Thursday, April 2, 2015

Life in a Sap Bucket

 As you know, we tapped the trees at Brent's parents house almost a month ago. We were so enthusiastic and hopeful and then we waited...and we waited...and we waited some more. We began to wonder: did we do something wrong? Did we drill our holes too deep? Did we tap too early? Is it just too cold? Finally we got word from Brent's parents that a few inches of sap had collected in our buckets.We took it home and boiled it into a fine 1/3 of a cup of maple syrup, dribbled a teaspoonful each on homemade biscuits and enjoyed it thoroughly. We began to chalk it all up to a great and expensive learning experience when we heard that we had a few more inches of sap in the buckets. This time we got almost a cup. At this point, we were ready to pull our taps and try again next year, when we got a text: The white bucket is full! Five gallons of sap! And yes, this happened just three days before we were about to leave for vacation!

It occurred to me that morning  that this whole experiment was a perfect microcosm of the homeschool life: the months of looking for the perfect equipment, of spending way too much money for tools you don't know will work, the sweet little moments when everything is flowing and you can see your progress, then the weeks of knocking your head against the tree wondering if you've screwed it all up (and wasted a lot of money), and finally a wonderful burst of learning, usually at the most inopportune time.

One thing I've learned from my three years of homeschooling is this. kids are not buckets to be filled up with knowledge. They are a lot more like trees. You see, in the spring when the sap is rising, it doesn't flow at a steady rate. You cannot depend on harvesting a certain number of gallons per day. You can try and predict when the sap will rise, but it is a complex process influenced by day and nighttime temperatures and pressure inside the tree. When the conditions are right, the sap will flow suddenly and steadily for a few days, then may stop again and wait for another run weeks later. Some days you get nothing and other days it will overflow your buckets. You can tap your trees at the same time each year and one year you may wait weeks for the sap to flow while others it will come quickly.

When I was teaching one of my daughters to read, she seemed so ready at an early age. We jumped into our reading lessons with so much enthusiasm, and half-way through the year it all dried up. Reading aloud led to tears, distraction, and struggles. So I pulled the tap. I stopped teaching her reading for over six months. This year, we started up again and this time there were no tears. She was eager to complete two lessons a day, jumped up two levels in reading, and started devouring every easy reader book she could find.

Yesterday we started up swim lessons again. We take them in the Spring and Fall. Two years ago, I worried that my daughter would even get in the pool. We struggled so much with separation anxiety in her early years that it was a real question whether she would be brave enough for swim lessons. Even last Fall, she was a little nervous about jumping into the four-foot pool. Well, yesterday, I saw her jump into the college-size pool and swim across it on her own. She hadn't been at this level in the Fall and we hadn't swum much since, yet there she was doing it.

We want so much to do the right thing, especially when it comes to our kids, that it is tempting to spend all our time worrying about our methods, tools, and techniques. But when we spend our days beating our heads against the trees wondering if we've failed, it is easy to miss the sweetness bubbling up in our kids, rising up from the roots, ready to burst forth in its own golden, unpredictable season.