PAM: Hi everyone! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Summer Jean. Hi, Summer!
PAM: Ahhhh, beautiful! (laughter)
Summer and her three siblings grew up unschooling. I really enjoyed chatting a bit with her about her experiences a month or so ago, and I’m excited that she was willing to come on the podcast and share her story. So to get us started, Summer …
Can you share with us a bit about you and your family?
SUMMER: Sure, I’d love to. Well, let’s see—what would you like to know? I’m 29 years old. I live on Maui, Hawaii now. I have a super incredible life here. And I grew up partially in Northern California, and then we moved to Hawaii when I was 11. But we’ve been unschooled all the way through, so neither me or any of my siblings—I have three brothers—spent even a day in a classroom.
PAM: That’s beautiful. And your brothers are older? Younger?
SUMMER: I have two older brothers and one younger brother.
SUMMER: I also have a younger sister who’s my dad and my stepmom’s. And she had a very different upbringing, so that’s also kind of an interesting parallel, where she actually went to school, and had a very different kind of life than her siblings.
I know you said you guys have always unschooled, but do you know a little bit, that you can share, about your family’s move to unschooling? How did your mom get there?
SUMMER: Yeah. I mean I can only share from what she’s told me, and what I can remember. And I’m sure she would explain it differently than I do. First of all, I’m not super fond of the term unschooling, because I feel like it’s really become such a broad range. So it really doesn’t describe our particular lifestyle. It could be anything. Unschooling can be such a huge spectrum for so many different families and different ways. We didn’t have that term growing up. Thirty years ago, people were still asking what homeschooling was, you know?
So, we usually said we were homeschooled and people would be like, “What’s that?” And so we didn’t even have the term unschooling. We usually called ourselves self-educated, or life-educated, which I like a lot. Because then it doesn’t really have anything to do with school. Because our life didn’t have anything to do with school or not school. School just didn’t enter. Education did, but that’s a totally different thing than schooling, in my opinion. (birds chirping in background)
PAM: Yeah, it’s true that it’s really a term that we used talking to other people. It wasn’t something that we used in our family, when I was talking to my kids. We never used that term. We were just living, right? (laughs)
SUMMER: Yeah, why label just being alive? Why have to have a certain kind of label for that?
PAM: Yeah, it helped me most just connecting to other people, you know what I mean?
SUMMER: Yeah, it helped people who were in a certain mindset to understand, to have just a label, to put you in a category or something. (laughter)
Yeah, so anyway, to answer your question: my mom was very young when she had my oldest brother. She was 21. And I don’t think she really had any ideas about it. She just was like, “Oh, okay, I’m having a baby.” And didn’t really think she would do anything different than anyone else. So there was no plan. She just thought, “You know, you do it like everybody else. You have a kid and put them in school and you just have a nice life.” It wasn’t like she had a philosophy to start out with.
But I think what happened was she was so taken over by motherhood, and she fell so deeply in love with her children, and she wanted to be with us. And I remember her telling me that in the beginning, when Garrett my oldest brother was really small, and she thought about taking him to like a preschool. And the thought just dawned on her, it’s the most bizarre thing that anyone would just take their precious beautiful baby, the most important thing in the world, that you’re so in love with, and hand them off to a stranger all day, and other kids, strangers, all day. When they probably don’t even want to go in the first place. And then it’s like you don’t even know what they’re learning or who they’re interacting with, or what’s going on. It’s like suddenly you have separate lives and they’re just this tiny child.
And we were so connected, and my mom was so connected with us as children. I think it really started, actually, just from the very beginning. It was like, “No, I’m not going to put my kid in the crib to cry themselves to sleep.” And my grandparents were terrified. “Well, he’s never going to learn to be independent, and he’s going to be relying on you for everything, forever, and you need to teach him how not to need you.” And my mom was just like, “That’s ridiculous, I need him. I need to hold him. Why break both of our hearts? It’s not necessary.” She didn’t understand really what people were afraid of. And I remember her telling me at one point, she did have the thought, “Okay, maybe my kids will be spoiled. But I can’t do this. I can’t deny them my love.”
PAM: Oh, wow.
SUMMER: So, she did have that thought at one point, like, she would accept the consequences. But right now, having love and peace in our home is more important.
SUMMER: My mom lives more from a place of now, than fear of the future. And I think she’s always been that way, and she continues to deepen in that in her own spirituality. But as far as like choosing her children’s education, it just was like one thing after another. It was kind of in each moment, what felt right. So, there wasn’t like a big plan, or I guess philosophy, or structure. It didn’t come from her mind.
It wasn’t like so psychological.
PAM: It wasn’t maybe intellectual?
SUMMER: Intellectual. Yeah, that’s a good word.
It wasn’t so intellectual, it wasn’t so mind-driven, of what works and how to get your kids to be a certain way or how to get them to be successful someday or if you talk to them like this they’ll be like this. It wasn’t like that. It was more like, how do we be, now, peace and love, in our home. And how do I have a positive relationship with my children?
There was no manipulation of how we would be someday. And I think that is like a huge key that a lot of people, I think, miss. Is that there’s this pressure on yourself and there’s this pressure on your children, and when there’s that kind of pressure, and it’s fear-driven, because you’re afraid that they’re going to somehow fail in life or not be successful. And you’re doing things based on fear of someday. And then you’re not here, with your kids.
And then if you have that pressure in your relationship, with your children, there is going to be rebellion, whether it’s from them or from you. There is going to be push back against that, because kids can feel that from you. And I feel like that was like one of the biggest things, is there was so much freedom and space in my relationship with my mom because she wasn’t afraid for me. And she wasn’t pushing me. She wasn’t trying to get me to be a certain way. She wasn’t trying to fix me or change me or train me, or make me something that she wanted me to be. So there was all this space and freedom, for my own self-expression to unfold. And for me to learn and get to know myself, without pushing against anything.
PAM: That’s so fascinating, because I know from my experience and from a lot of people that I talk to, that is the challenge of moving to unschooling, of deschooling ourselves, is getting to that, getting away from all that fear, all that projection into the future. I mean, we talk about that on our Q&A episodes all the time. To get to the now. That’s all the work that it takes!
PAM: And that’s where your mom started. That’s so awesome.
SUMMER: Yeah, and she did realize, too, when we were really young, she was realizing she wanted to give us all this freedom, and she started to see that she herself was not free. And I didn’t learn about the term deschooling until recently, and I thought, “Well that’s a really cool thing for parents to look at, and think about, is to deschool yourself first.” Because we do perpetuate those patterns. And my mom did realize that, and she could see that in herself. And she was like, “Wow, if I don’t consciously work on freeing myself, I’m not going to be able to allow my children to be who they are.”
PAM: Mm-hmm. Oh yeah. That’s a really cool insight. Because one of the things that you learn as you start digging into that is how deeply it’s ingrained in you. Even when my kids first came home and I did all that work, there were still pockets over the years, as things came up, that I hadn’t thought about before.
SUMMER: Of course.
PAM: Right? So, it’s like, “Oh man.” (laughs) What is this fear that’s coming up, what is this push-back, this resistance that I’m feeling? And you go through the process again, to figure it out.
