A long time ago, before I started my party planning business here in San Francisco, I was a baby-sitter/nanny. It was a job that I really loved, partly because I have always loved kids, but also because it gave me time to do things I never could on my own, like take long walks with the kids in their strollers. Some of you might wonder what’s so special about taking a walk, but let me tell you, there is so much you miss when you’re in a car. The world just moves by too fast! But when you are meandering around with a child who loves to stop at every crack in the sidewalk (in order to examine it for new microscopic creatures that might be living there, of course), you start to notice things. There’s the next door neighbor who always decorates their front door with a seasonal wreath, or the fact that the kids at the end of the block never put their bikes away, or that there is a new baby stroller now on the porch of the people across the street.
Part of the luxury of being a baby-sitter (yes, I actually enjoyed my job a lot!) was not having the stress of running the family. All I had to do was keep the children happy! That meant art projects, fun with food, trips to the library, and other simple tasks. Now, it wasn’t an easy job by any means, but because for 8 to 10 hours a day my only focus was another family, I was able to take much more time doing things than I would in my own hectic life.
Me and Hanna -- After mapping our neighborhood, we recreated her favorite building with a cardboard box!
Hanna was one of my longtime clients; we were together from when she was two until she went off to school at 6. She lived around the corner from me in Bernal Heights in San Francisco, a charming neighborhood made up of winding streets, cute little houses, and fun shops. Hanna and I would walk every day to the library and park, which was about half a mile from her home. Hanna was a curious child, which meant a lot of stopping and starting of the kind I mentioned above. During one of our adventures out, she asked me how many houses were on her block. I had no idea. So we decided to count. We started at the end of the block and started counting. There were sixteen, we discovered. That got me thinking: maybe it would be fun to “map our ‘hood!”
The next day I came armed with a notebook and pen. The first attempts at mapping were a little wonky and I ended up ripping out pages and starting again. Eventually we got into a little routine; we started by mapping one street at a time: I took a ruler and drew two straight lines down the center, and again at the top and bottom in a perpendicular manner to create my cross streets. Once again Hanna and I walked the street and counted. There were 16 houses on one side, and 16 on the other. I made a note, and when we got home I drew out 16 little rectangles on each side of the street. The next day we added in the addresses. The next week we started on details: the colors of the houses, the ways they were decorated, which ones had trees and foliage, which ones had brick and stone, which had fancy columns, which ones needed a paint job. I saw “we,” but Hanna was too young to write at the time, so I did all the recording, but let Hanna lead the way. She figured out what each number was, honed in on the details of each house that caught her eye, and practiced her colors on the houses’ paint combinations.
The notes became too extensive to fit in our little “mapping” page, so we gave each house its own page. Eventually Hanna and I filled them with drawings, descriptions, little items like envelopes, dead leaves, bits of paper. It became a sort of neighborhood collage.
“Mapping our ‘hood” was a great way for us to explore and discover the world around us. It would never be considered a work of art or anything; in fact, it was downright sloppy! But we had fun making it together, and the time we spent putting it together was worth more than the results on the page.
So many times we rush through our lives without ever noticing the world around us. I think that this is detrimental for children. I think with kids, we need to slow down and really examine things -- ask questions -- take in details -- absorb our surroundings -- record them. Only then can we truly know where we dwell. I know that for Hanna, she enjoyed the process, and it eventually evolved into another favorite pastime: storytelling. But that’s another blog entirely...!