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How to Get Started

It’s really simple. I have one piece of advice. Take a breath, sit down and prepare yourself.

Here it is.

Act like you’re on holiday.

That’s it. Do that and I promise this whole raising up your kids thing will be a foregone conclusion.

List the things you like to do on holiday.

Then do them.

Ask your kids what they like about going on holiday.

Then do them.

Oh, you’re still wanting some examples? Well, here’s some from my list:

Sleep ins.
Swimming at the beach.
Playing together – uno, last card, catan, guess who.
Listening to music.
Sleep ins.
Lying in the sun.
Reading my book.
Writing.
Using public transport.
Visiting interesting places: museums, cafes with exotic food, old settlement sites, wildlife sanctuaries.
Beach combing.
Going to bed together and smelling the sun in my children’s hair.
Watching movies.
Going somewhere we’ve never been before.
Taking photos.

I asked my kids what they like about going on holiday, and here’s what they said:
Getting ice cream
Wondering where we should go.
Parking somewhere in the bush.
Seeing new cities.
Going to see family.
Going to the beach and having fun
Having fun with lots of people.

That’s all I could get out of them while they were on their screens.

I would hazard a guess that they like going on holiday to spend more time with us doing fun stuff like reading to them, playing cards, swimming with them, biking with them.

There’s something about going on holiday that creates a sense of “team”. Of being on the same one. Of cooperation. There doesn’t seem to be the competition between chores and play, or getting shit done and hanging out.

So, to borrow that Americanism “staycation” – have one of them. Garner a sense of adventure, of relaxation, or excitement, or wonder from the comfort of your own home. Throw bed times out the window. Don’t set your alarm. Let the dishes sit. Wear the same clothes for several days because they’re comfy and practical and mildly clean. Get your nose in a book and let your kids relax on their screens while you read. Binge watch a series on Netflix. Dust off the board games and play them with your partner. Your kids will flock to see what the commotion is. Drink wine. Eat chocolate. Make platters.

Do this until it feels normal.

Welcome to the rest of your life.

 

Diary of An Unschooling Family, Day 4

So, now that we’ve established that Ron takes a way more attractive selfie than I do, let’s move on.

Today my mum had the kids for the afternoon-evening, so that Ron and I could do his accounts, and so that we could go to a movie. That picture, from which we have moved on, is us all glammed up outside the Globe Theatre in Ahuriri.

Parenting is fucking difficult, and marriage is fucking difficult. I think marriage and unschooling-parenting is like a recipe for some fucking trialling times as we all confront our shit. So, that’s hard too.

A lovely friend of mine, in response to an SOS message of mine, once said to me, “I don’t know anyone in the active phase of raising children who doesn’t divorce-fantasise.” I call on that piece of wisdom frequently.

Because it’s true, we do play out “what-if” scenarios. We do wonder if this is “it”. We do despair that it’s every going to get any better.

But also, “the active phase of raising children” What a sanity saver that phrase has been for me. This is a “phase” – a phase, by definition, PASSES!!! When I am despairing and wondering and fantasising, I cling to that.

And today, I was super excited about the shelves that we’re putting up in the laundry – the builder brought them back with a nice rounded corner and I took them out the back and sanded them and painted them with their first coat of “High Tea” and I had my headphones on, but nothing was playing through them, and because I was so excited, I started singing, “I’m so excited, and I just can’t hide it” quite loudly and when I walked into the shed Ron was there with a smile on his face totally loving the fact that I was singing off key at the top of my lungs because I was excited about the curve of a shelf and the colour High Tea.

And tonight, while we were watching the movie, I laughed at the top of my lungs at a funny bit and he laughed in equal measure at the movie and at me.

And, he brings me coffee in the mornings and after nearly twenty years together I’ve stopped having to send it back for either more or less milk.

It is  really challenging sometimes, and I’m probably never going to post a selfie of us losing our shit at each other, or scowling into our bowl of activated paleo muesli because something one of us said three days ago is still pissing the other one off. You’re probably never going to see that photo. But, those days happen. And I think they’re part of the deal. They’re there so we can grow through them.

