I was in Oklahoma City in the parking lot of a Whole Foods. Octave was just three months old, snug tight against my chest. A woman with cut off shorts and a cool haircut ran after me, with a desperation I had not yet known, but would soon enough. She had seen me in the check out line, wearing my baby and watched me walk out to my old blue Subaru with Colorado state plates. She assumed I had just moved there but I happily told her we were just there for the summer while my husband was in job training. All these years later it's hard to remember the exact words she chose, but she was eager to help me find community. She told me that she had moved here a few years ago and it was hard to fit in and find other like minded mamas but in the last year she finally had. She mentioned something of unschooling, and told me how inspired she was with the communities in Colorado. If I had Colorado plates, was wearing my baby, and investing our humble pay check on real food, maybe I was also onboard with unschooling. But I had not ever heard the term, so I just smiled and nodded and thanked her for her encouragement. We exchanged numbers and she hoped I would come to their group, but a week later our car broke down in the 110 degree heat and we were living in a scabby apartment where I was afraid to lay Octave on the floor, and the tap water was so discolored that I whole heartedly believed that drinking soda pop was the healthier option. I flew back to Portland for the remaining two months so I could teach dance and be with my family. I never went to that group, but it was there in the least likely of places where the first seed was planted. I drove home and immediately googled "unschooling." I didn't have an aha moment, in fact it seemed kind of strange to me. It seemed like a shame to keep your kids from this right of passage, and yet there was something about it that peaked my curiosity, and subconsciously I resonated, if only a little.
I've always been drawn to the natural process of things. I am often trying to peel away the layers of cultures and ask myself, what is innate and what is learned? My eyes were first opened in massage school when I started intimately learning about my body, natural medicine and real food. I dove deep into books that started shaping every choice I made. A few years later I had the desire to have a baby, and I dove deep into books about pregnancy and child birth. I dug past what I saw everyone around me doing, because by that time I knew that our society tends to do almost everything backwards from the most natural or intuitive way. I've always wanted to work with my body and nature, not against it. A veil was lifted for both Chris and I during those 10 months of pregnancy and birth and this process made us the people we are today. We were then able to look around and see how almost everything we do as a culture works against the way our bodies and minds thrive. Parenting and transportation naturally became the next things to dive head first into. Almost six years later we have cultivated a life that we used to dream of. The last six months I've done little more than just marvel at our life. It was once so hard and now it isn't. Most days anyway. Five is hands down my favorite age, and I can see the fruit of all the seeds I planted and watered and maybe even forgot about it some days. Arriving in this place again, with space to think and feel and settle into our days, I kept noticing how much anxiety I was feeling thinking about sending Octave to school, but I'm typically not an anxious person. Being as though I had not yet charted this territory I was not able to discern what were just the normal mom feelings that come up when you send your first born to school, and how much of what I was feeling was my deep intuition telling me that this was not a good thing for us. I went round and round and spent more time thinking, researching, and talking about this topic more than anything else. It consumed me. I knew something wasn't right but I couldn't put my finger on it.
I made countless lists in my head and on paper, comparing and contrasting all the options for school. Despite my lists clearly leaning towards another side, I applied to a handful of charter schools, like a French immersion, Waldorf and environmental school. Of course, we explored our neighborhood school, because that is what makes the most sense, and I know that when you take your kid out of their neighborhood school and put them somewhere else, the quality of our education system severley decreases, and it's already pathetic to begin with. And because I am white middle class, almost full time stay at home mama I have the opportunity to do so. It's not fair and it's perpetuating the racism that white people like me want to pretend doesn't exist anymore. I knew this and ached over it, and yet I couldn't handle the thought of my five year old in sitting inside at a desk for eight hours a day, at a school and in a system that would work against the things I so deeply believe in. She ended up getting into the school I was most excited about but even that didn't make that ache and anxiety go away. Because it wasn't about which school she went to, it was the quiet and humble belief that there is a better and more natural way to teach kids, or at the very least, my kids.
So, I felt and knew all of these things but I was also filled with fear. I was afraid of missed opportunity for them, and quite honestly for me. I've loved every single moment staying home with them, even the most frazzled days, but the desire to create on a larger scale has only intensified over the years, and I was looking forward to some days with more time to myself. I was afraid that if I went down this path I would never get a chance to dance more, write a book, and build a photography business. I was also afraid of making another big life choice that makes us different. I was afraid that they would be as terrible at math as I am. I was afraid that my girls would look back at me and think I had made a big mistake. But then I let go of all that fear and started remembering that everything is fluid and I have the ability to create this life how I want to. It is isn't black and white, all or nothing, it is mine for the making.
Last week I woke up and had the courage to say what I've known all along, and that is, that I want to educate them a little differently. Or maybe, a lot differently. For some reason it's scarier than all the other choices I've made that keep me swimming upstream, and yet nothing has given me a deeper peace. Fear is quite often the only thing I am afraid of, and when I feel it, I know I am about to break though.
While I never thought I would be a homeschooling or unschooling parent, it turns out I am kind of a blend of both. I guess I just thought it looked one way, but that way is so painfully outdated and looks nothing like the vision I have for my daughters. My intention is not to shelter them or take them out of reality, but quite the opposite. I want to give them the world through unbiased eyes. I also want them to prolong their childhood for as long as humanly possible, and I'm seeing that the school system is not so good at that. I want my girls to be life long learners who are self aware, can articulate themselves, and are just as emotionally intelligent as they are academically. I want to give them the freedom to be whoever they want to be and the tools and resources to be able to choose a wide variety of vocations or careers. But even more than all of these things, I want them to be good humans who love to learn, and seize every moment like it is remarkable, because it is. I don't for a second think that I can give my girls all that they need, forever. But I do strongly believe that I can give them the majority of what they need right now. And the things I can't I will happily supplement.
For Octave's Kindergarten year I found a farm for her to volunteer on for a few hours each week, as well as a science and art class with other kids her age. We are going to start taking Italian classes again and keep doing all the things we are already doing but just a little more intentionally. She is most herself when she is nature and around animals so that is going to be her starting place. We are going to continue to be outside as much as possible and allow all the traditionally segregated subjects integrate itself naturally into the everyday things we do. I plan on having a basic curriculum or starting place that is a little Waldorf inspired, but also want to create my own, and then leave plenty of space for learning opportunities to come up naturally. My head and heart have complete peace about this decision and I am also hyper aware of that fact that even having this option is a gift. I don't take it for granted for one second. I am hopeful that I will slowly find my way and understand the balance necessary to pursue my passions, make money, and give my girls a childhood and education that I always dreamed of. I'm excited for this journey to teach, shape and shift us, because life is fluid, and I am best when ever changing. But like almost every big decision we have made, we are taking it one step, or in this case, year at a time.