“Come here Slug Weasel,” she commands. Obediently her younger brother does as she bids, helping her carry 50 pound bags of chicken feed to the barn. They chat pleasantly on the way.
By pleasantly I mean he doesn’t just point out that her flip-flop clad feet are dirty. He says that they are festering toxic bacteria unknown to science and should be classified as biological weapons.
She doesn’t just notice he’s squinting, she pretends to worry about his sudden exposure to sunlight and insists that swiveling in a computer chair probably doesn’t afford him the musculature to carry more than the weight of his own hair. They laugh and talk all the way to the barn. I smile in adoration.
I was raised to be quiet and deferential to others. (Fist shake at outdated values.) Perhaps as a direct result, I wanted to insure that my own children felt free to be themselves.Homeschooling gave us that freedom. Natural learning is an antidote to cultural factors relentlessly trying to pressure us into sameness.
There’s not much sameness going on here. My four offspring can fix old tractors, diagnose a chicken in respiratory distress, compose a bagpipe tune, design custom air cooling systems for computers, discuss the chytrid fungus currently decimating amphibian populations, randomly quote from old Futurama episodes, weld sculptures, and roast fantastically spicy potatoes. They don’t, however, pay attention to fashion trends or celebrity gossip.
We’re not done with headlong pursuit of our interests but now that everyone is older I’m left with wonderful memories of early learning, the kind that carried its own momentum—shifting easily between relaxation and adventure. We read for hours together sprawled on couches, managing to get out of pajamas and into clothes by noon if we had places to go. My kids launched into ambitious projects, from building a trebuchet that propelled pumpkins across the pond to entering a national science contest that landed them prizes including a visit with an astronaut. Other equally ambitious ideas, like making a hovercraft, were more notable for their humorous failures. We gave homemade gifts from woodworking, sewing and pottery projects. Other gifts, like a handmade theremin, were not as well received. We called exploding experiments “science,” invited everyone we knew for large-scale projects like batiking, jaunted all over for concerts and plays, hosted an international guest for six summers, and whenever possible learned directly from people who thrived on work they loved.
It’s not all in the realm of memory. My grown and nearly grown kids seek each other out for hour long discussions as well as month long backpacking trips. Conversation around the dinner table is a gallery of fervent opinions, esoteric interests, and very dry wit. I’m still smiling in adoration. Well, I’m also smiling because someone else carries all that chicken feed.
This post originally appeared on Radio Free School