To My Unschooled Children: Thank You for the Gifts

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Today, there is comfort in this life we have chosen. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. It feels like a well-worn blanket, woven from yesterday’s yarn, unravelled in places but still holding together and still warm when we most need it. But it wasn’t always easy. Far from what I expected, this life of learning freedom was never just about you. How much I have changed, broadened, grown over the years. All thanks to your gifts.

When you couldn’t and wouldn’t read, I felt ashamed because the others were far ahead. So I pushed and bribed and broke all my promises to you and to myself. I worried what others would think. I worried what it meant about who I was as a parent. I worried that it would never happen or that it would happen too late. But then one day, in your own time and on your own terms, you read–one letter, one word, one sentence, one page, one book at a time. Now the shelves are full and never enough spines to choose from. So I learned that there is no such thing as “too late” when the original gift is trust.

When you didn’t seem interested in forming letters and spelling words (the things I treasure most), the lined pages with dotted traces and the sharpened pencils came out.  I tried to guide your hands in the shape of my own. I wasn’t capable then of seeing the innocence of your backward J’s, of appreciating the M that looked like an ocean wave, rolling on an on. Now your hands and minds are connected in extraordinary ways and what comes out is your story alone, on paper and in voice. And so I have learned not to edit when the original gift is individuality.

When you showed no interest in science or other subjects on the curriculum that was part and parcel of my own education, I searched for learning opportunities. I killed more than a few spontaneous adventures by trying to make a lesson out of them. The bees, those butterflies, the miracle of pollination. None of that lives in a science book. And so when I took your hands and led you from the garden to show you how it all worked in that book and even asked you to read aloud from it, of course you lost interest. You wanted to follow the bee, watch his feathery legs float gold from flower to flower. You wanted to follow the slimy snail. Slow, just let me slow. So I learned to slow, to let things unfold without direction, to let the weeds come up in the garden. I have learned not to structure when the original gift is time.

When you took all the buttons off your clothes, my little girl, to glue them on a burlap bag, I got angry. Why on earth would you do that? Now you are a creator, a chaotic, messy maker of unique and beautiful objects. And if I could go back in time, I would sit on the floor and help you pop off all the buttons, break open the zippers and most importantly, rip off all the labels.

When you put on a dress and make-up and pretended to be a girl, my little boy, I cringed just a little. Why on earth would you do that?  Now you are a comedian, an actor, an imitator, a smile-maker. And if I could go back in time, I would put your hair in small pig-tails and tell you it’s more than okay to wear pink, and most importantly, to rip off the labels. So I have learned not to impose my own impressions when the original gift is freedom of expression.

I still have much to learn, still have work to do. In those early days, when my own doubts and insecurities came to the surface, I looked to you to ease them, those stubborn remnants of a life I no longer wished to live but couldn’t seem to break free from. But that was never your job. It was always mine. I see that now. I see you.

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