"We are all wanderers on this earth...our hearts are full of wonder, and our souls are deep with dreams." ~ Gypsy proverb

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Open, again and again

I tell my children often that we get what we give. Give yourself to something you believe in with sincerity and enthusiasm, and the benefits will come back, often when we least expect it. I have tried to unschool this way. I have given my all to a learning paradigm that encouraged freedom, natural learning, and auto-didacticism. I have worked hard to gently and patiently file down my former assumptions and expectations about education, as well as adopted a parenting pathway that brought us peace, mutual respect, and a deeper sense of love for each other. It has been such a beautiful journey, and I believe so much in what we have experienced--- about living and learning, about following interests, joy and passion, about nonconformity and challenging the norm, about listening to our hearts and intuition, and about respecting and celebrating the individuals that we all are, exactly as we are now. These beliefs have not changed, but as we grew with these beliefs, we have inherently changed. And when we change, it is inevitable that our needs will change. And so it goes...

It's hard for an optimist like me to ever believe that perhaps my best, my all, would eventually not be enough. In the past I have always had success with hard work, though humility was never far away to remind me of my limitations. For me, humility's greatest tool has always been the element of surprise. Thankfully, reality and acceptance do eventually arrive to remind me that opportunities will only open if I find courage to let go, even if with all my heart I don't want to. I have told my children many times that when we open our eyes and open our minds, that our hearts can soon follow. Open, again and again MJ.

So much has changed, our home and surroundings, new friends and new people, a different energy all together. And now, my unschooled children are back in school. This was not a sudden or quick decision. I knew the possibility existed, especially after last year. Yet, I was so sure that learning at home with me was where my children belonged, that I just had to work a little harder to meet all their needs. And so I did. I devoted more of my time and energy into helping them find complete satisfaction. I committed myself fully, confident that  together we could find a groove that worked for all of us.

There is no doubt the children gained from this. They gained a belief and a confidence in themselves that what is important to them is truly important to their parents. They have gained the courage to pursue those interests wholeheartedly, as well as communicate those interests with peers and adults alike. To see them blossom this way, having the confidence and initiative without needing permission or approval to be who they are, often inspired and encouraged me to continue in my efforts and resist old patterns of thinking----that learning should happen primarily in an institutionalized setting. But, as time passed, I began to feel imbalanced, and the less I did for myself, the more resentful I became. My children, especially my son who will be 10 soon, wanted more social interactions that despite my efforts I could not provide. They wanted more opportunities that allowed them to be independent, without my always having to find it for them. And me, I wanted more time to just relax and be more than just mom and wife. I want to be more creative, be healthier, and be more independent. My husband, seeing all of this unfold, began to encourage me to think outside of my own box of unschooling bliss, to consider that with all that the children have gained from being home with us for three years, a structured learning environment may look different now.

Though there are plenty of portals for guilt to rise in, resounding tapes that playback and claim that I haven't done enough, that I am a failure, that I give up too easily, I can squelch the tendency to berate myself and accept that in the grand scheme of things, everything always works out just fine--that all this energy we put into these types of decisions are greater in our mind than they are in reality. I have found relief in knowing that no matter what my children do, or what choices we make together, that they will always be okay. The trust I have in them is greater than my fear of the unknown, and this I gained from unschooling and will never change. I choose to rely upon their confidence and strength of spirit to find happiness and satisfaction. Our greatest asset is the grounding and open relationship we have with each other and they know that if things don't work out, we can make changes again. We are great creatures of adaptation and evolution and we have a part in creating the environment we need to thrive in, no matter where that is.

Meanwhile, I have also been reminded that if I am giving more than what keeps me whole and balanced, then what I am really giving is nothing. To lose myself in the needs of my children by sacrificing so much energy and eventually my confidence, to rub against the grain of personal fulfillment, does no one any good.  It was a good effort to continue believing that I could make everything work, effort that I won't regret as I know I gave it my best. You get what you give, even though what comes back may not be in the package you expected.

