Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Outward Journeys

At morning meeting the other day, the music teachers played a rendition of "Ain't That a Shame" and halfway through the song Sydney stood up and started dancing, that booty dance that we all know so well. She was the only one standing but she didn't care, she shook her money maker and just kept on going, even when all of her classmates, still sitting obediently, started to giggle. Eventually, after Mr. Hughes (the resident guitarist and kindergarten folk hero) called out to Sydney in the affirmative, a large number of her peers joined in, and I watched her enthusiasm and joy work it's way through the group.

Evan and I left after the meeting and drove to Abeona House, his school, our beloved community, our third place. His friends were on the playground and per the latest preschool custom he ran into the yard to show his buddy J. the Lego guys he'd brought to share. The boys' love for each other is so pure, so enthusiastic, that sometimes they become overwhelmed by it and end up embracing. This was one of those moments: I watched as they fell into a bear hug, then kissed on the lips.

Have you ever seen a pair of 2 1/2 year old boys kissing? It's a truly beautiful thing. This also happened at Mardi Gras, when we ran into J. and his family and the two boys had a dance party in the street, then shared a bowl of Goldfish. As they were parting they gave each other a big smooch, and I noticed several people around us sort of...shift. The woman next to us laughed and said something like, "Well, it is Mardi Gras, after all." I laughed too before feeling kind of pissed off and dismayed. What was so wrong about my boy demonstrating his love for his best friend? I know that some day the world is going to rob him of that pure expression, but for now, why diminish it with awkward jokes and laughter?

I've been thinking a lot lately about Outward Journeys--specifically the journeys my children will take, as they move out into the world and have to define and revise themselves. Abeona House was named for the Roman Goddess of Outward Journeys, and over the last 5 years I have truly come to appreciate the connection:

"Abeona's name comes from the Latin verb abeo, "to depart, go away, or go forth". She was believed to especially guard children as they took their first steps away from home to explore the world, an anxious time for parents, perhaps reflected in the fact that abeo carries the added meaning of "to die, disappear, or be changed". Abeona watched over any "first steps", whether literal or metaphoric. With Her associate Adiona, Abeona was believed to teach toddlers to walk. And when that child grew up and left home--whether due to marriage, college, or to make his or her way in the world--Abeona was there to ease the fears of the parents and guard their son or daughter." (http://www.thaliatook.com/OGOD/abeona.html)

"An anxious time for parents," indeed. I had my share of anxiety when Sydney graduated from Abeona House last May and took her first steps out into the world. The smaller kids lined up along the ramp with bouqets of wildflowers and sang "You Are My Sunshine" and Sydney giggled nervously througout and I cried like a baby on the Director's shoulder after I cleared out her cubby. My baby, my precious and outrageous little girl--what would the world do with her now? Of course, I forgot the part about Abeona being there to ease fears and protect, which our Abeona has done in every way imaginable, by helping me navigate and cope with the summer camp/kindergarten process, reassuring me that Sydney's exuberance and intense creativity were absolute gifts, and by helping form a bridge for Sydney between her old friends and teachers and her new community. Syd's teachers, and the Abeona House families we spend time with (nearly all of them), remain as connected with and attuned to her as ever; when we pick up Evan together, Syd is always quick to find Ms. Nicole's lap, or Ms. Emmy's ear, or to brag to Ms. Aliza about her latest achievement. And they are all not just attentive, but genuinely loving--and that's what sets this place apart in my mind from all the other perfectly good childcare centers out there: this love, this community, this connectedness that transcends enrollment and classrooms.

When Evan kissed his friend J. on the playground, there was no snickering, no jokes made to cover up the social taboo. Instead, his teacher smiled and made a comment about their relationship, how much they are learning from each other, and how excited she is to have the privilege to watch their relationship develop. This teacher saw my son and his friend not as two boys kissing, but as two people expressing their love and affection for each other in the most natural way we know. I'm so grateful that Evan is in a place where his incredible gregariousness and innate empathy are recognized and valued; we all know there are many places in the world, even those child-friendly places, where this sort of behavior would be cause for a teacher-parent conference. Not so at Abeona House.

I obviously love this place with every fabric of my being. Last year I wrote about my love for the place and the history of that attachment, with the same goal as this year: to convince anyone still reading this to sponsor me in the 10k race I'll be doing on behalf of the center. On Saturday, April 23rd, I'll run the Crescent City Classic with a group of Abeona House teachers, parents, and friends; we raise money by asking our friends and family to sponsor our run. Last year I raised $700, and the center raised almost $7,000--money we rely on to help keep our tiny place of such high quality. If you're so inclined, visit our website, www.abeonahouse.org, and hit the DONATE button on the top left of the homepage. Go on, it won't hurt, but it will help a lot.

And I will love you forever and ever.