PAM: Welcome. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Jason and Kim Kotecki. Hi guys!
KIM: Hi Pam! Thanks for having us.
JASON: Good to be here again!
PAM: Oh, so much fun. Now you guys were on the podcast back in 2018. Time flies. I will put the link in the show notes for people, but I’m very excited to have you back to share more about your unschooling journey and what you guys have been up to.
To get us started, can you just share with us a bit about you and your family? What everybody’s into right now?
JASON: Yeah, you want to tackle that one?
KIM: So, as people who’ve heard the last time, we have three kiddos, Lucy, Ben, and Ro. And right now they’re 11, and let me see if I can do this, 11 and 8 and 6. Yeah. It constantly changes!
So, they are really kind of into some cool stuff as I’ve thought about this question, like what are they into? So, Ro, our youngest one, is just constantly crafting. She is like our little crafter, she’s got a scissors and glue in her hand, or markers or glitter at any given point in the day. So, it’s kind of neat to see her in her little maker stage here. She’s learned to swim, which is really neat to see her confidence bolster with that.
Our middle guy, Ben, he has been doing Legos since he could start to put them together. And that has evolved and evolved into something that we’re pretty excited about this year that we’re starting. So, Jason’s dad is retired. He lives about 45 minutes from us and he is a retired carpenter. And so we were thinking about Ben and his building and we’re like, I wonder if Grandpa would take Ben on as a little apprentice to transfer some of what he’s been doing with Legos into wood and different projects. So, that started at the beginning of the year. They’re doing about two times a month, kind of roughly, and I don’t know who’s more excited.
JASON: Ben’s pretty excited, he already has more skills than I have.
KIM: That didn’t take much, but you know, Walt, that’s Jason’s dad’s name, it’s kinda neat to see him embrace the vibe we’ve been putting out for a while in a new way and just kind of let Ben take some of the lead, but also guide and so it’s going to be a cool journey. I think that one ‘to be continued’ for sure to see where that goes.
And Lucy, who’s 11, she’s a really hit an interesting stage of independence. And so, last year on December 31st so it would have been about two months after we talked to you, she had it in her mind for her new year’s resolution, she was going to start a dog walking business. So, it was December 31st. And she was like, we’re doing this. So, we made a flyer on December 31st. We passed out the flyer on December 31st. And that was her thing for the year. “I’m going to do this.” Well, we live in a neighborhood with lots of dogs, so there was a lot of opportunity and a couple of said yes right away.
She had this goal that she wanted to donate money to the Cheetah Conservation Fund because she’s hugely passionate about cheetahs and their near extinctions. So, she found out that if you can donate $500, then you can support a dog, which is actually something that these farmers use to protect their livestock with these guarding dogs, they call them over in Africa.
JASON: That’s why the cheetahs get killed, it’s by the farmers when they attack the livestock. And so, the dogs keep the cheetahs away.
KIM: So, ironically she wanted to walk dogs to save cheetahs …
PAM: By getting a dog!
KIM: It was kinda neat. They were like, “This is cool!” So, she put that in her flyers. She told her story about her passion for cheetahs, and of course people were like, “Whoa, this is cool.”
She kept really busy last year. Not only did she donate one dog, or the money for one dog, she donated for four. She ended up donating like $1,200 to the Cheetah Conservation Fund. What happened was there was a couple matching programs where it’s like, if you donate now, we’ll match the funds. She was really motivated to take advantage of those cool incentives. And then at the end of the year, what ended up happening?
JASON: Yes. So, the CEO or founder of the Cheetah Conservation Fund, her name is Dr Laurie Marker. And I happened to see that she was doing a tour of the United States, a fundraising tour. And the closest she was going to be to us was Indianapolis, which is about five or six hours away. And but then I realized that I would be speaking in Southern Illinois two days before, which is much closer to Indianapolis. So, we arranged it for me and Lucy to attend. She came with me to my speaking engagement, and then we went over to Indianapolis and we went to the gala together and all got dressed up, and she got to sit right next to Dr Laurie.
KIM: Who is like her hero, she is basically the Jane Goodall of cheetahs.
JASON: Yeah. So, that was pretty cool. And they had a live cheetah there, that’s she got to see and get a picture with. And so it, to me, it’s a summary of what I love about unschooling, the freedom to see opportunities and take advantage of them.
There is no, she’s going to be in school or anything like that. Obviously, me traveling offers a lot of serendipitous kinds of things like that. But it’s kinda cool to just to be like, ‘Huh. That could work. That could happen. What if we did this?’ So she’s been fired up about that.
KIM: And now she’s making dog biscuits.
JASON: Yeah, she got a dog biscuit recipe. Gourmet dog treats. So now she’s adding that in. And, but I mean, as would be not surprising to anyone who unschools or homeschools, even, she’s learning language arts, she’s learning persuasion, she’s learning math and sales and all of those kinds of things just secretly by doing this project.
KIM: One of the things I think is the coolest thing that I see her doing on a daily basis is she doesn’t have her own phone, so all the communication goes through my phone through texting, and it’s usually texting with her clients to confirm the schedule for the week. And so, situations arise where she has to navigate some communication with grown adults in a way that is pretty advanced, in my opinion, for an 11 year old, whether it’s, you owe me money or the schedule is changing or different things that pop up. There was a time where somebody’s mom was going to be there that day, even though he was at work and just trying to figure some of that stuff out.
I see her articulating in these texts, communicating in a way that I’m not sure most grownups could do because she’s trying to put it in a kind way, but also communicating what she needs.
And I’m thinking, if that’s the only thing that comes out of this, ‘That’s pretty crazy good.’ You know? So, the journey has really given us quite a perspective of unschooling and it’s pretty neat to see it evolving.
JASON: I think she’s going to be a billionaire by the time she’s 18.
KIM: More like a philanthropist.
JASON: Billionaire philanthropists, whatever the girl version of Bruce Wayne is.
KIM: So, that’s the long answer to “What’s your family is up to.”
PAM: I love it! And it’s interesting because, learning’s not the priority when we move to unschooling, but that is something as we’re deschooling, that’s something that we start to learn along the way by relaxing for a while and seeing what our kids get up to. And then you start to see all the learning that’s happening when they’re just doing the things they actually want to do.
