The power of the Gesture

I have been thinking about this simple yet powerful phrase for days – if not weeks. Last weekend I was talking to a dear friend on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean who is a teacher as well and we were talking about children and education (as you inevitably do once all the exchange of gossip is done) and we started to talk about it, and she had few stories about it.

Let me give you a quick picture about my friend. She is a gentle soul, with goodness exuding from each pore. She knows her stuff and children just get glued to her as if she is a magnet. I suppose 20 years + of experience in the field of education for a wide range of ages gives her authority to have a critical eye. Also, she comes from a family where all of them are involved with education; be it schools, universities, and private tuition.

In the other hand, I am a newbie. I have seen a lot in a brief period, but then again – as my friend says – I have seen so many different settings and educational approaches that the experience I am gaining is from a different perspective – let alone a different country – I can form an opinion having the advantage if you want to call it as such of my “innocence” in this profession and the heaps of life experience.

Before I carry on digressing let’s get back to the subject of “Gesture”.

You may wonder what is it about the gesture that it is so important? It is just a simple physical movement, a simple action.

It is indeed, a VERY powerful movement, a VERY powerful action. I think sometimes we undervalue the true worth of this noun.

Imagine that now there are courses to learn how to manage the gesture and how to read gestures. Feels that we are losing sight of the primeval instinct that tell us when a person is aggressive, just by the simple gesture of clinching the jaw or closing the hand as a fist.

Whilst I was doing my training, I was told, almost drilled into my brain the power of the gesture with children. Did you know that a child can feel the emotional status of the adult who cares for him? Did you know that the small child can read the adult like a book, just looking at the gestures? And did you know that the child copy and imitate these gestures from the adult and takes them as the norm, hence forth will do these gestures because is what they have learnt from the adult and it will be imprinted into their brains until adulthood?

What I am saying is that if an adult slams the doors (for example) for no good reason, rest assured: the child will slam doors, as soon as he can. If an adult washes dishes as if it was a labour of love, yes, you got it. The child will do the same.

Which takes me to what my friend was telling me about the gesture. She was commenting about “helpers” in a setting she happened to be accompanying a friend to do an inspection. Two young girls in their 20’s, both capacitated as early years educators – one of them studying to qualify as a teacher for reception – and both very sweet and funny, engaging children with activities and all the rest.

All was nice and dandy until lunchtime came. The children where all seated at their places, and these girls gave to the children the names of the children, written with biro in white pieces of paper. The logic behind it was to get the children to sit where their name was, and to swap paper for plate with food.

At this point I did ask how many children were in the room seated at the table. She said there were 4 tables, and 4 children per table. Is this “plate for paper” necessary? I wonder. Surely the carer(s) should know the names of the children in her care.

Then she mentioned how the lunch time developed. The carer(s) wore aprons, and did not put the food directly for children to help themselves (best way to not waste food if you ask me; children will eat what they really can eat) but served food directly on each individual plate. Spooning the food from the bowl, throwing it on the plate; tearing the bread apart and flinging the slices on each plate.

As she was telling me, I felt my jaw dropping. How could they be so careless with such a single gesture…And then I remembered that I should not be surprised. I have seen this not particularly with food…but with homework books, notebooks, and many other daily objects you could find in a classroom. Or with toys and equipment in nurseries when tidy up time. And then we wonder why children throw things up in the air…

“Oh” I managed to mutter. “But it does not end up there!!!” she said with a sigh…She told me how the children where prompted to eat and immediately afterwards a toothbrush already with paste and a wet towel were presented to them so they could brush their teeth.

Yes, fine, it is good because it does promote good hygiene habits. But then again, that pause, that space in time where you finish eating, you share that time of nothingness whist you wait for the rest to finish the food on their plates and then you go to the toilet to wash your hands, your face and brush your teeth, perhaps with your peers, it makes it more fun. More learning opportunities, more social interaction opportunities.

