Yesterday 9 yo came up with an idea for a large party, with balloons and cake, and he was planning to sponsor it from his own money. I stayed quiet, thinking that it is just a way to waste some money. Today he brought it up again during breakfast. This time I asked him why he wanted to do it. He said for happiness. I asked him whether these things would bring him happiness. He said, no, that's what it says in Ketuvim. I asked him to clarify. He paraphrased Kohelet that gold and silver do not bring happiness, only learning Torah. So I suggested that he do just that. I thought this would be a good launch into Vayeitze, and even brought up with first pasuk, but he had other plans. He announced that he wants to learn Kedoshim. I was stumped and asked him why. He said that it is the shortest parsha and it has the most mitzvot. I think he did did cost/benefit analysis and, in his mind, this produces the most bang for his learning buck. I wanted to start after breakfast, but he wanted to wait till tomorrow since today is Sunday and he felt it would be wrong to do schoolwork on Sunday. This is not the kind of logic I enjoyed hearing. I said that we learn Torah every day, but he lost interest at that point and I was not going to push. We will see what tomorrow brings.
Despite his desire not to do schoolwork on Sunday, the boys did do some work, unschooling style. We went to the Gem and Mineral Show. The kids had to fill out cards to enter for a door prize with their name, address, phone number, e-mail and school. Both of them stumbled through our long last name. 9 yo persevered and filled his card out, but 7 yo got stuck when it came time to write down the phone number. I know that he knows it, he dialed me before, but he absolutely got frustrated and could not recall it. Moreover, he did not even want to recall it and forfeited his card.
At the show, the boys saw a demonstration of soapstone carving, polishing and faceting stones and of different sands. They made their own sand slides by cutting a window in a business card, putting a piece of tape across, and spreading sand on top. The slides were viewed under the microscope. Here 7 yo did not mind labeling his slide by writing where the sand came from.
Then we saw a dealer selling wire trees with stones and crystals as leaves. 7 yo really wanted one. This dealer was also selling kits for making your own tree with instructions, and all the supplies. 7 yo first gathered up stones and wire, then he chose a base and glue to hold it together. Now I asked him whether buying the kit was cheaper, or all the supplies separately? He looked and calculated. He had to add 7 to 8. Here is how he did it: if you take 5 from 7 and 5 from 8, that's ten, and you are left with 2 from 7 and 3 from eight, so you add them up and get 5 and 10 plus 5 is 15. My head was spinning. Then he added 2.50 and another 2.50, got 20, and figured out that buying a kit is cheaper than loose supplies.
9 yo got a grab-bag , and a few separate trinkets. When we got home, 9 yo went about organizing his rock collection and making a Rock Land. 7 yo opened his kit, read the instructions, got the ruler to measure out the correct length of wire, and started on his tree. We stopped only when we glued it to the base and now the glue had to dry for a few hours.
I am thinking how important it is to have a relationship with a child before you can teach them anything and expect them to listen to you, and how much of my time is spent listening to them. They tell me absurdities, they tantrum at me, and they tell me so much of what I much rather not hear, but they feel safe telling it to me. This past week, just about every night when I was tucking 9 yo in bed, he would say: "One more thing...", his lip would quiver, and something intensely private would come out, whether a worry, a wish, or a feeling. Is this learning? Is this teaching? Is this parenting? It is the building of trust, the building of a relationship.
By laying off the formal schoolwork, by letting them be, I am allowing space for their imperfections. I am making space for a relationship to grow. One of my private frustrations growing up was that I kept getting good grades, but I felt that nobody cared about them. I thought that I should be praised for my academic success, but my parents seemed apathetic to it. To them, it was business as usual; I was supposed to get good grades. Now, thinking back, I was expecting an extra dose of love in return for my success. Oh, how cruel! I do not remember any of the material which I supposedly learned so well, but I remember the feelings. That makes it easier for me to say that content of my children's learning almost does not matter, as long as they feel loved, supported and encouraged in their endeavors.