The Lofty Chronicles: 6

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

with an introduction. Links to the other posts in the series are here.

On Loan From the Universe

Our neighbors Doris and Harry

A New Kind of Family (Thursday, 5 December 1991) A passing impression this evening of life in the emerging Light Morning form of family. After supper, Joyce went to a village meeting at the Institute for Sustainable Living and Marlene went to a weekly gathering at our neighbors Harry and Doris. The rest of us are sitting around our off-grid community shelter which is lit by kerosene lamps.

Adam’s in the kitchen reading the current issue of Harrowsmith. Ron’s by the wood-stove studying a book about dreams. I’m on the couch with an old issue of Whole Earth Review. Lauren is sitting on Tom’s lap in the rocking chair, listening to stories about his youth, for which she seems to have an insatiable appetite and which Tom loves to share. Everything’s warm and cozy and family.

Educational Options (Wednesday, 11 December 1991) Yesterday our next-door neighbor Mary invited Lauren to accompany Sage, who is Lauren’s best friend, to a play-day at a small alternative school in the town of Floyd called Blue Mountain School. Lauren had a good time and will likely want to go back again.

So Joyce, Lauren, and I may again be considering the three educational options available to us: Blue Mountain School, which is pricey and would necessitate a long, twice-daily commute; public school, whose values don’t align well with ours; and home education.

Cajoled Into the Stretch Zone (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 that will honor the women elders of the wider community.

So Lauren only has four men to coax into her energetic game. One of them is too old for such gymnastics and the other three are tired after a full day’s work. She resolutely goes ahead anyway, explaining what the players are supposed to do and asking who wants to be which player.

“I’ll play the spectator,” says Adam.

She glares at him and turns to Ron.

“I’ll be the cheerleader,” Ron says.

“No!” Lauren replies, clearly frustrated. “The game doesn’t need any of those things.”

Since I cooked the evening meal and am therefore exempt from after-dinner chores, I agree to play Body Boggle with my daughter.

Somewhat reluctantly at first, I stretch into the opening contortions, placing my hands, feet, and head down on the various circles which are marked out on the flexible vinyl game board that Lauren has spread out on the floor. The stretches become progressively harder as Lauren spells out new words for me, each new word causing me to move my hands, feet, and head farther apart to the corresponding letters on the game board. Finally I reach the limits of my stretchability and collapse onto the floor.

Then we trade places and it’s her turn to see how far she can stretch.

Later, having yielded to a seven-year-old’s desire to play such an energetic game, despite my fatigue, I discover that I have more energy after the game has ended than I had before it started. It feels like an important lesson I need to learn about overcoming inertial momentum.

The Infiltration of Medicinal Garlic (Sunday, 15 December 1991) It’s fascinating to see small but significant changes slowly becoming incorporated into our self-reliant lifestyle. Take garlic as an example. The first person to use garlic medicinally at Light Morning was Irene, who would chew on a clove whenever she felt a cold coming on. We thought it was somewhat inconsiderate of her to pollute the room with such a pungent odor.

Irene

Later Adam gave garlic a try. Joyce, Lauren, and I soon followed suit. Then the other night, our friend Stan said that he had successfully used several cloves of garlic to ward off an impending cold.

So gradually another element of Light Morning’s alternative lifestyle has been established. Despite the social taboo against its use, garlic is a home-grown remedy that can often be helpful.

Naomi

Naomi Dancing (Sunday, 15 December 1991) Last night Lauren dreamed that our neighbor 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 that Joyce and I attended last night and she was dancing a lot. But we hadn’t mentioned this to Lauren upon our return.

Beyond the specific images of Naomi, however, Lauren may have been tuning in to something while she slept. At this time of year, when the weather is cold and the nights are long, the neighborhood has been needing an excuse to get together. Lauren’s dream captured the feeling-tone of that need having been met.

The Smile of a Sleeping Child (Monday, 16 December 1991) Lauren has fallen asleep on the living room floor of our cabin as the three of us were getting ready for bed. Joyce has already climbed under the covers. I’m still in the living room, brushing my teeth by the wood-stove.

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

It seems as though she wants to tell me something, so I kneel down beside her. Still smiling, she reaches up, entwines her fingers in my beard, and pulls me down until our faces are almost touching. Then, just as suddenly, she closes her eyes and relaxes her grip on my beard, all the while continuing to sleep.

I finished brushing my teeth, gather her up in my arms, and carry her to her bed.

Kids Have Important Things to Say (Friday, 20 December 1991) Light Morning has had a visitor the past few days, an elderly man who’s a monologue conversationalist. It’s hard for anyone else to get a word in edgewise, especially if you happen to be a child. At one point Lauren tries to enter the conversation. She waits for a brief pause in the conversation and then speaks clearly and with plenty of volume. He either doesn’t hear her or chooses to ignore her.

Lauren sits back on the couch, looking discouraged. I lean over to commiserate with her.

“He listens to what other people say,” she says with some heat, “but he won’t listen to me.”

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

“They sure don’t! And you know what? It’s sad that they don’t.”

“How so?”

She looks at me as the visitor’s monologue drones on.

“Because kids have important things to say.”

Is the Community Poor? (Sunday, 22 December 1991) Wes and his daughter Rose came for a visit this morning. Then Rose returned after supper with her mother Shara to go Christmas caroling with us around the neighborhood. Shara later told us that as they approached the community shelter, Rose said, “Is the community poor?”

“What do you mean by poor?” Shara asked.

