I have a tendency to be really honest. Sometimes this gets me in trouble. Most of the time though, it's just a thing. A lot of people really appreciate it. They like that I am able to say out loud what so many in my situation feel. They like that I call things what they are and that I'm not afraid to speak up. I started thinking that there is more to it than that though.
Being honest, for me, is about being real. Being honest also entails saying things suck sometimes. It's about calling a spade a spade. Being honest about both the positive and the negative aspects of anything, or even about ambivalence or confusion, means that I am taking the time to sort it out. It means that I'm doing my job to be skeptical and scientific and to ensure that I can trust or to weigh risks and benefits.
Saying it out loud is just how I cope. My method of figuring things out, of processing, is to talk. By writing or by speaking, I need to articulate all the sides that I can see and find the right words to specify and to clarify as much as possible. This is how I can find a way to get comfortable with gray areas, with things that are sometimes one way and sometimes another: I have to say it. For my own sanity, I must figure it out and go through the possibilities or voice clearly that there may be other options I haven't considered. I need to know that something might change. It must be said.
So I must be forthright about my life. I must all the time, at every turn, at every sinking feeling that everything is all wrong to every screaming fit that too many video games or movies are destroying the brains of my children to every pang of guilt that I am lazy and good for nothing - I must stop and try to figure out what is true and what is right.
When everything is good, it is easy to feel that all is right with the world and with our lives. When everyone's getting along, when I have lots of energy, when we get to be outside in the sunshine all the time, when our creative juices are dripping projects all over the house like so much water, when no one's sick, when Papa cooks dinner every night happily, when the house isn't too trashed, when we get lots of time with friends - those are all the times when feeling that what we do is not only right and true but morally just comes easy peasy (of course, what we do is not morally just for everyone, it just feels so good sometimes that it might as well be).
When things are hard though - and they very often are - then it becomes complicated and every nagging doubt surfaces and gets under my skin. Then, if I have a particularly bad day, it can dig way inside and practically break my heart and crush me with the weight of distrust and confusion upon me.
These days, things are very hard. It is late winter here. It is cold. Even with the sun shining gorgeously the last few days, there are still five feet piles of snow on either side of my driveway and a foot still on the lawn. Jon is teaching five days a week. When he's not teaching, he writes lectures and grades papers. When he's not doing that, he sometimes watches basketball, but mainly does weird running around to arrange graduating in May. He also is editing his dissertation to prepare for his defense.
Due to his schedule, this is the first time that I've been solely responsible for the upkeep of the house, the car, the bills, the shopping, the children, plus all meals. That may not seem like much to other mothers, but for us, we've always strived for a more equitable breakdown of household dealings, so I usually never made dinner and he always helped with cleaning. I'm also still doing volunteer work with our Food Co-op. There's a very nasty chance I may be the next board president in a few weeks. My sister is living with us, so there are five of us in 900-some-odd square feet. She works a lot. She does do a lot of the laundry. I still put it away. We've been sick off and on for more than a month.
I could go on and on. There is much more to complain about. When things get hard like this, sometimes I shut down a bit. I get sucked into fruitless activities after not enough sleep from staying up too late to blow off steam. I waste whole days arguing pointlessly with people on the internet, intermittently cleaning, feeding, encouraging children to do something, kissing boo-boos, giving baths, changing shirts, putting in laundry, doing more dishes, making cups of tea, staring into space, paying a bill, returning an email, picking up five hundred blocks from off the floor, getting weird goo off of weird places, answering phones, sitting on hold for doctor's offices, making appointments, forgetting to make appointments until it's too late, and all the mundane details of living and running a life for four people. I don't get dressed until late in the day. Aleks will put on a movie, then build with Lego bricks, then go back to the movie, then switch to a video game, then talk to me while sitting upside down on the couch, then get a drink of water, then play the video game again, then draw five pictures, then ask me in very long sentences while I am in the middle of reading something about something I don't understand and only half listen to for which I then have to stop reading and back up and apologize and listen before explaining that I don't understand and I don't know how some monster evolves into some other monster. Meanwhile, Bastian steals the laptop from Aleks or makes guys and blocks and Magformers fight on the couch while he leaps and somersaults over and around them.
All day, it seems, we do...not much of anything in particular. One of my big fears creeps in then. Maybe...maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I'd be a good, holy mother if I could just get it together to get up at a reasonable hour, not stay up late, get us out of the house and doing...stuff, get us around other kids more, join the homeschooling co-op (that I have zero attraction to), enroll in something (that I can't afford), and get the kids away from those hateful, awful, brain-melting media devices (well, computers - we have no television).
I have read that using electronic media devices pretty much programs your brain, or, well, forms your neural pathways to using electronic media devices. You make your brain do it more. Like a pattern. Or an addiction. This can make it harder to sleep. It can make it harder to make your brain do other...stuff. It occurs to me that maybe we use media devices kind of a lot. Maybe I should prevent that more. Before I get to whether or not we do in fact use media devices kind of a lot, there's two solutions for how to achieve prevention. One, I can somehow get it together to be a good, holy me, despite any and all stress in my life and simply take the responsibility and initiative to make us do other...stuff. Or two, I can send the kids someplace for someone else to have that energy where they can do other...stuff (and possibly gain unintended side-effects of that place and those people that I may hate and have to, like, do something about, which means still energy placed on making other...stuff happen).
