Sunday, May 28, 2023

Unschooling Myths Debunked! (Sort Of)

If you're a new parent just now hearing about the term "unschooling", or a long-time unschooler just wanting some validation; if you're a parent whose kids' friends are unschoolers, or a teacher who has just quit working to unschool their kids (surprisingly common!), or a teacher who just welcomed former unschoolers to a classroom, this is for you. If you're an educator, a parent, a grandparent or a friend with concerns about some unschooled kids you know, this is for you, too.

This list includes many misconceptions that I held, myself, before unschooling and in the first few years of it. Unschooling is a learning curve for the whole family (and community!), and there is no shame in discovering that some beliefs we held were wrong. I'm proud of my growth in understanding, and know I still have plenty to learn. 

And to be perfectly clear, I KNOW that if you're reading this with concerns for kids, those concerns are rooted in love. You adore those kids and you feel they deserve the best. Unschooling isn't always the best, but for many, it is. And I hope this article will not only set your mind at ease, but also inspire some further research, because the foundational concepts of unschooling are valuable for everyone, in every community, in every educational philosophy. 

First, a brief primer: 

What is Unschooling?

"Unschooling is an informal learning method that prioritizes learner-chosen activities as a primary means for learning. Unschoolers learn through their natural life experiences including play, household responsibilities, personal interests and curiosity, internships and work experience, travel, books, elective classes, family, mentors, and social interaction. Often considered a lesson- and curriculum-free implementation of homeschooling, unschooling encourages exploration of activities initiated by the children themselves, under the belief that the more personal learning is, the more meaningful, well-understood, and therefore useful it is to the child. While unschooled students may occasionally take courses, unschooling questions the usefulness of standard curricula, fixed times at which learning should take place, conventional grading methods in standardized tests, forced contact with children in their own age group, the compulsion to do homework regardless of whether it helps the learner in their individual situation, the effectiveness of listening to and obeying the orders of one authority figure for several hours each day, and other features of traditional schooling.

"The term unschooling was coined in the 1970s and used by educator John Holt, who is widely regarded as the father of unschooling. Unschooling is often seen as a subset of homeschooling, but while homeschooling has been the subject of broad public debate, unschooling received relatively little media attention and has only become popular in recent[may be outdated as of April 2023] years."      

Wikipedia, May 26, 2023

diagram of rhubarb, by Rhiannon, age 10
If you haven't read about unschooling before, and find this perplexing or fascinating, you may want to click through to Wikipedia and read the whole article. It's great! Or read books and articles by John Holt. And consider how each of those many ideas applies to our lives and upbringing as humans on this earth. Or as animals. Or as plants. My daughter, at age ten, wrote a blog about gift economies, which was her passion at the time, and she noticed that rhubarb plants were funnelling rain water for themselves, while also redirecting a certain percentage to the ground (and other plants) around them--they were sharing! Because it was good for their shared ecology and future! I am still amazed by the connection she made, and by the extrapolation from humans to plants. The basic concepts of unschooling are like this, too: we can extrapolate these ideas to every aspect of our lives, communities, and ecologies and benefit.

So what are the myths?

Oh, there are plenty... here's my non-exhaustive list of top myths and misconceptions. Some are harmful to our kids' growth and lives in community, some prevent our kids from participating in activities with their friends, and some prevent non-unschooled kids from accessing the same benefits as unschooled kids do. Let's debunk these things so we all can thrive! 💚

Unschooled Kids Are Disadvantaged, Can't Compete in the Real World, or Won't Thrive as Adults

In the last decade, academic research has finally begun to take stock of this issue, thanks hugely to Gina Riley and Peter Gray, and here's a list of papers for you:  And especially, this:

"A sample of 75 adults, who had been unschooled for at least the years that would have been their last two years of high school, answered questions about their subsequent pursuits of higher education and careers. Eighty-three percent of them had gone on to some form of formal higher education and 44 percent had either completed or were currently in a bachelor's degree program. Overall, they reported little difficulty getting into colleges and universities of their choice and adapting to the academic requirements there, despite not having the usual admissions credentials. Those who had been unschooled throughout what would have been their K-12 years were more likely to go on to a bachelor's program than were those who had some schooling or curriculum-based homeschooling during those years. Concerning careers, despite their young median age, most were gainfully employed and financially independent. A high proportion of them-especially of those in the always-unschooled group-had chosen careers in the creative arts; a high proportion were self-employed entrepreneurs; and a relatively high proportion, especially of the men, were in STEM careers. Most felt that their unschooling benefited them for higher education and careers by promoting their sense of personal responsibility, self-motivation, and desire to learn."                

For perspective, the tertiary education enrollment percentage in 2020 was 80% for Canada in 88% for the USA. (Worldbank data) So unschoolers fare about the same as conventionally-schooled kids as far as higher-education enrolment goes--possibly better, in fact, since this data came from 2015, and the World Bank data (from five years later), shows that enrolment has been increasing. It's also becoming much easier for unschoolers to be accepted to colleges and universities without the usual prerequisites, like highschool diplomas. What would the data tell us if it was all current? 

But is tertiary education even necessary for success in adulthood? Unschoolers are questioning this, too. In his article, Survey of Grown Unschoolers III: Pursuing Careers, Peter Gray states that his study "found that most [surveyed unschooled adults] have gone on to careers that are extensions of interests and passions they developed in childhood play; most have chosen careers that are meaningful, exciting, and joyful to them over careers that are potentially more lucrative; a high percentage have pursued careers in the creative arts; and quite a few (including 50% of the men) have pursued STEM careers." 

Of course Gray's article considers both those who attained tertiary education and those who did not, but nearly twenty years of unschooling has shown me that unschooling makes kids particularly skilled at creating meaningful careers via non-traditional avenues, as well as resourceful, in living within their means, finding growth, discovery, and income in unexpected places. The mechanism that promotes this resourcefulness is exploration. Kids who grow up with not only freedom but also the necessity of finding their own paths learn experientially how to make the best of all situations. Most situations aren't managed or directed for them, so they learn to do these things for themselves, often at an earlier age than schooled kids, for whom the path was determined by someone else, and groomed by the thousands or millions of students who walked it, before. 

Kids Need to Learn That Not Everything Is Going to Be Easy

There's an idea that school struggles (failure, bullying, unkind teachers, exhaustion, having to learn things when we don't want to) are helpful for growth. Yes, kids do grow from these experiences, but they're not real-world, and when we leave school we usually find ourselves in very different circumstances. Let's look at a couple of these things individually:

Social issues like unkind teachers and schoolyard (or in-class) bullying can be opportunities for learning to manage difficult situations--especially if there's support to do so. But in larger schools there is rarely support--if adults are even aware of the situation. Part of the reason my partner and I avoided sending our kids to school was that we were both relentlessly bullied throughout school, even sometimes while teachers were watching, and we were never helped. We didn't learn positive social skills from our many years of this experience. We learned not to trust figures of authority, or our peers. My partner learned to hide, and I learned to hate myself. This is not growth. We wanted something different for our kids, and we felt that giving them smaller groups with thoughtful adult oversight (as appropriate) gave them more opportunity to experience varied social situations and grow, without being permanently harmed. For the record, I'm not saying schools can't provide the support needed, but currently, by and large, schools are strapped for human and other resources, and not able to do so.

