PAM: Welcome. I am Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I am here with Alyssa Patterson. Hi, Alyssa.
ALYSSA: Hi. How are you?
PAM: Me? I am really good. This happens to be Mother’s Day on the day we are recording, so happy Mother’s Day.
ALYSSA: I know. Thank you, you too. My four-year-old is outside in the hot tub with his grandpa.
PAM: Oh sweet, that is lovely. What is your temperature like there?
ALYSSA: I want to say, today, it is kind of cold; I think it is like 69.
PAM: Ah, yeah, we are pretty cold here too. It is like the latest spring we have had in a few years.
ALYSSA: Yeah, and especially in the South, if it’s below 75, everyone has a parka on.
PAM: Haha, parka.
ALYSSA: Everyone is cold.
PAM: We are just about 0 and people are running around in shorts.
ALYSSA: Yeah, that is very different worlds. It starts to rain a little bit and everyone freaks out.
PAM: Exactly, I bet. We are just happily getting out of our snow tires at this point.
Now, if Alyssa’s name seems familiar to you, it could be because Alyssa’s mom, Sue Patterson has been on the podcast a few times, and I am so happy that Alyssa agreed to join me and chat about her experience growing up unschooling. Because I love to get all the different perspectives. To get us started:
Can you share with us a bit about you and your family? Just to give everybody a starting place in case maybe they have not heard before.
ALYSSA: Okay, so I am the youngest of three; there are three of us. There is Michael, Katy, and then me. My sister is in LA and then my brother lives in Dallas with his wife and Katy is with her husband. We were military, so we moved about every two and half to three years, from Texas, all the way to Alaska. So, we are kind of from all over the place, which was perfect for unschooling, just because there was no point in being in school and moving every two years.
Other than that, I have a four-year-old son named Jackson, which my mom posts a million pictures of him, so everyone has seen him, he is super famous. So yeah, that is really kind of all of us in a nutshell. My brother works for Boy Scouts, he was in the Peace Corps. I am a hairdresser and then my sister does acting. We are very different, so I am sure you will see them. I am sure they will end up on the podcast at one point. And we are just all three very different individuals.
PAM: Yeah, that is something that is really interesting. I mean, same with my kids; they have taken very different paths. And that is what is so cool; seeing how those paths really fit with the individual, when they can choose the way that they are going.
So actually, that leads very nicely into the next question.
What were some of your interests were growing up and how you perused those?
ALYSSA: So when I was really young I wanted to be a vet. Like, hands down. And one thing about my mom, which if you know her, it is spot on, and my dad too, once you say that you are interested in something, they literally dive in 100% or over, above and beyond.
So, I will never forget one day, we were in California, and I told my dad, I said, “I really want to live on a ranch and have all these animals.” And then it was time to move, and they said, “Okay, we are going to go live on a ranch and go have a whole bunch of animals.” And so we literally bought a 17-acre ranch and had horses and cows and ducks and goats, and dogs and cats, and all these things. And then when I was really young, I wanted an animal birthday party, so we invited all of these people and they all got to bring their animals and do a show and tell about their animals and so there was lots of stuff like that.
And then as I got older, I started getting into my Avril Lavigne phase, where I was starting to play with my makeup a little too heavy, and my mom, again, was at a farmers’ market, and she met a lady that did mineral makeup and she made the makeup herself. And she was talking about how she really probably needed someone. At this time, I think I was 13-14, and so I did a makeup internship with her. And so, at 14, I was running 1000-dollar little shop where I just made makeup all day. I went to photo shoots and fashion shows in Austin. It was always baffling to people to see a 14-year-old running a fashion show.
So, it is just like little things like that, and so that kind of shifted into my career. Which is was so funny to everyone that I was this huge tomboy, and I literally was putting horseshoes on, and all of a sudden, I am putting on eyeliner. So that was a cool, complete little flip, but it is really cool because now I am very versatile so I can kind of do whatever now.
PAM: Oh wow, that is really interesting. Do you remember that kind of shift; like maybe what sparked it?
ALYSSA: Yes, so what sparked it, was literally from being four is probably the earliest I can remember, I was going to be a vet. Four to…and we moved when I was 13. So what happened was, we had this horse, and I will never forget this, we had something wrong with the horse and when you have big animals, there are these special vets that come to your house, because you cannot obviously take them, and they had to do something to him and I was literally going to pass out.
I was like, “I can’t even do this,” and then I could not deal with putting animals to sleep, and all of the things that actually came with it. I was like, “I just want to play with them,” but I think that was a huge shift in it, and then I feel like also culturally, the music I was listening to and stuff like that; everything really started to shift. Avril Lavigne took a really big roll in a lot of stuff and so more girl-power stuff played in, so more girly stuff kind of started taking over at that time.
PAM: Ah, yeah, that is fascinating.
