20 years ago, I left Steeler Country blasting Judas Priest’s “Another Thing Comin.” I was going to Connecticut and thought I was gonna be a fabulous nanny. Little kids always liked me, and I liked to sing, I could make toys out of recycled stuff and I couldn’t wait to be a mommy someday. I was excited by New York, and scared to death of it, too.
Today, I am a professional stay-at-home mom, as a family daycare provider smack in the city. I am grateful to celebrate my adopted home. Her people, her buildings and her streets have forged me as much as the rivers, mountains and 70’s blue-collar ethic of PA. The city has taught me many lessons big and small as I morphed from a nanny-actress-student to an educator, play artist, mom and activist. Here’s twenty- out of millions. Thank you, NY, for helping to make my dreams come true!
1. There are lots of other religions. In my son’s kindergarten, within 5 minutes of hanging out with them they asked me if we celebrated Hanukah, and if we were Jewish and why not. They are so curious about each other in this way, me too. For children in a city like New York, children can celebrate 5 different winter holidays with 5 different friends and they are so excited to share and learn and exchange. I find it fascinating, too. I found that they all say the same things, “we are one,” “love,” “be gentle and generous.” All these neighbors of different faiths living in peace. It can be done!
2. The power of manners. I don’t think most NY’ers are rude, but I have learned that the most polite ones seem to have the best time. Knowing to say “excuse me,” “sorry,” “thank you,” “please,” and even “hello,” has opened doors for me, cooled crabby commuters, calmed down wild meetings, taken charges off bills, and set an example for my son how the world cooperates with me, especially if I am using “magic words.”
3. More about sharing. I didn’t grow up with lots of shared spaces. Everyone had a backyard with stuff and/or woods to explore. Sharing a park like Central Park, or Carl Schurz Park with people from all over the world is pretty cool. Walking and playing you can hear 100 different languages, everyone is doing their thing, mostly everyone is respectful of the rules, smiling at dogs and children, and enjoying this together at the same time. Shared public parks and preserves are miracles, I think. Peace is possible!
4. Littering is a terrible crime. Some city blocks are gloriously cared for with seasonal flowers, immaculate sidewalks. Others are land mines of dog poop, strewn with cigarette buts and bottle caps. It’s a small thing that adds up.
5. What Kombucha is. What quinoa is. There is food from all over that is so delicious, and so good for you and so different than the cultural foods I grew up with. My son loves Kombucha, it’s fermented tea. Sounds gross, but I am so glad it tried it and so many other flavors since moving here.
6. Yoga. I did not know anything about yoga when I was 5. My son and my daycare kids know more than I did at 25. I learned that helps us keep our peace and relax our fidgets. It helps us to know our bodies and to know our little light. It gives permission to explore the millions of ways we can move as creatures, and how we can heal pain and anxiety through moving. I also like that it’s called “practice,” it reminds me to be patient and gentle with myself. My son once told me I was “too crabby, go to yoga,” the less self-critical I am, the less stressed I am, the better mom I am, hmmm.
7. Books are better than TV, iPad, anything. Your book never runs out of battery. No one steals your books on the subway. If it gets wet, you can still read it. There are no commercials trying to sell you (or your kids) toxic, cheap stuff. I tell my kids that reading is a superpower, and that books are precious tools. If I am not singing when my kids are in a mood, I am reading. There is nothing better than reading aloud for a girl who was once an actress!
8. To appreciate abundant awesome municipal water. I remember not having clean water from my spout in Masontown, PA. My parents and neighbors fought for municipal water years after I left home. Today I live in the city that boasts the best drinking water in the world. I don’t pay a water bill in NYC as a renter. I love watching the children in the park sprinklers. I love a nice, hot bath. Water security is the reason I became involved in environmental activism. I love water. Water is life. I say thank you each time I soak in the tub.
9. How much I appreciate customer service. Small stores in big cities know something. Gandhi has a quote: “A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. he is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.” Nice, isn’t it? I love doing business with nice people.
