PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Missy Willis. Hi, Missy!
MISSY: Hi Pam!
PAM: Hello. Missy is an unschooling mom and host of the website Let ‘Em Go Barefoot which details her personal thoughts, experiences, and research around unschooling. I’ve really enjoyed reading around her blog and I’m excited to dive into her experience.
So, to get us started, Missy, can you share with us a bit about you and your family?
MISSY: Sure! So, I am mom to two kids. I have a sixteen-year-old and an eleven-year-old, a boy and a girl. My husband and I have been married for a very long time, I think it’s twenty-one years. We have been together since high school actually. We live in Charlotte and have for –let’s see, I grew up here and then I left for a while to go to college, and then we moved back in 2001 and we have not left.
PAM: You like the area.
MISSY: We do. We do enjoy it here. I never thought I would actually settle down back in Charlotte. I’m not really sure why but I think part of me thought, when I left and went to college, that I would start my life in another location, away from family and do my own thing. But family drew me back and the area has grown so much. It’s really home school friendly, and we have so many great friends and family here. So, we’ve stayed put and now my kids are so adjusted to it that they would never even entertain the idea of leaving.
PAM: Well that’s awesome. It’s nice that you’ve got a good home schooling community too. So, how did you discover unschooling, then? Was it something like – home schooling and unschooling – was it something you knew about before you had kids?
What did your family’s journey to unschooling look like?
MISSY: We did not know about unschooling. I have a Masters in special education. When we moved back to Charlotte, I was working for a private school for children with learning disabilities. And my goal and role in that position, was to help develop their curriculum; their K through 12 curriculum. At that time, they were only second grade through eighth grade and every year they were adding a year. So, my role was to sort of help them formalise their curriculum and make it match or sort of, combine with what our public schools were asking kids to do.
Not necessarily for them to follow that curriculum but in order to communicate with families who were coming in from public school and for kids who were leaving the private school to go back. So, the teachers would have a very good working knowledge of what was expected in the public school world, if that makes sense. And so, I did not think that I was going to home school at all.
Then I had my son, and when he was four, almost five; he was able to start Kindergarten because his birthday was really close to the beginning of the school year. And I’d just had my daughter, she was only six months old, and prior to that I just – you know, we were having so much fun as a family and they were learning just so much all the time and it was amazing to watch their lightbulb moments. And it just became more and more clear, based on the way we were raising our children and were interacting as a family, that school was just going to completely interfere with our lives and our lifestyle.
So, I had friends who were home schooling and what they were doing looked extremely enticing and they seemed so happy and relaxed, and I thought, ‘Well, I want a part of that.’ And we decided, since school could start here – well, compulsory schooling doesn’t start until age seven – I said, “Let’s just give it a go you know. We don’t have to make the decision forever right this moment. We can just roll with it and we can just see how things go.”
So, I talked to my kids about it. I actually talked to Daniel, my son, and just said, “Listen, Daniel, here are your options – what we could be doing. We could also do this.” And he thought about it and at that point he really thought he wanted to go to school and try it. And then the closer we got to enrolment, he said, “I’m good.”
So, that was our first year. And, we haven’t looked back. As we got started on home schooling, with my background it got in the way a little bit because I thought, ‘Well I helped write a curriculum. I worked in the classrooms and I’ve worked with kids for as long as I can remember. So, I have things I need to teach him.’ And then, he taught me a lot. He said, you know, “Mom, I’m good. You don’t need to tell me when to learn this or when to sit and read.”
It just became more about the relationship and the flowing of our day, and respecting him as an individual instead of looking at a list of what he’s expected, or should, be doing by a certain age and allowing that to override our relationship.
So, friends were home schooling and unschooling and that’s when the term came into our world and it just made perfect sense. And I’ve just seen so many beautiful things happen – in their learning, in their understanding of who they are as people, their development, their autonomy. And just, understanding who they are and I just feel like if they were sent away every day, we would just not have this great, close relationship that we do now. I mean, maybe we would’ve. But it almost feels like there would’ve been interference for sure.
PAM: Yeah. There would’ve been – interference is a great word – like there would have been other things pulling on your time and on your energy, right? So, they wouldn’t have as much of the time to understand themselves. All those interesting things that you’re seeing, right? With them. You wouldn’t have time to dive into that.
PAM: I’d like to dive a little bit deeper into that because like you mentioned, you’ve got your master’s in Special Ed. And you worked in those classrooms. And you mentioned letting go of the curriculum as being difficult.
