The Lofty Chronicles: 7

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.

One of Lofty’s drawings

The Old Paths

Bedtime Stories (Friday, 7 February 1992) Last April (here) I listed the books that Joyce, Lauren, and I had been reading aloud as bedtime stories. Here’s what we’ve read together since then.

Gifts of Unknown Things, Watson
Star Wars, Lucas
The Empire Strikes Back, Lucas et al
The Return of the Jedi, ibid
A Wizard of Earthsea, LeGuinn
The Tombs of Atuan, ibid
The Farthest Shore, ibid
Treasure Island, Stevenson
The Adventures of Robin Hood
Afternoon of the Elves, Lisle
George Washington Carver, Holt
Carver’s George, Means
Oversoul Seven and the Museum of Time, Roberts
A Swiftly Tilting Planet, L’Engle

Runaway Elephant (Thursday, 13 February 1992) Lauren awakens this morning with a scary dream, seemingly triggered by a news story about a rampaging elephant at a circus in Florida. Having just been to the circus in Roanoke, Lauren related to the story directly.

In the dream, she’s at the circus and an elephant gets loose and starts chasing people. Everyone’s running away. Finally we’re able to get into our car and drive back up the mountain. But soon the elephant shows up and continues to pursue us.

“That sounds frightening,” I say, after hearing the dream. “You must have wanted that dream to be over.”

“Yeah, at first I did. But then I said to myself, ‘Hey, man, it’s only a dream. Let’s see how it turns out.’”

An impressive touch of lucidity!

A Prescient Dream (Thursday, 13 February 1992) Lauren whimpered in her sleep early this morning. After she awoke I asked her about her dreams. She couldn’t recall any at first, but then remembered one about Tom leaving Light Morning in the middle of the project to enlarge Snowberry, the cabin up the hill from the community shelter where Tom lives and which he loves. [More about Tom’s special relationship with Snowberry can be found here.]

Lauren’s grandparents all live far away and she doesn’t get to see them very often. Tom, who has lived at Light Morning for many years and is into his 70s by now, is like a surrogate grandfather for Lauren and the two of them have become good friends. In her dream, Lauren seems to have picked up on some underlying stress that Tom’s been experiencing during the Snowberry project, for a month or two after the dream the pressure does become too much for him. He decides to leave for a while and asks us to let him know when the project is finished.

Welded (Friday, 14 February 1992) It’s curious how certain phrases go viral in the swirling world of entertainment targeting kids. When we awake to an overnight snowfall, I tell Lauren that her close friend and neighbor Sage will probably stay home from school today.

“I’m welded to going over there!” she exclaims. “And you can’t break a weld. Not unless you can break iron.”

Mommy (Sunday, 16 February 1992) Lauren’s first word upon returning from sleep this morning was a somewhat plaintive, “Mommy!” She didn’t have anything special on her mind. She was just checking in with Joyce to see what she was doing. Her mode of checking in, however, triggered a rush of associations. I felt the depth and intensity of the connection between a mother and her child. What a difference there is between calling someone mother and calling her mommy. It’s like the difference between father and daddy.

Then I remembered reading that when Jesus, during his agony in Gethsemane, called out to his Father, he addressed him as abba. In Aramaic, abba signifies not so much father as it does poppa or daddy. It’s a word a young child would use and has the same connotations as Lauren calling Joyce mommy.

This caused me to think about the phrase “Mother Earth.” Just for a moment I caught a visceral glimpse of what it might be like to have a relationship with the Earth like the relationship that Lauren has with Joyce; to carry in my heart such an intimacy with my home planet that I relate to her not only as mother but also as mommy.

Mama Joyce in the garden

A Fleeting Scent of Sweetness (Monday, 17 February 1992) Lauren recently bought a large flower pot, into which she plans to transplant her small but growing spider plant. As the image of the spider plant passes through my mind, I catch a fleeting scent of sweetness. It’s very subtle, like the faint fragrance of a faraway honeysuckle vine.

I snuffle at the sensation, which is clearly not physical. Instead, it’s as though my body knows that this plant will sweeten the air in our living room, and that this knowing has been translated into an olfactory language. The scent of sweetness, while delicate and transitory, is also distinct and pleasurable.

