Category Archives: Parenting

Trial by Water

Today was rather momentous. At one point this afternoon I realized that the entire day was like an initiation of some kind or another.

Rudolf Steiner wrote quite a bit about initiatory experiences, religious, meditative, and quotidian. The quotes I have given here are from his book, How to Know Higher Worlds: A Modern Path of Initiation, available for free online in a previous edition here.

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This morning I was baptized into the Missouri Synod Lutheran church here in Pocatello. It’s the church that runs the school my children attend. I started attending services regularly last spring and went through the adult confirmation class.

It’s not something I ever expected to do. I’ve never attended regular religious services before. But it just felt like the right thing to do, for me, right now. I found that at least once in each service, I would get teared up, even a bit wobbly-chinned. And this was at the early-morning, traditional, formal, organ-music service — not where you might expect an emotional response like that. So, I was intrigued about what that was all about, and kept going.

This trial is known as the Water-Trial, because in his activity in these higher worlds the candidate is deprived of the support derived from outward circumstances, as a swimmer is without support when swimming in water that is beyond his depth. This activity must be repeated until the candidate attains absolute poise and assurance.

Now, I’ve never been a big fan of standing up in front of large groups of people. I’ve done it before: performing in plays, leading business meetings. But it’s always been profoundly embarrassing.

I had gone through confirmation, was attending regularly, and had agreed to be a member of the congregation. So, it was time to be baptized. When I arrived at church this morning, I noticed that the sanctuary was more full than it has been recently (summer vacations, you know). I thought, great, even a bigger crowd to witness this! But I thought about how fear is really an illusion, a kind of self-centeredness blended with a certain lack of courage. I thought about what the Lutheran church teaches about grace, and what I’ve read in many places about surrendering oneself to a higher power.

I wasn’t nervous after that at all.

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Silly Billy and Napoleona spent most of the day today outside, playing.

Now, we live in an apartment complex. We’re looking for a house to buy, but for now we’re here, and so the kids don’t have a backyard. They play in the playground areas, they ride their bikes and scooters around, they climb trees. For an apartment complex, it’s not too bad.

But today they crossed a boundary; they erred in their decision making.

For even as it is difficult for those who have not learned to spell correctly in their childhood to make good this deficiency when fully grown up, so too it is difficult to develop the necessary degree of self-control at the moment of looking into the higher worlds, if this ability has not been acquired to a certain degree in ordinary life.

Anthropapa and I heard a knock at our door, and there was a woman with SillyBilly, saying something about he and Napoleona getting into people’s cars, and that Napoleona had run off. Anthropapa tracked down Napoleona, and we sat down to talk about what had happened.

They had evidently been opening unlocked car doors and getting inside the cars. Worse, they had a plastic bag with a few odds and ends they had taken from some of the cars!

They were really, really upset. SillyBilly told me that some of his friends had told him there was jail for little kids, and was that true, Mama? Napoleona just cried and cried.

We talked a bit about why opening cars is wrong and unsafe, and about how wrong it is to steal. We reassured them that there is no little-kid jail, but also made sure they knew that their actions have consequences.

Later in the evening, while I was combing and drying Napoleona’s hair after her bath, I started talking about forgiveness. I told her the story of the Prodigal Son, how the son made big mistakes (a kind of initiation we can all have in daily life) and how parents (and God) forgive us if we are sorry about and try to learn from our mistakes. The parent might be upset at the mistake, and our desire to learn from the mistake is necessary, but the forgiveness and love are always there.

Should [the candidate], in the course of his activity, introduce any of his own opinions and desires, or should he diverge for one moment from the laws which he has recognized to be right, in order to follow his own willful inclination, then the result produced would differ entirely from what was intended. He would lose sight of the goal to which his action tended, and confusion would result. Hence ample opportunity is given him in the course of this trial to develop self-control.

A day of trials, of initiations, of waters and tears.

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Photos by Vanessa Pike-Russell.

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Mixed Bag

Manual breast pump
Image via Wikipedia

Today’s New York Times Opinion section included the article “Ban the Breast Pump” by Judith Warner in her weekly column “Domestic Disturbances.”

Inflammatory title, no?

