PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from living joyfully.ca and today I’m here with Ellie Winicour. Hi, Ellie!
ELLIE: Hi, Pam!
PAM: So, I have really enjoyed learning more about you and your family in the Network over the past couple of years and I am delighted to have this opportunity to dive deeper with you. So, to get us started …
Can you share with us a bit about you and your family and what is everybody interested in right now?
ELLIE: Oh, thank you for having me, Pam. I’m happy to be here. We are a family of two lesbian moms and one non-binary kid. We live in Boulder, Colorado in the US. Things we all like to do are hike and watch funny animal videos on YouTube and play board games together. Our child is Celia. They’re eight years old. They’re non binary. They say they feel like they’re between a boy and a girl. Celia is compassionate and fun and a very creative thinker. They’re really active and they love being outside, like finding bugs, climbing trees, making forts, all the things in nature.
Celia tends to go through deep dives into things. So, we’ll spend a year making a recipe or two every single day, not making up a recipe, like just baking for a year. Or learning everything about plants and trees, just deep dive for a year. Or playing with dolls all the time. And it’s really fun.
Celia lives with an abundance mindset and it’s so beautiful to be around. Right now, Celia’s biggest passions are being social. They’ve always been social, but hanging out with friends. They have a group of kids in the neighborhood that they love to play with and then getting together with homeschooled friends, just individual play dates, too. They are just learning so much through playing with their friends.
And they’re also really, really into dogs. We have a little white fluff ball staying with us this week, Lily. And we also walk a golden retriever twice a week, too. And Celia says that they would pay to hang out with these dogs. So, it’s pretty awesome that they get paid to play with them and walk them. And Celia is so responsible and capable with it. It’s amazing to see.
Jody’s my wife. She’s 50 and Celia calls her “Mama.” I call her my concrete sequential queen who keeps us fed. She’s practical and kind. And she loves her work and she’s very dedicated to our family. She does a lot of cooking and she’s very good at it. She’s passionate about that. Between the three of us, we have a lot of food sensitivities, so we have to make everything from scratch.
But she’s a physical therapist at a local hospital and she specializes in treating people who have cancer, especially breast cancer. She loves music. Right now, she’s really into Sara Bareilles. She’s learning about emotions and pain right now. And those are her interests. She loves Brené Brown’s new book, Atlas of the Heart. So, that’s Jody.
And then, I am Ellie. I’m 41. Celia calls me “Ima.” So, before Celia was born, I was a bilingual speech language pathologist. But I love being able to focus a hundred percent of my energy on unschooling Celia. That’s what I do. I love unschooling and I’m very involved with the Living Joyfully Network.
I love to read. I’m always reading a lot of books at once and listening to a lot of podcasts and I just feel like I love stories, learning about people’s lives, and my brain just loves stimulation and learning. I just can’t get enough.
I love to walk and hike with our standard poodle, Lyra. I love being outside and in nature so much. I moved around a lot as a kid and I’ve lived here more than I’ve lived anywhere else. And so, it’s been really cool to watch the seasons change and really learn all the plants and the wild flowers. Just this spring, I saw mountain bluebirds for the first time in the mountains. And they’re so beautiful. I get very excited about nature.
And my other interest, I love watercolors. I’ve been getting into playing with watercolors. I think I’ve shown you a little bit. I lose track of time when I’m painting and I don’t know what it is about it, but I love it. So, I’m enjoying that. I’ve been deep diving into gender lately and I’ve especially loved learning from Alok Vaid-Menon, who’s a non-binary activist, who’s just amazing.
And then a more silly interest, but very serious is, have you seen Encanto, the new Disney movie?
PAM: Not yet. It is high on the list.
ELLIE: There’s a song in there called “Surface Pressure” that’s sung by a really strong sister of the main character. And I have become obsessed with it. So, Celia and I know all of the words and we enjoy singing that. So, I don’t know. That’s an interest, too.
PAM: Oh, thank you so much for sharing. I love the variety. You pointed out the things that you guys enjoyed together and that each of you enjoy on your own.
I am still thinking about and super loving the observation about Celia, how her deep dives are lengthy, like around a year. That is so cool. That’s something we talk about when people first come to unschooling, to give it time for a while, because you need that six months to a year to really see how learning unfolds, because you want to be able to see the connections. You want to be able to see how things change and flow over time, because that helps you trust in unschooling as a process. And it helps you trust and engage with your kids or with anybody in your family. To be able to see that richness over time, it’s kind of mind blowing.
ELLIE: It is. It’s so fun to witness. And then there are other little interests, like Lego, that come and go. But just to know that they really do the deep dive thing and just to know that that’ll be there and then Celia retains all that knowledge. And everything that they learn, that goes with them, even if they’re not doing it all the time anymore. So, it’s very cool. I agree.
PAM: That’s the other piece, because that’s one of the big differences. I was talking about it yesterday that with unschooling, because they’re diving into stuff that they’re interested in at whatever depth they’re interested in, they retain that so much more than if it’s like, “Here, pick this up. Do this,” to show us on the worksheet or to show us on the test, whatever it is. But because they don’t engage with it regularly in their life, I mean, I know I don’t remember lots of those pieces. I could pick them up again, obviously, but they don’t come with me day to day.
