the whole wide world

My son and I sit in the car. Ralph is off visiting a friend; our daughter is inside the house.

Nels is upset. Today three people in the neighborhood were rude to him; uncharacteristic, a bit rough today. The first: the parent of a neighborhood bully. This parent yelled at my son not to pet their dog; retaliation for Nels’ boundary-setting with this child, the latter having defaced our property. The second: two kids in the neighborhood, taunting Nels for being vegan – caprice and cowardice, as these young people mind their p’s and q’s when an adult is around. “I’m in the dead pig club. I love to eat dead pigs!” they shout at one another, smirking his way.

My son takes this stuff to heart. He doesn’t know what to do. I feel him on this. It’s the confusion and hurt when someone is cruel, vindictive. Even knowing why people are like this – it can hurt.

So we talk about those incidents, but briefly. In both cases, my son did not respond in kind. I am quite impressed with him for that. And I tell him. It’s character that matters here. You can have all the feelings you want. I get it. But character is important. You can’t retaliate in kind. If something has to be done, we have to be thoughtful about it. We can’t lash out, just because someone was rude. Cruel. Spiteful.

But then – we talk about other things. A catch-up, on how he’s been this week. He’s feeling the influence of the pack of boys he plays with. They cuss (when not around adults, that is), and this last week he’s cussed a few times. He is teary-eyed. “I feel like I let you down,” he tells me now, his voice breaking. I remind him that although I love it that Nels doesn’t curse; his sister does (like a sailor!). “You don’t think I judge her, do you?” I ask. He calms in a moment, then says, No. I hold him close in the front seat, smelling his straw-sweet hair.

We talk about harder times, and what he learned from those times. And what he’s learned to leave behind.

When we’ve talked it all through he is much more cheerful.

I remember when my children were very small, and I felt overwhelmed and exhausted. Their physical needs seemed constant; I had so little help, and my resources were less than they are today. And I remember thinking that older kids, kids who could clean up after themselves and shower and dress and do housework and feed themselves, how surely that must be easier.

But I think it never gets easier to have a child. It is incredible though, to watch them become strong, to navigate emotional maturity. These teenage years, there is so much treachery! Their father and I are good influences, but we aren’t their only influences.

Sometimes I feel as if I’ve folded a sweet little paper boat, and set it on a windy lake. It sails off but totters and with it, my heart in my throat.

“come downstairs & bring popsackles”

A cardboard box filled with kraft paper; I remove gifts, setting them on the counter. Wrapped in tissue: findings from another sea. Teas, candied ginger. A paper-wrapped parcel of fine chocolate. Two bolts of sumptuous flannel fabric – a pea green plaid, a yellow plaid. Set aside and I run my hands over them each; fine robes for Christmas.

A wooden box, masterfully if plainly constructed, with a fire-branded logo. A note. And opening the box: a plastic shark. I recognize it as nearly identical to the one my children used to play with in the bath.

Then when I call my brother – to thank him and his wife, for the package – he laughs about the shark. “Do you recognize it?” I am confused for a moment. He can’t mean my children’s toy, as he never gave them baths and wasn’t there when they were small.

He says, “It’s just like the one I gave you a black eye with!” He is gleeful.

I am thinking, Oh that’s right. A childhood fight – we were still living in the bus, so I was seven years old or younger. I am set back for a moment. I am blinking at the road ahead, the phone on speaker in my lap.

What I say is: “That’s the only black eye I’ve ever had.” But now I’m thinking of a man who beat me. He never gave me a black eye. I think when you’ve been terrorized it can come to you, visit at any time. On a sunny day, in a lighthearted laugh with your brother.

The shark is now installed in my bathroom, hovering above the glass bar lighting fixture. I cooked and cleaned today, instead of leaving it for my children and spouse. I am coming out of a state of living where I was caring for the children, the home. We are moving and growing; I am working more, and the children are learning how to run a home. They are willing participants, and they are strong.

Yesterday they waited at a bus stop and went to the dentist. The children were gloomy; I woke them up and scolded them when they did not do housework quickly enough. We sat in the living room and we talked about the challenges in the household now that I work. The children listened, and ate the simple breakfast I made – creamed wheat, coconut oil, brown sugar. They put the dishes in the sink and I cleaned the kitchen after they left, then moved to the studio to finish my work.

