PAM: Welcome. I’m Pam Laricchia from Livingjoyfully.ca. And today I’m here with Nisa and Jewel Deeves. Hi, guys.
NISA & JEWEL: Hi.
PAM: I am so happy that you both agreed to come on the podcast together to talk about your unschooling experiences. This is going to be a lot of fun, I’m sure.
To get us started, can you share with us a bit about your family?
NISA: Well, let’s see. I don’t know how far to go down this rabbit hole. Well, we live in Louisiana. We actually used to live in New Orleans. But when Jewel was born, we decided to buy a house. And when we started looking, we ended up moving to the North Shore, which is across the big Lake Pontchartrain. So, we’re on the other side of the city. And we found this little three acres of woods very near a wonderful state park and a lot of natural trails and stuff. And so, we built our little house out here in the middle of these little woods.
PAM: Oh, that’s awesome. So, there’s you and Jewel. Jewel, you’re an only child, right?
JEWEL: Yeah, I’m the only daughter.
NISA: I married late because I was a travelling around and I was just kind of a free spirit.
JEWEL: The original hippie.
NISA: I came to New Orleans at one point because I had friends/a married couple that lived there. And I wanted to see that, never been there and came and just fell in love with the city. There’s so much architecture and history and the food is amazing. And I’m big foodie and just all of it, the music. And so, I decided to live here. And then I met her dad and I ended up staying. And then we ended up then going through five years of infertility because I was an older mom and I actually gave birth to her at age 44.
PAM: Wow. That’s awesome. Well, I’m so glad that worked out.
How was it that you came across and found unschooling, Nisa? And what did your move into unschooling look like?
NISA: Well, I was so excited to be pregnant and I was reading, I’m a big reader. I was reading everything. And I came across Peaceful parenting and mindful parenting, attachment parenting. And that just felt right to me. And so, I knew I wanted to do that. And so that’s what we did. And then at some point, I just I was looking and we needed some more money because I still hadn’t gone back to work. I didn’t really want to go back to work because I wanted to stay home with her as long as I could.
Then there was a job offer for an assistant to a director of a Montessori school and being her assistant teacher, too. When I interviewed and talked to them, explaining my thing was if Jewel could come with me. So, we did. And I thought, ‘Well, this is going to be great.’ This that’s the closest thing to attachment. It would be really compatible with my philosophy. We got there and then it just wasn’t, it just wasn’t. Jewel, she was always kind of ahead. She walked early, she had her first tooth early, she had a lot of words very early. My pediatrician was just shocked. He said this is not average. And so, when we got to the school, she was very bored in the classes. It was three-year-olds. And they were still, well, they were just where they were. And it was a lot more about potty training, a lot of them were not speaking. And here she was speaking full, complicated sentences. Their way of dealing with that was to put her up a grade, up a level. And then it was just not, she was, socially, emotionally, she’s still three. So, it just wasn’t a good fit.
JEWEL: I even have one very vague memory of sitting in a circle of kids, in the older class and looking up and being like, “Oh, my God, they’re all so much older than me.” And like as a little kid, you know, my idea was they’re like teenagers. They’re just so much taller and so much bigger than me. And you’re like, what’s happening? Where am I?
NISA: My feeling was I loved my part of the job but if she wasn’t happy and she clearly wasn’t happy. And so, I talked it over with Kevin and he’s like “Well, what are we going to do?” And we just didn’t know right then. But luckily and weirdly, I was looking in the paper and there happened to be a seminar at the parenting centre in the little town next to us. They were having a homeschool seminar. And I didn’t know anything about homeschooling, but they were saying that they were going to have different parents that represented different theories of homeschooling talking about each of them. And so, I’m like, I’m going to go check that out. And so, I listened to all of them. And, you know, I’m a reader. So, when they talked about, I can’t remember maybe Charlotte Mason or something that I can’t remember now. But anyway, it was all literary. And I’m like, ‘Oh, yeah, that was for me.’ But then the last mom that spoke was an unschooling mom. Just listening to her, I just fell on this trance. I’m like, “Oh, my God, this is it.” I still have this one of the handouts she gave, it was John Kabat- Zinn’s “The 12 Steps of Mindful Parenting.” Now, I think it’s so unschooly. When I read those things, I just knew that this was going to be what will help her, what’s going to make her happy. And I really didn’t know. So anyway, of course, I found being the researcher I already am. I found Sandra Dodd, you, Joyce Fetterol, I found Anne Ohman all back on Yahoo!
PAM: Yes, yes, yes.
NISA: That’s how it went. And I just I just dove in.
PAM: Oh, that is amazing. I love the connections. Because I find when you’re just open to looking for things, you noticed that, right? When Montessori wasn’t working, you noticed that home schooling seminar over there. That’s really cool the way that worked out. So, what ended up happening?
NISA: Pardon me?
PAM: Did you end up leaving the Montessori school?
NISA: I resigned, yeah, right then. And I had found out even at that homeschool seminar how to do that legally here. And so, I went right home and filed to homeschool here. And it’s really easy to do that in this state. It’s an online form now. And the letter of intent is just simple, you don’t give any names or ages or grades or styles or anything. You just fill it out, that’s it.
PAM: That’s a great little piece for people to know, too. When they’re looking for various places that are more homeschooling friendly. I’m in Ontario, in Canada. And it’s just a letter of intent, although I believe it’s just name and age. And then you send that in each year is what the guidelines ask for. So, yeah. Other than that, it’s been a great, great place to be comfortable unschooling.
