I found a print of this Cassatt at a thrift store today. I went to the store to find a sweater for my son, told my kids we should step into the furniture section just to see if there are any paintings we like. Half hidden by a lamp is this work in a frame. I whispered, “Is that a Cassatt?” I squinted at the scribbled signature in the corner. “It is!” Louder, “And it’s only $5!” I grabbed it. My children looked at me funny. I explained Mary Cassatt. “She was an American Impressionist painter who liked to paint mothers and children.” My son said enthusiastically, “This one has both!”
I believe this was a study or a preliminary work for an oil painting. I love the abstracted rays coming from the mother’s fingers. I can feel the pressure of the child’s elbows. I have an elbow-leaner, too.
The picture is already hanging on my wall. My first Cassatt. I am thankful for art and beauty. I am also thankful for the mother-child relationship. I am thankful for the beauty in that relationship. What if God gave us washing machines or something to take care of instead of children? It wouldn’t be nearly so lovely. God gives us the right things.
Treating a child as a person seems easy enough. Until you realize you have expectations of your child that are linked to yourself. For instance, I expect my middle daughter to enjoy reading simply because she is like me in other ways. I tend to think these qualities of the mind and ideas are genetic. Maybe they are. I’m not a scientist. But at the same time, we are not clones. She has an entirely unique mind; not mine at all. She is herself, not me. There will always be parts of herself that I will never fathom. I must respect these mysteries. They are not mine. I am responsible for her, but she is not an object, a piece of furniture which I’d expect to wear a certain way over time. She will be the person God intends her to be, and I am His tool to serve, care for, and train her. I can sympathize with her, yes, but I can never completely understand her.
At the top of the bank, close to the wild cherry where the blackbird sang, was a little group of holes almost hidden by brambles. In the green half-light, at the mouth of one of these holes, two rabbits were sitting together side by side. At length, the larger of the two came out, slipped along the bank under cover of the brambles and so down into the ditch and up into the field. A few moments later the other followed.
— from Watership Down by Richard Adams (1972)
The two rabbits are Hazel and Fiver, and their story is full of suspense and adventure. If you think this is just some weird rabbit story, you’re wrong. This is a rabbit story, but the characters of the rabbits are so carefully developed and put into action one against another (it gets tight in a rabbit hole, sometimes) that it becomes a story you don’t want to put down. The rabbit world is full of danger and excitement. The rabbits fear their predators. They get jumpy. Most of all, they want to be safe and live in comfort together with their friends and family. From finding a new warren to fighting a militant rabbit leader to befriending a sea gull, this story has it all. I am also impressed that each chapter begins with a quote from some other piece of literature. It adds more depth and importance to the story. I am truly sad that I finished reading this book.
Our church has finished a long sermon series about the book of Job. Before that, the ladies’ Bible study went through the book of Job in two meetings. So I have had some time to think about Job and his friends, God and Satan.
When the ladies went through it quickly (using a study book by Nancy Guthrie), I remember identifying with the three friends who came to “comfort” Job. They had good intentions, I’m sure they were doing their best, they could have employed a little more tact but they were still friends. And I remember being reassured that Job “got it” at the end. He understood about salvation and the supreme rule of God over all things. I was happy that Job was comforted. There was a certain amount of triumph even before God restored everything back to Job.
I came out of the long sermon series differently. Job became more real because it was about real suffering. We’re not all Jobs with that extreme amount of loss and humility, but none-the-less we all experience a measure of loss and humility. We react in ups and downs much as Job does. His friends ended up being jerks. I wanted to tell them to shut their mouths and leave. There were times when Job should have shut his mouth, too. Elihu had some decency, some godly wisdom, but even he didn’t get EVERYTHING right. Satan puts pressure on Job and all humanity around Job reacts in ways that are both good and bad, too often bad.
Humans are a fickle bunch. That’s what I learned. Even when we try to be helpful and righteous, it doesn’t come out the right way. Or it comes out right from one perspective but wrong from another. True righteousness is not something we can reach on our own. God upheld Job even when Job felt sunk so low he wished he hadn’t been born. Goodness comes from God. Hope comes from God. Despair comes from a turning-away of man from God. Even toward the end, when Job understood more about God’s position in his life, he still had some roller-coaster emotions. Understanding does not come completely. Do you think Job completely understood even after everything was restored to him in double portions? No, not completely. He probably still suffered mentally, even then. Restoration of earthly happiness does not equal restoration with God. We are all being sanctified until the time when we will be made perfect. The process of sanctification means we are not complete. But earthly circumstances do not affect the outcome of that sanctification.
