Tag Archives: creativity

Day 21: Thanking Teachers and Wondering

Dear Readers,

As we near the end of the school year (only three days left next week), I got to thinking about my early days at school.

I started ballet lessons soon after seeing Swan Lake when I was four years old. I remember wearing  my blue velvet dress and white tights and looking at the stage and thinking–I want to do that. My teacher, Paulette, taught me how to grasp the barre, how to hold my head up, how to tie my hair in a bun, my first plies. There was leaping across the wood floor.

My 2nd or 3rd grade teacher (I can’t remember her name) taught me how to write haikus. One day she said, “You don’t have to give a fake smile when your real smile is so beautiful.”

My gym teacher in 3rd  grade made up  knock knock jokes with my name,  it was funny and silly (pre-politically correct days) and I learned to walk on the balance beam and do gymnastics.  I was a good sprinter and  did well running short distances really fast. One of my teachers (was it Miss Julie?) ran a Boston Marathon and we went to cheer her on. I was terrible at baseball, always afraid the ball would hit me. Once I hit a home run, but had to  be told (yelled at, really), “RUN! Go, go, go!” I never liked ball sports. That’s been a constant.  These days, I  enjoy a short game of throwing a ball back and forth (preferably a large, light, beach ball type deal) with M. Somehow with him its fun.

In  4th grade I won my first art award, Best Design for The Great Paper Airplane Contest. It remains one of my prized possessions. I had painted my paper airplane with the blue stars and stripes of the Israeli flag, rainbow colors, peace signs, and flowers. It didn’t go far or fast, but that wasn’t the point.


Ever since I was very little, I was into the arts and the performing arts . I did well with language, reading, and writing. I adored painting,  drawing, and just about any art project. I loved dancing and playing make-believe and had a very imagination filled childhood. I spent hours making up stories, making mud pies, talking to imaginary characters in my head, in the garden. I don’t remember being tested much. I don’t remember having to do excessive amount of homework. But maybe that’s the kind of stuff one forgets? I don’t know.

I watch M  and he spends a long time making up his own stories. His most interesting pictures are those he makes himself in the spur of the moment— inspired by something, he will say, “I need paper and to paint.” And off he goes, choosing his markers, crayons, or sometimes coming into my room  asking me for my paints. Sometimes  we paint side by side. I never tell him what to do. I ask open-ended questions. I tell him all colors are beautiful, and he can choose whichever he wants and put them together anyway he likes. I tell him there are no mistakes in art. He usually has confidence when he draws, or paints. He  does his thing. One teacher  told me  last week that “he’s an out of the box thinker.” I beamed with pride.

I’m  lucky, I guess, to have had a progressive, well-rounded public school education in the suburbs of Boston in the 1970s. To have had parents who were artists (wacky, no doubt) who believed in coloring outside the lines. I have passed that on to M. And I hope what happens in our district doesn’t squash what he has. If I was a child who had to go through what is being suggested for my child, I’d be sad. And I am sad, that the district we live in now, that we moved to especially for the schools, is now infected with a sickness of sorts.

I wonder if or how teachers can teach freely,  passionately, and happily when they’re afraid. I wonder what kind of effect that has on the atmosphere of a school. I wonder how much that will be noticed when M goes back in September. Or  by some miracle will things  stay the same? Is it possible? I dread what might happen but at the same time, can’t let M know all this.  How do I make everything be OK? This is a child who wants to play. Paint. Make up stories. Be with friends. Investigate and explore. If they say he must be tested or assessed in first grade, do I allow it? Do I opt him out? Instead of sitting here simply able to enjoy his accomplishment of finishing Kindergarten, I’m now worried about what first grade will bring. I try to compartmentalize this so that I can be here now and be happy in what he’s done and where we are. His potential,  abilities, and mind are always growing and changing, but some things of his essence probably will probably stay the same.   I will do whatever I have to to make sure he gets the kind of learning he needs. I thought I had found IT. But IT has changed. The ground we stand on has shifted.

Goodnight, good morning.

Happy Summer.


Day 17: Big BOE meeting this evening and online petition

Dear Readers,

I’m completely humbled and grateful for the ongoing support, new subscribers, comments and likes here. Thank you! These flowers are for all of you.


I’m up to my eyeballs trying to get ready for the BOE meeting this evening, in which the Superintendent will be presenting her Strategic Plan.

Over the weekend, this local news story came out. Within the article is a link to a petition. It has over 260 signatures. While support is appreciated from anyone who wants to sign, the petition will have more weight if its signed primarily by local Montclair, NJ residents. So, please keep that in mind if you find yourselves wanting to sign, but don’t live here.

