The morning snuggle and read with little boy are obligatory. You gotta have the right book too. It has to keep little kids ask for one more chapter until, pushing their face into your neck, delighting you with their gentle warm breath as they whisper sweetly ‘One more, Mama, pleeeease?’ you yield, and when the chapter ends the game starts again. Oh no, not this time. No becomes yes and the sun coming through the window splatters on the page you’re about to read. Same irreverence as the child… Can you blame them though?
We’re reading E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web (again, and pretending we have no clue about what’s coming) and little boy’s apprehension of spiders dissolves with every page Charlotte proves her love and devotion towards the pig called Wilbur who can truly make you question your meat-eating habits if you’re still at it.
True to form, last week’s end saw the boys learning about animals in our little school. Past the usual anatomy and physiology – miraculous on their own of course, we snuggled to listen to talks about whether animals feel or not, courtesy of Carl Safina, an amazing scholar with a penchant for saying it like it is and an ardent desire to save the world.
We listened, and then we got very silent as we paused to think how to place all that we heard in the context of human compassion and how it should (must) influence the way we take from here onward.
My wild boys’ eyes could not be rounder as they learn of these things and their questions more pertinent. Truly, children have it right. Their minds uncorrupted and their ears still able to perk up and hear the sounds of the world many adults tune out. The world that matters because it keeps us alive with it.
The same old question that makes grownups roll their eyes at times… ‘Can one person change the world?’ Idealistic and dream-like, but dreams have to start somewhere. Learning is dreaming is pursuing. Children have that flame alive and burning. They say ‘I can’ until we tell them enough time ‘It’s not possible’. Then the flame subsides.
Learning comes with listening to songs that can change the tune of your own if you allow the child within to keep alive, not just in playfulness but in how you write ‘Possible’ on dreams.
A bit of a rethinking of life as we know it, but as we’ve come to discover daily, the mandate of our school at home includes shaking off limiting beliefs and making room for thinking, debating and realizing that on a good day, we’re merely seeing a sliver of all that wonder of the world.
There cannot be gratefulness for opening your eyes to a new day unless you’re poised to learn why you can do that and that seeing all that you see as you go about your day is a string of happenings that your mind can choose to learn about and understand, and in doing so you’re ever more in awe of how much you don’t know.
Hence we learn about ignorance too in our school. The value of not knowing, which, as you admit to, takes you past the slimy reality of superficial knowledge, a dreadful disease of our world, and leads you into what becomes a path to never stray from. Knowledge of the world.
It comes with square roots, and fractions, with spelled and misspelled words, it comes with French greeting phrases and stories of early explorers, with science experiments that tie you to ‘Why?’ forever, with understanding that we may be but one thread in the life tapestry. Learning to hang onto, learning that other threads are equally important if we are to tell the real story. Resilience is as much a word as it is a concept. A goal. Just like compassion.
So we learn. Learning comes with waking up mindful of what your next steps, careful enough to not step on someone’s dreams and smiles, and if you do, to have the strength and humbleness to ask for forgiveness.
By the time the week ends we’re spoiled by sunshine and venture to out searching for winter wonders. Boys and snow go well together. Most times anyway. We find it: magic. White and silent, it lives where your hot breath has an echo, among tall trees with beards of snow and forest paths sprinkled with myriad tracks of animals that tell stories… stories that tie into our learning, stories we can learn.
Boys follow the path that takes us to the lake. We are at Lac Le Jeune where last visit saw us braving minus 21 Celsius, freezing toes and fingers asking for mercy. That was then…
Today is cloudy and quiet and we’re not hoping for sun as we’re too enraptured by the whiteness of thick snow. But sunshine pushes the clouds aside and we’re stuck in sparkling beauty. I have one thought as I stare at small blade-like crystals of hoarfrost… ‘If this ever ceases to exist as such, we are poorer for it. Lost.’
Being overwhelmed by magic that reduces you to that one thought gives reason to choose the one path that makes sense after that: simplicity. Aiming for what matters.
It matters to have boys run and scream with joy as they see ice crystals perched on low branches and on the side of the lake, it matters to be there with them.
It matters to stoop down to observe tracks, signs of life, big and small, to decipher the voices of the woods, the words they write for us to heed; it matters to realize that there’s no better place to see than where everything seems hidden. Everything we need to see to learn is always in front of us, wherever we are.
It matters to have the boys throw handfuls of snow on the thin ice that hugs the lake surface in a tight embrace and see their faces light up with wonder ‘Did you hear that?’ Yes, the ice sings. More? It’s a game that keeps on going. It has to. For them to learn, for them to never be afraid of joy, never ashamed of playing to get there…
The lake sings, the sun is shining brightly, birds and boys do the pitter patter on snow and under the trees, each laughing in their own way, each quarreling just the same, maybe to remind of imperfections needed to keep humbleness in place.
It matters to have that moment stuck in your heart forever, to understand that it is not in what we strive for on the outside that we find shelter in but in what we carry with us, deep inside, in how we find ourselves hopeful enough to never give up searching for better days, and wiser by having experienced the hopelessness of lost days…
To be is to learn. To learn to be. And magic is all.