Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Everything's Harder When you Don't Feel Like Doing It

As I was tucking Macy, age 9, into bed last night, we had one of those sweet, late night conversations. Macy is my middle child and lives in the closet under the stairs. Seriously. Our house is small and we have had to get creative in figuring out how to fit three growing kids, a work from home mom, and various pets into our teeny, tiny 2 bedroom house. Macy was the perfect candidate for the Harry Potter room. It's a tight space and it's hard to fit all of her stuff in it, but she loves it.

When I tuck her in her bed at night I have to remember to crouch at just the right angle so as to avoid whacking the back of my neck on the doorway. Most days her stuff accumulates in her doorway and spills out into the living room. I end up kicking it back in so I can shut the door. At the end of the night, she has to wade through the pile to get to her bed and we have the same conversation each night as we are saying goodnight.

Macy: "Didn't I just clean this room?"
Me: "Seems like it, huh?"
Macy: "I'll do it first thing tomorrow, when it will be easier."
Me: "What about the morning makes it easier?"
Macy: "Everything's easier when you feel like doing it, you know?"
Me: "Yep, I know."

I got to thinking about the tasks that exist in my life that I rarely feel like doing: housework, filing papers, paying bills, reorganizing the growing pile of CDs on top of the stereo. And yet, regardless of my feelings about it, there are times when they must be done. In the course of a day, or a week, or even a month, they all, eventually, get done. But they are usually the tasks that are last on my list. Long after knitting, reading, running, writing, eating and sitting on the couch with the newspaper and a cup of tea. I try to remember this when I feel the need to pester my kids to get their things done. I know how it feels to not be in the mood. I'm often not in the mood.

A parent asked me the other day, "But what happens if my daughter never does want to learn how to read? What will I do then?" This is a parent who has been frustrated with her current schooling situation and wanted to know more about unschooling. Her daughter is creative and artistic and intelligent and could care less about reading. She's 8 years old. I suppose you could say it's last of her list. I feel for this mom, I really do. It must be agonizing to wonder if it really is possible to let go and trust kids to learn what they want, how they want, and when they want to.

"What if I regret unschooling later?" she asked. The answer for me is simple. I have always said that we will unschool as long as it is working. As soon as it isn't working anymore, we'll stop. I secretly know that this day will never come. My kids may decide someday that they're missing out, or there is something they want that school has to offer. I've told myself this may happen. When that day comes, I have told myself that if I truly am an unschooler, I will let them go. I will support them as best I can. And I will be ready and waiting when, and if, they decide to come back home.

Will this sweet, bright, artistic 8 year old never want to learn to read? I doubt it. But if she were my daughter, I suppose I would many, many more years before worrying about that eventuality. Unschooling has taught me to keep the focus on today. Do my children have what they need today? The answer is yes, for the most part. Macy's room is still messy. The pile of papers and unpaid bills still lies on my desk. Everything's harder when you don't feel like doing it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Better than Christmas

We could hardly sleep last night. This morning we all jumped out of bed and hurried through breakfast. The kids looked like they had ants in their pants as we walked to the bus stop. We giggled and grinned and couldn't wait for the doors to open. We waited six very long months and it finally happened: Our town's library re-opened today.

Some of you may have read my post a few months ago about the controversy surrounding the closure. After ballot measures, failed levies, passed levies, community meetings, and letters to the editor, we have our libraries once again. They're just not public anymore. Our county decided to out source our library system to a company in Maryland to keep costs down. We've apparently got 3 years before we have to figure something else out. This is not good news. I can no longer refer to our library as public. We now visit the private library. It just doesn't feel right.

As we waited excitedly on the front steps of the building this morning, newspaper and radio reporters swirled around interviewing us. The kids were too excited to sit still, but I agreed to answer a few questions. I did say that it felt a lot like Christmas morning. The anticipation of waiting for months to have access to all those books, magazines, tapes, CDs, movies, and newspapers once again was amazing. I can't even count the number of times over the past six months that I had to stop myself mid-sentence as I suggested to the kids that we head to the library to find out more about something cool we were curious about. It was heartbreaking.

