Last week I re-read Remnant Population by Elizabeth Moon. It is a book I’ve loved for years. This was the first book that taught me being old could be interesting and wonderful in some ways. The book examines the ways that the elderly are de-valued and why they should not be. It also has fascinating things to say about the responsibility to nurture regardless of race, creed, or species. Nurturing is what I do. I spend three quarters of my energy on tasks which are for the benefit of those residing inside my home. I work at house cleaning, earning money, managing homework, being a chauffeur, and dozens of other things, all in an effort to create a space in which growth is maximized. In the parlance of Remnant Population, I do my best to be a Nest Guardian for my family and friends. The role of Nest Guardian is separate from the role of Mother. The Mother feeds and tends the bodies. The Nest Guardian is post-mother, a grandmother or aunt whose responsibility is to feed and tend the minds. Children have one Mother, but many Nest Guardians. I first read this book when I was in the midst of the diaper and toddler stage of parenting. I think it seeped into my consciousness and helped me to see that feeding one end and cleaning up the other was not the point.
This week brought me an article in our church magazine which spoke of being Guardians of the Hearth. The phrase immediately brought Remnant Population to mind, particularly since I’d just finished my re-read. I like the idea of a hearth as a central gathering place of heat and light. People gather round the hearth and a closeness is created out of the shared experience of gathering. My home is a hearth. I try to make it a place where people can be safe, laugh, eat, and learn. Howard shares the hearth keeping responsibilities with me. Now that the kids are older they are also participating in tending the hearth. Thus our home becomes a mutual creation.
When I was a senior in high school I went on a week-long trip to Washington D.C. It was very different from my home in California. I tromped with a group of peers through the capitol building, saw the Vietnam Memorial, looked up into the giant stone face of Lincoln, spoke with demonstrators outside the white house, participated in debates, and wandered through the Museum of Art. The week was transformative for me. I came home with my horizons broadened and everything was new. I promised myself I would go back one day. I went to college, got married, and had kids. I wanted to take my kids to Washington D.C. I wanted to show them all the things I had seen, tell them what I had learned.
When the possibility was raised that I might go to the Nebula Weekend with my sister, one of the deciding factors was that it takes place in Arlington, Virginia right outside Washington D.C. In fact the Nebula programming includes options to tour the Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. I’m going back to Washington D.C. Not for as long, nor as thoroughly, but still I am going. Without my kids. I had to think about that. I’d always meant to take them. But the truth is that they will have their own transformative experiences. I can’t give them mine. Even if I hauled them to every location where I went as a teen, I can’t guarantee they’ll gain what I gained. Part of my transformation was being nearly-adult, out on my own, away from my parents. I pondered this and realized that my intention to take my kids to Washington D.C. was a smoke screen. The core truth is that I want to go back. I want to see those things again, to see what else those places have to teach me. The only way I could justify it in my mind was to make the trip be for the education of the children.
A hearth exists not just for the children. Adults are not beyond the need for nurturing. We are all of us growing and becoming. Or we should be. If I want to be a good Nest Guardian, a good Guardian of the Hearth, I have to nurture my own growth as well as the growth of those around me. Taking a trip so that I can learn and grow is just as valid as taking a trip for the purpose of teaching the children. Fascinating that I did not see it before. I have my tickets and I’ll fly in May.