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Passing it down

June 14, 2010

While Col was duking it out in his neonatal incubator, inching up the scales one gram at a time, my daily prayer was for him to shake free the grim preemie statistics pinned to his tiny body like a flapping number on a marathon racer. On the 3rd floor of the Denver Ronald McDonald House (our home while Col was in the NICU), Dan issued forth his prayers with each steady stroke of his wood-carving tool, whittling this big horn ram for Col.

Surely, some of those prayers were quietly labeled: future hunter, archer, and lover of wild land and all its inhabitants, please.

And, as I recently told a friend–those harrowing NICU days five years past–we won the preemie lottery! Despite Col being on the small side of petite, and no stranger to chest-deflating lung infections, he is a strong, bright shining light, and he nails the archery target with gorgeous precision.

Col with first daddy-made bow, 20 months old. Blue Lake, California.

June 2010, Hermosa Creek

Of course as parents our most fervent wishes for our children are something like: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But for Dan and me, the smaller print might read: a love of nature, eschewing of consumer culture and to not settle too far outside La Plata County.

Like many boys who've come before: flinging rocks from a slingshot

And it would seem we’ve won another lottery. At 5 Col is eager to help shovel manure for the garden, tend to backyard chickens, butcher elk, and tuck squash seeds into a bed of soil. And true to his dad’s wishes, Col totes his slingshot on hikes, talking big game about turkeys and grouse.

When Col recently told a geographically-confused Rosie “We’re in Durango Rose, it’s our whole life,” I felt like the entire studio audience of Jeopardy was cheering in my heart. I’ll takeTrue Statements” for the jackpot, please Alex. Because for me, being engaged in this place, knowing the local plants and animals and people, following our region’s seasonal rhythms, feels like my “whole life.”

And though we’d encourage our children in any wholesome pursuit, there’s the undeniable thrill in recognizing yourself in your offspring.

And yet, sometimes I wonder what our kids miss. If Dan and I knew what to do on skis, maybe our kids would rip down the slopes each winter. Col can identify a white-crowned sparrow and a spray of blooming chokecherries, but can’t yet swim or ride a bike without training wheels. He can split wood with an axe, but is still shaky on recognizing letters. This is the crapshoot of family. These little swaddled bundles show up in our lives and like hands on clay, we stretch and pull them into familiar shapes while it seems we are just living our lives. If you grow up in our house, you’ll spy elk on a frosty winter dawn with your Daddy and spin garden tomatoes into crimson sauce with your Mama, but you might not get to that big, indoor tub of chlorine too often.

Rose modeling dandelion leaf choker/bangles

And then there’s Rose. She reminds me of what children bring to the family. While Col and I are outside, exclaiming over the newly emerged carrot seedlings, Rose sneaks indoors to change into something “pwettier.” And despite my own unwashed self, failing to wear make-up to my own wedding, Rose is uncannily soothed by a tube of lip balm. She’s the first to line up for sunscreen, closing her eyes serenely as if receiving a facial with hemp oil pressed by the Dalai Lama’s bare toes. I am equal parts amused and horrified when she sifts through her underwear in the mornings, looking for the “most beautiful one.”

Perhaps in high school when Rose is re-applying lipstick in the bathroom, Col will be waiting for her outside, pulling dandelion greens from the lawn. Or maybe he’ll be training for ski season, trying to catch up on the years he’s missed. More likely, they’ll both surprise us, continually blossoming into their own, lovely selves.

***How do the adults in your house shape the family tribe, and what indelible marks do your children leave?

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23 Comments leave one →
  1. June 14, 2010 6:21 am

    “She’s the first to line up for sunscreen, closing her eyes serenely as if receiving a facial with hemp oil pressed by the Dalai Lama’s bare toes. ”
    That moment, when my children have their faces turned up to me, submitting completely, either to letting their helmet straps be buckled, or to receiving sunscreen, is one of my favorite mommy moments.
    I’ve never been to this blog before. I like what I see. And I like your writing voice. Your little hunters and gatherers seem well loved. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Kathy Smith permalink
    June 14, 2010 7:17 am

    Again Rachel too beautiful for words. I was always thrilled with my children as kids but nothing can compare with who they have become as parents. I am humbled and in awe !