I explained to the reporters that it was bizarre to think that this is time in our lives our kids would remember as The time we had no libraries. What does that say about our priorities? What does that say about our culture? Our government? I was asked if we found ourselves using the internet more often over the past 6 months to fill our library needs. This question really irked me. The argument that our society no longer needs libraries because of the internet will never, ever fly with me. A warm, dry, safe gathering place, that does not charge admission for use, full of public information could never be replaced by the internet. Sure, we can Google milkweed pods when we want to know more, but we can actually go to the library and get so much more.

At 10 o'clock sharp, the doors were unlocked. As the kids walked through the doors my eyes filled up with tears. It was like coming home again. They walked right past the juice and cookies as they made a bee line for the children's section. Within 10 minutes, our towering stack of books was teetering on the edge of the table, while magazines and books on tape were spilling out of my bag and onto the floor. The shelves were overflowing. I hadn't really considered the fact that this would be the one time that all library materials would be on the shelves and not in circulation. The movie section looked like a video store! It was hard to not grab everything in sight. As the kids settled in, I headed upstairs with my wish list. All of my choices were there! It really was like Christmas! When we finally checked out later, a reporter asked us how many items we'd checked out. We counted over 60 items!!!

As we made our way home and interacted with neighbors and friends, there were knowing smiles and a buzz in the air. The library? Have you been? Did you go? Were you there? Is it true? By late afternoon, we just had to go back. I reminded the kids that the library would indeed be open tomorrow, and many days after that. But we had to go back. So we did. Just a few more books, okay Mom? You bet. Living life without school means we have loads of time to hang out at the library. It's been a long six months. I'm not happy about the solution our County Commissioners came up with, but I am very grateful to have our libraries open once again.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Perpetual Field Trip

Unschooling, for us, is really just like one big field trip. We take our time in the mornings, but once we're up and out, we are on the go most of the time. There's just so much to see and do and so little time. It' s a big, wide world out there, and we don't want to miss a thing. I think that if my kids ever had to go to school, that would be the hardest part. Losing all those hours every day of doing what we want to do, when we want to do it.

Tonight we went to see the movie In the Shadow of the Moon. It's a documentary by Ron Howard on the Apollo missions to the moon. It's very well done. Charley, who's 6, only got squirrely at the end. The movie is made up of television footage of the various missions as well as commentary by the astronauts who went to the moon. Talk about science and social studies lessons! I whispered in the kids' ears throughout most of the film, reading captions and explaining historical figures and important events. We kept the conversation going the whole way home, through dinner, and into bedtime. I'm sure we'll pick it back up at breakfast tomorrow as well. President Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., the Vietnam War, women's lib., the Civil Rights Movement. Test pilots, engineers, rockets, atmosphere, gravity. Phew. We've got a lot of material to cover. And it doesn't have to end because the bell rang or because the unit study is supposed to be over or because it's time to move on to the Renaissance. As long as it is interesting and fun, we'll keep on exploring, and we will all keep on learning. My kids and I have an unspoken contract in this life. I promise to never ask them to write a 5 paragraph essay on what they learned today. They promise to always let me know when they are done learning about something. It's that simple. Their cues aren't hard to miss.

As the credits rolled on the film, my friend and her sister packed up their things, while I asked the kids to help gather our trash as we inched down the aisle. Between my three and my friend's two kids, we were quite a sight, I'm sure. My friend's sister, not yet a parent, laughed as we followed them out of the theater, "Man, I feel like I've just chaperoned a field trip or something." Yep, that's pretty much it. Life is one big field trip.

I got the socialization question again the other day. "Aren't you worried about socialization if your kids aren't in school? How will they ever learn to be with other kids?" My answers? No. and: They will learn to be with other kids.... by being with other kids....in the world, not in a classroom! Tonight they learned to whisper in a darkened movie theater. They learned to pick up after themselves when the movie is over. They learned that the people behind you can't see when you prop your feet up on the seat in front of you. They learned that there is more money for popcorn when you bring drinks from home. They learned that movie theaters are often empty on school nights, and a whole lot more.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Good Stuff

Last night I was out with two other former teachers. I actually had no idea that either of the other women had been teachers, but the conversation eventually made it's way around to the fact that we had all, at some point in the past, taught elementary school kids. One of the women at the table knew that my kids didn't go to school. The questions began. I started out cautious, as I sometimes do, especially with teachers. Teachers work hard. Most teachers are creative and passionate and care a lot about kids and education. I tread lightly when admitting to a teacher that I don't send my kids to school. So, when she asked what curriculum I used, I told the truth. I just didn't admit from the get-go that not using someone else's curriculum meant that I wasn't staying up late every Sunday night creating my own. Good teachers do that.