Was that one of the most challenging aspects of deschooling for you, or what did you find?
MISSY: Yeah, I do think that curriculum piece was difficult, because I had all this stuff in front of me that said, “Hey, at age five they should know these words and they should understand this concept in math and what about this science and social studies?” And so there was all this information that I thought, ‘Gosh, if there’s all this stuff out there that’s saying that the kid should have this, am I possibly doing my children a disservice by not getting them to this point?’
And the more that we lived our day to day lives, the clearer it became that that was just arbitrary. You know, somebody made a decision in some city, in some state, to say, “These things need to be learned.” And it’s interesting because state to state, the mindsets – they’re not always the same.
So, you can live in North Carolina and go to public school and if you transfer to South Carolina their rules and their curriculum might look a little different. Now obviously common core has come online and I think the point behind that is to make it so that it is the same across the country. But yeah, the curriculum piece was hard but I realised that it just wasn’t worth it, you know?
We had a couple of times where I remember being frustrated and thinking, “What am I doing wrong? I have this knowledge and I feel like my child doesn’t even want to hear what I have to say.” And that’s when it just became so clear that it was just – he was learning, he was thriving, he was doing fine.
He was reading Pokemon cards. I would say that the real big shift for me happened around five or six. It was kind of like – I don’t remember the exact day, it was more of a feeling – he just kind of had this look on his face and I remember thinking, ‘Wow. I am not being very nice to him right now when I think he needs to do this worksheet or something I found online.’ And that’s when I just backed off. I was like, “Okay, this is not the way I wanted our lives to be.”
I mean, we were so calm and so engaging with them from the beginning and then now these rules that I thought we have to push. So, you know, I stopped and backed off. And then he was really interested in Lego building and some of the stuff he would create was just fascinating. When he’d get online, he’d watch a video and then he’d go into his room and he’d come out with something that he built, that he saw. He was inspired.
He was fully into Pokemon cards and within a couple of months he was memorizing full cards with all these really big words. And concepts – science concepts, math concepts – all of these things were just getting better and better. And we’d never sat down and said, “Okay, this is how you have to read.” He just started reading based on his interest and every once in a while, he’d come and say, “What does this word mean?” Or, “Will you read this card to me?” And before you know it, he was reading.
It was neat to have been able to witness that and to support it and I’m just very glad that our relationship was as solid as it was so that I could see what I was doing wrong. You know, I was like, “Argh, you just need to back off.” And I did.
PAM: Yeah. I think it’s so important when we’re making that shift you know, to be paying so much attention? To be looking… Like you said, it was really nothing to do with your son, right? It’s not about them, it’s about us expanding the way we do things? Like, expanding from that view of curriculum. But you were paying attention to see the other learning that he was doing and I can imagine your mind – you’d see him learning something that you knew was in the Group Two curriculum or something.
MISSY: Yeah, exactly!
PAM: Right? So, it’s like, “Oh look, he’s learning that and it’s okay.”
MISSY: I’m a very checklist-y person. I like charts and things and I like to visually see things and check things off. So yes, absolutely if something was going on, I was like, “Well okay”. And we have to do, for the State of North Carolina we have to do end of year testing. You know, you pick your own test and do it, and I’m actually able to do the Woodcock Johnson which is one of the tests that are given in a lot of private schools. So, you know, first year we went through the motions and did them and I was just like ,“Whatever”. I didn’t care at all what the tests were saying.
And then the next year comes, and then the next year and he is getting more and more confident as a test-taker. And even though we didn’t emphasise that at all, when I did finally look at the results it just – I really impressed upon the kids not to worry about it, like it’s not important, we just have to do it. It’s like kind of a checklist thing we have to do – but when I was able to see, what they were doing in comparison to what was expected it was just again that obvious, they’re doing just fine. And to not have to be in a classroom seven hours a day, five days a week, a hundred and seventy five days a year; in order to be an educated, bright person.
PAM: Yeah. No, exactly. It’s kind of mind blowing isn’t it? When you just start seeing – on one hand how easy it is as in they’re just living life and doing what they’re interested in. And it’s even getting rid of that conventional view that kids need to be forced to learn, that learning is something that’s hard. There’s just so many messages that we’ve absorbed growing up, that we need to work through aren’t there?
