The Letter

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My family set out to get some outdoor exercise this afternoon in our neighborhood park. It was a typical Colorado winter Sunday: sunny, warm at times, and a little windy with snow still on the ground. We found we had the park all to ourselves, which my kids love. Our girls, H and E, started on the tire swing together, while Dave and I played some football with A. We ran around after him, breathing the cold air in the afternoon sun.

It’s these moments that always stand still in my mind. It’s as though we are in a bubble, my family and I, our own little space that only we can enter. Since we started homeschooling, it feels even more this way; each of us revolving like planets around each other, in our own secret solar system. It feels peaceful and wonderful. I try to stop and soak in these moments as they come – trying to slow the earth’s turn while I can, just a little.

Soon afterwards, the girls came running up to me, a letter in hand. They had found it discarded in the park, and brought it to me because they thought it was funny. It was written on notebook paper, in neatly scrolled cursive, with hearts and exclamation points. The letter was from one high school girl to another, outlining the droll details of her day while she was in class. She discussed, in perfect teenage-ese, how she liked one boy better than her boyfriend, her plans to get lunch and smoke pot after her class, and how much she loved her friend. She also stated she felt bad for the teacher, since no one paid attention to him (apparently just not bad enough to stop writing the letter while she was in his class.) We’ve all read, or written, hundreds of letters of this type during our lives.

But my daughters, who are almost 11, had never seen a letter like this one. They asked me, puzzled, if I thought the letter was real, or just a joke – planted by someone in the park to make them laugh. And from their point of view, I could see why they were confused. They can’t imagine someone of their gender actually speaking this way- much less bothering to write it down by hand – or how someone would behave if they were told what to do and where to go all day, every day. For our kids, their time is their own, their thoughts are their own, and their day is their own. Sure, there are house expectations – a dog to be walked, dinner table to be set, laundry to be put away. And there are learning expectations – math, reading, writing, history and science to be explored, and passions to be lost in. Through it all, though, they get to do everything when they would like, and wherever they would like, as long as the work gets done.

So I can see why they viewed this letter as a product of another dimension, or time. And in some ways, it was. Would this girl have written the same letter if she were free to not go to school, to walk out of class, to learn what she wanted to learn, when she wanted to learn it? Would she have been looking forward to smoking pot at lunch if she were excited about working on her passions? Was this letter a product of who she was, or how she spent her time – in apparently mind-numbing boredom?

I can’t say that my kids will never write this letter, or smoke pot at lunch. Right now, my kids are in the magic middle years, where they are wonderful to be around, funny, inquisitive, curious, and snuggly. I know that, despite our unschooling-type approach to homeschooling, they will likely become sullen teenagers in a few years. The teenage years are about individuation and separation – finding your own identity and place in the world. We will support, and love them, as they find their way, and we will be proud of them no matter how they separate from us. It is a necessary part of growing up. I will find some peace, though, in the fact that whatever actions they take, it will be because they wanted to take them, not because they were led to believe that there was only one way to become an adult, with no escape from the day. They will act knowing their thoughts, desires, and passions have value.

After we talked about the letter, the girls asked what I thought they should do with it. I asked them to decide, since they had found it. H and E decided they wanted to keep the letter, mostly because they thought it was funny, but also, I believe, because of the window it offered into another time, an alternate universe, that is not theirs. H folded it neatly and put it in her pocket, and then we continued running around as the sun set against the mountains. Back in our own magical universe.

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