SUMMER: Yeah, I mean, that to me is just kind of like the journey of being a human person. All the time. But this is a really big one because we are so programmed in our society to think we need something outside of ourselves to make us okay. And we see that across the board, in our society. We need the car, we need the house, we need the education. And it’s the same. To me, it’s all the same, thinking that you need something outside yourself to be okay. To be successful. To be happy. And we do that to our kids. And we tell them they need to go to school to be a whole person. Like, “You’re not okay the way you are. You need these other people to force-feed you information that you don’t care about.”
So that always just seemed ridiculous because I didn’t have that programming. And it’s interesting too, because my mom—I think it was the book Summerhill that really triggered the, “Okay, we’re doing the freedom thing with education.” Because she tried homeschool groups, she even tried to start a little school in our house at one point. And this was all before me. By the time I came along, I was the third child, and Garrett was seven years old, the oldest, and then Clay was four, and then there was me.
So, by the time I came along, I think my mom had really relaxed a lot, and settled more into the lifestyle, and wasn’t quite as worried. And she had relaxed a lot more, and let go of a lot. Because I think for a long time she was still trying to make it work with other people, and get other people interested, and have a community and join together and have groups. By the time I came along she was like, “Well, maybe we’re just going to be alone. And that’s okay. Because this is more important.”
I think my mom is just an incredibly strong and brave woman. Especially when I see now the fear that other people have of being alone. Like, “Oh I would homeschool my kids but, you know, I don’t want to be alone.”
PAM: “I don’t know anybody who’s doing it.”
SUMMER: “I don’t know anybody else who’s doing it. I want them to have socialization.” And that’s a whole topic in itself. “Well what about socialization?”
Oh my goodness! I’m talking to you right now! (laughter)
PAM: That’s so interesting that, as you say, your family was fully living, just living unschooling, by the time you were born. So, it wasn’t really a topic. That’s just the way your family lived while you were growing up.
I was curious to know what inspired you to learn more about unschooling, or the way you were raised, and has it changed the way you see your childhood now, looking back?
SUMMER: Yeah, I guess you could say so. I mean it wasn’t that it was never a topic of conversation, because there was a lot of friction with family. So, we would talk about it with our mom. I had a grandma who was really super freaked. Half my grandparents were super freaked out. Really scared for us. Testing and flash cards when people had their backs turned kind of thing. And just really scared. And so obviously that’s going to get brought up, like, “Hey mom, why are people doing this?” You know? So, we would have those conversations.
But as I got older, I think interacting with other kids was a big part of it. And interacting with other adults, where people would compliment me or my whole family. I remember people walking up to us in grocery stores and being like, “Wow your family is just so peaceful and I just sense this harmony around you.” Or people would come up to my mom and be like, “I’ve never spoken to children that are so respectful and kind and mature.” And, like, “Wow, your five-year-old’s vocabulary is off the charts.”
So, we would get these kinds of comments and feedback from people, and constantly being told that we were the most amazing kids anyone ever met. And it made me curious. Well why? What makes us so special? How are we different?
And then you start to spend time with other people and hang out with kids that go to public school, and it’s hard to say. I have a lot of memories, but interacting with kids, maybe around the age of 11, 12, and I had friends that went to school in the neighborhood. And the things that they thought about and worried about were so different. And the way that they interacted with their parents, and the way that they talked about their parents. And the way that their parents spoke to them, and treated them, and what they expected from them. I mean it’s hard to say when you’re that age. I was always interested in, I was always trying to kind of figure that out.
But I think it was really like when I started babysitting, when I was a teenager. And I started interacting with children in that way. And being their care giver. And what came naturally to me, and then seeing how they were with their parents. And how kids would act when they were with me, because of the way that I treated them, and then how they would act when their parents got home. And so I got to see these, and it just really made me curious. Like, what is this? What’s going on?
And you start to see the way other people behave with their children, just out in public. And yeah. I don’t know. It became a passion of mine. And I always loved sharing with parents my experience and encouraging people to give their children more freedom and more space, even just emotionally and mentally. And to be more present. Because it’s not just about school. It’s about just life in general. It’s about being and trusting, and following your inspiration.
PAM: I know, that was something that was huge for me. Because at first, because my kids were in school, and when they came home, at first I was thinking, “Well, this is going to be what we’re going to do instead of school for their learning.” Right? And I came across unschooling and it made a lot of sense. Intellectually—there we go.
But, just a few months of that, it expanded into—exactly—our whole lives. And it became more about being in the moment. For me that intellectual understanding up front was really important, in that it’s what got me to take that leap at first.
PAM: But, so soon, like, within a few months, I realized that this wasn’t just for replacing school. This was for how we were going to live together as people.
PAM: As a family, right? That’s amazing.
SUMMER: Yeah, that’s exactly it. I was just remembering that one of the things I feel like happened with my mom was that she seemed to have a natural belief in who we are as human beings, like when we’re born.
And that I think if you believe that a child is born lacking, then you won’t have a choice but to feel like you need to fix them. But if you believe that a child is born with all of the necessary tools to acquire what they need to be successful in life, then all you need to do is be there and give them space. Be there and give them space and support and be a resource.
And my mom, I think—she just really knew, deep down, that we were okay. And that we were equipped with the tools that we needed to learn what we needed. And she trusted that our natural instinct to evolve would inspire us.
It’s human instinct to evolve. I mean, how did we get to where we are? It wasn’t from someone forcing us to learn something we didn’t care about. It was from us being curious and interested and wanting to get better at something. It just came from us being hungry, being cold, having a need, and then learning how to fulfill that need. And nowadays it’s like, you know, our needs may be different, but they’re still needs.
And even if it’s the simple need to create something with your hands. I mean you see kids, it’s like they need to do something all the time. Especially when they’re little. They’re constantly doing. They’re not lazy. That’s not a natural human state, laziness. And I think my mom just knew that if she didn’t interrupt life’s natural process of evolution, if she was just there to be part of it and assist it, be available for it, that it would work itself out.
PAM: That’s amazing that she got to that place early.
SUMMER: Yeah. That life didn’t need her help. She didn’t need to manipulate our lives. She just needed to be there for it.
PAM: Yeah that’s awesome. It reminds me, like when my kids were born, and a couple of years old, they were amazing. I was always impressed by their curiosity and all their doing and the way they learned things. Really just soaking up the world around them.
SUMMER: Yeah, like sponges.
PAM: Yeah, yeah.
SUMMER: And somehow, we seem to think that like transforms overnight, when they turn five.
I don’t know where this idea comes from, but it’s very bizarre to me to think that that would stop somewhere. I mean you can’t stop a child from learning to walk, or from learning to talk. You cannot stop that. That’s going to happen whether you like it or not. They will learn things, even if you try to stop them from learning things. They’ll learn things simply from being alive.
And half the time you don’t know what your child is learning. You don’t even know. Like you could be trying to teach them one thing but they’re actually learning something totally different from what you’re saying. So, I always find that interesting as well. When people are really trying to control what their kids are learning. And I’m seeing that there’s some deeper life lessons getting learned that they don’t even know about.
