Tuesday, August 18, 2015

over half my life

That is a long time. Or a big fraction. To take that point down a bit:

In the first 19.7 years of my life, I did a lot of things. Then there was August 17, 1995, the day my beloved friend Chloe introduced me to Markus (bravely pushing the issue, because I had refused to meet him). And now twenty more years have gone by. I am almost forty. I have now lived longer with Markus in my heart than without.

That feels like something.

So we spent our twentieth anniversary in the house with some teens we had just met and their Dr. Who party. People we told about this looked slightly pitying, but I loved it. It was poignant. Life isn't always about extravagance, or celebrating great events or achievements. Sometimes it's about finding the satisfaction in perfectly mundane activities. Like loving. Loving is mundane, in the end. It's the constant that makes every other part of life more tolerable, more joyful, more safe. Love is delight, but it's also the warmth of a familiar and safe hand at my back when I feel cold in the night.

Thank you for your dependable love, Markus. It is more than I knew to hope for.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Babysitters: Are your kids safe?


This article began after a few strangers asked my daughter to babysit, she was unavailable and suggested her more experienced older brother, and they declined. So I intended to focus on the "boy problem" - in other words, the challenges boys face in finding work as babysitters. I have two babysitters: One ten-year-old girl who could easily be employed most days of the week if she accepted all the requests, and one thirteen-year-old boy who, despite absolutely glowing references and advertising his services, rarely manages to find work more than once a month. Why?!

So I decided to do some research. I put together a casual poll, asking parents about their experiences, fears, and preferences for hiring babysitters, and asking teen babysitters about their experiences on the job. Here's what I learned:

Parents were generally at least twice as likely to hire female babysitters as to have no preference, and not a single parent claimed to be more likely to hire a boy. Among the most common reasons for preferring female babysitters to male were:

It's easier to find qualified female babysitters in my area.33.33%
I have personal connections with female babysitters.13.61%
My child(ren) are female and I feel they will relate better to a girl.17.69%
Girls are generally more responsible than boys.20.41%
Boys are more likely to neglect my children.2.04%
Boys are more likely to physically or psychologically harm my children.2.72%
Boys are more likely to sexually harm my children.10.20%

I also asked about the problems people actually encountered with their babysitters, and the highest ranking issues were female babysitters arriving late and not being attentive. Only two people reported that a female babysitter had harmed their children, and none reported that their children were harmed by a male (which is unsurprising considering the infrequency of boys being hired).

So why don't people feel safe hiring boys? A quick Google led me to this Oh The Joys post, the comment section of which is quite enlightening. So then I went to find the statistics (albeit 20 years old). Yeah. Just click that link. You might cry like I did.

"Overall, among babysitters, male offenders outnumbered female offenders (63 to 37 percent) in police reports. However, this percentage masks the true disproportion in the risk of male offending, in that most children are exposed to more female than male babysitters, both in terms of numbers and the amount of time spent in their care. No reliable information is available about the overall gender ratio of babysitters, but one teen survey found that females were twice as likely as males to have had babysitting experience (Kourany, Martin, and LaBarbera, 1980). Among adult babysitters, the ratio is considerably higher (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2001). Therefore, the true risk of a male babysitter offending is likely much greater than the two-to-one ratio of male to female offenders found in the data.

"Males were disproportionately involved in sex offenses (77 percent of offenders known to police). Females committed the majority of the physical assaults (64 per-cent of offenders)."

Those numbers are distressing. So cold. So heartless. So not what I think of when I look at my beautiful son who rescues insects from our feet and escaped rose bushes from high-traffic areas to plant in his own little garden. This is the boy who took a job of looking after two young children he'd never met before for seven hours, and without any time to meet them or get instructions from their parents. His biggest concern was that they were arguing over whether or not they were allowed to eat the yogurt, and that he might not be strong enough to push the stroller. This male babysitter is my child. And I have a daughter too. I am afraid for their safety when they're out and about, and I can't blame any parent for being afraid of my son's maleness, when even the statistics seem to shun him.

But where does he turn, then? Does he just turn away from the job he studied and trained for, and accept that he's not trustworthy enough to be with children? How will he learn to trust himself; to feel trustworthy and good if we can't trust him already just because of his gender? There is some hope for boys, according to this article and my experience in our community. But I feel like it's not happening fast enough. My son wants to be trustworthy. He wants to have children one day, and I want to support him in those nurturing feelings. This is my child I'm talking about.