Having to learn when we don't want to might seem like a normal part of life, but after a couple of decades discovering explorative learning, I've seen that it's not helpful. Sometimes the obscure facts we had to learn in school become cemented later on, when the information becomes relevant, but if kids learn the things to begin with when it's relevant, it's cemented then. So there's nothing lost in not teaching things earlier. Sometimes, in fact, teaching things before children are developmentally ready to learn them, or when it's not yet relevant to their experience, we waste valuable time and energy that might have been used in more directly meaningful activities.

Also, unschooling is not easy. Unschooled kids encounter most of the same challenges that schooled kids do, but are encouraged to work out solutions for themselves, in their own ways, at their own pace. Life is still life, we still live, develop and learn to thrive in the same society, and learning is still learning. It's never easy.

Unschooling Is Only for People Who Can Afford to Stay Home with Their Kids

It breaks my heart to say this, but yes--it's partly true. Definitely in the early years, unschooling can be financially out-of-reach for single and/or low income parents. Also for parents without community support. School (and after-school programs) are a daycare system for many parents. In fact, 

"John Foster (2011, p. 3) asserts that schooling ...tends to evolve in the direction of capitalist-class imperatives, which subordinate it to the needs of production and accumulation. He goes on to claim that public schools are more concerned with compliance and adherence to rules – skills needed for unskilled factory labor – and that a high quality education that focuses on leadership skills is reserved for children of America’s ‘governing class’ in private schools like Phillips Andover Academy (Bush’s alma mater) or Punahou School (Obama’s alma mater)."

~Schneller, Capitalism and Public Education in the United States

I don't have a handy quotation or data source for this, but am acutely aware that for our capitalist economy to function, most adults need to be working outside the home, consuming goods and paying, for most of their lives. The corporations (and elite) who own most of the wealth depend on the majority of the population to be working, in order to continue amassing that wealth. And from an individual middle- or lower-class perspective, the more this continues, the more we'll have to have two incomes just to afford food and shelter, so... schools that function as childcare are a necessity for survival. And survival is increasingly difficult for single parents.

If you're struggling just for food and shelter, you don't have time for stay-at-home-parenting, which is generally required for unschooling in the early years. There are, of course, quite a few families, who out of determination, desperation or luck, manage to work (and unschool) from home. Or who live in community or family situations that enable them to have free, exploration-friendly childcare, while they work. So it's not impossible, but you will never hear me say it's easy.

Unschoolers Are Privileged

Yes, my family is very privileged, not only financially, because my partner makes enough money to support us on his income alone, but also because we have the support of my parents, and because we're resourceful and happy to live with less than many. We did make sacrifices of time, experiences, and money in order to unschool. I also sacrificed what might have been the best years of my career. But I chose to have kids, and raising them to the absolute best of my ability was part of that, so these sacrifices are nothing in comparison to what we've gained. In fact, I don't think of them as sacrifices at all. That--the ability to see and value my privilege--is the greatest privilege I have.

But are we blind to our privilege? Are we greedy? I don't think so. Like many unschoolers, we work to help make unschooling an option for others, to bring the values of it into the community and into the public school systems, as much as possible. We work to promote the idea that freedom in learning and development can create wonderful communities and a prosperous future for humanity (especially in this time where many former careers are being handed over to machines, but that's another story). I think the greatest gift of having privilege is spreading it about. Like those rhubarb plants in my daughter's diagram: You take what you need, and share the rest around, because it's better for everyone in the end.

Unschooled Kids Are Smart. Most Couldn't Teach Themselves.

My kids are no smarter than other kids. They've just been given opportunities (freedom in life and education; time to explore) that many kids don't have, so they do things that seem impressive. They don't do these things because they're smart; they do these things because they had time and energy, while other kids were too busy. 

I've often been told my kids have success because they learned things easily or "so early". No they didn't. They're about average. There's a lot that schooled kids will have been taught that mine never chose to learn. Like how to play football, or the plot synopses of hundred-year-old novels. Like calculus (my daughter) or mental math (my son, though despite this he studied calculus in college). Actually that's a great representation of the way unschooling looks, on paper: scattered. But in truth, while schooled kids often go through the expected routes to complete each step before moving on to the next, they also forget many of the things they were taught on those steps, and still end up in college calculus without being able to easily calculate thirteen minus five in their heads. That's why we have calculators. We access and use and forget and regain the tools we need as we need them. Unschooled kids are no different. Maybe they still learned about plot synopses, but it was because they were going through book reviews online, trying to find their next great read. Actually that might be how schooled kids ended up learning the same thing.

Also, all kids teach themselves. Or they "end up learning". Because learning is about discovery, and discovery comes from exploration, and it's in our nature to explore. From the moment babies discovered their first sensations in the womb, to the first time they discovered they could put their tiny premature thumbs in their mouths, to the moment they took their first steps and later made their first independent purchases, or partnerships... our kids have been exploring and learning all the time. The only difference with unschoolers is that they're encouraged to do so. (And in schools, the best teachers are facilitators of exploration.) The more opportunity kids have to explore and discover, the more they learn.

Unschooled Kids are Weird. And Antisocial.

I've heard this one so many times. Even from my kids' friends' parents. Maybe sometimes unschoolers are weird, but only because we're still in the minority. I'm the first person to admit that unschooling comes at a social cost. Not only because there are very few kids (especially in small communities like mine) who are available for social interaction on school days, but because we're often not welcomed by community programs, or other parents who are worried about exposing their own kids to unschoolers. Want to help? Welcome our kids! You'll get to know us and we'll all get more social interaction (and learning experiences!) It's that easy. 🙂

Unschoolers Are Radical Leftists, Communists, Conspiracy Theorists, Right-Wingers, Etc.

Nope. Well not more than in any community, anyway. We're just people trying to do the best we can for our kids. Unschooling is a radical choice in this stage of our culture's development, but that doesn't mean we're radical in other ways. Well actually... my regenerative garden is seen as radical, too, but I digress. And I suggest there are a lot of radical parents at every public school, as well, including unschoolers. 

Unschoolers Don't Go to School!