And I love how, you know, you said you had that experience with the horse and the animals and you realized how much more is involved in that kind of career path and how cool that you could have that experience, by diving in and getting involved rather than saying no, you have to wait until you are older, then you can do all the schooling to become a vet, to then finally realize then when you were hands on with animals that maybe it was not the right choice.
ALYSSA: Right. And I mean, we did all kinds of stuff, like my dad when we were in the military, you know, you meet tons of people, and so he met a guy that had cows and so we did a whole trade; I would give him a total country, “I will give you my first born child if you give me this.” It was great, I did everything from washing my horses to helping with birthing calves that were having problems. I have literally done everything, which is crazy, because I feel like I have got a vet degree, but I don’t.
PAM: Yeah, that is awesome. I loved hearing about that. Now, I understand that you chose to go to high school for a year and a half or so as well in your teen years.
I would love to hear how that chapter of your story unfolded. How the decision to go to high school for a bit came about and what the experience was like for you.
ALYSSA: So, how it came about is, it actually started with an argument with my mom and we were arguing about something, and I said, “I am just not smart enough; I am not smart.” I was a very late reader, I probably did not read, really strong reading until probably 10 or 11, honestly. So I just was like, “I am not smart; I am not good at math, I do not know my times tables by heart, I do not know this by heart. I am just not smart,” and my mom was, “Nope, not going to happen,” so she, literally that afternoon, called the high school that we are in district with and she said, “So, we unschool and my daughter is going to come to your high school for a little bit and we are going to do it this way,” and so I went to summer school first.
In a lot of TV shows, you see people in the hallway and you have all of your friends, and you are chitchatting, but you really you only have three minutes in between classes and if your class is in A hall and you have to get to F hall, like it takes you three minutes to get there. So you do not have time. So, the idea of it was way more glamourized, I feel like, especially in movies and stuff like that, so I think I was kind of like, “Oh, it will not be that bad. It will be great.”
I was a big dancer too, and I was like, “I want to be on the drill team,” so I got on the drill team and everything like that, but I did summer school first and then went straight into school. But one thing that was really interesting is that I was never trapped there, so if I ever wanted to go home, I would text my mom and say, “Okay, I am done today, I cannot do it anymore,” because it was very different from me being there voluntarily vs the kids that are forced to be there.
And then it was also interesting because I grew up super unschooled, and so, it was very interesting and kind of difficult too that teachers were very skeptical of me, because I was very open and I am very confident in talking to adults, I am not intimidated by it, it’s just another human being to me. Literally, I was 15 and I could have a political conversation with you, it is fine.
And so, they just did not really know what to do with that. I will never forget, I left my homework at home, and I told him, I said, “I actually left it at home,” and he was like, “Oh, did you?” and I was like, “Yes,” I do not understand. And so that was kind of difficult to deal with, and so that is when it started going downhill.
Then it was just lots of ups and downs about that kind of stuff and then the friend stuff was definitely harder. Lots of cliques, especially girls, girls are not nice sometimes. I definitely went through my fair share of bullying, and how to deal with that. Because it was just very different from the unschooled world, and I am not saying that the unschooled world does not have that too, because we definitely do, but it is very different. When I started going to high school, that is when social media really started to take off, and so you are a lot more accessible, so there are pictures of you, or your status updates, or whatever you have, and it is way easier to target individuals that way.
So, there was definitely that and I think that played a huge role in it. I thought I was not smart enough and so I ended up being a straight B, almost A student. I was on the drill team. Basically, everything I said was proven wrong, but I think that was just because I was not forced to be there. I knew that I wanted to be there. But I mean, it is just different; it is a very different experience, for sure.
PAM: So, how did you decide to leave? Did you feel like you had this image of yourself before you went, like you said, and then you managed to have that experience? So, was it that realization that, Oh hey, you know, it is not that I am not smart and look, that glamourized version of school that you thought you were going to get into…so was it just that?
ALYSSA: Yeah, so I think it was a combination of things. I was not happy; everything was really hard. Looking over your shoulder to make sure so and so was not talking about you. Especially being on the drill team, that was really really hard because it was just a bunch of girls trapped in a room.
So there was that, and me personally, I felt like I was starting to behave differently; like, “Okay, this is how this is handled,” and my mom is probably going to be so mad at me for saying this, but I remember I came home from school one day, and there was this girl that was giving me a lot of problems, and I told my mom, I said, “Mom, I am just going to have to fight her,” like physically fight her. Because the school I went to was a little rough, and I will never forget her face, she just looked at me and she was like, “Alyssa Jane,” and I was like, “I do not know what else to do. I have tried talking to her, I have tried talking to my coach, I have tried talking to other people, and this is the only solution, like, this is it.” And my mom was like, “Nope, we are done.”
And so, there was that, and I also at the time, had a very serious boyfriend that I met there, and he had graduated before me, and so there was not really anything for me there. I was thinking, I am not making friends, why would I be here if I do not have to be here?
