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.”