Even more inflammatory to me are some of her basic assumptions. Warner begins by describing her feelings, and those of other mothers, that using a breast pump is “miserable,” “a grotesque ritual” that made her “feel like a cow,” and that it “brings together all the awfulness of being a modern mother.”

I’m fine with those feelings. They’re perfectly valid, as feelings always are. And having spent many hours with a breast pump myself, I can agree that it can be quite odd, sometimes painful, and almost factory-farm-cow-like. In my case, I was pumping because my newborn son was in the hospital for a month and had to be fed (when he wasn’t sedated and unconscious) via a nasal tube. For others, it’s part of the harsh reality of going back to work before their child has transitioned fully into eating solids.

But.

Warner then goes on to contrast using a breast pump with a “semblance of [the mother’s] physical dignity” and says that we’ve “made such a fetish of breast milk.”

I think she’s taking her book Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety a bit too far. Her perceptive observations —

Maybe we’re even at a point where it’s permissible to insist that the needs of a mother and the needs of her baby, rather than being opposed are, in fact, linked, and that the best way to meet both is to scale down the demands now put on mothers and beef up support for them.

Why, as a society, have we privileged the magic elixir of maternal milk over actual maternal contact, denying the vast, vast majority of mothers the kind of extended maternity leave that would make them physically present for their babies?

— are detracted from by her word choices throughout the article. I understand the desire to write a strong piece and to provoke the reader. But it’s an overly large leap from “I didn’t like it” to “It’s yet another device of patriarchal oppression.” And I don’t like the underlying assumption that my “dignity” was compromised by a free choice I made. Warner seems to assume that all women use breast pumps because they are forced to by society at large, either through financial considerations like not receiving sufficient maternity leave, or peer (and medical) pressure to breast feed at all costs. She wags her finger at second-wave feminism (something I might do as well in some cases), forgetting that feminism has brought us the ability to choose these things. And to choose whether or not to accept societal pressures in the first place — something people tend to forget while they cast themselves as bound slaves instead of free human beings.

I chose to breastfeed, and use a pump when necessary, for my two children because I thought it was best for all of us. Both Warner and journalist Hanna Rosin, who Warner quotes in her article, seem to think there is no scientific data to support the nutritional and child-development superiority of breast milk over formula. Whether or not that is true (and I doubt that it is), there are plenty of other reasons to choose breastfeeding and pumping. For other mothers, formula is a good decision — mothers unable to breastfeed, mothers whose workplaces or type of work cannot accommodate pumping, or mothers who simply choose not to for emotional or other reasons. (I once knew a wonderful mother who was literally disgusted by the idea of breastfeeding. She had a real psychological block against it, and if she had nevertheless chosen to breastfeed, I’m sure the situation would not have been beneficial for her or her children.)

I agree with Warner that we have not quite fulfilled feminism’s promise of equality as long as we assume women must conform to already-existing social structures like short, unpaid maternity leaves. But to cast using a breast pump in such a derogatory light does no woman any favors.

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Observations

Seasons Change

They tell me it’s spring, but the last few days have not seemed so. We spent most of Sunday inside except for necessities like doing laundry and driving to church. Instead of singing spring songs with the kids, I reverted back to some of our songs about snow and winter. Then last night we had a thunderstorm with hail and a power outage, followed by a light sprinkling of snow. Most of the snow has already melted.

On Sunday it snowed all day

On Sunday it snowed all day

But whether in defiance of the snow and cold winds, or simple spur-of-the-moment inspiration, I made this little spring picture to adorn our nature table. I copied it from a needle felting book I have, which I can’t remember the name of right now!

I guess this IS spring in southern Idaho — unsettled weather, still cold, still snowing every week or so, but brave daffodils nodding in the cold wind and the garden centers at various stores opened up once again.

And even if the weather doesn’t want to cooperate with my expectations, the sun is still visibly higher in the sky, out longer each day, and did its best to melt all the hail off the roads today.

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Sneakiness

Both of my kids are sneaky little #@$(#*&s. I could swear that SillyBilly got into the jar of quarters for laundry that I keep on my dresser the other day. I even heard the sound the quarters make hitting the glass, but I didn’t see it happen. And the other day he mysteriously “found” enough quarters “on the floor of the laundry room” to get a water bottle out of the vending machine. Bless his little heart, he knew he’d never get away with soda.

