Emily’s New World

I just about growled when I walked into Emily’s college dorm room. Mother Bear. Mother Bobcat. Mother Wolf. Mother Pit Viper. I am not sure who I was, but I was MAD.

Emily has a triple in her new college dorm. The technology of the times meant that, before her arrival yesterday, she had facebooked, instant messaged, emailed, phoned, and even met one of her new roommates in person before arriving at school. This had been a lovely way to begin life away from home with new people.

But when we walked into Emily’s room, I found myself reacting in a rather primal way.

Because the three roommates were arriving on different days, Emily had suggested that they wait until they were all there to decide how to set up the room. The trio had agreed in a conference call to wait.

One reason Emily suggested waiting is because she had heard me tell, too many times perhaps, the story of my arrival at college. When I opened the door to my freshman room, I found my roommate had completely moved in ahead of me taking the best closet, the best side of the room, and the best window. Her mother and aunt had hung hideous curtains in our two windows and put matching hideous bedspreads on our beds and shag rugs on our floor. Everything was a rusty orange.

I don’t think my roommate had any control over her relatives behavior but I didn’t understand that at the time and held her responsible for what had happened. A further problem was that I had no notion of my right to negotiate anything in our life together or any sense of my right to reconfigure our relationship or our room at any point during our long year together. Though I did remove the bedspread from my bed, I thought a nice person would just accept the situation. I thought a nice person would not feel as upset as I did about what had happened. I actually felt ashamed that I cared so much about things being done before I had any chance to weigh in with my opinion.

It wasn’t so much my roommate that dug the grave in our relationship, but me. My childhood had trained me well to roll over and take whatever was tossed my way. Nothing much had been negotiable in my childhood household and for some reason I had long been cast in the role of the family black sheep who got second best, if anything at all. As I embarked on this relationship with my freshman year roommate, I didn’t understand I was entering new territory, a situation in which I was an equal partner with a fellow human. I didn’t grasp the essential idea that I had volition to shape the relationship. Sadly, neither did she, so we muddled along through a year of misunderstandings.

I was raised to be passive. During my childhood, it had worked to my mother’s personality’s advantage to have me this way. I internalized all my angry feelings about my powerlessness and second class citizenship in my family. I escaped into a world of books, though my body constantly called me back to BE in my life and address what was going on. Besides endless bronchitis, a disease I link to my feelings of grief and despair, my rage about my situation surfaced in the form of endless injuries and broken bones. On the surface of things, there was never a ripple of dissension breaking the enforced “harmony” of our childhood home. Yet within my own body, battles were a constant.

So I counted myself out completely as I entered my freshman year room. I stood alone in the room with this strange new roommate, her older sister who went to our college, her twin sister who also was a freshman at our college, and her mother and her aunt both of whom had gone to this college. I didn’t even have the mixed blessing of my parents at my side to bump my numbers and potentially my power in the situation. This was because my parents had hardly turned off the car when they dropped me at my dorm.

Their daily life revolved around their drink schedule. It was nearly lunchtime when they unloaded my two bags. They needed to get a move on to speed off to their midday martinis. Had they been there, it wouldn’t have been a help anyways. They would not have validated my feelings of unfairness because the glue that held our family together in some kind of horrible unit was this pervasive notion that everyone was either better than or worse than everyone else. Based on a criteria known only to them, they would have met my roommate and decided immediately that I deserved the worst side of the room or the best side based on a snap judgment that she was the better or worse person. There would have been no suggestion that perhaps we were equals who needed to divide things fairly.

Fast forward thirty odd years to find me entering Emily’s room. As I looked around the room, I nearly hit the ceiling with an explosion of feeling. You can guess the scene, can’t you?

The roommate who had arrived first had taken the bed by the window, entirely filled the only bookcase with her stuff, taken and completely filled to the brim one of the two closets (when three people needed to share the two closets) and taken the best desk, positioned with the greatest light. The degree to which she had settled in made it appear she had been there six months, not overnight. She had even left towels on the best towel rack by the door. A note from her said she had taken a full closet because she didn’t want one of the bureaus. I think this was when I snarled in Emily’s direction, “As if how she feels about bureaus means you don’t deserve closet space.” A book called, “The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run into at College” was prominently displayed on “her” bookcase. I was tempted to take off my clothes and see what she would do with a naked parent!

Having me MAD was perhaps easier for Emily than having me weeping. Emily was great about the situation, She didn’t get sucked into the better than worse than dynamic AT ALL. She was so much more balanced than I was when I was her age. Heck, so much more balanced than I am now! She put her stuff in a neutral position in the room and calmly talked me down, “Mom, don’t worry. I can take care of myself. I am not going to let her do this. When we are all here in a couple of days, I will make sure we figure out the room arrangement fairly.”