She finished telling me her experience and we started to talk about timings, about “acceleration – ism” and of course how everything was intertwined with the gesture and how powerful it was and as I wrote at the beginning how we diminish the immense power of this noun on a day to day basis.

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Be present.

It is nearly three months since we moved to a new house. We run away from the city into the “countryside“ and I say it like this because it is a town surrounded by countryside with no airports ambulance corridors police cars wailing away screaming neighbours or the usual weekend drunks. So, it is countryside!

Although I feel somehow I may miss our locals – the guy who sang so loud you could hear him 50 yards away, my neighbour with his dog and his sick uncle, the security guy at the supermarket who knows my son since he was born (or even earlier than that!) the guys at the gates of the underground station…and that’s the beginning of a long list which was forged over six years.

I got to know the inhabitants of the gardens, saw many cubs become foxes how the parrots took over the trees and how the squirrels grew countless families and how each generation managed to munch through the kitchen window frame unsuccessfully and how my cats use to chase them when not laying down enjoying the sun on the window sills. I repaired and restored the patio and the front flowerbed to their former glory and tendered to the roses whom after a year of intensive care greeted me with beautifully full scented roses summer after summer.

I planted oaks from kernels, grew many holly trees and planted countless bluebells and I even have a yew tree which I grew from seed – which by the way is sitting in the patio on the new house.

That small flat was the silent witness of many sleepless nights when my son was born and the last resting place of one of my cats who finished her days in a cosmopolitan city just to follow her super cosmopolitan style.

Yes: the flat was small; half – if not all – of my stuff was on a storage space which cost me a small fortune every month not to mention how things were stacked up in the kitchen or how going outside to the patio was more of an expedition than a simple “open the door and go” like it is now, which in turn means endless hours outside enjoying the good weather and the liberty to say “let’s have dinner outside” with everything within 10 steps away from the kitchen.

This new house is big and spacious. It does have a patio with easy access and all the bedrooms are big and airy. The kitchen is simply BIG and it is so big there is a small table there where we had our meals every day until I managed to compose the dining room – that is, clear it from boxes and remnants from the move. We have again plants inside the house – almost one in every room! – and everything seems to be in place, seamless.

Today, as I am cleaning my computer archives – forced by the desperate need to find a document which remains elusive – I found many videos made in the old flat, and it felt like when you find a treasure because those memories are there somewhere in my brain but seeing them today was like “wow! Look at that” kind of thing.

The funny thing is that my son saw a frame of one video made in the old house. And he said “Home! Look, mummy, home!” and I did explain to him that now this was our new house and that was our old house. He kept saying that there was “home”. After put my son to bed and whilst doing the tidying up and leaving everything ready for the morning – whilst still cleaning my computer of course – I could not stop thinking on my little one thoughts and feelings about “home” mainly expressed by his facial expressions and his eyes together with words who only he understood.

And left me wondering if although we are well settled in this new house and everything is working “like clockwork” if we are really present in this house and we really took ownership of it – despite the fact that it is rented – as we did with the flat. Perhaps he feels the flat was home because he was born in it. Perhaps because we were living there for two years prior to his arrival we made that flat ours.

The flat – as this house – was technically a transitional place, where we would stay until we settled with our wandering lifestyle (travelling suitcases used to live outside the wardrobe and close to the door combined with very demanding jobs) so we did not consciously adopt the flat as ours. Then life happened and our son came along and of course we made the flat home – but always with that back thought that now more than ever we must settle somewhere we could call ours.

The question is – now that I re read the paragraph above – did we really made the flat home or did our son made the flat home? As soon as he started to crawl and leave a trail of toys, putting toys amongst books and arranging the kitchen cupboards to his liking – the ones at his level – he made the flat a home on his own particular way. And inevitably, we followed.

And yes, we were crammed…. but we made a home together as a family. Maybe it is time this time to give it a go, forget the fact that we may not be here next year and be more present, and enjoy every day and every inch of this new house as if it was always ours and make it home, pour the heart and *do* live in it.

