The Socialization Question

May 29, 2014 § 28 Comments

Curious. Or just hungry

Curious. Or just hungry

Ben, do any well-meaning relatives or even just casual passers-by ever worry you about the “socialization question” for your boys? Reading this post makes me smile, in regards to it. I have 6 children, all homeschooled through high school (3 still at home) and I’ve heard it for the past 20+ years, that question, that is. We live on an acreage (a remote mile from town) so that further confounds the issue. The thing is, God (I’ll not use the creator label, so as not to offend) :) brings a steady stream of interesting folks into our lives (like Dan and Nate) that keep my kids (and me) learning how to relate with others. Serendipity. It’s a beautiful thing, really, though one must relax a bit and not be a control freak, to enjoy it.

Jeez, the timing of Amy’s question is uncanny. I’ve been thinking a lot about the forthcoming launch of Home Grown and the questions I’ll inevitably field and how I want to answer those questions. The socialization issue is a biggie. Or at least, other parents perceive it to be a biggie. It’s right up there with “what if your kids want to go to college?” Or “what if they end up degenerate hill farmers like you?” 

I’ve talked about socialization in bits and pieces in the space before, but perhaps it’s time to go toe-to-toe with it, in no small part because it’ll help me get my thoughts straight which, as Penny would tell you, is no small matter.

When I get the “socialization question” (as I inevitably do), I’ve learned to ask for clarification. Is the questioner asking if my children interact with other people? Or are they asking whether or not my children are becoming socialized to a particular set of cultural mores. After all, that’s what “socialization” really means. Wikipedia defines it as the life long process of inheriting and disseminating norms, customs and ideologies.

I’ve found that most people haven’t actually thought about this distinction. To them, being social and becoming socialized are one and the same. To Penny and me, they are drastically different. We do want our boys to be social, and not just with their peer group. We want them to have friends who are younger, who are of similar ages, and who are much older. This is one of our chief complaints with the social order of school, which is that it places children in homogenous communities of like-aged children and furthermore demotes adults to the role of rule-maker and enforcer, rather than true mentors.

It’s not the adults shouldn’t be making rules for children – we make all sorts of rules for the boys, though whether or not we adequately enforce them is perhaps open to debate. But when children view the adults in their lives primarily through the lens of rule making and enforcement (and let’s face it: That is how most children view most teachers [I said most, not all]), it becomes extremely difficult for mutually respectful relationships to develop. In these circumstances, the child is being socialized, no question. He or she is inheriting norms, customs and ideologies. The question is, to what end?

I’ve mentioned this before, but my snarky reply to the question “aren’t you worried about socialization?” used to be “Absolutely. That’s why we keep them home.” It’s still a valid reply, but I’ve come to be more interested in talking about the distinction between being social and being socialized, which is why I now ask for clarification.

The boys’ social life isn’t perfect. They wish for more friends who share their nature-based interests. Finding these children has been an on-going struggle for Penny and me. Even in rural Vermont, there is a dearth of young people who want to spend the majority of their time out-of-doors. Even among the boys’ home and unschooling friends, there are video games and computer screens aplenty, and it is striking to me how rare it is to see children outside beyond the contest of organized sports, even during the scant weeks of summer vacation. Likewise, many of the boys’ friends are scheduled to the hilt with sports and other “extracurricular” activities, and Fin and Rye are sometimes frustrated that everyone is so busy all the time. But when we ask them if they’d prefer to participate in these activities with their peers, understanding that this would inevitably reduce the amount of time allocated to woods wandering or other projects or time with their non-peer friends and mentors, they are resolute: Not a chance.

Still, like Amy (and as I’ve mentioned quite recently), we consider ourselves blessed almost beyond belief by the stream of interesting people that come into our lives. And we are grateful that our choices around our sons’ education provide them opportunity to develop meaningful relationships with these people. Last week, they spent a day making birch bark baskets with Nate. On Monday, Erik came, and he and Rye disappeared into the woods for the morning. Today, a small group of unschoolers will gather here to work on projects of-the-hand, and the boys will inevitably lead their young buddies Amelia and Leo on a wilderness romp. Tonight, we’ll go down to Melvin and Janet’s to help with chores. In a few minutes, at a time when most children their age are sitting at desks that might or might not offer a view to the world beyond the classroom’s walls, my boys will move their goats to pasture for the day. Penny and I will hear them calling “come on, Flora, come on, Midnight.” Socializing with goats. Heck, there’s worse company to keep.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a very short excerpt from Home Grown that addresses another downside of school-based socialization. Even if there were no other social benefits to keeping them at home, the following would be reason enough for us to chart a different path.