That’s so much fun. And another point that you mentioned is just that openness to possibilities, right? That’s another huge shift when you come to unschooling, being open to just seeing those things. So often we just have tunnel vision, not in a bad way, but we’re just so used to productivity, we need to have goals, we need to accomplish them. Then the next goal and accomplish them and so, to look up and around and think of all the different ways, there’s hundreds of ways to accomplish so many things, but we’re so used to having to find the right way, even if it’s the right way for us.
And that’s another shift because it’s about the kids, not about us anymore. The right way for us can look very different for them. It might not work as well for them. But being open, like you said, your speaking was a couple of days earlier, so you stayed a couple of extra days to do that.
All those possibilities that you can bring together made it so fun. It happened to be that it was a gala, so you got dressed up and she ended up sitting up near her, all those things that you can’t plan, but by being open to those possibilities and being open to that next step.
Just the paths that you end up following, from when you started with ‘I’d like to start dog-walking.’ You made the flyers and you handed them out, right away. You jumped on that, follow her pace. If she was less enthusiastic, you would have walked slower with her instead of, pushing, “I made these flyers for you go hand them out, because I want you to be dog walking.” There’s such a difference between those two things, but it’s like you said, it’s the essence of unschooling, isn’t it?
KIM: Going along the lines of the timing:
Something I’ve really adopted the last year is this concept that inspiration is perishable.
We see this with the kids, there’s this little magic zone of timing. Where if you don’t jump on it, in that zone, it’s gone. And not that everything you think about it needs to be implemented. That’s the other permission granted moment for parents to have, everything doesn’t need a full like start to finish.
JASON: You heard on her podcast previously, the idea of not every hobby needs to be a career, a life’s work.
KIM: So, I constantly give myself permission to not project my own idea of the future. You know, what this will be for them. But at the same time, in that moment when you see their eyes so lit up, you have to have the freedom in your schedule to pivot and say, “Okay, we were going to go grocery shopping and make cookies, but now I see this is important to you, so we’re going to totally not do that. We’re going to sit at the computer and write out this flyer.“
And that’s hard for certain personalities, including myself, to change gears really quickly, but that inspiration is perishable idea. We talk about that in our brands and with our tribe. And that’s true for adults too. Right when you have that excitement, you better act on it because it’s not going to last long.
JASON: Yeah. And I think the thing that stands out to me, when people hear that we homeschool, like just the other day, I said, “Oh yeah, we homeschool.” And then she was like, “Do you use this curriculum or this curriculum or those?” And I’m like, “I don’t know what that is.” And then I said “We just do unschooling.” And I just let them, if they want to talk more, I’m open.
But it’s funny because people think the work is worksheets and finding curriculum and teaching and I find the work is having your antennae up and being aware of where they’re leading, seeing the interests and trying to be willing to, like you said, change your own plans to help facilitate something they have going on.
That’s the work I have as an unschooling parent is to be, is to be aware and be mindful. And it’s a good work. It’s not like, ‘Ah, dang kids again. They want stuff from me now.’ But I think that’s where people who don’t do it, don’t understand that part of it.
KIM: And another way to word that is deschooling, right? The work of deschooling is part of the work you are preparing *yourself*. Instead of preparing worksheets, you’re preparing yourself for the journey.
PAM: Oh yeah. I like that. I like that. And that’s one of the reasons when I talk about mindset, what works for me is the mindset of being open and curious.
And your antenna is perfect for that. That’s the open, the paying attention, just open to what’s going on around you and curious. And so much of it is curiosity about our kids and about the things they’re interested in. And you’re right at first, that that can be part of the deschooling process for some people too. Conventionally kids are thought of a lot as kind of second-class citizens and what do they really have to add to a conversation? I’m an adult and hanging around with kids I don’t use my brain. And those kinds of attitudes that a lot of people that, ‘I couldn’t homeschool because I couldn’t hang out with my kids. What kind of curriculum, and I wouldn’t want to have to force them through all that, you know?’
So, that is a huge shift because then when you start to jump in, when they’re feeling it’s inspired and just help them take that next step and that next step or have that conversation because they want to bounce some ideas around. Because some are more verbal processors, right?
You’ll start to learn each of your kids because it’ll be different. It’ll be different how you jump in with that inspiration, how you engage with them to help them, to support them as they’re moving through it, to keep them engaged in it. It’s just so fascinating. And then you start to see when you’re engaging with your kids at that level, you start to see them as a person, as that real person.
And their thoughts are fascinating, aren’t they? And the way they’re thinking through things. And that’s when you start to see them learning at every turn. Learning through texting, learning through communication, learning schedules, making flyers. All those things that if you’re open and curious and actually paying attention to what’s going on, you see that learning and that’s when you can start moving more comfortably away from the idea of curriculum.
You see that when we’re curious and just following our interest, we learned so much. And sometimes I talk about it as “curiosity instead of curriculum” because you’re just learning so much that way and you realize, I don’t need the framework and the structure.
Because with the curriculum, my worry is, yeah, what are they learning? I think they need to be learning something and you try to put your trust in that. But when you’re open and curious and engaged with them throughout their days, at their level and at their pace and through their inspiration, wow. Once you see that learning, you just want more of that and want more of that.
JASON: One of my favorite quotes from Albert Einstein that I use in my talks is, he said, “I have no special talents. I’m only passionately curious.” And I say, I love that because I can be curious, I can be like Einstein. Finally.
KIM: He also admits he has no idea what E=MC2 …
JASON: I know it’s a big deal. I don’t know what it means, but yes, we can all be like Einstein just be …
PAM: Curious. Yeah. I use one of his quotes too, about curiosity and, and how just being open and free to follow that again versus a curriculum takes you so many cool places. And what I love, love, love about it, is that it’s so individual at that point.
