Gazing outward.

I’ve always loved labyrinths, ever since I was little.

It was only as I grew older that I learned more about them, that I was able to ascribe deeper meaning to my own truth.  I remember a number of years ago reading that they can be symbolic of a journey inward, for deeper understanding of self, before using that knowledge to then return outward again.  I have the feeling I’ve written before about how I think this relates to motherhood.

It does.  Generic parenting, home educating, all of it.  When a baby is born, everything turns inward.  Your only focus is keeping this little being alive.  Changing shitty nappies, feeding, feeding, always feeding, cuddling and marvelling and sleeping.  That’s it.

When that baby is a toddler, it becomes so much more intense – or it did for me.  Two babies running in opposite directions, one falling on a plant pot and the other eating cat poop.  There was a lot of frantic blood wiping, comforting, but also a lot of getting out paints only to clean up and put them away ten minutes later.

And so it carried on.  But now, my babies are somehow nine years old.  And only now do I really feel the possibility of coming away from the centre of that labyrinth.  This blog doesn’t need to detail my children – while they don’t mind being online presences, I am starting to mind on their behalf.  But you know, I’m learning that so much of unschooling and parenting is actually about the parent, not the child. We are a part of the equation.

We have all the worries and wobbles.  In what specific and glorious ways am I messing my children up?  Should we be doing more math and less mess?  What life do I see for my children, am I doing enough to help that become reality? We have the anger, the assumptions, the awful second guessing and doubt.

But also, just lately, just now, I have something other than all those things.  Oh, they are still there, but my capacity to hold them seems to have widened and I’m left with the most precious gift of all: space.

I’ve done something right, I’ve made some good choices along the way.  My children know what to pack for each day and just get ready for that adventure without prompting or needing me to double check (though I still do). The house is a hideous mess of Lego and playmobil and endless things I don’t understand – bits of wire, rocks shoved under the couch, papers full of drawings and plans and sharks about to eat unsuspecting surfers.  But when I can’t take it, when I ask, they’ll tidy.

I’ve been brave and made friends.  A really good circle of friends who are also trying to create space or forgetting that they ever had space or are pretending they don’t need that space.  We’re in the same boat, even if we educate differently, even if we parent differently, even if we are just so exhausted it’s hard to see where we overlap or miss the boat entirely.

I’ve made a lot of bad decisions, too, but the good ones, the ones that are buying me this bit of safe space, means that I’m no longer in the middle of that labyrinth, stupidly hopeful but drowning in despair. I’m actually, sort of, kind of, thinking it’s time to start facing outward again.  Maybe taking a step or two in that direction.

There’s a lot I want for my children.  But you know what?  There’s a lot I want for myself, too. And that’s okay, even if it’s hard to imagine just what ‘myself’ might look like these days.

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A love letter.

I see you.

I see that getting out of bed is a victory sometimes, how these small-yet-huge tasks you do make you into an isolated hero.  I see you making tough decisions between financially supporting your family and emotionally supporting them; you weigh things up, you are doing your best.

I see how you try to sort out your own complications without passing them onto your children; your smile is so beautiful and I wonder if you realise that.  I see you, brave enough to start a life across the world, and brave enough to start a new life within that country. Possibilities surround you because you are strong enough to create them, even when you cry alone in the night.

I see your questions, your doubts, your deep desire to do the right thing;  I see your questioning is so fierce because it matches the weight of your love.  I see how you fought to expand your family, and how you fight to make sure every member of your family is supported and thriving.  Even when it tears you apart.

I see you with your young child, struggling to fit the skin of your evolving identity; you will get there, you are getting there, things will change and expand. Your mind is a joy to get to know.

I see your patience and humour and gentleness, even when you might feel frustrated; you’re always there with quiet encouragement and ready laughter. I see you with your hands full of homemade food, children, and the books that help you be so thoughtful about the sort of person you are. The sort of person who teaches me a lot.

