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.

Sometimes I feel like I know what life is, but I’m still not certain I’m right.

This time forty years ago, my mother would have been nearing her due date, a tiny me inside her and waiting to come out. This time ten years ago, my belly was stretched and full, my children both waiting to come out.

I came out late, they came out early, but all three of us had the same due date.

My great grandparents also waited, on a sea rather in it, as they sailed to a new life in America. Almost exactly one hundred years later, I stepped on a plane and spent eight hours wondering what my new life in England would look like.

It feels like there are a lot of connections in life, a lot of circles. A lot of meaning.

Sometimes I feel like I need to find more meaning, or I long to create more meaning; sometimes it feels like it’s been a long time since there’s been a Big Moment, or a Big Adventure, or a Big (hopefully positive) Change.

But really, life is a series of small moments. A few are ‘big,’ but most are ‘small.’

Life is a friend threading some string through a hagstone for me, so I can hang it from my neck as we watch our children climb up sandy dunes and jump down again.

Life is laughing as another friend educates a five year old about the band on her t shirt, blasting music and us singing together while the five year old looks on with a curious combination of polite bemusement and joy.

Life is trying to stay awake as I drive across the city late at night, listening to the soundtrack of Hamilton and rapping along with the lyrics I’ve memorised.

It’s staying up talking till 4:30 am with my wife for the first time in years. It’s how tired my body feels the next day, but how energised my heart feels.

It’s walking up a river in flimsy sandals with friends, as the sky darkens faster than expected and we laugh about crazy river monsters and howling monkeys watching from the trees. It’s a text from my mother reminding me that it was my grandmother’s birthday this week, even as I think about how her death impacts me still.

Life is remembering and creating and trying and being unable to move. It’s pain and obsessing and loving and messy. It’s figuring out how to honour and express your own truth while still trying to be kind and thoughtful.

It’s a lot of big figurings out, but it’s also small noticings. The way I feel when my kid is finding things rough. The way her hands look as she holds a trophy that is so much more than just a bit of gold plating, the way his words tumble out faster and faster as he tells me the plot of the latest book he wants to write. It’s observing how hard I thought it would be to stay calm when we’re running late, but how surprised I feel when I just let it go.

Life is my fingers on this keyboard. The yellow string I’ve tied around my wrist to remind me. The choice to drink Dr Pepper Zero this late at night even when I know caffeine screws me up and I might have to wake up early to go to a circus (of flipping and soaring humans, not animals).

It’s the texts I’ve just gotten from a friend we saw today, saying her children are vomiting like small explosive volcanos. It’s me, trying to not stress about an upcoming transatlantic flight with my children who may consequently be vomiting 38,000 miles above Earth, whilst hoping my friend doesn’t have a hellish, puke covered evening of no sleep.

Life is being the immigrant granddaughter of immigrant ancestors. Criss-crossing the globe, or running the palms of my hands over my belly, as my mother did before me.

It’s all the experience. It’s all growth, even when it’s so boring and I’m so exhausted I almost fall asleep as soon as I sit still. I’m learning what it means to really be human, and slowly understanding that it’s as simple as noticing, breathing, participating, and being.

I’ll probably forget this tomorrow. I’ll be rushed and I’ll be hot, we’ll be stressed and I’ll wonder why I can’t just have a few hours alone in a dark room watching Netflix. Then maybe I’ll get a few hours tomorrow night, and I’ll beat myself up for ‘wasting’ it doing ‘nothing.’

That’s hard. But sometimes, it’s hard being a human. I’m still learning. I’m still here.

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.

The antithesis to settling. 

  
I like to think that my children won’t ever settle for an okayish sort of life. 

They aren’t learning that they have to do stuff every day that they hate. 

They aren’t learning that they have to squelch their creative ideas to better fit in with the norm. 

They aren’t learning that they need to just ignore their own needs and wants, otherwise they will potentially get in trouble. 

No, because they have this childhood of freedom and choice, they are learning that it is possible to live this way. They can pursue their passions, they can work hard at what interests them, they can create meaning from play. 

They’ve got a lot of joy, and no one is taking that away anytime soon. 

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.

Creative communities of women.

I made (correction: am making) a list of 100 things I want to do this year. Some big, some small, some silly, some far fetched.

One of the far fetched ones was to find a circle, a community to safely explore myself/others/life on a more philosophical, spiritual, creative level. A place to learn, a place to grow. It’s been something I’ve wanted for awhile, but didn’t have any idea how to go about it.

Most people see me as exceptionally confident. I suppose, to a certain extent, that is true…especially the older I get. That being said, I’m not confident enough to rock up to a moot, random meetup, etc on my own. I feel more confident staying home and watching social documentaries about grown men who love My Little Ponies (have you seen Bronies? I found it surprisingly touching!).

A few weeks after writing this down as a goal for the year – in a few forms – wanting a training circle, wanting to find teachers/mentors, wanting to create more, wanting to help form a supportive community – I was sent a Facebook invite to a select, small group of women. I’d met none in person before, but had been FB friends with one for awhile (who I ‘met’ on a pagan parenting group….again, a place I had wanted to go many times but had never done so). I felt privileged to have been invited, and even more so when I read the posts and saw the images these women shared.

Truly creative, caring, intuitive, generous, beautiful women. And so when one of them suggested an actual meet up, I surprised myself by saying yes. Enthusiastically.

Last night was the meet. Five of us gathered in a warm, safe space to eat cakes, get to know each other, and share information you wouldn’t normally share with strangers (outside of a therapeutic space, anyway!) It felt surprisingly easy. It was good to laugh. It was good to voice thoughts that had been swirling in my head for weeks, it was powerful to hear others voice thoughts I agreed so strongly with. The fragile threads of trust were already being spun, and I just felt so grateful.

Grateful I was asked to join, grateful I said yes. Sometimes all you have to do is say yes, to live the yes and just show up, to give something new a chance and see what happens. I can’t wait till next month, when perhaps the creating will shift from verbal to physical. I suspect having a place to bring my heavy manuscripts will be powerful – even if they just sit in my bag and soak up the healing, supportive, creative, powerful energies of potential.