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Re-remembering (not to burden our unschooled kids with our expectations)

Re-remembering
(not to burden our unschooled kids with our expectations)

By Kim Weaver

When my partner and I decided to follow the path of child-directed learning, we did so with the faith that kids are naturally intelligent and curious, and would lead themselves into all sorts of wonderful learning and playing opportunities if given the right resources, encouragement and time to do so. Ours haven’t proved us wrong, and I love learning and experiencing life right along with them.

Sometimes, though, I get overly responsible. I try to direct them to what I think they need to know at that moment, with an expectation that they will arrive at my conclusion. At these times, their “education” generally begins to look like I am stuffing information into them for my reasons, not theirs. But my children gently remind me that though they will happily journey with me, they will do so in their own unique way, at their own pace, regardless of my expectations. This lesson was recently brought home to me when we attended an art gallery exhibit.

“I want to remember and re-remember that my children will take away something from that event that I cannot predetermine, and may never know about. They do not need the burden of my expectations, nor my reaction (be it excitement or disappointment), to experience, be nurtured, and grow from any encounter or activity we undertake, together or alone.”
I had taken Zoey and Luke to see a much promoted and much anticipated (by me) exhibit at our local gallery called “Post Impressionist Masterworks.” It consisted of 15 original paintings by well-known artists, including a couple by Cezanne, one by Matisse, a few by Derain, and even one by Vincent van Gogh! As my eight-year-old daughter has a much-loved print of van Gogh’s “Starry Night” on her wall, I thought she’d enjoy seeing some originals from the same period.

Actually, “enjoy” is too modest a word for what I hoped she’d feel. I was almost gaga at the prospect. I hyped the show to the kids with phrases like, “...once in a lifetime”, and “you might never again see...”. Not subtle, I admit, and a bit of a set-up for a let-down. I had a lot invested in their responses. I wanted Zoey and a bit of a set-up for a let-down. I had a lot invested in their responses. I wanted Zoey and Luke to see and love these paintings through my eyes. As we walked through the gallery, I enthused, “These colors are so much brighter, the style so much looser, the paintings filled with so much more energy, than any done before them!” The bold and free brush strokes, the vibrancy, life and joy of these works never fails to electrify me, and to see the originals, rather than the coffee table book reproductions, did indeed fill me with light.

I wanted my kids to share my excitement, my awe, with a bit of delirious happiness thrown in for good measure, but what I got was.....bickering about who would get to use the exhibit program to make a comic when they got home. “No, I got it first! I said I wanted to make a comic, and now she’s copying me!” Luke hissed, with Zoey quickly defending, “No I’m not; I want to make a story, and I want to use the words, too.” In the serene interior of the gallery, with crowds of people basking in the magnificence of the masterpieces, my children squabbled.

“I wanted my kids to share my excitement, my awe, with a bit of delirious happiness thrown in for good measure, but what I got was.....bickering about who would get to use the exhibit program to make a comic when they got home.”

I hushed Zoey, shushed Luke and tried to distract them with pretty paint colors and leading questions. “Tell me which of the paintings you like best?” I pleaded, stooping to quiet them with my proximity. “The boat one,” stated Luke. “The one with the big shapes,..... and the boat one,” beamed Zoey, which caused a flare-up of the copycat argument. I felt deflated, my enthusiasm thoroughly doused, and I was ready to head for the nearest exit.

I quickly herded them out through the side doors, into the adjoining exhibit of drawings, etchings and lithos from the same period. I was sure we’d sail through the rest of the gallery, have a quick look at the Emily Carrs, and head out for lunch. At least I could count on their enthusiasm for bagels, I thought. But guess what? My two little critics spent a huge amount of time strolling around, gazing, and appreciating the smaller, less vibrant, more concise subjects. I watched as our five-year-old walked and hummed to himself, hands behind his back, taking in the simple landscapes, discussing a line portrait with his sister. “Where’s his other eye?” he asked Zoey. They searched for a minute, then Luke answered his own question with, “Oh, that skinny line there, see? I thought it was hair – it’s his eye!” He giggled his approval. They even condescended to listen to a description of the woodblock printing process, and to learn the name of Emily Carr’s monkey, Woo, before pulling me into yet another exhibit (what, no lunch?). Here the kids shared what they saw in the paintings. “Mom, see this one? It has that triangle that Pat showed us, with the cloud and the horses!” Zoey traced the shape as she spoke. “Hey, cool!” Luke approved. “Way cooler than those famous ones!” And then it was time for lunch.

If you are thinking that I had learned my lesson for the week, well, read on. The next evening, my daughter and I began the chore of excavating her room. Generally this is not a pleasant task for either of us. We tend to bicker and snap at each other while we scoop handfuls of beads, Beanie Babies and Barbie shoes into their appropriate bins. Rarely is her floor visible beneath the toys, clothes and books, all mushed together like minestrone soup. I resent the time and energy this task requires. But as she had generously agreed to share her room with a visiting Japanese student, something the whole family was looking forward to, I agreed to help. This time, I vowed, would be different than the last: This time the room would be cleaned by a loving Mom and a happy, grateful daughter, with the reward of tea, popcorn, and a video afterwards. I prepared myself by breathing deeply and visualizing a serene, quiet process of tidying with happiness and loving pink light all around.

“I want to remember that fewer expectations create the space for unexpected delights along the way, for all of us.”
You can guess what happened, right? I became tense as we made little progress by my standards, an endless evening of hamster poop and candy wrappers stretched out ahead of us. My irritation bubbled up and out in a nasty stream; “Why don’t you just put your Barbies away when you are done with them? Why do they have to be left on the floor to be walked on? Do you like your room to look this way?” I cringe now, remembering my words and tone, and her hurt feelings. Zoey duly defended her right to keep her room as she wanted it, retorting, “I like my having stuff on my floor! It’s always where I can find it!” No pink love in sight, only purple, angry, hurt feelings. I realized with Zoey’s defence of her space that she had a right to feel her miserable feelings; cleaning her room wasn’t fun! And although the room needed to be cleaned, I didn’t have the right to impose my false, sparkly mood on her, or on the process. I had to surrender once again. Needless to say, the evening didn’t go as I had “planned”, though the job did get done.

So maybe I am beginning to learn the lesson that my children so easily embrace. Whether we set out to see a van Gogh original, or undertake mundane household tasks, I want to remember and re-remember that my children will take away something from that event that I cannot predetermine, and may never know about. They do not need the burden of my expectations, nor my reaction (be it excitement or disappointment), to experience, be nurtured, and grow from any encounter or activity we undertake, together or alone. If they choose to feel miserable about a necessary chore, it is their right to do so. And if they want to cut up the exhibit catalogue to make comics, they have been touched in a way that I could not have orchestrated, and want to express their views about it. I want to remember that fewer expectations create the space for unexpected delights along the way, for all of us.

But you might have to remind me.....

Kim Weaver is an unschooling parent of Zoey and Luke (who were ages nine and six when this article was written), living in Victoria, BC. She and her partner believe that children will find their passions and take flight when given the space to do so. She is finding her own wings through writing.

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