This week, we’re back with another On the Journey episode. Pam, Anna, and Erika are joined by Living Joyfully Network member Sarah McMackin. Sarah is an unschooling mom to Eamon, who just turned seven. She also runs a restaurant in Austin, TX with her husband, Ray.
We talk about Sarah’s experience unschooling an only child, we explore how unschooling and running a business mesh together, and we dive very deep into the power of play! It was so amazing having Sarah share her story on the podcast and we hope you find our conversation inspiring on your unschooling journey!
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We invite you to join us in The Living Joyfully Network, a wonderful online community for parents to connect and engage in candid conversations about living and learning through the lens of unschooling. Our theme this month is Context.
So much of what we talk about on this podcast and in the Living Joyfully Network isn’t actually about unschooling. It’s about life. On The Living Joyfully Podcast, Anna Brown and Pam Laricchia talk about life, relationships, and parenting. You can check out the archive here, or find it in your your favorite podcast player.
ANNA: Hello everyone! I am Anna Brown from Living Joyfully, and this is episode number 350 of the Exploring Unschooling podcast. I’m joined by my co-hosts Pam Laricchia and Erika Ellis, as well as our special guest this week, Sarah McMackin. Welcome to you all.
ANNA: Today, we’re sharing another episode in our On the Journey series where we speak to our guests about their experiences, their a-ha moments, their challenges, and what they’ve learned on their unschooling journeys. Sarah is a member of the Living Joyfully Network, and I have so enjoyed meeting her and getting to know her and her family. Sarah brings so much joy to everything she does. Her insights and excitement about being a parent and finding ways to focus on connection while running two successful restaurants in Austin, Texas is so inspiring. I am very excited for her to be here and share some of her story on this On the Journey episode.
But before we get started, I wanted to mention that we recently have been putting together an Amazon storefront, so this is a place where we can share our favorite finds and just the things that we’ve found helpful along our journey. And that could be from books, to self-care items, games, and more. It’s a super easy way you can support the work we’re doing and find some cool things along the way. You can check it out at amazon.com/shop/livingjoyfully. And, as always, we really, really appreciate your support.
So now, I’m going to turn it over to Erika to get us started.
ERIKA: Hi! Hi, Sarah.
ERIKA: I’m so excited to have Sarah joining us and I thought we could start maybe with you sharing a little bit about you and your family and what everyone is interested in these days.
SARAH: Sure. Thanks so much for having me on. Yeah, in my inner household it’s myself and then my husband Ray, and our son Eamon. We live in Austin, Texas. And Eamon just turned seven yesterday, but old soul. Old soul.
Yeah, so Eamon’s overarching, major passion is play and then that permeates everything. Everything that he does. Pretend play, and then it’s really manifested into video gaming and how he even engages with video games. So, basically, I mean, right now he is really into simulation games and first-person, really immersive, playing with them, making up storylines and stuff like this.
When he was five or so, I think I showed him Laurel and Hardy and that right there like sparked this thing in him with this like dynamic duo kind of mentality of like getting into mishaps and just having a sort of dynamic in which they’re engaged like with the world. He has literally taken that up and just used that in most of our play. Because him being an only child, it’s really been him and me in a big way. And so, coming from a playful parent, like my mom, it comes very naturally for me. So, that’s a lot of the day is him oscillating between his screen and video gaming and YouTubeing and watching all the stuff, the walkthroughs, other gamers doing their thing, and then rolling that in.
So typically, he likes me to be sitting with him and like engaging with the game itself. So, it’s not just the video game. Because the games that he plays are not typically like ones that have a goal. They’re just kind of these open world simulation and then let’s make up scenarios and let’s make up kind of character development and stuff like that and bring it in.
So, he’s really into that. He’s just gotten close to, over the last few weeks, gaming with one of the Network folks’ son in Denmark. So, we’re in Texas and they’re in Denmark. So, it’s a seven-hour difference. So, they’re gaming together typically two times a day, morning time here when it’s their evening, but not really morning, more like 1:00 PM, because Eamon is a night owl, just like his dad. So, he is going to sleep around 3:00 AM lately, which is also how he’s learning time. He keeps jumping into bed and saying, “The small hand was on the two,” or, “The small hand was on the three.” So, he’s sort of playing with that.
And then he wakes up around 1:00 and it’s right on with Theodor. So, the two of them are playing Fortnite right now, and they’re playing this game called Wobbly Life, which is really fun to hear him. He was always, being an old soul and being I think an only child and then unschooling, part of the reason why we unschool is because I think he was kind of overwhelmed socially with other kids, really, when he was small and he really loved just our play and the way that we work together.
