The undocumented year

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The book is called Adventures in Love, Life, and Laughter, and it’s the book Ender wants to read at bedtime. He just ‘stole’ it from Flora’s room, where she’s been going to bed with it for weeks. I’m pleased and terrified—the book is a photo-blog combo of Nothing By The Book’s 2011 posts and Sean’s photographs of the children.

“How old was I?” Ender asks as he looks for himself in every picture. “How old was Flora? How old was Cinder?”

“Two,” I say. “You were two. Here, you must be about two a half. Here… mmm, I think it’s just before your third birthday.”

“What’s this story? Read me this story,” he asks, and I do, and sometimes he loves them, and sometimes he cringes. “I never did that!”

You did, my darling, you did, I think.

But I don’t say.

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I have a book like that for every year, from 2005, through to 2013. I produced them as Christmas gifts for the grandparents and family—and myself—and now I know they are mostly for my children. I didn’t manage to create 2014—it sits on my computer still as an unproofed file—and Flora was so disappointed, I know I must make that book for her, and soon.

Sean put 2015 together for me as a Christmas present—it exists as an electronic file only. We must print it.

And now, 2016 is coming to an end, and I am looking back at it, and realizing my children are about to experience their first undocumented year.

Oh, not exactly, of course. The first three months of the year, the time we spent in Cuba, are documented up-the-wazoo—I’m not finished with the postcards yet—just with Havana. Our time in the fishing village/Varadero bedroom community of Boca de Camarioca is still to be released, over January-February-March 2017—bringing the story full circle and to a close. When I am done, I will put all of that together for the kids into a beautiful book.

But in the nine months of 2016 I’ve spent in Canada, my ‘real time’ posts have been rare and sporadic… and as I look back at the year, I have an eerie sense of an undocumented year. Even my Instagram—my back-up visual documentation (I am a writer: documenting in words is always my first choice) is sparse.

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There are very good reasons for this lack of documentation. Producing the Postcards took much more time than just writing a ‘here’s the weird shit my kids said this week’ post takes. And the project felt so important to me, and so urgent: it was a high creative priority. I was also deeply immersed in other writing projects that again were—felt—urgent and important, and I focused my energy on them.

(Priorities, baby!)

And also… more and more often, the children are now my blog co-producers and… censors.

“Don’t write about that,” gets said in my house more and more often.

Actually, it’s more like:

“Don’t you fucking dare write about that!”

Jane: But it’s important!

“That’s why! It’s private!”

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Important. Private.

If you’ve been following my writing on life-and-parenthood since I became a mother in 2002, you will have noticed that this awareness—my recognition that increasingly, my documentation was invading my children’s privacy, and my struggle with that—has crept up on me slowly. I think it resulted in an unconscious shift, initially, into a more internal perspective. Flora doesn’t want you to know what she said or did, OK—but I have all these FEELINGS about it… and these feelings are my own, and I want to explore them and document them… which makes for a much more introspective, and much less amusing, way of writing than a piece on “House Rule #713, or, why we don’t have a lot of dinner parties.”

Important. Private.

The Internet and social media have created a fascinating world in which we don’t think things are important unless they are shared… and re-shared… and re-shared. Yet, after all… the most important things are… private.

And these too should be documented—for the people they matter to. And not thrown, naked, before the eyes of the world.

I started journaling again, privately, in 2014. I now have dozens (literally: 26 that I see from where I’m sitting right now, and at least two or three more tucked away elsewhere) of notebooks filled with barely legible long-hand that document all the things that are important—and private—to me.

Inside those private journals, there is a sub-body of work that is first drafts of posts, essays, articles, poems, novels.

Art. Which will be shared. After it is refined, revised.

Perhaps, censored, a little. Because… privacy is important. And the only things that are private are the things that are unshared.

So.

My undocumented year—it is not so undocumented, really. But the most important parts of it… they’re private.

And this is a good thing.

I think it’s important to consider that just because something can be shared—said—posted—doesn’t mean it should be. Sometimes, it is enough for a photograph just to be taken. A thought to be had. Written and slipped into a drawer.

Sharing is not an imperative.

It’s a choice—and it should be a conscious choice.

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So. What does this mean for Nothing By The Book in 2017?

I don’t know.

I think my biggest and most important task is to figure out how to document my children’s childhood for them without betraying them—and I can’t tell MY story without telling their story, right? We are so entwined. So that’s a challenge I will need to navigate as I write life.

I am creating and trying to figure out a whole new career at the moment, and that’s fascinating and amazing—but also something that I want to occur completely off the pages of Nothing By The Book. Which creates another censor and strain. How can one write honestly and meaningfully… when there are so many fucking censors involved?

I am also struggling with the nightmare of TOO MUCH CONTENT. As we enter 2017—and Facebook turns 13, Twitter 11, and Instagram 7 (the parallels between the ages of these social media and my children’s ages are hilarious)—we enter a world in which everyone is writing and talking… and too few people are reading and listening. You know this is true. Those of us who ‘produce’ (a telling word) ‘content’ (ditto) scan posts and articles not to understand what is going on but to get material for the shit we’re going to write and say.

This is a dysfunctional situation.

We’re all talking and writing. And there is so much STUFF being thrown at us to read-listen to-watch. TOO MUCH CONTENT. We know this, we feel this, we are overwhelmed… and at the same time, we suffer from that fear-of-missing-out thing… and we’re so rushed and crushed, we talk in acronyms. OMFG. FOMO. YOLO. TTYL.

Ugh.

Every time I release a post… I feel I’m part of the problem.

What would happen… what would happen if I just shut up for a while… and listened?

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I don’t know.

I don’t even know if I’m capable of shutting up. 😉 Silence is very difficult.

