Friday, February 24, 2017

Take 2.26 minutes and listen to this trailer for the movie InnSaei. You could watch as well, but simply listening will be challenge enough. You'll probably have to listen two or three times. Hit play and close your eyes.

Every sentence in this trailer --- every sentence --- relates directly to the principles of unschooling.

 

In terms of unschooling, I've left off with stories about my children. But the power of unschooling runs through me like blue lightning. Never mind the ubiquitous pedagogical research, I read emerging neuro-science that points to it again and again without awareness that unschooling exists. Schooling parents complain to me about their children and I listen, as much as possible, with a calm quiet heart while the ghost of unschooling blows through them, and they can not seem to feel it. Other parents call me for unschooling support and in those conversations I can be fully open and speak my mind, but what they need is access to the feeling of unschooling -- they need intuitive access. Just yesterday I said to a worried mother sitting on my couch that I could see her doubt and if I could give her the feeling of the thing, we wouldn't need to say much else. Then I talked a while, trying to find words to say something ineffable about the power of unschooling. Finally she said, "Well fuck it, this is what I'm going to do and I don't care what anyone else thinks." And I put my fist in the air and shouted There it is, that's the light I'm talking about! And we laughed. 

As InnSaei tells us in so many different ways, society needs the message of unschooling. The lack of it has infected business, religion, science, art, ecology and our environment, and families, as well as the way we raise and educate children. All the revolutions we seem to be rushing toward work in tandem with unschooling. But for the most part, unschooling is unheard of, mostly untold. And generally disbelieved when a flash of it is glimpsed rushing from the earth upwards to overwhelming positive charge.

In our society we do not see children clearly, we do not hear them fully, we do not allow them their right to their selves. (We do not allow them -- let that sink in.) They are unheard of, mostly untold at this point, having been silenced for so long. We don't love them right. Maybe that is the most radical message in unschooling. Failure to love well is what's wrong with society. And that's why it's so hard to hear about unschooling.

I'm not saying my kids have been loved perfectly, by the way. My failings are glaring. But that doesn't shut off the urgency of what I've learned. All parents have a very limited amount of time to love their little children well, to say yes, to hear them, to see them, to enjoy them. How would society be different if every baby were handed to their mother with one instruction: Enjoy them as fully as possible -- very little else matters. It shouldn't need to be said. But parenting is so far divorced from intuition at this point, I think we might have cultivated estrogen blindness. That instruction is the essence of an unschooling parent's job.

Friday, February 17, 2017


Christian metaphor has been catching my attention lately. I heard about the camel and the eye of the needle and couldn't stop wondering how I would get a camel through a needle -- because we must investigate every option, right? (Never mind where I heard this reference. I still haven't read the bible.) Investigate every option because they present themselves and in case there is something there -- something to win. Winning is important and I would win. So, how? Failing to notice this was basically thinking about gaming God, I thought about it. Molecules, sewing, desert sand, livestock, how camels differ from cows, all the basics, this covers plenty of the territory of my life. 

You can't put a camel through the eye of a needle. Yeah, I got there eventually. This means rich men are fucked. I am not a man, so I guess that's okay? But am I rich? Hum, this could be a problem. Do you know this passage, I think it's from Matthew?

Then Jesus said to His disciples, "Truly I tell you, it is difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." When the disciples heard this they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?"

There are a lot of different ways to be rich. I am insanely rich compared to, well, most of the rest of the world. And honestly, that feels kind of shameful to me. I've also lived in a lot of different kinds of poverty. Defining poverty is almost as complex as wealth. (For the wealthy, people living in poverty have no trouble defining it.) I've just never fit exactly into either category. My father is a rich man by American standards. But my father didn't raise me and I did not grow up wealthy. Yeah though I walk through the shadow of the valley of my father, I've enjoyed a disorientingly weird kind of security in poverty that is common to the children of the divorce wave of the 70s.

Ry and I went to Target last night. I'm pretty sure I've mentioned how we save up a list of stuff we need. And when payday allows, Ry and I take the list to shop and we linger over all the extra things for fun. We play with the toys, search the books and music section and the gardening section and we give extra attention to unusual holiday decor and candy. It's so rare for us to act like proper consumers that it's a bit of party. We have fun! We laugh! And we make some really cute fashion choices. 

