writer, listener

Dear Person at the Movies: Beware the Mom Blogger.

Hi, friend! We like going to the movies, too! But we don’t go as much as we want to because we don’t like bothering anybody. And like you, we love the Tropic Cinema! It’s so great, right? But we usually go to the Regal instead, because the theaters are bigger, so there’s less chance we’ll bother anybody. We wanted to see Ford v Ferrari, though, and it was only playing at the Tropic. A loud racing movie is perfect, I thought, because we might not bother anybody.

We chose a Wednesday, hoping it wouldn’t be very busy so we wouldn’t bother anybody. And we chose the noon showing, hoping it wouldn’t be a full house so we wouldn’t bother anybody. And we sat in the front row, knowing it is usually the last chosen because it’s hard on the neck, hoping we wouldn’t bother anybody. But you came in late, and sat right next to my son.

Before we went into the theater, we did a lot of noise-making, talking, singing, humming, tapping, and drumming. We were also active in our seats before the movie started, hoping to get a lot of it out so that we could do a decent job of masking vocal and motor tics once the show started. Sometimes this preparation helps us stave things off for a while (because we don’t want to bother anybody).

We bought snacks and drinks to keep our hands and mouths busy, hoping we wouldn’t bother anybody. We reminded each other in advance that sometimes it’s better to whisper an in-context exclamation or question during a time the movie is loud, hoping not to bother anybody at quieter times. Sometimes that works short-term and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s one of many replacement behaviors that are difficult to master, but we practice a lot so that most of the time, people just think we’re momentarily chatty or wiggly. Sometimes people don’t notice at all. And sometimes it feels better to be scoffed at for being intentionally too noisy than to be thought of as strange in a way you have no control over. It’s not a fun choice–not that it’s always even a choice.

How did you prepare for the movie today, friend?

We don’t need or want your sympathy (or anybody else’s). In fact, we sometimes feel guilty about what we call the superpowers that far outweigh the challenges. We are so grateful to be who we are and we’re so fully aware of our privilege in this world that being told we should just stay home, among other things, doesn’t bother us like you may have hoped.

He’s eleven, by the way. My son. He doesn’t fully understand, yet, how awful people can be. But he’s learning fast from people like you. And yes, we know that’s life. The world doesn’t revolve around him and he knows that. He knows I won’t always be there to put my body between him and somebody awful. And he’ll continue figuring out how to handle people whose behavior he doesn’t understand. We wish the same skill-development for you, but so far, he’s kicking your ass in the realm of thinking about how personal choices affect others.

I know you’re not evil. I know everybody has challenges and things going on in life. I know that maybe you were having a bad day, and so many other possibilities we can’t know about you. But what if instead of digging in your heels once you realized how wrong you’d gotten it today in the front row, you’d used it as an opportunity for kindness? It would have meant a lot to us right then. A LOT. Obviously, you have every right to be unkind. But would it kill you to strive toward at least as much self-awareness and self-control as a kid with Tourette?

There must be a million reasons that other human beings annoy you on the regular. Damn, that seems like a taxing way to live–so much work! So I guess, as stressful as it is to prepare and sometimes fail in our efforts not to bother anybody, it could clearly be so much worse–we could be like you.



Hot Tub Germs

In all our years of living and growing without coercive compulsory education, reactions from others have included complete support, concern, pushback, good questions, loaded questions, skeptical fascination, hasty judgments, and polite rejection. But we had never been directly accosted by a stranger about it until last night.

Our building is a mix of full-time residents and part-timers who rent their places out while they’re not here. My son loves the interaction with visitors from all over the world and has our trust and the freedom to strike up conversations without a parent by his side. He loves playing with other kids but he also loves talking to adults. Part of that is his personality and part of that comes from escaping unnatural age/grade hierarchy and teacher/adult worship culture. He’s learning that while adults generally have more experience, they really aren’t experts at life. And last night, he took an accelerated graduate seminar on the topic of adults with low self-worth who buoy themselves by bullying kids.