MISSY: Absolutely. Well, and that they’re just some empty vessel we have to fill with all our wonderful adult knowledge. And they should be just so grateful that we’re able to do that for them.
PAM: So many messages, aren’t there?!
MISSY: I know. And I think about my youngest. She’s, eleven now. But when she was four, so we’ve got some neighbour kids that we played with all the time. And the girl who came over was ten, eleven, around ten at the time. And she’d come home from school and come over here and play school with my daughter. And always I was kind of like, “Oh boy, here we go” and I just allowed it, you know I just watched it unfold. And one day she came upstairs and she said, “Mom, I don’t like playing school with her anymore.” And I said, “Why?” and she said, “Because everybody’s always in trouble, I can’t talk…” And she just went through this list of things and I thought, “Oh my goodness.”
But it struck me because I felt like this child who was coming over was in a way decompressing when she came to our house. It was like she was re-enacting what was taking place in school and in a way trying to control it a little bit by playing with my daughter who was younger and the one who looked up to her. And I don’t know, maybe I was reading too deeply into it, but at the time it really struck a nerve and made me wonder.
PAM: It was like she was able to take on the position of power because during the day as a student she had no power, right? So, this was a way she could take it over. Wow.
MISSY: Yeah, so that ended up stopping. She didn’t want to play school at all. She’d had enough of that! So, she’s the one – if I’m looking at my first born, he’s the one that’s sort of helped open my eyes and just kind of drop all these expectations I put on myself and on him and he forged a path for his sister to be completely unschooled from the very beginning. So, we have never done anything remotely close to formal instruction unless she’s asked for it.
Whereas my son had some formal stuff earlier on and now he, interestingly enough, since he was five or six when I first decided to let it go; he’s now signed himself up for classes that are local Y and he said it’s because he wants to. He is actually taking anatomy and American Literature. On his own. I was like, “Okay, great.” He took Psychology which I was just so excited about because that’s my undergraduate degree. And we had a lot of great discussions about all things Psychology and I would say if I ever sort of broke it down into what part of the curriculum – we don’t use curriculum, I don’t really like that word – but, we talk.
We just have conversations all the time. And it’s amazing the amount of learning that takes place just chatting. And not just for them, but for me. Listening to how they see the world and what their interpretation of something is, and having them express their feelings about a scenario that might have played out in their social groups or in our family. So, I think, just talking to our kids is so vital.
PAM: Yeah, that’s like the whole processing piece, I think. It really helps them to kind of organise and figure out what they’re thinking and that was one of the things that surprised me so much, that I loved so much – was how much I learned from my kids. You know, once I was finally in this open and learning mindset and I’d worked through the idea that I was supposed to have already learned everything – you know, “I don’t have to learn anymore because I graduated!”
But Holy Cow, we learn so much from them! And you know, it’s with any person, with any child once they start sharing their perspective. You know. It’s not wrong. And it’s just so interesting to see how they, as another person, put things together isn’t it?
MISSY: It so is, yes. And you see them as a collaborator, as someone who is going to give you information that you otherwise would not have had if you’d just bulldozed them how to feel, or how to handle something. And you know, that’s a part of the process for us in terms of just – mental health, even.
I think about unschooling as a choice not just for learning in an academic sense but learning as in mental health too because my kids, I feel, like really know themselves. They know they bodies, they know when they’re tired, they know when they need food, they know when they need exercise and they can regulate themselves. Yeah, sometimes they might push themselves a little bit too far but again, that’s learning. They know, “Okay I stayed up too late last night. Tomorrow I’m not going to do that.”
PAM: And we do that too, right?
MISSY: Well, of course right? All the time! And then we’re wondering, “Why are our kids doing that? Oh, wait a minute….I kind of have done that this week.”
PAM: Well, in the moment it was a good choice, you know? And there were reasons why we made that choice. Even if when we look back, we would maybe make a different choice or if we encounter that situation again, “Oh, I’m going to remember that and maybe not do that again.” It reinforces our agency, the fact that it was our choice. And just knowing that, brings even more for us into the next situation where we have a choice, right?
I guess “free” is the word that comes to mind; that we really are free to make these choices, we want to make them as good as we can for us. That’s where that self-awareness piece comes in, right? How wonderful that they’re getting to play with all these things so that they understand themselves better by seeing what happens.
