“how necessary a world of pains and troubles”; or, what I really learned and where I learned it

Published this month in the July/August 2012 issue of Natural Child Magazine; reprinted here. I think I linked to it on the RUN earlier; apologies if my regular readers find it a re-run.

***

I was an achiever my entire school career. They put me in a “gifted” program my first year, and the rest of my academic experience more or less followed suit. I’ve since had cause to joke, What is a “gifted” six-year-old anyway? The one who doesn’t wipe boogers under the desk? Because at least from my perspective today, I was a pretty typical child. Unfortunately, I responded to being labeled “gifted” in ways not entirely beneficial to my well-being. If I had some degree of intelligence and perception, even at this early age I had a lot of fears and anxieties. I soothed these anxieties by being a “good girl” and getting good grades. I became increasingly reliant on praise, increasingly self-conscious (just another synonym for “self-absorbed”), and entrenched in risk-averse behaviors. If I didn’t know I could succeed, I wouldn’t try. When I didn’t get it perfect, I was embarrassed. Virtuous and kind in many ways, I was more concerned with myself than with helping others.

Still, up until a few years ago, I would have told you that I liked school. I got straight A’s, teachers seemed to like me, and I them (for the most part). I had plenty of friends – and later, girlfriends and boyfriends. This seemed to work out well enough until high school graduation.

I received a full merit scholarship to go to college. Moving away to the city, my worldview began to crumble. The large university I went to didn’t care much about me in any particular way. I could no longer receive a steady diet of public praise. It seemed like the joy we’re supposed to feel these young years, was not present in my peers. Many drank and drugged to cope. Students around me were anxious, overworked, and many seemed primarily interested in gaining a career so they could earn a lot of money. They often spoke condescendingly and harshly about those not in our socioeconomic strata. These were depressing realizations, considering our narrative was that we were “succeeding” and having a good time.

My first college course was Calculus something-or-other, and there were five hundred students in the lecture hall. Without a high ratio of teacher to student, without being able to be the “best” in the class and get noticed, my motivation abruptly collapsed. I remember going to that particular class far less than a dozen times in the quarter. The rest of my college was lackluster, hanging on by my fingertips and occasionally looking forward to a class after my own heart – the rare times I could take a non-math and non-science course (my major required rigorous coursework in science, chemistry, physics, et cetera).

I graduated with a 3-point-something in engineering, and within four years. Yes, this represents a lot of work and is certainly an accomplishment – especially considering the general ennui and unhappiness I lived with! But see, I simply didn’t know what else to do with my life, and I had to maintain the GPA and the field of study to keep my scholarship. Plain and simple.

I graduated in 1999. Thirteen years have passed since I entered the career field with halfhearted life-plans of working a nine to five in a well-paid position. At first I worked and excelled in the field. To my surprise I did enjoy engineering work – far more than school. But soon after we started our family I quit the field, leaving behind a substantial income and the unforgettable experience of being owned by a corporation. My partner and I had the desire to provide a different life for our children than we’d had, and we set out to try it.

This single-income life involved a lot of hard work, in fact more difficulty than I’d encountered in school, or in engineering. Busy raising babies – and that was a real education! – for some time I thought I would have resources for nothing else. But that was merely the labor-intensive, exhausting, and exhilarating years of parenting small children. Over time this day-in-day-out, twenty-four-seven commitment paid dividends in deeply examining what was important to me, and why. It also taught me, day by day, to be less self-focussed and to give without expectation of return (a wonderful and valuable lesson). It also taught me to enjoy my children, instead of look forward to the day we’d institutionalize them in school. And when I read my writings over the last eight years I’ve journaled, these changes within me are evident.

Life changed. Time flew by. Sooner than I’d have guessed, the boot camp of the early parenting years had softened. And in the ensuing years, besides raising the kids within our means and my partnership, I’ve re-invested my time and efforts in the genuine interests I’d had as a child (namely, writing, art, and sewing), and I’ve succeeded in these exploits. And – perhaps most dear to my heart – I learned the value in any earnest work well-done – yes, dishes, diapers, cooking and cleaning. Meditative, mindful, honest pursuits, as worthwhile as engineering, no better nor worse – honorable and satisfying.

