When my son was young we spent a lot of time in the woods looking for things. Sometimes it was heffalumps. Sometimes it was rings of amanita muscaria- the classic white spotted red toadstool- on the dewy lawn indicating that fairies had danced there. Sometimes it was a warp in the weave of time, a doorway into another world. Oftentimes it was a hunt for the Groke.
Now he is not so little and about to turn 12, he is all about Wimpy Kid and Minecraft. And at this very moment, Rose from Doctor Who, his first official crush.
Those are wonderful things but they are not magical things. They are completely the product of someone else’s mad mind. Not his. Sure Tove Janssen created the Groke (and Snuffkin and Little My and Moomin) but she left some things to the imagination. And my son adopted them and adapted them and made them his own.
And I loved going on these adventures with him because he believed completely. He was scared and exhilarated because he thought we might well find a heffalump in our woods. And once you have found a heffalump, what the heck do you do with it??? And the Groke? Some have called it the manifestation of Norse depression. Who on earth would want to track that down and invite it to tea?
My son and I.
My daughter is young (7). The age he was when he dreamed the most while wide awake. She believes in fairies but she also knows about French kissing and bikini babes (????) and all sorts of other things I’d rather she didn’t. It’s because of having older brothers, and it’s because girls just seem to know these things young. She’s on the cusp of figuring it all out and I am struggling to keep the magic going for at least a few more years.
My kids go to the local Waldorf school. This is not going to turn into a Waldorf manifesto. Or praise for private schooling. I am still all torn up about taking my kids out of the public school system. Believe me it was not undertaken lightly.
One thing that Waldorf does well though, is it lets kids be kids. For as long as possible. I might roll
my eyes at the tree prayers and the giant puppets….NO, you know what? I don’t roll my eyes because how can I when I’m watching these things in a roomful of kindergartners who are squealing with delight? Who are sure that this is the day they find an elf under a mushroom or a family of sprites in the rotten log. Who love going to school as my kids do because their lessons tap into what is in them already. A fierce curiosity, a delight in nature, and the world they see around them, an encouragement to ask questions no matter what. And trees to climb and stilts to master and hills to careen down and dirt and leaves.
They come home tired and muddy, with twigs caught in their hair, so knee-grimed with soil that my washing machine can’t get the clothes clean.
During the winter they sled down a hill of ice that ends at a massive boulder. It’s as if someone placed the rock there so they’d have something to aim for. No one ever yells at them to ‘come down from that tree’, or ‘don’t stand up and swing’, or ‘bring a teacher with you into the woods’.
At May Fest, they sell waffles on these sharp pointy sticks. And no one ever tells those three year olds that they might poke an eye out or accidentally remove their own tonsils. Kids believe they are indestructible. I know they’re not but I look the other way and I trust in their bendiness. It’s a trade-off: a childhood roughly and gloriously lived vs. the possibility of a broken bone. A childhood believing in all possibilities.