The vast majority of people in the world are good. I know that. The kid knows that. Things normally go very well and the risk to gain analysis usually makes it worthwhile for him. So for him to be hanging out with (or near) a group of adults in the hot tub is no biggie.

I was swimming in the pool, nearby enough to hear that the conversation had become between just one dude and my kid, and it was getting louder. But I couldn’t make out the words, so I made my way closer. The look on another woman’s face said, “If he’s yours, swim faster. This guy is a prick.” Later, I wondered why none of the other adults in the hot tub intervened. They just stayed quiet and let it play out. It’s nobody else’s responsibility, but I feel confident I wouldn’t let a person of any age be verbally assaulted in front of me without saying something.

When I got there, I thought deescalation was the best approach, so I smiled, sat down, and said, “Hi there–what’s up?”

“You his mother?”

“Yeah. Are you having trouble getting a word in? He can hold his own,” I said, still smiling, still hoping to deescalate with a safe-enough joke.

“No he can’t. He’s the one having trouble getting a word in,” he said, pointing to my kid.

“I was stuttering,” my son said, eyes locked on mine, like stuttering meant he deserved this. He sometimes pauses mid-word and experiences echolalia, especially under stress. It’s not uncommon with Tourette Syndrome (which, by the way, has absolutely nothing to do with why we unschool–we began well before symptoms were present).

“Wow,” I said to the manbaby across the hottub, then turned to my son and said,”Let’s go.”

My son ran back to the pool. I took my time getting out because I felt dizzy.

“So is he home-educated or not?” the guy demanded of me as I was leaving.

“We’re not home much,” I said.

“Does he even know MATH?” he demanded. Math is always the sticking point for people, it seems.

“He’s self-directed. He knows  what he wants to know, like everybody else. For example, he knows when to quit, unlike many adults,” I said, glaring at him. By now it was only this guy and his partner left in the hot tub. She was stone silent but looked mortified. Later I think I heard them fighting–him on their balcony, her inside yelling out the door.

He said some other things to me that I can’t entirely remember because I was kind-of shocked and still dizzy, so I said, “We didn’t come here to be quizzed,” and went back to the pool. My son wanted to dissect the situation right then because that’s his nature. So we talked about how he doesn’t owe other people an explanation about how he learns and it’s not his job to convince them. I said I was sorry for my part in leaving him in a position to feel he had to defend himself that way. We also talked about the bystander effect, which he’s coincidentally been interested in lately. The people who said nothing served as a perfect example.

Forensically, I learned more about the way Captain Obnoxious had been grilling and belittling my son in ways that make me want to find him again and do something I’d regret (but not more than he’d regret his actions).

I want to be able to say it was no big deal and that I crushed the guy, but that would just be posturing since I’m obviously still shaken about it after a fitful night. And I didn’t crush him. He crushed me. Hurting a child is an easy and cowardly way to crush a parent.

As I was writing this, my son sat down next to me and said, “If that mean guy last night was born in the 1800s, I bet he would have fought for the Confederacy.”

I had to agree and we had a good laugh. And then we thought about all the things we discussed and learned over the past 48 hours or so (while traveling from Michigan to Key West), purely because he was curious about them. I think we both needed to take inventory and feel some comfort about it, and that’s okay. Doubt creeps in because we’re only human and live in a largely schooled society with near-constant pressure to conform. Sometimes being different is harder and takes courage. That’s life.

And because I turn everything into an unschooling commercial, here’s a sample of what he’s been curious enough to learn more about over the past couple of days, off the cuff:

What can happen when a leader likes power but not responsibility?

Why are Confederate flags sold alongside Trump memorabilia?

Stereotypes related to the southern states and why it can be harmful to perpetuate them.

White privilege.

White nose syndrome in bats is killing them.

What lungs would do in space without protection.

Silicon Valley makes silicon sound synthetic but it’s an element!

How disease-resistant plants are developed and if/how that applies to animals.

The anatomy of dark humor.

The world is mostly hydrogen.

Sharing music/sound demos and beat-making.

Pixel art and animation.