MISSY: Absolutely. So, my son, when he was – I want to say maybe around twelve or thirteen – to me I just love this because it just speaks volumes to the fact that all teenagers are not just going to sleep their days away. You hear that a lot, “Well if you give them all this freedom aren’t they just going to lay in bed all day and never do anything?”. So, he was twelve or thirteen and he ended up sleeping in until about two o’clock one day. And when he got up he realised what time it was, and was so mad that he missed the majority of his day, that from that point forward he set his alarm.
He still, at sixteen, has an alarm set every single day to get up by a certain time. Now sometimes, he may turn it off and say, “Nope, I’m really not ready to get up yet.” But for the most part he will get up and just get his day going because he really didn’t like that feeling of waking up so late in the day. And this is a child who’s never really had to get up at any certain time. He was just like, “Nope, I didn’t like it”. My eleven-year-old now, she’s the one who I’m like, “Okay it’s twelve, are you getting up today?” Her body; she’s changing so much and growing you know? I have a feeling in the next couple of years she may follow in his footsteps, but who knows?
PAM: But that’s the wonderful thing, right? It’s so individual to each person and they get to discover that and find what works best for them.
MISSY: Yep, for sure. And I think that when we made the choice to home school, it was not just about the academic part. It was also a lifestyle choice and we knew that we didn’t want to be stuck to a schedule that really had no flexibility. And it just felt odd to turn over the keys to our freedom, to a system that kind of created our schedule for us. And I thought, just from a practical standpoint it just felt weird. Even though I was in that system and participated in it, once it came time to sort of embark on that journey I just said, “No, let’s just wait, let’s just wait.” And, here we are.
You have a great blog post on your website that’s titled “You might be ego schooling if…” That was a new phrase for me – ego-schooling – but you described it so well. I loved it. So, I was hoping you could explain that.
MISSY: Well, so over the years I’ve had a lot of opportunities to talk to multiple different families and moms and dads and family members, about their kids and their pursuits. And there just seemed to be a common theme with those particular families who just seemed to always be pushing their kids… And from an outsider perspective, I could see some of the dissatisfaction with the children and saw the stress even, in their family dynamics.
And I certainly am guilty of making decisions for my kids sometimes like, “Oh, that’ll be good for them” or “us” or “me” or whatever. And so, I was just thinking one day. I thought about our egos and how they can kind of run the show sometimes and realised that’s no different from the schooling side, so I just thought about how people tend to push their kids in order to make themselves look better.
And my kids are both –well, my son especially – he played sports and he played baseball for a really long time and being on the bleachers at a baseball game, there’s a lot of egos flying. Parents who are yelling at their kids. It just made me sad and I was so, “Argh! Just back off,” you know? And you could tell they were almost living their unfulfilled lives through their children. So, want me to read a couple examples maybe?
PAM: Yeah, that’d be great.
MISSY: Okay. So, you might be ego-schooling if you force your child to stick with an activity or sport she has expressed unhappiness with because it has already been paid for – so money becomes more important than her feelings. And that one has touched a few nerves because of the money piece, and I get that in terms of budgets and somebody has committed to pay for something and their child isn’t sticking with it, I understand sometimes how that can be hard. But if in fact they’re just completely unhappy or they realised it’s not what they wanted to do, I feel like it’s worth talking about and recognising that, you know what? There’s going to be some lost money but then they’re going to be preserved as people too.
PAM: You’ve already paid, but now we know more a few weeks later. We know now that it’s not fitting well and you could be doing more damage to your relationship. And I think of it also, you could be doing more damage to your child’s relationship with whatever that was, say a sport or something. Because the more they dislike going or don’t like the environment, or other people that are there – whatever the issue is – that can be spoiling the bigger picture for them. If it’s a soccer team, or a baseball team or whatever, they can get to a point where they dislike the sport entirely and don’t even want to play it for fun or anything like that. It can have such a larger impact than whatever money’s left.
MISSY: Absolutely. For sure.
PAM: You can almost think of it like spending the rest of that money buying their happiness.
MISSY: Yes. I look at it like almost a donation, you know? It’s a donation to whatever place was offering the activity or the sport.
PAM: Yeah. “Thanks for being there for us to try.”
MISSY: Mmm hmm. For sure.
PAM: “And now we’re going to step away.” That’s a great way to look at it too.
