Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Staying Up All Night

Today, I went out on a limb and tried to explain to a friend about our "coming around week"... and I realized that it is exactly the sort of thing that makes people think that RU is not for them. So I thought it was worth addressing.

I spent a considerable amount of time trying to keep my family on a consistent sleep/wake schedule. Not a conventional one, perhaps, but I definitely had a window of time where I thought: we should go to sleep during this time period. And a window for when everyone should be waking up. This ended up with a lot of stress for me, and everyone else. So I let it go. Totally. We sleep when we sleep. And the most interesting pattern has evolved: one week out of every month, we switch night and day, and we are staying up all night and going to sleep a bit later each day. And then after that week, we're sleeping at night again. Dh and I call it "coming around." My kids just call it staying up all night.

We're all sleeping at least 8 hours (me)
and up to 11 or 12 hours (the kids.) I'm actually getting way more sleep now. How it works is that every night, bedtime is a little later than the night before. So we have one week of getting up early, going to be early. And then the next week of the "perfect schedule" I tried so hard to make the ONLY schedule - going to bed around midnight and getting up late morning. And then we have a week where it's getting later and later, and we're up until 2, 3, 4 in the morning. By the following week, we're staying up past dawn, then to noon, and then to the late afternoon. And then that brings us back around (hence "coming around") to the first week w here we are up at 6 AM. And so on. It was so strange to find that this is how it is. It's like a revolution. (As in something that revolves, not a coup!) There is no way I could have orchestrated it For that one week where it is TOTALLY flipped, playgroups are hard to get to, if not impossible. The rest of the month we live what looks like a normal life.

This is very much something that other families would look at and think that it was absurd, ridiculous, impossible, wrong, too much work, too much laziness, whatever... but it is apparently what works for us. I wanted to share it because I spent so much time resisting it, trying to make something else work, and it was awful. I was in tears a lot, of frustration, exhaustion, resentment. But I thought that I would find "peace" and "rest" when I figured out how to make the schedule I was trying to maintain work on a permanent basis. We've "come around" in the past and it's always been in desperation because it was the Only Thing that Worked. But I felt that if I were doing things right in the first place, it wouldn't be necessary. So it had that feeling of failure attached.

I let go of all of that, and from then on we just followed our happiness. I stopped saying "It's time for bed!" and stopped placing expectations on myself and the children. I threw away the guilt and worry and shame and frustration. Now we bake brownies at 4 AM if that's what happens. And sometimes we are getting up at 6 AM and having a normal day like normal people. The reason I wanted to share this isn't to say that everyone should have this same kind of kooky schedule that doesn't make any sense. I wanted to share it because what I thought I wanted was not what I wanted. What I truly wanted was for us all to be well-rested and living in joy. Finally, after YEARS of struggling with how I thought that was supposed to happen, I released control on it, and what worked out was EXACTLY what everyone needed. As my kids get older, this all might change. These nights of staying up until dawn might be just a memory. But for right now, it's our reality, and it's what works for us.

I encourage everyone to take whatever it is that they are
struggling with the most, and just Let It Go. Release it. Stop fighting... and I think you will be so unbelievably blessed by the results. Joy follows.

No More Rules!!

Interesting development here... the "No Rules" episode of Gullah Gullah island came on again last night. I described the show here http://undonemama. blogspot. com/2008/ 04/world- without-rules. html
- long story short, the parents agree to do away with the rules.

Watching it, Mermaid says, "Mom, they don't have any more rules, and no more chores! That would be GREAT!" - very excited. She then asked me if we could get rid of the rules and chores.

I blinked at her for a second, because for the life of me, I couldn't think of a single rule they have to follow or chore they have to do. So obviously, she's doing some sort of play-acting, and I should just play along...

