I often feel... wait. Let me start over.
Most of the time, I feel as if I don't fit in, as an unschooler.
Before you go and start feeling sorry for my pitiful, misfit self, please know that I like my own company well enough that I'm okay with it. Truly. No one else lives (or rules) this life for me, and I am quite, quite alright with that!
There are some reasons I say that that seem pretty fundamental, to me.
I've never been to a conference. Not even sure that I ever will go.
I don't read on email lists (I did for maybe the first year plus -so nine years ago- but haven't in a long time.)
I am not active on unschooling facebook groups, (excepting my local one, on which I am very active, usually). Not only that, but I don't even read them much. Hardly ever, actually. I do have I'd say 95% unschoolers in my fb Friends list, so I am surrounded by lovely, creative, shiny, happy people. Who needs groups when you have that?
But there are reasons even more heretic than those, if you can believe it, and they are three:
-- I don't write Here's How It's Best Done posts. I write my thoughts and processes, sharing them openly, but they are always offered with encouragement for people to find their own way. Rather than admirers, I'd much, much rather people feel empowered and encouraged to write their lives for themselves.
-- I've never assumed and whole-heartedly subscribed to the oft presented idea "always learning".
Are you choking yet?
And, lastly, ... dun-dun-duuuuun!.....
-- I'm pretty sure we take time off.
Not being quite the swaggering pirate I imagine myself to be, I will now attempt to rectify any damage I've done, and try to explain. [She smiles.]
The first one's easy. As I said, the most important thing to me (if there are going to be readers of this bloggessing*) is that people think for themselves. Rather than wonder if they're good enough, I'd rather they were so filled up with Happy that they don't even care if they're doing it right. Because, really--if we're living that joyfully, and always seeking to live even more lovingly, how can we possibly be doing it wrong?
Hmm, the second one. Always learning. I gotta say, that one's up there with "Trust your child" for me.
Does that mean that I don't trust in my children's capabilities? No.
What it means is that I don't find it -them, the notions- to superficially be quite so simple a thing.
'Trusting' and 'always' to me seem so.... detached. Like I don't have to do anything. Like my children can be left alone, to fend for themselves. Like they can fill up their brains with all the things they need to know for a happy adulthood without my ever saying "Hey, check this out!" or some other suggestion or engagement offering.
That's not to say that they don't think without me. Of course they do. My children get loads and loads of time to themselves, without my input. And while we do our exploring together (whether it be at home, or out there) I am not the one behind their eyes, processing, learning, classifying, making mental notes. Nor do I think that's my business. What they do with their world and experiences is entirely up to them. It's the making of their own story.
But for me, checking in with them, being engaged with them is required feedback. I need it.
This unschooling gig -life- I've chosen is a large part of who I am, and I need to feel good about it. I want to feel happy about it. I want to feel engaged. I want to feel satisfied. I want to feel like I am doing it right.
Which brings me to the last part, and the real meaning of this meandering post.
We had had a few days of 'busy, together', and were driving down the mountain from skiing. I suppose we were talking about the day, and I think I asked if they wanted to go to The Leonardo (our local science, art, and tech museum) the next day--Trevy's been wanting to go.
"Can we have the day off, tomorrow?" asked Madeleine.
"D'you mean stay home?"
"Yeah... and just.... doing whatever. Whatever we want to do."
It's common to read that unschoolers don't need time off. Real unschoolers don't need summer vacation. Other unschoolers don't need any 'breaks' at all, do they?
Except that in that flashing insecurity, that moment of think this through, hurry, what I came to picture, relate to in my own life, was "she wants a day to lie abed all day, reading".
I love 'lie abed all day, reading' days. I take them as often as I need to.
"D'you mean a day to just lie about? Watch movies all day? Play on your tablet or computer? Rest?"
"Yes." said the girl. The girl who had been skiing for five hours straight. The girl who really needed a second cup of noodles, and didn't have one. The girl who got her fingers frozen the last few minutes of the day, while eating snow, and had a crying meltdown.
But the girl that also just wanted a day... a day when no one asked her if she wanted to play a game, or to come here real quick, or if she wanted to play with them, or go somewhere.