Most unschoolers I know went to school at some point for a myriad of reasons. Mostly in lower grades because parents found it necessary for social or childcare reasons, and often in higher grades because the kids wanted to challenge themselves, to hang out with school-going friends, or to obtain some kind of diploma or degree. And unsurprisingly, there is a lot of crossover between education professionals (teachers, aides, tutors, mentors, advisors, and curriculum developers) and unschooling parents. What happens is that when you really learn a lot about how the education system works (and doesn't), and you're really committed to creating a better future for our society's children, you often end up looking into unschooling. If not for your own children, then for how you can implement its benefits in your classroom. As an unschooling parent and explorative learning educator, I've mentored various teachers on how to bring aspects of explorative learning (unschooling) into classrooms (and how to bring classes out of rooms--ha!) Unschoolers most definitely do go to school.

Unschoolers Miss Out on All the Classic Childhood Experiences

This one breaks my heart because in one very important way, it's true. Of course unschoolers usually miss out on classic childhood experiences, like high school grad (and elementary school grad, and kindergarten grad...), and that mean teacher that everybody loved to complain about, and the amazing school trips, and the sports they learned in gym class that most unschoolers don't ever learn. 

I told myself that's OK because lots of kids miss out on expected traditions. As a parent wanting to have made the right choices for my kids, I reminded myself that millions of high-schoolers missed their grads because of COVID restrictions. Kids miss birthday parties because they're bullied and never invited. Kids miss out on sports because they were more interested in arts. Kids miss out on arts because schools aren't funded well enough to offer them... The list of things kids miss out on is endless. But that doesn't make the things unschoolers miss out on any easier on them.

The main thing unschoolers miss out on is a solid peer group. Especially in small communities like mine. No, it doesn't really matter that they missed out on the mean teacher or certain events. What does matter is that they weren't a part of the peer groups that experienced those. They lack the lexicon of all the mainstream kids; the inside jokes, the shared experience. In a big unschooling community this may not be an issue, but for my kids it was.

Of course, despite this, my kids chose to continue unschooling, for the benefits it afforded them. They did soften the social impact some by attending a democratic school for a few years, but it was in the big city, and we lived on an island, so on the whole their unschooled life still came at the cost of peers. I don't regret giving them the option of unschooling, but this is the only cost that has made me question my choices. The only solution I can see is time. Hopefully the increasing trends of explorative learning in schools as well as of unschooling in general will mean that in another twenty years unschoolers will have a big cohort with whom to share experiences and memories. That will be the way we heal this.


I think that's enough of my list. I hope this was enlightening, or comforting, or challenging, or whatever it is you need in your personal journey. I hope if you want to unschool your kids, this set some of your fears to rest. And I hope, like all of us, you keep exploring, discovering, learning, and enjoying the ride.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

How Unschoolers (and all of us) Build Careers

High priority interest for my kids right now: experimental cooking!
My unschooled kids moved out recently, and now I'm processing all the choices we made! It's not so much the unschooling; there is no doubt in my mind that it served us all well. But the smaller choices we made on our twenty-one-year (so far) parenting journey have had huge impacts on our kids' career options; their confidence and courage, and even the way their interests have filtered into their careers. How DO people follow their interests into satisfying lives and careers, and what if they don't? I'm watching my kids' changing lives with fascination, remembering my own early adulthood, and discovering so much about how we grow and build our lives. So I thought I'd write a bit about this, from what is now my contemplation couch in my newly-empty, way-too-quiet nest.

Unschooling in the First Place: Why It Serves Us Well

The root premise of unschooling is freedom to grow along one's own path, following ones own interests. It means not being confined by the needs of classrooms, social expectations, or parents' expectations. Of course, unschooling parents raised in a schooled society (which is most of us) struggle very hard not to reproduce those constraints, so our kids rarely have pure freedom, but with our eyes on the unschooling prize we're supposedly holding that freedom of mind and growth in our hearts, and working towards it. I titled this section in the present tense and with 'us' very intentionally: It doesn't just serve our children well, and it didn't just do so while they lived at home. The freedom and responsibility of making and following all of our own expectations has served each of us well, and it continues to do so, now that the kids have moved out.

Unschooling isn't easy for anybody. That's because it's all about taking life at face value and being responsible for our own actions. It's actually what everyone everywhere is doing every day, but unschoolers do it intentionally--and life is just not ever easy. But it's good. It's good to have to make hard decisions. It's good to be disappointed or hurt and have to become resilient. It's good to learn to honour one's own needs; to put them before conformity, while always keeping the needs of others in mind as well. It's good to learn balance and responsibility and independence. All of these things are values that my various schools attempted to teach me, but I didn't learn them there. I learned them after I left, lived on my own, and began (slowly) taking responsibility for my own life. This is what unschooling does for children (and the caregivers who raise them): It gives them the responsibility as soon as they want it, so they can learn to handle and navigate life as it comes to them, instead of after they get out of school. 

The schooled mindset relies on following a plan laid out by staff and administrators--or by parents and curriculum writers, in the case of homeschooling. The point of unschooling is to step out of that mindset, set our own paths, and fumble along until we meet our own expectations. Or not, as the case may be.

Confidence and Courage

Fumbling and failing is a huge part of unschooling--and life, of course. My partner went to all the schools his parents chose for him, took some courses he liked and some he didn't, had lots of great experiences, and then went to university to study engineering. The first thing he did when he got there was to leave his religion behind. He was called to the university chapel after they got news of his arrival from his parents' church, and he gently told them he wasn't interested. I believe this, and a permanent change from short to long hair were some of the first steps he took towards making his own life-choices. Then he meandered over to a focus on physics and astronomy. It was around this time that I became Wiccan, and started dating conventionally-unacceptable people. Lots of them. I had to find my path! By the time I met my partner, I was no longer Wiccan, having re-embraced my atheist roots, and he was working in a Chinese convenience store and studying computer science. He was deeply interested in philosophy, which he processed muchly through conversations with the people who sat drinking concealed bottles-of-something at his corner-store-coffee-bar during his night-shifts. None of this was where we thought we'd end up when we left high school. It's just the fumbling that adults do, once we are handed the reins to our life and have no actual idea where we're going!
Back to my own (adult) kids: Right now they're experimenting a lot with food. Having moved out of our rural home and into the city, they've discovered all kinds of options for foods that didn't exist when I was doing the shopping. They've already had Door-Dash deliveries, signed up for a local Too-Good-to-Go discount grocery program (through which they've had some successes and some --ew-- failures), and explored all kinds of local grocery stores for the best deals on new and interesting and familiar foods. They sometimes tell us about the meals they invent, or send photos. The biggest deal of the photo up above, for me, is those beautiful smiles. My kids are quite obviously proud of themselves, and what more could I possibly want, as a parent? That pride will buoy them over all the fumbles and tumbles of life.

