Full disclosure: I am still (stuck) in transition. It’s been
almost five years of homeschooling and now it’s all in past tense. I miss the
boys, their pitter patter around the house and the whole bouquet of adventures
collectively known as learning at home. Rainy days make it a bit more evident.
Maybe it’s the strong smell of wet sagebrush. Or the Saskatoon leaves turning.
Yes, it is fall, and the house is silent. A different
reality for me, and a much bigger space that I find myself in. It’s not an
empty nest, really, but a half-day empty nest. For the last two years it’s been
Sasha and I; and the dog, of course. And lots of music; early morning guitar
and afternoon piano.
It started unequivocally: ‘Mom, my computer is making a
Sasha bought his laptop almost two years ago and it has served him well so far. The said clicking marked the end of that period. A lesson in itself.
His online search for reasons that would make a computer click revealed two possibilities: a failing hard disk drive (HDD) or dying fan, the second being the cheapest to fix. Spoiler alert: it was the first.
There was a time when back to school shopping meant purchasing a fair number of notebooks – one for each subject ideally, pencils, pens (a fountain pen too, but that was back then!) and, if the kids grew an inch or two over the summer, which they tend to do, new clothes and shoes. A backpack too, if last year’s was not holding up anymore.
If light could be song, this morning’s bright appearance was a symphony, loud and overwhelming. The green is exploding everywhere, soft and decidedly stubborn, hijacking the desert’s brownish, dry demeanour for a few weeks from now.
Trails are narrower because grass and dandelions claim the edges. Tread with care, but should the dog venture off the path…not a worry, there’s bounciness to cover the tracks so she can start all over again. After all, there are birds to be chased. Pup is the smile and laughter machine. She’s a song playing new each day, sauntering and jumping and then crawling when a new dog appears.
It’s her best friend whose head appears at the bottom of the knoll. A dog that’s equally agile and sweet natured and willing to play until his tongue hangs loose all the way to the ground. A high standard in the dog world.
She hides in the tall grasses and studies his every move. Closer, closer, jump! They both jump, front legs forward and embracing the other’s neck. Define happiness. Wait, don’t. Let it be. That’s exactly it.
It’s a trivial truth bite in the end… When you’re giving in to sunshine and sparkle, when you hop over inflated, bubbling creeks and greet birds swooping by, that’s when it catches up with you, that bite of truth: the plenty-ness we seek all our lives will never come from owning anything. It comes from being, from letting the sunshine reach all the way inside and from hanging all the dark thoughts into the light. It’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? Breathe deeply. You have arrived at the start of a new day.
That is the feeling of plenty that awaits on the side of the trail every morning. That the dog jumps in the creek and then runs up the hill with all her might only helps with the fine touches.
She runs zigzags with her furry friend, and then they both dive at the bottom of a big sage brush. Tails showing briefly, rustling, more tails and noses sniffing. What are they after? That kind of strong intent no dog school could ever unhinge. I love that. They stop, only their noses pulverize dirt from some newly found tunnel.
A mouse makes its scared slow way from under the sage bush. Busted! Poppy throws a gaze his way, then she looks at me, then the ‘now what?’ becomes evident. Indeed, we have stumbled upon life buried in the world that complements our sunny one. We pull the dogs to the side, the mouse crawls away into another hole.
Today is the mouse, yesterday her uphill playing took us to a patch of newly blossomed shooting stars. I lingered more over the flowers than I do over the mouse, which is where our interests part ways. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Mouse gone, friend gone home too, we follow the trail towards ours. Above us, the resident hawk flies above a magpie. There’s air tumbles, black and white feathers swooping under the wide-winged brown hunter, then above, stumbling in a desperate attempt to escape. The high-speed pursuit is enveloped in sunshine so bright it hurts my eyes. I’ll never know who prevailed. So it is. There’s as much mystery to life as there is clarity.
The grass in our yard is the tallest on the block. ‘Can we have it like that, please?’… Sasha pleads, my heart does too; tall grass is charming and soothing and beautiful to walk on. Alas, city rules oblige. Tony gets the push mower going. Green blades falling, green smells infuse the air.
‘Mom, should I leave the dandelion patch standing? They are so pretty…’ Yes please, thanks for asking. Half of the yard will be, for now, bumblebee and butterfly playground. I can hear the sun laughing.
Sasha and I read outside in the front yard. ‘On the shores of Silver Lake’. He picks a few dandelions while I read out loud. ‘I’ll make you another bouquet, Mom…’ Spring and love are synonyms. The pup lies near, her fur hot and soft and her eyes imbued with laziness.
There’s magic in it all. It comes from being. From choosing not to rush anything, even if it’s just for a few moments.
Later, I tend to Tony’s blisters. Life bites indeed. Learning continues.
