While we’re on the subject of Imagination…

While we’re on the subject of Imagination…

Check out Anthony Esolen’s excellent post, Let’s Destroy That Imagination, in which he writes about the ways a simple visit to a junkyard with his son and father-in-law excites the imagination:

It used to be common for boys (I’m thinking of junkyards here, after all) to hang around grown men and pester them, or to overhear their conversations about bauxite, platinum, catalytic converters, drive trains, and cheap labor from Someplace Else.  That was bound not only to provide them with a fund of general knowledge, but to stretch their imaginations—as was, likewise, their nearness to fascinating machines, like pile drivers or backhoes.  People in general were proud of the cleverness of human industry: old-time postcards would include photos of coal-mines, fisheries, sawmills, lumber camps, and quarries.  You understood that without such places, as “ugly” as some snobs might consider them, you don’t have that city with the bright lights and the fashionable people dining at Toots Shor’s.

When I read part of it to my dad, it reminded him of his younger brother who, fascinated by the construction crew working on the road, went along for the ride, and ended up 50 miles from home. He later became an engineer and worked on the Alaskan pipeline and on oil wells in Saudia Arabia, despite his struggling to finish high school. Had he not been allowed to watch the road crews at work and had they not indulged his interest, who knows where he’d have gone, what he’d have done.

The article ends with Esolen’s solicitation of ideas for a book he’s working on:

The subject is on my mind, because I’ll be writing a book soon about the clever ways we’ve invented to destroy the imagination of a child.  All suggestions welcome …..

you really should read the comments too to see some pf the excellent suggestions he collects.

Brought to you via the Deputy Headmistress, who writes:

When I was a child in Canada, for some reason we had lots of international visitors stay with us. One family came from Scotland, I think. I don’t remember them. But Granny Tea tells me that they had two little girls always dressed in frilly dresses and black patent leather shoes. They stood at the window overlooking the backyard, noses pressed against the glass, while my brother and I played out in our backyard, which we considered a glorious wilderness even though it was not much larger than couple of king sized quilts laid end to end. It had a hill, after all, and a giant oak tree at the top of the hill.
I remember mud pies and earthworms and sliding down the hill, acorns and oak leaves, and plenty of dirt.

One day, Granny Tea says, the Scottish mother of the two impeccably dressed little girls asked my mother if she would forbid us the backyard while the family lived with us, as her daughters wanted to go outside and play, too, and they she didn’t want them to get their clothes dirty. My mother refused, but she did offer to loan the girls some of my clothes so they could get as gloriously dirty as my brother and I did. The other mother wasn’t interested.

The Deputy Headmistress is a great promoter of children’s playing in dirt (check out her entire post to read the rest of her delightful anecdotes and be sure to follow the links). I must confess that while I wholeheartedly agree with her in principle, I have a hard time practicing what I preach. When I was a child, I was the poor girl who hated to get sand in her sandals, who stood outside the sandbox my father built for me and daintily dabbed my hands in the sand. (Fortunately for my dad, my sister and brothers came along afterwards and poured the sand over their heads, ate it, got it into their clothes and diapers and everywhere else.) So Bella gets to play with her food sometimes. But at others I spoon the cereal into her mouth because I don’t feel like cleaning up the mess afterwards. I’m glad my dad took her puddle stomping this week because it might not have occurred to me to let her make the trek around the neighborhood, splashing in every puddle she encountered. But then that’s what grandparents are for, right? To provide the insight and the opportunities that we poor short-sighted parents, concerned with laundry and clean floors, might miss.

Some good additional rules can also be found at the Fine Old Family blog, which also has additional thoughts on the subject here.



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  • Melanie,

    For the first 13 months with my kiddo I was EX-HAUST-ED!  I night nursed so I did not get good sleep during the night, plus our daughter was in our bed because she night nursed.  So every chance I got, I slept.  I am not a nice person when I do not sleep.  I felt guilty at first but I had to recognize that A) nursing my baby was my primary job, thus everything else was secondary B)nursing my daughter was an act of prayer, especially at night when I least wanted to do it.
    Right now I think you are still nursing AND you are pregnant.  Do NOT let other mothers tell you what you should or should not do.  You have to do what is right for YOU so that you can do what is right for your family.
    I cut out the night nursings at 13 months so I could get better sleep, but that meant she wanted to nurse all day long and that was fine with me.  After I began to get 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep, I began to rise early and before my daughter.  When I was pregnant last Spring, I don’t sleep well at night so I cut out waking early because I NEEDED that extra sleep.  Sleep is so important to your health.  Do not feel guilty about doing what is right for your body, which in turn nourishes two little souls. 