When they’re following their curiosity. They are falling to things that they like and they’re interested in and that they’re happy to engage in and they’re so happy that they’ll stick with it for hours and hours or they’ll wake up excited the next morning to get back to it. That is something you don’t often see with curriculum, sometimes it will connect with something somebody is curious about, but more often than not, it’s dragging them away to stop thinking about what they’re interested in to go and learn something else that somebody else thinks will someday be important.
So that curiosity is just so fascinating. And I think as adults too, part of that deschooling is reawakening our curiosity. Knowing though the work that you do, I don’t know whether you lost much of it along the way, but that was so much fun for me. Because, growing up, I felt very conventionally that, the things that I’m personally curious about are for fun after the work is done. And then you give yourself so much work because I need to accomplish all these things that you hardly ever get to that piece. So, choosing unschooling and seeing my kids doing it and seeing all the interesting places they took it and what they were learning, g ave me permission to start opening up that box again and seeing what I was personally interested in. So that was a lot of fun.
KIM: It’s quite a journey for adults, I think. And that’s what we talk about as adultitis, how often we just don’t give our self permission to be curious or passionate anymore because it’s, it’s a reward or something.
PAM: I know. You hold it up as a reward, but then, then so often you barely let yourself get there.
PAM: So, I think we might have covered some of this, but as I mentioned before in your episode where you guys talked about your journey to unschooling, finding it and choosing it. So, I just thought I’d love to hear what your favorite thing is right now, about your unschooling life.
JASON: Wow. I think for me at least, one of the things is they’re getting to ages now, where like you said, they are getting more independent and they continually surprise me by how autonomous they are. Going back to what you said about second class citizens. And I think we constantly sell our kids short of what they’re capable of and I think even all the way up to teenagers. I do most of the cooking in the house, hopefully the kids, all the kids will help from time to time, but Ben’s really taken a liking to it and he’ll, put together scrambled eggs and, and do stuff like that. I barely knew how to make macaroni and cheese when we got married.
So, I’m just impressed by, with a little bit of guidance what they can do. It’s just awesome. It’s awesome to watch them develop and like you said, their interests and what they get into and, and how capable they are, beyond, frankly, what I think a lot of their peers are just because their peers don’t have the permission. They’re so shackled by, you got to do this, you’ve got to do this. You did that wrong. This is not how we do it. And they don’t have the, the confidence and there’s no opportunity to show what you can do. So, that’s been a cool part for me.
KIM: The thing that I keep seeing over and over as a thread that weaves through everything is the self-discovery, the art, and the gift of their self-discovery.
So, I was journaling recently, we got a little chance to sit on a beach a couple of weeks ago and that’s always when I can take a moment to kind of see what’s happening. Because in the day to day, I have a hard time recognizing that kind of stuff. So, we try to make a point to slow down and think about our life quite a bit.
I was thinking about this combination of your heart and your head and your hands. And I actually read this in a book and that’s the combination, when you start to tune those three things in, it’s like tuning a radio. You know, kids wouldn’t know what that sound is, but that radio static. You know what you’re like (making static sound) and then finally find it, that crisp sound that is so rewarding when you get the station tuned in. I was reflecting on how that’s what I see when their head and their heart and their hands all line up. This moment of, not only do I love learning about this, but I have passion for it and I can do something about it.
And that combination of tuning is what we see every day. I don’t know that most kids that are on a conventional system get a chance to do that until maybe their 20s or something. Some people don’t even do that in their twenties. They wait and then they’re having that crisis at 30 and 40 wondering, ‘What do I like to think about? What do I have passion for? What can I do about it?’ So, I think for me, I cannot believe that we have the opportunity to give these kids that right now and to let them shape and form who they are before they have to make huge life choices about it. It’s kind of mind blowing.
JASON: Yeah. I think I’m surprised. Obviously, we are homeschooling and picked unschooling because we thought it was the best thing for our family, but I’m even surprised at how, how terrible traditional schooling can be in terms of, this is not helping anyone. This is not, this is so the wrong path.
KIM: Because it’s basically missing what I just described.
JASON: Exactly. Right.
KIM: And I think that’s the part of it, there’s the thread through everything we see. No matter what we’re doing, where we are for traveling, if we’re at home, if we’re at swimming lessons, if we’re watching a show, that thread is through everything, this lineup of their head and their heart and their hands.
For me, I just can’t believe that we get to do this. It’s mind blowing!
JASON: Well, one of the things that really was cool just in the last couple of days is we run our business out of our home and we’ve had an unfinished bedroom that we had as sort of an order fulfillment space where we’d have our products and our prints and our books, and we recently made the decision to outsource that to another supplier that we work with and turn that room into what we’re calling a maker space.
Which pretty much was just our kitchen table before. Then it’s always, the kids get into something and then we say, “All right, we need it cleaned up because we have to eat or we got to do this.” And so, we thought, wouldn’t it be cool if they just had their own space? And so, we talked to them about it last weekend, and specifically about, what do you want for this space? What would you like to have? And we got their input on it. And so, we ordered some desks from Ikea and we have them all set up. They’re all in a bunch. So, they’re all facing each other, but they have their own space. They have their own set of drawers, and then there’s a lot of bins and cubbies filled with all of the art supplies and stuff.
And the other night after it had been all set up, we had music going in, the light set up. And I was helping them set up the computer. There’s like a little computer area and they were all just doing their own thing in harmony, humming to themselves, each working on different products or projects.
It reminded me of the story in the Bible where God is creating and in Genesis and he’s like, “And then he looked at it and it was good. He made this and it was good.” And I all I could think of like, I was just like, ‘We made this the maker space. And it was good. ‘ (laughing) This was definitely a highlight of the year, just seeing how fired up they’re about it. I had no idea how useful it would be to have that.
KIM: And it’s got a concrete floor and studs. There’s, there’s no drywall
JASON: It can be messy.
KIM: Which is also permission for other people. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on a home renovation to make a space like this in your house. So, it was a pretty big deal for us.