Are loot boxes in gaming like gambling? (thanks, Planet Money)

How many milliseconds in one second? What about nanoseconds?


Checks and balances.

The bystander effect!

Two days ago we were inside a cave system and on the trails at Mammoth Cave National Park. Our Facebook memories showed us that at this time in past years we have been in Philadelphia visiting the Franklin Institute and seeing the Liberty Bell, building a tree house in the woods in Northwest Michigan, playing with democratic free school friends in Maryland, and tending to baby lime trees in Key West.

We feel happy, safe, curious, and challenged. Life is good and we are so very lucky. Thanks for the reminder, hot tub asshole.


Not to coattail, but what if we ban assault weapons AND stop being contemptuous assholes to children?

My heart is broken like everybody else’s. But I’m not sure we should be so entirely stunned when an angry, ostracized loser plots misguided, twisted, sickening, unjustifiable revenge against a world he could not find a way into. To meet an immediate need, gun access reform including a ban on assault weapons seems obvious. But the long game has to include a more concerted effort to understand how we set up too many people to fail.

Power dynamics as a source of abuse is totally a conversation right now, and hoorah for that. Time is so up, right? Now how can we expand it to include children in a meaningful way? I’m reminded how mainstream our general contempt for children is when I see it in the most unexpected places, like when I read Claire Dederer’s otherwise brilliant feminist piece, “What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men?” in The Paris Review. In it, she asks, “Am I a monster? I haven’t been accused by dozens of women of drugging and raping them. Am I a monster? I don’t beat my children. (YET.)” I felt so much WTF when I got to that part. It added absolutely nothing to the piece except to remind me that even the most progressive among us are still perfectly comfortable making child abuse jokes.

At what point do we fully move into popular culture the reality that the threat of violence is implicit in an adult/child relationship to a greater degree than in other relationships with power disparity? If your boss put out a memo that said “I haven’t raped any of you. (YET.)” how would that go over today?

Of all people, children are the most vulnerable. They have the least recourse, including against constant microaggressions toward them that help normalize a world that is contemptuous of them. I mean, what are they going to do about it? In feminism, we have words like, I don’t know, “misogyny” and “intersectionality” to help contextualize and validate what we know is real. What language do children have?

On a macro level, most of us pat ourselves on the back for resisting physical violence against children but continue, generation after generation, to raise them in a system that is emotionally violent toward them. By kindergarten, most children are prisoners (literally, legally) of an artificial system of winners and losers–a system dependent on plenty of losers to measure our winning children against. By the time they graduate from this system, they have a self-image that will color their entire lives. It feels so fucking Hunger Games to me.

Most of the time, we do a decent job of manipulating and coercing children into believing they have real choices. We reward them for every false choice to move toward what was predetermined for them. If they feel uneasy about all this, we make them feel crazy and ungrateful and tell them how lucky they are. If they persist in their resistance to sacrificing their childhood to our short-sighted, broken system, they are often ostracized, sometimes by their own family. They are among the loners and losers who fall through the cracks.

Speaking in vague terms about “mental health” is a way to escape our collective culpability. Addressing “mental health” could, after all, include one of our current best practices–drugging about 1/5th of children in traditional schools to help them believe they should fit there and that it’s really their best hope for a way forward in this world.

I say if we’re going to speak vaguely about societal failings of this nature, let’s at least say something cornball like “love is the answer” instead. Specifically, love each child enough to learn who they are and how they learn and what they need from this world in order to feel like it really is theirs, too. But that would take most of the time and energy and money that we currently dump near-blindly into a system that is perpetuated by its winners—the ones with the most power to change it.

Ban assault weapons, yes. And also work to depoliticize public education so we can have real conversations about our broken school systems and how to make them safer, healthier places for most children to be forced to exist in for all of childhood. I love that there’s a National School Walkout planned. But don’t demand short-term change, alone. Keep the conversation alive and demand that our public schools start making dramatic shifts in addressing how children really learn and grow. Less/no testing, grading, ranking, fewer bells and tight schedules of nonsense few care about, more age-mixing, more self-direction, more trust, more respect for them as already-people (as opposed to future-people), more freedom in the lives they already have so little control over. More love. Can we mandate more love? I don’t know. But we can decrease the pressure and see how young humans flourish when they’re not living in a constant state of duress.