MISSY: Yeah, and then another one is free play. When free play looks like doing nothing and you prefer to schedule your child’s day. I’ve seen that a lot. People really have a hard time with kids just – quote, unquote – playing. Play is so vital, and so important and they’re building skill after skill after skill playing with their friends and roaming and running and adventuring. Because I think we’ve ventured so far into the area of, “We need documentation to show and prove that the learning’s actually happened”, that that’s a super hard one for people to embrace and believe in. Because of, “Well I don’t see anything, I don’t see a result of their activity.”
PAM: Of their time.
MISSY: Yeah. And so, to me, free play is high on our list and always has been. And then, one other one I’ll say is that: being in the moment is a difficult thing for you to grasp. Instead, you are planning the next activity and worrying about what needs to get done.
PAM: Yep, that’s a big one too isn’t it? We’re always looking ahead. I think that ties in a bit with the last one you were talking about too and with our wanting documentation, wanting proof of things. And also, the whole big story of needing to be “productive”. In that needing to produce, but needing to produce something quickly. Because, you know, all that free play and everything can definitely be seen as productive time in that –like you said – they’re learning so much, they’re gathering so much. There’s just so much that’s in their head from that. That at some point will definitely make connections with other things, you know what I mean?
PAM: Go ahead.
MISSY: Oh no, I was just agreeing with you that there’s so many executive functioning/function that’s being built. And you can break it down, you can look at it as problem solving, critical thinking, planning, trial and error. There’s just so much good stuff that happens while kids are playing.
PAM: Yeah. It’s crazy.
MISSY: I want to say – I can’t remember the name of the article but it was something I saw not too long ago about adding play back into the classrooms and it just – it made me laugh. Because, like really? Now we’re like, “Oh, play!”
PAM: “More play!” “Play based curriculum!”
MISSY: Right. No, throw that c-word out.
PAM: So just, if anyone’s interested there will be links in the show notes not only to the website but also to that blog post. And I wanted to dig just a little bit deeper now. So, when we talk about ego-schooling and working through our need to control our children because we’re defining ourselves through their actions, right? When they’re successful, we see ourselves as a successful parent, you know through their success. So, when we manage to work through that layer, there’s still layers to go aren’t there? There’s always more layers to everything right?!
So, for example, maybe we see children trying to do something. They’re trying to accomplish something. We want to jump in and help them. And we really do – we want to help them! We know that they’re trying to get this thing done and we want to help them do it maybe more efficiently or more quickly or, you know, we have more experience with it and can do it faster. But even though it’s not about us, we’re trying to help them but even that can get in their way, can’t it?
MISSY: Absolutely, oh yes. And that is a big conversation at our house for letting them just do it on their own timeline. And even if it takes 45 minutes to get from Point A to Point B and we could’ve figured it out in five, we’re completely cheating them of an opportunity to piece together those steps that will then be almost hardwired into their minds and then the next time it’ll be super-fast. And maybe it won’t be the next time but maybe three times down the line.
So, for sure. That’s so important; to be okay with messes, to be okay with it not being linear, recognising that sometimes kids will try something and will go away from it or come back to it, and just because they didn’t finish it the first time doesn’t mean they’re not motivated or that they don’t care. It just could be that they need to take a break from it and sometimes taking breaks from things, it’s almost like it’s still on in the background, like it’s still going on.
MISSY: And they might be mulling it over in a way they might not even be aware of but then they come back to it and they’re like, “Oh yeah, okay, I’ve got it now.” And so, I do that personally. You know, if I’m writing and I just feel like I can’t get my thoughts together, I’ll go outside and go for a walk or stay outside and sit in the swing for a little bit, just get some fresh air to get my mind off it and sure enough, it seems to work like magic. All of a sudden, the ideas’ll just pop back into my head and I’m like, “Okay.” And I feel like kids are exactly like that too.
PAM: It’s surprising when you look back but not in the moment, but how adults can – it makes total sense for adults. I do it too, it’s amazing. It’s like, “Okay, I’m stuck here, I’m not making any progress, I’m gonna go and do something else for a little while.” And you know, even now, today, my subconscious is working on it. I’m not consciously doing it but I know eventually when I sit back down or go back to whatever it was, it will flow better. Something will have clicked.
Why we don’t think that’s okay for kids? It’s again that whole dichotomy of: kids are different from adults. No, we’re all human beings, we all work the same kind of way. But it’s a big a-ha moment when we realise that that space and that time are so important. For kids learning and figuring things out too. Just as important as it is for us.
