Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Where We Learn

Nothing particularly profound today.

Some images of some of our favorite nearby places, those we go to frequently.
Places where we relax and enjoy time together.
A celebration of the beauty in the world.

This is where my kids have grown up.

From our backyard:
One of the people who owned our house and land before us was a food scientist. He was gifted several grapevines, of some wine grapes (I don't recall the variety). Although we don't use them to make wine, they are still beautiful.
One of our maple trees starting to wake up. Soon, it will have tiny leaves. Interestingly, the early leaves are the same colors that the leaves will turn in the fall, but it's harder to see. They soon become green, and all that color goes away for a few months.

This corner of our property is where two creeks meet and become one. Right now, they are very sedate, but when the water is high, this area is quite different.

This is from about the middle of our section of the creek, going through where a tree fell across the creek a few years ago. This section changes every year, as things are moved by the force of the water.
Looking down the creek, towards the edge of our property. There is no "maintenance" done here, of any kind, so it is what it is, and we never know what the Spring will bring each year, as things shift and change. The deepest part of the creek while it runs across our property is maybe two feet deep. Most is very shallow, at least most of the time. When it floods, this will all be under water.

This is where our creek goes:

About a mile downstream from us, give or take, there is a "lake" at the top of a state park. It isn't really a lake anymore. It was, when I was a kid, but now, it has been overgrown by vegetation and is more of a marsh. At the bottom of the lake is a dam, and below that, is this waterfall. The bridge across the top is part of a trail that goes around the lake.
This is in a part of the park that many people don't know about, and most don't go to, and even those who do, don't always realize this waterfall is there. I don't believe it has a name, or if it does, I don't know what it is.

A short way down from that waterfall, the creek crosses a road. Literally. It flows over the road, and cars drive through it to get to the upper part of the park. This is not an uncommon thing in the state parks around here. I don't know why they do it that way. It means, for one thing, that they must close those roads during the winter, as the road becomes impassable at times. When I was a kid, I always thought it was exciting to drive through the creek. I think kids still often feel that way.

Just on the downstream side of the road, is this small waterfall. Again, it's one most people never see, because it isn't where they are focusing when they are in the area. It is a little less "natural" than some, because it is surrounded by concrete reinforcing the place where cars drive through. You can't see that so well in the picture, but I'm standing on some of it. If you look at the top left of the photo, you can see the back of the stop sign on the road.

As the creek reaches the bottom part of this section of the park, there is a lovely shallow area. It is also an area that changes relatively frequently, most recently by some flooding a couple of years ago. Part of the bank was flooded out, and it is much easier to see this particular spot now. Behind me is the parking lot. There is a trail on the other side, but it is not right by the creek at this point.

Below this, there is a waterfall that I like to call the "hidden falls." It is tucked away in a bend that is not easy to see. Years ago, there used to be a second swimming area just below it, I believe, judging by both the remnants of a small dam similar to the one at the lower park's swimming area (as well as other area parks that allow swimming) and a chain across an abandoned path, with signs that say "no swimming." I don't know why they changed things. It's too bad, in a way. This small section is very attractive, and it is no longer allowed for people to walk down to the creek here.

From here, the water goes under a bridge, to the start of the gorge part of the park. Although it is very close to my house, it wasn't until a few years ago that we actually hiked the gorge, and what a lovely place! It rapidly became one of our favorite places. The trail is closed over the winter because it becomes ice-covered and treacherous, but while it is open, we go here often.

At the bottom of the gorge is the main waterfall of the park, the one for which the park is named. For years, it was the only part I ever visited, but we have since learned better!

When we are finished with this gorge, there is ANOTHER gorge on our way home. It's not in a state park, but is in a nature preserve, a short walk from a small parking area by the side of the road.

There are more waterfalls down the gorge from here, including one that is quite tall, but this section is the part we love most.

There you have a walk through part of our world. I'm sure I'll post more pictures, from all four seasons. With all the more popular waterfalls around here, these gorges have far fewer visitors than one might think. We are often there alone, except for the company of birds and beasts. Breathing the spray from the falls is guaranteed to improve my mood and make me feel better, no matter what else is going on.

I often post photos on facebook, and now have a photography page to post them on. You can find it here, if you are interested:  https://www.facebook.com/lindawyattphotography

Friday, April 24, 2015

Passion, or Addiction?

I'm starting a new thing.
Or continuing an old thing.
Hard to say.

I've been taking photographs since I was around 7 years old.
I was fortunate in that my elementary school from 2nd-6th grade had a darkroom, and students had free access to it.
I remember spending many hours in there, probably soaking and breathing in nasty chemicals, but I digress.

I didn't do a lot of photography from the ages of around 13-18, but when I was 19, I was given a decent SLR camera, and with that, became interested again.
The problem was that film, and developing and printing the film, were fairly expensive, at least for a young couple trying to live on one minimum wage income.
So I'd splurge when I could, and then have times when I simply couldn't afford to take many pictures.

In order to get good at it, you have to take a lot of pictures.

The invention of the digital camera, especially the digital SLR camera, was the greatest gift ever to photographers.
Now, "film" does not exist, and there is no developing cost at all. Printing still costs- but you don't even have to do that, to see the pictures.
Best of all, there is no time delay. You can see your images immediately, and be able to change settings, change position, or whatever you want, right then. What an amazing learning opportunity!

Since getting a digital SLR camera a few years ago, I have taken a lot of pictures.
And, in so doing, I have gotten better.

