The Confines of Freedom
When we as unschoolers, talk about raising kids who are free, there is a lot we mean by using the word “free”.
When we as unschoolers, talk to others about raising kids who are free, they might infer or hear words we definitely don’t mean as unschoolers, such as “lawless,” “delinquent”, “illiterate” and the word “wild” with all its privileged nuances, might also spring to mind.
When I talk about unschooling, a big part of that for me is protecting my children’s freedoms. Teaching them about consent and autonomy, it means giving them as many environments and opportunities as I can where they can play freely and move freely without the judgement of others. Freedom also means emotional freedom; my kids know how to identify their feelings and are finding healthy ways to express those feelings, no matter what they are and you don’t go and do things that yuck it up, like losing your stuffs on them and when you do lose your stuffs on them you apologize and talk about it.
When I wrote about not visiting the splash pads in the last post (although that was with a touch of tongue in cheek) it brought to mind an experience I had last winter while at a community skating rink.
Free and Aware Not Wild and Free
My oldest child tried skating two winters ago and loved it. This past winter, we went skating every chance we got and it was amazing to see how my kid found his balance, found his comfortability and tried to go all the way around the rink by himself and made it and over time, went faster and faster.
One day we were at the skating rink and Dad had both kids on the ice with him. I don’t skate. Cerebral palsy makes balance a challenge enough on land, I don’t feel like I need to further challenge it by strapping on a pair of ice skates.
Admittedly, it’s an interesting task to have two little kids learning with one adult who can skate. I hang out with one of the kids, while the other one goes onto the ice with Dad and this works for the first half-hour until they both decide they want to be on the ice at the same time. This is when my son started to say that he wanted to go on by himself and he felt confident that he could manage while Dad was helping the youngest.
There is always a part of me that thinks I should learn how to skate because I want to join in with them and because I am still fighting the ableism that tells me I should just overcome.
Anyways, on this day the rink was fairly busy. There were three moms looking after a group of ten boys and the ages ranged from (my best guess) 9ish to 12ish. This entire group could skate well and go fast around the rink. The boys started to crash into the skate aids and I noticed they would do this when the moms were preoccupied. Then they started stacking the skate aids on top of each other and taking a skate aid and using it to knock down the tower of skate aids they made.
This annoyed parents who were on the rink and they went and talked to their moms about it and the boys were told to knock it off but when the moms were preoccupied they would go back to doing this kind of thing.
A couple of the parents on the ice, told the boys directly, to please keep out of the beginner area and not to knock over the skate aids on the ice because they were there for the kids who needed them and they could cause someone to fall.
I thought how the parents were talking to these boys was pretty respectful, no one yelled, everyone pointed out the safety concerns and tried to keep their own kids out of the path of these boys.
I felt a mixture of relief that my husband had moved our kids to the other side of the rink, and fury that no one was stopping this and had to talk myself down from the cliff of judgement. Where’s the person who works here? Oh, you mean the sixteen-year-old who is being paid minimum wage to open and shut the doors?
Why aren’t their moms telling them to get off the ice? Maybe they are tired or don’t see it or don’t think it’s a safety concern, maybe me, the non-able skater is making it more dramatic than it really is and it’s just something that happens at the skating rink. Why aren’t these boys listening? I bet they’re probably schooled.
And as judgey as that thought was, it was an example of what I am keeping my kids from: herd mentality to be disruptive or something in that range for sure.
You don’t know how your kids are going to act when they are that age, my reason voice chimed in, goddess not like that was my counter.
My inner dialogue has multiple narratives.
These boys are having fun, being fee isn’t that what you want? Not like this! I want my kids to take into account the people in their surroundings and respect for others and to follow the rules of the establishment.
My family finished skating, we went to play outside at the nearby playground and out came this group of boys and their moms and other people who were with them. They had balloons and gift bags. A birthday party, thrown at the skating rink, and now my inner judgey voice is really going into overdrive and spewing off sentences that go “how entitled!, of course, it was a party, I bet they’ll just chalk it up to boys being boys or welllll….it is a birthday party”.
The Zamboni was going into the bay to clean the ice and these boys ran in front of it and started throwing chunks of hard snow from the snowbanks onto the Zamboni.
And the scales tipped.
The Zamboni driver went off on these kids about staying out of the path of vehicles and not to throw ice at the Zamboni, someone could have been hurt and don’t they know better and where are their parents? Parents came running over quickly at that.
These are children, I reminded my judgemental voice, and they aren’t acting safely but they aren’t being kept safe, either because they are now in the path of some stranger’s punitive anger.
And that is also at the heart of unschooling for us and it is a tricky path to navigate sometimes.
We want our children to be free to be themselves, to grow up without influence that tells them how to act and how to feel and how they should act and feel and behave but we want to cherish that freedom and that means protecting them from other adults who might not be on the same wavelength as us. Other adults who find the amount of freedom our children do have, hard to take because they didn’t have that freedom when they were a child-we call that a trigger.
And we definitely want to protect our children from doing disruptive things that would cause themselves and others to be unsafe or to feel unsafe and let’s make sure our kids’ emotional safety is protected while we are out, so that total strangers don’t yell at them.
And the way I know to do that is to talk about community and societal expectations and the rules of the establishment before we get there.
I don’t sit them down and give them a list of rules to follow while we are out in the world, but I will say things like, “Hey guys, when we go to grandpa’s, keep in mind that grandpa likes his furniture as is, so we can jump on our furniture when we get home” or “we love the library and I love that its a place for everyone. When we have our snack, we have to keep the food in the snack area so that it’s safe for kids with allergies, too,” and I hope because have always talked about how the world is outside of our home, that my children will carry that with them and understand being respectful and making sure the space is for everyone, even when they are nine and my back is turned while talking to another mama, hope is my crystal ball of motherhood.
Fear of Restriction is My Fear
When it comes to the splash pads, under COVID-19, the fear of restriction is my fear. If my kids forget that the playground is closed, even if the caution tape is off, while seeing other kids playing on it, I don’t want someone to yell at them, for being kids. If they get too close to another child while jumping over the water jet, I don’t want some parent to freak out on their heads.
It isn’t about my kids not being taught to live in the world with restrictions or the fear that they can’t handle it or that I am keeping them in a bubble. It’s being aware of how much of my fears are driving the choices we make under these restrictions and how I can live with them for my own self.
Recently, we did go to the splash pad (we had Dad and some things are easier with another parent or another set of hands, splash pads with no washrooms, definitely on that list) and it was awesome. My kids loved every second of it and it felt normal, it felt like summer and it felt like freedom.