PAM: Welcome I am Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I am here with Tracy Talavera and Erika Ellis. Hi, guys!
TRACY: Hi, Pam Laricchia.
PAM: Tracy and Erika host an unschooling book club and I have had a lot of fun connecting with their group through doing a couple of book chats with them over the last year or so. I was thrilled when they agreed to join me and share a bit about their experience with that. To get us started …
Can you each share with us a bit about you and your family?
PAM: How about you go first, Tracy.
TRACY: I am Tracy Talavera and when I was twenty-eight I went to live in Madrid, Spain for about a year. During that time, I met my husband Enrique. We married five months after meeting and it has been sixteen years. He is a true-blue family man and I cry a lot. I am just letting you know I am the crier in the book club so. I have learned so much about relationships and family through my relationship with him.
We lived in LA for a while, we lived in New York City and then we settled back in my home town of Miami, Florida because we wanted to start having babies. We have a ten-year-old daughter that is very loving, affectionate an empathetic person that loves to eat cookies. Our six-year-old is so funny and saucy. When I was practicing reading this and she heard me in the other room and I hear her “that’s right, I’m saucy,” and knows exactly what she wants and asks for it.
We now live in the outskirts of Miami in a town called Homestead with our three stinky dogs Maria, Fino and Esa. We spend our days either at home exploring our interests and play, YouTube movies, audio books, podcasts. We also like to visit family or hang out with our friends at parks and museums or we try to find interesting places to go explore with our friends.
This past year we got an RV so there has been a lot of learning for all of us, for my husband, for me, for the girls. We are hoping to have little weekend getaways once a month or once every two months. That is our new adventure that we are doing.
PAM: Oh wow, that does sound exciting. Fun to explore just a little bit further afield.
PAM: So how about you Erika?
ERIKA: I am Erika Ellis and I am also from Miami originally. I went to school in Boston for college which I got a science degree. I am interested in everything. I feel like I heard Anna Brown mention that she is a scanner. I consider myself a scanner. I am interested in literally everything so in school I studied science but I also studied art and music and I was an English minor.
After my science degree I went to film school and that was where I met my husband. We moved out to LA for a while and were working in the film business. But that is not a business that is very conducive to raising a family. We both made the decision to step away and to start teaching. He started teaching at the college level, film production and I started teaching high school science. Which I did for a total of two years because it was a very difficult job that I did not enjoy almost at all. I felt like what I was supposed to be giving the children was exactly what they did not need at this moment. They were just becoming teenagers and they had a lot going on personally and it just felt of course they do not want to be here they have so many other things to be working on. At the time, I called it an impossible job and I agree with that still to this day. When I was pregnant with my son I planned on leaving at the end of that school year and I did.
My son is now nine and a half and my daughter is seven and a half. So ever since then I have organized some mom groups, homeschool groups. I have taught mommy and me music classes. Mostly just hung out with my kids.
PAM: Sweet, that sounds lovely. That is quite the journey. I love hearing all the little pieces that wove beforehand to get to where you are, that is really interesting.
Let’s take the next step and look at how you discovered unschooling and what your family’s move to unschooling looked like.
PAM: Do you want to start this time, Erika?
ERIKA: Sure. I was really in to school as a kid. I was a student who understood the system, I was good in the system, I never questioned it. I questioned it when I became a teacher somewhat, of course. I never envisioned myself as someone who would not be putting their children into school.
But then my son when he was about two maybe, was when people started talking about preschool and thinking about those things. And I looked at who he was and how he was and I could not see it happen. His personality is he does not like expectations placed on him. If he knows you want him to do something that is reason enough to not do it. So that combined with praise is kind of meaningless to him—prizes are meaningless to him. If there was a group of children engaged in an activity all together doing the same thing, he would go somewhere else and do something else.
I was like, school is like everything that he does not like is what he would be expected to do in school. I just could not see it happening without some fighting. You know like some people looking at him and saying, “You are not doing this right.” But I thought he was great, so I just could not do it. I could not put him in that situation where I would be hearing, “He needs to change,” or “He needs to do this differently.” I knew that I did not want to send him but I did not really know what would happen instead.
I think I initially found project-based homeschooling as an idea. And thought that sounded pretty good because that would be following his interests. I kind of dove into that for a while I did not every really do anything to him or with him. It was just more in my own mind, like imagining what could be.
From there, I remember somebody was mentioning “now some people who are project-based homeschooling combine it with a curriculum and some are unschoolers.” I was like okay, the curriculum will not work so, what is the unschooling version? I was looking back through my emails and I saw that I had joined ‘Always Learning’ Yahoo group when he was four. So about when he was four I found that and then they mentioned your ‘Exploring Unschooling’ email series in that so I joined that and had my husband join that.
It is just from those early moments just like a lot of mind-blowing researching, reading and reading all of John Holt’s books, John Taylor Gatto, Alfie Kohn, and I read Deschooling Society and just got really deep into questioning everything and was completely blown away.
