Unschooling with a Passion

Written in December 2015 with a current update at the end:

One of the apparent consequences of having an unschooling mindset about my children’s education and interests is that often they’ll end up with intense passions about things that I know next to nothing about. Usually they will then progress more rapidly in their passion than many people are used to seeing.

My only real educational goals with my children have been that they be happy, kind, enjoy learning new things, and have the foundation they need in order to learn anything they want or need to learn in the future. This leaves a good deal of open space for them to fill in for themselves.

Our family greatly values unstructured time for learning and exploration and our children typically have an abundance of unstructured time in which to discover and explore their interests. I try not to project my own ideas of what they should or shouldn’t be interested in, although I do encourage them all to at least learn the basics of playing a musical instrument of their choice (something I can easily help them with because of my own background).

My children primarily have different interests and passions than I had.

My oldest is as avid a reader and writer as I am and was at that age, but has also become enamored with and competent in the area of computer programming, something I know next to nothing about, and had learned six different programming languages before their tenth birthday. They’re a very graceful ballerina as well, although their interest in ballet has ebbed and flowed somewhat more than their interests in programming and reading/writing have.

My second to youngest has extremely innovative fashion ideas and runs a tight ship on Minecraft. While not yet officially “school-aged” she enjoys listening in, watching, and participating whenever her older siblings are doing something that piques her interest and she’s getting very close to having the skills to read and write more than just the names of people in our family.

The youngest is a walking, talking baby with a passion for pulling everything off the shelves and throwing them on the floor. As it should be.

My second to oldest is the child I’m going to focus on most in this post because she very recently discovered one of her passions that took us all by surprise.

When we were helping a friend move in the fall of last year, my children watched the American Girl gymnast movie “McKenna” with my friend’s daughters. My daughter expressed interest in gymnastics very briefly that fall and nothing came of it until she rewatched the movie in late spring earlier this year.

At that point, the tiny spark she had felt last year came roaring into full flame. Suddenly, she was watching around an hour of gymnastics videos — both instructional and not — on YouTube daily. After watching some videos early in the day, she would then spend literal hours out in the backyard, at the park, or in her bedroom diligently working on the moves she had seen in the videos.

At that point, I knew even less about gymnastics than I knew about computer programming, which is saying a lot. I had friends tell me that they were very impressed with my daughter’s skills and it did seem impressive to me, all the flipping and flopping and handstands and such that she could do, but I very much didn’t (and don’t) want to fall into the trap of thinking that my child is amazing at anything just because they’re my child and I didn’t feel qualified to make that call.

Years ago, due partially to financial constraints and partially because we didn’t want to push our children into structured commitments before they were ready, we had set 8 as the age at which our children could choose one out of the house, specific class or activity to be involved in. As soon as our second to oldest turned 8 years old, she chose gymnastics as her activvity. Not realizing how the gymnastics year was set up, we waited until the first of August and signed her up for the beginning girls recreational gymnastics class at a local gym.

After five classes, when she demonstrated some more advanced skills, her coach moved her up to the intermediate class, which she and we were elated about. Her goal was to move up until she could compete. We cautioned her that she would likely not be the most accomplished gymnast in the intermediate class, that being in a class with more advanced students is a good thing because it presents more challenges.

And that seemed to be that. Until we went to the open gym day at her gym and one of the coaches happened to see her do some of the things that she did all the time at home and at the homeschool park days we go to every week.

Thus began the most surreal discussion of my life. I learned that my daughter has a natural aptitude for gymnastics and that she had apparently done a much better job of advancing in her passion than I had previously realized. She was invited to attend the next advanced recreational class and was offered a potential spot on the Xcel Bronze team, with some talk about how this could potentially lead to a junior olympian (JO) team placement and scholarships in the future.

It took my brain several days to be able to even comprehend that this was really happening and to not feel overwhelmed by the commitment we’d been invited to make. My daughter had wanted to compete and, by golly, she had worked hard enough, mainly on her own, to make it onto a team!

In retrospect, now that she’s on the team and I’ve spent hours upon hours learning more about gymnastics than I ever thought I’d know, I’m not sure why this situation felt so unreal to me at first. After all, I’ve been reading about self-directed, self-motivated learning since my oldest was a baby. I even experienced a similar progression in my own life regarding my *musical abilities.

