Wednesday, December 2, 2020

nine months into covid: cultivating hope

It's coming on Christmas (and many other holidays) and we're not just cutting down trees as usual, many have already put up the reindeer, people were going all out with the decorations before Remembrance day, even. WHY?!

I'm not being grinchy; we're doing it too, as evidenced by this big giant snowflake we've been making for our local gallery show (SO FUN!) But I did briefly wonder why this holiday enthusiasm is happening, given the fact that so many have greatly-restricted holiday plans, this year, much less cash to spend, and... because back in the early days of the pandemic, people like me were projecting and hoping for a huge big cultural shift--away from consumerism; away from capitalism. And let's face it: Christmas is an extravaganza for capitalism.

Our current way of life, economy, and social system depend on us spending money. So buying things and making displays of those bought-things (ornaments, lights, etc.) is our way of holding up a big beacon of hope for life: the economy and our whole social system will prevail.

But what if that's not the important part of the picture? Most of us know the lights are a twice-removed version of the ancient tradition of bringing back the sun, or of simply carrying the light through the darkest time of year. The decorations often have very deep sentimental value; they remind us of those we love, of those who love us, and of times spent together.

Well that's something we're missing, this year. Time spent together is, for many of us, something like a distant memory. We're weary of living in fear, we're lonely for the friends and family that we haven't hugged (or perhaps even seen) in nearly a year. Many of us have even lost loved ones this year, due to covid or other reasons, and have not been able to hold the traditional ceremonies of grieving that we otherwise might have. Protecting each other from illness has meant denying each other love, in the most basic ways we're accustomed to showing it. We've all lost something huge, and many days have been feeling hopeless. I think we're decorating early (and boldly) as a means of cultivating hope.

In my community, people are finding all kinds of ways of coming together, apart. From the online Remembrance day ceremony to Legion dinners being driven around to isolated people, we're getting creative. Halloween happened without fireworks, this year, and new celebrations were made. More of us saw our own neighbours at our doors, instead of everyone going to the fireworks, and trick-or-treating there. The arts council organized the community making of gigantic snowflakes to fill the walls of the gallery. December craft-sales have gone online as "Buy Local" facebook pages, and other such inventions. Most recent years, Santa has come in to our community by boat, and sat with children in the cove. But due to covid, and the need to protect Santa's health, the wonderful organizers of this event have arranged for him to be drawn around the whole island by parade float, so that every child who wants to see him, can, from the protection of their isolated homes. It's not Christmas-as-usual, but it's happening. 

Oh, and it's happening with a WHOLE lot of new pets, because, in our quest for hope, we seem to have all filled our lives with new cats, dogs, chickens, goats and horses (yeah... that's just my family's list...). There are some downsides to this story, of course (puppy mills, irresponsible animal breeders, unprepared pet owners, lack of available vet appointments, etc.), but it's still a beacon of hope; a lightning rod for the love we are all needing to give. We'll get through this little cultural blip of new pet ownership and, again by necessity, we'll all learn a lot more about caregiving, emotional welfare, and love.

We are making a cultural shift, as we necessarily and creatively keep hope alive in our hearts, homes, and communities. It's not quite the end of capitalism that I hoped for last April, but it's change, and it's good, and it's rooted in love. I feel like this is a gigantic scurry of millions of people in a good direction. Happy holidays!

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Wild Art Through the Year

My book is out! I've spent the last nine months making this hand-drawn activity book that brings together all my worlds: explorative learning, ecological awareness, art-making, cooking with wild-foraged foods, and writing. What a pleasure for me!

Wild Art Through the Year is a 60-page book of inspirations to get out and explore the Pacific coast wilderness right outside our doors, and to notice the natural world we're a part of. It's intended to be used throughout the year. Each month begins with a list of things to do and notice, outside, then follows with a colouring page featuring a north-west coast indigenous tree, a puzzle featuring plants or animals of seasonal interest, and sometimes a recipe for seasonally-available wild foods. It's suitable for anyone living or traveling in coastal British Columbia or Washington State.

The book is available to view and purchase through this link:

I loved writing Wild Art Through the Year, and am so grateful for my family's comments and suggestions throughout the process. I hope you'll love it too!

Emily                      .

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Bertrice


My daughter Rhiannon has published her first book!!!
"Ten year old Bertrice cannot imagine a life different from the one she lives. With a group of wonderful friends, a loving family, and a weekly Unschooling meetup, she feels that things are just right. However, when friendships start to go sideways and illness threatens the family, Bertrice is forced to learn about change and the difficulties of growing up."
This book is intended for 9-12-year-olds, and follows a girl dealing with the death of a grandparent, along with typical social frustrations of a ten-year-old, and the challenge of witnessing her parents' emotional fallout after the death. It's SO real. SO poignant. I imagine it would be a wonderful read for the kids it's intended for, but to be honest I feel like all parents should read it, too. It gave me such an opportunity to see my kids' emotional journeys. I wish I'd read it before my kids were ten. 
 
Of course, I couldn't have done that, since my daughter didn't write it until she was in her teens. She had to go through the experience of losing a beloved grandparent, witnessing a terrible family fallout, and dealing with her own emotions around all these issues in order to write a book that accurately explores them. So she did. She wrote the book, and by the time she got to the end of it she realized her writing had improved so much since she began that she had to go back and write most of it again. And she did that too! Finally she finished the book, and had it proofread by a few of her family members and a couple of friends, and spent months making edits, both very large and very small. When she finally thought she was done, she realized she wanted imagery in the book, and a cover. Her brother wasn't interested in illustrating for her, so she diligently taught herself to draw, to the point that she could render the various things she wanted depicted in the book. She wrote the book, made all the art, laid out the book herself, and took advice and criticism like a champion (which personally I know to be quite a challenge), editing and adjusting as she went along. This is unschooling at its best. This is how a kid takes on her own passion project, does it exactly and only the way she wants to, and grows into the person she wants to become. The result of this labour of love is a book that no adult could have written -- a true-to-life but totally fictional book about a girl developing as a writer while going through family and social challenges that most kids face, at some point. 
 
And the protagonist is an Unschooler! There aren't many books out there that treat Unschooling as a natural part of life. This one does, showing life from an unschooler's perspective, while also being accessible for school-going kids to understand. 
 
The explorative nature of the kids' play, their questioning of gender stereotypes and age-appropriateness, as well as the complex emotional considerations of kids with a diverse social group are things we parents may not realize are occupying our kids minds. But they are! This book is a clear and thoughtful presentation of a child's emotional growth, and we parents can learn a lot from it.

Also my daughter is a fabulous writer. You can purchase her book through this link:
https://www.blurb.ca/b/10390239

If you're interested, she also has a writing and book review website:
https://rhiannonraven.wixsite.com/readingcorner

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Maplerose: bringing business and unschooling together

I ordered this box of felting supplies from a small business in BC. They ship all over Canada and the US, but I wanted to shop local, which is how I came to make my purchase there. Then... Look how it arrived!!