But as the conversation progressed and we got to know one another a little better, I let my guard down and told the truth. No curriculum, no lessons, no grades, no tests. Only the good stuff. I explained that even in the most creative and alternative schools that I had the good fortune to teach in, the good stuff rarely came in the form of pre-planned lessons and texts. For me, as a teacher, and now as an unschooling mom, the good stuff is never planned. It's invariably the unplanned, the tangents, the brilliant conclusions kids draw for themselves without any help from an adult. It's that question that your child asks randomly in the car on the way to the grocery store. It's that milkweed pod that your son picks up on the walk home that inspires a quest to find out all you can about this groovy little plant. It's the hours and hours spent each day asking questions, answering questions, snuggling up and reading together, finding out, discovering the world, being curious. And not because anyone said you had to.

My friends agreed. We swapped stories about some of our best teaching moments and one theme rang true: Our best moments in the classroom were all about the kids. Those bright, empowered, amazing little people that were capable of anything. We all agreed that we had learned so much from those kids, that we, in fact had been the students, and they, our teachers in many ways. Even after this deep and meaningful conversation, I don't know that I converted anyone to become an unschooler. Living life without school makes lots and lots of people uncomfortable for many reasons. But I am aware that I must continue to put myself out there in these situations and tell the truth. My truth, that is. When I read statements like the one below from the NEA, I realize that I must educate others about the importance of parental choice in education. It seems that the National Educational Association in their 2007-2008 Resolutions has taken a stand against homeschooling.

It reads: "The National Education Association believes that home schooling programs based on parental choice cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience. When home schooling occurs, students enrolled must meet all state curricular requirements, including the taking and passing of assessments to ensure adequate academic progress. Home schooling should be limited to the children of the immediate family, with all expenses being borne by the parents/guardians. Instruction should be by persons who are licensed by the appropriate state education licensure agency, and a curriculum approved by the state department of education should be used.
The Association also believes that home-schooled students should not participate in any extracurricular activities in the public schools.
The Association further believes that local public school systems should have the authority to determine grade placement and/or credits earned toward graduation for students entering or re-entering the public school setting from a home school setting."

Statements like this remind me that we've got some educating to do. Don't be afraid to speak out about your right to choose the best way to educate your child. If you're inspired and want to make a difference, sign the petition as well.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Pop Quiz

This morning a friend stopped by to show someone our house. This happens often. My neighbors and I built our homes in 2006 as part of a sweat equity program. People who have an interest in community development and affordable housing often want to see them. As I was telling our story and showing off our super-cool house, my friend noticed the large US map we have on the wall in the living room, and decided to give Macy, age 9, a geography quiz. He covered up the name Nebraska, and said, "Hey Macy, which state is this?" Macy stared at him unamused. For a split second, I panicked. She doesn't know that one. He's going to think I'm a horrible parent for not teaching her which state is Nebraska. He doesn't get unschooling. Maybe I should.... But before I could say a word, he asked her again, "Which state is this?" Macy didn't flinch. She looked him straight in the eye, "Why?" she asked. I relaxed. That's my girl. My friend smiled, "Excellent question."

The whole experience made me realize that because my kids have never been to school, they are not accustomed to being asked to regurgitate random bits of information. I honestly can't remember the last time a well meaning relative asked them to recite their times tables or to name the capital of Iowa. And I love that to them there is nothing shameful about not knowing the answer. My school-ish brain and fragile ego were the ones reacting to the pop quiz, not Macy. After all, why should she know the shape and placement of Nebraska? We've never been there. She doesn't know anyone who lives there. We haven't read a book lately that takes place there. Nebraska may be hanging on our wall, but up until today it hasn't been on our radar.