Yet, over time, we see with our kids, you see lots of things with Celia, like you were saying, the Lego pieces and all these other pieces, but they come forward with her and weave into the moment so much more easily than certainly that’s happened with me. Does that make sense?
ELLIE: Yeah. Totally! And I just want to let you know that Celia’s pronouns are they/them now.
PAM: Oh, I’m sorry!
ELLIE: It takes so much time to get used to, but I just want to put it out there.
PAM: Yeah. No, thank you very much. Sorry, Celia! Thank you very much. I really appreciate you making note of that for me. All right.
So, I wanted to dive a little bit more into your days, because we’ve been talking about this in the Network this month, too. And I have found the concept of flow for me to be such a good description of how unschooling feels, day to day, as we move through our days. And you have been sharing lots of beautiful stories about your days with Celia and that word seems to fit so well with you guys, too.
I was hoping you could maybe describe the flow of your days, certainly right now, or maybe over time, because I know it doesn’t stay static, but that’s the beauty of flow, right?
ELLIE: Yeah. I was actually just talking to Jodi about my thoughts for this. And she was like, “It changes. Make sure you say that. It doesn’t stay the same.” I was like, “I’ll make sure to mention that.” Yeah, flow is definitely what we do. And it’s been interesting in the Network, because people have been talking about how I’m more into flow and other people are like, “I really need lists,” and that’s been a really interesting one. But I think I’m more of a flow person and so is Celia and we just like to flow with how we’re feeling and to choose what we want to do based on what’s going on for us. And it feels pretty easy to do that now, but it did take some work to get to that point.
I started out at a place where I’m like, “Well, we should do this and then do that.” You know. So, generally, we co-sleep, Celia and I, and we wake up together just excited, like, what are we going to do today? Lately, first thing, we’ve been eating chocolate ice cream in bed together. I feel like our relationship is different from what I see with other mainstream parents and children.
PAM: Just a bit.
ELLIE: There is a general rhythm to our days. There’s no schedule, but there is a rhythm. And it could be thrown out the window if necessary. Usually, I take our standard poodle Lyra for a walk first thing in the morning, and then Celia hangs out with her mama. And that’s good, because they have some one-on-one time together. And then I get some exercise, which I just need.
But in the warmer months, Celia often comes with me on walks. They love to do that. And I think there’s an idea out there that we, as parents, have to be alone to pursue our interests. And I have over time found that to be not true. I’m used to having Celia with me all the time. So, even if my wife is around and I could be by myself, if Celia wants to join me on a walk, great. If I’m on a Zoom call and they want to snuggle, awesome. It feels like we exist in this little bubble of love and joy and I’m just happy to be with them.
And if there are things that I wanted to do, I fit them in around what’s going on with Celia. So, if they are really absorbed in Legos, that might be the time when I can get some dishes done or I can focus on something that I want, just weave it together. Everybody’s interests are important. We all get to pursue them.
Anyway, so after my walk, we usually spend time at home. And my focus is really on following what Celia wants to do and supporting that. Often, Celia will just start playing. If they can’t think of anything to do, I’ll come up with ideas. I’m like, “What do you feel like in your body? Do you feel like being active? Do you feel creative? Like making art? Do you want to cuddle and watch shows? Do you want to go somewhere fun?” Come up with ideas and we always figure it out. And sometimes they play by themself and sometimes I’m playing right there with them.
Like if Celia feels like playing tickle monster at the playground, but I’m feeling overstimulated… I explain what’s going on for me and we find a solution that works for both of us. So maybe it turns into a slow game of cuddle monster and tree hugging until I feel better.
We both have ADHD. It’s been helpful to know that, as it helps us understand ourselves. There’s a lot I could say about having ADHD, but I’ll just say that it’s like having an interest driven nervous system. Both of us have so much passion, dedication and focus when we are truly interested in something. This is perfect for unschooling. We are both clear about what we are interested in. I love that we have the time and space to follow where our interests lead.
We like to keep our schedule very open, so we can do what we feel like in the moment. I have learned from Celia that if it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no. We have very few commitments, usually one play date a week, maybe something else. Celia really doesn’t enjoy classes, or anything structured, as it feels like they’re being bossed around. So understandable! Something I had to let go of was it felt like a “good parent” signed their kids up for classes in their interest. Not with Celia!
When we do need to be out door at a specific time, we try to use tools and work together to make that happen. Our favorite is a visual timer called a time timer that shows us how much time we have left. When we meet our goal, Celia and I cheer, “Team ADHD!” and give each other a big high five. Partnering with Celia feels so much better than trying to be controlling.
The things that I need to do as a human I hold very loosely in mind. If I need to cook or do laundry, I fit that in while Celia is playing contentedly. I do pursue my interests, but they fit in around what is happening with Celia. So, I might bring watercolors with me to the park while Celia is busy with their friends.
