This happened. And my life is totally, completely changed. More on that another day.
Somewhere along the line, I learned that a significant life is full of struggle. Did it start with the story of the exile from the Garden? The toil? The pain of labor? Did it start with my own father, who worked the night shift at the post office; and, around the dinner table, never made it sound like any fun? (Did he, as I do now, struggle with the guilt of having a job he secretly loved?) Did it start with my stay-at-home-mom, who I swear must have slept through the day, eaten her way through the afternoon, only to greet us at the door after school and begin cleaning the house and cooking? Did it start with the job I loved to hate as a Subway “Sandwich Artist,” scrubbing floors until 2am, so I could afford car insurance, college, clothes? Or did it start in AmeriCorps, where only those crazy-asses who worked 70 hours a week were promoted, and any expectation of decent pay was taboo? I was one of those crazy-asses, and it was less than a conscious choice- I somehow deeply believed that my ability to save the world must be directly proportional to my stress level.
The Periodic Table in marshmallows, showing the number of protons, neutrons, and electrons, with the electrons in their proper energy levels. Project taken from Pandia Press Chemistry. http://www.pandiapress.com/chemistry_level1.html
Oh, this sickness- it’s lasting a lifetime. I watch my kids suffer through it with relative optimism, however. We hunker down today, cancel all FOUR of the things that were supposed to happen, and get some “rest.”
Here are the things we cancelled:
1. haircuts for the kids by my wonderful friend from high school: drinking coffee and catching up, and receiving a hand-me-down electric guitar with amplifier.
2. meeting new friends at the park
3. playing Magic at S.W. Randall
4. meeting to discuss and work on a new children’s curriculum at church
Here is what has happened spontaneously so far on our Wellness Day:
1. Me doing laundry
2. Boy picking up Geometry workbook and completing a chapter
3. Children listening to/practicing choir songs for memorization
4. Children cooperatively working on a 100 piece arctic puzzle
5. All of us harvesting and drying the herbs and marigolds from the garden.
6. Learning what to do with marigold flowers (7 things!)
7. Learning how to harvest Marigold seeds from the flower
8. Baking gluten-free bread
9. Girl squeezing watermelon juice into a shot glass and adding lemon, drinking it down happily
11. Blog entry
12. Making models of atoms with marshmallows
All of these things will have happened before lunch. We woke up at 8. It’s kind of amazing that on “do nothing” days, we actually get FAR more accomplished than we might have on the days where we are trying to accomplish so much.
Well days like this used to be on our calendar, scheduled weeks in advance, no sickness required. The day would have scrawled across half of it’s page: “Do Nothing.” Yet another idea inspired by The Artist’s Way.
Time and time again I find that when we leave empty space for the air to fill our lungs, empty space for time to invade our minds and fingers, we are finally full. We can appreciate what we have, not worry about what we don’t have, and sit in radical contentedness. We find what is natural for us to do, work out our priorities, shake out our laundry lists, and putz around the house calmly doing what we love.
I find my husband to be amazing at this; he has taught me a great deal about Do Nothing Day. It used to really annoy me when I would see him perched in front of his computer screen, surfing the web or watching an episode of God-knows-what when there was work to do or kids to attend to; but now I can accept that his putzing around looks a lot different than mine, and that is okay. If he didn’t get it, he wouldn’t have energy for the amazing amount of giving he does each week. Maybe more importantly, I’ve come to accept that my putzing around often does mean doing the dishes by hand while daydreaming out the window, making beds, harvesting or weeding, folding laundry…stuff that looks an awful lot like…well, work. And that’s okay too. I can’t help it that I actually enjoy those solitary moments of quiet (everyone seems to leave me alone when I’m “working”); but if I start to feel resentful, it is time to leave the house and take a walk or grab a magazine and tea.
I am going to get back to putting the Do Nothing days on our calendar. They keep a girl honest about living and loving. Everyone needs a day to fill their cup.
IF WE HAVE A FOUNDATION for learning in our home, it is being awake to truth and freedom. That may sound really flaky, a little abstract, maybe, but I guarantee you it is based on the principles and philosophy of the same people who first participated in formal education.
Being awake to truth and freedom ultimately gives way to the reality of human choice. Human choice is basic in concept, but I talk to a lot of people every week who don’t believe in it. They say things like, “I have to….” or “Children have to…” or something really absurd like, “I can’t.”
We animals of habit tend to walk around acting as though our lives have been put upon us by some unseen universal force, failing to recognize that we ourselves are also a force in the universe. Action. Reaction. It’s all Choice. Once we begin to peel away the layers of societal expectations, our God of Money, and the modern mythology of what life is “supposed” to look like, we begin to understand that we get to write our own stories. Every breath is a choice.
I just read a short essay by Tienchi Martin-Liao called “Ineducable, Even in Reeducation Camp.” She writes about Wang Xiaoning, who is being released from prison after a 10 years sentence for standing up for democracy, political reform, and human rights in China. Here is a quote from her I find quite moving:
“If you break the will of the people and tread down their dignity, then they become a kind of dough that you can form as you like.
“This is the secret of the Chinese Communist Party. With this tactic they have ruined generations of intellectuals. Yet there are still enough individuals made of special material who are irrepressible. In Chinese terms, these people would be called “ineducable” even when they are thrown into the “reeducation camp” and brainwashed for years. Wang Xiaoning is this kind of person. He has refused to show any regret or admit that he committed a crime. Had he bowed to the pressure his sentence would have been reduced to three years, but Wang stayed firm and served the full ten year sentence.”
I would like very much to speak with Wang Xiaoning. I don’t imagine him coming out of prison and complaining about his lack of freedom. He continues to exercise his human freedom by speaking out for what he believes. Maybe one day he will be killed for this. I sincerely hope not. But if he dies, he will die free. More importantly, he will have lived free. Wang Xiaoning is an example of a free human, even if he stood for a decade behind prison bars.
I remember the feeling of not thinking I could homeschool. Then not thinking I could unschool, even though it made so much sense to me. It was a feeling of bondage- to society, to expectations, to the rolling of eyes and clicks of tongues.
The strange thing is, Freedom is the river we all swim in, we only have to wake up to realize we’re in it. Waking up to that river is a daily practice for me. Sometimes I have to practice it several times a day. It sounds like this: I’m free. I don’t have to get angry about this. I do not have to make this appointment. I do not have to answer my phone. I do not have to agree. I do not have to be distracted right now. I do not have to hurry my children. Or it can sound like this: I am free to write poetry no one will read, just because I want to. I am free to be late to- or cancel- this appointment. I am free to be happy and smile. I am free to say “I’m tired and need a rest.” I am free to give a hug, hold a hand, reassure someone. I am free to say what I mean.
We all get to write our own story. More than anything, this is the foundation for learning I want in my home. Allowing our children to write their own stories means that we also have faith in ourselves to write our own. It means that we first exercise Choice. To deny ourselves that is to shut ourselves up in a prison of fear and doubt, of complaining about what life has brought us, of ultimate self-pity and frustration.
Look in the mirror. Remind yourself about Choice. Free the People.