By Laurel Dawson
“Mama, what makes leaves fall?” I quickly try to recall my basic science facts about leaves. Struggling for accuracy I begin to stumble through my answer about chlorophyll, sunlight, and the leaf dying. The exact science eludes me and I fear passing on misinformation. I make a mental note to visit the library. I begin to say we can ask Papa because he readily and accurately recalls scientific facts when suddenly I stop myself. I remember there are many beautiful and correct ways to respond to a question and using scientific facts is only one of them.
I joyfully look at the fall day surrounding me and I feel the wonder in my little girls as the wind dances through the trees and the leaves float flutter to the ground. A thrill runs through me as the wind kisses my cheek and a leaf lands on my shoe. I stoop to touch the leaf on my foot and I ask its golden presence, “What makes you fall?”
My children echo, “Leaf, Leaf why do you fall?” Soon a poem is springing forth from us as we listen to the leaf’s answer. I grab a pen from my backpack and searching for paper, I find an old napkin. I quickly scribble our poem onto the napkin.
Leaf, leaf why do you fall?
I unfurl from branches
It is very fun
To unfurl from trees, everyone
I dance all day and every night
In all weather
When fall comes I float
To the ground
I fall down to the ground
It is nice and warm down there
In the tree it is very cold
It is cold way up in the air
So I float down
Dancing and twirling
Down to the nice warm ground
When we are done, we are leaves dancing with the wind toward home. We each choose a special leaf partner to dance with. At home we do crayon rubbings of the leaves.
Several days later I get a science book about leaves from the library and a collection of other leaf stories too. My struggle to instill the one right answer passes and my girls celebrate the magic of fall.
After our lovely leaf day, I feel less worry over providing right answers to the many curious and challenging questions my children ask me. It feels good to nurture their wonder and mine too.
A couple days later while pushing Eliza on a swing at the park she calls down to me, “Mama what would it be like to go through the blue sky? If you go through the blueness do you just come to more blue sky? What is the top like?”
Inadequate feelings race through me. I don’t know how to explain the universe. I pause to look at the sky. It is brilliant. Its blueness stretches on endlessly. I watch my little girl soar up into it and I understand that I do not have to explain the universe. I have to appreciate the question. I join Eliza on the swing and feel what it is like to fly up and up. We are giggling together now. She tries to guess what the sky feels like. Words like soft, silky, sky tumble out of her. I begin to wish for more than an old crumpled napkin to write her words down on. At home she paints an entire paper brilliant blue. The next time we are at the library we get books about the sky and I make sure to buy a small memo book to keep in my backpack.
When Chloe points out a wonderful hopping insect, I am prepared. “Mama,” she exclaims, “what is it?” I look and try to discern whether it is a grasshopper or a cricket. I can not remember which is which but rather than worry I pull out our notebook and she is soon drawing wonderful squiggly lines to show how the insect leaps and when she is done she jumps and jumps, filled with the insect’s energy. I write down some information about the insect from our observations and when we get home we are excited to pull out our insect book and discover it was a grasshopper.
Our memo notebook is now filled with our wondering and my girls are filled with the satisfaction of asking questions. Sometimes satisfaction comes from simply writing the questions down. Sometimes questions become poems, short stories, artwork and dance. Sometimes the wondering sends us running to the library for more information. Sometimes my girls want to hear stories from my own knowledge and experience. Sometimes it is me who is filled by theirs.
We were walking out on a wharf enjoying the sun setting low over the ocean when I began to wonder about waves and the tide. I knew wind and the moon were important in creating waves and tide but I could not remember how. Eliza wondered with me and soon we had a list of questions we were asking the waves. Chloe said, “Mama I will sing you a wave song.” She sang to me about waves, being blown by the wind beneath the moon as a mama loved her girl and her girl loved her mama.
I have come to understand it is not my job to know all the answers. It is my joy to hear the questions and support my children as they seek their own truths.
Laurel Dawson lives in Port Townsend, Washington with her husband Mike and their daughters Eliza (7) and Chloe (5). They are a homeschooling family.