Unschooling in adults.

I know a man who exemplifies what unschooling looks like when you’re an adult. My friend’s husband is someone I think of when I think about how my life isn’t ‘unschooling my children’ – I’m not doing something to them, I’m providing space and facilitation for them to do it themselves. And lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how the framework and ideals of unschooling aren’t just great for kids, but for adults, too.

This guy I know? He sort of throws himself into trying things out and learning new ways to do stuff. He follows his interests and consequently is a very interesting person. I’ve not hung out with him loads, but I’m always impressed when I do. He doesn’t hesitate to grab any child’s hands to help them learn to roller skate. He brims over with enthusiasm and will talk to anyone of any age about mutual interests. He does what brings him joy, without seeming to care much what others think of him.

I hope these are some of the things I’m helping to instill in my children. The joy of following your curiosity, to not be afraid of being a beginner, the inner resources to know how to find outer support and knowledge.

I hope when they are my age they are excited about life and all the possibilities still open to them. I hope they are willing to try, even if they feel exposed and afraid and silly. I hope my children continue to have such a strong inner compass and the courage to follow where the needle leads, especially when the poles seem to switch places.

If only we all embodied these ideals, what a fascinating place the world will be. We all have our stories, and it’s great to try to enrich your own story….and to take the time to hear someone else’s.

Embracing the unknown is a tall task, but what better opportunity to learn what that feels like than right here and now? What have you wanted to try that you’ve put off? Who are the people you want around you when you do it? What can you do today to answer a question you’ve had, experience something you’ve always wanted to try, figure out a way to make a first step?

Mine was as simple as finding the right tool for the job. I spent £11 on a wireless keyboard and finding a lightweight, cheap way to write (using my phone as the computer) is filling up holes that were so big I thought I just had to learn to live with them.

In case you need to hear it: I believe in you.

I’m a hot air balloon with too many sandbags.

There’s a few reasons I’ve not been here lately. But here’s today’s major reason: my child was called a little ball of sunshine.

This sparked such an immediate response in me, such a deep train of thought, that I felt compelled to immediately write for the first time in ages. I kept the gender of said child neutral to try to disguise which kid it was. I tried to make it more about my response than about the child – but there was a couple of sentences that touched too closely on that child’s inner world.

I kept writing, even though I knew I wouldn’t post it. At almost ten, my children have a more vivid internal world and interesting thought process than they ever have before, but they are also grown up enough that it feels really wrong to share any of that here.

So that has bummed me out, the realisation that the first time in ages I’ve wanted to write and no one gets to read it. Suzy suggested another anonymous blog, which has certainly been a haven for me in the past, but I think I’m tired of that. I feel best in life when I’m being authentic, but too often I find myself holding back from writing things down in case I hurt people I love, or people I like, or, you know, people I don’t particularly like. I’d rather just try to get random words down again.

I’ve been plagued with a real feeling of inertia lately. That word has never been far from my thoughts. Not the objects in motion tend to stay in motion type of inertia, oh no. I’m an object at rest. And what’s more painful than an object at rest that actually wishes they were in motion? Not many things.

I can quite confidentially say, as the foremost authority of being trapped at rest, that it’s pretty shit.

I feel like I’m putting on a good game face. I still have many things to be thankful for and celebrate, but this sort of murky, sluggish state of being is always lurking in the background. Oh, Alison, you say. Don’t you know that lotus flowers, the most beautiful flowers, grow from murky sludge? Let yourself blossom, Alison, embrace your natural wonder.

I mean, no. Fuck you?

Life is messy and complex. Much of the things I struggle with don’t feel like they are my stories to share. Though they twist and cling to my own experiences and perceptions, it’s still giving too much away to write about them.

So here I am. Someone who craves being authentic to the point of over sharing, feeling really low and isolated and trapped in a concrete layer of inertia.

Age forty started off so well. An amazing surprise party surrounded by the most amazing group of women; women I’m so lucky to know and love. To be loved by.

I was feeling good. I bought a big ass wall calendar (I love diaries and calendars and notebooks, oh my, more than you love lotuses and positivity!) and stuck it up over my bed. I bought a silver glitter pen and a gold one. Every time I did something that sort of moved daily life forward in some way, I got a silver star. Anytime I did something that I felt moved me towards this unspecific goal of ‘having a life worth writing about’ I got a gold star.

