Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

math (an inner dialogue)

- you know, this radical unschooling thing...
- yes...
- i can't do it.
- why not?
- because i just can't, it's impossible.
- how so?
- there isn't enough time.
- what do you mean?
- well, think about it: the way i see it, in order to make it lovely, i would want to spend a lot of my time really connecting with the children, right?
- yes.
- as in, giving them my full attention, playing with them for real, getting involved in their projects, showing them exciting stuff, etc. right?
- yes.
- but... that's not all. i would also want to do things that i felt passionate about, things that are part of my growth and learning, because i get to unschool as well. right?
- yes.
- so there you have it.
- what?
- there isn't enough time.
- ah.
- and that's not to mention all the stuff that simply has to be done.
- ah.
- yes, yes, i know what you're going to say, a lot of that stuff doesn't actually have to be done, i could let go of most of it, it's just space-filling and time-killing and all that, and let's say you are right, let's just say that you really are right, and i decide to chuck most of it (not ready to do that of course, but just for the sake of the argument here), still, there will be some left. so there you are. definitely not enough time.
- hmmm.
- you don't sound convinced. seriously, though, i'd need two-for-the-price-of-one days. i mean look at our life now, i never get to do anything i like, i hardly ever have time to play with the children, and our house is constantly in a state of explosion, so clearly, i don't even have time for one of these items, let alone all three...
- so what do you do?
- what do you mean?
- i mean: what do you do with your days?
- i don't know. stuff.
- what kind of stuff?
- i don't know, stuff that has to be done. but how is this relevant?
- well, let's see, how many hours are there in a day?
- uh... 16 or so, if you don't count sleeping.
- ok, and how many of those hours would you like to spend giving your children full-flavour attention?
- in an ideal world?
- yes.
- i don't know, 6 or 7 or so? actually, that sounds like a lot. in a good way.
- right. 7 hours for them. now, how long do you think you'd need to do the stuff that has to be done?
- in an ideal world?
- yes.
- 2 to 3 hours a day?
- sure that's enough?
- yes. must be. well, maybe 4 if there is some amazing cooking going on...
- right, say 4 then. that's 11 hours so far. which leaves you with 5 hours to do things that you enjoy. and that's not counting the overlaps.
- 5 hours????????
- yes.
- every day???????????????????
- yes. not enough?
- are you kidding?? plenty enough. sounds insane.
- well, you do the math.
- it can't be right. we are forgetting something.
- what?
- don't know, whatever it is that i spend most of my time on now....
- and that is?
- ... actually, you know, if i think about it, on a regular day at home, i probably spend 3 hours on household stuff, including cooking, 2 hours or so really engaging with the children, and then maybe maybe, if i'm lucky, an hour or two in the late evening doing stuff for me. and that means, absurd though it sounds, that i spend an average of 9 hours or more a day doing ... what?
- i don't know... day-dreaming? planning? worrying? fantasizing? surfing internet? being bored? getting mad about having no time to do stuff? running this kind of inner dialogue?
- you mean not being there.
- i mean not being there.
- 9 hours a day.
- ...
- wow.

Monday, August 17, 2009


inspired here and there, we took ourselves to the fabric store to score a few yards of tule. she looked so grown, suddenly, handling those huge fabric rolls, laying them side by side, colour-combining, the endless streams of ribbons, until it was just right. then we cut and knotted, and cut and knotted. 'mama, she said, the nicest thing about projects is that we can work together'. yes, my sweet, that is truly the nicest thing...