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This is very, very important (and not private, so I will tell you):

Before you tell stories, you need to listen.

You need to listen to the people you’re telling the stories about. You need to listen to the people you’re telling the stories for. You need to listen to your inner story teller too. What’s up with her and why does she want to tell this story?

And I think you need to have the courage to ask… is this story worth telling? Worth sharing?

I don’t think the answer is always ‘yes.’

You: It’s my story and I’ll share it if I want to.

Jane: That is, of course, your prerogative, always.

The freedom we are now offered, the extent to which we are able to share ourselves, our lives, our work—our innermost secrets!—is immense.

And powerful.

But.

I don’t know.

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I am talking in circles now, and I am not taking you towards closure.

I should just shut up and listen.

Ender: Read me the book?

Jane: Ok, baby. Which one?

Ender: The one about me and my brother and sister.

Oh boy.

Mixed messages. Mixed messages.

2017, what am I going to do?

Merry All-The-Holidays, and may 2017 bring you many beautiful things… and the occasional gift of silence.

xoxo

“Jane”

Postcards From Cuba

2016 Posts that weren’t Postcards From Cuba

indulgent interlude (May 15, 2016)

journeys, birthdays, gratitude (May 24, 2016)

interlude: a perfectly ordinary monday (June 20, 2016)

Party in purgatory (July 14, 2016)

The price of flow (July 27 2016)

Frida Kahlo was a selfie master (August 10, 2016)

Hate and love, Frida and Hamlet, also, inspiration (August 17, 2016)

Expiration date (August 23, 2016)

Too. Much. Noise. (August 31, 2016)

A passion for learning and for life: unschooling and worldschooling in practice (September 6, 2016)

Proofing, planning, priorities, postcards (November 2, 2016)

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Honouring the private lives of children

The insight comes at this moment: My children, 5.95 and 3.4 at the time, are on the floor in my living room/office, playing a rather odd game that involves some plastic dinosaur figures, a couple of Lego Exoforce structures, and a plot line that combines some kind of intergalatic battle with a game of hide and seek and a trip to Banff. They’ve just come down from upstairs, where they were hanging out in Sean’s “workshop,” which has numerous breakable things in it. I was not in there, hovering over them, to ensure they didn’t break the printer, put magnets on the hard drives, or brought the pile of intricately arranged video tapes on top
of the bureau crashing down on their heads.

I didn’t have to hover―not because they are “better” or more “obedient” children than the child who would do all that, but because they’re in a different developmental cycle. I have Sharpie marker traces on our (trashed) leather couch, basement floor and several stuffed toys from a different phase, after the onset of which the Sharpies were put away in a high, unreachable, unseeable place. There was a DVD destroying incident, after which Sean’s workshop was off limits for a long while.

The Sharpies are still away. The door to the workshop is once again perpetually open.

 That’s by the way (another by the way: the game on the floor below me, by the way, now includes a ghost haunting, and I’m trying to figure out how this fits into the previous going to Banff via intergalatic battle bit, but that’s probably just as irrelevant). We all figure out how to deal with the “in the moment” issues thrown at us by our children with ways that address the “in the moment” needs and fit into our big picture philosophy of life, more or less adequately.

Today, I want to put another issue on the table, the issue of 
privacy and the inner life of the child.

Now, my partner and I spend a lot of time with our children. Oodles. We both work from home. We homeschool. We could be together 24/7. And one of the breakthroughs for me on the parenting journey―it happened, as always, later than it should have–was that as they’ve gotten older, my children need more space, more privacy, more alone time. Not to the exclusion of time with each other and time with their parents and time with other people in their lives–but alone time, uninterrupted time to just be by themselves, to do their own thing without being watched (however unobtrusively), without being questioned about it, without having to account for that time.



Sometimes, when Cinder has a crazy day(s), one of the things that’s been missing from his rhythm is this alone time. He’s been with me and his sister 24/7 and frankly, he just wants us to go away, but that’s a hard thing to say to people you love, so he acts like a bum instead to make us go away. I’m working on giving him the words to say it, and helping him recognize that it’s ok
to say, “I just want to be by myself for a while.”

His sister recognizes this about herself much more intuitively. She will take a basket of toys into the bathroom and close the door on herself, announcing that she “needs some privacy.” And she’ll stay there for a long stretch of time, 30 minutes, an hour–until someone desperately has to pee because we only have one bathroom–playing by herself, being by herself, enjoying her privacy.

Children need a private inner life. This need manifests in different ways and is fulfilled in different ways, but I do think it’s pretty much universal–everyone needs some space in which to just be themselves, by themselves, without an audience, however loving or unobtrusive.

Filling this need, safely, as a parent, involves a whole lot of judgement calls. Cinder just wandered past my desk carrying a pair of scissors. I followed him onto the balcony, saw that he had a pile of construction paper on the table there, and retreated. Had he been three, instead of almost six, and heading towards his sister’s precious dolls (or head!), I probably would have stayed. Had be been heading somewhere with a box of matches―or for a box of matches―I would have offered rather obtrusive supervision. Judgement calls.

Cinder and Flora wrap up their focused (unsupervised) together time. They call me away from my own alone, private time and time of reflection, and we all three embark on a very complicated craft that requires my participation and very active supervision (“No! Melted wax is hot! Gah!”). And then they’re tired of each other, and of me. Flora takes a basket of toys to the bathroom. Cinder heads outside to run laps around the Common. When they come back to me, I resolve not to ask them what they were doing, what they were thinking.

Maybe they’ll tell me. Maybe they won’t. Either outcome’s okay.

Children have private lives and they need privacy. (Based on an April 2008 day and previously published list post).

What are your thoughts on the private lives of children? How do your children take their private time? How did you come to recognize this need?

sharpies!