Actually, really envious of all the kids who had been complaining about school back when I was in school. Because I was not smart enough to see what they saw back then. I was just like accepting it all. It was kind of funny to then at that point be like, “Oh, they were right” and I was just kind of doing it for no good reason.
It took a lot longer to get the parenting aspects and I am still, I still consider myself really in the deschooling process at this point with a nine-year-old and a seven-year-old because things come up all the time where it is like, I have to stop all of that.
I mean I went to school for so long. I went to school and then college and then grad school and then school to become a teacher. There is a lot of layers of having to question myself but thankfully most of that happens inside my head where no one else is really knowing that that is even going on and my kids are just playing. It has been great.
PAM: I recognize that because so much of it is our own journey and our own work, right?
TRACY: And does deschooling really end, Pam? Because it is like, I feel like okay I am comfortable with parenting a four-year-old but I have never parented a ten-year-old and I have never parented a six-year-old that you know wants to have a YouTube channel and it is like you are constantly being faced with things that you are uncomfortable with.
We talk in book club, like we really have to get comfortable with deschooling because it is something that you are kind of like you do often and one of the other members of our book club, Michelle, she is about transitions and it is like a never-ending transition. We are always in transition.
ERIKA: That is what it was, we said transitions are hard and transitions are just all constantly.
TRACY: Vicky Bennison she was one of your recent, she has this perfect poem about transitions and I was like sending it to all of them. Like, “Look! It’s true! We are not the only ones!” We are constantly in transition because, when you think, “I got this,” no you don’t. There is something else that you are uncomfortable with that you have to revisit. Let us deschool this little piece.
PAM: Yes, it is so true. At the beginning when we talk about the deschooling phase, whether it takes a year or two or whatever, but you are right. That is the bulk of it, all that stuff through school. It is like figuring how learning does not need to look like school. It is figuring out those pieces.
You’re right, there is always going to be pockets, always going to be new things that come up because we are learning and growing and life moves forward. Like you said, our kids get older and now all of a sudden it is like “oh, I have never really thought of this” I am coming up against this new issue because it just was not something that occurred to me to question before, to even think about and wonder what I would do.
That is one of the reasons I really enjoyed reading the unschooling groups over the years was because people would be asking questions and they would have kids older than mine or some question about something that my kids just had not come across, had not wanted to do or whatever, so I could kind of hypothetically think about those situations so that I was a little bit more prepared if it came up for us.
But yes, again, there is still something different between, you know reading about it and thinking about it and it actually happening. Yes, you’re right—I mean, my kids are older now they are not unschooling per se but they still always, something comes up, something interesting and you think “hmm” I am actually going to have to think through that because I have never really considered it before.
Okay…so Tracy, your family’s move to unschooling?
TRACY: Very similar to some of the families that you have had on the podcast. We embraced the attachment parenting with our babies, but I had never heard about unschooling. This friend of mine started writing to me about it and I was like, “What? Is this for real?” Like, people.
I originally started researching it so I could debate with her about it. It is not that I was really conventional, I was not following a conventional way of child-rearing but it was just so different from anything I had ever heard. When I started reading and reading and going into Sandra Dodd’s website and Joyce Fetteroll and reading the threads on the Facebook group. I was like, this little window in my brain opened and all this light came in. This is for real. There are families that are living like this. It was so exciting.
I am not a meditative reader, I gobble, I gorge. Like everything I am reading I am oh and then this, and you have like a stack of books and it was just SO exciting. At the same time, I was researching the homeschooling community in South Florida and what was out there. I found that exciting too because I saw all the choices that there were. I would tell my mom, “I don’t know why people do all the same thing. There are so many different paths that you could take when you are thinking about the education of your child.”
I went to every homeschooling 101, Q&A’s on Classical Conversations, Charlotte Mason—this was my journey. I was not dragging the girls through all of this. At home we were playing, we were attachment parenting, and I was deschooling and reading and learning. All these different things that I was researching was my stuff.
Then when our eldest turned five, my husband was not sold on the homeschooling. He was nervous about it and when she turned five he said, “Can we just try school?” I didn’t want to try it but I knew that I wanted it to be a family decision. I knew that if I was pulling one way and he was pulling another it was not going to work. We started late, it was like September. We put her into an inclusion program. It was a small private school.
Five months later he took her out. He came home and he said (in Spanish) “She is not going back to school tomorrow.” I was like YES! He saw it himself and it was not because he is attached to school because he is the first one to say he had a really tough experience his whole time in school. But he just could not see anything else. But when he saw her change, because, she never cried, but he saw the shine in her eyes kind of like go. He himself made that decision. And it was great because we go on board, we got together on it and that is always a really good feeling.
It has been five years and there are still things that she is dragging with her from those five little months, little things that still pop up that are still stuff, we still have not found a way to help her. Other than just living life.
You know what it is, Pam. So that is how it came a point, once all the research that I had to pick a path and the unchoooling one was the one that just excited me so much. It just fit our life, it fit my daughter because all these things that Erika said perfectly about, not wanting your children to feel like there is something wrong with them or that was very powerful and I completely was there with her. So yes, that is how. And then, once you are like, “Okay, I am going to do this” you want to talk about it all the time. After you hear all these, Amy Child’s podcasts you gobble up everything you can read, you listen to Pam Laricchia every week with the podcast, then you want talk like with people about it.