I see your anxiety, your struggle to do what’s best, all the while wondering what ‘best’ looks like and somehow getting it right even when you worry you are not. I see you juggling professional and personal and doing both so incredibly well, and still making time to give of yourself for others. I see you, hanging on in your marriage to me, even though there’s so little time to be us instead of loosely connected islands. I admire your growth and new green shoots, fresh after all this time.

I see you all; I love you all.  

I notice how it makes me feel when we circle around the one who needs it.  When we offer thumbs up messages when there’s no time for more, when we hug without being asked, when we hide notes of power and positivity.  I feel the privilege of being able to blurt out my hurts and triumphs, big and small, without worrying I’ll get anything but support – or kind and honest challenging, if I need it.

I love that the warmth of huddling together in a kitchen on a windy day stays with me long after the wind has stopped blowing. I know how it makes me feel to walk into a house filled to the brim with you all wearing silly hats, coming together with curry and questionable games to celebrate my birthday.

I am still feeling what it’s like to be driving, to hear a song, to think of all of you and how you bring richness to my life, how at times I’ve longed to hold one or two or all of you because sometimes words aren’t enough, and to park my car at the side of the road and get this laptop out.  To finally write again, after so long, and all because I see how powerful and brave and beautiful you all are. And I love you, and you love me, and we are always just one text away from tears or laughter.

For this night, that is enough.  That is everything.

Thank you.

The Starting Block.

My kids are writing their own books.  I’m talking full on chapter books, but also talking graphic novels, short sweary books, and the like.  One of them makes detailed animation based movies – he’s done stop motion claymation, strung together filmed segments, is gaining an amazing talent in sculpting and blocking scenes.  One of them is heavily immersed in the world of musical theatre, and they’ve written a script, drawn and labelled costumes, arranged songs. They are filled with joy both behind and in front of the camera, and have started drama school only to have realised there is a real possibility of working professionally doing the thing they love to do playfully.

Earlier this week, they had two friends over. One was specially coming over to work on a collaborative project with S – they’d had an idea for a novel, so of course they arranged a time to get together and work on it. M and the other child also joined in.

I stood in the kitchen, watching.  They were laughing, throwing ideas out, occasionally pausing to use spell check.  Their thoughts were thick and fast, their words were natural.

Did I feel proud? Yeah. But did I feel jealous? HELL YES.

I’m so pleased to give my children the opportunity to work on their creative ideas. I’m so relieved and grateful that this is a way of life for them.  There’s no crippling self doubt, no feeling they don’t deserve to pursue creative dreams, no thinking that they won’t succeed.  Their success, right now and from my point of view, is that they are simply doing it.  They are making.  They are creating, drawing, writing, singing, acting, exploring.

It’s no exaggeration to say I have a strong preference for the creative arts, that I wish I had realised at a much younger age it was a possibility for me.  That I’d been supported in that.  So something in my heart lightens and glows to see my children creating.  Something in my mind is deeply pleased when I read longitudinal studies stating that children who have been unschooled since the start are extremely likely to go into creative fields – artists, writers, actors, STEM fields.  In fact, four out of five kids grow up to work in those fields.

If M or S want to be that one in five who grows up to be an accountant, or a retail manager, or something not in the creative field – well.  All I really want is for them to be happy.  I want them to get joy from the life they create, I want them to do things to help make the world a better place, I want them to learn and grow and find peace.

I guess that’s still all I want for myself.  My kids just have a head start.

Five years.

In September 2013, I watched my children play and climb a fountain on what would have been their first day of school.

Today, as they near the end of their fifth year officially being home educated, I sat in the same spot and watched the same thing.

What an excellent five years it’s been, and what a joy and privilege it is to watch my children ripen.

Not Back to School week 2017!

Because it’s a bit of a tradition, and I like being able to look back, here we go. Usual caveat that every week is different, etc.

Monday

This week is when many classes and groups kick off again – and thinking about how this upcoming term is going to be the most scheduled term we’ve ever had (half hoping it’s great, half expecting it to break us so we all agree to go back to a more relaxed pace!), we thought we’d stay in.

Then we discovered Spider-Man: Homecoming was on in our local cinema, and it’s cheap ticket Monday, so that was much of our morning.