NISA: That’s awesome.
PAM: So, now you sent in your paperwork, right? Your letter of intent to unschool now. So, I was wondering over those first, you know, maybe two, three years as you were getting more and more familiar, you were diving into it. I remember diving into the Yahoo! Groups and reading people’s questions and the answers that we’re going through and trying to sort through all that.
What was one of the more or any of the more challenging aspects that you came across as you were going through those first years?
NISA: She was three around then and I really didn’t do anything different than what we were doing. I mean, I’m a big reader. I read to her constantly. And she’s a very active kid. She’s always, creating or building, doing something. Basically, I would read and she would be running around building, doing something. And then at the other end of that, I would be just reading all about the stuff on the unschooling groups and learning it and just wrapping my head around that. I really didn’t have any challenges until she became of school age. Then from other parents and you start getting pushback from relatives, “Doesn’t she need to be learning something?”
So, that’s when the challenges kicked in for me. But then it wasn’t too much because I’ve just always been a rebel anyway. And I believed in what we were doing. And it was for our family. And I even had a discussion one time with my mother in law where I just said, you know, you parented my husband and I know you did good job. You did a good job and you did what you believed then. Now you have to trust him and us that we’re going to do our best and make our choices for our daughter. I think that was when she got it and she kind of backed off.
I was lucky on the other side, both of my two sisters who live in North Carolina were both teachers themselves. My younger one was much more experimental and her classrooms. And she really got that whole side of learning naturally. And so, she would even set up her classrooms in, I can’t remember the word, but like centres where they could move from place to place and it wasn’t as schooly. So, she really got it. But I think the other challenges came more from not so much all the academic school stuff, but radical unschooling called to me. And so, it was not going to be just around the typical school stuff, learning. It was going to be everything. It was sleep, what she ate, all the controlling things. So, those were more challenging to me because I’m kind of controlling. And as a parent, if they’re eating so much sugar or all that stuff would be things that would make me think. ‘Am I doing the right thing?’
PAM: Well, yeah, exactly. What I was saying before is that it was really interesting and not surprising how it came up when she hit school age. Because then you aren’t just parenting and people just kind of, oh, she’s parenting or maybe she’s parenting differently, cause attachment parenting, at least it’s known as a style, even if not a lot of people choose it conventionally. But, you know, it’s just parenting.
But yeah, once she hit school age, then that’s when the expectations start to kick in about being more controlling because now they should be learning. They should be learning these things.
NISA: And park days even change with who we were at a homeschool group. And the park days, remember that back on the playground that day that the kid with the some of the kids would start challenging other ones like multiplication tables and things like that. You remember that?
JEWEL: Yeah, I kind of vaguely. Yeah.
NISA: And I’m like, OK, this is this. That’s around the time when I started the Louisiana Unschoolers because I figured if there were other people like us that were new or that wanted to be hanging around unschoolers, would that different kind of mindset help? If I create something then if they were looking, they would find us. It started on Yahoo! And then eventually moved to Facebook group.
PAM: Yeah. Oh, that’s awesome. And that one of the reasons I started the conference and ran a conference locally for a few years because I knew they existed in Ontario, but didn’t know anybody like close to us face to face. So like you said, starting something other people will eventually discover it and come and then you can connect with other people who are choosing that same kind of lifestyle where at least you know when you’re having conversations, you’re not going to get that quizzing piece. You’re starting from the same foundation, I guess. You know, parenting wise, I mean, everybody’s families are different. And kids are going to have different interest, the parents are going to have different interests and stuff but at least it’s just so relaxing. When you know you’re starting at that level, where you’re not worried about people approaching or quizzing your kids negatively. Chances are they’re going to get a nice reception if they talk to another adult in the area.
NISA: And there was in some of those pictures, you’ll see that the pictures of groups of people on the beach that was in the state park. That was our park days.
PAM: Oh, wow. That’s great. Yeah. And for anybody listening, the pictures are on the web site, on the transcript page. So just follow the transcript link to see those as well.
So, let’s talk a little bit older now and the idea of the importance of actively supporting our kids as they pursue their interests. That’s something when people come to unschooling, they’ll hear a lot of talk about. Because that’s something that we’re doing different instead of following a curriculum.
I just was hoping you guys could talk about what that looked like for you guys over the years and what kinds of support, what kinds of things you guys found worked better for you.
NISA: Well, I looked at it like I was going to be a student of Jewel and pay attention to what things lit her up, you know, when things got her excited and what things made her happy. Or what things I thought might. And I would bring resources and I’ll bring stacks of books to leave them around.
JEWEL: And going back to something you said when we were talking about the questions. You’re reading something about Egypt to me.
NISA: It was a Nancy Drew book.
JEWEL: Yeah, it was a Nancy Drew book. And I loved Nancy Drew books. I still do. I love mysteries. And she could see that my face lit up. And then she was like, “Oh, we’re going to explore this.” And she found other things on Egypt. And I’ve loved that forever and forever and forever. And even my necklace today is a little scarab beetle.
NISA: That I gave her for her graduation right now. And it also it’s a June bug, but we found out that it’s also.
JEWEL: It was a little part of the Scarab family.
NISA: So, it all went back to Egypt.
JEWEL: Then we were in Italy.
