Wednesday, October 24, 2012

pumpkins, fairies, and the prayers of Mother Cabrini

T H E   S A D N E S S   O F   K I D S
Barbara Ras

No archaeology. No ladders. Our bodies smooth
as tube balloons the guy at the fair twists
into any shape you'd like. A little scrape
and tears ready at the surface, Gimme that band-aid,
I'm bored, Get me out of this line
where the candy is at eye-level and I've already touched
each piece many times, my penance for being small,
six Lifesavers, ten gums, four sugarless, six not,
and all of the countless packages I've never gotten
inside of. Who needs language, faucets
out of reach, grownups—why do their hearts beat
so slow in such big bodies?—always with their hands
on things, knives, keys, preoccupied with heat,
moving parts, all the appliances that break
anyway, making them angry, their mouths busy forming
holes you can't put your fingers into or shut tight—
inventing new arsenals of no's, don't touch,
hurry up, a big favorite—occasionally a story, little
bears, big meatballs, stuff you can understand,
though you gotta stop them at the best words,
skipper, rooty-toot-toot, make them show you the place
so you can see they're not making it up,
like those old lines: Thunder is the mallet and you are the drum
and Garlic is good, it'll make your guts grow.
I know some things they don't.
Like hummingbirds feel fatigue. Like the gazebo at the farm
is for have sex outside. In my poem,
the pumpkins wait and wait.

© 1998 by Barbara Ras, from Every Bite Sorrow

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Anyone with small children, or who remembers being small themselves, knows about fingered drugstore candy. This poem captures so much of what it is to be small observing the world of adults. And although I don't understand the last line exactly—it reminds me of the way a kid might end the poem, and perhaps this is the authors intention. (What are the pumpkins waiting for, after all? For a couple to come out to the gazebo? For city children to arrive on hay bales pulled by tractors and unleashed in a field to chose one? For the Great Pumpkin?)

Life has been crowded with work and responsibilities, taking care of myself has gone to the bottom of the list. I can't continue this way, my skin feels rough and tired and I long to go to the salon and the gym. And yet there is a joy in just doing, in moving from activity to activity when you know that each task is a good one, one you ultimately want to be doing. My design work for SVS Press has always come with this reward, and now too my work for The Wooden Button.

The Wooden Button has attracted a bit of negative attention lately, rumors and gossip mostly. For example, the silly accusation that all the students have to wear neutral colors to school. But let's face it: Waldorf schools can be a bit odd. I am helping run that odd school, with all its kooky Waldorfiness, and I'm fine with that. I've always found it easier to be part of a subculture than to mainstream myself, and running a Waldorf school fits perfectly. Our lovely teachers are ever gently preaching about the problems of children and media exposure. This rubs some people the wrong way apparently, but I don't even hear it. I've been preached to about the problems of media exposure my entire life; heck, I'm a product of limited media exposure. Gossip away. I myself am a little suspicious of all the Waldorf talk about fairies and gnomies. But every kid believes in fairies, just like kids believe in Jesus and Santa Claus. It was a sad day when I realized that the characters from the Chronicles of Narnia were not real, and didn't live somewhere. Fairies and gnomies are the least of my problems.

But the sad fact is, that despite the general enthusiasm, not everybody wants the school to thrive—perhaps some are envious of or threatened by it. And honestly, school options in New York City are so politicized, so competitive, so ruthless, that I am not exactly surprised by this. We, the moms running the school, were complaining about this bad energy to our highly-trained, calm-spoken, Waldorf teachers last week. Their response? A little delighted: "Of course! It's taken people this long to start gossiping? It means we're doing out job! Don't mind it at all." And then one teacher said something that really stuck with me. She said, "We're not located in a shrine for nothing."

Our school is located in a shrine! Somehow I'd forgotten this in all the bustle of starting the school. Our classroom is in the building where the body of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini lies. A Catholic missionary nun who—among other things—founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1880, started Mother Cabrini High School in 1899 (just one of the 67 different institutions she founded), and became a naturalized citizen in 1909. And did I mention the street we live on bears her name? She was canonized a saint in the Catholic Church in 1946, 29 years after her death.  Whenever I walk through the gate, past the substantial stone walls that surround the grounds of Mother Cabrini, I sense a calm presence, a joyful watchfulness even. I've always been delighted by this, and only now has it occurred to me that what I sense is her prayers and her life, her presence there. With faith and tireless work for the poor, she and the sisters hallowed the grounds where our children now play.

After dropping off the children this morning I went to the Shrine's gift shop. One of the women who runs the shine was at the desk and I told her I wanted to buy a small icon of Mother Cabrini for my icon corner. I said we needed her prayers for our school. She smiled, and proceeded to tell me that her daughter has been a Waldorf teacher for ten years and that she is so delighted that our school is located in the shrine. She said if she could raise her children all over again she would have put them in a Waldorf school. Then she mentioned she'd put up our flyers in her building to spread the news about The Wooden Button.

I've always felt that our school has moved forward for reasons beyond our control. It was meant in some way to be: at times when doors could easily have closed instead they opened. There was energy behind our plans that gently pushed us forward, wind in sails so to speak. This miraculously continues. And so I add Mother Cabrini to my prayer corner, asking her prayers, but also suspecting that she may have been helping us all along.

{   p o e t r y   w e d n e s d a y   }


Jenny Schroedel said...


Yes! The teacher is exactly right. Even the gossip is good. It means your school is gaining momentum. I love that it is located in a shrine and that you are being helped and that you can ask for help, as you move from one next best thing to the next.

Julia said...

I loved reading this at the end of my own extremely long and harried day. I think it is wise to pay attention to those times in life when the wind is moving you forward in a certain direction--especially when it seems to be opening doors against all odds. And the teachers are a great example of detachment from all the voices that would criticize and tear down for the sake of tearing down something which appears to be different, (which, it seems, is scary to people because it might possibly be superior). There are too many voices like that in our world, looking for division instead of just giving space to things that are different. It is so essential to find that little nook of peace created by these rare holy people who have lived among us. I love the thought of your icon corner and the discovery of this holy person who has been right underfoot in your neighborhood all of this time.

Manuela said...

The teachers sound wonderful and are definitely right. If people did not talk about it, it would not be good.
And I always admire people who go against the mainstream.
Keep on going.

Molly Sabourin said...

As a card carrying people pleaser, being misunderstood, having my intentions be misunderstood, is very difficult for me. And yet participating in the act of creating something - really going for it - almost necessitates this kind of misunderstanding. You are so talented, Amber! I love that you think, and dwell, outside the box! Julia is absolutely right, "There are too many voices like that in our world, looking for division instead of just giving space to things that are different." May God bless you (and all of us) with peace and a healthy detachment from the criticism of naysayers and negativity! Keep up the important work!