To have believed that I had failed was wholly unfair to my children, and self-centered. When I truly *see* my children, I don't see failure, I don't see sadness, I don't see lack, I don't see anything but pure, unfiltered spirit and joy. I see two strong children with a keen sense of self, and a keen insight to what they want and need. These past three years changed our lives and has prepared us for the transitions we are going through now. The move into montessori school has been nearly seamless. When we walked on that campus for the first time together, the feelings were mutual and instant. It felt right. We all knew at the same time that this montessori school was theirs. The honesty of their emotions and their attitude about their new school environment has astounded me so far. E. loves his new school and everyday looks forward to going.  M. is having fun, but doesn't like waking up early and feels that some of the rules are ridiculous (Lol, so true)!  My priority now is to always be there and help them remember that it isn't about performance, comparing, or meeting anyone else's goals. It is about their love of learning, it is about doing our best, making friendships and enjoying their time there. It is about keeping our head, heart, and arms wide open :).

much love...



  1. Beautifully written MJ. I think as a parent you have to do what is best for yourself, your marriage and your children. Sometimes our brains get in the way of thinking too much. I admire your honesty.

  2. you are right on. i think i'll have to save this post in my memory to share with my husband one day because i can feel it coming - the need for me to have my child in school because i'm getting worn down and feeling imbalanced. and i also need to reread it right now for myself to remind me that my son is turning out okay in our nonconformist ways and that my doubting is only harmful to us all. i am so ambivalent about unschool vs. traditional schooling still. i know other people can do a great job of it, but wether or not i can is another question. i will continue to homeschool ez this year but think i would love to see him in the right school one day. for now, i'm happy that homeschooling is even an option. it may be our best option for a long time given that we have to move again at least two times if not more. but, like i said before - if we live near a montessori school that i like, that would be one of my first choices for institutionalized ed. i'm happy for you and your kids mj!

  3. Such an honest and beautifully written post. I really love the way that you write about your family--your openness, your desire to understand and do what's best, your willingness to keep evolving as they grow and as you grow yourself.

  4. You are an amazing wife, mother, and woman. I love you!

  5. This post is wonderful... I just read it to my 15 year old daughter ( who really doesn't enjoy school :( She has great ideas of how she would like to have been taught, what a great unschooling teacher she would be )
    Much love to you and your wisdom.

  6. MJ, you have given your children the greatest gifts. You gave them the gift of yourself and your time, you established a sincere and strong bond with them during time you don't ever get back. You had an opportunity to instill all those things you talked about independence, individuality, interconnectedness and respect and now they have all those tools to carry with them wherever they go.

    I am glad you are on good terms with your decision, you have all been through such a change.

    I wanted to home school my girls from the very beginning, but the fates hit me with being their sole support so that didn't happen. I beat myself up over for so many years just longing and wishing and not being able to let it go. Then I did and I found I am still teaching them to see the world the same way and that though they complain sometimes they are leaders in their classes and friends to so many.

    Your words as always are beautiful, honest and true. They are lucky to have a mother such as yourself.

  7. wonderful.

    our (then) 5 year old was at home until kindergarden.
    now 6, she LOVES her school, her friends, is very social. and THAT is why she is still there, joyfully finishing out her first year.
    in my view, kids go to school to learn certain social aspects of the world and a certain "basic" education. I know what our girls get a home is their deeper education. So far, I look at school as the icing on the cake.
    Congratulations for following your heart, and inside of that, theirs.

    1. Ah I completely agree-school as icing on the cake.

  8. I really appreciate your words and that you're brave enough to share your homeschooling journey here. I think it's so evident that your children have benefitted from their time at home with you.

  9. Beautifully stated, MJ. This line really grabbed me: "that all this energy we put into these types of decisions are greater in our mind than they are in reality."

    So very true.

