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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

Camping Smells

I need to write a blog about smells. Anyone who knows me knows I have a nose worthy of drug detection agency employment. I was unprepared for the onslaught of odours that camping would unleash. I now stockpile vinegar, baking soda and lemons at every Four Square I encounter on the way.

  1. Fish Sauce. Fish sauce really smells. I will quote my husband here: “Who the fuck brings fish sauce camping anyway??!!??!!” when he discovered that the bottle of fish sauce had emptied itself through the fridge, over the floor and into the weird carpet stuff that covers the vertical surfaces in our camper. Fish sauce, smells. I responded with: “do. Do you enjoy my cooking??? Huh?? Well shut up.” While I emptied an industrial sized bag of baking soda over it, then cut up some onions then cut up some lemons. So then, instead of our camper smelling like rotting fish, it smelled like the alley behind a Thai restaurant. It got rid of it though.
  2. Toilets. Fuck, the toilet just, well, it’s just a pain in the arse. The toilet has been an ongoing… challenge in our camper vanning life. The toilet was installed in a ridiculous manner. We brought it back to the guy we bought it off and he “fixed” it, and then about a month later it was broken again. By broken I mean the toilet bowl wasn’t fixed to the platform well so the effluent oozed out and SMELLED. So, this time last week Ron and I were team-working up a storm dismantling the toilet and pouring silicon onto every available surface in an attempt to make it impermeable. We have been high fiving ourselves until today, when we arrived just out of Opotiki and there’s the ooze again. So tomorrow (I need to work myself up to it) I’m going to investigate where I missed. Baking soda and vinegar have been liberally sprinkled in the toilet vestibule.
  3. Dog food. We switched Isa to dry food for the trip (previously she’d had a diet exclusively of raw food which needed to be frozen, and we just don’t have the space for that) and we soak it before we give it to her. Somehow her bowl got knocked over and the contents seeped all through one of the underneath lockers, soaked into that weird carpet, and then took a week to start smelling like road kill. I actually thought it was road kill – I’d been unable to avoid squishing an already-dead possum that day so I thought I’d brought some with us and went a bit nuts trying to hose the underneath of the camper van. Turned out it was Isa’s food. Cue baking soda emergency run and spending $10 on two of the smallest packets in the world.
  4. The grey water. About the third time I dumped the grey water I thought, ‘Oh wow, we need to not put the poached egg water down the drain.’ Thinking that was why it smelled like rotten eggs. But, when I dumped in Gisborne at the business of a veteran camper vanner and plumber (a great mix) he told me in no uncertain terms that it was a “Health Risk” and I needed to use this stuff he calls “Blue Loo.” Now, I don’t use shampoo, so using something that ends in the suffix ‘dehyde’, as in formaldehyde really is against my beliefs. But, I got bullied into it, and sure enough the sulphur smell went. I was very worried about how many fish we were killing though. Anyway, every time I don’t use the bloody blu loo, the grey water stinks again, and smells surprisingly like road kill, and the smells just permeate everything. I need an earthy option – any ideas?
  5. Christmas Trees. The joy of living in an enclosed space is that the tiny wildling pine that our new friends gave us as a Christmas Tree did a magnificent job in helping the camper van smell like Christmas. I had visions of creating Christmas-on-wheels amazingness this year, but the seven decorations I made didn’t really cut it. The fairy lights I bought were too long and we couldn’t hang them anywhere they wouldn’t get in the way. The old pillow case I brought along to write Merry Christmas!!! on never saw the light of day. But, we had a Christmas Tree and the first night we had it on board I rolled over and caught a whiff of the pine sap and smiled. Smelt like Christmas.

We have just arrived outside of Opotiki and have relief from the sun by way of rain and grey skies. So it’s been a day of showers (last time I showered was in Gisborne – about two weeks ago – so, let’s be honest, I probably smelt too), laundry, and inside activities. And internet. And no awful smells. Yet.

PS, photo is of the Kina hunting expedition this morning. Yield: one Kina tried only by Ron and our culinarily adventurous neighbours.

Gaming Our Life.

Louis can be quite… exuberant. When he decides he wants to do something not much will dissuade him nor alter his straight-line path to his goal. I keep pivoting away from exasperation at his determination towards celebration of it. Sometimes all this pivoting leaves me a dizzy, crumpled mess on the floor. Somedays, I pirouette like Fancy Nancy.

One of the things it was really important to me to bring along on our travels this summer was a surf board. A lifetime ago I surfed with boyfriends and friends, using boards they had lying around, and since then I’ve had a couple of stints in various places around the world but I’m not really a surfer. I’d love to be though, so this summer I wanted to bring a surfboard along.

So, about 10 days into our trip, we were skimming the coast on our way to Mahia. The surf was gigantic, and there was a pod of about 20 surfers sitting off the coast catching the waves. We pulled over to watch them and Louis kept asking me, “Mama!! Can we get out and surf?!! Can we? CAN WE????” These waves were ginormous. Louis had spent exactly 20 minutes on a board at this point. And I just kept saying, “No, they’re huge!!” But he didn’t really get it and thought his mother was just being a curmudgeon.

I hate being the ‘No-Mama’ and most of the time do my best to avoid it. But sometimes I fall into old habits and we find ourselves grumpy and snipey and generally disconnected.  I really wanted to break free of it and sensed that surfing was going to help us.

A while ago I read an article about gamification in education (and I just spent about 20 mins trying to find it on the internet but couldn’t, so I’m sorry there’s no link) and what it said was instead of grades – which don’t really have any meaning for children – being able to progress to the next level is extremely motivating. I managed to remember this, and decided I was going to implement it with the surfing.

Luckily, the waves where we eventually camped in Mahia were tiny and perfectly formed, so we went down to the water and I said, “Now, there are different levels to surfing, and you can’t just go skipping straight to Level 5. You’ve got to start at Level 1, and then when you’ve completed that level, you go up to the next one.” He was immediately engaged, “Right, so what’s Level One?” I had to quickly think of something, “Catching a wave” I said. “And what’s the next level?” “Standing up” And off we went. He was totally into it, and is still taking it very seriously. Level 3 was catching a wave and standing up by himself, and Level 4 is catching a wave before it breaks (up until now he’s been mostly doing this in the white wash). Level Four’s what he’s working on at the moment.

He is totally rocking the surfing, and because he’s so freaking goal oriented the “levels” are perfect. He’s getting a feel for what sized wave he’s comfortable with, he’s enjoying the challenge of doing something that he can’t quite get yet but has the sense he will eventually – soon. He’s managing himself and his expectations, and we’re both really enjoying it. I’ve stopped being Boring Say No All The Time Don’t Let Me Do Anything Mama and all of a sudden we’re on the same team again.

That’s a really nice place to be.