When we walked in the door last night the first thing I saw was an Easter display of Dr. Seussian products -- basket fodder, I guess? The first thing I touched was, I can hardly make myself type this out. What I'm about to say is the truth, I swear before God. The first thing I touched was a Truffula Tree pencil tucked into a cellophane package and labeled Lorax Pencils. I think the pencil was actually made of plastic but I'm not sure. Because I was so horrified by the irony and, really, the filth of it, not to mention the crime against Theodor Geisel, I could not make my eyes touch the thing in my hand. Helpless, I waved it at Riley. And I tried to look at it. I tried! But my eyes kept sliding off. Riley, well familiar with the ways I can get trapped when I'm out trying to act normal in society, got kind of stern and said, "Alright now, settle down." Then, quickly, "Look, Mom, bathing suits are already out!" And she led me away. 

But the damage is done. This, after seeing a video that morning. I have a lovely musical friend and she and her lovely musical husband made a video of their family singing "By The Mark". You can't see any grownup faces. You see their hands on guitars and hear their voices. What you see is their 10 year old son's face. He is wearing a giraffe costume and singing with a look of angelic concentration on his adorable sweet (atheist) face -- not ironic at all, sincere singing. I'd been humming all day doing my best to ignore Donald Trump, and now this thing with the pencil. 

I will not discuss Riley's love life here. But she has already written her byline for the day she's old enough to join Tinder. Are they called bylines? I really don't know what Tinder is. But I do know it's how courtship is often initiated these days. And this is how she plans to introduce herself to the world: "You know what's really attractive? Nothing but sincerity." 

Mic drop, you whores! A man of riches might claim a crown of jewels. But is probably missing the point of the thing.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Some things around here have been chugging along nicely. For instance, the ghosts and the kitchen calamus from last year's herbology class. Can you grow calamus root in a glass? Yes you can.
 
Other things have required patience, focus, and quite a bit of tending. Blog meet Pearl. Pearl, blog.

Pearl will be one year old in mid March. Her paws are not yet in proportion. We've got more growing to do, eh, Pearl? I bought her on Mother's Day last year. But it really had nothing to do with the holiday and everything to do with the yawning chasm of loss in my heart. I looked in the chasm and thought, hum, a puppy should fix this right up. Well, we ALL have more growing to do, eh, Pearl?

She is a sweet dog. She is also the strongest, most driven dog I've ever raised. Physically I can't comfortably walk her on a leash without what I'll call "use of gear." (The leash trick.) I understand that pulling is mostly a training issue, but I prefer to tackle that problem on the oblique. (Of course I do.) I want a dog with reliable recall and intelligence and a solid sense of herself as a citizen. More than I need a dog who will walk at my pace on a leash. And what a lie that is anyhow -- as if I could ever walk far or long enough to keep Pearl mentally and physically healthy.  To accomplish citizenship she needs a lot of practice off leash and out in the world. Just like kids... Anyway, she's getting there.

She is so strong and so enthusiastic you can't normally praise or pet her unless she is sitting down. She. just. gets. too. INTO. IT. But she's figured out that if she sits on the stairs she'll get petted. I think she wants to be. face. to. FACE! And since she's not allowed to jump she figured out to use the stairs. She pokes her head through the banister and looks around like Snoopy. And waits for any of us to walk by and stroke her face. She looks and feels like a seal. Like all dogs, her heart is gold.

 ps. also, I like this dog trainer.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

One tiny good thing about the election of the Republican president is that we can now all speak openly about the world of "alternate facts" in which we function. Our education system is built on alternate facts -- the world they created and insist on perpetuating based on their own assertions. It's a very circular situation where the system says: we'll tell you who is good and well educated, and how they got that way, based on our standards which are meaningful because we say so. There is  tremendous administrative resistance to genuine reform. Reforming the system by offering more of what the system already does, or nominally tweaking curriculum, or urging the children to try harder isn’t reform at all. And drilling children to persist in broken systems leads to a society deeply averse to change. Can we all agree this is circular and self perpetuating?

Over the last 10 years, at least, pedagogical research  suggests the system is broken and fixing it would require massive change -- change that is often inline with variations on unschooling. The research tells us kids need more time outside. Kids need more exercise. Kids need a sense of agency and freedom. Kids engage with material that has meaning for themselves, personally. Etc etc etc. These are known things. 