So, just to watch him now at almost seven or now seven be very comfortable and open and ready for some real social engagement. I mean, now it’s like he’s just hamming it up. I mean, he doesn’t stop talking. Theodor doesn’t stop talking. And the two of them are just like at it. So, there’s this whole little friendship thing happening now socially for him, which is really interesting.
And he loves filmmaking, like making stop motions. And he’s not a big movie watcher, but it’s amazing how much he’s gleaned just from the few movies that he’s seen. And then I think YouTube, which at first, YouTube was very scary to me as a medium of like, wow, is this what we’re going to be watching? It felt like reality tv, all the time, which was just sort of foreign to my upbringing because it was like just shows and these like beautiful plots and very controlled characters and stuff. And now it’s like, oh god, what is he watching now? But he has gotten so much out of it, and I’ve sat with him and watched a lot with him, and now I’ve felt the freedom to kind of like, I could be cleaning and he’s doing that.
But the social and the comedic and the everything he picks up, he is like finding what really turns him on, and then he’s able to utilize that in his gaming, in his filmmaking, anything like that. So, shorts and stuff are now coming in to play, which again, the YouTube shorts, you’re like, oh my god, what is this doing to a brain? Are we okay? This is a scroll. We haven’t gotten into TikTok yet, but he’s doing it and the guys that he’s watching or the girls he is watching, it’s like they’re so Eamon. They’re so him. And when they’re not, he just kind of flips it, or it is, and now it’s a new aspect of him. And so, that right there, it’s just wonderful. It’s all weaving into life.
But the real passion that he has for the filmmaking part, at least what he’s said at this point, is the editing. So, he loves the filming and then he could sit for hours and he will edit till the cows come home. Music, he loves picking out like the perfect soundtrack to like any moment. Right? And even in our play, he’s got these Spotify playlists that are kind of vaudeville. They’re very jazzy and, but like with a jauntiness. Or he’s got some real intense savior kind of music, like rescue music or something. And it’s like, that’s when things go into slow-mo and we’ve got stuffies and gnomes. But it makes the play so much easier to do because you’ve got this music.
So, I just feel like the music, the video gaming, the video editing, all of it, him being able to control the scene, it’s really about that. He almost thinks in vignettes in a way, which is so interesting, like how we’re going to make this up and then the song will change and it changes the whole mood. So, he’s just playing. He’s playing with everything. And so, that would be him right now. It’s a lot of video. It’s a lot of YouTube. It’s a lot of the gaming and then the pretend play with me.
And then I guess just what we are into. So, Ray and I, yeah, we opened up a plant-based gastropub here in Austin, the same year we had Eamon, which people think is crazy. But then I’m like, well, I don’t know when else we would’ve done it. So, actually it’s really good timing that we did that, because we wouldn’t have had any time otherwise.
And so, for the first six years I’d say, we had a GM and we just had the team. And so, Ray and I divided and conquered attachment parenting with Amon, so I’ve been with him a hundred percent. We still co-sleep. We still nurse. We still do it all. And my focus was really on like playing with him in a very immersive way and that’s just it. And so, we’ve just continued that on, and Ray taking on over at The Beer Plant more.
And then recently, we sort of had a little shake up. So, COVID, in restaurants, you can imagine. So, just some things have gone just a little funky. And so, I’ve decided just in the last six weeks, “Hey, we’ve been trying to weather this. Why don’t I get a little bit more involved? I think it’s just a lot to handle for one person and maybe I think I need to get more in tune with this thing because it’s a lot of parts and it’s a lot of people.”
And anyway, so my new thing basically is like kind of getting in there in general managing from the morning and the sleep cycle has worked out so well in terms of Eamon staying up so late and sleeping in, so I can get up, get over there, come back, and be with him for a bit and then get over there again if I need to.
So, that’s kind of a new thing right now. We’re playing with sleep. We’re playing with me working more, but really having all these wonderful conversations about how life is changing a little bit. But that The Beer Plant needs my attention right now, but he does too. So, he and I like make sure that we really create like a great schedule for that. Because before this, I mean really it’s been The Beer Plant, Eamon. and unschooling, and that’s where I’m at anyway. Those are my interests and what takes up most of my time.
And we’ve got some new neighbors, which I haven’t had much social stuff. So, again, as Eamon is kind of blooming with Theodore, I feel like we’re in tandem where we’ve got these new neighbors that now are coming over once a week that we’ve like met. And I just love them. And it takes a lot to just like really love, I don’t know, like really commune with people at this age, so that’s been really fun to kind of open and develop my social aspect a little, like that social self a little bit.
