Saturday, June 9, 2012


 This is my boy. He's eleven, almost twelve, and almost taller than me.  He makes a lot of discoveries about his body and his world. We just got this trampoline a week or so ago, and already he's decided that he prefers to jump first thing after he wakes up, before he eats, because it feels best to his body. And just yesterday, he made me work hard in our arm wrestling match. It's a big deal, trust me.

Recently while chatting, he learned a few things about the lives of people he knows, which prompted him to say he was grateful for his life. After he shared his gratitude, I shared how I keep a gratitude journal on my bedside table, where I try to write a few things each night for which I'm thankful. He was curious for a minute.

A couple of weeks ago, he went with me to meet a mom who is considering pulling one or more of her kids from school. Afterwards, Cutter asked what we were talking about, and I shared the general conversation, along with the observation that it can be scary for parents to move from school to unschooling. At that point, Cutter said, "Well, if unschooling doesn't work, they could always go back to what they were doing before."
Shadow puppets we're making for the talent
show at an upcoming unschooling conference.
Recently, when Cutter didn't feel like playing video games, a friend stated that he imagined Cutter's life to be like this: Wake up, watch anime and play video games until something makes him decide to go outside. Cutter didn't really like that description of his life, because he didn't really feel like it was accurate, that he doesn't really play video games all the time. While Cut was trying to work through the statement,  he said, "If you can play video games whenever you want, you don’t want to play video games all the time." (emphasis his)

In case you, too, thought that was an accurate description of Cutter's life, I thought I'd share an overview of the last few days, not because I have to, but because it's fun and our lives are interesting. 

Cutter taking in some
Belegarth tactics.
Saturday found us heading off to a local park, wher I had organized for the wonderful 19 yr. old son of a friend to introduce us to the Belegarth Medieval Combat Soceity.

And then life got full, and I didn't finish this post, so I'll just jump forward a week, to yesterday, and offer up a one day snapshot of radical unschooling, in response to the oft asked questions, "What does it look like?" "What about math?" "What about science?" "What about history?" and so forth. I'm not going to get half of this day down, but one hopes you'll get the picture (on second thought, I don't mind at all if you don't get the picture. I have the picture and it's gorgeous).

Yesterday morn, I picked Cutter up from a two-night sleepover with several friends in Detroit. While there, he watched Dr. Who, played video games, made paper airplanes, got tackled by a younger sibling, ate lots of pizza, and learned a new card game, Magic the Gathering, among other things. 

He asked if we could stop on the way home to get a starter Magic pack. We ran into a store, found the cards, and I decided I would get a starter pack, too, so I could learn and give him someone to play with at home. He spent some time figuring out how much money he had to spend, if he could get a booster pack, which color cards I should get to have the most interesting game play between us. Meanwhile, a guy next to us was feeling up every deck of baseball cards in the aisle. I asked what he was doing, and he flipped a card pack over, showing us the odds of finding a special collectible card. He explained the special card was engraved, and that he was feeling for the indentation. Interesting hobby (or profession, as the case may be).

We carried on in our drive, and I told Cutter about a fun thing, Thinking Sticks, I'd read about in a book I'd just finished, Sandra Dodd's Big Book of Unschooling. Essentially, you have two random words and try to associate them. I threw out "grass" and "history." As he grew silent, I thought he was uninterested (he was in the backseat, the better to spread out his legs and his playing cards). Then he said, "Lots of men died in the grass in World War II." This is how the connections built from there, via questions, computers, reading, philosophical ponderings... (I can't make this awesome shit up):

-In Flanders Field, poppies for remembrance, veterans in the middle of the intersection, Canadians were in the war?, when was World War II (lots of interesting facts on this little time line),

Break for dinner, for which Cut made himself some ramen and shared, via Smosh's Japanese-American host, that it uses 15 calories to properly use chopsticks. And we were off: chopsticks, to seeing about meeting unschooling friends at a Japanese bookstore in NY, to possibly making Japanese food for an unschooling conference potluck to the word 'onigiri,' also the name of a character in a favorite anime series, Air Gear, to wondering what English sounds like to people from Japan, to me sharing about animal sounds being pronounced differently (by humans, not animals) in different languages, to sharing how jumbled students found certain phrases in English from my time teaching ESL ("Whaddyawanna eat for dinner?" is a far cry from the enunciated "What do you want to eat for dinner?" learned in a classroom). 

While we ate, I read "In Flanders Field," and Cutter asked if Switzerland was still neutral. I said, "yes," and then googled it, and found fascinating info. about neutrality: Japan is permanently neutral under a treaty, belligerent countries may not invade neutral countries, but neutrals may defend against such invasions if they occur, etc. Cutter asked why we dropped the bomb on Japan and not Germany and wondered how the world would have been different if we had bombed Germany. 

