The Lofty Chronicles: 1 — Saying Goodbye to Childhood

Prologue

The Lofty Chronicles are based on a daily journal that I was keeping for several years in the early 1990’s. The entries that were related to our daughter, Lauren (who was going by the name of Lofty at the time), were drawn from this journal and were then sent, each season, to Lauren’s geographically distant grandparents, aunts, and uncles. They were intended, as well, for a future, grownup Lauren, curious about her roots.

The reason for sharing them in Light Morning’s current Journal is that, peeking through the day-to-day concerns, wonders, and routines of parenting is a startlingly intimate view of the three core values of this community.

These three foundation stones (transformational journey, a new kind of family, living close to the Earth) have been explored earlier in this Journal. In The Lofty Chronicles, however, they come to life in a viscerally specific way. We catch surprising glimpses, for example, of what it means to “become again as a little child.” And we see just how long and arduous the path of transformation is. There’s nothing quite like parenthood for showing us our shadows and for humbling our pretensions. It’s fully as good a teacher as marriage or community!

We also see a “new kind of family” taking shape as we read the following journal entries. Light Morning is a multi-generational experiment, in both senses of these words. With the arrival of Tom (who came to live with us when he was 60-something) and the birth of Lauren, the generational diversity of the community was greatly enhanced, and the myopic world-view of the 30- and 40-year-olds was correspondingly tempered.

We see forming, then, a predominantly non-genetic, self-chosen family of friends and “traveling companions,” who are likewise serving as surrogate grandparents, aunts, and uncles for a little girl who is also their surrogate granddaughter, child, and niece. We watch this family work and eat and play together, hurt each other (sometimes deeply), problem-solve together, and learn, slowly, to truly care for one another.

Finally, we see an emerging lifestyle that is being lived close to the Earth. We observe the adults trying to live simply, to work close to home, and to become more self-sufficient. We watch parents grope their way toward an understanding of home education and child-led learning. And we begin to sense how a simple life, lived in close proximity to nature and within the context of a new kind of family, helps make real the dream of a transformational journey. We see, in other words, how these three core values are inherently interdependent.

And now it’s time to let the stories speak for themselves. The Lofty Chronicles will span several seasons of this Journal. We turn to Part One (when Lauren is six years old) after first setting the stage with a few journal entries and images from her younger years.

* * *

 

Joyce with her new-born daughter
Joyce with her new-born daughter

 

First Breath (Friday, 20 April 1984) Lauren Wilder takes her first breath this morning at 11:05.

Inner-Directedness (Monday, 12 November 1984) I’m moved by a passage from an article about super-babies, called “Pushing Too Hard?” by Martin V. Cohen (American Baby, November 1984, page 20).

“Finally, and most importantly, make sure that your actions, as well as your words, convey the feeling that your child’s spontaneous interests and curiosities are of real value and interest to you. This kind of acceptance will help your young child begin to trust his or her intuitions, feelings and personal visions as the basis for future decision-making and actions. Psychologists have referred to this quality as inner-directedness, and it has been found to be related to creativity, ego strength, and feelings of self-worth.”

Take Your Spills (Tuesday, 18 November 1986) I happen to overhear Lauren singing or chanting to herself the following little song:

“Take your spills in life, And send us a happy tune for the world.”

Sad Angels (Monday, 15 December 1986) Here’s another one of Lauren’s impromptu songs:

“Sad angels, sad angels,
God send the Lord to fix up the sad angels.”

Later, when I ask who the sad angels are, she replies, “Men.”

Invite Your New Day (Sunday, 28 December 1986) I’m writing a letter to Tom, who’s in California helping his sister. I ask Lauren if there’s anything she wants to tell him. She speaks the following sentences, which I transcribe:

“We hope you enjoy your afternoon. Don’t lose anything, Tom. Don’t waste anything. And don’t you lose anything, Tom. Don’t lose your mind.

“Of course you have a wonderful day on your trip. Invite your new day.

“If a turtle comes it may hurt you, Tom. The spell will be broken again. Then changed back into words again. Would you get us spelled again? Then the turkeys will die in the winter. The spell will be broken again.

“Hallelujah! Have nice weather on your compurating[?]. Nice weather on your joy!”

The Birds at Dawn (Monday, 15 May 1989) Lauren awoke to a loud chorus of birdsong. Over breakfast, she casually mentions that, “I heard the birds telling their dreams this morning.”

A Father Song (Tuesday, 27 June 1989) Once again, Lauren is chanting or singing softly to herself. “I love you, father, for being so kind.”

Out of the Mouths of Babes (Tuesday, 25 July 1989) Two of Lauren’s recent comments, to no one in particular:

“Take a chance on yourself!”

“It’s all in your dreams.”

Lauren with her dad (summer 1984)
Lauren with her dad (summer 1984)

Saying Goodbye to Childhood

Summer 1990

Saying Goodbye to Childhood (Tuesday, 24 July 1990) Lauren has been reverting to some affected baby talk lately, which has elicited varying degrees of annoyance from the adults around her, including me. Yesterday, however, an insight dissolved my irritation. I suddenly saw that Lauren is poised on the edge of leaving early childhood, and that she is almost consciously pausing, stepping back, and lingering on this threshold for a moment before saying goodbye.

Perhaps it’s watching her lose her first two teeth. Or perhaps some hazy but profound memories of my own early childhood in Arden, and those magical summers on Mount Desert Island, are re-surfacing. Or maybe I’m passing through a similar threshold in my life, and have been indulging in something comparable to baby talk. Whatever the linkage, I had an immediate and poignant reversal of attitude. My annoyance vanished and was replaced by a deep compassion for Lauren at this stage of her life.

Lofty/Lauren with toad
Lofty/Lauren with toad

 

“Ancient Fawn” (Thursday, 30 August 1990) I awaken this morning out of an intense dream. Viewed through one window, it serves to temper the complacency of an adult casually observing a young child.

I am walking down a nearby road early in the morning. Suddenly I notice a deer drinking from a stream. He has a large rack of antlers. I stop to watch, thinking how unusual it is to see a deer with antlers in this area.

He senses something out of the ordinary and looks around, shaking his head from side to side and pawing the ground several times. Then he climbs up from the stream-bed and starts to walk away. Almost immediately, however, he reverses directions and joins 10 or 12 other deer, which I haven’t noticed before.

My attention is drawn to one of these other deer, a fawn. My first feelings are tenderness and wonder at the beauty and innocence of the little creature. Several jolting perceptions, however, come hard on the heels of this feeling. I notice that the fawn has a very unusual coloration: mottled black and white against a background of gray. Then, to my astonishment and dismay, I realize that the fawn has a huge rack of antlers. They seem more like those of an elk rather than a deer.

At this point my stomach begins to knot up, as my mind tries desperately to reconcile the presence of massive antlers on what is so obviously a very young fawn. Finally, I notice the fawn’s face. It is ancient; the oldest face I have ever seen. And this ancient fawn is gazing back at me impassively, almost as though he is trying to stretch into some comprehension of the inconceivably young creature that stands dumbstruck before him.

My mind short-circuits, my gut twists into a painful spasm of disbelief, and I awake, trembling, out of the dream.

Later, as I’m sharing the dream with the community over breakfast, I mention an association between the fawn’s youthful innocence and ancient experience, on the one hand, and the right and left hemispheres of our brain, on the other. The conversation then moves on to other associations and impressions.

Lauren, meanwhile, has been roaming around the living room, seemingly disinterested in our talk about the dream. She comes over and sits beside me, however, and almost absent-mindedly began chanting softly in my ear, “Where is my right brain, if this is my left brain? Where is my right brain, if this is my left brain?”

Autumn 1990

Thinking About My Mind Thinking (Sunday, 2 September 1990) Lauren is getting her hair washed. She has water in her ears. “I can hear my mind thinking,” she says. Then, after a pause, “Now I’m thinking about my mind thinking.” Another, longer pause. “Now I’m thinking about my mind thinking about my mind thinking about my mind thinking.” She giggles. “It’s like two mirrors looking into each other.”

Empathy for the Trees (Thursday, 4 October 1990) Lauren has been having recurring bouts of difficulty with the approaching logging of the Free State valley below our community. This evening, as we’re walking out the driveway to visit our elderly farmer neighbor Dan on his birthday, Lauren looks up at the beautiful sunset spanning the sky overhead and says, “I’m glad the sky won’t be logged.”

A Taste of the Old Despair (Saturday, 6 October 1990) Last night, just before bed, I briefly touched into the old feelings of despair and depression that I wrestled with a number of years ago, but haven’t experienced for quite a long while. The trigger was Joyce talking about Lauren’s need for playmates her own age, and the possibility of Lauren being drawn toward public school as a way of meeting this need. Maybe I was tired, or maybe Joyce’s mood was contagious, but I felt myself sinking into an enticing vortex of hopelessness about this situation in particular and then about life in general.

I catch myself, surprised at the onset of the mood, and wonder if perhaps it’s the dead of the moon (which it isn’t). Fortunately I have enough presence of mind to suggest that we do a brainstorming session on the problem when our energy is higher. So we go to bed and I awake in the morning feeling fine, the remembered mood like a barely recalled dream. Strange.

I Am Fire-Splitter (Monday, 8 October 1990) The morning work project is firewood. Lauren has been learning to split kindling. After she has demonstrated some proficiency with one of the community’s small axes, I say that she can go down to our house and get the mid-sized ax with the red handle which we bought for her when she was little and which has been waiting in our portico for just this moment.

Lauren Fire-Splitter
Lauren Fire-Splitter

She is thrilled and runs down to get it. A few moments later she comes marching back up the path with her very own ax in her hands, singing as she comes. Later in the morning, having taken her pile of firewood into the kitchen to help feed the cook-stove on which Marlene is canning some potatoes, I hear her singing again. “I am fire-splitter. I am fire-splitter. I am the firewood splitter!”

How vitally important it is to sing our own praises. In the Sparrow Hawk book which we’re currently reading to Lauren, the Native American boy sings, “I am the corn youth. I am he…” Most of us have an unfortunate tendency to not celebrate our personal uniqueness and values and accomplishments loudly enough or often enough, both to ourselves and to others. Perhaps a fear of appearing boastful or braggartly deadens what must be a natural impulse to celebrate ourselves; an impulse which Lauren, with the grace of childhood, has demonstrated for us today with her spontaneous fire-splitter song.

The Story-Telling Stars (Friday, 26 October 1990) I’m finding my interest in star gazing being re-kindled. Took H.A. Rey’s book out of the library and have been studying it. There’s a wonderful opportunity to study the constellations every clear morning on my pre-dawn walks, and I’m wanting to learn more about the stories or myths behind them. It will be a wonderful home-schooling bridge with Lauren as well.

Halloween Magic (Thursday, 1 November 1990) We went trick-or-treating with Lauren in Roanoke last night, following a full day of errands during which both Joyce and Lauren wore their costumes in and out of the stores. The daytime costuming and the evening trick-or-treating moved me deeply, the former because of the way in which it playfully disrupts deeply ingrained cultural routines and expectations, and the latter because of how magical it is to have one special night of the year during which kids can go up and down the streets of a strange neighborhood and be welcomed with smiles and treats at the homes of complete strangers. Powerful magic indeed.

Black Hawk & Abe Lincoln (Wednesday, 7 November 1990) Lauren got tangled up in a painful confusion of heroes yesterday. Not too long ago, we read Sparrow Hawk together, an historical fiction about a young Indian boy in Black Hawk’s tribe. It’s a harrowing account of the destruction of his tribe by the inexorable wave of European settlers that was flooding westward across the continent, sweeping away all the indigenous peoples that got in the way. The book is a viscerally difficult read.

A few days ago, Lauren got a book about Abe Lincoln out of the library, and has been enjoying hearing about his upbringing in the wilderness of Kentucky and Indiana. Yesterday, however, we got to the place in the story where, as a young man, Lincoln “volunteered to fight in the Black Hawk war.” He never went, because by that time Black Hawk had been captured and imprisoned, and his tribe ruthlessly driven across the Mississippi.

Lauren is stunned and dismayed. The story lines of her two current “heroes” have suddenly crossed in an unexpected and deeply disturbing way. She doesn’t quite know what to make of it. Her blacks and whites have dissolved into a confusing mosaic of gray.

The Light Morning family (Front row: Joyce, Lauren, Marlene Back row: Kent, Ron, Tom, Robert)
The Light Morning family (Front row: Joyce, Lauren, Marlene Back row: Kent, Ron, Tom, Robert)

 

What If I Were the Only Adult? (Saturday, 10 November 1990) Sometimes I get brief, haunting glimpses of what it must be like to walk through life in this community in Lauren’s shoes. It’s clearly a wonderful and magical place in which to grow up. But she is the only child here. What if I were the only adult living with 5 or 6 children. And what if their interests and needs, their version of reality and sense of order, largely determined what I could or couldn’t do, when I could do it, and when I could go out on those occasional visits to interact with other adults.

What brutal empathy it is when an oppressor (however loving and well-intentioned) is able to catch even a glimmer of the world-view of the oppressed. And how seldom we even pause to savor the extent of our parental oppression.

I’ve Listened to You Many a Year (Tuesday, 13 November 1990) We are all splitting firewood this morning. It’s poplar, and there’s some beautiful coloration in the grain of the wood. Lauren is rooting through the pile of split pieces, picking out the prettiest ones. She accumulates quite a collection, and doesn’t want them to be stacked in the woodshed.

“This pile is for ornaments!” she insists.

When I and the other adults protest the impracticality of her impulse, she turns to me with great indignation. “I’ve listened to you many a year,” she intones. “Now you listen to me!”

I smile a chastened smile and we find a compatible compromise.

Winter 1990

Just For the Joy of It (Saturday, 15 December 1990 ) My six-year-old teacher and I are heading out to the parking lot to get the truck for a trip to Smith’s Store. “Now why are we going to Smith’s?” she asks.

“For two reasons,” I reply. “Half of the trip is to take the trash out. The other half is to pick up the U.P.S. packages.”