This fumbling--and the chunks of pride that carry our resilience--is how we build confidence. We experiment and meet failure after disappointment after unexpected adventure, and at every turn in the path we find a little more resilience; a little more determination and courage to make the next decision. To experiment more and learn more. Unschooling is all about facilitating that growth throughout childhood instead of afterwards. (Not that the growth ends with adulthood, as we and my kids are demonstrating!)

How We Follow Interests

As parents, caregivers and educators, we're often focused on identifying our kids' interests so we can support them. Oh--you like circus? Let's find a circus program! and Oh, you're interested in science? Here's a microscope. Sometimes these 'supports' are just the ticket our kids needed to the railroad of their dreams. Sometimes they couldn't care less, and even worse, sometimes our enthusiasm tethers them to fleeting interests that weren't empowered by or even embodied in the supports we offered. 

As a parent I've often felt disappointed when my kids didn't use the fancy tools we got for their supposed interests. I know I passed that disappointment onto them, and it turned into self-doubt, shame, and confusion about the paths they were on. How could my music-loving daughter possibly not want to play the Appalachian dulcimer that my mother bought for her? It's a tradition among the women of our family, for goodness sake, and she already plays guitar! It took me quite a while to leave my disappointment behind and accept that her journey might not include dulcimer. Or even music. She's now nannying and working as an assistant dog-trainer, while studying to become a certified positive reinforcement trainer. None of this was what I expected when she was ten and dressing up as Melanie Martinez. But she's happy. Likely happier, in fact, than she might have been trying to climb the ladder to pop stardom. And in the end, isn't that all we actually wanted for our children? 
Oh, and the dulcimer? She took it with her to the city, where it's hanging on her wall, and enjoys being played there by her and her friends. What looks like rejection to us parents is sometimes actually just reinvention.

Having an interest-driven career isn't even necessarily important. Or a single career. I often think my partner may have gotten more personal growth out of his needs-based night-shift convenience store job than he's ever gotten since out of his programming career. Now he follows his personal interests on YouTube, raising his children, building his home, and down at the docks talking to some boat guys. He likes his job as a software developer because it's stable, the people he works with are generally friendly, and he doesn't have to take it home with him. I guess for some people that's what matters in a career!

I'm not like that. I can only concentrate on an absolute passion. Too bad for math class and social studies in high school. I became an artist and then an art teacher, and then as I passionately unschooled my kids I drifted on to become a wilderness and explorative learning educator. Now they've moved out and I'm taking my art career more seriously. And it doesn't seem odd at all to me that all my installations are about social change. I guess what didn't interest me in high school does now. (What looks like rejection might just be reinvention...) Because I found out through fumbling how social science matters in my world. But most of my time is spent gardening or raising chickens. And I like that too.

What About Skill-Building?

What if my kid actually wants to become a concert violinist, and I allowed him to skip out on lessons just because his heart felt like digging a "mine" beside our driveway?? Sure. It could happen. (That was my son.) And what if we destroyed their passion for violin by pushing lessons when they just weren't into that? (Speaking from experience, here...) What if we destroyed their confidence in making choices for themselves by telling them we knew better, and that one day they would WANT to have learned to play violin? (Also us...) So my son never did pick up his violin again. He taught himself piano, instead, and digital music, and now sometimes he uses his music in videos. His career focus at the moment is digital art, but self-taught music makes him happy. We can't know what skills our kids will need, and we certainly can't know when or why they'll need them.

The amazing thing is, they WILL build them when they need them, if we can keep our fears and convictions out of their way. Once I finally stepped out of my kids' way, they taught themselves all kinds of skills they really needed: Math, piano, cooking, social skills, and even job-seeking and career-building. Once in a while they came to me for help, like when they wanted me to read over their resumes, and it felt like all the sparkles of joy got dumped on my head!!! Sometimes our kids do need us, but they need to be on their own for both skill-building AND deciding what skills to build. No matter how painful the process is for us parents to watch.

Building Careers

What career? What goal? What if "having an interest" is not the goal? What if instead we spend our kids' lives encouraging flexible navigation of any and all interests? We don't all have a single interest, and in fact most of us are always navigating a few. And they change. Maybe our kids were going to be concert pianists yesterday and today they're going to be magicians or farmers. Tomorrow they just want to bake cookies. Not for a career. Just because YUM. Maybe we work at our dream job, and focus all life around it. Or maybe we volunteer at what we're passionate about, and work to make ends meet. Or maybe we just work at a place where our friends work because it makes us happy; maybe friends are the current passion. Or cooking new foods each night, or reading, or parenting...
I have no clue who my children will be in another ten or twenty years. I have no clue who I'll be! But we keep on unschooling through life--reminding ourselves of the importance of recognising and following our hearts' needs--and we trust that we'll build the courage and resilience we need to stay upright around the unexpected turns. Or to right ourselves after we fall. We don't know where we're going, and we're learning to love the journey.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Big Changes at the Phantom Rickshaw

Big change is afoot at the Phantom Rickshaw house. It's been the nest of this family unit for over twenty two years now, and the space where I figured out attachment parenting, then unschooling, and made explorative learning theory my main occupation. As of next week it will be officially an "empty nest". Both kids are moving to the city, which brings up so much for me around parenting, personal growth, my relationship with my partner, Markus, and also life-choices in general. 

For the curious: The not-so-kids have rented a sweet little basement suite in an ideal spot, right between beaches and dog-parks, and Rhiannon's various city jobs. They and Rhiannon's dog Clara are sharing a two-bedroom, which they were extremely lucky to find in these housing crisis times. Taliesin is a digital artist, and though he's been contracting from home during the pandemic, is looking forward to finding an office job where he can get out of the house more, now that he's in the city. Rhiannon works as a nanny and dog trainer, while also still studying with the Karen Pryor Academy. It's amazing to me that my kids are such good friends that they look forward to starting their adult life together. And it's hugely reassuring, of course, to know that for the first year, at least, they'll have each other to come home to. That sibling connection is partly due to attachment parenting and unschooling, I think, since it's not too uncommon amongst the unschooling families we know.

I hadn't anticipated what a huge deal this move would be until I gave my glowing reference to my kids' new landlord. Then it hit me: This is it! Every triumph and mistake I've made over the course of the past couple of decades is going to play out now, and I can't fix the mistakes. Markus and I put together a first aid kit for the kids, and we're in the process of writing down all the recipes we anticipate they might want, in boxes that Markus made. He also took them to Value Village for some home essentials, and we bought them mattresses from IKEA. But that's all just stuff. How do we give them the courage and resilience they'll need in the wide open world? As an unschooling family, we tried to expose them to a variety of experiences all along, encouraging and leading them to explore. All we can do now is hope the seeds we've tried to plant in them will grow as they continue to experience life (mostly) without us.

