Yesterday I had several extended family members decide to tell me to spend less time with my kids, squash out meltdowns by ignoring them and refusing to be manipulated, and cut out tv and video games.
Today I’m not answering the phone.
Today we ran races in the front yard and were awarded handmade trophies. We learned about numbers, about gold, silver, and bronze. About bronze being “third best” which is different from “worst.” We learned about looking both ways before getting a ball from the street.
Today baby decided he likes one of my daughter’s favorite shows, and they enjoyed it together on the couch except he kept kicking her pillows and squishing her with hugs and trying to steal her food. Today we learned about patience. Today he learned a little about physical boundaries and consent.
Today we researched how to unlock Scrapbook Theater songs in Yoshi’s Woolly world. We learned about search terms and fan wikis and reading.
Today we threw different kinds of balls–beach balls, bouncy balls, sky bouncers. We learned about how they blow in the wind and roll down hills and bounce erratically. Today the baby learned to throw farther and say “guh guh” for gorilla.
Today the kids played together with duplo legos for 45 minutes, making pretend animals and driving toy cars around the house. I learned how much a clean house (so rare here) inspires movement and play.
Today we made our own postcards for friends, sounding out words and drawing pictures of friends together, learning about what makes a postcard and how to mail it. Baby made animal sounds to ask me to draw animals and drew some himself.
At no point did I coerce or require any of this. At no point did I extinguish a meltdown with discipline. At no point did I even suggest most of this, I just joined in the play of both kids and helped gather resources and provide safety and a playmate and supervision. That’s unschooling. And it means I know my baby’s favorite animals and preference for animal cartoon videos over anything else. I know my kids’ preferences and challenges and how they learn and how they have fun. I know where they are at in terms of communicating with each other and setting boundaries, and what we need to work on next. I know their rhythms and their grins and their joys and their sadness. That’s unschooling.
I’m not going to answer the phone as much anymore.
It’s not that I didn’t expect the criticism. Unschooling is radical for my family, trusting kids is radical for our whole culture, staying home doesn’t fit into white liberal capitalist feminism.
It’s just that the criticism is continuously more and more important than seeing my kids. Really seeing who they are. “Seeing” my kids means visiting just turns into passive aggressive pressure to do and be something other than they are. And as I try to explain autism, and share these fun moments, share how much they’re learning, try to explain their joys and challenges, explain what is hard and how they’ve progressed, it’s like throwing pebbles in the ocean. All my careful words disappear, and I get back the exact same waves of criticism as last year and the year before and the year before. There are exceptions of course, a couple people who are listening and learning and seeing past their surprise at our lifestyle. But as I realize that most of my family does not see my kids for who they are, I realize that neither do they see me. Their narrative of what kids should do and be–the pressure to be “successful,” to not show emotion, to beat out difference and disability–is stronger than anything I can say. Then I realize that I’ve wanted to be seen my whole life–seen for who I am, not just pressured to fit what I should be and do. And then I answer the phone less and less. I stop trying to put energy into words for people who don’t listen. I might as well put myself out there, writing, connecting, looking elsewhere for the people who see me and see my kids.