The Lofty Chronicles: 3

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.

Lofty Brown

Lauren at the treadle sewing machine

Lauren’s Stories (Monday, 1 April 1991) It occurs to me to list the books we’ve been reading aloud in the evenings before bedtime over the past several years. Joyce and I have enjoyed this ritual for most of our married life, but the following books are the ones we’ve shared with Lauren since she first started paying attention to the stories when she was three. Now she’s about to turn seven.

Humans have an innate need for stories. Radio and television meet much of this need currently. But since Joyce and I have never had a TV, we resorted to the intermediate technology of books. Prior to literacy was the long and arguably richer oral tradition of storytelling.

The following list doesn’t include the books that different ones of us have read to Lauren individually. These are only the bedtime stories.

The Hobbit, Tolkien
The Lord of the Rings (trilogy), Tolkien
The Little House… (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

Lauren is also quite fond of listening to stories on her little cassette tape player. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and The Lord of the Rings were the first two series she devoured. We had taped them off of N.P.R. years before and Lauren took to them at once.

Later we found other audio books 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.

One In Each Ear (Monday, 22 April 1991) Joyce is marveling at the new hardwood floors in the living room and portico of our small cabin, saying we’ll never regret the time or the money we’ve invested in them. Lauren, however, has a different perspective.

“I already regret them,” she tells her mother. “You have to be careful not to drop anything heavy on them, or scratch them, or mess them up. You’re always both 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 Roanoke. Lauren loves them. It’s her first ever pair of store-bought shoes. The others have been presents from grandparents or they’ve come from thrift stores.

So after supper tonight, as Joyce and Lauren are getting ready to go to a women’s drumming and chanting circle, and Lauren puts on an older pairs of shoes, Joyce asks if she wouldn’t rather wear her new Ninjas.

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

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

“They’re the shoes I wear when I’m going someplace fancy.”

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

She has also been looking for another name. At first she considered substituting Lawrence for Lauren. But the other day she announced that her name is now Lofty Brown and she asked all of us to please address her as Lofty.

In Lofty mode

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

The Mind Never Knows (Thursday, 16 May 1991) With alternative healing — and with other modes of healing as well — you never know if there’s a causal relationship between a therapy you try and the results you get. If the results are good, it could simply have been the passage of time that did the trick, rather than the therapy itself. You can’t use yourself as both test group and control group.

We learned several months ago, for example, that two of Lauren’s incoming teeth were hung up and would likely require significant orthodontic intervention. So I started doing some therapeutic sound and color sessions for her. But then, as the situation unfolded, we chose an orthodontist who made an encouraging assessment and then waited patiently for the problem teeth to come down on their own.

Now to what extent, if any, did my use of sound and color set up an energy field around Lauren’s teeth that enhanced healing either directly (by helping her teeth slide more easily into place) or indirectly (by choosing this particular orthodontist)?

The heart senses that there’s a correlation and feels strengthened by it, but the mind never really knows for sure. Perhaps there’s grace, wisdom, and even safety in this uncertainty.

Here You Are, Sir (Tuesday, 21 May 1991) We’re at the Roanoke Public Library. I’m upstairs in the reference area. Lauren goes down to the main desk to check out her books. A few minutes later she returns beaming.

She’s in Lofty mode, wearing pants and sporting a short haircut, and when the librarian had finished checking out an armload of books, she had passed them back to Lauren with the comment, “Here you are, sir.”

Lauren was delighted.

Also, as you might have noticed, although most of us at Light Morning have been remembering to address Lauren as Lofty, in the privacy of my journal I’ll continue to call her Lauren.

Inertial Patterns (Saturday, 1 June 1991) Two friends, Richard and Lin, came over for a problem-solving session this morning. They’re going through a difficult divorce and asked me to help them untangle a thorny child custody issue. Despite my best attempts to listen to each of them with an open heart, the session wasn’t very successful. Their mutual fear, resentment, and mistrust overpowered their stated desire for a win-win solution. It left me discouraged by how compulsive our inertial patterns are.

Later this afternoon at the pond, however, I watched Lauren make a startling breakthrough in learning how to swim. Within fifteen or twenty minutes, and with hardly any help from me, she went from tentatively and apprehensively ducking her head underwater to actually swimming underwater. I was astonished, and Lauren was surprised and pleased.

Seeing her successfully transform her anxieties into accomplishment was a needed counterpoint to the discouraging morning with Richard and Lin. Maybe the key is ripeness. Today Lauren was ready and willing to learn. Her motivation was high enough to overcome her fears.

Cathartic Illnesses (Thursday, 6 June 1991) It’s telling that the journey Joyce and I made from our little apartment in the village of Arden to a communal homestead in the Blue Ridge Mountains consisted of three stages, and that each stage was triggered by a cathartic illness.

There was the harrowing diagnosis — which later turned out to be a misdiagnosis — of a cancerous tumor on my right forearm that would necessitate amputating the arm and might prove fatal. There was the brief but devastating illness I had in Nova Scotia that led us to abort our plans to emigrate to Canada and instead hitchhike to Virginia Beach. And finally, there was a second short but intense illness in Virginia Beach that opened the door to nine months of collective inner guidance and the move to Light Morning.

Each of these crises was a purgation that freed me from the constraints of existing plans and expectations. Out of the suffering came unforeseen opportunities.