“No,” she corrects me. “There are three reasons. A third for the trash, a third for the packages, and a third just for the joy of it.”

Jesus and the Snakes (Sunday, 16 December 1990) While talking about the Christmas tree, Lauren comes up with a laughing suggestion. “Let’s put Jesus having snakes all over him at the top of the tree.” She means it as a tease of Joyce, who, as Lauren knows, is somewhat shy of snakes. For me, however, the image feels charged with allegorical significance.

I Think I’ll Like Dying (Monday, 17 December 1990) Lauren and I are out in the woods, cutting a small white pine for the community shelter’s Christmas tree. She wants to dig it up live instead of cut it down. We compromise, deciding to cut this one and dig the one for our house. Just as I am completing the cut, Lauren says, “I think I’ll like dying.” Somewhat startled, I ask why. “I think I’ll like being in my ghost,” she replies.

If I Become a Scientist (Wednesday, 19 December 1990) Lauren, bent over one of her “chemistry experiments,” asks if I remember where we found the litmus paper for her.

“You mean the lab at Virginia Western?” I ask.

“Yes,” she says. “If I become a scientist I’m going to study there.”

The 703 Patrol (Monday, 24 December 1990) Quite a while ago some of the neighborhood kids formed a “703 Patrol,” named for the route number of the county road which ends at Light Morning’s driveway. This was back before the need for the 911 technology transformed Route 703 into Autumn Drive. Lately I’ve unofficially adopted the name myself as I pick up beer cans and other clutter from the side of the road during my morning walks.

At first, I had some angst about having to pick up other people’s trash. Later it came to feel not too dissimilar from changing Lauren’s diapers when she was an infant. “It’s no different,” I would remind myself. “The folks tossing these empty beer cans out of their windows don’t know any better. It’s just a stage of development. A natural immaturity.”

Still later I became aware of what a powerful subliminal statement my litter removal is. By keeping the roadside immaculately clear of clutter, a certain type of person and behavior is drawn to this neighborhood and another type is subtly repelled.

Today my morning clean-up is reeled in still further, becoming a striking metaphor for an ongoing need for inner maintenance. Keeping a close watch for trash alongside my own well-traveled mental and emotional roadways, knowing that like attracts like. A gradual claiming of the dream.

What Are Your Gifts? (Wednesday, 26 December 1990) Lauren and I somehow get talking about gifts. “What are your gifts?” she asks. I respond that I am a good listener, that I can usually see a situation from different sides, and that I can often discern patterns in seemingly unconnected occurrences. Then I ask what her gifts are. She says that she’s good at being two people at the same time. But she isn’t able to explain just what she means by that, or perhaps I’m not able to understand her explanation.

The Critical/Constructive Ratio (Sunday, 6 January 1991) I came across a disturbing statistic the other day. Some graduate students in Iowa observed the daily interactions between kids and parents. They found a 12-to-1 ratio between the critical remarks that parents direct at their children and the constructive remarks. Twelve criticisms, in other words, for every token of support, encouragement, and appreciation.

It’s so disturbing because it rings so true. My ratio with Lauren isn’t that high, but I know for sure the ratio’s not equal, let alone reversed. And what the graduate students found when they followed the kids into their school environment was even more appalling. Instead of 12-to-1, the ratio was closer to 18-to-one.

And since all adults have passed through the crucible of childhood, this is a potent reflection for us as well. Our criticize/appreciate ratios toward other people, and toward ourselves, must surely be equally lopsided. This is where the work lies and where we can fairly easily monitor our personal growth and maturation. What is our Criticize Appreciate Ratio? What kind of C.A.R. are we driving? If we pay attention to our predominant attitudes, both toward others and toward ourselves, and we see this ratio changing for the better, we can be sure that we are growing. It’s like using a hydrometer to monitor the fermentation process of homemade wine.

Transforming a Scary Dream (Tuesday, 8 January 1991) Lauren had a beautiful experience last night. She’s been working with some fears lately. Afraid of being alone in the dark; even going into her room at night to turn on the light. The fear was stimulated by watching a frightening mummy movie at the Days yesterday. But she was wrestling with it prior to that. We’re not sure what she’s really afraid of, or why now.

Getting ready for bed last night, she was definitely uneasy. “Do you think the mummy could fit into my room?” she asks. And sure enough, sometime after midnight she bolted awake with a terrifying dream. She, Joyce and I, and some others were at a conference. A big arm came out from behind a curtain and clawed at her. It didn’t hurt her, but it frightened her badly.

She awakened us, not knowing what to do with the fearful images. Joyce suggested that she sing to herself. (We’ve been telling her that monsters simply hate laughter and singing and people wishing them well. They just can’t abide that.) So she started singing “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” to herself, over and over again, until she finally fell back to sleep.

This morning she reports that, after singing herself to sleep, she went back into the same dream. “Was it a good dream this time?” I ask.

“It wasn’t just good,” she exudes, “it was wonderful!”

In the second part of the dream she discovered that the arm reaching out for her was actually the arm of a Ninja turtle, her current heroes, in disguise. She says that I then went into the kitchen and made two pizzas (the Ninjas’ favorite food), one for her and one for the Ninjas. She was so happy, though, that she gave both of them to the Ninjas.

Long Handle! Long Handle! (Monday, 14 January 1991) We’re working firewood. Joyce, Ron, Tom, and I are talking quietly as we split the chunks of poplar. Lauren is off in the woods, a good distance away, busily involved in some project of her own. Joyce asks Ron, in a matter-of-fact tone, “Isn’t there one of those long-handled axes in the tool shed?”

Instantly, from Lauren’s corner of the woods, comes a quiet chant, “Long handle! Long handle!”

I am stunned. For her to be so immersed in her own activities and, at the same time, to be monitoring our conversation so precisely, gives me a sobering respect for how powerful we adults are as role models for our children, and how far-reaching the effects of example and imitation are in general.

The Mound Builders (Friday, 8 February 1991) During my Thursday afternoon session with Douglas, I read aloud the following passage from The Seth Material:

Each individual, from birth, forms his own counterpart from built-up, individual, continuous electrical signals that include his dreams, thoughts, desires, and experiences. At physical death his personality then exists detached from its physical form.

While reading it I associate to the Mound Builders civilization and their strong focus on death. Then I feel a connection between the nine months period of gestation of the human embryo in the womb, during which the human body takes form, and the gradual formation of the “counterpart” that Seth refers to in the above passage.

Perhaps there’s a parallel between the time of gestation in the womb to prepare for birth, and the time of physical life on Earth to prepare for death. Maybe the Mound Builders, and other ancient, death-oriented civilizations like the Egyptians, recognized this truth and consciously utilized the span of human life in order to prepare for a strong and conscious transition at death, in much the same way as prospective parents now utilize gestation in order to prepare for a strong and conscious birth.

Joyce, in other words, paid careful attention to her diet, as well as to her thoughts, emotions, hopes, and desires, while Lauren was in utero. We also practiced breathing and relaxation techniques and studied the stages of labor so that we would be as prepared as possible for the birthing. It may well be that some former civilizations approached the end of life with the same care and awareness.

Coming In Helicopters (Thursday, 21 February 1991) Lauren wakes up early this morning, sobbing, out of a nightmare. Joyce asks her about it. All I hear of their sharing is something about “soldiers coming in helicopters.”

This immediately triggers the memory of how petrified Lauren used to be as an infant at the faintest distant approach of one of those large army helicopters that occasionally fly overhead. Lacking any other plausible explanation for her phobia, which would send her screaming for her parents, we speculated about it possibly being a “past life” trauma, perhaps in someplace like Vietnam. Eventually, as the years passed, the terror lessened and finally disappeared.

When Lauren awakens a second time, I ask her about the dream. She tells me that she, Joyce, and I were living in a very small cottage, with one window and one door, in a small village. She and her mom are on a grassy slope. There are clumps of trees nearby, and a single-lane road. Joyce is dressed in simple off-color white clothes, with some kind of turban.

Two large army helicopters, painted in camouflage colors, suddenly approach. Lauren knows that they are coming to kill her mom, and is terrified. She sees a truck pass by on the road, but it doesn’t stop. The truck is painted yellow and has black and red letters on it.

The helicopters come down and hover just above the slope. Soldiers jump out of the open door. They’re also dressed in camouflage. Joyce tells Lauren to run back to the cottage and tell me what has happened. She does so, crying as she runs, and finds me in the cottage. At this point the dream became so terrifying that she wakes up crying.

Evocative, to say the least!

Spring 1991

Born With A Lot of Jump (Friday, 22 March 1991) We’re coming down to our house from the community shelter this evening. Lauren is prancing around, running off some of her prodigious energy. “I must have been born with a lot of jump in me,” she says, ” because I love to jump and run around so much.”

Pitch Black or Brightly Lighted (Saturday, 23 March 1991) We arrive home tonight and Lauren asks us to keep all the lights off, close the curtains, and move around in the darkness. She’s wanting to explore what it’s like to be blind. It’s a fascination that was stimulated while we were reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder books aloud. Laura’s sister Mary was blind. She’s also wanting to see if the library has any books in Braille.

Tonight she says, “I like it pitch black or brightly lighted; none of this spooky gray.”

Wanting To Be a Boy (Friday, 29 March 1991) Lauren has been fervently wishing that she were a boy. Doesn’t want to wear dresses. Wants to be a cowboy rather than a cowgirl. Her comment tonight is, “I wish I was born a boy!”

We can’t quite get to where she’s coming from. Maybe too many of the books we’ve been reading aloud have boys as the main characters: Black Hawk, Sparrow Hawk, Abe Lincoln, Tom Jefferson, Will Fargo, Morgon, Robin Hood, Frodo…

Quite a while ago we read The Little House series, with Laura as the main character. And Patricia McKillip’s The Riddle Master trilogy focuses on Raederle in the second volume. But other than that, it’s been pretty masculine. Perhaps that has something to do with it. Or maybe it’s something entirely unrelated. I’ll try to find some more girl-oriented stories, hopefully adventurous ones, and we’ll also keep trying to read beneath the surface of her words.

Wouldn’t It Be Wonderful (Saturday, 30 March, 1991) After helping Kent in the orchard this afternoon, Lauren muses to me during supper, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all the fruit comes in this year, and I get my braces off, and I learn to read? Then I can sit under a peach tree, eating peaches, and reading Tom Sawyer!”

Lauren’s Stories (Monday, 1 April 1991) It occurs to me to make a note of the books we’ve been reading aloud in the evenings before bedtime. Joyce and I have been enjoying this ritual for most of our married years, but the following list (hopefully close to complete) are those we’ve shared since Lauren has been old enough to be involved with them, probably since around age 3. This list doesn’t include the multitude of other books that different ones of us have read to her individually. These are only the bedtime stories.

The Hobbit, Tolkien
The Lord of the Rings (trilogy), Tolkien
The Little House Series (6 or 7 volumes), Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Jungle Book, Kipling
Sparrow Hawk, Le Soeur
Nancy Hanks of Wilderness Road, Le Soeur
A Wind in the Door, L’Engle
A Wrinkle in Time, L’Engle
The Riddle Master trilogy, McKillip
The Incredible Journey, Burnford
The Wind in the Willows, Grahame
The Sign of the Beaver, Speare
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Twain
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain

While we’re at it, I may as well note the audio tape stories that she’s fond of and listens to over and over again. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and The Lord of the Rings were the first two that she devoured. We taped them off of N.P.R. years ago and she took to them like a fish to water.

Then we found others at the library, which we also copied: The Wind in the Willows, Robin Hood, The Secret Garden, The Wizard of Oz, and Alice in Wonderland. She listens to all of them repeatedly.

Pondering the wish before blowing out the candles
Pondering the wish before blowing out the candles

One In Each Ear (Monday, 22 April 1991) Joyce is marveling at how wonderful the new hardwood floors in our living room are, saying that we’ll never regret the time or money we invested in them. Lauren, standing next to her, replies, “I already regret them! You have to always be careful not to drop anything heavy on them, or scratch them, or mess them up. You’re both always reminding me, one in each ear!”

Yippee Shoes (Saturday, 27 April 1991) Joyce bought Lauren a pair of Ninja Turtle shoes the last time we were in town. She loves them. It was the first time in Lauren’s seven years that Joyce has bought a new pair of shoes for her. All the others have either been presents or have come from thrift stores.

So tonight, as Joyce and Lauren are getting ready to go to a post-workday drumming and chanting session, Lauren starts to put on one of her older pairs of shoes. Joyce asks if she doesn’t want to wear her new Ninjas.

“No,” Lauren replies, “they’re my Yippee shoes.”

“Yippee shoes?” says Joyce. “What are Yippee shoes?”

“Oh, they’re the shoes I wear when I’m going someplace fancy.”

Lofty Brown (Thursday, 2 May 1991) Lauren is still very much into wanting to be considered a boy. Right now, specifically, she’s a cowboy. Not a cowgirl; a cowboy! She comes up to the community shelter for breakfast dressed the part. Old faded jeans with a hole in the knee, a brightly colored shirt, a western style belt, her high-top black rubber boots serving as cowboy boots, a wide-brimmed straw hat, and a bandanna tied around her neck.

She’s also looking for another name. At first she considered Lawrence instead of Lauren. But the other day she announced that her name is now Lofty. Lofty Brown. And she has requested that we all try to remember to address her as Lofty.

Ambleeance and Extracise (Saturday, 4 May 1991) Lauren keeps stumbling over two words. Her pronunciations are so cute, however, that we’re not making much of an effort to correct them. Ambulance comes out ambleeance; exercise is rendered as extracise.

The Mind Never Really Knows For Sure (Thursday, 16 May 1991) With alternative healing, or maybe with any kind of healing, you never know whether or not there’s a causal relationship between a particular therapy and a particular result. We learned several month’s ago, for example, that two of Lauren’s incoming teeth were hung up and would probably require some significant orthodontic work.