I recently watched this poignant short documentary on APTN, where Harry Schooner says "the elders blessed me to be a thunder mask carver. They did a ceremony for me when I was about seven years old." I've heard so many times of such hereditary blessings, but today, as my kids are both packing for their exit from the family nest, I find myself reaching back to the lives we've built, trying to cobble some idea of how we might have given them any such thing: What are our kids carrying with their hearts into their new lives? If I look at my kids I can see their strengths and passions, all nurtured through our unschooling lifestyle. Is unschooling (the freedom and experience of choosing their own paths) the blessing we gave them? I don't know. It doesn't seem the same. I've wondered if perhaps their knowledge of the land, the local ecology, and animal husbandry is a kind of blessing that they will carry with them. I certainly carried that on from my childhood. We have chicks hatching tomorrow, and my kids know the sound of the hen singing them into the world. I hope these memories will stay with them.

So in my somewhat despaired wondering, I read this to my kids, and I'm happy to report that they feel respected for the roles they've built for themselves in their family and community--even if they're eager to leave for the bustle and friendships of the city. Rhiannon tells me she was recently asked to work again for the daycare program she worked with when she was younger. Taliesin is frequently called upon for cooking fabulous meals, taking photos, or helping solve problems. I'm feeling a little more positive about this, now we've talked about it.

It's been hard for me to face the loss of my kids in my space. All the things we've shared that we'll do mostly separately, now. Like toothbrushing, even! I like that we talk to each other through our toothpaste before running off to spit! I like all the unique-to-us things that we do and say, and I wonder how these things will carry over into our new lives. We have traditions of celebrating the food we grew, of going to see and relish natural phenomena like phosphorescence in the late summer (we laugh and call them 'flossers'), the frozen lake in the winter, and the young nettles in spring. Will my kids look for spring greens in the city? Or maybe come home for the harvest? Will they phone me while brushing their teeth?

Most of the time I feel like all I have is questions, and I guess that's a huge part of this transition. Anticipation and a wide-open future is a pretty great thing. I feel that way about my relationship with Markus, too. We sure aren't the people we were before we had kids, and we're starting to put out little experimental tendrils to the future we're going to share. For the first time, the kids declined to make Christmas decorations this year, and Markus and I ended up making them together in the night, just the two of us. It was strange and strangely beautiful. I discovered he likes sparkly blue ribbons.

After the question of how my kids will fare and grow, 'out there', the personal growth bit is probably the biggest deal and mystery for me. I lived parenting with every cell of my body, and now what?? People tell me I'm still a parent--well yes, obviously--but it's not going to be my every day, anymore. I built a life out of volunteering, teaching, and more recently explorative learning consulting with other parents and educators, and this blog was in many ways the face of that life. Parenting and teaching was the inspiration for what I wrote here, and all the progress I made in explorative learning theory. Now that long covid has made most teaching impossible for me, and my kids are increasingly less connected to my daily life, I find I have very little to write. People have also stopped contacting me for consulting. It's like the universe is preparing me for the shift but I don't know where I'm shifting to! I guess I'll drift into the art career I've always kept percolating on the back burner. Even my art has been largely parenting-focused, though. More questions. 

I guess I probably feel like most parents of kids moving out: Like I'm standing on the edge of a very tall cliff, in a cool, fresh, unpredictable wind, arms spread with little kites attached, and no idea where or how I'll land. It's terrifying, thrilling, and deeply strange.

Friday, October 21, 2022

More than Just Food: Why I Love My Veggie Garden

Last night my partner, daughter and I sat around pulling freshly-washed kale leaves off their stems, inspecting each one for aphids, and giving the odd stem to our kale-loving dog, Clara. My partner arranged them in the dehydrator, and this morning I took them out and poked them carefully through a funnel into a jar, using a wooden spoon that's entirely the wrong shape for the job, but manages. I thought to myself how much more efficient the job would be if I had a giant funnel! I could dump the whole bowl of leaves on and just press it in with a perfectly-sized dowel--or something. And immediately I knew that was wrong. Hastening the job would mean taking the love out of it. I'd lose all the time for happy thoughts about warm winter potatoes and casseroles full of our homegrown kale, and all the culinary experiments to come. In these somewhat inefficient chores, I find time for creative thinking, and, more importantly, appreciation of my life and the choices I've made.

We started growing vegetables in earnest at the beginning of the pandemic, imagining that it might be a good idea, in case supply chains were disrupted. Well they sure were disrupted, although more by climate and political disasters than by covid, in the end. And then the inflation. Now, as we slowly learn what we can grow in our yard, and how to make the most of our climate and opportunities, we save probably over a thousand dollars a year growing our own veggies, and on top of that we have a kind of food security that was unavailable to us, before. This benefit grows every year as we improve our skills and methods. If we really just *can't* buy food anymore, we're reasonably confident that we can grow enough to survive, as long as we find a space to plant more grains and potatoes. We've developed an understanding of feeding ourselves that we sorely lacked, before.

But what kind of life would ours be if the job of feeding ourselves was a burden? I don't want to live through hard times in misery and desperation! I want to find the positives in whatever our capitalist decline throws at us. And gardening is a huge positive, if I choose for it!! Do I like the endless weeding? No! Do I like watering again and again, watching things die fruitless after I nurtured them for months, and running the well dry just trying to save it all? NO! The stress and the worry? NO! But ... I'm saving myself a different stress and worry, and I'm learning to live with these ups and downs that are and have always been a part of farming... just rather more extreme now with climate change. I'm learning to make use of the monotonous tasks of farming as space for creativity and mindfulness.

So this year we had an extremely late and cold spring. There was a bitter cold snap just as the apples flowered, and very few were pollinated, since the bees were in hiding. When summer finally arrived in late July, the bees hid again during a heat-wave just as the beans flowered, so we had very few beans in the end, too. Heat waves also killed off the summer lettuces and two of our hens, and scorched our peppers so they rotted before they ripened. The very late summer burned on into mid-October, with a deepening drought that threatens to kill all kinds of things, across our province. This sounds like a disaster movie. Or the Grapes of Wrath. But some things, like the brassicas, did thrive, and yesterday--the last sunny day before the much-prayed-for-rains--we harvested what needs to stay dry, and were reminded of the goodness in this life we chose.