Recently, several people have suggested to me that I should look into selling photos.
I resisted, for a variety of reasons. One being that I can't afford to print and frame anything, and one being that adding money, or trying to please a customer, into the mix of ANYTHING runs the risk of changing it.

I found a way to offer photos for sale where I don't have to DO any of the printing, framing, packaging, or shipping. That's kind of cool. It makes it possible for me to do.

So I did.
I joined a commercial site that provides this service.

I also made a facebook page for my photography. Before this week, I had posted photos on my personal page, but not had a dedicated photography page.

The first thing that happened is that a lot of people liked my new page!

The next thing is that I'm in the middle of a steep learning curve, trying to figure out how to manage all this.
It is causing me to devote a fair chunk of time to it, and that time has to be squeaked out of my already busy life.
I've been taking pictures, processing them, sorting through old ones, talking to people about ideas for marketing, reaching out to people I know, and otherwise getting used to the idea of actually presenting myself in public as an artist.

This is a pattern for me.

I become interested in something, and dive in, head first.
It's not an obsession, exactly.

Maybe it is.  :-)

It isn't just me who does this.
It's a typical pattern for MANY people, when they start something new.

That rush of a steep learning curve is exciting, and interesting, and compelling, and can be where a lot of learning happens. Along with it comes a mental state that is extremely receptive to new information.

I think a lot of new unschooling parents get confused by this.

Sometimes, they think ALL learning happens this way, with a sudden, deep interest in something, and with a person wanting all available information and related activities. They are disappointed when their child doesn't seem to "find his passion." I have seen people express this concern, about not having found their passion,  about a FIVE YEAR OLD. I have also seen parents feel like they have to treat every interest this way, and run themselves ragged procuring all available related resources, only to have the child "lose interest."

Sometimes, it's the opposite extreme. They see someone who is fascinated by something, who DOES want to eat, sleep and breathe it, who may stop doing things they were previously interested in, and they are afraid it is some sort of addiction.

Which concern a parent has depends largely on their personal opinion of whatever-it-is.
If they approve of it (or think others would), it is typically perceived as a passion.
If they disapprove (or think others would), it is often seen as an addiction.

I think it would help a lot of people to be able to step back, and just see it as what it is: an interest, and learning about it. No more, no less. Great fun, but not the only model.

And now…
I'll go back to sorting some photos.
This also explains why I haven't posted for the past few days. :-)

If I could have any superpower, it might be not to need sleep. So much to do, so little time!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Plan B, or, Try, Try Again

We drove down to Philly for a couple of days this past week, for my daughter's doctor appointment.

The entire trip had more of those moments than usual. The ones where things don't go as planned, and there is a choice to be made: roll with it, or use energy in getting upset.

First, we got started later than expected.
No big deal, since we didn't really have to be anywhere at any particular time. But still. An omen, perhaps.

We planned to stop at this little out-of-the-way gas station in the middle of nowhere (South Montrose PA, to be specific) because every time we have been by there, they have had great food. This is especially interesting, it being a gas station in the middle of nowhere, and all. The last time we went there, they had chicken gravy, mashed potatoes, and biscuits, and although I've been on a low carb diet for nearly three years now, I decided to "splurge" and have the gravy and potatoes. So I didn't pack food, like I usually do.

They didn't have gravy and potatoes on that day. No lunch for me.

Then, due to being later than planned, we hit traffic. LOTS of traffic. 

And then… our exit was closed for construction. The detour took us WAY out of our way. The GPS kept trying to get us to go back on the main highway and try to get to that (closed) exit again, so it was not much help. Fortunately, we've been in the area several times now, and sort of know our way around.

We had originally planned to stop by our hotel, settle for a few minutes, then go across the road to a national wildlife refuge, but by the time we got there, we were way too tired. We decided to watch a movie instead... only it turned out, there weren't any on.

We arrived at the hotel, opened the trunk of the car to get our bags, and discovered that there was some unidentified oily substance now soaked into some of the bags, apparently having been in the carpet of the trunk of the rental car. NO idea what it was.

We checked in at the front desk, and went to our room, to hurriedly unpack our bags, hoping that whatever-it-was hadn't soaked into anything inside the bags. It hadn't.

Then we realized that the room we had been given had only one bed, not two, like what I had reserved. Back to the desk for me. Sheets and a blanket for the pull-out couch. I was not happy about this- pull-out couch mattresses are typically not very comfortable, and it would have been nice if they had told me WHEN I RESERVED THE ROOM that there was not one available. Or even when we checked in, to be sure we wanted to check in AT ALL. But no. Surprise!

The next morning, we drove into the city for the appointment. On our last trip, we had discovered that there is a parking garage that connects directly to the building where the clinic is, AND that they have a parking validation machine to make it cheap to park there. Before then, we had driven into the city earlier in the day, to get "early bird" parking prices, and parked quite some distance away. We were psyched that we had it all figured out this time… until we saw the "garage full" sign.

After the appointment, we stopped at the 7-11 so my daughter could get a slushy. Except the machine didn't work.

We headed out of town, but the GPS wanted us to turn onto a road that was an overpass above us (?!?) and we ended up driving around in practically a figure 8 to get back to where we needed to be.

On our way out of town, we stopped at a horticultural center, to see the cherry blossoms.
Which we promptly discovered that I am very allergic to!

I'm exhausted all over again, just writing this! :-)

Overall, it was a great trip. The appointment went well, we found Spring and the flowers were lovely, the days were warm and pleasant, we met nice people, and were able to go to our favorite neighborhood-that-isn't-our-neighborhood grocery store.

