Tuesday, November 30, 2021

November 30

On November 30, 1487, the Germany Purity Law decreed that beer be made with only three ingredients—water, malt and hops. In 1523 on this day, Amsterdam banned an assembly of heretics, who then regrouped in a local pub to drink some pure beer and discuss freedom of speech. In 1753, a group of Stonemasons met to hold secret rituals involving mutual help, fellowship and beer, but on this day Holland made it all illegal. 


Over to hundred years later, Alfred “Freddy” Heineken, grandson of the founder of the Heineken brewery and the marketing and deal-making genius who had turned the company’s beer into a global brand, left his office in central Amsterdam on a cold evening in November 1983. He expected to be greeted by his long-serving chauffeur, but instead he was confronted by men carrying guns, who, after a brief scuffle, bundled him and his driver into a delivery van. Five men had been planning the kidnapping for months. They had been involved in low-level shady dealings and developed a passion for luxury cars, race horses and partying. They settled in on the beer billionaire and in a plot involving six stolen cars, pistols and Uzi’s and a trail of red herrings meant to mislead the detectives. 

 Heineken and his chauffeur, Ab Doderer were rushed to a West Amsterdam warehouse where a false wall had been built to contain two soundproofed cells. The kidnapping was meant to last only 48 hours, but it eventually stretched over 21 days.  

The driver and the billionaire were stripped of their clothes and belongings and chained inside the tiny rooms, isolated from the outside world and each other. Heineken later said he’d feared that he’d been kidnapped by West Germany’s notorious Red Army Faction and worried that the cell’s air pipe would fail. His kidnappers celebrated and then returned to their normal routines in order to avoid raising the suspicion of friends, family or police before making their ransom demand.   

Heineken, who ruled his company with an iron will, did not appear bowed by the kidnapping, even as his detention stretched from days into weeks. Van Hout, the gang’s leader, recounted that the kidnappers were impressed by Heineken’s grit and humor. “He really had a strong character, this man. He was almost a kind of psychologist.” 

The then 60-year-old butted heads with the gang over food and conditions. The kidnappers were confused by his demands for consomm√© and other delicacies, and he tried to bribe one of the captors into releasing him. Heineken, shackled to a wall of the cold, dank cell, later painted a bleak picture of the conditions: “I always kept one slice of bread to eat at night or the following morning, because you’re never sure that there will be bread the next morning.”  Heineken and Doderer were forced to pose for several proof-of-life photographs during their captivity but never saw the faces of theirs captors and were forced to communicate only via notes. 

The kidnappers had put exacting attention into their plan to communicate the ransom demand and exchange via coded messages and cutouts to baffle detectives. The gang made contact by dropping an envelope with Heineken’s watch, Doderer’s papers and a ransom note to a small police station. Police were ordered to signal that the ransom of $11 million was ready with an advertisement in the personal section of a Dutch newspaper reading: “The meadow is green for the Hare.” 

The gang had closely studied famous kidnappings, like those of Getty and Lindbergh, and they had an equally elaborate plan for the handover of the ransom. A recorded message from Heineken and Doderer played back over a call from a payphone would direct police to the first of a series of buried messages that would lead detectives on a trail across the small country. The penultimate step was a car with a walkie-talkie that would be used to radio instructions to stop on a highway bridge and drop the ransom into a storm drain. 

The plan was almost perfect. But it was foiled by events outside the control of the gang or the police. The kidnappers demanded that an unarmed police officer carry the ransom in a marked van from Heineken’s home in Noordwijk, but the scrum of reporters surrounding the property made this impossible.

Days of silence followed before the gang and negotiators re-established contact through coded newspaper advertisements. In the meantime, police acting on an anonymous tip had put the gang under surveillance and tracked the crew, eventually zeroing in on the warehouse after watching the kidnappers order Chinese takeout for two.

Plans for a second ransom exchange went ahead as concerns about the safety of the hostages grew. The police planned to track the loot with a night vision camera on a helicopter but this was foiled by a technical hitch. 

With helicopters buzzing overhead, the gang signaled on walkie-talkie to the Mouse—the police driver carrying the ransom—to stop on a highway overpass and drop the money into the storm drain marked with a traffic cone. Exactly according to plan, the five mailbags then slid through the drain and landed below in the flatbed of a waiting pickup truck, and the crew escaped unobserved. 