Seriously. 


Just look at that!! It wasn't just a box of gloriously colourful natural felty goodness, it was a box of love from a person I'd never met! It nearly brought me to tears, as I was reminded of the early years of my Dad's toy shop, when my step-mother made waldorf dolls to sell there, and my little sisters helped with the stocking and packaging (and endless cash-register and typewriter practice!) This kind of heartfelt family business practice is rare, now, but maybe with the pandemic can shine a little more.

My heart was so filled by the care and personal attention put into this package that I wrote back to the woman who owns the business to tell her how much it meant to me. And guess what! She's an unschooler! Well, surprising and not-surprising, I guess. Unschooling is about living life like every little piece of it matters, and that's exactly how Jenn conducts business at Maplerose.

Charlotte, Walt, Mark and Jenn out for a picnic.

Meet Jenn. She and her husband Mark live with their kids Walt and Charlotte in the Kootenays, where they live life to the fullest, and Jenn conducts the business of bringing natural and Waldorf-inspired products to families. Why Waldorf? "I love wool, wood and wax," Jenn says. "I find them beautiful materials and I've always tried to surround my children with simple, beautiful, natural things. I wouldn’t consider us absolute Waldorfians, but I do like a lot of Rudolf Steiner's ideas. We wear lots of wool, love the smell of beeswax, and that lines up so nice with what Maplerose was about when I bought it."

And what Maplerose is about is also family. Her father was an entrepreneur, so taking a chance on running a business was a natural choice for Jenn. It wasn't as easy as she expected, though, she says. "I had no idea how challenging entrepreneurship was - I thought my dad just knew what he was doing. I realize now that he didn't and that having your own business is so much about taking calculated risks. I had no idea it would be this hard but unlike past businesses I'd tried to run when I was single, having children depend on you is very motivating. Those sweet faces watching you as you flounder and struggle and then loving you anyway. Even if I feel I've made mistakes in my business they still love me so much and reassure me that it's going to be okay. One of the biggest challenges is finding the balance between putting energy into my business and attending to my children."

Charlotte and Walt on an Equinox lantern walk
Jenn came to unschooling as a mother with some experience of teaching children, and through the observation that her firstborn, Walt, was discovering and learning about the world naturally; with intrinsic motivation, as babies do. First it was rolling and crawling and walking... then eventually reading. "It was amazing to watch," she explains. "I figured I just had to create the opportunities for him to learn and explore and he would or he wouldn't and we could adjust and adapt and just have lots of fun together. And we have." 

Like so many unschoolers, Jenn's family tried out school, first. She thought she and Charlotte would have a great time bonding when Walt was away at school. "That fall, though, when Walt went off to school (two days a week) Charlotte was not happy. She had never known life without Walt in it and she was not happy that he was gone. It really made me rethink how I saw our family and the importance of us being together and maintaining that safe place that they had known so well. And Walt missed being with us. So this year, we decided he wouldn't go back to the kindergarten and we'd just see what happened. For the most part it's been great. Walt and Charlotte learn so much from each other in so many ways. And I wouldn't want to miss any of it either. I love being with them. It's really an honour." The kids' father, Mark, has a corporate background, but also some experience with teaching, music, yoga and writing. Jenn has a BFA, and is a writer and illustrator. She says that "talking about the idea of teaching our kids at home it seemed that we could provide them with a very dynamic education and so many opportunities to learn. There's so much to be learned just by doing the things we love with our children."

And yes, the kids help out with the business of running Maplerose! True to the principles of self-directed learning, they're never coerced into helping, but have nevertheless found ways to get involved. "They have put labels on kite paper and other stickering jobs, measuring and weighing packages but their main job now is as toy testers and book readers, until they let me know otherwise. I love seeing what they are and are not drawn to. Lately Walt has been playing with the block crayons arranging them into unique rainbows of colours of his choosing. And then he'll build robots out of them and make up a story. I love open-ended play and it reassures me that what I have at Maplerose works and is useful and helps children grow, learn and express themselves. They often just hang out with me in the studio and do their own thing and I'll explain different stuff and just see what lights them up."

Walt testing a beginner woodworking set
Maplerose seems to be the quintessential synergy of business in an unschooling family. The kids benefit from the passion of their mother (not to mention the wonderful products she's bringing in!), and the business of selling materials for creativity and discovery is helped by those kids' avid exploration. No wonder the packages feel so full of love!

You might be wondering, in these times, if buying from Maplerose is covid-safe. So I asked about that. Jenn, Mark, and their children live in a small community, where they remain isolated, except for one other family who they share a social bubble with. Maplerose products are shipped in from a handful of suppliers in Canada and Europe, all of whom Jenn knows personally, so she feels pretty safe about the situation. Then they're lovingly packaged up and shipped to customers, or left in a contactless pick-up location for local customers. By the time my beautiful box of felting supplies arrived in my home, the contents had been quarantined for the duration of the shipping time. Because I am ultra-careful about what I bring into my home, I wiped down the outside of the box with alcohol, and felt completely safe opening it to enjoy the contents. 

I was grateful to Jenn for answering my questions between all the Maplerose work, mediating for her kids who began squabbling, and shoveling reheated noodles into her mouth in a meagre effort at feeding herself, too. "Running a business amongst the fullness of motherhood is a challenge. As much as I do it for myself - to contribute, to create, to learn and to grow I’m doing it for my kids," she says. And I know how that is. My own kids are older now, and one of them is making our dinner in the kitchen as I write this article. It takes a whole lot of love, constant creative problem-solving, and some little bit of taking "calculated risks", as Jenn says, to raise a family that's all wrapped up and involved in each other's business. And that's just wonderful.

Maplerose website: https://lovemaplerose.com/

Instagram: @maplerosestore

 

Friday, November 6, 2020

how our social system perpetuates cruelty, and how we can break the cycle


When I was a kid, I wanted to disappear. I didn't have much resilience, and didn't know how to protect myself from the typical schoolyard bullying of the eighties. I felt small and dark and afraid, and spent many lunch-hours sitting out on a small, hidden bluff, hoping desperately that nobody would find me, and with a number of shrubby, mossy escape-routes already mapped out. Hiding was my solution to a social situation I wasn't prepared for. I escaped grade school into high school and became weird and vaguely threatening as a means of keeping other kids at bay. It worked, and I was lonely. Throughout the first thirty years of my life, I assumed the problem was me. I assumed I was just simply anti-social. Worthless.

It wasn't until I was a mother that my desperation to save my own children from the same fate caused me to really consider how I could prepare them for the culture that had crushed my own childhood. I began with keeping them home from school in order to protect them, but amazingly, it was a piece of wisdom from their school-going friend that finally helped me see a real escape-route: how we raise our children, and the society we build for them, matters entirely. We can look thoughtfully at our schools and other community groups just like we can carefully consider our home environment, and how those things make or break our children's mental health.

Once in those middle-years of raising my children, a boy I love very much and who I consider an extra son had this conversation with me:

"I feel like I'm at preschool when I'm at your house."
 