The other school-going 9 year olds in our town may very well be able to point out Nebraska on a US map, but that doesn't concern me a bit. Macy knows plenty of other states. She's traveled the West Coast, no doubt she could pick out CA, OR, and WA. Her grandparents live in CO and we've driven there lots, so I bet she can pick out AZ, UT, and WY as well. Her aunt and cousins live in HI and the long flight there this summer made us all chuckle at the improper way it is placed on the US map. Unschooling allows my kids to soak up whatever it is that we are doing in the moment and remember it because they want to, and because it's interesting. Not because they are going to be quizzed on it later.

Had I been the 9 year old asked by a family friend to name the unnamed state on a map, I would have died of embarrassment if I didn't know the answer. My face would have turned red and I would have wanted to crawl into a hole. I suppose there are probably unschoolers out there who might be concerned about answering a question correctly in a situation such as this. Personality can certainly play a role in how a child handles this situation, but I have to believe that sparing my kids from the need to memorize random bits of information for no other reason than to spit them back out for the pleasure of other adults is a pretty good thing. I also believe that empowering kids to ask "why" on a regular basis is a very, very good thing.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Me & Oprah

Tammy over at Just Enough and Nothing More posted the other day about a dream she had about appearing on Oprah. She was appearing to talk about homeschooling, of course, and in the dream she struggled to come up with something clear, clever and concise to say that would make sense to a television audience. As I composed my comment to her post, I got to thinking about the history of education in our country. It's amusing to me that anyone would be surprised by a family's choice to live life without school when sending kids off to school is such a relatively recent phenomenon. It wasn't that long ago that everyone was homeschooling. Compulsory school attendance didn't even exist in this country until the late1850s.

150 years just isn't that long, in the scheme of things. Actually, school should really be considered still in the experimental phase. Still working the kinks out, so to speak. I think Oprah could appreciate that.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Hey You Gu-uys!

Remember The Electric Company? It came out in the early 70s in response to a challenge the US Department of Education put out to the creators of Sesame Street: Teach kids to read on television. And for those of us who were watching TV in the early 70s, it worked! We rented The Best of The Electric Company recently. I was feeling nostalgic for the way television used to be and wanted to show my kids a bit of my childhood. Charley (age 6) watched it first. He came downstairs after about 20 minutes with a scowl on his face. "They're just trying to teach me to read, Mom. It's so boring." I was crushed. Was it really that bad? A few days passed and I still hadn't watched it, but I was curious. Macy (age 9) and I just watched a few episodes. It rocks.

I mean, who wouldn't want to have Morgan Freeman and Bill Cosby as their reading teachers? There's no question that the graphics and technology are way outdated, but the content and approach is right on.....an unschooler's paradise, really. It's funny, logical, and doesn't assume an audience of idiots. If only children's television today could be half as clever. In a 20 minute episode, Macy figured out the difference between hard and soft C sounds and the purpose of punctuation. She got the jokes and immediately tuned in to the repetitive nature of the sketches. It makes sense to me why Charley was bored by it. Although he says he wishes he could read, he totally not ready. He's far too active and physical right now to be bothered with sitting down with a book and figuring out how to decode words. Macy, on the other hand is primed and ready.

Macy began asking to learn to read about a year ago. In that time, we have sat down together on the couch with a stack of easy readers a half dozen times, so that she could practice reading to me. We only do that because she wants to. I have no other agenda except to cuddle up on the couch next to my sweet middle child and give her my full, undivided attention. A few weeks go by, I ask if she wants to read to me, and sometimes she does and sometimes she doesn't. As an unschooler, I don't believe that she needs me to do any more than that. If mAcy were in school, she would have learned to read three years ago. But at what cost? Our days without school are filled with questions and answers and investigating and exploring whatever comes our way, so it's not like we sit around and stare at the wall. We read together often throughout the day. I point out words and billboards and signs and print around us in the world all the time. There is no way my kids are not going to learn how to read. Janey (age 11) did, Macy is on her way, and no doubt, when he's ready, Charley will follow. Genius programming like The Electric Company just makes it more interesting.

