Thursday, July 22, 2010

Getting an education from the ground up

Helicopter Seed
It was the occasion of a grasshopper clinging to the windshield on a recent road trip that made me understand just how much children miss these days. Not all children, perhaps, but those whose mothers work and those who are enrolled in after school programs and weekend sports and never know the pleasure of spending an entire, sunny day sitting in the grass and learning about the world that thrives beneath everyone's feet - even those who hurry through it day after working day.

I realized that my son had never seen a real grasshopper before. I learned he didn't know how to make a whistle out of a blade of grass. He'd never watched the diligence at the business end of an anthill. He'd never had time to sit and watch.

I realized then how much knowledge we gain from just being children at large. The experiences of children without a schedule to keep. Sitting in the grass or under a tree reveals the secrets of this lowly world. There are treasures to be found at the base of an old oak tree or in the damp soil beneath a rock. Crawly and slimy treasures at times, but also the rare sighting of a walking stick bug, glimpsing a chipmunk happily scurrying away with an acorn, the odd garter snake or toad.

I have advised The Boy that if he wants to learn anything useful about the world, he must start from the ground up. The luxury of a nice back yard is helping us with this and has provided us with views of chipmunks, squirrels, skunks (from a distance), the dissection and identification of mysterious green globes in the grass (they would have been black walnuts apparently, if they'd managed to hang on the tree another month or so) and lessons in how to make a funny decoration for your nose out of those helicopter seeds that fall from the maple trees.

Today, as I watched a group of sparrows gather on a telephone wire and chirp their daily news to one another, I thought "this is a sign that I am getting old, I am watching birds sitting on telephone lines". Then I realized that it is very much what I did as a child on those long, summer days when everything was interesting and not just the news or work deadlines counted as important. Then I realized that age is not what makes us old. The harried, hassled, workaday me was old. She didn't care about sunsets or raindrops or anything that really mattered. As I stuck a helicopter seed on my nose and listened to boy laughter, I thought to myself how good it is to be young again.

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