ERIKA: And here we are.
PAM: And here we are. That leads so beautifully into the next question. doesn’t it?
I would love if you guys could give me an overview of your book club and an idea of the flow of a typical meeting.
PAM: Did you want to start with that Tracy?
TRACY: Me? Sure.
PAM: Your opportunity to get together with people and talk about this stuff.
TRACY: My philosophy or when I envision, and I still, when I envision our book club, I think of that beautiful thing that Joyce Fetteroll wrote about the balloon analogy and that is book club. We are all in this circle and some of us have gotten really comfortable with letting go of some balloons but we still have the ones that we are not ready to. They are all different. We kind of like inspire each other.
Because even though it is very exciting, the beginning of unschooling when you discover it, it can feel a little lonely even though there is so many places you can get in touch with people and there are mentors at your fingertips now because of technology. I felt a little lonely. Reaching out to Erika to see if we could do this together was a lot of help, it was very helpful.
When we originally started the book club we wanted a book that was not scary for somebody that was curious. We were opening it to a Facebook group that we have here, a local one. But we also wanted a book that was challenging for those people that had been deschooling for a while. So that is how we got to Pam Laricchia because your style of writing is very empathetic but you don’t tip toe around the topic. So it was a really good place to start.
ERIKA: We started with Free to Learn. It is a good place to start for people who have no idea about unschooling and are just curious. But it is one of those where each chapter that we went to, gave us so much even for those of us who had been trying to do this for a few years, it still gave us a lot to confront within ourselves.
I forget, I feel like we say something like it is simple to read, it is not intimidating but…
TRACY: It is clear…
ERIKA: …it will still be mind-blowing. You still get the big a-ha moments. It also a good one because it is quick to read.
One book club session would be about one chapter, then it would bring up so many personal stories that we would end up having way too much to talk about at each meeting to where we could just go on and on just based on the one idea.
TRACY: We do one chapter a month, we meet once a month and we do one chapter. We all come if we have read. Because if we haven’t been able to read that month, that is fine too. Come anyways because, you know, you are going to have something to share and we are going to have something to share too. We just pretty much go page by page, sharing, “Oh, I like this quote” I love it and then when we share a quote it just opens up a path of either a personal experience or I even like, “I find this really challenging, I don’t understand it.” So, that is kind of like the system that we use. We pretty much go page by page so that even if one of our members hasn’t been able to read it that day, they still can…
ERIKA: It is like they are reading it…
TRACY: They are reading it and they are participating in it. The book is like a platform to dive deeper and deeper.
ERIKA: For things to pop up.
When we first started the book club we just were meeting at each other’s houses kind of taking turns. Then that actually helped us get to know each other quicker I think, to get into each other’s houses. One month we went to our friend Michelle’s house and she had a club room at her building. Once we went there, we were like, “Alright, this is it now. This is where book club lives.” Because no one has to clean up their living room, you know. It is just a nice big place.
TRACY: Super nice.
ERIKA: Plenty of comfy seating and yes it makes it easy for us. Since then, since we found that, that has been our spot.
We usually meet for at least four hours and usually we start at 8pm usually to give our husbands a chance to have dinner, be done, let them have an easier night with the kids and then so we start at 8pm and I have gotten home 2am maybe later than 2am sometimes. The time just flies by.
TRACY: At midnight we have to be out of the club room…
ERIKA: Then we move on to book club in the parking garage…
TRACY: After hours book club.
ERIKA: Or in the hall. We just can’t stop because yes, we get on a roll and it is too fun.
PAM: Well it is. The conversation is fascinating, isn’t it? It is so interesting—just unschooling itself. Hence why I have so many podcast episodes because it is fascinating to talk about other people’s experience, getting other people’s perspective on things!
It’s so nice when somebody is like kind of looking through the same lens as you, right? You know you are not going to be getting all the conventional advice to a situation or conventional feedback. You know, the answer is, “Well, you should put them in school.” You don’t have to worry about that, so you can kind of just help each other out brainstorming things.
Plus, most people do not have the expectation that you will do what they say. They are just sharing perspectives and sharing information, it just such a fun way to have a conversation.
TRACY: We have a lot of brainstorming sessions. Like, it probably took a year for everybody to kind of start opening up and arriving with questions. Or, like, “I experienced this and I don’t know what to do.” I find it fun looking at something and seeing the other side of it. What is the you know, maybe they “oh” and like maybe one of the mom’s in the book club has more of a personality that is like your child and they give you this other side that you are like “oh my God this is not such a bid deal.” That helps a lot.
ERIKA: I had a story where I felt like things I was so connected with my son and like having this wonderful moment then out of nowhere he was like, “I hate you.” I was like, “What is that and why would that happen?” So, I talked about that in book club and one of the mom’s was like, “Oh, I would have said that to my mom too, I am just really uncomfortable with when things get too much lovey, dovey. You know too close I have to do something to put some separation again.”