MISSY: It is, and I was able to recognise that early on but also give them the opportunity of, “I’m here if you need me, just let me know, I’m right around the corner.” And they will, they’ll ask. “Hey mom where’s the such-and-such?” Or “Hey, do you know where I could get this?” And “Would you mind holding this while I cut it?” Those sorts of things where I’m physically there and they need it, and then I just leave. And a lot of times I’ll just ask questions. “Hey, what are you working on?” Not because I’m trying to get into their business or tell them how to do it but because I’m genuinely curious.
Many times, they’ll just go into these great, elaborate explanations or they’ll come to me with more information and say, “Hey I’ve found this out.” And so, I want them to understand that I’m there as a willing listener and participant when they’re ready to share and when they’re ready to ask for help. Versus bulldozing them. And then it takes it away from them, it becomes about me but it also – I think – deteriorates their belief in their own abilities. You know, “I’m not capable because Mom keeps coming in and doing this for me and she does do it better because she’s older and has more experience.” Not that they’re saying those things to themselves but…
PAM: That’s the kind of message they internalise just from our actions though, right? If we keep coming in to check it’s like, “Oh, they must be worried that I’m not going to be able to do this properly.” That’s the message that they can easily get from our actions. I know I sometimes used to, like if I thought the odd time – it’s Lego or Lego kits, stuff like that. Or puzzles. Oh, I had the way that worked for me and I would be sure. I would leave the room and I would do that. “If you guys need any help just let me know.” You know, because I knew I would be too tempted to keep jumping in to do it my way. But it’s understanding that our way is our way and it’s wonderful for us but it’s not the only way.
MISSY: Yeah, and they also have taught me ways to do stuff that I might not have thought about. And I think when we allow for each person to take the time they need to do whatever it is they set their mind to then we see strengths pop up, that we might not have been able to see before. Or we see, “Hey, you know!” My son, he was a major Lego builder and he still enjoys it every so often but he just could look at something and his brain was able to see it in a way that I just couldn’t. And we’d laugh about it, like “Oh, you’ve got it figured out, I will hand you whatever piece you need!” And he’d put it together.
And my daughter, she’s very creative and artsy and she draws the coolest things. And I just love seeing the world through her eyes and I love to draw too but I’m such a different artist than she is. And yeah, there’s been plenty of times where she’ll do something and I’m like, “How did you do that?” or “Where did you come up with that idea?” And it’s sweet because she’ll just get a little spark in her eyes like, “Oh, Mom wants to know” and I really do want to know because she just sees it differently than I do and I love that. I’m glad that we have that back-and-forth.
PAM: I love that phrase you use – seeing things through their eyes. Because, I mean, that – it’s a spectacular view. And it’s a shift. It’s different from the phrase, putting our self in their shoes, right? Because when we put ourselves in their shoes we put our self in that situation so we’re still seeing it through our eyes, with all our strengths and our weaknesses and the way we prefer to do things. We’re still seeing that situation through our eyes but when we see it through their eyes we see like, a whole new world practically. They see things in such interesting ways and it’s so fascinating to have conversations with them and to chat about it to hear what they’re thinking.
MISSY: It is. So, I don’t know if you know this but my daughter was recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
PAM: Oh, I didn’t know that, no.
MISSY: And it was a huge – I say in my mind it’s a huge blow to me because it just came out of nowhere. And, we were pretty caught off guard and sad about it and interestingly enough she kind of knew, once we figured out something was going on with her help. She knew something big was about to happen. And it was weird, she was like, “I just know, Mom. I just know something’s about to happen and it’s not gonna go away.” So, she just had this intuition and I was being the mom of trying to comfort her and say “Well let’s not make any decisions about anything yet, don’t jump to conclusions, we’ll take it step by step.”
So, when the final diagnosis came down we were all pretty much like, “Oh, Wow!” But I said, “You know what? I’m not gonna look at this as so devastating and now our lives are never going to be the same.” We’re just going to take this from where we are and what we know, and we’re going to build on it, we’re going to learn. Within the first couple of weeks she had already just blown my mind, and when her dad was giving her, her insulin injection he said, “I’m sorry you have to go through this” and she said, “Dad, it’s okay, it’s just my new normal.” And then she said something like, “I don’t want people to think I’m sick; my body just works differently now.”
And those kinds of things I’m just like “What?!” Just, the foresight is just so mature and positive and not saying that she doesn’t have bad days and get frustrated but overall she just says, “You know what, this is what I’m going to have to do and we’re going to do it together and it’s a team effort” and so I’ve just appreciated the fact that we live together in a way that is supportive and there’s harmony and we’re able to flex and change directions as needed.
