We didn’t see them at first, because they were the same size and color as the stones. But then some of those stones started moving. First one, then seven, then hundreds.
We were vacationing in the Pacific Northwest, renting a home on Discovery Bay, and the rocky shoreline was covered with a thousand small tiny crabs.
The kids were fascinated, by the crabs, and by the fact that the shoreline itself seemed to grow and shrink throughout the day. And it was, because even though it looked like one of the lakes we are accustomed to here in Wisconsin, the bay was connected to the nearby ocean, and the tide was making itself known.
That led to questions of where the water went when the tide was out, which led to talk of the moon’s gravitational pull, which led to discussions about the phases of the moon and finally, which moon each of us were born under and what – if anything – that said about us.
My wife and I were able to answer exactly NONE of these questions on our own. Either we’d never been taught, or more likely, the lessons never stuck because they weren’t relevant to us at the time. Fortunately, Google served as an able guide as we traversed the winding path of discovery.
This is a small example of a delightful unintended consequence of homeschooling: it has bigified our lives. (All five of us, not just the uneducated common folk we call children.) This adventure of homeschooling has cured me of the belief that learning only happens in a classroom, during certain hours, and on certain days, while requiring a professional on hand who holds a certain degree. That view of learning is so small.
I am reminded of a quote by Jodi Picoult who said, “Kids think with their brains cracked wide open; becoming an adult, I’ve decided, is only a slow sewing shut.”
The problem with getting older, it seems, is how easy it is for life to become smaller.
We grown-ups have been around long enough to see how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things. We’ve had enough of our big dreams deflate that we’ve course-corrected by making them smaller. We seem to be on the lookout for more things to be afraid of.
So we become rigid. Stale. Musty. Closed off. Sewn shut.
We eat the same things, watch the same TV channels, and get our news from the same source. We gravitate toward those who share our opinions and grow ever more skeptical of those who don’t.
We see cardboard boxes merely as containers for more exciting things. To a child, they are the most exciting thing of all, a vessel of limitless possibility. Depending on the day, it’s can be a castle or a pirate ship or a race car or a quiet place to read library books.
The good news is that you don’t need to homeschool or even have kids to bigify your life.
Ask more questions. Try for seventy-eight a day.
Look for answers. And don’t stop until you find them. If you have a smartphone, you can find any fact in five seconds. (Fact check me on this, but I believe that libraries still give you books for free, as long as you promise to bring them back.)
Say yes to one thing that scares you a week.
Travel. Explore places outside your comfort zone.
Try something new on the menu.
Prove Netflix wrong and watch something it doesn’t think you would like. Perhaps a documentary about something you know nothing about. Like crabs or tides or moon phases.
Or, if you’re really brave, ask someone why they are voting for their favorite candidate and – this is the key – don’t try to change their mind. Just listen.
From our routines to the route we take to work, we stick to the tried and true. We rationalize that we do this because our preferences have served us well, but it’s closer to the truth to say that they keep us comfortable.
If we are not careful, our brains will experience a slow sewing shut. Eventually, we get to a point where no new ideas can enter and no new dreams can come forth.
This need not be the natural order of things. I have seen ninety-years-olds I can point to as proof. I bet you can too.
It’s true; we can choose to bigify our lives, making room for all the color, wonder, and joy we can handle.
Bigifying our life keeps us young, no matter how old we become.