Celia loves to play with other kids in our neighborhood. We arrange our day so that we are usually home and ready to play when they get home from school. The things that are important to Celia become a priority for me.
We also take my wife into consideration. Jodi is at work most of the day, but I know that she feels so much better if she walks into the house at the end of the day and it’s not a complete disaster. I do my best to tidy up before she gets home. Her needs are important to me and become part of my flow.
At the end of the day, there is lots of resting and reconnecting. Sometimes, I am totally exhausted at the end of the day, and I need to retreat to a quiet, dark room alone for a bit.
Celia and I love to snuggle and talk as they process what their playtime was like with their friends, the parts that were fun and the parts that were hard. I listen, validate and we talk about solutions, if that’s needed. When I’m with them, no matter what we are doing, I feel like this is exactly where I should be. We love being together, and we are doing the things that we love, so there is a lot of joy!
PAM: One thing you said that that bubbled up for me, because it was a big piece of my transition, too, was the idea that we can fit the things in that we’re interested in doing within the flow of our days. Like you were saying, when Celia’s busy doing something with Lego and they’re fully engaged in whatever they’re doing, there are opportunities for us to do other things.
I am a very much a list person and I’ve learned that my lists can become part of the flow. As in, I learned not to put timelines to my list. As soon as I put timelines to it or thought, if I did this in the morning, and then this, that’s when conflict would start to bubble up. Because, maybe if Celia wants to do something in particular that they want to do with you and you’re looking at your list that says this time, that just feels off. And you want to choose to be with them. And of course, you choose that. And then, for me anyway, I would feel bad that I didn’t do the thing that I had on for that time on my list.
But then I didn’t have time on there anymore. And even days were too small of a time frame. That was another piece. I eventually realized that things aren’t that much of an emergency. They don’t really need to be done today. They can be done over time. So, even now, before we got on this call, I was resetting myself after a few busy days. And it’s like, okay. “Things I want to do this week.”
I broke it into “this weekend” and “this week.” That was as much of a time frame as I wanted to put on it. And I don’t have young kids. But that was something that I took that was just so valuable to me as a human being that these things can bubble up and weave into the day in the flow, rather than me trying to direct things more.
ELLIE: Yeah. I feel like for me, it feels like I hold them very gently in my mind, the things that I want to do, and then just like figure out when’s the right moment as it’s flowing.
PAM: And I find that when I’m doing them in the flow, oh my gosh, it just feels so much better. I feel better because, oh, look, this time has kind of married to this thing that I wanted to do. And I find I am maybe more efficient, effective. I’m better able to do it at the pace that feels good and that meshes with the moment, versus when I keep trying to direct things too much, it really messes with how I embrace the moment. It’s so much more joyful for me when it’s in the flow, rather than when I keep trying to knock it into the day. Does that make sense?
ELLIE: Oh, totally. I feel like I can just follow my inner desire for what I want to do in that moment. Yeah.
PAM: I feel it works out so much better in the end. When I look back on my day and my week, etc., I feel better about it, too.
Okay. So, you shared on the Network a bit about your journey around play. And I thought that that was really inspiring, because pretend play can be challenging for many parents. I remember that, as well, and trying to find ways to engage in the moments when my kids were interested in pretending with me. So, I was hoping you could share a little bit about your process through that and what you discovered.
ELLIE: Yeah. I mean, it can be hard. I get that. It’s gotten easier for me. I think that I’m a particularly silly person to begin with. And my kid is pretty insistent that I be good at playing. But I will share my experience.
So, I have a couple of stories. Celia has loved dolls for a really long time, and initially I didn’t engage much with them. They played by themself or they played with a friend. But at Celia’s request, I asked my parents to find the baby doll that I had when I was a little kid. They gave her to me when I turned two, right before my brother was born. And so, when my parents found her and gave her to me and I held her, it was like my little kid self showed up. I remembered playing with her and just feeling wonder at her eyes opening and closing and the smell of her and the feel of her. And I just remembered loving her. It just became so real.
So, Celia and I named her Pumpkin Sparkle. And when I cleaned her up, I accidentally damaged her eyes. And so, we had to bring her to the doll hospital, but I was really nervous to do that, because I was very attached. And so, I ordered another one from eBay that was exactly the same, in brand new condition, before I sent the other one off. So, now, I have two.
But the point is that Celia just saw how much I genuinely love my dolls and it just inspired so much play between us. They gave me clothes for my dolls. We made a little bedroom for them, all sorts of things. It just felt like I was bringing my kid self all the way out to play with Celia. And I feel like people may feel judgy about that, but it was a transformative thing. Celia was more experienced and they had more stuff and they shared with me and helped me out. And I could relate to the love that they felt for their dolls and see how generous and kind Celia was as a playmate.
So, we did all sorts of things like wearing them in slings and going to the park. And the things that Celia loves, that’s kind of who they are, you know? And it’s so wonderful to just join in that and I just saw how important it was to take their interests so seriously and play with them on that deep level.