And I was like, all right it is just his personality that was too, he got that feeling a little bit too much and he needed to do something about it. Just hearing that that was someone’s experience that helped so much in that moment.
TRACY: Very helpful.
PAM: Yes, that is wonderful. Now you guys were talking about how it took, has taken like a year or so of meeting (you guys are meeting once a month) to get to a comfortable place and I remember when we were talking earlier you guys mentioned having ice breakers at the beginning of your meeting. I loved that. I think it helps facilitate a little bit that getting to know each other. I wanted to dive into that a bit more.
I wanted to hear about what your experience has been with that and if you might share some ice breaker examples that could help people kind of get those brainstorming juices flowing.
TRACY: Yes, it was a really great tool for us to get to know each other and kind of get everybody comfortable with sharing so much of yourself. This is not a book club about a fiction book. You are talking about you and your life and your family and everything that matters to you.
We would start with ice breakers and here is a couple of them I found in my notes. It would be things like, “Name three favorite personality traits of each of your children.” Or, “What things that your children love, their passion?” so on top of the fact of getting to know each other, we were getting to know each other’s children. One of my favorites was “What personality traits have your children cultivated in you?” and most of the time I would go first because I had had the longest time to think about the question, so it was only fair.
For example, my eldest daughter softened my heart, helps me with patience and playfulness. My younger daughter has taken my curiosity to whole new level, pushing me out of my comfort zone, learning about technology and online gaming and make up. Also, because we are a lot alike I get to see some of my personality traits in her that for so long I thought were negative because for me they felt like a burden but seeing those personality traits in her they looked just like so awesome! I started thinking, “I’m like that” you know that is cool about me. Those are like little examples.
ERIKA: I really liked one of the first ones she asked us, “What we are interested in and what we have been learning without school?” Everyone got so excited about that question. It was just like, “I never get to talk about the things that I am interested in!” It was kind of like each person would say I am interested in what all of they said and also…and we were like “oh yes, that too.” It really, everyone was, it really livened up the whole thing and got everyone talking. I loved that question too.
TRACY: It was really fun. Nowadays, after almost two years we don’t need much to open up. Like we come in already like guys this happened can we brainstorm about this?
ERIKA: Yes, before we start the book? Could we please just address my issues? That is how it is. Which is awesome.
PAM: I love the way those questions they were focusing on positive stuff but they were focusing and it wasn’t even unschooling like per se but it is all stuff that helps people get closer to unschooling. Like looking at the personalities, seeing the positive aspects of it. Even noticing our own interests, you know all that stuff are great questions that we want to ask ourselves as we are considering unschooling but to keep asking ourselves, right, to stay on top of. I thought those were amazing examples. Let’s move to the next question.
How do you choose a book?
TRACY: Erika has a good response to that.
PAM: Erika, how do you choose a book?
ERIKA: So far, the way we choose a book is we just go right in order of what did Pam write next. (laughter)
ERIKA: And then we’ll do that one. In all honesty that is basically what we have done. But it is because that first book is such a good starting place so we started with that. Then Free to Live.
TRACY: Just made sense.
ERIKA: Then, The Unschooling Journey came out while we were doing our book club and we all got the book.
TRACY: We all had it like this.
ERIKA: This beautiful thing and we were like well should we move to someone else and we were like “not yet.”
TRACY: The book is just beautiful, we need to do this.
ERIKA: Then we could do coloring in book club too. And that is what we are doing now so. We are on The Unschooling Journey. We actually don’t know what the process will be like to pick a book outside of the Pam Laricchia library.
TRACY: Yes. I said okay ladies we will do a Pam trilogy and then we will find another book.
ERIKA: So far that is it.
PAM: So far. Okay, that is very cool. Thank you.
TRACY: I mean we have always, I mean like at the beginning we had, we took into consideration the different levels. Like if somebody had just was just starting, or somebody had been deschooling for a while and we took that into consideration and that was one of the things.
ERIKA: It really just has flowed without much consideration from that point. Because it just made sense to do that one.
TRACY: One of the things that I enjoy doing when facilitating the book club is I find all, I mean there is so many wonderful writers and mentors that we have and I will bring a little clip from a podcast or a quote from another writer that has to do with the subject or the topic and a way to bring other voices. Because sometimes you know people have different voices that help them understand the process better so I try to incorporate sometimes a little video or…
ERIKA: We bring quotes, like those little memes quote things and stuff.
PAM: Yes, to tie it in with the topic so that is kind of what you guys do as the facilitators, right?
Because you know what the next chapter is going to be so you think a little bit ahead and find some other stuff that connects with it. That widens the conversation. Yes, brilliant.
Okay so, now you said you guys are coming up on two years now and you started by inviting people from a local Facebook group that you guys had.
I know that when you think about starting one you might want to keep your, you might be thinking about open membership you know just putting out a call if there is anybody in the area who might be interested. Or, maybe you already know some local people and you might just go invite only, people that you know are you interested in participating. I think that those are two distinctive different ways to go. They even might change over time maybe as your book club grows because you might start to hit a number where your four-hour meetings become six if everybody wants that opportunity. I was just wondering if you could talk a bit about kind of maybe the pros and cons of those two ways to go about it.
