‘Mama, this was my first birthday party I did not cry at.
All the parts were my favourite. It was all just right.’
So I said,
‘Baby, I’m glad to hear that.’
A little less than a year ago, S picked up a Dr Suess book and…just read it. Yes, she needed a bit of help, but she read all sixty pages of Hop on Pop like a mofo. Was I relieved? That was the understatement of the century.
Sure, all the unschoolers who came before me said to just relax and trust things. But, you know, literacy is a bit more complicated than potty learning. I was relaxed about that, I did no ‘training.’ (Though I had potties everywhere, explained what they were for, and made myself available if needed. Much like books and reading!) At age 2, S decided one day she was through with nappies. Three weeks later, M followed suit. I think each had one accident in the two days following getting rid of nappies, and never again. They were ready.
So I clutched our urine free carpet memories to my chest, I held tight to the words of those with older children and teenagers. I read the blogs of adults that had been unschooled. And I held tight.
What does unschooling look like when you are learning to read? We’ve never done lessons or anything formal. And that, my friend, takes courage.
Did I go nuts and order like four different sets of beginning books? Sure. Did I download Teach Your Monster to Read (WHICH IS AWESOME!)? Of course. But did I ever make the kids do any of those things? No.
S learning to read was a quiet event, right before my birthday bonfire. She read a book; we went outside and made s’mores. I wasn’t too surprised as she’d been writing for ages, had begun to sound out searches for youtube videos, etc. But still. Relief.
She’s read signs and various things over the past year with this sort of prideful glee, but not cared too much about books. But in the last three weeks? She’s bringing books to read in the car. I’m finding her in various corners of the house, reading. She’s showing me books for older children in bookstores and double checking she’s reading the sentences right. BOOM.
So we were 50% there. I relaxed quite a bit – now I had proof I could see and touch, it was easier to believe. But M is very different to S. He doesn’t do a lot of fine motor things, he doesn’t care about writing things down, he rarely draws. We recently read The Neverending Story to the kids and it totally captured his imagination. He’s always liked advanced books; his bedtime book for a good few weeks was a history of WWII book written for adults.
So how was he to ever match his intellectual brightness with the stupidity of most beginning reading schemes? I kind of thought he’d be one of those unschooling kids who doesn’t read until ten, but then is suddenly reading Ulysses in a single gulp.
Then I heard about another set of books recommended by another home edder. And because I hoard books and love getting stuff in the mail, I ordered them. He picked up the first one AND HE JUST READ IT.
What the actual?!
No stumbling, no hesitation. Then he read the next one.
Today in the car, S offered him one of her books. And he read that puppy, too!
MY GOD I CAN FINALLY EXHALE. Thank you, gods and goddesses of literacy, thank you books illustrated with stick figures sitting on each other while a freaky deaky sun looks on in horror.
It’s easy to retrospectively trust in the process, now that we are there. But getting there? I’m here to say it’s okay to worry, it’s normal to doubt – but my god, is it worth it to hang on. Because it’ll happen. And when it does, it’s truly at the right time for your child. They can do it.
But you know, YOU CAN TOO. Stay strong. *love to you all*
Now I’m off – probably to worry about when they’ll start reading more and more and more…at higher levels…with greater ease…It’s not easy to step of the merry go round of parental worry and guilt, but each little joy and success makes it easier.
We’ve been so busy lately. Busy with all sort of ‘enriching’ things. Classes, time with friends, busy busy busy. Even though during the summer most groups and classes are off, we have been alternating our normal ‘busy’ with total crushing downtime.
Last night I thought it was time to get back to what life has always looked like for us – at least before the busy bug struck.
Time to explore new places, with no constraints to rush back to anything else. A day with just the three of us (though Suzy was missed); no friends to consider when we decided what to do.
Last night I had a little google, looking at English Heritage, the National Trust, the CADW, and plain old ordinary maps. That’s how I discovered we don’t live that far from a big ass chalk horse carved into a hill in Wiltshire. I decided that could be a loose destination, a way for us to be pointed in.
This morning I told the kids it was Adventure Day. As we drove, if we saw anything cool we’d stop. We did – at a garden centre cum pet supply shop, with a cafe charmingly named after the camp where Suzy and I met. We marveled at cactus displays, venus fly traps, compasses and swiss army style cutlery. Then we got back in the car.
Oh, white horse on the hill, how I love you. We drove up a very narrow, winding road to the top of a hill. The whole carpark was chalk; it was so white. We pulled out a blanket and had a picnic on the flat grass expanse, looking at books, chatting, laying back in the sun.
