The Universal Child

“Within the child lies the fate of the future.” – Maria Montessori

Cobwebs…Just a few cobwebs over here but I’m happily and eagerly pushing them aside to share a story. I experienced one of my most favorite Manila days this past week. Through fate and the grace of God, I answered a post to help volunteer my time and “photography skills” to Photogs for a Cause to help take pictures of children for In-visible.  It sounded like the perfect match for me so off I went with Nick, my Manila right hand man, to venture north of Manila to Holy Spirit Elementary School. It was my first visit to a Filipino school as I’ve spent most of my time here inside the Embassy’s preschool up until now.  I was told this school serves 8,000 children. That’s right…8,000.  In order to accommodate all of these children, there are two shifts – 6 am to noon and noon to 6pm. Take some time to process that for a bit.  Our work for the day was to take head shots of a group of children for the upcoming In-visible “Instagram campaign” to raise money to help feed a child lunch for the duration of one school year.

So here is the story in pictures I’d like to share…

The school was bustling with groups of children absolutely everywhere.  Happy, joyful, smiling, and laughing children.  I too was smiling ALL DAY and returned each of their waves and smiles with matched enthusiasm.  The energy alone was one I will gladly bottle up and carry with me forever.  After a few introductions, we began our important work for the day.  The children were beyond excited to see us walking the halls and snapping shots.  Their smiles say it all.

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After two intensive hours, we went downstairs to check in with the director of the In-visible lunch feeding program.  This is where I had the privilege of observing the “Universal Child” in action once again.  Dr. Maria Montessori’s work was based on her observations of children around the world.  She found that the universal laws of development she had recognized were inherent to children of all races and cultures, thus the existence of the “Universal Child”.  I couldn’t help but notice a group of children intently watching an older child at work.  I’ve seen this before in my classroom – a group of younger children captivated by the talents of an older classmate and is always a beautiful and blessed gift to me.  Wilbert, who was celebrating his 12th birthday, was taking great pride in his artistic renderings of his friend’s names.  When he had taken a pause, I introduced myself and asked if he would create one for me.  Without hesitation, Wilbert flipped to a page to ensure he was spelling my name correctly before he began drawing.  I love the embellishments he added at the end of my name!  His notebook was filled with sketches, lettering, and math work.  His enthusiasm was infectious and his “can do” attitude was clearly very engaging to his onlookers.

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But Wilbert’s industriouness didn’t end here at the table with his art.  After we took a much deserved lunch break, we returned for an afternoon of continued head shots.  Wilbert was eager to join our “crew” and followed us to our next classroom.  We had some wonderful mothers helping us coordinate the children for their pictures but there seemed to be a need that Wilbert was eager to fill.  You can see here a hard working and concentrated leader in action.  I admire the leadership role that he took upon himself with Tracey and one of the classroom teachers.  I learned that his father is one of the most dedicated volunteers at the school which goes to show the importance of a strong role model!  This is a boy who is going places!

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One of my favorite moments of the day was seeing this young girl in action.  Her mother was helping us during the morning shift and she was quietly following along.  The older children we were photographing held small chalkboards with their names, age and grade for their records.  As I mentioned, there was quite a bit of energy involved with our presence but, amidst the bustle, I noticed at one point the little one found a tiny broken bit of chalk and decided on her own work.  It made my Montessori heart melt.

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I noticed on many of the classroom doors and bulletin boards the children had recently celebrated their teachers on World Teacher’s Day.  Having seen the classrooms filled to the brim with eager, energetic children, I too wanted to celebrate the important work of these teachers.  While I didn’t have a chance to interact with them, I could see by the children’s behavior that they loved and respected their teachers.  What a beautiful thing!

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At the end of 5 hours, I was utterly and totally exhausted.  The perspiration alone was remarkable and, yet, I have never felt more fulfilled since I’ve been in Manila.  My heart was glowing, my face ached from smiling and, while I dreamt of a shower, I couldn’t believe how lucky I was for having found these children and this organization.  I can’t wait to go back!

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The Gift of North Shores friendships

It’s taken me a few days to think about what to say about the passing of my dear friend, Martha.  We lost her after a 3 year battle with pancreatic cancer which she fought with grace, strength, determination, love, and the most beautiful smile you can possibly imagine.  She most recently wrote on my “Jimmy Journal” post to remind me of how the memory of my father made her husband laugh.  I can hear her sweet voice and the laughter in the delivery of that message.  She had the BEST laugh!  I am grateful to have shared that last exchange with her.  You know how those signs work, too.  She joined her husband around the same time, if not on the same day, as he left us many moons ago.  There must be one damn good party going on this past week with Sam, Sally-Jo, Glenn and Dad and it was time for her invitation to be accepted.  I love the visual I have of our dear North Shores friends gathered all together celebrating each other and know they are smiling down on us.  