She just wanted to Be. Be in her own head, Be on her own terms. Just be.
This wasn't about me not doing it right. This wasn't about us, in general--criticism in how we explore and play.
Every unschooler I know, and associate with, experiences unschooling as more a matter of being hyper-engaged, rather than un-parenting. My favorite unschooling writers all go out of there way to make it clear that unschooling does not mean 'hands off', but rather something that feels like a life of Play... learning, laughing, exploring, creating--a life of being intrigued and curious.
And it is absolutely a world of autonomy, and personal yeses.
Unschooling is engaging. Inviting. Captivating. Passionate. Fun. Joyful. Fascinating, intriguing, interesting, pleasing, likable, and attractive.
It is also, at times, exhausting.
We overlook that, I think. It's why I have no qualms whatsoever telling people to take care of themselves. One thing I know for sure is that 'If you ain't got it, then you ain't got it to give'.
My 'days off' don't look like playing pet games on a ds or waching How To Train Your Dragon videos. They aren't long, uninterrupted hours of writing fan-fiction, doing pokemon research, and chitchatting on forums and on Steam.
They look like time spent in my room, listening to lectures, burning Goddess of the Moon incense, and mixing oil potions.
They look like listening to the big band radio station on Pandora, and sparklifying my home.
They look like spending the day hearth-side.
And they look like starting and finishing a five hundred page novel, never leaving my bed.
Delicious, soul-nourishing, all. I need these days as I need roadtrips to the desert, and books of stories about constellations.
So when Maddie requested a day off, after a superfast processing, her mother heard a non-accusing "Hands off, Mama".
Fair enough. I can do that.
I wasn't worried about her melting into the floor. Or into her computer screen.
I decided not to have my feelings hurt, or assume that just because she asked for some time to herself it didn't mean that our ordinary days and ways of play weren't to her liking.
It simply meant that she wanted time to be.
As it happened, after a morning spent with Curious George, she started doing.
"Mom. I need a clipboard. Don't we have clipboards?"
"Yes... here, I'll show you where they are."
"I need this chalk, too."
"Creating art? Chalk looks good on black or dark paper... want some?"
"No... this white will do. I'm not making art, I'm going to predict the weather."
Then she says she needs a flag, but no, the pirate flag (waving in the backyard) won't do, she wants a smaller one. "You could make a windsock," I suggested.
Very pleased with that sock, she is.
And soon her friend comes over, and she's giving her a report on her weather studies, then they're playing the rhythm game we made up, and now building with the citiblocs.
This morning (afternoon, now, I suppose) as I sit here and write, I keep smiling over the crepe paper of the sock tail, as it blows across the window.
When I came in here, this morning, I smiled over the mess they had made of yesterday's play... Ned's Head things scattered everywhere... Quiddler cards.... the voucher from our zoo's magazine that she found and read to me, prompting yesterday's discussion of how much she wanted to donate, and pressing me for how much I was going to donate....
But I digress. The point was not that Maddie was doing, on her own--we're at least hip-deep into this unschooling gig, after all these years, and know the way it works, well--but rather that we all need time and space to recalibrate. Whether we're learning, or not. Whether we're being productive, or not. Whether we're engaged, or making-believe we're a vegetable.
It is an abundant life. There is plenty of time for all of it, in our house. (Indeed, Pause is my word, this year.) None of our living gets done on a predetermined schedule, but rather by the beating of the heart or drum.... whether it's a house-sparklifying or a child's need to Go! or Run!, the soul or thing that needs our concerted attention in any moment is the one that gets it.
Sure, that means the rhythm gets a bit messy or unpredictable at times, but that's what makes life interesting, I think. Sometimes it's a melody we need to hum, and sometimes we need to rock and roll.
There is time, enough.
It just comes, when there is enough care,
There is room in this big life of ours for everything we need,
and that is good enough.
* I really, really don't like the word blog. When my friend Lisa commented the other day that I was a Bloggess, it sounded infinitely more lovely than 'blogger' or blog... and I decided that what I do here shall hereafter be known as bloggessing! : )