PAM: Oh, I love that story. I love that. And that’s a thing too, even just talking about finishing the room. The floors and the walls and things, and that’s an expectation. That’s it. A tunnel thing. When we’re not open, it’s like, ‘Oh, that needs to be done first before we can make use of space.’ That’s another huge shift for people. We’ve got the same thing downstairs, but oh my gosh, it’s so useful and fun down there now. And we did the same thing, downstairs after Christmas, we had a room that wasn’t being used much at all. We changed into a VR room, for virtual reality games. There’s lots of space for people to get moving around without worrying about hitting things and all that. And I go down there more now that there’s a spot for it and it’s lots of fun! I have the game that I am working my way through and it’s so fun when you release the expectation of how you use space. Like space in a home too. When you open that up, we never did have a formal dining room, you know what I mean? That was the computer room, the play room, whatever we needed. It just went through so many different phases and when you release that and say, “Okay, we’re just going to make our space work for us.” And when you realize you go to them, like you said, you spoke with them, “What can we use this room for? We’re thinking this. What do you guys think? What would you like to see?” Those conversations are so fun. And I love the idea of, ‘Okay, we did it, we created it, and this is good.’ I can feel that feeling!
It’s just so amazing when you make plans together that you’re excited about and you get that first blush done. It doesn’t matter if the walls are studs or whatever, whatever, because that doesn’t take away at all from using that space for whatever you put into it. That’s is something that we learned. Again, we’re talking about deschooling a lot, but that shift away, because that’s judgements that we’re putting on ourselves. I think most often it’s that, ‘Oh, you know, if somebody came from outside and looked in here, they would think less of me because this room isn’t finished properly.’
Even the word “properly,” that’s the judgment word right there. And to be able to release that weight of other people’s judgment and use the judgment of, is this bringing value to us as a family, and that is more important than what other people think. So, I really love that story.
JASON: Funny too what they care about, we asked Ben, he got a Chicago Cubs calendar for Christmas it was one of his favorite gifts. And I said, okay, so what do we want this maker space to be? He said, “I want a place to put my calendar.” So, we can accomplish that!
KIM: Don’t think it has to be a brand new, whatever.
PAM: I love that. It’s that, and that is the fun part of opening up the conversations with our kids. There’s so much insight and joy in there and yes, it doesn’t have to cost a lot. It doesn’t need to take up months and months of time. There are ways, when you’re open and curious about all the different ways that you might accomplish something you can so often find a path where you can make it work. It’s that old adage, right? You can get 80% of the bang for your buck for 20% effort. You can get there and then you can keep tweaking along the way.
That’s the other thing that we do with unschooling. We’re always tinkering. That’s why I love Makerspace too. We’re tinkering and we’re playing around with things and we’re trying something else. Without that expectation that this has to be the answer, and therefore we do it. We do it once and then, we leave it alone for years and years. No, we’re always asking ourselves questions about how it’s serving us, how we’re using it.
Can we tweak it and use a different way? Our rooms changed around three times since the end of the year and we will continue playing around it. We want a little spot where we can also sit and play. Did you know there’s a Netflix VR app? There are just so many possibilities that you can’t anticipate.
So, always being open to that and twisting and turning and taking a sidestep for a bit, just to see what happens. That’s the curiosity piece again, isn’t it? Let’s see what happens when we do that.
I would really like to get to talking about your newest book. You published it late last year, and it’s called A Chance of Awesome: How Changing the Way You See Changes Everything. And I really, really loved the book, and it’s filled with Jason’s wonderful art. And there are great stories that illustrate the many ways that we can change up the way that we look at things, looking at things through new eyes, those curious eyes really helps us move through so many bits of life.
I was hoping you guys could share the story behind the book. What inspired you to do this one?
JASON: Well, I think one of the overarching things is realizing that, so as a professional speaker, I am in the National Speakers’ Association here in the United States and have a lot of colleagues who are speakers, and many of them have very dramatic stories. Whether they were born with some sort of condition or they had an accident, or have had a leg amputated. All these things. And they have such amazing stories to tell from that experience. And I think they thought of it like, if you live long enough, you’re going to have something major that happens, death or tragedy or something that just sucks and hopefully. Changes. Hopefully you grow from it and something good comes of it, even at the time, doesn’t seem like it can.
But I realized you maybe only have one or two of those your whole life, but there’s a whole bunch of other things that happen to us every single day that seem like mountains that are really molehills and those every day sorts of challenges and storms and ups and downs, how we react to them can be just as life changing as the life changing event because it’s all the time. And so, I just wanted to share that idea and give people examples of different ways of looking at things and how we would look at things, really changes everything.
I think that was the goal. This is sort of an everyday kind of book to talk about the everyday sorts of ups and downs and that little habit of deciding, ‘Hey, I have a decision. I have a choice. I have agency over how to look at this problem.’ One of my favorite questions from the book is the idea of, now that this has happened, ‘What does this make possible?’ So, if something bad happens or something frustrating happens or things don’t go according to plan, we maybe wish it wouldn’t have happened, but there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s done. And it’s not so much to pretend like we’re not upset about it or to not grieve a little bit, but it’s more to be able to pick ourselves up and say. ‘All right, well that happened. Where’s the silver lining? Because I’ve come to see that the people who see silver linings are the ones who are looking for them. When I get to the point where I’m like, “Alright, what does this make possible?” I always find it. I always find something good that comes out of it, but I have to look for it. And so that’s the habit. That’s the habit that the book talks about.
PAM: Wow. I love that piece because it’s true, our character comes through in the more traumatic moments in the big life changes. But it is so important as well in the day to day things that go sideways that happened. Because those make up the vast majority of our life, of our days.
So, looking at how we choose to see things, and I love, love, love your point about it’s not about trying to ignore bad things, it’s not about trying to pretend that I’m not upset about something that happened that was unexpected or whatever. But it’s about that process of moving through that and finding that way forward, looking for that silver lining and that’s something that I think people find with experience with practice.
Most people that I speak to have found that too, that when they’re looking for that and it has the vast majority of times has not steered them wrong. As in, it’s okay that that thing happened. Because look what we chose to do instead. What does this make possible?
Because you had that thing. And you had that vision, that path that you were on and when something happens to it, you get knocked off that path that you’re, that you were expecting to follow. That’s what you’re grieving. That’s what your root, because you don’t know what to do now, but looking for that silver lining, what does this make possible now helps you see the different paths that you might take from where you find yourself.