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      June 15, 2010 8:54 am

      “I was always thrilled with my children as kids but nothing can compare with who they have become as parents.” Oh Kathy, this is music to my ears!

  3. Kathy permalink
    June 14, 2010 8:58 am

    I read in an article by a very famous home educating father that we as parents are to train our children to be good parents. That is our mission. Surely the experimentation you offer your children, the seeking of life in nature and beauty, will reap huge benefits for you as the children mature into good parents. Learning to learn is the flip side goal of good parenting. And you are doing both. Somedays I wish I could sit at your feet, Rachel, and learn too.
    Yes, they are like us, just as we are like our ancestors. Thankfully this is a truth we can all hold in awe and certainty.
    And you are chronicling this growth, the other flip side to the goal. Wonder how many sides there are?

  4. June 14, 2010 9:17 am

    “And yet, sometimes I wonder what our kids miss.”

    I wonder this at times, too. Mostly I focus on all they will receive. We live a quiet life already and with a planning a move out to the middle of nowhere we are already receiving criticism about not exposing the boys to MORE.

    And yet…from many of these same people we hear they love having our boys around because of who and how they are.

    It is all intertwined. There is a peace and an innocence that would be lost in our boys were we to live a different life. No tv helps, time spent outdoors, growing things together, reading and loving stories together, creating new things and memories with one another along with a deep faith has all woven together our lives and created these amazing boys.

    Yes, they will probably never be in soccer or a thousand other organized activities. But they will be able to tell you about the world around them. They may not know the latest stars face, but can point out the faces and shapes in the stars. They may not keep up on the latest trends, but will pray for everyone they know.

    I wouldn’t change a thing.

    BTW-We were up hiking two weeks ago in South Mineral by Silverton when the four year old calls out, “I’m a Hiking Boy!” It made my heart smile. I want him to see himself as such. Both my husband and I grew up hiking in those mountains as well.

  5. June 14, 2010 9:36 am

    Our kid(s) will undoubtedly be geeks of some sort, whether it’s tech or books – hopefully both. It is a joy to see them blossoming into wonderful little people in front of our very eyes, but more so when we catch glimpses of ourselves in them. Perhaps an affirmation that we must have done something right?

  6. Ami permalink
    June 14, 2010 10:42 am

    There’s something about “first” children and/or “only” children that garners a need to please the parents. This I have seen in my own son. I have learned so much about letting him be who he is and I too, have gotten shivers at watching him become OUR son and all that entails. Thank you for such a wonderful elaboration on this idea, which is often overlooked! It helps me to know that someone else has put a slingshot in their 4 year old’s hands and allowed pre-K axe swinging! :)

  7. ike permalink
    June 14, 2010 10:56 am

    Wonderful writing. And, any mention of Col and the NICU brings tears to my eyes.

    On nuture vs nature I think we have lots yet to discover about how much we influence our children by the activities we expose them to and how much of their personalities they are born with.

    Just love your children and they will likely grow up secure and happy, as have Col and Rosie. You and Dan are doing a great job!

  8. June 14, 2010 11:51 am

    Beautiful, Rachel.

    Recently, we were in the middle of a conversation about kids going to soccer camps (my worst nightmare) and just sports camps, in general. I found myself secretly hoping that my kids will fall in love with things like surfing (surf camp in Mexico~now we’re talking), and a love for world travel, culture, food, playing instruments, etc. I don’t think I’m ever going to be the popular mom. :)

  9. June 14, 2010 1:53 pm

    What an amazing ram! Kids become who they are going to become regardless (or in spite of) our preconceived notions…I see reflections of myself in my sons (not always flattering ones, either) and I see that they are completely and totally their own people (sometimes, I wonder, their own species)…and as for the pretty girl, you did after all name her “Rose” (not thistle or skunk cabbage)…

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      June 15, 2010 9:04 am

      Andrea, I often see challenging traits in Rose that I recognize all too clearly. “AckkK it’s me!” But at least it gives me great compassion for some of her genetic flops.