Tried stand up paddleboarding (and loved it!): gold star.

Roadtrip alone with my wife, climbing a tree for the first time, accidentally giving myself a prison tattoo: gold, gold, gold.

Went white water rafting with my family, went out dancing (and probably drinking too much) with friends more than once, went to a casting day: throw that gold at me, baby.

Stood up in front of hundreds of people and told a very real, very personal story, despite feeling like I was going to both shit myself and have a heart attack at the same time: biggest and most satisfying of gold stars.

Tried stand up comedy, something I’ve wanted to do for ages: well, I mean, gold star for effort but I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would. I’m grateful I didn’t bomb; I feel like making the world’s smallest audience of twenty year old boys laugh about my friends and their middle age incontinence was a true victory. I think I could do well at it, and it felt so amazing to be working towards something.

It felt big, but it also felt flat. And that’s where I’ve been since then. Flat. Sluggish. Hanging out with my pal Inertia and her friends Guilt, Aimlessness, and Big Ideas But No Follow Through.

Mixed up with all that other personal stuff that, for me, is too personal. Which is saying something, considering there’s probably not a person I see regularly who hasn’t experienced me crossing a line and over sharing something from my messed up imagination.

But my imagination does seem to be misfiring. I’ve gone from too many ideas and not enough time to desperately wishing for an idea, but even if I get one I’m too stuck to actualise it.

That’s how I am, here and now, sat in a library while my little ball of sunshine is at drama school next door. I’m attempting to curate the perfect pick-me-up playlist (suggestions welcome!) whilst also idly looking up the requirements to become a hot air balloon pilot in Britain.

That about sums this shit up. I doubt I’ll be piloting a balloon anytime soon, but by god if I won’t understand the intricate process of how to do so. I feel like setting goals was giving me purpose this year – the storytelling event and stand up comedy were both exciting things I worked toward. I need a new goal now. Ideally something powerful and true.

If not hot air ballooning, then what? Other shit on my list of stuff to do reads like the Who’s Who of Midlife Crisis – get a tattoo, go somewhere in Europe spontaneously for a weekend, probably drink and dance more, be an extra in a tv show or movie, go on a transformational long distance wilderness hike, figure out what bra size I am.

Again, I’m always open to suggestions.

Yours,

Alison

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.

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.

What I do late at night. (AKA invent new subcultures and wax lyrical)

Tonight I uttered the phrase ‘middle class gangsta’ in a conversation and then was overcome with a feverish frenzy. Over the next three minutes I wrote around twenty poems on the subject. I sent them to my friend, who promptly wrote a chorus and responded with gratifying rejoinders at each new poem I messaged her.

I feel so alive, so ridiculously empassioned, so besotted with the wonder of the English language that I’m actually debating opening a Middle Class Gangsta blog and posting one poem a day. This shit is golden. (And some is just shit…but it’s midnight, I’m babysitting, and I’m very, very, very tired.)

——-

I’ll kill you with my hummus,
And my olives picked in Greece.
Everything’s organic, bitch
Your life is under lease.

——–

Do you want a fresh croissant?
I’ll hit you in the head.
Drink up that nice mint tea
Cause you’ll soon wake up dead

———

Now let’s make some nice craft animals
No, you shut up and listen.
We will use this felted wool
You’ll see what you’ve been missin’

———

Darling, share with Alfie
And give some to Fiona too
We all gonna pop some bullets
Then pop to the loo.

———-

Georgie knows all his colours
And all his numbers as well
Georgie likes to kick yo ass
He thinks its really swell

———–

I got glue guns, I got etsy,
I got crochet hooks and I got library books,
I got dirty looks, I got vicious slander
And I got maps to nice little brooks.

Walk down life’s path with me
Yes, towards the Steiner school
HAHA YOU LITTLE PUNK BITCH
you’re dead, I got you fooled.

————

Imma get you, ain’t nowhere to hide
I’ll look on amazon and order weapons real fast
While I wait for two day shipping
I’ll draw mandalas and sit on my ass.