Yet, this isn’t how children are expected to learn in our society. We expect children to need a push or to be started in an activity at a very young age in order to excel. Learning for the sake of learning, or because the subject or activity is something a child genuinely enjoys and has an aptitude for is not a common occurrence.

But it should be common. Children need to be given the time and opportunity to find their own passions and interests and do with them what they want to do. Maybe none of my children will end up being truly impressive with their passions as they get older and the stakes become higher, but they’ll know how to find a new passion or they’ll be able to figure out how to integrate their previous passions into their lives in a meaningful way and through it all they’ll be supported completely in their endeavors.

Their lives are not mine. Rather, I am honored to support their lives and interests as they grow and mature.

I’m following their lead, encouraging, facilitating, and am often left simply watching — in awe of how effectively and quickly they follow and develop their passions.

________________________

Update: My gymnast child went from Xcel Bronze (where she was bars champion at both the State and Regional competitions) to JO Level 4, then Levels 5, 6, and 7. She’s now training for Level 8 and still loving it at age 12!

*In some ways, my parents were unschooly about my interests and my siblings’ interests as well. They didn’t sign us up for structured lessons at the first sign of interest, but instead waited until we had demonstrated a willingness to learn on our own and had shown interest for a fairly significant amount of time. Because of this, I was older than usual when I started formal piano lessons. By that time I was very self-motivated and had almost completely worked my way through John Thompson’s first grade book and shortly after I began lessons I was moved over to Faber book 4. By the time I had taken lessons for a little over a year, I discovered Scott Joplin’s music and after my piano teacher told me that the original version of Maple Leaf Rag was too difficult for me, I went directly home from that lesson and had the first three pages learned and memorized by the next week’s lesson. I went on to learn almost every musical instrument to proficiency, just because I wanted to.

2020 Vision or Hindsight in Plain Sight

Today has been interesting, which in itself is interesting because not much has happened.

  • Gymnastics practice drop-off, unusual for a Saturday
  • Surprise live quartet performing at the library, from whence I am writing now
  • Awful neighbor dogs barking all morning, which means I need to move to another house ASAP
  • A sense of settling into all the new changes the last year has brought
  • Finally reading an Umberto Eco essay (“Travels in Hyperreality”) that I’d sought out unsuccessfully for a good couple of months before today

My life hasn’t turned out the way I expected it to and I think I’m to the point where I can actually write about this without too much terrible fallout — either personally or from other people.

  • I’m Autistic, which most people in my life already know
  • I have Prosopagnosia, or Faceblindness, another commonly known fact
  • My aptitude for using, hearing, and deciphering tones of voice is pretty much nil
  • I communicate far more effectively via text than via speech
  • I’ve never really considered myself to have a gender (agender), but I guess other people see me in very gendered ways, which is really weird to me
  • I’m not, nor have I ever been, particularly attracted to men, yet I’m fairly happily married to one and have been for 16 years
  • My family now looks very different than it did a year ago
  • My marriage now looks very different than it did a year ago, but it’s stronger (somehow, amazingly) than it was then
  • I have a great deal of trauma from my childhood, which I’ve known since college, but only recently figured out the source of, because I did grow up in a loving family
  • Growing up in a loving family with parents who believe that they’re doing the best for their children doesn’t prevent trauma to Autistic children, we just seem to be more susceptible to trauma than most people are
  • And me being an Autistic child (with all the increased trauma susceptibility that comes with being Autistic, chronically misunderstood, and unable to communicate as expected) was the missing piece

TW: depression, suicidal thoughts (no details)

I almost died in college from childhood trauma (buried, built up, broken free, breaking me; but so confusing as to why, since my parents always loved me and I never experienced the sorts of abuse that usually lead to the amount of trauma I clearly carried). And again at the beginning of this year, on the morning of January 1, 2020 I nearly died again.

This wasn’t wholly unexpected, at least not by those closest to me. My husband and my girlfriend both saw it coming. Five days before the end of the year they sat me down and told me that I needed to start antidepressants because I was starting to go down a very dark path. Of course, I was already much farther down that path than they (or I) realized at the time, but it was a start.

Most of you reading this blog don’t know about my girlfriend and you not-knowing is nothing personal, more a testament to how little I’ve felt able to communicate with people recently, even those who are most important to me. Anyhow, she’s amazing and is one of the best things to happen in my life ever. We’d been friends for a long time before dating and I’d been so broken recently that I wasn’t sure anyone would want to be subjected to post-broken-me much at all. But she rushed in (where angels would’ve surely feared to tread) and if she hadn’t then my life very well might’ve ended on January 1st.