ERIKA: Well I think we both have a feeling of wanting this for everyone. So it is hard to want to close it because I want everyone to have this opportunity. I want everyone to learn about unschooling. When we started it, it was just part of our local unschoolers local Facebook group and Tracy posted that we were going to have a book club anyone could come and it stayed like that for the first two books. So like a year and a half. We did it like that where anyone could come, still, most of the time the same people would come. But then we would have every once in-a-while someone else would show up and contribute and ask questions and things.
TRACY: Yes, we liked when we would have like special guest that would come to check it out. But a lot of the times when we entered the second book, they had all these questions and they were excited and curious and so a lot of the time the book club became about answering the questions. Which was great for us because it is practice for us. Because you know you start really understanding something when you are able to explain it to somebody else. So those moments I enjoyed them because I like talking to people and having somebody new and being able to you know explain something that I am passionate about and start having the vocabulary for it.
But eventually we closed it, not because of the size but because of the depth. Like we started getting really deep into the conversations and sharing a lot of intimate stuff and challenges that we have personally. There are different kinds of personalities. I might be a person that feels comfortable sharing something deep in a month but there are personalities that might need three or four months to start opening up. Then finally this person is ready to reach out and then there is a new person there that.
PAM: Yes, it changes the dynamic.
TRACY: It changes the dynamic. When we decided we were going to do The Unschooling Journey we said you know, Erika suggested and we all agreed. But then we were like we have a Facebook group of people, we want to still have this available to them. So Erika had this great idea and she started a virtual book club through our unschooling Facebook group. That is, ‘What is Unschooling?’ It is something new. It is the first time we have done it.
ERIKA: We have done it once.
TRACY: We have gone through round and you know we are learning about it. I think at first, I was like because I love so much the people part with them but it was really great. She did a great job organizing it and very open to people talking. It was very comfortable.
ERIKA: It is hard to get.
I think that forming a book club group is challenging. I think it would take people patience and time to get a group that works together. I think that the virtual one is hard because people are coming from so many different levels and some people are ready to fight about it and some people are already unschooling. You know it is hard to balance all of that and I think we were lucky in a certain way that the people who kept coming back to our book club were kind of all on a similar part of the path. Where we all had, we were committed.
TRACY: We wanted it. I think that is what it is. We wanted it.
ERIKA: We all wanted to learn and grow and we wanted to be unschoolers and good unschoolers. That was important to have the book club be successful, I think. I think there is a big place for a book club that could invite people who are still in that very skeptical position too, though.
I want personally to be part of that because I want to help people to be able to get into this lifestyle. But it is hard. I don’t think personally that I have enough time to like have all of these in person book clubs that I want to have. But…I don’t know. We are trying to figure out how we can do both. How we can have this group that is fully committed and deep into our journey and then also still be able to support newer unschoolers.
TRACY: We say that it is closed but, it is not that it is closed like if somebody really wants to dive in we would gladly have them. It is just that it got to a point that it couldn’t be about starting to square one. Like going back to the beginning. Which that is what I like about the virtual because you know you practice the answers.
ERIKA: It was getting people to think, which was the whole point of it. It is just hard to engage at the same level on-line that you can do in person.
PAM: Yes, no because that is when it is the most helpful, when you meet them where they are. If you dive too deep for them it just won’t make sense. It won’t connect to their experience where they are right now. So yes, I can see what the need to keep them as different things because you are meeting people at such very different levels, right?
TRACY: Yes, so like if you are visiting the group it (what is that word where something is like, like it feels like it is an insider thing?) it is like esoteric.
ERIKA: Like it is not practical.
TRACY: Yes, like if we have been together for so long that sometimes we have conversations that sound like maybe to somebody else or like what are they talking, what are they saying? I didn’t ever want anyone to feel like “I have arrived” type of thing because it is not. It is a journey; the journey is the perfect analogy for it. But you start understanding things in a different way.
Like the Sandra Dodd thing that she says about the postcard, that if you go back to the postcard you start seeing the colors like when you first looked at it, it was in black and white but when you revisit that you start seeing all the colors. That is what happens.
ERIKA: Yes, if someone comes into the book club who has not considered not using a curriculum before and all of our questions are about relationships and you know like really more intense personal things, it is just…it is such…we are not on the same conversation.
PAM: Yes. We talk about that so much because in the beginning it is all about replacing the learning. Because that is what we see unschooling as. It is all about the learning, figuring out how are they learning if they are not using a curriculum, etc. So that is the level that you are on.
Once you start to see the learning everywhere and you understand that learning is always happening and what you can do to best facilitate the learning is have those rich strong connected relationships and then all the conversations are about the relationships, right?
PAM: That is awesome. I think you guys have touched on this but I did want to ask.
Could you talk a little bit about what you personally have gotten out of being part of the book club?