Here, trying.

Here’s a little thing I wrote this morning during that short window after the coffee when everything’s going to be okay and you’re prone to adverbs. You know what I mean, writers. You know what I mean.


The perfect joy I feel about the spring blooming things along the path to my door is wholly disproportional to the effort it took to shove a few bulbs into the earth last fall when it was too glorious outside to be not-outside anyway. This ROI doesn’t seem fair in a No Pain, No Gain existence where Just Anybody isn’t qualified, hasn’t earned it–where we convolute and transpose the small stuff and the big stuff. Since it’s short and I might get only this one, maybe I’ll quit deferring so much of my life to the experts. Maybe that’s growth.

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Calling him Humpty Orange-Tufted Trumpty hurts. Us.

The President is wicked and crude. He nauseates me for a million reasons, not the least of which is his disgusting objectification and assault of women.

That’s why I’m not calling him Cheeto in Chief. I’m not making fun of his weight or his combover. At the rally in D.C. yesterday, I chose not to chant about his tiny hands. 

I’m not making ghost jokes or inaugural outfit jokes about Kellyanne Conway. And I’m not making injection jokes about the Trump women. It’s easy (and feels good for a sec) to do that. But mostly it feels counterintuitive and counterproductive to me. 

My life’s goal when I was 17, aside from having amazing hair daily, was to find the right gold sequined shoes to go with my sequined prom dress (without being too matchy-matchy). And to throw up enough to look thin in the dress. And for my boyfriend to never have to tell me again that while I was still smokin’ hot (no worries!) his friends noticed I was gaining just a leetle bit of weight. Before he dropped me off that night, I asked him to make a stop at the drugstore where I ran in to buy some laxatives.

As a memento of my vanity, the lining of my esophagus gave up (a long time ago) trying to grow back as anything but the same tissue as intestinal lining. Intestinal lining is tougher. I’m tougher now, too. I take responsibility for my choices, but I also know very well how outside pressures and expectations worked to make me sick.

I marched yesterday, in part, because I envision a world where people are judged on their actions and intentions. A world where my 17-year-old daughter doesn’t feel like she has to starve, puke, shit her guts out, or paint her hair and skin to conceal herself under the guise of enhancing natural beauty. I don’t want her feeling obligated to waste any portion of her life working hard to look like a piece of plastic in hopes it will help her to be taken more seriously. On that, I’m trying hard to walk the walk. I hope she knows. I hope I’ve done what I can to help her understand her real value.

I don’t care that he has orange skin. I’m not concerned about his hair situation. I’m concerned that the leader of the free world seems to be a terrible human being. As we’re trying to build something good out of what feels like one of our darkest hours, let’s try not to turn into him on any level.


Self-Directed Learning. At Midnight.

“Mom, 13 plus 13 is 26. I mean it just makes sense because two tens and two threes.”

“It does make sense. ‘Night, Pal.”

“And take two tens away from 56. Bam. 36.”

“Bam, indeed. Goodnight.”

“Four times four? Sixteen just because four, four times. Get it?”


I DO CARE that my son is excited about numbers as awesome tools. I love that mental math is useful and fun for him, even if those light bulbs switch on for him in the middle of the night when, child, my lights are out.

I DON’T CARE whether or not he calls it “math” and I don’t care where short-term, short-sighted measurements would rank him among traditionally schooled eight-year-olds. Standardized tests given at school provide data that have almost nothing to do with what’s good for the measured. They do not measure math resentment and its effects. They do not measure the long-term outcomes of too much, too soon. They do not measure if and how solving equations by hand, especially through coercion, hinders mental math. And they certainly don’t measure things like personal responsibility or capacity for compassion or creativity.

