As the parent of an unschooler, my priority is to facilitate the intrinsically driven passions of my child in connection and partnership. The rabbit holes he explores are often nothing like I would expect a typical child in school to experience. Perhaps that is because children are not typical, only standardization tries to coerce them to be so. Facilitating my child on his individual journey involves trusting that his expression is authentic and necessary, whatever form it takes.
Today, he expressed an interest in babysitting. I think his motivation is to earn money, but he is also maturing to the point that he already negotiates friendships with less mature kids his age (some are even friends who go to school), so I guess he feels like he can set aside the cumbersome aspects for the greater picture. I know he’d be good at it – he’s conscientious, self-aware, empathetic, and responsible. But, he’s only just turned 10.
Still, he spent nearly two hours asking me questions, saying he wants advice and tips. He came up with every scenario imaginable. Age is arbitrary when interest is intrinsic. We laughed at how when he was three or four, I played a game with him called ‘family,’ that he wanted to play over and over again – one that I really did dread playing. But, I knew the game was helpful to him. It met a need – one where he was able to act out thoughts, feelings, or even fears to reconcile a perspective that didn’t yet have the stability of a fully formed long-term memory.
Now that he is older, he can appreciate how mundane that game was for me to play, and how in my premenopausal stupor I often didn’t feel up to it, but I played anyhow. I fondly remember how Finn McMissile’s spy plane, Siddeley would fly the Precious Family doll house babies high in the air while they cried out, “Mommy! Save us! Save us!” Lightning McQueen would always save the babies, or they would inevitably fall out and McQueen would race over to save them, nonetheless. This repetitive game is burned into my mom brain, and I was a bit wistful when he decided to sell Finn and Siddeley.
As we talked about what he’d ask for payment to babysit, what he’d do in certain situations, and how he’d address his concerns for each scenario, it occurred to me that it is once again time to step up and facilitate a process where I am not really too keen on what it will take from me – mainly, to assist him in his first jobs before he goes solo. I’ll literally have to accompany him at his first gig. I’ll also have to help him find opportunities. But, he says he is ready, and while most kids don’t start until 11 or 12, I think he has what it takes.
As much as I don’t want to investigate the world of babysitting, I’m impressed that he is seeking this out all on his own. While we’ve practiced entrepreneurial pursuits, he’s never been coerced to work to earn money. He’s decided that he wants a job. He enjoys spending his money, but I guess he’s tired of waiting on birthdays and Christmas or selling toys to get a little extra cash. We’ve never done allowances, because we spend as a family unit, one where if we have the funds to satisfy a desire, we simply make it a Yes. If we don’t, we work towards the goal one way or another until we can finance it. We work from one pot, but if he gets his own money, he has total autonomy over it.
Another example, a really simple one with obvious dividends involves me letting go of my intentions for an oversized Sharpie that I’d purchased for making garage sale signs.
As soon as he saw the pen with its angled tip, he excitedly asked if he could open the package. I told him what I’d bought it for, but he was excited for the angled tip because he watches various YouTubers who draw in their videos, many working in animation. There was no way I was going to stifle that excitement. I’d buy myself another pen, later, wondering how many parents might restrict the child from taking over the pen for arbitrary reasons.
What proceeded was remarkable. I’ve written before about his penchant for drawing crazy faces with tiny stick bodies, and this is what he set out to do. For several days, he sat at his computer off and on, listening to YouTube while drawing on every Post-it-sized piece of paper he could find. I am now making my own to-do lists on the backs of envelopes from bills and junk mail.
As he got frustrated, I asked what was wrong. He was needing something to keep the Sharpie from going through to the table (which is thankfully, granite). Earlier, he had torn off the side of an amazon box after asking if it was Ok (because like in the linked article from above, he still likes to tear and smash). Perfect solution. The interruption to his creativity was quickly resolved.
For several years now, these faces have been his thing. Sometimes funny, other times wacky or morbid – it is no different from working out his feelings with the family game. This process of drawing faces for days on end is preparation for some aspect of who he is or needs to be. I save each and every one. I also found a set of colored giant sharpies with the angled tips on Amazon for under $6 to put up for use as one of his holiday count-down gifts. I should probably buy stock in Post-it notes, too.
Below are some of the faces he drew with the Sharpie that was not destined for crafting garage sale signs. Once again, I am grateful that I can ebb and flow with him day in and day out to the degree that I am able to take note of such otherwise insignificant opportunities to facilitate his individualized development and learning. While seemingly mundane, these moments add up to knowing him fully and being able to anticipate his needs.