(Part 2 of The Not Supermom Series.)
Writing on the importance of educating both mind and soul, Cindy says:
“This does not mean I shy away from rigorous study. I love rigorous study. It is just that I don’t confuse taking a test with learning. I try not to forget the things that can’t be measured: poetry in the heart, deep discussions, time for thoughtful reflections, love of beauty, the fellowship of suffering, the euphoric feeling of using the right word, honest toil, gentle breezes and warm days.”
Beautiful, and right on the mark.
This is exactly what I am getting at when I talk about striving for a joyful atmosphere in our home. As Cindy points out, Charlotte Mason has a great deal to say about the importance of “atmosphere” in education: Education itself, she says, is an atmosphere; it is a life. “Atmosphere,” writes Michele Quigley,
“is many faceted, from the actual physical aspects of the home to the tone and spirit of family life. In creating an atmosphere of learning, the child has easy access to the materials needed. Books are put where the child can get at them, art supplies are easily reached and musical instruments placed in a special but accessible area. There are beautiful art prints to look at and beautiful music with which to inspire the mind and soul.”
There it is again, that mind/soul connection that Cindy spoke of in her post. I am reminded of Madeleine L’Engle’s Austin family (Meet the Austins, The Moon by Night, A Ring of Endless Light—which last is one of my three Most Deeply Moving picks from Semicolon’s recent booklist). Life in the Austin household means symphonies booming in the background during housecleaning, family in-jokes about literature and art, animated dinner-table discussions about The Big Questions of Life, evening sing-alongs, a house furnished in books, and car rides punctuated by quotes from ancient philosophers. I wonder, sometimes, just how much my own idea of family life was shaped by my multiple readings of that series during adolescence. I reread them all last winter and found myself grinning at the depiction of an atmosphere I’ve been striving toward in my own home for some ten years. Well looky there, I thought. Here I’ve been trying to Meet the Austins in my own living room, and I didn’t even realize it.
I gave a talk once about atmosphere in the Little House books, for after encountering Charlotte Mason’s writings, it struck me that a large part of what appeals to me about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books is the atmosphere that suffuses the Ingalls home—no matter which little house they lived in. Here’s an excerpt from the talk:
The atmosphere of love and family bonding is so strong, so pervasive, that when you read about this family, you want to be a part of it. And while I’m sure Ma and Pa Ingalls had plenty of off days that didn’t make it into the books, the warm, loving atmosphere of the home they created was consistent enough enough to inspire their daughter to put her childhood memories down on paper so that they would never be lost. Look at the things that stick in Laura’s mind all the way to her 60s:
—Pa ruffling up his hair, playing mad dog;
—Pa telling stories as he greased his traps or made bullets—stories Laura never forgot;
—Ma making vanity cakes for Laura & Mary’s party;
—Ma letting the girls share the grated carrot used to color the butter on churning day;
—Pa’s music, right down to the words of the songs he sang;
—Ma putting aside her work to play games with the girls during the terrible three days when Pa was lost in a blizzard.
That last one is one I think about a lot. Imagine how hard it was for Caroline to keep calm and cheerful under those circumstances. I think she must have seen it as her duty to maintain that atmosphere of serenity and cheer for her children, lest they be consumed by fear for Pa’s safety. How would I measure up in the same circumstances? Would I allow my worry to let me grow sharp with the children? Or would I throw myself wholeheartedly into the task—because it is work—of maintaining an atmosphere of love no matter what?
We all know how hard it can be to maintain that atmosphere. A mother’s mood is the air her family breathes. When I become cross, impatient, distracted, so does everyone else. My mood can poison the atmosphere or sweeten it: it is up to me.