Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Employing A Mother's Prerogative

Employing A Mother’s Prerogative

In the home school:

Do some of what you have to do
With some of what you like to do

The Lady-of-the-house has listened to mothers confess sadly that their home school amounts to little more than dull routine. After determining where the trouble lies, she came up with the above motto.

We are aware of the required subjects. But, do we stop to consider what we want our children to know? Is there anything we’d like to teach?

How lovely is the freedom to use all kinds of odd and interesting books and experiences in the goal of knowledge. This is why the Lady-of-the-house has shelves full of a hodge-podge of books and her spring-cleaning mainly consists of a war on dust. Books collect dust. Books create dust. With a dust-cloth in one hand she took a book off the shelf. “It’s been ages since I’ve read a poem by Emily Dickinson,” she thought. One of the poems she had committed to memory – something she probably wouldn’t have thought to do outside of home educating. Inside the 1893 edition of Poems – Emily Dickinson she discovered something delightfully mysterious. A handwritten letter tucked between the pages for more than 100 years. It reads:

Dear Miss Van Pelt,
Why do you never write to me?
Yours sincerely,
Herbert Ingalls

The book was once in the possession of the grandfather of the Man-of-the-house because his name is penned inside it. The Lady-of-the-house mentioned this to her mother-in-law who said, “I remember that book. It was the 1940s. I was twelve years old. My mother and father and I were with a realtor looking at a big Victorian house for sale in New Jersey. In the basement was a small pile of abandoned books. My father, who had a love of old houses and all things antique, picked up a book with gold-edged pages, blew the dust off the cover and looked at it closely. The realtor told him to take it and that the house had once been a girls’ school.”

  “How intriguing! And what did Grandma and Grandpa think of the big house?” asked the Lady-of-the-house. 
  “My mother was put off by the tall ceilings and enormous windows. She imagined herself doing half her housework lugging around a ladder.” 
 “Yes, quite wise. Dust, certainly, must be considered in the bargain,” the Lady-of-the-house affirmed. 

Gazing at the letter in her hand her mind wandered. How long did Miss Van Pelt save Mr. Ingalls’ letter? Did she reply? What was taught in that 19th century girls’ school? Were the poems leisure reading or mandatory school curriculum? Why was the book and letter left behind?The answers are not knowable but the poems in the book are.

Because her daughter made an entry of a verse by Emily Dickenson in her Nature Notebook when quite young, the idea to incorporate the same entry into the story of Pocketful of Pinecones surfaced on page 116. Sharing the poems of Emily Dickinson all those years ago were, for the Lady-of-the-house, a “like-to.” By sharing a “like-to” with her children a mother takes on a shade of satisfaction in home education not otherwise enjoyed.

A Brighter Garden, illustrated by Tasha Tudor, supplies a sampling of choice poems by Emily Dickinson. Picture books of this sort have always made a strong appeal to the Lady-of-the-house. Another title is Poetry for Young People - Emily Dickinson by Frances Schoonmaker Bolin.

That is why she also owns one titled, Emily. Its pictures are by another of her favorite illustrators, Barbara Cooney. The author, Michael Bedard introduces us to the reclusive Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) through the eyes of a little girl who lives across the street. While her mother goes to play the piano at the “yellow house” the little girl goes too. When no one is looking she tiptoes up the stairs and meets the gentle Miss Dickinson. The theme of the story seems to be one of friendship.

Picture books can be enriching resources that give any subject introduction. They also create a pleasant learning atmosphere. Mom’s study “like-to” entailed only a week of short after-lunch readings. She wonders. Will her children one-day share the same poems with their children? Whatever the case, she hopes that they will use their prerogative and:

Do some of what they have to do
With some of what they like to do  

Click book title if you are interested in Emily by Michael Bedard sold at Rainbow Resource Center. 

First Lines of Emily Dickinson’s poems on Mom’s Like-to List:
(Among her other poems are some Mom doesn’t understand.)

A bird came down the walk
Dear March – Come in –
Eden is that old-fashioned House
Hope is the thing with feathers
I’m Nobody? Who are you?
I never saw a moor (committed to memory)
The bee is not afraid of me
The morns are meeker than they were
To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee

 Post Script

The Lady-of-the-house wears the pink-as-can-be Laura-Ashley floral for the Man-of-the-house who purchased the dress for her on e-bay. She hasn’t the courage to be seen in such a flamboyant thing outside the house. Emily Dickinson would say that’s okay and would approve of the existence of a private home life.