December 30th I was taken to my doctor’s Nurse Practitioner (NP) and put on Wellbutrin. Two days later, I was confronting my past traumas as they’d ceased seeping and begun spewing forth, turning my mind into a bombed-out ghost city.

But before that happened, I had to choose to live. My first act of choosing to live was to disappear to the gym (for a workout I’d semi-planned to attend the night before) where I lamented the fact that completing the workout wouldn’t kill me. A thought that had previously been comforting and encouraging during past workouts became a sad reality. I tried my hardest to exercise myself to death, but my friend was there, and talking to her was comforting so I got through the workout and headed home to an unexpectedly horrifyingly empty house.

Method by method, alone in my house, crying in my cold bathtub post-post-workout shower, I confronted dying. One way, then another, each time thinking of my children finding me afterwards and realizing that I couldn’t do that. Once I had exhausted all the dozen or so ways of dying I could think of, I confronted the possibility of running away and starting over. But that option still left me with the inevitability of still being (with) myself and wanting, more than anything else, to not be alive any longer.

For the next two weeks I wasn’t left alone unless it was unavoidable and planned well in advance.

Under different circumstances, as in college, I would’ve been institutionalized. I’m fairly certain that I even asked to be admitted somewhere. But my husband and girlfriend came up with an alternative plan.

It was over those next few weeks that I realized how depressed I’d gotten over the last several years. It probably started in late 2015 or early 2016, when we came very close to having no food and being evicted onto the streets because of financial issues that I’d found out about only once we had maxed out credit cards and had no money coming into the accounts for food, let alone to pay off the immense amounts of debt we had amassed without my knowledge.

I don’t know what we would’ve done during that time without the assistance of many MANY friends who gave us money, loaned us money, gave us food, bought us food, and were generally supportive.

But that’s when I stopped being able to easily leave my house. That’s when I stopped being able to do much more than the bare basics to keep people alive and the house clean. That’s when I got my autism diagnosis, right around the time I was crashing hard into burnout.

That’s when I stopped being able to reach out or spend much time with people. That was when my words became frighteningly less reliable than they’ve ever been at any point since my childhood.

And now…. now. I see it. I look back and I see. It’s so clear, looking back. Plain as the nose on my face (as long as I’m looking at my face since I can’t visualize it in my mind), plain as the Amish wagons I used to see all the time while attending my Pennsylvania college, plain as pudding when it’s still milk.

It’s there. Simple.

But I can’t go back. I can’t do anything about it. Those years are gone, lost, beyond my reach.

The only thing I can do now is to move forward with intention. To do better in the future. To make sure I don’t ever go back to that debilitating depression. I had walled off my childhood darkness and trauma, but the walls have fallen. I know what it is so now it’s out in the light, weakened, instead of hidden and gathering power.

My life is more unconventional now than it has ever been, but it is the way it needs to be for right now.

I have an amazing husband and an amazing girlfriend and they both saved my life this year. Anyone who has an issue with that… well… you might as well wish I was dead because that’s what would’ve happened if either one of them had not stood by me during January 2020.

And that’s the truth.

Coming Back From Isolation

My dear friends, I would like to apologize for disappearing so thoroughly from most of your lives both this year and last. I also want to explain a bit about why I disappeared.

When I disappeared it was more that I became unable to reach out, even though I desperately could’ve used the support of more friends during that time.

Someone whom I had considered a close friend turned out to be not a friend at all. But before I even began the process of figuring out that she wasn’t a friend, she had already effectively isolated me from those who truly were or still are my friends.

The thing about liars (especially those who lie about big things), is that they can’t be trusted. I trusted a liar and it was a huge mistake. By the time I figured out it had been a mistake to trust or even help this alleged friend of mine, I was too sapped of energy to do anything but simply hunker down and try to survive.

Isolation is a tricky thing too because it looks so different from the inside versus the outside.

As I was being isolated, other close friends of mine were being encouraged to believe that I was deliberately excluding them from my life. This was completely untrue and effectively led to my further isolation.

When someone disappears or becomes distanced from others, the way that I did, it can be easy to take their disappearance personally. In my situation, that perceived personal affront was used by my alleged friend to further isolate me and control the situation.

This was all done without my consent and I had very little awareness that it was even happening.

