, not breathing--
intelligent, maybe curious,
her eyes closed. When the vagina opened,
slowly, from within, from the top, my eyes
rounded in shock and awe, it was like being
entered for the first time, but entered
from the inside, the child coming in
from the other world. Enormous, stately,
she was pressed through the channel, she turned, and rose,
they held her up by a very small ankle,
she dangled indigo and scarlet, and spread
her arms out in this world. Each thing
I did, then, I did for the first
time, touched the flesh of our flesh,
brought the tiny mouth to my breast,
she drew the avalanche of milk,
down off the mountain, I felt as if
I was nothing, no one, I was everything to her, I was hers.

                                                                                        By Sharon Olds (Morning Song)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

teaching preschoolers about the pagan roots of yule

I taught college students for years, but when I joined Lilly's Montessori preschool this week to introduce the children to some of my native Yule traditions and customs, I felt myself a bit jittery. It's almost embarrassing to confess how much time I spent mulling over my "lesson plan." Thinking about how I would go about doing it all, teaching the children a little about the pagan roots of jul (from the old Norse jól) while keeping their attention and having them interact with me. My goal was also to semi-teach (I didn't expect them to learn all the Norwegian words!) a julesang (Yule song) with its dance around the tree.

I really wanted the children to experience that sense of joy and magic, which I imagine once experiencing as a child celebrating jul at my grandma's. But you can't force or fake that sentiment; it has to be true.

So, I began by asking the children if they celebrate Christmas, and that of course got everyone animated, talking excitedly on top of one another. About Rudolph and presents, and the Grinch (and how did he steel Christmas again?). One boy pointed out that Christmas is a celebration of Jesus' birthday. Many talked about having a tree, and I asked if any of them would dance around it. No one did. Then I told them that where I come from, for more than a hundred years, people have brought a tree into the house, decorating it much like people do here. But unlike most people here, people dance and sing around the juletre (Yule tree) on julaften (Yule eve) and at several tree parties thereafter.

Friday, December 16, 2011

home is where we light a candle: on homesickness at Christmas

Digging through Christmas decorations, I recently came across a printout of a chapel talk I gave as a college professor at St. Olaf College ten years ago for a Norwegian Christmas service. Christmas is sort of unavoidably in the air these days, so I thought I'd share it with you all for sentimental reasons. Those of you who know me, will understand that this issue of 'homesickness' is complex to me, to say the least. And you'll know that to me it's all about jól and not Krist-messe (Christ-mass).

I suspect everyone feels homesick at Christmas. Even those who're "at home" experience, I think,  a sense of homesickness; a yearning for Christmas as it "once was."

It is a bittersweet sense of loss and nostalgia. On the one hand, it is a recognition that we can never go back to this "once was." On the other hand, it is a nurturing of this "once was." Finally, it is a suspicion that it never really existed, and that it fares better in our emotional and imaginative world.

Friday, December 9, 2011


A couple of my friends are expecting, which made me think of this amazing poem, also from Morning Song: Poems for New Parents:

Grave, my wife lies back, hands cross
her chest, while the doctor searches early
for your heartbeat, peach pit, unripe

plum--pulls out the world's worst
boom box, a Mr. Microphone, to broadcast
your mother's lifting belly.

The whoosh and bellows of mama's body
and beneath it: nothing. Beaneath
the slow stutter of her heart: nothing.

The doctor trying again to find you, fragile
fern, snowflake. Nothing.
After, my wife will say, in fear,

Friday, December 2, 2011

now ... give your uncle a kiss

I found this post at The Current Conscience quite poignant in light of the holiday season and the heightened attention to child sex abuse. Excerpt:
How often, especially during the holidays, are children confronted with moments like this one: a relative comes to visit and the child’s parents say something like, “Now, give your uncle a hug and kiss.”

And when the child refuses to provide physical affection, or hesitates at the request, they sometimes hear things like, “You’re hurting your uncle’s feelings. It’s not polite. Now, go give him a hug and kiss.”

Some of us even remember our relatives asking us (some may say pleading or begging) for affection, “Aren’t you going to give me a hug and kiss? Please?!”

I think this insisting and cajoling of a child into showing physical affection towards an adult is incredibly dangerous. Whether it’s a relationship between a child and his/her relatives or one between a kid and an adult who is an acquaintance, family friend, mentor, this type of behavior, in which children are expected to show physical affection as a sign of respect, is something I think we all need to be careful about.

For me, it’s about the issue of when a child gives us the sense that they don’t want to be physically affectionate with someone, and our tendency to encourage the child, at that particular moment, to abandon their intuition and instinct. It’s a small step towards the erosion of that child’s sense of self-trust.
At that moment, we are telling them, “Forget about how you feel. Do something that makes you feel uncertain and uncomfortable, so that someone else (an adult) can feel acknowledged and respected.”
Read more at The Current Conscience >>
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