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Category Archives: Parenting & Family

Teach me to live in a biosphere, which is real, not a global economy, which is not.

Sat on the chaise lounge and watched the bumblebees work over the raspberry blossoms in a sea of green. After three days of warm, sunny weather I felt confident in my decision to put away all winter coats, turn off the pilot light to the gas fireplace insert and switch off the main furnace. I’d seeded another round of four inch pots in lettuces, peas, onions,herbs, and a few flowers, and sowed beans and chard in the new garden plot off the patio, reclaimed from another corner of lawn. The air was turning cool, with rain expected–perfect for the seeds, though the tomatoes would slow down a bit. Almost time to put a bird net over the cherry trees, and the gangly limbs of the apple trees definitely needed some training and support–they were loaded with baby fruit.

I was thinking about the ways in which some of my students, maybe even a decent body, had been brought to understand something of the laws of nature–the ones that we humans ought to stop trying to ignore–such as there being finite resources on Earth that needed to be continuously recycled, that evolution is a constant and inevitable process, whatever religion says, and that there are fascinating miracles to explore at every turn, as well as inexorable forces we must reckon with, organism among organisms as we are, perched on this spinning rock blasted with radiation more powerful than thousands of nuclear bombs.

I have a mental space full of faces, ever expanding as I go through these years of teaching. Names may fade, but I will never un-know these young people, the 35-odd students I taught last year, the around eighty this year, counting middle, high and third graders. For once I get to teach at the same school–another novelty I look forward to. Ninth graders I’ll see in Physics and Algebra 1 next year, this year’s group will move on to the next math and show up for physics, too. Could be teaching some of the younger ones, though mostly high school. All the same colleagues with the addition of a new teacher–I hope I like her, bet I will.

Dan O’Neill, writer I sublet my summer office space from gave me his book, The Firecracker Boys, to give to my father, and since he’s all the way across the continent, I’m reading it before I send it there along with my son when he goes to college. It tells the story of how the Atomic Energy Commission started a group that was eager to test “peacetime uses” of nuclear power, and their first project was to be blasting a new harbor into the coast of Alaska. Their ignorance about the systems of the Earth and the disastrous effects that would result from their plan is astounding, and even though I know how the story ends, with the killing of the project and all similar ones due to the newly birthed environmental movement that arose there, I feel sick just thinking about how it might have been.

In environmental science we discussed why humans can have, want to have, even, such an outsized effect on the Earth’s systems, and yet do not seem essential to any of them in comparison to other organisms, such as, say, ants or eelgrass. The students were in agreement that if all humans suddenly vaporized, nothing would fall apart. We also explored the question of why humans, of all organisms, deliberately flout ecological principles, and what effect that might have, long term, on our species, on society. And, could there be a way to reconcile our ambitions to discover, build, and create, with the limitations that scientists are discovering that we must live within? Not to overly credit scientists–it took them hundreds of years, two steps forward, one step back (or vice versa) to catch up to some of that instinctive body-knowledge, that innate genetic wisdom, of our pre-historic ancestors.

The Fall–when and how did it happen? Was it the dawn of agriculture, or just agricultural commerce? Did it derive from the spread of the expression of new genes of cognition and self awareness? Was it accelerated by symbolic language and institutionalized ancient religions? Or was all that, really, progress?

Nowadays, just like the real estate bubble, we are talking again, in education circles, economics, science and technology, as if trends, what is happening, are the same as vision. “It’s a global economy–it’s an information age, so let’s get with it.” As I asked a mom I confide in periodically about my doubts about the value of schools systems, “Who’s driving this train and why should I get on–just because it’s going somewhere?”

My younger daughter shared with me how stressed she was about school–with the drive to maintain good grades, the pace, the hours, the lack of joy, the social pressure. By all appearances, she’s a successful student, but here she was in tears, wondering what the purpose of it all was. Her teachers were part of the problem, just because they had bought in. Their success wrapped up in rigor and performance-based assessment, not impact, enlightenment, and empowerment. I thought about the pressure I put on my Monday/Wednesday high school students, how as the test approached, I accelerated the pace of content exposure, started giving them testing tips and practice (while advising them, as the testing websites claimed, that success did not come from “test practice”  or extra study.