I remember I was in math class one day and I do not remember what was going on, but something was going on in the news. It was really big; it was on CNN, I do not remember why I remember that, but I was talking to this kid, and I brought it up and he was like, “How do you know about that?” and I remember looking at him and thinking, “How do you NOT know about that?” it was like so baffling to me at their level of knowledge of the outside world outside of the high school, that they had such little knowledge of common things that were going on, which I think a lot of people think is really important that they have that, and they do not have it.
And so, me leaving, I think I was just kind of done. Like you said, I proved to myself that I can do it and I can do whatever I want, and I was already just weaning my way out because I was just kind of over it.
PAM: That makes sense; it does. A couple of other grown Unschoolers that I have talked to have said the same thing. When they have gone to high school for a while, you get into that environment where there are only so many choices and you cannot see other ways. And it is so insulated too, when you see all the points you were making, it really speaks to that and how you can find yourself becoming a different person in certain ways to fit into that environment. Because if you are going to stay there, when you are choosing places to be, you want to fit in.
ALYSSA: You adapt.
PAM: Adapt, that is right word, exactly, because you are choosing to be there.
ALYSSA: Yeah, you just adapt and that was just not the path or the person that I wanted to be. And so, it was just, “No,” and I will never forget the day we withdrew. You have to go and meet with the principal when you are withdrawing from school. My mom and I went and we sat with the assistant principal and she was just so baffled that I was leaving, like, “Why are you leaving? I do not understand.” And my mom is like, “She has literally told you numerous times what is going on; this was just an experiment.” My mom kept saying that. She is like, “This is an experiment, and we are done.” And I will never forget, I brought home my binder, which was this thick with homework, and I burned it in the backyard.
PAM: Yay! Obviously like, “I am not doing it anymore!”
ALYSSA: A lot of busy work.
PAM: Wow. That is fascinating, thank you so much for sharing about that, Alyssa, it is really interesting to hear your experience.
Now let us jump forward a few years and you recently opened your own hair salon.
ALYSSA: I did, I opened my own hair studio, which is super exciting.
PAM: Studio, okay, congratulations; it is Blissfully Blonde, right?
PAM: Yes, I love that name.
ALYSSA: Thank you. It is very strategic, too, because then if people google “blond” it will pop up.
PAM: I would love to hear how that kind of wove in.
ALYSSA: Yeah, so I have done hair for eight years, which is probably, my favourite topic to talk to people about, just because I feel like when people are new to unschooling or homeschooling, or radical unschooling, or whatever you want to call it, that they have this fear about careers and stuff like that.
So, my career, I have done hair for eight years and I worked at a salon for almost five years, I started working there when I was 20 and I was the director of training. We had eight interns that I was in charge of training and so I was in charge of putting on weekly classes or scheduling stylists to be on weekly classes, teaching them things, because in cosmetologist school they do not teach you anything.
So, there was that and I was also really big in the business aspect of it. I helped change the booking system. I was in charge of converting from one system to another system. I was the second-highest stylist at the salon, so I made the second-highest amount of money, I was the second busiest. I had my own personal two assistants that worked with me. So lots of stuff like that, and in January, I decided to go out on my own, which is probably about the time, almost 10 years is usually when you get tired of working for other people and you figure out how much money you are actually losing. So, I did that and it has been a whirlwind, because being self-employed is definitely crazy, especially when you have a baby. It is super cool and it is cool to be your own boss and all that kind of stuff.
PAM: So yeah, it sounds like you picked up a lot, because you were looking after training, billing, you had picked up all the business side along side the actual hair styling itself, right. As you were working. And so, now you are doing that for yourself.
ALYSSA: Just converting it over to my own thing, yeah. So, the salon I was at, it was really great because it was a really small salon when I first started. It is a mom and pop kind of thing, and the owner she was there every day, and she still is, and I really learned a lot from from her. I was able to go in there and talk about everything and I was just like, “Well what if we do this?” or “What if I tweak this?” and “What if I do this?” and she just gave me free rein. And she was like, “Why don’t you just be in charge of all the training?” and I said, “Okay, sounds great.”
It was great because basically I became the manager without being the manager and so it was great because I just got to do whatever, and so then like you said, it was just way easier for me to convert that business aspect and what I have learned over to just being with myself and it is way better because I feel like I have more benefiting myself.
PAM: Yeah, that is such a great point. And I am curious too, just whether or not you have seen that, because you have been running the training program for people as well, something that I have heard here and there, or seen as well, but that unschooled kids, to them, learning almost happens by them engaging in their day, right? It is kind of their lifestyle, it is what you do. You do not lose so much of that curiosity to figure things out, right?
As you were saying when you first started there, “How about this?” and it was a great relationship where you could take that and see what happens, right. Versus sometimes kids who have been through the system are more about just sitting back and wait to be told what to do. They have lost that spark just because it was never nurtured, right?