There have been other times where it didn’t feel as automatic, like Celia loves these little Hatchimals. They’re little plastic figurines. And my adult mind was like, oh my gosh, they’re plastic and they’re expensive and blah blah. But I decided to see what it would feel like to choose to love them, just what can I find to love about this? And I’m like, oh my gosh, they’re so cute! They come out of little eggs and you have to hatch them and it’s a surprise of what you’re going to get. So, I don’t know. I ended up really becoming quite fond of them.
Celia gave me some. I think I have seven now of my own little Hatchimals and I love them. And then it led to me ordering more Hatchimals that were second-hand and we made eggs for them out of papier-mâché, to surprise them with stuff like that, because I know how much they loved it. It made their eyes shine and I can see how big of a deal it is to be so seen and loved through that.
PAM: Yeah. That’s what came to mind for me is how seen and heard they must have felt in those moments. And I think, like you were saying, what a way, too, to learn more about them, to really be able to see through their eyes.
I love your, “What if I really loved this? How would that feel?” And just I think that’s part of the pretend play, too. Can I just adopt a role for a while and just see how it feels? And when we do that little leap of trust, so often, we learn so much. And if we have to think about it as a role to help us release the baggage that we may be feeling as an adult who doesn’t play with dolls or stuff like that, whatever helps us to release that baggage for a bit, to dive in with them, oh my gosh. We just learn so much and we have so much fun.
And, as you were mentioning, the child that I was, we can really learn so much about ourselves. We learn so much about ourselves alongside it. It’s healing for us and it helps them feel seen and heard and loved. And then, there’s the actual fun of the play. There’s just so much in there.
ELLIE: There’s so much. Another thing that we love to do is we take baths together. We’ve taken baths together their whole life. And we both still fit and we’re both comfortable with it. So, we do it. And we play “baby.” We call it “baby in the bath” and I’m the baby and they’re the mommy. And we do these little scenarios and sometimes it’s like, baby’s getting a younger sibling and is really upset about it.
But oftentimes, we’re working through things that have come up recently for Celia that they’ve struggled with and we take each other’s perspectives in that scenario. And so, I’m literally acting this thing out from Celia’s perspective. And then I feel all of these emotions. I’m committed. Apparently, my wife says I’m very loud. To be open and brave enough to really go to that space is kind of hard, because you’re like, I have all these things I need to do. And it’s just a totally different brain space that you need to be in, I think, to do that.
We were playing a game, Esther Perel has this question game. Celia’s biological father is a friend of ours. And we were playing with him and his wife and the question was, “What makes you feel like you’re on top of the world?” And my answer was, “playing with Celia.” It just brings me so much joy and this deep connection with my open heart. The best thing is when we’re engaged with each other at that level. So, it means a lot to me, too. It’s been helpful in deschooling, too. That connection becomes so strong if you can play, I think.
PAM: Yeah. I think so, too.
And I think it’s a wonderful way, too, to help with that deschooling process of moving away from the adult/child power-over perspective that we just carry. It’s like, “Well, I need to be the one who has the answers,” not even in a negative sense. “I need to direct things. I need to be an adult at all times.” And what it does is, for me anyway, it brought up my value and respect for being a child. It doesn’t mean that I lose my experience. I don’t forget any of that. I bring that with me and I dive into that and I see how beautiful and capable, as you’ve been sharing little stories about Celia. She’s very capable in those moments to see through your eyes, how capable they are of sharing how they’re feeling and their emotions and the context of the situations and all those pieces. Kids are so much more capable than we typically give them credit for.
So, it’s not, I’m gonna shed my adult and I’m going to revert to being a child. It’s not going backwards. It’s leaning in and being more of ourselves, but like you said, so much more open and vulnerable. But there is just so much reward, rich reward for ourselves, for our connection, for our relationship, like so many pieces.
So, I know it’s hard, but that’s why I really wanted to talk to you about this, because there’s just so much freaking value if we can release some of that baggage and weight that we’re carrying around, like, “I’m an adult and I don’t do this.” When we can move through and just be curious and say, “Hmm, what if I was a person that loved this kind of play?” Who loved pretend play—or whatever our child is interested in—so that we can join them and see through their eyes and see what they’re loving. That also helps us learn more about them, such that we can bring more of that into our lives. It’s just so rich.
ELLIE: That’s beautiful, Pam. Absolutely.
PAM: That’s a yes.
ELLIE: Yeah. I love it so much. I think it is so important and makes me a richer, more interesting, more fun grown-up.
PAM: Exactly. Exactly. And for me, I feel like it blurs that line. Grown-up/child, adult/child, and for me, it makes us all human at different ages and stages of our lives. All right. I should probably move on.
So, you have been very intentional about cultivating an inclusive and supportive environment for Celia, which is very obvious already from your stories. But I would love to know what that has looked like through the years for you.
ELLIE: Yeah, that has been really important for us. I feel like with unschooling, you hop off this assembly line of education and you start questioning how learning happens. You question that happiness and success are like guaranteed by getting A’s and doing all the things that are expected of you. And I feel like when you start to question things, it’s easier to really look at all the “should’s” and “supposed to’s” that are out there harming us.