After their appointments, my mother returned them home – food in hand, of course. They quite circumspectly did not eat hot foods for a couple hours, as the hygienist warned them off. Once they were home we piled in the car and off to the beach; meeting with a new friend who was visiting from inland. I realized well into the meeting that I hadn’t taken a break for quite some time.

After a coffee date, we two women and our four children climbed the jetty down to a little partitioned beach. We showed the visiting girls the tidepools: anemone, barnacles, limpets, chitons, starfish – and the little crabs under any rock you overturn. Every size – from a pinhead to a few inches across, and every manner of color: white, blues, greens, deep purples. The anenomes we instructed – you could touch them. Be gentle! They are gentle to you.

I know I live in a beautiful place. I never forget it. But I don’t often see it as it can be seen to visitors. That itself, was quite a blessing.

no matter how I try to disabuse you of that notion

Nightmares.

They’ve plagued me since my procedure, eight days ago. Two hospitalizations and one visit from paramedics, in the space of four days. Dehydration, secondary infection, and constipation. All of these are resolved today, but the combination made me so very ill and so very quickly so, that I am sobered by the experience. Now I’m on a regular medication schedule and that has been very interesting; I’ve never before taken loads of ibuprofen.

So in the last few days I’ve been able to do some work. More importantly, I’ve stopped fearing a sudden onset of pain that cannot be remedied. During the worst bouts, I had very dark thoughts indeed. Amazing how easily we can be brought low.

So the nightmares – why? Medicine? Stress? Both?

My children have been mastering more household work. Surprisingly, my son seems more focussed. My daughter has trouble.

Last night I sit at the edge of her bed, in the dark, and I ask her. Why didn’t she take the dog on his walk earlier? Why didn’t she finish laundry? She tells me, I don’t know. The room is heavy with her sadness. I ask, “How can I help?” She tells me it’s her thing. Her problem. She needs to fix it. I ask her if she still wants to do what she signed up to do. She says Yes. Her voice is firmer, now. I tell her, It’s okay, just try again tomorrow. It can be hard to learn new habits. I sense her easing off. She feels better. I say goodnight.

Downstairs to my son who has snuck my laptop and is trying to procure a half-dozen starfruit through mail-order means. He arranges his time these days between playing outdoors until all hours, and gaming in his little studio (Minecraft, mostly), and doing his household work. And then piling on me like a bag of sticks. Watching a little television in the living room while I’m resting after a bout of pain. He tangles up and kisses me over and over. I ask him, “What would your friends think if they walked by and looked in the living room to see you kissing your mom?” He smiles and says, “If they teased me I’d just say, ‘Oh you don’t like your mama? That’s so sad.'” We are giggling and wrestling a bit and he is trying to crack jokes, to make me smile. He wants me to feel better. He’s a child so he thinks its his job to fix me. I can’t really make him not feel that but I can reassure my children whenever I can.

We’ve had a break from hot weather; balmy days with an ocean breeze, but a threat of heat. In the night when I wake to take medicine, I pad into the kitchen for a drink of water and there is Herbert Pocket our little tuxedo kitty, all curled up on top of the stove. I know I should shoo her off but I can’t. I have to pet her and she stretches and splays out her back toes and curls her spine, belly up, asking for some love. I don’t particularly like being up in the middle of the night and being ill, but I do love my house and the safety I feel, and that I have in some measure provided the same to a few other sentient beings. 

Supply List

the thaw-out

My mother delivers my son home, including a rather handsome cork bulletin board. Nels’ penmanship has shifted – without any teaching or coercion on our part, without schooling of course – and his hand is taking a stately, yet arcane bent. He has taken to concocting recipes for sweet beverages. He posts a grocery list.

Supply List

“Help Wanted

“I need soda-water for my
next recipe.
“Name: Nels
“Reward: a free orange Navy

“Not urgent”

I am dying, here. Not urgent. Thank you. I didn’t want to have to pick up at midnight and head out for soda-water! My son’s father would, though. He is that tender-hearted for the family.

I am having lunch yesterday with my mother. She is dieting. She is trying not to drink. We talk about these things a bit. I tell her a week and a half ago on my drive home from work I was hit with a craving for fried chicken, which I haven’t tasted in about a year and a half. She tells me she sometimes craves hard alcohol, when she sees someone drink in a film. I say, “Now that? That hasn’t happened to me.” She then says, “Well, I think you were never addicted to alcohol.”

