Unfooding: an elaboration.
I'm getting increasingly nervous about blogging what we do here, though, because it's slowly dawning on me, from reading comments and emails and lists, that some people start to feel somehow criticised or pressured for not doing things the same way as someone else does them. This is a bit of a shock to me, who has always carved my own path through life based on what worked for me and mine, and nobody else, which has resulted in me being, I suppose, fairly conventional in some respects and fairly radical in others. The thing is, I don't care whether what I do is usual or unusual, conventional or radical, acceptable or unacceptable to other people. All I care about, in making decisions about how we live, is that my children and I are happy, healthy, strong and safe and that we don't damage or obstruct our neighbours.
I don't write all this stuff about how we live in order to say: "This is the only right way of doing things," because I don't think that's true, and anyway it's none of my business what decisions other people make and I have no wish to influence them. So why do I write it? Mainly because I enjoy writing, also because people seem to enjoy reading. But there is another motive that takes some thinking about. The world seems to be becoming increasingly homogenised, which makes us all nicely predictable and therefore easily managed by governments and big business. Alternative lifestyles are therefore always slightly under threat and I believe this is more true now than ever before. Because of this feeling I have that my decisions are being forever impinged upon, it gives me some slight comfort to keep blogging away those homogenising myths, like the ones about relative poverty, single parenthood, discipline and health. If I keep saying, "My family does it this way and the kids grew up ok," then it adds to the chorus of voices which combine, hopefully, to keep different options open.
But most people often don't do things the way we do them here, and I'd like to take this opportunity to say that in my opinion, if you and your children are as happy and healthy as can be then you're probably doing things in the 'right' way for you. People and families and circumstances are all so different that one way would not work for everyone and we all probably need to do things slightly, or radically differently to the next person. I've changed the way I do things depending on various stages in my life too, and I also think there's nothing wrong with that. So, nothing that I write is intended as a criticism of anyone else, unless I'm clearly saying that's the case. Which is very rare. I should probably paste this into my sidebar!
Now.. what was I originally rambling about? LOL. Unfooding. Right:
There was a time, early in my marriage, when I was teaching myself housekeeping techniques from Mrs Beeton's Household Management, (published in 1861 ^^) and therefore my whole family used to sit down to full 3-course breakfasts, luncheons, high teas and dinners around a fully dressed table on the precise dot of 8am, 12 noon, 4pm and 8pm. Before I went to bed, the kitchen would be cleaned and tidied and the table set for breakfast. This routine lasted for about two years, until I started to get full-blown panic attacks at the threat of every slight alteration to the schedule which meant, I decided, time for a rethink.
I'm glad I learned all that stuff though, because (as many artists confirm) it's good to know the 'proper' technique for doing something before you relax all the rules and start doing it your own way. Having realised it wasn't a matter of life or death for me to serve up four daily three-course meals to my family with military precision timing, I was able to gradually relax my approach to the daily food schedule until, around the time we deregistered from school, only the evening meal was still set in stone.
I think the move towards total unfooding was completed alongside and as a result of our move towards complete unschooling, because it's hard to justify: "You can learn what, how and when you like," with "Oh but you still have to come and sit to the table for half an hour at 5pm."
Curiosity and the motive to learn things seems, for us, to be strongest when we live spontaneously in the moment, and any sort of fixed schedule has the effect of limiting such opportunities. During various phases since deschooling the children have wanted to experiment with eating, sleeping and cooking at different times and in different ways, to see what worked for them. They've learned about nutrition by observing the effects in their own bodies of different foods, for which it was necessary for me to back off and abdicate my total control of the food supplies. Unfooding and unschooling are therefore intertwined and inseparable, twin facets of their autonomous education and childhood.
So in our house we all decide what food to buy and we make joint decisions about what proportion of the household budget to allocate towards the food bills, even the children who are very young. It's in everyone's interests to store the food safely and the food is then all available to everyone, whenever and however they want to eat it.
You might think this would lead to complete selfishness and isolation, with people living on a nonstop diet of snacks and TV meals consisting of ovenchips and chocolate, but this is absolutely not the case. We end up, by mutual consent, with a full range of affordable and nutritious ingredients. Sometimes meals are preplanned, preprepared and cooked from scratch - as often by the other teens as by me. It's rare for someone to cook for themselves alone. Every few days someone (often me, sometimes Lyddie, sometimes someone else) feels the urge to cook for everyone, then we sit down to a pleasurable meal together. The boys are the only two regular meat eaters and they always cook for each other when a meat meal is being prepared. Sometimes they sit down to eat together at bizarre times like 3am, but they do sit down to eat together.
Unstructured sleep times are another aspect of the spontaneous way of life. What could it be called: unscheduling? The thing is we've found here, by trial and error, that most of us are obsessive about projects once we get our teeth into them, so we're quite likely to want to work late into the night (and through it) on things sometimes. My point of view on this matter is that the project is paramount and people will sleep when tired, just as they will eat when hungry. My teens have been known to survive for a few days on very little sleep when working frantically on something and then catch up by having a few days and nights of almost nonstop sleeping. I would venture to suggest that this would be the natural state of affairs for many people if they didn't have rigid schedules to adhere to. My minimal knowledge of the great works of genius tells me that they came about in this way. The human mind seems to work at its best and most creative when it's free to obsess: to focus exclusively wherever it settles, without forced interruption, until the subject is 'cracked'.
This way of living probably wouldn't work well for everyone. No doubt some people do prefer the comfort of routines. There can be a lot of benefit in routine, and I myself have been known to settle into one from time to time, while it suited me, as have the children. But I've loved having the freedom to free them, in turn, from the necessity of a rigidly adult-imposed schedule.