Space

I have been given a bit of a reprieve this week, with the older three in a camp for much of the day. I have had the chance, with more breathing room, to give some quality time to Tim, who has pretty much been dragged this summer from pillar to post in our quest for absorbing fun for everyone, while his preference is a much slower pace. I always struggle to give any of my four children quality time the way I’d like to, but now that summer is winding down, so am I. That early summer energy has evaporated, and slowing down is my deepest craving. With this week’s unexpected opportunity to follow a more relaxed rhythm, I developed the theory that it would actually be possible to “schedule” “space” for me and Tim. Yes, the dishes and laundry and other housework would all get done, hundreds of meals would all be prepared, but nestled into that activity would be a breathable pause each day this week, for Tim and me to just be. So I set aside the hour from 10 to 11, intending that that time be completely open and slow and Tim-driven.

We began on the first day by cutting paper. Tim is getting a kick these days out of painstakingly cutting hundreds of tiny slits in a piece of paper — toward no particular end. I keep him company and talk to him and stay next to him, but he’s really doing his own thing in a very focused way.

When even the deliberate Tim started losing interest in this, I asked if he wanted to go outside to swing. Normally, 99 times out of 100, if Tim asks me to push him on the swing, I am unavailable for one reason or another. His face lit up at hearing ME offer, for once.

Like Jane, the oldest, Tim is an epic swinger. He can swing for an hour straight. It is so nice and green and peaceful in our backyard, so this was a golden opportunity for some quiet time together. We listened to the sounds around us, and he became eager to know more about cicadas, since we rarely actually see one. In the process of explaining what I knew about them, we learned a bit about trees, too. We swang in silence for while longer, and then Tim said, “I’m tired.” Rarely do we have the chance to listen to our real body rhythms, we two. We are too busy running. It felt so good to let him follow his own lead on what his body needed.

So we came in, got a drink, watched a couple You Tube videos about cicadas, read a book, and off he went to sleep. No nap in the car, squeezed between errands. No curtailed nap squeezed between drop-offs and pick-ups. Just a long, slow, lazy summer nap.

I got to enjoy the peaceful feeling lingering on as he slept, and pondered the discovery I’d made: that space CAN be scheduled, and slow rhythms are possible within the madness. That is not a lesson I want to forget.

Simplicity Parenting and Henry Huggins

My children are in love with all the Beverly Cleary novels about Beezus and Ramona, and their friend Henry Huggins. There are about 10 books in all to enjoy about all these characters who live on Klickitat Street, and we are listening to all of them, sometimes several times over, on our drives various places throughout the week. I am continually amazed that my children have the patience for these ponderous, hum-drum stories about very ordinary childhood adventures, but the performances by the readers really are pretty engaging. Anyway, I am finding some surprising things about these books as I listen helplessly to all of them:

1. The first was written in 1950 and the last was written in 2000. That is 50 years of writing about these people and, while the world that the children are living in changes drastically, they themselves age only a few years over the span of the books. The bulk of them take place before the dawn of the computer age, so the setting of nearly all of them is either unfamiliar or only dimly familiar from my own childhood. Henry Huggins’ first book takes place in a time when raccoon caps were THE thing, and all of the other things boys care about in 1950 are similarly foreign. In the second book, written in 1952, bubble gum chewing features prominently as an activity.

2. The value system in all the books is rooted in frugality, simplicity, and taking responsibility for oneself. It floors me how unfamiliar the concepts are, like Henry not getting to have a bike because his parents can’t afford it. Henry has to earn his own money to care for his dog. The Quimbys, Beezus and Ramona, learn to sew with their mother, who makes most of their clothes. Their father gives them ERASERS as a back-to-school present because that’s all they can afford. There is nothing for kids to do but play chess, read, or run around outside, because rowdy play inside, video gaming, or TV watching (except in one of the later books) would never be an option. I didn’t realize just how far afield we had gone from those simple times. My husband and I thought we were pretty radical not having any gaming systems in our house, but we have a long way to go to reach the goal of true simplicity.

Truly, I cannot quite imagine getting to a point where we could live like this, only because it turns out my own default value system is so much more “modern” than I thought. I mentioned recently waking up out of my fog of self-delusion and attempting to accept that I am as materialistic as everyone else in my own way, and I am trying to figure out exactly how to change my whole mindset about possessions. It turns out that my materialism has about 100 roots firmly planted in my brain structure, so digging it out is challenging. I’m working on it, of course, and have changed my reading regimen to fit the new goals, but I can see how many steps away from simplicity I am as a parent as well as a person. I wish I’d gone on this journey a lot sooner, so I could have started with my children as I mean to go on.

Treasure

19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

This particular passage struck me in the heart-stopping way that the right words can at the right time. Lately, I have been digging deep down to look certain facts in the face, and I have been sorely disappointed by my lack of real frugality, a quality I had always thought I possessed. True frugality is an ever-vigilant awareness of consumption and waste, and, while I am the Queen of the Bargain Hunters and Coupon Clippers, I am still consuming way too much. WAY too much. My coupon clipping has just ensured that I can have just as much stuff at a reduced price. 2012 has been unofficially declared my year for taking a hard look at things and trying, without anxiety and judgment, to see exactly what’s going on. The results have consistently thrown me for a loop. So now the project is not how to save more, although that’s always good to know, but how to CONSUME LESS in every sense — fewer free library books, fewer catalogs from which I don’t buy anything, fewer junk foods that my skinny children can live without. In other words, while these things are not directly or obviously causing harm, they are still unnecessary time and space stealers, and just represent too much-ness, and too-muchness of the wrong things that are, fundamentally, distractions. This whole concept is new to me, but it seems to me that it is a deep, spiritual issue more than anything else. Far away is the real treasure I have lost sight of, which I should have been seeking with far more diligence than the latest bargain.

Simplicity in Relationship

My husband gave me a pamphlet on simplicity that he found in the Catholic center at work, since “Simplicity Now!” is our battle cry (although our actual battle tactics are closer to the disordered chaos of World War I trench warfare). The following passage particularly struck me:

Benedict believes deeply in the importance of community and the sanctity of relationships. Simplicity in relationships asks for generosity of spirit, respect for others, honesty, and a heart focused on harmony.

I had never really thought about simplicity as something that applied to relationships, but this has resonated deeply. I feel that so much of the ethos of the day is to “tell it like it is” and “speak your truth,” which I for one find almost always lands me somewhere I don’t want to be: sacrificing compassion for one-upmanship. Ever find out that you misjudged someone, and attributed impure motives to him/her wrongly? Yeah, me too. I’m not saying here to let people use and abuse you, but keeping that “heart focused on harmony” is surely the way to err on the Right side. I am planning to check in at least 10 times a day for a few days to see if my heart is in the right place.