Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Letter on Parenthood and Precious Time

Dear Readers,

Our destinies reveal themselves in layers to us in a lifetime. We are all born someone's son or daughter. I was also destined to be a sister, a wife, a friend, and now a mother. It is hard to believe more than a month has gone by since the arrival of our daughter, Grace Ann. I think of a line from Rachel Field's poem, "Equestrienne,"

"Nothing that moves on land or sea,
will seem so beautiful to me."

Field's poem appears on Natalie Merchant's Leave Your Sleep, a double album of 18th and 19th century American and British poems put to songs that I have been playing for Grace. Natalie said of the project she was inspired to create for her daughter, "I tried to show her that her speech could be the most delightful toy in her possession and that her mother tongue is rich with musical rhythms and rhymes."I figure it's never too early to expose Grace to strong, positive female forces. Our media sadly isn't filled with those influences. Thankfully, she's blissfully unaware of all that now.  One of the favorite poems on Leave Your Sleep is Robert Louis Stevenson's The Land of NodIt speaks to the journey into the dream world, but it also represents to me what we all must face as individuals, Grace just starting on her adventure,

"All by myself I have to go,
With none to tell me what to do--
All alone beside the streams
And up the mountain-sides of dreams."

One cannot study history without being appreciative of advances in medical care (Grace's and my medical care I'm so grateful for), and I thought too of author Neil Gaiman's advice when life gives you adversity of any kind, "Make great art."  Merchant notes in the liner notes that Stevenson, born in 1850 as the only child of a wealthy Scottish lighthouse builder, survived "scarlet fever, chickenpox, whopping cough, gastric fever, and pneumonia before the age of nine and fought a lifelong battle with consumption. The bedridden isolation that dominated his childhood led him to play elaborate games of fantasy to escape his confinement." He penned his poetry volume, "A Child's Garden of Verses," Merchant says, "while confined to bed in a darkened rented room in the south of France. His body shrunk to only 109 pounds...He wrote through fever and night sweats with his right arm strapped to his body after a particularly horrible lung hemorrhage. While he coughed and struggled for breath, he invoked his childhood and composed a treasured collection of poems with those memories. "The Land of Nod" is one of the most beautiful of these verses. Both dreams and childhood are elusive and fleeting; Stevenson understood how impossible it is to return to either once we have awakened or grown up."

I've been thinking a lot about that passage. There's no time machine that allows us to relive our own childhood, but parenthood is the closest thing to a return to it. I cannot wait to see Grace experience the joys of this magical age. I've been wondering too about what Grace dreams about. As my writer friend J.J. Brown writes in her upcoming work, The Doctor's Dreams,  "The dream is the exclusive property of the dreamer" and  "The dream world is the last wilderness, vast and unknowable." I can never know what Grace dreams about.

It's springtime, at long last, and I think about what I most look forward to in spring. Simple pleasures, mostly: milder weather, asparagus, strawberries, pansies, daffodils and tulips, visits to a local farm reopening for the season, enjoying lunches on the picnic benches there. In the PBS project Frontier House made several years ago about three families in Montana recreating life in 1883 preparing for the winter, and it was noted springtime in frontier times was known as the starvation time when winter reserves were running low. In the film Lincoln, Preston Blair laments, "It'll be spring in two months, the roads will be passable, the Spring slaughter commences. Four bloody Springs." I'm so thankful our times are filled with such abundant food baskets and we know no wartime on our lands, although I think of those serving abroad. I realized if Grace will be blessed to live a long life, she will witness the next century. What great changes will she see in her lifetime?

I'm wondering about technology too. Steve Harvey had a segment on his show about a family whose children from one year's of age to teenagers were all addicted to their devices. The mother bemoaned her one-year old even had his own laptop and his dependence on it. The family was transported back to the technology of the 1980s when the mother grew up (born in 1975, these were my childhood years too). The father said he feared what would happen during the experiment when the children ran out of "distractions." I fear a world whose society feels the need to be distracted. I want Grace to be think, engage, dream, imagine, and interact - not seek distractions. The mother talked about how "privileged" and "lucky" children are today. I disagree. I don't think being on electronic devices so often is good for the mind or body, and am saddened how children are being treated as consumers-in-training in the disguise of "progress" or "technology." Even in commercials children of all ages are being portrayed as glaring at a device. My husband says this has been made socially acceptable. We agree no baby laptops for Grace. Nature time will be more valued than screen time.

I've written too about wanting less screen time for myself, and now that I'm a mom, I want to be a role model for my daughter too, everything from taking better care of myself to not looking at a screen so often. There are parts of my day that make my spirit contented - playing with the dogs, reading a book (only print books for me), savoring a cup of tea, observing the birds happily eating at the bird feeder or sunning themselves, going out of doors and taking in the beauty of the trees, flowers, sun and sky. Spending too much time in front of my computer or mindlessly watching an excess of television never leaves with me with a good feeling. I'm going to continue with my blog but in a reduced capacity. Grace reminds me about the preciousness of time. I try and take in moments each day, simple ones like our dogs warmly waking up to the world each morning, or Grace sleeping, recounting the mantra, "Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life," by Omar Kayyam.

I have a new awe at the miracle of life that all humans and animals experience. I recently finished Willa Cather's masterpiece, My Antonia, set on the frontier of Nebraska. As in O Pioneers! where a character shuns hunting, Cather's Antonia tells Jim Burden, "I'm afraid to look at a gun now. Ever since I've had children, I don't like to kill anything. It makes me kind of faint to wring an old goose's neck. Isn't that strange, Jim?

"I don't know. The young Queen of Italy said the same thing once, to a friend of mine. She used to be a great huntswoman, but now she feels as you do, and only shoots clay pigeons."

"Then I'm sure she's a good mother," Antonia said warmly."

The conservationist John Muir said, "Leave your legacy for the earth." A large part of my American dream I've written about here is being kinder to the planet and to the animals. I want Grace and her generation and those who come after to inherit a clean planet. Grace is part of my legacy too.

One of my favorite contemporary authors is Michael Hoeye, whose wonderful series starting with "Time Stops for No Mouse" follows the adventures of watchmaker mouse Hermux Tantamoq. It is the best commentary I've read on the ridiculousness of our celebrity and beauty obsessed society, and also features charming gratitude letters Hermux writes. In Hoeye's spirit, I'm ending my letter with a gratitude note of my own.

"Thank you for Grace, and for my husband Steve and our doggies Nikki and Jet. I must have done something really good in my last life to deserve these four spirits. Thank you for the Spring. Thank you for the beauty of words, and birdsong and tea. Thank you for nourishing sleep and for dreams, both those in the sleep world and the waking one where dreams comes true."