I wonder if the "education experts" who wrote those first few episodes of The Electric Company had any idea how aligned their approach would be with unschooling. I'm sure they didn't. They were just meeting a challenge from the suits at the Dept. of Ed. to make learning novel and fun...imagine that? Sketch comedy, groovy music, singing, dancing. It's brilliant. Wouldn't we all want to do it, if it were fun? That's what gets me about so many people's idea of what "real" or "valuable" learning is. It can't be fun, it can't be easy or come naturally. It has to be difficult and painful, or it's not valuable. Maybe this comes from the idea that anything worth having must be hard to get. For me, the hard and difficult part only makes sense if it is something that the potential learner wants. If I want to learn to play the piano, the daily practice and difficulty of learning new pieces of music makes sense. It's something I want. Therefore, the difficulty, and the work, fits into my greater purpose: to learn to play the piano. If I don't want to learn to play the piano, it makes no sense.

Charley still thinks The Electric Company is boring. That's fine. He can do something else while we're laughing and the girls are secretly learning the rules of the English language. And maybe he'll wander in at just the right time and get something out of the program he may not have gotten another way. And maybe not. But no one is going to tell him it's time to sit down and watch and learn. He gets to decide. In the meantime, I'll re-live my childhood and giggle while much younger versions of Rita Moreno, Bill Cosby, and Morgan Freeman help me keep learning about words fun for my kids.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Community, At Last!

In my six years of calling myself an unschooler I have often felt like a bit of a freak. Even amongst many of my homeschooling friends, I have often been a bit of an outsider. No curriculum, no tests, no lessons at the kitchen table. It makes people uncomfortable. As I watched friends and neighbors dip in and out of unschooling, varieties of homeschooling, school at home, and alternative-type schools, I stayed fast. I got used to being a party of one, so to speak, and each summer anxiously awaited the HSC homeschooling conference where I was first introduced to the term unschooling and realized that what I'd believed all along actually had a name.

At the conference I am surrounded by hundreds of other homeschoolers. Parents, young children, teenagers, toddlers, babies, young adults, all homeschoolers, many of them unschoolers. It is heaven. This summer as I was driving home from the conference, I reflected on what exactly it was that made me feel so grounded at the conference. It didn't take long for me to see that it was the amazing sense of community. Sitting by the pool with other moms and dads talking about living a life without school. Asking a parent of older teenagers to tell me about what it was like for them. Listening to experienced panelists and key note speakers share how they have lived for years. Laughing, crying, living and breathing life without school. It is an awesome experience.

As I got closer and closer to home, I got sad. Where was my unschooling community? Why couldn't I experience tat sense of support and belonging right here at home? As summer turned to fall, I started talking about my desire to create an unschooling community. I was thrilled to find that others were looking for the same. One day my daughter was dropped off by another homeschooling mom. I had no idea what her particular homeschooling flavor was, but I asked, "Would you be interested in joining a homeschoolers group?" Her eyes lit up and she laughed, "I've been dying to hang out with other homeschoolers!!" We quickly discovered that we'd both been longing for the same type of support and immediately set a date for our first meeting.

I just returned from that first meeting. We met at the park. It threatened to rain, but we were bundled up and determined to get to know one another. 9 parents, 20 kids and a desire to be in community. Some were skeptical that we would be able to come up with a regular meeting time that worked for everyone. Others expressed that if we really want to form a supportive community, we may have to sacrifice other commitments in the future to make it work. Big kids played with little kids, moms and dads shared snacks and swapped stories. It was a huge success. And we did find a meeting time that works for everyone. Well, almost everyone. Stay tuned. I've think I've found my unschooling community.

Read Me on LWoS Community Blog

My first post is now up on the Life Without School Community Blog. If you're curious about How I Became an Unschooler that's the place to look. It's also a fantastic site that features many different homeschooling and unschooling perspectives, really a great read. I am now a Featured Author, and will be posting there about once a month.....hooray!

This is a Riot

You really must take 4 minutes out of your life to watch this clip. If you are a mom, or had a mom, it is well worth it.....you will laugh out loud.

I found it on a cool blog called Hip Mama/Hip Babe.

Or watch it here.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

What's Your Motivation?

I had the opportunity to talk with a mom new to homeschooling today. She shared with me that the first 6 weeks have been good in lots of ways, but that she is really struggling with a few key issues. Like many new to homeschooling, they are trying to find their style. Unschooling makes sense to her, but her partner is not ready to consider it. School at home doesn't appeal to her. Her son is bright and creative and yet struggled immensely in the rigid confines of the classroom. She is ready to follow up on his personal strengths and interests and create an educational plan for him that emphasizes these interests. The problem here is that she is very attached to the success of her plan. When she puts time and thought and energy into planning a morning full of exciting, creative activities for him, she is quite disappointed when he's not interested.