Friday, August 14, 2009

thoughts on radical unschooling II

Photobucketin the very beautiful buddhist practice referred to as 'loving-kindness meditation', the practitioner begins by making contact with the open quality of her heart, and sending loving-kindness to herself, by uttering, in silence, the following sentences:

may i be happy
may i be safe
may i be healthy
may i be peaceful

after doing this for a while (say a few years...), she slowly expands her practice from herself to her loved ones (may you be happy, may you be safe, may you be healthy, may you be peaceful), and then on to people she feels neutral about, to people she dislikes and finally to the entire universe, in ever expanding circles of love and kindness. the underlying wisdom expressed in this practice is that it is only possible to truly feel love, generosity and kindness for another human being once you are able to feel such love and kindness for yourself.

small children often do things that might seem rude, unkind and selfish. they may want all the toys/attention/love/sweets/etc. for themselves, they may be unwilling to share, unwilling to apologize, unwilling to say thank you and please. this type of behaviour makes the parents of small children very uncomfortable (at least, it does this particular parent), and this discomfort has in turn often led me to intervene and somehow try to encourage (or bully, depending on level of said discomfort) my child into displaying more acceptable behaviour ('say 'thank you', sweetie!'; 'you've hurt him, say sorry!'; 'share it with your brother right now, you little twat, or i shall bite your head off!!!!'). now before you conclude that i am a monster, please consider the mitigating fact that this type of intervention is not simply born of my extreme discomfort, but also out of a real wish to help my child develop kindness, generosity, and, while she's at it, good manners.

but what if... says my new radical self, what if... human development actually follows the rhythm and pattern of the loving-kindness meditation (or, more likely, that the meditation practice itself mirrors the pattern of human growth). what if, for the first five or six years of their life, children are simply dilligently practicing sending loving-kindness (love, generosity, compassion, barbies, stickers, etc.) to themselves. what if these same children, if allowed to shower themselves with love and attention, to redirect towards themselves all the internal and external resources they need, and to do so without being constantly judged and corrected for their behaviour, what if they then are able, having reached the next level in their development, and replete as they are with love and acceptance, to genuinely feel and express kindness towards other people.

what if, with even the mildest of my interventions, i am achieving the exact opposite of what i aim to do. what if, by preventing them from behaving 'selfishly' today, i am actually preventing them from growing into their truly 'self-less' kind selves tomorrow.

what if, here too, the best way to help, is to simply get out of the way...
(well, not completely 'get out of the way', but concentrate on being kind and loving myself, and gently guiding them towards understanding of how their behaviour makes other people feel)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

thoughts on radical unschooling I

(for the past three days, i have hardly slept, so enthralled am i by the concept of a radical unschooling lifestyle; i have read hundreds of pages, talked myself dry many a time, and my mind has been constantly churning, arranging and rearranging bits of the world, so that it all falls together in the most amazing rainbow i have seen since i began on this homeschooling journey two years ago. with the insights and the 'aha!'s also come the questions, in equal supply it would seem. it is all so much, i figured i would use this space to write down some of my tentative conclusions, to try and help myself understand what i understand and what i don't (yet) understand.)

The whole thing, as i understand it, is based on the following premise: children are people. No, really. Not as in ‘sort of people’, but as in ‘people like you and me'. From this incredibly radical position, the following seems to follow:

I treat my children the way I do the adults I cherish and love in my life, which means that I

- trust their capacity to choose for themselves;
- trust their capacity to take care of themselves;
- trust their capacity to learn all they need to learn;
- trust their wisdom;
- give advice and help only when required;
- listen when they talk;
- respect their opinions, and consider them to be completely valid, even if I happen to disagree;
- respect their right to choose things that might not, in my opinion, be optimal for their mental and/or physical well-being;
- humbly learn from them.