Whenever they were curious about something, it was, “No, we are not talking about that right now, we will cover that next year or next month,” or whatever. Their curiosity is always dampened, just because of the system, you know. Not even in a negative kind of way, but because of the nature of the system, the way it works, you cannot follow all the different kids rabbit holes and interests at the time.
So, I was wondering, did you see that, at all, playing out?
ALYSSA: Like with the interns?
ALYSSA: Yes, and no, because it was really interesting, I had interns from the age of 18 to 32, so there was a huge age gap. But yes and no, it would just depend because our industry is a very creative one, and very free-spirited. You can run into that with them, but more often than not, if they are more like that, where they have been, like you said, dampened, or I like to say, keeping their creativity or anything like that kept in a box, you are not able to leave this box until we have this other box built, definitely I had to figure out a way, because I was in charge of them, to teach them a different way.
Because obviously they could not understand my way of being like, “It will be fine, everything works out, let’s just do it this way, it is fine.” And they are like, “No, it is not perfect.” That was one of things that I really noticed is that a lot of people, a lot of the girls were really hard on themselves, and would really beat themselves up. I am the same way; I am a perfectionist, just because you are unschooled does not mean you do not have character flaws and insecurities and all that kind of stuff.
But there was a difference in them, just because I could see them. Or if I was like, “No, that is not right,” I had to learn how to speak differently, too, which I think is a big deal. Instead of saying, “No, that is not right, you did it wrong,” you are like, “Okay, that is great, but let’s try it this way,” and so that way it was not a negative put down on them and they were way easier and they would adapt better to learning from me, because they did not feel like they were being shot down every time they had a creative idea. They’d say, “I tried this,” and I would be like, “That’s great, but that is not going to work today. I am glad you figured it out, but next time I am sure it will be perfect, but this client we have to think more this way.”
And so, it was about being more flexible with everyone and stuff like that. But people who have been through the system have a very different way of thinking. I think that also can be a struggle for parents too, when they themselves went through the system and they had a traumatic experience or they are deciding to unschool or looking into it, that it is very hard to re-adjust.
PAM: It is hard to imagine, isn’t it? I mean, just thinking back to when I started, you know, it is hard to imagine how it can be different when it is so ingrained in you. And like you said, all those pieces from the creativity, being dampened, to this is how we learn and how march step that is in the system, etc. It is like opening the box, right. And thinking, I am not sure what is outside there.
ALYSSA: Yeah, it is literally like someone that has been contained in a house and they go outside for the first time, and they are just like, “Oh my gosh, it is so spacious.” Welcome to the outside world.
PAM: Oh, that is fun.
So, looking back now, what do you appreciate most about growing up unschooling?
ALYSSA: My mom and I were just having a debate about this. I appreciate how unschooling is a way of not only just learning but raising your children and I am so happy with the way I turned out.
I feel like I am a way more understanding person because of it. I feel like I think more outside the box because of it, and so it has really benefited me, just outside in normal, everyday life, because I can think quick on my feet about things. I am super easy. I am not so set in my ways about things. And of course, there are some things that you are, but I feel like I am just really appreciative.
My siblings are the same; my siblings are very non-judgemental, very compassionate people. They are very understanding. I feel there is not a lot of that, especially right now in society. People being compassionate and loving and nurturing and understanding, and I think unschooling is the best thing to kind of help re-nourish that flower to try to get it back in our society.
Especially with my son; he is the sweetest, he brought me chocolate covered strawberries in bed this morning and he was like, “Mom, Happy Mother’s Day.” So, I think that is probably my favourite thing about unschooling. I have never been an academic person, ever. I have never liked it. I learned percentages because I like shopping and I liked 20% percent off, and my mom was like, “What is the math on that?” and so that is how I learned my math.
So, I do not really think of it as an academic thing, I think of it as a lifestyle and I think of it as creating very unique, individual people. And, I mean, making them flourish into how they really, truly are.
PAM: Yeah, that ties back so nicely into what we were talking about earlier, right, how different even siblings who grew up in the same house, same parents and everything, but become who they uniquely are rather than all trying to fit into this more typical career path, right.
PAM: Yeah, and I think it is because we, as unschooling families, we make the time to live with our children. I am trying to think how compassionate and understanding and non-judgmental, and I think so much of that is because we have the time to talk about things, to talk through things, to look at situations and see the different perspectives involved with the different people, right, versus “We have to resolve this now, good bad, right wrong, boom, punishment, reward, and now we are on the next moment right,”
ALYSSA: Right, exactly. So, I think it just an amazing thing, and I think if you can really get a hold of it, not so much as an academic thing but literally molding your children into who they truly are, I think you will be that much more successful at it. Just because I think when you are not putting a whole bunch of negative context or they are not doing so good on math or reading and stuff like that.
