The ‘H’ Word


Many years ago my daughter came home from kindergarten and told me, “Michelle said a bad word at school today.”

“Which one?” I asked.

“The ‘S’ word.”

“Ohhhh.”  Subject matter we don’t want our kids learning in school.  “Do you know what it means?” I asked.

My five year old flashed me an I-wasn’t-born-yesterday look, and said, “It means stupid.”

I heaved a mental sigh of relief, and exercised my Superpower Poker Face to keep from laughing.  “Do the kids say any other bad words?”

My daughter solemnly nodded.  “The ‘H’ word,” she said.

“Help me remember what that stands for.”

“Hate,” she told me.

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I was a storyteller long before I had kids, and I understood the power of words. That didn’t prevent me from indulging in colorful language, mostly offstage. But after my children were born, just as I saw the world anew through my children’s wondering eyes, I listened through their innocent ears.  I saw how words loaded with negativity seep into the consciousness like toxins into groundwater.

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I determined to turn all my verbal toads and snakes into rubies and pearls.  At our house, everyone was encouraged to speak their minds, using language constructively, not to hurt or humiliate.

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When my little innocents first toyed with the word ‘hate,’ I explained that some words aren’t naughty but are powerful, and must be saved for emergencies or they lose their power.  Just like with TV violence or antibiotics, excessive use results in an unhealthy immunity.  Hate was a word rarely heard in our house.  But since the election, that and many other ‘H’ words have come into common usage all over America.

H is for Harassment.

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H is for Homophobic.

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H is for Hitler, for Holocaust, for He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, that Haughty Hot-Tempered Hypocrite who is Hijacking our Homeland to Hell in a Hand-basket.

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A great man once said that a house divided cannot stand.  Inciting fear and hatred is the traditional means of dividing a people and strengthening a power base.  Every day the Republicans implement new policies legalizing the persecution and diminishing the rights of people based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, and socio-economic status.

H is also for heartsick, which is how the majority of US citizens feels as American ideals and constitutional rights are trampled and tossed aside.  So last January 21st, here in Seattle, in solidarity with people throughout America, and on every continent–even Antarctica–we donned our pussy hats and marched.

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It buoys the spirits to walk shoulder to shoulder with 135,000 like-hearted people…

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…in a crowd stretching farther than the eye can see.

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People protested against the Republican threat to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and equal justice for all.

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Even those who had never been politically active took to the streets.

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These were people who weren’t afraid to speak up and speak out.

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People who cared about the greater good.

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People for whom the ‘H’ word is Hope.

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Harmony.

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Healing.

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H is also for hero…

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…and heroine.

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H is for happening, for hookup, for hive and home and herd.

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 For heart.

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For helping hands.

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H is for holdfast.

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H is also for humanity and high ground.  And that’s why and where we’ll take our stand.


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All words and images copyright 2017 Naomi Baltuck









Magnum Opus

To me, there nothing so sacred an office as parenthood.

But with every superpower, comes the great weight of responsibility.

Helping someone get from here…

…to here.

It’s the most daunting…

…most joyful…

..most challenging position I’ve ever held.

The job description is clear.  When they are tiny, love them.

Nurture them.

Love them some more.

We have a few short years to raise and guide them, and allow them to find their own way to shine.

To help them acquire the skills they need to paddle their own canoe.

To allow them to test their wings.

To give them every opportunity to make decisions and exercise their own power.

Even so, one of the greatest challenges we have as parents is to let them grow up.

A few years ago, with the kids’ encouragement, we stepped out of our comfort zone into the Amazon jungle.

To ride a zip-line over the jungle canopy we had to reach a platform 125 feet above the jungle floor.  Instead of letting our guide use pulleys and ropes to haul them up, they insisted on pulling themselves up, step by step.

As they dangled from a single rope a hundred feet up, I thought of the book Charlotte’s Web.  Charlotte considered her egg sac, from which her babies hatched, her ‘magnum opus.’  One by one, the baby spiders spun a fine web into a tiny balloon and rode the breeze, floating off into the world to land somewhere and build a web of its own.