NISA: Well, that’s all. Another loop. We met a Russian family who were wanting to homeschool. They were living in Italy. We sent them one of your books that you had signed, I don’t know if you remember that.
PAM: I do remember that!
NISA: Yeah. We were in Rome and went to the Egyptian Museum that’s in the Vatican. She knew everything. She was telling people everything about it.
JEWEL: I just started talking to her about it because like I was 13 at the time. That’s a very weird, angsty time. And I was like, ‘Oh, this all this old religious art.’ I didn’t have the perspective that I have now, as you know, at 20 years old and really enjoying history. But we got to the Egypt room and I was just like, “This is it. This is this is my room.” And I started just talking her ear off about things.
And I noticed other tourists starting to gather around and being like “What is she talking about? Are you a tour guide?” “No, I just like Egypt?”.
PAM: Oh, that’s amazing.
NISA: She’s very creative. She’s had a lot of different interests. And I’ve just been the resource provider. I was telling you about the sculpty clay modelling stuff. And I would just supply her with all the sculpty she wanted in the different colours and the tools and she would just go to town. But I also had some things that I did bring in that I thought maybe would be an interest, but maybe they weren’t. And so, I’m like, ‘OK, I didn’t work. Never mind, move on.’ And then sometimes she would come back later and say, “Oh, this is really cool.” And I’m thinking, yeah,
JEWEL: “I brought this up a year ago.” (laughing).
NISA: But, you know, it’s just been it’s been a lot of fun. But it’s mainly because I think you have to be very proactive and you have to be really into it. I’ve just really loved being an unschooling parent. I love finding things and then seeing, is this going to be something that she’s going to enjoy and going places. Being part of having started that unschooling group, I also started arranging all kinds of field trips and museums and musicals and shows, whatever came up that sounded fun. We did unschooling camp outs, two times a year down at that park and just everything. We just were always doing something interesting and fun, right?
JEWEL: Yeah. And there’s even like a direct line of you listening to my interests and now me doing what I love to do. Doing hair because I can think back to being, twelve and saying, “Oh, hey, mom, I found this really cool thing it’s called Cos-playing.” And then wanting to learn how to sew. And then sewing turned into going to NOCCA. When I was 14.
NISA: Tell her what NOCCA is.
JEWEL: NOCCA is the New Orleans Centre for Creative Arts.
NISA: It’s like a conservatory high school. It’s so amazing. So, they have an academic path half day and then the half day is all your art discipline. They have a program where you can just attend for the ½ day arts discipline.
JEWEL: So, they have 12 different ones. I was in theatre design, but they have dance and jazz and classical instrumental. Culinary, all kinds of media arts, visual arts, musical theatre, drama.
And so being in theatre design, we worked with the drama department and the musical theatre department and the dance department and vocal music, it was like operas. And so, we did all the costumes and the hair and the sets and the lighting for all of those.
NISA: And they got to go to all the Saenger Theatre Productions, which is amazing thing.
JEWEL: That was really cool.
NISA: That also ties in because ever since she was little, we always had music, kid music in the car playing around the house and the ones that she would want to hear over and over again were always the musicals, Annie and Oliver.
JEWEL: Especially Oliver.
NISA: Especially Oliver, we played that thing all the time. She just loved the music. She could sing them all the word for word. Still can.
JEWEL: Yeah, probably.
NISA: It’s neat how it all circled back.
PAM: That’s it, when you look back, that’s the thing is it’s important isn’t it, not to judge the interests as they come up. To be open to them. And like you said, she was very receptive and supportive of whatever it was because you don’t know where that’s going to go until later when you can look back and start to see the thread that it weaves. That’s so cool. But that’s not something you can know in the moment when they’re taking that next little step and you’re going, “What is happening?”
NISA: Exactly. Exactly.
I would love to hear more, Jewel, about what you’ve been up to.
And I was curious to ask, did you end up just doing the theatre design or did you do the academic thread as well? Or how did that work out?
JEWEL: I just did the theatre design. I didn’t really want to dip my toe into that part of high school. I was like, I don’t want to deal with the tests. I don’t want to deal with all that. And I had a couple friends who were in the academic program who also had come from being unschooled. So, hearing their experience of it helped too. Like one of my friends, she’s really brainy. She got into Juilliard on a full scholarship. She’s amazing. And so, she loved it.
But the other one, you know, not that she’s not smart, not what I’m saying. But it didn’t click with her as much. It was stressful. She hated it. But she was kind of pushed into doing it.
NISA: Well, we don’t know all the details.
JEWEL: Yeah. Yeah. But I’m glad I didn’t do that because I didn’t want
NISA: She knew she didn’t want to put herself in that kind of stressful environment.
PAM: But I imagine as you were describing all that theatre design and all that tech work and all that costuming and all that for all those shows, I mean, I’m sure that was super stressful, too but in a different way, it was stress you were choosing and enjoying. So, I think that’s a super important distinction. It’s not at all a negative thing to choose not to put yourself into stress that you aren’t interested in, because that helps you discover where stress helps you thrive verses weighing you down, right?
NISA: Yeah. And also even in the arts discipline, the teachers, you still learn a lot of history.
JEWEL: Oh yeah.
NISA: But it was related to her interests, you know, things that you were interested in.
