Believing It All: Lessons I Learned from My Children

Believing It All: Lessons I Learned from My Children

Paperback(First Edition)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316693462
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 04/11/2002
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.58(d)

Read an Excerpt

PEDAL STEEL

There's a country station on. The sound is low. Except for an occasional my heart breaks ...or still miss her... the soft drone of a pedal steel is all that comes through. I like the sound of it to distract from the clicking of my fingers against these keys. I'm in a small, renovated room of an old barn. A fan sits in the far corner, blowing air over a heater to keep the warmth from crowding against the ceiling. It's the last weekend of February -- one of the warmest on record -- and it seems the leaves coaxed from their buds by this false spring might have to fight to make it to September.

I live with my family in an old farmhouse in a place called Cherry Valley. Just before seven each morning, my wife, Susan, drives off to spend the day with other people's children. She's a fifth-grade teacher. While she's gone, I spend the long, quiet days with our two sons. In the evening, I walk up to this barn and write down the things they've taught me.

My oldest is three. My youngest is nearly one. It's not their intention to teach me. It's my intention to learn from them.

The classroom is a simple twelve acres. It's wooded, mostly—stands of cedar freckled with an occasional struggling maple and then giving way to a towering forest of old-growth poplar. Like a collapsing moss-covered spine down the middle of the property, a wide stone wall curves and dips back and over a stream that ranges from brook to creek to small river depending on the weather and the season. There's deer, raccoon, ambling groups of turkey, grouse that flush like Chinese rockets, an occasional bear, blankets of violets and hairy vines of poison ivy, luna moths and bees the size of crab apples. The wide-open parcels of adjacent lands haven't yet fallen prey to what's been heralded in most parts of the country as progress. Remnant logging roads lead straight back into a cradle of the Kittatinny Mountains, where they fade, disappear, and come magically back until they meet on a high ridge with the Appalachian Trail.

The ridge is visible from the bedroom windows of our weathered clapboard house. Built up from its stone foundation at the turn of the last century, a chiseled rock fireplace added in the fifties, the wraparound porch ripped off in the mid-seventies, a covered slate patio added in the late eighties, the structure still maintains the feel its builders must have intended those many years ago -- not merely that of a house but of a home. Of all the rooms, the kitchen is the largest.

The setting here is very much like that of my childhood. I was raised in the country. I was a country kid like any other, with a pressed-wood dresser full of hand-me-down marc parent shirts in all the colors of your better bass lures, a belly half-full of green apples and river water, bangs too long, socks pulled high under long pants on the hottest day of summer, and the only thing better than lighting a match off the fly of your jeans was spending the whole afternoon and a whole box trying to make it look natural. I was a spear whittler, pellet shooter, bridge jumper, smoke bomber, farmhouse-dog-at-the-road fighter like they all are. Friends on mini-bikes with dirt on their cheeks and pockets full of ball bearings to lay on the tracks -- Got your steelies? we'd shout back and forth, cupping our crotches, falling over with laughter. Hey, man, you gonna put your balls on the tracks? -- hooting like sailors until the train smashed them into thin steel disks that would warm our pockets on the way home.

Even as a boy, I hoped that the setting of my childhood might still exist someday for my own children. That there would be enough worms in the ground for them to make a decent stew to go with the mud pie. I hoped the stars would burn as bright and the rivers run as furiously in the spring, that there would still be hatchets for sale at department stores and enough young saplings so you could cut down a few just to yell, Tim-ber.

I hoped for a setting that would broaden their minds like a good classroom. A welcoming and forgiving place. A place where they could let down their guard and make mistakes on the way to getting things right. One overflowing with props to engage the senses and provoke the mind—a dizzying flow of dying things and things being born, some falling down and others springing up, some killed, some mended. A place that challenged without intimidating. Comforted without pacifying. A place with ice cream in the freezer. Crayon marks on the walls. An occasional fresh loaf of bread on the counter. Sharp kitchen knives. Firewood that started easily. And at least one carpeted room with a space cleared for wrestling.

This is that kind of place.

The moment my first son was born, I looked close into his puckered face and caught in his eyes a glimpse of infinity. It was still fresh. Looking in, I had the feeling I was standing at the edge of something huge -- a mystery as vast and subtle as anything in Nature. I followed him into the nursery, where he was joined by twelve other newborns whose eyes held the same power. They were mostly quiet, their limbs arcing randomly in the air. With eyes too new to look out, they were still looking in and drawing me with them, dwarfing my lifetime of experience in the awesome force of their inward gaze. No teaching could ever approach the sensible wisdom contained in those dark orbs, before the formation of irises, when the color of all eyes is only darkness -- an absence of everything but the essential and real. It was impossible to imagine that the doctors, the nurses, the strangers in the elevator, the people in their cars going to parties, going to movies, going to therapy, going to church— that we all might have once come into the world with eyes that held such unencumbered truth. And that over the years we could have lost so much of it.