It would have been so easy to get caught up in that string of not-quite-as-planned situations.
Especially with my daughter, who, when she was young, had a very difficult time with transitions, when things that didn't go as she expected them to go.

I think we've learned.

What we've learned is this:
If you don't have a Plan B, you don't have a plan.
If things don't go one way, they'll go another.
It is not worth the energy to get upset over things you have no control over.
Things will work out okay, somehow, as long as we keep trying.

I saw this red tailed hawk just in time to catch him taking off.

This is why we went there! Trees are not blooming yet where we live.

This is the one I am allergic to! The bee apparently loves it, though.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Cooperation: On The Road

There's something that I really love to witness.
It's a small thing.
A thing most people probably don't pay much attention to.

It has to do with driving.

I love finding places where the traffic pattern requires people to cooperate, especially in ways that involve "unwritten rules."

One such place locally involves a one-lane bridge, where the custom is that three cars go across, and then the next one waits, so the cars from the other side can go.

Another local one- my favorite- is a hairpin turn, on a hill. It requires the downhill car to stop about 20 feet back from the stop sign, so a car making the turn to go uphill can cross into the opposite lane safely. It also requires cars from all three directions (downhill, uphill turn, uphill straight) to coordinate taking turns so that it works smoothly.

What I like about these situations is that the "rules" are not stated anywhere. They have developed over years of travel.

So how do new people learn them?
There aren't signs.
I've never seen anyone tell anyone. No one rolls down a window and yells, or anything.
I have seen a few cranky looks at the fourth car on the bridge, maybe, but at the hairpin turn, people smile and wave.

And yet... people learn.
They watch other people do it.
They take their turn.
They do what makes sense.

And there are rarely accidents at either location. I can't think of any for the past several years, at least.

I think it works because... it's what works. People don't try to manage it other ways, because those don't work nearly as well.

The city has tried, a couple of times, to force a change of traffic pattern for the hairpin turn. They occasionally voice "serious concern" for that intersection. For a period of time, they put up a sign prohibiting the uphill turn. People HATED that, and eventually, they took the sign down.

They are talking about prohibiting it again, and even prohibiting the downhill turn, but forcing everyone to go half a mile down the road to a roundabout.  I REALLY hope they don't, not only because it is terribly inconvenient, but also, people aren't nearly as polite in the roundabout (often people get confused, since we don't have many around here, and they aren't sure who has the right of way).

Mostly, though, I hope they don't change it because I LOVE the way it works now. It is a lovely nearly-daily opportunity to see people cooperating and helping each other. Why eliminate that?!?

Today, while traveling, I got to see another example of driving cooperation. Several times, there were situations where there was an on-ramp, and both the cars on the ramp and the ones already on the road matched speeds so the merge went like a zipper. Beautiful!

Am I the only one who see these things?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Appearances Can be Deceiving

On my way home just now, I had an interesting experience.

I was coming home from picking up a rental car.
I have to drive several hundred miles tomorrow to take my daughter to a medical appointment, and my car, as much as I love it, simply isn't reliable enough to count on for something like this.

On my way home, I had to stop and buy ink for my printer, so I can print out the forms to pay my taxes. Meaning I had to do it today, since there is a deadline beyond my control.

When I got out of my car, a woman from across the parking lot came rushing over to me, with some story about how she hoped I could help her, she needed to get home (to a town about 20 miles away) and she was stuck there, in that parking lot, short $11.

I KNOW she saw me get out of that nice, new car, and assumed I had money.
However, today, of all days, when I'm facing a tax bill that has me pretty near broke, with bills to pay, right when I was having to spend some of what little money I have on something other than food, was NOT the time to ask me for money!

It's not my car. That car does not represent my life.
She should have looked a bit closer, at my muddy, holey boots, and the ragged flannel shirt I was wearing.

As things often do, it got me thinking.

I wonder how often I make the mistake of making an assumption about someone, based on their appearance? I'm sure it happens, no matter how hard I try not to let it.

I also wonder about the world in general, where, so often, people VALUE appearances more than substance, or at least , so it seems.
The appearance of some sort of diploma or certificate is often valued far more than the knowledge it is SUPPOSED to represent.
Quiet, "well behaved" children are valued by many, without wanting to look at what is underneath that compliance. Is it maturity… or fear?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Not Knowing

I love information.
Living in the "information age" suits me just fine.

I grew up loving to read encyclopedias, and for years, had a fairly extensive collection of dictionaries.
I love trivia games and quizzes.
I enjoy thinking about things and figuring them out.
Add the internet to that, and what a motherlode!

Lately, I have begun to explore the joys of NOT knowing.

I came to this from two different directions at the same time.

One is that constantly having a brain in overdrive was making it very difficult for me to learn physical, rather than intellectual, things.
Too much "thinking about" and not enough "doing."

The other is that I ran up against some things that are not possible to know, and it was causing me fairly significant stress.

Interestingly, as often happens, right when I was in the middle of all that, a gift was given to me, in the form of a friend who "just happened" to mention the value of "not knowing."

This friend told us a story of an experience he had at a monastery in India, where he spent some time several years ago.
He did not give all the details, but I had to wonder if he came to this experience- or it came to him- for much the same reason his story was being shared with me at the time that it was: an attachment to prioritizing "knowing" over "experiencing."