Finding peace in the fact that I’m across the world, rather than beside my mom and Martha’s dear family during this time has been quite a challenge, to say the least.  The rabbit-hole of anger/resentment/frustration of being in Manila is quite tempting but I hear her voice settling me and I break into a smile, knowing that her friendship is deep and understanding.  I don’t remember when I met Martha for the first time, I was probably very young, but I only remember her as my friend, not only as my mom’s friend or Sally-Jo’s friend.  She respected me from the very beginning and I am so grateful.  She was always in great spirits, ready to share a smile and a laugh with anyone who was willing to join her and how could you not?!  Her joyful spirit was infectious.  I’m blessed to have been surrounded by so many people like her, like my dad, like so many of my North Shores friends who have since moved on.  

I had a unique childhood as my summers were mostly spent with our North Shores neighbors.  It’s my most favorite place in the world.  When I turn onto Cedar Road, my shoulders relax, my heart warms and I smile.  I feel the presence of dear friends, near and far, and the wealth of memories that have shaped my idea of what friendship means.  I used to be in a gang – The North Shores Gang.  We rode bikes, went to the beach, built forts, held Sunday night parties while the parents went out to dinner (you wouldn’t believe how much candy I used to consume back in the day at these parties!), walked the Boardwalk, ruled Funland (so we thought), watched soap operas, played ding-dong-doorbell, secretly watched “The Shining” in a back bedroom (BAD idea), played Chicken and Ghost in the Graveyard and generally had free range in the ‘hood.  Even though I was the youngest member and had to scream “wait for me, guys!” in utter despair (and probably through some tears), I learned the value of friendship.  If you can keep up, they’ll let you play.  Ha!  I love those jerks.

No, in all seriousness, the friendships I formed with both my fellow “gang” members as well as their parents and friends are my single most prized possessions.  Through those relationships, I’ve learned how to host a great cocktail party, make a mean crab cake, whip up a delicious peach daiquiri, sing the legendary song “Who the f&%k is Alice?”, and appreciate the phrase “SOCIAL!!!”.  So here’s to you, Martha, and all our dear loved ones above ~ I hold a glass of chilled Tuaca in your honor and shout “SOCIAL” with all of my heart all the way from Manila!

xo Amos

A Jimmy Journal

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I believe in signs.  I can’t help it.  Ever since Dad left us 13 years ago today, he’s made it known to me in a multitude of ways that he is still watching over his “Bugsy” so I’m perfectly fine with having strange things remind me of him and feel his presence.  They don’t happen all the time but when they do, boy, do I know it’s him!  Last night Mom and I were “skyping” when she was literally in the midst of saying “I’m feeling a little blue today because…” but I never heard the rest because the frosted glass coverings of one of our hallway ceiling lights dropped and glass shattered everywhere.  EVERYWHERE. Steve jumped up in Safety Steve mode and said “I think we just had a minor earthquake” while I said “No, that was Dad.”  In the midst of my crazy new life in Manila, I had not paid attention to the calendar and did not realize it was Dad Day.

I can not believe it’s been 13 years since we’ve been in the physical presence of such an extraordinary man.  He was THE BEST!  He loved his family.  He loved his friends.  He was loyal.  He made each and every person he encountered feel valued, appreciated, loved and respected.  He made people laugh.  ALOT.  He made people take 2 hour breaks when they weren’t expecting to and had a million other things to do but was forced to just be.  To chat, to laugh, to ponder whatever was on Jimmy’s mind.  He connected with people.  It was his favorite thing to do, besides shuffle a deck of cards (repeatedly…so much that the sound might have driven Mom crazy once in a while) for several games of Solitaire.  It was his “thinking” time.  We even placed his tattered deck of cards inside his casket and I’m certain people thought we were totally crazy!  But, mostly, he liked to be with people.  Ironically, I remember when he questioned my choice in major at Sewanee.  “You want to major in Anthropology??  What is that?  Are you planning on working in a museum?”  My response: “No, Dad, I just like learning about people.  I want to study people.”