Moving forward, because like you said, you can’t change the past. This is what happened. We can, and through that process, you’re learning from that thing that happened. Because you’re going to be asking yourself questions. You’re going to try and figure out why that happened.
Was there something, how was I involved? How was I connected? Is that something that I would choose to do again? All those kinds of things to understand that. And then when you turn around and you’re looking forward with that new knowledge, you’re in this new place. Well, you realize, ‘Oh, okay, so now new possibilities do exist. I’m not on that one path anymore.’ So, I think changing up the way that you’re looking at things is a huge help for people as they’re moving forward.
So, each section is like a story with related art and I loved each one and I thought, ‘I want to talk to them about this on the podcast, every single chapter.’ Obviously, that won’t work.
I would love to hear from each of you what your favorite story is, if you can kind of pick a favorite.
JASON: You mean my favorite child? Kind of like picking that! (laughing)
KIM: Um, yeah, let me make some up. No, kidding, I was thinking through with that lens in mind because you had shared the questions ahead of time and I’m like, ‘Oh, this is hard!’ So, the one that really comes to mind that I can’t believe, every time he shares this story from the platform, I shake my head in disbelief that it actually happened.
We had a situation where Jason’s dad called a family meeting. It’s kind of a long story, I’ll to try to try to keep it short.
JASON: You have to read the book. (laughing)
KIM: He called a family meeting, all the kids, in-laws and that sort of thing. And we were all wondering what’s going on? We knew something was up and so we all met at Jason’s brother’s house after the suspense of 24 hours of waiting. His parents pull up and his mom had this hoodie on, which we joke about it in our programs. Common for like a 20 something, but not for a 60 something woman to wear a white hoodie!
“Why is this happening?!” Well, then his dad got out of the car and he was dressed up. Well, his mom ended up being dressed up like a beekeeper, and his dad was dressed up as a bee. Like a full bee costume! So, they’d come in and he sets up this little makeshift podium and he does this whole speech about, bad things happen and we get through them as a family and it went on forever and we’re all like, just get to the point.
And so long, long, long story short, he went to the doctor and there was cancer. And he started to share the prognosis and the plan. And there was hope coming back in the room, but he said, “I just wanted to wear this outfit to take the sting out of the news.”
People have to tell their family they have cancer every day of the week, every day. There are probably thousands of people doing this, right? But Jason brings up in the book of like, I bet no one in the history of ever has told their family that they have cancer wearing a bee costume. So, that inspired some art that Jason did, “Bee optimistic” art that’s in the book.
And then now that’s turned into a pin that Walt has shared with, what over like three or 400 people. So, he wears this little bee optimistic pin and people are always like, “Oh, I like your pin.” And then he’ll end up sharing a little story from it and he’ll end up giving them his pen.
And this is something where he’s sharing as you talk about, kind of like at a marathon where people are giving out water, that’s Walt because now he’s cancer free and he’s taken this on is like a mission. That he can do something now to keep giving hope to people and saying, “Hey, you know, people get through cancer all the time. You can do this. It’s a marathon. You can do this.” So, I don’t know if there’s anything you want to add to that, but,
JASON: No, it was memorable. I love when I tell this story in my speaking gigs, because I tell the story and then I show the picture. And if people are just like, “What?!” One little thing that my mom reminded me of is that my dad’s blood type is B positive. So…
KIM: So that’s one of my favorite stories because I just can’t believe it’s true, but Jason actually makes the point that I think is really cool at the end when he shares this with audiences, is that how many speakers can get up there and say, you can’t affect what happens to you or you can’t, how do you word it?
JASON: When you just say control how you react to it, then it’s like an empty platitude, a fortune cookie thing. But when you see a real example of what does that looks like, to me that’s inspiring. You know? Because it’s like, ‘Oh yeah. I get that now.’ That’s what the book, that’s why I try to put stories in it.
Because the stories are the things that people can relate to, even if they’re really weird and unusual. People tell me stories that are weird and unusual, but it reminded them of something that I shared.
I think one of my favorite ideas in the book is the part about. Must be nice. And that “Must be nice,” as a sort of like backhanded compliment, a gripe we have about other people, you know, like, “Oh he built his own house, must be nice.” Or, “He doesn’t have to work because he’s got a really good job. Must be nice,” there’s any number of them. We all do it. And one day it occurred to me, I thought of this because I was doing it myself as I was looking at other speakers. Whether they had, accomplished something or played in the NBA or climbed Mount Everest or whatever, and uh, it’s like, ‘Oh, well, geez, it would be so much easier. If I played against Michael Jordan, of course, people would want to hear me talk, or if I climbed Mount Everest. What have I done? I haven’t done nothing.’ And it occurred to me that at the time when I had these thoughts, I hadn’t really used my art hardly at all in my speaking programs, and I was like, ‘You’re an idiot. This is an untapped thing that you are not taking advantage of.’ And I had this moment where I envisioned 10 years later. People looking at my presentations, looking at my slides, looking at what we do and saying, “Must be nice. He’s an artist. He can incorporate all this beautiful stuff into his programs.” And that’s when it occurred to me that we all have, *must be nices*.
And I think this is true with homeschoolers too, because we all have different lives. I’m sure people maybe would think like, ‘Oh, well you get to travel. So, it makes it a lot easier to do trips with your kids.’ I’m like. Yeah, that’s a must be nice. Right? And we also try to take advantage of it. So, when I am speaking somewhere close to Indianapolis, I can take my daughter, but then I think of other people, other homeschoolers I know.
Or I’m like, ‘Oh, must be nice that you have that job or you have that you live on a farm. So, you can like incorporate all of that.’
I think, instead of being upset or jealous of other people’s must be nice, I think we’d be better off to look at what our must be nices are and take advantage of them and know that that every single one of us has at least one thing that someone else would say must be nice about us, whether it’s our health, our relationship, where we live, neighbors, a special talent we have, there’s definitely more than one, but you don’t, again, it’s about changing the way you see. You don’t see those when you’re looking at everyone else’s. Right?