TRACY: I really wanted this unschooling life. But I was feeling very lonely through the personal work that comes with unschooling. But, at that moment, I didn’t know that the personal work is part of unschooling. It IS the unschooling. For a while there, I thought I might just be too jerky of a person to be a good unschooler. Or, ‘Am I ever going to overcome myself and my personality and my selfishness to unschool right?’ Having the book club really helped me charge my battery. It’s like, you have to walk your talk. When you have a circle like this, they keep you honest.
What it has brought to me is pretty much, I have been in these moments where I am feeling overwhelmed, whatever the situation is. We always talk about not to be reactive, take a breath, like all the things that our mentors advise us to do.
I have this group of ladies that I can write them a message and say I am in Toys’R’Us, I am about to lose it cause my daughter wants to spend 75 dollars on a Hatchimal. Please give me a different perspective. Through the breathing, I have these ladies that are like they are always going to stand up for my daughters—they are going to remind me of their perspective. They are going to remind me there is learning in that. It is a really great support in a good way. The good support. The one that keeps you accountable—the accountable support.
PAM: I love that.
TRACY: The support that does not leave you in the same place but helps you get closer to what you want. Which is relationship with your children and not just with your children but your spouse, your parents with your friends. It is the good kind of support. The support that says I understand, I have been there—but what about this? And so you are not stuck.
PAM: Because in those moments, when you are feeling stuck, you are so much in that tunnel vision you can’t see all the, and to be able to reach out and help, have some people who can just quickly remind you of the bigger picture. Those other pieces when you are stuck like this. That is amazing. Yes, that is wonderful.
ERIKA: Related to that, I feel like one of the great things is because these other moms know so much about the challenges that I have, the challenges that my kids have, and then also like the things that we are looking forward to, they just have so much back story. When we hang out together, when our kids are doing things, they understand my excitement or my frustration or whatever it is at such a higher level.
There was one time where for many years my son was really afraid of amusement park rides. He couldn’t see if my daughter wanted to go on one he would sit and cry knowing that she was on it. He was very anxious about it. So it was something that we didn’t, there was never any pressure and we supported him through feeling upset about it. But then he got to a point when he matured and wanted to go on a merry-go-round and so we went on the carousel. So I took a picture and posted it on Facebook and to most people it would be like “Yeah, kids on a carousel that is what they like to do.” But of course the book club moms are like, “Oh my gosh, he did it!” They were so excited because they knew how much had come before that and knew about the growth. It felt so good to have that. Someone really knowing.
PAM: Everybody being seen, right? I mean it feels good both ways. To be seen and have your family be seen but also to see others and to understand them to that depth. That is beautiful, I love that guys. Sounds like you have got a wonderful group.
TRACY: I know.
ERIKA: We will give shout outs to all of them.
PAM: Okay, so I just want to take one step back into your unschooling lives again and I just thought I would touch base and ask …
What is something that you loving about just the flow of your unschooling lives right now?
ERIKA: Well my initial thought is time. I feel like people, I mean everywhere I am sure but, Miami seems to take it to a whole new level of this intensity of you have to do all these things. There is never enough time to do what you want to do. You have to rush the kids to all these activities starting when they are two. You have to be in all these classes and you know just a very intense version of time.
Then I was thinking about how when I was a child how slowly time seemed to go. We were always counting down the days until when something good would happen. Or counting the minutes until the school day would end. I loved school and I still did that, you know. It still felt like oh, five more minutes, oh.
My kids have a completely different view of time. They feel like time goes fast. They are always like, “It is night time already?” and “I feel like it was just Christmas and here we are again.” You know, things like that. Their time flies by because they are having fun, I guess. Our lives are, it has a more relaxed, open feeling where we can let things last as long as we want them to. We schedule play dates that are open ended. Any time we go to the park it is open ended we take long vacations rather than trying to cram in things quickly. It is just a different life that what most people are used to and I feel like it gives us a greater chance to connect with ourselves and with each other. I just love that feeling of our life, that we are not in a rush.
PAM: I love that.
TRACY: That is a good one Erika. I have a couple.
TRACY: My first one was the choices. All the choices that we have. I know that there was a time in my life where I didn’t feel like I had a lot of choices. It was either this or that. I know it but I don’t remember them, this is one little piece of that I have embraced and I understand and it is the idea that we have SO many choices. So many choices that everybody’s needs in our family can be met and we can have a good time and sometimes some of us have to wait a little bit or but at the end it is just like a lot of choices, a lot of choices.
Then when we were talking about the question, she goes everybody says the good one is relationships. I am like yes like
ERIKA: Yes, that is the right answer.
TRACY: Yes that is the right answer, I have relationships but it is not in that way because honestly right now the stage that we are, sometimes I don’t feel like I have a good relationship with my daughters. Just because we argue.
ERIKA: It is a transition.
TRACY: Yes, we are transitioning. We are trying to find different ways to get everybody’s needs met. There are debates, there is arguments, so you automatically think, ‘Oh, because you argue you don’t have a good relationship.’ That is one of the steps I am taking. No, not necessarily, you know.