PAM: Oh yeah. I think Michael was nine when he was diagnosed, and it was out of the blue.
MISSY: So, your son has type 1?
PAM: Yeah, my youngest.
MISSY: I did not know that. Oh my goodness.
PAM: I thought “Oh she must know!” Yeah, yeah.
MISSY: No. Wow. How about that?
PAM: And it was the same thing. It was just “Oh. We’re flowing with this now, right. There’s a lot of learning upfront and figuring it out and it was amazing having the time, the freedom, to just dive in and learn about it and work together to figure things out. And like you said, their attitude was amazing. It was just, “Oh. So, this is another thing.” Because this is another thing that keeps you healthy because you don’t want to be feeling bad and feeling sick and I love the way she’s described it as her “new normal now” and that was very much the same thing. And good days, bad days, helping each other out, the conversations. You’ve already got that connection, that relationship so you can have the conversations you know? Like, how are you feeling with this? What do we do with this?
PAM: It’s really amazing. Because he can feel in his body now too, he can feel when he’s going high and low and he knows. And he was already really well on the way because with unschooling you know, he was already following his body the way he ate etc. He could feel something was off.
MISSY: Yes, definitely.
PAM: It’s amazing because they know themselves so well, they know their bodies that well. That’s fascinating.
MISSY: Wow, I had no idea about your son. It’s a big turning point but at the same time she said too, and it’s funny, she said, “Mom I feel like I’m healthier now than I’ve ever been.”
PAM: Yeah. He ended up being the one who’s… he’s a stunt performer now. I mean, he’s so athletic and it didn’t – it doesn’t – stop him from what he wanted to do. It was just a thing you do alongside everything else. It wasn’t like the end of the world, “Oh my gosh”. You know, that kind of stuff.
MISSY: Yeah. And it was August so had she been in school it would’ve been a diagnosis within two to three weeks of her starting school. And I was like, “there was just no way! No way, no way.” And I’m just thankful we were already in a position to have the flexibility that we needed to take it day by day and not have any big expectations placed on us, or any schedule to follow.
PAM: The way we –the doctors – were able to work on his program was because if he was going to school it would have to be a completely different thing, right? Then it’s very controlled in school and they don’t have access. But this way, the doctor said – now, this was twelve years ago – he’s like “Oh we can do the same thing with him that we do with adults.”
MISSY: Wow. How ‘bout that? Isn’t that telling?
PAM: He can have insulin when he eats and we’re all good. It doesn’t have to be done by the clock because with school when they’re in school, a lot of the insulin management had to be done by the clock, and they needed to eat at this time and all that kind of stuff.
MISSY: Yeah that brings up a point about the clock because that’s certainly something that I find a problem with a lot of our society in general. You know, the clock is just very powerful isn’t it? How many people determine how they’re going to live their day or how their day’s going to unfold based on time. And while it’s of course important, and respectful for people who’ve put together a plan for something and has a certain window of time to do it, to show up things and be prompt. It is interesting to me that so many people follow such a strict schedule without considering how they’re actually feeling.
And they keep going, “Well we have to be there, we have to do this” and “the time is now” and I think that is probably one big area for me where I know we would’ve been in trouble. I’d be like “Well we did something last night as a family and it went longer than expected and the kids slept in. And oh well! We’ll be at school at twelve thirty”, or whatever. And I don’t think they would’ve liked me very much.
PAM: I know! Those “have to”s and the clock – it’s amazing how people, you know, just use those in lieu of thinking. I mean, and not even in a negative way. In that, this is what they’ve known and then they don’t have to think because we’ve given thinking a bad name you know? Thinking and learning; those are hard things.
MISSY: I’ve been told I think too much, so… I took it as a compliment. I was like, “Oh well”. “Even though that’s not meant to be a compliment I’m taking it as one!”
Your website, and I’ll have a link in the show notes letemgobarefoot.com, I love that name and I would love to hear the story behind it. How’d you come up with that?
MISSY: Well, so when Daniel was younger, we spent a lot of time outside and as a new mom and somebody who had already been very interested in child development, psychology; I was a big observer of other families and other parents and kids. And I just started noticing how many parents got mad at their kids for taking their shoes off. And on the playground, at a park, in a sand box. It was just constant.
