For the Children . . .

Vasek Polak Children’s Center in Long Beach, CA.

This is the children’s time of year. I don’t even think it is as much about getting Christmas presents as it is about a feeling of magic that happens at this special time. Lights everywhere, and people in colorful clothes seeming to be flying as they go to get last minute ingredients for one of the special meals served everywhere for all kinds of celebrations.

Adults seem preoccupied with all the preparations for gift exchanges, getting good bargains, addressing cards for friends and acquaintances, and just generally preoccupied.

This is a time when parents and others need to slow down and be extra aware of where their children are, what they are doing, and who they are with every moment. Here in Southern California, we have had a number of children kidnapped by criminal types who just wait for this time of year. Equally bad is leaving your children to see Santa and then not staying with them. And what about the moms who leave babies and young children in the cars while they “just run inside to take care of something for a minute.” Usually it happens in the summer, leaving the children to roast to death. What would you do if you came back from your shopping and found your child gone or dying in your car?

Children love magic, and they are magic. Let’s all help keep it that way. Every child is special regardless of what he or she does have or does not. It is what makes my Christmas for sure, and I hope it makes yours too.

For the Children

pexels-Source 1photo-556669

I absolutely love working with children and teaching them new things. Many years ago, likely in my 30’s, I served as a volunteer to teach illiterate adults how to read. It never had occurred to me that when people grow up not knowing how to read, many of them have also missed most of childhood’s best parts. They have missed not only the wonderful children’s books, generally because they had no one to read to them, but they have also missed out on a lot of wonderful childhood experiences, like being able to go trick or treating or making a costume for Halloween, or having someone help them to learn how to carve a pumpkin.

I know many of you wonder how this could happen. Think about the migrant workers, the homeless people (and yes they often have children living with them), and even my own parents never finished high school. So I went to school, but because I could not depend on my parents to be able to help me with my homework, I honestly struggled with understanding how to do my homework, and when a child cannot do well in school, they often also struggle to fit in socially.

I was bullied a lot because I wore clothes from thrift stores, ate day-old bread from the special store that was so cheap in those days, and I did not know how to make friends or talk to others. To top it all off, I quit school in my first year of high school. I had gotten married instead of choosing to go to Germany with my mother and father during the time of the wall I believe. And so I found myself pregnant, and in those days, pregnant girls did not go to school, at least not where I lived.

But some miracles happened for me. Despite the fact that I was extremely shy and had difficulty with school subjects except for writing, I really did love to read. Thank goodness it was something I learned on my own early on, partly from not wanting to go outside and play with the other children because they bullied me at home as well as at school.

Although my mother had taught me absolutely nothing about having children or anything that was physically personal, when my daughter was born, not only did I breast-feed her and my two boys at a time when women really were not doing that, but I read to my children every single night, and I decided to teach my daughter to read when she was close to two years old. I made some little index cards, and on one side, I wrote a word such as hand in big letters, and on the other side I drew a picture of a hand. I showed her the word, and then said the word, and then showed her the picture of the word, and I would also hold up my hand and say the word. No one taught me how to do this. I just figured it out on my own. Now she had a hunger to learn, and I am telling you honestly that she was trying to potty train herself at six months old in one of those little chairs for that purpose, so I guess it was the same way with learning.

One night I had put her to bed, and I had given her the little Golden Books that she liked to have me read to her after I had read her a story. Out in the living room after awhile, I heard her talking in the bedroom, and went in to see what she was reading. She was holding her book and “reading” all the words and turning the pages at the appropriate times. I could not believe what I was hearing! How could she be reading these words when I had not taught those to her yet? I sat beside her and asked her if she would read me the story, and I watched her carefully and to this day, I remember her not missing a single word, but I realized that she wasn’t reading all the words. She had memorized those stories page by page!

I would not be able to follow my children’s education. I will just say that it was truly a traumatic event for me, and shocking for someone still so shy and lacking confidence to try to stick up for myself. I had never smoked, never done drugs, never drank alcohol, or did anything but to be a mother. She was four when they all disappeared. I did not know where they were until some 28 years later, when I located at least my daughter through the Salvation Army, at that time for just $10, after barely two months. I had not been able to provide much information as I suffered from severe amnesia and PTSD. I discovered that she was a published writer, an artist, and even a fine quilter (I did those things too), plus a lot more that I never did (such as riding bicycles in marathons, etc.) She was only four years old the last time I had seen her. We were reunited but I never saw the boys again. They were too young to remember me.

