I’m a big maker. I’ve always had some craft project or another going on. I made my wedding dress (with a lot of help from my Mother-in-Law and her kickass Pfaff sewing machine that was 20 years old at the time and still sewed like it just came out of the box. And was powered by angels. On fluffy cloud wings. With harps playing in the background. That machine has survived a dozen moves from one end of the country to the other and is still made of unicorn dreams and fairy farts.). I made two kids (with help–credit where it’s due). I made most of the draperies in my house, and I’ve made a fair few costumes in my time (because you’re never too old to play dress-up).

The kids and I recently made a solar oven out of boxes, aluminum foil, and a piece of Plexiglas for the top. We’ve heated water, made rice, baked potatoes, and cooked biscuits in it. Mostly not-quite-all-the-way (which is why we’re only trying hot-dogs or meat that’s already been cooked). Sadly for us, our sunniest days happened in March (along with brisk winds that robbed us of heat). It’s hard to use a solar oven in a downpour. I don’t recommend it at all.

But something I’ve continually re-learned (and my kids are learning) about making things is that when you make something, you know how it works. Or how it’s supposed to work (we’ve had some failed experiments, too. Oh, my, yes we have). Even if you don’t know what you’re doing, you are not only learning that you can try different things to make something happen (like a shirt, or biscuits with raisins in them), but also learning that you are not helpless in the face of technology (even if that technology is as simple as “you need heat to cook a biscuit.”

For both me and my children, that knowledge–that we are not powerless in the face of technology, and that technology is not beyond our grasp–is just as valuable as knowing how the sun works. Perhaps more. Because my daughter’s birthday is here, and for her birthday, I could have been inundated with a list of demands fueled by an avarice only found in those turning six years old. Instead–oh, all right…sort of on the side–she still has things she MUST HAVE and I suppose that won’t change. While I’m still inundated by a long list of the Desires of the Id, some of those desires are less about what I must acquire to please Herself, and more about tasks that together, we must perform. She wants her own set of gardening tools. Mud boots so that she doesn’t get wet feet when traipsing through the woods. She wants permission to use the tools in Daddy’s workshop (there will be a Discussion on that one, but she will get her own ear and eye protection). And she wants “real stuff” – none of the kid plastic substitute toy whatevers. Toy kitchens and workshops hold her interest as long as their bright colors do, but she knows the industrial greens are the real deal, and she knows there’s a real stove and exactly what it does and how.

I have a kid with an incredible gift. In addition to all the ways she can and does ask, “Why?” she’s been given the gift of being able to ask, “Why not?”

And honestly, so have I. Most of the time, I do my writing while the kids are away, but every so often, I’ll ask them about a plot point I’m struggling with. Their answers prove very enlightening (not just because they usually involve Giant Robots, either). But their nature is to ask “why not?” Why wouldn’t he decide to run away from home if it was Very Bad that he stayed? Why couldn’t she figure out how to stop the zombies with a lot of rope, duct tape, and some baking soda? Couldn’t she make a net to trap them? How do you make a net anyway? Aren’t hammocks made of nets? Wouldn’t it be great to have a hammock between the two big trees in the backyard? How much string would we need? Can we get some next time we’re out?

Guess what new project I have in the hopper? We’re gonna need 18 balls of clothesline, two pieces of wood, some metal ‘S’ hooks, the Knots book, and two big trees with shady leaf canopies underneath ’em…

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