He said that one of the monks there would play a game with him.
He would ask my friend to close his eyes, and hold out his hands. The monk would place some unknown item in his hands, and ask him to share what he felt. Not to "guess what it is," but to treasure the feeling of it, WITHOUT knowing what it was.

I find this exercise both valuable- and charming.
It sounds like a game an adult would play with a child, but typically, in that situation, the goal would be to guess what the item was, and that wasn't what they were doing, at all.

Try it.
Resist the urge to know what it is.
Resist that as the defining value of the thing.
Accept, and enjoy, the feeling of not knowing. How often does that happen in your life, a situation where you really, literally, do not know something?
How does that usually make you feel?

I find that this simple exercise, a method of bringing my focus into the moment, of feeling rather than thinking, of experiencing rather than firing up the "brain machine," that million-mile-a-minute thing that sometimes keeps me awake at night, to be both pleasant in and of itself, and useful, in helping me to approach more things in my life as simply what they are, rather than my over-analysis of what I think they might be.

There are some things that are not knowable.
Most of them, maybe.
And that's okay.

I still love learning, finding out, thinking about, figuring out, answering questions, gathering bits of obscure knowledge, and otherwise playing with knowing.

I love not knowing, too.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Getting Rid of Stuff Challenge

As unschoolers, we have a wide range of interests.
These interests have led us to both a large collection of "resources" and a re-ordering of priorities.

That's a nice way of saying we have a lot of stuff in our house, and typically, would rather do pretty much anything other than cleaning. :-)

It's hard to let go of stuff that might be useful, or come in handy, or be Just The Thing that someone needs for a project down the road.

It's hard to stop doing any of the fun and interesting things we do together, to spend time cleaning.
It's even harder when, often, the act of cleaning makes one or more of us feel crappy due to allergies to dust, mold, AND most cleaning products (even the "natural" ones).

But somewhere, somewhen, enough is enough.
Every once in a while, it simply needs to get done.

The middle of last month, I began what I'm calling the Getting Rid of Stuff Challenge.
My Dad calls it my "BAD project." For "box a day."
It works like this: every day, for 30 days, I must remove from our house, SOMETHING.
It could be a bag of trash. A bin of recycling. Returnable bottles and cans. A box of something donated somewhere (hence my Dad's name for the project).

My kids thought I was being too optimistic, setting it for 30 days.
They suggested three days, so it would be more likely to feel successful, and then starting again.
I stuck with 30 because I wanted the feeling of a Big Project.
I also wanted to establish a new habit, that of actively looking for stuff to get rid of every time I leave the house.

This has been one of our biggest problems, actually.
We DO clean, and get stuff ready to take away, for recycling, or whatever… but then it simply never leaves the house. We don't actually TAKE it anywhere.
Instead, we have some storage areas that end up as "staging areas" for… pretty much forever.

The beginning of the project was easy, as I knew it would be.
Empty the storage areas of stuff that we already know we want to get rid of.
No real preparation necessary.
Just a commitment to putting it in the car and taking it somewhere else, or, in some cases, carrying it to the road for the recycling truck to pick up.

So far, so good.

But the part I was really looking forward to is the next phase: what do we do after that stuff is gone?

First, it involved making a list.
What places are there that take donations, and what kinds of things can be donated? Clothes? Books? Household goods?

Second, it involves making decisions: what stuff in our house do we NOT NEED?

One of my first tasks in the project has to do with books.
We are blessed with having one of the largest used book sales in the country in the nearest town, twice a year. This sale has something like 250,000 books, and covers several days, with the price dropping every day of the sale. On the last couple of days, the books are a dime each, then a grocery bag full for a dollar.
It's very hard to resist books at that price. There are lots of interesting books left on those days, and when it might be something useful or interesting or beautiful, and it's only a dime, what is a self-confessed book addict going to do?

The problem is that books take up space.
And, sadder still, there is a limit to how many bookcases can fit in a house.

So the truth is, high hopes and all, some of those books end up in a box, or in a pile, and not in anyone's hands.
And, further, some of them aren't going to be read. They just aren't.

The next sale is at the beginning of May, and the deadline for donations is TODAY. After that, they don't accept more until June.

So I have been going through books and making the difficult decision to give some of them back to the sale. Our local "book recycling" service.
No, really. It is. Some books have probably been sold at the sale a dozen times over the years.
The funniest part is how often I've heard stories of someone buying a book and then realizing they had donated it. Ha! 
I have, more than once, bought a book with the name of someone I know written in it.

But right now, I am more focused on moving books out of the house than on bringing any in.

It has gone well.
I have made the tough decision, many times over, to let a book go. Mostly novels I'm not going to have time to read (and if I get the urge, there is always the library, and if that fails, i can simply go to the sale and buy it back for a dime!). Some have been reference books for a specific interest that none of us is currently interested in.

The sweetest moment in all of it was coming across a box of children's books that I had chosen because I find them particularly beautiful. Most, I have no emotional attachment to, as they were not purchased when my kids were little, but some are copies of favorites, being saved. I had a moment of really, for the first time, looking forward to having grandchildren. Babies to sit and read books to.

Then I realized it doesn't need to be grandchildren.
I just want to read books to children.

Then, I realized it doesn't need to be children.
I just want to read children's books to SOMEONE.

So far, the two of my kids who I've asked, are not interested in sitting on my lap, being read to.
I have high hopes that the third will participate.
If he's not interested, I plan to ask his partner, and my daughter's partner.
And if all else fails, I'm going to sit on the couch and read to myself, dang it.  :-)
Or maybe the dog will listen.

