Saturday, May 16, 2015

August 26, 2009 Bzzzz


Today I found a ball of beeswax under my youngest daughter’s bed. She ran up, grabbing the golf-ball sized lump and cradling it in her hands. “Don’t you just love the smell?” she smiled, “I like to sniff this every night before I go to bed.”

Life as a homeschooler has been as simple and as complicated as that ball of wax. Life is easy and sweet, amazing in its reduction of the world down to utter basics. And at the same time, it is as intricate as a honeycomb, as full of life and business as a hive in the middle of summer. Our bees have taught us so much over the past year. Here is some of what we have gleaned from the life of our honeybees…

Life is simple when you do your basic duties.
We all have our chores, our responsibilities in our family. When a worker bee stops work, it does so because it dies. Those who do no work (the drones), are kicked out from the hive in the winter. Although our kids know we won’t kick them out (probably), they have been endlessly fascinated with the story of the drones who do no work, who hang out and get other bees to feed them. Not only are they kicked out of the hive come winter, if they dare to return then their wings are unceremoniously clipped off. Then they are carried to a far away place and dropped, never to be seen again. Life can be brutal. And yet, when you do what you are designed to do, there is a purpose to life. Each worker bee begins life by cleaning out its own cell, then helps those around it, feeding and cleaning to sustain the hive. As it ages, it enters a new stage of life, flying on its rounds each day, doing small menial jobs. Without those little bees each doing her own job, the hive would fail. Our family is like that. If Mom quit cooking dinner, if Daddy quit going to work, if we all quit working together and went our separate ways, our family would fail.

Nothing is free. But some rewards are worth the cost.
Honey is not free. Frames, smokers, bee boxes all cost money. Even if you find it “for free” in the forest, thousands of bees gave their life in pursuit of that honey. A single bee works her whole life to produce about a teaspoon of honey. As individuals, we may only do little things – not everyone is famous or important, at least not in the view of society as a whole. And yet… and yet. A single bee made a teaspoon of honey. A hive a bees made three gallons of honey. Imagine what a little girl could do by making some small contribution. Imagine a generation of little girls who can change the world, one teaspoon at a time.

Failure does not mean we quit – it just means we move on.
My husband has worked very hard to increase our bees and our subsequent honey production. Still, we have lost hives. He worked for hours one day, saving bees from the eaves of a house. He made them a beautiful new home. But the next week, they left. No honey, no thank you letters. It happens. Our kids were sad, but they quickly moved on as they saw us move on – time to take care of the hives we still have! Another hive had a queen that did not seem to be doing her job. My husband re-queened the hive (showing mercy by giving the old queen a new, tiny hive). Did we give up on the first hive when production stopped? No, our children saw the whole process and also observed the endpoint – two new hives, as the old queen decided that her new digs suited her perfectly! Life thows us curve balls – sometimes we lose, sometimes we win. In either case, we move on.

Simple tastes best.
Nothing in the world tastes as good as fresh honey. And it is the simplest of sugars, a monosaccharide. It is the only sugar, other than those in fresh fruit, that my children can eat. They are sad sometimes, when others eat foods that would harm them. So much in our society revolves around food, a fact which becomes unavoidably clear when you have children with multiple food allergies. And still – would I change it? No no no. Never. Would we have bees now if we could live the easy life, snacking on goldfish, ice cream and jelly beans? Probably not. And without our bees and our allergies, we would never have entered the truly simple life. I would have missed the joy in my kids eyes as they excitedly peer at returning bees in the spring, vying to see who spots the first full pollen sacks. I would have missed watching as they proudly explained the life cycle of the bees to their friends. I would have little girls who screamed as bees landed on their food, instead of little girls who lean in to see if it is one of their beloved honeybees. I would have missed running around wildly with a butterfly net, honing my skills as a beekeeper in my kitchen (always always close the windows if you are a beekeeper’s wife who is making honey candy on the stove). I would have missed the moment when they tasted that first sweet spoonful of honey that we spun out of the combs in our living room. I would have missed that moment when my five year old daughter said “Don’t you just love the smell? I like to sniff this every night before I go to bed,”

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