And the world that our children are born into, that we’re all born into, has a lot of messages about how you should be and what kinds of people are better. What is that? My approach to unschooling has been centered around loving our child unconditionally, fully celebrating them for who they are right now. And I want my child to grow up knowing that who they are is wonderful. And that they’re just so lovable. And it only makes sense to me that we extend that love out.
It’s not just our unschooling children that are worthy of love. Everyone is worthy of love. So, I want to show Celia that. There are so many different kinds of humans out there. We’re all different shapes and neurotypes and genders and sexual orientations and everything. And we live in a cis-normative, heteronormative, imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy. Shout out to Laverne Cox and bell hooks. And that’s brutal. So, it’s just so important to me to show all of that to my child, so that they know that everyone is lovable and that they are loved.
And Celia is part of a marginalized group and they are a child. They are used to being in a home where they’re treated with respect, where their opinion matters. And they’re very aware that this is not the case most of the time. They notice that other kids are treated in not gentle ways and they see how it impacts them. And it’s really upsetting and confusing to them, because that’s not their reality.
So, they’re sensitive to others not being treated well. And they’re able to wrap their head around all sorts of oppression. So, I will get to how we’ve made it more inclusive. And I’ve had more experience with LGBTQ issues. So, I’ll talk about that a bit more.
So, I was born with this body and so everyone assumed that I would grow up to be a straight woman. I didn’t know any LGBTQ folks when I was growing up in the eighties and nineties. The time was very different. But I did get the message that those people were bad or perverted. And right after I left home, I figured out that I was a lesbian and I came out when I was 20. But it took me a long time to work through those negative messages that I’d gotten. Like, how could I be gay, which was apparently so bad, but I feel like just like a normal human? I feel like a good person.
And I love my parents so much, but they really struggled when I came out. They didn’t believe me when I told them who I was. They tried to stop me from being gay by pulling me out of my life at college and showing and telling me how much they disapproved. And that was just devastating to me and so harmful. Their disapproval didn’t change who I was, but it did leave me feeling unloved. And there’s a lot of research out there that shows how damaging parental rejection is to LGBTQ youth. It’s just deeply damaging to children.
So, we’ve always told Celia that we love them no matter what, no matter what their gender is and what their sexual orientation is. And since they were tiny, we talked about what those things mean. Like, what are the different ways that people are? And they were perfectly capable of understanding what transgender meant or understanding that someone could have two dads. Right now, if we were like, oh, our neighbor is bi, they’d just be like, oh. It’s like, they have brown hair. Being LGBTQ is normal.
I think the assumption that most parents have when their children are born is that their kids will grow up to be straight and cisgender. And I think it’s been important to me to not make that assumption. And people can get really upset when anyone deviates from those expectations.
There’s still, right now, so much legislation trying to control people and put them in boxes, like in Texas and Florida right now. But humans are diverse. There is such natural, rich diversity in our bodies, in our sexual orientations and genders and there has been throughout human history. This is not a new thing. Alok Vaid-Menon talks about that a lot, that this has been something that’s been going on for hundreds of years.
So, anyway, when Celia was born, we’d dress them in all the colors. We’d offer them all kinds of toys, not just girl toys. And we didn’t use really gendered language. So, we didn’t say “princess” or “little man” or things like that. We just use words that could be used for any child, like “monkey” or “lovebug.” Those are the better nicknames.
And we’ve been really mindful of using inclusive language outside of our home, too. So, if someone tells us that their pronouns are different, we try our best to use those new pronouns, not just when we’re with them, but also when we’re just talking about them and they’re nowhere to be seen. Or if someone’s walking down the street and we see them, we don’t guess at their gender. By how people look, you don’t know what their gender is or what the pronouns are. So, we use “they” and then once we find out what their pronouns are, then we use the pronouns that they’ve told us.
There’s a neighbor at our park who I think had experience with their daughter had a trans friend. And I didn’t know that. So, I came up and I said, have you seen some boots? And they were like, “Oh yeah, the kid came over and they grabbed them and they ran off.” And I just said to them, I was like, “You used ‘they.’ You didn’t assume that my child was any gender.” It made a big difference to me, because it hurts Celia’s feelings when people just guess the wrong pronoun or assume anything about them. So, that’s something else we do.
Oh, Celia has two moms and that representation has been important to us, too. So, there are lots of books at the library dealing with LGBTQ issues, so many books. But also, if we don’t have any, you can take a book and if there’s a dad in there, you can make that, that dad a mama. Celia doesn’t think twice. Their mama is pretty butch. So, they’re just like, okay, that’s fine. Make a person non-binary. You can play around with it. It doesn’t have to be a specific book.
Kids figure out these pieces of themselves when they’re pretty young, like gender identity. Kids have a feel for that pretty early on. And I think that it’s so important to give examples and show all the differences that are out there. I just wanted Celia to be able to see that, because if you don’t see that, I think it’s so hard to be able to understand who you are, if you don’t see any examples of someone that that’s like you. And you can end up thinking that there’s something wrong with you or just hiding that for so long until you finally do see that representation.