Educational reform is discussed all the time, from New Math to No Child Left Behind to -- I can't even remember what we have now. Society loves to offer the appearance of reforming the school system. All the while snuggling deeper into the alternately factual construct. Right now the thing that seems to unite our country, politically, is a desire for reform. But social movements are clumsy, cumbersome, and slow. Times a factor of 100 when they are mired in alternate facts. 

Most homeschoolers eventually end up somewhat unschoolish. Almost everyone who sticks with it longer than a year softens on curriculum and, abutting their wisdom and authority as parents, sometimes for the first time in their lives, they start letting go of what doesn't work. Time spent homeschooling correlates with loss of faith in standard curriculum and practice. But I think the defining moment for unschooling parents is when we say: 

This stops now. Today, everything changes.

And then everything changes. Which is powerful and rare, as reform goes. It's the moment parents deeply internalize their commitment to what is known about what children need to grow intellectually and emotionally, well apart from the choking fug of alternate facts. And we draw a line in front of the schoolyard and think to ourselves, no child in my purview will be sent to that system. That system holds no authority over us and we give it due respect, which is scant. 

Of course, then we begin the wonderful journey and wrestle our doubt and freedom and all the rest of it. But I can't think of many other social movements available so instantly. You are in the movement the moment you decide you are in. And that moment changes everything. Unschooling changes us and will eventually change society, as well.  

Much protest is naive; it expects quick, visible improvement and despairs and gives up when such improvement does not come. Protesters who hold out longer have perhaps understood that success is not the proper goal. If protest depended on success, there would be little protest of any durability or significance. History simply affords too little evidence that anyone’s individual protest is of any use. Protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one’s own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.
— Wendell Berry.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Can we talk?

The only thing I have to offer is my perspective and what has worked for us. And I think society could benefit, and children could benefit, from more discussion between parents about what works and why.

Or we could have a Mommy War! You get on one side, and I'll get on another, and we can shoot each other with Mommy Arrows, which look sharp enough but are actually soft, gooey with love, and prone to swerve. We can pretend to be very serious and intent, but in the end fall laughing into a pile of softness to rest before we move on to the next fun filled event: Toilet Scrubbing Races!

The phrase “mommy war” is patronizing and marginalizing. Silly mommies, thinking their jobs are important, valuable, and worthy of discussion. Saying there is no right way to do the job of parenting is equal to saying it doesn't matter how you parent. Saying there is no single right way gets closer to reality but still suggests that the job isn't worthy of much discussion. Derisive name calling intended to shame mothers into silence absolutely implies that we have nothing of value to discuss.

Or, it implies that someone has something to lose.

Some parents might be more skilled or experienced or creative than others. It might be that things like how to feed, diaper, or speak to a child, what example you provide, and how you teach them to move through the world (including thoughts on sleeping, working, having fun, choosing friends, handling emotions, and thinking) all matter in the effort to grow sane, healthy adults. This is to say nothing about all the brutal, curve-ball challenges inherent in the job of parenting. There could be quite a lot to say about it all, quite a lot to learn.

If mothers held open discussions about their parenting, someone might learn something, or change an opinion, or help a child. If potent, meaningful words, sharp even to pointedness, were used, what might happen? Men might even get involved in such a discussion because it might be serious. It might have weight and be loaded with meaning about a valuable subject. It might be just like what happens in offices, where people feel the need to hold meetings to discuss options and ideas, to learn from each other, to give consideration and grow, as if their jobs matter.

Or we could call those conferences at work "business wars." We won’t, of course, because business is understood to be valuable in society, rather than a scourge like war. Business is constantly discussed in classes, journals, meetings, emails, and conferences without any hint of derision or suggestion that those silly business people are at their wars again.

A mommy war is more than one woman audacious enough to have an opinion about parenting, believe it matters, and be interested in talking about it. Opinionated, mattering, relevant, forward-thinking mommies? Does such a thing exist? Can you even use the word “mommy” while thinking about important choices? Mommies have babies. I think our society has shown, very clearly, just how important we think babies are. Sometimes, it seems like children barely even have parents anymore. What children have is daycare and formula, or school and pasteurized milk -- for their best waking hours straight through the years of their young lives.

