If you are a good parent, you are open to be learning as much as you might be teaching. So it has been with Willow from early on.
Willow had been home schooled almost all of his life. Some of his commune kid friends had gone to conventional school. They did not speak well of it. It would come up with some regularity, that their were people (like his grandmother) who really thought he should go to conventional schools. Willow was not having it.
A couple of years back my mother thought it would be fun for us to go to Cuba together. Willow thought it would be good to learn some Spanish before he went. There being no one at Twin Oaks Community who was willing to teach him, he decided to take a class at the local community college.
I was stunned. After over a decade of intransigence around the possibility of going to school he just suddenly switched. I asked him about it.
“Willow why did you decide to go to school?” I asked
“Do you know the difference between community college administrators and high school principals?” He challenged.
I knew I would not be able to guess, so i just caved. “No i don’t know, would you tell me?”
“Sure” Willow offered. “The principal is trying to keep everyone in high school. The community college administrators are trying to keep the customers satisfied. The difference is the principals are trying to keep the bullies in class. The administrators are trying to thrown them out. I don’t want to go to any institution that is trying to keep the bullies in.”
I had never considered such a thing, but clearly this made sense.
Willow is in his third semester of community college, pulling straight A’s, finishing his fancy Clonlara online high school curriculum early and thinking about summer school in video game design. I am pretty excited and feel proud he made his own decisions to get here.
[As with all posts significantly about him, Willow has signed off on this one. Thanks to Kelpie for proof reading]
It was about midnight at the fabulous Validation Day party. Willow and the gaggle of friends who had come up for his 13th birthday were no doubt safe killing zombies or the digital equilvalent somewhere on our 450 acre campus. Sky and i caught each other between songs on the dance floor.
“Do you have Willow tonight?” i asked
“He does not need us, he is a teenager now.” Sky quipped
And while it was mostly a joke, there was some recgnition that even in the insular world of the income sharing intentional community, our son was becoming more independent, more self reliant and less in need of direct supervision or support from his flock of parents.
Sadly, we retreated from the lovely complex rules of Capture the Flag 2.0. It was deemed too hard to teach and we were in a hurry to get out into the cold and get playing.
Willow’s team won twice before the cold overwhelmed the group. [Pro tip – attrition. Wait for the other team to have too many members in jail and then overwhelm their strained defenses.] This game had lots of running through the woods which makes it easy to wipe out and out maneuver your pursuer. The kids seemless intergrated in the small handful of Acorners i brought over for the fun.
Willows friends almost all either live in the commune now or did at one point. One of his best friends is Adrian, who left the commune when Willow was 2. Adrian is now 17 (Willow is 13 if that was not clear). But like many kids who grow up at the commune, there is some special home like aspect that brings them back to visit and maintain friendships. A dozen years ago Adrian did child care for Willow. Now they team up to take on zombies or their digital equivalents via online chat.
The parents will stick around for a bit longer, in case he needs us for something.
On Friday’s i do the Louisa town trip for both Acorn and Twin Oaks. This is basically a centralized shopping task, where any member of guest who wants something purchased in town fills out a pre-formatted form and slips it into the appropriate drawer in the main office at Twin Oaks (or writes it on the right clipboard at Acorn) and the town tripper goes and satisfies all the requests. If you get your request in before 9 AM, there is a 95% chance you have it where you want it by 1 PM the same day. This is a powerful and convenient system. You don’t have to handle money, you don’t have to do the accounting, you are not even expected to thank the tripper.
Last Friday i got this TOR (Twin Oaks Request)
i believe it is the first one Willow has ever written, it is certainly the first one i have ever gotten. And my immediate thought was “He might stay.”
i have always assumed that Willow would in his later teens go off and do something that might result in him never returning to the commune. In the last few years he has talked about becoming a lawyer. This is after some years of him saying he was never going to go to school. Parents who worry about their children’s college/employment plans before they are 15 are people who apparently don’t have enough to worry about. Kids change their minds.
But the emotional impact of getting this first TOR was significant. It was more than just a request for chips. It was Willow stepping into the complex set of systems which make the clockwork community of Twin Oaks work.
The last two teenagers who grew up at Twin Oaks did not go away to college, unlike the half dozen before them who all did. Instead they stayed and became adult members of the commune. [One of the most common questions we get at college speaking gigs about the communes is “What do you do about kids education?” For the college part, the answer is “We send them to college.” The community does not simply write a check for the totality of tuition, fees, room and board. Instead we go thru the entire financial aid package, do some combination of loans and grants and money from other places. But what we make sure is that any one of our kids who wants to can go to the school that they get accepted at.]
To go from a kid member to an adult member is a non-trivial jump. Your quota goes from something like 14 hours a week to 42. You need to do a three week visitor period, but you dont go thru the regular membership input process, instead, if you make full quota as a visitor after 3 weeks we simply accepted you as a member.
Until this TOR i had never really thought seriously about Willow following the lead of our most recent teens. When they became adult members they moved out of the residences where they grew up and where that their folks live, into different buildings in the community, where their parents did not live. It is worth pointing out that both of these kids continue to have fine relationships with their folks. And it is some type of vote of confidence that the commune is attractive enough to hold it’s own kids.
i am guessing Willow won’t stay. He has an adventurous streak and will perhaps go see the world, or become a lawyer, or a lion tamer. But who knows. Kids change their minds.
The title of this post comes from an interview with former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. When asked why he was seeking a second term, having initially emphatically claimed he was only interested in one term as Secretary General he replied in part “Only stupid people don’t change their minds“