What else?

As I mentioned on my previous blog, nowadays I am working as a Nursery Assistant in a nursery whilst doing my Early Years Education Course. Being an assistant I go from one room to another and providing help wherever and whenever needed. As I said before I am gaining more experience than I can handle.

This last week I had to spend more time than usual in the babies room which provided me with amazing insights – now they see me and they greet me with immense smiles – and plenty of food for thought since inevitably, I keep comparing what I read with what I see and I imagine how I could help them develop naturally in the best possible way.

Well yes, I say “I imagine” because being an assistant I am there just to do that, not to say what I think and what could be done to help / improve and make it better for the little ones. Between the state-of-the-art equipment together with the age appropriate toys – sufficient to rival any toy shop, believe me on that one – that is not difficult at all, just requires time.

But time is something that gets completely lost in the midst of cleaning, feeding, changing nappies, filling forms, more cleaning, nap time, more feeding, more cleaning, more forms to fill (directly proportional to the amount of feeding, naps and nappy changing) and so on and so forth until the evening draws to a close and there are no more babies left because they have all gone home.

I’m sure by now you must be wondering…but what about the babies? Well, the babies are there crawling, walking, babbling, crying or sitting in between the nappy changes, the food and the nap.   The carers are there not only to care for these primal needs in a baby aside from having an extra pair of eyes in the back to watch them so they do not fall or injure themselves.

The carers as well are there to educate the little ones in basic life skills since they have to start to learn how to socialise, how to be together at circle time and how to play together, respect each other and schedule in between some unguided exploration amongst dealing with complex emotions.

So you may say what is wrong with this picture? Everything seems to fit the description of any nursery in the planet if anything a pretty good one. Children are fed, entertained, changed, put to sleep and controlled. What else?

What else. Some questions, is the answer to the “what else”. Question yourself: does a baby know all this malarkey of socialise of being together at circle time and being sat amongst their peers?

Does a baby need to learn “basic” life skills? This raises the question of what do we think, culturally and as a society what a life skill is…

Dignitas

La Dignidad - Tapa de la revista para niños
Dignity – cover for the childrens magazine “With Francis by my side”

While I was in Buenos Aires – and I spent two long months there – I found this magazine (see picture) in one of the most well known newspapers in Argentina (Clarin). The name of the magazine is “Con Francisco a mi lado” which translates to “With Francis by my side”.

These magazines were given for free with the Sunday edition of the newspaper and it had as an objective to educate children on the following topics (or “values” as they are called in Argentina): happiness, courage, humbleness, hope, self-esteem, solidarity, effort, diversity, creativity, prudence, friendship, dignity, generosity, family and peace. The bonus? A chance to win a visit to see the Pope in Vatican City.

This collection has the support of Pope Francis and an educational entity called “Scholas Occurrentes” (http://www.scholasoccurrentes.org/about-us/en) founded by Pope Francis himself.

These magazines have the sole purpose to reach every single child in Argentina, help them on their development and give the tools to parents, carers and teachers to answer the differing questions that little ones (and not so little ones!) may have.

The argument the magazine presents is that to be a child in this day and age is not easy and children see the world changing constantly at such a speed that these changes may generate anxiety and insecurity. Not knowing how to face a situation could be disappointing. As children grow up they expect an adult to tell them how to act.

So, Pope Francis comes across in this magazine as a strong adult figure, becoming the wise adult who will give the child a sense of security through a sincere, humane and warm word which certainly will join the words of the parents and carers in the hope of guiding the child through the right path, so to say.

My views are divided. I firmly believe Pope Francis was exactly what the Catholic Church needed – a good shake up from the foundations – and I do believe these magazines are great to help parents to explain what dignity, hope, friendships (amongst other values/topics) are.

But my thought is that these magazines should be aimed to parents/carers directly. And parents/carers should draw a picture about dignity, hope and friendship (and all the other topics/values mentioned in the beginning), and give them to their children. And through those drawings explain to the children what those concepts are.

Is that ever likely to ever happen? Yeah, right…

I can tell you something, my mother never ever told me what “hope” was. I read about “prudence” when I was doing my foundation course and I had to read philosophy as part of the curriculum. “Friendship”? Friendship is my three best friends and a couple more that I had known for more than 15 years and we still get on the phone and talk like if we have had coffee the day before.

My father taught me what “effort” was, making me save my pocket money to buy my first bicycle, for which I am ever so grateful because I learnt once and for all the value of money.

What am I trying to say here? I don’t think for a minute my parents had a book/magazine to tell them what to tell me what those “values” were. They taught me the same way they were taught and I intend to do the same.

In any case, if societies in general (I’m pretty sure there are parents/carers out there who can teach their children values without the help of a magazine) are starting to lose the words or the will to role model these values, I do welcome the magazine.