The crew drove to a wooded area southeast of Amsterdam where they hid the ransom in barrels that were buried. In a characteristically Dutch twist, they made their getaway on bicycles. 

The day after the ransom exchange, the gang spotted that they were under police surveillance and arranged a meeting to discuss their plans. They were divided on whether to flee the Netherlands or stay. Meijer decided to stay put, and van Hout and and Holleeder opted to flee to Paris. Van Hout and Holleeder would remain on the run, or in legal limbo in France and the French Caribbean, until they were extradited and finally convicted of the kidnapping in 1987. 

Dutch police, with the ransom paid and no word from the kidnapper, raided the warehouse and were initially confused by the false wall before discovering the concealed cells. “Could you not have come a bit earlier?” Heineken asked his rescuers. The date of his release? November 30th

Now November 30th is also the birthday of Jonathan Swift, who prophecised the events centuries earlier, depicting  Heineken as a Giant Gulliver tied down by a gang of Lilliputians, but eventually escaping. It’s also the birthday of Mark Twain, who described the kidnappers failed attempt to escape on a raft and Brownie McGhee, who sang Which Side Are You On, Born for Bad Luck, Key to My Door and other blues describing the events. Two other Nov. 30th birthday folks chimed in— Abbie Hoffman distracted the police with some Civil Disobedience and Shirley Chisholm critiqued the FBI for refusing to go after white collar criminals. Michael Jackson provided the soundtrack for the escape when he released Thriller on that day, Ben Kingsley reminded the world that such behavior was not  the change we wanted to be in the world with the release of the film  Gandhi. James Baldwin was working on his book “If Amsterdam Freemasons Could Talk” when he died on that day, as did Tiny Tim, tiptoeing through the tulips (in Holland) for the last time. 

And now the thrilling climax: When captured and asked why they targeted, Heineken, the kidnappers replied: “It’s simple. He broke the sacred law of 1487 by using more than three ingredients in his Heineken beer. We rest our case.”

Literary Game Show

Ready for some high-brow entertainment? I’m about halfway through a jigsaw puzzle of people (and note the inclusive images of “people”) reading books. If you look closer, you see the titles are parodies. So how many of the original titles can you recognize? And how many have you actually read? (Extra credit if you can name the author.)

 To warm you up, what is the original of “Moby Richard”? Take a moment… you got it!

“Moby Dick.” By Herman Melville. 


So below are 25 titles. Write the correct title next to it, the author and check it if you’ve read it.  Good luck and have fun!


1.    Brave New Squirrel

2.    A Tale of Two Kitties

3.    The Old Pan and the Pea

4.    For Whom the Highway Tolls

5.    The Great Catsby

6.    The Emperor’s New Nose

7.    Doctor Chicago

8.    Planet of the Grapes

9.    Boar and Peas.

10.Breakfast Epiphanies

11.20,000 Channels on TV

12.Henry Snotter

13.The Snatcher of the Pie

14.Olive or Twist

15.The Cranberry Tale

16.The Phantom of the Opposum

17.The Adventures of Strawberry Finn

18.Jane Gas

19.The Woman in Pink

20.The Legend of Marshmallow

21.Gong with the Wind

22.The Bark of the Wild

23.The Scarlett Sweater

24.The Importance of Being Regular

25.The Man in the Iron Free Shirt


(Answers tomorrow.)

Monday, November 29, 2021

How's Retirement?

In the past few days, I’ve met three different alum parents out in the world. At the beginning of the month, I reunited with various music teachers at the Orff National Conference. A few weeks ago, I went back to my school to help out with a project to better organize the alum data base. 


At these and other occasions, the inevitable question comes up: 


“How’s retirement?”


And finally I have a pithy answer that summarizes it all:


“Great! I love my boss and I love my schedule.”



Sunday, November 28, 2021

Me and Robert Bly

Today I found out that the poet Robert Bly passed away last week, one month short of his 95thbirthday. It was comforting to hear he was surrounded by loving family members and that on his last day on earth, Chopin was playing in the house. Here’s a short tribute I offered on Facebook: 


R.I.P. Robert Bly. Thanks to you, this group has met twice monthly for 31 years trying to help each other figure out how to be human beings in men's bodies. Accompanied by your stellar collection of poetry in The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart. Blessings to you for your courage and determination to bring poetry into the heart—or at least the fingertips— of a culture sorely in need of the news it brings. We are blessed to have had you for almost 95 years. May you rest in peace.


