Letting them grow up into who they are meant to be

There's always an exchange of stuff when my parents come to visit. Clothing, books, food, computer expertise, lotion and lip balm are a few things that come to mind.

But two weeks ago, when my parents left after coming to celebrate Easter with us, they took something most precious with them, our fourteen year old son.

They didn't take Laurent with them for a holiday, like they did when he was nine years old. Laurent is closer to being a man now, than he is a child. And so they whisked him off to Nova Scotia to do what men do, to work.

Not just any work, but to work with a craftsman builder and small business owner. To get an introduction to the building trade, learn a few skills, and earn a bit of money apprenticing for a month (maybe more?) with a master builder: my dad and his papa.

My dad, Derryl, has been a builder his whole life. He started his building career, as a young man, only four years older than Laurent is now.

By the time he was in his mid-twenties my dad owned his own construction business. And my childhood memories start, somewhere at age two or three, in the first house he built for our family.

During my growing up years Dad's business grew and his labors moved from the job site into an office where he was "the boss", as my brother and I explained to people who asked "what kind of work does your dad do?"

As a grown woman, I look back and see that Dad carried a lot responsibility on his shoulders, the wellbeing of his family and his employees.

He was my first employer, paying me to do office work. When my brother was old enough to work on a job site, he too worked for Dad. We both learned to work, working for our dad.

Owning and operating a business and the responsibility of employees and large building contracts (by my teen years Dad no longer built homes but commercial buildings all over central Alberta) started to suck the life-joy from my dad in his mid-life. By this point I was grown, married and starting my own family.

I wasn't there when my dad went through a period of depression. I was on the other side of the continent taking care of babies. But I felt his pain on our visits and in our conversations.

It was a great relief to me when he decided enough and that it was time for a change. The need for a change, the dream of life on the water, and the desire to be closer to their eastern-dwelling children moved my parents out to Nova Scotia eight years ago.

When my parents started their life again in Nova Scotia in their mid-fifties, my dad went back to his first love - working with his hands on small scale building projects.

My dad is intelligent, he's extroverted and genuinely interested in people, he's an incredibly hard-worker, he's generous, and he builds to a standard of beauty, detail and workmanship reminiscent of previous eras. He is an artisan builder.

He didn't go to school to be a builder. He has a high school education. Everything he's knows about building, and trust me, at sixty-two he knows a lot, he has learned by doing.

At a young age I was building toys that my parents could not afford to buy and in grade 5-6 I built a multi-level tree house, 25 feet above ground which the city made me take down due to it extending over the neighbours property! An early lesson in building without a permit??
I began designing and building multi-level rabbit cages with my dad's tools, which was the beginning of my own personal tool collection which has never ended.
In grade 9 my teacher told me it was unfortunate that the existing school curriculum did not allow me to follow the passion and desire that I had to build. I was stuck in a traditional educational system. By the end of my 11th grade I was assisting the wood working shop teacher with helping other students learn the trade.

Dad and I don't discuss educational philosophy very much, though my Dad definitely has a "philosophizing" bent, as do I. Educational philosophy is my passion, building is his.

It's funny that I've never clued into this before, but the decision to home educate my children as self-motivated learners in the path of interest-driven education was not just the product of my own careful research, observation, and inspiration.

The seeds of my children's interest-driven education were planted in me as the child of an autodidact.

I was raised by a self-motivated man, who was once an interest-driven boy, who sought out the resources and opportunities he could within the confines of his reality, to pursue his passion.

Traditional schooling was not the best fit for my dad but he made it work as best he could.

My learning style and intelligence types were a good fit for the school system. I was a "good" student and I liked school.

I was expected to do my best at school, and my studies were my responsibility, but there was no pressure to make honor roll or any specific grades. (I put enough pressure on myself that my parents certainly didn't need to add anymore.) If anything, my parents encouraged me to lighten up, and more than once I remember my dad telling me to take a break from my homework.

