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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.

 

 

Gardening, Parenting, Composting

I’m reading another amazing parenting book. I’m not even up to Chapter One yet. That’s how good it is, I’m still reading the introduction, and I’m highlighting like mad and writing notes in the margins.

The book is The Gardner and the Carpenter by Alison Gopnik. I can’t even remember for sure how I got onto this book. I think I went on Amazon to order Between Parent and Child, (the most absolutely awesome parenting book I’ve ever read), and down the bottom under the heading “Other books you might like” this book was listed.

The thing is, a few months ago, the fabulous Alexsandra Burt (who I call my Continuum Concept Coach) and I were toying with the idea of writing a “Continuum Concept in the Modern World” book. We started off by really drilling down on adversarial relationships. For some reason, the parent-child relationship seems to be fraught with adversarial attitudes – first on the part of the parent “Why can’t I get my child to sleep/stop breast feeding/not suck their thumb” etc. And then, on the part of the child ,“No! I don’t want those scrambled eggs!!”

I had asked her, “When did we first become adversarial?” Because in the continuum, there’s cooperation uber alles. And in nature there is so much more cooperation than competition, but what we focus on (at this period in human history) is the competition, aka adversarial relationships. So, before our continuum got screwed up – we assume that we were all about cooperation. What changed that? I asked. And her immediate response was, “Agriculture.” When we moved from a subsistence lifestyle to a cultivation lifestyle, we were in competition with the weather. We wanted the weather to do xyz for our crops to survive, so we survive. Prior to this (in theory) we were much more “Oh, it’s raining!” and then moving on. In fact, in another part of my writing life, I have been researching Te Ao Māori, and learned that they have a proverb:

He ua kit e pō, he paewai kit e ao.

Rain in the evening, eels in the morning.

in other words, there is always a silver lining. In other words, continuum living.

So, after this conversation with Alexsandra, my eyes were primed for the title of this book, and I read the blurb, and thought, OK, I’ll get that one too.

And this is what I’ve loved so far. I’m going to paraphrase here.

To be: I am, you are, she/he is, they are etc.

We are comfortable saying I am a wife/husband/partner, I am a daughter/son, I am a sister/brother, but we somehow are uncomfortable with the “being” part of being a parent. To be a parent, has become parenting. We’ve made it into a verb. We haven’t verb-ed wifing, husbanding, sistering, brothering etc. You get it, right?

A parent has become something you do.

Which, on the surface might just seem like semantics. But bear with me.

Probably about six months ago our family delved into the world of composting. Like a good little unschooling family, we went to the library and got out some books on the topic. One of them, the name of which I never recorded (sorry) said, there are two types of gardener: the type that gardens for the flowers, or the fruits or the veggies (ie, the outcome), and the type who gardens for the soil (ie, the experience of creating the environment). Be the second type.

Gardening for the soil means putting in all the unseen, back breaking, poo shovelling hours, and foremost, making compost. It means making habitats for all the good bugs to thrive, and other stuff that good soil has. It means you’re getting enjoyment out of the creation, without really focusing on the outcome. Which reminds me of this absolutely amazing stick-in-my-head blog post from Ben Hewitt.

And that gardening-for-the-soil is the analogy that this book, The Gardener and the Carpenter, uses for being a parent (so far, again, I haven’t even hit Chapter One yet!) Be a parent like a gardener who gardens for soil health. Create the conditions, the environment, the support, the nutrients, the space, for children to grow to be whoever they are.

That’s the being of being a parent.

As opposed to the doing of parenting which looks a lot more like Do this, so that you’re child won’t have a tendency towards axe-murdering. Don’t do that, or your child will be unable to maintain meaningful relationships. Do this so that your child won’t get left behind at school.

There is a lot more shaping and “getting your child to” involved in the doing of parenting. Which brings us back to parenting as an adversarial relationship; somehow bending the very being of your child in the hopes that you can have some kind of influence on the outcome. The outcome being a productive, connected, securely attached, able to operate in the world – take your pick – adult.

