Saturday, January 17, 2015

Her Freshest Brightest Hours by Karen Andreola

Her Freshest, Brightest Hours

Painting by Carlton Alfred Smith 1853-1946
It's freezing. But my hands are warm. They normally wouldn't be in January, in the chilly attic here where I type. I slip them into fingerless mitts before I write.

Knowing what our Januaries are like I finished the mitts back in autumn.

I knit them in a yarn that is baby-soft. It's a luxurious yarn from blog friend, Mary Lou, who raises the fluffiest angora rabbits for Angora Gardens. Angora yarn is my top choice for itch-less mitts.

And since I've made a minute for knitting, here's the beret I made.

An Unconventional Mother
I like the young mother knitting in the above painting. And I like the following painting, "A Willing Helper" by Mihaly Munkacsy (1844-1909).

You can understand why the scene would be so appealing to me this time of year. The figures look warm. What a beautiful conservatory filled with flowers. Sunshine is streaming through the window glass bringing a brightness to the room that matches the brightness of the mother's face.

She looks content and bright in her femininity, too. Her gown, with its cascades of soft ruffles, appears to be un-corseted - unconventional for the 19th century. Her decision to dress comfortably (at home at least) was the daring that preceded Edwardian fashion.

Pausing in her needlework she keeps (with casually acquired skill) one eye on her embroidery and one eye on her daughter. This little girl carries a watering can satisfyingly heavy enough to give her a feeling of really helping. You can see it in her smile.

Something else is unconventional here. Mother and daughter are together. You would think a well-to-do family in a house large enough for a conservatory, would have a nanny. Most did. Perhaps the nanny is keeping an eye on a baby somewhere in the big house. But I'm day-dreaming.

Such day-dreaming comes from contemplating Charlotte Mason's book, Home Education, page 18, under the heading;

"Children should have the best of their mothers."

The words in this post's title I took from the following paragraph. Miss Mason writes,

". . . however-much we may delight in them, we grown-up people have far too low an opinion of children. If the mother did not undervalue her child, would she leave him to the society of an ignorant [nanny] during the early years when his whole nature is, like the photographer's sensitive plate, receiving . . . indelible impressions? . . . Very likely it would not answer for educated people to always have their children about them. The constant society of his parents might be too stimulating for the child; and frequent change of thought and society of other people, make the mother all the fresher for her children. But they should have the best of their mother, her freshest, brightest hours; while at the same time she is careful to choose her [nanny] carefully, and keep a vigilant eye upon all that goes on in the nursery." 

Miss Mason speaks from experience. Further along the page we find she has the inside scoop on nannies. She knows what happens to children left for long hours with an ignorant nanny, one who resorts to trickery to get a child to behave. These frail child-training-devises encourage children to take on a code of trickery themselves to get what they want.

My mother-in-law Esther and her little sister Johanna - 1941
More of a mother's participation than was conventional, and of that, her freshest, brightest hours, is the plea. The majority of Miss Mason's readers relied heavily upon nannies. She knew she couldn't overthrow convention. She could only hope that nannies would be relied upon less - and be overseen more closely. In the houses of "educated people" - during the earliest years of Miss Mason's writing (1880s) - it was customary for young children to be confined to the nursery. Such was the childhood of Beatrix Potter. Children were accompanied by their nanny everywhere - at meals, when walking through the park, etc.

Johanna - 1941

While upholding the supreme value of mothering Miss Mason admits that mother and child need a refreshing change of scenery, too. At intervals a child should turn his attention onto his play (outdoors is ideal) for instance, while the mother turns her attention (one eye) on her own occupations. A child indoors under constant commanding of his mother would make them both peevish. What's to be done?

A Bubble of Privacy
Some wise letting alone is the answer. As a young mother I left my children to rely upon their imagination and to exercise their budding ingenuity. I left them to occupy themselves.

Like thousands of unconventional mothers - my fellow home teachers - each morning I gave my freshest, brightest hours to my children in our time-table of lessons. At lunchtime I initiated conversation with cheerful smiles and a sense of humor (the ideal). But for a space of time in the afternoon we all needed a change of pace and a change of scenery. Therefore we lived in our own bubbles. Through a thin layer of privacy we could see and hear one another. We were together but attending to our separate occupations inside our bubbles.

Esther (on right) and friends - 1940
I remember hearing my girls giggling, my son's wooden blocks tumbling to the floor, the dragging of stuff out the back door, etc. while I was preparing a meal in the kitchen, writing a letter at my desk, tidying an overstuffed closet, or mending a torn seam in an easy chair overlooking the back garden - where the stuff was being arranged. And sometimes . . . I would refresh myself with a little Mother Culture. Perhaps I would retreat into the society of book friends.

Safe neighborhood play - what I (and past generations of Americans) experienced when young - did not exist for my children. But they had each other.