But target it to the right blank: Parents. And yes, give me any of these values, and I will draw it, any time.

Daily Zen

Last Monday we have been as every Monday at the Parent and Child group that normally gathers at the Waldorf School of South West London. The group is called Bluebells and it is the most calming environment I have been with my little one since we started to go to these types of groups. And I can say with some degree of certainty, we have been around playgroups, parent and child group, baby’s cafes and the sort for quite a while now and so far, Bluebells is the only one where my son and I feel at ease.

And because we both feel at ease he can do his thing in a complete safe environment whilst I can do my thing – normally parents would do some craft, related to the season we are in – whilst chatting and listening to what any other mum (or dad) has to say or comment. Not to mention the amazing Jo, who is inspiring to say the least and who is always with the right answer or the most suited observation.

And today was one of those days where Jo told something ever so true that it was like one of those things that are very obvious in front of your nose and you cannot see it – do you know what I mean?

What happened was that my little dear son was  – as usual I dare say – throwing things away left right and centre without any care of what was to the left to the right or to the centre; not to mention when he got to throw things aiming at the “nearest target” call it another child, a wall or the table. You name it, it was one of those days where no one nor anything was safe.

I was not at ease anymore fearing where the next woodblock would end, and nothing seem to distract my son from this activity; today what was meant to be a safe, calm, relaxed environment was a hazardous one at the hands of my son.

It is worth to mention that this throwing things activity started quite awhile ago but these last two weeks was in full force. I remember commenting it to Jo and asking for her best opinion and she suggested to do something productive i.e. throw it inside a basket, a box, like a game to aim at something. I did try it without any results. If anything it exacerbated his little passion. And today he was very passionate about it.

No need to mention that at my son’s age (2 years and a half) he does not quite yet understand the concept of hurting someone or damage something. And it will be a while until he starts to grasp this notion. But in my head the fear of him doing any harm to another child was growing and to be honest I could not picture any likely scenario of how things could turn. At the end of the day anything material that gets broken can be fixed or substituted; a child with an injury – and the anger of the parent – cannot be fixed with an infinite amount of apologies or arnica.

When the morning session finished and we were getting ready to go back home, I did ask Jo if she could give me an idea of what to do when my son got into those frenzied outbursts of throwing everything around, and I was concerned; I did tell her I was not ready to face an upset parent and child in the near future.

The answer was quite simple. She said to me, “do you know what one of the principles with Zen is?” “A little” I replied. “Well, Zen says to live in the present and to resolve the present”. “Children are like little Zen masters, they live in the present, without a care in the world about tomorrow, or about what happened yesterday”.

I could only smile and look at my little “Zen master” who was about to throw another wood block towards the door. “Think about it” said Jo “the best resolution is for the now, for the present. No point on trying to solve something that may or may not happen tomorrow or in five years time”. We said our goodbyes and made our way home.

And whilst I write this I can’t stop thinking on this little conversation we had. The more I think about it the more I agree. To resolve the situation in the present surely will be settling some ground for a similar situation in the future…and then I have to stop myself in my tracks because again I’m thinking in the future instead of the “today”.

It is challenging to think or even toy with the idea of going into this line of thought. Although on reflection I always act and live in the present, it is *very* true that I pay too much attention on what to resolve now so it won’t be a problem in the future – and sometimes the future could be in two days time – instead on focusing the present.

True, it is necessary to set some foundations but as well it is necessary to live the moment and it is something I need to learn. I suppose, it is time to follow the little Zen Master.

Merry-go-round

After two years, I returned to Buenos Aires with my little one. The flight was horrendous – direct flight with British Airways – and we landed with sunny weather and 36 degrees, but I can say after a week being here that young sir is adapting slowly but surely to the heat, the food and the new faces around, his appetite increased and I am pretty sure he has grown in height – weight is difficult to measure, for him the scales are a toy and it is ever so funny to step in and out to see the light flash !-  but my arms can tell the difference in weight from a week ago.

His cheeks are rosy and even his mood has changed. He is not that cranky and demanding although today he has been “difficult” but I don’t know why. I blame everything on the sun and the warmth of the summer.

In any case, yesterday we went to the “plaza” which is in most cases in Argentina, a mix between a playground and park. It is important to remark that “plazas” are the heart and soul of every neighbourhood / city / village in Argentina; it is very popular to go during the evening to the “plaza” to gather around, to see what’s going on and to share a moment with friends, or if fancy takes you, to sit down and gaze or read a book.

The “plaza” is surrounded in most cases by the church and cafes, restaurants and ice cream parlours; in some cities what would be the village hall is right across the “plaza” together with the church, the Council hall, the bank and a cafe (cafes are inevitably near a “plaza”).