My parents didn't homeschool me. They didn't teach me read or write or how to do long division, but they taught me something else.

They taught me right from wrong. They taught me to do my best. They taught me faith through actions not empty words. They taught me how to work. They taught me integrity. They taught me how to stay married. They taught me how to love.

They taught me you learn to do by doing.

An apprenticeship for Laurent

It was on the trail, in Virginia, that we first discussed Laurent having a building apprenticeship with my dad. My parents had joined us for two weeks of hiking and at camp one night, or maybe it was during one of our breaks, Damien and I proposed the idea to Dad.

Laurent hasn't had a lot of exposure to building trades or skills and we wanted him to have the opportunity to learn a few things in that realm. Going to work with Papa for a time wasn't just about helping my dad or earning some money. It was to be about learning skills.

I'm pretty sure Laurent wouldn't go to work for just any builder. Construction building is not his driving passion the way it is my dad's. But Laurent loves to spend time with Papa making stuff. One of his fondest Nova Scotia memories is building the neighborhood wharf the summer we lived there.

My dad is at the stage in his life and his career where he has time to teach while he works. And the timing is perfect because he's currently working on his own project right now, building three retirement-living duplexes in Lunenburg.

Laurent has been connected to this particular project from the beginning as Papa commissioned him to design the site logo, Eric's Place.

The logo in progress

Eric's Place is named after my mom's Dad (my dad's father-in-law) who passed away last year. Naming this housing development after Grandpa is a tribute to his character and legacy. And the sign's design, which Laurent created according to Papa's specifications, is a remembrance of our family's Alberta roots and my grandfather's lifelong work, vocation and passion as a farmer.

Laurent is still a boy and can't fully appreciate the family story being written here, but I can.

By the time he was Laurent's age, my dad knew he wanted to be a builder. In his early twenties, as a young husband and father to a baby girl named Renee, my dad worked for his uncle's construction business, under the tutelage of his grandfather, my great-grandfather.

Dad was working hard to build a home and a livelihood for his young family. His grandfather, his mother's father, worked alongside him, teaching him more than how to build a house or a trade, but how to build a life. They shared family, faith, and a love for music. They shared a friendship.

I was four years old when my great-grandfather died at seventy years of age. He is a man I only know from pictures, from the stories I didn't pay enough attention to as a child, and from the love and esteem my father still has for him.

This is the family story that Laurent is being written into: grandfathers teaching grandsons, young men learning to work, learning skills, and how to support a family. This is a story Laurent he won't be able to fully appreciate till he is a man himself.

I don't know that Laurent will be a builder, but he will be a maker of some sort I have no doubt.

Like my father who was a builder from the time he was a child, Laurent is an artist. This is a gift, a talent he gets from Damien's side of the family. And as an interest-driven homeschooler he has had time to develop this gift.

Even now, busy though he is working with my dad, he shows us his latest watercolor painting over Skype and is hoping to spend his first earnings on new oil paints on this week's trip to Halifax.

An apprenticeship with my dad is partly about learning practical skills but it is about building relationship. It is about a boy learning how to be a man.

Damien and I know our children need more than us, they need elders to invest in their teenage years. We feel this is especially important for our tender-hearted, physically active, artistic, handsome, becoming-a-man son.

This is what I believe and yet I struggled to let him go.

Laurent has dyslexia and he didn't learn to really read, with solid comprehension, till age eleven.

For Laurent, delayed reading meant delayed writing. In a traditional classroom setting, reading and writing is key, even in the early grades, not just for those skills alone but so teachers can deliver and assess other knowledge and skills to a large group of students.

Homeschool is completely different, at least for us. I know, just by talking to my kids, what they understand and don't understand. I can tailor the materials we use to their needs, strengths and limitations. When they are little, I can read and write for them, as needed. This is fine for elementary years but my goal has been to move towards independence and skills-proficiency in their middle school years.

Laurent is at the end of his middle school years and we're not as far with his writing skills as I had hoped we'd be at this point.

