Saturday, January 8, 2011

Growing Up Unschooled...With Siblings

I read this post recently over at Un-Schooled, and all I could think as I read it was how very much I related to it.  Not the great-musicians-touring-Europe bit (I wish), but the relationship, the closeness, described between siblings.  And I just had to share my own relationship with my sister, and how I feel that relationship has been affected by unschooling.

Emilie (most often referred to as Em or Emi, if I'm the one doing the referring) is hands down my best friend in the entire world.

Emi, in summer '09.

She's 2 1/2 years younger than me (the half especially mattered when we were younger: doesn't a bigger sibling always want to claim as much of an older-and-thus-obviously-more-mature advantage as they can?), so when I first started going to kindergarten (which I continued to do for half a year) she was still too young for school (this was long enough ago that three was still considered too young for school!).  Every day when the bus came to pick me up, my mother would walk me the short distance to the end of our street, while Emi would stay by the window watching until I was picked up.  I think she was envious of me: that I got to go somewhere that seemed, at the time, exciting (though I was personally pretty ambivalent about my kindergarten experience, even at the time).  More than that, I think she just missed me.  We were used to spending all of our time together.

Me and Emi, circa '96 or '97
Once I left school, we fell back into a more familiar rhythm.   We spent our days playing, creating art, and going to various group activities.  When Emi reached school-age, there was never any suggestions of her going to school.

So we grew up together.  We played, learned, squabbled, and everything else siblings are supposed to do.

We liked baking... Circa 2000.

I mean, we certainly fought, and continue to fight, at times. When she was just a toddler I bit her on the face, and just a couple of years ago I gashed her arm open with my nails (then felt extremely bad about it for weeks, long after it had healed), among hundreds of other small fights that resulted in less spectacular displays of physical violence.  For a few years, when I was in my preteen to very early teenage years, we lost a lot of closeness, as I had definitely hit a new developmental stage, felt a lot older, and Emi was still a little kid.  But once she reached the preteen stage, we regained that closeness once more.

Me and Emi, with our dog, Flora, in '02.

Of course, virtually all siblings--be they unschoolers, homeschoolers, public and private schoolers, or freeschoolers--love their siblings.  Many, no matter what type of education they have, are even close to their siblings.  But sadly, there are also many who are not.

 To me, one of the greatest benefits of unschooling is the relationships I've developed with my family, which I definitely attribute at least in part to unschooling.  When in school, siblings spend every day appart from each other, in separate grades, classrooms, and even schools (though seeing as you're not supposed to be socializing in class, I suppose it wouldn't make much of a difference if siblings where in the same class, anyway).  Evenings are usually spent doing homework, or spending time with other friends.  There's a stigma attached to hanging out with people of different ages, and I've definitely also encountered a stigma to liking family members.  To many young people, actually liking a sibling enough to spend time with them just isn't cool.

So as unschoolers, we missed out on internalizing any siblings-are-uncool-and-so-is-anyone-younger-than-me messages.  But far more than that, we simply had the time to become such good friends!

Because that's what we are now: best friends.  Emi is now 17, and I'll be turning 20 in March.  Though we no longer share the same activities, we still share a fair amount of friends.  We hang out together.  We giggle and squee over sexy guys, watch shows and movies together, and endlessly discuss the plot, characters, and where it all might be heading.  We also discuss a huge array of other things: like sexism and anarchy, oppression and media and racism and gender and how we want to live our lives.  Problems with friends and things people said and how we can make a difference.  Sometimes we curl up together and talk until 4:00 am or later. 

Laughing at who knows what. Taken in 2007.

We've been known to laugh in synchronization, and even to burst out singing the exact same song at the exact same time, completely out of the blue.  We make comments and references that cause us both to burst into laughter, when no one else has a clue what we're talking about.  We exchange plenty of secrets that never go further than the two of us, and we almost always know what the other is getting at, even if we're exhausted and making no sense (which, being the very late night people we are, is a fairly frequent occurrence).
At a dance, in 2008.
Perhaps we would have been just as close had we gone to school.  But I'm oh so glad that our relationship was never put under the strain of the both of us growing up separately in school, so glad that our friendship could grow unhindered as we ourselves grew up!