JEWEL: Yeah. And going back to academic studio program because I chose not to do that, I got a little flak for that from some of the kids because they were like, “Oh, you’re still, you know, doing this. Why didn’t you join the academic studio program?” And then they would have inside jokes and they’d be like, “Oh, you wouldn’t get it. You’re not in academic studio.”
NISA: That’s terrible!
JEWEL: I’m like, “I don’t care.”
NISA: I thought she handled it brilliantly. That was the first time she had been in a school setting, with all these other kids and creative people in general can sometimes be a little more dramatic and…
JEWEL: Oh yeah.
NISA: She grew a lot there and learned how to deal with all that.
JEWEL: A lot of butting heads, but…
NISA: But she amazingly, I mean, it was amazing how resilient she was with all of that. And she ended up being voted the top senior, so that was kind of cool. Got a little scholarship money.
PAM: Oh, that’s awesome.
What are you doing now Jewel? Do you want to just let us give us a little update? I know you’ve got had some recent happenings.
JEWEL: Yeah, I just graduated cosmetology school probably about three weeks ago. So, that’s still pretty fresh. That was an interesting experience going through that. It’s a little bit of a hectic environment because they’re all private schools. So, they’re all individually run in their own way. I think I liked it so much because it’s so hands on. You’re not just sitting there reading a textbook. We had a textbook, but we only had theory classes for an hour and a half on two different days. And it wasn’t anything that was boring necessarily. But all the other times, it would be like, “OK, who wants to learn how to cut a triangular layered bob?” And so, we’d have many classes on that and stuff. And it would always be, you’re up, you’re doing something, you’re actively participating in learning. You’re not just sitting there in a lecture hall. So, I enjoyed that part of it.
NISA: There’s two parts to getting your license with that. There’s a written part and then a practical.
JEWEL: So, you do the written while you’re still in school. And so, the written is based off all the theory stuff you take. It can be anything from questions about what do you do if a client comes in with toenail fungus and kind of kind of gross stuff like that…
NISA: And it’s a long test.
JEWEL: It’s one hundred and ten questions.
NISA: She had to go up to Baton Rouge to take that. And then she passed and now she’s just waiting to be notified.
JEWEL: I did a little dance when I got my paper.
NISA: And now she’ll be notified when they set her up to do the practical. And she already knows where she’s going to get her job. She’s found one of the top salons here. We go to it anyway. And they know her and they’re like, “Yes, come on!” And so, she just has to fill out the paperwork, I think. And they have a really good two-year program.
JEWEL: And sort of I’m just like trying to put it into existence. I’m like, “I will get that job!”
PAM: Oh, that’s awesome. I love that you’ve already connected with a place that you enjoy. I guess you’ve been going there for a while then and you’ve connected with the people and they know you and you’ve already got that.
NISA: It’s a very large it’s a large salon. And they’re building a new building. It’s going to be 5000 square feet. I also don’t know if you wanted to mention that in between while she was in NOCCA in the summers for two summers.
JEWEL: One summer.
NISA: Just one summer with Kerry?
JEWEL: Oh, you were talking about with Kerry, I was thinking the Tulane thing.
NISA: Oh, so there’s a couple things that happened during those teenage years that I think it’s kind of interesting was that there’s a really award winning makeup artist from out in L.A.
JEWEL: Yeah, L.A.
NISA: That held classes around on makeup and stage makeup.
JEWEL: No, more film, special effects, all different things.
NISA: She’s won awards for, what were the shows?
JEWEL: American Horror Story, Nip Tuck, Sons of Anarchy are the ones I can think of right now.
NISA: So, she would hold these classes. I saw them and I asked you. And she’s like, “Yes, I want to do that.” And so, we connected with them and even though you were one of the youngest people.
JEWEL: I was the youngest person in the class. And I first went in. So, she has a more basic class. And it’s called Colour Box Bootcamp. There’s bootcamp one and two.
And usually she has people take those before they take the extra ones. But one of the extra ones is what we saw first. And it was the special effects class. And so, I remember when she was talking to my mom, she was like, “Are you sure? She’s ready?” And then I got there and I was doing things and I was like, “This is the first I’ve ever used this.” She couldn’t believe it.
NISA: Because she did it was doing so well. She’s been continually very supportive and impressed with Jewel’s abilities with all that. So, she did that two summers with Kerry and she’s got it. She’s still got that connection, too. She’s told her time and time again, “If you ever decide you want to be in this industry. Come on. I’ll take you under my wing.” So, that’s all there. There’s another possibility. Who knows?
PAM: Well, that’s it. That’s lovely. And I love that. You mentioned, Nisa, you happened to see that she was holding a workshop and then look at all that trickle became from it because you don’t know. That’s one of the fun things about being an unschooling parent. Is just kind of scanning the environment for things online and locally, for things that might catch their interest, that is so valuable to do. I think sometimes when people use terms like child-led learning and stuff, it can leave the impression that we’re waiting for the kids to just find their interest and or ask for things to do. Of course, when they do ask, we’re there to help them do that, too. But I like the team viewpoint or perspective a lot more. I think that just helps us all bring things to the table. And like you said, maybe sometimes they don’t want to do it.
NISA: Yeah, exactly. Now, we were just talking last night about just that transition as she got older and older and NOCCA was a big turning point because at that point I began to see she’s, I think my job at the beginning was to help her find things and for her watch how that happened. And in learning how to do more of that for herself as she got older, she would start finding her own resources. And then I was finding less and she was finding more. And now we’re both learning machines. We’re always going to be interested and curious and want to know more about all kinds of stuff.
