Update, 2008: Sebastian left a comment on the original post today, and I thought it was time to haul this one out of the archives, especially after some of the DHM's recent posts about certain children being, or not being, "culturally okay" in the eyes of certain social service agencies. Close families with a father as authority figure are suspect. Children who mostly play with balls, jumpropes and crayons might be being deprived of a more contemporary-type childhood, as are those who help with younger siblings or who are formally trained in manners. And heaven help those who eat "Whole grain breads, Fresh fruit and vegetables, No pork, Beef, Chicken and fish OK, Brown Rice, Yogurt...." (same post). It's just Not Normal, or Not Like Us, or Not Like Some People Would Like Everybody To Be.
So Much For Tolerance.
When I read blogs, pieces and threads often come together--even if the posts aren't on the same subject at all. I've been thinking about that long essay-post that Sallie and others have linked to: Home Economics, Sustainability and the Mommy-Wars at Casaubon's Book. [2014 UPDATE| that blog is no longer there.] Whether you're an apron-wearer or not, survival for families (according to that post) seems to boil down to two things: needing less and staying together (not just staying married, but staying close to our children as well). And do you see this--those two things are SUBVERSIVE. Sorry for the capitals, but I'm shouting that. It is Not Normal to plan your lifestyle so that you need less (so that you then have to earn less or work less and can spend time doing other worthwhile things that you like better or that are more important). It is Not Normal to spend evenings at home together--as the author of that post says, to treasure not some single saved-up-for event in your memories (like a trip to Disney World), but rather the repeated memory of "the way it usually is"--everyone being in the same room, reading or working or doing whatever it is that defines our family's life. Did you notice that word "working?" The author of the post points out that whether mom goes out to work may not be the main issue here--the problem is more that both father's and mother's work has moved far out of family life; most children have little idea of what their parents actually do, and they have no way to participate in that work. (If you don't believe that's possible, read Little Nino's Pizzeria. Or Understood Betsy.)
Okay--so I've just saved you printing out all those pages (although I still think you should read the whole essay if you have time), and we agree (don't we?) that it's a good thing to think outside the cultural cliche box and be subversive enough to say "let's work on needing less" and "let's choose work, education and play that lets us build parent-child and sibling relationships." Not easy, but let's assume we agree that those are indeed good goals.
Now, while we're huddling together in the corner awaiting the shower of rocks from those who think we're endangering society, I have a third subversive proposition for you. I've said it before and I'll say it again: to be truly subversive these days, you have to read.
Being a subversive reader is getting easier than it used to be; it doesn't even mean you have to read old books anymore. How about the unabridged versions of more recent books? Melissa Wiley shared the news that her publisher will be abridging her Martha and Charlotte Little House books. She says, "They are significantly shorter; in some cases more than a hundred pages have been cut from the original edition." Because of this, Melissa has decided not to continue to add to those series of books but to work on a different project.
These are books that were written with a young audience in mind. We are not talking Silas Marner here. Why would a publisher feel this is necessary? The only answer I can think of is that people won't buy the original versions; and the only reasons I can think of for that are that kids have no attention span and/or can't read the originals. Or have nobody to read them to them.
That is PATHETIC.
And so my third proposition. To stand against so much of what is wrong out there, read. Teach your kids to read. Buy unabridged books and refuse the butchered versions (especially those that are done--like Melissa's--without the author's approval or co-operation).
Do not settle for what's offered in the school-market book fliers or what's on the kids' shelf at the chain bookstore, although that would at least be better than no reading at all. If you have tiny ones, look for a copy of Babies Need Books, by Dorothy Butler. (I used that when the Apprentice was small, and Dorothy almost never steered us wrong.) For older ones, get a copy of Books Children Love or Honey for a Child's Heart. And then go beyond those: let your children see what you're reading. Share a poem with them or the funny part from the otherwise-unsuitable book. Teach them to sing hymns with words that are too big, or teach them to use tools or (like Miss Read) to do sewing that they shouldn't be able to do because it's not in the curriculum. Maybe they can even make aprons...
Be brave. Live subversively. Need less. Stick together and hold hands.
And read books.