Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Toward all that is unsolved

"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart, damn it."

Okay, the damn it is mine and that's not the complete quote. That's just half the quote and a good portion of my frustration. I'll share the rest of Rilke's wisdom, though not until the end of my tale, which is when I became a bit wiser and a whole lot less frustrated. Many of you have recently heard this tale, so forgive my repetition.

If you weren't aware, we've been not trying to not get pregnant since the fall of the year Isaiah died four years ago. At times, this has been background fuzz for me, a journey there, but happening far away. And at times, especially more recent times, it has been front and center, uphill and downhill and full of corners I couldn't see around no matter how far I traveled. So, naturally, instead of patience in the midst of the mystery, I began pounding my head (fists would be too sensible) against every door I spied: adoption, fostering, career, pregnancy, vasectomy. I'm not sure I cared which door opened, as long as one of the answers was final. And preferably offered up by someone else.

This is where I found myself about a month or two ago, when I was feeling the urge to follow the fostering path again, feeling like I wanted to offer the Boy more companionship (not necessarily his want, mind you), feeling like our family was just right, feeling like I was ready to explore career options. I was going no where fast and no one was telling me what to do. Damn it.

And then we spent a weekend with my sister. And I sat there one day watching the Boy lay on the floor next to their big, gentle dog, Jersey. He hugged and petted and loved on that dog and a door opened. A door I'd never even guessed at the existence of before that moment. And on a drive shortly after that experience, I asked the Boy how it felt, when he imagined bringing another child into our home or bringing a dog into our home. He somewhat hesitantly said, "About the same," to which I said, "You know, it's okay if one feels stronger than the other," to which he quickly replied, "Ok, a dog." So we started walking through the dog door–

–and I realized how completely trapped I'd felt in my desperate seeking for an answer to the "more children" question. How I'd been ignoring the fact that we did have "more children," though only one still living. How I'd been narrowly defining the idea of companionship. How I'd been feeling guilty around my desire to explore my own passions of play and medicine. And then a window presented itself.

The following weekend we walked in memory of Isaiah at our local Hospice of Michigan Walk and Remember. While waiting to walk, I saw a woman whom I knew, though I wasn't sure how. In an unusual move, I approached her and it turned out that her husband used to work with the Esquire and we had talked about social work in the past. We agreed to meet the following week for coffee, where I learned she was currently working part time as a social worker with Hospice of Michigan, engaging families using her skills, including play therapy. I talked to her about my interest in Child Life, a program which works to ensure children in medical settings retain a child's life, particularly in the arena of play, and which requires less schooling, (because I already have a bachelor's) than going for an MSW, which had been feeling daunting to me. She said it sounded perfect for me.

And then another window. Talking with my sister the following week, I told her of my coffee date, my interest in Child Life. And she shared that while at the children's hospital with her son, who was receiving his weekly chemo. treatment, a Child Life specialist had worked with him, and she had thought of me the entire time.

Since then, we've started exploring types of dogs, watching shows on t.v. about training puppies and discussing dogs we've loved. And I've started the process to volunteer in the Child Life department at our local children's hospital, where Isaiah made his last hospital visit ever - and where both the boys were delighted with the play provided by the Child Life specialists.

"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and books that are written in a foreign tongue.

Do not now seek the answers which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live with everything.

Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer." –Rilke

These words have been in my living space for the last 11+ years. I may have had them memorized but it wasn't until this year that I began to have any understanding of them and I sense that a lot of it has to do with trust. Which I'll touch more fully upon in my next post, where I try to unpack a few tasty morsels from the recent We Shine with Unschooling conference we three attended.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Beamish Boy Learns

If you don't live with us (and you don't, but we'd love to have you for a visit), it may be hard to imagine how it is that the boy learns. If you ask him what he likes to do (and you probably will), it may be hard for him to answer with anything beyond video games. If you ask him what he's learned lately, he will likely say, "I don't know," or "Nothing much." This is not because that is the truth, but because there is no defined, or correct answer - there is no box in his head labeled Important things I have learned, which he will know to draw from when someone asks him that question.