Apples, quinces, kale, tomatoes, herbs, celery, cauliflower, broccoli, and seeds for planting next year all were gathered and carried in to our kitchen table. Even three last zucchinis! As I mentioned, we spent the evening processing kale, and we'll likely process the apples and quinces this weekend, while revelling in the glorious, glorious rain. We're planning to just sit under our covered porch and watch the rain fall, this afternoon. There is SO MUCH to be grateful for. I'm so incredibly glad we chose to grow our food together, to learn what we need to know in order to do so, and to develop an appreciation for all the things that make life possible: the seasons, the rain and sun, the persistence of life and good spirits, and loved ones with whom to relish it all.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Raising Disciplined Adults without Punishment

my 20-year-old son with one of his current devices
I was hauling on my son's laptop so hard I wrenched my shoulder. I heard myself blaming him for the injury over the grunting of his determined self, gripping and salvaging the one device he owned from my attempted theft. I have no idea what reprehensible act he'd committed. It may not have been related to the laptop, even. I just remember that I thought his behaviour was absolutely inexcusable, and the only power I had to change him was the threat of taking away something important to him. So when the threat didn't work, I felt obliged to act on it. And obviously he felt obliged to save his laptop. And that's how I ended up having a physical altercation with my beloved son. I didn't recognize the harm I'd done until I had the laptop, and looked back into his anguished face to realize that the important thing I'd taken from him wasn't the laptop--it was his faith in me. The look was betrayal. It took us a long time to repair our bond, and a lot of personal growth for me to forgive myself for that. And in that time I really cemented my belief that the only way to raise responsible adults with a sense of self-esteem and self-discipline is to do so without imposed discipline.

I feel like it's important to tease apart our culture's complex understanding of the word "discipline".

Merriam Webster says that discipline is:

1    a : control gained by enforcing obedience or order
      b : orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior
      c : self-control
2 : punishment
3 : training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character
4 : a field of study
Some of those are straightforward, but there's an impossible contradiction in there, too: The opposing natures of self-control vs. control gained by external enforcement. They're not just different; they're mutually destructive. We all want our kids to develop self-control, but our conviction that they can develop it by being forced, coerced, bribed, and threatened is simply wrong. And we're busy raising consecutive generations of people who have to tumble through adult life on a constant painful roller-coaster of building, breaking, fighting, and rebuilding self-control. 
Really? Am I out to lunch? No, I'm not. Study after study (after study after study) shows that punishment (call it "imposed negative consequences" if you like) leads not to better behaviour in the long term, and often to a lack of responsibility for one's actions. "We showed that acting under coercion deeply modifies the sense of being responsible for outcomes of one’s actions. It also attenuates the neural processing of outcomes. Both results can be interpreted as a cognitive operation of “distancing,” or reducing the linkage between one’s own decision-making, action, and outcome." (*Caspar, Christensen, Cleeremans, Haggard.)
To put that in tangible terms for us parents and educators of kids, teens, and young adults, the more we make the rules and enforce them, the more our kids learn to follow blindly, without taking real, thought-out responsibility for their choices and actions. Obviously, that's not what we want. But in the moment it's so hard to change the behaviour our whole culture has lived with for so long, that we were generally raised with ourselves, and that produces the behavioural results we want, instantly. If I really need my kid to get the chores done, I can just bribe him with extra TV time, and he does the job! If I really need him to get his homework done; to obey my rules, etc. etc. I can threaten to take away his devices or even just hint at the threat of my pending anger and he'll obey, right? 

Yeah. I've been down that road--as a kid and as a parent. And I did not like the place it led to, which in the short term was generally discord or all-out rebellion, and in the long term was apathy. 
I could write another few thousand words about the harm done to our psyches and our culture at large by imposed "discipline" getting in the way of self-discipline. But none of us has to look further than our own memories and parenting experiences (or just school, policing, or public space experiences) to find examples of times we or our kids surrendered agency to just follow blindly, and might have done better if we'd retained our agency. I want this article to be about solutions, so here goes. This is pretty much a list of things I keep in mind, regarding how my children will develop self-discipline. I'm not a psychologist; not any kind of "expert", but I'm a parent and educator who was once a child, and has put a great deal of thought, research, and practice into this topic. These are the things I think about, especially in my own family, and I encourage anyone to explore these ideas for themselves and their families.

I think one of the deepest, most foundational concepts that leads to self-regulation, self-discipline, independent thinking, and a sense of self-worth is respect. As parents, we often demand respect, but respect is mutual. It's built into the word: re:spect. Looking back at. It goes two ways. So how are we respecting our children? How are we seeing them looking at us, and looking back at them with open hearts and minds?
Respect is so basic that the exchange of it begins when our kids are infants. Instead of respecting their needs for sleep, food and connection, we often try to coerce their needs into our schedule. I mean, it's obviously better for our own physical and emotional health, and that of the rest of the family, but is it better for them? It means that in the first days of their lives, they have already lost determination of meeting their most basic needs. And it continues from there: We want to talk to them when we have time; we want them to learn the things that we think they should learn at the times we think they should learn them, and we often don't see the value of their play. In fact, we use the word "play" to devalue the work they are doing to grow.

How can we change this? Obviously, in a world that still expects children to conform and be unobtrusive, it's nearly impossible. But our homes are (hopefully) our domains, so that's where we can start. It begins with attachment parenting practices: listening and learning from our children, and reminding ourselves every single day that their needs are genuine, and should be respected. Even when we don't see the value in what our children are doing (or we don't understand why they're hungry again, or why they need more time than we have to give), this concept is paramount. 

When we respect our kids' needs, even if we don't understand them, we give our kids the idea that their needs matter, and that they are responsible for communicating them (and later, for meeting them). If my little one says he needs to pee, and I take him a dozen times but he never pees, it doesn't mean he didn't need to pee--it may just be that he's learning how to perceive his bodily needs; how to determine the proper time to go to the toilet, and how to regulate his body and needs. It may take him months of false-attempts to get it right, and the more we interfere, the longer he'll take to truly know his body and his need to use the toilet. Similarly, if we hold back dessert, or use it as a bribe to get our kids to eat vegetables, we've set up an artificial consequence that interferes with our kids' own bodily determination and regulation. Sometimes we fail to recognize that children are making choices because of experiences we aren't aware of. A University of Granada study suggests "that the bitter taste of calcium, present in vegetables such as spinach, collard greens, cabbage, onions, chard or broccoli, can be a factor negatively influencing children's consumption of vegetables." (**Dominguez, University of Grenada.) So all that time we called them "picky eaters", our kids were just tasting something we had learned to ignore.
Part of respect is consent. Of course we all want to normalize asking for and giving consent, but I personally have sometimes forgotten that this normalization begins with me. So I've created psychological reminders for myself to, for example, ask my kids' permission before posting anecdotes or photos of them. They don't always give it, and that's mine to deal with, not theirs. Another challenge for me is accepting their non-consent and not nagging or trying to convince them. I'm working on it. This article is published with my son's consent.
How is respect (or, as I've described, re:seeing our children's needs) related to discipline? Much of the disciplinary action taken against children is in an effort to force them to conform. Maybe, instead of expecting them to conform to our needs, we need to conform to theirs. Or, at least, recognize and provide for them.
How can our children safely state their needs to us if they risk punishment for doing so? Most of us probably lost our kids' trust a very long time before we even considered trusting them. And how are we earning their trust? Obviously, an absence of punitive actions in their lives would provide that safe place for them, as would a community of adults who are open and honest, engendering trust and trustworthy behaviour in the whole family. Like respect, trust is mutual.
"Our goals, aspirations and outcomes are dependent on the collaborative effort of those around us. In environments with higher trust levels people are more willing to take the risks necessary for truly significant advances."  ~Trust Unlimited
Kids know when we're dishonest; when we're uncomfortable sharing, and they learn to mediate their own behaviour both to avoid danger, and to mimic ours. They learn to stop asking questions when they can't trust the answers they're receiving. They learn to lie when honesty is met with disapproval or even anger. They learn not to trust themselves, when we don't trust them. I envision a future (and I know plenty of families who are living this reality already) where children are heard, respected, and trusted automatically, from the moment they're born. The children of these families are honest and take great responsibility for their own actions. Because when we gave them our trust, they understood that we trusted them to be responsible, and they rose to the challenge.
Agency and Empowerment
Humans of every age are really good at rising to challenges. It makes us feel fabulous to succeed, so we work for it with abandon, when given the opportunity. The unschooling movement has shown that children who are given agency with their own education become empowered, determined, and responsible young adults. Universities are welcoming them with open arms--even without highschool displomas--because self-motivated people like that are a benefit to them. What happens when we empower our kids emotionally, in the same way?