Friday classes were different, with only “delight-directed” activities (such as we could manage), no grades, no homework. That too appears to be about to be corrupted by the managers of the system, with a drive toward more “accountability” and record keeping. Hearing this fact at the staff meeting, I expressed my displeasure, tried to voice how dear are the values, to many homeschool families, of freedom and flexibility, as they are to teachers and students. Yes, it would drive away some families, it was acknowledged, this change, but it was what the state needed for financial accountability. Yes, families should drop out–they should save themselves, I thought. Funny how this whole parent partnership started to rope back in some of those opted out families with our flexible.part time program, and now that they’re hooked on the funding and free curriculum, we change the rules.

I sanctioned some respite for my daughter, called in and excused some skipped classes without giving clear reasons to the voice mail recorder, ignored the alarming-sounding letters citing the Becca Bill and mentioning court. She explained why she was skipping–the others were doing standardized testing she didn’t have to do and there was a sub; she’d already done the work and they weren’t learning anything new; they were playing soccer instead of having a lesson; she wanted to spend a few hours on her ceramics project. The ceramics studio, and its teacher, being the sanctuary so many students needed, a kind, blind eye turned and no questions asked. Refreshing subversion.

School is definitely part of the problem. We only need school because we’re a modern industrial society on a crash course with our destiny of ecological disaster, and it takes a lot of rigor to learn all the techniques that have got us into this mess, let alone the ones that maybe could get us out without sacrificing any modern luxuries–the ones we need at the end of our twelve hour labors. The future is coming. Let’s get there first.

Or, we could learn contextually everything we really need to know, like a cub from momma lion–how to get food and water, defend oneself without unnecessary energy expenditure or excessive harm to anyone else’s system, key social norms and boundaries (with the option of challenging them), how to play a musical instrument, and never to poop  in the water hole.

 

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Longing for a tubal ligation

Finding myself escaping from my house a little too often, especially on the weekends and holidays, when all six of the family are parked there. Like a wolf pack at the point where there has to be a split of leadership, it feels like, and meanwhile there’s lots of noise and scuffling of claws, and the wood floor I refinished last summer is all scraped up. There are numerous “strong personalities” in the household, and in that popular personality type classification, there ain’t no golden retrievers around here (except during the welcome visits of my mother-in-law), nor much channeling of cheerful, fun-loving otter at times like those.

My husband is an early riser and is already up when I arrive in the kitchen for breakfast and chores. He’s researching some Black Friday sales and keeping an eye on the football game. Ive never really adjusted to the t.v. dominating any part of my life, and even though I value good film and even enjoy an occasional light screen diversion, I feel so saturated by tubal excretions lately (it doesn’t take much) that any interest in adding any more, even quality content, has drained away. The sports networks in particular are thieving away our time and quiet, and I call it out to no avail. It’s not just the game for a few hours any more, but the pre-game features and post- game analysis that basically takes all day. I long for quiet especially now that I’m in the classroom several time a week.

My youngest son is waiting for me in the kitchen, hoping for some hot breakfast, and I help him make cheesy scrambled eggs. As I fix my yoghurt and granola, one of the other lions arrive. This is a person who never wakes up cheerful or even pleasantly groggy, and unless we all walk on eggshells (or have already prepared white flour waffles with whipped cream, bacon on the side) there will be roaring within minutes. It’s as if that’s her way to get energized–she seeks conflict, has from her first manifestations of personality. When she was little I clued in that she enjoyed a play fight–the push and shove made her laugh and even feel special–touch as love language. She owns the rough-and-tumble husky, which helps, as I often forget that words don’t mean the same thing. Lately I’m the most likely human recipient of the first blast of irritability, and I feel obliged to remind her once again that rudeness isn’t allowed and that she should go back to her room until she’s ready to be civil. My husband tells me not to take it personally. I don’t want to take it at all.