And then Ray is my nighttime researcher. He’s nocturnal, so he’s at The Beer Plant every evening, just helping be a gofer and stuff like that. And then, he’s home and he just researches whether it’s health topics or state of the world or whatever. Yeah, that’s where we’re at right now. So, anyway. Yeah, I went a lot of places.
ERIKA: Wow! That was so amazing. I think that what you were sharing about Eamon, what came up for me is like, he’s seven. And what an amazing, rich, deep life he gets to have. How even a young child like that can have these really strong interests and really explore the depths of things, human emotion and human relationships and storytelling and like all these things. And I think mainstream culture will tell us that children that young, they just have to wait. You have to wait till you get older, till you can actually explore these things. But hearing all the things he gets to do at seven just gives me goosebumps. What an amazing life. You know?
SARAH: Yep. Well, when you’re in it, too, you don’t have that perspective. To me, that’s just Eamon. And Eamon is ageless. He just really is, because he’s always been this old soul, verbal, thinking about a million things. And so, it doesn’t even strike me as it would be different, but yeah, when you step back and you just say, wow. You’re allowed to just really go to town on anything you want and all that you get back from that, it’s unbelievable.
PAM: I love it. I do, and what struck me too was the openness of your lives in that, this friendship has bubbled up now for Eamon, and you’re noticing a friendship bubbling up for you alongside, and you’re weaving in getting more involved at the restaurant. So, for me, that’s the seasonality of life and the ability to flow as things come up, because, I mean, that is stressful that things went funky absolutely during COVID and the recovery season from that and figuring things out.
So, even when life gets funky, we have the space to let things bubble up. And as you say, we’re trying this. You’re working with Eamon to see, does this still feel like we’re connected? Are you still feeling comfortable with this? And even if it’s not big conversations. He’s very verbal, so probably you guys are literally chatting about it. But also, you can see through reactions, through emotions, through all these pieces.
They’re still communicating how things are feeling for them, and even when we choose something to try, and then we need to morph it a little bit more, it’s not wrong. Each little step is like, ooh, we’re going to try this and we’re going to learn a little bit more about how it feels, and then we’ll keep tweaking it until we hit something that feels good. And then I always add for now, right? Because these grow and change over time, don’t they?
ANNA: So much.
PAM: Okay. I have the next question and, absolutely, you mentioned your restaurant business and we just wanted to hear a little bit more about how you see running your business and unschooling fitting together into your life. If you could dive into that a little bit more, that would be so cool.
SARAH: Oh yeah, of course. Yeah. I mean, gosh, the two things, they seem like they’re so similar, on this similar track. They’re like boundless. They’re never stopping. I don’t know. It’s like choose your adventure at all times, basically. And it’s about listening and growing. I mean, you open a restaurant and you don’t quite realize, but it’s like this living, breathing thing, right?
And from the backside, it’s like you’ve got so many parts. You’ve got to listen to the guests. You’ve got to listen to your team. There’s a lot of support that it needs. There’s a lot of creativity. It’s like the same thing as this unschooling, where you wake up every day and there’s no difference between Monday and Sunday, really. Except for us, it’s like volume on Friday night and Saturday night, but that’s about the only rhythm that changes. So, there’s no nine to five.
And so, for me and for Ray, I think even in the beginning, it’s funny, I sort of had this like realization about like balance and trying to strike balance. I was sort of like, you know what? The hell with balance for a little while and the restaurant’s going to take everything. It’s going to be a hundred percent for us and Eamon is going to be a hundred percent. We live in a fixer upper. It’s just perpetually a fixer upper.
You know why? Because we don’t have the time right now. Eventually we will have the time. So, I can put that aside and I can prioritize that the restaurant really needs this, or Eamon really needs this, or whatever it is. But it’s amazing when you’re present in something and also you’re in the driver’s seat, and Eamon is in the driver’s seat, too. So, I don’t mean that Ray and I are driving Eamon at all. It’s like the three of us get to kind of drive these lives and we’re driving the restaurant, but at the same time, so is everybody else that’s involved in it.
