Nowhere in the miasma of contemporary parenting lit have I ever read my dad’s adage from when I was a child: Adversity builds character. Enough, my siblings and I used to moan; we have enough character. In the same vein, in his poetry collection Galvanized, Leland Kinsey writes about growing up on a farm in northern Vermont. While his own boy had a gentler and easier childhood, his son lacked knowing his labor was essential to the family.
Entirely unintentionally, I gave my older daughter that same sense of urgency. Pressed up against the relentlessness of agriculture, this child was in the sugarhouse from infancy, when her rosy baby cheeks shined up with a sugary patina from sap condensation.
Does anyone, ever, have enough character? Not persona, not a two-dimensional image, but a depth and richness of character? When I first became a mother, I knew I wanted my children to have what I called a rich inner life. Doubtlessly, literature and Mozart nourish that inner life, but working any variation of a farm does, too. I’m reminded of this as my daughter heads off to her first college course today, a photography class. At 17, she’s of the age now where she’s beginning to tell her own story, and while I often feel I have little enough to offer this girl as she enters her own womanhood, I’m quite sure at least a rich inner life is a deep well she’ll be able to drawn upon.
The whitewashed walls were smeared with blood
the day the bull rampaged inside the barn
after escaping from its pen.
My father gave my brother and me
each a stout stick to block exits
and hoped we didn’t have to use them….
From Leland Kinsey’s “Surviving Bulls”