With that, I dragged myself back from the unfinished business of thirty years ago, figuring I could ruminate later about why I had gone code orange when I entered her room.

Clearly, Emily was all set to take care of herself in a million ways I had been unable to when I was her age. Clearly she had both a skill set and a sense of her own value that I lacked during my own freshman year.

She knew herself an equal member of her new tribe. She didn’t need my angry reaction to go forward or feel empowered. I could let it go. I knew she would prevail in her desire to create a democracy in the room. There would be no default autocracy like my wounded roommate and I created.

The time to leave Emily to her new life came. The weeping could be postponed no more and so we had our group cry. Then, as our car headed away from Emily’s dorm, I glanced back to see her strolling across a shaded lawn towards her first pre-season soccer practice. She was walking with a fellow freshman soccer player. They were talking with great intensity, swept up into their new world already.

I was glad for a couple of differences between the two occasions thirty odd years apart.

1) I was glad martinis were not involved in this occasion.

2) I was glad that unlike my poor beleaguered freshman self, Emily counted herself an equal among peers, no more and no less.

3) I was glad that Emily had an internalized sense of her own value that would carry the day even as her Mother Bear Mother Bobcat Mother Wolf Mother Pit Viper drove away.

And 4) I was glad that sometime shortly after I settled into my freshman year orange abode, I began a disorganized but determined search for a different way to live with people than the way of my tribe of origin, a search that would involve a zillion books, and tens of thousands heart to hearts with spiritual teachers, therapists, beloved friends, cats, dogs, Angels, Elementals and God.

As I saw Emily in action in her new life, I saw that my search had been of value not just as a means to ease the inner battles that raged within me, but as a support to people with whom I shared my search, people including precious Emily. I could see that my search had helped her experience, even in a time of stress, her great equality with everyone else, her Godness in a sea of God. That alone made all the searching worthwhile.

Megan, Ben and Rhino in Africa

As fate would have it, last school year, Ben was asked to give a tour of the school where he teaches to several Kenyans working to create a school outside Nairobi. As he walked around campus with the Beverly School of Kenya’s founder Abdi Lidonde, Ben was inspired by what he heard. By the end of the tour, Ben had decided to go to Africa this summer to offer whatever help he could.

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This is the forty acre piece of land where the school is to be built. It will be self sustaining with the students helping to raise the food for the school during their vacations. The soil is very fertile and the climate perfect for year round agriculture. They will have farm animals as well as garden plots.

The Beverly School of Kenya, set to open in the fall of 2008, is named for Beverly Lidonde, an indomitable woman who raised twenty five children. Her son Abdi emigrated to America and put himself through college by working as a night janitor at Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. Eventually Abdi became the head of the physical plant at Holy Cross.

At a certain point in his life, Abdi and another fellow Kenyan and childhood friend named Alice Mudiri decided they wanted to give back something to Kenya. They came up with the idea of building a boarding school. Initially they hoped to build a school large enough to educate and house ten students, but with the help and encouragement of other people, especially an American named Tom Maher, the Beverly School will someday educate and give a home to up to three hundred students.

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Here is Alice Mudiri, interviewing potential students in Masaii land.
Children going to the school will be children either without parents due to the AIDS epidemic or children who would never get a chance to get educated because of the financial situation of their family. While education is technically free in Kenya, children must buy books and uniforms, items way out of reach of most Kenyans.

When Ben and his girlfriend Megan went to Kenya this summer, they helped Alice to travel around the countryside interviewing children interested in going to the Beverly School. Their travels with Alice and the other Kenyans working to create this school so inspired Ben and Megan that they plan to return, hopefully next summer. Ben wants to return to Kenya with a film crew. He is intent on making a film about the school in order to help get funds for the project. And Megan? Megan is learning Swahili so she can talk to everyone more easily.

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Not that her lack of Swahili seems to have slowed down her communication with all the children she met! Here she shares bubbles with some new friends.
The Beverly School will educate children from kindergarten age through twelfth grade. However, Abdi and Alice feel strongly about not separating siblings so if a sibling group contains a child younger than kindergarten, he or she will be taken care of at the school until ready for kindergarten. Abdi and Alice feel very strongly about keeping siblings together because this is all the family that most of their students have left.