And when Celia came out as non-binary, it was a big deal in that they had like a new realization about a deep part of who they are at their core, but it was something that they felt comfortable telling us immediately, like right away. And Celia is just such a social, confident kid and they’ve been raised in this very queer-friendly bubble that we’ve created. Our community is queer-friendly. They just were like, well, that’s what it is. Let’s tell everyone. And so, most of the people in our lives knew within like three days. It was an intense three days.
So, in age-appropriate ways, you can talk about the reality of the culture that we live in and the ways that people are oppressed. Celia and I will talk about how some people think that the white people are better than people of color. What is that? We talk about it. Some people think that two women can’t be married. Can you believe that? They haven’t learned that that’s totally okay. So, in general, we surround ourselves with people that love and respect us, and we talk about how we deserve to feel safe. And I’ve modeled with Celia taking up space as a queer person, asking people around me to use more inclusive language, like saying spouse instead of assuming that everyone is in a husband-and-wife situation. And Celia has been a part of those conversations and has helped with those conversations. Children are capable.
And we model standing up for other people. What does it mean to be an ally? So, I’m not trans. I’m cisgender. So, it’s easier for me to talk to our grocery store about the signs in their bathroom. Because it said something like, “Ladies have periods.” I don’t know. Something referring to that. But if you’re trans, that is a hard conversation to bring up. You have so much trauma and oppression that you’ve already dealt with. It’s so much easier for me as a cisgender person to be like, “Hey. Not only women have periods. Can you change this?” Be an ally. Stand up and say something when you see something that’s not okay and not inclusive.
So, my experience coming out as a lesbian was rough. And so, we just wanted to create space for our kid to be who they are and to know that they’ll be loved and supported unconditionally by their parents. And I just want them to know that everyone is valuable, to understand oppression, and know how to be an ally. Just like I support my child’s interests, I also support them as they come into their identity.
PAM: Thank you, Ellie. I have goosebumps. Thank you very much for sharing that and what just kept popping in my mind as we were talking about the richness of pretend play, that is the richness of the individual. And as you started, you said, I can bring that to our lives in the world. And there is that richness there and leaving that space and living in that space of richness of all the possibilities of sexuality and gender and race and who people are without the judgment piece.
What came to mind to me is how that seems similar to how people define success. That box that they define, to me, all those pieces seem part of that very conventional puzzle and how they define people. And yes, I’m so sorry for your experience as you came out, but you can see that puzzle there for them, that box there. So, yes, I love how you described so richly all the different pieces and how fun it can feel to create that space for our kids.
I mean, to me, listening to you, that felt fun and rich and open and welcoming and just all the wonderful things. Even when we’re talking about oppression and those pieces, moving through that is about being more open. We can understand those pieces are and help our kids more understand those pieces because they are out in the world. Like you said, Celia is meeting all sorts of people and they’re like, “Hey, what’s up with that? That’s different.” And then they can see there are choices and options and that people think differently and you can have conversations about why you guys see things differently. And you can create that space for that. So, yeah. I love that so much. Thank you so much for all those different pieces.
ELLIE: Yeah. I feel like it’s not different from the other things that we do with unschooling.
ELLIE: I follow Jeffrey Marsh on Instagram and TikTok and they’re non-binary and they sometimes have little videos like, “Kids, let’s talk. You don’t have to be this way or that way.” And I show that to Celia and they love it. It’s so easy to bring in all these different types of people, people who are autistic, all kinds of people and just show them the world. I want to open up the world to Celia.
PAM: Yes! And that goes back to being human beings, right? For me, that was the piece that that really helped. And that was a big part of my unschooling journey, later on, that transition from, I can love and respect and have kindness and compassion for the individuals in my family. And, oh my gosh, all people are this. And then all of a sudden, I could bring that kindness and compassion and love to everybody else and understanding that they are where they are.
And also there’s more. There’s this diversity. There’s this richness and no matter where they are, they are a human being and they are awesome where they are. And I can meet them when I choose to, because we still have choice in there. And, like you said, that choice, too, to be an ally and to be able to have a moment where I can speak up, where I’m in a spot where I can bring up something so that other people don’t have to. But yeah, I just felt the richness there and the richness growing into the world. That was so beautiful. Thank you.
So, talking about community and the world, I found when my kids were younger and I was really getting into unschooling, finding community was so valuable for me, both for my kids and for myself. And the Network has been a great place for us to connect—it’s been such a wonderful place! I keep learning and growing in hearing other people’s stories. And I’m just so grateful, too, that you and another member came together and started a new group there recently called Open and Queerious for LGBTQ families. I love that.
I was hoping you could share a little bit about how you find community for you and Celia, how that has all flowed for you.
ELLIE: When they were a little, in my head, I was like, we’ll take a music class and then we’ll go to this Mommy and Me thing. I had in my head these specific things. And then we started unschooling and I was like, oh, we should probably go to that park meetup. I had to let it all go. It’s part of the flow thing again, right? What’s Celia up for?
