Letting Them Be

August 12, 2013 § 13 Comments


The boys are building a shelter down in the woods, inspired by a recent trip to help raise a barn. The fellows raising the barn – two mid-20’s college buddies who soured on corporate life and went in on a 30-acre parcel half a stone’s throw from the Canadian border – are living for the summer in a netted tent they constructed of small trees and a few sheets of metal roofing. The tent is situated on a small jut of land by the banks of a stream, and it’s impossible not to imagine how it might be to fall asleep there, with the water rushing by and the breeze stealing through the net. I could see my sons’ imaginations kick into overdrive the moment they saw the structure; I could tell simply from how their faces were arranged that they’d decided to build one for themselves. This decision had been reached in approximately four-and-a-half seconds. Not a word had been spoken.

The very next morning before our rooster, Blood, had halted his crowing for the day, before the sun was yet full in the sky, before Penny and I had finished morning chores, the boys were down in the woods, scouting locations. They’d brought a shovel, a handsaw, and numerous sections of baling twine, with which they’d lash the framing posts together.

We called them for breakfast, and they arrived with dirt and bark clinging to their bare skin. They ate hurriedly, in a slurping fashion, and then retreated back to woods.

Three hours later, Rye slipped into the house, left hand tucked into right armpit. “What’s going on?” I asked, although I knew perfectly well by the way he carried himself and by how quiet he was: He’d hurt himself. “Cut myself,” he said softly, pawing through the first aid drawer with his uninjured fingers. He extracted a bandaid and the bottle of tree tea oil, and commenced to doctoring his wounded digit. I continued washing dishes and tried not to watch out of the corner of my eye.

Two hours after that, Fin tromped through the kitchen and bee lined for the first aid drawer. He’d smashed a thumb with his hammer, and blood was oozing out from beneath his thumbnail. He pawed through the first aid draw with his uninjured fingers, extracted a bandaid and the bottle of tea tree oil and commenced to doctoring his wounded digit. I continued preparing lunch and tried not to watch out of the corner of my eye.

By dinner, with no further bloodshed, the boys had erected a sturdy frame. At each juncture of wood, twine had been wrapped and tied. The roof was peaked, and a sturdy ridgepole supported rafters of small red maple and fir poles. They’d dug a pit off to one side and lined it with rocks to contain their cooking fires. During all of this, they’d asked for and received no help from Penny or myself, although clearly one of us would need to cut the metal roofing for them. But otherwise, this project was theirs. The mistakes were theirs. The arguments over how to space the roof strapping were theirs. The small triumph of seeing it assembled was theirs. Even the associated injuries and treatment of them were theirs.

I think I might finally be learning to let go. To let them saw and hammer. To let them negotiate and argue and yell. To let them screw up and start over and screw up again. To let them bleed and to stop their bleeding.

To let them be.

§ 13 Responses to Letting Them Be

  • Judy says:

    Does anyone else know how great it is to have the alarm go off at the same time this post gets emailed to me? What a great way to wake up. Thank you Hewitt family.

  • Kristin says:

    What perfect words for me to read. I’ve got two little boys, and another boy on the way. I’m not here yet – the letting them be – but it’s coming, I can feel it. The way the oldest wants to make his own lunch, or the way the second dresses himself. It will come. And I must let it be. Thank you.

  • mindweapon says:

    Reblogged this on Mindweapons in Ragnarok and commented:
    Farm kids in Vermont build their own shelter in the woods.

  • LyndaD says:

    Hi Ben, newbie here. I have a 16 year old Aspergers son and i feel the pull away from me yet the strong grasp to hang on at the same time. He wants to be independent but hates that he cant be. As a Mum who has fought like a lion for him with every conceivable obstacle placed in our path i know i have to let go but gosh it is hard hard hard. Ive enjoyed what ive read so far and look forward to more. Lynda from Living In The Land of Oz.

  • Karen says:

    Great post. I had a similar letting them be kind of weekend….we have been visiting a bay town we stay in every summer with two of our boys ages 11 and 8. We adults were busy with several fixing up projects and the two boys really were given a good dose of freedom. They kayaked all around our small island, fished and crabbed and waded out to the sand bars at low tide. They had a great time and in pretty sure they walked with a bit more swagger by The end of it. I think it’s a great gift to let our kids know in this way that we believe in their abilities.

  • rhondajean says:

    My two ‘boys’ are probably your age and have boys of their own but I clearly remember their childhood being similar to your boys’. We lived in the Australian bush and they’d go off in the morning with their friends and come home when they were hungry. They were playing a game called quest – a mind game they made up that engrossed them for hours and had them make forts and hideouts. It taught them many things and all I had to do was to let them go. It taught me to trust what they already knew and to let them discover for themselves as well.

  • Dave says:

    It appears your first aid kit is in the kitchen, what a grand idea! I have started using tea tree oil for all manner of cuts and bites, wonderful stuff.

  • Kent says:

    Go Fin and Rye . . . . GO!!! (And “way to go” Ben & Penny . . . WAY TO GO!!)

  • pmpayette says:

    I loved this post. This is how people of our generation got to live and unfortunately kids today don’t get that simple freedom. I err on the side of caution but it isn’t really helping my child. I will take the lesson you have given. It is tough to do but needs to be done.

  • I absolutely loved reading this! Takes me back to growing up in the aussie bush and making little cabins and huts of our own from the fern bracken and sticks. We would dig out little hollows to make the “house” deeper and use rocks and bark to create “shelving”.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • ClaireB says:

    Absolutely LOVED this post! I’ve been back to read it more than once. We all need time to just `be’ – we’re human BEings not human DOings after all. Thank you!

  • hardscrabble farmer says:

    Great post. Over here in NH we’ve had a couple of “summer kids”, boys who spend the Summer on vacation with the family working on our farm. They look to be avbout the same age, whey’ve built a corral, installed fence, spread manure, helped with haying, grubbed potatoes, scraped boards, painted fences. We trade for their help- fresh chickens, homemade sausage, sweet corn, a bear skin rug, a dirt bike.

    They have grown immeasureably over the Summer, their parents smiling with pride at their handiwork and the things they bring home to the family table and we let them be boys as boys should be- free to spray each other with the hose, chuck rocks, plink cans with the .22, drive the farm truck though they barely reach the gas pedal.

    Our oldest is already a man even though legally he cannot yet vote or drink, because we let him be a boy. You’re on the right track, keep on it.

    Oh, and tumeric for cuts works wonders. Might want to throw that in the first aid drawer.

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