Ardent Eden

Ardent Eden is a place to explore my thoughts about the interdependence of life - humanity and nature - and to engage with others for collective problem-solving.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Anticipation

We’re working on taking one day at a time around here. Our little family unit is flying out of town tomorrow for job interviews and house hunting. There are phone interviews and long conversations about acreage interspersed in our already busy days. I keep meaning to write, but there just hasn’t been time. Stay tuned. We’ve got exciting things brewing…

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Peace Is...

...reading to a child.

We stumbled upon The Peace Book while looking for a colorful new picture book for our daughter about a month ago. At four months old, she was content with some favorites: Where's Spot?, Fuzzy Bee & Friends, What Is Love, Biscuit?, and Time for Bed (which is read every night in our house), to name a few. It was her parents who needed some new stimulation after finding ourselves reciting lines from the books throughout the day - whether or not we were reading them to her. (I also recently found myself walking to the subway with the lines from This Old Man dancing through my head. Rounding a corner, coffee cup in hand, I actually sang "knick-knack paddywhack, give a dog a bone..." before realizing that I was walking down a city street alone.)

Now Todd Parr's simple primary-colored book about peace has become another favorite, especially with my husband and I. The book's premise is simple: each page begins with "peace is..." and lists a seemingly simple tenet of a peaceful world. Some examples: Peace is keeping the water blue for all the fish. Peace is growing a garden. Peace is everyone having a home. In some ways, reading the book to the Bean is a nice reminder of the basic values that create a peaceful world. They are simple. It's just when the big people get involved, things get complicated pretty fast. So I'm happy to sit down in my rocking chair with the Bean on my lap and begin to teach her what a peaceful world is all about. I don't mind the reminder myself.

While not in the book, a good addition would be: Peace is reading to a child. I have been amazed at the rapt attention that the Bean has shown from a really young age when being read to. There are coos and attempts to grab the book and lots of smiles. Every child should be able to experience the joys and lessons found on the pages of books. So when I give a gift to a child, I always try to include a book. There are also some great organizations working to make reading an integral part of the lives of children who don't have a collection of books sitting on a shelf in their room:

  • Reach Out and Read - a program for doctors and nurses to give new books to children at each well child visit from 6 months of age to 5 years, and accompany the books with developmentally appropriate advice to parents about reading aloud with their child.
  • First Book - gives low income families new books.
  • Local tutoring organizations - before the Bean was born, I tutored a girl every Monday night. My student is from a family that lacks resources, and reading was not a part of her life when I met her at the beginning of her fourth grade school year. Over the four years of our weekly meetings, I witnessed how reading came to excite and inspire her. In the beginning, we chose books from the learning center's shelves solely based on whether there were two copies of the book so that we could each read chapters from the same book during the week and discuss it or read aloud from it at our Monday sessions. We started with Ramona Quimby, Age 8, and I was instantly transported back to my own childhood. Better yet, my student was hooked. We read other Beverly Cleary books, then moved on to the old Nancy Drew series. These mysteries captured her attention, and my student started finishing one book per week. I had to read the books on the subway to make sure that I had completed them in time for our meeting. (People are used to seeing adults read Harry Potter; Mystery at the Ski Jump still gets some strange looks though.) We eventually tackled Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl. I was a little apprehensive, but my student begged to read it because she was captivated by the photo of Anne Frank on the cover. We talked about the Holocaust, we talked about bravery, we talked about innocence. I was humbled each week. I hope that, in some small way, I passed on my love of books to a young girl.

I guess all I'm trying to say is that we can all contribute to a more peaceful world by reading to a child and helping get books into the hands of children everywhere.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Out of Whack

I'm wrapping up an intense week at the office: late nights, early mornings, too much coffee, too few hours with my daughter, and a grumpy attitude. The amenities of modern culture - cell phones, blackberries, conference call dial-in numbers and the like - have facilitated the encroachment of work life on more and more of my personal life. It's a battle that I know many people struggle with, but it feels isolating to be running around at breakneck speed all the time. For once, I don't want to "think on my feet." I want to think in a chair, damn it! Preferably with a cup of cocoa, a good book, and a warm blanket.

I can't help thinking that priorities in our society are out of whack. The rich are lavished with free stuff at every turn, while the poor struggle and toil without reward. Many spend all day in a building without windows that open in order to make enough money to take a vacation and breath some fresh air. There's much talk about so-called family values, but maternity leaves are short and consumer culture has overtaken the lives of some children. Apples are carted in from Argentina while grains are exported around the world. Pollution billows from coal-burning power plants while health care costs rise.

If it sounds like I'm in a negative state of mind, that's only partially true. I am feeling particularly overwhelmed right now. Most young parents probably do. There's always that glimmer of hopefulness under the surface though. I know that we can do better and that many people are. I know that individuals are devoting precious time and depleted energy reserves to working for a better world. It's humbling to step back and realize that, despite the burdens that everyday life can pile on me, others are working to dismantle the systems that stifle our better nature. Maybe the best I can do right now is hope that we can all share some of the burdens and some of the joy.

A burden shared is only half the trouble
I knew you cared - I knew you'd understand
A burden shared is only half the trouble
Joy shared is joy made double...
- Michelle Shocked