    Sorry this is so long.

  • I am another night owl and have never managed to get up before my children. I keep feeling I should, but after 12 years it still hasn’t happened. And if I am pregnant or have a young baby, I wouldn’t even begin to consider it … I need that morning sleep to function.

  • Thanks for the encouragement, Melanie! It is, as with most things in my life, a work in progress. smile

    I can only second what RCM and The Bookworm have said. I also responded to your comment on my blog.

    Many blessings and congratulations on your newest little one!

  • I’m so glad you brought this up!! This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, because despite my best efforts I just can’t bring myself to get up before the kids. To say that I am not a morning person is the understatement of the century.

    Lately I’ve been doing a great system where at night (when I’m at my best) I print out a “page of the day” with a brief bio of a saint, a quick prayer, and then room for me to write out my to-do list. I visualize my day, think about what I’m going to do when, etc. I also prep sippy cups and set out breakfast plates, etc. to take some load off me in the morning.

    Then when I wake up—even though I let the kids wake me up—I feel in control of my day…and I think that’s really the goal. I think that women who are morning people use that early time to get control of their days so that they can plan and think about what they can do. If I tried to do that first thing in the morning my to-do list would be like “1. Lay on the couch, 2. Try to get some sleep, 3. Lay on couch…”

    Thanks for the thought-provoking topic! I’ll probably post about this as well.

  • I am neither a early bird nor a night owl. I guess I stay up later than some (about 11-12), but I, too, have difficulty getting up earlier than 7:30 or 8. I have always been this way, and since I am older than you by quite a few years, I’ll tell you I have not changed. When my kids were tiny it was torture. I napped frequently. Now I stay up (not as late as my teens) and get up with my 5 yo around 8. I’m lucky she will finally sleep in. I no longer feel quilty about not having morning prayer before my kids get up. I’m not going to change no matter how guilty I feel.

    I do have nighttime prayer and I usually fall asleep with my rosary in my hand. I think it’s just as meaningful at night. But I have to make time, just like I would in the morning. And sometimes I have prayer time in the morning as well—I grab my cup of coffee and find a quiet corner while my daughter plays or eats her breakfast.

    Holly has many good suggestions in her book, but not all are for everyone. You just have to do it your way. Trust me—been there, done that.

  • Melanie,
    My Mother had seven children and never once got up before us unless she was nursing someone. As one of the older children, I remember being told to stay in bed until Mom came to get us, which meant for an hour or so I played with my sister in the morning until Mom woke up.

    In my mind, it didn’t diminish my mother’s capacity for mothering at all. She was (and still is) the best Mom in the world. If I am half the Mom she was to me, I will be grateful. And I’ve met those women who got up hours before their kids—they’ve got nothing on my Mom.

  • I’m an unwilling early bird and wake with the sun, even though I’d rather not, so I tried hanging black-out fabric (available at most fabric stores) over my bedroom window so I can sleep in past sun-up. I don’t have any kids, but I’m wondering if it would help kids (and thus parents) sleep in too?

  • My mother is a morning person, but she often slept later than we did. So the rule in our house was that if Mom and Dad were still sleeping when we got up, we were _not_ to wake them up. (And we were _not_ to cause any trouble either, of course!)

    I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t designate spiritual time, or any other part of your schedule, in the way which suits _you_. Your children were not put under the care of some theoretical Everymother; your husband did not marry Everywoman; God did not create you to be just like everybody else.

    Sigh. This is just like those creative writing books which assume “My creative process is everybody’s creative process!” Take what’s sensible; ignore what’s not.

  • You make me smile. I only get up before my kids sometimes during lent as a major sacrifice. All my quiet time for reading, working, praying, and writing happens during naptimes or between 9 pm and 1 am. That’s how I function best. Go with whatever “system” works best for you and remain open to changing it as your circumstances change. Just think: it should only be a couple more years until Bella can pour her own cereal before you have to get up in the morning. Sweet freedom!