So I started to do sound and color sessions for her. As the situation unfolded, we ended up choosing an orthodontist who made an encouraging assessment, applied some non-drastic techniques, and helped bring the problem teeth down. Now to what extent, if any, did the sound and color work set up an energy field around Lauren’s teeth which promoted the healing directly (by helping her teeth slide more easily into place) and/or indirectly (through our choice of this particular orthodontist)?

The heart senses a connection and feels strengthened by it. But the mind never really knows for sure. And perhaps there’s grace, wisdom, and even safety in that uncertainty.

Here You Are, Sir (Tuesday, 21 May 1991) We’re at the Roanoke public library. I’m in the reference area. Lauren takes her library card over to the counter to check out some books. She’s in Lofty mode: pants and a short haircut. A few minutes later she returns beaming and tells me that the librarian handed the books back to her with the comment, “Here you are, sir.” Lauren was as tickled as could be to have been mistaken for a boy.

The Lofty Chronicles: 2 — Gifts and Abilities

Gifts and Abilities

Lauren and Joyce at the pond
Lauren and Joyce at the pond

Summer 1991

Richard and Lin and Lauren (Saturday, 1 June 1991) Richard and Lin come over for some problem-solving this morning. They have asked for help in facilitating their attempts to work out a thorny child-custody problem. It doesn’t feel as though we’re too successful. The roots of fear and resentment run deep, overpowering a verbally affirmed desire to stretch toward a win-win solution. I’m left with a discouraging sense of how compelling our inertial patterns are.

Later this afternoon, however, at the pond, I watch as Lauren makes a startling breakthrough in learning to swim. In fifteen or twenty minutes, with virtually no assistance from me, she goes from a highly tentative, apprehensive, and very brief ducking of her head underwater to actually swimming underwater. I am astonished, and she is surprised and pleased as well.

It presents a nice counterpoint to my discouraging morning, for here she is transforming compulsive fear into accomplishment before my eyes. Maybe the key is ripeness. Today Lauren was ready and willing to learn. Her motivation was high. Her desire, in other words, overcame her fear.

Cathartic Illnesses (Thursday, 6 June 1991) I find it curious, in retrospect, that my transition from Arden to Light Morning consisted of three stages, each marked or triggered by a severe illness–the arm tumor which confronted Joyce and me with the possibility of my death and helped set up our pilgrimage in the van; the devastating flu-like illness on the campus of Dalhousie University which loosened our focus on Nova Scotia and set the stage for the impulse to go to Virginia Beach; and the similar illness in Virginia Beach, which set the stage for the A.L.M. readings and the move to Light Morning.

It’s as though the three illnesses were a deep and thorough cleansing which helped free me from the constraints of the familiar. In the same vein, my highly traumatic “fire experience,” coming just one week after Lauren was born, prepared me for parenthood.

Rites of passage. Initiations. A forced surrender of the old to make way for the new.

Super Heroes (Friday, 7 June 1991) We’re in Roanoke, taking Felix (a cat who’s trying to adopt us) to the vet. While in town we run a few errands. Lauren’s hot to get something at K-Mart. After much sorting through of items and prices she ends up purchasing two small figures, one of Bat Man and the other of Spider Man. Later in the afternoon, at Goodwill, she buys a small statuette of the Virgin Mary, who immediately becomes the companion of Bat Man and Spider Man. Quite the archetypal threesome!

Lifelong Learning (Thursday, 13 June 1991) I’m watching Lauren and Nathan build a dam in the small trickle of a creek in the woods behind where the Days’ house is being re-built after the fire. I’m watching the workmen lay the block for the new foundation walls. I’m watching myself watching the children and the workers, and feeling that learning is truly lifelong. If we’re alive, we’re learning. The only choice lies in what attitude we hold as we approach our learnings.

That Dumb Bar Hit Me (Friday, 14 June 1991) This is a variation on the theme of the mason hitting his head on the lintel and believing that someone has dropped something on him. Lauren’s best friend Sage is in the garden with me this morning, using her tools to help double-dig a bed. While swinging the fork to break up the soil, he hits himself with the handle. He glares at the tool accusingly, then says, “That dumb tool hit me.” After giving the fork a good pinch to punish it, he goes back to work.

What a perfect mirror, I think with a smile, of how most of us react, most of the time, when people or circumstances cross us or cause us pain. “That dumb bar hit me,” we think, in an accusatory tone, and we’re tempted to give the person or circumstance a good pinch in return, conveniently ignoring our own intimately co-creative role in the drama.

Be a Good Sport (Saturday, 15 June 1991) It’s funny how words and phrases sometimes fly in out of the blue. I’m working in the garden, for example, minding my own business, when I “hear” the words, “Be a good sport.”

“Now what in the world does that mean,” I wonder.

At first I take the phrase rather literally. A good sport loses a game gracefully. Coming close upon the heels of this association, however, and almost as a correction, is the felt sense that the word “sport” is intended in its biological connotation. During lunch I double-check my memory with the dictionary and, sure enough, “sport” is defined as “a sudden spontaneous deviation or variation from type; a mutation; an individual organism which differs from its parents beyond the usual limits of individual variation.”

Then I remember visiting Jim and Amber yesterday and seeing Dan’s dog Sport in their front yard, nursing an injured paw. Perhaps my playfully associative mind starts with the name of Dan’s dog, takes it to the phrase “be a good sport,” and then puts a creative twist on it by implying the biological definition of sport.

The root correlation between the two uses of the word is that sport derives from disport (to be carried away). In sports, then, such as recreation, play, and amusement, we are literally “carried away” from our normal routines and boundaries. And biologically, a sport is carried far enough away from its parental type to be considered a mutation.

Back in the garden again after lunch, other associations come to mind–watching Tom and Lauren playing together earlier in the day, and my sensing the freedom and expansiveness in such play; my enjoyment of the seemingly hard “work” of double-digging the garden beds, to the point where work and play become indistinguishable; and Seth talking about creative play being a core motivational force in the universe.

To be a “good sport,” therefore, means to not be so attached to winning or so fearful of losing that we spoil the playfulness of the game. And the same phrase implies that as we allow the spirit of creative play to move more freely into our days, it can have such a dramatically transformative effect upon us as to be considered mutational.

Thinking About Telephones (Thursday, 20 June 1991) Lauren’s first words to Joyce this morning are, “I’ve been thinking about telephones.” And she proceeds to describe how she would put the various elements of a telephone together if she were inventing one.

She’s on a curious, problem-solving streak. She loves to join one of our communal brainstorming sessions when we’re trying to figure out the best way to install or repair something. She’ll mull it over, then say, “Maybe this would work,” and go on to offer a suggestion. It reminds me of her grandpa Joe’s inventiveness and her grandmother Hope’s love of tinkering with and fixing mechanical things.

I Hate Poetry (Saturday, 22 June 1991) One of Lauren’s magazines has come in and I’m reading the table of contents to her to see what she’d like to have read to her. She asks about one particular title and I tell her that it’s a poem.

“I hate poetry,” she immediately replies.

I’m fascinated by her response, wondering where it comes from. I’ll try to explore it further with some very subtle and indirect offerings of poems that she mighty enjoy.

Harnessing Her Enthusiasm (Saturday, 6 July 1991) The first key to real home education is to keep my relationship with Lauren clear. To approach her with respect and affection. And to use creative problem-solving to work through the inevitable bumps that arise in our relationship.

The second key is to help provide as rich an environment as possible and then to be responsive to her expressions of interest in the world around her. To fan the small but vital embers of her curiosity. To support her as she explores and then learns to harness her enthusiasm. This is what child-led learning is all about. I avoid the imposition of fixed curriculums like the plague.

At the pond
On the shore of the pond

The Magic of Water (Monday, 8 July 1991) As Lauren and I are getting ready to leave the pond today, she pauses on the shoreline, splashing absently at the water and staring at the ripples. I am already down the path a ways, needing to get home. But I wait for her, not knowing exactly what she’s looking at.

“Come here a minute,” she says, “and I’ll show you some of the magic of the water.”

I put my needs on hold and walk back to the pond.

“Look at all the lights,” she murmurs, kicking at the edge of the water.

The smooth surface instantly refracts into dozens of little suns, dancing and sparkling on the waves. It takes me a few moments to overcome my sense of familiarity and fully enter into the fresh perceptions of the moment. When I succeed in doing so, I am dazzled by the brilliant display of lights on the water.

We stand there for maybe five minutes, Lauren occasionally kicking out new ripples. Afterwards, walking home, I feel completely refreshed and rejuvenated, made literally young again.

Too Small a Space (Friday, 12 July 1991) It’s close to suppertime, toward the end of a long day. We’re picking up the living room in the community shelter. Lauren’s in a rambunctious mood. Finally Joyce says, “This is too small a space for hopscotch or for jump-rope…”

“Or for sermons!” Lauren adds, finishing Joyce’s sentence for her. We all laugh, and even Joyce has the grace to grin.

Wearing Something Girlish (Monday, 15 July 1991) We’re getting ready to head up for supper. I ask Lauren to put on something clean and nice.

“Do I have to wear something girlish?” she asks.

I smile and say no. So she puts on some shorts and a t-shirt. Yet she’ll have Mira over and they’ll play Cinderella together and get decked out in dresses and all the accessories. She’s having fun shifting back and forth between Lofty and Lauren.

Growing a Quick Beard (Sunday, 14 July 1991) Not too long ago, we took Lauren to see the movie version of Robin Hood, starring Kevin Costner. We had just finished reading the book to her and she had wanted to see the movie.

Now, with Joyce on her way to West Virginia to help teach calligraphy, I take Lauren to see Dances With Wolves, also starring Costner. As the movie opens, he is sporting a shaggy beard, whereas in Robin Hood he was clean shaven.

Lauren immediately leans over to me and whispers, “How did he grow his beard so quickly?!”

Kids flesh out their cultural view of the world so smoothly that it’s startling to see a blank spot. Something that isn’t filled in yet. It’s wonderfully refreshing.

Becoming Limber (Monday, 29 July 1991) Lauren and I are doing yoga together. She can do things with her body that I can’t even begin to do. She tells me that she’s been practicing. I say it has more to do with her still being a limber kid, adding that if I want to get as limber as she is I’ll have to do a lot of yoga practice.

“Or you could become a little kid again,” she replies.

Lauren, Claire, Myra
Lauren, Claire, Myra

I’m a Girl (Sunday, 29 July 1991) Lauren and Claire have been playing together most of the day, dressing up in princess clothes. At one point I overhear Lauren say, either to herself or to Claire, “I’m a girl.”

Apparently she’s wanting to assert her freedom to get into dresses. She even wears one up to lunch, but makes everyone promise not to tease her or make fun of her. She seems a little awkward about it, but is also enjoying the change. Later in the afternoon she’s back in shorts and a t-shirt, sitting out on the back porch, busily removing the toenail polish from her toes before going up to supper.

Loss of Innocence (Wednesday, 31 July 1991) Lauren and I are heading out for the final pee of the evening. I tell her that tomorrow it will be August. We get to talking about the different months and seasons. She tells me that she can’t wait until Christmas. After a pause she says, “You know, Mom was the one that filled my stocking with presents last year.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. I recognized the wrapping paper.”

“Well,” I say, feeling her loss of innocence, “at least you don’t know what your presents are going to be.”

She simply ignores my attempt to soften it, however, saying, “Now it’s no fun any more.”

The President’s Wife (Thursday, 1 August 1991) I’m raking gravel along the driveway. Lauren has come out on her bike to join me and is playing by the roadside while I rake. After a long silence, she asks, “Do you think that I might grow up to be the President’s wife?”

“Sure,” I reply. “That’s possible. What’s more, you might grow up to be the President.”

She looks at me astonished. “Can a woman be President?!”

“Yes,” I say, wincing a bit at the memory of my suffragette grandmother fighting for the right to even vote. “It hasn’t happened yet, but by the time you grow up I bet there will be a woman President. They’ve just had a woman President, called a Prime Minister, in England, and other countries have had women Presidents, too.”

She looks thrilled at the prospect and declares that it would be much more fun to be President than to be the President’s wife. We go on to joke about her husband being the President’s husband. I ask what she’d like to do if she were President. She says she’d put an end to all the big wars.

Cicada
Cicada

Beautiful Mating Cicadas (Monday, 5 August 1991) Walking back from the pond today, after swimming with Joyce and Lauren, I find a pair of beautifully interlocked cicadas on the road, entwined in their mating and absolutely still, as though they’re dead or in some kind of deep trance.

I carefully pick them up so that we can get a better look at them. There is only the barest hint of movement in one of the legs. While I’m carrying them homeward, they very gradually come back to life. By the time we reach our house, they are gripping my hand with their feet but are still joined together. I transfer them on our outdoor lantern and they settle there without moving. But when I check on them shortly thereafter they have flown away.

They are extraordinarily beautiful creatures, with their translucent wings and richly colored bodies. Lauren got a lovely demonstration of the “birds and the bees.”

The Birthday Balloon (Tuesday, 13 August 1991) A startling experience in the woods today. Lauren has been eager to go for more walks as part of our home-schooling times. I haven’t been carving enough time out of my busy schedule to follow up on her impulse. It’s easier to flow into schooling projects around the house or the community shelter, even though I know that not only will it be good for her to get out in the woods and prowl around more often, it will also be a tonic for me.

So today we finally shake free of our inertial patterns and go for a walk, following no particular plan, just letting our interests guide us from one place to the next, from stream to hill to fallen tree.

We are well into the woods, in a place to the west of the dwellings, where neither of us has ever been before. Suddenly I see a flash of bright red and white lodged against the underside of some bushes a little ways ahead. My first impression is that it’s a piece of litter; probably an empty potato chips bag.

Then I wonder how in the world it could have ended up in this remote spot. It couldn’t have blown in this far, and we make a point of not leaving trash around. So I walk over, pull it out from under the bush, and smooth it out as best as I can.

Slowly the pattern comes into focus: a variety of white hearts on a flamboyantly red background. And there’s a string or ribbon attached to it. Suddenly it clicks into a recognizable object. It’s a helium birthday balloon. Obviously Lauren’s, even though her birthday is in April and now it’s August. One that had apparently escaped and sailed away over the tree tops to eventually land in this obscure part of the forest.