In later years of my life, I would get a degree in Archaeology and just a few years ago one in Criminal Justice, and I would have careers and even my own businesses. But my favorite career of all has been working as a substitute paraeducator, aide and uncertified teacher for special needs children with physical/developmental and emotional challenges. And I became a volunteer senior tutor for illiterate adults, a tutor for children and adults, as well as a mentor/advocate for challenged adults, particularly for artists trying to establish careers.

It was during those years that I learned how illiterate adults not only frequently cannot read if at all at the lowest levels, but they have also missed out on their childhood memories – parents reading to them, helping them to celebrate rites of childhood, or getting to do things many of us take for granted such as trick-or-treating, or even getting to carve a pumpkin or make a costume. In my case I was shy and my parents could not read at a high enough level. They too had missed out on those experiences many children do have so they didn’t know how to do those with us either. We did do some things, but because I was so shy, I didn’t do as many as my brother did.

I think for the remainder of my life, I will tutor illiterate adults when I have an opportunity, and help them experience the things they missed out on earlier in life. And I will volunteer to help others who have some form of physical or other challenges as well. I can honestly say that I don’t regret any part of my life, even those times that were painful spiritually and otherwise. It has all been good. I could not have the compassion I do now for others if I had not struggled my own self. And I will remain a student of the world for the rest of my life too. I love learning, and often as I sit pouring over something I have read, I look back in my mind’s eye and see that little beautiful daughter of mine delightedly memorizing and “reading” herself one of the stories she loved.

What Shall We Celebrate?

Lady Liberty, Symbol of Strength, Peace, and Freedom. Courtesy Pexels.

As most of us prepare for the Fourth of July, with its fireworks, barbecues and picnics, vacations, and joyful gatherings with friends and loved ones, perhaps we should take a few moments to set forth some prayers for those who have not yet fully gained or even partially gained their freedom throughout the world.

Frederick Douglass had it right when he delivered a famous speech on July 5, 1852, in Corinthian Hall, Rochester, New York, addressing the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society. The speech, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” In the speech, he brought out the contradictions to a celebration of liberty, citizenship, and freedom as an offense to the black slaves, who had none of those things. The Fourth of July was supposed to be directed to ALL citizens of the United States.

Frederick Douglass, courtesy Wikipedia.

The times have changed, but the inequality has grown out of proportion. Today, as we prepare for the Fourth of July, let us offer a prayer for those living under modern slavery, which encompasses more than some nearly 30,000,000,000 enslaved people (as of 2013) – adults, children and babies alike – no longer black slaves alone, but all colors, races, political, religious or spiritual or other beliefs – in every manner of slavery imaginable. The highest number of enslaved people is in Asia, but the United States has a huge number as well. No matter where these human beings are located or how many of them there are, we cannot blindly celebrate without remembering those who are not as fortunate as we are.

“Oh Lord, thank you for this freedom that you have bestowed upon me and those I love. I know how precious it is when I see how many people in this world are suffering every day because they have no hope. I have difficulty understanding this inequality, and I honestly don’t know what I can do to help except to offer this small and perhaps inadequate prayer. But what my soul cries out is WHY? Why must innocent people suffer in this manner when you have provided enough for all of us? I have no answers, Lord. I want to believe that there is some power in this world that is good and that can nourish and care for people who have done nothing to deserve what they are suffering. Thank you.”

A Prayer for Our Memory

I have seen too much for my young eyes.
Oh God, I come to you this day, my head bowed in sorrow.  You created this magnificent world. And look what we have done to it and to you.  Today, we celebrate Memorial Day to honor the soldiers who died fighting, each side with their own belief systems, somehow mistakenly believing that they were fighting for what was right.
We fight each other believing that we are fighting for freedom, but as long as we continue to fight, we will never be free.
When we think of the day of Memory, we need to remember not only soldiers who gave their lives, but for the millions of everyday citizens of countries who died, and especially the children, because the children are the future. The children are not old enough to understand the meaning of war. And yet they too lost their lives, or suffered physical and emotional damage that will follow them all the days ahead.
You gave us this abundant world, God, with enough food and resources to feed each person on this earth, and yet so many are going without food or warmth, or thirsting because we have failed in our ability to nurture the world instead of fighting to gain control over it.
Oh God, I pray to give us wisdom, and most of all, God, help us to learn compassion for all the others in this world and to see them as we see our own selves. We are all sacred because we are in you as you are in us. This I pray in your Memory.