JEWEL: Yeah. Researching my own stuff, getting my own books from the library. I would come home with arm full of books from the school library and she’d be like, “Where’d you get all those?” “From school library. They are all costume books.”
NISA: And more and more often she would be telling me something about something and I’d go, “What?! Where did you learn that!? That’s really interesting!”
PAM: Well, and we were talking just before the call about how conversations can go, because this connection and that connection and this connection and to me that is the joy of living almost. How we end up, this is not something that stops once they’re no longer kids or no longer school age. This is how humans enjoy exploring the world. Right?
NISA: It’s so true. Just to say something real quick. I’ve known some older people that really just sit there and wait, they seem like they’re just waiting to die. They’ve just kind of stopped or just waiting to retire, stopped engaging, stopped learning. They don’t know what to do with themselves. I can’t imagine ever feeling like that. I don’t know. I just can’t imagine it.
PAM: Yeah, I’ve seen that, too, and that’s such a fun thing because when they start doing more of it. I have seen that totally with my kids too. Then they also start bringing more to us too. Like if they come across something that they think we think will be interesting, they just naturally share with us back and forth. I’ll get links from any of my kids, you know? “Check out this. Check out this video. This is happening. You know, this play is happening here.” It’s just like we were saying, it’s just a way of life, right?
JEWEL: I was just going to talk about going into cosmetology school and it’s a wide range of ages. I wasn’t in class with all people my age. My class went from there was me and another girl who were 19 when we started. Another girl who was 25 and then 30, 32 and then the oldest person in our class was in her 50s. And so, it’s a wide range of ages and perspectives. And something I found interesting was it was the older people had stopped learning. Even though we were in an environment to learn, I would get called a know it all by the older people.
NISA: Joogle, That’s what they called her.
JEWEL: Yeah. They called me Joogle. Jewel and Google. (laughing)
Yeah. Because I would always be like, that’s the hyponychium in class and stuff. And so, they’d be like, Jewels, stop answering all the questions. But then when I stopped, no one else would try to answer it. I’m like, I’m giving you all ample opportunity. So, that was just something I noticed. Going into that school environment, it’s just like, what? Why have you all stopped? It’s like we’re all here to learn.
PAM: I remember in school for myself, not wanting, I got to a point at a young age where I didn’t want to answer the questions because I was scared of being wrong, because that would be embarrassing. And then especially, with younger kids. Then there was the teasing and all that kind of stuff. That’s something that I learned and I rejuvenated by watching my kids. I didn’t try to embarrass them when they were young, I saw how being wrong per say or the thing not working was just as valuable, if not more so, because then they kept going to figure it out to actually figure out how it worked. And that was a huge light bulb moment for me when I was deschooling because, for me, I just wanted to know when I was in school, just tell me the right answer so that I can memorize it and use it for the tests. That was the way I learned to deal with that system.
So, to get to move through that, to find that curiosity again and to be excited and to be willing to just try things and not worry about being wrong or people seeing that happening I came to embrace that. But yeah, that’s a really cool story, Jewel, about how you just saw that in action. Because I bet most of those guys went through school, right?
JEWEL: Oh yeah. All of them.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. So, that was great look at those years.
The next question I had was about your favourite thing unschooling during the teen years. I was just wondering if there was anything else you wanted to add about that time?
JEWEL: I don’t know. There’s a lot of things that were really amazing during those years. I think going to Italy was probably one of the most amazing things. Looking back on it, like I said, I wish I could appreciate it more because you’re 13, you’re very angsty and self-absorbed. You can’t appreciate stuff as much. And now I’m like, ‘Oh, can I just go back there?’
NISA: Well, maybe we will.
NISA: You also got your license? Yeah. Driver’s license.
JEWEL: Yeah. Getting my driver’s license was a nice bit of freedom. You know, I think it was one of the things that was difficult for you to let go in.
NISA: Yeah, it was.
JEWEL: Because, you know, it was like, “Oh, my God, my only baby is going off on her own.”
NISA: And it was the route to go from our house into the city where the school was.
JEWEL: Oh, yeah. Well, it was a 45-minute drive on the interstate with a bunch of crazy drivers and into the city, which, you know.
NISA: I did it. I got through it. I would say “Just text me when you get there.”
PAM: I feel you!
NISA: A lot of emojis.(laughing) But she was like rip in to go really up and for that independence and I was happy for it. I guess I wanted her to make sure she had practiced. But she had a lot of practice and we drove to North Carolina to visit my family because she ended up driving through a lot of fog and driving on the way back. She drove like 40 miles through Atlanta with the heaviest rainstorm you’ve ever seen. So, that gave me confidence, too, in her.
PAM: Well, she has experience in all the different environments.
JEWEL: Going on a few grocery runs and having that independence. “I’m getting groceries by myself.”
NISA: That’s how we can get started. You can drive by yourself to the grocery store, which is about what, 6 miles away or something.
JEWEL: It’s not very far. Ten minutes.
NISA: So that was how it kind of started. Like little treks out alone.