I like that my child is not being measured for the benefit of a system that, at its core, is not most concerned with the real development of the children it consumes to keep itself alive. While I believe some administrators and teachers very genuinely hold that as their core concern (I know many and I like to think I used to be one of those teachers), we’re fooling ourselves at the expense of our children if we believe that’s enough.

It feels like many of us, both inside and outside the school system, are increasingly on the same page. If like-minded people work from all sides, we can help bring to the mainstream an essential paradigm shift about childhood and about how humans learn. That’s the goal, from my perspective. The goal isn’t to take advantage of the great privilege of choice by opting out, only to stop giving a rat’s ass about anybody else.

If you’re even remotely intrigued by what I’m always fussing about, or just want to make sure you still hate the idea of unschooling and free schools, check out the newly formed Alliance for Self-Directed Education: Self-Directed Education.

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I’m in my third decade going hard at this parenting thing. And like many parents, I’ve contradicted myself over and back again, changing my mind about what’s optimal. I frame it all as growth to convince myself that, overall, it’s best to remain open to new possibilities. Still, I can’t remember a parenting trend that’s gotten deeper under my skin than Extreme Waldorfing, for lack of a better description. I realize this is a risky thing to put in writing (especially in an abbreviated form) while we’re in the throes of the Screen Time Bad Movement. But to me, it’s misguided to insist that nature and technology are opposing forces and that the use of technology should be staved off as long as possible.

As an unschooling parent, it was interesting to learn that the founding mind behind Waldorf education was a relatively high-tech dude from the time he was young. Reading (admittedly little) about the origin of Waldorf leaves me feeling that, at their core, Waldorf and unschooling are similar, at least in the belief that vast amounts of creative play is central to healthy child development. For me, the divergence is in the level of trust in a child’s natural ability to learn outside a narrowly contrived perimeter.

Also, to be fair, my experience with the Waldorf approach is limited mostly to interaction with parents who have pledged allegiance to it as an extreme nature-based, anti-tech lifestyle. They are visibly uneasy if their children of pure mind, heart, and creative spirit are breathing too long in the same space as kids who have regular exposure to physical objects not made of wood, copper, or sprouted chia. And purely anecdotally, they’re some of the judgiest families I’ve ever met–moreso, even, than the Extra Super Christian Homeschool set (which is really hard for me to admit).

Spoiler: Our sun will die, and with it, all life on Earth. When that happens, I hope my great, great, quadrillionty great-grandchildren aren’t huddled in Future Forest, eating dandelion greens, playing with vintage petrified Waldorf blocks as they’re wiped into extinction. Instead, I hope they’re safely on another healthy, thriving planet, taking good care of it. Is there anything more natural than survival instinct in living creatures? Survival means we need to preserve our planet for a crazy long time–long enough to figure a way off it before the sun burns out. Hey, it could happen.

Seriously though, let’s quit with the either/or nature vs. technology mentality already. Stop giving kids the idea that technology is inherently harmful–that it’s some kind of guilty pleasure that interferes with their natural development as creative and moral people. Stop feeding into the fear-based cautionary tale du jour.

In the future, the hard evidence we use to legitimize our technology fears will seem as ludicrous as the hard evidence against 19th-century children reading fiction seems to us today. To refresh, the evidence was clear that novels deteriorated the young mind and squelched the real creative abilities of children. Fiction left children with unrealistic expectations of reality and desensitized them to real life–the younger the child, the more dangerous the exposure. Children reading too much would be the end of us, it was obvious.

The greater good can be, should be, and IS served by responsible development and use of technology. Let’s focus on ethical behavior, not on shaming and demonizing our kids’ natural drive to evolve as a species. Instead of putting the brakes on technology because of our unfounded fear of change, hit the gas on the moral component of tech consumption and innovation while they master the tech tools of society through play. Highlight, inspire, and nurture healthy connections between protecting resources and the evolution of technology. Show that those who love and respect Earth most are EXACTLY the people we want highly involved in guiding technological advancement.

We need our little gamers as much as we need our little wild shroom foragers and homemade cricket flour makers. All the better if they’re one and the same (or at least grow up wanting to work together instead of thinking the other is good for nothing of real value).