After trying to facilitate a nice, friendly or at least “do no harm” atmosphere at home, and to maintain some leadership of the domestic environs (not that I want it, but because I’m seen as the main housekeeper when it comes to messes and maintenance) so that the six users don’t leave the kitchen and living room trashed, I feel myself losing ground and slipping into sarcasm, a victim mentality, and decide to make my first retreat, a time to my bedroom. It’s quieter, and I have the calming view of the bare trees blowing in the wind outside the window that covers more than half the width of the wall, rain knocked off the patio canopy and juncos foraging in the garden. But I can still hear the roaring from there, despite the new solid wood doors we installed this year. Not fighting, per se, but the debate over whose preferences to go with as to the day’s activities–walk? movie? pizza? shopping? The daughters throw around personal insults which at other times they’ve told me are just a peculiar expression of love–the term “idiot” being most prevalent, and I count five such in the space of a minute, all from the mouth of the lion. I lean back against four pillows, hoping someone decides to go for a walk or even see a movie. I get in my zone, the buzzing of complaints in my head eases and a more proactive agenda starts to emerge. I can get outside and work on refinishing chairs if I go pick up some more sandpaper and nails. The rain has eased off and maybe I’ll be able to finish building the last raised bed, set up some rain buckets to water the beds of greens I want to plant in the greenhouse for winter salads.

 

 

End of summer regrets and anticipations

I’m going to try to get at the root of my feelings here. I’ll have to part the complicated net of stress about various things–starting a new teaching job, not having done enough planning for the time I have left before classes start, wondering whether I will make some new friends there, if the commute will bother me much. Put aside my sense of regret at not having the time I wanted for concentrating on my two youngest children’s journey and growth, or my own projects. A sense of loss at having had to say goodbye to the school I so enjoyed working at last year.

I’ll have to brush away the awareness of my diminished energy as I age, the early signals of impending menopause. Have to put aside the sense of sadness about saying goodbye to my two oldest children as they head off to college, and the sad changes in my extended family that have begun to occur more frequently. The awareness of a need to process with my mate some of the conflicts and negative patterns that we have developed so that we can head into this new phase in the right spirit.

And now, just as I have come to place where I should start the paragraph about why I am motivated to teach after all, restoring my sense of purpose and vision, I have succeeded in disheartening myself. I have created a picture in which I am turning my back on the duties, delights and calling of my own abode to serve other families’ children in the “greater society.” And so ultimately I reveal my bias that deep down I feel that charity begins at home. But apparently I also believe if that charity is hard to muster or is not received in the way I am able to offer it, or if one has to lay up a bigger nest egg or refine marketable skills, then it’s time to go out and get a job. It’s good for a home maker to get out there and broaden her horizons, to see what she can do, to be recognized, paid for once, for her skills and service. To meet new people, try new things. And, they say, it’s good for the kids to see that you’re not just a mother, wife, home maker, domestic engineer. That you “have a life” outside raising them.

Yesterday afternoon my husband helped me put together the new cider press I bought. It sits in the living room, a handsome classic in wood and cast iron, ready to grind and juice the harvest of apples I have grown or got permission to glean.

On the floor in the kitchen sits my canning pot and two boxes of jars and lids, ready to hold sauce made from two large bowls of fresh tomatoes on the counter. Outside the basil is ready to pick and dry, the savory and onion seedlings ready to plant.

In the garage I have stored the parts of a chair I refinished and the pillows I recovered, needing a few day of labor to finish up repairs and reassemble. Also there is a laundry plunger, which I had planned to use to set up a non-electric laundry system that would get our things much cleaner than the half-hearted tumbling actions of our handsome new front loader from the big box store. My sewing and craft supplies are stored there, too, not used except in cases of necessity.

