For the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel
I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil. Once the emotions have been aroused – a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and the unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration or love – then we wish for knowledge about the subject of our emotional response. Once found, it has lasting meaning. It is more important to pave the way for the child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts he is not ready to assimilate.
If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow.
Once, when my daughter was about six or seven, I took her to the squishy end of the tide flats at low tide, just after dawn. For the longest time, we sat on our haunches with our eyes closed, listening to the beach breathe. It was one of my special places, and I knew we’d be able to hear water being pulled in by clams as the tide started to come in. I wasn’t sure how long she’d be comfortable sitting there, but I was the one to break first. My legs started to cramp, and I opened my eyes and held on longer than was comfortable, smiling at her peaceful little face, watching the anemones at her feet.
Maybe it helped that I’d done this sort of thing with her since before she was born. We had snacks at dawn, sitting atop a lake-side lifeguard chair, wrapped in a big blanket in winter and fall, and wearing mosquito-stopping hoodies in spring. We took a break when she was too wiggly to be carried up the ladder and not old enough to climb up and down safely on her own – but not for long. Sometimes, early in the morning, I’d wrap a pan of hot-from-the-oven scones or cinnamon rolls in a big towel and load it into the car along with a bottle of juice and some napkins, and we’d take off to watch the sun come up. For impromptu evening nature visits I kept dried fruit and pistachios in the car – we’d pick up string cheese and juice, and wander around at half a dozen favorite places until it got too cold. I loved laying in tall grass on a blanket, looking up, watching the sky change from daytime blue to dawn pinks and golds, to an almost-green and then ever-darker blues spiked by stars.
One late Summer visit that sticks in my mind lasted long after dark. I may have written about it here before. We’d spent the evening on the dock at Indianola, watching the sun go down and the stars come out. We were chilly, but there was a great blue heron sitting on the railing and I didn’t want to go. Sometimes my daughter wanted to stay longer, and sometimes it was me who pushed it. This was one of mine. I loved being close to herons. I’d never seen a heron perching, and as herons roost in groups, soon there were two. When they finally flew off, I don’t know if we were more startled at the sudden stretch of their big wings, or if they were more startled when I stifled a sneeze.
This sort of thing was legal with Miss Kiddo until about fourth or fifth grade – you know the age – that time when “Mom” has two, long syllables and a sigh? For a long while she was incensed that I’d drag her anywhere, but now, as an adult, I’ll bet there are times when a sense of those glorious earlier experiences come flooding in around the edges, as she makes her own independent memories.
I can still feel the ache in my hips from crouching on the beach that morning, and I can still see the edge of her small form – soft, strong, peaceful, dark lashes, rosy cheeks. I hope she soaked up a sense of listening to the earth breathe. To have given that gift would be an honor to hold close before all Creation.
Wherever she gets what she has, it’s all hers. And if I hear, some year after she graduates from college, about my daughter and a future grandchild going out at dawn or dusk to watch the earth change, I will smile and remember.