Which brings me to the other part of the survey. I was a babysitter, too, and while I had a successful career, I also had some run-ins, including being hurt by children I looked after, carrying people's endlessly growing tabs which never seemed to be paid off, and being driven home by drunk parents. Those were rare, but they happened. Once I called my parents from a babysitting job to describe a ghost who was haunting me. I was in tears. And once, I almost hit a child. I was probably thirteen or fourteen, and that day has haunted me ever since. Yes, that's me: the statistic that says girls are more likely to physically assault children. I would like to give excuses about how awful I felt; how young and helpless I felt, and how difficult those children were; I'd like to also say that of course nobody has an excuse to even pretend to hit a child, no matter how difficult they are... but all of that seems so meaningless. That was a child and so was I. I was a child, left to look after other children.

So in my survey I asked what kinds of problems babysitters encountered. While 18% stated they'd never had a problem with a babysitting job, another 18% had had issues with the parents returning later than expected, and 15% had not been paid according to their agreements. Among the many other issues were parents returning home drunk, being harmed by the children and by another person or animal, being blamed for things they felt were not their fault, and not having instructions or resources they needed to do their jobs. Of those two babysitters who reported being harmed, only one had reported the event.

To drive this point home, I encourage you to do a Google image search for the word "babysitters". Actually no - don't. Especially not with your kids around. Because you will find porn - peppered in among the images of very young children. Apparently for some people, the word "babysitter" equates to "teenaged girl available for sex".

Babysitters are children. At some point this year, my ten-year-old daughter called me in tears from a babysitting job, because the parents were forty minutes late and she was scared. Scared in the dramatic way that a ten-year-old can be, that maybe something happened and the parents were never coming home (!!). It's such a simple thing to us adults, but maybe we forget that the prepubescent human giving their all to look after our dearest treasures for less than minimum wage is in fact a child her (or him!) self. Maybe we forget that the maturity they appear to show is a sign of them reaching for adulthood but that they're not quite adults yet; they may be taller, their voices changing, their disposition maturing daily... but they're still children. They come home after babysitting sometimes shaken and frightened, sometimes realizing they forgot to offer a snack to the children, or they forgot their money on the seat of someone's car, or they weren't sure whether the parents were drunk or not, or whether they would be rude if they called and asked their own parents to come pick them up. These problems are HUGE to children. The babysitters, as much as the children they care for, need to feel safe and supported.

Once, at a babysitting job, I opened the bathroom door too fast and a mirror on the back of the door fell off and a corner of its plastic frame broke. In my horror, I apologized sincerely to the parents, and they told me not to worry about it. So I put it behind me. The next time I was babysitting there, I opened the bathroom door too fast again, and the mirror fell, this time breaking into multiple shards of plastic and glass. I cleaned it up and pulled it together for the girls, one of whom explained just how much trouble I was going to be in when her parents came home. And then they were home. And I had to tell them. I cried, and offered to pay for the mirror, which would surely be worth many babysitting jobs. They told me it couldn't possibly be worth the value of me looking after their daughters, insisted that I take my full payment anyway, and the mother gave me a hug. These were family friends, and they understood my needs in that moment.

Some babysitting jobs are great - some babysitters are great. But obviously, any time we're allowing our children to go out and work for strangers, for very low pay, in a situation where they are often driven home by impaired drivers, it's not OK. I love that my children enjoy babysitting. I love that it gives them the independence both to feel responsible and to make their own money. I love that they are learning about childcare and entrepreneurship. I love that they feel proud when they're out in the community and young kids come running to say hello to their babysitters. I love when it all goes well, and the children on both sides of the equation feel enriched and happy. But I now understand where the fear comes from, and while I try not to instil fear in my own children, I now insist that I know where they are babysitting, that I meet the parents, and that I know what time to expect them home. I always ask them about their work, how it went and how they felt about it. And I always make sure someone is home, should they need to call for help.

We can keep our children safe by insulating them, or we can keep our children safe by communicating and by consciously developing our own communities.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Can Kids Learn Without Direction?


As an unschooling parent and a teacher I am often confronted with this question. People tell me they'd love to unschool their kids, or they'd love to sign them up for the programs I lead, but either they're afraid their children aren't capable of self-direction, or they're afraid their children won't learn the most important things.

