Monday, September 7, 2015

Our Unschooling Journey

My partner and I decided to homeschool when our oldest daughter was only a year old, she is 6 now.  After speaking to homeschooling parents and looking at different ways to do this we decided to unschool.   

What Is Unschooling?
Unschooling is an educational method and philosophy that advocates learner-chosen activities as a primary means for learning. Wikipedia
              This is also known as interest driven, child-led, natural, organic, eclectic, or self-directed learning. Lately, the term "unschooling" has come to be associated with the type of homeschooling that doesn't use a fixed curriculum. When pressed, I define unschooling as allowing children as much freedom to learn in the world, as their parents can comfortably bear. By John Holt, author, educator, proponent of unschooling.

This has been a journey filled with many emotions ranging from anxiety and fear, to love and trust.  As a brown low income family living in Boyle Heights there has been very little support since this road is taken more often by higher income, white, and Christian families.  Despite all obstacles, this has been a beautiful struggle where we are learning to surrender and allow learning to be natural taking place all day, everyday.
Yolanda Rodriguez (left) and her family at a Popol Vuh workshop.Displaying 20150603_120206.jpg
My partner and I decided to head the unschooling route because we do not think we learned too much in a classroom setting.  Both of us are LAUSD graduates with a variety of learning disabilities and anxieties that were undetected and often provoked in grade school.  Learning, we believed was something we did on our own because we wanted to do it and it was difficult for us to learn what was present in the classroom.  Also sitting still to learn we believe  is unnatural and difficult to do for a long time for anyone at any age.

We do not blame teachers.  Both of us had a few teachers that were very creative and allowed learning to happen.  Unfortunately teachers are limited in their capacity to encourage learning with low pay, overcrowded classrooms, bells ringing to conclude learning, standardize testing, budget cuts, and many more barriers.  I blame the system that has institutionalized and homogenized learning which leaves many children behind.

That said unschooling is also tough.  From many family members, friends, co-workers, and even strangers we have received a lot of unrequested opinions such as:
“Children cannot learn from parents.”
“They will never learn to socialize.”
or my favorite
“Are you stupid? They need school to learn.”
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Parents are the child’s first teachers, they model everything we do. When healthy emotional relationships are modeled, children recreate those dynamics too.  So we try our best to show them our learning process so they model us. It can be simple things such as: reading, listening to socially conscious talk radio, hiking, television shows, cultural celebrations, museums, facilitating workshops, cooking, listening, etc.  We also seek intergenerational spaces for learning such as community gatherings, ceremony, workshops, or classes.  We look for free or affordable classes offered in our community.  Luckily we also have many awesome friends and family members that offer to take care of our children while assisting in teaching them something they know.  Finally we also incorporate common classroom items such as: puzzles, games, workbooks, and arts & crafts.  

Are they learning?  Yes, they are.  They know how to do many things and are very independent.  My oldest child prepares simple meals that do not require heat such as yogurt with fruit, sandwiches, shakes, etc.  Both our children have learned about anatomy, nature, childbirth, animals, political movements and much more.  They love to perform dance, music, and poetry.  Most importantly they have a lot of love and empathy for their fellow living beings and nature in general.  They also advocate for the liberation of humans and animals from prisons and zoos.  My oldest has already began to establish her own business called “ Vulva Power”.  The money she earns is used to purchase learning tools of her choice.
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How will they learn to socialize?  My daughters like most children are shy at first but are able to socialize well.  Since they are not isolated to their peer group in a school setting they socialize fairly easily with people of all ages.  They socialize in intergenerational spaces and they learn socialization by modeling from their caretakers, family and friends.

Do they need school to learn?  No, they do not “need” school to learn and we are not stupid.  We have just made a choice that may be different than most and it was by no means an easy choice to make.  We have had to make many sacrifices while navigating and juggling employment and childcare responsibilities.  Despite our struggles we feel this has been the best choice for our family.  We try our best to respect other families and their choices, so if you do not support our choice please at the very least respect it.
Unschooling has been quite a lovely journey, which is ideally done by following a child’s lead, providing learning tools to guide them and trusting learning will happen in a natural structure.  Coming from a structured way of learning in our school system, the unschooling concept often gives me moments of anxiety and fear.  
Fears such as:
“What if they never learn to read?”
“We need to step it up and teach.”
“We need a curriculum”
These fears are valid after all our oldest is already 6 and does not know how to read, she can barely spell her name.  These are just short moments of fear because of the support we do have.  We have a few adult friends that were unschooled, they learned to read and much more.  Also my sister, who attended public schools, learned to read until she was almost 9 years old.  My sister also has worked in a variety of school settings and had studied Child Development.   She is my main encouragement to homeschool.  
She tells me things such as:
“Keep doing what you are doing, the girls are doing great.”