Yes, probably my most dear “accomplishments” are those of the last ten years: learning from the experience of raising children. This is a revelation, especially considering where I came from. Children were loved in my family, but they were also decidedly placed as second-class citizens. Raising them, the day-to-day, was considered beneath a progressive, intelligent person’s prerogative. Kids were rather pedestrian affairs, noisy and messy and best managed and well-mannered.

I’m happy to tell you today that everything, simply everything in my worldview has changed, and for the better. My children and my experiences learning from them gave me my life back, little by little.

And it would be unfair not to mention the many adults and children who came before me, who voiced the passions and the daring I hadn’t found in my home- or school-life growing up. It is due to these mentors I was able to find my own place, take pride in my work (paid, unpaid, vocational and avocational), and my own contributions. Today I live a life hard-working and doing absolutely what I want to do. We are fed and clothed and we love one another well, and I want for nothing else. I don’t, to wit, come home at the end of the day and try to dissolve my stress and anger with a glass of ice and bourbon. I don’t, to wit, compare myself to the next door neighbors or pine for what they have and I don’t. I don’t, to wit, find my kids something to “manage”, mold, or create in my image.

Their dreams are theirs, under their own authorship.

And I am very grateful for all of this.

I was in my thirties when my life began to unfold and I grew brave enough to join the human race, joyful and free. But I see the bloom in my children even now. Perhaps my experiences can benefit my children. I hope so.

But for myself? Being entrusted with nurturing their dear lives afforded me the best education money can’t buy.

 

Off To The Bus, Banana Cake In Hand

my mouse hand hurts

Hutch & Phee, Wet Dog Smell

NEWS! My zine is ready! Yay!

The pdf version is $2 and the limited edition, hand-assembled print version is $6. I think the print versions are going to sell out super-duper fast. I only hope I have enough to sell on First Thursday at my kids’ lemonade stand.

Lots of hard work. I hope readers here consider submitting their own works, especially writings or photography of their living area. C’mon I may be cool but it doesn’t need to be The Kelly Hogaboom Show all the time.

Thanks, darlings!

children_snip

inch by inch

I currently have received about a third the budget for my first zine printing. I’m trucking along, keeping records and updating my addresses. I hope to not spam the zine here (or on Twitter) too much, but I also want to give people an opportunity to know the whole thing is live and can use support of any kind.

In other news. Kinda big news. For me. Kind of a big deal. I think I am actually going to put in an application for a paying job. This is… kind of huge. I haven’t worked for pay, at all, in any consistent way, since 2003. I won’t be taking anything more than part-time hours at this point, but I’m ready to apply, selectively. I’m also ready to abandon the pursuit if it doesn’t work for my family.

Anyway, this is kind of a major thing, which is why I’m outing myself here. And of course, as competitive as all jobs are at this point, I have no idea what the future holds. Probably no job. This is what happens when I make plans.

So anyway. When I have to go out. I leave notes:

Note Before I Leave, Checkmarks

Phoenix makes sure to check off her housework. LIKE A BOSS. She is awesome at it. I think she enjoys having time in the house, to herself. Scratch the word “think”. I know it.

Happy Friday, m’lovelies.

up late typinz

I wrote a piece for the second year in a row, for The Great Spank Out. This is literally the only blog carnival I’ve participated in – it’s one I have a lot of respect for in large part due to Zoie’s intentions and commitment to right speech (my words).

You can comment at my piece itself, and if you’re interested, please read the others in the carnival. And don’t be a jerk in my blogspace. I so don’t want to wake up tomorrow and pour my coffee, come to the computer and find assery. So far y’all are awesome on that account.

I love you readers very much and hope you are finding safety, health, happiness, and peace.

You, Monster

This evening I headed out in the snow for an Emergency Baby acquisition. Well… the Emergency wasn’t that I needed a baby exactly, but it sure felt that way by the time I had him strapped in, in the warm car! On my way home I slid about in the snow a bit and listened to Ralph’s new upcoming EP, which is shaping up slowly, but lovely.

At home we fed the baby lots and lots of food and I carried him and got to give him a bath which was kind of excellent. Other kids ran in and out from the snow, endlessly finding it fun even though I found it dismayingly soggy, including hidden slushy puddles a foot deep that challenged the limits of my waterproof boots.