Alexsandra used to talk to me a lot about being “on the same team” as my children. I don’t know how many hours I spent on Skype with her, trying to get to the bottom of my, often extreme, irritation with my children. Somehow I’d turned into this fractious, annoyed, grumpy, unstable Mama. I hated it. Ok, let’s not act like I’m cured. I hate it, present tense. It’s still something I grapple with. And Alexsandra tried a few different ways to get me to see what was going on – one of them was talking about adversarial relationships. But, I was still grumpy, I was still not being the parent I wanted to be, that I knew my children needed me to be. So, I did what I always do – I quested for the answer – hence my addiction to parenting books.

And, with Between Parent and Child, and The Gardener and the Carpenter, I feel like I’m getting close to the answer. I feel like all those things that Alexsandra was trying to get me to see have primed me for seeing what these books have to offer.

I’m close, but I still wrote to a friend yesterday who asked me how I was:

“Grouchy. And trying not to be.”

The North of France

We are staying in a tiny little village in the north of France. It’s so small that they don’t even sell postcards. It’s so small, and I think it must be so rare for there to be tourists here, that at the supermarket the other day the customer in front of me at the checkout gave me the side-eye and unleashed a torrent of heated French clearly about me, to the the checkout woman. To her credit, the checkout operator tried her best to shut the customer down and was nothing but polite to me. We even shared a cross-language-barrier giggle about how a cauliflower could not have cost €114.

What they do have in this tiny town is a Walk of Planets. Someone here must be a solar system fanatic and they’ve made a walk, starting with the sun, which is a sundial, and you walk to each of the planets and learn about them (their names, the gods, their relationships) and the distance walked to each planet is relative to the actual distance to each planet. We did half of it the other day, until Joss’s legs were “breaking they were so tired” and today Ron has taken the big two on a bike ride to complete it. We also only did half of it, because we just do not seem to be able to get going before 10am. Our mornings look like this:
Alfie wakes up. Ron and I exchange silent messages regarding who has had the least sleep that night, and that person, by virtue of playing dead the best, gets to stay in bed while the other gets up and spends some quality time with Alfie and coffee. Then, one by one we all venture out of the bedrooms and into the kitchen. Breakfast is a smorgasbord of things, that ends when the last person to eat has had enough. This is usually close to 9 or 9:30. Then, if we’re going somewhere (like the Walk of Planets) we start negotiations about a)getting dressed and b)how quickly getting dressed can be done. This can sometimes last well over an hour and involve some deep breathing from us (the parents). Once we’re all dressed, it’s taken so long that we definitely will need to take snacks. So, breakfasted, dressed, snacks packed, and the last thing we need to do is go to the toilet. Or not. Depending on your own situation. And then we can leave and it’s invariably after 10. And we celebrate that we’re out and about and doing something in the fresh air and French sunshine. And then, after about 20mins of walking, one of the party becomes desperately urgent to go to the toilet. So we do that. Someone once told me (and I’ve quoted them often since) that the best way to start unschooling is to act like every day is a holiday until that feels normal. I think we’re nailing it.

So, after all that, when we finally got to do the Walk of Planets I learned that the god of agriculture morphed into being the god of war (Mars). And I thought that that was poignant, in a lot of ways. We are parenting along the lines of The Continuum Concept, which is a book written by anthropologist Jean Liedloff about her time spent with the Yequana, the first people of an area of the Amazon Rain Forest. One of the things that goes around in my head a lot from that book is the cooperation within the tribe. They hold cooperation dear, and competition doesn’t get much of a look in, apart from some very specific games that they play at a specific time of year. Cooperation is natural, it’s like breathing – we need to do it to stay alive. I was talking to my Continuum Concept mentor a while ago and I asked her when we (non first-people) started to value competition over cooperation, and she suggested it was with the start of agriculture – when we began to be at war with the elements, in stead of working with them. So, naturally this relationship between the God of war and of agriculture appealed to me.