Neither of those options sounds particularly appealing. I find it really difficult in general to drastically change one pattern of behavior let alone all of them all at the same time. So maybe I'm jumping to conclusions. Do we overuse electronic media? The honest answer is probably sometimes. I'm not worried about overusing music or books. Those are "enlightened" (read that with an eyeroll) forms of media. Movies and video games are another matter. I have a lot of conflicting information about these though.
I know plenty of men (and a few women) who love video games and have spent hours almost every day since childhood playing them. They are all able to have conversations, complete degrees, hold down jobs, and clean up after themselves, generally. The studies say that video games are damaging to children because they expose them to things that are not age-appropriate, prevent them from healthfully following other pursuits, increase their exposure to advertising, encourage consumerism, and create sedentary behaviors that lead to obesity, heart disease, and early death.
Movies, I love. I would watch a movie every day if I could find the time. I'm certain that my children would too. They probably do. But they watch no television whatsoever and they almost always leave the movie to do other things. They really do self-regulate in large part. They watch movies over and over again so that they don't need to see every minute. Aleks usually has to go draw something that popped into his head in the middle of a film. Lately, he'll listen to Harry Potter, draw, and have a movie on. Sort of how I write on six Firefox tabs, make a cup of tea, sit on hold on the phone, and clean up a mess all sort-of simultaneously.
Thinking about the neural pathway issue, the only real concerns I can see is the sleep issue and addiction to electronic media or the internet- which psychiatrists have not determined to be real just yet, despite the new DSM. Sleep could be a serious issue, especially given that Aleks has never in his life gone to sleep easily. Since we introduced books on tape, actually, it's gotten a lot better. So, hrm... Maybe that neural pathway issue isn't something to really bank on as an inevitability. Especially given that we do lots of things other than consume electronic media.
The next possible concern regarding electronic media usage, would be sedentary patterns of behavior. If I look at myself, I know that I don't lead the strongest example there. We hike and we walk with some frequency during the summer, but during the winter, we become very sedentary. Very indoorsy. Very tired and lazy. Nasty hobbitses. Um... I mean...
It seems I've hit on something. Perhaps the thing to do is not to entirely uproot our existence on the basis of shame and guilt, but maybe to move my body. A family yoga class, regular swimming, a weekly hike, or even a daily dance party would likely help me feel a lot better about almost all of that. At least until the next time I think we're watching too many movies or playing too many video games.
Media is not, of course, my only concern. It is usually the most pressing one given my conflicting feelings about it. The other is something that I had articulated before in the unschooling community to much of nothing: the concern was dismissed and laughed at.
Recently, however, I found (at ChezZoo) this phenomenal, hour-long (I'm warning you now) lecture from Astra Taylor, a grown-up unschooler, who also brings up my concerns. Now I have someone who is far more impressive than me - a mere mom in danger of becoming a co-op board president- to argue my point for me.
Ms. Taylor brings up a couple of points that are clear (if you ask me) issues with or downsides to unschooling. First, there is the matter of unschooling requiring a parent at home. The problem with this is that it's always the mom. Now, in my own circumstance, there are a lot of reasons why I'm the at-home parent. I'm certain that that's true for most unschooling families. All of the unschooling moms I know were practicing some style of attachment parenting when their children were babies and stayed home with them to maintain breastfeeding and to foster a strong bond and sense of trust with their child. When it came time for schooling decisions, it made sense to continue with the already established routine. This of course makes logical sense.
The problem is that unschooled children are going to see a stay-at-home-mother as the familial norm if this is what they're exposed to again and again. This means that by being limited in our options for families, we're limiting the choices of future generations. If all they know is moms-at-home in order to achieve unschooling, then pursuing a career and unschooling for a mother looks highly improbable. In fact, unschooling without an at-home mother then looks likely impossible. It sets up an unnecessary (or undesirable) dichotomy: unschool with an at-home mother or don't unschool at all (i.e. send your children to school).
The second major issue with/downside to unschooling is that it's largely something that fairly well-educated people of some means (middle class, generally) are able to do. This means too that most of us are white. It begins to mean that unschooling is something for the elite. It is not a choice that people of lesser means (who cannot afford or arrange a parent at home) can make.
This is somewhat unavoidable. Unschooling is certainly not a mainstream concept, so not many people have ever even heard of it, let alone considered it. If folks did start unschooling without a parent or other care provider at home, they'd be accused (perhaps rightly so, depending) of neglect. Given that our society has a vested interest in the well-being of children, this makes sense. No one wants ill to befall children due to a desire to keep them out of school. On the other hand, again, without diversity in the unschooling community we start to see a white-washing of this sliver of culture.
It is true that unschooling parents are likely to have more opportunity to expose their children to diverse groups of people compared to schooling families -particularly in age-range, I find - but when they convene with other homeschooling or unschooling families, the options are clear again and again: white, middle class, educated folks, different in details, surely, but largely very similar in cultural identity.
I cannot see what there is to be done about either of these issues, but as a feminist, and as someone who is anti-racist and seeks, always, to widen possibilities for my children, I find these trends unsettling nonetheless. I suppose the thing to do is to just keep talking it out. With them, with each other, with this blank field of html...