I read a lot of books to my kids when they were little. At least to the first two. The third was not so interested.
I know a lot of families who continued to read out loud for many years, but we haven't been one of them.
Maybe that will change.
Maybe it won't.

All this cleaning, this getting rid of stuff, has been its own gift.
Letting go is good.
Moving on is good.
Clearing space is good.
New habits are good.

I'm on day 27 of 30.
We have gotten rid of a LOT of stuff. 
We'll just have to see where it goes.

Oh… one final note.
The box of children's books stays. :-)

Friday, April 10, 2015

Damian's List: Kindness in Action

There's this guy. I could write a lot about him because I find him very interesting in many ways. We were acquainted, slightly, as teens. Had several friends in common, although we never hung out together at all.

At the time, we were on very different paths, I guess you could say.

We connected again a couple of years ago, on facebook, because it turned out that one of those mutual friends from long ago had MARRIED him.


He's an artist.
He's a person who does not quite fit into the dominant culture. He never has.
He is someone who, back in the day, was considered "from the wrong side of the tracks," a troublemaker, lazy, wouldn't apply himself in school, etc. I am not certain he ever graduated from high school. I know that he had a very hard time in life for years.

Now, I find him to be one of the most interesting, fascinating, deep thinking, considerate, kind, and caring people I know.
I very much look forward to reading what he has to say, because I value his perspective and the care he takes in expressing it.

A few weeks ago, he posted something that I enjoyed, and it got me thinking, so I asked permission to use it as part of a blog post.

He said:

There are a few things that should be said at every opportunity.

"You've always looked good in red."
"I'm sorry."
"Keep the change."
"What a cute baby."
"Of course I could be wrong."
"It's no trouble at all."
"I'll get the check."
"Why don't you come and stay with us."
"Pay me back whenever you can."
"Five o'clock will be fine."
"We'll watch him/her. You two go out and have a good time."
"I'll drive."
"Would anybody like coffee?"
"Just another little slice. I want to save room for dessert."
"Nice dog."
"You've got to give me that recipe."

His point, I believe, is that people should, as part of their daily existence, have a generosity of spirit, and express it whenever they get the chance. That many things that often go unsaid, should be said. 

I agree.
While my list of things might be somewhat different, the SPIRIT is very much the same.

I try to make this part of my daily life. I love giving people positive feedback, giving credit where it is due, reaching out and connecting with people who are typically ignored, helping people, etc.

The best thing about it is that it leaves everyone involved feeling good, most of the time.

The ODD thing about it is the frequency with which people are stunned, as if no one ever compliments them, as if no one ever offers them anything without expecting something in return. The frequency with which a positive comment is met with suspicion is very strange, and very sad, to me.

When I read Damian's list, one of the things that struck me about it is how many of the things on it are pretty much things that ADULTS can say, but children often can't. Children can't, as a rule, offer to pay for things, or offer shelter, or to drive. They often can't make time commitments independently.

However, children very much CAN demonstrate such a generosity of heart and spirit in many ways- and they often do.
Especially if such things are said TO them, and offered TO them.

I find it a good practice to make an effort- still, after all these years- to say honest, positive things to my kids as much as possible.
Not flattery.
Not made up, or to be manipulative.
Simply an outward expression of the love and joy I feel towards and around them.
Showing appreciation for who they are, rather than any attempt to make them be anyone or anything in particular.

My list, to add to Damian's:

"Thank you."
"I really appreciate…"
"Is there anything I can do to help?"
"Would you like…?"
"You're the best."
"You can go first."
"Let me get take care of that for you."
"I'll get it."
"Don't worry about it."
"I love you."
"That's awesome!"
"Great idea!"
"I'll bring it to you."

Of course, the list could go on forever. Once you are in the habit of looking for and doing or saying the kindest thing, once it is part of you, there is no effort required. Be sure you mean what you say, though, and it isn't just shallow mouthing of words. That's all.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Other Blogs

Since I've decided to revitalize this blog, I thought it would be good to update my blogroll, as well.

I've added a bunch to the sidebar.
Some are very familiar to me, while others are brand new.

Check them out and see what you think.
If you think that YOU have a blog that I'd like, and it isn't on my list, please let me know about it!

Socialization, Part 2: Assumptions

I was talking to my kids about the "socialization" issue, and they reminded me of some experiences they've had that we'd like to share. It's an interesting phenomenon. 

All three of them have reported having this same experience.

My middle kid told me that when he was around 12 or 13, he noticed this happening, and it changed how he chose to relate to people. He said that as long as homeschooling never came up in conversation, things were FINE. But as soon as a non-homeschooled person learned that he was homeschooled, they instantly changed how they behaved around him. It often became uncomfortable at that point, sometimes functionally ending the friendship, because the other person could no longer deal with him as a person, but had, instead, created an erroneous image of him that overwhelmed any actual relationship.

The question is, what is going on?

People often ask, or have concerns, about homeschooling making someone be a social outcast. Typically, the assumption is that there is something about homeschooling that creates a person who does not share in the larger social experience, or have the same cultural knowledge, as does someone with the more common experience of having spent much of their time in school. In other words, they "stick out" as "different." They don't get the same jokes. They don't share interests. They wouldn't have anything to talk about.

But in our experience, it hasn't worked quite like that.

Instead, my kids have had plenty to talk about with other people that they meet. Lots of shared interests. Much joking.

And then…

Homeschooling is mentioned, for some reason.

