By Maria Corse
I was reminded today that each of our lives is made up from the collective of stories that we create (live) throughout our lifetime (thanks, Trish). The most amazing part is that these individual tales are completely unique to each of us. I have three siblings, but the family recollections we share about particular events, when we are together, are completely different. In fact, I think I have fewer memories of our childhood than my brothers and sister, and I am the eldest.
I can, however, reminisce about the insane amount of time I spent with my grandparents – I recall it being every weekend and weeks on-end during the summer – but it probably wasn’t that often. It is where I learned to cook and appreciate garden fresh fruits and veggies, while standing on a stool at my beloved Nama’s elbow. And, where I could pick raspberries, eating more than ever went in the pail to make the most delicious pies and tarts. It is where I learned that perfection was not always required, when my grandma proclaimed, “it won’t show from the road,” after I had ripped out, and resewed a crooked hem three times in the skirt I was making. I recall the smell of my “Poppy’s” cigar and pipe smoke surrounding his massive recliner, crawling into bed with my Gram after he left for the early shift at Alcoa, donuts - oozing with raspberry jelly - from the Norwood bakery, and sweet and gooey, Sugar Daddy lollipops from Perry’s market.
Grandma and Poppy’s was my happy place. It was where I was accepted and loved for myself without having to share any of that attention with my sibs, where the bed-sheets were cool and crisp with the smell of summer sunshine, where I could read all day if so desired, and, where ice cream sundaes, with hard crack chocolate syrup, were a nightly ritual.
I think we forget that our personal identities are often tied directly to the narratives that our loved ones recite about us, as well as personal lore we tell ourselves. Some of those tales are positive and allow us to see ourselves as proficient and successful, while others have the opposite effect. Those negative anecdotes we tell (and believe) about ourselves are, I suspect, the most damaging of all.
I recognize that my childhood stories have played a major role in creating the person I am today. I can say, that cooking is an innate skill that I love, because I had the opportunity to do so as a very young child. My crazy tendency to do the opposite of everyone else – to walk my own path based on my unique ideas, and to stubbornly persist until the very obvious end - was born right there on those five acres of pure and unadulterated childhood paradise. It is also where I recognized that I am extremely shy, and, if given the opportunity, I will hide out with a book instead of interacting with people.
To this day, over ten years after her death, I feel my grandmother’s loving energy surrounding me. I know without a doubt that she is my guardian angel and she is so proud of all I have accomplished.
I encourage you to take time to examine your personal narrative – are you telling it with a favorable and affirmative spin, or are you weaving your tale with negative vibes? If it is the latter – consider a revision that includes writing yourself in as the hero - honor your idiosyncrasies, skills, and talents – take ownership of all that is you – and – celebrate.
Don't miss our house warming party on December 6th from 4-7pm. Join us to celebrate everyone who worked so hard to get us into our new home!
By Maria Corse
DRC is an innovative educational facility – which is exactly how we describe ourselves to the world. However, when I think about everything we do on any given day, that doesn’t even begin to illustrate a fraction of the actual work we are all engaged in. Relationship building is a far more accurate description, and, I contend, is the most important work we can possibly do as an educational community. If we don’t take the time to create those basic human connections, the amount of knowledge these kids may cram into their heads is beside the point and (I will argue) absolutely useless.
Every year, around this time, I write a few full-length profiles of individual DRC students (read last year's here, here, here, and here ). I would not be able to write those spotlights, if I did not have the extreme privilege of time to build relationships - through daily interactions and weekly mentoring sessions with every single kid at the center. Last year, I really wanted to profile a teen who had joined us that September, but, no matter what I did, I could not capture her essence. Even though I thought I did, I simply didn’t know her well enough, after two months, to write about her. That is no longer the case. Yesterday, the words practically poured from my brain through my fingertips and onto the screen. Over the past year, she and I have developed an affinity that goes beyond the normal teacher/student association. She feels comfortable talking to me about her anxieties and concerns, as well as her dreams and aspirations. She calls me her “not” mom. We have the luxury of being close without the hassle of familial ties. I can offer her suggestions and critiques and she doesn’t (won’t) take offense like she does with her “real” mom.
The absolute beauty of Deep Root Center, is that I am able to develop that closeness with every single kid here. It is fluid and easy. I am everyone’s “not” mom. They know that I trust them to make good decisions and to be their best selves. They each understand completely that I will always be available to listen, offer suggestions and help problem solve, if that is what they want, and I will advocate for them, no matter what. With that being said, they also know, and trust, that I, or one of the other community members, will call them out when they are being “poops.” Because, we all understand that mistakes and errors in judgment are part of the learning process.
