We talked to our kids about souls

Swinging Bridge at Babcock State Park, West Virginia, autumn on andreabadgley.com

Swinging Bridge at Babcock State Park, West Virginia

“Hey Mom, are trees living things or living beings?”

Our nine year old son looked into the forest then up at me as we hiked side by side along a gurgling brook. His dad and sister walked a few steps ahead of us. Upstream was the Glade Creek Grist Mill in West Virginia, a rustic wooden building with a pitched roof. Today its wet planks were framed by yellowing autumn trees.

“I guess that depends on what you mean by living being,” I said. “I think of a being as — ” I tried to think of words that would be familiar to him. I failed. “As a sentient being — something that has a soul.” The path was littered in gold, red, and toast brown leaves, and I kicked at a drift with my leather hiking shoe.

“Personally, I think of trees as living beings,” I told him, “but I think a lot of people probably think of them as living things.” Our son looked up the mountain into the dripping forest.

“What’s a soul?” he asked.

I sucked in a big breath. “Oh boy,” I said. Up ahead, our daughter twirled a red maple leaf between her thumb and pointer finger. “Your soul, if you believe in souls, is…” I struggled to find words. “It’s the part of you that makes you you.”

“You mean like your personality?” he asked.

“No, the spirit part. The part that is left after you die,” I said, then immediately knew what was going to come next.

“So like a ghost then!” our daughter said.

This was difficult.

“Not quite.” I searched my brain, trying to find language to describe souls to a seven and a nine year old.

“Your soul is the parts of you that aren’t physical,” my husband told them. “Your feelings, memories, friendships. The emotions you feel. Love.”

Our son tilted his head. “But isn’t all that stuff just your brain?”

I looked up to the trees again, hoping for some help. There was no wind; the trees were not talking.

“Yes, that’s one way to look at it,” I said. We like to give our kids a suite of options when it comes to spirituality and religion, to let them know that there is no hard and fast answer. No agreed upon truth that works for everyone all at the same time, and that they get to choose what they believe. “Some people believe that what Dad and I are describing as spiritual — feelings, intuition, love — is purely physical. A series of chemical reactions in our brains, nothing more.”

He kicked at leaves, thinking. I was still stuck on the soul thing. I wasn’t satisfied that we’d explained what a soul is.

“Remember when we talked about reincarnation?” I asked. The kids had asked about religion several months prior, and I told them I thought there are as many paths to God as there are people on earth. Then, in typical over-informative fashion, I gave them synopses of several religions of the world: Christianity and Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism, Wicca, and Islam. The concepts of reincarnation and karma resonated with them more than the idea of heaven and hell did.

Iridescent blue green insect on dry leaf, Babcock State Park, WV October 2013 on andreabadgley.com

Our son’s ambition: to be a bug

“Yeah.” He looked up at me. He remembered the reincarnation talk. “Like I could come back as a bug!” This excited him, the idea of coming back as a bug.

“Remember how I said that when you die some people believe you go to heaven or hell, or in the case of reincarnation, you might come back as something else – another person, or maybe a bug?” I said. “The soul is the part of you that would go from one life to the next, that would go into that bug after your body died. It’s the part that would carry everything you learned in each incarnation.”  I gestured uselessly to my heart. “The spirit part.”

My brain hurt from the effort of describing this. Soul, sentient, spirit. How do you explain these things? “But reincarnation is just one idea. Brain chemistry is another.”

“So nobody knows the real answer,” our son said. “What happens when we die, whether our feelings are just our brain or part of our soul.”

“Nope. It all depends on what you believe,” I said. “Nobody knows for sure.”

The leaves in the trees rustled a little. Not much, but enough to remind me of our son’s original question.

“I think mostly people think humans have souls, and maybe animals have souls, but I don’t know that a lot of people think of plants as having souls. So most people would probably call trees living things.” I looked up at the green and orange and yellow and red leaves, and the strong trunks with rough or papery or chunky bark, and I saw how all those trees were nestled together as a community on the mountainside, gathering sunlight, being beautiful. I thought about the times that I have felt one with the whispering forest, when there was no doubt in my heart, or mind, or soul that trees are part of the same absolute that I am a part of, that we are kindred.

“Do you ever feel a connection to nature?” I asked our son. “Like, in your heart, a feeling that doesn’t have words, you just feel it when you’re out in the woods or by a stream or something?” It was my last hope, in this “thing” versus “being” discussion, that he would know what I was talking about.

“Yes.” He said this without hesitation, and I knew he would get it now.

“Me too,” I said. “Sometimes when a breeze blows through and the trees sway and their leaves rustle, I feel like they are talking. I don’t know what they are saying, but they are saying something.” I looked up to the forest again. “In their tree language.” Our son giggled. “I feel connected to them somehow, like they have spirits, or souls, or whatever you want to call it.”

“So when I think of trees,” I said, “I think of them as living beings and not just living things.”

Our son’s eyes flared with understanding as he looked up at me. “Yes,” he said. His body relaxed with the contentment of a seeker who has found the answer he sought. “I think you’re exactly right, Mom.”

Yellow is autumn trees to me. Originally published October 17, 2013.

Walking with the flower fairies


We are a family of hikers. The four of us pile into the car and drive off into the hills to hang out with each other and explore nature.

When we don’t have time for a full blown hike in the mountains, our kids and I like to connect with each other and with nature in walks through our neighborhood. We pull our Flower Fairies books off the shelves and go out into the world, equipped with poetry.