But then I started thinking, that maybe there's more to it than just pretending.. . for the past few days, I've been suggesting that she clean her room before going outside to play. Not even all the way clean, "just pick up the Polly Pockets." Which she hasn't done, and I didn't enforce. She did go up and shove all the Polly Pockets under the bed though, and then come down and tell me she'd done it. That should have told me what was going on right there. She has bargained with me, she held up two fingers and she said, "This one is clean-up-room- then-go-outside and this one is mess-up-room- and-go-outside. " And then the latter shoved the former out of the picture and was the only one left, victorious. It was a great visual aid! LOL I wasn't enforcing it, but I did get a bit naggy.

So. Anyway. Obviously my husband and I were feeling like we had a "no rules" situation already. And obviously she was feeling like there was definitely some top-down directive going on. So we talked about rules a bit, and I told her "Sure, no more rules!"

There have been a couple of times already where Mermaid has said to me, "Remember, you said no rules." One was when I said, "If you're going outside, I need to brush your hair." So she said, "No rules, Mommy!" and I had to pause... it was something I'd honestly never thought about (and I'm not a stickler for brushed hair, but the other day they went out straggly and then their friend's mom brushed their hair and put it in ponytails. I was mortified.) But obviously it was "bossy" of me. So I said, "Okay, I don't have to brush your hair, but if you want it brushed, please let me do it and not B's mom." And she said, "Okay, I'll get the brush," and was quite amenable.

It has been interesting, that just in the last five hours there have been occasions where I didn't even register that I was "ruling".... but the children perceived it that way. Pretty eye-opening night here!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Choosing Joy

Today I was feeling irritable and frustrated, and I snapped at my daughter, who was already not pleased. She looked at me, upset, with tears in her eyes, and said, "Mama, you choosed angry, and now I'm choosing sad!" Wow. Once again, this small child pulls everything into perspective - cuts to the heart of the matter with an insight, clarity, and honesty that astounds me. Yes: I was choosing to feel anger. And in response, she was choosing to feel sad. I had a choice in how I responded to the circumstances. I had a choice in what I thought, and in what thoughts I accepted as valid and which I rejected. I had a choice in what I did with what I decided to feel.

If I can't find my children's shoes, can I still choose to feel joy? If I am tired, does that mean that my only option is to feel miserable? If I am nursing the baby, and my toddler is on the counter putting rice in the sugar, and sugar in the rice AGAIN - is my only recourse to feel awful, and to blame him for it? If I my preschooler tells me, "No!" do I have to feel anger?

While mainstream parenting says that children are responsible for their parents emotions ("If you didn't jump on the couch, I wouldn't be angry at you! You made me mad! Why do you do that? Stop making me get angry with you!") This idea - that other people cause our emotions, and have a responsibility for how we feel - is pervasive in our society. He made me cry. She makes him happy. You made me sad. He made his boss angry.

The truth of the matter is that no one can MAKE you feel anything. They do not possess a magical control over your emotions. Their behavior can influence us, often it triggers pre-set responses (either from habit, or from deep beliefs that a certain situation calls for a certain reaction.) But no one controls our emotions. My children do not force me to be angry. They do not force me to feel irritable or overwhelmed. These are things that I CHOOSE to do.

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken away from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.”

-- Victor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning
One of the greatest, most fully empowering realizations that a person can have is that we alone decide how we feel, and that joy is a choice that is available to each of us no matter what the circumstances. We can choose compassion. We can choose peace. We can choose connection.

I choosed angry. And now I'm choosing grateful.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Radical Unschooling

To begin at the beginning, a very good place to start...

Unschooling means many things to many people. If you take a hundred unschooling families, and asked them to define "unschooling" you would find yourself with 100 answers. This is mostly due to the very nature of unschooling, which is that it is a highly individual, life-based approach to learning.

On it's most basic level, unschooling is a form of homeschooling that is based on the belief that children learn naturally: they are able to learn what they need to know without interference, and, in fact, that they learn best when they are not hindered. It is a trust in a child's ability to learn. Unschoolers do not rely on scope-and-sequence, curriculums, lectures, worksheets, schedules, timetables, and tests.