I am so thankful for those of you who have been gracious and understanding as I’ve gradually come back into your lives and who didn’t take it personally. It really had nothing to do with any of you, my actual friends.

I’ve recently learned that one of the downsides of trusting someone who lies frequently and about other people is that they eventually will lie about you too. Not a fun lesson, but an important one. So, if you have any questions about that situation (or any other you think I might have been involved in), please ask me directly and I will do my best to be as honest as possible about it.

I’m gradually working on letting more people back into my life. The order I’ve gone in so far has nothing to do with my regard (or disregard) for anyone, it’s more of a convenience thing.

I know “convenience” sounds bad too, but with limited energy after a full Autistic Burnout comes an increased need to go with the flow and people who *reach out to me are more likely to be added back into my life sooner than those who don’t. Those who live nearby and see me more often are, likewise, easier to add back than those who are far away.

Thank you for your patience and I appreciate you all!

*Unless I’ve told you that your communication with me causes panic attacks, in which case please just don’t.

Responses to Barefooting in Public

Thirteen years ago I decided not to wear shoes regularly any longer (hence: BarefootBetsy) and over these last 13 years I’ve gotten many different reactions to barefooting in public.

Most people who see me barefoot in public think it’s pretty cool and ask questions. I’m usually happy to answer respectful questions. I think that many people who would benefit from going barefoot or who secretly want to wear shoes less often likely do not eschew shoes in public because they believe some of the many myths our culture has created around barefootedness.

So dispelling those myths is something I typically enjoy doing.

Then there are the concerned people who worry about me getting hurt or my feet being cold or hot or otherwise uncomfortable. Their concerns are easily addressed. I’ve personally experienced no negatives to barefooting over many years so I can be pretty positive about it. Yes, there can be drawbacks (like having strangers feel entitled to comment on my lack of footwear whether I want them to or not) and there are absolutely times when shoes are beneficial (shoes are tools, after all!) just like there are times when gloves are beneficial.

But, by far, the most ridiculous responses are from people who think that they need to give me incorrect information in order to get me to wear shoes. I’ve mainly had this issue with staff at various establishments. These have primarily been staff at grocery stores, hotels, and professional offices.

These people will give me all kinds of reasons why I should wear shoes in their establishment, but the two most common are:

 

1 – It’s dangerous for you to be in here without shoes! We’re liable for your safety!

Um, well, I run miles at a time on pavement barefoot and walk around in big cities barefoot so…. if your establishment is really more hazardous to my feet than those activities, you’ve likely got more serious issues going on than whether or not I’m wearing shoes.

Also, I always offer to sign a waiver when people bring this up. I’m more than happy to take 100% responsibility for any potential injuries I might incur due to being barefoot on private property. Not a problem.

However, employees of establishments have never been willing to sign a waiver taking responsibility for any injuries I may incur in their establishment due to wearing shoes. I used to twist my ankles frequently before I started barefooting regularly. Shoes are more slippery than bare feet and it’s more difficult to tell when a floor is slippery with the tactile input dulled through the sole of the shoe. If I’m being required to wear shoes somewhere that I need to be, then it makes sense that they should be willing to take responsibility for their policy’s potential injurious effects on me.

Yet… they never have and always seem shocked when I politely suggest that they might offer to do so.

 

2 – The Health Department/OSHA requires that you wear shoes in here!

This is simply a bold-faced lie in the USA. No state or federal health department requires customers to wear shoes in establishments (food or otherwise) and most county Health Departments follow the state regulations.

OSHA only regulates what employees wear, not what customers wear. Interestingly enough, I’ve never had any issues in restaurants other than once in a McDonald’s many years ago. Typically, the nicer the establishment, the less likely they are to hassle me about shoes.

 

Truly, I’d much rather people just be honest than to tell lies about “government authorities require that we require you to wear shoes.”

Own the fact that you have a discriminatory policy for no good reason (since the safety and liability concerns don’t apply in my case). Own that you just want me to wear shoes because it makes you or your customers uncomfortable or nervous. Own that you might have have unconscious prejudices and biases against bare feet. Maybe examine what those might be.

In the end, I’m far more likely to respect someone who says, “Yeah, we just require shoes because I or the owner prefers it.” without giving any other reason. At least they’re being honest. Because there’s no other good reason for me to wear shoes somewhere that I’ve scoped out and deemed safe for my feet. Their personal preference-based policy, no matter how politely presented, may still result in me taking my business somewhere else; but at least I respect the people who give me that sort of answer.