Most Important
Let's talk about that. What are the most important things? Yes, the government has decreed a set of prescribed learning outcomes for each age group, but if you move to another jurisdiction, that prescription is likely to change, and yet the children on the other side of the country, the continent, and the world are learning valuable things, too. They're learning the things that make sense for them to learn in their own cultures and communities - the things that will get them where they want to go. And if it turns out they want to go somewhere they haven't prepared for? Well then they'll prepare. And all the learning they've done along the way will help them in that preparation.

So this week we read some Cree (Thank you Tomson Highway!). Not, perhaps, the most imminently useful language for this group of mostly white kids living in Skwxwú7mesh territory to be trying to get their tongues around, but useful? Yes! Learning any language at all is useful for learning others; learning to move our mouths in new ways not only helps with linguistic and physiological patterning, but also creates new neurological pathways. Growing our minds is what learning is. The next day we read in Dutch.

The Rule
Helping a friend to retrieve a dropped lunch bag.
Self directed learning means that kids determine for themselves what they do. Every few weeks I hear someone tell me that kids will get into trouble without rules. But in over twenty years of teaching, I have never had kids get into trouble.

The first thing I tell the kids I work with is that we have only one rule: You can do whatever you want, but please consider the effects of your actions and words, and help maintain a space where we all feel safe and valued. I underlined the 'please', because that's a very important part of the rule. That is the place where I hand over the reins. This rule is up to them; not me. I respect and value them as responsible individuals. I don't enforce. I only suggest.

Sometimes, when I hear things going awry, I gently ask if everyone is feeling heard, or if everyone feels safe. Mostly I say nothing, because the groups are small enough that the kids are quite aware of the dynamic, themselves, and able to mediate their actions as a matter of course.

Whatever You Want
One of the most challenging aspects of this rule is the 'you can do whatever you want' part. Kids who are new to this philosophy feel at best liberated, but at worst, terrified. It's a big thing to be expected to think for themselves. Those kids who feel challenged in this regard usually respond by testing my limits, throwing things, asking me a litany of questions like "so can I break this pencil?" or by feeling absolutely uncertain about everything, and often stifled by the uncertainty. But it does get better! Usually after a day to a day and a half of participation, those kids see the others getting creative, and begin to open up, as well.

And my response to those limit-testing questions? Yes of course you can break the pencil. Think about whether you'll be happy with the outcome of that, and whether that makes everybody else feel safe and valued, but maybe you're going to do something especially great with a broken pencil that you can't do with an unbroken one, in which case I encourage you to do it! I have broken pencils, myself! Usually they decide against such things; sometimes we make especially great things with broken pencils. And that truly is OK. I can't even imagine the many ways that particular lesson will benefit them - only that it will.

Opting Out
And when kids are especially comfortable with the rule, they do begin to opt out of things. This photo illustrates four of the nine participants in a recent camp I ran, working on the program for the play they were making, as well as two others drawing independently. The group decided to make a program for their play, decided how to go about it, sorted out who would create which parts of it, and got to work. The other five opted out, and either drew independently or played in the forest. Was one of these activities more valuable than the others? Not at all! We live in a diverse society; some of us choose to work in factories, and some choose to work behind computers. Some of us choose to work out on the land, and some in high rises. Some choose to work with our hands, some with our feet, and some with our voices. Some of these kids chose to make programs, and some to work on drama and social interaction. All of those are valuable.

Keeping Up Academically
Just after making an arrangement to rent costumes and props from a local thrift shop.
I know many people who are afraid their children will opt out of everything important, and be left behind. But what is 'behind'? How can we trust our own path if we don't know how to find it? Giving kids the responsibility of self-directing means giving them the ability to find and follow their own paths. It means giving them our trust and support as they venture into the world. They begin this journey at birth, and we cannot know where it will lead them, or what skills they'll need to discover for themselves along the way.

The kids I worked with this week didn't keep up academically, because there was no expectation to keep up with. During five days they met and learned to socialize and work with new people, they explored various wilderness locations, learned about local ecology and ecosystems, garbage facilities and local history, mining and silicosis, time-management, budgeting, creating and printing programs, conceptualizing, creating, and bringing to fruition a play, supporting others and themselves, utilizing community services and giving back to their community, meditation, religious variance and tolerance, many other things I can't remember... and Cree language. Maybe some of those things they can't remember now either, but the neural pathways have been laid. Some of these kids may go on to explore certain things more deeply, and some may flit over to the next week for a whole new set of unrelated engaging experiences. But deep within them has been nourished the idea that their own journeys have value.

