Betty Duffy

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Still in an Amish Mood, but now with a Dose of Self-Righteousness

A friend of mine lives at a YMCA camp where her husband is director. The grounds are hidden in the woods, and bordered by a river. She’s living the life, making bread, keeping chickens, home-schooling the kids.

We went to their house today, strolled along the river bed, where the water was low, so the boys could wade up to their knees looking for shells in the morning light. A spring bubbled out of the woods and flowed down into the river, and there, the boys worked on making bridges and dams. The baby was so dirty, I took off his clothes and let him crawl around in the mud naked and happy as a clam, and I thought to myself, “Why don’t we do this every day?” I know the places we can go to let it happen, but we don’t go.

Sometimes families come to the camp and spend the weekend doing ropes courses and archery, living in yurts and eating in the mess hall. My friend overheard a father on the last day of his visit lamenting, “Now back to real life.” It sounded so inevitable, so defeated, and also, to my friend, for whom this IS real life, just plain wrong.

I was feeling sort of self-righteous about it, as she told me the story, since I was there, living real life in the cool spring alongside her, but come noon, we’d be going back to real life as well. Back to our habits and lethargies, me and my computer, a twitchy conversation with my husband, and my gosh, must we go back to the grocery again today?

My friend lives her life so disconnected from media and news, she has never heard of Glenn Beck or the Tea Party Movement. I felt a bit envious of the choices she had made, the liberty she was so busy exercising, she had no time to consider losing.

And I wondered why it is that real life, for most people, is so disconnected from things like creek beds and Sycamore trees. Why do we prefer the expensive education of taking kids to the Children’s Museum, waiting in line to dip our fingers into a chlorinated plastic indoor faux-river? And what’s a river doing in a museum anyway, as though it’s some foreign extinct object like a dinosaur?

I detect in myself a bit of fear regarding the pursuit of reality. We are afraid of muddy creek beds, demon undercurrents, and tiny bacteria that might migrate from hands to our children’s mouths; afraid of sweaty armpits and bug bites, and dirty handprints on our new jeans; afraid of liberty, freedom from the technological monkeys on our backs, pundits and fanatics, and edging the driveway. Maybe we’re afraid that if we’re hidden in the woods with our children, no one would be there to see us being good parents and concerned citizens, so we choose instead, a real life that’s full of falsehood.

13 comments:

wifemotherexpletive said...

oooohhh... boy that is a ripe and juicy post.... so timely for us here as we consider moving from our urban local because it just isn't fair that our kids have to ride on sidewalks, in sight, all the time. . . oooh.

Bill White said...

Thanks for this. Somehow, nearly everything I read nowadays reminds me of this quote from Guy Davenport: "Because I have no rational revolution to offer you, I suggest, for the fun of it, that you try the Erewhonian. Take back your body from its possession by the automobile; take back your imagination from the TV set; take back your wealth from Congress's bottomless pit and maniac spending; take back your skills as homemakers from the manufacturers; take back your minds from the arguments from necessity and the merchants of fear and prejudice. Take back peace from perpetual war. Take back your lives; they are yours." - http://summa.blogspot.com/2010/08/it-is-yours.html

Kimberlie said...

I get in Amish moods. I recently read a parenting book about how our frenetic, plugged-in, and consumerist culture was waging an undeclared war on childhood. I didn't really need this book to tell me what had already been eating at my insides - my children were being robbed of all of the childhood experiences they should be having. I had an idyllic childhood compared to my kids and in some moments I want to chuck it all, and live like the Amish. I wonder if we could start a Catholic Amish settlement somewhere?

What I really suspect though is that I am too fond of dishwashers, washing machines,(alright, too darn lazy too) and all our modern "conveniences" to do anything like your friend has done. So sad for my kids...

karyn said...

I like Kimberlie's Catholic Amish settlement. I'm in! We live in a very rural area and I love that my kids have chickens and most neighbors are bee keepers and we regularly play in the rivers and creeks. But I have found that it's really hard to keep to this way of living - somehow technology and planned activities and such start creeping in and I have to periodically weed them back out.

Sarah Miller said...

You were just looking for an excuse to say (type)YURT weren't you?

BettyDuffy said...

yurt yurt YURT!!!

BettyDuffy said...

Bill, I love that quote.

This Amish (Catholic) community idea has come up with friends and aquaintances so many times. It makes the point, I think, that while technology can help form communities and get us through a lonely afternoon, it doesn't meet the essential need for a living breathing community as a way of life, which has, over the past fifty years, absented itself from our culture. I wonder who is going to do it--If the Dominos Pizza guy has enough left in his pockets after founding Ave Maria college, to create an enclave for those who want to rough it.

Peter and Nancy said...

Ummm . . . what's a yurt?

This is why I love camping -- no phones, no TV, no computer, all outdoors, all dirty for at least 48 hours. It's not Amish, but it's really helpful for keeping kids childlike.

My sons are only 8 and 10, and we've already had friends ask "What is there to DO here?" because we don't have any videogame systems. My boys are super-imaginative and still do lots of imaginary play (which may result in a few beatings at school shortly!).

I do feel pressured sometimes to get them enrolled in soccer or something . . . but it kind of takes over the whole family's life, running to games & practices, so we never have. Instead, we play tennis together on the weekend, or swim. We will never by Olympic athletes, but oh well!
Nancy

Jamie said...

I live near a large Amish community, and one day I couldn't hold in my jealousy any longer and I said to my husband, "I wish I could be Amish and still be Catholic!". He looked at me and said, "...so you want to be a nun, then?" :) I have a funny husband.

Anonymous said...

I just discovered this website:

http://www.quietamerican.org/vacation.html

Put on a pair of headphones and go camping!

Jordana said...

Although I get in Amish moods from time to time, I love modern appliances and plumbing far too much. I love visiting friends who live on farms and off in the country, but I also feel a bit of relief when I get back to my real life in the city with cars driving past, hospitals close by and wifi at my fingertips.

We have some close friends who did the Catholic Amish lifestyle for a while -- living in a community of both Catholics and non-Catholics looking for that freedom from technology. They are still pretty crunchy, but that life was not for them long-term. However our friend did write a book loosely based on that experience.

lissla lissar said...

We have a running joke with a close friend of ours that we're going to drop out and start an Iron Age village. He's a blacksmith. I can spin and weave and sew. My husband can lug heavy things and learn to build stuff and teach the kids martial arts.

Since the toddler is dependent on advanced-technology medicine it kind of buts a damper on the whole thing, but I probably couldn't live without a washer/dryer anyway...

Candra Georgi said...

a friend told me about this post, i'm now following. thanks for sharing!

Candra
mom of three toddler boys...trying to teach them to be "amish in the city"

http://curiousgeorgi.blogspot.com/