PAM: Yeah. I mean, and when you were talking about platitudes and phrases that get passed around, the grass is always greener. Must be nice because you have that over there. It is a different way. I think it’s a different way of looking at ourselves. Because I don’t know if, but growing up, whether it’s a societal thing or whatever but I hear the phrase tall poppy syndrome every once in a while like that. We don’t want to stick out.
And, and so we downplay the must be nices for ourself. We don’t think about them because we don’t want to think of ourselves as better than other people like thar. But when you change the way you look at things like that, the digging that you did into that question, Jason, that’s is an amazing example of that, right?
It’s like, those things happen to them and they’re great. What in my life is unique and interesting that I can lean into? That it’s okay for it to have these cool parts of our lives. And when somebody says, that’s cool for you, that’s cool. Yeah. You know, it is. You don’t have to feel guilty about it. You don’t have to hide it. And like you said, everybody’s got something. It’s a matter of taking that time to look for it and to appreciate it and to be okay with it. To take advantage of it and not feel guilty. We live on property, we have a few acres in and we love that.
But that’s the cool thing. Because sometimes, I don’t want to tell people that or whatever, you don’t want to lean into it, but then again, as part of your journey, you also realize that, for some people that’s not an interest. You can be yourself, be optimistic, be yourself, embrace what you love. And share what you love and people that will connect to it, connect to it. And it’s okay if other people don’t. That’s the other reason, wanting everybody to be my friend, wanting to get along with everyone. It’s that whole, it really, really, really goes to all that your book is about. Changing the way that you look at things, changing the way you see things, and being much more open to the possibilities and open to, it’s okay when other people see things differently than me. Right?
JASON: Yeah. I love the art. I’m very proud of what goes with that one. When you talk about comparing apples and oranges and there is an orange looking at an apple saying, I wish I was crunchier and the apple is looking at the orange saying, I wish I was juicier. That sums it all up.
PAM: Oh yeah. The art that you picked to go with the stories is beautiful because it enhances the story and vice versa. It enhances the art too, to have that story behind it. If that’s what helps people take that moment to think a little deeper to change up how they’re looking at it. I mean, you can look at those and go, ‘Ah, that’s cute.’ And, and stay there but if you take that moment to see that this applies to life, right? That it can apply, and then you think, Oh, what situations? It just makes you think, which, which doesn’t hurt at all. Ever does it?
KIM: Must be nice to have art talent…
PAM: That’s my first reaction. There was one story that when I thought about a story to share, it was one that was really big for me on my unschooling journey, when I was getting started.
So, the one I wanted to share was—it was a great quote from you, Kim, that Jason shared, “Never let making a mess get in the way of making a memory.” You guys have such great, succinct nuggets of insight, but it’s the discussion behind it, right? It’s the thinking about it. It’s so short and sweet, but when you think about it, it is super eye opening. And it struck me because certainly as we’re beginning unschooling, we have all those scripts that we live conventionally, we live our days on autopilot. We haven’t yet opened our eyes to that open and curious and getting ready to switch up things. We have that path through our day. So, we often jump to seeing the mess instead of seeing that memory making potential of the moment.
And I think that is a huge and helpful shift to changing the way you look at things, especially with unschooling, because we are all together and, and instead of following that curriculum, that outside framework, when we’re following our curiosity, it is so important to embrace those moments.
Again, not as the martyr, but to really see the value in them, not in “Oh, I’m supposed to ignore the mess.” Now, that’s not the point of the shift. I think deeper than that, and that’s what you’re talking about when you’re looking at the potential for making a memory there.
KIM: Totally. I feel like it was in January maybe, you had an interview with someone who has the website Lovely Chaos. During the conversation, I wrote this down and it has been on a sticky note on my dresser ever since. And it was said, “This isn’t a mess, it’s a yes.” And I thought, ‘Ooh, that is just another way of putting what we had just said in the book.’ And I’ve thought of that when I see the room covered in the town of little critter animals or whatever it is at the time.
JASON: Scale model of the Wisconsin state fair in the living room.
KIM: And you’re like, “You’re still playing with this. Okay, we’ll leave it out.” And inside, you’re like, ‘We’ll leave it out. Don’t go crazy.’ You know? And so that concept of this is important to them and this is their home, and it shouldn’t be divided into just playing in the playroom or just playing here, or six square feet in front of your bed is where you can set things up. That doesn’t work. And I thought, this isn’t a mess. It’s a yes. I love that line. That was shared in that interview, because I thought. That was the, yes, that was a yes to 10,000 things, imagination, creativity, building, possibility, dreaming all this, not to mention what they do with each other when they interact with it all, you know?
So that to me was another reiteration, just a little slant of that that I thought was really cool.
PAM: And it’s so important, right? That’s why I really wanted to talk to you guys about this book, that step to change the way that you look at things, that changes the way that you’re seeing something, it is so valuable, for the parents, for our journey.
Because you need to get past that ignoring piece. It’s the difference between intellectually understanding something and really living it. You can intellectually understand that, messes are a product of them doing something and they’re learning something from it. I should let them be and then stepping away.
But then you’re stepping away. And you’re losing those opportunities for connection. But when you change the way you see it, you take that moment to see all the things that they’re learning, the things that are bringing them joy, the things that are engaging them. All that helps bring you to the conversation with them. Helps you point out, “Oh, that’s so fun. How you set that up.” It brings you to the situation. It increases your connection with your child, and it increases your trust with your child, and now you’re not avoiding or out waiting. Trying to outwait until they’re done with it. And then say, “Okay, we can clean it up now.”
You’re not just trying to wait it out. You’re actually engaging with it and enjoying it with them. And that’s where those memories are made. That’s where we’ve learned so much more about each other. That’s where we make those connections.
I felt that shift for me was such a huge turning point when I was deschooling because it brought me more into their lives than me just standing as a parent on the outside waiting for them to do their things and then I ended up making fresh space and wait till we find out what the next thing was.
It was a difference between living side by side and actually living together.