Celia likes being in our neighborhood. We’ve lived here for 10 years. Celia was born in our house. They love being in this condo complex. They love being in the park across the street, in the pool in the summer. So many people have known Celia since they were born. So, that is an important part of our community is just our neighborhood. We feel connected to the parents and the kids and the dogs and just knowing and being known by that community really brings us a lot of happiness. I think community is really important.
But yes, for unschooling, the Living Joyfully Network has been huge for me. Thank you, Pam, for starting that. And I know you work so hard on it. Unschooling is a non-traditional lifestyle. It is not the norm. And so, I’m just always surrounded by people in my day-to-day life who are not unschooling. They’re just mainstream people. And so, to be surrounded by others who have similar values and who are on a similar journey to me has just been so essential. When I’m out in the world, people ask what I do, and I don’t even say unschool. I just say we homeschool. But that ends up leaving out a huge part of myself and it took me years to deschool and to really understand this. And I don’t expect my two sentences to explain it to someone.
So, I can feel unseen by people in the world, because they don’t get what I do. And so, I think it just becomes so important to have that community. And I think the folks in the Network, they get it. They can see who I am. It also hugely has helped me deepen my practice of unschooling, the monthly themes, the weekly calls, all the posts that are there all the time. So, it just keeps me supported and going in the right direction, too, with unschooling.
But yeah, on the last Zoom call that we had, I think I was just feeling some kind of way. I had my period or something and I was just feeling off. And then just the call with everyone just felt so happy and so connected with everyone. It just put me in a good place. And I think before, I would have been a little bit judgmental. Like, you can’t have friends that you’ve never met in person. You can. I have some close friendships with people in the Network. And those are real friendships.
My life feels so rich and supported now, because of the Network, especially with the pandemic going on. My goodness. But I can show up and be myself, my little, queer, playful, unschooling mom self and just be seen. And the Open and Queerious group has been lovely. The name came from your mantra, open and curious, which I feel like is so perfect for exploring these LGBTQ issues that a lot of us don’t understand that much. That’s a good mindset to be coming into that kind of discussion with. So yeah, we’re talking about diving deeper into LGBT issues and then also fun stuff like, what are your favorite TikTok accounts to follow that are queer? So, the Network feels like a really safe and inclusive and joyful place for me to be. So, yeah, thanks, Pam.
PAM: Oh my goodness. That’s lovely to hear. Thank you so much. That’s one thing Anna and I talk about a lot is that again, like we were talking about earlier, I love all these threads about adult/child and then there’s this thing where some people at the beginning are conventionally trained to look for experts, “Somebody is going to teach me, somebody who knows, who can tell me how to do things.”
And that is not at all how Anna and I see it. And we just feel like people there and it is so inspiring. And I am learning so much. It just feels like a lovely community of people that, like you were saying, they get us. And when we ask for ideas or feedback, we know we’re getting it through the lens that’s more useful to us. We wouldn’t take a question around connection or parenting or anything to your lovely condo community. And there’s nothing to say that we need one community that supports us in all aspects of our lives. That is what I love. The Open and Queerious community, that is awesome and that’s got a focus and that is where we can dive deeper into those kinds of questions and fun just through that lens. And then there’s the wider unschooling area. And then there’s our local community.
For my kids, the community that they found as they were growing up was around their interests. We traveled to meet unschoolers. We did not know any in our lives, but that is the wonderful thing about community. When you open up to it, we have all sorts of needs for connection in various areas, things that we’re interested in, the lifestyle that we’re choosing, people that we can engage with face to face. Whatever our needs are, we can find community that brightens us and that just fill us up, that can help us feel full.
Like you were saying, after that call, you were just like, “I feel lighter. I just feel more me.” And we can find that in so many different communities. That’s the piece that I love, too. And I just love how it’s so fun to find those pieces that put that together. And sometimes we grow out of communities and we move on and we find other ones. I think if we have an expectation that, I’m going to go in and it’s going to meet all my needs. That can be hard, because we are whole human beings, very unique with our own set of interests, our own personalities, our own ways we are in the world.
So, to find different communities that fill us up in all the different areas of our lives, I think that is a beautiful way to come to the world. I keep going back to the word “rich.” In this whole conversation, there’s just so much richness in all these different areas. And that is something I learned through unschooling, through coming to unschooling. Again, I had that box before. I went to school. I performed as expected, doing the things that I was supposed to do. I was very firmly in that box and didn’t really look out. My eldest had been in school for years before I even knew homeschooling was a thing. And I quickly looked up to see if it was legal where I lived and it was like this whole world opened. It’s like, whoa. It’s just so fascinating to see how rich and beautiful the whole world is. Isn’t it?
ELLIE: Yeah. And I feel like right now, my biggest focus is unschooling Celia. And so, to be able to hook into an unschooling community, that’s going to mean the most to me right now, because that’s where I want that community around me. And that’s where I want the support. And it makes unschooling so much easier and fun, too, with all of that bolstering me in my unschooling journey.