PAM: Oh, exactly. They’re picking up so much more from the situation.
SUMMER: All the time.
PAM: Yeah, no. That’s amazing.
You mentioned earlier that you guys got quite a bit of pressure and disapproval from extended family. So I was just wondering if you could talk a bit about how you dealt with that, and if there are any tips that you might share. Because I know there are other families who experience that as well.
SUMMER: (laughs) It’s a big one. It’s a huge one. Luckily, I think there’s more and more of this so-called alternative education, even though I think it’s totally just the original way of living. And so there’s more and more awareness, and I think there’s more and more people that are, “Okay, well, mom, we’re going to be homeschooling the kids.” And it’s not unheard of anymore.
But when I was growing up, it was unheard of. At least in our area, in our community, in our family. And luckily my mom’s parents were pretty cool. They never really seemed to have a problem. They trusted my mom. They thought she was a great mom. They were happy just to be the fun grandparents. They weren’t super fearful or concerned, which was wonderful.
But my dad—I have two sets of grandparents from my dad’s side. Divorced and remarried. And both of those were extremely fearful, and we went through some really difficult, painful things with them. My mom did. My mom went through hell. She got ostracized from the family, basically, in a way. Or she kind of left, because it just was too difficult. She just couldn’t deal with it anymore.
First it was, “You’re not putting them in the crib to cry themselves to sleep. How could you?” Then it was, “You’re not vaccinating, oh my god, you’re not circumcising. What’s going to happen to these poor kids? You’re vegetarian. Oh my goodness. They’re going to die.” They were so scared, and they were so righteous, also. I know my grandma told my mom, “Well, Carl and Janie turned out perfect, I don’t know why you would do anything different.” My grandma just didn’t understand why my mom would want to do anything different than she did, because her kids were perfect. So my mom couldn’t really explain. It didn’t make sense to them, and they weren’t really interested in hearing about it.
And at one point my grandma actually called CPS and said that we were neglected. Accused my mom of negligence. And CPS came to our home. And it was a very interesting experience. My mom could tell it better, because I was just a toddler. I think I was three at the time. My baby brother was an infant. And I guess she had just cleaned the house and we were all carrying firewood all harmoniously together, working together, carrying firewood into the house, and she put Cai down for a nap and CPS comes up and knocks on the door, “Could we come in for a minute?” And my mom’s heart is pounding. And they sit down and I guess Cai was sleeping, on his own, peacefully. I was sitting in mom’s lap and Garrett and Clay were playing on the floor, nicely. We lived in kind of like this model home, in like a neighborhood, so it looked super normal. And everything was just happy and peaceful, and we looked healthy and everything. And these CPS workers were like, “Okay, well, we don’t really know why we’re here, but what is this homeschooling thing?” (laughter)
And my mom ended up having a really great conversation with them about homeschooling. I guess one of the CPS workers was really interested. And it turned into a good conversation. So that case got dropped.
But then my stepmom actually took us to court to try and force us to go to public school. So we actually had to go to court, and we got checked out by a social worker, and the social worker was like, “Oh, maybe they’re not academically where they should be, but they’re close enough and they’re super awesome kids and everything’s fine.” And the judge ruled that we had to have a tutor. He wasn’t going to force us to go to school, but we had to have a tutor. My mom got to pick the tutor, and my dad had to pay for it. So, we ended up not ever getting a tutor. (laughter)
So, that’s just like a little bit of an idea of some of the things we had to deal with. I remember being at my grandma’s house and my brothers would go outside to play and my grandma would start quizzing me. “What’s two plus five?” And that kind of thing. When I was really little. And other things, like, “Do you have your own bed? Are you sleeping in the same bed as your mother?” Just so freaked out about everything.
And I remember not being super upset about it because—this is what I wanted to share—when it was brought up with my mom, I remember having this conversation with my mom, and I was quite young. And it’s really what made the difference for not having all that affect me quite so deeply. I know that it affected my brothers pretty deeply. They had a lot of pressure, and so they struggled a little bit more with learning certain things. Like my oldest brother struggled more with reading and writing, because he was under so much pressure. He was the first grandchild. And he just got so much attention and questioned so much that it gave him fear. And there was so much negative energy pointed toward us that we kind of shrank away from certain things. And that’s really difficult. I think that’s really difficult for a lot of people. Kids probably would have been fine but then you have these grandparents. They’re so scared that it transfers onto the children, and the children get scared that they’re not going to be able to do something right. And that happened to me a little bit, to some degree, but so much less than my brothers because I was the third and there was a lot less pressure by the time I came along, and there was other grandchildren.
But I remember my mom telling me—she told me—“It’s just because they love you so much, and they care about you so much, and they love you so much, and they just don’t understand, and it’s not their fault.” That’s what she told me. And I remember, I think I carried that with me my whole childhood. To have that understanding that some people are not going to understand you. And it’s not their fault. And it’s okay. And it’s just because they care and they love you.
And it kind of like, I feel, it gave me—there was less tightness around it and I was able to relax a little bit more and have compassion.
PAM: It made it more about them, than about you.
SUMMER: It made it more about them, it wasn’t about me. Exactly. It was more about them and their inability to understand. And it didn’t have to do with me. And it gave me compassion for them, and understanding. And it had me not be angry as I got older, to not be angry with them for pressuring me, or questioning me. And I don’t know, I feel like that made a huge difference, my mom having that conversation with me and explaining to me where it was coming from, and why they were doing what they were doing. Because sometimes it really didn’t seem nice. My grandma wasn’t exactly a nice lady. She wasn’t the kindest person. A little bit of a crabby old lady style. So, I think it really helped for me. And I believed her. I believed my mom. It’s because they care and they love me, and they’re just afraid and they don’t understand and it’s okay. And you don’t have to take it personally, basically.
PAM: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. When you can make that shift, that takes so much weight off you, right? Because as a child, you take their questions on for yourself. Because these are adults in your life. So to understand that that’s where they are.
SUMMER: Children are just so sensitive to everyone’s attention. Like the style of attention that they’re getting. I think we grow according to the attention that we’re given. It’s like a plant. You grow toward the sun. You grow toward where the attention’s being given. So, if the attention is being given to, like, you know, “Well, are you going to be okay? Don’t you need to learn this and don’t you need to do that?” It’s like we’re going to be, “Uh-oh.”
PAM: Yeah, if it’s all fear-based, right?
SUMMER: “Am I going to be okay?” And I remember having these thoughts, you know, and it certainly didn’t come from my mom. It was definitely from the grandparents and other people in general, in society, who would ask those kinds of questions. Like, “Well, how are you going to learn how to do this, and how are you going to learn how to do that.” And not having those answers as a child.
And I know that I had some of those fears, like as a teenager. I remember having some of these fears like, “Ugh, maybe I’m not going to be able to do things as good as everybody else.” And in the simple ways. Like, you know, being nervous opening a bank account. Anything that involved numbers or spelling. The spelling was the thing for me. Writing—handwriting. And I remember being self-conscious and then I started to see how other people were. I read people’s spelling, I saw people’s writing, and realizing that I was far more than adequate compared to the average American person. And that I often could do things better than people around me. Do simple things. Because I think I knew I never lost the ability to learn, which I think a lot of kids shut off at some point. They kind of close the door on learning and absorbing information, because they’ve just had too much shoved in there that it’s just too much. They just shut down. And rebel, from being forced.