If a mommy were ever to say a thing so important it might actually hurt another parent’s feelings or cause a parent to consider changing, what would happen? It cannot happen, surely. If such a thing happened we might be forced to admit that parenting is important and profoundly influences lives and society. Getting parenting wrong means, by one definition, raising a family from which one wishes to escape. How convenient that part of the measure of success in our culture involves independence. Most teenagers wait for escape from school and their families. How curiously circular, that our culture pushes the separation of families at every turn, all in the name of industry and capitalism. If parents wanted to look closely at this situation and discuss it, seminars might start popping up, but who would fund them?

Here are some opinions based on my experience: Home birth is safer, cheaper and healthier for mothers and babies. Healthy happy babies don't cry very much and you can generally meet their needs if you care to try and know how. Babies need breast milk, and lots of it, for many years. Diapers aren't necessary, but if you don't care to practice elimination communication, most children can be potty trained, to be dry night and day, before the age of two, easily. You probably should hold your own baby nearly all the time, as if you are in love with your little stardusted sweetheart. Institutional school, including day care, is vapid and unlikely to do a very good job of raising your children.

Does any of this hurt your feelings? I am sorry. Mommy War is all about mommy's feelings, in the end. God forbid anyone suggest that a child ever had a feeling that mattered, much less needed a parent who put serious effort and thought into how they choose to do their jobs -- as if their jobs matter.

But what about that other idea, that someone might have something to lose when mommies start talking? If society normalized and legalized home birth with midwives that would be safer, a huge environmental win, and save billions of dollars for families. And hospitals would lose billions of dollars. If most people stop buying diapers that would be a huge environmental win and save billions of dollars for families. And Pampers would go out of business. If most people stopped buying formula, that would be a huge environmental win and save billions of dollars for families, in addition to improving the health and security of millions of babies. And Similac would go out of business. If most people stopped putting babies in daycare… You get the idea.

Did you see the commercial where diverse warring families in a park stop fighting and rush to save a poor, neglected infant rolling away in a stroller? The commercial where parents who discuss opinions are shown to be not only shallow and mean-spirited but to actually cause child neglect? That commercial was paid for by Similac because they are profoundly terrified of healthy intelligent public discourse. How we parent our children matters very much to Similac, Pampers and several other corporations. You better believe they've had serious business meetings about it. I solemnly swear, as a mother and a citizen and a person who truly cares about other families, that the concern of those corporations has nothing to do with the health or well being of your child. They don't care about your baby or your right to work or your dissertation or Feminism. They only care about your money, and how they can get more of it.

At the end of the commercial, Similac proudly proclaims, "No matter what our beliefs, we are parents first. Welcome to the sisterhood of motherhood. Sisterhood unite." By which they mean: Never criticize baby formula again. Stop all discussion at once. There are no significant parenting choices. Similac is betting that we are not smart enough to see what they are doing. They are engaging in an actual war on parents and babies, and it is driven by blistering, ravening greed.

The next time someone suggests that you are trying to start a mommy war, tell them to fuck off. And come sit next to me. I'm happy to hear your opinions and your reasons. I think experience matters, and I think the way you parent matters, for your baby and for society. Almost everything I've learned about parenting, I’ve learned from other mothers. Thoughtful discussion is the sisterhood of motherhood.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

I mentioned Henry's paper for a literature class: "What the Faulk?" The semester before that he wrote a paper about shark attacks that was passed around in the teacher's lounge because it made them all laugh. (As with the other, it was also an A paper.) I've noticed that the kids employ a sense of humor in college. I don't know if it's an active strategy for success? Regardless, they both seem unafraid to engage professors on an equally human level. It's not that they don't recognize authority -- they do. It's not that they don't respect their professors -- they do. But they don't seem to fear them so much that their own humanity is disabled or tamped down. They've arrived fully able to be themselves.

I don't now where Henry sits in class and I don't hear much about his days there. Academic success seems to come easy for him, but I know he commits to the work fully. I see him study at home. And I remember what he said after the last day of classes at the end of his first semester. "It's funny because everyone thinks I'm so smart. {He's been straight A all the way through.} But I just do exactly what the teachers say. And they grade me well for it. I was a little bit afraid I wouldn't be able to do this. But it doesn't seem all that hard. But everyone else complains. I don't get it?"