“Well, Lauren doesn’t have a TV, so she can’t watch the cartoons on Saturday morning. But she has the woods she can play in any time she wants to.”

Rose paused, considering, and then said, “I think Lauren’s way is better.”

A Special Moment (Monday, 23 December 1991) Lauren came over to sit in my lap after she had finished eating lunch. It was time for me to get up and help with the after-meal chores, but Lauren was so cozy and contented that she begged me not to move. So I relinquished the chore routine and we continued to cuddle for a while.

Then this evening, as she and I were walking over to visit a neighboring family who have kids her age, she said, “You’ve been special today.”

“How so?”

“Well, you’re always special, but today you were double special.”

“That’s nice.”

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

Standing Up To the Adults (Thursday, 26 December 1991) A friend has just walked into the community shelter to tell us that he has a used couch in the back of his truck out in the parking lot and wants to know if we would like to have it. Before we have even seen it, we start talking about whether we could use it in the community shelter or in one of the guest cabins.

Lauren is deeply opposed to having it come into the shelter. She says she doesn’t want it to take the place of the old bedspread-covered couch that we’ve been tolerating for years. I find her resistance to change interesting. While the rest of us are enthusiastic about replacing the current relic, she lobbies hard to leave things as they are.

Then we walk to the parking lot to take a look at this couch. It’s in such bad shape that we dismiss the idea of it coming into the community shelter. Lauren, however, immediately changes her mind and wants us to bring it in.

I’m startled at first by this abrupt reversal. Then I understand that our seven-year-old is using the issue of the couch to once again explore the dynamics of group decision-making. She’s standing up strong to the adults, needing to see if her perspective is going to be respected.

“Tommy knows when I like things,” Lauren told me this morning. “I don’t know how. He just does.”

Tommy Knows (Friday, 3 January 1992) Lauren went to Roanoke with Tom yesterday. They took his laundry to the laundromat, had lunch at Show Biz pizza, and then went to see Beauty and the Beast. Both of them had a good time.

“Tommy knows when I like things,” Lauren told me this morning. “I don’t know how. He just does.”

Tom and Lauren

Sometimes I Just Can’t (Saturday, 4 January 1992) Lauren was rough on Joyce after our common table evening meal in the community shelter. She wasn’t very responsive to her mother’s needs or feelings, so Joyce went down to our cabin early. Later, as Lauren and I follow the same starlit path through the woods, I suggest that maybe she could do a better job of tuning in to her mom.

Lauren gets huffy and defiant at first, but then somehow manages to shift gears.

“Sometimes I just can’t,” she says. “As I get older, the can’ts are fewer. But sometimes I still can’t.”

I give her a hug and say that I, too, bump up against the limits to my loving all the time.

Flexibility Is the Key (Thursday, 9 January 1992) With home schooling, flexibility is often the key. Being able to read the “signs of the times” is also crucial. Lofty clearly signals her interests. If Joyce and I can become ready, willing, and able to follow these highway signs, we’ll both have an easier and happier educational experience than if I don’t.

This afternoon, for example, I came down to the house with some pressing project on my mind to find Lofty sitting on the couch surrounded by musical instruments. I have barely enough grace to surrender my plans and follow her desire to do music. She wants to learn to play Mary Had a Little Lamb on the recorder, so she has me practice it with her at least at dozen times.

Then she runs into her room to get her blackboard and chalk. She writes “Mary Had a Little Lamb: A Recorder Duet by Lofty and Robert” on the blackboard. She asks 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 instruments, she says that when Joyce comes down to the cabin we’re going to surprise her by showing her the blackboard and then playing the duet for her. Which we do.

Everything has unfolded with such spontaneity that I’m amazed by how easily Lofty has “studied” music, art, handwriting, and spelling. All I had to do was be flexible about my plans and be open to the “signs of the times” so that I could respond to the educational opportunities of the moment.

I Wish This Day Had Never Come (Wednesday, 15 January 1992) When Lauren awoke this morning her first words to Joyce were, “I wish this day had never come.”

“You mean because the snow that was predicted for last night didn’t come?”

“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) Our friend Richard and his son Jacob, who’s Lauren’s age, attempted to spend the night with us last night. Jacob went to sleep OK in Lauren’s room, but he later woke up and wanted his mother. Then he got to screaming and raised such a ruckus that Richard finally had to take him home in the middle of the night.

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

Then she giggled at her own tongue twister and had to try several times before she could actually say temper tantrum.

Long Lost Brothers (Wednesday, 22 January 1992) Sage and Lauren are playing together in the woods. I can dimly hear them chanting in unison, “We’re long lost brothers! We’re long lost brothers!” I don’t know what the context is or where the phrase came from, and I forget to ask Lauren about it later.

I’m Happy (Wednesday, 29 January 1992) This morning we started to expand Tom’s cabin, Snowberry. David is focalizing, the rest of us are participating in the project. As Joyce and I were clearing the new path to Snowberry, Lauren came up to help. It’s been a warm few days for January, with the highs somewhere in the 50s, and Lauren was wearing shorts.

Standing in the sun, watching us work, she said, “I’m happy!”

It felt so true and healthy that we all smiled.

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. Suddenly I realize that she’s only on loan from the universe. I feel strange tears rise up, blending sadness at the thought of life without her and gladness that she’ll be off to an exciting life of her own.

Then comes 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 fledging 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 and extend our capacity to love.

Robert and Lauren, 1984

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