And I didn’t have to shut down. I didn’t have anything to rebel against. So, I remained open. And I know where to go in myself to learn something new. I can still absorb information more readily than people around me, often times. I remember doing musical theater—I mean, simple things. I remember doing musical theater when I was a teenager, and me and my younger brother, we had our lines memorized in half the time as everyone else. We had everything memorized, we had everything, and we were like, “Okay, when’s the show?” And everyone else was playing catch up. It was like we could master something very quickly because we didn’t have all this other stuff going on, and we hadn’t shut off that channel. And that gets shut off in a lot of kids and they don’t have that channel, and then it’s harder for them to absorb things later on in life.
PAM: Yeah, I think it really does. They get to a place where learning literally is hard for them.
SUMMER: Yeah, yeah.
PAM: Right? Because it has been hard growing up, because of the way it’s forced on them. It’s not stuff that they’re interested in—it is harder to learn something that you’re not interested in. Trying to memorize that. It just perpetuates.
SUMMER: Hugely. One of the points that I like to make about this too, is that there’s so many things that you can learn later. It’s like, why do you have to learn it now, when you’re five? Why is that important now? There’s so many things you can learn later. But there are so many things that cannot be learned later, that are like foundation. Like emotional things. Psychological things. Deeper things that make you who you are as a person. And those things get learned, some of these huge building blocks, your personality, they come in and get learned solidly at a very young age, and those are the things that are harder to change. But the learning academic stuff …
PAM: Yeah, because you have to get rid of those first.
SUMMER: Yeah, exactly. The learning academic stuff can come later.
I’m not sure if I’m explaining it the way that I’m thinking about it. But what I mean is, for me, I knew that I could pick up a book and I could learn advanced math at any point in my life. That was an option. That was my choice. But I think that some of the things that can’t be learned later are things, decisions you make, about yourself, are the hardest ones to change. Like “I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough.” Those beliefs that we make up about ourselves. They happen at a very young age. And they stick. They root. And those are the hardest things to unlearn, or to relearn, later on, in my opinion.
Because that’s what happens to kids in school. At some point they’re going to make up that they’re not good at this thing—they’re good at this thing, but they’re not good at this thing. Or they’re not smart. Or they’re not this, or they’re not that. And deeper things too. “I’m incapable. I’m this.” Whatever it is, the beliefs that we make up about ourselves when we’re young. It’s like everyone has those in there somewhere, and they happen when you’re really little. And it’s not under your control. But you can learn any academic anything later in life.
I feel like my mom realized that it was more important that we knew that we learned the important lessons first. “You are strong. You are beautiful. You are capable. You are intelligent. You are perfect, whole, and complete, and you are able to do anything that you set your mind to. You have everything you need to learn anything you want in life.” And if you have that belief first, then it’s absolutely true.
PAM: Wow. That’s awesome, Summer. I really get it. And I’m glad you shared that. Because who we are as a person, like you said, we’re going to absorb that and learn that from our circumstances when we’re young.
SUMMER: Yeah. And if no one ever told you in your life that you weren’t smart enough or good enough or that you needed to know these things to be okay. If you never believed that, that thought that you needed to know these certain things to be okay, then you wouldn’t. You would be okay. (laughter)
And then you could learn those things later. You could learn those things later. I don’t understand why people are so afraid, like there’s this rush, there’s this panic that they need to teach their kids these things now. And I don’t understand that because I can still go and learn anything I want to learn. It’s never too late.
PAM: I know. That’s such a great way to think of it.
The most important thing to learn, at first, is who you are. Understanding yourself. Your likes, dislikes, strengths, everything as a person. And then all the actual facts and skills and stuff, you can toss those in whenever you need them.
SUMMER: Any time! Exactly. Whenever you need them. You have the ability to learn what you need to learn, when you need to learn it. So why do you have to learn all these things before you even need them, or before you even, as a child, can see any point in it. If you don’t have any actual application for the thing that you’re learning, there’s not going to be –
I read a really great quote the other day that said something like, “Teaching a child about things they’re not interested in is like throwing marshmallows at his head and calling it eating.” [NOTE: This quote is attributed to Katrina Gutleben.]
PAM: Yeah. (laughs) I’ve seen that.
SUMMER: And I love that. I was like yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And I realized that, I think maybe some people don’t realize that you can learn those things later, that you need them now. Like there’s this hurry. But I think also people don’t realize how easy most of that stuff is. The stuff they teach you in school where it takes like 12 years, you can learn all that in like two years if you really wanted to. It’s really not what they make it out to be. At all. All the academic stuff—it’s not that difficult. And most of the stuff they teach you in school, you don’t end up using in your life anyways.
PAM: Well I think that’s all part of what makes it so difficult. Number one, you’re having to learn a bunch of stuff that you’re never going to use. And it’s stuff that you’re not interested in.
SUMMER: Right, so what’s even the point?
PAM: So, all of that makes it seem so hard. But it really isn’t.
SUMMER: Yeah, if you have the motivation. If you have a personal reason. If you have the motivation for it, like, you can see the application that will benefit you now. Then it’s easy. Then you just do it.
PAM: Well even when you’re motivated, you’re intrinsically motivated to do it, even if it maybe gets frustrating or maybe takes a while to learn, you’re motivated. So, it seems easy in that, because you’ll keep going back to it. You’ll learn it. You’ll figure it out. Right?
PAM: Because you want to. Just because you want to.
SUMMER: Yes, exactly. And you’ll learn things you didn’t even set out to learn, to achieve a certain goal. You have a certain goal in mind, and you may have to learn all kinds of things, in all kinds of different categories, to achieve that one goal.
SUMMER: So, you’re not always learning this thing for the sake of that thing. You might be learning it for the sake of something else entirely. And that’s where I feel like a lot of people don’t necessarily understand that. I know there are some that are. I know Finland is starting to do this, what they’re calling Phenomenal Based Learning. Instead of subject-based learning they’re doing this more object-based, like goal-oriented. Like, “You want to be this? Okay, then you’re going to have to learn how to do this, this, and this, if you want to do that.” And so it makes sense to the kids. They have a reason. It’s a personal reason and it’s not just for a grade. It’s for something they want for themselves in their lives.
And I know—I can’t even tell you. I run my own business, so it’s like the things I had to learn, just to do the one thing that I love, which is blowing glass. The things I had to learn to be successful, to make a living blowing glass, I don’t even know where to start.
PAM: Yeah, it’s like a window on the world. Whatever your interest is, you will learn all the little pieces about the world that at first you don’t think are related. (laughs) But they are, when you’re trying to accomplish that in the world. And speaking of which …
Could you share a little bit about how you discovered your passion for blowing glass, and how that unfolded?
SUMMER: Yeah. I mean, I think I got lucky. I got really lucky. I was living on Kauai with my family. I was 14. And my best friend, who was homeschooled, kind of unschooled—I mean they had—I don’t know, they had a whole other thing going on. But they were mostly homeschooled. Her family was very, very artistic. Her mom was super creative; beading, sewing, singing, everything.
