A Minute is Time

Be in the now! Be present!  The mantra for creating a meaningful (read, better) life.

I see the point of being in the now and I can even agree with the intent.  Sort of.  For other people, maybe.

Here’s my mantra– Be Absent.  Check out.  Allow yourself the distance so that your heart may grow fonder.  Find your inner Alice and follow that rabbit.

My children are in camp this week.  Both of them, gone from morning until late afternoon.  A little peek into what my life will actually look like in a few months when Elliot starts kindergarten.  A full year I am taking, to write my book.  To find myself.  To do… whatever it is that privileged middle class women get to do when they don’t have to immediately go back to work.

In my anticipation of Camp Awesome (that is the name of their– and my–camping experience) I created wish lists for myself.  Eight full hours of freedom– oh, the possibilities for productivity.

I also re-discovered something about myself: more free time often results in giant holes of time wasteland.  Or is it wasted?  I rearranged some shelves– which turned my dining room table into book mountain.  Which made 3 dinners turn into picnics, something that is probably super cool to other kids, but happens far too often to be cool for my kids.

As a book hoarder, culling the herd requires I be in a specific state of mind.  And still most often the herd ends up being relocated into sealed boxes for a day in the hazy future time. I get angry when people (Joel) try to make me get rid of books.

Why?  Because book hoarders create delight, that’s why.  When it came time to pack up Joel’s Great Aunt’s house, everyone else was ankle-deep in bedroom suites and blanket chests.  Where was I? Packing dusty books into boxes like they were gold.  Without Great Aunt Ann–and me, Joel didn’t even want them–we wouldn’t own a 1911 edition of The Mothers’ Book, compiled from essays and articles dating all the way back to 1907.

(Click photo to enlarge)

The Mother's Book Collage

Some of these lines beg to bumper stickered.


Y’all.  This book.  Maybe you’re making some assumptions on what’s included in an early 20th century mothering guide.  Maybe you, like me, prepare yourself to eye-roll over examples of out-of-date ideas and principles. Pfft– these 1907 women, what could they possibly know about child development and how best to gently guide their offspring?  They were all about beating some children, which is why all of those previous generations are so much better than right now, amiright?

Think for themselves

So, wait.  We AREN’T beating the children?  We’re teaching free will?  What year is this again– 2007?

Now there are some eye-roll with accompanying deep sighing.  Three words and a number: gender roles in 1907.  But when they discuss just regular children (you know, before they need to be normalized based on genitalia) it reads as very progressive.  I guess it’s progressive– I’m making assumptions about 1907 parenting theory.  And maybe parents were progressing right up until the Depression hit and everything went to crap.

I’ve quoted some of my favorite little nuggets.  And by quoted I mean verbatim, even the one overflowing with semi-colons.

“Remember all the time that you are simply helping the child grow right.  He cannot grow fast.  He cannot grow evenly.”

“The best way to make a child trustworthy is to trust him.”

“Home work is one of the evils a parent has to meet all through a child’s life. It is a pity that a small child should ever have to know its meaning, for after six hours in a school, or even less, the rest of the day should be spent out of doors, or at home, playing.”

“It may be doubted whether the present custom of none month of schooling followed by three months’ idleness is the wisest that could be made; would it not be better to study right through the year, with four short intermissions annually, thus accomplishing in three years what now takes four?”

They hated homework and long summer breaks, too?!

“Obedience should be considered as only a temporary thing, for the attitude of infallibility that parents assume must sooner or later be abandoned; it is merely the training of the children,not blind obedience in itself, that is the aim.”

“The so-called good child may merely be under-vitalized, anemic, and so indifferent to most things. He obeys because it is less trouble to do as he is told than to think for himself; and the child who disputes every command, and shows self-will and is disobedient, may be merely strong, vigorous, pushing in mental as well as physical ways, because he is growing in both.”

“If a father is so harsh as to make his boy afraid of him, then he must expect the child to lie to cover up a wrong, and if he does, it is really the parent who should be punished.”

Wait– so blind obedience wasn’t the goal?  I mean– I agree, but I’m feeling surprised.

“One mother devised a system by preparing little squares of blue and white paper; when a child had been naughty it had to put one of more blue squares in a box; and when it had been good all day it put in white ones at night, at the end of the week if the white squares predominated, there was a reward, and if the blue, none at all. Nothing could have been more simple, but it worked to a charm.”

Hunh.   I think I saw this reward system on pinterest.  I mean, it was ridiculously more complicated than what this mom did, but they weren’t competing with a hundred other reward charts.

“…there appears sometimes a violent, destructive anger, very hard to reckon with.  In these emotional paroxysms the child destroys anything within his reach, screaming meanwhile at the top is his lungs: and Mrs. Washburne rightly regards a child in such tantrum as temporarily insane.  There is certainly no use in arguing with him, and still less use in threatening.”

Temporary Insanity

Yes, yes– a thousand times, yes!

“He is more careful than you think. He has, like other animals, an instinct for self-preservation. Let him climb. He is ordinarily a better judge of his ability than you are.”

They even had helicopter parents back then?  Dude.  Mind. Blown.

“A girl’s dress is a means of education to her, and her good taste in any direction in after life depends largely upon her being dressed appropriately and daintily in her early girlhood.”

Gender issues, of course, because, 1907.

Likes to Work


Okay, if mamma was sewing or actually baking, maybe.  But she likes to work at washing dishes?  I’m calling bullshit, 1907 mamma.

Truth is never dangerous

There is some talent to a chapter dedicated to convincing parents about the importance of telling children the truth about where babies come from– no stork– without once using the words: sex, reproduction, babies, penis, or vagina.   The truth is never dangerous, but the words?  Oh myyyyy.

A minute is time

In the end, they remind us that the whole mothering thing is hard, but that a minute IS time. That we can do something meaningful with that minute; that it is important to be present in the now:

“…nor her thoughts busy with anything but the children’s talk.  Silly as that may be, they are the keenest of observers; they will know instantly whether it is only mamma’s body that is with them while her mind is far away.”

For me, I cannot choose to be present without viciously guarding my need to be absent. And I’m cool with that.