He was about 10, so this very much surprised me, and I asked him what he meant.
 
He responded, "...like I have to be polite and not swear... like in preschool."
 
I was astounded by his self-awareness, and even by his memory of preschool, but I pressed on. "Don't you still normally behave that way when you're not at my house?"

"No." He said, assuredly. "I can't. People would beat me up."

"What?!" I was incredulous. I, with my kids who stayed home every day and had big happy romping visits with friends (including this boy), couldn't imagine the threat my treasured child was describing. The threat of his schoolyard.

"I have to swear and act mean at school. I have to."

"But not at home," I begged, looking for a bit of hope.

"Not always but the boys from school come over to use my trampoline, so I kind of do there too. They always come over."

My heart broke for this boy--one of the gentlest I've known--to feel so trapped in his own community that he felt he had to become a different person. 

I have known a variety of violent, cruel men in my life. And every single one of them was a loving, compassionate person who had been raised in a culture or family that made him feel inadequate, hopeless; small. Every one of them used emotional, physical, sexual or verbal violence to control the world around him when he felt he was threatened. Every single one of them was doing what he felt was necessary to survive. 

After the conversation with my young friend, I saw so clearly the desperation in all those men's behaviour. I sat with that realization for weeks at the forefront of my mind, and it changed the way I saw that boy's father. It changed the way I saw my own partner. I forgave my fathers. I forgave my ex-boyfriends and my husband their variety of transgressions. I forgave my son for the many things I imagined he might end up doing because of a heartless culture that mocked him for wearing a tutu as a preschooler and pummeled him into a little corner full of muscle trucks, fear, superheroes, villains, and existential threat. And as I saw my own brave, intelligent daughter growing up toward a sexualized, diminished expectation of humanity, I forgave my mother and myself for all the ways we've fought without conviction and tried to disappear in life. I forgave us. Then I just cried.

What are we to do, as parents of children who our own community vilifies for the mere fact they're boys? I've been a feminist, all my life (yes, I've been fighting for my own and my mother's rights since before I ever heard the word 'feminism'). And I'm surrounded by the anger of my fellow feminists over boys who are excused from terrible crimes because their social status is at stake. I'm aware that those excuses leave girls unsupported; women languishing in shame and lifetimes of victimization. But as a mother of a boy, I also think about the boys. The 'social status' or 'future prospects' argument sure sounds hideously arrogant and small-minded, but maybe it's worth looking at. Those boys' and mens' social status may be what pushed them to commit the crimes in the first place. 

Perpetrators of abuse are usually victims of some form of abuse, themselves. That doesn't excuse their actions, it opens up a door for healing. It opens a door for us to see them as humans in need of help. In fact, it opens a door for us to look at every single child as a potential victim of abuse (familial, scholastic, societal, sexual, intellectual, etc.) and set them up to be resilient and--hopefully--to avoid abusive situations.

It was all very simple for me to assume that my kids would be safe from the schoolyard bullies because I didn't send them to school, but isolation from their own community isn't a solution, either. Both of my kids did end up attending some form of school in the few years after my conversation with their friend, and we did deal with the kinds of social trauma that happen there. However, the best thing I think I ever did in this respect was keep them home in the first place.

I and my husband unschooled our kids at home from Kindergarten to grades six and seven, respectively. They weren't isolated while they unschooled, because we did have a small community of other home- and unschoolers that we visited with multiple times a week. Picture groups of three to ten kids of all ages and their three or five parents all hanging out together at a park. Or maybe somebody's house. It was messy, it was chaotic, but it was whole. And by whole I mean that each gathering was a motley collection of different ages and types of people, all awkwardly sorting out social cues and each other's needs and values, in each moment, all the time. Together. We were a whole. Of course there were disagreements and social issues that came up among kids in the group, but the parents were involved in each moment, and were developing and modeling our own social skills in front of the kids, all the time. Our kids learned to respect each other, and more importantly, they learned to respect themselves and their own needs. 

Because so many of them were unschooled, and the play-times were for leisure, with no expectations of 'learning', kids weren't obliged to come along, and when they did they weren't obliged to participate. If something felt wrong to them, they could step aside and nobody would fault them for it. They learned to trust themselves in this way; they learned self-preservation that didn't rely upon reactive, hurtful behaviour. They learned practical social coping strategies from free, open play in a supportive environment, and by watching their parents engage with thoughtful empathy and a sense of enjoyment.

When my kids went to school, they both eventually experienced some form of social cruelty. I can't say they weren't harmed--they were. But pain happens in life. Other people do and say things that hurt us. We can have compassion for those people, but we can't change them by changing who we are. That's a lesson I am still learning now in my forties, but my children had apparently learned it by the time they were young teens. And I note that so had many of their homeschooled peers. 

So no, I'm not saying everybody should keep their kids home. I know that's not an option for most people, nor is it desired by many. But I feel like there must be a better way to raise our kids so that they develop a sense of self-worth. Boys and girls are equally susceptible to the degradation of self-worth that happens in the schoolyard and in our culture in general. Boys are more often encouraged by our culture to preserve their dignity and physical safety with violence, cruelty, and a kind of masculine arrogance. Girls are encouraged to do so by emotionally belittling other girls, by remaining calm in the face of fear, and by not taking up too much space, physically, intellectually, or emotionally. All are expected to conform. And may heaven help you if you don't fit the mold.

Can we just stop this now? No, I know it's not that easy to change centuries of cultural learning. But we can sure try harder! I would like for all children to spend their time in small, supported groups of mixed ages, genders, cultural backgrounds and political ideals. Free exploration in a supported, diverse environment is how we learn to really see other people, and it's how we learn empathy, as well as real dignity and self-awareness. 

That once-ten-year-old boy who told me my home felt like preschool is now eighteen. He's studying computer science and he still comes by and talks to me about his life. He's not here mainly to visit me; he's here to visit my son, who considers him a best friend. But he also takes time to talk to me. He takes time to talk to my daughter, who considers him an extra brother. He has grown out of those schoolyard bully days to find a path in his life that feels right. He doesn't have to swear just to keep himself safe, anymore. Probably through his amazing self-awareness, as well as his many social connections with people from all walks of life, my 'extra son' has grown out of the culture that limited him as a child, and is one of the beautiful young men emerging as a new adult in this world.

We can learn to live and tumble along with our culture's faults, or we can heal them, and thrive. We're never going to keep our children safe from pain and struggle. Hard times and heartbreak are part of life, and how we get through them is how we grow. But we can build diverse, supportive environments for our children and for ourselves, so that the getting through is easier, safer, and conducive to personal growth.

Friday, October 23, 2020

our kids aren't going to save us


Ever since I was a very little girl I knew that the teens of today will save the world. Or make that the teens of yesterday. When I was around ten, I remember hearing someone say that it was up to the (then) teens to make the big changes the world needed. Wow! I thought! They're going to fix the ozone layer! And pollution! And get rid of nuclear weapons forever! And this new thing called global warming that we were just starting to hear whispers of. I looked forward to the beautiful world those just a few years older than I was were creating for me. 