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…

What the waves bring back…

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It has been ages since l last wrote. Life has been twisted – not to say hellish – and I would definitely say without a hint of a doubt that the universe, this time, was really, really, *really* putting me to the test.

Now that I read what I wrote, I shall say, was it really the universe or was it a direct consequence of my actions? I have no idea. For that, I prefer to blame the universe, a magnificent force that is so huge and incommensurable that is far easier to blame for absolutely everything.

Because, you know what they say, everything that happens to you, it is because something you have done to provoke it, even when you did not realise it at the time…hello! Here it is, in your face, striking back at you with such a force that you may have to take your soul to A&E to recover from a blunt trauma.

And the worse thing is, perhaps when things are coming your way – particularly the bad ones – you wonder what you have done, really, to deserve all this to happen. My answer to this question was, in a few words from a very dear friend “You didn’t let go”.

Yup. Those were the words. You didn’t let go of everything, you kept holding for dear life to things which deep inside you knew they were not worth the effort, and here you are.

My silence was I think overwhelming to the point my friend asked if I was ok, because I stopped with my diatribe of moaning and complaining. And suddenly something happened: I heard. Yes, I heard the silence; I heard my little one – who now is 20 months old! – snoring, gently (he was with flu); I heard the birds outside chirping away; I heard my breath; I heard my friend’s breath. And I think that was the starting point for “letting go”.

From that moment onwards, I will not say the classic cliché that “My life changed” but what I will say is that things had changed. Perhaps because I changed my attitude towards them, perhaps because I stopped seeing everything from a very dark corner and mainly because I stopped worrying for things that I could not change . I “let go” and waited to see what the waves brought back, so to speak.

And the shores were full!! But my attitude was different.  An example: I got an email from a group of friends that I have not seen in a long time. The friend who wrote apologised for not being in touch more frequently and you know, everything you may say in order to justify the absence of news, mixing it with antics of life.

One of the friends included in this group mail answered almost straight away. Another one answered a day later (I know this because as it seems all of the people in this group email made the effort to press “Forward all” when they wrote the reply) and then when I felt like it I replied. And having said this, at any other given time, I probably would take the time at night – when I did have the most precious time to do everything I did not do during the day – and answer straight away as soon as I received the email, with all my excitement telling aaaaalllll my news at once.

But this time it was different. Answering this email didn’t feel extremely urgent, neither necessary; more to it, when I sat down following my initial impulse, I reconsidered  and thought if it was really worth it to use that time to answer an email – a group email. And somehow, my brain told me “no”.

I did answer in the end – and yes, if you are wondering, I did hit the “forward all” reply –  and I wrote on how life was here for me, without dwelling too much into it, congratulating everyone for the news they threw on the reply and presenting my goodbyes.

Few days later I received a reply to my email from one friend, telling me that most of them kept in touch one way or another, and actually they saw each other regularly.

This made something occur to me. If they keep in touch amongst themselves, why they did not made the same effort to contact me and keep in touch with me? At the end of the day I was in the same group of people, we are – or were at the point when we met – in the same boat? Perhaps my time with this group of friends was up and I should move on.

Perhaps I am at a stage in my life where the good friends are the ones who were cemented and nurtured by time and they survived through circumstances that life threw at each other at different stages. And those are friends who are away, across the ocean. Nevertheless regarding time difference and the distance we keep in touch making the most of the technology available to us.

Since I came to live into this island, I can say I have made very few friends, and they are the kind of friendships that are still in the making, but feel “solid” as if we have known each other for quite a long time – and that somehow is reassuring.

Reassuring in the sense that I know I am not an ogre or an unsocial being and obviously I still have what it takes to make new friends.  Perhaps now – as I said before –  I am at a stage in my life where friendship is more than sharing a burden with a coffee in between. A friendship has become more of an acceptance and a frank dialog sharing what matters in that very moment with a sincere and genuine interest and perhaps a “follow up coffee”.

So perhaps is time for me to “let go” this group of friends. It is time to hear more and to wake up in the morning wondering what the ocean is going to leave on the shores, and take it as it comes.