I once asked a friend of mine who was married to the same man for I think about 50 years, what she thought the key to a happy marriage was, and her answer was instant: sheer cussedness.

It’s just as well we’re all quite stubborn then.

 

 

The Octonauts and Sex Ed

Talking to our kids about sex has come up a bit lately. Any of my friends will tell you I’m a bit of a prude when it comes to discussing this kind of stuff. I have never had the kind of frank chats over coffee that were championed in Sex and the City. I’ve been into a sex- shop a grand total of once and I wanted to wear a disguise while I was there. I certainly didn’t make eye contact with anyone for the duration.

Now that it’s started to come up and I’ve been thinking about it, I think I know what I need to do. I need to answer the questions they ask. I need to get comfortable talking to them about the entire act, in an age appropriate manner. I need to talk to them about consent. I need to talk to them about respect. About what it feels like to be rejected. About what it feels like to be consumed by your desire. These all feel like Really Big Things to talk about and for a while I was stymied by how to begin talking with them about the Really Big Things without completely freaking them out.

And then I remembered Octonauts. For those of you who are (blissfully) unaware of Octonauts, it’s a cartoon on Netflix about 8 different “critters” who live in a submarine and use each of their different skills sets to stage rescues of other underwater creatures who are in danger. There’s no sex involved. What there is involved is a complete lack of consent. The Octonauts (led by a well-bred-accented-male-polar-bear, of course) never once, in all the one million and thirty two episodes, ask the creature they’re rescuing how they feel about the situation. They never say “I see you’re in a spot of bother, we could help you out if you’d like, this is our team, and this is what we think might help. With your permission, we’ll get started right away.” They just march on in and take over.

This irked me. It irked me for a while before I said anything. And then I casually mentioned this to my kids in the middle of an episode they were watching. At first they looked at me with blank faces. And then, with further discussion, they kind of shrugged and nodded and gave me a look that said “okaaaaaay Mama” and went back to watching. Every now and then in the ensuing months I yelled out in the middle of an episode “Did they ask the [narwhal] if it needed rescuing???!!!”

Once I remembered this, I remembered all the other times that I calmly and not-so-calmly demand that one or the other of my children listen to the other play-mate’s cries to stop. If I see something that makes me uncomfortable I ask them to pause, and I check in with both of them to see if they’re OK with what’s happening. Often one of them isn’t and we negotiate a different way of playing. If they’re upset I let them talk about how and why they’re upset. If they don’t want to wear shoes they don’t have to. If they want to shave off their hair they do it.

If I’m giving you the impression that we have this totally nailed, I need to just mention that they’re still kids, who get lost in the moment, who get tired, and frustrated, and lose their minds in anger. There are still those moments, which I think are pretty normal, that require a calming down period, a chat, a re-establishing of values and a reminder of respect and bodily autonomy and a gentle suggestion that the other person might appreciate hearing if they’re sorry.

I am realising that I am teaching them about consent in everyday life, have been from the day they were born. Thank goodness.

And thanks Octonauts.

How do we afford it?

We’ve had a disappointing week.

Part of our home education vision has always been to have a bit of land where the kids can build tree huts, have bon fires with their friends, learn about raising pets and growing vegetables, run around to their hearts’ content.

We have a rather long list of what we want in a property. One of the things is it needs to be close to the beach. Especially now that Louis is surfing, but even before that, one of our favourite things to do is pack a picnic and head to the beach for the day. In Hawke’s Bay, property near the beach is difficult to come by on our budget unless you head north to Wairoa or south to Pourere. Another thing on our list is that it needs to be within an hour of the airport for Ron’s commute. That puts Wairoa and Pourere out of the equation.

We are lucky enough to have bought a house eight years ago in an area of Napier that is seeing ridiculous growth in sales prices. We often have real estate agents knocking on our door asking if we’re in the market to sell. We climbed onto a false assumption that on the basis of that we might be able to afford our lifestyle block.

And we found one that fit nearly all our criteria. And we got excited. And we did all our due diligence and got to the point where we were going to put in an offer, only to get told by our mortgage broker that we couldn’t service the loan. What that means in everyday language is that we can’t afford to make the repayments on a week-to-week basis. According to the bank’s calculations.