A few years later, when I graduated, and couldn't yet even vote, that burden of saving the world had shifted to my shoulders. I was the generation that was going to make the big changes. Well, OK, I thought. I can do that. I don't know what the rest of the generations were doing -- I mean, what happened to those teens from when I was a kid? Didn't they fix things? Well anyway now things were different. And me, I was going to finally fix things. We were going to finally fix things!!

Fast forward another five years and find me teaching some teens in a rec centre art program. It wasn't that I wasn't "fixing" the world, but plans for great upheaval, protests and really doing something big were on the back-burner as the need for paying rent and paying off my student loans was forefront in my mind. I tried to keep climate change and social justice on the menu during all activities, but, you know, that's not what parents were looking for in these art classes, so I had to temper it. You can't rock the boat too much if you're a new teacher and trying to keep your job; trying to keep people opening their wallets to pay you for teaching their kids. I figured I'd change the world when I made enough money.

Another couple of years later, I was joyfully welcoming my own kids to the world. It was even more imperative to me to save the world from the increasingly terrifying prospect of climate change which, by calculations at the time, was likely to cause global catastrophe by the time my kids were old. Well... if we didn't stop it, which we planned to. The only thing was, we all still needed to make money, and to do that we had to keep our jobs, and keep up the status quo, and really support the industries we knew were destroying the earth's ability to regulate the climate because, well, those companies had bought out all the smaller companies and were now the only affordable ways for us purchase the many many things that seemed to be required for home-life and babies! After all, what good is protecting your kids' future, if you can't even give them a semi-normal, socially-conforming lifestyle to start out with? But you know what I told myself then? Those kids I taught. They were about graduating age by now. They were coming up to voting age, and not yet burdened with the need to pay rent and student loans and preschool fees. They would save us!

Climate change, as we know, eclipsed the miraculously-diminishing ozone hole, as well as nuclear weapons threats, in the list of potential perils. And by the time my kids were ten years old, we knew for certain that their lives would be cut short by the ever-growing, ever-menacing list of catastrophes caused by climate change. In fact, the hurricanes, forest-fires and floods had already begun, and we began to realize that even our own lives would likely end in a kind of apocalypse we 80's kids had never fully imagined. Around that time it began to be acceptable to use the word apocalypse in my blog posts. Nobody was shocked, anymore. We were apathetic. We couldn't not give our kids tons of gifts, because we wanted them to be happy! We couldn't not buy the plastic toys and fleece clothing that they needed to fit in with their friends. We couldn't step off of the rat-race treadmill because somehow we had to afford all these things, and we still weren't managing to take them on enough vacations for their social and emotional well-being. We knew we were doomed. So we sipped up our lattes and attended some climate rallies on lunch-breaks, and told ourselves that the teens of the current generation would save us.

My son voted, this week. He's eighteen. I just can't bring myself to tell him to save me. 

This is bullshit, and we all know it. Telling ourselves that each new generation will fix the mistakes of the twenty before it is a bright shiny carousel of lies we tell ourselves so we don't have to make the hard changes that are required to save ourselves from climate change. And those changes are HARD! We're all going to have to sacrifice the tarred dreams we pursued; we're all going to have to sacrifice our income, social status and the careers, homes, vacations; even relationships that are threatening our sustainable future. Because if we don't, our future is far more bleak than we can imagine. And I don't want that for my kids. I don't want that for me. 

We have to stop buying things we don't need. We have to reassess the meaning of the word "need", according to a non-commercialized, non-selfish scale. We have to stop supporting industries and corporations that are fiscally tied to financial gain. The pursuit of money isn't saving the world; it's destroying it. Growth isn't saving the world; it's destroying it. We have to stop seeking more, and start acknowledging how much joy there is in what we already have. We have children. We have love.

My son was interviewed by our local paper about his first voting experience, and he had this to say: "I think a lot of politicians are afraid to take the necessary drastic steps to counteract climate change because of the possible short term cost to our economy, but I say it's worth it to ensure that we have a safe, livable future for us and our families going on into the future."

In the upcoming election, we have an opportunity to stand up and vote for the candidate or party who is most likely to make the hard changes. People, get out and vote. Then let's look at our lives honestly and just make the changes we should have made decades ago. We are adults and it's time we started behaving like adults. It's time that we all stood up and made the change we want to see in the world, instead of expecting our kids to do it for us.


Sunday, October 11, 2020

Why every kid should be raised as if they might be LGBTQ

 

Today is National Coming Out Day. I didn't even know that was a thing, until I saw it posted on Facebook this morning and went to Google it. As a parent I've tried to be so careful; so deliberately woke, but, like the term 'woke', I'm watered down. 

When my kids were little, I consciously referred to their future partners as a genderless "they", or "he or she". I wasn't very familiar with trans culture at the time, and my only gender-defying parenting feats were to encourage them to play with all manner of toys, and to dress themselves in every colour, and every style of clothing. If I knew then what I know now, I would have encouraged them to choose their own pronouns, too. Some brave souls are raising kids that way, now. And in 2016 the province of Alberta presented schools with guidelines for allowing students to choose and live by their own preferred pronouns. Amazingly (or not, when you consider the culture we live in), both of my kids subscribed to gender stereotypes from very early ages, and defined themselves as cis-straight. I defied - just in case - and kept telling them that was fine, but that I would love them and their partners no matter what genders or pronouns they may happen to use. I wanted to be sure that there was never a day when my kids questioned their sexuality or gender, and didn't feel safe talking about it. I didn't just wait for the conversations, I started them.

And when my trans cousin committed suicide just after Trump was elected, I started even more conversations. Can you imagine knowing that your cousin felt so unwelcome in society that he no longer wanted to live, and then perhaps discovering you might be similarly different from the norm? I don't know what my kids' place on the spectrum of gender and sexuality is, and they had only met our cousin once, but I needed them to know that they had a safe space; that their feelings would always be valid, even if they change, and even if they don't want to talk about them. The necessity of being an accepting parent became deeper and more desperate for me.We attended Pride like it was our special family party, having finally had a taste of the loss from which pride is cultivated; the ashes from which humanity is trying to rise.

When my kids were little I was told that if I didn't help them identify as cis and straight, I was damaging their sense of self-worth, messing with their identity, and setting them up for bullying. Those comments terrified me, because what I'm trying to do is the opposite. But I carry on anyway, because you know what really damages kids' self-worth? Feeling like they're not acceptable to their own parents. All kids are potentially going to question their sexuality or gender. Everybody should question those things, just so we can know ourselves and live our best lives, with open eyes. If we want our potentially-LGBTQ kids to feel self-worth, we need to openly accept and advocate for LGBTQ people in our community, so they can see people they may or may not identify with, and feel safe around them. Even if our kids are consistently cis-gendered and straight, they need to know that it's normal not to be, as well. They need to have no fear about identity, love, or their belonging in community. So no, I'm not messing with their identity - I'm refraining from messing with their identity. Because it's theirs to determine. Not mine.