———–

Sure, yeah I’ll fight you
Just givè me a minute
I need to pause this show
It’s a documentary, innit

———-

How do you say
‘I’ll fuck you up’
In mandarin and Latin?
Have you felt my new sheets they’re 100% satin.

———-

What you mean you don’t like
Baby led weanin’?
You’re so ignorant about healthiness
I think you need a beatin’

———-

I only wear barefoot shoes
Like all true gangstas do
The formation of my foot bones
Is admired by my crew.

———–

Oh you babywear your twins
Guess what, I totes do, too.
Baby’s in the back
And strapped on front’s my AK-42.

———-

Oh, mighty universe, thank you for the ease of communication that Facebook creates at midnight as I stretch my inner gangsta while sipping Organic tea, adult colouring book at my side. My hand knitted wrist warmers are superb at keeping me warm whilst allowing to me tippy tap on expensive electronic gadgets. The three minutes I spent performing an invisible rap YouTube video with my friend were worth at least a month’s supply of vegan raw food.

Seriously. Three minutes. Set your alarm and go. It will free you.

I’ve done cool shit.

20150810-185908.jpg

I have done some cool shit.

I’ve spent time teaching in a well known school for the Deaf, totally immersed in American Sign Language and Deaf culture. One of my most proud moments still is when two 17 year olds thought I was Deaf – a real relief as spending eight hours a day communicating in a language I was not born to was intimidating. But amazing.

I’ve worked at an American summer camp for years and years, culminating in an excellent time being the Director there. Summer camp is sort of like you see in the movies, only deeper and funnier and harder. It helped me discover who I was, to celebrate that, to be loved for nothing more simple than just being me.

I spent one memorable winter season living alone at that camp, 400 acres of potential axe murderers and demons at my beck and call. Many hours spent hearing voices outside the window, running like hell through the woods to my little cabin, keys shaking in my hands as I pictured the hounds of hell just about to disembowel me.

I’ve been part of the editorial staff of an international magazine. I never knew how mundane something so seemingly glamourous could be. I loved it. I loved the giant proofs of each new edition, I loved the weird pressure of my work being checked by people just as geeky as me, I loved the odd man who gave me lifts out of London.

I moved across the world to another country, practically sight unseen, for love. I learned how to navigate the most effed up city ever, fell in love with that city, lived in a tiny studio flat with a toy lobster hanging from the bathroom light pull. After a year of staying up all night on the phone to Suzy, waiting for the mail to come each day, what a miracle it felt like to live with her.

I had two years of therapy; it was a requirement for my course, and what a gift it was. I spent hours sitting on a couch across from a woman who showed me such love, such understanding, such humour. How profound it was to be seen, to be known. If I offered a quarter of that experience to the many humans I worked with as a counsellor, I consider that a job well done.

I’ve been inside some notorious psychiatric hospitals, many while volunteering as a mental health advocate. One particular night of trying to get off a locked ward, then out of a locked outer containment zone, then out of endless maze like corridors that all ended in locked doors stays with me still.

I’ve been pregnant with two children, and spent an entire summer on the couch, looking out the window at white fluttering butterflies. Every year when I see those butterflies I am reminded of movement deep within, of my huge, curved belly, of the heat of that endless time of waiting and wondering.

I’ve done cool shit.

I’ve shaved my head, dyed my hair every colour of the rainbow, pierced my tongue. Met many ‘strangers off the Internet’ in a time when that just wasn’t done. I won national awards for acting when I was a teenager and was still so stupid and so brilliant. I achieved a distinction on my Master’s dissertation, and have gone back to teach other MA students.

I’ve written a book or two. Or three. These moments were among the most joyful and fulfilling of my life.

I’ve had sloppy teenage kisses and made messy teenage mistakes. I experienced true love at a very young age, and those memories still sometimes creep into the nighttime landscape of my dreams. I’ve kissed boys, and girls, and my own arm before I was confident in my abilities when lips met lips. All those things led me to here – married just about fifteen years. Safety, laughter, ease, contentment, love.

