Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Sturdy Child

I got a new book for Christmas from my husband. High Tide in Tucson, by Barbara Kingsolver. I love and read anything I can get my hands on by Kingsolver. There are a few novels I have not yet read because I know that once I read them I will be twiddling my thumbs until her next book comes out. The book I got is a collection of essays she once published in magazines or newspapers and has revamped them for this book. She also has written 7 more essays just to fit into this book.

Whenever I read her essays I feel like she's one of my best friends who has come over for tea and is sitting on my couch telling me a story. I wish she was one of my friends.

High Tide in Tucson is probably the first book I have read of hers where she talks so much about her personal life, meaning her kids, husband, house, parents, her yard and housekeeping skills, and other such things I would find hard telling all of my readers about, were I a famous author. But on the other hand, as a mother myself I have found many of the things she says about her children or parenting very encouraging, or at least I have had one of those "aaa ha!" moments... several times.

In the essay How Mr. Dewey Decimal Saved My Life, she talks about the literature she was exposed to thanks to her high school librarian asking her to help reorganize books in the school library. It was through this process that she came across, Gone With the Wind, and got the impression that her mother thought the book was a bit too "risque" and this encouraged her teen-self to read it all the more. Although reflecting on the reality of this she now sees that her mom only acted that way to get her to read the book. The point of this essay is that through her reorganizing of the library she came across many books that introduced her to; civil rights, different environmental theories, social justice and other non-discussed issues in her community or school. She feels that being exposed to these topics helped her become a better person and showed her the meanness that humans can present to one another. The harm that comes about because of fundamental beliefs and a lack of willingness to reach out to other humans.

This leads her to of course reflect on parenting and education. This part of the essay was particularly encouraging for me. She gives the argument that parents have every right to teach their children their beliefs, she uses the example of Special Creation and parents who want their kids to believe that the world was designed in one fell swoop. "I don't expect her [Barbara's daughter] school to forgo teaching Western history or capitalist economics on my account. Likewise it should be the job of Special Creationist parents to make their story convincing to their children... It cannot be any teacher's duty to tiptoe around religion, hiding objects that might raise questions at home." She continues, "There is a fatal notion on this earth, its the notion that wider horizons will be fatal. Difficult, troublesome, scary--yes, all that. But the wounds for a sturdy child, will not be mortal."

I love this! This is so true. As someone who grew up in an Evangelical-Midwest home, I remember the day my parents found out evolution was going to be part of the mainstream public school curriculum. At this time I was being taught at home, and this news only brought about a pat on the back for my parents. My parents and many other's I knew were washing their hands with the public system and putting in their order for the next 5 years of homeschool curriculum, "because we don't want our kids being brain washed!" Sadly this form of thinking goes both ways, I know many parents now who will not allow their kids to be a part of anything religious, particularly Christian. I find it funny that our neighborhood school while having a "Holiday" musical included songs about, Chanukkah, Kwanaza and of course snow, and somehow a Jewish holiday is not offensive but a Christian one is. Heaven (no pun intended) forbid those non-religious children get exposed to something their parents are not capable of refuting. Or to put it another way, heaven forbid those religious kids get exposed to something their parents are not capable of refuting.

Barbara makes such a wonderful point, our children who are allowed to see "the other side" and then have long conversations and ask questions at home are going to be the "sturdy" children who will not take fatal blows to their mind or spirit. I grew up with many other home-schooled, religious children who have turned their backs on their family's faith because it was not allowed to question (in our homes or churches). When they faced a challenge, or came across an issue that was not so black and white as they were taught they caved in, they faltered, and they lost hope in their parents words. Because that's all it is, words, if we don't give our children room to ask us questions and have the chance to take it to heart.

This also puts a lot of pressure on parents to "know what you believe". We can't just tell our kids, "capitalism is best, end of story" we as parents have to know and believe in our hearts and minds whatever it is you believe, and allow our beliefs to be challenged by our children. My guess is that my parents must have had doubts in their belief of Creation if they were so angry that it was being taught in school. I would guess someone who doesn't mind their beliefs being challenged would at least have a conversation with the opposing side. There is an amount of protecting our children's innocence that is necessary as parents. No parent would argue that we should let our kids hang out with an abusive person to see if they could survive, or teach them a destructive behavior, for sake of "exposure." But learning about Creation, Evolution, Socialism, capitalism, class segregation, and other topics that might challenge our personal beliefs or make us uncomfortable might in the end make both our children and ourselves sturdier persons.

I want to be the kind of parent that allows our dinner table conversation to be about whatever our children have on their minds. I also want to be the kind of parent that allows my beliefs to be challenged and that those challenges will make me a stronger person, have stronger faith, and be a habitat for my child to always come back to if that is what they want or need. I want my children to see that my faith is consistent and sturdy. I have to admit I do want my children to have the same faith that my husband and I share. But if they choose another route, they are their own persons and I hope I am sturdy enough to love them no matter what route they take. And I hope in the process of growing, I grow too. Above all I want my child to be "sturdy". I want her to know that I am sturdy, and that when we encounter a storm of challenge to our faith or values, it only makes us stronger. These life challenges will not be mortal to a sturdy family.

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