Bern smartly, pale and precious candles of hope.


Bernie rally

My kids and I rallied for Bernie (literally) and we’ll be leaving our A FUTURE TO BELIEVE IN sign up in the living room indefinitely. But despite all the Bernie Or Bust up here in the Great White North (by people who are suddenly much smarter and more committed to their ideals than Bernie), this Bernie-loving progressive is WITH HER (you know, like Bernie). For whatever reason, it seems entirely plausible to me that Bernie’s in a position to know something about the best course of action for the revolution he inspired. Those ideals are closer than ever to becoming reality–just look at the Bernie youth vote! That’s our future! Yay! And it’s the much nearer future if a need for immediate gratification doesn’t fuck it up by inadvertently setting human and civil rights progress back a good century.

And all these recent variations on the idea that “Bernie or Bust” is at this point, in part, a reflection of white privilege? They ring pretty true, if we can be a little bit honest with ourselves for a sec.

I know this is the first time some Berners have cared much about our political system (welcome i love u so much plz never leave), but the way it typically works is: sometimes your preferred candidate wins and sometimes he or she loses. If your fav comes up short in the primary, it feels good to amplify and hold tight for a while to all the (founded and unfounded) negativity spewed in the process. Thing is, while Bernie was screwed in many ways (He totally was! I so get it!), Clinton won, even adjusting for our completely imperfect and sometimes corrupt system. Hillary MOPPED THE FLOOR with Bernie in the South, actually. The reality is that some of us are clinging to hurt and divisiveness (and yeah, hate) instead of even attempting to see what is now our most reasonable, sustainable (if slower) path forward. And it’s making me sad. Not like personally terrified for the immediate safety of my children sad, because my family will still be comfortably white during a Trump presidency. Just run-of-the-mill middle class white lady bleeding heart liberal sad.

Seems a little like love is the answer unless things don’t go exactly our way. Like, discount the validity of minority votes because why? They’re not as enlightened about the path forward as we are? They just don’t understand all the secret winking, or whatever, that Bernie is doing to signal we’re supposed to write him in or vote third-party? It’s our moral duty to have hope for the masses of misguided hopeless minorities in place of their own hope (poor things)? Come on. Bad hippies. Bad.

It’s like this: The best yurt builder in the world has devoted himself to helping you build your  environmentally sound, non-GMO, most amazing dream homestead for free. And he’s making good progress on the project, but you’ve decided to burn the whole thing to the ground in a fit of rage because he’s taking longer to finish than you expected. That doesn’t teach the world about the pace at which you demand things get better. It just devastates your own family.

At some point (preferably before November), I hope we’re better able to explore and genuinely consider the difference between unbridled hope and unbridled ignorance.


On unhelpful publishing advice (once more, with feeling!)

I’m not feeling mean-spirited. It’s just time for this again, even if it serves no real purpose outside a little positive self-talk.

Publishing advice from those who don’t seem remotely qualified to give it (people who neither write nor read much, for example) comes in waves. Maybe I need to start paying closer attention to what I’m doing when it happens, in case something about my approach is contributing. Serious questions: Does this happen to most writers? Does this happen as frequently to male writers? Does it happen because I disclose too much? Or because I seem especially helpless? Needy? Frustrated? Stupid? Does the fact that this is even on my mind make me seem ridiculous and neurotic, somehow? And why do I care?

I’m at work on my fourth manuscript. And while I share openly about having underestimated how difficult traditional publishing would be (and I thought it would be incredibly difficult) I’m no less determined. As a writer and reader, I appreciate the vetting process–however imperfect–of traditional publishing. I also like when authors are paid for the publication of their work instead of paying to have their work published. The idea that there’s big money in self-publishing because everybody else doesn’t get a cut is mostly a fantasy. The idea that there’s big money in publishing at all is mostly a fantasy. No writer I take seriously is doing it for the prospect of a big payoff.