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Here are the first two children set to enroll at the Beverly School. When Hilary and Vincent met Abdi Lidonde and Tom Maher they were orphans living in a three foot box in the Kisumu slums near Lake Victoria. They were eight and ten. Though they had no family and were not related to each other, they had formed an intense bond and worked to keep each other alive. When they saw Abdi and Tom, they decided to follow them out of the slum and take their chances that these two would take care of them. The strategy worked and they are now being taken care of by friends of Abdi’s until the school opens next fall.

Megan and Ben went with Alice to the slums of Kisumu to interview potential students. This was the heart of their visit to Kenya.

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This young mother was near death from AIDS. It took her many minutes to sit up for this conversation with Alice. Her great anxiety was the fate of her two children and Alice promised to enroll both children at the Beverly School and see that when she died, the two children would get care and shelter until the school opens next fall.

When Ben and Megan returned to Kisumu the next day, they could see the peace that Alice had given this mother.

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Her children would be saved.

Ben and Megan learned that virtually all the adults in the Kisumu slum have AIDS. A woman going door to door selling food helped Alice know the most dire situations in need of immediate attention in her part of the slum.
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Together they moved through the endless slum hearing one heart breaking story after another and meeting children and adults of the most incredible courage.
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These two had found themselves jobs at age two and four and then eventually found a home with a friend of Abdi’s family.
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Ben and Megan were struck by how the younger children had such hope while the older children had begun to understand exactly how bad their situation was.
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While most of the younger children seemed to miraculously find some joy in their lives, this family was extremely subdued. Alice discovered they had not eaten in several days and were about to be evicted from the windowless cell where they lived.

Food was sent for and while they ate, everyone heard their story. When the woman’s husband died of AIDS, she became the possession of her husband’s brother. When she told her brother in law that she would not sleep with him because of her AIDS, she was thrown out by his family and her brother in law took her sewing machine which had been her livelihood.

She started to sell roasted corn by the roadside but an AIDS shot she was given to slow the course of the disease made it impossible for her to use her arm and she was no longer able to make even this small amount of money for her family. Megan gave each of these children one of the bears I had knit, but this was a tragedy that needed much more than that.
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As I looked at Megan and Ben’s slides and heard these stories, I found myself so awed by Abdi and Alice’s ability to navigate the overwhelming situation of their country without despair. Instead, they have a plan. It is to not just a plan to offer temporary relief in the form of a meal here or there, but a long term plan to give a group of children lives.

Abdi noted that educating children at the Beverly School would affect way more people than just the students of the school. He told Ben that Kenya was such a small country and education was considered such an important thing, that each of the children educated at the school would go back into their society with a tremendous amount of status. This would give each of the graduates of the Bevery School the potential to make great positive changes in their communities.

When Ben and Megan travelled to the savannah to Masai land they noticed that the one educated man in the Masaii community where they went was looked to by the rest of the group in just the way Abdi had explained it.
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The gentleman in the grey suit is the man who was educated and therefore the de facto leader of the group.

Masaii had travelled for days to meet with Alice. Megan who listened to each interview was impressed with how articulate the children were about their desire and RIGHT to an education.
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Meanwhile, Ben wanted to set off overland into the savannah. He said he had never been anywhere that had called to him as loudly.
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This was true for rhino too.

If you would like to support the Beverly School of Kenya in any way, contact them at www.beverlyschoolofkenya.com

If you would like to be a part of a project to knit a small stuffed lion animal for the bed of each child at the school or help with an effort to sew a quilt for each child’s bed at the school, please contact me, Molly Sheehan at our email address of [email protected] THANK YOU!

Departures

A swarm left one of the beehives today and settled high in a nearby pine tree. No chance to retrieve this one and put it in a hive next to its mother hive. It felt fitting. This swarm’s bid for absolute freedom.

Late August these last few years has meant the departure of various children to new ventures away from the farm. The last week in August this year we’ll have our largest exodus yet, when Emily leaves for her first year of college, Lizzy moves into a faculty apartment at the Putney School and Ben settles back into his faculty apartment in a dorm at Kimball Union.

As William is quick to note, this means only one child at home to do the dishes AND feed the dogs AND set the table AND do all the chores that once were divided among four sets of hands.

To prepare for new jobs and new school years, everyone but me has gone off on last minute adventures. The three older children went to NYC for some serious shopping, Jim went to Connecticut for an end of summer visit with his mom and William has gone off on a thirty six hour fried dough junket at the local Cornish Fair. Yes, there is supposed to be some showing of cows in there, but when you are twelve, its really all about the punishing rides and fried dough.

Anyways, these temporary departures leave me and the swarm and the cats and dogs in a quiet emptiness that has been rare this busy summer. All of us testing the waters of what lies ahead.

