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.

crowdfunding my li’l boo

Readers: you have, over the last twelve years, supported me in a hundred different ways. I thank you for this, and today I have a special request.

Our 13-year old daughter is the youngest-ever student to enroll here at Grays Harbor College. She is doing well, halfway through her first quarter of college – a 95% in her math class, and high marks in her Life Drawing course. She is also finishing up a private Pastels class – this latter, paid for by a patron.

Tuition was due last week. It is pricey – about $100 per credit, per quarter. Our hopes to find her a scholarship have astonished me: most scholarships discriminate by age, making our bright, gifted daughter too young to qualify for traditional funding. Be assured Ralph and I are pursuing various options to help with these costs – but so far, as they say, bupkis.

To wit: you can help us immensely by either a one-time donation here via Paypal (or traditional mailing to P.O. Box 205 Hoquiam, WA 98550), or by supporting my daughter’s Patreon account. Please know that even a small sum monthly, will make all the difference for my daughter’s educational goals.

Phoenix Fire Hogaboom

I will be keeping this post updated if we receive scholarship funds, enrollment in Running Start, or a large enough donation to cover costs. And as always – thank you so much for your support.

Phoenix Hogaboom
c/o Kelly Hogaboom
PO Box 205
Aberdeen, WA 98520

Phoenix’s first pen-and-ink, for class last week:

Phoenix Fire Hogaboom

enrollment

Today our thirteen year old daughter enrolled at our local community college. We had a very pleasant orientation with her advisor, and then the family – the four of us – toured some new facilities, some really incredible facilities, that will be her home this quarter. Phee stayed at the school with her dad for the rest of the day, while Nels and I came home to our own undertakings: some football and tailoring work, resp.

College matriculation for my daughter came up rather abruptly, as it happened. So my mind is still trying to put pieces together. Unhelpfully, I am breaking new ground and at a loss for mentors. I am also once again in a tiny bit of a spotlight: the moment I publicly announced our daughter’s acceptance to college, I was flooded with parents publicly and privately demanding I tell them how we accomplished this. I’ve also had a handful of well-intentioned (?) people ask me if she was ready – if we’d thought about This, or thought about That.

Well, sheesh. Yeah, we’ve thought about This, and we’ve thought about That. Ralph and I stay up nights talking about our children, our parenting, our family, our community. We talk about it when the kids are in earshot, and when they are not. Our children are the most important pieces of our lives. We’ve built our entire family structure on prioritizing them (and I’ve been writing about this, passionately, for over a decade) – parenting against the cultural standard every step of the way, I might add.

And now – it’s paying off. I mean, it’s paying off yet again, because it has been paying off since get-go. It’s just paying off today in a way that other parents tend to notice. Parents ask me “how [I] did it”? I say – we prioritize our kids’ health and authenticity over Every. Damn. Thing. Non-punitive parenting, and de-institutionalization (a fake word but a real Thing) is often too scary for many parents.

Adults – not just parents! – want kids to perform. To score academically! To read early! To be good at (culturally-recognized forms of) math! To win the tournament! To somehow be OK, because that will prove we are good parents and by inference, good people. To prove the cultural and familial hazing we endured was somehow necessary and should be continued.

So: yeah. When my kids suddenly stand out in some way, I get the queries. You know… the queries where people really want to know “how [I] did it”, but don’t seem to listen when I respond.

If I sound too irritable, well first: you are reading my personal blog which means you’re looking at my thoughts in their underpants, as it were.

Secondly: I will get past it. I’ve had a lot of changes in our lives recently and I’m a bit overwhelmed.

But here’s the thing. I am a human being. I need mentors, just like you. I need support, just like you. And I really need those things when I’m doing something new not only to me, but new in my community.

I’m coming to see that being a groundbreaking family in this way or that way means there are times I might not get the support I’d wish for. I can’t hold that against anyone. I get it.

But my priority will always be my family.

I’ll be working – especially with these recent changes in our lives – on supporting myself, my partner, and our children in this next leg of the journey. And when I figure things out – well I’ll be sure to share, –

as I always have!

And as always – readers? I’ve written thousands and thousands of words on parenting. I’m no expert on anything except perhaps my own life story (and there’s doubt about that!), but I do pass on what I’ve learned.

If you are new to parenting, or if you’re not new but willing to learn new things: come join us. I welcome your emails, your constructive comments. 

Let’s do this together!

Being Assholes

Not Back To School, reason #1

Being Assholes
It’s that time of year – my social media stream is full of parents and teachers making jokes (?) at the expense of children. Teachers groan about having to return to their jobs. Parents are glad they get a break – finally! We’re all in agreement: caring for children is really exhausting and annoying and teachers should be sainted for having to put up with it!

