I collected a few words from a comment I left on a post about high school seniors missing out on their graduations and spring traditions. It struck me how I both know and don’t know the pooling emotions of this phenomena.
Whole Life Learners don’t have their lives so compartmentalized. We live more in the present tense. It doesn’t feel like the world is closing in on us or that we are running out of time. Opportunities aren’t hit or miss. Rather, they are never-ending and spiraling out all the time.
I truly do feel for those in the conventional mold. I graduated from public school and remember the linear pathway, the anticipation… but I also remember the ennui and the depression, and the emptiness that followed – the now what?
The transition through high school graduation didn’t feel right. In fact, little ever felt right when trying to squeeze myself into the grid of the system. It felt more like I was spreading parts of myself over a substructure. I had trouble filling in some of the spaces. It felt uncomfortable holding my attention there.
I tried to grasp the moments as they were fleeting and measured. It was like trying to grasp at feathers floating by while sitting on a rudimentary boat, riding a strict current towards a certain destination. My anticipations were not often rewarded to the degree of expectation for what the moments might provide in the way of transformative experiences.
The unschooling process becomes a lifestyle. My son wakes up with prospects for an unfolding day, such as laying a foundation for a build in Minecraft or gathering the ingredients for a meal. We laugh. We take time to indulge in Tik Tok compilations. Or, I curse and moan trying to make it out the door for an errand. I’m struggling with pain from degenerative joint disease. He anticipates my moves. He knows how hard I work to meet his needs. He gets why he needs to do his share. He appreciates what I am giving him from the trough of single motherhood.
We both work towards the parts of the day when we can just relax and do our own thing. Many days, most days, that’s how we begin – doing our own thing. It helps set a pace for meeting the obligations on top of feeling satisfied. We converge here and there to eat, to respond to the cat, to help each other with random tasks or problems, or to feed our minds or creativity.
When I have to work, things get more tense. He fends more for himself. We build our routines and schedule around it. He understands how I balance what I have to do with what I want to do. When I can’t maintain balance, he feels the boat swaying and learns how to adapt. Together, we manage. It can be messy. It can be indeterminate. But we are in control, self-directing with the cards we’ve been dealt and the resources we cultivate. The process is inherently rewarding and shapes character. We carve out ample time to do the things that are meaningful to us.
We remember our trips to Chicago, Yellowstone, or when he was a toddler visiting family back East as we pour over a laminated world map he just got from Amazon. He asked me to buy it because he missed his old folded map that fell apart over a year ago. We talk about trips we still want to take.
He taught himself everything he knows about geography over his short years with travel, videos and gaming, and discussions about world events. He knows more than I ever learned in school or throughout my adulthood about the world’s countries and political leaders, cultures, and history. We get side tracked counting the states we’ve been to. It hits him that in 55 years, I’ve never left the US. I see the gears turning. I hear him tell a friend later online that everyone thinks he wants to be an architect because of his gaming builds, but right now, he wants to be an actor.
He practices his acting all the time with me. We sing our communications, exaggerating content and vocal inflections. He affects accents – Irish, British, Russian. He talks in memes in third person about himself. He pretends to be an old man, stooped over my cane as a prop. We end up laughing so hard I can’t breathe. He relishes in his gift for humor. I see how my willingness to be silly facilitates his need for connection.
The apron strings are tethered in certain spots. He asks me to check behind him, irrationally, while watching Supernatural. He proved in the last year that he can step out into the world and participate seamlessly in practices of conventional achievement. He had acted in a community play and became interested in interpretation for speech and debate. His friends who go to school were involved. He seemingly whisked in, and back out of that world and collected accolades in one fell swoop.
The reality is that it was hard. This was a regional and statewide organized activity. There were weekly practices and early weekends. He stressed over character development and getting his lines down perfectly. We are both night owls. We got sick from loss of sleep. I had to buy him special clothes because all he owns in his growing frenzy are sweats and custom tees.
Initially, he had begged me to facilitate his participation. It’s hard for me, physically, to take on the early Saturdays and winter Wyoming travel. But he came at this with intense intrinsic motivation. It’s my job to facilitate his interests and self-direction. His desire to compete was pivotal. He made mental notes about the things that he had to tolerate in a conventional educational setting. He was grateful that he could return home to his freer lifestyle. But he also wants to do it again next year.
We often talk about opportunities he can pursue as he gains readiness. Pretty much the only thing that can stand in his way is himself, and much of that is a simple matter of development. At 12, he is already discerning. He is already decisive. His passions are numerous and his interests expansive. He is leading himself.
It is all spread out before him, an open landscape with endless choices. All he has to do is match his intrinsic motivation to the cause. Instead of floating, he is wading. He can walk out of the river at any point to follow any path he chooses. For now, he is content to enjoy everyday life. He says he would like to drive, but other than that, he’s not interested in getting older in a hurry.
There is no rush, unless his friends want to meet him on bikes. Then, it is a mad dash to grab snacks, water, cash, his phone, a hoody, and his helmet. As he pedals away, my world settles eerily. I am so used to having him by my side. As he ventures out, I’m met with spaciousness that is suddenly empty of his energy. I’m reminded how short lived all of this really is, and how few apron strings remain. Unschooling him leads to my own self-examination. Connections are Everything, and the way he connects me to the world keeps me rooted in authenticity.
A whole life learner knows that the pathways go in all directions at once. They aren’t worried about stepping out of their comfort zones because they know they have the power to return and leave again. This isn’t far from the nature of an entrepreneurial spirit. Life is not linear.
Covid19 has flipped the world for most everyone. But for homeschoolers, the biggest change has been social isolation. We haven’t been able to participate in regular community activities. We miss our community, and my son misses seeing his friends. Our budgets are constrained, and we still can’t find toilet paper on the shelves. But our spirits are OK. We already know how to adjust. We go with the flow, knowing continuous change is a matter of life.
I can imagine how stressful it must be for system-based children and young adults during this time. I imagine the fear of feeling thrust off one’s track, not knowing how to realign and move forward within the chaos.
This process must feel like being jerked from one end of the spectrum and back again. Ideally, they would be facilitated in catching their breath, adjusting to a new paradigm that considers the benefits of retaining flexibility and promotes individual discernment.
Ideally, they will never return to what used to be and instead will be afforded an opportunity to know themselves so that when the mouth of the river appears, they sense their own direction.