I probably learned this somewhere already. I studied art history at high school and we did some things about Greek and Roman mythology, but in all honesty I remember very little. But what I learned on The Walk of Planets will stay with me, because it was meaningful to me. Because I was relaxed when I learnt it. Because I could “hang” the information on other information I had. It was relative to other things, and I could form the relationship. These are the things that make for long-lasting knowledge.

So, we’re in a tiny little village in the north of France, and we keep doing these things, like the Walk of Planets, and a visit to a village with fortifications in the shape of an elaborate star, and visiting a village where the ravages of WWII remain visible… and the kids invariably find a c1992 playground to play on for the majority of the time, complaining about being hungry, or needing to go to the toilet, or… anything that does not sound like involved and motivated learning to this mama who possibly needs to do some more deschooling. And I’m having to trust that they are getting whatever they need. And I’m having to lean in to the strewing of these experiences and having no expectations about whether they like them or not. And I’m having to stumble through buying a €1.14 cauliflower with next to no French, and walk home through the countryside in the sunshine. We are definitely nailing the life-as-one-big-holiday aspect of unschooling.

Futility.

We’re doing an Advent Calendar based on activities. This is the seventh year we’ve done it. I get to feel virtuous about doing things like baking cookies for our neighbours (after eating two batches ourselves and then me fighting off the kids with a fish slice to let the third batch cool and actually make it to the neighbours this time) and donating food and drink to the food bank. Also, we get to have fun – one night we went up to the beach to see the stars come out and drink hot chocolates and sing carols. I LOVE carols. I sing them heartily – they are the only songs I can sing in tune (I think).

Two days ago our Advent Calendar Activity was to go to see the movie The Grinch. But I got so irate at the shit the kids were doing that I totally revoked the movie-going-activity in a series of moments that could have been successfully documented for a blog named Parenting as an Adversary 101.

I screamed “That’s IT!” as I kicked off my jandals with such vigour that one rebounded off the kitchen wall (I was standing in the lounge – that’s at least a 4m trajectory, which I might have been proud of under different circumstances), “NO MOVIE!!!!” And then I called my husband at work and screamed down the phone at him about our TERRIBLE CHILDREN, knowing in some small corner of my mind that his colleagues would probably be able to hear me, but that small part was by no means big enough to wrestle the part of me that needed to vent to the ground. While I was doing this my nine year old son used the nail scissors to cut a slit into the change table mat. So, you can see we were very successfully playing that game of “I want you to be JUST AS FRUSTRATED AS I AM IN THE HOPE THAT YOU WILL STOP YOUR FRUSTRATING BEHAVIOUR SO I’M GOING TO BE A SHIT”. Which always ends badly. Like, with your husband’s boss cackling from over the other side of the office and your facade of calm earth mother shattered for good.

I piled all the kids in the car (them sobbing, me fuming) and went and did the jobs I was meant to be doing that day. Needless to say, I was in a bad mood. One unsuspecting woman walked past us as I was opening the boot of my car in a parking lot and said gayly, “Oh! Watch out for heads!” and I thought WTF? but asked, tersely, “Your head? or hers?” (meaning Joss’s) and the woman, with sharply declining gaiety, replied, “hers” and I replied, “Yep, I knew where her head was.” The woman ducked for cover.

One of the jobs was to go to the Post Office. At this time of year, and in that kind of mood, the Post Office is top of the list of Places I Should Not Go. But I went. And it went about as well as you’d imagine. I got pissed off that there were no bags in-between the $4.50 size and $7 size. WTF NZ Post?? So stormed out of the post office with shit unposted. The next day, in a better mood, I went to a different Post Office (I have some dignity) and just paid the damn $7 to be done with it.

Today after a discussion about the shit that went down in the lead up to my revoking Grinch viewing privileges, we went to the movies. When we got back, we finished some Christmas presents we’d made for some friends of ours, and then hot-glue-gunned some drift wood together to make a wreath for the front door. I was delighted to find that there was still a nail in our front door from last Christmas, and hung the wreath up. Job Done. We listened to supposedly Christmas-themed music on Spotify, and it was a picture of home-education bliss. And then Joss somehow smooshed Louis’ finger into a glob of hot-glue resulting in a 5th degree burn and a wailing Louis and me having to drive to the pharmacy because we had no burn bandages in the house because the last lot we had Louis played with even though I told him not to because when we needed them we wouldn’t have them. On the way out the door (which, perhaps, I opened with a little more vigour than absolutely necessary) the wreath fell off and it’s now a pile of sticks lying in our hallway.

