Unschooling

Cutting the Tethers

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Making the descent into the unknown is a scary ride.  We are currently working our way out of this wonderful home that has been our comfort for over 8 years.  I love this house.  It makes me feel good.  But it has become clear that it no longer serves us.  We were different people than when we moved in.  We wanted to live in a neighbourhood so that our future children would be able to play with their classmates.  We now homeschool our three little ones.  We wanted a large property where we could grow our own vegetables and fruits, but not too big.  It is no longer big enough to hold our vision.  I hold such gratitude for the deep and meaningful ways this home has held us.

We recently returned from a three week ‘vacation’ to Florida, where we were trying our hand at a transient lifestyle.  We thought we might be able to sell the house and hit the road for a while, becoming ‘roadschoolers.’  It was a fantastic trip and brought us a lot of clarity.  Having a napping baby in the mix made it really difficult to do much, especially since our children don’t sleep in the car.  What ended up happening is that she missed her naps for nearly the entire trip!  This resulted in some undesirable behaviour, and really got us questioning this as a longer term solution.

Two days before the end of the trip, as Rob and I sat around the campfire together after putting the kids to bed, we reviewed the pros and cons of life in an Airstream.  We could easily identify the challenges, since we were living them moment to moment.  But the benefits were abundant as well.   Living minimally was such a breath of fresh air!  We have been trying to push into reducing our stuff for a really long time, so experiencing life with few belongings was refreshing and inspiring.  It was so meaningful to take the children places to learn things first hand.  They were able to experience so much more than is possible in one place…it was incredible.  We tried not to do a lot of ‘attractions,’ but went to a Titanic exhibition and saw Winter the dolphin at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.  Even the day we hunted for seashells along the ocean shore was amazing for the children!  They have grown in so many unexpected ways as a result of our travels.

By the end of the campfire conversation, we had decided that as difficult as it was to live this way, things would be different if we stayed in one place for much longer periods of time.  Changing how often we moved ourselves would allow us to set better boundaries for the children, fall into a nap routine for the baby, find better food to eat in each location, and generally make it plausible to find enough creative solutions to make our dream into a reality.

That night after we went to bed, there was a huge rainstorm.  We had been blessed with precipitation-free travels up until then, so sleeping through a rainstorm in the Airstream was a new experience for us all.  The dream we had created the night before were swirling around like the puddles in the children’s bedroom!  The trailer was leaking (badly) in several places and a mildew smell came to join the party.  As much as we were ready to make the jump, the rain had made it clear that this was not the right time.  Now that we’ve returned the trailer to the dealership and our lives to our version of routine, we have decided that traveling with thee children five and under is not ideal.  It seems that our family isn’t quite old enough for this type of lifestyle…yet.  We’ve filed this idea away for a few years down the road.

We did come home with clarity on a few other things as well.  It became clear while away from our routines that things in our life were no longer serving us as we had assumed they were.   We decided that in order to move forward, we needed to let go of the things that are no longer serving us.  We need to cut the ropes which tether us to the shore.  We identified that our mortgage/house and the number of hours that Rob is working outside the home needed attention.  We have a beautiful vision of where we want to end up…living debt free on a rural property somewhere with gardens, fruit trees, livestock, and joy.  The trouble has always been what steps we should take to get us there.  So, we are cutting the tethers in order to take a first few uncomfortable steps toward something new.  Toward the unknown.  The house will be listed shortly.  The hours of work are being negotiated.  We would rather choose to make an uncomfortable change from a place of security than to wait for it to be imposed upon us.  I also believe our finest human creativity is born of necessity.  So it is with courage and determination that we begin to drift from this beautiful life we know and continue watching for shadows dancing upon the horizon to guide our journey.

 

How to Step Into the Darkness

We are blessed to live in Canada, with four seasons.  The season of autumn signals the beginning of turning inward.  A time for dreaming and planning while cozy indoors for the winter months.  But it doesn’t seem so enticing as the days are growing shorter and we are losing the time in daylight to wrap up the loose ends of summer.  Why is it that we are so afraid to head into the darkness?

