Friday, September 30, 2005

Child Psychology

Marshall (11), and Micah (9) were chatting it up in the back seat on our way home from school Tuesday.

Marshall: Hey Micah, you know how people who are really good with kids always try to get you to repeat something louder... like, "I can't heeeaaarr you!"

Micah: Yeah.

Marshall: I hate that.

Micah: Me too.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Non-Connatural Habit

Several of you have inquired, at stops along the way of my blogging journey, into the nature of my relationship with writing. "I thought you weren't going to blog anymore?", “Why do you write?” and "Do you even like to write?"

I admit this is all very confusing, even to me. My comments about writing and the sum of this blog in general, are oxymoronic.

So let me try to explain one more time.

I'll start with a part of Thomas Merton's Seven Storey Mountain, which I am still reading:

He's talking about a kind of knowledge the Thomists called "connatural", which is:

"... a knowledge which comes about as it were by the identification of natures: in the way that a chaste man understands the nature of chastity because of the very fact that his soul is full of it- it is part of his own nature, since habit is second nature."

And the practice of chastity is a habit. Right. Good.

But Merton goes on to talk about an opposite kind of knowledge:

"Non-connatural knowledge of chastity would be that of a philosopher who...would be able to define it, but would not possess it."

The problem for me comes in that I'm scared to death that my life contains only this second kind of knowledge- which may enable me to write a few things now and then but is useless to save my soul. I'm also afraid that writing will only perpetuate this situation because it is inactive. Sometimes I think I shouldn't write at all but should devote my time and energy exclusively to training myself in good habit.

The other problem I have with blogging (but not, specifically, with writing) is that I am a moody and impetuous woman. Some days (the ones where I feel like a relatively normal person) I enjoy putting down my thoughts and imagining that somebody likes reading them. Other days (the psycho ones) I know that I am not anything resembling normal and that nobody loves me and I am all alone in a hostile or, at best, indifferent world. It is on these days that I want to delete my entire blog and all my email correspondence from the past ten years, burn all my letters from anyone-all the way back to high-school, lock my doors, pull my shades, and stay in bed for the rest of my life.

Thankfully, I don't (always) do this. Today, for example, is one of the bad days. Still, I took my boys to school, read books to Ethan, and let a neighbor lady in the door against my will. And I'm blogging.

So maybe this explains, in part, the schizophrenia of my blog. (And gives pause to anyone wondering at my choice of the word schizophrenia.)

Friday, September 23, 2005


I've sometimes felt comfort in the thought that I can leave behind a written record of myself for my children, grandchildren, etc. all the way down through centuries. But even written words are temporary and elusive.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Siren Song

It was still dark this morning as I drove the kids to school. Three months from now the sun will make a habit of sleeping in but today a stormy sky obscured its light.

I often wake to a lightening world. Light precedes the sun's rising, the way an introductory speaker precedes the keynote: it paints a general, if obscure picture of what's to come. Bulky shapes emerge where there was nothing before and begin to round out, to acquire features. If you watch closely these shapes morph into familiar objects before your very eyes. That hunched-over, unnatural thing to your right becomes an ordinary boulder; those tall moaning phantoms, wavering in a low, sad song are old, white pines swaying in the breeze - morning's breath- pushed by the first grey light, over the curve of the earth.

Today the world stayed dark, time suspended, hushed, as if it and everything in it would go on sleeping forever. If that was the earth's intent, she nearly had us all convinced- heavy on mattresses, legs curled, our minds on a skiff somewhere in the middle of a great, green sea, sounding the uncharted waters of our dreams. It was a beautiful deception- and it might have worked- but children, who still prefer life to dreams, began to wake, one by one, and laid warm hands on adult arms and shoulders. I started awake, gasped as I broke the water's surface, took in the sharp cold and shook out my wet hair. Marshall stood over me, saying something about the dark. He took his hand from my shoulder and went to dress for school.

"Just in the nick of time", I whispered. Or none of us would have ever come back.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Nature and Children

In answer to a query regarding a previous post:

I've read the first two chapters of "Last Child in the Woods" but have put it down for a bit, since I own it (a birthday gift), and other books I'm reading have library deadlines.

However, FOUR of the books I'm reading are about Alaska (I don't know exactly why Alaska's become so important to me but the effect is a sort of baptism of mind and soul.) These readings also direct my thoughts toward nature and questions about my children's (and my own) interaction with it.

I could say so much about this, but I'm still forming my opinions on the matter and searching for truth. Should we move our family somewhere as dramatic as Alaska or Africa to get free from the groping hands of consumerism and pop culture? Is it enough to move to a midwestern rural area? How about living 10 miles from a city, 5 miles from a shopping mall, one mile from a giant movie theater with an Imax screen and a strip mall, on an acre and a half, backing up to County forest? (This is what we have now.) Is that enough? Or should we move to the city to foster community and social responsibility and take intentional excursions into nature? Is a city park enough?

I don't know. But here is what I think about when I try to determine what to do for my boys if I have to stay just where I am forever.