On the other hand, if you’re  a Montclair, NJ resident  who agrees and wishes to help, please forward the article  widely within your Montclair, NJ network of friends, family, neighbors, and community members.

I’ll let you know what happens tonight. I’ve gotta feeling its going to be very interesting.

Have a great day. The revolution has begun.


“Every creative act involves a leap into the void. The leap has to occur at the right moment and yet the time for the leap is never prescribed. In the midst of a leap, there are no guarantees. To leap can often cause acute embarrassment. Embarrassment is a partner in the creative act – a key collaborator. If your work does not sufficiently embarrass you, then very likely no one will be touched by it”

Anne Bogart, Seven Essays on Art and Theatre

Day 15: Father’s Day & the Revolution

Dear Readers,

Whew. The Revolution has begun! So much going on and I’m prepping for the next BOE meeting on Monday.  Hoping to get a big turn out of parents and community.

And tomorrow is Father’s Day.  For anyone  celebrating, I hope you have a wonderful day. Here’s to all the dads who make our children’s world go around.

Mine taught me how to be a rabble-rouser; to speak up and protest when I see injustice. He taught me how to read  starting when I was   a toddler. He used antique printing blocks to teach me letters and words. We had an old printing press for woodcuts (made by my mother) and signs and did all kinds of hand printing work, too. He helped me publish my first “book.” He showed me how make art; how to capture a moment in photography;  how to look for  light or shadows and really see them.  Among many other things, he’s been a   Civil Rights , social, and environmental justice activist for decades, and to this very day.

Thank you, Dad.

Remember this?

photo credit copyright Jerry Halberstadt

Day 11: A sea change, the revolution, and speaking up for our children

Dear Readers,

I believe I’ve earned my first rabble rouser stripes.  At yesterday’s BOE meeting where we’re now fighting a district takeover by a Broad Academy Super and all the powers that are behind her, I and a few other parents spoke up. We didn’t have prepared remarks, as we wanted to see how the meeting would unfold. We had to wing it.

Sitting there listening to the awfulness such as: how its going to be and how difficult but it’s a sea change and we all have to work hard and pendulums will swing and freight trains are coming fast and  “this is an open dialogue” and “we want the community to be involved” and “its all for the children” and “rigor” and “achievement”—– blah, blah, blah. We sat there and listened and then decided we would speak up and whatever we said would have to be good enough.

We spoke passionately and from our hearts. I mentioned Albany, NY and Nikhil Goyal and told them, among many other things, that they need to go read his speech and that the Revolution was coming. I called for a BOE resolution against High Stakes testing. I questioned the new recent student (Tripod) surveys done and misuse of funds and waste of money that caused, instead of hiring more needed teachers or useful resources for our classrooms, which are short staffed and under funded. Plus a whole bunch more. I can hardly remember what I said.


We were cut off, one by one. Our comments and questions were met with, “Motion to adjourn.” Boy, did they want out!

The meeting was taped. Local press was there. One didn’t mention parent dissent at all (ah, mainstream media). One gave a brief mention and I was quoted. I said the word REVOLUTION.

I was shaking and my heart was pounding as I spoke. I was all over the place, not polished, completely going with my gut. I told them this plan isn’t good enough for my child or this town. I stood up for my son and said he’d be entering 1st grade next year and that I won’t allow him to be tested or “assessed.”

After, and still shaking, I asked my fellow rabble-rouser parent friends, “Was that awful? OMG, what did I say? Did I sound crazy?” We had a good laugh at ourselves. My friend spoke eloquently and well and asked excellent questions that were not answered.

Bottom line, we created a stir and shook them up. They were all sporting deer in headlights looks and had a long huddle afterwards whispering and shaking heads. We had our own huddle.

I feel like everything I’ve ever done, ever learned, who I am, what I believe and know is coming to bear in this struggle. It’s not about me, but I need to use everything that I can that is within me for this struggle. One by one we’ll use our strengths to fight back.

I was crying the other day. I felt so discouraged and hopeless and wondering if we will ever make a difference. What we’re up against, all that. But justice is on our side and I won’t stop. There are many of us and we’re helping each other.

After the BOE meeting we learned that the students have organized and created their own movement (and we’d started talking with some of them only a week ago when we met elsewhere and so being able to help our students feels really good and is why we are doing this in the first place). They thanked us for leading the way and our page, which they used as a resource.