“I think schools give too much homework, not enough play and rob children of true childhood”

“Children learn most by playing, critical thinking, and using their imagination.  Unfortunately these are often not supported in schools children of color attend ”
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So we will continue to unschool for the moment maybe we will change our mind and choose a different route later on but right now it is working well for us.  My partner and I with our daughters continue to learn all day, everyday.  Unschooling has been the ultimate concept in learning to let go, surrender, and trust the process. We love unschooling our children it is freeing because it is helping us heal our self confidence and ability to truly understand things that we were unable to learn in the many schools we attended.  

As Albert Einstein once stated “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.”  
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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A Mother's Perspective on Lyricism in Pop Music. Story shared by Roxy ElRey

I look around and I ask myself, “Am I crazy or am I the only mother that thinks this is inappropriate?” I am not a square and I don’t preach religion. I promise. However, I refuse to allow my children to fall victim and watch countless hours of TV or listen to the senseless “music” of today.
While I know that I can’t prevent my kids from being exposed to certain things during the time they are away at school; I work very hard at home to educate and raise two beautiful mindful boys. My oldest boy is seven years old and should not be singing along to “going up on a Tuesday”. If you are anything like me, you can already imagine my reaction.
This brings me to my next point which is about public education and what our children are learning at school. To keep my son busy and active during the summer break I enrolled him in the L.A.’s Best summer program. Here we are as parents trusting that the school district has good judgment and hires competent individuals to care for our children. I arrive to pick up my son and walk into all the kids in the summer program dancing and singing along to the “Nae Nae” song. I am sure you’ve all heard this ridiculous tune. Here are a few lyrics:
Now watch me whip (kill it!)
Now watch me nae nae (okay!)
Now watch me whip whip
Watch me nae nae (want me do it?)

The first question one may ask is “what on earth is nae nae?” As a mindful parent that questions the subliminal message behind every pop or rap song, I found that Nae Nae is actually a person. This person is a female character named Sheneneh Jenkings on the famous 90’s sitcom Martin. Ms. Jenkings is the best person to describe the meaning behind the song. A ghetto, promiscuous, unattractive hot mess dancing like a fool. So basically, my child was singing “watch me foolishly dance like a trashy whore”.
On a second occasion my son’s father walked into the kids listening to “Trap Queen”. Some lyrics are as follows:
Married to the money, introduced her to my stove
Showed her how to whip it, now she remixin' for low
She my trap queen, let her hit the bando
We be countin' up, watch how far them bands go
We just set a goal, talkin' matchin' Lambos
A 50, 60 grand, prob' a hundred grams though
Man, I swear I love her how she work the damn pole
Hit the strip club, we be letting bands go
Everybody hating, we just call them fans though
In love with the money, I ain't ever letting go
This needs no translation as it is very literal. “What is wrong with the youth of today?” many ask. I say music plays a great influence. Most pop or rap songs consist of drugs, sex, money and shaming of women. If you pay close attention these songs are becoming our reality. This is the plan of course. No zombie apocalypse needed. We are the zombie apocalypse. We walk around blinded and ignorant to what really matters. Remember the more we know the bigger of a threat we are to those in position of power. Everything around us has been created to keep us ignorant and blind.
As parents we need to stand strong and create a solid foundation for our kids. Education starts at home. These days you see parents and children in the same room staring down at a screen and not engaging in something as simple as a conversation. As parents we should be playing, creating, talking and reading to our kids.
As I mentioned before I work very hard toward mindful education for my kids. This includes activities such as art therapy, crafts, meditation, yoga, board games, reading but most importantly communication. We can’t allow our children to learn from music or other inapt sources. We must decolonize play time and the classrooms for the future of our children and their children.
I am a mother and I am against pop music and what it is teaching our children. Are you?
Roxy ElRey

This story is part of the International M.A.P. blog series and Dialogue Starters. 2015

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Rants of a Pregnant Mama from Chaos Toward Healing

I found out the week before my first daughter's second birthday.  I was busy with an internship to help me find a "real job".  I needed a job; I had been unemployed for almost 3 years, even though I have always engaged in volunteer based community work.
Okay so I was busy and had stopped tracking my moon cycle. At that time also weaned my eldest.  It was the beginning of June, and was spotting for a few months by then and my period absent for the whole month of May.  After feeling nauseous for three days....I knew.