When a swarm leaves a hive, it goes to a temporary location while bee scouts are sent out from the swarm to find possible locations for their new home. These scouts report back possibilities to the swarm and then the swarm actually votes which possible location it wants the hive to move to.

When a swarm lifts off for its new home, it is a sight to behold. The swarm rises up about fifty feet into the air. Then this swirling mass of bees starts to move so fast that even as I have occasionally tried to run after a swarm to see where it is going, I have never been able to keep up with its speedy departure.

Eventually, sometime in the next day or so, this swarm will vote and go. I have been watching the remaining hives today, trying to sense which hive emptied out some of its members. Are the bees inside one of these hives like William, feeling the pain of fewer hands to wash the dishes/collect the nectar? Is the Queen bee who remains feeling glad for the space or bereft or maybe a little bit of both?

I have no idea what it will feel like this fall when the troops roll and just me, Jim, and William remain here. Our hive will probably be tidier, quieter, and William won’t have nearly as many dishes to wash as he thinks because the main dish generators will have left the building.

I am ready for less domestic engineering. I won’t mind a little bit less clutter, fewer meals to cook for the masses and a mudroom census of less than forty five pairs of running shoes, cleats, flip flops, and boots. While I am happy that each departing child is about to experience new community, new adventures, and an expansion of their lives into hives of their own, I am also delighted at the prospect of stretching my own wings in new directions. Unhitched from some of my domestic duties, I expect to discover hidden combs in this hive of mine.

Yet, I am still me. This means I will be glad that unlike swarms that depart once and for all, departing children seem to choose to return to the mothership hive for visits. And you know what? I bet when this happens, even William will be glad to see the dishes pile up.

Golden Wings

One new Rose Flower Essence from this summer is Golden Wings Rose.

Right now, a time when most Roses are past, Golden Wings is giving us all a lovely second showing of Flowers and her haunting fragrance fills the gardens.
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Here is our working definition for this new friend, a definition that will no doubt shift and deepen as we all get to know this Flower and her Essence better.

“A stunning single Rose in an ethereal yellow with red and orange stamens. Aptly named, this Rose helps us find freedom from fear, specifically the fear that we are doing the wrong thing. It is an Essence of Faith for the earnest seeker, reminding us that we cannot get lost from God or fall outside of God because we are in God always. Golden Wings Rose notes, “You never left the Garden of Eden because you are the Garden of Eden. That idea is just a cultural sanskara that I will help you release.” (For more on sanskaras, see blog on 3/7/2007 on ‘Carry Less’)

Brooklyn’s Finest

Summer’s bounty comes in many shapes and sizes. This weeks bounty included a surprise visit from Catherine Boorady, former staff Goddess now Queen of Brooklyn, her husband Michael, and dog Motomo.

During our visit, Michael helped Jim build a door for the woodshed place to toss bikes lawnmower palace much deserved woodworking shop for Jim. Yes, we have finally talked him into accepting a space designated for his tools, woodworking equipment and projects.

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Michael, now a contractor in Brooklyn, helped Jim to build and throw up this sliding door faster than you can say Park Slope.

Michael and Catherine’s regal companion Motomo broke all the rules (AND GOT AWAY WITH IT) by swimming in the goldfish pond. Blessedly, a befuddled Riley and May May observed but have not copied said antics.
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In the office, we put Catherine back in the saddle for a day putting labels on bottles.

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She said it was “restful after life in Brooklyn”. We said “thanks” as we were grateful for her experienced help during the summer rush of things to do inside and out.

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After his refreshing dip, Motomo came in to make sure Catherine was doing a good job (She was).

The visit culminated with a festive dinner (of course) with the first ever Green Hope Farm apple crisp.

After everything I said with such confidence last year about clearly not having apple trees that cross pollinate properly and therefore long years without apples stretching ahead, I am literally having to eat my words!

We are having a heck of an apple year with all the apple trees groaning under the weight of ripening fruit. (Add this to the mounting evidence that I do not know what I am talking about.)

The first laden tree is ripe for the picking.

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Having lost my early map of Green Hope Farm plantings, I can only guess what variety of apples these are. I think they are Yellow Transparent, a lovely August ripening apple, delicious fresh off the tree but also excellent when cooked, though not much of a keeper ( this last detail according to my apple book, former details now road tested by apple crisp recipients and wandering children who have been eating these pale yellow lovelies off the trees all week).

The fact that these are not terribly good keepers means I must stop now and leave you to go to the kitchen to do something with today’s haul. Ciao!
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