I tell her it is completely not okay to ever tell anyone what they were, or weren’t, addicted to!

She says, “You didn’t drink that much.” As if she knows!

We alcoholics are treated abysmally. If we drink and people know we drink, they hate or pity us. Not a day goes by I don’t hear people speaking in belittling, pitying terms about an addict or alcoholic – I heard it today, at work. We all know the words they use.

But if we stop drinking, if we get clean and sober, we are patently ignored (by most). We are told we never had a problem in the first place.

It’s hard to imagine someone telling a cancer survivor that she never had cancer in the first place. Insulting.

I’m going to pause for the few people reading here, who remember the personal hell I went through when I got sober.

I know people don’t mean to be condescending, but what they mean, what they intend, is half the story. The other half is: those of us who’ve experienced the agonies of addiction. How do we feel about it? What do we think? Stop belittling our experience! It is real. I lived through it. I help others who are battling the disease, every day. Every day!

Today, though, something else is on my mind. I’m passing a kidney stone and I’m feeling sick, feeling low. Suddenly set back and I can’t work the way I used to. The weekend I worked, a few things here or there. Today, I am tired. I feel it in my face, stepping into work and feeling as if I’ve had a few slaps to the noggin. I come home from a six hour shift and I take a hot shower and have dinner and I park on the couch for a bit and watch a terrible British exploitation film. I try to do a little handsewing.

What I struggle with isn’t the pain. But the nausea, the fatigue. And worst of all: what do my kids think? Who wants a sick mother? I tell myself that the way I am ill, and how I handle it, and being loving and matter-of-fact and grateful, is good for the kids. It helps them. Maybe a little today, maybe a lot tomorrow.

I drink my last quart of water for the day. I take my potassium citrate. Ralph will start a fire. I’ll curl up next to someone. Maybe a cat on my lap! The evening will transpire, as it often does, in peace and quietude.

Frenemies

ok, so here’s the plan –

When I arrive home from work, my son walks down the path to my little BMW, engine just off. He’s in his favorite play jacket – a puffy navy blue hooded car coat – and his little red canvas shoes and busted jeans. I can tell from his gait that he is sad. A friend took him to a homeschool gathering today, and all did not go well. Perhaps his sister has been unkind, in my absence.

My son is sad, and as I step up the path to meet me he says, “Mom… I had a rough day today -“.  But even as he mugs for some pity and some tenderness, he begins to smile. He is confused because his heart is breaking over the events of today, but he is so glad to see me because I make it all so much better. I can see it in his face, plain as day. I rarely think much on how much I mean to these children, but I think I have never meant so much to anyone else in my life.

Ralph and I made this huge commitment so many years ago, to be with our kids 24/7 until the day they chose to leave us, and we didn’t think so much of just how many wonderful benedictions this would bring. But in my son’s step down the rain-drenched walk, the spring earth warm and fecund and with a promise – crocuses and primroses already! – I can see my time is worth something, my every moment, just someone he can hang his hopes on when the day goes awry. And today? He hurt his foot. He wasn’t feeling well. He was snubbed by a peer. 

He was lonely, because I wasn’t home.

Tonight I give my husband a break from making dinner. While Phoenix studies for a biology test, Nels and I make first a salad (broccoli, basil, pecans, grapes, a lemon dressing), then a lasagna and garlic bread. At first my son is upset – he wants to be outside playing with friends. He doesn’t really want to help me cook. Soon he is wailing – hungry, angry that dinner is an hour out. But I have patience today, as a mother. I am kind and purposeful that dinner must be made. And I let him come to me. As I wash dishes I give him the territory of the sauce preparation, from chopping and sauteeing garlic, to mixing in fragrant spices. Soon he is a happy little chef, if a bit untidy. The sauce is quite good. I’ve taught him just a little about cooking. Life goes like that. A little at a time.

Parenthood has come, parts of it, come and gone so quickly. I’ve learned to slow down and really enjoy the moment instead of worrying too much. Yesterday, in a dark theatre, both kids. One kid paying attention, the other bored and doing little to conceal it. For the first blessed hour, contentment. My arms around one, then the other. My cheek in sweet, hay-smelling hair. Holding one another close. It’s not something I got to do as a teen, with my parents. It feels so special to get to have it in my life after all.

longing, deprivation, and resentment

how to teach children Manners

Here’s The Problem

When my young children were in an organized playgroup there was a portion of the afternoon’s activities where toys were distributed to the little ones for a play session. The adults handing out the toys would march this toy basket past each child and announce, “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit!