I’ve mentioned this Men’s Group before, but haven’t told the story of its conception, a gift Robert Bly gave to us without ever knowing it. (Now I regret not sending him a photo and thanks before he passed away.) Starting around 1989, I attended many one day workshops and/or evening talks with Robert Bly along with Michael Meade, James Hillman, sometimes Malidoma Some and others. They were gatherings of men trying to discover a positive, non-toxic masculinity that also wasn’t simply embracing feminism (as important as that was). Through myths, fairy tales, poetry, talks and small group discussions, with occasional songs, it was the kind of school worthy of our time— combining intellect, imagination, intuition, heart in a seamless web of search and reflection to consider what has held men back from each other and from a masculine authority that is genuine and inclusive and loving and different from merely copying feminine styles. Each has their dignity, their truth, their beauty, their character, but are not easily transferable between our biologically distinct bodies, brain structure, survival strategies and cultural trainings. While honoring and respecting the Great Mother and her children, it was time in America to see if there was a choice beyond toxic brutality and shame-filled denial of our gender. And I believe it helped and we owe Robert Bly a great debt for that. 


And so when our “founding member” went on a week-long retreat with Robert Bly and his fellow teachers, he came back determined to keep the energy going and invited 9 men he already knew to begin meeting. And so we began, in January of 1990, meeting for a couple of hours at rotating houses once every two weeks. We were— and are— a leaderless group, but the host can name a topic and we ritually include check-ins about our lives. The important epiphanies of those first meetings was simply discovering that we were not alone, that we all felt isolated from other men, had had struggles with our emotionally absent fathers, depended on women to cultivate our own emotional life. One man dropped out after the first year, another after five years and one committed suicide in his 11thyear with us. Two “new” men joined in 2003 and here we all still are all these years later, “persistently keeping our small boats afloat” and sharing the stories of our days at sea with others.


So a final thanks to Robert Bly for his extraordinary legacy— his poems, translations, talks, insights born from Jung, mythology and fairy tales, courageous anti-war work and initiating and sustaining work in the “men’s movement.” He kept his large boat afloat for almost 95 years and the world is richer for it. Below is a poem of his and treat yourself to the Youtube video of him reading it. 


Keeping Our Small Boat Afloat

                     Robert Bly

So many blessings have been given to us
During the first distribution of light, that we are
Admired in a thousand galaxies for our grief.

Don’t expect us to appreciate creation or to
Avoid mistakes. Each of us is a latecomer
To the earth, picking up wood for the fire.

Every night another beam of light slips out
From the oyster’s closed eye. So don’t give up hope
that the door of mercy may still be open.

Seth and Shem, tell me, are you still grieving
Over the spark of light that descended with no
Defender near into the Egypt of Mary’s womb?

It’s hard to grasp how much generosity
Is involved in letting us go on breathing,
When we contribute nothing valuable but our grief.

Each of us deserves to be forgiven, if only for
Our persistence in keeping our small boat afloat
When so many have gone down in the storm.


Me and Leonard Cohen

Went to the Jewish Museum yesterday to see the exhibit on Leonard Cohen. Truth be told, I didn’t know his music well—certainly Suzanne (and mostly from Judy Collins’ version) and much later Hallelujah and Dance Me to the End of Love, but that was about it. This last I recorded with the older kids at school, featuring a boy singing who gave me a lot of grief in music class from 3 years old to 11 and then took a turn as he was bitten by the bug of self-expression through music. I gave his graduation speech and spoke about how it’s important to stay in the dance for the long haul with kids, how in this case we both found love at the end of our 11-year dance. 


It’s clear that fame and fortune never had me on their list, but I’ve had the good fortune to rub shoulders with those much higher up. Bobby McFerrin was a school parent, Milt Jackson came to my school to play music with the kids, as did Stefon Harris, Herlin Riley and Marcus Printup. Regina Carter and T.S. Monk (Thelonious’ son) were gracious guest teachers in my online Jazz Course. And Leonard Cohen? We shared a Zen teacher, Joshu Sasaki Roshi and both went to the same 7-day meditation retreat. And here’s the photo to prove it— Roshi on the left, me, someone else and Leonard.