Everything we do to our kids is a reflection of who they are going to become and what they are going to do. Since I was born, my dad told me, you treat the janitor the same way you treat the man who writes the cheques. The exact same. And so, I think ii’s so good to remember because it helps you through life and everyone doesn’t see things the same and that is the same thing in hairstyle. When you do a colour consult, your purple might be pink to me, and you have to remember that literally everyone’s brain, even if they are your children, is neurologically different. So, it is super interesting and it is nice to see that and help those situations grow and see them excel.
PAM: I love that, I love the way you brought your hairstyling in, because that is absolutely it, what a great example of how we all have our own perspectives, right? And how valuable it is, and we are all people.
With unschooling, that is the most valuable thing; realizing that our kids are people too, just like us.
We all are important and have our own perspectives in the way we see things. Brining all of that into the conversation is so valuable in every moment moving forward, right.
ALYSSA: Right, and I think especially, with unschooling like with my career, not everyone can speak hair. No one knows what the cortex of a hair shaft is, no one knows what I am saying when I say that. So, it is my job to be able to translate for your hair, like what you are trying to say to me. That way I can relate to you, and I think it is really nice.
Both of my siblings too, in both of the careers that they chose, it is really easy for us to communicate with people. It makes it easy to relate to people, and we find common interests or we ask about their lives, and then we are like, “Oh yeah, I have a sister that lives in LA and she does voice over acting all the time, and that is how she met her husband,” and all of a sudden we are talking about the Bachelor and we are best friends.
I think it is really nice because it has helped me advance really quickly and the one thing that my clients always used to write tons of reviews when I was at my other salon, they would always say, “I feel like I am not just getting my hair done, Alyssa has advice, she has opinions.”
When I started, I was the youngest in the business and so it was really hard because I was 18 and people would look at me and be like, “You are 18 and you’re going to do my hair?” Yes, I am going to do your hair and you are going to like it, so do not worry.
I had this one lady when I was older, I was probably 21 and I had this lady and she was older, and she asked me probably one of the most insulting things that I have ever had someone say to me. She was like, “So what are you going to do after this?” and I said, “I’m going to go home…” Like, I was so naïve, and was like, “What do you mean?” and I said, “Are you asking me to go get dinner?” I was so confused, and so she was like, “No, no, no,” and she like looked at me like I was so naïve about everything. She said, “What are you going to do after hairdressing? Are you in school? Do you go to college? What is your plan after this?” And was like, “Whoa,” since her son is an engineer or about to graduate and everything like that, and so I remember that I went to my boss and said, “I cannot believe she said this to me,” like all this stuff, and she was like, “Alyssa, you just have to take it with a grain of salt, not everyone is nice.”
So later, what I have come to realize is it is just different and it is hard for that kind of person. And I make the same, if not more than your engineer son right now, and that is fine with me. But it is interesting and I feel like going back to the unschooling comment, is that, it has just flourished better, because I can adapt easier and make conversations easier, and socially, I am fine.
I feel like that is a big concern for people, is they are like, “Are they going to be socially unequipped?” No. And let me tell you that I have tons of unschooled friends and I was never bored when I was unschooling either. So, I think it has really helped me grow as a person, and not just academically.
PAM: Yeah, so much about being able to connect with people right, like you were saying. Seeing things from their perspective. And you know, let’s face it, when you are unschooling too, you hear the more negative, judgemental kinds of comments, right? Not only like the one that you experienced there, judging careers and choices but also how you define success, how they define success. Versus how we have taken the time to process through and realize that it is not even that you judge, you just understand.
The way they are looking at the situation; she is probably thinking you are so incredibly competent at what you are doing, you should be doing something better, you know what I mean? So there is an underhanded complement in there.
ALYSSA: Yeah, and I think that especially in my industry, a lot of people think it is very vain and there is definitely that side of it, but there is chemistry, there is math, there are all kinds of things. I hated geometry, I hated math. I went to a Vidal Sassoon school, which is all geometrical shapes, all of it. So I am like, “Great, no problem,” but I think it also, like you said, it just made me way more compassionate and it is not like I am looking down on someone but I feel bad that you can’t look outside the box and see the bigger picture.
There is a bigger picture than people who are groomed through the system, where you go to 12 years of school and you go to four years of college and then you maybe go to med school. Or you know what I mean, I think it is just kind of weird balance and so that is why I think unschooling is so great.
The unschoolers I have ever met has been compassionate human beings. And do not get me wrong, there are some that are not so compassionate, because everyone is human, but they are just way more understanding and find it easier to relate to and everything like that. And some are really quirky and some are not really quirky, but I think it makes a huge difference.
PAM: Yeah, and they are such lovely individuals in themselves. They fully bring themselves to the moment, that is what is cool.
I think unschooling grooms you to who you actually are, and I feel like the system grooms you to what they think you need to be.