Both of us looking kinda silly, but happy! June, '10.

Yeah, okay, I'm feeling kind of sappy now.  But, well, she's my sister.  I could go on so much longer: I could talk about how we've always looked out for and defended each other.  I could talk about how awesome (and witty, intelligent, hilarious, social, thoughtful, compassionate...) my sister is, and about all the cool things she does (like play snare drum in a Highland band, and be a Ninja--really, she takes Ninjitsu--and write novels, and sew plushies...), and all that jazz.  But I think I'm going to stop here, and finish instead with this quote from Kate, of Un-Schooled, who says it all so much better than I've managed to in this post:
"Going to school doesn’t mean not getting to know your own family. It doesn’t mean not becoming good friends with your siblings. But being unschooled means getting the chance to hang out with them all the time. To learn with them the way kids in school learn with their classmates. To learn with them in ways that classrooms can’t really ever encompass. Being unschooled means living together during the day as well as the evening and the winter as well as the summer. Not knowing that you’re supposed to be divided up into grade levels and younger kids are supposed to be boring and older kids are supposed to be off limits. Being unschooled means being in it together. Every day.
And I am so thankful that I got the chance to be with my brothers like that."


  1. That was so lovely to read. :) My oldest boys are best friends too and they are 6 years apart!

  2. I just wanted to thank you for all your inspiring posts. I am a mother to a two year old, expecting my second in June. So they to will be 2 1/2 years apart. It fills me with joy to think of the possibilities like the closeness you share. I am the youngest of 4 children with barely a year between me and my brother and looking at the relationship you describe and the one we share makes me kind of jealous. I enjoy my brothers company his strange quirks but I don't really know him all that well. I hope my children will be much closer. Anyways this was just a thank you for sharing your insights into this way of life, I'm so glad to have stumbled upon this idea and blogs like yours when my DD was just 18 months old, so glad my mother pointed me to this direction and that I have a partner that believes in it as strongly as I do. I look forward to reading more!

  3. I love this. I think sisters are often close--at least, I am close to my sisters, and we were all conventionally schooled--but it can be very different with brothers. One of the great joys in my life is seeing my sons, 5-1/2 years apart, laughing together and enjoying each others' company. I can't imagine they would have been this close had they had different school schedules and age-clustered classmates. The time together has certainly been the most important factor in their relationship.

  4. so lovely to hear about your relationship with your sister. my sister and i used to be close... something happened that strained our relationship. i hope that you both will always be close.

  5. Lovely to hear!
    I've had parents comment to me how unusual my (unschooled) kids are - that when they are guests in their homes, they try to include the younger siblings also, as they consider them just as much their friends as the ones their own age.
    Makes me swell with pride!

  6. Thank you for sharing this. My boys are so close and I truly treasure the fact they our lifestyle does not interrupt that bond. It is so beautiful.

  7. I love this. We've been unschooling for a handful of years and the closeness you describe has been our experience too. I'm sad my husband has to sell hours away at work, but when he's home he also wants to stay up until 4 AM with us all!

    This post also brought painful memories. I was close to my brother and still want to be close. He seems to have distanced himself. I can't help wonder what it was about our family and about me that doesn't work for him.

    Thank you so much for a beautiful post.

  8. I loved reading this. As a mother, this is one of the things I did not anticipate...but it has ended up being the greatest benefit. My kids range in age from 16 to 28. The closeness had nothing to do with being close in age. It had everything to do with being together more than most. In fact...I have a job outside the home...and I work with 2 of my kids.

    Thank you for your sharing this.

  9. Thanks AGAIN Idzie. This is too timely. I've been pouring over my unschooling books, reading, trusting, laughing, watching and now gleeful to read the chronicles of your unschooled sisterhood/friendship.

    This is JUST what I needed!