While we chatted about the war, Cutter was downloading a demo for the game Journey on the Playstation Network. We both immediately fell in love with the game and I looked up their other games, which also look amazing (Cloud: hospitalized kid using the power of imagination to fly - yes, please!) Tried several times to buy the game on PSN, but my card wouldn't work. More googling, discovered due to latest hack that some cards just won't work, so we decided to go a different route and did end up with this amazing game. 

While the full version downloaded, I checked fb, where I found, on the 'Cool things for our kids' fb page started by an unschooling mom, this awesome video: winner of an "Explain a flame to an 11 yr. old" contest put on by Alan Alda; a friend told us about it months ago. 

Screenshot from Journey.
When Cutter had tried the demo for Journey, his character ran across sand dunes,  and then he headed up a sand dune, which slowed him down, prompting Cutter to shout joyfully, "Awww, physics! Yes! He slows down going up."  Scrolling through the Science Friday site, I found a physics tab, and we ended up watching a second short video, this one on taking paper airplanes to the next level.

By then, Journey had downloaded and Cutter settled in to play, I to watch. There are no words, spoken or written; it's a world of musical notes and flying ribbons and capes and maps and creatures that steal your flight. It requires exploration and cooperation with another fellow traveler and using objects to block wind and did I say, it's beautiful! While playing, Cutter noted that the radius of the circle of light which occurred when he flew was expanding as his skill in flight increased.

After a bit of game play, we headed upstairs, I to bed, Cutter to Skype with friends, to finish an anime series, High School of the Dead, and to practice against himself in Magic the Gathering, playing his deck against my deck.

 Today, I can't wait for Cutter to wake up. I'll likely share that my noise tolerance is a bit low, due to my man being gone (therefore, my sleep being minimal) and in addition to an early, bark-filled wake up courtesy of Pip the sloooooowly calming down pup. I'll share the definition of physics, which we both wondered about yesterday, and I'll look forward to learning how to play Magic the Gathering. And from there, the day is wide open. Oh, right, except for trying out some resale shops to see if we can find the suit in Cutter's mind's eye, (for our unschooling "prom"), and trying our hand at onigiri and doing a run through of our shadow puppet show, and, and, and.....

Thursday, May 24, 2012

It is almost inexplicable, my love: a tribute

tribute, n.: an act, statement, or gift that is intended to show gratitude, respect, or admiration.

When I read Frank Maier’s beautiful post about his wife, Ronnie, for May’s “She’s That Mom,” unschooling blog carnival, I was deeply moved. When I saw that June’s blog carnival theme is a tribute to dads, I found myself excited. I primarily use 
"O frabjous day" as a repository for reflections on my parenting/unschooling/self-discovery journey. Therefore, you’ve seen Cutter and me frequently, but rarely have you seen Joe. But today, inasmuch as my words will be inadequate, I am going to enjoy celebrating the remarkable man whom I love..
I fell in love with Joe long ago, in an algebra II classroom, in between passed notes where we planned trips to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum & poetry readings at my house. I still remember the moment he came to class late, having just argued in front of the school board that the military should be excluded from the school campus until they had a policy of inclusion. Quite frankly, he was dreamy. 
From there, we bounced back and forth, until we hit our second decade, I in Texas, Joe in New York, and I enforced a period of silence between us, having burned all his letters to me in a fury of passion. I love the description one of my Shine friends gave, of that smoke having sent all that passion and love into the skies, to spread and return. He still has every letter and note I’ve ever written. He is an amazingly loyal fellow. Just ask his friends, the ones he's had since grade school. 
Letters brought us back together, and we reunited in Chicago, where we decided over a beer and a ball game to get married. Two months later, we did not decide to get pregnant, but pregnant we were. And when I told Joe, practically a kid, in his second year of law school, he was happy, excited. He was remarkable. And when Joey (now Cutter) arrived, he didn’t question the baby in the bed between us. He just enveloped us both in his calm love, dancing us through the nights with his reggae and hip-hop mixes.
Move forward a mere 16 months, when our second unexpected joy, Isaiah, arrived early and full of complex congenital birth defects. Joe was in his first year at a large Chicago law firm. Isaiah spent that first year of his life in a pediatric intensive care unit - and every morning before his 12 hour workday, and every evening after it, Joe went to the hospital, making sure he caught rounds with doctors, making sure he had time to hold his younger son before heading home to his older son. 
It was Joe who showed me what open communication looks like, and I will never forget the day we walked out of the hospital, months in, and he said to me, “You know, it’s okay to think it would be easier if he died.” I don’t remember what my response was, but I have always thought that was an amazingly courageous thing to say and I always know that he has room for me, for Cutter, for everyone to be who they are, to think whatever they need to think, and he has the patience and willingness to listen to and talk with those who have need. And it was Joe who carried his boy, wrapped in a favorite quilt, down the stairs for the last time when I could not bear the thought of doing so.

