The Model


I had fallen into something. It was wrong for me- I knew it was- but I remained in it because I didn’t know where else to go, what else to do. After having two children, my scrambled, hormone-frenzied mind raced to find solutions to problems: how will we have enough money, what do I want to be when I grow up, how am I going to teach these children everything they need to know? Asking the wrong questions produced nothing but the wrong answers, and a general sense of discontent. I was working, homeschooling, wishing like mad to write, and I never had a moment to myself.

I remember seeing that a woman I knew was offering a group study on the book The Artist’s Way in the midst of my crisis of thought. I didn’t feel like I could take the time to commit to a study that would entail a few evenings a week away from home, plus the reading and exercises in the book. Thankfully, when I spoke to my husband about this, he encouraged me that he could support me to take the time.

The study of Julia Cameron’s famous work had a profound impact on my life. In short, she was the first adult older than me to “give permission” to play. Play is a deep instinct for me. Not like playing dolls with my daughter really; more like tinkering- with words, with interesting materials, with music, with thoughts and ideas. Julia Cameron, through the words in her book, challenged me to spend time with myself, taking myself on “artist dates” and writing every single day.

I thought I would not have the time, but soon found ways to drop unhelpful habits from my daily life that were just taking too much precious time. I even quit my part time job.

I was also worried that my son and daughter would suffer my absence. All the time it would take me to tinker, play, and remember my inner, innate artist- such selfish acts! I found instead the extent to which I am Model to my children. My children recognized that I was no longer harried, rushed, anxious. They saw that I was being kind to myself, requesting time alone when I needed it, and being serious about my “play-work.”

When my children saw me with my tea and journal every morning, they too requested tea and journals. My daughter, who was about 3 at that time, drew and drew, developing a strong eye for color and affect. My son- who was then 7 and would spend hours resisting my efforts to get him to write anything- began to pen lyrics to songs. He began to write poems and short stories. In one hilarious story of about 8 sentences, he invented Anansi the Spider teaching some elephants a lesson when they were arguing about whose trunk was the biggest. The moral was “don’t fight over small things.”

I could not believe what I was seeing. I went to our group (I was the only parent amongst us), and told them what was happening with my kids. We were all amazed at the impact of the parent as Model. It took a while longer to convince my husband to play his way back into art, but he too, is now engaged in the healthy act of creating beauty everywhere he imagines it.

My husband and I continue to see growth in our children as we ourselves keep arranging our lives to create space for fulfillment. This morning, while kids in our neighborhood were boarding buses and saying goodbye to summer, I was in my room brainstorming a blog on unschooling. My husband was developing a plan for a mason-jar chandelier we’ve been talking about making. My son was downstairs creating beautiful architectural structures from wood. He took pictures of them with my camera so he could remember them, before knocking them down and moving on with his day. My daughter was finding constellations on her Leapster and kept shouting things like, “I have 1,060 points! I’m learning so much about the stars!”

A very grateful feeling welled up inside of me this morning. I am grateful to live in a country in which these choices are possible. Grateful for artists and philosophers that encourage our growth. Grateful for my family who wants me to be who I am. Grateful for children who are still young enough to not want to be anything but that.

Do your children see you as a model for life-long learning? Do they see you as a model for living your true vocation (it doesn’t matter what your 9-5 grind is…are you also making time to live your dreams?) Realizing my responsibility to be true to myself for my children’s sake was truly- though I did not know it then- my first step into the world of unschooling and respecting that my children themselves are models of integrity and a holy curiosity. Recognizing that I have a deep desire to be a life-long learner gave clarity to the way I think about education and success.