Perhaps that was not the most convincing of arguments but now, in hindsight, as a dedicated Montessorian, I knew what I was talking about!  People, I love people too, especially the young ones.  One of my last moments with Dad before he passed away was of me trying to assert my independence, prove myself as an adult and stand up for what I believed (at that moment) to be the right path for me.  I will never forget it.  I was certain that a particular job that I was going to interview for was EXACTLY what I needed to be doing and he couldn’t tell me otherwise.  Nope.  I knew what I was talking about.  I knew who I was.  I was so mad at him.  Ha!  To be 24 years old again.  While I wish I had said different things in that moment, I am now at peace with those words because I know Dad has watched over me ever since that last conversation.  He knew what was happening and has supported me all along.  Little did I know then that my work in Alumni & Development would eventually lead me to my life’s passion – working with children in a way that fosters their true selves, that empowers them to be independent, confident and capable human beings.  That respects their capabilities and allows for deep, meaningful growth.  I was just scrolling through hundreds of pictures of my former Montessori children deep in concentration, working on a variety of activities, collaborating, teaching each other, mastering challenging tasks.  I love that that’s what I see in them, that I have the depth of knowledge of the foundation they created for themselves in that moment.  I love that I know those children in that environment.  I love that I understand what came before and what will come after.  I love showing my respect of their intelligence, giving them the space to grow and expand and explore.  And, I love when I catch a glimpse (from a distance) of their own discoveries, their true pride in their accomplishments, their own conflict resolutions and the joy that radiates from within when they are given the opportunities to be children working to create themselves.  I love getting out of their way.  I believe that Dad sees that in me, in my work and in my joy in sharing these experiences with all that will listen.  I’ve also realized that not everyone wants to hear what I might want to say.  I learned that today, actually.  But, my greatest lesson today, was that I realized that even if I’m not involved in a Montessori school, I will always be advocating for the child.  I will always share what I know to be true when you allow a child, with guidance and support, to learn to be respectful, responsible and resourceful, then you are giving them the best gift in life.   So, I thank my Dad for showing me how to love, respect and understand people.  He was my first professor in Anthropology.

I needed that lesson today.  A reminder of who I am, who I’ve become despite my long, windy, bumpy path and that Dad would probably be pretty proud of me.  Who knew Lucky 13 would actually turn out to be okay?!?!  Dad HATED the number 13.  I remember in 6th grade I picked out the number 13 for my basketball jersey and he made me swap it with a friend.  I’m not kidding.  Numbers couldn’t add up to 13 (I even used that theory when recently helping my best friend find a new house…she was in disbelief but I held my ground).  He encouraged the superstitious side of me.  I’m banking on Dad working from above to keep me pretty damn Lucky these days.

I know he would be so proud that I FINALLY picked up a golf club again after 27 years.  He bought me a set of used clubs when I was in 5th grade after he saw my first Field Hockey game.  He was certain I would receive a golf scholarship to college but I was only interested in driving the golf cart.  Poor dad.  Here I am swinging with the help of an instructor and the sideline support of my husband at the Philippine Army Golf Course.  Dad would certainly have something to say about my form and choice of shoes.

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So, the Upside is that I am blessed to have had Jimmy as my dad and know that he’ll make Year 13 a lucky one.  I miss him every single day but know he’s watching over us all and lining up a few good jokes for when we see him next.

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And so it begins…

The Upside is that not only have I embarked on a new journey in the Philippines, I am now beginning a new role as “life blogger” which makes me laugh.  A lot.  And very much out loud.  But, I am smiling as I write because there are SO many observations that I’ve made over the past 3 weeks when I would think to myself “damn, that would be a good post!”  So I guess it’s time to start.

For my first post, I’d like to focus on the Art of Being Open.  In looking back over my many years of adventure, I have to say that this particular journey into Asia (really?!), way the hell out of my comfort zone, way the hell away from my family and friends,  way the hell away from “creature comforts”, way the hell away from basically everything that I believed defined me, I am here BECAUSE of all that I have experienced before.  I know, a total cliche but I don’t really care.  I’ve realized that had I not spent the summers and semesters abroad (thanks mom and dad!), had I not moved around to different states after my college years, and had I not pursued my Montessori training then I would not have the courage and strength to move across the world with a smile and an open mind ready to Take On the Philippines and all that comes with it.  Now, that’s not to say that I didn’t shed a few tears when it all came about but now that I’m on the other side of the move, the flights, the jet lag and ALL of those goodbyes, I’m here and ready to be open to all that comes my way.

My favorite picture from our travels to Puerta Galera is of Louie leaping into a new ocean.  So, that’s what I’ll remember when I’m really annoyed by the Manila traffic (DC, Chicago, Atlanta ~ nice try but you are NOTHING in comparison to this), can’t believe the number of people that are everywhere in this city or am being tested on my level of patience (and I’m a Montessorian!).  It’s about the Leap and the Art of Being Open.  There are sure to be some great adventures coming my way!

LEAP!!!