We talked about the classic power struggles that she and her son engage in on a daily basis. She is very clear that school was incredibly boring to her son, so she has made a point of following his lead and keeping the focus on some of his favorite activities. Yet the power struggles continue. She knows that I am a committed unschooler. She knows that I don't require my kids to do particular activities throughout the day. But she wanted to know what I thought about unschooling some aspects of their time together and not others. As she explained their situation, I remembered something I heard a few years ago. Whenever I am struggling with how to handle a particular parenting conflict, it's important to ask myself, "What's my motivation?"

A few posts ago I shared about a time when I was harping on my kids to put away their laundry. In the beginning, I was convinced that they needed to put it away because they should be helpful and responsive when I ask them to do something. In the end I realized that this line of thinking didn't match my desire to consider their needs as important as mine. I had a need to not trip over the laundry baskets anymore. They had a need to not have to stop what they were doing in order to meet my need. My motivation (or need, in this case) was to get the baskets of laundry out of the kitchen and out of my sight. As soon as I realized that it didn't matter if they got put away right away, the kids stopped what they were doing for a moment to move the baskets to their rooms, and we all got our needs met.

I shared this with the new homeschooling mom. I suggested that she could homeschool in any way that felt authentic to her. If that meant unschooling some aspects and not others, so be it. But determining the motivation is a good way to check in to find out why we make the choices we do. I asked her to think about what her motivation was in spending time planning creative and educational activities for her son. Was it because she had a desire to spend quality time with him? Was it because she felt he should take direction from her and do what he is told? Was it because she was afraid that if she doesn't plan anything there won't be anything to do? Does she have a need that he accomplish certain tasks each day?

As the conversation progressed, she became aware of her motivations. She shared that their situation is still so new, it is hard to be clear about which path is right for them. I don't think this is the end of the story for her. They have made a radical change in their educational choices and it will take loads of time before they find the right fit. I am grateful to her for the opportunity to remind myself of this important question. Even though we have always unschooled as a family, I wasn't unschooled myself. It is taking years for me to re-learn how to parent with the principles of unschooling in mind. When faced with a parenting conflict, it helps to ask myself, "What's my motivation?"

Unschooling a Tantrum (otherwise known as, "Hitting the Wall at Mile 19")

I ran my third marathon today. I crossed the finish line exactly 8 hours ago, and I think I may never get off this couch. But laying on this couch, hydrating, and eating and resting my aching muscles has given me lots of time to think. As I've been re-living the entire 5 hours of my race multiple times in my head, I got to thinking about the parallels that exist for me between running 26.2 miles and unschooling.

The first 15 miles of the race are great. I feel full of life and excitement and strength. All those months of training and preparation pay off and I feel like I could run forever. The crowd and the cheering and the people-watching keep my mind occupied and my body goes on auto-pilot. And then, somewhere around mile 19, I hit the wall. My feet ache, my legs feel like concrete, and suddenly the cheering from the enthusiastic spectators is irritating. Those well meaning folks who shout, "You can do it, you're amazing, you're almost there," become my worst enemy. I want to throw them off a bridge. Really. My head becomes filled with negative, irrational thoughts. I can't see outside of the moment I'm in and I certainly can't remember why I put myself through this physical hell in the first place.

The funny thing is, I keep going. Something deep inside knows that if I just hang in there, something will shift and I will eventually feel better. Or maybe it's just that I know the end will come much more quickly if I keep on running. As I approach mile 23, my mood shifts. I begin to realize that the end really is near. Just a 5K, certainly I can do that. My pace quickens, my legs lose their heaviness and a smile returns to my face. I suddenly remember how much I love to run. I begin to plan my next marathon. The cheering fans are suddenly all cheering for me. I might even win this race! Nothing can stop me, and I cross the finish line, a very different person than the one I left behind at mile post 22.

