"Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Good Vibrations: Finding my Tribe

This past weekend we joined over one hundred unschooling families for the Good Vibrations Unschooling Conference. I don't want to get too mushy and sentimental about it, but here's the thing:

I don't really fit in with most moms. Not moms from homeschool groups, not moms from little league, not moms from scouts, not moms from church. Sure, I've become reasonably adept at smiling and small talk and chit chat, but when the subject shifts (as it always inevitably does) to things like curriculums, limits, punishments, and coercive parenting in general, I'm met with a stark reminder. "Oh yeah, we're different."

Make no mistake... I like being different. I love the lifestyle we've chosen to live with our family, and I truly couldn't imagine living any other way. I am so happy, and so filled with peace with the decisions we've made - and continue to make - when it comes to education, parenting, and just LIVING. But I'd be lying if I didn't say that at times it can be.... isolating... having an all but completely nonexistent local support team of people who "get it."

Enter the unschooling conference.

And of course, the conference was lighthearted and fun. I mean, where else can you:

Go swimming
Make fairy wands and upcycled tutus
Carve sponges
Break boards
Play dress-up
Learn about nature drawing
Hula hoop
Have Nerf gun wars
Watch movies and listen to concerts by the pool, and
Take surfing lessons,

All in the same weekend?

There's no denying that it was a great time. But it was more than that. It was like a breath of fresh air to be around so many unschoolers, to - even if just for a few days - not be the odd one out. To know that my three year old is welcomed anywhere that I am, to know that my seven year old will be taken seriously, and that my 11 and 14 year old won't be asked what grade they're in, or what their favorite subject is or whether or not they're allowed to watch television or play video games. To see adults, teens, and kids of all ages playing and chatting and just enjoying each other's company, as if it were the most natural and normal thing in the world (which, of course, it is)

Being an introvert who's married to, well, an even bigger introvert, we're not always so good at the mixing and mingling. We tended to do more hanging back and observing, while our unsocialized kids happily and easily made friends with everyone they came in contact with. But even from our "quietly taking everything in" stance (although, I feel compelled to make it known that I DID both break a board and hula hoop in front of a bunch of people, thankyouverymuch); even from that perspective, the amount of support and validation I received from everyone there was immense. I gained and learned so much just from seeing the examples of kindness and respect with which other parents treated their children, and with which they treated my children. And the parents I did get a chance to talk with? It was privilege, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Shortly before we left for home, I witnessed someone yelling at a child, and demanding that he get out of the pool. It thoroughly jarred me out of my conference bubble, and I suddenly realized that I'd just gone four whole days without hearing a parent yell (which is really pretty amazing when you consider that I was there with over 100 sets of parents, and I can barely make it through the grocery store without hearing at least one parent yell, or punish, or humiliate their child.) Disclaimer: This is not to say that unschoolers are perfect parents or that they don't make mistakes or sometimes have bad days. It's also not to say that there aren't wonderful parents who don't unschool. Of course there are. It's just that being surrounded by so many many parents who are consciously choosing a path towards a more peaceful and harmonious relationship with their kids is a pretty powerful and invaluable thing. And, well, it DOES make me want to get mushy and sentimental.

Because those are my people. That is my tribe. And even though we're back home now, scattered amongst the country once again... I'm going to hold on tight, and thank my lucky stars that thanks to the wonder of the internet, my tribe is still with me.

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