“I used to know it by review tests, and restlessness.” *

Today I received a wonderful query from Formspring:

Q. You often link to a *lot* of fascinating web-content. How do you find/keep up with all of these bloggers/sites/etc? Are you magic?

A. I have a feed reader and two tweetstreams. Anytime I run across a blog or newsite or humor site I enjoy or am challenged by, I add it and it automatically aggregates the stuff. On Twitter I have a personal account (kellyhogaboom) and my… I don’t know, “social justice” account (underbellie). I follow (mostly) friends and/or awesome, funny people at kellyhogaboom and I follow (mostly) other friends or sites or groups in activism, social writing, etc. I use a program where I can see both these tweetstreams (also search terms I am interested in too).

The problem isn’t growing a crop of great information, that’s easy. The problem (for me) is not getting fatigue from it all! Obviously one can OD on too much horrible news about homophobia and bullying and rape of Congolese women and girls, etc. Occasionally I go clear my feed reader without checking some posts. I can also just skim my more intense tweetstream. It depends on what resources I have. In general though, I do read a lot online.

I am currently looking for humor-only or uplifting-only content for those times I need some nice, positive feelings. Problem is even on humor sites there is no escape from the crappy stuff I read all day and the work I am committed to. For instance I remember I was looking at cakewrecks and having a great time laughing. Then there was a cake with a naked woman on it giving birth. You can imagine the negative and horrid comments people were making about women, their bodies, birth, etc. It really killed my “fun”.

So far cuteoverload is doing well as a recharge. Talking to my husband, snuggling with my kids, going running, and having four cats is also helpful. At times cooking takes me out of the reading-funk although I am known to cook and be thinking and reflecting the whole time.

I take some pride in the fact many people find my writing (my own and shared) influential and helpful. It *is* work, in case anyone was wondering!

The query was a good one because it allowed me to take my bearings and once again consider how much reading I do daily – reading that could easily overwhelm me. I’m a passionate person and I use my brain, mind, soul and body to live out my life. I sneer at the concept of “balance” as I know it from all the laydee magazines because they’d have me doing yoga every day in my cute little outfit and making sure to get my “date night with husband” each Friday all tidy and take vitamins first thing in the morning with my balanced breakfast and make sure to have an hour to myself before sleep, [snore]. Now I admire a routine with that kind of regimented “balance”, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not my life today. I work and play and run and rest in fits and starts and it works very well indeed for now.

Here are two inspiring pieces I found today:

The first, an article called 70 Ways Unschoolers Learn to Deal with Frustration at Bonnie’s blog Follow That Dream – a delightful series of work as evidenced by the About Me and Notes On Language pages (the latter of which is so incredible I want to crib it).

This particular post of Bonnie’s (read it. No read it. Do it. DO IT) hits me deeply because compared to most anyone I know, Ralph and I are staggeringly “permissive” parents. We are mindful of their health and safety; in their desires and lifestyles we are helpers, not interference or dictatorial Adults who Know Better. Thus, for examples in how this plays out, our children do not go to school, they are not required (anymore) to do household chores, we do not make them eat some things, we do not limit the consumption of other things. We do not punish them if they do something “wrong” or behave badly. We do not take things away from them to solve problems. We do not manage their friendships and their schedules (although we help them with anything and everything when they want it). All of this is a constant ongoing work and we make mistakes and slip-ups, when our behaviors do not support our ideals. Personally, sometimes I’d love to skip to the part where I’m getting it Perfect. It ain’t gonna happen.

From what I’ve seen, many people tend to read about these strategies and – depending on whether they’ve met us – react quite strongly in opposition. I’ve heard many claim parents who employ such methods and eschew mainstream ones are “permissive”, “neglectful”, “naive”, “irresponsible”, “lazy”, “goofy”, “crazy” – etc (I notice those who’ve met us, when they offer an opinion it’s to compliment our children and express admiration, if a bit of confusion). The list goes on. It’s hard to speak about parenting when you really are doing it differently than lots of other people; one reason it’s hard to encapsulate our non-mainstream parenting strategies and the incorrect assumptions about our life is that the attacks come from all angles (I mentioned at Underbellie how our family choices vis-a-vis television and film could be tasked as overprotective and isolationist or neglectful and far too worldly, depending who’s doing the judging).

So I write about family bliss and I write incident by incident, I guess, although I am always happy to get in a larger-scale conversation with an interested party and I’m honored to be asked for advice by families who live differently (and if you think about it, all families live differently from one another).