Yeah. It’s kinda ugly.

Lest you think I’m a humorless scold (um… do you even read here?) let me acknowledge a few truths. First, I think very loving grownups can make jokes like this. Whether they should, well, let’s talk about this.

Second: I don’t deny, everyone needs to blow off some steam. As a parent for over thirteen years, I can attest there is a dark side to the hard work of being a parent. Sometimes we just need to vent. In fact, older entries of this very blog reveal that edge. Go ahead and look, if you like. It’s not pretty, although a lot of people seem to think it’s funny.

I am not writing this piece for those who’d read and feel offended, flustered. “How dare she pick on how I talk about my kids!” Or: “Well I don’t like kids. That’s just my preference.” (Not even touching this one, today!)

Yeah, yeah. I’m not trying to pick on you. I’m not even writing for you.

I’m writing for the children, teens, and adults, who see these “jokes”, and feel uneasy. If you do, please read on:

The problem with public venting is: children hear it. And it is damaging. There is no question about either of these things.

So then it becomes time for us truly to earn that title of GROWN UP. Because we are grown. We have rights, freedoms, protection under the law, and access to support – at least, far more than children as a class do.

So – are we going to act grown, or not? Is our right to vent more important than the collective self-esteem of our new generation? Does our right to vent trump our responsibility to weigh our words, while we steward this world and show, by example, how best to care for it? Are snark, memes, and barbed anecdotes – about our children or others’ – our only avenues to vent? Is it possible there are ways to get our needs met, that aren’t destructive to others?

Children read this stuff. They see it. Children get the gist. Teenagers especially learn that: we think they’re silly, dramatic, stupid, and annoying. And look – here’s another article proving how “teenage brain” is totally different than – *cough cough inferior to* – the grownup brain. Ouch!

Is it possible for children to fully understand these memes and snark are “just jokes”? Studies say, not so much. Empirical evidence and anecdotes reveal: not so much.

Even as adults: we all have a person or two in our lives, who seems to pick on us, although we can’t absolutely prove it. How does that feel?

Yeah, not too great.

Children are human beings, and they deserve respect – as individuals, and as a class. Our pastors, close and trusted friends, counselors, and the supportive family members who can keep a confidence? These fine personages are who we should vent to.

And when we’ve had enough support from these professionals and loved ones, we can better clarify what, if anything, we need to change. We can speak to our children in a constructive manner. We can dance that special dance – of self-care, while discharging our responsibilities.

It’s never too early, or too late to start.

I’m looking forward to these “Not Back To School” months with my kids in my home. I can truthfully say: these ten plus years of immersion have been the experience of a lifetime. I am so glad I did it, and so glad we continue. I am so glad I took the plunge, even after so many told me it wasn’t possible. That only a certain class of (unambitious, unintelligent, lifeless, and financially-privileged) women could do it, and stay happy.

Nah, son. If you want to do it – you can. Prepare to learn a little – or a lot!

And – I’m here to help.

verily i am unstoppable!

MONDAYS! (The Strange World of Planet X - 1957)

So today was really great, in about a half-dozen ways. Mostly I was tremendously focused on learning a few new things, which feels wonderful. The kids had friends over, then got up to their own projects – artwork. About halfway through this I forced them out on a walk with the dog so I could focus on some tailoring work: making a muslin and custom shoulder pads in a fabulous Harris tweed jacket for a delightful client. Then, while Ralph made dinner, cutting into the thick, scratchy high-end fabric and block fusing, the steam from the iron not feeling great in the summer heat, even with the A/C on.

Tomorrow is payday. I’m short about $500 this pay cycle. We’ll see!

awake at 6 am but then back to sleep

 
Today as soon as my son woke up, he cried out asking for us to swim together. Very recently it occurred to him we could both swim in the large, “adult” lap pool and he wanted this more than anything, today. Enough that he sprang out of bed, dressed immediately, packed his swim gear, walked the dog, and hopped in the car.

We swam; we dove. Backstroke, breast-stroke, dolphin kick, crawl. He pretended to be a merman. He showed me his many new swimming lesson skills. If he wasn’t under water smiling, he was popping his head up and bubbling words at me faster than I could track. He wanted me to swim with him, “free”. I flipped somersaults and dove to touch the deep end’s floor. I taught him the art of slowly releasing an exhale while submerged. He brought us kickboards and fins. My first time using flippers.

There was only one other person in the entire pool and they left us be. It was just Nels and I for yards of water. A small paradise.