Perhaps it’s like the translators who work at the United Nations, and the “Chinese” of my cellular knowing has become the “English” of my normal sensory awareness; or like the way in which the ineffable feelings of the night are translated into the dreams we awake with in the morning.

An Elegant Solution (Wednesday, 19 February 1992) Joyce, Lauren, and I had a very helpful problem-solving session today. It grew out of a cluster of frustrations we’ve had about home-schooling. Joyce said that I’ve been too busy to give home-schooling the time it needs; Lauren groused about her mother putting too much pressure on her; and Joyce, in turn, felt that Lauren was being uncooperative and unappreciative.

The elegant solution that eventually emerged involved shifting away from an established curriculum and turning instead to collaborative goal-setting. This solution was not only satisfactory to each of us, it was also exciting and liberating. It’s yet another confirmation of the Effectiveness Training approach to creative problem-solving being pioneered by Thomas Gordon, and it follows an equally cathartic session I recently had with our friends Lin and Richard, who’ve been having marital difficulties.

Elegant solutions can be transformative.

The Old Paths (Wednesday, 19 February 1992) Lauren and I are walking up the path from our cabin this morning. I’m heading for the community shelter, she’s off to visit Sage. When the path forks, we go our separate ways.

A few moments later she calls to me.

“I like the old paths and the woods paths,” she says, referring to the former logging roads and the bushwhacked paths through the woods, “because you can move around without being seen by anybody, and you can go wherever you want to go secretly.”

Then she disappears into the forest.

Taking After Her Uncle David (Thursday, 20 February 1992) Part of our family mythology when I was growing up was that my younger brother Ethan would squirrel away all his money, while his twin brother David would let any cash that came his way run right through his fingers.

Lauren seems to take after her uncle David.

When we went to Roanoke today, for example, the Ninja Turtles money belt strapped around her waist was filled with dollars, quarters, and nickels. Toward the end of the day she had a new Barbie, a set of bubble-blowing devices, and a key chain for Sage’s knife sitting beside her on the seat of the car. Her Turtle pouch now contained only loose change.

Our last stop was at the Roanoke Co-op. As Joyce and I finished setting up a display box of our calligraphic prints, Lauren came to the check-out counter with several trinkets in her hands. After her purchases were tallied up, she fished out the few remaining coins from her pouch and then had to borrow a penny from me to complete the transaction.

I had to smile. Our seven-year-old had taken her available cash right down to zero, just like her uncle David before her. And it didn’t bother her at all. What’s money for, she seemed to be saying, if not to be spent.

Kristi Yamaguchi

I Like the Japanese (Thursday, 20 February 1992) During our errand run to Roanoke today, Lauren and I were talking about the Olympics. She’s enamored of Kristi Yamaguchi, a young Japanese-American figure skater who Lauren hopes will win a gold medal.

“I like the Japanese,” she said. “They’re always smiling and they’re always small.”

It’s a telling comment by one of the “little people” that we call children. I keep forgetting how different the perspective must be if you’re four feet tall and have to navigate a world filled with looming adults.

As the bible says, “There were giants in the earth in those days.”

Lauren feels friendly toward the Japanese, in part because they’re more her size.

Feeding Wild Horses (Thursday, 20 February 1992) During this same town trip, Lauren and I somehow got to talking about death. Maybe she asked me what I want to happen to my body after I die. I told her that I don’t yet know and that it feels right to either return my body to the earth through burial or to have it burned first and then scatter the ashes.

I then asked Lauren what she would like to have done with her body.

“I think I would like to have my body tied to the back of a wild horse.”

“Hmm, that sounds like it might be fun,” I said. “But I’m not sure it would be fun for the horse when your body starts to stink.”

She giggled and agreed.

She finally decided that she wants to be buried under a field where wild horses graze.

“Then the grass that feeds on your body will feed the wild horses?”

She smiled and nodded.

I Won’t Take Your Gaff (Friday, 21 February 1992) I overhear Lauren singing a little ditty to herself during chores after supper tonight.

“I won’t take your gaff. I won’t take your gaff.”

I nonchalantly ask where the song comes from.

“Oh, I just made it up.”

She may or may not be singing to anyone in particular. It must sometimes be tough to be the only child living with a bunch of pig-headed adults.

Lofty’s Three Ideal Jobs (Tuesday, 25 February 1992) Lofty’s talking about what she wants to be when she grows up. “I’d like to have one of three jobs: a cowboy who works with wild horses; a singer who writes her own songs; or an inventor who works with someone that can build what I invent.”

