Talk Books: The Art of Family

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Last month I finished reading The Art of Family by Gina Bria. I’ve already quoted it here a couple of times and I’d like to offer another series of quotes and insights I enjoyed from this book.

We will have doubts about our depth of relationships with our children. Questions will haunt us. (If a baby-sitter picks them up at school today, will they be irrevocably damaged?) But to a parent, doubt is a way of asking all the right questions. What we so often experience as doubt is really the process of creating ongoing relationships. It is when we stop doubting, thinking, questioning, in relationships that they die.

Gina Bria (2011-11-28). The Art of Family : Rituals, Imagination, and Everyday Spirituality (p. 7). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

I really loved this. It reminded me of another reassuring mothering moment that happened for me at the La Leche League International conference in 2007. Martha Sears was speaking and she said something to the effect of, “does anyone ever wonder if they are ‘attached enough’ to their kids?” She then said that the very fact that you think about those subjects and ask yourself those questions means you are. And, that you are a good motherShe said that only good mothers worry about being good mothers. I found that tremendously reinforcing and have drawn on it repeatedly over the years! I’ve heard other parents say that they feel confident they are making the “right choices” for their families, because if they weren’t right, they wouldn’t do them, but I often lack that sense of complete certainty. I see a lot of possible “right choices” as well as piles of “good enough choices” in the world and it is helpful to remember that turning these things over, asking hard questions about them, and having doubts about your own parenting is actually part of the process of a healthy, alive relationship with your children.

And, speaking of making mistakes and having doubts, I also enjoyed this reminder that children are watching how you handle mistakes and how your repair damage:

Perhaps it will come as no surprise to nonreligious parents that teaching children to resist the status quo is a spiritual gift; but observing what’s wrong about what surrounds us is the first necessary step leading away from the brokenness of a particular culture, setting, or time. Spiritual leadership at home earns a special place in children’s formation, especially in their imagination. Refining our children’s spiritual imagination is essential; it will become their storehouse, a granary, for making choices about the way they will face loss or triumph. Their imaginations will be shaped by the world we present them. Children need to hear not only what we believe in, but also what we long for, what we hope for—not just what we think the world should look like, but what it doesn’t look like, and why. And, yes, we want them to be like ourselves, but more. We want our children to admire us on the deepest level of our own spirituality. Not just our ethics, our morality with others, but also what is our being, our nature, what choices we make, who we are in front of the vastness of everyday life, and what we do when confronted with evil. These questions are alive for children from the very beginning of their lives. We cannot wait until we, as adults, as individuals, have finally answered, to our satisfaction, our own questions and doubts about God, the world, and human nature. We are meant to do it together. We are joined spiritually to our children, it cannot be otherwise. Our children want computer software, Matchbox cars, and iPhones. But what they want most from us is who we are. To them we are Adam and Eve, the first human specimens of their universe. They keep their eyes on us; they know that no other adult will matter quite so much to them while they grow. They want us to be good. And when we are not good, they watch carefully to see how we will handle it. Here is where most of us will have a chance to be heroic—exactly when we stumble.

And, with regard to parents as everyday heroes, Bria touches on something that I’ve tried to communicate in a past poem for mothers:

You may feel uncomfortable and puzzled about this or you may be the most agnostic person you know, and yet, in loving your children, you are practicing the profoundest spirituality. In this you are heroic, and there are days when you know it. You know you’ve been stretched to the limit, faced insanity, wept in the closet, physically found an entirely new level of exhaustion. It’s called sacrifice. No one else, except maybe, maybe, your partner, will ever know what you’ve done. No one else will ever guess how hard it has been. No one will thank you for it. Even when your children have their children, they will only vaguely realize what you’ve done—they will be too frantic caring for their own kids. Yet you do it. Now, that’s heroism.