And so, it takes this like team effort and so many beautiful things come out of it and with unschooling, because everybody’s involved, everyone’s chatting. We run the restaurant the same way with Eamon. For better and for worse, we’re very relaxed people. Except for a little anxiety about stuff, but that’s behind and then very approachable, communicative. Let’s work together. It’s kind of soft and really nice. We’ve heard about cutthroat restaurants and the way that restaurants typically function, it’s like, it’s the numbers, it’s the bottom line. It’s, we’ve got managers in place and everyone knows exactly what they’re doing at all times. And this is what we do on Mondays. This is what we do on Tuesdays. We are not like that, which some people can hang with that and some people can’t. And a lot of people would be like, ah! I can’t do this! Like, you can’t run a restaurant like that.
Or, with Eamon, Eamon does what Eamon wants. We do it together. It works out so beautifully. He goes to bed when he wants, when his body’s tired. He eats when he wants, what he wants. A lot of my adult friends, it’s like, oh my gosh! I could never do it! They have school vacation and they’re like, oh my gosh! What are we going to do this week? You know? I’m going out of my mind! Where I’m like, oh my gosh. It’s the best. So, I guess the two things are. It’s not counterintuitive, but I guess so from a cultural standpoint. We’re doing both of these things in very different ways, but they’re the ways that are authentic to us, and they work out nearly, almost all the time.
Except for that footing, which again, I do think that Covid, yeah. That definitely shook stuff up. And in life you get those little missteps, too, where you’re just like, oh, things got funky, like you said, and we’re gonna get all in and just approach it just like we do every day and then figure it out. So, I guess the two, they really work so well together, the fact that I can get up and I can prioritize my day, and I don’t have to be anywhere at any time unless I’ve made a meeting time or something like that. But everything’s flexible, too.
And the flexibility piece is just so, I mean, in some ways I feel not like spoiled, but I feel so lucky, I guess would be the word, the positive word. It’s just very, very fortunate that we all, the three of us in this house, can do whatever we need to do and want to do, when we want to do it, and how we need to. And it’s going to take more of our brain power oftentimes because we’re the ones that are behind everything. We don’t have a principal or a teacher or I don’t have a boss that’s telling me, oh, Sarah, actually don’t you see that your food costs are this? I have to do that. So, it’s hyper-vigilant and you still have to sleep, which we get plenty of it, because we get to sleep when we want. So, that’s just it.
PAM: I find that interesting, too, to think about, because yes, when we feel so empowered and lucky that we have control over our time like that, but it does take energy to make the choices. We are empowered and we need to make the choices of what we’re going to do. Or even that we need a rest day or we need a rest hour, or whatever it is.
But I think that can be something too with kids with unschooling. At some point, sometimes it can feel a bit overwhelming to be making all the choices. And then it’s like, oh, just tell me what to do, etc. So, I think that is just a fascinating piece that we learn about ourselves and to be okay with, oh geez, if I just knew what to do. I don’t quite have the energy for making all these choices. Yet, I know in my case anyway, even when I kind of felt that way, I never chose that way. Because the value of having the choice in my life always, always won out. Because then I knew, oh, that’s kind of a clue that I’m feeling a little low energy. Maybe I’m starting to burn out just a touch, that this is starting to feel a little overwhelming. So, I might need a little bit more self-care. Just bring that up rather than thinking, oh no, this was all wrong and I would rather just have outside control over my schedule. I don’t know. That might have been a weird way, but that’s what bubbled up for me, because that freedom is awesome. But just acknowledging that it also takes energy, doesn’t it?
ANNA: What I loved and want to really point out, so we’re talking about unschooling a lot here, which education’s pretty conventional in our society, and we’re taking an unconventional look, a creative look. We can change things up.
And what I love is that the restaurant business, I mean, there are people that very much think there’s a conventional way to run a restaurant and that it has to look a certain way. And to me, it’s just this reminder of, you know what? All bets are off. We can change anything. And, Pam, we’ve talked about it a lot before. Once you start down that unschooling path, you really just start to question all the things. And so, really, do I have to be doing it the way that they’re saying that I need to do it?
And so, I love that you have these two things that you’re making fit authentically with you, that you’re looking at it with this new creative eye, and that you’re not getting bogged down in the, “Well, for to run a restaurant successfully, you have to do X, Y, and Z,” because it’s just not true. There’s so many ways to do things, and so, I don’t know. I love that aspect of like just bringing the lens to everything.
ERIKA: Yeah, as I was hearing you talk, Sarah, it was all these paradigm shifts jumping out at me.
You know, like the paradigm shift of, we’re not doing power-over. It’s going to be collaborative. And there is no such thing as a “have to.” We’re going to just make choices of what we want to do and these are huge paradigm shifts to make if you’re coming from a conventional place.