M is obsessed with Spider-Man lately (again); S was less keen and brought a book along to read in the cinema, but alas, she forgot a torch.

(S has become obsessed with graphic novels – the longer non-comic book ones aimed at 9-12 year olds. She heavily recommends El Deafo as well as anything by Raina T. If you have cash to burn, send an Amazon gift voucher. Our libraries and finances cannot keep up with her pace!)

Afterwards we came home and much Lego/Playmobil fun was had. Mondays from now on will involve S going to drop off educational provision in the woods, so it feels special to have time for the both of them to just play!

Late afternoon M had gymnastics class with a friend, while S played with hers. She then had her first non-recreational gymnastics class; she was on her own with girls much older than her, and it was much more intense than the recreational classes she is used to. She survived.

Earlier in the day M ran round the block with hand weights, pumping them up and down while running (lots of this sort of tiny thing happened this week – I didn’t document it as it would be too crazily long!)

M suddenly asked for ‘muscles training’ in the evening so I found Tae-Bo videos on YouTube (#billyblanksforever!) and he did two full length videos aimed at adults. He did these two weight lifting videos every day this week.

Tuesday

First day back to a very busy pottery class after the summer break. Clay, glaze, inspiration.

Afterwards we all had a picnic/play in the park. Was nice to be back! We were there till around 1:30, when I had to take S to Spanish class. A friend offered to have M round her house – he and his friend had some quality Lego time.

S and I arrived ridiculously early at Spanish, so we went for a walk. Happened to stumble across an awesome music store – she played some broken chords on the various pianos until we discovered there was an entire room devoted to percussion instruments. She’s thinking of giving up piano to have drum lessons, so it was great to get to try out some digital kits.

Spanish was Spanish – learning how to describe circus related stuff, this week. She really enjoyed it.

Then back off to pick up M – it was my birthday, and my gorgeous friend made me a cake (which she unfortunately dropped on the floor.) She left me and the kids alone while she ran to the store to get milk, and the four of us promptly fell on the cake pieces like wolves. Bare hands and all.

Wednesday

Normally we’d be at forest school on a Wednesday, but this week our lovely friends from London were down and staying in the local area.

We met them at Slimbridge Wildlife and Wetlands Centre – or whatever it’s called. We spent a full day in the soft play, welly boot land, and somehow missed out on seeing the birds – except for the geese and swans near the entrance, who swarmed the children once they realised the kids had grain to feed them. One of my friend’s kids may now have a permanent bird phobia. Whoops.

Driving to and from our meet up, we listened to Short and Curly. It’s a podcast about ethics aimed at children – and it’s totally awesome. Ethics is a fascinating area of study, full of critical thinking, morals, debate, challenging our own ideas. We all LOVE it.

Thursday

Thanks to Groupon and the friend who spotted a deal on there, we headed off to the Mendips winter sports centre with five other families. The kids got an hour of tobaggoning on the dry slopes – which were much faster than I thought they’d be.

Everyone loved it; no one broke their skulls open.

Afterward, we went to the top of the ‘alpine lodge’ for lunch. Very unfortunately, M had an airborne allergic reaction to … something?

He responsibly asked for meds and took himself outside for fresh air. It was minor at that time, nothing out of the ordinary.

About ten minutes later, my friend looked out the window and saw him gasping for air/coughing.

Queue a very tense twenty minutes. No epipen was given – and luckily a nurse was on the trip with us.

M proceeded to give all his friends a lesson on how to administer an epipen.

We elected to head home rather than carry on to Chew Lake with friends – closer to hospitals if needed.

Thankfully he was fine. We cancelled our emergency GP appointment, and Suzy took both kids off to Woodcraft Folk for the first session of term. Luckily it was an outdoors session with plenty of fresh air!

That evening S and I spent a good chunk of time reading our own books in her room. Was very cozy.

Meanwhile M took proud ownership over a new Spider-Man costume, courtesy of Grandma! Lots of running around outside with it on.

Friday

Crack of dawn piano lessons were cancelled as their tutor was ill – God help me, I was so relieved and happy for a chilled morning!