Then today, at lunchtime, he came back to the table after going to the bathroom and announced, “Mama, you might smell chocolate on my breath because my friend E. at school brought chocolates for snack today instead of yogurt.” Uh huh, funny coincidence that last night Anthropapa brought home a bag of peanut butter chocolates for me, and I detected a strong whiff of peanut on the boy’s breath in addition to chocolate. And that it was about 2 hours after snack time at that point. And that he chose that moment to “warn” me about smelling something on his breath.

Then later in the day Napoleona was coming down the hall toward me and when she said hello, I could tell there was something in her mouth. I asked her what she had in there, and in her beautiful innocence she opened wide to display a big peppermint candy. The only place she could have found a peppermint candy would be on my desk, left there from a trip to some restaurant or another a few weeks ago.

I confiscated the candy right out of her mouth and asked her to follow me to the bathroom. (I had to go, you see, and I’m used to having guests in there with me, if you know what I mean.) She immediately started sobbing with remorse and apologized profusely. I hugged her and explained that I wasn’t mad, just disappointed that she did something she shouldn’t have.

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Pray for Me

I have a new editing project. It’s about the definition of evil, specifically regarding things like serial killing. I haven’t been presented with a book yet that I wouldn’t edit, but right now this one comes close. I’ll need to guard myself against getting to weirded out by reading about icky stuff for several hours a day. The book is really investigating what we call “evil” and why, which is interesting, but unfortunately it’s all in the context of murder and psychotic killers.

I used to be able to tolerate, if not enjoy, horrible things in books and movies. But my tolerance for that has decreased dramatically since having children. And after not watching TV for so long, my tolerance for anything disturbing is way down as well. I’m hoping for this project I can focus on the technical stuff and not get too focused on the content. Wish me luck.

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Pride

At the beginning of the school year, I wrote about SillyBilly’s classroom. About how I was unhappy with certain aspects of the pedagogy and curriculum, and how I was worried about competitiveness at such an early age.

Some of those concerns have died down or disappeared. SillyBilly is now fine with D’Nealian handwriting. He still loves school, and the competitiveness is not at all directed at besting others but rather at achieving goals. I volunteer in the class twice a month, and have gotten to know and love the teacher and the children.

But I’ve noticed something. Parents are expected to read books to the kids at home and then the kids have comprehension (and now, vocabulary as well) tests in the classroom. SillyBilly has exceeded the goals (number of tests taken and passing scores) in each scoring period. This trimester his average book level was at third grade, and he has correctly defined words solidly in the third- to fourth-grade range on up to seventh grade!

I was like this as a child, too. I learned to read at age four, and was always at a much higher grade level in reading. I clearly remember in fourth grade going to reading class with the sixth graders, and being bored there, too.

Clearly verbal skills have been a strength for me, and they are for SillyBilly, too. And I’m noticing myself being very proud of him (justifiably so) and not necessarily looking at the big picture. Maybe this kind of pedagogy is fine for him, as it is playing to his strengths. But am I not really paying attention? What are his weaknesses that need to be brought into balance? Am I providing enough physical and artistic activity to offset the intellectual emphasis?

These are hard questions, as Anthropapa and I both tend to be intellectual (in anthroposophical-speak, we emphasize the nerve-sense pole) at the expense of physical activity. Art is somewhere in the middle with us.

It’s always been a question for me: Is it more important to meet the child where he or she is in terms of strengths, or to provide balancing activities? I think the key is to observe, observe, observe — is the child blossoming in areas of strength, or are deleterious effects arising from overemphasis on a certain aspect?

Have you experienced this, either with children or yourself — this need for balance and the need for playing to strengths? What was your answer?

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Rest in Peace, Harrykins

Today we took Harry to the vet to have him put to sleep. Last night it was evident that he was having a hard time walking, not eating a thing, and not grooming himself. He seemed almost unable to climb onto the bed. He had lost a lot of weight and still had an eye infection.

This morning we found him lying behind the toilet, which certainly confirmed for us that he was ready.

We had prepared the kids last night, telling them that we didn’t want Harry to suffer any more, and that he was not going to get better. We told them that the vet would give him an injection that would make him fall right to sleep, and then he would die peacefully. We pointed out that he had had a very good life, and that 14 was quite old for a cat.