Now – I am not kidding. The adults would do this when there was literally no cloud on the horizon. They’d say it whether a child had started to express a preference – or not. It was like a mantra.

And as you can imagine, for clever children this very sentence – this very, “I expect you to be a bunch of brats in a minute!” kind of thing – actually inspired some of them to feel anxiety. I mean, it makes sense. They were literally being told they were going to get something – and it wasn’t going to be something they’d like. And for some kids, that has become an all-too familiar and discouraging experience.

longing, deprivation, and resentment “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit!”

And trust me – the irony of adults telling children not to complain – adults who I noticed did a whole heck of a lot of complaining about their lives while they’d stand around the picnic table – was not lost on me.

We tell children that kind of thing – you know, when we don’t want them to take too many cookies. Meanwhile, we can go out and buy as many cookies as we’d like. No one can stop us. In fact I’ve seen lots of grownups “throw a fit” when the cookies they want aren’t in the store, or cost too much.

“You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit!”

Catchy rhyme, but – yeah. I’ve never liked that phrase much. As a matter of fact, I don’t like any rude phrase we levy at children to get them to shut up, sit still, or behave. (What makes it rude? The fact we would never, ever want someone to say it to us when we were upset!)

So – I don’t talk to children like that any more. I guess I think more of kids than that. And I guess I must think more of adults too, because here I am (partly by request), writing about a way to do it differently.

Now – this is a little awkward, but I gotta get something out of the way. I can’t write a little editorial here and be All Things to All People. So if you’re somebody who is now thinking something like: “What? You are crazy. The world is entitled enough as it is! Kids today are greedy, loud, and rude! Now we aren’t even allowed to say something like that? That’s just GOOD MANNERS. That’s common sense! Kelly, you are just Political Correctness gone mad!” etc etc – then here’s the deal. I am really happy to engage with you on these topics. Some other time. This piece? Is probably not for you.

But maybe you’re not quite in that place. Maybe you’re not that resentful about life in general. Maybe you’re an adult, a grownup – a teacher or daycare provider or a parent or carer – and you don’t want to talk to kids like that. You’re tired of nagging at them. What you really want to know is, if there is a better way.

Well, guess what? There is!

Here’s Why We Do It

So let’s look at WHY we say this stuff to kids. Because that will help us stop. The reasons are a bit multifacted, but not too complex.

People say this stuff to kids because, first: they don’t want their kids to grow up and be jerks. Or greedy (meaning fat, where food is concerned). Non-parents say this stuff to kids because they don’t want kids to have things nicer than what they had. More about this, in a bit.

Secondly, people say this to kids in an attempt to get their kids to behave so other people think they are good parents (or teachers, or whatever).

Thirdly, people say this stuff to kids because they (weirdly, in a way) want to pre-empt their kids’ pain. No one wants to see a child cry. It is embedded deep within us – yes, even the child-haters out there – the desire to care for them. Trust me – I get it. One time my three year old’s ice cream scoop fell on the floor, and he began to cry. My mother immediately leaned down to his face and said, “Well don’t get upset!” I retorted: “Mom, he’s three. What’s he supposed to be upset about? World Peace?” Like – can my kid have a minute to cry?

Now my mom loves my son – a lot. She was saying that because his discomfort upset her, and she hadn’t learned how to manage her feelings. Because her parents hadn’t helped her when she was little.

Because finally: people say this stuff to kids (shut up, don’t complain, life isn’t fair, etc) because of their own childhoods, where they were treated without courtesy or emotional intelligence. This explains why non-parents, who seemingly don’t have much skin in the game, will say some atrocious things to and about children. Non-parents say this ish as much as parents do.

So let’s talk about why these reasons, are crap reasons.

Don’t want your kid (or some other kid) to grow up to be a jerk? Focus one hundred percent more on yourself. Easy-peasy. Model the behavior you want to see in the world. Whether you are in the grocery store line, in traffic, or at home. Yes, even at home, where you behave the worst. Do better – instead of expecting other (small, vulnerable) people to, just because you can bully them into submission.

