I recently remembered a bizarre and painful phenomenon that occurred in my elementary school years. Although I had plenty to say at home (a fact to which my harried mother would have attested!), I recoiled at the prospect of speaking at school.
I never raised my hand to volunteer answers, but despite that (or maybe, with the crueler teachers because of it), I was often called upon to contribute to class discussions. I vividly remember the horrific sensations I suffered when the teacher’s eye would fall upon my shrinking form. Resting there for what seemed like an eternity, that gaze reduced me to a sweaty, paralyzed lump. Not because I didn’t know the answer (I usually did), but because I simply could not project my voice loudly enough for the teacher to hear what I had to say. Even when I screwed up all my courage, took an enormous breath and attempted to shout, it was rare that I succeeded on the first try. Having to repeat myself just prolonged and deepened the nightmare – and rarely produced better results.
This dread carried over to other adults in my world. I avoided speaking to my friends’ parents at all costs. Ordering food from a waitress nearly caused me to lose my appetite. And death was preferable to asking a sales clerk to help me locate an item at the grocery store.
Imagine then, my surprise and delight that my son – in this instance anyway – has turned out to be my polar opposite. This happy, friendly little kiddo doesn’t hesitate to offer his ideas in any number of settings, cheerfully strikes up conversation with our waiters, and fearlessly tracks down a clerk the moment he can’t find what he needs.
Some may attribute this to his temperament. But that’s not the whole story. For a long time, he, too, was rendered incapacitated by the prospect of having to communicate with adults. So why the change?
The longer Thomas has lived a life filled with freedom and respect, a life which allows him daily contact with people of all ages and backgrounds, the more comfortable he has become with his own voice. He no longer views adults as “other” or worse, as “enemy” (as do too many children his age). And he sees himself as just another human being, with plenty of thoughts and opinions that are as valid as any other person’s.
I love this about him.
But recently, Thomas made a move that surprised even me: recording an audio interview with the legendary Barb Lundgren, editor of Home Education Magazine and co-creator of unschooling.com. For twenty minutes, Thomas chatted easily over the phone about his experience with public school, formal homeschooling, and unschooling – with a woman he’d never even laid eyes on. As I sat listening to the interview, my ten-year old self was astounded by his ability to – literally – have a voice. What a testimony to this amazing way of life!
By the by, my forty-something self was pretty impressed with what Thomas had to say, too, which is why I’m including the link to the interview here.
As for me, it’s been a long and difficult road to find my own voice, but I’m finally discovering the joy of being heard. In fact, I even agreed to be interviewed by Barb Lundgren – and it was exhilarating! You can find that recording, about my book A Pair of Sparkly Sneakers and my journey from mainstream mom to unschooling partner, here. It’s truly exciting to work through those old, deep-seated fears.
But I still avoid sales clerks if I can possibly help it.