A Few Thoughts on Freedom, and Chocolate Cake!

I’ve been contemplating the meaning of freedom quite a bit lately, and how it applies to our new nomadic lifestyle.

Our ooey gooey hot and fudgy chocolate pudding cake–YUM!


I first dug into the important distinction between positive and negative freedoms when reading about A.S. Neill’s democratic school – aka ‘free school’ – called Summerhill. Years before we opened our international Montessori school in Japan, a friend had passed along Neill’s book of the same name (subtitled A New View of Childhood), and I whipped through its almost-400 pages in just two days.

The book highlights a radically different approach to children and learning.

As a Montessorian, I have studied hundreds of children at work, and encouraged them to explore their own freedom in a variety of learning environments for decades. Summerhill was my introduction to the democratic school movement, and it drew my attention to the differences between the freedom “to” and the freedom “from” in early childhood education, shedding new light on all my years of observation.

Take, for instance, our recent family experience of making a chocolate cake for dessert. This was a distinct exercise in giving our son the freedom to indulge in creating and eating a favorite sweet, but it had a surprising side effect: I found myself noticing where I hesitated to claim my own freedom.

Our Little Sous insisted on tasting everything!

And I do mean every little thing, right down to the baking powder. Each and every individual ingredient, as well as every in-between stage of the batter during the mixing process had to be tested–a quality control matter he relished. I found myself mentally posing questions such as “When did I stop being curious about the individual flavors of all my ingredients?” and “What more could I learn about the ways in which a dish comes together if I explored each separate component with the same curiosity that my 6-year-old displayed?”

Along with the freedom to do and to try, to taste and to make, my son was exercising his freedom to ENJOY.

My laptop sat on the counter, half-forgotten and slowly disappearing amongst a growing collection of mixing bowls, measuring cups, and utensils. I watched as Our Little Sous would carefully read the recipe, then measure his required ingredients with precision while generously adding a double dash of this or an extra pinch of that. At one point I had to take out my camera so I could capture his chocolate-smeared face and the zest with which he had fully immersed himself in this experience.

Ugh, mom! Do you really have to take another picture of me?!


My husband, our patient Chef de Partie, hung back out of the way.

An amused smirk lingered on his lips as he stood back and calmly observed, quietly awaiting further instruction. Of course, he was ready to lend a helping hand when Our Little Sous asked for his assistance.


Spending an hour bustling and bumping around each other in the hot kitchen was a joy because we had the freedom to spend that time together. There was no rush to get through dinner and a bedtime routine to ensure we could wake up in time for school and work the following morning.

I think I might have enjoyed the process of making this cake as much as I delighted in devouring it.

Perhaps even more so now, as I relive the casual camaraderie we shared as we jostled and joked with each other, leisurely pulling together both a fantastic meal and a delicious dessert which we all enjoyed immensely.

That says a lot, by the way, because we all *love* chocolate cake!

In fact, we’d made a different kind of chocolate cake just the week before, but it had been quite a while since we’d made this particular variety. We were still in Japan then, before we’d made the leap to nomadic living.

And this appreciation of our positive freedom—the freedom to take time, to laugh, to bake, to get messy—is directly related to our acknowledgement of the negative freedoms in our life.

“My own criterion of success is the ability to work joyfully and to live positively.”

–A.S. Neill, Summerhill

Our new lifestyle offers us freedom from the clock. Freedom from externally-imposed schedules. Freedom from outside pressures demanding our time or attention. And in the kitchen, I was reminded that we have freedom from the rigidity of a recipe’s rules.

How do you prepare your cake pans? This is Our Little Sous’ hands-on method!

We didn’t have the brown sugar, coffee, or bittersweet chocolate that the ingredient list called for in our recipe. No problem! We chose to substitute chopped pilloncillo, strong tea, and camel milk chocolate with extra cocoa powder. After all, those written instructions were just a guideline, not a decree.

When we remove our preconceived notions of following such obligations, from both our kitchens and our lives, we open ourselves up to the opportunity to experience so much more!

