How Holly Takes the World for Granted

First appeared in March-April 2002 issue of Home Education Magazine (but the photo was added later)

 photo ab5b1062-98ec-4b2a-9f99-08933a7aec57.jpg There is a photo of me, with a column I wrote, in the November/December issue of HEM. Holly, at nine, took the photo. She took lots of me, with a disposable camera, in a little wooded place of her choosing. She picked her favorites, and we sent them in.

So I took the just-arrived issue to her and showed her the cover, and then page 56, and said "Look! They used one of the pictures you took!"

She looked at it, looked at me, smiled (somewhere between wanly and half-heartedly) and said "Cool! Thanks for showing me that." And she went back to the pattern-puzzle she was working in her lap (one of those with the cars, I think—Rush Hour) and to the TV show she was watching.

Okay then.

Being published in an international magazine doesn't thrill her. It still thrills me when my name's in the fine print in a regional newsletter, so maybe I know how big the world is and she (at nine) doesn't. Or maybe I'm more easily thrilled.

But I think Holly takes the world for granted. And why not? The world is hers.

The world wasn't mine when I was little. It belonged to grownups, and I was told how to sit, what to say, what to eat and how to hold the spoon. I was told where to play, who with, and how long. If I got dirty or tore my clothes I was in trouble. I was told what was good and what was bad.

Holly takes the world for granted, and I'm thrilled about that.

One of my online friends, Anne Ohman, wrote this and gave me permission to quote it: "I know that when I sat in a Catholic church and the priest asked me to repeat, "Lord, I am not Worthy to Receive You..." I knew it wasn't My Truth. I HAD to believe I was worthy...even though this was the message I was receiving everywhere...home, school, church...I just HAD to hold onto the tiniest glimmer of Hope that I WAS worthy of the beautiful gifts of Life."

I remember once I was a teenager, walking with several friends of mine, going north on Lower San Pedro Road, which parallels the Rio Grande in Espanola. We were walking slowly, playing with sticks and rocks. I don't remember what the subject matter was, but I said "I wonder how they do it in the REAL world." One of them said "This IS the real world."

I didn't quite believe it.

There I was with Jon Tsosie, from Santa Clara Pueblo, across the river; and DiAna Trujillo, whose dad was in the Bataan death march (yet living up the road); and I think John DePaula was there that day, whose dad was from Queens, NY, and whose mom was from Trinidad, Colorado. Maybe another kid or two. I thought the real world was far from us. That we were spectators and marginal not-even characters.

Maybe I thought that if you were good in school, you could grow up and become a real adult with job. And if you were good in New Mexico, you could grow up and move to a more real place. But somehow I had the idea that "real" was elsewhere. And "important" was not me.

In the years since then I've slowly grown to have a much different point of view. But in Holly, when I showed her that picture, I saw that she doesn't worship "elsewhere" and she doesn't envy "other." She feels as real and as right as rain. "As right as rain." A natural, worthwhile, real part of everything around her.

My friend Mark grew up in North Dakota, and his relatives were of German farming families. They were Lutheran. There was no nonsense. The way that Mark was put in his small place was that he was told "You are full of yourself." It wasn't said in a positive or a good way. It was intended to be a deflating insult. Mark doesn't have children, but we've talked a lot about being and having children. He likes that my children are full of themselves, and full of the whole world.

Sometimes I'm jealous. Sometimes I think that it's a bad thing that Holly wasn't thrilled about being published. Then I think that maybe the main reason I am giddy at the idea of having my words in print is that it is evidence of reality. It means I am up and out of school, and I am no longer just in New Mexico. And then that awareness brings me full circle. Holly will not have to overcome the fear that she is unworthy.

I remember one of the icons of hippiedom, the Desiderata. It said "You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars." That was a radical thought in the 1960's, for some people. Belonging naturally to all that's around you. Being as solid and as real as a tree.

This is what unschooling, though, has done for Holly. She is not a student. She is Holly. She is not a fourth grader. She is Holly Dodd. She has been since birth, and she will be until or unless she decides to go by another name, but that will be her decision. The world is hers in a way that the world has never been mine, not even now as an adult. Sometimes I see myself as a messy amalgamation of experiences, certificates, test scores and labels, just come lately into the real world.

I see my children living full, real lives today, right now. I don't see them as students in preparation for life, who after a number of years and lessons might be considered "completed" or "graduated." It was a long way to come, and I never even had to move. I just had to look at what I considered to be real.

The Desiderata was written by Max Erhmann, and for those who missed it then or had it then and have missed it since, here it is:


Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars. You have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive God to be; and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

by Max Erhmann, 1927

The Desiderata is public domain.

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