Lord of the Flies meets feminism

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.”)

62 Responses to “Lord of the Flies meets feminism”

  1. 1
    Keryn September 14, 2012 at 10:28 am #

    Oh, I love your Monkey. And his Hippie School. And your amazing way of telling stories.

  2. 2
    Mary_Flashlight September 14, 2012 at 10:29 am #

    Monkey is awesome, and probably the US could use such a negotiator!

  3. 3
    Niki September 14, 2012 at 10:31 am #

    This makes me want to go to Hippie School! And yay for Monkey the Peace Ambassador. Sounds like his head is screwed on a lot straighter than that of most kids (boys AND girls) his age.

  4. 4
    Zilla September 14, 2012 at 10:34 am #

    I like this post VERY MUCH…makes me smile. Thank you!

  5. 5
    Amy September 14, 2012 at 10:36 am #

    I may have squealed with delight at this post! I keep waiting on my employees to come back here to see what’s wrong with me! This is full of so much awesome!!

  6. 6
    Kelly September 14, 2012 at 10:39 am #

    I love your kid.

  7. 7
    Kathy September 14, 2012 at 10:47 am #

    Definitely full of awesome, that boy of yours. A different perspective is what he brings to this situation and I love the way he is trying to make it right for everyone. I hope he never loses that passion.

  8. 8
    Jill W. September 14, 2012 at 10:50 am #

    I want to go to Hippie School!!! And bravo for Monkey!

  9. 9
    Karen September 14, 2012 at 10:54 am #

    My heart! It has swolleneth from Monkey and Hippie School awesomeness! I’m taking solace in it on your behalf.

  10. 10
    Jennifer September 14, 2012 at 10:56 am #

    He needs to renegotiate the treaty and add in sanctions for violating parties. I’m guessing that would right up his “fairness” alley.

  11. 11
    Crickett September 14, 2012 at 11:01 am #

    Here’s to not hurting anyone! Ya know…let’s be REASONABLE here!!

  12. 12
    Karen R September 14, 2012 at 11:01 am #

    Go, Monkey! He has found his place.

  13. 13
    Nancy R September 14, 2012 at 11:02 am #

    “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…”

    HA! That’s going to have me giggling all day.

  14. 14
    Angela September 14, 2012 at 11:03 am #

    That is marvelous!!! I had stuff to do and thought it would be a quick read but couldn’t turn away. Monkey is awesome!!!

  15. 15
    Megan September 14, 2012 at 11:04 am #

    Fantastic!

    And I’m thinking seriously that I need to find a place to build me a fort. With a catapult…

  16. 16
    Arina September 14, 2012 at 11:07 am #

    Awesome. What a great kid, and what a great place for him.

  17. 17
    Kim September 14, 2012 at 11:08 am #

    Yay Monkey the peacekeeper! Wish we had hippie school here ~ sounds like an environment he would have done very well in when he was around Monkey’s age.

  18. 18
    Kim September 14, 2012 at 11:09 am #

    Oops, I mean that my son would have done very well in LOL

  19. 19
    Fairly Odd Mother September 14, 2012 at 11:14 am #

    Hippie School sounds awesome. As does Monkey. Love this story!

  20. 20
    RuthWells September 14, 2012 at 11:28 am #

    Wonderful story, and wonderful Monkey!

  21. 21
    Anna Marie September 14, 2012 at 11:33 am #

    I love that boy of yours.

  22. 22
    Paige September 14, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    Can we borrow Merry to start a Hippie School in California for my kids? You can keep her for a few more years, mine won’t be starting elementary school for a while.

    Although it occurs to me that we really ought to have some Hippie Schools here already…

  23. 23
    Crisanne September 14, 2012 at 12:18 pm #

    What a perfect little ray of sunshine during your storm! Love that boy. :)

  24. 24
    Anna September 14, 2012 at 12:21 pm #

    Monkey for POTUS!!!