PAM: Yeah. Now, I remember Mike started drive to the karate dojo. Now what do I do with my evenings? Then he started working again. It was like 45 minutes away and it was the on the four big highways to get into the city because he was working right downtown. But that is just something you have conversations through, right. That’s the thing with unschooling, it all sounds and is wonderful. But it doesn’t mean that it’s easy and it doesn’t mean that nothing ever goes wrong or that people aren’t scared and nervous and stressed and all those kinds of things. But it means the relationship we’re working through that and we’re supportive of each other as we’re trying to accomplish the things that we want to accomplish.
NISA: And she’s amazed me. For instance, just facing things that she’s afraid of. Just like the way she just will go ahead and do it anyway, like go right through it. For instance, at the school. Remember when there was something that that they had to do with the lighting where it was really high up?
JEWEL: Oh, it was a follow spot where it was a manual spotlight. So, follow the actors around the stage really high up. Yeah, it was, I want to say like 35 feet above the audience. And so, you go up the stairs and climb up the ladder and you’re sitting there and you’re on this little catwalk. It’s safe. I mean, we had rails and everything. They wouldn’t let us go up there if it wasn’t safe. But you’re still looking down onto the audience. And it’s like, ‘Wow, that’s a big drop.’ And I was scared of heights. Probably from how long? Since I was five.
NISA: Something like that.
JEWEL: Yeah. We went on a camping trip to the mountains, made me afraid of heights.
NISA: But she did it. And the other girl that had fear of heights. She wouldn’t do it, right?
JEWEL: Yeah. No, I just I just went up there and I was like, OK, I’m fine with this now. And so, then I was the person getting on all of the ladders and stuff and getting stuff because, some of our sets were 15, 20 feet tall because we had a huge stage to work with. And so, I would sometimes be the one getting up on the ladder and screwing something in or whatever.
PAM: But it is fun how much you discover about yourself, too. Mike had that same fear of heights. And then now he’s getting yanked up on wires and dropped and doing falls and all that kind of stuff. It’s a process to work through, because it’s something that you’re choosing and you’re like, “I want to try this and do this.”
Talking about those years, what has surprised you most about how unschooling has unfolded in your lives, each of you? What has surprised you most about choosing unschooling?
JEWEL: I’ve never really had that outside experience until I went to high school and sort of viewed other people who had been in school all their life and was like, “Well, I’m really glad my mom didn’t do this.”
NISA: And for me, I think the surprising thing is really how I had no idea that for me, it would almost turn out to be some kind of a spiritual practice, tying it back into the mindfulness. And be so controlling as a person because I’m just somebody who likes things in order and neat and, I like to see things the way I want it to go and all that time. It was a big, that was my big change. I think learning how to let go of all that and trust that everything is going to be okay without me. I don’t need to do that.
PAM: Yeah, that leads so nicely into their next question, too, because I think this might have been part of that transition and it was for me.
Have you found or how have you found your definition of success changing along this unschooling journey? Because for me, my definition of success changed as I was releasing my control of trying to get to a place. Right, to that place that I thought was right or successful.
I’d be curious to hear how you found it. Did you find your definition of success changing over the years?
NISA: Well, I don’t know that mine changed that much because I’ve always even as a teenager and my little hippie days, I was always not all about a money society. And I didn’t believe that that’s what it took to have success. So, I’ve always been like, it’s more about finding what makes you happy, of course, enough money to have pay your bills and your food and shelter and all that stuff. And if more comes, then that’s great. But the main thing, the main motivator is, be happy, enjoy what you are doing. That’s how I’ve always kind of felt.
PAM: Do you even think in terms of kind of a definition of success? Jewel, is that something that comes to mind for you or.
JEWEL: I don’t really think so. I don’t know. I’ve always kind of fluidly moved through my interests and so I don’t know. I think success is just like if I’m happy, I’m successful.
NISA: Yeah and finding a way to make money doing that. I think maybe even bigger than the cosmetology. Her big, big passion is free motion quilting. Don’t you think?
JEWEL: Maybe not the free motion part, but quilting. Quilting in general. Yeah, I love quilting and that’s something that I like kind of completely taught myself how to do. Because for a while, knowing how to sew and everything. I was like “How do that do that? How do they sandwich all the layers of a quilt together, how did they do that?” And so, I just started researching and researching it. And I was like, ‘Oh, that’s how they do that.’ And then I tried it. I just went to my machine and I was like, ‘OK, cool, try that.’ It was really bad at first, I didn’t know how to put my feet dogs down on my machines, my machine was trying to take the fabric away from me. You know, and then just slowly I got more into it and now I have stacks and stacks of quilting fabric and quilt tops fold to fit with a room.
NISA: And we have an unschooling friend online that actually saw me posting about Jewel loving it and doing all the quilting and stuff. And she actually sent us supplies. When she was going through her grandmother’s stuff. Apparently, her grandmother had been a quilter and she had boxes and boxes.
JEWEL: A quilter and a garment sewer. And she had so much stuff. We got six huge boxes in the mail.
NISA: So, her stash grew mightily.
JEWEL: Yeah. I think there’s one of the photos that we put in is me like holding a handful of zippers. There was a box that was half zippers. I never have to buy your zipper again.
NISA: And she just has like a bookshelf full of fabrics.
PAM: Yeah. Oh, that’s amazing.
NISA: And she’s made quilts for both of her grandmothers, for me.
JEWEL: I’m working on one for my dad right now. Well, yes, I know that’s the thing, too. They’re just so many interests. Really?
NISA: I love that she there’s not a lot of young people quilting. So, I love that she’s carrying it on.
