Contradiction is a compelling idea to me. I am fascinated by the way people actually live their lives, by the way people act differently than they truly believe is the right and good way to act. There seems to be some essential truth there, some kernal of meaning in the constant presence of two seemingly opposite things. I have come to believe that I am supposed to pay attention to the clash, to sit with it, wrestle with it.
And the more I pay attention, the more I see these contradictions all around me. They certainly are not limited to parenting. They are found in politics, art, education, the justice system...everywhere.
I am reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, and enjoying it immensely. He is a wonderful writer. Having heard him speak, I recognize his voice on the page, and it is at once intelligent, warm, thoughtful, funny, and personable. I am a fledgling "slow foodie," and this book makes a compelling case for the need for a smarter way to raise, process, sell, purchase, and eat food than we currently have in this country. About half way through the book, at the close of chapter eleven, I had a strong emotional reaction to the following passage, describing one incredible grass farm in the Shenandoah Valley and its particular attention to the health of the land on which its animals are raised:
I'd always thought of the trees and grasses as antagonists-another zero-sum deal in which the gain of the one entails the loss of the other. To a point, this is true: More grass means less forest; more forest less grass. But either-or is a construction more deeply woven into our culture than into nature, where even antagonists depend on one another and the liveliest places are the edges, the in-betweens, or both-ands. So it is with the blade of grass and the adjacent forest as, indeed, with all species sharing this most complicated farm. Relations are what matter most, and the health of the cultivated turns on the health of the wild.
Here it is again: that state of contradiction that also produces the fullest, healthiest, most vibrant life. Relations are what matter most...even antagonists depend on one another...the liveliest places are the edges.
Pollan is describing a farm, but I see my family in this evocative description. The antagonists? Well, as I type, my husband is trying for the umpteenth time tonight to get my 9-year old to go to sleep. And as has happened to us both so many times before, he is trying to be firm, yet gentle, is getting exasperated and infuriated in the process, all while my son is being completely unreasonable (at 9! imagine that!) and argumentative and defiant and miserable and weepy and angry. It ain't pretty. But here it is: antagonists (two people who want opposite things) depending on each other to find their way through the messy parts because yes, the child needs to go to sleep, but relations are what matter most.
Pollan closes this chapter with a quote from farmer Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm, which I will adapt a little, as I did when I read it, and my mind held an image of this amazing farm at once with an image of my work-in-progress family: "One of the greatest assets of a family is the sheer ecstasy of life."
I love that the either-or construction is not borne out by nature, by grasses and forests and animals. It strengthens my conviction in the power of learning to live amidst contradiction, and to find the liveliest places to call home. And I find comfort in knowing that in my house, the cultivated and the wild are most definitely vying with and strengthening one another.