Giving me reasons that don’t apply to me (especially when you then resort to false appeals to authority once you realize that none of your reasons apply to me) makes it all the more likely that I will never darken your door with my money again. I don’t take kindly to being “protected” from my own harmless decisions by random falsehood-prone employees who don’t even know me.

I’ve been doing this for 13 years. I know what I’m doing. Don’t bs me about your reasons. I’ve heard it all before and will hear it all again soon, no doubt.

An Autistic Announcement

Many people who know me well already know this because I’ve been increasingly open about it, but I want to make a general, public post about autism so here goes.

Around two years ago I received an autism diagnosis. For those who are surprised, please read this.

Knowing I’m autistic is not a bad thing. In fact, this is the single most helpful thing I’ve ever learned about myself. There will be many links in this post if you also want more information.

You may want to read Nick Walker’s What is autism? to start with. Here’s an introduction geared towards a newly diagnosed child if you would prefer a simpler explanation in very clear language.

Being autistic explains my life. Every struggle, every confused moment, everything. I’m not interested in rehashing my history so you’ll just have to trust me about this. The diagnostic process took months and involved a thorough and harrowing look into my past and then-present struggles.

I’m going to make a list for the rest of the post. These are some important things to know if you care about me, especially as April “Autism Bewareness” Month approaches:

  • I use identity-first language. I’m autistic. I don’t “have” or “live with” autism. If you want to learn more, this post looks at the significance of language choice and has links to commentary on all sides of the person-first vs identity-first debate. This brief post (with a nifty comic to illustrate the point) effectively sums up my thoughts about the issue.
  • I struggle a great deal with communicating clearly in person even when I seem to be communicating just fine. If you’re not sure what I mean, please ask for clarification rather than making assumptions. I may need a moment or two to process what you’re saying, especially if you say something unexpected. I may then need another moment or two (or even years, in extreme cases) in order to figure out how to turn my response into words. Sometimes I can’t talk effectively or at all and this may cut a conversation short. I almost always prefer conversing via text (online, email, etc) rather than via spoken word.
  • I often get overwhelmed very quickly when socializing and/or in a situation with a lot of sensory input and it can take me a while to respond to texts, emails, and private messages. I’m also terrible about getting together with people in person. Please don’t take such delays personally.
  • I’m not interested in having anything to do with puzzle pieces, lighting it up blue, Autism $peaks, or ABA. I don’t particularly want to be tagged in or sent posts about those things either, especially in April when that rhetoric is unavoidable to begin with.
  • I do not use functioning labels (such as “high functioning” and “low functioning”) because I’ve found they are not helpful, can be harmful, and aren’t accurate anyhow. Some days are easier for me than others and if you see me out and about then it’s probably a pretty decent day.
  • If you have an autistic child or think you may be autistic yourself and want help sifting through the available information, please contact me privately. I’m usually happy to send you specific links and/or chat with you about your situation as I feel able. I’ve read/saved hundreds of links, have read dozens of books relating to autism (mostly from other autistic perspectives), and I love sharing autism information with people who are sincerely interested in learning more.
  • I’d rather you directly ask me questions about autism than use google because most top google sources are written by non-autistic people and often don’t accurately reflect the experiences of #ActuallyAutistic people. I co-founded a local autistic advocacy/support group and post autism information regularly on the group’s Facebook page, which you can follow, if you’d like.

Thank you for reading ❤

~B.

Learning to Read While Unschooling

A couple weeks ago my newly-turned 6 year old decided to learn how to read. 

Now, this didn’t come completely out of the blue. She’s been making some noise about wanting to learn how to read for several months, but every other time I had sat down with her to work on letter sounds it had quickly become clear that she wasn’t quite ready. 

This time was different. 

This time she approached me with a plan. 

First, she folded up a piece of paper and asked me to write the alphabet — with both “big” and “little” letters — for her. I obliged and went back to doing whatever I had been doing. About ten minutes later, she came back with several folded pieces of paper and informed me that she needed help stapling them together so that it could be her reading book.

We got the reading book all stapled and she asked me to spell out the title “*6 Year Old’s Name* Reading Book” so she could write it on the front. She’s known how to read and write her name for a while so all those letters were fine, but she didn’t know what most of the others even looked like. I discovered at this point why she had wanted the alphabet written out: every unknown letter I told her to write, she would look up by singing the alphabet song and pointing at each letter in the alphabet until she came to the correct one. 