And at that very moment, the other person suddenly believes that they no longer share interests or have anything in common? 
They nearly instantaneously bring a whole slew of assumptions into the friendship. Often, it comes out as a bunch of the same set of questions that homeschoolers and unschoolers are used to hearing, over and over and over.
Oh, so you must be religious? What do you DO all day? How do you find friends? Is that legal? Are you allowed to watch TV? What about college?

There are a few different flavors:

1. You must be brilliant and have been taking college classes from the age of 8 and are a prodigy and therefore way too weird to associate with normal people. Do you do school all the time? Don't you ever get any vacations? Don't you ever wish you could do whatever you want instead of schooling? This ones gets derailed big time if unschooling is mentioned, to the point that people often don't know what to say at all!

2.  You must be stupid and uneducated and don't know anything, like have you ever done long division? What's the capital of Nebraska? This version comes with a long list of quiz-type questions.

3. Don't you ever get out of the house? WHAT ABOUT SOCIALIZATION?

Well, that socialization thing was going along JUST FINE, until you freaked the hell out about the fact that I didn't go to school.

All three of my kids, independently of each other, made the decision to stop telling people that they never went to school. As long as it isn't brought up, it makes NO DIFFERENCE AT ALL. No one has ever ASKED them, based on any perceived differences in their knowledge base or behavior.

What I find the most interesting about this, and potentially the most useful, isn't about homeschooling at all.

It's that I think most people do this very thing about almost every difference they perceive between another person and themselves: they load it down with THEIR OWN ASSUMPTIONS, rather than being open and aware of THE ACTUAL PERSON. There are many, many things that people choose not to share with others for this reason. They don't want the relationship to get suddenly shunted into whatever assumption-path that information will lead to.

What are yours?
What things about yourself do you not share, because you don't want to get asked the same damned questions, again?
What things do you not talk about because you are tired of how people react to it, especially when it's something they are not familiar with?

What are ways we can learn to notice when we've done this?
What might be ways to be able to share with people and avoid them making erroneous assumptions?

My profession, about which I am passionate, is so completely misunderstood by people that I rarely bring it up. There is another group, which is much more visible, that has misappropriated the title I have earned, to the point that it has become the default "understanding" of it. The assumptions that go along with the common interpretation are SO wrong that they bear no relationship to what I do, and they tend to completely color how that person sees me. So, unless I WANT to get into a very long discussion about it, I don't usually say anything. If I'm directly asked, I have a variety of things I will answer, none of which use my "job title," and none of which tell the whole story.

This means I TOTALLY understand the position my kids have found themselves in.
I don't blame them at all for choosing not to mention it.

I do, however, want to remain vigilant, and weed out any times that I am unintentionally doing this with other people. How about you?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

"On" All The Time

Unschoolers are, let's face it, out of the ordinary.

In a quick glance online, in an effort to find some sort of statistic for numbers of homeschoolers, I found an estimate of 2.8% of school-aged children in the US being counted as homeschoolers. This number is almost certainly not very accurate, because not every family who homeschools reports to their state as doing so (some states do not require this, at all) and is only for the US, but I wanted SOME sort of starting point.

If we consider the percentage of that total of homeschoolers who are unschooling, there's no way to even estimate it, but I'm going to guess that it's fairly low. Even lower, if you count only those who actually ARE unschooling, as compared to the people who don't understand it, and, as one example, believe anything without a curriculum is unschooling. And even less, if you count only those who have been, and continue, unschooling for at least several years, less, even still,  kids who are unschoolers the entire time they would have otherwise been in school.

Tiny numbers.
We're talking about not very many people at all.

As is the case with any minority group, there is sometimes a perception that any one of those people must represent ALL of them.

With unschooling, because it is so little understood, this "representation" goes a step further. People who attempt to help others understand unschooling sometimes are put in the position of feeling a need to be "ON" all the time. Their kids are perceived as THE examples, the PROOF that "unschooling works."

It can be a lot of pressure on those parents and kids.

It isn't only the most visible, or most experienced, unschoolers this happens to, either. Out in the world, ANYONE who is an unschooler becomes a de facto "unschooling ambassador" to everyone else. Only they are not always seen as "proof that unschooling works," but, often, as proof that it doesn't.

This is very frustrating.

It has so little to do with who these people actually ARE, their strengths, their weaknesses, their interests, their joys, their accomplishments, and much to do with the preconceived assumptions and expectations and biases of whoever is putting them in that role of "example." People largely see what they want to see.

I have seen, more than once, a family make a choice other than unschooling, and be perceived both by others, and by themselves, as "unschooling failures." As if "being an unschooler" were the goal, rather than "making good choices for our family." I have seen, more than once, a family new to unschooling "give up" because they don't quite get it yet, and not being able to be "perfectly unschooling" all the time, they don't know how to move in that direction, so they go back to what is familiar, at least.

This perception of "perfect unschooling" is an issue, in more ways than one.

It sets people up for disappointment. It creates an impossible image for anyone to live up to. And it fails to recognize that people are, after all, human, and all humans make mistakes, poor choices, and bad decisions, at times. That life doesn't go smoothly all the time, for anyone (nor should it, really).

It comes from both ends, at once.

It comes from people sharing stories, giving advice, and putting forth "solutions" for people new to unschooling. To read all that, you could easily believe that there are some folks out there who ARE "perfect unschoolers," all the time. But those stories told publicly are not the whole story. For one, they are specifically chosen to inspire, to guide, to encourage, to give hope- and that's a good thing. For another, most unschoolers are fairly careful not to share stories about their kids without permission, and there will always be things that happen in families that are PERSONAL, and not for sharing publicly, and, sometimes, those are the difficult parts. So you won't see them shared.

