Fine Motors

Those little hands, reaching, stretching, fingers always working, exploring, pushing, pinching. My little climber nurses, face buried in the breast, eyes closed tight, but all the while she is reaching out, feeling for the book or newspaper I might be reading, and if her finger or toe touches it, even for a second, it stops there, to investigate, to crinkle it, to push it. She lifts her hand into the air and moves each finger around in space. Sometimes her eyes pop open and she throws gang signs my way. I throw a couple back at her. Arm extended, hand bent at the wrist, index finger, middle finger, and thumb straight, the other fingers folded.

While in the highchair eating, or more often, it seems, refusing to eat what she doesn't find tasty, she will gaze idly at her hand and touch index to thumb, then middle to thumb, then third finger to thumb. Her lips make a little oval as she concentrates. This morning, our treasure trove of finger puppets discovered while packing to move, she laughed and flapped her arms and pulled a duck, a coyote from Peru, and other new friends off of her daddy's hands and held each one, inspecting it very carefully. Our beauty is already cultivating an internal life, one where she mulls things over, watches things move, and often turns away from whatever is going on so that she can create space for herself to consider, focus, and learn.


No Mas(h)

Our precocious little eater was downing a couple bowls of mushy cereal a day along with some fruits and vegetables we mashed with a fork. We were always pretty lax, something I realized when my 6-month-old stuffed a huge piece of barbequed red pepper in her mouth at a friend's house and we reacted not at all. Table food is good! But we still worked on getting typical baby food down her gullet twice a day, like good parents.

Then we took her to the pediatrician. "YOU only eat cereal once a day, right?" he asked in his critical way with one raised eyebrow. "Why does she have to eat it twice? And she should be eating lunch." All of a sudden the whole world opened up for Peony. She was eating off our plates, and a beautiful, unpredictable range of likes and dislikes opened up. Spicy spinach with garlic and hot sauce? Loves it. Give her more. Roasted potato? Pass it over here. Veggie sausage? Can you please feed it to her faster? You are taking too long. Favorite food? Oh, delicious mushroom quiche that Mama made....please let's have some more of that. Organic raspberries from the CSA box---who knew they could be this good? Just keep popping them in her mouth whole, please.

On the other hand, cereal mash starts to look worse every minute. The only thing that saves it is delicious banana. Lunch at school is good as long as she gets to have mac and cheese (organic, Annie's, yum). She likes bread, but not quinoa; lentils don't help; please stop trying to give her brussel sprouts; yes she will eat all your sweet potato, thanks! And it goes on. Now I have The Joy of Cooking open on my lap, trying to figure out how many different things I can jam into a quiche (collard greens; tomato; goat cheese) so my baby has something for lunch. Meanwhile, two little white scrapy teeth have surfaced. When she stands between your knees, one hand on each leg like some independent woman, tall and straight, you can see them just a little bit inside that huge, proud smile.


The Education of My Daughter

There is something about looking down at that small round face, with its button nose right in the middle, and orange-slice shape of a smile, and glittering bright eager eyes that absorb everything and invite every stranger within a fifty-foot radius to come over and say hi, and big pink cheeks that need a torrent of kisses, that makes me think of the future in a much bigger and broader way than I ever have before. This past week, traipsing over Vermont's rocks and streams and ferns and ponds, sometimes in the rain, my handsome husband carrying the little bean of our lives, I was awash in thoughts of her future, and how I could best contribute. Starting with the button nose and thinking outward from there, I concluded, while feeding her breadcrumbs on a summit of Mt. Mansfield, with its immense eastward vista over the Green Mountains, and later, sitting on horseback and watching a spotted fawn run behind its mama, that there were six basic categories I wanted her to master by age 18 or 19.

1. Literature and Art

2. Mind and Body Are One Focus

3. Languages and Travel

4. Outdoor Adventurer

5. Mathematics

6. Music and Dance

If she could pursue all six of these simultaneously starting at age 5 or 6, I think she'd have a high capacity for self-knowledge, happiness, and the ability to tenaciously pursue her own dreams and ideas while learning from, listening to, teaching and collaborating with others.

Thinking about it more deeply, I realized that I have specific philosophies about how to approach each category, as well.

Literature and Art, for instance, are not things you can really master in breadth without extensive graduate education. But if you take the time to go really deep with a few artists and writers, you can learn to analyze, understand and relate to other people's expression, and make your own art, too. Maybe even teach it. So I thought that one writer or artist could be the focus each year.

From there, I expanded on the approach to my basic six categories, including an advanced flow from the initial idea that would probably not happen until she was in her teens.

1. Literature and Art
GOAL: To be able to analyze and relate to artists, and to create own art. Depth not breadth.
SAMPLE YEAR/LESSONS: Issa > Haiku and Impact > Japanese culture > Illustrate hiaku > Write haiku > Teach haiku
ADVANCED FLOW: Write, produce and star in own play

2. Mind and Body Are One Focus
GOAL: To build skills in the defensive arts, and nurture a discipline of focus
SAMPLE YEAR/LESSONS: Gun range + advanced archery = daily target practice
ADVANCED FLOW: Brazilian jujitsu

3. Languages and Travel
GOAL: Fluency in 2 languages by age 18, travel experience with language connection, deep understanding of what it's like to be somewhere with no language connection
SAMPLE YEAR/LESSONS: Travel to France & Polynesia; meet other Francophiles in Boston; watch French films
ADVANCED FLOW: Learn and teach variants of chosen languages

4. Outdoor Adventurer
GOAL: Building confident independence and applied knowledge of biology and geology
SAMPLE YEAR/LESSONS: Climb a mountain every week for a year; apply one different context to mountain per climb (such as plants, animals, rocks, supplies, trails and off trail, gear, speed, orienteering, etc.)
ADVANCED FLOW: Be able to teach, debate, and motivate for sustainability

5. Mathematics
GOAL: Develop mastery of complex math and how to apply it
SAMPLE YEAR/LESSONS: Model different economic indicators & results--trade stock over multiple years
ADVANCED FLOW: Answer this question: How can you apply math to succeed in business?

6. Music and Dance
GOAL: Know rhythm, know beat, in her bones, and be able to compose
ADVANCED FLOW: She's #1 in a breakdancing competition

7. All the while: Unstructured Play Time

So, I sound like a public school parent from hell, right? There are a few things missing from this list (like basic history, for instance) that kind of jump out at me, that she will need to learn at school. And she'll live near a good public school, so, that's good. But to be able to apply her knowledge and make it work for her as an adult (and an adult in a time when certain kinds of information, like basic history, are very easy to obtain, and certain skills, like flexibility, analysis and the ability to motivate, are very valuable), I think she needs a complex education. The way that this framework is valuable is that everything else that she does, like say, soccer, is taking away from one of these categories. Maybe that's OK, but it's just something to recognize. I don't know how to make it work yet, but I have a little time. She just started to crawl last night.