At this point I was beginning to pay a bit more attention. 

Now, generally speaking, when my children have difficulties with something and get frustrated, we take a break. I don’t push them to continue, although I do encourage them a great deal. Every single time, it’s been about six months before they’re ready to try again and at that point they often find the previously difficult skill to be ridiculously easy. 

At this point it had only been a couple of months since her last serious reading attempt and it had been very frustrating for her. I put it down, fully anticipating that we wouldn’t see a marked improvement in her reading readiness for around six months, so when she first approached me this time, I began the process without being attached to any significant outcomes. 

But here she was! Proactively creating her own method for learning how to read and write on her own terms.

Then she informed me that she was ready to read “those books on [my] iPad.” The “those books” she referred to are the New Alphabetti books from ProgressivePhonics.com. I had been very impressed with them a couple months previously when we had first looked at them together. She had been less impressed, but now was insistent that she was going to read and that she wanted to read those books. Now.

Okay, then! We sat down with the iPad as soon as I got the 2 year old occupied with his building blocks. 

I immediately noticed a difference in my 6 year old’s readiness. 

Instead of needing constant help and reminders the way she had a couple months ago, she was remembering the letter sounds on her own. When we came to a new word that she hadn’t learned before, she sounded it out and then painstakingly wrote it down in her “reading notebook” before we continued. 

At the end of the book, she insisted on reading the next one right away! 

My 6 year old simply created her own reading program — including copywork — on her own terms and based on what she needed in order to learn how to read. 

When she finished the second book, we mutually decided that we should wait until the next day to begin the third. At that point she informed me that her goal is to participate in National Novel Writing Month this November with her two older sisters and me. 

I couldn’t be any prouder. 

Between my oldest two children, I already have a computer programmer, a gymnast, a musician, a ballerina, and two authors. I cannot wait to find out what interests this third child decides to pursue! I only hope that we’re able to continue supporting them all in whatever ways they need us to as they grow and find more interests or refine the ones they already have. 

Homeschooling, Responsibility, and Educational “Gaps”

An excellent post, “What If,” showed up in my Facebook news feed today. It’s about the “what if” questions that “interest led” homeschoolers typically get asked and it reminded me of a discussion I had many years ago – almost a decade now, actually – when my oldest was a baby.

I happened to tell a woman at the local La Leche League meeting that we were planning to homeschool because I had been homeschooled myself and had loved it. In response she told me that she didn’t think she would be able to handle shouldering ALL the responsibility for her children’s education and that she would be too worried about ensuring that there weren’t any “gaps” in their education since she, being only one person, couldn’t possibly know everything that her children might potentially need to know.

She asked me how I thought I could handle that immense amount of pressure.

I thought for a few moments before responding because these weren’t issues I had considered before. In the spirit of the other article and before giving you my responses, I’ll put her statements into the “what if” format.

*What if you fail to teach them everything they need to learn? <- which is also assuming that all the educational responsibility is on the homeschooling parent.

I told her that, first of all, my children’s education wouldn’t all be on me…. because homeschoolers, in my experience, are often encouraged to go out and find mentors or classes in the community to help them pursue their specific interests if the parents cannot teach them adequately or to a more advanced level in that area.

In my own homeschooling life, by middle school I was primarily interested in music and music education so I took piano lessons and was allowed to attend band classes at the local public middle and high schools. By high school, I was well on my way to learning multiple band instruments. By my sophomore year I was attending five separate band classes as well as assisting the high school band director in multiple ways – sorting sheet music, cataloging the music library, tutoring other students, and generally trying to be helpful.

All of that extra music focus was in addition to the usual school subjects that I continued doing through high school. Attending the music classes was also my own idea to start with, helped along by the ample encouragement I received from my parents. I had attended a piano teacher training course and was teaching my own young piano students by the time I was 16 years old.

My parents, on their own, could not have helped me advance as far in instrumental music and music education as I eventually advanced, and yet I managed to advance that far by finding an adult mentor (my band director, whom I still see fairly often on Facebook) and well over a hundred peer mentors and mentees (fellow band geeks, unite!) as well as eventually choosing to major in Music Education at an excellent college.

