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Friday, June 20, 2008


It’s our first full day of vacation away on an old estate that includes an overgrown orchard, a straw bale greenhouse with a grass roof, and a pond. We’re visiting the family we hung out when the girls were babies, and my friend Melissa and I traded a few hours of babysitting so we could each get some writing time. Now, Melissa lives in the country, and between chats and cups of teas, she and I can write simultaneously as our eleven year-old-girls and nine-year-old boys invent skits and plays to amuse themselves. I had to prevent a jousting match, but otherwise they seem quite safe with minimal supervision. The kids even slept alone in a tent last night, while the adults took the house.

In addition to the fun of catching up with an old friend, it’s great to be in a place where I feel safe to let the children roam more freely than they do in a big city with a high crime rate. I’ve been thinking lately of all the things I did alone at eleven and how important that time was in building my confidence and independence. My daughter wouldn’t even consider walking as far alone as I did then, and I wonder if that is my fault, or just a sign of a different time, with twenty-four-hour news to remind us of the risks. My first job as a parent is to protect my children enough so they make it to adulthood, but I’m becoming increasingly aware (as I’ve said before) of my responsibility to prepare them for adulthood. They need freedom, I’m quite sure, to grow into themselves, but they don’t seem to have much of it in our scheduled, urban lives. Yesterday they took a long walk in the woods with their companions, and it wasn’t until bed time that I remembered there were bears.

Part of the joy of being here is the connection with nature. There are frogs out the back door and a blooming dogwood out the front. Our pancakes this morning were made with the eggs the children collected from the chickens last night. My friend’s house is full of plants, pets, and old wood floors, so the inside and the outside don’t seem to be strangers. This morning I sat in a splintered Adirondack chair overlooking the mountains and tried my hand at a poem. Melissa is co-ordinating an art/poetry show, the theme of which is music, so I was given the assignment of writing a poem related to music:

The Dimock Orchestra on a June Morning

The symphony begins with two house wrens,
a bugle duet,
soon joined by the robins
and the yellow throated warbler,
in polyphonic counterpoint,
punctuated by the occasional cat bird
and a distant, unidentifiable piccolo.

The soft wind in the orchard comes in,
a cello,
in a long phrase soon overshadowed
by a bass truck on Rt. 29
that rumbles through four stanzas
while a crow blasts four staccato notes,
waits three measures, then blows again.

In the third movement the French horn enters,
a hen named Jesse,
and the steady drum roll of the tractor up the hill.
As the sun lifts over the dogwood,
it conducts a crescendo,
dynamite in the distant quarry,
the occasional bass drum.

A choir of children’s voices burst onto the lawn,
and upstage the instruments
which continue in relentless harmony,
indifferent to applause.


Blogger Lone Star Ma said...

Lovely poem.

I know what you mean about the lack of independence in scheduled, city lives. It is a concern that often weighs on me. I am protective by nature and yet have had to deal with the forced pressures that employment puts on childrearing - and I have no clearness on it all except that our lifestyle is not as I would have it be.

11:43 AM  
Blogger Chris M. said...

Enjoy your time in the country! Sounds wonderful. It also reminds me of the book Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. He coined the term "nature deficit disorder." He cites research that shows children in all areas -- urban, suburban, and rural -- spend less time outdoors than 30 years ago. The combination of increased electronic entertainment, more homework, and fear of "stranger danger." He also says the per capita rate of crimes against children has not increased, though gross numbers and accompanying news coverage have.

3:46 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

The poem is wonderful.

In our lives, it's the orchard at my parent's house that serves as a "go outside and play" kind of place in our children's lives, unlike our big city/no yard usual existence.

I think the other thing that has changed for city kids is the decreasing number of grandparents on farms - when I was little, both my sets of grandparents had agricultural land even though we lived in "town." So many kids today only see farm animals at the zoo or going 70 miles an hour down the freeway.

10:08 PM  
Anonymous poetgirl said...

Lovely poem in form and content! It captures the interplay of a summer day so well.

10:52 PM  
Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

Thanks all for the comments. I often think about Chris' point about the news coverage making us think that the world is more dangerous than when we were children when really we live in a more anxious society. Finding the balance between reasonable precaution and unnecessary anxiety is a constant parenting struggle for me.

11:19 AM  

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