October 11, 2012… it was a stunning day. Girly was a month away from being 4 and BigGuy was 8–on the cusp of 9. I was so discouraged–having lived in Illinois for 2 years and not feeling like I had “fit” anywhere really. I ran into someone I knew loosely and she invited me into a small circle of families that changed my life for a while in a way that has changed me forever. See that picture? That was the second time we were all together. Let me tell you what this group was like–what made them so incredible…
Picture a handful of mothers of various faiths and no faith, different eating habits and lifestyles–bound together by the common belief that children should be given a lot of freedom to explore and love nature and learn to be together. Women who could be very different and still very together and very engaged in conversations so loving and civil to one another… it was utopia.
Every Thursday, we met somewhere–outside for as long as we could tolerate the cold, sometimes building (legally) fires in the preserve fireplaces (with legal wood) and burning leaves or sticks or maybe marshmallows once in a while. With no fear of the small people learning to safely handle fire.
The kids were ALWAYS dirty. Like, “bring extra clothing at all times” dirty. And they spanned age ranges but all played together–dragging large, fallen tree limbs to build forts in the woods and navigating one another’s feelings because as mothers, we all valued those kind of principles in our children and modeled those things. So our kids didn’t need much intervention or guidance. We were very hands off except for the very smallest of them if they started to wander out of sight.
It was everything I loved about homeschooling. Every last thing.
The group broke up for various reasons–just a year later. Admittedly, I had come into the group after it had been together for quite a while before. I was heartbroken. We spent the next year trying to find our way and our new tribe.
In the meantime, BigGuy grew and changed direction. In fact, he quite explicitly asked for a specific type of education setting.
And it was not this. It was not the carefree, play in the woods kind of life learning that I imagined we would have for years to come. It was very, very different. And I was very, very sad and worried and… I think defeated. BigGuy had just turned 10 and was suddenly very inspired in ways that were very academic and all I saw was curriculum and planning and all of the things that didn’t seem like REAL learning to me. Things I just wanted no part of. Things I had worked so hard to let go of–to know that they weren’t needed. And here we were. He was asking for it.
I started this blog a few months later to chronicle my stumbling as I tried to figure out how to support my child in his desires. Because ultimately, unschooling is about following the child. It occurred to me that I didn’t know a lot of unschoolers who 1) had a kid as old as mine; and 2) had a kid with such clear goals that were more academic in nature (specifically sciences and math). The reality that these were my son’s goals seemed to make me look like I was schooling-at-home rather than following my child–which really made it hard for me to approach unschooling groups. At the same time, it’s hard to be in traditional homeschooling groups and watch parents ask for techniques to get 4yo to practice handwriting or a 7yo to learn their math facts. Nobody from either contingent wants to hear anything from me. The unschoolers see courses and curricula and think I’m a school-at-homer imposing learning on my kid. The homeschoolers think I’m an unschooler with a brilliant kid that didn’t need any foundation training–and refuse to believe that their kid could turn out like mine.
It’s lonely, yo.
Today is a BE. AU. TI. FUL. day and I want to cry–happy AND sad tears–for the picture at the top of this post. I remember the littlest ones among us walking down the hill through the tall grass and only seeing their little heads bobbing–glistening in the sunshine. The crisp air. The camaraderie of mothers. The peaceful, happy shouts of our kids as they ran out of sight up the mountain with all the trust we could have in them to be out of our sight and earshot to explore for hours at a time.
I’m sad that it’s over but happy to have ever had it at all. And I love those women (and kids) to this day even though they are not part of my life anymore (or not a consistent part of it). They were part of one of the most important phases of our life ever. I feel like our kids share a bond that is so different from anyone else they’ve ever known so far based on that year. A bond built on adventures together with a reliance on one another that only comes when just outside of reach of the adults. When you feel “big”.
I know that what I’m doing for my guy is right. I know I will stumble and find the right path with my girl. I see as we enter the trials and tribulations of puberty with BigGuy that we have–multiple times–seen situations that could’ve spiraled WAY down go very right and end with love and communication because Husbeau and I trust our kid, love our kid, and have (to the greatest extent possible) given up our control issues. We’re not perfect, but it is a constant goal that is paying off so far. We have our own challenges in our marriage, but even that has benefitted from the fact that we have learned to put ourselves aside to deal with the bigger picture instead of devolve into an ego-centric place that helps nobody.
I have no idea how we got here given how we were raised. But I’m not going to waste my time trying to figure it out. I’m thankful. And it’s a beautiful day. And we are rebuilding our tribe and finding our footing.