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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Don’t erase me.

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.

Jealous. 

 

I’m jealous of your childhood; I’m jealous of your life. How you spend so many days seeing new things, poking sticks in tidepools, running in joy with your friends.

I did not have many of the things you had. I still don’t. I tell myself, Alison, if their lives are so fantastic and rich and layered and varied….and you are with them every step of the way, isn’t your life that way, too?

Maybe.

I’m thankful for flying kites, for peregrine falcons, for soft toys that are part of our family. I thrill to explore new sand dunes, or old castles, or stick my feet in streams so cold my toes turn red almost instantly. I take comfort in relaxing into adulthood and parenthood and beinghood.

But still. I am jealous. I can hold that alongside my gratitude, but my own longing nudges me uncomfortably. I want to see more, to do more, to be more.

I try to remind myself: Alison, as you remember to value those children for who they are, remember to honour yourself, too. You are funny and wise and full of imagination. Do you know this, do you believe this? Alison, it’s hard to be subsumed by the constant wonder and joy of other people, even harder when those people don’t express what you consider to be enough gratitude.

But Alison, don’t do it for their gratitude. Do it because it’s important to raise a new generation who believe it is possible to create and imagine. Do it because they need to know how to stand up against injustice. Do it because it’s right, because you feel it to be true, because even though it reminds you constantly of all you wish you had and still need for yourself, even though that hurts sometimes, it is still needed. Valid. True.

Give them what you have wished for yourself, but remember that you’ve had these moments, too, and you’ll have them again. It’s time, soon, and you’ll need to be brave and to stretch and to be. And you know that’s possible, because you make it true for these lives in your hands, because you see it happening and unfolding every day.

It is all possible.

Eight hours. 


Earlier this week we spent eight hours in the woods. I’m not entirely sure what the kids got up to – I didn’t see them most of the time. 

We try to spend one day a week at Forest School. We come early, we stay late. Way late. 

The kids climb trees, make dens, chase zombie farmers, play at the mud kitchen, get stung by nettles, cook over the fire, fight (and make up) with friends, swing on a tyre. 

What do I do? A lot of laughing by the campfire. 

Because at Forest School, kids are friends with kids who are friends with adults who are friends with adults who are friends with kids. We’re all on a first name basis. 

There’s some babies, some toddlers, quite a few kids roundabout M and S’s age, and some older kids too. And mums, dads, aunts, grandparents, dogs. 

The whole place is an autonomous romp through the woods and the afternoons- everyone chooses what to do, what delights them. 


It’s a chance for kids to be totally reliant on imagination and nature. 

They get to take risks – starting fires, using knives, drilling holes in logs. They get to do big stuff – giant net forts, huge screaming games of running wild through the trees and fields, collaborative projects like the ‘summer house’ that’s been being created over the last month or so. 

But more than that, it’s full of tiny magic moments. Those are the ones I think are the most important. 

Two kids side by side on a swing, chatting. Someone playing alone with a bowl of water and some sticks. Sitting surrounded by friends while we eat lunch on the ground. 

This week we spent eight hours breathing deeply in the fresh air. Eight hours laughing. Eight hours with campfire smoke and drama and sunlight. 

It’s days like that I feel so grateful and connected and at peace. These moments are not tiny pieces of their childhood, it’s what most of their childhood is like. 

As a friend said after this week, how lucky the children are. 

Really, how lucky we all are. 

Growing tall and bright. 

I read this crazy article the other day. It can be summed up like this:

The school system is awful and needs a complete overhaul. Home education can be awesome.  Yet it is more important to go to school so people can learn to fit in among the mediocre. Many people flourish best when in someone else’s shadow.

Um, what?? 

I flourish in sunshine, with space to grow, with fresh air and fresh ideas. 

My goal is certainly not to have children who live in the shadows, functioning adequately. Being moderately happy. 

My kids are my kids. They’ll be whoever they are. 

Yet, how glorious if we all grew tall, faces toward the sun, and when we reached those heights we held out a hand and helped others into the sun, too. 

  

Sometimes it’s as simple as just showing up.

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Early yesterday morning, my daughter said, ‘Hey, I feel like flying our kite. We should do that!’

I will be the first person to admit that sometimes it isn’t so easy to follow your child’s inclinations. I was unshowered, we didn’t really have time to go to a park, it looked cold outside, I had no idea where the kite was.

But I’ve already written about how I think embodying ‘YES’ to a child is one of the most important things I can do. (And I recommend you check that post out , because it felt so important to me when I created it….) And that ‘yes’ is what I strive to hit.

Besides, the whole kite thing sounded kind of fun.

Aaaaannd…..surely there was no harm just doing it in our street? We live in a very quiet cul de sac. I half heartedly looked for the kite for about an hour, taking frequent little breaks to tell the kind people on twitter that no, I still hadn’t found the missing kite. I even tweeted a picture of the dreaded cupboard under the stairs.

But as soon as I really committed to finding the kite, it appeared. And in a place I was sure I’d already looked twice.

We went out, leaving the front door open as M just wanted to stay inside. S was almost dancing in anticipation, and she was off. Cheeks rosy in the wind, gleeful instructions telling me she could just run along the pavement, experimenting with string length and gusts of wind.

One elderly neighbour watched us from her window, clapping and laughing. Another neighbour bumped into us and said a rather amazed, ‘WHAT are you doing?’ before grinning and wishing us luck. Still another stopped her fitness fast walking to watch us and cheer us on. It felt like a whole community adventure.

I felt free and wild and empowered. People were waving at each other and shaking their heads (in a good natured way!) when I whooped with joy louder than my little daughter (who is so big and powerful) when the wind caught the kite and raised it up. Even better when she declared she could power the kite by running, excited and joyful, exclaiming, ‘It went even further that time!’

She powered us all. She made us all feel happier on a very grey morning. She had an odd idea and ran with it, and I was lucky enough to have decided to go along with her.

She is going to go further and further. She can make ideas soar, bring people together, and most importantly, remind me that the most important thing I can do is show up when I can. Support her ideas, help her realise them, enjoy it right alongside her.

And as she carried the kite back to the house, she looked up at me and said, ‘This was so fun.’ Those four words erased an hour of kite hunting, of wind strung cheeks, of my sore body from chasing the kite when it went astray.

I showed up, I was present, and boy….did I have fun.