The Lofty Chronicles: 4

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.

Gifts and Abilities

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

“Or for sermons!” Lauren adds, deftly finishing Joyce’s sentence for her.

We all laugh. Even Joyce has the grace to grin.

Wearing Something Girlish (Monday, 15 July 1991) We’re getting ready to leave our cabin and 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 when her friend Myra comes to visit, they’ll play Cinderella 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) We recently took Lauren to see Robin Hood, starring Kevin Costner, after reading the book to her. She had wanted to see the movie. Now, with Joyce in West Virginia to help teach calligraphy, I take Lauren to see Dances With Wolves, which also stars Costner.

As the movie opens, he’s sporting a shaggy beard; in Robin Hood he was clean shaven. Lauren leans over and whispers, “How did he grow his beard so quickly?”

Children flesh out a highly sophisticated view of the world so smoothly that it’s refreshing to see an unfinished portion of that vast canvas.

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 she’s been practicing. I suggest it has more to do with her still being a limber kid.

“If I want to be as limber as you are,” I say, “I’ll have to do a lot of yoga practice.”

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

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.”

She apparently wants 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’s a little awkward about it, but also enjoys the change. By late afternoon she’s back to shorts and a t-shirt, sitting on our back porch and removing nail polish from her toes before going up to supper.

Lauren, Claire, Myra

A Loss of Innocence (Wednesday, 31 July 1991) Lauren and I go outside for the final pee of the evening. I tell her that when she wakes up tomorrow it will be August. We talk about the different months and seasons of the year and she says she can’t wait until Christmas.

Then, after a pause, she says, “You know, Mom was the one who filled my stocking with presents last year.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. I recognized the wrapping paper.”

“Well,” I say, “even if you now know who your presents come from, you don’t know what they’re going to be.”

She ignores my attempt to soften her loss of innocence.

“Now it’s no fun any more,” she says.

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. She plays by the roadside while I rake. After a long silence, she asks, “Do you think 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 at the recollection of how my suffragette grandmother, Ingeborg, had to fight for the right to even vote.

“It hasn’t happened yet,” I say, “but by the time you grow up, I bet there will be a woman president. They have a woman president in England; she’s called a prime minister. And other countries have had women presidents.”

She’s thrilled at the prospect and tells me that it would be much more fun to be the president than the president’s wife. We joke that her husband would then be the president’s husband. I ask what she would do if she were president. She says that she would put an end to all the big wars.

Mating Cicadas (Monday, 5 August 1991) As Joyce, Lauren, and I walk back from the pond today after swimming, I find a pair of interlocked cicadas beside the road. Entwined in a mating embrace, they are completely still, as though dead or in some deep trance.

Cicada

I carefully pick them up so we can get a better look at them. There’s only the barest hint of movement in one of the legs. While I continue to carry them, they gradually come back to life. By the time we reach our cabin, the cicadas are gripping my hand with their feet but they’re still joined together. I transfer them onto the lantern outside our door. They settle there motionless, but when I check on them a few minutes later they have flown away.

Cicadas are beautiful creatures. They have translucent wings and richly colored bodies. This pair gifted Lauren with a graceful demonstration of “the birds and the bees.”

A Surprising Discovery (Tuesday, 13 August 1991) Lauren has been eager to go for more walks as part of our home-schooling times together. But I haven’t yet crafted enough space in my homesteading lifestyle to honor her impulse. It’s easier to flow into schooling projects around the house, even though I know it would not only be good for her to get out in the woods more often, it would also be a tonic for me.

So today I’m able to shake free of the inertial patterns and we go for a walk. We don’t plan where we’ll go, we just allow our spontaneous interests to guide us from hill to stream to fallen tree. As we wander deeper into the woods, well to the west of all the dwellings, I suddenly see something red and white peeking out from beneath a bush.

My first impression is that it’s a piece of litter; maybe an empty potato chips bag. But how it could have ended up in such a remote spot? The wind couldn’t have blown it this far. And we make a point of not leaving any trash lying around.

We walk over to the bush. When I retrieve the object and smooth it out on the ground, we see that it’s heart-shaped, with white hearts on a flamboyantly red background. It also has a tattered ribbon attached to it. It’s a helium birthday balloon that had apparently escaped, sailed high above the tree tops, and eventually landed in this obscure part of the forest.