I couldn’t have been prouder–or more relieved–when they climbed to the top under their own power.

We have all traveled well together…

but children must be free to choose their own direction, just as we did when we were young.

I quell my panic when one of my chicks…

..leaves the safety of the home harbor.

I trust them to stay calm, exercise good judgement, weather the storms…

…and any other unforeseen dangers.

We cut them loose from the mother ship, then hope and pray they find a soft landing place…

…and a bright future.

And that, every now and then, they remember to phone home.

 

All words and images ©2015NaomiBaltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Weight (less).

You Don’t Have to be Einstein…

Yesterday was my Cousin Albert’s birthday!

Actually, he was my fifth cousin, and we never met. My personal theory of relativity is that some relative of his got together with some relative of ours somewhere in the old country, and we have the DNA to prove it.

An indisputable fact is that he was a genius, whose life work changed the way we see the world.  He also had definite ideas about intelligence and education.

Cousin Albert said it is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.

Last month Thom and I drove to Olympia to protest oppressive high-stakes standardized tests. This disturbing trend towards over-testing affects the quality of education for children all across the U.S. by reducing the time to teach and the time to learn.

Since both teachers and students are evaluated by those test results, teachers feel compelled to spend their class time working on tested material, leaving no time to nurture creativity, exercise imagination, or teach a higher order of critical thinking.

Standardized tests don’t account for students testing on empty stomachs because their parents can’t afford to feed them breakfast. Or those who didn’t sleep because their parents were arguing about a divorce.  Or homeless children with no place to study.  Or those who can’t afford reading glasses.  Test scores won’t cut any slack for students with learning disabilities, or recent immigrants who haven’t mastered English, or orphans of suicides, or children suffering from depression, or those who simply don’t test well.

The system of assessment is unfair. For example, in Florida an excellent music teacher was fired because of her students’ low math scores, even though she was not responsible for teaching them math.

Cousin Albert said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

He also said, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.  We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

We honor that sacred gift of the intuitive mind when we allow teachers to assess each child’s strengths and needs, and design teaching strategies to nurture that child’s curiosity and passion into a lifelong love of learning.

Standardized testing is the servant of the rational mind, reducing children into test scores.

Who benefits from over-testing?  Not students, who are stressed and most of whom will be labeled as failures.  Not teachers, who either teach to the test or risk losing their jobs, regardless of whether they manage to pull kids out of their Learning Comfort Zone, and encourage them to take risks and learn from their mistakes.

The benefits are reaped by corporations like Pearson, that specialize in testing.  Or technology companies that sell schools the massive amounts of hardware students use to take these computer-based tests. Or private charter school operators who are waiting to step in as soon as public schools are labeled failures.   Tests are designed so that 68% of those taking the tests will fail.  It’s better for business.

Diane Ravitch, an educational policy analyst, says, “It’s all about…propping up a vast and growing “education industry” that’s only worth the trouble (money) of the likes of Gates, Murdoch, the Waltons, and the Bushes….if it’s standardized and millions of customers–I mean children–are buying.”

Cousin Albert grew up in Germany, where the spirit of learning and creative thought were lost in strict rote learning.

He was among the scientists and intellectuals who escaped the Nazis, those methodical masters who were terrifying in their efficiency.  Cousin Albert was lecturing in the US when the Nazis put a price on his head, and confiscated his property, turning it into a Hitler Youth camp. But as efficient as the Nazis were, according to Cousin Albert, they lost their technological advantage and eventually lost the war because they murdered or drove out all the creative free-thinking innovative imaginative intellectuals.

     Cousin Albert said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

And you don’t have to be Einstein to get that.

All images and words copyright 2015 Naomi Baltuck, unless otherwise stated.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Numbers.

If you’d like to read more, here is a link to an excellent article about the results of the protest, and a bipartisan bill proposed to repeal Common Core.

Joyriding

  • “Love…

…doesn’t make the world go round.”   

But love

Love…

Love…

Love…

Love…

Love…

Love…

Love…

Love…

Love…

Love…

Love…

Love…

LOVE!

 Yes, LOVE!

“..is what makes the ride worthwhile.”–Franklin P. Jones

Always has.