Maybe kids don't actually need direction to keep up academically. Maybe they just need a space where they are valued and trusted, where their ideas are heard and respected, and where everything they do or don't do matters. Maybe they need to lie down on the surface of the earth and feel in their souls that the feeling of the ground supporting them, the wind above them, the thoughts running through their minds and choices they make for themselves are most important.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Wild Art Forest Theatre Camp

This week's Wild Art Forest Theatre camp is off to a fabulous start! Two days in, the 9 participants have played out all kinds of interesting and creative scenarios, as well as adventured to find good play spots in the wild.

We explored slowly and carefully (because in the early heat the wasps seem to be nesting everywhere!) over a few kilometers, visited the old dump, the enchanted forest and the cedar forest. We saw quite a few frogs in the last trickling remains of Everhard Creek, and countless insects and spiders.

The kids had to get creative in the woods, too. This first photo is a few of them entering the enchanted forest.

The photo below is a shot of some planning and rehearsal time, spread out among the ferns, in the shade of the maple, cedar and alder that shelter the enchanted forest.



Humour abounded, of course! This was a classic drama about a protest to save the grass.

The world is rarely without a bullying theme, these days. This play was about a mime who was bullied.

Musical Theatre! Pollution Confusion!!


And here we have a puppet show: Sticks for puppets and ferns to camouflage the puppeteers!

And this is some working out of the big deal: A 20-minute (or so) performance that the group is creating over the course of the week.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The pits!

It was Grootmoeder's birthday, so the Canadians also participated in the annual cherry pit spitting contest! Adrian won, with a distance of 9.4m! And everybody won!
Markus taking his turn. We think distance achieved correlates with height, so Mum suggests that tall people should have to dig holes to stand in while spitting!

Shorter people can also tie knots with stems.

The ocean was sparkly.

The heron pretended a massive dock hadn't been installed at his home.

The kids swam all evening.

And the sun set. Happy birthday, Grootmoeder!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Detaching

It all started so innocently. So sweetly. I asked my daughter what she felt about the lovely classroom program I'm hoping she'll join this coming year, and she showed me an image of a baby swaddled in a colourful patchwork quilt, nestled in a beautifully ornate little wooden chest, and attended by sparkling and joyful fairies - fairies!! The baby's blonde hair and round pink cheeks reminded me of my own sweet one when she was a baby, and even though she's ten, now, it warmed my heart to see her holding that image. I felt so full of love: that cosy, cooing kind of love that comes from holding my children's dear faces close to my own. "Oh that's adorable!" I exclaimed, and that's where the dream broke.

You see, the program I want her to join is built around attachment parenting ideals. It's the community she's grown up in, and she's participated in some of the activities at this place with her friends. Parents are deeply involved in the centre's operation, whether through duty days, parent jobs, organizing outings or activities, involvement with the council or just by participating with the children in whatever interests them. On the face of it, this is ideal to me. The photo my daughter showed me epitomized the cherishing, swaddling, adoring feeling I associate with the school. In my heart it's a community of loving parents, creating a nest of support and safety for our children to grow in, and from that support out into the beautiful world. I saw my own darling daughter's beautiful whisps of hair, her sweet baby lips, and the colourful blanket of love surrounding her. All in a gorgeous wooden chest, keeping her safe but still open with a view to the fairies and the outside world. And I opened my eyes and heart and mouth and exclaimed "Oh that's adorable!" And she scowled.

"No it's not!" She retorted, in the most shockingly discordant tone.

"What?!" My idealism hit the sullen brick wall of a ten-year-old's indignation.

"It's exactly the problem!" She said. "The parents are always around. Everything is the parents' idea! You always have the parents helping and you never just get to do anything that you want!"

"Well you have more say in your activities than you would at a regular school, where the teachers are still in charge," I said, confused.

"Right but they're not your parents."

(How did we come from 'Mama I always want to do everything with you and never anything away', to this??)

