Saying Goodbye to Early Childhood
The Lofty Chronicles grew out of a daily journal that I kept for several years during the early 1990’s. Many of its entries were about our daughter, Lauren. She turned six in 1990 and soon asked us to call her Lofty. Since she was the first grandchild on either side of the family, her geographically distant grandparents, aunts, and uncles were especially eager to hear what she was up to. So I volunteered to send them selected passages from my journal each season. I also sensed that a grownup Lauren may one day become curious about her roots.
The reason for posting those long ago journal entries here on Light Morning’s website is that peeking through the day-to-day concerns, wonders, and routines of parenting is a startlingly intimate view of the three core values of this community: living close to the Earth, in a new kind of family, and sharing a transformational journey. These foundational values have already been explored here. In The Lofty Chronicles, however, they come to life in a viscerally specific way.
We see adults trying to live simply, work closer to home, and become more self-sufficient. We watch a mostly self-chosen family of friends and traveling companions work and eat and play together, hurt each other, solve thorny problems, and slowly learn to truly care for one another. We catch surprising glimpses of what it means to “become again as a little child.” And we see that a path of transformation can be both long and arduous. There’s nothing quite like parenting for showing us our shadows and humbling our pretensions. It’s fully as good a teacher as marriage and community.
Now it’s time to let the stories speak for themselves. The Lofty Chronicles will be an ongoing series of posts, making way now and then for posts on other themes. After first setting the stage with a few journal entries from Lauren’s younger years, we’ll take up the story proper in May of 1989, shortly after her fifth birthday.
First Breath (Friday, 20 April 1984) Lauren Wilder takes her first breath on a Good Friday morning at 11:05.
Inner-Directedness (Monday, 12 November 1984) I’m moved by a passage from an article about super-babies, called “Pushing Too Hard?” by Martin V. Cohen (American Baby, November 1984, page 20).
“Make sure that your actions, as well as your words, convey the feeling that your child’s spontaneous interests and curiosities are of real value and interest to you. This kind of acceptance will help your young child begin to trust his or her intuitions, feelings and personal visions as the basis for future decision-making and actions. Psychologists have referred to this quality as inner-directedness, and it has been found to be related to creativity, ego strength, and feelings of self-worth.”
Take Your Spills (Tuesday, 18 November 1986) I happen to overhear Lauren singing or chanting to herself the following little song: “Take your spills in life, and send us a happy tune for the world.”
Sad Angels (Monday, 15 December 1986) Here’s another of Lauren’s impromptu songs: “Sad angels, sad angels, God send the Lord to fix up the sad angels.” When I later ask her who the sad angels are, she says, “Men.”
Invite Your New Day (Sunday, 28 December 1986) I’m writing a letter to Tom Hungerford. He’s in his late 60s and has been living here at ALM off and on for close to a decade. [Light Morning was known as ALM during its early years, ALM being an acronym for Associations of the Light Morning. See here for why that name was offered to us in Virginia Beach in the summer of 1973.]
Tom recently drove out to California to help his sister with a problem she’s been having. I ask my two-year-old daughter if she wants to add anything to the letter I’m about to send him. She and Tom have already become good friends. As Lauren slowly starts to speak, I transcribe her words.
“We hope you enjoy your afternoon. Don’t lose anything, Tom. Don’t waste anything. And don’t you lose anything, Tom. Don’t lose your mind.
“Of course you have a wonderful day on your trip. Invite your new day.
“If a turtle comes it may hurt you, Tom. The spell will be broken again, then changed back into words again. Would you get us spelled again? Then the turkeys will die in the winter. The spell will be broken again.
“Hallelujah! Have nice weather on your compurating. Nice weather on your joy!”
* * *
The Birds at Dawn (Monday, 15 May 1989) Lauren awoke to a loud chorus of birdsong. Over breakfast, our five-year-old casually mentions that, “I heard the birds telling their dreams this morning.”
A Father Song (Tuesday, 27 June 1989) I once again hear Lauren chanting softly to herself. “I love you, father, for being so kind.”