Always will.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

c

c2015 Naomi Baltuck

The Christmas Gang

 

There is an ancient British tradition called Ganging, from the Anglo-Saxon word gangen, meaning ‘to go.’ For fifteen hundred years, in what evolved from a solemn prayer ritual, village folk would gather to go ‘beat the boundary.’ They walked all around the parish to impress upon the youngsters’ memories the place they called home.

 

Their elders dunked them in dividing streams, knocked their heads against bordering trees, and made them climb over the roofs of houses built across the line so they would never forget.

Our family has a gentler holiday tradition, a celebration as much as a reminder. Our Christmas tree is nothing like those featured in House Beautiful. It’s topped with a Star of David, as we also celebrate Hanukkah.

The oldest ornament, a cellulose umbrella, decorated my great grandmother’s tree. We carefully hang Grandma Rhea’s handmade ornaments, dioramas inside blown eggs dressed in velvet. My children’s contributions are made of Popsicle sticks, glitter, and clothespins. The marshmallow snowman has grown sticky and yellow, with a tiny bite taken on the sly from its backside, but it makes me smile, and bookmarks an era.

I hang up the key to the house where I grew up, and recall my childhood, running barefoot through the back alleys of Detroit. The little Polish dancer wears the same costume my dashing husband wore performing with his dance group Polanie. The glass pen celebrates the year my first book was published. A tiny guitar marks the year my husband broke his leg and, instead of sulking on the couch, taught himself to play guitar. It hangs near Eli’s tiny oboe, and Bea’s violin and clarinet. A small glass bottle contains ash from Mt. St. Helens, collected from my pants cuff in 1980, when I was caught bird watching in Eastern Washington during the eruption.

Each Christmas, we carefully remove our ornaments from their tissue paper cocoons. As we hang them on the tree, we retell the stories. It’s like a crazy quilt, where scraps of colorful memories are pieced together and, voila! E pluribus unum! From the contributions of individuals we have compiled a portrait of one family, and from the many generations we have pieced together one history.

Ganging, or beating the boundary, is a tradition that teaches children their limits and sets rigid boundaries. Instead of knocking our children’s heads against a tree, let’s invite them to help create an empowering communal story among the branches of the family tree, free of boundaries and limitations, celebrating their lives, so full of possibility.

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: It’s Not This Time of Year Without…

Special Delivery

Yesterday a package arrived from Australia.  My sister was moving and there was no place in her new home for our mother’s silver tea set–the one Mom kept on her buffet in her little house in Detroit.  My sister could’ve easily packed it off to a thrift store or sold it at a garage sale. Instead she kindly chose to pay postage to send it all the way to America to reunite the silver service with mom’s old buffet, which now lives in the dining room of my home in Seattle.

Three days ago I put my son on a plane to Turkey, where he will teach English for the next three years.  I can fret, or be proud of him for having the courage to make such a momentous move.

His sister Bea was scheduled to come home from her program in Lithuania two days after Eli’s departure. Unfortunately they would miss each other, but Eli turned it into an opportunity.  In the wee hours of the night before he left, we hauled a little surprise for Bea up from the basement.  Eli hoped she’d like it even better than the last surprise he left her.

It was the perfect way to present Bea with motion-activated cooing tribble slippers she hadn’t even known she needed.

Still, it lacked a certain ‘Je ne sais crois.’

Actually, Eli knew exactly what it needed.

…And then he added the finishing touch.

Packing done, boarding pass printed, and still enough time to play one last game of Pandemic and save the world before our trip to the airport!

On the way we brainstormed how and when to visit, just as I used to do with my mom before each parting. And nowadays we can even Skype in the meantime.

My mom taught her kids to look for the bright spots. She could find ’em where you wouldn’t have thought there was one.

After Mom’s first chemo session, my sister Constance and I suggested going home to rest. Mom said, “The doctor says it won’t hit me until tonight. We’re going to Sanders Ice Cream Parlor. If I have to get sick, I’m going to throw up ice cream.”

 

Bea arrived two days after Eli left.  His parting gift was appreciated (up to a point). Now it resides in his room, scaring the heck out of me and making me laugh every time I go in there to open the blinds.