I told Scott yesterday that I think connecting our children to the natural world is like connecting them to the Christian faith. By this I mean that if we raise them with the right ideas about either one but we never help them "fall in love" with what's at the center, they will have no use for nature or for God.

Marshall and Micah moan and groan about going outside and act in other suburb-sick ways that horrify me. We've kept them largely from computer games and almost entirely from television, but made the mistake of assuming they would latch on to the natural world in place of those things, as we did (I didn't even have a television during my childhood). Something is different in today's climate than it was 20 years ago. "Last Child in the Woods" I suspect is going to investigate that difference.

So we've got to introduce our kids to nature. Sometimes it works to just send them outside. But you'd be amazed how little my boys explore our 1.5 wooded acres. They stay on the concrete and play with legos.

Some helpful books:

"Sharing Nature With Children" by Joseph Cornell - This is full of ideas for outdoor activities in all seasons. One involves lying down on a pine forest floor and covering yourself with pine needles. I picked this up at a used bookstore and was delighted with it. Apparently there is a "SNWC II" but I haven't read it.

Charlotte Mason's Home education series talks about nature and children and introduces the idea of a "Nature Notebook" to encourage early observation and drawing (or painting) of outdoor life. Finding Charlotte Mason used to be difficult, but Susan Schaeffer Macaulay resurrected Mason's educational ideas in her book "For the Children's Sake".

"A Pocketful of Pinecones" by Karen Andreola - this is a whole book about Charlotte Mason's nature ideas. The writing is kind of cheesy, as it takes the form of a 1930's Mother's diary (I think it's hard to do fictional diaries well). But thankfully Andreola wasn't trying to write great literature, only to communicate some great ideas in a way accessible to most mothers, and she accomplishes this.

One of the most helpful things I've learned about nature walks is to walk in silence. It's counter-intuitive because we feel like we always need to give our kids "information" if we want them to appreciate something. But I've seen this many times with my boys- the more I talk the less they observe. And when I'm silent the wind and earth and trees seem to knead at their souls and make them pliable.

Children also need to learn to identify and understand what they see when they are out being quiet in nature. I've got a great "Handbook of Nature Study" by Anna Botsford Comstock. In the beginning chapter she discusses why and how to teach nature lessons to children and in fact, the book consists of 232 lessons.

Field guides are wonderful- one or another of my boys and I often look up a visitor to our front garden feeder in our "Birds of North America" guide. I also picked up an unusual book called "Hand Taming Wild Birds at the Feeder" which we have yet to delve into in spite of Eliot's eagerness to "have a bird land on my hand".

LOL. I have so many ideas. It's a shame my emotional constitution is so weak- I almost want to homeschool again until I remember how close to insanity I was.

Monday, September 12, 2005

"Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something." -The Princess Bride

Here's something I read today in Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton,

"The truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering the more you suffer because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most: and his suffering comes to him from things so little and so trivial that one can say that it is no longer objective at all. It is his own existence, his own being, that is at once the subject and the source of his pain, and his very existence and conciousness is his greatest torture. this is another of the great perversions by which the devil uses our philosophies to turn our whole nature inside out, and eviserate all our capacities for good, turning them against ourselves."

I wonder if this is one reason so many of us in privileged, affluent countries suffer from depression, in spite of lives of relative ease, which are often untouched by the kinds of suffering so common to man in previous ages and in other parts of our current world.

I have noticed this in myself before- for one reason or another I seem to think I have a right to a life which doesn't ruffle my feathers too terribly much. I'm soft on myself and indulge myself in little pleasures- the way one might spoil child. What I feel like doing, I do; if I smell suffering down a path I steer clear of it. In the end I don't even know how to answer life's little disturbances or minor annoyances gracefully, anymore. The littlest things irk me.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


I'm painfully aware that I am very behind in my correspondence. I hope to get to most of your emails in the next day or two but I thought I'd give a short update here for now.

The boys are back at it and enjoying it. Marshall is in 6th grade this year and relishes his position as "Upperclassman" at his K-6 school. He told me he was really looking forward to getting to know the new Kindergarten class. "They're so cute," he said.

Micah is in fourth grade and enjoying his 7:3 boy to girl ratio (in a few more years those 7 boys will be wishing that ratio were inverted).

Eliot began Kindergarten this year. He's always been a little hesitant going into organized social situations. But on his first day, while we were getting Ethan and supplies out of the car, he ran off without us. I looked for him and heard, "Mommy! Mommy! Good bye!". He was already disappearing through the double doors of the school, waving cheerily. The other day at a gas station Scott told him he could buy mints with his own money and when I turned around he was up at the counter getting change from the attendant. I guess Eliot decided he's ready to grow up.

Current Reading:

The stars, The Snow and The Fire - an Alaska memoir by John Haines

Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv

For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann

Current Obsessions:

Alaska: All things related to this last, vast, harsh, wild and beautiful frontier.

Finding a way to be healthy
: 6 days smoke free (and alcohol free, since it's hard to have a drink without a cigarette), Cooking and eating healthful foods, looking for a sport to take up (a 34-year-old friend of mine is taking on her 6th Triathlon of the summer this Saturday).