June 12, 2011

Seems we haven't messed the kids up

It's been three years since our kids were enrolled in school. When we left, Niall was in third grade. Mairen had just finished kindergarten. Siobhan... well, I guess she's never been enrolled! It's been boatschooling ever since.

Finding a homeschooling path wasn't always easy, but I had some pretty amazing mentors to help find it: Laureen and Jason, Frank and Ronnie, the Seven Cs- all parents of amazing kids. Once we started cruising, we learned so much by sharing with other nomadic families. We don't all approach it the same way- in fact, we are wildly divergent!- but there is always something to be learned from each other

There isn't any one way to go about it. Which is what makes it, as a parent, a little scary. Our children mean more to us than anything: what- and how- they learn now, shapes their future.

Although we have absolutely no regrets about boatschooling- and for a variety of reasons, have not enrolled the children in Australian schools- I confess to still crave signs from outside our little circle that we're doing OK. I don't want to need mainstream approval, but can't deny how powerful it is.

Which is part of the reason why, I suppose, it was so exciting when Niall was recognized for an essay he wrote recently. The essay was submitted to a local contest through the public library system, judged by professional authors. But the deepest pride is in seeing how he grew with this process, from start to finish.

Getting his award
Niall accepts his award from the Mayor.

It began when he saw the announcement about the contest at our local library on one of the gazillion visits he and his siblings make. A poem or story, up to 750 words- with prizes given to the winners in 5 age groups from 11 to 18. He worked hard on his piece: for about two weeks, he wrote and spun and rewrote. He invested so much into it, I worried about how he's respond when he didn't win.

His topic is ultimately about environmental responsibility. He shares it by looking at a unique experience from our travels, but something most people can identify with: walking along, and seeing plastic trash- and how it fits in the bigger picture. So proud that this is what he felt was important to express for a broader audience.

What finally melted me as a parent was to see my kid get up there behind the podium to read his work to a crowd. He could just barely see the 200-odd gathered over the top. I'm quite sure that I couldn't have handled that at his age- he was a pro! Although, he confessed later- he had to keep shifting his weight so his shaky legs wouldn't knock into each other.

It's a great essay. I crow! I can't help it. You can read the essay on his blog, or listen to him read it on this video.

Niall's essay: ocean plastic from behan gifford on Vimeo.

So homeschoolinng, boatschooling, unschooling... it seems we haven't messed the kids up. They are thriving. We have ups and downs. I always worry that we're missing something (and I know I'm not the only one!).

Where we've come, full circle, is not that homeschooling is a necessary part of the nomadic life we wanted to lead- but the very real gift that we have all relieved from choosing this life. Teachers come from many places, not just the four walls of a classroom. The box is comfortable for many, but I am grateful that we have the opportunity to opt out.

June 4, 2011

Adjustments in the antipodes

Urban Australia offers plenty of surface level similarities to urban America... sailing between the heads into Sydney Harbour, you didn't even need to fuzz your eyes to feel a little like going into San Francisco: hills, mission tile roofs, subtropical and temperate foliage blended.

The differences immediately start to smack you back to the reality of being 5,000+ miles and an ocean away. There are the signs like this at many crosswalks:

It is finally (finally!) intuitive to look right for oncoming traffic, but I nearly got squashed a few times when we first arrived. First... traffic? huh? After months in the islands, that was strange enough, but to have them coming at us from the "wrong" side...well, I'm happy to still be here. Dangerous stuff!

Then it's the little things. Electric switches flip down to turn on, up to turn off. Huh? 

Then there's "How you going?" I'm embarrassed to say how long it took me to decipher this common greeting. Rough equivalent to "how are you" or "what's up?" but mumbled together in a kind of "owyagoan" that left me wondering if clerks were asking me for my ID or had just stepped on something unexpected.

Rules. Rules, rules, rules. The local papers write about the Nanny State of Australia... we get faced with lots of rules in the boating community that don't make sense. Of course, this feels plenty familiar from home. But here, rules are flagrantly ignored and don't seem to be enforced. So why do they matter so much? People are still all about their "rules."

Cost. Everything is so expensive! I was looking at notes I'd taken on the cost of common groceries in Tahiti... thinking, at the time, how outrageous they were. Well... it's not any better here, and it's generally actually more expensive. This boggles me. If there were at least subsidized baguettes or slabs of proper French brie at reasonable prices, we might not consider revolting. Another reason to miss the islands.

What's really the same? 
another pretty sunrise

We still get to see some beautiful skies. I'm just missing the land beneath.