What did we do today?

I wonder at our role as parents right now. Without the usual activities going on, and with the additional emotional challenges that lockdown brings our young people, I think that now, more than ever before, our main task is holding the space – understanding when we just need to be present with what is, and when we need to bring some new energy to it all. It’s a tricky balance. I’m aware of the lethargy that sometimes arises in myself right now, and have found ways to counter it. What works for me may not work for someone else, of course, but, I can at least try to model something authentic.

So, at first glance, it doesn’t seem like we did a lot today, but the beauty in all of this is that when you unpick it, there’s always so much. It doesn’t necessarily look like learning, and it might not even look like doing, but it’s rich in all sorts of interesting ways.

There is a structure of sorts to our days. M and I are taking it in turns to work, so I am at the computer bright and early in the morning. This week, among other things, I’ve been working on my new podcast, The Unschool Space, in which I’ll be talking to other parents about their experiences and their own deschooling processes. This has taken me into true unschool space as I learn about audio production, mostly through trial and error, and grapple with various bits of technology.

Everyone else got up much later. C joined me in the study for a while, just hanging out and playing with our cat, Storm, while D and E were downstairs chatting with their dad. When I finished work, the afternoon then shifted and turned in many ways. This is the nature of these days – people and conversations weaving in and out in no particular order.

D worked on his languages with his various apps and books. He’s bought a cool game for learning Chinese characters, so we played that a couple of times. He also recently started learning to code. This is something he’s been thinking about for several years, but it never appealed quite enough. Now he’s found a course he likes and when life starts up again, he’s hoping to join a coding group that meets nearby. He also has a lot of business ideas in his head, and today, he started to write a business plan for one of them. His ideas are huge, and I often find it a bit challenging to talk through them with him. I hear the cautious parent in me wanting him to start with something small and build up slowly and in an orderly fashion. I am working hard to freely embrace his creativity and ambition, so I don’t keep inadvertently shutting him down.

He also showed me some videos he came across, including a satirical song in Catalan, and one about how Spotify’s revenue model is different from Netflix’s. He spent some time explaining more about that to me, and lost me a bit along the way. We watched a couple of episodes of Arrested Development, and he and I also went for a takeaway hot chocolate, one of the few real-life treats available to us. In the evening, we did some maths. He wants to understand maths better, as it keeps popping up in areas he is interested in, such as coding, his business plans, engineering and architecture. If he were at school, he would be taking GCSE maths next year. If he wants to, he can do that through an external exam centre. But, for now, he wants the knowledge and is not motivated by the exam. Doing maths together is throwing up a few curious things. The first is that D finds the workbooks extremely frustrating. He is used to learning through doing, watching videos and documentaries, playing games, creating his own projects… So we have frequent conversations about how maths could be taught more creatively and using real life. He has come up with a couple of interesting ideas, but we are struggling to think of real-life learning scenarios for trigonometry, which does pose the question of whether trigonometry is something most of us need for real life. The other blindingly obvious question is why his mother can’t remember half of this even though she studied it at school for years (several hours a week plus homework). Hm, well perhaps because my only goal was ever to pass an exam.

E, meanwhile, spent most of the afternoon on his computer. He tends to disappear for stretches of time, reappearing when he needs a cup of tea and always with something new to share. ‘Did you know….?’ and ‘Do you want to know something interesting…?’ are his two catchphrases. It’s quite wonderful really. Whatever we are doing or talking about, his entrance will almost always stretch our thinking and take us somewhere we had never heard of before. It could be something about a language that has just been discovered, the origin of some obscure word, a political party or a long-forgotten king. He has found an app in which you have to name the areas and regions of different countries. Today he was doing the provinces of Argentina. He and I have gotten into TicToc sea shanties, so we also spent some time singing sea shanties together. And, we watched some Countdown, another favourite at the moment, though we always pause the show and give ourselves extra time to work things out. We’re better at the words than the maths conundrums.

C and I took Belle, the dog we walk, out for a stroll. Then she spent a while looking through different shelters online to find us the perfect family dog. She found one called Kip, who does look lovely, but I’m holding out for a while more on this one. We cleaned out Sir Nibbles, her hamster, watched Pooch Perfect (a dog grooming TV show) together, and we talked about her future business, which is a hotel for dogs. She would like to take a course in dog grooming and, as often happens, I was left wondering how on earth to match their desires to learn and do with what is actually on offer for them in the world (even in normal times). Maybe she can accompany Belle to her next grooming session and learn some tips that way. It’s a shame that the adult world is so hidden from our children. How enriching it would be for us all if we were less separated.

We also did some painting together. I consider myself a terrible artist, and I find it hard to get creative with paint. These potentially creative moments are often the moments when I feel like I should be doing something more useful. So, I find that I need to apply a large dose of mindfulness and not resist. When I do that, and focus on my togetherness with C, and actually make an effort with what I’m creating, it becomes a far more gratifying experience. It’s inevitable that sometimes our minds are somewhere else, but if we do have the space and time to sink into our creativity, it’s worth the effort.

What else today? I made banana muffins, and D made sushi. I chatted with a good friend on the phone and arranged a socially-distanced walk with another friend. There were the usual conversations on politics and economics with their dad, some moments of tension between different people, homesickness for the people and places of our 25 years in Spain, and deep sadness for the things and people being missed right now. And, there was laughter, hugs, lethargy, purpose, and the usual quiet avalanche of learning. Plenty for a day in lockdown.


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