And it comes from people with both unrealistic expectations, and incomplete understanding of unschooling, who are not yet at a place where they can see WHY some things that unschoolers describe really work out that way. Often, they internalize that as their own lack of ability to be an unschooler, while others are "perfect," rather than see it as what it is: they are at the beginning of a long journey, not the end.

Way back a long time ago, when my children were very young, I was a La Leche League Leader for several years. I am reminded of something we discussed back then. The problem with describing human milk as "the perfect food" and "best for your baby" is that many people don't believe they can BE "perfect" or "best." It is too demanding. Too much to deal with. Describing something as perfect can scare away those people, often the very ones who would benefit most.

I think this happens in the unschooling world, too. People see what they interpret as "perfect unschooling," with parents who are ON all the time, always aware, always flexible and adaptable, always guiding their children, and always with the perfect advice for others, and whether they are consciously aware of it or not, put themselves in the "I can't possibly do that" category.

Ain't none of us perfect.
I'm not even looking for "perfect."
I am, however, constantly striving for "better."

I think that is something everyone should be able to manage: trying to be better.

There are a couple of things that I think would contribute to this.

One is for people to share, not necessarily "bad experiences," and certainly not personal things about their kids without permission, but at least to acknowledge that unschooling is a lifelong relationship- and anyone who has been in a long term relationship should understand that things don't always go smoothly, or as planned, and that it requires all involved parties to make an effort to communicate and otherwise work on maintaining the relationship. Some relationships are better than others, and unschooling relationships tend to be in that category, but even GREAT relationships require some ongoing sensitivity.

The other is for people to simply stop putting themselves on the spot, playing the role of "unschooling ambassador," and not to feel a responsibility to attempt to explain and defend it to all questioners. Sometimes, it simply isn't anyone's business. You DON'T have to be "on" all the time. If someone sees something that you or your kids do, and it isn't perfect, or it doesn't represent all of unschooling in a positive light… so be it. Any effort you make to improve your unschooling relationship with your kids should be exactly that, not some public display.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Socialization for Unschooling Introverts

One of the "big ones" in the list of questions that people ask about unschooling.

Actually, often they don't ask. They assume.

Seeing school, with its associated age-sorting and grouping of kids into fairly homogenous groups for several hours per day, every week day, for most of the year, and for twelve to thirteen years of their lives, as not just normal, but expected, people see ANYTHING ELSE as abnormal to the point of dangerous or deficient.

If they don't go to school, then how will they ever fit in and be just like all the other kids?

I'll leave the question of whether they want to or should "be just like all the other kids" for a separate post for now, and address the first part: how will they "fit in"?
This often comes with questions like "How will they ever find friends?" and "Won't they be ostracized for being different?" and "How will you keep them from becoming "social misfits?"

The question about finding friends often amuses me, because typically, it is asked by someone we are socializing with at that very moment. By friends. They rarely seem to see the irony.

The question about being treated poorly for being different… have you been in schools lately? Or out in the world? That is an issue that happens in MANY places, and having a child who is not in school is the least of my concerns about it. At the very least, while kids in schools are forming cliques and "in groups" and an "us vs them" mentality in so many ways: their friends vs not-their-friends, the people in a certain academic class vs people not in that class, people in their grade vs the other grades, students vs teachers, one school vs another school, etc, we can be actively questioning and modeling accepting and valuing the differences between people and groups of people. This one is SO not an issue.

The one I really want to focus on is the question about homeschooled kids being "social misfits."

There is an image floating around out there of what a homeschooler "looks like."
In the homeschooling world, there is an image of what unschooling, and by extension, unschoolers, "look like."

In the non-homeschooling world, that image of "homeschooler" is typically something like this: very religious, sheltered, controlled, never leaves the house, sits at a table doing school work all by themselves. It is both a lonely image, and one of a kid who is growing up totally missing out on "normal experiences" and especially missing cultural references. It is hard for people to imagine this person being SAFE out in the "real world," let alone fitting in, being liked, or having any clue whatsoever "how the real world works" or how to behave in a social group.

Fortunately, for the most part, although I'm sure it happens, this situation is not at all what most homeschooler's lives are like. Even those who want to do school-at-home and who do things like online classes, correspondence courses, and independent study, will typically form and participate in groups of homeschoolers. This is much easier these days, both because of the internet making it easier to find people and communicate with them and make plans, and because there are a lot more homeschoolers now. It is pretty popular now for areas to put together some sort of homeschooling "co-op" and offer group classes and other activities.

In the homeschooling world, and in the eyes and mind of any non-homeschooler who first hears of it, the image of unschoolers is something like this: wild, uncontrolled, disrespectful, unorganized, self-centered, lazy, does nothing but watch TV, play videogames, and eat junk food all day long. With that image, it's no wonder people worry!!

As with the other image- and pretty much any image anyone has of any group of people of which they are not a part- it is nowhere near the reality. It comes from people's fears of "losing control" and a lack of understanding of the dynamics of a family that prioritizes trust and cooperation over arbitrary cultural "norms" or parental authority.

Most of the time, when homeschoolers or unschoolers are asked the socialization question, they either don't know what to say, or, if they are one of the people who has considered this very question, and looked for a way to deal with it, they may point out some of what I've just said, or they may engage the asker in a discussion about the differences between "socializing" (functioning in groups) and "socialization" (the transfer and assimilation of cultural norms). Homeschoolers typically have many opportunities for the first, and are specifically uninterested in the second, at least as far as school-based cultural norms are concerned.