My son is twenty, now, and I asked him to talk a bit about self-discipline--for this article, but also because I'm curious how my attempts at parenting towards agency and empowerment have worked out for him, in this regard. His response was, "In some ways I have good self-discipline, and I think I'm getting better at figuring out what methods work. I often struggle with keeping good habits and getting rid of bad ones, and over time I've found that willpower alone doesn't usually work, and leaves me feeling defeated when nothing changes. Instead I now prefer to find ways to make the goals I want to achieve easier." (Taliesin)
Life is never easy. Self-discipline, empowerment, lifestyle, personal values, and questions of identity are always going to be a complex journey for each of us, but I'm happy my son is able to feel in charge of his journey, as well as able to articulate and share it.

The reason my son is willing to share his thoughts here is that our relationship is built on attachment. Yes, it goes without saying that there's also his hard-won confidence, our mutual trust and respect, and his maturity. But it's our attachment that laid the foundation for all of this, and my admittedly frequent efforts to salvage our attachment when my parenting choices and personal mistakes broke it. 
I broke our attachment often. In times of weakness I criticized, yelled at, and generally set a terrible example for my kids. I even purposely tried to Ferberize him as a baby, when I hadn't yet understood his nightly agony for what it was and just wanted to get some sleep (I sobbed at his bedroom door until I gave up, thankfully before he did). I bribed him to learn to use the toilet as a toddler, and when he was older I took away his computer. None of it served my purposes, and every single time I had to rebuild our attachment. Any punitive measure breaks the trust and attachment between adult and child, and further impedes the child's ability to grow and self-regulate. Here's a description of how that happens, specifically with time-outs:
"In most cases, the primary experience a time-out offers a child is isolation. Even when presented in a patient and loving manner, time-outs teach them that when they make a mistake, or when they are having a hard time, they will be forced to be by themselves—a lesson that is often experienced, particularly by young children, as rejection. Further, it communicates to kids, “I’m only interested in being with you and being there for you when you’ve got it all together.” The problem is, children have a profound need for connection. Decades of research in attachment demonstrate that particularly in times of distress, we need to be near and be soothed by the people who care for us." 
"When children concentrate on their horrible luck to have such a mean, unfair mom or dad, they miss out on an opportunity to build insight, empathy, and problem-solving skills. Putting them in time-out deprives them of an opportunity to build skills that other types of discipline could focus on."  (***Siegel and Payne Bryson)
We know it's essential for our kids to experience attachment, compassion, and opportunities for growth. It's essential that we don't isolate or otherwise punish them. So how can we lead? How can we ensure they don't make harmful choices? It's terrifying to just let go of the reins and have faith in a child who is only just beginning life's journey! It's terrifying to imagine that just my undying love will be enough. But it has to be. And some consideration of the following...

I haven't been a great model for my kids in many ways, but it has not escaped me how important this is. My first boyfriend's mother once told me, as she butted out her cigarette at the dining room table, "I always tell my kids to do what I say, not what I do". I was sixteen at the time, and remember thinking that was a great thing to say, for a mother who couldn't stop smoking herself, but hoped her kids wouldn't follow suit. 
A few decades later I still hold a special place in my heart for that woman who welcomed me into her home and heart and life so generously. And it occurs to me that I, at least, did learn quite a bit from her modelling. I have never smoked, but she was one of the adults who spoke to me with respect and honesty, and I not only admired that, but have emulated it without even thinking. In that moment of saying something that utterly goes against conventional wisdom (there are plenty of studies showing that kids are in fact very likely to carry the same traits, habits, and viewpoints as their parents, regardless of attempted countermeasures). My boyfriend's mother was just being herself: open, honest, caring, hopeful, and determined. And I followed. It isn't always the things we think we're modelling that we pass on. Thank you, Sherrie.
But sometimes we do see ourselves passing on undesired habits to our children. Then, I think, it's time for patience and compassion with ourselves; acceptance that we can't climb every mountain at once. Neither can our kids. Sometimes we make change so easily; sometimes it takes us generations, and sometimes we take many steps backwards along the way. We really don't get further by beating ourselves up over our failures, so what's the point? Just like imposed punishment (call it external discipline), guilt over our failures is more likely to be a stumbling point than an inspiration to grow. We can be gentle with ourselves, remind ourselves that this is where we are in our journey, and empower ourselves to carry on forward.

Similarly, we can empower our children, not only by having patience with them and accepting that their journey may not be what we expected, but by modelling patience with ourselves. I'm really terrible at this. I learned in school that failure is not acceptable, and I learned from many adults' modelling to feel sorry. But as a parent I discovered how harmful my guilt and shame is to my children, and the last thing I want is for them to live under the burden of shame that I bear. So this is something I'm adamantly trying to change. It's probably the hardest change I've made in all my life. Sometimes it looks like me creeping out of my room after running away, and forcing my mouth to say "I shouldn't have run away". Sometimes it's simply a matter of gently stating my needs, before denying them becomes a problem. This is how I'm trying to develop self-acceptance, but it's deeply rooted in the kind of honesty that is essential for my kids' empowerment.