In my children’s lives right now, finding mentors/classes involves them attending ballet classes and roller skating lessons – which are interests that are also beyond the scope of most public/private schools. We’ve been involved in co-ops in the past for subjects as diverse as art and science. As they find more and different interests that I don’t know enough about to assist them in learning, we will help and/or encourage them to find classes or mentors for those interests as well. Naturally, their musical interests have been well covered by my own knowledge and experiences so far 🙂

*What if your children have significant gaps in their educations because you yourself can’t possibly know everything they need to know?

In response to that part, I simply asked that person I was talking to if she thought her (public school) education had been without gaps and she seemed to suddenly understand. Oh, NO education is without gaps. Right. In fact, she told me that the gaps in her education were part of the reason she was concerned about having the responsibility for her children’s potential educational gaps, which is completely understandable.

We talked a bit more about how there really isn’t any way of ensuring that there won’t be educational “gaps” because even if someone is taught everything in the world in the most effective way possible, they aren’t going to be able to remember every single thing. There will still be gaps no matter how rigorous the curriculum is or how well-trained the teacher is.

I explained so many years ago that the most important thing to me then, as well as now, is that I help to set my children up for a life full of learning. I will do everything in my power to help them learn the basics so that they have a good foundation. I will facilitate and encourage them in everything they want or need to learn. Ultimately, though, I will consider their early learning to be a success if they retain and build upon their innate love for learning and knowledge of how to learn because then they will be able to fill in those inevitable “gaps” as they want or need to do.

My parents, especially my father, modeled a love of learning to me throughout my life that has carried me through numerous interests and jobs. They cultivated my love of learning and I cannot think of a single day when I haven’t learned something new and enjoyed the process. I have easily been able to fill my educational gaps every time it has become clear that there was a gap that needed to be filled. That ability has been priceless to me.

That is what I want for my children.

Disclaimer: I do not speak for all homeschoolers, only for myself. There are many different reasons out there for homeschooling and many other types of homeschoolers that may or may not fit within the scope of this post.

Homebirth Cesarean

I’m particularly excited about the new (and only) Homebirth Cesarean book and workbook that just came out. I don’t have my copies yet, but I have many dear friends who have experienced homebirth cesareans and I’ve been listening to and learning from them for many years now. My own copies of the books will be arriving shortly, but I wanted to write based on my own experiences and what I’ve learned so far, before I read the books. For a review of the book, I recommend checking out this article: http://commonhealth.wbur.org/2015/03/what-to-expect-when-youre-birthing-at-home-a-c-section-possibly

If you aren’t familiar with the term “homebirth cesarean,” there’s a good, albeit unfortunate, reason for that: the term hasn’t been around for very long, oddly enough. The reality of homebirth cesareans has been around for quite some time, but until recently virtually nobody was talking about them and there certainly wasn’t a specific term for them.

A “homebirth cesarean” is, put quite simply, a homebirth that requires hospital transport and then a subsequent cesarean section. Nobody is actually having cesareans at home (as far as I know).

This special term is necessary because, in our (USA) society, it takes a specific type of commitment and belief in the benefits of out of hospital birth in order to even consider a home birth. Usually the women who plan homebirths are extremely involved in the natural/home birth community and, in the pushback against unnecessary birth interventions, this community has had a tendency to demonize interventive births and hasn’t always managed to differentiate between necessary interventions and routine interventions.

Many natural birth advocates have seemed to forget that — although it’s true that the vast majority of births don’t require much, if any, intervention and it’s also true that it’s better to let things progress naturally when everything is normal and going well — every modern birth intervention has a time and a place when they’re appropriate to use. These birth interventions can be extremely necessary and even life-saving depending on the situation. In the name of “positive thinking” women are often actively discouraged from considering the possibility that there could be complications during their births. Homebirth transports in general tend to be all but a completely taboo topic in many natural birth circles.

Coming from that community it’s easy to see how a very medical birth of any type, let alone the ultimate of interventive births — a cesarean — can be perceived as a failure. The questions about what the mom, midwife, and/or doula “could’ve done differently” to “avoid” or “prevent” a surgical birth are all too common from the natural birth community, as are the well-meaning but ultimately dismissive comments about “well at least you have a healthy baby” from those outside of the natural birth community.

Mothers who experience homebirth cesareans not only have to deal with the loss of their preferred birthplace and type, but often also the loss of the support of the community that had previously encouraged them in their homebirth plans. Instead of feeling supported and validated, they are often viewed as examples of home birth “failures” —  cautionary tales of what “not to do” or instead threats to the viewpoint that birth is overall a safe experience if not interfered with.

