Cactus Beach and a world away from text books
When a group of mums from my son's primary school gathered last year at a Parents + Teachers meeting with a goal of discussing introducing mindfulness programs at the school, we were shut down shamelessly. I was so disgusted with the manner in which the school dealt with this issue - from the top down - that I soon pulled Ryder out of school and we packed up, sold up all our possessions, and hit the road, then some airplanes, and embarked on an eight-month journey from Lennox Head to South Australia, Colombia, Japan and now back to Lennox Head.
I'll be honest and say that the school incident was not the driving force behind our packing up and leaving. I was in debt following my previous marriage, I was not happy where I was living, I was dreaming of making a transitional move to California via Colombia, and the school situation was just the icing on the cake.
So we took off, and our first stop was SA, and an amazing strike-mission trip over to one of my favourite places on Earth, Cactus Beach. The kids were in heaven. Snuggling up in their own little tent, free to run around the wild, rocky terrain on the hunt for Blue Tongue Lizards, scoping for starfish on low tide, building rock 'cairns' on the edge of the world, and of course, bonfires at night in the desert.
Ryder had an idea on this trip to make a You Tube series, teaching people about camping and animals, and we tried to film a few clips on the iPhone but admittedly he got a little silly and shy when the camera was turned on him so we might leave that for another year or two. I had also thought to make a little blog series for the boys of their adventures, but really that's just extra work for me, so we created their own Instagram account @takanamitrouble and for now that's enough.
Prior to the trip, we'd been staying with my parents in Adelaide, and mum and I had been trying to home school Ryder. Mum is an educator, with a Bachelor in Adult Education, and with both my sister and I going through the public primary education, private high schooling, and then University, it's safe to say education is a top priority in our family.
I have worked throughout both my kids births, as a freelance/contracting writer and editor, and then full time as an editor in a staffed office six months after Hunter was born. Both kids have been in child care facilities in both Japan and Australia since their six-month-old birthdays, part-time at first then full time when I was working radically long hours. I hated having them fully institutionalized at such early ages and it's not the ideal start to education that I had wanted for either of them, but the centres they attended had a strong emphasis on play, creating, and the outdoors, so essentially they were in good hands and were learning things I couldn't teach them as a busy working mum.
The first year of Ryder's primary schooling seemed fine, but to be honest I was heavy into my divorce and was a very disconnected mum from the school. The teacher told me Ryder was a pleasure to teach and he seemed to be learning fine so that was good enough for me. The turning point came last year when he and his friends were experiencing regular bullying from kids 4-5 years their senior, and the school seemed to be doing nothing about it. Insert us mums educating ourselves about the growing trend, and success, of mindfulness programs in other schools in NSW, Australia and the world. The program would have ticked so many boxes for me and Ryder: correcting the bullying issue, instilling empathy, and helping Ryder work with the breath - as we were doing at home ourselves - a necessary tool for his healing after being witness to violence in the home for the first chunk of years of his precious life.
So yeah, mindfulness got shut down, we go to SA, mum has some success in home schooling when she introduces project work around animals and nature with Ryder while I'm away on a TV shoot in Tasmania, only I come home to take over the reigns with book work and Ryder doesn't want to have a bar of it. We argue, fight, and I'm still working full time from home so frankly I don't have time for this shit.
Cactus, on the other hand, is phenomenal and I see before my eyes my kids learning. They learn about the tides, native animals, how to make a fire, how to put out a fire, how to put up a tent, why drinking water is precious in the desert, how to make a 'cairn', why there are not many trees out West, why there are salt lakes, and how to entertain themselves with zero technology and no toys. The colouring books come out but mostly they play with sticks and rocks.
It was awesome watching them learn, and just giving them the freedom to touch, feel, and sit with nature - the real deal, not pretty pictures in a text book or a video on a screen. I definitely look back over the past eight months and think this was one of the best trips of the entire out-of-school journey, and in fact one of the best experiences of our lives.
I took photos on the Iphone with the intention of having Ryder create some nature projects to follow up from the trip. It was a good idea. We were pumped. But then the Vegan Festival came to town and the kids filled up with more new knowledge of a different kind (this was the first time we had all met vegan dogs!) and then we jetted off to Colombia and the projects never got done. That's not to say we can't go back to that creative idea some day. The knowledge remains, and maybe it's just enough to have the experience, take a few photos for the memories, and contemplate on all that was learned at his age. I mean, when the alternative is a meltdown at the books and screaming matches between the two of us...well I'm sorry but I'll take some rad real-life experiences any day.
So, the long story short is that the boys are going back to the school, yep the one that doesn't believe in mindfulness. After eight months and three countries I was about to go insane without the boys in school trying to work from different homes, campsites and hotels, and they simply missed their mates and were ready to come back 'home', and go to school.
I have mixed feelings about this decision. The school is beautiful, their friends are awesome, and we are beach-side and loaded with nature. But there are two other awesome schools north and inland that I would have preferred to enroll them; great schools with a focus on sustainability, mindfulness, empathy, meditation, and of course education. What it came down to in the end is what makes them happy. For now, it's structure and friendship, and keeping their feet still for a while. But our journey of re-learning to nature is shining through in every aspect of their lives and the next phase for me on my journey as a single mother is to maintain this process outside of the classroom. This means beach hangs at every chance, outside play, weekend strike missions inlandfor bush walks and hunting waterfalls (check out last weekend's first installment of the 100 Waterfalls Challenge), involving the kids in their food choices and veganism, letting them to play on the yoga mat and observing my own daily rituals, having open and honest communication about everything, and giving and receiving so much love.
Life is a journey, and knowledge can't all be learned from text books. Re-learning to nature: the Colombia installment, is another story for another evening.
Until then, or whatever I feel pulled to write about before then, I send you all loads of love.