Since it was a silent retreat, I didn’t get to talk to him, but it was nice to sit zazen across from him. And at the end, the little party where you were allowed to talk, I was tempted to tell him I had my Bulgarian bagpipe with me and would he like to hear it? But alas, I never did. Perhaps he would have featured it in his next concert. 


Listening to his music again during and after the exhibit, the three songs I already knew stood out as the most musically interesting and though I find the poetry of the others powerful, the music itself doesn’t inspire me. But in the various concerts featured in the exhibit, it was clear that he touched a nerve in the culture and in the hearts of the listeners. Looking at the audience listening with such intensity, as if their lives depended on it, made me nostalgic for a time when music in the culture had that power to quiet a room and bring people together with the words/ sounds/ gestures that were precisely needed it in that moment. Not entertainment, not flash and dazzle, not the mosh pit, but a room of people gathered to drink the sweet nectar from the flower of song. 


As a poet, Cohen had that capacity of speaking the truth eloquently, both the truth of the politics of the time and the truth of the heart that is timeless. A few examples:


Everybody knows that the boat is leaking. Everybody knows the captain lied. 

Everybody got this broken feeling like their father or their dog just died.

Everybody talking to their pockets. Everybody wants a box of chocolates 

And a long stem rose. Everybody knows. (From song Everybody Knows)


My friends are gone and my hair is grey.

I ache in the places where I used to play. 

And I’m crazy for love but I’m not coming on

I’m just paying my rent every day

In the tower of song.  (Tower of Song)


The birds they sang at the break of day.

Start again, I heard them say.

Don’t dwell on what has passed away

Or what is yet to be.


Ring the bells that still can ring.

Forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack in everything.

That’s how the light gets in. (Anthem)


Thank you, Leonard. Inspiration enough to see me through this day and those to come.


 PS And sorry I didn't have the nerve to talk to you— that last song would have sounded great with Bulgarian bagpipe!  

Saturday, November 27, 2021


My sister tried to get away with using “grr” as a word in Boggle and none of us playing agreed. This was on Thanksgiving Day and though the word was unacceptable, the “gr” prefix was right on the mark. For it was a lovely family gathering worthy of gratitude, filled with grace as the group grinned graciously while drinking the juice of the grape and eating the bread of the grain. And wasn’t it grand! When we got to talk to the grandchildren and marveled at how they had grown, we felt like we had arrived at the Holy Grail.


Such a welcome relief from grappling with the grim, grotesque, gruesome news, grouchy and grumbling about the unchecked greed of those who grab  more than their share. A good time to return to the ground of our being, take all the grief and gravity of the broken world as grist for the mill, to reclaim our groove and get a grip and remember that the grass is always greener  precisely where you water it. 


And most importantly, the next time “gr” appears in Boggle, you have some great choices for words. 

Friday, November 26, 2021

The Bees in the Hebes: Part 2

Apparently the other day was not the first time I noticed the bees in the hebes. Looking for something else, I stumbled upon this poem (my own) in my phone Notes. And then had a vague memory of publishing this in a previous Blogpost— May 17, 2020 to be exact. But no harm reprinting and with the same advice I gave then: read it out loud. 


The bees in the hebes,

The hebes and bees,


Busily buzzing,

Dizzily diving

Frantically fussing

Joyfully jiving

Wavily winging

And Springily singing.


The bees in the hebes are 

Gleefully gliding,

Gleefully gliding

‘Midst blossoms and leaves,

In the billowy breeze. 

Which pleases the bees. 


The bees in the hebes.

The hebes and bees. 

Thursday, November 25, 2021

The Bees in the Hebes

Yesterday I lunched with my daughter in her garden and found myself mesmerized by some 20-30 bees feeding on the flowers of her hebes bush. Entranced by their buzzing dance going from one purple flower to the next, wondering if or how they knew if they had already fed on a particular flower or if a companion bee had already taken its nectar. It at once awakened my scientific curiosity, my poetic sensibility, my appreciation for the beauty of the dance and the music of it all. 


And so I ended my last post with the question “Why are we here?” What is evolution’s purpose in giving us tongues to speak and sing, hands to paint and sculpt, hearts capable of awe and wonder, minds that can both analyze and imagine? What would be lost if the planet had no people amongst the plants, animals, bugs, rivers, if we removed ourselves from the carnival of Creation? 


