Maybe I sensed that Charles needed a pick-me-up, or maybe I was just too full o’ beans to contain myself. He was working intently at his computer when I came home, but I couldn’t resist sharing the magical scene I’d just witnessed.
I’d just come back from National Dance Institute, where I’d taken photos of the “itty-bitties,” the 3- and 4-year-olds in Allegra Lillard’s creative movement class, for Sarah Rivera’s article “Tiny Dancers” (page 8 in English, and 24 in Spanish), when our “real” photographers weren’t available. I’m no more a photographer than anyone else who can push a button on an iPhone, but how hard could it be to take pictures of adorable children in motion? (Answer: Very hard. Very fun.)
The half-dozen children were dressed in leotards, skirts, comfy pants or tutus. The lone boy wore a Superman t-shirt and stretch pants. Together they suggested less a dance troupe than a group of colorfully dressed kittens, wandering in and out of each other’s reality.
“‘Let’s get in the elevator!’” I said to Charles, trying to capture Lillard’s excitement as she had the children stand together at one end of the studio.
“‘Let’s see what floor it’s going to stop on. It stopped on the rolling floor!’” Lillard had said, and the little ones began rolling on the ground. “‘Now it stopped on the twirling floor!’” The children flung out their arms and began twirling in different directions across the dance floor.
“I forget how much 3-year-olds still live in their own world,” I told Charles. Our 28-year-old son is by now pretty well grounded on this planet. I pictured these preschoolers on a thin, shifting line between collective awareness and individual reality. From time to time one would wander off to a parent’s lap, or just sit on the floor for a few moments staring off at the ceiling or the wall, before rejoining the activity. Lillard had created a safe environment where any of these options was acceptable.
At the end of class, each child was called one at a time to dance across the room, with their own steps and their own style, to their teacher’s arms for a hug. She gave each child a sticker on their chest, and a dab of fairy dust on their nose. Then each one dipped a tiny finger into the jar for some fairy dust to put on their parents. By this point, in watching the class and in describing it, I was getting teary-eyed.
“We need to end every day with a sticker and some fairy dust!” I insisted.
My dear husband didn’t object to the interruption, or to my deluge of enthusiasm. He had been banging away all morning at bookkeeping for his construction business. Just a few days after the presidential election, he was still reeling from the outcome, as was I. A diversion into the charms of children seemed to be doctor’s orders.
So many parents and teachers I know — whatever their politics, whatever their vote — are stunned by the hate, bigotry, misogyny and violence that surfaced during the campaign and the struggle of explaining these things to children. Kids too young to vote are directly affected by political actions, and by the words and behavior of our politicians. When we see bullying, insults, obscenities and intimidation in public figures that we would never allow in our children, how do we proceed?
Conversations and more concrete actions here at Tumbleweeds on these matters are just beginning. For now, here’s what we have to offer.
Be kind. Children have seen much cruelty and meanness in this election cycle. Show them kindness, to each other, ourselves and others. Those of you who want to broaden your sphere of kindness might consider Cullen Curtiss’s suggestions (“Knit One, Purl Two, Change the World,” page 10) for setting up a service learning program. At home, take up a holiday ritual that emphasizes giving rather than getting. (See Katy Yanda’s idea for “Reverse Advent Calendars” (Holiday Briefs, page 16) for a creative twist on an old tradition.)
Get outside. A walk in the woods, a hike up a mountain, lifts the soul in any season — and any time of day or night. Katie Macaulay, director of Mountain Kids!, bundles up her kids for a moonlight hike at the Santa Fe Ski Basin (“Touching the Quad,” page 26), shaking up a school night, building memories and cultivating a sense of pride in accomplishment and in our beautiful environment.
Read. Winter is the perfect season (along with the three others) for reading to and with children, and helping older ones find books they’ll enjoy on their own. In her article “Timeless Books Find New Friends” (page 18), Dorothy Massey of Collected Works Bookstore suggests classic works that you may remember from your childhood, but which might become new BFFs for your children.
Play! Children do it naturally; older kids and adults might need a little poke. You may not need studies to tell you this, but play is good for you. It defuses tension, engages curiosity and lights up the brain. See Yanda’s “Wanna Come Play?” (page 20) — and you will.
Learn about other cultures. Santa Fe offers many ways to learn about traditions and beliefs of other cultures, an invaluable way to resist the growing trend of xenophobia. You’ll find ways to deepen your family’s understanding in Pat Lord’s “Winter Festivals Light Up Darkest Nights” (page 14)
Talk science; tell science. Strange choice of verbs? Sure — but you’ll understand when you read “Tell Me an Experiment” (page 12), Dr. Olivia Carril and Pat Preib’s article about the value of storytelling in the science classroom. New Mexico’s science test scores are among the lowest in the country — with tragic implications not just for our children’s future careers and the health of our planet, but for their everyday joy. Exploring the underpinnings of our physical world instills a sense of wonder and awe that only begets more.
Accept ourselves and each other. We have something new for us in this issue, a short story. “Normal,” by Meneese Wall (page 28), challenges us to respect differences of all kinds, and to share that perspective with our children. Shari Cassutt’s essay “Roots and Wings” (page 22) acknowledges parental anxieties from a place of wisdom that can help us grow.
Take action. We at Tumbleweeds know how important it is to provide support and unity to families, children and organizations in our community in this time of transition. We invite our readers to email ideas of actions or discussions you might want to see under the umbrella of Tumbleweeds. Write firstname.lastname@example.org. Whatever our party affiliation, whatever our vote, healthy families and communities need our strong action, loving attention and a dab of fairy dust.