My son is thinking of joining his sister in school (“I will try one day and see if I like it); if he does, I will miss our idyllic days together – years of memories, years slipping by. I know that either or both my children might join school, then quit, then re-join and by no means do I have a plan or agenda. I just also know the kids don’t mourn the passage of time so their changes are experienced in pure joy. Yet this bit of sadness is something I seem to have learned along the way.

Tonight: home cooking – for ourselves, and for friends. Patiently frying chicken in a clean kitchen; baking biscuits. Corn on the cob; country music all lonesome.

My husband has been kind to me. He can tell I am upset, and preoccupied at times, and worn a little thin. A setback here; a friend or two in trouble there. Kidney pains. Mis-steps. And when he puts his arms around me he really means it. He had kind words for me on my sobriety birthday. He has been my companion now for sixteen years. He has seem me through good and ill and I have done the same. This is a very precious thing and grows no less so as days rise and fall.

Tonight he finishes the dishes; I type a few words; my dog Hutch slumbers at my feet which he never fails to do when I am doing any seated work. Our children finish up their own housework efforts and run hot water for their baths.

I light a candle. I am thinking of a friend. I am thinking of our checking account. I am thinking of the summer nights upon us; evenings that stay light, later. I am feeling gladness. I am feeling somber.

I want a heart of Kindness.

i tell it like it is, and the ladies love it

I’m tired, but more to the point I’m sad. I have a grey cloud over my head vis-a-vis my troubles and my temperament is such I get entangled in this ish most nights. I’ve tried talking it out, I’ve tried praying on it, I’ve tried meditating, I’ve tried not thinking. But I’m a mess over it all the same.

But now, I sit on my daughter’s bed and try to be with her for a bit. She’s playing on her brother’s 3DS but she puts it aside to cuddle me a while.

She suddenly remembers she has something for me and fetches it from her bag: her progress report, her grades. I flip through a frankly confusing printout and see all A’s and several classes recording over 100%. I am beginning to suspect she’s top of the class. Kind of incredible to me as kids have so much school- and homework these days and she is completely self-motivated about all of it.

“This looks really good. I’m impressed,” I tell her, flipping the packet back on the bed.

I’m quiet a moment and then I say, “You know by doing so well, you’re doing a favor for future homeschoolers and unschoolers out there.”

“You mean I prove that kids can go to school after unschooling and succeed?”

“Yeah,” I say. “You know a lot of people are afraid to unschool or homeschool their kids,” I tell her.

“That’s okay,” she says. And just when I’m thinking how compassionate and live-and-let-live she is she follows up with:

“They just have to get their shit together.”

She says it in the gentlest tone possible.

Ah… my little Beak.

our dance card

During our new swim session a few of the homeschool parents descend on me at poolside – almost ravenously. It had been a couple years since I connected with the group. Touchingly, even though I have been absent for a while, and I don’t remember their names nor their children’s, a few ask about my daughter. I tell them about Phoenix enrolling in school, and how she’s doing. There is a bit of a flutter as a few of them seem to be deciphering that in some way. One woman says, “You can write on your blog about how you can go from unschooling, to [successful] schooling. Most people I talk to think unschooling won’t work.”

Why YES I CAN! And what a great idea that is! And – you are right! And – thank you for the reminder! I am a little delighted. My brain is all rusty and cobwebby.

I only discovered there was a six-week class an hour before the class, so I’m just glad we made it here on time. I’m not quite ready to publicly interface in a graceful way. I have a pen in my hand and I’m meeting a friend and I’m watching my son in the pool – I’m watching him learn a bit more about proper swimming technique. I’m so glad the sun is shining through the windows and I’m so glad to be here with him.

I am not used to getting invasive questions but today I am not minding much. I am mellow like Ben Murphy. Since I don’t feel I owe anyone an explanation sometimes I just let the questions or assumptions roll over me like water.

And hell sometimes, I think directness (in the form of, “Why are you doing this? Why do you do that?”) can be refreshing. Because let me tell you, I have encountered some weird behaviors in my day. People who hint so many layers deep I know they’re fucking with me but I can’t figure out exactly why. People who aggressively compliment. Can’t figure that one out either. People who, like today, corner me and start telling me very detailed stories about a specific cultural aspect of their home – even though I am sitting with a workbook on my lap and I was busy writing in it when they approached. I am not here to socialize – not today, at least.

Nels is the last out of the pool; it is so warm out I simply wrap him in his towel and hold his clothing under my arm. Home for a bath and then to enjoy the sun. It’s a good day to walk this Earth.

the rustle of leaves / going on a journey

So apparently some grading milestone has just passed, because we got a different grading report this week. And it turns out our unschooled daughter made the honor roll.