See, we have time and space to do that. I have no rules or regulations to enforce, or, for that matter, agenda (or, curriculum) to follow. DRC is a safe place, where they are free to be themselves – to express emotion and to explore their interests and aspirations, wherever they may lead. We can be playful and silly or deadly serious.
In the end, we all comprehend that authenticity and honesty are the essential components in creating those fundamental links between individuals, as well as the entire community. And, in the process, we are growing compassionate and caring young people who are able to go into the world to build relationships based on respect and genuine kindness.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all!
There may or may not be a blog posted next week, depending on whether I am feeling inspired enough to write, while on the 13+ hour, overnight return train from Chicago, where I am, happily, spending the Holiday with my husband and both of our adult “kids”. I am looking forward to being together. It doesn’t happen often, now that they are grown and gone.
T'is the Season for giving.
Consider honoring a loved one with a donation to Deep Root Center.
Many years ago, one of my first students, who happened to be four and a half years old at the time, said that she wanted her school to feel like home. That honest sentiment, offered straight from the heart of that very young being, has remained with me, and inspired me to work hard to create an atmosphere of “homey – ness” in every single educational setting I have been part of.
However, a feeling of comfort, coziness, and congeniality were difficult to forge in some of the more sterile, utilitarian, and frankly uninspiring (ugly) environments I found myself in. Now all these years later, DRC inhabits an actual house - a very old house with tons of character and warmth (read – wonky, slanted, and scarred wooden floors, old-time porcelain door knobs on solid paneled doors, a nicely weathered front porch, weirdly placed outlets and light switches, original plaster and lathe walls, narrow farmhouse style stairs, southern facing windows, a centrally located large kitchen, and old-fashioned wooden outside doors that allow in a hint of fresh air, around the edges, from the ½ acre yard). Yes, indeed, 48 Riverside Drive is a place that we are all incredibly proud to call home.
The people have not changed, everyone who enters is still sincerely welcomed, and the mission and philosophy are the same; however, this permanent home has made an immense difference. It no longer feels borrowed or transient. And, that feeling of ownership permeates the space and influences how people behave here. I believe that emotional connection is the key.
The formally, self-described, grumpy twelve-year-old, now makes a point of gently bumping my hip at least once a day to say, “I am happy to be here today” and voluntarily heads up the kitchen cleaning crew at the end of the day. The six-year-old, previously defined, spinning dervish, who, on Friday, calmly sat and stacked paper cups, and then placed them on a stuffed toy giraffe as hats and mittens. After that independent exploration, which took up a good portion of the morning, he then headed outside to the backyard to shovel the fallen leaves into a pile and build stick houses, for hours, with the two - 10-year-olds, a 13-year-old, and 8-year-old, who, for the fourth day in a row, were captivated by their imaginary games and stories in the brisk air. The 13-year-old, who said she was interested in trying digital art, took a pen tablet from the art room closet and spent the entire afternoon figuring it out (playing with it). The, nearly, 16-year-old and 17-year-old spent a couple of afternoons working on our new “Respect” sign in the art room while giggling together and listening to music broadcast from a blue tooth speaker. The 16-year-old happily sprawled in any available space to draw, write, do her math, play the guitar, and create her web cartoon, and, who interrupted those tasks to offer whomever walked in the door a smile and a hug.
Friday, the 18-year-old and I spent time sorting through one box - one piece of furniture, at a time, to determine what we are going to use to put together a creative space in the cellar, where he wants to build costumes and other elements related to his interests in Viking History, Mythology, and Super Heroes. We made significant headway, by setting up work tables and arranging craft items on the shelves down there, as well as organizing the boxes of skates, boots, snow pants, and other outdoor gear for our Water, Woods, & Wild Wonders explorations.
Those are just a few vignettes, from the four days we have been here, before we are even completely unpacked. There are still tables and boxes of assorted “stuff” on the porch that don’t have a place. There are innumerable cartons filled with books, waiting for bookshelves to be built and installed, stacked in the upstairs hallway and inside the classroom closet. The Seedlings Room has not been completely unpacked nor has the music room. The garage is in state of disarray - filled with more tables, shelves, assorted cabinets, and various boxes that we really have no idea where they are going or if they will even fit in. Nevertheless, even with all that disorganized clutter, it, simply, doesn’t feel incomplete or unsettled.
