Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Unschooling Q&A - How Did We Get Here? Pt II

<--Previous Post - How Did We Get Here? Pt I

But before we go forward, we have to go back a bit....

The desire to quit my teaching job and unschool the kids came at a rather dubious time. It was an enormous decision, one I didn't take lightly. Money was tight; we had debts from a failed business venture to pay off, and we'd only had solid income for five years, with the first year consisting of only my meager teaching salary while Rob tried to keep our business afloat without me. And with a generous gift of 10 acres of family land from my parents, we'd just built a house and had a mortgage payment for the first time.

But it wasn't the first major overhaul of our short marriage; We'd gone from free-spirited, party-animal college students to stinkin'-poor, bone-tired, slightly befuddled parents of one, and that transition had taken its toll. I went from home to college to home again before I knew what had hit me. Add a very ambitious but slightly naive business venture on top of it, and we had no choice but to settle into the typical young adult lifestyle of working long hours in hopes of steadily moving up the income ladder. And quickly. Macaroni for dinner was getting reeeeally old.

But a few short years later I got restless. Something wasn't right. And that didn't make any sense when you consider that Rob had finally landed a secure job, I had tenure, and after 4 tries we'd hit the babysitter jackpot - a retired grandmother who came to our house and kept my house neat as a pin. I should've felt content, safely nestled into the every-woman's lifestyle. And for a short while, I considered doing that well to be the badge I wore. But then I started getting a little twitchy.

Needless to say, it was a less than ideal time for me to announce a serious philosophical-emotional dilemma. But it was really, truly inevitable. And while my husband is not one to delve deeply into self-examination, he somehow recognized that something in me needed the change. And he supported me. We were starving, and he supported my decision to quit my job. To this day I marvel over that. Any sane person would've said, "Are you flippin' nuts? We have no money, we are just starting to get on solid ground, we have a new mortgage to pay, and you want to quit your job?!"

But he didn't. For that reason alone, I will love him forever. (Ok, there are a few dozen more reasons, too.)

It all started with an advertisement for
Mothering Magazine, doncha know... the steps of my transformation from mainstream to alternative parenting are etched forever in my mind, they were so profound for me.... We used Mother Nature's Diaper Service - (the very business from which we licensed a branch; we owned and operated it for 2 years but sold it before it got the best of us) - and one day they included a flyer for a free copy of Mothering Magazine with the clean batch of diapers. Without much thought I flipped it into the mail, and that single copy sent me down a path of alternative parenting when I most needed it.

I won't bore you with the details, even though I can recall them as easily as if it were yesterday. Suffice it to say I began examining every bit of our lifestyle, my parenting philosophy, my teaching philosophy and the system as a whole, and everything else from our diet to the company we kept to the way we shopped and dressed. It was as if a crack had appeared in my carefully constructed shell and before I could stop it, the floods overwhelmed me until I had no choice but to throw open the doors and let it all in.

And then I scared or angered or surprised everyone I knew.

I quit teaching, and I quit our Catholic church. My kids quit school. I quit eating meat. I even quit my friends. All of them. It's like the self-overhaul check-list grew so long it became more expedient and prudent to just chuck the whole lifestyle-as-I-knew-it and start fresh. A clean slate. A new me. A metamorphosis in hibernation.

I didn't mean to hurt anyone; I didn't necessarily dislike the people I abandoned in my radical shift. But I didn't know how to make the transition gradually, and I didn't know how to reconcile this sudden, new who-I-am with the old who-I-was, and if I was going to open myself to these new possibilities, I had to do it unhindered. I couldn't fathom having to explain to each and every friend and acquaintance why I was making each change and what that might mean for our relationship. I also knew I couldn't handle the judgments and skepticism and rejection. It all sounded so... exhausting. So I simply fell off the radar. When I resigned, I promised my colleagues I'd stop in and visit often. It was 3 full years before I set foot in that school again for a hello. And I live 6 miles away.

My husband worried I was going off the deep end. I was a major extrovert and had always juggled tons of relationships. And suddenly I cut myself off. And if I hadn't seemed so happy, more content than I'd ever seemed before, more inwardly peaceful, he probably would've exercised an intervention of some sort - sure that I wasn't thinking clearly. But again, he waited. And he trusted. And he let me explore whatever it was I needed to explore. And believe me, it was many, many things. I had embarked upon a journey that would take several years before I would finally stop examining and overhauling and ruminating and evolving and begin to just 'be'.