Writing is a difficult skill, craft, and practice all around. Throw dyslexia into the mix and it's extra challenging.

I panicked a bit when we got home from the trail. My kids learned how to persevere through struggle to reach a goal but they forgot long division. And after six months in the woods, it seemed there were more gaps than solid footing in their written communication skills.

I view the middle years, roughly 10-14 years of age, as a time of increasing academics (though the methods I use are suited to my kids' interests and learning styles), with the goal of filling-in any gaps in foundational skills of reading, writing and math before my student's progress to scholar.

It feels like I have more "filling-in" to do with Laurent than I did with Celine.

But Laurent is nearly ready intellectually and emotionally for his scholar years. I see it in his self-initiative and the dissatisfaction with my leading.

(I've noticed that when my kids give me push-back in areas they never used to it's often because they are ready to progress is some way and I'm holding them back somehow. Teasing out where they need to progress and how I'm holding them back though is homeschool detective work.)

The time is coming, it's nearly here, for Laurent to steer his ship the way we gave the reins over to Celine. And I don't feel ready.

I've been trying to remember what it was like when we let Celine ditch my plans and make her own. I wasn't ready then either.

I'm never ready for the next stage. But they are and I have to let go.

One of things I'm coming to terms with is that my kids are not going to "learn" everything I had hoped to teach them before they graduate our homeschool, or before they move from middle school to scholar.

I've never operated under the assumption I can provide a well-rounded education. I don't even believe in that notion. Well-rounded according to whose standards? according to what metrics?

But still, I want to give my children more than I possibly have time, energy, or financial resources to provide. I want to empty myself of all the wisdom I've gained from years of trial and error and short-circuit for them the losses and painful lessons I've learned. I want to provide them with wise teachers and faithful friends. I want to fill them with good memories and root them in a strong family and faith identity.

I want to give them the moon and the stars.

I can't even wrap my brain around some of the skills and knowledge that Laurent and Celine possess. Their learning far exceeds the bounds of my experience in several areas. And I know my kids will not be illiterate, in either the basics or not-so-basics, but there comes a point where I have to say, "that's good enough, I've done the best I can with what I have."

There comes a point where I have to say, "you have my blessing, go".

Letting Laurent go work with Dad was one such release.

My son will probably never excel at spelling. His Papa isn't a natural speller either and it hasn't hindered him much. And there are so many things Laurent will not learn under my watch.

If Laurent grows up to be anything like my dad, however, in terms of his work ethic, faith in God, steadfastness in family-life, community engagement, and a drive to use the talents he's been given to their full measure, although I won't have been able to give him the moon and stars, he'll be salt of the earth.

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  • Nana

    Nana on April 20, 2015, 2:30 p.m.

    Beautifully written story and amongst many other things, a loving tribute to your Dad. Having Laurent here for this time is a gift in participating in his education/growing-up transition period. My feelings are all over the place - "yikes, you were up in the trusses, and using power tools!", to "was there enough food in your lunch today?", to "sure you can sleep in tomorrow, it's Saturday!" xo, Mom


  • Angi @ SchneiderPeeps

    Angi @ SchneiderPeeps on April 20, 2015, 3:26 p.m.

    What a wonderful tribute to your dad. and a great opoortunity for your son. Apprenticeships are hard to find these days, especially with men who are willing to really teach. It will be exciting to see what all comes from this time with his Papa. Thank you so much for sharing. 


    • renee

      renee on April 20, 2015, 3:29 p.m.

      Dad is one of my heroes and life mentors. And I have aspired my whole adult life to walk with the same character and faith that my parents have shown in their lives. 


  • Kathleen

    Kathleen on April 20, 2015, 4:48 p.m.

    This post brought tears to my eyes. What a beautiful tribute to your dad and to your son. You continue to inspire me as I walk along my own parenting path. Thank you.


  • Amber

    Amber on April 20, 2015, 5:44 p.m.

    What a wonderful post!  There is so much love and richness here.  

