Together, we will make magic.

My oldest son has recently become interested in reading his mama’s words.  It is a strange experience for me because I know that when the farmer reads them or other adults read them, they have a wide base of context to bring with them to the reading.  At eleven, his awareness has definitely broadened, but just how much is always a surprise to me.

So, at the end of the night when I work on this project, he often comes over and gives me his feedback on the photo editing, which I generally take since he is already such a gifted visual artist.  He has read all of them and has his favorites.  It has been a lot of fun.

A few nights back, I had gotten my photo up and had written this title, “Meet me under the tree,” and this first line, “We will make magic, together.”  I had to walk away from the computer for some reason or another and when I came back, he had finished the poem.

I think it was a bit inspired by his recent readings of my own work, but it is still pretty awesome.  Especially for a boy who thinks he doesn’t write well.  He does, he really does.  He just can’t yet get the grand scope of his stories down as well as he sees them in his head and so he feels this limitation and hasn’t gotten to the point of realizing he just needs to either give those epics a lot of hard work or try to write something shorter.  The short hasn’t interested him yet.  Poetry hasn’t interested him yet.  And so this was very exciting.

I couldn’t really leave it on my other page and my own post morphed into this.

But he had really wanted me to use it and so I told him I would post it here.  He decided to change the photo and edited one of his favorites from our files–one of his father’s–to go with the poem.  The old title is gone too, but I think his new choice is perfect.  It is the best kind of magic making, doing these kinds of things, together.

Together

by Olorin Jaillet

we will make magic, together.

we will make bliss.

we will make unity,  together.

together, we will make magic.

together, we will make peace, we will make happiness.

we will, together.

Learning free

Note:  I read this post earlier this week and left it feeling so very sad.  And so, I redoubled my efforts over here and wanted to share my thoughts.

Every year for so many years now, I am faced with this same question:  how do we do this homeschooling thing the right way?  There are so many ways to approach it, and although we tend to fall somewhere in the middle, trying to balance the freedom to be yourself with the reality of responsibilities and the status quo, there are always some struggles.  And with each struggle I ask myself, why?  Why do we have to study this particular thing or that particular thing?  And I am amazed at the layers of conditioning that keep falling away each year  as it becomes clear to me that we don’t have to always, and that we shouldn’t have to, always.

Because the realization I always come back to is this, there is a general lack of freedom for children to be the designers of their own lives.

No, I’m not talking about turning in the parenting card here.  Things like helping out in the home, or learning how to behave with kindness and compassion to the rest of the human race, these are important. But these are the things that kind of come naturally.  When those boundaries are pushed, these are things we do need to reinforce.

But what about in education? What does an education really need to be?  What should it be? Do we use what comes naturally to each child as our guide in this case?

I see adults the world wide, historically and through the present, attempting to make children over in their image.  But why?  If we look around us, we see that the world is  made up of a myriad of different people, all with different loves and passions, capabilities and crafts.  If we can acknowledge that other adults can be happy doing any number of things, why do we fret so about what our children might want to do.  How can we expect them to be just like us?

Before I had children, I imagined them all needing to read the same books I did, the ones that opened my eyes, honed my thinking skills, gave me such insight into life.  Shakespeare, Plato, Camus.  It was going to be brilliant.  They were going to be brilliant–by my definition of brilliant.

Then enters the farmer.  The love of my life.

He doesn’t ever really read books, he never really did.  And yet, his critical thinking skills are great, his understanding of the human condition well developed, his love of the good and need to do good, superb.  Clearly, he can read. He is particularly fond of dystopian works, and a few of those classic dystopian novels from his younger years were powerful enough to remain his steadfast friends to this day.   There is no denying the fact that well written literature and philosophy are great sources for an education.  Luckily, no matter how much or how little you get in, they tend to stick.  Such wonderful teachers.

But in the end, my education full of them and his with but a few,  netted the same result.   We are equally happy, equally fulfilled, equally liberated–skills that we didn’t learn from our elementary through high school instruction anyways.  Like Albert Einstein has said, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school”.   Meaning, there is so much more to learn about being alive and being human and being truly happy than we could ever learn in a traditional school setting.

So, why wouldn’t I want my children to develop freely?  Even though we are not tempted to convince them that they need a well paying job to be happy, it is just as hard for us (me) to not think they should adopt my line of thinking about the world.  How often do tiny remarks slip out of my mouth that devalue the moment of their thought because I respond like I know more than they do.

Of course, I have learned more than they have by sheer volume of years on this planet.  But that doesn’t mean I can blanket them with the weight of my findings.  They were hard earned.  That is the beauty of this life, the learning.  And when I look around me to the adults I spend time with, it is clear that we didn’t all get a chance to learn a lot about ourselves in our younger years.  Between school and our parents, trying to balance a happy childhood with so many expectations around us, it is hard to feel free to be yourself, to remain true to those thoughts of yours, to feel adequate with so many people to please.