Bullying is scary. I'm telling you, as the girl who knelt, eating weiners off the floor, being kicked by my classmates, while my teacher stood at the font of the room looking through her papers. You know what I did when they stopped? I went outside and I told a younger kid that I'd magically turn her into a frog if she didn't give me the swing. She ran away crying, and I took that swing and my pride and rode it all the way through recess. I felt terrible about becoming a bully, myself, and it's what makes me so determined to raise children who feel secure enough to be neither victims nor perpetrators. Fear is what makes bullies. Fear is what makes victims. The only way to give our kids a ticket out of this dynamic is to make sure they know they're safe in who they are; that they can always come home to a pair of loving, accepting arms. No matter what.

Accepting our kids is not as much about being OK with whomever they become as it is about being OK with the whole world, so our kids know that they'll be acceptable, whomever they become. They have to be accepted to become themselves. The right to self-determination is as important as shelter, food, love and security. It isn't any of my business what my kids' gender or sexuality may be, but it's my business to provide a safe place for them to self-identify, and to be flexible enough in my own mind that whenever their identity changes, I'm ready to accept it. And there is no end-point; no final level of consciousness to achieve. There's just a constant, always-learning, growth.

Friday, October 2, 2020

finding hope when there is no good news anymore

Seeds in Spallumcheen Graveyard, September 2020

I'm struggling hugely to keep on finding positive things to say; positive ways to look at the collapse we're now experiencing and keep seeing a good way forward. They say this is a natural feeling of hopelessness, six months into the pandemic, but I know it's more than the pandemic. The giant, horrible, depressing pandemic is just one small thing that happened to the world this year. Climate change is so much worse. With the ongoing rampage of fires, floods, storms, extinctions, social unrest and ecological collapse, people are spouting F2020 memes all over the place, but we pretty much know next year will be worse. And F2021 just won't have the same ring to it.

I've tried looking away from the news, but my daughter danced into my room this morning, grinning because "Trump has coronavirus", and all my pessimistic mind could think was how that would just create sympathy among his growing number of supporters, and be followed by more hate. Everything he does or doesn't do either supports, provokes or emboldens more hatred. Why? Because Trump isn't the problem; people are. Every single one of us who is running around scared and looking for somebody to either blame or help us is the problem. Every single one of us who hasn't nurtured a feeling of empowered possibility is the problem. And I have nurtured that feeling of empowerment, and yet I'm still feeling so helpless, now. Everywhere I turn is a problem too big for me to solve.

I've spent so much of my life trying to convince myself and those I care for that trust and understanding will carry us through anything; love will save us. I still have love, but we're all afraid to hug the people we love, and we don't know if our homes will burn down or wash away next year, and we don't know if the pandemic will ever end.

Are you waiting for this to turn positive? Me too. What are we going to do, people? How am I going to make it OK that I bore two children into a world without hope? The usual means of supplying hope aren't working. We want to have Thanksgiving under the harvest moon, but it's obscured by smoke - the particles of our southern neighbours, their animals, farms and forests all burned and floating through our sky. We went to meet our new puppy and our son pointed out that the road-trip we took to get to her was ecologically irresponsible. And he was right. I'm still waiting for this to turn positive.

OK here goes: My little grain of hope. I had to get that off my chest in order to get to this; it's the compost from which I hope my little seed will grow. Generosity. Gift. And love, after all. 

I turned off my computer, walked away from the stream of bad news: politicians lying, stealing and grappling for power, parents panicking and people dying, forests and neighbourhoods burning; the infestation of moths beginning to lie dead all over the place. I felt the familiar grip of despair around my heart; I made a thermos of tea and went to give a tour to some local gardeners. I work for free, now, most of the time. Under the smoky sky, we talked about the future of their garden, and how they plan to expand it, but with respect and understanding of the wilderness it grew from. They paid me with a kabocha squash, fresh-cut from their land. Then I went with my son to film the next episode of our Outdoor Exploration video series with a local mushroomer. And under the smoky sky we talked about the mycelium spreading itself, below us; the rotting, spore-y mushrooms proliferating themselves all over. She gave me a bunch of lobster mushrooms, which we enjoyed for our dinner. Every week I consult with parents who are struggling during the many stresses of pandemic life. I hear their stories and share mine, and tell them I know they're doing the best they can, and I support them, and sometimes they offer their own services in exchange. My children give food and water to our chickens, and just this week they have begun returning from the coop with eggs. I put seeds in the ground and, despite all odds, they grow.

Can we hold each other through this horrible time, even knowing that it might not end? Can you wrap your arms around me again so I can feel the comfort of not being alone? Can we plant seeds of respect and understanding in each other's hearts; give when and what we can without knowing that anything will grow, but hoping? Can we do this, even in the face of all the horrors? I love you. Whoever you are, and although we haven't met, and no matter how our politics or moral standards may differ, and even if you don't love me back... I love you. Let our love be a well-tended soil, as we keep on planting seeds of hope, even in the face of all odds, and grow.

I took my kids to see the old church in the town I once lived in, but it was boarded up, so we just stood together and looked at it. Love is constant, even when the world around us changes. September 2020.

Monday, September 21, 2020

How my family finds deep meaning in Thanksgiving


I grew up on a little hobby farm. My parents raised chickens and meat rabbits, and made quite a good go of a vegetable garden on each of the properties they rented and owned over the years. My parents believed, as I do now, that the most ethical food is food they could grow themselves; that meat-eaters should not only know where our meat comes from, but that we should be an integral part of the process it comes from; that we shouldn't takes any lives (plant or animal) wantonly. So they toughened up and learned to farm. By the time we were teens, my brother and I had deep knowledge of local ecology due to our work (and mostly play) on our small piece of land, and deep understanding of mammal and bird husbandry and anatomy due to our involvement with rabbit and chicken farming. One year we even raised pigs to eat, but that was too heartbreaking, and now none of us likes to eat pork very much. We grew up thinking that rabbit was the usual Thanksgiving feast meat, and were eventually perplexed to realize that other people ate turkey.

As a Canadian, I wasn't taught the reasons behind the Thanksgiving turkey dinner in school, and didn't understand the inherent racism of the holiday (and inaccuracy of that famed Plymouth meal-sharing) until sometime in my twenties. In Canada we celebrate Thanksgiving very close to the autumn equinox, and there is no mention in our cultural tradition of Plymouth, pilgrims, or any other such thing. Our grocery stores and primary school curricula are filled with images of cornucopias, turkeys, scarecrows and farmers. Thanksgiving is generally the day we are thankful for our food and the people who provided it.

My kids harvesting peas that will make pea soups all winter!