Then Lauren remembers that on her last birthday, Gretel had left a birthday balloon for her, tied to our mailbox. It had disappeared before Lauren or anyone else had seen it. We always assumed that it had come untied and drifted skyward, never to be seen again.

But here it is, spread out on the ground before us, still very much heart-shaped and still retaining its bright birthday colors. Lauren and I grin at each other, and I muse on the wonderful synchronicity of finding this marvelous token on the very first time that we rouse ourselves enough to actually get out into the woods and walk. Good confirmation of the impulse.

Just Like When I Was a Little Kid (Tuesday, 20 August 1991) We’re leaving the community shelter, heading toward our house. It’s a crisp, autumn-like evening. The sky is clear. A waxing gibbous moon lights up the hills.

Lauren takes a deep breath and says, “I love nights like this. They’re my very favorite kind of nights.”

“What do you like about them?” I ask.

“I don’t know. They make me feel… They make me feel just like when I was a little kid.”

I Like Being Blind (Tuesday, 13 August 1991) Lauren walks down to the house this evening with her eyes closed, pretending to be blind. She carries her sightlessness into the house, trying to floss and brush her teeth without opening her eyes.

“I like being blind,” she says.

“What do you like about it?” I ask, remembering her interest in Laura’s blind sister Mary in The Little House series.

“Oh, I like not being able to see things, and having to feel everything. I wish I were magical so I could be blind whenever I felt like it. It would be fun to be blind sometimes. But I wouldn’t want to be blind all the time. That’s why I don’t poke my eyes out.”

Double-Take (Monday, 26 August 1991) David, Mary, and Sage have been away at the beach the past week and are due back soon. Lauren’s eager for their return. This morning in the community shelter, she and I are in the kitchen, canning tomatoes. Lauren sees Ron drive his yellow pick-up truck, Sunshine, toward the tool shed. So she decides to trick me.

“Here come David and Mary and Sage,” she says.

At the very moment she speaks these words, however, Sage walks through the door into the kitchen and says, “Hi, Lauren.”

He and Mary are back from the beach and have walked over to visit, unbeknownst to Lauren, who does the most classic double-take imaginable. She is completely nonplussed. Her face displays a mixture of disbelief, wonder, and fear. Then the tension of all these feelings explode into hilarious laughter, which helps her to quickly re-arrange her normal waking sense of reality, and she and Sage run outside to play.

Public Education (Tuesday, 27 August 1991) I have just read an article in the Fall 1991 issue of Whole Earth Review that really strikes home. It’s called “The 6-Lesson Schoolteacher,” by John Taylor Gatto. He’s the New York State Teacher of the Year, yet he writes a damning indictment of public education. I can’t begin to summarize it here. It’s quite powerful, and is a strong inducement to continue home schooling with Lauren.

A Question Out of the Blue (Tuesday, 27 August 1991) Lauren pops a fascinating question out of the blue at me today. As we’re walking down the path, she asks, “Who do you think is at the top of the tallest building in the world right now?”

Who but a child could ask a question like that?

Gifts and Abilities (Saturday, 31 August 1991) Lauren and I returning from the Days, having helped them paint some of the trim for their new house. She’s tickled, because I had warned her that she might not be able to paint much, if at all, and then it had unfolded to where she, Nathan, and I had painted the trim for a couple of hours. She got to use both a brush and a small roller, only stepped in the tray of paint twice, and had a wonderful time doing something she’d never done before.

“This is like Tom Sawyer white-washing the fence,” she had said at one point. “This is fun!”

So walking home at dusk, she suddenly asks me what I have that she doesn’t have. I’m puzzled at her question, thinking it must be some kind of guessing game.

“A belt?” I say.

“No, no. What do you have inside you that I don’t have? What special things, like painting, can you do better than I can do? And what special things can I do better than you can do?”

So this leads into a discussion of gifts and abilities. I explain that I don’t necessarily have a gift for painting, but that I have done more painting than she has and have therefore developed more of an ability to paint. She wants to know what gifts I think I have. I mention working with dreams, and listening to other people, and writing.

“I’m not sure about gardening,” I say, “whether that’s a gift or an ability.”

Then she asks what gifts I think she has. Things that she can do better than I can.

“Art,” I reply. “You have a wonderful sense of shapes and designs and colors that I don’t have.”

Then she talks about how much she likes to draw and how she can happily spend hours with just a pencil and a piece of paper.

The conversation meanders on as we walk down the driveway in the fading light, Lauren riding her bike slowly beside me, puzzling over those talents that we seem to be born with, and whether or not we choose to develop them. Her interest may have been seeded by the two biographies of George Washington Carver that we’ve been reading aloud in the evenings. And, of course, by her growing interest in her own specialness and uniqueness. Who she is as a person. What her gifts and potentials are.

Circles
Circles (by Lauren)

The Lofty Chronicles: 3 — The Terrible Irony of Pinocchio

The Terrible Irony of Pinocchio

Sage and Lauren with marigolds
Sage and Lauren with marigolds

Autumn 1991

You Can’t Just Say No (Monday, 2 September 1991) Our new grain grinder has just arrived. A very expensive machine that we have high hopes for. It is beautifully designed, with a large flywheel that makes cranking it quite easy. Even Lauren can turn the handle with no trouble, which greatly thrills her. Now she’s able to grind flour like the rest of us.

Unfortunately, the output is far below both our expectations and the claims of the manufacturer. Having cranked on it for a while and seen the paltry amount of flour, and then run some trials with a timer, measuring cup, and scales, we are of one mind– the grinder will have to be returned.

This “we,” however, has not included Lauren. Her eyes fill with tears when she learns of our collective intention to ship back the lovely grinder that she can make flour with. All our reasons and statistics are meaningless to her. And I’m afraid that “we,” who place such an emphasis on consensus, have already made a “consensual” decision which has excluded the littlest member of our community.

Despite Lauren’s obvious involvement in the question, we have acted as though consensus is for adults only. We have effectively disenfranchised her from the decision-making process. She catches our drift and walks away in tears.

Shortly thereafter we at least have the grace to realize what a bunch of neighborhood bullies we’ve been. For a lunchtime chore, she and I go out to grind some flour on the two machines. I explain how we can’t afford to spend an hour on the new, slow machine in order to grind a day’s worth of flour. But, I add, we’re not going to make any final decision or take any action unless she feels O.K. with it, too.

She immediately senses my sincerity. Seeing that we have turned away from going over her head with the decision, she looks at me reproachfully. “That’s right!” she says. “You can’t just say no and walk away.”

I hug her and agree that she is right and we have been wrong and that we still have a lot to learn. Then we proceed to run our own tests on the two machines.

Mama or the Tooth Fairy (Wednesday, 4 September 1991) This morning I ask Lauren if she remembers her dreams. Last night one of her front teeth finally came out. It had been loose for days and she had been teasing us with it, pushing it back up into the roof of her mouth with her tongue, to make it appear that it had already fallen out.

Just before bed, however, she had suddenly squealed, “I got it!” And there it was in her hand. Under the pillow it went for the tooth fairy, and early this morning, while I was at the computer, Joyce stuck her head up the stairs and asked me to get a dollar [talk about inflation!] to put under Lauren’s pillow.

So this morning, when I ask Lauren about her dreams, she tells me that she has dreamed that she is watching and listening very carefully all night, “to see if it was Mama or the tooth fairy that would put the dollar under my pillow.”

I smile and nod, and neither of us says anything more. Both of us, however, can feel the seasons changing as another piece of the magical world of childhood is lost along with the tooth. There’s no nostalgia or regret; just the leaving behind of something pleasurable and comfortable, and the moving forward into the excitement of the unknown.

Pencil sketch and stickers man
Pencil sketch and stickers man

 

A Sand Castle for the Queen (Friday, 6 September 1991) We’re set to leave for the beach tomorrow. Lauren awakens this morning and her first words are, “Daddy, put away the sun glasses so you can help me build a sand castle for the Queen.” Apparently she has just emerged from a dream and is speaking the dream words in her waking world.

Daddy’s Playful Without Adults (Thursday, 26 September 1991) Wes brings Rosie up for a play-day/home-schooling morning with Lauren. I’m planning to take the girls for a walk in the woods and suggest that Wes come along with us. Lauren, however, objects. When I ask why, she very perceptively states that if another adult is along for the walk I’ll spend all my time talking with the adult instead of playing with the children. Joyce then asks Lauren if she thinks I won’t be as playful if Wes joins the walk. Lauren immediately replies, “Daddy’s playful without adults. But with adults? Not much.”

Indian Mounds (Thursday, 26 September 1991) While Lauren, Rosie, and I are walking in the woods, we come upon an old pile of white quartz stones. I’m somewhat ahead of the girls, picking up hickory nuts, and I overhear Lauren telling Rose, “This might be an Indian mound. When an Indian died they put stones over him. So the Indian’s buried under them. It doesn’t sound too comfortable, does it? But the Indian’s already dead. It doesn’t hurt. Too much.”

Pencil sketch and stickers lady
Pencil sketch and stickers lady

 

How Do Deaf People Think? (Sunday, 29 September 1991) At supper this evening, Lauren asks Joyce how deaf people think. She has apparently been paying attention to how she thinks in words, and is wondering how someone who has never heard spoken words would formulate their thoughts. I suggest that perhaps a deaf person’s thoughts might take the form of sounds or colors. We’ll turn to Helen Keller’s life story sometime soon.

“Alysia’s Talking Head” (Monday, 30 September 1991) Lauren whimpers in the night, apparently with a hard dream. Before going to bed, we had read a scary part of The Earthsea Trilogy, in which Ged is attacked by a gebbeth. This morning I ask Lauren if she recalls any of her dreams. She says that in one of them she and Nathan and someone else are someplace where there are a lot of bodies. Then they find Alysia’s head on a table. But she’s still alive and can talk with them. “We’d better get you back on your body,” Lauren tells her, “before it’s too late.”

The Terrible Irony of Pinocchio (Thursday, 3 October 1991) A sudden realization of how ironic the Pinocchio story is in relation to Lauren’s home education. Pinocchio is lured away from school by some boys who appear to be having a wonderful time. Later, though, these truants are transformed into donkeys.

We, on the other hand, find that children are often lured to school by the prospect of finding playmates. In preschool and kindergarten, and even into the early grades, it’s largely fun and games. Inexorably, however, most kids succumb to the intense social and educational conditioning that readies them for a life of conformity to the norms and demands of the conventional culture. Essentially, therefore, it is school which transforms them into donkeys.

Through my eyes, at least, this is quite an ironic reversal of the Pinocchio story.

Making Rhythms (Friday, 11 October 1991) Lauren accompanies me on her bike this morning while I go for my morning walk. As we’re passing the pond she remarks, seemingly out of the blue, “Making rhythms is one of my favorite things. You can make rhythms with almost anything.”

“How do you mean?” I ask.

“You know, like 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4. Or 1-2-3, 1-2-3.”

So we pause and beat out some rhythms on a nearby mailbox.

Then she says, “Sometimes I’m making a rhythm, like at night or in the community shelter, and you tell me to stop, but I’m so attached to it that I’ve just got to finish it.”

Gunplay (Friday, 11 October 1991) I’m transplanting onions in the garden this morning when I notice Lauren running around with a long, gun-shaped stick. She hides behind a clump of ornamental grass and then shoots at an imaginary foe. Her behavior amuses and surprises me. I played guns all the time growing up, but I don’t recall seeing Lauren doing much of it at all.

So when her play takes her past my garden bed, and she involves me in the game, I ask who we are and what’s happening. She says that I’m a farmer in the fort and she’s one of the guards protecting me. I flash to the story she and Joyce are reading about George Washington’s early career as a military officer, manning the forts in the same area where we now live.

Later, the cast of characters shifts to Star Wars. Still later, she mentions having watched GI Joe on TV this morning, which seems to have “triggered” her play. If there were other kids around who were into gunplay, perhaps she’d do it more often. But I don’t recall it being much of a draw when she gets together with her friends.

Lauren’s Perfect Kind of Work (Saturday, 12 October 1991) Lauren is hanging around while Ron and I are putting shingles on the roof of his new tool shed. For a while she is playing on the ground with the scraps of remnant shingle that we are discarding. Then she comes up onto the roof to see if there’s some way in which she can help.

Ron says she can peel off the strips of protective cellophane that cover the band of tar on each shingle. She does so for quite some time, thoroughly enjoying herself. Toward the end she says, “This is the perfect kind of work. It’s something that I like doing, and that’s helpful to you.”

This is precisely the kind of attitude toward work that we’re trying to foster, not only in Lauren, but in ourselves. We must set good examples, of course. We can’t encourage Lauren to enjoy her work if we’re not having fun ourselves. Nor can we be of much help if we don’t let her join our roofing project, for example, or if we don’t bother to find a genuine way for her to participate. Make-work is seldom fun.

Lauren helps us learn to work, as well. Enjoyable work is playful work, and children are the masters of play. Day by day, Lauren models her mastery for us, if we would but see it.

We come from the pole of responsible work; she from the pole of spontaneous play. Together we seek a common ground called pleasurable work, one that both eases Lauren’s transition into adulthood and that restores our own child-like delight in the tasks before us.

Teaching each other to work
Teaching each other to work

A Christmas Poem (Sunday, 17 November 1991) Joyce recently wrote a short poem for the Christmas cards we’re sending out this year. Lauren got so caught up in the excitement of poetry, despite her previous claims of disliking it, that she fashioned one of her own.

Christmas is fun and Christmas is nice
The children are singing and playing with ice.
And when they’re all done building snowmen and castles
They all come indoors to give Dad a hassle.

When it is morning and the sun rises
They all get up early and open surprises.
With a jump and a hop and a skip and a twirl
They’re all out the door and away with a whirl.