Second: caring what other parents, or adults, think of your parenting (or teaching style, or whatever)? Well, you are right! Lots of them are judging! Would it make you feel better if I told you “Don’t worry, the people who judge you are running around thinking unpleasant thoughts about other people all day!”? Because that is the truth. No one likes to be judged – or gossiped about. But are those the people I am going to parent for? No. I’m going to parent for my kid, and for me. I’m going to let those other people have their bad times and I’m going to be kind to them because they probably need some kindness. And no, I don’t have to hang out with them!

Third: you can’t pre-empt a kid’s pain, and it’s rude to try. If you look deep back in your childhood, you won’t appreciate the adults who tried to do this to you. This one is the trickiest of all. Lots of people have a deep-down embedded worldview that Life Is Unpleasant, so we must manufacture ways to teach kids about this; or maybe, when kids discover this, we have to RUSH IN AND TELL THEM, like some kind of insufferable person barging in all the time. Is life unfair? Aw, hell yeah. Are kids going to find this out? Yup! Are we supposed to make it more unfair? I can’t really write more about that than has already been written – here’s a fabulous piece, for instance. As a parenting guru once said – I paraphrase: “Adversity is good for children – but not when organized and created by the person supposed to care for them.”

And before we move on, let’s think about the logical extension of manufacturing unpleasantness for kids. A few years ago a friend of mine told me that my partner and I, and the behavior or our children, was so inspiring it almost made her re-think having children. But she said she never would, because she knew that if she had kids, she’d beat them. See – she herself was beaten, quite a bit. For her own good. She lived in a dangerous neighborhood, and they were poor, and life was scary. Her carers were strict, and violent. To keep her safe. She told me this – that she could never have kids, because she knew she would beat them – with tears in her eyes.

Now – those carers had every “justifiable” reason to beat this child. Should they have?

I’d love you to think on that for a minute. You’re thinking it’s an extreme example. It’s not extreme, in that it’s not rare, and hitting children is little different than using emotional or verbal violence on our children.

We are all complicit.

We need to change.

Here’s How To Change

Each of us needs to ask ourselves: are we responsible to help children, or aren’t we? If we truly want to teach children how to handle unpleasant or awkward social experiences, we should be a little willing to let those unfold a little bit – instead of prematurely rushing in to prevent (and thus inadvertently exacerbate!) these situations. As my friend Hafidha commented on the topic:

Hafidha's comment
It takes discipline, and our own emotional maturity, to do better. The most eye-opening thing about, “you get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit” – as well as the other things we say – like, “Because I said so!”, “Life’s not fair, get used to it!” and “You need to learn you aren’t the center of the universe!” – is that the adults who say these things are never, when I look at it objectively, adults who are particularly good role models.

We all have problems, it is true. But I have learned to take my parenting advice from the best. Not just anyone who has an opinion. I take my advice on “manners” from children and adults who model grace under pressure. I take my advice from parents who treat their children with respect. I take my advice from people who demonstrate they can speak their mind with directness – and kindness. From people who can disagree without devolving into name-calling or violence. From people who demonstrate empathy – and courtesy.

And “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit!” – is not an empathetic, nor a courteous, thing to say. 

So how do we “teach” children manners?

We lead by example. (This isn’t a new concept – it is heralded in all the world’s religions, and also is based in scientific study.) Your example will go so much further than you realize – when your child is developmentally ready to emulate it.

We acknowledge that children are people, just like us. It’s pretty unfair to demand a child accept a situation with perfect equanimity when we could hardly do so ourselves. Let’s remember we all know what it feels like to have a huge freak-out – and let’s work on being the adult we’d want helping us when we struggle.

We stick up for vulnerable people being put down. Kids provide the most opportunities to do this. It isn’t that hard. It actually often brings a lot of joy!

We model courtesy toward others. We model this even when we don’t particularly like something that person does, or says, or represents.

We model direct confrontation. We show bravery instead of saying nothing in the moment – then later gossiping or complaining or worse.

We slow down. If we’re feeling frustrated, angry, and upset – we take responsibility for ourselves, and commit to some self-care.

Lots of grownups can’t, or won’t, do these things. Statements like “You get what you get” are merely forms of hazing. If a grownup says this sort of thing it’s most likely the adult doing the hazing is just repeating the behavior she endured. This is what makes the conversation so difficult. The grownups who do this the most, are the least likely to listen to a new approach.

But – that’s Okay. Because you listened. You read until the end of this piece. You can speak up and be kind to children. You can be a Helper – instead of a Shamer. You can work on your own discipline, gratitude, self-control, directness, openness, and grace under fire. Now that? That is the assignment of a lifetime!