While I made my drawing,  M made this:


We’re now cross promoting and helping each other (parents  group and students group). But this isn’t about thanks or who did what —it is an ever expanding circle of people who are fed up and are not going to take it anymore finally coming together for a common goal. We, the people, hear us roar.

I know this is going to be a long fight. So be it.

Love and peace,


Sadness and Gratitude Holding Hands

Dear Readers,

There I was, writing about Kindergarten fears, when news of the shooting near the Empire State Building in NYC on Friday stopped me cold.

I started to write about that.

Then I learned that Jerry Nelson, longtime Puppeteer for the Muppets and Sesame Street, had died.

I started to write about that.

Then yesterday, the news that Neil Armstrong had also died.

I stopped trying to write and let it all sink in. I tried to focus on the good.

Two great men. Two kinds of heroes. Both figures that entered my world when I was just a toddler and have been around my whole life. Gone.

Jerry Nelson was immensely talented. He brought joy and learning to countless children and grown ups over his long and marvelous career.

I thought about watching Sesame Street as a child in 1969 when it first aired.

I found myself furiously sketching this:

Then I reached for a book, Sesame Street Unpaved, scripts, stories, secrets and songs by David Borgenicht

I thought of my friends who work at  Sesame Street and how sad they must be.

I thought about how incredibly fortunate I was to work there (on and off) in a variety of jobs for over 20 years. I first started working there in the early 90’s, just a few weeks before the late, great Jim Henson died. At that time, I was an intern, answering viewer mail. I’d never seen so many condolences letters. So many lives were touched and changed by his work. And we continue to enjoy his greatness even though he’s long gone from the planet. I think Jerry Nelson will also be remembered for a very long time, especially through his remarkable body of work as a masterful puppeteer, most notably as the creator and original performer of The Count, among many other characters.

How do you quantify or measure that?

I’m reminded of a quote attributed to Albert Einstein:

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

 Jerry Nelson’s  work and legacy lives on in the many characters he created; immortalized on film and video. It’s all there for us to enjoy for years to come. What a great gift we’ve been left with.

I thought about relationships and work colleagues. I met my husband at a party on the set of Sesame Street in 1995. Tomorrow, we’re celebrating our 12th wedding anniversary. I couldn’t be more grateful for that life changing moment when my friend, a writer for the show, introduced us. I love and admire her for many reasons. That moment, which has led us to 17 years together, is certainly one of the biggest reasons. That isn’t something I can quantify. It’s immeasureable. At the same time, it counts as a HUGE moment that altered my life for the better and in ways which I could not have imagined for myself.

Makes me think of when Andy plays the Elton John song so beautifully on piano, “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” (Lyrics, Bernie Taupin):

“And I thank the Lord for the people I have found.”

Oh, yes, minus the Lord, for me, but yes, deeply thankful for the people I have found. And what a beautiful song that is.

I thought about how when loved ones die and leave behind a family, friends, colleagues, those people will never celebrate another living anniversary or milestone or ordinary day together ever again. Life can be gone in an instant. I’m grateful daily for the people in my life. Gratitude helps with my sadness. It grounds me in what is here now and it lives along with the sadness. It isn’t one instead of the other. It is both. Sadness and gratitude holding hands.

I thought about respect, talent, and a love of children. And a belief that all children have a right to a decent, good education that is free from war, violence, and sorrow. They have a right that we do our best to provide that. They deserve that we don’t stop working towards that.

Here, two great men, one from the arts, one from science–both made remarkable contributions to our country and the world. I think about science and the arts and that they’re equally important and they’re both connected by imagination, exploration, and discovery, by hard work and requiring an attitude of humility, and open minds that creates a pursuit of life long learning, which in turn creates progress. I want Max to have role models and heroes in every area of life. And I want him (and all the other children in this country and beyond) to grow up in a place where both science and the arts are recognized as being of value.

And where they intersect–in places like Sesame Street, counting, numbers, and math delivered in a fun, playful, accessible way. Art, math, and music together! Do you remember that Slimey the Worm also went into space? Sesame Street pretty much covers it all. Then there is flight, courage, space exploration, walking on the moon, and from that we have heard and seen some of the most poetic words and images. There was an opening up of imagination and expanding limits beyond what was possible that still inspires today:

 “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

–Neil Armstrong, First man to walk on the moon

I get goosebumps every time I see that footage. I was three when I saw it happen live for the first time. It never gets old.