And so, in our home, expectations are low.

I know this sounds so counter intuitive, but what I mean to say is that although our expectations of kindness and respect and communication are high, and that if the value of personal hygiene and purposeful work and taking care of yours and others belongins aren’t operating at an optimal level, we will definitely set some expectations, what we don’t do our kids to be anything other than their wonderful, unique selves.

In short, I try not to lay it on thick, my ideas.  What, you don’t love poetry, bah?!  No!  I try to control myself,  because you know, my husband doesn’t even like poetry and I think he is pretty great.

We don’t expect them to be laid back artists and farmers like we are, nor rocket scientists or lawyers or whatever else.  We even try to remain calm at the thought of them in a suit and tie.  Because,  it never feels good to feel unloved because of who you are, and don’t children feel that a little when we don’t encourage them to follow their own lead and keep encouraging them to take ours?

However, in our home we do chug away at math everyday.  That is easy since I can point out to them all the times in our days that these skills really do come in handy.  We do learn to read, that is a given, but we practice together.  When they get there, I really try not to make judgements about the books they want to read on their own or comment if they are not reading any books in their own time. Instead, I just read to them, incessantly.

In the reading I do, I try to get in all the books that I find meaning in, the ones I think will touch and tend their growing souls.  I try to give them the story of history in a way that interests them so that they can one day develop perspective.  I try, when they are interested in something I have never learned well, to learn alongside them. 

But I also try to bite my tongue when it seems like it is going to sound like a bull siren singing the praise of one way to live, one way to think, a certain writer they must like, or a classic song they must love, that math is so perfect, beautiful and reassuring and they should love it, or that a certain period of history if over the top fascinating and they should find it all just so too.

Because they can or they can’t, they are all wildly different small people.  It isn’t ever a should or they shouldn’t.

I want them to grow up knowing, above all, that they are worthy and perfect just as they are, with the inner light they came here with to guide them.  I don’t want to be a shadow on that light.  What I want, instead, is to let that beam shine and lead them where they were meant to go.  A place that I can’t know for them.

And this is a gift we can all give our children, home schooled or not.  The gift to be free.  Impenetrably, free.

**************

“All I am saying can be summed up in two words: Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.” – John Holt

Gathering, together.

The farm crew got together this week to harvest our last variety of apples for the year, save one stray Gala tree at the top of the main field we decided not to collect so we can still have something to tell the big children to go and nibble on when they are hankering for a snack.  That simple pleasure is slowly coming to an end.  They can’t go grab a cucumber and eat it straight from the vine anymore.  There are no fresh green beans to nibble, the peas and strawberries a very distant memory.  We had the most luscious fall raspberries this year, but the ones now left on the brambles are decidedly not tasty, and my own garden’s fall carrots a bust while the farmer’s carrots are a prized possession not for the children’s free plucking.  That leaves one last apple tree and what remains of the grapes left for them to run outside and snack on, straight from the land.

Oh, the ease of summer eating.

I, too, already miss the quick meal of piled tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce–almost ready to eat as is, so little time needed to prepare.  I guess the fact that we are moving into stew and roast and soup season, where time is an essential part of the equation, is apropos for the simple fact that there now is more time.  We are not filling a day with garden work and harvesting while preserving well into the wee hours of the night anymore.  The sun sets at dinner time.  There is no push to keep working in spite of grumbling bellies, a feeling those long summer days have built into them.

Bringing in the last of the apples the other day, with this whole crew of silly people, was so symbolic:  collecting the near end of the sun’s energies for a season, culminating in those sweet red fruits.  All of us, filled too, with vitality from a season in the sun.

I always feel like summer is a bursting open, an expansion that almost goes too far, pushes us wide to our very tips.  Then autumn comes and the earth slowly wraps itself around us, everything contracts, and we come and turn inward.   There is time to think, again.

Thankfully.

But this kind of day on the farm–all of us gathered together, gathering together the fruits of the combined labor of this very earth and our own twelve hands, the sweetness of working the land together, the sweetness of fresh fruit on our tongues, the ease of being free in the sun and playing till dusk with wild abandon–this kind of day on the farm is one of the last.  Even though they don’t stop producing for us, the fields don’t really need us in the winter.

Our bodies have stored the summer just under the skin to warm us from the inside out through the cold season,  and we have stored these apples to fuel our bellies with the taste of that sunshine too.

We bring it all inside and work together in other ways now.   Gathered together by the fire, ideas and stories and the worlds of the mind are our work, thoughts and creations to grow and tend and harvest, together.

Making light out of lemons

Yesterday, we hosted a group of homeschool friends at our home.  The aim was to learn a little bit about electricity because alongside things like (1) the lost continent of Atlantis and (2) the connection between the Mayan and Aztec civilizations and beings from another planet, my oldest son  placed learning about electricity on his long list of subjects to study this year.

