Seeking Peace -
Finding the Quiet Times in Our Families’ Lives
By Suzanne Malakoff
Making space for quiet times, and
time to explore our curiosity about Nature.
There are days when the
kids seem to do nothing but fight over the most trivial things. I don’t
want to lose my temper and start yelling, so I look for ways to get off
by myself, away from the chaos. I tend to forget that my children’s
noisy inability to get along may signal their need for a break from the
day-to-day – and of our time together.
One day when I had had
enough, I went to my room without telling anyone and flopped down on the
bed. Within minutes I heard one of the kids ask, “Where’s Mom?” and
braced myself for the fight to come barreling down the hallway and
Instead, everyone stopped
at the doorway, looked for at me for a moment, and then quietly laid down
“What are you doing?” Eli
“Seeking peace,” I answered.
“Can you read to us?”
Aaron asked. I didn’t want to read, I wanted to be alone and block out
the noise, but they were all watching me and being so patient. I wasn’t
in the mood for Dr. Seuss or dinosaurs, so I picked up a book that I
read to quiet my mind called Scratching the Woodchuck.
The author, David Kline,
is an Amish farmer who writes about what he observes on his property and
his thoughts on farming and community. Kline and his family live on 120
acres, and his gentle style of farming allows for an abundance of bird
and wildlife to flourish on his farm.
The first essay I read is
called, simply, “Moles.” It seems that to make it easier to climb
through narrow tunnels in the earth moles have fur that will lay flat no
matter which way you stroke it. Kline’s inspiration for this essay came
when he found a dead mole that his cat left in the barn and was able to
take a moment to get a close look. The kids hoped our cat would catch
another mole soon so we could see if what Kline says is true. They
wished they had a barn to find a dead mole in.
They took turns looking
through the table of contents and picking titles to read, based on their
interest in animals: “Fox,” “Crow,” “Wrens,” “Shrews.”
There is a nice essay at
the end of Scratching the Woodchuck that talks about how
sharing work with children fosters mutual respect. I agree and believe
learning together can do that, too.
Kline and his family have
compiled a list of all the birds they have ever seen on their farm, plus
lists that document what they have seen in any given year. Natasha asked
if we could start writing down all of the birds we see in our backyard.
In his first book, Earthly Possessions,
Kline mentions the Audubon Bird Count, so I went searching and found
that Audubon was about to conduct another. Early in winter, Audubon asks
for people around the country to identify and count the birds they see
in their back yards, then send in the statistics to help build a
snapshot of bird populations in North America.
We spent many mornings at the table in front of
the kitchen window identifying and counting birds. Everyone
participated, everyone cooperated and everyone was excited when someone
spotted a breed of bird that hadn’t made the count yet.
My husband has helped the kids build and place
birdhouses, and we track activity in those, too.
Through the Backyard Bird Count, we found out
about the Birdfeeder Watch, organized by the Cornell Laboratory of
Ornithology, and plan to participate this year. This program will help
us decide what kinds of birdfeeders will work for birds in our region,
and where we should place them to attract the most birds.
Next spring we are going to plant more bird- and
butterfly-attracting flowers and bushes. We enjoy time spent over
gardening books and catalogues deciding which plants will not only
please us with their colors, but which will do well in our soil and
Because reading Scratching the Woodchuck
worked so well to calm everyone and bring our attention back to each
other, whenever we have a particularly hard day, I simply shout,
“Everyone on the bed,” and race down the hallway. The kids follow
eagerly. We have looked for authors like Kline and happened on a book
with an appropriate title: Quiet People in a Noisy World.
The author, John Remmerde, writes simple essays
about his life in Oregon where he lived and worked with his wife and
their two mostly home-educated daughters. We also read from his other
book, Somewhere in an Oregon Valley.
Like Kline, he has a friendly writing voice and a
gentle sense of humor. Both authors seem to have time to take in the
world around them and write about what they see, in spite of the hard
work and long days their lives involve.
“They have time because they’re always
home,” said Natasha when we were discussing the books we had been
reading and how our life compared to that of the different authors.
Natasha likes the essays that involve
Remmerde’s daughters and the time they spend taking care of animals or
walking out on the farm or in the mountains where their father worked as
a land caretaker. While they did make trips to town for groceries and
music lessons, their lives appeared to require less running around. My
daughter swore if we could live like they did, she wouldn’t care about
gymnastics or piano lessons, or any of that stuff.
I told her it would be difficult to get
together with other kids living so far from town; we wouldn’t have a
support group or be able to participate in all the activities.
“We’re never home,” she said. “We have to
go to the library and go do grocery shopping, and go to piano lessons
and go to homeschool stuff. I like being home. I just want to be with my
friends.” Up until Natasha (the oldest) was five years old, we lived in
a rural farming community. Because the kids were small and town was a
long distance to go, life moved at a slower pace – we traveled to town
every few weeks and didn’t worry about participating in anything to
socialize the children.
Then we moved to rural suburbia, which is
closer to town, solidified our plans for our children to learn at home,
and joined a support group, since the kids wouldn’t be in school and
needed to meet other life learners.
I got caught up the in the running of the
group and the politics and eventually took on the newsletter, served as
new member contact and planned activities. In the meantime, my children
had made friends, wanted to spend more time with them, and were
reluctant to participate in anything else. They also resented the time I
spent on the phone or putting together the newsletter, and let me know
that by being rough and noisy.
At first I didn’t listen to them; I thought
we needed the group. Natasha, Eli, and Aaron said they would continue to
go to support group activities once in awhile, but only if their friends
I called the mother of my daughter’s best
friend to make sure she would be at the next activity so that my
children would agree to go. “Only if you guys are,” she said. The kids
don’t want to if you’re not there.” We decided to try to make the effort
to get our kids together in a more casual setting, and invited a couple
of other families that the kids had identified as friends.
We started getting together in each other’s
homes whenever we could manage it. The homeschool group schedule often
got in the way of our being together, so we gradually stopped going to
activities, and I let go of my group obligations.
When we meet at our house, we spend the
morning cleaning up or doing some baking, but everything else is set
aside in favor of enjoying the company of our friends. We don’t plan
activities, map out a calendar, compile a newsletter, or recruit new
members. We aren’t a group, we are a community, and this is our day of
While we are no longer members of a formal
group, we look to each other for advice and support. We share joys or
vent frustration, relieve mothers of fussy infants, and answer the
dozens of questions and calls for assistance that come from the kids.
TThe kids play games that make no sense to
us, gather in a circle to talk (“about stuff,” my daughter says) or join
our conversations; climb trees; make nests in the tall grass; catch,
study, and release bugs; and follow the cat around, hoping for a mole.
We still have days when it’s difficult to
get along or we do too much running around, but we have found some
simple ways to quiet life down and slow the pace.
Our family’s “everyone on the bed” reading
sessions take me back to our family bed days when calming children was
as easy as laying with them, holding them close, and offering
nourishment. I had no idea this would become a part of our learning at
home together as the children grew older.
David Kline and other writers like him have
been a source of nourishment, helping us create peace and find time to
share our curiosity about the world around us.
Suzanne Malakoff is a writer living near Olympia,
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