Hero and Le BoulangerDuring the holidays of 2008, as a family we came to the decision to homeschool our children for the remainder of this year. Moving a third of the way through the school year from southern California to Portland is a sizable disruption in education. However, we did send our youngest daughter, Hero, to school for several weeks and came away very unimpressed with the school she attended. Our experiences this time mirrored closely how we felt the first time we sent our older child, Delphina, to a public school here in 2003. Boredom with school, as it seemed was apparent, was not what we desired for Hero, to put it lightly.

Our days are filled with some structure but normally end up morphing into experiences and artistic forays. I’m not an ardent supporter of un-schooling as my rigidity refuses to allow for any such thing in any part of my daily life. But, a little relaxation in lieu of imparting creativity to my kids is perfectly fine in my eyes.

This morning I decided to move our workbook tasks to St. HonorĂ© Boulangerie for a change of scenery and to alleviate the aforementioned boredom. As Hero cracked her book open to work on a vocabulary list, behind her le boulanger began working on a batch of freshly proofed dough. Decked in a white skull cap and shirt, he looked more like an artist as opposed to an artisan. He caught Hero’s eye instantly as she took a moment to case the room. Workbook be damned, she got up and walked to take a seat at the counter to watch as if he had a gift-wrapped present for her. I began to stop her, but realized that her attentiveness to his work was in and of itself an education.

From her earliest days, Hero would pull on my pants leg and beg me to hold her in my arms as I cooked. Realizing full well that this was dangerous, I would most often tell her no, but even more so, she would coax me with forlorn countenance to merely hold her. After very tired arms holding a growing child, she became my “sous chef.” What else would she be, this sponge of all things food? Mind you, though, that she doesn’t have the biggest appetite, but does try now and then to expand her tasting horizons beyond cheese, bread, and chocolate. Hero is still interested in watching food prep no matter if it’s something she likes or not. This is profoundly child-like and eager – and I adore it.

I gathered our books and packed them away in my bag as I approached the bar to take my seat next to the baker-in-training. Apparently she’d already drilled le boulanger with questions regarding what he was making. As I watched curiously, Hero informed me that she relayed my story of ill-fate with my baguette attempt from the day before (they over-proofed, and a layer of gray residue from the half-sheet pan somehow adhered itself to the dough). The artist softly told me he often fails at baguette-making at home.

I felt a little better.

Hero and I watched as the dough was shaped and set to rest, shortly to become long tubes of delicious bread, light and crisp. I sipped my cappuccino wondering if I’d realized earlier in life my obsession with baking and food that I’d be the artist behind that counter, sensing every sour bouquet; wishing I’d found that path instead of where I am. Snapping back to reality, I realized that there was a man with a heavy French accent standing a few feet away from me, sipping on a thick, dark espresso. He laughed while speaking in French to an older, attractive woman and broke to tell le boulanger how good the loaves freshly removed from the massive clay oven smelled. “The smell – the smell is very important, eh?” Le boulanger nodded and shot half a smile.

Hero turned her sweet face to me and drew a long breath through her nose and nodded. “Yep, Dad, that guy is right. It smells so good.”

There are things that no book can ever hope to teach you.