Behaviours I have indulged in that seem utterly nonsensical from this perspective:

- telling my children that they were tired
- telling them to go to bed now, and not come out again, or there would be no story
- telling them when to eat
- telling them what to eat
- telling them how much to eat
- telling them when to learn
- telling them how to learn
- telling them what to learn
- interrupting my children because an adult speaks
- telling my children to never interrupt adults speaking
- refusing them food when they were hungry (not the right time for a snack)
- refusing them sleep when they were tired (not the right time for a nap)
- forbidding them to watch tv when they wanted to
- forbidding them to eat candy when they wanted to
- forbidding them to use the computer when they wanted to
- forcing my children to go out when they wanted to be in
- forcing my children to stay in when they wanted to go out
- forcing them to wear A when they wanted to wear B
- selling some of their possessions, or sneakily giving them away, and then lying about these things being lost
- refusing to buy something for them which they really wanted, and i could afford, using the phrase ‘I don’t think it’s a nice book/toy/game’ as a justification

etc. etc. etc.

If I were to do any of these things to my husband I don’t think I would have a husband for very long (actually, I have occasionally tried some of it on my husband, obviously his response was not terribly enthusiastic, I can’t say this kind of thing ever really improved the atmosphere in our house…)

The important, basic thing here is, as far as I can tell, the paradigm-shift to actually trusting my child’s innate ability to take care of herself, to trust her self-preserving instinct, her growth instinct, her learning instinct, her self-actualization instinct, all of which means that left to her own devices, she will not, as predicted by skeptics, self-destruct, but instead turn into the amazing woman she was meant to turn into.

It also means there is nothing I or anybody else can ever ‘teach’ her, although there are zillions of things for her to learn. Learning cannot be induced, nor can it be stopped: It is automatic. In that sense, it is exactly like breathing, which can be modified, regulated, etc., but by its very nature can neither be induced nor stopped, except by, respectively, birth and death. If I let this truly sink into my system, I can stop worrying about ‘my’ role in her learning, and about her learning full stop. Away with the gnawing anxiety that she is 'not learning anything'. Away with the guilt trip about doing too little, too much, too soon, too late, too much like A and too little like B. ‘My’ only role is to get out of the way and let her. Breathe. Learn.

Respecting that although she always knows what is best for her (or rather is always in the process of finding this out), she may sometimes choose not to live that knowledge.

Acknowledging and respecting that she has different ideas/interests/learning styles/priorities/ideologies from mine. Yes, already now. And that mine are no better or worse than hers. In fact, i could learn a lot from her.

Having said that, I still have questions. Many questions. Philosophical and practical ones. So there will be other instalments.

Monday, August 03, 2009

unusual circumstances

- a rainy drizzly morning
- children too ill to go out, but well enough to potter around, watch tv, and try out their new art supplies
- new art supplies
- a husband too ill to go out, but well enough to deal with the various needs and minor clashes of above-mentioned pottering children
- fresh flowers on my table
- this tutorial
- a thrifted pillowcase
- a bit of an old curtain
- my genie

oh the joy, when the entire world comes together like this, around a little piece of making...

... and by the time afternoon came, the sun had come out, the fevers were all but gone and we took the new twirly skirt for an afternoon spin on the beach with friends.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

view from my sick-bed

the bumble-bee summer caught up with us in the end. instead of going to Paris, i went to bed with the flu, and stayed there not quite a week, gorging on bits of blue from the sky, fluttering curtain breezes and 18th-century women's biographies (this and this). as i moved in and out of uncertain and confusing dreams ('consider all dharmas as a dream'), i slowly lost my usual demarcation lines and imagined myself ill with a flu in an 18th century cottage or mansion (depending on the ever varying quality of marc's bedside service...). i am in awe of the way illness can, in just a day or two, completely loosen all those silk-thin spiderweb strings that i mistakenly think of as 'my solid life'. in the space that arises, terrifying and unchartered as it is, i can feel my way into a multitude of alternative lives.

so i hovered, and dozed, and floating somewhere between 18th and 21st century cultural paradigms, i came up with the definitive conclusions on marriage, friendship and womanhood. unfortunately, like most drug-induced insights, they left with the fever. and now, well, it all seems like a dream, really... ('consider all dharmas as a dream')

(... i did some knitting too. it's a jumper. it's for me. it's pink and soft and lovely. almost done. could be another year or so, though...)