everydaybalance

inspirational tools to create life balance in your everyday

the keeping quilt – june 2010

June9

This morning I woke up at 5:30 a.m. when Ruby started calling out her chorus of little bird sounds.  Sitting in our living room feeding her, the light came in with a kind of still yellow hue, first making shadows of light across the wall and then falling upon us like a warm calm blanket. Opening the door I was greeted with the scent of jasmine and roses and a wetness to the air that felt new, reminding me of similar mornings in Sydney. Sure enough the day bloomed humid and warm. This was the first hot day of spring. In the afternoon, Ruby’s body went limp with tiredness and heat and I placed her down wrapped in a pink muslin blanket on the cool sheets of our big bed. The new plump rolls in her tiny arms had the softness of pillows of unbaked bread. Her little head smelled like newborn and the windows were open wide so that the white curtains billowed with the humid breeze. I lay down next to her and we slept through the afternoon, my hand as big as a third of her body blanketing her little chest and rising and falling with her breath. I woke up before her and if magic had a sound, it would be the sound of the sighs my daughter makes in her sleep. They are so sweet and content that I long for the days when she can tell me about her dreams. The last three months that Ruby has been with us have been a mixture of climbing unfamiliar hills and then resting in beautiful valleys like this afternoon. Looking back over the time since Ruby’s birth I know I couldn’t have enjoyed days like today without the support of a community we didn’t even know that we had around us.

Landing in our new town of San Mateo in October we walked into an empty house surrounded by unfamiliar streets. Pete had only just begun teaching at a new school and we were expecting our baby in just under four months. I worried that we had leapt out of our support network an ocean away in Australia at the time in our lives that we would need it the most. We didn’t know what having a baby would be like and everyone continued to tell us that it would be the hardest and most wonderful thing we would do. Everything was so new around us and there were times when I worried that the streets we had moved to wouldn’t provide the parachute we would need if we fell.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. The first few months of having a baby have been the most beautiful and the hardest, but out of the woodwork came one of the richness support networks that we could have hoped for. Not only did our friends and families around the world line our life with cards and gifts and phone calls and gentle reassurance, but a support that we hadn’t been counting on bloomed right under our feet. This was the fourth graders and their families at Pete’s new school.

At Christmas when Pete was missing his family and my pace started to slow down, the parents of the students in the class Pete taught gave us a gift certificate to one of the finest restaurants in San Francisco. Serendipitously, this restaurant which is booked out months in advance, had a cancellation on the Friday night of my birthday. As a very pregnant emotional woman, I was treated to an incredibly memorable birthday experience. At one point our table was crowded with at least five different types of dessert that I had been craving, a decaf latte piled high with foam and a full tea setting for Pete. I had indulged in several of their non-alchoholic cocktails and we walked into the San Francisco evening full of beautiful food and generosity.

As the months ticked by, the children became more and more interested in the pregnancy that Pete talked so much about. One day in my third trimester, Pete brought me in for show and tell. I read a few of my poems about the pregnancy and forty-two hands took turns resting on my belly. In response, Ruby stretched out her tiny sleepy hands and feet to the sounds of their smiles. After this visit, the children reached back by creating a book for Pete titled, “How to be a great dad”. Each child contributed a page describing what to do and what not to do as a parent. Some of the children shared by making illustrations, some drew charts, some had bullet points, but all of them were made with authenticity and love. Phrases like “A great dad does Koala Days…koalas sleep eighteen hours and eat the rest.”, “Instead of video games, play board games.”, “It means a lot to just tuck them into bed or be there when she is sad.”, ”Give her a potato to play with.”, ”Star gaze at night.”, “Let her choose what she wants to do but guide her to the right decisions.” and, “Read parenting books because a book by 4th graders probably isn’t the best you can get!” 

Sitting alongside “What to Expect – The First Year” and many other parenting books, this is the book we have referred to the most. Having this book on our shelf reminds Pete and I how to navigate the coming years through the wise eyes of a child. I’m sure in years to come, Ruby will also use it as a reference to get us back on track. As if this gift wasn’t enough, each child then bought Ruby their favorite children’s book and because of that, nearly every day since she was born, she has been read a story.

In the days leading up to the birth, Pete received emails from the kids asking, “Is she here yet?” and “What are you going to name her?” They were incredibly patient when I went six days past my due date and only five days after Ruby was born, the children wrote her letters telling her about her father. One student  wrote “You have many things to look forward to. Your dad is a great guy. I have to say his is my favorite teacher I have ever had. Pete makes me cheer up when I am down! You are a lucky girl to have Pete as a Dad and Chris as a Mom! 4th grade can’t wait to see you! Pete and Chris are SO happy to have you! Have fun in your new life! Remember 4th Grade is cheering you on! ” The rest of the letters were just as heartfelt and beautiful.  Ruby’s letters are kept in a special red box so that she will know that from the very beginning of her life, a special group of fourth graders were already believing in her.