My parents have always been mavericks, choosing, creating and inventing life on their own terms. So early in their relationship, they developed our family's own Thanksgiving tradition: We eat foods we grew, ourselves. We celebrate our garden, the food that feeds us, our love for one another and the land we live on, and our own hard work in growing and harvesting food. In the eighties we grew rabbits and chickens, potatoes, carrots and kale, usually a couple of Atlantic Giant pumpkins, and some other squashes, and zucchini, apples, figs, cabbage, lettuce, onions, beans... The list was long then, and now that my brother and I have grown up to have our own gardens, and we've all learned a little more about the land and our own abilities, the list is even longer. (I mean, who knew what quinoa was in 1982, never mind that we could grow it in our own back yards!) So at Thanksgiving we contribute just those things we're really excited about, as well as some loved staples like recently-dug potatoes, Dutch apple varieties, and some sweet, delicious squash.

This year is the first year in many that we've had homegrown chickens to eat, and we've had Big Monster on the menu ever since we realized he was bizarrely huge, even for a rooster, and way too mean to keep with our flock. But he's only one small part of the fabulousness we look forward to this year. Look what we're planning:

  • My son braiding this year's garlic.
    pea and sorrel soup
  • lentil crackers with chicken pate
  • oven-roasted chicken with herbs and garlic
  • oven-roasted potatoes
  • stuffed scallopini squash
  • tomato salad
  • fennel with herbs
  • apple-raspberry dessert
  • plum-quince crumble
  • pumpkin pie

Yes - three desserts. Between three households we couldn't not all showcase our star fruits! And every single thing on that menu is grown on the soil we live and work with every day. It's a part of our ecosystem. We're a part of our ecosystem! We celebrate living life as a part of a bigger whole.

Happy Thanksgiving to us and to you, and to the whole community of plants, animals, mushrooms and microorganisms that we exist together with!

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Chicken Introductions Then and Now!

It's time to update you on our chicken flock. 

We bought thirty chicks last spring, and sadly, five of them had to be put down due to various ailments. One beloved rooster, Little Mister AKA Gonzo went to live with a whole flock of lovely chocolate Orpington hens where he discovered his masculinity and now basks in glory. All the other roosters we couldn't keep have made their way to various forms of packaging in our pantry and freezer (dried, canned, and frozen). And the remaining fourteen birds are living happily in the main coop, now. 

So I thought I'd introduce those who have made their way so far into our hearts as to have received names. I'll provide baby photos as well, when possible.

Lester Clark. He's that guy. That Australorp rooster guy. The guy who always hops on the chair when the lady stands up just to show his dominance. He crows with a big proud musical voice long before the sun wakes everybody else. He's a good guy, and he's generous with food, usually allowing the hens to eat before he does, and protecting them, always. Beware if you do anything that looks threatening, because he'll stomp his feet at you! And beware if you threaten his masculinity by petting him as if he was a hen or (heaven forbid) picking him up... he'll sit patiently in your arms but as soon as you put him down he'll have to regain that masculinity by quickly mating with whichever hens are nearby.

Meet the Splash. Like every good superhero, he stands tall, protects the weaker among his flock (really just the smallest ladies, since the bigger ones are a little frightening), stands up against tyranny (as long as it's not too too scary), and has an alter ego where he hides between my ankles to get treats and snuggles into my lap for a little nap when he's tired of being a superhero. His voice is rather hoarse but after Lester starts crowing, he does his best to join in with his very rusty, uncertain little crow. He's a Splash Ameraucana and generally hangs out with the smaller hens, where he bravely defends them from unwanted advances of that way-too-big guy. Then he runs away.

Bonus photo: The Splash is not only a superhero -- he's also a parchment scroll mail delivery guy. Like Hedwig, only cooler. And gawkier.


Kalamata is an olive-egger. Or at least we think so, since we didn't order any chicks with feathery feet, and yet seemed to get four of them. The other three had some kind of health problems and we lost them. But Kalamata lives on in her delightfully reserved but curious way. She likes to hop on my lap for a snuggle that lasts about ten seconds, or preferably she likes to nestle on the back of the chair I sit in (you can see her up behind Lester in the photo above). She's always very interested in what's going on, but generally sits back and observes from afar.

Those two lovelies facing each other at the roost are Audrey (left) and Big Bird (right). That's Audrey's baby photo, too. They're crested legbars and will lay blue eggs for us one day. Audrey is very very timid, but likes to stand around my feet and get attention. Big Bird is Rhiannon's special friend and likes to wait in the coop each morning so that she'll be lifted onto Rhiannon's shoulder and can be carried around for the morning chores.

That's Blue. We don't know yet if they're a pullet or a cockerel because they're a Jersey Giant, and growing more slowly than the rest. Blue is a little aloof, as you can see even in their baby photo. They go around minding their own business, munching some tasty grubs, checking out the passing cats and dog, and just generally being independent. I really hope they're a hen because they're so beautiful and I'd like more eggs, but we'll have to wait and see.

Fluffy Face! Isn't she just adorable? She's our funny little white Ameraucana hen, and is even more independent than Blue. She really doesn't like to hang out with anybody and just waits until they're gone to come for treats or even doesn't come at all because actually she probably knows where something tastier is. If you asked her something she would answer 'hmph' if she could, but she can't because the only sound she can make is that of a squeaky barn door...

Meet Francey. She's very stalwart. We're not sure what breed she is since we didn't order any barred chicks, but possibly an Orpington or Orpington cross. She doesn't care what she is because she's just so self-assured. She often just stands and stares right at me, thinking her chicken thoughts and not posturing at all.

Lastly, the Grey Lady. She has a sister named Peeves, who is plain too peevish to photograph. The Grey Lady isn't quite as mean as her sister. Just does her best to get what she wants, usually by slipping in quietly and simply snatching whatever morsel from somebody else and then running away quickly with it, often loudly. They're not very nice ladies, but they do well for themselves, and nobody bothers them (who would dare). Like every good poltergeist, they're just there. Nothing you can do about it but learn to cope.



Friday, August 28, 2020

The Medicine Forest my Parents Gave Me: how exploring and knowing our place in the ecosystem builds resilience


Once I lost my son in the forest. We were heading home through ferns taller than his three-year-old self, he carrying a harvest of licorice ferns and I carrying his baby sister and some oyster mushrooms. He followed along behind me, and when I turned around, he was gone. I called repeatedly. I retraced my steps. I gripped by baby girl to my chest and started running, panicking, and-- there he was, nestled into a sword fern, chewing on a piece of licorice fern root. He looked up blandly at my stricken face and said "I'm just havin' some licorice root." His trance-like state may have been induced by the well-known calming medicine of licorice fern, or it may have been just his joyful state of mind after a couple of hours spent wandering the forest with his mother and sister.  