The girl herself, 10 years ago, when swaddling was appropriate.
There is a great difference between having ideals and idealism. Having ideals is where we act with a view toward some beautiful thing that we understand not to be absolutely certain or attainable. Idealism is the unrealistic pursuit of those things, without regard for change. Change is essential. Change is what makes life worth living - what makes everything possible at all. Idealism locks in ideals so they can't shift and grow.

That beautiful ornate chest and patchwork quilt were not keeping the baby safe any more; they were keeping her imprisoned. My baby has grown up. Well... she is growing up. Hopefully she, like all of us, will never stop growing up. And I needed to grow up, too. I needed to shift my understanding to keep pace with the changes in my daughter's heart.

The next time she and I went to participate in her homelearner's group, I happily followed along with the other parent. I don't usually involve myself in her activities, but at that place I felt so welcome. She seemed to be happy I was there. She was comfortable. Then I remembered the photo of the baby, and I asked her if she'd like me to go. "Yes!" She said, delightedly, and I did.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Earth Day Every Day: 2


A couple of sixteen-year-old sweethearts out for a late-evening walk around the lake. They had all the summer ahead of them, and no time to keep. They stopped for a long kiss on the boardwalk. Maybe it was a very long kiss, because somehow night fell, just then, and as they carried on along the trail, the forest closed around them and they were enveloped in darkness. He reached for her hand and she felt responsible – after all, this island was her home, and she should know the way back even with her eyes closed. Which they may as well have been, for all that she could see. She slowed the pace. She felt her boyfriend's arm on one side, the springy root trail beneath her, and to her left, a small log.

Oh! Wait! The trail builders had recently put these logs here, and she was sure they were all on the uphill side of the trail! She must have led him to the wrong side of the log! Thankful for the night concealing her blush of embarrassment, she said, “Just step over this little log, here...” and she did – into mid-air. Well, the mid-air part was a fraction of a second long, before she crumpled down past roots and stones and salal, came to rest on the ground and clambered quickly to stand again – this time aware of his knee in front of her face, as he stood there on the path, confused.

“Um. Actually not that way.” He helped her back up, never laughing at her, and thankfully never noticing the scrapes on her legs that she felt swelling up as they walked, this time much more slowly, along the trail. She closed her eyes. Given the fresh opportunity to be lost in her own environment, she used her free hand to navigate, feeling about at the warm summer air, the leaves, branches, and trunks as they went by. She discovered that she recognized some of the trees. She discovered that she knew by the change in slope that they were closer to the road, and by the smell of water that they were nearing the gravel spit. She became attuned to her senses in a way to which she wasn't accustomed, and delighted in the sound of her boyfriend's feet on the ground, the feeling of the breeze passing between their arms, and the glimpses of light as they neared the open alder forest. She loved the smell of the forest floor.

That was me, twenty-three years ago. I remember this often, and now try to make a habit of falling – at least metaphorically – off the beaten path. After all, falling lacks purpose, so the places I find myself are so much more surprising.

Last week, walking on the south side of the island, I picked my way carefully between thigh-deep snarls of blackberries toward the parched and crumbling moss deserts of the dry hillside. Even the blackberries were drying up, their vines like desperate brittle arms, reaching out to grab my clothing. I was so focused on the area immediately around my ankles, that I came unexpectedly upon a stand of cattails – a little marsh tucked into the rocks. What? I looked around: Pines, Douglas Fir, yellowing grass, moss and bracken, some cedars approaching death as their roots sought water in the dusty ground; insects resting on the brown-stemmed flowers. And the little stand of cattail. Their roots found some hidden source of water in the fold of the bedrock.

I looked up and discovered I was so far off the trail as to have to follow my senses back through the blazing white sun. So I stood and listened. Crowned sparrows called from various perches and the wind whipped the foxgloves so that they flopped against each other now and then. The grass whispered and my feet crunched the dried plants on my way home. I felt the stinging heat of the sun. Each of these experiences was a gift, like falling off a trail on a dark night. It is a gift just to give ourselves opportunities to discover.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Grown-up Play

Recently my sister Bree delightedly shared that she'd been at the beach building forts with our brother in law. Most of us realize, I think, how essential play is for children's physical, cognitive and social development, but what about for adults? Do we assume that once we reach a certain shoe size we stop developing? I certainly haven't. I feel like I grow every time I have a conversation; every time I cook or paint; every time I have to sit waiting in a line up and have a moment to tread in my own thoughts, and quietly observe the things around me.