  25. 25
    Sassy Apple September 14, 2012 at 12:24 pm #

    I’m in awe. For Monkey’s difficulties in only seeing the world in ‘black and white’ to become a positive instead of a negative. What an awesome school, terrific parents who chose it and one fabulous (not so little) boy.

  26. 26
    Javamom September 14, 2012 at 12:27 pm #

    That is so funny. I have a 7yo boy who is very concerned about right and wrong, up and down, black and white. There is no grey area for him. And he is so very deeply offended when something happens at recess or after school, like when someone who isn’t assigned a position in their soccer game suddenly comes in and starts kicking the ball. He’s just flabbergasted by this. How can this kid come and play without knowing who’s on whose team and we all waited our turn to be picked and the goal doesn’t count now and and and…

    I like your story. It shows promise in kids solving their problems, making their own choices, talking and learning (with help), Hippie School or Asperger or what have you aside.

  27. 27
    Lori N September 14, 2012 at 12:30 pm #

    Proud of Monkey!

    My kids are also learning the lesson of The Forts — I swear, different school, similar situation. There is something very special about the kids building their own spaces in the outdoors & figuring out how to negotiate co-existing peacefully. :)

  28. 28
    Hillary September 14, 2012 at 12:33 pm #

    I hope I can find the Maryland equivalent of Hippie School when it is time for my little boy to go to school. It sounds awesome. As does Monkey!

  29. 29
    Sonia September 14, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

    He’s growing up!

  30. 30
    Kris September 14, 2012 at 12:57 pm #

    Aaaw. That brought a tear to my eye! Take that, public school!

  31. 31
    Tenessa September 14, 2012 at 1:39 pm #

    I LOVE how changing the situation for kids (my Aspie especially) can reap rewards you didn’t even know you could have. Go MONKEY!!!

  32. 32
    Rachel September 14, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

    Monkey is awesome, that is all. =)

  33. 33
    Genevieve September 14, 2012 at 2:07 pm #

    Monkey the Peace Ambassador. Love it. What a terrific kid.

  34. 34
    lily September 14, 2012 at 2:14 pm #

    What a sweetheart your Monkey is?!

  35. 35
    Beverly September 14, 2012 at 2:18 pm #

    That Monkey is someone I’d very much like to meet. :)

  36. 36
    MichaelB September 14, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

    I know Aspies are known for being awkward in social situations, but Monkey has also been know to reacte/behave in a manner that is well beyond his years… So I can’t help but think that his “defection” is a pre-teen realizing that A) girls aren’t gross, and B)I can go hang with the girls and they want to hang with me, and C) no competition…

    Either way – GO MONKEY!

  37. 37
    Arnebya September 14, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

    I smile thinking of Hippie School. (I also giggle, because I am a 12 yr old boy who first read “how his defecation had been received” and immediately said Monky would never!).

  38. 38
    Kana September 14, 2012 at 3:23 pm #

    Every kid (read: person) has their strengths and weaknesses, I’m glad his strengths are beginning shine for all to see…the fine line beween how developmentally advanced a child is and what is in their character can get confused during those evaluatory periods of early education. We’re just given the benefit of the doubt when we’re adults!

    Confession time: Identifying Monkey as Piggy, the organizer-character from LOTF, left me with a hideous mental image of your son as some sort of pig-monkey composite. My apologies. He did not deserve that.

  39. 39
    g~ September 14, 2012 at 4:07 pm #

    I am thinking that as a fellow citizen of the Great State of The South, I may need information on this hippie school in about two years when my son gets of the middle school age.

  40. 40
    liv September 14, 2012 at 4:23 pm #

    you have the awesomest monkey. :)

  41. 41
    Jeanie September 14, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

    Bless Monkey and his sense of fairness. A good trait, if you ask me.

  42. 42
    Chuck September 14, 2012 at 5:23 pm #

    I remember reading about a catapault that could launch Buicks, once. It sounded cool. Maybe not as cool as hippie school is sounding, but still cool. Congrats to Monkey on his peacemaking skillz.