Out of the Mouths of Babes (Tuesday, 25 July 1989) Two of Lauren’s recent comments to no one in particular: “Take a chance on yourself” and “It’s all in your dreams.”
Saying Goodbye to Early Childhood (Tuesday, 24 July 1990) Lauren has been reverting to some affected baby talk lately. This has annoyed some of the adults around her, including me. Yesterday, however, a sudden insight dissolved my irritation. I saw that Lauren is poised on the edge of leaving early childhood. It seems as though she is almost consciously pausing, stepping back, and lingering on this momentous threshold for a while before saying goodbye.
Maybe my spontaneous empathy grew out of seeing her lose her first two baby teeth. Or perhaps some of my own early childhood memories of Arden and Mount Desert Island are re-surfacing. Or possibly I’m passing through a transitional phase in my life and am using something like baby talk before moving on. Whatever the correlations might be, all my annoyance vanished and was replaced by compassion for Lauren at this stage of her life.
Ancient Fawn (Thursday, 30 August 1990) I awoke this morning out of an intense dream. Viewed through one of several interpretive windows, the dream served to temper the casual delight that an adult might take in a young child.
I’m on an early morning walk. The dawn is just beginning to brighten the sky. A few miles down the road from Light Morning I see a deer with a large rack of antlers drinking from a stream. I stop to watch, knowing how unusual it is to be this close to a large buck.
Sensing that something’s not quite right, the buck looks around, shakes his head from side to side, and paws the ground. Then he climbs up from the stream-bed and starts to walk away. I’m sad to see him go.
But he soon reverses direction and joins several other deer I hadn’t noticed before. Among them is a young fawn. Its tawny, white-spotted coat and wobbly legs tell me it’s still quite young. I marvel at the beauty and innocence of this little creature.
Looking more closely, however, I see that the fawn actually has a strange coloration: mottled black and white against a background of gray. Then, to my astonishment and dismay, I’m suddenly aware that the fawn has a huge, elk-like rack of antlers. My stomach tenses up and gets queasy as I desperately try to reconcile the presence of massive antlers on a young fawn.
Finally I notice the fawn’s face. It’s the oldest animal or human face I have ever seen. And this ancient fawn is gazing back at me impassively, as though trying to stretch toward some comprehension of the inconceivably young creature that stands dumbstruck before it.
My gut twists in a painful spasm of disbelief and my mind short-circuits. I awake, trembling, out of the dream.
While sharing the dream with the other members of the community over breakfast, I say that I sense a possible connection between the fawn’s youthful appearance and ancient experience, on the one hand, and the left and right hemispheres of the brain, on the other. The conversation then moves on to alternative ways of approaching the dream.
Lauren, meanwhile, has been roaming the living room, seemingly oblivious to our weighty talk about interpreting dreams. But then she comes over to the couch, sits down beside me, and almost absent-mindedly begins chanting softly in my ear.
“Where is my right brain, if this is my left brain? Where is my right brain, if this is my left brain?”
Thinking About My Mind Thinking (Sunday, 2 September 1990) I’m helping a six-year-old Lauren wash her hair. There’s no running water, let alone a shower, at ALM. We use a large bowl of water that’s been warmed on the wood-burning cook-stove to first wet, then wash, and finally rinse our hair.
“I can hear my mind thinking,” she tells me as I pour some water over her head.
After a pause she says, “Now I’m thinking about my mind thinking.”
Then, after a longer pause: “Now I’m thinking about my mind thinking about my mind thinking about my mind thinking.”
“It’s like two mirrors looking into each other.”
An Empathy for Trees (Thursday, 4 October 1990) Lauren is deeply troubled by the probable logging of the Free State valley, a steep gorge of several thousand acres that borders our land to the east and south. This evening, as we walk down the driveway to pay a birthday visit to our elderly neighbor Dan, Lauren looks up at the beautiful sunset and says, “I’m glad that the sky won’t be logged.”