JEWEL: There’s no one in our area. I tried to find quilting groups and it’s like all of these like 80, 90 year old women.
NISA: Yeah, you’ll start a thing.
PAM: That’s what I love, Jewel was when I was asking you about a definition of success. And it’s not something you really think about because that is something, a term, a word, a concept that kind of loses meaning, as you get into unschooling. Because you’re in the moment, we all are, even as parents, we become in the moment and following our interests and the happiness and the joy and the fun in the moment becomes the important thing, it literally becomes success.
I know what I mean versus the conventional definition of trying to shoot for some particular thing. So, I thought that was awesome. Like you, it’s not kind of a conversation that I have with my kids. We don’t talk in terms of success. They have things they want to accomplish and things that they’re interested in doing, whether it’s Mike’s doing stunt stuff, but he’s also loving music. And, you know, with Joseph, we’re exploring so many things. VR is a big thing right now here. For all of us, we picked that up and we have so many conversations. It’s not just about playing a game. We have so many conversations, form to design and implications and just amazing. The connections you can make from anything are like spectacular.
NISA: It just makes your life so much richer.
PAM: Right because there are so many things.
JEWEL: And from the traditional point of view of success, I remember being in high school and having my teachers be like, “Oh, don’t you want to go to real college?” They kept trying to convince me in my junior and senior years “Don’t you want to be successful?” And I’m like, “That’s not my view of success.” Sure, if you want to go to college and that’s your cup of tea, then awesome. More power to you. But my cup of tea was going to a trade school and doing that. So, I was like, I’m not going to have a traditional path.
PAM: Yeah. No, that’s a great point. That’s a great point.
Something else I wanted to touch on, Jewel is now a young adult and has gone through cosmetology. And you’re kind of in that next phase of life as a family. I just find it’s just as exciting as all the other phases, because there are so many possibilities, right?
NISA & JEWEL: Absolutely.
PAM: I was just wanting to hear a little bit about some of the fun things about how you’re going to be weaving your lives together now in this new stage.
NISA: Well, we just never know because, you never know what kind of things are going to happen or anything like that. But we have a lot of different ideas and possibilities we’re talking about. But one of the things that we do know right now is that we are doing a major decluttering of the house.
When we built our house, we built the second floor with the same high ceilings, the same size of the house with the idea that we would later go on and do a second floor. That never happened. So, it’s just become a storage place for all of our resources and things over the years, 20 years of stuff. Jewel and I want to, we are planning, we’ve already started decluttering up there and bringing stuff out and get rid of it and turning it into an art studio for the two of us.
One of the things I did, another job I had that she could come with me was I was a afterschool art teacher and a summer art camp art teacher in our little town. That’s what I’d actually gone to school for a hundred years ago, well 50 years ago. So, I wanted to start an art practice back up and really want to do that for quite some time. And I don’t really have the space, so I will do that. She can move all of her sewing stuff and all her whatever up there, her dress form all this stuff that we’ve got crowded into our bedrooms now. So that’s one thing.
Then another idea for me is that I have long been wanting to go travelling again. And so, for the last two years, actually, in anticipating that possibility, I had been joining Facebook groups for all these expats that are living in various cities that I’m interested in, in Mexico. And a couple of other places in South America. But most are theses historical colonial cities in Mexico and making Facebook friends with expats living there so I could start making connections and learning more and reading more and trying to learn Spanish.
I saw someone the other day and was telling them about it. I don’t know if it will ever happen but boy am I having fun learning about all of these new people and hearing all these stories. And I am just loving them. But an idea could be that because rents are so high and Jewel has a friend talking about she’s working two jobs to pay rent when she’s moving out of the house. It’s a struggle. And so, one of the ideas is a possibility that’s out there is that we could go, my husband and I could go to Mexico for part of the year and Jewel could live here with her boyfriend. She can rent it with a roommate or something and then have her studio. So that would be a less financial burden for her. And it would serve two purposes kind of thing.
JEWEL: And also, you’re talking about growing older and still having a life with your parents. That’s something that I’m noticing. All my friends are like, “Oh, my God, I want to move out so bad. Oh, my God. I want to get away from my parents. I want to leave. I want to move states away.” Because they just don’t have that relationship with their parents. I am good friends with a lot of people who weren’t homeschooled or unschooled. My best friend and my boyfriend and well, a lot of people in my life weren’t.
And so, my boyfriend’s mom straight up kicked him out because she’s very traditional. She’s like ‘You’re 22. Get out of my house kind of thing.’
And so, seeing that and I was like, I’m chill living with my mom thing. She’s my best friend. We have great conversations and we can live together and we don’t go at each other’s throats all the time.
It’s not like you’re my parent, you’re my friend, because a lot of people, the traditional parenting, it’s like, “I’m not your friend. You will listen to me. You’re under my roof and my rules and blah, blah, blah.”
NISA: And I can even see a difference with her friends that visit. You can tell. Well, yeah, you can tell the ones that have a good relationship with older people or their parents. Sometimes they will actually engage with me. And so, yeah, I have a political conversation or whatever, a good conversation about something. And the other one’s act like I’m some kind of…
JEWEL: Like they’re scared.
NISA: Yeah. It’s kind of interesting.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah.
NISA: I hope you stay as long as you want, you can stay forever.
