Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Dissecting Anna Karenina on the First Day of School

Tuesday was the first day of school. I have done the first day of school thing as a parent for 6 years now. Reason would possibly dictate that each year I would be more at ease with the situation...that I would have the motions and emotions of the day on a certain level of autopilot. When will I learn that parenting is anything but reasonable?

Kindergarten has never been that hard for me. The 2 and a half hours seem to whizz by and really, what can go wrong in Kindergarten(German translation...children's garden)? First grade is where it starts to get tough for me. Outsourcing the care and nurturing of my children over to Spokane School District #81 for 6 hours seems at more pessimistic times a drop-off at an unsterilized assembly line packaging plant. I miss them. I MISS THEM. Every year, the other kids get a little meaner(not mine, of course), the clicks get more obnoxious, and my children get a little more distant from me and a lot closer to the big scary real world. Yes, I should be thrilled and joyous at their increasing ability to function on their own...their ever improving skill of noticing and bringing attention to my many mistakes.....their increasing capacity to solve a problem on their own. Isn't this the goal of a good parent?

So what does all this have to do with the dissection of Anna Karenina?

I finished reading Anna Karenina the night before school started. Since it has been rated one of the greatest books of all time, I decided I had better give it a shot. I am not going to go into a detailed review of the book. I think that Tolstoy was a genius at giving a voice to inner thoughts and struggles and had a way of making the reader face the truths of human nature in a bitterly painful, comical, and sometimes embarrassing way. I have to admit that I found much of the book tedious and repetitive. But I also have to admit that I sometimes find life to be tedious and repetitive. Anyway, I didn't much relate to Anna Karenina herself and found instead a kindred soul in Konstantin Levin, who is an awkward, shy, social misfit of sorts, who finds the most happiness after working in his fields. He is really intense and this scares people a little, but he has a pure ideal of family happiness and dizzying quest for the meaning of life. He is finds life to be an intoxicating wrestle between joy and misery.

So, again, what does this have to do with me and the first day of school?

I will answer with a quote from the book. This is when Levin is finally able to see his newborn son after a long and mysterious labor (they didn't tell the husband ANYTHING back then).

"Smiling, hardly able to restrain his tears, Levin kissed his wife and went out of the dark room. What he felt towards this little creature was utterly unlike what he had expected. There was nothing cheerful and joyous in the feeling; on the contrary, it was a new torture of apprehension. It was the consciousness of a new sphere of liability to pain. And this sense was so painful at first, the apprehension lest this helpless creature should suffer was so intense, that it prevented him from noticing the strange thrill of senseless joy that he had felt when the baby sneezed"

Sometimes, with my children and others that I love, I ,too, am blinded by this sphere of liability to pain, that I am prevented from noticing the senseless joy of motherhood. It can be paralyzing. Luckily, I am often blinded by the senseless joy of motherhood and humanhood and am prevented from noticing the sphere of liability to pain.

This is what Ansel and I did on the first day of school.


lazyeye said...

always insightful, thoughful, profound

what's up with Ansel's hip hop outfit getting so much wear? Droppin' mad beats?

Joal said...

Great post. I haven't gotten to that part in the book, yet. I'm trying to build momentum getting into the book. I sort of have to get immersed in the story of the characters so that I stay up late reading. Seems to be the best way for me to finish a book. I'm just barely getting to that point with Anna Karenina tonight.

I like your tie-in to that excellent Tolstoy quote. To help deepen your sadness/sense of time conflation/awareness of your children as part of you and not part of you, I'll recommend an essay: "Once More to the Lake," by E.B. White--if you've already read it, you should read it again now that you have an almost-adolescent.

Lucy said...

I'm actually right in the middle of Anna Karenina right now. Although you didn't review it, I have to say that I agree with your synopsis - that it's a bit tedious, but so is life. I love the dissection of the characters thoughts and motivations.

I think it's fantastic that you miss your children. No...you MISS them. What lucky children. I agree that it stinks to watch them pick up more and more of the world and school system, but, like you, I admire them for being the wonderful beings they are in spite of it.

I hope the school year is great.

Kaerlig said...

That was beautiful. I enjoyed it as I enjoyed your post about mother guilt.

I've had Anna Karenina on my shelf for years and tried 3 or 4 times to start it. It will probably stay on my shelf for a while, however I'm glad you've given me a taste of it.

Sijbrich said...

Mt travelogues are nothing compared to your experience as a mother. I should be the one telling you that I'm jealous.

Mary said...

I'm glad you found me on facebook, and I'm glad you posted a link to your blog, because I had a marvelous time (while I was supposed to be doing other things -- oh well) skimming back through just now. Do you really live on 10 acres in WA? And did you really have 2 weeks in Moab AND a trip to Banff last summer? You're my new idol. You have a beautiful family and I relate SO much to your thoughts on motherhood. Thanks for sharing glimpses of your life online. I've been writing imaginary blog posts in my head for several years now, but have never taken the next step.