Something very important has come to my attention regarding my writing here on Permagora. I have taken a few weeks off from publishing articles, in part because I have been busy getting settled into a new home and new community, but also because I have gone through a crisis of motivation following two back to back attacks on my work, one of which was absolutely scathing. Criticisms of my article about punching Nazis came first, and this issue was hashed out extensively via a facebook discussion/debate. Overall that discussion was reasonably constructive, as far as I could tell. While the ordeal was a bit trying, it was nothing compared to the attack that came from a good friend of mine in private communication. This friend of mine first brought up the Nazi article, but his criticism was actually much deeper, regarding a trend he has been seeing on Permagora, which I intend to address now, in prelude to my account of all the unschooling adventures we’ve been having since moving to Asheville.
Upon hearing his complaints, I had to look deeply into myself to see if any of what he was saying was actually true. To put it simply, he was offended by my dismissive treatment of my family in my writing, feeling like I complain about them as if they are a burden to me and my work. He had clearly read every article I wrote, and he brought up several examples of when I complained about delays or dramas resulting from traveling with children.
Permagora has many threads, one of which is adventure travel. Our travels in South America and Mexico dominated my writing earlier in this year, and it was during this time that the trend my friend was noticing really developed. He felt that I was blaming them for some of the challenges we faced, or at least that I was complaining about their attitudes far too often. One statement he made in our conversation was “whining about whiners doesn’t make for fun reading.”
At first I was defensive of my work, feeling that his criticisms were way out of line, but upon further reflection, I have to concede that at least this much is true; throughout our South America travels, I brought up more than once the difficulty of traveling with children who whine and complain when challenges arose. It was not my intention, of course, to be disparaging of them, but I suppose I didn’t put enough effort into praising them for when they did well, for their ability to keep up with us on a fast-paced tour of several foreign countries, enduring many inconveniences along the way.
So I wish to apologize to my family, particularly the kids, for being so hard on them, both in challenging situations and in my subsequent writing. I also should apologize to my readers, who may or may not have noticed this throughout the saga of our adventures. I am dedicated to creating journalism that focuses on positive actions and solutions to problems that affect us all, but I am also human, living out my life in circumstances that are far from ordinary. My tendency to complain about challenges with kids reveals both my own shortcomings (my friend thinks of it as a sort of self-centeredness), but it also touches on a deeper aspect of what I am trying to do as a parent.
I see the world as we know it, modern society, as being in a state of slowly unwinding collapse, and I have been teaching our children that they had better be prepared for hard times, because there is no undoing the mess that has been made. At least not quickly or easily. We are all going to suffer the consequences of allowing psychopath rulers to take over our world, and of sharing in the spoils to whatever degree we have. As numerous crises (economic, political, social, and environmental) come to a head right before our eyes, I believe our petty complaints, our first world problems, are going to melt away into a struggle for survival. Half the population of the United States, living in virtual poverty, already has some idea of what this looks like, but this is only the beginning. It’s one thing to struggle with paying the bills, and it’s quite another to have to scrounge through a trash heap for some food or scraps of fuel to make a fire.
I am living as I am, doing the work I do, not because I think we’re all doomed, but because I have analyzed the situation as best I can and I believe that all we have left to do is toughen ourselves up and be as ready as we can for anything. I am raising my kids to be survivors, street smart and savvy. I want them to know how to travel and how to get to know new cultures. How to walk for long periods of time, even if they’re tired and hungry, and how to cope with unexpected situations. Our lives in Oregon centered around permaculture, growing food, building human use infrastructure, working together in community. While these are all crucial aspects of long term survivability, I also believe we need to know how to get really scrappy. How to start fires without lighters or matches. How to forage for wild food. How to make a shelter in the forest. How to navigate terrain, be it wilderness or urban sprawl.
I suppose part of my motivation in taking my kids on these challenging journeys is to make them strong, and to give them a broad experience of the world. Adaptability is key to surviving in changing times, and being able to get through hard times without losing hope is absolutely essential. I love my kids, and I think they are very strong. I have mad respect for them for trekking across South America with us, and for living without a home for half of this year, always on the road, always on the go. I am sorry that I made so much mention of their complaints or the fits they threw. I should have been cheering them on for being as tough as they are. Not too many kids could do what they have done, and continue to do, even now that we’re settled into a home in the cozy first world.
Our training program is never over. We are readying ourselves for a new kind of world, in which people have to take responsibility for themselves, in which all that we need is not available at the push of a button, or the swipe of a card.
This is why we unschool. Because we want our children to be free, and to think for themselves. We want them to create their own entertainment, learn what they want to learn, and to take responsibility for their lives.
As for Permagora, I certainly have learned a lesson, and my style of presentation will be forever affected by the critique my friend so unapologetically offered. I am not going to start creating slick journalism with lots of polish and spin, but I can craft my words more carefully to be positive and encouraging while still facing up to reality and telling the truth.
And regarding my family, the truth is that I have a blast being on all these adventures with them. Yes, there is whining, and yes there is drama and fighting, but there is also courage, determination, cooperation, and so much creativity. Our kids get very little screen time, which leads them to the world of their own imaginations, and they are writing their own story with their lives, adding a little more to it every day.
And to my friend, who shall remain unnamed, I will say that you hurt my feelings a lot, and you said many things in anger that were way out of line, but you were also right about a lot of things, and you helped me to see my own blind spots. So thanks for that.
So now that the heavy stuff is out of the way, on to the fun! Since we’ve moved to Asheville, we have had a whole lot of fun adventures. Even aside from our adventures afield, going to waterfalls, concerts, and other events, we’ve been enjoying the beauty of our own backyard, and the girls have been having lots of fun with all the toys that we brought out of storage after moving our belongings out from Oregon. Here is glimpse into some of our unschooling fun around the house and land of late.
Playing in the Creek that runs through our backyard
Gaia helping me build some tire stairs down to the fire pit
Lila helping her mama make crepes
In the park next to our house
While we were building the fire pit, two baby squirrels fell out of a nearby tree.
We put the squirrels in a box with leaves in it below the tree, hoping the mama would come and get them, but she never did.
We kept them in the house that night, giving them water through an eye dropper. The next day we found an animal rehabilitator who would take care of them until they could be released.
This is but a glimpse into our world of free play and outdoor adventure. I usually don't have the camera on me to document every little thing we do. The girls still love their legos, and they've built some really awesome things with my old Construx since we got those back out. They also read for hours a day, and they've been enjoying roller skating a lot lately too.
And for those who may worry, they do get academics, both from home lessons (I like teaching history and geography) and from their home school group classes, which they attend a few times a week. Even Lila is in a Forest School, which isn't academic, but gives her a chance to play with other kids in nature and do group activities. As we get to know more families around this area, I know that many more opportunities will arise, and I look forward to all the adventures to come!