Some "relaxed homeschoolers" unschool certain subjects. For instance, they use a curriculum to actively teach reading and math, but allow the children to freely explore all other subjects according to their interest. Many unschooling purists don't consider this to be true unschooling, but I put it out there since some families choose the unschooling label for this type of approach.

Others are full academic unschoolers, who do not actively instruct the child in any "subject." The role of the parent is seen as vastly different from that of a schoolteacher, whose primary goal is to get 20+ restless students to focus and to show a modicum of understanding of something that perhaps only a few are interested in learning in the first place. The unschooling family has a tremendous luxury in being able to allow each member to seek their own passions. The parent acts as facilitator, providing the child with opportunity, resources, encouragement, freedom, and security. The parent deeply trusts that the child can and will learn, and that the goal is to nourish a love of learning that will last a lifetime, rather than a child who can perform well on tests, but is disenchanted with learning.

Radical Unschooling is much the same, except that the trust is taken past academics/education, and is extended to all of life. RU families do not enforce routines such as bedtimes, and trust that their child can and will learn the social and moral facets of the larger society. Connection is held to be more valuable in these families than compliance, communication more than coercion.

In our family, we trust that children learn. It is what they were born to do. Children have an innate desire to be a functioning part of society and to experience meaning in their lives. Just as they learned to walk, not because of any teaching but because they were driven to do so, children learn all that they need, as they need it, in the way that they need. As a Radical Unschooling family, we find that children will learn all sorts of things without coloring workbook sheets, without coercion, without lecture. Manners. Sharing. Compassion. Cooking. Math. Spanish. Learning is something that happens every moment of every day, and we don't just encourage it, we celebrate it. We rejoice in it. We positively revel in it.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A World Without Rules...

We were watching Gullah Gullah Island last night and the theme was No Rules - the kids complained about having so many rules, and said they didn't want any anymore. The adults agreed to get rid of all the rules - no longer would the kids have to follow any rules at all. So the kids are quite predictably excited, saying, "This is gonna be GREAT!" and the parents look at each other knowingly, since the kids are obviously going to learn a lesson about "why we have rules."

The kids are now allowed to run in the house, stay up late, sleep downstairs,
wear makeup, have brownies for dinner, eat as much candy as they want, have their pet in the house (Binyah Binyah, a giant polliwog.) And naturally... the kids eat too much candy and get sick to their stomachs, the girl wants to watch TV while the boys are trying to sleep, the kids won't share. They are sick, getting hurt, and fighting. Chaos. Mayhem. The very picture of ANARCHY!

The whole idea they were promoting was that without rules,
being enforced by adults - authority figures who "know better" - no one would have any sense of when to stop eating, how to get along with others, or how to be safe. At the end of the show, the visiting boy says, "I'm calling my mother, I want to go home! I don't care how many chores I have to do, I want the rules back!" And then the parents swoop in with their gentle, "Now do you see why we have rules?" And they sing a song about how great rules are because they make sure we are healthy and safe and considerate of others.

These kids had always had these rules, and were suddenly released of them in one
day. So they went overboard, and pushed their own boundaries... part of the process of finding out what their own personal limits ARE. And they got sick. And they got hurt. And they got into arguments. The obvious conclusion to me is that boy who ate too many jelly beans learned a valuable lesson about how many jelly beans he can handle in one sitting. The kids learned that if they are inconsiderate, their brother/friends will be angry or hurt. Eventually these children would find balance. I mean, if these kids are feeling this way they probably are trying to sneak cookies before dinner. And if rules are the only thing keeping the kids from fighting all the time, then they really aren't learning anything about getting along and loving one another and true consideration or compassion. It might "keep the peace" but it doesn't TEACH anything. The people writing the show obviously are totally blind to this, and felt really pleased about helping children to "understand why there are rules" - a concept that children don't have the experience to appreciate. When in fact its the adults' perspective that is narrow.