Probably because of gender, I hear a lot more about Riley's individual days in class. I know she attends with strict concentration. I know she spent her first semester in the front row of every class every day. I know she tries as hard as she can. Before she ever started I told her that, even though she wouldn't believe me at first, her greatest challenge in college was going to be learning how to relax. She has a very intense will for winning things, on the rare occasion she can rouse herself to compete. If she's in, she is in with no out and no off. Of course, she has also been straight A all the way through. But now in her second semester, she's starting to see what I meant about relaxing. It isn't necessary or even especially beneficial to aim so hard -- it's the difference between releasing your arrow to the bull's eye or marching your arrow to the mark and stabbing it in up to the fletching with your clenched fist. But it's also worth noting here, for other unschooling parents, this kind of overdrive is common with homeschooling students when they encounter academia for the first time. They seem to assume it's difficult and will require tremendous effort for success. Sadly, their expectations of the system tend to be much higher that the system's expectation of students.

But even as she clenched her way through her first semester, Ry managed to joke around some. She befriended an older (they are all older) student and made him laugh through French I. "You clown!" he would whisper to her while trying to keep a straight face in class. And I wonder if her sense of humor helped her see a softer way through college? I know Ry was deeply dreading her oral examination in French II last week. When she got home I asked her how it went and she said, "I think I did pretty well because I said a joke (in French) and the teacher laughed."

So here's the thing, and yes I am going to say this over and over. The kids were unschooled their whole lives. They walked onto campus without any advance training, as defined by the system. Yet they are exactly and specifically and intentionally successful -- very. Every homeschooling doubter should have an answer to this common unschooling phenomenon. But perhaps the reality is too upsetting to confront. Elementary school is unnecessary. It is hollow and often more damaging than beneficial and an enormous waste of time. The majority of students do not need formal prior study in order to be successful in college. I'm sorry they lied to you your whole life about this. And even if either of my kids are suddenly hit with ennui or existential dread or loss of faith in the system, or any of the other intellectual side roads that sometimes divert college students causing them to fail or just quit, even if that were to happen, it won't be because unschooling is inadequate. Unschoolers have been proving the emptiness of the system for years. Maybe that's why schooled students often show up to college so empty? Children do learn what they live.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Riley has asked me to keep blogging. She's asked over time, more than once. She asked again, last night, after watching old home videos of our family when the kids were babies.

I should blog right now about my experience of watching those videos. When we turned them off (there is far too much footage to watch in one sitting) I fell in a puddle in Joe's lap, sobbing. I wanted, so very very desperately, to go back into that time and love the kids more, love them better, do a better job, and just see them again. Hold them again.

Damn, I'm crying again, such that I won't be able to type. *ahem*

I should blog about the million missed moments I have to catch up on. For instance, that Henry wrote a paper for a literature class last semester at Durham Tech that was so good his professor is using it as a writing example. The paper was titled, "What The Faulk?"

I should blog about wool -- an emerging favorite topic. I post on facebook where I should be blogging.

Last night Riley reminded me she wishes I would blog again and I said that I don't have anything to write about. And she said, "That's because you stopped writing." Damn these well educated kids who know so much. Ugh. In fact, I have enough to say that I don't know where to start.

I REALLY should blog about how unschooling has worked out. Scratch that -- that should go in the book which I should finish. So much should going around.

Yesterday morning I was standing just outside the kitchen door photographing a wool blanket. Ry knocked on the window, maybe to ask what I was doing. Possibly to mock? I silenced her pretty quick, though, by turning the camera around.


"She's got a light around her. And everywhere she goes a million dreams of love surround her. Everywhere."

Oh my God, I love you so much, Girl. I love you and your brother so much it occasionally staggers me. It almost hurts. I'm inferior to the task of loving you enough, of being a good enough mother. You're both so much smarter and kinder than I am. My gratitude that I get to be your mom is boundless.

Okay then. I'll begin blogging with my new favorite quote. Author unknown:

"Pay attention to who shows up for you and who you choose to show up for. Give those people your best. If they aren't lifting you up, forget them. Life is brief and beautiful and very hard for all of us. Forget your detractors, cut that energy off at the knees, you don't have time for that. You really don't. Give your best to love, put your energy towards that. If you're not helping to make life easier, better, more beautiful or just, then you are not where my thoughts are concentrated."