So I told my partner, who had been trying to find a job for almost 2 years about my suspicion and he said - "Shut the f... up, for real?!"  We bought a cheap pregnancy test at CVS. I peed on it as soon as I arrived home.  The plus sign quickly formed....I then told my partner, "Read, what does that mean?"
He responded "It means you're pregnant.  I guess we are having Another baby"
"Wait but look one line is lighter than the other."  I said.
"That doesn't matter look."  He then showed me the instructions...yes they said that one might be lighter that the other.  Damn it, I was pregnant Again!
I stared at the test for about 10 minutes. I picked it up looked and looked, but the answer did not change.
"Oh My God! I am pregnant AND We Are Poor!".I thought."What are we going to do?!"
Denial was in full force."Maybe I did it wrong.  I peed on it too long...I can't BE...Not Now!"
I couldn't deny it for long.  Yes I was a poor pregnant mother and after a month of denial I decided to figure out what will we do now
Not having money is difficult and people always blame poverty on poor womyn of color who bring children into this world to suffer or leach off the government.  At times I wanted an abortion or I would pray for a miscarriage so I wouldn't feel guilty. Guilt is such a draining feeling.
Life inside my womb kept growing.  No money. No job. I thought, maybe Conservatives are right, poor people should not have babies, but we do -HA!
My friend Kristina also pregnant and broke reminded me once "Well mujer, we are not the only broke people to give birth;we'll be okay."
So yes we are not the first broke parents to have children, not at all, not the first and not the last.
I decided to keep my baby, I already loved this life inside my womb and recognized it was my choice; at the time did not realize how difficult it will be.
Though I had chosen,  the negative thoughts kept flooding my mind and I could not stop them even if I tried.
What was I thinking?
Why didn't I protect myself?
How can I bring a baby into this world?
I'm broke....what can I offer this baby? We don't have anything!!
My hormones were out of control and so were my emotions.

I was Angry. Guilty. Sad. Depressed. Afraid. We didn't have any money and kept struggling. We received cash aid and my partner recycled metal and still did not make ends meet.We slept on the hard cold floor since we didn't have a mattress. There were times we didn't have running water or gas. We went  without electricity for over a month. It was difficult; I complained a lot and frustrated my partner.  He of course was also going through depression but manifested differently than I did.
I felt like I was drowning at times or slipping little by little beginning to get buried in quick sand.
Thoughts of ending my life and my oldest daughter’s as well populated my mind.  It felt like nobody cared about us. My thoughts had me believing we wouldn't survive anyway maybe we should end it here.  I fantasized about getting run over or jumping off the freeway or dying in our sleep.
My friends and some family members helped me a lot. They listened and provided some type of support such as ideas on how to cope. My friends Reyna and Sammy babysat or dragged me out of the house.  Bernie took me to acupuncture appointments or  out shopping for food. My sister Julie would me pick up and drove me out of my house. One time another good friend, Sofia helped my family by organizing friends to chip in and pay my rent; they also provided me with a mattress. Panquetzani gave us space for my family and I in her home for a while. Aubrey was there with me during the Kali Ma phase.  Felt very lucky that I had this much support from my friends, my partner on the other hand was another story.

My partner was not emotionally there for me, he was busy focusing on surviving to feel empathy for me, I felt that he didn't love me.   I was angry and sad at the same time,  feeling ugly and stupid.  He wasn't involved in the pregnancy as much as he was with my first. I would scream, fight, and cry a lot. Without realizing, I was trying to drag him to insanity with me.  He would lose it plenty of times and said I was spoiled since I grew up in a privileged country.  We had somewhere to live, even though we struggled to pay rent.  We had food, even though we received food stamps. He would always point out how we were lucky for not getting bombed like the women in Palestine.  These were all words that a depressed pregnant women should not hear.  Plus I wanted to be off food stamps and have a house with space to grow our own food...then I'd be happy.  Sometimes I would think, he is right we are rich and I am spoiled.  Others survive worst, we will survive this and life is Beautiful.  But every minute I changed my mind.  I was pregnant and an emotional wreck trying to find balance somewhere inside myself.
Sometimes I was reminded by my good friend Maria that unhappiness is not necessarily and "bad" thing; it is also part of life.  “Don't be afraid of the dark times,” she said “immerse yourself in them and be at peace”.  I started calling my depression my purple phase of chaos and reminded myself that only after chaos there is true peace.  I meditated and my mantra was "Immerse yourself in darkness to find the light."
Being poor and pregnant is tough because at this time you need love, security and peace.. I didn't feel any of that.  I  coped as best as I could and some people did support me.  I dragged myself outside sometimes, I would journal and draw my emotions into  paper.  Sometimes I danced or would drink warm tea and take deep breaths to gain some peace. What helped me the most was speaking to people about what I felt and receiving their much needed empathy.

