We came back to Spain a week ago, after visiting family for Christmas and New Year. I love to be with family and old friends in the UK, but it’s good to be back here too. Barcelona in January always feels good for the soul. And, here on the hill, where we can watch the day break over the Mediterranean, then see the last of the sun slip away behind the mountains, the days are feeling particularly bright and long.
We also came back to some little miracles of nature. Winter flowers we’ve never seen before have popped up in the garden. The first seeds that C (6) and I planted a couple of months ago are now providing tender kale and spinach for salads. And the lemon and orange trees in the orchard are filled with bright fruits which we’ve been making into marmalade (my mother is with us for a week and, along with her good company, she has brought us her marmalade-making skills).
There’s a sense of time this January. As we slow life down and delve into the simple things, so much more seems to happen. These gentle days feel full and nourishing.
After managing a business for 20 years, it can still be a challenge for me to accept that it’s okay to just relax into life. I got used to that nagging sensation every small business owner knows—the feeling that there’s always something else that needs to be done. I became the queen of multitasking, and never had real downtime. It’s what I chose at the time, but now it’s time for something else.
And so, we’ve made bread, we’ve walked in the hills, we’ve done yoga in the garden, we’ve identified new flowers and strange creatures, and we’ve collected copious amounts of firewood. It’s mostly free, it’s healthy, and it’s just so satisfying to eat what you produced, to burn what you collected.
Of course, not everyone does everything. Picking oranges isn’t necessarily as delightful to a six-year-old born in Spain as it is to me, who spent half her life in Yorkshire. And I’ll often have a companion for a little while, then lose them as the novelty wears off. What’s always fun to see though, is that everyone naturally gets a little inspired by each other’s activities. Yesterday, my mother and I did yoga in the garden. I asked E (11) and C if they’d like to join us. C joined for a few minutes, then got bored and wandered off. She reappeared a few minutes later with my camera round her neck, and started to take shots of us. E joined us for some poses half way through. When we made the marmalade, E popped in to see how it was made then wrote out the recipe. D (13) ignored the process entirely but then came back to make himself a jug of lemonade with some lemons from the tree. Only E came to get firewood the first time, but was so enthusiastic that his sister decided she wasn’t going to miss out the second time.
I read an article the other day about how we spend so much time chasing what society believes to lead to happiness, that we lose sight of what actually makes us happy. Unfortunately, most of us have bought into the narrative of what makes a successful life and, not only is the definition narrow, it isn’t even true. According to studies, once we have enough money and status, chasing for more will never make us happier.
So, logically, if our children don’t need to chase things that don’t make them happy, neither do we. This takes us squarely back to our own deschooling process (which is always close by), and our ability to relax into what makes us happy, without judging or doubting ourselves. From that place we can create a space in which everyone feels comfortable and connected. If we are still clinging on to what we ‘should’ be doing, it’s much harder to create a healthy space.
And that’s why this January seems so effortless. It feels to me like our deschooling has moved on in subtle ways. As we let go of things we don’t need, we’re able to relax into the gifts that surround us always. Everyone feels more calm and connected, and able to naturally tune into their needs and desires. There’s less going on, but so much more ends up happening.
Unschooling is, by definition, a slower life. Things aren’t forced or pressured and, in the absence of coercion, discipline, or any other kind of control, connection with our children becomes the only currency. And you can’t rush connection. I was reminded of this by D on Sunday morning. I was making pancakes with E and C and I guess I was rushing around doing something else too. At one point, I found D in the kitchen looking dejected. He looked at me and said ‘Mami, sometimes you get so busy doing things that you forget to just ask how I am’. All he wanted was a big hug and to reconnect with me. It was a timely reminder that no matter what’s going on, we always need to slow down and come back to the relationship. That’s the only indication of a good day, and much easier if we’re happy and living true to ourselves.