If what you love to do most is learn, then your work can always be play.

And if the book you make is about childhood, what better way to learn and work than to play with children? That’s what Stuart and I have been doing this week.

Here are our two teachers and playmates. Meet Miss Julia, now age nine months and sporting two brand-new upper teeth.

Julia in the park

Little Julia with her little hands and little teeth

And Mr. Owen, who helped me write my book. He’s almost 2.5 years now. We went to the park near Owen and Julia’s new house, and we got a bonus: a real live construction project with shovels and excavators. That was after we had walked past a dump truck, a Bobcat, and a garbage truck. Heaven! Owen is so dazzled by his good luck and all of his favorite toys made large that he had to wear his Spiderman sunglasses:

A shovel and a boy wearing sunglasses

Owen enjoying the scene with all his heart.

If you’ve been following this blog since 2011, you know that we spent that year living in Brooklyn, taking care of grandson Owen. I kept a diary of that year called GrannyNannyDiaries. I’ve thought a lot about my favorite poets and writers as I’ve observed Owen, and now Julia, first live in rapt attention, then become aware of the world, and finally aware of the self. I wrote a blog post about Wordsworth, Nabokov, and Kathleen Norris and Owen here. My memoir of a Mennonite childhood, Blush, benefited so much from immersion in my grandchildren’s world — the city — fifty years after my own childhood on the farm.

Yesterday the writer I thought of was Mary Oliver and her poem “Wild Geese,” one of my favorites. First, here’s Owen in the park again, this time enjoying, and finally, joining, the geese, becoming one with “the family of things.”

Wild Geese

by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

My grandchildren call to me from a deep place of origins and return. I think I hear one of them now! Better run.

My New Beginning? I’ll be using the children’s nap time to study metadata. It’s Greek to me now, but it is their world. I’ll try to keep up as long as I can.

What’s your New Beginning? As we pass the 29-day mark, we have over 500 entries. Log yours here and you may be the lucky winner of a night’s stay in “the coolest small town in America,” Lititz, Pennsylvania. In the next post, I’ll give you an overview of what 500 heart’s desires and brave beginnings look like on the other side of the entry form.

Our number today fits the theme of playing and working. What could be more like play than a writer who uses the comic book form? Here’s a street number all the way from France, and a story from my friend Fran Digel to explain.

French Street sign, #29

29 Days until Blush launches. Even in France!

Fran lives in Angoulême, France, which celebrated this past January the 40th anniversary of its International Comics Festival.

She explains the look of the number above: “A few years ago, the city started changing the numbers on the houses, giving them a ‘comics books’ look. What is particularly interesting is that over here in Europe, probably more than in the United States, the comics books market is very developed. The authors/drawers/writers create a very wide range of stories, in a very wide variety of styles. They go from children books of course to historical narratives, from mystery books to adventure stories, from graphic novels to… memoirs! One of the most famous and acclaimed comics memoir author actually lives here, in Angoulême. He pretty much launched the style over 20 years ago. A very tortured series, called ‘Journal’, in four volumes, which cover ten years of his life. I hope, I know, your memoir is not as tortured. I still thought this would be a nice French wink to your book coming out in… 29 days! Hope you like this Angoulême 29!”

Shirley Showalter


  1. Marian Beaman on August 21, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    Talk about balance, you have it with those darling grand-babies! I see they both have inherited Nanny’s merry expression.

    The sense of wonder is what I love most when I’m with 5-year-old Ian, lately at the zoo. It doesn’t take much to sail him off the charts with wonder.

    And I love the sense of wonder implicit in this oft-anthologized mini-poem by William Carlos Williams:

    so much depends
    a red wheel
    glazed with rain
    beside the white

    • shirleyhs on August 21, 2013 at 2:28 pm

      Yes, Marian, so true! Owen can spend so much time gazing and listen and moving in the amazing world. And I love just going along with him.

      Great choice of poem to add to the collection. So much depends on our ability to be here.

  2. diane on August 21, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    the kiddos have your cheeks!

    • shirleyhs on August 21, 2013 at 2:47 pm

      Thanks, Diane. I’m smiling here. 🙂

  3. Warm Ginger on August 21, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    I love the pause, then the little dance, before your grandson becomes one with the geese! Fab poem too. 🙂

    • shirleyhs on August 21, 2013 at 7:50 pm

      You picked my very favorite moment too! There’s something about that abandonment that brings me great joy every time I see it. Thanks for returning!

  4. Tina Fariss Barbour on August 23, 2013 at 12:45 am

    Your grandchildren are precious–and they look like you! I love the joy children have at meeting the world and learning about it. It’s so fun to watch and be a part of.

    You included my very favorite poem in the whole world–Wild Geese. It’s like a prayer and a validation for me.

  5. shirleyhs on August 23, 2013 at 7:55 am

    Tina, thanks so much for your comment. I’m glad you love the Wild Goose poem also. Isn’t it wonderful that words have the power to share a moment of complete attention and validate many lives over many years?

    Blessings on your day!

  6. Richard Gilbert on August 23, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    What cute kids, and I love Owen’s interest in those geese—just make sure he stays away when they have goslings! The Oliver poem is so rich. Thanks for a bit of peace and sanity as things go crazy here with a new semester starting.

  7. Shirley on August 23, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    So glad you took a break with Owen and me, Richard. And many blessings in your new school year. We start Tuesday also!

  8. […] first post was about learning attention and proprioception (awareness of the body) from a baby. The second focused on learning to become one with nature. I would continue the tradition of borrowing from […]

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