Patience, or Reading Too Much Virginia Woolf

She felt done in. One was only allotted so much patience in a day, so many lengths of that precious thread to knot and waste and fret over before feeling quite finished. And she tried so hard to parse it out cautiously, to have at least a little remaining when the day ended and the baby was sleeping and the time came to rest. But on this day all of her patience had tangled by early afternoon when the child still would not sleep and so many trials were still to come before bed. One tried so to be good. Punctual and well kept and considerate. But it had been a day of minor irritations. Death by a thousand cuts. No one else, it appeared, was trying to be good. No one thought it important to be polite or organized. The handyman thought it just fine to show up an hour later than anticipated when he had so stressed the day before that he wanted an early start. And her husband had kept to himself the invitation to the party, which meant that not only had it surprised her earlier in the week to know that it was to take place so soon but then, after she had shifted a dinner party around to allow for it, he had mixed up the days anyway and so she had moved her own party from the night the event was not taking place to the night that it was. And on top of all of that was the boy, her lovely boy with apple cheeks and charming chatter who nonetheless was still a very young boy and so spent his days tormenting the dog, dumping out full containers, soiling clean ones, eating things one ought not eat, rejecting food he had accepted weeks or days or moments before, and generally falling apart over what seemed to be nothing at all. She did not, she reminded herself, have any reason to hold him to the expectations she held herself, but she did find other adults who failed to meet them all the more exasperating after contending with the child all day.
One could only bite one’s tongue so may times, after all…


In response to this article and the NPR interview I heard about it.

I’m part of only one private facebook group, one with a group of mothers who all were due the month Thomas was born. When first pregnant, we met up on (website for all mothers crunchy/hippie), and we’ve kept in touch daily ever since. They accept and love that I still breastfeed my son when he’s eighteen months old, that we coslept, that I never used formula or jarred baby food, that we use cloth diapers, that we delay vaccinations. While I love the mothers I’ve met in my own town, these mothers support and encourage my unorthodox ways.

But a recent story I heard on NPR has made me feel, for the first time, like an outlier in this group. The story is about childrearing in the past generation or so, the way that kids are never unsupervised, never exposed to any kind of risk, always clean and safe, and the detrimental effects it may be having on confidence, on the way children may be taking part in more risky behaviors as adolescents because they never tested themselves as children. The article talks about “playgrounds” filled with scrap wood and fire pits and rusty lawn chairs where kids can roam without rules (maybe a few adults, there only to intervene in Very Serious Circumstances). It talks about the hours upon hours kids spent alone a generation ago and the way none of the children of those children are ever alone, though our world is no less safe than it was back then.

The mothers in the group were all a bit tense in their responses, it seemed. They keep their children close. People drive too fast on roads. There are transients often nearby. No safe places. And maybe they are in dangerous places; I’ve never visited any of them, and cannot judge.

But I can’t wait to see my son’s territory in our neighborhood expand. The day he can go bike on the dirt road without us. The day he can walk to the pond, to the beach (as long as he takes the dog, and then alone). The day he can cross the highway to the other pond. The day he can go to the park. The day he can go to his grandparents’ house or the farm where I work (two miles away). The day he can take the kayak out on his own (many many years off, obviously). And all of the secret places he’ll go to along the way, places I’ll never see, never know about. Places he’ll catch frogs and build forts and look at pictures of naked women an risk is balance and his bones. I want him to come home muddy and scratched. I want him to come home a few minutes late, running like a bat out of hell because he knows he’s late but he got distracted watching a fox or a trail of ants or a thunderstorm coming in from the sea. I want his natural confidence and charm to be backed up by experience and honestly-earned pride, by tested bravery.

I don’t care if he wants to play soccer or sing in the chorus or write computer code. I don’t care if he gets straight As year after year after year. I don’t want college to be his one and only goal through his teenage years.

I want him to get learn to use a knife safely and to build a fire and to find his way home when he’s lost. Technology and sex and teachers we’ll have to deal with inevitably. But wildness can be squeezed out of a child early and carelessly. I want him to know his limitations, and to know when it’s time to push them a little further.

And if people think that means I’m neglecting my son, I guess that’s too damn bad.

freewrite, a few months ago

I don’t recognize myself these days. The inattentive gaze in the mirror belongs to a doppelganger, more slender and short-tempered than I. She pinches her pennies and frets ever so much about her inability to accomplish anything personal or professional. She often cannot recall the last time she showered or where she set down her most recent cup of tea. Someone keeps sliding free the pins in her train of thought, sending half-formed plans and contemplations down separate tracks and into the wilderness.
She lives in a looking-glass world. The same town as me; the same home, even. But a changeling child, a faerie, an elf lives with her, scampering through the rooms of her house, his voice full of conviction as he chants nonsense against invisible demons. Even in the reflection I can make out the whats and whens and wheres of his life, but the whys elude me. I understand that he pulls the books from her shelves – all children do – but why, over and over, her three copies of the The Little Prince (one English, once French, one Latin), her husband’s two copies of Beowulf (Seamus Heaney’s and one in old English), and the massive tome of The Faerie Queen?
The strangers in my mirror. Sometimes she holds him to the glass and they two stare at me, her eyes blue blue and his dappled gray-green pools. He spins in circles and she stares into space. How strange…