She got into making glass beads in a torch, where you melt glass rods in a torch and you shape them into beads to make jewelry. And she got a studio set up at their house, and I would go and visit and stay, and we used to make jewelry together, me and my friend. And then we started turning glass beads. I got on the torch one day, and I got a 10-minute lesson and that was it. I was obsessed. I was completely obsessed. I’ve always been a pyro. You know, I’ve always loved playing with fire.
And I’ve always been really into making things. I’ve always been crafty, and making things, and art, and beauty. I used to sew clothes and do that kind of stuff as a child, but it was always making things with my hands and making things pretty. That was always my thing when I was little. So, this was like, I get to play with fire and make pretty things at the same time. And I just became obsessed. I fell in love with it.
So I guess I talked about it so much, I was annoying everyone around me, and trying to get to their house all the time, to make beads. This was actually about two years. We moved to Colorado for a while, and we moved back, and I was still into it. And I got back on the torch. And my mom could see this was not just a phase. You know, like, “Oh she’s into this thing for a few weeks.” That happens. But this was like, wow. She could tell this was an intense passion.
She was a single mom at the time. My older brothers had moved out. It was just me and my younger brother and my mom. And we never had a lot of money. We always were fine, but there was rarely extra. But she actually got it together and bought me my own equipment. And it was a big deal. And I split the cost of a kiln with a friend and got my own torch and tools and glass and set up shop on a friend’s property. Started making glass beads, and I just spent hours a day. And this is one of those unschooling things where it’s like, if I was in high school at the time, this never would have happened. I would not have had the time, the energy, the creativity. There’s no way.
SUMMER: But I was allowed time and space to just completely immerse myself in this medium, in this art form, and spend as many hours as I wanted to, and just get it all flowing, and exploring, and learning. And it’s a lot. There’s actually quite a bit of science in it, and heat and gravity, and different compatibilities of glass. So many people don’t even realize that there’s different kinds of glass. There’s hard glass and soft glass, and there’s different kinds of soft glass, different kinds of hard glass, and they’re not compatible. They have different expansion and contraction rates and all this stuff, and it turns into a whole thing. You have to learn all these things. And programming equipment, and fixing equipment. And researching online.
So, I actually started selling my work right away. Me and my friend did a weekly farmers’ market, and we also did some seasonal craft fairs. And we started selling our work to one gallery and a shop or two. And that’s just kind of how it started. And then it was, as a teenager, it was more of a hobby because I didn’t need the money necessarily. So it was kind of like a more of a fun thing and a hobby thing, on and off, for several years.
And at one point, I think when I was 18, 19, I think a lot of people at this age have these ideas in their head like they’re going to be some big, great, world-changing person. You know, going to be impressive and do something great in the world. And I think I thought that making jewelry wasn’t good enough. I was like, “I don’t want to make jewelry, so many girls make jewelry and that’s not cool enough. I want to be something great.” So I actually moved to southern California for a while, and I was a full time nanny for a family, which was a really amazing experience. And I missed Hawaii so much I decided to move back, and that’s when I started to take on the glass work a little more. I was helping my mom with her chocolate business at the time.
Then I think it was when I was in my twenties that I really was like, I chose it. I was dabbling in several things, I think I was 21 or so, and I was like, “This is the thing I always come back to. This is the thing—I’m happiest when I’m sitting in front of this torch.” And maybe it’s not some big great thing. I don’t have some fancy title, I don’t have a college education. I was like, “This is where I’m happy.” And I already knew I could make money at it because people would buy my work at the farmers’ markets. I did fine with that.
But I still struggled. I had a few years there where I was living on the big island where it was like I chose it, but the big island’s a little bit more difficult. There’s not as much tourism, and not as much money. So I struggled for a few years there, but I was doing like two or three farmers’ markets a week and trying to sell to galleries. And I stayed afloat.
Then, once I moved to Maui, it just started to really blossom. So, in the last six years my business has really taken off. It’s become very successful. I’m in a handful of different high-end galleries and gift boutiques here on the island, and I sell online. And then I got into furnace work soft glass. So, I’m not just doing the jewelry anymore. I met an artist on the big island that had a furnace, which is a whole other thing. I don’t need to get into a whole education of glass blowing here, but basically I fell in love with furnace work on an even deeper level. And it’s kind of much bigger, it’s more blown, it’s fine art, sculpture, and blown glass, that I’ve gotten into. And it’s larger pieces, and you’re working in teams of people. And it’s hot, heavy, intense work. And I love it so much. I can’t even tell you. It’s one of those things I would pay someone to let me do. So, the fact that someone’s paying me to do it is unbelievable. So, my life’s kind of idyllic, it’s a little ridiculous, actually.
I work at a shop now that—I live across the street from the shop, Worcester Glassworks, and it’s this older couple and their son. They’ve been blowing glass together for 50 years. And they took me on as their apprentice about three years ago. And I’ve just been in heaven working with them. I trade shop time. I assist them, and then they pay me in shop time. And then I also have my lamp working studio there. So I do all of my jewelry making out of their shop as well.
SUMMER: So, I have my jewelry business, which is my income, and then I have the hot shop work, which is kind of like an apprenticeship where I’m still learning and growing and developing my own body of work. I am selling some of what I make out of there right now, but I’m mostly just trying to further myself as an artist in that medium. Anyway.
PAM: That’s incredible. So interesting!
SUMMER: Yeah, yeah.
And none of this would have happened, I really don’t think—I don’t know what kind of person I would be if I’d gone to school. If I’d had a less supportive—my mom always told us, “Just find something you love. I’ll support you as long as you need. I don’t care what it is, as long as you love it.” And everyone else was saying, “You need to go to school. You need to get an education. You need to get a degree. What if this art thing doesn’t work out?”
I had my dad—and my dad is super wonderful—he’s become really supportive. But he always wanted me to have a backup plan. Just out of fear for his daughter. Always, “You should go to school, you should get a degree in business so you have a Plan B if this whole art …” He just saw it as a hobby and not as a career. But in the last few years, now that other people can see that it’s working, that I’m successful, I’m paying my bills, I’m living a really wonderful life, and that I’m surrounded by other successful artists, people who own their own studios—now my dad has come around and is just really amazed and supportive. And my brothers are super amazed and supportive. So that feels really good, also.
PAM: Because now they can see it through the filters that they have.
SUMMER: Right, through the filters, exactly. Because my mom was like, she wouldn’t have cared if I would have become, who knows, a garbage lady. She would’ve been like, “As long as you’re happy.” (laughs) My mom had a very different set of priorities, I think, than a lot of people. And my dad just wanted to make sure that I was secure. And could take care of myself. And of course he would. And I am. So, he’s good. He’s happy.
PAM: Well that’s it. You’ve gotten there from a path that made him uncomfortable, because of the fear, because he hadn’t seen that kind of path lead to where he was hoping you would be. And you’ve gotten to that place, but you’ve come from a very different perspective, and it feels very different for you. But for him, it’s also gotten to a place where he’s now comfortable.
