The World at Hand

February 19, 2013 § 5 Comments


It was warmer this morning than it has been for the past few mornings – the thermometer nudging a balmy 10 degrees above zero – and Rye was up and out before it was fully light. The boy has caught the “fever,” which is the preferred colloquialism for the affliction that strikes a certain subset of the population preparing to spend the next three or four weeks engaged in the blood letting of sugar maples. For the past month, he has been amassing a pile of slabwood scraps off the sawmill, and yesterday he arranged a small stone firepit, over which he intends to boil away the 39 or so parts of water it will take to make 1 part of syrup. Concerned that Fin might beat him to the more productive trees before he got a chance to have at them, Rye marked his territory with strands of yarn. It looked as if the trees wore necklaces around their trunks. The other day, while he and Penny were driving home from his banjo lesson, Penny mentioned that there were times she still wished to travel – the girl can’t quite rinse herself of the last few strands of wanderlust woven into her DNA – and Rye said sure, he’d be fine with that, so long as we were home for his two favorite times of year: Sugarin’ and haying. Attaboy.

I don’t really believe in having dreams for my children, if only because it seems unfair to burden them with the weight of whatever hopes and expectations I might harbor on their behalf. Oh sure, I wish for them to be healthy and happy, although to be perfectly honest, there are times I’m not sure even this is appropriate, if only because I sometimes wonder if a full appreciation of their lives and the world around them might neccesitate a broader range of experience than simple health and happiness (this is not a fully formed opinion on my part, and I reserve the right to live out my days being nothing less than a cheerleader for their unreserved physical vigor and excellent spirits).

But despite all this, despite trying – sometimes rather desperately – to escape the trap created by the sense that my emotional wellbeing is somehow dependent on any particular outcome relating to my children, I can’t help but divine a certain satisfaction from these moments. I look up, out the window above the kitchen sink, the stars still just visible in the brightening sky, and I see Rye tromping through the snow, laden with the implements of tapping, the remedy for his fever: A cordless drill, a hammer, a small bucketful of taps. Or I see Fin, bent over his trapper’s education manual, penciling in answers to the often-inane questions put forth (What clothing will you wear while trapping? We had a good howl over that one, let me tell you) his hatchet and belt knife on the table beside him, and I feel that unique sense of peace that comes from having witnessed your child immersed in something so deeply important to them that their world has folded in on itself.

It occurs to me that while we are socialized to the belief that our children’s lives should be constantly expanding into new horizons and opportunities, could it be that we are ignoring (or simply ignorant of) the value in having their world contract? In short, what of providing them the freedom to immerse themselves in the small experiences of the world at hand, rather than constantly distracting them with the possibilities of the world at large?

This, then, is the dream I can’t kick, and I freely admit it’s a selfish one: Our boys will not chase the infinite possibilities of the world at large, but instead will continue to find fulfillment in the world at hand.

§ 5 Responses to The World at Hand

  • Doug W. says:

    Our children have their own destinies to fulfill, and that may be the hardest thing of all for us as their parents. Our children were adopted–an older sibling group of three so we lacked that genetic familiarity of biological families. Their lives have taken far different courses from woodpiles, gardening, sugaring, playing in the stream behind the house. But that could have just as easily happened with a biological family. In fact, most of the children of homesteading/small farm families we know no longer live in the area, or, even the state. Many were homeschooled and and spent their childhoods in garden, field, and forest. All this brings me back to recent discussions concerning education. Small rural public schools here in NNY and I suspect back country rural Vermont, despite all the State and Federal efforts other wise, are places of connection and possibility for young minds. Frankly, there are quite a few teachers slipping in some very subversive ideas compared to mainstream thought and reality. So perhaps, just perhaps, our children need to have the opportunity to learn to write well, express themselves verbally, and be exposed to math and science.
    The reason is not to ensure they become a cog in society, but so that they can fulfill their destiny–even if it takes them away from us and their childhood home.

  • Peter Burke says:

    We give them roots and wings… and they go were they will. But I feel certain enough of it to guarantee you – you will be surprised.

    But I love the immediate image af a kid fully absorbed in his craft. It is my own pet peeve about schools, there should be more Craftmanship and less ridilin.

  • betsyohs says:

    I love the image of marking the best trees with bits of yarn – that sounds very much like something my sister and I would have done, had we every tapped maples growing up.

    I’m not sure if this is the appropriate place to put this question, but my husband and I are just starting the ‘when are we going to procreate’ conversation, and we think that we need to gather some info about how much kids really cost. We don’t have any friends with kids who live our kind of home-steady life, but I know you just wrote a whole book about money. Did you talk about money in the context of kids? Any chance you have some thoughts on the topic that you’d be willing to share here? My husband is specifically worried that if we don’t buy land and build our little cabin before having kids, we’ll be renters for the rest of our lives.

    • Ben Hewitt says:

      Hi Betsy,

      Thanks for the note.

      I think this might deserve its own post stay tuned.

      • betsyohs says:

        I’m always tuned in! :) and I can’t wait to hear what you have to say. I don’t comment too often, but I read all of your posts, and what you write really resonates with me. Can one have a virtual role model? Because I aspire to be the kind of parent you are (you know, when those currently-hypothetical kids show up).

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