Karen Andreola


  1. Don't you love finding old letters in old books! Old letters always set my mind to wadering and imagining.

    Have you ever read Joan Bodger's How The Heather Looks? I received it as a birthday gift from my husband and children several years ago. Your list of Miss Dickinson's poems made me think of it. The book chronicles the family's holiday in England as they looked for the England of children's English literature.


  2. Yes Susan,
    I do love finding letters and sundry scraps in old books. Joan Bodger's book sounds worth looking into.
    I'll place the poem you are referencing here for our readers:

    I Never saw a moor,
    I never saw the sea;
    Yet I know how the heather looks,
    And what a wave must be.

    I Never spoke with God,
    Nor visited in heaven;
    Yet certain am I of the spot
    As if a chart were given.

    It reminds me of Hebrews 11:1
    "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for,
    the evidence of things not seen."

    Oh, I see I need to add "Hope" to the list on the post.

    "Hope is the thing with feathers
    That perches in the soul,
    And sings the tune without the words,
    And never stops at all. - Etc.

    Karen A.

  3. Hey Karen,As always I enjoyed my little trip back in time.I am waiting for another book.I have to keep rereading the ones you wrote. I love your dresses, you look so lovely. Our bookstores were destoyed in Katrina,so it's hard to find old books. I'll write soon,Sharon

  4. Karen,

    My Emily is reading a selection of Emily Dickinson for her English this year.

    I have always liked "I Never Saw A Moor".

    I miss you and our encouraging visits. We will need to get together soon.

  5. Karen you make such important point. You must find a way to enjoy in learning/teaching. Not that you will enjoy all of it but there has to be joy there. I have seen in my years of HSing, the same thing so many times. People take on too much, too fast, bend their children to curriculum, complain their children are not on board, burn out and stop HSing. If you are going to take this journey long term, you have to find the joy, make the joy!!! Clarice

  6. Do some of what you have to do
    With some of what you want to do

    I love those words. So very true. Perhaps this is why I have always found it impossible to "stay with a curriculum". There are so many things I want my children to learn. Homeschooling gives that freedom.

  7. How lovely to find an old book with an old letter in it. As Anne of Green Gables would say, that gives scope for the imagination.

  8. Emily Dickinson's "Have You Got a Brook?" tugged at my heart a few years ago. It questions where we get our "little draught of life" from each day. Her thoughts connected to Jeremiah's words, "For my people have committed two sins; they have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns, that cannot hold water." Which made me wonder, "Do I drink from where I ought--from whence do I take my daily draught?"
    (I've never posted to a blog before, so I'm not sure if I can make those references or include those quotes...but I did want to share.)

  9. Dear Kristy,
    I am honored to have you post your first comment here. Thank you for referencing "Have you got a brook in your little heart?" I found the poem this morning in my old book and read it thrice. It is pertinent to Mother Culture isn't it? We mothers need to drink for our souls.
    Your comment reminds me of an incident in "The Chronicles of Narnia" when Aslan tells Susan, "If you are thirsty come and drink." She is very thirsty. It seems that C. S. Lewis is making an allegorical reference to the living water of Christ our Lord, don't you think?

    My thanks to all my friends for sharing your thoughts here.

    Rose petals, dried and brown, are also tucked between the pages of my old book. This lends "scope for the imagination," too. Miss Van Pelt's signature in the book shows her fist name to be Mariana. Unusual and pretty don't you think?
    Karen A.

  10. Lovely post
    Thanks for sharing it.

    You can visit me at

  11. I love the motto. So often I forget to do what I love to and just end up hyper-focusing on what I feel like I have to do and then there is no joy! Thank you for the encouragement to do what we like to do too.

    I just ordered "Emily" from the library and I'm looking forward to sharing it with the children.

  12. Thank you Miss Karen for you sweet inspiration! I now have a desire to do some studying on the lovely poet myself. Your blog is charming and warm and I am encouraged every time I look at it.
    (Home school mommy of 2 with one on the way)

  13. I am an avid reader, and my boys have been blessed with the love of books.

    Finding a bit of the past among the pages is such a gift. In reality, it is almost as having it placed it there just for us :)

    By the way Karen, I so enjoy your dress. I have a pattern just like this, that I wanted to sew. Now that I have seen you in it, I will make it for Spring! And enjoy the beautiful colors...they look beautiful on you :)

    Mrs. M.

  14. Oh Karen, I misread your list of first lines! I didn't see the title above and thought I was reading a poem! I tried reading it aloud. It made no sense, then I saw what I'd missed! Funny!
    Laura Lane