This is Fun! (Thursday, 27 February 1992) Lauren is reading to me from one of her books. We set a goal of so many pages. But when we reach the cut-off point, she keeps on going and reads to the end of the story.

“This is fun!” she exudes. “I like to read.”

Then we joke about me having to hide the bedtime story I’m reading aloud so she won’t “cheat” by sneaking a look at the book and reading ahead of where we are. She tells me that the first long book that she wants to read by herself is Riddle Master, by Patricia McKillip.

I ask her why she decided to plow ahead and finish the book she had just read to me.

“I wanted to see what happened. I didn’t know how the story was going to turn out.”

Robin Hood and Captain Hook (Wednesday, 4 March 1992) We’re in town today, attending to the usual long list of errands. We’re also planning to take in a matinee performance of Hook, the Peter Pan sequel which Lofty has been wanting to see. As we wind our way down the mountain on the Blue Ridge Parkway, she starts talking about a difficult dynamic that she and Adam, one of the adults in the community, have been working on. She vents some feelings, then the conversation broadens into the subtle but pervasive prejudice against kids in this culture.

Later Lofty says that she wishes there was a movie about Robin Hood when he was a boy. She’s read the book and watched the Kevin Costner movie about her hero. I silently wonder if she might want to see how Robin, who stood up to so many of the entrenched forces of his day, might have dealt with the pervasive conspiracy of adults when he was young.

Then Joyce suggests that when Lofty grows up, maybe she can avoid contracting a chronic case of adultitis. Perhaps she could even make a movie about what it’s like to be a kid living in a world run by adults.

“Yeah!” Lofty replies. “And when I make the movie, I’ll give Adam free admission so he can see what it feels like.”

Then our conversation gets buried beneath the busyness of the day.

Finally, after supper, we sit down in the Grandin Theater to watch Hook. I’m not too taken by the movie. Dustin Hoffman is wonderful as Hook, but other than that it lacks the magic of Spielberg’s earlier classics. Lofty, however, loves the show. She laughs and hollers all the way through it, making it well worth the price of admission.

Eventually I tumble to the connection between the theme of the movie and our earlier talk as we were coming down the mountain. For the busy, self-important, grown-up Peter Pan has forgotten his magical childhood. As a properly acculturated adult, he has suppressed all traces of spontaneity, wonder, and adventure, both in himself and in his children.

Dustin Hoffman as Hook, Robin Williams as the grown-up Peter

The movie’s plot has Hook kidnapping Peter’s children. In order to rescue them, Peter is forced to return to the magical island and magical powers of his youth, thus providing Hook with a “worthy opponent” and an opportunity for revenge. The movie is therefore an imaginative amplification of the very themes we have just been talking about.

An amusing footnote: As we’re driving up Bent Mountain through misty rain on our way home after the movie, the car’s engine starts sounding a little funny.

“Let’s send it some stardust,” I suggest.

In the movie, Tinker Bell uses stardust to help the children fly. I’m hoping we’ll be able to fly home without too much of an adventure. Continuing up the mountain, we encounter some fog. Then, somewhat to my surprise, the car’s symptoms subside. By the time we reach the top of Bent Mountain, the engine is purring, my anxiety has dissipated, and Lofty has fallen asleep.

“We should remember to thank Tinker Bell when we get home,” I say to Joyce.

Just then a shooting star with a long flowing tail falls through the night sky ahead of us, its brilliance barely softened by the remnants of the fog. It looks exactly like the depiction of Tinker Bell in the movie. Joyce and I smile at each other, wishing that Lofty had been awake to see it.

A Subliminal Exchange of Favors (Friday, 6 March 1992) There was a touching example of the universe appearing to take care of itself today. Joyce had volunteered to drive Marlene to Bedford and spend the day with her there while Marlene’s remaining teeth were pulled and she was fitted for a full set of dentures. Upon their return, Marlene checked Light Morning’s mailbox and found three videos that she had ordered as part of a video club come-on: Robin Hood, Dances With Wolves, and Ghost. All three are among Lauren’s favorite movies. The day therefore turned out to be an exchange of favors between Marlene and Joyce, completely unplanned — at a conscious level — by either of them.

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