KIM: And you know there’s a fine line too, because I think we’re delicately finding where the moments for teaching responsibility are and these things. I know you do a really good job, Pam, and your podcasts of having that conversation. It’s not about chaos. Because no one wants to live in chaos, and that actually isn’t great for anyone. That brings a lot of stress and turmoil to the family. It’s almost like letting them bake all day long, but they don’t have to do any of the dishes. You know? So when the room is covered in some sort of project, the living room, which is usually probably 90% of the time, then we take it as at the end of the day before dinner starts, we have what we call five one five cleanup, and it’s at 5:15 and the mentality is like, you get to keep out your projects, but there’s a lot of other stuff in this room that doesn’t involve the project that just got dropped.
Like, why are there dirty socks there and whose wrapper is that? And you know, that kind of thing. That then allows for the lens of responsibility in a collective teamwork as a family that we work together to make our home, a place that we can all enjoy. So, it’s that balance that you can give yourself permission to do both, I think.
PAM: Yeah. And when you’re engaged with them, you can tell the difference. You can have those conversations. You’re there to have those conversations and they know the conversations are without judgment. Because they know you’re appreciating their project and the things that they’re doing and that you want to support and help them and that you are enjoying their joy in it.
But knowing that also, it’s like, the socks. You can bring up different conversations with them, “Can we tidy up the chair so that I can sit there tonight when I’m reading?” Because you know, and they know and you’re engaged. It can just add so much more value to those conversations about living together and what everybody’s needs are because that chaos piece is when you’re not really looking. You’re just feeling like I should. When you first come to unschooling so often it’s, “I should say yes all the time.” “I should do this. I should do that.” Because you hear descriptions of what the lifestyle is like and you want it, but you haven’t done a lot of that deschooling yet to understand what’s underneath that. What’s underneath that chaos of that mess? It’s the yes. That’s why you know it’s valuable.
It’s those memories that you’re making, but you need to fully engage in living that for a while to actually see it. That’s when you can start living from intellectually understanding, ‘Okay, for some reason, they’re saying yes an awful lot to their kids, so I guess I should be doing that.’ Right. So, you can intellectually understand that you don’t want to stop their learning. But once you start to deschool and actually engage with “Why”, that’s when you start with the what, but then when you start to really understand the why and you start to experience it a few times, then you’re really living it because you can understand it.
The room might look exactly the same as it did three months ago. Where first you saw chaos and tried to ignore it, and now you’re seeing the beauty, you’re seeing the memories, you’re seeing the yes and you’re engaging with your kids and building that relationship that we talked about so often and by doing that, that’s when you’re like, ‘Oh, Whoa, unschooling is awesome.’
Last question! I would love to know what has surprised you most about how unschooling has unfolded in your life so far? Who wants to go first?
KIM: I’ve got one off the top of my head. I’m most reminded of this one when I look outside our walls a little bit. When we’re out in public, a store or just with cousins or something. But, I having only unschooled we had the opportunity to start this when the kids were really young. So, we’ve never been parents without unschooling, so it’s hard to know what our family would feel like and look like without it.
But you do get glimpses of other families in a different way when you’re out and about. And I think the thing that really stands out to me that surprises me again and again and again is the unrelatability of the normal, average family when it comes to “us versus them”. There’s just an “us versus them”, “kids versus parents” culture in everything, commercials and society and school.
And I just don’t get it and I can’t relate to it anymore. And so being 11 years into parenting, because our family is just so different, it’s like we’re in a stage of collective joy is how I put it. We’re all together. We have family missions. We have family perspectives. When we have something hard we have to do we can do it.
We had the great privilege of going to Hawaii as a family. Jason spoke there so that we took on such an opportunity, but don’t get me wrong, traveling to Hawaii with three kids, 11 and under. You take a mission approach to that, right? I’m like, we’re going to do this and there’s going to be great benefits, and here’s our tone that we’re going to set as a family and help each other.
Because I was dreading a 6 hour flight from Salt Lake City. So, it was definitely one of those things where we look at each other as a team, and it sounds really cliché and cheesy sometimes when you actually say it.
On social media with the whole, “Oh my God, you can’t wait for Christmas break to be over so the kids can get out of my hair.” And all these different themes. And obviously that comes up a lot, in the podcasts, how that becomes really unrelatable and I think that’s what’s most surprising is how unrelatable it really is. We’re really a team. We’re working towards our best self each day, and I think they’re trying to help us be our best self as much as we’re trying to help them.
Lucy will share a quote with me that she thinks I’ll be inspired by. I’m like, “Thank you. I love it! Can you put that in calligraphy for me?” Sometimes doesn’t even feel real, but everybody’s working together.
Jason took the kids with some other people, another family to an event recently. And when they got back, the kids were like, “Oh, the other kids were really whiny.” And they were just processing this. And I said, “Well, maybe you guys have more practice with stamina on walking around events and stuff like that.” So, we’re processing it and the littlest one Ro, who’s six said, “Well, I felt tired too, but I chose not to whine.”
Yeah. (laughing) And it was like this whole self-evaluation as a six year old that, I felt the same way they did, but I didn’t go there. She basically saying it wasn’t going to help anybody to whine about it. Right. Am I misinterpreting that? And I’m not saying that as an example, like our kids are perfect, cause certainly they aren’t, but I’m not either.
JASON: We are. (laughing)
KIM: I whining more than them, you know? But it was interesting to see this concept of whining produces some sort of reaction from a parent and we just don’t have that kind of dynamic in our family that you have to react in an extreme way to get heard or to get respected.
PAM: That’s it. You know what? I think Ro knew that if she whined, you guys, Jason would do something about it. You’d be like, “Okay, are you guys done? Do we want to go now?” And she probably thought for a minute and knew she didn’t want that to happen. ‘I’m tired, but I still want to do this.’
And you, we were talking earlier how much more capable kids are, then we give them credit for so much. And other kids may know that they whine and they whine, but it won’t affect, they have no control over what happens from that next step. So, you know, they might as well whine to just kind of get it out. Like it’s a release. It’s a helpful thing for them to process, because they know they’re stuck. So yeah, it’s, it’s really fascinating to think about.
JASON: Yeah, I think mine’s along those lines. I’m not sure how this will come out, but I’m surprised at how nice my kids are. I think about, just last night the kids were in the maker space.
