Friday, June 13, 2008

The River

Yeah, I love the city, but a city's just an artificial river. I took my three and Wyatt's friend Teddy down the hill behind the barn, through the little woods, the tall grass and into the woods beyond; or rather, I trailed behind them, and when I got through the poison ivy, all 4 were already thigh-high in the river. A river is a zen flow of experience for a child: mossy stones, fallen tree bridges, broken crockery, stills and floes.

I zero in on the poison ivy, knowing from experience that cold water on a hot day is well-guarded by my innocuous looking old enemy, but Teddy, who has grown up in the country, sees also the jewel weed, poison ivy's antidote, growing all around it. I am impressed and entertained by Teddy. He seems to know everything, including how to catch a chicken, catch a fish with his bare hands, the right way to pull a tick, where the various varieties of frogs lay their gelatinous masses of eggs on the edge of the pond. (Bullfrog eggs look like masses of eyeballs.) When Teddy inherited a real bow, he was grateful because, as he said, "we have a woodchuck problem." He has a certain knowingness in his eyes which might be mistaken for sadness but which I sense is really the seriousness that comes from seeing both sides of every situation.

I have to admit I am grateful that my own children aren't completely clued in to both sides of the coin yet. That is to say, they see the nest of baby birds over the window frame on our porch, but they don't notice when one falls out of the nest and is reduced to a skeleton, an outline of a bird, in 24 hours by big black ants, until all that is left is the saddle of a skull, so light that it is swept under the yew hedge when the children go out that door again. But every time they do get a glimpse of reality, the pain is agonizing. What made me show Juliet, who, at six, is saving her fifty cents a week to buy a horse, the article I was reading in the Times about how Big Brown won the Kentucky Derby, but the little filly who came in second, Eight Belles, ran so hard she broke both her ankles and was euthanized on the track?

It's the but in that sentence that's the killer, and what growing up's all about. Juliet was on the ground for an hour and you would have thought both her ankles were broken. When I say that it sounds funny but (there it is again) in fact it was pure anguish. And on our way to Teddy's house, two little chipmunks had tried to dash across the road; one got hit; and the other was running in circles, in an agony of indecision, not wanting to leave his friend to save himself. All the kids saw that situation and how it was going to come out, and it almost killed us because we couldn't stop or go back, with a long line of cars behind us.

While we were still standing in the river, thunder rumbled and threatened, finally growing so close it cracked right over head; the wind announced ice cold rain, then hail pinged off the backs of our necks as we ran up the road. Teddy reminded us, next time we go to the river, to put the dry clothes inside the hollow tree.

I found the thrill of being in a river during a thunderstorm comparable to skiing in the falling snow at winter break.

When I was a kid, my mom only wanted "happiness" in her home (thus the infamy of cocktail hour), but that is artificial. I have to admit that her expectations left her miserable most of the time. On the other hand, God sees every sparrow that falls. So to see, to know, and to feel all your feelings is really living. Be sure to ask your children, especially introverts and adolescent boys, How do you feel? In this world, how you feel is reality.

For a hands-on guide to learning to feel your feelings (and thus teach emotional intelligence), take a look at Raising Your Emotional Intelligence: A Practical Guide by Jeanne Segal, PhD. (available at Amazon) or check out Dr. Segal's website.

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