The photograph shows our daughter on a chilly autumn day bidding farewell to summer with “The Song of the Marigold Fairy.”

I thought I’d take this Photo101: Connect challenge all the way: this is my first post ever that was shot, written, edited, and published entirely from my phone.

2014: Our summer of housekeeping training

Bathroom cleaning caddy by Andrea Badgley on Butterfly Mind

Time to pass the torch

Last summer we taught our kids how to cook. This summer, I’m teaching them how to clean.

We’ve been away from home for four weeks. We camped, we visited family in Georgia and Florida, we vacationed on a Gulf beach, and the kids and I traveled north to Charlottesville to visit my childhood girlfriends and their kids. In the middle of all of this, I interviewed for a dream job, was asked to perform a sample project, and will be continuing the interview process over the next few weeks.

And what have I been thinking about the whole time? Our entire vacation I wondered: How am I going to clean the house if I’m working full-time?

When I first started thinking about re-entering the workforce, I started tracking my hours in my role as stay-at-home mom. I discovered I spend about 15-18 hours a week on writing and my blogs and about 30 hours a week on my job as CEO of the household. If I add 40 hours a week for a job, plus time for sleeping, eating, showering, and relaxing with the family, my brain short circuits and I start doing robot arms: Does not compute! Does not compute!

On vacation, I spent a lot of time strategizing how to make it work. My mental health requires a clean home. In college I could not study until my room was spotless, and I know that in order to focus on my work I will need a tidy, clean workspace. My first thought was to hire a housekeeper, but then my husband said, “Why don’t we pay the kids?”

Uh, duh.

As (I’ve heard) Sheryl Sandberg suggests in her book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, it takes teamwork for women to succeed in the work force. Just as traditionally it took a spouse at home taking care of the household for men to succeed in their careers, it takes a supportive spouse – and family – for women to succeed as well. None of us can do it alone. So after my husband volunteered the kids (and himself) to help take on the jobs that were once mine, I formulated a plan:

Family chore chart by Andrea Badgley on Butterfly Mind

Family chore chart: Any of Mom or Dad’s chores marked with an *asterisk can be picked up by kids to earn screen time equivalent to the amount of time it took to do the job.

I first made a list of all the chores:

  • meal planning, grocery shopping
  • budget, paying bills, reconciling bank account
  • clean kitchen (every other week)
  • vacuum
  • iron
  • laundry Monday & Thursday
  • empty bathroom and kitchen garbage cans
  • take trash to curb on Thursdays
  • take recycling to bin periodically
  • take recycling to curb on Thursdays
  • sweep and mop
  • dust
  • clean mirrors and windows
  • clean bathrooms
  • change and launder linens
  • sweep & weed back deck

I assigned permanent jobs to each of us according to our physical locations (I hope to be working from home so laundry is mine), mental or physical ability (the kids can’t manage the budget, and our vacuum is too heavy for them), and time constraints (garbage duties are quick for the kids when school and sports are in session) and then split the remaining chores among the four of us on a rotating schedule. For example, my chores this week are to change sheets and towels and to sweep the back deck. Next week my chore will be to sweep and mop.

When we talked to the kids about how we’d need help with housework if I re-enter the workforce, and especially when we told them that when I start earning again, they will start earning, too – they will get a bump in allowance – they were all about me getting a job. Surprisingly, they were all about the extra chores, too. As our 10 year-old son and I bobbed in the Gulf of Mexico, talking about financial planning and matching funds if they chose to put money in long-term savings, he asked “Hey Mom? Do you think sometimes we could do extra chores to earn screen time instead of money? If I buy a new game it’s always sad that I don’t have much time to play it.”

Great idea, little dude. Productivity deserves rewards. Besides, that’s one more opportunity to free up time for their Dad and me, and one more chance to teach the kids how to manage a household.

On our drive home from Florida, I scribbled notes in my composition book: how to scrub a toilet, how to sweep, how to mop a floor, how to sort and wash laundry. When we returned home, while sandy shorts and tee-shirts tumbled in the dryer, I wrote a housekeeping manual. I punched holes in the tutorials and put the pages in a leftover school folder. And on the one full day at home between Florida and Charlottesville, I told the kids, “Grab those cleaning caddies from the laundry room and bring them up to our bathroom. With cleaning, we start at the top and move down.”

Our son said, “I’ve got bathrooms the first week, so can you show me how to do that?”

Yes sir.

He read the instructions out loud then started with one bathroom while our daughter started with another. They scrubbed and sprayed and wiped and rinsed while I stood by to answer questions and demonstrate technique. They fought over who got to try laundry first, and took turns with the glass cleaner so they’d both get an opportunity to squirt mirrors and windows. They struggled with carrying the mop bucket up and down the stairs and with keeping the mop over the bucket while they wrung it out, but they did it all, and our house was clean when they finished. They studied the chart, smiling over all the chores they now knew how to do, checking the *asterisked parent chores to see what extra jobs they could do to earn screen time.

The next day, before we left for Charlottesville, when the sun was shining and the kids were bored, our daughter came up to me and asked, “Hey Mom? Can I wash your car?”

And I said, Yes ma’am, you sure can. I’ll be over here at the beer table. Reveling.

The cleaning caddy is one of my happiness containers, especially now that our kids are carrying it.