All Right, Dude! (Saturday, 30 November 1991) We recently ordered some shareware programs, including a couple of educational ones for Lauren. She’s been working (that is, playing) with one called Googol Math. It’s an arcade style game. The goal is to maneuver a small figure through various openings, past obstacles, and then jump him up and bump the number that’s the correct answer to an equation.

For example, the equation at the beginning of a game might be 9 + 8 = ?. There are eight numbers spread out across the display screen. Lauren has to figure out the correct answer to the problem, and then move her figure to where she can bump into it.

There are different speeds and different kinds of problems–addition, subtraction, multiplication, division. You score points for how many right answers you get before your figure gets killed by bumping into the wrong numbers. There are also sound effects and on-screen feedback (“Perfect, Lofty” or “Lofty is the champ”) whenever a score is made.

Lauren’s having a grand time with the game. She’ll lobby hard for some computer time and then plug in her game diskette and go at it. We hear the beeps and whistles, along with occasional comments such as, “I accept the challenge” and “All right, Dude,” the latter presumably borrowed from Ninja Turtle lingo.

In the meantime, she’s getting friendly with the computer and is practicing her math drills.

As Joyce says, “There’s no way she’d sit still for that long with a set of math flash cards.”

Waiting in the wings is School Mom, a similar but more comprehensive educational software program, and FasType, which teaches touch typing. We will no doubt have to exercise some discrimination and see what programs grab and keep her attention, but it’s looking like the computer will be a helpful component of her home schooling.

Crossover Nightmares (Saturday, 30 November 1991) Last night Joyce dreamt than Lauren had been abducted by a group of people. Lauren, the same night, dreamt that Joyce had been abducted by a group of people. Both dreams verged on being nightmares. There was a lot of emotion in them for both of them. It’s a good example of what we refer to as “bleed-through dreams.”

The Lofty Chronicles: 4 — On Loan From the Universe

On Loan From the Universe

Tom and Lauren
Tom and Lauren

 

Winter 1991

A Family Vignette (Thursday, 5 December 1991) A beautiful vignette this evening, of life in our new form of family. After supper, Joyce goes off to the village meeting at the Institute for Sustainable Living. Marlene’s at her weekly gathering with Harry and Doris. The rest of us are sitting around in the community shelter by lamplight. Kent’s in the kitchen, reading the current issue of Harrowsmith. Ron’s near the stove, reading a book about dream-work. I’m on the couch, reading an old issue of Whole Earth Review. And Lauren is in Tom’s lap, in the rocking chair, listening intently to stories about his youth, for which she seems to have an insatiable appetite, and which he loves to share. Everything’s warm and cozy and family.

First Day at School (Wednesday, 11 December 1991) Mary invites Lauren to accompany Sage to Blue Mountain School yesterday. She goes and has a good time. It’s mostly a pre-school play group. I’m sure she’ll want to go back again. So the question of schooling is broached (necessarily so) and we begin to dance our way toward understanding.

They Don’t Need Those Things (Thursday, 12 December 1991) Just as supper is ending, Lauren gets out the Body Boggle game and tries to interest folks in playing it with her. Marlene and Joyce are away for the evening, the former to Harry and Doris’ and the latter to a gathering honoring the women elders of the wider community. So Lauren has only the four men to coax into her energetic game, and most of them are tired out from a full day’s work.

She resolutely goes ahead anyway, explaining what the various players are supposed to do and asking who wants to be which player. “I’ll play the spectator,” says Kent.

She glares at him and turns to Ron. “I’ll be the cheerleader,” Ron suggests.

“No!” Lauren replies in an exasperated tone, clearly frustrated with these old fogies. “They don’t need any of those things.”

Having cooked the meal, and therefore being exempt from the after-dinner chores, I choose to play Body Boggle with her. I’m surprised by how energizing it is, as I stretch into the necessary contortions, spreading out my hands, feet, and head to touch the letters of the words she spells for me.

So having yielded to my daughter’s desire to play, despite my fatigue, I find myself with more energy than I had before I started. An important lesson to remember.

The Infiltration of Garlic (Sunday, 15 December 1991) It’s fascinating to see small but nevertheless dramatic changes slowly being incorporated into our lifestyle. Take garlic, as an example. The first person I recall using garlic medicinally was Irene. She’d chew on a clove occasionally when she felt a cold coming on. We thought it was rather crude, socially, for her to pollute the room with the stench of garlic.

I believe Kent was next, some years later, to give garlic a try. Joyce, Lauren, and I followed suit soon thereafter. And the other night, Stan was talking about how he had tried several cloves to ward off an impending cold. And it worked. Doug, having never tried garlic himself, was encouraging Stan to use it.

So gradually, a small but significant piece of the alternative lifestyle becomes established– because it works, and because it meets a real need, despite the social taboo against its use. It’s a good little parable.

Naomi Dancing (Sunday, 15 December 1991) Lauren dreamt of Naomi last night. She says that Naomi was dancing, that she had dark skin (“like an Indian”), and that she was wearing a dress made of patches (“like a patchwork quilt”). Naomi was at the party last night. And she was dancing quite a bit, which neither Joyce nor I mentioned upon our return.

Beyond the specifics, however, it feels as though Lauren was picking up on something while she slept. The party was significant for the neighborhood. I can’t put my finger on why, other than to say that an event like that was needed, that the need was met, and that Lauren’s dream images capture the feeling-tone of the need having been met.

In the dream, Naomi (who is generally rather reclusive) was dancing. She had skin like an Indian (tribal activity). And she was wearing a patchwork dress (the neighborhood as a patchwork quilt). The specifics are clumsy. Yet the feeling-tone of the party and of the dream do seem to match.

Sleepy-Time Encounter (Monday, 16 December 1991) Lauren falls asleep on the living room floor tonight as we’re getting ready for bed. Joyce has already climbed under the covers. I’m brushing my teeth by the stove.

Suddenly Lauren opens her eyes and smiles at me in the strangest way. The smile is bright and wide, but she is clearly asleep. And her face is different. It’s as though someone else is smiling up at me through her sleeping features.

I kneel down beside her because it feels like she’s wanting to tell me something. She reaches up, still smiling, entwines her fingers in my beard, and pulls me down until our faces are almost touching. Then she closes her eyes, relaxes her grip on my beard, and “goes back to sleep.”

I finished brushing my teeth and carry her to her bed.

Important Things to Say (Friday, 20 December 1991) The community has had a visitor for the past couple of days. He’s an elderly man who is a monologue conversationalist. It’s hard for anyone to get a word in edgewise, and especially so for a child. At one point, Lauren tries to enter the conversation. She wants to tell him something, chooses her opening well, and speaks clearly and in a loud voice. He either doesn’t hear her or he ignores her.

She sits back on the couch, looking rather discouraged. So I lean over and say something about how frustrating it must be for her.

“He listens to what other people say,” she exclaims, with no little heat. “But he won’t listen to me.”

“Adults don’t do a real good job of listening to kids,” I reply.

“They sure don’t!”

Then, after a pause. “And you know what, it’s sad that they don’t.”

“How so?” I ask.

She looks over at me, as the monologue drones on in the background, and says, “Because kids have important things to say.”

Is the Community Poor? (Sunday, 22 December 1991) Rose and Wes came for a visit this morning. Then Rose came back this evening with Shara to go caroling with us. Walking into Light Morning, she asks Shara, “Is the community poor?”

“What do you mean by ‘poor’?”

“Well, Lauren doesn’t have a TV and can’t watch the cartoons on Saturday morning.”

Then, after a moment’s pause, she adds, “But she has the woods that she can play in any time she wants to.”

Another pause.

“I think Lauren’s way is better.”

Double Special (Monday, 23 December 1991) A nice warm time with Lauren after lunch today. She has come over to sit in my lap after she has finished eating. When it comes time to do the chores, she is so cozy and contented that she begs me not to get up. So I relinquish the chore routine and we continue to cuddle for a while.

Then this evening, while she and I are walking over to visit the Days, she says, “You’ve been really special today.”

“How so?”

“Well, you’re always special. But today you feel double special.”

“That’s nice.”

“Yeah. It must go back to that time we spent together after lunch. That was real special.”

New tools for Christmas
New tools for Christmas

 

Resistance to Change? (Thursday, 26 December 1991) Someone gives Light Morning a used couch. Before any of us have seen it, we are considering whether or not to keep it and, if so, for the community shelter or for one of the guest houses. Lauren is deeply opposed to the idea of having it come into the shelter. She doesn’t want it to take the place of the old bedspread-covered couch that we’ve been tolerating all these years.

I find her attachment to the status quo, her resistance to change, interesting. The rest of us are enthusiastic about replacing the current relic. She, however, is lobbying hard to leave things as they are.

Then we all go out to the parking lot to take a look at the couch, which is in the back of Tom’s truck. We quickly realize that it’s not in good shape, and dismiss the notion of it coming into the shelter. All of us, that is, except Lauren, who does a 180 and starts urging us to bring it in.

I suddenly realize that what she’s exploring isn’t so much a resistance to change, but rather the dynamics of group decision-making. When the adults are all interested in replacing the existing couch, she opposes the idea. And when the adults shift their position and decide against it, she shifts her position and favors the idea.

Tommy Knows (Friday, 3 January 1992) Lauren and Tom went to Roanoke yesterday. They did some laundry, had lunch at Show Biz pizza, and went to see Beauty and the Beast. Both of them had a good time. This morning Lauren says to me, in passing, “Tommy knows when I like things. I don’t know how. He just does.”

Sometimes I Can’t (Saturday, 4 January 1992) Lauren was rough on Joyce tonight. Not listening or being responsive to her needs. Joyce went down to the house early. As Lauren and I leave the community shelter later, I suggest that maybe she hasn’t been very tuned in to where Joyce is. She gets defiant and huffy and distant at first, looking down at me from the deck of the community shelter to where I’m standing on the ground below.

When I re-affirm my feelings that she hasn’t been respecting Joyce’s needs, though, she suddenly shifts gears. Coming over to me, she leans her head softly against mine. “Sometimes I just can’t,” she says. “As I get older, the cant’s are fewer. But sometimes I still can’t.”

Her turning instantly turns me. I’m deeply moved by her recognition of her limits and can easily empathize with her bumping up against the hard edges of those limits now and then.

Flexibility Is the Key (Thursday, 9 January 1992) With home schooling, flexibility is the key. My being able to read “the signs of the times” is crucial. Lauren clearly signals her interests and disinterests. If I am ready, willing, and able to follow these “highway signs,” we will both have an easier, happier, and more educational experience than if I don’t.

This afternoon, for example, coming down to the house with some pressing project or another on my mind, I find Lauren sitting on the couch surrounded by musical instruments. I have just barely enough grace to surrender my plans and follow her impulse to do music. We end up, all at her initiative, learning “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on the recorder. She has me practice it with her at least at dozen times.

Then she runs into her room, gets her blackboard and chalk, and writes out Mary Had a Little Lamb: A Recorder Duet by Lofty and Robert. She asks me how to spell the words she’s unsure of. Finally, she draws a lamb and a little girl at the top of the blackboard.

After carefully putting away the blackboard and the instruments, she arranges with me how we will surprise Joyce with the blackboard and then play the duet for her when she comes down. Which we do. All of this unfolds with such spontaneity and grace that I am staggered by the ease with which she has “studied” music, art, handwriting, and spelling.

And all that was asked of me was a willingness to be flexible and responsive. To give myself to the educational opportunities of the moment. To be open to “the signs of the times.”

I Wish This Day Had Never Come (Wednesday, 15 January 1992) When Lauren awakens this morning, the first thing she says to Joyce is, “I wish this day had never come.”

“You mean because the snow they predicted didn’t come in last night?”

“No! Because I was dreaming that you and Dad got me this little gray horse. And then I woke up.”

Tamper Tentrum (Sunday, 19 January 1992) Richard and Jacob tried to spend the night with us last night. Jacob went to sleep OK in Lauren’s room, but a while later he woke up and wanted his mother. He got to screaming and raising quite a ruckus. Richard finally capitulated and took him home.

In the morning, Lauren comments that, “Jacob really threw a tamper tentrum, didn’t he?”

Then she laughs at her own tongue twister and has to try several versions of it before coming out with what she intended.

Long Lost Brothers (Wednesday, 22 January 1992) I walk past Sage and Lauren this morning. They’re off in the woods a ways, chanting in unison, “We’re long lost brothers! We’re long lost brothers!” I have no idea what the context is or where the phrase has come from, and I forget to ask Lauren about it later.

I’m Happy! (Wednesday, 29 January 1992) We start working on the expansion of Tom’s cabin, Snowberry, today. David is focalizing. The rest of us are participating. At one point, as Joyce and I are clearing the new approach to the building, Lauren comes up to help. It’s a warm day for January, somewhere in the 50’s. Lauren has just come back from the house, having changed into shorts. She stands there in the sun, watching us work, and says, “I’m happy!!” It feels like such a true and healthy thing to say, that we all smile.

On Loan From the Universe (Friday, 31 January 1992) Lauren is growing up so fast. The years go sprinting by. Some day soon she’ll hop to the edge of the nest, test her wings, and fly. I’m realizing today that she’s only on loan from the universe. Feeling the tears rise up, at the thought of life without her. Strange tears, blending sadness and gladness.

Then comes the understanding, the visceral awareness, that not only Lauren, but also Joyce, and everyone else I know and love, are likewise on loan from the universe. Having not yet been faced with the death of a parent or the departure of a child, I am mostly shielded from the immensity of this mystery–that the universe asks us to return all that we’ve borrowed. And that the purpose of the loan isn’t to cling to those we love, but to use our passing moments with them to deepen our capacity to experience and demonstrate love itself.

More Bedtime Stories (Friday, 7 February 1992) Last April I listed the different stories that Joyce, Lauren, and I had been reading aloud as bedtime stories. Here is a more or less complete list of those we have read together since then.