So, that is why it is so different when you meet an unschooler, you can tell, because something is just different when you are talking to even unschooling parents. It is just different because they are almost like a foreign person, I feel like. That is how I felt when I went to high school, is that when I would talk to people, I would be like, “I cannot even relate to you, and we are the same age.” I have nothing in common, I literally felt like I was talking to someone who was speaking Russian to me, and I was just like, “I have no idea what you are saying, at all.” And so, I think unschooling is just way more beneficial to individuals like that, because it helps you really be who you are.
PAM: Yeah, because the language that you are speaking and bringing in was I think, more of a human based, individual person who had been out in the world and you bring your whole self there, versus the language of the system, which serves them well while they are at school, right, but once they get out, the whole discovering themselves, because they have had to supress who they are as an individual.
If they take that time. You
know, it could be 10 or 20 years later even, you know, a midlife crisis, where
they followed that path, they used that language the way they are supposed to,
only to eventually realize, does this really fit me? Who am I really? What do I
ALYSSA: Right, I am so glad that you said late development and stuff, like that, because that was something that I actually noticed a ton, and I told my mom just the other day. In cosmetology school, I was the youngest in the class, I had people from 18 when I went to 41 in the class, and it was so shocking to me, because I had one girl that I was really good friends with, she is like, “Yeah, I have a Masters in hospitality,” and I was thinking to myself, you are just now figuring out who you are at 25? I remember being so shocked, and then the ones that were older, I was like, oh my gosh, for one, you wasted all that money, but two, it was just shocking and almost sad to me that they could not be who they actually are until then.
I am still friends with some of them, and a lot of them are not even doing hair anymore. But they have just changed who they are because they are finally finding themselves and finding their niche and getting in their groove.
I feel like that is why a lot of people say that your 30’s are the best, because they do not have enough time to figure out who they are in those earlier developmental years. So, by the time you get to your 30’s, you have got it down. You know what you are doing, you have made all the mistakes, you have gone to college, you have dropped out of college, you have changed your major six times.
There are lots of things, so I think when you hit your mid-thirties, you know who you are, but with unschooling, we help them find who they are sooner. So, then they just take off, when they are in their 20’s. Like, I am 25 and I make over 100,000 dollars a year, and I am self-employed and I have a beautiful son, and I have an amazing family and it is just getting better. I am not having to hustle through things anymore, if that makes sense.
PAM: Oh, definitely. Yeah, that is such a great point. Because like you said, you had the vet, to make up, and then here. What I love about unschooling, the way I see it, is we have these twists and turns in our journey but with unschooling you are free to make those twist, I guess, but earlier, because they are really you. They are not like blind alleys that you go because somebody else told you to go through it. You are supposed to make this turn, then you are supposed to do this, you know.
I just feel like there are so many more missed turns or more changes that kids, and young adults, and adults need to make as they finally discover what works best for them. Whereas with unschooling, as parents, we are helping our kids figure that stuff out and supporting them as they figure it out on their own, because you are exploring yourself. You are exploring your interests, you are exploring the things that you like, your personality, the self awareness that you gain from that and how that meshes with the world and how you can be in the world. There are just so many less false starts and missed turns.
ALYSSA: For sure. Less obstacles, yeah. For sure.
So, I am just curious, about your plans for the next year or two?
ALYSSA: Oh man. Well, so I have my studio, and I grew out of it already, so I actually had to upgrade to a bigger studio, which I was not planning on having to do until next year. But it is okay. And so there is that, and then I am going to buy a house. I am not a big planner; I am way more go with the flow. I want to go on a trip and I want to do this, so I am more of a spur of the moment person, but my one main plan is that I know I am going to buy a house. So, I am excited.
PAM: Yeah, that sounds like a lot of fun. I love the idea of going with the flow. That is something I learned; I was a huge planner, you know, step by step. That is something that I learned through moving to unschooling and going with my kids. And I learned from watching them, because when they did not have to plan five steps down the road like I felt like I needed to. I needed to see the answer, and then choose the steps to get there, whereas they could say, “Huh, you know what? This next step or two looks really good for me, I am going to do that.” And then we will see. So following more the flow of where things are going rather than a predetermined path; I love that point.
ALYSSA: Yeah, and I think it is also good because kids are very easily distractible, so I think it is easy to dabble in this for a little bit and dabble in this for a little bit, and dabble in this for a little bit, but I do not think there is anything wrong with dabbling, because I feel like that is where you find your niche. And that is where you find what works and I obviously was not going to be a vet because I could not do it.
But little things, if I had not dabbled in it and done all of these things, then I would have still thought it and I would have gone to school to be a vet, and it would have been devastating.
I think a lot of people are like, no, I think we need to have a plan, this is what you are going to do, especially when you are new to unschooling I feel like, because that is the mentality, that is what they have been taught for years and groomed to think.
I think they are like, how are they ever going to decide what they want to do if they have got all of their hands in all these different things? And I would go to conferences with my mom and I would talk to certain parents and I would be like, you have to look at maybe the similarities of what they are dabbling into, because maybe they are really into Legos, and then they are really into technology and then they are really into this. Maybe they are going to be an electrical engineer or an architect, or you know, something to do with building, or something.
