In his book New Pioneers, Jeffrey Jacob quotes a homesteader from Idaho’s description of the joy she has in the way of life her family has chosen:
There is so much more to say, and all I can start with is–this is a most beautiful way to live. We feel joy in just watching a gate we built open and close. New Pioneers, The Back-to-the-Land Movement and the Search for a Sustainable Future, p. 84
With this, he introduces the concept of mindfulness, a “calm, yet focused, engagement with the present.” (Ibid.) He goes on to discuss the concept more in light of its Buddhist origins, but my thoughts focused on the satisfaction derived from accomplishment. To set a goal, to invest yourself in realizing that goal and to sit back and appreciate the fruits of your labor.
In our culture today, we tend to undervalue manual labor. Everyone knows you have to go to college to get a “good” job and if your job does not require a degree, it must not be all that good. Sure, there are those few who drop out, buck the system and go on to do amazing things. We like to tell their stories because it fits well with the story of ourselves, the one in which our hero picks himself up by his bootstraps and succeeds outside the confines of convention.
But we aren’t about to risk such things on our own children. And our hero is only a hero if he succeeds according to that convention. We don’t hold manual laborers in high regard. Nor do we particularly esteem those who “throw away” their higher education and pursue other lines of work, or worse, voluntarily stay home to care for children.
Yet there is satisfaction in just watching a gate open and close, a gate you built, a gate that stands as a visual reminder of a need met, a challenge overcome, a goal accomplished.
It is a peculiar sense of satisfaction I want my children to know as well. It is why I leave them time to build their fort in the windbreak while I’m working in the house. But it is also tied in to some of our goals for homeschooling. I want my children to be personally invested in their education. I want them to see their progress as their accomplishment. When they pull out a lapbook they’ve worked on, a story they’ve written or a model they’ve constructed, I want it to stand there like that swinging gate.
I want them to own their own efforts, and take the time to be satisfied with the result. It takes effort, discipline and the ability to step back to let my children struggle with a task and perhaps even fail at it. It means being careful with how I praise them, lest I rob them of their accomplishment by making it about external recognition.
Most of all, it means giving them time to pursue something with all their energy over the course of days and even weeks.