    My son (9) is someone who I think could very well be a builder - the things he is already constructing out on our property show quite a bit of careful thought and planning, and his willingness to keep improving on his designs and reconsidering when something doesn't work out as he would like it to impresses me and makes me proud.  He has opportunity to work with his dad occasionally, as well as his grandfather, but they are both more handy than craftsmen. But at least it is something!  

    And I hear you about the writing...  my kids have to do state testing at the end of the month and in reviewing the language arts test I found that he's expected to be writing paragraphs!  Paragraphs, in third grade!  How completely ridiculous.  If he could dictate it, he'd do wonderfully...  but typing something is going to be abysmal.  I know he'll get there, but he's definitely not there yet.  I'm not going to allow him to be tested this year, and thankfully I can do that.  But what a ridiculous system to expect something like that from someone his age.


  • maria cordner

    maria cordner on April 20, 2015, 9 p.m.

    Such a good read. This subject is lodged in my mind for some time now. Sometimes, I feel like you just take my brain in these long pondering walks. That is a good thing. I do my best thinking when I walk. Thanks, Renee!


  • Jenna

    Jenna on April 20, 2015, 9:10 p.m.

    Lovely writing. I have really been enjoying the positive and inspiring posts. Your writing is from the heart, and has great voice. Thanks for sharing your stories. I love them all!


  • Amy Smith

    Amy Smith on April 23, 2015, 4:02 p.m.

    Loved this post!  My 12 year old son did a one week apprenticeship with his grandfather building a garage last summer.  I was nervous about the power tools but I trust my Dad and I know I have to let my son have more responsibility too.  His favorite tool was the nail gun, of course.  It was such a wonderful experience for my son.  My Dad took him fishing too and I am so thankful that my son has a grandpa to mentor him in areas like this and in being an honorable hard working man like your father.  My son has mild dislexia and spelling is his weakest area.  I have to say that the IEW Student Writing Intensive B has been a big help in improving his writing skills since it breaks the writing process down into such manageable chunks.  I had heard so many good things about it but hesitated to buy because of cost.  I am glad I finally took the plunge this year.  I got it used for about half the price. 

    I have to add that Laurent is quite the artist!


  • Leonardo

    Leonardo on April 23, 2015, 11:31 p.m.

    ohhh Renee ! Excellent post . His family is  an inspiration and example for us.  i'm always looking  my email, waiting new posts. May God bless u more!

    I loved this quote :" It is about a boy learning how to be a man.    ...   " 

    Train up a child in the way he should go,And when he is old he will not depart from it.


  • Spalva

    Spalva on April 24, 2015, 6:22 a.m.

    You are so blessed to have a father like yours.   Truly blessed.

    My 15 year-old daughter (just had to go back and change 14 to 15...it's new!) is also an artist (she'll be doing IB Art).  But she is so many, many other things!  A musician, a robot programmer, a history buff, a theatre light and sound technician, a gifted poet.  Some days she's interested in studying the Classics, other days history, and still other days she's wants to do an apprenticeship in woodworking or become a watchmaker.  Interesting that languages don't figure in at all, considering her background.  I guess she's over it after five of them!  Who wouldn't be?  Mostly, when she looks at university webpages, at their programmes, she exclaims, "I want to do all of those together!"

    At this age there is still so much time to dabble, to really work out one's identity.  I have no idea what she'll do.  I'm thinking she'll have one or two career changes before she settles for life.  I see so many kids already boxed in by labels; it saddens me.  When should a kid settle down and choose?  I hope never!

    Anyway, exposing Laurent to something outside of art can only be a good thing, right? (I'm sure he does more than art -- smile).


  • Anastasia B

    Anastasia B on April 26, 2015, 5:45 p.m.

    What a blessing for your son to be able to do this! Kids that have such an opportunity are few and far between. I've read that because of such a huge empahasis on academics and "office jobs" in the past decade, there is a huge shortage of skilled workers that can actually do things with their hands! :)


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