But I just love how all the things that we talk about with unschooling just weave right into all the other things we do. When you’re interacting with the people that you work with at the restaurant, the same principles of communication and collaboration, those same things can apply so well and really, I think could surprise people with how well it can work to come from that angle.
ANNA: Yeah, and how much better it can feel, too, because the restaurant business can have a lot of darkness to it for people. And I think part of that is the convention that’s put on it. And so, I love that you’re just rethinking all of that and it just sounds like it fits and feels so much better for everyone involved.
So, I have question number three, which kind of hearkens back to something you were talking about earlier, but on the Network, you’ve talked a lot about Eamon and his play and I loved hearing those nuances of all the things he’s into and how you’re involved with that. But I think just talking a little bit more about how that evolved and it sounds like it came pretty naturally to you. What have you learned in that process? Or has it been like you thought it was going to be, or just a little bit more about that, because I’m so fascinated by the beauty of the play that you all have.
SARAH: Oh yeah. Because it’s so big in our lives, most of the day, like I’ve said, the characters just kind of come out. And they’re in every moment. And we just know we’ve got the stuffies, a lot of it’s characters, right? And that means also that the play comes with us wherever we go.
So, I guess, the bond, and again, Eamon is an only child, so I take that stock right now. If he had siblings, he’d probably be playing with them all the time right now. And a lot of learning would be coming from that. So, families that do have more than one child would be like, that’s where that’s going. But as a mom of an only child, I could see very early on it was like our play dynamic just worked from the get-go.
So, when he was very small, of course you’re playing with two-year-olds, you’re playing with three-year-olds, you’re playing with stuff, but mainly you’re just playing together. And at the park, it was me and him. And it’s not just chase, it’s more this character thing. I could just see this within him. And not that he’s not him. He likes to even be him. But then maybe I’m a YouTuber that he loves and he lights up. He literally feels like that YouTuber is right there. So, this is where just a little bit of like, I was in drama in high school and college, not even college, I only went to high school, because it just wasn’t a thing. But I’m like, this is where you use that. This is where that improv comes in. Just have fun with it.
The closeness and bond and the being able to have it in my pocket at all times, from when he was small to even now at seven, if we’re out somewhere and I can see that he’s a little bored or maybe something is upsetting him a little bit, the playfulness that we can just tap into in a moment changes everything.
And so, there’s this constant playful energy that we’ve cultivated through having been just down on the floor with him. It’s funny, yesterday was his birthday, so for a few minutes, we all looked at some old videos. Thanks to the technology that we have. So, we’re on his iPad and we just looked at a few things when he was like three, four, or five. And there he is, he’s this little guy and we’re playing and he was already such a character and already gleaning so much stuff and he’s just there on the screen and I thought, man, we’ve been doing this for forever, like since he came out basically.
And it just has created this solid foundation for the two of us that, like right now, it’s a really busy time for me. Which I didn’t want it to be this record rip where all of a sudden it’s like, because then when I come home, I still have some stuff going on. I don’t want to lose that thing. And we’re not. We’re not losing it. Even if it’s less time that maybe we have, we don’t have all day to play. We have it in every pocket.
So, I’ll come home and I’ll come in and I’ll be Pythor from Ninjago. That’s a really good example of where he goes. He has watched just the season one of Ninjago. This was when he was about five. He watched that and the Lloyd and Pythor dynamic. I don’t know if you’re familiar at all, but if you are, their dynamic. He just took it and he ran. Okay.
So, these guys then can be mischievous but also kind and they’re good. And then he sort of brought in this whole other storyline of Kai trying to make Lloyd be the green ninja. This is a huge part of our play. That’ll just come up and we know that that’s where we’re at. So, then I’m Pythor, he’s Lloyd, and either we’re going to do jobs wrong or something, or we’re going to do whatever. There’s no start or finish. It kind of is just always there for us to tap into and then it fills his cup and then it’s like we’re off to the next thing.
And so, the play is just weaving in and out of the day. The minute he gets up, it could be we start or whatever. And I just know we can read each other so well because of it. Because when you’ve played with somebody, I think you develop together a chemistry and like a language and this whole other world template, a place that you guys go and a bond that just feels like so good, so tight.
I feel like I know him so well even though he constantly surprises me and I think vice versa. So, play, at first, I think when I just thought about like, you play with your kid. You play with your kid. It’s great. And then life goes on and whatever. You just have these like moments of play and oftentimes parents are exhausted by playing and that’s just it.