I have ideas for a writing project, a yard redo, a bicycle storage shed, an organic permaculture expansion. Somewhere I stored away my daughter’s partially finished quilt, and fabric for projects I was going to do with the kids to teach them to sew.

Out of my office window (I have to vacate in a few weeks) I see a father and small son heading past the dock on a standup paddle board. I bought one of those, too this spring, and have not yet found the time to use it. Since my foot and knee started complaining, I have been hoping to transition to more water based exercise and cycling. Last week my husband was urging me to shop for bicycles now that they are on sale, knowing mine is shot and that I’d wanted to ditch the car for a good commuter bike when I had the chance. I had to tell him it’s still not practical, since we have no bike storage, and now my job is twenty miles away up a busy route.

Outside in the boat repair yard I spy a woman sitting on her dry docked sail boat taking a break. She drove here to be by herself and decided it’s better to sit on a boat in a parking lot than wait months for the time and money to repair it and get it on the water. It’s a Sunday, and I think she expected to have privacy, to be able to feel the sea breeze, hear the lines snapping and gulls cry while she collected her thoughts, or let them go.

Let them go. Let it be. See the positive. The medicine for my soul’s illness I can find within. God is in control, and in all things he works for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. Look on the bright side. Stop it, in other words.

I can do that. I have this sad ability to switch off certain emotions if I decide that they are processing badly. Not sure where they go, but I can suddenly stow them away and apparently move on. It’s been good to get them out there, and maybe that’s part of the coming to terms.

On to what I hope to accomplish this year, so as to begin with the end in mind.

The teaching of math part really doesn’t grab me, I’ll have to admit. So in my math classes, other than to help the students get the grounding and practice they need, I just want to help them get along and to know that they are valuable and important, part of a community, responsible for their own success. My job is to stay a few steps ahead, come up with various ways to teach to various students, and have a management system in place that helps them pace themselves as they get the work done at school and at home.

Preparing to teach biology (two classes) and environmental science (one) are absorbing much more of my time and energy. This is where I’d like to make a long term impact. I hope to instill/nurture a sense of wonder and curiosity about life, a good understanding of how living systems work and how science works, what questions we should pursue and how, and how useful science can be to help humans make decisions about how we live personally and organize our economic, social and industrial activities on this planet. I want them to understand that technology has no merit in itself, that it is how we adapt, whether poorly or well, to the realities as we understand. I want them to see the big picture, to get a sense of the possible philosophies that can drive scientific inquiry and technological innovation. I want them to choose quality, equity, justice, love, whether they go into agriculture, nursing, journalism, or management.

And so, writing this out was helpful after all, and has sort of a happy ending, all things considered, some more than others.

 

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Mother-daughter travel

Mother and Daughter have just returned from a pleasant walk to get supper at McDonald’s (chicken wrap for Mom and fries to share) and immediately after that, Tim Horton’s (Caesar salad for vegetarian Daughter, who discovered that Tim’s Caesars include bacon). Mother suggested Daughter record a video or audio of the counter guy, who would call each customer forward with a “I can help who’s next, b’y.” Daughter received her order from an island matron who handed over her salad with a “Here you are, my darlin’.”

It was clear on the walk back to the B&B, the chilly north Atlantic wind and cloud banks having  finally receded after several days of blow. Now it is night, and Mother and Daughter recline against the pillows on their respective beds in the B&B. It’s last night in Newfoundland, time to access wifi for the first time in several days. Daughter is catching up on Youtube videos, Mother is writing a blog post. Daughter’s quiet, breathy laughter drifts across the room to Mother.

Mother: “S, it’s okay to laugh out loud, you know.”

Daughter: “Don’t tell me how to laugh.”

Mother (lightheartedly): “I’m not, but I’m going to now.”

Daughter: “You just sucked all the happiness out of the room.”

Mother (laughing) “S, you’re good for me.”

Daughter: “I’m good for everyone.”