Lastly, in my quest to raise empowered kids (they're really adults, now), I try to remind myself to check in on our communication. I've done a lot of thinking on this subject, since it comes up a lot as a stumbling point in our family. (I suspect we're not unusual in this regard!) And recently I've had a real enlightenment from getting to know our dog. Yep! 
So our daughter adopted Clara a couple of years ago, and soon began telling us about dog communication buttons. Soon enough, she had some buttons, and was training the dog to use them to speak to us. After about six months, Clara can now tell us about her bodily needs (pee, poo, outside, etc.), can ask specific people for cuddles, toys, or outside time, and has even put together a few complex communications. After panicking when thunder struck and she was in the yard, Clara ran in, and looked around frantically, before pressing "Blackberry" (our cat's name) and "Something Outside" (her button for an unknown worrisome thing outside). Sure enough, Blackberry was sitting outside the door, and after I let her in to safety from the storm, Clara settled. Her compassionate need to protect her friend had been met, thanks to her ability to tell me about it.
This experience with Clara has of course led me to thinking about all the previous pets in my life, and how much I probably misunderstood them; how often their needs likely went unmet, and ultimately to the power-imbalance that exists between owners and pets. And children. I remember thinking something like this as our kids learned baby sign language, and I wondered how many kids can't communicate their needs at that early age. Indeed, how many humans in general live our whole lives without clear and open, honest communication? And how many times are our basic needs unmet because we aren't communicating? 
Our kids need to be heard. They need to know they're heard, by having their communications reflected back to them (respected). And they need freedom to develop, learn, and change on their own terms, so that they can be empowered to keep on growing. In fact, those of us raised without this empowerment can learn and gain so much by just letting them lead.


*Caspar EA, Christensen JF, Cleeremans A, Haggard P.  "Coercion Changes the Sense of Agency in the Human Brain." Curr Biol. 2016 Mar 7;26(5):585-92. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2015.12.067. Epub 2016 Feb 18. PMID: 26898470; PMCID: PMC4791480. 
**Dominguez PR. University of Granada. "Children eat more vegetables when allowed to choose, Spanish study finds." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 June 2011.
***Siegel DJ, Payne Bryson T.  "No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind."  Courtesy Random House  2014, September 23

Saturday, July 30, 2022

First It Was Reusable Pads and Period Panties; Now the Reusable Pee Wipes!

A few years ago I wrote Talking about Periods with Daughters and Sons. A good part of that was dedicated to my daughter's and my choice to find sustainable menstruation solutions. But I never imagined we'd one day arrive at...


Yeah. Those are also our pee wipes hanging on that laundry rack. Here's a prettier photo of them folded and ready for use. I'll spare you a photo of them after being used...

OK so here's what happened: Quite a few years ago I visited a home where my sister was house-sitting, and discovered a box of little tiny washcloths beside the toilet, and a bucket underneath. Huh? There was also toilet paper, so I used it, and asked my sister about this oddity. "They're for wiping your pee", she said. Like it was nothing. Heh?? Gross?? "No. No poo. Just pee. I think. You can just use the toilet paper."   

I took that experience with me and thought about it for a few years.

Well, in these few years, our world has started burning, people. Our forests and oceans are our greatest hope for saving ourselves from climate change, and the forests are burning away before our eyes, taking a little town, a few hundred cattle, or a bit of a city here and there along with them. And like we're just hacking blindly at our own feet, we're cutting them down to make paper to wipe our butts. Insult to injury?!?! Being one of the blind and selfish masses, myself, I mulled on this thought for a few years, until the wastefulness hit my finances. It was time to have the septic tank pumped.

I mean, it's not that expensive, but anyone who lives rurally, as we do, likely has some kind of septic tank that needs pumping, periodically. The liquid runs off the tank into the septic field, feeding the environment like any good pee and poop should do. The solids stay behind in the tank and get pumped out every year or two or three and hauled off to a sewage treatment plant where they are no better than your average city waste. Except they required a gas-powered poop truck to take them there. 

Think about it, though: "solids". That means poop and toilet paper (nobody with a septic tank would dare flush anything else). And although it's a noticeable bit of money to be spending to have ours taken away, I'm more troubled by the environmental ramifications.

So, we decided to try pee wipes. To be more precise, I decided to try pee wipes, and a couple of my family members thought it was a good idea. My son, however, doesn't want them washed with his laundry. That's OK. We all have our boundaries, and a few years ago I might have said the same.

So, like we did with the period panties, we've tried out a few different types of wipes, now, and figured out a few tips and pitfalls, and now we can share them! 

What type?
We all have different preferences. Some of us like those big colourful two-layer cushy 8x8-inch organic cotton cloths that make sure no pee will touch my hand (oops--OK fine I confess it's me). Some are happy with the smaller wipes, and use those little baby washcloths. We have some mixed fibre/polyester ones, and some organic bamboo that frankly are no more absorbent than the cheap ones. Some of us just think it's really disturbing to wipe with teddy-bear prints.

You need to wash the wipes every few days, and we're using washing soda with a bit of dry laundry soap. It's not a big deal. I just throw them in for a pre-wash small load, and then after the first cycle I add some more laundry. They're so small they dry easily on the line, too--especially those cheapo little teddy bear wipes...

The Bucket
I am really not a big fan of grossness. It was essential to me that our pee-wipe-bucket not only looks good in the bathroom, but hides the used wipes in it, keeps them from smelling, and is easily washable. So I opted for this lidded glass jar, and painted it with glass paint to hide what's inside it. I glued a felt pad on the bottom, and it lives on the floor beside the toilet. Putting a used wipe in is very easy: fold the wipe so the pee is inside it, open the lid with the other hand, and put the wipe in. Close the lid. When I take the wipes out to wash, I get a clean wipe, dampen it in the sink, and give the jar a quick wipe before throwing that wipe in the washing machine with the others. The jar never holds any smell, but every week or two I give it a proper wash, anyway. 

And periods. We just use toilet paper instead. Nobody wants stained and awful-looking pee wipes.

The Pitfalls
Well... there's the literal pitfall, where at some point most or all of us forgot we were using washable wipes and dropped or nearly dropped the wipe into the toilet. But we learned quickly. There was the trial-and-error phase, where we weren't sure which fabrics would work best. And honestly that's all I can think of. Even the one of us who doesn't use the wipes seems to have grown accustomed to having them around, and we're happy with the change we've made!

Try the pee wipes, people, if your life and circumstances allow. It's one more small change we can make to save our future.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Watching You Father Our Children

I am ever so grateful to live with this man who exemplifies gentle, heart-full parenting. I stuck today's One Solar Year poem into this post as well, since it was mainly about him. I'm grateful for all the fathers I've had in my life: my own two fathers, and others'. 

Markus was once the tallest member of our household!

no longer dwarfed by his children, Markus reminisces about the taller old days

 Here is the poem I wrote for today, in two parts. They're intended to be seen on a large screen. :-)

Happy father's day!