Just because you choose unschooling doesn’t mean that you are going to stop being human or your child is going to stop being human. You are going to be human and you are going to have disagreements. Especially when they start saying “Yeah, that sounds good but I am going to do what I want to do.”
You know, like before when they are little you are like come on let’s do this and they are like sure and they come and then one day they realize they don’t have to do that. That they prefer doing something else and you are like oh, okay, this is different and this is new and how am I going do this. The point that I am trying to make is that our lives are very relationship centered. In the sense that that is what we work on a lot.
A couple of years ago my daughters started arguing a lot and I wanted to walk in and say “You are right. You are wrong. Give her that. This is done.” and it was just a lot of friction.
One day I was in the middle of rushing through uncomfortable feeling of arguing and this little voice inside said what are you doing? This is it, this is unschooling, this is the reason why you are doing this, why are you rushing through this? This is it, stop reading about it and this is your chance to practice it. When I saw that that was, that this is it, it helped me really take advantage of those times and really focus on the relationship.
Now Pam, that doesn’t mean that I have days that I am like come on girls lets wrap this up, this is, you know, it happens. But more and more I pick the slowing down, okay, the talking, more and more it is easier for me to choose that. The relationship center part has bled into everything.
Now with our family my youngest is a gamer girl, she says she is a gamer girl. She games with her friends she is six. They do Facetime and they get into arguments in Minecraft and road blocks that kids get on the playground. It is exactly like you like spend time with them and you sit with them. You are like these are the same exact arguments that they would be having if they were running around in a playground. Taking turns and you killed me and you took my sword and it becomes about the relationship of your friends. You have the time to really say well, you know, let’s see how your friend could have understood that, I don’t think he meant this and so it, I am really…it is hard, it is hard for me because I think a lot of people want to rush through the uncomfortable feelings. I don’t think I am the only one.
But taking that time and eventually I think all of this you know ten years from now when they are teenagers, I will be able to say well my favorite part of unschooling is our relationship. Because sometimes now I am like my expectations get the best of me and I tell Erika and the ladies at book club, I fed on demand, I co-sleep, I say yes, why don’t they just want to do everything I say? Why? Why? So those expectations can get you. Can really get you.
ERIKA: Why don’t they see?
TRACY: Yes, don’t they see?
ERIKA: Don’t they see what we are doing for them?
PAM: This is going to pay off.
Tracy I love that whole bit about relationships because you are right that is the thick of unschooling. Now, I mean there were so many really cool aspects in there to touch on.
First, the virtual relationships versus the on the playground that is like I love that observation. I remember that “aha moment” for myself. It was when my son as a teen was working through, so like he would come and chat with me about what was going on relationship wise online and what they were navigating. My daughter also a teen was in Girl Guides and doing stuff in town and everything and she was talking to me about the relationships and what was going on and who was doing what and who was saying what. The conversations were practically the same. They were learning the same kinds of things about managing relationships and how to walk through different kinds of situations. They were just doing it in two different environments. All that, “Sitting at home in the basement gaming, never going to learn how to get along with people…” No. They are learning the same things about relationships. Their relationships just happen to occur in different environments.
I love that observation that you are seeing that too with the younger kids. That just makes it even more solid. I love the idea talking about and sharing this isn’t like a one-time thing. When being with our kids in those moments when they are arguing or we are trying to figure out what we are going to do because I wish you would just do this with us. So often people will come and ask that question and they want an answer like, “How do I do this so that this doesn’t happen again?”
But that is not what it is either. This is how we are learning about each other. How we are figuring out how to live together. We are learning about ourselves so much because in a situation like that we need to kind of explain why we do or don’t want. I mean it is not that they are not allowed to leave the conversation until they explain themselves but they learn they figure out that being able to explain helps.
They will say, “I don’t feel like doing that but gee I would be happy to do that next week because right now I am busy with this.” So that level of that really encourages a level of self-awareness for them that they can bring to the conversation and then learning about each other. Absolutely.
I remember you know it was probably a good year when my kids first came home from school—so now they were spending a lot of time together. All three of them were in school up until, so Joseph, they were nine, seven and four and the eldest were just about to turn ten and eight when they came home. So yes, that first year was so much of my time invested in helping them and learning myself. We were all learning how to navigate these kinds of situations.
It is not, if I could just say the right thing everybody would be happy. Yes, good relationships do not equal happy people, you know what I mean? That is why I always talk about relationships and being connected, you know strong, connected, trusting because that is what you are doing in those times. You are building that connection, you are building that trust.
Trust is what you have built in that book club, right? That connection and trust that you have built over these couple of years now. So that now you can get right into those conversations, that is what you are kind of aspiring to with your children when you are going through all this stuff. Just being in relationship with each other. You are building that connection, that deep understanding of each other. You are building that trust, that people mean what they say and they are going to follow through with what they say. People are going to listen to me. I am going to be seen. I am going to be heard.
