by C.M.Lewis, guest author
“We always felt free and trusted yet also very well cared for.” ~Carol’s kids
In May of 1979 I was 14, my sister was 12, and my brother was 8.
It's thirty minutes till Mom gets home! We sprang into action. We’d been given a list of things to do for the day and we hadn’t even started! The three of us and whatever friends happened to be there at the time raced through 3200 square feet of house trying our best to complete the whole list. The vacuum cleaner mowed through the long, gold, shag carpet while dishes were flying, clothes were being tossed through the air, toys were being shoved into place, and something edible was being concocted in the kitchen. Our mom was a professional musician and single mom who had to work long hours.
It may seem like we were all afraid of the consequences of not fulfilling “the list”, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Our Mom was never the “obey without delay” type. Her easy going style was always totally nonjudgmental, merciful, and joyful. She had respect for us and we respected her in return. We worked so enthusiastically to complete our list because we actually wanted to complete it for our hard working, single mom. The only reason we even had a list was because we asked for one. She would come through the door proclaiming that she had the best kids in the world whether or not we had done any house work at all. Sometimes she was met with a messy house full of kids making music, or a dining room table full of ridiculously large paintings, drawings, or sculptures. Sometimes she walked into a quiet house where we were all having a serious (to us) philosophical discussion about something like how cool Buddha was or whether stars were really that old or if they had been created by a god with the illusion of age, much like in the “loaves and fishes” Bible story. (meaning that the loaves of bread weren’t really made from actual wheat that had been grown and made into bread, but that they were supposedly miraculously created in the spur of the moment as loaves of bread, and the fish weren’t fish that had grown from fish eggs into adult fish ready to be eaten, but that they were created in that moment as grown up fish…) More than once she came in while we were in the process of rearranging the furniture. One time she came home to find her deck missing, having been reduced to a small stair case just outside the back door, and a new tree house in her back yard. Every day, when she broke from the huddle of kids who piled around her when she came in, she would go to the kitchen to see what was brewing. No matter what it was she’d say it was just what she was in the mood for. We’d all pile around the kitchen table or sit on the counters or floor or wherever we felt like landing where we’d eat and talk about our day and throw an occasional roll across the room to somebody who asked for one. She never had a problem with our friends being there when she got home. She genuinely welcomed everyone at any time with her attitude of generous listening and “the more the merrier.”
Our mom’s philosophy of education was “get a life.” This was our life. Our education was a byproduct of that life. We hadn’t heard the term “unschooling”, but that’s exactly how we were raised. We learned things naturally and easily. We didn’t have a support group or co-op, and everyone else we knew went to public school. But we had good friends from supportive families who trusted our mom enough to let their kids hang out with us as much as possible.
We weren’t like those kids who usually have a lot of externally imposed structure in their lives, or who weren’t accustomed to taking responsibility for the way they used their time. Very little was required. Pretty much everything from bed times to what to eat to what activities to participate in was up to each of us individually. For some who are used to having to be told what to do this might be anxiety producing and overwhelming. For our friends, and certainly for us, it was one of the best aspects of life at our house. We were trusted with a lot. We were expected to live responsibly, and we didn’t even think of living any other way. We never tried to sneak around or get away with something that was forbidden. Our mom talked openly with us about everything, making sure we knew her view of right and wrong. But we were allowed to make our own mistakes, and when one of us made a not so wise decision, she was there for us when it blew up in our faces. She always allowed us to reap what we sowed. She compassionately let us go through any natural consequences for our actions, never judging us and always staying right by our side until it was over. And when we made better decisions, she was always there to celebrate us and cheer us on. We were instilled with depth and strength of character. Carol’s kids had maturity, drive, self assuredness, compassion, and openness. We weren’t afraid of vulnerability. She made us feel like we could conquer the world. And we did.
We are now in our late 30’s or early 40’s, living happy, productive lives with our spouses and as parents of the next generation of unschoolers. We are still a very close family and our kids are more like siblings than cousins. We all feel like we have conquered the worlds we have each created for ourselves. Our unschooling experience provided us with everything we needed to grow up into creative, loving, responsible people. My brother is living joyfully with his wife and son and working with some of his best friends as the IT administrator of an international company. My sister and I both have Master’s Degrees in fields we are each passionate about, but we and our husbands chose to dedicate this time we will never get back to our children by providing them with stay at home moms. We all agree that we are exactly who we were meant to be. Our mom is our hero.
Chrisi lives in Vinings, GA with her husband, Rob, who is a Production Engineer for Turner Broadcasting, and their 15 year old daughter, Rachel who has never been to school. Their family website is www.justcousins.net or you can get in touch with Chrisi on myspace at www.myspace.com/onlymechrisi or on facebook by searching the name Chrisi Lewis.