And so I think you have to look at the similarities and then you can help them, because you can present more and different things that they do not even know about, that you are like, “Oh my gosh, did you see this?” and then they are like, “Oh my gosh, it is my two favorite things combined. And then it is this too, and so I think that is where dabbling comes in and it is a huge thing for everyone.
PAM: I love that. It is so true, when you are dabbling, you can find the little piece that drew you to it, right. So I was drawn to this, I am really enjoying it but there are these aspects that I do not like, but here is a thing that I discovered I love about it. And so now I am going to go over here because I got that piece and there is some other stuff that I think I might like.
That is such a beautiful way to describe all of those twists and turns that we were talking about as you discover the things that you like, and like you said, put them together to hone in on what is going to have even more of all of those aspects that you love.
ALYSSA: Right, exactly.
PAM: That is beautiful. So last question Alyssa.
As a grown unschooler, what piece of advice would you like to share with unschooling parents who are just starting out on this journey?
ALYSSA: I honestly, and I am not one to blow smoke or anything like that, but I just think it is one of the greatest things that we are lucky to actually be able to do. There are some states where it is a little bit more frowned upon and depending on where you are, obviously.
I think my advice would be, just because I have seen it, and I have had friends that go through it, is make sure when you are raising your kids, because it is a way of raising your children, that you are not putting your fears and insecurities onto them.
And by that, I have seen people be like (I have never heard anyone say it, but they have implied it), it’s not hard to miss, that they are not going to get asked to prom, or they are not going to get be popular, or they are not going to have all of these things. And you have to, as an adult, I think you have to acknowledge that those are your fears.
They do not know those things, and so I think our job, when they are little, to protect them from those things. And being popular is not that great sometimes, and there are a lot of negative things about it. I went to high school and I did not even get asked to prom; no one asked me. So, those are yours and like we were talking earlier about how they are their own individual person, whether it is a boy, it’s a girl, transgender, whatever. They are their own individuals, and so you have to accept that you are yours and they are going to have theirs.
And I used this analogy with my mom, she asks me questions every once in awhile, when she has people ask, she is like, “I do not know how to respond about this preteen situation.” I said, you have to think about this, social media, like I said earlier, has taken off in a way that they are constantly accessible, it is crazy how much access people have to each other now. It is insane. So you have to think about this, especially preteens, because I feel like I am noticing a lot of people pulling their kids out of school at 10 or 12, and I have talked to people that are really struggling with it, just because their 12-year-old doesn’t think they are going to make any friends or anything like that.
You have to be very patient and understanding, because they are literally going to war every single day. With their own insecurities that they are beating themselves up for, and they have people throwing darts at them all day long, because they have so much access. So they are in a battle field, essentially. So I said the last thing that they need, is their parents throwing darts from the back.
It is very sad, but it is very true and the thing is that they are not even mean, malicious things that we are doing, but I think that you have to take a step back and acknowledge that maybe they do not want to be popular, maybe they do not want to go and be social, maybe they do not want to go to prom, maybe their sexuality is different, or anything. And I think it is very big to help them.
And a lot of people are like, it is my job to keep on the right path or a good path and I completely agree that it is your job to keep them safe and everything like that, but it is your job to keep them on THEIR path, because THEIR path is the good path for them. And so, it is your job to help them on their path, and just because their path might twist and wind a little bit differently than yours, it is theirs.
And so you have to just be really understanding and supportive and really listen to them, because especially in the system, I felt like a lot of kids were not listened to when they would say things. I have seen a lot of people go down some really dark paths, and some people not make it out, because they were not listened to. That is really hard and no one should have to go through that.
And so, I think it is very important to listen and I feel like, and I have seen tons of quotes about it, they listen to react, and not to understand. Or is it listen to respond instead of understand, and I think that speaks volumes especially when you are in a transition like this.
People think it will be easy like, who does not want to just stay home all day, it is very hard. It is very hard for your kids. And I know it is hard for the parents too because some of the kids get rebellious and they have attitude and they have got hormones and they have all these other things, but I think that is where the compassion needs to come in. You need to be more understanding and listen more, and especially in the transition, do what they want to do, why fight them?
Like if you are trying to do something and create something and help them build and stuff like that, help them and listen and talk about it, and really weigh their opinions, because they have a say, it is their life.
PAM: My goodness, Alyssa, that was wonderful. I love that. And that is such a huge challenging part of the deschooling process I think. It is that unwinding, that view of who we imagine our children to be, versus who our child is, right.
I think that it starts with the parent. You have to recognize YOUR views, versus THEIR views.
PAM: That piece is so important, right?