The reality, however, is that there are no guarantees in birth. You can do everything “right” and still have an unexpected or undesirable outcome. Planning a home birth doesn’t necessarily mean you will birth at home or avoid a cesarean. Safe hospital transport options and the availability of cesareans when needed are integral to helping home birth remain a safe option.

Unfortunately, the emotional fallout from a home birth transport can be devastating even when the mom and baby are healthy in the end and I believe that the natural and home birth movements are partly to blame for that fallout by not acknowledging and talking with expecting moms about the potential for this to happen.

On the hospital side, respectful reception of moms and babies who transport would go a long way as well. However, as doulas and (student) midwives and natural birth advocates, we have to begin and continue to listen to moms who have transported for cesareans, to talk about the reality of transports, and to talk about the reality that cesareans are life-saving operations when they become necessary.

Cesareans aren’t something to avoid at all costs and they don’t signify a failure of women or of home/natural birth. A cesarean is far from the worst birth outcome and sometimes it’s the best outcome.

My Children Talk to Strangers

Yes. You read that title correctly. In fact, my children are encouraged to talk to strangers under most circumstances.

Today I took all four children (by myself – whew!) to a local grocery store where they have a children eat free night once a week. While I was waiting for our food at the deli, my children asked and were given permission by me to go and sit down in the seating area, with the general admonitions to stay together and to actually stay sitting once they found a place to sit.

So, anyhow, when our food was ready I paid for it and headed over to the seating area to find my 6 year old daughter chatting happily with a lady who was wearing her baby in a ring sling, the way I wear my little babies. I smiled at both the lady and my daughter while I continued about 10 feet away to the table where my other daughters were sitting, waiting expectantly for their food, which I delivered to them while also half listening to my 6 year old talking to the lady about her baby brother.

About five minutes later, my 6 year old joined us at our table and began eating. When they were all settled in with their food, my 8 year old started telling me about the lady they had talked to so I asked them a few questions. We have talked a bit about strangers, but I don’t really teach about “stranger danger” and I wanted my girls to have an opportunity to evaluate why they all had felt comfortable talking to this lady.

My first question: “Why did you feel comfortable and safe talking to the lady with the baby?”

I got several different answers, “Because she seemed nice.” “She had a baby.” “I liked her.”

Great! I told them that listening to that feeling inside them is one of the most important things they can do when deciding whether or not to talk to someone. I reminded them that any adult – not just a stranger – who asks them for help or tells them to do something without telling me, is probably not safe and they should let me know immediately about anyone who does those things. I reminded them that if they ever do get that feeling about someone, then they should, what? “Tell you or Papa!” there was a chorus of voices answering that question. That was an easy one.

I want my children to be comfortable interacting with people in public. They will be doing that for the rest of their lives, after all. Besides, anyone can become “not a stranger” simply by introducing themselves and it isn’t just “strangers” who are dangerous for children. Most of the time, children are abused by people who are very well known to them and to their parents.

That last point bears repeating: Most of the time, children are abused by people who are very well known to them and to their parents.

Because of that, I want my children to be very attuned to their “gut feelings” about people. We don’t force our children to hug or even to talk to people whom they are uncomfortable hugging or talking to. They have ownership over their bodies and they need to be able to say “no” now in order to effectively say “no” when they’re older and maybe getting pressured by dates or meeting people who might not have their best interests at heart.

So far, so good. This lesson about trusting their intuitions and watching out for “tricky” adults, along with the many other lessons they’ve had about “secret touching” and the teachings of proper terminology for body parts will hopefully help my children both in the short and long runs as they navigate a sometimes hostile world.

A Proud Mama Moment

My oldest daughter, my just-turned-eight year old, received everything she asked for on her birthday this year. Spoiled? Maybe. Although, given what she asked for, I feel as though I’m the spoiled one.

She asked for a dictionary and  a snake reference book. We found her two reptile books because there didn’t seem to be any that were only about snakes. She has absolutely loved and used them all since her birthday and I’m just as pleased as can be that she loves reading and learning as much as she does!

This is my child who was barely reading more than the words “cat” and “dog” a year and a half ago and who has devoured books as varied as Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Secret Garden, and Tennis Shoes in the past year.

I love seeing how much she loves learning and I love talking to her about the books I loved to read when I was her age!

I used to love reading reference books when I was her age too, and I still do, actually 🙂

birthday books

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