My friends organized a mother's blessing for me; where I was honored as a mother.  They also organized my postpartum care (meals, babysitting, laundry, house work etc.)  above all they promised to always be there for our family in support.  Since that night my partner changed . Didn’t realize, because he kept it all in and was just as afraid as I was. After that night, surrounded by our loved ones he was relieved to see we were truly not alone.

After the  turmoil experienced during my pregnancy, I had an orgasmic birth with my partner and friends supporting me throughout labor and birth, and my oldest daughter nearby.  My postpartum phase was a wonderful time; people visited our home  not only to meet our newborn but also helped me with recovery.  I felt loved and I allowed myself to be bathed, fed, and taken care of by those that loved me.  This was immensely healing to feel so much community love. My self-love grew and so did my love for my family.  I was happy to be a mother again.
I share my story in attempts to help other mothers and pregnant womyn especially those facing economic difficulty so they see that survival and happiness is possible.  Through this story I shared my process, struggles, my support and strategies in  hopes they may help someone find help or sanity. It’s not easy to remember this, but we are not stuck and Money is not #1. We have something better: we are resourceful and hopeful, and to remember after chaos comes peace!

                             Speak up when you are down because you are not alone!!
A special thanks to my partner and children; we continue on our healing journey and doing so much better.  A very special thanks to my sisters from Ticicalli Yahualli, Classmates in Jumpstart Mental Health LA, Colleagues from LDIRs in Health, Echo Parenting and Education, Ana Paula Markel from BINI Birth, The Village Health Foundation, family, and many other friends. Whether you are aware of it or not, you were there for me during these challenging times and because of YOU I was able to pull myself out and  I am immensely grateful for this.  Much Love and Blessings to you ALL.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Decolonizing Playtime and Exploring Different Perspectives At Home.

As a  mother of a 5 year old daughter I have been made aware of the overwhelming amount of "Princess" merchandise that is out in the market targeting young girls. Though I understand that the "princess" themed merchandise appeals to the inner nobility and queen-like nature of our little girls, I do believe that it is a limiting concept and misrepresentation of all the wonderful things that our children are. For those who are of Native American/Indigenous backgrounds, the effects of these mainstream images and concepts are even more complex. Aware of these issues, I have decided that I want my child to enjoy her youth but to also learn how to exercise her mind, spark her curiosity  and to seek possibilities of progress and creation while honoring our culture. 

Here is a small home project we did together to expand the possibilities of a toy she was gifted at her preschool's christmas event last year, We hope you enjoy this and that it gives you ideas for personalizing your toys at home. :)

We stated with this Disney Princesses tracing light table with moving vinyl strips made to mix and match princesses and dresses. 

We found the center of the vinyl strips and cut along the middle to remove them from the light table. 

We picked an old magazine and found our modge podge and brush...

... and selected a few images from an article and ads.

Using the modge podge and brush, we glued the cut outs on the frame of the light table. (I only used a few since I did not want her to feel like her space had been invaded or make it unfamiliar to her).
Then we picked a cutout of some artwork we printed from the internet.

We used tape to secure the image on the light table. For tracing, we thought it would be fun to try Japanese calligraphy paper and use ink stone and brush for tracing.

Here's a close up of a Japanese calligraphy brush and the calligraphy paper secured with tape on the tracing table. 

This is the ink stone. 

She started by tracing the head and the nose of the buffalo...

Then she thought her drawing would look nicer if she used color paint instead...

She called it " The Rainbow Tatanka".

My daughter's creativity never ceases to amaze me. The focus and attention she pays to her art just makes me smile and warms my heart to see such dedication from such a little human. Her soul sets an example for me to follow of how to put my all into what I do and set the best intentions...
We kept the vinyl cut outs, so that she has the choice to trace princesses and dresses if she wants to, but it is great to know that she is learning she can create amazing things when she is given a safe space to create and explore different perspectives...

Love and blessings to all the families of Earth!!

"perspectives" blog series 2015.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Healing through Storytelling

I went to the Healing thru Writing Workshop: An evening with Elizabeth Alexander presented by The California Endowment.

I didn't make it to the full event and naturally, as this is one of the precious moments when the kids are with grandma I wanted to get the most out of the night. I walked in and found a seat just as the Q&A began. After listening to questions, I realized I had a question. I raised my hand. The person with the mic came over and placed the mic in front of me, everyone in the room turning in my direction as I begin to utter words, “Hello, I am Sara. My question is about…”

I feel myself pause.
I feel the stories inside of me waiting for my permission to be expressed. As more eyes turn in my direction, I contain these stories and continue, “When it gets hard to write. When there is more than one story that you know you want to share because you know it is healing and empowering to create a space for more people to share. But it’s so hard to write because it’s hard to go there and there is a lot of untangling to do. How do you get yourself to write these stories?”