Back to Capoeira late morning. I cannot recommend this more – miles better than our previous martial arts experience. Kids remembered their moves from before summer, which was great. Lots of fun and excellent music on a very rainy morning!

S wanted to have friends back to ours after class, but honestly I was too tired! We went home – kids played, we watched Night at the Museum, etc.

Just a chilled out way to end the week.

I found during this week that car rides, as ever, are where kids continue to request maths challenges. M’s mental maths are off the chart – you know, if we used them!- and he particularly has been requesting more and more difficult problems. I’m still loving how we can cover a variety of topics within one thing – maths, ethics, language – and not even realise we are doing so until it’s reflected on later.

All in all, a great week -next week even more things start back up. I have a feeling I may revert back to drinking caffeine!

All the time in the world. 


Should we make shields, should we make flags? Where are the bamboo sticks? I found the sticky tape!

Let’s play a card game. Let’s have a battle. Let’s swing from the chin up bar, hold the baby, spend an hour or two out in the drizzle. Ew, I found a dead earwig!

Where are the pencils, can I have some toast? Do you like the bread? I made it! Bring your teddy, everyone being the teddies upstairs. 

Let’s have enough popcorn that our stomachs explode. I’m doing Lego, let’s do that imagination game. Can I see the baby’s fingernails?

What’s this thing (abacus)? Look, I’ve made a pattern. Watch me, I’m pretending to fall to make you laugh. Hey, I read this sign hanging by your bed, why is it there?

Five and a half hours. They did stuff outside with paintbrushes, while we talked about the lies our siblings told us and the lies we told them. (I told my sister squirrels lived inside green beans when we were kids.) 

Five and a half hours of noisy shrieking, with interludes of peaceful quiet and absorption. Playing, creating, filling entire plates with mounds of popcorn. 

Not bad. Not bad at all. 

Building yourself, one world at a time.

She’s describing her newest Playmobil family to me.

‘This is the dad, he works at the hospital. The mum works at a restaurant. And this is the kid. She’s just….a free kid, because she’s home educated.’

Can we pause for a moment, just for the collective joy swelling of our hearts when we hear our kids say something like this?

I find parenthood is interwoven with guilt and second guessing myself, much of the time. The top 10% of my brain is telling me I’m doing a great job, to trust myself and the kids. The other 90% is like, ‘Really? You think that’s a good idea? Have you thought about the 83920438 ways this decision (whatever it may be) might screw your kids up?’

I hope I’m not alone in feeling that way.

I do find that I’m better at propping other people up than telling them I need support. I like reaching out to people when they might need a boost. I like inspiring others. But in reality, sometimes, especially during gloomy months full of clouds, ear infections, and sad news, I’m just trying my best to get through every day.

And so it rolls on. Am I doing my best, as a home educating parent?

It’s a fine line, a high and dizzying tightrope, along the border of feeling you aren’t doing enough and feeling you need to leave plenty of free time for small miracles to happen.

My miracle today is right now. It’s 1:26 pm. I can hear the kids; they are in a very involved game of Playmobil that’s been going on awhile. They are building worlds, they are living in them.

I’m upstairs in the office, alone, writing. A lot of stuff elsewhere, a bit in this blog. I find my old anonymous blogs that grew so popular were probably that way because they were anonymous. I’ve never written an inauthentic word, but a great many words haven’t been written because they were too scary, too painful, too much for me to share.

So this little period – be it ten minutes or thirty – is my miracle. I’m thinking and writing and feeling instead of all the other ways I use to numb myself on days when things all feel a bit too much. I’m here, I’m trying. …And downstairs?

Downstairs are just two kids who are free, because they are home educated. Because they follow their interests, because they explore their joy, because they trust themselves to find their way. And really, who am I to second guess that?

They are building worlds downstairs, I’m building worlds upstairs. We’ve put a money tree leaf on soil, to help it take root and grow. Sheet music has been read, youtube videos have been watched, I actually did the breakfast dishes. This day isn’t yet over, but we’ve done enough. Building a world, building yourself, is work enough.