But when, when it’s not this like, “We play an hour a day,” and it’s this isolated time, when you’ve developed these like things together, it can just be in and out of the day, again. So, there’s not this scheduled time or that we have to fit it in. It’s like it fits into every single like space that the day allows, which is also just beautiful.
So. play is just incredible. If you can do even a little. Whatever it is. I mean, some people are better at a board game or something like that and not maybe the pretend, but whatever way that you can, if you can inject that into the day, I just feel like it, again, it’s like a bond that happens between you and your kid that like it, it helps with everything. Again, those moments and defusing and stuff like that. So, yeah, I love it.
And then just one last thing, I guess like video gaming, too, to me. Beforehand, before Eamon really got into it, it would’ve been like, oh, they video game. You just think of it as like, they’re playing Mario Brothers and they’re smashing each other and you’re trying to get over the obstacles. It’s like, it’s so much more than that. When you actually sit and then you’re doing it with them, they are getting a ton out of that. And we’ve bonded over that. So, again, this is a connection piece. I guess the play part is so big for a little kid. They’re tuned for it.
ANNA: Oh, I love it! And I would say I was not as great with the pretend play and so, had to work at it, but what was interesting to me is kind of what you saw. When you do commit and kind of get in there, you see all the connections, all the learning, all these things that are going on. Because I think when we’re standing back over here, oh, they’re playing with some figurines.
They’re playing over there and my daughters, they had each other, so they’re playing with their sibling. But when you’re in it, you see how the wheels are turning, where they’re connecting something from maybe something that’s happened in the family, with something they saw on a show, with something that happened out here. And that was always so fascinating for me. That’s how I could get into something that I felt like was a little bit hard for me, because I’m not as playful as that in real life.
But it was those making those connections and seeing that that got me excited about it, about being involved.
And same with video games, right? Because that surface level of video games is, oh, they’re doing Mario Kart, but when you’re playing it, you realize, one, how hard it is. Two, all the things you need to be thinking about in order to do it. And so, it does become this connection point and this common language and something you can reach to because I am all about, we can shift energy so quickly when we bring that kind of playful mindset to it, when we set that stage. So, having those things to pull from is so valuable, and I’ve just seen that so much with you and things that you’ve talked about.
ERIKA: Yeah. I have goosebumps again from that section, Sarah. That was just so incredible. It just feels like you are speaking the language of childhood with Eamon. You know what I mean? You can’t get that level of connection without being able to go there. But I think it’s hard for a lot of adults, because it takes a lot of vulnerability to be able to be someone else and pretend something and really go there with being silly. It’s kind of like you have to really step out of the role of who you are being in your real life and just give into it.
But I think it’s that being vulnerable, like that vulnerability is what then allows the children to connect with you, because it’s like, oh, she is actually going there with us and it’s just so fun. And you’re right about just like then the shared language of those characters and just knowing all of those details with each other is like, it creates such a bond. And it’s super inspiring to hear you talk about play.
SARAH: I was just thinking like, yeah, just a couple of things that have helped me to stay in the play zone. So, we have a lot of stuffies obviously, but like we’ve got some puppets, right? And so, a puppet coyote who’s like just the best big and fluffy, and that’s Kai the coyote. So, Kai will often come on, walks with us, or someone. We’ll take somebody with us on a walk, like just trying to get out in nature and stuff.
Eamon loves his walks. I love walks, too, but he’s not just going to walk and he might want to talk about everything he’s seeing. And he might be someone who’s like, oh, look at this. But if he has a character to do it in, it’s even more fun. Or he can be him, but he’s got Kai to talk to him.
So, then it’s Kai. And Kai doesn’t know anything. So, it’s sort of like, well, what’s that thing over there? And he’s like, That’s a mailbox. Well, what’s the mail? What do you mean a mailbox? What’s a mail? And he loves this. He lives to try to break down everything and just teach. This’ll be the mile walk that we do around our loop and he points out everything to Kai.
And I remember being a kid or seeing kids with grown-up teachers that come in or even like Mr. Rogers or like the old things. They have somebody, typically, or they are someone and they’re engaged and they’re real animated and they’re just talking to the kids.
Most of our play, when I think about it, I’d say half the time, it’s just talking, but we’re just doing it with this playful piece to it. So, maybe it’s not me he’s talking to, even though he loves to chat with me, but that’s like when we’re driving and we’re together. He loves having that third, that element of whether it’s Kai or it’s a little gnome we take with us. And then they can talk about anything and you can bring it on your walk.