The lesson I learned from this Gullah Gullah episode? Children who are expected to follow "rules" and adult-imposed limitations do not develop any sense of judgment or internal control. They learn only to be considerate of one another because there will be some consequence. They do not learn to gauge safety effectively. They do not learn to set their own boundaries, to negotiate, to take others into consideration. They do not learn to be functioning adults in an autonomous, peaceful society.

And what does it say about society that we don't want them to?

Say it ain't so, Binyah Binyah. Say it ain't so
. binyah binyah

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Nice Mommy

Tonight, after 3 AM I was at my limit - the kids were still awake, baby was starting to wake up, and I was SO tired. Fairy started to complain about something, and I snapped, "Nice Mommy is gone!" when she started to repeat herself, I cut her off and repeated very angrily that "Nice Mommy" wasn't there anymore. Not a shining moment for mama. As I was sitting there, trying to get fussy baby to nurse to sleep, feeling tears of frustration and fatigue and resentment and remorse, I felt a little hand on my arm. I thought it was my toddler trying to get my to lie down so he could hold my hair, but then I realized it was Mermaid, reaching across him. She was stroking my arm gently, and I patted her hand. Then she said... so very tender and so very calm:"Mommy, you're only you. There's no other one. And you're nice. You're happy." (Happy being a state of being, a character trait, rather than necessarily an emotion, for my kids. The "good" character in a movie is "happy" in their lingo.) I was floored. Awed by how wise this little person can be. And how utterly compassionate. It felt holy.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Truth About Food

I watched the Truth About Food on Discovery Health channel last night. They do a series of informal experiments to test theories about food, as well as have experts comment. At any rate, one of the things they tested was how do kids react to food restrictions - for instance, rationing a "treat" food. They took a classroom of 5 yos, and had them taste test dried mango and raisins, and the kids rated them. It was pretty even between the two foods, they were equally liked by the children. Then the teacher said that when she blew the snack whistle, they could have as many mangoes as they wanted, but were *not to touch the raisins* until/unless she blew the "raisin whistle." The first day the children didn't seem to make too much of a fuss about the raisins, although it was clear they were looking forward to it. By the next day, they attacked the raisins. Each day they became more and more frantic to get to the raisins, to get their fill of them, to make sure no one else got more... by the 10th day they were knocking each other out of the way, shoveling them in by the handful... it was an amazing change in the dynamic from the first day. And when asked which they preferred, every one in the class said without hesitation, "Raisins!" Except one adorable little girl who said, "You know, I find I quite prefer the mangoes" and it was like she KNEW she was supposed to like the raisins better and was an anomaly. Dr Oz's conclusion was, Don't keep treats in the house, and then restrict them, because then you focus the child's attention on that food and make it something far more desirable than it might have been.

They did a couple other "kids and food" things, as well. One experiment showed that kids
will NOT necessarily stop eating when they're full (the kids in the study weren't from CL families, which I'm sure has an effect)... BUT that was when someone else was doling out portions, and they concluded that *if you allow the child to serve themselves* they generally will get very close to the exact appropriate serving size.

Another one was the sugar-makes-kids-hyper idea, and of course that was shown to
be a clear myth. Sugar may not be good for us, but it doesn't cause hyperactivity. The kids were calmer and more focused on the day they had tons of sugar (I mean, these kids were turned loose on sweets, and were putting sugar cubes in Sprite!) The way the experiment was set up in the show (and as I said, these were fairly informal - more for illustrative than scientific purposes)... the parents
thought the kids got non-sugar food at the first party, where they actually got as much sugar as they wanted, and the next day they thought they were getting the sugar when in reality they had only sugar-free food. So the parental expectation could have played in that outcome.

Also at the first (sugary) party they had arts and crafts and calmly led activities... at the second (sugar-free) party they had this magician guy who was REALLY exciting and enthusiastic, and by the time he got the kids all riled up they were falling down, running around, and throwing food. I think the implication was that the overstimulation had more to do with it than the sugar.

Just very interesting, some things are taken as "proven fact" - such as the sugar=hyperactivity connection - when in fact they are not proven at all. And yet the ideas persist.