Not a hard word, hardly, between my daughter and I, on this whole trip. I am so proud of her, that she has turned out such a quality person. Every one of my family members was blessed by her quiet, kind presence. Just the fact that she could be out of what many young people consider “civilization” and could actually enjoy herself, is impressive. Mom & Dad, who live so far away from us and have only seen these four of ours every few years, will be talking of the sweet moments with her that they enjoyed. Lunches in and out with Mom, walks along the trail and through the village, the dip in the frigid water that my eighty year old father and she took  in the cove, reading all together by the wood stove, exploring gift shops, museum, dock and beach.

It would not have been as good without her, that’s sure. I feel like I’ve come bearing gifts.

 

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Ontario Part II

My daughter and I have been away from home just over two weeks now. She’s a wonderful traveling companion, and a credit to her people, as they say. Just came from my parents’ little house in Crow’s Head near Twillingate on the north side of Newfoundland, where we spent a few days. Before that we stayed with my youngest sister and bro-in-law in Halifax, Nova Scotia, before that my other younger sister in Montreal. We’re taking a small breather at a B&B in Gander, NL before flying out to Winnipeg early tomorrow morning.

My brother and sister-in-law said goodbye to us in Kingston, Ontario, seeing us off by train for the almost three hour ride to Montreal. Just enough time for a good visit it was. Heather gave us a driving tour around town and took us out to lunch, all the while making my eighteen-year-old daughter feel thoroughly at ease and appreciated. Heather is tall and beautiful at fifty, and has that personality we in our family refer to as “mercy,” where her motivation for all she does is rooted in a desire to make others feel cared for. Every little touch to make us feel at home in their place was there–soft towels, toiletries obviously for using, half a dozen soft pillows each, both quiet time and companionship, attentive and interesting conversation, genuine words of affirmation.

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My brother is also a good host, but in a different way, his own way. He kept us active–took us out to see his goats and chickens, with eggs in incubation, and to the pond to look for water snakes. No snakes, but we did come upon thousands of tiny toads, so many that we had to walk farther away from the water’s edge to avoid stepping on them. So tiny and perfect, hopping like small crickets toward the water in waves as we passed.IMG_5610 (1)

We went with him on a hike at Dunder Rock with his dog Jack, hoping to see a corn snake, a large one having bee seen by several others in the area. Matt shook his head to see others’  dogs off leash, which would effectively prevent such a sighting. Most owners never even realize what their dogs are bothering or killing up ahead, he said, just want them to be free and happy. But they kill snakes, among other things.

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We stood and felt the height and cool breezes, watched resident turkey vultures and took some photos. After working up a sweat on the way down we eased down a rocky bank into the lake, delicious cool water but not too cold. Then back home for another array of salads and whole grain bread and cheese. We talked a little about teaching, but only slantwise and reverently, of the attachment one feels with students, the fulfillment of helping them understand, appreciate and care for this wonderful world.

On Canada Day Matt took us into Seeley’s Bay, the local village, where we caught, or rather joined by mistake, the tail end of the parade, walked around town, Matt recognized by various locals young and old and exhibiting his characteristic plain charm. In the ice cream and souvenir store he plunked down beside the owner for a chat, and soon came around to the question of whether she needed more stock of his handmade bat houses. His summer work includes humanely extricating bat colonies from attics and outbuildings and providing new quarters. Mostly these are small boxes of barn boards, erected on poles or building exteriors, but last year he built the miniature house, a bat mansion, mentioned in a recent post. We checked stand found some evidence of bat visitation–the crumbly droppings made of insect exoskeletons excreted by local brown bats.

The last evening we played Blokus, which brought out the playful teasing that Heather and Matt enjoy, him being always competitive, which tends to make everyone else, even Heather, want to gang up on him. Later Heather and I talked about that competitiveness, where it came from and its positive and negative sides. Came up again when talking to my brother-in-law on our visit to Halifax too. Matt loves to win when there’s a game on, and excel when it’s time to get to work. As well as being a well-loved teacher (Heather tells of numerous parents and students who take biology just to be in his class, and students who hate science coming out wanting to pursue it in college), he’s skilled in construction, woodworking, gardening, riding, athletics, art, and music. He’s pretty much self-taught. Indeed, Heather and I agreed, he doesn’t like to be taught or acknowledge others to be more expert than himself unless absolutely necessary. This is a quality that shows itself in various members of my family. Yes, this is really about me. So much easier to be bothered by my flaws when they are reflected by others. So this family tour is not only a way to reconnect, but to understand and improve myself. My daughter gives lots of good insight there, too, and has a fresh perspective that’s enough removed from the generational hangups to enable me to be more open.

