When you are writing a diary for your child, one of the simplest and most dramatic ways to begin a diary entry is with a description of the weather or something about nature you’ve recently observed. Why? Writing about the weather and nature invokes a spiritual response in us, inviting an awareness and appreciation of this moment, this day. And, when we awaken our own spirituality, we pass this onto the future reader of the diary as well.
Centering the Spirit
Taking a few moments to describe our physical environment in a diary entry is like taking a deep breath, noticing our feelings, our mood – the emotional climate of the Self on a given day. Reading May Sarton’s published journal, House by the Sea, inspired me to begin every diary entry with a description of the day’s weather. When Sarton wakes up, opens her journal, and notices the natural world around her, she wakes the reader too:
Saturday, November 16, 1974
“A serene dawn. I saw the sun first bathing my bureau in rich orange light, sat up, and caught the red disc just as it stood for a second exactly on the horizon’s rim. It is so silent all around that a moment ago when a single wave broke I was startled by its gentle roar.”
~ May Sarton, The House by the Sea
Writing about nature puts us in a reflective mood, offering a meditative opportunity to center ourselves before embarking on a busy day with children, job, chores, too much to do, or too many places to be. Writing about beauty in the landscape lifts our spirits, generating energy and enthusiasm rather than irritation and stress. And, as Sarton reminds us, writing about the landscape at the end of the day can help us realize and take account of our blessings:
Tuesday Evening, October 7th, 1974
A marvelous day here. . . and now the most perfect Fra Angelico blue sea, no wind, the sunset just touching the end of the field. Perfectly still, except for the cry of a jay far off.
I must try to note exactly what happened, for it was such a great day. . .
~ May Sarton, The House by the Sea
Setting the Stage
Beginning an entry with a description of nature appeals to the dramatist in me who likes to set the stage for the action that’s about to occur. Whatever geographical region we live in, we can observe subtle or dramatic aspects of our physical world that make the diary writing more satisfying to us as writers, and more compelling for our readers, who, reading our diary stories, perhaps many years into the future, will rely on our description of the observable world for a sense of place, time, mood and meaning.
Flipping back to last year’s pages, I pinch off a fragment from each child’s diary, stitching together a brief story about our family’s move last year:
To Frances, (age 5) November 21, 2002
Foggy. Cold. Gray. Bleak. I have laryngitis, Dad is away ’til tomorrow, Landon missed bus causing Domino effect – had to drive everyone – you were mad because you’re embarrassed to be late and I’m sick w/Land’s cold, so I’m not as sensitive and understanding as I’d like to be and the house is on the market!
To Perri (age 10) February 5, 2003
Cold, but manageably so! Dark. You rest on the couch watching TV and drinking tea. You have a terrible sore throat. . . .
Well, we sold the house yesterday.
To Landon, (age 14) March 26, 2003
My first entry since moving in Friday night. Door to my balcony thrown open, birds singing,, a sweet, light warm breeze blowing in, flooded w/ sunlight. It’s spring. And we’re home!
The first thing you and Joey did Sat. morning after moving in was climb over the rail of my balcony and sit on the roof! . . .
Symbol, Metaphor and Meaning
Whether we intend this or not, aspects of nature that we observe in our children’s diaries may become fascinating symbols that add unanticipated emotional depth to the stories we save. Much like favorite poems and stories we re-read over the course of our lives, diary entries contain symbols whose meaning may become clearer or more compelling as we grow and change.
The other night, I opened my youngest daughter’s diary from last September when she started first grade – a transition that has not been easy for her. I was struck by the power of the symbols I spontaneously captured in the first few entries. I begin the second entry with a description of her stress about learning to read, then digress into a fictional story I make up on the spot about the real baby snapping turtles we keep finding on our walks, newly hatched, beginning their lonesome, treacherous journeys to the life-sustaining Charles River which they must reach to survive:
To Franci (age 6), September 29, 2003
You’re in school, feeling “pushed” by a Mrs. O— who acts all nice to the parent’s faces, but turns into a meanie in the classroom in front of the kids. The kids she’s pushing so hard to learn to read.
But, never mind that now. I have notes to write – a story to tell, that’s taking shape, for you and me:
Tini (with an “i”)
June burst into bloom. The river swelled. The great mother turtle lumbered up the muddy bank, away from the rushing water, across the grassy field, to the edge of the woods. She was searching for a hidden patch of soil.
“There it is!” she grunted with exertion. She would make her baby’s nest. Almost at dark, she began digging. Then, one by one, she lay the soft, leathery eggs in the dirt, positioning them w/her foot. She counted each as it fell. “One. . . two. . .twenty. . . thirty-five. . . fifty eight. . . At dawn, she covered the nest carefully. Then, taking one last look, she turned to go. . . .
The great mother turtle did not know which – or how many – of her darling eggs would survive. Many would begin the journey to the river. A few would make it. She hoped she might meet one of them some day, swimming swiftly past her in the current.
When Tini the turtle bit through the last shard of egg, the late summer sun shone brightly. . .
Creativity, Clarity and Comfort
And so begins the story of the mother who must separate, who must trust that one of her special eggs will find her way to the river of life, and find her way back to her! I didn’t know consciously why I was compelled to write a story about turtles in my daughter’s diary at that moment. Perhaps the fairy tale quality of the story my daughter told me about her teacher inspired my fiction.
Upon reflection, I realize the story is guiding me to My Great Mother’s wisdom, helping me navigate the emotional complexity of my daughter’s journey into the world of the classroom. The creative impulse opens a magical door in my heart and I wonder – How might thinking about my first-grader as Tini the Turtle help me support her as she learns to read? Tini, who reads like a turtle in a roomful of hares? Ah, yes, the Tortoise and the Hare! Slow and steady wins the race!
Writing this diary story helped me find the clarity and express the comfort we both need as we make our separate ways in the world in the context of a deep and abiding connection to each other.
Copyright 2004 by Kelly DuMar, M.Ed.