And that just stuck out to me over and over again, and one day I just thought, “What is the big deal? Just let ‘em go barefoot.” And then I was like “Oh, I really like that name!” so that stuck in my head for a while and I didn’t do anything with it immediately and then over time as I was able to, I thought maybe I’ll just create a page, a website, where I can explore topics that I’m interested in and that I’m passionate about.
So, that’s how it came together and it felt to me like the bare feet were symbolic of stripping off that external control. Like, “I know my body, I know what I want to do, I just want to take my shoes off, I want to feel the earth under my feet. And yet I’m being told that that’s not right, I’m being told that that’s bad for me.” And it just felt so much like that, the trust issues that parents have with their children – that “my kid doesn’t know what he needs, my kid doesn’t know what he wants.” “Bare feet are dangerous.”
Interestingly enough, my daughter rarely has shoes on her feet. And my son is barefoot all the time, I don’t even think we owned a pair of shoes until he was like a year and a half old. But yeah, it just felt like a great representation of the power of trust. And trusting the kids to just do what they felt comfortable doing.
PAM: Yeah. It works on so many levels, doesn’t it? From the trust, to the choice, the understanding yourself. There’s just so many aspects that represents; I love that name.
MISSY: Thank you.
PAM: So, for our last question:
I would love to know what your favourite thing is right now about the flow of your unschooling days.
MISSY: Oh wow. So, I guess because my kids are older, it has really evolved to be – the mornings are super quiet for me and I like to meditate and do yoga when I can, and drink coffee and think and contemplate life. So, it’s been nice to be able to get up in the morning and sort of just have those quiet hours to myself. And then when they get up and are ready to go, they each have sort of their own ideas about how they want their day to unfold. Sometimes the night before we might have a discussion about what’s on tap for the day, or the days ahead. And so, we’ll make a plan if necessary, for logistics for kids to get to different places.
But I just love the fact that we have so much flexibility and if we make a plan to do something and then, you know, if just the kids get up and maybe aren’t feeling it, we can say “No, thank you.” We have friends that we’re really close to who at the very last minute we’ll almost always be able to get together with. And that’s really neat.
So yeah, I think that’s probably my favourite part. It’s just the flexibility of our lifestyle. And seeing them each gravitate toward the activities that really make them shine and feel good about themselves.
So, my daughter loves horseback riding and I wish she could have a horse and be on it every day. That’s just not possible right now, in the city. And my son enjoys soccer and he is a gamer. And he really is aware of his physical health and he enjoys exercising and things like that. So, it’s just been really neat to watch the evolution of our day to day. The hustle of the earlier years, it’s not there anymore. I do kind of miss it actually.
PAM: It’s interesting; there’s the flow of the days and there’s the flow of the years, right?
MISSY: For sure.
PAM: That’s wonderful. And I think that’s a great… a really important and fun thing about a lot of our unschooling years was that flexibility to just… to be able to respond when something hit our curiosity, right? And to be able to respect times when we lost that curiosity, when we didn’t feel like doing something.
MISSY: And I was going to add, or if they had lost an interest in something to not be too deeply into it, like it’s almost some psychological crisis!
PAM: Yeah, yeah!
MISSY: Like, I’m just not interested right now!
PAM: It’s the bigger picture, right? Nothing in the moment is really a big deal. It’s like a choice right now so we’ll see where that takes us, we’ll see where that goes. Whether its moving toward or moving away from something, a choice in the moment is not the be all and end all of anything right? It’s not anything final. It’s just another piece of the puzzle.
PAM: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me Missy, I had such a good time. I so appreciate it, thank you.
MISSY: I appreciate it too, thank you for asking me. I’ve enjoyed your podcast for so long, so I feel honoured to be asked.
PAM: Oh, thank you so much. And before we go, where’s the best place for people to connect with you online?
MISSY: Well I have a Facebook page by the name Let ‘Em Go Barefoot. I also have Instagram. And then I have a blog by the same name as well. Instagram has been the newest addition and it’s been so much fun. There are tons of unschooling, self-directed families that are on Instagram so that has been a neat avenue to explore recently.
PAM: Oh, I know, I love scrolling through because it’s always little snapshots of what everybody’s up to. I love it.
MISSY: Definitely. It’s a good one.
PAM: Yeah. I will have links to all those things in the show notes for everybody and thank you so much Missy – have a great day.
MISSY: Thanks, you too. Bye.