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An unschooling life without a field guide

Life Without a Field Guide
By Lill Hawkins

Other homeschooling parents make me feel like such a slacker. Like Ava and her husband, Carl. She’s a translator. He’s a biologist who specializes in diseases of plants. This year, they're educating their three kids in France via field trips to the Louvre and strolls along the Champs-Elysees. She’s translating books from Arabic to French and he's fighting grape blight or blot or rot or something.

They're both so intelligent that they have to drink three glasses of wine and take a Benadryl to talk to ordinary people like me. On Thanksgiving this year, while we ate our turkey and cranberry sauce, they digested their dinde rotie and sauce de myrtille. Then I assume they hit the Beaujolais before they composed a "what our kids are doing in homeschool" blog post. Sandwiched in between photos of French street scenes with tiny figures that might have been them or might have been almost anyone, including pigeons, were lists of what their kids were up to. I swear they only do it to make unschoolers like me feel inadequate.

My kids are very artistic but they've never shown any interest in art history or anyone else's art. Their kids are making a copy of Empress Theodora and her retinue, a mosaic that appears on the south wall of the apse at San Vitale. Life-sized. In their hotel room. With pieces they manufacture themselves by breaking bottles, ashtrays, ceramic soap dishes, and cough lozenges. (The picture of it is kind of dark, but I believe I can just make out the Smith Brothers logo on one of the red robes.)

My kids go to the library and get books about Pokémon, the latest fantasy novel, Barbie, and fairies. Their children write books like "Deforestation and its Impact on Biodiversity, Habitat Loss, Trade and Endangered Species." With footnotes in Latin. I'm only up to page 568, but I can tell you, we won't be getting any mahogany furniture anytime soon.

We visit museums and spend more time arguing about whether the blinds are made out of aluminum or plastic than we do looking at the exhibits. Their kids are docents at three museums and a private collection of Faberge Eggs. Imperial Eggs. The eight missing ones.

We have a Black Lab and three cats. They have a Giant Gambian Pouched Rat, a Komodo Dragon, several hedgehogs and a platypus. Laying eggs. It's their science fair project at the homeschooler's science fair. We don't attend ours, ever since the unfortunate incident with the manure vs. chemical fertilizer experiment. (I still say they should have given us extra credit for demonstrating the explosive property of those chemicals.)

We play Mario Tennis. They play polo with real ponies and several members of royalty. We spend hours wading in tide pools but never remember to bring our marine biology book, so all we can identify are crabs and those brown wiggly things with all the legs. Sandworms? Clamworms? Well, they're ugly as sin and can give you a painful pinch, we know that. They often do research for the Cousteau Society. In a shark cage. With the door open.

Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a little here, but honestly, this is what it feels like sometimes, when I read all the blog posts about museums toured, concerts attended, instruments mastered, classics read, projects completed, esoteric knowledge acquired, and businesses in operation. Doesn't anyone else just hang out with each other most of the time? Visit with friends? Read for pleasure? Make things just for the heck of it, not because they're projects or educational? Consider Jeopardy or the History Channel or PBS specials highly informative? Doesn't anyone take a walk without a field guide?

We do get a lot of non-fiction out of the library every week and my kids are both very creative, but we're pikers compared to what seems to be the norm in the homeschooling blogosphere. I have this recurring nightmare that my kids are going to turn eighteen and sue me for not making them learn more. Oh wait, didn't I just read that a ten-year-old homeschooler did that? And represented himself? In a Class Action Suit? And won? Serves you right, Ava and Carl.

Lill began unschooling shortly after the sudden death of her eleven-year-old son, Mike. He had hated school and being away from home, as did his older brother and younger sister. Lill realized that making children spend time in a place that makes them miserable is no way to raise happy, healthy kids. Their unschooling life began and because Lill is a writer, she began to put down on paper the – mostly – humorous aspects of being secular unschoolers in a small town in rural Maine. Now that her daughter is working on a degree in Wildlife Biology and Sustainable Agriculture at a small Maine college, and her son is pursuing an Art degree at a larger Maine college, Lill has more time to write and has published a series of three humorous books. The Life Without a Field Guide Series contains Funny You Should Ask, Humor Me, and Seriously? and is available on Amazon and other outlets. Lill also blogs at her website about her love/hate relationship with Maine. Daughter comes home on weekends and Son lives across the dooryard in a small apartment, so they still get together to compare notes on anything and everything. Her spouse, Geekdaddy, is still raising tomatoes indoors and has added an avocado tree to his veggie menagerie and a vintage pay phone booth to his computer room. However, he insists that rumors of a Tardis being installed are premature.

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