And in my emotional fullness from even asking the question, I hear her say,
“Stories live in our bodies. Crying it out helps but you have to move yourself through it because you can get stuck there.”
I hadn't realized how these stories had a physical nature to them. But they do. I know this because I feel them affect my body as I become aware of the stories. And even as I ignore these stories they show up as pains or discomfort in my body. Being aware of where these stories are stored assisted me in releasing them. It felt easier to write freely in poetry, in vague terms at first. And I think that’s a good start. 

Whatever your story is and if you don’t feel safe yet to share, like me, I encourage you to seek ways to begin to release the story from your body with intention and gentleness. I began to instruct myself to release and I found that it was a helpful starter. Check it out:

Pull your stories out of your body
And write
Write that story to release it
Unearth those pains
Unearth the joys
Unearth the pleasure
Unearth the tears
Purge your story
Compost the ugly feelings
With delightful adjectives
Retell that story like a novel
Retell it like an action story
Retell that story how you felt it
With the ending you would have wanted
With the beginning you wish you had
Pull it out of your head
Cry it out of your eyes
Pluck it out of your face
Stomp it out of your feet
Birth it out of your womb
There’s no wrong way to tell a story
There’s no right way to write
Not when you are writing to free yourself
Not when your spirit needs you to honor your truth
Not when you need to let it go
Your story is here for you to
Always with you
Housed in your temple
Asking for your permission to be released
Anytime anyone asks, “Are you ok?”
Your story is there 
Waiting for you to begin to tell it
Awaiting your permission
And sometimes it doesn’t
Sometimes your story comes thru
Without any warning
Flooding tears
Heavy breaths
Gleeful smiles
Rolling eyes
Your story is in your body
And wants to exist outside of you
Someone where it can move
And help you grow
Your story is present with you
Free yourself from stories of the past
Stories of wounded hearts
Stories of defeat
Stories of rage
Stories of cycles yet to be broken

Create a new story
A narrative that calls in your
And intellectual prowess
Create a new story by shifting those old stories
Create a new story by living the life you want to live
Create that story every day the way you want it
Create stories you want to keep in your body
That won’t hurt you in your solitude
Create a story you are proud to tell
Make that story
Share that story
Give it life with words
Give it meaning with metaphors
Give it rhythm with alliteration
Write that story
Write and live every day
With imagination
With Love 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Helpful Tips For Parent Allies.

     On April 22, 2015 our collective hosted the "Don't Leave Your Sisters Behind" workshop at CalState LA as part of the Mujeres De Maiz 2015 Spring event series. This workshop focused on exploring issues parents and families face and how to find solutions to these issues collectively. For those who were unable to attend this workshop, we are sharing a list of helpful tips that can serve as guide to parents and parent allies. We hope this helps and sparks ideas to create avenues of support for us all...

Thank you to Mujeres de Maiz and to MALCS for all your hard work and aide during this workshop and beyond!

-Ticicalli Yahualli

  • Offer help in any way
  • Provide Self-Care gifts such as: Massage, Acupuncture, aromatherapy candles and pregnancy-safe teas
  • Assist them in raising funds for their labor support (Doula) and/or Midwifery Care
  • Check-in: Keep an open line of communication. Ask how they are doing and how you can support them
  • Provide positive affirmations about birth
  • Help set up a meal train: Drop off warm ready or frozen meals for the family
  • Offer to help clean the house
  • Hang out with older siblings
  • Gift them a massage
  • Assist in raising funds for a postpartum doula
  • Check in: Again, keep an open line of communication. Ask how they are doing and how you can support them
  • Wash your hands before holding the newborn baby. Even though it’s hard to resist, refrain from kissing the baby. If you sick wait until you are better to see the family

Holding Space for Children
  • Children play a major role in Society. They are the future generations and everything we model they will be imprinted with
  • Babies need to held and loved. Keep a positive environment around the baby
  • Understand the developmental milestones for children. Be mindful of where they are in present moment
  • All adults in spaces where children are present are responsible for safety and security of children
  • Be mindful of what you may be modeling in the presence of children

  • Be intentional in your parenting journey
  • Be aware of different parenting styles. Refrain from judging or shaming other parenting differently
  • Be gentle with yourself in your parenting journey
  • Seek support when times are tough
  • Don’t be afraid to seek community and/or intuitional resources such as parenting classes
  • Have fun and enjoy the ride!