Andrew started school this year. Somehow that sentence isn’t heavy enough. It doesn’t weep off the screen or burn through the page. The letters ought to sag, and the words should cave inward. A moment in history has been marked; a line is drawn in the sand. A free man has begun the process of being tamed. Daniel Boone is learning to punch a time clock.
Andrew was born in the summer and a boy born in the summer needs a great deal of sunshine and fresh air. I recognized this truth early and complied at every turn.
Andrew nursed on the front porch, learned to recognize bird songs, played with Play-Doh on the picnic table, drew with chalk on the sidewalk and painted murals on the fence. When he could walk, he chased the animals and brought a new masculinity to our cats’ human stewardship experience. He blew bubbles until it rained and flew kites in low winds and high.
When he learned to ride a small John Deere tractor, a helper emerged. I no longer wielded buckets of vegetables from the garden. My every effort was accompanied by that little green tractor and its sturdy pull cart. Andrew and I trudged up hill and down on adventures that challenged the speed of battery-recharging history. But then a bike was mastered and Andrew became faster and more risky. He rode without hands and waved a quick goodbye. His hikes became farther, his stories longer, and his taste for adventure greater.
The historical Daniel Boone was a summertime boy, a free man by nature. I’ve visited his fort, walked his trail and attended a live theater depiction of his life, multiple times. Daniel Boone said that it was time to move on when a neighbor was as close as 5 miles. Andrew would agree with that sentiment. He is a free man at heart and he requires a broad vision. When he sits by me, I watch his sweeping gaze. He takes in the whole panorama. He looks across our mountains and beyond. He hears the cows calling and the train in the distance. He asks me about earthworms in one sentence and pirate sea adventures in the next.
I’ve pondered how to raise a free man. Remember that I was previously the mother of three wonderful female children. I know something of the process of raising little women but I’m still a student of that subject as well.
Alas, raising a boy child, a summer boy and a free man all in one is a great stretch. At every turn I pray for wisdom and try to see the questions with fresh eyes. If I am raising a great man, a world leader perhaps, how should I guide him? Does he need to learn more structure or more spontaneity? Should we develop memory retrieval strategies to access a world of exponential knowledge or cultivate a taste for creativity? Should I allow him to pound the keyboard when he could be balancing the violin? Can he possibly learn anything from fishing on every occasion? And what of this reckless streak? Can he live to reach puberty if he leaps from every surface, tries each escapade and begs for one more turn when the zip line has hurled him into space?
If only I could call Daniel Boone’s mother, I’d ask her a hundred questions. One of them would be about schooling. Daniel wasn’t encumbered with a classroom education. He learned to read and write in-between fishing and hunting. He hiked where he liked and stayed with neighbors if he wasn’t home by nightfall. Daniel Boone grew to be a world-class frontiersman because he was a free boy and his particular bent was honored.
Maybe there isn’t much of a need for frontiersmen during the 21st century. Perhaps history and even human nature have changed. Maybe boys need mostly to be tamed and domesticated. They certainly need to tuck in their shirts and print their lessons neatly. Who knows, a young man might grow up to be an accountant or a librarian?
I tried to convince myself of this modern paradigm while tying Andrew’s shoes on the first day of school. He looked at me with those trusting blue eyes. Our years and adventures have taught us to trust and understand one another. He looked deeply into my face and asked, “Mom, is it really best for me to go to school?” Ohhhhhhh! How had he read my mind? How had he deciphered my agonizing struggle? I could tell my first lie to him and say “Of course” but I knew that I’d be found out. I could make some philosophical comments and know that he understood some of it. Or I could tell him that I thought so but that he and I would talk about it more times.
Andrew goes to school now. He packs his backpack and combs his hair. He keeps his letters on the line and his energy in his head. He waves goodbye only once and we kiss before his friends walk by. He is learning to keep his paces and ask only a few of his questions. Daniel Boone has punched a time clock.
Robin Richmond Mason grew up in the Beaverdale community of Whitfield County. She resides with her husband and four children in Paint Lick, Kentucky, and teaches at Eastern Kentucky University. She can be reached via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.