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

But here it is, four months later, spread out on the ground before us, still heart-shaped and still retaining its bright birthday colors. Lauren and I grin at each other. I muse on the delightful synchronicity of finding such a supportive token on our very first home educational walk in the woods.

Trying On Blindness (Tuesday, 13 August 1991) As we walk home together late this evening from the community shelter, Lauren keeps 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, recalling Lauren’s fascination with Mary Ingalls. In one of the Little House series of books, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s older sister lost her sight due to illness at age 14.

“I like not being able to see things, and having to feel everything,” Lauren replies. “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.”

When I Was a Little Kid (Tuesday, 20 August 1991) We leave the community shelter well after supper. It’s a crisp, autumn-like evening. The sky is clear and a waxing gibbous moon lights up the hills.

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

“What do you like about them?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” says our seven-year-old. “They make me feel… They make me feel just like when I was a little kid.”

A Classic Double-Take (Monday, 26 August 1991) Our next-door neighbors David, Mary, and Sage have been away at the beach this past week and are due back soon. Lauren can’t to see her best friend Sage again. While she and I are canning tomatoes in the community shelter this morning, Lauren sees Ron driving his pick-up truck toward the tool shed and decides to trick me.

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

At that very moment, Sage walks through the door into the kitchen. They’ve returned from the beach and Sage has walked through the woods to visit.

“Hi, Lauren,” he says.

Lauren does the most classic double-take imaginable. She’s completely nonplussed at having seemingly conjured Sage out of the ethers. Her face is a shifting array of wonder, disbelief, and something resembling fear. Then she explodes into hilarious laughter, which restores her waking sense of reality.

“You’re back!” she yells, and the two friends run outside to play.

Public Education (Tuesday, 27 August 1991) I just finished reading an article in the Fall 1991 issue of Whole Earth Review that’s a strong inducement to continue home schooling with Lauren. “The 6-Lesson Schoolteacher” is a damning indictment of public education by John Taylor Gatto, who happens to be the New York State Teacher of the Year.

In highly abbreviated form, the six lessons that Gatto says all public schoolteachers teach are: 1.) Stay in the class where you belong. 2.) Turn on and off like a light switch. 3) Surrender your will. 4.) I determine what curriculum you will study. 5.) Your self-respect should depend on an observer’s measure of your worth. 6.) I teach children that they are being watched.

[You can read the article here. The following year, in 1992, John Taylor Gatto published Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, which became a classic in its field. The 25th Anniversary Edition is here.]

Only a Child (Tuesday, 27 August 1991) Lauren and I are walking down the path together when she asks, “Who do you think is at the top of the tallest building in the world right now?”

Only a child could gestate such an unanticipated question.

Gifts and Abilities (Saturday, 31 August 1991) Lauren and I are returning home after helping our neighbors, Willie and Marge, paint some of the trim for their new house. Their former house was destroyed by fire. Lauren’s riding her bike; I’m walking.

Lauren is tickled because, although I had warned her that she might not be able to do much painting, it turned out that she, Willie and Marge’s son Nathan, and I had painted trim for a couple of hours. Lauren learned to use both a brush and a small roller and only stepped in the paint tray twice. She had a wonderful time doing something she had never done before.

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

Now, as we walk toward home in the gathering twilight, Lauren suddenly asks me what I have that she doesn’t have. I’m puzzled by her question, taking it to be a guessing game.

“A belt?” I say.

“No, no,” she says. “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?”

This leads into a discussion of gifts and abilities. I explain that I don’t necessarily have a gift for painting, but 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, listening to other people, and writing.

“I’m not sure about gardening,” I say. “That might be both a gift and an ability.”

Then Lauren asks what gifts I think she has; things 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.”

She tells me how much she likes to draw and that she can happily spend hours with nothing but a pencil and a piece of paper. Then, as she rides her bike slowly beside me, she continues to puzzle over what talents we’re born with and whether or not we manage to develop them. Her interest may have been seeded by two biographies of George Washington Carver that we’ve been reading aloud together in the evenings. It was Carver who once said that “anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough.”

Lauren’s primary focus, of course, is a growing fascination with her own specialness and uniqueness; who she is as a person; what her gifts and potentials might be.

Lauren playing with circles

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