I have cowboys on my mind. In school we are slowly reading Holling C. Hollings’ Tree in the Trail. I really love reading Jed and Buck’s parts out loud. And last night I finished a novel by Leif Enger called So Brave, Young and Handsome. My husband was happy to see I was reading a book about himself. Enger’s book takes place at the end of the Wild West, and it is not your typical Western although there are plenty of action scenes, man hunts, and natural disasters. The protagonist of the story is something of an anti-cowboy being dragged into the life of a cowboy. Anyway, there is a writer in the book, an artist, a Pinkerton, a boy named Hood, another boy named Redstart, a female named Blue who shows up in dreams riding a horse, a boat-building desperado, and a female sharp shooter who looks like a man. It’s quite the cast. To make it even better, the author is the twin brother of a former Creative Writing professor of mine. His name is Lin. He wore an old jean jacket to class all the time.
Best be gittin’ along now. Enjoy the cowboy art. Russell has a whole slew of Wild West paintings, if you’re interested.
I heard a little child beneath the stars
Talk as he ran along
To some sweet riddle in his mind that seemed
A-tiptoe into song.
In his dark eyes lay a wild universe,–
Wild forests, peaks, and crests;
Angels and fairies, giants, wolves and he
Were that world’s only guests.
Elsewhere was home and mother, his warm bed:–
Now, only God alone
Could, armed with all His power and wisdom, make
Earths richer than his own.
O Man! — thy dreams, thy passions, hopes, desires!–
He in his pity keep
A homely bed where love may lull a child’s
Fond Universe asleep!
— from Collected Poems, 1901-1918 (1920) by Walter De La Mare
Poetry has been going over well in our little homeschool this year. We just finished a unit on Walter De La Mare. The above poem shines in stark contrast to some books I recently picked up from the library. I chose books about the rain forest because we studied Brazil in my homeschool co-op class today. Now these were fiction, but at least half of them had the theme of the disappearing rain forest, using ugly imagery for men, construction machinery, and (strangely) soybean fields. It puzzled me that so many authors would focus on this very negative topic for a child’s picture book. Do kids actually like this? All us adult authors are really only guessing or pretending to remember what it was like to think like a kid. But if I had to make a choice, I would say Walter De La Mare has touched a closer link to the child mind than the rain forest book authors. “In his dark eyes lay a wild universe…” Wild, not disappearing. Magical, not ugly. Only God can make richer earths. That must be about right.
This is perhaps the first and last time I write about food on my blog. I do like to eat (certain things). I enjoy baking. Cooking is sometimes fun. But I don’t like obsessing about food.
However, the particular group of moms in the breakroom during second hour of our homeschool co-op are the type that obsess about food. And I get to listen to them. It becomes horrific. I have found out that cow milk isn’t good enough. However, it is up in the air whether almond milk or coconut milk are any better. Americans in general have the absolute worst diet possible. (As far as I know we’re all American in this little breakroom.) Sugar messes up children’s brains. I have learned extensively about seaweed, sushi, and the perils of Worcestershire sauce. I have come to a greater understanding of what the word “gluten” means. I learned what coconut oil is and that some people use it to the extent that they buy it in bulk. I have become ashamed that I don’t have a food allergy in my family.
Now, for those who honestly get sick from certain foods, I completely understand that you need to pay strict attention to your diet. I get that. I don’t get the people who strive for nutrition-perfection by following the same rules as those who have the allergies. There is this desire to return to the diets of our forefathers, the homesteaders who lived before prepackaged food. I’m not the homesteading type. I like my Pick N Save grocery store. I share a garden, but I don’t do the canning thing. I don’t like pickled things. My family doesn’t eat soup much. We don’t really want chickens on our farm. We like grocery store food. This homesteading idea doesn’t jive very well with the natural food trend because much of the natural food items people long for are exotic and need to be bought at special stores.
Someone can go to some far away country and come back to America saying how much healthier that other country eats. But isn’t that just it? We live in different cultures. If I ever go to China maybe I’ll try the rice soup with peanuts floating in it. But I live here, in the land of cheeseburgers and Pepsi. Apple pie. Frozen pizzas. French fries. Enriched white bread. Lots of meat. I eat these things. It’s my culture. I don’t have the great ambition to change my culture and the food that is a part of it. My ambitions run along different lines. Therefore, I pledge to not be bothered by these strange food trends. I pledge to put food issues on a back burner. I will eat what I eat. I will concentrate on the things I really sincerely care about. I will never again cry over a glass of cow milk and all it might imply.