In his Ninth Duino Elegy, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke gives some hints:


“…why then have to be human? … because truly being here is so much; because everything 

here apparently needs us, this fleeting world, which in some strange way keeps calling to us…

Perhaps we are here in order to say… Here is the time for the sayablehere is its homeland.

Speak and bear witness…


Perhaps that is our reason for being— to be a conscious witness to the wonders of creation. 

To pay attention, to observe, to wonder, to praise. First see and hear and touch and then speak about—through language or music or art or a felt silence. And then share it with others. And don’t forget to be grateful for the capacity to see, feel and express, don’t forget to praise and bless and feel the blessing of it all, in the company of other fellow human beings, who need reminders (don’t we all?) to take a moment to notice the bees in the hebes and take another moment to share the bounty and the blessing.


Today, Thanksgiving, is a good time to consider, to re-consider, these thoughts. Thank the turkey and grains and grapes for helping sustain your life and take some time to witness the miracles just outside the door or sitting around the table with you or sleeping just inside your own heart waiting to be awakened. 


Speak and bear witness. 



“The American Standard translation of the Bible orders men to triumph over sin… The King James translation makes a promise in ‘ Thou shalt’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word ‘‘timshel’ means ‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open.” -John Steinbeck; East of Eden


Are human beings evolution’s crowning glory or biggest mistake? The answer is “Yes.”



• Opposable thumbs can pull triggers or play piano.

• The human tongue can recite Shakespeare or spew hatred. 

• The human intelligence can create both Bach and William Buckley. 

• The human ear can be soothed by Monk or Mozart or assaulted by the noise of machines. 

• The neo-cortex can imagine the Theory of Relativity or build nuclear weapons.

• The human capacity for organization can create libraries and post offices or slave trades and Nazi death camps.  

• Consciousness can ascend to enlightenment or addict itself to drug or alcohol stupor.


We are at once the planet’s most sublime creation and the most depraved. Gifted with “timshel,” the capacity to choose, we every day makes choices that serve life, that nurture, that sustain, that praise, that bless and others that hurt, that harm, that destroy, that pollute, that serve death. “Sin” in this sense is the refusal to ascend to our higher natures and feel our connection with all sentient beings, to ignore our capacity for gratitude and grace, to squander the gift of choice and justify our bad decisions with dogmas and mass lies that excuse us from accountability. 


"The way is open" but perhaps it might soon be closed. We indeed are Evolution’s work-in-progress that is nearing the end of our capacity to progress by destroying the habitat that keeps us alive and breathing and capable of finally making better choices. Some feel that the extinction of our species is our “just desserts” and that the Earth will survive just fine without us, that the cockroaches are awaiting their turn to take over. And some think that’s just fine. But what would be lost? Why are we here? Why are we important? Stay tuned. 


Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Calendar of Horrors

Yesterday I checked out some dates on my wife’s Human Rights Watch  Calendar and couldn’t help but notice some of the special days they marked. Amongst them: 


• International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust (Jan. 27)

• International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (Feb. 6)

• International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers (Feb. 12)

• International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (March 21)

• Day of Remembrance of the Victims of the Rwandan Genocide (April 7)

• Day of Remembrance for all Victims of Chemical Warfare (April 29)

• International Day to End Obstetric Fistula (look it up) (April 23

• Anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre (April 31)

• International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking (June 26)

• International Day in Support of Victims of Torture (June 26)

• Sebrenica (in Bosnia)Massacre Memorial Day (July 11)

• World Day Against Trafficking in Persons (July 30)

• International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and Its Abolition (Aug. 23)

• International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances (Aug. 30)

• International Day to Protect Education from Attack (Sept. 9)

• International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (Oct. 17)

• International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists (Nov. 2)

• International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (Nov. 25)

• World Genocide Commemoration Day (Dec. 9)


Sorry to ruin your nice day, but that’s one sorry-assed list (and it could have been longer) reminding us that we are one sorry-assed species. That we are evolution’ biggest mistake. That horror knows no national borders. That perhaps  George Bernard Shaw was right when he wrote: 


“I don’t know if there are men on the moon, but if there are, they must be using the earth as their lunatic asylum.”


And yet. There could easily be another calendar with International Day of Children’s Laughter, International Day of Kids Learning to Skip, International Day of Friends Supporting Each Other, International Day of Self-forgiveness. And so on.


So as we turn towards the new year, choose your calendar wisely. 


Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Painted Cakes


      Painted cakes do not satisfy hunger.  -  Buddhist saying


I had the mixed blessing of getting to sit in on my grandson’s school music class. I was pleased to see that his teacher was a pleasant person who seemed to enjoy teaching the kids, but my bar for music teaching is pretty high and his was set pretty low. The worst was his dependence on pre-packaged music “education” videos that were teaching 5-year-olds the terms Presto, Allegro, Moderato and Largo. Not precisely at the top of a kindergartener’s wish list when it comes to making music. In typical school fashion, it was teaching something about music rather than having the kids express their innate musical selves. Looking at painted cakes rather than getting to eat them. And if you’re in a good Orff class, also learning how to bake them. 


Here I am, a forever teacher who devoted 45 years of his adult life teaching in a school, but always with the sense that school as we have known it is such an artificial construct that narrows the whole cake of our possibility to a thin narrow slice kept too long in the freezer. And so I had a good fortune to teach in a school that had the freedom to re-define school and begin with a profound understanding of the dignity and delight of each developmental stage of the children and wrap the curriculum around who they genuinely are, what they genuinely need, who they’re about to become. School turns from a dull factory/prison run by adults who have forgotten the children they once were to a community gathering where people of all ages come together to discover what they can do, what’s important to know, why and how to gift their accomplishments and understandings to the greater world. Anything less is wasting everybody’s time. 


There were dozens of opportunities in that music class for the kids to not only fully express their musical selves in the moment, but for the teacher to help shape it and refine it and bring it to a more expressive and colorful blossom. Instead it was mere screen entertainment with fancy Italian words that do little to advance the kids pleasure, skill and understanding. In the well-taught music class, kids learn about music by making music and in the Orff class, it goes further as they create music. So my advice to Malik’s music teacher: “Get thee to an Orff training!”


Naturally, this simple (but still too often overlooked) idea of learning about something by engaging in it with the full range of our ways of knowing— through the senses, through the hands, through the whole body, through the heart, through the analytic mind, through the intuitive mind, through the imaginative mind, through direct experience imitating those further along, through the act of creating and rearranging and restating and reimagining— applies to all subjects. Once you begin to teach like this, you’ve hit the motherlode. It’s more fun and engaging for the kids and more fun and engaging for you as the teacher. It’s the real deal. Everything else is painting cakes— or these days, downloading photos of them from Google images. 


For adults to lead children to their promise, they have to re-imagine the mind and body of the child at each stage of development and begin with who they are, not the fantasy images of the miniature adults we think they should be. When human beings trust Nature—both the actual cycles of the natural world and the natural cycles of the human being as a product and participant of Nature’s intricate evolution— things work better. 


A few quotes to drive the point home. And if this were a class, I’d have you write a poem about the main points or put it in a song or dance it. But let me appear to contradict myself. Painted cakes do not satisfy hunger and simply reading words is a kind of painted cake meal. But if the words are arranged artfully to strike the imagination, it can release something close to the memory of the taste and texture of the cakes themselves and be a kind of nutrient for the soul. So read on: 


“What is nature sharing with us? If something is allowed to grow the way it was designed to, it works. When we try to get it to conform to the supposedly more efficient image we have of it, we get grotesqueries, imbalances. When we try to get difficulties to conform to our way of thinking, we often push them to being fancier, and thus, absurd. We strip away the grace of what is real and true, and maybe even lovely.”   - Anne Lamott: Dusk, Night, Dawn(p. 87)


“What method was used to obtain such results? …There was no method to be seen. What to be seen was a child. A child’s soul freed from impediments was seen acting according to its nature. The characteristics of childhood which we isolated belong quite simply to the life of a child, just as colors belong to a bird and fragrance to a flower. They are not at all the products of an “educational method.” It should, however, be obvious, that education can have an influence by protecting them and nurturing them in a way that protects their natural development.…


The first thing to be done is to discover the true nature of the child and then assist him in his natural development. “  - Maria Montessori:  The Secret of Childhood: p. 136



“And so Orff Schulwerk invites us to release in the children that which they already are. It asks us to understand rhythm as a natural phenomena, not a human invention with piano teachers tapping out the counts. It’s in our bodies, it’s in our speech, it’s in our walk, our breath, our work. How to release it and how to shape it once released is the key question for the music teacher.”     