SUMMER: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
PAM: Yeah, that’s awesome.
When you’re out and about, I figure, in conversation, it eventually comes up that you didn’t go to school. And I imagine you get lots of questions, right, from people around you as you’re going about your days? I was just wondering what some of the common questions were. And what do you say?
SUMMER: I think everyone who has been unschooled or is practicing unschooling can relate to the socialization question, which is, “Well how did you make friends?”
That’s like the biggest one, I think, for everybody. And most of us unschoolers—the grown ones especially, and I’m sure experienced unschooling parents—it’s like you hear that question and you’re just like, “Oh my god, again? Like gag me with a spoon.” Because to us it’s like a ridiculous question. To me, it was a ridiculous question.
And my brother used to answer it really well. He liked to say, “Well I’m talking to you right now, aren’t I?” Because people have this idea that socialization means you’re socializing in your peer group, with kids your own age. And I actually think that’s somewhat unnatural. In a tribe, in a family, you would be interacting with people of all ages. So when people ask you, “Well how did you make friends?” It’s like, “Well, you talk to people. What do you mean? How do you make friends?”
You know? You don’t have to go to school to make friends, and your friends don’t have to be your age. In fact, you learn a lot more from people who are of different ages: younger and older. I think you learn so much from teaching younger people as well as being taught by older people.
In my family there’s four kids, so we have a lot of socialization just amongst ourselves. And maybe some families don’t have that so it’s a little bit more difficult. I think it can feel isolated for some people, if you don’t have a supportive community or family member. We had my cousins, my mom’s sister. My cousins went to Waldorf school. And we did spend quite a bit of time with them. And my aunt was really, really cool, and never judgmental of us. She couldn’t—she didn’t have it in her to do it herself. She didn’t understand.
One of the—this is another good question—like, I don’t know if it’s a question but it’s a comment that a lot of people make when they hear that you’re unschooled, or when they talk to my mom and my mom says she unschooled. And it’s like, “Well I couldn’t do that because my kids aren’t like your kids. My kids aren’t self-motivated. Your kids are special.” And my aunt had that attitude, and my mom was just like, “That’s not true. You think I just randomly, somehow magically got four self-motivated kids?” So that one’s a funny one too.
But yeah, I think the common question is the socialization. And I think it’s human nature to socialize. We’re social animals. So to think that we need to provide that for our kids is a little bit strange. Also I think it’s a little bit strange that we don’t encourage our kids to find other ways to make friends and to make friends in their own way, if they want to.
Actually, I have a lot of friends. I spend a lot of time alone, and I really enjoy being alone, and I don’t have very many close friends. I have a few. But I have many, many acquaintances because I’m a pretty outgoing, talkative person when I’m out in the world. I just talk to people. It’s natural for me. My dad’s the same way—my dad can talk to anyone. Makes friends with the waitress and the cashier and the –
PAM: Yes! That’s my dad.
SUMMER: Yeah. So if your kids are with you—and this is the other thing, is when your kids are with you and you go to the grocery store together, and you talk to the cashier, they’re learning simply from being alive and observing and being part of your life.
SUMMER: And they’re not in school. Also, you know, on the way home, your tire blows. They’re with you, and they learn how to change a tire. Or they learn how to call a tow truck. And those are the important life skills (laughs) in my opinion. And they’re with you when you go to the bank and you have to cash some checks and they learn how to fill out the deposit slip.
I remember that. I actually remember having a time with my mom in the bank and being like, “What are you doing?” She’s like, “Oh I’m filling out a deposit slip.” I’d be like, “Well what is that?” And she had to explain it. And I was like, “Well how do you do it? Well what’s this for? Well what about that spot? Why are you writing that there?” And she didn’t teach me. I asked questions.
SUMMER: And I learned how to do it myself. So those kinds of things—that you’re with someone while they’re doing these basic life things. And you learn, because you get curious and you ask questions. And kids are super observant. But when you’re in a classroom while life is going on outside—and you’re learning dry material, without application.
PAM: Exactly. It’s not connected to anything in your life. It’s simulated in the classroom.
SUMMER: Yeah. Yeah. So I’m sorry, I totally got off of your question. I tend to go out on tangents like that.
PAM: Ahh, that’s okay. I love that.
SUMMER: What are some of the other common questions I get? “Well, how do you learn.” That’s the other big question. “Well how did you learn how to read?” That’s my favorite one. “How did you learn how to read?” I get that one a lot.
PAM: Do you?
SUMMER: Yeah. Like, “Oh, I was unschooled.” And people are like, “Oh, well what’s that?” And I’ll be like, “Well, you know, we didn’t go to school.” “Is it like homeschool?” “Well, you know, I mean that’s the closest thing to be able to compare it to, but we didn’t actually do school at home. We didn’t have any required academia. We weren’t forced to learn anything at all. We were provided with means if we showed an interest, but there was never any force or requirement.” So people go, “Well, how did you learn how to read?” Like, as if you can’t learn how to read unless you’re forced.
And so I like that question because with a family of four, we each learned to read in different ways at different ages. So it’s not like there’s one way to learn. It’s not like there’s one way to learn how to do this thing. It’s not like, “Oh, in order to learn how to read, you have to do it like this.” It’s not like that. It’s kind of like when you learn how to talk.
If we were to teach—I think I read this recently too, someone had a really great quote, and it was—“If you taught kids how to speak the way we teach them how to do math or how to write, you would sit them down and you would teach them only certain words and in a certain order for a certain amount of time.”
And that’s ridiculous, because every child learns how to speak a little differently. They learn different words first. And they learn at different speeds. And they learn at different ages. Some kids will just start talking one day. Some kids will do a word here, a word there, and will build up to it. Or some of them are like my little brother who really shockingly, at like—he was really little, he was only like a year old—could say anything that you asked him to say. You’d just point to something and he would say it. One day, only for one day. And then he stopped and wouldn’t speak again for months. And then he just started talking.
SUMMER: So, you know, everybody’s different. So how did you learn how to read? And I just think that’s hilarious, because they think that if you don’t require a child to learn how to read, they won’t learn how to read. Like, are you serious? What 18-year-old is going to want to walk around not knowing how to read a restaurant menu? You think they’re going to lean over and ask their mom to read everything for them, at 18 years old? Who’s going to do that? Or what kid isn’t going to want to go get their driver’s license? And you have to know how to read to get your driver’s license. So, I’m assuming that’s going to happen sometime before that age.
But there’s so many things. And for me, I think—well, I’ll start with my oldest brother. My oldest brother had all the pressure from the family members, so he was a little bit timid with things like that. Because people were constantly asking him and trying to get him to read things all the time. Which I think is the huge [mistake? 1:01:03.2] people make, is people are like, “What does that say?” And, “How do you say that?” And, “What is that letter?” And it’s like, that doesn’t really help. That’s not helpful. That makes them self-conscious and it puts them on the spot. And you’re treating them like a performing monkey. And I think that’s what happened with my brother. And he froze up a little. So he didn’t learn how to read until he was a little bit older, and he struggled with it a little bit. He’s also more of the work with your hands type. He’s a sailor, and he sails and works on boats. So he’s not as much the analytical mind, the academic mind. It’s just not his thing. Mine either.