ALYSSA: Yeah, and once you do that, it is going to be shocking what kind of doors will open just from acknowledging your fears, your projections that you are projecting on your kid. They may not be scared or they might not be ready, or maybe do not pull them out right away and do unschooling. Unschooling is not for everyone. Like, I love it but it is not. I had one girl who was so in school, and she was so into it and I was like, why don’t you just go to a one-day academy? Why don’t you baby step and help them, do not just shell shock them, you know. And listen, if this is something they really want and they are really passionate about, then you need to compromise, because like I said, it is their life.
PAM: And it is their life. That is the entire point. With unschooling, we are trying to give that power to be fully engaged in their life. To be making those choices and learning from them and discovering themselves and what they like and how they like to learn and their personalities. We want to help them do it now, versus waiting until they are out of school, out on their own, and all of a sudden there are all of these other responsibilities in the world. While they are trying to figure themselves out at the same time because this is the first time they have ever been on their own.
I mean, I remember that first year of university and the other kids, it was crazy how unprepared they were to just be on their own because they had never had that or experienced that or made their own choices before, right. It was like that rubber band that you pull and just boom, off they go.
ALYSSA: Yeah, like slingshot out into the world.
PAM: Yeah, exactly. I mean, that was spectacular, I had goose bumps listening, Alyssa, because that is such a huge aspect, but entirely worth it. That is going to be, I think, one of the most important parts, right.
Because once you can see your kid as the individual they are and be working with them to accomplish what they want, versus what we would like for them. Because sometimes, especially when we are first getting started, we cannot tell the difference between those things.
Like you said, it should be so easy for us to all be home, right. To leave school or to not go to school, and we have all this time so we can just do all the fun things we wanted to do, but who knows, were those fun things that I think we should do, because that is what families like to do? Of course, we should want to travel and of course we should always want to go out and go to parks and do these extra curricular classes and all of this kind of stuff.
This dream that we have in our mind about what it is going to look like if we do not have school in the future, can be very different from what our kids actually want to do. So, us teasing that out for ourselves, understanding what are our expectations, understanding what we have just absorbed of what we should be doing, and then discovering who our child is.
So often, I say spend those first few months just hanging out with your kids and discovering who they are and what they like to do, and they are going to be doing that too, right? Especially if it is shift in your lifestyle, especially if you are having a big change, coming from school, or even coming from a more conventional mindset, that they too are going to have so much adjusting to do, on the academic side maybe, but also on that parenting side and that shift to exploring and that shift to being able to express themselves when they are asked what they want to do.
ALYSSA: I think that is a big thing too, I am glad you said that. A question I feel like a lot of parents do not ask is, “What do you want to do?” And they say, “This is what we are going to do.” And there is a huge difference and you are going to see a huge difference just by changing those words. Because when you make them believe that they actually have a say, it is shell-shocking to them in that. And so they are just like, “Oh my gosh, I can actually say, I want to sleep until two?” Okay, that is okay. It is okay to sleep until two, and I see lots of people arguing about that. It is okay, I slept until two for a long time and I think it is a big deal when you start asking them what do they want to do, and I think that is a huge first step in unschooling, is because it is about them. And so, what do you want to do?
PAM: I love that. And what a great place to end. What do you want to do? Thank you so much, Alyssa, it was so lovely to speak to you, I appreciate it.
ALYSSA: I know! I was so excited. My mom was like, “Pam wants to talk to you,” and I was like, “Oh! Okay. Me? About what?”
PAM: That was awesome. I loved hearing more about your experience and your insights. You thought about it and I really appreciate you sharing what you have seen from your perspective as well, so thank you so much.
ALYSSA: Well, thank you for giving me a platform to speak.
PAM: Yay. And before we go, in case other people have some questions for you, or would like to connect with you, where is the best place for them to connect with you online?
ALYSSA: They can find me on Facebook, it is really easy. Just Alyssa Patterson, and if you are friends with my mom, Sue Patterson, you cannot miss me. I am tagged in everything; I am all over that place. I am more than happy, and I always tell my mom this too, even if it is not for parents, and your teenager needs someone, or your preteen, your sons because I have a son.
Boys go through the same things that girls go through and I think it is very important that they have someone and I am so lucky that I have a successful career, I have been married, I have been divorced, I have a baby. I feel like I have done so much. I literally feel like I am 35 and I am 25, but it is fine.
But if you just need someone because you are not getting through to your 16-year-old daughter, or I am not getting through to my 12-year-old or even younger, I really, really love speaking to kids and helping them figure out ways to do things, and sometimes it is better for them to have someone that they can look at and think oh, she is okay.
I think a lot of kids get really nervous because they are like, “I do not want to be weird,” like, be unschooled and be weird, and it is nice to have someone that can be like, “Everything is going to be fine,” and so like I said, Facebook is probably the best way, just write me on messenger, you, your kids, I do not care, either/or, and I am more than happy to help anyone that I can.
PAM: That is so sweet, thank you so much, Alyssa, have a great day.
ALYSSA: You too!