Janey, my eleven year old, has a temper. There are times when she hits her wall in very much the same way. When I got to thinking about it, our experiences are really quite similar. She gets overwhelmed with intense emotion and in that intensity, perceives the world to be all wrong. She gets so caught up inside her own bad mood that she can't see that she has ever or will ever feel any other way. In that moment, life sucks and it always will. She screams, she rants, she throws a fit. Anyone in her path bears the brunt of her intensity.

There have been plenty of times that I have attempted to intervene on the premise of helping her through her tantrums. I calmly try to explain away whatever it is that has upset her. I try to distract her from her feelings. I remind her that she has been here before and it always passes. None of it works. What I have discovered, is that in order to allow her to move through her feelings in her own way, I have to get out of the way and let her unschool her tantrum. There are a few ground rules, of course. No one gets hurt. If she can stay respectful of others, we steer clear, and give her space to choose where she wants to be. If she can't, she needs to be by herself. If she needs help, she asks. And then, like magic, her feelings pass, she moves on, and as quickly as it began, the tantrum fades. Just like my magic mile 23.

I get really triggered by her tantrums. I have to remind myself that it's not about me and that her tantrums are not a reflection of my ability as a parent. The more I am able to get out of her way and allow her to move through her feelings in the way that suits her, the more she will be able to continue do so as she grows into a young woman who knows that feelings are not facts. They come as quickly as they go and they do not define us. I also realize that unlike me, she may not have to struggle with the need to suppress intense feelings out of fear. She is already learning, on her own, that she can have big, huge, intense feelings, and still be okay.

The revelation that hitting my wall mid-marathon relates so closely to my daughter's experience has given me the gift of compassion. So often, in her rage, she throws around insults and nasty comments to her siblings and myself, and it's easy for me to react. How dare she speak to us that way? What I realize now is that she just needs compassion and respect. All I have to do is bring myself back to my 4 mile slump at the end of a race and remember that this too shall pass. She's just in a funk. It won't take long, give her space, and she'll be back shortly.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A Social Studies Lesson

They've made an American Girl doll from the 70s. I asked Janey if the doll (named Julie) was wearing funny clothes and she said, "No, they pretty much look like the ones we wear today." The girls brought the new catalog into my bedroom this morning and I had to laugh out loud. Janey was right. The bell bottoms and striped turtleneck and braided belt looked pretty much like what hippies around our town are wearing today. The best part of the Julie doll, though, is her bedroom. She's got an orange shag carpet, beads hanging from the ceiling, and a little mini record player that plays 45s. The girls were envious. It's so funny to me that my childhood is now history, or historical at least, in the eyes of my children.

As we laid in bed this morning perusing the catalog together, we talked about the various times in history that the dolls are from. Samantha is from the early 1900s. Felicity is from the late 1700s. The clothing and accessories attempt to recreate what young girls' lives may have been like at the time. A Social Studies lesson, if I've ever seen one. This is what I love about unschooling. No lesson prep. No homework. No moans and groans about how boooring it all is.

Tonight at dinner, Janey explained that she wanted to drop her dance class. She likes the teacher and thinks the class is fun, but felt strongly that there are other things she would rather do during that time. The kids mentioned one or two friends that didn't have the option of choosing a class for themselves. "I don't get it," Janey commented. "Why would their parents say the had to take a particular class? What's the point?" I began to explain that some families need their kids to be occupied for certain hours of the day, and that some parents have strong feelings about the classes their children take. The look on my kids' faces were priceless. It just didn't compute. Kind of like the time we read the book about cartoon cows that unknowingly dress up like bank robbers and hold up a bank. I thought the book was hilarious (Minnie and Moo: Wanted Dead or Alive, by Denys Cazet) but the kids were confused. As soon as I clued in and realized that they didn't get the whole bank robber theme, I tried to explain the humor (wanted posters, passing the teller a note, bazookas) as we read, but it just wasn't as funny anymore. If you have no frame of reference, it doesn't make any sense.

I'm grateful that my kids have no frame of reference for compulsory education. I love that if something's not working for them they are not afraid to speak up and make a change. This is something that as an adult, I have struggled with until very recently. Later in the day, I asked Janey if she was nervous about letting her dance teacher know that she wouldn't be continuing in the class. She looked at me and snorted, "No, why would I be?" I smiled to myself. I'm learning a lot from these kids of mine.