So I thought I'd sit down and play with seeing where this week has led us, in terms that can be labeled learning, but are more truly an expression of endless curiosity.

Learning from a pack of 3-D opaque ink:
While Cutter and I were eating one day this week, he pulled over a pack of art pens I'd left on the table. The questions began. "So, what does opaque mean?" I answered. Then, on one side, he noted the writing in English, on the other, writing in a different language. He compared and said, "S0, in Spanish you say writing you can feel by saying ecriture en relief." I explained that the language was French and how the translation is not entirely literal. En relief led to a discussion about the style of art known as bas-relief. From there Cutter asked me when I had learned Spanish and I shared how I had studied in college and then taught ESL after college, when he was a baby and came with me. We looked at South America on the map and talked about how the word Hispanic can be used to describe people who speak Spanish but that you wouldn't assume they are Spanish because Spain conquered much of South America, but that there were indigenous peoples, with native languages, already in those countries. Interesting!

Learning from a comedy:
A few days ago, Cutter and I went to see Jack Black in Gulliver's Travels. After the movie, Cutter talked about how Jack Black is always cast as himself and we talked about type casting of actors. At the end of the film, Black sings the song War, which Cutter loved. Later at home, I looked to see who had written the song and shared with Cut that it was by Edwin Starr, a Motown artist (another link in our visit Detroit soon chain) and the song was an anti-Vietnam protest song. Just as I was sharing that info., Cutter beat story mode on Black Ops and was watching a cut scene (video) of Fidel Castro, JFK and Richard Nixon talking - another link in our Vietnam war chain. Cool!

Learning from a book or two:
Cutter and I have been reading aloud each of the Sisters Grimm books by Michael Buckley for a couple of years now. We recently acquired the 8th book in the series, which finds the three main characters traveling through a series of classic fairy tales. At one point, they travel through The Wizard of Oz and Cutter and I tried to remember if either of us have read the original, because some details are unfamiliar. As I read, Joe (remember, he's the all-around trivia god) walked through and shared that L. Frank Baum wrote Wizard of Oz in Holland, Michigan (where we live!) and also added some historical/economic context to the story being about the gold standard.

Learning from Legos:
On a final note, I shared this picture because Cutter and I were playing Legos and he noticed something that I hadn't even seen. My Lego people were to the right of the owl, representing Eden and made out of all white bricks. To the left of the owl were Cutter's people, made of all black and red bricks. In the middle, the owl, keeper of the chalice. Cutter was excited that I get this shot because he noticed that the sun shone on the owl's right half and the owl was cast in shadow on the left, a perfect image, a metaphor for our good and bad sides.

As I learned this week, education, in one reading, comes from the Latin word educere, meaning to draw out from within and I delight in finding out what draws out this 10 1/2 year old boy with whom I walk the days.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Construction Work

This photo was taken while Cutter was immersed in a Hardy Boys graphic novel. His love of graphic novels has led me into the wonderful world of comics and graphic novels, which I never really knew existed. I, myself, just finished the first collected volume of Sandman, by Neil Gaiman and can't wait to get my hands on the rest.

Upon seeing this photo on fb, a homeschooling friend commented that she was envious, that she couldn't get her son to do anything constructive. I commented that Cutter wasn't being constructive, that he was just enjoying himself.

My response niggled at me throughout the morning as not quite right. By saying he wasn't being constructive, it seemed I was saying he wasn't doing something of value. Thankfully, my eloquent friend and fellow unschooler, Amy Carpenter Leugs, chimed in, pointing out that "... constructive = what the heart loves, in unschooling speak. Because by doing what he loves, the child *constructs* his world and his connection to it ..." I love this image of children building their worlds from the inside, from who they see themselves as, rather than attempting to conform their inner lives to parental or societal constructs.