I never had a bird land on my shoulder. Until today that is, during the morning walk with the dog and while stopping for a chat with an elderly gentleman we often see around the neighbourhood.
Of all people, the bird singled me out, even though I had a puppy connected to me. Go figure. Brave little soul you could say. Clingy too, since it would not respond to the usual ‘shoo’ that all birds find unappealing and scary enough to take off.
Nope, not this one.
It hopped on my hand and at that moment I suggested the open spaces around us. Again, most birds would go, right? Not this one.
So I gave it a gentle shake and said go. The bird claimed deafness. What next? For the record, I have always been an animal lover and collector at times. Many a fallen baby bird went through the streamlined rehabilitation program I had running as a kid. Stray cats and dogs too. Even a hedgehog, though that one thought he could do better without. We parted with no hard feelings as my hands were full at that time with other critters.
My parents were patient, yes, and mighty understanding of their daughter’s propensity to bring home animals of all kinds. That was then. Now I thought things were pretty clear: we own a beta fish, red and lively, and a puppy, also lively but not red, and my quota is full. My days are filled to the brim with boys learning at home, puppy love and care, writing, gardening and all the other things that happen during a day that allows you but short breaks to sigh and be grateful. Because I am, really.
I do not need a bird though. The where and how have to be figured out and though thjis qualifies as a homeschooling experience alright, I cannot show up for meetings, on Skype or otherwise, with a bird on my shoulder. I am no pirate, though the shoulder-loving bird thinks otherwise.
Sasha’s teacher kindly identified it as a starling. They are an invasive species; very smart and able to learn to talk. Right. Who would not want a talk-back bird when they have two kids already doing that at times and a dog too (barking back)? Well… me, that’s who.
So to review: bird lands on shoulder during morning walk, does not want to rejoin its wild world but sticks with the newly found parental figure, comes home and promptly tries its wings in the kitchen landing on heads, shoulders, and everything else that is not a wall.
Puppy becomes extremely well-behaved sensing that a new baby may be taking the much-coveted place in my heart. Console puppy, reassure puppy, secretly and totally enjoying the sudden sweet demeanour. Acquaint dog with bird and realize that friendship may be possible after all. Emphasis on ‘may’.
Where are we now bird-wise: the high density of crows in the back yard plus the occasional cat prevent us from releasing Star (little boy’s suggestion) out for now, so we are using Poppy’s crate as bird safe space until we return from Forest School. We hop on bus, follow a trail to Peterson Creek Park where school takes place today. I binge on Saskatoon berries, my comfort food.
Today’s task (on top of the many others): figure out the animal shelter situation.
For now I am hiding in a coffee shop, working on a couple of articles and pretending that I am just an ordinary human with nothing extraordinary to report… except for the bird landing on my shoulder, the dog begging me to reconsider bird adoption, and the boys shielding their breakfast from Star, the new addition who might or might not leave us. I know, most birds would. Not this one though.
My family and I went to Victoria for a few days. It was quite a treat. The breath of early spring was present in purple crocus patches, red tulips and yellow daffodils spread along sidewalks, even a cherry tree shyly showing its tiny pink blossoms much to the delight of passersby in the heart of the harbour.
It was warm enough, sunny enough and the bit of rain was a good reminder that we were on the Coast after all. Our province really does have one charming capital.
As the boys are now homeschooled, we took our learning with us. And, as a friend aptly pointed out, one good thing about them learning at home is that there is no tuning in and out of the process.
No boundaries to separate learning hours from the rest of the day, and that learning comes with is simply the unavoidable reality that life and its lessons happen every step of the way. Deductions are our own, they come with lots of reading, and they complement the process.
You never know enough, I tell the boys. That’s the measure of humbleness that adds quality to your learning; realizing that what you learn adds pieces to a puzzle that keeps on growing, providing you with the bird’s eye view that we need to understand our path and the purpose of being here.
In the four days we had in Victoria we visited the Royal BC Museum, the Miniature Museum and the Bug Zoo. We visited the BC Forest Discovery Centre in Duncan and we were lucky to have a family friend take us to a forest research facility nearby where we learned about the pine beetle and other troubles that our majestic woods encounter, as well as the hard work involved in finding sustainable solutions to them thriving.
And just like that, as we headed to the BC Legislature two days later, we happened upon a peaceful protest. The Wilderness Committee volunteers were on the front steps holding unrolled banners with big letters: ‘Save Walbran Valley’. Media was there and there were people carrying small tree cardboard cut-outs. The Walbran Valley has magnificent old-growth trees, Sitka spruce and red cedar groves. It makes sense that it should be saved.