Today Idzie posted a guest post of mine. Please don’t click over unless you want to read about me bitching, just a little bit, promise, but still.

I’m tired today; time to retire a bit early and take some me-time.

Question: How do you implement non-punitive parenting [and whole-life unschooling]?

Remember so long ago when I wrote a primer on non-punitive parenting? That got a fair number of shares on Facebook as well as several emails, tweets, and comments that asked for more information or follow up.

But, I had a hard time thinking of how to write another piece for many reasons. One, I wasn’t sure if I should write to parents-to-be (who may be more open-minded to such ideas), or write to those who’d already had bad experiences or results from mainstream parenting strategies (in other words, who could use some help, but already had specific problems developed between themselves, their children, and other adults – the latter class who may or may not be supportive of non-coercive/manipulative/authoritative strategies). And really, that last little bit is crucial. Assisting families out of harmful patterns and (seemingly) complicated impasses is often best done with specifics discussed, and at length. To that end, I am always willing to respond to emails and assist anyone as best I can (kelly AT hogaboom DOT org). I do this writing and work for no other reason than I am passionate and I want to help families live in harmony, freedom, and with intelligence and respect.

Fortunately, a reader and Twitter friend gave me a few direct questions about her specific situation and I was able to write her. After the first bit of our exchange I asked her permission to publish her query and my response, as I thought it might help other readers (please remember anything written to me is considered fair game for publishing, although if you have any specific objections let me know as I am often wont to honor them). So here’s a scenario-specific followup.

***

This is Sandi, @5and1 from twitter. I’ve seen you link some really interesting things about non-punitive parenting and unschooling and I’d really like to learn more. I’ve looked a bit on your website but if you have other resources I’d love to read them.

A bit about my family. I have four year old boy/girl twins. We co-slept for a year and a half, and I nursed them for almost two and a half years so I’m used to being labelled as a hippie by my friends and family. My kids are whip smart but have room to grow socially. They have been in preschool for a year and are really excited to start back again.

We don’t spank but we do do time outs. I am realizing that they are not effective so I’m trying what I call time ins. The kids have to sit with me and once they are able to we talk about what has happened. But. Even that is not always effective. I am way more shouty than I care to admit. I never thought I’d be this kind of parent. I know that it could be a lot worse but I see that there is loads of room for me to improve.

So what has worked for you and your family in terms of non-punitive parenting? How have you implemented unschooling?

Thank you for the generous offer to give me more information!

Hello Sandi!

I think it is wonderful that you’re seeing the limitations of punitive, authoritarian, manipulative, and/or coercive parenting. Many if not most adults are quite sure these strategies are necessary, and very fearful that if they were to abandon them for something else the results for parent and child would be horrific or at the very least, highly uncomfortable and inconvenient.

My kids are “well-behaved” (whatever that means! – I only report what many grownups tell me, here), literate and life-skills proficient, social, intelligent, strong, loving, empathetic, self-directed (now there’s a value you won’t see most school environs fostering or supporting in a meaningful way) and this is all despite the many many times I’ve fallen well-short of my ideals and been quite ungentle – and resorted to punitive or authoritarian strategies. I too was for a long time able to report “I never thought I’d be this kind of parent”. This was made confusing by many factors, especially considering that before I had children, I’d never been a violent person or rather, had not considered myself one. It was a very discouraging revelation to find out I was, or had that potential as a parent. But I have resolutely used my experiences to delve deeper into the roots of my story and my inner states of spiritual, mental, and emotional well-being, as well as developing and writing with a critical eye towards the narratives society purports – which are often quite harmful. The results are pretty good, in that we’re a happy family as far as I can tell, my kids are thriving without school or authoritarian/authoritative edifices, they tell me I am a wonderful parent, and I am committed to further improvement, god willing.

So as for being a “shouty” parent, or behaving in ways you never thought you would – welcome to the human race. I have not met a parent/carer who would claim perfection in the ideals they wish to live out, although I have met some who seem not to examine their own behaviors very closely, nor evidence corrections. I never want to sit back and justify my bad behavior or poor strategies, and leave it at that. I want to, and do, pick myself up, apologize, strive to do better through mentors and/or spiritual practice or whatever works. Sometimes I think I will never get it “right” but – that’s okay. The days I think, in so many words, I’m doing so awesome at this gig!, and compare myself favorably to other parents (ugh, yes, I do this sometimes), I’m usually overlooking something and I am definitely suffering from major cases of Ego and Denial! Usually these spates are followed by me having a massive and inappropriate blowup at my children.