This is all the more impressive (to me) given she has had two near one-week absences already for family time, and I know she didn’t turn in all the necessary makeup work for those intermissions. (Getting an organized list of make-up work is weirdly logistically difficult… children have incredible amounts of homework assigned to them these days and I think overworked teachers can’t always keep it straight).

I’ve thought a lot about writing about our family’s experience of the eldest’s foray into schooling – especially since I’ve been asked to write about it. Long story short: my daughter is killing it. Meaning: she genuinely enjoys school and is a faithful and willing participant. She seems to be managing the social stuff well, although let’s be honest – if she was being a shady Ass she might not be willing to report to me. Time will tell; further observation will tell.

Academically, she is one of those bright kids praised for critical thinking, leadership in discussions, and friendly deportment. No one reading here is surprised. She is ranked the top reader of the class and … bottom… math-er (how would you put that?).

The math bit is interesting. Phoenix is catching up very quickly, positing that a child who’s never touched math workbooks in a classroom can catch up to five years’ of public school in a few months. [ inserts tongue into cheek ] I am not even kidding about how much she couldn’t do worksheet-math when she started. Her first week at school she’d look up at me and say, “What is ‘5’ plus ‘2’?” Part of her difficulty with even simple exercises in a math worksheet seemed to be her own conviction that she “didn’t do” math (her words, although of course she’s managed many fiscal matters quite sensibly and plays video games which involve math, estimation, and strategy). Part of it was she was a bit overwhelmed with those first couple weeks. She is now quite calm about math and cheerfully enough completes the volumes of homework required. As I type this she is downstairs filling out a bunch of balls’-numbing long division problems. You know, one of those things we grownups use our calculators for.

School administrators and staff are very interesting to work with. I live in a small enough community I will keep some of my opinions to myself, although I am fine with a one-on-one or email conversation for the genuinely curious (I am not down with gossip, so you will get nowhere with me if you try it). I will say that school staff seem to know school isn’t so great for kids and this knowledge is reflected in an odd combination of muffled obfuscation and obsequious, careful sizing-up while talking to a parent. That said, from what I can tell the staff are adults who genuinely enjoy children. I ain’t gonna lie, some adults like kids inasmuch as they can boss, rank, file, and even tease them. But that doesn’t mean they don’t love them, too.

The logistics of school life is a tiny bit tricky, but we are making it. Phoenix and Ralph get up quite a bit earlier than Nels & I (except for days like today, when Ralph was out of town and I got the opportunity to take Phee to school). We drive nine-point-four miles to get her to a bus stop (then back to town or work). With our car and gas situation this is often sketchy, but it has worked out and it is a nice break, a nice bit of family-only time. I’m still glad we chose the school we did for a variety of reasons, and my daughter feels a part of the school community.

So far, so good.

I don’t pine for my daughter like I did at first. It is still amazing to think of her just doing some shit all day long and I have no idea what it is. I am really glad for our family’s intimacy, though, and it keeps us strong. I enjoy having more time with just-my-son, and I enjoy having some work time. I enjoy watching my daughter build a life of her own.

My daughter is still one of the most directly affectionate people I know. When I pick her up from school at the end of a little rural road she walks right into my arms and kisses me and I hold her for a bit. We walk back in silence or talk about our day. I can see that friendship between us and I know that although it’s not a sure thing it will remain strong, so far it has been so wonderful, so rewarding. My daughter is probably the easiest person on the planet for me to be around. She is pretty special. Whomever she shares herself with is very lucky indeed.

I know over the years of writing here I have influenced many adults who are trying to figure out what is best for their children. I earnestly hope I have done more help than harm. As an unschooling parent for about a decade now, I have a few words as we journey through this latest bit. Parents and carers, if you are involved with your kids, love your kids, pay attention to your kids, and are brave enough to consider going against the grain – please don’t listen to what anyone ever says about school performance. Kids aren’t meant to be ranked and filed, “kept busy”, discussed like show dogs in a lineup, labeled, and with regularity told when they can eat and when they can take a crap.

Now if that’s your kid’s daily reality, Cool Beans, it’s one of my kids’ daily realities too. But I still say; if you’re thinking about it, YES, it is VERY WORTH IT to put off that reality for as many years as you can. Today, so far, I am pretty comfortable as a parent-whose-child-chooses-school, but to be fair it’s nothing I’ve done personally – it’s trusting Phoenix. We trusted her enough not to send her to school and let her be her. It was a smart investment.

It is an honor to be her mother and friend, to accompany her on her journies. I look forward to the next chapter.