Jessica Lahey is an educator, writer, and speaker. She writes about parenting and education for the New York Times, the Atlantic, and her own blog, Coming of Age in the Middle. Her book about why and how parents need to let their children fail, will be published by HarperCollins in 2014.
The trails around my home are so familiar to me that I avoid roots, adjust to slopes, and leap over fallen trees without breaking stride. I know the seasons of my territory; where some paths will be too muddy, when to avoid a mother bear’s favorite scratching tree, and which trails are best left untraveled during hunting season. I’ve been exploring the woods around my home in Lyme Center for years, and I thought I knew everything about them.
A teacher’s year is quantified by the same measures as a layman’s year; it divides up by the same three hundred and sixty five - give or take a leap - then the smaller twenty-four, and more minute sixty, but these measures are where the similarity ends.
Three years ago, when he was eleven, my son Ben set down a very specific parental code of conduct we’d be expected to follow at summer camp drop-off. We could say our goodbyes at home, but once we arrived at camp, any displays of affection, attempts to make his bed, arrange his things, or force premature familiarity with his cabin mates would be strictly prohibited.
The day before my first date with the Robie Farm dairy herd, Lee Robie gave me some last words of wisdom. “Don’t wear your best underwear,” he said.
Thus ended my romantic vision of farm life wherein the farmer walks on to his porch, clutching his coffee in the gentle dawn light, smiling as he gazes down on his herd, ambling home from verdant summer pastures.
But here’s what I learned: there is no gentle dawn light at four AM, and the cows do not amble home of their own accord. They amble home when the farmer speaks loudly and carries a big stick.