Gifts of Unknown Things, Watson
Star Wars, Lucas
The Empire Strikes Back, Lucas et al
The Return of the Jedi, ibid
A Wizard of Earthsea, LeGuinn
The Tombs of Atuan, ibid
The Farthest Shore, ibid
Treasure Island, Stevenson
The Adventures of Robin Hood
Afternoon of the Elves, Lisle
George Washington Carver, Holt
Carver’s George, Means
Oversoul Seven and the Museum of Time, Roberts
A Swiftly Tilting Planet, L’Engle

“The Runaway Elephant” (Thursday, 13 February 1992) Lauren awakens this morning with a scary dream. It was triggered by the news account of a rampaging elephant at a circus in Florida. Having just been to the circus in Roanoke, Lauren related to the story directly.

In the dream, she is at the circus and an elephant gets loose and starts chasing people. We are all running away. Finally we are able to get into our car and drive back up the mountain. But soon the elephant shows up and continues to pursue us.

Upon hearing her dream, I remark that it sounds pretty frightening and that she must have wanted it to be over.

“Yeah, at first I did. But then I said to myself, ‘Hey man, it’s only a dream. Let’s see how it turns out.'”

An impressive touch of lucidity!

“Call Me Back When It’s Done” (Thursday, 13 February 1992) Lauren whimpers in her sleep early this morning. Later, after she has awakened, I ask her about her dreams. She can’t recall any at first, but then remembers one about Tom leaving Light Morning in the middle of the Snowberry expansion project. Apparently the pressure has become too much for him. His comment, on leaving, is, “Call me back when it’s done.”

[A note: Lauren was picking up on something here. A month or two later, the pressure does become too much for Tom and he takes off, asking us to let him know when the project is finished.]

Welded (Friday, 14 February 1992) Funny, the phrases kids pick up. It snowed this morning. I mention to Lauren that Sage will probably stay home today, rather than go to Blue Mountain school.

“I’m welded to going over there!” she exclaims. “And you can’t break a weld. Not unless you can break iron.”

Mommy (Sunday, 16 February 1992) When Lauren awakens this morning, her first word is a somewhat plaintive, “Mommy!” She doesn’t have anything special on her mind; just wants to check in with Joyce and see what she’s doing. Her way of checking in, however, triggers a rush of associations. I feel the depth and intensity of the connection between a mother and her child. What a difference between calling someone “mother” and calling her “mommy.” Like the difference between “father” and “daddy.”

Then I remember reading that when Jesus, during his agony in Gethsemane, calls out to his Father, he addresses him as abba. In Aramaic, abba signifies not so much “father” as it does “poppa” or “daddy.” It’s the word that a young child might use. And it conveys the same feeling-tone as Lauren calling for her “mommy.”

I then associate to the phrase “Mother Earth.” For a brief moment, I catch a visceral glimpse of how it might feel to have a relationship with the Earth like that which Lauren has with Joyce. To carry in one’s heart such an emotional intensity toward our home planet that we refer to it not only as “mother” but also, at times, as “mommy.”

A Fleeting Taste of Sweetness (Monday, 17 February 1992) Lauren has just bought a large flower pot so that she can transplant her small but growing spider plant into it. As the image of the plant passes through my mind, there comes what I can only describe as a fleeting taste of sweetness. Very subtle, like the faint fragrance of faraway honeysuckle.

I snuffle at the sensation for a moment, but it’s clearly not physical. Instead, it feels as though my body, at a cellular level, knows that plants sweeten the air in a room, and that this knowing has somehow been translated into a familiar, olfactory language. The “scent” of sweetness is delicate and transitory, yet distinct and pleasurable.

Perhaps this process is like the translators who work at the United Nations–the “Japanese” of my cellular knowing is magically transformed into the “English” of my normal sensory awareness. Maybe something similar happens when we awaken with a dream–the ineffable feelings of the night are translated into stories and images in the morning.

An Elegant Solution (Wednesday, 19 February 1992) Joyce, Lauren, and I have a wonderful problem-solving session today. The focal point is a cluster of frustrations about home-schooling. Joyce is feeling that I’m too busy to give home-schooling the amount of time it needs. Lauren is grousing about Joyce putting too much pressure on her. And Joyce, in turn, feels that Lauren is being uncooperative and unappreciative. Normal stuff, but important to attend to.

Without going into all the details of the session (the solution has to do with shifting from an implied and/or imposed curriculum to an emphasis on collective goal-setting), I can report that what we arrive at is not only satisfactory to each of us, it’s also exciting and liberating. It’s another excellent demonstration of the creative use of the E.T. (Effectiveness Training) approach to problem-solving, and follows hard on the heels on an equally cathartic session with Lin and Richard. Elegant solutions are transformative.

The Old Paths (Wednesday, 19 February 1992) Lauren and I are walking up the path from our house this morning. I’m was heading toward the community shelter; she’s on her way over to Sage’s. We part company at Merriwether, each going our own way.

A few moments later she calls to me, “You know, I like the old paths and the woods paths [meaning, respectively, the former logging roads and bushwhacking], because you can move around without being seen by anybody, and you can go wherever you want to go secretly.”

And off she tromps through the woods.

Taking After Her Uncle David (Thursday, 20 February 1992) Part of our family mythology as I was growing up was that my brother Ethan would squirrellishly hoard away all his money, while any cash that his twin brother David happened to come by would immediately run through his fingers.

Lauren seems to be taking after her uncle David. In Roanoke today, she has her Ninja Turtles money belt strapped around her waist, filled with dollars and quarters and nickels. Toward the end of the day there’s a new Barbie, a set of bubble-blowing devices, and a key clip for Sage’s knife on the front seat of the car, and her Turtle pouch has only loose change in it.

We get to the Co-op, where I finish setting up our new box of calligraphy. Lauren comes to the check-out counter with a few more “trinkets” in her hands. Her purchases are tallied up and she fishes out the last few coins from her pouch, borrowing a penny from me to complete the transaction.

I have to smile. She has taken it right down to zero and it doesn’t seem to bother her a bit. What’s money for, she seems to be saying, if not to be spent?

I Like the Japanese (Thursday, 20 February 1992) While driving into town today, Lauren and I get to talking about the Olympics. She is enamored of the young Japanese-American figure skater and is hoping that she wins the gold medal.

“I like the Japanese,” she says. “They’re always smiling and they’re always small.”

A cute comment from one of the little people. I forget, even after my dream about the Tall Ones, how different your perspective is if you’re four feet tall. I forget about the biblical observation that, “There were giants in the earth in those days.” Lauren obviously feels friendly toward the Japanese, at least in part because they are more her size.

Wild Horses (Thursday, 20 February 1992) We also get to talking about death. I forget how. Maybe she asks what I want to happen to my body after I die. I say that I don’t know yet; that I can feel good about either returning my body to the earth through burial, or having it burned.

Then I ask Lauren what she would like to have done with her body.

“Oh, I think I would like to have my body tied to the back of a wild horse.”

“Hmm. That sounds like it might be fun. But I don’t know if it would be fun for the horse when your body starts to stink.”

She giggles and agrees. Finally she decides that she wants to be buried under a field where wild horses graze.

“Then the grass that feeds off your body,” I say, “will feed the wild horses.”

She smiles and nods.

I Won’t Take Your Gaff (Friday, 21 February 1992) I overhear Lauren singing a little ditty to herself during chores after supper tonight. “I won’t take your gaff. I won’t take your gaff.”

I ask, rather nonchalantly, where the song comes from.

“Oh, I just made it up.”

I’m not sure who in particular, if anyone, she is singing to. It must be tough sometimes to live with a bunch of pig-headed adults.

Lofty’s Three Jobs (Tuesday, 25 February 1992) Lauren is talking about what she wants to be when she grows up. “I’d like to have one of three jobs: a cowboy who works with wild horses; a singer who writes her own songs; or an inventor, working with someone who can build what I invent.”

This is Fun! (Thursday, 27 February 1992) Lauren is reading me a story from one of her books. We set a goal of so many pages. But when we reach the cut-off point, she keeps right on going and reads through to the end of the story.

“This is fun!” she exudes. “I like to read.”

Then we start joking about my having to hide the bedtime story that I’m reading aloud, so that she won’t “cheat” by sneaking a look at the book and reading ahead of where we are. She says that the first book she wants to read is Riddle Master, by Patricia McKillip.

And the reason she has plowed ahead and finished today’s story?

“I wanted to see what happened. I didn’t know how the story was going to turn out.”

The Lofty Chronicles: 5 — Doing What You Like to Do

Doing What You Like to Do

Helping out with Tom's new deck
Helping out with Tom’s new deck

Spring 1992

When Robin Hood Was a Boy (Wednesday, 4 March 1992) We’re in town today, tending our usual long list of errands. We’re also planning to take in a matinee performance of Hook, the Peter Pan sequel which Lauren’s been wanting to see. As we’re winding our way down the mountain on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Lauren starts talking about a difficult dynamic that she and one of the adults in the community are working on together. Lauren vents some feelings. Then the conversation broadens into the subtle but pervasive prejudice against kids in this culture.

A while later, Lauren is wishing for a movie about when Robin Hood was a boy. She’s read the classic book version of Robin Hood, and has seen the Kevin Costner movie about her hero. I silently wonder if she’s wanting to see how Robin, who stood up to the establishment against overwhelming odds, might have faced the looming conspiracy of adults when he was a young boy.

Then Joyce suggests that maybe when Lauren grows up she can somehow avoid contracting the inevitable case of adult-itis. Maybe she can even make a movie about what it’s like to be a kid living in a world run by adults.

“Yeah!” Lauren replies. “And when I make the movie, I’ll give [that so-and-so] free admission, just to see what it feels like.”

The conversation gets buried under the busyness of the day. Finally, after supper, we sit down in the Grandin Theater to watch Hook. I’m not too taken by the movie. Dustin Hoffman is wonderful, but other than that, it lacks the magic of Spielberg’s earlier classics.

Lofty, however, loves the show. She laughs and hollers all the way through it. It’s worth the price of admission to see her enjoyment. Finally I tumble to the tie-in between the theme of the movie and our talk coming down the mountain. For the busy, self-important, grown-up Peter Pan has forgotten his magical childhood. As a properly pre-occupied adult, he has effectively suppressed any traces of spontaneity, wonder, and adventure, both in himself and in his children.

The movie’s plot has Hook kidnapping Peter’s children. Peter, in order to rescue them, is forced to return to the magical island and the magical powers of his youth, thus providing Hook with a “worthy opponent” and the opportunity for revenge. The entire movie, in other words, is an imaginative amplification of the very themes that we’d been talking about earlier.

In an amusing footnote, as we’re driving up the mountain, through the misty rain, the car starts acting a little funny.

“Let’s send it some stardust,” I suggest.

In the movie, Tinker Bell had used stardust to assist the children’s flight, and I’m hoping to fly home without too much of an adventure.

So off we go, into the fog and up the mountain. Somewhat to my surprise, the car’s funny symptoms subside. By the time we reach the top of Bent Mountain, it’s purring along, my anxiety has dissipated, and Lauren has fallen asleep.

Just as I’m mentioning to Joyce that we should remember to thank Tinker Bell when we get home, a shooting star with a long flowing tail, its brilliance barely softened by the fog, falls through the darkness just ahead of us. It looks exactly like the depiction of Tinker Bell in the movie. Joyce and I look at each other, grin, and wish that Lofty had been awake to see it.

An Exchange of Favors (Friday, 6 March 1992) A nice example of the universe taking care of itself today. Joyce volunteers to drive Marlene to Bedford and spend the day with her while she has her teeth pulled and gets fitted for dentures. Upon their return, Marlene receives in the mail three videos that she’d ordered as part of a video club come-on—Robin Hood, Dances With Wolves, and Ghost. All three are among Lauren’s favorites. A fine exchange of favors between Marlene and Joyce, completely unplanned (at a conscious level) by either of them.

The Old Western Café (Saturday, 7 March 1992) Lofty and I are heading toward dinner this evening. We are most of the way to the community shelter when she says, “Wouldn’t it be fun if I were all dressed up in cowboy clothes, with a hat and everything? And you were all dressed up in cowboy clothes? And Mom was, too? And we all walked into a café? And it was called ‘The Old Western Café’? Wouldn’t that be neat?! I’d like that!!”

Lofty’s Pouch and Fur-Bag (Saturday, 7 March 1992) Lofty and I are in the community shelter this morning. She’s all decked out with her paraphernalia: a large Swiss Army knife that Adam gave her for Christmas (more on that in a moment) fastened to her belt on a key chain holder and tucked into the front pocket of her favorite pair of black jeans; a leather carrying case, which she calls her “pouch;” and a small lambskin bag that’s her “fur-bag.”

She’s been helping me pick up some shards of a broken lamp chimney and has sliced her finger. As she sucks on it, trying to get it to stop bleeding, she suddenly gives a start and says, “I almost forgot all about them!”

Opening her leather pouch and rummaging through the contents, she triumphantly produces a small band-aid, which she applies to her wounded finger.

“I knew they’d come in handy,” she announces.

I smile and ask what else she has in her pouch.

“You can look if you’d like.”

But just then Sage arrives and off they go.

Later, however, I accept her offer and take an inventory of her medicine bundles.

In the fur-bag are a pair of dice, one red, one white, and a small, plastic, rectangular container with a snap lid. In the pouch, which may once have been a leather carrying case for a pair of opera glasses (it has a zippered lid and a carrying strap) are the following:

A small blue pocket notebook; a tiny Swingline stapler with two little boxes of staples; a pad of yellow Post-em notes; a pocket copy of the New Testament, along with the Psalms and Proverbs, courtesy of Gideon International; one of those hand buzzers that were around when I was a kid, that you conceal in your palm when you’re about to shake hands with someone; a small pack of cards from some word game (“l. Igloo, 2. Glassy, 3. Snuggle, 4. Twilling,”); a pack of coupon tickets which can only be redeemed at Showbiz Pizza; a small box containing the Masonic trowel that Tom has given her; a ball point pen; a plastic whistle; a 1990 quarter; an aluminum medallion (“Knights Go Back To The Future, 1991″); a clear marble; a key chain ornament advertising Union Bank; a plastic cricket; and three more small band-aids.