So, you asked about my family. My kids are 7 and 9. Raising them as we have, they are very adept at handling themselves in many situations I notice schooled kids, parented in mainstream and authoritarian fashion, tend to be less competent with. They also seem very happy, well-rested, well-fed, and physically and “academically” active (the latter: they read, study, teach themselves skills and world science, do math etc. on their own). The factors I’d say contribue to our successes (such as they are):

1. a knowledge and acceptance that to live the way we wanted required financial sacrifice (specifically, of a fulltime income),

2. a partner who is in as complete agreement with these principles as is possible or likely in another human being, and who is as committed as I to our role as parents, and our passion to sort out problems when they arise (I don’t think a partner is necessary to so-called whole-life unschool, but if you have one that is in disagreement with these parenting values and practices, this can add some complexity),

3. freedom and autonomy given the children as much as they request (example: today the kids know they can choose school if they ever want to try it out),

4. complete inclusion of the children as to how the family runs itself and why, and a regarded voice in all decisions.

When it comes to freedom and autonomy for children as well as their vote, my main regard is safety as is age- and child-appropriate on a case by case basis. It seems to me safety concerns take a more active role when a child is very little. But in raising kids the ways we have, it is incredible to me how adroitly they master concepts of personal safety and how quickly they are to take suggestions, directions, and/or advice from a parent who they’ve come to trust via their own experience, and trust at a deep level.

By the way, I have realized that “time ins” can be tricky too, because we may still be forcing our will on our children. If children respond well to “time ins”, use them! But I suppose if pressed to comment I would say it’s better if kids are immediately removed from hurting one another, or humanely separated if need be, in a non-punitive nor angry fashion. Then each child should be loved up or given attention to in whatever way seems best, making sure your OWN needs are as reasonably met as possible before doing so (learning to meet one’s own needs, with regularity, is a challenge but well-worth the effort). Later in the day when things are calm a brief, age- and child-appropriate approach to conversation may be introduced, but watch and see how interested, if at all, the kids are in this. The separation, whereby you keep the kids safe, and respond with calmness as to whatever need they may have (food, attention, a quiet space, a LOUD ROWDY space, whatever it is), and later discussion with your partner or mentor as to the children’s possible deeper needs, is probably the most effective treatment in the long term. Over time kids will trust you to keep them safe while not trying to direct their feelings, actions, thoughts, etc. This in turn gives them room to develop better strategies and participate in family life in a more self-authored and likely more helpful way.

Obviously what I describe above, especially for young children, is time-intensive and means being able at any moment to put your work on the back burner. I just want to acknowledge this, because few adults seem to give primary carers respect for this aspect of a difficult job! This time-intensive nature was a fact of parenting my young children, but I will add that so soon the kids grow and need so much less physical constancy – and also that I miss the intimacy of my infant and toddler years, and in no way regret the efforts I put in during those times.

And on that note – your children are young enough they likely can’t be left unsupervised for much time at all. You also mentioned on Twitter that you work out of the home. I don’t know if you have a partner and if he/she is interested in the tenets of whole life unschooling, or life learning, or whatever label we’re calling it. All of these listed factors matter. However, I am convinced no matter what our particular circumstances are we can always move away from harmful practices towards ones that better reflect our ideals. So please do write more, with specifics, if you want to, and I will respond as best I can, keeping in mind that for some situations I do not have first-hand experience (for instance: raising twins).

