We went on a school trip to France when I was 11. I ran down a gravelly path, tripped on something and got very bloody cuts all down my legs. (I was secretly quite pleased because it meant I could skip the tobogganing that was planned for the group, and of which I was terrified.) I still run down hills. Sometimes I fail.


When I was about 7, I was sitting on the top of a climbing frame and fell off onto my back. I was fine, but a bit winded - and definitely didn’t like the feeling. I still climbed on climbing frames - and after several years of being far too mature for such things before I had children, I’m now happy to do it again. I haven’t fallen off, but it’s been close, and I do fairly regularly - Friday being the most recent occasion - bang my head pretty hard on a bit clearly not designed for someone who’s 5 foot 9 and a half.


I’ve burnt my mouth so many times by drinking hot chocolate before it’s cool enough, that some Pavlovian response means my tongue hurts if I even think about drinking hot chocolate. I don’t really like hot chocolate anymore, and I think my tongue has numbed, but I do still eat and drink things that are far too hot.


I used to work in an office that had a cactus at the front desk. It was one of those with really long spiky spikes, and I really needed to touch it. I cut my finger on it - it bled. But every time I stood at the front desk - which was often - for the seven years I worked there, I touched the cactus. I cut my finger many times. I still touch every cactus I see.


I don’t like to get in people’s way, and I don’t just mean physically. I don’t like to ask too many questions in case I irritate someone unless it’s a situation where questions are encouraged, when I rack my brain to think of insightful questions so there isn’t an uncomfortable silence. I worry when I meet new people that I’m not being interesting enough, or that I’m taking to much of their time, or that I’ll say something stupid. I worry when I see people that I know that they’re fed up of me, or that I’ll say something stupid. Often, I say something stupid. I worry about it for hours, sometimes weeks/months afterwards.



Our girls are doers.


They get into stuff, they test stuff, they make messes and noise and they play hard. They stop to enjoy things. They get absorbed in things and don’t hear questions, how ever many times they’re asked. They talk to everyone we meet - they stop each of the neighbours we pass to chat, even if we don’t know them yet. They stop every person with a dog. They navigate social situations that make me feel highly uncomfortable. But we’ve made lots of friends because of this and had some really lovely conversations with interesting people, that we wouldn’t have had if it was up to me and we just smiled politely and walked on by.


Many times each day, each hour, they do things from which I can envisage a potentially catastrophic result. Not usually dangerous, more likely messy, or awkward, or painful. I try really hard not to tell them to stop or move them on to something else. Sometimes I manage, sometimes not.


I don’t want to tell them to stop.


I know that I don’t immediately learn from my mistakes, or I do, but choose to ignore it, because this time is going to be different. I know that running straight in from a muddy garden will result in muddy footprints on the carpet, but I’ve still done it several times this week - the mud on my feet isn’t very wet so it’ll be alright. I know that if I put my drink on the side of the sofa, I’ll probably spill it, but I still do it - a lot - I’m going to be super careful this time; I’m going to hold on really tight to the climbing frame, or duck.


The girls have a good understanding of consequences. They’ve tested all the things, and continue to do so. Sometimes, even knowing what the result might be, they choose to take the risk or make the mess anyway because what they’re doing is more important to them. And they get better at things, and the potential disaster is less likely to occur.


I love that they’re adventurous and that they love to get muddy up to their eyes and wet all the way through - until they don’t, and they’re tired and cold (I don’t mind that either. I usually have spare things, or we bundle up in the car.)


But sometimes I wonder: Why can’t you learn from my mistakes? But of course, that’s not how it works. They won’t learn if I stop them before they start. They’re not doing things to annoy me or make me have to clean (I hate cleaning) or for any reason that’s related to me.


They’re doing things because they’re exploring and learning and figuring it all out. They won’t do these things forever - or maybe some of them, they will, but they’re learning to hold on a bit tighter or clean up after themselves (eventually, maybe - or perhaps not, and that’s ok.)


Embrace the mess. Sometimes you just have to poke the cactus.

Once a teacher, now home educating our two daughters. We moved from London to Seattle about six months ago. I write about unschooling, parenting, travelling and learning without school.