Play is a time for processing prior information and experience, and it's also a chance for putting that cognitive processing into action. It's a time to experiment! We adults need that as much as our children do.

My brother is one of the most playful people I know. There's nothing contrived about it for him. It's just is who he is: always exploring; always growing.
So how can we encourage play in our lives? I am not naturally a very playful person, and am also very self-critical, especially when what I'm doing doesn't seem productive, in the classical western sense. So I need to remind myself that playing is acceptable. I also need to make space in my life and mind for play to happen. These are some of the things that help me:

Allowing: This is the most challenging, for me. Despite many years of practising this with children, and even in groups of adults, I find it incredibly difficult to just allow the ship of my intentions or expectations to go adrift, on my own activities. But when I do manage to let go, the world welcomes me with enthusiasm. Many of the best adventures I've had were those that happened when I stopped the car at a random spot and went exploring. My lack of knowledge or expectation about the place I was in allowed me to see with fresh eyes, to wander to new discoveries, to run with abandon into the water or the mud or the wind, and to look back on the adventure with delight.

Taking time: While it's absolutely possible to play on the go, to take small opportunities for delight, discovery, and exploration throughout a busy "work" day, I really treasure the experiences I've had that were unbounded by time. A whole day or a weekend is fabulous. But even just an afternoon is wonderful, too. The best way to find time on a budget, for me, is to pack up a simple dinner in the afternoon, and just go. So I'm only carrying one meal, and there are absolutely no obligations hanging over my head until the next day. I can go home and sleep whenever I want, so my time exploring is limited only by my own energy level. A group of friends and I used to go out to the pub after our adult ballet class and have a tequila. We called ourselves the tequilerinas. More often recently I seem to find myself at the beach with the family, usually some friends, and truly meagre dinner and fire supplies - and endless time. Sometimes I swim, talk, draw or sculpt in the sand or pebbles. Sometimes I find myself lying still on the darkening beach, taking time to absorb and contemplate the sounds and smells and feelings that surround me. And I don't deal with the wet towels until the next morning.

Redefining: The language we use really does make a difference to our ability to incorporate play in our lives. If we call something "work", we are less likely to relax into it; maybe less likely to enjoy it. Then again, if we call something "play", we may be less likely to value it. So for me there is a necessary balance of finding play in work - in allowing work to be fun, and in valuing play, everywhere I can find it. My friend Dave Pollard suggests calling intentional adult gatherings "Playshops" instead of "Workshops". I like it! I think I may try that terminology out this summer! After all, even when the gathering is intended to solve real world problems or develop very structured plans, the act of playing together helps us explore and find creative solutions, as well as helping us to relate to each other and the topic at hand.

Being intentional: Especially when redefining is difficult, I find that taking dedicated time for intentional play helps. It sounds like an oxymoron, to use a schedule or structure in order to go astray from patterns and expectations... but hey, sometimes I need that just to break out in the first place! Other people are the easiest way to lead myself away from my expectations: If I can get a friend to meet me at the beach I'm much more likely to stay! Taking a workshop (Playshop!) where play has an integral role (or is the entire purpose!) also is wonderful. Even taking time for individual exploration can be intentional. I used to take a few hours once a week to go out and photograph the vegetation throughout the seasons. This was different than the time I took for creative pursuits like writing and painting, because unguided exploration of the wilderness was essential to discovering new subjects to photograph. I probably spent about 5 minutes photographing for every hour exploring. And I climbed trees.

Now goodbye. I'm going out to play.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Unschooling to School: End of Year Exhaustion

Tali relaxes by building things like this ion thruster.
Please can we be done, now?!

I feel like I'm counting down the days, although quite honestly I'm too tired to bother. The end isn't close enough for that, yet.

A few weeks ago I was worried about the summer. What will he do? How will I entertain him? Now he's used to constant social interaction and activity, and that's not easy to keep up in the summer! Then suddenly I felt the nice cushy carpet of supportive energy just whisk out from underneath us, and now we're just done. Fini. Kapot. Kaput.

