It was February 1998, when I attended a conference held by the New England Association for the Education of Young Children in Boston; the first ever focusing entirely on infant/toddler care and development. At the time I was an Infant Teacher at an employee-sponsored childcare center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Diana Suskind, RIE Associate and professor at Fitchburg State College in Massachusetts, presented one of the workshops I was fortunate to participate in. Diana’s interactive workshop was an introduction to Magda Gerber’s Basic Principles as they applied in group care settings.What an eye opening experience this was for me!
Magda’s first book, Your Self Confident Baby, had recently been published and I went right out and purchased a copy and read it cover to cover that night. I couldn’t wait to get to work on Monday to introduce the book to my director and fellow teachers, and share with them what I was beginning to learn about respectful infant care. I hadn’t been so excited about going to work in a long time. I had been struggling with my conscience, feeling that despite having obtained a degree in Early Childhood Education, and despite years of caring for young children, I wasn’t truly giving the infants entrusted to me the best care possible. Something seemed to be missing, and I was often frustrated because I had no words to adequately express (even to myself) what this elusive”missing piece” was. That changed after reading Magda’s book. (Thank you Magda, for opening my eyes to a new way of seeing!)
Coincidentally (or not) on Tuesday of the following week, our center received a notice that a RIE 1 Intensive Training (Theory and Observation) was scheduled to occur in South Carolina in early April. My director approved my request to attend the training, along with that of another co-worker who was as excited as I was about learning more about Magda’s respectful way of being with and caring for babies.
I knew before I left South Carolina that where I wanted and needed to be next was in Silver Lake, California, the home of RIE. I wanted to learn to implement the philosophy through participating in Parent/Infant classes as a demonstrator (RIE 11). I returned to Boston determined to set this process in motion, even though my family and some of my friends believed I was “tilting at windmills” once again.
And so, that’s how I came to pack away and sell most of my belongings, leave my home, my friends, my boyfriend of two years, and a well paid, secure teaching position to come live at 1550 Murray Circle, as RIE’s newest resident intern. I drove 3,000 miles across the country with only a few clothes and books and my Kali-kitty in tow, and arrived in August 1998.
I came because I couldn’t silence the small voice that whispered “Somehow, you must continue on this path and find a way to share what you learn with others.” Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the depths to which my work at RIE would take me. It’s been a wonderful roller coaster of a ride- at different times joyful, scary, lonely, frustrating, exasperating, exciting, enlightening, challenging, satisfying, a labor of love, and always instructive on a deep soul level.
Yes, I honed my observation skills, and learned to prepare a safe, challenging play environment, and then to step back and allow the babies to lead the way, but the lessons went much deeper as I was gently (or not so gently) brought back to the awareness of, and need to examine myself.
I’ve often heard RIE 1 students comment, “I didn’t know RIE would be like therapy,” or parents say, “I didn’t know these classes would be about me!” In my quest to become a more sensitive attuned caregiver for babies I found I could only be as patient, accepting, and respectful with the children, parents, and other RIE students I encountered as I could be with myself. What a revelation!
And so, to Magda who leads by her example and who is the very embodiment of the principles she teaches, and to all of you who give so generously of your time and talents to RIE, to each of the RIE 1, 11, and 111 students I’ve worked with and assisted, and most of all to all of you who came and brought your most precious little ones to Parent/Infant Classes and opened the doors of your hearts and homes to me, I thank you. You have been my most important teachers. You are my hope, my joy, my inspiration, and the reason I refuse to give up the struggle when I am tired, and progress seems slow.
Magda, it is because of your example, and because of your quiet acceptance and trust in my learning process, through which I’ve sometimes stumbled and bumbled, that I’m beginning to learn to honor, respect, and trust in the unique pace and unfolding of each child and adult I meet. You’ve taught me the value of honoring the questions above having all the right answers. You’ve led me to examine the most hurt, stuck, judgmental places within myself, thus encouraging healing. Through this process, and my relationship with you, I am learning to accept myself as a perfectly imperfect human being, and at the same time, to become more accepting of the perfect imperfectness of life. These have been the true lessons and gifts of my time at RIE, the ones I will not forget, and will take with me in my heart.
With Love and Respect,
Note: I wrote this letter upon completing the three part training (a process that took two years) to become a RIE Associate. This letter was originally published in Educaring, Volume 20, No. 5, Winter 2000. At the time, my plan was to return to Massachusetts to begin teaching Parent/Infant Classes in Cambridge. As it turned out, I ended up staying in California for another six years teaching and practicing RIE in a variety of settings, before moving back to Massachusettes and founding Regarding Baby. My relationship with Magda Gerber and my ongoing practice of RIE has led to profound meaning and joy in both my professional and personal life. My best friend, who happens to be Magda’s son, Bence Gerber (he teases that he’s my “other greatest love” – my work being the first), and I will be married this coming November, 2012. Magda passed from this life on April 27, 2007, and not a day goes by that I don’t think of her. Bence and I are working on an interactive book to honor Magda and preserve her original words and teachings. If Magda touched your life in some way, please share your memories at Magda Gerber, Seeing Babies With New Eyes.