We’ll pretend again, like the Ninjago characters, when we’re on our walk. If we see any cracks, that means that Jay’s after us, right? Because we’re Python and Lloyd, so we’re the bad guys, kind of, but they love us. So, it’s like, avoid all cracks. Come on Lloyd, let’s go! We’ve got to go! And then we just jump the cracks and sometimes he gets done and that’s the whole walk. So, it’s not the most relaxing walk. It is so fun, though. And then I’m jumping and running and I’m actually getting my exercise. So, it’s like, again, that interweaving, and voices definitely helps.
So, I wouldn’t do them here, because I’m not good at voices. But to Eamon, it’s like I am Pythor for a minute, you know what I mean? And it keeps me in character. Because if it’s just me, I get. Hi. If I was a little guy and I was just me and I’m playing, I’m going to get bored in like five minutes, literally. You know what I mean? Like, hi, Eamon. Here we go.
But if I’m using a voice and I’m this character, you can like stay in that character and then it’s fun for you and you kind of ham it up if you, if you are into that thing, which I think a lot of us have that if we just kind of allowed for it. It’s almost like you get a little tipsy or something, do you know what I mean? But you’re not, you’re just tipsy on play, where it’s like, oh my god, I’m being so silly. Is anyone hearing this? And it just develops. Just to see like what you find fun in play. If you can tap into what is fun for you as a grownup and maybe even what was fun for you as a kid.
And I don’t think I’ve had to go back that far, but some people might, just to kind of reconjure, if you can. And it might be tricky and you’ll find another bond with your kiddo, obviously. So it could be like that they’re really into science or something, and you’re really into it, and you guys just totally groove on that and that’s fine. It’s just more, if you have that playful little piece of you that wants to come out, it’s remarkable how it’s like this tool, just this thing that you have with you guys, you know?
PAM: Okay, so number one, you took it exactly where I wanted to go. It was such a paradigm shift for me, so that’s what bubbled up when you were talking, that play can just weave into our days and the things we do. It’s not, this is playtime. And now this is when I go make dinner, and this is when I go have my walk around the neighborhood for my exercise or whatever. But that play can be part of those things.
Sometimes it would be, can we continue this in the kitchen area because everybody’s getting hungry and I’m going to get us a snack? But it’s not a stopping point. Or can my character or somebody take my turn for a couple of rounds while I go grab a snack and bring it back? It doesn’t have to be one or the other. For me, that was a huge shift once my kids came home and were there all the time and we started actually hanging out together and doing things together and playing together.
So, my mind was just like, okay, I do this and then I do this, and then I do this. And it was fascinating to get more to the flow state. So, it wasn’t like start, stop, start, stop, start, stop. It was like, things could flow and we can bring pieces here and bring pieces here and it just brought such a different energy to the day.
And I just want to highlight one thing you just brought up there, too, which is brilliant, which is finding for ourselves. The idea of getting bored with play. But yeah, finding for ourselves that little thing that helps it be a little bit more engaging for us. Absolutely, just that little piece of, I’m going to filter this through a character and bring it out. I have to think about that now. I have to keep engaged and occupied, so that I can do that. So, that was just really fascinating for me.
And again, if what we’re wanting is to connect with our kids, it’s going to be through the things they love to play with. So, like you have so beautifully connected with Eamon through play, like how you saw from when he was just the youngest, youngest child, that this is what makes his eyes light up and his heart sing.
And I get goosebumps just thinking about you two just hanging out and playing together. It can be different for somebody who is more into science experiments or board games. I love the video game idea, too, because as Anna was saying, there’s just so many different pieces to it, right?
But when you engage with them, you see the pieces that make it shine. Like, like with Joseph, it was stories and characters. And I love you talking about how he’s just in an open world for the most part, and you’re bringing the story to that.
And with Joseph growing up, it was more like RPGs. He didn’t play the open world games. He wanted games with a deep story and lots of characters, so that he could sink into that and play through those different viewpoints, perspectives and see how that felt. So, yeah, it’s all about getting to know our kids, isn’t it?
SARAH: It really is. Yeah. It’s those details. When you really, really listen, pay attention. Whenever you tune in. Doesn’t have to be when they’re very, very small. You can tune in anytime, right? And just be like, wow. When you just really sit, which life goes by very quickly. And the older we get, it seems like a day goes by so fast, but just taking that little time, paying attention. It’s like, wow, those are such little gems that then just can like weave in. It’s the weaving, it’s the flow, I guess.
ERIKA: I had a couple other thoughts when you were both talking, first just about the idea of, I don’t have time to play right now, actually doesn’t make any sense. Because in any moment, I could just be playful about it or be a different character. You know what I mean? Like I could still get my things done in a playful way. And so, I like the challenge of just dropping that idea of there needs to be time to play and shifting to just being playful.