Bea, unpacking the heirloom tea set, said, “We’re going to have a MONSTER Tea Party!” There was another unexpected gift from Auntie Down Under–an uber-protective full-body swimsuit. Bea ran to try it on. Like Clark Kent bursting from a phone booth in Superman duds, out of Bea’s room flew Doing-Things-That-Aren’t-Fun-But-Are-Good-For-You-Girl.

Doing-Things-That-Aren’t-Fun-But-Are-Good-For-You-Girl (aka The UV Protector) threw Fashion Sense to the wind, and bravely faced the sun and its evil rays–in public.

All our lives we’ve heard,”You gotta break an egg if you want an omelet.” We jump willingly into the fray, enduring, for instance, the red eye flight for the trip to Europe.

My mom used to say, “When you’re holding your baby in your arms, you forget the pain.” Then Mom’s sister lost her baby. So what if there’s no baby to hold? My Aunt Loena would say you have to find others to hold and love, which she did. But some challenges you cannot go around, hire out, or wiggle free from.  It’s the stuff no one else can do for you, even if they wanted to.  It’s the bend in the river of life where there is no turning back and no standing still. Moving forward is all you can do, and your only choice is about how you do that, whether you are five years old or ninety-five, whether it’s getting a tetanus shot or chemotherapy, whether you are saying goodbye for now or forever.

I know and love–and I’m sure you do too–some very dear people who are facing some of life’s most daunting challenges and have been taxed in ways most people can only imagine.  Yet they are getting up and going to work each day and taking their kids to school and playing Werewolves with them at the end of the day with stents in their chest.  Or telling stories to bring joy to their audiences while undergoing months of chemo, and celebrating the last treatment by traveling the great cities Europe.  Or writing Haiku with one hand while learning how to walk again after a stroke. Or surviving cancer to reinvent themselves, leaving a bad marriage and developing a highly successful career as an artist. Or after a hip replacement, beating the odds from sheer determination to progress from wheelchair to walker to cane to standing on their own two feet while receiving radiation for a spot on the lung.

Who ARE these people? They are not the Supermen and Wonder Women of the world; they are the Clark Kents and Diana Princes, who through sheer strength of will and spirit quietly forge on through fire and ice. They are the real superheroes, delivering the right stuff. Their legacies are not the silver tea sets, but the stories they give us to hold in our hearts.

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Mischievious

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Fray

Checkmate

Let me tell you about my husband Thom.  We’ve been married for thirty years, and he was the catch of a lifetime.

He was a kindergarten teacher, and courted me by reading his favorite picture books to me.  I should have known he was destined to become a librarian, but I always knew he would be a good Daddy.   

First to one…

…and then two.

Nothing could faze him–not even a Universal Bad Hair Day.

And he had tough shoes to fill.

I had a daunting checklist.  The father of my children had to be intelligent (check), compassionate (check), responsible (check), a man of integrity (check) and possessed of patience, LOTS of patience (CHECK!).  In fact, my mother always said it would take someone with the patience of kindergarten teacher to manage me, not to mention the children.  But most of all, he couldn’t be afraid to get his feet wet.

Or to dress up and play pretend.

Or to  know when to relax and put up his feet.

He has clearly been a good influence on the children.

He taught them everything he knows.

He helped introduce them to that wide world out there.

And all its wonders.

Big…

…and little.

From Australia….

…to (New) Zealand.

Past…

…and present.

With good humor…

…great teamwork…

…and dignity…

…always dignity!

Someone ought to raise a statue in his honor.

But I know he’ll settle for chocolate…

Happy Father’s Day, Thom!  Thanks for EVERYTHING!

All words and images Copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck

Prepare to Be Boarded

Recently my daughter Bea declared her major at Stanford: Privateering.


Her friends Ben and Michael signed on as awkward incompetent first mate and shoulder parrot.  So my sister Constance and I decided to try our luck as chief cook and bottle washer, and cabin boy.

Bea was flying home for spring break. We went to meet her at Sea-Tac airport.  We picked up a cart, to carry our booty.