10. Kill them with Kindness has never let me down.
11. It takes a lot of help to be a good caregiver. I have accepted that I cannot clean up after 12 children myself at the level of quality I need and still get my emails/shopping/paperwork/eating and sleeping achieved in a reasonable amount of time. No one mom/dad/nanny can do everything and be good at being with the kids. Moms and dad working full-time need help. Stay-at-home moms need a break to maintain sanity. Single parents need even more support. Poor families need support. ALL FAMILIES need some sort of support. If they don’t get it, their children suffer. That lead me to know the first Tinker rule of peace, “we all take care of babies.” I am someone’s baby. So are you.
12. Songs, Singing and dancing will always make you feel better, stronger, more powerful, more (fill in the blank.) When my babies start crying, I start singing. Between “Peace like a river,” and “Los Pollitos,” the room gets calm. When the news gets overwhelming, I put on the Beatles get inspired to change things. When 5:45 hits at daycare we are dancing on our bObles with scarves to Swedish House Mafia to ward off the Crankensteins. Some of my best ideas have come when surrounded by music.
13. I want peace. I want it enough to teach about it. What started out as a cute way to help my boys in daycare come up with ways to solve problems without fists, turned out to be a curriculum about non-violent direct action, the study of real action heroes and marches and creating our own weapons in the fight for peace. Follow the child!
14. The thrill of the fight. One of my daycare moms and I were talking about how crazy expensive it is here. “We fight to stay in the city.” Yep, we do. We get creative to live here. At first it’s pretty scary. I have lived in an apartment once that made my dad cry. It’s made me grateful for what I have. To strive to be better to make it here, and to make a mark for the common good while I am here. I realize what I can do without (a car) and what is important to me. Learning to get out of my comfort zone has been a thrill.
15. Washing your hands is one of the most important things you can do. I tell Gavin, you can wash your hands a lot or you can puke a lot. This is a big city. Thousands of us are stacked up. Vaccines won’t serve you as well as this lesson. I also learned to avoid triclosan in sanitizers- nasty chemical.
16. We can Waste Less. Recycling is aweosme. Finally NYC has recycling for all hard plastics. More greenmarkets are collecting compost. I learned that we waste 1/2 of the food we produce from farm to plate. We are on our way, and are doing better, and we have so far more ways to reduce waste. Imagine if we could become a zero-waste culture? We could feed the hungry and still have plenty. I personally find this fun- finding a new way to use or repurpose something. It feels good. True to my roots, Duck Tape helps many projects come to life.
17. Motherhood is as wonderful as I thought it would be. I am so grateful for this. I wonder, if not for my baby, would I have been so inspired to do what I do today? I love what changed in me when my son came into this world.
18. I can work so hard to have a healthy home and still be exposed to pollution and toxins. I buy organic and non-toxic food and home products and my family can still be poisoned by radon gas from the stove. This happens when consumers are duped. Don’t feel bad, there are huge marketing machines to drive our spending habits and make us love “natural gas” and “clean coal,” and the right to own machine guns. We have to demand sustainable energy, GMO labeling and study, gun control, equality, clean-up from polluters, sustainable agriculture, world peace if that is what we want. MLK proved this works. When a million moms are calling up Kellogg’s and Nestle and demanding changes- they will do it. Safe food, clean water and air should not be only for those to can afford it.
19. Being an entrepreneur can be a creative expression. I shared an office with my former boss for years. He loved having his own company. Until I listened to him speak at NYU for entrepreneurs, I thought having a cool job would be enough for me. He inspired me to think that I could do this. I never thought once about having a business as a kid, just being a mommy. I thought of myself as a teacher, an artist, not a CEO. When I couldn’t stop day dreaming of a daycare for my baby about loving the earth, and each other, open ended materials, bObles, everything be as eco-friendly and organic as I could possibly afford and SPANISH! I wanted a better daycare, and a new career challenge. Why not create it? As with any creative expression, there is scary vulnerability, revisions and re-writes, worry that no one will like it, that I would fail. BUT I learned the best lesson…
20. Love is the answer! I love what I do. I love taking care of little ones and chatting with moms and dads on my rug. I love my “bizcochas” (Tinker Teacher nickname), I love singing and dancing and buying books and toys and reading and seeing my kids learn and sing things like “kick out fossil fuels.” I love that I have been able to be there for my son when he was little, that I can live in NYC and serve my community allowing other parents to feel secure as they go out and (hopefully) do what they love. This is peace!