I am pretty happy with homeschooling for our family and haven’t had too many bumps along the eleven year road we’ve been on.  It is a great fit for our family.  However, this straight A student received one C in high school–which I still shudder to think about–and that was in chemistry.   Now I realize electricity doesn’t fall strictly into the scientific category of chemistry, but beyond the earth sciences, my mind tends to go blank when we start to talk science.  So, I have always been a little worried about helping my kids “learn” in this one area.

And that was how I felt about electricity at first.  It honestly didn’t make that much sense to me.  I knew it was here, in my house, powering many, many things.  But what was it, exactly?  It seemed so vague and mysterious.  How do things like the sun and wind and burning coal and fossil fuels become the energy that turns on my light.  It baffled me, a bit.

But for the project, I got down to the basics and figured it out in a way that made sense to  me, and now you can ask me anything (or maybe just a little) about atoms and electrons and harnessing them, and unstable metals and currents, and I might be able to help you (just a little).  Oh, the beauty of teaching my children!

But the best part of the day, and the part that really struck me and brought this homeschool activity to this page in the first place, was the experiment.  I thought about looking for a book of electricity experiments for kids from the library to find something to do as an activity, but decided instead that I could probably find something on the Internet.  And I did–all over e-how, multiple explanations of how to light up a little LED bulb using lemons and potatoes.  Fun!

The only thing was, as we tried to do this ourselves before having all the kids over, we found that we could not get it to work.  I was cursing the over simplified banality of these stock tutorials on the Internet.  Not helpful!

But we forged ahead with our plan, and after a little talk about the what’s of electricity, as a group we all tried again to get the experiment to work.  It wasn’t happening at first.  To be honest, I hadn’t expected it to.  But one father had thought to test the amps with some contraption from our shop and we found out that although the bulbs weren’t lighting up, there was some electricity being produced.  Then one clever little boy suggested we should just try using a bunch of lemons to light it up, and hooray, that worked!   Five lemons making a loop of circuit lit the bulb; we then found we could take away one and two and so on and we saw the light dim each time.  It was the same with the potatoes, we just needed more.   I’m really not sure why this wasn’t mentioned on any of those tutorials, but let this stand as more detailed information for anyone else trying this at home.

As frustrated as I was along the way in preparing for this activity, I realized afterwards that it worked out so perfectly.  That it didn’t work at first and that the problem was solved while we were doing it was just right.  We didn’t exactly make lemonade yesterday, but we did make light, out of lemons.  More than really learning the specifics of electricity, especially for the younger set, I think the kids learned a good life lesson and the basic formula for scientific study, a win-win.

For me, aside from gaining a grasp–in the simplest sense,–of what exactly electricity is and how it is that it is all around us (and finally seeing how it could be that Mr. Tesla was going to harness it from the sky), and besides really having a concrete visual of how much “energy” it takes to light one, tiny energy efficient LED Christmas light bulb and translating that to the massive amount of energy we use (woah!)–besides all that, I was left thinking about some of the other ways we are trying to make light out of the inevitable lemons of our farming year.

All through the season, as we deal with the weather or the pests, the crop failures and successes, we continually revise the system for the next farming year in our minds.  We go through a number of new ideas in theory, sometimes with plans that are wildly different from each other and/or wildly different from what we are currently doing.  The dust usually settles though, and in the fall, when the harvest is so abundant and everything on the farm is  kind of static for a moment, we have to finalize our plans for next year for real and in this moment, we don’t always believe the same story we lived through earlier in the season.

I suppose that is for the best, farming–and gardening, too–are perennially an act of hope and faith, a positive stand to make, no matter the realities they also entail.  But this year, even though right now we are looking forward to another great season and feel like we have a good plan, we also aren’t forgetting some of the aha! light bulb lighting moments we had.   Life is nothing if not for learning, and sometimes it is for simply remembering and being ready.

We both realized/remembered that farming wasn’t the only thing we had to offer the world, and that maybe our farm was just perfect the way it was, not growing past our own land and not growing in terms of monetary income.  Maybe, putting all of our eggs in this one basket wasn’t the way for our family, especially when the basket is farming and we are, literally, always going to have to contend with the elements.  This was an exciting revelation.

I need to write more about all of that later and get out the details of our next farming season soon; but to be clear, our farm as it is will continue offering our own small-ish contribution to the local food scene through CSA offerings and market offerings.  And really, this is only small by a matter of degrees, since there are both smaller operations and bigger operations in the hood.

Really, it is not small at all.  We are just letting go of the need to get bigger.  We are just going to shine our light in other areas of the market place now, as well.  The farmer with his woodworking.  Me, maybe with my words.  Exciting!

The lemons, this year, shined new light into our life paths.  We are grateful for the lesson.