Children Need Feeding
Imagination and budding ingenuity stirs in the mind of a child only with proper feeding. His schoolbooks must be the source of much wholesome raw material. Charlotte Mason watched what happens when students are given "living books" as their twaddle-free daily diet. She says:

"Let a child have the meat he requires in his history readings, and in the literature that naturally gathers round his history, and imagination will bestir itself without any help of ours, the child will live out in detail a thousand scenes of which he only gets the merest hint." Home Ed pg 294 & 295

Our Nanny
During a week of rainy days, or when one (or all) had a cold, or we were becoming moody with cabin-fever, I called upon the help of a nanny.  Out came our box of audio cassettes. They were our nanny. Often, the children drew pictures at the dinning room table while they listened.

My children in Oregon - 1992
Post Script

Blog friend, Kristyn enjoyed sitting down to a little Mother Culture. She finished her Lavender Strawberry Sachets. Rather than simply tying them with the satin ribbon in the kit, she embellished two with teeny yoyos made from fabric scraps. Aren't they darling? Little buttons secure the yoyos. She told me that she has lots of little-girl-style buttons but her girls have outgrown the need for them.

We'd like to see your Strawberry Sachets. If you like, send me a photograph when you've finished filling them with lavender flowers.

Keep up your Mother Culture,
Karen Andreola


  1. Just what I needed after almost a week in the sick room, a little " Mother Culture " . I am always refreshed after visiting here ♡ Blessings

  2. Nice mitts and hat! Wonderful post, Karen. "Nannies" seem to be the "thing" now ~ they are making a come back. Sad too. Our afternoons were spent outside ~ creating and exploring. My grandson was here recently and wanted to go down by the creek in the pasture next to our house to see what that "wood thing" was. I told him it was the remains of a fort that his dad and aunts and uncles built when they were his age. He now has great plans of "fixing it up". The cows and weather did a little damage over the years. Music CD's of composers were our "nanny" while supper was being prepared or the weather kept us inside. Nature journals were worked on too.

  3. I always feel a little thrill of excitement when I see a notification for a new post from your beautiful blog! Your words are almost other-worldly and always leave me feeling encouraged. Thank you!

  4. How nice to see my sachets. :)
    I have always needed a bit of "escape" after the formal morning hours. 15 years ago when I was first figuring out the hows of homeschooling (while chasing two toddler girls) so much of what I read implied that a mom who took any time for herself was selfish. I remember that the very first chapter I read in your Companion was near the back of the book---"Mother Culture." I probably breathed a big sigh of relief... I would not scar my children for life if I decided to sit alone for 20 minutes to read or take a bubble bath or even just do a chore alone! (It wasn't as if I wanted to go on a three-week cruise). It is a "wise letting alone" because it was good for all of us. My boys don't want me overseeing their lego creations or drawings after all. We all need that bit of solitude. God bless you!

  5. P.S. At first glance I thought your mother-in-law was Sophia! Do you see that resemblance too?

  6. I agree with Miss Mason, no surprise there!

    It is so important to be involved with your children, but not constantly with them but able to 'oversee' them. It's good for Mama to get some time to do her work, and the things that enrich her soul so that she continues to be able to give, to her children, laughter and beauty and things that spark their interests.

    I love your gloves as well!


  7. Beautiful post! Your knitted mitts and hat are lovely! This time of year it is such a delight to work with soft yarns. It is so important for children to spend time creating and imagining. I am so very grateful for my mother and how she spent time teaching us to be creative.


  8. I appreciate Krystin's comment about the difference between a 20 minute moment and a three-week cruise!


  9. Your gloves and beret are so cute! You did an excellent job.

    I had a nanny that I cherish to this day. She could read and write, but like you, encouraged being outside and using my imagination. Unlike my grandmother, we never watched soap operas, but did like The Price is Right. :)

  10. I appreciate your personal comments Ladies, and am happy to encourage you in some way.
    My mitts are being worn as I write today, thank you.
    Sophia does look a little like her grandmother.
    I'm smiling because Esther's mother (Dean's grandmother) had a favorite television show: The Price is Right.
    Nannies are more educated in the task of child training these days so I've heard.
    Musical recordings were also in a cassette box. They educated me, too.
    So nice to have you stopping by my place in the blog neighborhood. -Karen A.

  11. Hello Karen,
    It has been a while since I have left a comment.I was reminded of Jo in Little Women when I read about you writing in the chilly attic! I too love fingerless mitts as my hands stay cold during the winter months. I enjoy reading your posts...
    Blessings to you!

  12. Dear Karen,

    Thank you for this post! My 3 year old is learning how to have a quiet time while baby is sleeping! Actually he is a toddler and no longer a baby! Unfortunately it seems that during many children's down times, they now have electronic 'nannies' - smart phones, television, tablets, etc. Lets continue to encourage each other and fellow mothers to give our children our best and fresh - they grow up so fast!

    Mrs. Lind

  13. A lovely post as always Karen! We have been using audio books as a lovely diversion this rainy and dreary winter. I have definitely learned the wisdom of giving my first and brightest hours of the day to our book learning. :-)

    Your hat and mitts are lovely! I have made 5 hats and 3 pairs of mitts this winter. :-) Mainly all Christmas gifts. :-) What patterns did you use?

    Stay warm!