He has trusted me, and trusted Cutter,  every step of this radical unschooling journey, while showing me that a child needs a relationship with both parents, and that it's okay for those relationships to look different.  He has been a joy to watch as a father, whether telling made-up Thomas the Tank Engine stories to his boys at bedtime, or taking Cutter to the set of a movie he was doing legal for so Cut could meet the director and watch a scene being shot. He has shared his love of hip-hop and chess, of Sherlock and film noir, of Jeopardy and video gaming and golf, without force, without expectation, and for that reason, his joys have become our joys. He shares his work at the dinner table, soliciting opinions and he plays frisbee in the backyard even when I know he’s fatigued. He has been imminently flexible, always supportive, and decidedly tolerant (in the most positive of ways) when it comes to projects on the table, sleepovers, writing group meetings, everything. He has listened through the years as I ponder aloud every. single. thought. that occurs to me in the realms of relationship and parenting, and he's been an, "Okay let's give it a try," presence as I moved us further into radical unschooling, away from arbitrary sleeping/eating/gaming limits into a wholly new world. And these days, he shares radical unschooling with associates in the corporate world, with much more finesse than me, I might add.

A final short story. It seems so small, but it so very beautifully illustrates what makes Joe such an amazing dad: he loves to spend time being with his son.

Wednesdays tend to be a our always hectic day around here. Joe commutes to work in Grand Rapids, 40 minutes away, while Cutter and I drop Pip (the puppy) off at doggie daycare before heading in to one of the grandma’s houses in Grand Rapids. I then head off to volunteer with Child Life at the Children’s Hospital before heading back to Holland to pick up the pup, while Cutter hangs with a grandma&grandpa. Joe then leaves work early to have dinner with Cutter and the grandparents before driving Cutter to his freerunning gymnastics class. After class ends at 8:15, they head back to Holland, usually arriving home around 9 p.m. 
There was a Wednesday recently where Pip was boarding overnight as Joe was in Detroit for work and I would be taking Cutter to and from class. I said something to Joe about his getting a break, meaning not having to get home so late during an already late work week. He disabused me of that notion, sharing that the Wednesday night drive home was the best part of his week. When I asked why he said, "Because I get to spend time with that dude (Cutter), and we get to talk." 

Yeah, he's that dad.

So many words, and I  have not  come close to sharing the gift that is my love, the father of my children, though I hope that my intentions were clear, that some glimpse of  my gratitude, respect and admiration have been revealed in the attempt. 

Written for the June Unschooling Blog Carnival: A Tribute To Dads

Sunday, May 13, 2012

You do not have to be good.

Sometimes the body loves a good book, a good couch
and a good pup to warm the toes.

Wild Geese
            by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
       love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

I have found myself thinking lately of gratitude, and of guilt. Of the ways I might replace the latter with the former. Of the number of times I say, "I'm sorry," each day when, if I stop to think about it, I'm in no way feeling apologetic. More often these days, I find myself trusting that the world has room for me, that I need not apologize for the space I require to live as who I am. 

A couple of weeks ago, I went dancing with a few close female friends. As we danced and my friends occasionally danced close to me, it felt important to share that I'm not very good at dancing close with other people, from good friends to my husband. On the drive home with one of the women, she delighted in the way I shared my need to have space when dancing, which felt refreshingly upfront to her. I was surprised at her comment; I had not considered it a forward moment on my part– it was much more about gratitude. I did not feel bad or guilty for explaining my preferred way of dancing; I was grateful to be surrounded by such women, women with whom I could share my needs and trust that they would be accepted and honored.  

Since then, I've been wondering what it might look like if I respond with gratitude, with trust, to those instances that bring up an automatic guilty/apologetic response. Trust that the world has room for my imagination, my animal body. Trust that whether I growl, or whether I purr, the world will not collapse in upon me, but will simply continue to be. 

None of that is terribly clear, I'm afraid. To be more concrete, I ponder meeting my loved ones with gratitude rather than apology. "Mom, I can't make it to the play, but I love that you thought of going with me," rather than "I'm so sorry I can't go," plus a string of guilty explanations.  "Honey, thank you for understanding my need to huddle speechless on the couch this afternoon," rather than "I'm sorry I'm not feeling well enough to help with x,y,z." None of the guilt, all of the truth, all of the love.