Who would want to cut those and why? Surely not someone who knows about the amazing old trees and their presence among us and in our forests. Being aware and willing to fight for them matters. Speaking up and standing up matters, but you have to know your reasons. Learning why forests are needed, and how to stand up for the tallest old giants among us and more, that is what learning helps with.
We were impressed to discover that we happened to be at the BC Legislature on the same day when the very buildings opened 118 years ago on February 10.
And we were also impressed to realize that Steve Thomson, the BC Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, who would have the power to reverse the controversial (detrimental to our province) logging permits, was likely just a few steps away at the time we visited.
Learning helps us all gather facts and understanding why we need to preserve rather than consume or downright destroy, reuse rather than make new, and recycle rather than add to the waste pile. The plethora of facts, past and present, may seem daunting but what’s the future going to look like if we don’t, and if we do not encourage our children to open their eyes and minds to see and learn?
We saw biking lanes lining the side of each road downtown and many people cycling every which way. A good thing to strive for in every city. Sure, temperature in Kamloops drops lower than theirs, but we have enough warm weather to make the most of it, cycling-wise. Or walking. All we need is to ask (and ask again) for lanes that make cycling safe.
Then we have to be diligent enough to help our children learn (by example ideally), that exercise is the best way to deal with stress, chronic health problems and to make a community tighter and healthier in all aspects. It takes learning but that is what carries us forth and makes us mind the miracle of being alive and keeping the world alive too.
We befriended two harbour seals who were so immensely curious and cute, willing to play and hang out with us humans. They danced gracefully underwater, they surfaced and dove again, they peeked at us from underwater and they almost spoke, or at least that is what it felt like. Then they left to return to their watery abode, wherever that might be. Theirs to choose and rightfully so.
All of that prompted a conversation about animals living in freedom, as opposed to those we imprison so that we can be entertained as we see them up-close. We know better by now. Conservation and rehabilitation aside, there should be no zoos but instead shelters and sanctuaries for animals and birds who cannot return to the wild.
It truly never stops: Learning and then learning some more. It’s a gift to ourselves, our children and to those with whom we share our world. Which is all of us.
‘I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.’ Carl Jung
We need to fail. Not to be failures, but fail at. Dot dot dot. Failing at (fill in the gap) defines the very thing that happens occasionally (yes it does, to everyone, whether we admit it openly or not, or at all), but failing at does not define a person. It should not, unless we let it do that. Sadly, it does sometimes, because some of us learn to define our worthiness through our deeds. Being a parent gives me the freedom to say that parents a behind that one, most of the time anyway.
‘You are worth it because you do things and you do them well’ is what I do not what to tell my boys. You are worth it. No buts or ifs.
Hopefully that will allow them the freedom to fail at times and admit it too, knowing their worthiness is just the same or more if they do. Hopefully they will take a deep breath and say ‘well, that didn’t work’ rather than ‘I failed.’ The latter is not constructive, nor true. If stabbing oneself in the back would be possible, that’d be it. Or rather stabbing your soul, flat out cold. Telling it to look for a better residence.
Making mistakes does not make one a failure. In fact, you can fail at many things, we all do. At being human at times, which is in fact a terrible sin if you ask me, but I’ll leave that for a later chat.
We fail at keeping up with our schedules, with our plans, with our resolution to smile more, to not raise our voices at our children (OK, I am the only one, right?), to do the workout routine or finish that long pushed-aside story which you’re almost afraid of because it seems to have developed a life of its own and you almost feel it pushing you out of its way (again, that’s just me perhaps) because you’re not good enough. Well, you get the idea. We fail at things.
We fail at making things happens or making them happen the right way, but that is what it takes to figure things out. So that’s one thing I want to teach my boys in our school at home. Feel free to fail. With a mention: when you do, do it right. Which means that once you make the realization that things did not work out, you face it with dignity but not by identifying yourself with it, then you sit down (or go for a run, whichever allows for the inspiration flow to surface) and do some brainstorming. Why didn’t it work? What can be changed to make it work? What have I learned by failing at? What holds me back from believing I can succeed?
Failure without the after steps makes for a lost opportunity. So if I am to follow logic in that thicket of thoughts that just grew out of seeds of life on this page, well, I get to a simple truth: each failure is an opportunity. To learn to do better, to let go if necessary, to change something (self attributes included), to stay alive.
For as long as you fail at things, you know for a fact that you are alive and daring. Which is a good starting point for the next adventure. That’s what I want the boys to learn. That is what I hope to remember next time when my knees are bruised and self-worth is ready to take a plunge.
Keep learning. Through everything. That is all. For now…
The journey of raising boys has been one of joy, wonder, humbleness and ever-growing curiosity for what comes next. Which is why I thoroughly enjoyed Amy Herbst's book 'Boys will be boys.' Click here to view more details It's got what boys' parents need.