And then the other thing I was going to mention is, so my kids are 13 and almost 12, and so I think, for me, when I was growing up, that was kind of past the point of this kind of pretend play stuff. But for my kids, it is not past it and I just love that. I feel like it could be a little bit cultural too, because I see on Roblox all these role-playing games that are there and you know, teenagers are playing those still with their friends. And it’s like, do you want to do a role play? I hear them do it with their friends all the time.
And we are getting ready to go on a trip right now. And I overheard them. My heart was just bursting because I overheard them in the living room with their plushies, talking about the trip from the point of view of the plushies, working through some of the things that they’re thinking about. But just like, now this character’s asking, so where are we going to go again? And where are we going to stay? And what is it going to be like? What are we going to get to see? And then they’re just talking through all these things. It really is, I think, just the natural way that humans learn to process their lives is through play. And so, I just love like that our lives have enough space that at this age, they still are feeling free to play like that.
SARAH: I love that. That gives me hope. Because I’m like, okay, we’re at seven. And I’m going, how much longer do we have? It’s like, nope. Probably a long time.
ANNA: A long time! And I think it’s kind of like Erika was saying, too. It’s just this choice to just take a playful attitude. And I think somehow that feels easier, too, for me than like, okay, I’m going to sit down and play. But it’s like, no, we can just be playful and we can bring in characters and we can be silly and we can just keep that energy alive.
And I mean, I definitely saw that kind of pretend play for so long with my girls who are now in their mid-twenties. And there’s still a very playful energy, especially with their dad who tends to be more playful than I am. And it’s just fun to see how, I think it is kind of a natural human thing that maybe gets tamped down. I’m just thinking of like me and my Enneagram eight, just tamp down the playfulness, but it’s just so fun to see.
And the story about the kids working out the trip, like how valuable is that to be able to have that conversation in a way that maybe feels safer than saying, I’m worried about the trip, or, I’m not sure about this aspect of the trip, and so that is such a beautiful gift.
PAM: It really is. And I’ve got to say, even like you were saying, Anna, with adult kids. Yeah. I mean, Lissy will still dress up. They attract and they connect with friends in life, too, who have that energy and ways that they connect. And she had people together for the weekend for her birthday recently, and a big part of that was playing games. They still play hide and seek with the flashlight where they turn off the light. When they come home and visit, they will still have friends over and do that at night. When I get up in the morning and I see all the microwave light, all the lights are taped over.
So, it is not something that they have to lose over time. When it’s something that’s respected and valued by the people in their lives, they’re comfortable bringing it with them and they attract and find the people in their lives as friends who will also engage in that with them. So, yeah, that’s really fun to think about.
SARAH: I love that. And also, too, I know we don’t want to ever look at things that kids are doing now and be like, oh, and when you grow up, this will serve you well. But you do, you see these things in a positive way and you just say, man, like some of the more successful, happy people that I know video game. I’ll be like you video game, too! Oh yeah, I know all those games. It’s like, in your work, in your life, if you keep that playful spirit, again, you don’t have to have it to be successful, but if you’ve got it and it’s honored, just like you said, Pam, like it’s like encouraged, it serves everything when you get older as well. In your workplace people, are looking for this, a brain that thinks in a way that’s sort of like, ah, there’s a lot of possibilities. How do we want to play with this? So, it’s such a great, human trait to foster and see where that can go for you. So, again, just from an unschooling perspective.
ANNA: Yes, because again, it’s not about it looking a particular way. We’re all going to bring different things to it. But it’s that playful, creative energy and we talk about that all the time. To bring to problems, to bring to relationships, to just have that open curiosity is part of that playfulness of figuring out different pieces.
And so, I do think it’s this incredibly useful human trait that we can all cultivate and, as always, our kids lead the way if we just leave ourselves open to that. And I think that’s just so, so beautiful.
So, thank you so much for joining us today, Sarah. That was amazing and so much fun. I hope everyone enjoyed this conversation and will be bubbling about all the things about it.
And we definitely hope that you’ll join us next time on the Exploring Unschooling Podcast. And we would also love it if you check out our other podcast, the Living Joyfully Podcast, as well. You can find it on your favorite podcast player or at podcast.show/livingjoyfully. And come join us on the Network, where we can keep talking and playing. All right, everyone. Take care. Thank you so much for being here.
PAM: Thanks, Sarah!
SARAH: Thank you. Thanks, guys!