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.