If I had young children and was unable to have a partner at home, I’d probably seek out care for the kids in a less academically-inclined school – like a Waldorf or an outdoor preschool (however, in my opinion it is likely better to have the kids with kind and loving adults than prescribe to a specific type of educational model, so the type of preschool etc. is less important than the leaders/directors/teachers). Alternatively, I might seek out someone such as myself, a person at-home with other kids, who could care for yours in a way you and the children would be happy with. Finally, I might also consider committing to a life where one partner can be at home, if he/she can do so with a willing spirit (and I can speak to how exciting it is!). I might also consider living on student loans or some other form of assistance for those early years. These are all deeply personal decisions, especially that of working in-home without pay nor status, and I will say there is a phenomenal lack of support for kid-care work should you or partner choose it, or should you seek to have it personalized. Just things to be aware of, because my experience is that in having my children out of mainstream school/daycare structures I am often asked, basically, to explain or justify myself! *grin*

If you have any questions or desire clarifications please let me know. Realize also I am only a person raising my children and (to a lesser extent) other children around me. I have no professional qualifications that make me an expert on much of anything. I am passionate about these ideals and happy with the way we live – but I am human and fallible and have many lessons to learn. I write and share like I do because of how many adults have requested it, and how many have told me it has helped them.

Thank you for your query!

this is the face of depression

Today everyone was perfect. The kids were wonderful and beautiful and my husband and them were like in the kitchen laughing gaily while sipping cocktails. They were a bucket of kittens. They were a unicorn painting. Everyone was stellar.

Except me. I sucked.

I didn’t sew. Not a stitch. I wrote this arcane little social justice piece no one will give much of a damn about and those who read will likely think I get all frothed up over unimportant stuff*. I didn’t lift a finger to sort out domestic life (leaving Ralph to clean house, cook food, grab groceries, set the table and serve dinner, and raise our children). I tried to knit something but I’m too inept to figure out how to do a provisional cast-on (yes this is AFTER watching YouTube tutorials). I didn’t even get any television-watching done. I bathed and got dressed – because I have never been in my life so depressed I didn’t do that – but that’s about the only thing I did that made me feel like a human being.

So really? You know those days where you just end up ungrateful and dispirited and you suck? Yeah. That was kind of the overarching sentiment.

* OK, rescinded, a few people liked it and a few more people at least “Like”d it.

bravery is being the only one who knows you’re afraid

Back in high school my closest girlfriends and I developed a system of “Badass Points”, an informally-tracked schema whereby each of us could earn group acknowledgement by doing something daring or asinine – and usually both (like skipping class and smoking with “the stoners” – this meant working-class or poor classmates who wore jean jackets adorned with Sharpie’d skulls and who listened to metal – or telling a teacher he had a sexy bum. Unconscionable but rather tame on that last one, I know, but in my defense we were seventeen and imprisoned in our family lives and school). I don’t remember our game running very long but it was much-beloved to me all the same. I liked the idea of being a Badass when most my life I’d invested in Good Girl, when indeed I was very afraid of many things. To venture out – only a bit – and be myself instead of the Convenience I was relied upon to be – felt grand.

In that vein, I don’t think I’d earn many points these days. I’ve become someone quite risk-averse because I’ve found my position oppressively policed by forces both tangible and many perhaps insubstantial to others’ eyes; I’ve found my Fearless ameliorated by events personally devastating that linger on. These days my “badass” mostly runs to deeply-committed-to concepts of fairness that are so inextricably wound up in spiritual practice and belief they are less individual instances of Awesome and more rewarding ways of life that I nevertheless continue to grapple with – for instance, trusting my kids in their wholeness and personhood

OR –

my “badass” consists of speaking up against oppressive social mores that are trite and common, yet devastating and ubiquitous: more wearying than acutely scary. Examples from just lately: this weekend in a group when a person wondered aloud how a missing girl’s family could have let the child out of their sight in the first place – and after a pause in the conversation I indicated my non-support for such victim-blaming and insensitive speech; another example, speaking out when my daughter’s hairstylist called skinny gym neophytes “gross”.

I know at least a handful of readers might think I’m badass enough given the above examples – and a handful of other readers will eyeroll at just how limited and cowardly I really am. Other people’s verdicts don’t matter so much – because what matters is I haven’t felt a Badass in some time and what’s more I feel it’s something I need.

Being a Badass isn’t about, for me, being a jerk to other people, or proving a point to someone else – it’s about doing something I want to do because I want to do it, and I’m a grown lady who’s allowed to make mistakes – right? – without looking around to make sure there won’t be a big scary reprisal, or wondering what my reputation (such as it is, because Who? Gives A Shit) will suffer. Why do I still fear things when I’ve survived through so much so far?

