This weekend our family went to the WPA convention at UW-Oshkosh. (WPA-Wisconsin Parents' Association, is a homeschooling group.) Last year I went with a friend and left Tony and the kiddos at home. This year, the four of us went as a family.
WPA kind of feels like camp to me. You know how at a summer camp, you can 'let your hair down' and just be yourself? Here we are, with hundreds of other homeschoolers, at camp. There is a common understanding that is woven through our interactions. You see many adopted children, many smiling faces, many multigenerational groups, teenagers hugging their parents in public, a lot of babies in slings, and a ton of laughter and energy (except maybe in line at the used book sale at 6:45 AM, pre-coffee).
My first year at the convention, the thing that made the biggest impression on me, outside of all of the workshops, was how the children said 'hello' to the adults when passing by. No big deal right? But it is. Again this year, this simple act of greeting by someone younger than me that I did not know made such an impact. Whether it was a 4 year old, or a teen, when walking by, children make eye contact with you as an adult and say, 'hello!'. Wild.
As someone who works with teens, this is not all that common. When I say hello to teens in the Y, they look surprised that I would even greet them, let alone "see" them, if I am not yelling at them for something. Quite often, we as adults, prefer to look the other way when walking past a group of teenagers. And for some reason, the social fabric of the teen world would get them days if not months of teasing if they broke that unwritten code of "Don't look, don't talk" to an adult passerby, or even a new peer...We miss out on so many possible friendships, mentorships, interactions because of fear on both sides of the sidewalk. I would say the same is true for younger children. We may not be fearful of them as we are of teens, but more often, as a society we just don't give them credit for being their own individuals. A darker side of that is we might be fearful to say hello to children because we are strangers, and I sadly get that.
Dominic, Sophia and I went to a workshop called, "What parents get out of homeschooling". We walked in late, and joined a circle of about ten people, nine of whom were adults. A girl of about six colored on the floor in the middle of the circle. I think a misconception that is out there about homeschooled kids is a lack of social skills. I can't imagine a greater falsehood. We were in this room for about eight minutes before my children, age seven and nine, shared in the previously all adult discussion. Sophia turned to a mom that she had never met and said, "If you are worried about your children and socialization, don't because..." and she went on to explain her own reasoning on the subject. I think what spoke even louder than her words was what she was doing. She felt as if she had a place in this discussion. Dominic later offered his take on how homeschooling, "just makes sense". Now, you might think that they are parroting what they hear me say, but I promise you, these were their own conclusions.
They are not alone in this ability to share in public. Children are on an equal footing with their thoughts and opinions as adults. I feel honored to have friends of all ages. My friend Abbie, age 11, frequently asks me questions about how I am doing, what my thoughts are on certain things, or she will share what she thinks about the world at large. I get to be greeted with hugs from my friend Paris, age 13, and words like, "It is so great to see you!", and I feel the same way. These are not just my friends' children, but my friends as well. A young man named Dylan, age 12, was so excited to share what he knew about Tae Kwon Do with both my children and me when we first met in the dorm hallway. He spoke equally to me and to my kids. This just warms my heart to see his confidence, and also to be trusted enough to know that I would care about his feelings and ideas.
This isn't the putting the kids on a pedestal that we see as problematic in our society, but at our 'camp' they are given credit for being sentient beings with thoughts and opinions of their own. When I leave the convention, I take a piece of that with me back to our reality. You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. There are a lot of people out there that yearn for the friendships of people on all sides of the proverbial hallway.