I find tremendous comfort in the knowledge that Fin and Rye are not burdened by the expectations of their peer group. No one tells them their pants are funny, so they unself-consciously wear the clothing Penny brings home from thrift stores: faded jeans, frayed jackets, socks with floral prints. No one tells them they’re too fat or too skinny, too short or too tall, too slow or too weak, so they do not regard their physical characteristics and capabilities as being either flawed or lacking flaws, and I rarely hear them speak of others in these terms. No one tells them they should have a particular cell phone, or that they should watch a particular television show or movie, so they are free of the burden of desire for things they do not need or want.




I’d be Broke

May 27, 2014 § 26 Comments


The truth is I could sell you this place right now. Hell, I could sell you the whole life, every last shit-stained, shoulder-sore, money-slighted bit of it. You’d come down with me to move the cows at 5:15 on a misty morning like this one when all you can hear is birdsong and the small movements of the rising animals and all you can see is green and all you can smell is the sweet towering pile of dense pack hay and manure and piss and then we’d head back to the house to fry up a mess of fresh eggs with the mushrooms Fin brought home the previous afternoon. I could name my price and you’d write me a check right there. You wouldn’t be able to stop thanking me.


It wouldn’t have worked six weeks ago, back when a river of snowmelt coursed through the front yard and we could’ve called our driveway a mud bog and sold tickets and the cows were dirty because no matter how much bedding we shoveled onto into the loafing shed, the melting snow and rain soaked it through before morning.

It wouldn’t have worked 10 weeks ago, back when it was a dozen below zero in the middle of March and we were rationing the last half row of firewood and the boys spent large swathes of each day bickering, Penny and me trying to ignore them and failing. And then it snowed again, the biggest storm of the season, and we all gathered at the windows to watch it fall. Trying to be excited. Again failing.


Nah, it wouldn’t have worked then. But it would now.


If for some unearthly reason you don’t want to buy it now, that’s ok. ‘Cause you’ll definitely want it in a few weeks, when the barn is full of first cut and the boys are snitching early peas off the vine and the strawberries are coming on strong and every afternoon after chores we jump naked into the pond before dinner. What’s for dinner? Ice cream, that’s what’s for dinner: Cream, eggs, maple syrup, a few crushed up sprigs of mint, all harvested on this little piece of land. All paid for in sweat and soreness. Yeah, you’ll want it then. You’ll want the cream, the eggs, the syrup, the mint. You’ll even want the sweat and soreness. Truth is, you’re dying for sweat and soreness. You just don’t know it yet. Or maybe you do.


Or if not then, how about in late August when the blueberries are so thick you can fill a gallon jug from one bush and after that we go down in the woods and heap a basket with chanterelle and hedgehog mushrooms and in the mornings when we move the cows you can feel what’s coming: That first hint of fall in the way the air plucks at your skin, makes it vibrate just a little. Did I mention there are three soft, spindly-legged calves? There are three soft, spindly-legged calves.


In October, we’ll kill the pigs and for an hour or so, you’ll wish you’d changed your mind. Too late, sucker. I cashed the check months ago. But then there’s sausage and we’ll spend a day smoking the hams and bacons and drinking a few beers and we’ll have a big ole party and you’ll have forgotten the moment the pig crumpled to the ground and started kicking and who knew there was so much blood in a pig, anyway? You’ll have forgotten reaching your hands into its steamy innards for the first time, how shockingly slippery and nearly hot they are. Or maybe you won’t have forgotten: Maybe you’ll remember, but what you’ll remember is that that is what made this. And so it will be.


Yeah, I’m pretty sure I could sell you this place right now. I’m pretty sure I could sell you everything that comes with it, even the river of snowmelt. Even the dirty cows. Even the 26th below-zero morning of the winter. Even the head-shot pig and its slippery liver, the bickering boys. I could sell you all this stuff. I’d have more money than I’ve ever had.

And I’d be broke.







Pretty Friggin’ Murky

May 26, 2014 § 6 Comments

Tilting at windmills

Tilting at windmills

Penny returned home from visiting her folks the other day, having made the not-insignificant mistake of listening to NPR while driving, upon which she heard the following story about kids and sports. I love the line “when the child perceives that the parent wants something at the end of their participation is where we get into the murky area.” 

Ah, the murky area. You know, where kids feels overwhelming pressure to perform to the expectations set by their insecure parents.

Yeah, I’d say that’s pretty friggin’ murky.

We all want our kids to excel, but the cost of youth athletics can really do some damage to a family budget. Gym fees, private lessons, uniforms and travel to far-away tournaments can easily run into the thousands of dollars a year. 

But if your child is showing promise in a particular sport, dosen’t it make sense to invest in their future?

Not necessarily, as new research from Utah State University’s Families in Sport Lab points out. Like most of us, sports psychologist Travis Dorsch assumed that the children of parents who invested a lot of money in their kids’ athletic participation had a better experience playing sports.