But my second oldest brother, Clay—he’s the brainiac of the family. He worked for Apple computers and he’s like this super computer nerd genius. And he learned how to read—he must have been like three or four. And he sat my mom down, and made her teach him. She said, “I couldn’t get up. It was like hours we sat on the couch.” He was like, “I’m learning how to read today.”
PAM: Oh wow.
SUMMER: And it was because of a certain book. And he wanted to read *this* book. And he asked her, and she sat down with him, and he went through the whole entire book until he could read every word. And that was it. And so, by the time he was five or six years old, he was reading chapter books.
And then me, I was just far too busy with other interesting things. I was interested in other things. I wanted to be in nature. I was really into building fairy houses and sewing doll clothes. I was really in my own imagination. I had—I still do—I have a very rich, vivid imagination. And that’s where I spent a lot of my childhood. In nature, and in my imagination. And I think I just wasn’t really super interested.
I also had a tendency to not want to do something I wasn’t good at right away. If I can’t get it right the first time, forget about it. (laughs) So I did that with reading. I think I learned sounds and letters when I was pretty young, and then I tried to read something and I was like, “Ack, this is silly. I’m going outside.” I got frustrated. And then, it wasn’t until I was 11, I read Jonathan Livingston Seagull for some reason—I don’t know why, I was bored probably—but we spent a lot of time in libraries as a kid. My mom’s super into books. There were always books around. She always read to us out loud. And we spent a lot of time in libraries. But I wasn’t actually really interested in reading until I was like 11.
And then Harry Potter came out. And me being the super fantasy lover, and I didn’t realize that reading was like this window into this whole world of imagination that was beyond magical. So I had a friend—I had a pen pal for a while, and she was like, “Have you read Harry Potter?” And so that’s what got me started. And I could read—it wasn’t that I couldn’t read. I could, but I didn’t read enough to be proficient. I wasn’t interested in it enough to be, like, you know, just read. But my little brother started reading Harry Potter, and that was it. I was like, “Nuh-uh, he’s not going to be reading these big books before me. I’m older.” And then I devoured them. I read all the Harry Potter books.
And then I read every fantasy novel I could get my hands on. And I read six hours a day. I read incessantly. I had a book in my hand all the time. My mom had to tell me to, like, “Honey, put the book down and go outside. You’re getting weird.” Like, I read too much. I mean, not that there is such a thing, but, you know. My mom was like, “Honey, you need to move your body. You’re not going to be able to sleep.” So she had to help me a little bit with that. (laughs)
Which is good. It’s great. And I still love reading. I’m busy nowadays, too busy to get any reading done, but yeah. So that’s our story. That’s one of the questions I get a lot. “How did you learn how to read.” And it’s the same with anything. Take any other topic. “How did you learn how to do math?” “Well, I wanted to handle my own money.” So you do.
And I had a question recently. I was talking about unschooling with this family on the big island. This beautiful family, they have two precious little kids. And they’re homeschooling; they’re doing school at home, they’re doing school work. And they’re considering moving into a little more freedom. So I was talking with them about it, and they were asking me questions. I’ve known them for a long time. And the dad was asking me—he thinks it’s really important—he’s like, “Well I think the kids should be required to write essays and learn how to write papers and reports and things, because those are skills they’re really going to need later on in life.” And he asked me, he’s like, “Well you have to do that kind of stuff, right? You have to write up descriptions for your work online.” And it’s true. I do. Those are all the skills that you need to write those kinds of things and to deal with selling online. And I’m building a website for the Worcesters. I’m having to write their bio pages and a whole description of what we do, and all of that.
So, he asked me, “How did you learn how to do those things?” And I was like, “I just did it.” I didn’t prepare. It’s just how life happens. It was like I made this thing, and I want to sell it and it’d be cool if I sold it online. And you just do. I just did. I just wrote it. And sometimes I’d have my mom help me edit things. And then I just learned how to do it on my own. And it’s because I wanted to. And I just learned by doing it. And I think a lot of people don’t realize that that’s a more powerful way to learn, is just direct experience. And learning by doing, and not necessarily preparing. Unless that comes from the child. Like I want to prepare for this thing coming up. That’s awesome. But in this case, it was like I couldn’t have known that I was going to want to write this thing to sell this thing. So I just did it.
And I didn’t think anything of it. It wasn’t like, “Oh, I haven’t learned the skills to write an essay or a paper. How am I going to do this?” I didn’t have those thoughts. I just wrote what was necessary. And I think people don’t realize the skills that we pick up just by living. And we think all these things are separate subjects. They’re separate subjects I think is a huge part of the mental block that there’s these things, there’s these separate subjects and you have to learn these certain things to prepare for these other things. And it just doesn’t occur that way to me in my life. To me it’s all just all everything flows into everything else. And everything’s connected. And it’s all just part of being alive. So I didn’t think, I didn’t have this, “Uh oh, I have to write this whole long description and I don’t have the skills for it.” It wasn’t a consideration. I’d never written a paper. I’d never been graded on anything. I’ve never anything like that.
And one of the things about that too, is that my brothers, you know, when they got to be of college age, they both went and took entrance exams to community college, and they both were in the highest percentile. And they’d never taken a test in their life. Even Garrett, the oldest one who struggled with academic stuff. He was really surprised. He surprised himself with how well he did. He’s like, “I didn’t realize I would do so well.” And he got like, you know, great scores. And my brother Clay ended up getting accepted to UC Berkeley for a while, and then he went to New York and lived there for a while and went to school. He has a degree in political science. And now he’s still working with computers. He’s part of a start-up company. I can’t even tell you what he does. I’m not sure. Something with computers. (laughs)
PAM: Yeah. We just think everything has to be prepared for, don’t we? I mean that’s the very conventional view, that you can’t organically learn things as you’re doing them. They must be learned first before they’re done. That’s just a huge paradigm shift that can take a while.
SUMMER: And just thinking that things are separate. Like I remember we did this charter school thing at one point—I think it was for the legalities in California. I think I was eight or nine years old. And my mom had to sign a thing every year saying that she was responsible for our education or whatever. And I remember we were doing this charter thing for a while, and it was friend of the family who would come once a week and kind of talk to us and see what we did and what we learned and whatever.
And he was great because he would pick anything out. He would come over and be like, “So, what’d you guys learn this week?” And we’d all be like, “Uhhhh… I don’t know.” And he was like, “Well, what did you do?” “Well, we baked bread.” And he was like, “Well there, that’s a science project right there. You baked bread. You learned how these things react and how this happened and fermentation and all this stuff.” And then he’d be like, “You played Monopoly? Awesome, there’s your math for the week.”
People don’t realize that all of these things that we’re doing in life—just cooking with your kids, and just doing projects and just allowing them to be part of your daily life—is so powerful. They learn so much. I mean, that’s just it right there. And they’ll ask. They ask questions. You don’t even need to point things out. You don’t even need to encourage them.
PAM: Just be responsive.