This was a short, sharp drop back down to the reality of our financial situation. The one that we find ourselves in largely because we home-educate, which means we’re on one income, which means we’re limited to what Ron can earn.

We drive a 1992 Honda CRV with paint peeling off and a boot door that only shuts sometimes. I buy most of my clothes from op-shops. I buy most of the kids’ clothes off trade me. If you see them and they look tidy, they’ll be wearing clothes my mum or sister bought them. We spend a shit-load of money on food. And health; choosing alternative health practises, like osteopathy and homeopathy and acupuncture is freaking expensive.

We borrowed a crazy amount of money to buy the camper van. We worked in a frenzy to get the house ready to go on AirBnB so that that would pay for the loan. That paid off. But we’ll need to do it every summer to keep that up.

Sometimes it seems like the easiest thing would be to put the kids in school and go and get a job. But, then I remind myself that money is just one aspect of our lives. Healthy, well adjusted, thriving children far outweigh that. Children who are independent thinkers, who have a strong sense of who they are and where they fit in the world, are more important than what car we drive. A family that has fun together, and spontaneous days at the beach, and glorious mornings in the sunshine learning to ride bikes, is more important that me being at work and picking them up from school with extra cash in the bank.

For us.

This is how we afford it, by pivoting back to what matters whenever we get the money-wobbles.

The Radical in Unschooling

Some people really don’t like the term “unschooling”; they don’t like the image that what we’re doing is “against” schooling. Also, what we’re doing is so much more than just not going to school. It’s about how we live our entire lives – the scaffolding around our decisions, our goals and our vision as a family.

I was inspired to start our unschooling journey by a group of (mostly) mamas in the US who call themselves Radical Unschoolers. This is a subgroup of (regular) unschoolers who seek to honour their children’s natural instincts and urges in all facets of life. The most controversial of these is usually screens. Followed closely by food. Well, actually, I probably just tipped you off to my major hang-ups!

These mamas blew my mind – mostly because of the harmonious relationship they had with their children – they really seemed to enjoy each others’ company. They hung out together, played together, supported each other in different pursuits… even gaming. The peace and love and joy (even when it’s not Christmas) that seemed to surround these families was such a powerful pull for me that I knew this was what I wanted for our family.

But FAR OUT it’s hard to let go of my shit.

This process of letting go of our shit is politely called deschooling, and is absolutely key to the success of unschooling. Deschooling never really stops. It’s not a thing you do to get ready and then you’re ready and then voila! you’re an unschooler. Deschooling is something that I probably do every day. The thought, “Why do I think that?” or “is that really true?” or “do I really need to say anything right now?” these are all moments of deschooling myself.

I wanted to share with you some of our/my radical unschooling wins:

  1. Avocados.
    It’s amazing what we can get hang-ups about, isn’t it? A couple of years ago we went completely paleo. Part of going paleo is eating a gazillion avocados. BUT avocados are freaking expensive, so I would GUARD the avocados like crazy. And all my kids wanted to eat was freaking avocados. And then… I saw a client who I wasn’t expecting to pay, but she did, she gave me $20 and I walked into the lounge waving the $20 and said to the kids, “Let’s go and get $20 worth of avocados.” And we did. And that was the end of their obsession with, and my guarding of, the avocados. Having their fill, coupled with the attitude of plenty (rather than scarcity) completely took care of that little power-struggle we were having.
  2. Ice-blocks (or ice-lollies for those of you not in NZ)
    It seems like every time I pull into a service station, or drive past a dairy, or go to the supermarket I get to deal with the whine, “Can we have an iiiiiiicccccceeeeee-bbbbbllllllooooock?” and it used to drive me nuts. I hated the thought of the mountains of crap that they seem to pile into commercial ice-cream these days, the colourings, the sugar, the chemicals. Also the expectation, almost entitlement (now there’s a thing). And, Joss has a real struggle with tooth decay. BUT, on our trip around the coast this summer I decided to say yes to the ice-block requests. I have to admit I didn’t do it every time, but I would say about 92.7% of the times that they asked, I said yes. And guess what. By the end of our trip, they stopped asking. They’re still not asking! This required a lot of mental gymnastics on my part, and such a letting go, and trust (of them, of Joss’s teeth, of their bodies).
  3. Screens.
    This is a new one, so I’m kind of hoping not to jinx it by writing about it here. For the last four days I’ve been unwell and lying in bed A LOT, which has meant a near free-for-all for the kids and watching their screens. I pretty much said yes every time they asked because then I could have a nap, and sometimes I put it on without them even asking so that I could go and have a nap. And the thing that inspired this entire blog post was that for about three hours today the house was quiet, the kids were engaged with creative pursuits, separately, and quietly. There was no fighting, no nagging, no whining, no gas-lighting. Just quiet murmurs of quiet activity, and the feeling of being absorbed in what they’re doing – a kind of meditation atmosphere. And I thought to myself, this cannot be a coincidence. I will let you know.