Amy's words spoke to the niggling feeling I'd had to my own response. I did not mean to imply that Cutter was not doing something of value, but that he was not doing it because it was anyone else's idea of a constructive thing to do. He was reading a graphic novel because that activity holds meaning and joy for him. If I had, for example, set a random time and said, "Ok, it's time for you to read now," or if I chose the book I thought he should read, well, he'd come to hate reading pretty quickly I'm sure, no matter how constructive I assured him it is.

Beyond graphic novels, Cutter's building blocks have largely, of late, been made up of playing Little Big Planet 2. He's discovered how to make a music video with sackbots and it's really cool to watch him set up camera angles and dance moves. He's been exploring his sleep needs as well, which I'll write about next time. And on our list of upcoming constructions: screen "puppet guts" t-shirts (you'll see!), film a live action movie and make silent foam shoes (the better to Ninja kick you with).

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Invention of Lying

Yep, I took the title from a hilarious and popular movie. Perhaps you know the movie, starring Ricky Gervais. In the fictional world of the movie, no one in the world can lie. Until Ricky Gervais' character tells a lie. He makes up a story about the afterlife to comfort his dying mother. The plot continues from there, revealing all the funny and poignant moments that happen in a world where only one person can lie.

The subject of the movie, lying and its inception, has been running around in my brain these last few weeks.

You see, the boy has recently told a few lies. If you're anything like me, your first, internal reaction may be that some dark evil has invaded your home and your child will now and forever be pursued by the demons of hell and you will fail as a parent. Okay, so that's bit dramatic, but I must admit to surprise. Not because I never expected him to lie- I know it's a natural part of growth in language and mental faculties. But because, as radical unschoolers, so many of the more traditional reasons to lie are removed. Or so I thought... (cue dramatic piano: dun, dun, dunnnnnnn).

The lies Cutter told were around the subject of when he went to sleep. This was especially baffling as we haven't set a bed time in years and years.

After the fact, I talked with him about trust and how it feels when he lies to me and wondered if he might have some insight around why he lied. In hindsight, I believe this type of response: Why did you do such and such? regardless of the gentleness of the tone, just sets the scenario for more lies to be told. Children want their parents to be pleased with them, to enjoy their light. If it takes a lie to do that, (and if you've not had the 20+ years of self-reflection that enable you to offer up a possibly clear reason for your action), why would you hesitate?

It came to me that I needed to stop focusing on THE LIE and start looking at the big picture, and my role in it. I think sometimes I lull myself with the idea that because we live this way as a family that everything is going to turn out just fine and that's when I fall down on the job, so to speak. Radically unschooling, no matter how "easy" it looks, is not easy. It's rewarding and challenging and fun and complicated and beautiful - and never just plain ole' easy. So, the big picture:

My dh and I always ask one another and the boy how our sleep was, when we managed to fall asleep, if dreams were dreamed. We also, more so recently, have been talking with Cutter about the shadows under his eyes, asking if he needs help moving from computer to bed, pointing out what seem to be the signs of fatigue.

If someone I loved asked me every day about when I went to sleep, I would infer that it meant a lot to them. That there was weight tied to the hour of sleeping. That they expected something other than the answers I gave. That it might be a good idea to give them an answer they would be pleased with, whether truth or not, in order to make them happy, calm their fears. It would be the wise and kind thing to do. When looked at in this manner, a lie seems a kindness.

It also seems to be precipitated by my actions more than anything else. As Cutter grows, I have to think in different ways about what it means to parent consciously. I have to more closely examine my role in our relationship as he brings more of himself to the table. I have to make room for the boy with shadowed eyes who leaves me sweet facebook messages at 1:30 a.m. The boy who clearly didn't enjoy last night's dinner but still looked at me and exclaimed, "Thanks, Mom, that was great," before he went off to do his thing. That boy is going through great growth in his interactions with others right now. He's offering up his opinions more often, showing up when he's upset, trying to read others interactions, offering encouragement and support.