Eventually we headed off to see what we could see of an Iron Age fort and a white horse.
There were grasshoppers singing, blue skies, a gentle breeze rippling the long grasses. We had pastels and oil crayons, scavenger hunt books and a kite, and all the time in the world. With nowhere to be, we found we were in exactly the right place for exactly the right amount of time.
We stood on the hill and searched for the other two white horses visible from the peaks. We walked ages along a chalky path (which made me feel sick at points, so high and steep were we!). We saw a train pottering along in the distance and wondered if the people onboard would notice the horse.
And I felt happy. Happier than I’ve felt in ages. It was just me and the kids, just me and this wild, gorgeous place, just me and all the time in the world. Never have I felt so enriched.
As we move towards September, we are rethinking how our days and weeks will be ordered. We are leaving some things behind, trying one or two new things, but largely – we will hopefully be exploring, be adventuring without having a specific day set for that purpose, wandering and thinking and making art.
We’ll invite friends along, and gladly go along with others, but I think we’ll try to have more time just us. More time drinking in the beauty of wild spaces, time lazy and ripe. Because, really, what could be better?
Tuesday evening on the drive home from gymnastics, we saw a funfair being set up in a local spot. We decided to check if it was open the following evening.
You asked if we could go after dinner, and we said yes.
(And did we stay till they closed? And did you go back Thursday evening? *wink*)
Note: I only speak for myself here. I hope I don’t annoy or offend people who may feel like I am speaking for them and saying things they don’t need or want said. Let me know in a comment so I can think/learn!
Here’s the problem with saying things like
I’m colourblind; we all bleed red.
Why do gay people feel the need to come out? Love is love.
ALL lives matter.
Look, I get you. I realise you’re saying things about how the world should be. But I’d also like you to know that being colourblind, being blind to differences and saying we’re all the same and all equal, well. It’s not great.
It invalidates the experience of living an othered life. When I hear people saying they don’t understand why gay people need to come out, it can feel like a tidal wave of erasure coming my way. My experience doesn’t matter. I don’t know what it feels like to be queer in this modern world.
But the thing is, if you are white and straight (and male? well educated? have money?) you probably don’t see that there is still a big problem. Lots of big problems.
Black people aren’t making up racism or exaggerating what it means to be black in today’s society. Why would they? Why would gay people be so scared of coming out if it wasn’t a colossally huge deal? And why would they (why would I, I own this, it happens to me) have to come out every single day to new people they meet, if it truly didn’t matter?
Sometimes I can say I have a wife and the conversation moves on, but usually it’s fraught with well meaning apologies for assuming I have a husband, asking me about gay marriage, etc. Sometimes it’s been less…pleasant.
My experience is other.
Saying things like, ‘Please, people, let’s stop talking about #blacklivesmatter and white privilege, we’re all Americans,’ boils my piss. Because the simple fact is, only a white American would be able to say something like that. Look around at every other minority, they’ve got a different story to tell. We may all be Americans, but we are not all living the same experience.
And, quite frankly, all this ‘colourblind’ stuff feels like privilege and assumption and oppression even more. You may mean it like, ‘Hey, we’re all people.’ And while that’s great, the assumption that you ‘don’t see difference’ means that you assume everyone is having the same experience you have. You are wiping out our voices, you are ignoring what we say, you comfortable where you are and assume everyone else is, too.
But I think the only way we are all going to get there, get to that place, is by doing the hard work. The uncomfortable work, if you aren’t used to it. It can take balls to come out again and again, ten times a day, but I do it because I don’t want to be ‘whitewashed’ (for want of a better term….maybe straightwashed?), because I want my children to know it’s okay to be who they are, because other people I meet might be trapped in a very tight and alone place, and I’d like them to feel comfortable telling the truth with me.
It can take bravery to try to find out the answers to questions you or your family may have. Why do some women wear headscarves? Why are black people ‘still’ so angry about slavery? (Yes, my mind explodes at this one, but this is a very common thing to hear in America.) Why do people want to emigrate to new countries, and what is that like for them?
Do the work. Do a bit of research. Have uncomfortable conversations about inherent racism, about privilege, with your friends and family. Try to imagine what it might be like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.
And please, stop erasing me.
We are all different and that has the potential to be such a strength. This world is full of colours and shapes and sizes and abilities and loves and stories. When you say we’re all the same, you are speaking from tremendous privilege and perhaps idealism, but you are not speaking the truth for all people. There are many rich subcultures all around us all, and what a shame it is if we miss the opportunity to learn more about them, to make friends with people unlike ourselves, to celebrate all these differences and how they enrich us all.