 - Doug Goodkin: Rhythmic Training in the Orff-Schulwerk (Le Rythme magazine: 2013)


Monday, November 22, 2021

Modern Grandparenting

I played catch once with my grandfather on his front lawn in Levittown, Long Island. In my memory, that’s about it in terms of my interaction with him. Don’t remember playing cards or taking trips together or baking honey-cakes with my grandmother or talking about their past or my future. I never thought it did any lasting damage to me to miss out on the deep spiritual connection that can happen between grandparents and grandchildren. That’s just how it was in those days— few at that time had any big expectations. Still,  when he passed away sometime around my 12thbirthday and my father hung a painting he did of him on the landing of the stairs, I blew a kiss to him every night for the next six years. So some part of me felt that there should be a connection and that nightly kiss was my part of the unspoken bargain. 


Coming to adulthood in the turbulent late sixties, all cultural assumptions were up for grabs and parenting was certainly one of them. As Garrison Keillor has noted, in my childhood, parenting was not a verb. You fed the kids, put them to bed, put a roof over their head and mostly told them to get out of the house and play. Which we all happily did. And yes, I played catch a bit more with my Dad than my Grandfather, went on some vacation trips, played some card and board games and such, but mostly kids played with kids and adults talked to adults and on some level, it worked out just fine.


But my wife and I and all our friends were different kind of parents, much more involved in the kids’ lives on every level and it came as no surprise that all of us ended up being very different kind of grandparents as well. So when my granddaughter Zadie was about to turn 10 four days ago, of course, we were going to put out the money for two plane flights and three nights in the neighborhood Air B&B. Of course we were going to shop for some of the gifts on her list and pick up the cake and I would play the piano for the Happy Birthday song and we would snap back into our routine of card games and board games and word games in the car, a solid and still-growing repertoire. All of that would have been enough and perhaps more than some grandparents feel is their duty and/ or pleasure. 


But of course, we took it further. We both made a slide show chronicling each of her ten years, created a scavenger hunt in the neighborhood for the kids she invited to her party, had two overnights with her and younger brother Malik, one watching the movie Pollyanna. I set up a first piano lesson for both of them with a Suzuki teacher and we both attended the lesson. Karen worked on potholder looms with them and I figured out four cool card tricks from a book I had gifted her that we both mastered. Normally, Karen would do an art class at her school, but things felt up in the air with the pandemic, so we both just visited both her and Malik in their classes (though I got to sing a few songs with each class). We treated them to a dinner out at a taco place and on our last afternoon, played some basketball, Karen and Zadie against Malik and I. 


In the midst of it all, each had at least one meltdown that made me feel betrayed by them in the light of all we were doing for and with them. But then I remind myself that they’re 6 and 10. I also wonder if setting it up so life with the grandparents is a constant carnival with ice cream treats lowers both their resilience and gratitude. After one unpleasant explosive confrontation with Zadie over a minor moment in our Bananagrams game, I let her cool off and we walked twice around the block to have a talk. I told her the story of how little I did with my grandparents and reviewed how much effort we made to come up and celebrate her birthday with her and yes, how expensive it all was and how bad it felt to be treated the way she had just treated us. I put it in a context, asking her what she thought the job of a grandparent is. Her first response was “to have fun with the grandkids” (something my grandparents certainly never would have said!) and then later, “to love them.” I assured it her I loved her unconditionally and loved to have fun with her, but then asked what he job as a grandchild was. What’s her responsibility in creating a culture of fun? By the end, it felt like she got it, was able to sincerely apologize and we moved on to have a lovely final day. 


There’s a moral in here somewhere and some of it has to do with recalibrating my own relationship, considering that fun is a good by-product, but not the goal and be clear with myself that anything I do for these kids comes from my own pleasure in expressing my love and sharing what I think is important, with no strings attached, no expectations of undying gratitude and no shock of betrayal when they behave precisely as kids do, exploding out of all proportion when it’s clear that the D that fell closer to her Bananagrams pile when she accidentally knocked into Malik’s words and his D disappeared from the word “Doctor” we all had clearly seen and was not on the floor or anywhere else we could see was clearly the same D she claimed was in her group of letters. In the child’s mind, her conviction that she had two D’s (or rather needed two D’s) overpowered any rational explanation and justified the emotional meltdown that followed. You get the idea.


Kids. You gotta love ‘em. And in spite of it all, I do!