My experience is not so different from authors you know and love, no matter how much it seems they just popped onto the scene one day with a great book on the shelves. Most traditionally published authors endure years–sometimes double-digits’ worth–of growth (so, rejection) before they hit the right editor at the right time. Either they have many manuscripts set aside or they’ve reworked the same one a hundred-thousand times.

A couple of my more recent rejections are along the lines of: “I love so much about this–especially the voice. But it’s too similar to something on our list.” Or more painfully: “She’s one to watch–please send me what’s next!” In other words, my time will come. I have to believe that.

My process has made me a little nuttier, but my writing is there, or at least better than ever. And my confidence is intact most days, which is in no small part because of my agent. She’s not in the habit of blowing smoke up asses, which makes her encouragement valuable and sincere.

Point is, giving me (and so many like me) advice about how to self-publish, especially when it’s clear you’re not aware there’s much of a difference, is unintentionally like going to the doctor and saying, “Look, I know you’ve been at this medical thing a while and that’s actually super adorable, but I Googled my symptoms last night and here’s what’s up. You’re welcome.”

So, thank you, but please trust that I’m pretty aware of my options. I know what I’m doing, however insane it seems when you know for sure that I could have my books available next week.

Call me stubborn. But also call me patient and hard-working, because I’m those things, too. There’s no other way to be in this business.


What does an unschool day look like?

People new to the concept of unschooling often ask what an unschooled day looks like. It comes up all the time in various homeschooling and unschooling groups I’m part of. These parents are equal parts curious, hopeful, and terrified. It definitely seems it’s the parents, not the kids, who have the hardest time undoing the unnatural link between schoolishness and genuine learning. It was no different for our family.

But, of course, there’s no such thing as a typical unschooling day. It depends on each child, each family. It also completely depends on trust and an absence of coercion. That’s hard to think about, let alone implement, since most of us were brought up in a system built almost entirely on coercion. Most of us were taught to believe that children are always trying to get away with something–that they really don’t want to learn and aren’t learning all the time–unless we coerce them with grades and comparison, threat of punishment, arbitrary limits, ominous warnings about their horribly bleak future if they don’t have schoolish accomplishments or generally comply with what we tell them to do/think, and scary stories about various dangers if they spend too much time doing something they really like (right now, the popular cautionary tale is one of “technology addiction”).

So while every day looks a little different for us, and a lot different among unschooling families, here’s a glimpse of what our recent unschool days (or “days” as we call them) look like:

A few days ago, my seven-year-old unschooler watched a political candidate segment on the Today Show from bed, shared some hilarious political insights, then got up and wanted to know what time it was in Africa. I have no doubt that his question was related to what time of day people from different places might be up and playing online on a server.

This led, eventually, to going to the globe and tracing our fingers across the ocean to Africa, which led to a discussion about how humans were kidnapped in Africa and were forced to make the trip across the ocean in terrible conditions. If they lived, they were sold into slavery. He wasn’t interested in looking up specific routes, so we didn’t because that would’ve been a conversation killer right then. But history tells me we’ll circle back around to the topic in the future and he’ll be ready to build on what he already knows and thinks.

This led back to time, then to the concept of time travel. He was intensely interested in travelling back so he could drown the evil kidnappers in the ocean to save the Africans.

This led to a discussion about conflict over differing ideas about right and wrong. It’s interesting to think and talk about whether or not killing is ever justified, and if so, how so. All the while, he circled the living room. He’s not big on sit-down conversations, which was problematic for his kindergarten teacher. Here, it’s a non-issue because it doesn’t bother anybody.

This led to us recalling a documentary that was on recently about the Northern Ireland Conflict. I hadn’t realized he was paying any attention to it, but he said that more than 3,000 people died. I didn’t remember hearing that so I looked it up. He was right. He really hopes it stays pretty calm over there. Why? Because Jacksepticeye, one of his favorite potty-mouthed gamer/YouTubers, is Irish.

This led to him getting on his computer (what we call “heading to the office”) to see which of his friends were online and ready to collaborate on the suppression of a robot uprising. That could easily have led to a discussion about artificial intelligence, and some days it might, but that day it didn’t. That day, he just wanted to get on with the business of playing. And he can, because he’s taught me that it’s an important and valuable part of his development.