    Btw, thanks for the nice review a few weeks back. I’m just getting caught up now and noticed it.  Bless you all!

  • I think that when a mother is young and ‘growing’ her family it is important for her to be mindful of the needs of her body.  There are times when getting through one day at a time is all that can be expected.  (When I was expecting my third child in three years and was reeling with nausea and that zombie-like fatigue, I would have laughed in the face of anyone who would have told me that the day would come when I would be able – and willing – to get up before the rest of my family.  But that day has come.  It took a while, but it has come.) 

    People aren’t static and what works at one time or for one person isn’t necessarily applicable to everyone.  And there are always exceptions…I’m a bit weary this morning because we had tremendous thunderstorms and baby #6 – who happens to be 13! – woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep.  I couldn’t sleep either and we sat and talked for a long time, some where around 3:00am.  smile

  • Thanks to all for the wonderful encouragement.

    I know I need to just focus on what works for me. (Danielle had some wise words to that effect in Mom to Mom.) But I also have doubts and lose focus. (Who doesn’t?) And sometimes I can’t help but wonder when I keep encountering an idea (as in Mother’s Rule and on Hallie’s blog) whether God is trying to tell me something. So I needed to write about it, think about it, talk about it with other people.

    In the comments on her blog Hallie wrote: “God made you a night owl for a reason. He needs prayer warriors at all hours of the day.”

    I think the real answer to my question is that I need to work harder at using the time when I’m most alert for prayer and learn how to step away from the computer, to close the novel, to give God a space at the end of the day.

    I definitely look forward to the day when I’ll be able to do for Bella what my mom used to do for me so she could sleep in on Saturday mornings: pour a cup of milk and put it on a low shelf in the fridge, pour a bowl of Cheerios and leave it on the counter with a spoon. That way I could get my own breakfast. (Though it didn’t have the bananas sliced really thin floating in the milk.)

    Of course by then there will probably be another little one screaming at the crack of dawn. Or maybe I’ll be lucky and the next one will be a night owl like me. One can hope. smile 

    Maureen, so true about all those books on creative writing. I tried really hard when I taught writing to help students find what worked for them. But it is hard not to push what works for yourself, isn’t it. The pitfall for every parent and teacher.

    It does remind me, though, that when giving any kind of advice it’s always best to preface it with: well, this is what works for me.

    The sad truth is, much as we long for someone to give us the road map to parenting, we all have to figure it out one day at a time, one kid at a time, one stage of life at a time. There are no easy answers and part of the joy is never knowing what’s around the next bend, even if it does make planning kind of hard.

  • Oh and, Jen, your list made me laugh. And your sounded really good. Except even if I wrote it at night right now I think my to do list would look about the same: eat, take care of Bella, eat, sleep, eat, pray, try to do a load of laundry. Everything else optional. Still, something to keep in mind when I get back to the point of having enough energy to allow myself to have a to do list.


  • I have tried, and failed to do the morning thing.  But those times that I do succeed do improve my day.  Right now it is extra difficult, because I work a night job on the weekends.  Mondays are my recovery day, but if I get up early and go for a walk before my husband leaves at 6:00 am, then get a shower before the baby wakes at 6:45, I practically sail through my day.  The difficulty is giving up the time with my husband in the evening.  He has a long commute, so we usually don’t eat dinner until almost 7, and then we get the kids ready for bed at 8.  Then we do the dishes together, and it’s time for me to go to sleep if I’m going to get up at 5.  I have two, a 4 y/o and an almost 1 y/o.  And I’m not “naturally” a morning person, though the sunlight does tend to wake me up and keep me that way.

    And I’ll readily admit that I’m not perfect and I don’t often use that time as spiritual reflection.  I usually say my rosary during my walk, and then after my shower I get to prepare for the day by packing the diaper bag if we’re going somewhere or slow-cooking my oatmeal.  But it really does improve things when I make the effort.

    I should also note that this all goes out the window when I’m pregnant.  I don’t get the “sleepies,” I’m almost a narcoleptic.  And I don’t get “morning sickness,” it lasts all day and the room only periodically stops spinning.  So I’m certainly not trying to pass judgment on your situation.

  • “I think the real answer to my question is that I need to work harder at using the time when I’m most alert for prayer and learn how to step away from the computer, to close the novel, to give God a space at the end of the day.”

