This continues an ongoing series of posts about a young girl growing up
and pursuing child-led learning at Light Morning. The series begins here.
Just For the Joy of It
What If I Were the Only Adult? (Saturday, 10 November 1990) Sometimes I get haunting glimpses of what it must be like to walk through the Light Morning lifestyle in Lauren’s shoes. It’s clearly a magical place to grow up, but Lauren is the only child here. What if I were the lone adult living with five or six children? What if it were their interests, needs,and priorities that mostly dictated what I could or couldn’t do, and when I could occasionally go to visit other adults?
It’s a humbling empathy that permits a parental oppressor, however well-intentioned, to perceive the world-view of the oppressed.
I’ve Listened to You Many a Year (Tuesday, 13 November 1990) This morning’s work project is to split some large chunks of poplar and stack them in the woodshed. 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 has accumulated quite a sizable collection and doesn’t want her favorites to be stacked in the woodshed.
“This pile is for ornaments!” she insists.
When I and the other adults point out 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’re able to find a mutually acceptable compromise.
Just For the Joy of It (Saturday, 15 December 1990 ) My six-year-old teacher and I are on our way to the parking lot to get the truck for a run to Smiths Store.
“Why are we going to Smiths?” Lauren asks.
“For two reasons,” I reply. “Half of the trip is to take out the trash. The other half is to pick up the UPS packages that are being held for us there.”
“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 how to trim a Christmas tree, Lauren offers a laughing suggestion.
“Let’s put Jesus with snakes all over him at the top of the tree,” she says.
She sees this as a tease for Joyce, who (as Lauren well knows) is afraid of snakes. For me, however, the image is charged with allegorical significance.
I Think I’ll Like Dying (Monday, 17 December 1990) Today is Joyce’s and my 20th wedding anniversary. Lauren and I are out in the woods cutting down a small white pine for the community shelter’s Christmas tree. Lauren wants to dig it up live instead of cut it down. We compromise by deciding to cut this one and dig up the one for our cabin.
As I’m completing the cut with a bow saw, 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 is bent over one of her chemistry experiments. She asks if I remember where we found the litmus paper she’s using.
“You mean the lab at Virginia Western Community College?” I ask.
“Yes,” she says. “If I become a scientist I’m going to study there.”
[A decade later, Lauren would indeed be studying at Virginia Western, but not to become a scientist.]
The 703 Patrol (Monday, 24 December 1990) Many years ago, some of the boys in the neighborhood formed The 703 Patrol. The name came from Route 703, the old gravel road which ends at Light Morning. The boys built a small tree platform near the road where they could spy on the occasional person or vehicle passing by without themselves being seen.
Lately I’ve been feeling like a member of The 703 Patrol. On our morning walks, Joyce and I regularly pick up beer cans and other clutter from the side of the road. At first I had some angst about having to pick up other people’s trash. But later I came to see it as being like changing Lauren’s diapers when she was little.
“It’s no different,” I kept reminding myself. “The folks who toss empty beer cans out the windows of their cars don’t know any better. It’s simply a stage of development; an inherently natural immaturity.”
Still later I became aware of the subliminal impact of our litter removal. Keeping the roadside immaculately clear of clutter would subtly draw a certain type of person and behavior to the neighborhood. Another type of person and behavior would be subtly repelled.
Finally, during this morning’s walk, I reeled in The 703 Patrol further. I saw it as a compelling metaphor and knew that I needed to pick up the trash strewn along my own mental and emotional roadways. Plenty of clean-up opportunities await me here. And here, too, like attracts like.
This feels like a deeper octave of claiming the dream of environmental pollution.
Gifts (Wednesday, 26 December 1990) Lauren and I somehow get talking about gifts.
“What are your gifts?” she asks.
After giving her question some thought, I say that I’m a good listener; that I can often see a situation from different sides; and that I can sometimes sense patterns in seemingly unconnected events.
Then I ask her what her gifts are. She says that she’s good at being two people at the same time. But she has trouble explaining what that means. Or maybe I’m unable to understand her explanation.
A Crucial Ratio (Sunday, 6 January 1991) I came across a disturbing statistic the other day. Some graduate students in Iowa were observing the daily interactions between parents and their children. They found a 12-to-1 ratio between the critical and the constructive remarks that the parents directed toward their children. There were twelve critical statements, in other words, for each token of support, encouragement, and appreciation.
The statistic is so disturbing because it seems to ring true. My ratio with Lauren hopefully isn’t that high, but I’m sure the scales aren’t evenly balanced. Later the graduate students followed the kids into their school environment. The ratio there was even more appalling. Instead of being 12-to-1, it was almost 18-to-1.
Since adults have all been shaped by the crucible of childhood, and since we mostly learn by example, our personal criticize/appreciate ratios will likely be equally lopsided. This is the work that awaits us: to observe how critical and constructive we are with children, with other adults, and with ourselves. With a measure of self-awareness we can remember to check this crucial ratio daily. If it’s improving, we’re moving in the right direction.
It’s similar to using a hydrometer to monitor the specific gravity of homemade wine during the fermentation process.
Changing a Scary Dream (Tuesday, 8 January 1991) Lauren had a transformative experience last night. She’s been working with some fears recently: afraid of being alone in the dark; even afraid to go into her darkened room to turn on the light. Her fears were certainly accentuated by seeing a scary mummy movie at a neighbor’s house yesterday. But she’d been wrestling with the fears prior to watching the movie. We’re not sure what she’s afraid of. Or why now.
Getting ready for bed last night, Lauren was definitely uneasy.
“Do you think a mummy could fit into my room?” she asked.