What I’ve learnt about deschooling is that it cannot be faked. I tried to fake being ok with unlimited screen time and it was an absolute fucking disaster. (Kids are the best fake-detectors out there and will continually press us to be our most authentic selves.) That particular sociological experiment ended with me being screaming-Mama, wielding a power drill and removing the television from the lounge indefinitely. I was not ready, but I was trying to Be An Unschooler. Here’s the thing, there is no one way to be an unschooler. There’s just listening to what each individual needs, what the family as a whole needs, and balancing that with what society expects.

And checking whether we give a fuck about that.

 

One Homecoming, and Then Another.

Arriving home last week was like wrapping up in a familiar sweater and watching The Newsroom while eating coconut ice-cream directly out of the tub.

The kids ran through the house squealing: re-discovering treasures, opening cupboards, checking on toys. I sank down into a very hot bath. The kids watched their favourite shows on TV. I got some home-kill meat out of the freezer and made plans for a goulash-flavoured homecoming celebration. We checked out the yield of the feijoa tree, the plentiful leeks, the abundant tomatoes. We collapsed onto the couch with gigantic grins on our faces and proclaimed, It is Good to be Home.

A couple of days later we met up with our unschooling group. Another homecoming, another feeling of being wrapped up in the comfort of an old sweater. I was enveloped by three amazing women who hold the space for me to be arse-hangingly me, and who forgive me my many trespasses, and who are genuinely at my side.

My kids were welcomed back into the fold by their friends in the most gorgeous and social of ways, another opportunity for me to not worry about the “lack of socialisation” my children apparently have because they don’t go to school.

That night, we snuggled up in our gigantic bed, all together, after four months of sleeping semi-separately, and talked about our day. Louis declared “I have an amazing life.” I declared that I have an amazing group of friends. Joss said she loved how excited and happy and bouncy her friend was to see her.

We were, finally, all home.

Thank You Mamas

In the isolation of my own home, in November, faced with last year’s swimsuit, pale thighs, and unmanicured forestation, I am invariably nervous about the impending summer of swimming. When during the winter months I’ve seen an overrepresentation of svelte figures acting in Netflix/HBO/ABC shows, my mind is tricked into believing that my figure is an anomaly, and one that should be hidden.

Always, I fall back on my own mantra “no one is too fat to go swimming” and I jam all the other frequencies in my head until, the swimsuit on, I head out into public. Sometimes I message friends and say, “help me out, I need a pep talk” and they send me links to awesome blogposts like this one. And you tube videos like this one.

Then, at some point, I’m at a popular beach, and there are women everywhere in swimsuits, and they span the broad continuum of figures, and I fit somewhere along that, and I feel part of a sisterhood of women who don swimsuits and swim and in this gigantic, heroic way rebel against the bullshit on our screens that tries to tell us that women need to be skinny.

And in this way we show our daughters and sons that our figures are real, and they are just, life – not good, nor bad, not something to tame nor beat into submission – they just are.

I want to thank that sisterhood of women, especially mamas, who stood, sat, swam on the beach with me, enjoying the sun and surf, and were part of the revolution to claim our bodies exactly how they are. I want to hold onto that feeling so that next November, when I pull out the swimsuit again, I don’t even have a second thought about the figure that’s going into it.

#mamasintogs

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