Lucy was out helping Kim with shoveling snow. I was working on dinner. And I called the two little ones up to help set the table. And there was a part of me, because I knew they were really into it. There was a part of me that had flashbacks to when I was a kid and I was almost afraid to ask them to come up because I assumed they would whine about it because that’s what I would have done.
And they didn’t. They just cheerfully came up and did it, and they did as quick as they could and then went back down to their thing. And that’s a fairly regular occurrence. I say that not because I think we did anything right.
I think the real issue is that when you’re a kid in a traditional school setting, you don’t have any time for you. And so, then when you’re home and you finally have a few scraps of freedom and someone else is now telling you stuff you have to do, there’s just like a human boiling point where you snap.
And I think I was very much like that as a kid. And I think that’s why, maybe that’s not every kid, but it was like, geez, I could finally get a chance to do what I want to do, and now I’ve got to do this. Now we have to go here. Now we have to do, you know? And so, I think because of what you said about us being together and having shared responsibilities, that’s part of it. But I think part of it too is because they’ve had most of the day to do a lot of what they wanted to do, that when it’s time to chip in and help out, it’s just normal.
And still to this day when I asked them to do stuff, I’m imagining young Jason, some snide comment. And again, are they always angels when it comes out? No, but it’s almost weird sometimes when they aren’t.
KIM: And when that happens you’re like, “What’s going on?” You realize something else is going on. We’ve been staying up late or whatever, you know?
PAM: So, yeah. That’s interesting. I think that’s such it. It’s cool to think about little Jason, right? Because so often it’s hard to apply the way we feel or would react. But it’s great to think about in comparison because that’s when you start to realize what’s different for them. How different their life is than when we grew up much more conventionally with school and often with parenting styles.
So, I think that’s fascinating when you see like that. I love too, that the kids are capable again, of so much. They have so much interesting insight. Like you mentioned Ro’s story about that and when you have that strong and connected relationship with them, like you said, if they reacted in a strange way to a request or a conversation or something, your question would be, “What’s up?” I remember I wrote many years ago on a blog posts, and the inverse is true. If my kids were asking or I was telling my kids to do something and they were asking why, and I said, because I said, so, they would literally laugh and back then, that would be bad. You don’t laugh at your parents when they’re asking you to do something, you do it, you know what I mean? We’re so used to just explaining ourselves and understanding each other.
So, like you said, if they were acting uncharacteristically, you wouldn’t like blame them or try to make it worse or try to say that’s wrong. You’d know there’s something else here, because this is uncharacteristic, so let’s dig deeper. Not, beat it out of them verbally or whatever. I find it so fascinating, just, who unschooling kids are, they are so capable.
Their self-awareness is fascinating to see inaction. And they surprise us so often, don’t they? Even when it’s something simple, “Can you come help set the table for a minute?” So often, it’s, yes. And they just come, run, do it, and go back to their thing. You know, the odd time that it’s, “No, I’m really busy. I’ve got the glue out in one hand, or whatever, whatever.” But we understand that about each other and we’re supporting each other through all that. It’s just such a different relationship and it creates such different human beings, doesn’t it?
KIM: I think emotional intelligence comes to mind. I don’t think that was a term I heard until I was in my twenties and maybe it became more popular from some books or whatever. But I think we, we actually use that term with our kids of like, this is a time where we’re being emotionally intelligent. What does this person need? How do I react to it? How can we best hear each other and communicate in a way that’s positive? These are just things that are part of our daily conversation. And I would say emotional intelligence and self-discovery are two foundational pieces of who they are, just based on conversations and proximity to one another and how we work together.
JASON: I think along those lines, we’ll watch Kitchen Nightmares or something with Gordon Ramsey with the kids. And they love it. But it’s a such a cool opportunity for us to talk together and to analyze a business and then emotional intelligence of like, why did he treat that woman like that?
Gordon Ramsey does a really good job of being able to deal with the individual people how they need to be dealt with, whether it’s aggressively or kind or whatever. And it’s funny because I think of going back to the capable thing, like how many of their peers could never watch a show like that and get what’s going on.
But it’s almost like it’s an opportunity again to sneak learning in and it’s more real world, the emotional intelligence, because I think if you’re emotionally intelligent, if you know how to treat people well, you’ll be fine in life. You’ll figure it out.
KIM: Everything else you can Google
JASON: Everything else is figuredoutable. But if you treat people well and you know how to communicate and all that, then. I think you’ll be fine.
KIM: Yeah. But those are values that I think tend to be foundational pieces of most unschooling families that we’ve gotten to know. So, I don’t know how that happens, but I think because you’ve kind of cast away all the curriculum, you have room and perspective in your brain to see all these other things. And it seems to be a common denominator we’ve run into for sure.
PAM: Yeah. And I think you were talking about right at the beginning, making the space and the time for all this to let it unfold. It’s something that I learned—at first we’re so keen and excited, planning all these field trips, we’re going to go all these places, we’re going to do all these things. And I was surprised at how much unstructured time we gravitated towards to just pursue our own things, to have that ability to have those longer conversations just about anything that pops up, whether it’s through TV shows or through something that happened with a friend or whatever. That time, and so much of it is as they get a bit older as so much of it is emotional intelligence questions versus facts. Right?
PAM: Well, I could talk to you guys forever, so much fun. Thank you so much. But before we go, please let people know where they can connect with you and all your work online.
JASON: Yeah. They can simply go to escapeadulthood.com that’s where we are. We have an online community and we have all kinds of fun things going on all the time. We have a group called the Escape Adulthood League, which if you click on community on our website, you can get there. It’s free. And we actually have a little subgroup in there for homeschoolers because a lot of homeschoolers resonate with this idea we have of adultitis and escaping conformity, and breaking rules that don’t actually exist and all that kind of stuff.
So, escapeadulthood.com is where we are on all of the social channels, and that’s our website too.
PAM: That’s awesome. I will put all that in the show notes. I also want to put a link to the book because I want people to check that out as well. It’s wonderful too. Thank you so much guys, and have a wonderful day.
Kim: Thanks, Pam.