I see it in the way his eyes glaze over at the thought of walking to school; in the way he just... can't... force... himself out of bed in the mornings. He has no gumption to ride his bike; no desire to get together with friends. He now spends every possible moment immersed in video games, books, creative projects like the one depicted to the left, or in the ocean. It doesn't seem to matter to him that this week is exam week. His attention checked out a few weeks ago. And me? Well if I ever might have cared about exams or school outings or traditions, I couldn't care less, now. Packing lunches lost it's charm a looooong time ago. I'm pretty impressed that my boy was able to hold up for so long, and I know he'll be reinspired after a summer of creative freedom, but I am beginning to feel like this school schedule is just way too much. Too overwhelming. Too much expectation; too much monopolizing of our time and energy, and not enough space for self.

I just can't wait to relax with my kids and find our groove again. We're starting, already. Staying up late is happening, whether it suits the school program or not, and I am enjoying those late-night reading sessions, the junk-food beach meals, the lazy do-what-you want days. I miss full-time unschooling. I miss it a lot!! And I am going to appreciate this summer more than any before, just because this time I know how valuable it is.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Growing Room

1990: During the second expansion: no wall between my room and the living room!
Our little home was once a trailer. I remember cleaning out garbage bags full of beer cans and bottles from it before we brought it to the island to live on. I believe I was about 5. I chose the nice sunny room at the front. It was tiny, but it was bright. It had a lovely white and gold linoleum floor, a sliding metal window, and was very close to the oil furnace that I don't believe we ever used. My parents installed a woodstove behind my wall, and my Pappa enlarged my room by replacing the long closet with a very small one.

During my late teens I painted my walls...
I remember many nights staring up at the pressboard ceiling above my bed, imagining swooshes of grass and wind and being both comforted and annoyed by the repetition of the pattern.

As the years passed, my Pappa enlarged my room twice more, expanding into the living room, until my room was more than twice its original size. I got another window, and even, eventually, a carpet. I grew up in that room, until I was 17 and we moved away - my family to the interior and I to my supposed adult life.

I left behind the room I was so attached to, the room that had my fears and comforts, joys and sorrows, memories and forgotten experiences embedded in its walls.

But seven years later I came back with my husband, of course. And there was no better room for a baby room than my own dear room. So we peeled off the Winnie-the-Pooh paper installed by previous tenants, and created a space worthy of our most precious treasures: our children.

The walls were cream coloured and blue with a chair-rail, and eventually I painted trees for the children, too. 


The room held their dreams and hopes and fears from cradle to crib to bunk bed, and it also held their father and me on those many sleepless nights as we grew into parenthood.





Thirteen years of growing up!

 To document the treasured history of the room, I painted it:

An old, wise, fairy-inhabited maple tree for my thoughtful son, and a fresh young cherry tree, just brimming with magical activity for my brave and adventurous daughter.


With great thanks to Rien Portvliet, whose paintings I replicated, I commemorated my childhood with my brother, my parents becoming grandparents, and the working and growth of the land. And of course I commemorated the enormous growth we were making at that time, becoming parents.
 

It's been a long time. My hair is beginning to turn grey and my chin to sag. My children are reaching for the threshold of adulthood. There are two generations of childhood in this room, not to mention the history of the families who lived here before we did, and between, while we were living away. We'll never know all that these walls hold. We won't even know each other's memories, although we do share them. And now the room is gone.
This week we are pulling it all apart. Both children now have rooms at the back of the house, and this lovely south-facing room will become our kitchen. It's going to be a wonderful kitchen, but we all felt we needed an opportunity to say goodbye to the room. So we cleared all the toys and furniture, and had a nachos picnic on the floor, while talking about our memories. The kids shared memories of games they played in the bunk bed, the various things they've drawn and written on the walls, the dreams and nightmares they've had in the nights, here. I shared memories of my childhood and teens; I showed them how very small the room was when I first moved into it, and the marks from where their Opa made it bigger for me. We talked about the times we slept in the room all together when the kids were frightened, and remembered all the evenings standing in a family hug, singing their favourite songs.  Last night we played train tracks until late in the night, when we climbed up into the top bunk to read the stories we treasured when they were very young.



Finally we took the planets down, and today even the bed is gone. The walls are coming down, and the room is no more.

But we all have history in this room. We all have memories to guide our journeys, and to treasure for their significance. There will be other memories, and hopefully a few more lifetimes of nourishing foods made in the new kitchen.

Goodbye, old room. Thank you for keeping us all.