Sure enough, sometime after midnight she bolted awake with a terrifying dream. She and Joyce and I were at a conference. Then a big arm came out from behind a curtain and clawed at her. It didn’t actually hurt her, but it frightened her badly.
She woke us up, not knowing what to do with the fearful images. Joyce suggested that she could sing to herself. We’ve been telling her that monsters hate laughter and singing and people wishing them well. So she started singing “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” She kept singing it over and over again until she finally fell back to sleep.
This morning Lauren reports that after singing herself to sleep, she had returned to the same dream.
“Was it a good dream this time?” I ask.
“It wasn’t just good,” she exudes. “It was wonderful!”
In her second version of the dream, she discovered that the arm reaching out for her was actually the arm of a Ninja turtle in disguise; Ninja Turtles being high on her list of current heroes. She tells me that I then went into the kitchen and made two pizzas, which are the Ninjas’ favorite food. One was for her and the other was for the Ninjas. But Lauren was so happy that she gave both pizzas to the Ninjas.
Long Handle! Long Handle! (Monday, 14 January 1991) We’re working firewood by the woodshed. Joyce, Ron, Tom, and I are talking quietly together as we split apart the large chunks of poplar. Lauren’s off in the woods, busily involved in a project of her own.
At one point Joyce asks Ron, in a matter-of-fact tone, “Isn’t there one of those long-handled axes in the tool shed?”
Immediately, from Lauren’s far-off corner of the woods, comes a quiet chant: “Long handle! Long handle!”
It startles me to see how closely our six-year-old has been monitoring a casual conversation, even while immersed in her own activities. It’s a cautionary reminder that a young child’s psyche is highly permeable and malleable.
The Mound Builders (Friday, 8 February 1991) During my weekly Thursday afternoon session with Douglas yesterday, I read aloud a passage from The Seth Material by Jane Roberts: “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.”
It’s an evocative hypothesis and one that’s difficult to prove or disprove this side of the grave. While reading the passage, though, I remembered the Mound Builders civilization and their seemingly strong focus on death. Then I associated to the nine-month gestation of the human embryo. Might there be a correlation, I wondered, between the time spent in the womb preparing a body for birth, and the time spent during a lifetime preparing the personality for death?
Maybe the Mound Builders, as well as other death-oriented civilizations such as Tibet and ancient Egypt, took this to be true. Did they advocate using human life to prepare for a strong and conscious death in the same way that many prospective parents now use the nine months of gestation to prepare for a strong and conscious birth?
Joyce, for example, paid careful attention to her diet, her thoughts and emotions, and her ability to stay focused in the moment when 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 Lauren’s birth. Maybe some earlier civilizations approached the end of life with the same care and awareness.
Coming In Helicopters (Thursday, 21 February 1991) Lauren awoke last night, sobbing, out of a nightmare. Joyce asked her about it. All I heard of their sharing was something about soldiers coming in helicopters.
This triggered a memory of how, when Lauren was an infant, she would become terrified each time a faint, staccato thumping signaled the approach of one of the large army helicopters that occasionally fly overhead. Lacking any plausible explanation for her helicopter phobia, which invariably sent Lauren screaming for her parents, Joyce and I privately speculated that it might possibly come from a past life trauma in someplace like Vietnam. The passage of years gradually lessened her terror; then it finally disappeared.
When Lauren awakens for the second time, I ask her to tell me the dream. She says that she, Joyce, and I are living in a little village. Our home is a small cottage with one window and one door. She and her mom are on a grassy slope on the outskirts of the village. Joyce is dressed in simple off-white clothes and is wearing some kind of turban. Nearby is a clump of trees and a single-lane road.
Then two large helicopters suddenly approach, painted in camouflage colors. Lauren knows they’ve come to kill her mom and is terrified. A truck passes on the road, painted yellow with black and red letters on it, but it doesn’t stop.
The helicopters come down closer and closer until they’re hovering just above the slope. Then soldiers with guns start jumping out the open doors of the helicopters. Their uniforms are also in camouflage colors.
Joyce tells Lauren to run back to the cottage and tell me what’s happening. Lauren does so, crying as she runs. Once she finds me in the cottage, however, the dream became so terrifying that she wakes up sobbing.
Born With A Lot of Jump (Friday, 22 March 1991) While we’re coming down to our cabin from the community shelter this evening after a long day, Lauren is prancing around and 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) As we arrive home this evening, Lauren asks us to not turn on any lights and to close all the curtains. She wants to move around in the dark and see what it’s like to be blind. She also wants to know if the library has any books in Braille.
We’ve been reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House books aloud. In one of the stories, Laura’s sister Mary contracts an infectious disease when she’s 14 and ends up going blind. Lauren is still processing that part of the story.
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. She doesn’t want to wear dresses any more and insists on being a cowboy rather than a cowgirl.
“I wish I had been born a boy,” she tells us.
Maybe too many of the books we’ve been reading together have had boys as the main characters: Black Hawk, Sparrow Hawk, Abe Lincoln, Tom Jefferson, Will Fargo, Morgon of Hed, Robin Hood, Frodo Baggins…
Quite a while ago we read The Little House series, in which Laura is the protagonist. Patricia McKillip’s Riddle-Master trilogy focuses on Raederle as the heroine of the second volume. But other than that, the stories have all been about boys and young men.
Perhaps this has something to do with Lauren wishing that she were a boy. Or maybe it’s something else entirely. I’ll look for some more girl-oriented stories, hopefully adventurous ones, and we’ll also try to stay open to what else may be going on.
Wouldn’t It Be Wonderful (Saturday, 30 March, 1991) Lauren worked for a while in the orchard this afternoon. Then during supper she turned to me and said, “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!”