Friday, February 26, 2010


Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better.
-Albert Camus 

The past week has actually afforded us several days of sunshine, which has been a foreign concept as of late.   We truly have been resigned to a winter palette these last few months--gray, white and black.  These colors, and the settings which they frame, can be beautiful in their own right and, believe you me, I've done everything in my power to look upon them with such eyes--However--the lack of any alternative, any hint of color that would be classified as "one exuding warmth" has been completely and utterly absent.  The sunshine of the past week has had to pierce through the cold and frost but, once penetrated, the effect on skin and soul has been remarkable.  As the slow thaw proceeded I realized that I had almost forgotten that Spring might come.  Really.  There is, I believe, a defense mechanism that kicks in, somewhere around mid January, and its sole purpose is to protect one's heart from the mistaken hope that warm weather exists--now, in the future, or ever.  That is the space within which we've been residing, all the while resigned and reticent.  Spring?  Such is the stuff of dreams!

Thankfully, God is full of grace and love and light and he longs to share that with us silly, shortsighted humans.  So, deep in the space of winter he shines down pure, thick sunshine.  The cold is still present, but it doesn't matter.  The sun rules.

We have discovered, for ourselves, a tract of land behind our property.  It is about five acres and it is hemmed in on two sides by the backyards of two different subdivisions.  We had heard that there was a man who owned this land and that he wanted to develop it but in order to do that, he would have to buy access and right of way and, thankfully, no one has granted him that privilege.  So it sits.  Parts have been cleared of timber, in hopes, I imagine, of future building, but the majority of it remains fairly free of human footprints.  Well, sort of. 

"Our" creek flows through this land and gradually, it gains volume and girth.  The first few hundred yards of land and creek are full of reminders that not everyone shares our love for wild spaces, nor do they see it as sacred and worthy of care and attention.  The creek is littered with tires of varying sizes (beginning with a spare and moving on up to a tractor size), the occasional plastic bottle or aluminum can and, oh yeah, a motor boat.  I wouldn't have believed it, either, if I hadn't seen it myself.  We are still scratching our heads on that one.  But, once you get past those initial indiscretions, it opens up into something closer to the original layout.

The day that we "discovered" it, the ground was still covered in snow and the animal tracks were everywhere--squirrel, rabbit, raccoon, opossum, deer.  Oh, and dog.  Our dog's tracks, since we had brought her along for the adventure, and that of other dogs, most likely from the marauding dogs of our neighbors (one of whom managed to snag himself a chicken dinner from our yard).  The boys kept calling themselves Lewis and Clark and they dubbed Beulah as their very own "Seaman", scouting out new lands and unknown flora and fauna.  Cries of "Mom, look at this!" and "Oh wow, how cool!" pierced the air again and again.  I think it was somewhere within the first hour of this expedition that I realized what I was feeling.


The boys and I had set out on an adventure, by accident.  What started out as simple curiosity led to much more than we had planned.  And that was okay.  In fact, it was more than okay.  And in that freedom, in that letting go of expectations and directives, we were becoming something more.

At one quiet point, as Aidan and I were standing watching the water trickle beneath the ice forms in the creek while simultaneously imagining what variety of animals might be making their home in a huge pile of sticks and leaves, he turned to me.  "I just love this, Mom.  I love being out in nature and being quiet and observing all that is out here.  It just  makes me feel better as a person."

Truer words were never spoken.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Finding Balance...continued

Well, the last few weeks have found us following our hearts.

I decided to abandon a formal structure to our days and just see what happened. We would only do what the boys asked to do. I would respond to any and all requests but I would not push an agenda of any kind. It was a de-schooling exercise, per se. I wanted to give the boys, and myself, the opportunity to shake the whole bottle of creek water and see what settled after the water cleared. Here is just one example of what remained.

Aidan and August LOVE history. Not only that but, evidently for Aidan, the amount of time that I invest in reading and exploring the subject with him is in direct proportion to the amount of love he feels that he receives from me!
In a weepy moment recently, Aidan started bemoaning the fact that he was, "just sad about his life" in general. When I began to wade through the sweeping generalizations that he was throwing at me it slowly became more and more clear that what he was really upset about was that we had stopped reading from our history book. "You've stopped spending time with me reading history," were his words. Because he loves the pursuit of kings and kingdoms and eras and epochs, because this is so much his passion, the fact that we were no longer partners (albeit, temporarily) in that journey represented some grand withholding of love. The simple act of sitting down and reading through our history book (or any other history book for that matter) and discussing it with him is a way that Aidan receives love.


This kind of turns everything on its head for me.

Could it really be that this education, this learning, this whole way of receiving what the world has to give us is, first, rooted in love?
I believe the answer is a resounding Yes.

Once this incredible realization was made, more began to unfold, in time.

We've been reading our fool heads off. Any and everything. Nothing has been off limits. Full access has been given to all literary mediums. And for the first time, Aidan began reading fiction books independently. He has always read non fiction books independently but I was often curious as to whether he would ever make the switch to fiction himself. He has always loved fiction, don't get me wrong, but only when I read it to him. He could sit and listen to story upon story read aloud, either by me or audio book, all the day long. But picking up one of those same books and reading to himself was not something he chose to do. I suppose part of that is because much of what we read aloud is on a higher reading level than he could do on his own, so he just defaulted to listening, rather than reading. But suddenly, he is lapping up books by the armful. His latest obsession is the Magic Tree House books. Now, his reading ability is much higher than these books, I realize that. But what I've also come to realize is that he is using these books as tools. He has chosen books whose topics are reflective of those which we have already studied in history. So when he reads (very easily) these books , he is reinforcing the facts that he has previously visited through our reading of history. He's making the information his own in a way that speaks to him. An added plus--I've caught him reading aloud to his brother. This morning, I found them cuddled up on the couch together reading about Vikings.

This is the kind of thing that I cannot come up with on my own. I can't plan for this or pencil it into a lesson plan (figurative or real). This is an organic creation, arising when all of the right ingredients come together, unfettered by me and my dictates.

But don't get me wrong. I will not be just an innocent bystander. I can't help myself. I love to discover new things--new birds at our feeders, new words in the dictionary, new ways to make the greatest pizza dough in the world, new ways to add numbers in my head. And I will continue to share these with my boys as they come along. That's just the way I roll. In fact, I'm beginning to think that one of the greatest contributions that I can make towards my boys' education is to show them me being myself.

Again, it is all about balance. I refuse to make this adventure in learning a mere copy of someone else's experience.

We are just going to have to continue being ourselves.

Rabbi Zusya said that on the Day of Judgment, God would ask him, not why he had not been Moses, but why he had not been Zusya. ~Walter Kaufmann