Around lunch time he told his friends he was getting bored. I know this because I sit right next to him at the office, which helps me cope with my stranger danger fears and helps me keep a handle on what he’s interested in. He doesn’t have to sneak around online because he’s not shamed about it. Not even about Jacksepticeye, of whom I’m personally not a fan. Like, at all.

Next, he asked me to help him bundle up so he could go outside. He made miniature snowpeople and whacked sticks against trees until he found one that was strong enough to bear his brute strength. That stick came inside with him to be added to his Special Collection of Sticks That Are Special. While taking his snow gear off, he complained about his gloves. “These pretty much suck because they’re too permeable,” he said. My mom was in my head asking me to remind him that lots of people don’t like to hear the word “sucks” but instead we talked about permeable and impermeable things.

I offered him a late lunch but he wasn’t hungry because he’d been kind of grazing all day. He’s getting pretty good at listening to his body that way since meal times aren’t scheduled into his day. When/if they need to be, he’ll figure out how to adjust. We don’t have a set family meal time. We see each other pretty often and aren’t compelled to schedule a time for meaningful interaction over a meal. This makes it a little weird for him at houses with mealtime rules for interaction (no gadgets at the table, for example), but that’s life. It’s good to learn about all the different ways families do their thing.

When I got tired, I told him I was hitting the hay. He came along, like he usually does. Lately, he likes us to read together from a very scary book. He loves being freaked out. I don’t, but I love him more than I don’t love being freaked out. Before this, he took a many-months hiatus from nighttime reading because he was more into nighttime television like Naked and Afraid or Alaskan Bush People.

The next day, we played with friends for about 7 hours at a bowling alley and arcade and then at home.

Earlier this week he spent all day outside at a nature school he loves. On nature school mornings, I say, “Are you going to nature school today? If so, you need to start getting ready now if you don’t want to get there late.” I can’t remember him ever choosing not to go, but if he does, that’s okay–whatever repercussions it causes are his to experience.

From my perspective, it’s more important that he feels in control of his life and responsible for his choices than to worry about how his choices will embarrass his parents. He’s figured out that he doesn’t like being late to nature school because he misses things that are important to him–like play time before nature school business begins.

Today he spent the day YouTubing, gaming, and trying to find some fun animation software.

He loves technology and nature and is not in an either-or environment set to shame him into or out of one or the other. This month he said he wants to become a professional prankster on YouTube. Last month he said he’s planning to spend half his time on the moon creating structures and half his time as a nurturist. I thought he meant nurturer so we talked about the difference. He did. He will be a very good nurturer. He already is, when he’s not scaring the hell out of people with pranks.

While we were deschooling–the period between leaving school and feeling genuinely confident in the decision to unschool–I’d break down all of his activities into specific subjects and skills. It was silly but necessary for me because it taught me to trust that he really is learning all the time.

I enjoy these organic, unrushed opportunities to meet him where he is and help make connections between what he likes and what he seems inclined to dig deeper into. It’s hard for me to think about the time I wasted believing real learning occurs any other way. I so wish I’d given my older kids similar opportunities a lot earlier, although they do seem a lot freer to pursue what feels right for them (including schooling and classes that they have decided have value for them, which is also unschooling). But I’m grateful for the new perspective and for the circumstances that push me to continually reevaluate and remain open to exploring what seems right for this child and for this family. *

Last week when we were at the community sailing center (in warm Key West, not still-frozen Interlochen), our unschooler struck up a conversation with about ten adults who were there after a race. “You KNOW that kid pays attention at school,” one of them said. We just smiled.

I’m aware of the constraints of parenting after divorce, single-parent families/caregivers, and families in which both parents work outside of home and can’t or don’t want to work different shifts (as some unschooling families do).  I also know that Sudbury-style democratic and free schools are out of reach financially and/or geographically for most of us. That’s why I’m also intensely interested in meaningful change in our public school system, which I’ve written about. 


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