  10. I get so discouraged by the direction our school systems have taken. School and learning for me, way back when I was in elementary school, seemed like such a magickal time. These days there does not seem to be any room for real personal creativity and exploration. There are pages and pages of what I have started calling "busy work" that drives me crazy. Makes me sad and I too believe that your children have been very fortunate to have such a good Mama that was able to give them a strong foundation to grow from.

  11. What an awesome Mama, not only to be aware and realize all that you have, but to have the courage to implement it. I knew from very early on even though I wanted to homeschool with all my heart that my spirit could not take it. I trusted that in this life my babies knew that and it was part of our journey. I also knew I would have to equip them early on to handle mainstream school and am still very involved with their feelings and interactions. My two oldest love school and are sad when breaks come. They are getting something positive there that I could not give them and I am thankful for that. I do best to give them a strong foundation and to fill in any cracks. You guys are so blessed to have each other.

  12. Honest, raw, beautiful.

    As long as your children are growing, evolving, and happy with how those things are changing, you're doing the right thing. Times change - that's what makes life so exciting. Embrace the change so you can make the right choices for you and your family. Once you feel the resentment creeping in and burned out, it's a sign that things need to be shifted to create a balance again. For you to not only acknowledge but act on it is a beautiful thing.

  13. I think that you have done a brave and amazing thing MJ:)
    You have listened to your children, your own heart and soul,and you have let yourself be open to a bigger and wider set of possibilities!
    There is a season for everything. Things only stagnate when we stop moving and flowing with fresh currents.
    It can be hard to leave behind an old way of life, something you have truly committed to, and forge a new path. I admire your spirit. We must always stay true to ourselves.
    Peace and light.

  14. i think any ideal we hold in our heads tinges our decision to no longer follow it with a little guilt and regret. that is the way of ideals.
    and then were turn to the here and now and realise the true nature of things.

    i have followed a parenting that has centred around my girl to the most part, in her youngest years, i guess that necessary and what i wanted, but theoretically at least, i am one for family-centred ways, rather than child-centred.

    you another thing, is that i feel many unschoolers/homeschoolers, can get completely caught up in their ideal and actually not be thinking of their kids' actual needs, but the belief we have is that of course they're doing everything for their children.
    we do everything for them when we listen to their needs. and sometimes school is one of them.

    i decided my girl will go to school. also a step down from my ideal. but a step up for both our needs.

  15. it is a journey and situations/ideas/desires/needs change as we go on. i appreciate you sharing your story so much! thanks!

  16. I have wanted to homescool / unschool my kids since before they were born. My oldest (8 yo) has twice felt very strongly that she wanted to go to school. 3 months for 1st grade and most of this year for 3rd grade she did. It was always joyful at first and slowly led to her being unhappy there. We just pulled her out of school to finish out this year at home, but she is requesting a curriculum for next year (she likes more structure). What I learned from unschooling, (the peaceful and respectful parenting, the seeking joyful opportunities for learning and fun, those are always there), but if you really focus on those things and the happiness and well-being of your family, it sometimes leads away from unschooling, (and sometimes leads back again).

    Blessings on your journey....

  17. Always a tough choice, but you the mama know what is the right one. We have friends out in the Boulder area who are at a Montessori charter school and couldn't be happier. Good luck with this transition I'm sure your amazing little family will do great!

  18. Here is something a wise woman once wrote about unschooling, perhaps not realizing that she was actually talking about *life*...life in all its lush, vibrant, burgeoning, expressive glory:

    "One big jumbled, colorful, unpredictable, undefinable, beautiful clump of experiences, lying dormant and waiting for the next opportunity to take shape into something new, and looking nothing like what we started with, at all."

    And so it is.


  19. Thank you so much friends, for your wise words, your support, and your comfort. I cannot express fully how much peace it gives me to be able to share these feelings, and even better, for you to understand...