Tom Sawyer would be proud. And perhaps just a bit envious.

Lofty’s Swiss Army Knife (Saturday, 7 March 1992) And now back to her knife.

Not too long ago, Lauren gave herself a good demonstration of how malleable life’s circumstances can be, if only one’s desire and intent are clear and strong. The fruits of her focus hang from her belt in a place of honor.

I smilingly recall the Christmas just past. Adam has given the kids some presents. Sage and Christopher get Swiss Army knives. Lauren and Myra receive magnified and lighted viewing lenses for studying small natural objects.

Both items are nice, but there’s a bit of gender bias in the decision about who should get what. The boys get the knives; the girls get the lenses. I know there’s disappointment brewing. Lauren has already lost a pocket knife and has been longing for another. Sure enough, after the presents are opened, Lauren manages a polite “thank you” for her viewing lens, while casting covetous glances in the direction of Sage’s new knife.

The next day she half-heartedly tries out the viewing lens, but quickly loses interest. Not only is she heart-sick over the knife she didn’t receive, but she can’t get the light on her viewing lens to work. The battery doesn’t fit into its compartment.

She brings it over to show me. After confirming that the battery is the correct size, I help her jam it into the compartment. It’s a tight fit, but the light goes on O.K., so I hand it back to her.

A moment later she drops it with a yelp and starts sucking her finger.

“That thing burnt me,” she exclaims.

I pick it up. Sure enough, it’s still hot. Part of the plastic has even started to melt!

To make a long story short, we show the lens to Adam, who agrees that it’s defective.

“It has a money-back guarantee,” he adds. “I’ll ship it back to them.”

Then the wheels begin to turn. There’s some hurried consultation and in a few moments Adam turns to Lofty.

“Do you want them to send you a new, replacement lens?” he asks. “Or should we just get a refund and order one of those knives for you instead?”

Lofty’s eyes light up like a sparkler. Before a word is spoken, Adam gets his answer.

The next two weeks are an agony of waiting. Lauren’s attention is riveted to each and every incoming package. Finally it arrives. Joyfully she rips open the box and carefully examines all the different blades and tools. Then she lovingly ties it to her belt loop and slips it into her pocket, where it’s remained ever since. The rest of us are happily impressed by how cooperative the universe can be at times.

Lofty with goggles and knife leash
Lofty with goggles and knife leash

 

George Carver’s First Knife (Saturday, 7 March 1992) As a postscript to the above story, and a further confirmation of a cooperative universe, Lauren recently asked Joyce to read her some more about George Washington Carver. Joyce is initially reluctant. Last fall we had read two long biographies of Carver and Joyce wants to turn to someone else.

But Lauren pleads for more Carver. So I prowl through a packet of materials that Tuskegee University had sent us and come across The Man Who Talks With the Flowers, by Glenn Clark. So Joyce surrenders and starts reading pieces of it to Lauren. Almost immediately they come upon the following story, which I’ll share in full. Clark is questioning Carver.

“Could you describe to us your methods when you meet a problem?”

“I never grope for methods. The method is revealed the moment I am inspired to create something new. I live in the woods. I gather specimens and listen to what God has to say to me. After my morning’s talk with God I go into my laboratory and begin to carry out His wishes for the day.”

“Can you recall your first answer to prayer?” I asked.

“One of my most surprising answers to prayer came when I was a little boy of five or six. I had no pocket knife, and how I longed for one! I was very mechanical-minded. And of all things–a boy without a pocket knife!

“So one night I prayed to the Father to send me a knife, and that night I had a dream. I dreamed that out in the field where the corn rows joined the tobacco rows there was a watermelon cut in halves. One half was all gouged out. The other half, plump and full, was leaning up against three stalks of corn, and out of it stuck the black handle of a pocket knife.

“The next morning I could hardly wait till I got through breakfast before I scampered out to the cornfield. There where the corn rows joined the tobacco rows I saw a watermelon cut in halves, one half was all gouged out and the other half, plump and solid, rested up against three stalks of corn. And sticking out of it was the black handle of a pocket knife.”

Lauren, of course, is enthralled by the story, relating to it directly and empathically. None of us had heard it before; the other two books hadn’t mentioned it. Directly following this story is another question for Carver.

“You have the habit of talking to a little flower or a peanut and making it give up its secrets to you. How do you do it?”

Carver’s response is profound:

“You have to love it enough,” said Dr. Carver. “Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough. Not only have I found that when I talk to the little flower or to the little peanut they will give up their secrets,” he continued as if talking to himself, “but I have found that when I silently commune with people they give up their secrets also–if you love them enough.”

Re-Tracing Our Gender Lines (Tuesday, 17 March 1992) Today, on Joyce’s birthday, I’m wanting to trace back Lauren’s gender lines. Genealogy can quickly become labyrinthine. It also has a strong patriarchal bias. Perhaps a less complex and less sexist approach might be to delineate someone’s mother-line and father-line. Lauren’s father is Robert. Robert’s father is Caleb. Caleb’s father is Henry Wilder. And so on. This is a fairly easy line to trace. It goes back twelve generations to Pasco, who arrived on the shores of Salem, Massachusetts from England in the early 1600s.

Lauren’s mother-line, however, is less easy. Lauren’s mother is Joyce. Joyce’s mother is Lilly. Lilly’s mother is Dana. Dana’s mother is Melly. And there the trail (at least for me, for now) grows cold.

These mother-lines are fascinating, precisely because they’re so obscure. In our patrilineal culture, a girl takes her father’s name and a woman takes her husband’s. Women don’t have surnames, only given names. Slaves, too, had no surnames. George Washington Carver, for example, took the surname of the family which owned him.

Neither slaves nor women have their own names. Women have maiden names and married names, but both are men’s names. What does it mean for a woman not to have her own name? How does being nameless lodge in a woman’s psyche? How does it affect her sense of identity and continuity, her connections with the past?

It feels important to offer to Lauren (and to other girl-children) whatever slender threads of a mother-line that we’re able to spin out of the scanty records that we have or can find.

Can I Do It For a Million Dollars? (Saturday, 21 March 1992) Lofty is telling Joyce what she would do if she had a million dollars.

“I’d buy a horse. And a saddle and bridle and everything. And I’d buy the materials and have someone build me a barn. And then I’d buy all the fencing to fence in the pasture. And enough hay for the horse to eat in the winter.”

She pauses and looks at Joyce inquiringly.

“Do you think I can do it for a million dollars??”

Cold Lava (Saturday, 21 March 1992) Another of those peculiar synchronicities today. Lauren awakens with a dream about ice-cold lava flowing slowly across a highway. Then this afternoon she receives a postcard from her aunt Heather, who is visiting her uncle David and aunt Karin in Hawaii. The picture on the card shows molten lava from one of Hawaii’s volcanic eruptions. The lava is flowing across a coastal highway. Lauren is startled to see the card. It’s the first time that she has either dreamt about or received a postcard about lava.

Bedtime Story (Friday, 3 April 1992) Lauren’s riding another wave of reading enthusiasm. After we finish the evening ritual of reading our bedtime story, and Joyce and Lauren climb into bed, Lauren reads aloud from one of her books. Currently we’re being treated to several pages nightly from The Cat in the Hat.

Won’t It Be Wonderful (Wednesday, 8 April 1992) We awake to a beautiful spring day. Lofty and I walk out of the house and up toward the shelter. We’re on our way to pick up my mother, Hope, at the airport. Lofty takes several deep breaths, drinking in the aroma of the earth. Then she says, “Won’t it be wonderful that Hopie will be able to come here and smell this smell?!”

The Bomb in the News Station (Wednesday, 8 April 1992) Lauren has a dream about being at Blue Mountain (a local alternative school) with a bunch of kids. She’s having a good time playing with them. Somehow, though, there’s a news station attached to the school, with a bomb in it that’s about to go off.

George Washington Carver’s Way (Saturday, 18 April 1992) Tomorrow we’re celebrating Lauren’s eighth birthday, combining it with an Easter egg hunt and Sunday morning pancakes. We’re expecting a big crowd. Fortunately, the weather forecast is favorable. We’d have to move into crisis mode if all those kids and their parents had to somehow cram into our small community shelter.

Lauren’s helping Joyce dye Easter eggs, using various natural ingredients that Joyce has learned over the years will produce all those softy, lovely earth colors. Toward the end of the process, Lauren wants to try a dying experiment of her own. So she gathers some grass and onion skins and various other substances, mixes them together, and adds an egg to the mixture.

Nothing happens, except the faintest tinge of some drab color.

Disappointed, Lauren asks, “Won’t my experiments ever work?”

“Well, you can learn everything I’ve learned,” Joyce replies, “and then you can study all the different books to see what other people have learned. Or,” she adds after a pause, “you can try George Washington Carver’s way.”

Lauren, of course, rises to the bait.

“What way is that?”

“You can ask God to help you figure out what experiments to try. Then you can be quiet and listen.”

A long silence ensues as Lauren mulls over this unorthodox option.

Doing What You Like to Do (Saturday, 18 April 1992) After Lauren finishes dying the Easter eggs she comes down to the house to help me figure out what games to play during her party. It’s mid-afternoon. I am experiencing my usual mid-afternoon energy slump and am moving toward my usual brief-but-sweet mid-afternoon nap.

Lauren reads my mood instantly. After we’ve decided on a few games, she asks me, out of the blue, “What do you like to do?”

The question startles me, not only because it’s out of context, but also because it seems like an “important” question. My body can feel the importance of the question, as though its one that we should be asking ourselves and each other more often.

So I share several things that I like to do.

She nods, and then asks, “What else do you like to do?”

I pause, reassess, and add several more items to my list.

She nods again. Waits a while. Then says, “What would you most like to do, right now?”

Without thinking, I reply, “I’d most like to take a nap.”

“Well, that’s just what you should do. You should do just what you’d most like to do, no matter what it is, because that’s the best way to get your energy back.”

I bow silently to my teacher and follow her advice.

The Lofty Chronicles: 6 — Sifting Through Your Mind

Sifting Through Your Mind

Lauren visiting Aunt Heather
Lauren visiting Aunt Heather

Spring 1992

How Many Words Have You Spoken Today? (Saturday, 18 April 1992) As we are walking up to supper tonight, Lauren again surprises me with an offhand question.

“How many words have you spoken today?”

I am brought up short.

“I have no idea.”

“Take a guess. How many words would you guess you’ve spoken so far today?”

I admit that I don’t have the faintest idea and wouldn’t even know how to make an educated guess.

Inwardly, I find myself associating to financial journals and keeping a budget. Then a weird insight surfaces, of words being the coin of some other realm. It’s a realm and a currency of which I am only vaguely aware. But keeping track of how I “spend” my words might be as important in that realm as keeping track of how I spend my time or my money is in this realm.

Then, as though reading my mind, Lauren continues.

“Wouldn’t it be neat if we carried around a piece of paper and a pencil some day and wrote down how many words we spoke? Not counting each and every one, but stopping to jot down about how many we used each time we spoke, and then adding them up at the end of the day.”

I Haven’t Decided Yet (Saturday, 18 April 1992) After supper, I’m tossing a wiffle ball to Lofty for batting practice. While I’m retrieving a ball that she’s hit over my head, she remarks, “I haven’t decided yet whether, when I grow up, I’m going to play baseball or football.”

Sifting Through Your Mind (Saturday, 18 April 1992) We put away the wiffle ball and bat and start throwing a half-filled water balloon back and forth to each other. I’m amazed that it doesn’t break on the sharp tufts of grass. It must be made from a sturdy grade of rubber.

It’s dusky. Joyce is in the community shelter, talking with her parents who are visiting from Delaware. Ron, Marlene, and Tom are chatting on the porch. Now and then a high-flying jetliner passes overhead on the way to Atlanta. Lower down, a bat skims the treetops, hunting for insects. It’s a gentle evening. We’re both happy to be outside, tossing the balloon around.

“Do you sometimes get real quiet,” Lauren says, as though wondering out loud, “and go sifting through your mind?”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, sometimes when I’m not doing anything, I kind of sift through my mind, like I’m going through a box to see what I want to get rid of. I throw some stuff away, and keep other stuff.”

She pauses, as the balloon sails through the dusk.

“It’s funny,” she continues. “It’s like that divider on my desk where I keep my different papers. My mind has cubby holes like that, or categories, where different thoughts go when they come in.” She gestures with her hands. “And the strange thing is, there’s always room for more. No matter how many thoughts come in, there’s always room for more.”

“How is it,” I ask, “that there’s always room for more? Why don’t our minds get crowded? Or all filled up?”

She’s quiet for a moment, then lies down on the grass, looking up at the almost dark sky. “I don’t know,” she finally says. “It’s like they’re disks or something.”

The image of a large coin comes to mind. Then it shifts 90 degrees and practically disappears, because, instead of viewing it face on, I am looking at its edge. Maybe huge clusters of thoughts are like galaxies, I muse; great, wheeling disks that appear either slender or enormous, depending upon whether we view them from the “top” or from the “side.”

“Sometimes I sift through my thoughts and get rid of the bad dreams,” she goes on. “So that they don’t build up into something. It’s like I’m collecting things, and deciding what I want to have in my collection.”

Shoo-Shoo (Sunday, 19 April 1992) Returning from my walk this morning, I meet Lofty heading out. We pause and talk a while. Today’s her birthday party and I want to get the details of a game she wants to play, called “Sharks and Fishes.”

“When I played it at Augusta,” she says, “they called it ‘Whales and Fishes.’ But I like ‘Sharks and Fishes’ better.”

She explains the game and shows me how big the playing field should be. Then, as we each move on a good ways in our respective directions, she turns.

“You know,” she calls, smiling, “I’m waiting for someone to come up to me this morning and say, ‘Where’s the birthday girl?’

“And then I’ll say, ‘You mean, where’s the birthday boy?’

“And they’ll say, ‘What birthday boy?’

“And I’ll say, ‘This birthday boy!!'”

