Rolling along home in the big blue van, I put this question to my nine-year-old boy: “What do you think would happen if all electricity was gone, and not just for a few days, but for years at a time? What kind of knowledge and skills would be useful?” No internet, no refrigeration, no fans for the gas fireplace, no automobiles. He’d been resentful of my attempts to limit computer time, take the earbuds out, use his own creativity when he claimed to be “bored.” We agreed that making fire, hunting, cooking, fixing things, communicating, and helping people were essential. His answers were thoughtful, not forced. Just reasonable. Dad wouldn’t have the job he does, but would have to draw on other skills to help support the family. Food would be from the garden, heat from wood, clothes from what we made, and things would have to be made to last.
I’m asking his these questions to help him get at the truths he already knows, or can work out. I get into a groove–I’m on the right track, finally, I think. I’ve been frustrated about my kids’ transformation into modern consumers and loss of interest in manual work and creative pursuits. Now they have mobile devices and can hardly wait to become more dependent on them, it seems. I’ve been so uptight about it I’m unable to have a positive discussion with them about the need to unplug and work with one’s own resources. My oldest son, who used to wish there was no electricity, says I’m from the old days, and doesn’t mean it as a compliment. He ignores the finer points of my arguments (and the facts about how I live) and accuses me of being against all technology. Of course, with all this individuating going on, I don’t expect a “I see what you mean, Mom–you’re right as usual.” All I can do is keep up the static, so to speak.
In this relaxed moment with only J in the van with me, we start making connections. I always was better at questioning than preaching. It’s so natural I might even open up the discussion with my older ones this way. One at a time, I think. It’s the kind of questioning that aims to uncover essential truths, and the foundations of views and lifestyles. Sure, I want to bring them closer to what I see as truth, but also to help them see the reasonableness of it, if it is reasonable. And I’m the parent, with more wisdom, surely. I’ve lived more, read more, thought more. So I have more responsibility. Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. Or, he’ll eventually come back to it.
When I heard there was major flooding in the town near my parents home this fall, I didn’t worry about their electricity, water supply, or health. I knew they had stored water in the cistern, lots of vegetables and home preserves in the cellar, a wood stove and fuel, attentive and resourceful neighbors, and abundant personal reserves of other kinds. Same with Hurricane Katrina. They’re resilient. They showed me how to make a life from available ingredients, to be a producer, not just a consumer, to and pass on reusable materials, knowledge and ideas. To be suspicious of new fangled things that make us dependent on people and institutions that we may not always be able to depend on.
Will my kids be resilient when we as a society run out of cheap fuel and other limited resources? Will they be knowledgeable and skilled contributors to the local economy, and teach others what has been passed on to them? I hope I have enough time to do my part to equip them, or at least launch them in the right direction.