SUMMER: You just need to be there and be responsive. And supportive. I mean sometimes, you know, sometimes it’s nice to be encouraging. I’m not saying don’t encourage your kids.
SUMMER: I’m just saying that they don’t need you to point out things for them to learn. Kind of like I was saying, like, I didn’t need that. I didn’t need my mom to be like, “How do you say this?” We do it from the time they’re tiny. We’re putting them on the spot and we’re being like, “Say this word and say that word.” We think we’re helping. But I know that when someone does that to me now, I mean, how does that make you feel? When someone does that to you? It’s not great. It’s not like, “Ohhh, they’re helping me learn.” That’s not how it feels! It feels like—I know, I remember that feeling when I was little and people would do that to me.
I remember my grandma doing that to me. I remember her asking me, it was some math question. Simple math question. But the way in which she asked it, and the question itself, made me feel like she thought I was stupid. And it made me feel like she didn’t trust me or trust that I was okay. Really that’s kind of what it is. It’s really that when people ask those kinds of questions, I remember feeling that way. When adults would ask me questions about things that I knew, like, “How do you say that word?” You know, trying to get me to read a word on a road sign. It felt to me like they didn’t think I was okay. They were testing me.
PAM: And they’re taking away your power.
SUMMER: And it’s not a good feeling.
PAM: They’re making it about them.
SUMMER: No, they’re making it about them, and it made me feel like—I don’t even know the word. It’s an emotion and I’m not sure how to describe it exactly. But it certainly made me feel uneasy, uncomfortable, and untrusted. And what’s the word. I can’t think of the word right now, but you get the idea. So those things.
And I see people doing that to their kids all the time. And it comes from love. And it comes from unconsciousness, because it’s just what we do in our society. Constantly putting this attention on kids and asking them questions all the time. And we think that we’re teaching them, we’re helping them learn. But I just don’t think that’s how we learn. It’s not how I learned. I learned, from people treating me like that, I learned that—yeah, that’s how I got my insecurities, was from those questions. Because I thought maybe I wasn’t okay.
PAM: Because you never know where a child’s mind’s going to go.
SUMMER: No, you don’t know what they’re learning from what you’re trying to teach them. It might not be what they’re actually learning.
PAM: And that’s how they’re insecure. Because they see, when you ask them those questions, or try to point the next thing out, where you think they are. If it’s different from where their mind was going, they were making a different connection that would’ve been just as valid, but all of a sudden it feels like a judgment. “Oh, you wanted me to go over here, but I was going over—Okay, we’ll go where you think I should go.” And then they start to lose trust in themselves.
SUMMER: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, beautiful point. Yes, they lose trust in themselves. And trust is something that’s built and I think that the more trust you place in your children, the more trustworthy they become. And I know that to be true in my own experiences with my mom.
And I remember trying to tell my stepmom things about this too, for my little sister’s sake. And my stepmom—she’s wonderful, she’s great—but there were things sometimes where I was like, “Julie, if you don’t show her that she’s trustworthy, she’s not going to be. And if you don’t give her this space or this freedom here, she’s going to think you don’t trust her, and then she’s going to start acting like it.” And that’s exactly what started happening. She started going behind her back, sneaking around, doing things she wasn’t supposed to do, that kind of stuff. Because she didn’t feel trusted or respected. She didn’t feel respected. And that I think is—yeah, I felt respected. I felt trusted and respected. And I felt I always had the freedom to feel or think whatever I wanted.
I didn’t always have the freedom to do whatever I wanted. I mean in a family you have to make things work. Sometimes you gotta do the dishes. You gotta sweep the floor. You have to be a functional part of your family, your society. We had to make things work as a whole. So I find that a lot, and that’s another answering the same question, what are the questions that I get. Is like, “So you were just allowed to do whatever you want?” And I’m like, “Well, I wouldn’t put it that way, because we actually had to have lights out because there were younger ones. He had to go to sleep and we had to be quiet. And it wasn’t like militant forced-on kind of thing. It was just kind of like, it just made sense. We all wanted to be in harmony. We all wanted to make it work. And we could see that if we didn’t do this, it was not going to be good for us later.
So somehow my mom was able to always convey this sense of community in our family that we all had. And we would sit down, and sometimes my mom would be like, “Listen guys, I don’t know what to do right now.” She had great humility, and was always willing to admit when she was wrong, or when she didn’t know what was going on, or what to do about something. And it made us step up. And I remember feeling like I had power in my family, because there wasn’t just this dictator that made all the rules. It was like we had to figure it out together, what worked for everyone. And my mom was amazing that way, in that she didn’t just tell us how it was going to go. It was like, “What do you guys think? How is this going to work?” And she’d be like, “Well this really doesn’t work for me, and I don’t know what to do about that.” And we’d be like, “Well I really want like this, so how about we do it like this?” And we’d come to conclusions.
And we had hard stuff through our family, like everyone does, and we’ve all got issues, like everybody. But I think the fact that my mom was always willing to admit when she was wrong and willing to work things out with us and not just be the authoritarian, that made all the difference in the world. And she respected us, and she respected our needs and opinions. It worked—it worked somehow in that way. And we could see that we were all part of a greater whole, and we wanted that whole to work. So we did our part.
PAM: Yeah. You all felt like equal and valued members of your family.
SUMMER: Yeah, exactly. Equal and valued members.
PAM: Well I think what you said before about how your mom would bring her needs to the table—she would say, “That’s not really working for me. How else can we do this?” And you just keep going until you find a way that everybody—
SUMMER: And it was always loving.
PAM: Yeah, exactly.
SUMMER: It was always loving, even if you have to say no, you can do it in this way like, “I’m really sorry sweetie, I know that you want this but this just can’t happen right now, and I don’t know what to do about it. What can we do about it?” And then it’s not just you saying no. It’s like, “Maybe we can work this out, and do you have any ideas?” And then they’re responsible for their own life, and how things go.
PAM: Well, I must say, I could talk forever too. (laughter)
But thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today, Summer. I know we worked so hard to get this call.
SUMMER: I know, I know. We sure did.
PAM: To make it happen. I really appreciate it. It’s been so lovely to talk to you.
SUMMER: You too. Yeah, thank you. And I’m available if anybody wants to talk to me.
PAM: Well that’s awesome. So, where’s the best place for people to connect with you online?
SUMMER: Well, I would say email, because I prefer to just talk. I don’t like to prepare. I like to just answer fresh from my own experience. So email me, or Facebook message me. My email is summermuse at gmail.com. And you can find me on Facebook, I think it’s Summer Jean. I don’t know, something like that.
PAM: That’s okay, we’ll figure it out and I’ll put it in the show notes.
PAM: That’s awesome. I’ll put all those things in the show notes so people can check it out.
SUMMER: And I’m sure I’m going to hang up right now and think of a million other things I wanted to say, and a million things I shouldn’t have said, and all kinds of stuff like that.
But I really, really enjoyed talking to you. I love doing this and I would talk to anyone about this any time.
PAM: That’s awesome. I really loved our conversation.
SUMMER: Yeah me too.
PAM: Thank you, Summer.
SUMMER: Thank you, Pam. And keep up the good work. I super appreciate what you’re doing.