Homeschooling Unpopular Interests

My kiddo has been into knives and weaponry since age 5. We found YouTube movies about Otzi the Iceman after wandering the Native American exhibit in the Denver Museum of Science and Nature. Next Wilder stared with awe at the ice age portion of our museum’s display. In my mind, he was creating a timeline, piecing together how the ancient weapons could have harmed anything so large as the mammoth bones we saw there. I could see his brain spin. Back home and weeks later, his explanations of how people could have lived then, how they hunted and stayed warm, felt bigger than his years. He’d clearly reviewed all the information mentally and formed a picture larger than he was given. In his play, he recreated ice age scenarios over and over.

I wondered, even then, what I was teaching him. And I’ve wrestled with that since.

How much of our interests is innate and how much is formed by the way others receive our voiced ideas? Did he only focus on weaponry because I allowed it? Or did it dovetail neatly from his adventuring in the outdoors and his interest in native people? Either way, people looked scared when he explained his interest in ancient tools and weapons, when they saw his stone adze. Friends looked sideways at me, eyebrows knit, as Wilder explained how the tools worked, how he made them.

From Otzi, he engineered all of the stone age tools he could find and then the iceman’s backpack. I googled videos on the regular and organized the forest trips where we found more sticks or stones perfectly shaped by water into wedges. We started a YouTube list. We forged ahead into Viking lore, making those weapons too, with sidebars for a family crest and painting symbols onto our yard, our rooms.

We branched into archery with the Vikings and followed them into the new world again, crafting bows and arrows, a native settlement in the yard with a fire pit and an ever-improving retinue of sheet-lined teepees. When shooting cardboard buffalo with his sister got old, we joined 4H to learn shooting safety, bought a “real” (recurve) bow, learned to make “real” arrows.

4H didn’t last long, but we upgraded our skills with precision. When we came home, Wilder crafted better bows, arrows that looked like artifacts from 100 years ago based on the native books we bought with arrow shapes delineated by tribe. We purchased leather to make legit sheaths, and even moccasins. Our wood shop expanded with Wilder’s skillset, and grew to include metal-working tools. We’ve been through ballistas and spear guns, battle axes and swords, all sizes and types of knives.

The knives worried me outright. I tried to funnel the direction into carving. That worked for a while, inspiring a love of hand tools and some excellent hand strength and dexterity.

I tried misdirection. I brought his attention to other ideas. Some stuck — and we dove into karate, guitar, parkour, fishing, cooking, drawing, and skateboarding. Others gained no traction. All along the way, the knives held staying power.

Drawing a knife that he can make from this scrap saw blade

I gave up. We visited hardware stores to look for metal shelving, bought scraps and bits of steel for his practice weapons. Finally we bought the belt grinder he needed to sharpen metal better. He has been dedicated to this craft, making knives, for the past year. Slowly his skill has improved, but often the change comes in bursts.

Last week, he decided to carve a wooden knife for his younger cousin, who’s getting into knives in a way he looks at with fondness and nostalgic even though he’s just 10. He came upstairs from the shop area after 30 minutes with a beautiful specimen: precise and skillful, perfectly shaped for serious play.

The knife he made for his cousin in 30 minutes

This week, Wilder decided to sell pretend knives on Etsy. I had an unused storefront from knitting and he needed to raise money for a Nerf gun real quick.

After days of wrestling with the problem of cash, working out how long it would take to save allowance, my determined child drew up plans for hand-carved knives. Inspired by the one he made his cousin out of an extra fence board, the budding entrepreneur made four more – exceptionally dull ones – to sell. We’ve listed them as “pretend” and “play kitchen” knives on Etsy. We’ll see if they sell. He’s hoping to one day own a knife company, and this feels like a grown-up start. He’s so excited!

And once again, I’m proud of his workmanship, the skill that he’s honed with relentless practice – often in direct opposition to my wishes. I’m certain his precision and determination will pan out in life, as these are deeply inlaid character traits now. But over the past few years, I’ve also grown into a passionate defender of his interests. It’s been worth the trust I placed in him, the weird detours we’ve taken through geography and history, the time reading and researching, and all of the money spent on bits of wood and steel.

Me, now: vegetarian, pacifist, and admirer of beautifully handcrafted knives.

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