In the first few weeks after the birth, when Pete began to show signs of tiredness, the parents gave him advice and normalized how he was feeling. One parent even set up a meal roster. He received emails from staff members with children on how to set up a good sleep schedule and beautiful clothing and stuffed animals began to line her room. But without a doubt, the most surprising and supportive gift has been the food. We couldn’t believe that on top of the wonderful gifts and support we had already, that two to three times a week for the last two months, we have been brought dinner. Somehow these meals seem to arrive on the days we need them the most.  We have had home cooked meals, food from restaurants, pizza hand delivered by a father and groceries lining our refrigerator that have all spelled out love. There were nights when I was so tired and hungry that when a big bag of Mollie Stones’ groceries arrived on our counter from a co-worker or a rich Indian curry heated up on our stove, I broke down in tears from the gratitude that I felt. I will never forget being fed in such a nurturing way by this class and the friends that came to visit Ruby. One my favorite books is “Like Water for Chocolate”. In this story, the author describes how the emotions that are present when the food is prepared are felt by the people that eat them. Over the past few months, love and support have been fed to us one spoonful at a time and this has given us the chance to give Ruby a start to her life more rich in love and gratitude than we ever could have hoped for.

As the days tick down to the end of the school year and summer warms up, I’ve been reflecting in my journal on how I will tell Ruby about the staff members, children and their families that helped pave such a smooth time for us when she was born. On a Friday afternoon after I had been writing about this, one of the most beautiful gifts Ruby will ever receive arrived home with Pete.  This is her “Keeping Quilt.” This is a quilt made for Ruby based on the Sydney Taylor award winning book by Patricia Polacco titled ,“The Keeping Quilt”. In this book, a family who immigrated to the United States makes a quilt out of the pieces of clothing that they had brought with them from Russia. The story tells of how their clothing was cut into pictures of a dog and a flower and a boy and hearts and a fish and all of these were sewn into the quilt. Over the years the quilt is handed down through generations and always there to wrap around each new baby and present at the most special of occasions.

Ruby’s “keeping” quilt is a sunny yellow with a blue and white daisy backing. On the yellow side are cut out pictures made of material by the children which were sewn on with love and care by one of the children’s grandmothers who lives in Florida. Around each cut out image is a wish written by the children for Ruby’s life.  Around the snail is written “so that you will live in the present moment”, around the orange it reads “so you will know sweetness in your life”, around the butterfly “may you always be free”, around the bird “I wish for you to be wise like an eagle” and around the sun “hope your life always shines.” I know that this blanket which she now kicks and waves her arms on as a baby will follow her, lining her crib, her first big girl bed and off to her own home to hand on to her first baby. These phrases that so succinctly write out what Pete and I wish to fill our daughter’s life with, will be read to her at bedtime so that she will always know how a small group of people coming together can make an important time in someone’s life so much richer simply by providing food, love and presence.

This month I invite you to embody this kind of generosity. Take an afternoon with your journal and reflect on the people in your life, those you know well and those you know even a little. Ask yourself what are the key times in a person’s life that they most need your generosity. Write a list of the people in your life experiencing one of these times. Who would benefit the most from your generosity? This may be the neighbor who is ill next door, or the friend taking brave steps in a new career. It may be someone nearby and it may be someone far away. Explore in your journal the times when generosity has entered your life at a key time and how it changed that time for you. At the end of this journal writing, make a list of how you as an individual express your generosity the most authentically. If you love to cook, it may be by bringing food. If you are a painter, it may be by giving the gift of your art. If you are a gardener, it may be by planting someone’s flowerbed. If you are good at fixing things, you might ask for a list of things that need to be done and fix that creaky door or broken rain gutter. Look back at your list and let two names call out to you. Reach out and let a little bit of light from your life spill into theirs.

At the end of the month, reflect on these experiences. How did they differ? How were they the same? Notice how the relationships that you gave to may have deepened and changed. Ponder how this might become a regular practice in your life and also how you can be as generous at receiving as well as giving. More often than not, there is generosity waiting for us in the pockets of our lives, but by trying to do it all on our own we don’t notice the sincere offers of help. I know that in myself, I often have a hard time saying yes when I am offered help. Before I had a baby several people said to me, if people offer to help, say yes. Each day I’m getting better at this, but it is still hard at times. As I become better at receiving, I find that not only am I more likely to spontaneously give myself, but that my days are filled with a richness I didn’t know before. So with these words and the inspiration of a group of fourth graders, I invite you to walk into June with your hearts open to receive and your hands ready to give.

This monthly inspiration piece is brought to you by author Christina Adler at ‘everyday balance’. If you would like to share your experience with these tools, please feel free to email me by visiting the contacts section on the home page. To subscribe for a free monthly reminder for these inspiration pieces, simply fill in your name and email address on the home page under “subscribe to everyday balance.” For information regarding life coaching appointments in person, by telephone or online, visit the ‘for life coaching’ section of this website. Photo taken by Peter Moore in San Mateo, California

posted under 2010 life balance