  20. Lovely words. So true that when you open yourself and give you get in return, but it is all about balance. And it is such a delicate balance. I am so happy that everyone in your family is excited about the change and going to school. I think parents can only give so many opportunities to their children, and truly they have to pave the own way. Your kids are very lucky that you gave them a great head start in believing in themselves and the confidence to do what they think is best.

    I am happy, too, that you are going to find your balance and have wholeness in who you are. I think about how all our lives play out. That one day I would like to be married and have a child, but how now I am finding out who Mandy is. I wonder though would I be the same person if those events happened when I was younger. Life constantly amazes me and people constantly inspire me. You are an inspiration MJ. I hope that if the day comes when I have a child, that I will be able to instill goodness such as you have in your children. Blessings to you and your family. xo

  21. Being able to constantly evolve to all that goes on around us (and within us), is certainly a juggling act. Feeling fulfilled in our daily lives is so important to keeping ourselves balanced. Happy journeys lovely MJ. I'm sure you are all going to love this new chapter. Jacinta x

  22. MJ, I love this! I love it because you voiced the feelings that I (and I'm sure many many) mothers feel regarding doing enough for their children. I love that you were open enough to respond to your children's desires and are trying something different, even though it doesn't look like the scenario you'd been picturing. This is so helpful for me to remember that giving everything space and not getting too attached to my own ideas is a wonderful way to live. Proud of you! Can't wait to see what this Montessori adventure holds!


  23. As usual MJ you got right to the center of my emotions and thoughts. Everything is temporary. The only thing that stays the same is change. You are so inspiring in that you know when to adapt and trust yourself, and you have the courage to go (and share) even when things are unknown. You inspire me to keep self-checking and looking with open eyes at my desires for my kids and their desires for themselves!

  24. Thank you for sharing this journey with us, MJ. It's a huge change for you all, but it sounds like the right one for your family in this time. I totally agree, as you recognize, that the foundation you have given M and E, and the sense of security and support they have in their home base, would make them successful most anywhere. You're a truly inspiring mama.

    You're also pretty consistently one of my most quotable reads. "Meanwhile, I have also been reminded that if I am giving more than what keeps me whole and balanced, then what I am really giving is nothing." And "You get what you give, even though what comes back may not be in the package you expected." Yes, yes, yes.

  25. MJ, I am so moved by this post. What an incredible journey it's been for you, not just in moving and finding a new home, but finding your truth in this moment, and in your kids finding theirs. How beautiful.

    I have been thinking about this post for days. And…I felt like I didn't anything wise enough to say, in this space below your beautiful words. Crazy how we can be with ourselves, isn't it? Crazy to not write here just because I couldn't think of something "good enough". But here I sit and read your words again and think: LOOK at you. Look at your kids! Your awareness, and the way you have let go of expectation and judgement is inspiring. Truly, truly, truly. Thank you so much, MJ.

  26. You are a shining star, a really wise role-model and your kids are truly lucky to have such a beautiful mama. I find the unschooling world can sometimes be quite rigid in assuming it is the only way to go so I can understand why you felt guilt/ hesitation. At the end of the day, it's ridiculous to say that there's only one way to be whole - its truly a personal thing and is no more a one size fits all kind of gig than school. You can feel really proud of your family :-)

  27. Good for you MJ for listening to that inner voice, and stifling the negative guilt. My sister struggled for so many years with home schooling, but would never consider another alternative because that meant: failure.
    A small voice inside of me says that perhaps I will be home schooling in a few years time.
    I keep it open and in the back receptive part of my brain.
    Life is liquid. Always flowing and ebbing. The wise and tender mother, after all the fear and doubts, trusts her heart and goes with the flow according to what is best for the family as a whole.

  28. You are so wise to trust your children. And to recognise that sacrificing your self for them would help nobody. "My priority now is to always be there and help them remember that it isn't about performance, comparing, or meeting anyone else's goals. It is about their love of learning.." Love that.


“Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
~ George Bernard Shaw