by Ben Hewitt (previously published on March 19, 2014 at www.benhewitt.net)
I went out last night to visit my friend Paul, and we sat around his kitchen table for a couple hours, solving all our problems and furthermore those of the world at large. Sounds ambitious, I know, but it’s remarkable how manageable everything becomes when you’re tucked into a warm house in the woods of Vermont on a frigid late winter’s night. By the time I returned home at an hour that was late-for-me-but-just-about-dinner-time for regular folks, the sky was shot through with stars – how could there be so many, and had there maybe been a cosmic event, the news of which had not yet permeated the small cocoon of my life? – and I stood for a minute in the middle of the boot-packed path from car to house, my head tilted skyward. I was no longer tucked into a warm house in the middle of the woods; indeed, I felt a long ways gone from tucked in, but everything still felt manageable. I mean, really: All those friggin’ stars.
As parents are wont to do, Paul and I got to talking about our respective children. He and his wife have an 11-year old son, who seems like a real nice kid, though I suppose it’s possible he turns into a raging hellion when I’m not around. Paul’s boy wants to be a pilot, and Paul says he’s real thoughtful about it, actually strategizing how he’ll become one, what specific steps he’ll take along the next handful of years of his young life. Seems to me that wanting to be a pilot is a fine thing. I mean, who wouldn’t want to fly airplanes? And get paid to do it? Holy moly.
I had to admit to Paul that my sons believe they will be trappers and live in a cabin. Just like his child, my boys plot their future, though to be honest, the details seem little hazy to me. Just where will this cabin be? Hard saying. Who will own it? Tough knowing. How will they make a living? That one’s easy, because everyone knows you don’t need money when you’re living in a cabin in the woods and eating out of your traps. Do they think it might be lonely? Nah. They’ll ride the donkey to town every other month or so, and besides, friends’ll stop by all the time, because who can resist a trapping cabin in the woods, where all the world’s problems are solved by consensus and a pot of beaver stew is simmering on the wood stove?
Who knows, of course. It seems at least possible that Fin and Rye will at some point decide that growing old together in the wilderness ain’t all it’s cracked up to be in their 12 and 9-year old imaginations. It may even be probable that they’ll abandon this particular dream. But the truth is, I’d be fine if that’s the path they choose. Heck, I’d even stop by for a bowl of stew on a cold winter’s night.
I want to say that I have no particular agenda for my boys’ future, that whatever they do, I will love them and support them and be happy for them. I sure as shootin’ don’t want to be in the business of wanting things for my kids. That’s a perilous line of work, right there.
Still, I suppose there is one thing I do want: That whatever they choose for themselves, be it cabin or castle, trapping or trading, comes from themselves. That they are able to conduct themselves in alignment with their sense of what is right and wrong, what is almost unfathomably beautiful and what is unspeakably and sometimes unforgivingly tragic.
It’s not an easy thing to find, that alignment, and I suspect it’s not going to get any easier. Seems to me as if the world’s moving in a direction that makes such discovery increasingly difficult. But if there’s one thing I hope, it’s that my boys think it’s at least worth looking for.
Ben and his wife live and learn with their two unschooled boys in Vermont. Ben is an author of several books, including a forthcoming one on unschooling. He writes at www.benhewitt.net.