If I was Badass I’d stop running to spend my every last dime on my kids’ immediate needs and I’d “selfishly” buy myself some things I want – I’d let the kiddos have holey socks and stained clothes and I’d fix myself up with some slutty and awesome bra and panty sets and maybe a top that wasn’t an old band t-shirt. But on the flip side if I was a Badass I’d stop giving a damn for the folk who talk like it’s Empowering to collect Nice Things; I’d start saying “Fuck Off” (mentally) now and forever to those who speak prescriptively about those “must haves” that carry price points that don’t reflect my foursome’s economic reality and I’d say “No Thanks, but Good Luck With That” to those with worldviews that don’t concern themselves with the earth, with fellow man here and abroad, and with conspicuous consumption and the cultural heritage of being an American who just tramples and eats everything they see.

If I was a Badass I’d stop feeling crap about my bad habits. Fuck it. Seriously, I have them. They’ll lift someday, or they won’t.

If I was Badass I’d call up that friend who’s not been a friend and tell her, “You know what? You aren’t much of a friend, and it really hurts, and I know you’re busy, but you should know I have feelings.”

If I was a Badass I’d tell my friends, to their faces, I love you.

If I was a Badass I’d let the house be messy (OK, messier) and know that I would get around to fixing it at some point so let’s move on. Instead of what I do now, which is make sure to take care of that shit first, THEN decide what I want to do with the rest of my supposedly-“free” time.

If I was Badass I’d stop worrying about my husband’s health and trust him to manage his own self. God knows I do pretty right by him.

If I was Badass I’d seek more joy and maybe be a more loving and spontaneous and relaxed lady for this man. I’d quit working myself so hard.

If I was a Badass I’d sing loud in front of other people, because I love to sing, and the only people who ever, EVAR hear it are my kids.

If I was a Badass I’d stop feeling this weird shame we’re working class and have working class lives. I’d stop feeling it was my “fault” somehow, especially considering when I reflect on other people’s lives I truly grant them the same humanity and nobility inherent regardless of status and privilege or any lack thereof (or at least I really, really think I do).

If I was Badass, I’d stop feeling people have a right to give a damn or have a say about what food I feed my children, like I’m required to make sure they grow into some awesome consumers with prim and holistic eating habits I can put down to my awesome parenting. Truth is some days I love to cook more than anything, other days (like today!) I save my mental health and take a walk to the diner and get a veggie burger with my son, and it’s pretty funny how hot and cold I am on the whole good-housewife bit. I come nowhere near the mark on being good at this, the whole well-rounded awesome Mama routine, so it’s laughable I still put this pressure on myself. And yeah, I know people shouldn’t have that right to weigh in, but weigh in they do, and dammit, I let it get to me.

That’s part of my problem, maybe most of it. Deep down I keep believing people have the right to weigh in. On my worthDeep down I still really fear not being a Nice Girl. So many things I want to say but don’t. Or sometimes I do say them then later feel a very humorless shame because my words weren’t “Nice”, or they might have been uncouth or low class or “inappropriate” according to the voice (who?) of someone who, well the one thing I can tell you, is this person is not very fun anyway. The twisted thing is, I am a good (enough) person, and I’m a friend to many and do okay by those I take responsibility for. What am I really afraid of? And another really twisted thing is I know lots of “not-nice” folk and they are some of my favorite people and they’re not scary or horrid!

I’ve made it on my own steam, and that’s to my credit as well as the family and friends who support me so well and the privilege I was born with. But inside… inside I’m often cowering, afraid to lose things I probably don’t really need in the first place, cowering even knowing I won’t lose Me no matter what I do.

But you know. One last thing? I think just writing it all out, and letting it go publicly just what a coward I am?- like, PRETTY much, all the things I’m afraid of? All of a sudden, just now, feels pretty Badass. Hit “publish” – too late now.

It’s almost 2 AM and I hear my daughter giggling at something she’s watching (with headphones) on the laptop. You know what’s really awesome? That. I have her, today, and a sense of unabiding joy when I’m with her.

So I’m going to join her.

***

“Every man has his own courage, and is betrayed because he seeks in himself the courage of other persons.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson