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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17 thoughts on “To My Unschooled Children: Thank You for the Gifts

  1. Gorgeous. Just gorgeous. I’m reading your book Ellen. On E currently, and speaking of thanks, I must thank you for the gift of writing it. It’s an act of generosity. Your writing, how you think, it all flows so eloquently. No preaching, just sharing and it is this, your act of sharing where your beautiful, curious, scared, and peaceful humanity comes through. So relatable. As a mother to two daughters, 10 and 2, we are close to taking the leap. I feel like your words help me close my eyes and imagine that we take the leap and nail the landing. And we’ve not only survived the jump, but now totally thriving. Thank you for sharing journey. I’m excited for what’s next. For me, For you. For all of the brave souls who follow this path.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much Kathy. You have no idea how much I appreciate you taking the time to tell me that you enjoyed the blog post and the book. It can be scary putting your thoughts and ideas out into the Universe. And knowing that doing so has helped even one person makes it all worthwhile! So thank you for giving me the courage and incentive to keep writing! I wish you and your daughters all the best on this journey.

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  3. Dear Ellen-
    I sensed, when I received your ‘Peace Postcard’ in February, that you are a woman with deep insights into the mysterious workings of life. (You wrote of praying for some sign from the universe that the world would somehow right itself and then met two girls named Hope and Peace) And now, after discovering your blog…I was so moved by your honest reflections. Your prose reads like poetry. For instance:

    “An infant will while the day away, sleeping or studying her toes or the curve of her mother’s nose with intense concentration, without ever worrying that she should be doing something else.”

    In one beautifully structured sentence that does not call attention to itself, you demonstrate to the reader the art of living in the moment and the benefit of learning from our children.

    A moment after I read aloud your peace postcard message to me yesterday (as did another participant at our gathering in Bellingham, WA), I looked up and saw the smiles and nods of people in the audience. Please know that you touched each one of them, too.

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful gift: helping to transform strings of words into powerful images and emotions. You are a gem!

    Bob Zaslow
    Sedro Woolly, WA

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Bob,
      I am so touched by your message. Thank you for taking the time and effort to let me know that you appreciate my writing and that it moves you. I’m so happy that you chose my poem to read at the Peace postcard gathering. It makes me feel that I was there in spirit with all of you. I got your message yesterday after one of those doubting days where I questioned the value and worth of my writing. So please know that your gentle and generous words are a gift to me and I thank you with heartfelt gratitude. All the best, Ellen

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