“We thought, to put it bluntly, that rich kids have all the fun. That parents who spend more on their childrens’ particiation have better experiences, perhaps better equipment, more travel and more opportunities.”

But, Dorsch says, the opposite turned out to be true. It turns out that when it comes to kids and sports, more money equals more pressure.

“What we found, in fact, was that parents and families who were spending more money on their childrens’ sports were perceived as being more pressuring in their behaviors and that pressure led to less enjoyment and lower motivation to keep participating.”

Parents in the study spent anywhere from 0 to 10.2 percent of their pre-tax income on their kids’ sports. Many justify the cost by saying that a college scholarship or a career in professional sports is just around the corner. But, Dorsch says, the reality is that rarely happens.

“What parents need to be cautious of is what that spending is doing to their behaviors. Are they treating it like it’s money out the door that’s for the child’s experience? Or are they treating it like an investment or a commodity where they expect a return on the back end? When the child perceives that the parent wants something at the end of their participation is where we get into the murky area,” he says.


Not Ours, Still Tragic

May 25, 2014 § 4 Comments

Just a quick note to let concerned parties know that the Cabot boy who died of an accidental gunshot wound yesterday is not one of our sons. For those who have called and emailed, thank you.

How Good it Can be

May 23, 2014 § 19 Comments

One less 'chuck

One less ‘chuck

We can finally see the bottoms of the chest freezers beneath and between the remnants of their former abundance. We’re out of venison and real low on chickens. Even the beef is looking skimpy; we’re deep into the “chuck steak, burger, and short ribs” phase. There’s still a decent collection of porky bits, and thank goodness for that. Blueberries are almost gone. Ditto kimchi (three quarts left!). We ran out of butter months ago, having plowing through nearly 150-pounds in nine months or so. The lacto-fermented green beans are long departed, along with every last one of their frozen cousins. Potatoes are near-to-finished up. Onions, too.

On the plus side, the unheated season-extending greenhouse is churning out enough salad to put love handles on a vegan. So there’s that. And we have lots of liver pates, ranging from beef, to pork, to chicken, and even a little beaver. Dinner last night was salad, chick liver pate, homemade sourdough crackers and one thin-to-the-point-of-being-almost-transluscent slice of cheese each. After not having cheese for something like 184 days and 17 hours (not that anyone’s counting), we splurged on a pound of good cheddar a few days back and we’re trying to stretch it through next month. And eggs. Crikey, the eggs. The boys keep bring home pheasant back mushrooms and wood nettles, too.

I like how our diet shifts with the season, how we have the luxury of  getting sick of things just as we run out of them, and then “rediscover” them when the harvest comes ’round. For the next few months, the table will be heavy with salads and whatever meaty remnants reside in the freezers. We have three cows freshening in about a month and plan to milk two, so there’ll soon be dairy aplenty. The other day we were all sitting ’round the table gnawing on some gristly cut of meat and fantasizing about the abundance to come and Penny said “ice cream” and we started dreaming up all the flavors of ice cream we’ll be eating on a near-daily basis all summer long. Mint, I yelped.  Cinnamon, Penny exclaimed. Maple, the boys clamored. And so on.

In the warmer months, we tend to eat more bread and bread-like products, in part because they’re super convenient and in part because we can eat these foods in summer without having them bog us down, thanks to the endless hours of physical labor that define our days. If we eat much wheat in the winter, both Penny and I notice how the buttons on our jeans press uncomfortably into the soft meat of our lower bellies, so we mostly steer clear. But come summer, it’s no problem, and I make a loaf or two of bread every week or ten days, rather then one per month or so. It’s real good toasted with about a half-pound of butter on top and a couple of fried eggs over a mess of steamed nettles. Breakfast of champions, right there.

I think most people can’t imagine not having access to certain foods whenever they want them. I think most people would hear that we generally go the entire winter without fresh greens and feel sorry for us. The thing is, we sure don’t feel sorry for us, ’cause we know when the greens finally come on, they’re gonna be the best damn thing we’ve eaten since the season’s first blueberries, or the handful of new potatoes we snuck out of the garden because we’d been out of potatoes for four months or the first drips of ice cream that’ve run down our chin in a half-year or more.

I’ve made this point before, but I’m gonna make it again: If you have everything you want whenever you want it, it might be good. But you’ll never know how good it can be.

One Sign

May 20, 2014 § 17 Comments



See that tree? That’s a plum tree. It’s pretty. See behind it? That’s a full woodshed. Far as I’m concerned, it’s even prettier.


You might remember the area I talked about clearing a while back. Well, I finished. And we planted it to all sorts to goodness, primarily chestnuts, juneberries, mulberries, pears and the ever-important dynamic accumulators. All these trees should be producing by the time I’m too old to harvest any of them.


New laundry line. This might offend my dad, who bought us one of those cool pulley contraption lines for a holiday gift. But we needed a new line right now, and this was quicker. He’ll get over it.