I thought about a disgruntled worker, killing another. Someone lost their job a year ago, and on Friday, killed a man, and created panic and fear in the heart of NYC. The news says what it says. The same story spins around again.

I thought about guns and why our country is hell-bent on self-destruction, so heartbroken, fearful, and angry. Quick to pull the trigger. So desperately sad. I watch neighborhood children with their toy guns and their water guns, and I wonder why their parents can’t (or won’t) find them something else to do with their natural, human aggression? Why the guns?

Then I thought about people like Jerry Nelson who brought light and laughter into the world. Our world needs people in it who bring fun, light, color, movement, creativity, and music. Then I think about those who suggest the arts, physical education, foreign language, libraries, and classroom aides are lines that should (and are) cut from the budgets. They are deemed unnecessary. Really? Imagine a world without art, music, film, tv, theater, or books.

We need to give children a fighting chance to grow up by making our country safer and healthier. We need people who inspire learning and play. We need science and math and ALL of it. We need people to end hunger. We need people to fight poverty. We need people to teach in ways that support and nuture children, not just test them into oblivion.  We need business, too, of course, but not instead of people and their basic welfare and health. There’s a way to have both. Not all businesses are evil, far from it. But priorities must shift. Maybe remembering these two men will remind us all what people can become and accomplish if they’re nurtured, educated, and fed both literally and figuratively.

I see people are incredibly unkind to one another. The anger is spraying bullets through easily purchased guns. I came across this:

 “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”

 —Dalai Lama

I can’t say I’ve never been unkind, I know I’ve been unkind, and I know I’ll likely be unkind again, because I’m human, and sometimes people are unkind.  But what if we made this our goal? Something that we work towards. At least something we attempt to do with our children. Each other. Our city. Our town. Our country. Our planet. The only thing I can come up with for today:  to the news of the violence, to the news of death, to the news of endings–is to send  out words, colors, love, and wishes for peace.

I choose a rainbow of colors, fur, monsters that don’t hurt, but teach us how to be human.

I choose marveling at the moon and the men who walked on it.

Thank you, Jerry Nelson for the years of amazing characters,  voices, and songs. I hope you rest in peace. You have made a difference in so many lives, including mine.

I love this quote from him I found in Sesame Street Unpaved:

 “Don’t give up, no matter how far away you are from the mark.”

 –Jerry Nelson

For my friends who knew Jerry Nelson personally, and who worked with him, some over a lifetime, you have my deepest sympathy and I’m sorry for your loss.

For Neil Armstrong, American Hero, I’ll see you in the moon, there to remind me what is possible when dedicated people work together for the greater good.

A long time ago, a little girl saw images on TV and they lit a spark that continues to inspire  today. Thank you.

With love,


all words and images copyright 2012 Elana Halberstadt except where noted otherwise.

Thoughts on a Rainy Day

Dear Readers,

Having a gloomy, rainy, chilly day here. I’m feeling  a bit short of attention today as I work through my list of things to do. So, rather than fight my need to keep switching activities and topics, or judge myself too harshly for feeling like I’m all over the place, I’m going with the flow of the mishmash in my brain and am offering an assortment of tidbits. Random-ish, but in a way, all connected.

Here are two parenting-related  posts by other writers I’ve enjoyed recently:

Don’t Carpe Diem by Glennon Melton.

Welcome to the Club: What Only Moms Really Know by Lisa Belkin.

And, especially for all you writer/artist/independent freelance- work-at-home – folks, here’s On Getting Out of Our Own Way  by one of my favorite writers/authors, Dani Shapiro.

And now for the bits and pieces of recent days…

Before the snow arrived last weekend, Max and I found these frozen raccoon paw prints in our back yard.

Raccoon paw prints

Then it snowed, and Ringo and I did some bird watching.

Bird watching

I put some crackers on the deck for the birds.

a bird

I like the way colors look against the snow. Sadly, I wasn’t able to capture a shot of the super fast flying Cardinals, but since this flower pot was still, I got this instead.


And Max caught snowflakes

catching snowflakes

This week, I noticed this peace quilt made by Max’s class celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.

MLK Peace Quilt

I used to knit and sell scarves but haven’t done that in a while. A friend just ordered one. It feels good to be knitting again.

a scarf in progress

And lastly, a poem that inspires me to “keep swimming” as Nemo said in the movie Finding Nemo, or “keep on continuing” (as Max has said):

The Way It Is by William Stafford

(from The Way It Is, New and Selected Poems)

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

“The Way It Is” from The Way It Is, New and Selected Poems, by William Stafford, Greywolf Press