It was easy when Ava was a baby to respond to her wants and needs and get it (mostly) right. They weren’t extensive. Most of the time what she wanted was milk, Mama, sleep and cuddles. Often at the same time.
I give thanks for my boobs – that they function in the most basic of ways – on a daily basis.
But the older she gets and the more we tentatively walk an unschooling kind of path, the trickier it gets to navigate between her wants and needs and everyone else’s, to know always how to respond in the best way. I don’t think that’s just unschooling…I’m sure that’s something all parents have to think about, constantly.
There was a time when I chose almost all the toys, books and clothes and that was that. But then she had to go and get her own interests and I am learning day by day that I have to let go of my ideas of what I think she should like (essentially, what I like) and follow her passions. Even if, right now, those passions look extremely pink and princess like.
I seriously don’t mind. Of course I don’t, except it does serve as an interesting exercise in remembering that we should love and celebrate our kids for exactly who they are. Not simply tolerating them, or the things they like, when it’s so different to what we might choose.
Like ballet, for example. I have lots of reasons (some I think are genuinely valid) not to love ballet. It wouldn’t be my choice of dance. I’m not hugely comfortable with the way ballet treats the body in many cases, and I worry (of course I worry, as Mamas do) about possible, potential issues that might arise if ballet is a Thing Ava might continue to do seriously.
But those are my things, not Ava’s. They’re mine to consider and deal with, to keep thinking about for sure, but it wouldn’t be fair for me to let those things limit an experience that she might love. And she does. She loves it. And I love the teacher she has, and her way of being gentle and encouraging. Of course right now loving her dance class means loving twirling and playing with props and generally just playing. But she seems to be enjoying it.
And a byproduct of all that enjoying and playing…she’s actually learning some dancey things which she finds fantastic. When she ‘gets’ something in the class, she is so proud of herself. She is wearing her dance dress and ballet shoes all the time at home, and she asks me when it will be time for dance class on an hourly basis.
There’s nothing lovelier than seeing your kid really loving something. I wasn’t sure at all how she might find a class, since she’s never been instructed before and usually resists any kind of teaching at all. I explained beforehand that there would be a teacher who would do some fun things and show Ava how to do them too, and if Ava wanted to join in she could. Or not. We didn’t have to go back at all, I assured her. But she joined in from the word go, and by the time the class finishes she is in full swing, ready for more.
Part of what I love about unschooling, or perhaps this is more radical unschooling, is that limiting things or trying to control how your kids experience the world is the last thing you want to do. Offering my kids experiences that I think they’d enjoy, even if I can’t know the outcome, or even if there are things that might concern me…This is my job, really. And if I’m there to help and to facilitate and respond and talk about it all along the way, then I believe that there’s a better chance of us all being okay, when issues do arise.
So my daughter is currently digging her ballet and her new bright pink bedding which she chose yesterday (amongst a hundred other things she likes) and I am watching her amongst all the things she chooses for herself and it feels good to enjoy her things too. It is helpful to keep in mind that our experiences of everything will be different, and that I shouldn’t get too attached to any particular outcome. She wants to do ballet? Fine. She wants to quit ballet? Fine.
As long as we’re doing things she loves, there really is connection in everything. When I snuggle under her bright pink duvet and she tells me how great it is and asks for a story, or when I sit down with her and watch an episode of Charlie and Lola, and Ava tells me how Lola is her friend and Charlie can be mine. (Although if you’ve ever read Caitlin Moran’s brilliant essay on her hatred of Lola you will agree she may be the most irritating character on TV). The point is, even if something is not my thing, being there with Ava makes it enjoyable.