Minority people have spent years, decades, centuries carving out spaces to be proud of themselves, to not fall prey to shame and violence. When you say we don’t exist, when you say our experience isn’t valid, you are trying to wipe out the things that we have fought hard for, the things that make us special, the things that are a big part of who we are. If you want us all to be the same, to be a world without wonder and difference, I’d gently suggest that the way to do this isn’t to cover your eyes and pretend you don’t see us. We are here. We are ready and waiting for you. We want you to stand by us as allies, we want you to delight in our differences, we want to be acknowledged.
We are not all the same. And you know, that’s okay.
Here’s my understatement of the year:
Man, things have been politically and socially messed up lately.
Here in the UK, the vote for Brexit (for the UK to leave the European Union) has triggered a huge rise in xenophobic hate crimes. Muslims (including British born), Polish people – hell, any flavour of immigrant (except, perhaps, white and well educated) is experiencing violence, having vitriol spewed at them, living in fear and uncertainty for their futures.
Many companies are choosing to leave the UK, the pound dropped in value overnight to unbelievable new lows, and the strongly held opinions of the leave/remain camps have caused friendship and family breakups. Political leaders appear to have no plan, other than quitting their jobs and stomping their feet.
In the US, a spate of violence has occurred – and not your ‘usual’ mass shootings that seem to barely affect people anymore. I went to bed one night with the news of a black man being held down and shot point blank, and woke up to the news that yet another black man was shot in his car – with a four year old child in the back. I won’t go over the details of these horrific killings, but I will say that my facebook community has been heavily invested in these debates. The hashtag #blacklivesmatter (which I support, 1,000,000%) has people foaming at the mouths.
Most alarming to me aren’t the out and out racists, but the ordinary people left scratching their heads and saying, ‘But don’t all lives matter?’ These are the people who genuinely don’t see why the BLM movement is necessary, the people who say they are colourblind, the people who probably have good intentions but don’t realise the ramifications of what they are saying.
These are the people who went nuts when policemen were shot and killed in Dallas, following a peaceful protest on behalf of BLM. The sort of protest march that has happened twice in London in the past few days, with no violence attached. Of course no one is saying murdering police is a good payback for them murdering black Americans, but suddenly it’s turned into a big contest between ‘black lives’ and ‘blue lives.’
I straddle both worlds, having lived in America until I was about 21/22, then moving to the UK. My friends live across the globe, but most are in the UK and the US. So when shit goes down in either place, given the (shameful?) amount of time I spend on Facebook, I see all the posts and arguments and memes and misunderstandings. Many of my friends are very political, and most are very liberal.
One said this week, ‘Why are we all talking about this? Is there a point? We need to stop talking and start doing.’ She’s right, of course, but it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. What can I, a sole person with no wide political or social reach, actually do? I’m not going to be going into Parliament or Congress to fight for law changes – but I can help raise awareness, I can strongly support minority communities (ever mindful that I’m queer and an immigrant, which no doubt colours my thinking), I can try to participate in respectful discussions. I can STAND UP against racism.
Most importantly, I am someone who DOES have one area of strong influence – my children. They are the next generation, the next brave people who will rise up and make their voices heard.
My strongest way to be and do is to do just what I am doing. I talk about difference with my kids. We have lots of hard discussions in a way that doesn’t feel so hard, because I start from the base assumptions that these things are worth talking about, and that my children are capable of having these discussions.
I want them to never be colourblind – I want them to see the richness and diversity of all our fellow human beings, I want differences to be celebrated and acknowledged, I want them to understand why when one group of people is targeted with hatred or violence, it affects all people. Keeping quiet implies tacit support of the oppressor, and I hope my children grow and learn how to navigate the tricky waters of society. I hope that even if they don’t take the waters of xenophobia or racism by storm, that they make ripples felt the whole world wide.
It’s up to us, to all of us. We need to lead by example. Black lives do matter. Immigants do contribute to our society. We can’t hope or try to erase whole communities of people from the wider social experience just because they speak another language or have skin that’s black. These people matter.
And so do our voices, and our actions. Do the little things you can. I’ve written my MP, I openly support and campaign for minorities (and gun law reform in America, but that’s a whooooolllle different story), I tell my children that we are all different, and that is okay. It’s better than okay, it’s glorious.
I am me, and you are you, and if only we all joined together, how much more powerful and beautiful this world would be.