SillyBilly was quite upset and cried stormily for a while. Both kids went into our bedroom to pet Harry and wish him well, and then they both drew pictures of themselves playing with him. We talked about what kitty heaven might be like: lots of soft beds, bowls of kibble (make that liverwurst and small flightless birds!), fun toys, and angels to pet them and scratch behind their ears. This part of the conversation helped Napoleona feel much better. Both kids agreed that they wanted a framed photo of Harry in their room to remember him by.

Anthropapa and I agreed that it felt important to be relatively up front with the kids about this event, and to give them time to process it and have a chance to say goodbye to Harry. We didn’t go into detail — SillyBilly asked me what would happen to Harry’s body, and I told him a little white lie that I wasn’t sure. I thought talking about cremation would be a bit over the top. We also talked about how what we most would have liked would have been for Harry to die at home, and for us to be able to bury him on our property. When we finally own a home, I’m sure that’s how we’ll handle these things in the future.

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Harry came to us as a 5- or 6-week-old kitten in 1994, about 6 months before Anthropapa and I got married. He was half-starved and had been found in the middle of the street inside a plastic bag. My coworker could not keep him due to allergies, so we took him home to meet our other two cats.

Harry was always a big cuddler. He overcame his initial starved state and never looked back, becoming rather portly. His tail never seemed to stop moving, and he had a big purr. Harry wanted you to think he was a panther-like black, but really he was deep, chocolate brown, with the barest hint of kittenish stripes on his chest. He was the softest cat ever.

We will miss him very much.

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Pity the Poor Early Reader

I’ve known how to read since I was four years old, so I don’t really remember learning it. It’s been very interesting and a little shocking watching my children learning to read. (SillyBilly is learning in school; Napoleona is picking it up through imitation/osmosis.)

What has struck me is how difficult English is to read! Sounding things out only goes so far with such a hodgepodge language. I find myself apologizing to SillyBilly all the time when he tries unsuccessfully to puzzle out a nonphonetic word.

Recently he’s been having a lot of trouble with “of”. To him, quite logically, it should be pronounced as “off”. He very indignantly told me that it should be a “v” to make that sound!

Diphthongs have been a sore trial as well. How is it that the vowel sound in “lie”, “light”, “mine”, and “eye” are all the same? No wonder Dick and Jane stick to cats and mats.

Since he’s learning to read and write at the same time, SillyBilly has started to create some wonderful spellings of his own. Today he wrote,

Wan daa a stinkee volcano explodid. (One day a stinky volcano exploded.)

Of course it did. Stinkee volcanoes often do that.

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Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker – Part 2

In the first section we read how, over time, human beings have become more and more individualized and less guided by norms. We also read how homemakers of today are still influenced by the social expectations set up during the Victorian era, but that we can become free of these expectations by adopting the view that we have in some ways chosen our life paths. We ended with the question, “What effect does the homemaker have on history?” Now we’ll explore the beginnings of the answer to that question, in pages 7-10.

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The New Mysteries

Before modern times, freedom did not exist as it does today. The Mystery Centers (the two most well known and last of the ancient mystery centers were Delphi and Ephesus) provided norms for all aspects of life — agriculture, religion, education, and so on. People were more open to the spiritual world at that time, and its influence guided human activity more directly than today.

At a certain point, freedom needed to arise in human beings, and so independent thinking arose, exemplified in the work of Plato and Aristotle. The spiritual world still strongly influenced the religious sphere, but no longer the other aspects of daily life. There were no more “directions from above.”

Today, religions, governments, and other cultural groups can provide insights to help us, but a new Mystery culture must be created through individual effort — in the home. “For where homemakers are working out of spiritual understanding, that is where the new society will arise. . . . The homemaker’s whole existence stands at the centre of one of the greatest changes ever to take place in human history.”

A renewal of civilization is possible if we can incorporate the spiritual back into our culture. We must realize that we are inherently spiritual beings, and that through love and freedom we can properly order civilization. If we only have freedom, then will have chaos; if we only have love, then we will have compulsion. The homemaker can create renewal by working with these ideas within the most basic social structure, the family.

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If the homemaker can lead a cultural renewal, where will he or she find the strength for this task, and what is the path of development and insight to assist in this work? We’ll look at these questions next time.

Manfred Schmidt-Brabant, The Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker, Temple Lodge, 1996.

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