One of the first things I came to believe after my first son's arrival was that my life up to that point had been a long period of forgetting. With his birth came an invitation to remember. This new spirit, not yet limited by language or shaped by experience, still connected to the womb's darkness, was a bridge into the essence of patience and waiting and longing to be. In his simple reflexes were all the deepest territories from rage to love -- the widest spectrum of sensibility, an ageless, universal wisdom that we all sprang from, one that gets covered over with the putting on of years, so much so that by the time we've reached adulthood, it's not what we've learned that makes us who we are, it's what we've forgotten. Moving to the rhythm of a child is a dance of remembrance, tracing us back to the wholeness we once held as a reflex.

What if there are actually answers to some of the biggest questions in life? I used to think about the kind of person who might be able to give me those answers someone much older, someone wiser, with smoky eyes and a gravelly voice. I used to imagine the person emerging on the horizon just when I had given up on ever finding the true path and then suddenly walking up and handing me everything -- stunning insights into the deepest regions of love, rage, kindness, cruelty, forgiveness, gratitude, living, dying, holding on, and, finally, letting go. I never thought that I might know the ones who could unlock these mysteries. That I might already be living with them. I might be wiping their noses and begging them to keep the bathwater in the tub. I never thought that I might lean in to hear the answers only to discover that they are revealed without the utterance of a single word revealed without warning given only once, and usually hidden beneath the roar of everyday living. I never thought I would have to crouch down for the lessons. I never thought the greatest teacher I could ever hope to discover was a child.

The truth is, I haven't come up with any of this. I've only written down the things my children have shown me. The words are mine. The wisdom is theirs. A child only knows the things that are true. Words can lie but children never do.

The lessons began immediately.

Table of Contents

Pedal Steel1
The Squirrel7
The Old Man, Part One15
The Game19
The Gift23
The Special Treat45
The Old Man, Part Two53
God and Angels61
The Kiss83
The Rink93
The Rabbit115
The Old Man, Part Three133
The Crib157
The Somersault171
The Trout183
The Weed201
The Brightest Moon235
Acknowledgments241

What People are Saying About This

David Granger

Until a man becomes a father, he doesn't realize how little he understands about his world. Through his children, the bits of information he has picked up throughout his life become knowledge. Marc Parent is the rare American man who got to raise his own children. What makes him even rarer is the insight and the elegant simplicity of his writing, which allows him to express with clarity and beauty the truths he learned while guiding his sons from the cradle to the first day of school. Believing It All is both one man's journey through an incredible time and a unique view of life in America at the dawn of the 21st century.
—(David Granger, editor-in-chief, Esquire magazine)

Rosie O'Donnell

Rainy morning runs, toddlers in tow—sneaking peanut chews into ICU—trusting the wisdom of strangers—the trouble with dead squirrels. With non preachy wisdom, honest insight, and uncommon grace, Marc Parent celebrates the wonder of children, the gift of parenting, the harmony in humanity. I love this book.

Jonathan Kozol

It's spare, poetic, austerely understated, like Agee's masterpiece, and strikes one at the start as slightly enigmatic and then flows into something truly beautiful.
— (Jonathan Kozol, author of Amazing Grace and Ordinary Resurrections)

Alex Kotlowitz

If you have any plans of becoming a parent, pack a copy of Believing It All. Marc Parent's tales of fatherhood read like a series of prose poems: gentle, contemplative, from-the-heart-honest reflections on the slippery journey of raising children.
— (Alex Kotlowitz, author of The Other Side of the River)

John Burnham Schwartz

Patience, empathy, and a natural gift for compassionate observation are evidently what make Marc Parent such a wonderful father; in Believing It All he shows us that these are the gifts of a wonderful storyteller, too.
— (John Burnham Schwartz, author of Bicycle Days and Reservation Road)

Melissa Fay Greene

If you think this ground has been covered before, you're wrong: it hasn't. Not by Owen, Casey, and Marc Parent; and not like this. The eponymous Parent has written an exquisitely gentle and insightful book, alternately melancholy and hilarious. I'm going to compare him to A. A. Milne. This book is indispensable reading for every adult who has ever loved a child.

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