I am talking a lot! But you know, you sparked so many things in me, Tracy, because we are back to that relationship piece, right? That expectation of oh we are not getting along because we are not all agreeing at first. No, that is not a measure of a good relationship that we all want to do the same stuff at the same time. Or, that we are always happy to get along, to share whatever, whatever. That is not the point, those aren’t the goals. When we talk about the strong connected relationships that we love it is because we can work through those moments, not because we all agreed at the same time, you know, does that make sense?
TRACY: Yes, and I mean if we talk about it and we analyze it, like not from a personal sense because sometimes we get our buttons pushed but we say okay we want our children to say what they mean and stand up for themselves. We are the first place. If they feel confident enough to stand up to us. That’s it. They will be able to stand up to so many things. Or, to stand up for.
Yesterday my six-year-old, I was frustrated because I was picking up and she is so bright. She goes to me, “Right now we were just putting the horse away and you were really nice. Then all of sudden, now you are not nice anymore.
And I am like, “What do you mean?”
To me, I was just the same but she could tell and she is calling me on it and I always told her if I don’t sound right or if I am hurting you, you tell me, mamma I don’t like the way you are speaking to me. She has taken me up on it. She tells me, then it gives me the opportunity to sit down and breathe and tell her, “I am sorry, you are right I am taking it out on you.”
You know, there is our conversation. There s this beautiful meme that says something like there is something more important than perfection. That is what it is. It is not being perfect and just being together and understanding each other and it is beautiful. It is life.
PAM: I find it sometimes easier to stop when our kids call us on it. Mention it. Notice it. We get in our head when we start getting frustrated. It’s like, ‘I am going to finish this. I am going just do this.” And then we get all stuck and grumpy but we don’t give ourselves that time that space to breathe through it before we act. We just like power through.
But when they call us on it, that is like oh okay I am going to take a moment. Then we can shift more often than not. It is another level of self-awareness for us. It is like oh look how I got caught in that. Look I can still accomplish, do what I was wanting to do but come at it from a totally different mindset. All of sudden everything is working out so much better.
TRACY: Exactly, look, I want to show you something. At the end of one of our video chats that we had with you after your book, I made this. I don’t know, do you see it backwards?
PAM: No, I see it pretty good.
TRACY: It says, “The repair piece is the most important piece. Pam Laricchia.”
I drew it with a big puzzle piece because that was the piece that I was missing. I was missing that that is part of relationships. What do we do when we mess up? How do we make it better? How do we reconnect? You know what, you might have to put in a little time to win that trust again. I just, because I was their mother I didn’t think I had to do that. I did all this other stuff so they should just trust me, that is it. But it is not, it is a relationship that has to be constant.
ERIKA: It is like, “What is the alternative to that?” when you think about it. Because if I lose my cool, which I do regularly still, is that has already happened so I can either stay inside myself and feel guilty and do nothing having to do with them. Or I can try to repair it. It becomes obvious, but I think that when I think about it is hard to not immediately go to beating yourself up and be like, ‘I just should not be that way. I should not have such a quick temper. I should not have lost my cool.’ But that is all in the past, so yes. It seems obvious now but it is not at first. It is like okay, now that that is done, the repair piece is the most important.
PAM: Oh, I love that, I love that Erika. It is a great way to look at it.
It’s already done, now I am going to make my best choice now like for the person I want to be.
When you get in The Unschooling Journey to the chapter on temptation, that is the part of the journey where you realize that it is not about trying to become this perfect person who can resist all these moments and never get angry or never lose my cool or never be tempted or whatever—that is the metaphor for that chapter—but yes, it is realizing that is part the journey. That is being human. That is okay.
It is recognizing it and moving through it, that is us. That is life. That is the unschooling. It is not beating yourself up with guilt for the fact that oh crap, you know I did something that I did not want to do. You know what I mean? Because knowing that we are all human and we are choosing this journey any way. Like you were talking about everybody in your book group has chosen this is the journey that they want to take. The path that they want walk so that is so much more helpful when because you are all on that journey together versus people coming in who are still trying to decide if that is the journey they want to take. Anyway guys I want to thank you so much for joining me. I really appreciate the time and the time where we lost the call and all that stuff I really appreciate you guys sticking around.
TRACY: We really appreciate you Pam and you and all the other mentors that are out there in the unschooling community. The work you do is really meaningful for our families. Are we going to do a shout out to the book club?
ERIKA: Can we shout out?
TRACY: We want to thank Michelle and Nicole and Donese and Lis Beth and Arlene. Arlene had to move.
ERIKA: But she is still in it.
TRACY: She is still part of the book club.
PAM: I know you can think virtually into that beautiful room.
Before we go where is the best place for people to connect with you online? Maybe they have a book club question.
ERIKA: I am on Facebook. I am in a lot of the groups probably UnschoolingMom2Mom. Our Facebook group is called SouthMiamiUnschoolers and it is only for local unschoolers but if someone wanted to ask us a question through there that would be fine too.
PAM: I will put all those links in the show notes. Sound good?
TRACY: Sounds great. Thank you so much Pam, this was so exciting.
PAM: It was so fun. I really appreciate all that you guys shared. It was a really great conversation, thank you so much. Have a great day, guys!
TRACY: You too, bye.