The lens matters
Caitrin has told me for years that she doesn’t like history. Her sister before her didn’t like it either. And naturally, I was a history major, totally happy to overdose on historical fiction. They, however, were not.
We tried the Story of the World books and the Brown Paper School ones. Caitrin was compliant, just not engaged. What really interested her, however, has been everything related to being female: fashion to abortion, women’s rights to make-up. Her appetite for these topics drove her out of the juvenile book section and smack into adult reading. Last week she found a book that completely captured her imagination: Women’s Letters (edited by Lisa Grunwald and Stephen J. Adler). This volume is enormous: nearly 800 pages of letters. They span our entire history from the Revolutionary War to nearly the present (Iraq War 2005). They are written to husbands, sons, daughters, sisters. Each letter has some kind of note to contextualize the circumstances or to explain idiomatic expressions current to that era.
Caitrin is enthralled. Suddenly her ability to retain information related to our country’s founding is effortless. The connections support the information. She’s able to retain the facts because they are related to something she cares about.
Last night as we were driving to deliver cookies to her customers (she has a cookie business, taken over from her older brother), she mentioned in the car, “I’d like to keep writing over the summer along with math. I’m realizing that I want to keep my routine going and to prepare for the day when I go to school.” I said I thought that was a brilliant plan. So we brainstormed some writing ideas and quickly found ourselves talking about letter writing. Could she write letters that reflect various eras? She liked that idea and then went on to discuss how our era has letter writing, but it’s electronic. She wondered how these letters would be preserved. She mused about the way letter writing had changed (was more informal, not so literate and beautiful to read; yet still so entertaining and compelling). We looked at what kind of women could have written letters in the 1700’s (highly educated, women of means) versus today (where nearly every girl in America can read and write and type).
It was a rich, interesting, interest-generated conversation. Her resistance to history had crumbled. As we pulled into the driveway, she said, “It’s so funny. I thought I didn’t like history. But I really do.”
All I could think was, she hadn’t had the right lens for viewing it.
I’m glad that she was our fifth child. It made it easier to trust the process and to “get out of the way.”