Gina Bria (2011-11-28). The Art of Family : Rituals, Imagination, and Everyday Spirituality (p. 80). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

YES! Though, I do actually feel like my children are really good about expressing thanks to me. Little Alaina has a somewhat new habit of saying “thank you” to me for almost everything. She asks me to pick her up and when I do, she throws her arms around my neck, pats my back, and says, “SANK you, mommy!” And, she almost always says, “thanks” for nursing too. She’ll talk to my “na nas,” saying, “thank you, nonnies. Love you, nonnies. Thank you, mommy. Love you, mommy.” No thanklessness there 😀 My boys too will often tell me I’m the “best mom in the world!” or that they would never want a different mom because I’m, “the greatest mom ever!” So, I do, in fact feel appreciated by my kids on a regular basis. However, I identify with the remarks about no one really know how hard its been and that you are heroic in continuing to meet the challenge! March 2013 057

And, as I prepare for a major trip to California later this month, I call to mind two particularly àpropos reminders about having so much to do all the time:

“Face it, now, you will never have enough time to do all the right things, the necessary, even important things you can eternally think up, but you will have enough love.”

“I want my sons, both of them to learn from me that they are free to be rooted in home and still be abroad in the world as men.’’ She also feels being a mother to her sons involves giving them pictures of her as a woman engaging her gifts. She is sharing her interests with him, preparing him to see women as partners, with many interests, giving him a model.

And, finally, a thought about making a home:

HOME IS THE FIRST PLACE we spend our love. It is the site, the space, the enclosure, where we love each other and spin ourselves into a family—mother, daughter, father, son, and over all, lovers. It is the place we disburse our energy, expend our life, and exercise our imagination. It holds all our little memory objects and, with them, the people we love—the ones we are willing to spend our lives on. The ones we most want to show and tell to. It’s never just four walls. Home can be thought of almost as a body to care for; a body that contains the spirit of the family. One can read the character of a family by the home they make. It is not the things they have, but the spirit of life that is manifest in their home, because home is the ultimate joint project families do together. It is imperative that home be made by all family members. It is not a woman’s private project, whereby she creates a space and everyone else just inhabits it. Home is a joint project—that means children must be fully engaged in “keeping’’ house in the same way the adults are. Most chores for children are assigned to build character—not really to attend the body of the home together. By giving children an explanation about why their contribution to the home is important and giving them an opportunity to contribute—a true sense of ownership—a discernible difference in the attitude takes place; it’s a community effort. Young children “play house’’ for real because they understand that you depend on them; and if they feel how vital they are to you, to this project, they respond. After all that is what children inherently want, to belong to someone, in some place, and to give their little selves too.

Gina Bria (2011-11-28). The Art of Family : Rituals, Imagination, and Everyday Spirituality (pp. 126-127). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

And, one about goblets. Yes, goblets. I feel her!

What is it about goblets that gives me a lump right in the throat? To see a little fist brandishing one about, drink half-sloshing, ought to fill me with terror. Instead I get the deeply satisfying affirmation that, for the moment, we are princes of our palaces, little or big as we are. Goblets ring royalty bells for me, aristocracy, or even only mere martiniesque sophistication, but they symbolize elevation, reminiscent of a chalice. A goblet lifts you up, even as it lifts up the body of liquid you are drinking. The imagery of a child sipping from a goblet is a glimpse of a lost land, some original garden, where animals talk, flowers sing, feasting abounds, and every servant is a noble in disguise. Maybe our little diner parties for children are a silly attempt to taste this vision, but I can’t give it up, even if we do, in the end, lose some goblets, in peril of a gash. When the other mothers come to collect their children, I know they contain their askance glances: I’ve let their children play with glass. I, too, wonder sometimes if I am a demented, too-casual mother. But I am not, I am crazy for the real. I so want to put the real into children’s hands, to promise them while they are still children, still believers, that it is beautiful, exciting, and dangerous to be at a table.

Gina Bria (2011-11-28). The Art of Family : Rituals, Imagination, and Everyday Spirituality (p. 138). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

Alaina with sparkling cider on New Year's Eve.

Alaina with sparkling cider on New Year’s Eve. She’s got the real in her hands! 🙂



One thought on “Talk Books: The Art of Family

  1. Pingback: 2013 Book Year in Review | Talk Birth

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