  10. June 14, 2010 2:38 pm

    This is a really interesting piece, Rachel. We spent the weekend with friends who’ve just adopted two brothers from Ethiopia. As I watched my friends, instant parents, interact with their sons, I was so happy that these boys have the chance to be raised by these people and their particular set of gifts. And now reading your post today I’m thinking about what accidental lessons and legacies I might be imparting to my boys. A love of reading would be a good one. An appreciation of politeness and kindness. Those are good too. Too many neuroses and too much concern for what other people think? Gifts I wish I wasn’t giving them.

  11. June 14, 2010 10:04 pm

    i would love to be your kid. for me and my beloved, there are many memories of our parents really wanting us to succeed at competitive sports while we picked clovers in the outfield. so screw the skis, i say. knowing how to feed yourself? yes, please.

  12. June 15, 2010 8:09 am

    I’ve been thinking about this topic. Both boys in my house seem to have picked up the vast love for anything their daddy loves… and I wonder how could that be? How could they both love being outside, building, and reading, and endlessly being physical and myohmy….any kind of sport.

    And I wonder how I will feel if they end up loving things that husband and I are not crazy about… then that will be our true test as parents.

    I mean, really, what did the fictitious liberal Keatons go through when they realized their first son was a giant capitalist republican??? ;-)

  13. June 15, 2010 1:57 pm

    It’s funny, but my daughter’s obsession with princesses has turned out to be a good thing (I was initially appalled, I admit). She is comfortable with dressing differently from “everyone else”; she’s creative in pairing color, pattern, and texture; and she’s expressing her personality in a way that’s both comforting and exciting to her. She certainly didn’t get any of this from me, but I’m glad she got it, wherever it came from.

    And if she and Rose ever meet, they can pick out the “most beautiful” items from their respective wardrobes and perhaps swap lipstick-wearing tips.

  14. Steph permalink
    June 15, 2010 10:52 pm

    I think my biggest influence on Chloe has been that of chiropractic. The other night she “birthed” a baby in her “birth tub” (toddler bed) and afterwards she lay there holding her baby. She looked up at me and said, “She needs an adjustment!”. THAT is music to MY chiropractor mamma ears! She also tells me at times that she needs an adjustment. My hope is that my kids will grow up with enough sense about their bodies and their health that they will not treat themselves too badly (ie, dangerous levels of drugs, alcohol, bad food, etc etc). I’m hoping that by keeping them well adjusted they will be in touch with themselves. I’m not attached to either of them becoming chiropractors, but I do hope I can encourage them to value HEALTH.

    As for Craig’s influence, he loves to read to the kids. I hope this instills a love for reading. Also he loves to take Chloe on “adventures”, especially those involving the bike trailer. And Chloe sure knows that her Daddy loves to drink coffee!!

  15. Melissa permalink
    June 16, 2010 8:39 am

    Such beautiful, insightful writing!

    Avi loves movies like his aba and also loves yoga like his mama.

    We fret he is too bookish, too internal, but then I got some paints out yesterday and the kid painted for long stretches–amazing. He keeps saying, “I am ready for school!” so I hope it sticks when he goes this fall . . .

    What would we do if we didn’t worry?

    Such a gorgeous piece about your camping trip, too . . .

  16. June 16, 2010 8:09 pm

    Wow, Col is really blossoming. How impressive to him adeptly handle that bow. As if that should be any surprise!

  17. June 19, 2010 11:19 am

    As I said in an earlier comment….I think you guys are doing it right.

    I was talking with my daughter’s last night and the subject came up about the things people miss out on living certain ways. I told them you can’t miss something you have never experienced or had. It sounds like your kids have some great experiences that other kids will only dream of…or never miss.

  18. Rachel Kohnen permalink
    June 21, 2010 7:48 am

    Ian’s letter recognition is slowly coming. His ability to name any piece of heavy equipment? Down pat.
    Thanks for your writings to keep me weary mind awake on this cloudy Monday morning!

  19. June 25, 2010 10:44 pm

    You know, I am so sucked into your posts as I read them because you are so real in who and where you are and the life you lead and it is so different than the norm for where you came from! Love it!
    Nicola

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      June 28, 2010 2:30 pm

      Nicola, I know, it really is so different. Leaving Berkeley was profound in many ways. It took awhile to shake the city out of my system, but being in the rural-ish southwest for fifteen years has helped to shed those layers (plus an elk hunting husband).

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