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Posts from the ‘Everyday Unschooling’ Category

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.

 

Our furniture doesn’t fit.

I was watching some mindless TV during a stint of insomnia the other night – it happened to be one of those relocation programmes, where people from Britain move to France or Spain and the like (the ones who are ex-pats, not immigrants).

On their third or fourth house, the woman in this particular couple looked around the room and said, “I don’t know, I don’t know about this space, our furniture doesn’t fit with this space” and the presenter of the show said something a bit direct. She said, that’s the kind of thing someone says when they’re trying to find an excuse not to like the place. Furniture is easily fixed; sell your old stuff, buy some new stuff. If you don’t like the place, that’s fine, but don’t blame your furniture.

I’m in a lot of on-line groups related to home education and unschooling. Frequently the questions asked on the discussion boards go like this: my partner isn’t 100% on board with unschooling, his (mainly it’s his) main concern is {insert furniture issue here}.

A couple of points about this:

  1. it is not my job to convince my husband that unschooling is the way to go. If he has reservations, he needs to research and think about and construct reasoning to back up his concerns and offer solutions for what could be a middle of the road. I am not going to be the Person Who Finds Ways To Refute His Every Wobble. This way is madness, and puts the responsibility for the unschooling on one parent’s shoulders, absolves the furniture-issue parent of any responsibility. Through nothing but passivity.
  2. Unschooling for us is a lot about preserving the mental health of our kids, and ourselves. In the most general sense possible, that’s what it is. It is our opinion that school would be detrimental to the complete realisation of who they are (which comes under their general health, usually filed under mental health). Providing this is true, there aren’t many furniture-related reservations that top this. Providing this is true, we sell our old furniture (or move on from old friendships that don’t support our decision to support our children’s mental health) and buy new furniture (find new friends who do).
  3. I am not 100% patient 100% of the time. I do not sing gaily as I go about my chores all the time. I swear, and sometimes at my kids. They swear too. The excuse “I don’t have the patience to homeschool” is a furniture issue. It relates to that whole “I must be the best person I can be in front of my kids so that I am a model citizen” way of thinking about motherhood. In contrast to this, I highly value authenticity. If I’m having a shit day, I ask my kids for a higher level of co-operation to help me through. Sometimes they get it. Sometimes they don’t. A bit like my husband.

In short, there’s no furniture issue more important that realising our full potential. If school will help your children reach their full potential, then that’s great. At some point in their future, school might help my children reach theirs, or me mine. At the moment it doesn’t, and there isn’t any furniture in the world that’s a valid excuse not to honour that.

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