Archives for the month of: January, 2012

Here's the Angelika Kauffman painting in its entirety.

Four Children with a Basket of Fruit.

Isn’t it lovely?

Angelika (or “Angelica”) Kauffman lived from 1741 to 1807.

She was born in Switzerland and grew up in Austria.  Her father was a painter and taught her to paint. She was multi-talented, and had quite an illustrious career.  A real Renaissance child in her own right!

Okay, so this is, to me, anyway, amazing: I found the banner image you see on the blog yesterday evening. It had all the qualities I wanted — too many even to be able to explain here. I downloaded it and cropped it and posted it, all the while feeling. . .not right, you know. . .because that little angel-on-your-shoulder statement was posted to the right of the image: “Copyright restrictions may apply.” I knew it had to be dealt with. I told myself that the artist might well be someone who does contemporary old-master-style paintings, and he or she might be simply delighted to have his or her work cameoed (is that a verb?) on a blog and a book cover. Instant publicity, right?  Sales, right? But if we had to pay, we’d pay; I was just hoping it wouldn’t be too much. The image was perfect.

So today, when the publisher’s representative called me about some other details, I told her about finding the image, “borrowing it,” and the need for us to find out about rights.  (And, of course, the need for rights to be affordable.) She quickly said that if I would send her the link, she’d get right on it and see what she could learn.

Of course, have I ever been about to wait for someone else to do something like that? Noooooo. I  sent Amanda the link, but I also did some digging myself, and learned — glory be! — that the painting “Four Children and a Basket of Fruit” was painted by Angelika Kauffman around 1800.  It’s on a myriad of poster and oil painting reproduction sites because (yes, it’s true) it’s in the public domain!  The image is perfect for Raising the Renaissance Child — okay, to me it’s perfect — if you disagree, please let me know — and it’s mine to use forever, for anything.  What’s more, the details of Angelika Kauffman’s life will resonate with Renaissance Child fans.  More about that in the coming days.

Just one more way that I feel the guiding hand of Providence on me in this project.

I’ve dreamed about this book for many years.: first when my two children were small, and I saw them responding to a certain somewhat contrived environment that I intentionally created for them.  Later, as they went into their teen and high school years, I grieved that I could no longer write it, because I had failed in the attempt: they seemed to reject everything that I had so assiduously taught them, and raced into the arms of popular culture in all the most horrifying ways, to my way of thinking.

But then, as older parents with older children always reassure, they came back. Gradually, mostly in college, they concluded that our home and family had provided them with special, irreplaceable, cherished wisdom and values, and they even began to celebrate the odd petri dish in which they had grown into cognizant beings, able to make their own choices.

And they told me to write this book.

Maybe, ultimately, that’s why I decided to write Raising the Renaissance Child, after all: because my own children said it was a book that deserved shelf space, and that I was the right person to bring it into being.

Recently there’s been a bit of buzz about the Tiger Mom’s book.  I haven’t read it, and won’t until this is done and safely in the hands of the publisher – too fearful that the Tiger Mom’s voice or ideas will seep into mine.  I might agree with some of her techniques, many of her goals. But I recall that even the Tiger Mom admitted that her child-rearing method wasn’t altogether successful: that at least one of her children rebelled quite seriously, and it caused some relational problems.

Creating a Renaissance home caused no direct relational problems – but that’s not to say we didn’t have any.  The relational problems we had were either because I adopted too much of a zealot’s mentality, and lost my friendly nature as I saw my children temporarily pretend to reject our teachings, or because I myself didn’t live up to the Renaissance values that I espoused. In the ways that I caved personally to popular culture, they felt disappointed and betrayed.

Any endeavor like this, raising Renaissance children through the creation of a Renaissance home, can’t become an overly dogmatic practice.  One can’t be fanatical. One has to bend, and there must be joy in it.  It must be an idea – not an ideology.  I think ultimately, good child rearing is a conversation between loving parents and ever-more independent children.  Maybe that sounds namby-pamby, loosy-goosy, and frighteningly undisciplined.  But in these times, children have too many opportunities to create a secret life about which parents know nothing – the conversation is our attempt to keep ourselves in the mix.  If it’s a monologue pronounced by the parent and unquestioningly submitted to by the child. . .well, Mom or Dad, you’re kidding yourself.  If you’ve raised smart children, Renaissance children, they are going to question, they are going to think for themselves, and they are going to push back when they perceive your mandates don’t align with the values that have been fundamental in your home.  That’s a good thing: the same questioning they do with you will become the model for the questioning they will do with the world.  And that’s what raising the Renaissance child is all about: teaching our young people to reject the tawdry, to seek and to cherish the truth, and to create for themselves lives of beauty, optimism and hope, comprised of things that have lasted centuries and even millennia, and will continue to last.

This is a book for parents of children still-at-home, especially young children, and for soon-to-be-parents, and perhaps for grandparents who hope to apply the suggestions to their interactions with their childrens’ children.  It is not a book for parents whose children are grown. The problem with making parenting recommendations is that one is bound to be met with defensiveness from those whose parenting lives are now, for all intents and purposes, over.  We care too much about our kids, and feel too responsible for the choices we made as we raised them, to be able to accept any critiques, even indirect ones, with equanimity.  So if hostile lobs come from parents who feel guilty about a time in the past, I will state outright: this book was not written for you.

For the intended audience, do not worry if adopting all the suggestions in this book doesn’t feel right.  Take what works for you, and ignore what doesn’t. Most of these tools were ones that my family found worked for us, or other families found worked for them, but a family is a living and unique organism.  Your children will end by loving yours if you, and they, grow to embrace what distinguishes it from every other family on earth.  That’s the miracle of family life, and any true renaissance person knows how to cherish it.

Enjoy the quest.

I’m a professional writer, wife and mom, Anglican, sports fan (especially college football and basketball), music lover, book reader, frequent traveler, more often irritated than I care to admit, more indulgent of others than perhaps I should be — until I think how I, too, want to be indulged.

I think most problems in the world would be solved by laughter, prayer and taking baths instead of showers. Bourbon helps, too.

I’m writing a book about raising children to gravitate toward life-affirming things that have stood the test of time, and to choose those things independently, as young adults.  In my view, the things that last centuries or even millennia tend to be the things that we would want our children to recognize, learn from, absorb, and celebrate. The title of the book is Raising the Renaissance Child, and it will be published by Westbow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson. My plan is for the book manuscript to be completed by June 2013, and for the print version to be launched in late November that year.

I would be grateful if you would follow my blog and contribute your thoughts and suggestions.

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