Poor Rob. Nothing was free from my scrutiny. And I can only imagine it was a very trying period for him. Just when he'd think we'd undergone enough change - during a lull that simply meant I was ruminating on the next facet of our lives - I'd spring something new on him. I think we should take the TV out of the living area.... I think we should remove TV altogether.... I think we should only buy organic.... I think we should check out the Unitarian Universalist church.... I think we should only eat whole foods....

I think I was becoming rather unsufferable.

And it was very un-unschooling of me to implement new lifestyle changes and enforce new principles that had been mostly conceived by my needs and desires, not theirs.

But I didn't know that at the time. We were unschooling, eating a mostly vegetarian diet, organic gardening, and limiting TV and screen time to 1 hour per day. I was carrying my toddler in a sling, using homemade cleaning products, and co-sleeping. I was studying eastern religions and Thomas Paine and Rumi. I flaunted my new disdain for perfect lawns by placing a "You can kiss my GRass" sign in my yard. I bought only resale items. And I thought I had this whole alternative parenting thing figured out. And there were plenty of folks who agreed with me and validated my choices.

And then I heard a radical unschooler talk about TV like it was the best thing since sliced bread, and my head fired, "Say what? TV?! Good alternative, unschooling, attachment parents don't celebrate TV!" But again, something nudged at the edges. I shut my mouth about it and sat back and listened
to the conversation.

And that's when a new paradigm began to enter my consciousness - what if I had this all wrong? What if, in my zest to do things differently, I had only succeeded in becoming controlling in a different way? Was I really embracing freedom? Or was I suggesting to my family, and myself, that there was only a narrow definition of what that freedom could look like? I'd just come off a couple-year binge of lifestyle overhaul and while I was certainly happier and more content, was it possible that in shoving it down our throats I was going against the very principles I claimed to embrace?

Ah, hell.

I had to finally expose the micro-managing part of myself, and give it a good once-over. I had gone from trying to succeed in a mainstream lifestyle to trying to 'succeed' in an alternative lifestyle. Different picture, similar strategies. I recalled times of judging what my husband chose to wear or do with his free time; times of insisting we eat only certain foods; and many, many times of explaining and cajoling and distracting and preaching to the kids and Rob about why we didn't watch TV or eat red food coloring or own a gaming system.

And it finally began to sink in... what if we extend the freedom of unschooling beyond education?... What if we extend the freedom to choose what one wants for himself to clothing choices? Food choices? TV choices?
And 'Radical Overhaul of Philosophy Part XXIV' began. Actually, my husband got this one started. Maybe he'd had enough of my ruling the roost.

One day, he came home with a gaming system. I hadn't seen the kids that excited in a looonnnng time.

How Did We Get Here Part III


kelli said...

Hehe, so much of the same went on here in our life. :)

Our struggle now is finding people to connect with who are OK with our changes. Who are OK with our new found happiness.

Great post, I think it's cool that you're documenting the shifts.

Anonymous said...

Amen, sister grrrl. I think I am about 5 years behind you on a similar path. A wise woman once told me to remember that as I got "healthy" (emotional, spiritual, physical, mental)some of my relationships would not survive. Sadly, that has been true. Ahhhh...my next blog is stirring...

zamozo said...

Mothering Mag. was a great influence in the shifts I made too -- very similar shifts as you're writing about but I started making them before my babies were born. The shift to a kinder, gentler, radical unschooling mommy didn't come until later though! I'm so amazed at the parallels between our lives!

whimsigal said...

Thank you for this installment in the story. I'm learning so much by reading this!

My youngest just happened by and saw the pictures of your family, "Who is that Momma? Can we go see those kids?" :)

He's fascinated by the blogs I read and instantly wants to meet everyone involved.

This was a great post and I;ll be anxiously awaiting the next!


Silvia said...

Very cool post. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I just found these two posts on unschooling. Very nice, very helpful, is there a Part III?

OH, boy, I hear you on all this...the control is hard to let go, however!! The fear! The panic! The curriculum! The letting go of it all!

i wanna be you when i grow up!

piscesgrrl said...

There IS a part III, and you just reminded me to finally post the link at the bottom of this post. (I've been meaning and meaning to do that... short-term memory troubles apparently!) So, scroll back up and the link should take you to part III.

Good to hear from you again!