Ownership gives us the license to invent the home we all envision, in whatever amount of time it takes us. Each of us has our own definition of home; therefore, this community is built from a combination of all of our individual characters and ideas. And, the beauty of Deep Root Center, is that the vision grows and changes as new stakeholders are welcomed and enfolded into this awe-inspiring amalgamation of unique personalities.
Thank you to the Canton Unitarian Universalist Church for supporting Deep Root Center with their Social Action Shared Offering yesterday. It was great to catch up with old friends and meet new folks who were interested in learning more about DRC.
Join us December 6th from 4-7pm.
We are busily working on getting our fall funding appeal out in the mail. While you are waiting for your paper copy to arrive, you can read it below and then drop on over to our website to easily make your donation on-line.
Learned helplessness is probably the most common, the least recognized, and definitely the most frustrating affliction I encounter among the young people who join DRC. Some of them come to us with medically diagnosed or institutionally identified designations, which they proudly own. While others have been bullied and come away with damaging epitaphs, which, strangely, also become points of pride.
Those of you who read this blog regularly, know that I despise labels, in their many forms, with a deep passion. As indicated above, they often become profoundly held convictions that are used, ad- nausea, as excuses or crutches.
Sometimes, learned helplessness is subtle, it may take me a while to realize what is going on, and at other times the metaphorical, huge, red victim sign is worn prominently around their necks – one that quite literally weighs them down. (The posture is unmistakable.) The entire world can see it without investigating too deeply. Blame and defensive attitudes are automatic and unconscious responses, which become justifications in every situation.
These kids are frequently commitment-phobes. They have no idea what interests them, and even if they did, they don’t want to (won’t) take on anything new or make their own decisions. Mainly, because in doing so, they ultimately have to take responsibility for the positive results, which totally ruins their closely held personal story of inadequacy, as well as their mistakes (they can’t blame someone or something else).
And, are they ever afraid of making mistakes! Each student understands that errors are to be avoided at all costs – they equal a bad grade or, even worse, a public reprimand.
Yes indeed, the coercive system of conformity, competition, one-size fits all, and high stakes testing has taught them well.
You can probably understand why I deem learned helplessness the hardest and most infuriating obstacle for us (them) to overcome. What these kids understand about themselves and about the world is the absolute antithesis of all that holds true of self-directed learning.
At DRC, during our mentoring sessions, we consistently ask our students what they are interested in – what lights their fire, and what they want to take on, including their aspirations. We want them to make clear choices with confidence, and we expect them to make mistakes because we recognize that blunders are the foundation for real learning.
Ultimately, what these kids need to shed this self-perpetuating and crippling label, is time to decompress – something some of them don’t have a lot of, considering they often join us as older teens – as well as, kindness, over the top encouragement, and endless patience.
Don’t be fooled – even though we don’t (won’t) tell our kids what, where, how, and when to learn - providing the elements and place for self-directed education is an exhausting and daunting task. But, oh man, it is, so very, worth it when another one of “my” kids smiles at me and says with self-assurance beaming from their eyes, “hey, can I …?” Or, when they offer an authentic and spontaneous gesture of kindness to someone who is obviously struggling. And, when they agree to take on something that I know they were previously deathly afraid to do.
These are all the transformational moments of pure hope and inspiration that I live for. In reality, I can’t empower “my” kids; however, I can give them the tools and unconditional support that helps them to discover and revel in their very own superpowers.
We Are In!
This past Thursday was our first day at 48 Riverside Dr. Through the intense excitement of finally being in our new home, comes the realization that we still have a ton of organizing and setting up to accomplish over the next couple months. Trust me when I tell you that the view of the crammed full garage is a scary sight indeed. We promise to keep you updated on our progress. Maybe, someday soon we’ll even have a photo of a completely set-up carpentry shop in that garage.
UU Church Shared Offering
Next Sunday, November 11th, the Social Action Committee at the Canton UU Church has designated DRC as the recipient of their SASO (Social Action Shared Offering). The entire collection for that day will be donated to DRC. I will be speaking briefly during the service about our work. Please join us for the service at 10:30am. We appreciate our neighbor’s recognition and support of our mission.
Join us December 6th from 4-7 for a celebration of our new home and all of the folks who contributed their time and financial resources to make this dream come true. We hope to see you there!
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