Super Heroes (Friday, 7 June 1991) We’re in Roanoke to take Felix (a neighbor’s cat who’s trying to adopt us) to the vet. As we have already made the hour-long drive to town, we decide to run a few errands. Lauren is eager to buy something at K-Mart. She doesn’t yet know what she wants, but her frugal allowance is burning the proverbial hole in her pocket.

After carefully weighing price and value, Lauren settles on two small representations of Bat Man and Spider Man. Later, at the Goodwill thrift store, she finds a figurine of the Virgin Mary, who immediately becomes the companion of Bat Man and Spider Man. Quite the archetypal trio. I’m sure they’ll have many adventures together.

Lifelong Learning (Thursday, 13 June 1991) I’m watching Lauren and her friend Nathan build a dam in the small creek in the woods near where Nathan’s family’s house was recently destroyed by fire. I’m also watching two carpenters lay the cinder block foundation for the new house. And I’m watching myself learn from both the children and the carpenters.

Learning is lifelong. If we’re alive we’re learning. How do you dam a creek or lay a righteous foundation? Everything is home education. And we never leave home.

That Dumb Bar Hit Me (Friday, 14 June 1991) This is a variation on the theme of a mason hitting his head on a lintel and believing that someone has dropped something on him. Lauren’s best friend Sage is in the garden with me this morning. He’s using Lauren’s somewhat smaller garden tools to help me double-dig a bed. While swinging the garden fork to break up the soil, Sage accidentally hits himself with its handle. He glares at the tool accusingly.

“That dumb tool hit me,” he says, and gives the fork a good pinch to punish it before returning to work.

What a classic mirror, I think with a smile. Don’t most of us react this way when people or circumstances cross us or cause us pain. “That dumb bar hit me,” we say in an accusatory tone. And we’re tempted to give the offending person or circumstance a good pinch, all the while ignoring our own co-creative role in the drama.

Be a Good Sport (Saturday, 15 June 1991) It’s strange how words and phrases sometimes arrive out of the blue. While working in the garden today, for example, I somehow heard the words, “Be a good sport.”

“Now what does that mean?” I wondered.

At first I took the phrase at face value. A good sport loses a game gracefully. But right on the heels of this association came a recollection that the word sport also has a biological connotation. So at lunchtime I checked the dictionary. Sure enough, one of the numerous definitions of sport is that it’s “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.”

Yesterday I visited our neighbor Dan and noticed that his dog, whose name is Sport, was nursing an injured paw. Perhaps my playful mind started with the name of Dan’s dog, then associated to the phrase “be a good sport,” and finally segued to the biological implications of the word.

The etymological correlation is that sport derives from the Latin disport, meaning “to be carried away.” In sporting events that we observe or participate in we are carried away from our normal routines and boundaries, just as in biology a sport is an organism that has been carried far enough away from its parental type to be considered a mutation.

When I returned to the garden after lunch, further associations came to mind: watching Tom and Lauren play together earlier in the day and sensing the freedom and expansiveness of their play; enjoying double-digging garden beds so much that work and play become indistinguishable; and remembering that Seth once said that creative play is a core motivational force in the universe.

To be a good sport, then, means to be so unattached to winning and so unafraid of losing that we can fully enjoy the inherent playfulness of whatever game we happen to be playing. The phrase also implies that as we permit the spirit of creative play to direct our days, the resulting spontaneity may become mutational.

Joyce with her Papa Joe

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

She’s been captivated by problem-solving lately, eagerly joining our communal brainstorming sessions as we try to figure out the best way to install or repair something. After mulling the problem over for a while she’ll say, “Maybe this would work,” and offer a suggestion.

It brings to mind my mother, who loved to tinker with mechanical things, and Joyce’s Papa Joe, who worked as a nuclear physicist for DuPont and whose inventions included Lycra and Teflon. Who knows what gifts, interests, and inclinations might be carried through the genes?

Hating Poetry (Saturday, 22 June 1991) One of Lauren’s magazines just arrived in the mail. I’m reading the table of contents to her to see if anything catches her interest. She asks about one of the titles. I tell her it’s a poem.

“I hate poetry.”

I find her response fascinating, but I’m not quick enough on my feet to explore it with her now. Later I’ll casually share a poem she might enjoy and see where it goes.

Harnessing Enthusiasm (Saturday, 6 July 1991) The first key to home education is to approach Lauren with respect and affection and to use creative problem-solving to work through the bumps and bruises that arise in any relationship. The second key is to help make Lauren’s environment as stimulating as possible and to pay close attention to anything that happens to catch her interest. Fanning those small but vital sparks of curiosity into flame, and then supporting her as she learns to harness her enthusiasm, is what child-led learning is all about. I avoid fixed curriculums like the plague.

At the pond

The Magic of Water (Monday, 8 July 1991) As Lauren and I start to leave the pond this afternoon, she pauses on the shoreline to splash absently at the water and then stare at the ripples. I have already walked down the path a ways, needing to get home. But I stop and wait for her, wondering what she’s looking at.

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

Putting my adult agenda on hold, I walk back to the pond.

“Look at all the lights,” she murmurs, tickling the edge of the water with her toes.

It takes a while for my stultifying sense of familiarity to give way, but when it finally does I see the smooth surface of the pond refracting into dozens of tiny suns that sparkle and dance on the waves. Entering more fully into the nowness of the moment, I’m dazzled by the mesmerizing array of lights on the water.

We stand there for another five minutes or so as Lauren occasionally kicks out new ripples to disrupt the existing patterns and amplify the shimmering brilliance. Afterward, walking home, I feel rejuvenated; truly made young again.

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