Heather drive us to the rain station on her way to her vet clinic the next morning for the ride to Montreal.

 

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At my brother and sister-in-law’s in Ontario

At my brother and sister-in-law’s in Ontario

It’s striking to hear a quiet person, a person who habitually describes others as “lovely people,” who hates conflict and whose main motivation is to be kind and giving to others so they will experience being loved and respected, heat up about an injustice. My sister-in-law, HS, a small animal vet, just told me of her experience volunteering at a local animal shelter years back, hoping to save animals. Expecting to diagnose injuries and metabolic abnormalities, social needs, allergies and infections, administer remedies, do corrective surgery and dental care. Instead, cat after cat, dog after dog, was lined up to be euthanized. She had to do fifty animals in one day. Reasons given on the paperwork seemed to be random: Non-sociable. Dental abscess. Respiratory infection. When she couldn’t see serious symptoms of these things in the animals on death row, or judged the problems correctable, she questioned those in charge. She received pat answers from hardened workers whose main concern was that mixed breed or unattractive, less “adoptable,” less “premium” (a fee added to adoption fees of purebreds) animals were taking up resources.

She described the people in charge of these euthanizations as hard, cold, uncompassionate. Not animal lovers at all. Their concerns revolved around running fundraisers using photos of cute, sad puppies and kittens, and making sure they always had space for the purebreds that brought in more case at sale. What the salaries were, she could only guess.

I made the comparison with charter schools that call themselves “non-profit” but which are run by venture capitalists to funnel public money into the pockets of high power administrators and their contractor and “consultant” friends.

HS spend the whole day with us, driving us around the local city, taking us to coffee (away from my brother, not a coffee drinker), lunch and a little shopping. I bought a tiny string of LED lights and a Sherman Alexie book, she bought a favorite vegetarian recipe book for my daughter. I tried to share costs with her on groceries, but she wouldn’t have it, and I could see this is something she loves to do, to make people happy. Sees herself as having no “talents” like my family does, has so much to give and has given so much. She vowed to give at least fifty pro bono vet services to stray animals brought into the clinic, to  make up somewhat for the fifty she was told to euthanize. The three dogs and five cats of the household are recipients of her and my brother’s love for broken animals. They are like their children, and not in that pathetic, misplaced affection way that some childless humans show toward their cuffed, pampered, purebred lapdogs. Each cat and dog has free reign to live well and do the jobs that suit them, to belong to a family. They don’t run the household, but give it more character.

After another gourmet meal at home, my brother arrived late, with a bellyful of feeling and stories about the students he just helped graduate from the school where he teaches. He is well loved, H says, never has a hard word to say about any of his students, inspires a love for biology in just about everyone he teaches. Keeps out of the school politics, focuses on the students, connects with families, teaches from his heart. We talked about biology, evolution, the books we were reading, and went to bed.

“When M was a boy, was he afraid of anything?” H asked me. She told me he’d hitchhiked to Newfoundland when he was sixteen, which none of us had known. I told her maybe of losing someone, animal or person, he loved, I said, or talking about certain things. Nothing else. His Newfoundland pony, Solomon, for example, who H said was suffering from founder’s in his feet and should be euthanized, but he wouldn’t talk about it at all–not up for discussion. She, who hated any animal to suffer needlessly, and he, who wanted things to take their natural course and not let go until necessary. “They can live up to fifty years,” he told me, when I was surprised Solly was still munching in the stable, fifteen years after I saw him first at the farm. He has goats and sheep, built a stone chicken coop, a big glass and wood greenhouse, lean-tos for firewood. Out in the pasture is an experimental bat house, a miniature house on stilts, complete with any crevices in the usual old house places so the bats could move in. (See his blog http://bigbrownbat.blogspot.ca)