“And then when they say, ‘Why do you always want to be a boy instead of a girl?’, I’ll just say, ‘Shoo-shoo!!'”

She gives me a long-distance grin and continues her morning walk.

Happy Birthday to You! (Monday, 20 April 1992) A nice party for Lofty yesterday. Lots of kids. Lots of parents. A combination Easter egg hunt, Sunday morning pancakes, and birthday party. Everyone seemed to have a good time. As though we were all looking for an excuse to get together.

The weather threw a scare at me, threatening to drizzle. I had planned for a lot of outside activities for the 15+ kids. No conceivable way that everyone could have squeezed into our small shelter. But the clouds parted and the drizzle held off.

Myra and Claire spent the night. The three of them are downstairs now, supposedly getting ready to go up for breakfast. Sounds to me like they’re singing and clapping along with some music from Sweet Honey in the Rock.

“Time to get ready to go up for breakfast, girls,” I call down.

No answer.

I’m guessing that they’ll opt to stay here and munch on the Cheerios that Lauren’s grandparents brought. So I’ll sign off and go to breakfast myself. Hard to leave the music, though.

Nearing Our Destiny (Wednesday, 22 April 1992) We’ve had torrential rains the past several days. Roanoke’s expecting another flood by the time all these swollen mountain tributaries funnel their waters into the Roanoke River. Wes and Shara, who live next to the river, will probably have to evacuate their home tonight.

But today dawns clear and the roar of Free State Creek proves an irresistible lure. So Lofty and I decide to pay it a visit. We pretend we’re rain drops. Starting from close to our house, where the runoff from the vineyard hillside spills across the path, we follow the water into the overgrown clearing where the old homestead used to be, then down a rocky cascade into the Free State valley.

The walking proves steep and difficult. Finally, however, the ground levels out.

“Sounds like we’re nearing our destiny,” Lauren remarks, listening to the tumult of the water.

I smile and agree.

Then we round a bend and our little stream pours its generous share of rain drops into the already turbulent Free State Creek. There’s an impressive amount of water barreling toward an anxious Roanoke. The creek is well out of its banks.

We fool around in the valley for most of the day, finding brown salamanders, wine-red trillium, and, by the bend in the river, a “robbers’ hideout” straight out of Tom Sawyer. We return home up a longer and gentler slope, getting back just in time for supper.

A note from the next day: Wes & Shara were forced to evacuate. The flood waters eventually crested less than an inch below the threshold of their front door. They have no basement, though, and were largely unscathed. Rosie and her friends had fun chasing a big fish and a snapping turtle through the lake that was formerly their front yard.

The Power of Prayer (Saturday, 25 April 1992) Joyce, Lauren, and I, and a few neighbors, are going to the annual meeting of the Virginia chapter of the Nature Conservancy today. It’s being held at their new Bottom Creek Gorge preserve, just a few miles from here.

A big tent is set up to protect the chairs and tables from possible rain, but most of the planned activities involve various hikes and other outdoor events. They are clearly gambling that the day will be nice enough to enable them to show off their new acquisition. They are also clearly keeping an eye on the weather. The last few times they’ve tried outdoor annual meetings, they have been rained out.

But the morning’s bright and clear, with only a few suspicious clouds on the horizon. In her opening remarks, the matriarchal chairman of the board of trustees refers to their concern about the weather. Then, looking up appreciatively at the blue sky, she says, “We must have a lot of Christians, and other people who pray, here with us today.”

Several of us local folks roll our eyes a bit and wonder, in passing, about the Buddhists and pagans and atheists. Lauren, sitting next to us, overhears our remarks. But she seems more interested in what the other kids are doing to entertain themselves during this wordy and boring portion of the day.

The formal, talky part of the event wraps up just before noon. A short break is announced, to be followed by lunch and then the hikes. The sky, meanwhile, is no longer blue. The little white clouds having taken on an ominous shade of gray. A light drizzle starts to fall. Lauren and I decide to avoid the rush for the tent by seeking shelter in our car.

“Well,” she remarks, as rain drops patter against the windshield, “it looks like the Christians and the people who pray must have left.”

I laugh and nod, marveling to myself yet again at how kids take in everything that goes on around them. Even when they don’t seem to be paying any attention to it.

The Christians, by the way, must have poured on some prayer power, because those few drops of rain are all that come down. It doesn’t actually clear, but the black clouds back off and everyone enjoys the hikes.

Palm and Sun (by Lauren)
Palm and Sun

A Sweet Gesture (Sunday, 3 May 1992) Lofty, Sage, and I are preparing to walk to the pond for a swim. Sage wants to go barefoot, despite our suggestions that the gravel will be sharp on his still tender feet. Lofty even offers him the use of her second set of flip-flops.

But he insists on going shoeless. So we shrug and set off.

Sure enough, just beyond our mailbox, Sage starts to bemoan how hard the gravel is. He tries the side of the road, but finds it not much better. Then Lofty stops, takes off her day pack, and removes the spare flip-flops which Sage had previously rejected. She had surreptitiously stashed them away, knowing that he would need them.

It’s a sweet gesture, and eagerly received. Sage promptly and thankfully slips them on and off we go to the pond.

“A Wild Ride” (Sunday, 10 May 1992) We had a long meeting last night to discuss the pros and cons of building a new community shelter. The question is being called because of the large stash of old plywood pallets to which Adam has gained access.

Joyce has been tenaciously advocating the need for such a shelter for years, and has drawn up elaborate architecture layouts and renderings. From a practical point of view, however, the project seems ludicrous. All of us are already up to our ears in other responsibilities. We can’t imagine where the time and energy will come from for something this major.

So this morning I awaken with a dream of Lauren getting ready to ride down a steep woodland trail, the way she used to ride her tricycle down the path to our house at break-neck speed. This time, however, she’s going to be riding Ron’s wheeled plywood dolly that we use to move heavy furniture and appliances. Kevin, a friend and local builder, is standing with Lauren at the top of the path.

Lying down on the plywood as though it’s a sled, Lauren pushes off. She starts down the hill backward, however. Feet first, rather than head first. As she picks up speed, the swiveled wheels start to spin her around. She’s having a wonderful time. I’m appalled, though, watching her head spin round and round, just barely missing the rocks and trees.

She whirls all the way down to the bottom of the hill and part way up the other side before her momentum finally slows and she comes to a stop. I am amazed and relieved that she hasn’t crashed.

Upon awaking from the dream, my immediate associations are to the potential plywood for the new community shelter, and for going “feet first” rather than “head first.” Just jump into it, the dream seems to be saying, rather than analyzing it to death. And my association to Kevin has to do with an insistence upon quality.

[A much later postscript: We accepted Adam’s offer of the plywood pallets and three years later broke ground on the dicey project. Now, eight years into construction, and having officially moved into Rivendell, our new shelter, both the hidden costs and the incalculable benefits are continuing to manifest themselves to us.]

Lofty’s Full Week (Thursday, 14 May 1992) Lofty’s had a full week of it. Sage was here a couple of days. She over there once. We helped Ed and Randye with their fence and she spent the day playing with Eli: goats, kittens, ponies, swimming.

Another day in town with Rosie. Then to Dixie Caverns with the Blue Mountain kids. And to top it off, her first horseback riding lesson with Alysia. She says she’s ready for a break, a quiet day at home with not too much going on.

A Question of Trust (Saturday, 16 May 1992) I come down to the house on this sunny afternoon to find Lauren in a rather contemplative mood, swinging on her swing,. We don’t talk. I simply watch her from the window, wondering how much I trust her. Wondering how much I trust myself.

If she were going to school, my primary concern would be whether I trusted the school to be responsive to her feelings and needs. But given our choices, my questions lie closer to home, so to speak. Do I trust her indigenous interests and curiosities, and her desire and ability to pursue these, independent of outside pressures?

Doesn’t true education, in other words, have its roots in a child’s innate need to creatively explore the tidal zone between his or her inner and outer worlds? And isn’t this need like a bold spring head, bubbling out of the ground like sudden laughter or spontaneous play? Or like natural hunger, which can reliably guide us to an understanding of what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat?

One of my quarrels with compulsory education is that an outside agency assumes the role of telling children what to learn, when to learn it, and when to move on to something else. Over time, the child’s innate capacity to be inner-directed is thwarted and suppressed. Eventually they are taught to look to others, and to become dependent upon others, not only for direction and evaluation, but also for the intimately related sense of self-worth.

So the seemingly simple act of choosing to trust Lauren to make most of her own decisions about when and what and how much to eat, both literally and figuratively, has far-reaching implications.

This question comes home to roost, of course, when I consider how much I trust myself. At one level, do I trust myself to give her the time, the attention, and the support that she needs? Beyond that, do I trust myself to pursue my own gifts, interests, and inclinations? Because I’m unlikely to trust Lauren, or anyone else for that matter, any more than I’m willing to trust myself.

The Bottom Line (Tuesday, 19 May 1992) Doug is in a confrontational mood during our Tuesday night meeting, probing various people. At one point he tells Lofty, who only rarely joins us for these events, that her parents don’t tell her the truth.

“They do too!” she immediately counters.

Then, after a brief pause. “Most of the time they do.”

“No they don’t,” Doug insists.

I know what he’s getting at–that truth and integration go hand in hand; that the more segregated we are, psychologically and spiritually, the less truthful we will be, both with one another and with ourselves. But he doesn’t explain what he means, of course, and I wonder how Lofty will respond to his inimitable style.

She ponders his assertion for a moment.

Then she says, “Well, I know that one thing they tell me is true.”

“And what’s that?” he asks, his curiosity clearly piqued.

“They tell me they love me,” she replies, with quiet certainty.

Doug smiles and agrees with her. I am warmed by her response, sensing how important it is that she has something relatively unshakable to fall back upon when she’s feeling threatened.

Bushwhacked by John Gatto (Friday, 29 May 1992) Today is my birthday. I wake up with the first telltale symptoms of the flu that both Lofty and Joyce are already experiencing.

“What about my birthday dinner at Transdyne tonight?” I wonder apprehensively. “It’s too late to re-schedule it now.”

So I wander up to the community shelter. After breakfast, Joyce starts preparing lunch and a couple of casseroles for this evening. She can hardly keep on her feet, her energy is so low. I get the cake ready for her and put it into the oven, then drag back down to the house.

Collapsing into a chair, I have an urge to listen to the newly-arrived John Gatto tape. John Taylor Gatto is a controversial teacher in New York City. After winning that city’s Teacher of the Year award three times, he was named New York State’s Teacher of the Year last year.

What makes him so controversial is his scathing indictment of what he calls “government monopoly compulsory schooling.” His acceptance speech for the New York State award was titled, “The Seven Lesson Curriculum.” I was so impressed, upon reading it, that when I heard he had a book out, I asked our local library to obtain it for us via Inter Library Loan.

Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling arrived a couple of weeks later, courtesy of a Wyoming library. For me, the book was a powerful articulation of what had previously been a strong but mostly inarticulate resistance to public schooling. It also had a radicalizing effect on Joyce. We decided to order a copy, as well as a tape of a speech that Gatto recently made to a home schooling group in Ohio.

Yesterday, the book and tape arrived in the mail. In the same mail was the third grade home schooling curriculum from Oak Meadow, which we had previously ordered. I noticed the synchronicity, but let it pass. There was too much else going on. Spring is a busy season here.

This morning, however, after coming down from the kitchen, and with the help of a rainy day, a stressed back, and the onset of the flu, I relinquish my crowded agenda and sit down to listen to the Gatto tape. The impact is unexpected and dramatic.

My first impression is an appreciation for the quality of the recording. It’s well done. Then, hearing Gatto speak, I realize once again how powerful the spoken word is, compared to a written transcript. Then, five or ten minutes into his speech, he says something that triggers uncontrollable tears.

The depth of the emotion startles me. My response to ideas is rarely so visceral. I have hardly recovered my composure, however, when another remark sets off a second round of convulsive sobbing. Three or four more times during his talk, I find myself crying my guts out over what he’s saying. By the time the ninety minute tape is over, I am physically and emotionally drained.

Slumped in my chair, the turbulence slowly subsiding, I realize what a tangled and intricate skein those feelings had been. “Tears of rage, tears of grief,” as Bob Dylan once sang. And along with the rage and the grief, an unbearable mingling of hope and fear, despair and determination.

Not just for Lofty. And not just for the public school kids in the neighborhood and beyond, or for their families. But for myself. For my community. For our entire culture.

I feel the terrible consequences of so many children growing up not really knowing either family or home, taught not to trust or to love themselves, fearful of intimacy and spontaneity, disconnected from the Earth. I feel the present and pending price of this devastating alienation, and deep in my bones I tremble for our future.

Then I recall the card that I’d drawn during our last “Tuesday Night Game.” It was from the Seth/Jane Roberts material. I’ve been carrying it around in my pocket ever since, all but forgotten. Until now. So I fish it out and re-read it.

Ideas have no reality unless you make them your own. Make friends or enemies of them. Fight with them or love, them but use and experience them, not only with your intellect but with your feelings.

Shaking my head in amazement at how appropriate the card is, I get up and trudge to the community shelter for lunch. Folks ask how I’m feeling, knowing my energy is low, and are astonished to see me burst into tears. Eventually I get the story out. Lofty comes over and puts her arms around me, comforting her uncharacteristically distraught father.

After lunch, I barely have the stamina to get back down to the house, take off my clothes, and crawl into bed. Joyce is in the same shape. Lauren tends both of us. She turns back the covers, brings us drinking water, and stokes the stove. We tell her that she must be growing up; never before have both her parents been sick at the same time. She smiles and agrees, and ends up going to Transdyne with Ron, Marlene, and Adam to celebrate my birthday, with the guest of honor and his wife “in absentia.”

The following day brings a slow recovery. We’re told that the party was fun and that Lofty did an admirable job of standing in for her ailing parents.

And the three of us are now leaning toward returning the third grade curriculum. While attractive, it feels rather tightly structured. It appears that we’re being nudged still further down the road of child-led learning.