A perfect summation of my experience.

PS. No, there’s not a happy ending. This is life. One day just rolls into the other, and all we can do is hope that Parenting as an Adversary 101 doesn’t call to offer us a job.

Finding Ways to Reconnect

All the ways, little and large.

For the last two weeks, I have been following the advice of my first midwife, “make like a cat and lie there breastfeeding, getting up only to go to the toilet, eat and drink.” Well, mostly I’ve been following that advice.

Which has meant that Ron has done EVERYTHING else. Including going out to work to earn actual money this long weekend. He is maxed out.

The kids are adjusting to life with a new baby, which really means life with severely reduced quality time with their mama. Which means they’re maxed out too. This morning Louis used the “f-word” three times in one sentence – his ability to articulate is tremendously reduced.

I’ve had a couple of rough nights in a row, with days in between where there’s been no let-up. Alfie is either breastfeeding or screaming, and occasionally sleeping. When he sleeps he’s on me. I’m maxed out too.

So, when I was faced with bed-time with three children and not having much patience, I put the TV on. We started a new series of documentaries in which Stephen Fry travels through America. It’s not groundbreaking or breathtaking, but it’s Family-friendly entertainment. So we all got to snuggle on the couch, Alfie on me, Louis and Joss next to me, and sit in the semi-darkness and just be together with no-one swearing, or yelling, or hitting, or scratching or not-sharing. It was a peaceful hour, and one of the little ways we re-connected in a tough week.

 

 

 

Every Day Unschooling

I have been thinking lately about how to breathe some life back into this blog, and I think I might have found a way.

Breastfeeding an infant provides ample opportunity for reflection, and I’ve been reflecting on how much unschooling is integral to our lives – about how every day we do things little and large to make the world a better place. And I think I might use this blog as a way of talking about those little things (for a while, anyway.)

Like, today we buried nga whenua of little Alfie and of Joss. Joss’s has been in the freezer for nearly six years – I was so determined that this was not going to be the case for Alfie’s that I forbade Ron from putting it in the freezer. A woman having just given birth is allowed to forbid things. Besides, turns out I was right: having a small plastic container of placenta in the fridge provides high levels of motivation to dig a hole in the back yard and deal with it.

We got Joss’s out of the freezer a couple of days ago, and this morning she asked if she could have a look at it. I’m going to be honest and admit that plunging my hand into that cold, dark, bloody mess so that we could look at it had me swallowing a couple of times and taking some deep breaths. But I did it. The midwife had shown her Alfie’s on Monday night after the birth, so I’m guessing she wanted to see how similar or different hers was. She was quickly satisfied, and I was gladly relieved of my medical examiner duties.

I insisted that everyone was dressed for the occasion. We get to insist things too, us postpartum women. I thought about putting on some mascara, but Alfie woke up and needed feeding. We each made our way outside carrying something to bury with nga whenua.

I said a few words. Louis placed Alfie’s whenua in the ground, and Joss slopped hers in from about shoulder height. We placed our extra things in with them, and then the big kids and Ron took turns filling in the hole while I stood in the sunshine (still) breastfeeding Alfie.

Joss found a tile in the garden that a friend had given me when we left the Netherlands, 13 years ago. We hosed it down and scrubbed it up, and Joss carried it to the now-filled-in-hole. I could hear her saying a few words as she placed the stone, but couldn’t make out what they were. She was full of the light-hearted, celebratory occasion that it was.

The section of the garden where we planted them today is where we planted Louis’ placenta when we first moved here. It feels so wonderfully complete to have honoured nga whenua of our three children and returned them to nourish te whenua that nourishes their souls – their own back yard.

This is how we raised a revolution today.

 

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