This essay by Serena Dyer got me thinking of the above poem by Mary Oliver, a poem and poet I have long loved. She has an ability to bring me back to myself, to settle me in amongst the trees, the wildflowers and the geese, an ability to remind me that I need not apologize for the space I require.

This morning, I woke up, jumped across the explosion of sleeping boys spread before the stairs, and slipped outside for a run. I wanted a hands-free run, so I did not take the dog. I then went to the grocery, picking up supplies to make a breakfast for the five pre-teen&teen boys & to grab coffee for my love. As the one making the breakfast, I bought gluten-free waffle mix, so I could eat some, too. After everyone was fed, I set out to make my breakfast: waffle topped with sauteed dandelion greens, one egg over easy, mascarpone/thyme/garlic sauce and bacon bits. As I sat down to eat, my husband mentioned he needed to pop up to the corner store. I asked him if he could please wait until I'd finished eating. The day continued full of boys and video games and new friends stopping by, knitting and new puppy visiting, making a rhubarb cobbler for the woman across the street because I knew she was saddened by her daughter's move across the country. More knitting (an afghan w/skull intarsia pattern for the boy) on the sun-laden back porch as the boy & man traveled to my in-laws' house for a Mother's Day dinner. I don't recall apologizing once. I recall being grateful for a house full of kids, for my body's ability to run, for my husband's willingness to walk the dog, for my mother-in-law's understanding that I preferred a Sunday at home. I did ask my husband at one point if he was bothered in any way by my lack of desire to celebrate Mother's Day. I didn't apologize for it, but I was willing to explore ways to meet all our needs if he was feeling the need for a change. I'm grateful that he wasn't. 

I did not walk on my knees today. I accepted the world's offer. And when I was too long without food, I was not good– and the world did not collapse. I simply stated my need for food, and the world flowed around me, and the cardinal sang its song, and I joined in the dance. 

Happy Dancing!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Yeah, I'm that mom.

I'm that mom. 

It's been some time since I've blogged, nearly a year, and I thought using the monthly suggested Unschooling Blog Carnival topic would be an easy way to get back into the flow of words.

And it was pretty easy, like writing a prolonged Facebook status update: I'm that mom, the one who helps her son follow up on his interest in knife throwing by taking him to the knife and gun show; the one who plays frisbee, soccer, basketball, etc.; the one who dyes her son's hair fire red and keeps up on all his anime shows.

I could go on and on, and sometimes that's fun for me, to share what our days look like, how they are so full and varied, but it didn't feel quite right this morning. I wanted to offer more, a deeper look into why I'm that mom.

From the beginning, I've been that mom, the one who holds play to be one of the most important and worthwhile ways in which children and adults engage with the world and each other. Yet I was also that other mom, the one who let mainstream parenting voices override the voices inside my head, the mom who had set bedtimes and a tight rein on food choices.

Always unschooling with our two boys, I began to stumble onto radical unschooling as we attended therapy with our younger son, Isaiah, and I began to question what our goals were for therapy in general, and in life, as parents of these two amazing boys. The answer, as Isaiah lived his last year of life, was that I wanted our boys to know happiness in life, of the deep, contented, intensely playful and engaged variety.

After Isaiah died, I was the mom who suddenly had one child, and a lot of time to think. I'm the mom who read a ton, books and online, John Holt, Sandra Dodd, Anne Ohman, Pam Laricchia, Rue Kream, and who observed and talked with wise friends in person– the mom who slowly started integrating radical unschooling principles into our living, who joined online communities and began attending unschooling conferences to support our journey. I'm the mom who has in turn been supported, in thinking, talking, parenting, in everything, by The Esquire, a trusting and patient man.

I'm that mom, the one who has traveled a long way from where I started, who recognizes that having a good relationship with my son is one of the greatest gifts I can offer both of us; that relationship is built on friendship and listening, trusting and working together to solve problems, silence and play and many amazing conversations.

So yeah, I'm that mom, the irreverent one, the one who has her own DS and who loves anime, the one playing chinese jump rope at the park, the one who can speak LOLcats, the one swordfighting in the backyard, the one whose son can look at her face and ask “Mom, are you tired? Or do you need to eat?,” because he knows me as a whole being, because we're in a relationship and we care for each other. I'm that mom, the one whose living son calls many times each day, “Hey, Mom,” because he knows I'm present, I'm listening, I care to know who he is and what the world holds for him, because I am his friend with whom he shares his questions, his laughter, his tears, his life.

Yeah, I'm that mom every single day, the thankful one.

Written as part of the Unschooling Blog Carnival.