I quit teaching right before starting a plum job that was hotly fought for. I dropped out of my PhD programme to pursue a career in counselling. I qualified as a high ropes course instructor despite spending three hours crying in a tree, trying to work up the courage to step off a twenty foot high platform. I’ve been in more Halloween haunted houses, haunted woods, and haunted hayrides than you can imagine – and wet myself in fear on more than one occasion. I’ve also wet myself lavishly while laughing.

I’ve survived hard stuff. I spent two years in a wheelchair, unable to walk. My grandmother’s death led me to what, looking back, I can only class as a breakdown. I had a very unstable parent, with many problems, and my choice to cut all contact troubles me still.

I spent time in the room where Anne Frank hid. I’ve stopped my car to let a bear cross the road. I lived without electricity or walls five months every year. I’ve seen meteor showers, I’ve survived tornadoes, I’ve danced in the rain at the tail end of Florida’s hurricane season. I’ve swum naked in a lake filled with dubious creatures. I’ve found friends who feel more like family. I got a qualification as a sexual health worker with young people, and had some of the most…interesting…conversations of my life as a result.

All these things I’ve done, and more, crept into my thoughts while I was driving home today. And I wondered: where is my cool shit now? Ten years from now, will I be able to add onto this list?

I’ve done cool shit. I want to do more.

Sometimes the truth wants to come out.

Sometimes (always) I worry about the power of my words. Years from now, what will my children think when faced with a pile of half finished journals? Some just messy writing, some painting, some awkward pictures mixed with words. If I am too honest, will I damage them?

If I am too honest, will the people who (will) read my books turn away from my stories?

Writing this makes it seem so simple. I think I am at my most beautiful when I am the most me – even when ‘me’ can struggle so much, can say the wrong thing at the terribly wrong time, can be so doubtful about all that I am. Because that’s just part of me: of course there is another part who thinks I am limitless and beautiful. But the older I get, the more I realise that the limitless me makes the rest of me only feel more glum.

Look at all the books I have not written! Look at that opportunity to write a film for a new director that I turned down! Look at the manuscripts (that I recently had my wife dig out of obscurity) sitting in a pile, thick sheafs of paper just heavy paperweights.

Literal weights made of paper, heavy in the corner. Making the air thicker, making me more fearful and more hopeful. I remember the time I gave a novel, sealed in a thick manilla envelope, to a friend. I had her hang onto it, had her mail it to me. Was it my old therapist, was it the powerfully brave and insecure woman I met on my therapy training? I don’t remember that.

I remember the terror of giving my words to someone else. I remember anguish at knowing she wouldn’t read what I’d written, but relief because I’d asked her not to. She carried a bit of my weight.

And these women surrounded me. My therapist was one that was a happy meeting of need and want. My course required us all to undergo a significant amount of personal therapy; a damaging, world blown wide open bereavement made me realise how much I needed a place to just try to claw myself out of the blackness that death brought into my life.

My therapist was good friends with a well known author. She also was a therapist of other writers, other creative types. And she said I said the same words they did, in the same way. Sometimes she laughed, in this gentle, loving way, and shook her head. Told me I talked like a writer and it was so apparent. And I knew she was frustrated with me, the same way my friend on the course was. She said the way I spoke about writing made her know I was a writer with talent, with love, with the chance to actually do this thing.

Ah, I thought. But they’ve not read my words. What do they know?

And I sit here tonight, wondering what it is that I know. I’m in the same place creatively I was when I started training as a therapist, almost ten (!) years ago now. Stunted, bent, thick and close to the ground. But not broken.

Perhaps that is all I need to know now. I am not broken, no matter how the darkness sometimes presses against me, no matter how deep into my core it goes. I don’t know if I want to extinguish it; I don’t think so.

I have darkness from hope unfulfilled, from little kid love damaged beyond repair, from death and all the ways that destroyed me.

But I’m still here. And these people and places are part of me. Even the people I no longer have in my life, and by those I mean the ones still alive I choose to not welcome into my life. Those are branches of my own little tree of darkness I pruned not for myself, but for my children. For my sanity.

Those discarded branches don’t seem to rot away and melt back into the earth like normal branches. They hang around, they hurt me when I catch small glimpses of them. But seeing them is reminder enough of the tremendous hurt they could cause if I somehow tried to reattach them.

So I am here. Stunted, bent, thick and close to the ground.

But not broken.