My Prayer for Those Who are Homeless

Oh God, today I looked out into the hail and the sleet and the thunder,
And I felt safe and warm inside with my animals.
But then I thought about all those who are without homes or shelters.
I thought of all the people in this world who go to bed hungry and cold,
Or without something to help their thirst.
I thought of the little children, who live in rags, dirty, and perhaps without shoes.
And I felt ashamed, God.
You created this world full of people of every color and culture, every language, every political and spiritual or religious belief system. You created all the creatures on this earth, and all the plants, and everything including the tiniest grains of sand.
And it was good. We were all meant to be on this earth and to help it survive, or we would not be here.
But instead, we hate those whose languages we cannot speak, whose cultures and spiritual or religious beliefs are not ours, and we seek ways to overcome every enemy, when in fact, our worst enemies are those in the compass of our hearts and our minds. We want to destroy those whom we believe are against us, and worst still, we create people who are invisible to us. They cry out in the streets, and in the bare spots along the train tracks. They look up with hope, but instead find empty stares, or people who don't even look at them. God, we have done shameful things to our fellow human beings, and to the creatures and the plants, and perhaps even the tiniest grains of sand. As we looked past the invisible ones, God, we looked past you. We go to churches and cathedrals and to our places of worship, and we proclaim loudly that we love you and we praise you, but we look right past you as you sit in the street with an empty cup, or we turn away in disgust at a mother with nothing to feed her child. We perhaps throw a rock at a stray animal, and God, you are in all of us, so we cannot say we love you when we have made you invisible. You created us ALL in your image, and so God, you are all the people who live on this wonderful earth, and you never told us that you loved everyone but the invisible people.
Help us to truly open our eyes, God, and to open our hearts and our minds. Help us to see that every human being, every creature, every plant, and even the tiniest grains of sand are you, God.

To Mothers with Love

A Mother’s Beautiful Love for Her Baby

There is nothing more beautiful in this world than a mother’s genuine love for her child or children. It is definitely something worth celebrating.

The woman who composed the words for “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” Julia Ward Howe, first proposed the celebration of a Mother’s Day in 1870 to recognize peace and protest following the Civil War. Despite her dedicated work to form annual organized events in Boston to honor mothers, Her efforts did not produce event results per se, but her impassioned proclamation for all mothers still exists, and perhaps is even more meaningful in the world today.

Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of tears! Say firmly: ‘We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.

“Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.

From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, ‘Disarm, disarm! The sword is not the balance of justice.’ Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violence indicate possession.

As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each learning after his own time, the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.”

Some Mothers Would Give Their Own Lives to Protect Their Little Ones. This mother may be protecting her little ones from a Hawk or other predator.

In 1907, Anna Jarvis, a Methodist, began a campaign to establish a permanent Mother’s Day. By the following year, the YMCA had taken up the cause and, in 1914, Woodrow Wilson signed a congressional resolution establishing Mother’s Day in the United States. In time, the day came to be celebrated in many other countries.


In 1914, Woodrow Wilson signed a congressional resolution establishing Mother’s Day in the United States.

Regardless of where you are located, what you have or don’t have, I want to wish each and every mother among you the very best life has to offer for today, tomorrow and always. When you bring up a child as well as you can, you are doing something remarkable for our world. Julia Ward Howe didn’t have it wrong; today we can understand her sentiments for all the children of the world.

Art for Children

Slice Quilt by Cut-Loose Quilters for new Orange Children’s Library, Orange, CA.

Years ago I belonged to a small private quilt group in Orange, CA – Cut-Loose Quilters, begun by Jamie Fingal, a renowned art quilter for many years. We made a lot of exciting projects and did a lot of really fun and unique things, but this was one of my all-time favorites. This is called a slice quilt which means that each of us participated in making one of the vertical panels, and on the side panels, we each made a horizontal panel.

The quilt was designed on paper by our fearless leader with the help of one of our other gals, and then the panels were cut and each of us got one. Mine was the yellow one, and we each got to choose our colors for our panels and any lettering on our panels. The quilt was made as a donation for the new Children’s Library and the City of Orange gave us a very nice thank you talk and a plaque to remember our gift. Parts of the quilt were “sold” to raise money to buy more books, though the quilt still hangs in the library to this day. In 2018, we had a 10-year reunion at the site, and it was wonderful to remember just how much fun we had and how good we all felt about creating something that would be enjoyed by children for many years.

I have since made other cloth projects for my classrooms too, but never any as much fun as this. Here is a photo of all of us ladies who made the quilt.

Cut-loose Quilters from left: Terry, Joanell, Yours Truly, Tracy, Jamie Fingal (fearless leader), Cindy, Vicky, and Peggy

I will always remember so many of the wonderful adventures we had in this group. There are some wonderfully talented ladies among us, and I feel very honored that they included me. Thank you forever, Jamie and ladies.