One of the things I love most about Hippie School is that it exists just about a step and a half to the left of flat-out Lord of the Flies when the kids are playing outside. (And of course they play outside for hours each day, unlike those good ol’ fifteen-minute-long recesses at public school; and come to think of it, as a middle schooler, there’s no recess at all, of course.) The kids have gardens and forts and sometimes they go fishing and for a while they were big into catching turtles and building habitats for them. (I confess I found this slightly confusing. “Weren’t they ALREADY in a habitat? Like, where they lived?” I am such a killjoy.)
Part of my delight here is doubtless because—prior to Hippie School—Monkey was not so much an outdoorsy kid. When you have a host of sensory issues and poor coordination, it turns out that the notion of just running around outside is maybe not so appealing. So we all watched with great delight, last year, as Monkey inched along in progressing from “It’s too hot/the bugs are bothering me/everyone is too loud/I hate this” all the way to “Can we go outside now? I have things to do.” It was an awesome transformation to witness on a philosophical level, but also on a physical one—he’s now stronger and more coordinated. (Take THAT, years of occupational therapy!)
Of course, none of us knew this would launch Monkey’s career in diplomacy.
Of all the things to do outside at Hippie School—and there are many—the main attraction is unquestionably The Fort. Deep in the woods there is a fort the kids have been working on since last year, and it possesses all of the most important fort qualities, like that it has BOTH a foxhole-type component AND walls built up between the trees and such. There’s a bridge and a moat and various boobie traps. It also has various sorts of camouflage and different educational signs depending on recent events and who’s felt moved to tack something up nearby. (TRESPASSERS WILL BE CATAPULTED!!! was my favorite, but generally they’re pretty mild and limited to HALT and ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK.)
When the fort-building started last year, I think it was pretty much limited to the boys. Last year’s distribution of students skewed heavily boy-ward, so this didn’t seem particularly odd. The few times I was told about girls wanting to be involved, the stories seemed to indicate that eventually the boys made it unpleasant enough that the girls wandered off. There was a period of time when the fort was being ransacked at night by what appeared to be marauding teenagers, but that was eventually resolved after the kids took a picture of their littlest members looking VERY VERY SAD and wrote “It makes us really really super sad when you mess up our fort” and posted it out in the woods.
This year, Hippie School is all different. There’s almost twice as many students, and WHADDAYA KNOW, this year there are a lot more girls. And the girls wanted in on this fort business.
The boys… responded like boys. Ahem. And in very short order, the girls were building their own fort, because GEEZ, if the boys are going to be like THAT, who needs ‘em, anyway?
[Here let me remind you that this is Hippie School. Peace! Love! Understanding! Cooperation!! I may have wondered aloud, one day, if this wasn't the sort of gender-normed behavior many of us sought to escape when leaving public school, and Merry assured me that the kids were working out their own issues and they might surprise me. This is called foreshadowing.]
So Monkey was coming home with a tale of Fort Issues pretty much every day he went to school. There was a tarp they were using on their fort, see, and then one of the boys agreed to let the girls borrow it, but then another of the boys stole it back without even saying anything to the girls, and the girls were SO MAD. Monkey has a deep sense of indignant righteousness about pretty much everything, so I have to tell you that these stories quickly became the highlight of our dinner conversation. Monkey wasn’t participating in these shenanigans, he was just reporting them, and SEETHING. Because “It wasn’t fair for them to steal it back!” and “The girls asked really nicely and they were SO MEAN to them!”
Remembering what Merry had said to me about the kids working it out, I listened and occasionally asked questions. As the weeks wore on, Monkey became progressively more indignant over the boys’ behavior.
Then came the peace treaty. It was a Seriously Big Deal, and everyone contributed, and it was discussed in community meeting, and then worked on over the course of multiple days. According to Monkey, it basically called for the girls to be “less annoying” and the boys to “stop being buttheads.” I’m guessing it may have been worded differently, but that was the general gist.
“And then we had to have a peace ambassador go between camps and work out the details. It had to be someone neutral,” Monkey told us.
“Last time I checked, everyone at Hippie School was either male or female,” I noted. “How did you pick someone neutral?”
“They picked me,” he said, chest puffing up just a bit. “I mean, obviously I’m a boy, but I care more about people following the rules and also I’m pretty much the only boy who wasn’t awful to the girls, so it made sense for me to do it.”
Otto and I exchanged a look across the table. Our Monkey, Peace Ambassador. In case you haven’t been around here for a long while, this is the same kid who public school tried to tell us was incapable of negotiating compromise with his peers. And now he’s practically a pint-sized Ghandi (okay, slight exaggeration, BUT STILL). It turns out that deeply-felt sense of FAIRNESS might be harnessed for good, after all.
The treaty was eventually completed, and signed by all involved. Peace reigned for about… a week. If that.
Monkey came home in a huff one day. “You will NEVER BELIEVE what the boys are doing,” he told me, dropping his backpack on the floor of my office and not even bothering with his customary need to pounce on the dog the moment she appears. “They are totally VIOLATING THE PEACE TREATY.” I spun around in my chair and considered making some popcorn to go along with the show that was surely about to unfold, but thought better of it. Instead I asked him to have a seat and tell me about it.
WELL. Apparently the treaty had sought to make everything fair, of course, and they’d done things like taken some money from the supply fund to go buy another tarp, so that both forts could have one and there would be no fighting. And there were little orange border flags, too, to mark boundaries so there would be no confusion over where one was encroaching on enemy territory.
“But the boys MOVED ALL THE FLAGS,” Monkey sputtered, gesturing wildly, his arms not sufficient to communicate the horror of this situation. “They moved them out SO FAR that the girls can’t even GET to their fort without supposedly crossing over into the boys’ area, and then the boys attack with the catapult when they do.”
Here I interrupted to ask about the catapult. I had a Monty-Python-esque mental picture of a giant trebuchet flinging cows, and I was concerned. It turns out that the catapult in question is homemade and fairly small—capable of flinging dirt clods. Not pleasant, but not bovine cruelty level aggression, either.
I listened as he catalogued the many ways in which the boys were SO VERY WRONG and GOING BACK ON THEIR WORD and when he wound down a little bit, I asked him what HE had done.
“I resigned from the boys’ fort. I’m part of the girls’ fort, now. I don’t want to be a part of that.” I congratulated him on the courage of his convictions, being careful not to make too big a deal of it. I did ask how his defection had been received, and apparently outside of fort-warfare time, the boys are perfectly okay with it. (One of the things I love about Hippie School is that they seem really good about staying in the moment, a.k.a not holding grudges.) And the girls seem to feel vindicated that one of the enemy recognized the problem; they welcomed him with open arms. Or maybe they were just happy to have a member who knows all of the boys’ secrets. Hard to say.
“You know, Mom, I’m starting to think the girls are a lot more reasonable than the boys sometimes.” It was a proud moment. Heh. I did point out that this is not a boy/girl thing, but a feeling-passionate-about-something thing (I suspect the boys are more “into” the whole fort thing than the girls) and a territorial thing (and I reminded him that while the boys are grabbing ground during fort time, he’s complained to me before about the politics of girls insisting on who’s allowed to be friends with whom, etc.). Still. For a 12-year-old boy to leave his crew to join the girls because they’re being “a lot more reasonable” is kind of a big deal, I’m thinking.
In summary: I just like that kid a lot. Also, I told him that if I ever find out he catapulted a dirt clod at anyone he’d be grounded for a month. (He took it well. “Why would I do that? THAT MIGHT HURT SOMEONE.”)