Past and Present

Rowan turned 16 last month.

rowan is 16 blow candles

We spent the next afternoon at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, where she took (and passed) her permit test. It was the very first test she had ever taken.

In the years before that test she climbed and read and watched and thought and listened and talked and wondered and touched and hoped and swam and slept and laughed and ate and  dreamed and heard and felt and experienced and ran and sat and sang and analyzed and argued and played and experimented and questioned and never once wondered, “Will this be on the test?”

d and r at fence

hp photosmart 720






rowan and dagny sled

Birthday presents are nice, but Rowan’s always been a fan of intangibles.


Public Service Announcement

When Dagny was five, we did not know that she didn’t have to go to school, and off to kindergarten she went. We found out when she was six, thanks to a woman Jon heard on the radio, and that was the end of that. Rowan has never been to school.


If school works for you, I’m not interested in rocking your world. But if you, like us, don’t actually want to participate in school, know that you have that option. Homeschooling is legal across the United States, and in many other countries as well. There is an enormous amount of information and support on the internet for those interested in learning more about homeschooling. If you can’t find what you need, feel free to contact me and I’ll steer you in the right direction.

Sweetness and Light

I read a number of blog posts this week that mentioned the ‘Switch Witch’ or the ‘Candy Fairy’, both of whom take the candy kids have trick or treated for and exchange it for something the parents find more wholesome – books or craft supplies or something along those lines. I read other posts lamenting the existence of Halloween altogether. Mostly what I read boiled down to parents worrying.

People seemed to think I should worry a lot when my kids were little.

“Aren’t you worried they won’t learn to get up early when they need to if you let them sleep in whenever they want?”

“Aren’t you worried they’ll never learn to share if you don’t make them?”

“Don’t you worry they’ll never do anything else if you let them watch TV whenever they want?”

“Aren’t you worried they won’t learn to read if you don’t teach them phonics?”

“Don’t you worry about their teeth falling out and vitamin deficiencies and sugar highs and them never eating healthy food and all the other apparently deadly consequences of eating candy if you let them eat it any old time?”

Nope, nope, nope, nope, and nope. Why? I believed the best of my kids. I believed they were reasonable and thoughtful and intelligent and responsible and curious and trust-worthy. And you know what? They were. And yours are too.

As for Halloween, I think  a day where a 15 year old girl who loves costuming can walk into CVS as Ariel without anyone raising an eyebrow is a good day. I think filling the seemingly lonely older man down the road with happiness with a simple, “Trick or treat!” is worthwhile.  I think making space in our lives for imagination is important. I think staving off the darkness with fire is an instinct older than memory. I think fun is fun. And I think candy is delicious.

(Picture of Dagny by Andrew; picture of Rowan by Dagny.)

Might I Have a Bit of Earth?

I love books, but I’ve found it’s best for me to start elsewhere when I want to learn something new.

I always knew I wanted to garden, but any reading I did on the subject made me feel more intimidated than inspired. Soil tests, nitrogen deficiencies, percentages of browns and greens? I had no context for any of it. I finally decided to just start planting, to compost by throwing whatever I had in a pile, to learn as I did. Eventually it all started to fall into place, and I could then supplement what I had learned by reading.

People stop by to ask me about hydrangeas pretty regularly. Why do I trim them? Why are mine purple and theirs are pink? How do I get more blooms than they do? How much water do they need? Should they be in the sun or shade? Last week a woman asked me how I had learned so much about them. I gestured at the plants. Stick some in the ground, watch them, think about what you see, try this, try that. You too can be a gardener.

Mum’s the word

Ok, so you know a mum is a chrysanthemum, right? Of course you do. Well, I didn’t. Took me forty-some years to make that connection. And then BAM. No one told me. It just sort of hit me. I could practically feel my brain laying tracks from one spot to the other.

It’s a rush, learning, isn’t it? Gold stars pale in comparison.

I recently had a conversation with my mom about my experience with school. We were talking about a book Rowan and I had read, in which the main character rode the bus to school on the first day of 8th grade, got off the bus, turned around, and went home. She just couldn’t take one more minute of school. The word she used to describe how she felt there was “stupified”.

I was horribly, mind-numbingly, stupifyingly bored from the third grade on. By fifth grade (during which year I was often sent to the hallway with an algebra book in what I believe was a well-meaning effort by my teacher to deal with my boredom) I was beginning to feel an overwhelming sense of doom whenever I entered the school building. By high school I was regularly skipping classes, intercepting mail, and changing the grades on my report card. I spent days at the town library, snuck home and hung out in the yard if I knew no one was there, went to friends’ houses, went to the beach if I could get a ride. I walked to school, and some days I made it all the way there before the sinking feeling became too much to bear and I turned around not even knowing where I’d end up for the day. If I had missed one more day of high school I would not have graduated. My parents had no idea.

If I was a ‘gifted’ child no one ever told me, but this paper, titled To produce or not to produce? Understanding boredom and the honor in underachievement (On Gifted Students in School) pretty much sums up how I felt for 10 years of my life. I would have been thrilled in high school to have someone acknowledge the idea that there was honor in my ‘underachievement’. Choosing not to produce, to disengage, certainly felt to me like the only way to keep my integrity intact, even at the price of lying to my parents.

Here’s a poem I wrote on one of the days I spent at Needham Public Library when I was 15 or 16. Not great literature, by any means, but I can’t tell you how clearly I remember this feeling.

Boredom lurks and then it pounces
As I sit, my mind a blank
So I draw a crazy picture
Of a ship that sailed, and sank.
Heading nowhere on a journey
To a place that’s far away
Looking back at old, lost friendships
When I left, they chose to stay
In a place that’s cold and lonely
While I head for sun and sand
On my ship that’s made of daydreams
Sailing to a distant land.

This is not why my kids don’t go to school. They don’t go to school because they don’t want to, for reasons of their own. But I am grateful there is nothing stupifying about their lives.

I recently watched To Be and To Have, a documentary about a one room school in rural France. The teacher is obviously well-intentioned and seems to care very much about the children he’s responsible for on a day-to-day basis.

Me being me, though, I was struck most by how alive the children seem when they are doing something meaningful and how dramatically they shrink into themselves when forced to do something they have no interest in.

There’s a heartbreaking scene where a very tiny boy visiting the school cries for his mama, but the quieter heartbreak of another boy being made to color was equally disturbing to me.

The casual quality of this conversation was also very striking for me:

Student: We don’t give the orders, you give them sir.

Another Student: Yes, but when we grow up, we’ll order our children around.

Teacher: Exactly! Maybe you’ll be a teacher one day too. You’ll order your pupils around. Would you like that?

I remember wondering when I was a kid if I saw the same thing other people did when we saw a color. As time has passed I’ve come to wonder more and more if I see the same thing other people do when we see a child.

I couldn’t help myself. I commented on boingboing. This excites Jon in a way we don’t really want to talk about.

Of course right after posting it I see my own grammatical error. Anyway, here it is:

I don’t think it’s extreme to say that believing you wouldn’t do anything if someone didn’t make you is the creed of a slave. Actually, maybe it doesn’t go far enough. A slave does not choose slavery. A person who believes they would do nothing unless forced is making a powerful choice.

Why assume that children who are free to make their own choices will make themselves horribly ill or stab themselves with a knife? People who are consistently trusted to make good choices for themselves are much more likely to do so. And for the record, Holt in no way discourages parents from offering guidance. Quite the opposite in fact.

Anyone interested in learning more about children who live as unschoolers (a term coined by Holt), might want to check out these sites:

I wrote a book about my own family’s experiences with unschooling, but I’ll spare you the shameless plug .