And finally: I have a girlfriend who regularly interacts with children – she cares for her children and other people’s children – and in the many hours I’ve spent with her I have never heard her say anything demeaning, belittling, or cruel to a child. As you can imagine, children love her very much. As you can imagine – if you are good at deductive reasoning – children behave really well around her. I like it when I get to hang out with her. She’s a lot more fun than many grownups I know. 

It’s funny how it works out that way.

deschooling: not an all-or-nothing experience

[Ed note on terminology: Let us not pretend I oppose the existence of institutions of learning that employ knowledgable instructors providing course material either voluntarily or for a wage. This is absurd. What I mean by “school” for all my alt education writings is the following: a state-run institutional edifice where children are required to attend; also, the resultant culture that has sprung up in and supporting such institutions.]
Untitled

I’ve recently had the good fortune of receiving a moderate volume of calls, emails, and texts from parents who are curious about homeschooling and unschooling for their children. Part of the increased activity may be the small community ripple our thirteen-year old daughter made this fall when she tested into, and enrolled at, our local community college. Regardless of the factors behind this increased interest, I love the subjects of homeschooling, unschooling, parenting, and living with children. I am honored when adults and children alike trust me enough to share their concerns.

Today I’ve fielded texts from a mother to six who is trying to navigate her family’s first year of home- and unschooling. She tells me her family spent a year deschooling – living without books and curriculum – and now she’s worried, because they’re “behind”. She was feeling upset because in an online unschooling community she brought up these concerns and was told by members of the group that she “hadn’t deschooled yet”. This kind of thing can be unschooling-speak for: “you’re still part of The System! Bad unschooler, bad!” (Meanwhile those unfamiliar with unschooling are probably scratching their heads thinking – “What in the WORLD is ‘deschooling’?”)
 
Let’s think about my friend’s position for a moment.

paradise is you

The kids are out of school for Spring Break. Don’t think I even get how I’m supposed to be this schooling parent. In fact I think I have given up trying. I am often at a loss as to schedules. I don’t fit in with the culture. My kids had conferences last week and it seemed like for all the haranguing about standardized tests and attendance, the school staff and admins are lost and jumbled about it all. One of my children had a low (for the child, anyway) grade in a class. Now last week the child and Ralph tried to get to the bottom of it, and the teacher had a bunch of assignments incorrectly allocated. But here we’d confronted the child the night before – and the child had cried – over this mess. I don’t know if I’m supposed to not give much of a shit, or if I’m supposed to bust in there and straighten everyone out. And it’s hard to get too excited about something, grades and such, that seem entirely meaningless.

So anyway, school is whack and I am amazed they like the good parts – of which there are many, they’re called “other children” – enough to tolerate the rest. But they are enjoying themselves and this gives me immense pleasure. I know they appreciate that we support their rights to do what they want.

So I figure my job is to keep them in school clothes, and try my reasonable best to support them in their extracurricular activities and social lives, and feed them, and provide a safe, loving home for them to rest and recover in.

My son’s birthday is tomorrow – he turns eleven. I am hardly prepared – mentally, emotionally, or any other way, really. I sound a mess and maybe I am.

This afternoon I picked up my car from the shop. Gotta rob some rent to pay for that. But that said the kids and I were grinning like fools to have the car back.

And we were driving home and laughing with my mom, talking about our cat, trying frantically to bury a slimy mushroom on the floor. And I realize that with the little ones by my side, I’m really at my best somehow. I don’t know I’ll ever do much better. It’s like a really small, ignoble little victory in my heart, that I’m really okay with this.

“and I am bored to death with it.”

I think now that both children are in school I feel more anger, more muffled, and less energetic. Lost, purposeless even, at times. I am reminded – and reminded yet again – of how unfriendly the world is to children. How much we like to cram them in supervised, dull spaces. Worse than that: how little others seem to care. Children are institutionalized and herded and everyone seems to feel just fine about this. Last week my son was bullied by a school authority to get in the car with an adult he didn’t trust; this week, he is booted out of community classes that are apparently not-so-open to all, after all.

Not so long ago I was writing for unschooling publications – and putting forth my own perspectives, here, when asked. In 2014 I garnered a paying writing arrangement with a homeschooling magazine that, before one piece was written, was mutually abandoned by both parties when my second child enrolled in the public system.