Not only did Bea immediately don the captain’s hat and coat we brought along, just in case Cap’n Bea was traveling incognito….

 

…but from out of her pack she pulled out her very cool pirate goggles to top off the outfit.

 

The next best thing to a contract signed in blood, we press-ganged an innocent bystander to photo-document the deal.

 

I have proven once again that it is impossible to embarrass Beatrice.


But we can just keep trying.

Unless otherwise stated, all images and words cNaomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Hats.

Click here for more interpretations of Cee’s Odd Ball Challenge: Week 9!

Reflections

Once, when we were running late, I was waiting impatiently to lift my little boy Eli into his car seat, while he studied a bug on the driveway.  “Hurry up!” I said.  “We’re going to be late.”

Puzzled, my little boy looked up at me and said, “Mommy, why are you using that tone of voice?”

Such a grownup expression from the mouth of the babe!  And it took my breath away.

“You’re right, honey,” I told him. “It’s not the end of the world if we’re late to pre-school, and it wouldn’t be your fault, if we were.”

Eli and I had a good look at the bug, while I quietly reflected upon what kind of parent I wanted to be.  Which memory of me would I want my kids to look back on and remember me by?  My mother once told me, “The best friends you’ll ever have are the ones you raise yourself.”  Bless her!  Bless them!  Bless us all!

I love that tee shirt that says, “Please let me be the person my dog thinks I am.”   But I aspire always to be the person my kids think I am.

Images and words copyright Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Mirror.

The Secret Object I Keep Hidden in My Underwear Drawer

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Yes, I really do have a secret object hidden in the back of my underwear drawer.

It was in a bag earmarked for the Salvation Army, a tiny doll-sized white cotton undershirt, but I snatched it back from among the outgrown feet pajamas, baby booties, and Alice-in-Wonderland dresses.  Then I tucked it into the back of my underwear drawer.

It isn’t an heirloom or valuable in any way, except to me, because both my kids wore it as fuzzy-headed milk-scented most-beautiful-in-the-world newborns.  Once in awhile it still sees the light of day.  Not on those “hurry-up-or-we’re-going-to-be-late! mornings,” but on quiet afternoons when I’m putting away freshly folded laundry.  I can still smell the baby shampoo and feel the round little tummies that filled that shirt.

Recently I realized that no one in the world would know or care what happened to that little shirt unless…I showed it to my daughter Bea and told her about her first night home from the hospital. She was wearing the little shirt, or one just like it, while lying beside me on the bed to nurse.  By the soft moonlight shining in on us I watched her, filled with awe at the sight of this new person looking up at me like a little old wisewoman.  I marveled at her perfect little toes and her tiny feet and those exquisite fingers.  Just as I was moved to tears at the miracle of life and birth, she reached up with her tiny finger and DOINK! poked me right in the eye. Ever since then, I told Bea, she has kept me from taking myself too seriously.

I told Bea how four year old Eli rubbed her tummy and told his baby sister all she would need to know to get by in the world. “You only get to drink milk now, but when you’re big you get macaroni and cheese from a fork. You’ll learn to walk and then run, but be careful or you might fall and scrape your knee and bleed, but blood has platelets that make a scab, but don’t pick it or it’ll bleed again…”  What a warm, wise welcome into our family!

On my kitchen wall is a picture Bea drew of a paintbrush and an artist’s pallet.  Underneath she wrote,”Only the artist knows the story of her painting.”  Too true. So tell your stories to your kids, your friends or your enemies, lest they disappear when you do.

Whether you write them into your memoirs, or tell them from your mouth, let them see the light of day, feel the moisture of your breath, live in stark black beauty on a crisp white page.

One day Bea might show that tiny shirt to her children and say, “When I was a baby…” Even if it finds its way to the Salvation Army, she might say, “My mom once saved a tiny white undershirt from the rag pile and kept it in her underwear drawer.  Sometimes she took it out, and told me stories about when I was a baby…”

All words and images copyright 2014 Naomi Baltuck

(Except “Mrs. Bradley Ripley Alden and Her Children” painted by Robert Walter Weir, 1852)