My kids and I spent part of most days of their childhood out in the forest, exploring. That's what I did as a mother because it's what I knew to do from my own childhood, spent here in this same little west coast paradise. When my head hurts, I go outside. Maybe I chew an alder leaf like the wild aspirin that it is; maybe I just lift my face to the fresh air, sun or rain. When my heart hurts, I lie in the moss and let it soak up my tears. Licorice fern soothes me; so does the feeling of bark, or the creek water between my toes. When I'm hungry, I eat beans off the vine on my porch, or berries and other treats from the woods; when I'm hungry for adventure I go exploring in my medicine forest. I made up that word. Medicine Forest. It's like a permaculture food forest, but with emphasis on its healing power. My parents didn't purposely give me a medicine forest, but they did give it to me, and I'm passing it on to my children. Let me explain.

That's me with our chickens in the early 1980's, rabbit hutches on the right, and winter-covered veggie garden, behind.

I grew up in a pretty typical single family house - a modified double-wide mobile home, actually - on a five-acre piece of land that my parents purchased in 1980. This land was forest when they bought it. We used to come up here and have a picnic on the slope they hoped would one day be their building site. They let my brother and me free-range all over this place, climbing trees, damming creeks, digging great big holes and picking and using whatever plants we felt like, as they slowly cleared the land and built up what is now a developed property. We raised chickens, meat rabbits, and pigs (but only once because the experience was too heartbreaking for all of us to repeat). My parents grew food crops and allowed us to plant our own experimental gardens, while also insisting that we should help with the family food operations. My brother and I were never forced to kill or butcher animals, but because our parents nurtured our curiosity, we both knew how to clean a rabbit or chicken by the time we were twelve, and by the time we were fifteen we could cook a good family meal from the foods we'd grown or wildcrafted. We didn't even know the word wildcraft, though. We were just "picking nettles", or "finding a mushroom."

My son helping my mother pick nettles in the early 2000's.

Living in and with the forest our parents were busy turning into a home was just "life". We could pick indigenous trailing blackberries from the hillside, invasive Himalayan blackberries from the place Pappa was trying to get them out of the creek, or cultivated boysenberries from Mum's garden. Same difference. They all make good pie, if you don't eat them all before getting them home. And whether they make it home or not, your belly is full with the food, your heart is full of the joy, and your mind is full of knowing every detail of your home. That's a medicine forest. It's a place where everything is living and growing together -- humans included. It's a place you've grown so connected to that just living there heals you from the inside out.

My daughter reading in a tree she knows every inch of.

Somehow through my own teaching and parenting over the years I have come to recognize that, just like the best learning happens when we're inspired by connections to our own experience, the best living happens when we're connected to everything around us. Think of it this way: you care much more about your own backyard than someone else's. You have a lot more interest in your own little potted plant than in the weed at the edge of the pavement, or some tree in a forest far away. So somebody teaching you about a baobab tree might have a bit of a tough job keeping your interest. But what if that tree was yours? My friend went to Africa and really got to know baobab trees - and they became hers. When we connect personally with things, they matter, and mattering strengthens our neural pathways. That's great for learning, but how does this have to do with my medicine forest? Well, this place matters to me. It matters so much that I've spent about thirty years of my life exploring here, both as a child and now with my own nearly-grown children. I know exactly which part of which slope of which creek has the best clay for sculpting, and which part will still have a pool of water and some desperately-hungry trout in August. I know where the elusive white slugs live. I know how berries' flavours change with the weather and with the time of day. This deep understanding of my little wilderness is my connection, and it's why this place is my medicine.

On top of being important to my own health, my experience of exploring this place has made me resourceful and resilient. We all learn more from observing the people around us than from being taught conventionally, and I learned from watching my parents develop this land; their need to be resourceful when we had no electricity, no toilet, or no income. I learned from watching them not just survive here, but keep working even in the face of failure to find joy and wellness in whatever this land and life had to offer. The moss is not my weeping pillow because I'm an idyllic child from a book about fairies; it's my pillow because sometimes I was just plain too sad, as a child, and the moss was what I found to comfort me. My kids don't harvest nettles for brownie points or allowance; they don gloves and harvest them just because that's what we do for Easter. They get stung and they complain at me, but they also delight in testing their brawn by picking them bare-fingered or by eating them raw. They're building resilience, just like I once did. We're in this ecosystem for better and worse and every day that falls in between. Like the plants, we'll thrive or die as part of this, so we're doing our best to thrive.

My kids at fifteen and eighteen processing wild burdock root for tea.

The business of gardening and developing the physical ecosystem is nowhere near as idyllic as I imagine it sounds. There are brutal realities in nature that hurt like hell. Our crops fail, our chickens get sick and I have to put them down; sometimes we fight and resent each other's impact in the ecosystem. Sometimes money is short, time runs out, and family or world tragedy makes us doubt we can succeed. But experiencing these things, feeling them and accepting them is part of the whole picture. My medicine forest is the ecological basket that holds our family, and the love and knowledge we cultivate here, among the weeds and the crops and the chickens, the weather and the water and our own bodies living. When I leave this place, my medicine forest is carried in the knowledge of my body and mind, to nourish and grow with other ecosystems. It's a conscious choice I make to see my surroundings and live in health with them, as a part of them. 

In a monoculture garden, one invasion of a particularly voracious insect can wipe out a whole crop, with nothing remaining to re-seed. The earth itself becomes a barren place, unable to nurture new-fallen seeds without significant help from humans. In a food forest, insects may devour a plant here or there, but the diversity of the community will discourage any one plant or insect from taking over, and thus ensure that enough remains to keep the community thriving. The dead plants along with the dead insects and the droppings of all those who foraged in the forest will feed the earth, ensuring that all the fallen seeds have at least a chance to grow. In fact, the richness of the soil even means the earth will hold more water, making everything thrive more easily.

My parents have asked me how I came to know all these things, and I said "from you", because it was their willingness to let me explore that gave me the gift of knowing my ecosystem. It was their willingness to let me grow my own experimental gardens, and now to rent us a piece of their land and still let me grow my own experimental gardens that gave me the gift of my medicine forest. Sometimes they don't like the look of my unkempt yard, my son's experimental tree fort project, or the weed piles I leave laying around. But they let me and their grandchildren keep living and exploring here, because they're watching the growth of our medicine forest. And sometimes - just once in a long while - we discover things we can teach them, too. Explorative parenting is like that. It's looking at the whole family as a forest instead of one plant seeding another. Our family is like a forest of possibility, where everybody lives in community, exploring and discovering and balancing and sharing, as we all put our roots further and further down, and our branches further and further to the sky.





Sunday, August 23, 2020

Celebrating my daughter quitting school!

 

My smart, motivated, academically capable daughter just quit school -- and we're celebrating! Yep. Last year I wrote about our son, who, after a lifetime of eclectic and meandering unschooling, decided to graduate and pulled a high school grad with honours out of a hat in just two months at the end of his grade eleven year. You can do that. He did. Now I'm writing to tell you that our fifteen-year-old daughter Rhiannon, who has been mastering the distributed learning system towards what we thought was going to be a much more straightforward high school grad, has quit. She's decided to register as a homeschooler, not attempt high school graduation, and work on her own pursuits, instead. And I think it's the best decision of her academic career so far.