This is the sibling I guess I feel most similar to. Within two years in age, both biology majors, biology teachers, same feeling about that vocation. We are not close in the sense we can share anything and everything, but similar, and lots of unspoken understanding, I would say. He is more reticent, though, and I wish I knew more what he was feeling, wanted, needed, what might be bothering him. Especially so I don’t say something insensitive or fail to do something helpful. But he’s very generous, lots of fun, and especially enjoys having his niece here. My kids all consider him their favorite uncle, though my oldest brother, whom they’ve seen less, comes a close second. All my siblings have the gift of being uncles and aunts, and most of them have had ample time and energy, not having children themselves, except now my youngest sister, whose daughter is now five years old. They just hang out, explore, talk and listen as equals. My kids have memories of smearing Cobequid Bay mud all over their bodies, going to a historic farm, exploring my brothers’ truck cab, building a frog pond, complete with frogs, running a general store, painting pictures.

We will be seeing each of my five siblings (with two spouses and a niece), my parents, and maybe my uncle and a cousin. That’s all the way across Canada stopping here near the Great Lakes, Montreal, Halifax, and Newfoundland, where my parents have a little cottage on a cliff. Since no one is there, we’ll not stop at my childhood home.

My daughter and I are on our own today at my brother’s house, she doing some work for her online course in interpersonal communication, I writing and working on job search and study plans. Strawberry picking, supper and a movie tonight (H’s pick is “Finding Dory”). Tomorrow the local village is having a Canada Day celebration, with a boat treasure hunt, parade, music, and fireworks. I’m wondering what I can offer back for all the hospitality they have given us, and how to show how much I appreciate it.

 

 

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Preserving and nurturing the idealism of youth, and not just for the future

What would you say if your daughter told you about a conversation with three friends about where they would eat out, where she was explaining why she wasn’t getting a burger because of how much water got wasted in the production of beef, and they all turned to her and took turns saying that she was taking things too seriously because no one person could have any effect on big problems like that?

Would you just shake your head and be sympathetic, be a listening ear, make some sort of cooing sound, or extremely thoughtful spiritual direction type questions designed to facilitate your daughter’s values clarification process?

Maybe you would act appalled and reactive, tell your daughter how wrong, how destructive, how ideals-crushing her friends were, encourage her to say such and such next time, although you would not have been able to do so at the tender age of seventeen, but now, by golly!

Would you be ashamed of your daughter’s friends, nice Christian girls who ought to know better, who must have heard the starfish story, more than once, probably—the one that ends with the boy throwing one more starfish back into the ocean with, “It may not make much a difference, but to this starfish, it makes all the difference”?

Maybe you would say they’re probably right. Maybe you’d share how frustrated you were by how long it takes to change anyone’s views enough so they change their habits accordingly, how long it took your dad to get you into the habit of turning off the lights behind you, closing the doors when the furnace was running, putting on a coat instead of turning up the heat, and now how hard it was to get your own kids to make similar efforts, to recycle, to stop buying useless things loaded with packaging? How frustrating to have to deal with the wasteful average American habits the spouse inherited from the in-laws, so that you felt like your efforts were cancelled out? How you sometimes despaired of being able to see the tide turn in time to save lives, prevent droughts and wars and catastrophe?

But I know you. You are an idealist, deep down. Never violate your conscience, you’d say, if you can see a clear path. Right actions have a power that surpasses statistics, odds, and the group think of prevailing stupidity and denial. That stance has only the appearance of benign neutrality, and history always bears that out. Not that you like to use the expression, but it’s a binary decision, and a no brainer on which side of the fence to come down. I’m proud of you, you’d say–you will make the difference.

 

 

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