PAM: I’ve told my kids that too. And I’m really enjoying this stage. We just have so many projects together, like you were saying, all the possibilities and even how to weave your lives together. I mean, same here. We’ve got, with projects outside, we have a few acres, too. And inside, even, our rooms are becoming different things now. Right.
NISA: That’s exactly what’s happened. I have so many paint samples over there. We’re going to paint the house. There’s a giant bookcase over there she just inherited from her grandmother. She wants to refinish. She’s been watching all of these refinishing YouTube tutorials.
JEWEL: And they’re so funny because it’s always like someone’s uncle. Then they’re just like really dryly talking about.
NISA: And she’s watching it the whole way through.
PAM: It’s just so fun how now some of the projects, the projects become stuff that we’re doing together, versus us supporting them and them helping us. But now we’re coming to find more common things that we want to accomplish together. We just have so many things. And we have a bit of forest on our property and building trails and opening up spaces. And we’re just having so much fun doing the work.
NISA: I love walking trails on your own property, there’s nothing better. I mean, it’s so nice.
JEWEL: Yeah. Remember when you made that one and you made me like a little stage like.
NISA: Yeah. At one point earlier when she was real little, in our woods, I made this path that went out to this little space, I put some cement blocks around it. And the way the tree, it made it look like a little cave kind of. Yeah, yeah. It was kind of cool.
JEWEL: So, she made me a little stage and I put on little shows.
PAM: That’s awesome. OK. So, our last question is, one, I love asking experienced unschoolers who’ve been at this for many years and with older kids.
What do you think, looking back, has been the most valuable outcome from choosing unschooling, as you see it now?
NISA: I think it’s just instilling that love of learning, that curiosity and knowing that if there’s anything you want to know, you can do it. You can learn it easily. You have that power. And it just becomes so ingrained in you and that there’s no separation from learning and life. There’s always opportunities there to learn more about something that you want to know.
PAM: I love that. I love that. Because it’s like you said, it’s just a way of living now, right? It’s lifelong learning. So often you hear kids in school and they want to graduate. And I don’t want to have to learn anymore. You know what I mean?
NISA: Reading is like that too. You hear people say, “Oh, I’m never going to read another book.” I’m like, “WHAT?!”
JEWEL: I have friends who were proud of the fact that they hadn’t read a book in three years. And I’m like, “Why? Why are you proud of that? Books are great. Read a fiction book. Go on an Adventure.”
PAM: Right. I mean, it’s such a profoundly different outlook on living, isn’t it, that you end up with. So, I can see why you would choose that as one of the most valuable things, because that is. Now, you can be really comfortable knowing, your kid is moving forward, right? Can just engage with the world however, it is. It’s not like you need it to look this way because that’s all they grew up knowing. And that’s how they know how to do things. They’re open and can figure it out.
NISA: And also, just that different kind of connection that it instills in you to have. You don’t see as much with traditionally school kids. You know, I think that really different.
JEWEL: Actually having a good relationship with your kids and being able to talk to them about anything, because I feel like I can bring up anything to you and we can have a decent conversation about it.
JEWEL: Don’t you go against my beliefs. It’s not like that.
PAM: That’s such a big thing that I think so helpful. Is to really get to that point early on where you understand that your child is their own person. That you’re not trying to instill beliefs. And it doesn’t mean, I think something that can be really hard is to understand that it doesn’t mean giving up your beliefs or your viewpoint, your perspective, your whatever. It doesn’t mean giving them up, just to be okay with your child having different ones. Right. Right. Right. Yeah. That’s wonderful.
Well, thank you so much, guys, for taking the time to speak with me. It was so much fun. I’m glad we finally.
NISA: And you know, we could talk forever about this.
NISA: So many things to it that didn’t come up that that had been such a part of the whole experience, it’s been wonderful. I want to say, “Thank you” to the other people who came before us that put themselves out there to help show the way you like you and Sandra Dodd and Joyce and Anne Ohman, I love her. You know, it’s just been really invaluable because, of course, especially since there weren’t a lot of many unschoolers around us, especially to have that you guys as examples and to hear and read your words and stuff like that just really cemented more, the feelings of what I felt about it.
PAM: So wonderful. Thank you. Yeah. And I mean, for me, too, I didn’t know any unschooling families locally. You know what? I didn’t even know that homeschooling was legal. When my eldest went to school. So, that discovery and then being able to connect with people online was just amazing. It brought that whole new set of possibilities out that I didn’t even know were there. So, it is absolutely wonderful.
NISA: And also from starting that group. And as that has gone on and having I guess my name or my number must be on the Internet somewhere, because I get calls, I get calls from people in school wanting me to help them find a way out. And in the last couple of years, I’ve actually gotten calls from actual teenagers who were in the school system and very unhappy. And you know that that’s been a very interesting thing, to kind of try to help them talk to the parents about other possibilities for them.
PAM: hank you so much for doing that, too. That’s wonderful. And if anybody would like to connect with you guys, where’s the best place for them to reach out?
NISA: Well, we’re both on Instagram.
JEWEL: I have like a professional Instagram that’s public. So that one’s going to be at Artistry by Jewel. There’s no like special characters in there. And that’s where I post all of my hair and makeup stuff online.
NISA: And mine is at plant joy seeds. That was personal mantra for me.
PAM: Sweet. That’s awesome. Thanks so much, guys. And thanks again for chatting with me. Have a wonderful day.
NISA & JEWEL: Thanks, you too. Bye bye.