Walking in New Jersey with Babies

I know I should be running. There’s really nothing like running. The only thing remotely like running is walking.

Yesterday Barbara and I drove with my sleepy daughters to visit Mandy and her baby in Summit, New Jersey. We sat in the sunny suburbs. We  pored over the school auction catalog.  (Last night was the big fundraiser. Spent too much).

Then we walked in a public park. Morris County Park. Maybe it was half a mile there and back — past a stream, past dog walkers and curled-up caterpillars. We had to step off the path when little tyke bike riders rode by.  The girls bickered. Then held my hand. Mandy’s funny husband, KC, pushed the stroller. Baby Nathaniel wore a baseball cap.

It was absolutely idyllic. We stopped near a playground. We chatted at a picnic table.

The thing about walking that’s better than running is you can talk to several people at once. When you run, you can only talk to one person. But when you walk you can spread yourself around. Or you can talk to no one. You can stare at the teeny tiny shoots of green emerging from the dead leaves. And you can marvel at the miracle of it all.

The miracle of growth. Of that new baby growing into some big kid. Impossible to arrest the march of growth (in March!). My little kid was once that little baby in the stroller.

I miss the baby days. I love babies. Their silliness, chubbiness, simplicity. The way they have no subtext. They feel something, even gas, they express it. They do not censor themselves. I love my grown-up kids. Their witty remarks, their athleticism. But I miss their snuggly baby days. I try to hang on to them as long as possible. I still baby them.

I was a bit depressed  on Friday, having to write about Haiti —  the incredible sadness of losing my coworkers in Haiti. And then worries over Chris’s inevitable decline with Parkinson’s. But then, I see a baby, or feel the sun, or one of my kids hugs me tight, or I walk or ride my bike, or yes, I  run. Or like on Friday, I ducked into a NYC museum and see great art. And I feel better.

These fixes are non-pharmaceutical cures for whatever ails me. Take two walks in the park and call me in the morning. Tell me if you don’t feel the same way. Feel some inevitable March of growth.

One is too slow; the other too fast

On Sunday, I ran with one of my 10 year olds and also my 12 year old.

My number one son kept telling me to take longer strides. My daughter kept stopping to stare at the Hudson. Note to self: Run alone next time!

The only time we were all at the same pace was at the counter of the Korean deli at 72nd and West End where we stopped for juice, gatorade, bagels, and sliced mangoes. We really enjoyed the run at that moment – the moment the run was over.  We then sat together in front of the statue of Eleanour Roosevelt at Riverside and 72nd.

I thought running would be a good way to bond with children. Now I think that sitting on a bench together is a good way too.

Poverty – It’s Not Rocket Science. It’s Harder than Rocket Science.

Reducing poverty? “It’s Not Rocket Science. It’s Harder than Rocket Science.”

Geoffrey Canada, very charismatic, threw away his notes at the beginning of the talk. Notes serve to comfort the audience, but the speaker didn’t need them.

 His topic? “Changing Lives, Changing Communities.” It was my NYU college reunion on Saturday (25 years since undergrad, and 20 years since grad). I’m interested in what makes for community and how to uplift people caught in the multi-tentacled beast of poverty.

Canada is the genius behind the Harlem Children’s Zone. Their slogan? “Whatever It Takes.” The zone is a 100 block radius to lift about 15,000 Harlem kids socially, educationally, medically. The zone promises to stick with a child through college.

 Goals for Children

“We have to have the same goals for poor children, as for our own children. We aspire for college, not technical schools or the military, for our children. Because, at different times, people have break throughs,” Canada said. The one kid that no one thought would amount to anything continues through college and earned their Master’s degree in education. “So, we don’t know.” 

Do Lots of Things

“The U.S. is a rogue nation. We lock up more people than any other country. There’s a school to prison pipeline… You believe that children are our future and you love America.” So do something. But, Canada said, we have to do lots of things.

“Growing up in the ’60s, we always thought there was a conspiracy. The government had a plan. I’ve talked to presidents. There is no plan. There is no answer…. We keep thinking we can do one thing. We have to do everything,” Canada said.

 The cure for poverty is like the current treatment for AIDS, he said. You can’t give one pill – like better schools – you have to provide many antidotes – “hold people’s egos in tact while getting them to work harder.” What you need is an AIDS cocktail of pills, not just one anti-viral.

How We Talk to Children

“Poor parents use far more negatives when talking to kids. ‘Stop. Don’t. How dare you!'” Canada acted out an example of this. When a child with educated parents, dumps his juice on the floor, the parent gently corrects, coddles, maybe even uses the spillage as a teaching moment about gravity. When a poor child does the same thing, the family yells, “Stop that!”

The guy is engaging. The speech was a part of NYU Silver School of Social Work as it kicks off the new McSilver Institute of Poverty Policy, Practice and Research in a week or two.

At NYU, I attended the English department for grad and undergrad. I believe writing is a form of advocacy and social work. In college, I loved abnormal psych, anthropology, drama, literature, and writing.

Having written about reducing poverty through the Circles Campaign for Global Ministries, I have begun to learn what works, what doesn’t, and what the average person can do to help dig another person out of entrenched poverty. It seems to me that the Harlem Children’s Zone is digging deep and well in its attempt to reduce poverty.

Surrender & Persist

….ask me what I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for. – Thomas Merton

I am living for the kids. Sometimes I joke, “I’m just holding it together for 10 more years until the kids are grown. Then I’m going to let it all go. I’m going to drink and smoke and be promiscuous.” But I’m not really going to do that. I’m not going to wait to crash once my twins are snuggled into their freshman dorm rooms. No, I’m going to crash gently now. And not wait 10 years.

Like Sully above the Hudson River, I can see my life has real mechanical failures, so I’m going to try to bring the jet down gracefully on some makeshift runway.

I’m finding the path of least resistance now. And as I see it, the path is towards — God, it sounds corny; but here you have it — greater loving.

To take this path, I have 7 rules to live by. These rules were developed by me and my friend Lindsay Pontius after we had several glasses of champagne at the Yacht Club –sounds so deliciously decadent. It was Lindsay’s birthday and we wrote our rules on a wet napkin with a felt tip marker we’d borrowed from the waitress.

I’ve told several friends my 7 rules and one or two suggested I jot them down on something more lasting than a torn napkin. So here you have it. My 7 Rules on the path of Loving.

Until you get to them, I suggest you hold it together. Or, if you have to crash, try to take it down gently.

The path is easy. But like all worthy endeavors, it requires a mix of seizing and letting go of your own power. The path requires persistence and surrender. Persist or give up. It’s up to you.