A Taste of the Old Despair (Saturday, 6 October 1990) Last night, just before going to bed, I briefly touched some of the old feelings of despair and depression that I sometimes wrestled with many years ago but haven’t experienced for a long time. They were seemingly triggered by Joyce talking about Lauren’s need for playmates her own age and that she may want to go to public school as a way to meet this need.
Maybe it was because I was tired, or perhaps Joyce’s mood was contagious, but I felt myself tugged toward an enticing vortex of hopelessness about this situation in particular and life in general. Then I caught myself, surprised at the onset of a once familiar mood. Fortunately I had enough presence of mind to suggest that we do a brainstorming session when our energy was higher. So we went to bed and when I awoke in the morning I felt fine, my remembered mood like a barely recalled dream. Strange.
I Am Fire-Splitter (Monday, 8 October 1990) This morning’s work project is firewood. Lauren has been learning to split kindling. After she has demonstrated some proficiency with one of the community’s small axes, I say that she can go down to our cabin and get the mid-sized ax with the red handle that we bought for her when she was little. It’s been waiting in our portico for just this moment.
She’s thrilled and runs down to get it. A few moments later she marches back up the path holding her very own ax and singing as she comes. Later in the morning, after taking her pile of firewood into the kitchen to help feed the cook-stove on which Marlene is canning potatoes, I hear her singing again.
“I am fire-splitter. I am fire-splitter. I am the firewood splitter!”
How vitally important it is to sing our own praises. In the Sparrow Hawk book that Joyce and I are currently reading to Lauren, the Native American boy sings, “I am the corn youth. I am he…”
Many of us tend to shy away from proclaiming our personal uniqueness and accomplishments loudly enough or often enough, both to ourselves and to others. Perhaps the fear of appearing boastful or braggartly deadens a natural impulse to celebrate ourselves. It’s an impulse that Lauren, riding the grace of childhood, is demonstrating today with her spontaneous fire-splitter song.
The Story-Telling Stars (Friday, 26 October 1990) My interest in stargazing has been re-kindled by H.A. Rey’s book, The Stars: A New Way To See Them, which I found in the library and have been studying. There’s a good opportunity to observe the constellations on my pre-dawn walks. I want to learn more about the stories and myths behind these patterns of light in the night sky. It’s also something I can share with Lauren.
Halloween Magic (Thursday, 1 November 1990) We went trick-or-treating with Lauren in Roanoke last night, following a full day of errands. Joyce and Lauren wore their Halloween costumes into the stores, which is something of a tradition here. Both the daytime costuming and the evening trick-or-treating moved me, the former because it playfully disrupts some deeply ingrained cultural norms, and the latter because it’s magical to have one night a year when children can walk along the streets of a strange neighborhood and be welcomed with smiles and treats at the homes of complete strangers.
Black Hawk & Abe Lincoln (Wednesday, 7 November 1990) Lauren has become tangled up in an unexpected confusion of heroes. We recently read Sparrow Hawk together, an historical fiction about a young Indian boy in Black Hawk’s tribe. The story is a harrowing account of the destruction of that tribe by the inexorable wave of European settlers that flooded westward across the continent, subjugating all the indigenous peoples that got in their way. It’s a viscerally difficult book to read.
Then Lauren wanted to read a book about Abe Lincoln. He, like Black Hawk, is in her pantheon of heroic figures and she has enjoyed hearing how he grew up in the wilderness of Kentucky and Indiana. Yesterday, however, we got to a place in the story when Lincoln “volunteered to fight in the Black Hawk war.” He never went, because by that time Black Hawk had been captured and imprisoned and his tribe had been ruthlessly uprooted from their homes and herded across the Mississippi River.
Lauren is stunned and dismayed. The story lines of two of her heroes, Black Hawk and Abe Lincoln, have suddenly crossed in a deeply disturbing way. She doesn’t know how to process it. Her former black-and-white distinction between good guys and bad guys has become a confusing mosaic of gray. I’m reminded of my dream about an ancient fawn, in which “the fawn actually has a strange coloration: mottled black and white against a background of gray.