To borrow from a good friend, this radical unschooling is about allowing our children to construct themselves from the inside. Sometimes a child's inside world demands things we, as parents, fear - such as little sleep, or lots of candy, or friends with whom we can't connect. We can sit with those fears and concerns and look at our role within them without attempting to build our child up from the outside. Or we can stop their internal construction by attempting to impose our own, external edifice upon our child - and in this way, they will lie in order to try and conform to the constructions we've demanded they wear. Or we can spend our time welcoming the unique creation that is our child. We can construct bridges between us that leave no need for conformity.

Joe and I have made an effort of late to not make a big deal about hours slept, to stop asking Cutter when he fell asleep. Instead, we ask about his night- a new book on c.d., a funny t.v. episode, a useful walkthrough. If there is something he wants to be up for in the morning, I let him know and he sets an alarm and decides how much earlier than normal he will try to go to sleep. He is a boy that could be head down, eyes shut on the couch but if you ask him if he's tired, he'll say Nope, not even a little. He is a boy that never wants to be tired, that wants to stay awake as long as he can, to explore, to play, to learn - and sometimes that looks scary, but the disconnect that occurs when we try to steer him away from his own direction, albeit unconsciously, is far scarier to me.

This is is a topic I continue to ponder - how to sit with and respond in such situations, how to remember the very smallness of these moments in the overall picture, how to look at my own role in these moments. If the above post feels incomplete, imperfect, well, it is - to the extent that I am still growing alongside my boy.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Guarantees Will Be Offered

Today is the birth day of our younger son, Isaiah. It is also the fourth birth day that we have celebrated since his death at age five.

Whenever my brother-in-law and I share space, he offers me the small kindness of asking about Isaiah, about how I am missing him, what that looks like. He wonders if it looks like imagining Isaiah at age nine, as he would be if he were living.

It does not. Isaiah never will be nine, will never be more than the five years we shared, for my own reasons of not wanting to fall down the rabbit hole of what could've been. I have what is.

When I was five months pregnant with Isaiah, I underwent the standard ultra-sound. Afterwards, the nurse called and said they were unable to see all the chambers of his heart. She said it was likely a fluke but that unless I came in for a second ultrasound, they could not guarantee that everything would be perfect. I assured her that she would not be able to guarantee that regardless and opted out of the second ultrasound. From that moment, my mind jumps to the day, after several sessions, that we stopped occupational therapy. The therapist expressed concern that Isaiah did not color with the skill of his peers. And again, a jump, to the last hospital stay, the last series of tests. We asked for hospice and the cardiologist urged us to continue treatment. There could be something else that could prolong his time with us.

So many guarantees are offered, all with the perception that there is one direction in which your child's life should head, some perfection for which you must reach. I carry these images and thoughts with me as I remember Isaiah, as I live with Cutter. As I try to remember that nothing that I do can guarantee his happiness, his health.

I forget. I worry about vegetables and exercise and video game content. I read and I overthink and then, of course, I remember again. I remember that it was not Isaiah's "normalcy" that endeared him to us. It was his wild way of shouting LIGHT BLUE, the way he laid all out on the floor so he could better see the wheels of Thomas move along the track, the way he wrapped his hands in your hair to fall asleep, the way he smiled that giant smile even after puking. Yep, there was no sort of normal about that boy - and he was amazing.

I remember that there are no guarantees. That I could make Cutter eat every vegetable known to Mother Earth, demand he exercise the recommended thirty minutes every day, limit his video game time to one hour a day - and he could still die.

I remember that the day is made by what joy we allow in, not by what we're trying to keep out. So, today, I will let my sleeping boy sleep on. We will buy giant, fancy cupcakes to celebrate our missing boy. We will play with our sackboys on Little Big Planet and shoot each other on Black Ops. We will read on the couch and wrestle on the bed. We will be weird and wonderful and imperfect. Today, I remember.