The wild edibles are starting to come on. The boys came home from a ramble with the haul pictured above: Wood nettles, Pheasant Back mushrooms, fiddleheads. I found the season’s first morel the other day, but I ate it before Penny could take a pic, so you’ll just have to believe me.


This area was dense woods only a year ago. Cleared it with the chainsaw and pigs and seeded with pasture mix. Those are paw paws in the tubes along the back and a sweet cherry tree in the front right. Pigs do good work but do me a favor and don’t use them to clear garden space, ok? If you want to know why, email me.


I’ve been cranking on reframing the end walls of our first greenhouse, which is coming on a dozen years old. Penny’s doing the reskinning. It’s taking a while, ’cause we’d used up our stash of lumber, so I’ve been milling lumber as needed.


These are the tomatoes that really need to get in the greenhouse that’s not quite finished being reframed and reskinned. They look pretty decent, eh?


Ah, the quack shack, for the ducklings that are soon to arrive. This is Penny’s project in full, though I am milling the lumber. One of the things I really appreciate about Penny is that she’s real good with tools and not afraid to dive into just about any project.


These are peas that have just been mulched. See the hog panel trellis to the left? Hog panels are the greatest things since, well, hogs.Pain in the ass to transport, but incredibly versatile. I almost wrote “wicked versatile” but someone who’s not from around here told me that in other place, folks pick on people who say “wicked.” Well, phooey.


This is Web. She’s a pet. She’s been around for something like five years and brings us a lot of pleasure. Except when she’s eating brassicas, as she was doing about three seconds before this photo was taken.

I should have a pic of the compost piles. I’m making some wicked  really nice compost piles with the deep pack bedding. I hope I always live in a place where I can smell composting cow shit. It’s one sign that the world hasn’t totally gone to hell.



Whatever Those Terms May Be

May 19, 2014 § 4 Comments


Two straight nights of nine-plus hours of slumber have just about set me right after the ruckus known as Sheesham, Lotus & Son descended on our humble home. Given that their Friday night show with Mayfly was barely a mile down the road and given that they’d gotten themselves suckered into leading a hambone workshop at our place the following morning, the fellas stayed with us. As Penny so eloquently put it “it’s sort of like if Bruce Springsteen had come to stay with my family when I was 16.” Yes, it’s true: We have reached a station in life where a trio of vagabond old time musicians inspire a level of awe equivalent to that which only the Boss once claimed over my New Jersey-born wife. I’m not sure if this represents evolution or devolution, but hey. It’s the truth.

The show (which was typically life affirming and extremely well attended) wrapped up at 10:30 or so, at which point it was decided that the music must continue, and that is how I found myself still upright at nearly 2:00 the next morning as the fiddle, guitar, and banjo rang into the night. Even Fin and Rye made it until nearly 1:00 before fatigue overwhelmed their young minds and bodies and they collapsed into bed, only to rise again at their usual 6:00 a.m. waking hour. Creatures of habit, those boys. I guess we all are.


S & L stuck around most of Saturday (Son having departed early to fulfill a prior commitment), as they had another gig in New Hampshire that evening. Besides, there was roasted venison left over from Friday night’s gathering with which to top off their hollow legs. And really, where else did they have to go?

So we had the pleasure of their company for the majority of the day as they ate left over deer and bowlfuls of kimchi (I harbor a particular fondness for anyone who eats entire bowlfuls of vegetable ferments), sewed buttons on the silken vests Sheesham’s father made for them, plinked on their self-made gourd banjos and skinny dipped in our pond (I am also fond of people who are unafraid of shucking down to birthday suits and diving into frigid waters. This might be a metaphor for something bigger than mere skinny dipping but I fear I’m too dim to figure out exactly what).


There’s really no point to all this except to express what a privilege it is to have interesting people come into our lives. I mean, I think pretty much everyone is interesting in some way or another, but I am increasingly drawn to people who have dispensed with conventional wisdom to follow their passion. After all, there are many, many things Sheesham, Lotus & Son could do that would be easier and furthermore deliver more prosperity and security to them and their families. They do not do what they do because it is easy or because it abides by the commonplace logic of material gain. They do what they do because to not do it would be to not live as they were meant to live.

Far be it for me to suggest or even ponder how anyone else is meant to live. But I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that for sundry reasons, many, many people never really figure this out. Mostly, I think those reasons have to do with the economic/sociocultural pressures that burden us all. These pressures are almost omnipotent in this day and age. Shrugging them off, even incompletely, requires more energy than most of us can muster. Or perhaps it’s courage we lack.

I guess that’s what I mean by “interesting people”: Those who have gathered whatever strength and courage they can muster and have, to the greatest extent possible, chosen to live on their terms. Whatever those terms may be.


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