Child Belonging

Amie walking (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

  • Thoreau’s gift to me 

Walking around “Walrus Pond” the other day, I had that great feeling of belonging. I haven’t gone there often (this was my third or fourth visit in the ten years that I live here), and perhaps that is why it is each time so special.

I’ve read Thoreau, of course, lots of it. He was the one who gave me a way to feel at home in this country, especially in this part of the country. I used to feel so homesick for the medieval cathedrals and the old Roman antiquity of Europe, but Thoreau gave me a wonderful alternative: nature, wildness. Walden Pond now exemplifies an America where I feel welcome, at home, wholesome.

  • Amie investigates belonging

I noticed that Amie, at the beginning of two, is looking into “belonging” as well. When building towers with her blocks ( a relatively new development: she discovered the blocks box a couple of days ago and spontaneously started building)  she will ask, of a block: “Where does it live?”

Amie’s first tower of blocks (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

She knows where she lives: “I live in Boston” or “I live in Brookline library”. And where some of her friends live, “in New York”, “in Washington DC” (all names she can pronounce without a problem), “and that is far away”.

In November we are getting on a plane to travel to exactly the other side of the globe to visit grandparents. I am so curious to see how much she will understand of distance, and family.

  • A different kind of belonging

She is also working on a different sense of belonging  – though I would like to think about just how different they are.

When I was about to drink from DH’s glass – we share a glass during dinner; question of less dishes, and less loading and unloading dishes – she stopped me and said: “No, Mama! That’s Baba’s!” It was a great opportunity for a Spiel about sharing and “thank you” and “you’re welcome”.

She will also hold out a piece of food from her plate to me and say: “You want it, Mama? I’ll share it with you, I’ll give it to you.”

  • Amie at Home

It is a great privilege to witness her forging a sense of place, finding words for home, and physical spaces, trying out different relationships, figuring out which people belong there, with her.

It is my job to make her feel at home and to show her that she can be at home in other places as well: to give her not one particular physical place, but an anchor.

A mobile anchor. 

This anchor is herself and her nearest family, and a feeling of home that she can take with her wherever we go.

Practically, I’m thinking of a feeling of safety. Routines are a key part of that now that she is a two-year-old with a growing sense of entitlement, expectation and time (it strikes me now that so much of place is really time).  We have sound bedtime and potty routines, we always have breakfast and dinner together, and we each have “jobs” that we do no matter what (Baba drop her off at daycare, she plays and has fun, and I pick her up).

Most of these routines we can take with us, wherever we go.

  • A Family on the Move

When (and where) I grew up it wasn’t necessary for parents to take this issue under such conscious consideration. Home and place were unproblematic and often taken for granted. I moved once, as a child, and then only two kilometers from our old house.

But we are not that kind of family. We will always be traveling, if only to see our families scattered across the globe. Our jobs are not as secure as my parents’ jobs were. And who knows how much we’ll be on the move, given what the future will bring…

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