Summer did come, and summer was the season of Becky Jack. The kids were free (free!) from the constraints of homework and school days. And they would go stark raving insane with nothing to do, so the Jack home became a summer camp: summer projects (raising insects, quilting, coin collecting, studying kinds of clouds, family read-a-thons), sports (swimming, rafting, hiking, Little League), field trips (zoo, amusement park, bird preserve, lakes, mountains, rivers, meadows), service projects (neighborhood widow’s yard care, food bank drives), and just good hard play from sunup to sundown.
Well, it couldn’t be more obvious that Becky Jack, the heroine of Shannon Hale’s novel, is a homeschooler at heart—probably an unschooler. Every time I read about her exultation over summer or her dejection over the return to school schedules, I wanted to have her over for sweet tea and a heart-to-heart about how she might want to think about a more permanent freedom from the constraints she bristled against.
But I didn’t quote that passage to toot a horn for the joy of unschooling. “The season of Becky” (a recurring phrase in the novel) has been in my head all week as my children and I zoom around town to and from a series of activities which are a departure from our usual routine. We’re all of a sudden spending a lot of time at the Y for swimming and gymnastics, and I finally got around to getting everyone caught up on dentist appointments. The desert heat has settled upon our corner of San Diego County, and on the days we aren’t at the Y, we’re holing up indoors after 10 a.m., playing lots of Wii and other games until the evening shade transforms the yard into a cool and breezy haven once more.
It’s still light out when Scott gets home from work, and I’m reluctant to leave him for the two evening hours we’ve carved out as my precious and fleeting work time. I make bruschetta with tomatoes and basil from the garden, and linger in the kitchen longer than I ought, dipping crusty bread into the garlicky, lemony juice, listening to Scott’s stories of pre-Comic-Con office bustle. Sparrows and finches gossip at the feeder, and the bees are slow and undulating in their flight, their saddlebags laden. A monarch butterfly dips low, low, and lands on a rosy-orange blossom, uncurling its delicate tongue to sip from the cup of nectar. The children are playing in the grass, or else they’ve disappeared, called away by their books and their music.
Summer has never been the Season of Lissa—it’s spring that sets my heart soaring, always has been—but I am enjoying this Season of Becky, and feeling quite Beckyish indeed as the bright, hot days of July and August unroll before us. I’m a little envious of Becky’s neighborhood, with its impromptu backyard softball and kick-the-can—we used to live in a neighborhood like that in Virginia, and a very special place it was—but our summer rhythm is its own brand of nice, and I love knowing it is stretching out before us for many weeks to come, with Comic-Con (a major event in these parts, where “these parts” = both this city and this household) anchoring the middle, and a local unschooling conference waiting for us in September, promising to be a lively and colorful celebration of this lifestyle I love so much.*
*And in the spirit of not sugarcoating, I’ll add that at the very moment I finished typing that last sentence, a minor household volcano erupted, and in the space of three minutes, three different members of this mostly-happy family came at me with various shades of Bad Mood. Sometimes this wife-and-mother thing is a bit like finding yourself in the middle of a spontaneous game of paintball and you’re the one whose job it is to wipe the paint spatters off all the players while ducking and dodging the flying color-bombs yourself. But, you know, it’s probably a sign of a very successful and satisfying summer day that people are falling apart at the bedtime end of it. Off I go now to see if I can mop up some more paint.
Booknotes in early May
The Landmark History of the American People
The Firelings, by Carol Kendall
Medical One-Sheet — a tool for caregivers who spend lots of time in doctors’ offices