It is out of the darkest times that the most growth happens.  it is in the darkness that we are at our edge.  People don’t like to be pushed to their edge.  That place within ourselves where we feel if we were to go any further we’d never find our way back.  But if we keep back from our edges, we would be missing out on those places from which the most growth happens.  For it is at the edge where two habitats intermingle and create something beautiful, abundant and new.  It is at the edge of ourselves where old meets new.  It is at this edge where the possibility of freedom exists.  Where the pressures of labels and expectations can be blurred.

Heading into the winter months, I feel resistance.  Although I am craving a slower time and rhythm, if it weren’t for the leaves falling and the looming frosts, I would not concede to more hours indoors, less light, and the abundant heap of clothing that adorns my entryway.  Although I know winter brings with it a beauty unique to the cold darkness, it doesn’t help me stop resisting its presence.  Likewise, it is difficult to make the choice to go into emotional darkness.  It feels unsafe and not to be trusted.  Why do we not trust ourselves enough to know we will come back out into the light?

We trust that spring will come again.  We trust that the sun will rise again tomorrow.  But we do not trust that we will again be happy if we choose to enter into periods of personal darkness.  But like the seasons and the days, it will pass.  Unlike natural cycles, our voyages into and out of darkness come without warning and recede without announcement.  They ease in and out slowly, as to confuse us as to where it came from and when it left.

Perhaps it is because we have not been well equipped with the skills to weather the storm.  We are not taught we can accept the deep and dark emotions.  We are taught instead to keep everything under control.  Our culture likes to pretend that everything is alright. We teach our children not to cry, saying ‘you’re alright’ to cherubim faces streaked with tears.  We have been taught to not trust ourselves by having our forms of personal expression muzzled.  We are schooled to believe that our interests aren’t as important as what the curriculum dictates.  Every time our inner desires were redirected, we were given a the message that what we valued was not worthy, and our inner voice was not to be trusted.  Think of the number of times we have received the message that what we feel doesn’t matter.

What can we do to regain the skills we need to trust ourselves?  How can we learn to trust those times when we need to head into the darkness and towards our edge?  Having had many experiences with sitting in darkness recently, I know that practice helps!  Watching myself fall in and out of dark periods has been building my courage and confidence to accept the darkness when it comes.  Framing my periods of darkness as storms that will blow over gives me the perspective I need sometimes.  It has also shown me that the more I can accept and perhaps even embrace my dark emotions and welcome them in with self-compassion, the easier the storm will be to weather.  When I am calm through the emotional turmoil, letting the waves of emotional burden crash upon a serene shoreline, the clouds blow over much quicker.

Knowing where to look for the light has also been something I use to come back from my edge.  For me, I find light in small things.  A smile on my child’s face, light dancing across the living room floor, the way the leaves flutter to the ground in the breeze, the sound and warmth of a crackling fire.  When I am able to notice moments of natural beauty, it brings me back to the present moment.  Presence brings me back.  Finding my moments of light allows the darkness to fade and the sun to come out again.

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” — Haruki Murakami

Missing Out

The downside of a digitized culture is that it makes it so easy to feel like we’re ‘missing out’ on things.  Here I find another place where I’m unlearning what has been bestowed upon me.  I will on occasion experience feelings of loss because of the choices we’re making as a family to diverge from mainstream culture.  I often have the feeling that I don’t ‘fit in’ anywhere and that ‘everyone else’ enjoying themselves doing carefree things that are, by choice, no longer part of my landscape.  Those ‘fun’ things no longer seem fun to me.  What I really crave is the ‘easiness’ of it all, the ability to be impulsive and joyful.  But the contentment I seek does not come from the outside world, making it more difficult to seek and find it in a culture obsessed with consuming.

Social media allows us to see what everyone else is up to through our online lens, creating the illusion that things are so much better for someone else than in our own day to day routines.  Consumption of the lives of others has become a new outlet for gluttony.  Wanting more, wanting the best, having what everyone else has.  The reality is that what we see flash across our screens is but a small portion of life, one that has been constructed, edited, and shared with intent.  Carefully selected highlights.