Bonnie’s article spoke to me because lately I’ve been thinking about how many people work so very hard to make their kids learn this or that on their (the parents’/carers’/school’s) timeline, or to require them do specific “character-growing” work X or Y (again, according to the adults’ wishes). It’s all done in the name of loving and caring for children, as are many great and not-so-great practices. In addition there’s a lot of fear involved; our parenting culture contains trace elements of the poisonous pedagogy; people really truly believe if they let their kids have freedom during the day their children would do nothing but grubby television-watching and eating terrible food (for. ever.) – and by the way “television” and “junk food” and “video games” and a variety of other Vaguely Defined but Terrible Institutions are feared like the Bogeyman and, by some, regulated like radioactive material.

In my peer group (white, working-to-middle class Americans) many people truly believe the only way to prepare kids for Adulthood involves making them do prescribed housework (called “chores”). Alternatively or additionally, some parents/carers make their children do chores because they themselves have a dread and hate of this work (gee, wonder where that came from?) and believe the only way to manage these bad feelings is to require the children shoulder some of the burden (see previous parenthetical). People truly believe it’s OK to force/make kids do what they want because in their view adults know better, including when and how to entertain the children’s wishes and desires; sure, many adults feel icky about this but figure there’s no way around it. Some adults seek upbeat and stern and loving and “in control” methodologies which convince them they’ll get Good Results however deep-down repugnant the means are at times.

Adults employing these strategies often (but not always) don’t want to hear about ours. Ours make them feel worse about things they already feel kind of bad (and usually helpless) about. Our strategies make them angry because they sound overly- … something (permissive, naive, “hippie”, “thinky” – take your pick). Our strategies leave them confused because even if they could see their strategy isn’t a very good one, they literally have no better ideas to get what they want. They are fearful if they abandon what they know they will only be further lost. They don’t want to let down their kids, even if they know deep down they already are.

Discussion of our strategies often triggers fear, anger, and resentment in many adults, most of whom weren’t treated all that well as kids themselves (either by school, parents/carers, or their community – often all the above). I can often tell when these painful feelings are being triggered: it shows in body language, tone, avoidance, loaded words, “you” statements, thought-talk (instead of feeling talk) and large-scale predictions of imagined failure (ours and other families like us) instead of examination of current lived realities. Examples, “Well YOU have to make kids such-and-such or they will so-and-so.” The friend who studiously ignores ever discussing parenting with me even though he knows it is my deepest passion and an area of decent expertise (no really!). Statements of nostril-flaring shut-down such as, “Well there are lots of different ways to do things” or “Different things work for different families”. I dislike those statements tremendously and here are a few reasons why: first, it is self-evident not only that there are many, many ways to raise children (including destructive ones!), but also that there is no one Whole Grain Jesus pundit, mama, or papa who has All The Answers for Everyone. Secondly, when this is said during discussions of parenting what the speaker often means is, “I am upset/angry/scared and I no longer want to talk about this.” And I wish more people could say that instead. Trust me, it is an amazing stepping stone in self-awareness and a tool to move forward with clarity.

For my sake, I’m grateful I’m not – today – too scared, damaged, or lacking resources to have been unable to listen to other points of views and other strategies. If I had, we wouldn’t be where we are today; and I’m so grateful for where we are today.

Bonnie’s post refutes some of the fears I used to have and gives me gladness at being able to move past them. Because there was a time I did indeed fear “spoiling” my kids by raising them the way we have been (and I’m not past these fears entirely, they crop up now and then – but they have largely subsided). I did believe that unless I required “chores” and school attendance (and “success”) they would become (or remain?) helpless, “backward”, sheltered, “spoiled”. What I see instead are two amazing, capable, richly-happy, well-exercised, well-loved, joyful, passionate, intelligent (oh. my. goodness. for realz), friendly, comfortable, clear-eyed, opinionated, fierce, funny, and courageous little people. What I see in a lot of other children is fear, confusion, despondency, duplicity, fear (yeah, I know I said that one already), restlessness, dullness, repressed anger, “manners”, pack behavior, manipulation for leverage – and fear. If I had to come up with one word endemic of many children I meet today, it would be Suppressed.

Of course, children are incredible and I have not met one whose bright spark has been entirely crushed (we do, tragically, know this happens). It is my unique and much-honored joy to have many children in my life; my own and their friends and the neighbors. It is amazing how well children respond to better treatment, no matter how poorly or carelessly they may be being treated elsewhere. I truly hope, although I don’t think of it very often as I’m usually very busy just, you know, living, that I am a bright spot and a loved and trusted adult in their life. I’m so glad too I got to live long enough to un-learn some of what I learned as a kid, and to experience children without the fear and anger I used to – a fear and anger and resentment that churns inside all-too-many adults.

“Children are not our own art products to be turned out well, but their own life work in continual process.” ~ Jan Fortune Wood

In other wonderfulness, here is a a poem I read today by Mary Oliver:

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measles-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

***

* Taken from a wonderful quote by Lisa Asher, an unschooled teen.