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  • Writer's pictureKatie Lane-Karnas

Put That Sh*t Out There!

What is a spiritual path? I want to know about herbalism. I want to be at the center of my experience.

These are things that at one point I would have never said out loud or publicly; but eventually a part of me died and I had questions I had to try asking in order to know what was happening to me. Eventually I started homeschooling my kids (but actually, it wasn’t so much homeschooling; I was leaving my kids alone and I was beginning on a new healing). For me, that involved writing lists of things “the kids” (ie, me) would love to do. Very simple things: candle dipping and owning a chicken and “what is a spiritual path?” were on my secret wish list; hand sewing and drawing, carving a spoon. Things that, truth be told, I have yearned to do since I was young but I shifted off my to-do list because they didn’t fit in with my schoolish ideas of what qualified as “Real Learning.”

The desires on my sort-of secret list were things that weren’t transferable to middle school skills, nor high school skills, nor college skills, nor grad skills, nor adulting skills, so I never followed them. It seems that these desires, put on hold (even from early childhood), do not disappear, but need to be worked through when they re-arise so that they can transform into whatever comes next.

Ripe pea pods on a tall vine in summer
Sowing + watching a few peas grow. There's happiness for me here!

As I trust this for myself, I can trust this for my children and relax into enjoying and supporting whatever is the interest or passion for the moment, without falling into the trap of forcing it to be a “Thing” or a parent-directed project. (The parent-directed project can best be identified in hindsight, because the parent was super excited while the children ranged from unimpressed to downright recalcitrant. It’s the unschool equivalent of a Pinterest fail.)

Observing and being present for what’s interesting in the actual Now is a real challenge for a recovering teacher and schooled person. It seems that the many and varied interests spiral around, often returning or revisiting or building upon something that seemed so intense but faded into the background a few months or even years ago. This trajectory of natural learning looks and feels quite different from the linear progression and limited scope of school.

The lack of playfulness and spontaneity when I’m shucked into a teacher-ing rut is a really crummy side effect of being good at school. Identifying as the one with more knowledge, holding a particular objective in engaging, drains playfulness and closes beginner’s mind. My kids sniff this out right away and are bored; the “learning moment” is a quick crash and burn.

Starting to think about myself as not separate from the kids’ endeavors, but daring to center my grown-ass interests, puts my relationship with my children in more right-alignment. I think early on I still thought “unschooling the kids” was something done by the parent to the kid--but that’s not it. The whole family is unschooling, so you might as well throw yourself, your needs and interests, in the mix as well as soon as possible.

The feeling of your list being not worthwhile, not “counting,” not making sense, being a waste of time—these are super useful clues of remnants of schoolish judgment and thought. The more I lean in to my own questions and interests with curiosity for how I judge or value them shows me so much about where my schoolish hang-ups are, which in turn supports my growth in relationship with my self and my children.

Have you been to a homeschool get-together and been fascinated by the interests, topics of conversation, toys, and tools the kids bring? I could listen to the wide-ranging topics the kids bring endlessly. Would I like to see the contraption you made out of air dry clay and hot glue? You bet! You would like to tell me everything you know about rocket engines? Um, cool! You think I’d like to hear about the box of homemade weapons your brother makes? Sure! You’re super pissed about our president and have some things to say? PLEASE, carry on!

Yet I have to remember to give myself permission to be that fired up, un-self-conscious, and eager to connect with others about my own interests. There is no permission coming, it is as simple and terrifying as putting my shit out there: a list on my own fridge, in a journal, a chat with a trusted friend. The energy of parents unschooling themselves and putting their shit out there, whatever form it takes, so that something new can take root and find light, feels exciting! Gentle, sustainable self- and community-care amongst parents.

A kitchen scale measures a small pile of stones at 9.1 ounces.
Stones for sewing a weighted blanket. A somewhat ridiculous project that tickled me for weeks.

The kids who are grounded in the paradigm of life without school are supporting schooled adults, maybe shifting a schooled culture, just by being themselves.

Most of the conversations around self-care for parents assume a divide-and-conquer approach. Getting rid of your kids is an assumed prerequisite to pursuing your interests and learning new, pleasurable things. There’s an idea that you can’t nourish yourself and your interests if integrated with children. This is an assumption, and it comes right out of a schooled perspective!

Write down what your questions are, what you want, how you want to feel in your life. I think it takes time and gentleness to let this simmer if the muscle for noticing and saying what you like needs strengthening. Isn’t it somehow more tempting and satisfying to realize that slowing down enough to sense simple inquiries, curiosities, and wants is resistance and self care?

It’s a work in progress to be sure, but it feels like a victory when my kids know how excited I will be when the dandelions are perfect to be picked and bottled into vinegar. It’s not their thing, it’s my thing. If I try to make a horticulture science lesson out of it they will certainly resist (yay!); if I move on with getting outside with the scissors and my own happiness, chances are high they will be running alongside my enthusiasm, finding there is room for our individual and collective endeavors and lives.

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