Parents feel pressured to expose their children to a multitude of extra curricular activities in an effort to provide them with a ‘perfect’ childhood.  In my eyes, the shuffle of activities leaves the childhood part out of the equation.  I don’t want my children to miss out on the opportunities to muck about and learn by engaging in what they’re interested in at their own pace.  This is one of the reasons I have come to form new opinons about schooling and education.  Are my children missing out on a traditional education because I’m choosing to home school them?  Of course they are.  They will not be in a class of 30+ children all of the same age.  They will not spend their days sitting indoors at desks.   They will miss out on being told in no uncertain terms how ‘smart,’ ‘athletic,’ or ‘popular’ they are, since they’ll not have a group of people constantly measuring them against others.  They will not be denied their passion for a topic because it’s not the curriculum being taught.  Their engagement of a topic will not be cut short because it’s time for science/lunch/recess/the next unit of study.  They will miss out on being the centre of attention during snack and lunchtime for our lack of consumption of sugar, wheat, corn, and processed food.  They will not have the opportunity to be able to defend our family’s choice to buy used where possible.  They will not spend their leisure time at school talking to other children about the violent video games they’re playing all night long or media they’ve watched. Yes, indeed they will miss out.

Sarcasm aside, it is hard to avoid the inevitable fear of the unknown.  Pushing edges means leaving comfort behind.  And there are of course things that I greatly enjoyed growing up in a school setting that create a reason for me to pause.  I would love for them to be involved in choir or band.  I wish for them to learn another language.  I want for them to find a group of friends where they feel belonging and trust.  I want them to discover knowledge and skills that I don’t have.  But these things seemingly offered by an institutional setting are not best suited to a classroom either.  They are available to my children without the social structure that fails to mimic natural systems.  Creativity, passion, and determination cannot be underestimated.

We can’t do it all.  We can’t have it all.  We don’t need it all.  We just want to be happy.

Goal Oriented

I am currently struggling with my lack of defined goals for the future.  Now that I’m a stay-at-home unschooling mom, I feel lost at times, wanting there to be some sort of tangible short term goal to reach.  There isn’t one.  And as far as my children’s education is concerned, I don’t want there to be one.  Freedom to mess about in the process is where the learning actually happens.  I know this from many years in the classroom, where I was required to deny this of my students on most occasions in order to teach to an overwhelming curriculum.  Setting the mind on one goal ignores the possibilities held in all other options.  Like scattering seeds to the wind, one doesn’t know which ones will be carried the furthest, which ones will root and grow strongest, and which ones won’t take at all.  All one can do is wonder and scatter the seeds anyway.

So why is it so difficult for me to apply this lens of free form creativity to my own life?  I am having to ‘unschool’ myself in order to find happiness without goals.  It is a slow process.  I feel like I have been trained to be goal oriented.  It is a great thing to be able to write on my resume, but my current ‘job’ is not conducive to this approach.  The harder I push toward a goal, the harder my children resist.  The more depressing downside to goal setting is that focus on a goal separate from oneself often overshadows the here and now.  If I am constantly striving for something, then how can I possibly be present with what it is that is happening?

When you get used to measuring yourself by incremental measurable successes, hoop jumping of sorts, then it becomes difficult to notice small progressions toward the ultimate holistic goal of living a happy fulfilled life.  Of course I delight to I see my children having fun, engaging with nature, playing well together, helping or supporting others, but somehow these glimmers of beauty don’t ‘measure up’ as a goal reached.  This is inherently a problem of perception.  Perhaps it is because they, like me, have a learning process that spirals around, leaving much room for the messiness of life.  Then there are the tasks of a mother that never end; the dishes, the laundry, the meal preparations, the kitchen cleanup, the toileting and diapers.  I get excited sometimes to ‘catch up’ on laundry and get it all put away, only to find that another load needs to be done a day or two later and the cycle continues. There are no external reward systems for being a good mother.  I won’t be getting a sticker, a pay raise, or an A on my test paper.  It is highly likely that I also won’t be recognized for my efforts.  Noticing my success needs to come from within.

I am trying to grow my capacity to take time to be truly grateful for the moments I get to share with my children.  It is such a privilege for me to be home with them.  It is so important and so necessary to honour the beauty in our days together.  From experience, I know that deeply feeling moments of joy, pride, and wonderment gives me strength to carry on through the more treacherous parts of the journey.   Although I feel a vastness of future spread out before me, with no idea where I’m headed, I realize that this is truth whether I have a goal or not.  The goal is only something my mind has conjured up to maintain the illusion of control.  Rather than wracking my brain trying to figure out my future, I want to be able to trust that everything will work out alright, and as it should.  I want to be able to sit in the mystery, and be alright with it.  Maybe even one day, I will be able to delight in it too.