While I worked on this -- I am painting our lower kitchen cabinets in chalkboard paint -- Vivi sat quietly at the dining room table with her watercolours. I heard nothing but the clinky-clanky-swish-swish-swish of her paintbrush being dipped in the mug of water, presumably to clean it between colours, just as I had spent a great deal of time demonstrating to her. And then I got up to check supper in the kitchen.
Oh well, at least it wasn't as bad as this.
The roof of our front porch has been sagging in the middle for a couple of years now. Here, Robert digs out the rotten wood.
He's replaced a couple of beams, a lot of pieces of wood, and re-roofed that section and half of the main roof.
The crooked house is becoming slightly less crooked, or at least the front of it is. To the tune of a two-week family vacation in Disney World. (I am less upset if I imagine giving up a Disney vacation than, say, one in Europe.)
My new obsesssion: Lucy Worsley, Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, and BBC presenter of fascinating documentaries, including this one, which looks back at the historical development of four rooms in the modern home: the bedroom, the bathroom, the kitchen, and the living room. Someone has made all the episodes available on youtube. She has also written a book called If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home, which I have reserved at the library. Next up: Worsley's documentary called Harlots, Housewives and Heroines: A 17th Century History for Girls. According to her blog, she is currently researching a series on the history of the murder mystery and its fascination for British society. (Big thanks to Sara O'Leary for suggesting Worsley's documentaries to me!)
This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone is a memoir by Melissa Coleman that got a lot of attention last year when it first came out. Coleman's parents, Eliot and Sue, were among the first back-to-the-landers of the late 60s and 70s. They moved to a plot of land in rural Maine that adjoined the farm of Helen and Scott Nearing, the couple who wrote Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World, which is the book credited with inspiring the movement. Eliot and Sue built their own home, grew their own food, and Sue gave birth to two little girls while they did it. It sounds Edenic, particularly for children, and partly, it was. (This NYT review of the book does a good job of describing the basic events of This Life is In Your Hands and also the sort of see-sawing the book does between the poetry of the family's life, rooted as it was in nature, and an increasing sense of ominousness.)
It's easy for people who have never attempted to be self-sufficient through farming to romanticize the idea (witness the current resurgence of what Emily Matchar calls the New Domesticity, which admittedly doesn't seem as hard-core a movement) but the fact is that it makes for a very hard life. (I am guilty of romanticizing it myself -- in high school I gave a speech on my version of "the good life" in which I would retreat with my little family to a cabin in the woods, where I would homeschool my children and we would all survive, I guess, on nuts and berries.) Coleman, who is now a nationally recognized expert on organic gardening, actually had a thyroid disorder, largely untreated, that spurred him on to ceaseless physical labour. And if I were going to try to accomplish what he did, I think I'd want one, too. From Melissa Coleman's descriptions of her mother, Sue, it seems to me that she suffered terribly from post-partum depression and that this was horribly compounded by the relentless, back-breaking work that homesteading actually entailed, not to mention possible malnutrition.
Now here is where the spoiler comes in. Consider yourself warned. One day, busy preparing a feast for some visitors (as if she doesn't have enough to do), Sue shoos Melissa's little sister Heidi, who is around three at the time I think, out of the cabin, telling her to go float her toy boat on the pond. Heidi actually comes back once or twice, begging for attention, and Sue turns her away. You can guess what happened to Heidi down at the pond. She drowned.
Melissa Coleman doesn't blame her mother for this in the book, but she doesn't exactly absolve her, either. After reading it I was left feeling absolutely bereft for the poor woman, whom I was unable to track down via google, hoping to learn she has found some sort of peace. And I must admit I was also left feeling a bit pissed off about Eliot Coleman's (and the Nearings') subsequent success as folk heroes.
Now of course children die. They die in car accidents in suburbia and of childhood cancers and all kinds of things. But all it takes is a short stroll through a pioneer-era graveyard to see how many children died when there was no choice for anyone but a "lifestyle" of relentless physical labour in order to put food on the table. A lot of those deaths were from childhood diseases we can now vaccinate against (if we aren't against vaccinating) but many of them were from accidents that happened when parents didn't have the time and the energy to hover over their kids.
Posted by Stephany Aulenback on March 16, 2012 at 01:27 PM in Books, Childhood, Compendium of Terrible Parenting Advice, Culture, Family, Food and Drink, Gardening, Health, History, Memoirs and Biography, Nature, Nesting, Parenting, Parents in Literature | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
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You can purchase these boobie beanie baby hats -- or the pattern to make one yourself -- on etsy. You know, so you can protect the delicate sensibilities of those who are offended by public breastfeeding. God forbid anyone should happen to glimpse a bit of breast as it nourishes an infant.
Before we brought Luke home from the hospital, we were instructed to make sure he drank enough. "He must pee four to five times a day!" the nurse said. "If he is not, he is dehydrated and must come back to the hospital! Also, there is a risk that the scabs at the back of the throat will rip open and he will start bleeding! Bleeding requiring an emergency trip to the closest hospital!" She also told us not to let him shout or move around too much for two weeks, which could also result in excessive bleeding. The risk is greatest, she told us, during days four to ten.
Have you ever tried to keep a six-year-old boy from shouting or moving around? If not, imagine trying to keep the wind from blowing or the sun from making its way through the sky. You might as well try to keep Kim Kardashion out of the news.
However, we managed, through great effort, also bribery, to keep him mostly quiet and mostly still until yesterday afternoon. Day seven, for those who are counting. (Like me. I am not only counting the days, I am counting the hours and the minutes until I can safely send the child back to school.) Yesterday afternoon, Luke was standing on the landing at the top of the stairs, chatting to me as I was changing Vivi's diaper on the living room floor below -- I am always changing a diaper at these moments -- when suddenly a squirrel leaped toward him from the banister above his head.
We are having a problem with squirrels getting into the attic from some holes we cannot find in our admittedly decrepit roof. Theo, one of our cats, had chased this one down the attic stairs. Luke is afraid of the squirrels because we have made quite a fuss about our distaste for them being in the attic. And because, let's face it, they are freaky little buck-toothed rats with long bushy tales. And this was a big one. When this squirrel leaped toward him, the poor boy screamed more loudlyand for a longer period of time than I have ever heard anyone scream. He stopped only to take a breath and then screamed again and again and again and again to similar full-throated effect. While he was screaming he leapt bodily down the full flight of twelve stairs.
So far, luckily, there hasn't been any bleeding, at least not as far as Luke is concerned. I am afraid a blood vessel may have popped in my brain, however, as I am not feeling at all well today. Fee free to send flowers and chocolates.