PAM: And I think the other thing is that, what I loved about community, because like I said, Anna and I find we just continue to learn so much and we continue to expand our own understanding of unschooling, but that was the beauty of being in community. I wasn’t just considering the questions about unschooling that were in my life at this moment. There were all sorts of other questions and other families and other dynamics and other contexts that I was being exposed to and that I was thinking about, which made my understanding of unschooling richer and bigger and helped me put it together, such that I could really lean into the foundations and start to understand what was foundational to it, because that’s what kept coming up.
Whether it was question from a family with kids older or younger or just different neuro types, there was all that richness that I couldn’t be exposed to just within my own family or within even my local community. There’s just so much of the world, so much more of the world there. And when you can understand it and start seeing it through all these different lenses, you become more confident in how the relationship and the connection is such a strong foundation for learning, for life, for being human, all those pieces.
And I think I understood it more quickly, because I was open to seeing it in action in so many different ways than just, “Oh, I have a question. Answer it for me, you experts. And then I’m going to go off and do the thing and I’ll come back if it’s not working.” That’s the difference in learning. And then understanding that and living that for myself helped me understand unschooling better for my child, as well, because there’s this richness of context and in just diving in with them where they are. That’s where they can make so many rich connections and understanding at the pace that they’re ready for.
PAM: I think I talked a lot there.
ELLIE: I’ve been in the Network for a while and just to watch people that just come in and then to watch things evolve, it’s very cool.
PAM: It’s very cool, isn’t it?
All right, Ellie, what has surprised you most about how unschooling has unfolded for your family so far?
ELLIE: I think how much emotional learning and healing has come with unschooling. I’m in awe of my kid. Their self-knowledge is amazing. Their ability to communicate, understanding relationships, solve problems. It blows me away. I could not do that in my twenties.
We have conversations about complicated, emotional, and social things. They’re amazing. And it makes such a difference that they have parents that they feel so safe with and that they trust that they can have these conversations with. But I will always have more work to do. Thank goodness. But I’m surprised at how far I’ve come.
I am the oldest of four kids and I was a really controlling big sister. I was mean sometimes and aggressive. I wasn’t in touch with myself. I just looked for external validation at school, from my parents. I had a lot going on. But I’ve come so far, I think, from unschooling. Also therapy, but Celia and I, we stay in an easy, loving flow together most of the time. And the work that I’ve done with deschooling really helps me catch when I’m going a little sideways and bring it back, apologize, get back in a good flow. I just feel like I have so many tools.
The Redefining Childhood Summit. I signed up for that early on in my unschooling journey. And that made such a difference to me, because you dive so deep into some of those topics. And it just made a huge difference for me. And there are so many tools. I feel like I look back and early on in my unschooling journey, I just felt like shut down. I was numbing. And now, I’m just flowing from thing to thing, following my interests. There’s so much joy. Even if it’s a ridiculous thing, like learning the song from Encanto, I’m just like, that’s fun. Let’s do it. It’s amazing how much growth there has been and how connected we are and how good it feels. And Celia is such a guide on that front. I learn so much from them.
PAM: Yeah. I found that, too.
ELLIE: I feel like I’ve gotten to a place where loving Celia so unconditionally has helped me love myself so much more unconditionally and accept myself. Through this journey and embracing Celia, I’ve healed so much. And I feel like I’m better at being just my authentic self, because I’m not striving for this one little thing. Just to really come into myself, to heal, to be me, to love myself. It’s a good place to be in the world. So, I think that’s been a surprising thing I wasn’t expecting.
PAM: Yeah, yeah. Just focusing on learning. “Well, we’re not going to school. So, this is a different way for my child to learn.” And holy bananas. This is a lot of work on me and it is so rewarding. I remember I found my children very valuable guides on the journey, as well, in that it was so much easier to have that one layer removed, to see it and accept in them and then realize, oh yeah, I’m a human being, too.
I grew up where making mistakes was not good. I would not ask questions in school, even through university, it’s like, oh, I’ll go find that and figure it out for myself, because I didn’t want to be judged as not knowing something or make a mistake, get something wrong. Yet, watching my kids in action and seeing them have something go sideways or not work, and they keep going and they keep going. And that was something I admired and I’m like, holy bananas. I admired it in them. It’s okay when it happens. There was just so much healing and growth that came to me. And that’s just one tiny example.
When we see our kids in action, they are full human beings. There’s so many different aspects to being human that they play out for us so beautifully. And that realization, like, oh, me too, is just amazing. But yeah, you have no idea when you get started that you’re in for that treat.
ELLIE: I feel so grateful. It’s a lot of work, all of this, but it’s so worth it.
PAM: Definitely worth it. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today, Ellie. It was so much fun. I really appreciate it.
ELLIE: Thank you. It was wonderful. Thanks for having me.
PAM: Before we go, where can people connect with you online?
ELLIE: The best place would probably be the Network. I’m on Instagram and you could probably find me there. It’s @ellie.ima. I’ll send you the information for that, but yeah, mostly the Network.
PAM: Awesome. Awesome. Well, thank you so much and have a wonderful day.
ELLIE: Thank you. You too, Pam. Bye!