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Posts from the ‘Everyday Unschooling’ Category

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.

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.

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