So now, it seems like we’re just like “everyone else”. I’m living a life I don’t feel too enthused about – that of a schooling family – meanwhile knowing my job, right now, is (as ever!) to support my children in the exploits they seek for themselves.

In that respect, anyway, Ralph and I really are different than most families: our children have the choice, and they know it, and this is backed up by our past actions – not just words. I can feel a lot of comfort in that. I know that by doing that, we are indeed doing something special.

Of the children, only our oldest likes school unequivocally: she pursues extracurricular activities of band, of sport, of academia, of creative writing and art, and of social-spiritual community. She enjoys herself and succeeds in an even-keeled way, earning straight-As and never once asking for help with homework. She puts herself to bed on time and wakes herself in the morning. At the end of the day, on the drive home, she shares her concerns and gives me reasonable lead-times on deadlines. I could serve her up to another family, a boarding school, and she’d be nothing but an asset.

Our son is fitting in far better than I thought he would. Like his sister, he excels academically without much effort. However he is far more interested in recess (and the never-ending schoolwide game of kickball), gym, and lunch – in that order. He is vocal about his displeasures: classroom struggles, the social hypocrisy he has found in the institution, and of course the early-morning schedule (you and me both, little guy!).

All that said, by any measure both my children are a tremendous success in school. Exactly no one is surprised by this, of course.

School works for them, then, but it doesn’t particularly work for me. Deep this evening as a wet darkness sets in, I’m standing in my living room thinking of all this, my minor grudges, the dissatisfaction of institutionalization and segregation. My son is perched on the edge of the couch, dressed in his down coat; the front door is wide open, and my husband gathers up the dog for a late-night walk. I think of how it’s unfair to ask my children to fight my battles, to wrestle with my inner demons, or even to care about what I care about. They are satisfied – why am I not? How rubbish the whole business is, really, I’m thinking.

But school, at least, provides me plenty of time to rest – handy when I am ill, or injured, or as is the case now: both – and plenty of time to myself. School allows me time to reflect and meditate on how quickly children grow, and how much more freedom I have now that they’re older.

So I tell myself – like tonight, when I’m angry with the latest (hardly-a-)setback, that since that is What Is In Fact Happening, it must be What’s Supposed To Be Happening. My mind wanders: possibilities. Perhaps this is the time for me to deepen my practice of yoga and Buddhism. Perhaps this is my time to reflect and rest more. Perhaps this is my time to study my marriage, or to strengthen my friendships.

The winter is dark, and damp, and uncomfortable; my mind runs to these currents as well. My children are happy, and safe, and loved – and excelling in what they want to do. Really, a mother has no other vocation where her dependents are concerned.

“Take away love and our earth is a tomb.”

Today the rains finally came.

I wrote another piece of prose for publication, and sent it off to an editor. Perhaps it will find an audience. I hope it will help someone. Perhaps it will bring me some food money for my family.

I am tired. My sewing business is growing. I don’t have time to entertain frivolous requests, and I will soon get to increase my prices. The solution is elegant; the logistics will take a bit of time.

Because the house, the children, the groceries, the volunteer work – all these are priorities over my craft. I smile at this because it will not always be this way. The children are growing and our lives change swiftly.

The children are growing. I am tired, and my children are growing faster than I am capable of keeping pace with. I practice a mindfulness breathing practice. Breathing in, I know I have a body. Breathing out, I smile at my body; I reconcile with it.

My days seem too short, and full of too much work. Something is amiss. The first Noble Truth. Something is amiss.

I am feeling less angry, more at peace with the events of this last year. I am thinking of my days before I found out terrible news, or should I say, hard news. Those days “before” are now a completely innocent memory to the pain and trouble I’ve wrestled with. This has tired me more than anything else. All that anger, and mistrust, and hatred, and fear. Near exsanguination. Crawling back to life now, a few moments in the sun here and there.

My child and I have an exercise. Every day I ask: Is there anything I have done today to hurt you, or to offend you? This is the one thing my child must answer honestly every day, no matter what. Today my child says, “You said ‘No’ to me, abruptly, and pointed your finger at me.” I hold my child close.

Both children put their arms around me, their hands in mine. Their trust in me and their love for me is something very precious. Is it wrong that in my mind I somehow fear to lose it, when it is likely one of those things that can somehow never be lost? A mystery no one can explain, that echoes through space and time with only itself, and the love cast out over many generations, to keep company and bear witness.