In such a public space you can find benches scattered around, concrete tables with chess boards made with black and white mosaics, and you do see people sitting down playing chess and drinking mate (mate is a traditional drink in Argentina) and of course playgrounds for children.

Some of these playgrounds have a merry-go-round beside the traditional games and structures for children like swings, see-saws, sand pits and slides. Needless to say a “plaza” with a merry-go-round is extremely popular, particularly during weekends, and if those weekends are sunny and warm, no need to say, they are simply a “must do” activity.

Another important fact is that the “plaza” is – being the heart and soul of every village/city and town – the best place to take the pulse of the socio-economic beat of the population. At the plaza people from different paths of life concur and diverge; it is important to note as well that Argentineans talk *a lot* not only between themselves but with complete strangers and if they could talk to trees who could answer or follow a conversation they definitely would.

And what is it Argentineans that talk about? Normally it would start with the weather and then 5 minutes later they will – trust me, they will – end up talking about politics and how bad the economy is, comparing the current price of potatoes to how the price was two months ago and so on and so forth. If the conversation goes any deeper, they probably will come up with solutions to the economy, how they would do things differently and end up waving goodbye to each other as if they were old friends.

I can tell that it is true the social situation is bad and the economy is even worse; it is absolutely true that the money is worthless and going out to the shops (and it is only for groceries and the absolute necessities) requires skills of an economist and a calculator in the hand. One needs to be a magician in the kitchen to be sure to use every scrap of food and is nowadays a must, turning it into something edible and perhaps nutritious, in order to stretch the money and live day to day.

I experienced this feeling of money falling like sand through my fingers the first few days I was here and of course going out doing the shopping for fruit, veg and dairy. Boy, I went out with a wallet full of money and came back with few coins!. Now I became more “savvy” and I do like everybody else, wait for the daily offers and walk reaching different shops looking for the best price.

Going back to my lovely Sunday afternoon, my son woke up from his afternoon nap and of course, being sunny and warm we decided to go to the “plaza” nearby where I used to go as a child. Needless to say, so many memories came back to my mind! The swings, the see-saws, the sand pit…and the merry-go-round.

My mother was very excited to take her grandson to the merry-go-round, like she did when I was little. My son was delighted with the prospect of getting himself on the merry-go-round, so after buying the ticket off they go, my son sitting in a horse and my mother standing by his side. I do not need to say that both were very excited and my son was in absolute awe to see the world from his horse and me waving like an idiot whilst trying to catch a glimpse of the moment with my camera.

The merry-go-round stopped and my son was craving for more; as soon as I tried to get him away from the horse he climbed up again and looked at me as if to say: “you are not thinking on going back home, are you?”  with a big smile and giggling; so I went to the lady who sold the tickets and queued to buy another ticket. Note, each ticket costs $ 6 per child per round (we are talking something  like 45 pence) and you must buy them there and then, preferably with change.

So, another ticket bought, another turn on the merry-go-round, this time it was my turn to get dizzy and my mother’s turn to try to take a picture. As I stepped down and tried again to take my son away from the merry-go-round (failing again) my mother looked at me and said go on buy another ticket, it is a lovely afternoon after all and we have plenty of time…

There I was queuing up to buy another ticket and observing a mother who was taking her children down from the merry-go-round and you could tell the children were quite unhappy with the situation, and the mother as well. The dialog was more or less like this:

– But mum….

– C’mon darlings now we have to go, it is time to go home, we had a drink, an ice cream and some popcorn…

– But we want another ride on the merry go round…

– Yes mum we do!

– Listen, we had two rides. That’s it. I cannot afford another ride.

– Mum…please…

– No. I’m sorry.

I saw the mother’s distress when she was saying no. When she was saying they had to go. As the dialog with the children extended for another 5 minutes, I heard the mother say to one of her children “I saved all week to bring you to the plaza and I am afraid I cannot save any more. I’m sorry darling” and she stroked her child’s head whilst holding the other child’s hand.

I saw in her eyes the sadness and the frustration of having to say no to her children and quietly walk them away from the merry-go-round. And we are talking about only 45 pence each child, which is in any case almost a pound to pay for both of them to have 3 minutes of fun and laughter.

As I was contemplating the scene a little hand grabbed my shirt asking for something and pointing  to the swings, and my mother all excited taking him and saying he changed his mind and now it was the turn of the swings and both of them started to walk towards them.

As I left the queue to follow them I was still with that scene in my head and I have to say as a mother I felt her pain and her frustration and even now as I write this I struggle to come to terms with this clear result of a socio-economic situation that stains this country and its inhabitants; I can only feel respect for this selfless mother who saves one peso after the other during the week to take her children out to the “plaza” and treat them to a couple of rides on the merry-go-round, ice cream and a soda.

I do hope their children have the same feeling towards her mother in the future.