  • We have the freedom to taste anything and everything like it’s the first time (yes, even the baking powder).
  • We have the freedom to create something new and to share the excitement of executing our ideas together.
  • We have the freedom to change up the recipe, to remake the rules, and discover what happens when we do.

But it’s not all as easy as chocolate cake.

It’s difficult to encourage the exploration of freedom in a child when the world around him doesn’t respect him for the independent individual he is and is working to continually develop.

It’s challenging to nurture the natural curiosity in a child when the world we live in seeks to suppress the constant questioning, and to push for conformity.

And it can be a trial to tutor him in the ways of the world as it exists today, knowing that it is our responsibility to prepare him to be a leader in a world we can’t yet imagine!

Through it all, however, we always have the freedom to choose.

When we choose to dump in some extra baking powder or cocoa, and the cake comes out tasting a little strange, we learn. And we can choose again . . . differently next time.

Our freedom comes from a much deeper place than just our current circumstances. It’s more than our nomadic lifestyle, or even the hours laughing and joking in the kitchen. It begins with the mindset that we can achieve what we desire in life through hard work and determined action. It’s solidified when we make a conscious effort to live slowly in a society that champions those who rush, to follow our own winding path despite all arrows pointing to the straight and narrow one.

Our Little Sous pours hot tea over the cake mixture!


Freedom means trying something – and making mistakes along the way – but  trying again and again until we get the desired result.

Here in Our Kitchen Classroom, that might mean burned vegetables or inedible catastrophes, on occasion. It might mean entire meals end up in the trash. However,we recognize that these missteps are a crucial component on our journey toward attaining mastery. We are free to keep at it, learning more and more from each attempt. We are free from judgement at our failures, working again and again until we eventually succeed.

Freedom means embracing the full range of all of our emotions.

It is sharing the bountiful joys of our successes together. But it is also experiencing the full weight of disappointment when the soufflé collapses. It is the grunting and growling in hangry frustration when the roast takes two full hours to cook all the way through instead of just one like the recipe promised. It is crying out in pain when we cut our fingers because our eyes are squinting against the sulfurous burn of a sliced onion.

It means not viewing any of our feelings as bad or wrong simply because they’re uncomfortable, but stepping up to acknowledge them head on!

Freedom is taking the time and expending the energy to master a new skill because it is important to us that we do it ourselves, rather than depending on someone else to do it for us. It is learning to be self- sufficient, and using that knowledge to help care for others because we love and cherish them.

Freedom is releasing ourselves from bearing the burden of constant scrutiny of those who would have us deny our passions simply because they believe our purpose unworthy of persistent pursuit.

Freedom is creating something substantial with our hands and our minds and our hearts, and sharing that something special with our family and our friends – or even with complete strangers! – to nourish them in a variety of ways. It is a way to strengthen the ties that bind us together in harmony and in peace.

We find freedom in spending time doing something we love.

Our Little Sous loves whisking almost as much as he loves chocolate!

When we can share the fruits of our labor with those who appreciate it (and us), we are free to practice being present in our struggles as well as our successes. We are free to envision a festive future in which our dreams are realized. We are free to focus on taking the disciplined steps that will bring our dreams to life!

The contented smiles and moans of delight were a dream come true for me as our family sat around scooping up sweet spoonfuls of this special chocolate cake on that particular evening.

But my satisfaction didn’t just come from our enjoyment of the end product.

I realized that I was free to savor the entire process, from start to finish! Just as Our Little Sous was gleefully grabbing at every ingredient with gusto, sampling with a zest I’d nearly forgotten, he reminded me that I am free to do the same!

I AM FREE to giggle with child-like spontaneity, just because I’m happy!

I AM FREE to lick my fingers – and the beaters, and the bowl – just because it’s deliciously fun!

I AM FREE to bake and to share and to love, and to make the world a better place!


And in Our Kitchen Classroom, on this day, it all begins with a decadent and delicious chocolate cake.

What freedom have you forgotten that you still possess?

What freedom are you neglecting because it’s not the right time or you don’t think you’re ready?

How will you embrace and embody your freedom today? Tell us in the comments below!


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