Outside my window, we’re in that tentative, awkward phase vis-à-vis the weather. It’s Labour Day and no one’s sure what to wear. Sweater? Jacket? Layers? Does the no-white-after-Labour Day rule start at the beginning of the weekend or the end? Does anyone still care?
Inside my window, we’re in a pretty tentative, awkward phase as well, vis-à-vis the eight-year-old. It’s back-to-school weekend, but he ain’t going. I don’t mean he’s put his foot down, locked the door, ‘I’m not coming out. You can’t make me.’ I mean, he’s staying home, home-schooling.
The interesting thing about all this actually occurred some weeks ago, another awkward weather setting, as it happens. I was sitting in the heated section of my neighbourhood community centre’s ice rink. The sun was blazing. To recap: I was sitting inside a frozen hall under heat lamps drinking iced coffee in the middle of summer. (Only in Canada … .) My son had progressed to Level 2 recreational skating because even though I hated ice skates as a boy, he’d somehow determined that skating was an important and relevant skill to pursue.
Maybe one of those things that skips a generation? Anyway, there he was, flailing about with promise. Down the rink, beyond the ten-on-one kids’ classes, though, was where my eye kept wandering. Inching forward, like a penguin on thin ice, was an Ismaili woman visibly having second thoughts. The whole scene was beautiful. The kids, this brave woman, plumes of breath rising, arms scarecrowed, all determined to master the banana-peel sport of skating. Why? Because, it seems to me, people know what they want to learn. It may not be what you would choose on their behalf, but you can’t deny the strange splendour of self-determination.
So the boy’s staying home, he’s decided, and the year yawns ahead, and the question arises: what will he learn? The Grade 3 curriculum as available from the ministry? C’mon. A whole lot about rocketry and X-series experimental supersonic warplanes? Well sure, that and … stuff. Not the hothouse fripperies I was handed at his age (ballroom dancing, rifle shooting, cricket) but—I hope—actual skills that have some relevance to our time, to our community, to our family.
How to cook seems good to me. Which plants in the garden should stay.
Why we must give our seats to old ladies on the bus. I don’t actually know WHAT he will learn, because outside the school walls, learning is not a predictable pursuit. His curiosity is boundless, and together we’ve embarked on what seems to me like real labour: the building of a mind. We begin as everyone begins: with baby steps, tentative, uncertain. The terrain is slippery. Pratfalls await. Yet I have this intuition that if we can all hold on to our faith in him, we’ll just keep putting one foot in front of the other until, well, we someday learn how to glide.