    Melanie, this really spoke to me.  I tend to be a “burn the candle at both ends” kind of person but I definitely am most awake at night.  I really need to utilize the evenings for prayer.

  • “you’re a better person than I am if you get up with your daughter at 5:30 or 6!!”

    Don’t be so fast to attribute goodness to me. If I could sleep through her crying, I probably would. But I can’t. She screams and screams and I drag myself out of bed because I’m the kind of light sleeper who wakes when my husband rolls over at night, when someone opens the bedroom door very quietly. Some mornings I wake before the baby and can’t get back to sleep because the upstairs neighbor walks across her room too loudly wearing heels.

    If Bella would go back to sleep beside me, I’d be doing that too. I did it when she was younger. But she won’t, so I can’t. Evidently she inherited my tendency to being a light sleeper, though not the tendency to be a late sleeper.

  • This is the first that I’ve ever heard of this evidently widely advocated practice!  I’m not sure I quite understand the rationale—so that I’m less grouchy when awakened??  Hmmm…  And I’ve got to tell you, Melanie, you’re a better person than I am if you get up with your daughter at 5:30 or 6!!  (I’ve thought this before.)  Mine would be going back to sleep!! (Though likely next to me!)  When he is home, my husband gets up early with the children.  I’ve been getting up earlier on weekends to help him—and by that, I mean 9:30.  I have also recently stopped going back to bed after bringing him to work at 8 A.M.  This does make me more productive (except when I nap).  It also makes me drink more caffeine, which technically, I guess I’m not supposed to do! (except when I nap)  So this is definitely not an experiment I will be trying!  (As for prayer, I’m not sure I could concentrate in a semi-conscious state. I would likely be praying for the ability to go back to bed.)  wink

  • I found this via Et Tu, Jen?, and what a great conversation!

    I really like the Mother’s Rule of Life book, but when I get up before the kiddos in the morning, I use the hour to drink my coffee and write.  And, honestly, I do have better days when I get up before the kids.  But I’m able to do it because my husband likes getting up early too (he uses his time to swim or do karate), and so he and I work together to get to bed early enough that it’s possible.  Oh, and I have the coffee machine all ready to go, so I can sip my coffee during that lovely, peaceful, early hour.

    What I take out of Mrs. Pierlot’s suggestion is that it is good to have a regular and quiet time for devotions.  Mine is mid-morning, when my toddlers go into their beds for a half hour quiet time (listening to music and playing with safe, i.e., non-choking-hazard, toys and books).  They have their quiet time, and I have mine, reading Morning Prayer.

    Oh, and my early hour happens not NEARLY so regularly when I’m pregnant.  Honestly, it’s not eating for two so much as it is sleeping for two, I think.  smile

    Thanks for hosting such a fun discussion!

    peace of Christ to you,
    Jessica Snell

  • As there is a dearth of Dad comments, I thought I’d add my $.02.

    I was a night owl for as long as I remember.  Now the father of 4, being a night owl is impractical to say the least.  I figured out how to change my biorhythm to fit my life.  I forced myself to get up at the same time every day (5:45 AM).  Saturday, Sunday, day off from work, working day, no matter how tired I was, I got up.  Eventually, I found that I could no longer be a night owl b/c my body wouldn’t let me.  YMMV.

    I know the value of late night solitude.  Of being awake when the whole world is sleeping.  I find a similar peace in early morning quiet.  It is a joy to see the kids with big smiles in the morning when they wake.  All kids are morning people it seems. 

    That’s what worked for me.  Do what you find works for you.  No harm in trying different approaches until you find the right one.

  • I am a night owl also. I always taught my children (from when they were two yrs old) that they were not to get out of bed until they saw the “snowman” on the clock. That being the number 8. And it had to be the first number before the dots. Some mornings they were up at 8:01, but at least it was after 8.  It made me a happier mom which made for happier mornings. To this day, they come in my room, say good morning and watch tv, eat or play while I slowly wake up. And often the 8 yr old and 10 yr old climb in and we chat myself awake. I do most of my laundry and cleaning at night, and make sure my coffee maker is set to go in the morning. I find the more I get done at night the happier I am and the smoother the mornings go. Like Duffy says, do what works for you.