|Wide Sky Days group photo - Photo credit: Julianne Fishell|
We love attending unschooling conferences, and just got back from North East Unschooling Conference in Wakefield, MA (just outside of Boston for non-locals). We had a joyous, relaxing time filled with laughter, as you can see from my new blog banner. Last year we attended Good Vibrations in San Diego, which this year changed names to Wide Sky Days. I was a speaker at both of these events, which is what makes it possible for us to travel and for James to skip work (he spoke at NEUC too).
Our girl loves going to Conferences - loves staying in hotels, loves eating at restaurants, loves most of all spending time with all her friends doing all kinds of things. I have watched her grow up in a series of snapshots at these events - and I have seen her future manifested in watching the groups of slightly older than her kids over the years. It's like a little time capsule. What they are, she becomes, has proven true over the last 10 years that we have been attending conferences all over the country. At Wide Sky Days, Jayn has tons of friends that she rarely sees other than at this conference.
This year there was a problem of tragic dimension. We could not afford to attend the second conference, since neither of us were speaking, and James could not take more time off work so soon. I was astounded when Jayn asked, "Couldn't I just go alone?"
The real answer was that no, she couldn't go "alone", but perhaps we could find a way for her to go with someone else. We were still mulling it over and talking it over at NEUC when I mentioned it to the lovely perennial conference speaker (because she's awesome at it) Erika Davis-Pitre (pictured laughing as always in the blog banner). She offered the spare bed in her hotel room and her son's unused registration to Jayn! All I had to do was get Jayn to the hotel, as long as the conference organizer, dear friend Flo Gascon, approved. Which she did!
This was fantastic. I took Jayn to the hotel in San Diego, loaded her up with snacks (which ultimately weren't helpful because access to a microwave was difficult), gave her cash and a gift card to buy her food, and dropped her off. You know it's an unschooling conference when you start seeing people with rainbow colored hair. I visited with folks I knew for a while, increasingly regretting my own sad loss at not being able to stay amid the wonderful, gave some encouragement to a few, and finally left with Jayn barely noticing that I was gone.
How empty our house felt that night!
How bereft James and I felt for those several days. I spent more time than I ever have before on Facebook, scouring photos for images of Jayn in the background, and trying to connect myself to the activities even from far away.
But Jayn had a wonderful time. There were only two difficult phone calls - frustration and sorrow brought on by hunger. Jayn tends to get locked into a cycle of impossible, unable to take positive action when she gets very hungry. Unfortunately she had a bad tummy after eating at the buffet the first night (which may or may not have been actually connected to her tummy troubles), which made her reluctant to eat there again. But I talked her through a few choices including ordering room service, which she did. It pointed out to me, how much time I do spend making sure Jayn has food available to her. I was worried about her food more than anything else, especially when I learned there was no microwave for guest use anywhere, but she asked me straight out, "Just let me handle my food, OK?"
And by and large, she did. She also managed to get sunburned, and feel crappy from a cold coming on - but still she persevered until the very last morning, took care of herself, made new friends, reconnected with old, and packed up all her belongings herself.
I was very proud of her even before she told me how she took care of herself by walking to the Denny's or the nearby convenience store (in small groups). I was very proud of her, even before the nice reports started coming in, of her joyousness, and kindness to others. She is still slowly revealing different things she did at different times.
I'm so extremely grateful to everyone in the community of unschoolers at that conference who were kind and watched over her, especially Flo, and even more especially Erika, who hadn't actually realized that this was Jayn's first experience away from home. Erika doesn't know it yet, but she will be getting something special in the mail very soon.....;)
The whole experience has reiterated for me that we do not have to push our kids towards independence. It comes at the right time, and quite possibly in a huge explosion. Now she wants to go to the next conference in our general region, Life Is Good, all the way up in Vancouver, WA (near Portland, OR). We will have to see about that.