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.

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 ❤


Dandelion Wine

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of dandelion wine. Well, maybe not always, but certainly ever since I read the Ray Bradbury book of the same name. The quote that really caught my fancy was this one:

Dandelion Wine. The words were summer on the tongue. The wine was summer caught and stoppered…Hold summer in your hand, pour summer in a glass, a tiny glass of course, the smallest tingling sip for children; change the season in your veins by raising glass to lip and tilting summer in.

Two years ago, when we were still living in WA, we looked out our windows one fine midday and noticed that our yard was almost completely carpeted with beautiful yellow dandelion flowers and we decided, on the spot, that we should try our hand at making some dandelion wine. We’d never made wine before. We had none of the necessary equipment. So we looked up recipes and methods and headed out to the brewing store to pick up the equipment and then we came back home and made up a nice big batch!

Then we moved across the country and sort of… neglected the brew for the next two years. Oops!

So, we weren’t expecting much when we finally bottled up the wine last Friday evening. The wine ended up being amazingly strong, but quite good! It’s nice and sweet – you can actually taste the dandelion flowers – while also being quite dry and I’m as pleased as I can possibly be to report that it does taste like summer in a glass.

We’ll definitely have to make another batch next summer and this time we’ll actually bottle it up the way you’re supposed to. I’m absolutely thrilled that this batch wasn’t a complete waste though and we should probably try some other foraging-type brews in the future. This was a very satisfying endeavor on the whole. Sadly there aren’t any brewing stores in our new area so we’ll have to plan ahead a bit more next time, but that’s probably not a bad thing.


Driving in a New Town

Learning to drive in a new town is… interesting. We moved to the Augusta, GA area in the middle of December, but I didn’t start driving around until about a month ago because we also have a new car and we weren’t able to move the seat  forward which meant I couldn’t reach the pedals. Eventually we bought a cushion from the Salvation Army so I can sit forward enough even though the seat still doesn’t move… and I digress…

I was very nervous about learning to drive our new car (a ’78 VW bus) in a brand new town. I’m a good driver, but I’ve never regularly driven in a large city or in a town where most of the roads are 4+ lanes wide. I learned to drive in Kitsap County, WA – Land of the Two Lane Roads. Driving on two-lane roads is nice and I really like it, but I found myself at a serious disadvantage when we moved here and I realized that I have virtually no experience driving on large roads.

Over the last few weeks I’ve gotten more practice and am gradually getting more comfortable on the larger roads here. I’m rediscovering that I *am* a good driver and that I can do this! I’m finally starting to feel as though I know where I’m going sometimes without having to print out a long list of directions from mapquest. I’m learning the names of the roads and which roads to avoid during rush-hour (pretty much all of them in Columbia County…).

I’m also getting comfortable with the VW clutch again after having driven an automatic for the last year and a half. I’m more used to having such a large vehicle behind me and virtually nothing in front of me. I’m discovering that VW busses are incredibly fun to drive and almost as fun to drive as a VW beetle – which was my first car.

I’m beginning to enjoy driving again. Life is good 🙂


Relax, Take it easy, Unwind, Pause

My children are napping, my tea is brewing, and my husband is working. It is that lovely time of my day when I truly have time all to myself.

It is a pause between my morning and evening, this time that I have to myself.

I read, I write, I recharge. I sip my tea.

I forget the laundry that needs to be folded. The dishes that need to be washed. The carpet that, once again, needs to be vacuumed. I concentrate on being relaxed. I take deep breaths.

I ponder deep thoughts. I pray for myself and for others. I ask for patience and wisdom.

The dog is relaxed as she sleeps on the rug. The cat is relaxed as she gazes out the window.

The sun is sinking lower and relaxing in the sky.

I lazily sip my tea.

There will be time later to do the dishes. Time enough in the future to vacuum and fold clothes.

There is not much time for just me, and I take it eagerly when it comes.

There is not much time to relax, take it easy, unwind, and pause in the middle of the day.

I let the silence wash over me like the sun’s rays.

The tea is gone. It is time to plan, to do, to live actively! The pause has done its job well. I am refreshed. I am ready to face the rest of my day.

Dishes,  laundry, carpet, dinner! Children, husband, friends! I can do it all. But not without my restful pause.