For those not familiar with the basic options available to kids in our province (British Columbia), let me briefly explain. We have five legal options: 

  • Public School: (mainstream "brick and mortar" school run by a school district)
    • terminology: child is "enrolled"
    • attend in-person, generally 5 days/week
    • complete provincial curriculum
    • graduation diploma is expected outcome
    • publicly-funded
  • Independent School: (private school - non-district-affiliated)
    • terminology: child is "enrolled" 
    • attend in-person (usually), generally 5 days/week
    • complete provincial curriculum, sometimes with a little more flexibility
    • graduation diploma is expected outcome
    • partially publicly-funded
  • Public DL: (public distributed learning school run by a school district) 
    • terminology: child is "enrolled"
    • attend in-person 2.5 days/week, OR partially or completely online
    • some PDL schools facilitate home-learning for enrolled students through year-plans and regular reporting by parents or advisor teachers
    • unschooling, diverse curricula or an outside curriculum also sometimes supported
    • complete provincial curriculum, possibly completed independently
    • graduation usually expected outcome
    • publicly funded
  • Independent DL: (independent distributed learning school, not district-affiliated) 
    • terminology: child is "enrolled"
    • attend in-person 2.5 days/week OR partially or completely online
    • some IDL schools facilitate home-learning for enrolled students through year-plans and regular reporting by parents or advisor teachers
    • unschooling, diverse curricula or an outside curriculum also sometimes supported
    • complete provincial curriculum, possibly completed independently
    • graduation usually expected outcome 
    • partially publicly-funded
  • Registered homeschooling: 
    • terminology: child is "registered" as a "homeschooler" under section 12 or 13 of the provincial education act
    • no official teacher oversight or support, although some families hire teachers, tutors, or mentors, and children may attend supervised programs outside of the public system
    • this is the most freedom available in our province, legally, and allows families to live, grow and educate in near-complete freedom
    • no curriculum is provided, but many families purchase or create their own curricula
    • no graduation diploma
    • registered homeschoolers in grades 10, 11 or 12 may enroll in distributed learning courses
  • Unschooling: Unschooling is not a registration/enrollment option. It's a lifestyle and learning-style choice, which can be accomplished in any setting to larger or smaller degrees. Generally, unschooling means following one's interests in life and learning from all experiences. For parents of unschoolers, it means also following personal interests, while supporting and nurturing children who are busy following their own. Registering as a homeschooler gives BC residents the freedom to be unencumbered by regulations and expectations, therefore allowing more time for exploration of personal interests, and it's therefore the easiest way to follow an unschooling pedagogy.

Now back to our family...

Rhiannon hand-binding the children's book she wrote in 2018.
Rhiannon is an academic queen - especially when she can blend school with her passions of teaching young children, musical theatre, and middle grade fiction. She loves to work in a structure, she loves to create neatly-packaged projects and turn them in. She loves to evaluate her progress and climb the ladder of education, just like she's slowly climbing the becoming-an-author ladder. In fact, she loves all these things so much that school held her back. 

When she had free time in her earlier years, she edited and published two magazines for children, wrote a few short books, played endlessly with her dolls and pets and imagined worlds, taught herself to play guitar, created a few complex board games, researched, wrote reports on, and attended online university courses on subjects she was interested in (usually relating to early childhood education), and developed her singing and acting skills. Then through her teens, as she attended public and distributed learning schools to be with her peers, she ran out of time for most of those things. She's been keeping up as well as she can, managing to write a few stories and papers over the years, attending various theatre programs, and usually writing a book or taking an online course in her free time from school. She's developed a children's and YA book review website, written a middle grade novel, and is currently working on a second novel. But her time is always broken by the demands of school, and often those demands have felt like aimless make-work projects just to get through specific hoops to somebody else's goal. Somebody else's goal is graduation. Hers is "to have a nice life", and highschool graduation doesn't seem to be necessary for that.

She does find it important to attend the Reggio Emilia early childhood education program at Capilano University. Not some other school. Not some other pedagogy, because she's known since she researched these things in her own childhood that Reggio is the philosophy best suited to her beliefs. She's been researching careers and schools and entrance requirements for years, and now at fifteen she's in conversation with staff at the university she wants to attend about how to prepare a homeschooler's application. She figures she's got a couple of years to accomplish her pre-university goals, and she'd like to be unencumbered by school, in the meantime. 

This morning she told me, "I feel like everybody thinks that graduating from high school is the big teenage achievement, but if I don’t go to school then I can have other achievements that are even better, like getting a book published."

Knowing that she has managed to write a book and send it to publishers during her otherwise busy grade ten year, I asked her what she expects will be so different about homeschooling.

She leaned against my feet where I sat, and mused, "It used to be stressful because I had so much work to do and it’s now it's stressful because I don’t know how it will all work. It used to be a relief to know what I had to do, and now it’s a relief to know that I can do what I want. Now I can focus on writing books, managing my youTube channel and website, making music, and getting a job, which I find much more exciting than school."

And that, I think, is the key. It's why we've been unschooling all along: Because life should be exciting! Why would we drag through school just to get a diploma, only to get into university, if we can live an exciting life, and then still go to university... arriving full of passion and experience? Or, as my son seems to be leaning towards, potentially unschooling ourselves right through university and into the rest of our lives, dispensing entirely of the education system, and building our lives, piecemeal, according to our passions and opportunities?

This isn't so crazy as it sounds. Most of us are trying to follow our passions and opportunities, often at the same time or combined with our trek through the prescribed journey of life and education. With increasing instability in our economy, climate, and social structure, the gig economy is increasingly accepted as normal, and people of all ages are necessarily becoming more flexible. We're learning that not every year will be the same in our gardens; not every job will be long-term; not every passion needs to remain our focal point. Personally, I've begun blending and re-mixing my diverse careers of parent, explorative learning facilitator and artist, and finding that a whole plethora of new potential titles come out of the mix. Through this pandemic I find myself to be a learning consultant, an artist, a farmer and a YouTuber! Last year that would have sounded ridiculous. My daughter's choice to buck the norm and head to university without a high school graduation looks to me like a very good strategic plan for her, but also a great way to keep herself open and flexible in this constantly-changing world we inhabit.

We were recently celebrating the fact that our son graduated with honours... feeling weird but proud to wear this badge sported by so many conventional parents. And now I wonder if my daughter will feel let down by not having her family celebrate a graduation. Can we celebrate something else, instead? Hell, yes! I'm celebrating her embarking on the path she desires! I'm celebrating the very thoughtful human who is looking critically and creatively at a life in very undesirable pandemic-induced constraints, pulling enormous courage out of a hat and turning her dreams into reality, on her own terms. I encourage all of us to look at our children's accomplishments the same way -- to celebrate their personal choices instead of just the moments they stepped through expected hoops. I can't wait to read my daughter's next book.

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More information for people looking into homeschooling legalities in British Columbia: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/education-training/k-12/support/classroom-alternatives/homeschooling

The photo at the top is my daughter Rhiannon's promotional portrait taken by her brother, Taliesin.