  43. 43
    Heather September 14, 2012 at 5:58 pm #

    That is such a great story. Way to go, Monkey man. A career in diplomacy? ;)

  44. 44
    Bryan September 14, 2012 at 7:57 pm #

    Your stories about Monkey give me hope for my very own Monkey Boy.

  45. 45
    Sharon September 14, 2012 at 8:22 pm #

    Lovely! Yes, I hate to encourage anyone to go into politics, but he could be the one honest government adviser, or social influence….
    catapults are great. have ‘em watch “Punkin Chunkin” from Discovery Channel.
    but, keep encouraging that diplomacy.
    you can have a contest, like the olympics, but without exclusion, like the para-olympics, but sort of exclusive – a swimmer is different than a curl-er, but they are both athletes.
    it’s hard, though. there is a time when boys need to be icky boys in a private setting on their own to wear the same underwear all week, and girls need to be girls on their own in a private setting to talk about john denver all week….sorry, very old girl scout, and not at all athletic.

  46. 46
    Korinthia Klein September 14, 2012 at 11:08 pm #

    That’s one great kid.

  47. 47
    Rocky Mountain Woman September 14, 2012 at 11:12 pm #

    I want to go to Hippie School!

  48. 48
    theresa September 15, 2012 at 1:27 am #

    so adorable!!!! and so glad Monkey has Hippie School

  49. 49
    Cele September 15, 2012 at 2:27 am #

    Mental image of Bossy and Elsie flying free over blue tarps – ah, the theatre of the mind – and a good Monkey story.

  50. 50
    Lynda M O September 15, 2012 at 2:41 am #

    Love love love: your son, your storytelling, Hippie School, peacekeepers wo keep the contract at the fore, gender mixing at any age (being a girl who got on better with boys as a younger person), and the environment in which you bring up your son to help him grow into the person he’s becoming. Blessings, Mir and Otto, and love to Chickadee.

  51. 51
    Reb September 15, 2012 at 4:26 am #

    Way to go, Monkey!

  52. 52
    Chris September 15, 2012 at 6:09 am #

    Good for Monkey and for Hippie school for giving him a place to show his strengths – love the thought of him as treaty negotiator before resigning to go to the “girls” fort – priceless

  53. 53
    susan September 15, 2012 at 9:16 am #

    This is totally making me wish we had a hippie school close.

  54. 54
    Tina September 15, 2012 at 10:43 am #

    Awww, now I want a Hippie School by me so I can send my monkey!

  55. 55
    diandra September 15, 2012 at 10:43 am #

    Your son is pretty much awesome.

  56. 56
    Janet September 15, 2012 at 1:50 pm #

    Oh, THAT is a wonderful story! Way to go, Monkey!

  57. 57
    Holly September 15, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

    Is 25 too old to go back to school? Because this school totally reminds me of the best days of summer during childhood.

  58. 58
    T. Clark September 15, 2012 at 9:04 pm #

    Hooray for Monkey! I’m so happy for him! What a great story!

  59. 59
    Heidi September 16, 2012 at 11:15 am #

    it basically called for the girls to be “less annoying” and the boys to “stop being buttheads.”

    —————————–

    HAHAHAHAHA!

  60. 60
    J from Ireland September 16, 2012 at 5:13 pm #

    Ah, I just LOVE Monkey. This has me really laughing out loud, he is hilarious. Look how far he has come, amazing, so delighted for him. Best wishes to you all especially Chickadee.

  61. 61
    Andrea September 17, 2012 at 8:59 am #

    That’s one amazing boy! I SO wish we had a hippie school here for my Superman…

  62. 62
    Katie in MA September 19, 2012 at 10:45 am #

    What I got from that is: Monkey is turning into the Awesome Young Adult we all knew he’d be; and holy (flying) cow – I want to play with those forts, too! Why can’t we have forts and recess at work?!

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