Home Comforts – The Art & Science of Keeping House

by Cheryl Mendelson has been such a help to me lately. It may very well rank right up there with The Tightwad Gazette and Clutter’s Last Stand as one of the most useful and helpful books I’ve ever owned.

I was never taught how to take care of a house. I never learned how to straighten as I went or how to keep up on chores so that they weren’t always completely overwhelming. In my family, while I was growing up, we only cleaned on Saturday and it was a huge deal. It took practically all. day. long. So I learned to hate cleaning/picking up after myself and others. I learned that it was an all day chore when it happened and that I should put it off as long as possible because it always took forever.

I was also never taught how to get rid of anything. Everything I had, I just assumed I would always have. My parents modeled this behavior to me quite effectively. My dad had shelves and shelves of books that would periodically end up in piles on the floor and wait for weeks before they were reshelved. My mom kept everything. Every. single. thing. She still has boxes of junk mail and coupons from four years ago (maybe longer even) because when we would “tidy” up the house we would just put all those papers in boxes for her to go through at some mythical later date, but “later” never came.

Enter: my husband and two daughters. Now it wasn’t just my own mess that I was procrastinating about picking up. It wasn’t just my own clutter that I didn’t want to get rid of. Now it was my husband’s mess (which, admittedly wasn’t too bad) and my older daughter’s mess (toddler mess… pretty bad!) as well. I decided that I didn’t want to raise my children in clutter and mayhem the way I was raised.

“Clutter’s Last Stand” by Don Aslett came into my life through the Library Book Sale. I now know better how to decide whether something stays in my life or needs to leave ASAP. The fewer things I have, the fewer things I have to take care of and the less time I have to spend putting them away.

I still wasn’t comfortable with the cleaning aspect of keeping house though. I was never sure whether I was doing it correctly or often enough (or too often?). The book Home Comforts – The Art & Science of Keeping House fairly leapt off the shelf at me when I was at Border’s a couple of weeks ago. I was glancing through their selection of house-keeping and organizational books and this one was by far the largest housekeeping book on the shelves. It was practically corpulent!

I flipped through it and found that it contained information about how to take care of almost every aspect of house keeping. It covered how to make your home clean and yet not institutional. It covered how to choose fabrics and how to wash them without destroying them in the process. It covered how to make a schedule so that housekeeping doesn’t become overwhelming due to handling it from crisis to crisis.

I bought a copy.

It is changing my life. I have set aside one day a week to do baking so that my family has bread and breakfast muffins every day. We have a budget now and have put it down on paper so we will be sure to stick to it! I’m vacuuming the house several time a week and I don’t feel overwhelmed by the kitchen because the dishes are done after almost every single meal (breakfast only dirties a couple of plates that can wait until the lunch dishes are washed).

I’m getting my online life under control so that I have time to do the things that really matter – spending time making my house comfortable and safe. Spending time with my husband and daughters. Spending time LIVING! I’m cleaning more than I ever have before, but I feel so much better. I used to hide from my messy house by spending excessive time online and now I am able to spend time in my house because it’s a nice, pleasant place to be.

Now I just have to keep it up!

Home Again

So here we are. Back home again. After spending 4 weeks down in the sunny south we are back in the cold, wet, rainy Pacific Northwest. Oh well, it’s home. We didn’t want to come back this time though.

We’re now 99% sure that we will be heading south later this year to be closer to my family and so that my wonderful husband can finish his degree. A cross-country move with two toddlers in tow, oh boy. We can actually afford to buy a house in the south also and that will be just lovely!

I have much to say about housekeeping and things that I have learned this week, but I think that will have to wait until after the girls have their nap. It’s getting to be fussy-o-clock around these parts and typing is getting harder and harder…

Happiness is….

  1. A clean kitchen.
  2. Sleeping children.
  3. Pretending that I actually know what I’m doing (’cause I’m an adult, right?), and succeeding!
  4. Organic toast with lots of honey on top.
  5.  A snuggly baby.
  6. Listening to KPLU Jazz station all day long.
  7. Surviving a drive to West Bremerton.
  8. Fresh veggies from the CSA.
  9. Singing in the car.
  10. Getting ready to travel to a warmer climate for 5 weeks.
  11. Tandem-nursing.
  12. Using a wrap to carry my baby while sniffing her head!

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