Somewhere in that conversation, the person who originally asked will either lose interest (often because they weren't really interested to start with) or both people will, or the conversation will naturally move on to something else. Occasionally, an interested person might find some of their fears relieved simply by there BEING a thought-out answer. 

But even this doesn't really address the underlying issue.
I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone address it, really. A little, around the edges, once in a while.

The reason it doesn't often get addressed is because it is a little uncomfortable. Most discussion of the topic on public forums is focused on reassuring the new and questioning that everything will be okay, they don't need to worry about it, it will work itself out, and all those naysayers are mistaken.

What if you DO have a kid who is socially awkward? Who would be, in school, very much a "misfit"?
A kid who doesn't want to go join those homeschooling social groups.
Doesn't care for group activities in general.
A kid who is not confident, outgoing, interested, and one who is unlikely to go out and question, explore, discover, all those things you may be hoping they will be passionate about?
A kid who really DOES want to stay home all the time?
Who isn't comfortable talking to other people very much?

What then?

How many of you would like to raise your hand and share that this is a concern for you?
How many would like to raise your hand and share that you have been told that for THIS kid, one who REALLY DOES have social anxiety, you REALLY SHOULD send them to school where they can learn "social skills" because otherwise, they aren't EVER going to be able to get along with people?
And how many of you would rather do almost anything in the world OTHER THAN "raise your hand" and publicly ask or question or say much of anything, in any situation, because YOU ARE THE SAME WAY?

What if…
you are an introvert.
And your child is an introvert.
And really, the both of you would rather this whole question about socialization GO AWAY.

For those of you who are introverts, I have to wonder… did school help you learn to "be social"? Did it give you those skills, of comfortably functioning in groups, that people seem to think it will?

While it is the introverts that seem to bring out that demand that they really NEED school, in many people's eyes, it is those very kids who seem to suffer most in schools. I can't count the number of times I've heard an introvert, themselves, push school on a younger one, while simultaneously recalling the MISERY of their own schooling.


Social skills are like any other skill.
A person CANNOT learn them before they are ready.
They are UNLIKELY to learn them if they aren't interested in doing so.
And, even more than many other things, pushing is absolutely counter-productive. It produces not only resistance, but often, complete shutdown.

So what do you do, if you are the parent of such a child?

First, understand that protecting your child is not a bad thing.
Giving them time to learn and grow and develop emotionally and mentally, is a GOOD thing.
And without an enforced school schedule, we HAVE THAT TIME.
We have the flexibility to HONOR this difference in a child.
If YOU share this difference, you don't need to worry that the same inequities will be pushed on them the way they may have been on you: your greatest fears of how they will be treated may not apply at all, since they will not be in the same situation.

There is no need to push them into activities they aren't interested in.
It is perfectly okay to approach and enjoy the world in "smaller bites."

It may well be that it is easier and more comfortable- and more productive- for this child to communicate with people from a distance, at a slower pace, and on their own terms.
It is no coincidence that many introverts are more comfortable ONLINE.
Online communication, through email, facebook, mailing lists (yes, they still exist!), discussion forums, etc, is GREAT for those who want to consider what they say, be careful in their phrasing, and have the ability to slow it down or stop it if it is too overwhelming. At the same time, it allows for some very deep discussion and connection with other people. Often, with other people who are deep thinkers, who aren't interested in idle chit chat or social niceties, and who choose to communicate at all when they have something to say, rather than because they are expected to "be social." Introverts use the internet in very different ways than do many extroverts, and that is one of the very best things about it.

Online social rules and cues are different.
For many people, often those considered to be "on the spectrum," who have difficulty deciphering social cues in real time, this is a huge gift.
There is no worry about interrupting a conversation, or "trying to get a word in edgewise."
In face-to-face communication, introverts are often totally overrun by the more "conversationally gifted." By those who WANT to argue.
Online, they can WALK AWAY, without being considered rude.
They can make rude people GO AWAY. Being able to "unfriend" or "block" someone who pushes stuff on you that you don't need or want in your life is helpful for some, and vital for others.
They can experiment with different levels of participation and activity, without having anyone in their face.

For kids (and then adults) who aren't interested in big group things, who aren't the "life of the party," who don't prioritize social activities per se, and who are more comfortable with a slower pace of interaction, help them find opportunities for THAT, rather than trying to make them into someone they aren't. Let them do as much as they want- and stop when they need to. You may be surprised, later, when they are older, and when they are more able, when they start incrementally finding social activities that suit them. When they do, piece by piece, start being more comfortable in public situations.

It may not happen when they are 5 or 6, or even 15 or 16, but maybe, later, on their own schedule and in their own way.
Does it mean that sometimes, social requirements are difficult? Yes. We work through them, or find alternatives.
Is this any more difficult than any other challenges that people have in their lives? No, not really.

I have one of those kids. :-)
It is a delight to see him blossom in his own time.
His entire journey has been SO different from that of his more social siblings.
I doubt he will ever be a person with a large group of friends and acquaintances, going out to party.
He is much more likely to have fewer, more considered, relationships. To keep to himself much of the time. To more carefully choose what aspects of himself he wants to share with anyone else. To have less active involvement in groups of people he does not know.
But who knows? Things change.
Remember the bit, way up top, about valuing differences?